Friday Night Geekery: Early Thoughts on the World War Z movie


Here’s the first trailer.

Now, for the four people I know who aren’t Nerd-Americans like myself, World War Z is a goddamn good book.  Go buy it, even if you’re not really all that into zombies.  Like all fabulous works of fiction, it’s not actually about what’s advertised on the surface.  In this case, World War Z is about socio-politics and really UGLY hard decisions.  It also has a heaping dose of what I like to call The Iron Laws of Survival.

  1. If you screw up, you’re dead.
  2. If any of your buddies screw up, you and they are dead.
  3. Failure to formulate a correct course of action, and to execute it effectively is, in Scene Two, effectively defined as “screwing up.”
  4. Failure to screw up does not guarantee failure to be rapidly and unpleasantly dead.

and, since this is a very adult book, rule #5:

Your willingness to be rapidly and unpleasantly dead is the only thing which may allow others to survive.

The writing is, among other things, smart.  And the more astute the reader is, the more Brooks’ writing pays off — the book is full of subtle allusions and asides to reference prices that are being paid “out of sight” of the main plot and action.

So the question is:  how do you take a really good, really sophisticated, really subtle book about the Zombie Holocaust, and put it on the screen in a way that will grab the interest of not merely the fans, but also people who have no interest in the book whatsoever?  This is a huge consideration: like most geeky topics, this is a movie that has barely avoided the “ash-heap of no funding” on at least two occasions.  Like the Lord of the Rings movies, concessions are to have to be made to keep it accessible to a public which frequently will not care one whit about  the most important themes of the original work.

Compromises have to be made.

Fans are currently very upset with what they’re seeing in the first trailer, and in the directorspeak of “Brad Pitt saves the world.”  The direction and imagery is Roland-Emmerich-style “disaster movie ends the world” stuff.  It provides a sense of what’s going to happen, but conveys absolutely none of the sophistication of the book on which it’s placed.

That said, there are some grounds for optimism:

  1. The trailer is very clearly showing the beginning of The Crisis.  So we don’t actually know how much of the rest of the movie will play out, and there’s still plenty of ground for optimism that Pitt’s character will somehow be involved with the “Redeker Plan.” (I won’t spoiler this, but those who have read the book know what I’m discussing).  The script released in 2008 had some serious deviations, which were unfortunate (particularly as I have great respect for its writer), but there’s been significant rewriting and reshooting.  Right now, there’s no reason to assume that the inevitable deviations will be all that far afield.
  2. The visuals are stunning, and the opening of the action is disturbing.  Having decided to follow the UN employee from the beginning of the action (which most zombie movies avoid, in favor of a cheaper and considerably-easier “second day starts the action” approach), they do it well.  Many viewers don’t like the fact that these are “zoombies” (zombies which can run), or the way they tend to swarm.  One of the swarm depictions, however, where the zombies are “ramping” up the large concrete wall, IS very much “per the text,” and is a sign that the writers and directors paid attention.  That’s important, because this isn’t something where people can simply camp out on rooftops and be safe (this is an important detail in several parts of the book, which astute readers can use to gauge the trustworthiness of some of the book’s narrators — some of the storytellers either don’t get or aren’t sharing the full picture).  I have no personal qualms with “zoombies,” as they’re a lot scarier to deal with than walking zombies are — necessary for the general audience.
  3. The plot provides you with a protagonist who is anonymous in the book:  the UN employee who gathers the data.  Along the way, they do something that’s very smart:  provide a reason for people who might just want to watch Brad Pitt to care about the action.  Zombie Holocaust Narrative is something that’s “fantasy adventure” if you’re a single male who has combat training and appropriate survival skills.  It is unmitigated horror for a married man or woman working through the question “how do I keep my children alive?”  In the real world, when disaster strikes, our first thought is to get with our family, make sure they’re all right, and keep them that way.  A true Zombie Holocaust would be that story, written out over and over, across billions of us as we try (and mostly fail) to do just that.  It is smart writing to recognize the fundamental problem Pitt’s character endures in having to constantly place himself in danger for the benefit of the Greater Good. (And the original, clearly drawing from Studs Terkel, pulls no punches about the need to sacrifice for the Great Good when faced with something that is bigger than any one person).
  4. It has “angry electric bass noise.”  A lot of people HATE this, but I am a firm believer that there are times when over-the-top soundtracking is the only thing which will meld with a scene — music is critically important for a movie’s success (try to imagine the Schwarzenneger conan without Basil Poledouris’ bombast– it wouldn’t work).  The angry, klaxonish sound works here.
  5. The actors are good.  Now, granted, this is a trailer — but it’s a very effective one, partially b/c the child actor goes a completely believable job of being shocked, horrified, and completely, utterly baffled.  Now, this may, as some trailers re, be the best two minutes and thirty seconds of the movie — but it’s a promising start.

All in all, it may simply turn out to be a big-budget zombie movie, rather than the “this is deep enough to force serious critical attention” movie that a close following of World War Z would involve.  But so far, outside of unnecessary but totally justifiable nerdrage (I’m still pissed at Peter Jackson for screwing up the March of the Ents!), it’s too early yet to count this one out.

An Open Letter to the Republican Party

Hey guys!  Word on the street is, you just got your asses kicked. 

Looks a lot like you got your asses kicked because elections are about showing up, and “your team” didn’t.  Didn’t see that coming, did you?
Well, you should have.  The writing’s been on the wall for years, and you didn’t believe it.  All those “independents” turned out to be… former Republicans.

That is, people who are disgusted with you.  And I don’t mean just a bunch of shrieking feminists who couldn’t believe that Mourdock wanted rape victims to consider the idea that something good could come out of a horrible crime (but you sure did a crap job handling him and Akin, didn’t you?)  I mean the people whose hearts you break every four years by promising good things and continuously reneging on them.

For twelve years now, Republicans who were actually concerned about limited government and personal liberty have been screaming bloody murder about how the Republicans have governed.  What did Republicans do, once they owned government in the early aughts?  Signed McCain-Feingold, and raped the First Amendment, while simultaneously falling in love with every piece of K-Street pork in existence.  What did they do after that?  Tried to buy senior citizens’ votes by enacting a huge entitlement expansion.

We small-l libertarians screamed bloody murder.  You guys didn’t listen.  You told us “where you going to go on Election Day, the Democrats?”

We warned you over and over again that the answer was going to be “out to dinner, chump.” And you just couldn’t believe it. 

Hello, this is your 6 a.m. wakeup call.

When you pass legislation that rapes the First Amendment, your hypocrisy loses you voters.  And yes, we have memories, and remember that Paul Ryan from Wisconsin was for trashing the Bill of Rights, before he was suddenly against it. 

Your Main Man was a dude who would replace Ben Bernanke with a woman who’s even more Dovish and would devalue the dollar even faster, and whose foreign-policy differences with the President can be summed up as “not much” even on a rhetorical scale.  Let’s face it, Benghazi sucked, but it’s not like you can say that Obama really hates blowing up the bad guys.  That man’s Drone-o-matic.

 And before you get too high and mighty, we’ve seen that Romney/Ryan budget.  Not a lot of slashing where the Republican interests at the Department of Agriculture’s concerned, huh?  When all you can offer during budget debates is “we’d like to cut the other guys’ stuff,” why should anybody take you seriously? 

Oh, and Mexican voters?  The guys and gals who bust their asses to make a better life, are hugely into small business, and who should be your natural constituents?  They’re not stupid.  “Secure the Border before Reforms” means never doing any immigration reforms.  Because “secure the borders” is meaningless pap, just like the “War on Drugs” is.  Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, know that our immigration laws are a pathetic joke, full of so many bandaids and cross-precedents that whether a person gets permission to stay is basically dependent upon whether the judge in question likes you.  That being the case, why respect an obviously arbitrary and unfair set of laws?

What else happened this time around?  Oh, yeah.  Ron Paul.  Remember that guy?  The one who consistently racked up 10-12% of the Republican Party primary voters, and was getting some long looks from anti-war Democrats?  Threw him right under the bus, didn’t you?  You actually were arrogant enough to believe that his supporters would watch their man being trashed left and right by your Party, and still come out to vote for the guys who said “Ron Paul?  Screw that guy.”  You guys didn’t even let him speak at the Convention.  You sent home a state delegation because they had too many Ron Paul guys.  There are already people saying that you lost because you disenfranchised the guy.  But hey, who needs Maine and New Hampshire, right?  Surely there are enough Republicans out there that you can piss away 10% of them and still win….

But that’s not true.  You lost because you simply didn’t give a crap about any of the folks who liked Ron Paul, and found him a refreshing change of pace from your same-old same-old.  You did nothing to make sure you had those guys’ votes (outside of putting some conservative pundits up on YouTube to say “if you ‘principled’ guys don’t vote Romney, then you hate America”).  Oh, and having his delegates arrested.  That was Smooth.

Oh, and speaking of throwing away votes, what about Gary Johnson?  Yeah, him.  This guy balanced an out-of-control budget in a Deep Blue State without having to lay off a single government employee.  Gary Johnson makes Paul Ryan look like a clueless poser: he ought be a Republican rock star.  You wouldn’t even let him show up for the debates.  I mean, because, really?  Who needs a wildly successful two-term governor who can give you a solid lock on blue-state New Mexico and deliver a slew of normally-Democratic voters, and the entire population of NORML, in the process, when we could be listening to Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachman, or Herman Cain?  It’s already out there that “that guy” cost you a Senate seat in Montana.  He drew off more than enough votes to send Tester to the Senate.  The Democrat won by 2%.  Johnson drew off 5%. 

But honestly, Johnson didn’t cost you Montana.  Your arrogance did, when you assumed that people who actually believe in political principles would flush those principles down the toilet in order to vote against Barack Obama — when you assumed that faced with a choice between Democratic big-spenders and Republican big-spenders, their choice wouldn’t be “hey, how ’bout Red Lobster” instead of standing in the polling lines to put in a vote for somebody who takes their support for granted and will betray their promises at the drop of a hat. 

So, here’s the deal, Republicans.  Democrats are seriously into “social justice” and will spend like drunken sailors and therefore force themselves to reform once they realize that they’re bankrupt — and slowly but surely, those reforms are already happening.  Some of them are even happening in California, of all places.  If they can pull that off, and have social programs and a balanced budget (again, like that Johnson guy you shut out of the debates), they’ll own the government forever.  It’s not like we’re still in the Cold War, when the Democrats were functionally insane on foreign policy.  When the Democrats eventually throw the unions under the bus, which they will eventually be forced to do by the sheer Power of Math(tm), the only people who will care about fighting them will be a bunch of people who are so far into social-conservative-land that they’re basically irrelevant on the national stage.  And even those guys know you can have a Democratic president, and still fight against abortion via other venues.

By comparison, you guys don’t even talk a good game any more.   Unless you get serious about fixing things, you’re toast.

So answer me a couple of things.

If you actually stand for personal freedom and limited government, what do you plan to do about that?

And if you don’t, why should we who do give a rat’s ass about whether the Republican Party survives?

An Open Letter to the Democratic Party

Congratulations!  You’ve just made a convincing win, trouncing your opponents in all three sets of federal races — President (won!), Senate (majority enlarged!), and House of Representatives (nibbled off a few elephants)

Now the hard work begins.

If you’re a Democratic Voter (notice that this is not the same thing as being “a Democrat”: your’e not an actual member of the party unless you actually do more than vote for them once every four years), then you have a golden opportunity to pursue legislative and executive programs will do wonders to uphold and further social justice.

Here’s the hard part:  how do you intend to afford it? (Awful truth here, you can’t tax your way out of this.  We have a 15-trillion-dollar economy.  You’d need to add a minimum of another 1.5 trillion in taxes — you’d be taking 20% of total GDP out of the economy.  That results in higher unemployment, hurting the people who need it most.  Yes, some of that money comes back in, but there are losses to friction.  Take five dollars from your left pocket (private sector), and put it in your right pocket (public sector).  How much money do you have?  Not five dollars.  More like four and some change — because the bureaucrats whose job it is to transfer the money?  They’ve got kids and have to eat, too.  And that’s assuming zero waste.)

The US is broke.  Don’t take my word for it.  Here’s 2010 in a nutshell.  Notice that, contrary to your buddies over at AddictingInfo, military spending is *not* the majority, or anywhere close.  The entitlements you hold near and dear to your heart are.  (Plus a surprising amount of mandatory spending at the Department of Agriculture — but you guys hate Monsanto, so that should be a cinch to tame, right?)

This challenge (how to afford the social-democratic state) is what the bright boys and girls in Europe have been trying to figure out for more than a decade.  It’s a problem. Europeans can generally spend more than we do on social justice, because NATO underwrites their defense bills (thus allowing them to spend much less GDP on defense, and more on social programs).  But even with that advantage, which we do not possess, since numerous weak countries depend upon us for security guarantees(*), their debt levels are growing rapidly and catastrophically.

Past a certain level of debt, a country only has two options — hyper-inflation, or default.  Both crush the working and middle classes.
So if we’re going to avoid looking like Greece, we MUST get the budget under control, as a pragmatic priority.  This is especially the case in state government — the “big blue” states are, by and large, utterly bankrupt.(**)

Yet, to govern as a Democrat, you need your eye focuses like a laser on social welfare and social justice.

This is the challenge of your time.  How can you deliver on both?
Europe can’t do it — they’re making the easy choices (which fail to solve the problem).

If Democrats want to succeed, you will need to figure out how to do much more, with much less.  That means serious, hardcore, dramatic innovations, and a slaughtering of sacred cows right and left.

Are you up to the challenge?  Rehashing bromides(***) won’t cut it — all that’ll do is give the Republicans another shot at reversing everything you’ve accomplished in 2016.  And if you fail, they will do so, just as Democrats seized power in ’06 and ’08 from the castastrophic mismanagement of government by Republicans who thought they had a “permanent majority.”

We’re waiting.  Let’s see what you’ve got.


*Yes, I agree that we’re waging too many wars, too.  But we are in the middle of a long-term, brutal war, and as citizens of conscience, we also cannot break guarantees we’ve made to other nations, for moral reasons, as well as practical ones.
**(Yes, more blue money goes to red states than vice versa, but a significant portion of that is because the federal government owns and operates a lot more Red State land than they do Blue State land, whether it’s military bases, or national parks.  Carping on spending-allocation isn’t the answer here.)

*** Remember, if Democrats are going to hold onto power, they MUST keep their “Blue Dogs” alive and in Congress.  This is where you failed in 2010, and why you lost the House of Representatives to the Republicans.  If you want to succeed this time around, you’ll need to do better.

Because I hate you #4

Frank went to Denny’s one night, and found that they’d changed the menu for April Fool’s Day.

 The waitress, an obvious transplant from the deep south, brought Frank his menu and some coffee.  The menu only had five items on it:  “cheap, good, better, better-and-better, and great.”

 “Great” featured a lot of tomatoes on it, and Frank hates tomatoes, but the others weren’t described in any detail.  So sensing an adventure, Frank ordered the “better and better.”

 It came out as this sort of oatmeal-colored hash.  At first it wasn’t all that great, but true to the description, the third or fourth bite was pretty good, and as the subtle flavoring built up, it really did get better and better!

 Frank stopped the waitress on her way through with the coffee, and said, “what IS this ‘better and better?’ “

The waitress responded, pouring coffee and chuckling in her drawl, “well, hon, whuts’ the better and better?  That’s a meal yore eatin’. “

Thoughts on this whole “Game” Thing

I’ve been reading a number of Game sites recently, and some of it is very useful stuff, which is corroborated by scientific studies.

Here’s an example:

At its core, the “Game” people are trying to address female hypergamy (the natural and necessary tendency for women to try to find the best possible mate) and a feminist world.  Different male behaviors in response to women tend to get rated alpha (aggressive, selfish, “player”), or beta (passive, eager-to-please, “doormat”).

It’s interesting stuff if you’re interested in relationships and psychology, and I am.  But beyond that, I think that Game is primarily a tool men can use to understand feminine psychology, and that its social trappings are in response to what is very much a passing phase.

In the patriarchal world, men’s natural but destructive habit of sleeping with other women was something that seemed more or less uncontrollable, and the very conservative “traditional women’s ethics” were a means of protecting women and reining in the men.  The women in Andrew Jackson’s polite society all the way back when didn’t refuse to hang out with Peggy Eaton (known to slut it up) because they were afraid of sexuality. The women who shunned Eaton for having sex with everybody who met her fancy were thefeminists of their day, and opposed her behavior b/c they were trying to create a society in which they knew the men would be there to give support in case the woman got pregnant. (And this was an era in which people routinely fell down dead in their 30s and 40s from disease and overwork — life was simply harder than anything we know now in the developed world)

Between birth control and abortion, that circumstance, for the most part, no longer applies.  Freed from the strongest effect of reproductive biology, women can sleep around, and be a lot pickier and choosier about who they wind up with.  They also divorce a lot more, in many cases explicitly because they want to “trade up,” which is the female equivalent of the guy who trades in his middle-aged wife for a younger model.

In this society, women earn their own incomes, control their own biology (but not, and this is very important, their underlying hormonally-driven behaviors), and have a wide array of legal advantages over their mates on the legal scene (including the ability in cases of infidelity-related divorce, to force men to pay child support for offspring who they did not father).

Point Blank, a lot of men who played by the “old rules” are now getting burned, and burned hard, to the point where significant numbers of men are saying “no way am I ever getting married so the legal system can rape me.”  Leykiss and his ilk on the radio stay in business for a reason.

Men are reacting with Game (the attempt to literally game women’s psychology so as to retain the upper hand).  That’s an understandable short-term reaction, but I think that inevitably this pendulum will iron itself out, for several reasons:

1.  Women who fall prey to the worst sides of their behavior tend to wind up childless and alone.  The slope of “proud slut” –> “where are all the REAL men” –> “lonely cat lady” is unfortunately all too real (c.f. Maureen Dowd).  This is not something to snark about — it’s a very real trap, and the exact same lonely fate that men who can’t be satisfied with a single woman eventually find themselves in (and also applies to the women who divorce in order to “trade up,” if they don’t manage to actually find a new mate)  Something rotten happens to the soul and joi de vivre of either a man or women who screws so many people that they cease to find lovemaking special, and rottenness tends to repel quality men and women.  Simple mathematical formula for life:  “Jaded = Bad”

2.  At the same time as women are growing their most powerful, male respect for women is crashing into the basement.  The old “beta virtues” (traditional values) were meant to foster mutual respect.  This is not to say that I think women should be locked up with chastity belts until marriage (people who know me in real life are snickering in the background just reading that).  Men who react to women devaluing their ability to provide (because it does have less value than it used to when women are generally out-earning men(*fn)  ).  If men disdain the need to provide, and only relate to women in the context of getting laid (and contra those breeds of feminist who fundamentally despise male sexuality, this IS necessary for the survival of the species), something psychologically corrosive happens to them as well.  Men are at their best when they are helping to shape their children.

3.  Single motherhood is rampant, with its attendant ill effects on the children (but at least said children weren’t murdered in vivo, so good for mama).

4.  Counter to all this disaster, a significant percentage of men and women, primarily the religious, seem to resist the psychological “hamster wheel” both of female hypergamy and male infidelity.  They’re happier, they’re reproducing more, and their children are better-adjusted.  (Contrary to stereotype but consistently reinforced by sociology, they’re also generally having more and, and apparently, a lot better, sex)

The evolutionary writing is on the wall — traditional (mainly religious) families outcompete the others.  Any stroll through single-mother-land will show what the new sexy is:  it looks an awful lot like the Huxtables, and is made up of a prosperous and stable nuclear family with both parents involved.  Similarly, any stroll through the demographics of the western world will show the same thing:  traditional families continue to do well, and the alternative seems to be bitter men and lonely, depressed women.

So whereas a lot of the men who are into “Game” as a necessary adjunct to a future in which men are routinely tossed aside by women in favor of whoever’s got the bigger muscles or paycheck, I think it’s simply a cyclical affair and a generational dead end.  Eventually, the ultra-feminists will wither away simply because they’re failing to reproduce and transmit their values to the next generation (c.f. “Roe Effect.”).

But what to say to somebody who’s *not* from a traditional household?  Here, I think, we have “lessons learned” that can benefit anyone.

1.  The traditional values work because they foster mutual respect between the sexes.  That respect may be asymmetric and textured differently from one sex to another, but that’s because the sexes are different, not merely physically, but psychologically as well.

2.  Each sex has hormonally-driven behaviors which make a certain amount of evolutionary success, but which can also be destructive (in many case, estrogen poisoning from the water supply is dampening this among males, reducing aggressiveness, but also violence).  Each sex has psychological virtues as well, which need to be honored by its counterpart.  Men will tend to get emotionally distant.  Women will tend to give “shit tests” by nagging their man unreasonably, eventually resulting in disdain for the man and relationship breakup if the man buckles under to said tests (and, counter to this, trashed relationships if the man fails to respond to “nagging” that is actually entirely appropriate and justified.)

3.  The “sexual marketplace” (or whatever metaphor one prefers for “finding one’s mate”) is very real, and men and women have different appeal at different ages.  Women tend to have it all their way, and can be as picky as the day is long, while their beauty lasts — but it fades much more rapidly than anybody wishes, and looks count (c.f. online dating sites where women routinely put up pictures from five years ago, b/c their “real” pictures are only getting them responses from men fifteen years their senior).  Women need to understand the traditional wisdom that beauty fades, and unless they wish to risk being single in their 30s and 40s, strongly consider the idea that they need to commit much earlier, while they are still at the height of their beauty and the men around them are still “works in progress.”  A woman who wants an established man either risks staying single too long, or really needs to consider dating somebody 5-10 years older than them.  Men, on the other hand, need to blow off the 80s and 90s style lessons of feminism, because they are a recipe for female disdain, and instead learn how women work psychologically (it’s not hard, and women are *not* mysterious) so that they don’t engage in behavior that actively repels the women they’re trying to land.

4.  Culture counts, and the “hard truths” don’t get fuzzier just because they’re, well, true.  Men and women both need to orient themselves towards the society they want to live in — a “traditional-minded,” chivalrous man, unless he has movie-star looks and a six-digit bank account, is dogmeat trying to find and land women in places like NYC.  A woman who wants to “have it all” and negotiate the rules by which she’s going to live all on her own (or in the company of a nontraditional man) are going to have a hard time of that in Flyover Country.

5.  The happiest men are those who love and respect women, and the happiest women are still those who love and respect men.  Disdain for the opposite sex is not a mark of pyschological health.

6.  I have no idea how this relates to the world of homosexuals, and whether lesbians are also subject to hypergamy, etcetera.  There are very real differences in the limbic system functioning between straights and gays, and assumptions should not be made lightly. (Sorry, social-conservatives, but these differences arebiological, not merely behavioral)


(fn*)remember the Apex fallacy.  Just because the best-compensated men are paid more than the best-compensated women, does not mean all men make more than all women, or that “comparable work” is the best societal gauge of power between the sexes.  While the wealthiest and most powerful tend to be men, the most impoverished and most powerless *also* tend to be men, as any trip through a soup kitchen or homeless camp will show you.

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