Friday, May 15, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Rachel Getting Married. The critics loved that shit. Jonathan Demme. Debra Winger! (?) A rambling house in Connecticut. HighDefDigVid. Interaciality. Rehab!
The story, briefly: Anne Hathaway gets out of rehab, goes home to where her NPR explosion of a family is celebrating her sister marrying the young Idi Amin, who is inexplicably fond of Neil Young. Bill Irwin is dad; he putters around. Debra Winger is mom, divorced from dad, moving in and out of scenes. Then Anne Hathaway remembers how she had a Chappaquidick, and her mom slaps her around, and her sister gets married, the end.
Anyway, I am a recreational drug user and all that, but I've got friends and relatives and lovers who are all twelve-steppers, and Jesus Christ, even when the movies get it right, they get it wrong. At one point, step-mom is all like, "We've been to Nar-Anon, Anne Hathaway." Um, apparently you missed the chapter entitled Detachment with Love, and decided instead to spring your whacked-out D-in-L from the residential program in order to Accept Her all weekend long, which is exactly the worst idea ever, the sort of thing you do on the first round of recovery, but swiftly learn Isn't Helping.
The critics who found this piece of trashy voyeurism so bracingly "honest" about addiction and "dysfunctional families" would condescend to anyone admitting an affection for Intervention, but I found little to separate the two, from the lousy plots to the lousy camera work.
Har har har. The Republicans are going to rename the Democrats the "Democrat Socialist Party." Ooo, guuurrrrl, no he di'ihn! I propose that the Democrats rename the GOP "Patricia."
maybe some discussion of your opinion of popular music?Is FAIL fail yet? Because it seems to be that there's no other way to so concisely note the current state of popular music. It's thoroughly exhausted. The guitar gods now face their Götterdämmerung. The many bastard children of that brief, inglorious musical twink, electroclash, have devolved even further into twee hipster nonsense, a lot of twenty-year-olds ironically feigning sentimental attachment to a Casio-keyboard aesthetic that predated their own unfortunate late-eighties birth dates. At its worst hip-hop is the absolute worst, an unending skein of embarrassing materialism, put-a-ring-on-it female misogyny, and hollow, video-game violence with none of the Balzacian realness that animated violent rap in its past glory days, while underground hip-hop remains lyrically vital but was never musically interesting to begin with. I admit a soft spot for Wayne Coyne, because he is a sci-fi weirdo, and Stephen Merrit, because he's a fag. Otherwise, is there anything more embarrassing than a pack of liberal blogger types sharing microbrews and enthusing over The Decembrists, the single worst musical group in all history, the nadir of human aesthetic achievement, the final proof that human cognition as we know it, which originated song before speech, will end thusly, whistling grisly half-melodies as the ants inherit the earth?
On the other hand, guys like Rudresh Mahanthappa and Vijay Iyer are doing really interesting work bringing the rhythmic and tonal innovation of Indian music to jazz. You could hardly call it popular, though. It's no Jai Ho, ya know?
As a relentless booster of Pittsburgh as the one American city that will survive the end times and prosper and generally a sports fan, I would be remiss were I not to take a moment to mention that the Pens are a great destructive force unleashed upon the universe, a furious maw in which competitors are broken and destroyed. Rematch oh-nine, bitchz.
Oh-ho, so it was private contractors. Not the CIA. Not the FBI. Not America. Move along, now, partner. While I am sure that the hourly Rambos who constitute our mercenary corps are generally enthusiastic about a little bloodletting from time to time, the evidence is plain that our own so-called intelligence services are deeply implicated, and in any event, were it a matter of mercenary overreach rather than national policy, one wonders why, precisely, the Office of Legal Counsel et al. spent so much of their plainly limited mental resources constructing legal mousetraps to explain and justify these so-called harsh techniques. The specificity with which now-permissible techniques are identified and atomized is a pure product of the legal-bureaucratic mind, and the tone of the various opinions and memos is prescriptive rather than proscriptive, their intent plainly the advance expansion of available methods rather than some hasty, ad hoc circumscription of tortures in order to shield self-motivated torturers out in the field from future punishment and sanction.
The United States has always tortured. The sudden decision of the Obama administration to air its predecessor's dirty laundry concomitant with its denigrating the possibility of seeking to prosecute either the authors of torture policy or the practitioners thereof indicates only that the current regime seeks to return the practice of torture to the legal demimonde where it is practiced circumspectly and in a manner that allows it to be denounced when made public, i.e. a return to the status quo ante. Note that even as Obama "ended torture," with a few loops of the executive pen, he reaffirmed the procedure known as extraordinary rendition, which is nothing other than the venerable American tradition of hiring others to do our dirty work. The new focus on so-called contractors as the main advocates for torture is part of the same effort, to make non-policy policy, always maintaining a degree of deniability, something the clumsier Bush administration was never able to accomplish.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Who saw it coming. The idea here is that if we allow the foreigners whose nations we invade and occupy to know that our shock troops will horribly abuse and mistreat them, then they will know that our shock troops will horribly abuse and mistreat them. Oh well, another day, and another hope changes. Poetic, no?
Who am I not making fun of? What prominent or not-so-prominent writers, bloggers, actors, aliens, politicians, journalists, prevaricators, pontiffs, potentates, and poobahs am I missing? Who should Who Is IOZ? target next? What arguments are in dire need of diddling? Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man?
Here are three complementary articles on the decline of middle America, the idea of the local (and its discontents), and some speculation on the future of the wide, anonymous country between the two coasts. There are plenty of observations to agree with, plenty to quibble with, and as this is a blog, I choose to quibble with Daniel Larison, who says with admirable concision:
The cosmopolites, as Prof. Deneen calls them, see many of the advantages of localism but want none of the obligations. They are starved for what it provides, and so wish to escape the confines of their way of life, but they are unwilling to enter into the confines of the local, perhaps because they prefer status rather than happiness or perhaps because they have become so accustomed to the life of the displaced tourist that they cannot imagine being still for any prolonged period of time. The locavore and organic food habits that serve as proof that their way of life is in important ways unsatisfying are themselves a temporary remedy that serves to fill in the gaps and mask the costs of their way of life. The locals, meanwhile, want the products that the world of the cosmopolites can provide, and, as Jeremy argued, many of them want to enter into that world, never fully understanding that their homes will change dramatically and often for the worse as a result of their departure.While partly true, this is poorly observed, a high-altitude view that fails to see the fine gradations of terrain available to the man on the ground. Some of the so-called cosmopolites seek "the advantages of localism but . . . none of the obligations." I suspect that in addition to trendy, green-washed celebrities, the person that Deenan and Larrison have in mind here is the proverbial affluent liberal, who buys local produce, but mostly at Whole Foods, who has a Prius, but also a BMW X5, who buys low-energy bulbs, but uses them to light a 3,000 sq. ft. house, who likes the neighborhood but also takes two far-flung vacations a year. We have a fair number of this sort on Pittsburgh's East End, but surely they're yet more common in the Boston or D.C. metropoles.
Frankly, though, in my experience and observation, the majority of support for local agriculture or urban reclamation originates not in the lawyerly upper echelons of social liberalism but among younger, educated-but-middle-income singles and families resettling in cities like my own Pittsburgh. These may not be people willing to return to the small towns of Indiana, where there remains such a dearth of opportunity that returning would promise only inescapable poverty, but they are migrating to infill the previously declining neighborhoods of some of America's rust belt. Hell, I even saw some promising signs in Buffalo on a recent trip. I'm not a sentimentalist about this, and don't think that post-hipster art farters are going to save the mid-sized American city, but I do think that intellectual commitments to localism as well as the purer economic drivers such as the search for low-cost housing will continue to support this trend for the foreseeable future.
Larison quotes Deenan:
This, in a microcosm, is a central paradox of our political system: our cosmopolite meritocrats theoretically admire localism but abhore [sic] the idea of living within the confines that such life would entail; our Red-State locals tend to despise cosmopolites, but support (and vote for) an economic system that encourages borderlessness, placelessness, and a profoundly abstract economy that has the effect of eviscerating those very localities. This arrangement is one of the central features undermining the localist cause today, and it’s difficult to see how it will be reversed.I don't think it's so difficult to see how it will be reversed. This arrangement is also wholly temporary. WalMart is a behemoth, yes, but a vulnerable one. Its network of far-flung production and distribution is not sustainable. The model of producing cheaply in Asia and shipping cheaply to the US and Europe cannot continue indefinitely. The cost of labor in Asia is rising, and although the cost of petroleum is still far down from its previous highs, anyone with half a semester of statistics can plot the trend lines and see that the cost of ships, planes, trains, and automobiles will increase.
Meanwhile, although Glen Reynolds and the transhumanist mafia may not get their borg bodies just yet, it is true that the future of manufacturing, whether clothing or electronics or tools to till the soil, is specialized, local, made-to-specification. The economic infeasibility of far-flung mass production and the ongoing advances in production and materials science are going to have repurcussions for the way we live, and it seems to me that there may yet be a medium to be reached in our self-sustaining little enclaves, a three-dimensional printer in every pot, a modest nuclear deterrent in every grain silo.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
It is all too easy to forget that we "won" in Vietnam. We left having defeated the Viet Cong, having forced North Vietnam to halt its offensives -- and having gotten a Nobel Prize for the settlement. We created something approaching a functioning democracy, a reasonable level of development, and Vietnamese forces that seemed able to defend both without our support. It only took a few years, however, to show how costly an exit without a strategy can be.I like this sort of history. It's like, imagine a German who claimed that the Reich triumphed on the Eastern Front because he stopped counting at the Hitler-Stalin pact.
American defenders of the American war in Vietnam like to say that we won in Vietnam because we supposedly won every major engagement, and critics can still be heard contending, when accused of subverting the war effort and assisting in an American defeat, that given the millions of dead Vietnamese and the destruction wreaked on that country, they can hardly be said to be the victors. Right. The North Vietnamese won the war, if at a terrible price. They persisted resisting until the price became too high and America wearied, they participated in the '73 accords because that would speed the departure of the Americna military, and in '75, they went back in and won. They conquered the South, integrated it territorially the following year, and instituted a central government.
As for Iraq . . . as we begin to depart, whatever is going to happen is going to happen. The idea that we can fix its national destiny and then depart in clear conscience is as foolish as the ideas, charitably speaking, that sent us there in the first place.
Monday, May 11, 2009
I don't know what to call the keyboard cat. A phenomenon. A meme? Whatever it is, it encapsulates our present world-historical moment exactly, the being-ness of the now, the thing in all its thing-ness.
Just so, and let me just say this about that. What is the purpose of the state? I mean, the Hobbesian Leviathan exists not to deprive us of freedom, right, but to protect us from the greater deprivation that would inevitably result from the cannabilistic slave-gang red-tooth-red-claw state of nature, each at war against the other, etc. etc. That in any case is the theory--for all that has since been written, thought, said, sung, made, built, born, in the end, the argument for the legitimacy and, indeed, necessity of the state is in the popular mind unadvanced from Hobbes. If it weren't for some big, coercive, constituted authority, we'd all be killin and rapin each other, non-stop, from morning till night and back again. I confess it is a possibility. Well, it seems to me that our states mostly exist to deprive us of moral autonomy, not that most of us are complaining. The law, as demonstrated, is totally exigent. It exists simply to ratify what we want to do. The laws against torture justify torture. Just read the memos! Yes, Nancy Pelosi et al. believed themselves to have diligently disposed of their obligations as moral agents because they made sure to have someone tell them that what they were authorizing was okay, and then the various agents of torture in turn said, well, hell, Congress and the President told us to do it, and what was I supposed to do, say no? Maybe the coming anarchy will look exactly like late Cormac McCarthy, but on the other hand, no one will ever be able to claim that they were just following the best legal advice, just following orders.
In anticipation of the new Star Trek movie, I reacquainted myself with a handful of the old, of which, I regret to report, only two really hold up, and, I likewise regret, I won't be breaking from the herd in declaring that they are II: The Wrath of Khan, and VI: The Undiscovered Country. Of Khan, I haven't got much to add, except that in addition to working well as a revenge fantasy (and, a few histrionics aside, showing that William Shatner can, on occasion, actually act), it manages to play modestly on the themes of weariness and age. Although we know that Paramount intends to subject the crew to many more adventures, there is the sense that they are already too old for all this dashing around, that the safety of the galaxy and exploration of new worlds is a young man's game. Spock's self-sacrifice has the note of a benediction, even as we also watch with trepidation as he sails into the the halo of the "Genesis Device," knowing how this will set up the next clumsy sequel . . . and the next.
But after Star Trek V: The Vulcan Bar Mitzvah, when it all seemed truly ready to collapse under the weight of its own ridiculousness, if not the weight of its softening and expanding cast, someone, somehow, managed to produce The Undiscovered Country, which takes up that same theme of decrepitude and age and plays it against an almost pitch-perfect end-of-Cold War parable, complete with its own Chernobyl, a Siberian prison camp, Glasnost, and a starship captain who suddenly sounds less like Roddenberry than le Carré, musing to his journal, full of gray knowledge that his own hatreds ("I will never forgive the Klingons . . . for what they did to my boy") make him obsolete. The conspiracy at the center of the movie is its weakest pillar, but, hey, she's gotta have a tailpipe. Kim Catrall makes an inglorious appearance as a Vulcan, opposite Leonard Nimoy, who would've been better served with a foil made of foil, which could just as easily reflect him briefly and then crumple.
Thus followed a series of sequels starring the cast of The Next Generation that each had the feel of padded-out TV episodes. I always liked Stewart following Shatner, the pioneer followed by the explorer, but TNG only worked on the small screen--its best episodes were about science and ethics, and while the Original Series was arch and thinky in its own way, it swashbuckled, too. Anyway, the TNG movies were thoroughly and wholly forgettable.
Now it has all been reinvented. No, reimagined. Who is responsible for these chop-shop phrases, anyway? Works of fiction either work or do not work on their own merits. No one now watching the first season of Star Trek cares that the electronics look like they were already antiquated in the sixties. The reason you can chuckle at the campy sets and go-go uniforms while still enjoying the voyages of the Enterprise is that Star Trek was not, at least not initially, about the future, or in any event not about the future of technology. In the better moments, the future was just a narrative conceit for telling stories about the present, for speculating on where it was all going--which is to say, society, not Radio Shack. The Undiscovered Country, to reflect again on the finest of the film versions, could just as easily have been set in 1989.
But J.J. Abrams and some or other gang of gee-whiz technophiles have rebooted, reset, recreated, reprogrammed the original gang in order to create a future that in ten or twenty years will look as ridiculous as the sets of The Original Series. They look ridiculous and anachronistic now. The effect of a restyling that is both bold and bland is to draw unfortunate attention to the plain fact that the future does not look like the future. The fact is: while guys like Charles Stross and Ken MacCleod and a whole generation of science fiction writers are speculating with wit and verve on a future descended from a present in which, for instance, The Internet, the movies have thoroughly failed to discover the technology of the present, and so their future is so . . . wrong. Where are the computer networks and molecular assemblers, the artificial intelligences? Why is there no biotechology? Why are they building that spaceship on the ground, for chrissake? Every time the new Uhura sputtered that "communications are down," I imagined a Status Code: 41 - Network Connection Time Out zipping across her view screen, except in the future, there is no internet!
Now this would all be forgivable if the setting were a mere set-up for . . . something, but it is instead a set-up for, yes, an Origin Myth. Take it away, Anthony Lane:
Here, in other words, is a long-range backstory—a device that, in the Hollywood of recent times, has grown from an option to a fetish. I lost patience with “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” once we learned of Willy Wonka’s primal trauma (his father was a dentist, and forbade him candies, so guess how he reversed that deprivation?), and, likewise, with “Batman Begins,” from the moment that mini-Bruce tumbled into a well full of bats. What’s wrong with “Batman Is” ? In all narratives, there is a beauty to the merely given, as the narrator does us the honor of trusting that we will take it for granted. Conversely, there is something offensive in the implication that we might resent that pact, and, like plaintive children, demand to have everything explained. Shakespeare could have kicked off with a flashback in which the infant Hamlet is seen wailing with indecision as to which of Gertrude’s breasts he should latch onto, but would it really have helped us to grasp the dithering prince?I would go further. The original crew of the Enterprise were types, and god help us, it was up the actors to invest them with character. Now the filmmakers have attempted to craft arcs of character that will catapult each character firmly into his type. It is a cracked and backward strategy. There are some fine young actors in the new Star Trek. Imagine a gang of talented young chefs. Into the kitchen walks J.J. Abrams. To each, he hands a beautiful, golden-brown omelet. Gentlemen and ladies, he says, please make me some unbroken eggs.
This is especially the case for Zachary Quinto, who acquits himself well as Spock, and who is a good enough actor, damnit, to embody that character's conflicted nature, the wellspring of emotion that still bubbles beneath the logical exterior, without throwaway scenes of child-hood bullying, less yet thirty-seven other characters foreboding, "You are a child of two worlds." Yeah, really? Please remind us before we get to the next reel.
Anyway, Abrams is a kinetic filmmaker. He understands action, and he films with what Arlen Spector would call vim, vigor, and vitality, but it all still creaks and groans exactly because the focus is so much on the make-it-new technology, which seems so depressingly 20th-century. It looks both fantastic and dated. There's only one exception: Michael Kaplan's costume design, which is just fantastic. Retro future chic done flawlessly--the hems and cuts of the 1960s rediscovered two centuries hence as fashion's entirely believable cycle of . . . reimagining? Next time, and there will surely be a next time, they should let him design the ship as well.