Tuesday, June 30, 2009

There's No Dissonance Like Cognitive Dissonance

The Chronicle today has a great front-page article on Modoc County:

Modoc has the highest Republican registration of any county in California, it unfailingly elects anti-tax Republicans to office, and the vote here against last month's ballot measure that would have raised a variety of taxes was one of the most lopsided in the state. And yet, per capita, Modoc County gets more state taxpayer dollars than all but one of California's 58 counties....

"I don't think voters in the conservative counties understand the connection between the service they are receiving and the votes their representatives are making," Evans said. "Maybe the layers of government are so convoluted that many people don't realize how it works."

In Modoc, the way it works is that if the cuts being proposed go through, near-catastrophe will reign, said County Administrative Officer Mark Charlton.

He said the entire road maintenance service would be closed except for snowplowing on a few main roads, the welfare-to-work CalWORKS program would be cut in half, many mental health patients would no longer be monitored and would relapse and wind up behind bars, and there would be fewer police patrols.
It's easy to laugh at Modoc, but the attitude is pervasive in California. Way too many people (and 34% is all it takes) believe in the Anti-Tax Fairy, who delivers all the essential services without anyone ever having to pay.

Taxes, of course, just go to limousines for legislators. Cut taxes 100%, and everybody's fine.

But the punchline comes from a Republican rancher quoted in the article:
And if the Capitol does indeed slash Modoc County's money for road maintenance, health services and welfare job training - which will happen, if Sacramento's Republicans get their way - McGarva and Hodge have the same plan.

"Well, we'll just get by the way we did in the Great Depression - on our own," McGarva said.
Yes, that's right: the New Deal was a triumph of individualistic anti-government self-reliance.

Shadow of the Waxwing Slain

Shadow of the Waxwing Slain

Update: No waxwings were slain in the making of this post.


Kind of early today.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday Movie Two-fer: The Italian Job (1969) and (2003)

The Italian Job (1969) 6/10
Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) is a thief just out of jail. His former partner has a big heist planned, but is murdered before he can meet with Charlie. With his late partner's plans, Charlie puts together a complex gold heist in Italy.

There's a lot of fun ideas here, although the whole thing is kind of thin. Probably the biggest delight, other than the famous Mini-Coopers, is Noel Coward as Mr. Bridger. Bridger is a crook of such power and influence, that he happily stays in jail because he runs the place; every prisoner and every guard does his bidding. Charlie needs Bridger's help with financing, and it's charming and silly to see the prisoners acting, not like they're in jail, but like they have an alternate lifestyle/cult with Bridger as their charismatic leader.

Michael Caine does his best with a thinly-written character. We know little about Charlie except that he's a ladies man and a crook, and that he's in charge of an enormously complex scheme. I suspect that the character work that Caine does wasn't really scripted, but something that he found between the lines. Unfortunately, what he found was a bitchy and unpleasant guy; anxious about details and constantly rude out of nervousness. I found a lot of my natural pleasure in watching a heist drained away.

The overall purpose of the plan, what gets Bridger on board, is to bring down the Italian lira out of English national pride. Not very exciting to an American 40 years later. In addition, a lot of the planning involves talking people into things. Not enough action and not enough fun, despite the movie's fame.

The Italian Job (2003) 7/10
Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) pulls off a gold heist in Italy with the help of his mentor, John Bridger (Donald Sutherland). But one of the crew is a traitor who murders Bridger, leaves the rest for dead, and keeps the gold for himself. A year later, Charlie gets the gang back together, and persuades Bridger's daughter (Charlize Theron) to help them rob the gold back.

Mark Wahlberg is no Michael Caine. Let's just accept that and move on. This movie corrects a lot of the flaws of the original: The murder at the beginning is integral and motivating instead of an aside. The revenge plot is more engaging than economics. The characters are in general more likable. The only woman is there for something other than sex.

There's a good sense of humor here. Jason Statham and Seth Green are definitely fun, although the whole thing doesn't have that sense of play that the original had.

Still, it works better, it's a smart heist (two, actually) without too many stupidities, and it's entertaining from beginning to end. I ended up surprised at several points, not sure how things would play out. Which is so important in a heist film. I also really enjoyed that the get-things-by-being-sexy character was male—Handsome Rob, played by Statham. Usually when there's a token woman in the gang she's the designated seducer, but Theron is cool and collected as Stella Bridger, an expert in safes and locks who normally stays on the right side of the law.

The budding romance fumbled towards by Whalberg and Theron is a waste of time, but very little time is spent on it, so that's okay.

(The Italian Cross-post)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson

I have listened to about six obituaries, and seen about two hundred Facebook postings. I have seen extraordinary YouTube videos; reminders of a great talent. I've heard "King of Pop" and "great talent" and "genius" and "savvy investments." And I've seen maybe two or three oblique references to "controversy" or being "troubled" from individuals (not on the news). Even a feminist blog referred gently to "shortcomings."

On So You Think You Can Dance last night, Nigel Lithgow celebrated Jackson as an artist; given the nature of the show, that's appropriate, but then he said something about "a great life." No. A great art, yes, but not a great life.

Can we please, and I know I'm interrupting the great national outpouring of grief, but can we please remember that this man was almost certainly a child molester? Of multiple children on multiple occasions? Can we please just notice that?

Can we remember: This man was tried for this crime, and afterwards the jurors said they really felt like he'd done it, but that the prosecution hadn't proved their case and they had no choice but to acquit despite feeling he was guilty.

I get that people are complicated. I'm not a great believer in (you should pardon the expression) black or white. Everyone has good and bad within them. But how is it that in this barrage of information I am the first person I've heard mention this kind of important thing?

You want an answer? It's because this culture has already decided it's not important. If we just ignore child abuse and pretend it's not there, minimize it when forced to confront it and put it back undercover as soon as possible, everything runs so much more smoothly. If we just forget the little part about the children suffering horrifically, everything is so much better. If we forget that part.

I don't want to forget that part.

But hey, this isn't exceptional. It's not like we usually condemn child molesters but Michael was so special that in this one case we're giving it a pass. This is the normal functioning of Western patriarchy. This is how it's done.

I don't know that I have a lot more to say about that. I don't think I need to amass evidence, here, that we ignore child abuse wherever possible. I don't think I need to point to the many newspaper articles, for example, about men in their forties "having sex with" twelve year old nieces or whatever. Not abusing, raping, attacking, assaulting, or molesting, mind you; "having sex." That's even prettier than "controversy."

I'm not interested in prettying it up. I'm not here to make nice. An extraordinarily talented child molester died yesterday. Some people are not grieving the loss of talent. Let's remember them, too.


Friday Random 10

Kinks - Holiday
Dengue Fever - Saran Wrap
Ennio Morricone - Queimada: Verso il Futuro
Dave Alvin - Blue Blvd
Anita Ward - Ring My Bell
Wailers - Tall Cool One
Chris & Cosey - Re-Education Through Labor
Essential Logic - The Order Form
Tornados - &-0-7
Sonantes - Quilombo Te Espero

No video today. What are y'all listening to this morning?

A Legend in Her Own Mind

Peggy Noonan has devised a word game for her readers this morning. It's weak cover for an attempt to sustain the GOP meme that Obama is Just. Trying. To Do. Too. Much. But, what the hell, it could be fun to play along.

Peggy's idea, taken from a line Clare Boothe Luce claims to have spoken to JFK, is that "'a great man is one sentence.'" Peggy gives us, "He preserved the union and freed the slaves," and, "He lifted us out of a great depression and helped to win a World War," for Lincoln and FDR. A WSJ web commenter chimes in imaginatively for the Gipper with, "He defeated communism and presided over America's greatest economic expansion." Her commenters aren't nearly so kind to Obama, but Peggy, ever striving to roll the meme up the hill, gives us, "He brought America back from economic collapse and kept us strong and secure in the age of terror," as sufficient change she can believe in.

But what about the Shrub? Hasn't Peggy a line for Mission Accomplished, the Decider, With Us or Against Us? Seems like it could write itself. How about:

He fucked up the world yet got re-elected.
But maybe that says more about the age than the man.

Please feel free to play Peggy's game in comments. Let the Supreme Court's discretion in Bush v. Gore be your guide to the rules.

Update: Or maybe Noonan's done waiting for history's judgment on 43 and we're all in agreement after all that he was one ungreat prez. I find it hard to keep up.

[I made two small corrections.]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing
A Cedar Waxwing perched in -- surprise!-- the Prairiefire crabapple tree.

This handsome devil is a Cedar Waxwing (the sexes look alike). While my photo gives a good sense of the bird, you can't really make out some of its many beautiful details as well as they deserve. For example, there's a gorgeous, bright-yellow stripe across the end of its tail feathers that you can just see in this shot and red wing-tips that you can't make out. Follow the link above to an informative page with a more detailed image. You can also listen there to its distinctive cricket-like call, which these highly social birds are nearly constantly sounding in order to keep in touch with each other. The call makes this an easy bird species to identify.

[More text and an alternate take photo below the fold.]

Mary must have been hearing that Cedar Waxwing call in her sleep, because just a few days ago she commented to me that we hadn't seen any of them this year. Of course the very next day I caught a pair setting up a late nest in an arborvitae hedge next to the house. Or, who knows, maybe they’d been there all season and we hadn't noticed them yet.

Besides being drop-dead gorgeous, Cedar Waxwings are fascinating birds to watch. Like Catbirds, they don't eat seed, preferring fruit and insects. And like Catbirds, they're highly alert and active, always doing their own thing and fending for themselves, never slaves to the feeder. I first noticed Cedar Waxwings as the birds that would periodically visit the boathouses on our lake -- always moving in a clockwise direction, interestingly -- to pick off and eat all the spiders they could find. Usually once every month or so they'd make a circuit.

Once I planted fruit trees, Cedar Waxwings became more frequent visitors, and now they even nest here. As I mentioned somewhere in one of our bird comment threads here on IIRTZ, a year ago March a large winter group of Cedar Waxwings successfully contested with the much-larger and much-punchier Robins for control of the mummified, leftover fruits on our Prairiefire crabapple tree. I expected them to be back this spring, but to the Robins' relief they never arrived.

There is currently another bird war going on in our side yard over the ripening (and delicious, I can attest) fruits of some Shadblow (aka Serviceberry) trees. The Cedar Waxwing pair is more than holding its own against a family of Robins, a pair of Catbirds and a clan of the most insipid, non-native House Finches you ever saw. Working in the Cedar Waxwings' favor is their specialized skill to hover, sort of like hummingbirds, for short periods of time while they maneuver in to pick fruit from its branches or spiders from their webs. Unfortunately for all of the fair-fighting native species, however, the oh-so-ridiculous House Finches have taken the fight asymmetrical by starting to eat as-yet unripe fruit. All's fair, I guess, in love and bird war.

Cedar Waxwing 2
Here he's lost his composure and, all flustered, is about to fly away. He cat-and-moused me with that branch above his head for a good thirty shots before he'd had enough. He peered at me above it, he peered at me below it. He hid his eyes behind it and pretended we could no longer see each other. He cocked his head and listened to the camera shutter, then he turned and had a listen with his other ear. And today he won't come anywhere near me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wednesday Wildflowerblogging

Snow Plant 02
Snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) along the Isberg Trail, Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Couple more below the fold.
Snow Plant 03

Snow Plant 01

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


There was no movie yesterday (check my site to see why) but you can play trivia today.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Paging Mr. Oudahir...Mr. I. M. Oudahir...

No Sunday Sierrablogging this week; instead of picking through shots that bore me because I've looked at them all hundreds of times, I plan to be up in the Sierra taking some new ones.

One More Thought...

...about this: the people who (claim to) have the greatest faith in what Obama's endorsement would do for the Iranian opposition would be the last to admit that before the election, the opposition was newly energized by Obama's speech in Cairo. The things Obama actually does have no value; it's only the things he doesn't do that could transform the world.

Update: and then there's this quote from Mousavi's spokesman (via Mark Kleiman):

We [Iranians] are a bit unfortunate. When we had our Obama [meaning President Khatami], that was the time of President Bush in the United States. Now that [the United States] has Obama, we have our Bush here [in Iran]. In order to resolve the problems between the two countries, we should have two Obamas on the two sides. It doesn't mean that everything depends on these two people, but this is one of the main factors.

Friday Random Ten

Pere Ubu - On the Surface
13th Floor Elevators - Kingdom of Heaven
Portishead - Roads
Tikis - Rick-O-Shay
Mekons - Revenge
Les Breastfeeders - L'existence précède la diésel
Wire - Field Day for the Sundays
Dengue Fever - Sober Driver
Nick Cave - All Tomorrow's Parties
Les Breastfeeders - Concerto pour rien de tout

Yay! I remembered my iPod this week. Probably because I need it in the car: I'm driving up to the mountains this weekend, leaving directly from work. Anyway...what are y'all listening to this morning?

Bonus video below the fold (not to be confused with this movie, which actually looks like it might be worth seeing).

Tort Reform Now!

These frivolous lawsuits are really out of control.

Here's my reform: in any suit against people downloading for personal use, damages are capped at the list price of the CDs defendant would have had to buy to get the same songs.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Hypothetical for the Neo-Cons

I'm talking to you, Robert Kagan. And Stephen Hayes. And Peter Wehner. And Charles Krauthammer. And of course John McCain.

Here's the question:

Say there's a Presidential election that you and thousands of other Republicans are convinced was stolen by the Democrats. Say you're out there protesting, trying to build public support for your cause.

Now let's say Khamenei expresses his wholehearted support for your efforts. Say Ahmadinejad says "I stand with the American people in their opposition to Democratic tyranny." Say Hu Jintao says the election was fraudulent, and Medvedev calls for the Democrat to step down. Say Kim Jong Il says "today, we are all Republicans."

Would these expressions of support help or hurt your efforts to build support among Americans?

Mandelbaum, Mandelbaum, Mandelbaum

Shorter David Broder:

You think you're better than Bob Dole?
Yes, that's right -- the muddled middle is taking it up a notch. It's "go" time!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wednesday Wildflowerblogging

California Blackberry
California Blackberry (Rubus ursinus) along the Sweeney Ridge trail. There's tons of this in the Bay Area; come blackberry season, it's no great feat to pick a dozen pies' worth.

Trivia has arrived

Go crazy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Bloomsday!

James Joyce on blogging:

--That reminds me, Mr Deasy said. You can do me a favour, Mr Dedalus, with some of your literary friends. I have a letter here for the press. Sit down a moment. I have just to copy the end.
     He went to the desk near the window, pulled in his chair twice and read off some words from the sheet on the drum of his typewriter.
--Sit down. Excuse me, he said over his shoulder, the dictates of common sense. Just a moment.
--Full stop, Mr Deasy bade his keys. But prompt ventilation of this allimportant question....
--Now then, Mr Deasy said, rising.
     He came to the table, pinning together his sheets. Stephen stood up.
--I have put the matter into a nutshell, Mr Deasy said. It’s about the foot and mouth disease. Just look through it. There can be no two opinions on the matter.

Ulysses 2:289
And so the anti-Semite Deasy raises himself on the cross of his own convictions.

You can see our two previous Bloomsday posts here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday Movie Review: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) 8/10
A group of hijackers led by Ryder (John Travolta), take a subway car hostage and demand ten million dollars for their release. On the other side of the microphone is transit dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), struggling to keep the situation from becoming deadly. Directed by Tony Scott.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 opens like a fast shot of whiskey, all quick cutting and smart story-telling and brutal music. The situation is introduced with economy and enthusiasm; HERE is the MTA and HERE is the subway being boarded and HERE are the hijackers.

In general, the pace remains excellent, moving briskly, telling the story clearly, letting us breathe and laugh when we need to, but then pushing us right back under water. Pelham 1 2 3 shares with the original movie a gritty, unadorned feel for New York City, and a cast of real characters without any prettiness or Botox in sight. The on-location feel isn't a gratuitous show of cleverness, it's fully integrated into the film. This story needs these streets; it is particular and specific about subways, motormen, old tunnels, new technology, and rats.

The story takes us a little into Garber's life, a little into meeting the mayor (James Gandolfini, reminding me why I love him), and a lot into Ryder, who is angry, maybe crazy, and definitely dangerous. Ryder is the real thing: A bad guy all the way. Not for one moment is the audience led to sympathize with him or believe that he is cool. As he says so very often in the R-rated film, he is a motherfucker. And I appreciate the actors and script and director for keeping him bad, because I don't think the alternative is "misunderstood," in general, the alternative tends to be "cool" or "gangsta." And really, this crime is just too nasty to be treated like outlaw chic.

Tony Scott is a journeyman director; he does good work and is not in the business of making masterpieces. Like every movie of his that I've seen, this one is flawed. There are moments that are too corny, close-ups that over-emphasize points that could have been delicately revealed, and an overall heavy-handedness. But I am quibbling. Pelham 1 2 3 works, it is exactly what it's meant to be: A thrill-ride crime story that races like an out-of-control subway.

The acting is, well hello, did you see the cast? There was a small moment when I realized how good Travolta was, and a funny moment when I realized how deft Gandolfini was, and then I realized I never had a thought like that about Denzel, because Denzel is so good, you never see him acting. Not for one moment. And by the way, John Turturro and Luis Guzmán are in this movie too, and when those guys are "by the way," well, that's quite a cast. Did I mention any women? No. That's because there aren't any. Some hostages, a conductor who leaves early on, Garber's wife for the duration of a phone call, I think a cop ina background shot, and that's it. I really enjoyed this movie, but I am sick of that shit.

(The Making of Cross-post 1 2 3)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Sierrablogging

North Guard
North Guard from the Copper Creek Trail near Upper Tent Meadow, Monarch Divide, Kings Canyon National Park.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Semi-Random 10 - Newly Acquired Music

Forgot to bring my iPod with me today, so I'm shuffling the Recently Added playlist on my hard drive at work. Here goes:

RJD2 - Sell the World
Mach Kung Fu - Three Colors
Gor Mkhitarian - Story
RJD2 - Smoke & Mirrors
Take Your Soul - The Sahara All-Stars of Jos
Isaac Hayes - Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic
Ennio Morricone - Queimada: Verso Il Futuro
Los Dinamicos Exciters - Let Me Do My Thing
Clean - Tally Ho
Camper Van Beethoven - All Her Favorite Fruit (live)

Bonus track:
Marion Black - Who Knows?

Post your own recent acquisitions in comments.


Shorter Peggy Noonan: "Our base is baser than their base."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wednesday Wildflowerblogging

Yellow Sand Verbena
Yellow Sand Verbena (Abronia latifolia) at Crissy Field in the Presidio.

The Iron Law of Mikey O'Hanlon

What Goes Up Must Go Up:

For the Defense Department to merely tread water, a good rule of thumb is that its inflation-adjusted budget must grow about 2 percent a year (roughly $10 billion annually, each and every year). Simply put, the costs of holding on to good people, providing them with health care and other benefits, keeping equipment functional, maintaining training regimes, and buying increasingly complex equipment tend to grow faster than inflation. This is, of course, no more an absolute rule than is Moore's law about changes in computing capacity. But like Moore's law, it tends to hold up remarkably well with time, especially when downsizing the Defense Department's force structure is not really an option, and it is not today.
Not Up is "not really an option." Really, it just isn't. So shut up.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009

This Has Been Another Edition of What I Said

I wanted to comment on this:

A disinterested observer would conclude that Justice Sotomayor is race-obsessed. In her now much quoted 2001 UC Berkeley speech she invoked “Latina/Latino” no less than 38 times, in addition to a variety of other racial-identifying synonyms. When one reads the speech over, the obsession with race become almost overwhelming, and I think the public has legitimate worries (more than the Obama threshold of 5% of cases) over whether a judge so cognizant of race could be race-blind in her decision making.
But I think I already did.

Monday Movie Review: Last Chance Harvey

Last Chance Harvey (2008) 5/10
Sad, awkward Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) travels to London for his daughter's wedding. He meets lonely, nervous Kate Walker (Emma Thompson) and they strike up a tentative romance.

I had high hopes for this one. Quirky independent romances appeal to me. It had some awards buzz. It has a good cast and I'm drawn to the idea of showing romance between people who aren't 22 and perfect. Alas.

I am often struck by the observer effect as it relates to movie reviews. We do like to pretend that reviews can be objective, that there is a "good movie" and a "bad movie" on some absolute scale of Movieness that exists in some corner of the universe. Yet a review is written by a person who was in a mood of some sort during the time of viewing. That reviewer has life experience brought to the film (Ebert, for instance, hated Marilyn Hotchkiss because he hated ballroom dance lessons and could not imagine wanting to return there). In addition, there are the vagaries of viewing circumstances.

For the current movie, I confess that Arthur and I had a big fight over whether or not we would watch it, and I insisted, because DAMMIT I just wanted to return it to Netflix already. And within ten minutes he'd walked out of the room to leave me to watch it alone. So maybe I would have liked Last Chance Harvey better under better conditions—who can say?

Old movies often rely on a man meeting a woman and then, let's face it, stalking her. This is why a movie like The Gay Divorcee can be uncomfortable to watch nowadays. Newer movies don't cotton so much to stalking and so rely on Meet Cute. But Last Chance Harvey is more in the stalker mold. Harvey is small and mild and not scary, and checks in often with Kate to make sure he hasn't pushed too far, yet push he does, and it doesn't feel good to me.

The delicate, tentative connection that Kate and Harvey have is nice, but it doesn't seem like all that much, and certainly not enough to inspire the kind of transformation we know these characters need, and we know (being an audience who has seen romances before) the film will deliver.

There is a profoundly moving moment at Harvey's daughter's wedding. I totally had to pause the film and wash the runny makeup off my face. But what led us there? It seems the simple act of having anyone to talk to allowed Harvey to step out of his shell and speak truthfully to his daughter. But he seems, I dunno, friendly. Surely he talks to other people?

Dustin Hoffman is good but not wonderful. Emma Thompson, on the other hand, is glorious. She is rich with feeling and really grounded; present in her body in a way that is always full and real and engaging.

Still, the romance is slight and not all that much to build a movie around. I mean, really?

Parenthetically, it is an odd comment on movie assumptions that Emma Thompson, 50, feels like an appropriate age mate for Dustin Hoffman, 72. They do briefly mention that he's kind of old, but I suppose it's so refreshing that she is less than 30 years younger than him, unlike, say, Harrison Ford's leading ladies. Whatever.

(Last Chance Cross-post)

Universal Health Care: Pay It by the Word?

You can't fool Fred Hiatt:

There's nothing easy about health care, but the least difficult piece is insuring the uninsured: Mandate that everyone sign up, and provide subsidies so everyone can afford it. Harder, politically, is to levy the taxes to pay for those subsidies.
Similarly, the least difficult piece of my becoming King of England would be calling myself "King of England." Harder, politically, would be convincing the English of my dominion over them.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Gingrich's Hypothetical

Newt Gingrich, on Judge Sotomayor:

Imagine a judicial nominee said 'my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman.'
Some guy on a message board I frequent, also on Judge Sotomayor:
I would expect nothing less from someone [who] see[s] the world in race, gender and class glasses. I view the statement as racist.
I would actually kind of like to see Gingrich's hypothetical made real. Not in the asinine, reductionist way he means it, of course.

What I would like to see is some white guy judge say something comparable to what Judge Sotomayor was saying. I'd love to see Judge Roberts, for example, write a thoughtful, introspective piece about what it means to be a white guy, about how his gender and ethnicity have shaped the way he sees the world, and how they affect his decisions.

Not going to happen, of course, and the reason why is the same as the reason it would be so interesting to see it happen, and the reason it's so easy to gin up faux outrage when someone who isn't a white guy does it: because white guys have the luxury of believing their views aren't shaped by their race and gender--of believing they don't "see the world in [sic] race, gender and class glasses". White guy is the default option--in politics, in the news media, in entertainment. White guy isn't a viewpoint limited by race and gender; it's the standard by which the limitations of all other viewpoints are judged.

And yes, that's changing, and has changed enormously (remember when an African-American president was a far-fetched movie premise). The value of the moronic "Sotomayor = Racist" talking point is that it illustrates how far we still have to go.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Friday Random Ten

Mekons - Ice Rink in Berlin
Tunji Oyelana & the Blenders - Ifa
Shriekback - Malaria
Dead Moon - Cast Will Change
Cracker - Sidi Ifni
Raincoats - Lola
Thin White Rope - Caravan
Velvet Underground - Waiting for the Man
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet - Hunter Thompson's Younger Brother
Pere Ubu - On the Surface

What are y'all listening to this morning?

Only the Republican Statue is Smiling

Shorter Peggy Noonan (in the Capitol rotunda for the Reagan statue dedication): "Goddamn Dem pretenders and Pelosi's frozen smile. Could we maybe term-limit 'em out?"

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

I'm Not Sure They Thought This Through Beforehand

While there is still some hysterical hyperventilation on the right over the "First Terrorist Attack Since 9/11", they seem to have dialed it back some as of this morning. Which is so unlike them.

And I can't help but wonder if maybe it was because the guy used a gun.

If a few angry losers want to kill people, they're not going to get it done with whacked-out plots to blow up Sears Tower or the Brooklyn Bridge. They can get it done using guns. Thanks to the extraordinarily lax gun laws in most states in this country, they can kill a whole lot of people with guns.

(In the case of George Tiller, of course, they didn't have to kill a lot of people; one was enough to make their point.)

Pointing that out--as they do, inadvertently, when they call the murder of Private William Long "terrorism"--does not serve the interests of the gun fetishists.

Wednesday Wildflowerblogging

Dune Knotweed 02
Dune Knotweed (Polygonum paronychia) at Lobos Creek Dunes in the Presidio. Couple more below the fold.
Dune Knotweed

Dune Knotweed

Monday, June 01, 2009

Sleeping with the Enemy

Black-Capped Chickadee
Seen through the slats of a garden bench, a Black-Capped Chickadee is mustachioed with cat hairs it's gathering for its nest.

Monday Movie Review: The Anderson Tapes

The Anderson Tapes (1971) 7/10
Duke Anderson (Sean Connery), released from prison after serving ten years for safecracking, plans the intricate heist of the entire luxury apartment building he lives in with his girlfriend, Ingrid (Dyan Cannon). Directed by Sidney Lumet.

Anderson is angry at the world, but he loves robbery. He describes it in sexual terms, admitting frankly he's aroused by it. Immediately upon being released from prison he is ready to put together the next job. On his crew are Haskins (Martin Balsam), a flamboyantly gay interior designer, "The Kid" (Christopher Walken, in an "and Introducing" role), who is an electronics expert, and Spencer (Dick Anthony Williams), the coolest driver in Harlem.

Anderson is also being taped. To be specific, everyone Anderson encounters is being taped; Ingrid's apartment is bugged by a private detective who is bribing the building doorman, Spencer is being watched because he lives above Black Panther headquarters, and the mobster (Alan King) to whom Anderson goes for financing is being investigated by multiple sources.

There's a lot going on here. The paranoia about a society that watches and tapes everyone and everything, all of us filming and spying on each other, was very new and fresh in 1971, and it's filmed with that sense of newness. Anderson has been in jail for ten years, so it's all an unknown to him; it didn't exist in 1961. Quincy Jones's score highlights moments of surveillance with electronic sound effects that are like warnings and alarms. As dated as it is, it still succeeds in conveying a sense of overwhelm at the amount of electronic data being gathered.

At the same time, there's an amusing and quirky cast who behave in a naturalistic way. There's a late scene where someone has to use a rope to scale a ledge; it's done awkwardly and without heroic grace. There's a guttural quality to the sexuality, and a pleasant sloppiness in the way people talk and move.

Let's pause for politics: We fail the Bechdel test badly in terms of major characters: Only one woman, and she's a whore. We pass on a technicality; two elderly women live together in the building (this was Margaret Hamilton's last film appearance). The attitude towards women is pretty negative. There's also the gay thing. There are two gay designers in this movie, both constantly and casually referred to as "fag" by several characters (but not by their friends). And these men are both insanely stereotyped in their queeny clothes and gestures and, well, everything. I know people can easily say this is homophobic. But there's something delightful to me about it; so few movies of that era showed gays at all, or identified them directly as gay, or liked them as characters (and we definitely like Balsam). It strikes me as real; that yes, there are gay people, and yes, they will be called fags, and yes, they might be campy. It's also homophobic in that, of course, they are only campy and only stereotypes, but for 1971 I'm giving it a hurrah. (It's pretty much consistent Dog Day Afternoon (1975), a brilliant movie with a frank but problematic portrayal of gay characters).

On the whole, the heist and small character stuff works better than the efforts at meaning and deeper stuff, but the movie is richly entertaining and wonderfully gritty. I love New York City locations in the 1970s, I love heists, and Chris Walken, by the way, at the age of 28, looked like a god.

(Covertly cross-posted from an undisclosed location.)

QOTD: Black Power Edition

Fresh off last week’s column in which he wished Social Security and Medicare would immediately blow up because then, by golly, we’d be forced to immediately deal with the possible threat of them possibly blowing up possibly many decades from now, Robert Samuelson turns his delicate attention to American race relations:

[T]hey don't want to see the first African American president fail.
"They" being "the media." If that notion reminds you of another bigot, that's because it is nearly identical to what GOP leader Rush Limbaugh had to say back in 2003 about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb:
I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.
They get all the freakin' breaks, those people. Take this Maria Sotomayor...