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REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (film)

Don't worry, no spoilers here - at least none that will specifically give away plot points.  What you will find here is a lamentation of the state of the film arts and the decline of culture.

Let's get the obligatory part out of the way.  The film, Star Wars 7, for brevity, is a competently crafted Hollywood schlockbuster.  It is designed to get as many warm, paying butts in theater seats as possible before folks realize they've been ripped off.  I saw the film yesterday at a 3p showing in a nearly empty theater on Christmas Eve in a busy suburban mall.  Looks like folks are catching on.

Contrast that to the original film (which I will call 1, because it was first).  I was a 14-year-old geek beginning to discover my love of theater arts and film.  I saw Star Wars 1 something like 76 times in the theater.  I was smitten with the film.  It was a frisky romp through Western mythology with mind-popping effects only 2001: A Space Odyssey had ever brought to the screen, only this wasn't the surreal and esoteric vision of Kubrick, but a fun-filled adventure only incidentally set in space.

The new film, sadly, is little more than a recap of the first three films, with one major twist thrown in.  The film is moody and sullen, with all the joy and adventure carved out of it and warmed-up leftovers for characters.  There was no thrill of reuniting with familiar characters, no empathy with the new ones, and little more than a rehash of the original antagonist, but with the menace only vaguely sprinkled in.

The reheated Darth Vader is revealed little more than half way into the film.  There is no build up, no surprise relationships that stretched over a decade of three films, as in the original series.  Instead, there is nearly an instant reveal and a somewhat shocking incident that hardly allowed any drama to build, especially given that the incident should have been much more powerful, had it been allowed to grow organically.  Instead, the incident was forced and my first thoughts were that they threw away a key character for shock value and likely because the contracts were too expensive.

The only standout in the entire film was Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey, and like the character's name, she was a ray of relief in an otherwise burdensome two hours.  She had depth and there were moments when one could actually see revelations coming upon her, no matter how much JJ Abrams tried to beat us over the head with them.

To summarize the major plot points, I need do no more than this:

  • Old Han, Luke, Leah, Chewie, droids...check
  • New Han, Luke, Leah, droids, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Vader, Emperor...check
  • Death Star...check
  • Desert, ice and forest planets...check
  • X-wing, Y-wing and TIE fighters, and Millennium Falcon...check
  • Droids carrying valuable information to the good guys...check
  • Set-ups for gaming to be released soon...check
In other words, nothing new but a couple of minor twists.  We learn nothing about what the old characters have been doing for 30 years.  We learn nothing of any consequence about the new characters.  JJ Abrams did a magnificent job of going nowhere, much as he did in the second Star Trek reboot.  The most positive thing I can say is that this film blows the second trilogy out of the water, in terms of acting and writing.  But that's akin to saying after eating a shit sandwich, three-day-old meatloaf tastes pretty good.

This film brings back some of the life of the original series, but it's just warmed over retreads.  For all the money and hype this project received, I would have expected - and dearly enjoyed - a whole new direction...some originality...a bit of the glee and wide-eyed fun of the first films.  Challenge me, please!

Alas, this film falls far short of anything but rescuing the franchise from the last trilogy.  We can only hope that this was a 2-hour obligatory exposition to set up something better to come.

The problem is, once franchises like this get petrified by "canon," writers, producers and directors are loathe to set outside the formula for fear of damaging the psyches of fans who project their identities onto stories like this.  However, the thing that made a 14-year-old kid ride his bike to the cinema and spend entire Saturdays watching endless repeats of Star Wars 1 was that it was original and broke all the molds up to that point.  It stepped far outside the norms with classic story-telling and timeless characters.

In summary, all the gravy and spices in the cabinet don't make reheated leftovers fresh again.  Come on, JJ, quit repaving the worn paths.  Take a daring jump into something fresh and new.


Defining Dizzy

(Hong Kong) – Houston, we have a problem.
Yes, I have discovered the entire problem with America.  It is a matter of geographic confusion. 
See, all you Americans brought your European orientation with you, which has led to tremendous cognitive dissonance and a desire to bomb everything until it makes sense.  Here are just some of the problems:
Americans live on a continent that was publicized by Christopher Columbus, but was named after Amerigo Vespucci.  Big problem!  See?  First of all, Americans are taught that Columbus “discovered” America, but in fact he never set foot on the mainland – at least not according to his logs.  Second, if Chris “discovered” the continent, why is it named after Amerigo?  Third, how can you “discover” something that already has millions of inhabitants, hosted great civilizations and was noted in maps and various writings at least 1,000 years before?  This is a classic case of a break-away civilization having occult knowledge of something and choosing a particular time and place to announce it, once society had been properly conditioned, of course.s
The next major problem is a profound confusion of where the continent of America is located.  See, Americans call Asia and the Arabian peninsula “Far East” and “Middle East”.  The problem here is that from America, it would be more proper to call it “Near West” and “Far West”.  Think how many problems could be solved just by reorienting the geography a bit.  No wonder Americans are consistently ranked among the populations with the lowest geographical knowledge.  Now, the East Indies become the West Indies, and the West Indies become the American Indies, because they are located in the Caribbean.  Duh!
The next major problem with Americans is that they call themselves “Americans,” while calling everyone else in the hemisphere by their country of origin.  Yes, Americans are Americans, but all other North and South Americans are Canadians, or Mexicans, or Columbians (named after Columbus who never went there), etc.  This leads to a form of mass megalomania where the entire population of America thinks it is the only America, and everyone else is an interloper.  If everyone started calling themselves by their State names, such as Texan, or Floridian, or New Yorker, this would clear up so much mass delusion and misunderstanding.
And this leads to another major problem looming on the horizon: magnetic pole reversal.  It’s inevitable and may happen sooner than later, but what are Americans going to do when it happens?  They are already suffering from a serious case of cognitive dissonance.  Throw in the fact that North is now South, and talk about a bunch of people with severe disorientation!  North America will suddenly become South America, and since Americas are so used to thinking of South America as the “Third World,” and at a lower rung on the evolutionary ladder that they will either have to deny that compassed point South now, or they will acquiesce and finally admit that they are not as suave and “developed” as they thought they were.  This is about the only place on Earth that will have to change its continental moniker.  The only other adjustments will be changing the South China Sea to the North China Sea (thereby saving a lot of sabre rattling) and Australia will have to come up with a new name (Borealia?), because “austral” means South.  Of course, the aurorae Borealis will also become the aurorae Australis.  We’ll let Antarctica off the hook.
Of course, when the poles reverse, we can just leave Middle East and Far East alone, since it will now be true.
Naturally, all this confusion did not spontaneously arise.  It had its genesis in Europe, as most deep confusions do.  See, Europeans call their chunk of land a continent.  Now, any preschooler can look at a map and see that Europe and the Near, Middle and Far East are all one big wad of dirt.  Africa can get away with it, because there is just a tiny bit of land in Sinai connecting it to the other chunk.  This is probably why folks have been fighting over this tiny wasteland for so damn long.  It could also be why they dug a trench from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, just to emphasize the separation.  The Americas and Antarctica have clearer cases, especially since the Panama Canal carved a neat dividing line between the two in the 1920s.  In fact, that was the whole reason for the canal – to reduce American’s cognitive dissonance about not really being separate from South America.  Central America, well – I think we can all see that it is as much part of North America as Baja California or Florida are.  At least we won’t have to change the name when the poles flip.
A final bit of confusion is the whole First, Second and Third World thing.  You notice that no American ever refers to the Second World.  They all want to be part of the First World.  Sorry, Charlie, Europe took that position and relegated the rest of the world to second and third fiddle.  Americans also like to refer to the “developing” world, as if every other country on Earth wants to look and feel just like America, and is in the process of doing just that.  It makes those poor Americans so confused when they go places that don’t have McDonald’s and Holiday Inn.  They feel like they are caught somewhere between the Second and Third Worlds.
At this point, one can begin to understand why America is wild about Donald Trump.  For one thing, his name sounds like McDonald’s, but primarily, Americans have confused business acumen with statesmanship.  Trump is not Putin.  Putin has studied history and has a solid background in geopolitics and statecraft.  Trump has a solid background in, uh, negotiations and shareholder love.  Those who don’t support Trump have confused every other candidate as a trustworthy individual capable of running a country for any other reason than self-enrichment.

Poor confused Americans.  


Five Easy Pieces

With all the hooplah over illegal immigration into the US and EU -- especially with the overnight attacks in Paris and Trump's "humane" deportation plan -- it occurs to me that most Americans are probably ignorant of what it takes to legally enter the US.  As it happens, my wife is currently applying for a US tourist visa so we can visit family at Christmas, so I presumably have become an expert on the subject.

The US has a class of visas called "Non-Immigrant Visas," which include business travel (Class B1) and tourists (Class B2).  We want the B2 visa, so naturally we click over to the US Embassy website here in Jakarta, and after a little poking and prodding, we find the NIV (non-immigrant visa) page, and the fun begins.  It lists 5 steps to apply (notice I didn't use the word obtain) for an NIV.

Step 1: Pay
The first thing you are told to do is pay the visa application fee.  Scanning down the left-hand column, we find the link called "Fees."  Ooh, this is easy, we think.  Clicking on it gives us lots of information about non-refundability and lost or stolen visas, but -- and I challenge you to find it -- not one line giving the AMOUNT of the fee.  To get that, we googled "US NIV fees" to find a State Department page giving the fee amount as USD160.  If you poke around, it tells you that all fees must be paid in the local currency, even though they are all listed in dollars, so a second google session converts the fee to whatever coin of the realm you use.

Back to the Embassy page to find out which banks we can use.  If you follow the link from the Embassy page, you may note that the site is a .com, not a .gov site.  We choose CIMB for no particular reason, except maybe there is a branch relatively close to the house.  Though the site lists an option to pay by electronic transfer (a relatively new option), we opt for the physical payment in order to receive a hand-written receipt, just so there are no 'complications' leading to the non-refundable part of the deal.

Step 2: Complete the  Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160)
At this point, if you are a foreigner with basic tourist English skills, you may want your lawyer and a certified translator at your side.

So, now we are ready to start the application form.  The site tells us that the form is online and provides a link.  Here we find a handy checklist of everything you will need to do to complete the DS-160, which is not a hopeful sign, as we were hoping we would be able to fill out the form with just the information in our heads, and maybe cheating to look at the passport number.

We gather all the necessary data and prepare for the Big Moment.  Back to the .gov site, where we select the "Tooltip Language - Indonesia, Jakarta" on the handy drop-down menu, which gives us another page, still in English, but now indicates at the top of the page that we are applying in Indonesia.  OK, so at least our point of origin is acknowledged, even if we don't speak English.  Scanning the page, we find links to Overviews, Guidelines and Information -- all in English -- and a handy tool to see if the online form will accept our photo, which has it's own set of Overviews, Guidelines and Information.

After multiple adjustments for file size, type, perspective, percentage, colors, and other fun stuff, it finally is happy with our photo.  Now we are ready to start the application, so Click on Start Application.

This takes you to a page written in the glorious dialect of Governese, wherein we find more of those Overviews, Guidelines and Information links, and a novella telling us how we should proceed.  I draw the reader's attention to the bottom, where you will find a drop down box containing a series of security challenge questions.  Fans of Monty Python will note the distinct similarities to the Pilgrim's Challenge when crossing the Bridge of Death.  I nearly shorted out my computer laughing to tears.  Naturally, we answered "European Swallow."

After several days starting, downloading, saving, accessing, and collecting data to enter into the form, we were finally ready for the Next Big Step (NBS).

Step 3: Scheduling Your Appointment

We now return to the .com site, after a week of frolicking on the .gov site.  WARNING: the link crashed our browser several times and required a reboot to get out of whatever mess they have made here, so caveat emptor.

Here we discover that every single person applying for a visa that is over 14 and under 80, must come down to the Embassy for a face-to-face interview.  A family of four with a couple of older teenagers could end up spending a week or two on this step.  Fortunately, we only need one visa, though.  

After reading about waivers and necessary supporting documents and procedures for changing appointments, we found the link at the bottom of the page to actually schedule the appointment and find out if we will be Group A or B.  It's at this stage that we learn that we must complete an online profile in order to proceed.  We must give a delivery address for the completed visa, a screen name, and various other information so that we can track our passport, and THEY can track us.  Note that we are still on the .com site, and not the .gov, meaning that none of the information we enter is protected and will probably be sold to advertisers, not to mention used against you in a court of law.

Steps 4 and 5: The Appointment
Finally, my wife was scheduled for her appointment.  She was in Group B, meaning her appointment time was 9a. on a Wednesday.

We arrived at the embassy at 7:30a, and got in the cattle chute outside the Wall.

Now, I've been in most of the embassies for major countries here in Jakarta.  I had meetings at the Russian and Chinese consulates, been to several functions at the Italian, German, Austrian, and Fujian consulates.  I've been in the Phillipines, Singapore and Australian consulates.  For the most part, the security is minimally invasive and the embassies look like stately manners or large houses.

The US embassy looks like a high-security prison.  There is a 12-foot high security opaque security fence lined with cameras around the compound.  The entrance looks like a hardened bunker with 3-inch thick glass, steel doors and angles concrete walls to deflect blast waves.  Getting into the compound is rather like trying to board a plane in the US: strip to your skivvies, no electronic devices allowed, etc.  Once through, you are herded across the basketball and tennis courts in a cordoned walkway to another hardened bunker near the center of the compound.

I wasn't allowing inside (my own embassy!).  My wife was herded in with a group of people and I would be called if needed.  About an hour and a half later, she emerged, having been approved for her B-1 tourist visa.  For all the trouble, it was at least good for 5 years with multiple in-out privileges.  Within two days, her passport arrived at the house with a big, officious decal all over one page, that had her photo and details neatly emblazoned on it.

The interview consisted mostly of checking to make sure my wife wasn't going to stay in the US, at least not on the "cheap" visa.  She was asked about her reasons for going there, what my plans were (would I stay or would I go?) and double-checking the details on the application form.  While her approval seems rather smooth and easy, she reports that a number of people before and around her were not approved, and I could tell outside who had gotten theirs and who had not by the looks on faces.

An example of things that can keep you from getting a visa is a blank passport.  If your passport is new and never used before, that is one sure way to get denied.  Fortunately, my wife had done some travelling over the past few years and had stamps from 9 different countries.  Other friends of mine have not been so lucky when applying to bring their spouses to the States.  Some have spent upward of $500 trying to get tourist visas and most were denied for this reason.

In any event, this should be enough to show that the current visa system is not easy and by no means convenient.  There is a "vetting" process in place, and when followed and enforced, it seems quite sufficient to screen out most undesirables.

The problem with the current immigration system is that it is not enforced at the actual borders (not the soft airport borders) and there are far too many 'exceptions' being made for 'refugees' and other unknowns with most likely loose documentation who haven't gone through the above process.

One would think that it is a no-brainer to simply enforce the current system evenly across all access points to the nation's interior.  For God's sake, the embassy entrance is better protected than the 1,000-mile Texas border.  I know, I've been there.  I've walked across the Rio Grande in some places multiple times and even straddled the imaginary line known as the 'border'.

Every other country on Earth, outside the US and Europe, seems to have no problem controlling their borders, with less complex and intimidating systems than are currently in place in the US.  I know.  I have spent eight years strictly adhering to the Indonesian laws.  I pay $800/year to stay here, complete with annual check-ins, fingerprinting, photographing and signing.  And Indonesia has a much more complex border than anything the US has to deal with.

Just enforce the current law.  Problem solved.


The Divine Comedy

It has never ceased to amaze me that those who decry the coming of Big Brother and the All-Seeing State do so on the basis that it is anti-religion.  Yet, religion is the embodiment of Big Brother.  The only difference is that God is a metaphysical being performing His violations of your basic rights through Nature, while Big Brother is simply a human institution doing the same thing via technology.

What, for crying out loud, is the difference?!

As George Carlin so wonderfully put it, religion posits a Man, living in the Sky, who watches everything you do, everything you think and has a list of ten things you must never do.  As far as I can tell, the modern western state watches everything you do, everything you say and think using satellites in the sky, and has a list of 19,000 things you must never do.  Frankly, the former is more attractive, as far as authoritarianism goes.

Science is the priesthood of the modern Church.  There can be no Truth unless a "scientist" blesses it.  The Big Bang and Evolution are doctrine that very few question, nay are allowed to question, though at their base, they are nothing but theories built on 17th and 18th century metaphysics and alchemy without a whit of proof or observation.  No one, despite all you've been inculcated with, has ever witnessed the Big Bang, nor has anyone ever seen one species evolve into another.  Oh sure, there is the 3 micron background radiation and the observations of intra-species adaptation, but honestly, these are hardly proofs of bigger Truths.  They are interpretations and over-wrought expansions on metaphysical concepts without solid and real examples.

A great example of the modern state taken to its natural extreme is North Korea.  Though many Westerners will point to this hapless nation as the quintessential example of the State run amok, it is, in fact, the natural outcome of what most governments want to achieve.  It is also the natural outcome of religion, though the two entities are diametrically opposed to each other.

God and the State are interchangeable.  Both have as their raison d'etre the total subjugation of humanity. The former does it in the name of a fanciful Creator, the latter wishes to become the Creator.  That is the sum total of their differences.  In Western culture, the royalty claimed Divine Authority, stating that the sovereign derived his power from the Almighty.  The modern State wishes to cut out the middle man and establish itself as the Divine Authority.  We see this trend begin in ancient Rome with the deification of Julius Caesar.  The king became god, and thus the State he established was divinely inspired and ordained.

The concept of Divine State continued under the Roman Church, with Jesus claiming divine Nature, and by extension, the popes were all-encompassing power to rule the Earth in God's name.  Nowhere is this better demonstrated than with Boniface VIII's Unam Sanctam, declaring the Roman Church's authority over all the Earth and all the creatures in it.  In fact, this claim has never been challenged and is still positive law in the West today.  We need look no further than the fact that modern administrative law is based on Roman Canonical law, and the Canon principles still reign.

In fact, it is the Church's doctrine of Collective Guilt in perpetuity for Adam's Sin that is the basis for the concept of a Corporation as a Person in Western law.  You can follow the concept through Medieval theology and into modern court rulings on the concept.  It is the very reason why a CEO cannot be jailed for the actions of a corporation (corporate veil), and so the entity (corporation) must be punished, rather than the individuals who made the decisions.

It is a short step from that concept to the corporate State assuming a form of divinity, because it is now a "person," sharing equally in the Divine Nature of the individual Human Being, but since the corporate State is a collection of individuals, it is therefore more powerful than any individual.  And since the corporate State is now a "person," it can answer only to God for its crimes.

POOF!  The Divine State.  Replace the black frocks and celluloid collars of the priesthood with white lab coats, and viola!, the new priesthood.  Question Global Warming or the Big Bang, and you will receive the same treatment as Bruno or Galileo - burned at the stake or imprisoned for life - even if you have empirical evidence, or simply point out the New Priesthood's lack thereof.

Though the wolf has changed clothes, the result is the same - an authority claiming Divine Status watching every single move and thought you make.  Further, it claims Divine Right over all the Earth, regardless of who or what it must destroy in the process.  And since the Divine Authority is claimed on behalf of an invisible and mute God, the only way to prove the authority is to fulfill the "prophesies" of ultimate destruction and reveal the Truth in the Final Judgement.

Thus, Western civilization has at its core the seeds of its own destruction.  While attempting to conquer the Earth under its Divine Authority, it must also destroy everything to prove it is right to do so.

Roman authoritarianism was established by the divinity of Julius Caesar, who was replaced with Jesus Christ (JC2), which solidified the State's Divine Right, which became Unam Sanctum, which became Manifest Destiny.  Original Sin established collective guilt, which led to Corporate Personhood, which led to Fascism (from many, one).  Apocalyptic prophesies became justification for any number of horrific crimes in the name of "greater good," whose righteousness could only be proved by the ultimate destruction of everything in order to bring on the Final Judgement.  In the process, we replaced Church Dogma with Scientific Dogma, neither of which is questionable, regardless of the utter lack of evidence in either case.

There is nothing new under the Sun.  Millennia-old edicts and choices still infuse and surround the current events in your daily news feed.  We see its proof in the Apotheosis of George Washington
(see illustration at top) and the architecture of Washington, DC (New Rome), and the Authoritarian subjugation of all humanity under one rule (NWO).  God is Big Brother, and vice versa.  There is no conceptual difference in either form or function.

Ultimately, in order to change the world, we must first change nearly all of our a priori assumptions.  We must question the origin and authority of every single public institution and seek completely new alternatives.

Any bets on how likely that will be?