Friday, May 25, 2012

Stalingrad 2.0

By the time you read this Greece will likely be out of the Eurozone and Germany will have caused the greatest devestation to the continent since that whacky Austrian corporal was in charge.

Last time around it was a pretty obvious devastation, what with the bombs and all. And it came crashing down for Berlin due to very similar reasons - foreigners putting up a fight and arrogant idiots running the Reichstag. I'm near the end of that great work of contemporary history, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (review to come), and that really is one of the clearly stated reasons behind the fall part. The Nazi leadership were a bunch of morons.

Racist and romantic morons to be exact. And that's "romantic" in classical glory and honor sense. It's not unique to the German consciousness either, being half the reason the Confederacy doesn't exist anymore. In a surprisingly similar way, the Merkel government is populated by supply-side morons.

Like their forefathers of less than a century ago, the modern German leaders are set to wreck the Eurozone, their own baby, for the stupidest of reasons - belief. Merkel et al wholeheartedly believe austerity - slashing state spending and raising taxes in the middle of a recession - will solve everyone's problems. They're even now claiming Germany pulled it off, in that passive-aggressive "Why can't you be cool like us?" way. Which isn't just poor rhetoric, it's bullshit. The German economy boomed in the early 2000s thanks entirely to being a net exporter to the rest of the Eurozone, the very market Merkel is spending her political career to choke off.

And more importantly, they ain't austere. Germans themselves have even pointed to their robust welfare state as the reason they weathered the initial crash of 2008 so well. Which makes Berlin's claims of fiscal discipline just another iteration in the long hypocrisy of the financial sector. "Expecting a handout is just plain wrong unless you're already a billionaire!" And, as to be expected in this depressing world, it looked like they were going to get away with this con...

Ni shagu nazad!
Then Greece happened. Much like Stalingrad happened. If you actually read the history, you know everyone declared the Wermacht invincible until it hit Russia and got bogged down not just by the heavy winter but the tenaciousness of the Russians.

I can say from experience Greeks are equally tenacious, if not more so. And by calling shenanigans on Berlin, they've managed to rupture the once accepted "truth" of fiscal austerity, exposing it as just another dumb faith unconcerned with reality. And just like the Russians of the 1940s, they're going to do all the suffering to bring down this monster. It ain't the happiest of endings but it's at least a step in the right direction.

There's a lesson here, for once. The modern austerity queens are the real ideological descendants of the fanatics of the 1930s. They'd rather burn a whole continent than take the moment to consider that maybe their deeply cherished beliefs might be wrong.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Facebook Gets Shorted!

If you're wondering why Zuckerberg's hookup site is currently crashing in the market, you haven't been paying attention since 2008. This is short selling, a common Wall Street practice in which X Bank buys a whole bunch of shares on day one, sells 'em on day two, and buys 'em back by day five once the price has bottomed out. Just one of the many ways fortunes are made these days without producing anything of value.

And it's totally legal. Naked short selling may be fraud, but nakedly shorting a new stock is perfectly acceptable. Sure, the massive amount of shares a bank can move in one go thanks to high-frequency trading software could very well trigger the price drop currently being witnessed but that's all circumstantial, as the lawyers like to say.

Some hack at Forbes is trying to blame this on the Big Bad Gub'mint. Forbes seems to find it's writers at World Net Daily because this again isn't anything illegal. It's just good ol' finance capitalism, doing what it does best.

Which is mostly nothing but still getting paid for it.

Update: Booyah! I scooped the Wall Street Journal!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Why Do Republicans Hate America?

In all the noise about Obama shoring up the queer vote, very little time is given to an issue that will personally impact the majority of Americans - how much Mitt Romney hates this country. Namely, how much he hates this country doing for itself rather than hiring others, which effectively just adds another layer of bureaucratic dickering and costs a heap more money to reach the same goddamn result. In this case, his Medicare "reform" hooey.

Medicare is a big issue this year. The folks who don't understand how FIFA works are screaming that it's insolvent and everyone else isn't really paying attention, so this claim that it needs some sort of reform is being reported with seriousness. First off - for Medicare to become insolvent as many doomsaying nimrods insist will happen, the entire US economy would have to cease to exist. 'Cause see, that's how the whole tax and spend thing works.

Second - for Mitt's voucher scheme to work, you need to defund as much non-primary coverage as possible. The net result is that you are paying more for the same benefits, or what you pay now for inferior-to-no benefits. Otherwise the "competition" he claims this will create will all be one sided - all the old folks taking the Medicare-covered plans because they're cheaper and involve less fussing with insurance people. It's outsourcing, just like how your data entry job went to Kolkata.

And this is nothing new for a Republican candidate.

In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld - with the blessings of George W. Bush - set out to revolutionize American warfighting by doing it Wal-Mart style. Low cost and outsourced. Everything from washing BDUs to guarding viceroy Bremer was contracted out to some private company with no Congresisonal oversight. At a premium I might add, a premium of your tax dollars. You suckers.

Since then, we've witnessed a parade of corruption stories from the occupation. A hundred dollars for a load of laundry, GIs electrocuted in showers, empty trucks sent up and down IED-saturated highways so the contractors could pad their timesheets - with Army grunts doing the actual driving of course. They took to calling it "sailboat fuel."

And let's not forget that bastion of private enterprise efficiancy - Blackwater. All those mercenaries who cost the taxpayer a hundred times more than a real American soldier and like to spend their pay on raping 11-year-old girls. Yay free markets!

Now Romney wants to do the same thing with healthcare and people still think this is a good idea. I can see why Republicans hate America now - why should you gullible freaks get any healthcare in the first place?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rent My Book!

If you hadn't heard, Amazon is doing this thing now where you can check out an e-book for free for a limited time. So c'mon ya cheap bastards, give Fiend a whirl!

And ride the 'stache!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Nick Cage Has a LOT of Gambling Debts

I'm getting NetFlix free for a month so I'm catching up on everything from last years blockbusters to the 24 phenomenon. Capsule review of the latter - it's stupid and you're stupid if you like it.

And in between, all the ridiculous B movies I missed seeing on the Sc-Fi Channel. Or "SyFy" as it's now called, "Syphilis" if you understand Polish. One such B movie, Season of the Witch, has some genuine star power - Ron Perlman.


If you don't know Perlman then I weep for your cloistered existence. He's only one of the finest character actors in film history and he saves this goofy flick by playing things totally snide - "You ever get the feeling God has too many enemies?" he quips facing down yet another horde of unbelievers in the film's slap-dash excuse for an opening.

Perlman, and the lesser Cage, play a pair of crusader knights who've decided to quit crusading as it's not the nicest business. It takes Cage skewering an unarmed woman to get them to that point though, after lots of hastily edited together battle scenes. With nightly revelry edited in between, which I particularly liked. You don't find many works of popular entertainment admitting the crusaders were more in it for the drinking and pillaging and screwing than for Jesus.

But Cage gives all that up - as does Perlman, being a loyal best buddy - so he can go redeem himself for skewering a woman during battle as opposed to after. At this point I had to go get my dinner out of the oven but when I got back a leprous Christopher Lee was hiring them to transport a suspected witch to some fortress full of monks or something. And I do mean leprous, two-thirds of Lee's face was just a wad of pustules and boils. Excellent old-school makeup effects in stark contrast to the climax.

They pick up a few more misfits, forming a merry band you know isn't going to entirely survive the journey but you're not watching for that. You're watching for Ron Perlman because everything he does is magic. Kind of like Sharlto Copley in the otherwise forgettable A-Team - the best scenes in that were when he just threw out the script and did whatever the fuck he wanted. Though Perlman is less wild and more stolid, lending a certain dignity to the melodrama even when head-butting a demon - I'll get to that mess later. And he looks the part of a medieval war veteran, all craggy and scowling.

Though the real fun here is the violence. It's going for a horror vibe that never really takes hold but it does sword violence very well. There's a scene where the heroes are set upon by a horde of CGI wolves - I say that because they are obviously CGI - and get to hacking them as they charge. I'm sure this upset the sort of people with those t-shirts and posters of what looks like a mediocre 70s realist painting of wolves howling at moons and such. Which is good, because those people are assholes.

Quick, everyone look at where they'll put the monsters in post-production!

Then, in keeping with the movie's general all-for-bloody-fun tone, they arrive at the monk fortress and find the plague has taken all the monks. That's why they need to exorcise rather than just execute the witch, some plague or something. They probably went over the details while I was in the kitchen. Doesn't matter though because once the last plague-ridden monk keels over, the rest rise up as zombies! Yes, the favorite monster of 21st century man-children! But it's excusable as at least it's a new setting and serves as an excuse for the heroes to decapitate monks in increasingly creative ways.

This monksploitation can't last forever unfortunately. We have to get back to that whole plot thing about the witch who's really a demon and everybody but the rookie kid dies to send it back to hell and Cage gets his redemption and Perlman takes more killing than Rasputin... All really predictable but you don't get on one of these rides because you're wondering where it will go.

Am I saying you should see it? Nah, not really. But if you do, ignore all the noise around Cage and his redemption quest. This is really all about Ron Perlman swinging a sword and looking damn fine as he does it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

All Aboard the GOP Waahmbulance

In the bad crazyness of the 21st century, you have to find joy wherever you can. That's why I like Barack Obama. He's a centrist wimp on the important stuff, but by virtue of being a successful black Democrat he manages something that always lifts my spirits - he drives Republicans crazy.

Let's dispense with the "pox on both your houses" posturing already. The Dems may be assholes but not one person with common sense or sufficient self-respect wants the GOP to stay in business. As if you need further evidence, you have this past week's outrage.

No, not Lena Dunham's miserable bourgeois backside - though that's plenty outrageous - I'm talking about that new Obama ad. The one where he displays bin Laden's scalp. And rightly so!

I wasn't as impressed as everyone else back when it happened and I stand by that "meh." But I don't have the slightest reservation about Obama doing a little boasting and not at all because the Republicans would've been even worse about it had the deed gone down with one of their own in the White House.

I'm rooting for Obama on this because it's about time we all admitted Democrats rock on national defense.

"Nancy Pelosi sends her regards!"

They're far from perfect. Hell, they're not much more than a friendly face on the same old crooked system. But give 'em a foreigner to blast the crap out of and they deliver perfectly every time.

Remember Mogadishu? That was the only operation in Somalia Clinton wasn't briefed on and he was spitting holy fire when he found out. Aidid handed back the captured black hawk pilot because ol' Bubba informed him in no uncertain terms that every US Marine would be shoved up Somalia's collective ass if it didn't give us back our man. Obama has continued that proud tradition of disproportionate retribution, not just with icing Osama but also with terrorizing pirates and generally making it clear that you do not fuck with the United States.

And it pisses the Republicans off because they know they could never do it too.

Let's look at the GOP's track record. Reagen? That reptile ran away from Hezbollah and sold weapons to Iran - when Khomeini was still in charge! - just so he could finance a bunch of peasant murderers in South and Central America. Eisenhower? Signed an armistice with North Korea. Technically, that war never ended. Kinda like how Dubbya's wars just won't end but just fail harder every year. And Nixon? I don't wring my hands over his Christmas Day bombing - good, cold strategic thinking - but his whole "Peace with Honor" deal was just fancy political talk for "Exit, stage left even!"

The only Republican of the post war period not to be an utter cock-up on defense was Bush senior. And that's because he bombed the bajeesus out of a bunch of conscripts who'd been getting bled by the Iranians for a decade. Those poor bastards were surrendering to CNN cameramen.

That's why the GOP is throwing such a fit over Obama displaying that bin Laden scalp. Not just because he beat them to it but because it's just further evidence that when Republicans fight the wars, the wars win.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lena Dunham and the Wretched State of American Writing

I'm a writer, in case you hadn't noticed. I can't explain why I do it, I just do. It's who I am, I can't change it, even though I desperately want to at times...

Because this is not a time of great writers. You'd think that would motivate me, no real competition. But the problem of living in the era of crap is that the crap is celebrated. Case in point - Girls.

It's a semi-autobiographical TV show dreamed up by and starring some bourgeois twit from the Upper East Side, all about the trials and tribulations of bourgeois twits from the Upper East Side. And the critics can't stop jacking off to it.

That should tip you off it's bad. Anything a TV critic likes, ignore. Anything they ignore or, better, actively denounce? That's probably worth your time. The one exception to this rule is Battlestar Galactica but that left the air three years ago. Yes, that aching feeling you've had for the past three years isn't cancer or disappointment in Obama, it's lack of a BSG fix. I know, I feel it too...

Back to the point - Girls is terrible but it's quite fittingly terrible. It hits all the right cultural markers for the dwindling white upper middle class while presenting a feminist veneer to con folks into thinking it's something new and revolutionary. As if anything new has ever had the Apatow name attached to it but I'm getting ahead of myself. Girls is just the millennial Bell Jar, the long whine of the comfortable to the comfortable.

But that's really how this has been trending for years now. When the Reagen revolution neutered the left in this country, it must've got the literati too because for twenty years or so all the "serious" writing in this country has been that same bland New Yorker noodling. Its appeal rests entirely in its quotability among trust-fund basket cases, rather than things like "plot" and "character." For that you have to delve into the genre stuff and that's full of its own problems.

And it's deeply entwined with the American class system. We're not supposed to mention it in polite conversation but it's real. And racist. Point out anyone in the urban coastal enclaves who identifies as "working class" and unless they're hispanic they're a dirty liar. Quick - what's the average rent in Williamsburg or Park Slope? That's kinda like the joke about yachts, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it." The stars of Girls can though, because they're all literally daughters of class privilege (parents of the cast include artist Laurie Simmons and anchor Brian Williams). Dunham and associates are writers ensconced in class privilege but this never once bleeds through into their work. It would for an honest writer, a good writer, but those are clearly in short supply.

And did I mention the sexism? Yep, we're just on a by-the-numbers liberal critique of contemporary America today folks. That's because all the complaints you heard from the Berkley crowd in the 70s are still very fucking relevant. In this case it's producer Judd Apatow, the most successful professional misogynist after Rush Limbaugh and the biggest reason Girls is not and can not be some feminist triumph. Apatow's whole schtick is that slow, dull bro humor so common to stoned fratboys and it comes through here like internal bleeding. Chicks acting gross for the sake of chicks acting gross has as much to do with feminism in the 21st century as a hijab. And the quiet loathing the characters promote in any audience not lucky enough to be cut off from their parents - as Dunham is in the premiere... seriously, the whole premise of the show is that they're trust fund bimbos! - that spite is directed not at their class where it belongs but at their sex.

Sex and the City did the exact same thing. It presented a bunch of vapid, well-off white women cavorting around the most photogenic parts of Manhattan and most of the guys who watched this didn't come away pissed that some asshole spends more on sandals than they make in a year, but that some bitch is off making money and love. Because there is some real spite and resentment in this country. It's well-founded, what with income inequality and a financial class that's warped the civil government into the backer of all its bad bets. Hell, I freely admit I'm resentful of Dunham - she's younger than me and a critical darling.

However, I feel a greater resentment for the culture that encourages this bullshit. Not the broader American culture - though that's awful in its own right - but the histrionic yuppie culture on display in Girls, Sex and the City, and everything else that tries to tread on the imagery of New York without ever going near Flatbush. Dunham, Apatow, and the rest of their ilk write in a closed system of self-reference and cultural stagnation - a stagnation only possible because none of these assholes know what it's like to be desperate. Economic ruin is usually a good time for the arts, motivates people or at least convinces them they have nothing to lose. So why not write a satirical political novel that's about two-thirds sodomy?

But we don't get that today. We get Girls, the latest vanity project of a professionally vain class. Hell, I should probably be pleased I'm not as successful as Dunham. It must mean I'm actually good at what I do.