Friday, November 12, 2010

Camera Obscura: The Zach Galifianakis Movie You Never Saw

Comedian Zach Galifianakis has been one of the busiest and most sought after actors in movies, turning in work on three different TV series, 8 movies in 2009, and much more on the way. He's hosted SNL after his breakout role in the movie "The Hangover", and has at least 5 more films ready for release next year.

By luck or fate, I saw his fantastically funny film from 2008, which was dumped on DVD last summer, because no one knew how to market this sharp-witted and horrifying dystopian comedy titled "Visioneers".

Zach plays George Washington Winsterhammerman, a numbed employee of the largest company in the world, which apparently runs everything, though we never really find out what they do. The movie has some similarities to Terry Gilliam's "Brazil", but first time filmmakers Jared and Brandon Drake don't go in for huge and crazy effects, they use the numb and understated world George inhabits to create their satire. And it is a brilliant satire touched with melancholy. "Visioneers" also shows off just how good an actor Zach can be. George may be dull, but we empathize with his search for meaning and the absurdity of a very sad nation. A growing cult of fans of his work will love this movie.

These drones of corporate living of the Jeffers Corporation in the movie are suffering a new and unexplainable epidemic - people are suddenly exploding. One of the symptoms, say doctors, is having dreams. Poor George has started to have them - and fears he too might explode. His wife, played by Judy Greer, blithely endures her dullness by shopping or putting butter on everything they eat or reading the self-help book "10,000 Things To Be Happy About."

But no one is happy - attempts to locate or feel such a thing, or to feel anything, is a near-criminal act. The corporate mindset so controls the world, all greetings are done by giving the "jeffers salute" - which is flipping a bird at someone. The legendary Jeffers can't pronounce the word "chaos" correctly, so everyone says it like he does, pronouncing the "ch" as in the word "church". Even the President is a dim drone who does as Jeffers commands.

There are so many expert jabs at our world today - a sleepless George surfing through television channels hits perfect marks; workdays are punctuated every 60 seconds with a recording of how many minutes of productivity are left before the weekend; productivity, in fact, is meant to be everyone's goal, since a profitable corporation is more important than anything else.

You can watch the complete movie for free at Fancast.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day: Past and Present

The cruel horrors of warfare are too many to list. The grueling conditions that marked the first World War are memorialized on this day - a day which now is held in remembrance for all veterans of war. Reading some history of Armistice Day in 1918, I discovered some words and images to share.

An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars." (via)

A Canadian physician, Lt. Colonel John McCrae, wrote a most memorable poem following the battle in Ypres in the Spring of 1915, titled "In Flanders Field". He writes of the enormous amount of red poppies visible across the landscape. Oddly, wild poppies will flower only when other plants in the area are dead, and on the day McRae composed his poem, the war had churned the earth so violently, that the deep red poppies were everywhere.

The poem almost never made it into public. He was unhappy with it, crumpled and tossed it away, but Lt. Colonel Edward Morrison retrieved it and sent it to the press. It was finally published in December of 1915. (More information about McCrae and his letters home to his mother, and much more history are here.and a variation on how it was kept and published is here.)

In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing,fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Below, a photo of Canadian stretcher bearers in Flanders Field, 1915

Today U.S. soldiers and soldiers from around the world remain in harm's way, fighting fiercely in Iraq and Afghanistan. From the website, they have a series of powerful images of the war in Afghanistan taken during the month of October. In the image below, U.S. Air Force pararescuemen ride in the back of their medevac helicopter with the American flag-draped bodies of U.S. soldiers who were killed in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan's Kandahar province on October 10th, 2010. The pararescuemen and pilots from the 46th and 26th Expeditionary Rescue Squadrons had responded to the attack which killed two American soldiers and wounded three others. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder) (click image to enlarge)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

GOP To Save Money By Ending A Program Already Ended

For those hoping for even a modicum of competence from the upcoming House Republican majority, this does not bode well.

Note to the incoming Republican majority in the House: Eliminating government programs that do not exist does not save money.

Of the few specific cuts that Congressional Republicans have proposed in their promised assault on annual budget deficits, one of the biggest by far would save $25 billion over 10 years, they claim, by ending an emergency welfare fund.

The Republican Study Committee, which includes more than 100 of the most conservative House Republicans, promoted the idea in a statement this week, saying, "With the national debt quickly approaching $14 trillion, Washington needs to get serious about cutting spending."

Well, seriously, the fund expired Sept. 30.

Obviously, there's plenty of surface-level stupidity to marvel at here. The Republican Study Committee thinks it can save $25 billion by eliminating a program that doesn't exist. One would like to think these guys would put a little effort into their work, especially given the fact that spending cuts are presumably the issue they care about most.

But the layers of stupidity go much further. Note, for example, that the Republican Study Committee believes it can get $25 billion in savings from a program that cost $2.5 billion, which doesn't make any sense. Also note, RSC Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) called for eliminating the program as part of "welfare reform," which is completely crazy, given that the program is welfare reform.

And then there's the more fundamental question: why are right-wing congressional Republicans so anxious to kill effective jobs programs?

At issue here is something called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund, which should have been one of the most popular programs in Congress. A key component of the Recovery Act, the fund subsidized jobs with private companies, nonprofits, and government agencies, and single handedly put more than 240,000 unemployed people back to work in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

Governors, including Mississippi's Haley Barbour (R), have sung its praises, and urged its extension. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) called it an "important social safety net program." In July, CNN called the TANF Emergency Fund "a stimulus program even a Republican can love."

Except, Republicans didn't love it. After the House passed an extension, the Senate tried but came up short. Three times, Senate Democrats tried to keep the program going, and three times, the Senate GOP refused.

With unemployment near 10%, Republicans killed one of the most successful and cost-effective jobs programs in the country. And this week, because they don't believe in doing their homework, Republicans tried to kill it again, having forgotten that it's already dead.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Tennessee Most Depressed State In America

So says a report in the Tennessean newspaper:

Depression is a nationwide problem, but Tennesseans may be at even greater risk. The latest report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration showed that Tennessee had the country's highest rate of adults who have had a major depressive episode within the last year.

The report, based on 2006 and 2007 surveys, does not determine the reasons behind the statistics. However, Dr. Karen Rhea, chief medical officer of
Centerstone of Tennessee, said she suspects the state's overall poor health could play a role.

Tennessee consistently has high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and prescription drug abuse, among others. People who suffer from depression are more likely to have other health problems as well, she said.

Sita Diehl, the director of state policy and advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said it's difficult to determine if depression triggers other health issues or vice versa."

It's the chicken-or-the-egg scenario,"
Diehl said. "If you are depressed, you eat. If you are obese, you're depressed."