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Elysium Shouts Big, Loud Messages About Health Care & Immigration Reform. Gun Control, Not so Much

21 September 2014

Summary:  Today we have another guest post by film critic Locke Peterseim, reviewing Elysium. He shows how it provides a mirror into which we can see our politics, 21st C American weirdness in all its glory. Post your comments about the film — and this review!

Elysium poster

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Contents

  1. The review
  2. About the author
  3. For More Information
  4. The trailer

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Elysium Shouts Big, Loud Messages
About Health Care & Immigration Reform
… Gun Control, Not so Much

By Locke Peterseim
Posted at the film blog of Open Letters Monthly
9 August 2013
Reposted here with his generous permission

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Us older sci-fi fans are always bitchin’ and moanin’ about how no one makes science fiction movies about ideas anymore. How it’s all special effects and big stars and non-stop action. Which is why fan-boys and –girls of a certain age got very excited (probably too excited) about South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s debut District 9 four years ago this month.

A (very) thinly veiled Apartheid parable–only with aliens and giant alien weapons — Blomkamp’s DIY-feeling, R-rated District 9 showed a lot of visual verve and a willingness to gritty itself up with the sort of social messages usually flushed out of mainstream PG-13 teenage Cineplex fare. At least until it’s last act, when it slipped into yet another “oh cool, shit blowin’ up!” mindlessly “cool” action flick.

So elder-geek hopes were understandably riding high for Blomkamp’s follow up, this weekend’s Elysium. All the pieces were there: a teen-free R rating; timely and resonant themes about the haves and have nots; and the same dusty, down-and-dirty visuals from District 9 cinematographer Trent Opaloch.

Except Elysium has a higher budget, better-known stars (Matt Damon! Jodi Foster!), a wider scope (the action wings its way between a used-up Earth and the titular giant “gated space station” in orbit), and more impressive CGI. It’s all-around larger and louder with more action, more awesome weaponry, and a lot more ass getting kicked on all sides.

All of which makes Elysium twice as big, half as smart, and considerably more muddled, misguided, and flat-out disheartening than District 9.

Read more…

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As we start a new war, have we learned from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

20 September 2014

Summary: As we start a new war, will we remember the lessons of our last wars? Most importantly, will we continue to run like hamsters on the wheel? We kill our foes, and nearby citizens. As infidel foreign invaders, the locals consider our actions illegitimate. The insurgents gain support and members. So we ratchet up our effort.  Oddly, we’ve known this for over a decade but repeat our actions.

Albert Einstein

He’s sad about our inability to learn from experience

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“Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”

— A warming from Albert Einstein.

By Alcoholics Anonymous, people who know about dysfunctionality.

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(1)  Quotes from those who learned from our wars

These are but a few of the many warnings about our mad tactics. I suspect there are many more stamped SECRET in DoD’s files.

John Kerry, 2 August 2004. This reads differently a decade later, since the Obama administration has continued most of these policies:

“The policies of this administration, I believe and others believe very deeply, have resulted in an increase of animosity and anger focused on the United States of America. The people who are training terror are using our actions as a means of recruitment.”

Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States”, National Intelligence Estimate (NIE 2006-02R), April 2006

We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere. The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.

… The jihadists replay images of Muslim civilians under attack by the West to justify their actions to Muslim audiences.

Guantanamo’s Shadow“, The Atlantic, 1 October 2007 — “The Atlantic recently asked a group of foreign policy authorities about the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba”

“The Guantanamo system has hurt the U.S. and our fight against Al Qaeda. We have abandoned the moral high ground and, through our actions, have become one of the principle recruiting agents for Islamic extremism.”

“Our strongest asset internationally was our reputation and credibility on human rights. We have squandered that.”

“Hurt, on balance, because it has severely damaged our moral case in the world, which we have to have in order to rally support for combating Al Qaeda.”

“Both in the obvious public relations way, worldwide, and quite directly, in showing Al Qaeda that we can very easily and quickly be seduced into wild overreactions. That is just what Osama Bin Laden hoped. Since it worked so well, he has an incentive to repeat.”

“It has done enormous damage to our reputation and soft power.”

Read more…

America and the Islamic State both hope to change the world with rivers of blood

19 September 2014

Summary: We have learned something from our wars; in weeks the case for war has been debunked to a degree that took years after 9/11. Many have questioned the logic of our strategy and its odds of success. But few have asked about our methods, and their similarity to those of ISIS. We have a large lead in the body count since 9/11; time will tell if adding to it brings us victory.

River of Blood

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“Wars are measured in body counts. The news carries a running tally. You change the world with rivers of blood.”

— Terrorist leader Saleem Ulman, from the NCIS-LA episode “Truth or Consequences”

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ISIS (aka ISIL and IS) and America have something in common: a belief in the efficacy of kidnapping and killing foes (and nearby civilians). Not just killing, but high-profile killing. The kind that sears memories into the minds of one’s foes. the kind both they and us believe will shape a new world. Making rivers of blood.

Perhaps we — America and ISIS — are correct, and all that matters is who wins. No how. Or perhaps we’re both wrong, and we — both of us — are the problem.

“Secretary Kerry will now travel to the region to continue building the broad-based coalition that will enable us to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. … You can’t contain an organization that is running roughshod through that much territory, causing that much havoc, displacing that many people, killing that many innocents, enslaving that many women. The goal has to be to dismantle them.

Obama revealing his plans for ISIS, 5 September 2014. Obama has forgotten that we successfully contained the Soviet Union until it collapsed.

We send special operations troops to snatch men from their homes, or kill them. We send drones assassins to kill from the sky. We use artillery for collective punishment of entire villages. We kill, then double-tap (kill) the rescuers.

Read more…

It’s not too soon to worry about the US economy. There are things worse than slow growth.

18 September 2014

Summary: Here’s another status report on the US economy.. Most economists expect faster growth. Perhaps so, but there are dark spots in the picture. Concerns about unsustainable auto sales, weakening exports, and (the big one) the mini-housing boom rolling over.

Slow Economic Growth

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Expectations run high for the US economy, an acceleration from the 2%/year GDP growth we’ve had since the crash. Surveys record optimism among purchasing managers, builders, and consumers. Manufacturing remains strong, with hints of the long-awaited capital expenditures boom.

There are several engines driving the slow growth of US economy. Large among them are automobile sales, housing (both new and existing home sales), and exports. Export growth might fade as the US dollar rises (decreasing competitiveness of US goods) and the Japanese and European economies slow. Automobile sales are driven by mad long-maturity loans to sub-prime borrowers — a boom almost certain to end badly.

Now perhaps its the turn of housing. Top real estate analyst Mark Hanson has been warning since late last year that the housing markets were rolling over — as described in this post, and at his website. Now a second voice speaks up.

Joshua Pollard was Goldman’s lead US housing analyst from February 2009 to March 2013. He’s written a forecast for the US housing market in the form of a letter to the President. It can be downloaded from his website. He has some disturbing conclusions. It’s deeper and more complex analysis than Hanson’s, but comes to similar conclusions.

Summary

House prices are 12% overvalued today. They have already started to decline. Today’s misvaluation matches the excess of 2006-07, just before the Great Recession. Since World War II home prices have been tightly correlated to income and mortgage rates (R2 = 96%). Investors/cash purchasers, which make up 50% of home sales, have driven real estate volatility to unrivaled levels in trackable history. As public policy makers debate seminal decisions on “forward guidance” and unconventional monetary stimulus we note that each 1% increase in rates drops home valuations by another 4%; at a 2% fed funds rate, where fed offi­cials and investors expect to be by the end of 2016, the overvaluation equals 20%.

Respectfully, the United States cannot afford another housing driven recession. The facts and correlations – the tenets of probabilities – suggest it is more likely than not that home prices fall 15% in the next three years.

It’s a complex analysis. A top-down view, unlike Hanson’s ground-level perspective. It’s worth reading in full. If Hanson and Pollard are correct, then America might start a downturn from a position of weakness unique since WW2. Now for the bad news…

Read more…

Today’s crop of fear-mongering. Watch and enjoy, but don’t succumb.

17 September 2014

Summary: Our news media overflows each day with a new crop of fear-mongering It should disturb us that both Left and Right seek to persuade us through fear. To manipulate us. These are skilled political engineers. They know us better than we know ourselves, and they obviously see us as fearful sheep. It’s our choice: When we wish to become men and women, like our ancestors, we will do so. Until then, they’ll spin stories of imminent doom from which only unquestioning obedience can save us.

“If God didn’t want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”
— Calvera, bandit leader in the movie “The Magnificent Seven” (1960)

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(1)  Jon Stewart looks at the Nightmare on Graham Street
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Read more…

Why are we so fearful? Have we become cowards?

16 September 2014

Summary:  As I have shown so often, both Left and Right have adopted fear-mongering as one of their major methods of communicating with the American public. Both sides employ competent professionals, so there must be good reasons for doing so. Perhaps we have become fearful. Perhaps we have become cowards. However and for whatever reasons this has happened, recognition of the problem is the first step to the cure. We need not be like this.

“Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful — horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember…”
— An insight from a demon (they know us well), from The ScrewTape Letters, by C. S. Lewis (1959)

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Today’s fear-mongering (one of an endless series I run on Twitter):

“When I look at the map that the General Keane described, I think of the United States. I think of an American city in flames because of the terrorist ability to operate in Syria and Iraq.”
— Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC, member of the Armed Services Committee) on Fox News Sunday, 10 August 2014,  Transcript here.

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Our relatively few sober analysts look at the news and produce a stream of debunking analysis. Like this: “America’s most terrified senator: Lindsey Graham’s never-ending doomsday visions“, Simon Maloy, Salon, 15 September 2014 — “Lindsey Graham says ISIS can destroy entire American cities and kill all of us. A look at a very scared man.” But there’s never enough such people, and they tend to target political opponents. So their work, however valuable, is functionally indistinguishable from the poo-throwing that is American political discourse.

There are a few people willing to ask the painful question. Such as Michael Krieger: “The American Public: A Tough Soldier or a Chicken Hawk Cowering in a Cubicle? Some Thoughts on ISIS Intervention“, Liberty Blitzkrieg, 10 September 2014 — Opening:

Read more…

The shame of Alaska: vast wealth, but little spent to protect its people

15 September 2014

Summary: When urban Americans think of rural life, we often think of Mayberry RFD and placid law-abiding life seen on countless other TV shows. Community values; people who are salt-of-the-Earth, living in Libertarian paradises free of big government. There is a test case of this vision. We call it Alaska. Read these accounts. I hope you feel shame for our nation.

As always, the question is action. Are these news stories for citizens, or entertainment for subjects? If you live in Alaska, will you do anything? Are you passengers or crew of America?

Martin Luther King: Injustice

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Contents

  1. The bad news about rape in Alaska
  2. The worse news
  3. For more information
  4. Fantasy does not help

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(1) The bad news about rape in Alaska

Let’s do this in two steps. First the bad news.

First in a series of articles revealing the third world-like conditions in our midst: “Why is Alaska the rape capital of the US? Because we allow it.“, Carey Restino, op-ed in The Arctic Sounder, 5 April 2013 – Opening:

The statistics are sickening. One in every four women in Alaska will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. The Alaska rape rate is 2.5 times the national average, and the child sexual assault rate in Alaska is close to six times the national average. For the Native Alaska population, the numbers are even rougher. One out of every three American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped during her life, and three out of every four American Indian and Alaska Native women will be physically assaulted. Three out of four.

Eventually this has come to attention of the national media: CNN’s series on rape in America: looking at Alaska, 4 February 2014 — Opening:

“Alaska has an epidemic,” Gov. Sean Parnell told me. It’s not bear attacks or deadly roads. It’s rape and violence against women. Reported rape is more common in Alaska than any other state, according to 2012 FBI crime estimates. The per capita rate is about three times the national average. In America’s “Last Frontier” state, nearly 80 incidences of rape are reported per 100,000 people, the data show. Nationally, the rate is 27 per 100,000.

… A 2010 survey shows 59% of adult women in Alaska experience intimate partner violence, including threats, and/or sexual assault. And 37% suffer from rape or sexual violence.

(2)  The worse news about rape in Alaska

Now for the worse news, because “why” is often the most important question: “Why Rape Is Much More Common In Alaska“, Erin Fuchs, Business Insider, 26 September 2013 — Excerpt:

Read more…

Thor vs the Dark World – a fun film about a war against evil

14 September 2014

Summary:  Today we have another guest post by film critic Locke Peterseim, reviewing Thor: The Dark World, a fun break from his series of reviews about serious insights found in our modern films. It’s a light film about a war fought by gods against evil, which shows the glossy manufactured product blockbusters have become. Post your comments about the film — and this review!

Thor: the Dark World

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Theriously, Whath’s Up With Thor?

By Locke Peterseim

Posted at the film blog of Open Letters Monthly
12 November 2013

Reposted here with his generous permission

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When you stop and think about it, little about Thor the Comic-book Superhero makes sense. By that I mean little about Thor the character makes sense — nothing at all in the Thor movies makes sense, but we stopped expecting narrative sense from our superhero movies around about Batman Forever. Or maybe we can trace it back to when Superman reversed the spin of the planet and turned back time instead of causing massive tectonic destruction.

If sometime around WWII costumed superheroes became our modern gods, Thor is the vestigial tail, the Missing Link. The Marvel character is either (if you go by the comics) a real Norse god who, for reasons known only to his style team, dresses like a pro wrestler, or (if you go by the new movies) he’s a cosmic alien whose people inspired Earthly Norse mythology. Either way, he sticks out like a Thor thumb. (I couldn’t resist — I’m weak.)

The original trademark of Stan Lee’s Marvel Universe was that the heroes were all-too human — flawed and failed; sometimes arrogant, sometimes haunted, sometimes both. And for a long while in the comics, Lee and co-creator and artist Jack Kirby made the notion of a Freakin’ Norse God in a Red Cape fit into their new “fallible heroes” pantheon by (almost as a cruel joke) strapping the deity to the frail body of puny human Dr. Donald Blake.

When, half a decade ago, Marvel Entertainment began what future pop-culture historians will surely see as its Great March Toward Avengers Cinematic Domination, there was no doubt much hand-wringing over What to do with Thor.

Read more…

More good news about climate change from the IPCC: no sign yet of the methane apocalypse

14 September 2014

Summary:  Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and a favorite hobbyhorse of alarmists. It’s also an example of how they’ve abandoned the IPCC — the “gold standard” of climate science consensus. The IPCC’s most recent report, AR5’s Working Group I, is quite clear that methane levels in the atmosphere have grown more slowly than projected by their models — and that the risk posed by methane is real but not yet extreme. This is a follow-up to Some good news about our changing climate. Enjoy it, for it might not last long.

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The report of Working Group I of the IPCC’s AR5 is quite explicit about the risk of methane emissions.

  1. Models’ projections of the growth in methane levels range from small to large.
  2. These projections have come down in each IPCC report.
  3. Methane levels have increased more slowly than in any of their projections.

You can read a hundred alarmist articles about methane and global warming — and never see this information from the IPCC.

Such complex stories are typical of many key questions about climate change (it’s science, not accounting), which is why we need the IPCC to put these things in a context understandable by laypeople.  It’s not that the consensus is always right (it’s not), but rather that the science is not settled.

Let’s start with figure 1.6 from Chapter 1. This shows methane levels in the atmosphere in parts per billion (i.e., very small amounts), over time — compared with several generations of models’ projections.

AR5 WG1: Figure 1.6 of methane

AR5 WG1: Figure 1.6 of methane

Observed globally and annually averaged CH 4 concentrations in parts per billion (ppb) since 1950 compared with projections from the previous IPCC assessments. Estimated observed global annual CH4 concentrations are shown in dark blue. The shading shows the largest model projected range of global annual CH4 concentrations from 1950 to 2035 from FAR ( IPCC, 1990); SAR (1996); TAR (IPCC, 2001); and from AR4 (2007). The bars at the right-hand side of the graph show the full range given for 2035 for each assessment report.

The full story is told in Chapter 2 (citations omitted; red emphasis added):

Read more…

Law professors justify Obama’s illegal wars; more fuel for the Constitution’s pyre

13 September 2014

Summary: Today’s essay by David Cole looks at Obama’s justifications for the next phase of the long war. In a wider sense it shows how the role of professions changes as the Republic-that-once-was dies and the imperial New New America rises on its ashes. Today we look at attorneys, many finding careers serving the government — dissembling the Constitution word by word in service of the President. Justifying the President’s actions, no matter what they are. Dismantling the structure of international law America built after WW2, which we hoped would in part justify the blood shed. Once proud professionals, now they’re the equivalent of the crew at the end of a parade, cleaning up after the elephants.

It’s a widening rot. Our geopolitical experts justify our wars. Anthropologists betray their canons, studying foreign societies for our Army. Doctors aid torturers. Economists become cheerleaders for our central bank. it’s the smooth track to success in New America.

“Get busy and fix it up so that it’s legal, will you?” Kamens said.
“You know, Delos, it would be a lot more honest if you did it at the point of a gun.”

— Client to attorney conversation in Robert Heinlein’s “The Man Who Sold the Moon” (1939)

America's Constitution

Only formally still in effect

Contents

  1. “Obama’s Unauthorized War”
  2. Legal justifications for Obama’s illegal war
  3. About the author
  4. For More Information

Obama’s Unauthorized War

by David Cole, New York Review of Books
11 September 2014
Posted with their generous permission.

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In his address to the nation Wednesday night, President Barack Obama set forth a four-part strategy for dealing with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, otherwise known as ISIS or, in President Obama’s usage, ISIL. He spoke of continuing airstrikes in Iraq and extending them into Syria, training Iraqi forces and supporting Syrian rebels to fight ISIS, general counterterrorism operations, and humanitarian aid. But he did not put forth his strategy for dealing with the US Congress. And the Constitution demands that he obtain support from Congress if he wants to engage in what could potentially be a long war with a new terrorist group.

President Obama announced that he intends to carry out a sustained military campaign to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, a campaign that his own military has said could last many years; it is nearly thirteen years since we set out to degrade and destroy al-Qaeda, and there’s no end in sight yet. In his speech, President Obama avoided the word “war,” but that is the more common word for the kind of sustained military campaign he described. And under our constitution, the president cannot go to war without congressional approval except in narrow circumstances not present here.

Last year, when Obama was contemplating military strikes against the Assad regime in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, he put the question to Congress, as the Constitution requires. Americans had no appetite for fighting another war over what they viewed as someone else’s problems, and Congress declined to authorize military force. Properly, the president backed down, and instead entered a negotiation brokered by Russia that ultimately led to the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, without the use of force.

Read more…

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