Saturday, September 8, 2012

Flotsam, Jetsam and Lagan.

In his brilliant novel, The Man Who Laughs, Victor Hugo wrote that there are things that float on the surface of the ocean (flotsam), things that float to shore (jetsam), and then there are those things that sink to the bottom (lagan). This post is about the latter.

I saw The Dark Knight Rises last night, and I had the first religious experience of my life: I could not stop praying, "God, please let it be over."

This review has some spoilers, so in that spirit, I recommend you read on.

Seriously, the hype I read about this movie was mildly overrated. The comparison that many made of the prescience to our current political situation would be laughable, except that the comparison will be lost on 99.99% of the American public. The endless symbolism I found grating and was longing for even one concrete idea stated unapologetically.

The story was endlessly slow to develop, with a meandering plot (if it had a plot) that needed a mini-series to properly develop. I got extremely tired of the machine-gun presentation of scenes or shots of scenes that lasted only a few seconds or fractions of a second (if that). The score was annoyingly ever-present and overly loud, when there were definite moments that it should have shut the ____ up. Perhaps for an hour or two. (At several points I had to put my fingers in my ears.)

The plot (again, if I can call it that) was a predictable pastiche of many movies that came before. The villain "Bain" was so obviously Darth Vader as to be laughable. The phrase "cliche-ridden string of memes" comes to mind, except, "meme" is really just an avant garde synonym for "cliche", so I repeat myself.

There was virtuallly no development of character motivations in any serious sense. The secret villain who is only revealed in the climax (in a ripoff of Othello), is supposed to make us believe that all the death and destruction was motivated by nothing more than revenge for the death of .... well, I'll leave out that spoiler, except you saw it in a few dozen other movies and hundreds of TV shows. How that ties in to Obama's class warfare shtick can only be done with sewing thread of some kind of bubble gum.

Then we have the absurdly unlikely plot elements, like, when every single cop in the city of Gotham descends en masse into a big sewer hole to chase the bad guys, who are nowhere to be found, but who have clearly orchestrated this unlikely event so that the cops can be bottled up like bugs in a botanist's bottle by explosions that seal off the sewers. Why the bad guys didn't simply kill them all in some visceral demonstration of Darwin's theory, I don't know.

And there the cops stay for the next three months while Batman decides if he wants to save Gotham, getting physical therapy in some remote prison fortress that consists of hanging him from a rope and having someone fix his protruding broken vertabrae by punching the bloodied chunks back in place as hard as possible.

Yes, chiropracty has come a long way, though there was never an explanation for Wayne's recovered knee, elbow, shoulder and other cartilage, which a doctor in the opening to this pot-boiler tells us is "non-existent". I should think the elixer for that cure would have a market.

The prison thread is replete with the ethereal appearance of Obi-wan-Kenobi pretending to be Liam Neeson, who arrives to taunt the clueless Wayne, but this merely spurs Batman on to rebuild his strength and escape his fortress of solitude for debauched superheroes. Escape involves a pointless "leap of faith" in an obscure kiling apparatus that Austin Power would have approved of, involving climbing a hundred feet up the inside of a convenient vertical smokestack of badly set bricks, and then, when halfway up, abandoning that successful strategy to jump across the empty space of the 15 foot column to a conveniently placed concrete shelf jutting out on the other side, from whence you climb another 50 feet up the remainder of the stack to emerge in the middle of a remote desert without even a taxi to get home.

This "leap" seems to kill most prisoners that attempt it, but not Bruce Wayne, and he falls over and over again to the end of a 50 foot length of rope that stops his descent without the obligatory ripping-of-the-spine-in-half denoument.

The curious thing no one noticed is, this rope tied to Wayne's torso is clearly shown going out the top of the smokestack where it it belayed somewhere.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why Wayne didn't just climb the rope. Don't trouble yourself with that thought.

The cops back home have meanwhile subsisted on 3 months of K-rations generously donated by the bad guys, who seem to care in some touching way for them, but are finally saved by the Catwoman who can do more with two rockets on her borrowed Batcycle than the combined forces of the entire Republic --in the intervening three months no one, not even the cops, have attempted to remove the 10 trillion tons of debris keeping the cops in their sewer-bottle.

Cops are released, uniforms cleaned, pressed, dry-cleaned, but sans body odor and other public health issues (seriously, what's your underwear like after three months in a sewer?), to do battle with the bad guys, hand-to-hand. Guns are still wrong, you see. But even hand-to-hand, they can't seem to muster a single brain with a plan, and the obvious solution is to just run at the bad guys as a mob and get mowed down by machine guns and cannon fire. I must remember this strategy for future reference.

The only positive thing to this movie was the Catwoman, who had a shred of characterization and intelligence, and I recommend her line near the end, when Batman is getting his ass kicked once more by the evil Darth -- sorry, Bain -- and she shows up to rescue Batboob (living proof that his hydrocephalitic cowl is concealing not a shred of perceptive ability) and blows Bain to hell and back, saying something to the effect of, "this non-violence thing isn't really doing it for me."

Me neither. At this point in the movie, the bad guys have killed about 40 berzilion people and are about to set off a nuclear weapon; I think we're past the point of self-restraint.

The obligatory nuclear weapon itself is based on time-tested dramatic principles of contrived science and phony time-pressure that would make James Bond's nemesis Goldfinger proud. In the beginning the "fusion core" (fyi, "fusion" doesn't use a core -- that's "fission") is reported to be a little unstable when unhooked from it's computer console in the storm sewers of Wayne Enterprises, but somehow that instability acquired a precision of microseconds by the end of the movie.

Yadayada. I could say more, but why bother. It held my attention at the level of trying to navigate the demolition derby of rush-hour traffic on the 805 in Irvine, or count my toes while taking a bath. If it was a fish, I'd throw it back. Can anyone write an adult movie?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

They Can Do Whatever They Want

A number of people (including me) have highlighted the danger of Presidential Executive Orders which claim almost unlimited authority for any type of "emergency" (see my post here) .  For instance, this story in the American Thinker ("Do Obama's Executive Orders Reveal A Pattern?" ) recently was making the rounds with an argument to that effect.

Reading it, I started to dig into whether the argument was valid.  I read many of Obama's recent EO's, and then was drawn to a White House webpage title "Presidential Actions", that lists presidential proclamations, orders and whatever else Presidents do on any given day.   We'll put aside the several hundred special days, weeks and months that were designated in the last couple years -- things like "National Poison Prevention Week", "Workers Day", etc.  It's what Presidents do.

More interesting was ALL the national emergencies that I found which are active **right now**.   Just going through the first 42 pages of the "Presidential Actions", I found that we are presently in a State of National Emergency with respect to:
Russia's proliferation of Highly Enriched Uranium
Western Balkans
Terrorists Disrupting the Middle East Peace Process
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Terrorists and their supporters
Terrorist attacks
North Korea.
Let me say again:  we are in a state of national emergency with respect to all these entities.

I'm sure there's a lot more.  That's just the ones I found for the last year or so that were declared or re-authorized.  Some of them go back to Bush and Clinton, maybe further.  I didn't trace back but a few.

It's clear to me what's going on:  under "precedent", a President can bypass Congress by declaring a national emergency via an Executive Order.  There is no established Constitutional authority for doing so, but no one ever challenged the precedent, so they are just doing it.  (Again, it started before Obama.)

So, in my blog posts of awhile ago ("The Unbridled Authority of Presidential Executive Orders", or "Totalitarianism Redux", etc) I was rather missing the Amazonian rain forest for the Charlie Brown Christmas tree when I ruminated on the dangers of allowing the President the authority to declare any undefined emergency.   That bus has come and gone decades ago.  Presidents for quite some time have been asserting that authority endlessly.

The purpose seems clear: to circumvent Congress and U.S. Statute, they declare an emergency, and then no existing law on the books applies to them.   They can do (in the words of Bill Murray, from "Groundhog Day"):  whatever they want.

No restrictions whatever.

Let's review just what it is they do claim they can do in an emergency, if their mood sees fit:
1. Seize all highways, seaports. (EO 10990, originally, superceded by later EOs)
2. Seize and control the communication media. (Well, that's a fait accompli, but it started with EO 10995)
3. Seize all electrical power, gas, petroleum, fuels and minerals. (EO 10997, et al)
4. Seize all food resources and farms. (EO 10998...)
5. Force all civilians into work brigades. (EO 11000...)
6. Take over all health, education and welfare functions. (EO 11001. Sounds just like Obamacare, doesn't it?)
7. Establishes a national registration of all persons. (EO 11002...)
8. seize all airports and aircraft, including commercial aircraft. (EO 11003.  Pretty much what happened after 9/11)
9. Relocate communities, build new housing, designate areas to be abandoned, and establish new locations for populations. (EO 11004.  Not unlike what Fannie, Freddie and the CRA accomplished, but more draconian.)
10. Seize railroads, inland waterways and public storage facilities. (EO 11005)
11.  The National Guard could be federalized to seal all borders and take control of U.S. air space and all ports of entry. (EO 12656)
12. Enforce “industrial support” with the Dept. of Justice. (EO 11310)
13. Take control over the mechanisms of production and distribution, of energy sources, wages, salaries, credit and the flow of money in U.S. financial institution in any undefined national emergency. (EO 11921)
14. Asserts that when a state of emergency is declared by the President, Congress cannot review actions under this EO for six months. (EO 11921. This EO is a massive expansion of previous EOs, under a Republican Administration.)
15. increase domestic intelligence and surveillance. (EO 12656) It grants the government the right to isolate large groups of civilians.
16. authorize all Executive Orders to be put into effect in times of increased international tensions and economic or financial crisis. (EO 11051)
I'll leave you to ruminate on just how far down the path of statism we've actually gone, and what's holding them back.