and I quote

january 2009

click here for permalink January 26, 2009

I was listening to a podcast yesterday and these two guys were talking about how, due to the recent confluence of environmental and economic crises, we are now experiencing a craze of apocalyptic "collapse" rhetoric in the mainstream media. (Never mind the obvious question that this begs; would not the collapse of the environment have been enough?)

The interviewer asked if this could be described as a "doom movement." (Honestly, if you consider the fact that climate change only attained its present level of near-universal acceptance last year, this is probably just what it sounds like when the entire mainstream media shifts en masse a few inches to the left.) The other guy replied that it was more like a "doom moment" and went on to cite James Howard Kunstler as one of the "prophets of doom" in this movement. He likened the whole thing to the Y2K hysteria moment.

Ignoring how many things are wrong and irritating in that last paragraph, the interview got me thinking about this concept of a "pre-post apocalyptic" genre in fiction as well as infotainment, both of which naturally stem from mythology and our anthropocentric conviction, common to so many religions, that "the end is (always) nigh."

I immediately started compiling my top ten list of movies and documentaries that represent the best of this totally distinctive genre, not to be confused with the purely post apocalyptic (The Day After, Road Warrior, et al) or the broader category of apocalyptic disaster films (War of the Worlds, Independence Day, Sum of All Fears) and certainly not to be confused with natural disaster films (e.g. Dante's Peak, Earthquake, et al).

Pre-Post apocalyptic Movies

1. The Terminator (1984) — Our time traveling hero is haunted by memories of a bleak post-nuclear, nearly post-human, future but determined to save what little he can of humanity. (Also employs what has to be the best pick-up line of all time, "Come with me if you want to live.")

2. Twelve Monkeys (1995) — Similar to the above but this time the doomed characters — as well as the audience — are only briefly allowed to hope that the coming catastrophe might be averted.

fight club

3. Fight Club (1999) — Opening and closing on relatively brief glimpses of apocalyptic destruction, this film encapsulates the millennial malaise and ambivalence of a generation on the verge of inheriting a diseased, dysfunctional world.

fail safe4. Fail-Safe/Dr. Strangelove (1964) — Based on the same doomsday scenario novel and released the same year, one set the standard for pitch-perfect dark satire, the other is somber Cold War scare-mongering at its cinematic best. Fail Safe stars Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau and Larry Hagman. Dr. Strangelove stars Peter Sellers, George C. Scott and James Earl Jones.

5. Last Night (1998) — This surprisingly effective independent film follows a handful of characters through their final hours as the world counts down to an undefined but inescapable end. A cute side note from Roger Ebert who, when asked to define the difference between American and Canadian films, said he could not, but Wayne Clarkson, former director of the Toronto Film Festival, said he could and cited this movie:

"Sandra Oh goes into a grocery story to find a bottle of wine for dinner," he said. "The store has been looted, but she finds two bottles still on the shelf. She takes them down, evaluates them, chooses one, and puts the other one politely back on the shelf. That's how you know it's a Canadian film." — Roger Ebert

The rest of the pre-post apocalyptic movies on this list are documentaries. You might think this contradicts the premise of my earlier definition of the genre — but only if you haven't seen them.

6. Encounters at the End of the World (2007) — Oscar nominee Werner Herzog is no stranger to documenting the apocalypse. In Lessons of Darkness (1992), he filmed the burning oil fields of Kuwait from the air, capturing some of the most prototypically hellish images in modern history.

7. FLOW (2008) — (For Love of Water) "Irena Salina's award-winning investigation into what experts label the most important political and environmental issue of the 21st Century - The World Water Crisis."

8. The 11th Hour (2007) — Okay, maybe just the first hour.

Suburban Sprawl

[Photo: Suburban Sprawl, Baltimore, MD. by Alex MacLean]

9. End of Suburbia (2004) — "Are today's suburbs destined to become the slums of tomorrow?" The peak oil experts lay out an increasingly plausible scenario for the apocalypse: "the Collapse of The American Dream." Pastel-perfect 50s stock footage of life in the suburbs ("it's a happy-go-shopping whirl") give way to images of oil derricks and refinery smokestacks silhouetted against the sky and aerial shots of smog-shrouded freeway cloverleaves.

10. Darwin's Nightmare (2004) — Just when you were starting to think it might not be too late... our prophesied backslide from civilization to barbarism has already begun on the shores of Lake Victoria. Tanzania may very well be the cradle of human consciousness, or near it anyway, viewed as a microcosm of the evils and inequities wrought by man's seemingly endless capacity for greed, cruelty, ignorance and indifference.


click here for permalink January 13, 2009

If November's headlines were all about "firsts" — the first African-American President, the first time the national debt hit the 15-digit mark — and December's were about ranking the "bests" and "worsts" of not just '08 but the last eight years — then the January news cycle so far has been all about "lasts." As in, President Bush's last week in office (can I get a Hallelujah?).

Commenting on the final policy speech of the soon to be ex-President Friday, Keith Olbermann summed up the legacy of "Bush the liberator" and listed some of the many beneficiaries:

"He liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, in the process also liberating Iran of Saddam Hussein; and liberating Iraq's Islamic extremists, who promptly liberated Iraq of its previous religious diversity, liberated Iraq of its educated class, a Mideast model of secular professional society under Saddam. Now, you're free to disagree with Saddam, as long as you agree with Allah.

The violence of sectarian cleansing has liberated almost five million Iraqis of their homes, many of the two million who fled the country altogether educated professionals, liberating Iraq's struggling economy of their contributions apparently forever." — Keith Olbermann, Countdown, January 9, 2009

Bush and BlairBush gave his last-ever press conference on Monday, waxing pretend-introspective when asked about his biggest disappointments — Abu Ghraib, the Mission Accomplished banner, "you know, not having weapons of mass destruction" — and failing to tear up or repent in response to a Barbara Waltersesque question about his biggest mistakes/regrets (no mention of former/cast-aside man crushes Blair, Rove or Putin).

Finally, "W" apparently couldn't resist taking his one last chance to snub Helen Thomas, "First Lady" and 60-year survivor of the White House Press Corps, who later wrote an article about the Bush Legacy entitled "History Cannot Save Him":

"Because of Bush's policies, the U.S. also is complicit in the Israeli attack on the Palestinians on the Gaza Strip by providing a "made-in-America" high-tech arsenal for the assault and blocking a ceasefire for nearly two weeks, a move intended to help the Israelis consolidate their hold." — Helen Thomas

In an interview this morning on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman asked Helen Thomas if she expected US policy towards Israel to change when Obama takes office. Without hesitation, she replied sadly, "No. I don't."

She says all Presidents make promises to protect and defend Israel, just as they promise to uphold the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, to honor the Geneva conventions and the UN Charter on human rights.

Jessica MurrayEver since I finished reading Soul-Sick Nation, by San Francisco writer and astrologer Jessica Murray, I've looked forward to reading her articles at the beginning of every month at and bimonthly at Daykeeper Journal. She has posted to her new web log several times since the invasion, providing planetary perspective as well as political analysis in her characteristically concise and scathingly articulate style. This is from her January 3 post on the escalating atrocities in Gaza:

"[T]his particular horror has America's name on it. Israel has the fourth largest military in the world. Palestine has nothing; nothing but a determination to survive. And behind Israel's campaign to eliminate the million-and-some people whose land they have occupied for 60 years is Uncle Sam, for whom Israel plays the role of junior partner. American taxes paid for the cluster bombs dropped on that hospital today." — Jessica Murray

Her fiercest words are in response to some cowardly, Pro-Israel nonsense spouted by "our elegant new president" when asked for his opinion on the crisis:

"Now, Obama is a very smart man. Very well-informed. He knows... how grotesque a falsehood it is to portray the walled-in, wretched Palestinians as the aggressors in this massacre. But there he was, saying those words, parroting the nonsense, pimping his immense popularity to perpetuate a propaganda campaign...

[L]eadership as we have known it is over. Following along after an authority figure like starry-eyed little children will not hack it any more. We are entering a post-father-figure era. Obama's dreadful pandering was as much of an omen as the New Year war crimes to which he was referring. No leader, no matter how charismatic, no matter how vastly superior to the toxic clown he's replacing, can take the place of an individuated populace alive with self-awareness." — Jessica Murray

Getting most of my news online as I do, at and from Keith Olbermann and The Daily Show, it's hard for me to grasp the fact that I've heard repeatedly these last few weeks, that the mainstream media is doing its best (which in this case, is pretty good) to ignore the carnage and destruction occurring in the final days of W's watch. I guess the girls of the Murdoch news networks would rather stalk the Obama daughters on their way to school and dish about what's on their lunch menu than try to spin it as self-defense when Israel bombs a UN school. It's harder to pull that "fair and balanced" shit off, while rocking the soap-opera-turned-porn-star look that keeps the ratings high with their target audience, when you're standing in front of an IMAX-sized screen showing images of elementary school kids being pulled out of a three-story pile of smoking rubble.

But that's the Bush as Liberator legacy for you; fair and balanced is shorthand for biased and lying, the economy is strong until the moment it collapses (hmm, just like skyscrapers) and America spreads democracy to the poor, oppressed peoples of the earth by sabotaging their economies and starving them with sanctions, supplying their oppressors with weapons and assassinating their democratically-elected leaders (although, to be fair, this legacy is shared by all US Presidents).

In 2004, this chart produced by was published in Adbusters Magazine and elsewhere comparing the relative size of the wall Israel is building to contain the West Bank with that of the Berlin Wall.

Wall comparison

(Note: In 2007, according to, amendments to the Wall's route were made that will increase its eventual length to 790 km.)

It's truly amazing how such a simple visual representation of the facts can cut through the static of countless convoluted, to say nothing of biased, political arguments. After three decades of hearing about the conflict on the news, stories isolated from context that washed over me like a numbing rain, it was this image that finally aroused my curiosity and compelled me to dig into history to understand the creation of Israel and occupation of Palestine.

As of Tuesday morning, the Palestinian death toll was officially 935, with thousands more injured. The Israelis have lost 13, ten of them soldiers, four of those lost to "friendly fire." Proportionality is another word that's lost its meaning, along with the concept of self-defense. How many civilian casualties amount to "collective punishment?" When does occupation and oppression add up to apartheid — or genocide? How many would it take to call it a holocaust?

Over the weekend, a friend found this article and passed it along. It's called "God's Chosen Terrorists." Caution: Contains swearing (and blasphemy).