Thursday, February 27, 2003

A Few Notes on Star Trek: Enterprise

First, that song:

That awful freakin’ Diane Warren penned theme song. “I’ve got faith of the heart…” Like a cut that didn’t make it onto the Footloose soundtrack. Like the “Extra Syrup” in canned pears, way past its “freshness date,” turned power ballad. (We are, after all, in the realm of sci-fi and anything is plausible if not necessarily pleasing.) Like Bryan Adams barebacking Michael Bolton. Like a Hallmark sentiment drowning in sonic gruel. Like inspiration neutered. Must we listen? No, that’s what the mute button is for.


We didn’t watch any of the first season. Star Trek Voyager had left a bad taste in our mouth, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because Captain Janeway was so terribly inferior to Picard who was, like, so terribly awesome it was scary. Maybe it was her schoolmarmish uptightness and the fact that we rarely got to hang with her in the teachers lounge. Who knows. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we agree- it was about time a woman was in the Captain’s chair, definitely, but Janeway, with her hair up in that beehive ‘do and those lips perpetually pursed, was never anything but brittle and steely. Always so damn determined. She lacked a chewy center, the rich and mysterious nougat that flowed through Picard and gave him his humanity. Oh, well. That being so, we approached Enterprise warily, hopes concealed.

Some Other Shows:

We came around at the beginning of this, the second season, craving ritualistic Wednesday night entertainment. We usually give ourselves one television show a year. We’re like little fish in prime-time’s murky stream…we’re looking for tasty bait and more then willing to get hooked. In years past we’ve been reeled in by E.R., (we gave it a couple seasons and quickly wearied of its $13 million dollars an episode tendency to degenerate into dully edited medical emergency montages wherein character development, never its strong suit to begin with, became secondary to manic triage) X-Files, (we began watching way past what the diehards claim to be its prime, not that we cared, and usually enjoyed the moody conspiracy episodes along with the platonic slow boil of Scully and Mulder) Dark Angel, (which we came to call “Dork Angel” and where we reveled in the lushness of Jessica Alba’s lips and its overall campy, post-apocalyptic sci-fi fun) and finally, 24 (where we quickly wearied of the shows misogynistic unflappability and skipped the second half of the season, tuning in one last time for the finale, where the show bluntly revealed how it really felt about women by putting a bullet in the back of Teri Baur’s head.) We’ve yet to miss an episode which gives you some indication of what our Wednesday nights are like.

Enterprising Potential:

Enterprise is still finding its feet. Its cast/crew and writers have yet to congeal and enjoy the relaxed comradery that graced the Next Generation. There are none of those endearing mini-relationships that the Next Generation excelled in (Geordi and Data, Picard and Guinan, Riker and Troi) and that helped us to learn and care about the characters. Too often Enterprise’s principal cast (Captain Archer, T’Pol, Trip, Phlox, Malcolm, Hoshi and Travis) are lumped together in scenes that feel obligatory and lacking in any empathy for their shared experiences. Entire episodes go by without any sense of who the characters are (and might be) or a sense of how to include and expand upon their singularities within the drive of the narrative. Too often a particular episode relies on basic character infrastructure (Archer = Captain, T’Pol = Chief Science Officer, Trip =Chief Engineer) and ends up treating them as generic props rather then a collection of complex attributes. They don’t seem to be asking, “What would Archer really do in this situation based on the history we’ve created for him?” The characters do, however, interface with lots of futuristic looking technology. There are neat special effects. I don’t mean to be flippant because it’s never less then interesting but we want intergalactic poetry.

The show is best when it plays with the time-space continuum. It’s yet to find an enemy as creepy and fun as the Next Generation’s Borg or Q, but it has come up with a terrific idea in the Temporal Cold War. The time-travelling operative, Daniels, is a ton of fun (especially his sealed-off quarters on Enterprise, where Archer and T’Pol enter into from time to time to learn about the future) and the Shockwave episode that kicked off this season (Archer trapped in the ruins of the 31st century and trying to return to the 22nd) aspired and lived up to the show’s potential for giddy grandeur. More of that, right?

The Cast:

Scott Bakula is no Picard but he’s definitely more appealing then Janeway. More Phys Ed. teacher to her Assistant Principle. Maybe that’s why he takes his shirt off so often? It’s taken a while, but I think Bakula has shaken most of his Quantum Leap baggage/personae (when I first began watching, I was half expecting that dandyish dude to show up with that little Ziggy diviner, or whatever it was, and whisk him away) and is coming (slowly) into his own as Captain Archer. He struggles when he needs to be step up to the plate and be Captain, demonstrating his leadership through tantrums and boilerplate declarations. He has none of Picard’s easy Shakespearian grace, where a pause, an arched eyebrow, the hint of a grin or grimace conveyed delicious multitudes. In fact, there’s a blandness about him, a sun baked Los Angeles monotony that he has a hard time shaking. Still, we’re hopeful. He’s best in comic moments, like the other week when he wondered aloud to T’Pol if, by chance, humans and Vulcans were to mate, if the child would have pointy ears.

Jolene Blalock as T’Pol has, first and foremost, large breasts. And my god, what’s up with that one piece gray jumpsuit she’s made to wear week after week!? Like the folks in wardrobe stole one of those industrial strips of carpet that line the entrances of grocery and convenience stores, made some mammary alterations and snuggly wrapped it around her.

She’s a Vulcan, so she can’t express human emotions and all, but T’Pol is so relentlessly inexpressive that she’s beginning to bore us. Did we miss the episode where she’s infected by an alien virus that strips away her logic and replaces it with irrational emotions? That would be fun. So much potential. Or how ‘bout the episode where she and Archer finally get it on? You know it’s coming. They’ll eventually get hitched. What’s the holdup? Do the shows writers really think that by falling back on the tried and true sitcom machination of creating unresolved sexual tension and barely repressed boobalicious longing (Archer earlier this season: “I’m doing the breast that I can!”) that titillated (yes, emphasis on the first syllable) viewers will keep coming back for more? Well, maybe. But Star Trek has never been about romance, it’s always been about 60’s idealism and utopianism- it’s about exploring new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations and, most importantly, boldly going where no one has gone before- so what’s the wait? Archer needs to boldly get into T’Pol’s industrial carpet and the writer’s need to stop baiting us. There are far too many interesting stories to explore and by focusing on their relationship and expediting this romance instead of stringing us along (usually this kind of thing goes until the final season) the writer’s could open up all sorts of interesting Pandora’s boxes and have some real fun with what comes tumbling out. Part of the fun of watching Star Trek comes from the interesting quirks alien species are endowed with, and other then the Klingons, no other alien life form has been flushed out more then Vulcans. Having Archer and T’Pol get together seems so ripe with opportunities hitherto unexplored that it seems silly to exploit their potential as an overplayed romantic device rather then as kindling for interesting stories.

John Billingsley’s Phlox is the show’s secret weapon. Billingsley is the best actor on the show, certainly the actor most tuned in to the nuances of his character, and every scene he’s in comes alive with his sense of fun and good timing. He makes us laugh. He’s a wise Buddha with a hint of naughtiness (the recent episode where he tries to talk Trip into sexual relations with his visiting wife, as is his species custom, allowed that particular aspect to bloom) and an unflappable expression of detached insouciance always in place. He’s been far too regulated to the margins of each episode and we’d love it if they’d give him more then just a supporting role. And bring back his wife!

It’s been the season of Trip. Malcolm Reed, more so then any other character, seems to have benefited the most from the writer’s attention this season. Like Billingsley’s Plox, Reed seems to be having fun, inflating Trip with a ingratiating southern charm and a boyish sense of adventure. Like Bakula, the writer’s are always on the lookout for new opportunities to shed him of his shirt and he’s happy to oblige.

Briefly, the rest of the crew:

Dominic Keating’s Malcolm Reed is in need of some attention. As it stands he’s too prissy and whiney for us to care all that much about him.

Linda Park has some potential as Hoshi, but so far the writer’s don’t know what to do with her other then sit on the bridge and translate.

Travis, as played by Anthony Montgomery, has chiseled model good looks and the accompanying blank stare. His acting is equally vacant.

We’re looking forward to the rest of the season.
"We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes."
-Fred Rogers

Last year I read Jonathan Kozol’s Ordinary Resurrections, a very personal (and moving) book about Kozol’s time spent with the children of Mount Haven, a neighborhood located in the South Bronx. While there his friend, Fred Rogers, asked if he could visit and spend some time with the children there.

“When Mr. Rogers came here to Mott Haven, there was a stampede of children wanting to be close to him. They treated him as if they’d known him for a long, long time- which, in a sense, they had. He treated them as if he knew them too. He didn’t make a lot of general remarks about them later on. He spoke of individuals.

“He knows so much more than most people do about the lives and personalities of children; but he didn’t let himself be drawn to any overquick conclusions. He asked the children many questions. He asked the mothers and grandmothers questions too. He also gave them time to answer. I never thought about ‘prescriptive overconfidence’ while he was there. I thought of someone walking in the woods and being careful not to step on anything that lives.”

There are so few nationally recognizable advocates for our nation’s children, in fact, I’m having a hard time thinking of anybody with namebrand recognition. How sad. But look, it really is a beautiful day in the neighborhood- the sun is shining, cherry blossoms are blooming, trees are budding and little yellow wildflowers are popping up everywhere. I’m going to put on my sneakers and a sweater and take a walk.

Friday, February 21, 2003

German director Sandra Nettelbeck’s second film, Mostly Martha, was a big hit here in the East Bay this past autumn. It was held over at the Albany Cinema (a big old movie house that exhibits “independent” and foreign film) longer then any movie since we’ve been here. Cathy and I missed it for a variety of reasons though I do recall the following being said in its disfavor: “I don’t know if I’m in the mood for a food film.” Given that the person offering this has a great passion for food, particularly food preparation which involves long hours in the kitchen (the end result being, it goes without saying- though I will- a fiesta for the mouth) I was sympathetic and offered other choices for her approval.

Some past food films:
-Big Night
-Eat, Drink, Man, Woman
-Like Water For Chocolate

Martha (Martina Gedeck) is the head chef of a high end Hamburg restaurant. Gedeck is a revelation, sharing with the American actresses Hope Davis and Laura Linney a reticent radiance that quietly draws you in and blooms into something exquisite. One attentive reviewer rightly pointed out that the range of facial expressions Gedeck brings to her character is a small marvel in and of itself and has the added benefit of radiating outwards and enhancing the performances of her fellow actors. Her Martha lives for the kitchen and demands perfection. She, of course, lives alone. Her sister calls and pleads with her to get out and see a movie on her day off. Gedeck endows Martha with just enough wounded grace (and it’s to Nettelbeck’s credit that there’s no attempt to offer up a pat answer as to why she’s so inhibited) to reveal a empathetic glimpse of Matha's inner life and the stubborn persistence of its yearning. She’s definitely an ice queen but we want her to be thawed.

Enter the cute little nubbin. Martha’s sister is killed in a car crash while driving out to visit- one of the first of many scenes that makes this glossy (its production values rivals anything coming out of Hollywood- though it’s far classier) production such a nice surprise. Martha picks up the phone amidst the pungent chaos (yes, there are a few exquisite food production montages) of her kitchen and receives word of the accident. Rather then exploit this scene, Nettelbeck simply offers a quiet shot of Martha slowly bowing her head in grief before swiftly moving on. Martha suddenly find herself the guardian of her niece, Lina (the very cute Maxine Foerste), a bewildered little girl grasping at her new terrible reality. Martha attempts to connect the only way she knows how- food. Lina refuses to eat. These early scenes, taking place in the hospital room where Lina is recovering, are just one of the early showcases demonstrating Gedeck's poise and Nettelbeck's sense of the discreet. There's no easy reward of an "emotional breakthrough" and the collapse of Lina into Martha's welcoming arms doesn't come until much later, in a moment stung with anger, grief and a tenderness that tears you apart. For now, Martha just wants Lina to eat something.

Enter the loveable Italian sous-chef. When Martha has to take some time off to grieve and manage her newfound role as guardian, the owner of the restaurant she works for hires Mario (Sergio Castellitto) to help run the kitchen. As Mario, Castellitto flaunts dozens of clichés so adeptly that you may find yourself way past caring. He’s histrionic, has a scruffy beard, hound dog eyes, passionately listens and responds to swooning Italian music in the kitchen, emotes waves of tenderness and scares the hell out of the icy Martha, who believes he’s there to steel her position. But of course he’s not. When she returns to the kitchen and treats him badly, he's bold and quick to respond. He corners her in the walk-in fridge where she frequently escapes to cool off and enjoy a few moments of respite and lets her know that he’s really there (he could, he tells her, get a job anywhere and we believe him) only because he respects her and wants to work beside her. Castellitto is perfect in the role, oozing a breezy masculine confidence and radiating necessary warmth. His Mario is prepared to do some thawing. That is, after all, why he's in this story.

Reenter the cute little nubbin. Martha still can’t get Lina to eat. She’s passing out from hunger in school. Not able to find a decent babysitter, Martha begins to bring her into the kitchen where she adorably helps out before adorably falling asleep on a counter. One night Mario walks over to where Lina is sitting and nonchalantly prepares a bowl of delicious, steaming pasta. Lina tries not to care. Mario pretends not to care either…but we know he does and we love him for it. It’s an emotionally overwhelming scene and like so many in this movie, it bluntly flaunts the saccharine without overindulging and becoming a tummy ache. As he begins wolfing his mouthwatering meal down before the challenging eyes of Nina, he’s suddenly called back to his duties in the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. He distractedly hands her the bowl and says, “Save some for me.” Sure, right. Seconds later, we see Martha, icy general of the hustle/bustle, looking over and noticing that Nina is, indeed, eating. Martha knowingly looks at the culprit, sheepish Mario. Is that a smile on her face? Are they falling for each other?

Of course they are. This film, like any romance in Hollywood, is determined to give you what you want and the plot calmly and snugly adheres to expectations. Where it differs is that it’s not prepared to slavishly pander. Each time it could go overboard and plunge into swampy bathos it nimbly swerves away and surprises by offering something poignant and emotionally satisfying instead. This happens enough times to reveal itself as one of Nettelbeck’s great gifts as a director- her attention to emotional thresholds and knowing just how far she’ll allow the scenes to cross them before reigning them in or leading them in a new, more interesting and honest direction. This never feels like a ‘technique’ and she’s adeptly aided by her wonderful cast. In one scene, for example, Martha awakes in the middle of the night to the sound of the television. Worried, she walks out and finds Lina watching a recently filmed video of she, her mother and Martha enjoying a day at the beach. We see a couple of minutes of footage before Lina quietly stands up and walks, not into Lina’s arms, but back to her room where she shuts the door. In another, after Mario has come over and cooked dinner with Lina, (they purposefully exclude the perfection seeking Martha from the kitchen) an end of the night goodbye deliciously hovers between closed eyes, craning necks and pouting lips only to delicately withdraw and sigh. There’s nothing radical, by any means, about these scenes, but given their respect to emotional honesty in a medium (the mainstream romantic film) not usually known for its attention to emotional nuance, they’re glorious to behold.

Do we know how it’s going to end? You bet. Does it satisfy. Gracefully. Mostly Martha is great comfort food- it actually has some nutritional value. It’s good enough that us music snobs can even forgive the unfortunate tendency of Manfred Eicher’s (head of Germany’s EMC Records) score to, on occasion, gauchely pass over that same emotional threshold that Nettelbeck seems to understand so well and indulge in some high fructose saxophone meandering. It’s a small unfortunate- rare and, ultimately, innocuous enough to be forgiven.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Sheesh, these kick-off entries have been leaning heavy into the political winds. That wasn’t my original intent though it’s maybe not so surprising given the climate- it’s kinda hard to avoid the gusts. I did, however, purposefully avoid reading the Sunday Times yesterday seeing as, after spending the morning and afternoon reading it, I’m usally left with the feeling that I’ve done nothing but skim the surface of dozens of different lakes (oceans?) of socio-economic heartbreak and inanity (the arts and style section, for example) only to find myself left with a queasy residue of vague impressions and inchoate sentiments. So yesterday I camped on the couch and watched Claude Charbol movies (“Le Beau Serge”, “Les Cousins” and best of all, “Les Bonnes Femmes”) listened repeatedly to Fairuz’s “Kamata Mariyam and, come evening, Cathy and I hosted our first ever wine tasting party. Ohh-La-La!

So, anyway, I’m wondering if those opening entries might have left some fuzzy impressions amongst whomever managed to slog through them. I suddenly feel compelled to answer some questions concerning the content of my politics.

Some Things I am Not:

1) A Democrat
2) Certainly not a Republican

Some Things I May Be:

1) A champion of lost causes
2) Too much abstraction, not enough entelechy

Some Things I am:

1) Far left of the traditional center
2) Far too hyped on caffeine at present (Earl Grey, of course…the Jean-Luc way) but I’m also a believer in the old feminist adage, “The personal is political.” Make it so.

Some Things I Hope To Be:

1) Hopelessly optimistic about the future
2) The citizen of a more thoroughly engaged and fully representative democracy

Some Things I Hope Not to Be:

1) Annoyingly pedagogic
2) Defeatist and fatalistic

and so it goes…
In my first blog entry I asked if the administration might not take money for their proposed foreign aid initiative to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean from previously established budgets- robbing Peter to pay Paul as it were. Below I’ve quoted a couple paragraphs from one of todays NYT’s editorials that sadly answers my question.

It's utterly heartless and astoundingly pathetic. Cutting child health programs? Surely their knuckles are bloodied from scraping so low.

“Mr. Bush's other foreign aid initiative, announced in his State of the Union address, is $10 billion in new money to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean over five years. But his budget falls short of that promise. He is proposing only a $550 million increase over the global AIDS money in this year's spending bill now in Congress. Since the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria would be an effective channel for the aid, there is no excuse for the initiative's leisurely start. Mr. Bush's 2004 budget for the Global Fund, $200 million, actually cuts in half what Congress is likely to do in 2003.

Mr. Bush has also found part of the money for his AIDS programs by cutting nearly $500 million from child health, including vaccine programs. Child survival is the biggest loser in the foreign aid budget — a scandalous way to finance AIDS initiatives. With the budget dominated by defense spending and huge tax cuts for the wealthy, the White House should not be forcing the babies of Africa to pay for their parents' AIDS drugs.”

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Julian Schnabel’s second film, “Before Night Falls,”(a huge improvement over his directional debut, “Basquait”) contains dozens of stunning visuals- interludes saturated in mood- perhaps none so breathtaking as that depicting Reindaldo Areanas (the excellent, Javier Bardem portraying the exiled Cuban artist) arriving in New York City. A gentle snow falls as Areanas drives through the city nightscape in a convertible, laughing as he and a friend lie back and the camera pans up. It’s a simple scene conveying the giddiness of his newfound freedom and haunted by the loss of the country of his birth. It’s the kind of transcendent moment I live for in films. Seeing it for the first time on the big screen back in Chicago (well, actually, it was in Evanston but whatever) with my sister, Robin, I was so overcome by its beauty that I found myself embarrassingly choking back tears. As with many of these scenes, the key to its impact comes from the supporting role of the musical soundtrack and its collection of preexisting Cuban jazz recordings, all of which are fantastic and deftly interwoven. The song accompanying this particular scene, however, is an exception- it’s by the popular Lebanese singer Fairuz (one name only, like Cher.. but her real name is Huhad Haddad). Until I ran across the soundtrack the other day in the racks of Berkeley’s main library, I had never known who sang it or what it was called (“Kamata Mariyam) but I certainly never forgot it. Accompanied by a ney flute(an instrument for which the word ‘plaintive’ was surely created) Fairuz’s voice is so tender, so drenched in nostalgia, that it completely devastates. I must have listened to it half a dozen times alone today.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

The other day, while speaking before the Senate Budget Committee meeting, Colin Powell made first mention (beating Al Jazeera to the punch!) of the as yet released bin Laden tape. From what I gather, Secretary Powell was anxious to discuss its contents. As it goes, he leaned forward into his microphone and announced that “once again he,” bin Laden, that is, “speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq.” But did he? Did the former evildoer #1 really just release a message claiming that he was in cahoots with Iraq? And by Iraq, I take Secretary Powell to mean the current evildoer #1 (reclaiming his early 90’s position on the charts!) Saddam Hussein.

Later that day, in another meeting (there are oodles of meetings in Washington and from what I’ve seen on C-SPAN, they include numerous charts) CIA Director, George J. Tenet, also leaned enthusiastically into his microphone and declared, “If that is not an unholy partnership, I have not heard one. What he says on tape is unprecedented in terms of the way he expresses solidarity with Baghdad.” This coming from the same man who heads the organization that, after a year and a half of dusting for clues, has determined that there was, sadly, no connection between 9/11 and Iraq. Even sadder, that the link between Al Qaeda and Iraq is also seemingly non-existent. That link is to be found in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, but those, you see, are our friends- they’re allowed to harbor evildoers provided they don’t get too uppity.

Sensing a good thing going on, everybody in the administration embraced bin Laden’s message and parroted Powell and Tenet. It’s part of the full press public relations machine the administration is currently taking for a spin around the block. They’ve got the windows down and you can hear the bass from the sub-woofer from half a mile away. It’s all terror all the time. Terror Alert: High. If the goal is to inundate the citizenry with fear- to block rational thought and understanding- to, as they say, manufacture consent within the sticky ideals of a democracy, then the Homeland Security Advisory System is as good as tool as any. The press loves it too. The fourth estate, especially amongst the sprawling tundra of TV Land, craves nothing more then to lead off their newscasts with prudish Ashcroft and cubmaster Ridge standing before their Skittles color-coded chart grimly intoning of potential destruction…perhaps, at least they’re pretty sure, somewhere, sometime, possibly imminent and ah, possibly not immient and collaborated by numerous vague sources that can’t be revealed and,ah, might even be fabricated…anyway, back to duct tape! Following cubmaster Ridge’s instructions, thousands are anxiously going about earning their “Surviving a Potential Chemical or Biological Attack” merit badges by carefully duct taping plastic sheeting around the windows of designated rooms. When some commentators had the audacity to question the reliability of such methods (or even suggested that such talk might be its own brand of terror) cubmaster Ridge, carefully setting his Arrow of Light kit aside, shot back, “obviously, I think there’s been some political belittling of duct tape.” And how! Digressions aside (always the temptation to digress!), their argument, that bin Laden’s message somehow makes the case for his alliance with Hussein, is a false one and selectively omits the fact that, among other things said in the latest message, bin Laden accuses Hussein of being a infidel. Hardly affectionate.

In the Jan/Feb issue of Foreign Affairs Michael Scott Doran sheds some light (in the body of a larger article that joins the administration in arguing that the road to stability in the Middle-East begins in Baghdad and not, as others assert, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict) on why bin Laden might actually dislike Hussein. He writes:

“Bin Laden is a product of a radical Islamic reform movement that originated in the early twentieth century. In the eyes of its adherents this movement represents true religion itself and dates back to the Prophet Mohammad and, before him, to the dawn of human existence. Looking at the state of the Islamic world today, radical Islamists bemoan the degradation of their lands and ask, What went wrong? In formulating their answer, they hark back to a utopian view of early Islamic history- a time when, as they see it, the companions of the Prophet marched successfully against the greatest empires of their day. In that golden age, the rulers were united in values with the virtuous among the ruled, and both obeyed God’s laws.

The comparison between the idealized past and the ugly present leads them to conclude that Muslims fell into their current state of degradation because they abandoned their true religion.”

Hussein isn’t a part of this radical Islamic reform movement. He’s a member of the Ba’athist party and practices and perpetuates his own special blend of secularist nationalism- anathema to bin Laden and his fellow radical Islamic fundamentalist who desire, as Doran points out, a unified Arab world rising up against the infidels of the West. Hussein might as well be shopping at the Gap, snacking on Hostess Cupcakes and watching repeats of Baywatch. Bin Laden, like George Bush, is a firm believer in a kind of righteous moral clarity that finds its accordance in the monotheistic laws of their respective heavens.

Shouldn’t the White House respect such nuance? Shouldn’t we be calling them on their playing fast and loose with facts? Well, perhaps if the citizens of the democracy it purports to serve knew better, Powell, Tenet and the rest of the gang wouldn’t have bothered to pervert the truth to begin with. As it stands, a recent poll by Gallup revealed that a majority of the public believes that there are indeed clear links between Al Quaeda/Osama bin Laden and Iraq/Sadam Hussein. With that in mind, it’s not so difficult to create the illusion of a connection and deal with the marginal consequences of those columnists and op-ed pages who cry foul- they hardly matter and besides, their readership is minimal and eggheaded. So far as the White House is concerned, this gun smokes.

And what about bin Laden? What about the Al Qaeda and Talibon leadership that still remains intact? Sure, there have been some successes in capturing some of the lower level operatives (there are supposedly thousands spread out in cells throughout the world), that’s undoubtedly a good thing, and there was that much heralded CIA launched Predator attack in Yemen back in November that pocketed USS Cole suspect, Abu Ali but other then that the administration’s track record in regards to dismantling these terror groups has been dismal. Bush, once ready to haul bin Laden in “dead or alive” no longer mentions his name and, as they say on the psychological front, has projected all his impotence into the more tangible presence of Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden has become just another actor in the administration’s public relations show, trotted out as a tantalizing morsel of evidence on the road to Baghdad. But what are we to make of the following comments? “The threat environment we find ourselves in today is as bad as it was last summer, the summer before 9/11. It is serious. They’re (Al Qaeda) reconstituted. They are coming after us. They want to execute attacks.” That leapt from the mouth of CIA Director Tenet back in October of last year when he spoke before the Joint Intelligence Committee of Congress. It made some considerable waves but Dubya refused to say his name. Progress on the War Against Terror was to now be focused on Iraq, a country that has slowly had its life blood sucked dry by ten years of devastating sanctions. (UNICEF conducted a survey released in 1999 containing strong evidence indicating that as a result of sanctions against Iraq, over 500,000 children have needlessly died.)

One last thing. You’ll recall that some time ago the White House (I think it was managed by she of the funny name, Condi Rice) asked the networks to please refrain from airing bin Laden’s messages. They feared that he might be using them to transmit covert directives to awaiting cells. The networks, not wanting their access to the White House curtailed, obliged and either aired carefully edited portions of the messages or not at all. This time around, as Maureen Dowd pointed out in her column on Wednesday, the administration encouraged its airing. The cynicism and adept hypocrisy of this move is breathtaking but not at all surprising. Bin Laden, formally marginalized by Rove decree, is now a part of the public relations effort that asks us to consider his demise by way of Hussein’s. It’s a funny kind of logic. It’s a lie.

Meanwhile, over in N. Korea

Monday, February 10, 2003

This is interesting. My old Public Allies placement, The Center for Neigborhood Technology and Airhead provide a handy emissions calculator that calculates how much air pollution you're responsible for in a given month. Cathy and I, for example, were responsible for 787 lbs of air pollution- far lower then the national average due to the fact that we rarely drive our car and bike just about every day. Though, sometimes, like when I'm making that ever so slight ascent for those two miles to the UC Berkeley recreation center, my reservations concerning the internal combustion engine all but vanish.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

For the first year Cathy and I were living in Berkeley the Central Library was being retrofitted. Ideally, when the tectonic plates decide to yawn the newly retrofitted (lot’s of retrofitting going on out here) buildings will, as they say, roll with the punches. And look, if you’re going to live somewhere renowned for its ability to turn large swaths of landscape to jello, you make your peace with retrofitting and place your confidence with the wizards in structural engineering. Anyway, I rather like the Central Library, (there are four other considerably smaller branches) especially its minimal but endearingly quirky selection of CD’s and films. Lately they’ve been expanding their DVD selection, which while still sparse, now includes such masterpieces as Abbas Kiarostami’s “Close-Up” from the Facets Video series Films From Iran and recently, several films on DVD by Hou Hsiao-hsien, the Taiwanese master. Somebody deserves a high five.

I still keep up with the latest Hollywood offerings (Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour being, hands down, the best to come down that avenue of late ) but not with the same kind of passion that I await the latest work from filmmakers like Spain’s nonagenarian, Manoel Oliveira, Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson or Taiwan’s Edward Yang. That such allegiances are almost always met with suspicion might owe something to the power of Hollywood’s populist machinery where increasingly corporate consolidation limits what we can and can’t see. Or maybe it has to do with the strange distinctions we make between “art” and “entertainment”- “highbrow” and “lowbrow” and the knee-jerk tendency of distributors (and quite a few moviegoers) to think of any film with subtitles as somehow a threat to the audience and its right for “mindless fun.” I suppose I shouldn’t fret about those whose definition of film is purely escapist- there’s a lot of escapist fun to be had and I like a good popcorn flick just as much as the other guy- but I have an evangelical streak when it comes to film, a compulsion to proselytize the fact that there are numerous other experiences it can offer (glimpses into other cultures, to name just one) beyond the frothy diversions we are limited to when we narrow our choices to the conveniences of the local cinemaplex.

Anyway, this is all another can of worms that I’ll more then likely return to again- I wanna talk about the Jerry Bruckheimer Production, Denzel Washington vehicle, “Remember the Titans.”

I’ve got a soft spot for some of Bruckheimer’s past productions, especially “Top Gun,” “Beverly Hills Cop”, “Crimson Tide,” “The Rock,” and especially "Con Air." Bruckheimer productions have become synonymous with “testosterone laced” action flicks, where high octane explosions usurp the necessity of character development, everything is bathed in a cool blue light and the liberal use of slow motion gives even the most inconsequential or mundane of actions a hyperrealism and gravitas not usually extended them. With “Remember the Titans” Bruckheimer, after much soul searching, decided to synergize- merging his brand of “testosterone laced” with Disney’s brand of “domesticated uplift.”

It’s 1971 in Alexandra Virginia, as the credits roll we’re efficiently pumped full of the premise- two white high schools and one black high school are, by court orders, to integrate. This includes the faculties as well. The evil school board (in the land of Disney, who we are to love and who we are to hate is never to be in doubt), in order to appease the liberal do-gooder race men, have asked the long time head coach of the T.C. Williams High School’s Titans, Bill Yoast (Will Patton, who is white) to step down so as to make room for Herman Boone (Denzel Washington, who is black). By way of explanation, the evil school board man tells Yoast, “Every coach in the system is white, we had to give him something!”

Needless to say, Denzel isn’t exactly made to feel welcome. The opening credits are still rolling but the plot is fully unfurled. You want racial fireworks, here you go! With Bruckheimer, if you’re order isn’t up in a minute, the meal is free.

Another hallmark of the Disney brand of “domesticated uplift” is its synergy with Motown. Roughly three minutes had passed before “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” arrived, signaling good times ahead. Disney, like most of the large corporations running film subsidiaries, likes to heat up and pour a thick lacquer of readily licensed Motown/Soul hits over what, they rightly fear, might otherwise cause our minds to wander away from the vanilla at hand. The songs are also there to act as “cultural touchstones” and allows the filmmakers to neglect all the ingredients that might otherwise go into a successful and, god forbid, complex storyline and supporting mis-en-scene. The songs are handy, prefabricated backdrops already invested with shared meaning. When we hear them, we know just how to feel. The downside to this is that it’s terribly lazy. Rather then invest the time and effort necessary to build an authentic world of objects to surround and support the characters (Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt,” managed to do just this better then any film I’ve seen recently) the various Motwon/Soul hits are trudged out instead to act as the quintessence of what the characters amount to. Which is to say, they’re just like a thousand other characters we’ve seen on the big screen who “developed” and shuffled through a thousand similar montages to the exact same song. They're cliches. Black and white ones. It all feels generic and neutered because it is.

Coach Boone isn’t a yes man. He storms into his new position, effortlessly hurdles over the petty vagaries of racism and deftly integrates both his team and coaching staff. Denzel can do this kind of thing with his arms tied behind his back. He oozes moral authority. But Bruckheimer films aren’t ever about the actor and the performance. The actor is a distraction from what’s most important- propelling the film forward and, most importantly (it’s Bruckheimer’s mantra) not losing the audience. If an actor has to be in the scene, well, shut him up, cue the music, bath him in techno blue light, light a fuse under his ass and send him into the ecstasy of slow motion. Since we’re contending with Disney’s “domesticated uplift” in this film, the blue light becomes a soft amber glow and instead of fuses being lit under the hind quarters there’s a lot of young male bodies hurling into each other- in slow motion. Denzel isn’t a character at all- he’s the force of good. He stands above the fray and is noble and wise. He is the uplift.

Of course there is tension amongst the blacks and whites- this is to be expected. It swells up to the sounds of “Spirit in the Sky” and a fight breaks out- it looks like a lot of fun with all those quick edits and pretty boys slugging it out- but it’s not. Blacks and whites shouldn’t be fighting each other! Coach Boone makes it a policy that for a portion of each day, a black player and a white player will sit together and “get to know each other.” One of the revelations of this tough love approach comes when a stunningly obese white player reveals that he likes The Temptations and breaks into song. It's almost that simple. 400 years of oppression be damned- if that fat dude likes The Temptations, well allllright! But Boone isn’t satisfied. He needs to dig deeper into the lore of what makes us American. What, he wonders, can he do to make these kids see past their destructive prejudices for each other and win some games out on the gridiron?

To the strains of “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall” Coach Boone runs the team through an early morning montage that includes a lot of physical exertion and heavy breathing. Finally Coach Boone stops. He’s led them to a cemetery. Not just any cemetery either- it's Gettysburg, where in the course of 3 days in July of 1863 over 51,000 men lost their lives in one of the most terrible battles of the Civil War. 100 patriotic violins take their cue and rise and swell as Boone, in the dawns early light, rhapsodizes about taking “a lesson from the dead” who only 150 years prior had destroyed themselves over just the very thing they’re destroying themselves over. It's stunning. It's stunningly crass. You're thinking...did what I think happen just really happen? Did Coach Boone really just make an analogy between the meaning and tragedy (51,000 men slaughtered) of Gettysburg and the difficulties of integrating a high school football team circa 1971? Indeed, he did. But then, Disney’s “domesticated uplift” posits that big lessons can be learned from our past and applied to our present, no matter how outrageously sweeping or dubiously co-opted.

It works! The speech is the breakthrough. It’s tidy and clean and so inexorably righteous that by the following scene Brotherhood comes in waves of fellow feeling and testosterone. The film even loosens up and introduces a sexually-ambiguous- hippy-army brat-quarterback. He might or might not be a homo but then you learn that, like Denzel's Coach Boone, the kid’s not really a character at all- he’s a lesson. He’s there to teach us that sexual ambiguity is ‘ok,' so long as we don't ask and he doesn't tell. But that’s not enough, because some viewers might feel kinda sorta icky about it all, you know, without any resolution as to just what his sexual orientation is, and so the filmmakers endow him with very special powers- the kid can move in the pocket with a preternatural (it’s almost feline) grace, sending his adversaries tumbling and spiraling while he remains practically beatific. So, you see, even if he is a homo (not that it matters what his "orientation" might be 'cause sexual ambiguity is ‘ok’) he’s definitely one of the coolest ever!

Just before Game I, Assistant Coach Yoast (who is now the Assistant Head Coach and has, of course, learned numerous life lessons from the oracle that is Coach Boone) learns from the evil school board that, first game Boone drops, he’s gonna get canned. Those bastards! Coach Yoast, however, has applied the lessons gleaned from his history lessons with Coach Boone and feels a grave and mounting anger toward those who would dare to mess with the oracle of all that is good and right and pure. Cheesy moral relativism be damned, for in the wonderful world of Disney, you’re either with us or against us. But they don’t lose because such is the power of good. I mean, of course they don’t. They keep on winning. Cat Stevens’s “Peace Train” plays and we see numerous hugs between actual blacks and whites.

They make it to the regional championship. The Head Coach for the opposing team refuses to trade game tapes with Boone, telling a local reporter, “I won’t do anything to help that monkey.” This guy is clearly evil or something! Ike and Tina Turner’s “I Wanna Take You Higher” comes on. I ‘dunno, but I think we’re being told to transcend such pettiness and take things up to another level! The Titans win. After the game the evil head coach guy won’t shake Coach Boone’s hand. Coach Boone, however, tosses him a banana. Take that you racist monkey-bating bastard! Then they win the state championship too. James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” comes on and Assistant Coach Yoast summarizes, saying of the mighty Coach Boone, “You taught this town how to love a man’s soul and not to judge him by the color of his skin.” Indeed. He did it with the pigskin, my brother.

It’s a great sentiment, loving each other for what’s inside rather then what’s on the outside. But should we let a film like this off the hook just because its heart is in the right place? In the Disney world of “domesticated uplift” the very real and unfinished struggle of integration, of black inclusion, is not just fodder for a rousing Denzel Washington vehicle, it’s also regulated to the distant past, as if its taint is no longer with us in the present. But perhaps the most troubling aspect of this film and its motivations comes from the egregious plundering of the history of integration and the troubled, often tragic history of race relations as so many pyrotechnics- the crass willingness of the filmmakers to co-opt a very real life struggle (the film is “based on true story”) and regulate it to the service of a drab football drama out to make a buck.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

I've had a hell of a time explaining to people just what having an aura or a migraine is like. Last year, the morning after a efficiently potent visitation from a migraine I sat down and wrote the following. It's as close as I'm gonna get for now.

A few words on the Migraine Headache:

It has been my lot to suffer, from time to time, the vagaries of the neurological phenomena known as the migraine headache. In my case this ailment sees fit to exhibit its charms in the form of a migraine aura, defined as “a distinctive sensation or visual disturbance that may signal the beginning of an epileptic episode or a migraine headache.” Aura’s, then, are sometimes prerequisites or bridges to headaches. Not a garden variety, mind you, but a migraine headache. Ok, it’s important we’re clear on this distinction. Both the aura and the headache are part of the larger phenomena known as a migraine, a neurological event that I profess to knowing next to nothing about (something to do with exorbitant amounts of blood rushing to the brain and causing veins residing there and, as in my case, around the eyes as well, to dilate and inflame surrounding tissue) but then, neither to do the neurologists.

I first experienced an aura almost 20 years ago while vacationing at the Chautauqua Institute with my sister and parents over the new year. Little did I know then that this occurrence was to be my introduction to a lifetime membership of occasional, highly unsettling visual disturbances, a few of which were destined to be accompanied by some of the most brutal, unforgiving pain I would ever experience. Until the next time, that is. Had I any say in the matter of my membership into this sad club I would have surely refused to pay my dues. I would have asked to speak to the manager.

These auras, thankfully, aren’t typically followed by the infamous skull burrowing headaches suffered by so many others, pain so singular in its intensity as to inspire visions of an apocalypse of the head, a blitzkrieg on the mind. I have, I’m afraid, experienced this on rare occasion, but more on that drama later. My aura episodes, lasting roughly 45 minutes to an hour, are regulated, for the most part, toward the interruption of my vision only. It begins on the cusp of my consciousness, a sense of something amiss. This particular sense of something being visually amiss has now, 20 some years down the road from its debut, become so familiar as to act as a cue, almost immediately, that an aura is on its way. Such moments have their own peculiar peculiarities, like a déjà vu that comes to resolve. The strange becomes familiar. Suffice it is to say, the length of time between recognizing that something is familiarly askew and the comprehension that an aura is launching is so slight as to be nearly negligible- “What the? Oh, shit…it’s happening!.”

Soon enough my vision begins to deteriorate causing me to completely withdrawal from whatever activity I might be engaged in. This hasn’t caused too much strife, but these aura’s have been known to pop in unannounced during work, amidst dinner parties and, most unfortunately, during movies- and so, if anything, have had a detrimental effect on my social life. In fact, so debilitating is this visual impairment, made up of whirling blades that seem to be emanating from my lower eyelids and angry squawks of jagged purple and red phosphorescence, that my best and usual course of action is to retire to bed and ride it out. This cacophonous ocular display isn’t particularly enjoyable, so keeping my eyes shut for its duration (especially given that my vision becomes so obscured by the aura as to probably make me, at least temporarily, legally blind) helps me to mitigate its effect and give me some illusion of control. If anything, these many hours lying in bed over the years, awaiting the aura’s course to be run, have proven a dull nuisance.

The aura itself, as I already mentioned, lasts roughly 45 minutes to an hour, though I have had some that have gone on for 90 minutes. Beyond the light show, they can be expected to leave in their wake a dull headache, not unlike the kind one sometimes picks up from sitting too long in front of the television (I’m convinced that such headaches, thick and obstinate irritants that they are, are derived from the lack of neuronal activity necessitated in the course of a couple hours lost in the unforgiving tundra of primetime). The aura picks up momentum until it reaches its zenith around a half hour in. At this moment, even with eyes closed, an innocuous aurora borealis melts and flutters against my eyelids.

Half an hour later, it’s gone, leaving behind the aforementioned nuisance of a headache in its wake. These singular episodes were the norm for many a year, arriving once every 3 to 6 months, lighting off some auraworks and then vanishing. Over the last several years, however, these formally solitary missionaries have been coming in evangelical clusters to set up camp several times course of several days. Where one arrives, it is now almost guaranteed, more are to soon follow. So the change here is, instead of one aura event every 3 to 6 months, there now arrives from 6 to a dozen of them in the same time span. I’m thinking of setting up a canvas and making a go of turning my colorful, geometric affliction into art. I can see it now- my first show will be entitled “My Visions Gone All Fuckin’ Wacky: Neurological Anomalies and the Art of the Inopportune Aura.” Yeah, something like that. Cheese will be available. Good Chilean wine, too.

Speaking of anomalies, there are those aura’s that prove the awful exception to the typical. These aberrant thugs are seemingly no different then their fellow brethren except for one very important distinction: they will go on to sear the inside of my skull.

Those who have never experienced a migraine can be forgiven for thinking that last sentence hyperbolic. Fellow migraineurs, however, know otherwise. To have a full-on migraine headache is to empathize with the cruel fate of Prometheus, chained up to Mount Caucasus, his liver forever preyed on and, just as fast regenerating; it is to inhibit the woozy and horrific character of Munch’s infamous Scream; it is to be torn apart in a black hole. Phew! All this to say, hyperbole is an understatement. I’ll explain, bear with me.

Actually, my earlier aside about making an art of my migraines wasn’t so far fetched. A few years back I recall that an arts based mental health organization asked migraineurs for submissions documenting their experience. Some magazine or other included several of the results, a gruesome parade of drawings: a man having nails pounded into his head from all sides; a head slowly being twisted in a vice; a young woman with shards of glass protruding through her temples; a head engulfed in flames. These drawings can be summed up as such: It hurts like a mother fucker.

The aura in conjunction with a migraine headache (the basics: a normal, garden variety headache occurs by vasoconstriction, or a narrowing of the blood vessels whereas the migraine occurs by vasodilatation, or expansion of the blood vessels) is known as a classical migraine. This conjures up Victorian ideals of the cultured and refined, doesn’t it? Hardly.

To experience an aura is to live in fear of its nefarious potential. I’m lucky in that this potential, more often then not, goes unexploited. Those times, however, when the classical migraine swells into clamorous dissonance, conducted with an efficiency for pain the likes of which I’ve never known before, are what linger in my memory and bring with every aura episode a terrible fear for what may be lurking around the corner.

One of the first signs that the conductor’s baton is being raised comes in the shape of herringbones dancing in a punkish lather about the territories of my peripheral vision. They’re thin and convoluted and seem to zigzag, flicker and pulse from the recesses of my skull like flares bleaching the landscape. Following closely behind, nausea arrives on its little cat feet, covering me in a fog of queasiness, akin to being in the cabin of a boat as it pitches woozily with the heavy seas. Now the decks are cleared for the storm. In my case this is almost always means pain that extends from the width of my forehead down to my nose and cheekbones. Sometimes the pain will languish its attention in one area, seemingly burrowing, for example, into the contours of an eye before perching atop a cheekbone. Other times it’s more general, a kind of cascade effect, a tumultuous pounding all across the upper hemisphere of my face and forehead.

Now comes the gravy. As if the aura, the nausea and the pain weren’t nearly enough, the classical migraine sees fit to rebel against my environmental surroundings. That light on out in the hallway becomes a supernova, the hum of a clock radio is now the screeching of subway breaks and the mattress, steel wool. This is when I become both paralyzed and desperate. The feeling of the sheets against my skin (or even the pillow, the blanket, the person next to me) becomes so maddeningly intolerable, my only recourse is to flee. Standing, however, is no more rewarding or forgiving and it unleashes new reinforcements of nausea and pain. This awful game can go on for as long as whatever little engine possessing me holds out, but the thing is, there is no happy medium and it’s exhausting. Eventually I collapse, preferably back in bed, and attempt to triage. At this point I might even have the shakes, similar to the feverish tremble that accompanies a body weakened by the flu.

From time to time I’ll find a pool of relief, the result of a fortuitous turn of the head that suddenly allows, if only for a second or two, the veil to be lifted and a glimpse of the end. Just as quickly these sweet pools go brackish and the pain returns. Sometimes, albeit rarely, sheer exhaustion will trump the pain and I’ll settle into an uneasy sleep. Usually you’re in it for the long haul and have no choice but to meet the pain half way and work out some course to navigate through it. Every now and again a very small voice manages to sound out to me that what’s happening is temporary and will eventually dissipate. It’s a small thing but it buoys.

The day after such classic migraines leave me feeling wiped out and dulled. Again, the feeling is not unlike recuperating from a bout with the flu. Sometimes my vision is slightly out of whack for a few days, things seem slightly sepia toned and I find myself wishing somebody could Windex out the inside of my head.

Somewhere in the vast and daunting archives of migraine research all of this has, no doubt, been thoroughly probed and documented and we still haven’t a clue as to how to stop migraines. In fact, other then calling it a ‘neurological phenomena,’ and pinpointing some of the symptoms, we’re still fairly clueless as to the cause. At the beginning of the 21st century we’re still neurological peons, popping Tylenols in hopes of banishing dragons. Of course, like so many aspects of mental health, it’s only been in the last couple decades that some of the myths surrounding migraines have been toppled (“It’s all in your head”) and it’s been proven to be a neurological disorder brought on by physiological and not, as so many of the general public still believe, psychological factors such as anxiety or depression.

I saw a neurologist a couple yeas ago. I sat in his small waiting room and could hear the conversation he was having with the patient before me. It was a older woman who also suffered migraines. The medication he had prescribed for her was, while effective in mitigating the severity of her migraines, causing detrimental side effects of enough concern to the doctor that he was taking her off the medication. “Stop taking the medication,” he was pleading to her. “But if I do, I’ll feel the pain again,” she was pleading in return. “Look,” he said, “you’re going to be feeling all sorts of other pain unless you stop taking those pills.” I was probably leafing through a well-thumbed issue of People Magazine.

When my turn came and I found myself sitting on that god-awful examining table with that god-awful crinkly paper rustling beneath my jeans and smelling that god-awful sanitized smell, I was hoping for more promising results, something that might act to, if anything, cut the length of my aura’s in half. I explained to the good doctor my abbreviated history with the aura, with all its strange lights and geometries , and was assured that it was all perfectly benign. In fact, the doctor informed me, it seemed like I suffered from an aura predicament not unlike his own. “Do you take anything for it?” I asked. “Naaa,” he replied nonchalantly, “I just close my eyes and ride it out, but I’ll prescribe something for you and we’ll see if it doesn’t help. If it doesn’t, feel free to come back and we’ll try something else…it’s kind of hit or miss with this.”

You know what? It missed. Since then, I haven’t bothered with returning to a neurologist. So long as these aura episodes regulate themselves to clusters once every 6 months or so, and so long as the potential headaches arrive in tandem only a few times a year I figure I’ll just do what I’ve been doing all these years already- I’ll ride it out. It’s not so bad a light show either.
I’ve been wondering lately about how personal I was prepared to make this blog. I had originally thought of it as a kind of surrogate for the analogue diaries I’ve been keeping since 1983. One of the gifts I received over the course of 1982’s Christmas festivities was a “1983 Judy Blume Diary.” So the author of “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” “Blubber,” and my favorite, “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, “ launched it all thanks to a expedient fit of synergy. If there was a market for Brand Judy Blume then I was surely it. At least circa ’81. But hey, I made due!

So, I was thinking about how personal I was going to make this blog and I thought, well, “why not make it personal?” My diaries over the last half a dozen or so years have been less and less about recording a daily account of the day’s, well, how about “happenings?” and more and more about using its 365 crisply hard bound pages (I have consistently used Mead’s SD374-13 Business Diary with the Red Moire cover for over a decade and before that, a somewhat slimmer version) to write free form essays, random musings, amusing e-mail exchanges with friends, potential song candidates for ripe summer music mixes, notes taken while viewing movies (always a popular pastime), quotes from newspaper/magazine/web based articles and random song lyrics that veer dangerously between the appropriately nonsensical and the Shania Twain school of “special new Tooth Whitener!” maximum effect sentimentalisms. I’m happy with it.

So, I was thinking about how personal I was going to make this blog…right, and I thought that I’d just go ahead and use this blog, if anything, as an opportunity to keep doing some of the things that I love most- to write, to share and to explore. Seems simple enough. As Wilfred Grimly once said while embodying the gruff, grizzled and lovable elder pitchman for Quaker Oats, “It’s the right thing to do and the tasty way to do it.”

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Cathy and I went and saw Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour the other night. It’s the first and perhaps only mainstream film to be released in the U.S. that confronts 9/11 head on. It’s not that such a stance is courageous, but given that numerous films made prior to 9/11 and released after (Serendipity and Zoolander) quietly airbrushed out the twin towers to avoid any icky reminder that yes, indeed, a couple airliners really did plow right into those buildings and they consequently plunged to the ground and took close to 3000 people with them, Lee’s incorporation of the void at Ground Zero into his film seemed both refreshingly honest and heartbreakingly blunt. Lee wants us to know that his story, while not implicitly about 9/11, is, like everything and everybody else living in NYC, tainted by it.