Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Cabin In The Woods"

Just finished watching the Joss Whedon-written, Drew Goddard-directed Cabin In The Woods. Had the misfortune of never having had the chance to see it in theaters, despite most of my therapy clients assuring me that if I missed it, there'd be a strong argument for switching places with them. Now I see what they meant.

Writing a review for this movie is a difficult thing, since what makes it great (along with the crackling, Jossian dialog, the insanely brilliant production design, the surprisingly effective acting, and...stuff) is the way it reveals its secrets, like unlocking levels in a cracking-good video game. Not about to step on that process here.

On the surface, this is as familiar a story as you could imagine. That's the point, really: the "Teens in an Isolated Forest Cabin" simulation has been run so persistently in our culture that even the self-referential, oh, so Po-Mo deconstruction of it (care of the "Scream" series) has become an idiom of its own.

What Whedon's been able to do in "Cabin" would be nothing short of astounding...if it were anyone but Joss. Somehow, he's been able to take not only our familiarity with the assorted horror movie tropes, and fold it in on itself yet again, but he escapes being merely clever in doing so by creating a framework for understanding how  (and why) these meme clouds have become so archetypal in the first place.

Now, that's what Meta's for!

I don't even want to go through the characters and describe their stories and how they fit together here. First of all, I don't have to; you'll know them right away. More importantly, though, going into this with too much foreknowledge would be a disservice to the experience of it, the way it turns your expectations and certainties on their heads (which may or may not be attached to anything at the time...), and forces you to reflect on yourself reflecting on the story as it reflects on itself...then takes you where you least expected to end up.

Now, don't worry: I'm not talking about "Inception"-level complexity here (GODS, did I love that film, but man, was it dense!). You could write dissertations on this movie...but it doesn't try to be one, itself. At a mere 1 hour and 38 minutes (less credits, which [a little surprisingly] do not contain an Easter egg at the end), this thing moves along with no lags or hangs in its masterful, relentlessly entertaining pace. You can't get away with not thinking...but you'll never be bored as you do it!

If you have a penchant for inky-dark humor, a strong stomach (!), and even a casual acquaintance with the vernacular of horror movies (which will be rewarded with a swarm of very excellent visual and thematic homages), you'll see how the seasoned team of Whedon and Goddard have served up a bubbling beaker of Instant Classic.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pretty Rock-i-stan

A recent walk-on in the Military Industrial Complex Conspiracy Cavalcade is just in time to supplant the Michael Moore absurdity about natural gas pipelines as the Real Reason (tm) for going into Afghanistan. Namely, the discovery of  A TRILLION DOLLARS OF PRECIOUS MINERALS!!!1!!1!

Yes, I've been aware of the apparently prodigious mineral finds in Afghanistan since 2010. To the best of my knowledge, there is still insufficient data to confidently support the claims which are made about these discoveries. VERY promising-looking outcrops of mineralized rock have been spotted, but they have not yet been fully characterized as to their extent or purity (and thus their value, regardless of amount). It is not at all uncommon for substantial surface outcroppings to represent the last remains of past deposits which have eroded away, leaving only the *bottom* and not the *top* of a once-rich mineral concentration.

Getting this information is a laborious and hardware-intensive process of drilling and sampling and drilling some more. So, it is not surprising that it took until last year to get any "ground truth" on the deposits. It does look very good so far...but there are non-trivial issues in proceeding to extraction (lining up bidders to undertake these vast projects in the arid, infrastructure-lean, frequently-embattled --especially in the South, where most of the rare earth metals are-- land-locked primordial  moonscape of a "country." And that's not even getting into the near-certainty of enormous corruption and very messy jostling by regional warlords to control the most promising territories).

In short, this thing is a long way from a paycheck.

As for why there were geologists with the Army ("Proof! PROOF!! I say, that all is going as They have Foreseen!"): it is SOP for a battlespace to be characterized in minute topographical detail, via aerial and orbital reconnaissance, in preparation for insertion of forces. This becomes even more critical when supply lines are VERY limited in their access to personnel who must combat a foe who is, himself, widely distributed around a *most* unforgiving AO. Given the extent of the deposits --as evident in the USGS map in the article I linked above-- it is not the least bit surprising (nor does it make it at all necessary to posit some shadily mercenary intent), that these surveys would also have revealed these VERY attention-grabbing mineralogical aspects of the landscape.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


When I was a kid in NYC, the local TV station, WPIX Channel 11, was commemorating an anniversary or somesuch, and arrived at a creative ad campaign. Actors would play assorted people throughout the city, who were asked to help out Channel 11 with finding a proper symbol for the station. Invariably, over their shoulders, the towering endeca-digits of the WTC mocked their perplexity.

One of the dwindled but enduring artifacts of my college-era obsession with the ancient Greeks was a deep admiration for the geometric simplicity, the sleek, unadorned, cyclopean sincerity of those Towers. They were edifices of frank, unapologetic Commerce (which, in those days, I conceptualized more as a linear juggernaut, than as the nimble network I envision today). Of course, at the time, I also thought the Chrysler Building was, by comparison, a grotesquely baroque bastardization of Deco and Gothic and Neo-Fascist architectural indecision and pomposity. What can I say: I was, in so many ways, a thoroughgoing ninny back then.

Like those New Yawkahs from the WPIX ads, the Towers were an axis mundi for me, ubiquitous as the Moon. I remember going over the Queensboro Bridge in my parents' car, gawking at that impossibly high constellation of construction lights. Those brilliantly-silvered or celestially-coruscant or mist-wreathed binary reminders of the power of intelligence and will were ever part of the semiotic scaffolding which defined my world.

That billowing dust cloud contained a little something besides the (immeasurably more precious) molecules of my fellow humans. It marked the atomization of one literal and countless more abstract nuclei of my scheme of organizing my experience of self-in-world. It was like that character from "The X-Men," the one who teleports, and the air which had just been displaced by him would slam into the sudden vacuum with a "BAMPF!" They were gone. And, in ways both subtle and gross, nothing would ever be the same. If nothing else, the Phantom Skyline Syndrome is likely to be a life-long affliction.

I've striven to keep these Things as trans-political as could be, and I'd rather like to keep that up. Suffice to say, then, that the forced conceptual and emotional reconfiguration of things did not stop at the local space surrounding me. Rather, it spun vortices outward into my most far-flung theories of how nations and cultures and ideologies and power-flows were arrayed on the whole of the skin of this Globe. And the BAMPF is still echoing, as those views evolve at a pace which would make Stephen J Gould --rest his bones-- really proud.

This past July, I was on the Circle Line, with Ma'am 'Cyte, and the Li'l Cyte, and had my first close look at the construction of what I hope someday to stop referring to as the "Capitulation Tower."  Of course, any project of such scale and scope will evoke wonder, but the new WTC simply leaves a sour finish on my palate. Am I like a disgruntled denizen of Radio Row here? Or is it the absurd delay, political wrangling, failure to be configured as a reproduction of the Towers (11 floors taller, their footprints transposed with their fallen forebears'), its misleading altitude tally (a number of stories of non-habitable space --complete with token wind turbines)? Or maybe the residue of the wrenching realignments of the geopolitical context which are woven into its DNA simply by virtue of when it arose. I don't know.

I just know that I feel myself to be in a holding pattern as to the larger implications of That Other Tuesday (as the unusually self-referential nature of this year's post will attest). Maybe this is the Equilibrium before the next Punctuation (again, with the Gould). Maybe that's just an artifact of the election season. The many gods forfend that the next surge of change should be predicated on so calamitous a happening. May it be so that, whoever is wielding the ordnance, the feeder streams of the torrent which obliterated so many worlds that morning are being drained with implacable and irreversible efficacy ("Truthers" need not comment. It will not go well).

In the meantime, I suppose the news station "New York One" might have something to think about.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Only Thing We Have to Fear....

...Is toxic crap sandwiches like this, from people who bloody ought to have known better:

You would think that getting to witness the metastasis of Collectivism in its Communist and Fascist forms would bring a modicum of pause to the centralizing aspirations of this Depression-stretchingly pig-headed Prog.  

But you'd be wrong.

Hey Franklin, "Private power" is SUPPOSED to be stronger than the bloody State. Ownership of the government is the CHARTER AND RIGHT of individuals and groups (i.e., CITIZENS).

And all the blather which will no doubt follow this Self-Evident (sound familiar?) observation (since I just posted a version of these comments on Facebook, where I found this stomach-acid-squirting pic), you know, the familiar effluvium about "Corporate Influence subverting the electoral process for the benefit of special interests and Fat-Cats," will only serve to illustrate more clearly the gravity of FDR's error. For that kind of Crony Capitalism is, at its core, profoundly ANTI-Capitalist...and thrives most exuberantly and perniciously under conditions in which the excessively bloated power of the State emboldens it to engage in the hubristic exercise of picking winners and losers.

When the MARKET --to as great a degree as practicable-- is allowed to operate as the selective agent by which value is assigned, and the (humble, lean, CITIZEN-OWNED) State is NEVER promoted from the status of control rod to that of reactor, then liberty may truly thrive and evolve as the ecosystem it is supposed to be, rather than the managed paddock envisioned by Collectivists like FDR and his Statist stepchildren.

Harrumph, I say!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hubris and Fallen Columns

From the opinion pages of the WSJ  comes this withering synopsis of POTUS Obama's relentless (and ultimately self-defeating) pursuit of a Progressive Tranformation Of America (tm).  In short, it's turned out pretty much as you'd expect.

It really is extraordinary how opaque he was (and remains) to the practical and the political  implications of his actions, and thus how  utterly he has squandered what could have been a  most auspicious moment for him.

Oddly, my tear ducts register no activity at all.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Will on the Context of a Character

Via Powerline,  comes this highly-recommended George Will  interview with "political philosopher," Charles Kesler.

Will, via Kesler, dispenses with lurid conspiracy theories about foreign births and anti-colonialism, and executes a nice, close Occam's shave on the stubble of POTUS Obama's motivational set. Clear continuities are traced, not through some exotic/esoteric wetland of subterranean motives, but through the amply-documented trajectory of American Progressivism over the last 100 years (to the year, per the authors, since it was in 1912 that Woodrow Wilson, with chilling candor, proclaimed the objectives and perceived scope of action of the Progressive Project):
In 1912, Wilson said, “The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of governmental power.” But as Kesler notes, Wilson never said the future of liberty consisted of such limitation.Instead, he said, “every means . . . by which society may be perfected through the instrumentality of government” should be used so that “individual rights can be fitly adjusted and harmonized with public duties.”
I seem to recall some other noteworthy incident which occurred during that year...

It is important to realize that, for those whose priorities and values are thoroughly aligned with Progressivism's aims (fair equalization of outcomes), this sort of gargantuan, Government-powered, industrial-strength social engineering is simply the only way to achieve those aims within what they feel/define is a just and humane time-scale. Within that headspace, this is both fitting and laudable, and worth the (typically understated) risks to liberty. I Get it. Used to feel the same way, m'self.

But I have arrived at a position which looks back on these (my!) past models as more than a bit naive. There is, after all, an historical context to be considered here. Namely, with a very few exceptions (whose circumstances --e.g., small Scandinavian Social Democracies -- are sufficiently non-representative as to kinda prove the rule), centralized, hierarchical, Statist societies have become schlerotic with bureaucracy and with anemic (trending toward absent) economic dynamism. The ash heap of failed Communist/Socialist experiments is so high it affects regional weather patterns. Those which have found a way to encyst some selected pseudopods of market-driven, capitalist activity have been able to prolong their seemingly inexorable slide into that familiar senescence of evaporating Utopias. But make no mistake, this only buys time, even as behemoths like China lumber on, like a charging sauropod whose nervous system is so slow, its body doesn't even know it's dead yet.

I find it reassuring to not have to impute dastardly motives to the POTUS (if for no other reason than the fact that so many of my friends who support him would have to be knaves or dupes to do so...and I pick my friends with considerably more care than that!). It helps me a great deal to develop plausible, non-histrionic models to explain the data of Obama's actions and utterances, since I can test those against my own (try that in the hall of mirrors of competing conspiracy theories!). Thus do I arrive at the conclusion that the perils to the American project along that path FAR outweigh the (undeniable, though unsustainable) benefits enjoyed by individuals in the kind of Constitutionally-unmoored society which lies at its bitter end.

And thus will my sympathy be no less sincere than my relief, should Obama's own "one-term proposition" prediction prove to have been correct.

No spiking of the football here (that's the correct term, yes?).