Friday, July 29


Welcome, long-forsaken readers, long-neglected keyboard. My failure to write a single word for a long stretch had a reason. I was scouring the four corners of the globe in search of the ever-elusive occupation known as, well, an occupation, which is to say, a job. To be sure, I exaggerate: I hit only three corners of the earth and, of those, only two in person, but the point here is that my mind and body have been elsewhere.

So, let me begin by thanking Steve, the Yellow Doggerel Democrat, for his comments to my last post. And, although he showed no doubt and none was in fact warranted concerning the true object of the photo placed therein, I would like to put all possible suspicion to doubt by placing another photo from the same trip to what Americans have since WWII called Omaha Beach.


So, no, that was not Cancun that you saw in the photo of the previous post; that was (at least formerly) a rather busy battlefield. I have to say that even I, who generally view war as an insult to human intelligence and a depraved endeavor of the worst sort, found Omaha Beach to be quite a moving place to visit. All the war junk lying around, on the beach, in the sea, or even inland -- as with these pillboxes -- is a curiosity that itself inspired different reflections in me. Not only did I wonder why all the junk was left lying around, but I wondered if one could ever measure all the refuse, psychological or material, that humanity's (but mostly the United States') vast history of modern war-making has left behind. A recent study discussed in the Japanese press interviewed survivors of the atomic bombing by U.S. forces in Japan, and a majority of them still have nightmares over the "incidents."

Every few years, we read in the press that some unexploded bomb has been unearthed in a family garden in Tokyo or Dresden. Obviously, this seems incongruous to those of us who tend spontaneously to believe that, when wars are declared over, most of their villainous consequences are wiped away, too, but it is surely the case that most of modern war-making's insidious and cruel consequences for innocent lives never make it to press. Think only of Vietnam and the systematic violence carried out on that nation's ecological fabric...

To return to Steve's comments and the film "The Day After Tomorrow"... I forgot to mention that in this film, which felt was the best means by which to wake up the populace over the dangers of global warming, the most persistent act of product placement involved -- no, you would never have guessed -- the Fox "News" Network. Yep. The viewer of this film was made to believe that whenever there was anything of import happening in the nation, all eyes turned instantly to some Fox News beauty-head. Yes, Fox News, that corporation that goes out of its way to remove all possibility of criticism against the most decisively eco-resistant government in operation today. The possibility of irony here simply doesn't hold up, either. The Dick Cheney talk-alike in the film is actually made to appear capable of remorse, and capable of admitting that, on the environment, he committed a massive blunder akin to global assassination on the scale never before conceived. But this admission is made in a kind-hearted sort of way, by a sort of huggy and warm grandpa figure who speaks his heart to the people of the nation. It is as if the Vice President were speaking on Barbara Walters, so that we could all see his warm-and-fuzzy side. And that is exactly the portrait of the monstrous and deceitful Cheney that Fox construes for its viewing public on virtually every day of the year.

The only sense I can see in this sick approach to serious issues is that it confirms what Joel Bakan has said about the sham nature of all corporate-run "good will." Whoever made "The Day After Tomorrow" must have watched in glee as and like organizations went haywire over the release of an "eco-friendly" film. It is not unlikely that they had seized upon this new market of "activists" to push across an "eco-theme," only to drown the whole thing in idiot catastrophe scenes and then smother it in butt-kisses for Cheney and his fellow thugs-in-office.

Sunday, July 17

The Day After the Day After Tomorrow

Every once in a great while I see a "Hollywood" movie. I do so always under similar conditions. First, it has not to require my paying for it directly--for instance, when I have taken international flights, or when I find myself at my brother's house and flip through the dozens of films his cable hook-up affords him. Secondly, through fatigue, mental laxity, or other extenuating factors, I persuade myself that in watching such a film, I might actually find something memorable and inspiring: if not a good performance, or a well-played scene, then at least a momentary, beautiful depiction of nature, or possibly even something resembling an original thought.

So it was that, last night, at the end of a long day, I started channel surfing at my brother's place and came upon the opening scene of "The Day After Tomorrow." Hmmm, I thought, this is the film that the progressive political organization sent me a batch of e-mail about sometime last year, urging me both to see it and to get anyone who might not be educated about matters of global warming to see it. That alone suggested, at least superficially, that a thought might be lurking within what otherwise promised to be a standard "no risk" multi-million dollar visual and aural entertainment package on par with any hand-to-hand combat video game (but requiring less input from the consumer).

I won't hide the fact that the second condition of my viewing such a film is inevitably frustrated, and that watching "The Day After Tomorrow" was no exception to this apparent rule. But I should first say that the film did have an idea of sorts. Not an original idea, exactly, and surely not a filmic or artistic idea, but an idea imported from certain scientific circles. The idea--abrupt climate change--has its own merits (see intriguing documentation here) and surely has been served well by popularization--especially in the United States, where the reality of global warming remains idiotically in dispute thanks primarily to manifold pressures exerted by the coal and gas industries upon media of all sorts, decision-makers, and American culture generally. The question for me, though, is whether, in integrating the idea of abrupt climate change into a recipe film such as this, the filmmakers managed to make a good film. On that account, I was not witness to the least bit of supportive evidence.

I imagined a little scene in which two persons first exchanged ideas for this film.

A: We need some kind of catastrophe. Think post-9/11. The stuff is selling more than ever.
B: Yeah, that's right. And, you know, my nerd cousin Marty told me about this idea. It's not exactly the old global warming scare--that's probably too much a hot-button issue--but a kind of side dish to that. He said he read an article about it. It was *rapid climate change* or something like that. The thing is, it would be perfect for creating lots of panic scenes. We could have tornadoes in L.A., a freeze-over in Manhattan, torrential rain in D.C., and more. We could even flatter the Japanese market with a little ice storm in Tokyo.
A: Great, that's perfect! We're practically done. All we have to do is spit out the script.
B: Right. But what about the love interest?
A: Well, we'll get that cutey face who did "Heat of the Night" last year. His agent will let him join up for less than 40 mil. He's not yet the cream of the crop. We might be able to catch him as his wave begins to crest.
B: Kinters, you mean?
A: Yeah, that's the one.
B: OK, what about the girl?
A: Hmm... that's more difficult. I've looked into the names. The market is not good now for buyers. Let's just get a nice pair of knockers at a discount price. That should fit the bill. It hardly matters, anyway. The lines will be minimal. Just a few pouts, a display of touchy-feely, and maybe a dash through a traumatized crowd. Basically, a little bounce here and there, and a bit of face sucking will do the trick.
B: Right. Always does.
A: One thing, though. Can't we still manage to make this into something of a family movie? All it would take is a "man overcomes resentment towards brother" or an "overworked father insists on keeping his next promise to son." One of those cards.
B: Well, I don't see why not. As long as there's at least 10 parts noise and trauma to one part sentimentality.
A: Yep. That's the M.O.
B: Personally, I like to get back to the "repentant, overworked father" thing. It's been two or three films since we used that one.
A: I've no objection, believe me. Say, about the the stunts and catastrophes... We'll spend, say, 10 or 12 months with these and then, once we emerge from the stunt labs, find the cute faces we talked about to patch it all together into some kind of story line.
B: OK, so, I'll write the script tonight over a few beers and, if you think I might drop anything from it, then just e-mail me by tomorrow night. But there really shouldn't be much to change, since we've already been through the whole "risk avoidance" thing with corporate headquarters a hundred thousand times.
A: I know. Almost makes you sick, doesn't it?
B: Yeah, but it also makes you filthy rich at the end of the day, too.
A: Ha! That's certainly true!

So much, then, for my general sense about how this film was, or how it may as well have been, hatched.

One thing about the title of this film, a title whose relevance to the action or idea of the film is not particularly clear or suggestive. Does anyone share my sense that English-language, and particularly "Hollywood" movies, are increasingly left untranslated when introduced to foreign markets? I do sometimes wonder who makes these kinds of decisions. Surely it is not some underpaid college student who gets hired in haste to create subtitles for a film set on imminent release. I mention this because the title "The Day After Tomorrow" has, it seems, remained untranslated in Japanese, despite the fact that Japanese has a wonderful one-word equivalent, namely: あさって[asatte]. This word simply means "the day after tomorrow." It is, at least, economical. It also avoids the awkwardness of the original. I assume that the English title was retained not only because of the standard appeal of "exoticism" that presumably attracted Japanese audiences but also because, left in English, the title more easily functions as a kind of corporate label, much like "Coca-Cola" or any other corporate product name that resists translation. The fact that "Hollywood" films today are devised, market-tested, and marketed in much the same way as many other products--including soft drinks and prescription drugs--supports this rationale for opting not to translate. Perhaps other things are going on here, though...

In mentioning the untranslated title and imagining the little "creative" moment as I did, I have neglected to talk about the film "itself." But that was not without cause. The film is simply the same film you have seen everytime you have seen a "Hollywood" movie in the past decade or so. Yes, it raises a spicy little social issue of grave importance to the destiny of mankind. But that fact, and the catastrophe for which this issue sets the stage, does not obtrude upon the "happy ending," nor does it completely block out the "love and family" thematizing without which a "Hollywood" blockbuster wanna-be could not be recognized as such. The actors do not act so much as act like all the hordes of stereotypes that have gone before them. The lead male role, for instance, is played by Dennis Quaid, and Quaid does not create a character or personality; he just tries to hold the same poses, and employ the same voice tone as, say, Harrison Ford has done in his last twenty or so films (which is not to grant Harrison Ford any acting skills, either). Every gesture is stereotyped and pre-programmed with nauseating precision, and all Quaid has presumably done is to not displease his bossmen by attempting anything faintly original.

Mind you, there's a lot to laugh at in this film; only, none of the laughs are apparently sought out by the filmmakers. They are, rather, the unintended consequence of poor filmmaking whose sole pursuit of box-office wealth blinds the the filmmakers to the most outrageous aspects of their own film-product. For instance, I found myself chuckling at the fact that although the entire nation of Canada was obliterated in a deep freeze, no character even wastes a word on the matter. (Clearly, the Canadian "looney" or dollar demands much less attention from today's corporate filmmakers than does, say, the Japanese Yen.) The very fact that New York and Washington, D.C. remain the center of the world, as they always do in intergalactic or geo-catastrophic films, and that the Statue of Liberty gets buried--once again!--up to her crown and torch while Japan, as the world's second largest film-going economy--once again!--is patronizingly fitted with a complementary role, all caught me somewhere between a chuckle and exasperation.

It is perhaps too easy to criticize "Hollywood films." Perhaps it's no more difficult than putting one foot in front of the other. And, like the films themselves, the critiques run the risk of becoming repetitive. Still, such critiques are no less necessary, and I often wonder why they seem so rare in the nation's star-and-thumbs-up crazed movie press. Could we at least see some degree of subtlety introduced into the old thumbs-up, thumbs-down dichotomy? I can think of at least one other digit that could be useful in appraising "Hollywood" films...

There's much more to say about "The Day After Tomorrow," including its lamentable (i.e., noisy, clamorous, relentless) soundtrack--a soundtrack that, like so many today, dictates "emotions" to the viewer in shameless tyranny--but I will leave all that for another day after tomorrow.

photo: Omaha Beach, Bayeux, France - by terrette (13063)

Thursday, July 14

提灯 (ちょうちん)

Lanterns by terrette (12911)

Friday, July 8

"Our Way of Life"

In the wake of the bombings in London, we keep hearing the expression "our way of life" in the mouths of Tony Blair, George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and other corporate militarists. These three in particular have claimed that "our way of life" was the source of anger of those who planted bombs in London. Why do they keep saying this? To what does the "way" correspond? And to whom does it belong? Who is the "our" in the expression? Let's first sample a few quotes as we consider these questions.

Here's Blair:
I think we all know what they're trying to do. They're trying to use the slaughter of innocent people to cow us, to frighten us out of doing the things that we want to do, of trying to stop us from going about our business as normal, as we're entitled to do. And they should not and they must not succeed. When they try to intimidate us, we will not be intimidated. When they seek to change our country or our way of life by these methods, we will not be changed.
Here's Bush (from an Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People in late September, 2001, at a moment when presumably the convenience of the phrase was first seized upon):
These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends.
And here's Condoleezza Rice (in an August 2004 discussion with Tim Russert):
On September the 11th, we were brutally attacked by people who had an ideology of hatred so great that they, with a few people, threatened to try and bring down our way of life.
As I see it, the expression is simply meant to obscure the highly probable reasons for terrorist attacks generally and, recently, the bombings in London. It is calculated to deflect indirect (but serious) responsibility from the leaders in Britain and the US who have conducted a needless, illegal, unpopular war that has already likely caused the death of over 100,000 unarmed civilians in Iraq while greatly increasing the threat of terrorism in the US and Britain in particular.

Bush, Blair & Co. want you, the public, to believe that it is you who are hated and not the policies of Bush, Blair & Co. (that many of you have rejected, anyway). They want to get your dander up. The expression "our way of life" is tirelessly floated out into public discourse as if it corresponded to some actual source of ire among the terrorists. It even does double duty as a deft recruitment device meant to deceive unsuspecting and easily-offended young men and women who can be duped into thinking that, in going off to kill and possibly die, they are protecting their own "way of life." Not only their own, but "our" way of life, every decent person's "way of life."

This strategy of deflection and distraction was exploited again yesterday when Blair went out of his way to state that the vast majority of Muslims in England abhor what happened in London -- as if we didn't already know that. In short, he tried, in this case, to make the whole affair seem explicable in terms of religious affilations. The "way of life" would thus, by implication, mean "our Christian, non-Muslim way of life here in Britain." In the end, though, the tactic remains the same: by talking about Muslims, Blair tried to downplay his own responsibility for the worldwide upsurge in violence and for the backlash against US and British military terrorism by casting the motivations of the bombers in false terms (whether of "lifestyle" or "religion"). Either way, this is a serious insult both to Muslims and to the victims of this latest wave of violence. To stoke anger and fear among the populace for things that are at best marginally related to the very likely movitations of the bombers is simply political opportunism and cynicism at their worst.

Some UK citizens have spoken forthrightly about the likely motivations of the bombers. Let's compare their statements to the woolly stuff we keep hearing about "our way of life":

George Galloway (British Member of Parliament):
London has reaped the (results) of Mr. Blair's involvement in Iraq .... because, of course, the vast majority of Londoners, and I have no doubt the vast majority of people affected by that despicable act of mass murder yesterday, were opponents of Mr. Blair and Bush's war on Iraq... It would be entirely dishonest to pretend that this came out of nowhere. Inexcusable, but not inexplicable. Sadly, all too explicable and explained, even before we did it, by the anti-war movement. We said this (war in Iraq) would not make the world a safer place, it would make the world a more dangerous place.
Juan Gonzalez (journalist, responding to George Galloway):
Your criticism of Britain's participation in the war... apparently there was a rebuttal from Home Secretary Charles Clark who said that, "This has nothing to do with Iraq or any other particular foreign policy, it's about a fundamentalist attack on the way we live our lives."
George Galloway:
Only a fool would say that, and only a fool would believe that. In fact, the terrorists themselves have said... that that's exactly why they carried out the act.
Galloway refers here to the statement posted online according to which the bombings were carried out, "in revenge of the massacres that Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan." That's the justification given for the violence in London by the group that took responsibility for the bombings on a website that has yet to be given full credence. Whether or not we can trust this statement as being authentic, it certainly sounds like it is concerned about politics more than about religion or others' "way of life."

Robert Fisk, of the UK's Independent News and Media, responded to Blair's strategy of deflection by stating that,
To go on pretending that Britain's enemies want to destroy "what we hold dear" encourages racism; what are confronting here is a specific, direct, centralised attack on London as a result of a "war on terror..."
George Monbiot, a columnist for the London Guardian, cautions against assuming that we know who carried out the bombing, but does admit that,
There's no doubt that by invading Iraq we have caused a great deal of resentment and anger within the Muslim world and if that hasn't come back to haunt us yet, then it may well come back to haunt us in the future.
Stephen Grey, of the Sunday Times of London, also shows that he is under no illusion as to the probable motivation behind the bombings:
One important thing to understand about the nature of Islamic terrorism is that it's not just about a threat to the way of life to the West. If you talk to people who are actually close to these movements, they hate, above all, the policies of the West, (which) they extend not just to the invasion of Iraq, but also to the Middle East peace process, (and) the involvement in Afghanistan. Many of the people who are drawn to these movements are not people who are looking for some sort of Taliban lifestyle, they're people who are motivated because they support some kind of insurgency about the way the West is dealing with the Middle East. They feel the Middle East is utterly humiliated by the West and the Western policies.
With those sensible remarks in mind, it is very clear that my own "way of life" has nothing at all to do with Bush's and Blair's foreign policies, nor the policies of Bush's predecessors, Clinton, Bush Sr., and Reagan. It is not part of my "way of life" to order and subsequently pass over in virtual silence the killing of countless Iraqi civilians in a needless and illegal act of state terrorism and military aggression. It is not part of my "way of life" to oppress the Palestinian people. And it is not part of my "way of life" to support tyrannical dictators in oil-rich countries.

How about you? Do you recognize in these policies your own "way of life"?

I'll end this post by letting the eloquent George Galloway have the last word:

It's just basic common sense that... if you don't intervene to stop the ongoing Calvary of the Palestinian people, who for 50 years have been dispossessed, sent to the four corners of the world as refugees, regularly massacred, occupied, if you don't do something about the hundreds of thousands of foreign soldiers occupying Iraq, if you don't stop propping up the puppet presidents and the corrupt kings who rule the Muslim world almost without exception from one end to the other, then you lay bare your double standards, your hypocrisy, when you talk about liberty.

What our leaders want is liberty for us, but only up to a point, and they're ready to take that away if it suits them, but no liberty for anybody else. And the people in the Muslim world can see it very clearly. They know that nobody gave a toss about the thousands who were killed in Fallujah. Nobody in the British Parliament raised any qualm about the American armed forces reducing Fallujah to ash and killing thousands of people. Yet, they go into the kind of emoting that we saw yesterday about the deaths in London.

I'm different from that, and most British people are different from that, when you reach them. The blood of everyone is worth the same. God didn't differentiate between a dead person in London killed by sheets of flying glass and red-hot razor sharp steel and someone who died the same death in Baghdad. These deaths are the same. And war of the kind that we have seen -- unjustified, illegal, based on lies, in Iraq, is terrorism of a different kind. Just because the President, who ordered it is wearing a smart suit rather than the garb of an Islamist in the Tora Bora doesn't make the orders more legitimate than orders if they were given from bin Laden.
(12517) photo by terrette. Warsaw, Poland

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Friday, July 1

An appeal to machismo

The billboard pictured below was photographed in what is euphemistically called an underprivileged neighborhood ("un quartier défavorisé"). This means that it is extremely poor and inhabited principally by African-Americans. The location of the billboard was certainly not chosen fortuitously. The search for desperate mercenaries among the poor of the nation, who, in Iraq and elsewhere, are needed to fight this generation's wars for the sake of the rich is in full swing in the United States. As always, the military-corporate take-overs are dressed up in banners of national pride and glory and, as pictured below, sold with mega-labels like "liberty" and "life," and rationalized as issues of "national security."

For French readers, I offer a translation of the macho billboard phrase: "Vie, liberté, et la poursuite de tous ceux qui la (?) (sic) menacent."

The phrase is hard to translate because it is not clear what the word "it" refers to. To life? Liberty?

What half-wit composed this thing, anyway?