Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Round and About

With nothing too important to say, let's cast an eye across the world...

Sport! That is, Red Sox! that is - what a peaceful, sweet sensation it is to experience once more their patented Late Season Collapse. It's been so long! Now - there are many opinions about what led to this disaster, but I think the cause is clear enough: they're running out of players. I said back in June that Jon Lester was going to save the season - by that logic, I'd say now, losing Tim Wakefield doomed their season. Having 4 decent starters, they were doing fine - down to three, and one of them a rookie and another with an ERA over 5, plus a bullpen full of rookies and incompetents (and Mike Timlin's 40 years) - you could guess where things were headed. Now, of course, the hitters are dropping like flies... so.... Myself, I don't think this indicates anything sinister for the future - underachievers like Coco Crisp and Josh Beckett seem more likely to be better next year than not; all those rookie pitchers will be a year older, smarter and tougher next year; heck, they'll even have Matt Clement back (or turn him into something useful) - bad as he's been in Boston, he's still useful, especially if he's closer tot he end of the rotation. So I can stand it. I'd stand it better if they could get a young starting pitcher somewhere, but hey...

Meanwhile, 'round the blogs - Lawyers, Guns and Money offers up abuse of the Electoral College, along with abuse of Mickey Kaus and lamentations regarding the Bosox. I'm with them on this one - the EC is a ridiculous, anti-democratic anachronism. Get rid of it! For all the reasons cited there, and because it gets in the way of the elegance of the divided government. What should happen - the House Representatives should consist of people elected directly by local districts; the Senate should consist of people elected directly by whole states; and the president, the Federal government, after all, should be elected directly by the entire country. But no! While on the subject of voting - Making Light cites interesting research into Senate voting patterns: they're almost all driven by economic interests, runs the conclusion. Dems vote for the interests of more people who control less money - republicans vote for the interests of fewer people who control more money.

Finally, on Whiskey Fire, Thersites stares into the bad writing abyss: Ann Althouse, banally blogging about the Emmys - or the completely unreadable Maximos - writing about - something. Liberals, I think. It really is a thing of - uh - what's the word? I have to provide a sample:
Liberalism, then, has, upon its own presuppositions, no rational, consistent basis for opposing that which even the darkest minds realize is despicable and base. That most liberals do oppose it is a credit them as persons, and a shame to their professed dogmas. Liberalism’s consent problem, then, is this: an absence of a rational basis for a moral prejudice all sane persons recognize as being of the essence of civilized norms of behaviour, combined with a tacit invocation of the very values with which its entire theory is at war: authority and the necessary expression of authority, responsibility. One of the many necessarly expressions of the authority and responsibility of adults towards children just is to refrain from sexualizing them, either as objects of desire or as objects of “enlightened” educational policies intended to mold them into specimens of liberated humanity. Liberalism wishes to retain the form of the obligation while evacuating its substance; in order to preserve itself from the obvious consequences of its dubious theories, it must make an unprincipled exception: traditional authority and decorum are pernicious, except when we say they are not.

This, in case any should wonder why I have troubled to express thoughts upon so loathsome a subject, will be the ultimate reason - coupled, of course, with its affirmation of homosexuality, which includes a manifest cult of youth, and finds its probable origins in the traumas of youth - for the inability of liberalism to resist the furthest, most debauched consequences of the sexual revolution which now labours to overthrow the institution of marriage. Liberalism lacks a principled basis for stopping at the final frontier of depravity, and eventually, determined passion will overcome the absence of reason. It always does.
That - I mean, golly! What's going on there? it's like one of those magic eye pictures (autostereograms!), where you're supposed to star until your eyes go out of focus and you see the picture. Except you can't see anything! Oh, it's there, you're sure of it - your friends keep pointing at it and it and telling you, "look! there it is! it's a mountain lion! look! and an eagle, on a crag!" but you can't see it. I mean - well, I can sort of see a straw-liberal in there, but even that, I can't keep in focus... I can't even figure out what set him off, though I'm guessing it has something to do with this California law. The usual nitwits are up in arms. Whatever, man.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Movie Reviews

Been a while. Two weekends out of the country and all that. So this is covering a stretch of time - but that's all right I guess.

Get it out of the way first, I guess: Snakes on a Plane! After all the hype and the anticipation, this turns out to be exactly what it should be: a no-nonsense exploitation picture, that tells you what it's going to do and does it. Samuel L. Jackson, a host of character actors, and snakes on a plane - all of it delivered at a nice clip, at least after a slow start, all of it executed with plenty of laughs, some chills, all the snakes you could ask for, hissing and spitting and biting and slithering and swallowing and squeezing to their hearts' content. It offers pretty much exactly what you want in a cheap disaster movie - nods to the classics, cheap laughs, kids in peril, pricks humbled, the clock beaten, with something to shiver over - snakes on a plane!

Little Miss Sunshine
: this seems to be the indie hit of the summer. People seem to like it. For good reason. It's standard fare, I suppose - dysfunctional family takes a road trip, wackiness ensues. You've got Greg Kinnear, playing a failed success guru; Toni Collette as his Long Suffering Wife (who, of course, pays all the bills). Alan Arkin as his father, living with them because he got thrown out of the old folks home for being a junkie. Paul Dano as a 17 year old who's taken a vow of silence because of Nietzsche, and Abigail Breslin as a junior beauty contestant. Throw in Steve Carrell as Toni Collette's suicidal gay Proust scholar brother - you can see the wackiness coming a mile away. They head off to a beauty contest in a rattly old van - not just wacky, but zany! hijinks are sure to come... But it works. In a way, it's not too different from Snakes on a Plane - it's perfectly generic, it lays out its ingredients plainly - and then delivers. It is, in fact, wacky - zany even! It also has an underlying generosity, to the family at least (and a few outsiders). For all their posturing and raving, they all seem to like one another, and they all come through when they are tested. And the performances are all you could hope for. It's as good a cast as you could imagine - and they are without exception excellent. Carell and Arkin are what they are - ringers - surpassingly brilliant, stealing corners of the film without trying, and without stepping on anyone else's toes. (Carrell's scenes with Paul Dano work particularly well.) Kinnear and Collette hold down the center, she sensible, he deluded; and the kids match them. It's a nice little film. When I started seeing trailers for it, the beauty pageant plot put me in mind of Michael Ritchie's Smile - the films aren't that similar, in the end - but it's still a good comparison. Little Miss Sunshine isn't far from Ritchie's blend of satire and pathos, and that's very high praise.

The Oh in Ohio: a bit of a disappointment. With Parker Posey and Paul Rudd as a married couple frustrated by the fact that she has never had an orgasm, plus Danny DeVito and Mischa Barton as the beneficiaries of this split. It's amusing, the characters are sympathetic, the cast is excellent and all doing very good work - but it still feels thin... too bad. I don't mean to complain too much - it's enjoyable and clever and all, but never gets past "amiable"....

Friday, August 25, 2006

Random Ten Returns

Without much preliminary:

1. Ramones - Glad to See You Go
2. Mahavishnu Orchestra - Vital Transformation
3. Public Enemny - Rise
4. The Kills - The Good Ones
5. Roxy Music - Whirlwind
6. Abba - Voulez Vous (sounding very Chic)
7. James White and the Blacks - (Tropical) Heat Wave
8. Dinosaur Jr. - Severed Lips
9. Stooges - Death Trip
10. Jacques Brel - Les Marquises

And this week's video: the kills.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I Return

Given my erratic posting habits in the best of times, you probably can't tell when I have been away and when I'm just lazy. Well, this time, I have been away. I have been abroad, as it were, though a rather tame form of "abroad" - our neighbors to the north. I was, however, completely off the grid for a week - a novel experience indeed. It was a vacation indeed - I did nothing but eat sleep read a book or two and chat with various cousins and uncles and aunts and the like. Drank a lot of tea. Walked around looking at fields that used to be houses (and a lot of houses on what used to be fields and brushland.) And looked at nature. For example: birds - primarily seagulls, such as this example:

Though also these hummingbirds (my inaugural YouTube upload, for that matter.)

UPDATE: I changed the pictures a bit, stripped them down a bit more, because it was starting to get realy slow loading. I hope that was the cause. Sometimes I have to pay attention to the tech stuff, I guess. Learn the damn code.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday Ritual

Yes, it's time for the random ten - still Friday, even! Here goes:

1. Deerhoof - Sealed with a Kiss
2. Wilco - The Late Greats
3. Jay Farrar - Vitamins [I see the iPod is playing games - Wilco and Farrar back to back?]
4. Grateful Dead - New Speedway Boogie
5. John Cale - Outta the Bag
6. English Beat - Save it for Later
7. Byrds - Time Between
8. Sunny Day Real Estate - J'Nuh
9. Jacques Brel - Sans Exigences
10. Jacques Brel - Orly [uh - how does this happen?]
11. Stereolab - Bonnie & Clyde [had to include that - 3 French songs in a row?]

We'll have to return to the original for our video treat: Serge and Brigitte, in all their cool majesty.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Well - here's an interesting post. Pandagon, picking up on Alas, A Blog, picking up on The Daily Mail - on how kids are boring, and making your life revolve around your kids is a recipe for having a dull tiresome and pretty much useless life. And how this is primarily a problem for women: men can opt in or out as they will.

I suppose it's a kind of heresy but, yeah - they're right. Kids are b0ring. Or, more accurately, kids are fun some of the time, but boring most of the time - though some are boring 24/7. The needy clingy ones, especially. The truth is - the other side of this is - that adults are also boring, to kids. They were when I was a kid. It was fun, now and then, to join the grown ups for a game of dominos or hearts, or shooting baskets, or getting an adult to hit you fly balls - but grownups generally don't want to sit around playing with toy cowboys, and when I was a kid, that's what I lived for. Not so much now. Now I want to sit around with the other grownups and watch the Red Sox. (Actually, one of the weirdest things about the kids I know is that they don't want to sit and watch sports. What is wrong with them? communists!) Doting on kids, running every inch of their lives - that can't be good for anyone.


I haven't been writing about politics much lately, but sometimes... two big stories to comment on: there's the terror plot for one. And the defeat (though not yet the end) for Holy Joe Lieberman, Connecticutt senator and all round jackass. The former is an odd tale. It's always good to hear about these things being foiled, but I'm not always sure I trust the reaction. Security changes for instance. There may be good reasons for it - but isn't the point that the plot was discovered? I don't know - I don't know enough about what happened to say. I just get the impression sometimes that a lot of the reaction to terriorist plots and acts is just that - a reaction, more about appearing to do something than about actually stopping them from happening. That's obviously not true of every security measure, but it's true of enough that you wonder about others. (The temptation to post about the security barricades office buildings put up - just run of the mill office buildings, nobody special, not one any terrorist is going to blow up, not even one a disgruntled employee is all that likely to want to start any crap in - is very strong. I'll resist. I wouldn't want anyone to think I don't take the war on terror seiously.)

There's some of that ocming out of the Lamont v. Lieberman race. Roy Edroso has rounded up some of the right's reactions to Lamont's win (and the terrorism plot) - a miserable spectacle; two miserable spectacles. There's the sad tale of one Brendan Loy - who can no longer "cling to the label of Democrat" now that Joe Lieberman has lost his primary. This Loy person is your basic "9/11 changed everything" type, but for some reason, it took him 5 years to change. And that, friends, is incomparably freakish. I suppose there is some logic in becoming a hawk after 9/11, and thinking the republicans were more hawkish than the democrats - but it's been 5 years! You should have picked up that just about everyone became a hawk after 9/11 - it's only whenn the GOP went off message (and went after Iraq instead of terrorists) that the dems and the left in general dug in their heels. But more to the point, and to the point that giving up on the dems now is just plain freakish - the GOP has completely failed. Their foreign policy has been a miserable failure for years. Going into Iraq was an abandonment of the "war on terror" in a meaningful sense; it was an immoral war, that served no discernable national security interest - and it has been a wretched failure.

So - if Lamont won because Lieberman continues to support the war as uncritically as it is possible to do - well - that's because most of the country has pretty much come to see the war as a failure as well. It's the majority position in the country and not just in liberal Connecticut. At this point - why would even a hawk support Bush? What good is an aggressive foreign policy if it is that badly applied?

There's a lot of wailing in the pundit classes and on the right just now. Holy Joe's defeat has them unnerved - maybe because they realize they are in the minority, and have to ratchet up the noise to get people to forget what a disaster GOP rule has been. They certainly waste no time seizing on the thwarted terrorist plot as proof of something - usually something about the need to kill more Arabs, once you get through the details. I don't know. Holy Joe himself won't be missed: it ain't just the war, it's the whole package. Can't say we'll miss him.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday Randomness

Actually put some content up between fridays this week - I am so proud of myself! Anyway, as customary, here is your Friday Random Ten:

1. PJ Harvey - Electric Light
2. Johnny Cash - I don't know where I'm bound
3. Rod Stewart - Mandolin Wind
4. Earth - Crooked Axis for String Quartet
5. Jimi Hendrix - Rainy Day, Dream Away
6. Doc Watson Family - I heard my mother weeping
7. Peter Laughner - Amphetemine
8. Patti Smith - Revenge
9. Captain Beefheart - Alice in Blunderland
10. The Waterboys - The Thrill is Gone

Not having much luck turning those songs up on YouTube - so to compensate, here's the Waterboys doing Pagan Place, somewhere in their early years...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Avant Garde Blogathon

...underway, as we speak! hosted by Girish, who has a post up about Joseph Cornell, an artist I like very much. The only film of his I have seen is Rose Hobart - a fascinating film constructed out of clips from East of Borneo - no slouch itself in the surrealism department (I refer you to Guy Maddin's review for the Village Voice.) But for a movie geek like me, Cornell's art has cinematic qualities - using cinematic source material (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall), but also all those grids and repetitions reminiscent of film strips, or Mubridge. (A quality he shares with Warhol.) Look at that Bacall box: the grids, repeated images, even the holes around the boxes at the top, enough like sprocket holes for me. The formal elements - grids, repetitions, etc. - are fundamental to Cornell's work, and hard not to associate with film. The "window" box at the bottom here - would make a pretty good strip of avant-garde film.

I wish I had more to offer to this blogathon - check it out, there's some good reading there.

Halfway Home

It's rather late for this sort of thing, a halfway report, I should have posted something like it about a month ago. But it's worth a shot. What are the best films I've seen so far in 2006? New films, I mean - in theatrical, commercial, release, in Boston, in 2006? As usual, it's mostly last year's best foreign films - decent domestic films generally come out in the fall. But it's not a bad crop:

1. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu - easily the best, one of the best films of the decade
2. L'Enfant - the excellence one expects from the Dardennes brothers.
3. Three Times - Hou Hsiao Hsien revisiting his life and his career in a ravishing three part work.
4. Cache - "an examination of guilty consciences and the unexpected results of casual, careless cruelty, and just a hint of Duck Amuck..." (I'm rather proud of that line)
5. Clean - Olivier Assayas making the most of two brilliant performances from Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte
6. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - a powerful conclusion to Park Chan-wook's vengeance trilogy
7. Pulse - holy crap! I thought the American remake had disappeared without a trace - but no! it's up for release next week! Anyway, Kurosawa's original is a haunting and masterful work.
8. A Scanner Darkly - Philip K Dick brought to the screen...
9. Tristram Shandy - another adaptation, one less suited to the direct approach - which Michael Winterbottom and company handle by making the film as much about adaptation as the book is about writing. Quite enjoyable, and not requiring the facility with 19th century prose style as the novel.
10. Bubble - somehow feels as though it has been forgotten already, but deserved a better fate. Interesting experiment, and very well made.

Honearable mention to Army of Shadows, which at 37 years old is too much for me to list, even though it was released this year. Also to Cafe Lumiere, L'Intrus, Regular Lovers, Good Morning, Night, The President's Last Bang and Innocence, all of which played somewhere, once or twice maybe, but should have been given a halfway decent release, and need to be seen, however you can find them. Still - I suppose it is something of a joyful miracle that The Death of Mr. Lazarescu got a straightforward commercial release (and drew a modest crowd - better than some films I would have expected to draw, like Pulse). But it would be nice.