Saturday, April 25, 2015


100 years ago today, the landings on Gallipoli Peninsular took place. The campaign was the brainchild of Winston Churchill basically - the idea was for the allies to force their way up the Dardenelles and take Constantinople, giving them access to the Black Sea, and thus Russia. There's a lot of backstory to this battle. Start with the Ottoman Empire deciding to join the Germans and Austrians in the war. The Young Turks hwo rules the Ottoman empire were close to the Germans - the British tended to be more bullying, while the Germans offered help and support - the Turks chose Germany. That shut off the Dardenelles, and most significantly, cut off sea routes to Russia. The Russians in 1914 were desperately short of supplies - England and France had no way to get them material. So Churchill and company thought to force their way up the Dardenelles, take Constantinople, and open the shipping lanes to the Black Sea.

Churchill tried first to do it with naval power alone. Battleships were sent, they bombarded the Turkish defenses, then tried to steam up the straights - only to be devastated by mines, primarily. Several ships sank - the fleet retreated. After this, the army was sent in. The idea was to find and destroy the Ottoman artillery - the guns hadn't done much against the battleships, but they had driven off the minesweepers, leaving the battleships helpless against mines. And so - on April 25, 1915, troops were put ashore at several beaches on the Gallipoli peninsular.

The landings were a disaster. Amphibious landings under fire were still something of a novelty - getting men ashore was not easy. What's worse - the Allies did not really know what they were getting into. The ANZAC forces landed a mile off from where they were supposed to land - across the whole area, the Allies did not understand the lay of the land, the conditions on the beaches and so on. They didn't have any idea of the strength of the men waiting for them. They landed in the face of determined resistance, from men dug in on high ground, from positions that allowed crossing fire - they never had a chance. Casualties ran 60-70% in most of the battlegrounds - by the end of the first day, the British and ANZAC forces had managed to take a strip of land by the beaches, but no more. And they never went anywhere in the next 7 months. Because as bad as the landings went, once the Turks were able to bring in enough men to hold the ground, they had the allies completely at their mercy. They had the high ground - they had positions that let them rake the allied positions - the battle quickly turned into protracted trench warfare. It was probably worse than anything on the western front, too - the peninsular was dry and hot, and what fresh water there was was controlled by the Ottomans - water had to be brought in to the allied forces - every thing had to be brought ashore to the allies forces. And there was never enough - the trenches became hellish and stayed that way.

In the end, the allies left, losing 250,000 odd men. The Turks lost about the same, but they won, expelling the invaders. As far as the war went, it was just another of the many pointless and hopeless battles that accomplished nothing but very long casualty lists. Beyond the war, though, it has a great deal of importance. It was a great moment in Turkish nationalism - the victory had great importance to their morale, and provided a source of national pride. It also elevated Mustafa Kemal (later Attaturk) to prominence. It had a similar effect in Australia and New Zealand. The heroism and suffering of the ANZAC troops made Gallipoli the definitive campaign for those countries. And their use - the sense of being thrown into battle half prepared, and of beings used as distractions and covers for the British (an idea that is not really fair) - led to resentment in Australia and New Zealand against the British, and helped to form the idea of those countries as nations unto themselves. It strengthened their sense of independence - the emergence of their sense of national character. It has made today, April 25, a national holiday in both countries, and made it the most important military commemoration as well.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday Freeze (winter clings...)

I wake up this morning and find it cold again - cold! why is it so cold? Because I'm writing papers about Russia? Probably. That must be it. In any case, as we proceed - another simple weekly music post is in order. Expect something more substantial tomorrow for ANZAC day, but for now, let's just have some iTunes fun to mark the successful ends of another working week...


1. of Montreal - Heimdalsgate Like a Pormethean Curse
2. Prince & The Revolution - When Doves Cry
3. Pavement - So Stark
4. Danielson - This Day is a Loaf
5. John Lee Hooker - Burning Hell
6. Grateful Dead - New Speedway Boogie
7. Fairport Convention - Doctor of Physick
8. Decembrists - of Angels and Angles
9. Minutemen - Bermuda
10. Built to Spill - ut of Sight

Video? dig if you will a picture...

Here's an acoustic version of the Of Montreal song:

And - we got John Lee Hooker on the list, so we gotta have John Lee Hooker - ain't no heaven, ain't no burning hell.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Gas! Gas!

The other big historical anniversary right now is the Great War. And what happened 100 years ago today needs to be mentioned. On April 22, 1915, the Second Battle of Ypres began - it was a very important battle, because it marked the first successful use of poison gas in WWI. The Germans opened the attack by releasing a great mass of chlorine gas - they had it in canisters that they opened by hand, and hoped the wind would carry it over the French lines. It did (though it also poisoned a good number of Germans) - it devastated the soldiers in the front lines, and caused a huge gap to open in the lines. But the Germans weren't prepared to exploit the opening - they didn't have reserves ready to attack, whether because they didn't think the gas would work that well, or because they were as afraid of it as the French, I don't know. In any case, the hole opened, but by the time the Germans attacked, the Allies were able to close the gap. And just like that, they were back to regular trench warfare, and the battle continued another month and another 100,000 or so casualties for both sides.

On a tactical level, it was WWI in miniature - a new method of attack that did, in fact, break the stalemate, but that couldn't be exploited, followed by endless repetitions of the same tactic, that couldn't work again. Almost from the start, certain Canadians realized they could protect themselves from the gas by pissing on cloth and breathing through it - it didn't take long for word to get around, and then for gas masks to be distributed. These defenses were never enough to prevent the horrors of gas warfare, but they were enough to negate it as an offensive tactic. It just became another horrible way to die. And everyone kept doing it - the Germans tried again on the 24th of April, with some success, but never enough to break through. After that, everyone started using gas, but it was never decisive again. Just another method of killing, that usually caused as much trouble for the attackers as the defenders (since the gas hangs around in trenches, and you have to advance through it). It is one of the many things that made this war one of the most horrifying things human beings have done to one another, made trench warfare a sustained hell on earth. And, after April 22, 1915, never really accomplishing anything of military importance.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Music to Rain By

Happy Friday! Coming up on a long weekend, in Boston anyway. Is spring here? it is warmer, though it's back to raining all the time. But that is spring. I am not very energetic this morning, so let us turn directly to iTunes for inspiration:

1. Mudhoney - In and Out of Grace
2. Deerhoof - News From a Bird
3. Arcade Fire - Joan of Arc
4. fIREHOSE - More Famous Quotes (play it George!)
5. Richard Thompson - Mr Rebound
6. Saint Etienne - Action
7. Interpol - Always Malaise (The Man I am)
8. Nirvana - In Bloom (live)
9. Loren Connors - Air No 13
10. Scott Walker - Epizootics

Video? Here's Mudhoney, of course:

here's another band from the Pacific Northwest, singing about pretty songs:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Assassination of Lincoln

150 years ago today, John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in the third act of The American Cousin at the Ford Theater... (I pick on the lede - but it's actually a pretty sharp piece of reporting - with the writer also turning over the assassin's gun to the authorities.) Coming 5 days after Lee's surrender, this was a horrible shock to the country - his funeral would be the occasion of intense mourning.

It was a terrible event - and in retrospect, it becomes even more appalling. The Vice President was Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, who had been placed on the ticket as a symbol of unity with the south, and who was already something of a problem. He was given to intemperate remarks - he was considered more vindictive than Lincoln. He'd also made a fool of himself at his inauguration, getting good and plastered and giving a drunken blur of a speech - since then, he'd stayed out of sight and hoped everyone would forget about him. And now he was president. And as president, he set about trying to reconstruct the Union, in a way that brought the old southern slaveholders back to power, let them pass laws that virtually reinstated slavery under new names... The Republicans in congress were having none of this, and passed their own laws, and when he vetoed them, they overrode his vetoes, and when things went far enough, they impeached him.

It was a disaster, the United States government breaking down at a time when it needed to be very sharp, to deal with reintegrating an unrepentant south into the country without surrendering the freedom won by the war. The radicals in congress eventually were able to implement their policies - but only for a few years, and with much of the gains of the war undone at the end of Reconstructions. Could Lincoln have done better? His stated policy toward the south was probably closer to Johnson's than to the radical Republicans - but he was also a better politician, and had a better sense of doing what needed to be done. It seems likely he would have done far more to protect the rights of Blacks after the war - his policies had evolved steadily toward more radical positions toward slavery and race, and it's reasonable to expect that would have continued. But saying that - it is also possible that he would have been hung up on the same issues that destroyed Johnson. It wasn't just Johnson's policies that undid him - it was the villainy of the south, who did everything they could to undo the end of slavery. Johnson's problem, and Lincoln's if he lived, was not so much the radical Republicans as it was the former confederates - Johnson was willing to work with the confederates; would Lincoln have been? would he have been able to get them to accept free Blacks, Black voting, and so on? He might have - but it's no guarantee. And if they didn't cooperate, they were going to come into conflict with the congressional Republicans, the Thaddeus Stevens, Ben Wade, Charles Sumner types - they had won the war, and were not about to give in now. It is possible, in the end, that had Lincoln lived, the next couple years would have undone a lot of his legacy - maybe not likely, but possible.

But none of that happened. Lincoln died, and history went where it did (and where it went ended up being mostly bad - 100 years wasted, basically). And Lincoln's life itself remains as one of the greatest in this countries history. He did win the Civil War - more than any other president won any of our other wars. He was, fairly early in the war, the sharpest strategist - understanding the need to use the Union's advantages in number and material to crush the Confederacy, understanding the need for action and aggression. And as a politician, he kept a very fragile and contentious country together - kept it committed to a bloody and destructive war, until it won. And finally, he freed the slaves - he recognized the reasons for the war, and accepted them, and imagined, during the war, the opportunities it afforded, of making the United States worthy of its imagined view of itself. We were not, before 1863, or 1865, a very admirable country - we were not free, however much we wanted to say we were. Slavery poisoned us, almost incurably - and Lincoln saw that, and moved to change it, and to reinvent the country as what it should have been. That matters. Even if Reconstruction failed, the war, and Lincoln, remained as a reminder of what we were trying to become. We have a model of what the country should be, what it can be, something we can live up to. Abraham Lincoln works pretty well for that.

Friday, April 10, 2015

If I'm Not in the Band Doesn't Mean I'm Square

Band of the Month time - this month, I think, it's time for Mercury Rev. I name dropped them quite a bit last month - I'm not sure how much direct link there is between Mercury Rev and TV on the Radio, but I can see the continuity in my affection for the two bands. I discovered Mercury Rev about the turn of the millennium - maybe with All is Dream, maybe before, I don't know. I remember reading about them, probably in Mojo, back around the end of 2001 - about the time I was discovering Krautrock, Japanese Noise (Boredoms, Acid Mothers Temple), real prog (Van Der Graf Generator, Soft Machine) - they sounded intriguing, I got a couple records, and immediately became a fan. I imagine I got All is Dream and Yerself is Steam together - close to it anyway - those are very different records, but I adored both. I certainly listened to both records rather obsessively for a while... a fact to be reflected in our song list, I imagine... They were, in that period (first couple years of the millennium), just about my favorite band. They make a good token of what I was listening to - which is, admittedly, almost everything - the 00s I was listening to music regularly, and I had money, so I bought everything that struck my fancy - and listened to most of it! on CD! whole records! what a strange time! But they spanned a lot of styles - the noisy oddness of their early records to the lush song craft of their later ones - all of which I liked. Acid Mothers to classic Scott Walker to the Decembrists - Mercury Rev manages to touch most of it. That breadth, that mix of tunage and noise (with sense of humor), is what reminds me of them in TVOTR - that is the connection...

I loved both sides of them from the beginning, and still do. I was addicted to All is Dream - a gorgeous record, pretty, sophisticated songs, clever words ("caught like a fleeting thought stuck inside of Leonard Cohen's mind"), and bracketed by two of the most glorious orchestral rock songs on record. But I was in awe of Yerself is Steam. Those early records, I have to admit, probably come closer to hitting my sweet spot that anything else around at the time - they play like a mashup of Pere Ubu and Pink Floyd, performed by Faust or Amon Duul - wanking guitars, horns and strings and noise, shifting tempos and styles, squawking roar chasing melodic passages chasing mumbled weirdness - what's not to love? The Pere Ubu influence is hard to miss - Dave Baker has a lot of David Thomas in him, and more than one of their songs proceeds like Sentimental Journey bumping into Syd Barrett's poppier numbers. Which isn't far from the way Baker's vocals clash with Jonathan Donahue's - their voices contrast the way the parts of the songs contrast - the way their appearances clash, in things like the Chasing a Bee film... They are all over the place in a way that is just thrilling.

Once Baker left, the pop/melodic/orchestral side took over - even the music hall/dixieland influences (Meth of a Rockette's Kick or Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp) disappeared over time. (Was that a function of Suzanne Thorpe's departure? A lot of the off kilter complexity of their music came from her - the flute cutting against the squall, and so on...) Leaving them still fantastic, but maybe a bit more one dimensional. But they still make such good songs - what can I say against them? They have become craftsmen, and very fine ones - the production is superb, and songs are constructed with such richness, the instruments and sounds blended, interacting. Hercules stands as the perfection of this, I imagine, the way it builds, instruments slipping into the mix, accumulating, to the release of the guitar solo - and then quietly dissipating into the night - yes. That's the Pink Floyd influence, brought to perfection - probably no accident that I renewed my old love for the Floyd about the same time I started listening to Mercury Rev.

So that is that. And a top 10 Songs:

1. Hercules
2. Chasing a Bee
3. Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp - utterly joyful piece of music, this is, horns and guitars and keyboards and flute chasing each other - great stuff...
4. The Dark is Rising
5. Empire State (Son House in Excelsis)
6. Meth of a Rockette's Kick
7. Syring Mouth
8. Secret for a Song
9. Car Wash Hair
10. Something for Joey

And Video? We have to start with Film - they started as a band to make music for films (like Can! speaking of Krautrock...) - and those films are as cool, strange, beautiful as the songs. Here is Chasing a Bee, as epic on film as on record:

Here they are live in their early, abrasive days - Syringe Mouth, Baker's anti-charisma on full display, and Donahue and Grasshopper making a dreadful noise:

And here's a reminder that even in the early days the pretty songs were there - here, doing Snowstorm and Carwash Hair with Dean and Britta.

And later - another video, this for Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp, an altogether different kind of semi surrealism:

The Dark is Rising, live on Jools Holland:

And a Secret for a Song, also on Jools:

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Appomattox Court House

150 years ago today, Robert E. Lee surrendered formally to the US Government at Appomattox Courthouse, and though the Civil War dragged on quite a while longer, this was where it ended. Lee's army was the Confederacy, really, especially after Nashville (maybe even Atlanta - once Hood left the city, his army was irrelevant, in terms of changing the ending) - and facing the facts and laying down arms put the rebellion to rest.

I have mostly written about the military aspects of the war in this series - I will have to turn to the politics as we go forward. (I hope to go forward: I need to read about Reconstruction, it's something I don't know enough about. I hope that is reflected on this blog - probably not tied to anniversaries so much, but I hope to continue to write about the period.) But for now, one more military post... There wasn't much left to the Confederacy in the spring of 1865. Sherman was marching where he would in the Carolinas; forces in the west were equally unfettered; only Lee offered much in the way of resistance. Dug in in Petersburg, he could still fight - though Grant was able to stretch his lines more and more until they were almost ready to break anyway. At the same time, they were almost cut off from supplies, not that there were many places left producing food in the South. They were beaten - but Lee kept trying. With spring, Grant renewed his pressure on Lee - mostly using Phil Sheridan to do the dirty work - they got around the Confederate lines, they got them out of the trenches and thrashed them when they did. That left the trenches too weak to be held - and on April 2, the Union broke through. Lee made one more try to extend the way, thinking he could make a dash to the Carolinas, to join Joe Johnston's army there and maybe be able to beat one of the Union armies. It was probably not very likely - either Grant or Sherman had more men than the combined rebel armies could muster - well equipped and well armed veteran forces unintimidated by the Rebels, led by generals who could count, knew they had all the cards, and were prepared to fight it out to the end. But it never came to that - never mind their fighting abilities, the days were long past when the Rebels were able to outrun Union troops, and Grant and Sheridan had no intention of letting them. They harried Lee with everything they had, and with Grant and Sheridan driving them, the Union army moved effectively - and ran Lee down with ease. There was some fighting - it didn't matter, Lee was out of options. So he stopped.

Grant, probably understanding Lincoln's desires to get the war finished and start the process of undoing its damage, gave generous terms. News spread, and other armies followed in surrender, usually also receiving good terms - and the war wound down. There was, maybe, for a moment, a chance that the aftermath of the war would be successful - the means of surrender went a long way toward making reconciliation possible between the two sides. But that was ruined quickly by John Wilkes Booth - and it's probably too much to hope to think the South, having just fought a suicidal war to preserve slavery, would accept any kind of decent settlement for Blacks after the war. Instead, they began fighting to suppress the freed slaves, while redefining the war to be about something other than treason in defense of slavery - a campaign that was a good deal more successful than the war itself had been. (And is still being fought today.) But that's all in the future, on April 9, 1865 - for that moment, for that week, maybe, there was peace and hope.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Take Me Out to the Ballgame! 2015 Predictions

Spring time has come - so they say. Cold miserable rain falling, almost sleet - still more February than April. But it doesn't matter anymore - baseball is here. It is time to make some predictions.

AL East:

Boston - Only a couple years ago the AL East was the beast of the major leagues - now? I am picking the Red Sox to win because they are my favorites - but also because, no matter how many faults I can find with them, I can find more with the other teams in the division. What Boston has is a reloaded offense - with a good deal of depth, which makes you think they should be able to survive injuries and washouts - someone is bound to come through. They could be extremely good, if they stay healthy and the kids deliver. What don't they have? pitching? they could be okay - they have a staff of #3 starters, who could stay healthy and pitch reasonably well for 200 innings - 3 or 4 of those guys could get you in the post-season. No further though, unless something changes. Based on yesterday's outing, they look like world beaters, though that was just the Phillies - but if you want a list of "ifs" to check off to see how far they go - if Pedroia is back, if Hanley stays healthy and hits, if Betts is the real deal, and if Buckholtz can be effective and healthy - yesterday ticked them off nicely.

Baltimore - they lost Nelson Cruz; they could revert a bit from last year. They do have some guys coming back from bad years - they won't be bad. I don't think they will fall far, but I think they will fall.

Toronto - they have added some players, and are more than respectable - though probably don't have the pitching to get very far. They could slug their way to quite a few wins, though, if everything works out. And I suppose they could have the pitching - Hutchison looked very good yesterday.

NY Yankees - I hope they finish last, but Tampa is getting very low on players - the Yankees are a dismal looking crew - combined age of their starting lineup must be pushing 1000 - but they might not be entirely awful. They have some interesting pitching options. They have Ellsbury. Um - yeah. If there's an over 50 league, they might do all right, but...

Tampa - they still have good arms, and a few decent position players, but it looks pretty grim down there. No more Joe Madden to nurse them along either. Dark days could be coming, and may be there awhile.


Tigers - no one else seems to be able to muster any kind of sustained threat to them. They should have this well in hand.

Cleveland - maybe this is optimistic, but they have a knack of getting the most from their teams, and they have some interesting talent. They were really good 2 years ago, and decent last year - they should contend again this year, I think.

Chicago - they don't look bad - they have some decent pitching; they have some emerging offensive talent - they should be solid, and could be better than that. But I don't quite trust them to contend. I could be wrong.

KC - they had that great run last year, and if they had hit all year, they might have had a genuinely good team. Now - they are not likely to sustain it. The starting pitching looks very soft - without Shields up front, I don't know if they can do enough. They should have a strong pen, though, and they have what could be an exciting lineup - they've been waiting for Hosmer and Moustakas all these years - why not? though even if they hit, the pitching is a problem.

Minnesota - might not be entirely awful, I suppose. Maybe. Probably though.


Seattle - this year's trendy pick, right? but they were decent last year - they have some of the best pitching in the game - they have Cano, Seager and Cruz, and other players who could be useful, prospects who might be ready finally - they are in a very good place.

Anaheim - A pretty good team that no one really thinks about, but one probably cruising for a fall. They are trying to screw Josh Hamilton (not that he's done them any favors) - still: be a shame if they were able to get a break on his contract. The rest - Mike Trout and maybe Kole Calhoun are promising players - the rest might perform, but... Albert Pujols - I mean, those contracts... they are going to suffer for it.

Oakland - they were dismantled again, but they still have some strong pitching, and decent players. But are probably on the outs for a while. They do a good job of reforming on the fly, so probably not for long.

Texas - they were destroyed by injuries last year - and off to a great start this year, with Yu Darvish gone. Still - they could get respectable if they could keep Fielder and Choo and such on the field. We'll see.

Houston - they have been bad, but they have young talent - things might move up. They certainly started the season right, winning a 1-0 squeaker against the defending Cy Young award winner. They are still probably a ways away - but might not be all that far.

Wildcards: Cleveland, Chicago. Champion: Seattle - teams have been reaching milestones they never saw before - time for the Mariners to make the series.

National League:


Washington - this might be the easiest pick in the majors - right? along with Detroit. Loaded rotation, good pen, plenty of talent on the field - though a bunch of them are hurt early. Still - they have been most of the class of the game the past couple years; they need to get the next step along, which might be easier said than done - but still... it would be a good year for a couple teams that have come close but never gotten to the Big One - Mariners vs. Montreal/Washington? Not a bad pick.

Miami - they look pretty good actually - adding some pitching, some good talent, around Stanton - probably not enough to win much, but still decent. f Fernandez were healthy all year, they would be in a very good place.

New York - yeah? possible - their pitching is shaping up, and they have some ball players on the field. They are getting close to being back to respectability.

Atlanta - they still have some decent players, but how long will they be here? what is going on? They unloaded their good young outfielders over the winter, and their mediocre not-so-young anymore outfielders this week, along with their closer (the best int he game) - they seem to be shedding their team before they move to the suburbs. That's ridiculous enough - I used to be a Braves fan, but I don't think that's going to happen anymore.

Philadelphia - ugh. Though after yesterday's fun, maybe it means the price for Cole Hamels will start dropping.


St. Louis - the Cubs are the chic pick, but I'm not sure what's wrong with the Cards. They still have a solid rotation; they have respectable players at every position, and some very good ones at a few - they have depth - they are used to winning. The Cubs are the trendy pick, but the Cards are still a very good team.

Pittsburgh - another team that doesn't look any worse than last year, and could be better - so why are they being dismissed?

Chicago - all right, here they are. Lester is a great pickup; Bryant and Soler are bound to start pushing the team one of these years - but... they still look pretty thin, in a division with two really good teams. Everyone wants to love the Cubs, and the Cubs are going to be good pretty soon, yes, but there are more convincing teams out there.

Cincinnati - I don't know how to pick these two - I think I like Cincy more. Cueto and Hamilton and Chapman? This is a deep division. probably come to health in the end.

Milwaukee - they have all those old timers who never seem to stop getting peopel out - Lohse and company... I don't know. They aren't a bad team. A couple bad breaks and they could be - a couple good breaks and they could challenge for the otp of the division.


Los Angeles - I don't like the Dodgers, but they are loaded.

San Diego - this is a bit brave - but they are one of the teams that seems to be Going For It this year. (The Cubs; the Marlins; the White Sox have all spent as well - but the Pads are really going for it.) It's a radically different team - both Uptons, Myers and Kemp, Shields, Kimbrel - they've added a bunch of talent, and most if it is good talent. Justin Upton and Kemp are both strong players - Kemp brings a horrible price tag, but had a lot of potential for a comeback. Shields is a fine anchor for a staff, and the park should shield him from any decline for a while. Myers is a good gamble a high end prospect who's scuffled a bit, so everyone is writing him off - don't ask me. Get him some batting gloves and he'l be fine.

San Francisco - they continue to play very close to the edge, never diving into the free agent market the way they could, given their resources. But whatever they are doing is working [one of the understatements of the decade], so - it does tend to create the oscillations they have been through. This looks likely to be a down year.

Arizona - I don't know if I have any reason to pick them ahead of Colorado - but I will.

Colorado - I don't know if I have any reason to pick them below the Diamondbacks, but I will. Neither team has much to care about.

Wild cards: Pittsburgh and San Diego; Champion - Washington! Expos and Mariners! Mariners win? King Felix is the guy I think I want on the hill when it all counts.

And - individuals? MVP is still Mike Trout's to lose, for the next 10 years. NL? Giancarlo Stanton is the default pick, I think, though he could have some competition: McCutcheon, Posey, Goldschmitt (if the team were any good, anyway), Rizzo if the Cubs do win, maybe some the Bryce Harper types, big prospects who have been merely solid for a couple years... Upton, Heyward even - lots of choices, probably more of them with a real chance than in the AL, though Stanton has to be the favorite.

Cy Young? Kind of the opposite - the AL is loaded with candidates - King Felix ought to be the favorite; Kluber is the real deal, Price a strong candidate, Sonny Gray, Chris Sale if he comes back quickly. The NL is probably Kershaw's to lose - though Scherzer and Strasbourg and Cueto and Bumgarner and maybe even Matt Harvey are right there too. But Kershaw is the favorite, by quite a margin.

Rookie of the Year: AL - in truth, I have no real idea. Id love to say Rusney Castillo - when Victorino gets hurt, he'll come up and - maybe not. Lot of other guys I don't know as much about - the NL has the monsters this year. NL - once Kris Bryant is protected from arbitration for the year, he'll be up - we'll see if he mashes. Odds are pretty good, I'd say.

And so? off we go - hope the game brings us some summer before long.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Manoel de Oliveira

I must pre-empt today's music post to note the passing of Manoel de Oliveira. Oliveira has been one of the more reliably interesting directors on the international art scene for some time now - in the past 25 years or so, he has maintained a fairly steady output of work, almost a film a year, all generally playful art films, though in a number of different styles and tones. Big melodramas, precise character studies and chamber pieces, bits of surrealism - long films, short films - it has been a remarkable run of films. Before that, in te 70s and 80s, he made a smaller number of films, but some of them are stunning masterpieces - Doomed Love or Francisca - long, challenging adaptations of 19th century literature, done in a strange, almost unique style: beautiful, artificial, sometimes static and abstract as Straub and Huillet, but with the sweeping emotions of the grand novels they adapt, and surreal traces throughout - they are beautiful, strange and subtly very funny, and they tend to make other adaptations of 19th century literature seem drab in comparison. I've been taking a class in Russian culture, seeing lots of adaptations of great Russian lit or biographies of great Russians - The Idiot; Onegin; Tchaikovsky - they tend to be a bit disappointing. They try to find the artistic power of the novels, along with their emotional weight - so work in lots of arty flourishes, dream sequences and dutch angles and symbolisms - but none of it quite comes off. More or less handsome ad more or less well performed, but more or less routine... I have thought, more than once, how much these films needed to be made by someone like Manoel de Oliveira. No - more than that. I have thought, more than once while watching these films, how much I wish Oliveira had made a big Dostoevsky or Tolstoy adaptation. Not that he needed to - his work was plenty rich as it is, and makes me want to read Portuguese literature - but Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Pushkin could have used an Oliveira adaptation.

I will miss him; miss the anticipation of new films, the effort of finding them sometimes, and the pleasure of seeing them on the screen when they do get shown. And I will miss knowing he is alive. As great as he is as a filmmaker, his own life and career might be even more astonishing. To think that the bulk of his career happened after the 1960s - after he turned 60 - and that he put together a strong 45 year career after turning 60 - it is astonishing. He began as a filmmaker in 1931, almost ruined his career in the 40s after making the fantastic Aniki Bobo - he ran afoul of the dictator Salazar, and could not make films at all until the end of the 50s and 60s, and only really got going in the 70s... And then was able to build and sustain a 45-50 year career, the career he might have had in the 30s and 40s with some luck and justice - it is as happy an ending as I can think of.

I've mentioned before that he is 5 years younger than Ozu - to think that the bulk of his careen started after Ozu's death, and has gone on to now - is astonishing. I will miss him.