Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Live from Dumbfuckistan!

Republicans still hate women, in case you forgot. And if you're too lazy to click that link, Missouri Senator Todd Akin recently said about rape pregnancies, "It seems to me first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare..."

Someone doesn't know how is babby formed...

Akin is rightly taking a shit-storm over this, even after apologizing. But most of the shit-storm is focused on his party's intractable misogyny rather than his much more glaring ignorance of basic biology. Now the odd elected official with less sense than a fourteen-year-old isn't noteworthy in itself, but Akin is another in a long line of Republican politicians and sockmonkeys to demonstrate this very specific ignorance.

Earlier this year, a whole mess of GOP leaders and stooges sounded off on the evils of birth control. Specifically, the evils of our tax money paying for each pill vulgar slatterns pop every time they want to get horizontal. Now aside from the fact that they seem to have been arguing we got universal healthcare when no one was looking, the "one pill per pounding" description they used is laughably wrong. If you're a woman, or have ever "known" a woman, you know the pill is an everyday thing, sex or not. Caroline Rhea even used that as part of her stand-up material, complaining that having to take "My loser pill!" everyday was just reminding her she wasn't getting laid.

So how could so many Very Important Men totally fuck up the facts of this issue? Because facts in America, especially scientific facts, are optional these days.

Let's take a look at Akin again - his claim is essentially that the female body can recognize when sex is nonconsensual and thus "choose" not to ovulate. If you've had a middle school health class, you should know ovulation is not a choice... but that would make Akin's opposition to abortion even in the instance of rape look horrible. And rightly so. Even Akin finds it horrible, so he desperately tries to rationalize and voila! Rape pregnancies are a choice!

This is the net effect of a culture where evolution is "just a theory" and where homosexuality, even in the deepest pit of the Bible Belt where it's little more than a death sentence, is a "lifestyle choice." Actual study of the phenomena offer different explanations, but those explanations make some people sad so we can't just accept them. It's the political correctness of the American Right, where reality is subordinate to making idiot hicks feel good about themselves.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

100 Reasons Why the American Literary Market is a Joke

I follow the National Public Radio (NPR) feed on Twitter, and sometimes they have interesting pieces. Their articles on social issues and societal trend lists can be particularly insightful.

The piece I came across last week, Your Favorites: 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels, was an in-depth example of such insight. Insight into how American popular opinion these days seems to be sorely lacking in depth. I’ll start off with some grown-up bias here; how could there even be a list of 100 (and presumably more) novels for teenagers that grown-ups find themselves enamored with? While the quality of most new American adult literature is pretty weak (with a few notable exceptions), there is no shortage of great American literature from the past, and there are plenty of contemporary authors around the world today still producing excellent work.

But OK, for argument’s sake, I’ll agree that there is some literature written for a younger audience that can be more fully appreciated when reread as an adult. Madeline L’Engle’s books, for one example, which I remember being fascinated by when I was younger, in spite of my dislike for the fantasy and science fiction genres. There’s something undeniable and eternal about truly great writing, and I think I could probably get more out of A Ring Of Endless Light, #61 on the NPR list, if I gave it another reading now. That’s about the only book I could say that for from the entire list.

Since my ambitious mother cleared most “youth reading” from my routine before I entered my teenage years, I’ve never even  heard of 72 of these, and several of the ones I’ve heard of (like the Twilight series) is more due to their contemporary popularity. But it struck me as really surprising to find a series on this list chosen by adults (and one such as Twilight no less). You never know, there could be the occasional series or trilogy that actually has depth and substance to it that would make for an enriching adult literary experience too, like The Lord Of The Rings, listed at #7 here. 

BUT FORTY DIFFERENT SERIES/TRILOGY COLLECTIONS? I’m sorry, but it’s pretty pathetic when The Princess Diaries books make it into the top 50 on a list like this. I’ve not read the series myself, so maybe it’s not completely fair of me to criticize, but I think I’m justified in being appalled when my  broader age group (I’m 27) so highly rates a set of books described as being for ages 12 and up.But OK, maybe I shouldn’t expect much from the last 90 books on the list. Maybe it’s the top 10 that indicate a continuing youthful level of fascination and curiosity, while affirming that these are mature, adult picks. Not a chance. I’m going to run down the top 10 one-by-one; I can only get through a few with a straight face:

1. Harry Potter series

The top-billing by the best-selling book series in history did not surprise me. It didn’t make me feel any better either. My little brother LOVED the Harry Potter books when they came out, and while I avoided them for years, I finally read the first one after the movie version hit theaters in 2001; I feel no shame in admitting that I thought the movie was pretty fun. This was one of the few times in my life that I found the movie better than the book. So many adults rave about the book, and I’ve never been able to get it. It’s A KID’S book for chrissakes, written in language specifically intended to stimulate and dazzle the imaginations of children. Reading the book felt like the literary equivalent of being one of the miscreants in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory (Roald Dahl’s classic will always be superior to anything that JK Rowling churned out.)

3. To Kill A Mockingbird

I read this as part of the school curriculum, twice, and while I never loved it, I can agree that it was well-written, had important themes and ideas, and that both kids and adults would do well to read it at least once, if not multiple times. It didn’t connect with me, but here’s a pick I can at least respect.

5. The Hobbit

Someone got this for me when I was 10, but I couldn’t bring myself to read it. Fantasy, especially in the complex telling of Tolkien, has really never been my thing. But from my conversations with others who are Tolkien fans and/or have read the books, I can appreciate that here too is another example of literature that I may never have been able to connect with, but there is actual depth and substance to be found. For those who are fans of the fantasy genre, this would be a rare example that can actually expand a reader’s perspective and make him/her think.

6. The Catcher In The Rye

I read this as part of my high school curriculum (who hasn’t?) and it’s still one of the best examples of teenage angst and ennui that I’ve come across in literature. I would normally balk at seeing this on a top 10 list chosen by adult readers though. You’d think that by adulthood one should have progressed past teenage ennui to its mature adult form, of accepting the world for what it is but still not giving up on, maybe even striving to make things better in one way or another. But since this is a list chosen by American adults, I am less surprised. The level of national optimism and “don’t worry be happy” attitude can’t be approached anywhere else in the world, so maybe The Catcher In The Rye is a necessary wake-up call. And goodness knows America can use a wake-up call, and a reality check to boot.

7. The Lord Of The Rings

See #5.

8. Fahrenheit 451
I HATED this book with a passion when forced to read it in the 8th grade. When Ray Bradbury died a few months ago, the first thing that came to mind was how much I hated this book of his. The writing and the premise were tiresome and uninteresting. Maybe during an earlier period in US history the ideas might have been daring, but my 13-year old self found the writing too labored to inspire me to care. Maybe it was my anti-science fiction bias. Still, to the extent that it at least has something to say, I’ll grant that this is by far one of the better books on the list. But for the life of me I can’t understand why my fellow adults would ever read it if they weren’t being forced to.

The Hunger Games came along too late for me (I don’t waste my time reading kid’s books when there are so much fascinating adult  literature to explore), but I fully trust the judgment of my favorite person in the world. I also haven't read books 4, 9 or 10. So the only books on the top 10 of this list that I can even respect are the ones that our teachers selected for us in school for the express purpose of personal growth and literary advancement. Other than that, it’s escapist fantasy for adults who still seem to be stuck with #6’s Holden Caulfield in his disdain for the real world. The newer books that I haven’t read may be decent enough to have earned their places on this list, but I’m not Americanistically optimistic. If #8’s Guy Montag were to come along and set fire to most of the books on this top 100 list, I don’t think the world would be much the worse for it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Romney Fear

Note: If you were expecting a piece on why Paul Ryan sucks, I did that already.

I'm actively avoiding the election as much as I can now. Not because it's devolved into mudslinging - as a proper American, I loves me a good fight - but because it's just all so sad and predictable.

"Romney Say: 'I am businesstron and will fix economy!'" "Obama Say: 'Businesstron no fix economy with shitty Bush Era ideas!'" "Romney Say: 'I make jobs with tax cuts!'" "Obama Say: 'You fail at math!'"

I'm paraphrasing, a little. And while it was refreshing to hear Obama outright say the neoliberal trickle down hoodoo failed, I just don't believe he really cares. I'm still voting for him but just because he kicks ass on national defense. Something Romney could clearly never do because he is simply too scared. Not just of losing or of having to come clean on his taxes but of everything.

From the start, Mitt Romney has lived his life to please other people. A sickeningly straight-laced Mormon who went into business, just like dear ol' dad. A venture capitalist in the '80s who couldn't even bring himself to revel in it, lest people get the wrong idea. A Republican governor of a blue state who acted like a centrist Democrat. A primary contender who twice appeared not so much passionate or principled as simply doing what was expected.

He even pillaged with only feigned joy.

And then, as a candidate, a gaffe-a-minute sideshow. From his early "I'm unemployed too!" flubs to his Foot-In-Mouth World Tour, Romney continues to say the absolute worst things short of obscure racial epithets. This would just make him another Republican but he can't stop at being an ass - he has to be your friend. After his swipe at London over whether or not they were prepared for the Olympics, he backpeddaled. Then he went to Israel to make some sweeping generalizations and praise socialized medicine - which he then had to try and doubleback on.

Romney's no idiot. He's not a genius but he's clearly smart enough to get by - so he had to realize at some point that praising Israel's commie healthcare wasn't such a good idea... but he had to make nice. That meant praising them. It makes him a good businessman because so much of business is just pleasant bullshitting. But that he couldn't tailor his message in context of his campaign, that he had to go all out, indicates this is a man scared to death of rejection.

"Why won't you love me!?"

And that is why Mitt Romney would be a terrible president. His economic policies are the same old horseshit but we can survive that. What we can't survive is another chicken for a Commander in Chief. Just look at last year's hit on Osama bin Laden - conservatives and other subomegaloids threw a fit at Obama's claims it took courage to order that. You might agree at first that just issuing an order doesn't take big brass ones but this wasn't just any order. This was sending America's super commandos to blow away the number one global bogeyman in hostile territory. What if they'd failed?

'Cause that happens plenty. DEVGRU and Delta have lots of guns and muscles but they'll go down from a well-placed 9 mil same as you. If it went down like that, we would have seen SEAL corpses all over al Qaeda's new recruitment videos and propaganda counts way more in irregular warfare than firepower.

Or what if bin Laden hadn't been there at all? No dead SEALs but one hell of an embarassment. Either way, Obama would've been a lame duck immediately. And it's worth mentioning that he could've taken the easy way out, sent a drone to do the dirty work... But then there's no ID on the target.

The last time we left it to air power, that old Saudi golem escaped and it's left a lasting national shame. Obama understood that couldn't happen again - but going commando had a much higher "embarassing fuck-up" factor. It was a gamble but it paid off, made Americans proud again, and reminded the world we are not to be fucked with.

Now what would a nervous sort like Mitt Romney do in that case? You don't have to think too hard, it already happened. In Tora Bora.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Gitmo: No Happy Endings

"One thing you notice more and more the longer you hang around this sleazy world is the way mainstream types can’t admit to the obvious..." ~ Gary Brecher

Since the Obama administration offered some lawyer talk last week to justify zapping Awlaki, all the Very Concerned People who never do anything besides be very concerned have been, well, acting very concerned. Not least of which Glenn Greenwald - who, being a Cato Institute flack doesn't really give a shit about your personal liberty, but is having an absolute fit over the due process afforded to a traitor.

I don't mean that as hyperbole. Awlaki was a traitor according to the very Constitution all the Very Concerned People keep moaning about -
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. ~ Constitution of the United States, Article III, Section 3.
Now he never confessed in open court but I wouldn't bet a dollar you can't find at least two witnesses to "levying War against [America]... adhering to [America's] Enemies... [or] giving them Aid and Comfort." And if you're still not convinced, just take a Wiki-walk through his record. This was not just some outspoken critic.

"But what does that have to do with Gitmo?" I hear you asking because I work for the NSA. For starters, everything. While a legitimate threat, drone assassination was not a particularly pleasant way of dealing with Awlaki. We could've sent Special Forces in but the results would've been the same, give or take a few dead American servicemen (which is a something the President has to be very sensitive to as I'll explain next time). Similarly, there is no politically clean way to close down Guantanamo Bay. For a decade, we've been torturing people who's greatest crimes consisted of failure to yield. The correct thing to do - morally and legally - is release them all at once. And then weather the blowback.

Thanks to all that abuse, we've at worst groomed the next generation of al Qaeda - angry at America, alienated from their former communities, and with a passable knowledge of English from getting screamed at by crew-cut closet cases all day. At the very least, we're looking at a century of lawsuits against the US government and you just know the screwheads will use that as an excuse to cut even more necessary domestic spending, to say nothing of what a tsunami of bad PR would do to the "full faith and credit" of the United States that guarantees the safety of your savings in every bank in the country.

Understand this would suck but it would still be bearable. We deserve it for the hell we've put these people through. And that's why it will never happen.

One things Americans of every partisan persuasion will not accept now or ever is the thought that they themselves are somehow to blame for this. They're all quick to blame Obama - despite his hawkishness having been established since 2005 - or they still rightly blame Bush, who's administration was following the will of even nominal "liberals" in this country. Any legitimate due process the Gitmo prisoners receive will invariably indict the entire country as craven, two-fisted cowards who let loose on the world a band of muddling fascist wannabes. Americans will not collectively accept that sort of guilt, even though they should.

Which leaves us with show trials - exactly what Awlaki and bin Laden would've got if captured - where any fool knows the verdict before the judge is even seated. It would be "due process" in only the most superficial sense and a much greater insult to justice than a drone strike because at least missiles are honest. Just take the case of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad from a few years ago as an example. No less an authority on American morality than Jon Stewart scoffed at the idea of him being found not guilty, not because of overwhelming evidence but because he was a Very Bad Man. That's as far as you can get from the spirit of due process without shouting "Burn the witch!"

And besides, America really sucks at show trials in the first place. We've been soaking in the dullest Protestant virtues this side of the Pontifex family for so long, we all assume the rest of the world shares them. That's how no less an authoritarian junta than the Bush administration could put an unbowed Moussaoui on the stand and be shocked - seriously, shocked! - when he said of 9/11, "the whole POINT was to hurt you." Because one thing Americans will not let themselves believe is that we're the bad guys now.

He will never forgive you. You assholes.

That's probably how all these Very Concerned People can be taken seriously. They perpetuate the delusion that we can somehow resolve the horrors of the Bush era while still feeling good about ourselves.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Total Recall? Clearly They Didn’t

Today's post is the first of many guest spots by my opinionated wife. Spoilers ahoy! - Trevor

"What kind of fantasy is this!?"

Last week I was getting myself psyched up for Total Recall, a remake of the much lauded 1990 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, with Colin Farrell stepping in for Schwarzenegger’s role. Part of my mental preparation involved poring over the critics’ reviews in the days before, and I was not completely shocked to see that they were less than enthused. I mean, it’s an action movie; dizzying graphics and endless gunfire are not the stuff of great depth. “Totally forgettable” the various headlines and reviews screamed. As far as the action sequences, yes, they were right. The constant chase and fight scenes were compared by some to video games, and with what video games look like these days, I can see that.

But here’s the thing; I HATE the action film genre, and a truly great video game should NEVER so much as resemble a movie (though the main author of this blog may disagree). So why was I interested in this movie? Dystopian themes of the Phillip K. Dick variety warm my heart, and the main plot points (which, if you don’t know them by now, you can learn about here) intrigued me. I also hoped to see a smarter performance of the Douglas Quaid/Hauser role by Colin Farrell, who redeemed it to a state worthy of PKD’s work, after Schwarzenegger made a joke of it.

Before Total Recall 2012, however, I needed to see the original (for the first time). The Arnold, Sharon Stone and the rest lived up to all the clichés I hate about action films, with an extra dose of cheese. What DID shock me about the reviews for the 2012 version was how enamored most critics seemed to be of the original. Slant magazine called it “a superlative 1990 sci-fi satire,” while Time Magazine criticized the remake for lacking its “vigor, density, humor and R-rated juice.” There was more than one gleeful reference to the sitcom-esque one-liner “Consider that a divorce.” WHAT? I hope the British writers of the Guardian piece “Total Recall remake: US critics dream of original” were laughing at their American counterparts even as they penned its title. The only way you can begin to justify such adulation is to assume that the critics last saw it 22 years ago and that they were adolescents at the time. After the first (admittedly over-the-top) action scene in the remake, they were more than ready to write it off completely. If they’d bothered to pay attention they would have noticed that the remake has a lot more depth, in addition to better acting and shows greater loyalty to PKD’s vision.

Both versions implicitly ask, is the sequence real or an illusion at the Rekall facility? If you pay attention and can read between the lines, it’s pretty clear that 1990 TR was reality, and 2012 TR is a Rekall fantasy. Why? I probably missed a lot of clues, but here is what I saw that gave me that impression:

Why Arnold Schwarzenegger was really Hauser:
  • Sharon Stone overly lovey-dovey when comforting Doug about his opening scene bad dream (after 8 years of marriage? Yeah, right)
  • From Dr. Edgemar’s speech when he’s trying to talk Doug down: “The walls of reality will come crashing down around you. One minute, you're the savior of the rebel cause; next thing you know, you'll be Cohaagen's bosom buddy.” Dr. Edgemar knew all this was true, and wanted to give Doug one last mind-fuck in case he got shot (as he did).
  • There were a lot of conversations and scenes without Doug that only make sense if it was reality. Watch the movie again and you’ll see what I mean.
  • The last video recording from Hauser: He admits that he was an asshole the whole time, and in a fantasy, this sort of revelation wouldn’t make sense.
Why Colin Farrell was really Douglas Quaid:
  • After Doug awakens from the bad dream, Lori asks if he feels trapped in their marriage. She’s concerned but doesn’t get all kissy-face, more realistic after 7 years!
  • Doug fails to tell Lori that he was NOT alone in his dream, that there was another woman who resembled her. This omission seems guilt-related, and Doug is not ready to admit his unhappiness with his marriage to himself.
  • The Rekall technician predicts the ensuing movie sequence almost exactly: You can be a spy for Cohaagen… or for the resistance. Why not both?
  • When the technician starts freaking out, he puts a gun to Doug’s head. WHY would a gun be involved, or even in the room for that matter? Then security forces bust their way in out of nowhere? Try to explain that as anything other than an illusion.
  • During one of the scenes where Lori is hunting Doug down, she tells him “All this time I’ve been living with the greatest spy ever.” Hello ego trip! Who talks like that in reality?
  • There’s no final revelation message from Hauser. He might even have been completely duped by Cohaagen into trapping Matthias. In a dream/fantasy, you don’t want to find out at the end that you were really a treacherous asshole all along.
  • Doug kills Lori, and why not? The bitch had promised to talk with him about his issues before she ran off to work at the movie’s start, and then when he gets home she’s fast asleep after fighting the resistance all day. What nerve! Again, marital resentment.
  • One of the major criticisms by reviewers was that the 2012 film had “no grace notes, or grace, no nuance, no humanity.” You don’t expect much nuance in a dream, do you? The dark, dystopian setting shot through with conflict and excitement seemed like a manufactured fantasy to me.
So this is what the remake was about: Douglas Quaid was a regular joe unhappy with his life, in a tepid marriage with a stressed out wife who couldn’t cater to his emotional needs. So he needed an escapist fantasy. He wanted to pretend he was someone important and awesome. He didn’t have strong political loyalties, allowing him to fight the resistance as well as the government. Ultimately, he resents the government most because he hates his life and the societal infrastructure that keeps him stuck where he is.

The last point to this film which I loved was that yes, it was an action film…but it was a dream. The film employs silly action motifs, but in posing them as an illusion, it shows how ridiculous all the oh-so-close brushes with death really are when they’re presented as real in most action movies. Even if I’m not a fan of this sort of escapism, I can understand why it might appeal to some people. But this kind of honesty is wonderfully refreshing!

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Future is Dick

Thirty years after his death and Philip K. Dick is still getting screen credits. Perhaps we're growing closer to him, as John Dolan said of Celine. Or maybe we've just got no good writers left in this country and have to keep going back to this American Balzac for fresh ideas.

Those of you enlightened enough to already be familiar with PKD can skip this part, but I'd like to just hit some of the highlights he predicted. The gross global warming of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, the black centrist President from Chicago of The Crack in Space, the 99% kept under the thumb of a craven oligarchy through blatant lies, the total information awareness of really any story. If Dick were still writing today he wouldn't be lumped in with science fiction because all his visions would be our daily reality.

Total Recall was my first exposure to Philip K. Dick. Purists may sneer at that, but Verhoeven's film actually gets quite a bit of Dick's common themes about the malleability of reality. To ten-year-old me it was all violence and triple boobs, but re-watching it over the years I started to see the subtle hints Verhoeven stuck in that all was not as it seemed. There's not a single point of the climax not explicitly described in advance, lending an ambiguity to what appears on screen. And since Verhoeven's made himself a career out of deconstructing the action hero fantasies of sci-fi nerds, it makes perfect sense that the triumph of Douglas Quaid is just a delusion brought on by the dream machine slowly lobotomizing him. The original Total Recall isn't just a kick-ass action film, it's a fine translation of Dick's ideas and the smartest movie Schwarzenegger's ever done - along with Last Action Hero where he tells himself his movies suck.

"And what's with the accent? You've been here thirty years!"

So they remade it. And it's not half bad. Every critic and their sockpuppet is busy comparing it to the original but you don't care about that - unless you're an asshole - so I'm just going to stick to why this film deserves your time.

2012's Total Recall opens in proper sci-fi fashion with a brief prologue, detailing the rotten state of the world which we all expect the hero to fix within two hours. So far so good. It's actually a pretty clever set-up - the First World now so directly controls the Third World there's a highway through the planet between the two points for E-Z exploitation and synthetic police drones stalking down every street. A major plot point concerns the hero taking all those drones out so they can't menace people anymore. Good, classic social commentary stuff.

Then we get to meet said hero, an unremarkable day laborer from the exploited global south in the seventh year of a strained marriage and wishing for something interesting to happen for once. So he goes to fantasy dealership Rekall, where hilarity ensues.

"This is the RIAA! Step away from the BitTorrent client!"

And by hilarity, I mean it turns out he can't get his fantasy of being a secret agent - fantasies can't overlap with reality due to some technobabble about "That's how brains get fried" - and a SWAT team immediately charges in so he can kill them all. And said wife is an undercover agent who's been monitoring him. Guess it's time to save the world with his dream girl...

...Except that's the rub. She literally is his dream girl and she picks him up for a high speed chase at a ludicrously convenient time. Total Recall hits every post-Bourne action movie cliche at such a rapid clip, it could very well be the delusion of some shlub who's seen too many of these movies himself. Though it's hard to go just on this, as Len Underworld Wiseman ain't exactly one for subtlety.

But this film still nails the much more important theme of Dick's original work - that yearning to be special by inconsequential nobodies. "He awoke - and wanted Mars," is how "We Can Remember It For You wholesale" begins and it perfectly captures that very American longing to be everything beyond our reach. Of nobodies who desperately wish to be somebody. Colin Farrell's Doug Quaid goes from being a nothing factory worker to being a globally revered superspy, playing both sides against the other and killing his harpy wife without consequence. He even gets to play the piano!

A pure ego trip - just like the ads promised.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Those Wacky Nazis

Did you know Adolf Hitler never worked at a real job his entire life? Or that the dreaded Brownshirts were purged by the Nazi party itself to curry favor with the Conservative Party and Army? Or that the occupation of the Rhineland was made with barely a regiment's worth of German soldiers and they had orders to turn tail and run if the French so much as looked at them funny?

That's the first benefit of William L. Shirer's fantastic book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It's a thousand pages of all sorts of true but relatively unknown stories concerning the biggest armed conflict in human history. Shirer catalogues every single event in that conflagration through intense research of official documents, letters, diary entries - and he cites all of it! It's what they call in the biz "hermetically sealed."

Shirer covers absolutely everything leading up to Hitler taking the chancellorship - which he was appointed to, not voted into as dumb people are fond of saying. That's not how German politics worked and in fact it was a series of backroom alliances with business owners, old time aristocrats, and the Conservative Party that got the Nazis into power in the first place. Even with all their intimidation and terror tactics, the National Socialist Party could never score a definitive majority.

Not that anyone else could, of course. The first third of Shirer's book makes one thing perfectly clear - the Weimar Republic was doomed to fail and there would be another war. Germany through the '20s and '30s clung to a brainwave - promoted by aristocrats and the army - that it was the government who wouldn't let their glorious soldiers win. We heard the same thing from the Reagan crowd all through the '80s, "The dog ate my bazooka!" Factor a deeply recessed economy still slaved to the gold standard, and you've got the original recipe for fascism which propelled a little racist art school dropout to the national stage.

The war itself doesn't even start until halfway through this 1,000+ page opus. After much consolidation, including executing their own allies out of political expediency and sending boys off to summer-long recreation that builds them up fit and ready to conquer, Hitler begins his adventures with bloodless annexations. Money and propaganda fueled the first battles of World War II, from Austria to Czechoslovakia. It's not until Poland that the guns start firing, and there are just as many German citizens opposed to it - Shirer details a massive peace march in Berlin at the time - as there were generals eager to get their war on. Most of these same generals would turn on Hitler after Stalingrad and El Alamein, trying and failing to assassinate him dozens of times because he was one lucky bastard.

Really, don't go looking to Adolph Hitler for strategic genius 'cause he don't got none. While Shirer is harsher with other Nazi officials - he so routinely skewers Ribbentrop, "profoundly stupid... vain... stupid... arrogant... stupid," I found myself thinking of this Monty Python sketch as historically accurate - the whole gruesome history Shirer drags up leads only to the conclusion that Hitler was a lucky moron. All those audacious campaigns that succeeded in the early years of the war? Disparaged by his own generals - until they got the "Agree or Luger!" option from their Leader - and succeeding as much on the whole world being unprepared for another war as those summer camp healthy Wermacht troops. France and Britain couldn't even believe anyone would want to go through all that again, not after four years of No Man's Land!

And Hitler, being dumb, assumed these extraordinarily lucky victories were a sign from Providence to just go with whatever dopey idea farted its way through his brain. That's why he cancelled the proposed invasion of Britain - that and radar. He firmly believed the Brits would stand with him against the Soviets and believed his own propaganda about America, that the country was run by degenerate Jews and brown folks so would never pose a serious challenge. Shirer describes a number of his speeches where - according to his own documents! - he was lying his ass off but his behavior towards the close of the war demonstrated he whole-heartedly believed it. In short, Hitler was the world's biggest dumbass who had a stroke of uncommon luck before getting his cremated remains scattered all across Berlin by Red Army artillery. No, really!

"And did I mention Ribbentrop was stupid?"

But what really makes this a standout work is Shirer can fit all these raw facts into a broader analysis of both the Third Reich and the German consciousness that produced it. There was a theory for a time that Nazism was the logical conclusion of then-contemporary German culture. It's a theory that doesn't get much mention know 'cause it's kinda rude, but Shirer makes a good case.

Going all the way back to the Thirty Years War - a conflict I know more about than you'd expect - he traces German culture and politics all the way to World War I, depicting a people for whom militarism and authoritarianism become so deeply ingrained as to be reflexive. This is a country where army officers could legally draw down on any civilians who insulted them, where pluralities of voters were explicitly opposed to the very concept of democracy, where anti-semitism was completely and utterly normal.

Let me say that again - normal. The grotesque racism that made up the heart of Nazi ideology wasn't some aberration. It was the natural progression of centuries of European tribalism. What made their murder of millions of Others so unique is they were the first to do so on an industrial scale, really making the Third Reich the fulcrum between the Old World that dominated up through the 19th Century and the Modern World we all live in today.

And that is why I love this book so much - it torpedoes every instance of Godwin's Law. The cultural trends, political ideologies, and economic realities of the Weimar Republic were so specific to the place and time, the Nazi ideology so integrated with German identity, that any claims of "It's happening here!" are absurd at best.

But what most differentiates us now from the Germans of the '30s and '40s is none of our leaders would be willing to kill themselves. We've got plenty of nobodies who are willing - even eager - but no one with any real power. Because to a 21st century American, wealth and power is its own reward. The mid-20th continentals held to actual principles. Principles worth fighting, killing, and dying for. As the noose tightened around the Third Reich, one Nazi figure after another chose the "honorable" way out, even when exile was an option. Of those captured and sentenced to death, Goering was the figure of any significance and he promptly took his own life when it became clear the gallows were his only other future.

Read this book. It's the best ever written on the conflict that's defined your and my lifetime. It's funny, loaded with facts, and fearless enough to examine why people do terrible things without resorting to vague Humanist Protestant platitudes.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Lies of

You may have spotted their videos on YouTube or you may have a particularly stupid friend who posted a link on Facebook. But if you haven't heard, is the latest snowjob from the folks who brought you the Tea Party, the TSA "harassment" meltdown, and all those sales of terminally boring bodice-ripper Atlas Shrugged. It's a collection of brightly designed "information" videos full of earnest pedagogy and total falsehoods. But what makes it stand out from the same you'd get from watching Fox News is the palpable disdain for the viewer.

'Cause these just aren't lies. They're shallow, half-assed lies.  Here, give this a spin and see if you don't feel like Prof. Suckpuppet is pissing in your face and calling it rain -

Aside from being astonishingly out of touch - how much did you make this year? - this is just plain lazy. Watch it again and pay particularly close attention to the numbers displayed. Go on, I'll wait.



See that? The line of the graph for the "top 20%" shows average incomes raising a mere 4,000 from 48,000 to 52,000 in the arbitrary timespan.

So, leaving aside the fact that this data is twenty years old, I got a question - when the fuck has fifty-two grand ever been considered "wealthy" in America!? I'll grant up to around 1750, that would be a lot of Sterling but today it doesn't even rank up there with the nicer suburbs. has so little respect for you they can't even make up convincing numbers!

And speaking of unconvincing, here they are blaming corporate malfeasance on regulation.

The best thing I can say about this is they're being a little honest. "Our paymasters are so wedded to the system that any 'change' you vote for will be co-opted! Better not to try at all!" Which they then follow with some forced rationalization about how these same Weyland-Yutanis totally couldn't screw you without support from Big Gub'mint. It's not like they have legions of slick lawyers, market-tested PR campaigns, private security forces...

Jesus, do I really have to say it? I probably do, libertarians being painfully narrow-minded and blind to all subtext - if you are in a society where power and influence are dependent on money, removing the democratically elected filter will not change a fucking thing! You dumbass!

Protip: Only a liar would try to defend a claim by Mitt Romney. Anyone can see the guy is a disingenuous clown with a nervous disorder - unless they believe Obama is an Islam-Commie from Mars in which case they're too stupid to bother with. And again, the argument is as intellectually lazy as you can get. I know, it's for YouTube and all, but that shallow reasoning of, "A corporation has people in it, ipso dildo Corporation = People!" leaves the door open to all sorts of rhetorical hoodoo. There's the obvious - a communist state is made up of people, so it can't be all bad and why don't we give it a shot? - to the ludicrous - al Qaeda was made up of people, therefore terrorists are people too!

Ya heard it here first folks. By their own logic, supports terrorism.

"Peak oil totally isn't happening! Look at some numbers!"

There are all kinds of flaws in this argument but the most glaring is that fossil fuel is by definition a finite resource. Serious debate on the matter isn't if we're running out, but when. And that's not even taking into account all the non-supply factors that affect energy prices - consumption, speculation, and revolution all impact the price of oil on the global market. But some YouTube professor pulling numbers out of his ass to scrub that all away in favor of some Panglossian fantasy is par for the course with

Oh God! It's like Christmas and Santa brought me a strawman! Except the strawman is a real man - I think - and happily recounting the sort of utterly false malarkey that'll get you banned as a misogynist on most internet forums. "Chicks don't make as much 'cause they don't get real jobs! They all wanna be teachers and nurses and shit!"

First of all, if you've worked in engineering or IT, you know that's bullshit. Straight up, without even a nugget of truth. Second, "humanities" don't mean teacher. I have a humanities degree - English and Psychology so by Professor Permavirgin's logic I'm doubly useless - and I write code from 9 to 5. And when you factor in Graduate degrees, which this doesn't, you get an even clearer picture of, "Yeah, women are paid less because of a sexist culture."

But the biggest insult to U the viewer isn't even in the videos but tucked away within's website right here. While the rest of the site has been meticulously scrubbed of their names, there's the Koch named stamped on not one but two separate internships offered by this website that's just so aw shucks concerned about liberty and stuff.

Even my mom knows who the Koch brothers are at this point. Their sleazy history is such public knowledge that anyone who isn't so stupid as to assume guns don't kill people would question anything those two would have their name on, yet there it is in an otherwise meticulously scrubbed site. Have they been squirreled away on their private pederasty boat so long that they're unaware of this? Or do they just not care?

I'm sure they lack awareness - wealthy Americans are uniformally stupid creatures - but this entire project smacks of outright contempt. "Just stick 'Liberty' in the name! Then the suckers will believe it!" And it wouldn't be half as ugly if you morons didn't keep proving them right.