Please President Obama

From Michael Moore’s open letter to the President. Say what you will about his tactics as a filmmaker, he is absolutely correct in his assessment:

Dear President Obama,

Do you really want to be the new “war president”? If you go to West Point tomorrow night (Tuesday, 8pm) and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple. And with that you will do the worst possible thing you could do — destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in you. With just one speech tomorrow night you will turn a multitude of young people who were the backbone of your campaign into disillusioned cynics. You will teach them what they’ve always heard is true — that all politicians are alike. I simply can’t believe you’re about to do what they say you are going to do. Please say it isn’t so.


Your potential decision to expand the war (while saying that you’re doing it so you can “end the war”) will do more to set your legacy in stone than any of the great things you’ve said and done in your first year. One more throwing a bone from you to the Republicans and the coalition of the hopeful and the hopeless may be gone — and this nation will be back in the hands of the haters quicker than you can shout “tea bag!”

I echo Mr. Moore’s call for the President to end our war in Afghanistan, to end our support of a corrupt government, to end throwing away the lives of our soldiers on the shoals of a country that has broken empire after empire after empire. Please, President Obama, do not show us that change is a futile hope by giving us more of the same.

Zombie Watch! Part 8

"Otto; Or, Up With Dead People" (Bruce LaBruce)

Another movie that I am glad I watched but can’t recommend to most people. In fact, if you have problems with explicit gay sex, gory eating of people and animals, extremely aggressive and loud sound designs that are full of industrial noises and distorted voices, or films that reference late capitalism, the alienation of the subject in a postmodern world, or Herbert Marcuse you probably want to skip this movie. Heck you probably ought to skip this entire review because, quite frankly, there’s nothing for you here.

. . .

Are they gone?

Ok, so, Otto, or Up With Dead People is not, I repeat not a horror film. Despite being lumped in with other zombie movies in the horror section, and despite a handful of graphic, gory, and grotesque images that border on the horrifying, the movie as a whole is what you would expect if you took a treatise on zombies in popular culture, mixed in some observations on postmodernism, gay subcultures and homophobia, added a pinch of porn, and included a parody of pretentious avant garde filmmakers (even as, yes, Otto itself comes off sometimes as a pretentious art film), along with a sound design that is like the industrial sounds of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, but on speed and with a campier sense of humor. The director, Bruce LaBruce has a history of mixing genres and pushing boundaries, making a series of independent films that often cross the line into pornography and then back again into splatter-gore and then crossing into satire and political commentary. I have not seen any of his other films, but plan on checking them out in the future because his work, while relentlessly aggressive and bloody, violent and brutal, demonstrates a very real compassion for his characters and challenge the viewer in ways that few filmmakers will dare. Imagine David Lynch doing gay porn, or John Waters with a penchant for bloody violence and you’ll have a sense of what Bruce LaBruce’s style is like.

A few things I learned from Otto, or Up With Dead People:

Shots of a zombie eating a dead and disemboweled rabbit by the side of the road are far more grotesque and sickening than almost any shot of a zombie eating a person in any other zombie movie I’ve seen. Probably because we’ve all seen those animals, we have direct experience with road-kill and very little direct experience with the whole “zombie eating people” thing. We’ve seen the flies, we’ve smelled the death. The line between make-believe and reality grows just a bit too thin when watching Otto pick up the rabbit and begin tearing into its bowels.

When a movie with zombie gay orgies, bloody sex, and extremely graphic intestine-eating manages to make the most horrifying moment of the movie a scene where a young gay man is about to be beaten by a gang of homophobes, you know that the director has considerable talent.

Speaking of eating intestines (I told you not to continue reading if this kind of stuff bothered you!!), if you are making your zombie film on the cheap and don’t have a lot of money for really excellent and realistic body parts have your zombies stuff their mouths to over flowing. Regardless of the verisimilitude of the human flesh, watching a zombie with cheeks distended and mouth crammed full of anything is going to bring up a feeling of queasiness in your audience.

More movies should have characters from a silent, black and white film inserted into them and interacting, in a silent film way, with the other characters.

I love sound design. Ok, I didn’t really learn that from this movie, but the sound design for Otto is rich, layered and challenging. But more than that, the sound design, even the seemingly random static and industrial noises creates a set of meanings that are not bound by the logic of the visual images. Certainly the sound design and music will often amplify or underscore specific scenes, but at times the sound is like a whole other character in the movie that could represent Otto’s experience of the world or could simply be a representation of the noise and static of our contemporary world that we try so desperately to tune out with iPods and earbuds. If you are interested in sound design, I recommend at least listening to this movie even if you might not want to watch it.

While I do think that this movie is actually very good an a lot of levels, it is certainly not one that I’d recommend to most people. That said, I think that Otto is a much more subversive, humorous and, in its odd and twisted way, a decidedly more hopeful movie than something like Dead Girl. So if you were forced to choose between which these zombie movies to watch, knowing that each had some rather off-putting zombie sexuality, I’d be up with Otto all the way.

Knowing when to shut up

I love to engage in debate and argumentation. When done in good faith, I don’t mind debating people who might believe in all sorts of things that I think are wrong or silly or dangerously stupid. The good faith bit is important to me and I always try to hold myself to the rhetorical standard that I hold others. Sometimes I fail and yes, Bush and Palin can bring out all sorts of ad hominem attacks from me, and often my logic can be clouded by empathy when faced with real world pain or a sometimes self-righteous passion for justice when faced with so much suffering and violence and injustice in the world.

I tend to be good with words and logic and ideas so even when I don’t have a lot of factual basis for my arguments, I can often mount a pretty damn convincing argument for my point of view. Because of this, I will often argue a point without a strong basis in facts or information.

I’m going to try to know when to shut up.

My new rule for myself (and one I’m sure I’ll break over time, but the value is in the effort and over time effort will become practice will become habit) is this: stop pretending I know things I don’t know.

Seems simple doesn’t it? The hard part is distinguishing between what I believe and what I know. The truth of the matter is I, along with most everyone, don’t know very much. I do know that. Of course I get through the day based on any number of facts, but most of what I use to understand the world is based on inferences and belief. I have no evidence that most people are decent, but I tend to move through the world with that assumption. I, personally, have no evidence that Cheney isn’t right and that torture is a find and dandy thing to help protect this country. I believe he is wrong in this, just as I believe that flu vaccinations are a good thing. In order for me to enter a meaningful conversations about these and so many other topics, I have to first admit that my argument is based on a belief that is based on logic, or research, or my trust in the experience and knowledge of specific other people. I then need to shut up and really listen to the other persons argument.

And by listen, I don’t mean wait for them to stop talking to I can make my next point, I mean, listen to their argument and their facts. I mean, take the time to understand their logic (or lack thereof), to try to separate belief from evidence. Then ask them questions, try to get them to clarify their logic or explain the veracity of their sources.

I am not suggesting that you can’t defend your beliefs or have a meaningful conversation about topics even when you don’t have research or direct experience at your disposal. I am suggesting that we would all be better off if we started by acknowledging the terms and limits of our knowledge and recognizing the difference between evidence, inference, logic, facts, and belief.

400 Words/40 Days Challenge: Conclusion


So Friday, November 6 saw the conclusion of my 40 days challenge and my totals were, I think, respectable: 24903 words written in total with a daily average of 621. In the 116 days since I started my first 25 day challenge, I’ve written on 95 of those days with a total 47532 words written. While these challenges may seem artificial, I can definitively state that they work for me. As a way to get myself focused and working, these short term, low word count challenges add up to doing what it is that makes a writer and what it is that makes a writer get better: writing.

At this point, I’ve decided to not go into another writing challenge for myself as I am going to start focusing more on my PhD applications for the next couple of months and will take some time to go over what I accomplished since July 13 and do some editing and work on second, third, and forth drafts of short stories so I can start submitting my work.

If you end up challenging yourself using some of the strategies I’ve developed for myself, I would really appreciate you leaving a comment and letting me know how it went.

Good writing to you!

Music You May Have Missed – Gogol Bordello

Take one part Punk, one part Gypsy music, and three parts lunatic lead singer, garnish with an insane amount of energy and a love of sex, drugs, and rock & roll and you will have something close to the Gogol Bordello experience.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a number of days, hoping to come up with something interesting to say about this band, but the truth of the matter is, I don’t have a strong emotional connection to them, or any pithy thoughts about their music. Simply, this is a kick-ass band with a kick-ass attitude and you should check them out.

Wanderlust King

Not a Crime

Supertheory of Supereverything

60 Revolutions


Zombie Watch! Part 7

Zombieland is a fun romp of a movie and I enjoyed watching it.

That said, my standard line to people when they’ve asked how it was is to say, “It was fun. No Shaun of the Dead but fun nonetheless.” Whereas I could watch Shaun of the Dead time and time again, Zombieland will probably max out after my second viewing sometime down the road. In fact, I don’t have much to say about the movie except that the bit in the middle was a huge surprise and very funny. I did laugh out loud any number of times, as well a groan loudly at some of the more macabre humor gags. The actors were blandly charming: you enjoy watching them, but they won’t stick with you as compelling characters. The action sequences were a good blend of action and humor and while there was no real horror element to the film, it didn’t really need it.

If you are a fan of comedic action movies and don’t mind a bit of intestine eating along the way, or if you are a zombie fan who expects some intestine eating with any decent movie, I recommend it.

But, you know, it’s no Shaun of the Dead.