Sawasdee Krap, Amigos

This is the obligatory I-made-it-safely-to-Thailand post. My trip was 33 hours door-to-door; flights mostly via Malaysia Arlines, but a quick jaunt at the end from Kuala Lumpur on Thai Airways. Here’s my flying steel tube parked in Cape Town, South Africa:

cape town

My leg from BsAs to Cape Town was maybe 8 hours and my row was empty. I stretched out and watched The Proposal and Running the Sahara (A+, highly rec’d). We skipped over to Johannesburg (or “Jo-burg” as the cool kids say), where I did not see any Prawns. JNB to Kuala Lumpur was maybe 10 hours or so, but I was too doped up to watch movies. They served free alcohol, so I went all menopausal and OD’d on white wine & Tylenol PM. I needed the doping to help me forget that the Langoliers stole my Thursday.

So far I’ve really done nothing in Bangkok, which is fine by me. My airline food was spicier than anything in Buenos Aires, and I’ve continued the streak here by eating green curry, stir-fry chicken, and pork noodles. Definitely wouldn’t mind having a Quilmes though. Here’s what else I miss about Buenos Aires:

— cafe culture
— great architecture
— millions of bookstores
— sweater weather (it’s mid-60s there, mid-90s here)
— cheap steak & cheap wine

Too bad TESL pays so poorly there. C’est la vie. Here’s to hoping South Korea works out.

Dangerous Knowledge

I guess I’m on a philosophy film kick. The latest was the BBC’s Dangerous Knowledge, a documentary on mathematicians Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing — four geniuses whose neuroses drove them fatally mad. It’s debatable the extent to which their respective theories made them insane — the film obviously plays this up for dramatic purposes — but it’s an intriguing film and not overly technical.

One of the ironies here is that I learned of this film via some people with deep antipathy towards postmodernism, despite the fact that these four helped unravel the modern project and clear the conceptual space for postmodernism. For me, it’s impossible to ignore the links between these mathematicians at the turn of the century and the postmodern philosophers at the close of the century. The key is recognizing that the quests for certainty, universality, and totality that were under assault in science & politics — climaxing in the existential refutations that were World Wars I & II — were being assaulted in logic & mathematics via Cantor & Co.

Examined Life

I finally got to see Examined Life, a pseudo-intellectual documentary that aims to make philosophy a tad more accessible. The film uses some of academia’s rock stars to talk shop outside of normal confines, which is interesting, but probably still of limited appeal.

We get, in order:

Cornel West on philosophy
Avital Ronell on alterity
Peter Singer on applied ethics
Kwame Anthony Appiah on cosmopolitanism
Martha Nussbaum on justice
Michael Hardt on revolution
Slavoj Žižek on ecology
Judith Butler on disability

No truly weak spots among the line-up, and all have at least a few stimulating nuggets. See it if you get a chance.

The Reader in the Striped Pajamas

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is celebrated every January 27th. The day often re-ignites discussions over what should be done with the old Nazi death camps: should Auschwitz and Dachau be left to rot, reclaimed by nature, or actively maintained as a memorial to victims of the Holocaust? Survivors, whose opinions here should trump all, have weighed in both sides of the debate.

It’s not hard to imagine which side Hollywood comes down on, given its perpetual fascination with mining others’ tragedies for financial profit. Imaginary Witness (2004) ably explored Hollywood’s storied, controversial relationship with Nazism and WWII, but a virtual deluge of Holocaust films in the last few months has re-ignited the debate: what right do privileged bourgeoisie have to exploit unspeakable genocide for box office (and Academy Award) success? (more…)

Films Seen in 2008

Below is the full list of the movies I watched for the first time in 2008. There were 127 total (roughly 1 new-to-me movie every 3 days):
61 were documentaries (48%)
35 were dramas (28%)
18 were action/thrillers (14% )
12 were comedies (9%) 

First movie I saw: Juno
Last movie I saw: Slumdog Millionaire

Worst movie: Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Stupidest movie: Step Brothers

Oldest movie: The Mouse That Roared (1959)
Longest movie: Gandhi (188 mins.)
Longest title: Sherman’s March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation 


End of America

I watched The Rape of Europa the other night, a documentary about the Nazi theft of art during WWII. I was struck by how hard it is to learn lessons from the Third Reich. Compare anyone or anything to Nazi Germany and the conversation is effectively over (see: Godwin’s Law). I think part of the problem is that many people mistake comparison for identification. The result is that we’re essentially cut off from learning anything meaningful from that era — surely there’s more to take away than simply “Hitler bad, America good.”

Naomi Wolf is one writer who’s attempted to learn a little more from the rise of Hitler. She’s examined Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy in an effort to discover what steps usually happen before a dictatorship takes over.
Here are her “Ten Steps to a Fascist State,” or “How to Turn an Open Society Into a Closed Society:”

1. Invoke an internal and/or external enemy
2. Create a secret prison network
3. Employ a paramilitary force
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Infiltrate and/or harass citizens’ groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Restrict the press
9. Equate dissent with treason
10. Subvert and/or suspend the rule of law

“Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” looks at how all ten of those have been implemented in the US in the last 8 years. Her book End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot fleshes out the argument even further. She has a documentary out called End of America as well, which can be viewed for free on the SnapFilms website.

If you don’t have time for a documentary, amuse yourself instead with Republicans gone wild. This blog also seems to be collecting videos of Republican asshattery. There’s a good deal of Democrats also acting loony in those videos.

Constantine’s Sword

Last night I watched Constantine’s Sword, based off the James Carroll book of the same name from seven years ago. It chronicles Christianity’s role in perpetuating antisemitism and our disgraceful ties to violent regimes.

The story and critique is mostly clear-eyed, and powerful when it takes a personal bent (Carroll has led a very interesting life). I’m uncomfortable, however, with how much antisemitism he reads into the Gospel accounts themselves. He intones, at one point, “At every Good Friday service, with the reading of that Passion narrative: ‘The Jews, the Jews, the Jews’… it really hits the ear. And Jesus is against the Jews. And I don’t know how else Christians can hear this story.

This strikes me as odd, for I’ve only ever read this story in one way. How else do I hear this story? I hear the Gospels blaming me. Who crucified Jesus? I did.

There’s a Goethe quote that I take quite seriously — he says something like “There is no crime so heinous that I cannot also imagine myself committing it.” This is good theology, and this is ignored theology. It requires hideous, uncomfortable self-awareness.

Our human tendency is to always marginalize, to “otherize.” I am not like that one or those people. When, in fact, the truth is much more disturbing. “It is a simple tenet of human nature,” writes Dave Grossman, “that it is difficult to believe and accept that anyone we like and identify with is capable of these acts against our fellow human beings. And this simple, naive tendency to disbelieve or look the other way is, possibly more than any other factor, responsible for the perpetuation of atrocity and horror in our world today.”

There’s a poignant moment in Constantine’s Sword where Carroll is at Auschwitz-Birkenau and while contemplating the past nightmares but present-day beauty, the guide fills the void by simply saying: “There is no meaning… only Auschwitz… only butterflies… silence.”

What drives me crazy is the American pretension at moral authority. Dresden alone wiped out whatever supposed moral capital we’d accumulated in fighting the Nazis, not to mention our unspeakable atrocities inflicted upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I think the point is that none of us personally have any moral capital either. My heart is totally bankrupt. At the end of Jesus’ famous quip in Luke 6, I read in an extra clause:: “…and in reality, you will never be able to remove the log from your own eye.”

Of course, this hints at the missing piece here that was filled in for us by a murderous Judeofascist extremist who had a blinding encounter with a Jewish carpenter. It changed his life. And this is the crux: “While we were still terrorists, Christ died for us.”

Donk me

Work saps my energy to blog. This is unfortunate. I watched Helvetica the other week which was funny because I work at a very Helvetica-esque company. Trust me… it’s hard to keep my credentials as an anarchist when I’m working as a corporate drone. Plus, not being a bum means I have to pay taxes. So far I’ve contributed $56.95 to our military, which is enough to buy nearly 200 M16 machine-gun bullets to help kill Iraqi children.

In other news, I played a $4 Minesweeper tournament on Friday. By dodging all the bombs of 179 opponents I ended up sweeping my way to 1st place for a solid $216 payday.

My week

It’s March! I’m going to make it through this year if it kills me. Want to know how my week went? Ok cool.

On Monday Laura & I saw Barack Obama at WSU:

He is a good man and he’ll be president in 11 months.

On Tuesday Dennis sent me this photo:
How does this glorify God?
This was posted in the Student Center on an Air Force ROTC ad. Neither of us know who stuck the note there, but it made my day.

On Wednesday I watched Once:

I fell in love with Marketa Irglova.On Thursday my friends and I showed The Corporation on campus:

Over 35 students showed up and I think they found it eye-opening.On Friday I watched Taxi to the Dark Side:

If there’s a physical lake of fire for everlasting torment, then Bush will surely be there. I would love to show this film on campus too, but this school isn’t ready. We will be showing No End in Sight in mid-March though.

My Cedars article this week was fairly mediocre, made worse by haphazard editing that was beyond my control that left it fairly incoherent & disjointed. I may post more of my writing here at a later time since the truth is, somebody’s opened the spigot and the Cedars bucket can’t keep up.

2007 movie list

Continuing my 2007 recap, below are the films I saw for the first time over the year (to the best of my recollection anyway). In reviewing the list, I’m struck by how many great movies are on here — at least eight I’ve watched twice already and I’ve seen Children of Men three times. Additionally, I’ve started off 2008 on the right foot by watching three good films already: Juno, 3:10 to Yuma, and Gone Baby Gone.

1. 49 Up
2. A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash
3. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
4. A Mighty Heart
5. An Inconvenient Truth
6. Babel
7. Bang Bang You’re Dead
8. Blood Diamond
9. Borat
10. Bourne Ultimatum
11. Bukowski: Born Into This
12. Casino Royale
13. Catch a Fire
14. Children of Men
15. Cocaine Cowboys
16. Danielson: A Family Movie
17. Deja Vu
18. Downfall
19. Eastern Promises
20. Evan Almighty
21. F**k
22. Fast Food Nation
23. Flyboys
24. For Your Consideration
25. God Grew Tired of Us
26. Hot Fuzz
27. Human All Too Human
28. Idiocracy
29. Into the Wild
30. Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers
31. Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple
32. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
33. Knocked Up
34. Lars and the Real Girl
35. Last Kiss
36. Maxed Out
37. Meet the Robinsons
38. Network
39. No Country for Old Men
40. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
41. No End in Sight
42. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
43. Ocean’s 13
44. Old School
45. Our Brand is Crisis
46. Pan’s Labyrinth
47. Paradise Lost: Child Murders at Robin Hood
48. Ratatouille
49. Reign Over Me
50. Shooter
51. Sicko
52. So Goes the Nation
53. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
54. Stranger than Fiction
55. Street Fight
56. Superbad
57. The Darjeeling Limited
58. The Departed
59. The Devil and Daniel Johnston
60. The Devil Came on Horseback
61. The End of Suburbia
62. The Fountain
63. The Ground Truth
64. The Hoax
65. The Illusionist
66. The Last King of Scotland
67. The Number 23
68. The Prestige
69. The Proposition
70. The Pursuit of Happyness
71. The Queen
72. The Road to Guantanamo
73. The Take
74. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
75. The Triplets of Belleville
76. The War Tapes
77. This Film is Not Yet Rated
78. Venus
79. Who Killed the Electric Car?
80. Wordplay
81. Zodiac

Quirk & idiosyncracy

Referring to Wes Anderson’s new movie The Darjeeling Limited, the NYT refers to this NY Mag piece as a defense of Anderson, and this Atlantic Monthly essay as the prosecution. They’re both worth reading, particularly the latter since its review of Darjeeling Limited is part of a large piece on “quirk,” a notion that really fascinates me (though I disagree with Hirschorn’s take on it). I’m reminded of three things:

  • A review I plan to write of John Vanderslice’s Emerald City by way of responding to the Pitchfork review in which Vanderslice is, like Anderson, essentially faulted for having a certain aesthetic, certain idiosyncrasies or private obsessions. Later I intend to give a full defense of Emerald City since I consider it one of the top 5 albums of 2007.
  • A famous(ish) essay by Rorty entitled Trotsky and the Wild Orchids, an autobiographical piece I alluded to in my last post. Rorty also wrestles with the question of our idiosyncrasies and personal eccentricities.
  • I have an essay, which I may or may not post later, that I wrote on Britney Spears and postmodernism. The concept of cultural identity (in which “quirk” definitely relates) is very intriguing to me and I told Heath yesterday that I see a way to weave together various threads in philosophy, art, music, and film into a coherent whole. This is obviously a large project, but feasible, and one in which Britney Spears actually serves as a fantastic introduction.Also at Atlantic Monthly:
  • About Facebook. Their entire current issue looks great, but little of it is fully available online.Speaking of bogus theories that I’ve fabricated: I also have a theory about swearing and the real issue involved in objections to swearing – ask me in person if you’re interested.
  • Babel is horrible.

    You know, I don’t want to get too hopeful about it, but I think I might actually be having a good week. Work is going great. I think I’m on track with my book reading. Which, by the way, now includes:

  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (highly rec’d)
  • The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (highly rec’d)
  • Take the Cannoli by Sarah VowellYes, this is now the 3rd Vowell book this year. What can I say, she’s good. I would also like to add that I consider it a collective sin of my educators and overseers that no one introduced me to The Moviegoer in my previous 24 years of life. The protagonist has even inspired a short essay of mine, which I may or may not post later depending on my mood.

    Speaking of solitary moviegoing, I had a free ticket so I saw Zodiac on Friday. I don’t feel inspired to say much other than I really liked it and the 2.5 hours flew by.

    I wish 2.5 hours had flown by when I watched Babel, which is just a dismal failure of a film on almost every level. I almost feel offended at how much positive press this movie is getting (even Academy Awards? seriously?). When I rate movies poorly I usually give them 2/5: I lost interest, the script was poor, whatever the reason. To get a 1 Star review from me you have to do something patently offensive to the reviewer. On the basis of “pointless cruelty and endless banality” Babel easily fits that description.

    Unlike most of the user reviewers at Metacritic (who insist on ignorantly referring back to Crash), I think I’m slightly qualified to talk about Babel. Yes, I’m pretentious. But look: I have a very high tolerance for fuckedup-ness (see: Oldboy) and straight-up bizarreness (see: David Lynch). This is the kind of movie I’m supposed to love. So the problem I have is not that I don’t “get it”. It’s not that this is new and uncomfortable territory for me. I’ve seen many, many non-linear films before — films that play with time, with memory, with structure, the whole shebang. It’s not edgy and not original (and seriously people, it wasn’t new with Crash). And to further qualify myself, let’s be clear that I have seen Amores Perros and 21 Grams and generally enjoy most Mexican cinema.

    To be fair, Alejandro González Iñárritu is a good director and I think somewhere in him there’s a masterpiece waiting to be let out — he just hasn’t made it yet, though Amores Perros was close. But Babel is just completely off the deep end. There’s simply no point. The inter-woven narratives serve no purpose and are solely pre-occupied with appearing meaningful. They’re not. For example, the “OhGosh-It’s-A-Deaf/Mute-Japanese-Girl-With-No-Mom” novelty wears out thin when that gimmick is all we get from her. Beyond shallowness, it’s an abusive film that masochistically inflicts pain on the audience for no reason whatsoever. Because Iñárritu doesn’t give a rat’s ass about his characters, neither do I. One or two “moving” scenes does not a movie make.

    And p.s. — In case you’re wondering, of course our lovely white American tourist lives while the incestously horny Morroccan kid gets to die.