Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Beginning of the End? Here's Hoping.

It has been fascinating to observe the McCain campaign royally self-destruct over the course of the past couple weeks. At the end of yesterday's double wammy of bailout bill defeat and stock market plummet, the Arizona senator gave a defeated, weary two minute press statement yesterday and then trudged off stage, knowing that the end of the day couldn't come soon enough. One wonders where McCain has to go. Straight-jacketed by a lethal combination of bad decision making and risky gambles, not to mention Vice-Presidential candidate who has looked more like a liability than an asset in the same period of time.

Obama, to his credit, has run a disciplined, controlled campaign and has avoided making major gaffes. His campaign has stumbled a bit, but his major missteps happened relatively early on in the race. When compared to the controversy-a-day nature of the Clinton campaign or the dramatic and desperate risks taken by Team McCain, Obama has had few problems of his own creation. In addition, he's obviously worked hard at debate preparation, as evidenced by Friday's performance which was his strongest ever. Right now, Obama really doesn't have to do much except watch his opponent's campaign self-destruct.

What has been clear to me is that the Republican party assumed that it would be running against Hillary Clinton. The GOP had been preparing for years how to run against the former First Lady. When Obama pulled a shocking upset, McCain and the rest of his party found themselves without much of a strategy. That it took a gimmicky move like putting Sarah Palin on the ticket for the campaign to achieve its only lasting, albeit short-lived lead thus far in the general election campaign is even more evidence of bad strategy. Yes, a McCain victory was a tall order owing to the fact that President Bush's approval rating is extremely low and the electorate is thoroughly sick of Republican leadership. It might still transpire. Much can happen in a month's time.

Candidates before have overcome substantial odds and either successfully closed the gap or come back from behind to win. In 1948, Harry Truman's non-stop barnstorming and whistle-stop campaigning turned what was thought of as an almost sure defeat into a narrow victory. Truman still trailed Dewey significantly in October, but in a month's time closed the gap and overtook his Republican challenger. In 1976, Gerald Ford trailed Jimmy Carter by upwards of thirty points in the summer, but benefitted from significant Carter mistakes to narrow the race considerably. Ford even managed to shrug off a poor showing in the second debate to lose barely on Election Day.

With a little more than a month to go, anything can happen, but if Team McCain hopes to win, they're going to have to turn things around and catch a break in the process.

A Solution for Our Troubled Economy

Dollar Dollar Bill, Y'all.

Monday, September 29, 2008

You Know That I Care

Good Afternoon

Sign of the Times

Today's Howard Fineman's column underscores what many on blogs have been saying for the past several days. In brief, the dual theories of trickle-down-economics and "the business of America is business" have fallen by the wayside. To some degree, it's nice to be proven right, though it's hollow consolation considering how wrecked the economy is at the moment. Expect more government oversight and tight controls upon the private sector. Also expect constant cries of "socialism" and "communism" from the right. Times have changed and the traditional GOP talking points don't hold water anymore.

Let them vent. If they had any new ideas and weren't beholden to positions that have proven to be not just wrong, but disasterous, they might be worthy of our attention. As I reflect back upon eight years of George W. Bush I think about how many Republican ideals have been shown to be wrong---not just a little bit wrong, but totally wrong. A party supposedly governed by financial restraint swelled the federal deficit to record heights. A party loathe to provide needed regulation under the pretense of not wishing to hamstring business failed to learn from the lessons of Hoover. A party often opposed to foreign entanglements followed its leader into a misguided war for oil and aimed to establish a permanent base of operations in the Middle East. A party supposedly guided by Reagan's assertion that government's scope should be minimal grew like a cancerous growth.

These are just the first few examples that come to mind. There are many more. I knew long ago that the only way the American people would disregard the failed policy of our conservative opponents is if they dramatically self-destructed. We get to say I-told-you-so but I mostly hope this means that we'll conclusively resolve that voodoo economics and favors to big business are enemies of the state.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Brief Anecdote

Today I was assigned to watch the kids during First Hour worship. Though I had a lesson planned out, as I fully suspected, they wanted to go play outside instead of stay indoors and listen to me.

I have to say this: I certainly didn't think I'd end up in a intense political discussion with a third grader and a fourth grader. It was a truly rewarding experience that really made me feel good about the generation coming up after my own. Interestingly enough, according to the children, this year's Presidential Election is being discussed actively and openly in schools, and even among the kids themselves. Granted, these are Quaker kids, and as such inclined to be raised in affluent, politically active families, so I might need to discount this a little. Still, this morning I was thinking to myself that I would have felt very comfortable in this kind of environment when I was in elementary school.

In other esoteria, today I was asked by a visitor to meeting as to whether I was from another country. Quite frequently people think I'm European, which secretly pleases me. If you saw my behavior in public, you'd understand why. I'm more reserved than the average American, more measured in my speech, not as demonstrative or gushy, and more meditative. Smiles are rare, but genuine. The really ironic thing about that is that I'd be far more typically American if I didn't have such tremendous social anxiety. I try to keep my features firm because that's my defense towards feeling so completely uncomfortable in a social setting.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Don't Forget To Check Out

The American Street

...where I guest blog today, as I do all Saturdays.

Saturday Song

This week's Saturday Song is dedicated in part to Blue Gal who will get the reference.

Devo were a new wave/geek rock group of Kent State University students who created a band based on a half-baked theory that humanity was de-evolving, hence DEVO. They created a whole world of bizarre characters and equally bizarre thematic elements that was as campy as it was cerebral. After subsisting as an underground sensation and darling of the college radio crowd for its first two albums, Devo achieved a degree of mainstream success with the quirky hit "Whip It". This song, "Jocko Homo" summarizes the mock-theory of Devo in a few sentences. The video features the original version of the song, which I much prefer to that which came later.

Mark Motherbaugh, the group's main songwriter later achieved success, scoring feature films and creating the soundtrack for popular childrens' television shows.


I'm not quite sure why youtube is giving people fits. I myself had a hard time accessing certain videos yesterday. If you can't view this video or any of the other posted on my blog, I recommend refreshing. If that doesn't work, then you may need to wait until later and hope matters are resolved then.

Friday, September 26, 2008

This Might Have Contributed to the Obesity Epidemic

One thing is for sure. Fast food will never be presented to the consumer this way ever again.

The Debate Drinking Game

Take a drink whenever you observe any of the following events during tonight's debate.

1. Obama beginning an answer with "Well, look..."
2. McCain making an attack on Obama, but attempting to disguise it with a forced grin.
3. McCain referring to the audience as "my friends".
4. Obama saying "uh" at least ten times every sentence.

Add your own and have fun with the joke.

Debate Moments

I'm writing this post assuming the first Presidential Debate will be held tonight. Having said that, here are a few crucial moments from past Presidential debates that either boldly broke the race wide open or threw the race to the eventual winning candidate.









Thursday, September 25, 2008

All Democrat Wars

The Vice-Presidential debate, so far as I know, is still to go off next week as scheduled. Here's a priceless soundbyte from the 1976 campaign, which proves that being too blunt and too partisan can backfire.

The Subtle Face Is A Loser

Regarding the Legacy of Bad Presidents, in Their Own Words

James Buchanan, 1856.

What a happy conception, then, was it for Congress to apply this simple rule, that the will of the majority shall govern, to the settlement of the question of domestic slavery in the Territories. Congress is neither "to legislate slavery into any Territory or State nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States."

This is, happily, a matter of but little practical importance. Besides, it is a judicial question, which legitimately belongs to the Supreme Court of the United States, before whom it is now pending, and will, it is understood, be speedily and finally settled.

Warren Harding, 1920.

I don't know much about Americanism, but it's a damn good word with which to carry an election.

Herbert Hoover, 1928

One of the oldest and perhaps the noblest of human aspirations has been the abolition of poverty. By poverty I mean the grinding by undernourishment, cold and ignorance and fear of old age of those who have the will to work. We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poorhouse is vanishing from among us. We have not yet reached the goal, but given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years, and [sic] we shall soon with the help of God be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this Nation. There is no guarantee against poverty equal to a job for every man. That is the primary purpose of the economic policies we advocate.

George W. Bush, 2003.

We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Anything Everything if You Want Thing

Greed IS Good!

Ironic, huh?

Movie Review: If....

If...was avant-garde director Lindsay Anderson's damning indictment of the British public school system. In Britain, "public" school actually connotes elite, expensive education which is both decidedly exclusive and exceedingly private. Indeed the public school is designed to teach and train the upper echelon of British society for forthcoming roles as Members of Parliament, top military leaders, and other highly visible positions of distinction with the nation itself. Anderson himself was quite familiar with this highly regimented system of boarding schools for the upper crust, as he himself spent several miserable years at college, the very same college, in fact, where most of the film is shot. His repulsion towards the brutality, inhumanity, and strict discipline of his college year stayed with him during his adult life. As such, If.... turns a negative eye towards everyone and everything associated with it: sadistic masters who punish students with both physical and emotional abuse, spiteful classmates whose goal in life seems to be to shame and humiliate their peers, a closeted homosexual reverend who advocates empty religious platitudes no one seems to take seriously, nor live up to in reality, and the ever present haughty student leaders, the whips, who dole out corporal punishment towards all those who resist. After watching nearly two hours of spleen and bile, one wonders if anything in the whole sordid mess is worth saving.

After watching If.... I myself had a similar visceral response. As I viewed the film, I remembered rather painfully what it was like to be a young adolescent male. Everything came back to me---the uniform teasing, the one boy specifically targeted by all the rest for intense bullying, the embarrassingly crude banter regarding the opposite sex and the act of fornication, the leaden drudgery of routine, and the crushing indignity which came with the realization that the supposed adults in charge were always either blissfully unaware of the abuses or totally apathetic towards what was going on under their watch. Many of the adults which comprise the faculty and staff of the school are immobilized by boredom, living lives years behind the times, little more than impotent and passionless. Thus rebellion would seem to be inevitable. So it is that a gang of three nonconformist older boys take it upon themselves to fight back. In contrast with most of the other character who make up the establishment of the public school, the rebels who openly resist these injustices are given a slightly sympathetic portrayal; yet they still appear by turns slightly naive and severely immature. This close-knit band of openly defiant crusaders were after all meant to be no older than high school age, although some of the actors were actually in their early twenties at the time of filming.

The shocking end of the film often gets the most attention. I would, however, caution viewers not to take the dramatic conclusion too literally. If.... shows us a few surrealistic sequences beforehand to prepare us, the audience, for the infamous and highly controversial last ten minutes. Anderson's cinematic aim, after all, was to assert that the system itself was fundamentally flawed and as such should be destroyed, not reformed. Still, while he at times claimed to be an anarchist bent on total destruction without showing even a hint of mercy, for all his revolutionary zeal, there were elements of the public school for which he clearly retained a fondness. The quirky history master, is one good example of this. This character, who rides a bicycle directly into the classroom and then offhandedly and glibly tosses graded essays into the air, is itself an affectionate portrayal of an actual teacher who taught the director back in his schoolboy days. However, it should also be noted that this scene is one of the few lighthearted passages in an otherwise grim feature film.

While If.... has dated slightly over the years, it was deliberately constructed in such a way as to be immune from the passage of time. No references to current events, nor any examples of the music of the late 1960s is included, elements which would have immediately put a heavy time stamp upon the film. Though the clothing styles, eyeglasses, and hairdos have dated a bit in forty years, the events themselves as presented in the picture could still occur today. Its setting, a country even to the present day justifiably proud of its esteemable tradition and still strongly inclined to disregard reform in place of the old tried-and-true methods insists no less. Still, this pronounced foolish consistency also serves as Anderson's extended metaphor for the state of the United Kingdom at the time of shooting. Ruinous economic policy had reduced the country to a shadow of its former self. Stuck in the past, Great Britain was utterly unprepared to face the challenges of the future. Britons have since described that in those times it felt as though the entire country was suffering collectively from a nervous breakdown. Anderson's radical proposal: in order to revive the nation's fortunes, the whole of it needed to be pulled down and summarily destroyed brick by brick. That remains a shockingly controversial notion even today.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Not That I Need to Worry About This with Any of You, But...

I Gotta Say This, I Hope You Don't Mind

Movie Review: Leaves From Satan's Book

D.W. Griffith's 1916 film Intolerance, though a box office disappointment, did much to inspire many up-and-coming filmmakers across the world. New and undiscovered talent got a firsthand view of precisely what the discipline was capable of displaying visually and thematically to the audience. Danish director Carl Theodore Dreyer found himself among the ranks of the awe-struck, seeing for himself the impressive impact of the multitude of technical innovations and expansive high production values used in the film. Accordingly, Dreyer's attempt to follow in the master's footsteps, the 1919 film Leaves from Satan's Book, owes much to American cinema and Griffith's unique penchant for historical reenactment and sweeping epic. The film is not without some flaws---Dreyer had to work within the financial limitations of the Scandinavian film industry and as such didn't have all the tools allotted to him that a comparable American director would have had at his disposal. Still, as rendered Leaves from Satan's Book is a competent, somewhat restrained work which, in spite of its shortcomings, still manages to be a bit of a minor gem.

Leaves from Satan's Book does suffer a bit from its creator's relative inexperience behind the lens and his well-meaning, but occasionally heavy-handed commentary. The picture is guilty of placing the sole burden of blame in very complex past events squarely on the shoulders of one or two supremely evil offenders, who if we would believe the damning intertitles, were acting directly in accordance with the wishes of Satan himself. A study of the historical record finds that many people were complicit in the regrettably extremely, fanatical travesties of the French Revolution and the Spanish Inquisition, to name but two. Griffith, too, had a tendency to embellish historical fact and resort to jingoistic hyperbole in his films when veracity would have been better served. A contemporary audience might find it interesting to ponder how little has changed over the years; films have often been known to moralize and preach to the crowds in a ham-fisted manner, much to the chagrin of reviewers and audience members alike. So in observing early cinema one can easily see that this is a phenomenon that didn't exactly start yesterday.

Some of the flaws in Leaves from Satan's Book should not be lain at the feet of its director. While it is true that at the end of the 1910's many advances in camera work and shot selection had been incorporated into the cinematic canon, it should also be noted that silent cinema still had a ways to go before it reached its zenith. Films of the mid-silent era, though more advanced and watchable than those of the early days, still at times appear deeply primitive to the naked eye when compared with modern cinema, requiring viewers to take on a healthy dose of patience. Leaves from Satan's Book, to its credit, does try to push past its weakness by utilizing a creative plot, incorporating a series of short vignettes and intensely wrought character studies all under the umbrella of aiming to explore the role of evil in the daily lives of significant persons over time. Dryer had yet to learn the essential rules of non-sound film---namely, one simply cannot portray life on celluloid exactly how it exists in reality. Rather than fighting against these limitations, work within the confines of pre-synchronized sound and accomplish cinematically something one could never achieve if sound was an option. In working within these parameters instead of against them, an enthralling alternate reality is created.

Eventually Dreyer would figure this out for himself, building upon on the success of this film in reaching his directorial apex eight years later in The Passion of Joan of Arc. That picture is still one of the most beautifully filmed movies ever created, so much so that some film historians consider it the best silent film ever created. Dreyer accomplished this substantial feat through the frequent use of distinct, singularly unique camera shots which presented the narrative of the work almost exclusively in a series of extreme facial closeups. Much of these highlight the torment and torture of the French patron saint herself, revealing with great emotional depth the desperation of the captured Joan.

That film was, however, still some time to come.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Crumbling Land

In a while I'll find the time
to make the sunshine mine

in a smile I saw a single eagle in the sky
wheeling, soaring, gliding high

On a hill there lived a man
with many shining things

shiny gold, shiny car and
shiny diamond rings
wining, dining, shining king

Now the eagle flies in clear blue skies
drinking in the clear blue well

back here on the ground
another dealer coughs and dies
but fifty more come rolling
off the floor production line

Then a man commuting
like a village on the sand
in his hand a moving picture
of the crumbling land

screaming, dealing, movie man

Here we go, hold your breath
to see if something blows

close your eyes, count till ten
and see the sunrise rise

gliding high into the sky
By the holy mansion,
let the guardian rise

upon the finger of the king
on high the eagle flies,
that glitter all of gold
then wheeling in a cloudy sky,
he flies into the sun

Economic News in Brief

How hypocritical it is that the very same business owners and conservative politicians who are quick to demonize Democratic fiscal proposals as dangerous and borderline socialistic have openly embraced this billion dollar corporate bail-out. If this undertaking by the federal government merely delays the inevitable---if more businesses go under and more default on their debts, the state might end up owning huge sections of the private sector. I hate to break it to them but...that really IS socialism incarnate. It darkly comedic to see these formerly staunchly pro-business Republicans wringing their hands, for the first time doubting their own formerly trusted positions regarding economic policy and national stability.

Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. I certainly am not. Maybe any country spoiled by too much excess and cursed by not enough people watching the store deserves precisely what it gets. I've failed to understand the discrepancy inherent when fiscal conservative policy, which prides itself on a combination sensible decision making and taking safe risks in business transactions will go against its core beliefs time and time again by turning its head when large corporations fall under the sway of greed and profit. I wouldn't nearly be as upset if there were any way to justify this kind of radically irresponsible conduct on behalf of the companies now very shortly to be owned by the Federal government and the American taxpayer.

The Reagan-era Voodoo Economics are also to blame for this, nearly twenty-eight years in the making. It reminds me again of how it takes years for mistaken policy to reap maximum harm. Prior to now, we have taken short term fixes to fix long term problems and so it's hardly shocking when these sorts of economic crises come to pass. Regarding the blame game of economic misfortune, Presidents frequently get blamed for the mistakes of their predecessors and often are eager to take credit for policies that went well, even if they had nothing to do with them. Herbert Hoover was the scapegoat for the Great Depression, but by most accounts he was a competent bureaucrat in an unfortunate situation. Gerald Ford was strongly criticized for a period of stagflation in the seventies that he inherited. Bill Clinton took office in 1993 having beat George H.W. Bush over the head with the legacy of the early nineties recession, but by the time he was sworn in, the situation had resolved itself, just as Bush 41 said it would.

As for right now this moment, I'm still in wait-and-see mode.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Remember This One?

Signs You Might Be Living in a Red State

1. When putting gas in your car, the two good old boys in the wasteful gas guzzler across your way shoot you looks of pure hate. Apparently boiling over with rage because you have the gall to vote for a Democrat and publicly display said political persuasion to the outside world, they sneer at your Obama button while expressing their utter contempt for you and your candidate in dangerously, recklessly chain smoking too close to the pump. Apparently people like this love to play with fire---fire is an apt description of just what they might get someday, because behavior like this seriously risks igniting gasoline fumes and being blown sky high in the process.

2. A Democratic candidate running against the incumbent Republican representative for the House finds himself the target of an particularly caustic, harsh attack ad broadcast on local television. In it, the challenger currently leading in the polls finds himself being painted as a New York, tax and spend, ultra-liberal in the person of two grumpy old white guys who pepper their righteous indignation with heavy southern accents and countrified vernacular. All of this takes place as these antique bumpkins delivery their lines while lounging on the tailgate of a pickup truck parked somewhere in a heavily wooded rural area.

3. Though there aren't as many John McCain stickers on cars this time around as there were W stickers in excess four years ago, there are still more of them then you'd ever wish to see.

4. A friend of yours who has converted to Islam regularly receives hate mail.


There are more, many more, but this will do for now.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

American Street Day

You say today is Saturday?

Saturday Song

This Saturday's song is provided in tribute to Pink Floyd keyboardist and occasional lyricist Richard Wright, who passed away earlier this week. The song, "Summer '68" was an album track on the 1970 album Atom Heart Mother and though the track is located relatively early on in the group's discography, it is considered by many to be his best songwriting effort. Wright's material was never thought strong enough to merit a single, though his compositions did from time to time in the early days serve as B-sides. Of the later period Floyd, the Wright-penned song "Us and Them", which showed up on the monster hit The Dark Side of the Moon, probably is the most well-known.

As for "Summer '68", the song reflects Wright's severe sense of reservation regarding the free love, rock and roll lifestyle, and permissive sexuality of the period---referencing in particular the hordes of groupies who followed behind every touring rock group, eager to exchange sex for the ability to get close to a pop star.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Men of Good Fortune


Men of good fortune
often cause empires to fall
While men of poor beginnings
often can't do anything at all

The rich son waits for his father to die
the poor just drink and cry
And me, I just don't care at all

Men of good fortune
very often can't do a thing
While men of poor beginnings
often can do anything

At heart they try to act like a man
handle things the best way they can
They have no rich daddy to fall back on

Men of good fortune
often cause empires to fall
While men of poor beginnings
often can't do anything at all

It takes money to make money they say
look at the Fords, but didn't they start that way
Anyway, it makes no difference to me

Men of good fortune
often wish that they could die
While men of poor beginnings
want what they have and to get it they'll die

All those great things that life has to give
they wanna have money and live
But me, I just don't care at all

Men of good fortune
men of poor beginnings
Men of good fortune
men of poor beginnings
Men of good fortune
men of poor beginnings
Men of good fortune
men of poor beginnings

Friday Amusement

Today I simply do not have the energy to crank out a lengthy post. Instead of something serious, I'd like to submit two new sites that have provided me with some laughs.

1. Sorry I Missed Your Party

For all of us who enjoy living vicariously through other people, and then mocking them for their shortcomings, here's a wonderful way to do it. Sorry I Missed Your Party reveals that the digital camera revolution has proven that although you can document every detail in your entire life if you so choose, why would you ever want to?

2. Cake Wrecks

The worst designed cakes. Ever.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

That's the Difference Between Wrong and Right

That's the story of my life
That's the difference between wrong and right
But Billy said, both those words are dead
That's the story of my life

That's the story of my life
That's the difference between wrong and right
But Billy said, both those words are dead
That's the story of my life

Oh, that's the story of my life
That's the difference between wrong and right
But Billy said, both those words are dead
That's the story of my life

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Liberality tagged me, so I shall respond.

What songs are playing through the soundtrack of my life? Well, the short answer is---it varies.
But for the sake of this meme, allow me to list some of the albums and artists I've been listening to over the course of the past week.

1. Badfinger- Straight Up
2. Neil Young- Tonight's the Night
3. Sleater-Kinney- Dig Me Out
4. Portishead- Dummy
5. Nico- Chelsea Girl
6. Moby Grape- Wow
7. Maritime- We, The Vehicles
8. Lou Reed- Lou Reed
9. The Feelies- Crazy Rhythms
10. Garbage- Garbage

Seeking the Inherent God Spark

Someone at my other blog tore into me the other day for being unnecessarily harsh in my criticisms of other people. Apparently also a Friend, the poster admonished me for failing to adhere to the Quaker principle of seeking to find the divine within every human being. He or she raised a good point that deserves a response, and in that spirit, allow me to be completely honest. While I understand the spiritual intent of trying to find that which is God within all souls, I am unsure if the human and the divine are even slightly compatible with one another. While conceived as a means of encouraging people to get alone with each other, upon further reflection, I really don't think it's a realistic goal to aim for. Let me try to explain myself a little bit better.

Though I aim for perfection in my conduct and in my art, I can't say that either of them have even once reached the status of inherently divine. Divinely inspired, yes. Divinely perfect, no. Perhaps I'm just too skeptical these days. I wish I believed that humans were capable of reaching the heights of the divine, even slightly or for a brief moment in time. These days, I'm much more comfortable with believing that God's ways are utterly foreign to human ways. I'd rather they not mix even the slightest. It makes me uncomfortable to think that flawed humanity should even aspire towards such ends. Even striving towards such ends, no matter how noble the intention, is an untoward exercise which reminds me of nothing less than good old fashioned idolatry.

It's difficult, furthermore, to find evidence of God in people whose core, fundamental beliefs appear to be contrary to reason and logic. Many people who I associated with in my youth believe the polar opposite of what I do, both politically and ideologically. While they may be well-meaning or well-intentioned in what they assert, this doesn't mean they are any less wrong. The road to bad Presidents, unfit government, and hell itself is paved with good intentions and probably well-meaning conservatives to boot. I wish I knew the ways to make people act in their own best interest, but as we know well, free will leans towards educated guess and a guess is not divine certainty.

I take many such religious admonishments with a grain of salt. They too are often born out of the best of intentions, but in this rough and tumble world, many simply aren't feasible. For example, if I take the Quaker Peace Testimony at face value, then I should have nothing to do with war. Literally speaking, I shouldn't fight in any conflict, no matter the justification. I shouldn't contribute to anyone's war effort, even tangentially. I shouldn't even take a non-combat role in the proceedings. I am to be totally, wholly against armed conflict. In an ideal world, living a literal interpretation of this testimony would be easy. In reality, Quakers have frequently broken with the Peace Testimony to take up arms or, more often than not slyly pursued more nuanced positions when war has raged in their native lands.

Here, another example--everyone compliments the politician who takes the high road. If character and ethics were as contagious as the common cold, this approach might work. In great contrast, however, the politician who takes the low road, slings mud, and launches personal attacks on his opponent usually wins. Many of us seek to emulate the example of the pacifist, but when war breaks out, this philosophy quickly falls by the wayside, since there are any number of people willing to kill each other for material gain, financial profit, or in a spirit of patriotic, primal fervor.

In conclusion, while I acknowledge might be better served by cutting people a break every now and then, I've accepted there is divination, not divinity, in human beings.

A Brief Public Service Notice

Dear Readers,

Anonymous comments are the last refuge of the cowardly.

Either grow a pair and leave your name, or go vandalize public property with a spray paint can, which is kind of what your comments look like when placed on this blog.



Take A Drag Or Two

        Teenage Mary said to Uncle Dave
I sold my soul, must be saved
Gonna take a walk down Union Square
you never know who you gonna find there

You gotta run run run run run
take a drag or two
Run run run run run
gypsy death and you, tell you what to do

Margarita Passion I had to get her fixed
she wasn't well, she's getting sick
Went to sell her soul, she wasn't high
didn't know things she could buy

And she would run run run run run
take a drag or two
Run run run run run
gypsy death and you, tell you what to do

Seasick Sarah had a golden nose
hard-nailed boots wrapped around her toes
When she turned blue, all the angels screamed
they didn't know, they couldn't make the scene

She had to run run run run run
take a drag or two
Run run run run run
gypsy death and you, tell you what to do

Beardless Harry, what a waste
couldn't even get a small town taste
Rode the trolleys down to forty-seven
figured if he was good, he'd get himself to heaven

'Cause he had to run run run run run
take a drag or two
Run run run run run
gypsy death and you, tell you what to do

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I'm Made Out of Glue

        I'm sticking with you
'cause I'm made out of glue
Anything that you might do
I'm gonna do, too

You held up a stagecoach in the rain
and I'm doing the same
Saw you hanging from a tree
and I made believe it was me

I'm sticking with you
'cause I'm made out of glue
Anything that you might do
I'm gonna do, too

Moon people going to the stratosphere
soldiers fighting with the Cong
But with you by my side I can do anything
when we swing, we hang past right and wrong

I'll do anything for you
anything you'd want me to
I'll do anything for you, oh wow
I'm sticking with you, oh wow
I'm sticking with you, oh wow
I'm sticking with you, oh wow
I'm sticking with you, oh wow
I'm sticking with you, oh wow
I'm sticking with you, oh wow
I'm sticking with you, oh wow
I'm sticking with you, oh wow

Movie Review: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Director Tony Richardson is best known for the playful, wry comedy Tom Jones, 1963's Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards. Prior to that, however, Richardson made his name, with a series of black and white, modestly budgeted, critically acclaimed, free cinema inspired, kitchen sink dramas of which The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner Runner is one of the finest. Perhaps the reason why quality productions like this are frequently overlooked by the general public and appreciated only by movie buffs is due to the fact that UK cinema has struggled to find its own voice over the years. Talented actors, actresses, directors, screenwriters, and major players from Britain ended up frequently being snapped up by American studios after making a name for themselves in their native land. The allure of a substantial raise in pay and a chance to work in Hollywood, then as now proved a powerfully motivating force. Countries that cannot pay top dollar for their A-list talent are often plagued by wholesale defections and the resulting brain drain renders them hard pressed to maintain any sort of cinematic continuity. This phenomenon was also true during the late silent era of the 1920's as American studios hired away the best talent that Scandinavia and Germany had to offer.

Nonetheless, the UK screen enjoyed its own brief golden age which lasted from roughly the late 1950's until the mid 1960's. Free cinema, as it proclaimed itself, made a concerted effort to revolutionize film-making, drawing frequent inspiration from the movers and shakers of French New Wave, whose contribution to celluloid transpired simultaneously to its British counterparts--existing just across the English channel. Adherents to the new cinematic movement asserted that, prior to its existence, the British film industry and the dramatic arts had previously taken too narrow a focus. Films prior to the period were frequently set and based in the affluent, more supposedly cultured south of England, reinforcing strict class distinctions, bourgeoisie pretenses, and social inequality. Free Cinema, by contrast, believed that much of the country's cinematic output reeked of elitism, snobbery, and pretention, furthermore neglecting to even as much as acknowledge the daily life of the average Briton. British New Wave directors, film critics, and screenwriters: Richardson, Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, and Alan Sillitoe turned their focus instead upon the industrial, grimy, hard scrabble, largely working class North of England.

Films of this period inevitably center on the life and resulting struggles of a frustrated, often dubiously moral angry young man from a working class background. In The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, the latest specimen is Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay), a product of a dysfunctional home, squabbling parents, bratty siblings, and not all that much in the way of motivation. Refusing to enter the work force as a factory laborer--a demanding, physically taxing occupation, Colin instead would much rather live a meandering existence as a petty criminal. Justifiying his reluctance to secure a job, he is keen to point out the economic disparities between the management at the top and the workers at the bottom. Rather than take a low level role in the factory as his father did, Smith refuses to contribute his talents to what he perceives as an unjust, unfair, souless system.

In place of work, he prefers the thrill of car theft and stealing small sums of money. Predictably, as his successes as a thief multiply he pursues larger and larger targets. After absconding with a substantial amount of money from a baker's shop he is eventually caught by the police and promptly then sent away to reform school. While at reform school, his prowess as a long-distance runner grants him the attention of the Governor (Michael Redgrave) and head of the entire school. The Governor seeks to groom Smith to excel, insisting he direct his sizeable athletic talents towards winning a trophy at a cross-country competition, eventually to be held pitting the men of the reform school against the athletes of an upper-crust public school. Colin Smith, however, has other ideas, as we see by the end, shows himself to be thoroughly disinclined to be neither anyone's lapdog nor a pawn in the hands of his jailers.

Class conflict shows itself prominently in the film, particularly when the running teams from both reform school and public school meet shortly before the match. The public school athletes display impeccable manners and upper class accents, while the reform school lads make no effort to conceal their working class accents and unpolished decorum. The haughty mannerisms and behavior of the Governor and his associates stands out in sharp contrast to the reform school men who hold no such pretensions or aspirations.

Technically speaking, this film utilizes some especially inventive camera techniques, often indebted to the pioneering works of French directors Godat and Truffaut. Handheld camera shots pop up during a fight in the reform school's cafeteria and Richardson even uses some well placed double speed shots for the sake of comedic effect in an effort to brighten up an otherwise bleak film. Today many of these effects appear heavily dated or even cliche but at the time they were quite novel. Certain sequences resemble documentary filmmaking, hardly surprising since many directors of the free cinema era got their start in the genre. As such, it's understandable that they incorporated many disparate elements previously found only in documentary films. genre into feature films. While many of these technical innovations are run of the mill now, they were quite radically different from the status quo at the time, introducing a much rougher, more realistic element to film, emphasizing the social realism of the subject matter.

Monday, September 15, 2008

10 Years Later

It started innocuously enough. "It" started with medium sized card from "The Alumni Foundation" sent to my address, encased in a rather harmless looking white envelope. I very nearly threw it away, assuming it was either junk mail or a standard circular from the university I attended asking for donations. As I opened it, however, I realized the card was sent to remind me that this summer will be my tenth high school reunion.

How did they manage to find me?

I was, you must understand, not exactly someone who participated in school functions. Thankfully I was not I alone in that sentiment. The school administrators, being wise to this, provided us two options come pep rally day: go to the gym and cheer rah rah rah, or sit in the lunchroom and visit with friends. I almost always chose the latter. Having hit adolescent rebellion stage early I vocally and conspicuously boycotted just about everything. I never went to prom. I never went to a single school-sponsored dance. I never signed any pledges requiring good conduct. Instead, I frequently cut class when I could get away with it, particularly the days where we'd be forced to listen to another in a series of rambling motivational speakers.

I suppose what mostly gets to me is not that attending this function would mean that I was conforming and going against my ethos for the first time ever, it's mostly that I'd be around people who I had little to nothing in common with all of the four years I was there. People here are rather vanilla. Birmingham, though it has changed a little, is still a pretty conservative place and while it doesn't necessarily penalize the creatively inclined, neither does it particularly reward them, either. Most get married early here, dress up for church on Sunday, go to the meat and three for lunch after the service, then go home to take a nap. That's never really been my thing.

Attending would also provide some disconcerting revelations. Namely, not only have many of my classmates started to marry, as I mentioned above, they also have begun to procreate. If you knew many of these people in their teens you might seriously consider demanding that our government adopt a program of forced sterilization. I'm aware that in speaking in this manner I am assuming that no one reforms themselves with time and no one changes for the better. Maybe I'm just skeptical. Their children might turn out decently, but they'll likely be identical to their parents. Bland, conservative, inoffensive, and completely uninteresting.

So no, I don't think I'm going.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Question in Search of an Answer

Why do baby boomer aged female psychologists always wear shoes that look like this?

Any ideas?

Live! Comrade Kevin!

Some of you may recall me mentioning the interview I recently gave for a Quaker-related radio program. Entitled "Song of the Soul", the show is syndicated and simulcast on three separate radio stations---two in Wisconsin, the last in New Hampshire. And, thankfully for those of you who might wish to listen to it, the program is also available on streaming audio online.

A direct link is provided below.


I am not going to listen to the interview at all because I'm extremely self-conscious, but hopefully those of you out there inclined to listen might tell me how I did in comments, if you wish.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

In Other News

According to someone who left a comment, I

a) Am "So Oregon"
b) Smoke a copious amount of pot, but not too much
c) Am worthy of ridicule for both of those things

In reality,

a) I live in Alabama, but I guess I'm so Oregon if you count my sister who lives in Portland
b) I haven't smoked pot in three years
c) Consider myself well beyond the stereotypical bohemian sort. I assume the comment was left about my song choice and quite frankly, most people can't play Velvet Underground songs at all because Lou Reed often uses a very inventive kind of alternate guitar tuning. Most stoners I know wouldn't be motivated enough to figure it out for themselves.
d) Good try, though. If you need me to point out some easy targets for self-parody, I'll be glad to assist you.

Where I Am Every Saturday

At the American Street

Saturday Video

Had I not had friends in the UK at the time Mansun appeared on the scene, I likely would have never run across this group. They produced one quality album, Attack of the Grey Lantern, from which comes this single, "Wide Open Spaces", were a brief sensation in Britain lasting for a year or two, then released two more full lengths of deceasing quality before they ultimately disbanded.

They were total unknowns outside of their homeland and made no impact whatsoever in America. Mansun in their heyday did, however, provide an excellent example of late-period Britpop.

Friday, September 12, 2008

If You Close The Door

        one, two, three
If you close the door
the night could last forever
Leave the sunshine out
and say hello to never

All the people are dancing
and they're having such fun
I wish it could happen to me

But if you close the door
I'd never have to see the day again

If you close the door
the night could last forever
Leave the wine-glass out
and drink a toast to never

Oh, someday I know
someone will look into my eyes
And say hello
you're my very special one

But if you close the door
I'd never have to see the day again

Dark party bars, shiny Cadillac cars
and the people on subways and trains
Looking gray in the rain, as they stand disarrayed
oh, but people look well in the dark

And if you close the door
the night could last forever
leave the sunshine out
and drink a toast to never

All the people are dancing
and they're having such fun
I wish it could happen to me

Cause if you close the door
I'd never have to see the day again, once more
I'd never have to see the day again, once more
I'd never have to see the day again

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Movie Review: Blow-Up

Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni's films criticize the vapidity and shallowness of modern culture, while simultaneously revealing a paradoxical attraction to its tragic emptiness. Artists, never prone to be self-satisfied nor blissfully unaware have established a long tradition of heaping scorn on society, painting it in dour, sterile, sickly shades. In Blow-Up we see the vapidity of modern life inherent in the lives of every character---perhaps most keenly through David Hemmings' burnt-out, rude, thoroughly selfish and self-absorbed fashion photographer. If the film were released now, reviewers would be quick to label the character sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic, yet despite numerous flaws the photographer also possesses a kind of rough charm and resulting roguish charisma that very nearly redeems his at times reprehensible conduct. This is precisely the point. Antonioni's Swinging London is a world both seductive and empty, full of pretty people, drug use, casual sex, and those who document the hollow superficiality of the proceedings in order to make their living. This is what has always struck me as ironic. To an extent we the audience are supposed to relate deeply to these characters. On the other hand, these very same people live lives of such unrepentant inhumanity that it's hard to feel sorry for them when they fail or fall short. Blow-Up effectively glamorized the nihilistic, hedonistic late 1960's, likely winning converts to its brand of gorgeously amoral Bohemia, but what many seem to have missed altogether is the film's bold condemnation of the undisciplined ethos of the period.

The only way for Hemmings' photographer character to escape from this anti-human universe-- a world which he has long since grown quite weary-- arrives, quite unexpectedly, in the form of a murder. In true Antonioni fashion, the crime is presented in such vague and indefinite terms that it's just as plausible that the photographer conjured the whole thing up out of thin air. Many critics far more talented than I have speculated in great detail as to the true nature of the director's cinematic intent in this important regard, so much so that I have little, if anything to add to the discussion.

In my own defense, however, one of the marvelous things about films like Blow-Up is that they invite an almost infinite number of alternate interpretations, each of which could quite easily be correct in their own way. In this way, the film questions the nature of reality itself, positing whether humans are even capable of making coherent sense of the senseless. As the photographer's friend and next-door-neighbor, an abstract artist, remarks about his paintings: they don't mean anything when I do them. They're just a mess. The meaning comes later. Some critics interpret this as Antonioni himself speaking through the character. In other words, in the process of creation, inspiration comes first, but only at the end is meaning and analysis even possible. If we are to accept this premise as true, we are to concede that in the act of construction itself, an artist's ultimate aim is to deliberately submerge himself in the creation of his work and procede from there, content to leave strict interpretation specifically for the critics and the audience alone.

Blow-Up is also a film about power, but to write it off as simply a character study of an alpha male character who dominates a procession of submissive females in a variety of different ways would be over-simplifing things considerably. As a damning indictment of the nature of fame and celebrity, it's plain to see that no one who dwells in the photographer's universe is cheerful or contented. Many aspire to be captured on film, parading themselves in front of him, begging for a break. In great contrast to this, those already in the business of modeling know far better. Weak, diseased, stunted, ill, pale---they are anything but happy and satisfied with themselves or their chosen careers. The photographer caustically and curtly dismisses them all as bloody bitches, revealing that even he himself is not immune to the negative effects of the sordid business.

What puts Hemmings' character in a position of power over almost everyone is that he has something many women desire, namely an ability to make models look aesthetically beautiful. As we have seen, these desires when fully actualized are nightmarish, not thrilling. Still, there is one prominent example where the photographer stands on equal footing with another character instead of having a decided advantage. This occurs when he meets the female owner of an antique shop on an errand of business. This time she has something he wants. After a frosty start, the two bond as the owner expresses her own deep dissatisfaction with the status quo, raising a rhetorical question for herself and the audience as to whether anyone is ever truly content with their lot in life. This kind of existential dilemma is commonplace in an Antonioni film, along with a cast of characters utterly paralyzed by boredom and ennui. Blow-Up's languorous pacing and the passive, unenthusiastic affect of the actors and actresses reinforces this overwhelming sense of crippling exhaustion.

Audiences sometimes think Blow-Up as somewhat of a challenge to digest, particularly since most commercial films instruct the audience what to feel, where to look, and how to think. In contrast, Antonioni's works substitute strict direction for individual choice. Though the viewer must accept the director's reality, almost everything else that passes before the lens is presented subjectively. Cinematic cues are infrequent and while the soundtrack emphasizes the emotional tone of each scene, music is used sparingly, quite different from most movies. I actually prefer it this way because the heavy-handed fashion of which much mainstream cinema, particularly American cinema, is structured reminds me of a parent lecturing a child in unnecessarily exacting detail, else the child miss the point altogether. Blow-Up certainly does make few concessions to the audience. For me, at least, multiple viewings were necessary to completely grasp the depth and breadth of its parade of images.

An intensely visual experience, the movie can at times hypnotize viewers with its skillful editing and equally inventive shot composition. The dialogue itself is minimal. There are no monologues nor much in the way of involved conversation. The players keep their discussions to a minimum and more often than not give the appearance of being pensive and otherwise preoccupied with their own private issues; this places the focus squarely on the visual display and on the source music, which, as referred to above, occasionally incorporates recorded music, but is frequently underscored by silence.

I'll Be Your Mirror

      I'll be your mirror
reflect what you are, in case you don't know
I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
the light on your door to show that you're home

When you think the night has seen your mind
that inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'cause I see you

I find it hard
to believe you don't know, the beauty you are
But if you don't, let me be your eyes
a hand to your darkness, so you won't be afraid

When you think the night has seen your mind
that inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'cause I see you
I'll be your mirror.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

For Sarah Palin

Hey Grandma, you're so young
Your old man is just a boy

Been a long time this time
Been a long time this time

Been a long time this time
'round, this time 'round

Everything is upside down, upside down
Sure lookin' good

You're lookin' so good
You're sure lookin' good

Enter The Second Guessing

Pointing to McCain's momentary uptick in the polls, a few media commentators are now jabbing the finger of blame directly at Barack Obama for not picking Hillary Clinton as his Vice-President. Count me as another human being extremely sick of baseless media conjecture. Whether rooted in wishful thinking, quid pro quo favoritism, or genuine misunderstanding of the situation, this election cycle has shown us example after example that the supposed gatekeepers frequently have absolutely no clue what they are talking about. Not only that, but to these eyes the situation is getting much, much worse.

In other news, the story which broke at the first of the week that informed us Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews would no longer be anchoring election coverage isn't as upsetting to me as it has been for some. I wish for the days of Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntly, and David Brinkley. Their stoic, impartial, and professional conduct puts most of today's "talent" to shame. The marked decrease in quality those who professionally analyze the news is direct byproduct of the increasingly divided attention of the viewing public. Until we demand better, we're going to be stuck with the inferior talent we have.

Atlanta Holidays

now are

in a game of
orienteering for sport
pointing towards directions
we once traversed

a goal to be reached
on a long delayed

imaginary journey
directly due west

Odd twists and
turns towards

But unlike a
fountain of youth

I am in search of a
fountain of peace.

I Do Believe, You Are What You Perceive


Ba-ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ba-ba
Ba-ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ba-ba

I found a reason to keep livin'
Oh, and the reason dear is you
I found a reason to keep singin'
Wow-woh, and the reason dear is you

Oh, I do believe
if you don't like things you leave
For someplace you've never
gone before

Ba-ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ba-ba
Ba-ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ba-ba

Honey, I found a reason to keep livin'
And you know the reason dear it's you
And I've walked down life's lonely highways
hand in hand with myself
And I realize
how many paths have crossed between us

Oh, I do believe
you are what you perceive
What comes is better than what
came before

Oh, I do believe
you are what you perceive
What comes is better than what
came before

Ba-ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ba-ba
Ba-ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ba-ba

And you better come
come-come, come to me
come-come, come to me, better come
Come-come, come to me

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Movie Review: Heavens Above!

John and Roy Boulting produced, wrote, and directed several of the finest British satires ever filmed. Incorporating clever social criticism, witty dialogue, and ever inventive premises, their films attracted top-notch talent--often the cream of the crop of UK cinema. Critically lauded and popular with audiences, the films of the Boulting Brothers proved time and time again that a modest budget was no roadblock to success. Like the Cohen Brothers that followed them, the Boultons used many of the same actors and actresses from film to film. Those who have seen two or three quickly pick up on the sight gags, running jokes, and director's trademarks that distinguish a Bolton Brothers movie from other movies of the period.

Heavens Above!
was the third in a series of a ambitious trilogy which set its aim on major institutions in British society. The trilogy began with Private's Progress, a satire of the army, and was then followed by I'm All Right, Jack, which lampooned industry and trade unions. Heavens Above! is often considered to be the weakest of the three, largely the fault of its bizarre ending, which is silly, contrived, and altogether incongruous with the rest of the picture. It has been speculated that the Boultings simply ran out of ideas by its conclusion and couldn't come up with a suitable way of tying together loose ends. It's a real pity because the first hour and a half makes some remarkably philosophical, fully realized points that were obviously the product of much time and contemplation. Though the last few minutes render the film slightly flawed--one mustn't overlook the flashes of genius which are more applicable to today then they were forty-five years ago when the film was first shown to audiences.

While Heavens Above! was written primarily as a satire of the church, its screenplay incorporates some very blunt criticisms of materialism and consumer culture. A businessman, curtly dismisses the plea of a client who appeals to his sense of fairness and propriety. "There are no gentleman in business," he snaps. Even harsher are the wholesale condemnations of class conflict, congregational snootiness, and elitist attitudes. Vicar John Smallwood (Peter Sellers) upbraids his new parish, accusing them all of not being genuine Christians and living lives of spiritual flabbiness--totally unwilling to secure their own salvation in heaven due to their selfishness, laziness, and all around complacency. Through following the life of and the works of Smallwood, the focus of the film's most deliberately scathing commentary focuses squarely on the church itself for being just as asleep at the wheel and immobilized by inefficiency as its members. The Church of England's lethal combination of incompetent bureaucracy and marked hypocrisy constantly negates the very doctrinal mandates it preaches from the pulpit. The unassuming and unprepossessing Vicar Smallwood, by contrast, lives his life unashamed of what his superiors might think, speaks his mind no matter the consequences, and stands in great contrast as an example of a religious leader who walks the walk and talks the talk, too.

Though admirable in many ways, Smallwood's excessive piety and blind trust in the inherent goodness of mankind does lead him to make a major mistake. By taking into his pastoral residence a large, poor gypsy family used to making its living by unscrupulous means, Smallwood invites the scorn of his neighbors, influential members of his congregation, and his own superiors. The father of the family is a con artist, despised as little more than vermin by the locals, yet the Vicar's singular desire to reform the man's children, baptize the unconverted, and teach Christianity to the vulgar bunch of hooligans blinds him to the fact that they do not respect his hospitality, exploit his good nature, take every opportunity to steal, and run a variety of scams behind his back.

The idealistic Smallwood entices a rich widow in his parish to forsake her fortune for heavenly riches. Her substantial wealth is tied up in a company which manufactures a laxative advertised as a curative for all ills, which also happens to be the town's largest employer. After being accused by the vicar of caring more for the health of her earthly life than the status of her soul in the afterlife, the chastened woman decides to devote her share in the business to provide free food at market for all who would wish to have it. While at first the effort is perceived as an exercise in generosity, the combined efforts of the experiment in Christian charity drive the local grocery and butcher to the brink of bankruptcy. In addition, and with the purest of intentions, Vicar Smallwood uses a well-attended sermon as an opportunity to condemn the feel-good pill produced by the local factory as little more than a cheap replacement for the role of God in the daily lives of the populace. Smallwood's rhetoric becomes picked up by the press, distorted by hyperbole, and transformed into a major media sensation.

The resulting fallout causes the sales of the pill to drop dramatically, giving the company no other choice but to drastically reduce its workforce, laying off employees left and right. This in turn causes unemployment to rise as high as sixty percent in the town, giving rise to angry demonstrations in the street, a few choice bigoted remarks, and several open public displays of violence. Having no choice but to intervene, else this novel concept catch on across the country and bankrupt the entire nation, the British government insists that Vicar Smallwood be removed from his post and moved elsewhere. The widow ceases to furnish the good free of charge and the company is saved by a judicious name change.

The movie's most shocking declaration posits that if every person changed his or her lifestyle and in doing so underwent a religious conversion, living directly according to the purest wishes of Jesus Christ, the world would go broke. One can easily understand how genuine altruism combined with the demise of individual desire for profit and material gain could easily bankrupt the economic workings of the free market system if adopted wholesale. While the practice advanced by the rich woman is rooted upon the noblest of intentions, quickly the all-too-human tendency to take advantage of naive generosity rears its ugly head. A cautionary tale, Heavens Above! warns us the audience to be neither too trusting, nor too kind towards those who would take the selfless help of others and use it to serve their their own selfish gain.

I sincerely wish that Christian conservatives who advocate no separation whatsoever between the church and the state could see this film; incorporating religion into commerce proves to be an ruinous economic disaster. Those espousing a conception of Jesus as stodgy conservative fixture might do well to contemplate that the pure ideal of the religion they hold dear is, at its core, radically socialistic. Moreover, Heavens Above! argues that the role of religion for an individual is beneficial, but that if religion were adopted wholesale by everyone it would eviscerate the societal framework, plunging the entire planet into utter turmoil. The separate spheres of secular and religious in combination are not just deeply destructive, they are wholly incompatible with each other.

Monday, September 08, 2008


latches on to her
latest significant other

quotes verbatim an
exaggerated litany of
his greatest hits minus

of course

the tragic missteps

her role as spokesperson for
a private P.R. campaign

unprepared for
heavy scrutiny
aiming for
easy ego-stroking

flattery famously conceals
desire for legacy absorption

parallel parasites
blind to their hosts

Movie Review: Cleopatra (1912)

Movies were still in their infancy when this, the second Cleopatra film committed to celluloid was filmed. In 1912, film grammar and shot composition had not been rigorously developed, nor put into place. Compared to the inventive cinematography and roaming camera work commonplace today, the early silent era was that of the more or less static camera. In this period, the camera was set upon a fixed point, the film was cranked, and the action took place in directly in front of the lens, often within the identical relative framework and perspective. Shot lengths extended for minutes at a time and cutting between scenes was quite minimal; shot changes occurred infrequently and were usually used only to introduce new characters or underscore important events. Today's audience might consider these films tedious, which is certainly understandable.

In other words, the potential of the medium had not been fully explored nor realized. Early works like Cleopatra aren't really much more than filmed stage plays. Cleopatra plays for little more than glorified theater, which is evident in the elaborate choreography, costumes, and frequently flamboyant overacting. The camera mirrors the precise location of where the attention and eye of the viewer would be drawn to naturally during the performance, and incorporates none of the modern techniques like cross-cutting, tracking shots, facial closeups, or their ilk. Movies of the early silent era suffer mightily from a lack of synchronized dialogue, particularly because it took several years for directors to transform the "limitations" of the pre-sound cinema into a unique world unto itself. Speaking for Cleopatra alone, even a judicious use of intertitles barely manages to keep the audience from massive confusion--a fast paced plot paired with numerous entrances and exits of major characters begs for spoken dialogue. Subsequent directors and screenwriters learned from this, deliberately keeping the plots of their films relatively simplistic and straight-forward.

In keeping with the nineteenth century style then still in fashion, actors and actresses performed with the exaggerated gestures and melodramatic postures that a contemporary audience frequently finds off-putting and campy. I consider it deeply unfortunate that so many people today assume that all silent film acting resembles this degree of excessive theatricality--they confuse its early days with the true-to-life techniques that had all but replaced them by the end of the silent era. As films became peopled less and less by stage actors and more and more by those who had no formalist training, acting became far more naturalistic. At the beginning, movies were overwhelmingly peopled with members of acting troops and classically trained thespians, but by the end of World War I, the idea of the movie star as we know it was born. Actors and actresses were recruited by studios with the criteria not focused on their experience on the stage but instead on their photographic propensity and unique, individual talents.

Much of this new talent was comprised of the lower ranks of society. With Judeophobia still a potent force in the American workplace, Jews found themselves locked out of a variety of jobs and, because they had few opportunities elsewhere, many took positions with film studios. Work in films was often the best opportunity Semetic peoples could hope to receive. Since cinema was considered a vulgar, base entertainment for the masses--vastly inferior to the stage, and above all not an respected art form (yet), the pioneers who began what eventually grew into a formidable film industry had much in common with one another. Many were were societal misfits, cursed with dysfunctional upbringings and unstable home lives, all running away to escape poverty and abuse for the promise of instant fame and steady work.

For those who wish to have a glimpse at the raw beginnings of what has now become a refined, complex art form, Cleopatra is worth a look. Those disinclined to watch to any degree would do well to avoid it.

Happy Birthday, Peter Sellers

Peter Sellers' life is a study in contradictions.

In his personal life he was a petulant prima donna, often intolerably arrogant and churlish on the set of his latest film, absentee at best as a parent, excessively fond for drugs and alcohol, and frequently physically and emotionally abusive towards his children and wives. However, in his life as a performer his talents as a mimic and his range as an actor were almost unmatched by anyone else in film history. He had a phenomenal ability to completely lose himself in the person of the role he was playing to the point that his real personality was nowhere to be found. Sellers felt far more comfortable adopting the guise of someone else, so much so that he frequently gave interviews completely in character.

Actors and actresses whose personal conduct was less than stellar and fraught with turmoil provide us with a challenge. If we base our opinion of them entirely upon their stature as matinee idols and box office successes--only by the images they committed to celluloid, then some would argue we are condoning their reprehensible personal conduct. Others think holding everyone to these exacting standards would necessitate dismissal of a great many movie stars, several of which, like Sellers, have improved the medium wholesale, and inspired new generations of cinema talent.

Conjecture and speculation aside, Peter Sellers would have been 83 today.

Fighting Against the Bounce

It came as no surprise to me that McCain's convention bounce equaled Obama's. Polling in every other Presidential election followed a similar pattern. Neither was I particularly shocked that the selection of Palin as Vice-President, despite substantial leftist backlash, went over well with the American electorate. Voters are suckers for a gimmick and even more susceptible to novelty. McCain's Vice Presidential selection was a little bit of both.

The governor of Alaska is entitled to a media courtship and the subsequent glow which befits any new player on the political scene. Once that honeymoon subsides, however, she will be called to task by the press to clarify her position statements and excuse her baggage. Democrats are fortunate that the election is still a little less than two weeks away. Expect polls to favor the Arizona Republican for the next few days, perhaps even a week, unless something drastic appears on the scene between now and then. As it was for Obama, so it will be for McCain.

The narrow nature of this race prompts me to respond directly to a major assertion of the Democratic nominee. To wit, Barack Obama advances an agenda of post-partisanship and bi-partisan compromise. I wish I believed that were possible. This country is as markedly and rigidly split along ideological lines as I have ever seen it in my life. While the partition of this country in terms of red and blue might be a bit of an oversimplification, I certainly recognize in my own city that liberal and conservative people disagree on almost every conceivable issue. The era of landslides and sizable majorities may be over for a good long while. If the fault lines separating Republicans and Democrats were few in number, then it might be easy to find a middle ground between the two. These days, liberals and conservatives disagree with fundamental policy stances, which reduced to a single sentence represent profound disagreement regarding the direction this country should be headed. A liberal America could not be more diametrically opposed to a conservative America.

In recent times, people have referred to this schism as evidence of culture wars. If only it were that simple. Culture is only one facet of a very complex gemstone. If only Obama's pronouncement which states that the divisions which separate us are merely illusory could be based in fact, instead of idle hope. If the Illinois senator is to be elected, he will win narrowly, capture a thin majority of votes, and stake no realistic claim towards governing with a mandate of the electorate. As we do live in a country heavily fragmented between blue and red, the true challenge for whomever wins will be to change the minds of the skeptical. This nation cannot stay at fisticuffs with itself for much longer. With the current recession we observe the first inkling that our power in the world is not infinite. We must come together under a flag of truce or our stature will continue to decline. We have never seen eye to eye at any time before, but it would be to our great benefit to find a way to work together for a common purpose. Democracy, as we have seen recently, is often an inelegant system. Messiness notwithstanding, we must work together in spite of the limitations of our system and the realization of our flawed nature as human beings.

Cool It Down

Somebody took the papers
and somebody's got the key
And somebody's nailed the door shut
and says, hey, what you think that you see

But me l'm down around the corner
you know I'm looking for Miss Linda Lee
Because she's got the power to love me by the hour
gives me W-L-O-V-E, oh

Hey baby, if you want it so fast
don't you know that it ain't gonna last
Of course you know it makes no difference to me

Somebody's got the time time
somebody's got the right
All of the other people
trying to use up the night

But now me, l'm out on the corner
you know I'm looking for Miss Linda Lee
Because she's got the power to love me by the hour
gives me W-L-O-V-E, ooohhh

Hey, if you want it so fast
but don't you know honey, you can get it so fast
But of course you know it makes no difference to me

Oh oh, you better cool it down
you know you better cool it down
You know you better cool it down
you know you better cool it down

Oh oh oh, hey, if you want it so fast
now look it, look baby, don't you want it to last
But of course you know that
hey, it makes no difference to me

Oh oh oh, you better cool it down
now baby, you better, oh, cool it down
Don't you know you better cool it down
you know you better cool it down

You better cool it down
oh baby, cool it down
You better cool it down
oh, you better cool it down

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Taking a Break from the Heavy Stuff

only for today, I mean.

Attending meeting frequently lifts my spirits and today's gathering of fellow Friends succeed as it so often does, providing my life some desperately needed perspective. As a largely solitary person, I frequently forget the positive benefits of basic human interaction and the corresponding simple pleasures of a spiritual outlet comprised of fellow worshipers. Though as an introvert, contact with others frequently leaves me drained and exhausted, I nonetheless greatly appreciate and treasure the numerous blessings that the weekly ritual of socialization have to offer.

In great contrast to spiritual worship is the online-based, tightly-knit network of like minded individuals that I call my blogging friends. This morning, during the first hour for worship, I couldn't help but mull over the massive difference between the dual roles those two dynamics play in my life. They are polar opposites to each other, appealing to completely different parts of my personality and sides of who I am Two years spent perusing the blogosphere and making connections with others who daily put their thoughts and reflections out online for public display has given me a sense of perspective I didn't have before; I've come to a few pertinent conclusions about us: who we are, what makes us up, how we think, and what we espouse. To wit, many bloggers, I find, are loners, malcontents, eccentrics, and feel chronically misunderstood and underappreciated. We are certainly of like mind, but often too alike for our own good. Too much commonality is both a blessing and a curse. The sum total of unhappy people is a communal black hole full of frustration, anguish, depression, righteous indignation, and woe.

I read anywhere from forty to sixty blogs a day and in the two hours or so it takes me to plow through all of them, seldom do I find myself with my spirits uplifted afterward. What is more likely to result is elevated blood pressure and crushing despair, a direct result of being exposed to an exhaustive number of harangues on a theme, all railing against that which is wrong, that which is unjust and unfair, and that which is unlikely to change for the better any time soon. A certain amount of this is instructive and necessary, but in excessive quantity the resulting stress and pressure remove the fun of life and blogging. Though a part of me likes to play the part of the activist and feels obliged to decry the wrongs of the universe in an effort to set them right, I've come to understand this morning that I've crossed the threshold from purpose to pain. Blogging is, after all, supposed to be fun and instead it's been transformed to a guaranteed non-stop bummer trip.

This post is partially prompted by a friend who, seeing me with a smile on my face, while I was chuckling at some private joke over dinner Friday night, said quite pointedly--I can't remember the last time I saw you smile. As I paused to reflect upon what he said, I had to admit that it had certainly been many months since I'd found much humor in anything except for the dark variety. Lately I've found myself in a groove of gallows humor or snarky satire, the kind which is only amusing at all because its very premise is so bleak, grim, and above all, deadly serious. Today was the first time I laughed at something charmingly amusing and innocently humorous, the way humor should be, and not a derivative of sarcasm or mean-spirited banter masquerading as amusement. Laughing is something I think we all might consider doing more of more often. If life is always unpleasant--little more than an ordeal, then what's the point of living?