Monday, September 29, 2008

Make it a million, for when I get old

...Hell, those lyrics take on a new urgency in the Even Newer Economy, don't they?

These guys were huge and great for a few years in the seventies. Then the lineup changed and they weren't quite as great, and later stopped being huge too. C'est la vie but they made some insane music.

Not sure the nascent music video art form was their friend. Whatever was supposed to come through with the artificial wind blowing in Lol's hair doesn't. Oh well, there is such a thing as dorky charm. I hope.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Newman's own, indeed

Does the passing of Paul Newman make me sad? There's a twinge, sure. But I have to give him posthumous congratulations as well. No matter how much success he had, he never stopped trying.

Does that make sense? What I mean is that he could have phone it in, and much of the public would have accepted it. But he approached his roles all the way through as challenges. Fun challenges, and he most often conquered them. Being a Hitchcock hero didn't really pan out, but Hitch must take a portion of the blame there. And even if he finally won an Oscar for what is basically a microwave pizza (really, Marty, you don't need the Rocky training montage, you're better than that) his own performance as a man who has gained security and lost his soul is hard to fault.

His first outing as Fast Eddie in The Hustler was an absolute wonder. Pool was his religion, and he was as charismatic as any preacher could be. Cool Hand Luke speaks for itself. And I found him to be a beautiful cartoon villain in The Hudsucker Proxy.

His most lasting work, though, may be Sidney Lumet's The Verdict. As Frank Galvin, his feet have more than the RDA of clay. He's an alcoholic lawyer with bouts of depression and self-pity that almost sink his clients. He also punches out his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend in a bar, played by Charlotte Rampling as a schemer, but not a completely unsympathetic one. Galvin is a man needing redemption. When it comes, it feels right. Not permanent, but earned.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Random Ten with clarification

1. REM--Life and How to Live It
2. Ladytron--Ghosts
3. Elvis Costello & the Attractions--The Beat
4. Pink Grease--Remember Forever
5. Johnny Cash--Rowboat
6. Sly & the Family Stone--Stand!
7. Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley--The Old Country
8. David Bowie--The Bewlay Brothers
9. The Beatles--Good Night
10. Yo La Tengo--Don't Have to Be So Sad

Yes, we're finishing with Yo La Tengo. Yes, the Johnny Cash song is the Man in Black covering Beck. No, I don't consider myself a hipster. And I don't think my friends would call me one either, although I wouldn't be offended.

Only raises more questions

McCain, who sounds like he's grumpy because they're keeping him up after his bedtime, plumped nuclear power because not only will it promote enerfy independence, but it will also help us fight climate change. Apparently, though, we prefer Iran to keep pumping out those greenhouse gases.

PS Oh God, no one else is calling him a maverick, so he did it himself. And trying to sell Palin as one too. I can't keep watching him while I'm sober.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Your moment of Modernist Zen

This is from a poetess and youtuber who goes by the name "Idlinfarm."

It's a Marianne Moore poem called "What Are Years?", one that the brilliant if somewhat psychotic Ezra Pound read in public as his memorial to her. It gets a very lovely reading hear too.

Poetry: never a bad thing to add to your diet.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Culture war is hell

Lisa : It is better to remain silent and be thought the fool, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.
Homer's brain : Uh-oh what did that mean. Better say something or they'll think you're stupid.
Homer : Takes one to know one!
Homer' s Brain : Swish!

Could I make this up? No, I could not. The right-wing tempest in this moment's teapot is a skit on Saturday Night Live lampooning the snooty provincialism of the Eastern Establishment press, specifically relating to Sarah Palin and Alaska. One pissed off lackey writes:
For the second week in a row Saturday Night Live has taken shots at Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin — but this time it moves from mocking to blatant smearing by suggesting in a skit that the Alaska governor’s husband, Todd Palin, was having sex with the couple’s daughters.

A quick aside. I found this in a random Google search. Not even remotely was I seeking this kind of nuttiness.

But it bears repeating: the New York Times is the target of the somewhat amusing skit. At least one of the commenters on rightpundits pointed this out, but he had to duck to avoid the katanas everyone else was swinging around like crazy. To believe that SNL was "suggesting" actual incest in the Palin family--even as a joke--you'd have to have a soggy box of baking soda where your brain should be.

The almighty base is still not really in love with John McCain. Sarah Palin is another story, but her supporters have taken on a passive-aggressive, persecuted stance. Now the GOP narrative seems largely built around victimization. A winning strategy? Well, if the options are that or defend looting the treasury...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rest in peace... or something like it

Not much time tonight. Want to do some other-stuff writing, which I didn't get a chance to do earlier this evening when the laptop was BSODing up a storm. But I wanted to point out this reminiscence on the recently deceased Thomas M. Disch.

Disch could be a depressing writer, no doubt. To be frank, it may be a surprise that it took him so long to kill himself. He was also a sharp wit. In the novels I've read by him, the balance is a little unbalanced. After a while he runs out of things to do with his characters, besides kill them off in horrible ways. But he did some unnervingly good short stories (e.g. "Come to Venus Melancholy", "The Asian Shore") and was a gifted poet. He made more of a mark than he may have known.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Why are the last two posts showing as going up at the exact same time when they were nearly a day apart? Something hinky here.

After the weird wipeout: Friday Random Ten

Strangely enough, my iTunes lost everything when I plugged in the 'pod last night. Managed to find the stuff I had purchased from the iTunes store and restore it, which is the important thing. The final upshot was that the housecleaning/rotating I had planned to do was a little quicker and more drastic than I had meant. Anyway, here's today's list.

1. The Stanley Brothers--Pretty Polly
2. The Beatles--Cry Baby Cry
3. Tricky--Christiansands*
4. Sonic Youth--Dirty Boots
5. Nellie McKay--Columbia is Bleeding
6. Beck--Chemtrails
7. Pink Grease--High Strung Chironi
8. The Fiery Furnaces--Chris Michaels
9. Roxy Music--Still Falls the Rain
10. Thelonious Monk--Humph

*Dare I ask how you even get a voice like that?

Someone gets burned all right

It's kind of weird to see a woman throw herself on the mercies of a plastic surgeon, encouraging him to find more flaws to fix. This is especially true when she's played by an actress married to one of the directors. That's Burn After Reading for you. Frances McDormand's character, Linda Litzke, is two parts self-loathing to one part obliviousness, although the ratio varies. If her marriage to Joel Coen isn't in real trouble, I think this movie is coming from a place of anger.

And yeah, you find hints of anger throughout the film. It may be less bleak that No Country for Old Men, but that's like saying that Sylvia Plath was more balanced than Sarah Kane. The tone is set at the beginning when the story's only faithful spouse--played by John Malkovich--is fired from his job as a CIA consultant. For all his foibles it's hard to see how he deserves the abuse that comes his way. And mild spoilers here if you feel any affection for any of the characters, you can pretty much count on them coming to a grisly end.

Burn has gotten some critical hostility, probably because of its unusual tone. No one wants to see goofy slapstick go wrong this bad. But while it may not be the best thing the Coen brothers have ever done, it does give evidence that they're still on a roll.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Belzer ringing

Things are slow in these parts, but anyway...

No, Richard Belzer is not only a second-banana vice cop. He's also a funny man. And I'm pretty sure Salman Rushdie isn't thin-skinned enough to take offense. (And wasn't twenty years ago, natch)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dale Carnegie is dead

Well, they're certainly committed to looking like bigshots. In order to put pressure on Iran for those nuclear weapons we know--damnit, we just know!--that they're developing, the US and the UN have opened a can of financial whupass in the form of wide-ranging sanctions. So banking and insurance have taken a hit, as explained by T-man Stuart Levey:

Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said Western banks had reined in dealings with Iran in the light of successive U.N. Security Council resolutions, but argued there was potential scope for the insurance sector to get tougher.

"I think that is something that is worth looking at and we are in discussions about that," Levey told Reuters in an interview during a European trip including talks with officials in Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands and Germany.

"Have we applied all the prohibitions in the U.N. Security Council resolutions that apply to financial services to Iran? Have those been applied to insurance, and have insurance companies grappled with the issue?" he said.

Levey declined to detail specific measures which the sector could take in its dealings with Iran. "We are still in discussions with our allies about these issues," he said.

Let's leave aside, for the time being, how these sanctions are being perceived in Persia itself, although that is probably a mess in itself. But the effects of the sanctions are certainly being felt among those Iranians trying to make the nut outside of the country.

Home / News / World
Crackdown squeezes Iranians in Dubai
US policy hurting small businesses
Two men passed by the main branch of Bank Melli Iran, the National Bank of Iran in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in July. (Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press)
By Farah Stockman
Globe Staff / September 15, 2008
Email| Print| Single Page| Yahoo! Buzz| ShareThisText size – + DUBAI - This freewheeling boomtown has always been the place where Iranians go to escape US sanctions. Since US laws stopped the sale of American products to Iran in the 1980s, Iranian traders have made the short boat ride here to buy what they want. When the US Treasury banned key Iranian banks a year ago, Iranian businessmen flocked here, to the financial capital of the Middle East, to open new bank accounts.

But in recent months US pressure has prompted a crackdown in the United Arab Emirates, Iran's largest trading partner and home to some 450,000 Iranian citizens.

After visits from President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Treasury undersecretary Stuart Levey, UAE officials have dramatically reduced the number of business licenses to Iranian citizens, according to US officials and a Globe analysis of business statistics.

Less than 1 percent of the 10,800 businesses registered in Dubai during the first three months of 2008 had an Iranian partner, according to an analysis of statistics from Dubai Chamber of Commerce, down from about 6 percent in 2007 and 2006.

In addition, authorities in the trade-free zones have begun to refuse to register Iranian work visas, and most international banks in the UAE have stopped opening new accounts for Iranians, according to interviews with more than a dozen Iranian businessmen.

US officials have praised the recent actions of the UAE, seeing the crackdown as a victory for US policy, which seeks to use economic pressure to persuade Iran's regime to halt its controversial nuclear program.

"The UAE is taking steps to be vigilant," said Levey, a key architect of the banking sanctions, who has traveled to Dubai eight times about the issue. "They have a challenge there and they are starting to grapple with it."

But while aimed at crippling Iranian banks and corporations connected to the regime, the policy also punishes small businesses owned by individual Iranians who have no political connections and are often at odds with their government.

"It's a difficult balance," said Ethan Chorin, a specialist on Middle Eastern economies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. "You want to keep the regime under pressure and you want to do it in such a way that you are not targeting . . . the little guys."

The Iranian regime issues lucrative monopolies to a vast empire of parastatal companies, and controls an estimated 85 percent of Iran's economy. But many of the Iranian businesses in Dubai are run by small traders from Iran's tiny, struggling private sector that is often at odds with officials in Tehran.

Ali Reza, a former student at the University of Tehran, came to Dubai after the government harassed him for participating in student protests. He found work at a small company owned by an Iranian that exported rice and mineral water to Iran.

The company struggled to survive as it tried to compete against politically connected figures who received special subsidies and customs exemptions from the Iranian regime, Reza said.

But the real blow came in October, when Bush announced sanctions against Bank Melli and Bank Saderat, two top Iranian banks where the company kept its funds. As banks around the world cut off dealings with those banks, Reza's boss was unable to obtain credit to buy more supplies. He went bankrupt and fled Dubai in February, Reza said, adding that he knew of two dozen other small Iranian companies that also folded at that time.

Unless your social circle extends that far, it's hard to tell if these guys in Dubai sympathize at all with Ahmedinejad and his goals. Most likely they're determined to stay afloat regardless of who's in power, hence Dubai. With the body blows we're dealing to their livelihood, however, it's hard to see them becoming friends of America.

But hey, Bush and Cheney have only been there for eight years. Can we expect them to know anything about soft power?

Friday, September 12, 2008

You are not to blame for a bittersweet Friday Random Ten

Still reading Nights at the Circus which has only gotten awesomer. Managed to keep myself (very) busy at work as well. Now the music.

1. The Beatles--Blackbird
2. Loretta Lynn--Little Red Shoes
3. Radiohead--Reckoner
4. Stone Temple Pilots--Adhesive
5. Tori Amos--Doughnut Song
6. Queen--Get Down, Make Love
7. Brian Eno--Bottomliners
8. 8½ Souvenirs--L'Amour Toujours
9. Rosemary Clooney--Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me
10. Tom Waits--On the Nickel

Damn, Interweb connection is shaky tonight. Hope this doesn't take too long to post.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Nothing Astro about that turf

The New Agenda describes the Agenda's agenda thusly:

The New Agenda, through its members and partner organizations, seeks to advance women’s rights. The New Agenda will bring about a systemic change in the way women are treated in the media, by the government, at the workplace, and at home. To achieve our goals, we will empower women by working towards parity in the government and in the workplace. The New Agenda will also formulate an agenda based on core women’s issues which we will promote in a non-partisan fashion. The New Agenda will speak out for the millions of women in this great country who often have no voice.

It might be noted that these "core women's issues" explicitly do not include reproductive rights. That's lucky for... someone. The stated reason is that "Choice is an issue that’s been used to divide women from one another and take away our power." The wording puts me in the mind of something, but I can't quite place it.

The New Agenda's website make's several mentions of the sexism that Hillary Clinton faced during the primaries, but its help does not seem to have been available while the New York Senator was actually running. In fact, judging by its first press release and initial blog post, the 'genda has only been up and running since the end of August. That seems like strangely convenient timing for someone, but perhaps this person is just inordinately lucky.

It would be nice if this someone had earned the time, money, and artful web design expended on her behalf. Yes, it would be nice.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Literary clown car

I hadn't read any Angela Carter until this year. Quite some time ago, I saw Neil Jordan's movie adaptation of A Company of Wolves, and if it's at all faithful it showed that she did some intense imagery. But I might have been put off because her reputation as a feminist intellectual seemed to imply that she was ultra-serious.

Which she was, apparently. (Carter died in 1992.) But she mixes in a lot of comedy with the tragedy and commentary. Earlier this year I read the early novel Heroes and Villains, which had nothing to do with the Beach Boys but did have an interesting post-Apocalyptic setting. (Apparently the English class system would be the same, but different.)

Right now I'm in the middle of Nights at the Circus. It may be fitting that the title mashes up two Marx brothers movies. In a way the book is a series of "can you top this?" tall-tales, of the kind Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce liked to spring. The titular hero is, in fact, a roving American reporter. He joins the circus to cover a Cockney performer who happens to have wings. And is quite the scene-stealer.

There are also some hyper-intelligent chimps, but I haven't been able to place their accents.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Unconventional Friday Random Ten

No mention of Sarah Palin will be made in this post. Except for that mention, of course.

1. Sarah Vaughan--Can't Get Out of This Mood
2. The Beatles--Dear Prudence
3. Beth Custer & the Joe Goode Performance Group--You Are Song
4. Loretta Lynn--Van Lear Rose
5. Brian Eno--Caught Between
6. Barenaked Ladies--Some Fantastic
7. The White Stripes--Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)
8. Nick Drake--Hazy Jane II
9. The Sonics--Night Time is the Right Time
10. Laurie Anderson--Example #22

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mania in Minneapolis

"You're going to do right by this little girl. Understood? And you're gonna help me become Commander in Chief, right? RIGHT?"
"Please, you're hurting me."
"I can't hear you!"
"Sir! You're hurting me! Sir!"

I just caught some of McCain's speech at the convention. It's fairly rousing. Maybe too much so. At the "what I'm fighting for" part, he called out members of the audience and recited some of their recent tragedies, while the cameras sought out these people who were largely either teary or stone-faced. The crowd of delegates applauded and cried out "whoooo!" These weren't really "whoooo" moments.

McCain's pick for #2, Sarah Palin, has been... Well, suffice it to say you've probably heard of her now even if you're not a political junkie. One question is whether she'll attract more women--and specifically Hil Clinton supporters--to vote for the Republican ticket. I can honestly say that there's no simple answer to that. Earlier this week I was marinating in coffee and sugar at Dunkin' Donuts and I overheard some normal-looking older women talking about her. They were not hostile towards her, but at least a couple of members of this group seemed less than starry-eyed about her balancing the presidential race with caring for a Down's syndrome baby. There's no uniform woman bloc, obviously.

Then there comes Palin's not-always-winning personal style, per Barry Crimmins.

How much Palin's primetime sneer appealed to the evangelical community is another question. There was nothing blessed or meek in her remarks and her only real mentions of religion were used to kneecap her opponents. What has Governor Palin's faith done for her other than elevate her to a place where she can walk on the stage at a political convention and say, "Blessed are the power elite!" She didn't discuss the beauty and majesty of Alaska, she belittled the places where tens of millions of Americans live. She ran a town that was bolstered by almost $30 million in pork barrel graft from Sleazy Ted Stevens but she disparaged the people who reside in places where fundraisers have to be done to buy rudimentary items like textbooks. And she's going to ride into office by dissing the people who organize the underprivileged? Well maybe.

Palin was also supposed to win over a lot of women who supported Hillary Clinton. Many of these people are mothers. Mothers say things like, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." This would have limited Palin to discussing her own family and John McCain's shoulders (Jesus, do they have a sign in the wings at that convention that reminds every speaker to mention McCain's shoulders, or what?)

Of course, mean is at least part of what she's supposed to bring to the table. The question is how well her particular brand sells this year. It's gotten some traction in Alaska, and this anecdote from her mayoral race in Wasilla is a cute illustration. (NYT article via Tom Hilton)

The traditional turning points that had decided municipal elections in this town of less than 7,000 people — Should we pave the dirt roads? Put in sewers? Which candidate is your hunting buddy? — seemed all but obsolete the year Ms. Palin, then 32, challenged the three-term incumbent, John C. Stein.

Anti-abortion fliers circulated. Ms. Palin played up her church work and her membership in the National Rifle Association. The state Republican Party, never involved before because city elections are nonpartisan, ran advertisements on Ms. Palin’s behalf.

Two years after Representative Newt Gingrich helped draft the Contract With America to advance Republican positions, Ms. Palin and her passion for Republican ideology and religious faith overtook a town known for a wide libertarian streak and for helping start the Iditarod sled dog race.

“Sarah comes in with all this ideological stuff, and I was like, ‘Whoa,’ ” said Mr. Stein, who lost the election. “But that got her elected: abortion, gun rights, term limits and the religious born-again thing. I’m not a churchgoing guy, and that was another issue: ‘We will have our first Christian mayor.’ ”

“I thought: ‘Holy cow, what’s happening here? Does that mean she thinks I’m Jewish or Islamic?’ ” recalled Mr. Stein, who was raised Lutheran, and later went to work as the administrator for the city of Sitka in southeast Alaska. “The point was that she was a born-again Christian.”

You read that right. The good Gov Palin won her first race through the Ashkenazic sound of her opponents name and the suggestion that he and his values might be *ahem* foreign to those of other Wasillans.

So Senator Lieberman, how do you like your new friends?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

From the archives

There are things I mignt blog about later on if I don't get too depressed about it. Right now I'm sticking with a topic that at least involves little wooden people dancing around.

Hungarian émigré George Pal was a gifted filmmaker and a visionary puppeteer--or vice versa--but some of his work may not translate very well across the decades. Or if you're going to enjoy it, you need to take into account the possibility of seeing things that are somewhat offensive. Here's a case in point, perhaps not work safe, but for different reasons than the usual NSFW warning.

Actually the question also occurs to me of just how much would a walking scarecrow and his talking crow friend be freaked by a haunted house. Look at yourselves!

But yeah, the big league eye-rolling and the "Spook" imprint at the end press certain buttons. Which they always did, but more people are bothered by it now.

Look beyond the gratuitous minstrelsy and it's still a beautiful piece of animation. The way things move when you know they shouldn't is miraculous.

Here's a later ('62 as opposed to '42) George Pal work, less obscure. It's a scene from The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.

Okay, so shoemaking elves have kind of an abusive group dynamic. Still, it's funny.

3D animation is quite commonplace now, of course. This is a different animal. On the one hand you see whimsy and playful motion. Yet in the occasional bout of shakiness you can feel the labor that went in. I at least have to hope--and I have no problem with computer animators doing their thing--that handcrafted animation survives.

Maybe not with all the wide-eyed golliwogs, though.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The big uneasy

It seems to have occurred to George Bush that if he had returned to Washington three years ago and taken his job seriously, he'd be something less of a pariah today. Behold!

Both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney canceled scheduled appearances at the convention, determined to avoid appearing neglectful of the storm-torn region.

However, first lady Laura Bush did address the convention alongside Cindy McCain, the wife of John McCain. Both urged delegates to open their wallets to residents hit hard by the storm.

“I would ask that each one of us commit to join together to aid those in need as quickly as possible,” McCain told the roughly 4,000 delegates assembled in the center. “As John has been saying for the last several days, this is a time when we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats.”

Quite right. In fact this is a time when your Republican hat would make it that much easier for the villagers to find you with their pitchforks and torches. Rome has been burning for at least six years now (that's an *ahem* conservative estimate) and now might not be the best time for a fiddlefest in the Twin Cities.

Brad Reed takes a good look at how the current hurricane and/or possible storm might be used, and he concludes it well.

Which brings us back to Hurricane Gustav. While it's unlikely that the GOP will totally undo the damage that the Bush years have wrought to its brand, the Republicans will likely attempt to show the public that during an election year they can at least try to govern in a manner that isn't wholly reminiscent of the Keystone Cops. Expect to see Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal giving us regular updates via satellite feed proclaiming that unlike in years past, federal relief workers are doing a heck of a job. Texas Governor Rick Perry will offer us heartfelt testimony from hurricane refugees grateful for the help they've been receiving. And finally, we'll probably watch Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour tell us that the government's excellent response to the hurricane shows that Barack Obama is dangerously unqualified to be president.

While you'd be right to call this cynical pandering, there are a couple of upsides to it. After all, assuming that the Republicans don't simply funnel all the money to Blackwater, it will be good to mobilize people to give money for hurricane relief. And let's face it, it is nice to now have two major political parties at least paying lip service to the radical idea that the government shouldn't simply sit by while its citizens drown.

Of course, it's nice that everyone will care a lot and say so. But it doesn't change the fact that years of not so benign neglect have made the situation in the Delta more precarious than it needs to be.