Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Don't Let Anyone Stop You From Voting

November 6, 2008: Edited to remove the video, which was messing up other javascript on this page, now that the election is over.

I didn't write this...I'm just passing it on from colorofchange.org:

5 Ways to Protect Your Vote

If there's one thing we see every election, it's that Republicans will try to manipulate the rules any way they can to prevent some people from voting. Don't be discouraged--be prepared. If we're armed with the right information, we can beat most of these dirty tricks.

Be Prepared, and Conquer the Lines. We can't let long lines stop anyone from voting. There are several ways you can reduce lines and make sure they don't prevent you or anyone else from voting:

Vote early if you can. You can find early voting times and locations at govote.org.

Double-check your polling location before you go to vote. You can look it up at govote.org.

Have a Plan & Have Fun. Have a plan in case there are lines. Bring some food, drinks, friends, books, games, a chair -- anything that will prevent you and other voters from walking away.

Have fun while you wait and encourage your friends and neighbors to stay in line so their vote is counted.

Don't give up--don't walk away without voting.

Two numbers you should have in your phone. Put these numbers in your phone so you're prepared to report problems and help other voters find their polling place:

866-OUR-VOTE is a hotline that's been set up to collect information about problems on election day--lawyers and election protection advocates are ready to respond. It's the best way to make sure someone addresses any problems you see.

The number for your local election board--in case you need to tell someone where they can vote.

Enter you zip code at govote.org, then look for "Contact [your county] election officials" on the right.

Beware of lies, misinformation and dirty tricks; spread the truth.Republican operatives are spreading plain lies to frighten new voters. In Philadelphia, anonymous flyers in Black neighborhoods have falsely claimed that voters with unpaid traffic tickets or outstanding warrants will be arrested at the polls. If you hear a scary rumor, it's probably a lie. Call your local election officials to check it out--and make sure your friends and neighbors know the truth.

Leave the Obama gear at home.In some places, you won't be allowed into the polling place if you're wearing clothes and pins that support a given candidate. This isn't true everywhere, but it's best to play it safe. You can contact your local board of elections to find out if it's a problem in your area. If it is, bring some extra plain T-shirts or sweaters to loan neighbors who show up unaware of the rule.

Read the ballot carefully, and ask questions!Some ballots can be confusing even for smart and informed voters. Read instructions on the ballot carefully, and if you're not sure you understand something, ask a poll worker to explain. Remember what happened in 2000 in Florida--a confusing ballot caused thousands of people to mistakenly vote for the wrong Presidential candidate. Don't let that happen to you!

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Help spread the truth about ACORN: the real fraud is the RNC's voter suppression scam

ACORN: It's a community group that registers voters, for goodness' sakes. LEGITIMATE voters. This scares the heck out of the RNC, which doesn't want YOU to vote.

Sign the petition supporting ACORN here.

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Link Between Corporate Media and War Profiteering

I just want to post a link to a diary about the corporate media by my friend Jamess on Progressive Blue. He quotes some documentation of connections between the big corporate conglomerate media companies and war profiteering, notably this from CorpWatch:

Over the past three years [as of August 2004] the big five Media companies, Disney (ABC), News Corp (Fox) GE (NBC & Telemundo), Viacom (ABC), Time Warner (CNN & WB) plus the NAB [National Association of Broadcasters] have spent over 79,740,000 on lobbying. ...

It can be hard to determine which partner is leading the dance at any given moment. General Electric, which owns NBC, spent over $45 million dollars on lobbying in 2003 alone. GE is also a defense department contractor with annual revenue of $134.2 billion, profiting handsomely from its government contracts in Iraq.

I'm sure this is not news to people who have been closely following this issue, but to me, it was confirmation of something I strongly suspected, but hadn't researched.

Anyway, go over there and read the whole diary.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Progressive Blue Candidate Bake Sale Week - Be Our 60th Donor!

Over at Progressive Blue, my colleagues have been running a fundraising week for our slate of endorsed Democratic candidates. We've also taken a position of NO on California prop. 8, because we believe in equality for all.

We received 59 donations on our ActBlue page so far, and that totals nearly $3,000.

Will you be our 60th donor?

Will you help us get to $3,000 raised for our candidates?

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War profiteering and John Cusack’s War, Inc. – Let’s talk about it

John Cusack’s War, Inc. is a must-see movie. Let’s make sure people see it.

Many of us who have been lucky enough to see this film already know that it’s funny, topical, and offers many levels of meaning, perhaps somewhat concealing its beautiful soul.

If you’ve been following what’s going on in this country, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and if you know your history, you’re also most likely aware that the issues of war profiteering and privatization this movie brings up are very real and very scary.

The corporate media, however, is not very good at informing us about what’s really going on when our reaction to events might jeopardize the profits of other corporations, which may even be linked through common investors or subsidiary arrangements to the media companies themselves. It seems to me the small number of corporate conglomerates that run most of the media companies in this country would prefer that you not see War, Inc. and understand what it’s really about.

I think that if there were an Oscar category for Most Relevant Non-Documentary Film, War, Inc. should win it. But that’s not going to happen. Nevertheless, in some better future when we recognize the history of American war profiteering for what it was, John Cusack may be seen as a hero for helping to bring this issue to light and into the pop culture consciousness.

Some of us who are fans of the movie may know others who are fans of John Cusack, but may think that he’s making all of this up. They may not have heard about this issue before, and perhaps they think that the absurdist extreme to which he takes the issue is just based on some sort of left wing paranoia. In fact, I don’t think he’s exaggerating very much.

I’ve been blogging about this movie more than I intended to, but sometimes I just have to go with the flow when I see an opportunity to make an impact. I’ve been deeply concerned about the state of the world all my life. I tend to go through periods of activism on various issues, followed by periods of feeling like all my efforts have been futile. If you’ve ever done any work as an activist, I think you probably know it’s hard sometimes to stay inspired. Right now, I have to thank John Cusack for making this an issue I have some chance of being able to laugh about, and for inspiring me to believe that we might make some progress on this issue if enough people can see this movie and come to understand it.

As I’ve been blogging about this movie and reading John Cusack’s blog and other blogs, I’ve come across some links we might want to use to talk about the movie and the issues it raises. This is hardly a comprehensive list, but check some of these out and if you know someone who needs to be educated on the issue of war profiteering, please consider passing some of these along.

My categorization of these links into movie-related or issue-related is somewhat arbitrary, since many cover both.

Movie-related links

War, Inc. Official page on MySpace (John Cusack)
IMDB page If you have a membership here, don’t forget to rate the movie!
First Look Studios official page
Watch the trailer on YouTube
The Hour: John Cusack on War, Inc. – great interview on YouTube
Buy it on Amazon.com
Rent it on Netflix – and don’t forget to review it and rate it.
Yahoo movies Rate the movie here!
DVD Talk
War, Inc. – a review that focuses on the reality of the issue
John Cusack’s Latest --- War, Inc. – positive review of the movie by a conservative
My own reviews:
The Flicks Files: War, Inc. (2008)
The Trinity, Redemption, and John Cusack’s War, Inc.
8th House Scorpions and How NOT to Recycle War Profiteers

Issue-related links

Whose Vision – Cusack’s or Bush’s – The Privatization of War
War Inc. 2002 article on the reality of war profiteering.
Dick Cheney: War Profiteer
Halliburton Watch
Iraq for Sale documentary film by Robert Greenwald
Interview with Kevin Phillips on the Bush Dynasty
Democracy Now! interview with John Cusack
Meet the Bloggers interview with Cusack and other bloggers on YouTube
John Cusack’s blog on Huffington Post
John Cusack’s blog MySpace
List of further facts and research links on Iraq for Sale web site

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. I hope it will help you to present this issue to others. And if you see other good links out there, or you post something on this movie yourself, post the link in a comment.

Oh, and here's the takeaway: the next time someone says we should get into a war, ask yourself who stands to make a buck.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

8th House Scorpions and How NOT to Recycle War Profiteers

In John Cusack’s brilliantly deranged War, Inc., Hilary Duff sticks a live scorpion down her pants, Cusack fights Sir Ben Kingsley in the back of a garbage truck, Dan Aykroyd does a moving portrayal of Dick Cheney on the toilet, and Halliburton-style war profiteers wage the very first American war to be entirely outsourced to a private corporation. Did I mention I love this movie?

I don’t think I’ve ever written so much about one movie before, but when Mr. Cusack cross-posted both of my previous pieces about War, Inc. to his MySpace blog, I made a rash mistake. In a comment, I wrote:

If you are going to keep cross-posting these, I'm going to have to find new angles to use to write about this movie. You know that, right?

Speaking of John Cusack’s movies, why do I suddenly hear the Carpenters on my radio? What if that devious mind keeps cross-posting this stuff? Have I just doomed myself by my word to an eternal damnation of writing about War, Inc. until Halliburton brings about the end times? This could get as scary as, well, Stephen King.

How do I get out of this self-inflicted imaginary obligation to a movie star I’ve never even met? I could fake rabid right wing conversion and write a demonic defense of why what’s good for Halliburton is good for the oil companies and hence, for America, but there are more evil fates than being doomed to write about one movie for eternity, and I dare not go into that dark night. Dick Cheney is one tormented soul I don’t want to find leaping out of the darkness of a chickenhawk bunker to embrace me and invite me on a hunting trip for moose with Sarah Palin.

Right. I’m just going to have to explain what scorpions, garbage trucks, vice presidential shit, and war profiteers have in common. Because that’s a secret I’m fairly sure John Cusack would be horrified to have you know.

Scorpio the scorpion: astrologically, this sign is located in the 8th house of the natural chart. The 8th house rules such mysteries as sex, other people’s money, symbolism, and hidden bunkers in undisclosed locations. Scorpio is ruled by Mars, the God of War, and by Pluto, the God of Death and Transformation.

Let me just say that if you’re a mythological being or even a fictional hitman in a movie, you do not want your daughter kidnapped, taken to an undisclosed location, probably fed pomegranate seeds somewhere along the way, and then taught to put scorpions down her pants. This type of thing tends to make a guy (or gal) want to lay the earth to waste. Best avoided.

Speaking of laying the earth to waste, that’s really what those old miscreants Pluto and Mars wanted in the first place, hence the reason for getting your daughter involved with kinky scorpionic sex. And here’s where the war profiteers come into it, not to mention vice presidential shit.

As Defense Secretary, Mr. Cheney commissioned a study for the U.S. Department of Defense by Brown and Root Services (now Kellogg, Brown and Root), a wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton. The study recommended that private firms like Halliburton should take over logistical support programs for U.S. military operations around the world. Just two years after he was Secretary of Defense, Cheney stepped through the revolving door linking the Department of Defense with defense contractors and became CEO of Halliburton. Halliburton was the principal beneficiary of Cheney’s privatization efforts for our military’s logistical support and Cheney was paid $44 million for five year's work with them before he slipped back through the revolving door of war profiteering to become Vice-President of the United States. When asked about the money he received from Halliburton, Cheney said. "I tell you that the government had absolutely nothing to do with it."

No wonder Cheney’s bathroom habits are such a strain, as finally revealed by Dan Aykroyd in War, Inc. That is one huge stinking pile he’s trying to pass. Getting back to the 8th house and other people’s money, Cheney is hardly spending his own. U.S. taxpayers, those are YOUR billions going to Halliburton.

Lest we think U.S. war profiteering is Dick Cheney’s invention, however, let’s remember that General Smedley Butler admitted to having made Mexico safe for American oil interests way back in 1914, and that George W. Bush’s family has war profiteering interests going back to at least the 1920s, including dealings with the Nazis in the 1930s, according to the book American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, written by former Nixon staffer Kevin Phillips.

What, you might ask, does all of this have to do with garbage trucks?

Pluto, one of Scorpio’s rulers, has a morbid fascination with death, decay, and rotting, stinking garbage --- in other words, the Bush administration. And doesn’t this all just make you want to take the trash out?

Fortunately, in the sign of Scorpio, we have the opportunity to do just that on November 4th, when we can all get out and vote, support a transformational regime change, and let in a breath of fresh air. (But then we’ll have to put pressure on Obama to end the war profiteering once and for all.)

When disposing of famous British actors, however, please recycle.

How’s that for a load of “astonishing half-true frontier gibberish,” Ms. Hegalhuzen?

John Cusack explains this all so much better than I do.

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Vote on paper even in MD

Many MD voters know that we have those stupid touch screen voting machines, and if you're nervous about them, you're right to be.

Here's the MD Board of Elections web site. It says you can request an absentee ballot up until October 28th.

You have to sign a statement saying you will not be able to vote in your precinct on election day. Since I'll be a poll worker and likely assigned to another precinct all day, no problem for me.

If you vote by absentee ballot, I would urge you to take the time to actually go to the board of elections, apply for the ballot in person, vote it there, and turn it in. No chance of getting lost in the mail that way.

Anyway, I just voted.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's enough to make a girl quite giddy.

Then again, maybe you could tell that for someone willing to call herself "AstroGirl," it doesn't take much. But still.

Let's see, how many other ways can I talk about this movie? Maybe my next essay will be on the astrological significance of scorpions and how they relate to the 8th house of sex. Or the importance of recycling famous British actors when you're done with them. Wouldn't want to throw them in garbage trucks, after all. Or perhaps the bathroom habits of Republican vice presidents. I guess I could actually write something about war profiteering, but then I'd be next on someone like Hauser's hit list, I'm sure of it.

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The election theft is already starting

A friend posted a link to this article on my Naomi Wolf interview post as a comment last night.

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Three Putnam County voters say electronic voting machines changed their votes from Democrats to Republicans when they cast early ballots last week.

This is the second West Virginia county where voters have reported this problem. Last week, three voters in Jackson County told The Charleston Gazette their electronic vote for "Barack Obama" kept flipping to "John McCain".

In both counties, Republicans are responsible for overseeing elections. Both county clerks said the problem is isolated.

A couple of points of advice for voters voting on electronic machines:

1) Take a digital camera or camcorder into the voting booth and record what happens when you vote.

2) Vote slowly and deliberately. Touchscreens do have lag times sometimes. Don't cause the problem yourself by rushing through the process.

And visit Vote411.org and know your rights. Don't let yourself be "caged" or turned away at the polls.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Interview - Naomi Wolf - Give Me Liberty

Damn. OK, I have read about all of this before, but to see her put it together here...damn. Watch this, but don't get too afraid. I don't know how you avoid that, actually. But do what you can to keep inspired. Think about Gandhi, MLK, and nonviolent resistance, and see War, Inc. - humor helps. Educate yourself on your rights and how to support liberty, as she suggests. I don't know how we arrest these folks when it seems like there is no real opposition party sometimes, but that means we have to find a way to stand up.

So proud of my friends at Progressive Blue

I'm so proud of my friends over at Progressive Blue. While I've been off posting stuff around the net about War, Inc. for the past few days, they've been busy organizing a Bake Sale (Fundraising Drive) for our list of endorsed candidates. They even added a bunch of candidates to the list.

Progressive Blue will be focusing on candidate diaries for downticket candidates all week, and we're really hoping to raise some money for these candidates, so, if you can afford it, please stop by our ActBlue page. Help these candidates strengthen our majority in Congress!

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Dear Barack Obama: Protect Our Right to Vote

I wrote this recently at Progressive Blue. Well, not that recently. I forgot to crosspost it here. But, I'm doing that now, because I just saw a very encouraging sign that the Obama campaign may actually do something useful on this issue. For that, see the Keith Olbermann video at the bottom of the post.

I’ll admit it. I’ve been moping. Although I know this election is extremely important, I’ve been burnt before (we all have).

In 2004, I worked really hard for John Kerry, volunteering online every day during the general election. I did this even though I thought Kerry wasn’t a great candidate, wasn’t a strong enough progressive, wasn’t the candidate I wanted. I made financial sacrifices to donate to his campaign, too.

I worked hard, then I waited with baited breath for the election returns to start coming in. I watched those election returns as they trickled in that night. Initially, it looked like Kerry was winning, but suddenly everything started to change. By the following morning, I knew we had lost, and likely to election theft.

My suspicions have since been confirmed. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Bob Fitrakis, and many other activists have carefully investigated the 2004 election results, and there is clear reason to believe there was election tampering that probably changed the result.

In 2007, I worked relentlessly all year as a volunteer blogger for John Edwards, in part because I believed he had wanted to contest the 2004 election result, but had been overruled by Kerry. I felt strongly that Edwards would stand up for our rights in the event of a stolen election in 2008, especially after he made strong statements about voting rights during his campaign.

Barack Obama was eventually chosen as the nominee. Now, Obama’s been doing really well on the campaign trail, and I was impressed with his answers in the most recent debate, but he’s not always the strong progressive candidate I had hoped for. Here’s one specific complaint: I haven’t heard Obama address what he is doing to prevent a stolen election, and what he would do to contest a stolen election, if such a theft happens.

Here’s the truth. I haven’t gotten involved in the Obama campaign because I’m tired of working hard for disappointingly moderate candidates and then finding out those candidates have no backbone when the election is stolen. This is the reason I’ve been moping.

If I could talk to Barack Obama directly, here’s what I would say:

Mr. Obama, I hope you win. I know the Republicans have made a real mess of things, and we can’t afford another four to eight years of that. I’ve signed up to be a poll worker in my home city, because I want to make sure EVERY voter has the right to vote and have their vote count. But I have no illusions; I can’t make that difference alone.

Mr. Obama, all over the country you have thousands, maybe millions of people supporting your campaign. Many of them are working tirelessly for no money, even paying you for the privilege. Don’t you dare let them down.

Mr. Obama, I hope you win. But if the unthinkable happens, if you lose, don’t you dare concede until all the votes have been counted and counted fairly. If the specter of election theft haunts us again, you need to stand up. You need to stand up and demand justice. You need to stand up and demand that the will of the people be recognized. I know the many election integrity activists will stand up for our votes, but if you don’t also stand up, I fear the activists will be ignored as they were before.

Mr. Obama, I’m tired. I’ve worked hard to defeat the Bush agenda for several years now. I’m tired of working hard for politicians who don’t live up to their end of the bargain and fight for us.

Yes, I’ve signed up to be a poll worker, but that’s about all I have the energy to do. I wish you well, but I can’t get heavily involved in your campaign. I’ve been neglecting my career to support politicians who don’t live up to their end of the bargain for years now. I’ve got work to do in my own life. I need someone like you to prove to me that what you’re saying is sincere, by showing me you’re willing to fight for it. Maybe then I’ll be ready to make sacrifices again.

Mr. Obama, if you want me to believe again in the possibility of political transformation, all you have to do is show you are willing to fight for us.

Mr. Obama, I urge you to sign the No Voter Left Behind pledge.

Now, this is somewhat encouraging:

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The Hour: John Cusack War Inc.

Great interview on what may probably become one of my favorite movies of all time. (I say "probably" only because sometimes these things take time to become truly apparent.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Trinity, Redemption, and John Cusack's War, Inc.

WARNING! Contains spoilers! The following is an in-depth examination of some specific scenes in the movie War, Inc. If you have not seen the movie, read no further.

I previously wrote a review of War, Inc., which was a general first impression that spilled out of me immediately after seeing the movie for the first time. That first review really focused on the political issues of war profiteering and privatization of government functions, which Cusack raises in this film. Upon a second viewing, I realized there is a lot more going on in this movie. The layers of meaning I find in it are exquisite.

This movie is John Cusack's baby. It's never completely fair to say one contributor is responsible for a film. Films are always collective efforts. But Cusack produced, starred in, and contributed as a writer for this one. In an interview with costar Marisa Tomei, she emphasized that he had a hand in just about everything, and credited him with writing the film, although there are two other writer’s names on it along with his. He has created something very special.

A blog post by someone on MySpace named The REAL Bill got me thinking about what I might have missed on my first viewing of this film. I didn’t agree with much of Bill’s post, because the political content of War, Inc. is important, and Cusack has given many interviews on his political views. It really IS a political movie, and I don’t think it makes any sense to deny that.

But Bill proposed the idea that at a deeper level, the film was really about what we do to fill up our emptiness. Certainly these characters struggle with the feeling of emptiness.

I will hazard a guess that it's really about love and redemption, with that deeper message a brilliant counterpoint to the political message about crass commercialism, greed, and a callous disregard for life. In fact, in an early meeting over drinks with Natalie, Hauser says he is “looking for redemption in all the wrong places.”

There are three characters and three moments in the film that create a triangle relationship that I think is really interesting.

I hinted in my earlier review that the improbable relationships between Brand Hauser (John Cusack), Natalie Hagelhuzen (Marisa Tomei), and Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff) turned into the most human and tender moments of the film. There are three moments of connection between these characters that I think are really key to understanding what is going on in this film.

The first one of them is when Hauser and Natalie come together in a sudden, unexpected, but irresistible kiss. This is the sexiest moment in the film for me.

Other sexual references throughout the film are deliberately crude, predatory, and depraved, to illustrate how sick it really is when sex becomes a commodity and is sold as a product.

The kiss in the Humvee between these two characters is different. This is the blossoming of real love between two people who've been able to "peel away the masks" and see each other. Earlier in the film, Hauser makes a remark about the word person:

“Did you know that the word person comes from the Latin word persona, which means mask? So maybe being human means we invite spectators to ponder what lies behind. Each of us would be composed of a variety of different masks, and if we can see behind the mask, we would get a burst of clarity, and if that flame was bright enough, that’s when we fall in love.”

Natalie takes this as a pretentious pickup line, and maybe that is how Hauser intends it, or maybe not.

In fact, this line may be one of the deepest insights at the heart of War, Inc. By the time Natalie and Hauser kiss, she has been able to glimpse the haunted soul of this very troubled man, seeing him for so much more than the dumb corporate drone she thought he was. He has likewise been able to see past her political preaching to the compassion from which it springs.

The second amazing moment in the film comes when Hauser has been sent to Yonica's hotel room to convince her that he doesn't hate her, when she has become convinced that he does.

He finds her sitting on her bed, strumming an acoustic guitar, and softly singing a beautiful song, and he says he feels like he's seeing her for the first time. She immediately resumes her trash-talking bitch persona, and when he asks why she does that, she says "Nobody cares for my beautiful soul. They care for my ass."

She later breaks down and, in a devastating moment, she tells him through her tears that she thinks she is from another world and says "I can not be from this place. I do not belong here." With this, she roundly rejects the world's suffering she cannot bear to feel a part of. On my second viewing, I cried too, recognizing that in my own darkest moments of despair, I have also uttered these very words. (Hilary Duff's performance here is quite wonderful.)

Then, in a sweet fatherly moment, Hauser feeds her to comfort her. Again, two people who initially made each other very uncomfortable finally connect and create a bond.

Lastly, there is the moment where Natalie and Yonica connect after having disliked and judged each other at first. This takes a while to build over several scenes.

They begin the connection over a makeshift meal in an abandoned estate, when Hauser tells them that his wife was murdered and his daughter kidnapped. We can see their shared sympathy for him (as they contemplate his loss of the feminine principle in his life).

Later, in the face of her impending dreaded marriage, Yonica is in despair because she believes she is a whore, but, she says, at least I can be a rich whore. Natalie tells her she doesn’t have to marry some asshole to get what she wants in life. Here, Natalie is offering her liberation, a powerful gift from one woman to another.

Yonica continues with her marriage plans, but eventually tells Natalie she will escape her husband by telling him she is going shopping in America and she will never return. She asks if she can live with Natalie, who cries out "oh, yes!"

I see in these three characters a trinity who unite to redeem each other with their love in what becomes a family by the end of the movie. This is not a trinity coming out of some paternalistic version of religion, however, because the strength of the two female characters ensures that the feminine principle is here restored to the sacred symbol. This is a spiritual union of equals.

Hauser has another interesting line, which seems a cynical joke when he tosses it off to Natalie at their first meeting. When questioned about the suffering that the war is causing, he says:

"But the way I look at it is this: the day we can actually feel and hear all the suffering of mankind, that’s the day when the Christ will come back. So we got that going for us. "

After a quizzical look from Natalie, he adds, "or Buddha, or Allah, whoever floats your boat."

This is deeply messed up when he first says it, but maybe in the context of the whole film, we can look at it another way. When we can really “feel and hear all the suffering of mankind” (feel and hear it, not create it), when we can see that a mother losing her child in Baghdad suffers as much as a mother losing her child in Anytown, USA, or anywhere else in the world, then we will develop compassion. Then we will all become the Christ or the Buddha, or whoever floats your boat. Talk about a paradigm shift!

Perhaps we might find that when we embrace love and accept the "other" the world becomes a place we can all be from. That would represent a true AUMerican Dream Change, as my Gather friend Carolion Grailbear calls it.

Don't be too distracted by the broad and sometimes crude humor. That is only one of the masks. Just as there are hidden depths to Hauser, there are also hidden depths to this film. And it has a beautiful soul.

War, Inc. is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and now on iTunes.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

John Cusack put my review of War, Inc. on his MySpace blog

I'm so stoked. John Cusack cross-posted my review of his movie War, Inc. from Progressive Blue to his MySpace blog after I sent him the link in a comment. Thanks, John. Just for that, I'm crossposting this like crazy.

Here's the review:

The Flicks Files: War, Inc. (2008)

The best new movie I've seen all year went almost straight to video after playing in a pathetically small number of theaters for a very short time. (Has anybody else noticed that Hollywood has been putting out some real crap this year? I'm not sure this corporate conglomeratization thing is working real well for them.)

The only new movie I've really cared about seeing this year was War, Inc., the bitterly biting satire of Halliburton-style war profiteering, which stars John Cusack, was directed by Joshua Seftel, and written by Mark Leyner & Jeremy Pikser & John Cusack. As might be expected by anyone who has become as cynical as I am in this land of the corporate controlled press, the movie struggled for distribution and promotion for a brief weekend or two in May, then was quickly swept under the red carpet. This, despite an all-star cast that includes Hilary Duff, Marisa Tomei, Joan Cusack, Ben Kingsley, and Dan Aykroyd.

Of course, we wouldn't want to jump to conclusions about the reason the movie "flopped." Maybe it was censored. Maybe it just sucked. At least, that latter explanation was one I was willing to entertain up until the point where I finally saw the movie this afternoon. No, it was censored. And that really pisses me off.

This movie has a great cast and a hilariously absurdist script. It's been said, probably in what little marketing there was of this movie, that it's the spiritual twin to Grosse Pointe Blank, but after seeing it, I felt like it was more a modern day Dr. Strangelove. There was a time in America, and it was not so long ago, when this movie would have been shown widely in the theaters, boycotted by some right-wing groups, and would have generated a storm of controversy in the press. In 2008, you hardly heard it whispered about. And that is much more scary.

Full disclosure here. I wanted this movie to succeed, artistically, even if not at the box office. The issue it discusses is of critical importance. Besides that, I really like John Cusack. I have liked him ever since my sister and I first cracked up laughing during a preview of Better Off Dead when we were in high school. I like him much more now that he's become an outspoken progressive blogger.

I've blogged about this movie before seeing it, which is pretty unusual for me, and I announced ahead of time that I would review it. Yesterday, knowing that I would probably get the DVD in the mail today, I was a little stressed out hoping that my honesty would not force me to give it a bad review. Fortunately, honesty intact, I can say that I loved it.

John Cusack's character in the movie, Hauser, is a corporate hitman for Tamerlane, a fictional Halliburton kind of company. He's sent to do an assassination in a fictional Middle Eastern country called Turaqistan, during the first American war completely outsourced to a private corporation. The movie opens with him doing a shot of pure hot sauce before a hit. This is one tough dude.

To pull off the assassination, he has to pose as the organizer for an American trade show showcasing the benefits of American corporate culture to a Turaqi audience. An inquisitive reporter for The Nation (Marisa Tomei) gets in his way. You get the feeling he might kill her, if he didn't start falling for her. As part of his trade show organizing cover job, he also has to babysit a bratty, oversexed Turaqi pop star (Hilary Duff). Fortunately, his hyper and perky yet menacing secretary (Joan Cusack) is there to help him do his job. It doesn't take too long before we start realizing that Hauser has some growing moral questions about his work.

Forget realism. If you're looking for an intellectual, balanced critique of American policy, you're not going to find it here. This movie makes its point by taking everything to an absurd, yet all too believable extreme. This is a sharp and cutting picture of the ridiculousness of extreme corporatization, where you can have a clandestine meeting in an undisclosed location hidden underneath a Popeye's restaurant.

The improbable relationships between Cusack's hitman, Tomei's progressive journalist, and Duff's pop star were risky. Initially I thought they were not going to work, because they just seemed way too unlikely, but in a few quiet human moments that were a haven in the madness of this movie, those relationships came together and actually became even touching. Hauser seems at times a little too nice to be a hitman, but at those moments, the character has a soul that you wish you could see evident in some of the members of the Bush administration. His capacity to question what he is doing ultimately makes him a sympathetic character.

The people who made this movie took a big risk to make an important point. Progressives will love it for its frank presentation of the huge problem America has with corporations that lobby our government so that they can make money through killing other people. Conservatives will no doubt screech loudly that John Cusack hates America.

At least, that's what I imagine will happen if the movie manages to be seen on DVD by enough people to even become a subject of discussion. See the movie, then go out and show it to others. This movie is a teaching opportunity, as Democratic congressional candidate Alan Grayson recognized while running in Florida's 8th District. Spread the word.

War, Inc. is rated R for some bad language, a little sexy stuff, and some pretty graphic violence. Given the subject matter, the violence makes sense, but be forewarned.

Watch the trailer:

War, Inc. receives the coveted Edge of My Seat rating in the black cat rating system, the highest rating possible.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My War, Inc. Review Is Up

I'll crosspost it here after the folks at Progressive Blue have had their way with it for a while, but meanwhile...


Hey! This time I even spelled Dan Aykroyd's name right. ;-)

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Maverick's Lockstep: a political limerick

I apologize for the click-through, but this was published exclusively on Associated Content.

With McCain/Palin, "change" means More of the Same.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Looking forward to War, Inc.

I've blogged about War, Inc. before. This is the satire of war profiteering starring John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Marisa Tomei, Hillary Duff, Dan Ackroyd, and Ben Kingsley, which I had been looking forward to earlier this year. I never got to see it, however, because it never made it out of a few cities in its theatrical release.

I tend to suspect it got effectively censored by corporate movie distribution due to the political message.

With a cast like that, it seems illogical that the movie wouldn't get wide distribution, even if it was truly bad. I don't know about the quality, because I still haven't seen it. The preview looks very funny.

Anyway, War, Inc. comes out on DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 14th. I plan to review it later this week, so check back for the review. Probably the review will go up on Progressive Blue first.

And yes, I've been excited about this movie, because it's got a message I agree with and believe is important, but that doesn't mean I've come to a conclusion about whether it's a good movie before seeing it. I'll review it honestly, as I always try to do. Expect the review on Thursday or Friday. Unfortunately, I pre-ordered it from Amazon, and I don't think the shipment is getting here in time for me to do it earlier than that.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Flicks Files Flash: "The Godfather" Restored

Monday night, I was invited to a special premiere showing of the newly restored version of Francis Ford Coppola's classic film The Godfather at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore, one of five "historic presentation" theaters in the country chosen to showcase the restored versions of this film and The Godfather, Part II.

At the request of director Francis Ford Coppola, the 1972 film has been restored in what sounds like a meticulous and painstaking process by film preservation expert Robert A. Harris.

Paramount delivered the film’s surviving elements — original camera negative, YCM separation masters, intermediate separation masters and thousands of feet of miscellaneous elements — to Pro-Tek Preservation Services in Burbank, where an inspection confirmed that radical surgery was required. Held together with tape, the original negative was filthy and riddled with scratches, rips and tears, some of which broke into the image area; in some sections, parts of the image had actually been torn away.

According to Senator owner Tom Kiefaber, Harris was very impressed with the Senator on a previous visit, when the theater showed his restoration of Lawrence of Arabia, and it was Harris who suggested that the Senator be one of the theaters allowed to show this new restoration of The Godfather.

The two Godfather films begin showing at the Senator on Friday, October 10, but I got invited to the free private screening Monday night, because I am on the Senator's mailing list. If you live in the Baltimore area, this should be reason enough for you to go to the Senator's website and sign up to be on their mailing list yourself.

I feel a little silly reviewing this film, because it is routinely listed among the best American films ever made, and probably there is nothing I can say about it that hasn't been said before. The Godfather came out when I was very young, and I've been hearing people talk about it for at least the last 30 years. Usually what they say is it's exceedingly good or exceedingly violent, or both.

I, however, had never seen it, and that was for one reason only --- I don't like violence. I'm not a puritan about it, and I don't always succeed in avoiding violent movies. America has an obsession with violence, and much as I hate it, it's part of our culture. I sometimes end up seeing movies I know are violent if the subject interests me for other reasons, if I like the actors or the director, if the violence is cartoonish and bloodless, or if the movie gets so much praise that it must be a real work of art. The Godfather falls into that last category, so when I got a chance to see the restored version on the big screen, I decided to put aside my natural revulsion to the subject and go see it.

This is the story of an organized crime family, the Corleone family, and their various disagreements and vendettas against other Italian mob families. In it, an attempted hit against Vitto Corleone, the Godfather, begins a series of violent repercussions and revenge. These are guys you don't cross, and if you do, bad things happen to you.

Having heard this movie built up for 30 years or more, it's hard for it to live up to the reputation. In my opinion, this is neither the best movie, nor the most violent that I've seen. But I do have to agree somewhat with the general verdict --- this is a very fine movie. What makes it great is the writing, the characterizations, the compelling performances, and the chilling difference between the tenderness the members of the Corleone family show each other and the way they turn into absolute monsters when handling their "business."

Marlon Brando was superb as the Godfather, Vitto Corleone; Al Pacino was likewise as his innocent-looking young son Michael, who becomes ever more corrupt as the film progresses. Pacino is so young in this film that it took me about half the movie to realize who the actor was. And was that a very young Diane Keaton as Michael's girlfriend Kay? (Yes, it was, but again, it took me a long time to recognize her.)

I'll confess there was one major thing I didn't get about this movie, which kept nagging me throughout. What did the members of these crime families think they were gaining by all this violence? Power, maybe. Wealth, maybe, except they seemed to have little time to enjoy it, and all of their houses looked like funeral parlors. Nobody in the movie seemed to be enjoying life, so where was the benefit of this lifestyle? I just didn't get why these people considered their lifestyle one worth pursuing. Really, they seemed like ugly, mean little people living ugly, mean little lives. Perhaps that was the point.

Ultimately, I think these questions are criticisms of our society, and not of the film. What do we gain by our obsession with violence? Money? It sure doesn't look like it these days. Power? Again, I would question that. Are we enjoying life? Is this making us better? I don't think so.

The special engagement of The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II starts Friday. The movies will play for one week only. The Godfather will play at 12:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and The Godfather, Part II will play at 4:00 p.m. You can see one movie or both for the admission price. If you want to catch the restored prints of these movies on the big screen, now's the time.

In any case, if you live in the Baltimore area, please sign up for the listserv and support the Senator Theatre. It's one of the few classic old movie theaters left, it's beautiful and architecturally unique, and it deserves to be preserved.

The Godfather receives the Pass the Popcorn rating in the black cat rating system, indicating it’s well worth watching.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Brisingr (Christopher Paolini): A Book Review

Brisingr (Knopf, September 2008) is the just-released third book in the Inheritance cycle by Christopher Paolini. Readers should be forewarned that Inheritance, previously billed as a trilogy, has been expanded into a cycle. In other words, if you're looking for resolution in this book, you won't find it. There is a fourth and allegedly final book coming.

While avid fans may be pleased to see the series extended, this was not welcome news to me. I began reading the book with the impression that this was the third and final book of a trilogy. As a result, throughout the whole book, I wondered when Eragon, the Dragon Rider, and Saphira, his dragon, were going to finally confront archvillain Galbatorix. I was greatly displeased when they never did. I only learned that the series had been expanded into four books when I came to the explanatory note at the end of the book, after the unsatisfying conclusion. This experience probably negatively influences my review.

For those who have not read any of the books in the Inheritance series, this is a fantasy series concerning a warrior, Eragon, the last of the Dragon Riders, and his long and meandering journey toward what we can probably assume will be a final confrontation with archvillain and evil dictator Galbatorix. The first book, Eragon, was begun by Paolini when he was 15 years old and self-published, before becoming so popular that it was picked up by a major publisher. That story was what first caught my interest, and I have been following the saga ever since.

Though occasionally inventive and certainly interesting enough to more or less hold my attention through three lengthy volumes, the series has always had its problems, many of which seem to be exacerbated in this most recent installment.

Perhaps the most obvious problem is that the whole series is quite transparently derivative of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Forgetting for a moment the slight variation of having a friendly dragon the hero gets to ride on, the story is essentially about an alliance of men, elves, and dwarves going up against an unseen foe --- an evil magician and dictator seeking to expand his empire over the formerly peaceful lands. Only our hero will be able to defeat the villain. Sound familiar?

To quote one of the dwarf clan leaders, Íorûnn,

“If Galbatorix emerges triumphant from this war, not even the Beor Mountains will protect us from his wrath. If our realm is to survive, we must see Galbatorix overthrown. Moreover, it strikes me that hiding in caves and tunnels while others decide the fate of Alagaësia is unbecoming for a race as old and powerful as ours. When the chronicles of this age are written, shall they say we fought alongside the humans and the elves, as the heroes of old, or that we sat cowering in our halls like frightened peasants while a battle raged outside our doors?”

The Urgals, who initially sound remarkably like Orcs, eventually join the good side in another slight variation on the theme. If that weren’t enough, go ahead and guess the name of Eragon’s elfin love interest. If you guessed Arwen, close enough. It’s Arya. The hero’s name sounds remarkably like Aragorn, making the pair’s names painfully close to the names of Tolkien’s human-elf couple. All of this sometimes makes the Inheritance cycle read more like Tolkien fan-fiction than anything else.

Paolini, however, seems more concerned with nuanced morality than many fantasy writers, including Tolkien. A strong sensitivity to nature is complemented by a respect for life that makes his hero question the violence he must engage in. There is also an awareness of racism that comes into play when some of the characters question their automatic dislike of the Urgals. Altogether, these factors account for more subtle shadings of morality in these books than the black-and-white good versus evil morality of many a fantasy series.

Because so much of his world and general cast of characters is almost lifted from Tolkien's Middle Earth, it's difficult not to compare the two. Like Sauron, Paolini's villain Galbatorix is unseen and a menace to the entire known world. But Galbatorix, though we know he's a tyrant who enslaves his people, remains unfrightening. He abuses power, yes, but somehow Paolini fails to make these abuses more than a theoretical description. Intellectually, we know he's bad, but there is not the visceral, skin-crawling horror of Tolkien's descriptions of the darkness and stench of Mordor, the poison spreading across Middle Earth.

Eragon, too, often seems to be going through the motions. He’s undecided, it seems at times, even about whether he will oppose Galbatorix. Though Eragon has his own inner turmoil, especially about the killing he must do, it hardly compares to Frodo's grim determination to risk everything to destroy the evil ring he is beginning to covet as it slowly drives him mad.

The decision to expand the series into four books is ironic, considering that one of the major problems is already overwriting that reduces the force of the story greatly. It turns what should be an urgent drive to defeat a powerful and evil foe into a meandering meditation on things like nature, dragons, dwarf society, elf society, magic, homesickness, evil, justice, politics, power, and oh yeah, at some point we may just get around to taking on that evil Galbatorix, but there's certainly no rush about it. It's not as if he's enslaving and killing thousands of people. Oh wait. Actually, he is, but maybe we'll go talk about dwarf politics for another hundred or so pages while we avoid dealing with that.

If Paolini had concentrated on the advice often given to writers to cut out any scene that doesn't move your story forward, he could probably have reduced these first three lengthy books into no more than two. I'm sure fans of his work will argue that this wordiness allows him to enrich and embellish the details of the world he's created (or largely copied from Tolkien), but what suffers is the ability of his writing to compel the reader to care about his characters and fear his villain.

Even at the end of this third book, Galbatorix remains an unfrightening, unseen bad guy who seems too cowardly to leave his castle. Galbatorix lacks Sauron's creeping horror precisely because all the bad things he does are interspersed with so many episodes of trivial but mildly interesting tangential adventures on the part of the heroes. The horror dissipates and fails to build. Galbatorix never shows himself, so we assume he's frightened to come out, especially since Eragon and the rebel Varden don't seem especially driven to confront him. They'll get around to it whenever. Let's go learn some more elf lore for a while.

Sympathy for the characters also suffers, since people who had really faced all the hardships endured by these characters might seem a tad more eager for revenge. Paolini, of course, tells us over and over how much they want their revenge, but it would be nice if he'd show us by having them cut to the chase.

To be sure, there are many interesting ideas and beautifully drawn scenes in these books, but in this grand attempt to create a sweeping fantasy world of complex beauty, the story gets utterly lost. The first book, Eragon, took such a meandering path that I wondered when Eragon would get around to the revenge he had sworn on Galbatorix’s servants, the Ra’zac. In fact, not until this third book, as it turns out.

The second book, Eldest, was better, and I was beginning to think the author had found his stride as he skillfully wove together the twin strands of the stories of Eragon and his cousin Roran. Now, once again, it seems we are stuck in the mire of too many details about inconsequential matters. Dragons and their Riders may live forever, but we mere mortals expect stories to come to a satisfying conclusion at some point. It remains to be seen whether Paolini will pull that off in his fourth book.

One final note: hyphen-worded-dragon-thought is certainly-annoying.



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