Tuesday, December 23, 2003

More To Come

Lot's going on and no time to sit and write. More to come soon.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Lesser of Two Weevils

1. Russell Crowe, we love him. He’s been a ton of fun to watch on the big screen ever since his turn in L.A. Confidential. He oozes a sludgy undercurrent of Bryronic heroism in all of his films. And the guy simply has range. I mean, I thought Opie’s A Beautiful Mind was completely up to its ears in a dubious brand of schizophrenic, romantic schmaltz, but you could hardly find fault with what ‘ol Russell did with the slops! And hell, the guy carried Scott’s hyper-gauzy Gladiator, holding his head up high in a film that felt more like he was the spokesman in a series of ads for SUVs or a designer perfume, a criticism that I've seen crop up more then once in regards to the more recent stylistic choices (some might say bombardment) Scott deploys in his films. It’s that Bruckheimer super-sheen, I think, the dull bombast of highly refined images bathed in the coolest of earnest blues that ultimately satisfy the very same craving that comes with eating lunch while leafing through the latest junk-mail catalogue to get jammed in your mailbox courtesy of Sharper Image. Some of the product on display are kinda cool but most seems dumbly audacious, which is to say, trinkets. When you’re done, of course, it gets tossed in the recycling bin. Gladiator is a $100 million dollar trinket.

My sister, with whom I share an affinity for the tabloid wanderlust found in the pages of People or Vanity Fair, was once so smitten by Crowe that she found herself, suddenly, the owner of the debut CD by his band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. (“But Russell, come on man, you have to be on the front cover!” “Ah, my Aussie friends…if I must.”) That’s why it is to her that I most strongly recommend a viewing of his newest, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The director, Peter Weir belongs to Hollywood’s set of glossy thinkers, (Steven Soderbergh, Michael Mann. Philip Kaufmann) those directors who have managed to sneak some storytelling ambition into their Cineplex hack work. You get the THX, an A tiered star, the increasingly detailed special effects (here, there’s some wonderful dark and stormy night stuff), the stadium seating and, thankfully, enough lines of clever dialogue and commendable acting (the film has a number of surprisingly humorous moments) that you actually have a little something to savor when the credits are rolling.

And Crowe? His best on screen moment here involves a pun and a couple weevils. It’s a sly moment that catches you off guard. He also sings a number of sea-chanteys. He leaps with swords, looks through telescopes, plays the violin, and defeats the evil French, because it’s assumed that the French are the current enemy we can all agree on. (Note: somebody recently told me that had this film remained more true to the historical record, Crowe would have been chasing after an American ship and not a French.)

2. I’m currently reading and having more fun with Dennis Mcnally’s Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead then it probably deserves. In 1980 Mcnally was made the official historian for the band. (After Jerrry had read and been so impressed by Mcnally’s Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation and America and made it so.) I’m about half way through, and while there are the occasional dips into the excesses of band and roadie minutia, for the most part McNally's is cookin' with gas and tells the bands story well. He’s keenly aware that the most interesting story behind the Dead lies in their relation to the West Coast counter-culture scene of the 60’s, (more then half the book rightly focuses on those years alone) long before they went on to become the 90’s premier franchise for reliving the 60’s experiment. In those formative years the band was often surrounded and encouraged by the likes of Ken Kesey, Neal Cassidy, The Hells Angels, Owsley Acid, The Summer of Love, The Diggers and hundreds of other characters and episodes that gave that decade its lysergic texture.

3. I made a couple CD-R mixes with a group of teenagers last week that’ll eventually be played as the background music to a community open house for the youth development organization (The Home Project) I’ve been interning with. I had met with the teen’s a couple weeks before and told them to all bring in a mess of their favorite CD’s. These included Michael Jackson’s Bad , Missy Elliot’s Under Construction, OutKast’s, Speakerbboxxx/The Love Below and the soundtrack to Queen of the Damned. As we burned selections from those CD’s and others, I learned from my younger friends that Jessica Alba has DSL. It’s very naughty.

4. Why in the world is anybody going to see Cat in the Hat? How many years later will it be before the toddlers of today wake up and realize that Mike Myers is not the droid they're looking for? First the Grinch, and now that psychedelically inspired Cat! (In the early 90's rave scene, that zany, red and white and ever-so-slightly drooping cylinder of a hat was a staple alongside glow sticks and whistles.) Is any adult leaving the theater after sitting through Cat in the Hat with any genuine sense of satisfaction other then that of having kept the kids sated for 90 minutes? It’s a bit like spending an hour and a half confined to the underbelly of a cash registrar, isn’t it?

5. In honor of the upcoming final installment of Peter Jackson’s brilliant Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Return of the King, Cathy will be referring to our neighborhood as the Shire. I, on the other hand, will be known simply as Gandalf. I will treat little people with great tenderness and nobility. This will only last until the release date of December 17th, after which we'll both revert to our mundane little lives.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Some Quickly Jotted Notes On Songs Selected from iTunes Shuffle Play

First up, it’s…

Air: Not the French band, mind you, but the improvising jazz trio, Air and their tune, Keep on Playing Right Through the Mirror Over the Water- which kinda sounds like the title to a lost Genesis cut, circa 1973. But there’s no Tony Banks here, no sir. At best, this kind of free form improvisation acts like dental floss for my mind, getting into and between all the nooks and coral crannies to clear out unwanted sonic detritus like, say, that cheesy refrain in Outkast’s The Way You Move, which I don’t really like but can’t get out of my head. This music also affects me a hell of a lot more live. It feels slightly neutered here at my desk. And it makes me nostalgic for Chicago’s Velvet Lounge or the Empty Bottle.

(Note: I’m a big fan of the iTunes crossfade playback option, which allows you to fade out a song as the next fades in. This makes way for some inspired moments of one-song-into-another flow.)

Suzanne Vega’s Undertow: It’s December 1986, at least I think that’s when I first recorded Vega’s debut, which is incredibly evocative of that time in my life. I’m surprised by just how many of the lyrics I still remember. This was on constant rotation then, and it lost my ears sometime in the early 90’s. It’s really nice to be hearing it again, even if the 80’s production glaze dates things a bit.

Follow that up with Altern 8’s (“the cheapskate KLF”) Move My Body! Ha!! Mid-80’s Greenwich Village folk into ‘ardkore ’92 rave! But let’s not forget DNA’s version of Tom’s Diner, right? I DJ’d a house party in Athens, Ohio (Ohio University) in the Autumn of ’93 and I remember Move My Body getting a great response. The kids loved it! It might have been the first time I ever DJ’d. I was in heaven. In every music junkie there’s a DJ trying to claw his or her way out. Some dude who owned a club in Athens even gave me his card (I wasn’t that good, but it was Athens, not exactly a hotbed of second wave rave music). It’s that killer breakbeat and the swirling ecstasy of the infamous ‘mentasm’ sound that does it for this song- “like a swarm of bees.” Pure sugar rush, this one.

Sinking, The Cure. Oh, how I once flirted with the gothic romanticism of the death rocker fashion aesthetic! I was far from the inner circle of the Smith inspired wind-swept hair teases, black finger nail polish and dabbing myself with patchouli, but I did dye my hair black and proudly wore my Doc Martins. (I still wear Docs- they may very well be the most durable shoes around…and practical, too!) but I’ve always had too much of the suburban preppie in me (what marketers now refer to as “metrosexual”) and back then my fashion sensibilities were equally informed by hippies and ravers- this meant colors other then black had to be introduced into my wardrobe. What a mélange! But I could (and still can) wallow in Robert Smith’s pathos for hours. That run of Head on the Door, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and Disintegration (and I still have soft spots for Boys Don’t Cry and Pornography) –such a perfect combination of Technicolor pop and histrionic gloom.

(Quick aside: Another album, to go along with those I wrote about missing in my previous post, Leo Kottke’s My Father’s Face. My introduction to the man and his guitar…heard again today for the first time in almost a decade!)

Brand New Friend, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions: I can’t stress just how much Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ first album, Rattlesnakes, meant to me. It was one of the first “College Alternative” albums I ever owned, and probably did more to influence my late-80s music listening habits then any other. My brother, Randy, went away to college in the Autumn of 1985 and came home with a tape of it for me. I remember he gave me the follow-up, Two-Easy Pieces, from which this great song comes from. The creamy crooning backing vocals are particularly irresistible- and such lovely strings…is it Anne Dudley on string arrangements again? The outro is simply perfect. Why is this album out of print? Are there any Lloyd Cole solo albums worth buying? Is he still listening to Arthur Lee records and making all his friends feel guilty about their cynicism…and the rest of their generation?

Contempt, The Books: The second song from their dynamite debut, Thought for Food. Great music meshed with a hilarious reenactment of the famous opening scene from Goddard’s film, Contempt (hence the name) wherein the studio demanded that the director offer up more Bardot cheesecake. Obligingly, he did, volunteering her derriere as she interrogated the object of her attention with dry questions like, “Do you like my legs? What about my ankles, do you like them? Do you like all of me, my eyes…my nose?” “Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another, “ as John Berger wrote in his Ways of Seeing. In the film, it’s the first gesture of contempt.

Take It or Leave It, The RollingStones: Very unfamiliar with the track. I like the spacious quality of the production. Nice enough as it is, though a bit on the slight side of things, eh?

Certainly, Erykah Badu: Had always thought this debut would be cheesier then it actually turns out to be. In fact, it’s anything but. It’s silky, sexy and filled with feathery, soulful grooves. Should have known. I love Mama’s Gun- huge fan of it. What little I’ve heard of the new one, Worldwide Underground, sounds great. Neo-soulrrific!

Prisoner of the Highway, the Coctails: The iTunes crossfade flow really worked splendidly between these two songs- I thought the Badu song was still fading out but Prisoner of the Highway had already been playing for 20 or so seconds. That’s the crossfade action I’m talkin’ about! We’re so easily delighted these days. I like this album quite a bit…it’s so mischievously innocent. Perfect North-Side Chicago bar music. Give me a couple pints and this music would sound positively revelatory. (Well, come to think of it, most would!) I like it most when I can hear Archer Prewitt’s guitar gesturing toward the greatness that would come to such stunningly gorgeous fruition in The Sea and Cake.

Contort Yourself, The Contortionist: From the always dependable Soul Jazz Records. It’s a hot thang right now…the post-punk sound…and why not? It puts My Life in A Bush Full of Ghosts into perfect late 80's post-punk/New York perspective for me- the scene it came out of. All that “angular” guitar, those quick splashes of squirty sound, the frantic drumming. Everywhere, little splashes of, hey, contorted rhythm. It’s all herky-jerky-David Byrne-drowning-in-the-big-suit-and-flopping-around. Brian Eno’s in there, too. Not the suit, the sound.

Intermission, The Coctails: Again. This is kitschy! Yes, it’s not bad at all, even better after a couple pints. This is cartoon music, isn’t it? Doesn’t Archer Prewitt have his own comic? Oh, now it all makes sense. I feel like a cartoon when I listen to it. There are thought bubbles above my head. Look out, ya’ll!

Gunning for the Buddha! Shriekback. This was their Alterna-hit, played by college DJ’s on those low powered left-of-the-dial FM frequencies…. Synth steel drums, or the real thing? If I remember correctly, the liner notes for the album included hilariously penned descriptions of every instrument played in each song. Did they have steel drum samples on synths back in the late 80’s? Break out the tiki torches, it’s backyard barbecue music. It all crashed and burned after this one. Remember that awful cover of Get Down Tonight?

Butt-to-Butt Resuscitation, Funkadelic: …Bernie Worell! Glurpy syths galore! Hands down, the best title of any of the songs played over the past hour!

Dominator, Human Resource…this is the Frank DeWulf version (he of the famous Acid Rock single, an early entry in the Belgium New Beat scene that began with big chugging keyboard riffs of Smoke on the Water). There was a remix CD of this song, right…I think my friend Mike Kraus might still have a copy…with like 10 remixes of this song, right? Insane! Easily the most popular song to ever use the mentasm sound mentioned earlier. When is the mentasm sound going to have its revival?

The Coctails win! Three tracks pulled from over 600! All in a hours time. Cakewalk, this time, from Early Hi-Ball years. It’s really deceptively simple, isn’t it? If you listen closely enough you can hear the cartoon cars zooming down Ashland.

Ooogum Boogum Song, Brenton Wood: I do so love the sweet soul music. Almost never fails to sooth me. First time I’ve ever heard this song and it’s entirely, outrageously, wondrously pleasing. A sweet little snare groove, a charming lead vocal and some nicely placed rhythm guitar. “You got soul! You got too much soul!”

That’s enough, I’m exhausted. Is it time to eat yet?

Sunday, November 16, 2003

I’m Standing Exactly Where I’m Supposed To Be
The feeling, and it’s been with me for a few weeks now, is that I’m exactly where I should have been two years ago in November. For the past few months I’ve been volunteering every morning in a Berkeley elementary special education classroom for children with mild to moderate disabilities. Additionally, most of my afternoons are spent interning at a youth development organization in Alameda, working with a group of teenagers to get a languishing sound recording studio up and running again. I doubt if I've given half as much to either of these two endeavors as they've given to me.

There are very good (albeit entirely unfortunate) reasons as to why it’s taken me so long to get here. I wouldn’t wish what I’ve gone through over the last couple years on anybody. The best analogy I can think of is to imagine being in that archetypal tunnel whose terminus, at best, offers light and, at worse, holds only promises unfulfilled. I've caught flickers of that light from time to time, in interviews that went well or during those times when I felt giddy with possibility and potential. I was ready to turn off the headlights and join my peers in doing work that was going to have an impact, however subtle, dozens of times. I have craved the discipline that work imposes, the social validity it offers and, most importantly, the self-sufficiency it allows. With the internship and volunteering, I have the first two covered. Monetary compensation is the last piece of the puzzle.

This isn’t ideal, where I’m at right now, but it’s something, a small victory against odds that have only been there in part. I shouldn’t downplay it either. It’s, in all honesty, a tremendous step in the right direction. If that fucking light isn’t going to come to me, I’ll go to it.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Musique Non Stop II

Many thanks to Joe for feeding the need!
Creamy Buttered Num-Nums
As some of you are already aware, I happen to be married to one of the Bay Area’s premier culinary adventurists. Over the years she’s honed and perfected her gastronomic craft through the chopping, spicing, splicing, squishing, rolling, stirring, spicing, assimilating, mixing, frying and baking of foods that do more then just fill bellies- they create happiness.

Which brings us to dinner the other night. With the help of Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking, and Shehzad Husain’s Vegetarian Indian, Cathy, making liberal use of numerous pots and pans, prepared a regalement of Indian dishes. They included Bombay style chicken with red split lentils, creamy buttered saag panir (of course she made the panir cheese!) and fried lentil wafers. Do I even have to mention that it was amazing?

Next up, Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Musique Non Stop

Some albums I used to have on tape, but never got around to buying on CD, that I am currently craving to hear again:

Love and Rockets: Express and Earth*Sun*Moon
Siouxsie and the Banshees: Hyaena, Tinderbox and Through the Looking Glass
Lloyd Cold and the Commotions: Two Easy Pieces
OMD: Crush and Junk Culture
The Pet Shop Boys: Actually and Introspective
The Replacements: Tim and Pleased to Meet Me
The Smiths: Hatful of Hollow (oh, and I really miss some of the songs on Morrissey’s Viva Hate, like Everyday is Like Sunday and Late Night Maudlin Street.)
Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Abacab
Shriekback: Big Night Music
Suzanne Vega: her debut, especially Cracking and Solitude Standing
Laurie Anderson: Big Science and United States I-IV
Book of Love’s debut (especially Modigliani, You Make Me Feel So Good and Boy)
Depeche Mode: Black Celebration and Violater
This Mortal Coil: Filigree and Shadow (It’ll End In Tears, however, is one of the last things I still have on tape!)
Shelleyan Orphan: Century Flower
Virginia Ashly: Hope in a Darkened Heart (Quite possibly the best album I ever checked out from the Bay Village public library).
The Pogues: If I Should Fall From Grace With God (especially for Fairytale of New York).
The Cure: Head on the Door and maybe Pornography…oh, the B-Sides from Staring at the Sea: The Singles…that, too.
Psychedlic Furs: Talk Talk Talk (Richard Butler has one of the greatest voices in rock, does he not?)
Echo and the Bunnymen: Ocean Rain
The Chruch: Heyday
Dead Can Dance: The Serpent’s Egg (especially for Ulysses)
It’s Immaterial: just for their song, Driving Away From Home (Jim’s Tune)
Peter Gabriel B-Sides- Shosholoza, Curtains, Don’t Break This Rhythm and especially the studio extended mix of In Your Eyes
XTC: Skylarking
Tangerine Dream: Phaedra and Stratosfear
The Jesus and Mary Chain: Darklands
The Pixies: Bossanova
Paul Simon: Graceland

Probably lot’s more that I’m forgetting…
fey, adj.

I was particularly delighted by Dorothy Burnham's realization of the word. I ran across this while looking it up in the Sherlock dictionary earlier tonight.

a. Having or displaying an otherworldly, magical, or fairylike aspect or quality: “She's got that fey look as though she's had breakfast with a leprechaun” (Dorothy Burnham).
b. Having visionary power; clairvoyant.
c. Appearing touched or crazy, as if under a spell.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Junior Boys

I’m really loving Junior’s Boys Last Exit. Give it a listen here. Taps into vain of synth-pop nostalgia I can’t quite peg yet. The best I can come up with is OMD’s Souvenir and maybe David Sylvian circa Secrets of the Beehive. A dry, soft croon bathed in even softer billows of sonic breeze and all resting atop a pillow of dubbed rhythms that would do King Tubby proud. And that bass! It might be what, in the end, carries this song over into classic territory. It’s that sumptuously thick analogue bass Derrick May made so famous on his classic techno track, Nude Photo, only here it’s brought way out front in the mix, tightly clipped and shorn of anything but the silkiest groove.

Fennesz’s remix is definitely worth listening to as well. It, too, is a classic, completely overhauled but still evocative of the original and maybe even better. The billows are granulated, the bass made a cavernous thud and the vocals outlined in tin. A burst of guitar (which has been quietly residing in the background all along) rises to the front of the mix about 2 minutes in and blossoms into a wall of feedback that quite simply rocks. It’s perhaps de rigueur (let alone banal) to compare such glorious walls of guitar feedback to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, but if anybody has done more over the last few years to take up where Kevin Shield’s left off in continuing the exploration of the near endless possibilities and rewards of processing the shit out of guitars, it’s been Christian Fennesz. My favorite moment comes around the 3 and a half minute mark, when another burst of guitar feedback heralds the introduction of an accoustic guitar strum that turns the song into an anthem. It's like the sun shining through an unexpected, fleeting opening in a thick settlement of November cloud.
Brontosaurus Collapsing

PBS aired Howard Hawk’s great screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby this past Saturday evening, which I happily watched for the second time. The film, originally released in 1938, was a box office dud. Since then, however, it’s gone on to claim the honor of being one of the greatest American comedy films ever made. I’d stand beside that claim as well.

Misunderstandings pile on misunderstandings, lies atop of lies, conniving undermines conniving, shenanigans overwhelm shenanigans and by film’s end, a one ring circus has blossomed into three and everybody’s become a clown. The final act of Bringing Up Baby, when all plot lines and characters fortuitously end up in a local jailhouse, is easily one of greatest and most delirious half hours of comedy ever put onto film. Everything comes to a gloriously outlandish head. It’s dizzy with the pop and fizzle of its silliness. The film, fun enough up to this point (it’s always a joy to watch Cary Grant’s suave vaudeville honed acrobatics- slipping on olives, tripping over curbs, sliding down hills…the man was a genius) shifts up into slaphappy overdrive and you can’t help but be overwhelmed by its manic glee. It’s immensely clever, with witty, ricocheting dialogue that couples and radiates the mirthful with the austere and the ludicrous with the droll.

How else to end such hilarity but with the skeleton of a Brontosaurus collapsing under the weight of Katherine Hepburn?

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The Great Boon

A couple months ago saw the death of our much loved G3. With its demise went my ability to make music. I had been working, on and off, for the last year and a half on a follow up to my last album for family and friends, Bomba Charger, and had been using Pro Tools software installed on the G3. We upgraded to a G5 (it is a fine machine) but realized that the version of Pro Tools I currently use (namely the Digi 001) is not and probably never will be compatible with the G5.

Thanks to the tech problem solving savvy of my father-in-law, the unremitting efforts of my perpetually intrepid wife and the kind efforts of our landlord, the G3 is (hooray!) up and running again, trimmed of everything but Pro Tools. Now I’m back in the saddle and, time permitting, I really hope to have this one finished by late Spring or early Summer. And get this, when we were reinstalling Pro Tools the other night we realized that we had forgotten to enable an extra set of plug-in’s the first time around! What a nice surprise…I now have half a dozen new-fangled sound processors to play with!

About the album, for those who may actually care about such things, it’s coming along nicely. I have roughly 50 songs in various states of completion with about 20 of those still vying for my attention. I’m hoping to begin editing them soon, adding some vocals (I’m really hoping to improve on the sloppy harmonizing found on Bomba Charger), guitar and (possibly) trumpet. There’s a lot of work to do, but I think it should be a much better album- certainly the sound quality and mix will be drastically improved.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

The Forgetting
I remember my Mom telling me, “If Grandma wants to take the car anywhere, you tell her I said you kids are not to drive with her.” That was the early 80’s, back when I was in 6h grade and my sister and I, as we sometimes did in those days, spent the occasional weekend night at our Grandparents house located just a few towns away from our own. At the time my Grandma had been having a series of mysterious blackouts. I can’t recall what kind of frequency these blackouts were coming, just the hazy aura of concern they caused my family. Clearly my Mom had our safety in mind.

How old was my Grandma then? Late 60’s or early 70’s, one of the two. When she announced that early winter morning that she’d like to head over the local mall and do a little shopping, I did as had been requested of me and told her we wouldn’t be able to drive in the car with her. Like most folks, the independence that comes with the kind of mobility a car offers, coupled with the high level of mental and physical confidence necessary to operate one, meant a lot for my Grandma. These are just a couple of the measures with which we rate our independence in the world. To deny my Grandma the right to take her grandchildren along with her in the car while she ran errands was to deny her some of that cherished independence. I can remember her frustration and the flustered decision to walk to the mall instead. I felt awful.

The mall, a strip of popular early 80’s franchise retailers that shored up a monstrous sea of parking (the lot seemed designed to aggravate traffic control problems rather then lessen them) was located about a mile from where my grandparents lived. I don’t remember much about the walk there- it’s a memory deemed unnecessary- a seemingly inconsequential moment lost in the spindrift. I do remember this. When we arrived, I asked if it would be alright if my sister and I went into a U.S. Merchandise located on the strip while my Grandma ran her errand. U.S. Merchandise was one of my favorite stores to visit (and having a mother who has always taken a great and near insufferable joy in shopping for clothes, I spent literal months of my childhood lost in acres of T.J. Max-like square footage) and promised to set my earliest consuming desires aglow with the guarantee of numerous display model keyboards awaiting my perusal within its doors. Giving us her consent, it was decided that we would meet outside in half an hour.

30 minutes later my sister and I waited outside the store for my Grandma. It was late winter and cold. 45 minutes later we were still standing there. When my Grandma met up with us, over an hour had passed and I remember the shock of her scolding. “Where did you go?!” I’ve been looking all over for both of you!”

“But Grandma,” I replied, “you told us to meet you here in a half hour- we were in the store for that long and we’ve been waiting for you here, just like you said.”

Didn’t she remember? What was going on? I remember the oddness of the moment- my sister standing next to me and the indistinct murmur of shoppers passing by- the gross disconnect in communication and the palpability of her panic. She had forgotten.

This is how I remember the beginning stages of my Grandmother’s long descent into Alzheimer’s. Of course, none of us knew she had Alzheimer’s at the time- the disease was just then beginning to gain a foothold on popular consciousness and becoming the household word it is today. A few years later she would forget my name. It was not uncommon, for example, to have her ask, “And what was your name?,” or her other favorite, “And what grade are you in?” dozens of times over the course of a single evening. We always answered, no matter how numb with repetition, as though it were the first time. Never did we say, “But Grandma, you know who we are.” It was quirky, this forgetting, but this is what we assumed happened with old age. By then, too, we recognized that she probably had Alzheimer’s, but I don’t think any of us really understood what that actually meant.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s and very little by way of effective treatment. By the late 80’s my Grandpa could no longer bring my Grandma to our house for supper because, without fail, she would begin to fret about “the children” they should get back to and the sitter they had to relieve. “Well, we really should be going,” she’d say turning to my Grandpa and gently placing her hand on his. She would say this with that lilt of good-natured resignation that comes with the accumulation of a lifetime of gracefully taking leave, only now she would say it within minutes of arriving. We developed methods to hold off the inevitable exit. Her frustration would increasingly mount. First we’d try and explain to her that her children, the very one’s she thought were back home with a sitter, were actually all around her, full grown and with children of their own. We’d pretend to call the baby sitter and have detailed conversations. We’d give her reassurances that the sitter could stay another hour and that the children were fine, in fact, the sitter had just put them down to bed. We’d laugh at all this, no longer needing to mask our awareness of her senility in charade of polite indifference. She was losing her mind and we were losing her presence. My Grandpa would put off leaving for as long as possible before my Grandma, nearly in tears, forced him to leave.

In the months leading up to my Grandpa’s decision that he was no longer able to adequately provide the care my Grandma needed at home (this was sometime in the early 90’s) my Dad would take her on short walks around the neighborhood, leading her like a child by the hand in her track-suit down the street and asking her to tell him the words of objects in Polish, her first language and the one she was increasingly reverting to when she did speak. I had long heard that Alzheimer’s sufferers seemed to move moving backwards in time, becoming more and more childlike as the disease took hold. I thought, too, that the Alzheimer’s-Childhood analogy might also be an anecdote without any validity. Turns out, it’s true. David Shenk’s, The Forgetting: Alzheimer’s: Portrait of an Epidemic, a beautifully heartfelt and eloquent book about a truly horrific disease, describes a 1980 test conducted by the neurologist Barry Reisberg who proved that this wasn’t an anecdote at all and was, in fact, something that could be measured scientifically. Reisberg, a pioneer in the study and understanding of the awful trajectory of the disease, showed that Alzheimer’s, in many ways, “unravels the brain almost exactly in the reverse order as it develops from birth.”

Ever since my Grandma’s death in the mid-90’s, I had been wanting to get a book about Alzheimer’s disease. I wanted and needed to have a better understanding of its history and what we know about it. Shenk’s book, however, turned out to be more then just the decent primer I was hoping it would be- it's one of the finest books I've read this year.

A slim and immensely readable 261 pages, Shenk touches on numerous facets of the disease and its history. Perhaps most impressive is the architecture of the book, a tight weave of historical perspectives, broad contexts and scientific close-ups for the layman. There are powerful accounts of famous people who have suffered the ravages of Alzheimer’s (Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Ronald Reagan, Willem de Kooning, Jonathan Swift, Frederick Olmsted), a fascinating history of the disease and what we know about it (the culprits seems to be an accumulation of cellular debris known as plaques and tangles), a vivid report detailing a March 1999 conference in Taos, New Mexico where over two hundred top molecular biologists from around the world met for a biannual conference- “Molecular Mechanisms in Alzheimer’s Disease,” a vivid and heartbreaking look at a support group for those in the early stages dementia (Shenk writes, Historically, the one saving grace of the disease over the years has been that many, if not most, of the people who acquire the disease do not comprehend what is about to happen to them and their families. Now, for better or worse, that has changed. More and more are learning at the earliest possible opportunity what they have, and what it means.) and numerous fascinating dips into the science of the brain and how it (specifically in regards to memory) works.

What Shenk’s book does best, however, is to tell this sad story with humanity. He never veers into cheap sentimentalism and is himself searching to construct meaning from the disease. There’s no getting around the horror of the disease- the insidiously slow unraveling of the victim’s mind and the stress and sorrow that comes to the circle of family and friends who can do nothing to stop its inexorable progress- but I was surprised and impressed with Shenk’s desire to engage the disease on a deeper level then the suffering that inevitably comes with it. Shenk returns again and again to the problem of constructing a larger meaning from the disease, In the last pages of The Forgetting Shenk writes:

Why are so many people fascinated by Alzheimer’s disease? Because it is not only a disease, but also a prism through which we can view life in ways not normally available to us. Through the Alzheimer’s prism, we can experience life’s constituent parts and understand better its resonances and quirks. And as the disease relentlessly progresses toward the final dimming of the sufferer, it forces us to experience death in a way it is rarely otherwise experienced. What is usually a quick flicker we see in super slow motion, over years. It is more painful than many people can even imagine, but is also perhaps the most poignant of all reminders of why and how human life is so extraordinary. It is our best lens on the meaning of loss.

It may not seem like much by way of solace, but I found Shenk’s struggling to infuse the disease with an affirmative ontological architecture not normally associated with it yet another highly laudable quality in a book already brimming over with them.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Let The Games Begin...Again...

From today's New York Times:

A lot of us feel the political system here in California is a dysfunctional system," said Jaime A. Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University in Los Angeles. "Despite the 135 candidates and the certain circus nature of it, something serious is happening here."

The partisan poison of the recall permeated its very formation. Democrats argued that the movement would never have gone beyond the wishful thinking of a small group of Republican consultants and antitax crusaders had a millionaire Republican, Representative Darrell Issa of San Diego, not provided a huge infusion of money to hire professional signature gatherers.

Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, said over the weekend that some members of her party already plan to mimic Mr. Issa's formula.

"I know people who have money who say that is what they would do," Ms. Lofgren said. "I don't think there is any way to stop it."

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

You Gotta Be F@!%kin Kiddin' Me!

So, the real question is, how long before the recall of the recall swings into action?

Monday, October 06, 2003

No Money Left Behind

I hope to write more about my recent experiencess volunteering with a youth development/charter school in Alameda and a special education classroom here in one of Berkeley's public elementary schools. That’ll come when I have a bit more time ‘cause things is gettin’ kinda hectic around here right about now. That’s a good thing. For now, this caught my eye. It's from my Berkeley School Volunteers newsletter.

In Berkeley, cuts of nearly $9 million were made this year- and more must be made.

Effects include:

-Larger student-to-teacher ratios with $2.9 million cut in teacher salaries
-Fewer academic support programs in the early grades with scarce funds focused on reading at the expense of other disciplines
-Reduction in middle school music for savings of $181,000
-Limits in school library hours-$300,000 cut
-High School athletics and guidance counselors cut back
-Six custodian positions eliminated
-Special Education programs reduced
-Field trips, teacher training, food for faculty meetings…combined cuts of $1 million.

Berkeley is probably lucky in that it has an engaged and wealthy population willing to help out and lessen the blow of some of these cuts. How are other cities doing?

Monday, September 29, 2003

Old School Classics

It’s initially somewhat jarring to think of an album like The Future Sound of London’s 1992 debut full-length, Accelerator, as being “old school.” Jarring, maybe, because I’m not entirely sure what the term “old school” fully implies, while at the same time I share, at least with a few, the implicit agreement that by granting it such status we give ourselves a new set of tools with which to evaluate it, however tenuous.

I think, at the most basic level, that when an album begins to be referred to as “old school” it has passed some vaguely agreed upon criteria that allows it entry into a new historical echelon where it’s endowed with all sorts of interesting cultural signifiers and, most importantly, a kind of elevated, “classic” status.

Uh-Oh. Am I saying Accelerator is entering the canon and now endowed with all the privileges that come along with such a gesture? Sure. Well, let me make myself clear, because I, like many, find such things like the idea of canon's to be troublesome if not downright dubious. So, how about if it's just my own canon, mind you, just my own and maybe a few others. A personal canon, not one force-fed via the agreed upon curriculums of, say, various English departments in the university system. Like all canons, however, mine is a guide, and here we’re hoping to highlight one of the seminal works of electronic music from the early 90’s. I want to talk about its many commendable attributes and elevate its special status in my collection. I have an agenda. This album rocked my world, man!

Just how long must pass before something can be called “old school” is a topic of great concern for many. (And the term itself seems to apply generally to albums only, especially hip-hop, but increasingly I’ve seen it used when referring to old albums of electronic music.) From what I can tell, a decade seems to be the agreed upon threshold an album must travel before being endowed with this particular status, though I know there exists a strong contingency arguing for 15 to 20 years as well. They’re preparing their very own position papers as we speak, gearing up to launch an all-out campaign to reach as many music collectors as possible in hopes of persuading their allegiances to the simple idea that any culture living in the present must regulate its nostalgia for another time to cycles of (at a minimum) 15 to 20 years. This longer nostalgia cycle seems to be well established in the world of Fashion where, for example, 20 years prior is always so very now. Same with television, where each season introduces at least one popular sitcom that rides on the premise of making fun of what we looked like, talked like and consumed 20 years prior. (Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, The Wonder Years, That 70’s Show being some of the more popular and enduring examples of this.) Some folks, however, believe that the cycle for when we begin co-opting the cultural signifiers of a previous time and incorporating them into our own is speeding up, perilously growing closer to a time when we find ourselves overwhelmed with near-paralyzing nostalgia for the present. What we all share, I suppose, is a desire for agreed upon nostalgia boundaries, preferably our own. When it comes to music, a decade seems as good a number as any that must pass before granting an album with “old school” status.

We like out eras wrapped up in nice bows. We like them comprehensive. At the end of the 80’s and 90’s newsstands were flooded with retrospectives for the decade that had passed. Best, I find, are the glossy news magazines and their tidy and effective, The Decade in Pictures issues. Bathroom reading of the highest caliber, an editor’s ode to the zeitgeist of the last decade as revealed through images of natural destruction, war, athletic triumph, perfectly coifed politicians, twenty-five million a movie celebrities and a scattering of sparkling moments that represent what is commonly referred to as “the American spirit,” they act as easily digestible summaries of the previous ten years. Sometimes there’s a picture of people cheering, always there’s a picture of an extraordinary child and an act of heroism- of trapped men freed from mines and babies from wells. Looking at them, we have mini-eureka moments as we cast back all those years ago and recall elements of our shared popular history. But maybe it’s not really “history,” per se, but a kind of mythology. Some of those images, just a few, will go on to become potent entities of their own, acting as cultural signifiers that become a kind of short-hand for a more complex, grossly intertwined set of social and economic indicators. They’ll appear again and again alongside articles, books, documentaries and textbooks that seek to summarize or simply comprehend an era, accumulating more and more status as a touchstone for our collective understanding of a particular era. They’ll move further and further away from their original essence and take on all sorts of additional baggage. They become visual metaphors. Accelerator is one of those touchstones for me, a tool for understanding my own musical history as well as the larger more amorphous collective history of electronic music. It no longer packs the same punch it used to (time has not been kind to some of the tracks on the album) but as a signifier for where my own tastes and musical exploration were headed, I find it fascinating.

Accelerator’s most celebrated track, 1992’s top 20 UK hit, Papua New Guinea, has accumulated some interesting cultural baggage. After more then a decade, it now sits in the beginning of the 90’s and acts as a kind of port of entry into the then nascent IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) and Ambient movements. There was something about this track that was noticeably different from so much of the hardcore (‘ardkore) rave music surrounding it at the time. Sure, you could dance to it, but you could also recline in your armchair and read a book to it as well- at least that was the marketing construct the good folks at Warp Records used when they surveyed the scene, noticed the need and launched their Artificial Intelligence series, compiling some of the first ever CD recordings by folks like Autechre and The Black Dog. The music was more “intelligent” and “enduring” then the more “hedonistic” and “disposable” dance floor fodder. It was “electronic listening music.” Thus, the term Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) was birthed, with all its sticky connotations. And truth be told, there were many of us who were ready and waiting for such music. We were having a blast on the dance floor, sure, but sometimes we didn’t want all that sub-bass and pumping beats while we kicked back with a good book on a Sunday afternoon. Papua New Guinea acted as a kind of halfway house. It had a lazy, shuffling breakbeat (the same one, I believe, that propelled The Prodigy’s Charlie to such commercial success, who had, in turn, lifted it from Meat Beat Manifesto’s 1990 classic, Radio Babylon and where Jack Dangers took it from, I have no idea) a lovely seraphic sample of Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard, (taken from the track Host of Seraphim from their masterpiece, The Serpents Egg) and chugging reggae bass line (again, lifted from Radio Babylon) along with a heady mesh of samples (submarine “pings,” various industrial-like reverberations, a random house diva, etc.) that acted as polyrhythms or sonic splashes of sound.

All this talk about samples makes me think that I would like it very much if somebody would begin a website that traced samples from their origin (that is, the original, in all its pre-sampled wholesomeness) through its many appearances elsewhere, chronologically. Could you imagine somebody trying to catalog all the sampled appearances of James Brown’s infamous “Whoo! Yeah!” plundered from his Lynn Collins production of the mighty Think (About It)?

I don’t know much about Brian Dougans and Garry Cobain, the duo behind The Future Sound of London. Their public personas (that odd accumulation of characteristics gleaned from various reviews, interviews and press releases) painted them as a couple techno hippies conspiring to fuse the technological with the spiritual. They would have been perfect Wired cover boys, joining that impressionable readership as “digital revolutionaries.” (It took Wired a few years, but after Moby learned to play the kind of kick-ass capitalism game their readership craves, turning his songs into commercial jingles, they crowned him with a cover and the headline, “Tech-smart, self-effacing & supremely market savvy.”) Their own album covers were usually wonky collages of psychedelic imagery and fetishistic close-ups of gear. They seemed carefully constructed to appear as being on the forefront of gee-whiz cutting edge technology, guru’s living in a virtual world and creating their very own rainbow soundtrack using the most up to date equipment. Truth be told, back in the early 90’s I adored all this. Of course, part of it was my own desire to get my hands on all that cost-prohibitive musical equipment and joyfully while away my afternoons and evenings creating intricate sample-fuelled musical collages of my own. I couldn’t help but live a bit vicariously and cheer them on. I followed the downward arc of their output up through their mildly interesting1996 release, Dead Cities. After that, the duo seemed to stop recording all together, releasing their first new album of new material just last year, 2002's The Isness to less then enthusiastic response.

For me, Accelerator is lumped in with Aphex Twins’s Ambient Works 85-92, LFO’s Frequencies, the KLF’s Chill Out, Biosphere’s Microgravity, Reload’s A Collection of Short Stories, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, Ultramarine’s Every Man and Women is A Star, Jam and Spoon’s Stella single and all the artists featured on Warp Record’s first Artificial Intelligence compilation. Accelerator was also one of the first full-length albums of the electronic music representative of the acid/warehouse/house/techno/rave/ movement that was, by 1992, 4 years old and going strong in the UK but only just then becoming available (via imports) in the U.S. And it rocked my world. Passing that ten year mark, it can safely be hailed as an old school classic.

Accelerator’s first track, Expander, was something of a revelation. A big old driving funky break but with splashes of samples acting as polyrhythmic shadings. The production savvy was on par with the Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, only darker and far less meandering. The taut, innovative use of samples (such attention to detail!) coupled with the driving rhythm seemed to herald a new direction in electronic music.

Stolen Documents is like an early tech-house prototype, the drum programming, when they aren’t sampling beats, matched the best grooves coming out of Detroit- in fact, some jazzy Juan Atkins style synth chords fizz things up considerably. Again, the groove is paramount, with all sorts of samples shading things in a heady polyrhthmatic collage. There has always been something cinematic about their work, a kind of wide-screen grandeur, but where they excelled the most, especially on this album, was with the sound design. Behind all the grooves they were carefully creating exciting kaleidoscope collages of exuberantly manipulated sonics.

While Others Cry is definitely one of the album’s stand-out tracks. It has a loose, jazz-house feel to it, with a somber but oh, so soulful sample of a man (who?) singing “Day’s go by, people pray, days go by while others die.”. This was once a mix-tape favorite of mine. It’s a cross-over hit that never was. A beautiful vibes breakdown about mid-way through the song warms things up considerably and, again, the beat programming is never any thing less then sublime.

Calcium is a warning of things to come. The first 30 seconds of the song act as a harbinger of sorts to the kind of stoned meanderings (lost amongst a fine collection of samples carefully strained through all sorts of sound processors and turned into a fine mush) that would go on to plague the bands future work. That is, come later albums Dougans and Cobain would forfeit their prodigious talents as purveyors of the perfect blend of killer beats and textured samples and content themselves to wallow in what seem to be cannabis inspired soundscapes, so amorphous and murky they might as well have been swamp gas. Here, though, both were still residing on planet earth, and when the groove comes in accompanied by deep bass the song is at least catchy enough to demand some respect.

It’s Not My Problem comes from the same school as Front 242’s Headhunter or Cabaret Voltaire’s Don’t Argue, a couple of late 80’s pop-industrial dance floor anthems. A sample of a vanilla smooth politician is heard dryly intoning, “It’s not my problem,” over ricocheting beats and other sounds overheard at the apocalypse. To underscore all this, a drone at the songs end has a discombobulated vocal repeating, “Primarliy controlled and operated….” It's a reminder of just how much fun creepy can be.

1 in 8 (also known as Innate) is my favorite track on the album. A gritty beat builds up before a perfectly placed “Oh, wow” sample, full of wide-eyed Disney like wonder, ushers in a massive groove and rolling sub-bass. Throughout the album, Dougans and Cobain drop some killer bongo loops in to flush things out and add additional funk to the mix and never more successfully then here. They add some succulent bleeps and blonks and an absolutely killer house diva who demands that you, “Love me….Love me….Yeah!” It’s body poppin’ music of the highest caliber.

Pulse State is the album’s most blatant homage to Detroit techno. It nicely follows the Derrick May rule book, replicating his exquisitely delicate, ever-building drum programming (how he relishes the trebly hiss of the dancing cymbals) and there’s a slyly morphing, funky-ass glurp of a baseline- even some overtly inspired Strings-of Life string stabs too. Some heavenly choired synth pads enter into the proceeding and don’t help things much, but they don’t do too much damage.

Central Industrial, Accelerator’s last cut, begins with the sample, “We are the new generation.” It continues the vague political-conspiracy thread we find appearing in some of the songs. None of the tracks on the album are what one might first describe as joyful. The atmosphere’s they create, the landscapes they provide, the beats they lay down, all reside in the dark early morning hours of the future. They’re both soulful, like all the best Detroit tracks, (May’s Strings of Live, Underground Resistance’s Jupiter Jazz, Kenny Larkin’s Metaphor album, Model 500’s Night Drive) and futuristic, indebted as they are to the likes of George Clinton, Kraftwerk and those first Detroit Techno albums to reach the English shores in the Summer of '88.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Language is a Virus

It’s new student week at UC Berkeley. Packs of roaming freshmen have been clogging Telegraph along with the occasional baffled parent. I’ve noted a couple things. 1. That fashion trends, especially amongst young women, have remained stagnant for almost a decade now. The reigning trend continues to be the 70’s melded with a mélange of early 90’s hip-hop/rave/urban influences. This year it’s been all about hip-huggers and tank tops. 2. Milk crates and trash bags are still a great way to move your stuff from home to college.

Ahh, freshmen year! Such giddy potential! I remember walking into my dorm room at Ohio State (I had two other roommates along with a view, for what it's worth, of the Columbus skyline) and being horrified to see Budweiser cheesecake posters commandeering the walls. And one of my roommates was prone to playing classic rock mix tapes with unfortunate frequency. I remember opening my flimsy chest full of tapes (I would finally buy a CD player at the end of the school year, the Spring of 1990) with my two roommates standing before me to gage the all important collection.

I began holding up various cassettes. Had they ever heard of The The? Lloyd Cole and the Commotions? Love and Rockets? Siouxsie and the Banshees? The Smiths? The Cure? New Order? Big Audio Dynamite? Dead Can Dance? Laurie Anderson? This Mortal Coil? Cocteau Twins? The Pixies? Echo and the Bunnymen? Art of Noise? Wire? The Replacements? Kraftwerk? Depeche Mode? (though, “Violater” would enjoy cross-over success that Spring, thanks to the popularity of “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence”) Joy Division? Book of Love? The Jesus and Mary Chain? Nitzer Ebb? Cabaret Voltaire? Xymox? Shriekback? XTC? (If it was part of the late-80’s “Alternative” cannon, there’s a good chance I had it.) No, they hadn’t heard of any of them. My alternative rock credentials were firmly entrenched (I had stopped listening to the radio, more or less, by 8th grade and I wore that fact like a badge) thanks to the steady flow of interesting new music that trickled down through two older brothers, while my roommates were both heavy into the likes of Eric Clapton, Zeppelin, Bad Company, Queen and Aerosmith. I was sonically brutalized by murky mix-tapes featuring stunning feats of guitar froth wankery. It made me a more tolerant person. Of course, I’d never want to live through it again. I mean, my god, Bad Company?!

Winter quarter I attended a stunning Laurie Anderson concert (her Strange Angles tour) by myself, unable to interest anybody else on my floor to go with me, even after I played them O Superman , half expecting its hypnotic minimalist apocalyptic grandeur to act as a siren, luring them to the concert hall for more. I came back to the dorm positively flipped-out and made my roommates sit and indulge my inchoate attempts to explain the unexplainable. How do you, at 18, explain Anderson’s “voice of authority,” her sing/song elegance, her multimedia savvy, her haunting and hilarious and heartbreaking monologues, her dream logic? How to explain when I had been so affected by her highly palatable avant-garde abstractions that I felt nearly boundless, coming down from a post-show high and feeling as though I had been transported by the spectacle of something rarefied and utterly rich and strange. How to explain all that, without the context of her voice, her movements, her video and her music? Well, my roommates were kind enough to listen.

In high school I had listened to all of her albums religiously. She was one of my heroes. With my high school buddies, we practically wore out a video copy of Home of the Brave (the one with Adrian Belew and his bending guitar, the one with Anderson and William S. Burroughs dancing on stage, the one with White Lilly) and I couldn’t get enough of my treasured copy of her masterpiece, United States I-IV, which I had finally found my junior year of high school in a crappy mall record store. She was a making a living as a glorious freak and that definitely inspired us.

So freshman year was, in good part, about musical evangelism. The album I probably succeeded in turning the most people on to was Peter Gabriel’s Passion, his brilliant soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s much-maligned The Last Temptation of Christ. This may sound like a shallow achievement and in the grand scheme of things, there’s no doubt that it is, but then, to have half the floor marveling right along with you to the thrilling vocals of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was pretty terrific. In between there were classes, drinking, dancing (at Mean Mr. Mustards, the infamous and now sadly demolished alternative music bar on High Street, where one could hear Front 242’s Headhunter followed by the Cocteau Twins’s Lorelei) letter writing, late night conversation about Big Questions and Santa Barbara, the cheesy soap-opera that more then half the floor got hooked on and would pile into our room to watch each afternoon from 3:00 to 4:00. We gave it a couple months before our attention wandered off to making plans for returning home for summer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Why Italics?

A gremlin seems to have made its way into my blog. After "publishing" my last post, many of my previous posts magically up and converted entirely into italics. I have no idea why this is.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Phantoms of Lost Liberty Tour, 2003

Almost two years after its congressional passage in the wake of 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcrof kicked off a mini-tour to defend the Patriot Act this afternoon. He’s not looking for a dialogue, mind you, and he’s certainly not looking to interact with those who are out there scaring the pants off of “peace loving people with phantoms of lost liberty,” like, say, the 151 cities that have passed resolutions denouncing certain controversial provisions of the Patriot Act. You’re either with him, or you’re against him. Such “tactics only aid terrorists.” And here you thought you might have actually had some valid concerns about freedom, liberty and justice.

And what better place to begin then the good friends of the administration at The American Enterprise Institute", publisher of The American Enterprise magazine, whose current September 2003 issue is, get this, all about men! Not just any kind of man either, because as is made evident in their many features addressing masculinity today, we’re talking about a very special kind of man, one you’d be proud to bring home to meet the parents and Dick Cheney.

The table of contents for this month’s issue includes a piece by Steve Sailer explaining to his readers “why we want masculine leaders.” Another, by Christina Hoff Summers, warns subscribers that there’s a vast left-wing conspiracy afoot to “make our boys more docile and emotional.” (I just got back from tonight’s meeting. We’re finally ready to launch our “Boys ‘n Quilts 2003” campaign!) You can read that one here. It’s interesting to note that in making her case, to really bring it all jaw-droppingly home, Summers turns to the switchblade carrying scholar, Camille Paglia. (And really, all I want to know is where that long promised second half of Sexual Personae is.) Oh my, there’s even a mini-symposium made up of six “spunky” women (and women are, no doubt, innately spunky, right?) who discuss “What Women Think About Modern Manhood.” Some highlights:

“Manliness has experienced a renaissance for two reasons. The Bush/Cheney administration has set the tone for political culture. And 9/11, of course.”

“The post 9/11 love affair with police, firemen and soldiers is a return of normal relations between men and women.”

“I am distressed by the degree to which feminism still carries political weight.”

“Most people today never needed to be carried out of a burning building. But once they see 3,000 people that needed to be rescued, they know it takes men.”

“When men aren’t inculcated with manly virtues they become wimps, they become hoodlums.”

“Pat Moynihan warned us about about predatory males being raised by single moms.”

“There’s also the sex appeal of someone like Dom Rumsfeld. President Bush possesses this intangible something- you really saw it on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.”

All this to belabor the point, I suppose, that Ashcroft’s mini “Phantoms of Lost Liberty Tour,” was launched (and opening day is all that really matters here) in a redundant vessel. The good brothers and sisters at American Enterprise are all about beating back the same irksome flames of secular liberal-left relativism as the administration. I would, however, like to offer one bit of advice to those, no doubt, beef fed and hulking husbands of the “spunky” six quoted above- Clearly the bedroom is ripe for some pre-coital role-playing. These gals are practically screaming for a fireman named Iron John! Please, for god’s sake, rescue your women before the Astroturf completely takes over.

So Ashcroft, deep in the bosom of a fellow traveler, the requisite backdrop in place (it read, “Preserving Life and Liberty,”) let it be known, that these aren’t the droids we’re looking for. But first he capitalized on today’s tragic UN suicide bombing in Iraq by saying the following:

“This morning, terrorists struck the United Nations mission in Baghdad, killing at least 13 people and seriously injuring at least 120 others. The victims were innocent people who traveled to Iraq on a mission of peace and human dignity. Let me express sympathy to the victims and their loved ones.

“This morning’s attack again confirms that the worldwide terrorist threat is real and imminent. Our enemies continue to pursue ways to murder the innocent and the peaceful. They seek to kill us abroad and at home. But we will not be deterred from our responsibility to preserve American life and liberty, nor our duty to build a safer, more secure world.”

Terror, you see, is right there in Iraq, which is our burden now. Of course, those of us who might be challenged to ask just how today’s bombing in Iraq relates at all to the Patriot Act- those of us who might even wonder aloud just how, in fact, the war on Iraq was connected to 9/11 at all, would, no doubt, be told that it simply confirms that terrorist threats to our well-being, to our freedom, are real and present and that, thank god, the Patriot Act is there to stop such things from ever happening here. To even suggest, as John Mearsheimer, the Co-Director of the Program on International Security at the University of Chicago was emboldened to do so tonight on the News Hour, that we might have by invading Iraq created a target rich terrorist environment where once there was none, or that Ashcroft and the rest of the Administration have been ruthlessly exploiting and demeaning the veracity of the very real tragedy of 9/11 to advance a dangerous neo-conservative agenda, is to be labeled, as Ashcroft has already made clear, a traitor to the just cause. They know, as we do, that links between the 9/11 terrorists and Hussein’s Iraq don’t exist, but then, so what, most think otherwise. 9/11 is the great malleable onto which an even greater and deadlier agenda is enjoying, at long last, its moment. There are no shades of gray. There are men and there are women, there is good and there is evil, there is right and there is wrong.

Everyone else is pussy-whipped.
Spinning Away

Stewart Brand has called Brian Eno a “wandering clarifier.” I like that. Here’s an excerpt from an article he recently published. You can read it in its entirety here.

In the West the calculated manipulation of public opinion to serve political and ideological interests is much more covert and therefore much more effective. Its greatest triumph is that we generally don't notice it - or laugh at the notion it even exists. We watch the democratic process taking place - heated debates in which we feel we could have a voice - and think that, because we have 'free' media, it would be hard for the Government to get away with anything very devious without someone calling them on it.

It takes something as dramatic as the invasion of Iraq to make us look a bit more closely and ask: 'How did we get here?' How exactly did it come about that, in a world of Aids, global warming, 30-plus active wars, several famines, cloning, genetic engineering, and two billion people in poverty, practically the only thing we all talked about for a year was Iraq and Saddam Hussein? Was it really that big a problem? Or were we somehow manipulated into believing the Iraq issue was important and had to be fixed right now - even though a few months before few had mentioned it, and nothing had changed in the interim.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

"This Time I Bite..."

Poor Audrey Tautou. That’s what I was thinking as I watched Stephen Frear’s new film, Dirty Pretty Things the other night. She’s carrying a lot of Amelie baggage in this picture, her first in an English speaking role and certainly one whose international distribution will rival, if not surpass, anything else she’s starred in before or since. Dirty Pretty Things features a glamorous and sultry shot of Tautou in profile (with a hint of naked shoulder) on its marketing poster. You could be irked that such a scene never appears in the film, or you could applaud the fact that Tautou manages to avoid any resemblance (other then she’s devastatingly charming) to her powerful work in Amelie and embodies, very believably, the character of a Turkish refugee (the accent rarely falters) struggling to get by in London.

The women sitting behind us, however, cooed every time Tatou appeared on the screen. According to an article I recently read, over 25 million people have seen Amelie- and clearly the powerful impression this role has left was still resonating with these (there were 3 of them, each weighing in repeatedly) viewers. “Oh, she’s so cute,” they’d remark, when clearly what she was doing on screen, working at a sweatshop, for example, or contemplating the selling of her kidney, was obviously anything but adorable. Their relationship to Senay, the Turkish refugee she was playing, seemed palpably defined by her turn as Amelie- as if any moment they expected her to begin anew her good works with garden gnomes.

The film she’s actually in, a refreshingly multiethnic mainstream feature with working class sympathies and a tidy, if not entirely successful plot “straight from the headlines,” revolves around a scrappy gang made up, more or less, of illegal immigrants and their morally twisted confrontations with the exploitive and seamy underbelly poking through the so-called better life. Chiwetel Ejiofor, as Okwe, oozes noble compassion. He cares deeply, maybe even too much. He’s the film’s conscience, its moral backbone. As such, he’s never given the chance to properly stretch out and do something other then radiate wholesomeness. He veers dangerously close to embodying the unfortunate Hollywood template for the kind, wise and stately African that Morgan Freeman has held for years. He, like everything else about this film, however, manages to hover just beyond its more generic underpinnings and offers something oddly moving and compelling.

A lot of what works with this picture is the dissonance that comes from how it weaves so brashly between humor and tragedy. There’s a queasy undertow at work and Frears never seems to reconcile the two. A couple of immigration enforcement officers have a manic, cartoonish quality to them, bursting into otherwise somber scenes like a couple of keystone cops. There’s a hooker who morphs from coyly malevolent (did she stuff that human heart down the toilet? you’re led to believe) into a hooker with a heart of gold. Sergi Lopez, playing Sneaky, struts and hams through almost every scene he’s in like some kind of vaudeville villain while his actions are, in contrast, shrewd and barbaric. Benedict Wong, as Guo Yi, is a mortuary attendant who deadpans some of the film’s most slyly hilarious lines. It’s a strange energy being thrown off, both wacky and earnest, and while this gives the film its intriguingly off-kilter vibe, it also acts to stop the film from ever settling into a groove. It ends up feeling like it could have used a few more minutes in the oven.

There’s a powerful bow wrapping up the film’s final moments. Tautou and Ejiofor handle its unraveling beautifully. It’s deceptive though, communicating something between its two characters with an enormity not entirely deserved. Still, there’s no resisting, for a moment at least, its magnanimity.
Cathy and i went hiking for a few days in the Stanislaus National Forest this past week. Had a great time hiking around some gigantic sequoias. They aren’t as tall as the coastal redwoods, mind you, but they're definitely wider. Man alive, do they have circumference! Serious girth. Damn. They're freaky wide and glorious to behold. (The third FAQ addressed on the National Park Service’s special Redwoods National and State Parks website asks, after the more practical, “Where are the parks?” and “When are the parks closed,” reads, “Is there a drive-through tree?” and reveals, I believe, that yearning for transcendence so many of us crave and that is satisfied only by driving one’s car through a tree.)

I can’t thing of any other object (natural or otherwise) that so overwhelms and majestically frames a human body. It always provides this exquisite rush of displacement and a poetic punch of context. I’m always left fumbling a bit, thinking, “gee, we’re so…small.” You can’t help but feel a little swept up by the grandeur of it all. And yes, damnit, I am always left with that vague and nagging feeling that it does feel reminiscent of the forest moon of Endor. But who could begrudge Lucas these trees? They are otherworldly.

And while we didn't see any of the heralded Ewoks (or Hobbits, for that matter) we did have bears and plenty of horse manure. The bears came into our campsites (we stayed at designated public campsites) each night, though we never saw any ourselves, only hearing stories of their nocturnal escapades from other campers in the morning. "Hear about the bear?" somebody might ask us, toothbrush in hand. "A couple of them were outside my tent last night, they even picked up my cooler and moved it. I think there might have been two, but my little boy swears he saw a whole bunch of other crazy stuff in the surrounding woods.” We'd nod and think, "What happens if your kid accidentally goes to sleep with a squeeze tube of Chunky peanut butter under their pillow in the tent? What then?" Has this happened before? Did I miss these segments on America’s Funniest Home Videos or in the pages of National Geographic? Or does this never happen?

The first night we camped I awoke sometime in the middle of the night (let’s say 2:30ish) to the sounds of a little girl crying. It’s a terribly distressing sound, a kid crying in the distance under what was, I might add, a full moon and in the middle of an otherwise silent campground. Spooky, that’s for sure. The mind’s little scenario factory starts up and conjures all sorts of possibilities. My best guess, and probably the most rational and likely, was that she was on one of her first camping trips and awoke disoriented and, well, it simply scared the hell out of her to realize she wasn’t in her big-girl bed anymore and that the nightlight was suddenly missing and so her little newly constructed monster factory started up and conjured all sorts of possibilities of its own. She cried for a minute or two longer before somebody successfully managed to quiet her.

The next night I woke up to another creepy sound. Not coyotes- at least I don’t think they were, because I’ve heard coyotes before and these didn’t sound like coyotes. “Maybe they were wolves?” Cathy wondered in the morning. Maybe. They were spookier sounding than the little girl, that’s for sure. Here’s why. They seemed to be replicating that grossly phantasmagoric howl Peter Jackson’s sound designer’s have created and used for the Wringwraiths in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. I lay there in the cocoon of my sleeping bag and awoke just enough to appreciate the tinge of dread such a sound brings to the camping experience. Isn’t this part of the allure of camping, of setting up tent under that canopy of trees and on a bed of needles and sleeping out under the stars? To get…closer to nature? Of course, if that’s so, there’s a part of me that thinks it’s important to reclaim whatever it was I heard from the arguably shallow fate of being understood only by its resemblance to a particular Hollywood sound-designers potent concoction. What was it really? What purpose does the howling serve? Why do we always want to describe this sound as “lonesome?”
My ignorance disappoints me. But still, I wonder and don’t think it the least bit shallow- will the third and final chapter of the trilogy maintain the high enchantment standards of the first two installments?

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Some selected quotes from a front page article(To Mollify Iraqis, U.S. Plans To Ease Scope Of Its Raids) in last Thursday’s NYT’s…

-BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 6- The American military, in a major revision of strategy, has decided to limit the scope of its raids in Iraq after receiving warning from Iraqi leaders that they were alienating the public, the top allied commander said today.

-It was a fact that I started to get multiple indicators that maybe our iron-fisted approach to the conduct of op was beginning to alienate Iraqis,” General Sanchez said, referring to military operations. “I started to get those sensing from multiple sources, all the way from the Governing Council down to average people.

-…Iraqis have complained that during these raids too many of those rounded up by American troops were not Baath Party operatives but ordinary citizens. They say the American tactics have been too aggressive and not sensitive enough to Iraqi culture and traditions.

-…the new American approach also reflects a recognition that widespread raids could unintentionally be creating a reservoir of support for the insurgents or even spurring revenge attacks by ordinary citizens.

(Here comes the whopper, hold on…)

-The general added that Iraqi leaders who supported the allies had indicated they understand the goal of the American raids, but that some had expressed concern over their effects on the Iraqi population.

(Here it comes…)

Their message, he said, has been that “when you take a father in front of his family and put a bag over his head and put him on the ground, you have had a significant adverse effect on his dignity and respect in the eyes of his family.” General Sanchez said the message from the Iraqis was that in doing this, you create more enemies than you capture.

Sheesh! It’s a good thing Lt. Gen. Sanchez has those insightful and supportive leaders keeping him up to date on those exotic and downright bizarre Iraqi cultural traditions! Here in the United States, having a group of nervous and ornery 20-somethings raid a nice little suburban home in a gated community replete with their M-16’s cocked and trigger fingers itching is, granted, a rare thing, but perfectly acceptable. It’s the price we pay for our freedom, you know? And to imagine that any young, corn-fed father, dragged from his bed in the middle of the night, a burlap sack placed tightly over his head and thrown down on that perfectly manicured lawn of his and interrogated by gunpoint would feel anything but calm, rational understanding (his wife and kids, one imagines, might raise their sleepy heads amidst the ruckus only to sheepishly smile in patriotic acquiescence once they took in the scene of their husband/father being dragged away by the freedom fighters) is hard to imagine. “How can I help you fellas,” he might helpfully offer. We’re used to this iron-fisted approach. The Iraqi’s however, having never tasted sweet freedom, obviously don’t understand that we just want to help them. We’ve got a great big old super-sized order of Freedom for them. Do they want fries with that, or are they going to want something totally weird like, say, hummus?
Remember Jack Whittaker ? Of course you don’t. He won the largest ever Powerball lottery drawing last December. Whittaker was already a millionaire, the owner of numerous construction companies, so his winning of additional millions was more than just a little annoying. He’s also a member of the Church of God, and promised to use some of his earning to do “good works.” This too, I’m afraid, is more than just a little annoying. Obviously losing a little sleep as he recalled that sunday-school nonsense about it being easier for a camel to travel through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the old kingdom, Whittaker promised to give over 10% of his winnings to the Chruch before he went and spent any himself! Wow, Jesus Christ, what tremendous largesse! So what of the other 90%? What were the good works Jack had in mind for himself? This from last Wednesday’s “National Briefing” section in the NYT’s:

WEST VIRGINIA: LOTTERY WINNER ROBBED AT STRIP CLUB- More than $500,000 was stolen from a sport utility vehicle that a Powerball millionaire parked at a strip club, but the money was recovered, a sheriff’s deputy said. A briefcase with $245,000 in cash and three blank $100,000 cashier’s checks was taken from the vehicle of the lottery winner, Jack Whittaker, who received a $113 million option jackpot after winning a record $314.9 million prize on Dec. 25. The cash and checks were found behind a trash bin. A sheriff’s deputy said Mr. Whittaker carried large sums of money because he liked to gamble.

Apparently, Mr. Whittaker likes a little T & A alongside the Lord's work. To paraphrase our fearless leader, "I am mindful that we're all sinners."

Sunday, August 03, 2003

I run across them from time to time, these neglected and nearly forgotten CD’s in my collection. When did I buy this Egberto Gismonti CD? Must have been a few years back when I was on a heavy Brazilian music kick and willing to give just about any Brazilian album made between the years 1968 to 1975 a try. (Honestly, this span of time isn’t nearly as arbitrary as it seems- it’s a glorious sweet-spot in the history of modern Brazilian music- a crazy intersection where all sorts of interesting genres of music fortuitously collided and artists were throwing off masterpieces left and right.)

Gismonti's album, from 1969, isn't one of those masterpieces. There's some of Baden Powell's flair in his guitar playing, but he's not nearly as adventerous. He hops amongst genre's and sprinkles about some nice sit-up-and-listen moments. He whittles a little pop, mixes in a dollop of bossa-nova together with some e-z crooning cheese and tops it all off with some nice classical guitar instrumentals. Not bad, but I’m still afraid of those ECM releases of his. One fears for Manfred Eicher's patented Wall Of Sheen, keeping all his productions germ-free for decades after their release. That's not an entirely fair assessment, I'm afraid, but it sure is true of dozens of those late 70's and 80's ECM productions of Eichers. So many of them sound like they were recorded in my doctor's check-up room- there's something about them that smells of steralized laytex and Soft-Scrub.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

You know you’re with a good bunch of folks when it’s mutually decided that those first two hours you’ve all spent browsing Powell’s main bookstore in Portland wasn't nearly enough time- that, in fact, another half hour is not only necessary, but vital. Such was the case last weekend when Cathy and I visited our friends, Rob and Katie.

One of the things I like about Powell’s (and there are many things to like about a bookstore that seems to take up an entire city block and is filled with so many tantalizing books) is the old, used ‘n musty trade paperbacks you can find. I like those high-end Vintage trade paperbacks, too- they look great, feel great, hell, they even smell great but they also cost more than double the mass-trade paperbacks, now seemingly reserved for romances, legal thrillers, science fiction and Stephen King only. Works denoted as “serious fiction” are not to be cheapened by the associations now tied to mass-pulp. For example, Vintage recently dressed up the collective works of Philip K. Dick (previously available in mass-pulp editions) in hopes of attracting the new, more status conscious reader. These new high end paperbacks also assuage the fears of those readers who fret over whether or not science fiction is in fact “serious” literature. Each comes stamped with the obligatory New York Times quote/seal of approval. Would I prefer these high-end editions? You bet. What’s a bummer, as I already mentioned, is that they’re a bit cost prohibitive for those of us not necessarily rolling in the bling bling and who like to buy and read more then a few books a year. It would be nice to have the option, but it seems like the only time “serious” works of fiction or non-fiction get the mass-pulp treatment is if they’re made into bloated Hollywood product.

This wasn’t always the case. Before book publisher’s realized that there was a lucrative market for high end trade paperbacks, “serious” literature also made the journey from stately hardback to cheap compact pulp. Thousands of them have found a cozy temporary retirement on the shelves at Powell’s. Oh, and they’re terribly cheap. I picked up 4 of them, each under $4 and all in great condition. Here’s what I got.

The White Album: Joan Didion
Ray Bradbury: The Machineries of Joy
Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Watchers: Tom Wolfe
The Woman in the Dunes: Kobo Abe

There were tons and tons more, of course, and I had to pass up dozens, but my own shelves are already overflowing with books I’ve yet to read. Sadly, they didn’t have the book I was most interested in finding, John Woodmorappe’s Noah’s Arc: A Feasibility Study.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Stephen Daldry’s screen adoptation of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Hours,” (if you’re suddenly thinking to yourself, as I presently am, that the 13 words that proceeded the comma at the beginning of this aside read like a million other generic reviews and that, yes, it would probably be a good thing- a great thing even, to avoid beginning any review in so clichéd a way- if you’re thinking that, or even an approximation of it, then I want to buy you a beer! ) manages, for the films first two-thirds at least, to be one of the finest major studio melodrama’s of last year. Not that there was much competition. Gangs of New York is probably the only other major studio release that connected more often to the kind of swooning pathos The Hours was striving for. There were certainly a number of other mainstream-big-studio-Hollywood releases infused with hearty strains of melodrama (like Signs, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 8 Mile, Minority Report, Panic Room, Road to Perdition, Insomnia, Changing Lanes, Solaris, Attack of the Clones) but in each of these films the atmosphere was usually more impressive (and distracting) then the film’s emotional content, which, when present, came across like bland expository stuffing. 8 Mile, for example, Curtis Hanson’s Karate-Kid update starring Eminem (who does, now that I think about it, share some terribly unexploited similarities with Ralph Macchio) hustles its pathos into awkward kitchen-sink/trailer park scenes between Eminem and his mother, played by Kim Basinger. These scenes, while dripping with atmosphere (you can practically smell the dreams deferred) seem obligatory and blunt. They’re exposition enrichment! Their purpose comes, I believe, from the nervous tinkering of those School of Business Management graduates who are more adept and interested in the artistry of executive finance then film. “The studios no longer make movies primarily to attract and please moviegoers,” Pauline Kael wrote in her seminal essay, “Why Are Movies so Bad? Or The Numbers”, “they make movies in such a way as to get as much as possible from the prearranged and anticipated deals.” Executives want a guaranteed $90 million 3000 screen opening on Memorial Day weekend, at least $50 million in oversees revenues, $60 million from video/DVD and, if all goes well, $40 million for pay-television/airline/cable rights- or if they already own any one of the Big 3 networks, in addition to some of those cable channels...well, in that case, at least a $40 million from ad revenue over 20 years and a projected 100 airings. (This does, after all, include cable, where 100 re-runs is a gross underestimate and where repeated viewings of a single movie like “Back to the Future” on TNT can run into the thousands...though each showing chips away at its ability to attract revenue.) Scripts are re-written a dozen, two dozen or more times whereby all nuance, poetry and subtlety is paved over by a franchise mentality. 8 Mile, while not a sequel, walks in the footsteps of films like Rocky and Karate Kid. It replicates those films proven systems of operation; loser struggles, loser becomes even more of a loser, loser becomes a hero in films final 10 minutes by defeating the true loser. A film like 8 Mile is not unlike McDonalds introducing a new hamburger. It may market itself as something new and exciting but chances are it’s going to taste a lot like a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Still, until the final act of The Hours, Daldry and his fine cast manage to avoid most of these clichéd pitfalls and it’s pleasure to watch, with numerous scenes that throw off sparks of honesty and, more importantly, a rare tendency to lean toward a kind of trust for the intelligence of its audience that most mainstream Hollywood films eschew as box office poison.

What is it about the final half hour of The Hours, then, that’s so unfortunate? It all begins to go downhill the moment Ed Harris’s character, Richard, commits suicide. Probably one reason is because each of the leads (Kidman, Moore, Streep) have done much better work in other recent films. Kidman’s Oscar, for example, should have come for her turn in 2001’s Moulin Rouge where she demonstrated a range that leapt from hilarious and sexy hamming to lump in the throat tragic. And she sang and danced with more verve than either Catherine Zeta Jones (too clunky) or Rene Zellweger (I was afraid she was going to fall and shatter) in the flat and disappointing Chicago. In The Hours she relies too much on physical ticks to convey Woolf’s “otherness.” Moore should have won this year’s Oscar for her similar performance (similar, but with a lot more freedom to shade her performance- the result is exquisite) in Todd Haynes’s brilliant film, Far From Heaven, where she gave her best performance since Haynes’s other masterpiece, Safe. And Meryl Streep was hilarious in Jones’s Adaptation, showing an easy-going charm for comedy she rarely gets a chance to exhibit. While each actor is quite good in The Hours, too often they’re forced to step up to the plate and offer to the viewer palatable nuggets of the profound that awkwardly call attention to the studio’s need to remind the audience that it’s watching a tour de force or Oscar bait. “You’re watching some serious, heady stuff!” Kidman, especially, is made to offer up lines that glows like highlights from a copy of Cliff Notes- one or two sentence summaries encapsulating some of the film’s “Major Themes.” And we know why they’re there. Hollywood never trusts its audience to understand films that strive for even a modicum of depth and complexity. The wizards of finance are terrified of nuance...of the unexplained, of losing the audience. Kidman’s Woolf is made to wallow back into the shallows, plant her feet firmly on terra firma and offer expository laxatives to those perceived viewers who might, the executives fret, be blocked with confusion. To those of us who aren’t confused, and I reckon that’s most, such intrusions can be exasperating. The actresses are made to step awkwardly out of character and pander to executive fears and bottom lines. They might as well pause, allow the director and writer to come forward and pontificate on what it all means. It’s a classic case of the timidity that runs through so many of Hollywood’s dramas and it intrudes upon the vitality of each actor’s performance.

Another reason the film crumbles is because you realize that so many of those supporting actors hovering competently about (Stephen Dillane, Jack Rovello, John C. Reilly, Allison Janney and Claire Danes) aren’t really characters at all- they’re more like warm blankets in a film that works to undermine all elements of the cozy. Its themes could be articulated as, “Life is grim- end yours (Kidman), flee from it (Moore), or face it head on, suffer its consequences and find what exactly (Streep)? Grace? All these characters, especially cute little nubin, Jack Rovello, are there not as actors but as soothing lubricants. I mean, none of them really ads up to much, do they? Especially Janney and Danes, whose function seems to be to give Streep’s Clarissa hugs and kisses.

In the last half hour, The Hours wants to provide the audience with sweet resolution. It’s the worst kind of pandering. It expects this is what we want, that this is what we paid our money for. It provides a cathartic powwow between Clarissa and Laura (Moore) that offers up a lot of tears and trembling but is glaringly at odds with all that has come before it. It’s a kind of reconciliation for all the doubts and mistakes each character has made. It’s very sweet, but is it honest? The first two-thirds of the film seem to be saying one thing- that art helps us to survive, that it can offer catharsis and that art intertwines with and enriches our little lives. That is to say, that great art doesn’t offer definitive resolutions but rather, numerous avenues of possibility. When Streep turns off that light at the film’s end, the very light that first baths her warm smile of acceptance and grace in the most ingratiating of yellows, are we to understand that her character has found peace? Philip Glass’s score seems to want to coax us in that direction. His embalming repetitions suddenly arc up into a sugar sighing sweetness that the rest of the film has fought so hard to repress. This is followed by Kidman’s Woolf wading into the water. Her suicide is portrayed as grossly romantic and another kind of redemption without sticky consequences. It’s beautiful to look at and certainly very sad, but it’s forced through you like a spoonful of castor oil for fear that you might leave the film feeling anything but cleansed.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

The impossibility over the past few days to get anybody in the administration to give a direct, unequivocally straight answer regarding Bush’s false claim in his State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to purchase enriched uranium from Africa (in particular, Niger) has been frustrating to watch. Frustrating because this story has been smoldering for so long now and the mainstream press has been all but silent about it except for a few columnists (Nicholas Kristof at the Times, who sometimes drives me crazy with his nagging air of righteousness, has been particularly fantastic in asking the real question, “what did the administration know about the claim and when did the know it?”) who have helped to make it into a small fire. Josh Marshall of Talking Points has been doing a stellar job over the last few days of assembling and dissecting the comments of each player as they’re now (finally) weighing in. Take some time to read Marshall’s comments over the last few days (beginning with his July 7th post, quoting at length Ari Fleischer’s fumbling attempt to answer the questions of an on the ball reporter and ending with today’s bomb from CBS News which headlines, Bush Knew Iraq Info Was False) . One of the administration’s most pressing claims for pre-emptive war against Iraq is, as is becoming more and more transparent, a lie.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

I’ve seen and read a lot about the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S. since moving to the Bay area a couple years ago. Moving from Chicago (rated by Men’s Fitness magazine as the 2nd fattest city in the U.S-) to Berkeley it was amazing to see just how much more fit people out here seemed to be in addition to how much things like nutrition, exercise, portion size and general health consciousness were mainstreamed. And I’m not just talking about the prevalence of this regions organic/No-GMO movements, although their activism and advocacy has, no doubt, played an important role. It seems to me like folks out here are simply more aware, more demanding and more concerned about what they eat and how it effects their physical and mental health and have been for far longer than probably anywhere else in the U.S. Perhaps the biggest contributing factor to this "healthy diet consciosness"comes from the massive accumulation of wealth in this area. And with that heavy concentration of wealth comes access to quality grocery stores with wide selections of fresh foods as opposed to low-income neighborhoods and their over-priced corner stores and fast-food restaurants. Returning to Chicago earlier this Summer, both Cathy and I were overwhelmed by how many overweight people we saw. Even more disheartening, overweight people wearing various articles of spandex and sweating profusely. Too many Vienna Beef smoothies perhaps?

According to the Center for Disease Control, “Recent results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicate that an estimated 61 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese.” You’re overweight or obese if your body mass index (BMI) rates 25 or more. Here’s a handy calculator for you to figure out your own. I’m currently at 24.9. I’m clearly living dangerously on the edge. I figure I’m a Krispy Kreme away from pudgy.