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The Electric Smack Shack

If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.

Prometheus [SPOILERS]
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I already tweeted some stuff about it, but if you're craving some (allegedly) deeper thoughts about the movie, check what I have to say after the cut.
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Fear and Loathing in the Garden of Gethsemane
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Dear Reader: This is going to be long and rambly and not very much edited because I'm typing with a half-broken hand and I'm lazy and I'm In A Mood.

It's a lovely and mild spring Saturday morning in Austin, and despite being a disillusioned and disgruntled baby-eating middle-aged atheist, I can't help but feeling like the world is waiting with bated breath in the still hush of Holy Saturday, waiting once again for the old Palestinian Con Man to pull a rabbit out of the hat. But that's just what you get sometimes when you've been raised with Jesus-colored glasses on. It's a bit like watching an episode of Top Gear and then getting into your 14-year old Honda Civic and turning the key and pressing the clutch and putting it in gear and feeling for a moment like you're the Stig behind the wheel of a nice Porsche instead of an ordinary guy in an ordinary car. The magic of art alters the world for a moment before you settle down to seeing reality through your everyday blinders and filters and funhouse mirrors.

I suppose I'm In A Mood thanks to the intersection of three distinct influences. One, I'm still coping with my broken index finger, which makes me clumsy and awkward, which in turn makes me feel helpless and ashamed, which is an unworthy emotion because Sturdy Helpmeet™ is always offering help, a dreadful Catch-22 for her because the offer of help makes me want to do things myself, but the letting-him-do-it-himself makes me want to hear an offer to help. She can't win, and when an evil burst of frustration escapes me in the form of an oath or a bit of body language, she can't really escape. It's not her fault, and I'm ashamed of myself for not being a more graceful patient.

Sweetheart, Sturdy Helpmeet™—I'm so sorry. I'll try to do better.

Influence number two is a wonderful book called The Joke's Over: Bruised Memories: Gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson, and Me. It's artist Ralph Steadman's memoir of working with and playing with and enduring Hunter through 30-odd years of professional and unprofessional collaboration. The good news, I suppose, is that if even Hunter S. Thompson can find something like an artistic or worldviewish soul-mate in the world, then there's hope for everyone.

The bad news is that reading Hunter and reading about Hunter causes my brain to express strange chemicals. Not recreational chemicals, but something like the alien black oil from the X-Files. It slithers over my eyeballs and makes me see the world in very black terms...I was about to say "black and white" terms, but when the black oil is active not a lot of light breaks through.

I feel Hunter's rage and frustration, and I want to howl with him and weep at the state of this broken, awful world.

On the other hand, it's springtime and I have the grim consolation of knowing that the universe really does not give a shit what happens here. Humanity can do its utter, utter worst, and all that will mean is that a million years from now another springtime will emerge on Earth—well, in the northern hemisphere, strictly speaking, so all you poor upside-down people will have to wait—without any rotten people to fuck up the sunny post-post-post-apocalyptic view.

So that's issue number two: I'm infected with the black bile of freshly imbibed Gonzo, which is influencing in turn the way I'm processing the rest of the world.

And the rest of the world (now we're on to influence number three) seems to have contracted into the story of Trayvon Martin, an ordinary kid who was shot to death by a dangerously paranoid violent nut who's still free because our elected masters have deemed that in some circumstances, if you are sufficiently afraid of somebody, you are entitled to stand your ground and shoot him down in the street. What constitutes a legitimate amount of feeling threatened before one uses deadly force is, of course, open to some interpretation, and in Florida the authorities have apparently decided that you can "stand your ground" if you feel so threatened by a child minding his own business that you get out of your car with a loaded gun and follow him through the neighborhood and provoke a confrontation despite having been asked not to do that very same thing by the very same police department that has decided that they can't treat you as a murder suspect because of your one-sided claim (necessarily one-sided, since the child in question is dead dead dead scream it you bastard dead) that it was all in self-defense.

It seems to me that the only person who had any cause to "stand his ground" was Trayvon. Even if his killer is telling the truth about what happened, which I very much doubt, the only person who had any cause to feel threatened in the first place was Trayvon.

The American right wing wants us to think that being black was itself sufficient threat to justify the shooting, of course.

And so this recent eruption of America's original sin has me In A Mood. The Mood is exacerbated by images of cops beating and pepper-spraying peaceful protesters, shooting elderly black people in their homes in response to a medical alert bracelet, vanishing whistle-blowers...the list goes on. The American fetish of "security" has turned the fascist arts of murder and torture, things that used to happen behind closed doors, into a kind of state-sponsored public art.

Can we get NEA funding for pepper spray and riot armor and handguns?

We'll use them on students protesting corruption and women who need pap smears and children who want to buy bags of skittles. CNN and FOX News will be our art galleries, and our AR goggles will contextualize the blood in the streets and remind us to buy eggs for Easter, when my good Christian neighbors will celebrate the final victory of the Prince of Peace over sin and death.

Red Tails: I like it!
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I'm so glad I enjoyed it. I was braced for a repeat of the disappointment I felt at Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, but I needn't have worried.

The theater was pretty full but not sold out, and it was about half-white and half-black. There was a lower-than-usual percentage of hipsters for an opening night, and a higher-than-usual percentage of older guys in jackets bearing Air Force insignia. The crowd laughed a lot during the show, and we applauded at the end, something I haven't seen happen in a theater since The Lord of the Rings.

I can't honestly say that this movie is for everybody. George Lucas was true to his word: he -- or perhaps I should say, the writers and director and actors he hired -- delivered a corny, patriotic war movie made in the style of 1940s and 1950s American war movies. Indeed, you could call it a pastiche of old war movies with better special effects and with the story of the Tuskegee Airmen laid over top. I concede that this is not necessarily for everyone. Some people might not want to dive back into old racial tensions; some people might not want to watch a war movie; some might be offended by the idea of such a pastiche.

But I thought the movie was sweet, fun, and charming, inspiring in precisely the way intended, and full of great airplanes and brilliant dogfights. The relationship between the two lead pilots is touching and tender (and very slashable, if the kind of people who slash stuff ever bother to see the film).

I can't vouch for the historical, tactical, or mechanical accuracy of the movie. But it seems to me to be true in terms of its big themes: the value of grace under pressure, courage in adversity, dignity in the face of prejudice. The underdog can win and make progress, and the overdog (so to speak) can grow and change in response, even if it takes longer than you'd like. 

It's not a perfect movie, but I'm disappointed that the theater wasn't sold out with the kinds of crowds who see the summer blockbuster flicks. It seems to me that if you can overlook the dramatic faults of a movie like Iron Man or Thor or Batman or Transformers or Spider-Man or, indeed, The Lord of the Rings for the sake of the Good Bits, then the same should hold true for Red Tails. At worst it's a good B movie. At best it's a celebration of the professionalism, dignity, and courage of black pilots in the adversity of war, against the bigotry of white America.

Go see it.


Red Tails: I Am EXCITE
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Why I am excited about Red Tails: Word War 2 dogfight movie. Watching the trailers and previews I can practically smell the machine oil and leather and the stench of hot steel. The inspirational anti-racist civil rights message about the Tuskegee Airmen is practically a bonus.

Why I'm not worried about George Lucas being the executive producer: Lucas is really good at producing stuff. Directing actors and writing dialog, not so much; but he is not the director and he is not the screenwriter on this film. Lucas has made some bad things, but scenes of aerial combat (and its space-based equivalent) are not among them. And just look at the trailers...those P-51 Mustangs are fucking gorgeous.

In short: If any war story deserves a bombastic, gleeful, big-budget spectacle (which I admit is a debate in itself, but it's not for this post), it's the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.

I want this movie to succeed. I want it to spawn comic books and model airplane kits and video games. I know I'm motivated by a mixture of progressive zeal and backwards-looking, nationalistic nostalgia, but sometimes these things can't be helped. And of course I know that there's a chance the movie just won't be very good...but I hope it will be.

Here's a great preview, and of course there are more trailers at the web site.

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Belated observations from Londinium #7, with parting thoughts
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Thursday, 10/27. No sleep. Packing and leaving. Duty-free. Longest plane ride ever. Panic in the seats of Economy. Parting thoughts.

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Belated observations from Londinium #6
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Wednesday, 10/26. Rain and sniffles. The news. DLR. Greenwich. The Royal Observatory. The British Museum, part 3. Forbidden Planet. Costume shop. Pizza Express and the Guidos of London.

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Belated observations from Londinium #5
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Tuesday, 10/25. Disease strikes. Westminster Abbey. The verger digs Slurpees. It's "The People's Bible," y'all. The Methodists across the street. Disappointing cab. Oxo Brasserie. National Theater Bookshop. Walk across the Thames. Black Cab Wisdom.

Disease strikes. Of course. After a phenomenal day of running around and doing cool stuff and meeting cool people, now I have a nasty cold. Pretty sure there's some fever, too. GNAAAAH. But fuck it, there's more of London to explore. Pop some generic DayQuil and get out there and see it...

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Belated observations from Londinium #4b
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Being the second half of Monday, 10/24. Caffe Cinos. James Hutton. Primark. Talking Turkey. Down House, home of Darwin. The Queen's Head. Snuff. Toku.

(Sorry about the long delay between updates. Blame scotch, the Sith, and Cardinal Richelieu.)

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Belated observations from Londinium #4a
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(I think I've realized that I'm dragging out these travelogues because writing them lets me reminisce in detail, pretending I'm still in London, pretending it's not yet over. Sigh.)

Monday, 10/24, AM.
Split-up. Nerdery. Frustration. The Southeastern Line. Swanley. English Leather.

The split-up. Every now and then even the most loving of couples needs a break, and today was a day that Sturdy Helpmeet™ and I had set aside to go have separate adventures until it was time to meet for dinner. I got up early and caught the train; she slept in and went to the Museum of London and did some shopping. I did some shopping too, among other things. I just had to catch the train to do it.
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Belated observations from Londinium #3: Remembrance Day
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To honor Remembrance Day (aka Veterans Day, aka Armistice Day) I'm going to get a little bit anachronistic with my account of visiting London. I still need to tell the story of Monday, 11/24, but this post is about a bit of Tuesday, 11/25, when Sturdy Helpmeet™ and I toured Westminster Abbey.

For me, the most moving thing in Westminster Abbey is the grave of the Unknown Warrior. It's surrounded by poppies, the same poppies that you'll see sprouting from the buttonholes of British TV presenters if you're the sort of person who watches a lot of British TV. (You know, like British people, or Americans who are obsessed with Doctor Who, Monty Python, Sherlock Holmes, Top Gear...well, you get the picture.)

Anyway, today is 11/11/11, and Sturdy Helpmeet and I were visiting London in late October. Even in late October, the poppies were coming out: on private vehicles, on black cabs, in store fronts, in office windows. You know how Americans start putting out the Thanksgiving crap right after the Fourth of July, and the Christmas crap right after (hell, before) Halloween, and the Valentine's Day crap right after Christmas---but you hardly hear about Memorial Day or Veterans' Day until it's right on top of you? In London the poppies start coming out many weeks in advance of Remembrance Day.

Or...maybe for some people the poppies are always out, just as for some Americans yellow ribbons are always on display. I don't know. I do know that I'm a bit jaded about the yellow ribbons, not because I don't honor veterans but because the sentiment "support our troops" is so often used to justify policies and wars I disagree with. I don't know if people in the UK have a similarly complicated relationship with the poppy.

But weeks before Remembrance Day I  remember noticing the poppies, and I remember thinking at the time that it was a fine and decent thing to display these humble flowers from Flanders Fields so far in advance of the day of commemoration.

So in honor of my grandfather who died in the Pacific War, in honor of my father and other family members who served, and to honor all men and women courageous enough to put their lives on the line for their friends, families, and loved ones, regardless of nation, color, or creed, this is me taking a moment to say thank you in a small (very small) way.

Let's spend the future cultivating gardens, not graves.


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