Tuesday, June 30, 2009
My friend and me
Looking through her red box of memories
Faded I'm sure
But love seems to stick in the things you know
Yes, there's love if you want it
Don't sound like a sonnet, my lord
Yes, there's love if you want it
Don't sound like no sonnet, my lord
Why can't you see
That nature has its way of warning me?
Eyes open wide
Looking at the heavens with a tear in my eye
Yes, there's love if you want it
Don't sound like no sonnet, my lord
Yes, there's love if you want it
Don't sound like no sonnet, my lord
Sinking fast within a boat without a hull
Dreaming about the day
when I can see you there
By my side
Here we go again and
my head is gone, my lord
I stop to say hello
'Cause I think you should know by now
Oh, by now
Oh, by now
Oh, by now
Oh, by now
Monday, June 29, 2009
French director Jean-Luc Godard's was the most literal adherent to the auteur theory of film making popular in the Fifties and Sixties. Auteur theory holds that a sole creative force in the person of the director should dictate every element in his or her work, including the dialogue of every character. Godard's films, Pierrot Le Fou being one of them, tread perilously close to autobiography or self-parody at times and this is frequently what some critics find objectionable and presumptuous. In particular, this work is best understood as a contemplative summing up of Godard's marriage to Danish actress and muse Anna Karina, one which had begun with great promise four years before and was now spiraling downward to divorce. Karina in many ways is playing herself through Godard's perspective and she must have been aware of this during filming, since the dialogue spoken by her character was at times identical to things that she said in real life. Two years earlier, Godard used the same device in the film Contempt, instead using female lead Brigitte Bardot as a stand in for Karina and even requesting that Bardot mimic as closely as she could the acting style of his then-wife.
Godard employs Jean-Paul Belmondo once more in the character of Ferdinand Griffon, an intellectual and disgruntled artist who is quite unsurprisingly Godard's personal mouthpiece. Belmondo played a crucial role in much the same capacity for the director's acclaimed debut film, Breathless, filmed five years earlier, and adopts here the same general devil-may-care cocky swagger that served him so well in the prior effort. Griffon, largely out of sheer boredom, leaves his wife and children to engage in an affair with the babysitter, Marianne Renoir, played here by Karina. As the movie unfolds, Karina turns out to be a femme fatale of the worst sort: one who kills people without remorse, flaunts her connection with underworld figures, and ensnares Griffon into adopting a role as accomplice to her crimes and her own fickle nature.
The best features of a Godard film, of course, are the witty one-liners, editing experiments that disregard conventional narrative altogether, and vicious swipes at American consumerism. In the first part of the film Renoir decides to ditch the car they've been driving for the past several hours to throw the cops off of their trail, but not before issuing a command to Griffon that they ought to make it look realistic, because, after all, this isn't a movie. Later in the film an Algerian gun runner sports an omnipresent over-sized bottle of Coca-Cola. The effect is made even more prominent by the fact that the hoodlum is a midget and quite literally seems to be in danger of being overwhelmed by the size of the bottle in proportion to his slight size. In addition, characters periodically, and very deliberately break the fourth wall, speaking directly to the camera. Godard's leftist political side shows plainly when Belmondo and Karina stage a slightly over-the-top theatrical caricature of America's barbaric, inhumane treatment of the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, which was by then heating up to a boiling point. Subsequent films would be entirely political in nature, so Pierrot Le Fou represents the end of the French director's first period.
Godard, ever the consummate literary and film aesthete, filled his works full of cerebral allusions to favorite books, influential works of art, and movies he admired. At times he took it too far, which is evident if ones reads a published interview with the director, whereby in every paragraph he alludes to esoteric writers, filmmakers, and artists with a weary kind of incredulous disdain that pondered why more people didn't take the time to absorb as many influences as he had. At times, the behavior comes across like name-dropping. Similarly, Pierrot Le Fou is often criticized by film scholars and reviewers alike for daring to be presumptuous enough to take this attitude a step farther and include many direct allusions to his own prior films, not merely those of others.
Self-referential scenes might be more acceptable nowadays, but in its time the practice was seen as lazy, self-indulgent, and egocentric to the extreme. Being that much of the plot was strikingly similar to Breathless both in style and in scope, the criticism has merit. Part of this effect was purely a matter of the fact that the film went into filming with no script whatsoever and was often a product of improvisation. Godard wrote each day's lines the day before they were to be filmed, so he certainly didn't have the luxury of reflection, time, revision, or the ability to avoid occasionally repeating himself. This in itself is indicative of many art house pictures of the period---frequently unfocused, rambling, and aiming to be unconventionally different while going much too far in the process.
One is often aware of Godard's tip of the hat to other director, but what isn't documented as much are when his influences respond in kind. For example, Pierrot Le Fou utilizes primary and sometimes secondary colors in every conceivable aspect, from the dress of the characters, to the color of the cars, and even to the opening and closing credits. Godard had filmed Contempt along similar lines with the same slowly-moving, moving image-as-still-painting aesthetic of Italian director and fellow auteur Michelangelo Antonioni. Antonioni, obviously touched, would return the favor when it came time to film Blow-Up a year later. Buildings in the area of London where filming took place in that film were deliberately and conspicuously painted in these same basic primary and secondary colors, and the director even had the grass of the park where, famously, the movie's murder was accidentally photographed, painted solid green for effect. Godard, after all, like many New Wave directors had begun his film career as a respected critic and theorist in widely published cinematic periodicals. It is through these journals that ideas and concepts were exchanged and formulated. Nowadays, underground film critics would probably contribute to a blog or a internet-based magazine but in those days, of course, electronic media did not yet exist.
Pierrot Le Fou has its detractors, for sure, and for understandable reasons, but it is frequently a charming film as well. In it one sees a man emerging from a dark period in his life while trying to make sense of all which has transpired prior. It also is rightly seen as a final homage to Anna Karina, though they would not officially divorce until two years later, and a means of taking stock of her influence on Godard's life. As his first color film, Pierrot Le Fou uses the cinematic effect to a beautiful degree and leaves one wondering what earlier works would have looked like in Technicolor, not monochrome. This film concludes the director's most accessible period of film craft and shows glimpses of what future works would look like. Godard had made one Hollywood film with A-list Hollywood actors and actresses, 1963's Contempt, and found the experience much to his distaste because of studio meddling and perceived constraints upon his artistic freedom. Henceforth, he was more concerned with leftist political theory at the expense of anything madcap or conventional in the least, and was particularly concerned with Maoist treatises and revolutionary rhetoric. After the Contempt experience, subsequent films were made on his terms alone, meaning that he deliberately eschewed the popularity and deliberately commercial works of other French New Wave directors like Francois Truffaut. Godard used increasingly radical techniques in his pictures which placed him firmly in the category of independent, underground filmmaker. This was a role in which Godard was quite comfortable, though it all but assured he'd forever be an acquired taste and a frequently unknown talent.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
The more education we have, the more we believe that humans are capable of solving their disputes rationally and that since irrational behavior makes no logical sense, so there's no reason for it to even exist. Education preaches rational thought and rational discourse. Rationality as a construct goes hand in glove with the civilized impulse and we often pride ourselves when we willfully substitute raw emotional response for reasoned contemplation. As a result, when nonsensical behavior or foolish reaction bubbles to the surface, the first question we ask ourselves is frequently---"Why?"
Politicians are no less human than we are. The recent behavior of some of them has provided the opportunity for much disbelief. For example, why did South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford concoct an elaborate lie to his wife, the press, and his own staff about his own whereabouts that was so ill-conceived that it forced him to come clean with where he really had been? Why did Sarah Palin respond so indignantly to an admittedly third-rate joke about one of her daughters? Why did she craft a rambling written acceptance of David Letterman's apology for the joke that included an incredibly weird and totally unrelated passage citing those who serve in the military? Why did Texas Governor Rick Perry imply that his state had the right to secede from the Union? Why was Michele Bachmann even elected? Why do any number of our elected representatives say incredibly stupid things from time to time that completely boggle the mind?
Dumb political decisions aside, I thought I might provide a personal example from my own life as a means of comparison. As I might have alluded to on this site before, my mother was an elementary school teacher for most of my childhood and early adolescence. The bane of her existence was almost never the children, her students. Instead, the metaphorical fly in the ointment was a particular kind of parent, one who entertained the willful delusion that their sainted child couldn't possibly be acting out and couldn't possibly be a behavior problem. Parents like these refused to think rationally, instead clinging madly to an egocentric and narcissistic belief that since they themselves perceived that their own parenting skills were solid, then it stood to reason that their children must be behaving correctly. As their "logic" would have it, clearly the teacher and the school must be in the wrong since it was utterly incomprehensible to them that their child wasn't an angel. Parents like these lived in a fantasy of their own creation, one in which they were never willing to be self-reflective or to undergo the indignity of confronting their own flaws. When one boiled it down, the matter was never really about their children. Instead, it was all about them.
These days, we could easily call this phenomenon "playing the victim". It is a means of displacement, shifting the blame from us to some place else. We all are guilty of it to some degree but the key is being courageous enough to admit to our flaws and faults. Taken too far, we can become masochistic and self-pitying. Taken not far enough, we can lose touch with humility and come to believe in our own inherent perfection. The answer, as you might have guessed, is to be rational. But part of the answer is to also acknowledge that for all of our striving and struggles, occasionally we all act irrationally. So long as we keep that in mind, we'll be able to sympathize with those who make mistakes while not condoning their behavior, either.
Friday, June 26, 2009
I have nothing further to add to the exhaustive analysis surrounding the self-proclaimed "King of Pop" and have no desire to provide my own unique angle to it. I do, however, have an amusing anecdote to share.
I called my mother last night to catch up on the family news and, as one might expect, the topic turned to the death of Michael Jackson. She mentioned something I had said as a little boy that at the time I was too young to remember. Apparently, at the age of two, I asked her whether Michael Jackson was a boy or a girl. The jury may still be out on that subject. Perhaps we will discover the answer for sure now that the star in question has died.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Prepare yourself for another news day involving the fallout from the Mark Sanford saga. The cable news networks, internet, blogosphere, and talk shows could speak of nothing else yesterday and, true to form, they will continue their analysis and critique today. In the midst of this cerebration, few people will be truly willing to confront the real story behind the story. If we were honest with ourselves, we'd take this as another opportunity to ask ourselves, collectively, the roots from whence infidelity stems and why those in positions of power so easily and willfully violate their marriage vows.
The conversation we're not having, partially because we're not comfortable with it, partially because it would reveal much about our own attitudes is why people in positions of power stray from their marriage. The Puritan in each of us has a instant tendency to judge them harshly, mercilessly, critiquing their behavior as purely a product of poor self-control, immoral influences, and a deficit of self-discipline. But what this critique does not take into account is how power, talent, and influence is very much an aphrodisiac. Any heterosexual male who has ever picked up a guitar, strummed a few tentative chords, and sang in front of even a few interested women knows this well. Any man placed in a position of authority knows too how women are easily attracted to authority figures. And, it should be added, this phenomenon also applies to powerful women employed in these stations, though the incidents themselves are either less frequent in number or less frequently reported.
I remember that when I was in college I made friendships with several of my professors. I became especially close to a handful of them and after I gained their confidence I was provided a peek into their private lives. Many of them quietly carried on adulterous affairs with their students, often taking a new sexual partner every term. Naturally, I never felt any inclination to inform their wives (or husbands, in some cases, or their same-sex partners) because while I might have found it personally objectionable I took the attitude that it was none of my business. At times, I wondered how their spouses, girlfriends, and boyfriends felt about the matter, but their complete silence on the matter seemed to answer the question for me.
I seriously doubt I'm the first person who has been faced with this realization. Though I have never been close enough to a political campaign or major office to see the behind-the-scenes back and forth, I bet this goes on all the time there, too. As the ancient phrase goes, most people are followers and few people are leaders. But what can be safely affixed to that saying is that followers often find leaders irresistibly attractive. A potent cocktail of power, money, influence, and means leads indirectly to temptation. What we might need to ask ourselves is whether we could be the strong ones with these constant distractions. What we might need to ask ourselves is whether we could be the moral ones when immorality, as commonly defined, is an omnipresent factor that goes along with the job description. What we might need to ask ourselves is whether we could keep it all from going to our heads and, if we indulged, would we be progressively more and more careless in the act of covering our tracks. Or, what we might especially ask is whether we'd be star-struck ourselves in the company of one of our stars, craving the attention and yes, even sexual graces of one of our personal heroes or romantic fantasies.
Crusading journalist Ed Murrow used this passage from Shakespeare to make a vital point about Senator Joe McCarthy and the Red Scare of the 1950's, but in this regard, it speaks well to the matter at hand.
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
(click to enlarge)
A few weeks back, President Obama asked those on his mailing list to write to him about their difficulties with our exceptionally broken Health Care system. I am pleased to say that my story was chosen for publication on the Obama Presidential website.
It can be accessed here. If, after reading it, you wish to click on the megaphone icon and amplify it so that it will receive greater attention, I would sincerely appreciate the gesture. As you might suspect, I'm not the only person who has been victimized by the greed, graft, and corruption that suffices as for-profit health care. Not by a long shot. If you will take the opportunity to scan through several entries on the site, you will find one heartbreaking story after another.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Since yesterday was the official First Day of Summer and since many people will be soon headed to beaches, pools, and backyards for work or play, I decided to write today about an especially pertinent topic: skin cancer. Skin cancer is a disease whose onset mimics that of cigarette smoking, since both frequently manifest themselves much later in life. When we overdo both, we experience a few day's discomfort---sensitive, reddened, painfully peeling skin or a congested hacking cough and sore throat. To reiterate, the short-term damage to our quality of life created by both of these actions is nothing compared to the long-term danger. What complicates prevention of both of these highly preventable diseases is that young people are among the worst offenders. In our youth, we are consumed with enjoying our lives. As we age, we are increasingly consumed with prolonging it.
Adolescents do not often understand the long-term consequences of their actions, instead often impulsively compelled to follow the latest fashion trend. Thus they are the most susceptible to fads, in particular the frequent usage of tanning beds and a desire bordering on obsessive to achieve a perfectly tanned body. Tanning beds, in particular, have been linked to an increased risk of skin cancer and skin damage in later life. It nearly goes without saying that any tan, strictly speaking, is a protective measure adopted by the body as a means to prevent sun damage caused by UV radiation. Though sun tanning in moderation, particularly in combination with the use of sun screen greatly cuts down on the possibility of developing skin cancer, many teens and pre-teens neglect to use suntan lotion or use it infrequently.
Tanned skin has been popular now for around the past decade in the United States, but it hasn't been until recently that our often-nonsensical popular culture has set its sights on the 'tween set. A press release put out by a Dermatological group underscores that parents are well aware of the problem presented by frequent tanning and overwhelming disapproving of the practice. In addition, two states have banned tanning bed use altogether for those under the age of fourteen. That boys and girls who have barely reached puberty are compelled to emulate their older peers in the pursuit of a perfect body should give us all reason to take pause. Once childhood was seen as a respite from the inevitable stress of adult, or even teenage concerns. Now we as a society seem to be caught squarely in between two extremes in this regard. To me, the effect produced looks like the five-year-old girl wearing her mother's oversized high-heeled shoes, having slathered lipstick haphazardly across her face in the process.
What this underlines is a much greater problem. Our increasingly looks-driven society has been progressively pushing back the minimum age at which it is socially acceptable for young people to dress suggestively or to display overt sexuality. Even in the past few years, 'tweeners have progressed from dressing like girls to dressing suggestively in the mold of Hannah Montana.
In the same mold as the commercialization that gave rise to Hannah Montana is the is the sad fact that tanning beds have become an industry, and a lucrative one at that, which makes billions of dollars per year. One can't help but notice that our collective pursuit of perfection is disproportionately slanted towards females and often demands adherence to practices, like tanning, that are harmful to the body. What concerns me most is that the minimum age by which young women are instructed to resort to near-fanatical means to perfect their appearance also seems to be steadily moving backward, year by year. It should be noted that young men also are also at risk. Many are tanning bed devotees, as well, though out of a fear of seeming effeminate they are often much less inclined to be honest in reporting the behavior.
In a very real sense, we are all bombarded with mixed messages regarding body image. Each of us ends up grappling with a kind of disconcerting, paradoxical doublethink when we contemplate personal appearance. Regarding tanning, though in one hand we might conclude that someone with a paler complexion is healthier, on the other hand we don't wish to seem out of place, either, and may opt towards tanning as a way to not seem out of step with others. Regarding our children and young adults, it cannot be overstressed that they are, ultimately, a reflection of who we are. The image staring back at us is worth contemplating since their conduct and their behavior frequently mirrors our own strengths and weaknesses. From time to time, we all can act like children, but when it comes down to a matter of preventative health and good sense, we simply cannot afford to be.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Earl Butz, Secretary of Agriculture under President Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
The only thing the coloreds are looking for in life are tight pussy, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit. -October 1976.
- In response to a question by Pat Boone as to why Republicans were unable to attract more blacks to their party.
Friday, June 19, 2009
With the slight dip in President Obama's approval rating, I can't help but lament the nature of public opinion. The only sure-fire way to boost Presidential Approval is to declare war, win decisive victories, or make a grand show of seeming powerful and in charge after a national tragedy. By contrast, even proposing desperately-needed reform while advancing peaceful good intentions leads to the steady eroding of political capital and public opinion. This should reflect squarely upon us rather than our elected officials. It is our fickle nature and demand for instantaneous results which are at fault here. It doesn't have to be this way. If we reformed ourselves and our attitudes, the conduct of those we elected would change. Indeed, their success or failure depends on our opinions. If out of step with what we believe, they are voted out of office. If in step, they are allowed to return to Capitol Hill.
When it comes down to health care reform, a bailout of the banking system, government control of American automakers, and the other reforms the Obama Administration have either proposed or enacted, much of the popular skepticism stems from our collective mindset. The irony is that even though our mindset is collectively held, it is also individually focused. Though we might think alike, we do not often think with a singular purpose or with any real desire to work together, particular with total strangers, and especially not as exists between individuals in other countries and other cultures in the world. Therein lies the problem and it is a serious one.
Or, to put it another way, Americans don't like to think communally. We're still a clannish, insular people whose first priorities are our nuclear family and close personal friends. This is a mentality that stems from our ancestors, who were proud, hardy pioneers bravely exploring an unknown, harsh land. When, some years later, colonies were established up and down the Atlantic seaboard, each had its own unique identity, ethnicity of residents, governing style, and local flavor. Indeed, despite a diaspora of difference, it was only with the existence of a common enemy that the first thirteen soon-to-be states banded together to fight the American Revolution. But even a common enemy and a common cause was not enough to put aside old ways.
What many forget is that the original governing document of the United States was the Articles of Confederation. In them, this country was little more than a loose grouping of highly autonomous states who held most of the power. The few responsibilities delegated to the central government, then based in Philadelphia, were often hamstrung and prone to stalemate because many crucial powers needed the approval of a majority of states to be actualized. Since these states rarely saw eye to eye on anything, within ten years it became evident to everyone that rugged individualism and regionalism, no matter how attractive a concept in theory it might be, simply wasn't feasible in reality. This is the backdrop upon which the Constitution was formed, which has, at last count, lasted over two hundred years and has required a relatively minor number of amendments added to its original form.
We have always held an extreme skepticism of centralized control of our affairs and a libertarian view of the role of government in our daily lives. This goes as far back as the Anti-Federalist arguments advanced in the 1780's when the Founding Fathers made their case for the enactment of the Constitution. Though conservatives hold the most extreme interpretation of this brand of rugged individualism, many liberals adhere to this mindset as well. In short, Americans don't trust Washington, DC, and we are more inclined to trust our state, regional, or city government with the key decisions that pertain to us and those trusted few with whom we identify most strongly. In this country, where our primary allegiance is to our birthplace instead of our nation, this kind of behavior is rare. Irregardless, it must cease. Conservatives fetishize State's Rights and the Tenth Amendment, refusing to recognize that state and local government are often more dysfunctional, wasteful, and cursed with cronyism than Washington, DC, ever has been. They believe that the private sector alone will be the salvation of every problem, when its excesses are what contributed to our current woes. They continue to perpetuate the bootstrap myth when hard work, sacrifice, and ingenuity alone are no guarantee of success, wealth, or social uplift. If it were, then the deep recession which has had a stranglehold over our country for the past year and a half would already have concluded. Centralized government reform is the only solution, but it will not be a success unless first people believe in it and believe it can work.
Right now, we cannot afford to cling to rugged individualism. It was an attitude which failed us during the Great Depression and it will fail us now for the same reasons. The private sector and private individuals are rendered collectively hopeless when tough economic times arrive. We must learn to think more, not less, communally. Making sure that every American has health care coverage, fair credit card lending rates, decent roads, a sound currency, fuel efficient cars, and all the rest is a concern for every American. Not just the Americans who live in our region of the country, state, city, or town. Not just the Americans who we lived next to, gave birth to, or grew up with as children. Every American must be, for lack of a better word, our comrade, else our suspicions and our fears will defeat each and every reform measure proposed to level the playing field and establish fairness for everyone. The population of this country and, for that matter, the world continues to grow, not to shrink. Soon we won't have any option but to open up our hearts and our minds to every human being. Sooner than later, we will recognize that we can live collectively or perish individually.
We are our brother's keeper. We are our sister's keeper. We have no other choice.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Sad, drunk, and poorly
Sleeping really late
Sad, drunk, and poorly
Not feeling so great
Wandering lost in a town full of frowns
Sad, drunk, and poorly
Dogs digging up the ground
And I feel the light
In the night and in the day
And I feel the light
When the sky's just mud and grey
And I feel the light
When you tell me it's OK
Cos you're so great, and I love you
Tea, tea, and coffee
Helps to start the day
Tea, tea, and coffee
Shaking all the way
City's alive and, surprise, so am I
Tea, tea, and coffee
Get no sleep today
And I feel the light
In the night and in the day
And I feel the light
When the sky's just mud and grey
And I feel the light
When you tell me it's OK
Cos you're so great, and I love you
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I do understand the sense of betrayal and disgust that many LGBTs feel at the moment. Having been promised a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, only to have it reaffirmed by the Administration, having been promised the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and having been promised wholesale same-sex partner benefits in line with heterosexual couples only to have been given a watered-down version of them are campaign promises broken. LGBTs have a long, frustrating tradition of being promised a feast and being thrown table scraps instead.
Yet, I do have a pragmatic side that prevents me from coming down on the Obama Administration too harshly. I know full well that any major discussion regarding Gay Rights would quickly become a national debate on homosexuality, our attitudes towards it, and the role that LGBTs take in our societal framework. This same pragmatic part of me believes, quite simply, that we are not yet ready to have this debate. Though we have made significant strides as a country in the past fifteen years since Don't Ask, Don't Tell was established, the fault lines are still visible and the hatred is all too real. A Pyrrhic victory is probably the best possible outcome one could expect from the resulting bluster, since the Republican Party, weakened though it is, holds a powerful hand when it comes to this issue. Refusing them the ability to build themselves back from the edge of oblivion doesn't make good political sense.
President Obama wishes to push an ambitious, badly needed agenda of reform through Congress and sign it into law. Though I wish it wasn't so, I acknolwedge that much political capital would be wasted if he were to engage in pitched battle over LGBT policy matters. The debate would be mean-spirited on both sides as well as counter-productive. It would dominate the news cycle for weeks for no good end. It would enrage the American people and remind us yet again that we are the polarized country we often are. During last year's the Democratic primary, and to some degree the general election, Americans were forced to have another in a continuing series of discussions about racism and sexism. The precedent for such debates was ample but they still became explosive matters at times. While racism and sexism were loaded issues with decades worth of trench warfare and the scars to show for them, gay rights are a matter that have never truly exploded into hand to hand combat. They could, of course, but right now any diversion from the massive amount of necessary reform still to be enacted is not in anyone's best interest.
If more people voluntarily came out, it would help the cause greatly. If more brave men and women who had served in combat came out, this too would aid those attempting to make necessary and needed reforms for all LGBTs. So long as many can think of LGBTs as some kind of perverse, unfamiliar "other" and not their neighbors, friends, teachers, business owners, and the like, then this will be a protracted knife fight with no end in sight. But it doesn't have to be this way.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
Fareed Zakaria's piece in Newsweek addresses, among other things, how the response to the economic crisis has been firmly within the realm of capitalism, rather than wholesale adoption of socialist principles. Furthermore, it appears to him that the worst is over, and that now begins a slow, painful process towards recovery. The fearful crystal ball conjecturing of well-renowned economists and important figures appears to have been more severe in rhetoric than in reality. I am waiting any moment for a conspiracy theory to emerge that it was known beforehand by major world leaders that this recession would not be nearly as destructive as had been predicted but that the only way towards massive, desperately needed reform was to collectively scare the hell out of the masses. It's a not entirely unfounded view, though as I analyze the situation more closely I find that what is more plausible is that we averted major catastrophe just in time before meltdown.
This is, of course, not to say that times have not been tough. Indeed, finding a job has been ridiculously difficult for me and others. I have noticed firsthand just what happens when states themselves and government-owned institutions that depend on federal, state, and local tax revenue find themselves with obscenely high budget deficits; they are forced to cut costs and cut corners as a result and basic services suffer as a result. Teachers end up having to buy school supplies out of their own pockets. Roads go unpaved. Freezing hires go into place, forcing existing workers to work harder and cover the responsibilities of tasks which would normally be delegated to two separate people. The cost of many commodities goes up when either public or private coffers are depleted. Pay cuts go into effect and benefits are pruned judiciously. Many employers now only offer medical insurance to their employees and have rescinded the ability to invest in a 401K or other insurance plans.
I can't help but notice we seem to almost wish for the end of times when conditions turn sour. At the beginning of this recession, shortly before the Presidential Election, I saw doom and gloom laden predictions everywhere in the media, the blogosphere, and in conversation with strangers. Behind each of those sentiments was a hope that, if conditions worsened enough, we would all be aroused from our collective stupor to make the change we need. Adversity, as conventional wisdom goes, keeps people from falling asleep at the switch. Tough times require immediate action.
Good times always make people complacent. As the cost of capital sank over the past few years, people became increasingly foolish. The world economy had become the equivalent of a race car—faster and more complex than any vehicle anyone had ever seen. But it turned out that no one had driven a car like this before, and no one really knew how. So it crashed.
Any sensible person knows this instinctively. It falls under the category of sound wisdom. I wouldn't disagree at all that most people are resistant to change and the topsy-turvey state we are in at the moment is indicative of that. These are strange times and stranger still are the ways I have seen people act in response to so much newness in such a relatively brief period of time. It is as if we are all gingerly walking through a field of landmines, hoping not to detonate one. The old adage, "be careful what you wish for..." seem appropriate. But if these be times that we are aiming to put into place reforms and regulations inside ourselves, then let us make the most of them.
Most of what happened over the past decade across the world was legal. Bankers did what they were allowed to do under the law. Politicians did what they thought the system asked of them. Bureaucrats were not exchanging cash for favors. But very few people acted responsibly, honorably or nobly (the very word sounds odd today). (Italics mine). This might sound like a small point, but it is not. No system—capitalism, socialism, whatever—can work without a sense of ethics and values at its core. No matter what reforms we put in place, without common sense, judgment and an ethical standard, they will prove inadequate. We will never know where the next bubble will form, what the next innovations will look like and where excesses will build up. But we can ask that people steer themselves and their institutions with a greater reliance on a moral compass.
And therein lies the problem. The question that remains is whether or not excess and the resulting complacency which goes hand in hand with it breed immorality and unethical behavior. If it does, then perhaps, as Thomas Jefferson put it, "I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical." Familiarity breeds contempt, as the proverb goes, and this might be true if we are to maintain economic health as well.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
"I wish your revolt well, my friend," said Bakhtin, "but beware that you don't end up merely repeating the same old story. The state abhors only one thing in the end, and that's the sound of laughter. Violence it can understand."
Terry Eagleton, Saints and Scholars, Chapter 4
It's good to be back, readers.
E. and I took several pictures, which I have posted to a Flickr stream for all those who are curious to see where we went and what we got up to. We both had a lovely time and she, Pennsylvania girl that she is, has come away with an understanding that the South isn't necessarily as backwards, nor as scary as she thought it would be. Posted above is a picture of the both of us posed against a stone wall at Fort Morgan, Alabama, not far from the beach. For the other eighty or so pictures available for your perusal, follow the link below.
Also included on the page is a short video taken at Lambert's Restaurant in Foley, Alabama, demonstrating the famous "throwed rolls". When the rolls come out of the oven, a server picks them up and throws them towards each person sitting at a table. The aim is to catch the roll without dropping it.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
This is going to be my last post until Saturday, 13 June. My girlfriend is arriving in from out of town and I'll be spending a much deserved vacation with her.
I know I'll miss you all and will look forward to catching up with your blogs upon my return.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Acclaimed Danish director Carl Theodore Dryer's first sound film is quite nearly a talking picture in name only. Filmed first with the intent of being a silent picture, the resounding popularity of talkies required that dialogue needed to be dubbed in during post-production. Recorded speech was used in the way that intertile cards were utilized in a silent picture, as merely to advance the action forward and to keep the audience from being confused. The European film industry which, never flush with money to begin with, found itself scrambling to manage to afford the extra equipment and special demands of sound to stay current with Hollywood. Most studios were only set up for production of silents and converting to sound often took years. Still, and in keeping with many early sound pictures, the addition of recorded speech appears cumbersome and stilted. Even in its time, audiences booed this glaring technical limitation.
A major reason for this amateurish effect was due to the fact that Dreyer deliberately kept the dialogue simplistic in order to film three separate sound versions in order to market each specifically for different countries. One was made in German, a second was made in French, and the last was made in English, though it must be noted that no print has ever been found of the English language edition. This complicated filmmaking considerably, as the primarily German cast had to learn their lines in three different languages and if one looks closely at the French language print, one can discern easily that certain actors and actresses spoke their lines phonetically and quite clumsily, at that. Today, however, an audience could well find the effect somehow in keeping with the film's strange pacing and horrific imagery. In the early days, vampire films were a novelty. They became a stock in trade decades later. Vampires were so lightly understood by audiences in the early thirties that Dreyer felt compelled to use the text of a book explaining the ways of the undead as an expository device.
As for the film itself, Vampyr meanders along for all of its relatively short seventy-three minutes with a kind convoluted dream logic that would not seem out of place in a David Lynch film fifty years later. Indeed, the whole film might best be viewed in the context of a dream: exposition barely present, events bleeding into others without much in the way of transition, odd happenings, bizarre imagery, puzzling words exchanged between characters, and then a conclusion at the weirdest of moments. Much of this eccentricity falls upon the shoulders of the taste of the buying public, Dreyer's German distributor, and on whims of the German censors. Dreyer, even in his day, was known as a talent with a unique artistic vision and was much respected among his peers, but regrettably his films seldom never made much at the box office. In the director's prior work, he was entrusted with a huge budget to film what many regard as his finest work, The Passion of Joan of Arc. Dreyer produced a typically visually gorgeous and inventive work that also quite predictably was not popular with audiences. Vampyr's first public showing in Germany was greeted with boos and uniformly derided in the film press, so a chastened Dreyer was forced to cut several sections that, had they remained, would have attempted to answer key questions that in the final cut remained shrouded in mystery.
Box office receipts and monetary concerns aside, what is interesting to complate in this film is that an already dynamic, inventive filmmaker like Dreyer incorporated so many influences into one work. Three years had separated the filming of The Passion of Joan of Arc from the beginning stages of Vampyr, and in the interim Dreyer had been living in Paris. At his own admission, the wealth of new experimental techniques and creative tactics as employed by the multitude of avante-garde directors also living in Paris at the time made quite an impression on Dreyer. Many underground styles were incorporated into in the shot construction, composition, and overall cinematography. Vampyr is indebted heavily to the German Expressionist school particularly as expressed by F.W. Murnau, most evidently in the usage of the subjective point of view camera, whereby the lens is focused on "seeing" through the eyes of the character himself or herself, rather than being an objective participant with no clear bias to one character or another. The film also uses tactics culled from the surrealists like Jean Epstein or Man Ray. Surrealism is employed particularly in a scene whereby the terrifying nightmare of the main character is presented at face value without the audience being informed of it.
Vampyr was inspired by two literary sources, both written by late Victorian period Irish author Joseph Sherdian Le Fanu---the short story "In a Glass Darkly" and the novella Carmilla. Carmilla, in particular, introduced the idea of the lesbian vampire motif, since propreity would never allow for a lesbian to be presented as she was in reality. Dreyer's screenplay included two character who, we are to assume, carry on a lesbian affair, though in the finished print, the screentime between the two characters was so minimal that it was difficult for all but the sharpest eyed viewer to discern this. In keeping with the demands of the German censors, the lesbian subtext was downplayed considerably by judicious pruning of offending scenes. Only one scene makes the final cut, showing a woman who has, as we've been told, been the frequent victim of a vampire. The fight within herself is evident, as her face convulses against the impulses compelling her to bite the attractive female who kneels before her. The potential victim, an equally attractive young woman, is both paralyzed by fear but is also entranced by the emotional display she eagerly witnesses.
Though a Dane, Dreyer frequently had to request funds and seek employment from countries with much better developed film industries, which in those days meant France, Germany, or both. The Great Depression decimated a European film industry often low on capital even before bad economic times, so Dreyer was forced to seek a patron who would agree to bankroll his next project. A wealthy socialite agreed to provide the funds, provided, of course, that he be cast in the lead role. Dreyer had no choice but to accept the offer, though Julian West (as he was billed in the resulting film) had never acted before and certainly never seen screen time. Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg, his proper title, entertained the notion of being a movie star and was hoping to use Dreyer's talents to accomplish this. Sadly, the film was an unrequited disaster among audiences, which dashed Gunzberg's lofty hopes to such a degree that he had himself hospitalized in a psychiatric ward a few weeks after Vampyr's worldwide release. The director himself was so mortified by the end result that it would be eleven long years before he stood behind the lens again.
Though it bears the title Vampyr, the finished film is one of the most unlikely Vampire films ever committed to celluloid. For one, it would be a stretch to denote the picture as purely a horror film, since it doesn't adhere to any of the set formulas that would soon become hackneyed and formulaic. For staters, it lacks the campiness that soon crept into the genre. For another, it contains elements of a conventional Victorian melodrama which was itself a common subject matter for silent film. This was Dreyer's stock in trade for his early silent pictures. Additionally, the art-for-art's-sake experimentation on display puts it squarely within the realm of art house cinema. In many ways, Vampyr is the product of an obsessively fussy director breaking all of his carefully crafted rules and trying something different, even if the end product occasionally appears amateurish. To some extent, this was deliberate on the part of the director but the funding limitations placed on Dreyer constained his expansive vision and forced him to limit the scope of his plans and in doing so, compromise his intentions. These days, a film like Vampyr would be considered independent art house and directed to the proper channels, but in those days, there existed no underground outlet to screen films too self-consciously different to serve mass appeal.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
In the strangest bit of convoluted logic I've ever heard,
Mayor Lindsey Lyons afterward told the audience of about 50 people that he felt confident the ordinance would be "a unifying factor" between the Hispanic community and the rest of the city.
He campaigned for mayor last year promising to curb illegal immigration. A quarter of the city's 24,000 residents are Hispanic. Lyons said last week that he was pushing for the ordinance to preserve the English language. He urged all cities in the state with a large Hispanic population to do the same.
Here, the opposite side of the coin.
Only a few Hispanics were present at the meeting. Among them was Aylene Sepulveda, a Hispanic advocate who has opposed the English ordinance and a proposed ordinance calling for Spanish business signs in the city to include an English translation.
Sepulveda said after the meeting that the English ordinance is like one passed by the state in 1990. It really doesn't do anything but "defeat the cause" of unifying the city, she said.
Sepulveda said the reason more Hispanics don't come to the meetings to voice their opinions is because they feel intimidated.This is the most asinine justification on the part of the City Council I have ever heard. Listening to them, you'd think the entire English language was under attack from Hispanic immigrants, most of which, I might add, perform basic services and grueling manual labor jobs that many whites feel they are above working these days. Chicken processing and digging foundations for houses are physically demanding work that no one other than Hispanic day laborers really wish to do anymore.
The odd thing is that I bet many of these people who set this policy in place believe that European countries are socialist, wasteful, elitist, and against everything they stand for, but yet these city leaders have just reacted the same way those same cursed countries have regarding their language barrier policies. In an effort to curb immigration and preserve a unique way of life, countries like Switzerland, Belgium, France, Germany, and others have enacted legislation that denotes whichever language historically has been spoken by a majority of residents their official language.
Yes, our Founding Fathers wrote in English and our Founding Documents were all written in English, but this country was also founded on the idea that all people could freely immigrate here, no matter what race, religion, or background they came from and in doing so, make a better life for themselves and their family. That is what doesn't get talked about by people who resort to knee-jerk legislative tactics like these. If we truly want to stop acting like we want diversity in this country, then we ought to put our money where our mouth is. We can act like Americans or we can act like Europeans. Europe, as I understand it, was never founded on the principle of a melting pot or comfortable with diluting its unique identity by encouraging immigration. Change is inevitable in a society based supposedly on diversity and change at times can be uncomfortable, but we can either adapt to it or circle the wagons. Those of you reading this know what side to which I ascribe.
What we need to do is have a debate in this country. Is diversity a good thing or an inherently bad thing for this nation? We often give lip service to the idea of being multicultural while we do the exact opposite when it comes time to put our kids in school or choose where to live.