Monday, 30 April 2012

A spectre haunting Europe

The news from Europe is unceasingly grim as the continent’s leaders, elected and unelected alike, join hands to celebrate their fiscal purity while the Euro-ship of state sinks magnificently into the briny deep. This week alone, recession roared back in both Spain and the U.K., but the Hooverite skippers in the politico-financial elite smile bravely, turn their ruddy cheeks to the heavens and steer stubbornly on toward the Promised Land of budgetary austerity. Perhaps they see Ayn Rand smiling down at them from the clouds.

Eleven European countries are now officially in recession, including eight in the euro zone—Belgium, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece and Slovenia, plus Spain as of today—as well as the U.K., Denmark and the Czech Republic. Of the 17 euro-using countries, 11 have had their governments kicked out of office in the last two years, and a 12th, France, is likely to join them next Sunday. In fact, the only major power on the continent that can boast of a stable government is Germany.

No desperately disgruntled electorate anywhere can be expected to act with sober deliberation, and the Europeans are no exception. The most obvious result of these years of economic mismanagement is the quite scary strengthening of the European extreme right, which given recent history, is not a minor matter. The French neo-fascist National Front scored nearly one-fifth of the vote last week, and Greece’s PM is warning voters away from the xenophobic, ultra-rightist Golden Dawn, whose partisans distinguished themselves by assisting the ethnic cleansers of Serbia during the inspiring episode of Srebenica wherein 6,000 Muslim males of all ages were slaughtered and buried in a pit.

None of this should come as a surprise. When the governing class, all the way from tepid social democrats to the traditional right, wallows and bathes in neo-liberal orthodoxy for decades, responds to the crises of their own creation with further opportunistic looting of public property while letting their banker chums entirely off the hook, then intones somberly that There Is No Alternative like a gloomy chorus from Sophocles, people will react emotionally and turn to extreme views. These are not likely to be of a proletarian or solidarity-laden nature, but rather the sort of immigrant-bashing anti-politics that has long been the crucible of the ultra-nationalists. Classic anti-Semitism has been discredited in Europe and remains rather subdued (but far from absent); otherwise, the whole banking crisis would be a field day for the reactionaries to scapegoat Europe’s traditional whipping boy—Jews.

Given the setting, it is disturbing that the trial of mass murderer Anders Brevik in Norway has not attracted more sustained attention and condemnation. Imagine if he were an Afghan or a Palestinian—we’d be hearing no end of the ideological and ethnic connotations of his act while politicians here and abroad would be lining up to demand ever more stringent police actions to pursue, harass, spy upon, round up, prosecute, jail and throw away the key on anyone related to the perpetrator’s third cousin’s childhood nanny. Instead, the worst terrorist to stalk the planet since 9/11 is about to be put away in a humane Nordic jail with barely a peep of interest. For example, I wonder how many news stories have been aired on Fox News of the entire Brevik episode? If and when the reaction of the abused populace turns more violent, we are sure to witness great howls of indignation from the opinion-makers; their virtual silence about Brevik suggests they do not fear his actions or his beliefs nor suspect that they represent any danger to their comforts.

To steal or not to steal. . .

Reading the business pages, an activity I enjoy when there are no slasher movies in my Netflix cue, I notice many stories about insider trading scandals and the judicial comeuppance of the perpetrators, either by regulatory agencies, criminal prosecutors or both. Here’s the latest list I can think of just in recent memory:

--the Raj Rajaratnam case involving his bloated hedge fund, a Goldman Sachs director who doubled as a McKinsey Associates bigwig, and a supporting cast of lesser scumbags;

--two cases reported in the Friday (4/27) NY Times from the U.K., one involving Lord Poobah X and a helpful co-conspirator from JP MorganChase, the other featuring David Einhorn, a regular presence on the finance pages for his great investing wisdom;

--a new Goldman-related case involving a medical devices company;

--the SAC Capital Advisers case from February, ongoing;

--and Congress’s own not-illegal insider trading activities, just prohibited a week ago.

For those not paying close attention, this might appear to signal Firm, Punitive Regulatory Action by the duly constituted agencies up to and including jail time. That actually happens on rare occasion, but more frequently the accused are allowed to pay a fine and fahgettaboutit, with their actions duly minimized by reporters in the Serious Newspapers who want access to them for their future stories. (Here’s the oily language used by the Times:
Mr Einhorn denied any wrongdoing, but decided to settle the case rather than fight it
—tut, tut, my dear, a minor bureaucratic inconvenience, nothing to see here, etc.)

While the accused in these cases are probably guilty as hell (especially those allowed to ‘admit no wrongdoing’), their shenanigans are really small beer compared to the wholesale looting that proceeds apace elsewhere with no resistance whatsoever. Now that’s a much more interesting list:

--the mortgage settlement announced at Obama’s State of the Union address in which turncoat Eric Schneiderman tossed in the towel along with his stained undies when he gave away the powerful weapons he wielded as Attorney General of New York State in exchange for a cameo TV shot and the goodwill of the Democratic Party apparatus;

--the massive, continuing judicial sedition performed by the mortgage industry through robosigning, fee-loading, illicit foreclosures, HAMP rip-offs, and a host of other unpunished crimes and misdemeanors leading lifelong real estate agents to counsel prospective buyers to stay far away from the housing market forever, lest their firstborns be snatched up by the banker pharaohs. (A key piece of reasoning in this drastic advice is that one can no longer be sure of title to one’s newly-purchased home--rather an important detail.)

--continued banker obfuscation about balance sheets, exemplified by the blatant lying performed at Lehman Brothers and for which no one has been accused, tried or punished. Since that notorious Repo 105 falsification was successfully done with impunity, there is no reason to believe anything that is being told to us (as in our pension funds, our state and city governments, etc.) by financial institutions re their products or their own balance sheets.

--the granddaddy of current financial scandals, the outright theft of customer money by MF Global Investments, led by a prominent Democratic moneybags and former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine. It’s truly remarkable how a billion dollars can disappear from an institution supposedly expert in managing money while to date no one (1) knows where it is nor how it got lost, (2) is being put in jail for taking it, nor (3) is particularly upset—except, of course, those whose pockets were suddenly emptied out.

Insider trading is inevitable in the upper reaches of finance and cannot really be stopped. Gross and obvious violations like those of Martha Stewart and the Raj guy can and should be pursued to keep the lid on things, but useful intelligence about how a business is doing is always going to circulate among those in the know, who will then use the knowledge to improve their stock portfolios.

But this policing, while necessary and healthy despite its inherent futility, should NOT be the priority activity of our prosecutors. There is huge, massive fraud and theft taking place on all sides with the connivance and protection of the federal government and its faux regulators. Courageous state and local prosecutors, if there be any of those left, should be setting their sights on that behavior, not routine insider trading, while there is still a smidgen of judicial independence remaining in the land.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

G.I. chant—We love bodyparts!

Once again we are treated to cutesie cellphone pix of detached, Asian limbs being held up for Mom and Dad at home, and promptly the official apologies tumble out, tempered with assurances that these rambunctious kids, thought they used poor judgment, should not have done that, etc., etc., are mere rogue elements and surely not representative of our fighting men and women. But wait, the whole incident is also ‘being thoroughly investigated’. So if we are still conducting the investigation, how do we already know what it will reveal?

The Afghans don’t need Washington spinmeisters to tell them what is happening in their country in any case. But we do. A retired jughead named Bob Killibrew let the cat out of the bag last night on The News Hour when he admitted that the Pentagon’s real worry is what we here at home will think about the troops, the war and the whole sorry business.

‘This happened two years ago in a unit’, said Killibrew, ‘that I know from my own experience has high standards of leadership and training. So whatever happened, it was—it didn’t reflect on the unit’.

So that’s the answer: a really well trained and professional outfit is responsible, so even though members of said professional, well-trained unit committed these acts, their acts do not reflect on its training and professionalism. Logical! And incidentally, a complete reversal of the old-fashioned military code that higher-ups are responsible for the behavior of the troops they command.

Note also the reference, squeezed in several times by the retired general as part of his PR agenda, to the fact that the pictures are from 2010. So that’s all in the past except that—wait a minute—wasn’t it just a few months ago that other U.S. troops pissed all over some Afghan cadavers? And wasn’t there a deliberate massacre of a dozen civilians just weeks ago?

So here’s another theory for the military guys to pursue in their thorough investigation: maybe the spirit of revenge is afoot in their institution and has been from the start. Maybe the troops drink from the poisoned wells of 9/11, after which we were all browbeaten unceasingly to forget everything but our own victimhood and righteous retaliation. Best, of course, if those on the receiving end were found to be guilty of something, but if a few innocents ended up under the waterboard, dead or missing a few fingers, tough titties. Seen one Afghan body part, seen them all.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


We have entrusted our rulers, at great moral and material cost, to Keep Us Safe.

We have agreed to allow them to torture defenseless detainees, to keep them locked up for life without due process, to subject the Muslim and Arab population of our society to a relentless campaign of political intimidation so that they are too terrified to object to U.S. policy at home or abroad. We have built a vast snooping apparatus based on blind faith that our bosses are good guys and gals who will never turn this machinery against apolitical, indifferent white people. We have funded all this with untold hundreds of billions of dollars while our schools, roads, bridges, hospitals, trains, and cities decline and the sick, the destitute, the down-and-out, the infirm, the fragile, the addicted, the troubled, the wounded veterans, the jobless, the marginal, the unnecessary all tossed onto the garbage heap, all in the name of Security. We submit to body cavity searches, to reviews of our Facebook data and our library cards, to permanent monitoring of our whereabouts via cellphone towers, to the construction of a mega-storehouse of our private affairs in the Mormon deserts of Utah, to airport MRIs staffed by neurotic, shouting guards whose only regret is that they were born too late for service at Chelmno or Theresienstadt. We accept the mass incarceration of millions of citizens. Despite our visceral hatred of taxes that might indirectly contribute to someone else’s well-being, we agree to pay for all this with our garnisheed wages.

And so what do our fearless Guardians of Safety do when entrusted with these noble missions at the highest level of the state? They pay hookers for sex.

What better demonstration of the debased, corrupted spirit at the heart of our national polity than this pathetic frat-boy beat-off party on the government dime in a foreign country preparing to host the maximum authority of the state? The response from the Obama Administration, as always, is a spineless and ultimately complicit vow to stage an ‘investigation’, which will drag on until the whole thing is forgotten. A real leader would have bounced the head of the Secret Service on principle and put in a deputy. But no one at the top need fear retribution even for the gravest fuck-ups. Bankers loot, generals lose wars, regulators snooze, lawyers persecute, cops snoop, and bodyguards brag while fucking with whores.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Mission creep

New York has a faintly critical though too cautious feature story by Chris Smith this week on the NYPD that will not damage the magazine’s contacts inside. The glossy weekly is written for and about the city’s elite and doesn’t rake muck like the old Village Voice used to (and still does on rare occasions). So there are a lot of quotes from Commissioner Ray Kelly and his defenders while the key whistleblower about the Department’s latest corrupt practices, Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, is dismissed with a snide he said/they said. (Schoolcraft says he was handcuffed by his fellow officers and shipped to a psychiatric institute after his exposé—shouldn’t a reporter find out if that’s true and then say so?)

But the article remains of interest, framed as Kelly versus his own troops, i.e., why the rank and file are unhappy. It zeroes in on the highly touted modern policing techniques based on CompStat that have been pioneered in New York, part of the post-Giuliani, post-broken-windows approach to keeping the crime rates down. CompStat involves the careful feeding of crime data into a central database and then following up with increased attention to those areas that pop up on the cool video screens. If your precinct doesn’t measure up, you get raked over the coals.

This system is given a lot of credit for the drop in crime rates, and the department is supposedly benefiting from being run by this modern crop of administrators, personified by Kelly, who hold their middle managers’ feet to the fire, shake up stodgy old habits, insist on results, overcome resistance from the old-timers, etc. Sounds great.

But Schoolcraft—and he’s not alone—says that the whole edifice is built on the over-quantification of crime and that advancement is completely dependent on making your numbers look good. This leads to performance quotas for patrolmen, including the notorious ‘stop-and-frisk’ practices imposed on a half-million black and Hispanic males per year, while at the same time major crimes are downgraded, under-reported, and blocked from the system, sometimes to the detriment of victims. Reports persist of people trying to report assaults, break-ins, even rapes, and finding that their paperwork gets lost while NYPD bureaucrats stonewall them.

Smith in the article says the push for statistical bliss is crushing the spirit of the NYPD’s foot soldiers. They’re supposed to make the numbers, but with 6000 fewer officers on the job due to budget cuts, they feel stuck between bosses being pressed for more and more results and the impossibility of getting crime down any further. The New York article quotes one anonymous source (who probably wants to avoid a trip to the loony bin a la Schoolcraft) thus: ‘Everybody’s attention is so focused on the numbers, nobody cares about each other. You can’t. The human element is gone. It’s why so many cops are so miserable’.

One can’t help noticing the direct parallel between this sort of complaint and the ongoing resentment about what other top lieutenants of Bloomberg’s are doing in the public school system. A numbers-based modernization was imposed from the top down, forcing teachers to test students constantly and saddling them with the blame if the expected improvements aren’t forthcoming. Corruption, blame-shifting and demoralization are the unsurprising result, with the main difference being that sainted police officers, unlike public school teachers, are never scapegoated as enemies of All That Is Good.

Beneath both phenomena lies the insidious, seditious ideological snake of privatization. The London Review of Books describes it as ‘the privatising of social authority, and thus power’. Here is how it works, according to Ross McKibbin:

Having privatised the state’s assets, the government is now privatising its functions and responsibilities. The right to determine the relationship between schools and society (or employment services and society, or prisons and society) is being removed from elected institutions, gathered up by Whitehall [insert Washington, Albany or Bloomberg’s mansion] and parcelled out to friends and supporters of the ruling party. It is a fundamental attack on democratic politics, and one carried out as much by New Labour as by the Tories’.

Sound a tad familiar? We will undoubtedly see more of this tendency, dressed and decorated as ‘efficiency’, ‘reducing big government’, and/or ‘lowering taxes’. It will produce none of the above, leaving government’s snooping, policing, intruding function larger than ever, shifting costs to unaccountable private buccaneers, and forcing states and municipalities to raise sales taxes and service fees. Railroads, schools, the post office, medicine, and soon Social Security have long been fair game. Even if police departments are not dismantled in favor of for-profit security services (which could also happen), it’s fascinating to see the basic logic of privatization filtering in even there.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

President Romney? [updated]

Can anyone explain how this wooden and immensely unlikeable fellow could be one step away from the presidency except for money? Half the people in his own party can barely stand him, most of the rest realize he doesn’t stands for anything, and his campaign has been an unending series of howlers that should have buried him. And yet this tone-deaf robot who couldn’t carry a tune in a karaoke bar gets the lead role at the Metropolitan Opera.

Romney plowed his way through the ranks of his adversaries and decimated them one by one by wielding overwhelming force in the form of cash. He picked them off individually with a barrage of negative ads that people pretend to dislike but fail to resist although the more bizarre (Trump, Cain) self-imploded without help. Cash, all the cash, and nothing but the cash took care of the rest, and now the mortars are being wheeled into position for six months of trench warfare between the two remaining sides.

Like all wars of attrition, those of us living on the battlefield will have to fend for ourselves until the victor emerges. Neither camp awakens great love although there is some potent residual loyalty. As occurred during the primary season, whoever mobilizes more firepower is likely to win in November. If a non-entity like Romney can get this far, he can money-bomb his way to victory.

Speaking of money and lots of it, the NY Times had a full-page spread last week under the headline “The Billionaires’ Club” which listed the total assets and favored causes of 19 top political donors. Here are the smiling faces that appeared in that run-down along with their wealth:

Bill Gates $61 billion
Charles & David Koch $50 billion
Warren Buffett $44 billion
Christy Walton $25.3 billion
Sheldon Adelson $24.9 billion
Michael Bloomberg $22 billion
George Soros $20 billion
Sergey Brin $18.7 billion
Carl Icahn $14 billion

Then the second-stringers:

Phil Knight (Nike) $14.4 billion
John Paulson (hedge) $12.5 billion
Donald Bren (property) $12 billion
Harold Hamm (oil) $11 billion
Stephen Schwarzman $ 5.5 billion
Henry R. Kravis $ 4 billion
Ken Griffin (hedge) $ 3 billion
Julian Robertson (hedge)$ 2.5 billion
Peter Thiel (PayPal) $ 1.5 billion

That comes to a total of $346.3 billion distributed among 18 people (19 if you count the Koch brothers twice). Why don’t we save ourselves a lot of time and trouble and just have them elect the president directly? It’s an uneven number, so there’s no danger of a tie.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The double standards gene

I get quite annoyed with the oblivious bipeds texting or gassing away on their cells in the middle of intersections that I’m trying to pedal through and have even been known to issue wisecracks like ‘Take the hand of an adult!’ as I swerve to avoid them. Two blocks later I’ll find myself running a red light or cutting down a one-way street against traffic, rationalizing to myself that just this once it’s a reasonable bending of the rules. Ergo, I am, alas, a biped.

We seem to have a knack for understanding that rules are a fine thing but that we ourselves are basically special and should not be held to them. So it’s not surprising that nations act the same way and that a nation’s leaders can easily and convincingly apply this double standard when drumming up support for indefensible behavior. The one-sided campaign against Iran’s nuclear capabilities is the most current example; how depressingly rare, nonetheless, to find anyone daring to break with the patriotic straitjacket enveloping the issue and expose its profound illogic.

Iran should not have nuclear weapons, we are told, because it’s dangerous and will stimulate an arms race in the Middle East. But a New York Times Magazine writer recently spent thousands of words parsing the thoughts and philosophies of the Israeli leadership about their desire to blow up Iran’s nuclear installations without once mentioning the rather salient fact that Israel itself possesses nuclear weapons.

Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—to which Iran, but not Israel, is a signatory—the country is permitted to have a nuclear energy industry. This binding law, however, is rarely mentioned, much less honored. (Reminder: the entire debate over illegal immigration of Hispanics to the U.S. is constantly couched in the necessity of sacred respect for The Law.) When Brazil and Turkey tried to broker a deal to permit Iran to maintain its nuclear capacity while steering clear of weapons-grade materials, Obama and Clinton immediately scotched it.

And et cetera. The details aren’t really interesting, but the pattern is clear enough even without the State Department guy’s slip-up in January when he copped to the real diplomatic goal: the end of the mullahs’ rule. None of this is surprising, unusual or even news. What it should remind us, however, is that states often behave badly and that we citizens should consider soberly and dispassionately whether war-making against yet another unthreatening state is in our—as opposed to our rulers’—interests.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Feeling it

Our president weighed in on the outrageous Trayvon Martin case last week, saying the 17-year-old kid pursued and shot by a vigilante might have borne a resemblance to a son of his own. Not surprisingly, this bland comment stimulated the usual howls of victimized outrage from a has-been white politician like soon-to-be-invisible Newt, but it was curious to contemplate the implications of Obama’s words.

No doubt he intended to say that even a president’s own offspring wouldn’t be immune from the kind of racist stereotype that drove the trigger-happy Zimmerman to shoot first and ask questions later and that it was therefore an obviously bad thing. But it also suggests that Obama felt sympathy, at long last, for someone on the receiving end of police incompetence and/or abuse.

And none too soon. The papers have been full of stories only slightly less egregious than the Martin case, many of the recent ones related to Occupy actions. One Latino fellow in my neighborhood was just exonerated of a charge of assaulting a female police officer when the alleged recipient of this attack failed to show up in court. The defendant always has maintained that the whole thing was cooked up to justify the fact that he was bleeding from the head and that he’d never done anything to merit even a disorderly arrest, but the NYPD can say whatever it wants. Or could have except for one mistake the cops made—they failed to recognize Ydanis Rodríguez as a member of the City Council. Had he been just plain old José Gómez, he might well be doing 12 years.

The prosecutor’s office in a characteristic show of bad faith refused to admit anything and instead issued the usual boilerplate about not having ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’. You’re always guilty if the cops bust you, and false arrests do not occur. Rodríguez said he might sue, and I sure hope he does.

Not that President Obama would want to weaken the cops’ ability to bust, strip-search and prosecute in any way. His lawyers just successfully argued before the Supreme Court (the one Obama also trashed recently) in favor of that rule, so that now you and I can be seized for speeding and must allow the uniformed officers to take the Magical Mystery Tour up our rectal compartments. If you think this is no big deal, volunteer for it sometime, and get back to me. But Obama doesn’t expect to be pulled over or popped for a protest demonstration, so these circumstances do not awaken his sympathy.

Or take the use of agents provocateurs to drum up, promote and carry out terrorist attacks, then rope some unsuspecting bystander into the scheme—or pretend to—so that the FBI can trumpet Another Skeery Terror Plot Unearthed. That’s the Obama Justice Department at work, but of course the Prez is not Pakistani or a Muslim, despite the hallucinations afflicting half of rural Texas.

Obama also famously declared Bradley Manning guilty before his trial got around to starting, so whistle-blowers and leakers don’t get any sympathy from him either. His administration has been famously tougher on them than the Bush-Cheney regime although notorious torturers from that era do get a pass. But then again Obama needn’t imagine himself being held in a freezing cage, sleep-deprived or waterboarded.

Homeowners across the land are being scammed and ripped off, too, by the mortgage servicers and banks for which Obama continues to run interference with the phony 49-state mortgage settlement, but if Obama wants to buy a home, he can pay cash. Small investors who lost their shirts to Democratic donor and rich guy Jon Corzine in the MF Global Investments scandal haven’t enjoyed a sympathetic ear, nor will anyone conned with the new Bring Back Fraud to Wall Street bill that Obama just signed, cleverly disguised as the JOBS Act. No doubt Obama’s financial advisors will enable him to steer clear of the next round of thievery enabled by that legislation.

In short, it’s great that Obama recognizes that shooting down a youngster walking home with a bag of candy isn’t right because he could imagine himself the father of a kid like Trayvon. It would be nice if his sympathy some day were to extend to other grossly unfair situations, including those caused by his own policies, even if he can’t imagine how they could affect him directly.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

'The Hunger Games'

Dystopian narratives provide an interesting look inside the cultural psyche, and apparently today’s adolescents gobble up the stuff. We were force-fed 1984 in high school and dutifully read it, but I don’t think we seriously considered that it had anything to do with our future, as opposed to that of, say, some unlucky Europeans with unpronounceable surnames.

These sci-fi nightmares are fun, too, especially when sympathetic heroes like Willis or The Arnold are sure to save the world by Act 3. But The Hunger Games, the current PG fantasy hit, is an eerie and slightly slant version of this category of tween imagination. It invents a new form of cruelty by pitting the youthful protagonists against each other in a gladiatorial fight. Enthusiasts of ‘Survivor’ and the pioneering Big Brother version of reality television will instantly recognize the dynamics in which participants are ousted one by one, except that in this case they’re not merely separated from the show but from their carotid arteries as well.

The Hunger Games starts and ends with the downtrodden bipeds under the heel of a totalitarian state that remains comfortably in power from the beginning to the end of the story. The scenes of an exaggerated version of ourselves eagerly consuming this blood feast provides the film’s edgiest satire as the regime’s ruling caste with its howler high-fashion crimes stand in stark contrast to the homespun virtues of the underdogs. But the film doesn’t pretend to be believable or probe its fantasy construction in any truly interesting way. The set-up is glitz for the drama, which is too bad because the story line has possibilities.

Heroine Katniss Everdeen is played by the same young actresss (Jennifer Lawrence) who did the tough Ozark girl thing in Winter’s Bone, and she’s duly believable again as another mountain gal who can survive in the woods and fistfight. The adult men in her town are miners, and Katniss’s trip to the big, gaudy, corrupt city shows us that her sector houses Good People, struggling to survive in their natural environment despite exploitation at the hands of the oppressive and decadent urbanites.

For some unfathomable reason, Katniss’s family and neighbors all dress in dowdy 1930s outfits that today’s West Virginians wouldn’t bury their grandmothers in. But verisimilitude is not the film’s forte. Despite this all-powerful state’s limitless resources, no one at headquarters has bothered to generate a convincing ideological/religious narrative that could make the oppressed endorse and sustain their own oppression as occurs in real life. Why, they don’t even have the cracker Appalachians and the lowland blacks fighting each other, which any sensible dictatorship would have figured out first thing.

Sequels may return us to happier illusions, but for now The Hunger Games utilizes the same simple trope seen endlessly in movies and television shows like ‘Person of Interest’ or the Bourne series: the surveillance apparatus combined with ruthless dictatorship is an unbeatable, overwhelming force—except for superheroes. These extraordinary individuals, and these alone, can outsmart it for a while and need nothing more than a friendly hand from someone, preferably a hot babe or two. Ho hum. But I wonder if it says something about our sense of ourselves and our future, or for that matter our past, that we entertain kids today by having them look over the shoulders of the smug and pampered rich cheering scenes of barely adolescent children—i.e., themselves—slaughtering each other in the woods, for sport.