Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Unicorn Farts

izzy o'rainey asks a very good question in response to my post about walkable cities:
What's your timetable for the Star Trek world where I don't have to work for money and can live in a dense-but-totally-biodegradable neighborhood with recycled-cardboard streetcars that run on rainbows and unicorn farts?

(keep in mind that part of my job is pulling your leg)
Well, it seems to me when I think about Star Trek that whatever else may be said about the lack of conflict in the storylines or the relative androgyny of their creepily-sterile world, my biggest complaint would be that their world seems to take a staggeringly vast amount of energy to run. Which is why the geeks who dream up the technology for the show had to invent a virtually bottomless type of fantasy energy called dilithium to run all the warp drives and "Shh" doors and tri-corders and such. That world isn't running on black gold, that's for sure. And soon enough, neither will ours.

As I look into my crystal ball, I see oil only getting more extravagantly expensive in the coming years. I don't just mean gasoline for our cars. Expensive, depleting oil will drive up the cost of everything since petroleum is used to make, process, transport, heat, cool and otherwise store pretty much everything we see, hear, taste, touch and smell throughout our days. Since so much of our national infrastructure is invested in an oil-based economy, from shopping malls to corner gas stations, our cities will shrink by necessity and what remains on the perimeter (the current-day suburbs) will remain a fairly rich source of partially processed materials to be scavenged for the retooling of the older center cities for decades into the next phase of human history - the post-petroleum future we once thought would look like 2001 (until we actually got there, when it started to look more like Road Warrior).

My guess, and this is only a guess, is that in ten years the scope of the catastrophe will be obvious to even the most obtuse, pro-Reagan, Limbaugh-loving nitwit - who will naturally blame it on Al Gore and the dirty fucking hippies anyway and who will also naturally deny ever having thought Global Warming and Peak Oil were hoaxes - but none of that will change the fact that only the wealthy will continue to own and operate motor vehicles and the very wealthy will actually be able to fly anywhere.

The very wealthy, that is, and the United States military - who will likely use up the very last drops of oil on earth to drive a tank into a ramshackle village somewhere in Iowa to put down a rebellion on behalf of the wealthy overlords who will be nervous about the threat of food riots by the serfs on their land. Although I think that scenario is several decades away, we are nevetheless in Iraq to secure an oil supply for the Pentagon, not for the average American car owner. Fighter jets gotta fly and tanks gotta make tracks and neither can run on re-used french fry grease or unicorn farts.

So, what I was saying in my earlier post was, more or less, that we will have these changes forced upon us. Some places are better positioned to weather the changes than others. If a place was fairly prosperous in the pre-car era, chances are that it may have enough legacy architecture and infrastructure to re-tool and adapt. 19th-Century cities have "good bones" upon which oil-free prosperity can be built. If not, then not. Phoenix, for example, will be unlivable in the post-petroleum future because they can't grow enough food locally to feed themselves, nor have enough electricity without oil to run the air-conditioners and water-pumps needed to keep the place habitable.

In other words, I don't think we're going to find a better, more eco-friendly way to run the world we live in now. Why would we want to? This world needs to change and we had a chance to get ahead of the curve three decades ago, but it was more profitable for the plutocratic class to double-down and stick future generations with the bill and it was more fun for the trogs to make fun of Jimmy Carter to the sound of a revving big-bore engine than to, you know, pitch-in and make a better future by conserving. Conserving is for suckers, nerds and wimps and who wants to be one of those?

Maybe if we'd invested in research when we had a chance, by now we'd have those recycled-cardboard streetcars that run on rainbows and unicorn farts.

Or maybe dilithium.

Monday, July 21, 2008

OK, I'm a nerd

Holy shit.

So, I just saw "The Dark Knight" and I must pronounce it a few brushstrokes short of the masterpiece widely proclaimed in the media, but only because of minor things that I as a viewer brought to my viewing of it and not for any particular failing on the part of the film itself.

One, I did not like the handling of the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent. Bruce and Harvey are lifelong friends, which is why Batman is never able to finish off Two-Face. He is what Bruce would have become if life had been just a little bit different. It was one of my countless quibbles with that piece of shit Batman Forever movie where Tommy Lee Jones chewed all the scenery as an aged, cackling Two-Face - hell that guy's face is so wrinkled and craggy who could tell one side from another, if not for the purple face paint? Jones' Two-Face was too old to have been a contemporary of Bruce Wayne as played by Val Kilmer and otherwise, thusly, his criminal operation in that movie seemed to consist of the same porkpie-hat-and-fingerless-glove wearing goons the Joker used in the earlier (and better) movie. I guess they needed the work but couldn't afford a change in wardrobe.

I thought Aaron Eckhart was very good in this movie, all serious and devoted to the cause but always just a little inscrutable, but his blonde hair and midwestern aura rather openly violate the fact that Harvey Dent has traditionally been portrayed as black. Not enough young, dashing, enigmatic black actors out there in Hollywood? And finally (spoiler alert), I sure hope they didn't actually kill him at the end of the movie, but that it was instead one of those "he-was-badly-injured-but-recovered-miraculously-between-the-two-movies" sorts of things. If he's actually dead, and we don't have Two-Face as a villain sometime in the next few movies, then this series is burning through major characters WAY too fast.

Second quibble - I only sort of love that they filmed it in Chicago and made Gotham City into a more real place and not the cartoonish fantasy movie-set of previous pictures because that tracks with the other real-world style elements of their overall production design, except that I've only been to Chicago a couple of times and yet even I recognized some of the locations filmed. I've always felt that Gotham was another major character in the Batman mythos, a decayed and brooding place of faded Art Deco facades and crumbling Victorian mansions, echos of a lost glory and a threadbare glamour. New York City in the 1970's, perhaps, or current-day Detroit only still bustling and populated and not so-much gone to seed. I feel like shooting so blatantly and recognizably in Chicago has higher costs than benefits, because part of the fun of visiting Gotham was in seeing our familiar selves through a looking glass, the cities we love reimagined and reinvented and somehow familiar and still strange. Sort of like Liberty City of the most recent Grand Theft Auto game - New York City, but... not. Somehow. Gotham has always been an amalgamation of all the abstract ideas of the "failed American city" and Chicago is just so darn clean, and modern and functioning that I think the images of clean streets and unbroken windows in shiny, modern skyscrapers leeches some of the operatic quality from the mythology to then plunk the Batman story down there. Chicago is not Gotham. New York is not Gotham. Nor Detroit, nor Baltimore, nor Cleveland nor Philadelphia. They are all Gotham.

Final quibble - I don't like that he goes to Hong Kong in one scene, even if it is to retrieve a stooge/plot device because Batman doesn't exist outside Gotham City. Sure, OK, Justice League and all that, but Batman is not Superman and that is one sources of the ongoing difficulty between them. Bruce Wayne isn't trying to save the world. He's trying to avenge his parents by saving Gotham City. The Man of Steel may sleep in Metropolis, but he can go anywhere on the planet he is needed because he is a citizen of the world. Batman is a citizen of Gotham City.

But those are minor complaints. The answer to the major question at hand is "is the movie any good?"

Yes. Oh, my yes.

It is transportive. It is operatic. It is loud and violent and not for kids and vicious and mean and it is the Batman movie Tim Burton could never have made much less any of his successors and it is the only one I think actually does justice to the dark, complex metaphor

And that is due in no small part to the late, great Heath Ledger. Decades from now, our children will look at us and ask who this Heath Ledger guy was, in much the same reverential tones we asked our parents about James Dean. We will point to "Brokeback Mountain" and his Joker in "Dark Knight" to explain what a hole in the world was created by his death. Part of me is sad because he is so perfect in this role that The Joker will either be played by someone less perfect in the role in future films, or we simply won't see The Joker again until Batman is reinvented by some other director in about ten to fifteen years. The Joker of the comic books (particularly Frank Miller's) is, quite simply, the greatest villain of all time. Grendle, Darth Vader, Moriarty, the boogeyman... none of them compare to the cackling psychopath with the clown makeup in the green and purple suit. And the way they have him done up - with greasy, stringy, greenish hair and smeared, garish makeup - and the way Ledger plays him - with dead shark eyes and a shuffling, broken gait - he is a world-hating, violent, shambling nightmare vision. A grinning, blood-soaked, unhinged agent of chaos made flesh.

He will win the Oscar.

Go see this movie.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Not Just For Political Blogging and Porn! - Part 2

So, further clicking around the inter-webs, I found this cool website, walkscore.com, where you can see cool, interactive maps of major cities and their relative walkability.

This is important because as we run out of oil and the world we know right now grinds to a halt, we're going to need those darned cities to be as walkable as possible since it will no longer be economically feasible to drive to a 7-11 to get a quart of milk in Phoenix or Dallas or Jacksonville or any of the other sprawling sunbelt drive-o-topias where voluptuous golf courses and cookie-cutter suburbs chew up arable farmland and suck the water-table dry in the name of green, green lawns and beautifully sculpted 9th holes. Those days are fast running out.

New York City is #2 on the list and the only one with any neighborhood to score a perfect 100. New York had three such 'hoods: Chinatown, Little Italy and SoHo. San Francisco is #1, with a greater number of 90+ neighborhoods than NYC, but no perfect 100s - although I think this system of ranking walkability fails to take into account the fact that those damned hills do impede walkability noticeably. That's why they installed the famous street cars in the first place, not as a novelty but as an absolute necessity. On that score, NYC also out-strips San Fran in the public transportation category, though (in all fairness) this website is about walkability and not car-free mobility.

I do think the two notions are intertwined, however, and are inclusive of not just low-enviro impact transportation options like overlapping regional and city rail systems supplemented by bus routes and bike lanes, but of transforming the public understanding of land use and the arrangements by which we feed and provision ourselves and our cities and towns. Gone are the days of year-round produce - no more strawberries in winter or avocados in the autumn - because we can't truck the stuff cross-country anymore, no more than we can continue to burn petroleum to ship cheap plastic crap (also made with petroleum) half way around the world from China to stock the shelves of the local-economy destroying WalMart. We have to re-think our whole way of doing things.

Electric cars are not the answer. Ethanol cars are not the answer. Solar-wind-biofuel-hamster-powered cars are not the answer. Auto-mobility is going the way of the dodo because we can no longer afford to pollute the planet to keep people able to have their alone-time idling on the freeway, listening to Rush Limbaugh while toxins spew from the tailpipe and the radio, and slowly, inexorably use up all the fuel we have left in the cool, green hills of earth. Our living arrangements will change and the car will not be part of that.

Compact, walkable cities are the answer.


Friday, July 18, 2008

The Inter-Webs: Not Just For Political Blogging and Porn!

So, via a site that I don't visit nearly often enough (unspeak.net), I found a link to another website called wordle.net where I was able to generate this totally awesome thing called a "Wordle" from the text of my blog:

But you can do it with any text you like. For instance, here's the text of Obama's wonderful speech on race from a few months ago:

And this is from "Hamlet," 'O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!' (Act 2, scene 2, 555-612):

And this is Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:

And those are just the one's I made myself, here's a link to their gallery. I found these gems, like "Santeria" by Sublime:

And "Sweet Child O' Mine" by G-n-R:

And the entire text of "The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy"

And "The Raven":

And, in honor of Billy Joel's performance tonight at Shea (the final music performance ever at Shea - apart from the national anthem at Mets games), and to highlight my friend Broadway Carl having attended the second-to-last show night before last, I give you "We Didn't Start The Fire":

Seriously, go check it out. It's a lot of fun, actually.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Seeing Will Be Believing

So, I see that the cretinous bastards who run the Democratic Party in Washington have started to wake up to the fact that Joe LIE-berman is a Quisling P.O.S.. The best part is the word "may" : Democrats May Kick Out Joe Lieberman If He Addresses The Republican National Convention

Ahh, well, Mr. Reid - better late than never. If it happens at all. I will believe that you have a pair when you actually kick the SOB out of your caucaus and strip him of his committee assignments, which you should have done two years ago when the hard-working people on the ground for your Party in Connecticut did not see fit to return him to Washington. I guess they were just too stupid or naive or unsophisticated to understand that Joe-nertia deserved to be there, even if the mechanisms of democracy failed to do so in a real-world exercise. I guess we should have been more grateful to our ruling class for protecting the natural order of things.

Which brings us to the heart of the mattter when it comes to right-wing versus left-wing politics. Left-wing politics is always difficult and an awkward fit with the trappings of power precisely because The Left - what makes it "Left-wing" and not "Right-wing" or anything else - is the opposition to entrenched power. When left-wingers lose their way, they become "Limousine Liberals" or corrupt union bosses or, in our current political climate, the bloated, Renfield-esque capitulators of the current Democratic establishment in Washington.

Because right-wing politics is a natural fit with the trappings of power precisely because what makes right-wing "Right-Wing" is the impulse to protect and extend privilege and power. In a democracy, by itself a radical notion (the horror! the riff-raff having a say in how I spend my money? Never!), such a point of view is hard to market beyond its natural adherents, so they have to gussy it up in guns, flags, country music and - when necessary - racial politics in order to build large enough coalitions to win elections. Although, in all fairness, once they win (or act like they won) a sufficient number of elections, they can simply obliterate the legal mechanisms that impede their urge to gut that pesky democratic process and finally stop acting like the opinions of the masses actually matter.

This is the late-stage republic we find ourselves in now. When Rome was in a similar spot a few years back, some cat named Julius something-or-other rolled into town and clarified that whole "will-of-the-people" thing. Get ready for a similar naked power-grab in the wake of some as-of-yet unseen crisis. They used the last one (tall buildings + airplanes) to maneuver into place all the legal materiel needed to obliterate all those annoying limitations on power so that next time they will be able to completely sweep away this creaky, rotted ediface we like to call "American democracy."

And if you ever had any doubt about where the Democratic Party, the supposed "Party of the People," stands on this whole thing, that should have been clear in the wake of the 2006 realignment election. The Connecticut Democratic Party said to the national party in Washington "We don't really care anymore for the fellow who has represented us up to now, so we're going to try to send someone new" to which the national party said "OK, but we really like the guy you've been sending us up to now" and we saw a really clear break within the party over the status of Joe LIE-berman. Some senators came out publicly in support of the state party's choice to submit a different name for consideration, but most others came out in defense of Holy Joe's claim to the seat and, in the ensuing confusion with a lot of help from Rethuglican friends, he was able to rally and return to Washington - this time with a chip on his shoulder and not only with an axe to grind, but the will and unique position (in an evenly divided senate) to do it. And to do it good and hard.

Of course, Harry Reid cried poverty over and over again when the left-wing of his party - the base of power in his party BTW - cried foul. "We need the votes" he'd say, or "He votes with us 99% of the time." How's that workin' out, Harry? It seems to me that the passing of the new FISA legislation should put to rest any notion that the Democrats in Washington learned anything from the 2006 election. They are so locked into the Bi-Party mentality that they think a rejection of the opposing party is automatically a victory for their Party qua Party, and not for what their party represents as an opposition party - in this case the rule of law, free and fair elections, freedom from the burgeoning police state and rampant militarism - in other words, anti-fascism. Instead, the bloated capitulators in Washington took the 2006 landslide election as a validation of their claim to the reigns of power, this time helpfully enhanced and value-added by a power-mad GOP, with a special mention for the corpulent visage of a leering Darth Cheney. I'm pessimistic about the lessons they'll learn should Obama survive the march to the White House.

Because what I find most irksome about this news about the idea that some Democrats are upset about Pal Joey perhaps speaking at the GOP convention is that - once again - we who were right all along and were continually dismissed with any number of smirking tsk-tsk condescending pats on the head don't get credit for being right. We are instead hated for it. Surely, we should get some props for being right about George W. Bush way back in 1999 or the Iraq War in 2002 and 2003. Every bad thing we said was going to happen did happen and yet, and yet...

So, here we sit, watching the Dems yet again tying themselves in knots over whether or not "Rape Gurney" Joe should be kicked to the curb when the GOP has never had to worry about such things because their internal party discipline precludes ever having to ask the question. He should have been kicked out long, long ago. Maybe this time, they actually do something.

Or maybe they'll just issue another even more sternly worded letter.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Putrification of the American Spirit

Jimmy Carter called is a national "malaise" in the 1970's and has been ridiculed about it ever since, but I think we are again in such a rut at the dawn of the new century. I think any number of factors have contributed to this paucity of spirit - including but not limited to a three decade long assault by the joint Reich-wing and Rethugli-goon forces of bigotry, hatred of diversity and a proud and willful anti-intellectualism on anything soft, pretty or vaguely feminine, which has in turn reinforced a steeply pro-corporate (read "private") so-called public policy that has demanded an ever-expanding private realm at the expense of the public which invariably leaves many if not most people behind and those who aren't nevertheless distrustful, jealous and viciously protective of their ever-jeopardized status which in turn erodes the spirit of community and civic commitment that once bound people together, a crack into which corporate America can in turn pour it's cheap electronics, junk-food, crappy TV and environmentally corrosive products as a substitute for real connection, which weakens the mind and turns people into Rethugli-bots which renews and reinforces the downward spiral and so on. It's the end of America, really. And my Bill of Indictment on this putrification of the American Spirit has included:

  1. The gaping hole at the south end of Manhattan Island which still has not been filled. The Empire State Building was erected in less time.
  2. The always troubled but still vital American city that was washed away and is now being replaced by a Disney-esque - and very white - amusement park version of the dark and funky original.
  3. The eroding national infrastructure that has already begun outstrip our ability to replace and repair it's deteriorating components - as symbolized by a collapsed bridge in the same town the Rethugligoons will hold their Nuremberg Rally. And all without a hint of irony.
  4. The downward spiral of personal health of the average citizen, without hope of aid from a bloated, inefficient and imploding national health "care" system.
  5. The collapsing dollar.
I can add the following item. The CDC doesn't have enough money to properly build containment doors for the horrifying diseases it is supposed to contain and control. They have to use duct tape. And it leaks.

As hilzoy sez about this issue: This is no way to run a country.


Saturday, July 5, 2008


Two things bring me joy today.

One - the GOP is so embarrassed by W that they want him to stay away from the convention. I hope this trend continues into his post-presidency across all his social arrangements. Perhaps universal shunning will have to replace the orange jumpsuit and shackles I normally wish to see set upon Fibby McLiesAlot and his entire putrid administration in their post-White House years. For a man who thinks history will vindicate him after he has met his maker in some kind of Harry Truman-esque rehabilitation of his legacy and reputation - and until his dying day protected from any sort of punishment by a power-worshipping political culture long since curdled by fallout from the Nixon years coupled to the insidious power of the Bush Crime Family - unreturned phonecalls and an empty datebook will have to suffice as punishment for the aging, dull-witted, frat-rat man-child who will soon shuffle off the stage of history. I rather like the idea of him white-haired and doddering around his Texas ranch, hollering at Laura, muttering to himself about how he beat his daddy by not only getting elected twice but by taking down Saddam Hussein to boot and wondering - sometimes aloud to Laura or to whichever sycophant Rethugli-doofus came by to lick his boots that day and sometimes to no one in particular as he clears brush in the blazing Texas sun - why no one comes calling to get his perspective on things.

Two - Johm McSame hates me.

As Oscar Wilde once wrote - the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. And, as an ex-girlfriend once said to me - the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.


I can't figure out which thing makes me happier.

Double h/t to C&L

Friday, July 4, 2008

Another Dixiecrat Departs

Does the sky seem a little brighter today? The air just a little bit cleaner? The birds singing a little more beautifully?

Jesse Helms has finally died, thereby doing the one thing a man as stupid as he was mean could never seem to manage doing in life: make the world just that much a better place to live.

Farewell, Jesse, you ignorant fuck. I would say we'll miss you, but frankly the world is a better place with you no longer in it.

Patriotic Stuff

Our Declaration of Independence:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing
the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
The Preamble to Our Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Or, if you like, let the Muppets keep you patriotic:

All of which, to me, adds up to "Fuck You, Dick Cheney, Dubya and Johm McSame - this is my country and you can't have it, anymore."

At any rate, Happy 4th. Safe travels, all of you, and if you're reading this blog - go away and enjoy the holiday!

Now bugger off!

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Infrequent blogging recently (very busy now with more to come) but this tidbit from driftglass analyzing the collective Village freak-out over Wes Clarke's perfectly reasonable comment on Johm McSame's willingness to use his ex-POW-status as mighty shield against any manner of questioning of any kind ever for all time until the end of history (authoritarianism is just such a knee-jerk impulse for all those droves of Rethugli-bot sheep that McBush is a natural - why do they hate him so?) was too intergalacticly awesome to go un-noted:
For seven years, the cowards, crazies and chickenhawks of the GOP have carried out their crimes and betrayals by scampering behind a series of blinds. Like insurgents caching weapons in a mosque and then crying “Infidel!” at anyone who tries to drive them out, the Republican Party set up their filthy, fascist sniper’s nest inside the death and terror of 9/11 and used the shadow of that tragedy to shield their treason from public view.


...at long last, they are starting to find Senator McSame attractive: the thrilling prospect that his years as a POW will offer the GOP one, last safe-house into which they can crawl and from which they can operate their despicable enterprises in relative safety for a just little bit longer.
Writing that sharp and darkly poetic makes me wonder why I even bother blogging when just reading driftglass first will save a click or two. Please, just go read the whole thing.

Let this picture inspire you: