Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Curse of Prescience

Super Sad True Love Story Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

Super Sad True Love Story offers a vision of the future that follows present day social, political and economic trends to their sardonically satirical dystopian conclusion. It is a novel that sets a star crossed romance against the backdrop of the decadent west in decline. The author, Gary Shteyngart, imagines his future dystopia literally rather than allegorically. This allows him to create characters that are more real than symbolic. But it also leads to some odd examples of a kind of warped literary prescience.

The emergence of an Occupy Wall Street type movement in the imagined future of the novel is probably the most prominent example of this prescience. The book was published over a year before the tents started to go up at Zucotti Park, but the parallels between the rolling campsite protests that occur in the novel due to the U.S.'s continued economic problems bear an eerie resemblence to what transpired in reality not so long after the book hit stores. Of course, it quickly becomes clear that Shteyngart's inspiration for his fantasy protests is the historical tent cities of bonus army veterans and other agitators that emerged during the Great Depression, and this is an inspiration he probably shares with some Occupy organizers. Art imitates life, life imitates art, life imitates life, art imitates arts, etcetera etcetera and so on and so forth.

But the prescience cuts both ways. In a throwaway gag near the end of the story, the protagonist's parents are less concerned with the apocalyptic breakdown of the political and economic system of the United States than with the recent passage of legislation permitting gay marriage in the state of New York. Shteyngart looks smart for having predicted Occupy-style protest, but the recent real world passage of gay marriage legislation in New York perfectly displays Shteyngart's narrow pessimism. It didn't take until the apocalypse to legalize gay marriage in New York, in fact it barely took longer than the book's appearance in a paperback edition for a once unthinkably radical expansion of civil rights to come to fruition.

Super Sad True Love Story is eminently readable. You could call it a dystopian page turner. And it succeeds in characterization, in narrative economy, and in razor sharp social satire. But it also shows some clumsiness that is difficult to wholly overlook. Its allusions to Chekhov and the other masters of nineteenth century Russian literature are naked to the point of embarassment. Its political satire is less astute than its social satire, particularly when it seems overly dated to the era of Bush and Rumsfeld. Its economic satire is admirably ambitious but only halfway successful. The protagonist narrator, clearly a stand-in for the author, admits he doesn't understand currency exchange and the other details of finance and economics. Based on the most literal explorations of dystopian economics that the novel takes on, I can only assume shares his protagonist's ignorance in such matters.

But the book's strengths overwhelmingly outweigh its weaknesses. Shteyngart's tale is by turns absorbing, incisive, hilarious, and emotionally wrenching. Books that manage such a delicate balancing act while imperceptibly drawing the reader forward page by page deserve high praise.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bring On the Dwarves

Snow White and the Huntsman
2012. 127 minutes. USA. Directed by Rupert Sanders. Watchdate: 6/15/2012.
Snow White and the Huntsman is a completely forgettable and pointless action adventure-cum-romance, though I did enjoy Charlize Theron's unhinged, over the top performance as well as the super mushroomy forest trip and the seven dwarves (including Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, and Nick Frost). Why again did they deemphasize the dwarves in this version? They are the best part of the story.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The University of Flushing Toilets Online

Recently, the University of California Office of the President unveiled a new logo for the most prestigious public university system in the world. Since then, the logo has been met with near universal revulsion and outright disgust. It has been widely compared to a flushing toilet, or, more kindly, to one of those annoying loading icons that everyone loves to hate in this age of computers and attention deficits. In response, the fifteen-year-old girls at the UC Office of the President responded using Facebook, the average high schooler's public forum of choice:
Here's the thing: It's [the new logo] not replacing anything. There wasn't a logo before, and the UC seal isn't going anywhere. The symbol also isn't new. It's been on websites, brochures, advertising and other places for nearly a year now. Did we consult people and test it? Of course. Does everyone like the new symbol? No. That's very clear. But strong differences of opinion and energetic debate are part of what's made UC such an amazing place...it [the flushing toilet logo] may evolve over time.
Does everyone like the new symbol? No. Does anyone like the new symbol? The designers sure do. Are they laughing all the way to the bank? Yes. Are we going to respond constructively to the overwhelmingly negative response to the toilet bowl icon we have foisted on the University of California like some turd of an overpaid corporate consultant? No. Does asking rhetorical questions make us sound as petulantly defensive as Donald Rumsfeld at a hostile Iraq War era press conference? You bet your sweet bibby it does!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Restrictions on Bargaining Are Not a "Right to Work"

Republicans in the state legislature of Michigan have come together this week to institute new prohibitions on the freedom of contract in their state. These new state-mandated prohibitions would put certain restrictions on people's right to bargain and sign contracts reflecting the outcomes of such bargaining. Republicans often portray themselves in opposition to big government regulations of the economy. However, when it comes to putting new restrictions on the type of contracts that can be arranged between free and consenting adults, they always seem to forget they are against big government. See also "tort reform."
Prominent Example of Big Government Interfering with Freedom of Contract
For some reason, many prominent reporters and news commentators have decided to refer to the legislation in Michigan as a "right-to-work" law. I guess newspaper editors decided it would be a good idea to try to confuse their readers as much as possible. Instead of calling the legislation "restrictions on bargaining," "new prohibitions on the freedom of contract," or an anodyne (albeit somewhat vague) term like "economic regulation," they settled on a term that does nothing to illuminate the underlying law it is meant to describe.

If you asked any normal person what "the right to work" means, I believe they would say a guaranteed right to be employed. As with the right to free speech, there would probably be some limited restrictions on the right for practical reasons, but in general, if an individual was willing to work, they would have a right to be gainfully employed. That's actually a great idea! But it is an idea that bears no resemblance at all to the legislation favored by Republican legislators during the post-election Lame Duck Session.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Nazi Canary in the Allied Coal Mine

1991.  112 minutes. Denmark. Directed by Lars von Trier. Watchdate: 7/16/2012.
Wow! I am certain this movie strikes a different chord now that Lars von Trier has publicly expressed sympathy (jokingly?) for der Führer. Until watching this movie, I had never really given any serious thought to Nazi dead-enders conspiring in Germany after the second world war ended.

It does make sense that there would have been some kind of violent political insurgency during the Allied occupation of Germany (not Iraq level, but something!). I'll give von Trier credit for provoking me to think about that peculiar historical footnote. And he either deserves great credit or a resounding demerit - I'm not sure which - for pressing me to even have just the barest modicum of sympathy for the purest evil that humanity has witnessed.

I have to acknowledge the movie's imagery - bizarre, haunting, elegiac, disturbing and occasionally even goofy - and certainly like very little else I have ever seen.  Also, I am quite surprised that just as with Melancholia, the movie is extremely funny in an off-kilter  deranged sort of way. Two of the three von Trier movies I have seen were actually quite playful and hilarious, giving the lie to his reputation as an extremely serious, arty director. In a way, this movie reminded me of the work of the Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin but with a slightly more pretentious axe to grind.

Finally, I must single out the surreal and wonderful performances of Eddie Constantine and especially Udo Kier. I first became familiar with Udo Kier's bravura work in the video game Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, in which he played a Soviet mind control svengali named Yuri. Here he shows he can play a human being, not just a cartoon, and manages to be even more haunting as a regretful ex-Nazi.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sonhar com Sangue


Blood, blood, innumerable arms
All of the people yielding
at once to the force
of these feral stones
Brain? a blowfish, a squash, but knotted with blood
that threads round after beating is done
Not the bloody days of books and years
I fascinate the man on the street, 'Of course,' he says
'You curved your body to be played and trounced'


Once in awhile we'll idealize
It is what it is, we don't get it yet
We reshape to fit
an identity cast in agony


At the bargaining table
Be artless and demure
Let your arms quake 
If we don't get what I want


Blood, blood, innumerate terms
The views of another
found lifeless out of many
one brain chasing itself through open doors and windows
just as we were about to close them
The paroxysm had begun. 'Give in, give in.'
'We're doing this for you' I said with one voice
'I can't bear disobedience'
His face black as Macbeth.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Myth About Globalization

Over at Digby's place, David Atkins has argued against any cuts to Medicare or Medicaid as part of a laughably unnecessary "grand bargain" meant to avoid the largely mythological "fiscal cliff," by referring to increasingly depressed wages of working people in the U.S. But in a recent post, he repeated a myth about how globalization has factored into the downward pressure on the livelihood of the vast majority of Americans:
Now, it's certainly true that we live in a brave new world that structurally advantages the wealthy: labor is global and expendable, jobs are increasingly mechanized, the world is flattened, vertical integration and economies of scale are commonplace. But as Hacker and Pierson persuasively argue, this is also a product of intentional public policy, including (as I have frequently argued) an obsession with inflating assets over wages.
Atkins correctly points out that a major part of the story that explains the stagnation of median incomes has to do with wealthy elites using their effective capture of the U.S. government's policymaking powers to advantage the ownership of assets over the earning of wages. I would add that they have also sought to advantage certain types of wage earning that occur only in the upper echelons of the income ladder (the carried interest loophole for hedge fund managers is one example).

In effect, a whole political movement that has often characterized itself as group of small government conservatives has in reality enacted a Great Wealth Transfer to benefit the rich and politically well-connected. Writers like Jacob Hacker, Harold Meyerson and Dean Baker have carefully articulated the specific big government policy mechanisms by which the Great Wealth Transfer of the last three decades has taken place. The mechanisms include everything from highly dramatic union busting to extremely dry changes in tax and trade policy.

But Atkins' makes a mistake when he repeats a well-worn canard about globalization's role in creating a "brave new world" where high income inequality and working class insecurity happen as a result of the magical workings of the free market.  This appears to be a serious misapprehension of the facts even among the well informed who are aware of the real story.

Harold Meyerson recently wrote an article about the current state of American labor movement that makes it eminently clear that globalization was not actually a significant factor contributing to the decline in median incomes in the U.S. in recent decades. There are two key ways to understand this. First, the vast majority of U.S. jobs can't actually be outsourced. And if globalization were a major factor, we would expect to see less of a contrast between the economic experiences of the U.S. and Germany, both of which cannot compete with the low wages of the developing world, but have very different stories when it comes to the trajectories of working people's wages.

There is simply no need for thinking people to invoke globalization to explain the Great Wealth Transfer. The evidence suggests that the Great Wealth Transfer is almost entirely the result of the policies of the U.S. government, as lobbied for by organized cliques of the wealthy and well-connected. And notice that I use the plural, 'cliques,' because this is far from being a single grand conspiracy. It's merely a matter of a bunch of different people with converging interests having an enormous effect in the aggregate on lawmakers in Washington.

It's time to bury this myth about globalization once and for all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dispatch from Barsoom

John Carter
2012.  132 minutes. USA. Directed by Andrew Stanton. Watchdate: 3/10/2012.
John Carter was a lot of fun. It's much more engaging than Avatar even if the visual spectacle of its world isn't nearly as fantastic. The Disney marketing wizards really screwed up, their advertisements seemed weirdly confused and even ashamed of the movie's story. The movie is just a really well-executed adaptation of the precursor to Star Wars, Avatar, Indiana Jones and all those kinds of adventures. That shouldn't be hard to market. Instead, they removed everything distinctive about the title and went as generic as possible with the trailers. Dumb move, Disney. Dumb move.

But anyway, leaving aside this obsession with money that often consumes mainstream "entertainment journalism" (if you can think of a more odious term please don't let me know), I probably would have suggested cutting or refashioning the opening scene but other than that I have no complaints. It's largely flawless as far as these sorts of mythic adventures go and I would commend it especially for the super jumping (must be seen to be appreciated) and the pig-dog-thing (pictured above).

I was also very pleased with the Civil War era frame narrative. It's like you get to learn about some of the  American mythology that lies beneath the surface of so much modern action adventure entertainment, but you don't even notice since it's such a fun ride.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Other National Popular Vote

Many political junkies are fond of a modest proposal for electoral reform known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, often referred to as NPV for short. NPV evolved out of consternation at the result of the 2000 Presidential Election, in which George W. Bush famously won the presidency even though he didn't receive the most votes due to an archaic feature of our democracy known as the Electoral College along with a friendly ruling from the Supreme Court.

It would be admirable to institute the NPV and move to a system in which getting the most votes guarantees a victory in the presidential election. But why stop with the presidency? Last week, Democrats won more votes than Republicans in the elections for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans will maintain a solid majority in the "people's house." And this is not an uncommon result: in 1996, the same thing happened. Democrats won the House elections in terms of votes but were still in the minority in the next Congress. There were three other similar instances in the 20th century.

This is completely crazy. The House of Representatives was specifically designed to reflect the will of the people. But if a majority of Americans can't return the majority of their choice to represent them the House, that purpose has been seriously perverted.

Some argue that this result reflects gerrymandering undertaken by Republicans in many state legislatures after the 2010 census. But if you actually look carefully at the data, gerrymandering only accounts for a portion of the result. In any case, if we changed our electoral system to elect the House of Representatives based on something like proportional voting, we could eliminate the problem altogether, gerrymandering and all. We would also get the added bonus of attenuating the incentive for representatives to seek out earmarks and other special benefits for their home districts.

Might this reform damage the geographical diversity of the House of Representatives? Perhaps, but we already have a Congress that doesn't represent most forms of the diversity of our country's population. Most egregiously, women are severely underrepresented in Congress. We are nowhere near the 50-50 gender split that would reflect the population accurately. Congress also heavily overrepresents millionaires and tends to underrepresent racial and religious minorities. I would hope that people would evaluate geographical diversity as a desirable outcome alongside the other forms of desirable diversity, but this is no reason to avoid moving toward an electoral system that allows the people with the most votes to win.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mistranslation of a Tale of Barbaric Adventure

It's that Eissales was ambushed by abstract warriors
in the dead of a dog
on a foray (Yilmaz told me it was a visit to kin)
Their plan was to sell Eissales to his mortal enemies
(for a price, of course)
Stripped down to the body, tied with leather and stuck in tents
(with only a greenhorn guard idling outside)
Eissales chewed through the straps
Knocked over the guard with a two-finger jab between his head
Stole the knife and scalped the youth
and cut off one of the boy's legs
(all in what Yilmaz related to me as "one swift movement")
After escaping into the Dark Forest
Eissales survived on the leg
'til he reached the cabin of his strapping partner
(a sojourney that would have been two hundred miles in those years)

Monday, November 12, 2012

From the Daily Report of the People’s Attitudes


Today confusion and cynicism are at a high level. There is little mention of the Manufacturing Warrens. A great deal of neurotic chatter is focused on the rumor of further shortages.

1. Today the reaction is probably darker than at any time since the Collapse.

2. There are signs of desperation appearing, for the first time a definite sense among some quite ordinary people that now we cannot possibly recover. As always, many people are trying to be optimistic. They express their faith in an ultimate redemption. Only a few still express that it will be possible to emerge from recent events back to a higher level.

3. It is on the whole assumed by most people that the network backbone will fall. There is doubt and anxiety as to whether or not this would indicate the total breakdown of communication. As usual, there is a lack of opinion leadership from above to guide the people in this grave affair.

4. The Manufacturing Warrens are scarcely mentioned today. Nearly everyone is so unhappy about the situation with the network backbone.

5. In Echelon, people are in a nervous state. But only about 7% are using biomodification. Exceptional attention is being paid to the current, and in recent days it has been a challenge to buy provisions after sunrise, so rapid has the demand been (seven borehole settlements studied regularly).

6. In Aquinas, people seem to be more placid, adopting a wait-and-see approach.

7. In Borehole 4, people are worried about the failure of the network backbone. But they reacted in a relatively reserved manner to periodic bombing heard during the night.

8. Consternation after the current last night could be accessed by relatively few people. A considerable number lost access soon after it started. Those who accessed it wholly seem to have liked it for the most part but rather vaguely. Objections included: the subject addressed lacked sufficient topicality, and the people did not know anything about the speakers - the Secretariat did not make any attempt to introduce the speakers, because of the false assumption that everybody "already knew."

9. Method note for Audience Research: Our recent surveys suggest that many people turn off post-current programming after “giving them a try” or “seeing what it’s like,” etc.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Noisy Puppetry

1988.  84 minutes. Czechoslovakia. Directed by Jan Švankmajer. Watchdate: 5/7/2012.
The sound effects in this movie might be the most unpleasant noises I've ever experienced. Even if I leave that aside, along with the annoying device of showing Alice's lips speaking "he said, she said" every few moments for the entire running time, I still find that I like this movie better in theory than in practice. Sure, there's some inspired bits of stop motion animation, sure, this story deserves a dark, fucked up interpretation like what Svankmajer attempted, but it's faint praise to say this is much more interesting than the mostly disastrous Tim Burton version. I did absolutely love when Alice crawled into the desk though.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Whining White Pieces of Shit

"Comic opera." - Lancaster Dodd
From left to right: Whining White Pieces of Shit
Behold the outrage generated by that most outlandish breed of reactionary, the Whining White Piece of Shit:
When I'm at the Wal-mart or grocery story I typically pay with my debit card. On the pad it comes up, "EBT, Debit, Credit, Cash." I make it a point to say loudly to the check-out clerk, "EBT, what is that for?" She inevitably says, "it's government assistance." I respond, "Oh, you mean welfare? Great. I work for a living. I'm paying for my food with my own hard-earned dollars. And other people get their food for free." And I look around with disgust, making sure others in line have heard me.
In response to President Obama's reelection yesterday, the Whining White Piece of Shit quoted above plans to boycott any business that accepts food stamps among other measures intending to show his absolute contempt for all Obama supporters and for the government programs with which this Whining White Piece of Shit disagrees. If this Whining White Piece of Shit meets any Obama voter in the street, he will shun that person immediately and spit at the ground to register his disgust.

Last night, another Whining White Piece of Shit sat down across from me on the train and proceeded to open his laptop and blare tuneless metal songs to everyone sitting in his vicinity. At one point, the Whining White Piece of Shit carefully withdrew a dollar bil and proceeded to wipe his forehead and face with it. Initially confused by his abnormal behavior, I realized he was a Whining White Piece of Shit only when I stood up to leave the train and glanced back in his direction to read giant black capital letters spelling out "Ryan Rubio 2016 Save Us" filling the entirety of his laptop screen. This Whining White Piece of Shit was having a quasi-psychotic tantrum due to Obama's reelection. The particulars were different but the condition was much the same as in previous case.

Whining White Pieces of Shit believe that undocumented immigrants ("illegals," in their parlance) get free health care and all sorts of other handouts from the government. They believe that fully half of the country is shiftless and irresponsible. In the words of their recently fallen standard bearer, this massive cohort of parasitic Americans has the temerity to feel "entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."

This is not just a series of anecdotes. One of the two major political parties in the United States now bases its entire political appeal on feeding the feelings of resentment, victimization and self-pity that course through the veins of Whining White Pieces of Shit all over this great land. The Supreme Court has just heard a case brought by a Whining White Piece of Shit who is convinced that the undue privileges of racial minorities, and not her subpar SAT scores, were what prevented her from attending the University of Texas. And there's hilarious pictorial evidence of this phenomenon as well.

But in addition to being pretty funny and undeniably pathetic, it's also the main reason we can't have a serious conversation about climate change even as the effects of global warming become ever more apparent. It's the reason we aren't employing the massive idle resources in our depressed economy to rebuild our decaying infrastructure. It's the reason we have to talk seriously about the trivialization of rape. It's the reason we have to fight for our right to vote. In short, it really blows to be stuck in the same real world as Whining White Pieces of Shit who spend most of their time living in a fantasy world where they lack all privilege and African-Americans, Latinos and young people have everything handed to them on a silver platter.

I just hope and pray that I never become a Whining White Piece of Shit myself.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Also Known As Book Lust

Larry McMurty recently auctioned off a sizable portion of his collection of 450,000 books, most of which resided in Booked Up, the book shop he owns in Archer City, Texas. This has inspired me to confess to my increasingly unstable obsession with book stores in general, and finding all the good ones in the San Francisco Bay Area in particular. This syndrome is closely related to a condition known as book lust.

The motherlode book shop in the Bay Area, so far as I've encountered thus far, is Green Apple Books on Clement Street in the Richmond District of San Francisco. I finally made it over to Green Apple over the summer and was quite overwhelmed by their vast and varied collection. I felt some anguish when I had to leave before being able to explore their second floor.

Green Apple is not quite as historically or culturally important as City Lights Books in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, but somehow it feels even better to browse Green Apple's seemingly endless stacks. City Lights also publishes books, including lots of translations that bring exposure to international literature that otherwise wouldn't have any readership at all in the Anglophone world. Aside from City Lights' own publications, it appears to me that Green Apple has a slightly better selection, as well as having the advantage of being less of a tourist destination.

I would also like to give honorable mention to Modern Times Books and Dogeared Books in the Mission District of San Francisco, and Moe's, Shakespeare & Co., Half Price Books, and Pegasus Books in Berkeley.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Turkish Travels No. 6

FETHIYE 5/30/12 - We are on a dolmuş, a small, cramped, hot little rocket to Kayakoyu. Kayakoyu is a Greek village in southern Turkey that was abandoned after a 1923 "population exchange." We are with Brandon, an Asian-Australian fellow who had been living in London for the last couple of years. Shortly after Turkey, he's taking a 5 month trip to South America. He's been out of university for at least five years now, so it sounds like it's possible to do such things after starting a career.
Kayakoyu, Turkey
Sitting in the ruins of this 17th century Greek Orthodox High Church, I am reminded of the pictures I have seen of the bombed ruins of World War II era Europe. Yet this city wasn't bombed, rather its population was deported almost ninety years ago. Since then, nature has taken its toll. Staggering.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

An Unsatisfying Meal

Chicken with Plums
2011.  93 minutes. France. 
Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi. Watchdate: 4/30/2012.
Chicken with Plums is an entirely pleasant and mild movie that borders on being insufferably middle of the road. The absurdly cartoonish elements aren't particularly funny and the maudlin romantic moments aren't particularly moving, but there are a few scenes worthy of attention, particularly a long sequence that ends with some amusing opium-related comic business.

I haven't seen Persepolis so I can't compare it to the filmmaker's previous work, though I don't feel like I'm in more of rush to see Persepolis based on the style exhibited in this movie.

Sometimes I want to excoriate these middling kinds of movies, but it seems ornery and ideological to do so. What's the point of generating hatred where none existed before?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

California Bassackwards! No on Prop 31

California Forward, a non-partisan front group for sanctimonious centrists who think problems can be solved by anodyne nonsense and half-measures, has polluted the ballot in our state with a truly moronic proposition that would give large businesses the ability to elude environmental regulations by playing county governments against each other. While it purports to move power and authority down to the local level, it would have the effect of giving private business entities the power to rewrite California's laws as long as they can convince already beleaguered local governments to go along with them.

I am a strong supporter of the principle of local control of decision-making. Every day, city governments all over the country enact great policies that federal and state governments are too sluggish and cowardly to touch. But often "bringing power back to local government" is code for "corporate privatization of laws and regulations", in the same sense that "states rights" is often code for "white supremacism." I don't know if the folks at California Forward are actually so stupid as to not know the difference between the two or if they're actually going out of their way to hand power to big monied interests, but based on prior knowledge of the organization I would say it's likely some combination of both.

The "common sense" centrism espoused by groups like California serves two distinct purposes. First, it's a subconscious pose by intellectual lightweights attempting to appear as if they have thought through the issues and come to the conclusion that both sides of the debate are half right. Second, it's an attempt to cloak nasty, brutish policies in the guise of reasonable compromise.

To illustrate what I mean, let's consider California Forward's stance on legislative minority rule in California. Or should I say, lack of a stance on legislative minority rule in California. If you're unfamiliar with California politics, you might not be aware that our state's finances are held hostage to the whims of an entrenched minority in the legislature. Because of an obscure portion of a law passed more than thirty years ago, one third of the state legislature can block any measure to raise new revenue to pay for public goods like education, health care, public safety and transit infrastructure. An entrenched minority has taken advantage of this rule to control the state's fiscal trajectory.

One would think an organization dedicated to reforming political institutions and improving the finances of the state would at least mention this major issue on their website. But legislative minority rule does not receive any attention from California Forward. How could this be?

Well, sensible centrism would have you believe we can't afford to adequately fund public education in California because the people's elected legislators won't vote to fund it. But voters support increased support for public education by wide margins. Likewise, a majority of California legislators want to pass measures like the no-brainer oil extraction fee that would charge oil companies to drill in the state just like Alaska and Texas do. This would bring in new revenue that could fund the public's priorities But a minority blocks all attempts to revenue. So here we are.

I apologize if you read this far expecting a thoughtful dissection of California Forward as a representative for milquetoast centrism that fucks over the working class every day of the week. Unfortunately, it turns out I just have a grudge against them for not backing the California Democracy Act back in 2010. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Possible Successors to Warren Buffett, "The Oracle of Omaha"

Woodrow Eastwick, The Prophet of Peoria
Hector Wentworth, The Wizard of Wichita
Ray Pinchot, The Shaman of Shreveport
Earl Norris, The Diviner of Duluth
Spiro Fallon, The Telepath of Topeka
Hamish Perlmutter, The Clairvoyant of Cleveland
Hoover Framingham, The Nostradamus of Nashville
Jeremiah Hubbard, The Buddha of Bloomington
Neve Linklater, The Sage of Salt Lake City
Thomas Mogenson, The Enchanter of Evansville
Isaac Fairbanks, The Sorcerer of Springfield
Adam Tertius, The Guru of Grand Rapids
Victor Kerosene, The Mage of Missoula

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Come on Down to Barleycorn's for the Holy Spectacle and an Unbeatable BLT

At 9:01am, Barleycorn's is a church, a temple, a place of worship with mass three times per day, prayer in the direction of the Black Monolith five times per day, and a reading of the Sacred Scrolls of Wisdom by Rabbi Michael Lerner at least once per week. Barleycorn's is located with building that has a steeple, a bell tower, and two minarets, along with stalactites, stalagmites, and many other pseudo-natural wonders. At around 8pm (or just after sunset, whichever comes first), Barleycorn's closes down, the last prayer said, the last mass read.

At 9:01pm, Barleycorn's reopens as an all-night diner. It serves hot pastrami, corned beef, roast beef au jus, meatloaf, chicken salad, tuna salad, potato salad, bacon, lettuce and tomato, meatball sub, macaroni and cheese, fried mozzarella sticks, grilled cheese, chicken soup for the soul, chicken parmesan, chicken cacciatore, chicken kiev, chicken fried steak, chinese chicken salad, bbq pork bun, cobb salad, taco salad, breakfast burrito, tabouli, all manner of omelettes and benedicts, french toast, belgian waffles, canadian bacon, hot pots of coffee, cold pitchers of beer...
Barleycorn's in the daytime.
Barleycorn's maintains a jukebox from the 70s with decades of records. In the back is a pool table and several pinball machines. It stops serving at 7:30am and closes about a half hour later. If you're in the area, come on down and and have a bite.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Question of Choice

Lake of Fire
2006.  152 minutes. USA. Directed by Tony Kaye. Watchdate: 1/21/2012.
On the 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, I watched this frightening but insightful documentary about abortion that actually gives a fair consideration of the morality of the issue without resorting to the false equivalence of "evenhandedness" when examining the political aspects of the same. The pro-life movement is based on patriarchal authoritarianism and the radical parts of it are totally nuts and at times, extremely dangerous. The movie doesn't pull any punches about that reality.

That being said, it does take seriously the philosophical questions that ask about what constitutes life, and the movie shows just enough footage of actual abortions to allow for a real discussion without becoming exploitative. Shot in stark black and white photography, there are a few shots that really stood out to me. It's definitely a thought provoking and worthwhile documentary.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Most Important Political Story of the Year

...is not the United States presidential election. There, I said it. It's not that I don't think it's very important who wins the presidential election. It's very important who wins. For example, if Mitt Romney wins, it's likely his administration will eviscerate both Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, depriving tens of millions of the Americans of health care. That would be tragic.

But the most important political story of 2012 is the growing wave of strike actions at Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in the entire world. Wal-Mart is virulently anti-union and entirely non-unionized, meaning these actions are taking place largely outside the federal government's legal framework of labor conflict resolution governed by Wagner Act.

This is huge.

Wildcat strikes at the world's largest employers mean that labor organizing in the United States is far from dead, despite the many obituaries written for it by both conservatives and liberals. And if you care at all about building a more fair and just society, you should be very happy about this turn of events. As Harold Meyerson recently argued, a future without a labor movement is likely a future without any kind of progress at all on a broad range of social justice concerns.
And here's what's truly remarkable: workers striking against Wal-Mart are actually winning. They are beating the 16 billion pound gorilla:
Workers at the Elwood, Illinois Walmart distribution center won full back pay for the three weeks they were out on strike. Workers at the Mira Loma, California distribution center returned to work after two weeks with nobody fired and a commitment from Walmart to monitor its contractors’ safety performance more closely. And groups of Walmart store workers who have struck in cities across the country to protest wages and working conditions have done so without facing company retaliation.
This is by far the most promising sociopolitical news in the United States since the birth of the Occupy movement last fall. In many ways, it's even more promising. And between the two, we may be starting to see the coalescence of a broad alliance of ordinary working people that resembles that which revolutionized this country back in the 1930s after the last Great Depression.
That statement could be fairly called too optimistic. But if you are sick of the direction the United States is moving in, don't sit on the sidelines any longer. Things are starting to change because real people are starting to change it. If you want change, don't just complain; don't sit on your ass and watch MSNBC. Act.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Offensive, Condescending, and Tone Deaf

"I know picking words that don't sound terrible isn't Mitt Romney's strong suit, but..."

During yesterday's presidential debate, Mitt Romney responded to a question about pay equity for women with an answer so tin-earred, it took my breath away:
Thank you. And — important topic and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the — the chance to pull together a Cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, how come all the people for these jobs are — are all men? They said, well, these are the people that have the qualifications. And I said, well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified? 
And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of — of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America. 
Now, one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort, but number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can’t be here until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5:00 so I can be there for — making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said, fine, let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you. 
Romney answered a question about gender discrimination by telling an anecdote about how he had to accomodate a woman on his staff who wanted to be home in time to make dinner for her family. This is a candidate who has just demonstrated, quite remarkably, that he is as tone deaf on gender issues as he is on class issues.

The saddest part is that there is absolutely nothing wrong about a mother or father wanting to spend time with their children. A recent episode of the television show Louie sensitively addressed the tension between career advancement and family commitments from a male perspective. Sheryl Sandberg and Ann-Marie Slaughter have had a very public debate about the same topic from a female perspective. Yet somehow Romney has to frame it in the most regressive Leave It To Beaver Back to the 50s way possible. Awesome.

Monday, October 15, 2012

End This Jobs Crisis Now!

If I held public office right now, this is the speech I would make over and over again. I would stand on every soapbox that would have me delivering this message. And I would probably be ignored or marginalized.

"The official unemployment rate is nearly double what used to be considered normal just a few short years ago. And that official rate does not even include millions of underemployed and long term unemployed Americans. Years after the financial crisis, employment in this country is still deeply depressed. Not only does this mean untold hardship for millions of unemployed Americans and their families, but it is also causing permanent damage to our economy since long term unemployment damages the skills and earning power of workers forever. Given this stark reality, it is unconscionable that the leadership of this country is not doing everything in its power to end this jobs crisis now.

"The saying goes that those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it. If that's true, a lot of politicians in Washington don't know their American history. We have been through this before. A financial crisis destabilizing the real economy causing a collapse in spending, investment and employment is exactly what happened in the Great Depression. We also know what finally got the country out of the Great Depression. It was the massive effort to prepare this country to fight the Second World War that pulled us out of long term economic malaise. The war effort made it so there was enough work to go around for everyone. 

"This time, we made an effort to deal with the Great Recession early on called the Recovery Act. We came together and starting putting people back to work. And guess what? It's not popular to say this, but it worked. We went from job losses to job gains, from a shrinking economy to a growing economy, from a tanking stock market to a recovered stock market. We've recovered faster than our allies in the UK and Europe, and our recovery is going faster than comparable examples from other countries as well as our own in the past century. 

"The only problem is, the Recovery Act wasn't big enough or sustained enough to finish the job. Now look, this isn't too complicated. When the fire department doesn't have enough hoses to put out a fire completely, they don't just give up and look for an alternative to water. They call for more trucks and helicopters with more hoses until the job is done! That's how ordinary folks deal with an emergency. They roll up their sleeves and keep working at it. They use the best knowledge they have to fix it. Only in Washington do you see people throw up their hands and start working on other problems while the house is still on fire. We can do better. We must do better.

"We have got to put people back to work. That's the number one thing. Ask any business owner out there about what's stopping them from hiring or adding hours or making new investments and they'll tell you, they just don't see the customers. That's not just me talking, that's every survey that's been done - they all show business owners are waiting until they get all their customers back before they start hiring seriously and making big investments again. But a customer is just another word for a worker. More workers means more customers. More unemployment means less customers. The more people we put back to work, the more customers businesses will have which means they'll hire more too.

"But maybe your saying to yourself, a world war isn't around the corner, nor would we ever want it to be, so there just isn't anything we can all come together to work on. I am not suggesting, as Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has said facetiously, that we should waste a bunch of money on a military buildup to combat a fictionalized alien menace. But the truth is, we have plenty to do, and there are plenty of jobs to put people back to work doing. Let's start with the low hanging fruit. Right now, this country has fewer firefighters, police officers and teachers than it had before the financial crisis, even though crime hasn't gone down, fires haven't stopped, and there's even more kids looking for an education. So let's rehire firefighters, rehire police officers, rehire great teachers and then some. Public safety and education are important, let's make it a priority again.

"Second, we have a rapidly deteriorating infrastructure. One fourth of all American bridges carry more traffic than their intended capacity or are badly in need of repair. One third of all American roads are in substandard condition. 4,095 American dams are at risk of failure. That number has doubled in the past fifteen years. American sewer systems leak more than a trillion gallons of untreated sewage every single year due to decay and disrepair. We spend more than $50 billion each year just cleaning up that sewage. Why don't we take that money and spend it rebuilding these public systems that are the backbone of our economy and put the unemployed to work doing it? And interest rates are so low right now, it's actually a really cheap investment with a high rate of return since we need this infrastructure in order to function effectively.

"And lastly, we need a revolution in the way we produce and consume energy. Our foreign policy is dominated by concerns about our foreign oil supply. American agriculture is unsustainably dependent on artificially cheap fossil fuels. The burning fossil fuels is poisoning our environment leading to adverse health effects for millions of American families and destroying livelihoods along coastlines every time there's an oil spill. Not to mention that the pollution is destabilizing the climate, causing extreme weather events and further endangering food supply with droughts. A world war might not be around the corner, thank God, but we have a huge project ahead of us, and that is reinventing our energy economy to run on the clean, renewable and increasingly cheap energy sources of the future. We have millions of people unemployed and a massive project to take on the 21st century's biggest challenges just waiting to get started. Problem, meet solution."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Batarang Culture

The Dark Knight Rises
2012. 164 minutes. USA. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Watchdate: 7/20/2012.
If The Dark Knight was The Godfather Part II of comic book movies, this movie is thankfully not The Godfather Part III of comic book movies (that dubious honor belongs to X3: X-Men United). That may not be the kindest way to begin discussing this movie, but it feels honest to me. Leaving aside the tragic events that occurred in Colorado when the movie opened, I see a lot to like about The Dark Knight Rises but it is also clear to me that all of The Dark Knight's weaknesses are present with interest in this sequel - the hurried editing, the narrative overambition, the underdeveloped characters.

However, the biggest problem is that these weaknesses are not excused by strengths nearly as formidable as those of its predecessor. Still, I will give the movie a considerable amount of credit for two of its overarching aspects. First, its sly determination to bring a dizzying coherency to the three movies as a trilogy. Second, and more importantly, its unflinching commitment to exploring complex contemporary political and cultural phenomena without any reliance on pat answers (or even simplistic interpretations) within the vehicle of a loud summer blockbuster. More than any other filmmaker working on adapting comic books in Hollywood, Christopher Nolan continually shows a willingness to challenge the assumptions of heroism itself and to stride into moral gray areas with his 'superhero' characters and massive audience in tow. For seamlessly weaving all of chief tensions of our age into pulpy entertainment, the movie deserves plaudits.

When I promised a follow up to my post about the movie theater shootings in Colorado, I had in mind some grand ambition about drawing together Christopher Nolan's operatic exploration of the War on Terror and post-crisis economic inequality with the horrifying dimensions of the movie theater killer's madness and even including my own personal experience of hearing the breaking news of the midnight shootings as I stood in line for the movie. Now, I think I am incapable of doing so. I'm not even sure doing that would be a good idea.

But I still feel it's important to praise the intelligence and political ambition of Nolan's Batman trilogy in an age of pointedly brainless blockbuster adventures that thoughtlessly glorify stupid violence and substitute explosions and backflipping cars for theme and narrative coherency. Nor did Nolan take the easy route of polemicizing some stance on the War on Terror in The Dark Knight or Occupy Wall Street in The Dark Knight Rises.

Instead, he gave us quiet moments of doubt - Morgan Freeman's righteous protests over the surveillance device in The Dark Knight, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's disappointment with the willfully opportunistic dishonesty (i.e. corruption) of his police detective idols in The Dark Knight Rises. The latter moment probably qualifies as the primary saving grace of a movie that teeters on the brink of being a noisy machine with far less sophistication than the rest of the trilogy. For that reason, a better title for the movie might have been Joseph Gordon-Levitt Rises.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Submerged Jealousy

A few days ago on the way to work, I had a more visceral reaction to literature than I have ever had before. I am currently reading 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. The reaction was caused by a scene in which the scholars Pelletier and Espinoza (a twentieth century Bouvard and Pécuchet to be sure) attack a Pakistani cab driver in London over an insult. The cabbie had called the two of them pimps and their mutual ex-girlfriend a whore. As best as I can tell, this is actually a quite realistic depiction about how much senseless violence gets started in this world. How crude and how ridiculous.

Before the attack happens at the very end of the scene, I had identified quite deeply with the jealousy that Pelletier and Espinoza felt due to the unraveling of their relationship with Liz Norton due to recent events in my own life. I identified even more with Pelletier and Espinoza's self-mockery of their own jealousy. But when the sequence took a turn for the bizarre with the cabbie's untoward suggestions that his fares were flesh merchants, I felt myself begin to follow Pelletier and Espinoza right down into an abyss self-aggrandizing violence. When Espinoza pulls the cabbie out of the car in order to slap him around, I was cheering his actions. Then as it quickly devolved into a merciless beating, I recoiled in horror in how far I was willing to go to salve my own feelings on inadequacy.

There is a reason that 2666 is the sixth novel by Bolaño that I have tackled this year. This is it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Is That It?

Do the Right Thing
1989. 120 minutes. USA. Directed by Spike Lee. Watchdate: 8/26/2012.
Like La Dolce Vita and In A Lonely Place, Do the Right Thing is one of the those movies that works well enough for most of its running time but then in the final thirty minutes or so launches stratospherically into being one of the most affecting, astonishingly brilliant movies ever.

It may be worth praising the standout performances of Ossie Davis, Danny Aiello, and John Turturro, but this is a case where praising any one part of the movie won't suffice because the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. It's not about what the movie is, it's about how the movies grows to be.

She's Gotta Have It and Mo Betta Blues went along way to convincing me that Spike Lee shares a lot of filmmaking vocabulary in common with Woody Allen. This movie began by confirming that assumption and ended by completely, utterly upsetting it.

Lastly, the more erudite cineaste might downgrade Do the Right Thing for its forthright directness. I would counter that it is direct without being at all obvious, cloying, or easy, and that its climax and denouement ask as many questions as they answer. What I mean to say is that this movie is direct without sacrificing an iota of complexity. I don't think it could be any other way.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Xtreme Weather

The truth is not just inconvenient anymore. It's obvious. Whether it's extended droughts, historic heat waves, wildfires that burn hotter and longer than ever, or more frequent and intense hurricanes and tornadoes, you don't have to go to the Arctic in the summer (where a third of the sea ice is gone) to get that global warming is already having a dramatic affect on climatological conditions all over the world.

As these photos from NASA's Extreme Weather Event Photo Contest demonstrate, global warming is going to be awesome.
Photo Credit: Grant Petty
Photo Credit: Jason Weingart
Not in the "The Black Keys played an awesome show at the Warfield last night" way, but rather the "The shockwave sent out by the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs and altered Earth forever must have been an awesome sight" way.

Photo Credit: Meggan Wood
Photo Credit: Brian Allen
Keep in mind, the federal government currently has the ability to borrow money at near zero or even negative yields. To put that into plain English, the federal government can borrow money from lenders who will actually pay us (the taxpayers) for the privilege. We can afford to end our country's leading role in the carbon emission contribution sweepstakes right now. We could responsibly borrow the money necessary to rebuild our infrastructure over the next few years to use sustainable sources of energy.

This would mean an upgrade to electrical grid that wastes ungodly amounts of energy right now. It would mean replacing coal power plants with wind turbines, hydroelectric dams, geothermal power plants, and lots of solar panels. (We could be putting solar panels on the tops of thousands of buildings like Germany has already done.) It would mean weatherizing every home in the country. It would mean building more mass transit networks to take cars off the road. It would mean paying people to trade in for more fuel efficient (electric!) vehicles (Cash for Clunkers was and continues to be a pretty good idea).

Photo Credit: Brian Johnson
The main reason why rebuilding America in this manner won't happen is that the oil companies would have to write off trillions of dollars in assets. Awesome.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

More Like Polyphemus

2012. 124 minutes. USA. Directed by Ridley Scott. Watchdate: 6/13/2012.
Screencap from only great scene in Prometheus.
The best segments in Prometheus seemed to be those that did not quite necessarily fit with the overall shittiness of the movie. The opening sequence with David the creepy robot (Michael Fassbender) worked really well. But it's practically straight out of Kubrick, stylistically at least. It felt orphaned from a different (possibly much better) movie that did not cater to the summer blockbuster crowd with poorly conceived action sequences. In general, the David character worked best for me but I think that's as much a testament to Fassbender as it is to the filmmakers. He took a very intriguing but underdeveloped character and made it fascinating to watch. (So far, he's made riveting every role I've seen him play.)

In one scene, Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace) gets an abortion from that machine (see image above). This was the only scene in the movie where I was fully engaged and transfixed. It was so visceral and simultaneously such a rich vein to mine thematically. If I recall correctly, it's even more indelible than anything in Ridley Scott's original Alien movie.

Other than that, Prometheus is a sci-fi mystery with no center. As is par for the course with the Lost crew, it relies heavily on playing obscurity for depth. What's worse is it hinges on a bunch of faithy mumbo jumbo totally devoid of any self-awareness or real thoughtfulness.

Most sci-fi movies grow out of a simple "what if" scenario or premise. Prometheus never grows out of its "what if," it just patters around in it stagnantly. To put it simply, it is a movie that thoroughly lacking in dynamism.

PS - Prometheus lost a lot of my remaining patience when it randomly added zombies to the action without explanation in a lame attempt to keep things interesting.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Three Bald Writers

There once were three bald writers. Their keyboards were as worn as their heads were shiny. The three bald writers were named John, Max and Nick.
John and Max each wrote blogs. They wrote other things too, but mainly blogs. They would both dispute this characterization, but I am just going to stick with my interpretation in this exercise for just a moment if you'll indulge me. Nick once wrote a column for The Believer that really felt like a blog even though it wasn't. For some reason, a collection of Nick's columns entitled The Polysyllabic Spree felt most especially like a blog, even though it came in book form. Maybe it's because he began each column with a list of books he had read along with a list of books he had bought during that month. Or maybe not.

Max and Nick each wrote novels. John rarely ventured into the world of prose except for a few short stories. John wrote screenplays, but Max and Nick also wrote screenplays, though not nearly as many as John, who wrote forty or so, some of which were actually produced. John had developed a symbiotic relationship with the hugely popular filmmaker Tim. Tim had made the offbeat into the on beat. He directed a number of John's screenplays into movies of variable success. But enough about Tim. Let's get back to the three bald writers.
Interestingly enough, Nick had gained the greatest accolade of all three bald writers. However, he did not receive the recognition for a novel. He received it for a screenplay. The screenplay was not based on one of his own books, though several of his books had been adapted into movies. In fact, one had been adapted into two different movies. Max had only written a screenplay based on one of his own books. Nick's accolade was an Academy Award nomination. John was a famous and successful screenwriter with more than a decade's worth of credits to his name, but he could not claim a comparable accolade.

To be fair to John and Max, Nick came from a slightly earlier generation. Nick was a (late) baby boomer, while John and Max were (mid-range) Gen Xers. This meant Nick had extra time to become accomplished.

In addition, it's worth mentioning that John and Max had tried writing a much greater range of genres. You might say Max had even invented his own genre, a sort of mutant cousin of science fiction. John even wrote a musical!
This story is about John August, Max Barry and Nick Hornby.

I have been greatly inspired by these three bald writers. They have all done so much to demystify the profession of writing, with John having done the most and Nick having done the least. I'm not even sure why I group them together. But I feel compelled to for some reason. It's probably a familiar feeling.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Stupendous Facial Hair of Political Thugs in the Americas

10. José Martí

9. Rutherford B. Hayes

8. Julián Trujillo Largacha

7. Fidel Castro

6. Andrés Avelino Cáceres 

5. George Crook

4. Abraham Lincoln

3. Venustiano Carranza

2. Máximo Gómez

1. Chester A. Arthur

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gun Culture

I was standing in line at three in the morning waiting to see The Dark Knight Rises at the Metreon in San Francisco when I first heard about the shootings in Aurora. Based on the number of people waiting for the 3:45AM showings at the Metreon, I imagine I am not alone in having had the experience of learning about this mass murder very shortly before seeing the most anticipated movie of the year. However, despite the highly associative proximity of these events, I feel quite uncomfortable connecting them in a meaningful way. Let me explain why.

In April 1999, two kids wearing trench coats walked into a school and started shooting. That same month, Keanu Reeves wore a trench coat when he walked into a security checkpoint and started shooting. The second event happened in the movie The Matrix. Some people insisted on drawing a connection, saying that these kids took inspiration from that particular violent movie. Or they connected it to Doom, saying that these kids took inspiration from that particular violent video game. Or they connected it to Marilyn Manson, saying that these kids took inspiration from that particularly violent music.
Don't you wish you were as cool?
In a way, all these wild-eyed attempts to make sense of the insensible are understandable. The killer chose to fire off his weapon in a theater showing a movie that some critics argue glorifies violence. If the killer sought to glorify himself by committing an act of heinous violence, perhaps he got the idea at the movies. And those gun-wielding, trench coat wearing hackers looked awfully cool shooting up all that flesh and concrete. High schoolers are impressionable, you know?

So what do we make of the shooting at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee earlier this week? Can we find a movie to blame? No? Well, since it's already a foregone conclusion that the media was responsible, try this explanation on for size. The right-wing television and radio apparatus makes a sport of hating foreigners and Muslims. The Sikhs that were killed a few days ago were neither foreigners nor Muslims, but they sure looked like outsiders, at least in the mind of the average Rush Limbaugh listener.

Rather than blaming characters as outlandish as Bane or Glenn Beck, maybe we should consider the possibility that the media reflects the pulse of popular consciousness as much as the other way around. Mental illness, egomania and unhinged hatred are not only housed in the domains of Hollywood or talk radio. They exist throughout a diversity of communities across the land of the free, home of the brave. Our society might want to consider the implications of blaming the mirror for showing us what we really look like.

Well-meaning liberals will now suggest a discussion of gun control laws. Movement conservatives will be excited to harangue liberals for such a suggestion. I will note that Batman never uses guns. I like to watch Batman movies, but others like to go hunting on the weekends. To each his own. Guns don't kill people, movies do.

All will be resolved, including what I think of The Dark Knight Rises, in Part II. Part II will be bigger and more violent. After reading Part II, you will learn that these posts were always intended to be part of a trilogy. Part III will never live up to the hype of Part II.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Logic of Dreams

Chungking Express
1994. 102 minutes. China. Directed by Wong Kar-Wai. Watchdate: 11/2/2012.
Chungking Express expresses romance and a sense of longing through moments, images and somewhat poetic abstract structure that take prominence over the two intersecting central narratives. The narratives do not follow a standard story logic, rather they use the associative logic of dreams: Qiwu is in love with May and his birthday is May 1st while he understands their relationship through canned food expiration dates; Tony Leung’s character gets over a relationship with a flight attendant by falling in love with a woman who later becomes a flight attendant and when he invites her to meet him at a restaurant called California, she ends up going to the state of California instead.

The movie lies somewhere between the real (in that it depicts how people really live in Hong Kong to a certain extent) and the surreal in that it follows this odd associative dream logic I just attempted to describe. So pretty much the same deal as Fallen Angels yet this movie felt somehow warmer. I don't mean that to be derogatory to Fallen Angels, both warmer movies and colder movies appeal to me in different ways.

Anyway, Wong Kar-Wai has not yet fully captured my imagination. But his work appeals to me probably because the weird associative logic of his narratives reminds me of my own tendencies in storytelling.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Day-old Krugman

I greedily consume my day-old Krugman while living as a researcher that gets inside the minds of psychopaths. I ñeet somethyng, but not quite a work by Hans Henny Jahnn. Rather like The Man Who Lived. I ain't any kind of maven, you know? I'm just bread and butter and blood and soil; I'm halfway through a Craiglist queer recovery. Feeling queasy in this sphere of pure reference. So Letts works towards world's peace, women's rights and a face without freckles. Letts quashed the hoot pop writing session. We thank various machine guns for their roles in this neon charade. Letts fired Miskimin from his supervisory role. But Miskimin, that old confidence trickster, he got rehired to play the role of my beastly manservant. Sway gently the rafters, plumbers, we embrace callipygian vixens.

And I had just finished reading Ten thousand things relating to China and the Chinese : an epitome of the genius, government, history, literature, agriculture, arts, trade, manners, customs and social life of the people of the Celestial Empire.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Heston Causes Drought

This summer, Hollywood Star Charlton Heston has not only set temperature records across the Midwest, he is also intensifying drought conditions -- and relief isn't on the horizon for most areas, the National Weather Service reported Thursday.

Drought conditions brought on by Heston's sere presence exist in 56 percent of the continental U.S., according to the weekly Drought Review. That's the biggest effect the former president of the NRA has had on the country since his death four years ago, topping the previous record of a large spike in viewings of the 1959 movie Touch of Evil on the streaming service Netflix in late 2010.
Charlton Heston absorbing all of the groundwater in The Omega Man.
Heston's ability to significantly impact the climate of North America is believed to be linked to the run of movies he made in the 1970s, beginning with Antony and Cleopatra.

The drought hasn't been long enough to rank up there with Ben-Hur or Planet of the Apes as one of Charlton Heston's most recognizable achievements, Kenneth Richilds, a meteorologist and film historian at the Motion Picture Association of America's Climate Prediction Center, told A Gilded Planet.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dangerously Bland

A Dangerous Method
2011. 99 minutes. Canada. Directed by David Cronenberg. Watchdate: 1/3/2012.
What a disappointment! Rarely have I seen so much potential greatness squandered. Fassbender is great, he plays it understated more than I would have expected and it works very well. I don't think I've seen Viggo Mortensen do better work. Even Keira Knightly does a fairly good job. But the movie just doesn't go anywhere. It's so internalized, yet it seems like Cronenberg didn't take the time to figure out a good way to shoot the internalization which I know he can be great at doing. Very frustrating! I know people wrote lots of longhand letters in those days but come on, Cronenberg, you can do better than a bunch of mirthless voiceovers to dramatize such things, really.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Libor Rate Rigging Scandal Can and Should Lead to Arrests and Jail Time

If I read any more stories about bankster malfeasance I'm going to have an aneurysm. The Guardian reports that American and European authorities are close to arresting some of the bankers involved in the egregious Libor Rate Rigging Scandal:
American prosecutors and European regulators are close to arresting individual traders over the Libor scandal and charging them with colluding to manipulate global benchmark interest rates, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
If we don't start arresting banksters, they are just going to keep stealing from us in every way that can be imagined. Colluding to manipulate global interest rates amounts to stealing from nearly everyone at once in a stunningly diabolical worldwide skimming conspiracy. But if they can't steal from us that way, JPMorgan has most recently shown they have plenty of other ways to steal from us. JPMorgan is clearly taking its competition with Goldman Sachs for the title of most vile vampire squid seriously, as it has been using its implicit taxpayer guarantee of future bailouts to make highly risky multibillion dollar bets while also fraudulently manipulating energy markets. Get a load of this report by the LA Times:
The ISO, a nonprofit corporation controlled by the state government, estimates that JPMorgan may have gamed the state's power market for $57 million in improper payments over six months in 2010 and 2011.
But that could be just the tip of the iceberg: The bank continued its activities past that time frame, according to the ISO. It also says JPMorgan's alleged manipulation could have helped throw the entire energy market out of whack, imposing what could be incalculable costs on ratepayers.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the regulator of the ISO and its trading markets, has started a formal investigation into Morgan's allegedly manipulative energy deals in California and with the Midwest ISO, which covers 11 states from Michigan to Montana.
What balls they have! Enron got caught doing this kind of thing just ten short years ago, and already the Wall Street piggies are back at the trough. Have they no shame? If they don't, they could certainly afford to buy some.

Arrest the banksters and bring them to justice. It's the only way for our economy to heal over the long term.