Who Made This?

At the end of every episode of the X-Files, there was the production card that identified the show as being created by a particular production company, in this case, Chris Carter’s Ten thirteen productions. I bring this up because the tag line of that production card always stayed with me. A simple statement, spoken by a child: “I made this.” It wasn’t just a boast, but a reminder. Someone made the preceding show. It didn’t just appear on your screen, beamed in from outer space. It was consciously made to sell you an idea.

I started thinking about this when the controversy over The Interview erupted last week. What struck me most was how muddled everything became over something as simple as a movie. Though perhaps simple is the wrong word. Movies are complex, deceptively so. We forget how much time and attention goes into editing them into a coherent narrative, that we overlook the gaps in that editing, and pretend that the real people saying fake things up there on the screen are still conveying some sort of truth, even if that truth is that Seth Rogen and James Franco have clearly smoked more weed than is advisable.

Facts are funny things. They’ll serve liars just as well as they will crusaders for truth and justice. Sure, Sony spiking the film is a horrible no good very bad thing to do, as is the DPRK (or whomever) hacking Sony and issuing threats of terrorism over a movie. But you know what else is a bad idea? Making a comedy about assassinating a sitting head of state. Even and especially if he is an egomaniacal troll with delusions of grandeur. This is a man who had his ex girlfriend executed by firing squad. What did you think was going to happen when he saw a simulacrum of his own face, with his own name, melting on screen? He’d laugh?


But what gets left out of the story is how the moviemakers are trying to pull a fast one. The Interview doesn’t get transmuted into gold because it’s become controversial. But by doubling down on the claim their freedom of speech is being trampled, they elevate the status of their stoner comedy, demanding it be respected as an artful political statement, while still claiming it’s just a movie and the dude whose avatar they immolate on film should just chill out.

The Interview is suddenly Schrodinger’s movie, both political art and crass commercial product, all depending upon which side of the dependent clause you’re reading.  And all because James Franco and Seth Rogen deserve… something. Attention? I know we white guys have been feeling the sting of the social justice warrior lash of late, but prolonging an international incident because of misplaced privilege is a new low, even for movie stars.

And let’s not kid ourselves, The Interview is a lead-jacketed stone, designed to sink. How could it be anything else given its stars, subject matter, and the tendencies of Hollywood comedies? The famous duo who brought us Pineapple Express were never going to produce a thoughtful, nuanced rendering of a tragic and strange land run by a third generation ninny raised to believe he is a god king. That movie would be glorious, probably French, and definitely made thirty years ago but it was never going to be extruded through the marketing-constricted orifice that is Sony Pictures in 2014.

Sony, for their part, were justified in canceling it. Sony is a Japanese based multinational corporation, concerned not with upholding the dubious free speech claims of two wealthy white actors in another country, but with making a profit. And the potential risk presented with releasing a fucking stoner comedy was not great enough to throw against the unknown variable that is North Korea. Still, they handled the situation like utter tools.

And I’m not even sure why the matter required a response from President Obama. A multinational corporation based in Japan gets a bloody nose and the person who holds a press conference isn’t the VP in charge of InfoSec or even the CEO, but the President of the US. If even Obama can no longer tell where a multinational corporation ends and the United States begins, we’re all screwed.

As for North Korea, there’s debate if the DPRK could even pull off such a sophisticated hack. The FBI claims they did it, NK says they were framed. I’ll leave that one to the InfoSec experts:

2014-12-22 12.27.38

The people of North Korea deserve our sympathy, and some of our pity, in everything, but especially this. Before this is all over, someone is going to loose their life in that country, all because Dear Leader looked like a fool in front of the world. That he could look like nothing else is not this dead soul’s fault, and we will probably never even know their name. But sure, let’s pretend, because we’re Americans and have the privilege afforded by distance and willful ignorance, that the real victims are James Franco and Seth Rogan. They’ll have to suffice with crying themselves to sleep on their giant pillows in their shiny mansions, before someone hands them the equivalent of North Korea’s GDP to make another shitty movie.

We’re left with three simple facts: 1. North Korea is run by a dick. 2. Sony execs have their heads up their asses. 3. The Interview is a terrible movie. But none of these facts add up to a greater sum worth anything this overblown. It’s a just a movie, after all.

The problem is, we’ve let movies dictate our perceptions for so long that we have forgotten that someone else’s vision defines what we see or don’t see. And that makes us responsible, as an audience, to stay informed. It’s long past the hour of when you could simply be a passive consumer of moving pictures. It can be argued that this never was a luxury we had, only another idea sold to us, probably in some movie.

By focusing the lens of the story on the famous people who have been temporarily inconvenienced, we’re ignoring the real story: someone exploited Sony’s laughable IT security and made off with a metric shit ton of sensitive data. The powers that be are blaming North Korea, because it’s the sort of story that flatters us and fits a widely accepted geopolitical narrative: a jilted, image-conscious dictatorship spitting in the eye of the noble empire and bastion of civilization over a petty slight, with a pair of hapless but freedom-loving artists caught in the middle. Just ignore the projectionist in the booth, his curtain or the real reasons this particular story is being told at this particular time.

One theory I’ve seen floated is that this is being blown out of proportion by the US Government specifically to give weight to its claims of dire cyber warfare on the horizon, and thus grab back the relative freedoms created by the Internet. I don’t know about you, but if Seth Rogen becomes a dupe for ending net neutrality, I’m going to be pissed.

For all I know, North Korea did the deed, Sony did the best they could under the circumstances, and The Interview is a lost classic of political satire. But I’ve seen that movie and it feels like it needed another rewrite.

All politics is personal. And it doesn’t get any more personal than the images you let people put in your head. This goes double for viral videos, propaganda, or anything that has controversial buzz. Anything that wants your money as much as it wants your attention should be suspect. Never stop asking, “who made this?” because if the answer isn’t, “I made this,” than someone is selling you something and it may not be something you want to buy.

Update 12/23: In the last 24 hours, North Korea was kicked off the Internet by hackers. They’re back, but the hackers showed what some have suspected all along: the DPRK doesn’t have a robust enough Internet infrastructure to perform the sort of sophisticated hack that Sony experienced. Meanwhile, Sony announced they had decided to release The Interview anyway. Guess they decided there was now enough buzz for it to be profitable.

Still no word yet as to why the US is defending the honor of a  corporation against the sickly kid on the international playground.

Somewhere Along the Line, He forgot He was Talking About Real People

So another Republican running for Senate has come out in favor of rape. This makes the fourth or fifth in the last couple of months. But where the other assholes were defending rape on the grounds that chics, what  are you gonna do? this guy, Richard Mourdock (R- Indiana) decided to bring God into it:

On Tuesday night Mourdock voiced his opposition to abortion even in cases of rapes, saying that a pregnancy resulting from rape is “something God intended to happen.”

+10 points for originality, I guess, but -1000 for suggesting that one of the instruments for God’s ineffable cosmic plan is to rape women into submission. That’s right up there with “9/11 was because of the gays” and saying the Titanic was sunk because there was one dude aboard that God really wanted dead, so he threw an iceberg at the ship he was on. This takes theodicy to unplumbed depths of venality and viciousness.

It’s not so much that Mourdock is trying to usurp divine authority in service of a despicable act in order to convey his own moral superiority, it’s that he doesn’t have a problem with implying that rape is all part of God’s plan, in order to ague for the role of classical misogamy in 21st century politics. If you’ve jumped gleefully off that cliff, not only do you not belong in the US Senate, but you should probably seek counseling.

Tell It To The Chair

Over at Salon, Andrew O’Hehir  looks into the Right’s disastrous relationship with pop culture:

[…] It’s almost more a question of affect or tone or presentation than it is of substance. Conservative-oriented, family-friendly movies like “Won’t Back Down” or the hit antiabortion drama from last year, “October Baby” – only the most prominent example in a recent wave of Christian-themed, social media-promoted films – are made cheap and fast, without the slick, professional cinematography and editing of most Hollywood productions. Watching them, you feel a vague time-warp effect, as if you had stumbled on a 1997 made-for-Lifetime production while channel-surfing.

Along with the relative artlessness and the technical weakness comes an overwhelming sense of sentimentality and sincerity, the almost uncomfortable feeling that the movie is coming at you heart in hand, saying exactly what it wants to say, and shamelessly urging you to share in the exaggerated emotions of its characters […]

More than that, pop culture (also known simply as culture to you and me) refutes the Conservative Movement’s major claims: That America is a conservative, Christian nation that has fallen from grace and needs Big Daddy Republicanism to put it back on the straight and narrow. If this were the case, Kirk Cameron would be the biggest movie star on the planet, instead of a half-forgotten hack with some confused ideas about the utility of bananas.

The reason Conservative attempts at entertainment come off as artless, preachy and fatuous (not to mention dull, strained, hackneyed, trite, and clumsy) is because the entertainment value is placed second behind the message. Rather then craft and genuine expression of anger, frustration or bewilderment about living in in the 21st century and how that clashes with traditional concepts of a meaningful life (a movie I, a godless Lefty would go see) Conservative entertainers instead, with minor exception, preach. Because going to church is just so much fun.

By and large, conservative entertainers talk down to the audience (America) and make them feel belittled, disenfranchised and inconsequential. I blame 30 years of sucking up to rich psychopaths, but either way, they loose the audience, is my point. Exhibit A, for now and years to come, will be the time Clint Eastwood harangued an empty chair for 15 minutes. Yes, it was at a politcal convention. But the only reason Dirty Harry was there was so Mitt Romney, king of the artless nimrods, could hitch a ride to the White House on his coat tails. Shiny shiny coat tails earned by making artful, non propagandistic entertainment.

The reason all that Hollywood lefty* pop culture is so popular, with its sex and drugs and Darwinis, is because it encourages the audience to relate to likable characters who are flawed and have wants and desires. People who a e just like them: moved by human motives. Everybody wants to win, to beat the smug asshole, to get the girl. What they don’t want is to have some frustrated closet case stand there for an hour, trying to tie the parable of the sower to a year-old Internet meme as a way to explain why Jesus hates condoms and teachers unions.

If conservatives want to use entertainment to recruit to their cause, their cause needs to first and foremost be something people want. Until people want to be scolded for their shortcomings and die alone and unloved in the gutter, the Conservative message is going to flop. Hard.

Link via Roger Ebert on Twitter.

* As John Rogers and others have explained, Hollywood isn’t Left at all, or even political for exactly the reasons I outline above in relation to Conservatives: propaganda doesn’t put buts in seats. You aren’t going to make money with a movie that tells people they suck. And making money is Hollywoods agenda. Everything else is craft to support that goal.

Back To The Moon!

I’ve recently discovered a fantastic magazine called Jacobin, which is unreservedly Left leaning and offers a nice, refreshing alternative voice to the wishy washy liberal middle-of-the-roadism you find in a lot of other “Lefty” sites.

Over on the Jacobin Blog, Leigh Philips proves the magazine’s worth (to me at least) with a piece about how capitalism killed the Space Program:

[…] Nobody is asking why it is that the high point of manned spaceflight was reached at the end of the sixties, wondering whether there might be a reason for this drop in ambition, this retreat from humanity’s destiny in space. It’s not as if the planet has abandoned its love of space. The international excitement over the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory hints at a yearing to be thrilled about the possibility of life on other planets.

At the same time, a kind of left-wing cynicism about  space exploration has bubbled up. Wasn’t this simply a distraction from the crisis? How can we be spending money on space while the Earth burns? How can we care about the improbable chance that we find possible evidence of the conditions for microbes having aeons ago existed on Mars when thousands of Americans are losing their homes to repossession, when half of all Spanish youth are without work?


Because these questioners might as well be asking: “Why bother exploring at all? What has curiosity ever done for us?” And this way of thinking is itself unwittingly framed by a neoliberal set of metrics, demanding immediate return on investment, and accepting the falsehood that we have an extremely limited reserve of public revenues, the greatest share of which must be directed to those areas with the highest priority.

The first point is obvious. We don’t know what benefits will be achieved when one sets off to investigate distant terrain. The adventure of exploration of the unknown is its own reward.

This comes along with Matt Novak’s appreciation of The Jetson’s on their 50th anniversary, and why they still matter:

It’s easy for some people to dismiss “The Jetsons” as just a TV show, and a lowly cartoon at that. But this little show—for better and for worse—has had a profound impact on the way that Americans think and talk about the future.

Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of exploration and innovation for its own sake. And by we, I mean our capitalist overlords. The 1% who demand that every human endeavor turn a profit, that they get the lion’s share of that profit, and that everything not profitable (to them) be scrapped. This attitude, what I’ve taken to calling Economic Calvanism, is what’s keeping us from recovering from the Great Recession, let alone settling Mars. We used to do great big things back when our leaders weren’t all greedy bastards and knew that to make money you have to spend money, often and especially on things that don’t return the investment, simply because they produce knowledge about  the Universe and provide and investment in human worth, something that cannot be balanced out on ledger or calculated for in your semi-annual report.

Or, as Leigh Philips put it:

Of course, if there were a limited pie of public resources, then a prioritization of other areas would be legitimate – Gill Scott Heron would be right. At the moment, there are other areas in more dire need. But money can be found.

The UK’s Tax Justice Network in July published research showing that revenues lost to public coffers by the super-rich hiding these sums in tax havens amounted to $21 trillion as of 2010 – as much as the US and Japanese economies combined, and the figure could be as high as $32 trillion.

There is more than enough money out there to have decent social services – and new ones, guaranteed incomes, well-funded pensions, a transformation to a low-carbon (or even carbon-negative) economy, and investment in space exploration. It’s a false choice to say: either space or everything else. The choice is actually between the current crop of political ideologies clustered around the neoliberal center, and something genuinely transformative on a global scale.

Future Tense

Over at io9, Charlie Jane asks,

The overwhelming emotion among our political classes and pundits appears to be bitterness, laced with weary fake-outrage. There’s been almost no attempt at even feigning optimism. No “Morning in America.” Hardly any sign of that happy can-do spirit. Are we just finally succumbing to fatal levels of angst? Do Americans just not believe in a bright future any more? And what would it take for the United States to feel cheery again?

The problem is that America is controlled by an entrenched and extremely conservative ruling class, who views its power — accrued through decades of exploiting racism, sexism, and fear of the other and the unknown — slipping away. And so they demonize the growing multiculturalism (an ironic byproduct of their exploitation of global capital) all the while, hamstringing even modest attempts to produce a prosperous environment, specifically because such an environment will allow undesirables (women, minorities, foreigners, queers, etc) to share in some of the prosperity.

Conservative activists in the US and other countries are actively preventing a full economic recovery, in the hopes that they will weaken the government enough to be able to effect a takeover, installing themselves permanently in power. That way, they can manage the reconstruction, putting themselves and their 1%er constituents in positions where they can take advantage, while stifling any meaningful competition form the aforementioned undesirable classes.

(And no, to preempt the  inevitable Liberals-Do-It-Tooism, there is no organized Lefty equivalent of the Koch brothers, the Tea Party or the Club for Growth in the US. So STFU with that noise).

Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy solution to this problem. The only way to procede is to use our one lever of power, to vote.

First, we vote in Democrats as often as possible, in every possible position. They aren’t much better than the GOP but they are better.

Once the GOP is gone the way of the Wiggs, then the Dems can become the voice of moderate conservative America and a new Lefty Movement, building steam over the next few election cycles, takes the second party slot. Personally, I’m in favor of Democratic Socialist party, something that could actually serve as a voice for Socialist reform within a democratic system.*

Let the Libertarians, Randroids, Dominionists, Corporatists, and White Supremacists scream voiceless in the wilderness, until they finally scream themselves silent.



*Platform: universal health care, universal wage, drastically reduced military (for defense purposes only), space exploration, scientific and cultural investment program, and a massive infrastructure renewal work program, for starters.

Politics, But Not As Usual

I’ve mostly given up writing about politics, because it’s boring to keep saying, “Gee those dumb politicians are dumb!” over and over. But lately, I’ve witnessed an entirely new level of mendacious and dishonest idiocy perpetuated in the name of political discourse, and I cannot in good conscience let it pass unremarked upon.

So far this summer, we’ve learned that the GOP supports rape and spree shootings, is against Health Care and doing anything about Global Warming, yet still claims to be the party of moral responsibility. Delusional doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Anyone still thinking of voting for these assholes in November needs to really do some soul searching. And if you say, “the Dems do it too!” or claim you support them because they’ll lower your taxes, or because Obama is a blackity black Hitler, you and me are going to have an argument. And you’re going to loose. Because I have facts on my side.

Make up your mind: do you want to continue living in civilized society, working slowly to improve your life and the life of your family, friends and neighbors, or are you willing to chuck it out the window and side with a gang of veracious, greedy nihilists, all so rich people who wouldn’t stop to piss on you if you were on fire can avoid a marginal tax increase?

The Colonial Offspring Theory of International Relations

I was reminded me of an observation I had recently, that the colonial offspring of Great Britain are like poorly raised children.

You have Canada, the good natured quiet child, who grew up to be a productive member of society, with a steady job and colorful hobbies that it pursues in it’s well-managed spare time. The only bad thing to say about Canada is that it has a rocky relationship with its angry gay son, Quebec. Also, it lets it’s siblings take advantage of it, especially America.

Australia is the neglected middle child. Extremely creative and rebellious in its youth, it’s trying to pull its life together and sort out its issues. It means well but it’s troubled past and a stubborn streak often gets in the way of progress. Will eventually sober up and get its shit together, but not for lack of America constantly trying to tempt it into ill-advised quasi-criminal situations with the promise of making a fast buck and having a good time.

New Zeland is Australia’s much-ignored twin. It ran off to become a sheep farmer and is unregarded by the rest of the family. Secretly, it is thankful for this.

America was the favored son, and it took advantage of this privilege for all it’s worth, becoming famous as a child prodigy. Having squandered much of that youthful potential, America has grown up into a drunken lout with a violent streak. It’s widely known to have recently knocked over several gas stations to pay for its drug habit, but knows it will never be arrested because of who its’ parents are, and its extensive gun collection. Has several ill-regarded and much ignored colonial offspring of its own, in the form of a half dozen protectorates acquired from numerous ill-advised imperialist relationships with neighboring developing nations, whom it treats shabbily, if it acknowledges the past relationship at all. Will either self-imolate in a spectacular orgy of drug-fueled violence, or recover after a reluctant international community stages an intervention and a court-mandated 12 step program that will most likely turn it into one of those insufferable Jesus freaks.

India became an emancipated minor and despite concerns, has done a lot of growing up recently, after it spent a few years running away to itself to explore its spiritual side. This has made it vulnerable to exploitation by America, but it knows when to keep it’s distance. Has a lot of big plans for the future and is working with a lot of creative, influential friends and relations to make its dreams come true. look for big things from India.

Hong Kong was the unplanned, late-life surprise baby that was unwanted. Though mostly ignored by its siblings, it can take care of itself, having grown up around China all these years.

At the next reunion, Great Britain will be politely conciliatory, ingratiating, and indulgent but will still fawn over America and mostly ignore everyone else. Still it will try and get a fiver out of Canada, and succeed.

Want to Save the World? Raise Taxes

Stephen King wants to pay more taxes:

If you want to pay more, pay more, they said.

Tired of hearing about it, they said.

Tough shit for you guys, because I’m not tired of talking about it. I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing “Disco Inferno” than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar. It’s true that some rich folks put at least some of their tax savings into charitable contributions. My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts. Warren Buffett does the same; so does Bill Gates; so does Steven Spielberg; so do the Koch brothers; so did the late Steve Jobs. All fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.

What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, “OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.” That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.

This message is going to be a hard sell tot he American populace, who have been told by heard the GOP for the last 40 years that raising taxes is evil, a sin not unlike kicking puppies and raping grandma. They claim a marginal increase on the 1% is tantamount to class warfare. Except that class warfare doesn’t involve taxes, it involves guillotines and nooses, pitchforks and torches. You know, actual warfare.

Look, rich people, it’s simple: Taxes are the dues you pay for living in civilized society. You’re lucky to have the opportunity. So shut up and pay your taxes.

Do your patriotic duty. You claim that America is the home of the free and land of opportunity.  Well, just like a venture capitalist, America invested in you. This country fostered your creativity, gave you the opportunity for education and the elbow room to try that risky buisiness. Now that it’s paid off, it’s time for you to pay back that seed money. Pay your taxes.

You like to claim this is a Christian nation, so do the Christian thing and help your neighbor. Charity doesn’t cut it, so pay your taxes.

Or else.

Happy Punch A Capitalist in The Face Day!

Today is May Day, and while I offer a laurel and hardy handshake to all my Anarchist, Socialist and Pagan friends today,* this year I’d like to also say something to all you Capitalist swine out there who nearly broke the world: Fuck You sideways with your autographed copy of Atlas Shrugged, you no good, corpse-buggering shits. I hope you all die in a fire caused by shoddy maintance and blocked exits.

*offer void wherever Hot Topic Wiccans, Starbuck Anarchists and the phantom bogeymen “Socialists” of the Right Wing imagination dwell. That would be a mall somewhere in South Carolina probably.

Taking off the Gloves

About fucking time:

President Obama’s fruitless three-year search for compromise with the Republicans ended in a thunderclap of a speech on Tuesday, as he denounced the party and its presidential candidates for cruelty and extremism. He accused his opponents of imposing on the country a “radical vision” that “is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity.”

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential front-runner, has embraced a House budget plan that is little more than “thinly veiled social Darwinism,” the president said, a “Trojan horse” disguised as deficit reduction that would hurt middle- and lower-income Americans.

“By gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last — education and training, research and development, our infrastructure — it is a prescription for decline,” he said, speaking to a group of Associated Press editors and reporters in Washington.

Mr. Obama has, in recent months, urged Republicans to put aside their destructive agenda. But, in this speech, he finally conceded that the party has demonstrated no interest in the values of compromise and realism. Even Ronald Reagan, who raised taxes in multiple budget deals, “could not get through a Republican primary today,” Mr. Obama said. While Democrats have repeatedly shown a willingness to cut entitlements and have agreed to trillions in domestic spending cuts, he said, Republicans won’t agree to any tax increases and, in fact, want to shower the rich with even more tax cuts.

You can’t negotiate with people who won’t compromise. The GOP has made it clear since at least the days of W’s first term that they viewed compromise as loosing. They browbeat Democrats until they gave in and then called them traitors for their trouble. They lied, cheated and stole (up to and including elections) to get what they want. I only wish President Obama had said this three years sooner, but at least he’s recognized now that the Republicans don’t want to play and is pushing back. Now only if he and the rest of the Democrats will actually push back, then maybe we can finally get some progress.