Monday, March 28, 2005

Siren Call

I’ve only heard a few 15 second samples (no downloads for this one- I want to wait and listen to it in its entirety alone and with the headphones set to stun) but New Order’s latest, Waiting For the Sirens Call is getting a lot of love over at I Love Music. Of course, like me, most of the posters are biased, but there’s a healthy consensus running through the thread that I can get behind- namely that after Technique, New Order’s output suffered a dramatic downturn in quality. Other then Revenge (in my book, the last great New Order track) from the otherwise lackluster Republic album and a sprinkling of decent tracks off of Get Ready (which was consistently nice, if not revelatory) there’s been a lot of hopeful anticipation that the band would somehow manage to once again tap into the creative depths and successes of their stunning 80’s run- where there’s nary a dud track in sight. That pregnant expectation, that churning wistfulness, moody and exultant and brimming over with grandeur- us fans are still carrying the torch and giddy for more. From the tenor of those that have heard it, the new one sounds like a pretty strong return to form, perhaps as close as they’re ever going to get again.

It’s nice to wallow in this post, so much good feeling for the band- like hanging out with an otherwise disparate bunch of folks all tethered together through highly emotional connections to a few dozen songs. We have such high hopes.

More to come…

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Green Fuse Drives The Flower

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
These are doing it for me the past few days:

10. Promise: When In Rome (Tip 'o the hat to Napoleon Dynamite.)
09. One Evening: Feist
08. When I Goose-Step: The Shins
07. Every Day Is Like Sunday: Morrissey (Who would have thought this would be Morrissey's last hurrah? Sure, there was Bona Drag, but that didn't really count, you know, just a bunch of singles and cast offs. The stings are gorgeous on this one.)
06. The Beautiful Ones : Prince (Had forgotten just how lovely this song is- Prince at his creamiest- and that ending! "What's it gonna be babe? Do you want him? Do you want me? Cause I want you! Pure hormone histrionics.)
05. The Difference It Makes (Superpitcher Remix): The MFA (The best thing Superpitcher has yet to do, and the man has quite a catalog of great singles already. My favorite song of the year so far- no doubt about it- a cathartic sugar rush, a burst of cherry colored funk, the build up and the release of the force that drives the green fuse through the flower. I'm ringing moonlight and stars out of my eyes every time I hear it.)
04. Oh My Gosh: Basement Jaxx
03. Hugendubel: Robag Wruhme (Oh, this guy is fantastic- and it was only a few weeks ago that I was first introduced to his music- where have you been all my life, man? It's like he picked up the torch after Aphex's Windowlicker and kept running with it.)
02. Children's Dreams: Antonio Carlos Jobim (Sounds just like the title- from the majestic Stone Flower album.)
01. Sodom, South Georgia: Iron and Wine (We've had Mr. Bean's second full-length for almost a year, but it's only been in the past month that this song fortuitously popped up on shuffle play and wove its sweet melancholy through me like a murky river- these past few days I've called it up repeatedly and found solace in it.)

We're heading home to Cleveland tomorrow to say goodbye. It's all very surreal and tragic. I don't know how to write about this and avoid sounding mawkish.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
One of my oldest friends, Will Bisch, committed suicide this past week. I just found out this morning through a mutual friend. We had drifted apart, as will happen sometimes, though I never really doubted that 20 or 30 years from now I'd still know where he was living, what he was up to and, I hoped, still seeing him in person on occasion. We had traded a series of e-mails around this time last year, catching up with each other. I missed him.

It feels unseemly to process here but disingenuous to let it go unacknowledged. It is a very sad day. The more I remember all the good times we shared the more heartbroken I feel. There's anger here, too, but it feels useless.

I say, Live, Live because of the sun,
the dream, the excitable gift.

-Anne Sexton

Monday, March 14, 2005

Some Movies

Last Life In the Universe- Pen-Ek Ratenaruang: More interested in texture then logic, Ratenaruang’s film belongs to the stunning cinematography of Christopher Doyle, the man who has given so much to Wong Kar-Wai’s films over the last decade and is, quite simply, the greatest cameraman working today in film. Impeccably framed and rich in color, each shot swoons with Doyle’s ability to endow the films characters with subtle gradations. Ratenaruang allows for stillness and space- there’s a languorous quality at work and it burrows into you. Imagination repeatedly and unobtrusively intrudes on logic as characters are replaced by figments with such subtlety that you know better then to question the disparity. It’s supremely elegant (the soundtrack, provided by Hualampong Riddim and Small Room and sadly unavailable, is particularly fine, providing just the right undertow of melancholy), and refined: if it’s about anything, it involves two characters suffering from loss and isolation attempting to connect. There are three different endings, a montage that feels surprising unfractured and whole.

Since Otar Left- Julie Bertucelli: Led by an astounding trio of Georgian (the country, no the state) actresses representing three generations, Esther Gorintin, Nino Khomassouridze and Dinara Droukavora are a joy to watch together. Portraying a family living and struggling under the same roof in the city of Tbilisi, each actress gracefully supports the other. You’re aware of just how detailed and skillfully this ensemble of actresses works together- how perceptive they are, for example, of their characters' body language and the rich details subtle movements of intimacy can reveal. Bertucelli has a keen grasp of domestic atmosphere and the film’s interiors, the props and other personal accruements that add all those unconscious shadings to the characters, are a marvel of harmonious specificity. I’ve really been getting into set design of late, in particular how good set design can assist in fleshing out character and story. One of the cool extra features included with this DVD are the accompanying video’s and photographs Bertucelli took while on location scouts in Tbilisi before she began shooting where you get a behind the scenes look at the work that goes into creating a quality mis-en-scene. The last third of the film takes place in Paris. It shares almost an identical ending to Maria Full of Grace. It’s about women crossing boarders, seeking new identities in countries that call to them and promise something more. It’s about the threshold, the moment of decision: to return to their old life or to begin anew. This ending, with the youngest of the three actresses, the daughter Ada (Droukavora), waving through the airport glass to her grandmother, Eka (Gorintin) who returns an empathetic wave and nod of the head that validates her grand-daughters decision, is one of the most tender and pitch perfect endings I’ve seen since Linklater’s Before Sunset. The mother, Marina (Khomassouridze), turns to her daughter and bursts into tears of wrenching realization. A stewardess arrives to briskly usher them onto the plane and Ada turns, begins walking and the screen goes to black. The second great film I’ve seen this year after Nobody Knows.

Maria Full of Grace- Joshua Marston: Marston tries a little too hard in the beginning to make sure we’re aware that the title character, the wonderful Catalina Sandino Moreno, has dreams and ambitions larger and feistier then anything her little Columbian village can provide. That aside, this is a powerful, nicely made film that offers a compelling, almost documentary like look behind the scenes of the drug war and especially those, like Maria, who are exploited by it. Watching Maria swallowing the latex covered cocaine capsules she’ll later smuggle into the US is especially harrowing, her impulsive decision to become a mule suddenly, gravely, taking on an almost unbearable gravity. As already mentioned, the ending is nearly identical to that of Since Otar Left, with Maria in the airport about to return to Columbia but instead stepping back from the threshold, waving goodbye to her friend and turning to walk away. Like Since Otar left, this could easily soften into bathos, but it pulls back on the reigns: we know the consequences of her act- and Marston maintains the film’s overall integrity until the final fade.

Napoleon Dynamite- Jared Hess: With its Idaho embalmed deadpan delivery perhaps a bit too peculiarly mannered and its plotless meanderings perhaps a bit too casual and its 80’s penchant perhaps a bit too willfully quirky, I still found it hard not to be totally charmed by this one. Much has been made of its similarities to Todd Solondz’s Welcome To The Dollhouse (cheap laughs at the expense of nerds followed by violent consequences that add a discomforting veneer of shame to our previous laughter) and Wes Andersons now thoroughly entrenched brand of quirkiness (with, for example, The Life Aquatic, Anderson’s films have become a set of whimsical poses, so much eccentric façade as to find depth in its oddball idiosyncrasies) while adding its own layer of dry monotone daffiness. Special mention goes to Jon Heder, who as the film’s title character gives us a performance both hilarious and comatose at the same time: like a nerd both shell-shocked and dulled by his very outlandishness.

Rustling Landscapes- Janez Lapajne (Slovenia): Part of the current European Union Film Festival at the Siskel Film Center, this debut by the Slovenian filmmaker, Janez Lapajne was shot in 14 days in July of 2001 on digital video before being transferred over to 35mm. A couple on a summer vacation in rural Slovenia (which sure looks nice), 7 years together, slowly self-destruct after miscommunications, lack of support and emotional exhaustion lead to an abortion that both may or may not have wanted. The first third, a brutally in your face assessment of their relationship and an oftentimes powerful examination of the pettiness that creeps into the arguments and assessments of longtime partners, gives way to a film that becomes surprisingly light, pastoral and warmly funny. In need of distance, the couple (played by Barbara Cerar, who is wonderful and Rok Vihar who is miscast) goes their separate ways. Katarina (Cerar) meets a soldier named Primoz (Gregor Zork) who she spends a sun-dappled day with while Luka (Vihar) spends the day and evening talking about relationships with a woman he befriends at a nearby campsite. Each is made to question what they want: to remain in their relationship or stray. Owing a whole lot to Eric Rohmer, this one comes close to replicating his lovely, chatty films about lovers in flux.

The Motorcycle Diaries- Walter Salles: It’s nice, this one, when the two leads are on their road-trip through South America. It’s not so good when it wears its schematics on its sleeve and knocks you over the head with, should you forget, the fact that we’re watching the pre-revolutionary Che coming face to face with injustice and his conscience for the first time. Cool! Oh, what wrestling he’ll do. And how noble! There is a horribly silly scene of Che, played by the always enjoyable Gael Garcia Bernal, swimming the Amazon to spend his birthday with those in a leper colony. This spontaneous act of solidarity is swollen with all sorts of unnecessary grandeur and it wears, like so many films that come out of the Sundance camp, its schematics on its sleeve: attention viewers, this is a metaphor, our hero is going to a place from which he’ll never return, the beginning of his revolutionary fervor- look, behold how much he cares for those less fortunate! At the same time, we’re given little political or philosophical context; this film wants to give us the Che we can all agree on- heroic, noble and ultimately vapid.

Friday, March 11, 2005

We’re Not Worried About the Solvency of Social Security, What With The Rapture Approaching And All

Andrew Ward of the Financial Times as quoted via Dan Froomin’s invaluable White House Briefing.

Lashawn Winston, a 31 year-old petrol station cashier, believes the whole debate is irrelevant. She is one of many Americans -- 59 per cent, according to a Time/CNN poll in 2002 -- who believe the apocalypse described in the Book of Revelation will eventually come true. “I'm not worried [about Social Security],' she says. 'Because by the time it becomes a problem we'll be on the other side.”

Maybe the Dems could start hammering this point home! For that matter, why bother with making tax cuts permanent? Hell, the Dems could carry this apocalyptic logic to all sorts of extremes in order to recapture the evangelical heart. Let gays marry, after all their all going to suffer a thousand years of torment at the hands of the one from Nazarath anyway, you know?

The Apocolypse! Catch The Fever!!

Monday, March 07, 2005

As Old As Corn Itself

Back in college, when I unexpectedly had the urge to eat foods prepared in something other then a microwave, my mom gave me Bob Sloan’s Dad’s Own Cookbook: Everything Your Mother Never Taught You. While the cookbook doesn’t stray from the staples (“Many recipes here are familiar,” Sloan writes in the introduction, “[T]hey are favorite foods of your childhood, so they’re bound to be hits with your kids.”) and assumes that users of it are culinary dolts (the recipe for scrambled eggs, for example, begins: Break the eggs into a medium bowl and beat with a whisk) there have been times when Cathy has found it surprisingly worthy of her own high culinary standards. One of our favorite recipes, found in its Bread Basics chapter, is the one for cornbread, which when accompanied by bowl of chili has been one of our most enduring comfort-food meals. Here it is:

Ingreedients (makes twenty pieces)
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter, plus extra greasing for the pan
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 2/3 cups milk
2 large eggs

1. Preheat the over to 350 F. Grease a 9 1/2 x 12 1/2 –inch baking pan with butter.
2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
3. Use a whisk to combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
4. Whisk together the milk, eggs, and the melted butter in a medium bowl. Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and blend wall with a wooden spoon until all the flour mixture is incorporated. the batter should be very moist but not runny.
5. Use a rubber spatula to transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan and spread the batter evenly over the whole pan.
6. Bake the break on the center rack of the oven until it is set (i.e., doesn’t wiggle in the middle) and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 12 minutes.
7. Let the bread cool on a rack in the pan for 20 minutes before cutting 20 squares.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Pushing Up

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
The Great Omega-3 Connection Mystery

About a month ago this book arrived in the mail from Amazon. It was addressed to Cathy, but there was no note or any evidence as to who may have been so moved as to send it. The Amazon review of the book says that it’s a “must read for anyone dealing with depression,” a mental funk that Cathy’s rarely if ever afflicted with. The cover heralds the book as, “THE GROUNDBREAKING ANTIDEPRESSION DIET AND BRAIN PROGRAM,” and contains chapters with titles like, “Fighting Major Depression with Omega-3 Oils,” and “Omega-3 and Bipolar Disorder.” Its author, the salmon healing Adrew L. Stoll, M.D., introduces the book with an anecdote concerning a patient of his whose life had been under the screws of bipolar depression for decades before he nobly ushered her into a controlled, double-bind study he was conducting testing the merits of fish oil (“consisting of fatty acids in the omega-3 category”) where her mania and depression lifted.

So weird, man, to have received this in the mail without any note or follow-up from the person or persons who ordered it and sent it to Cathy. We’re big fans of the fish, and have long known of the magical health properties of omega-3’s and the difference between the good and bad cholesterols so it’s always nice to get a book that further extols the virtues of eating foods rich in the right kinds of fatty acids but we’d love for its sender to make themselves known in addition to explaining there reasoning.

More days like today! A hearty round of applause for the warmth and the sun attending to us this early in March. We knew we’d get a few of these days this month, so how great to be rewarded this soon. I took a great walk this morning and was amazed by how many baby carriages I saw out for a cruise, as though all these new moms and dads were taking their Winter newborns outside for the first time, strapping them into their pimped out strollers and proudly introducing them to the virtues of sidewalks and warmth generated from something other then heating ducts. Welcome little peanuts!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Cursory Breakdown Of The American Indie

There’s no need to read Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, And The Rise Of Independent Film when I can just as easily break down its 484 pages into these 4 representative quotes:

Then there’s Miramax, run by the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob. They have a reputation for brilliance, but also for malice and brutality.

Once again Sundance was adrift.

Harvey flew into a rage.

You Fuckin’ piece of shit!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Working Out With Tracy And Budaixi

I worked out this morning with Tracy York. And it’s true what they say about her- she’s not exceedingly spunky at all. She’s cheerful, but just the right kind of cheerful. She reminds us that certain exercises are going to make us look great in "a strapless dress in summer." So look out, girls, my shoulders are going to have so much definition come June!

I must admit to having never worked out to video instruction before (not that I’ve been overcome previously with any burning desires), but given that we recently purchased a workout bench, I wanted to find something that would demonstrate the proper techniques for a variety of different upper and lower body exercises. And Tracy comes through. In roughly an hour she walks you through a dozen exercises, demonstrating the correct posture, brightly extolling their benefits and gently coaxing you on. I felt I had let her down whenever she'd say, "Just two more," and I had already put my weights down. Next time, Tracy, I'm with you all the way. Best of all, she teaches some simple stretches to do between each exercise, something I’m guilty of all but abandoning in my day to day workouts. After I was done I had a King Size thing of Peanut M & M’s. No shit. They’d been sitting in the freezer for over a week and I just felt like, well, “This will be my lunch today.”

The January 15-21st issue of the Economist has a special survey of Taiwan, which is especially interesting given the EU’s recent push to lift the 15-year old arms embargo on China and the tensions that’s creating with the U.S. The U.S. fears that any such decision to lift the embargo would give China access to the kind of high technology battlefield wares it currently can’t provide for itself but Europe can. This all makes the administration and many in Congress (Republicans and Democrats alike) wary, especially given China’s huge arms build-up over the last decade and their frequent saber rattling whenever Taiwan makes mention or even hints of asserting its independence from China. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to protect Taiwan, so if anything were to go down (the current President, Chen Shui-bian, would love to establish this independence before his term is up in 2008, but I can’t imagine he’ll really do anything in earnest) we’d probably be dragged into a fight, something that would be disastrous for not just for those involved, but for the world.

But what I really wanted to mention was that in this Economist survey about Taiwan there was this great article that reminded me of “Taiwan’s deep fascination with a televised form of puppet theatre,” called budaixi.

Budaixi, as the art form is known, is an omnipresent feature of Taiwan’s cultural and political life. The island’s biggest budaixi production company, PiLi International Multimedia, says it has an annual turnover of $35m. A million people a week rent the latest PiLi shows on DVD. Dudaixi puppets feature the wooden expressions and jerky movements of early TV animations, but the characters, costumes and plots draw on ancient Chinese sources, with a heavy dose of martial arts and special effects. The target audience is grownups as well as children.

Hou Hsiao-hsien, a brilliant Taiwanese director, made a stunning (it’s definitely his masterpiece, and many consider him one the world’s greatest living directors- he’s definitely one of my favorites) film in 1993 about one of Taiwan’s greatest budaixi puppeteers, Li Tien-Lu. The Puppetmaster, through interviews with Li (a fourth generation puppeteer who died in 1998 and was considered by many in Taiwan to be their greatest puppeteer and a national treasure) and recreations of his life, poetically examines early 20th-century Taiwan through the prism of Li’s life. So you get to see a lot of amazing budaixi performances as well as listen to Li reminisce not only about the scene we just saw but about his profession and his life. It’s available on DVD, as are a number of Hou’s films, and definitely worth your time and patience.

Mr. President, How May I Kiss More Ass?

Now why would they want to go and do something like that?

Can you imagine any of those Republican members of the House or Senate who will be up for re-election next year wanting to hold a vote on privatizing Social Security in 2006?

Finally, it seems like a majority of the public has awoken to the fact that the whole thing is, as usual, a façade. Potemkin village style!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


It’s funny how you come to expect these “sharp divide” 5-4 decisions in these sure to be contorversial Supreme Court rulings, holding your breath in hopes that Kennedy or O’Conner made the right decision and sided with Stevens, Souter, Ginsberg and Breyer rather than with the dark forces of Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas. This time it was Kennedy who joined the good wizards and who also wrote the majority opinion. He wrote:

A majority of states have rejected the imposition of the death penalty on juvenile offenders under 18, and we now hold this is required by the Eighth Amendment.

Also of interest and applause were Kennedy and the majority’s look at international standards in regards to the issue of juveniles and the death penalty. He writes:

Our determination that the death penalty is disproportionate punishment for offenders under 18 finds confirmation in the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty.

In fact, as he goes on the mention, the only other countries to execute juveniles since 1990 besides the United States hardly made for good company: Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and China, all of whom, since 1990, have “either abolished capital punishment for juveniles or made public disavowal of their practice.”

Charles Lane of the Washington Post writes more about the relevance of international law:

For the Supreme Court itself, perhaps the most significant effect of today's decision is to reaffirm the relevance of international law to its interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

The European Union, human right lawyers from the United Kingdom and a group of former Nobel Peace Prize winners had urged the court in friend-of-the-court briefs to strike down the juvenile death penalty.

In saying that this strong expression of international sentiment "provide[s] respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions," Kennedy lengthened the recent string of decisions in which the court has incorporated foreign views -- and decisively rejected the arguments of those on the court, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, who say the court should consider U.S. law exclusively.

Nice to see, especially in light of Ashcroft and Gonzalez’s recent and deplorable excusing of the President’s obligations to international law.

It’s worth reading or skimming all of Kennedy’s majority opinion, which delves into all sorts of fascinating and thought provocative issues like constitutional interpretation (how is something with such expansive language as “cruel and unusual punishment,” to be interpreted?), and the necessity in this case of “referring to ‘the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society’ to determine which punishments are so disproportionate as to be cruel and unusual,” which involves taking a good long look at what constitutes a “national consensus,” and whether or not one has developed against the execution of offenders who were under 18 when the crime was committed. Just as important is to read Scalia’s scathing (he went so far as to read it from the bench, a rareity and a sign of the minority's displeasure) minority dissent (joined by Rehnquist and Thomas, O’Conner wrote her own dissent) which makes some interesting (if not entirely trustworthy) points regarding the majority’s supposed cherry-picking of sociological opinions and reliance on the aforementioned views of other countries in barring or disavowing the execution of under-18 offenders in supporting their opinion.

With this ruling we are, I sincerely hope, one step closer to abolishing our barbaric death penalty system altogether.