Monday, February 25, 2008

French Fry Right Wing Prez

Ah, I love the French. They may elect a right-wing goon as president but, it seems, it’s only to better get some kicks in.
It’s been less than a year since Sarkozy stomped his way to the presidency over the increasingly right-wing Socialist Party candidate, Segolene Royal. But in that time he has managed to see his approval ratings fall from a high of 67 percent to around 39 percent today.
No doubt it has to do with his broad full frontal assault on French working people, starting with his attack on the “special regime pensions” of French train workers. This led to a national rail strike that ended with a qualified victory for Sarkozy but not the thumping he was hoping for as he had to offer pay increases and a bump in pension payments in return to increasing working time to 40 from 37.5 years.
Now, with the French economy all but stagnating and government deficits rising, Sarkozy has tried to take on different groups but often has failed in the face of mass resistance. Fisherman blockading ports over high fuel prices, won subsidies. Students protesting rules opening up university funding to the private sector lost on the central demand but won an extra $5 billion in state funding to upgrade deteriorating classrooms. And, recently, taxi drivers struck and defeated Sarkozy’s plans to de-regulate their industry.
So much for his slogan of burying the legacy of 1968, the year when French workers launched the largest general strike in history up to that point.
The failure of Sarkozy’s claimed goal of making France a place where one could “work more to earn more” is now leading to revolts in the private sector with the first ever national strike by retail workers in early February. There have also been walkouts in 17 McDonald’s and some workers have taken to holding managers hostage to win demands.
“This week the tyre giant Michelin continued talks over the closure of a plant in Toul, eastern France, after a government-appointed mediator secured the release of two managers whom workers had locked in a room for three days. It follows an incident last month when workers outraged at planned job cuts at the Miko ice-cream factory in Saint-Dizier locked up their British manager, Prakash Patel.
“This week, staff at a Ford plant near Bordeaux blockaded their factory and L'OrĂ©al cosmetics staff took to the streets under the banner ‘because we're worth it’, asking for pay rises after their company's good financial results.”

Sarko isn’t yet down and out, not by a long shot. And he’s going for the usual weak spots in the lead-up to municipal elections that at present look set to deliver a big blow to his UMP party. Just last week 1,200 cops were sent into raid working class estates in the middle of the night to arrest 35 people from their beds as supposed leaders in the rioting that took place after cops killed two immigrant kids riding a mini-bike.
However, even this is blowing up in his face since it was clear to most that the whole thing was a press propaganda opportunity. The media arrived and had cameras set-up to film the raids before even the cops were there.
And his UMP party is fracturing under the pressure of resistance and the free-fall in the polls. Sarko can’t even get his own way in the town where he used to be mayor. Here, he tried to impose his spokesman to head the UMP list in town council elections but it was rejected by the council group – including by his own 22-year old son.
Nobody can accuse the French of having any sacred cows when even the right wing son of a right wing president skewers his father prior to a critical election.
With all this turmoil, the hope is that the left can revive itself and break out of the neo-liberal impasse into which the “governmental left” of the Socialist Party has fallen. At the February congress of the Ligue Communiste Revolutionaire, a small but significant far left party in France, they voted to set-up a broad anti-capitalist party with all those on the left who want to present an anti-neo-liberal alternative in upcoming elections.
The LCR’s presidential candidate, Olivier Besancenot, has a very high profile in the French media and was the only candidate to the left of the Socialists to increase his share of the vote last year. If they can tap into the growing sentiment for an alternative to Sarko and the governmental left, the French political scene could have an even bigger shake-up in the coming period.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Take This Poll. Please.

Who the hell is answering political surveys these days? With three polls out in the last two weeks and all three showing different results, I have to wonder what’s going on. As dishonest as I think polling is, fundamentally, I don’t think they’d outright lie. But something is up.
See, I got up this morning and read in the Globe & Mail that the Tories were rising again in popular support such that they were in “majority government territory” at 39 percent. Well, you can imagine that pretty much ruined my day. I considered climbing back into bed until spring with a plan to renounce my citizenship and move to somewhere warmer, somewhere where I don’t speak the language and can maybe even forget that my fellow humans are dumb as posts.
But then it seems that the Grope & Wail poll is contradicted by a Harris-Decima poll, which shows the Conservatives and the Liberals running neck and neck, 35 to 33 percent, respectively.
And just last week, an Ipsos-Reid poll had the Tories dropping from 37 to 36 percent with the Liberals stuck at 29 percent.
As for the NDP, well, let’s just not talk about that because it’s ugly.
Anyway, what I really wanted to know is my original question: who is taking surveys? I have a theory that the only people who take surveys are the kind of people who call up talk radio to rant about immigrants. The rest of us with caller display don’t answer. Hell, is it just me who gets at least three phone calls per day from telephone solicitors? I’m not even polite enough to say “no thanks” any more – I just hang up right away.
I’m sure not all of those phone calls are from people who want to clean our carpet (don’t have any) or offer us a “free vacation” if we just go to a time-share condo seminar. Some of them must be from Ms. (or Mr.) Ipsos-Reid herself calling for my highly valued opinion. So, the only way to get included into one of these so-called “scientific” polls is to listen to every solicitor who calls. And who does that? Not the kind of people we want to be shaping our government or our national political discourse.
I don’t have any answers to how to solve this other than banning telephone soliciting (please, God). While we’re at it maybe we could ban stickers on fruit.
However, I do have some advice for the sad sack Liberals: Hey dummies, if what you’re doing isn’t helping you succeed, maybe you want to think about what you’re doing wrong. The Martin-Chretien civil war certainly took its toll but you know, when you end up on the same side of the political fence as the Tories on every important question of the day… well, let’s just say that people prefer the devil they know. And people just don’t know Stephane Dion because the guy doesn’t have a personality. What’s to know. Even Michael Ignatieff’s torture-is-ok-when-it-doesn't-leave-marks line at least makes him memorable – ghoulish, yes, but memorable.
As for Bob Rae – did I mention the NDP’s poll numbers? When was the last time they were really respectable in the polls? That’s right, before Bob Rae was premier of Ontario. I’d think twice before taking his advice on anything other than a legal career.
But here’s the crown jewel of my suggestions to save the Liberals from themselves: kick out John Manley – not for being a turncoat, after all his views on Afghanistan are in line with the Liberals views, it just so happens that the Liberals views are in line with the Tories. No, kick him out because he’s an ass-kissing weasel who was too lazy to even work for this promotion to UN special envoy to Afghanistan for which the Tories are apparently mooting him. After all, he plagiarized most of the so-called Manley Commission report directly from an earlier article he wrote. But more importantly, kick him out to show that the Liberals are going to take a radically different position than the Tories on Afghanistan – one that is in line with the views of the vast majority of Canadians. Of course, I only know that because of polling, which is to say, I don’t know anything. But I do have a suspicion that Canadians would thank you for offering them a choice other than Tory lite. It can't be any worse than what you've got right now, whichi is Stephane Dion listening to Bob Rae listening to the polls. Need I say more?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Could The Liberals Get Any More Pathetic?

Not to disappoint his followers that he is a weak, gelatinous leader with neither charisma nor principles, Stephane Dion is mooting that the Liberals will find one more reason to let the hated Tories stand. It's not their popularity. It's not the quality of their policies. Why then? Because the Liberals don't want to fight an election until their poll numbers are better, particularly in Quebec.
Of course, they could boost their numbers by fighting on popular policies - like pulling the troops out of Afghanistan, or a better bail-out package for Quebec and Ontario's collapsing manufacturing base. But they support the war, even if they sometimes make noises to the contrary for the benefit of our shallow media. And they aren't interested in state intervention to save jobs. That is, they know that the difference between the Liberals and the Tories is so slim you could drop in some marijuana and roll it up into a spliff. And they'd probably prefer if we were all high, then, once they finally do jump we won't notice that they are a corrupt, right wing outfit with a weak and gelatinous leader, lacking charisma and principles.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Afghanistan: Progress, Canadian Style

Don’t worry, everything is rolling along as planned in Afghanistan. Our troops are winning hearts and minds, they’re rebuilding, they’re defeating the insurgency.
Well, there’s the small matter of Canadian soldiers beating the hell out of Afghan detainees, then covering it up and then, once it’s discovered, of stalling the investigation for more than a year. And then there’s those massive bombings.
As was noted by Amir Attaran, an Ottawa law professor who blew the whistle on the abuse, "When the military is investigating the military, which is inconvenient for the military, is it any wonder that the military rags the puck?"
In fact the investigation took so long to get started that they can’t even track down the detainees any longer. And the Afghan they hired to do so was assassinated by insurgents. Probably nobody else will be applying for his job.
Nor can they go to the medical records of the detainees, many of whom were treated by Canadian doctors. Why? Oops, it seems that the medical records from that time period, well, they just disappeared.
Can you believe these guys?
Well, then, no wonder the Tories don’t see the big deal in handing detainees over to the Afghan authorities. The Tories don’t discriminate – hell, if torture and abuse are good enough for us, well, it ought to be good enough for the Afghans police.
Small problem though, Kandahar’s head torture master, Governor Asadullah Khaled, just fired somewhere between 100-250 police for corruption. Or, maybe it has something to the assassination attempt on his life and the growing power of the Taliban in and around Kandahar. The firing was done without notice, even to Canadian troops, who found out by surprise.
If it was an attempt to eliminate a Taliban base inside the police then it failed to dampen the vigour of the insurgent movement. Within a two day spread two enormous suicide bombs killed a total of perhaps 150 people, including the “auxiliary police commander”, ie. warlord, of Kandahar along with 35 of his men who were watching a dog fight. With potentially 125 people dead, this was the largest suicide bomb attack in Afghan history.
The Taliban have been having a lot of success in recent months eliminating important political figures inside Afghanistan, it seems.
Then on Monday, insurgents struck again, with a suicide car bomb attack on Canadian troops that killed 35 civilians. The Canadians, it seems, were warned that there was a suicide plot afoot and that they should stay on their base until local police rounded up the attacker. But the Canadians refused to heed the warnings – six of them, in fact - and now the governor, Khaled, is none too happy with the Canucks.
Tory Defense Minister, Peter MacKay, has responded with the usual Tory line that everything is good and that the Taliban are on the run, saying that the bombings didn’t indicate any increase in Taliban activity. He better hope not because last year was already a record year for suicide bombings in Afghanistan.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Media Lies And Palestine

Well, another day another blown up house in Gaza. Just add it to the list. Don’t worry though – it wasn’t the Israelis, it was just a coincidence that one of their F-15s flew overhead right before the explosion, which killed not just a Palestinian militant but his wife and kids, plus another 17 local children. And even if it was the Israelis, well, it’s just a response to Palestinian terror. Right?
The way the media spins it, everything that happens in Palestine/Israel is the result of those unruly Palestinians. They’re just so…so extreme. Can you imagine, firing rockets into Israel?
Of course, the reporting on Israel’s regular bombardments with helicopter gunships, tanks and jet fighters – provided by US taxpayers for America’s most important military base, I mean ally – is either non-existent or makes it seem like poor Israel is besieged by irrational lunatics. So, for instance, a Globe & Mail story that was online Sunday said that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert had given his military a “free hand” after a Palestinian rocket “slammed” into a house in Israel on Saturday.
They don’t mention that the rocket attack was a response to Israeli bombardment that happened on Friday, and which killed 8 people and wounded dozens of others. They also don’t mention that Israel has been bombing and invading Gaza almost every day of the week since Hamas took over, in order to break the Palestinians’ resistance.
Nor is it ever mentioned that the Palestinians have been systematically robbed of their land and dignity within living memory, nor that the Israeli ‘security wall’ is being used to expand Israel’s borders, separate Palestinian towns from their agricultural fields and olive groves (regular bulldozed to expand settlements).
Even now, Gaza is the world’s largest open-air prison with an illegal Israeli lockdown on fuel and medical supplies, even food. As Israeli officials were noting publicly back in 2006:
“Israel's policy was summed up by Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, earlier this year. 'The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger,' he said. The hunger pangs are supposed to encourage the Palestinians to force Hamas to change its attitude towards Israel or force Hamas out of government.”
By the way, collective punishment is a war crime and is disturbingly reminiscent of the treatment meted out to Jewish populations in Europe under the Nazis. I remember reading about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and how the Nazis sought to starve the Jews into submission and, ultimately out of existence.
And Israel regularly blows up any infrastructure that would allow the Palestinians to maintain some self-sufficiency, starting with Gaza’s only power plant. But it’s continued since then.

[An Israeli] warplane fired four missiles at a large vegetable storage facility in al-Shaboura refugee camp in Rafah. As a result, the facility was destroyed completely. The owners of the 800-square-meter facility estimated their loss at approximately $700,000 US. Forty workers at this facility, which is owned by Dr. Abdul-Hadi Qishta, lost their jobs.
The strike also targeted another vegetable factory owned by the Shabana Company. The factory's owners estimated their loss at approximately $350,000. The factory employed 80 workers in two shifts. Fourteen houses in the area were damaged partially or severely; one of them was destroyed completely and its owner and his wife received minor injuries. These fourteen homes were inhabited by 106 persons. Ten citizens were injured in this shelling; most of them were children.
Later that night, at approximately 11:55pm, IOF warplanes launched four air strikes at an unfinished training site in the town of Bani Suhaila, east of Khan Younis. The attack caused damage to the building.
A few minutes later, at approximately 12:30am (10 February), IOF warplanes fired a missile at a steel factory in al-Zaitoun neighborhood, southeast of Gaza City, destroying it completely and causing severe damage to a nearby workshop. The factory is owned by Yasin al-Madhoun. The shelling also caused damage to many houses and injury to 13 people from the neighborhood, including four children and six women.

Is it any wonder that the Palestinians celebrated when the border with Egypt came down? It was the worlds largest prison break, no matter how much western and Israeli media tried to spin it as some kind of frivolous shopping spree. It was desperation and resistance. It's clear that Israel will continue to produce the former and that the Palestinians have no choice but to continue the latter. And the media will continue to lie about both.
But let's not kid ourselves, when one side has helicopter gunships, jet fighters, nukes and tank brigades and the other side has to stuff pieces of metal into tennis ball tubes to use them as missiles, there is no symmetry. When one side is the largest recipient of US aid - receiving as much as the entire rest of the US aid budget. When one side can starve, colonize, invade, harass and blow up the other side at will, the actions of those who are being starved, colonized and blown up are acts of resistance. The real terrorists are those who hide behind the 5th most powerful army in the world, supported by the most powerful empire in world history, to kill the indigenous populations of this tragic land.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cosmetic Surgery: Peter Pan & The Beauty Myth

Hey, are you worried that you’re getting a little soft in the middle? Maybe your boobs or your eyebrows are getting droopy? Well, get on that willya. Cripes, everybody’s doing the nip & tuck and it’ll boost your earnings, your chances of promotion and the likelihood of being found not-guilty after you rob that bank to pay for all the cosmetic surgery you just had done. Seriously.
In case you had any doubts that our culture is descending into a pathetic narcissism or that it’s promoting the virtues of shallowness and youth obsession, a quick look at the plastic surgery stats is in order.
The last ten years has seen an explosive growth in cosmetic surgery in North America and beyond. In Canada alone, between 2002 and 2003 non-surgical “enhancements” grew by 24.6 percent, and surgical procedures – led by breast augmentation – jumped by nearly 17 percent.
In the USA, as they were bombing Iraq and immiserating their domestic working class population, they were also rushing to the front of the beauty line with 11.5 million surgical and non-surgical procedures in 2005 alone; 364, 610 of those procedures were for breast augmentation. Since 1997 there has been a jump of 444 percent in the number of procedures. Americans spent $12.4 billion on cosmetic surgery.
And it’s not just women who are “getting work done”. Men now make up about 9 percent of the clientele in the USA. In the UK it’s even higher at 11 percent in 2005, with the biggest procedure being nose jobs followed by fixing those embarrassing droopy eyelids.
Don’t worry if it’s a little out of your price-range, not only are the new “less invasive” techniques bringing prices down (ahem, “democratizing access”, as they say), you can also catch a flight down to Brazil where “vanity tourism” is a thriving business. And in Brazil – home to Ivo Pitanguy, father of modern plastic surgery – you can save from a third to a half on the costs.
OK but what’s with this obsession? Why are we afraid to look like we’re growing old?
Sure, we don’t want to die and old age is about the body breaking down as death approaches. But old age isn’t new and it wasn’t always so loathed as it is now. There was a time when our elderly were revered for their wisdom and experience. What’s changed?
Four words: Capitalism makes you vain.
Look, don’t get me wrong – I want to look hot too. I’m scared that my youth is slipping (has slipped?) away. Hell, I may get some “work” done myself, on my face or my ass – just as soon as I win that lottery and pay off my debts. And, Lord knows, there’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself. In fact, if more people ate better food and exercised, there’d be less need to get liposuction
But there’s two things about capitalism that makes us obsess about youth and body perfection. The first is that for the vast majority of the population, we look to our older years as a time to retire; our producerly lives come to an end. We want to get the hell out of the workforce, which has taken up so much of our lives with mundane, shitty work. But the flip side is that we are seen as no longer useful to the economy. We are now a net drain (witness all the attacks on pensions over the past decade and a half; hell, we can’t afford our old people anymore). To be old it to be useless – that’s why we put ‘em away in homes and forget about them to be cared for by underpaid and overworked (mostly) women. Soylent Green anyone?
The second factor has to do with how we experience work – it is forced labour. We would rather do anything else than go to our jobs. How many times have you heard someone say that if it weren’t for their mortgage they wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. That’s because the economy, via our workplace, approaches us as an alien being, like a blind natural force. All we see are the innumerable private corporations and businesses fighting with each other for market share and production. It is anarchy.
The only comprehensible way we experience the social, interactive nature of the economy – which, after all isn’t a natural phenomenon but a socially, historically created one – is in the purchase of goods. Production is isolated and privatized, consumption is a public act. So, commodities increasingly seem to exist on their own, without history or process. They have come into the world fully formed. That’s why they are flat, surfacey things that can attract us only through two features: their usefulness and their beauty.
Oftentimes their beauty is a significant part of their usefulness – clothes, shoes, cars – and the less “productively” useful they are, the more beautiful a consumer good they are considered. But whatever the case, their beauty is not connected to the process of their production – except perhaps with luxury goods in which the “artisanal” methods of production are valorized: we don’t admire the welding work of the autoworker or the historical development of silicon chips in our computer. The only basis for judgment is the end product: the commodity.
We are a society that values ends and not means. The ultimate expression of this, for me, was when Secretary of State under Clinton said, in describing the death of over a million children as a result of American led sanctions: “we think the price is worth it (to remove Saddam)”. The ends forever justifies the means. Where does this come from?
As industrial capitalist society develops and spreads, reaching into every nook and cranny of our social world, this commodity fetishism spreads with it, this worship of history-less ends, of aesthetic values without technique or process. Reality and experience become a barrier to the achievement of pure beauty, ie. that which is untouched by the griminess of life. Beauty has no hair, no wrinkles. Its skin is smooth and unblemished. Its curves are perfect without effort or strain and its teeth are perfectly straight. Anything that reminds us that we are beings in process, constantly changing and remaking ourselves through our experience and that this process leaves its mark on us, like medals to show the battles we’ve survived, any such thing is a deformity. That’s why Michael Jackson’s horror mask face and his Never-Never-Land fantasy mansion aren’t a deviation from our society’s values, they are its highest expressions.
And it’s no surprise that Michael Jackson would be the ultimate self-commodifying beauty monster. He is a star and what role do stars play in our society? Their job is to renew our hope in the values we have been taught are good – leisure, beauty, sex, financial success (itself measured in part by beauty), and of course the inevitable rewards of hard work. They are a concrete example that if we follow the righteous path and believe the fairy tales that we’re told we will succeed and we will be beautiful. They are the sugar that makes the bitter pills of so many people’s possible to swallow. That’s why there is such pressure on stars to have their faces done over and over again. It’s the equivalent of Olympic training for ideological athletes.
In this view, Michael Jackson was only trying to do what all the stars do – only with the added handicap that he is a black man, with all the features of an African. And we all know that the real measure of beauty is whiteness, especially when Jackson was coming of age. In 1995, Empire Magazine’s famous “100 Sexiest Stars of All-Time” had only one African-American on it. Even the 2007 list only included six black stars and none in the top ten. Is it any wonder Jackson drew the conclusions he did in his mind. He’d had his star qualities literally beaten into him as a child. He just continued the beating after his father was done but to the same ends.
Besides film and music stars, there is the much larger demographic of women who are the primary targets and clients of cosmetic surgery. Why? For many of the same reasons as movie stars. Movies – and popular music – set up the expectations and it is ordinary women who are expected to implement it. It is women who are still laden down with the task of making people (men and children) fit to continue working, spiritually, sexually and physically. As Marx described it, they serve to reproduce labour – both in the sense of carrying the children and also in refreshing the workers so that they can and will return the next day.
And women are the proof of your success – a beautiful woman on a rich man’s arm is the ultimate success story – she’s bagged the sugar daddy and he’s bagged the sex toy. Ordinary working class people can never hope to live up to the standards of our mega-rich betters with their unlimited expense accounts, private trainers and personal surgeons. But we can emulate them in our own small way. We too can try to hide the labour that marks our bodies – with fat because we’re too busy to cook good meals, with drooping skin from years of being exhausted. Just, whatever you do, for god’s sake, don’t try to eliminate the system that scars you so badly you want to hide from it and the fact that your life is being stolen out from under you.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Five Years Since Millions Marched Against War

Happy 5th anniversary, you dreamers for peace.
I remember the day clearly, in part because it was so damn cold. My face was frozen, my fingers were frozen, well, everything was frozen. I was driving the van that brought the sound equipment to the demonstration that day and had worked the night before so I was very tired.
But as cold as it was and as early as it was, it was clear that this was going to be something very big. You can always tell when it's going to be a big protest because people arrive early. Anybody who's been on more than one demonstration knows that rallies never, ever start on time, so you might as well show up late. But when people are coming early, it's because they've never demonstrated before. So, when you get those people, it's going to be a big one. On February 15, 2003 in Toronto - and hundreds of other cities around the world - it was a big one.
By some estimates, it was the single largest movement of people on a single day in human history, pushing 30 million by many estimates. In London, UK, alone there were some 2 million on the streets (see pic below). It was that big. In Toronto, we were 80,000, the largest protest since the Toronto General Strike as part of the Days of Action movement in 1996.
It was electric. There we were standing in Dundas Square, watching people pour in from every directions. Seas of people and placards and homemade banners filled the streets. The police didn't even bother to try to stop them. On that day the streets were ours.
February 15 didn't stop the war - though the mobilizations across Canada, especially the
250,000 in Montreal, did ensure Canada didn't officially participate. But it made the boneheads and chickenhawks who make the decisions to send the young to kill and die in faraway places for oil wealth and imperial power think twice before starting the next one. I remain convinced that were it not for the domestic and international opposition to the war against Iraq in the US and the UK we would already be fighting in Iran. And the Harper Tories wouldn't have to hide behind weasel words and sneaky maneuvers to keep us in Afghanistan.
February 15 was, quite simply, a moment of real history. I hope you were there.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Conservatives Attack Abortion Thru Backdoor

You gotta hand it to the Conservative Freak Parade, they just don’t stop, even when they lose. After all it was twenty years ago this year that the abortion law in Canada was struck down and women’s inherent right to control their bodies was accepted as a legal principle.
But the people who would throw you into jail for masturbating into your sock are back. And they’ve found a new way to take away the rights of women: The Unborn Victims of Crime Act. It’s been brought forward as a private members bill by Edmonton Conservative MP Ken Epp. It receives a second debate on February 29 and then is scheduled for a vote on March 4.
It sounds innocuous enough – if someone, during the process of committing an offense, harms the fetus of a pregnant woman, including causing a miscarriage or stillbirth, they would receive extra punishment. Now, don’t we all think that people who hurt or kill pregnant women are particularly odious?
Except that this isn’t about protecting the pregnant woman – it’s about the fetus. In fact, it is about granting the fetus personhood, separate from the woman carrying it. But if the fetus is a person and the woman is a person, then there’s going to be some sticky legal situations to work out – like, hmmm, I don’t know… abortion, perhaps?
In many of the 37 states where there is similar legislation to that mooted by Mr. Epp, women have suffered the nasty end of the legal stick. Even in those states where a pregnant woman in question is specifically, legally exempt this is the case. In Pennsylvania, Missouri, California and Texas, women are exempt and yet pregnant drug users have been charged with murder and assault against their fetuses. The charges have been ruled out of order – but for how long?
In South Carolina only one man has been busted for killing a pregnant woman, however 100 pregnant drug users have been charged under the fetus protection legislation. There isn’t a single drug rehab clinic in the state. And South Carolina anti-choice legislators have said that they plan to use the legislation to challenge Roe v Wade at the Supreme Court. (Roe v Wade was the Supreme Court decision back in the 70s that won the right to abortion in the United States.)
Women have even been charged and jailed for murder after refusing a caesarian section an suffering stillbirth, or just from suffering a stillbirth.
Let’s be honest – this is the thin edge of the anti-choice wedge to re-criminalize abortion. It’s about shifting the discourse towards talking about fetuses as children with rights, etc. It’s about reducing women to baby-carrying vessels.
Don’t think it’s about abortion? Well, according to the Campaign Life Coalition, “Ken Epp is not a member of CLC, although we are very supportive of his political career during which he has been a stalwart supporter of the pro-life cause.” Campaign Life are also very big supporters of Epps bill.
At the moment the NDP and the BQ will whip their members to vote against the bill. However, the Liberals have said that it will be a free vote for their caucus and they have their fair share of anti-choice types. Go to Birth Pangs and fill out their automatic form to Liberal Leader Stephane Dion: tell him to make sure that the Liberals vote against this backdoor attack on women.
And, if you want to know more, check out these talking points from the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Will Obama Win The Election... In Canada?

Obama is wiping up the map with Hilary. In the last week the Democrat presidential hopeful swept 8 primaries and passed her with the largest number of committed delegates. The excitement around his campaign is astounding in a country that has made electoral abstention a national pastime. His figures for fundraising are out of this world, with well over 400,000 people contributing to his campaign since January 1.
“If the Obama campaign can maintain this fundraising pace -- online donations poured in at the rate of more than $500,000 an hour after his overwhelming victory in South Carolina -- it's likely that Obama will raise upwards of $30 million online this month.”
And people are coming out to see him speak in droves. At the University of Maryland on the weekend, some 17,000 people – heavily youth – came out to a boisterous rally.
Why’s everybody going crazy for Barack Obama?
Well, for one thing he voted against the war in Iraq. And for another, he still opposes the war on Iraq. He also manages to mention the 4 million Iraqi refugees displaced by the US war on that country.
He talks about universal healthcare in a country where 47 million people, including 9 million children have no insurance coverage. It’s true his solution leaves untouched the insurance corporations. But it’s something, and people are desperate.
On the economy he’s talking about tax cuts for middle and low-income earners while reversing tax cuts for the rich. And he’s moderately pro-union, wanting to make it easier for workers to organize into unions and illegal for employers to hire permanent scabs.
Better than a kick in the head, for sure, but it’s hardly radical stuff and he’s hardly a radical guy. In fact, he’s not very good on any number of issues, including Iran, against which he has refused to rule out a military strike though to be fair he has since backed off on that and talked up diplomacy. And he’s a whole-hog supporter of Israel in its war against the Palestinians (and Lebanon and…). But after eight years of Bush, it's like mana from heaven.
And there’s another element – he’s black. This is a nation built on the backs of African slaves. This is the nation of the KKK, segregation and the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This is the nation of Rodney King and the post-Katrina ethnic cleansing of New Orleans.
Does it matter to us up here in Canada?
If there’s an increase in anti-war rhetoric and a momentum behind Obama as the “anti-war candidate”, there is no way that this won’t hurt the Tories who are the Canadian branch of the Neo-Conservative Loony Society.
Harper has toed the Bush line more than Bush himself. He is a unilateralist war monger. He's done everything he could to scuttle Kyoto - and any meaningful climate action. The Tories have tried to undermine abortion rights and roll back gay marriage.
A wave of support for someone who's reputation is for progressive change - even if it outstrips his actual politics - will be a powerful counter-example of a continental shift and that will hurt Harper. It will also give confidence to the ever-opportunist Liberals that the way to victory is by campaigning on a progressive platform.
In any case, I think it may be too late for the Tories – because of the economy, because of the war, because of Obama. But I’m a notorious optimist.
In the here and now, if I were in the USA would I vote for Obama? Would I work on his campaign?
Wow, that’s tough. Here’s what I know: the Democrats are the second-wing of America’s two party capitalist dictatorship – not to put too fine a point on it. They are owned lock, stock and barrel by the corporations who contribute most of the party’s cash. They are the party of slavery, segregation, Vietnam, war in the Balkans, the bombing of Iraq and Sudan, the doubling of the prison population, etc etc. They are a vile corrupt machine.
But if they are drawing in masses upon masses of anti-war youth on the campuses and politicizing them, it would be foolish to turn down the opportunity and stand on the sidelines. Just telling people – “the Democrats won’t change anything” – isn’t sufficient. The only serious question that I can see in this is: is it possible to use the Obama campaign to deepen anti-war and anti-corporate organizing on the campuses and in the communities? Because regardless of Obama’s sincerity, there will be no change, including no phased withdrawal of troops, unless there’s mobilizing on the streets, campuses and communities. That’s a question that activists in the USA will have to ask and answer themselves.
What I do know is that if the Republicans are defeated by a young, black man known as an opponent of the war in Iraq, it will be electric. And I want to see it happen.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tom Cruise, Whackjob

Here's the Tom Cruise Scientology recruitment video. I admit that it's perhaps cheap and degrading to put something up in which a famous person demonstrates how clearly they have come unhinged from reality. But, then, I've never claimed to NOT be cheap and degraded. And I think it's never a bad thing to de-bunk the star mystique, the idea that glamorati are somehow better, smart, faster than the rest of us. This video will disabuse you of that notion - or there's no help for you.
What I find so fascinating about this video is not just that it's the ravings of a cult member but that he doesn't actually SAY anything. Sure, there's all sorts of cliches about changing lives, etc. but if you can tell me what Tom actually prescribes, other than joining the Scientologists, I'll send you five dollars.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Eye Lacks Vision

God, I can’t wait to see a good movie again. It’s been two dumpers in a row – Elizabeth: The Golden Age and now The Eye, with Jessica Alba.
Based upon a Japanese film of the same name, The Eye is the story of a talented but blind violinist, Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba), who regains her sight with a cornea implant. Afterwards, she has the unfortunate side-effect of assuming the dead donor’s ability to see dead people, how they died and the shades that escort them to the other side.
At first she is confused, then frightened and ultimately determined to find out why she is having these visions. So, with the help of Paul Faulkner, her “ocular therapist” (Alessandro Nivola), Sydney traces her new corneas back to a young Mexican woman accused by her townspeople of being a witch.
Really, as you might have guessed, it’s a bit of a warmed over repackaging of the Sixth Sense. There’s even a recognition of this in the film when Dr. Paul finishes Sydney’s attempt to explain what she sees, “what, dead people?”
Ho ho – metacinema, how clever. Not.
In fact the only interesting and original thing about the film is the fact that when Sydney looks in the mirror, the person she sees is not herself but rather the young Mexican. She only realizes this when her sister gives to her a picture of herself.
There’s something interesting not only in the idea of looking in the mirror and not recognizing yourself for who you are, but for a white American to look in the mirror and see a dead Mexican. Shame that wasn’t developed.
The real problem with this film is that everything that happens to Sydney is mechanical and external and doesn’t have any internal reflection.
If you still want to see the film and hate partial spoilers – stop reading now.
What happens when Sydney accepts her ability – she saves a group of people and she returns to being blind. But while it’s nice to save people, it was really the need of the dead Mexican girl, who acts through Sydney like a cipher.
And the return of blindness isn’t a choice but simply an accident of exploding glass. It is the deus ex machina, the invisible hand of plot necessity, conveniently tying up all the loose ends.
Even this might have been more profound if she had started the movie bitter at her blindness, the result of a childhood accident with firecrackers. But Sydney starts the movie content to be blind and she finishes the movie content to be blind. She starts the movie happily playing music. She finishes happily playing music. There is no change.
As a result it becomes all about effects – the effect of making us scared by ghosts who jump out of the shadows as violins play high, screeching notes. It gets boring real quick and the time between the scares becomes a distraction.
The one notable thing about this film is the treatment of Mexicans, which is a strong reflection of gringo fears about the Third World. It is the counterpoint of United States = science and rationality vs Mexico = superstition and magic.
There is a whole world of Others out there, in the Third World, that is scary and incomprehensible, though they may see something that we don’t and that something might just save our asses if we care to look. But, in the end, it’s better to just stay blind to it.
In that sense, what this film is really about is retreating from an engagement with the world into the abstractions of art for art’s sake. In that sense, I guess, it’s really an ad for Hollywood. Too bad you have to pay to see it.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Dissecting Tory Election Schemes

All of a sudden Mr. Harper is gung-ho to force an election. Whatever could be on our evil little gnome’s mind? Could it be this: a small case of the panics?
You see, the Tories have been stuck in the polls since they won their minority government back in 2006. And, frankly, they only won what they have now because the Liberals were tearing flesh off of each other in the media and Quebec nationalists were in the doldrums with an inept (and right wing) provincial leader of the PQ managing to thoroughly alienate their base of support.
Those conditions no longer prevail and the window is quickly closing on the possibility of repeating even a minority government.
As of last summer the Tories were at 33% according to a Strategic Counsel poll conducted in August, 2007 and which I analyzed at the time.
Now, according to a Nanos poll, the Tories have slumped another two percent to 31 percent nationally. But in the key province of Quebec they are down to 23 percent, from 29 percent at the last election – and all that support has returned to the Bloc.
In Atlantic Canada the Tories have collapsed even further, from 30 percent on November 8, to 22 percent today. All of that – and a 6-point drop for the Liberals – has gone to the NDP and the Green Party.
Even in the West they’ve been hovering around the 40 percent mark from their high of 49 percent at the last election.
So, why is Harper throwing all these confidence motions at Parliament right now? Why does he appear to be trying to force an election?
What the Tories must have realized is that, by and large, most Canadians think they are odious but bearable creatures. Their only attraction is creating a polarizing issue on their terms, which bumps their numbers. These electoral adrenalin shots quickly subside but they can be enough for an election.
That explains the three things that Harper has said will force an election. The first is an omnibus crime bill. North Americans are notoriously crime paranoid. Conservatives always love the law and order button because it’s irrational and bears no relation to reality. And they are, after all, a movement built on irrational fear and scapegoating. They are the Crazy Party.
If the Tories can grab the mantle of being the law and order party, find some gullible victims of horrendous interpersonal violence, and put them on a stage, their numbers will climb. If they can say that the Liberal dominated Senate is blocking their kooky crime bill, their numbers will climb. It’s a sad truism about western societies, which I’ll save for another day, we’re crime crazy.
The second confidence issue is the budget, which they must bring down soon. Budgets are always confidence votes because they set the major priorities for any government. The Tories already cocked up any political capital they might have gotten from the budget. They did this by refusing to release provincial payments worth $1 billion to help out the rapidly de-industrializing regions of Ontario and Quebec. The condition they placed on the payment was that the budget had to pass, thinking that the Bloc would be forced to support the Tory budget. When they realized that everybody else saw this as crass and vindictive they backed off but the damage was already done.
I suspect that the Tories are hoping they don’t even get to the budget but instead go to an election on either crime or the other confidence motion – Afghanistan.
Now, the Tories are the party of irrational craziness but generally their own strategy is more akin to being crazy like a fox – at least since they ditched Stockwell “Jet Ski” Day as leader. However, I have to wonder if this isn’t equally crazy.
The Conservatives have put forward a motion to extend the mission in Afghanistan to 2011, if NATO comes up with an extra 1,000 troops plus some equipment commitments, like helicopters. Now, as of last August 63 percent of the population felt that their support for the Tories would rise if they pulled troops out of Afghanistan immediately. And a poll on February 6 indicated that opposition is still running high:
“An Angus Reid poll Wednesday shows 76 per cent think Canada is shouldering too much of the burden of NATO's mission and 58 per cent want the mission to end in 2009.”
This comes on top of a report by the Senlis Council think-tank, which says that Afghanistan is on the brink of “state failure.”
But what the Tories are counting on is a promise by the French government of an equally right-wing dirt-bag, Nikolas Sarkozy, that they will pony up more troops and equipment.
They hope that the motion is voted down at the same time the French make the announcement, then they can play it as “the Liberals want to let down our allies in the fight for democracy just as they are stepping up to the plate.” It will become a question of honour and betrayal.
Frankly, it’s a big gamble on the part of the Tories. But big gambles are the product of, if not panic, at least a sense of being backed into a corner. The attempt to burrow into the mainstream has failed and now it’s going to be the single-issue, dirty fight.
The conclusion to all this? Well, there’s an international week of action in the lead up to March 15 – the fifth anniversary of the launch of the war against Iraq. If you want to see the Tories out, the protests on March 15 have to be as big we can make them. They have to help hold the mood steady and stiffen the spines of politicians who are apt to choke at the idea of taking a real stand during an election.
We are propping up a corrupt, vile regime of human rights abusers and druglords using billions of dollars and barrels of blood. It’s the Tories weak spot and we need to hit them where they are weak.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Elizabeth: Golden Age not worth a copper

Elizabeth 1: The Golden Age isn’t one of those movies that isn’t worth the money to see it in the theatre – it isn’t worth the money to see it on video.
The director Shekhar Kapur has the strangest sort of hard-on for the former British Empire, which seems a bit strange in someone from India – after all it’s still in living memory that they drove the murdering limey bastards off the subcontinent.
But his first Elizabeth film was a lot of fun and an insightful look into the choice a woman of power would have had to make between happiness and power. It resonated with real tragedy, though it was sometimes excruciatingly elite in its perspective, which drained it of the potential for greater humanity.
This effort lacked anything of interest, other than how the studios could spend $60 million to produce such a piece of crap. The story structure is an absolute mess, jumping around and doing nothing to develop coherent characters or clear emotional throughlines that would make us care for any of the characters. Kapur, who penned this disaster, seemed to be unable to decide on what was important and so gave us little hors d’oeuvres of several possible, thematically unrelated stories, leaving us distinctly unsatisfied.
As usual in Hollywood, where the story is a mess, they try to cover it up with music. And the more empty the scene of emotional or story content, the louder becomes the music to try and smash us into an emotional response. But while obnoxiously unsubtle music can sometimes work, for instance with Titanic, where the story has real flow and charm, in Elizabeth it just adds to the wince factor.
And the camera work is frankly bizarre. The angles, movements and lighting often seem to be for the purpose of achieving an effect that bears no relation to the dramatic content of the scene being played. For instance the frequent use of God shots – overheads from a distance – that are cut in half by pillars and archways. It just made me want to crank my neck to get a better look.
Then there is the scene where Sir Walter Raleigh, played with utter boredom by Clive Owen, seduces Elizabeth’s handmaid Bess. Here the camera rests at a low angle from a medium distance. Both Raleigh and Bess are in near darkness carrying on a conversation that doesn’t require a particularly large amount of discretion. And the light that spills into the scene cuts Raleigh’s head right in half. It adds nothing to the meaning and just distracts.
The political/historical aspects are fairly incomprehensible in their own rights. Their only purpose, and ultimately the only purpose for the movie, is to set up an allegory for the War on Terror. The obscurantist, dogmatic and brutal Spaniards, looking very Middle Eastern, are out to suppress the free British. Elizabeth says to her troops, dressed bizarrely like a valkyrie on a white horse, that they are fighting for liberty, etc. etc. I suppose she is supposed to be the Statue of Liberty but Britain was hardly an enlightened democracy under her reign. Remember, she was born into her position, there were public floggings, hangings, beheadings and religious persecution.
The only thing useful I took from this film was the realization that whenever Kapur takes the opportunity to write about how great the British Empire was, his films are complete shit.
Four Feathers, about the brave and noble British, fighting against the obscurantist, dogmatic and brutal Mehdi rebellion in the Sudan at the end of the 19th Century, was another piece of dramatic garbage. It was an attack on anyone who would be so outrageous as to refuse to fight for the cause of empire.
Come to think of it, Bandit Queen was a pretty terrible rendition of a very moving, very true story from India about a low caste woman who becomes a Robin Hood type hero. He had very little sympathy for the lead character in a film that was supposed to be about her.
Ok, so I’ve changed my mind – the only thing of Kapur’s that was any good (that I’ve seen), was Elizabeth I. Why did I rent this movie again?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Anti-abortion crap made to look cute

guest post by Kathryn Palmateer

Oh, how cute. What quirky style. Gosh, doesn’t little pregnant Juno look adorable? She makes pregnancy really work for youth doesn’t she? She’s intelligent and witty and doesn’t even bat an eye when informing her parents that she is pregnant and then later giving her child up for adoption. And then that adorable scene at the end, with that sweet little love song. She’s found innocence and youthfulness again.
Sure, sure, I understand. Its pro-choice. Pro-the other-choice. You know, women have the right to choose to do whatever they want with their bodies? They, like Juno, can choose to have a child and put it up for adoption or….choose to abort that little fetus with fingernails, as the sweet caring little Asian girl outside the abortion clinic would have it. “All babies want to be borned” she said. She is not your usual abortion protester. She cares about you and your unborn child.
Let’s start with a few things.
To be sure, we cannot understand the impact of a film such as this outside of the context of abortion politics in the United States. The current climate is one of anti-choice bigotry, even 35 years after the Roe v Wade decision, the 1973 decision in which the US Supreme Court determined that governments lacked the power to prohibit abortions. Over the past few years there have been repeated attempts to turn back women’s reproductive freedoms.
By March 2005, legislators in 9 states were crafting bills which would criminalize abortion. In South Dakota, a law was signed in 2006 to ban abortion, making it a crime for doctors to perform abortions with no exception in cases of rape or incest. The ban failed in a 2007 referendum. Also in 2006, the Mississippi House Public Health Committee voted to approve a ban on abortion, but the bill died after the House and Senate failed to agree on compromise legislation.
Several other states have enacted “trigger laws” such as Louisiana which would take effect
if Roe v. Wade is overturned, all of these have been aimed to ignite the battle over Roe v. Wade. President Bush has appointed over 60 judges to the Supreme Court and the federal courts of appeal that are hostile to Roe v. Wade. And yet, polls show that over 60% of likely voters want the 1973 decision upheld. Not surprisingly, Bush is pretty out of touch with the priorities of voters.
Not only are there widespread attacks on abortion laws, in many states, women have slim pickings when it comes to clinics. In the entire state of South Dakota, there is but one abortion clinic. The same is true for Mississippi. Many women are forced to cross state lines to have the procedure.
The messages in movies that we see every day are important influences on the way that we see the world. They aren’t simply stories that entertain us and then go on their merry way. They influence how we think, how we feel and perhaps more importantly, they give fuel to those whose ideas at times dominate the media and politics. Rick Santorum, Republican senator from Pennsylvania, writes about Juno, Knocked Up, and Waitress (along with two other films about unplanned pregnancies) in the Philadelphia Inquirer stating that “our culture….is finally waking up to the reality of life in the womb”. This is the same Rick Santorum who compared homosexuality to incest.
When a movie like Juno poses teenage pregnancy as cute and quirky, it has an immediate and direct impact on popular culture. Not only do young people see this as an option, but they see it as a “cool” option. Teens the age of Juno are not just passively taking in a story like this, just as adults aren’t either.
A film like Juno “mainstreamizes” anti-abortion politics. Because while Juno is the one making the choice (and not the state) it is anti-abortion at its core. Why does such a smart young woman fall for the ploy that a fetus is a person from conception? To Juno, the wretchedness of the abortion clinic demonizes the abortion choice leaving her with not much choice at all.
To my mind, when the truth about abortion is concealed and teen pregnancy and adoption romanticized as is done in the film, it is anti-choice.
What we need to be teaching young people is about safe-sex options. From there, we need to be teaching the truth about abortion and reproductive rights. So you can go ahead and tell me that this movie is pro-choice. But I don’t buy it. It may not be a direct condemnation of abortion. It is not easy and “connect-the-dots” programming targeting pro-life Christians. But in its ability to connect with mainstream audiences, it is definitely a step forward for the anti-abortion movement.
The right to abortion that women have gained through struggle is in a precarious position at best. And no aren’t-we-so-fuckin-clever movie is going to change that.

Afghanistan: Tories Score Own Goal

You’d think that the knuckle-draggers and mouth-breathers who presently run the Government of Canada would be able to run the war in Afghanistan. After all, war is what these jokers are all about and Afghanistan is the “good war” in the War on Terror.
Well, it warms the cockles of the heart to see that, in fact, sometimes even a PR budget bigger than the budget for reconstruction isn’t enough to cover up corruption and brutality.
Let’s start with the good news – good news for the Tories, that is. Former Liberal Foreign Minister, John Manley, did the Tories a good service when he released his government commissioned report on Afghanistan. No surprise, he basically rubber-stamped the mission in Afghanistan and called for Canadian troops to stay after the 2009 mission deadline, if NATO ponies up another 1,000 troops.
The Harper Tories, with the support of the media and the pliant and confused Liberals – including NDP turncoat and present Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae – pumped the report as a lifesaver for the increasingly unpopular mission. Of course, the only real “critical” suggestion in the report, besides the NATO troop boost call, is that the Tories need better propaganda to sell the war.
The good news for the Tories ends exactly there.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the printers for the intellectually light-weight report – that couldn’t manage a single footnote to back-up its claims. It seems that big chunks of the report were written prior to the panel having been struck by Mr. Manley.
Canadian blogger, The Scott Ross, compared the report to an article written by Manley last October in a Magazine called Policy Options. What did he find whole chunks were identical.
A related article in Maclean’s Magazine added the point that the only thing Manley seemed to have changed was to downplay the corruption of the Karzai governent in Kabul.
So far the media’s given Manley a pretty easy ride on this obvious plagiarism – and therefore big waste of Canadian taxpayers’ cash. But already other aspects of the war were coming unraveled before the Tories could even pop the champagne corks on their coup of getting a highly placed Liberal to back them.
The big one is, of course, the ongoing farrago known as the “detainees scandal”. Doug over at The Proles has good coverage of the history of this whole mess.
Basically the scandal can be summed up as a series of revelations that our “democratic” partners in Afghanistan systematically torture their prisoners and the Canadian government has systematically tried to cover it up.
It’s remarkable how many times the Harper Tories have been caught lying and stuffing documents down their pants. What’s more remarkable is that the media still takes anything they say seriously.
In any case, on January 22 the whole issue exploded again when a spokesperson for the Prime Minister claimed that the military hadn’t informed the government that they had stopped transferring detainees to Afghan authorities.
The head of Canadian forces, General Rick Hillier, sitting on a beach in the Dominican, shit his pants and called up the Prime Minister to give him a piece of his mind. The Prime Minister’s office had to retract the claim the next day. Oops.
And it got still worse.
A few days later it was revealed that the Tories and the military were covering up allegations of involvement by the governor of Kandahar, Asadullah Khalid, in torture. Now, just to make this clear, the allegations aren’t just that he endorses or permits torture, it’s that he himself engages in it. He’s a hands-on kind of guy, apparently, and keeps a personal prison in his compound.
Now, of course, he denies it along with the report by Canadian diplomats that the Tories and the military have worked hard to suppress. Trouble is, it was after a meeting between Khalid and Tory Defence Minister Peter MacKay that the decision was taken to stop detainee transfers.
Of course, the Tories are doing what they always to and are deflecting and denying. MacKay now says that since the detainee who made the specific allegations wasn’t a Canadian transferred detainee, it’s not our issue. Besides, Khalid is an appointed governor, we have no right to investigate him.
Interesting logic. Suppose we were to say that about the Taliban – they were a sovereign government, their treatment of prisoners and everyone else was an internal matter and we had no jurisdiction there. Of course, we invaded Afghanistan and put in place a regime that we approved of, with personnel we approved of, to achieve policy goals we approved of. So, Khalid, as an appointee of our man in Kabul, is also our man. If he’s torturing people, then that is an expression of our policy and we are responsible.
But, what’s more, what are we doing participating in a civil war to back appointed governors, corrupt officials, and torturers? What are we doing there if the regime we’ve put in place is identical to the one we overthrew in every way, except that it supports our policy? But then, the question contains the answer, doesn’t it?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Blowback is Hell

It’s been described as the “Blair Godzilla Project” in reference to its combination of a city devouring monster and shaky cam aesthetics. And it’s breaking all records for a film released in January, hitting $41 million on the first weekend.
So, what, exactly, is all the fuss about?
On the surface Cloverfield is just another monster movie, no different from any other – monster appears in the middle of a good time being had by the main characters; monster wreaks havoc; monster picks off the actors one-by-one as the rest try to survive and/or destroy the monster; a flawed/broken relationship between the lead and his lady finds new meaning in the danger of the moment. Films ends with a set-up for a sequel.
Cloverfield, which stars unknown actors, is about the night some mysterious and massive monster attacks New York City. It is filmed by the guest at a surprise going-away party who has been given a camera to document the party and who now films the whole disastrous night unfolding. Occasional problems with the video camera reveal that they are filming over top of a previously shot video of the lead and his girlfriend spending a day at Coney Island.
After the initial attack, Rob, the young man who is the reason for the party, his brother Jason, Jason’s girlfriend Lily and two other friends, Marlena and Hud, run through the streets trying to escape. First the monster destroys the Brooklyn Bridge and prevents them from getting off of Manhattan. Then the crew head towards mid-town – and the monster – to rescue Rob’s girlfriend Beth, who has left him a message on his cellphone that she is trapped in her apartment.
I’ll spare you the details of who dies when but suffice it to say that the monster and its spawn are winning the war, such that the plan by the US government is to simply flatten the city.
Along with I Am Legend, Cloverfield marks the second time in just a few months that Hollywood has flattened New York. The people who live there must all have anxiety disorders.
What is most interesting about Cloverfield, in an otherwise pretty conventional plot, and what I think drives its popularity, is its unique perspective.
Think about the remake of Godzilla from 1998 as a contrast. This is also about a city-devouring monster. But its story is told from the perspective of the people in the know – scientist Matthew Broderick, military and political chiefs, etc. Because they know what is going on – that the giant lizard is the result of nuclear testing – we know what’s going on. We understand the nature of the monster, even if we don’t yet know how to kill it.
In Cloverfield what we experience is disorientation. What the people in control know is unknowable to us and to the characters in the film. We are made to identify with ordinary people, just trying to live their lives and then just trying to survive this horror. Like the actors, we are unknown.
The monster is a hideous mystery. Our only source of information is from what is right in front of us at a given moment. There are snippets of corporate news, overheard conversations by low-level military personnel, personal experiences of the monsters’ attacks, etc. The only clue we have to its origin comes from the segments of Rob and Beth at Coney Island. As they ride the ferris wheel, something large can be seen to fall in the ocean behind them.
This shift from Godzilla to Cloverfield is reflective of a big shift in consciousness in American society post-911. There is a sense of being under attack; that something is wrong, that government doesn’t have the answer and is perhaps making things worse. It isn't insignificant that one of the first casualties of the attack is the Lady Liberty.
Imperial blowback anyone?
It’s the same sense as pervades I Am Legend of a world where the rules have changed dangerously and we might not be able to know them though they just may kill us.
We have lost the confidence reflected in Godzilla that we can identify our problems, classify them, pursue logical deductions and scientific methods to understand their properties, and then solve them. In this sense, it is not just New York that is being destroyed. It is the Enlightenment with its rationality and order, like the grid-pattern of New York’s streets being erased by the monster’s rampage and US bombs.
In the first instance, Americans, like the character of Rob, seek out what they know – family, romantic relationships – as a salve for their pain and fears. But in this New America, love doesn’t conquer all. And holding hands or standing alone, the beast strikes you down without discrimination.
The nihilism of the piece, its utter hopelessness tells us something else about the United States of America: there is no alternative available. When the old order begins to crumble and come apart, all that exists to answer it is the destructive force of the state. But the tanks and guns of the army are totally inadequate to the task of this new world.
Like the B2 bomber that carpet bombs New York City in the film, the state looks impressive as it flies above you, you can cheer its raw power, but the problems it tries to solve cannot be destroyed in this way. It only makes it more angry.
Cloverfield is about an America that is losing faith in itself. It is vulnerable. And this being America, they are dealing with their decline in the way that they deal with everything else: they are turning it into a spectator sport. It’s a bit like watching a car wreck at the racetrack. It’s a great ride and cool to watch – after all you were secretly hoping it would happen – but you don’t want to be in the path of the cars zooming out of control.
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