Friday, August 22, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

Reality Bites Again--Kunstler

Kunstler's latest, reprinted in full:

August 18, 2008
Reality Bites Again

The feeble American response to Russia's assertion of power in the Caucasus of Central Asia was appropriate, since our claims of influence in that part of the world are laughable. The US had taken advantage of temporary confusion in Russia, during the ten-year-long post-Soviet-collapse interval, and set up a client government in Georgia, complete with military advisors, sales of weapons, and even the promise of club membership in the western alliance known as NATO. These blandishments were all in the service of the Baku-to-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which was designed specifically to drain the oil region around the Caspian Basin with an outlet on the Mediterranean, avoiding unfriendly nations all along the way.

At the time this gambit was first set up, in the early 1990s, there was some notion (or wish, really) among the so-called western powers that the Caspian would provide an end-run around OPEC and the Arabs, as well as the Persians, and deliver all the oil that the US and Europe would ever need -- a foolish wish and a dumb gambit, as things have turned out.

For one thing, the latterly explorations of this very old oil region -- first opened to drilling in the 19th century -- proved somewhat disappointing. US officials had been touting it as like unto "another Saudi Arabia" but the oil actually produced from the new drilling areas of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and the other Stans turned out to be preponderantly heavy-and-sour crudes, in smaller quantities than previously dreamed-of, and harder to transport across the extremely challenging terrain to even get to the pipeline head in Baku.

Meanwhile, Russia got its house in order under the non-senile, non-alcoholic Vladimir Putin, and woke up along about 2007 to find itself the leading oil and natural gas producer in the world. Among the various consequences of this was Russia's reemergence as a new kind of world power -- an energy resource power, with the energy destiny of Europe pretty much in its hands. Also, meanwhile, the USA had set up other client states in the ring of former Soviet republics along Russia's southern underbelly, complete with US military bases, while fighting active engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, if this wasn't the dumbest, vainest move in modern geopolitical history!

It's one thing that US foreign policy wonks imagined that Russia would remain in a coma forever, but the idea that we could encircle Russia strategically with defensible bases in landlocked mountainous countries halfway around the world...? You have to ask what were they smoking over at the Pentagon and the CIA and the NSC?

So, this asinine policy has now come to grief. Not only does Russia stand to gain control over the Baku-to-Ceyhan pipeline, but we now have every indication that they will bring the states on its southern flank back into an active sphere of influence, and there is really not a damn thing that the US can pretend to do about it.

We could have spent the past ten years getting our own house in order -- waking up to the obsolescence of our suburban life-style, scaling back on the Happy Motoring, reconnecting our cities with world-class passenger rail, creating wealth by producing things of value (instead of resorting to financial racketeering), protecting our borders, and taking the necessary measures to defend and update our own industries. Instead, we pissed our time and resources away. Nations do make tragic errors of the collective will. The cluelessness of George Bush is nothing less than a perfect metaphor for the failure of a whole generation. The Boomers will be identified as the generation that wrecked America.

So, as the vacation season winds down, this country greets a new reality. We miscalculated in Western and Central Asia. Russia still "owns" that part of the world. Are we going to extend our current land wars there into the even more distant and landlocked Stan-nations? At some point, as we face financial and military exhaustion, we have to ask ourselves if we can even successfully evacuate our personnel from the far-flung bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

This must be an equally sobering moment for Europe, and an additional reason for the recent plunge in the relative value of the Euro, for Europe is now at the mercy of Russia in terms of staying warm in the winter, running their kitchen stoves, and keeping the lights on. Russia also exerts substantial financial leverage over the US in all the dollars and securitized US debt paper it holds. In effect, Russia can shake the US banking system at will now by threatening to dump its dollar holdings.

The American banking system may not need a shove from Russia to fall on its face. It's effectively dead now, just lurching around zombie-like from one loan "window" to the next pretending to "borrow" capital -- while handing over shreds of its moldy clothing as "collateral" to the Federal Reserve. The entire US, beyond the banks, is becoming a land of the walking dead. Business is dying, home-ownership has become a death dance, whole regions are turning into wastelands of "for sale" signs, empty parking lots, vacant buildings, and dashed hopes. And all this beats a path directly to a failure of collective national imagination. We really don't know what's going on.

The fantasy that we can sustain our influence nine thousand miles away, when we can't even get our act together in Ohio is just a dark joke. One might state categorically that it would be a salubrious thing for America to knock off all its vaunted "dreaming" and just wake the fuck up.

August 11, 2008
Kunstler recently took part in the forum "What is the Future of Suburbia?"

In other news, Pervez Musharraf announces his resignations, twenty years and a day after another Pakistani dictator died in a plane crash. And Prachanda was sworn in today as prime minister of Nepal.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Madonna at Fifty

Her birthday is this Saturday. Camille Paglia considers how Madonna is in the news for everything but her music. As she puts it, "On the pop front, Madonna's life has been passing before our eyes like a decadent German expressionist film."

23 August update: The Drudge Report, where I found this photo, is getting all futless because it shows Madonna's impressively muscled physique.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Real Alison Poole

I never liked John Edwards and don't care about his affair. However, this item about his mistress details her earlier life as Jay McInerney's girlfriend and inspiration for the character of Alison Poole.

Lisa Jo Druck was born 20 March 1964 and changed her name to Rielle Hunter (first name pronounced "Riley") twenty years later. Her changing a perfectly fine name to one so pretentiously spelled makes me wonder if her character should have been called Alison Foole.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Quelle Surprise

Yesterday I received my GQ in the mail and found this article on peak oil. GQ, devolving since the late 90s into a lad mag, still has great articles such as these. Kunstler is quoted therein, too.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Hana Yori Dango

The first season of Hana Yori Dango wrapped up last night on KIKU. Nothing indicates if the second season will be shown, but the first is on DVD. Unfortunately, it's region two. (More on DVD region codes.)

Episode Titles
Ep 01: Declaration of war! The thing which is absolutely more important than money
Ep 02: The worst first kiss!
Ep 03: Tears! Good-bye to the person I like
Ep 04: First time coming home in the morning
Ep 05: Confession of life-threatening love
Ep 06: A love triangle of a roller-coaster ride hair-trigger crisis
Ep 07: Battle F4 dissolution!
Ep 08: Now the female high school student's "Top of Japan" decision war
Ep 09: The greatest last present

I wonder if the HDY makers were inspired by The Bodyguard's final scenes, in which Rachel Marron gets off her jet to kiss Frank Farmer goodbye. There's a similar scene, in which Domyoji sees Tsukushi running on the tarmac, calling after him. He goes to her, they argue, then kiss.

The Long Emergency Discussed

Monday, August 04, 2008

Kunstler Reviews The Dark Knight

(Revised 11 August 2008)Kunstler's review of The Dark Knight is overall astute, but I disagree with some of his points, especially this: "The People -- that is, the citizens of Gotham City -- literally banish even the possibility of heroism from town at the end of the movie -- they take an axe to it!" While Commissioner Gordon does smash the Bat-Signal (which he had created in Batman Begins), he does so "at Batman's request, allowing himself to be blamed for the murders carried out by Harvey Dent/Two-Face in order to preserve Dent's reputation in Gotham City." Heroism is evidenced when a prisoner on one of two ferries evacuating Gothamites throws away the detonator to the explosives on the other ferry, while his counterpart on the other boat also refrains from pushing the button. Of course, Batman is preventing the Joker from blowing up both vessels, unbeknownst to the evacuees, but the scene demonstrates people can act morally even under such duress.

Kusntler points out that "Bruce Wayne's personal apartment is one of those horrid glass-walled tower condos beloved of the starchitects, which, in its florid exposure to everything external practically screams 'no shelter here!'" But that's not new. In the dystopia We, citizens live "in the One State,[3] an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass...". Remember that Wayne Manor (portrayed in Batman Begins by Mentmore Towers) was largely destroyed by a fire set by Ra's al Ghul at that movie's end and is still being rebuilt in The Dark Knight. The apartment Kunstler decries is a penthouse in one of Bruce Wayne's hotels. Yet the penthouse has a secret entrance to a location within the building serving as a temporary Batcave. More on the sets here.

I wonder if others have or will pick up on the themes of concealment and revealment, interiority and exteriority in the movie.

11 August 2008 update: James Wolcott links to Kunstler's review on, which, unlike, includes readers' comments. In only 24 days in release, The Dark Knight has become the third-highest grossing movie in American history. The movie's significance will become apparent only in retrospect. For now, people are wondering if it will match or surpass the aptly-named Titanic in box office.

August 4, 2008
Dark (K)night

Note: Posting early this week on account of weekend road trip.

The most striking thing about the new Batman movie, now smashing the all-time box office records, is its emphasis on sado-masochism as the animating element in American culture these days. It must appeal to the many angry people in our land who want to hurt others, even while they themselves feel deserving of the grossest punishments. In other words, the picture reflects the extreme depravity of the current American sensibility. Seeing it all laid out there must be very validating to the emotionally confused audience, and hence pleasurable, in all its painfulness.

The rich symbolism in this spectacle represents the tenor of contemporary America as something a few notches worse than whatever the Nazis were heading toward around 1933. We like nothing better than to see people suffer and watch things get broken. The more slowly people are tortured (including the movie audience) the more exquisite the pleasure derived from the act. Civilization offers no consolation. In fact, its a mug's game. Thus, civilization is composed only of torturers and their mug victims.

Gotham City, the setting for all these sadomasochistic vignettes, is a place devoid of comfort. (The suburbs are missing completely.) Even the personal haunts of "the Batman," a.k.a. zillionaire Bruce Wayne, are hard-edged non-spaces. His workplace (cleverly accessed via a dumpster) is an underground bunker the size of about three football fields with a claustrophobic drop ceiling and a single furnishing: the megalomaniacal computer console that is supposed to afford him "control" of the city, but which appears to be, in fact, a completely impotent sham piece of techno-junk, since it can't even outperform a $300 GPS unit in locating things. By the way, Hitler had a brighter sense of decor in the final days of the bunker. Bruce Wayne's personal apartment is one of those horrid glass-walled tower condos beloved of the starchitects, which, in its florid exposure to everything external practically screams "no shelter here!"

At the center of all this is the character called "The Joker." Judging by the reams of reviews and reportage about this movie elsewhere in the media, the death of actor Heath Ledger, who played the role, adds another layer of juicy sadomasochistic deliciousness to the proceedings -- we get to reflect that the monster on screen may have gotten away, but the anxiety-ridden young actor who played him was carted off to the bone orchard before the film even officially wrapped, (and therefore deserves extra special consideration for America's greatest honor, the Oscar award, while the audience deserves its own award for recognizing the lovely ironies embroidered in this cultural phenomenon.)

The Joker is not so much as person as a force of nature, a "black swan" in clown white. He has no fingerprints, no ID, no labels in his clothing. All he has is the memory of an evil father who performed a symbolic sadomasochistic oral rape on him, and so he is now programmed to go about similarly mutilating folks, blowing things up, and wrecking everyone's hopes and dreams because he has nothing better to do. He represents himself simply as an agent of "chaos." Taken at face value, he would seem to symbolize the deadly forces of entropy that now threatens to unravel real American life in the real world -- a combination of our foolish over- investments in complexity and the frightening capriciousness of both nature and history, which do not reveal their motivations to us.

By the way, forget about God here or anything that even remotely smacks of an oppositional notion to evil. All that's back on the cutting room floor somewhere (if it even got that far). And I say this as a non-religious person. But the absence of any possible idea of redemption for the human spirit is impressive. In the world of "the Batman," humanity at its very best is capable only of being confused about itself. This is perhaps an interesting new form of dramaturgy -- instead of good-versus-evil you only get befuddlement-versus-evil. Goodness has lost its way in the dark night of the American psyche, as might be understandable considering the nation of louts, liars, grifters, bullies, meth freaks, harpies, and tattooed creeps we have become. The best we can bring to this predicament is the low-grade pop therapy that passes for thinking nowadays in educated circles. Any consideration of the heroic is off the menu here. We can't ask that much of ourselves. It's too difficult to imagine. Meanwhile, The People -- that is, the citizens of Gotham City -- literally banish even the possibility of heroism from town at the end of the movie -- they take an axe to it! -- perhaps indicating that they deserve whatever befalls them or, shall I say, "us."

A few other striking elements of this spectacle deserve attention. One is the grandiosity that saturates the story elements, and the remarkable impotence of it all. The Batman possesses every high-tech weapon and survival implement ever dreamed up, yet they avail him nothing -- except a lot off sickening leaps off skyscrapers and futile hard landings on car roofs, shipping containers, sidewalks, and other human carcasses. I doubt the writers/director Chris and Jonathan Nolan consciously aimed to depict good old American ingenuity as utterly valueless in the face of chaos, but that's the effect. Otherwise, everything in the Batman's world is overscaled and out-of-whack from the size of Bruce Wayne's fortune (what an executive package his Daddy must have made off with, and from which investment bank?!), to the energy expended in so many car chases and explosions, to the super-sized doom-worthy towers of the gigantic, soulless city.

Finally there is the derivation of all this sadomasochistic nihilism out of a comic book. How appropriate, since we have become a cartoon of a society living on a cartoon of a North American landscape, that the deepest source of our mythos comes from cartoons. We're so far gone that real human emotion is beyond us. We're to far gone -- and even without shame -- to care how this odious movie portrays us to the rest of the world. It is already making a fortune out there.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

This Ain't No Hula!

It's a Hard Ticket to Hawaii.

And to think I've never heard of this movie until 5:50 P.M. today while I was browsing on YouTube.