Monthly Archives: June 2005

Neal Stephenson, Star Wars, Geek Culture

I hate to keep pushing the Star Wars buttons, but I came across a good article on Star Wars, geeks and vegging out by one of my favorite authors, Neal Stephenson. Basically his premise is that this new trilogy of prequels is pretty much incomprehensible because it consists of nothing but veg out action scenes, and all the geeky details are now canonized in copious volumes of alternative media; books, comics, video games and the internet have supplanted the need to actually explain anything in Episodes I through III.

Speaking of geeking out on Star Wars, try reading this revisionist history of the original Star Wars movie, based on information present in the prequel trilogy. It actually makes a great deal of sense.

Hmm

Well, I’m obviously not using this website to the fullest of my abilities. I guess the big impediment is that Blogger stabilized their operations and it is running smoothly again at East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I’ll keep experimenting with this setup, but right now I only seem to be able to handle one weblog at a time. That’s a drag.

God’s Army

Via Kate’s post about the Christian right at Broken Windows, I read Chris Hedge’s disturbing article in the May issue of Harper’s Magazine, Soldiers of Christ II. It is a chilling look at the hate-filled agenda of the National Religious Broadcasters, the umbrella organization for those television evangelists. Hate directly especially at homosexuality, in a chilling parallel to fascist targeting of homosexuals as deviants in the 1930’s. What goes around, comes around.

Soldiers of Christ II invariably led me to Soldiers of Christ I, Harper’s look at one of the mega-churches in Colorado Springs. Tossed in among the description of the New Life Church is how founding Pastor Ted is interested in free markets, capitalism and the benefits of global consumption. Christians want to live life well, and not become exhausted by running soup kitchens and helping the poor. Christ wouldn’t want that now, would he? After all, helping the poor doesn’t have customer value.

Read both these articles, they will chill your soul.

Big Screen TV’s, The New SUVs

Why does this not surprise me, since the same people that tool around in SUV’s invariably have one of these monstrosities hanging on their wall? Big screen, high definition flat panel displays draw more energy than older television sets, and the stars are aligning for a massive upswing in electricity use. Prices on these gargantuan sets are dropping, and television use is on the upswing with DVD’s and video games surging in popularity. Given the fact that most people keep their TV’s for 5 to 15 years, and these new sets draw 50% more electricity than older televisions, be prepared for a whopping increase in home electricity bills.

The Strangest Thing I’ve Read All Week

I had some vitriolic posts all fired up about Terry Schiavo and this Senate anti-lynching thing, but I’m too spent to a keep up my anger. Instead, here’s a story from the Times about how a cat parasite can alter human personality with feline traits. Apparently nine million British cats are infected with Toxoplasma gondii, and it infects the brains of half of Britain’s human population too.

Infected men, suggests one new study, tend to become more aggressive, scruffy, antisocial and are less attractive. Women, on the other hand, appear to exhibit the “sex kitten” effect, becoming less trustworthy, more desirable, fun-loving and possibly more promiscuous.

Apparently infection rates among humans in Germany and France reach 80%-90%, which opens a whole can of worms in derogatory national puns.

Toxoplasma gondii’s life cycle is fulfilled by passing between cats and rats. Rats eat infected cat feces, cats are infected by hunting rats. Once infected, rats seem to lose their natural fear of cats, so the parasite alters rat brain patterns and instincts to increase the likelihood of the rat being eaten by a cat. Researchers think this is the same process involved in the human personality changes.

So now I have a valid excuse for why I’m so scruffy looking. It’s the alley-cat effect. No if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to warble out in the yard, pee on my neighbor’s bed and go lounge under some automobiles for the rest of the day.

Moloch?

In case anybody missed it, this is Moloch referred to by Kunstler, and used in the title of my last post.

The Moloch Broadside, by Lynd Ward

The Moloch Broadside
Poetry by Allen Ginsberg
Engraving by Lynd Ward

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgement! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the cities!

Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!

Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!

Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!

Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible madhouses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!

They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!

Visions! Omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river!

Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!

Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years’ animal creams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!

Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

1956

Copyright © 2004-2009, Mick Arran. Some rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.

The Human Animal And The American Moloch

While I am at it, here’s a couple really interesting posts on the long fall: First, The Human Animal, an interview with T.C. Boyle, author of Drop City and After the Plague.

Second, I came across a weblog by none other than James Howard Kunstler, author of Long Emergency. He’s the guy telling us we’re headed for a nasty fall when the cheap oil gravy train runs out. He just spent a few days in California, and he came away with exactly my sense of that God-forsaken land.

Now, for the sake of fairness, how about I post a link to an essay by Bruce Sterling, futurist and sci-fi author of Tomorrow Now and Schismatrix (and Mirrorshades contributor), on how technology will save all our asses and get us out of this mess. God I hope he’s right, but I have this sinking feeling that this technological salvation is a pipe dream. Our country is not a climate conducive to science or technology. It seems like every year anti-intellectuals, recidivists and conservatives intent on throwing the country back into the 18th century gain more and more strength. And at the same time, the mindless prattle of television saps what little intellect remains. Just look at all the coverage over the Michael Jackson trial, or this girl that disappeared in Aruba. This nonstop hysteria drains the mind and deadens the spirit.

Sorry, I’m ranting. I don’t want to rant. Time to go cool off for awhile.

Congress’ War on Public Broadcasting

Well it looks like the war on public broadcasting has fired its first salvo. A House subcommittee voted on Friday to sharply reduce funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, effectively knee capping public television and public radio stations across the country. I guess there’s no place for NOVA, Masterpiece Theater, Reading Rainbow or Sesame Street in George Bush’s America.

PBS, in particular, drew harsh criticism in December from the Bush administration for a “Postcards From Buster” episode in which Buster, an animated rabbit, “visited” two families in Vermont headed by lesbians. And programming on both PBS and NPR has come under fire in recent months from Tomlinson, the Republican chairman of the CPB, who has pushed for greater “balance” on the public airwaves.

God, there’s that pesky question of ‘balance’ again, being used as a bludgeon against something good and useful.

Some Recent DVD’s of Note

Here’s a few DVD’s I rented in the last couple months that rose above the rest:

  • Stage Beauty – I was quite surprised at this Restoration period piece. Ned Kynaston is the greatest female impersonator in London, performing Desdemona to rousing cheers every night. But when King Charles II decrees that women can play women’s roles, poor Ned is set adrift while his lowly dressing maid becomes a star in his place. “She did what she did first,” a theater owner tells Ned on night. “You did what you did last.” Fine performances from Billy Crudup, Claire Danes and the rest of the cast.
  • The Corporation – How about a documentary detailing the rise of the multi-national corporation, our modern hydra, that begins with the unsettling information that, under the law, ‘a corporation is not a thing but a person. The U.S. Supreme Court so ruled, in a decision based, bizarrely, on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. That was the one that guaranteed former slaves equal rights. The court ruling meant corporations were given the rights of individuals in our society. They are free at last.

    If Monsanto and WorldCom and Enron are indeed people, what kind of people are they? The movie asks Robert Hare, a consultant who helps the FBI profile its suspects. His diagnosis: Corporations by definition have a personality disorder and can be categorized as psychopathic. That is because they single-mindedly pursue their own wills and desires without any consideration for other people (or corporations) and without reference to conventional morality. They don’t act that way to be evil; it’s just, as the scorpion explained to the frog, that it’s in their nature.’ This is a chilling and unsettling movie, a look into our bleak corporate future.

  • Primer – A convoluted journey through time travel and the paradoxes it raises. This movie really popped right out as an intelligent, if sometimes incomprehensible science fiction tale. It was filmed out of a garage basically, but it hardly looks cheap. Certainly worth checking out.
  • The Motorcycle Diaries – An entertaining biopic about Che Guevera and his social awakening during a cross continent journey he took as a young med student in 1952. The cinematography is stunning, and it is matched by Gustavo Santaolalla’s haunting score.
  • Goodbye, Lenin! – A funny movie about the lengths one son will go to protect his mother. In the last days of East Germany, loyal communist Christiane suffers a stroke and slips into a coma. Her son, Alex, is wracked with guilt because his participation in a political protest induced her stroke. He spends every day at her hospital bed as the Wall collapses and East Germany opens up to the West. When his mother miraculously awakes from the coma, Alex goes to great lengths to keep her unawares of the new political landscape. After all, the doctors say the slightest shock could kill her. Pretty soon Alex is foraging dumpster for old jars of pickles, creating glowing news reports on videotape, and bribing neighborhood kids to come over and sing communist worker anthems.
  • American Splendor – On the advice of my brother-in-law, I picked up this little gem of a movie. It splices together the real Harvey Pekar, file clerk and graphic novelist, with Paul Giamatti playing his younger self. It’s funny, weird and definitely engaging. It must be oddly fascinating to watch your life played out in a movie, kind of like picking at a scab or something. Especially engaging is Our Cancer Year, recounting Pekar’s battle with testicular cancer.
  • This Girl’s Life – I never thought I’d get bored with a movie about porno sex, but I really, really didn’t need to see Michael Rapaport getting busy with the beautiful lead actress in this drama. Makes me shudder just thinking about. Otherwise, this was an interesting movie about the sex industry, told from the perspective of a willing and capable porn actress. And good lord, Juliette Marquis is absolutely gorgeous. But James Woods, playing her father afflicted with Parkinson’s, steals the movie out from under her.
  • Secretary – Speaking of a movie about sex, this quirky film approaches S&M like it is the self-help cure of the new millennium. Wow. Talk about a strange little movie. The mind games that go on between James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal are sometimes funny and always twisted. It’s easy to see why Spader loses interest during the final third of the movie; being the sadist in an S&M relationship is hard work. But eventually they reconcile and theirs is a match made in whips ‘n chains heaven.
  • Closer – An enjoyable movie, if only for the sparkling dialogue. All four main characters are completely complicit in the misadventures of this love quadrangle. All four seem to take enjoyment out of being brutally honest without regard for their lover’s feelings, twisting the knife in and enjoying the pain it causes. It is an interesting movie, with a surprising twist at the end that forces you to reevaluate the entire movie.
  • Riding Giants – Surfing with the big boys. This documentary traces the history of big wave surfers in Hawaii and California, leading up to the development of tow-in surfing by Laird Hamilton. If you dig the ocean, this is a good movie to watch. I especially enjoyed the story of Jeff Clark, who for fifteen years surfed Mavericks alone, his own slice of monster surf ignored by all the big names in Hawaii and Southern California.
  • The Station Agent – A strange, quiet movie about life changes and the value of friendship. Whether the characters in this movie want it our not, friendships form and become important to them all. I’d almost describe this movie as delicate, with long carefully shot scenes of quiet, rustic abandon. Life alongside the tracks in New Jersey doesn’t look all that bad actually. Oh yeah, and it stars a dwarf, in a movie about how his size really doesn’t matter to those around him.
  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – Bill Murray does his bit as a low rent Jacques Cousteau suffering from serious ennui in this entertaining and pointless movie. The idea is humorous, several scenes are dryly funny, the plot is just an excuse to move from one set up to the next wry scene. But something seemed a bit off to me. Maybe I am just getting tired of Wes Anderson’s deadpan humor, but the all the actors stumbled from one scene to the next, sort of like everybody was stoned out on good hashish. The movie has its moments, but I ain’t entirely sure it is a good movie.
  • 301/302 – Now here’s a weird little movie about two diametrically opposed neighbors. The woman in apartment 301 cannot stomach any food because of her sexual frigidity, while the woman in 302 is a carnal glutton, consuming in her need for both sex and food. They’re a Korean odd couple, that’s for sure. Until 301 mysteriously disappears and the cops come round to investigate.
  • Garden State – Pretty good movie. I was told to expect a ‘chick flick’ but I didn’t find it anything of the type. It was bizarrely funny in places, and achingly moving in others. And it has a great soundtrack. Natalie Portman is making a career out of playing cute, offbeat girlfriends to quirky losers. First Closer, now this. Beware the dangers of typecasting…
  • In Good Company – The real surprise here. I remember the ads when this came out, and I was expecting some farcical sex comedy sort of thing. Something along the lines of what the idiot Ashton Kutcher appears in. “Dude, you’re dating the boss’ daughter!” Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. It starts out as a corporate shark diatribe, but slowly resolves into a romance that exposes the character’s humanity. It was pretty funny and touching at times. Certainly a mainstream Hollywood movie, but a pleasant one. And Scarlett Johansson is just luscious.
  • Max Havoc – Just KIDDING!! That’s being held hostage for more money from GovGuam.

I know, that’s a lot of movies. I picked up one of these ‘movie passes’ at Blockbuster a couple months ago, and I’ve been off on a movie overload ever since. But I think I’m running out of movies I haven’t seen and I will cancel it in a few weeks. Mind you, this long list is just the movies I thought were worth mentioning. I’m skipping over Blade III, Alien vs. Predator, Millennium Mambo, and some other crappy movies I picked up. One movie I disliked intensely was The Dreamers. I expected something more than kinky, incestuous sex during the Paris strikes of 1968. I am sure it means more to those who were there and who love the movies it evokes, but it left me thinking Bernardo Bertolucci just has a thing for filming scenes were beautiful young girls lose their virginity in weird homes with bizarre living arrangements.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch another movie.

Broken Windows

Rapidly rising in my list of favorite blogs is Broken Windows, written by a progressive liberal whose husband is deployed in Afghanistan. Her raw anger and anguish over this separation and the rise of the conservative hegemony in our nation is palpable in every entry. Besides providing a voice for her husband in Jalalabad, she has some perceptive comments about the breakdown of the media and the loss of truth. This whole obsession with ‘balance’ is a major problem in media today, on both sides of the political spectrum.

Today, everything is up to debate and therefore must be presented in a ‘balanced’ fashion, preferably with two political pundits, even when there is nothing to debate because the issue is a fact. No WMDs were found in Iraq. This is not a political opinion, it’s a fact. It is also a fact that Saddam Hussein was a secular tyrant. It is a fact, too, that nearly 1700 American soldiers and countless Iraqis have died since we invaded Iraq in 2003, and that hundreds of soldiers’ deaths were caused by lack of proper equipment. Regardless of whether pundits insist that Ted Koppel reading the names on Memorial Day was a ‘political’ act, those soldiers, who all loved and were loved, are dead. It is not a political opinion. It’s the truth. If we never read their names out loud, if we never see their pictures in the newspaper, it will not change the fact that we have lost them.

This need for ‘balance’ has become overwhelmingly destructive. Just last month C-SPAN was to present a lecture by a woman who’d written a book about the Holocaust. She backed out because C-SPAN, in the interest of ‘balance,’ was to present right after her a Holocaust-denier, a man who thinks the Holocaust never happened, and she didn’t want to give his opinions (yes, opinions, not facts) a national stage. The Holocaust happened. That is fact, not opinion. There is nothing to ‘balance’ out a fact. It is what it is. There are plenty of opinions out there to be debated, but the fact of the Holocaust is not an opinion at all. It doesn’t take much to imagine a future where Hannity and Colmes debate whether grass is green, whether human beings require air to breathe, and whether gravity, as a ‘theory,’ is scientific gibberish. What are we to do when there are no longer facts and only political opinions? Where does that leave us? 2 2=5?

I’m reminded of Syme in Orwell’s 1984, working diligently on the newspeak dictionary. He told Winston of his genius plan: to rid the dictionary of the language of dissent. Once the dictionary was cleaned of the language required for thoughtcrime, the thoughts would no longer exist, therefore making thoughtcrime impossible. Getting rid of anti-government thought was as simple as taking away the language of dissent. Our current obscuration of the truth, our refusal to admit facts, our insistence that everything is opinion and open to debate, is no different than Syme’s work on the newspeak dictionary. We are making it impossible to dissent because there are no longer facts or truth. (It’s frightening to me, too, that the insistence on hiding the images of war, even the faces and names of the dead, is so similar to Winston’s job of minding the memory hole. If the images are destroyed, it is as if the events never happened and those who died never existed. Their very existence will have been obliterated because there will be no public record of their lives and deaths.)

Daily Bit O’ D.N.A.

I was sitting outside reading most of today, but an afternoon squall has forced me inside. Inspired by the recent release of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I am working my way through all my Douglas Adams material. I read all the Hitchhiker books last month, and I am currently reading The Salmon of Doubt, a collection of Adams’ writings released posthumously in 2002.

Just before the rain forced me inside, I read this little snippet, which Adams reproduces almost exactly in his fourth Hitchhiker book, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, as a misadventure of Arthur Dent, the hero of the series.

Cookies
by Douglas Adams
This actually did happen to a real person, and the real person is me. This was April 1976, in Cambridge, U.K. I was a bit early for the train. I’d gotten the time of the train wrong. I went to get myself a newspaper to do the crossword, and a cup of coffee and a packet of cookies. I went and sat at a table. I want you to picture the scene. It’s very important that you get this very clear in your mind. Here’s the table, newspaper, cup of coffee, packet of cookies. There’s a guy sitting opposite me, perfectly ordinary-looking guy wearing a business suit, carrying a briefcase. It didn’t look like he was going to do anything weird. What he did was this: he suddenly leaned across, picked up the packet of cookies, tore it open, took one out, and ate it.

Now this, I have to say, is the sort of thing the British are very bad at dealing with. There’s in our background, upbringing, or education that teaches you how to deal with someone who in broad daylight has just stolen your cookies. You know what would happen if this had been South Central Los Angeles. There would have very quickly been gunfire, helicopter coming in, CNN, you know… But in the end, I did what any red-blooded Englishman would do: I ignored it. And I stared at the newspaper, took a sip of coffee, tried to do a clue in the newspaper, couldn’t do anything, and thought, What am I going to do?

In the end I thought, Nothing for it, I’ll just have to go for it, and I tried very hard not to notice the fact that the packet was already mysteriously opened. I took out a cookie for myself. I thought, That settled him. But it hadn’t because a moment or two later he did it again. He took another cookie. Having not mentioned it the first time, it was somehow even harder to raise the subject the second time around. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice…” I mean, it doesn’t really work.

We went through the whole packet like this. When I say the whole packet, I mean there were only about eight cookies, but it felt like a lifetime. He took one, I took one, he took one, I took one. Finally, when we got to the end, he stood up and walked away. Well, we exchanged meaningful looks, then he walked away, and I breathed a sigh of relief and sat back.

A moment or two later the train was coming in, so I tossed back the rest of my coffee, stood up, picked up the newspaper, and underneath the newspaper were my cookies. The thing I like particularly about this story is the sensation that somewhere in England there has been wandering around for the last quarter-century a perfectly ordinary guy who’s had the same exact story, only he doesn’t have the punchline.

From a speech to Embedded Systems, 2001

It was a truly a shame when Douglas N. Adams died of a heart attack in 2001. He was only 49 years old.

This Parking Lot Scam

A rash of arrests at the Guam International Airport occurred this week, as a scam by parking lot attendants came to light. So far seven parking lot employees have been arrested and charged with stealing $70,000 in parking lot fees over the last several years. Apparently these guys were just pocketing the parking lot fees and submitting fraudulent reports to their supervisors.

This comes after allegations of bid tampering and kickbacks earlier this year by another airport employee. While the woman no longer worked at the airport, she was in another GovGuam agency which decided not to terminate her employment. After all, can’t have thieves walking the streets unemployed can we?

And the beauty of this? Nothing’s changed. “So far, all of the employees arrested remain on the job assigned to other divisions at the Airport pending the findings of the police investigation.” Yes, Guam’s airport, proudly employing thieves to ensure your comfort and ease in travelling.