Critics Hate Criticism

Backlash can be a good thing, which is wonderful because there has been so much of that lately. Yes, you’re well aware of how Target’s stock prices have been negatively affected by their un-PR decision to remove the figurative doors from their literal restrooms, and how Hillary Clinton is dropping the perennial Republican War on Women tactic because her campagin staff discovered it costs her votes.

Being a literary critic is easy. Maybe too easy. And there may be growing recognition that literary criticism needs to leave the 9th Grade.

However, today the Czar wants to talk about <shudder> literary criticism. Although this sounds like a severely boring topic, rest assured that the Czar will keep this entertaining. And indeed, you might be amused by something that’s started happening in literary circles. There’s been an increasing (though still small) backlash against basic leftist stupidity.

Yes, yes, Volgi—the Czar knows it’s the size of a mosquito, but even a large lump of meat like ‘Puter will swat at a mosquito. And if enough start to bite, the big man will go inside for a while. So this is good news.

As you know, the Czar loved The Jungle Book remake to an unexpectedly high degree. So he did catch a written piece, written a short while before the movie even came out, trashing the picture.

The preview took the premise that no one should see The Jungle Book because its original author, Rudyard Kipling, was a racist piece of colonial filth trash, and the movie’s very existence was a heteronormative noble savage antianthropological embarrassment, and under no context would it be beneficial for people to see it. This was put out on a website so far left the Czar dare not link to it in the event he accidentally promotes it. Suffice to say, Rudyard Kipling was the embodiment of racist evil, and The Jungle Book was a tool to corrupt.

The article’s comments, however, took a different viewpoint. Indeed, the metacritics’ responses were horribly condescending; these weren’t ordinary folks chiming in to disagree, but well-written antitheses excoriating the author for writing a near self-parody of classic deconstructionist word porn. And the one comment that registered most with the Czar was a comment along the lines of “Your piece would have been better received by literary critics in 1968.”


Roughly about the same time, another (surprisingly unrelated) individual wrote a critique of the Thomas the Tank Engine stories, damning them for their racism, lack of diversity, heteronormative white supremacist tropes, and colonial oppression. Right, the popular kids’ books (and rightfully successful line of toys).

The backlash here has been spectacular as well—not from AM radio hosts, but by other literary critics who are beginning to sound quite similar.

And here is the similarity: it’s okay to dislike a book because its themes do not meet your particular mindset. But it’s not okay to dismiss the work because it’s the product of the past. This is indeed a massive shift in literary critique, which cheerfully embraced any leftist nonsense starting in the 1950s and continuing right up until today.

The problem is that much of this isn’t literary criticism; it’s simply discounting something in favor of political propaganda. It’s not that this book isn’t good, you understand, just that it isn’t leftist enough. Sure, Macbeth shows how monarchy is inherently corrupt, but it won’t convince people to adopt socialism.

That’s just not criticism, and it seems people are starting to tire of it. Possibly it’s because today’s literary leftists are too insipid to understand how to really treat their subject with the veneer of credibility. Really: we’re down to ripping on The Jungle Book and Thomas the Tank Engine stories because they’re not inclusive enough? This is just time wasting.

There’s still a lot of work to be done in producing good quality criticism, as the Volgi would pause in his reply to us long enough to agree enthusiastically, but there is a quietly seismic shift in the nature of the critique. Look, you can’t ban Mark Twain stories because he uses the N-word. In fact, you can’t condemn a book for accurately capturing the language and ideas of the time.

Some of this stems from science fiction, particularly those critics now influenced more by Star Trek than Jacques Derrida. Science fiction has long made a tiresome cliché out of making some futuristic society a simplistic and transparent satiric of a modern social concern. And it’s okay to judge it based on its success at doing so.

What you waste our time in doing is taking something from the past, whether it’s Kipling, Tom Sawyer, or James the Red Engine, and judging it by modern stereotypes. After all, doesn’t Karl Marx fail because he didn’t anticipate BitCoin? Shouldn’t we dismiss Greenpeace because we rarely hunt whales? And why vote for Hillary Clinton, given that her daughter went for a traditional heterosexual lifestyle?

See, it doesn’t go the other way. You can’t say an old book is bad because it didn’t anticipate your modern political views. You might think so, though, if you buy into the debunked jingoism about History having a Right Side: let’s condemn the whole Isle of Sodor because they should have seen LGBT and Islamism coming back in 1911 and anticipated this.

Perhaps in 50 years, we’ll finally see coherent and logical criticism as being the norm again. Perhaps, then, we can look back at 20th and early 21st Century literary analysis and wonder whether any of it is remotely valid—like how we view Freud or Decadence. Or even maybe, we could say “Yes, Kipling wrote from the conviction that the British Empire was powerful; but what does that have to do with his story?”

Obama’s Pathetic Legacy

This is a civil rights leader, who died while speaking out against naked injustice. The Czar points this out to President Obama, who wants a memorial for doing something that was merely politically convenient, and not even highly regarded as consequential.

The Czar has mentioned before that President Obama is obsessed with his own self-importance, and in particular what legacy he will leave. As Obama enters the twilight of his presidency, it is now clear what he has chosen it to be. Dr. J. predicted that it would be gay rights almost four years ago exactly.

From commenting on the suddenly and bizarrely urgent need to have anyone use whatever restroom they he or she prefers—to the fulsome point of threatening to cut off school meals for districts that refuse to agree—to promoting same-sex marriage, to suggesting a national monument to gay rights on par with the Vietnam or World War II memorials.

Or perhaps more accurately, a monument akin to the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial. No doubt the president sees himself as nothing less than the spurious equal of Dr. King as far as gay rights are concerned. Indeed, he finally has his orgiastic dream of being a civil rights leader, considering gay rights as nothing short of civil rights.

This is all poppycock, of course, as Barack Obama views gays as unwelcome fellow Democrats, given his frequent and now scrubbed pronouncements against gay marriage as recently as his first term.

But any port in a storm, eh? He failed to unite the American voters behind his bold, progressive (retro)visions. He certainly didn’t stop the rise of the seas, or healed the planet, or reset American relations.

The economy is every bit as bad or shaky as it was on his inauguration. Crime is up for the first time in decades, and race relations are as bad as they were in the 1970s. Our allies despise him, and our enemies openly mock him. Even if we charitably interpret his foreign policy decisions as intended to equalize America as a primus inter pares among other nations, he failed in that, too—most countries view themselves as stronger than America.

We could go on and on, but obviously there is no need to do so; doubtless you are adding examples in your own mind faster than the Czar can list them. His era of hope and change proved to be nothing more than a corrupt, insidious fog with so many scandals they can be alphabetized mnemonically.

He is no champion of gay rights—it’s just that he has nothing left. And this wasn’t even his idea; he’s just bankrupt of any other legacy. It’s pathetic, in that he’s now beating out a solo a capella rhythm about championing gay rights—and it isn’t even his idea.

Obama has at various times compared himself favorably with Reagan, Kennedy, and Lincoln. Imagine if Ronald Reagan left office in 1989 having only loosened abortion laws. Or if Kennedy had lived and left office in 1969 having only unionized federal employees. Or if Lincoln, too, had lived and left office in 1869 having ensured slavery made it to the Oregon Territory. This is akin to Obama leaving office in 2017 with his only stated achievement being same-sex marriage, of which he personally disapproves.

Some legacy. But then, he wasn’t much of a president, either.

Free Willy: Trannies in the Ladies’ Crapper

Mrs. Doubtfire weighs in on President Obama’s “a tranny in every stall” campaign promise. Unrelatedly, ‘Puter wouldn’t mind Mrs. Doubtfire pinching off a loaf in a stall next to him.

President Obama’s Department of “Justice” sent North Carolina a letter last week defending the rights of the mentally ill to piss and crap wherever zhey want because Title VII and Title IX, or something.*

As all other problems of note have been solved, the Department of Justice has turned to the critical issue of defending the rights of enschlonged, mentally ill trannies pissing upright in ladies’ restrooms next to young girls.**

‘Puter’s would like to note for the record the following facts:

  • Gender dysphoria is classified a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
  • Nowhere in the text of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does the word or concept “transgender” appear.
  • Nowhere in the text of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act does the word or concept “transgender” appear.
  • As noted in the letter, the EEOC has magically discovered that when Congress wrote “sex” in Titles VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act, Congress really, for true meant to say “sex and enschlonged, mentally ill trannies,” because it’s just so obvs.
  • As further noted in the letter, several courts have lost their ability to read plain statutory language, and have bought into the EEOC’s discovery that “sex” and “enschlonged, mentally ill trannies” are synonyms.
  • As further further noted in the letter, other courts have deferred to the EEOC’s reading of Titles VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act because Chevron, abdicating their constitutional duty and violating their oaths.

So, the Department of Justice naturally says North Carolina must repeal recent legislation requiring people to use the bathroom associated with the sex noted on their birth certificate because it discriminates against enschlonged, mentally ill trannies, thus violating Titles VII and IX.***

‘Puter doesn’t even know where to begin. The word or concept “transgendered” appears nowhere in the statutes Justice cites in support of its “Free Willy (in the women’s loo)” diktat. But hey, SJWs are fired up that men in drag can’t traumatize nekkid, vulnerable women, so who cares about language? Do the right thing, man! Ignore the Constitution, and make up the statute you wish existed! YOLO, amirite?

Also, Justice has no authority on its own to order a state to do anything. If Justice thinks its interpretation of the Civil Rights Act is correct, it should sue. If not, it can shut the [heck] right up. For too long Congress has permitted courts to overstep their constitutional boundaries, mostly because Congressmen are chickensh*ts who care more about reelection than serving their constituencies.

If Congress had any balls, it would pass clarifying legislation saying “The Civil Rights Act makes no provision for transgendered people. Any inconsistent, rule, regulation, or case law is hereby invalidated.” But Congress won’t do that. Congress let the courts decide on abortion and gay marriage because Congress has no balls. Why would it be different here?

Look, America and enschlonged, mentally ill trannies worked out the bathroom issue for decades without the need for the federal government’s “help.” There wasn’t a rash of mobs beating up good-faith trannies relieving themselves in the ladies’ room. The vast majority of people don’t hate trannies, they pity them for the difficult mental illness with which they are stricken, and have accommodated them in their restroom preferences.

It’s a shame an overreaching Obama Administration feels the need to press an out-of-step SJW agenda at the expense of women’s safety, but that’s where we are. We now are told to believe mental illness should be normalized, and enshclonged, mentally ill trannies must be afforded the status of protected class like racial minorities.

America is a stupid place.

* ‘Puter notes the person responsible for the letter is the “Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General.” ‘Puter is not making this title up. If your organization is so large you have a Principal Deputy Assistant anything, it’s too big. Start by firing everyone with Principal Deputy Assistant in their job titles.

** May ‘Puter suggest the Department of Justice look into the presumptive Democrat presidential nominee for violations of national security surrounding her use of a prohibited non-secure, private server?

*** Before you get your knickers in a twist and embark on an SJW witch hunt, ‘Puter understands the real issue isn’t the occasional, good-faith tranny sneaking into the women’s room, pinching off a loaf, and quietly leaving. The real issue is the real potential for abuse by sexual predators of the Department of Justice’s requirement that anyone who claims to be an enschlonged, mentally ill tranny be given unfettered access to places where women are naked and vulnerable.

The Czar Reviews Another Marvel Movie

Captain America and Johnny “Iron Man” Reb get it on as Ant Man (not visible) sits on Cap’s shoulder.

Due to a rare confluence of fortunate circumstances, the Czar managed to see a tentpole Hollywood blockbuster—Captain America: Civil War—on its opening night. Surprisingly, the theater was full but not crowded, and we were able to get very good seats, unlike the young mom two rows behind us whose toddler had to pee every five freaking minutes. Didn’t bother us, though, although mom probably missed most of the movie.

Was it any good? Doesn’t matter: if you like Marvel movies, you’re going to love it. If you’re tired of superhero movies, you probably will enjoy this a lot. If you’ve never cared for superhero movies and like more avante garde period pieces involving people talking a lot over dinners, then no—this will be two-and-a-half hours of hell for you.

The Czar, of course, thinks Disney’s control over the Marvel Studios brand has been nothing short of impressive, churning out great stories in tandem, linking movie franchises together, and putting in really tense action scenes melded with savvy political (and often surprisingly conservative) themes.

But you’ll see it for yourself. What the Czar is here to do is answer your questions that no other movie critic dares touch.

How much of the I Ching do I have to know?

Almost nothing, but it might help you to bone up on Hexagram 25, with its acceptance that an entanglement may not turn out to be a mistake. It will help explain a joke between Ant Man and a waitress.

Is it true that black can be a better color to wear on hot days?

Only if you’re in the shade, as black clothing radiates heat faster. If you’re in the sun, you want to reflect light, so white clothing is the smarter way to go.

I often bring an ocelot to the movie. Will she enjoy this?

Probably not, so bring something she can shred, like cardboard, in case she gets bored.

Will Josh ever stop talking?

Only when he falls asleep. Don’t bring him to the movie, because he’ll just piss off everyone around him.

Are there a lot of twists and surprises? Because my girlfriend likes to blurt out what’s about to happen, and the only way to enjoy myself is if she has no clue what’s about to occur.

Yes, there are surprises, but no, you should really put her in a heavy container and drop her from a height over an abyssal trench.


You tell us.

These superhero movies seem to be getting very tiresome.

That’s not a question.

Are guns allowed in the theater?

Evidently so, as the Czar so no signage indicating otherwise.

Nice Work, GorT

Thanks to all the loyal readers who peppered the Czar with concerns and complaints about our site’s performance recently. The Czar wants you to know that (a) he reads every one of them and (b) he’s not the freaking technical support hotline.

That said, the Czar annoyed the heck out of GorT, and GorT decided that early 21st Century technology was too primitive for his tastes. Yes, yes, he got the whole “traditional setup like Colonial Williamsburg” vibe, but decided that enough was enough. Like the Amish who may have built him in the future, GorT upgraded the whole site to 24th Century technology. It now runs on an OctalQ-Core quantum mesh wave processor.

Oh, there will be some adjustments. GorT is working on getting the cool fonts back. Fonts go bye-bye by the mid-23rd Century, and finding a t3xt-to-font converter is tough to find, even for him.

But hang in there. The new server is at least 800 bazillion gloons faster than the old one, we can say without exaggeration. And links to our historic brilliance are back in high fashion, thanks to his hard work.

GorT does all this work for you without getting paid. Or sleeping. Or eating. Or breathing.

No Class

The Czar loathes, as you know, the media, particularly when they attempt to discuss scientific stories they haven’t really studied.

The Czar remembers when First Class was a proper noun for a reason.

Today, we find another example: a story is circulating around the news wires (many of these stories were written by reading previous stories, making them further removed than the actual study) that explains—somehow—why air rage incidents are caused by first class travel.

Yes: air rage, more or less, is caused by the very presence of a first class section on an airplane.

ABC News has picked up the piece and offers absolutely no information on why this is: merely a collection of anecdotes about how unpleasant coach or economy can be.

Researchers examined more than 1,500 flights and found that having to walk through a first-class cabin meant a flight was 11 times more likely to have an “air rage” incident. By looking at other models on how delayed flights impacted behavior on board, they found that merely having a first-class cabin on board meant the odds of having an “air rage” incident was the same as if the flight had been delayed for nine and half hours.

Here are some other facts: 100% of flights with a first class requires that passengers have to walk through a first-class compartment. This probably explains why a first class section is 11 times more likely than flights that don’t have passengers moving through a first class section.

You can figure out for yourselves why first class is in the forward of the airplane: it’s closer to the jet bridge, closer to the ovens, and so on, and makes more sense for the airlines to put them there.

But it gets dumber:

“When they close the curtains between the cabins or they remind economy passengers to not go into forward cabin” or bathroom, DeCelles told ABC News, “it reminds people that they’ve paid hundreds of dollars for this experience,” and are still denied amenities.

“They were baking cookies in the first class cabin and it’s like they will never have that in economy,” Decelle said.

There we go: this isn’t about airlines and seating and logistics: it’s about leftist Class Struggle. The have-nots, who didn’t pay for the upgrade, wanting the same niceties as those who did.

The piece concludes with a totally unreasonable suggestion by someone that airlines can have coach passengers board in the middle of the plane—which as you can figure out, requires the jet bridge to be moved after first class boards (adding to the loading time of the plane) and somehow configure the jet bridge to allow passengers to board from the wing of the plane.

So what does the actual study say? Well, it’s a hot mess of class struggle and open envy, with the abstract containing this gem of a quote: “We use a complete set of all onboard air rage incidents over several years from a large, international airline to test our predictions. Physical inequality on airplanes—that is, the presence of a first class cabin—is associated with more frequent air rage incidents in economy class. ”

In other words, we are basing this on anecdotes.

Here are some thoughts:

  • More passengers sit in coach than sit in economy; as a result, we should expect economy class passengers to have more outbursts than first class passengers.
  • Most planes have first class sections. Some airlines do not. We do not see an absence of air rage incidents on Southwest Airlines, for example, despite its Marxist utopia of seating.
  • No other causes for air rage are analyzed. Is it the claustrophobic nature of air travel? A pressurized air cabin? Recirculated air? The inability to move freely out of cramped, unnatural seating positions? The stress of travel and its delays?
  • How often are first class passengers involved in air rage as a percentage of the aircraft population? What other differences could explain a delta between the two?
  • Maybe it’s the existence of coach that makes people nuts. Have you tested that?

The point of course is that this paper does not attempt to acknowledge that correlation does not equal causation, that anecdotes are inherently subject to confirmation bias, that the use of socioeconomic buzzwords like “social microcosm” and “class-based society” suggests cherry picking to advance a preferred political viewpoint.

Shame on the media, yet again, for even considering this a story. It’s more of a Bernie Sanders-style rant with bigger words.

Airlines are of course addressing the free market: you want nicer amenities, you pay for it. Frankly, first class isn’t a hell of a lot nicer anymore (it sure isn’t worth the cost), although the seats are larger and softer. Additionally, the free market reminds you that if you don’t want to travel on a plane with first class, don’t.

Problem solved.

Going to the Mattresses

The Czar likes a lot of mattresses. He would pay tens of thousands of dollars for this many, except he doesn’t go for that modern stuff. He likes his mattresses stuffed with straw and serfs.

Odds are you probably don’t want to be like the Czar. But if you are, you probably drive around your neighborhood, look at the scenery around you, and prudently wonder “What the hell is with all these mattress stores?”

Gone are the days of bringing the family down to the local department store and trying out a couple of queen-sized mattresses. Now, you can visit MattressMonster, Mattress Kings, Mattresses4Less, MegaMattress, Mattress Mania, Supreme Mattresses, and Mattress Garden—and that’s just at the corners of Utica Avenue and Nash Street. There are even more at the very next corner. If mattress stores get any more clustered, it’s possible Starbucks might need to move to a strip mall.

So you have to conclude there are two possible answers:

  1. Selling mattresses is incredibly profitable and demand is exceeding supply.
  2. It’s insanely easy to open a mattress store franchise without any clue of what you’re doing.

Indeed, it turns out that the second is decidedly true. Nearly all mattress stores are owned, operated, and punishers of independent franchisees—like fast-food outlets are. The franchisee buys the mattresses from pre-approved distributors, and they’re on their own. The mattress company doesn’t care an iota () whether a franchisee’s store is directly across from three others—which is competitively stupid—because they make their money from the initial purchase of the franchise. Sink or swim, dude, is too often the franchise’s business advice.

Of course, the franchise certainly wants you to buy into the first possibility. The mattress industry is a $13 billion industry that’s been profitable 90% of the time for the last 20 years, and they provide all the training you need: no experience is needed. They can even help you obtain a loan from a bank to build out the store—generally around a quarter- to a half-million dollars, and you can be up and running in 6 months with low overhead.

This must be tempting to a lot of wage slaves tired of working a back office somewhere. The only cash you need to front yourself is the franchise cost, which is under $50,000 in most cases. They take care of everything else, and in 6 months, you could be out of that hellhole and making real money. The best part is that your sales people are paid on commission, so they pay themselves—if they can’t sell product, they only hurt themselves.

Naturally, there’s more to it than this. In the United States, $13 billion dollars is not a big industry, especially when it includes manufacturing, distribution, and delivery of mattresses. That leaves only a fraction for the retailers, and keep in mind that ADHD medication sales alone is more than the mattress industry. This isn’t to say that the mattress industry is insignificant—but when you divide that leftover cost among the uncountable mattress store outlets, that’s not good.

So to make up for that, the parent companies rely on four strategies, according to Dr. Utpal Dholakia.

Notably, the markup is sensational: a mattress store will buy a mattress from distribution for $200, but sell it for several hundred. For some high end mattresses, you can practically multiply the manufacturer’s cost by ten to get the sale price. Of course, you can negotiate these downward—like buying a car—but no matter what you shake hands on, you’re paying too much. After all, the sales guy needs his cut, as does the mattress store franchisee. In fact, Dr. Dholakia estimates a mattress store needs to sell only 20 mattress a month to be profitable (by profitable, most business folks agree you need to clear 20%; any less profit and you’re slowly going broke, according to an old adage).

Second, Dr. Dholakia says that Americans don’t buy mattresses from catalogs, online, or directly from wholesalers—which would drive down those insane markups. Instead, we like to lay down on them, try them out, and invite the kids to jump on them. Which, he adds, is crazy because the average person can’t tell the difference between one mattress and another: an online tool would allow you to compare all sorts of things and cut through the marketing hype. But no—we want to bounce on the bed, so we knowingly subject ourselves to showroom markups.

In this way, Dr. Dholakia also challenges the Czar’s conventional wisdom that you never open a location directly across or next to a competitor: you normally want to be an island, to discourage shoppers from going across the street for their purchase. Instead, mattress stores intentionally aggolmerate to be parasites off one another. Since you’re going to buy a mattress anyway, why not come over to our location and see what we have, especially given your skepticism you’re getting a good deal? It’s exactly why car dealerships lines themselves up along a road way: tired of getting ripped off? Come over and see how we can cut that other guy’s price.

Finally, there actually is market demand as the housing industry returns. As weddings go up, and home buying returns, the number of people buying mattresses is at a high right now. Since it is cheap and easy to open a franchise location, people are doing it everywhere.

That said, all of these items can change in a heartbeat. Americans can figure out how to buy mattresses without a retailer: people buy groceries through Amazon, even. As the mark ups shrink in response, people won’t feel obligated to travel to a mattress store to get ripped off. And then agglomeration will really hurt, since one location’s misery translates to its neighbors. Then these franchises will dry up.

Are you old enough to remember shoe stores? How about record stores? Yeah, they used to be everywhere, too.

Whither NATO?

The Czar hasn’t been neglecting his mail, but the question below was a pretty tough one from Operative B. Donald Trump, despite all his massive failures as a logician, poses a reasonable question: why not just chuck NATO, or at least force Europe to pay their fair share?

Well, there’s no question that historically, NATO has been a positive driver in the huge eradication of communism from every except China, Vietnam, Cuba, and American college campuses. The United States could have pushed the Soviet Union out of Europe on its own, sure, but having Europe engaged so heavily made it a lot easier. Libertarians who want the United States to be a limited National Guard force consistently fail to realize that between 1812 and today, most of the wars we fought defensively on started over there somewhere, and not in Utica or Reno. Having bases in Europe, with American troops co-trained with Europeans, worked demonstrably well in staving off Soviet incursions not just in Western Europe, but in oceans all over the world. Any reasonable person concludes that NATO, up to 1989, was worth every penny in saving lives.

But what about after 1989? Sure, Putin is a criminal thug, but he’s not really the same thing as global communism, is he? Do we really need to spend billions on NATO submarines, air forces, and ground troops just because Putin is an old-school mobster with nuclear weapons he’d sooner sell than launch? Can’t those forces be better deployed against the War on Terror?

That’s a lot of maybes. Yet the biggest reason people think NATO is a useless mess of red tape is because—under President Obama—that’s precisely what it is. Under other presidents, NATO remained a powerful check against Putin’s expansionist plans. Don’t take it from the Czar; take it from someone who knows both sides of the problem personally:

That’s a whole lot of rebuttal right, there. Without NATO, Europe would already look a lot different. For crying out loud, even a military moron like the President understands this. He would have shredded NATO years ago and dumped the money into gun control legislation if he could have—instead, he sent a carrier group to the North Atlantic—which is being buzzed by Russian warplanes practicing bombing runs, if you can believe it.

Georgia and the Ukraine are proof enough that Putin is a conquering bastard bad guy, no different than the Soviets before him in Afghanistan, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. And rolling into Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are not just possibilities to a Russian—they’re necessities. The history of all three countries (and yes, Finland’s too) is replete with invasions from Russia or the Soviets. It’s what they do.

NATO? Absolutely critical in 2016. Unfortunately, it’s been handcuffed by a slow-to-act President. Yes, the Democrats agree Bush is on the hook for doing nothing about Georgia, but Georgia isn’t a NATO member. Neither is the Ukraine—but Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are, and guess why they were so quick to join?

All right, if the Czar can’t convince you that NATO is a critical component to United States foreign interests, we can at least move on to who pays for it.

Who does pay for NATO? This is a tough question to answer because NATO has been part of American military structure for so long that it’s difficult to really separate. And NATO is funded in different ways, by different rules. And what a country pays to be part of NATO is not always what a country spends on NATO, either. It’s a mess.

But a couple of key points: first, the United States does not pay the “lion’s share” of NATO. In fact, across the different funding mechanisms, the United States pays only about 22% of the organization. Yes, no one pays more than us (Germany pays the second most, Italy third, and so forth). But this is based more on population than anything: typically, dues are assessed as 2% of GDP; this means no matter what, the United States pays more than Canada. Or Britain.

However, other countries can and do pay more than than 2% based on need. Poland and Estonia—both fearful of Russian expansion efforts—authorized themselves to pay over this amount. Surprisingly, so does Greece—but a few countries are also paying less than ever on NATO: Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy… and the United States, which has been slowing down how much it’s been contributing.

So yes—it’s tough to say exactly how much the United States spends on NATO at any given moment, but—follow along, Mr. Trump—we don’t pay substantially more than our fair share. And as long as we want to keep Russia out of Europe, and we do, we need NATO. And when it comes to international organizations, there are few better examples of a decently run organization.

Now, how about we ask a better question: why are Americans paying the same amount to fund the United Nations? And why are we paying more than everyone else to fund its peacekeeping operations?

The Jungle Book is a Masterpiece

Sir Ben Kingsley’s Bagheera probably questioned many times why he let Mowgli live, but he made the right call as Mowgli transcended Bagheera’s own wisdom and training in the classic mentor-being-schooled archetype.

Much to the Czar’s astonishment, he went to a movie today in a real theater without having studied reviews of the film in advance. This is normally a massive no-no, but the Czar already had high expectations for The Jungle Book and saw little need to pre-confirm what seemed like universal acclaim for this film.

The Czar may have seen one of the best films he’s ever seen, which was substantially more than the initially high expectations we had going in. The movie was so excellently done that hours later, the rest of the family is in another room coincidentally talking about how much they loved it. Frankly, we didn’t expect it to be nearly this good.

The Jungle Book was better than good. It is brilliant.

First, throw out your expectations for the story based on the original 1967 film: director Jon Favreau certainly used it as inspiration for many key items, but the story line is substantially more mature and fleshed out. The characters are not cartoons, but thinking and reasoning elements with their own natural needs. The film is evenly balanced from the opening scene to (and including) the closing credits.* Just as the humor is about to get too over the top, Favreau injects action. Just as the action gets too intense, the movie goes for beautiful visuals. Just as you’re about done drinking in the incredibly rendered CGI landscapes, it goes spooky and dark. But as it gets too somber, something funny happens. There’s not a weak scene in the movie, and keeps on a comfortable pace—never getting frenetic—from opening to last shot.

The original 1967 effectively doomed future remakes by casting the brilliant Phil Harris as Baloo the bear and Louis Prima as King Louie, the decidedly non-Indian orangutan. With such outstanding performances, anything else would either be a letdown or a pale imitation. Favreau solves this issue by casting Bill Murray as a sloth bear…actually, no—Bill Murray is playing himself so strongly that some scenes of Baloo seem like Murray in bear makeup—and Christopher Walken as an overtly malevolent presence. While Prima’s Louie was a dopey narcissist, Walken’s Louie is powerfully intelligent and very much in charge. As much as you want to laugh at his Astoria accent, and do, you can’t help but think this ape is certainly going to kill everybody he can. Likewise, Murray’s Baloo is a good-natured goof, but has no trouble being a plausible bad ass when the others won’t or can’t. He’s a fun bear, but bears have claws and teeth, too. In fact, when we first meet him, we see him expressing savage fury.

Likewise, whereas Kaa the constrictor was originally a laughable but creepy villain in the most blatantly animated way, Johansson’s Kaa is completely effective as a mesmerizing siren. Her powers of hypnosis are not just brilliantly handled on screen, but she serves as an essential point of exposition: how the hell did Mowgli become lost in the jungle, and why does that tiger hate him so much?

By the way, two points there: Idris Elba plays Shere Khan as the Czar’s favorite type of villain—the truth teller. Rather than being a conventional bad guy, Khan is menacing and vicious and ruthless, but is trying to warn the other animals that one day, soon, Mowgli is going to grow up into a human—and sooner or later, humans can ruin everything they come into contact with. And it’s not enough to send Mowgli back to his own people—he has to be killed before the others come looking for him. At no point does Khan lie, exaggerate, or bend the truth. He is completely sincere in his fear of humans, and that makes his villainly believable.

The second point is the actor Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli: an 11-year-old playing an 11-year-old as an 11-year-old. The Czar has one of his own, and can reject the complaints by childless film critics that Sethi’s acting is not convincing. No, Sethi is perfect as Mowgli, and can easily see him in our own boy’s group of friends. He is a perfect 11-year-old: confident, smart, clever, strong, silly, and mildly dramatic when it matters. He was a great choice, and the Czar appreciated his depiction as dirty and battle-scarred: when we first meet Mowgli, he has old wounds all over his body from the horrible life of living in a jungle.

The Czar has no complaints with the story. Favreau may be no conservative, but he has long understood who buys his movie tickets. For a story that’s perfectly positioned to preach about man’s disrupting influence on nature, Favreau positively rejects all preaching. Instead of hippie ecological crap, Favreau shows that man’s true place in nature is as a caretaker, not as a destroyer. Indeed, it’s the animals who express surprise at Mowgli’s interest in helping others. In a powerful scene, even the haughty elephants learn that human ingenuity can transform everything for the better. And while it’s popular for the Left to dismiss Kipling as an imperialist pig, Favreau ignores all of that and sticks closer to the original story and the essential elements of his hero’s path than Disney ever dared.

A word of caution: the Czar did witness a dad having to remove his five-year-old daughter during a few scenes. This movie is best for ages 9 and up: it’s not a cute talking animals movie, but a bona fide adventure story set in a particularly nasty jungle. Plenty of reviewers seem to be warning parents this isn’t a Pixar movie. It sure isn’t: there’s plenty of blood, plenty of death, and genuine peril. But once again, before it gets to be too much, Favreau gently lets go of the throttle for a bit.

By all means, see this film. Adults definitely will appreciate it as much as the kids certainly will. It’s really that astonishing. And Neel Sethi will impress the heck out of you.

*By the way, stay on and watch the credits. There’s no surprise ending with Samuel Jackson, but the credits feature ingenious and clever animation supplemented by a solid torch version of “Trust in Me” by Scarlett Johansson and a Dixieland romp of “The Bare Necessities” done by Dr. John. Musically and visually, a real treat.