Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Men are from Mars, Women are Evil

Free movies are the best kind, even when they're not very good. Here in DC, we have the Smithsonian showing foreign and "classic" pictures that run the gamut from quite good to tiring.

The Devil is a Woman falls more towards the latter but not for lack of trying. Marlene Dietrich and Cesare Romero? This thing had more raw talent and showmanship than a year's worth of Hollywood disasters combined! You even forget for a while that for a film set in early 1900s Spain, Romero sticks out as the only genuine Spanish actor.

Dietrich in contrast is a Viking.

But, see, this was still Hollywood. Larval maybe but that drive for the simplistic and maudlin was still present in the Golden Age. And that holds it back from the misanthropic brilliance it was striving for.

Romero plays a young Republican - yes and I'm not explaining the context - on the run from the law for inciting revolution but stopping off for the local carnival where he spots Dietrich's character, a sultry gypsy type. He chases her through the streets in his Zorro mask, catching up just as she disappears into one of those monstrous European houses originally built for royalty. He thinks he's lost but while hiding from some of the comically put upon police - really, the civil servants in this steal the show with their pure slapstick - she slips him a letter asking to meet.

Romero, all excited, runs into his old friend Captain Totally-Not-Spanish-But-Just-Bear-With-Us to whom he brags about his impending hot date. But upon hearing the date's name is Concha - or "Pussy" if you're Honduran - the Captain goes all grave and warns Romero to run far far away from the blond gypsy.

Concha it turns out is a real griffter. She manipulated El Captain, squeezing him for money and gifts with the prospect of her love before running off with a matador. Captain Not-Spanish has his manly little heart broken by the conniving Concha and desperately wants to save Romero from making the same mistake.

Well Romero does. And the Captain shows up because he's still got the Concha-fever. It doesn't count as a spoiler if it was blatantly telegraphed by the plot (watch it and see for yourself).

So we have two old friends ready to kill each other - duel and everything! - over this one woman who never demonstrates concern for anyone but herself. What a heinous bitch, right? Well, see, the movie may think that's what is being said but Concha is all too honest with her shallowness from the start. If these silly bastards want to run themselves ragged to win her affection, why shouldn't she accept their gifts? And ask for more? Especially since she's a woman in 1900s Spain - she starts the film working in a cigarette factory and you can't really blame her for taking any opportunity to get out of that. There was some professor who talked way too long before the show about the role of women in 19th century fiction and femme fatales and blah blah blah - I could tell he was just ecstatic at having a captive audience for his pet theories which he clearly formed in the absence of any real women. And he called it a cruel film when it is anything but.

It wants to be a cruel film, that much is true. But Concha is just having fun and all the men are acting so stupidly serious about it. They're attracted to her overt sexuality but throw a fit when she shows off to any other guy. Yes, there's all sorts of layers of patriarchal propriety, gender liberation and other such guff we could get into - that the film would like us to get into - but any guy with sense learns early on to recognize Concha's behavior as indicating: "Hella issues and problems down the road, do not 'engage.'"

Of course there are plenty of guy's without sense and well, it may sound cruel - certainly by this film's fluffy standards - but those morons deserve what they get.

Limbo: Small, Cheap, Good

I mentioned before that I'm one of those miserable bastards still playing video games into adulthood. And how most games just aren't worth commentary unless they're particularly bad... or stunningly good.

Limbo falls squarely in the latter. It's an old-fashioned side-scroller full of jumping, puzzles, and numerous ways to die. Really, half the reason to play is to discover all the nasty, brutish deaths the developers put in there for The Boy. That's what you play as, The Boy looking for his sister or something. It's a bare-bone plot but there's something respectable about that. At a time when video games are getting up their own asses in cinematic pretensions - despite having the sensibility of twelve-year-olds raised on B movies - it's refreshing to come across something that just wants to be a goddamn game.

I'm getting off into a different rant here. Limbo... It's definitely one of those less-is-more packages. No music, no color, nowhere to go but forward through ever more complicated and tricky death traps. As you play it, you start seeing The Boy's trials and tribulations as reflective of our own lives, ever moving forward without much point and then a giant spider shows up!

Symbolism? Or just damn scary?

And did I mention all the ways to die? Assuming the spider doesn't impale you on one of it's eight horrible legs, you might just step in a bear trap. Or fall onto spikes. Or get electrocuted. Or hurled into a buzz saw by the world changing it's own gravity just to spite you. And don't even get me started on the brain slugs and crushers. Time it wrong and you're pudding.

But you'll keep playing. I spent the morning of Turkey Day playing this until my eyes were dry. Then I played it again the next day. We're thankfully out of the days of limited continues and if you die in Limbo, you get to try again not too far back from where you were. Or maybe it's reflective of something deeper in the game, how The Boy really is in some nebulous afterlife. One without God or the Devil, just other lost souls - and there are "people" in the game who naturally try to kill you - all buffeted about in a stark nightmare. The Boy only stands out because of his quest to find someone...

Or not. Like I said, the game is thankfully sparse on plot details because it fully recognizes what it is - a glorious distraction. We need that sort of thing in an election cycle and Limbo delivers with more puzzles, fun, and fantastic ways to die than any of those Call of Battlefield clones. And I know I keep saying it but it really bears repeating - you will die in Limbo. Alot.

And it'll be beautiful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's Not Oppression, It's Cowardice

There are realities of modern America that never get any airtime. Not because of some spooky conspiracy to keep the prols uninformed, but just because said realities are so embarrassing no one with a salary wants to really talk about it.

Case in point - How much of a gutless putz do you have to be to hose down some harmless students with pepper spray?

If you haven't watched it yet, it's worth seeing. That's some serious riot spray he's packing and he's just walking up and down the line while holding the trigger. And after you get over your outrage, here's another question to ponder -

Why didn't they just manhandle the kids? They weren't moving, weren't resisting, you could've flex-cuffed them all and marched 'em to the waiting paddy wagons in about half the time of this spray an' pray.

That would be oppressive too of course. The whole point of police is oppression - which I'm gonna say, and it won't win me any friends, is a good thing. "Freedom" as it's preached in America is a nebulous, feel-good concept that usually only means "freedom to do what I want and the hell with you." Absolute freedom - no controls but individual judgement - is a delusional prospect and would only lead to disaster. So we trade a little oppression from government institutions for a little security from the free exercise of our neighbor's desires which could very well include theft, murder, rape, and LARPing.

This however was pure cowardice. The UC rent-a-cops already have a monopoly on physical force in this picture, but that's never enough for cowards. So they go out of their way to reduce their targets to terrified, incapacitated heaps. Otherwise, they might get mouthy or something when they're arrested.

And this, sheer cowardice even when holding absolute power, is exactly one of those ugly realities I mentioned at the start. I direct your attention to those eight years under Bush - most powerful empire in human history, and he chooses to go to war with emaciated wimp Iraq. Iran has definite connections with Hezbollah, North Korea has had nuclear weapons for nearly a decade, Iraq... couldn't fight back. And it's telling that when the insurgency broke out, the approval numbers went into a tailspin among the same crowd who cheered it on in the first place.

Americans are cowards, "conservative" Americans even more so. I could write a whole damn book about the many GOP wimp-outs from Reagen to Bush Jooner, not to mention the huffy Tea Party dweebs who bitch and moan if anyone points out the truth that they're a bunch of racist suckers. In fact, I think I will write a book! I'd title it Pussy Nation but that might be mistaken for something fun.

Monday, November 21, 2011

ECB Uber Alles

If you ever doubt your fellow Americans are wretched swine, just ask them about Greece. See, the housing implosion in this country is entirely Wall Street's fault, but the Greek crisis? "Aw, they're just so gash dang lazy!"

German and French banks have been paying their psy-ops divisions overtime to force the Lazy Greeks meme. And it works, as long as you don't actually look up anything. If you do, you quickly learn Greeks work the same hours, have the same retirement age, and collect the same benefits as your average American. Now there's certainly the issue of productivity but you're reading this at work right now, aren't you?

The reason the big boys of the Eurozone need to tar the Greeks - and the reason for all this wrangling over rescue packages - really has nothing to do with the Greek economy. Athens is just a cog in the larger scam machine here. The proposed rescue funds are not going to Greek government programs but to cover the Greek government's debts to foreign banks. French and German banks that were just as reckless as Goldman and Citi and all those familiar Stateside villains (seriously, how stupid do you have to be to loan to the Berlusconi government?). If Sarkozy and Merkel tried a big American style bailout, they'd be out of office faster than you can say "Marx" and those big Euro-banks would have to eat one hell of a loss. That would cause some economic pain throughout the EU but it's preferable to what's going on.

Because the success of the Eurozone has been driven over the past decade-plus largely from Germany being a net exporter to its neighbors. Yes, including Greece. And the austerity being pushed on Greece and the other, lesser Eurozone states - Ireland, Italy, Spain - is going to come back and bite Germany in the ass hard when those markets contract. This ain't rocket science folks, it's basic arithmetic. Consumer economies - and that's all we have - are driven by people buying things. Low wages, lost benefits, and raised taxes makes it that much harder for the majority of consumers to consume, leading to economic recession as the drop in sales forces employers to "trim the fat" - fire people - who then naturally cannot consume and you just get this downward spiral of economic collapse. That's not theory, that's demonstrated fact which anyone with a fancy accounting degree should be able to recognize while high on ether.

We must murder the shit out of Greece in order to save it!

And it won't just hurt Greece. Without those nextdoor markets for their products, the much vaunted German industry is going to tank. I'm repeating myself but that's because you all seem to be so fucking stupid - poor people cannot buy things. Basic, I know, but so much economic policy seems to forget this. The ECB has so far followed the failed neoliberal ideas so popular in the US - inflation bad, deregulation good - either because they're all very dumb... or because there's simply more money to be made in shorting the system.

Anyone who tells you this is about the dangers of welfare is full of it. Or a moron. Or both. There are excellent capitalist reasons for generous benefits and government spending as it fortifies the consumer base in the long term. Austerity cheerleaders don't care about that because they just want to get as much short term profit as possible, then bug out. The only thing different in this case is the ECB and its buddies have a convenient patsy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

There Will Be Zzz

So I got around to seeing There Will Be Blood about four years late. Bite me, No Country For Old Men was better at the time. Still is. That's all I could really think about while watching this clunker - how the Coen brothers could do something so similar and hit it so far out of the park while that hack Paul Thomas Anderson is off to the side, doing that thing where you plant a baseball bat on the ground and twirl round and round with your forehead placed atop it.

I'll be honest, I didn't know what was supposed to be going on half the time. Had to look the thing up on Wikipedia. It's one of those movies, the ones so far into dullsville that even when you put all your effort into paying attention they just sort of malinger. And it's a shame because this could've been something good. Daniel Day Lewis is a magnificent actor - and magnificently nuts - but he feels so wasted here. He delivers a brilliant performance that makes you wonder if he didn't come here from 1900 in a time machine because he has everything down - speech patterns, body language, the works! - while everyone else is just muddling along.

Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a silver miner who goes oilman because, well, he strikes oil in his failed silver mine. Dude's practical if nothing else. So the film jump cuts to him and his stolen son - it's complicated... and stupid - drifting around California trying to sucker all these little towns into signing over their drilling rights. This is what I was talking about - Lewis delivers a sales pitch that is a perfect recreation of the time and place, right down to the lips! Which just emphasizes how the folks he's delivering it to are clearly extras stuffed into old timey outfits.

"I wanted a cat but you'll do."

Wasted - that's what so much of this film was. Stalwart Irish actor Cirian Hinds even shows up for a while as Plainview's sidekick or something. This is the man who did Caeser so well in Rome you could totally understand folks wanting him to be emperor. In this droopy flick, he moons around on the sidelines before disappearing along with the adopted son. The kid got his eardrums blown out by a well explosion and Plainview was sick of dealing with his fussy shenanigans, like setting Plainview and his supposed half-brother on fire.

That's another thing - lots of almost relations running around this film. And why you ask? Hell, I'm still asking that...

And let's not forget Eli, the opey faced evangelist who I guess is supposed to be Plainview's foil. I'll grant that they compliment each other well, both being nasty egomaniacs but again it feels like it could've been so much more. So much meaner, a ripe slice of good ol' American Naturalism. McTeague fans know exactly what I mean - that cruel, deterministic world lying just below the surface of so called civilization. But it never gets that interesting.

I blame Anderson. He was just as gutless with Boogie Nights, taking the hilariously bleak story of the 70s porn industry and filtering it through maudlin humanist mushyness before coming out with a clearly tacked on happy ending. He doesn't follow that exact pattern here - though I found Plainview bludgeoning Eli in a private bowling ally to be quite happy - but the forced moralizing is still here. Plainview, a genuine up-by-the-bootstraps success story, is supposed to be oh so miserable and capitalism is bad and greed just leads to suffering and this is all in contrast to... What exactly? The vicious and sneaky Eli? Anderson takes what could be a fantastically amoral, Darwinian tale and hamstrings it with the forced moralizing so craved by Secular Protestants. And he fumbles it, 'cause he's that much of a hack.

Don't watch this. Just watch No Country For Old Men again. It won best picture over Anderson's mess and for once the Academy was right.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

You Morons!

So the latest scare story involving those dirty teenagers is "butt-chugging" - it's like a beer bong but the tube goes up your ass. And for the ladies there are tampons soaked in vodka.

I'm just gonna say it - if you entertained these things as even possible for a moment, you're a goddamn retard. South Park was mocking this sort of stuff thirteen years ago (yes, that does mean people born when the show started are now old enough to write for it) with people shoving food up their butts and shitting out their mouths. A few years ago, Fox demonstrated their talent for self-parody by reporting on the "jenkem" phenomenon with stern seriousness. That was black kids getting high on fermented poop. Fox took one look at that story and naturally concluded, "Oh, those silly Negroes! What will they do next?"

If it was on /b it must be true!
But this latest nonsense, it's getting reported by other news outlets. Outlets that I assume have at least one person with access to Google, which if you ask will politely inform you that taking alcohol as a suppository will kill you. This part is true, in a Darwin Award way - this alcoholic couldn't keep anything down so he decided to take a whole bottle of Merlot rectally. And he fucking died. That's because alcohol is very toxic but gets scrubbed by the liver when ingested. Pumping it in the other direction bypasses the liver, sending that sweet booze straight to your bloodstream where it shuts down your nervous system.

If those naughty teens were really sucking beer and liquor through their nether regions, we would be awash in adolescent corpses. The fact that not one of these stories can point to an actual death should tip you off that it's, you know, a blatant lie.

People, if you're gonna keep falling for crap a CVS pharmacist could debunk in about five minutes, then not only has #OWS failed but deserves to fail. Why should you simpering apes get a fair distribution of wealth?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

David Brooks Comes Out as a Kid Diddler

Okay, it's not quite that funny but this article by New York Times barnacle David Brooks is one of his more absurd. Not because what he's saying is necessarily out there - the passiveness of bystanders is one of those heavily-studied psychological phenomenons we're all pretty ashamed of - what's ridiculous is that David Brooks is saying it!

Riding out on his high horse to lecture the plebes - the only thing he seems to do anymore - Brooks declares without a shred of cognitive dissonance that "Some people suffer from Motivated Blindness; they don’t see what is not in their interest to see." Really, Dave? Kinda like how you see Manhattan yuppie culture as the be-all-end-all?

“[Bobos] are the new establishment….When I use the word ‘establishment,’ it sounds sinister and elitist. Let me say first, I’m a member of this class, as, I suspect, are most readers of this book. We’re not so bad. All societies have elites, and our educated elite is a lot more enlightened than some of the older elites, which were based on blood or wealth or military valor. Wherever we educated elites settle, we make life more interesting, diverse, and edifying.” ~ David Brooks, Bobos in Paradise

Now, better men than me have pointed out how that statement is factually wrong but it bears repeating that Brooks is engaging in just the sort of "Motivated Blindness" which he condemns in others. In fact, you could argue that such willful ignorance of unpleasant realities is the leitmotif of everything Brooks writes.

Brooks is quite clearly in love with his own class privilege and has made himself a career out of scribbling out lofty sounding defenses of the system which produces it. He shrugs off #OWS as "milquetoasts" - such an egregious Marie Antoinette moment that it's a testament to the New York Times' rapid decline he wasn't sacked on the spot, let alone printed. He praises Mitt Romney for picking up the tired old "slash entitlements" meme that's been a staple of the GOP for thirty years, boosting it as some bold new idea. And when people call him on his bullshit, he runs and hides behind his privileged position as a New York Times columnist by blocking not just all dissenting opinions, but all opinions period.

David Brooks accusing others of not seeing what they find unpleasant is more than just hypocrisy, it's all too common these days in a culture that seems to have no conception of shame. Brooks is horribly wrong all the time, but his wrongness comforts his six-figure readership who insist they're "middle class," so he's allowed to continue - promoting the motivational blindness of the privileged every week and getting paid more than you'll see this year.

We're Just Getting Started

If you read as much World War II history as I do, you understand the purpose of midnight raids. It's a domination thing, an overt show of force against an opponent who is too tired and disoriented to resist. This has been standard counter-insurgency practice for more than half a century so seeing it in action in Zucotti Park should surprise no one.

And it was bound to happen. Mike Bloomberg doesn't just represent Wall Street, he is Wall Street. One of those "self-made" billionaires who bought his way into politics because it was easier than buying politicians to enact the loopy - and repeatedly proven wrong - policies of deregulation. He's been itching to turn the NYPD loose on these people since they first showed up but Bloomberg has been shrewd enough to play things soft. It may be satisfying to send in the riot squads like Oakland but it's always a PR disaster. Hence the NYPD's 2 am raid on #OWS when all the big name papers are asleep.

The realistic Occupiers had to know this was coming. You can't camp out on the oligarchy's front lawn forever, especially with a New York winter fast approaching. That's just simple logistics. If anything, the raid helps as it gets people out before the snow starts falling and the Occupiers would have to start leaving on their own - a tacit admission of defeat which would damage the movement's actual progress. They came, they marched, they got the country talking about the elephant in the room that is our horribly stratified class system, they don't really need to be planted there any longer.

It's the next step that's gonna be tricky. What, you think just 'cause the cops show up the party's over? Now is the perfect time to start presenting some real policy positions, like progressive taxation and breaking up the banks. Or hell, just the re-instatement of Glass-Steagal - the law that kept commercial and investement banks separate since the Great Depression until Rick "CitiGroup" Rubin pushed it into the dust bin in 1999. That right there was the biggest cause of the crash - a crash which will happen again because the people who run Goldman and JP Morgan are still playing roulette with your money.

Eviction won't silence #OWS. It can't. What could though is the same fatal flaw #OWS shares with the Tea Party - they're American. Face it folks, we have no stomach for long fights. Especially when they're not on TV. That was the one benefit to remaining in Zucotti Park, being a regular story for CNN. Without something tangible to point to, the media could easily drift away from the #OWS story and then it becomes just another one of the many silent - and doomed - movements this country has been seeing since the bombs started falling on Afghanistan.

#OWS can succeed but it needs to keep up the pressure. Only 200 were in Zucotti Park when the cops descended - not the whole movement by a long shot. So keep marching, keep protesting, keep visible because the worst thing #OWS could do now is retreat into internet-only soapboxing (shut up). Political change ain't some respectful salon conversation, it's boxing. If the other guy won't go down, you get him on the ropes and make him bleed.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

If It Ain't Broke...

America has two movie seasons - aggressively stupid blockbusters in the summer and solemnly boring Oscar bait in the winter. And in between - in the dog days of August, in the bleak days just around Oscar time, there are the good films. Genre films - mean little horror and sci-fi flicks where American filmmakers are allowed to be brave and creative, even with sequels.

Paranormal Activity 3 is a sequel of a sequel. And a prequel. And it blows Transformers and The Tree of Life out of the water!

Those of you familiar with the Paranormal Activity franchise (and those of you who aren't - what the hell is wrong with you?) know this is gonna be another hour and a half of "found footage" with spooky shit building to a tremendously violent crescendo. That's good. Great even. As Mark E. Smith said, "We dig repetition!" And repetition is way more common in good movies than film school benders want to admit.

How the same old tricks and scares is delivered, that's why you go see Paranormal Activity 3 and I gotta hand it to the crew behind this film, they know how to use a camera. You'd think that would be a given among filmmakers but no, they all think they're authors or something. Just delivering a straight story. It's the rare greats like David Lynch and the PA team who recognize film as being capable of things you just can't express in any other medium.

Specifically - and most importantly - building tension. Horror films have been a staple of the multiplex for generations now but for some reason it's only the infrequent greats like PA that manage to do it right. The scare isn't when the monster jumps out, it's the anticipation. After all, you know the monster is coming, you just don't know when or how so a good horror film - and Paranormal Activity 3 is very good - paces itself in such a way that your hair stands on end even when absolutely nothing is happening. When the stepdad is first walking around the house with his camera, even with nothing spooky happening, you the viewer are wired because of the steady pace and absolute quiet save for his voice (which comes rarely, he's a big improvement over the chattery yutz in the first film). Later, as the strange events build on one another, they still remain just brief enough not to get you used to it.

This being a prequel or sequel or whatever, the filmmakers are obligated to reveal more of the mythology surrounding the PA series demon. This is the most difficult thing to do - nothing wrecks a horror story like exposition. To their credit, the new information gained does nothing to make the strange goings on familiar and the new revelations are kept enough in the shadow that you've still got that unknown quality. And the unknown coming to get you is what horror is all about.

Finally, and this won't be apparent to most viewers, the makers of Paranormal Activity 3 really did their homework. The film takes place in 1988 and it is the most faithful recreation of that period I have seen - odd considering how all the aging Gen Xers are now fetishizing that decade. It's not overt though, it's very subtle in the styles of hair, clothing, even interior decorating. Anyone who remembers that popular faux-stonework will see what I mean. These touches may seem small - they are - but they are vitally important for scene setting. Especially in a film that has so many carefully constructed long shots of the house itself.

Three movies in and Paranormal Activity is still one of the better cinema options out there. It's familiar ground but who cares when it's such a fun and well done ride?

Friday, November 11, 2011

One Nation Under God

"The first female presidency hits America with such force that no one could ignore it even if they tried. Madame President is determined to protect the freedoms of all Real Americans - as she defines them. Follow a confused young man, a desperate girl, a paranoid reporter, and a superstar pastor with a terrible secret as they try to survive an all too possible world where homosexuality is a disease, abortion is a crime, and Jewish citizens find "emigration notices" in the mail.

For anyone who's ever wondered how important elections really are, and for anyone who knows just how important elections can be, this book is for you."

Get it on Kindle today for only 99 cents!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The World You Know is a Lie

I know I said I'd try to keep these book reviews relevant - wait, this is Philip K. Dick we're talking about. He just gets more relevant every day!

The Penultimate Truth, a ripe slice of Cold War sci-fi, is nonetheless instantly comparable to our present world. In the novel, the masses of humanity - or 99% if you will - work night and day deep below the surface in "ant tanks," cranking out the products and robot servants enjoyed by the world-controlling Yance Men, so named because they've all entered into a conspiracy around fictional figurehead to the down below dupes named Yancy.

With me so far? Okay, so the ant tankers are told by regular broadcasts from their fearless leader Yancy that the world above is a radioactive hellscape populated by dueling killbots from both sides of the Iron Curtain. The reality of course is that Yancy is just a simulacra - Dick's particular word for robot - programmed by a small cabal of technocrats who aren't at war at all and instead enjoy idle lives on vast "demesnes" full of their formerly-killbot servants attending to their every whim.

A 1% oligarchy ruling the world from the lap of luxury while everyone else toils away in the pit of misery? You don't get more contemporary than that! But there's more - The Penultimate Truth, like so many of Dick's novels, is built around a very Gnostic conception of reality. The Yance Men have made a flawed world for the masses, a fallen world literally without light - when ant tanker Nicholas St. James appears on the surface, even the overcast sky is blinding.

The oligarchy has good reason for maintaining this charade, they think. If all those people were suddenly told the world was a-okay, they'd come streaming to the surface and eventually force the humble Yance Men into another world war. How or why is never exactly explained but is taken as gospel truth by one of the few sympathetic Yance Men, Joe Adams. Though it's much more likely Adams just tells himself as much to evade feelings of guilt at aiding and obeying the unofficial ruler of the Yance Men, Stanton Bose

Bose is really the demiurge of this world - a wretched amalgamation of Baron Harkonnen and Rupert Murdoch. Mean and petty but in a cunningly brilliant way. And a stinking heap of aging flesh kept ambulatory by greedily gobbling up the finite artificial organs ("artiforgs," a classic Dick convention) left over from the war that did happen but ended amicably years ago. He rules the world through lies and viciousness, lies his fellow Yance Men are complicit in.

That might be the greatest part of this book - its subtle indictment of the seemingly benevolent oligarch. Someone like, say, Warren Buffet who bemoans the system but won't do more than write a pissy article to try and change things. Joe Adams is one of those prescient parodies, going down into the ant tank with St. James because he's too much of a coward to face his fellow Yance Men - then turning right back around and fleeing to the surface to continue conspiring against the toiling masses whom he legitimately fears.

Because that's the real fear of all ruling classes across time - not that the peasants will start another war with the opposite tribe but that they will instead recognize who has really been screwing them this whole time and take revenge.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Decline and Fall

I play video games. I've resisted reviewing any here because, despite the many technological advances over the years, it remains a very limited art form. Bad games just aren't worth talking about and the good ones can almost universally be summed up with "Boom! Ahahahahaha!" This isn't a bad thing. Good stupid fun is more valuable than people will openly admit but it's kept Hollywood in business for decades.

Homefront stands out not because it's uncommonly good - it's quite commonly bad, as games go - but rather it stands as an expression of some rarely admitted pathologies in American culture. Namely that we are paranoid, fantasy-addicted, two-fisted cowards.

Set in the distant future of 2020-something, Homefront depicts an America under occupation by the evil empire of North Korea. So from the start, it's just plain silly. The opening movie goes to great length to depict how every nightmare of the survivalist libertarian subculture will come to pass but seriously - North Korea? They're a failed state ruled by a histrionic drag queen and full of starving peasants. Mauritania is a bigger international threat.

But the private fiefdom of the Kims is commie - and the only commie state it's safe to hate anymore. I remember reading somewhere that the villain was originally China but seeing as they own a big market share of the imploding US empire, Beijing had final cut on the matter.

Why commies anyway? Aren't the official villains still terrorists? Well, see, this is all an off-shoot of a previous reactionary fantasy by one John Milius (who consulted on the game - and by "consulted" I mean "stopped by to talk up his own awesomeness like the fascist twerp he is") called Red Dawn. Back then it was the Soviets, a serious enemy who could very well have pulled off an invasion of the continental United States. If they weren't already in rapid imperial decline themselves.

We're clearly in la-la land from the get-go but that's not as bad as it sounds. Popular entertainment is a big mixing pot of pure fantasy, sometimes with pretensions of being something more. Homefront certainly has those pretensions as demonstrated by its opening cut-scene, a rapid fire future history that would please any Bircher or Paultard with its doomsday paranoia. A "Unified Korea" conquers Japan and every thing else in the Pacific (though there is conspicuously no mention of China) before laying the smack-down on the US - who apparently can't retaliate with its ginormous nuclear arsenal due to peak oil or something. Really.

So great storytelling this is not. When a game or film is this far into stupid territory, you have to rely on some stellar characters to carry things through. Homefront does not deliver on that count at all, bringing us a batch of Saturday morning cliches that are at turns bland and obnoxious, best typified by one Connor T. Douchepuppet (which may not officially be his full name). Connor is, to put it simply, an asshole. And not even a complicated asshole - he's loud, stupid, and convinced of his own impeccable heroism no matter how many civvies he frags. A perfect metaphor of American conservatism and I'd hazard to guess a self-insertion by John Milius as only an American Fascist - pompous without dignity, brutal without honor, belligerent without a fucking clue of how to properly fight - could find anything appealing in this. His counter-part functions as the Obama of the piece, a muddling centrist you can project any virtues you like onto because he won't be around long enough to grow his own character.

Now a reactionary story does not necessarily make for a bad game. The 2010 reboot of Medal of Honor is a blatant suckjob for JSOC but it is still undeniably fun to play (and visually gorgeous).

Thanks Blu-Ray!
Homefront, by contrast, is a chore to play at best. The controls are sloppy, the difficulty of the enemies fluctuates, and every time a rifle is fired it sounds like the Tin Man farting - which feels like the game taunting you since the aiming mechanics are shit anyway. The only conclusion to be drawn from this mess is that the development team was so enamored with the juvenile strutting of Milius that they forgot to make an actual game.

A miserable failure that remains up-its-own-ass in unwarranted confidence. Yep, that's America baby!

Thursday, November 3, 2011


"Would you stop fussing with that tie?"

Anita swatted Feely's hands away and straitened the bright red power tie she'd selected for this very important evening. "I swear," she said. "You are worse than the boys."

Feely tried to smile but knew it just came out as a twisted grimace. Like the boys, right. Because the boys went to great big campaign fundraisers for the President of the United States, packed to the gills with high rollers of every stripe all the time. Why it's just like one of their little soccer games!

And they always had dozens of photos of their own iniquities hanging over their heads. When the invitation came, Feely expected some demands from his mysterious blackmailers - at the least another taunting package of pictures! But no, not a peep. One would think they'd vanished into thin air - or never existed at all - except he knew they were still watching. They had to be, Feely was after all such an important target - now more than ever.

He cursed himself and his weakness. All this time when he knew for sure he'd been under scrutiny and he'd not had the common fucking sense to restrain himself! Instead, he'd behaved like a wanton madman, cruising the bleakest corners of Denver for lost men willing to take the sort of rough affections he so loved to give them. And a few not so willing, not that he bothered warning them...

"There," Anita said with one final swipe with her hand down his shirt. "Now you're starting to look like a real man!"

Anyone nearby would think it a friendly joke between a couple, but Feely caught the subtle barb, the hissing "I can't believe I married a fruit! What would the neighbors say!?" Hard not to notice when all they had between each other now were barbs. If she wasn't dropping hints about him being a sissy, he was making cracks that ended in "cankles." 

They'd tried arriving at the hotel banquet hall fashionably late but traffic had been light. Anita bitched about it all the way to the door, even though she'd been driving - and she never could seem to do anything but fifteen over the posted speed limit. It didn't help that the "banquet hall" wasn't much more than a glorified community center far off the main highway. They probably never would have found it if not for the dozens of black - clearly armored - SUVs out front and the circling helicopters.

Inside, they'd been roughly frisked by men in black suits with the edges of tribal tattoos peeking out from under their collars before being ushered into the hall itself. Despite the garish floral arrangements and free-flowing bar, the wide room had a strangely sterile smell to it, like disinfectant. Whatever it was, it blessedly masked whatever smells were coming from the rest of the guests - predominantly male and over fifty.

And fat. Feely prided himself on his fit appearance - his firm, well-toned muscles that even in middle age he couldn't help admiring in the mirror - he'd been in the Marines after all. There was something about the heavy, wheezing old men that just offended him - something he desperately told himself had nothing to do with his nightly outings. That was just a sickness he'd contracted long ago, a disease that drove him to sin.

A disease very much on his mind. "We own you," and that's it? Could they possibly be here too? Could some of these fat old men have sent the pictures? Could the President Herself? Only his firm discipline kept him from again fussing with the tie.

A sweaty hog of a man approached them. "'Scuse me, but have we met somewhere before? You look awfully familiar."

He appeared to be speaking more to Anita, so Feely answered, "I'm Pastor Todd Feely of New Life Church." He put up his warmest pastorly grin, hoping it would mask his revulsion as he gestured to the woman beside him, "This is my wife, Anita."

The man gave the slightest twitch, maybe some unconscious confession? "Oh yes! Yes, I must have seen your Sunday mornin' broadcasts." He extended an eager hand, "Leland Hoyt. I'm here tonight on behalf of Lockheed-Grumman."

Anita continued that well practiced, bland smile but Feely, catching the last part, asked, "Are there many here in the Defense business?"

"Oh sure," nodded Hoyt. "We've been talkin' up the friendly rivalry for a while. There's also some oil folks here and there." He turned toward a tight cluster of gentlemen, frowning. "Not many of them left these days... But She's always had a thing for 'em, being an Okie and all."

"Well, I feel a bit out of place," said Feely. "I'm just a humble preacher."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," replied Hoyt. He seemed to have something of the salesman's aggressive friendliness. "In fact, seein' as the rest of us are just ordinary business types, I'd say you two were the guests of honor."

"Told ya," whispered Anita.

Feely really hated it when she got smug. Maybe he could slip something into her next highball, or her bottle of valium. Something to really twist her insides and turn her hair blue. Maybe a prescription strength diuretic...

Feely's revenge fantasies were interrupted as a great commotion swept through the room. A dense cluster of men in black suits and that distinct air of barely contained violence had entered - the attendees could just make out the clicking of a pair of expensive heels hidden deep within their midst.

People began reflexively clapping before Madame President even emerged from her security detail, a fit woman with the tight hairstyling of a librarian and the fashion style of an overly self-conscious celebrity. Smiling to all her supporters, or rather their representatives, she quickly mounted the stage at the head of the hall - a hastily constructed affair with a loud red and blue backdrop decked out in louder campaign slogans.

"Well, this certainly is a warm welcome!" she chirped upon reaching the podium. "Y'know, I may be a born and bred Okie, but I don't think I've ever felt as welcome as I do in..." She cocked her head to the side as if listening. A tiny black earbud was visible for a moment. "- Colorado!"

The crowd - industry and reporters - politely applauded despite the pause.

"Just one thing before I get started," she said with a big show of looking around in the audience. "Is Pastor Feely here?"

Feely could feel Anita practically bouncing next to him. For his part, he had a sudden and very clear mental image of those photos - in particular, the one's with the cowboy hats and horse bridle - appearing on that big screen behind the podium should he take the stage.

"Pastor, I hope it's not too much to ask but could you come up here and lead us all in a prayer?" Her smile and the rough looking men approaching from the sides said very clearly that it wasn't a question. "Get things started on the right foot!"

The men escorted Feely to the stage with a friendly, if gruff, silence. Though smiling as he knew he should, with each step closer to the podium Feely felt the knot of tension in his stomach tighten until he expected to fold in on himself right there - or just throw up. Should his earlier premonition come true, throwing up now might be preferable...

Maybe if he could just picture some happy image, something to mute his own screaming guilt, maybe something around age twenty - a nice Filipino boy with a soft mouth. The soft ones always split so easily and beautifully. Not too submissive the type who fights a little first...

Feely felt himself stiffen, along with his resolve. He shook Madame President's hand at the podium firmly, "Thank you, ma'am." Addressing the other attendees, his voice an authoritative boom throughout the sound system, "Folks, if you could all bow your heads?"

The attendees all reluctantly bowed their heads, some a bit slower than others. The reporters, at least those in sight of their own cameras, made a big show of it. The cameras for their part just focused even more closely on Feely. He briefly feared those lenses could peer right into his brain and broadcast his imagined Filipino - now split-lipped and leaking from his ravaged anus - across the whole country.

Sharply putting such paranoia to the back of his mind, Feely intoned, "Oh Lord! We, Your humble servants -" not sinners, not with this crowd, "- ask Your blessing this evening. For those of us here, for our dedicated leaders..." like Madame President, who he could practically feel glowing beside him from the reflected glory. "For our servicemen overseas and for all others doing Your work across this Great Nation. Let Your wisdom shine down on us and Your mercy and power work through us. Amen."

"Amen!" sang Madame President, quickly retrieving her spot as the night's center of attention.

The security men again came to escort Feely. His earlier calming thoughts of the Filipino boy had started to... well, become quite noticeable to Feely himself while still behind the podium. He dragged up a quick memory of laying with Anita to bring himself back down - can't have a faux pas like his own rigid member after dodging whatever They might have tried while he had that great big screen behind him, in front of so many people. He strolled off the stage, head high and chest out.

"I'd like to thank the Pastor for that," said Madame President, drawing the last few gazes from Feely back to Herself. "I've been a big fan of the Pastor's for quite some time. As you all know, my Faith is very dear to me." And the many instances of "Faith" in the screen behind her lit up noticeably.

"We are gonna be set for life!" Anita whispered to Feely.

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves..." he whispered back.

Once again in the safe anonymity of the crowd, his paranoia had returned. Maybe They were splicing a recording of his words with those photos right now! Making a little slideshow to discredit him. "We own you," so what did They want out of him? Did They want anything at all or was it enough to know that he knew that They had -

"- A comprehensive worldview that covers all areas of life and thought, all aspects of creation." Madame President continued loudly. "And only Faith offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world. Only Faith." She punctuated each sentence with a raised fist with the thumb poking up.

The crowd politely applauded at this cue. Even Feely and Anita joined in - because they were seated so close to one of the cameras. Feely found himself critiquing Her performance, mostly in the negative. He himself certainly would never use such gaudy showmanship...

"And Faith is what really calls us here tonight." Behind her, inflammatory news articles slowly materialized on the screen. "Even today, in this Great Nation, people of Faith are under attack from all corners. Socialists try to push prayer out of the public eye and into hiding while liberal elites in the media follow an insidious homosexual agenda aimed at our children." And there, brighter pictures of smiling children appeared along with the sinister news articles. "Others give aid and comfort to our enemies by claiming - falsely - that we have no right to be fighting the terrorists and their government backers in Syria or Yemen or Pakistan." And somewhere behind Her on the screen could be seen "ACLU" in red, angry letters.

She paused, giving the dire message time to sink in. "But I am here to tell you tonight that we are doing God's work Over There. And we must do God's work here. My opponent," she said it with a near hiss, "would have you believe that we should surrender Over There. He would have you believe we have no right to pray openly - as guaranteed by the First Amendment. And he would have you believe the homosexuals are not actively targeting our children!"

Feely shifted uncomfortably. He absolutely agreed, he told himself, but hearing it from somewhere other than his own mouth had a curious, shaming effect on him. Now he certainly didn't have any designs on children - eighteen or nineteen was technically adult.

"Well," Madame President drew Herself up, the campaign slogans brightening behind her to chase away the scarier images. "I cannot tell you such things because I know them to be false. This election is about more than partisan politics but the very future of this Great Nation! Across the world, it is a choice between victory and surrender. Right here, at home, it is a much simpler choice between all that makes this Nation Great or socialism and moral degradation!"

The crowd applauded much more loudly, nearly drowning out Madame President's "Thank you!" and "God bless America!"

Feely briefly wondered why she hadn't mentioned anything about the economy. He'd personally counseled dozens from his congregation on loss of jobs and savings. Some of those meetings had even devolved into political shouting matches - how could they come to him and then turn around and say they'd be voting for that loony liberal senator? The man wanted homosexuals to marry and raise children for God's sake!

And he was certainly no homosexual, Feely was always quick to remind himself. He just had a sickness... A sickness that walked like, talked like, and looked a hell of alot like being homosexual - but he didn't have any sort of agenda!

The crowd broke down into cliques after Madame President left the stage. They chattered among themselves, praising Her loudly when her security detail escorted Her into their midst. Hoyt had remained with the Feelys and remarked, "I like how She's straight an' to the point. Shoot's from the hip, y'know?"

"Oh, absolutely," Feely agreed while Anita also nodded. They both got the impression from Hoyt's unnecessary praise - who here wasn't a supporter? - that any disagreement or criticism might end badly. "It's refreshing to hear a politician speak so candidly about their faith," Feely added.

"Yes," agreed Anita. "And it's amazing she can find time what with running the country and all."

Feely winced, feeling Anita's crass ignorance bleeding off onto him.

"She probably needs even more spiritual guidance because of all Her responsibilities. Where do you think She goes for that?" Anita continued, elbow gently jabbing Feely.

Feely was relieved to see Hoyt didn't seem to care about them any longer. His attentions were focused on the revolving human Dobermans escorting Madame President in their direction.

"Madame President!" Hoyt said, so ecstatic his face turned red.

She didn't even notice. "Pastor, I just wanted to thank you again. That was a lovely opening prayer."

Feely prayed desperately that Anita wouldn't act up with those men so close. "Oh, well thank you."

"I'd like to talk to you again," She said, her voice lowering. "Privately, on some religious matters."

"Th-that would be, uh..." Feely knew Anita was about to explode.

"Probably not until after the election. We'll be in touch." And She was gone, shepherded to the next cluster of supporters and cameras.

Anita's hand had clamped down on her own mouth. Feely could only imagine the stream of exuberant obscenities she was holding in. That habit of hers had caused the Ministry quite a few headaches in the early days.

Hoyt seemed to be doing his best not to notice either of them. The appointed representative for one of the country's biggest weapons manufacturers and he'd been passed over for some backwoods preacher. Completely ignored! "If you'll excuse me," he said icily, still refusing to look at them.

Feely himself had been in shock from the moment She appeared. Appearing at a politician's campaign stop may have been nothing new, but to be singled out. Anita of course saw it all as a boon to the Ministry, free advertising. Feely didn't really know what to make of...

Unless it was Her! Or Them, Her handlers or whoever ran things behind the scenes with Her. They sent the pictures! It made perfect sense, oh yes. They wanted him for something shady, maybe even illegal, and They wanted a guarantee of silence. Just like Watergate or Whitewater or whatever that was!

The waves of nausea returned. "Excuse me!" Feely cried, scurrying out of the reception hall and into the nearest bathroom.

~ excerpt from ONE NATION UNDER GOD, now available on Kindle!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Music For Them Asses

The downside to being a Taibbi fan is he works for Rolling Stone, a mendacious rag unworthy of his skill. It kinda ruins the thrill of reading another takedown of Wall Street's rampant kleptocracy when blaring at you from the side is a shiny add for The 100 Best Albums of The 2000s!

It goes without saying that out of 100 entries only a handful will be any good - let alone the complete absence of the truly great. But that's Rolling Stone for you, a strident crusader for the bland middle.

The 2000s - or Zeroes if we're being honest with ourselves - was a terrible decade all around but particularly in the realm of popular music. Rock started the decade in nu metal and ended in preciously twee "indie" noodling. Rap, that once frightening beat of black revolutionaries, was so defanged and co-opted that it entered what a good friend of mine dubbed its hair metal phase, exploding into a self-parody of bling and bitches. In between, the once somewhat wild lands of radio-friendly pop were bulldozed to make room for Disney factories, furiously cranking out one starlet after another to the joy of pedophiles the world over. Like so much else in the Zeroes, music came out a loser.

And the winners? This'll be ugly but history never has neat moral lessons - the winners of the music world in the Zeroes were country and Eminem. It's fitting almost, a reflection of the phony Red vs. Blue culture war that so enraptured Americans while Bush pulled a Boris Yeltsin and auctioned off everything not nailed down to rapacious megacorps. Country was Bush's theme music through all this, an idiot twang-pop celebrating itself no matter how miserably it fails. On the counter-side, you had Eminem stirring up controversy by using the exact same language rap and hip-hop have used for the past twenty years - only the enterprising white cracker dropped all the uses of "nigga" that made squishy suburbanites so nervous about singing along. Now the middle-class white folks could properly enjoy the music of "the streets" without having to concern themselves with all that economic and systemic injustice stuff. Mouthing fake rebellion from within a womb of privilege - if there is a more apt metaphor of liberalism in the Bush years I don't want to know about it...

What's that you say? At least we got the great internet mp3 revolution to knock the wind out of the monsters at the RIAA? Sorry but no - piracy was never as big or important as everyone made it out to be and will be even less so in the future thanks to industry-friendly regulations, DRM, and iTunes.

Co-opt, commercialize - that's been the guiding philosophy of popular music ever since Elvis. The Zeroes were only different in that for once not one genuinely decent tune could break into the great media mind-warp.