Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Low-key Tokyo weirdness

Some time ago I bought a copy of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I immediately lost the book, so I put off reading it (and I'm sure that sentence would sound strange in translation.) Now I'm remedying that non-achievement.

I'm about halfway through, so there's a lot I can't really predict. I'm definitely interested. And I'll think twice before climbing into any old wells.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sadly Zeppelin-free Saturday Random Ten

A little more storm preparation today. There's a chance of power outage, so if you like reading you don't want to be caught unprepared. The flashlight I already had runs on batteries roughly the size of a baby's head. Since those batteries aren't sold that many places, and because I had frankly forgotten the right way to hook them up, I decided to buy a new torch. That sent me to Radio Shack, where all they had left were LED lights. So that's what I got. Decent price considering that it comes battery-loaded. The high beam will only last 3 hours, but the low beam is sufficient for most purposes and will last for 72.

What to do if they're advising everyone to stock up on bottled water but you're too cheap? I happened to have an 89 fl. oz. orange juice jug that I'd just emptied Friday morning. I rinsed it out with boiling water and used it to stockpile water from my filter pitcher. The water will taste like... Opportunity!

And of course I finished putting crisscross patterns of masking tape in all my windows, so everyone will know just whose side I'm on.

Also, music.

1. Beck—Modern Guilt
2. Elvis Costello—Tramp the Dirt Down
3. Fol Chen—The Believers
4. Blossom Dearie—More Than You Know
5. Gnarls Barkley—No Time Soon
6. Wes Montgomery—Pretty Blue
7. Roxy Music—All I Want Is You
8. Sly & the Family Stone—Hot Fun in the Summertime
9. The Dave Clark Five—Glad All Over
10. Ladytron—I’m Not Scared

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sometimes I take a great notion to jump...

Given the difference between safe and sorry, I guess overreaction isn't the worst that can happen. Still, as a resident of Providence I feel the need to point out that this isn't Doomsday coming. It's a bunch of rain threatening to hit a city where most of it will run downhill. We may get some flooding, but the odds are way against it being the kind of flooding that carries away mobile homes. So I'm buying a little extra in the way of supplies, I'm putting masking-tape x'es on the windows, and that's really about it. Act like someone who's incapacitated and you may start to believe it. (A propos of nothing, probably a Saturday Random Ten week. I left the paper with the songs on it at work and there are too many gaps in my memory to reconstruct it.)

The worst thing about the storm coming is that it stands to shut down the commercial and social worlds* for a day or two. Annoying, but surviveable.

The best thing is that the writhing and gnashing over Irene will come to an end. And for me, maybe a chance to get to know the neighbors better.

*It's a deregulated capitalist society, so there's not much difference.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shake rattle and roll over

I swear I didn't feel a thing from that earthquake yesterday. Wouldn't have known about it except for the news reports and a few other people who did feel the tremor. I'm a heavy sleeper, but I was working at the time. So I guess let's just keep this between us.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday mood swing

With Ray Bradbury turning 91 today, I thought I'd look around to see if there were any good short films online inspired by him. This one is interesting, not much in the way of plot, but atmospheric. It's adapted from one of the stories in The Martian Chronicles and overlays a Martian feel on its upstate NY locations.

The Visitor from Robert Loughlin on Vimeo.

And on another note entirely, I had no idea Ladytron had appeared on Yo Gabba Gabba. The things you miss by not having kids.

The critters sure seem to like what they hear.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Red-stapled Friday Random Tlen

Watched Office Space tonight. If there's a better depiction of working life in post-industrial America, I don't know of it. Ah well...

1. John Lee Hooker--I'm Gonna Kill That Woman
2. Neko Case--We've Never Met
3. My Brightest Diamond--To Pluto's Moon
4. Gnarls Barkley--A Little Better
5. The Veldt--Juicy Sandwich
6. Blossom Dearie--I Hear Music
7. Roxy Music--A Really Good Time
8. Tom Waits--Jersey Girl
9. Fol Chen--No Wedding Cake
10. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross--Moanin'

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bread and jihads

I like David Letterman, but I'm sorry, no. As far as I can tell, this is not a real story. From his perspective, there's some reason to be cautious for the next few days. But it's probably nothing.

Because, as noted in the link, the threats against the (actually gentile) comedian appeared on a pro-Al Qaeda website. An extremist website attracts humorless rage addicts with extreme beliefs? Shocking! But it's pretty meaningless if the person doesn't have the means to back the threat up. The guy who watches iCarly marathons while touching himself may be a creepy psycho, but he's not much threat to Miranda Cosgrove.

What's interesting is that this story is being promoted after Anders Breivig's rampage in Norway and the post-Mark Duggan riots in London. Those stories raise new questions. This is a rehashing of old aughts business.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Do you Lear what I Lear

This isn't brand new, but it's new to me. I love what the filmmaker/animator has done with the mixed media approach.

The Owl and the Pussycat from Gil Manor on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Two of 'm from Lewton

This past week I took out a DVD with two features on it, both from Val Lewton. Once I saw this was available through the RI public library system it was only a matter of time. The Seventh Victim and The Body Snatcher both made great impressions on me. (I haven't seen the Lewton-produced Cat People. I'm guessing that it outclasses Paul Schrader's remake in all but the admittedly important bareass Polish girl department.) This was an interesting double-feature, spread over two different nights. The two films varied in execution and impact.

Of the two films, The Ghost Ship is the one that has the greater reputation. Part of the reason may be a questionable but successful plagiarism suit that kept it out of circulation for about half a century. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, after all.

The plot concerns a young sailor named Tom Merriam (Russell Wade)who attains position of third officer on a ship called the Altair. Ship's captain Will Stone (Richard Dix) greets Tom with the kind of soft-spoken self-control bound to set off fire alarms in the viewer's head. He also warns Tom not to kill a moth because it's not dependent on him for survival. ?!?

The ship's crew depends on the captain for survival, and he has a tendency to risk their lives just for the hell of it, a prime example being a hook that he allows to fly around unsecured on its chain. When one of the sailors complains, he has an "accident" sponsored by the captain. This belatedly convinces Tom that all of them are in the wrong hands.

It was kind of ballsy to release a parable about the perils of unquestioned authority smack dab in the middle of WW2. And certainly it's less formulaic than the Tom Cruise movie that would have been made 20 years ago or the Robert Pattinson version that would be made today. (But you do know when the affably cynical radio man takes Tom's side that the man is not long for this earth.) But it's blatant and unformed in a way that makes you realize why the formulas have come into play. Tom goes directly from "Gee whiz, what a great captain" to "Can't you see? He's a murderer!" in no time flat. What might have seemed like a guileless hero to the filmmakers comes off now as a hopeless goober. And Will Stone seems more like a tantrumy three year old than anything else.

Full props for the crisp black and white photography, though. And for a convincing sense of life at sea.

More interesting is The Leopard Man, also released in 1943. The plot is pretty simple. Showgirl Kiki (Jean Brooks) feels overshadowed by her fiery Latin rival Clo-Clo (Margo). (And you can see how she might be. Brooks looks like a young Edith Sitwell, which is a striking look but not what the cocktail crowd is looking for.) Her manager/boyfriend Jerry (Dennis O'Keefe) comes up with a novel solution. He buys a leopard from an Indian showman (Abner Biberman) and has Kiki work it into her act. Alas, it doesn't stay in her act for long.

Clo-Clo scares the cat and it escapes. Soon after, a teenage girl is mawled to death while running an errand for her mother. Other victims follow, but after the initial attack, the remaining victims show signs of being killed by human hands.

There are at least three kinds of story going on here. The weakest of them is the murder mystery as such. If you can't figure out who the murderer is, you probably don't know who ate the last cookie when your toddler's face is covered with melted chocolate chips. But this is also the story of a New Mexico border town under siege, and the mostly Mexican-American natives are presented with an impressive sensitivity. And then there's the story of shadows and creeping terror, and Lewton is in his wheelhouse there.

A possible fourth story? The redemption of Jerry Manning and Kiki Walker, both of whom soften from self-involved beginnings. It's a little corny, but I think it works.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Loose ends left loose Friday Random Ten

Work might move me to a new location. Not one far away. Like, same side of the same city. Ah well, I'm idly curious about what happens next.

Possibly movie post tomorrow.

1. The Veldt--Revolutionary Sister
2. Wes Montgomery--Dreamsville
3. Ladytron--I'm Not Scared
4. Alexander Brailowsky--Impromptu in C Sharp Minor (Chopin)
5. Roxy Music--Bitter-Sweet
6. Blossom Dearie--It Might As Well Be Spring
7. John Lee Hooker--Talking Boogie
8. Grizzly Bear--Marla
9. Nancy Wilson--My One and Only Love
10. Yo La Tengo--Nothing to Hide

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stock joke

Q: How many lightulbs does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: That's deep, man

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Are you hot or not?

I can't really say that I'm a big fan of the Competent Man in fiction. My belief is that stories are more interesting when based around people who can barely keep up, although I'll grant some exceptions. So that's probably why I've never really gotten into Robert Heinlein. Still, he was an interesting man and this essay on his continuing influence is extremely intriguing.

The opening paragraph sets up the key idea, as it classically should.

If the zeitgeist has a face, it supposedly belongs to Ayn Rand and her capitalist philosophy of Objectivism. Talk radio hosts adore the author’s demands for limited government; Congressman Paul Ryan insists that his staffers read her overstuffed opus Atlas Shrugged; picket signs at Tea Party rallies suggest that we all “READ AYN RAND.” And yet, some pieces are missing. Ayn Rand was anti-war, but spending for hundreds of military bases and two-and-a-half wars remains sacrosanct even as Congress made the debt ceiling a major issue. She found homosexuality “immoral” and “disgusting,” and yet gay marriage has regained the initiative in the public square. And Randian heroes are explicitly — nay, objectively — elitist. They are genius millionaire square-jawed heroes who walked right off the screen at the movie matinee. The average Tea Party rallier, not so much.

As you may or may not know, the first of a projected Atlas Shrugged film trilogy was released earlier this year. And as you may suspect, it tanked, perhaps endangering the next two films.

In what would seem like it's historical moment, why would this be? Well, from the IMDB page you might gather that the leads are rather bland compared to the collectivist trolls trying to bring them down. (In an intersection of ironies, both Michael Lerner and Jon Polito reperesented the dark and corrupt side of Hollywood in Barton Fink.) But movies don't have to be good to be hits. It may be that, per Mamatas, the people who were politically in sync with the film couldn't see themselves in the high cheekbones of the heroes. The rage of Caliban and all that.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

SFX Saturday Random Ten

There's been overcast and a little spitting throughout the day. Now it's raining. Not brutally hard, not so you'd get soaked in 15 seconds. But it's noticeable. It's a relaxing sound.

1. Yo La Tengo--Here to Fall
2. Wes Montgomery--All the Way
3. Blossom Dearie--Everything I've Got
4. Jookabox--Light
5. Beck--Gamma Ray
6. The Veldt--Until You're Forever
7. XTC--Yacht Dance
8. The New Pornographers--Star Bodies
9. Nancy Wilson--But Beautiful
1/0. Roxy Muxic--Three and Nine

Friday, August 5, 2011

Not another separated at birth movie

Earlier tonight I watched Hayao Miyazaki's aviation adventure Porco Rosso. It's a fun movie with beautiful animation, but something struck me. Namely, the eerie resemblance between the hero...

... and Andy Kaufman's troublesome friend Tony Clifton.

Ha. Clifton could only wish that a beautiful singing restaurateur would fall for him.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The tippling point

You know what's fun? This personal essay is fun. It's also perceptive about workplace behavior.

I'm now working for another company. We manufacture green technology, and we're experiencing tremendous growth, and it's all very exciting. Especially the part where I could totally stash booze in my desk drawer in violation of the drug and alcohol policy quoted above because I only have one co-worker and he's easy to hide shit from. Also, my phone never rings, so I could drink all the freaking time and no one would know except the security guard who strolls past my suite a couple of times a day.
If you're wondering how any of that equals "tremendous growth," I have three words for you: Government contracts, baby.

However, I do not have alcohol stashed in my desk drawer. I don't drink on the job. When I did that before, it wasn't because of the stress or the long hours. It wasn't just because of that, anyway. It was because I had really cool people to drink with. And because we all worked really hard together and enjoyed taking a break from it together. And that was worth committing a firing offense for. Now, I'd just be sitting alone, drunk and miserable, wondering how things got to this point. I can do that at home.

Could I get away with drinking on the job? I actually haven't thought of it that much. Since I tend to work drowsy to begin with, alcohol might send to to the point of all-out sloppiness.

Still, as someone interested in defiance and the flouting misguided rules, the idea that someone out there is getting soused in the office comforts me.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mysophobes will not want to know this

The human navel is apparently quite the gathering place.

Human skin is teeming with microbes—communities of bacteria, many of which are harmless, live alongside the more infamous microbes sometimes found on the skin. Nina Rountree from North Carolina State University and colleagues set out to dispel the myth that all bacteria on the skin are disease-causing germs. The researchers cultured the bacterial communities living within bellybuttons of 391 individuals from across the U.S. and published photos of the cultures anonymously in the online Bellybutton Bacteria Culture database. They chose bellybuttons as an area of the body that is generally protected from excretions, soaps and ultraviolet ray exposure.

The experiment generated interest among citizen scientists and provided clues about the stability of bacterial communities over time, the significant turnover between participants' bacterial communities and similarities of bacterial communities between family members. The Bellybutton Bacteria Culture database received 55,000 visitors in only three months.

The authors of the study note that most bacteria found on the skin is actually very harmless. This actually stands to reason. They're so common that if they made us sick, we'd all be chronically ill or dead.

Of course we don't think of bacteria as having communities, as a general rule. Much less do we think of those communities as being on us. Which suggests just how much we filter out in order to go about our business.