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Page from Italo Calvino’s “The Castle of Crossed Destinies”

Crossed Destinies

Here’s a higher quality version in pdf format.

Madness

Every postie worth his or her or its weight in Foucault volumes will tell you that mental illness did not always exist: it’s just a convenient label that our rational and modern age, accustomed to scientists measuring and classifying things, employs to describe deviant behaviors. Every psychiatrist will likewise tell you that mental illness has always existed, and it’s only in the modern era that we’ve developed the means to identify and treat it as something other than a malevolent spirit or divine curse. It’s difficult to deny that a lot of people who would otherwise put themselves in harm’s way, directly or indirectly, have been helped by modern psychiatry. It’s also hard to deny that the body of knowledge that mental health experts use to describe and treat mental illness often seems flawed, sometimes disastrously so. One has a normal state, they reason, and perhaps it grows and is transformed by experiences, but it’s that fixed state that psychiatry seeks to preserve, to restore, and to guard. This notion of personal identity is one of society’s few remaining unassailable citadels, standing squat and sturdy while religion, faith in institutions, and good storytelling are eroded by the churning forces of progress and market capitalism. It’s at the core of the way both psychiatrists and many of their critics view the world. It may also be very wrong.

(Continued)

The Last Castille

For a film about one of the most ideologically charged conflicts of the 20th century, The Spanish Earth is curiously devoid of overt ideological messages. A war neutered of ideological content will be especially disorienting for American audiences. Every one of our conflicts has been a crusade for justice and liberty; every one of our opponents a bestial personification of all that is evil. From our shared lifetime of Disneyfied grade school history, 42 minute basic cable specials, and Greatest Generation circle jerks, we have been primed to think that Osama bin Laden, the Communists, the Nazis, and the Japanese had to be obliterated because they hated our American freedoms, and dammit, we expect our war movies to paint them accordingly.

(Continued)

Darwin’s Long Shadow

Part essay, part prose, part love letter.

It is impossible to speak of real human progress without acknowledging the need for radical redesign and enhancement of our biology. No matter how much we improve our external quality of life through social and economic reform, we will never stop the hedonic treadmill. Permanent gradients of bliss and universal empathy were, for most of biological history, maladaptive traits. The fact that human civilization is wrought with so much suffering is not solely a result of the inhumane economic and political systems in place all over the world. In truth, our neural hardware is designed for misery, pain, hate, and selfishness, as these experiences have been critical to survival.

(Continued)

Mishima

From Yukio Mishima’s novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion:

How shall I put it? Beauty – yes, beauty is like a decayed tooth. It rubs against one’s tongue, it hangs there, hurting one, insisting on its own existence. Finally it gets so that one cannot stand the pain and one goes to the dentist to have the tooth extracted.

Then, as one looks at the small, dirty, brown, blood-stained tooth lying in one’s hand, one’s thoughts are likely to be as follows: Is this it? Is this all it was? That thing which caused me so much pain, which made me constantly fret about its existence, which was stubbornly rooted within me, is now merely a dead object.

Birds

Something about the way this giant flock of birds whips around and then suddenly drops like a giant hammer makes it seem almost malevolent. Jesse gets credit for finding this mesmerizing video, though we both already knew the song (which is awesome).

Gettin’ Žižžy Wit It

There are many keen insights in this, but Žižek lumps so many things under the heading of “green capitalism” that the label becomes meaningless and does so in service of rather nihilistic conclusions. Žižek never clearly defines what “green capitalism” is but rather lets it stand in for a variety of things he dislikes: environmentalism, consumerism, contemporary business standards and anything else that might somewhere, someplace have been called “green” or “capitalist.” The kicker? There’s no way out, unless we replace the existing order entirely.

(Continued)

Anarchism and Negative Utilitarianism: A Possible Synthesis?

Anarcho-abolitionism?
Anarcho-abolitionism?

A great deal of time was spent pondering how to begin this essay. Given the scope of the concepts at hand, there did not seem to be any way to properly introduce my ideas to the reader. So I decided to begin with the hackneyed postmodern device known as self-reference, thus absolving myself of the burdensome duty of being creative [end humor sequence]. Since most of the readership, which undoubtedly consists entirely of people I coaxed through facebook to follow a link here, is probably uninitiated in one or more of these concepts, it is necessary to explain each of them on the course presenting my own ideas.

(Continued)

The Kwan-li-so Archipelago: N. C. Heikin’s “Kimjongilia” Reviewed

A shiny coat AND access to food - this goat must have powerful friends.

Goats don't usually get this much to eat, but this one is high up in the Party.

The hermetically sealed theocracy-meets-Stalinist dictatorship of North Korea does not allow foreign reporters or filmmakers onto their territory. The state’s quasi-racist ideology shuns them – they might taint Korean purity. So, aside from the Chinese and Russian workers who necessarily do cross-border business, or the odd tourist from harmless countries like Switzerland, there are not many people who can talk about North Korea with the kind of first-hand experience that makes a documentary especially compelling. N. C. Heikin’s Kimjongilia skirts around those foreign middlemen and goes directly to the source: North Korean refugees who have successfully made it to South Korea. Their stories, told through filmed interviews, are harrowing, horrifying, and rarely have a happy ending.

(Continued)

Confessions of a ‘Nado Chaser

Looks like there might be a tornado in Athens County today. Brings back some ugly memories for me. Just when I thought I was out of the ‘nado chasin’ game, they pull me back in. And by “they,” I mean powerful ‘nado winds. Matter of fact, I used to be a ‘nado chaser. Before catching ‘nadoes, I caught dogs, but where’s the rush? A dog can’t hurl a stop sign through your abdomen.

(Continued)

Transformers 2 Made Me a Nihilist (REPOST)

By popular demand I am reposting my original review/rant on Transformers 2, one of the worst movies I have ever seen.  This piece was originally published on my other blog, which is dead now, so technically it sort of qualifies as new material.  Right?  Sure, anyway, this was originally written July 2, 2009 immediately after seeing Revenge of the Fallen in the theater.
Where do I begin in my attempt to review this… errr… cinematic experience?  First off let me state that I did not see the first Transformers film so I was a little disoriented in the beginning when the film picked up from where the first presumably left off.  Not that it mattered much anyway as I will soon explain.  Secondly, I went into the film having read several reviews characterizing it as one of the worst movies of all time.  So basically I decided to go for the lolz, bad movies can be fun right?
OK so we start of in prehistoric times if I remember correctly (my memory of the actual sequence of events in the film is suitably fuzzy).  Apparently the transformers were on Earth during the time of the first humans and they were building some towering machine thing that serves a purpose later in the film.  Then we jump to present day China where the US military and the Autobots are working together to hunt down secluded Decepticons as part of their international secret war on Decepticons (note the not-so-subtle parallel to the war on terror).  The Autobots and Decepticons duke it out and cause massive collateral damage in the process while the military just kind of tags along, fruitlessly expending ammunition on the Decepticons.  There is this bizarre military motif throughout the film where the soldiers are deified through mise en scene and epic underscoring, with lots of commands being shouted and poses being struck giving the impression of some elite and organized fighting force a la Black Hawk Down.  However in this movie it just seems contrived and the amount of screen time given to military operations and procedures in this movie is truly baffling considering their total ineffectiveness against the Decepticons.  I was left with this impression that the military was trying to take credit for everything the Autobots did.
Anyway, after Shanghai gets all blowed up we are transported to Sam’s (Shia LeBeouf) house where he is getting ready to leave for college.  In the process of packing boxes and shrugging off his overly-emotional, mother a splinter of rock falls out of his jacket hood.  The shard burns a hole in the floor of his second-story bedroom and lands in the kitchen and then proceeds to turn all the kitchen appliances into hostile transformers.  Why didn’t the shard burn through his jacket when it was hanging in the closet?  Who knows.  Probably for the same reason I didn’t specify that the jacket was in the closet until just now: no foresight on the part of the writers.  The reason the shard does this is because it is the last piece of the Allspark, something that was apparently explained in the previous film.  Fair enough.  So these evil appliances instantly go into Sam’s room and attack him.  Sam then jumps out the window and commands Bumblebee, his car which is actually an Autobot, to destroy them.  In the process Bumblebee takes out about half the house and Sam gets pissed at him for it.  Well what the fuck did you think would happen when you ordered a robot taller than the house to destroy something inside the house?  Anyway, Sam’s girlfriend Mikela (Megan Fox) comes over and they have a really long goodbye almost-kiss where the camera makes at least five complete revolutions around them while cheesy music plays.  Yeah his house gets halfway demolished and of course the next logical course of action is to leave for college, your parents can pay for both right?  No need to let hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs stand in the way of your plans.  Also we see dogs humping not once, but twice.  At this point I began thinking to myself “What the fuck does this shit have to do with Transformers??  Can we get back to the main premise please?  The transformers?”  And my query was met with a giant middle finger.
Now we go to Sam’s college where his parents are walking him to his dorm to get settled in.  Sam meets his roommate, a stereotypical skeptic portrayed as a conspiracy nut who actually believes that aliens are among us!  Can you believe that?  While I didn’t see the first movie, I’m pretty sure there were some battles right in the middle of a big city.  Does nobody in the world remember that or are we expected to disregard certain aspects of the first film?  Or are we supposed to believe that the government did one hell of a cover-up job?  Was the entire population implanted with false recollections a la Men In Black?  But I digress.  For no reason Sam’s mom eats a pot brownie that she bought from a bake sale in the hall (I want to go to this school!).  Sam and his father try to tell her that it has “reefer” in it, pointing to the auspicious cannabis leaf on the wrapper but she eats it anyway, resentful of being told what to do.  Sam’s mother is this kind of hyperactive, emotionally unstable floozy whose wild and irrational antics seem out of place next to the stale and uninspired delivery of her screenmates.  As if anything is “in place” in this movie.  To her credit, they really didn’t try that hard to stop her from eating it and didn’t seem to care that much when she did.  Oh well.  She then proceeds to run around the campus telling embarrassing stories about her son to all of the girls.  At one point she tackles some guy who is playing Frisbee.  Because of course that’s what pot does, makes you attack people with no provocation.  We all saw Reefer Madness!  Moving on, we go to a frat party/rave where Sam and his socially awkward roommate are trying to pick up women.  Well his roommate is anyway, Sam is staying faithful to Megan Fox, which is unfortunate because some hot girl basically attacks him while he gets a drink and literally almost rapes him in a chair.  Luckily for Sam, who is scared out of his young male wits, some frat dudes start bitching about a yellow Camaro parked in the bushes.  So Sam runs out and drives Bumblebee, who was supposed to be home, off into the night but not before aforementioned sex-crazed girl gets in the passenger seat with him.  Many more sexual innuendos and awkward moments ensue before Bumblebee sprays some yellow goo into her face and she runs out of the car.  I’m deeply and sincerely ashamed of having written this.  Believe me, watching it was not fun either.  Even Isabel Lucas’ (the nympho) hotness couldn’t stop me from saying, “What the fuck does this have to do with Transformers?”
The next morning, Sam meets Optimus Prime in a cemetery (of course nobody notices the huge fucking robot there) and Optimus tells him that the US government has the last splinter of the Allspark and the Decepticons are trying or already did steal it.  I can’t remember which, but at some point there were some Decepticons on a Navy vessel and I think there was a firefight, but I can’t seem to place this scene into the chronology off the top of my head.  I would have to see the movie again, and lord knows I ain’t gonna do that anytime soon.  What about Sam’s shard is that the second to last piece?  Oh yeah, and Obama sent some bureaucratic ninny to the military peeps telling them to stop working with the Autobots or something because they were causing too much destruction.  It was probably a waste of money too, seeing as how the military’s weapons were little more than gestures but the film doesn’t say this.  This probably took place much earlier but who cares.  Optimus also explains that the Decepticons, led by an ancient Autobot traitor called The Fallen, are trying to reactivate some ancient device (it turns out to be the thing from the beginning of the movie) that will blow up the sun so they can collect the energon from it that they need for fuel.  Won’t that cause a supernova that will completely incinerate the Earth and the Decepticons with it you might ask?  *Shrug* At this point I just really want to see the Autobots and Decepticons blow each other to bits.  You see, while I’m not normally a fan of mindless action, the transformer battles in this movie were very well done ($250 million buys some high-quality CGI) and satisfying to my male libido.  Or would be if they would show some already!  Well at least they can’t possibly do any more of the college drama bullshit with the generic alternative rock underscoring now.
You fucking bastards!  Well here we have Sam sitting in a lecture while Dwight Schrute the professor talks about astrophysics and gives a half-eaten apple to some malnourished chick in the front row who will presumably repay him with sexual favors.  Because Sam touched the Allspark splinter he now sees Autobot symbols in his head (of course) and he starts wigging out in class and runs up to the front and starts jabbering manically while writing cryptic symbols on the chalkboard.  The professor is of course offended by this display of mental illness and gives Sam the boot.  So it turns out the nympho chick is a Decepticon trying to seduce Sam because… well when she sees the crazy symbols he’s drawn all over his dorm room she tries to rape him basically right then and there so that she can…  Ummm I guess she wants the Allspark shard from him but I have no idea why she is trying to seduce him since she can just kill him and take it, well except that his girlfriend has it but I guess she didn’t get the memo.  Why it became so imperative when she saw the symbols I haven’t the foggiest.  Here’s my theory: she really had no idea that Sam had the Allspark at first.  She just wanted a good shag like all female-type Decepticons with no reproductive organs do.  But then when she saw the symbols she figured “Hey I’ll shag him and then kill him and take the Allspark shard!  Mix business and pleasure!”  Really, who the fuck knows?  And nobody ever seems to care that there was a Decepticon that could disguise itself as a human.  Nobody is the least bit alarmed by that.  Okay, so Sam is about to get raped by a stunningly attractive woman (poor guy) and who walks in?  Mikela of course!  She gets pissed and walks out and when Sam tries to go after her, nympho bot tries to kill him with her tongue tentacle thing.  Not sure why she was trying to seduce him before but there is no likelihood of that happening now.  Now Sam, Mikela, and dumbass roommate are running away.  For some reason when they get to the library just down the hall, Sam and Mikela decide to have a spat.  Why not?  I mean it’s not like they’re being chased or anything.  Oh wait, gotta keep running!  They drive Bumblebee and end up in some warehouse where Megatron tries to get the symbols out of Sam’s head presumably so he can find the sun-blowing-up ray.  As far as I can remember, nobody really gave two shits about the Allspark shard at this point.  Neither Sam’s shard, nor the one the Decepticons stole from the government.  It just completely disappeared from the plot.  Just as Sam is about to have his brain sliced open (because that is the most effective way of obtaining information) Optimus Prime shows up and starts kicking ass.  He and a few Decepticons romp through what is suddenly a forest for a bit while Sam tries not to get squished and Mikela and dumbass roommate disappear from the scene.  Optimus Prime, who is completely outnumbered, gets gutted and killed while dramatic music plays and Shia Lebeouf feigns sorrow to the extent that anyone can actually emotionally relate to a green screen.  It was about this time that something incredible happened.  As I sat there in my seat I became completely detached from the meaning of the events on screen.  Anyone who has ever taken psychedelic mushrooms or LSD might be familiar with the “introspective trip” where you ponder the course of your life, your routine, and your character as if you were a naïve observer watching yourself from the outside.  Likewise, I began to watch me watching the movie thinking, “What does the fact that I am watching this mean?  What does it mean that other people are watching this and enjoying it?  And mostly, what the fuck am I even watching?”  While the audience was obviously expected to be sympathetic to the dead Prime I couldn’t help but ask myself how anyone was supposed to develop an emotional attachment to a character that had almost no screen time up until now.  What kind of creature could make a movie like this?  Where the characters are all completely unsympathetic and lack any characteristic even evidencing humanity?  Who could make a movie with people and semi-people all doing stuff that was supposed to be important and yet render me unable to care whether any of them lived or died?  Clearly, the man (Michael Bay) responsible either had no soul or really didn’t give a shit about the movie at all beyond the opportunity to burn $250 million on CGI and military porn and the complete absence of a coherent plot or character development were manifestations of this.
Now Sam and his companions decide to pay John Turturro’s character—former paranormal investigator Agent Simmons—a visit so that he can decipher Sam’s schizophrenic Autobot symbols and lead them to the sun-exploding device.  Of course he can’t decipher them, but then Mikela remembers she had a tiny Italian sterotype bot with her the whole time.  Duh!  So Joe Pesci bot tells them that the symbols are Autobot symbols!  Yeah, like we hadn’t guessed that.  Agent Simmons suddenly remembers that he’s seen the symbols on a photograph of an old airplane that’s at the Smithsonian.  So then of course they break into the minimum-security Smithsonian and meet an old man bot that walks with a cane and farts out a parachute and has wrecking balls for… balls.  You don’t believe me?  I barely believe it myself and I fucking saw it!  They are inexplicably teleported to Egypt (because Transformers can teleport now, why the fuck not?) and old man bot tells them that they have to find a thing called the Matrix of Leadership which will activate the sun exploding ray which is actually inside of a pyramid and nobody noticed it before.  Why would they want the Matrix of Leadership if they were trying to destroy the sun blowing up machine (I think that’s what they were doing)?  Frankly I have no idea but it give them something to do.  Oh, and just before all this, some Decepticons from Decepticonland came to Earth and started blowing stuff up and Sam and his roommate were labeled as terrorists thus giving us an excuse to keep the otherwise useless roommate in the film.  Anyway, Sam, Mikela, roommate, Agent Simmons, Bumblebee and the two ghetto stereotype robots plunder some ruins and find the Leadership thingy which crumbles to dust when Sam touches it but it’s okay because Sam just puts all the dust in a sock.  Oh I forgot to mention the ghetto bots.  There are these two robots that form an ice cream truck that are obvious urban black stereotypes.  One of them even has a gold tooth!  I shit you not!  Why does an Autobot need a gold tooth or any tooth for that matter?  Hell if I know, they seem to exist as abysmally lowbrow comic relief much like the two dogs humping (twice!) and the pot brownies.  They are actually in the film quite a bit which is a shame because they are horrifically annoying and not funny at all.  It makes you wonder, did anyone even read the script before filming?  Did anyone realize that these characters might have been in poor taste or just plain stupid?  It’s very likely that they did but just like everything else they really didn’t give a shit.
So they get the matrix dust and a military cargo plane carrying Optimus Prime’s corpse crashes conveniently close to them.  Then the Decepticons ambush them and there is some fighting and false military bravado and then The Fallen comes and Sam dies and goes to robot heaven for a bit and the matrix dust heals his wounds and resurrects him and then Optimus Prime is inexplicably resurrected and steals old man bot’s body parts.  Wait, back up.  Did you just say Sam went to robot heaven?  Yes, he dies and goes to robot heaven and meets the old Primes from the prehistoric first part of the movie.  You’re bullshitting me!  Not at all, the Primes are just chilling out there in the clouds and they say some phenomenally unimportant stuff to Sam before he comes back to life.  I don’t mean to drive this into the ground, but it still blows me away just thinking about it.  I actually saw Shia LeBeouf die and go to robot fucking heaven.  It’s so surreal that you can’t help but laugh.  So Optimus Prime comes back and kicks the shit out of The Fallen who was trying to active the sun thingy even though he didn’t have the Leadership thingy (I don’t know) and then they blow up the device and everyone lives happily ever after.  Oh and Sam’s parents are there too because the Decepticons kidnapped them for no tactical reason whatsoever.  And the Matrix of Leadership goes the way of the Allspark, just vanishing from the storyline.
That pretty much sums up one of the most bizarre film-going experiences of my life.  Was it a good movie?  A bad movie?  Honestly, I have no idea.  It doesn’t even matter really, because 2.5 hours of my life are gone now and whether I spent those hours watching a good or bad movie is of little consequence.  What this movie really represented to me was the culmination of the entire postmodern era on screen disintegrating due to its own insubstantiality.  Like all postmodern works, it was sprawling, incomprehensible, and paper thin.  A 2.5 hour movie that managed to do almost nothing except draw attention to its own budget.  The question that has haunted me ever since I left the theatre is, “Was this movie intentional?”  Did Michael Bay and the writers intentionally make a movie with a million subplots that go nowhere and are simply disregarded halfway through the film?  With characters and events that we can only connect with through cheesy underscoring and clichéd cinematography?  Sadly, I don’t think this was intentional at all.  Michael Bay and company really just didn’t give a shit about making a movie let alone one about Transformers; they simply wanted to show off their cool cars, military tech, and CGI.  What does it say that this movie has grossed $475 million in eight days in a down economy?  Who knows, but it does make for a surreal viewing experience that was worth nine bucks and whether intentionally or not it really made me rethink exactly what a movie is and is supposed to be.  My idea for the next Transformers: get rid of the humans, and especially the stupidass military and just do a CGI film of Autobots and Decepticons blowing eachother up on some planet.  And don’t even bother with a story; in fact don’t even have dialogue.  Fuck it.  I guarantee it will be a much more pleasing and enlightening experience than Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.  What was the Fallen trying to get revenge for anyway?  Again, no fucking clue.
There are lots of these guys in the movie, but they don't seem to do anything.

There are lots of these guys in the movie, but they don't seem to do anything.

By popular demand I am reposting my original review/rant on Transformers 2, one of the worst movies I have ever seen.  This piece was originally published on my other blog, which is dead now, so technically it sort of qualifies as new material.  Right?  Sure, anyway, this was originally written July 2, 2009 immediately after seeing Revenge of the Fallen in the theater.  Enjoy!

The Postmodern Inferno: Part 1 (Cantos I – VI)

Alright, guys, what's the plan?

This was actually my final project for my Literature class but it’s entertaining enough to warrant general readership.  It’s probably better if you’ve actually read The Inferno, though.  I’ll probably write the rest of the cantos sometime in the future.

(Continued)

Healthcare Reform Bill Passes, Earth’s Orbit Remains Intact

From ChartingTheEconomy.com

From ChartingTheEconomy.com

TODAY’S NEWS: Healthcare “reform” bill passes, Earth continues to orbit sun AND rotate on it’s axis.  Conservatives panic about “socialist” healthcare despite the government having been entrenched in the industry for centuries and despite a critical misunderstanding of what the word socialism actually means. (Continued)

The Ethics of SimCity and the Assumption of Central Planning: A Left-libertarian Perspective

Donuts, donuts, donuts

Since I was a wee tot with Jurassic Park velcro shoes and a bowl haircut I’ve played SimCity in one incarnation or another.  I don’t mean that I’ve played it consistently for that long, but the concept of SimCity is burned into my motor memory right between potty training and coloring inside the lines (which I later stopped doing because it is a form of programming: going “outside the lines” is considered wrong, you do the math.  I still do use the toilet though, quite routinely).  The first SimCity I played was, well the first SimCity game ever made on the Commodore 64, then I upgraded to the Super Nintendo version when it came out.  I remember very little about the Commodore version but the SNES version was one of my favorite games at the time.  For those unfamiliar with the SimCity series, the premise is pretty simple: you are the omnipotent, perpetually incumbent, de facto mayor of a city that does not yet exist.  You must then build a city starting with a power plant and then add “zones”, i.e. residential, commercial, and industrial zones.  There is a meter that informs you of the demand for each type of zone so you get a sense of what to build.  You can also build various civic and utilitarian structures like police and fire stations, airports, and of course roads and rails for transportation.  And on you go like this, expanding, bringing in more and more citizens while managing a budget, balancing spending and tax revenue.

(Continued)