Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Slide Into Oblivion Continues

I've just returned from signing my son up for pre-school in what can only be called a "highly competitive" environment. We're applying at three different schools, and we're not confident that we'll get into any of them. You'd think school in this country was actually something impressive. But no matter how bad we have it, there's always someone who has it worse.

I'd consider myself a pretty cynical guy when it comes to observing the general public in action, but even I am knocked back on my heels occasionally by the sheer idiocy that comes from supposedly educated and enlightened people. Check this out.

A school in London has banned children from raising their hands to get the attention of teachers. It appears that these erudite (and proper, to be sure) school administrators have determined that some kids shoot their hands up before they actually consider the question. The result? Catastrophe!!! When the teacher calls on the kid and he (It's usually boys, they point out.) doesn't know the answer, you can just imagine the damage being done. It's probably right up there with witnessing the murder of his parents. He gets it wrong - in front of everyone. And...if that weren't enough...

The same school has instituted a "phone a friend" program for kids who don't know the answers. That way, they're spared the victimization that comes with being unable to answer questions in public. This MUST be a joke, but I fear it is not.

Folks, this goes hand in hand with the inane focus on self-esteem at any price. The consequence that these short-sighted morons completely fail to see is that helping a child to avoid any discomfort early in life just guarantees that he or she will be paralyzed to deal with it later - when the price of burying one's head in the sand is orders of magnitude higher. The bottom line is that failure is the single best tool to motivate and improve a human being. Yes, it has to be interpreted appropriately by adults - isn't that what they're there for? - but failure is essential. If things keep going in this direction, the folks that single-handedly stood up to Hitler for three years during WWII won't be able to stand up to a blister on their toe. Pathetic.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Ethical Capitalism

This happens to me from time to time. Over a span of no more than a few weeks, without any preconceived agenda or plan, I come across several disparate pieces of information (books, articles, movies, websites, etc.) that all inadvertantly conspire to solidify concepts that have previously been loosely floating around my brain. The last time it happened was when I started getting the feeling that evolutionary psychology was approaching a tipping point on its way to becoming a set of ideas that would have applicability beyond the walls of academia. (Click here for the result.) This time, the focus is on capitalism - specifically, whether it is possible to have a long-term capitalist system that does not ultimately cause more problems that it solves. To start with my conclusion, the answer is a resounding yes.

As the ten or so folks who visit this site regularly know, I've suffered some painful disillusionment recently with respect to America's behavior on the international stage over the last few decades. (See this and this.) That was the start. Then, I saw the documentary, Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, which essentially explains the whole debacle from Enron's inception to its eventual demise. Not pretty, to say the very least, and as the trial of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling gets underway, it would be very easy to look at all this and come away with the feeling that capitalism is just another band in a spectrum of insidious human institutions. However, it's tough to square that with the irrefutable fact that those populations that have embraced free market capitalism have, on pretty much any measure you care to examine, enjoyed more prosperity than they did under any other system. Still, there must be something going on here. That something is the constant of human corruption.

I think it's critical to recognize that some systems, such as communism, are inherently flawed, which is to say that no cadre of saints could ever wring success from them. Even if you were to hypothetically (read: impossibly) factor out all manner of human corruption, the result would be the same - mass suffering and a general decline in overall prosperity. In the case of communism and its cousin, socialism, the culprit is the necessary role of information in the execution of decisions regarding the means of production and the distribution of that which is produced. As Friedrich Hayek tells us in, The Fatal Conceit, it is simply impossible for a centralized authority to have the information it needs to make good decisions across a panoply of individual situations. That's how you end up with a surplus of plates, but a shortage of forks. But capitalism is not one of those institutions.

Capitalism, as an institution, is perfectly sound. It works with human nature, which is why it works at all. But like all other institutions that involve our species, it is always at risk of being corrupted from within. As Brian Tracy so clearly writes in, Something for Nothing, all humans are hardwired to be lazy, greedy, ambitious, selfish, vain, ignorant, and impatient. In addition, all humans have the same basic heirarchy of needs - safety, security, comfort, leisure, love, respect, and fulfillment - in that order. The question is how we get from our inherent attributes to the satisfaction of our needs. It would be easy to say that good institutions are the answer. In a sense, they are, but I think we're now seeing that our good institutions could still use some work.

Is capitalism bad because big oil has enough money and enough influence to push our leaders to embrace wholly unethical practices when dealing with underdeveloped countries? After all, it was capitalism that made it possible for big oil to get where it is today. Is capitalism bad because a few nefarious fellows (like Lay, Skilling, and Fastow) can conspire to plunge California into an energy crisis and hoodwink Wall Street and the rest of the world into losing billions of dollars on a house of cards? No and no. The problem is ethics.

I have recently come across a company called LRN. Here's what they do:

LRN helps leading companies around the world inspire do-it-right cultures. We provide everyone in the enterprise with the legal and ethics knowledge needed to make better decisions and take appropriate actions.

The founder and CEO of the company is a guy called, Dov Seidman. He's a Harvard Law grad (The company has its roots as a legal services provider.), and it appears that his mission in life (and business) is to bring ethics to the forefront of corporate American culture. What intrigues me is that it appears that the business environment in this country following all of the scandals of late is becoming more and more receptive to this. Sounds good, right? So how does it work?

The basic idea is that companies, especially large ones, have to embrace a culture of ethics. That means they can't just look at regulatory and legal issues as hindrances to business as usual. They, meaning the employees at large, have to internalize what it means to operate ethically. Again, it sounds great, but how do you make it happen?

It takes a commitment from the very top to instruct every member of the organization on what it means to do business ethically, and it takes a system that is designed to penalize unethical behavior, and, more importantly, to reward ethical behavior. The idea is not to determine some universal set of ethics across all industries and then chip away at getting more and more companies to buy into them. It's about getting each and every company out there to settle on a set of values and then implement systems that ensure that they are observed at all levels. This is no easy task, but it can happen.

Up until summer of 2005, I worked for IBM. One thing that I really appreciated about working for Big Blue was the fact that every employee had to commit to a set of Business Conduct Guidelines. Every year, we had to login to the IBM intranet, read the guidelines, and acknowledge our commitment to them. Though I can't speak for everyone, I can certainly say that I took those guidelines seriously. They meant a lot to me, and I was all too happy to share them with customers.

As a business development professional (read: sales guy), I was constantly competing with other big names for business. I often emphasized the fact that IBM is an ethical company with a commitment to doing the right thing by its customers. To some, this no doubt came off as standard sales fluff. However, given the fact that no complex business relationship is hiccup-free, savvy customers are comforted to know that when things go wrong, the company on the other end has a policy of being on the up and up. Culturally-speaking, we at IBM believed we held the moral high ground, and I can tell you that we were often rewarded for it. This is what Seidman envisions for corporate America.

In fact, in 2004, Seidman testified before the United States Sentencing Commission. Here's the deal with the commission:

The United States Sentencing Commission is an independent agency in the judicial branch of government. Its principal purposes are: (1) to establish sentencing policies and practices for the federal courts, including guidelines to be consulted regarding the appropriate form and severity of punishment for offenders convicted of federal crimes; (2) to advise and assist Congress and the executive branch in the development of effective and efficient crime policy; and (3) to collect, analyze, research, and distribute a broad array of information on federal crime and sentencing issues, serving as an information resource for Congress, the executive branch, the courts, criminal justice practitioners, the academic community, and the public.

At the time of Seidman's testimony, they were considering the role of ethics in determining how to handle legal infractions by business, large and small. Here's a link to the whole transript. It's a bit long, but Seidman's arguments are really compelling. Here's a snapshot:

Compliance is about self-governance by its very nature. And therefore, if we believe that the most powerful form of self-governance is further down the spectrum of culture beyond mere acquiescence with law, then only ethics can get us there. I'm also rejecting as unfeasible in today's world is that a set of corporate mechanisms and bureaucracies can be created, indeed pure compliance programs that attempt to ensure that everyone acquiesces and complies with the law. Instead, I believe that compliance with law is, in fact, an outcome - an outcome of a true self-governing culture.

Quite right. In terms of Tracy's basic human attributes, we can say that the system that positively harnesses our inherent greed and selfishness in the pursuit of our aims is ethics. And when the right ethics are in place, we find that our needs for love, respect, and fulfillment are more easily satisfied. You see, as social animals, we thrive on the acceptance of others. Having a common set of values and a system that illuminates breaches in those values is the key to keeping the dark side of human nature in check. It's a kinder, gentler version of the public hanging.

If, during my says at IBM, I had chosen to do as many competitors did, offering kick-backs to decision-makers for choosing IBM, I would have been met with raised eyebrows at the very least (and, more likely, disciplinary action). My colleagues would have thought less of me for taking the easy wrong over the hard right. Though we were co-workers, we were also competing with one another in some ways - in terms of quota attainment and such. By operating unethically, I would have given myself an edge, which was tantamount to cheating. Yes, I lost deals to competitors who delivered big screen TVs to CIOs who bought their wares, but I could always hold my head up, and that was ultimately more important to me than getting the deal or my acknowledgement of the IBM Business Conduct Guidelines. That's an ethical culture, and it came about because I was working within a system that would not allow me to overly satisfy my needs for security and comfort (by way of sales commissions) without jeopardizing my need for respect. A good ethical system creates checks and balances between human attributes and human needs - breaches mean that needs don't get met. Simple, and completely consistent with human nature.

The bottom line is that the solution to the problems of capitalism are out there. They're not easy, and they have costs, but the benefits far outweigh them. Indeed, as Seidman says, compliance with the law is an outcome of an ethical culture. But there are many others, the best of which is the value of being known for doing the right thing. That means that we have to reject the understandable, but intellectually lazy, conclusion that capitalism in itself is the problem. As always, it is our implacable human nature that poses the challenge. Fortunately, just as the invisible hand co-opts our nature to produce the best of all possible environments, so can ethics keep the invisible hand from reaching in the cookie jar when no one is looking.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Grizzly Man - Must See Documentary

This isn't what you'd call a formal review. It's more of a recommendation to check out this DVD I watched a couple of nights ago. Holy crap! That's all I can say. Grizzly Man is the story of Timothy Treadwell, a troubled guy who found salvation in spending thirteen consecutive summers in Alaska, unarmed and in the company of grizzly bears. The director of the film, Werner Herzog, uses actual footage taken by Treadwell during his last five years to string together a commentary on the man, his mission, and the relationship between human civilization and the wildness of nature.

Let me go ahead and spoil the thing by saying that Treadwell was eaten by a grizzly in 2003, along with his then girlfriend, who he, it appears, cajoled into staying longer than she really wanted to. (Talk about regrettable decisions.) Actually, I'm not really spoiling anything - Herzog brings it up right away. There were three things that had me glued to the screen the whole time the film was playing.

For starters, the fact is that what Treadwell did was flat-out unbelievable. He really did live right there in the wilderness with the bears, in their territory, and he interacted with them. (In some scenes, he actually got close enough to touch them on the nose.) Amazing to watch. As I said, he was a troubled guy. In grizzly bears, he found a cause that he could immerse himself in, thus taking the focus off his own demons. This is standard fanatic behavior - a la Hoffer's The True Believer .

As I was talking about this last night with a couple of people, we jokingly concluded that the story almost writes itself. Guy goes to Hollywood looking for fame and meaning in life, gets close but ultimately fails, spirals downhill with drugs, alcohol, and bad crowds, and...grizzly bears. Yes, that's pretty much how it happened. Treadwell, presumably on the back-end of some bender, somehow decided that the bears needed a protector, an advocate, if you will, so he made his way to Alaska and the rest is history.

The second thing that sucked me in was the way Herzog told the story. He was, by no means, a Timothy Treadwell cheerleader. He was genuinely trying to understand what was going with this guy. Did he just have a screw loose? Was he a sane, but courageous environmental activist? (I turned to my wife less than 30 seconds into the film and said, "This guy has obvious emotional problems. Of that much, I am already sure.") More compelling was the way Herzog juxtaposed the people who thought Treadwell had a positive impact on bears versus the people who said he hurt more than he helped. There were plenty of both, although those who said he did good things had that nutty, disconnected with reality kind of feel to them. I found the treatment of the subject very similar to the way Jon Krakauer wrote, Into The Wild - you know, that of the impartial journalist, just trying to make sense of things. In my view, that's the best way to deal with these kinds of stories - to take one side or the other eliminates the real value of telling them.

The last thing that kept me attentive throughout Grizzly Man was the suspense. Though Herzog tells you right away that Treadwell was killed in 2003, he leaves you wondering whether Treadwell ever really accomplished anything. After all, he wasn't a scientist, and he wasn't conducting any sort of research. He was spending his summers amongst the bears, supposedly protecting them from the humans who would seek to harm them. (But did they really need help? And if so, did he give it to them?) Then, in other seasons, he'd travel around to schools giving free presentations to kids about his experiences. I can only imagine what a treat it must have been to children to have a damned near bi-polar guy like Treadwell come and tell fantastic stories of living with and interacting with bears, and other animals. (He actually befriended a family of foxes - they would come right up to him and follow him around. Very cute.)

In the end, I'll leave it to you to decide whether he accomplished anything. No matter what, it's clear that he enjoyed what he was doing, and that he died doing something he loved. Nutty or not, there's something to be said for that. My interest, however, is piqued most by the relationship between people like Treadwell and reality.

Being a guy who didn't find himself living the life he expected, Treadwell turned to whatever he could to cope. First, it was alcohol and drugs. Eventually, it ended up being bears. He had this vision of nature as being something that was not ugly like human civilization. His vision of nature was filled with egalitarian beauty, with justice and respect for all life forms. You really get a sense of this when you watch the scenes he filmed. At times, he gushes so much about his love for the animals that you feel certain he's either on ecstasy or he's nuts. Oh course, reality inevitably crashes in, shattering his illusions, if only for a while. (He finds the severed claw of a bear cub and realizes that the bears have eaten one of their own. Talk about red in tooth and claw!) I love to see the look on this face at times like this. It's that bewildered look, the one that says, "This just doesn't add up." I don't love it because I'm a sadist. I love it because it reinforces one of my most prized axioms - reality will ALWAYS have her way with you.

Ultimately, I came away from this film with an added appreciation for how much humans can accomplish when they want to. Thirteen summers, a stone's throw from ferocious grizzly bears, staring and shouting them down when confronted, and no gun. Astounding! At the same time, I came away feeling more concrete about the idea that when life sucks, you have to stare it down, figure it out, and turn it around. You can't run out in the woods where all your problems don't exist and expect that all will be well. You'll eventually get eaten by a freaking bear.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Google China - Commercial Practicality Versus Ethical Idealism

I'll admit that my first response when I read that Google has agreed to censor some of its content in China was a resounding, "WTF"??!!! But then I settled down a bit and considered the situation. Here's a blurb from the article on Reuters:

Google said on Tuesday it will block politically sensitive terms on its new China search site and not offer e-mail, chat and blog publishing services, which authorities fear can become flashpoints for social or political protest. Those actions go further than many of its biggest rivals in China.

"I didn't think I would come to this conclusion -- but eventually I came to the conclusion that more information is better, even if it is not as full as we would like to see," Brin told Reuters in an interview in Switzerland.

Brin is Sergey Brin, the Co-Founder and President of Technology at Google, and he makes a good point. Or does he? On the surface, the issue seems simple - a choice between no Google or a censored version of Google. In that context, one can hardly blame Brin and pals. After all, half of something is always better than all of nothing. That makes the decision to offer a limited version of the 800 lb search gorilla seem almost altruistic. One might even wonder why it took them so long. But suppose the premise that China needs Google, even if only abbreviated, is bunk. Then what?

Reportedly censored are search terms regarding Taiwan's independence and the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989, among many other freedom/democracy/human rights topics. It is also important to note that Google has already been subject to censorship for some time now because of what is called the Great Firewall - China's state-run censorship program (nice). So again, the question - does China really need Google so much that it is ultimately worth it to give it to them with these restrictions? According to CNN, If you can believe one of Google's lawyers, then yes.

"We firmly believe, with our culture of innovation, Google can make meaningful and positive contributions to the already impressive pace of development in China," said Andrew McLaughlin, Google's senior policy counsel.

Whatever you have to tell yourself, Andy. Let me break this down for you. Google is good, really good, but for the average internet user, the qualitative difference between Google and some other search engine is about nil. Maybe it's a little faster, but so what - I'd bet that most people can't even tell you why everyone uses Google. Hell, back in the days when I thought I was cool using MetaCrawler (believe it or not, it's still around), it never occurred to me that I could have been getting even better results than I was getting. I got results, I clicked, and away I went. Just like everyone else. So to suggest that the execs at Google finally decided to be pragmatic about crossing what used to be a fairly distinct line in the sand (Their motto is, "Don't be evil."), simply because China needs better search capabilities is pretty flimsy.

To understand why, you only need to know how Google makes money. Ads, ads, and more ads. If you look at the most recent SEC submission, you'll notice that in the first nine months of 2005, Google made over $4 Billion (yes, with a B) in ad revenues, versus a little over $50 Million in other revenues. They accomplish this because everyone uses Google to search, which means Google can sell contextual ads for everything you can possibly imagine. (You know the little text ads you see everywhere? Advertisers pay a few pennies every time you click one. You can literally hear the cha-ching at Google HQ in Mountain View, California.) Now, all they have to do to generate even more incredible revenues is to start selling ads to folks in places where online advertising is just waking up, just becoming useful.

It's about the Asian land grab. Period. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft know that as China and the rest of Asia continue to grow, what has happened here is going to happen there. And right now, there is no 800 lb Gorilla (or even 500 lb Panda), so this is a profit deal disguised as an altruism deal. Or maybe that's pushing it a bit. I don't think anyone at Google would characterize this as some Internet Ghandi thing. But there's no question that they have resisted the requests of the Chinese government in the past, and now, after an "excruciating decision," they're on board, and they're saying that the change is because they'll do some good. Bunk.

And here we are at the business ethics turning point. On one hand, we (I'll be Google for a moment.) have the potential to stake out what looks to be another gold rush in the coming years. On the other hand, as the largest, most respected Internet company on the planet, we are in a position to make a statement about why we're where we are. You think Google would be anything if an oppressive Uncle Sam controlled the internet?

I recognize that, in terms of quality of internet experience, it is immaterial to anyone in China whether or not Google censors its own content (since it'll be censored by the Great Firewall anyway). But isn't acquiescence tantamount to assent here? When do we have a responsibility to the other people on this planet to be vocal about what human rights are all about? Instead of just burying the old line and gingerly drawing a new one, why don't we put Google to work for the oppressed?

You know when you mistype something and Google comes up with the suggestion? You know, the "did you mean..." deal. Well, what if when "Taiwan Independence" is searched, it comes back with no results (per the restrictions), but in the "Did you mean...," if says, "How to break away from totalitarian nutjobs?" Then, away they go to the land of free ideas on the real internet. So easy. And I do this in my spare time.

In closing, let me just say...

1. Google, your decision to give in to China is a rationalization in the face of obscene potential profits. Accept it, and stop trying to con everyone including yourselves.

2. I'm all for profit, and I would never dream of disparaging someone for pursuing it ethically. However, governments and international institutions are not the only ones who can impose sanctions on countries for behaving badly. It's time to put profit aside to set an example. Censorship is wrong - especially the kind of censorship that goes on in China. We do ourselves (as a country) no good by preaching free speech and then profiting off the exact opposite.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Brokeback Mountain - Review

"I think we really need to see this movie," my wife says. "It's supposed to be an important film."

"Yes, but movies are first and foremost about entertainment to me, and I just don't know how entertained I'm going to be seeing a couple of cowboys roughing it up in a tent," I reply.

"Well sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to grow as a person," she concludes. And we go.

In the end, I think we were both right. Brokeback Mountain is an important film in the sense that it marks America's official acceptance of the reality of homosexuality - mainly that it is not chosen, but that it is biological. Now, I'm not saying that there aren't plenty of homophobes still out there, or that many of them wouldn't just as soon come up with some "final solution" for the "gay problem" as let things continue going the way they're going. However, when a movie like this can come out, receive critical acclaim, not be widely labeled as pornographic, and not have the puritanical among us protesting incessantly at all showings, you have to admit that the acceptance of biological homosexuality is now completely mainstream. So my wife was right. And so was I. Sort of.

I normally like to begin reviews by either recommending or not recommending the work in question. However, in this case, I really can't do that. Yes, I think the film is important, and I'm glad it was made and has been widely distributed. And, to a certain extent, I'd say it was worthwhile for me to see it, if only because it threw yet another log onto a fire that was lit for me many years ago - the fire of disgust at how some humans, when faced with ideas and lifestyles that are different from their own, choose to trample the rights of other humans to assuage their inner turmoil. But should you see it? I can't say.

Brokeback Mountain is essentially the story of two cowboys who fall in love but have to carry on their relationship secretly for twenty or so years. They try to deny the situation in the beginning, choosing to take the traditional path for men of their ilk - they marry and have children. Alas, their need to be true to themselves and their love drives them to periodic clandestine trists in the wilderness, which ultimately result in their undoing. It's all very sad, really.

As far as entertainment goes, I'm willing to endure some sadness for a point. For example, Schindler's List is, in some ways, the saddest movie of all time, but the value of the movie surpasses any selfish desire to use the big screen as an escape. So we go, we cry, and we come away different, aware of how bad it can get on this big blue marble. But I'm not ready to say the same for Brokeback Mountain. In fact, it has a very "preaching to the choir" feel to it.

You see, I already knew that homosexuality is biological, and I already knew that homophobes have been destroying the lives of good people forever. So I can't say I came away from the film with some new perspective on things. I would venture to say that this is probably true for most everyone who saw and appreciated the film. But could this film change anything for people who are either mildly homophobic or just prefer not to think about such issues? Doubtful.

There are admittedly only a couple of, shall we say, uncomfortable scenes in Brokeback Mountain, but these would be enough to throw a gay issues fence sitter right over the edge into the land of, "I really don't need to see this." The emotional repulsion in the unprepared mind would likely over-power the rationality needed to come to grips with the point of the film. In the end, the fence sitter walks out feeling a little violated, and the idea that these two cowboys should have been able to live honestly without fear of reprisal from the community falls to the ground as a seed for which there is no water and no sunlight. So here we are - those of us who already "get it" are treated to a film that offers a more picturesque and depressing view of a scene we've encountered many times before.

That's what I mean when I say that my wife and I were both right. She's right to say that the film is important, but I am right to say that the price of admission (the sad theme and the uncomfortable scenes) probably didn't the hit the mark of good entertainment on a Saturday night. Of course, this is a little troubling to say because I'm focusing almost exclusively on the theme. But that's not my fault - the theme is the raison d'etre of the film. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that it was extremely well done. And maybe, just maybe, there is a silver lining in all this.

Aside from the gay issue, there is something to the film that I think illuminates a real human issue. That is the idea that you have to choose who you love in life, and you have to do so rationally. As I mentioned, the characters in this movie tried to live the lives that were expected of them, but their addiction to the warm fuzzies that could only come from interacting (and, ahem, other stuff) with one another ultimately led to their demise. One could ask a very serious question - should they have recognized that their love, though it was real and more meaningful than anything else in their lives, was not worth the costs?

I have long argued that our lives should be goal oriented and that the goals we choose should be rationally conceived. So, supposing that one's goal in life is happiness, is it not reasonable to suggest that sometimes love is not the answer? John Lennon said, "All you need is love." I say, "All you need is healthy love." Reigning in our emotions is perhaps the most difficult challenge we face as humans in a modern world. They were not designed for this environment, and they routinely push in directions that do more harm than good. Love is no different.

I'm not saying that these cowboys should have simply succumbed to the expectations of society and been happy breeders. But the fact is that they made commitments to people, and there were children involved. To give in to their love was immoral in that context - not because they happened to be gay - but because they were cheating, plain and simple. The right answer would have been to honorably sever their marriages and move somewhere that was more accepting of their lifestyle. I'm just not willing to give these guys a pass because they happened to be gays in a world that persecutes gays. We all have our crosses to bear.

I will freely admit that this is pure Monday morning quarterbacking, and I know that there are many who would disagree with me. That's a good thing. That means that Brokeback Mountain isn't just about the homosexuality thing. It is also an excellent case study in the relationship between rational commitments and emotional restraint. There's ground to be gained in that discussion, so maybe the price of admission was worth it.

You can see that I'm still a little conflicted on this movie, which is why I can't make a recommendation one way or another. I will, however, say that you should see it if you like a good emotional story in a sometimes breathtaking and sometimes heartbreaking setting, and if you can stomach some rough gay sex on the big screen. Brokeback Mountain is cinematically beautiful and the story is well told. Furthermore, there's no question that Gyllenhaal and Ledger are fantastic actors who have done what would seem to be very difficult roles a great deal of justice. Indeed, I find myself wondering if gay isn't going to become the new retarded. Think about it - for years, it has been well known that the way to become considered a serious actor is to do a retarded role. Maybe now, you can do a steamy gay role and get the attention of The Academy. Only time will tell - but you heard it here first.