There is clearly a conspiracy among Thailand's animal population to kill me before I get back. First, I see this muzzled dog. I think, he's kind of cute. I walk past about 15 steps and have totally forgotten it. I then feel this flying dog try to bite my ass. The fucking thing both stalked and attacked me. I really don't like dogs. They are high-maintenance, jump all over you, and lots of them are foul-tempered. A good dog is a good thing. But a bad dog is way worse than a bad cat. And that's even if they don't try to bite you in the ass.
Then the yesterday morning I am outside of this temple where all these macaques are hanging out. The alpha male, who I have an excellent picture of having sex with another monkey, is playing with a marble in a plastic bag. I try to walk past him to get to the temple and he bares his teeth and hisses at me. Given that I was about 6 inches away from him, this was slightly alarming. I swear those teeth were like 3 inches long. Huge! And scary. I was pretty happy to let him assert his alpha maleness. Last thing I need is to be killed by a fucking monkey.
Then, last night I go to the bathroom and the largest spider I've ever seen starts running around. I'm not exaggerating either--this was like the kinds you see in the zoo. Absolutely fucking huge. Luckily, it was as scared as I was, and I was pretty scared. Last night was the first time I slept with the light on in many years. Not good.
So if I don't come back to the US, you can just assume that I was eaten by a giant squid, crushed by a water buffalo, or was bit in my carotid artery by a cobra.
Friday, June 30, 2006
There is clearly a conspiracy among Thailand's animal population to kill me before I get back. First, I see this muzzled dog. I think, he's kind of cute. I walk past about 15 steps and have totally forgotten it. I then feel this flying dog try to bite my ass. The fucking thing both stalked and attacked me. I really don't like dogs. They are high-maintenance, jump all over you, and lots of them are foul-tempered. A good dog is a good thing. But a bad dog is way worse than a bad cat. And that's even if they don't try to bite you in the ass.
One of the least appealing parts of Seattle is the ongoing commercialization of the place. Of course this is happening everywhere. And I am hardly calling for the razing of downtown Seattle so no one can make money. But I am disturbed over recent news concerning the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Seattle used to be a working town. Even when I was growing up in the 1980s, Seattle had a reputation as a gray, drab, dull, and even dirty logging and port town. From the beginning of its history in the 1850s until the late 1980s or early 1990s, Seattle had no national cache, and certainly nothing comparable to what San Francisco has had since 1848. Because it was a working city, during the early 1950s, Seattle built the Alaskan Way Viaduct as a way to speed traffic and commerce through the city. The Viaduct is basically a big noisy road going along the waterfront. For the past 53 years, it has moved traffic around the clogged downtown streets of the city. To be fair, it was built at a time that American cities were beginning their great decline and the original building of the Viaduct showed no great love for the city. Rather, it was a functional structure meant to allow people to avoid downtown Seattle. But that does not mean it lacks historical value.
However, recent proposals to eliminate the Viaduct are gaining momentum. The Washington State Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the feds and the city, wants to tear it down and replace it with an underground tunnel. They claim that this is coming out of the earthquake risk that Seattle faces and the prohibitive cost of shoring up this elevated highway. These are serious concerns. We should not underestimate the danger that Northwestern cities face from earthquakes. But there is another reason to tear down the Viaduct. It gets in the way of making money off the Seattle waterfront. Since it is both elevated and along the water, the Viaduct is the best place in the city for views of the Olympic Mountains. It is also free. The Viaduct gets in the way of the views from downtown office buildings and apartment towers, thus restricting the amount of money that can be charged for them. For a developer, nothing is worse than the idea that a view could be free. A line of sight is a commodity, to be hoarded and sold for dear prices. For years, the promoters of Seattle's downtown have hated this road. Now they are using the very real danger of a natural disaster to see their vision come true. The view from the road would be replaced by a blank wall. "Views would be gone for cars," said Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis. "People counting on views would be out of luck."
There are a few defenders of the old road. Some have looked to turn to the National Historic Preservation Act, hoping to get the road named to the National Register of Historic Places (which it certainly qualifies for) and thus very difficult to tear down. I can say from experience however that declaration of a structure to the Register far from guarantees its preservation. The People's Waterfront Coalition seems to be hopeful for revitalizing the area and claim to have a democratic vision for the waterfront, but they don't have any love for the Viaduct. Even if the waterfront is accessible to everyone, it still allows for developers to continue their stranglehold on Seattle's growth.
One great thing about the Viaduct is that it is a reminder of Seattle's industrial past. We need to remember that cities used to be places of work. Seattle played a vital role in building America. Literally, as it was a lumber town. The industrial past is increasingly hard to find in modern Seattle. The old Rainer brewery that was originially taken over by Tully's Coffee has now been sold to a developer to create live/work spaces for artists. Little if any lumber is milled in Seattle today. The warehouse district in south Seattle is seen as a blight, despite its absolutely necessary function in creating and moving products around the nation. Today, the best reminder of this past in Seattle might be wood carvings of salmon in upscale shopping malls. The Alaskan Way Viaduct is both a democratic structure (all you need is a car to get those views) and a reminder of Seattle's past. For me, the fate of the Viaduct comes down to this question--does egalitarianism and unsanitized history have a role to play in 21st century urban America?
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
With melodrama from Tennessee Williams, performance styles from the Actors Studio, and his own awareness of the socio-political issues of his day, Lindsay Anderson put together one of the most influential British films of the time in This Sporting Life. Richard Harris stars as a miner turned rugby player who can’t cope with his change from blue-collar Yorkshire life to professional athlete and celebrity status. A truly angry young man, he uses the same methods in his personal life as he does on the field and, while one gains him success, the other ultimately destroys him. He locks his emotions in until it’s far too late and until all that’s left for him is a waning football career.
There might be too much of Brando’s Stanley Kowalski in Harris’ performance, but his grasp on the character and his chemistry with Rachel Roberts overshadows most of that. Anderson’s juxtaposition of the upper and lower classes: Bentleys and fur coats on tenement streets, the circus attitude the aristocrats have toward their players, really add a lot of depth to a very narrow subject. Sometimes, the methodically told story, cynicism, and the emotional weight that’s carried in every action becomes hard to watch, but those are also the exact things that have so influenced later British directors. I’m mixed on it, but it is a good, if not always the most fun, film.
I also learned that I understand nothing about Rugby. It seems like the game we played as kids where we just violently attacked the kid with the ball, but there are referees and thousands of people cheering it on. I hear American football is rooted in it, but it doesn’t look like John Elway’s kind of game, so it’s clearly not football.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I don't know how many metal fans populate this blog (I don't know about Mr. Trend, but you aren't going to read much about it from Erik), but I've never been able to shake the bug. Last year some time, I was checking the website for Neurot Recordings, run by Neurosis, one of my all time favorite metal bands. The site is always very generous about giving downloadable, full-song, samples of their other artists and they'd just put up two songs from some band called Made Out Of Babies. How could I pass up the chance to hear a band with such a visceral name? I discovered one of my favorite new bands in some time; a Brooklyn-based punk outfit with a singer named Julie Christmas, who sings with an intensity I've rarely witnessed from anybody, the kind of voice that kicks you in the gut then kisses you on the cheek. She rants like David Yow (Jesus Lizard), but she can actually sing. I listened to Trophy, their first album, until my brains bled, and finally was able to hear some new material featuring Ms. Christmas' silky sounds. Two albums came my way recently, each of which gave me a little taste of extra MOOB, plus a new aspect of the group.
The first is a 3-Way split EP called Triad, featuring Made Out Of Babies, Red Sparowes, and a conglomeration of these two bands called Battle of Mice, who will be releasing a full-length in the Fall. Red Sparowes plays the sound that is prevalent on Neurot Recordings: atmospheric, complex, and slow metal. They serve very well as the bread of this paranoid and maniacal sandwich. Made Out Of Babies has clearly grown as a band and Julie's sublime growl has focused. Battle of Mice takes the best of both worlds; the complicated soundscapes combine with creepy and joyously violent vocals making something that is strangely both hard and soft at once.
The second is We Reach: The Music of the Melvins. Generally speaking, tribute albums make me want to vomit. The Melvins, however, are one of the most influential rock bands of the last 20 years and have released that same number of albums since 1986 that have laid the way for grunge, doom, and just about any experimental metal genre since. I was impressed with the lineup of bands on this compilation (Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Dillinger Escape Plan, Made Out Of Babies, etc.) so I picked it up, and its very mixed. When the bands don't neccessarily have the Melvins' sound, the songs are different and inventive versions of songs I like. When the bands do have that sound which is, unfortunately, most of the time, the covers come off like stupid versions of songs that I'd rather hear performed by The Melvins.
One excellent album, one not so great but, all in all, a very metal June.
Monday, June 26, 2006
James McMurtry played this past Saturday night at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton. He plays here every few months, always at Dan's, but this was the first time I'd seen him. I have Live in Aught-Three which I'd listened to a few times, and liked, but I'd never really sat down and paid attention. Seeing him live was a good way to take it in. He has a good stage presence, and comes off like a country Lou Reed telling his own kind of stories in a similar, deadpan, fashion. The Heartless Bastards are a great backup band and they put on a fine show.
Dan's is a fantastic place to see a show; the sound is always clear, the bartenders are very nice, and they serve a stiff double G&T for a reasonable price. If you're near Dallas, you might see Dale Watson, Allan Holdsworth, or Johnny Winter, also for a reasonable price. It's worth checking out. Hell, its a great place to go if there isn't a show. http://www.danssilverleaf.com/
Just a quick word since I am paying for the internet:
Thailand is a very tasty place. The flavors are just incredible. I know that Thai food can be good at restaurants at home but not only is it not the same, it's just a hint of what you get here.
The best are the streetstalls. Man! Just amazing.
Also, buddhist temples and ruins are super cool. And it is shockingly hot.
I was here 10 years ago and I loved it. But I forgot just how much.
You should all come here!
Saturday, June 24, 2006
While at a bookstore the other day, I noticed a title called "Lost Walks of Paris." It was in a travel section, and was a travel book of sorts, yet it was something more. It was a book that had many streets that you could walk today, and it compared how Hausmannization of Paris had changed the layout of the city. It was a fascinating work, for, to my knowledge, no re-creation of a city had or has ever been as complete and as expansive in such as short time as what Haussman did to Paris (Brasilia doesn't count, b/c there was no city there before its construction, and given the wise response of most cities to Le Corbusier's ideas for them....).
At any rate, I'm not one to often consider in depth the use of space (I find myself considering power and the nature/role of the state far more often), yet it was a fascinating look at the reconstruction of space. Yet it left me a little unsatisfied, for while the material, and particularly the photographs themselves, were intriguing, the author treated Haussmanization as a "loss" for Paris. Throughout, he laments the changes from the pre-1850s period, and in case you didn't get the point, he has an epilogue that is roundly negative towards the post-1850s shift.
Which left me wondering a few things...first, he certainly wasn't IN Paris in the 1850s, so (throwing aside questions of personal aesthetics, as well as any Shirley Maclaine tendencies he may have concerning reincarnation) was it really as beautiful as he claimed? Second, why is the re-imagining and recreation of space in a city automatically negative? Certainly, many such projects are detrimental to cities and to the space around them (see Erik's blog on the parking garage in Tacoma), yet some changes can be functional AND aesthetically pleasing. I visited Paris about 15 years ago (certainly post-Hausmann), and found it a beautiful city. Finally, while I certainly understand what Haussmanization did for the ability of the state and police to monitor society in Paris in the post-1848 era, it has also proven a hidden blessing, given the number of pedestrians and the crowding of Paris as urban migration grew throughout the 19th and 20th centuries...
It's simply a shame to see somebody completely throw out a project as big as what Hausmann did just because it led to "changes."
Unlike senor Loomis, I am in no way a connoseur of Westerns. Barring Blazing Saddles, I never saw a western until I was 22. So my knowledge of the subtlties and nuances of the western as a genre are at best limited.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed "The Proposition." First off, it's written by Nick Cave, so I was already leery - generally speaking the media-star-crossovers never work (see: Corey Hart's solo career). However, I thought Cave did a fine job with the dialogue itself, keeping it good enough to be interesting yet sparse enough for (again, from my limited experience) the western genre. Particularly fascinating was his use of the stereotypes of the time in accurate and amusing (to non-Irishpersons) way. If you're big on Ireland, and take it very seriously, John Hurt's character is NOT for you.
Unlike Erik, I thought there was a bit of the "West as hopeful" approach in the film. Certainly, you see it in virtually none of the characters, who, perhaps barring the Danny Huston character, are "muddy" characters. Yet there is that notion of the West as a place of "progress" that demonstrates "humanity's" (i.e. Anglo-descendants) ability to "civilize" this frontier, a mission that Ray Winstone repeats several times as his goal. Certainly, the town where the movie takes place showed little signs of any "civilizing" being effected, yet the ideal i felt was still there.
I found the use of race intriguing, too. Replace American indigenous peoples with Australian aborigines, and it doesn't seem that different. I suspect that the characters cast were aborigines (though one looked perhaps more like a South American indigenous man), yet they were still relegated to virtually silent roles, playing the parts of sidekickds either "selling out" to civilization or obstructing it. As is apparently to be expected, there was little chance to see things from the aboriginous point of view. This mono-dimensional portrayal is certainly nothing new to the film, though it left me wondering throughout if Cave was playing on that stereotype in his film, or if he subconsciously fell into such a routine himself. I'm willing to give him credit for the latter, but it still sat with me through the film.
That said, the story was enjoyable (albeit predictable, but that's part of the pleasure of Westerns). Sure there were no clearcut characters who were good OR evil, but for those interested in such films, might i direct you towards Star Wars...
I had the unfortunate experience of seeing the end of Rudy, again, this morning. Any kind of gain to my soul I may have made from Holy Mountain has been wrested from me. Director David Anspaugh and Writer Angelo Pizzo should be ashamed of themselves; don't they know saccharin causes cancer?
On a brighter note, I also want to send my condolences to the family of Aaron Spelling. I'm most concerned for Tori. I don't know if a simple nosejob or tummy tuck will be enough to cheer her up this time, the poor dear.
I saw the Nick Cave written Australian western, The Proposition, last night. Here's a few thoughts:
1. The first thing I wondered when I heard about this movie is how it fit into the western genre. It certainly makes sense to have westerns set in Australia. It has both the landscape and the disturbing history for many interesting stories. Perhaps there is a whole set of Australian westerns. I don't know. If anyone has seen any of them, let me know. At the very least, the movie certainly fits into type of subwestern genre: that of the violent, hellish western, originally pioneered by Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. In fact, I was reminded in several places of the B Spaghetti Westerns from directions like Sergio Corbucci. The acting was much better than those movies. It's not even close to fair to compare Guy Pearce with someone like Franco Nero. But they have the same template--the West as hell, home to human depravity, iniquity, subhuman behavior, selfishness, and death. This is OK, but the western has much more to it than that. For a real Australian western genre to exist, I think there also has to be the other kind of western--that where the West is a place of opportunity, individual courage and sacrifice, and redemption. Certainly the two can (and must) coexist. The John Ford style western has certainly fallen out of favor over the past 30 years, and perhaps for good reason. But without that vision for newer directors to play off of, The Proposition, like the non-Leone spaghetti westerns of the 1960s, lose something important. The become horror films set in a western landscape rather than anything different or interesting within the genre. For me, this is inherently uninteresting, though that is clearly an aesthetic choice on my part rather than any objective statement.
2. I found it quite interesting to read the comments for the movie on imdb.com. One problem with modern movie fans is the idea that no character can be entirely black or white. Several comments for this movie express glee over the fact that everyone comes off muddied. That can be OK, but I think this cynicism within movie fans gets old. Sometimes a really good guy can be a wonderful thing. A question to these fans--would there be room for Henry Fonda in your ideal picture? Or does every movie have to have Pulp Fiction-style characters. This reminds of a time I showed the John Sayles film Matewan to a group of people. They found it bad because the Pinkerton thugs were portrayed as so evil. I got quite irritated because, first, the Pinkertons were evil, intimidating bastards. Nice guys didn't become union busting thugs. Second, I found the inability to accept pure characters, whether good or evil, sad. How much storytelling power do we lose without these kind of characters. I'm hardly calling for the return of 1950s Hollywood filmmaking here, and most of the characters in The Proposition were both written and acted in a believable manner. But can't it be a good thing for a movie, and in particular for a western, to have cut and dried characters?
3. For the most part though, the movie was pretty strong. Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, Guy Pearce, John Hurt, all great. Where is John Hurt these days anyway? What a fine actor. He is actually in a lot of movies, but most of them are bad. The last film I saw him in before this was his superbly turned role in Love and Death on Long Island way back in 1997. Nick Cave wrote a credible script. The cinematography was quite nice and the direction pretty solid. It's far from a great movie, in part for the reasons I described above, but I would give it fairly unqualified approval. It's at least better than most anything else out right now.
I personally consider a victory that I am functional right now after the 10 hour flight to Tokyo. Of course I have a good layover and then another 6-7 hour flight to Bangkok. But it's OK.
I really wish I could spend time in Japan. So freaking expensive though.
This airport is very, um, sterile.
It's rather pointless to try watching the World Cup from the airport terminals since the announcers are speaking Japanese, the names of the teams on the TV are in Japanese, and I don't speak Japanese. Not that I really care though.
I keep thinking that Iron Chef Sakai is going to come around the corner. Or perhaps Hello Kitty.
It is hopeless requesting vegetarian meals on flights. They never seem to get it right.
I should have more to say but I am mourning over Aaron Spelling.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
As I was driving the other day, I was behind a car at a red light, and I happened to read its two bumper stickers...."Earth first...we'll mine the other planets later", and "Strip Mining prevents Forest Fires."
Now, I'm no environmental historian like Erik, and I rarely spend my time thinking about how people conceive "nature" or how they construct space, but upon seeing attitudes, I can't help but wonder, with attitudes like this, I sometimes wonder, what hope do we have in preventing massive human-caused environmental disaster?
All I know is, karma will be if that guy (it was a man) gets crushed by a tree he's cutting down.
Alejandro Jodorowski released Fando y Lis in 1967 and had to duck a stoning on his way from the premier. In 1971, however, with the release of the singular Eastern Western, El Topo, Jodorowski created for himself a cult fanbase of celebrities and aristocrats who had only recently discovered that people in the East had religions not based around a single power. One said celebrity was John Lennon, who introduced Jodorowski to his manager, Allen Klein. Jodorowski and Klein agreed on a production deal for his next movie "Holy Mountain" that, unfortunately, left Jodorowski without the rights to the film. After its initial release, Klein supressed "Holy Mountain," and copies of it made its way through the black market, but it has been, for over 30 years, essentially illegal to see (the dispute was technically settled in 2004, although no reputable publisher has agreed to distribute it). When I saw Santa Sangre and El Topo years ago, I wanted nothing more than to see all his films, but was stopped short with with the sheer inaccessablitly of Holy Mountan and Tusk.
That said, through a fortuitous connection, a copy of Holy Mountain was recently bestowed upon me. Despite being a dubbed version of an Asian bootleg copy of the Laserdisc, complete with fading of all the naughty bits, my VCR felt honored having the tape inside it, and I was not disappointed. An almost incomprehensible quantity of religious and political symbolism take the place of any kind of real narrative, and any real understanding of the depth of the imagery will force a second, third, fourth viewing. The plot, in short, involves The Theif (strangely resembling Jesus) who, along with The Alchemist (played by Jodorowski himself), wrangles together a group of seven other western sleazes to execute a plan where they will scale Mexico's holy mountain, kill the nine immortals at the top and take their places as the rulers of the world. In order to make the trip, however, they must cleanse their bodies of their Western sleazdom and reach enlightenment. This is their journey, but the question still remains of what this has to do with a 15 minute blood-drenched re-enactment of the Spanish conquest of Mexico using costumed frogs. Everything, but the story is used as a catalyst to allow for these abstract sequences and, what the viewer comes away with at the end is something like the remebrance of a dream in which everything was so meaningful, so impactful, but so hard to explain.
If and when Holy Mountain does come out legitimately, it will be a special day. Alejandro Jodorowski, through his vision if not his narrative structuring, belongs in the Pantheon of master filmmakers and too few people have been exposed to his film. There are images, choreography, and a dedication to his films that nobody else has attained. Jodorowski once claimed,"I am to film what LSD is to the mind." Having experienced (maybe too much of) both, I cannot argue. The shared trait is meaning without context and the subject's willingness to accept what is presented can allow a spiritual, whole experience instead of one that's just "trippy."
Here is a link to an interview with Jodorowski published in Mean Magazine in 1999: http://www.jaybabcock.com/jodomean.html. Forgive the interviewer, he doesn't appear very well prepared....
This is the last of my pre-Thailand posts. Check back for posts from Asia. I hope to write at least every other day. After all, I have to be near computers to keep up on my fantasy baseball teams. After all, we all have our priorities.
One of the best things about traveling, and this is not just in Asia, is real Coke. As soon as you leave the US, at least for areas south, Coca-Cola tastes completely different. I first noticed this in Asia in the 1990s and I have confirmed this in my Latin American travels since. It is like a whole different drink.
The difference is real sugar versus corn syrup. I was discussing this very issue with a friend recently. Coke in the US used to have real sugar in it. Was it during the whole new Coke, classic Coke battle that this changed? We weren't sure. But at some point, the US formula switched to corn syrup because it is so much cheaper. We have all gotten used to it but in doing so, we have forgotten how gross it is.
This is actually becoming something of an international issue as Coke is freaking out about Mexicans bringing real Coke up from Mexico to feed the appetites of immigrants. They aren't going to drink this corn syrup shit--they want the real deal and people are making money providing it for them. But Coke doesn't want this secret getting out to Americans because they fear losing their cheap corn syrup formula.
At the first lunch I have in Thailand, I am ordering a nice Coke, out of a bottle. And it is going to taste damn good. If you all can find the real thing, and little Mexican restaurants both run and frequented by immigrants is probably the best chance you have, buy it. If you don't travel much and don't remember what the real thing tastes like, prepare to have your mind blown.
I should have asked this question before the day before I go to Thailand since who knows if anyone will have any good answers in time. But does anyone have advice on the best way to deal with jet lag? It's been since 1997 since I've been outside of the Americas and I don't really remember doing anything smart then to mitigate it.
Any advice would be highly appreciated.
A goal of this Thailand trip is to visit one of Thailand's bordering nations. When I was there in the 90s, I visited Malaysia so I don't need to head that way. That leaves Laos, Cambodia, and Burma. I'll probably go to Cambodia because of time constraints. I hadn't even considered Burma until a good friend visited and came back raving about it. He made me think pretty seriously about this being more of a Burma trip than a Thailand one.
But of course there is the Burma question: should people visit.
Burma has been under military rule since 1962 and under the current oppressive dictatorship since 1988. Burma's most famous dissident, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has called for a tourism boycott of the nation until the military junta allows democracy to progress. This boycott has been embraced by many travellers and progressives across the world. They argue that going to Burma puts money in the government's pockets and thus supports the regime. They also put pretty serious peer-pressure on other travellers in southeast Asia who are considering visiting Burma.
But I really disagree with the tourism boycott. It is the liberal version of the Cuban embargo. What does it actually accomplish? Nothing. It makes people feel good about not supporting a dictatorship. But it does zilch to bring down the government. Like with Cuba, economic boycotts are not going to do anything to bring down a regime, especially when that regime has a big time superpower booster (China in the case of Burma). From everything I have read, the Burmese people are desperate for contact with the outside world. It is only from travellers that they receive news from the outside world, that they have any chance to get word of the condition of the Burmese people back to the world, and to learn about democracy in other nations. They love Aung San Suu Kyi, but many disagree with her boycott, thinking that it only hurts them. In addition, you can mostly avoid government-sponsored hotels, buses, etc., that would actually put money straight into the military's pocket.
If anything, tourism will help promote democracy as it will bring outside ideas into the nation. Keeping Burma isolated is the best way to ensure that the military junta remains in power.
So while I am not going to Burma on this trip, I would feel few qualms in doing so. Obviously, it is an individual choice whether to visit such a country. But as a sort of pan-progressive foreign policy, the tourism boycott is misguided, poorly thought out, and does more to harm the Burmese people than to help them.
Also, see this good synopsis of the debate from the BBC.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Texans are born and bred with football. No sport is more important to us here in The Republic but, moreover, Texans love Texas. I thought I would be in for a real "thrill of victory, agony of defeat" kind of moment, no matter the outcome of the NBA Championship Series. On Monday and Tuesday, you could hear nothing but talk of the Mavericks and their home advantage, that Stackhouse was back, that there was no way in hell the Heat could beat the Mavericks in Texas. The game, and the series, was fun to watch, and the Heat deserve every second of glory they earned. But they beat the Mavericks in Texas, and I guess I expected to experience, at least, the ire I experienced last Thanksgiving when Denver came into Texas Stadium and handed the ball to Thunder Ron Dayne, and promptly won the game. Instead, I heard plenty of statements like "the better team won" and "Dwayne Wade sure is good." These are not statements that come from Texans' mouths.
If the Dallas Cowboys lost a closely-fought Super Bowl because of a few questionable calls, I truly believe the collective anger would cause the entire state of Texas to spontaneously combust. In this case, you could barely light a match through the apathy. There are plenty of true Mavericks, Rangers, and Stars fans in this area, and they have all my respect. If I had to wade through endless coverage of Dallas Cowboy mini-camp to get to coverage of my 1st place Rangers, I'd shoot myself in the face.
The conclusion I've come to in seeing this pathetic display is that, in non-football related sports activities, a Texas team will have the support of Texans only so long as they win and, if they lose, they are barely acknowledged. Better despised than ignored, and I feel sorry for all the true baseball fans in Texas when the Rangers are still playing meaningful games in August and a near-loss to the Cardinals in the Cowboys' last preseason games takes precedent in the Morning News.
On Friday, I am leaving on a 3 week trip to Thailand. I have every intention of blogging from Thailand, and hopefully Mr. Trend and Lyrad Simool can pick up the slack when I can't. It's a rough life.
Anyway, in thinking about this trip I've been pondering different aspects of tourism. One of the leading tourist destinations in Thailand is the hill tribes of the north. When I was there in 1996-97, I took a 3 day trek to visit some of these hill tribes.
Looking back, I'm not particularly proud of it. I've thought a lot about this over the years. First, why is a trip to such a place so interesting? I guess it has something to do with seeing people who live so differently than you do. But even 10 years ago, those differences were being rapidly eradicated by the tourists who came there every day. Over the past decade, as tourism to Thailand has soared, the hill tribe trek industry has gotten completely out of control. What are you really seeing when you visit one of these villages today. People go in and out of these places day after day. They bring gifts which often change the societies of the tribes. More significantly, the constant influx of outsiders helps change the very strucutre of these places. When I was there in the 1990s, it was widely expected along these treks that smoking opium in the villages was part of the tour. Before the trekking business became big, smoking opium was seen as an old man's vice and something that was pretty uncool to do. But with the arrival of all these young, hip tourists having their one-time experience with this drug, it suddenly became all too appealing and addictive for young people, leading to significant problems within the tribes. Eventually the Thai government cracked down on opium growing up there, not so much out of concern for the tribes, but because of their obsession as not being seen as a place where drug use by tourists is OK. As for my own activities in this situation, no comment.
For me, visiting the hill tribes is an inherently imperialistic act. You are taking on the role of observer and the tribes are the subject. It's like anthropological research for really stupid people. At least these days, most anthropologists are aware of how they change the society and the actions of the people they observe. Tourists are like clumsy elephants who are clueless, often willfully, about the societies they are changing. They lumber through these villages, taking pictures, invading homes, giving candy to children, teaching that western culture is cooler than Karen, Lisu, or Hmong culture.
Of course any society has the right to adapt to change. Saying that peoples should remain static is also an oppressive act. However, the widespread invasion of the hill tribes by tourists, who often see more of each other than villagers because of the sheer amount of people engaging in this activity, who often present some of the worst of western culture, is hardly a good way for people to initate change.
This time, I will stay far away from the hill tribe trek.
I am a pretty big supporter of the redevelopment programs going on in downtown Albuquerque. I am also a critic of it as well. We have a great opportunity to learn from the mistakes of other cities and their redevelopment programs. Unfortunately, I'm not real sure that we are. One concern that I have is that Albuquerque and the Downtown Action Team looking to Denver as its model. A friend of mine from Denver says they took San Diego as their model. And who knows where San Diego got it. But in any case, that model revolves around bringing large corporations downtown, creating a mall-like atmosphere, and eliminating nuisances to the downtown consumer experience. There is even some talk about blocking a section of Central Ave. to traffic and create a foot mall, an idea that I think is bad in the extreme. Here they are clearing riffing on Denver 16th Street Mall, a place that has certainly brought money and people to downtown Denver, but is also an extremely sanitized experience that doesn't leave me at least with any real warm feelings toward the city.
One of the problems with downtown redevelopment is of course what to do with the homeless population. Denver's solution: set up a fake charity as an excuse to crack down on their presence downtown. Albuquerque definitely has its share of homeless folks. And sometimes they do agressively panhandle and I had someone threaten violence against me not long ago down there when I didn't give him money. I fear that Albuquerque, like many cities, will look at the homeless as enemies to the ability to consume and profit in downtown spaces rather than people with real problems that deserve real consideration. What "solutions" like Denver's do is to demonize the homeless rather than look at the facts surrounding that population, including that most of the homeless are women and children, that most homeless people are only homeless for a very short length of time, and it is only a very small percentage of the homeless population who cause major problems, who are on the streets for years, and who can get violent. This recidivism of a very few has proven both extraordinarily expensive for cities to handle and almost impossible to solve.
What we can hope for in the case of Albuquerque is for a more well-thought out response than we are seeing out of Denver, a response that both recognizes the fact that poor people do have a right to the public spaces of the downtown, that there is more to urban life than consumption and profit, and that we need to treat homelessness as part of a larger social fabric of city building rather than seeing them solely as a "problem" that needs a "solution." Alas, I am not confident that Albuquerque can or will show this kind of foresight.
Via YAL and Dexter's Lab
Monday, June 19, 2006
I haven't had many music posts in awhile. Thought I'd just mention a few things I'd been thinking lately about new releases.
Probably the best new release of 2006 so far is Alejandro Escovedo's The Boxing Mirror. Produced by John Cale, this is Escovedo's first new album in 5 years. Since then, he almost died of a combination of Hepatitis C, cirrhosis of the liver, and internal bleeding. Fun. I don't think it is quite as good as that 2001 album, A Man Under The Influence, but it is a worthy addition to anyone's collection nonetheless. The songs are solid. "Died A Little Today" is a particular early favorite after a few listens. He has such a great band. Brian Standefer's cello really brings that band together and Jon Dee Graham's guitar playing is great. Just a first rate production.
Also of note is the new 5 CD Richard Thompson box set. Comprised of a variety of live performances, covers, alternative versions of songs, novelty songs, and other rarieties, this collection is a great box set. RT is so great. An amazing writer, wonderful guitar player, and charismatic performer. I can't believe I haven't seem him play since 1996. I don't think he plays the red states much. The book that comes with the set is pretty lame but the music is first rate. One CD is all live performances, another is his "essential" songs, a third consists of songs that present RT's views of life, a fourth is covers, and the fifth is rareities. Just hearing live versions of "Walking on a Wire" or "Walking the Long Miles Home" makes me remember why I fell in love with his music so many years ago now. If you have the money, buy this. Buy it now.
Also worth owning is the Drive-By Truckers, A Blessing and A Curse. This is a very solid album. Songs like "Gravity's Gone," "A World of Hurt," and "Easy on Yourself" would be the best songs most bands ever wrote. Honestly though, it is a step down for the band. The last three albums, Southern Rock Opera, Decoration Day, and The Dirty South, are among the best albums put out in the last 10 years. And you can be damn sure that no other band has 3 albums worthy of this kind of consideration. The fact that this album is a step down is hardly an insult. But I doubt people will be listening to it for as long as they will the other three albums. I do understand that there is a serious backlog of songs from those albums that are unreleased, and perhaps unrecorded. I sure would like to hear those songs. Maybe they'll show up on solo albums or some future box set.
Two artists I find both interesting and frustrating have released new albums this year: Neko Case and Hank Williams III. Neko's new album, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood is a strong piece of work, more so than Hank's new album, Straight to Hell. She's just a more advanced and complete artist. But both suffer from the same problem in my view. They do the same thing over and over again. Hank has nothing to sing about except getting drunk, getting high, or hating Nashville. That's all fine and good but there is a lot more in the world than that. Neko's topics are more obscure than Hank and the songs are better. But ultimately, the albums all blend together. She has always had way too many mid-tempo songs on her albums. She started out in punk bands. Where did that go? She needs some damn screaming on an album. She has a great voice and can do different things with it. She is great doing "If I'm Gonna Sink, I Might As Well Go To The Bottom" on the Johnny Paycheck tribute album and also in her performances on the New Pornographers albums. Why can't she combine some of this in her own work?
Tom Russell's Love and Fear is also a solid album. Somehow though I thought this album would be better. I saw him live last year and he played 5 songs off the album. Some of them are really great--"The Pugilist at 59," "Stealing Electricity," "Ash Wednesday." But somehow, the sum doesn't quite equal to the parts. It is a good album, his best in a few years. It's just not the masterpiece I thought it would be. And "Ash Wednesday" really is one of his best songs ever I think.
I've been a little slower on new jazz releases this year for some reason but I do have a couple of recommendations. Matthew Shipp's One is a fine solo piano record. Usually I'm not a huge fan of solo piano. And I prefer Shipp with a larger group. But this is an album worth owning. He is so inventive on the piano that hearing him alone is worthwhile. I saw him play a show in Albuquerque last month. I think that piano had things done to it last night that it hadn't ever experienced before. If it's Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown piano music you're looking for, don't listen to this. But if you like sonic experimentation, this is the piano album for you.
Also of interest is William Parker's new album, Long Hidden: The Olmec Series. This is a quite varied album, featuring solo bass peformances, along with pieces by The Olmec Group, younger musicians working in the merengue tradition. I'm not at all biased toward this album because my good friend Todd Nicholson plays bass on some of the songs where Parker is on the doson'ngoni. It's just a very solid piece of work and highly recommended.
I have been a little remiss on not acquiring a lot of new albums this year--I buy a lot but I also look to the past for a lot of my music so I don't buy all the new albums that I want. Still on tap to buy (that I know of) are the new Built to Spill, Dave Alvin, Flaming Lips, Kris Kristofferson, and Guy Clark. So many albums, so little money.
I'll try to review albums as they come out in the near future so that I don't get so far behind and have to write such a long post.
A friend of mine was just talking to me about this conversation she was having where some guy claimed that he wasn't Christian, he was Episcopalian.
I have had this conversation before at least twice with Catholics. I can't even tell you how much contempt I had for these people I was arguing with.
I think there's a pretty simple equation here. If you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and is the Savior (or some such thing)= You are a Christian.
Now I'm sure there are some anti-Catholic elements out there who would love to say that Catholics aren't Christians.
Seriously, it was a long time ago when I realized that well over half of Christians weren't very smart, but this is ridiculous.
If you are going to believe in crazy things like some dude walking on water and resurrections, shouldn't you at least have to take some courses so that you know a little bit about what you actually believe?
After another weekend of the World Cup, more thoughts....
-Never has hope risen so much for any team on less production than it did this weekend. With the tie with Italy this weekend (which was still truly stunning), the US still hasn't scored a goal this world cup (3-0 Czechs over US, and 1-1 Italy-US, with the US goal being an own-goal). Despite the poor performance thus far, the US can advance with a win over Ghana and an Italian victory over the Czechs. Theoretically, the US could advance to the second round having been out-scored 4-2, with only one goal scored. THIS is why the World Cup is an adventure...
-Speaking of the US-Italy game, here's hoping the Italians treat players who score own-goals better than Colombia did in 1994. It's still a shame that some fans are so insane that they will kill players for costing their teams a game. Yes, the world cup is fascinating, absorbing, and wonderful, and yes, things can get intense, but at the end of the day, it's still a game.
-Nothing like watching an African team pick apart a European team. In this case, Ghana over the Czechs. Coming into the cup, the Czechs were number two in the world rankings (for whatever those are worth), while Ghana was 48. It was a joy seeing the Czechs get picked apart, and seeing a team in Ghana whose fans rooted for their team with exemplary class and joy. Here's hoping for many more African victories in the World Cup, both this year and in world cups to come.
-While I write this, the Ukraine-Saudi Arabia game is on, and while many non-Ukranian European fans and most American fans would poo-poo the game, it's been a wonderful game to watch through the first half. One of the great things about the world cup is, anybody can make it in. Sure, Brazil's been in every world cup, and England, France, Germany, Italy, and others are regulars, but the divisions of the world by region is brilliant, and gives so many teams opportunities. Indeed, of the four African nations in the world cup this year, three have never even been, and Ecuador, in its second World Cup ever, is going on to the second round already after 2 games. ONe more reason this is a captivating event.
-Finally, suffice to say, Brazilian fans have been less than impressed with their team's performance, and the blame is falling squarely on Ronaldo and on the coach that refuses to bench him. Sure, Ronaldo scored 8 goals in 7 games in 2002, but this is 2006, and it's clear that Ronaldo has begun his "Maradona: the Fat Years" phase before even retiring. Here's hoping the coach either realizes how great the 21-year-old phenom Robinho is, or that Ronaldo gets his act together in a hurry.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
I woke in a panic after the most disturbing dream: Li'l and Big Edie Beale (from "Grey Gardens" fame) had kidnapped a man and were torturing him, only breaking the tempo of punishment to make love. I turned over to quietly contemplate my obvious insanity, when I noticed the case for "Singapore Sling" sitting by my bedside...I wasn't dreaming.
I picked this film with the thought that I'd be viewing my first Greek horror film. My assumption was partly right: it is Greek. Nothing could have prepared me for what writer/director Nikos Nikolaidis delivers, for better and for worse. This is not horror, no matter the section of the video store it resides. Instead, aspects from many genres are mashed together to make the bizarre tale of a family who's outrageous wealth affords them the time to kidnap, torture, murder and, finally, bury their victims in their garden to help them grow the most beautiful flowers. "Daddy says people make the best fertilizer," the daughter says with glee. With only the mother and daughter left alive, a detective searching for one of their victims comes upon the estate and is captured. Now, the real fun begins.
The madness that ensues owes as much to Pasolini and Buñuel as anything in the realm of horror. The dark, very dark, satire on the excesses of the ultra-rich is demonstrated much more sharply from his predecessors, but Nikolaidis carves a niche by dwelling on the sexual transgressions and evoking his own native tragedy as the mother and daughter, playing strophe and antistrophe, address the audience directly with commentary on the action. Using black and white photography with high contrast expressionistic lighting, he creates an instantly intriguing silent movie atmosphere full of anachronism that readily allows for the heaps of absurdity piled into it.
"Singapore Sling" is the kind of pleasant surprise that helps to justify the time and money I've invested on some of the most awful genre movies imaginable (see "Salon Kitty"...actually, please don't). It's generally a losing proposition but, when you'll watch just about anything, you will hit the jackpot sometimes. The film is often quite derivative, and isn't quite the jackpot, but it is often beautiful and always insane. Make no mistake, the content truly is explicit, so buyer beware, but I guarantee there isn't much else like it.
Alas, I have yet to see a Greek horror film...the hunt continues....
After spending a week in Oregon, I went up to the greater Seattle area for my second week in the Northwest.
Seattle just makes me happy. It's funny--I have never lived in Seattle. But I feel more at home there than any place I've been since I left home. It's just a great city. Seattle certainly has its problems, one of which I am writing about for a near-future post. But I am just a happy person there.
Film festivals are crazy. The Seattle International Film Festival is going on right now. They are showing hundreds of movies over a period of around a month. Seriously--hundreds. What do you go see? How can you navigate this? I love movies. I thought I knew a lot about them. I guess maybe I do. But compared to some people, I am a complete imbecile.
I also went to the area of White Center for the first time. An unincorporated section of King County, just to the south of the city, White Center, despite the possible historical origins of its name, is quite diverse. I was taken there to eat Pho, the Vietnamese soup. The place we went--well, wow. That was some amazing Pho. Just wonderful flavors. There were tons of Vietnamese places around in what passes for downtown in the neighborhood. Also, it is evidentally significantly cheaper to live there than nearer downtown Seattle. Naturally, however, I burned my tongue on the soup, something I have a consistent problem with. I rarely drink hot beverages for this reason. Just not worth scorching my tongue for.
I also spent meaningful time in Tacoma for the first time. I had been through Tacoma quickly several times but I never really spent quality time there before. But the Washington Historical Society is there and they have a lot of useful material for my dissertation. So I went over there on a few different days. One day, after the archives closed, a friend and myself met downtown to check Tacoma out.
I have long referred to Tacoma as the Albuquerque of the Northwest. Both towns have reputations as pretty rough places. Neither are generally seen as nearly as pleasant as nearby cities (Seattle, Santa Fe). Both have a real aspect to them that neither Seattle nor Santa Fe have. Tacoma and Albuquerque have people who work for a living. With all the warts that the working-class is associated with, there is something refreshing about being around people who actually function in the real world. But in reality, Tacoma is better off than Albuquerque. Maybe it's the weather. Maybe it's the environment. But I would far rather be in Tacoma than Albuquerque.
Like Albuquerque and lots of other places, Tacoma is in the middle of a downtown revitalization. What Tacoma has that Albuquerque doesn't is an already existing historical core. In Albuquerque everything looks the same, thanks to the Santa Fe-style architectural enforced conformity. But Tacoma still has lots of buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century that actually look like buildings from that era (in New Mexico many buildings from that era were later renovated to look like adobe) and that look different from modern buildings. The oldest building I saw dates from 1889 but there may be some older buildings as well. These wonderful old Victorian buildings provide downtown Tacoma with a great deal of character to build around. Most of the shops downtown are occupied, it has a little monorail system, and is a not unpleasant place to be. What's less good are the consequences of urban renewal. Tacoma was gutted during the 1960s and 1970s with stupid urban renewal projects. There is an area along the main drag downtown that is just worthless. It is occupied by a parking garage that goes on for like 3 blocks. It does have a few shops underneath but it is ugly and uninviting. It reminds of the kind of parking garage you saw in the movies and TV shows of the 1970s and 1980s where people got shot or raped. What do you do with this kind of space? No matter what Tacoma tries to do to spruce up their downtown, it still has this hulking monster in the middle. Perhaps they could tear it down and build something new there but where is the money for that? How would downtown merchants react to the loss of their garage. And I have nothing against parking garages. In fact, I am for them if they are done right. Something that sprawls for several blocks is not done right. Parking garages should facilitate multiple downtown functions, not get in the way of using the space in any way.
Tacoma, a long-time center of the lumber industry and shipping in the Northwest, has also started to clean up its environment. We walked along its restored waterfront. Across the bay was still industrial activity but on the south side, it was a nice walk. They had signs about the restoration, now presumably finished. More interesting perhaps were the recently completed lofts on the bay. Like most of these new urban lofts, they were quite expensive, running at over $200,000 for a 1 bedroom. But on the other hand, for me, living in tight urban quarters is a more meaningful environmentalism than restoring the bay and shoreline. The latter has value, no doubt, but the sheer amount of land saved by intensive urban living is stupendous. If you have 200 units, think of all the land not being built up in homes in Maple Valley or some other suburb. How many acres remain unbuilt upon? Not to mention the building of community by consistent interaction with your neighbors and the value these kind of residences give to keeping the city active and vital. I find it difficult to consider one an environmentally-conscious individual if you live far from work on a large tract of land away from your neighbors. The future of environmentalism is in urban living. Not to mention the saving on gas by living close to where you work.
Friday, June 16, 2006
General Motors, who has been a major funder of the Smithsonian for several years, is under attack for destroying the possibility for electric cars during the 1990s. A new documentary, Who Killed The Electric Car?, is coming out showing this. Honestly, such a documentary seems painfully boring. Is it really going to tell us something that we don't already know? Is this surprising in some way? I don't really think so. It seems all too typical of many recent documentaries that are far more position paper than interesting film.
However, can it be a coincidence that at the same time this movie is coming out, the Smithsonian has chosen to pull its electric car from its exhibit hall to make room for a high-tech SUV? Does seem awful suspicious doesn't it?
I have a simple question for the blogosphere:
What the fuck is deal with Fandango? How hard is it to go to the ticket counter and buy a ticket. Last night, I went to see Brick (which I highly recommend) and my wait at the ticket counter was all of 0 seconds. So I could pay extra money to buy my tickets at home, in addition to spending actual time doing this, or I could go to the ticket counter, wait my 0 seconds, and get a ticket.
If people want to throw away their money, that's fine. They're probably watching Da Vinci Code anyway so clearly they have no compunction about flushing their money down the toilet. But stupid Fandango routinely has to oppress me with their stupid ads before the movie starts. I enter every movie now with a feeling of irritation about having a product forced down my throat, not to mention a product that is completely without value.
Am I missing something here?
I enjoy soccer, and as much as I love baseball, there is nothing quite like the world cup. You find yourself rooting for or against any given country in a game for reasons ranging from the obscure (pulling for Trinidad & Tobago over England and Angola over Portugal for the anti-colonization "fuck you") to plain silly (rooting against Argentina for every person who insists Maradona is better than Pele - at best, Maradona's the third best player in history, enjoying counting how many last names end in "-son" on the Swedish team) to endearing (Ecuador going on to the second round in only their second World Cup - no continent is more difficult to qualify in than South America).
Anyhow, you can expect to see random World Cup notes at this blog over the next few weeks. Having just watched Argentina move on to the second round (unfortunately - my hatred for them runs deep), one can only be amazed by the sheer magnitude of mullets on that team. One stereotype of Latin America is the dominance of the mullet, but really, this is most applicable to Argentina. There are more mullets, from the short (down to bottom of neck) to lengthy (between the shoulderblades) on that team than there probably are in many cities in the US. Watching them play, I find myself in a coif-based "chicken or egg" question, pondering whether women in Argentina love these men b/c of their mullets, or if the men wear the mullets b/c women love them. A friend of mine in Brazil has informed me that, if you see somebody with a mullet in Brazil, they call it "the Argentine."
So, in one of the more absurd blogs here lately, if you would like to see some GREAT (and by great, i mean absurd and numerous) mullets, than catch an Argentina game in the World Cup (and root against them, unless they play England).
For those who don't know, Turner Classic Movies always shows old silent films on Sunday nights at midnight eastern time (which is a bit of a shame, as it means many people across all time zones have gone to bed or are getting ready to sleep by the time such movies come on). Last Sunday, they showed "Speedy", Harold Lloyd's last silent comedy. It's a delightful little film, and taking a lead from Mr. Loomis, here are 3 quick thoughts:
1) The opening panorama of the New York City is remarkable. Keep in mind that the Chrysler building had only begun construction in 1928, and the Empire State Building was still just an architect's idea. Many still feel it's odd seeing the Manhattan skyline without the World Trade Center towers. I recommend they get a load of the Manhattan skyline in 1928.
2) Babe Ruth. One of the subplots of the film is Speedy (Lloyd) loves the Yankees [a sad flaw in an otherwise fine film], and at one point, he drives Babe Ruth to the stadium. The best thing is, it's really Babe Ruth, and he's charming and endearing in his part. Plus, it's some of the clearest film footage of Ruth (far better than the footage of his games). Thus, this movie's good for both film historians and baseball fans alike.
3) I love silents in general. If you don't like a movie that has about 4 plots just to make it to 85 minutes, then this film is not for you (nor are most silents). However, I love being tugged along as far as they can take me, and Speedy definitely comes through in that regard.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
The single biggest thing I stress about each semester is my teaching evaluations. This might seem absurd. But still being a young teacher and knowing what they might mean on the market, particularly at community colleges or small, liberal-arts schools where I am more likely to get a job, the teaching evaluations are really important. Plus, to some extent, I take them as a sign of validation. If I've done a good job, I'll probably get good evaluations. If I have done a bad job, I won't.
The problem with taking these so personally is that the evaluation system is deeply flawed. If you are hard or assign a lot of work, you are far less likely to get good evaluations than if you are a push-over or if you don't want to deal with grading so you don't assign very much work. I can't do this. It really bothers me that so many faculty members see teaching as the last thing on their plate and so they don't put the energy into it that they should. So you get upper-division classes with very little reading assigned, pointless assignments that are both easy and uninspiring, and preferring to give high grades so you don't have to deal with student complaints. These are signs of serious problems within the academy. This has become worse with the rise of the student-as-consumer idea, which in short claims that students are shopping for the best deal, that faculty are commodities that are "purchased" by students, and that faculty should serve students. This puts a lot of pressure on faculty to mold their courses to serve student interests rather than to mold students' minds. All of this is made worse by websites such as ratemyprofessor.com, where students basically rank professors by how easy (or hot) they are and which encourages the publicizing of easy teachers.
I have really worked to reject the path of modern teaching during my first years as a college teacher. I do assign a lot of work. I expect a lot. I try to challenge my students. I'm not the best teacher. Not by a long shot. But I do try. I have become better over time. The first semester I taught my ratings were pretty low. There were good reasons for that. The class didn't really cover a strength of mine. I lectured too much. I included too much information. I didn't have enough class participation. But I learned and have fixed these problems (more or less) without making my classes easier. I still get comments saying that the class is too hard, that there is too much reading, etc. But to me, these comments are not really legitimate complaints. After all, isn't that what you're here for? However, each semester the evaluations have become stronger. And I was very happy this week to find out that my spring courses resulted in my highest evaluations yet, with my first upper-division course that I designed resulting in quite high marks.
And while I know I shouldn't take these evaluations as validation, I do anyway. So I am in a good mood this week.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
...or, should I say , "Howdy folks & gather round!" I'm unsure which feels better rolling off the tongue. Maybe the combination of the years in the great (by which I mean large) Republic of Texas, the quality Aryan blood pumping through my veins (indeed, by bringing me into the fold, another step complete in the completion of Erik's grand plans), and a binge too many has left me confused, but both statements seem fairly appropriate.
In spite of the voices that attempt to derail, Lyrad Simool refuses to veer from the path that Orson Welles forged and, therefore, will serve no wine before its time. Rest assured, however, that all the topics so tantilizingly proposed in the introduction below will find a home here; Paul, truly, is an asshole and the relevance of the world of professional wrestling deserves its voice. The one topic that was greivously omitted, though, and Erik should feel remiss, is the impending an future glory of the Denver Broncos, but all will be revealed in time.
For now, I would simply like to confirm the theory that the emotionless of Lutheranism plays a fantastic role in the art of deception and, thus, success at poker. When supression is trained from that early an age, even a straight flush will elicit little more than a confident blink and the day is yours. If parents would like their children to grow up as grifters, I'd suggest Lutheran instruction.
As I look toward the bottom of my third rum & ginger ale, though, and think about how great it tastes, I can't seem to decide on a proper garnish for the drink. A cherry is too sweet, a lime is too acidic, and an olive is out of the question. My current theory is a slice or two of ginger, but I sadly have not the resources to test this. Oh well, another night....
Allow me to introduce the second new member of Alterdestiny, Lyrad Simool.
Part of the goal of this blog is to have correspondents in other countries. Mr. Trend will be living in Brazil beginning this fall. Lyrad Simool will cover that most strange of foreign nations, Texas.
Expect Lyrad to expand Alterdestiny's coverage of the arts, particularly of the more avant-garde variety, as well as Texas life, philosophy, the beauty industry, our finer alcoholic beverages, and how the apostle Paul was an asshole. Also expect posts on the grand meanings of professional wrestling, something both Lyrad and Mr. Trend are interested. Finally, expect me to send out posts insulting them for talking about such a lame subject.
No, I'm not making those subjects up. You actually should expect to read about most of those things over the coming months.
On Monday, Gyorgi Ligeti died. Not many realize they know Ligeti, but his was the music that Kubrick used in much of "2001: A Space Odyssey" (allegedly, without informing Ligeti himself). However, Ligeti's importance to classical music and 20th century music goes far beyond a classic film. He, up with Steve Reich and Iannis Xenakis, was one of the most important avante-composers of the 20th century, using a micropolyphonal approach that was (to use one of those too-often-abused-but-in-this-case-true words) revolutionary. His choral works are remarkable (if not downright creepy), and his work as a whole is important. If you like music that stretches the boundaries of how we understand music, do yourself a favor and listen to some Ligeti.
There are a few truly great movies in the world that even big time film fanatics have rarely seen. István Szabó's Love Film is one of these. I was first exposed to Love Film about 3 years by chance--somehow my brother had found a copy. Ever since then I have been a prophet of this movie.
The story is fairly simple: Jansci and Kata are very close friends during World War II Budapest. Over time, perhaps because post-war Stalinist Hungary attacks them for putting themselves over the collective, they separate. They start seeing each other again in 1956, but the Soviets invade and Kata flees to France while Jansci stays in Hungary. They keep in touch over the years and around ten years later, Jansci comes to France at Kata's request. They instantly fall in love again but they can't stay together. Jansci's life is in Hungary, Kata's in France.
But like so many of the best love stories, the straightforward plot allows for intense emotions, great beauty, and an overwhelming experience of getting to know these people and feel what they are feeling. It is a slowpaced film, but that slow pacing allows for greater understanding of what makes up their love and their ultimately failed relationship.
Hungarian history plays a huge role in this film. It is WWII that brings them together in the same house. Stalinism plays a role in separating them. 1956 breaks them apart for good. Szabó does more than just bluntly throw the politics into his film. Rather, he uses Jansci's intense nostalgia for his childhood with Kata as a way to show how politics and history can ruin our lives. The scene in France where Jansci and Kata are having dinner with Hungarian expats includes one of the most intense scenes I've ever seen on film. The camera moves in for a closeup of a woman standing between Jansci and Kata as she tells of how she survived the Nazis. She was standing in front of a firing squad on the banks of the Danube. They start firing and as an instinct she falls into the water a split second before the bullets would have mowed her down. The day was foggy and she managed to swim to the center of the river without being seen. She survives this and walks to Yugoslavia, eventually making it to France. Her telling of this harrowing tale may only take 2-3 minutes but it seemed like 7 or 8. What is really great about this is the patient way Szabó uses his camera. In a modern American film, this scene probably would have used a voiceover and the action would have been filmed. But the power of watching this woman's face as she tells the story provides a much greater punch than actually watching the woman escape.
But ultimately, the movie is much more about love than politics, even if the two are inseparable. As Kata and Jansci are fretting over their lack of future, Kata says (and I wish I could find a quote on this) that love is only half of it--you have to have the same goals as well. True words there. Despite the politics and the history and the hell of war that get in Kata and Jansci's way, this statement rings true for pretty much all of us.
My love of this film is by no way lessened by Judit Halász, who plays Kata. I find Halász stunningly beautiful in this film with shockingly striking eyes. Both Halász and András Bálint, who played Jansci, are excellent in the film. But I could see why Jansci would travel halfway across Europe to meet Kata after actually seeing her. Plus this film is supposed to take place in 1966, which was a really strong time for women's fashion. That period just before the hippie thing took over is just perfect. The hair, the clothes, the increasingly open expression of sexuality through fashion just before going off the deep end--it's just perfect. And Kata represents that in all its glory.
Love Film is not particularly easy to find. It's distributed by Kino and is on Netflix but good luck in finding it at your local video store, even if it's a good one. If you can see it though, I would recommend few movies more highly.
As many of you know, I am a recovering Lutheran. I really hate that church for a lot of reasons. One of the most important is the constant training to repress all emotions, never put yourself out on a limb, or otherwise take any risks with life. This is something I am always fighting against.
However, I have discovered that this very thing can serve me quite well in one field: poker.
Although I don't really know the rules of poker, I have come in 1st or 2nd in 3 of the 6 games of Texas Hold'Em I've ever played. I have to think that my complete lack of expression, something that is totally unintentional while at the poker table, has a lot to do with that.
Thank you Lutheranism.
Now I have to go nail something on a door.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Well, this is my (Mr. Trend's) first post, just to clear things up right away. I thank erik in his ongoing quest as an "organic intellectual" to help sublaterns speak. As we all know, the white, Protestant, male voice is criminially silenced in the United States these days, and, by joining forces with Erik, we will amend this situation. I also hope to combat the west-coast bias that dominates the world while adding to the "liberal" bias of the media and the blogosphere (take that, Ann Coulter - run and attack more 9/11 widows in defense of yourself).
So if you look to this page in the future and see bizarre personalities taking over, it's simply me - Erik hasn't developed some form of multiple personality disorder (yet).
So as all of you readers know, blogging on this site has been, um, sporadic over the last several months. To remedy this, I am acting on a long-held desire to make Alterdestiny a group blog. The first new addition is Mistertrend, which is pretty funny if you know him.
I am looking forward to Mistertrend's posts on music, Brazil, Latin American politics, and baseball.
I am not so much looking forward to his posts on Ohio St. football.
Mistertrend adds a lot to the blog. Here's a few things.
1. People of German descent are far underrepresented on the blogosphere. Mistertrend helps fix this oppression. Heil!
2. The spirit of Protestantism is not nearly strong enough on this blog. Mistertrend definitely helps with that.
3. I need help making fun of Tim McCarver's desire to fellate Derek Jeter every October.
I'm sure there are other reasons too but I can't think of them right now.
The technological aspect of getting Mistertrend's profile up on the blog might take a few days. Did I ever mention how technologically adept I am?
So let's all welcome Mistertrend.
All of my bitching about the heat of New Mexico has reminded me of thoughts I've had several times recently while driving through the American West:
The West is a landscape of death.
People do not belong here, except in small numbers. Look at Native American populations. New Mexico has a large Native American population. But most of the pueblos are along the Rio Grande or other water sources. It is the same throughout the West. The groups that nomadically traversed the West on horses were once limited to water sources as well before they acquired horses from the Spanish. Only with horses did mobility come and even then, horses had to be watered too. It's no revelation that water is the most important element of the West. Control over water=power. Donald Worster, Marc Reisner, and many other historians have pointed this out.
But you can't control water forever. And what happens when that control fails? To me, living in the arid West is living with fear. If you've driven across Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico or several other western states, haven't you thought, "God, I hope the car doesn't break down out here." Because what happens if the car does break down? You might be 50 miles from the nearest town and even more from somewhere where you could actually get your car fixed. Now let's say that American society breaks down. Our ability to get water from the river to your home is ended. The West dries up. Oil supplies are insufficient to get gas into your vehicle. What do you do? How do you survive?
The answer is that you will die.
I don't feel this way west of the Cascades or in the East. I'm not living with a constant fear of death in wet regions. Because people are meant to live there. If my car breaks down in Oregon, Tennessee, or Vermont, I know that I can find someone relatively close by to help me. I know that if I was abandoned to the world in those places I might be able to survive by living off the land in a way that is virtually impossible in the West.
But isn't the landscape of death that is particually appealing to people. For this landscape brings with it much to offer if you don't have to worry about survival. Sunny skies. Warm temperatures. Wide views. Beautiful sunsets. The Big Sky Country. The Land of Enchantment. Even the historical tourism of these places revolves around death--Dodge City, Tombstone, Billy the Kid. This violence was part of larger issues of resource control in the West--resource control absolutely necessary to survive in this deadly land.
The separation of people from the realities of the land where they live is part of a much greater problem of willful ignorance of the environmental damage we do everyday in order to live our consumerist lives. Nowhere in the US is this disconnect stronger than in the arid West, where we fetishize the very things that are telling us not to live there. Someday that fetish will collapse and we will wonder why we didn't pay attention to those very clear warning signals.
Over the past 6 weeks or so I have had to use my air conditioner. You may have heard this from me before, but Albuquerque is hotter than hell this time of the year. But it rarely seemed to work right. Sometimes it would blow cold air and sometimes it would just be blowing the air from outside--OK at night, not so good during the day. So I called my landlord and asked to have someone come out and fix it.
The guy comes out and changes the water pump, which I guess was old. He also, and in a very subtle and pretty nice way, suggested that I actually turn on the water pump in order to get cold air to come in.
Now, you'd think I could have figured this out for myself. The pump button on the wall unit is faded and I thought it said medium. I thought it was odd that it didn't work, considering that high and low did work. I thought it more odd that "medium" was above both high and low but didn't think too much of it. Then I looked today and realized that it actually does say pump.
I love technology.
Monday, June 12, 2006
The family of Martin Luther King continues to disgust me. Now that Coretta has passed on, the kids have full reign to make as much bank as they can off their father's legacy. The latest plan: auction off all of his papers to the highest bidder.
This is revolting on two levels. First, the simple materialism involved in it. MLK's family long ago decide to cash in on his legacy. On one level, this is understandable given the financial straits they were in when he died. But they long ago reached a more than adequate comfort level.
But it is as a historian that this is truly outrageous. Martin Luther King is arguably the most important human being in the history of post-war America. And rather than donate his papers to an archive at a major university, they are going to sell them. For years, they have tried to sell them to archives, but what archive has this kind of cash? Maybe the Library of Congress steps in and buys them all up. Or maybe the state of Georgia. Possibly Stanford University, where some of his papers already are open to reserachers. That would be great. Then they could be processed, opened for researchers, and we could learn more about King. But what are the chances that some rich guy buys them and keeps them for his personal collection and doesn't let anyone see them? Or even worse, someone buys them and then resells them to a variety of buyers, then some of them eventually disappear, and our understanding of King will forever remain incomplete.
I'm really not one for moralizing. But the King family should be ashamed of themselves for their relentless money-grubbing and for placing profit over providing a service to the future of the nation.
Spent the week before last in Oregon. Couple of things.
Everyone complains about the weather there. That is because you all are crazy. Having suffered through the desert for the past six years, I have come to appreciate rain. Rain is good. Could we all say that one time: RAIN IS GOOD. Now doesn't that feel true to you? Even people in Oregon complain about the rain. Everyone wants to live here in the sunny Southwest. Well, guess what. Most of the Southwest is uninhabitable. The only way we can live here is through large scale social and environmental engineering that is turning the area into an environmental disaster. Seriously, when most plants can't live in a particular place, it's probably a good sign that people shouldn't either.
When did the sun aesthetic begin? In my research on the Northwest, few people seem to have complained much about the weather before World War II. It was not always fun to work in and a lot of loggers were cold and wet and they didn't like that too much, but that's pretty understandable. My assumption is that this is a post-war phenomenon, related to the rise of the Sunbelt and the desert aesthetic. Weather became a commodity and smart entrepreneurs came up with names like "Sun City" for their new developments. The Northwest is of course by no means strangers to turning their natural world into commodities (more on this in a later post) but they will always be at a disadvantage at making money off the weather.
I actually think this is important because the love of heat and sun among modern Americans tells me a lot about why most of us don't actually care about global warming--if all the nation were dry and hot, most Americans would like it. I remember that before 9/11, David Letterman was on a serious climate change kick. It was clear that he was quite disturbed by it and he explained why people didn't care by saying that they wanted to play golf in January. He hit the nail on the head.
In any case, Oregon weather rocks.
Oregon is a nice place. I'm biased because I'm from there, but still. One thing it has on most of the country--Portland's love of movie theaters where you can drink beer. Why hasn't this spread around the country? Why don't we have these in Albuquerque. And they show good movies too. I went to one theater where I bought a ticket to the classic Hitchock film, Strangers on a Train, a beer, and popcorn. The total price? $8. I couldn't even get in to see the Da Vinci Code in downtown Albuquerque for that. Great movies, good beer, low price. How can you possibly go wrong here?
One thing about Portlanders though. They always talk about how their city is so much better than Seattle. A quick message to you all: shut the fuck up. If your city was actually better than Seattle, you wouldn't talk about it so much. Do you think Seattleites talk about how much better they are than Portland? No. Why? Because they don't care about you. Plus, there is no way that Portland can make this kind of claim until they have major league baseball. Right now, they are a AAA city in many ways. So again--shut the fuck up Portlanders.
I needed to get that one off my chest a long time ago.
I also spent a little time in eastern Oregon. I took a long hike above Multnomah Falls. Got back about 3 and wanted to spend the rest of the daylight hours seeing some of my home state since I don't get the chance very often. Where did I go? East, along the Columbia River to Arlington and then took a circle through the rarely visited, except on the freeway, Gilliam and Morrow counties and then back. An interesting trip. Why Arlington? It's the home of Doc Severinsen, Johnny Carson's old band leader. I wanted to see a statue of Doc in bronze. How awesome would have that been? But they didn't have a damn thing about him. I mean, what the hell else does Arlington have going for it? It's status as a place to stop on the freeway? I suppose the river provides some kind of commerce. But come on--Doc Severinsen is your future Arlington! Embrace the 1940s arrangements! Emphasize the ridiculous clothing! Bring in Ed McMahon for talks! Tourist gold.