Friday, September 30, 2005

Return of Friday Random 10

Since I installed iTunes 5, iTunes isn't recognizing my iPod - wonderful. This is not the time to do trouble shooting htough - i{od and iTunes work ifne on their own - but I have an Isley Brothers CD that has to get on the iPod soon... but until then....

Random 10!

David Bowie - Moonage Daydream
Sleater-Kinney - Let's Call it Love
Robert Johnson - if I had Possession over Judgment Day
Gomez - Do On (live)
Yoko Ono/Yo La Tengo - Hedwig's Lament/Exquisite Corpse
Crabs - Tumbling Away (what this is, where it came from and why, I don't know in the least; though it's not half bad)
Matthew Sweet - Nothing Lasts
Faust - Just a Second (Starts like That)
Pavement - Lions (Linden)
Pere Ubu - Misery Goats

don't fret now baby, don't be so tired...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

So Long and thanks for the Dart Guns

While reading Feministe, I came across this story - 36 armed and dangerous dolphins were swept into the Gulf of Mexico by hurricane Katrina. No, I'm not joking. The Navy, apparently, trained them how to shoot terrorists with poison dart guns...

What can I say? Just pray, pray! that their Weapons of Windsurfer Destruction don't fall into the wrong hands... tentacles, more precisely.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Return of Sunday Night Movie Reviews

I have not posted any movie reviews in almost a month - looks like August 28 - great scott. I have, in that time, seen exactly 4 movies - I have been moving, that has taken all my disposable time....

All right then! here we go!

The Brothers Grimm - ** - 2 whole stars? I suppose it's watchable. In short, a really mediocre film. A disappointment from Terry Gilliam.

If Lucy Fell - ** - Okay. I know a lot of people hate Eric Schaeffer films - I understand that, especially hating Eric Schaeffer himself. He has as annoying a screen presence as you can get. Even when I figured out that he was trying to do Mickey Rooney (the hair, the mannerisms - he's doing Mickey Rooney!) - it didn't help. He was still annoying.... But the rest of it - the film - is not all that bad, not really. Not really worth seeing (except maybe to test your ability to take Eric Schaeffer himself), but hardly the atrocity it's sometimes billed as.

The Baxter
**1/2 - it occurs to me that this film is giving a name to a genre of films - "Baxter" films. About more or less nice guys, passed over by life and love, who find life and love. The 40 Year Old Virgin, maybe even the Wedding Crashers, definitely Sideways (all the films I mentioned last time)... Anyway - this is from Michael Showalter, one of the guys who makes Stella, the TV show (that I don't watch, since I don't watch TV) - he's an accountant, engaged to a yuppy princess, but her old boyfriend comes back, in the form of Justin Theroux (who is very funny)... But Showalter meets another girl, Michelle Williams, playing a mousy temp who sings, and is dating Paul Rudd... Some hilarity, some absurdity, some pointlessly convoluted story-telling follows, with amusing results. But no better than that. It's just okay.

The Conformist **** - Bernardo Bertolucci is probably the world's most overrated director - perpetrator of endless, dragging, extravaganzas.... yuck... But this one probably deserves the praise. Jean-Louis Trintignant stars as the title character - an Italian intellectual, trying to join the fascist party to fit in - who is sent to kill an exiled professor... it's a gorgeous film, the sets and cinematography used to great effect - isolating Trintignant in vast, empty, soulless spaces, or making him fight against waves of people - he constantly tries to go along, to disappear into society, but constantly finds himself fighting against people. The symbolism is a bit heavy handed at times, but it works anyway.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

List o' Auteurs

I have been away. I have been moving, unpacking, the works. I have been between places. I am getting settled in - may even see a movie or two soon! Hooray!

I am going to play the auteurist game a bit - I am going to post a list of my top 20 favorite directors. I am posting it because I suspect it is going to change. The top 20, possibly the top 10 is going to change in the next month - there is a nice Mikio Naruse series coming to Boston (a nicer one coming to New York, I think) - I have seen three of his films (Late Chrysanthemums, Mother, and When a Woman Ascends the Stairs) - all masterpieces. Seeing another dozen or so should push him well up this list...

So without further ado - here it is:

1 Yasujiro Ozu
2 Frank Capra
3 Jean-Luc Godard
4 Kenji Mizoguchi
5 Howard Hawks
6 Jean Renoir
7 Shohei Imamura
8 Sir Alfred Hitchcock
9 Robert Altman
10 Hou Hsiao Hsien
11 Robert Bresson
12 Werner Herzog
13 David Lynch
14 Sergei Eisenstein
15 John Cassavetes
16 Akira Kurosawa
17 FW Murnau
18 Buster Keaton
19 Satyajit Ray
20 John Ford

Some of these change every time I try to write a list - the order of course, and the last 2-3 of them. Ray and Ford aren't very safe - Griffiths, Bergman, Rosselini, Welles - Kieslowski and Ichikawa - are all close. I have little doubt, though, that Naruse will make the "safe" list.

I also hope to report back on the Naruse series as I see it. I have been lax in writing here - I hope to make that up in the coming weeks.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Blog Like a Scourge of the Seas Day

Argh and avast, ye lubbers, it's Talk Like a Pirate Day! So run up the jolly roger and prime the 9 pounder, we're comin' fer yer booty, ye dirty scurvy dogs!

And check out P.Z. Myers for buccaneer talk, blog schmoozing, and squid vs. whale battles.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Cable's Back!

Yes, I have been missing - I have been moving. I am back online, and starting to unpack, and so, perhaps, we can get back to our regularly scheduled 2 a week posts.

Now - a week away from regular access to the internet causes great pain - so now that I'm back, it's good to be reminded of why the internet was invented in the first place. If it was not invented so someone could create Dictionareoke, it should have been. Words cannot describe the happiness this brings! Online dictionary voices singing many fabulous hits! What more could anyone ask? (Via Empty Handed.)

(Though of course, Cats in Sinks are nice too. Via Xoverboard.)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Slate Outdoes Onion Once Again

What the hell is this? From Slate - one Steven Landsburg writes about how disaster relief encourages people to live in dangerous places. He sets up a cute little model - a "fable" - in which people choose between living in a dangerous city and a safer city - he complains that disaster relief encourages people to live in dangerous places. That, in the absence of disaster relief, people would not live in New Orleans or San Francisco.

Part of the comedy is built on one of the points in his model - that given identical cities, one subject to earthquakes and one not - hosing prices (say) will be cheaper in the one subject to earthquakes. ("Otherwise, nobody would live there.") Now true - he's cheating by imagining these 2 identical cities - and real cities are not identical - but still. There's great comedy inherent in imagining that San Francisco, for instance, has cheap housing.

He hems and haws about his model, but what the model really does is eliminate the underlying reason why there are cities in flood planes and next to volcanos and on fault lines in the first place. New Orleans is a Port - an ocean port that connects to the third largest river n the world, a river, furthermore, that connects one of the most fertile plains of the world to the ocean. That is far more important in why there is a city there than any federal disaster relief. Likewise San Francisco. Have you ever been to San Francisco? Did you notice the deep harbor? Did you notice the proximity to superb agricultural areas? Even the climate, Mark Twain notwithstanding - compared to New Orleans? Compared to Buffalo?

Cities stand in these places because places like New Orleans and San Francisco (and Los Angeles, for that matter, or Tokyo or Naples or most other large cities in disaster prone locations) offer the things civilization needs - access to water, to fertile lands, accessible from other places. I wish people whining about disaster relief or why people would live in a drained swamp 10 feet below sea level in hurricane country would just spend 10 minutes looking at a fucking map, and then shut up and send some money to the Red Cross.

(The title, of course, is a gloss on the Onion's coverage of the hurricane. Which, while not up to their post 9/11 coverage, is predictably sharp, funny and, for the most part, true. "White Foragers Report Threat Of Black Looters". Yep.)

Emerging New Orleans Stories

The stories coming out of New Orleans this week are not encouraging. "Be careful what you wish for" - last week we were wondering where the feds were, where the military were - now - they're in New Orleans, but are acting, according to some reports, like an occupying army. Granted, much of this is anecdotal - but there is a lot of it, and so far, it's all fit with what was around last week.

This story has been getting a lot of play on the blogs. It's by two paramedics who were attending a conference, were trapped in New Orleans by the hurricane, and had the devil's time getting out. It confirms, of all things, Geraldo Rivera's hysterical bit about letting the people walk out of the city: the paramedics had been at a hotel - they left, passed the conference center and - having been told there were buses across the river, tried to cross the bridge to Gretna - and were turned back by police. Later (after the news of the people trying to cross the bridge got out?), the police dispersed the people waiting on the freeway. Digby has some comments - making the salient point that any effective attempt to cope with the catastophe has to start with meeting basic needs - water, food, some degree of security. Once that's there, people move on - cooperate, think about how to get out, etc. The excuse given for FEMA not letting the Red Cross into New Orleans is that "relief operations" might encourage people to stay in New Orleans - but it seems far more likely that getting food and water and whatever other relief the Red Cross could get to the city would have reassured the evacuees, cut down the desperation, fear, and so on, made the evacuation operation go much better.

Meanwhile - here is another eyewitness account, from a French tourist in the superdome - complete with stories of callousness from the National Guard. That - like the stories of rapes and murders in the superdome - sounds very likely to be fairly isolated and uncommon. But with 30,000 people crammed into a building, or being stuffed into buses outside, one or two incidents will be observed by a lot of people, and the stories will spread, and... I don't know that: but the stories coming out now tend to indicate that violence and evil were far less widespread than were reported in the media. (Here's a good story, from the Lenin's Tomb blog, summarizing and discussing these stories.) It's being noted that the stories about looting probably drove soe of the panicky decisions to keep rescuers out of New Orleans until security could be restored (when, of course, the easiest way to have restored security would have been to feed everyone and maybe give them a clean place to take a crap, and give them a straight answer on when they could get out.) Someone (I don't remember who - a peril of getting news from the internet) pointed out that the stories of violence and horror in the superdome were pushed to emphasize the importance of dealing with the problems there - and might have gotten the attention of the government, enough that, by the weekend at least, they seemed resigned to letting the people stuck in New Orleans live. But those stories also probably slowed down response, and are being used now to justify drastic security measures - the Red Cross may or may not b in New Orleans - the Hessians are there!

Another disturbing possibility is this - Josh Marshall has evidence that the government is cutting off press access to New Orleans. His evidence comes from wild-eyed radicals like Brian Williams - "the fact that the National Guard now bars entry (by journalists) to the very places where people last week were barred from LEAVING (The Convention Center and Superdome) is a kind of perverse and perfectly backward postscript to this awful chapter in American history". Now - since seeing that post, I have seen a few stories from other journalists and blogs that journalists have good access to the city still - it' hard to say what is going on. Obviously, it is crucial that the press have access to the city - it is bad enough that the press has been fairly well censored in Iraq - it would be a Very Bad Thing if the same standards were applied on American soil.

I don't know what kinds of conclusions I can draw from this. There is to much information to process, and it's all - almost every single bit of it - raw, limited, impressionistic - eyewitness accounts, specific news reports, etc. - it is almost impossible to put together a complete picture of what happened and what is happening.

One conclusion that suggests itself, though, is that the official response to this crisis is just as piecemeal, confused, uncoordinated as the news. Nothing at all has emerged indicating that FEMA has been able to mount any kind of coherent coordinated response to this crisis. The Respectful of Otters blog has a good post about the lack of coordination among what has been, in fact, a pretty damned impressive response to this crisis. It's been fun scoring theoretical political points in the wake of this crisis, but - there are some good ones to score. This is what governments are for. This is also, probably, an indication of both the limits of capitalism, and the reasons why capitalism itself requires a reliable government to work correctly. Capitalism - in the sense of individuals and organizations acting in their own interests - can get people to act, and has, in this instance. (And let me say this: anyone who thinks that it is not in their interests to help their fellow citizens in a time of need is a fool. The simplest reason is that the interests of the people directly affected by this hurricane are our interests - "they" are we. It is gratifying to see that this view is shared by a very large number of private citizens, cities and states, corporations, etc. Even if Sean Penn brings a crew of photographers along - he's there and he's helping people.) But for it to work, there has to be something guiding it - especially in a crisis of this magnitude. Someone has to be in charge. Someone has to be able to coordinate between the various kinds of rescue operations going on - between the local cops protecting their neighborhoods (to put the best possible spin on the bridge story) and the people trying to leave the city, between Walmart's donated water, Aaron Broussard, and whoever got that water instead of Broussard - and so on. That seems to be completely missing - no one seems to have been aware of everything going on - no one seems to have been trying to line up all the potential sources of aid - no one was making sure all the i's were dotted and t's were crossed to get government resources onto the scene - no one was assessing the aid that was coming in and making sure it was being used effectively (the story of the firemen being trained as leafletters has caused justifiable outrage)... No one was in charge.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Post of the Year?

I was planning to go to bed, half an hour or so ago or more - but came on this post, over at Making Light. "Folksongs are Your Friends" - I will quote only the end:

Pop quiz!

You are a beautiful young lady named Janet. On the first of May you meet a man in a patch of broom down by the greenwoodside. He invites you to his home on the far side of the sea, and earnestly entreats you to keep his invitation secret from your parents. The ship is leaving right away, this very night!

What should you do?

What can you do?

Monday, September 05, 2005

What the Navy Thinks

I don't know what good it does to pile on to George Bush at this point - the government botched the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a pretty well established fact. But Kevin Drum points out this story - a naval officer criticizing the president. Really? Yes - the navy was on the scene, directly behind the hurricane, ready to send in aid as soon as the hurricane moved on - but the military needs explicit orders from the president to act within the United States. Which they did not get. Some of Bush's supporters like to claim that in this modern day and age, he does not have to be in Washington to run the country - he can be dicking around at his ranch, of hamming it up with some country singer, and still be in charge.

Apparently not.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A Respite

Meanwhile, maybe the Friday icommute can bring some relief to the gloom on this blog:

1. Fairport convention - Sir Patrick Spens
2. Beastie Boys - Something's got to Give
3. O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack -Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby
4. The Byrds - Hungry Planet
5. System of a Down - This Cocaine Makes me Feel Like I'm On this Song
6. Embrace - Money
7. Radiohead - Morning Bell (Kid A version)
8. Grateful Dead - Cosmic Charlie
9. Rage Against the Machine - Township Rebellion
10. Big Star - Dream Lover
1. Pere Ubu - Young Miles in te Basement
12. Mahavishnu Orchestra - A Lotus on Irish Streams

September Second

First - another day of ghastly post-hurricane new from New Orleans. Maybe, finally, people are getting out - but the place is hell on earth. It's inconceivably horrible - horrible for obvious reasons, inconceivable because, how could this happen? Not the hurricane and floods themselves, that happens - even the destruction of the city - cities are sometimes destroyed. What's inconceivable is how, in the United States, 5 days after the storm hit, and 4 days after the levees broke and submerged the city, there are still tens of thousands of people in the city, living in utterly desperate circumstances, in a war zone. You can see the relief efforts ramping up - but how did it take this long? Nothing that has happened is a surprise - looting? people living without food or shelter or water? people dying? All of that was predictable - much of it could have been mitigated (more supplies laid in at the Superdome - immediate resources committed to keep the peace) - how did it not happen? I have seen this - a major hurricane hitting New Orleans - listed as one of the three worst case disasters we could face: terrorism in New York - a major earthquake in San Francisco - and this. Of the three - this is the one you have the most time to prepare for. We had 2 or 3 days to prepare for this one - we had a pretty clear idea of what would happen if it hit - and yet - everything about it, from the evacuation planning to the provisions for refugees to the relief efforts have been half-assed. It's horrible.

Meanwhile - unrelated (except so far as getting involved in an unjustified war has drained money and resources that could have been used to deal with domestic problems - especially so far as sending National Guardsmen overseas for extended duty has drawn them away from their primary purpose, which is to deal with events like hurricane Katrina), but horrible - it is the second anniversary of the death of my friend Todd in Iraq. A guardsman, an MP - exactly the kind of person needed at home in case of crisis. I hate to politicize disasters, personal or public - but it's hard. He had no business being there. None of our soldiers had any business being there, but it's adding insult to injury to do it on the cheap. If we were going to fight this war, we would have been far far better doing it honestly - paying as we went - not stripping domestic security, mortgaging the future, stripping money away from preventive measures like work on the levees, to fight it. What we are getting in New Orleans is worse than the taxes would be, worse than the draft, worse than whatever it would have taken to fight the Iraq war honestly. We will end up paying for it directly as well.

It's been a very bad week for America...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Post #2

While I still doubt that my opinion adds anything to the hurricane news, I can't stop thinking about it. It's hard to get a grasp on the scope of this disaster. It is harder still to get a grasp on how such a thing could have happened in the face of what we have known about its possibility. Kevin Drum links to several discussions of the potential for disaster - such as this one from last year, describing what could happen if Hurricane Ivan hit New Orleans. The last line:
"My fear is, if this storm passes (without a major disaster), everybody forgets about it until next year, when it could be even worse because we'll have even less wetlands," van Heerden said.
The disaster has been heavily politicized already - given the reports of the Bush administration cutting funding for disaster relief and preventive measures in Louisiana (see Kevin Drum, again); given the administration's rather - odd - reaction to the disaster (Bush playing guitar; Condi Rice buying shoes); the director of Homeland Security blaming the victims - and the rest of the administration lining up behind him: " help those who are stranded, who chose not to evacuate, who chose not to leave the city..." - it's going to be hard not to politicize it. This stands a very good chance of being the thing that destroy's Bush's presidency - ironic, since it is a natural disaster, something he had no control over - but it can wake people up. And - after all - he had enough control over the conditions that made this such a nightmare, and he has control over how the government reacts to it. Blaming the victims isn't going to fly.

Just watching TV this evening - it's different. The first day or two, seeing the looters and hearing the TV people talk about looting, there was a different tone - that usual smug judgmental toe about the looters, though even then - looking at the footage - everyone they showed seemed to be dragging bags of food and drinks around with them. But tonight - on one of the channels, some cop was being interviewed and the TV person asked him how the cops would distinguish between people taking food and people taking televisions. There's still way more attention to the TV thieves than they deserve - but the focus does seem to be on the real problem - the fact that tens of thousands of people were stuck in the city because they could not get out of the city. And that - what - 3 days later, no one has gotten them out of the city, no one is getting food and water and supplies in to them in the city.

How much of this could have been prevented? By what means? Commandeering buses or planes or boats and evacuating people before the storm hit? Having a contingency plan for this completely foreseeable possible disaster? What?

I'll stop. Blame is - well, sometimes it's useful - knowing why things were this bad might teach us lessons. Though it probably won't... The hardest thing remains just processing the scope of the disaster. Xoverboard has some interesting thoughts on that - on the ways this disaster dwarfs the 9/11 attacks, on the overall importance of this event. And some thoughts on blame - who and why - that I can’t argue with.

Anyway - once more - if you have it, give - The Red Cross is as good a place as any.

Hurricane Aftermath

As usual, I don't have much to say about the devastation of the gulf coast by hurricane Katrina. There's not much my opinion can do. If you can, give - charities abound - the big portals (Yahoo, Amazon, etc.) usually have a prominant link or page for donations (usually to the Red Cross) - most newspapers have links. The best collection of links, information and discussion (among the blogs I usually read) is probably at Making Light - they offer a collection of links themselves, at this post; and a link to a nice article about emergency preparedness - "jump bags".