Monday, October 31, 2011

Not-so-guilty pleasures

Is it wrong that "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" makes me proud to be an American?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Defend yourself against tear gas

I've participated in a few demonstrations over the years (not recently, I must confess), but never one where the authorities used tear gas on the crowd. Peaceful protest being one of our most fundamental and cherished rights as Americans, proper education in civics calls for some knowledge of practical measures one can take to defend against tear gas attack and other abuses of power. And your friends at boingboing are here to help. Remember: Only for good, never for evil!

To sing as the host sings in his house

One of the benefits of having had a woefully incomplete education in literature (poetry in particular) is that one can reach the age of 53 and discover something wondrous brand new in the written word... even if the poem has been around for decades...
To breathe and stretch one's arms again
to breathe through the mouth to breathe to
breathe through the mouth to utter in
the most quiet way not to whisper not to whisper
to breathe through the mouth in the most quiet way to
breathe to sing to breathe to sing to breathe
to sing the most quiet way.

To sing to light the most quiet light in darkness
radiantia radiantia
singing light in darkness.

To sing as the host sings in his house.
From John Taggart, "Slow Song for Mark Rothko." Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Game 6

I really don't like baseball at all. Except sometimes...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


It seems logical to me that the officials of cities like Atlanta and Oakland might be losing their patience with the Washington politicians and their wealthy paymasters who have failed to undertake sensible fiscal policies to alleviate the real pain of their citizens in these hard times. Instead, they decide that frustrated protesters, the large majority peaceful and orderly, need to be forcibly removed from downtown parks and plazas because... because...? Oh, the sanitation problems. Never mind that a few porta potties probably cost less than the tear gas canisters that are putting people into hospitals.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Kevin Spacey

We watched Horrible Bosses this weekend, a dumb comedy that provided more than a few good laughs. Kevin Spacey was one of the three horrible bosses. He could play this kind of amusing creep in his sleep, and judging from the performance, that's pretty much what he did. Ditto for Colin Farrell. Of the three bosses, only Jennifer Aniston, as a nympho-maniacal dentist, clearly put some effort into it. She is very funny.

Spacey first came to my attention in the late 80s TV series, Wiseguy, in which he guest starred as a twisted, drug-addled gangster. The creepiness factor has served him well ever since then, in American Beauty (a movie I didn't care for), in which he turns out to be a creep with a heart of gold, and Seven (a movie I liked), in which he is a creep beyond redemption.

Which brings us to Richard III, the role Kevin Spacey was born to. We were lucky to be there opening night in San Francisco. The production is brilliant. The other actors range from solid to excellent. But it is, as I guess Shakespeare intended it, a one-man show. Every Richard is evil, and it would have been natural for Spacey to model his Richard on all the other humorously creepy villains he has created. The evil is there, and the humor too, to be sure. But evil does not exactly define this Richard. Spacey as Richard is more pure life force. Twisted, wracked with pain, this Richard nonetheless seems to relish every second. The physicality of the performance is astonishing. The set is deep and largely empty; "crippled" Richard charges across it, in full command of his space, as dangerous as a wounded animal, as devastatingly effective as Walter Payton running the football.

But this is Richard, after all, and in the end this life force must get his comeuppance (quite literally, as it turns out, in this staging). Only in a cheesy horror movie would such a villain's corpse come back to life to wreak havoc one last time. I'm sure I was not the only member of the audience wishing that it could happen here too, just this once...

Occupy the classroom

Kristof is right on. A humane society surely will do what it can to help out the unfortunate whose life chances have been constrained by upbringing, prejudice, or some other kind of bad luck. In the process, some deemed "undeserving" will be helped as well. Sorry, insurance just works that way. But a just society will do its best to equalize life chances in the first place. Efficiency and equity both served.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Climate change news: good, bad, and ugly

Good! California adopts cap and trade for greenhouse gases. California alone cannot make much of a dent in global warming, but we can demonstrate that life will go on pretty much as usual after cap and trade. The great state of CA will still be vibrant, growing, diverse, and politically dysfunctional.

Bad: No matter how carefully you massage the surface temperature data, global warming is happening, and fast, confirming the data reported by NASA and other reliable sources. And this research comes from a one-time climate change questioner, if not a denier.

Ugly: Economists prove that coal sucks. These are not your tree-hugger economists, if such exist. These are distinguished, hard-nosed microeconomists who have leaned toward the "don't do too much too fast" view on climate policy.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Take Shelter

The film Take Shelter just opened within the last week or so, but already on Saturday night the Guild Theater in Menlo Park was nearly empty. Perhaps word has gotten out that the movie will subject you to two full hours of existential dread... and who needs that? Well, you do, if you value a gripping, thought-provoking story and first-rate writing, directing, and acting. I won't tell you what I think of the ending. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bertel Bruun, RIP

I confess, I was a kid birder. We had a feeder outside the kitchen window of our Connecticut house, and the folks bought a copy of Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide, the standard reference at the time. When I started heading out into the woods and marshes looking for birds beyond the back yard, for some reason I acquired a copy of Birds of North America (first ed., 1966), co-written by the late Bertel Bruun (along with Chandler Robbins and Herbert Zim).

I found the book much more user-friendly than Peterson's guide. For one thing, I thought, and still think, that the illustrations were more life-like and true to the birds than Peterson's iconic paintings. But more important, the book's design placed the full text descriptions adjacent to the plates, rather than elsewhere in the book as was Peterson's norm. No annoying fumbling and flipping back and forth in the field. The NY Times obit notes that this eminently sensible design was Mr. Bruun's innovation and principal contribution to the book.

I now also own a copy of the definitive Sibley guide, a beautiful achievement and a wonderful reference. But when I see a bird I'm unsure of, my first move is still for Mr. Bruun's masterpiece.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 3

One of my favorite reviews from my favorite pop music critic, Robert Christgau, was his A+ review of DeBarge's In a Special Way:
I know of no pop music more shameless in its pursuit of pure beauty--not emotional (much less intellectual) expression, just voices joining for their own sweet sake, with the subtle Latinized rhythms (like the close harmonies themselves) working to soften odd melodic shapes and strengthen the music's weave. High energy doesn't always manifest itself as speed and volume--sometimes it gets winnowed down to its essence.
Of course, very rarely you get the deepest expression and the purest beauty all at the same time--Louis Armstrong comes to mind. I am unwilling to claim that Andy Bey approaches that exalted level. But when it comes to high energy in the service of shameless beauty, hiding itself behind suave and smooth, I put American Song right up there.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Black Saint

Back in the 1970s, some crazy Italians apparently decided that it would be a good idea to record the most creative but least commercially viable musicians in America. The result is a discography to drool over. My hunch is that every single record offers something transcendent. Because transcendence is the unifying theme of avant-garde jazz. And avant-garde jazz lived on Black Saint.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Not in my name

I have little sympathy for guys like Anwar al-Awlaki, who represent about the exact opposite of what I love and admire in modern human society. But one of the things I love and admire is due process under the rule of law. An eye for an eye with a wink and a nod doesn't cut it.