The Tea Party’s Answer For Newt’s Suckage At Sci Fi: Dan Simmons’ “Flashback”

Dan Simmons latest, “Flashback”, reviewed in mid Summer by the WaPo was declared a Tea Party manifesto. The plot occurs in a fallen U.S. some 30 years in the future, with Mexico occupying the Southwest, Japan in Hawaii directly and ruling the West and Midwest indirectly via zaibatsu viceroys. Israel is nuked out existence, and the Global Caliphate expands in Europe, Canada and even the remaining 44 1/2 U.S. states by Sharia Law.

The future U.S. is a broke, neo-totalitarian State, with cities and roads lawless. It rents out its poorly trained and equipped army as fodder to Japan and India to fight their wars. People deal with the catastrophes by abusing a drug called ‘Flashback’ that allows one to memory dive and relieve a past moment as new again.

All of the decline, this ‘appeasement’ occurred because of a man elected president in November 2008. His policies like ObamaCare, his speech in Cairo, it all started with one community organizer.

The lone, shining hold out of integrity and self-esteem? Why, the Republic of Texas, naturally.

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Blinking On A Thursday Night, Light Blogging

The Doctor’s warning never more timely. From the classic episode, er, “Blink.”

Tonight’s a light night on the blog. Spending time with the guitars and amps. Mostly on the Les Paul. And finally got around to picking up Keith Richards’ memoirs. Probably a quick skim read.

Some of you may have noticed the Ragin’ Cajun’s kerfuffle calling on Obama to fire people, indict others and oh, fight. By September 2011 it’s almost bleating plaintiveness.

A tempest in a teapot for the Chattering Classes, naturally. Political structures will not change. We smiled seeing Carville’s reference to Chuikov’s stand at Stalingrad.

People often ask me what advice I would give the White House about various things. Today I was mulling over election results from New York and Nevada while thinking about that very question. What should the White House do now? One word came to mind: Panic. . . .

1. Fire somebody. No — fire a lot of people. This may be news to you but this is not going well. For precedent, see Russian Army 64th division at Stalingrad. There were enough deaths at Stalingrad to make the entire tea party collectively orgasm.

He probably meant the Soviet 62nd and 64th *Armies* which were all but obliterated there, but historical detail is not his forte. Stalingrad as an operational and strategic analogy to today’s political environment not even worth typing about, is it? Still, Carville gets points for trying to float the AgitProp meme ‘Fire. Indict. Fight.’ At least one Democrat stumbles on to what we’ve all discussed for some time as AgitProp 101 – simplicity. We’ve all specifically cited the effectiveness of ‘Peace. Bread. Land’, etc. Particularly for a demotic-oligarchical hybrid.

Still. Between Carville’s call and the Doctor’s advice? Go with the Doctor: ‘Don’t blink.’

‘Star Trek’ Is Dazzling Fun

We got invited to a morning advance screening of ‘Star Trek’, the new J.J. Abrams re-imagining of the original Trek TV show. The movie is destined for accolades. It simply rocks — as the kidz say — on so many levels. The jaded pre-screening invitees (mostly media and then general assorted parasite types) offered rousing applause at the close.

This is easily the best Trek movie since ‘Wrath of Khan’ (yes, we know, we know). The script is intelligent and taut. Like the best Trek of old it combines action, humor and sustained character interaction. The casting is inspired — these really are our old friends Kirk, Bones, Spock, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov again. It’s uncanny. Seeing them in 2009 makes one realize how much they’ve been missed.

Chinese Children pondering what it means as they put it all together

The project could have easily flopped. Trek has developed into a listless pop culture joke. Abrams himself says he was terrified every day he might actually be making a sequel to the hilarious Trek spoof ‘Galaxy Quest.’ This Trek has one advantage none of the other movie incarnations had; for once, Paramount didn’t try to make space opera on the cheap. On a big screen the production values are gorgeous. The cinematography is lush and fluid. And we get starships and space battles as we always wanted them to be.

This Movie Could Be Titled “Yes, We Can”

Our own take is that Trek as science fiction in this movie easily eclipses Lucas’ fantasy camp with its oddly national socialist emphasis on the La Noonan ‘mysterious’ mystical and Aryan ‘Mitichlorian’ (wtf?) biological superiority. One scene encapsulates this for the Stiftung. A young Kirk, before joining the Academy, rides his motorcycle across the Iowa cornfields. Lyrical and beautiful on its own, the camera pulls back to reveal the starship construction site of the Federation flagship, Enterprise. It’s a completely integrated tableau, harmoniously mixing the ultimate in Americana sensibilities with the space faring industrial future.

One could be excused thinking the movie is a paen to Obama. Once again Trek is unabashedly about idealism, duty, and leadership. The energy crackling in every frame has a netroots aura. The look, feel and sheer creative energy harkens back to the Apollo and New Frontier dynamism. The movie could be called “Yes, We Can!”

Kirk 2009 is once again the embodiment American cowboys let loose among the stars. The cowboy who so enraged 1960s European chattering class sensibilities. Kirk again is an unabashed ladies man. Kicks ass in a fist fight? A big hell yes. Naturally assumes command, becalms the crew, and saves the galaxy? Natch. The American cowboy as *before* the Warlord ruined that iconography, too. A double plus good thing in the script is how they write around Jean Luc Picardism and erase the way TNG writers out of spite wrote that awful punk death for Kirk. Great stuff. You’ve just been pwned, Ron Moore.

Abrams rightly points out that production began three years ago, before Obama announced his candidacy. True. Besides the point as well. By so successfully bringing the best of Star Trek back to us, it can not help but be where Obama and the Nation are today. Here we see an America without cynicism, without expedient duplicity. In short, nothing for the Movement or what’s left of the Republican Party.

Not that the Right won’t try. Besides trying to turn Kirk into a poster boy for waterboarding-hardheaded-national security Bauerism, the Right dwells on Star Fleet and the Enterprise as 100% a military organization with a chain of command. (“A place for everyman and everyman in his place.”) An old point to Trek fans as ‘Wrath of Khan’ already went there 25 plus years ago. It’s a typical mistake for many on the Right given their cultural isolation. The Right has a curious relationship with pop culture generally – they’re at once fascinated by it while determined to destroy it. Making them the perpetual outsider looking in. We doubt their attempts to re-purpose this entertainment will succeed any better.

We could go on but will close with this — when Kirk steps onto the Enterprise bridge wearing that famous gold uniform, today’s audience burst out in spontaneous joy. Even if you’re not a Trek fan we think you will, too.

Battlestar Obama

It’s an old geek conceit that their latest infatuation is genius for ‘the dude who rocks da eyballs to the skull, man he has a *plan*!’ All those seemingly disjointed false starts the last 9 episodes? Critics stop harshing! It’s in the plan, man. And if you disagree, shut up, you are a troll and hater.

We’ve all been there. Or stumbled across almost identical threads or flames.

It’s not wholly irrational. Tolkein had one. Books aside, the Kiwis delivered in spades for the screen. Several legendary Japanese manga do the plan/story arc well, too. It’s clear today LOST never did. But people – especially Americans — invested too much to cop to years of self abuse for naught. In science fiction terms, the late Babylon 5 truly did have a 5 year arc written out before the first episode filmed. And Joss Whedon created what must surely rank as some of the most sublime television — genre or not — ever achieved with achingly poignant (and funny) arcs each season for Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

There are many pinheads.  And they have a plan.

Why Obama And Geithner Are Following Battlestar Galactica To Disaster

Which brings us to Obama and his apprentice, Tim Geithner. They threaten to drag us all down the hype-saturated Battlestar Galactica (BSG) cul de sac. BSG as you may know currently clogs bandwidth everywhere as its gasps to its final episode expiration. BSG is an almost perfect mirror for our times of catastrophe, beers with Sean Hannity and bong hitting hypocrisy.

Why is BSG like Geithner’s ‘plan’? First, it’s unoriginal, too. The story and characters borrow from a super cheesy 1970s actioner with Lorne Greene. Did the Stiftung tell you we sat next to the real Commander Adama at the Reagan Inaugural? We kept prodding him to lower the blast shields but he just kept blinking (this was many champagnes into things – but more another time).

Second, BSG is a fitting Obama and Geithner template given its provenance. BSG’s head honchos have pedigrees from that most lamentable Star Trek fiasco, Deep Space (Sit & Spin) 9. BSG naturally suffers an ignoble birth twice over. (Btw, as some of you may know, Paramount famously stole the entire concept of DS9 after sitting through the Babylon 5 productions’ pitch meeting, turning them down, and pouring all the purloined ideas into their PC drenched, lethargic abomination. To make peace, Gene Roddenbury’s wife agreed to star on a later Babylon 5 episode — a lesson in geek shuttle diplomacy. This dishonesty makes BSG trebly appropo for Geithner today).

Obama and Geithner come to their bank rescue pitch in much the same way. Locked in by predecessors, using some ‘borrowed ideas’, they essentially dressed up the old Paulson er, battlestar with lipstick. But this time with a plan ! BSG honcho Moore, deludedly thinks his genius at ad hoc recycling puts him on par with Joss Whedon or other modern myth makers (he naturally scratched Tim Kring/Heroes from the to-do list). Moore claimed from his very first episode that the Cylons had a plan behind their genocidal nuclear Pearl Harbor on mankind. To the unwashed used to fare like King of Queens, BSG seemed to deliver the goods.

So, too, with Geither. How soon do you suppose he also starts making speeches flanked by massive gold flaked signs proclaiming ‘Plan For Solvency’? There must be plenty of supplies left over in OEOB somewhere.

Even the so-self-consciously-hip-we’re-just-plain-folks at Salon drool over BSG. Why? We don’t know. It’s so mediocre. But to cut them some slack, well, it is dystopian – a better world view outside of Japan and Blade Runner is hard to find. So it looks cool. But as far as acting, sloppy characterization, lack of plausibility, and zero- none -3 dimensionality (all of the characters are flat self parodies of their season one appearances) the show is a painful joke. And Salon swoons for all things Obama and his ‘plan.’

Take heed Obama and Geithner. Now, even the dimmest BSG fan realizes all along there has been no plan. Moore et al. were pulling out characters and story arc like monkeys from their posteriors. Crucial, vital items cutting to the show’s very raison d’etre from episode one made up on the fly this final year. Wounded geeks howling in betrayal are not for the squeamish. It seems politicos are no different.

Yet we pity geek pain. Moore et al. have been winging BSG; Heroes is an embarrassment ($4 million an ep?); Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles is so illogical, disjointed and feckless *within each episode* the Stiftung’s Aibo is chafing to go and just waste that Connor punk to end the misery. They face a wasteland.

It’s amazing Obama and Geithner don’t realize a serialized story with no plan is a train wreck. No clue. In the end, no real audience. Take this as an unkind studio note on your pilot script: get a script doctor. Or it’s no go. Why?

To mix geek references, Padawan Geithner tried to serve his Master’s bidding yesterday. But his Jedi mind tricks are weak. Did you notice the vague hand movement in front of him as he droned ‘All will be well, we will unveil our plan soon’? Fah. My dear Padawan, you can mind trick all of the American lemmings all of the time, but pundits, foreign creditors, foreign observers, ‘the Street’, and Hutts on the Hill are immune. He and his Master wish us to believe that like a multi year genre serial, all the little plots and twists we see ahead immediately will all make sense *when the story is revealed* at the end. Except the joke is on Geithner; we know he is creating BSG while Obama seems to seek higher fare.

A New Script Based On Reality

A script doctor would counsel that there are two distinct story lines for Geithner to establish now, at the pilot episode. He must choose. One is that we are essentially in a panic. Fundamentally sound assets are temporarily underwater or without valuation. Thus King Henry claimed he would buy up ‘toxic assets’, banks like the house in Poltergeist would be made ‘clean’ and King Henry would sell off the purchased at a profit. An elevator pitch at MGM – except the studio would want Clooney as Paulson, James Wood at AIG and Roseanne Barr in a foreclosed home surrounded by cubic zirconium.

The other story is that many if not most of the affected financial institutions are fundamentally and irretrievably insolvent. The IMF puts the insolvency rate at circa $1.4 trillion. Nouriel Roubini pegs it around $3.6 trillion. These institutions can not be made clean by buying toxic debt because there is no there, there. The elevator pitch here is Will Smith in I am Legend without the annoying woman and child; he makes it out to Darien, CT with some bearer bonds.

The Stiftung like others subscribes to this later view. Obama and Geithner (and the Hill, media and Wall Street) are all hoping for Geitner’s BSG script — the current geek heartburn is they haven’t seen enough ‘spoilers’ to know what the plan is not realizing there isn’t one. There is no arc, no plan for this BSG tact. Guarantees and buying some toxic assets here and there and $350 billion Son of TARP will give us George Romero Living Dead Banks for at least a Lost Decade if not more. That, dear reader, is no plan. It is, however, Ron Moore BSG classic. Yet who would claim 4 years hence this was meant to be?

Shoot The Wounded !

We have an involvency crisis, not a panic or business cycle. We need a new script. We are looking at either nationalization for recapitalization or massive debt for equity swaps on a level far above being contemplated now. Obama and Geithner would be advised to shoot the wounded. Let the bad banks die. Start with new good banks, with new management, with new ethos untainted by the ruinous gluttony of the bubbles.

We are actually serious when we suggest that should an existing tainted bank want recapitalization or a swap, it must relocate executive offices to an economic recovery zone. Youngstown, Ohio. Michigan. The Katrina inland wasteland. Pick another.

Technologically there is no reason for anyone to be on Wall Street anymore (banks and Cravath and others fled a while ago). There’s no reason for them to be in the City, either. We don’t have re-education farms yet in America. But requiring bankers on the federal dole to live among the hoi ploi and see reality is a small price to pay for their Walter Mitty daydreams that they still matter.

That’s a script, a plan and a ComicCon panel that will rock. And no one plausibly can scream ‘Curse you Timothy Geithner, you raped my childhood !!!’ Although he may get a couple of Michael Bay’s ‘I hope you die for destroying my sole joy in life, Transformers ‘Dude! You own my eyeballs!’ And Obama? He won’t have to be worried about being cancelled after 4 short seasons.

He Is Legend

Something in today’s Zeitgeist calls for the doomed heroic last stand. You know the drill.

The genre’s latest is from Will Smith. It smashed box office records. His flick opened at over $76 million, beating previous record holder Return of the King. The take here is different from others such as ‘300’ in a variety of ways. Smith is alone for the first half hour sans any other human actor. It’s something noted by critics and predictable flashbacks to a perfect family do little to break the tedium. “Some people say” that this is is more faithful to the book by Richard Matheson.

We have only seen the kitschy Omega Man with Charlton Heston. That by all accounts is a failed interpretation of the book. The Stiftung name drops in passing we had a small dinner Heston in the UK; he was a delightful dinner companion, rifles in cold fingers aside. The scenes of him talking to the bust of Napoleon still bring a smile.

Back to Smith. What to make of this ginormous action movie where a German shepherd named Sam is the most convincing and memorable actor? (See D. Trowbridge’s comment infra). When almost every set-up is predictable a mile away? The ending did surprise us a bit because it was so pointless. Most was explained when the screen credits rolled. Akiva Goldman is listed as co-screenwriter.

The scenes of NYC were well done — whether by matte painting, back-lot or digital insert apparently New York has the grace and brains to shut down for the production. This is in sharp contrast to Los Angeles which initially refused to allow the movie Transformers to film in the very heart of the American dream factory. (When American story telling and production expertise is finally sent to Canada, Australia and Asia, who needs Los Angeles to manage intellectual properties?)

No wonder Times Square really did look like Times Square, as did the Intrepid Museum. Using the Intrepid Museum’s AR-12/SR-71 for a driving range a nice touch. We also approved of the limited ammo clip — no Bruce Willis infinite fire here. The hunting scenes for fresh game also gave a terrific feel to the movie. But so much remained unexplained regarding Smith’s Batcave and resources, etc. The co-actors who show up later have even less screen presence than the German shepherd. There also remained more potential for the relationship between the head bad guy and his apparent mate. Perhaps this a limit also in the book.

We won’t spoil the movie for you. $76 million means alot of people saw it. Perhaps your take is different. All we know is that if we were trapped in NYC alone with monsters, Shrek would not be our movie of choice.

We give it three Leos out of five.

Musings On Dystopia and 1917

As you might be aware, Ridley’s Scott’s undeniably influential (but commercially disappointing) movie “Blade Runner” is being re-re-released in theaters and on DVD as the final “Director’s Cut”. This 1981 visual masterpiece helped launch the cyberpunk movement here and in Japan. Even today, the film continues to influence pop culture.

The Year 2019

Scott’s particular notions of future dystopia are so influential because as per the above (excellent) interview, he presented seamless integration of production and art design so as to create in effect an additional character actor.

We thought alot about this as we were up on and around Capitol Hill today. It’s a strange time. Yet we couldn’t shake the vibe that our demotic age is entering a new kind of dystopia. Not Scott’s per say — although his was set in 2019 so we have some time. And not Orwell’s. Ours is the palsied lurchings of non-functioning authoritarianism. The Fist of Play Dough.

If Scott offered consciously applied, carefully crafted production and art design, our dysnfunctional dystopia is simply ad hoc. This is befitting for a demotic society — Demos itself generates the very absurdities accepted nonchalantly as everyday fact which then in turn define the next demotic reality: the Warlord’s odd press conference coincident with the Dali Lama cruising around the Hill, Armenians getting pounded and piled upon by Democrats and Republicans (again), all while the Ellen Degeneres’ dog situation makes the NBC Evening News and is wall-to-wall cable coverage. Together, like Scott’s production design, they are an additional character actor in our lives. Such a societal situation precisely fits Jaques Barzun’s technical definition of decadence.

What is so extraordinary? How passively we accept it all. Incompetent Fist of Play Dough is acknowledged like the sunrise. Clever snark now replaces active opposition. It was one thing early in 2003 for the netroots and a few lonely others to rage about the Administration’s incompetence; that’s now so obvious even Naomi Wolf writes about it. It just is. Congress’ ineffectiveness (pre and post 2006) adds more goo on the dough.

The Democrats, to paraphrase UBL, continue to prove themselves to be “a weak horse” — not just to this pathetic White House but to their own Democratic base. Whether Iraq, Oversight, SCHIP, the flawed Democrat FISA bill derailed, Armenia or [insert another item here] a line drawn in the sand means nothing. Pelosi can’t even speak out effectively in defense of a smeared 2 year old child. This is a gang addicted to circular firing squads. Talking to Democrats one almost gets this subliminal vibe of pleading “We know our self esteem is low, please fix us.”

Could a change in Executive in 2008 arrest if not reverse this dystopian dynamic? We noted below skepticism, asking how long this current situation can last. Perhaps it is our historical destiny to demonstrate the true power of Inertia. Perhaps. But being on the Hill today, there seemed just the slightest whiff of February 1917 in the Fall breeze.

We hope we’re wrong. Here’s to hoping for and seeing meaningful and effective change in 2008. . . .

The Endless Ecclesiastical Dream

See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not toil or spin. . .

That America is not able at present to accomplish meaningful tasks is we submit beyond question. Even the WaPo raises the matter; it is now that obvious

The Warlord’s regime deserves much if not all the credit for this current atrophy. For the reasons we have set forth here at length re fixation on hyper-real narrative control, “working towards the Leader” ethos in the cadres, etc. But the Warlord simply built upon the already pregnant possibilities. In that way, he, Cheney, Cher Condi, Karen Hughes, A.G.A.G. et. al. — they are just another symptom, too. 

A hyper-real society may forget how to build satellites that work, levees that function, or the fundamentals of bridge engineering dating back to Roman times. Our military in Iraq even subcontracts intelligence to private companies (currently British). But such a twitching, psychologically fractured society does function and in its own way, produce things. Consider William Gibson’s new novel:

In Spook Country, Gibson’s latest, a woman named Hollis Henry has just arrived in Los Angeles on assignment for a magazine called Node to investigate “locative art,” an underground movement of tech-savvy artists into the mapping, annotation, and holographic reshaping of virtual space. Cayce and Hollis are in similar circumstances for the exact same reason.

Spook Country is a sequel of sorts to Pattern Recognition, an extension of its territory and themes. Masterminding the narrative of both is the sinister and seductive Hubertus Bigend, founder of the avant-garde advertising firm Blue Ant. In Pattern Recognition, he’s described as “a nominal Belgian who looks like Tom Cruise on a diet of virgin’s blood and truffled chocolates.” His Wikipedia entry in Spook Country describes him as the child of a wealthy industrialist and a sculptress with links to the Situationist International.Bigend is Gibson’s image of hyper-capitalist consciousness evolved to such sophistication that it becomes indistinguishable from art, philosophy, even magic. Advertising for Bigend isn’t a means to make money, but a method for tapping into the ancient reptile mind at the base of consciousness and culture.

In Pattern Recognition, he engages Cayce to locate the author of “the footage,” a sequence of enigmatic film clips randomly posted on the Internet that spawn a global cult of enthusiasts and explicators. When Spook Country reveals the utterly banal use that Bigend makes of this knowledge, the effect is chilling. More disturbing is the sense that he may be the only character in these stories who’s discovered a way to embrace and diffuse the accelerated terrors and inchoate anxieties of the post-9/11 world.

After 9/11, Woolsey and a bunch of Booz Allen know-nothings ran around town talking about America’s unique vulnerabilities as a ‘networked society’ as if this blinding glimpse of the obvious was divine revelation. (Well, actually it was to the smokestackers in the Administration).But a nation adrift, lost to the song of the hyper-real is far more fragile than even Woolsey can imagine. A people can forget how to shape their future, how to build and how to assert themselves (beyond spastic episodes of eruptive violence). How far into the dream have we gone?

P.S. We are enjoying Alfred Molina and “The Company” on TNT so far more than the narcissistically self-conscious and self-congratulatory “The Good Shepherd.” It not only is more relaxed in its approach, but the aesthetics of Ridley and Tony Scott are evident, making it less ponderous than DeNiro’s bloated effort. Alexandra Maria Lara from Downfall proves a great casting choice, and Michael Keaton is an interesting Angleton — far more nuanced (if not accurate) than Damon’s bland cipher.