Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy Juneteenth!

Read more about it here. A couple years ago, my friend over at ¡Para Justicia y Libertad! had a very good post on Juneteenth. Still worth a read. Juneteenth is a reminder of many things, including how slowly news used to travel.

Now, here's a few events that caught my attention courtesy of Wikipedia:

As the above list shows, certainly the Nazis did not invent the perverted concept of forcing individuals who were considered "undersirables" to wear badges to identify themselves. This sorry practice goes back many centuries at least, and sadly continues to be advocated by right-wing hate groups in the US. Being a long-time baseball fan, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the first game played under relatively modern rules. The 8-hour work day was a welcome development, and one that should be viewed as vulnerable - increasingly so as organized labor continues its decline. The Tasmanian Devil is arguably my favorite Loony Tunes character - I honestly did not know until a few years ago that this was the anniversary of his debut. And I used to love the Garfield comic strip when I was much younger. I wouldn't first see it until it was picked up by my local paper around 1981.

The end draws e'er nigh?

You might have noticed that the film, The Book of Eli, made its way to DVD earlier this week. The Atlantic's Benjamin Mercer offers a review of the film (h/t The Oil Drum) that provides a semi-decent synopsis. He includes a review of the documentary, Collapse, in the process. The latter film focuses on someone who strikes me to be a bit of a crackpot, and more of an alarmist for my personal tastes, but that's just me.

I've been a fan of the post-apocalyptic sub-genre of sci-fi films for almost three decades - probably from the moment I set eyes on the original Mad Max film on the television (probably around the time there was hype surrounding Mad Max 2, or what we in the US knew as The Road Warrior). Obviously I'm far from alone, given the popularity of these films in theaters and DVD sales and rentals. There is something in the Zeitgeist of the industrialized and post-industrialized nations that these films tap into: namely a fear of annihilation that has been ever-present since the explosion of the first nuclear bomb.

There are plenty of variations on the origins of civilization's collapse in each of this sub-genre's films or series of films. In the Mad Max series it seems to the result of peak oil followed by nuclear war. In others it's some sort of environmental catastrophe. In still others, the cause seems ambiguous at best, if not outright unknown. Regardless, there is a common thread running through them, which has to do with how we as a species deal with the aftermath of the collapse of civilization. Here one might witness a range of responses from humane to nihilistic. It is quite common to see individuals and communities struggle mightily hang on to remnants of the past or perhaps even attempt to rebuild the past (only this time hoping to get it right). Regardless, some reversion to a primitive existence ends up inevitable. Scavenging, famine, and hostile environmental elements become par for the course. And we see, depending on the film, the best and worst humanity has to offer in the process.

Many of these films draw upon Westerns both in story and style. Either the Mad Max series or The Book of Eli could be viewed as an update and refinement of the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns, with decaying cars, trucks, and motorcycles replacing horses, and perhaps a more impressive array of weaponry for the inevitable fight scenes). There is typically an archetypal hero or savior character, some archetypal villain, along with an array of archetypal mother, trickster, and child characters to round out a story that in many regards is as old as our species. Our hero is typically badly wounded (physically and psychologically) and an important part of the story may include the hero's fall from "grace" and his (or much more rarely her) redemption: again a theme as old as the oral tradition.

I won't spoil The Book of Eli for you, but I will say that in spite of its rather bleak scenario the filmmakers try to leave the audience with a message of hope. That said, it offers a stern warning in common with other post-apocalyptic films: all civilizations inevitably collapse, and typically for the same reasons. Ours too will collapse sooner or later. In our case, we can already see the stress on our society's institutions and infrastructure caused by a combination of increasingly scarce energy resources combined with climate change and population pressures. I seriously doubt I'll live to witness the end of our current civilization (and I'm assuming I still have at least two or three decades left in me), if only because total collapse is a lengthy process. I wouldn't be surprised to find many our institutions increasingly impotent and facets of our infrastructure in a state of permanent decline and disrepair. It's pretty safe to say that we're witnessing the beginnings of that process as of this writing.

What we inherit in the aftermath will depend a great deal on what our shared social values look like. I've been very concerned that the sort of hyperindividualism that characterizes American society is highly toxic and liable to make life after the oil peak considerably more unpleasant than need be. I've advocated for a while now that in order to be better poised for survival we need to embrace once more such concepts as collective action. Perhaps the post-apocalyptic genre can give us some hints as to how these dueling value systems play out. My "reading" of such films is that those characters who operate via a hyperindividualistic "me first" mentality tend to fare poorly whereas those who are capable and willing to band together and share some sacrifices fare relatively better within the bleak scenarios in which they are placed. Even the lone-wolf heroes in these narratives must from time to time look beyond their own immediate needs and wants in order to survive until the next battle.

Okay, those are just a few thoughts for now. This is a theme I want to revisit, as I am currently re-viewing such films as the Mad Max series through fresh eyes - I hadn't watched them in any format (television or VCR) since probably the late 1980s or early 1990s. As an aside, a fourth Mad Max film, tentatively titled Fury Road, is due for possible release sometime next year or 2012.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Still more evidence of a failing state

According to Gallup, the majority of the American public would like additional stimulus money from Congress for such purposes as job creation. That certainly flies in the face of what GOP and Blue Dog hacks and their media lackeys have been feeding us. And as of this writing, the increasingly dysfunctional US Senate (which is now almost completely incapable of passing any legislation with a simple majority) has failed yet again to pass a jobs bill.

America's Chernobyl?

That might be an apt description of the debacle in the Gulf Coast. And of course we know that every time we think that we've got a handle on the "worst case scenario" for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, someone suggests even worse scenarios. And as someone at TBogg notices, there are plenty of vultures hoping - it seems - for worst case scenarios for their own fantasized tribal/partisan gains. Never mind the tremendous human, wildlife, and plant life suffering occurring in the region. Prayers of disillusioned 20-somethings embracing the "Party of Tea" seem perfectly acceptable in some circles.

I'm not optimistic that our current dysfunctional system is up to the task of fashioning any reasonably viable long-term solution to our current dependency on petroleum products. I haven't said much about Obama's handling of the debacle in large part because I have nothing constructive to say, other than Obama's response is more symptom than cause. Politically and culturally we are so ossified that I suspect that the best we can hope for is a few more decades of talking and promising (as has been the case for the past four decades) of energy independence, even as the trappings of a civilization dependent on black gold show increasing signs of strain.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Apparently the day after BP denies blocking reporters from covering the clusterfuck in the gulf, some BP goons are caught harassing a news reporter. Usually, my first thought whenever I see any of BP's propaganda is something along the lines of "bollocks" or "fuck a doodle doo." These clowns are simply not to be believed.