Summary: Today we have another guest post by film critic Locke Peterseim, a review of Ender’s Game. He shows how it provides a mirror into which we can see ourselves, 21st C America in all its glory. In this case, we see a nation increasingly fascinated by war, especially our massacre of innocents. Ender’s Game gives a glossy and faux serious look at such issues. Post your comments about the film — and this review.
- The review
- About the author
- Background information about the book, film & author
- For More Information
- The Trailer
(1) The review
“Ender’s Game: Playing at Shock and Awe“
By Locke Peterseim
Reposted here with his generous permission
I was struggling a bit with my reactions to the new film adaptation of Ender’s Game. No, not because of the loud, kinda silly, kinda self-righteous, kinda deserved finger wagging and soap-boxing about novel author Orson Scott Card’s outspoken anti-gay brain vomitings. (To be clear, Card’s views on marriage equality deserve derision and mockery, but the “outrage” over them and calls for a boycott of the film feel a little too self-servingly easy and convenient, as do most “causes” centered on disposable pop culture.)
Instead, I was struggling with what I’m coming to see as the Gravity Effect. A few weeks ago, while still under the immediate spell of its stunning synthesis imagery and filmmaking dexterity ago, I declared Gravity a “near-masterpiece.” What I should have written was, “a near-masterpiece of visual and visceral thrills, not of ideas or themes.”
And that got me thinking about how easy it is, in these days of watching movies on our Dick Tracy wristwatches, to get overly seduced by simple big-screen awe. There’s certainly some of that at work in writer-director Gavin Hood’s very competent, watchable Ender’s Game.
The film, of course, adapts Card’s 1985 “shocking” and “disturbing” novel about pre-teen children in the future being recruited and trained to launch a preventive strike on the mysterious insectoid alien beings that unsuccessfully tried to invade Earth a few generations earlier. Young Andrew “Ender” Wiggins (Hugo’s Asa Butterfield) is singled out by head of the military program Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) to spend years training with other children on a space station, learning and being sometimes brutally tested on battle tactics and strategy.
Along the way, Ender (who is equal parts sensitive, competitive, and ruthless) is manipulated, isolated, and tormented by both the program directors and his peers — all of it supposedly grooming the young, nimble, innovative boy into the ultimate war leader in the effort to defeat the aliens and save the human race.
But then a few days ago another film brought my Ender’s Game discontent into sharper focus. I re-watched Star Trek Into Darkness, a film that had me so chasing my own Trekkie tail last spring that I wrote not one, but two long-winded pieces about it and still wasn’t sure if I really “liked” it or not. Watching it a second time was a surprisingly and sadly laborious endeavor.
Summary: Journalists have dissected the events in Ferguson, and now turn to the important question of police militarization during the past 20 years. We see the standard analysis: pictures of their equipment, pictures of SWAT in action, excessive focus on the details, and faux outrage over the story they ignored for so long. Here we ask the question they ignore: why? Why the militarization of police? Why brutal crushing of protests?
“When I was sixteen, I went to work for a newspaper in Hong Kong. It was a rag, but the editor taught me one important lesson. The key to a great story is not who, or what, or when, but why.”
— Elliot Carver, in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
- New police for a new America
- An alternative theory, if the police are not fools
- Deductions about activities of our new police
- For More Information
(1) New police for a New America
Now the next phase of the Ferguson drama begins: journalists explain what the police should have done.
- “After Ferguson, how should police respond to protests?“, Radley Balko, Washington Post, 14 August 2014
- “Policing Protests Like Soldiers Makes Everyone Less Safe. Even Police“, Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, 15 August 2014 — “Yet Americans perpetuate the military approach by recruiting for and celebrating it.”
Both conclude that militarization of police and their massive use of force to suppress protests are stupid mistakes. It’s over my pay grade to assess their conclusions as right or wrong, but it’s clear that both commit a serious analytical error by assuming that the police leaders — civilian and uniformed — share their goals and values.
What are the goals of those running our police forces? How can we infer the goal of an individual or group? First, see the effect produced. Assume that what they got is their intended result. Is that logical?
Second, as a check on this, consider the analysis of critics like Balko and Friedersdorf. They say the police committed obvious errors. They are journalists, and so easily assume that police leaders are mouth-breathing neanderthals. That’s a false assumption, and voids much of their analysis.
Summary: The Ferguson protests lacked leadership, and so quickly devolved into counter-productive riots. It’s a common problem. Will future protests nurture a new generation of leaders?
Peasants’ protests are a commonplace in history, such as The Great Rising of 1381. The lack of competent leadership distinguishes peasants’ protests from effective means of social change.
Some peasants’ protests are just mobs. Emergent leadership is a rare gift.
Some peasants’ protests have leaders, but not competent ones. Wat Tyler led The Great Rising, bringing his horde to London. King Richard met with Tyler, courteously listened to the peasants’ complaints, thanked him for coming, and killed him. Competent emergent leadership is an extraordinarily rare gift.
And some have great leaders. The Civil Rights movements accomplished great things, steered by its strong leaders (headed by Martin Luther King). The Tea Party was an effective tool for social changed, organized and wielded by a conservative faction of our ruling elites. Five years later it’s still going strong.
The 1992 LA Riots were peasants’ protests, violent but ineffectual. The Occupy Movement was a series of classic peasants’ protests — celebratory venting of social tension, ending with violent suppression, leaving little behind. The Fergruson protests (ending in a riot) were peasants’ protests.
Will the gross overreaction of the police to the Ferguson protests have political repercussions? Perhaps. I suspect the odds are low. The police created an opportunity which an organization (or coalition) could exploit, if one existed.
Summary: As the middle class slowly erodes away, we support our elites by becoming even weaker. Race riots help our rulers in so many ways. Stoking fears in the lower middle class (making them more loyal), exacerbating ancient hatreds (fragmented), and arousing dreams of the great day when they set the nation on fire — usually starting with their own neighborhoods (fantasy rather than organizing). What signal might mark the beginning of a serious threat to our elites’ power? Such as the use of 4th Generation Warfare?
As inequality grows and social mobility falls, the people on the lower rungs of the social ladder lose hope. Our elites have spend decades preparing for this, bulking up the police and reducing the legal shackles limiting their actions.
A powerful description of the result: “America Is Not For Black People“, Greg Howard, The Concourse, 13 August 2014 — Excerpt:
Michael Brown is not special. In all its specificity, the 18-year old’s death remains just the most recent example of police officers killing unarmed black men.
Part of the reason we’re seeing so many black men killed is that police officers are now best understood less as members of communities, dedicated to keeping peace within them, than as domestic soldiers. The drug war has long functioned as a full-employment act for arms dealers looking to sell every town and village in the country on the need for military-grade hardware, and 9/11 made things vastly worse, with local police departments throughout America grabbing for cash to better defend against any and all terrorist threats. War had reached our shores, we were told, and police officers needed weaponry to fight it.
Officers have tanks now. They have drones. They have automatic rifles, and planes, and helicopters, and they go through military-style boot camp training. It’s a constant complaint from what remains of this country’s civil liberties caucus. Just this last June, the ACLU issued a report on how police departments now possess arsenals in need of a use. Few paid attention, as usually happens.
The worst part of outfitting our police officers as soldiers has been psychological. Give a man access to drones, tanks, and body armor, and he’ll reasonably think that his job isn’t simply to maintain peace, but to eradicate danger. Instead of protecting and serving, police are searching and destroying.
If officers are soldiers, it follows that the neighborhoods they patrol are battlefields. And if they’re working battlefields, it follows that the population is the enemy. And because of correlations, rooted in historical injustice, between crime and income and income and race, the enemy population will consist largely of people of color, and especially of black men. Throughout the country, police officers are capturing, imprisoning, and killing black males at a ridiculous clip, waging a very literal war on people like Michael Brown.
Summary: Airliners are occasionally shot down (collateral damage) by modern air defense systems. Like children run over cross the street, it’s an ugly fact of modern life. These extreme (but fortunately rare) events reveal much about the behavior of governments — and about us. Governments lie; they do so because we believe them (no matter how much we pretend no to). We can learn from our past; we can do better.
“Never believe anything about the government until it has been officially denied.”
— Attributed to Bismarck.
“Since becoming a journalist I had often heard the advice to “believe nothing until it has been officially denied”.
— Claud Cockburn (Irish journalist), A Discord of Trumpets (1956)
The young men running modern air defense systems can shoot down an airliner with the push of a button. No matter how well trained, and they’re often not, under pressure the complex (often confusing) flood of information on their screens lead to bad decisions.
(1) Russia’s military shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 on 1 September 1983, followed by the usual false stories. Only in 1992 did they release vital information about the event. They never apologized.
(2) Ukraine’s military shot down Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 on 4 October 2001. For 9 days they denied responsibility.
The FM website is about America. We too have shot down a civilian airliner. The incident deserves attention because it can – and should — enlighten us about the nature of our government, and ourselves. It’s a standard drama of our time, repeated frequently, from which we seem unable to learn. But first let’s step back in history.
The Soviet Union shoots down a U-2
In 1960 the Soviet Union shot down Gary Powers’ U2 flight. The US denied that he was flying over their territory. They lied to fool us, since the Soviet Union’s officials knew the facts. The truth quickly emerged. US officials then made a discovery of the sort that changes the fate of nation: there were no consequences to lies, even when caught. No penalties. No laughter when they lie again; not even skepticism.
The shooting of Iran Air Flight 655
The USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988. The US initially denied it (see this AP story, and the transcript of the DoD Press Briefing. The next day we took responsibility, but made a wide range of claims in defense about the location of the ship and the behavior of the aircraft — all of which justified the shooting.
On 28 July DoD published its Formal Investigation, which won the Doublespeak award for 1988 for “omission, distortion, contradiction, and misdirection”, presented by the National Council of Teachers of English (“Doublespeak and Iran Air Flight 655″).
On 8 September 1988 DoD presented these lies to the House Armed Services Committee, as ritualistic a performance as Noh but without the art and music (see the transcript).
Summary: Yesterday’s post showed how little we know about MH17. It provoked many emails of outrage. That shows its importance, and futility. The world has always been, and remains, a dangerous place. Yet the existence of dangers provides fuel for our elites to exaggerate dangers in order to manipulate us. Our gullibility and fearfulness has become our greatest weaknesses. It’s the ultimate “enemy within”.
“Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.”
— George Orwell, “Looking Back on the Spanish War“, New Road, 1943 (exact issue unknown)
“… every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defence against a homicidal maniac … The essential job is to get people to recognise war propaganda when they see it …”
— George Orwell, book review in New Statesman and Nation, 28 August 1937
After 3 days, even the British Leftist press was certain what happened. The evidence they cite was slight.
- “MH17: the evidence against Russia“, The Guardian, 19 July 2014 — “In the hours after the Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine, evidence assembled from various sources appeared to point the blame at militants armed with Russian missiles”
- “MH17: missile launcher was in towns near crash site, videos suggest“, The Guardian, 20 July 2014 — “Videos and photographs appear to show a mobile anti-aircraft missile launcher in neighbouring towns of Torez and Snizhne”
They were understandably ready to convict Russia, since they knew this was coming: “United States Assessment of the Downing of Flight MH17 and its Aftermath“, 19 July 2014 — Opening line:
“We assess that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. We base this judgment on several factors.”
A powerful opening, followed by specific confident assertions. Accepted like gospel by most journalists, geopolitical experts, and Americans. Perhaps this case was correct. Or perhaps it contains lies like those the US government has given so often before, like those listed in yesterday’s post. Our own history should have taught us to beware of premature judgements; but as usual in our generation we don’t learn from our experiences.
Summary: Americans cheer as our leaders restart the cold war, for reasons known only to them (just like the Iraq War). They need a casus belli, and have the ability (abetted by our gullibility) to produce one. In our eagerness for conflict, a defining characteristic of us since 9-11), it’s easy to do. This post attempts to put the current crisis into a more useful context.
“Mysteries abound where most we seek for answers.”
— Ray Bradbury, “All flesh is one: what matter scores?” (1975)
Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery.
By having desire, you can only see what is visible.
Yet mystery and reality emerge from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness born from darkness.
The beginning of all understanding.
— Lao Tzu, the Tao Te Ching
- Another perspective
- Who are the sinners?
- Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
- What we know for certain
- For More Information
- Obama’s future entry in Guinness
(1) Another perspective
One cause of conflict, often leading to war, is people’s inability to see things from the other nation’s perspective — and so see things in terms of good guys and bad guys, with us of course as the angels.
Russia, during the last days of the USSR, left Eastern Europe with a tacit agreement that the West would not occupy it. Respecting Russia’s sphere of influence — its “near abroad“, their version of the Monroe Doctrine — might have led to a new era of global peace in the new millennium.
Instead we’ve aggressively moved into the geopolitical space left vacant by the collapse of the USSR. Russia let us run until we came up to their borders in Ukraine. Then came the 2014 Ukraine coup. We don’t know the degree of western involvement. We seldom do in such things, until years or decades later (only last year did the CIA admit its role in the 1953 Iran Coup). However, it fits the pattern of past coups run with assistance of the UK’s SIS and US CIA. Then the new friendly government is invited into NATO.
(2) Who are the sinners?
Who are the angels and devils in this? As usual in geopolitics, both sides are sinners (not every year is 1939).
The West’s leaders must have known that shifting the Ukraine into the West’s military and economic alliances would inevitably start a conflict with Russia. Perhaps like the US response to the USSR’s involvement in Cuba, which wrecked Cuba’s economy and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. (See the terrifying transcripts of the White House Executive Committee described in The Virtual JFK).
Summary: Today we have a guest post by film critic Locke Peterseim, a review of 300: Rise of an Empire. The film provides a mirror in which we can see the dark aspects of ourselves and our culture. 300 and its sequel show how the big screen illuminates the darkness in minds. Setting half-historical “facts” against beautiful vistas, this “fantasy war film” about the Battle of Salamis makes the horror of war not just noble, but almost sensual as it suggests that killing is fun as long as you have a righteous reason for it.
Post your comments about the film — and this review!
By Locke Peterseim
Reposted here with his generous permission
The moment you point out the howling historical inaccuracies and possibly harmful over-the-top fantasy violence in a piece of super-stylized hard-core war porn like 300: Rise of an Empire (or in its equally offensive predecessor 300), some pundit or punter with one hand in a bucket of bloody popcorn is going to whine, “You don’t go see a 300 movie expecting subtlety, intelligence, restraint, or historical accuracy!” Which is like saying you don’t eat bacon-onion-ring-cheeseburgers expecting a healthy life free of coronary issues.
The problem is that a steady diet of either poison — popular junk-foods full of heart-stopping grease, fat, cheese, sodium and red meat; or popular junk-food movies like Rise of an Empire that slate only our basest, most blood-thirsty instincts — will slowly, eventually, insidiously kill you — either your body or your soul.
There’s an unspoken code among many film critics (let’s say, primarily under 50 and publishing on the Internet) to not be a moral scold about movies. Some of us grew up in the ‘80s, the era of Tipper Gore and the PMRC, roll our eyes at the “demons are everywhere!” anti-pop-culture ravings of the Pat Robertsons of the world, and are still treated to Bill O’Reilly’s attention-desperate pulpit pounding about the evils of rap music. Most of us critics want to grow up to be Roger (Ebert) not Rex (Reed). So the general rule is to review the film, not the film’s ideas.
Zack Snyder’s original 300, based on Frank “the Fascist” Miller’s graphic novel, visually bulldozed its way into almost seeming like a great “movie”: It was (too) easy to get so caught up in the stark and striking (and often shocking) imagery that you ignored the repellant, racist, pile of laughable crap that passed for the film’s “message.”
That, of course, is what makes 300 — which remains a powerful visual “treat”—so utterly repugnant: It uses the cloak of “historical legend” plus wowsa chiaroscuro CGI battlefield tableaus and male musculature (including a sexily vicious Michael Fassbender in a loin cloth—and he’s the least of 300’s homoerotic manqués) to not just sell but fully fetishize The Glory of War (against barbaric, mystical, almost inhuman Persian [Iranian] hordes) to testosterone-jacked young men in Ed Hardy T-shirts. It’s fascist, pro-war propaganda packaged as delightfully over-the-top, fist-pumping Cineplex entertainment.
To no one’s surprise, 300’s sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, is more of the same. Except now, with Snyder serving only as writer and producer and without the admittedly gripping and narratively compact legend of the fall of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, the film itself feels more of a creatively unfocused mess.
Summary: The publisher of a major German newspaper wrote a bold, brave editorial about the emerging Cold War 2. He identifies the useful idiots in the media who help drive this conflict, and places this madness in a historical context. Can you imagine the publisher of a US newspaper writing something of this depth? Time will tell if this he writes as an individual, as spokesman for a fraction of Germany’s elites, or speaking for German’s leadership.
Gabor Steingart (publisher)
Editorial in Handelsblatt
(Germany’s leading financial newspaper)
8 August 2014
Summary: In view of the events in Ukraine, the government and many media have switched from level-headed to agitated. The spectrum of opinions has been narrowed to the width of a sniper scope. The politics of escalation does not have a realistic goal – and harms German interests.
Every war is accompanied by a kind of mental mobilization: war fever. Even smart people are not immune to controlled bouts of this fever. “This war in all its atrociousness is still a great and wonderful thing. It is an experience worth having“ rejoiced Max Weber in 1914 when the lights went out in Europe. Thomas Mann felt a “cleansing, liberation, and a tremendous amount of hope“.
… The US Congress is openly discussing arming Ukraine. The former security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski recommends arming the citizens there for house-to-house and street combat. The German Chancellor, as it is her habit, is much less clear but no less ominous: “We are ready to take severe measures.“
German journalism has switched from level-headed to agitated in a matter of weeks. The spectrum of opinions has been narrowed to the field of vision of a sniper scope. Newspapers we thought to be all about thoughts and ideas now march in lock-step with politicians in their calls for sanctions against Russia’s President Putin. Even the headlines betray an aggressive tension as is usually characteristic of hooligans when they ‘support’ their respective teams.
The Tagesspiegel: “Enough talk!“ The FAZ: “Show strength“. The Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Now or never.“ The Spiegel calls for an “End to cowardice“: “Putin’s web of lies, propaganda, and deception has been exposed. The wreckage of MH 17 is also the result of a crashed diplomacy.“ Western politics and German media agree.
Summary: The public debate about climate change has evolved, reverting to the standard form of American Politics. Fearmongering, relying on exaggerated and one-side evidence. No only does this chaff further confused the policy debate about this vital issue, it raises another question. We should worry why both Left and Right believe we are most easily influenced by appeals to fear. Perhaps they’re right. As AA tells us, recognition of a problem is the first step to solving it. Perhaps America’s greatest problem is this weakness of its citizens.
Civilization grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.
— H L Mencken, In Defense of Women (1918)
- The new climate change debate
- An example of these trends at work
- For More Information
- A fear-mongering classic: Reefer Madness (1936)
(1) The new climate change debate
Quietly climate activists (supported by journalists) have shifted the public debate about climate change. Logically, as their previous tactics were failing to produce their desired political change. Polls in the US showed flat minority support (here, here, and here). Worse, the Australian people voting to roll-back their government’s ambitious policies. So they have adopted more aggressive marketing techniques.
(a) The IPCC has dropped from their script. Formerly described as the “gold standard” description of climate science research, the most reliable statement of consensus climate scientists’ thinking, has become “too conservative”. Some activists began saying this in 2011-2012. It was a widespread response to the release of AR5 in 2013. For examples see Inside Climate News, The Daily Climate, Yale’s Environment 360.
Now ignoring the IPCC has become standard practice by activists and journalists, as in the articles cited in the following sections. It’s an excellent example of an open source movement at work (see John Robb’s seminal book Brave New War).
(b) Activists have replaced professional climate scientists as their spokesman, people willing to give confidence apocalyptic forecasts without qualifications — or strong support in the IPCC or climate science literature. Compare and contrast these articles:
- “NASA Talk Explores How Global Warming May Be On Vacation“, NASA press release, 4 August 2014
- “There’s something distinctly fishy about claims that global warming has stopped“, Geoffrey Lean, news article in The Telegraph, 7 August 2014 — Oddly, many of his facts are wrong.
(c) Aggressive broadcasting of research that supports their message, erasing mention of its qualifications and limitations. Contrary research is ignored. Countering this, putting individual research in a larger context, is a primary function of the IPCC’s work — another reason activists increasingly ignore it. The current hysteria about methane releases provides a clear example (e.g., by Jason Box this week), as the latest IPCC report (AR5, WGI, 126.96.36.199.2) disagrees (for more current rebuttal, see NYT’s Andy Revkin).
More examples: “Deadly irukandji and box jellyfish invading Sydney Harbour because of climate change, scientists say“, Daily Telegraph, 8 August 2014. Scary, but much of this is contracted by other sources — such as the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Services’ Jellyfish & Climate Change page. Others are in the comments: about tornadoes.