Monday, June 30, 2008

If you're Jung at heart

Went to Starbucks tonight for a little refreshment--Shut up, there's an indie coffee shop in my neighborhood, but they close early during the Summer. Anyway, I also went to work on a little project I have going. Saw a friend of mine reading Man and His Symbols.

He talked a little about how artists are very grateful to the unconscious. Solutions you would never have thought about arrive in dreams or daydreams.

This is only part of the story, of course. You can't just sit around waiting for the cavalry to show up from the dark side of your brain. But it is a significant part of the story.

Jung may not be a scientist, or at least a physical scientist. There are certainly things about neurology that you're not going to learn from meditating on archetypes. But CGJ did have a good sense of the mind, and where it wants to go.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

From the mouths of conservatives

Praise be, someone said it.

William Kristol of The Weekly Standard said Sunday a U.S. attack on Iran after the election is more likely should Barack Obama win. Presumably, Bush would trust John McCain to keep Iran nuclear free.

Yet, to start a third war in the Middle East against a nation three times as large as Iraq, and leave it to a new president to fight, would be a daylight hijacking of the congressional war power and a criminally irresponsible act. For Congress alone has the power to authorize war.

It's embarassing to remember that in the early nineties, I'd rip Buchanan for being a total goosestepper. And he does have some nutty beliefs. But in recent years he's often appeared as a Cassandra of sanity.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The first official Friday Random Ten of the official Summer

1. Sonic Youth--Brave Men Run (In My Family)
2. Roxy Music--Trash
3. Arcade Fire--Keep the Car Running
4. Laurie Anderson--Sweaters
5. Pink Floyd--Flaming
6. Cibo Matto--Sugar Water
7. Thomas Adès--Arcadiana:mv IV (tango mortale)
8. Aaron Goldberg--OAM's Blues
9. The White Stripes--I Can Learn
10. Belle & Sebastian--The Model

#8 actually came bundled with the computer, so I can't claim credit for purchasing it on any level. It's a nice jazz tune, though.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Accessible humor

So William Butler Yeats visits the much talked-about artist Pablo Picasso in his studio. He sees the young Spaniard painting a young woman nude from the waist up. The model holds a sausage between her hands. As Picasso finishes the figure, he asks the poet what he thinks of the new work.
"Can't say I approve."
"Oh?" Picasso says with one eyebrow raised.
"No, it lacks balance."
"Lacks balance? How do you mean?"
"Well, my friend, the breasts lack all conviction, while the worst is filled with passionate intensity."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Something just weird, something surreal

I'd say that three times in the past three days, we've had torrential downpours, when looking out the window you might think you were on a submarine. (I know, submarines don't have windows. Shut up.) But they've been very brief, so that the gathering clouds, burst of thunder, heavy rain and dispersal all happen in the space of an hour. One storm lasted today from after one until around two. By five the ground was dry. Strange, when you're used to a sort of chunkier version of England's fine mist.

And for a guy who had a talent for painting turbulent skies: This is an interesting review of a Dali show. I'm nowhere near Florida, but if anyone reading this has been to the exhibit they;re talking about, let me know. The focus seems to be on his relationship with Gala, which I didn't know much about. The way she showed up in so much of his work, I've always figured that if they weren't married, she would have had him arrested. But by quite a few lights, it was a constructive influence she had.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cue Irish wake

Damn! If ever I figured someone was too pissed off to die, that someone is George Carlin. He will be missed. It's a lucky thing that he ran his mouth as much as he did when he was alive.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pointing out the holes

In today's Boston Globe magazine, Charles Pierce--a regular correspondent on Eric Alterman's site--brings some much-needed sanity to the Dunkin Donuts Scarf of Terror kerfluffle. As far as I can tell the short piece isn't online, so this is me typing it in.

Dear Will Kussell:
I don't understand it. You folks beat Krispy Kreme, for pity's sake. They're the best donuts in the world, and oyou and the rest of the Dunkin' Donuts empire of which you are the president ran them out of Massachusetts like they wre Edgar Renteria. You produce sharp postmodern ads--"Freezing at Peewee Hockey" was the best--and you've become cool again even in the face of the Starbucks Borg. And with all those triumphs, you still go and surrender to the flying monkeys of the intertubes over a Rachael Ray ad? They yell, and you fold? This is what those people believe, OK? That a black-and-white checkered scarf worn by Ray in one of your Internet ads was an attempt by fashion designers to mainstream Yasser Arafat's old headgear into American society in preparation for our eventual absorption into a worldwide caliphate. (By this logic, the end of every NASCAR race is designated by the waving of a subliminal signal for worldwide jihad.) This is the "possibility of misperception" referred to in the statement through which your company pulled the ad. Be honest, Will. If I wandered into one of your hundreds of stores and started saying that stuff, you'd have me locked up. That this particular spasm of hysterical bedwetting was inspired by the likes of Michelle Malkin, who is to the political dialogue what E. coli is to a holiday barbecue, makes your capitulation all the more inexplicable. It is never a good thing to give the crazy people anything they might perceive as a victory. It never ends well. Give them a trophy, and they'll spike it onto their own heads.

Charles P. Pierce

Is it that bad? Worse. Besides Malkin--who seems to have married into every fucked-up delusion ever suffered by white people anywhere--the other forces putting pressure on Dunkin' D included Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs and Pamela "Atlas Passed Out" Geller. LGF is the site of choice for people who want to see most of Western Asia vaporized. Geller seems to have destroyed most parts of her brain not used for Arab-hating.

In other words, this is the worst kind of political correctness: fanatical haters putting an end to tolerance that offends them. It's like the Klan demanding that the local easy listening station stop playing Teresa Brewer because she sounds too much like Ella Fitzgerald. The company waved the white flag when faced with the nastiest kind of ignorance, and may need some pressure from the other side.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Friday Random Ten that is

1. Fiona Apple--O Sailor
2. The Beatles--Drive My Car
3. TV on the Radio--Ambulance
4. Belle and Sebastian--Beyond the Sunrise
5. Elvis Costello & the Attractions (featuring Glenn Tilbrook)--From a Whisper to a Scream
6. REM--Departure
7. Brian Eno--King's Lead Hat
8. Queen--Good Company
9. Les Baxter--Whatever Lola Wants
10. Chris Isaak--Waiting

Quite a day this accompanied. A lot of people I work with got laid off this weak. Which, as they say, is fun until you get to the "off" part. Oh well, I had some nice exchanges with a few people today, and wished them well.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sly fox

At Vanity Fair David Kamp has written a nifty portrait of Sylvester Stewart, aka Sly Stone. Sly and his outfit the Family Stone have left musical fingerprints all over the place: Sesame Street, blaxploitation soundtracks, and Prince are just starters.

The article goes over some bad times in the seventies, when the music stayed good until it wasn't. But it's not depressing. The man is cogent and fit, even if the accompanying picture does look distressingly like Flava Flav in Death Race 2000. And he seems to be coming back out of his shell as a musician too. So there's reason for hope here.

And if you doubt the thing about Sesame Street, check this out.

Always looking out for us

Priorities, it's all about priorities.

I know a guy named Bill who sometimes goes to the polling place and votes as Bob. Sometimes even Steve. One time he bragged about voting as a Melissa, and he was all "In your face, electoral system!" He scares me a little.

So no, this is totally not Republican vanity legislation meant to distract from a grim economic outlook. Really.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Crazy, man!

So today, heavy rain about 2PM, 2:30. It goes on like that, then three-ish, these huge white chunks start falling out of the sky. Either hail, or somebody was shooting a comedy golf video. By the time I get out of work, it's just a light rain. Go figger.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Books that will have you using the word "sweetness" in a tough, ironic way

I've spent the past few days savoring Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union, now available in paperback. The words "enlightening", "absorbing", and "entertaining" all apply, which is rare enough.

It's an alternate history detective story about Alaska, circa present day. Near the start of the Final Solution, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes hatches the idea to settle the Alaskan territory with emigrant European Jews, an idea that actually was floated. Unfortunately, this policy is formed in the genteel anti-Semitism the prewar government. That means that the settlements are time-limited to sixty years. At the time the novel unfolds, Reversion is looming, which means Everybody Out of the Pool.

In this alternate Arctic, down at the heel detective Meyer Landsman trips across the corpse of Mendel Shpilman, a fellow guest at his fleabag hotel. Shpilman is a chess prodigy gone to druggy seed, and more. His Corleonesque family harbored hope that he might be the Tzaddik-ha-Dor, aka Messiah. Exactly the plans that they had for him form the meat of the mystery.

What's great about the alternate world is that it's not used up. Many of the differences Chabon introduces are directly and explicitly connected to the Slattery report premise. Some are not. There's a war with Cuba somewhere in the past--probably but not definitely developed from the Missile Crisis--and some of the rougher characters are veterans of it. Landsman has several times seen an Orson Welles adaptation of The Heart of Darkness in a revival theatre, and interestingly enough the real Welles did adapt Conrad's novel to radio with the Mercury Theatre. The effect of the tangled changes from history as we know it is to create an organic world, both alien and familiar.

Distubingly familiar in some respects. The lower forty-eight in the novel are governed by a Dispensationalist Christian president, and without spoiling too much, we can say that this government engages in a marriage of convenience with the hardcore Verbover Jews, one that has potentially catastrophic consequences. The Middle East remains a powderkeg, and the invocation of End Times Christians in our own timeline is deliberate. (I would say that Bush and Cheney are not in this group themselves, being mainly hyper-capitalists, but foreign policy often does seem to be pitched to that level.

Landsman's relationship to his superior in the police department--also his ex-wife--is the least dramatic aspect of the story, but still satisfying. It would be wrong to say that he is still in love with her. More accurate to say that he's still head over heels in love with her. The reason it isn't more dramatic is that it's fairly obvious his feelings are a one way street. Their separation boils down to a bad misunderstanding. The couple aborted what would have been their first child because of a possibility that the child could inherit a serious illness. (Possibly Tay-Sachs, although I believe rabbis tend to put the kibosh on marriages where both parents are carriers.) What keeps them apart is essentially that they are apart. But their interactions, on and off the job, add another nice texture. The actors have good chemistry.

Friday, June 13, 2008

You can't keep a good Friday Random Ten down

So, the first FRT of the (at least my) Windows Vista era. Am rebuilding the iTunes library, which is kind of fun. And I got to transfer the online purchases to the new computer. Anyway, without further ado:

1. Henry Threadgill & Make a Move--Pink Water Pink Airplane
2. Sly & the Family Stone--Africa Talks to You "The Asphalt Jungle"
3. Ben Folds Five--Narcolepsy
4. Don Byron--Blue Bubbles
5. Cibo Matto--Birthday Cake
6. Pink Floyd--Matilda Mother
7. Howlin' Wolf--Going Down Slow
8. Fiona Apple--Red Red Red
9. Tom Waits--All Stripped Down
10. Radiohead--House of Cards

A klezmer-ish Duke Ellington cover (#4), a blues song about death and/or oral sex (#7), creepy/sexy business about swinging (#10). A nice summer mix.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Know your audience

While I don't, in general, watch reality TV, I have to admit a fondness for Last Comic Standing. This is despite the fact that the ultimate results often leave me scratching my head. (e.g. The first or second place finisher last year had basically no act beyond "Hi. I'm morbidly obese.) Not that I'm convinced the results really have a big impact on the comedians' careers either, although it may help in touring.

But there are enough funny people who make it through the auditions to root for. And then there are those who don't make it past that stage. Some are simply hopeless, and the vast majority of them probably don't even show up on camera. Some seem to be punking the talent scouts in a kind of no-punchline metahumor. There's an honorable tradition in this (Andy Kaufman, Sacha Baron Cohen, etc) but understandably it doesn't really play well in this kind of contest.

A few are good comics but make crucial mistakes that stop them short. One guy I saw tonight falls into this category. He did some brash but forward-looking ethnic humor--he was Asian--that seemed like it might play well. Needing a breather in the middle of his act, he turned to one of the judges, Brian Baumgartner from The Office, and said, "Hey Office, eyes up here." Baumgartner is not at all the quasi-simple mouthbreather he plays on that show, and he advised that he didn't like being singled out. Now if the comic had said, "Thanks for telling me, I'll remember that in my future performances," I think he might have gotten a shot at the showcase. Instead he asked if Baumgartner was uncomfortable, in a tone which--accurately or not--came off as condescending. He went home empty handed.

But hopefully somewhat the wiser. Better luck next year.

As for who I'm rooting for, I've liked Jackie Kashian for a while. If she's not the funniest straight woman in America, she's in the running.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Getting back in the game

Oh well.

Had to change computers recently. May have been unavoidable, although I probably could have delayed the process a few ways. Live and learn, I guess.

Anyway, should be back to regular posting again fairly soon. Whether I can rebuild the iTunes library in time for Friday Random Ten is an open question. Fingers crossed.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Whatever gets you through the night

Needless to say, Joe Lieberman has every right to back John McCain for president, and doesn't have to justify himself to me. However, he is justifying himself, which makes his reasons fair game. Let the fun begin.

As nonsensical concepts go, a bipartisan or nonpartisan presidential endorsement is a doozy. Anyone running for president with a serious chance will have a party, or similar organization, behind him or her. McCain has the Republican Party. JIL isn't choosing country over party, as he states. He's siding with an opposing party over the one he's belonged to for most of his life, much as Lie Like Hell Zell did back in '04. Now, this isn't the profoundest level of betrayal there is. It's also not some exalted, noble impulse.

As to his reasoning, Lieberman is one of those politicians who thinks that because we have so many hammers, every problem in the world is a nail. Like many life-long civilians, he has a rather romanticized view of war, and seems baffled by anyone in public life who would say no to it. A lot of veterans, even if they still believe war is necessary, would disabuse you of this notion. John McCain is not one of those, which is why he and Lieberman get along so well.

As to the Clintonistas that Lieberman is trying to woo to McCain's corner, I hope they remember that he was doing this whole "more in sadness than in anger" schtick back in March, back when the primaries were still raging. Meaning that if Hillary had clinched the nomination, Lieberman would be making his pitch to disaffected Obamaphiles.

Hey, you never know until you try.

Friday Random Ten: Busy Half-Day Edition

Felt way under the weather this morning, which kept me away from work for a while. When I got there, a lot of work had to be done in a short time. Luckily I had some good tunes to help me along.

1. Queen--Love of My Life
2. Dr. John--What Comes Around (Goes Around)
3. Elvis Costello & the Attractions--Busy Bodies
4. The Stanley Brothers--The Lonesome River
5. Moby--Machete
6. The Velvet Underground--The Murder Mystery
7. The Go-Go's--Head Over Heels
8. The Brunettes--Stereo (Mono Mono)
9. Soul Coughing--4 Out of 5
10. 8½ Souvenirs--My Baby

For some reason the ol' iPod only displays the last band as "8 Souvenirs."

That VU song is so trippy and great I had to include it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Kiss and make-up time

Will she wreck the party? Venture on an ego-driven third party challenge? Take her ball and go home?

Apparently not. For Obama supporters it's easy--and maybe kinda fun--to think ill of Hillary Rodham Clinton. But she seems to be moving on in a classy way. This is good, because the real nemesis is still coming up.

I'm not entirely optimistic about this year's election. In terms of who can be elected President, the biggest outlier in US history was an Irish Catholic, and he won in a squeaker. (Many insist that he cheated.) So race could be a dealbreaker, as could other things. And an Obama victory in and of itself wouldn't guarantee anything.

And yet this is a positive step. Do I expect an honest and open election? Hell no. But I think the ideal of open dialogue is at least coming back into style.

And Michelle Obama also strikes me as the most appealing political spouse of my lifetime. Time will tell if this is just one of my eccentricities.

Monday, June 2, 2008

You are getting sleepy, very sleepy

No, wait, dammit! I'm the one what's getting sleepy! It wasn't supposed to go down like this.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Yes I am. Do you know my poetry?

There are some movies that--if they are available on video--practically demand to be viewed late at night. They have an exotic, otherworldly quality that's only enhanced by fighting unconsciousness.

Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man fits perfectly in this category. It is, in fact, one of the best sleepy time movies of the last twenty years. Of course, looking at it on paper, one might just assume its excellence. Johnny Depp, Lance Henriksen, and screen legend Robert Mitchum in a Jarmusch Western with music by Neil Young? What could go wrong.

But plenty could have, and films that look good on paper don't always pan out. I'd posit the Spielberg remake of War of the Worlds as an example. But this is an example of a director planning well, then going on to improvise well.

The method of working is similar to eighties films Stranger than Paradise and Down by Law. You still see edits from stillness to silence, where of course the usual purpose of editing is to cut from one action to another. And Jarmusch still has a skill and preference for working in black and white. The monochrome palette does not make Dead Man look or feel like an old movie, much less an old Western. For one thing only a black teenage hitman (Eugene Byrd) and a corrupt missionary (Alfred Molina) seen near the end have short hair. But the black and white does create an atmosphere of oldness. This isn't a new frontier, it's a world falling apart before your eyes.

Depp is an orphan from Cleveland named William Blake. After a long train ride and a surreal conversation with soot-covered Crispin Glover, he arrives in the town of Machine to claim an accounting job at Dickinson Metalworks. Mr Dickinson is played by Mitchum as a man too accustomed to being the emperor of his own little world to be anything else. It's a surprise to no one but Blake when Dickinson retracts the offer and kicks Blake out. After that, Blake spends his last few coins on a bottle of rotgut.

That is the essence of the movie. Blake has no money. He has no real prospects of making more. This world, it seems, is done with him.

The plot proper starts when he spends the night with a pretty young woman (Mili Avital) transitioning from a life of prostitution. In the morning, her old boyfriend shows up, making a show of sad graciousness in Gabriel Byrne's best Southern accent. Then he takes a gun and shoots at either Blake or lover Thel. He hits both of them, her fatally. Blake takes Thel's own sidearm and--with some realistic initial misses--kills the intruder. Worst luck, he happens to be Dickinson's son.

Dickinson then hires a trio of killers, played by Henriksen, Byrd, and Michael Wincott (much less glam than he was in The Crow.) Of these, only Henriksen's Cole seems suited to the life, and he's more Jeffrey Dahmer than Billy the Kid. You just know that his cavalry uniform was taken off a soldier he killed, and probably ate.

Blake himself escapes into the wilderness on a horse he stole from the younger Dickinson, said horse possibly being the real reason for the contract. His life is saved--or more accurately, given a brief extension--by the outcast Indian Nobody, played by Gary Farmer. Their relationship forms the heart of the film. Nobody reveres him as a second coming of the other William Blake, but also puts him through hoops. Where Dances With Wolves seemed to suggest that a worthy white man could walk away and become a very fair Indian, nothing like that happens here. Blake learns, grows, changes, but he doesn't become anything but... well, look again at the title.

And so the movie comes full circle, ending in a scene that recalls the seemingly nonsensical speech given by the fireman. Blake comes to a kind of peace, maybe. To view it is to live in a breathless balance between comedy and tragedy.