I learned how to spell “fahrenheit”

Last week, Danielle and I saw Fahrenheit 9/11. Everyone who has read RollingDoughnut.com knows or can decipher the basics of my political philosophy. I’ve been clear about my feelings regarding the upcoming election, so no one is surprised that I believe President Bush isn’t fit to be President of the United States. I knew going into Fahrenheit 9/11 that Michael Moore wouldn’t change my mind because I already “agreed” with him. He’s aiming for those undecided voters who can be swayed. Like I said, not me. I went into the theater hoping that Fahrenheit 9/11 would sway undecided voters away from President Bush.

Too bad Fahrenheit 9/11 is a piece of shit.

Walking out of the theater, I felt as though I’d been treated to a live-action Jackson Pollack painting. A dab of red here, a dollop of blue there, a dose of yellow on top of all of it. This isn’t what a film should aspire to… lots of pretty pieces but thematically incoherent. No individual part added to a single, obvious revelation. President Bush is “stupid” and “arrogant” and “corrupt”, but what does that have to do with soldiers not knowing why they’re fighting and dying? I can make the connection, but I shouldn’t have to work extra hard to do it with the presented information.

I’m going to ignore the factual misrepresentations and lies because I don’t know the validity of Mr. Moore’s truths. I’ve read enough information on both sides of his arguments to understand that Mr. Moore slants the facts with misrepresentations and/or lies. This is a shame, because I think he could’ve made a great film. At least one that would withstand even a minimum level of scrutiny, which is what I hope anyone would apply when seeing a political propaganda film.

Before seeing Fahrenheit 9/11, I’d had friends and various media recommend it as important. When deciding which movie to see (we also considered Before Sunset, which we saw tonight), a man came up to us and asked if we’d seen it. We said no, so he told us we didn’t need to think any longer, that we needed to see it. His reaction was exactly what I expected from the “I don’t question facts, I only see something that confirms my view” crowd Mr. Moore panders to, especially with this film.

Mr. Moore’s thematic failing with Fahrenheit 9/11 is obvious. The movie consists of three “acts”, with no glue to hold each act with the one before or after. First, he opens with Election 2000 in an effort to show that Al Gore won the election but Bush became president because of influential friends on the Supreme Court. Next, he considers the war in Afghanistan. Last, he addresses the war in Iraq.

I know that Mr. Moore’s theme is supposed to be “the failings of George W. Bush as president”, or something similar. What he shows is anecdotal evidence that President Bush is a puppet for Saudi Arabia, that President Bush didn’t use enough force in Afghanistan (Mr. Moore opposed this war), and that America is a bully to innocent Iraqi civilians. Mr. Moore ignores anything that supports a different view of his beliefs and doesn’t bother to discredit opposing views. To his credit he doesn’t claim to be “fair and balanced” so that he can sway you away from President Bush. That doesn’t make his film’s failing excusable.

While waiting for something compelling to wrap up the movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 lost me when Mr. Moore started Act 3. His presentation of Iraq in Fahrenheit 9/11 is manipulative. He never attempts to put the buildup and eventual war in Iraq in any context. What he does is show U.S. soldiers as militant mercenaries; callous, unfeeling human beings who listen to rock ‘n roll before going into battle. We are to believe they take glee in shooting and killing innocent civilians. Mr. Moore intends for us to hate them and laugh at them for being lower life forms.

A few minutes later, Fahrenheit 9/11 shows dead soldiers as Mr. Moore introduces his tale of a mother who taught her children that the military is the viable option for getting out of lower class life. From the beginning of this segment, we know that her story will not turn out well, so she’s the victim of President Bush’s “crimes”.

I might accept that if Mr. Moore hadn’t followed this with images of soldiers disrespecting Iraqi captives. Again we’re shown that soldiers are bad. We’re supposed to hate these vile soldiers but feel bad for the poor mothers left behind. That doesn’t work for me.

Fahrenheit 9/11 left me feeling incomplete. I knew what I was supposed to believe, but if I’d just flown in from another planet, I wouldn’t understand why I’d sat for two hours watching scene after scene thrown at me. Fahrenheit 9/11 is like an Italian chef who throws boiling spaghetti (real Italians bend and taste the spaghetti) against a wall to see if it’ll stick. When something sticks, it’s done. Until then, keep boiling and throwing.

Michael Moore throws, but none of Fahrenheit 9/11’s spaghetti sticks.

Legitimate “Must See TV”

A month ago, I wrote about Lemonade Stories, a new documentary airing at 9pm tonight on CNNfn. Thanks to a generous gift from Ms. Mazzio, I watched the film last night. My original anticipation was rewarded.

The film is broken into segments with each entrepreneur and his or her mother spotlighted. I expected to sit through the early segments, hoping the film would get to Richard Branson quicker. During the opening segment with Arthur Blank, the co-founder of The Home Depot, I forgot that Richard Branson was in the film.

The concept is simple, straightforward, and worthwhile. Ultimately, the lesson each of these entrepreneurs has learned from mom is the inner spark we should all yearn to grasp: the unyielding longing to be themselves and the willingness to accept nothing else. But here’s the shocking revelation that I think defines why they’re successful. They’re willing to fight through the times when they don’t know who they are. And who is there to support them? You guessed it… mom.

This is particularly true of the stories of Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic and Tom Scott, co-founder of Nantucket Nectars. I’m not going to tell those stories here because you should watch the film. But there is an important lesson for every would-be and budding entrepreneur, offered by Mr. Scott. From the film, here is the lesson in his words:

“We do our case study at Harvard Business School and by the end they’ll say, ‘Well, these guys are really smart because they didn’t focus on supermarkets, they flew under the radar of Coke and Pepsi’. But it’s all B.S. cause I was there and I know what happened. Everything that they said that we did intelligently, we tried the other way and failed.”

My guess is that there are very few entrepreneurs who willingly strike out to break every rule. Entrepreneurs don’t try new businesses if they don’t intend to break some rules. That’s the nature of entrepreneurship. But it’s the rare lunatic who sets out to make the task as hard as possible.

Success seems logical in hindsight, but in the moment, the decisions aren’t easy. Mr. Scott and Mr. First knew that distribution would be the key to their business. The obvious answer is to sell to supermarkets and let them worry about distribution to the final location. Safeway, Piggly Wiggly, and Kroger are the experts, so that’s the way to go. But Nantucket Nectars isn’t Coke and Pepsi. This next quote from Paul Hawken’s book Growing a Business describes what I suspect Nantucket Nectars discovered when they couldn’t get into supermarkets:

The unpredicted is the gap between perception and reality. The unpredicted is your best toehold on reality because it is from these events that don’t “go right” that you can discover what is really happening with your business.

Coke and Pepsi are commodity beverages. Nantucket Nectars’ products aren’t commodity beverages now. They would only discover this through actions and mistakes. And the company is wildy successful because of their persistence in the face of failure. As the film shows, every featured entrepreneur’s persistence comes from mom.

As a teenager, my first business venture was delivering newspapers. I shared a route with my brother for the now-defunct evening paper in Richmond, Va. We continued this sharing until a second route opened in our neighborhood. I took this route, while my brother maintened the original. We shared expenses and profits, treating the two routes as a single entity to achieve economies of scale. We couldn’t have defined economies of scale if we’d heard the term, but we’d focused on our experience to understand the concept.

After we worked out delivery efficiency on the combined routes, we absorbed a third route. After a few months, we “divested” ourselves of the third route. We had customers who refused to pay, in addition to juvenile harassment from some of the neighborhood kids. (I’m a redhead… harassment is a fact of life.) Our initial analysis had told us that we’d build our empire further, but we were wrong.

Who was behind us, supporting this venture? Mom. (You thought I’d lost my focus, didn’t you?) On a day-to-day basis, my brother and I had it under control. We never had to borrow money to keep going, since a newspaper route isn’t capital intensive, but at 13, we couldn’t do everything.

When it rained, newspapers had to be bagged. This doesn’t seem too tedious since we got out of school at 3pm, but in the rain, our supply of newspapers usually arrived late. The newspapers had to be delivered by a set time, which I don’t remember. If they weren’t delivered on time, our customers could call the newspaper to complain. Each complaint cost us 25 cents. We only made pennies per day for each newspaper, so we couldn’t afford complaints. A few would destroy our profits for the month and that would mean fewer Garbage Pail Kids. (We were 13. Reinvesting was a foreign concept.) Guess who was there to help bag the papers? If the delivery was especially late, guess who was there to drive us on our routes? I even remember a few instances of riding in the back of her station wagon, tossing papers onto porches in the snow.

My mom never asked for anything in return. She never complained that she’d already worked a full day. She let us know we could get the job done, but on the occasions when we needed help, she’d be there. I can never repay that. My only response is gratitude.

At a time when there is significant discussion about family values, I can think of no better way to celebrate a mother’s impact than Lemonade Stories. The stories in the film are riveting and diverse, but the common theme is the same. Family values aren’t defined by Disney movies, Chutes and Ladders, and freshly-baked cookies. Family values can come in the form of a swearing mother who teaches her children to believe in themselves and to strive for self-defined success. That’s a lesson I can live with.