Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Americans

I was very pleasantly surprised. The show will live or die by the relationship between the wife and husband KGB sleeper agents. As of episode 1, that relationship is complex and compelling. Shorter review: Keri Russell puts the cold in cold war, but manages to be hot at the same time. I can't imagine they can sustain the contrivances of the plot for very long, but then again, I would have said the same about Breaking Bad...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 26

Aw hell, is this his all-time best song?


Atrios: "For years liberals have been sadly content to pursue conservative ends to achieve liberal goals, but years later it's pretty clear that such things generally don't work. Part of the reason they don't work is because conservatives are stingy assholes." Don't work or are never even tried... case in point: carbon tax. Market-based policies are all well and good, but don't take away my cheap gas.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Obama agenda

First term: Health care
Second term: Climate change

OK, I might have reversed the order, but this still has a nice ring to it. He can toss fiscal sustainability into the mix with a nice fat carbon tax, but should keep his promise to the 99% by preserving/ enhancing progressive social programs to offset the carbon tax's regressivity.

Et tu, Boehner?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton's great novel is bristling with tension, especially the emotional charge that builds between Archer and the Countess. Martin Scorcese's adaptation, which we watched last night, somehow managed to dissipate all that static energy before it even got started, partly via intrusive and unnecessary voice-over narration, and partly via the worst performances you'll ever see from Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer. The chemistry between them is about as interesting to observe as a beaker of distilled water. Round about the hour 2 mark Laura, trying to stay awake as our principals met for one last dreary and frustrated encounter, said, "Just fuck her and get on with it." Being more politically correct, I couldn't possibly say that. But I see her point.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mea culpa

I got tenure and I confess I owe it all to caffeine. Waiting on that call from Oprah...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Rockin' with the St. Larrys

The St. Lawrence String Quartet performed today in Stanford's brand-new Bing Concert Hall...
Sublime: Haydn Quartet Op. 77 No.1
Ridiculous, but wonderful: Schafer Quartet No. 3
Bombastic, but impressive: Thuille Piano Quintet No. 2 (with Stephen Prutsman, piano)
Encore: Prutsman's arrangement of Joe Zawinul's "Birdland"... I never liked that tune... I still don't.
The SLSQ are thoughtful, passionate, virtuosic, theatrical... If they come to your neighborhood, go hear them play! Here they are performing the rollicking minuet from the Haydn...

Telegraph Avenue

Michael Chabon's love letter to Oakland and its "Brokeland Creole" residents is entertaining and virtuosic from start to finish. A celebration of postwar black popular culture, midwifery, inept and irresponsible but ultimately well-meaning fatherhood, and East Bay lefty-ism, Telegraph Avenue's irresistible protagonist Archy Stallings is a man-child dealing with impending (and unanticipated present) fatherhood in the grand tradition of Grady Tripp. The supporting cast is excellent. The writing is damn near perfect, even the ostentatious central section, written without punctuation, which follows the flight of a liberated pet parrot as it passes over and observes the main characters. Just the kind of exercise you could image Professor Chabon assigning his creative writing class. Damned if he doesn't just pull it off.

In her review of TA in the New York Review of Books, Cathleen Schine (clearly a fan) writes, "Chabon is an extraordinarily generous writer. He is generous to his characters, to his landscapes, to syntax, to words, to his readers..." Indeed, if Chabon has a flaw as a writer, it is that he is too generous to his readers, and too much in love with his own characters to view them with any real detachment or objectivity. His satirical barbs are funny and well-aimed, but rarely amount to much more than gentle ribbing. These are, after all, his people. And your people too... or at least, you will wish it so.