Thursday, August 31, 2006

Netflix



Hey fellas? What's cooler than cool?

White Heat!

It's damn good, but I still think The Public Enemy is my favorite Cagney.

#68



Easily one of the strangest novels I've read. Brian Leonard--a champion marksman, a biologist, and a pilot--is doing fieldwork, studying the movement of a group of cougars transplanted from suburban California and into Wyoming ranchlands. Brian is a strange guy, a 40-year old virgin with no emotional involvement of any kind with another human being. That in itself is not so strange, but rather the reason he became such a man is strange. When he was 13 he was masturbating while his lesbian sister and mother were arguing. He did this often, and got a charge from it. His mother would try to "cure" Diana by bringing men home to seduce her, and teenage Brian would jerk off listening to this regularly. On this particular occasion, his orgasm was perfectly timed with the self-inflicted gunshot that killed his sister. As a result Brian fears he's a potential sexual killer, and sublimates all emotional and physical desire into his marksmanship training.

Now, doing his cougar fieldwork, Brian is so desperately lonely that he decides to test himself by hiring a young woman to assist him. He teaches Leya how to fly a helicopter so she can steer while he shoots coyotes for money and tracks radio collars of big cats. She's your stereotypical tree-hugger lefty and can't abide what he does to pay her salary, but also she's been shabbily treated by her ex-husband and needs the work and companionship herself. Much of the book features her trying to get Brian to open up emotionally. He shoots things instead and refuses because he doesn't want to find out he can't get it up without shooting her. The give-and-take between frigid naive Leya and ultra-repressed Brian is terribly frustrating, but their exaggerated situations are not dissimilar to the problems apparent in many hetero relationships, which is one of the themes of this complex little book. Meanwhile cougars and coyotes prowl and mate and destroy foals without getting all worked up about it, and there's some intrigue with a local rancher who threatens violence if Brian doesn't help with an insurance scam, and the entire fraudulent give-and-take of polite sexuality is critiqued and ultimately exposed as a lame sort of capitalism. Because our sexual expectations and indoctrinations are so flawed, because of our complete sexual dishonesty, violence is practically inevitable between the sexes who otherwise fail utterly to communicate.

The author, Chris Mazza, is a post-feminist feminist according to her biography, and she has edited a series of books entitled Chick Lit. There's so much going on in Girl Beside Him that I'll certainly be reading more of her stuff.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Trapped

The Library is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveler were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.

Borges, The Library of Babel

Pron



RIP, Chet Anuszek.

Bad Boys


A strange day. Left home a bit before noon because I'm taking a French class before work on Wednesdays--there was a cop in the yard a couple doors down just standing there. I waved at him, he didn't respond, then as I approached the staircase to York Road I said "How's it going?" and he started gesturing with his right arm for me to move quickly. Then I noticed he had his gun out. At the bottom of the steps were two more cops with hands on their guns, and a third was leashing a dog to get him out of a parked van. Then I heard the 'copter over head and figured somebody had escaped the Baltimore County Detention Center--somehow they always end up hiding in our neighborhood.

French class was surreal. After a summer of neglect I had to start thinking and communicating in a different language again. This should be the last undergraduate French class I need for my second BA. Who knows what's next?

I was joking with Eskimo today that I was sure nobody had volunteered for the new Liberry Director's committees, and that somebody would get volunteered for those open slots. Sure enough, I was roped into the Marketing Committee by my bossnot ten minutes later. Awful. The new Director said last week she wants to 'brand' the Liberry, and such talk makes me vomit. Next she'll tell us to "get our team together, think outside the box, and come up with some proactive solutions." Ugh.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Back to School

There's a tornado watch in effect here until 8pm. When I walked outside around 4pm the sky was rather alarming. When I returned to the Liberry at 5, however, everything looked clear and blue. We'll see. All I know is we badly need some rain. Some of the potential tracks for Ernesto have him crossing Florida and re-strengthening over the Atlantic before plowing straight up the Chesapeake. We don't need rain quite that much.

School is back in session, meaning I'm distracted by a lot of really fantastic T&A, much of it born the year I graduated high school. There have already been two major parties in our neighborhood. On Saturday the party in #4 was so large there was spillover into our yard and onto our porch, said spillover already having spilled over from yard #3, the abandoned house, where the kids from #4 had decided to set up their kegs. I can deal with noise, but stay off my lawn! I politely asked several people to get off my porch at 10pm. At 10:45 I again politely moved several people off my porch, this time with the help of a couple of the renters from #4 who were throwing the party and who saw the veins throbbing in my forehead. "All these kids in my yard are stepping on plants," I told them. Underfoot were some red maple saplings I'd been nurturing, the hostas (which are almost done for the year), and some rosebushes.

At 11:00pm I turned on the porch light again and saw a guy pissing on our porch. Behind him were two jocks wrestling on the lawn and some girls had the lid off my composter and were throwing empties inside. That did it. I called the cops and ten minutes later an enormous herd of rushing teens went crashing through the bushes between my front yard and the yard at #1; they were trying to get over his fence and left a swath of broken shrubs and empty Busch Light cans. I'd say there were more than 100 kids in front of our row of townhomes, all fleeing the four responding cruisers from Towson Precinct, the State Police barracks at TU, and a Baltimore County Sheriff's Deputy. In the alley behind our houses another 100 dispersed quickly into the neighborhoods. After the cops were done with them I gave the inhabitants in #4 a chewing out worthy of my worst nightmares--I've become what I detest. I felt like a fraud. I hate being The Man. The kids in #4 told me they'd buy me new trees and re-mulch the yard, and one sprayed the piss off my porch with a hose. I recall screaming at Matt, the kid who bought the house with his dad: "Your father told me if I ever had problems with you that I could kick your ass. I'm sorely tempted." I kept poking him with my finger like some old coot. Seemed to work though, because they cleaned up every scrap of trash from all the yards and were apologizing profusely all along. I guess this old nerd can be a bit threatening.

Last night #1 had a big party that went on until past 2am. I gave up caring and put in the earplugs I use when I use the wet-dry vac and read about Emptiness.

I have a job interview next Wednesday. Somebody actually read my résumé and called. How novel!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Netflix



Tarkovsky's films are cinematic triathalons. They exhaust me with their glacial pacing and suffocating sense of gloom. And yet, I keep watching them because they're magisterial and challenging.

The Mirror is Tarkovsky's attempt at autobiography à la 8 1/2, but instead of Fellini's witty Mediterranean joi de vivre in the face of life's little anguishes, we get punishing, Slavic ruminations and a dour absence of humor, with a bit of Bergman's Persona mixed in. It's fantastic, however, with many beautiful and astonishing dream sequences. Recommended only for viewing with Suicide Prevention Hotline numbers easily available.

Please note: The quality of this DVD is wretched. There are extended scenes of dialogue left unsubtitled. The faded over-bright transfer only hints at how visually amazing the original film must have been.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

#67



I don't think I gave The God of Small Things sufficient attention. I started it during dreadful insomnia, read bits on trains and in a Manhattan hotel, gulped chunks in a West Virginia B&B, and finally finished it at the Liberry Service Desk. Halfway through I nearly gave up, and thought 'this won the Booker Prize'? Too much artless darting from past to present to foreshadowed future, too many characters crammed inelegantly into the first short chapters.

But it gathered strength, and paid off in a big way, despite my half-assed reading. The world's most populace democracy is a complex, chaotic whorl of contradictory moral systems and energetic cultural manifestations. So is Roy's novel, which delights and instructs and frustrates in equal measure.

Netflix

A Saturday double-feature of Herzog documentaries:



Who better to document the Kalachakra Initiation at the original site of the Buddha's enlightenment (Bodh Gaya) than Werner Herzog? He knows when to let the visuals speak for themselves, when to ask questions (some of the Dalai Lama), and when to briefly narrate historical and mythic texts. This is not Herzog's most aesthetically pleasing work, but the subject matter is fascinating and the soundtrack rules.



This is more the 'usual' Herzog territory than was The Wheel of Time, and is a more highly polished work. It features a slightly kooky inventor out to pilot a dirigible through the rainforest canopy in Guyana. Said inventor had tried a similar experiment before, and his cinematographer was killed when the airship crashed into tall trees without adequate safety gear.

Herzog adopts a meandering style in The White Diamond, but never loses the central story arc of a driven scientist fighting inner demons and outer reality. Interesting side characters include Marc Anthony the local shaman/diamond miner, who has the soul of a poet and a deep love for his rooster. Some truly spectacular footage of the rainforest and waterfalls and up-close critters of the forest canopy, with another excellent soundtrack to boot.

#66



A cute children's story about a dude who makes a mint selling pills stuffed with beetle bits that cause uncontrollable randiness upon ingestion. How Oswald builds on this initial fortune in hopes of garnering unimaginable wealth becomes a farce equal parts de Sade and P.G. Wodehouse. Many great artists, writers, and musicians of the late 19th and early 20th century are humiliated along the way, which is always a plus.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

#65



One of my favorite things about the Internets is their ability to provide previously unencountered authors. I received a comment on my Library Thing profile, I followed the commenter via several links to her website, saw that she was reading a book by a former teacher of mine, read some of her reviews, and found The Garden in Which I Walk (and three others I've purchased but not yet begun).

Writing in which the distinctions between fictive characters and their creators are allowed to blur can easily become formulaic and expected. Not so with Brennan's stories, which are remarkably controlled. She is as shocking and funny as Stephen Dixon, but is much sharper and more analytical. Her characters wallow in beautifully rendered misery. I'll be reading more of her stuff for sure.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Home Again

Just back from a pleasant but short stay in Berkeley Springs. The Mrs. picked up a bug from my nephew last weekend, and her condition has deteriorated steadily since, hastening our return. After a good soak in the mineral bath and a massage, she zonked out most of the day Thursday. It's been a stressful year for her at work and a snooze in the country was in order.


Sad to see that the Morgan County Courthouse right on the main square burned down--apparently due to old-timey wiring. No one was injured.


This is The Lovers' Loft at the Highlawn Inn--despite its saucy nomicker, the room proved uncomfortable to debauch. Felt like we were defiling great gramma's sitting room. We managed. No one was injured. I'd recommend the Highlawn Inn for its most spectacular breakfasts and its Victorian charms. Sandy--the proprietess--entertains like Martha Stewart on an absinth bender.


Fall comes early in the mountains.

Photo from the Peculiar Pub, NYC.

Central Park--South Central Park.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Netflix



The Lover is certainly not on a par with Hiroshima mon amour, but it is a reasonably good adaptation of Duras' novel, and manages to capture a bit of its essential complexity. Mostly, the film is impressive for numerous torrid fuck-scenes featuring the delicious Jane March and studly Tony Leung.

L'Amant features a heroine reaching back to her distant past. At 15 she's semi-detached from several worlds: navigating the cusp of womanhood, confused by a colonial culture gone decadent, possessing an evil older and a saintly younger brother and a tragic incapable mother. She is seduced by a wealthy Chinese twice her age. Their love is forbidden by French, Chinese, and Vietnamese, and yet it's all they have. Duras specializes in the pain of memory and forgetting, and Annaud's film is a worthy attempt at mimicking her style. The Lover influenced a much better film, also starring Tony Leung.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Another LONG Weekend Begins Now


The dude at the local wine shop assures me that this McManis Petite Sirah, priced at $16.99, is a 'fantastic' bottle.

I'll know shortly. School starts next week, and I go back to nights and Sundays. This Wednesday we're off to WVa for a mineral soak and massage and a three-day romp in the woods, and I'm calling out 'sick' tomorrow.

The Mind/Body Problem

Once upon a time I ingested some funny cacti and found myself engaged in an odd sort of meditative exploration of my own body--not a visual or tactile exploration, mind you, but a phenomonological exploration of the interaction between mind and body. I was looking close-up through my fingers at strange blurry heat-mirage images near the borders of my skin, and recalled that I used to do that as a very small child, when I was trying to learn the boundaries of Self and World. Now I'd like to un-learn them!

But anyhow, I was concentrating on a recurring pain in my back and trying to figure out what caused it. Suddenly I was scrunched up uncomfortably in the womb, and thought "Man, I was wrenched around with tension back then?", and the next thing I knew I was impaled on two crossing spears at the intersection of a road outside a crummy Nordic village. It was cold. A long string of similar images from unimaginably distant pasts unrolled for a long time, and then I learned that each organ--each cell, in fact--in our bodies has its own rudimentary consciousness, its own wants, desires, needs, its own memories and access to the collective unconscious. We store hatred and negativity in our very tissues. The organs act out and we get moody and don't know the cause. 'Primitives' of the Middle Ages weren't far off with their associations of humours with organs, I realized (and I take mescaline 'realizations' with a grain of salt); neither were the Chinese medical traditions, nor the Chakra associations with organs.

Fussy babies get their moodiness from physical manifestations, conflicting needs, unclear messages--we learn to repress that stuff for the most part as adults, with mixed results. Yesterday I was in a black mood unaccountably, and wanted to smash things. Whence this rash anger? Consciously I felt fine, and knew I was being ridiculous. Was it the body? Were my kidneys aggravated? Was my liver livid?

I once had a dream a crab was biting my shoulder on a sandy beach under a white-hot sun. Two weeks later I was diagnosed with melanoma at that exact spot, and I remembered that forgotten dream at the time with a shudder. Were those cells sending me a signal? Or did I spontaneously create the memory of that dream when doc Hartig said "malignant"? Or am I making all this shit up now to confound you?

Monday, August 21, 2006

#64



I really liked this breezy autobiography, interspersed at times with thematically appropriate clips from Crumb's work, and with samples of artists who influenced him, including comics by his brother Charles. Even when he's obviously merchandised himself to the limit, Crumb comes across as humble and amazed by his success. How many autobiographies are morbidly self-effacing? There's a drawing late in the book--an appalling self-caricature of despondent, grotesque Crumb--and the thought bubble says only "I just can't understand why they don't see my great genius." I find this brutal honesty refreshing and hilarious, and a bit of media critique and Terrance McKenna mixed in don't hurt (Crumb is apparently into meditation and the inner journey now, like many of his generation). I enjoyed the drawings featuring Crumb's intriguing ass-thetic. Oh, and there's a CD of Crumb with his various old-timey bands that has several very good tracks.

Editor's note: Crumb is one of those writers who insists on over-use of exclamation points! I hate that!

Escape from New York

I won't poo-poo the weekend adventure, despite the fact it cost us what I typically spend on a week-long European trip, and despite the fact there was nothing relaxing about it. I enjoyed having the niece and nephew along, and wished we'd had less tour packages and more freedom to get their feedback about what they wanted to do and see. Danie likes to boss Jesse around, Grammy likes to boss Danny and Jesse and Grampy around, Cha likes to boss me around, and Grampy and I like to hang back and go with the flow. We had many pleasant meals at places where club sandwiches were $17, and hanging out with my Mom and Dad for a few days was actually pleasant fun.

Broadway shows proved more prohibitively expensive than expected, and there was really no free time with all the planned attractions anyway. I insisted on taking the kids for a stroll in Harlem and for a stroll and meal in Chinatown. I also took them to the Met, but probably allowed them to lead me more than I should have. I wanted them to see some specific things (Egyptian stuff, Mayan stuff, Greek and Roman stuff, at least some modern art and some European paintings), but didn't want to be school-trip dry. So Jesse breezed us through arms and armaments, Danie took us through the British fashion show (twice) and into the re-created rooms in the American Wing. I had many butts, boobs, and weenies pointed out to me in paintings and sculptures; a painting of Cupid peeing on Venus was fun to explain; and I had to tell the story of Salome and John the Baptist and explain the difference between that and Judith and Holofernes. While Grammy and Grampy and Cha got to tour my favorite museum at a liesurely pace, I was blowing through ten thousands years' of stuff as a tour guide for hyper wee-ones. I loved it.

My favorite 'cultural' experience for the kids? Danie asked at Fluffy's Bakery what kind of cappucinos they had. The Puerto Rican cashier, popping her pink gum betwixt gleaming lips shaded a sparkly burnt sienna, her finger wagging in full Bronx attitude, said, rolling her eyes: "We got the kind with foam, milk, and a shot of expresso. They only IS one kind!" For this charming rudeness the children received complimentary donuts from the owner. We also took them into Central Park at night to hear a DJ spin techno through his Mac laptop to a crowd of E-heads dancing with glowsticks. Ah, New York. I'd have taken the kids to Soho for more exotic food and shopping more often, but Grampy can't walk so good and Thai/Indian etc. don't agree with him at all. Next time.

Note to self: from now on, make sure when accompanying my parents on a trip to take care of the reservations. Mom said she'd handle the hotel, and she got a reasonably good rate at a nice hotel in Manhattan, but then she added a bunch of Expedia extras that were often a waste of time and money. This is Mom trying to be helpful, trying to have everything prepped ahead of time, trying to pay for stuff in advance, without really knowing the intricacies of the city. Cha built up a lot of mother-in-law resentment over these packages, but was reminded of several instances where her Ma has tried to be similarly helpful with similar results.

A) NEVER buy a 48-hour sight-seeing bus tour package unless you just want to skim across the entire city in a couple of loops seeing stuff consecutively. Mom thought we'd be able to hop on and off buses at will and go willy-nilly through the city to wherever we wanted. No--the buses go one direction. If you're in Times Square and you wish to get to the Met, for example, you have to ride all the way uptown and through Harlem first, turning a five-minute cab/subway ride (or 20-minute walk) into a two-hour ordeal. Mom bought SIX of these passes, which constrained us significantly in our travels, as we tried to minimize the cash wasted by finding Tour stops and waiting in line with Iowans and Nebraskans on their first and only Big Apple adventure. We ended up having to spend hundreds in cabs anyway (a party of six is immediately two cabs), and for some reason were not allowed to use the subway. The tours are a good deal if you're a one-time tourist out to maximize exposure to sites--we actually rode the uptown loop and it was fun. But we could have saved a lot of cash getting a one-day pass, or a couple of rides each, if she had asked me first.

B) Pre-paid dinner at Tavern on the Green? Oh, God. The food was ok, but when you purchase a dinner for six online you are discreetly shuffled into a special dining room where Tourists are jailed for two hours, with a specially printed drool-proof menu translated into Hick. Our gay gorgeous African-American waiter maintained the perfect blend of charming good humor and seething contempt. There are 50 better restaurants where entrees are one-fifth the price outside the vicinity of Times Square. I think the intention was to get her grandkids into a 'fancy' place, but again that could have been arranged for far less money. Tavern on the Green is cool for kiddies, though--what with the stained glass and the Elfin treescape of lanterns and lights.

C) I won't complain about the pre-paid boat package--the tour out around the tip of Manhattan and back around the Statue of Liberty was nice, and we saved money online. I'd not done such a thing before. The kids liked it. Good call Mom!

D) I guess we saved a couple bucks getting Empire State Bldg Observation tix online ahead of time, but we still had to stand in a two-hour line to cash in our vouchers for tickets. All for ten minutes at the top.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Back from NYC

And wiped out, bone-tired.

Not particularly pleased with the resolution of these stills--our new JVC digicamcorder is supposed to take 'hi-res' shots. Hmmm, maybe not.
View from top of Empire State
Peculiar Pub, shortly after running into Willem Defoe
Dim sum at the Golden Unicorn
Mmmmmm, sparkly
If they can make it there...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Netflix



Very interesting to see this powerfully disturbing film after recent repetitions of the same cyclical bullshit. Sure, the killing has been (and hopefully will remain) on a much smaller scale in Iraq than in Vietnam, but the deceit, the propaganda, the strategic blunders, the cultural and historical and linguistic ignorance, the repugnant amoral violence, the dissembling of politicians--all that remains the same.

Great interview clips with Daniel Ellsberg: "It is a credit to the America people that five presidents knew they had to lie to us about Vietnam and our involvement. It is not a credit to us that it was so easy for them to do so."

Lesson still not learned.

It continues


I have not slept more than an hour a night in three days. The backs of my eyes feel coated in sand. I'm spooked by afterimages and strange flittering movements at the edge of peripheral vision. Pre-programmed, rote activities like coffee preparation have become befuddling complications. I couldn't bear another bleary day at the Liberry catalogging books and ordering VHS tapes for the Kinesiology Department, so e-mailed my boss that I was taking off. Tomorrow we're headed to Manhattan with my folks and my niece and nephew for four days. Our assignment? En-culturate the wee ones. Our approach? Stuff them with dim sum. If I don't sleep soon I'll be shuffling around Central Park in pink flip-flops with a pinwheel taped to my hat, muttering about missing NASA film of the JFK assassination.

Julio--just back from Holland and Belgium after being just back from Italy--called and asked if I wanted to go to the Venetian painting show at the National Gallery. I'd love nothing more than to tour it with him available for discussion, but in my current state it's out of the question. Perhaps today I'll watch Tarkovsky's The Mirror--he's typically good for insomnia.

I have a sample of Ambien from my GP, but don't want to go down that road. I'd rather not sleep than pump myself full of chemicals.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

#63



Booksellers worth their salt must often translate patron requests from gibberish into actual titles. The herd has heard of a tome on NPR and they excitedly engage the nearest Info Counter drone, unable to recall the title/author/subject matter/genre (while somehow knowing the color of the book's cover). For a year I was beset by requests for The Interstellar Manganese, The Interrupted Mango Leaves, The Interesting Malarkies, or for "that book of short stories by an Indian," as if there were only one such collection. I managed to deliver Jhumpa Lahiri to dozens of these breathless folk when The Interpreter of Maladies was hot, all the while not reading her, and now I'd like to deliver a few dozen more.

These short stories were worth the wait (worth their weight in gold!). Lahiri writes with remarkable confidence and dexterity--her style is economical but by no means sparse, her descriptions vivid and precise to a masterful degree. The tales build slowly to often surprising emotional impact--some of them peak so subtly that their true heft doesn't register until hours later. Her characters are adrift, lonely, alienated: Indians in American are culturally mystified despite academic and career success; young children are troubled by adults and their mysterious ways; men and women are at a loss over relations with the opposite sex. These are mournful, troubling stories of restless people rendered with tender compassion and often humor. I loved it.

Sleepy

Hadn't been plagued by insomnia all summer--suddenly two very bad nights in a row. Guess it's the betwixt-academic-sessions-working-daytime schedule.

Fell asleep instantly last night, found myself in a dreary moonlit landscape of ruined temples with two companions--one of whom was Bender, the other unrecognizable--and we had to escape that place quickly because we were pursued by an army. We found some tubes that led to an underground city, just as I noticed an amphora hovering above us. Bender told me it was spying, and would alert our pursuers after a few minutes--whatever sensing apparatus it used was slow. I jumped into a tube and found out too late that the circumference was insufficient. Constricted, with my arms jammed above my head, in a dark tube, unable to move, I settled in for the long process of starving to death and woke up gasping for air. Then I was unable to sleep the rest of the night.

Now I sit at work creating call numbers for books about Saint Augustine.

Monday, August 14, 2006

#62



The title of this novel caught my eye in an advert in the NYRB, and in the mysterious process by which brains choose books I ordered it ASAP without ever having heard of Donald Harington.

The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks is a true pleasure--perhaps the most satisfying novel I've read since Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. We follow the descendents of Jacob Ingledew for 150 years as they found the town of Stay More, watching it grow and prosper and finally fade away. Along the way are belly laughs galore. Mr. Harington deftly caricatures the humble mountain folk he potrays without humiliating them in the least; he's got the saucy sagacity of Twain, the peculiar folksy depth of Sherwood Anderson, and the off-kilter po-mo mojo of Vonnegut. I grew up in a part of Pennsylvania where folks ain't too far offen those featured in this book*, where lunch is dinner and dinner is supper, where gossip can make its way around a mountain before the events discussed are even finished, where tall tales take on a reality of their own. I'll definitely be reading Mr. Harington's catalog.

*nod to Mr. James Carville, tho he described South Central PA as akin to Alabama rather than Arkansas

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Netflix



Of course David Cronenberg is a master of the romantic comedy, and Crash is perhaps his greatest contribution to the genre. Roseanna Arquette invites James Spader to engage in libidinous abandon with an open wound in her leg; films simply don't get more tender than that! All of the love scenes in Crash are touchingly wrought, each surpassing Cronenberg's previous masterpiece sex scene, that being from Dead Ringers, where Jeremy Irons uses surgical clamps to hang Genevieve Bujold from the iron frame of his bed. This film is about fifty times better than the other movie Crash, and has less Academy Awards.

All joking aside, this is a masterwork, but is not for the faint of heart. Based on J.G. Ballard's cooly detached novel of spectacular vehicular perversion, and featuring truly remarkable performances by Spader and Holly Hunter.



Sometimes a long-ignored Netflix queue delivers surprising double-features. Bruno S. is a fucking genius, as is Werner Herzog. Together they turn the story of the world's most famous foundling into a charming, sad, thoughtful and surprisingly funny film. Typically, Herzog's commentary is as good as the show, particulary when he tells Bruno's own tragic story.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fear Factor


Went to Home Depot tonight to buy some lumber and was listening to AM talk radion in the rental truck on the way home with a load of maple. Apparently Hugo Chavez is hiding under my bed waiting to kill me. According to WBAL radio he's funding Al Qaeda. While not the stupidest thing I've ever heard, it certainly comes close.

Glenn Beck on CNN tonight says Iran's president is planning to drop a nuclear bomb on Jerusalem on August 22nd, and says he learned it from Bernard Lewis. This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

Traveling? Don't put Mentos and Diet Coke in your carry-on bag.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Our Times



I'm perhaps way too cynical, but to read this yesterday, then wake up and see this today--all after having watched V for Vendetta last week--well, it's just an uncanny coincidence.

Netflix



I like the sexual subtext in many of these films from the '30s. Jezebel, which is gorgeously made and acted, features Bette Davis as a strong-willed filly who uses her sexuality and social position to turn men against each other. Often there are duels in her name, and hips shattered by iron pellets and calamity follow. She ends up losing her true love (Henry Fonda) because of her machinations, but doesn't learn her lesson until it's too late.

Favorite scenes? Fonda brings a cane along on a visit to Davis after being advised that his father would have 'cut a switch' had a woman treated him in similar manner. Davis opens the door to see Fonda, shot from behind and below, with this magnificent knobbed object thrust forward from his hips. She smiles lasciviously, pulls gently at the ribbons on her gown. Wonderful! Another scene features Davis trying on dresses for a grand ball; she has the first removed to reveal her stuck in the enormous cage of her bustle, seated on a stool--an excellent visual symbol. Also, Yellow Jack fever strikes New Orleans and a doctor says "If it ever got round that there was one code for the rich and another for the poor during a catastrophe in New Orleans this city would be finished!" Hmmmmm.

The DVD quality is excellent:



Still from DVDBeaver.com

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Revoltin' Joe




I tried to watch Joe Lieberman's "I concede nothing" concession speech last night, but ample supplies of Pepto Bismol weren't available. He says people are tired of the partisanship and divisiveness in DC, and that Lamont will perpetuate those symptoms.

I got news for you Joe. People are tired of the Bush Administration eroding everything progressives have achieved since Teddy Roosevelt. They're tired of lobbyists guzzling at the public trough by building up relations with Senators over the years. They're tired of Iraq and Halliburton and torture, and worry our inevitable imperial decline has been hastened not only by Bush but by Democrats who want to play nice with these guys(I'm pointing my finger at you). They're tired of an opposition party so inept as to move rightward each time the majority heads that way, all the while claiming to be "seeking the middle." Today's middle is to the right of Barry Goldwater. The right is off the map. It's time to take the feeding tube out of your career. We don't want self-proclaimed 'progressives' who ally themselves with radical extremist Christians on Hollywood, reproductive rights, Terry Schaivo, Middle East policy, censoring music and TV, and Bill Clinton's blowjobs. Sometimes a little partisanship is a good thing. When Bush and Cheney are turning the US into a banana republic we don't need opposition Senators calling for calm and friendly capitulation. We need new blood. Maybe Lamont's not the guy, but he was the alternative to you and your bankrupt claims to represent lefty principles.

Your continuance of a campaign against your own party's nominee merely accentuates the arrogance and the entitlement people are reacting against. It was your announcement that you would run as an independent if you lost the nomination that most sank your boat in the primary. Yes, you might win--because a lot of Republicans are going to vote for you. They love you. You help them get away with murder.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Here Comes Another One, Part II

Tonight saw the return of F.M. DeeMeglio, Cook Liberry's most jovial and interesting looney. He's a courier for a large shipping company and has a bug up his bonnet about dreams and the nature of reality and physics. This is only the second time I've dealt with him (Julia was trying for 30 minutes to help, but begged me to take over), and it was even better than the first. Any conversation which begins with an extended verbatim quote from a Penguin edition of Nietzsche has to be good, particularly when said quote focuses on abysses.

Mr. DeeMeglio was off and running on the topic of redshifted galaxies and how he believes physicists simply misread what a redshift means. "I swear it's diminished energy," he told me. "They think it's elevated energy, and that the Universe is expanding. Well, I don't believe in distance." Instead of explaining the compression of and spreading of waves associated with red- and blueshifted objects, I mentioned Kant and the fact that Time and Space are mere constructs of consciousness. This set him off on a tirade about the heart and how feelings change thought. I told him about Ouspensky and Zerzan, and felt I was perhaps foolishly feeding fuel to an uncontrollable fire. He became red-faced and emphatic about autism and told me about an experience he had listening to Beethoven's 3rd symphony. I whistled the splendid opening--the two mighty chords, the lilting progression--and he wrote down another idea that came to him about mathematics in the sixth dimension. "I've never done drugs," he claims, "but listening to that symphony my field of vision was revealed as a mere construct. Touch and vision don't make sense. Hearing I can understand, and Beethoven used it to send me a message about the sun. The sun is four-dimensional, it's right there and scientists miss it because it's too bright to look at. I've worked out a progression of interesting repititions in the digits of pi; it's complicated, and involves the square root of 31. I was able to calculate the furthest distance across the Universe and it equals 35 kilometers."

This went on for over an hour, until Cha and my in-laws arrived on an evening walk to rescue me.

#61



I burned straight through this book. From the opening chapter with its perturbed girl-child spirit torturing the family dog and messing up a birthday cake I was hooked. What haunts Sethe and Denver and 124 is a compelling manifestation of guilt and 're-memory.' She haunts America.

A truly magnificent novel, as good as any American novel I've encountered--no mean praise that. You should read it today.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dead Guitarists I Admire, Part IV


David Bowie worked with many guitarists I admire--Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, and SRV among them. None complemented Bowie's songwriting so well as Mick Ronson. I'm amazed by albums like Ziggy Stardust and The Man Who Sold the World. They still sound ground-breaking, and the guitar has a lot to do with it. Ronson suffered liver failure at age 46, and now he's dead.

Half of what I say is meaningless

Julia is from Taiwan. She was for two years the Graduate Assistant here in Periodicals. Tonight she went outside to meet a friend who was bringing her noodles for dinner. She returned crying. "Geoff I just got stunged by the bee!" I went upstairs in search of our lame boo-boo supplies: a jug of ethanol and some Band-Aids. I returned to find Julia returning frustrated from the restroom. "I'm supposed to pee on it, but I can't," she said. "Will you help me?"

Um, no.

I put some rubbing alcohol on a paper towel and disinfected the sting, then gave her some ice to hold on the wound. She's snuffling and saying: "I innocent. Why the bee so angry? Why me?"

Eat Me



It's been more than 15 years since I tried psilocybin. JHU now enthuses about the stuff. I propse it should be available as a daily vitamin supplement for those interested, thus ridding us of Prozac and Ridlin and whatnot.

Mostly my experiences involved cartoon animations appearing in corkboard, or electric lights chasing each other around posters, or faces morphing on wood grain surfaces. I got to the point I had to stop because after a while the mushrooms would wear off and the visions wouldn't.

#60



It's a bit ironic to use a computer to blog about this Luddite tome, but John Zerzan's 'future primitive' take on philosophical anarchism is enchanting; I like particularly his little essay on the banal evil of timekeeping, and his suggestion based on recent archeology that everything went wrong with humanity only after we started cultivating food I find most agreeable. Most of his essays are interesting, funny, challenging, and display a breadth of research and interest unparalleled in the Tom Friedman world in which we live.

I disagreed of course with Zerzan's ad hominem attack on Chomsky; it's fine to take issue with his linguistic theories--I do as well, and for reasons not dissimilar to Zerzan's. It's also okay to disagree on fundamentals about Chomsky's degree of commitment to anarchism and its ideals, although I'd point out that Noam has written and spoken about his anarchism as an ideal achievable only after a profound spiritual transformation of humanity--which is what Zerzan himself suggests is necessary. Criticizing Chomsky as a phony anarchist because he's currently for strengthening the federal government makes sense--there is a ring of 'dictatorship of the proletariat' about the idea--but in the face of an unprecedented assault on human rights by corporate power, it's not completely wrong-headed to suggest a strengthening of the one institution that can protect us from pillage.

Zerzan says Chomsky doesn't give a shit about women's rights or minority rights or the environment because he focuses on foreign policy; this displays complete ignorance of Chomsky's writings and speeches. Chomsky focuses on foreign policy because it's the area where most Americans are most deluded about our true role in the world, but civil and human rights and women's rights are always primary in his books, as is environmental degradation. I'm sure there are many anarchists who regard Zerzan as a poseur because he doesn't loft bombs at Bill Gates.

For more musings about 'return to primitive' potentialities, check out The Archdruid Report: The Butlerian Future.

Netflix



I did appreciate a few of the jabs at Bushism, but overall V for Vendetta was less inspiring than that Eminem video with marching hooded youth taking down the Congress that came out two years ago, and I think the film ripped off that video's final scene. Also that '80s Richard Burton/John Hurt 1984 was better.

Call it Matrix Regurgitated.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Phenomonology of Spirit

I agree with Chuck Hagel about next to nothing politically, but he's proving himself again and again to at least have horse sense and a spine.

Amongst the current crew of cuckoos thinking of a White House run, Hagel stands head-and-shoulders above the fray (politically I prefer Feingold, but his chances of garnering the Dem nomination are slimmer than Towson University's chances of advancing to the Final Four). Hagel's pretty strongly conservative, but he's not much to the right of HRC or that oily credit card company hack Joe Biden. If the Democrats win the House and Senate (insert canned laughter here), Hagel would perhaps be the sort of President who could stage-manage an exit from Iraq.

I don't know that I could vote for or actively support Hagel--especially given the likelihood that the next President will replace three or four Supreme Court Justices--but if he were running against Hilary in '08 I'd be sorely tempted to pull the R lever for the first time ever.

Ma and Cha at Niagra

Thursday, August 03, 2006

#59



I read a review of The Afterlife in the NYRB a couple months ago which set me scurrying to acquire Donald Antrim's entire catalog. I wanted to read this memoir so lavishly praised in my favorite periodical, but thought I should check out his novels first. Though fabulously written and often hilarious, there was a too pungent whiff of graduate creative writing program exercises about those books--something artificial and contrived marred the at-times scintillating imagination manifest in the text.

The Afterlife, however, is a magnificent success. Antrim's portrait of his mother attempts to get at her via multiple threads--he understands there's no such isolate entity as a "person," but only a Jamesian network of relations and perceptions involving primarily Antrim himself. He understands that a character portrait is exceedingly difficult, but moreso when attempted on an intimate relation of a mother's status, and that any portrait of her done by him must by necessity be a self-portrait too. Fine filaments of narrative line wind round and round the central subjects whose essences are best caught in a web of impressions.

Many of these impressions are distinctly unpleasant, others attain an aching beauty. Therein lies our existential paradox. The Afterlife is a very compassionate, honest book which exemplifies The Master's teaching: There is one point at which the moral sense and the artistic sense lie very near together; that is, in the light of the very obvious truth that the deepest quality of a work of art will always be the quality of the mind of the producer.

One gets the sense that Antrim has exorcised mighty demons with his small book. Where he goes next intrigues.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Netflix



I remember fondly those days before cable TV and VCRs, before the complete media saturation we enjoy today with on-demand and Netflix and easily downloadable porn. Here in Baltimore County if we wanted to watch movies we had to watch what was on the broadcast channels: Channel 45, Channel 5, Channel 20, and Channel 11 would show the same rotation of films over and over, and typically Kelly's Heroes, Patton, Phantasm, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, or one of Sergio Leone's Clint Eastwood vehicles was on. One of the films I saw about a billion times was A Fistful of Dollars. Sergio Leone based that particular spaghetti western on Kurasawa's Yojimbo, and it's interesting to see the source material for a film I know inside-out.

Despite its reputation, I must admit Yojimbo was disappointing. It's certainly not bad, but compared to Hidden Fortress or Ran or Rashomon or any of a half-dozen other Kurasawa greats it's a quirky novelty, half Western, half French New Wave, half samurai pic. Yojimbo is a samurai with no master--he shows up in a run-down town beset by gangs competing for supremacy and decides to cash in using his skills as a swordsman. "I can make money killing here," he tells the innkeeper. "And this town is full of people who deserve to die." He plays both sides for cash, ends up doing the noble thing a couple times contrary to his fiscal benefit, and almost everybody gets whacked.

Most unusual are the presence of severe scratches at many points. Criterion did a reasonably good job with their DVD, but not the full monty digital repair.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

#58



Vonnegut was one of those writers who took me from my sci-fi adolescence and into a more general pursuit of 'literary fiction.' My copy of Cat's Cradle is part of a three-volume set I got from the Book of the Month Club. When I was a teen I used to scam book and music clubs using a P.O. box and my home address to sign myself up again and again as a 'friend' and reaping the benefits on both ends: free and very cheap books. After dozens of aliases and cancelations I had quite a library. Of course, these editions are crummy and crumble after a couple readings, but WTF? I just read it for the third time and my wife has read it three times too.

I read Vonnegut's entire catalog in about two weeks at age 16 before shelving my John Varleys and Robert Heinleins forever and tackling Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky--with his tragicomic heroes and holy fools--would have enjoyed Cat's Cradle.

I figured it was time to read Vonnegut again because I'd forgotten what a wampeter was. Kurt's like a really comfy sweater I can pull out when things are bleak and the world is particularly senseless. Not because he's an optimist--not at all. But he's dreadfully funny about dreadfully serious things. Cat's Cradle is delivered with the simplicity of a children's story, and I'll likely re-read it every twenty years or so if the world isn't encased in ice, burned by agitated atoms, or over-run by avian flu in the meantime.

"I know it when I see it." Potter Stewart, Associate Justice, US Supreme Court



Jaroslaw Kukowski rules.

So Much Trouble in the World


I've been spending more time watching the news again, and have even considered (gasp) re-subscribing to some newspaper or other. Primarily this desire is due to morbid fascination with the disintegrating state of things:

Castro ceding power to Raul Wow. Imagine if Fidel actually dies? Senator Mel Martinez can lead a flotilla of Miami Cubans down there and come ashore at the Bay of Pigs, unveiling the noble Bush Administration plan to replace a repressive crypto-Stalinist regime with a corrupt gangster capitalist dictator along the lines of Batista. Or perhaps Hugo Chavez will install a proxy government, knowing Bush can't do a damn thing about it? Hopefully bloodshed can be avoided in one part of the world.

Iran I suspect Iran wants limited confrontations with the US--just enough for Ahmanijad to get political mileage out of his tough talk. If the Persians were interested in really hitting us, they'd unleash Moqtada al-Sadr and his Shi'ite militia and the US body count in Iraq would jump from 15 to 300 a week. This doesn't mean they aren't fucking around with Syria and Hezbollah to embarrass the US and amplify our current weakness, nor does it mean they aren't working hard to ensure Iraq develops into an Islamic Republic on their own model. They'd be foolish not to, considering all the dirty dealing we've done them over the years. I blame the entire current situation on Bush and his "Axis of Evil" bullshit. Only a complete dunderhead (or a single-minded ideologue) would make such a pronouncement when Iranians were chanting pro-US slogans in soccer stadiums in Tehran after 9/11. Had we worked to strengthen ties to Khatami as he tried to minimize the Mullahs' power instead of giving them rhetorical tools to limit progress the world might be a different place now. Of course the Bushies blame the Iran mess on Clinton, which takes tortured logic--the only kind neo-cons wield.

Israel/Lebanon There is no nation on Earth who has more right to use disproportionate force in defending itself than Israel. After millenia of suffering pogroms and scapegoating and genocides, the Jews are justified in their paranoia and deserve some respect for taking the fight to their enemy with vigor. BUT--how long will it take for the IDF and Israeli politicians to realize that collective punishment perpetuates their dangerous situation? How long will it take for them to realize that past atrocities against themselves do not justify the current atrocities they perpetuate? Hezbollah and Hamas kidnapped and killed IDF soldiers after a Palestinian family was blown up on the beach and a Palestinian father and son were snatched from Gaza by the IDF. Funny how those initial actions disappear from the media narrative, and only Arab/Palestinian responses get called to account. Israel has the fourth or fifth most powerful military in the world. They could raze the entire Middle East, and are likely willing to do so if necessary. They've razed Lebanon before and nothing changed. Razing it now will change nothing, except to perpetuate the stupid cycle of violence. And yes, all American administrations going back to Tricky Dick share the blame for allowing Israel to ignore UN Security Council Resolutions (or for vetoing those not favored by Israel) while insisting that other states in the region comply. Creating South-African style bandustans in the Gaza strip and West Bank with US money helped nothing either. Imagine if we'd spent a couple billion dollars to train and arm the Lebanese military and to help out the nascent Lebanese government--you know, given them like a third of the money we give to Israel and Egypt and Turkey to buy our bombs with. Nope. We tell them they have to disarm a militia nearly as big as their army with no help, and then blow the shit out of their country for failing to do so within a year (or at least have a proxy army do it for us). Who supports democracy again? Who values freedom and peace?

Global Warming It's 105 degrees today, and the humidity is Venusian. Birds and bugs are stupefied into silence. The kids who have day camp outdoors at the University were huddled in a miserable torpor beneath trees, desultorily shooting each other with water guns. And yet there's no consensus it's a problem?

Mel Gibson What the fuck? With all the other shit going on in the world, is debating whether or not Mel is an anti-Semite worth a third of every hour on CNN? I think his statements to that LA County Sherriff's Deputy speak for themselves. Do I think it's possible for a mentally ill drunk to spout nonsense learned at his papa's knee without really meaning it? Uh, maybe. But this is not something to debate on TV when the world teeters on the brink of collapse.

Somalia Mark my words--the next time we're hit or Europe is hit in a big way by some fucked-up crew of murderous fanatics they will have been trained in a Somalian terrorist camp. Somalia will be the next Afghanistan, unless Iraq or Afghanistan becomes the next Afghanistan. Ethiopia is invading Somalia for Christ's sake, trying to stabilize things.

North Korea Just ignore them. Their missiles can't hit anything yet. As soon as a missile hits something, then we can act. It'll be a different President's problem.

Chuck Hagel If Chuck Hagel by some miracle were running against HRC in the next election, I'd vote for Hagel, and I agree with him about next to nothing. Why is he the only guy speaking up and saying "This madness must stop"? He's absolutely correct. Reagan saw the butchery Sharon unleashed on Beirut 20 years ago and was so appalled he reigned the IDF in by threatening to take away their allowance. All Bush has to say is "stop" and the current crisis would end immediately, and Rice could negotiate her bullshit deal with a bit of credibility. They don't want it to stop, however, because the US and Israel have been itching for a pretext to blow shit up ever since the elections Bush wanted went to groups he didn't want. Plus, the Rapture might get started if the violence continues. I for one am all for the Rapture--the sooner I see those nutcases flying up in the air, the better.

Iraq Proof positive that conservatives can't do anything--at least this crew. Government simply doesn't function at any level with these clowns in power. But they get things done for their true constituents; namely, the looting of public resources for private enrichment. They do that tremendously well. We're beyond quagmire and into catastrophe now. And Bush is going to take August off again.

Hell, at least there's no longer any Natalie Holloway/missing blond woman of the week chit-chat on cable.