Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Monday, February 26, 2007
On Laughter and Giant Squid and Learning Too Much
The first, and probably most common (sadly), is the fake laugh. It has many motivations and can sound one of a thousand different ways, and I trust you're familiar with them. So, moving on... The second is the small genuine laugh. This covers a spectrum from a quick chuckle to a snort to even those reactions that are unaccompanied by noise – maybe just a slightly stronger exhalation or an unrestrained smile. I would still consider those laughs in this category. The third is the large genuine laugh. It bursts forth spontaneously without you helping it along (and simply helping a laugh along doesn't make it fake, as I hope we can all agree). It's like the small laugh, but less controllable. The fourth is the dear lord I’m going to be hospitalized if I don’t stop laughing so I have to flee the thing that is making me laugh or think about the Holocaust or my own death or something because seriously...laugh.
In my opinion, you’re lucky if you experience this last type a couple of dozen times in your life. I can think of only a handful I’ve enjoyed/suffered through myself. One of them occurred at a New Year’s Eve party in Houston a few years ago. Jack, a friend of a friend who I was meeting for the first time, had some passionately held opinions about the giant squid. He was (is) a smart guy, so a lot of his pontificating was for show, but it was a good show. He went from an earnest discussion of the few things we knew about giant squid at the time to an elucidation of his own theories -- including one positing that during great floods throughout history, giant squid rode the waters into our centers of learning, receding back into the oceans with a bit more of our knowledge each time. Yes, alcohol was involved, but I'm telling you, this was incredibly funny stuff. Don't look at me like that.
I bring all of this up because close on the heels of a giant squid being captured on film for the first time just a couple of years ago, somebody actually hauled one in. And they're not kidding about the giant part:
That looks like the Marsellus Wallace of the sea to me. Or at least a solid decade's worth of calamari.
I've always reserved a spacious and scary room in my imagination for large underwater life. Like a lot of people, my favorite part of just about any museum remains the Blue Whale hanging at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. At this point, I just love it. As a kid, I loved it and it genuinely freaked me out. My fascination and fear aren't reserved for living things, though. I've had a recurring nightmare throughout my life (not for a few years, but writing about it will probably change that) in which I'm swimming along the bottom of the ocean and very suddenly come upon an enormous sunken object, normally an airplane or a ship. I watched a documentary about the deep sea on PBS a couple of years ago that inspired my atheist self to think that maybe Richard Dawkins can stuff it.
One blogger wrote this about the giant squid pics:
You know, if I'm honest, I don't really care all that much about space travel. On the other hand, every time I see something from the bottom of the sea, I go completely geek-happy for hours reading everything I can about it. I'd chuck the space program for a comprehensive deep sea program in a heartbeat.I agree. My friend Nick also agreed, but smartly pointed out that this is partly because of what they're finding down there. To paraphrase him, "If they were finding giant squid on Saturn, I'd be getting fitted for a hyper-absorbent diaper right now."
At the same time, all of this discovery is kind of depressing. Despite knowing that Mr. Dawkins and others do good, important work, it's nice to think that not every last corner of the universe will be colonized with flashlights and calculators. I'm firmly pro-science, but there was something about the giant squid that was more majestic/inspirational/terrifying when there weren't all these photos proving that it's just, well, a really big freakin' squid. Even those first, cloudy shots of it left the door open for more thrillingly mythic thoughts:
Can we go back? No? Fine. I'll console myself with the idea that there's an even larger one down there -- 90 feet long, not 30 -- and that it's fresh off a surreptitious trip to the research archives at Tulane.
Labels: We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat
Al Gore: I'm sorry, but he's still a dweeb. . . . I thought Forest Whitaker acquitted himself well after stammering through previous acceptance speeches this season. . . . I haven't seen The Departed. My dad saw all the Best Picture noms, and ranked it fifth out of the five, but seeing Scorsese win was fun. He certainly added a New York flavor to the night, but a friend rightly marveled that after all this time waiting for an award, he finished his speech on one of those "go to bed, kids!" notes. Lame. . . . After watching just those brief clips for Best Foreign Language Film (and I thought The Lives of Others was a deserving winner), I'm still stunned -- how did Volver not get nominated? I'm serious here: is there some loophole I'm missing or something? A couple of those movies looked pretty amateurish, and I thought the Academy normally loves Almodovar. The whole thing makes no sense. . . . The montage of those who passed away last year is always a highlight, always moving. This year's was made that much better by someone in the room who called out, earnestly not sarcastically, as Peter Boyle was shown: "Why did he die?" We all gotta go sometime. . . . The other montages throughout, as always, were a mixed bag. The ones about writers and foreign films were decent, but the one about America was quite strange. It seemed to reduce the country to westward migration, the KKK, the mafia, and Superman. And I guess that might be poetically true in some way, but it seemed like they didn't make the most of a pretty big subject and a lot of films to choose from. . . . I thought Ellen did a good job hosting. She's not as strong at the monologue-type stuff as Jon Stewart, but her shots in the crowd struck the right tone, I thought. Funny and warm. Of course, by the end, when they'd come back from a break to show her vacuuming for a full minute or something, I was thinking, "Is it ok if I'm in bed by 4 a.m., Hollywood? For the love of God." . . . Lastly, I felt the best moment of the night was Beyonce's performance. I think she was inspired by whatever rivalry exists with Jennifer Hudson to really belt the crap out of her song, seeming much more soulful and less polished than she usually does to me. Maybe more singers should have feuds, like professional wrestlers. I was kind of hoping that at the end of the medley, she would turn and devour Hudson whole, python-style. Just thought it would've added some spice to the night. Can't have everything, I guess.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Five Songs, Chapter Nineteen
Try to be depressed while listening to this song. Go ahead. Try.
"World of Pauline Lewis" by Television Personalities
This is from the band's first full-length album, And Don't the Kids Just Love It, which was released in 1981. I read about them on emusic, which starts its account of the band with this:
Britain's Television Personalities enjoyed one of the new wave era's longest, most erratic, and most far-reaching careers. Over the course of a musical evolution that led them from wide-eyed shambling pop to the outer reaches of psychedelia and back, they directly influenced virtually every major pop uprising of the period, with artists as diverse as feedback virtuosos the Jesus and Mary Chain, twee pop titans the Pastels, and lo-fi kingpins Pavement readily acknowledging the Television Personalities' inspiration.I'm glad to have found them. You can read more in their Wikipedia entry, including this strange tidbit:
In an article in The Guardian on April 24 2006, it was implied that Dan Treacy is in some way behind the Arctic Monkeys, although this is based on little more than a perceived similarity between their lyrical style and that of Treacy, and the fact that the lead singer of Arctic Monkeys is mysteriously not credited with their songwriting."Objects of My Affection" by Peter Bjorn and John
Guitar squalls and a martial drum beat combined with vocals both sneering and yearning. A good song, though I picked only a few tracks off this album on iTunes. Not sure I'm ready to jump on the bandwagon just yet.
"Multitude of Casualties" by The Hold Steady
Like so many of this band's songs, this is a clever one about teenagers driving fast, doing drugs, attending mass -- some looking for God while others just search out a good time.
"South Tacoma Way" by Neko Case
A beautiful song overall, it contains these lines, which kill me: "I can't comprehend the ways I miss you / They come to light in my mistakes."
Labels: Five Songs
New Places to Patronize (in the good way)
First, God of the Machine, a smart, infrequently updated site concerning itself with various intellectual and literary topics. (Friend of mine I think would most enjoy this site: Tim.) Here's a sample from a good post:
The first piece of advice in Strunk and White’s Elements of Style concerns punctuation — the proper use of the apostrophe. I learn that I must write "Charles's execution," but "Jesus' crucifixion." Already my prose is improving, though not at the rate I would like.Secondly, there is Asymetrical Information, a site maintained by "Jane Galt," who is really Megan McArdle, a staffer at The Economist who seems to be a common-sense classical liberal in the mode to which I aspire. Here's a sample:
Items 2 through 8 also concern punctuation. I learn to balance my commas, and to handle colons, semi-colons, and em-dashes with aplomb.
Punctuation is important. Its abuse can be a source of unintentional hilarity. ("I would like to thank my parents, God and Ayn Rand.") Some would go so far as to regard it as an index to character. . . . But The Elements of Style purports to be a guide to writing English. A badly punctuated essay can be corrected in minutes. A badly written essay can probably never be corrected at all.
The post below also applies to behavioural economics, which the left seems to believe is a magical proof of the benevolence of government intervention, because after all, people are stupid, so they need the government to protect them from themselves. My take is a little subtler than that:Thirdly, there's Crooked Timber, a quite frequently updated blog maintained by more than a dozen writers, all of whom seem to be philosophy academics. It features a few questions like this one:
1) People are often stupid
2) Bureaucrats are the same stupid people, with bad incentives.
I’ve just spotted that Benedict Anderson has produced a revised version of Imagined Communities, his influential 1983 book about nationalism. Is it worth buying if you own the original?It also offers posts like this one, which leads to interesting comments from readers as well.
Lastly (for now), there's Colby Cosh, a Canadian blogger who certainly keeps the links coming. I haven't read enough to situate him on the political spectrum, if that would even be useful, but I saw posts about The Band, hockey, and the best possible responses to our environmental problems. All of which I'm happy to read about.
I believe all four of these sites linked to one of the others at some point, which is probably how I found them all within 48 hours. Enjoy.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
The title of this horror movie refers to its characters, a Russian brother and sister orphaned when they were only hours old by the murder of their mother, but it also cleverly refers to the script after about page three.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
That Monkey Is Going to Pay
The answer: very, very psyched. The show's not what it used to be, fine, but what it used to be was -- and I'm wearing a straight face -- the best thing ever on television. And I choose to believe that, even though its best run ended more than a decade ago, an institution as great as this one can rally when producing its first, long-awaited feature movie. The clip above certainly promises many favorite staples -- an angry mob scene, a refusal to reveal Springfield's location, and an absurdly large cast (that great roll call during the preview names 28 characters, and leaves off many that I can think of -- including, most egregiously, Professor Frink, though I know he's in there).
The point is, you know where I'll be July 27. Feel free to join me. But for now, a couple more brief clips while we're here:
Monday, February 19, 2007
Wandering and Lusting: Chapel Hill, Harrisburg, and my inability to be content
It simply stems from a day when I was seven years old, saw a game on TV, and liked how the team's court and uniforms looked. I also liked -- and still like, quite a lot -- how "North Carolina" sounds. Just to prove how raw (and lame) my decision-making was, the team won the national title that year (Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins...a decent squad) and I have no memory of that. I truly saw one midseason game and filed away my conclusion for a later date: I like that team. Like I said, I was seven. I had just passed the age of reason, for god's sake.
As I got older, college basketball was close beside baseball as my favorite sport, so I enjoyed having interest in a particular school. That makes it sound bland and functional, though, when in fact, there have been many times over the past 25 years when my love has caused maniacal outbursts of joy and frustration. In one of my teenage years, I sat in the upper deck of Reunion Arena in Dallas, during an NCAA tournament game against the Arkansas Razorbacks, surrounded by thousands of the opposition's fans, all loudly repeating the school's subtle, dignified "pig sooey" chant. I enthusiastically waved in their general direction (meaning everywhere) the Carolina... well, I suppose they were pom-poms of a sort, though I feel a fresh stab of shame admitting that. They had been handed to me at the door, and they were a necessary tool for having my voice heard. I was the lone powder-blue dissenter amid an army of red-wearing, red-faced, hog-impersonating Arkansans.
Over time, in order to justify such insanity and such pain, I had put flesh on my initial reasoning. I had buttressed my allegiance with some old-fashioned logic. Dean Smith was unanimously hailed as a classy coach. The team played smart, team-oriented basketball, year in and year out, no matter how much talent the best player possessed. (An old joke goes that coach Smith was the only person who could limit Jordan to 20 points a game.) And they had the perfect foil in Duke, which, despite having quite a storied program of its own, still managed to come off as the obnoxious nouveau riche half of the rivalry.
And certainly not most important, but not least, either, was the place: Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I had never been there (still haven't), but it couldn't have sounded more idyllic. I say not least important because I've always desired to live elsewhere, no matter where I am. Living in my head, Dad calls it. As a kid on Long Island, in a family that had never moved and that very rarely traveled any distance, I was capable of thinking about the larger world, but less capable of seeing myself in it, so I crafted smaller imaginings for me. I would visit someone else's home, or even just pass by a house with a peculiar design, and then spend a good deal of time picturing myself in that space, wondering which room would be my favorite, in which corner chair I would read my books, from which window I would stare on a snowy day. There was something incredibly comforting to think that my environment could change, even slightly, and everything would look and feel new. Of course, I could hardly have come from a happier childhood home, so there was also comfort in knowing that things wouldn't change.
Up until even my mid-20s, I didn't see just how strong this pattern was, of keeping fictional places close to me like other kids clutched security blankets. Now that I continue to follow it, despite living in New York, a place I truly love on many levels and have several reasons to think of as Home, I can't deny that it's the most unshakable aspect of my personality (aside from maybe my sense of humor and my generalized anxiety).
I should note here that I don't like traveling. I crave a good road trip with some regularity, but I'm not thrilled to fly, especially when I'm taking two long flights just to spend a few days somewhere. So if it's not an oxymoron, I have a provincial, not worldly, wanderlust. My imagined habitats are often towns or cities in which I've never set foot (I was fixated on Vancouver for a while), but when I have spent time somewhere -- in, say, Ithaca or Saratoga or Pittsburgh or Chicago -- the desire becomes stronger.
Because of this tendency, it's easy for others to roll their eyes when I find another locale to add to the teeming realty office that is my brain. After all, chances are that it's not an interesting/attractive/viable place, because they think it doesn't have to be. Just a new place will suffice. But that's not quite how it works. I'm not above leaving somewhere off the list, even if I'm impressed by it. Seattle: too far from friends and family. Austin: Too hot. Much too hot. Boston: Stayed on the list too long at one point when I lived in Texas; it got stale and crumbled away. And of course, there are places that just don't strike me as especially appealing (hi, Binghamton; how's it going, Dayton?)
All of this is preface (preface we could have been spared, you're all angrily screaming, and understandably so) to the fact that I just got back from a weekend trip to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I went with a traveling companion to see my brother-in-law perform I Am My Own Wife at a theater there. (He's modest, so I'm not devoting a separate post to the experience, but he's really brilliant; raises the average talent level in the family a few notches, so for that reason and more, we're glad to have him.)
Harrisburg made a great first impression. It didn't hurt that it was covered in clean snow, but it was a surprise to drive for a long stretch along the Susquehanna River, which is very wide where it says hello to Harrisburg before hurrying along; to see the charming shops and old buildings that line the same waterfront stretch; to see several pretty and distinct bridges that span the river; and to walk past beautifully preserved row houses lining blocks that surround the majestic state capitol building. It's less than two hours from Philly, about three and a half from New York, and it has a minor league baseball team. I'm just saying, I have no idea why I don't live there.
We also spent a night in Hershey, PA, which I have to say was no less charming, though in a much more suburban way. Everything about it, from the movie theater to the giant medical center to the high school (which looks like a planetarium), managed to avoid seeming too sterile. The easiest way to sum it up (and one of the most meaningless coming from me) is that it seemed like a good place to raise kids. Also, and this might be influencing my judgment, it predictably features a Hershey's factory, around which the air is thick with the smell of chocolate. And in case you can't guess, that is magical.
I'm not moving to Harrisburg, of course. And if I ever do, I'm sure that after a year or so I'll be talking up Chicago again. You know, Wrigley Field is nestled right in a bustling neighborhood that really seems like my kind of place...
Saturday, February 17, 2007
It’s always a funny thing to say that a movie based on a true story doesn’t feel convincing enough, but that’s the case with Breach, a spy story featuring one remarkable performance that never quite makes up for a frustratingly limited perspective.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Favorite American Buildings
1. Lincoln Center -- New York, NY
I think it's been clear from some of my recent musings that living in New York for almost seven years can wear a guy down, but I'll tell you what -- the night that walking by Lincoln Center (not to mention attending a performance there) doesn't put a spring in my step, I don't need to relocate. I need to check in to the morgue.
2. Saratoga Racetrack -- Saratoga Springs, NY
Open since 1863, this track is a throwback and a gem. To consider it as one piece of architecture, you have to take into account the grandstand (pictured above), the sprawling grounds behind it where people picnic and horses get saddled up before each race, and the stables that line the outer perimeter. Counting all of that, even leaving aside the fact that I spend a restorative week there every summer, it would be hard not to include it.
3. Grand Central Station -- New York, NY
Unlike Lincoln Center, which even when it's crowded is outdoors and gives some sense of breathing room, you can obviously catch Grand Central at a frustrating time, when it's less a transportation hub than a human pinball machine. But it's one of those places that remind me how happy I am that New York so often strives to turn its utilitarian public needs into majestic statements.
4. Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth -- Fort Worth, TX
Graves included the Kimbell Art Museum on her list -- also in Fort Worth -- and that's a great building, too. But the much more recently opened Modern is my preference. As you can see above, it has a stunning facade, but the interior is as quirky and compelling as the exterior is streamlined. A great place to see art. If Fort Worth wasn't the type of place that's normally 110 degrees and once had a tornado tear right through its downtown streets, it might be a satisfyingly offbeat place to live.
5. (tie) Yankee Stadium -- Bronx, NY;
and PNC Park -- Pittsburgh, PA
Yankee Stadium is fairly self-explanatory, not only because it's an iconic American place, but because I'm a huge baseball fan and a rabid Yankees fan raised by another rabid Yankees fan (funny how that works). So "the big Y.S.," as Dad's always referred to it, is a bit like a church to me -- a church with a lot of cursing that smells strongly like urine. But still, a church.
As much as I love tradition, though, it would be difficult for me to say with a straight face that I've been to a better stadium than the home of the Pirates, which opened in 2001. As you can see from that pic, it offers a striking view. I know there are all kinds of egg-headed theories about baseball reflecting our agrarian side, so I guess there's something strange about the mashing together of skyscrapers and all that dirt and grass, but I love it. Minor-league stadiums can be next to a farm. I love that, too.
PNC is also cozy. This from Wikipedia:
PNC Park...was the first permanent facility to be built for a MLB team that hosted fewer than 40,000 since Milwaukee County Stadium, which was later expanded. It was also the first to be built with two decks rather than three (most of the seats are actually located within the lower deck, 26,000 to be exact) since County Stadium. Consequently, the highest seat in the park is only 88 feet from the playing field, giving the stadium a very intimate feel. PNC Park also has the smallest capacity of any stadium in Major League Baseball, only a few thousand seats smaller than Wrigley Field and a few hundred seats smaller than Fenway ParkIf, for some incredibly odd reason, I had to choose a place to live based solely on its baseball stadium, I'd be in Pitt.
Smart Thoughts on Book Clubs
One of my favorite parts:
It seemed that next time we were to do Chekhov. William Boyd had written an article in this newspaper on the history of the short-story form and made the stunning claim that Chekhov was the best. It was all slightly implausible. There he was, dead, Russian, and yet, apparently, the best. I was curious to see what the book group would make of Chekhov. I believed he would transform them. I believed in his power of verisimilitude, of true emotion, of human understanding. I believed in his art. I imagined the serious book group convening in a new and luminous spirit, reborn, having felt the incomparable benediction of recognition, of the vanquishing of time by truth. I imagined them becoming ... serious.
At the next meeting the mood was glum. The ladies filed in despondently, holding their grim copies of Chekhov as people hold unsavoury things when they can't find anywhere to dispose of them. There were nuts and crisps and chilly little glasses of red wine, which people sampled erratically, undecidedly, as though, now the solace of reading had been contaminated, their generalised need for consolation had itself become strange and unfamiliar. So, someone said. So. There was a great sighing, a great wearied exhalation.
After a silence someone else finally blurted out that she couldn't get on with Chekhov - was that his name? - at all. Not at all. Sombrely everyone else owned up. It was just awful. They could hardly get beyond the first page. It wasn't that it was difficult, just that it was so - unenjoyable. Depressing. Boring. This Chekhov, whom everyone made such a fuss about. I just think he's not a very nice person, one lady said. Silence. Much staring at the carpet and shaking of heads. Oh, for heaven's sake, I said. What do you want? Lies? More books about time-travel, or some past that never existed, or people who grow wings and fly around the place? Or happy endings, or characters the like of which you'll never meet in your life, or books about things that never actually happen to people? The point about Chekhov, I said, to the blank circle of their faces; the point about Chekhov ... For 10 minutes or more I descanted on the point about Chekhov. No one interrupted me. No one said anything at all. At the end they understood that I liked Chekhov rather a lot. My claim that he was the father of modern fiction raised a few suspicious eyebrows. Then someone brought up the subject of Christmas, which was a few weeks away.
Labels: Brits are better than us
The "Little Miss Sunshine" nominee is bringing her stuffed Curious George as her date to the Oscars.
AP Headlines of the Day
Turtle Eaten by Golden Retriever LivesAnd my favorite, just because I imagine the qualifier after the semi-colon could be used in far more headlines than it currently is:
Newborn Ends Up in Pa. Woman's Pant Leg
Woman Says She Got Cancer by Hugging Dad
Man Grabs Shark With Hands; Blames VodkaSee, watch how it could work, using more of today's news:
Quincy Jones Planning Movie on Brazil; Blames Vodka
'Beckham' Director Pregnant With Twins; Blames Vodka
Bush Signs $464 Billion Spending Bill; Blames Vodka
Thursday, February 15, 2007
A Brief(ish) Basketball Note
After losing last year's Finals in truly ridiculous fashion (they were probably about three minutes of efficient basketball away from sweeping the series), I wouldn't have been surprised if they suffered prolonged psychological damage. That's what I thought the 0-4 start portended. I also wouldn't have been surprised if they just played ho-hum basketball until the playoffs, since that's when they really need to salvage their pride.
But that's not what's happening. They're just winning pretty much every game they play, any way they have to. It's perfectly possible that such intensity will result in a burnout come the postseason, but it's also possible that we're witnessing a historic string of redemptive ass-kicking, like the team is some revivified slasher in a horror flick. Either way, I'm certainly enjoying it so far.
Today in Stupidity
You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States. First of all, I wouldn't want him on my team. And second of all, if he was on my team, I would, you know, really distance myself from him because, uh, I don't think that's right. And you know I don't think he should be in the locker room while we're in the locker room. I wouldn't even be a part of that.If nothing else, that is straightforward. "I am homophobic." Someone might want to tell Tim that as brave declarations go, that one leaves a different impression than, say, "I am agoraphobic."
But wait! Someone evidently did tell him. Here's Hardaway just a short time later on a different show:
Yes, I regret it. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said I hate gay people or anything like that. That was my mistake.Well, yes, it was your mistake, Tim, but not quite in the way that you mean. Welcome to the marketplace of ideas. You've got a dumb one. The mistake was opening your mouth.
Read about the whole ridiculous thing here.
The Main Reason New York Wears You Down. Even Ahead of the Subway.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Good God. I saw Pan's Labyrinth tonight, having wanted to for some time, and I have to say I'm torn. On the one hand, it's a stunningly filmed, deeply moving, and even (in the end) deeply moral experience. In many ways, it was easily one of the best movies I saw in the past year, considering a "movie year" one that spans from Oscars to Oscars. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure it is the most brutal viewing experience I've ever had. I will admit that the movie caught me at a vulnerable time, but friends had tried to prepare me for more violence than the preview had suggested.
They didn't prepare me enough.
It's impossible to summarize things without giving too much away, so I won't. But if you're uncomfortable with realistic violence -- both emotional and physical -- committed by humans against humans, I strongly urge you to watch this in the comfort of your own home when it's released on DVD. There were a handful of times when I felt that I would have to leave the theater.
A good deal of that violence feels gratuitous, and for that I have to take points away from the project. But the horror also accrues in a way that is put to use for one of the more devastating climactic sequences that I can remember. I believe it's the first time I've ever left a movie in need of a drink, to fend off the existential nausea. The film has enough strengths that it doesn't deserve such an off-putting, unnerving encapsulation, but it's the truth. The friend who was with me could testify -- the only humorous moments all night came when he looked at me during certain scenes and laughed at the way I was shrinking from the screen.
The story has clear -- in my mind -- religious connotations (ethical connotations, at least), but considering another, very long post that I'm working on, I don't have the energy to get into that. If you want to discuss it over a drink sometime, I'm more than game. You know where to find me. Well, most of you know where to find me.
I'm supposed to see The Lives of Others with another friend tomorrow night, and while that looks like a very serious effort, I'm convinced it will seem like Meet the Parents compared to tonight's fare.
Note to a Reader
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Archive of the Day
In the first section, Ballantine is writing about life in Middlebury, Vermont, as he makes clear. In the second section, he is writing about a trip to Louisville.
Outside of a psychotic who attacked me a few months ago (I stuck his head into a snowbank until he promised to leave me alone) and a middle-aged fellow who drives around town shouting obscenities from a riding mower, there is not much happening here in Middlebury, Vermont. It’s a handsome town, though: kindly in spirit, smart and well run, home of a fine college with an extraordinary library. My position as cook at the Café Chatillon down along scenic Otter Creek is more than tolerable. So too are my living quarters: usually I’m stuck in a single room near the railroad tracks. Here I live far from the tracks in a small, clean apartment attached to the comfy house of a middle-class family who spend most of their time watching television. The canned laughter fluting melancholically through the walls has become as familiar to me as the sounds of plumbing or forced air from the vents.(Here's another piece of Poe's writing that I think/hope you'll enjoy. And a tip of the hat to SD for recommending I read the essay excerpted above.)
I am, unfortunately, watching a lot of TV myself. The cable is spliced in gratis from the house, and ever since I sobered up, I don’t seem to get out much anymore. Granted, I could screw that teenage girl who’s been coming around, or I could have an affair with that married woman who eyes me at the gym, but that’s all part of the old life. The old life had no meaning. I have learned, through my many years of depraved blundering, that men are not mere flesh, for flesh without spirit cannot move, laugh, drink absinthe, forgive, or consider the end of time. Flesh without spirit (see: meat) simply goes bad, simply stinks.
Even angry, it isn’t smart to walk in this part of town after dark. There’s glass smashed on the sidewalks, a trash can overturned in the middle of the street, a house entirely covered in graffiti. A streetlight has been extinguished, shot out or shattered with a rock. Across the street, a pack of snuffling mutts, noses down, offer me a collective disinterested glance before shuffling past...
I must not be far from the railroad tracks. Yet within four blocks I pass four churches. Unlike the surrounding bars, liquor stores, massage parlors, crack houses, and porno motels, all crumbling in their definition of man as pork chop, these Roman Catholic, Gothic First Methodist, Byzantine Baptist, and Greek Orthodox structures appear built to last, even if their doors are locked, their mad and destitute turned out into the street. In the doorway of the Greek Orthodox church stands a lone sentry in a filthy robe and a gold Burger King cardboard crown, the smoky stump of a candle burning at his feet. Under his shabbily bearded and thickly lugubrious face he holds a sign that reads, 501 MINUTES TO CHRIST.
I’ve seen Christ twice in my life: once while stoned and all alone in a flea-ridden Mission Beach bungalow; the other time, not long ago, while praying out of the depths of my despair. On both occasions the darkness parted and my heart was lifted with awe. In clear and sane seasons I understand that Christ is merely a refined cultural label for spirit, an archetype who will not return like Superman to save the world in its final chapter of time. But, the smell of my old life still in my nostrils, I also know that spirit (and all its archetypes and guises) is all that I will ever possess of worth.
This Just In
A Bitter End at the Cinema
Because I Said So was really, really bad. There was a point in the movie where Diane Keaton gets laryngitis and communicates through writing on a pad. Everyone in the cast should have been similarly afflicted from beginning to end and the world would have been spared one of the worst scripts in the history of chick flicks. No cliché is overlooked and there were moments where Keaton appeared to be unable to mouth the lines. They even included the obligatory kid to facilitate one of the budding romances and this souped-up, hyperactive, annoying brat was one more compelling reason to get up and leave. But since inertia is a big part of my makeup, I suffered through to the bitter end. And the end was plenty bitter.
Labels: Dad at the multiplex
Monday, February 12, 2007
Breaking and Entering
It’s not a great movie, or even a very good one, but whatever your opinion of The English Patient, his most divisive effort, Minghella is a pro, and here he’s hit a solid if unremarkable ground-rule double. It’s a movie for grownups, anyway, which seems more than enough these frigid days.
BBC Headine of the Day
(Tip of the hat to JF.)
Chris vs. the Strategists
Sunday, February 11, 2007
An Inconvenient Truth: The Grammys Suck
Oh, but I guess The Police were reuniting for the start of the show. Maybe that was interesting on some level, but probably not. Did anyone catch it?
Astronauts Gone Wild
Let's parse that sensational angle before moving on to some of the more mundane, but no less perplexing details... Let me get this straight: Nowak was trying to meet her rival's flight in Orlando, so she didn't want to waste time, thus the diaper. Really? She's driving nearly a thousand miles, and she doesn't trust herself to make up the twenty or thirty combined minutes she might need in order to pull over and pee? I could understand the choice of undergarment better if she was driving an hour to catch a train, but come on -- taking on the distance she was, you need to have faith that you're going to overcome a few troublesome variables.
Of course, this is all obscuring the simple fact that she was covering half the country in order to beat someone up. That's one pissed-off astronaut. And makes me think maybe the seven-day waiting period isn't such an effective plan after all.
But it sounds like she wasn't just going to beat her up:
...the police filed the new charges against her, saying they had evidence that Captain Nowak intended ”to do serious bodily injury or death” to Colleen Shipman, a captain in the Air Force...I didn't know you could "do death" to someone.
When the police arrested Captain Nowak, they found in her possession a steel mallet, a buck knife with a four-inch blade, a BB gun and a map to Captain Shipman’s house, they said.I hope they got her slingshot, too, and the loincloth she was wearing over the diaper. I thought astronauts were more sophisticated than that. It's like she quickly went from repairing robotic arms in deep space to rutting around in the state of nature.
According to the police, Captain Nowak drove more than 950 miles from Houston to Orlando to meet with Captain Shipman, who was flying from Houston to her home in the Orlando area at the same time — because she wanted to confront Captain Shipman after discovering that she too was involved with Commander Oefelein.Wait, what?? Shipman was flying from Houston "at the same time"?? So Nowak thought she could outrun a plane in her car? This woman's getting batcrap crazier by the second. Not to mention worse at planning -- Shipman had been in Houston. Either Nowak found out about her competitor after the plane had taken off, which would make it nonsensical that she expected to "meet her flight," or she missed a golden opportunity. Wouldn't a trip to the Houston airport to confront Shipman have saved Nowak about, oh, 15 hours of soggy fury?
It all makes me think Dan Savage at The Stranger was on to something when he wrote this after a reader suggested that meth played a role in the incident:
Meth would explain the sheer, maniacal determination the lady astronaut displayed. She drove 950 miles in diapers so that she wouldn’t have to stop along the way to use the toilet—that’s methy.Then there's this unconfirmed opinion (as far as I know) from a friend who I saw today: “She was wearing a specially-issued astronaut diaper -- it was no ordinary diaper she was wearing, for sure."
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Archive of the Day
"Now," she said, startlingly down to business, "tell me what you expect from life. Fame and fortune aside -- those we take for granted." I said, "I don't know what I expect. I know what I'd like. And that is to be a grown-up person."
Colette's painted eyelids lifted and lowered like the slowly beating wings of a great blue eagle. "But that," she said, "is the one thing none of us can ever be: a grown-up person. If you mean a spirit clothed in the sack and ash of wisdom alone? Free of all mischief -- envy and malice and greed and guilt? Impossible. Voltaire, even Voltaire, lived with a child inside him, jealous and angry, a smutty little boy always smelling his fingers. Voltaire carried that child to his grave, as we all will to our own. The pope on his balcony . . . dreaming of a pretty face among the Swiss Guard. And the exquisitely wigged British judge, what is he thinking as he sends a man to the gallows? Of justice and eternity and mature matters? Or is he possibly wondering how he can manage election to the Jockey Club? Of course, men have grown-up moments, a noble few scattered here and there, and of these, obviously death is the most important. Death certainly sends that smutty little boy scuttling and leaves what's left of us simply an object, lifeless but pure, like The White Rose. Here"--she nudged the flowered crystal toward me--"drop that in your pocket. Keep it as a reminder that to be durable and perfect, to be in fact grown-up, is to be an object, an altar, the figure in a stained-glass window: cherishable stuff. But really, it is so much better to sneeze and feel human."
The Next Prez?
And check him out with Conan last year, where he suggests, at the end of the interview, an Obama-O'Brien ticket. Now, that I would vote for, guaranteed:
How Many Hands Are We Talking About?
We learn early on that Rasputia is having an adulterous affair with her power-tapping dance instructor (Marlon Wayans) (“I will power-tap you”), a revelation that is as gutting as anything I’ve seen since Diane Lane’s illicit liaison in Adrian Lyne’s Unfaithful. I was transfixed by the actress playing this morbidly obese enchantress, intrigued with the beauty and subtlety of her obscene, guttural disposition, and it was as much a surprise to me as it will be to you to learn — as I did when the credits began cruelly to roll — that she, too, is played by none other than Eddie Murphy himself. Is there no end to this man’s talent?Read the whole thing.
Friday, February 09, 2007
(Update: I've had some trouble getting the first song to play. But if that happens, clicking on "next track" on the right-hand side of the box below seems to help. OK, that's the last -- fourth -- time I edit this silly post.)
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
In other news, despite the 100-plus pounds of smoked meats I consumed last year, I'm still a vegetarian. Jesus said so.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Birth of a Bridge
Monday, February 05, 2007
Andrew Writes Back to Sam
Here's Sullivan's latest. As he likes to say, money quote:
I have never doubted the existence of God. Never. My acceptance of God's existence - of a force beyond everything and the source of everything - goes so far back in my consciousness and memory that I can neither recall "finding" this faith nor being taught it. So when I am asked to justify this belief, as you reasonably do, I am at a loss. At this layer of faith, the first critical layer, the layer that includes all religious people and many who call themselves spiritual rather than religious, I can offer no justification as such. I have just never experienced the ordeal of consciousness without it. It is the air I have always breathed. I meet atheists and am as baffled at their lack of faith - at this level - as you are at my attachment to it. When people ask me how I came to choose this faith, I can only say it chose me. I have no ability to stop believing. Crises in my life - death of loved ones, diagnosis with a fatal illness, emotional loss - have never shaken this faith. In fact, they have all strengthened it.Two of his readers have already responded. One in support:
Your latest email to Sam reminded of an event in Cambridge years ago, at the Episcopal Theological School. One of the dowager supporters of the school was parked by a potted palm, holding a china cup of tea. She had on an amazing hat. I asked her where she got it - and imperiously she answered, "We ladies in Boston do not 'get' our hats. We 'have' our hats."And one reader, um, less supportive:
It's kind of like that with a faith in God that transcends all we do, all that happens to us, and anywhere we are - We can't say quite where it came from - we simply "have" it.
Yes, your faith is a lot like the church lady and her hat. Both of you are being very disingenuous when you claim to your questioners that you have no idea where they come from. The providence of that hat is no deep mystery. It was bought in a shop. It was acquired for reasons of vanity and adornment and to make the owner feel better than others. Also similar is the smug regional and tribal pride you both take from your divinely anointed blessings.Andrew uses that last reader to point out how crass atheists can be, and that might be true. But I have to say that I agree completely with the sentiment. For someone who preaches humility like Sullivan, the "hat lady" is a terrible analogy. (Granted, he didn't come up with it, a reader did; but he posted it.) The woman with the hat is avoiding her earthly reality, turning the origin of even her fashion accessories into some kind of mystical claptrap that presumably underlines her specialness.
It's not pretty, Andrew. Step away from the potted palm and put the tea cup down and answer Sam's questions.
Sullivan is still losing this debate, because he's clinging to the specifics of his religion, despite admitting that they are historically and socially contingent, superfluous signifiers of a deeper impulse:
I have lived with the voice of Jesus read to me, read by me, and spoken all around me my entire life - and I heard it that day. If I had been born before Jesus' birth, would I have realized this? Of course not. If I had been born in Thailand and raised a Buddhist, would I have interpreted this experience as a function of my Buddhist faith rather than Jesus? If I were a pilgrim right now in Iraq, would I attribute this epiphany to Allah? An honest answer has to be: almost certainly.That deeper impulse is to believe in "God" broadly defined, and Harris would have a much harder time answering why that's so silly, when even evolutionary biologists sometimes grant that we might be hardwired for such beliefs. But as Douglas Adams or countless others would tell you, if you're telling people that the meaning of life is 42, they're going to ask you about your math. And telling them "I don't know, I'm just very spiritual" is not -- rightfully so -- going to be accepted as a viable answer. Sullivan remains what he's always been -- a devout person, respectful of other beliefs, and an important bridge in a world violently divided over the fictional details of a perfectly understandable and widely shared human experience. If he followed the line of his own logic to its conclusion, though, he could remain devout while becoming an even more important, sturdier bridge.
"Some of the recent posts on the blog have me wondering about you." (Followed by a general shaking of head about the Mooninites clip.)
"This mascot stuff -- what are you, some kind of nut?"
"You haven't been getting a lot of comments lately."
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Condensation: Oil Boom
This is a three-sentence abridgment of "Boomtown Blues," a piece by Alexandra Fuller in the February 5 issue about the effect of an oil boom on a county in Wyoming:
But the truth is that if the graph showing the growth of ranching jobs in Sublette County during the past few years were your heart rate, you'd be dead.
"I didn't feel addicted; I just felt like I wanted some more meth."
A place in the throes of an energy boom isn't so different from a person in the throes of addiction: there's the denial that things are out of control; there's the sleeplessness and the moral carelessness, and the fact that you're doing something that you know isn't good for you but you just can't stop.
Enter 2006 and 2007. We can hope this isn't the start of another long-term trend, but last year's Pittsburgh-Seattle Super Bowl was one of the ugliest I can remember seeing. And tonight's wasn't much better. I'm just glad that (with any luck) everyone will shut up about Peyton Manning now. It was only right that he beat Rex Grossman, who had a nightmare of a game. (It's never a good sign when a team's fans are hoping that the quarterback continues to fumble snaps, because at least that way he can't drop back and pass.)
But forget the game for a second. Shouldn't be hard. What really made me irate were the two or three commercials that directly addressed the fact that both head coaches in the big game, Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy, were African-American. This was shamelessly played up by the media in the two weeks leading to the game, too. The ads, though, my lord -- from one Lay's ad, you would think it was 1964.
Dungy and Smith are really, really good coaches, and both have spoken passionately and rightfully about why it's important for young black kids to have role models in coaching positions, not just in uniforms. But, the emphasis on this has been ridiculous. Art Shell was named a head coach in 1989. And while that was a shamefully late date to have the first African-American head coach in pro football, and while there are still strides to make in front-office hiring, that was 18 years ago. But Art Shell, by general consensus, is a terrible football coach. It just seems crass to be trumpeting the racial angle only when coaches reach a certain level of success. Tony Dungy has taken teams to the playoffs for eight straight years. I don't remember any special Lay's ads before now. It makes perfect sense to celebrate the removal of an artificial barrier to a job. But to so loudly congratulate two great coaches on exceeding at jobs they already have strikes me as grossly condescending.
Friday, February 02, 2007
"Hang on, I don't want to be that much like Ernest."
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Brief Oscar Preview
OK, my only thoughts: Little Miss Sunshine was cute, and I think Breslin is a very deserving nominee for her role, but a Best Picture nod? I knew it was a weak year. The Departed and Babel are the two I really need to see before the big night. All the acting categories seem crushingly predictable after the recent Golden Globe and SAG ceremonies. Oh, and Volver got absolutely robbed.
AP Headline of the Day
Mah Na Mah Na
Mooninites vs. Beantown
The cartoon also includes two trouble-making, 1980s-graphic-like characters called "mooninites," named Ignignokt and Err -- who were pictured on the suspicious devices. They are known for making the obscene hand gesture depicted on the devices.Hell, while we're here: