Friday, February 29, 2008

Historical Image of the Day


Bill Clinton in front of Ho Chi Minh statue, Hanoi, 2000

Mister Trend's Random 10

Ah, Lou...as much praise as he gets for his work with VU and for Transformer, I think Coney Island Baby is his best solo album. While I like a lot of his albums, I don't think there's a single one (including Berlin, which I think is the tightest concept album ever, as well as the most depressing album ever) that is as consistently great from start to finish, and shows a level of emotion that Reed albums hadn't really shown up to that point, and didn't always show beyond that point. It's really one of the more overlooked albums of the 1970s.

1. "Bad Moon Rising" - Creedence Clearwater Revival
2. "Rettic AC" - Autechre
3. "Louisiana Bound" - Ishmon Bracey & Charley Taylor
4. "Mushroom" - Can
5. "The First Time I Met the Blues" - Little Brother Montgomery
6. "Beatles a Granel" - Tom Zé
7. "She's My Best Friend" - Lou Reed
8. "(Honey) It's Tight Like That" - Tampa Red
9. "Folha Morta" - Maria Bethânia
10. "Lopsided" - At the Drive-In

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Leadville















I want to recommend Dan Frosch's article in the Times about mine water in Leadville, Colorado.

Leadville is one of the most disturbing places in America. It is an old mining town that still holds on to that identity today. In the late 19th century, as a silver boom sprung up in the town, Leadville was one of the largest cities in Colorado. Oscar Wilde performed there. It seemed like the town would rise to great heights. But then the boom ended and poverty set in.

But residents struggled with more than just poverty. They also dealt with massive environmental problems. Tailings piles dotted the city and were favorite places for kids to play on. Those tailings piles were covered in lead and other heavy metals and toxins.

Every now and again, out of the mines would belch tons of toxic water. Usually that water would would more or less stay in the mines but eventually it would get caught behind some old mine equipment, fallen timbers, or other obstacles, until the pressure grew to great and it would break the obstruction. Then, a flood of orange and red water would rush into the Arkansas River, causing fish kills for miles and poisoning the river as far away as Pueblo, about 100 miles away.

Eventually, the Environmental Protection Agency got involved, declaring the whole town a Superfund site in 1983. You would think that the local residents would appreciate someone coming in to clean up this poison. You would be quite wrong. Rather, the residents took EPA cleanup efforts as an attack on their mining heritage. The EPA brought some of this on themselves. Annoyed by a lack of cooperation from locals, they sent out a flyer to Leadville homeowners saying they were going to go in and replace their lawns, which of course really pissed off the locals. Then, at a public meeting, EPA scientists explained how children playing on tailings piles could cause slower mental growth. Rather than stopping their kids from playing on the piles, Leadville residents got angry because, after all, "We played on those piles! Are you calling us stupid?" The first picture above is of tailings piles from the Matchless Mine, just above Leadville.

Finally, after more than 15 years of lawsuits, meetings, and intense fights, the EPA managed to clean up Leadville to a reasonable extent. They moved most of the in-town tailing piles to a giant pile just outside of town. They tried to capture as much of the water as possible before it reached the Arkansas. Today, you can see some of this water. If you go above Leadville, you run into what they call "wedding cakes." These are rather poorly conceived capped tailing piles that are safe, but look really stupid. They were supposed to capture the look of the old historic tailings piles. They don't. Anyway, near them are little ponds. They are called "merlot ponds." Why? Because the water is the color of red wine. It's really scary. The picture at the top is of a merlot pond. Unfortunately, it comes from the Free Republic website, but it's all I could find.

It's impossible to capture all the water. There are so many old mine shafts underneath Leadville that are filled with chemicals and other mining-related nastiness. It is this water that's about to explode out of the mine shafts and flood the town before draining into the Arkansas.

Of course, most of the residents of Leadville don't want to talk about this. I can't emphasize enough what a strange town Leadville is. The only comparison I can make is Butte, Montana. Both of these places are mining towns through and through. The residents have never wanted to admit that mining is dead. They resist outsiders and any economic diversification. Finally, in recent years both Butte and Leadville have begun welcoming tourists. They are both potential markets for real estate booms because they are in beautiful mountainous locations, although they are both deeply scarred by mining and are basically environmental catastrophes. But this economic transformation hasn't happened yet. Now that they economy is tanking, it could be a long time.

However, I recommend having a couple of drinks at the Silver Dollar Saloon, mentioned in the article. Not only is it a funky old place, but drinks at nearly 11,000 feet have an extra effect.

Historical Image of the Day


Poster from "The Rise of the Goldbergs," 1931. This was a popular Jewish-themed radio and later television show from the early 1930s until 1956.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Deniers of Climate Change Using the "consensus" as a Crutch

I'm certainly not the one on this blog to ask about climate change, but Joseph Romm's article in Salon today does a good job describing the ways that the term "consensus" about global warming is being misconstrued by deniers as an excuse, since they can find particular scientists who claim to disagree, or just completely make the claims up. It's mostly a semantic argument about the term "consensus" but, more interesting is Romm's link to Skeptical Science, a site which dissects in detail the common arguments against man made global warming. By using primarily hard science and math and avoiding political posturing, site creator John Cook succeeds in lucidly debunking a lot of the ignorant and simplistic arguments that block our ability to actually help slow the process.

RIP?--William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, one of the founders of modern conservatism, died today at 82 years old. I haven't been this sad since Jerry Falwell finally left.

Barry Bonds vs. Roger Clemens in the Public Eye

In the case of Barry Bonds, many analysts have commented on the probability of racism being a major factor in how Bonds has been perceived in these last few years. While I generally agree with such arguments (and even if I don't, they are important for forcing the issue), I wasn't so sure about Bonds. To me, he has always come off as a jerk (or at least since the 1994 strike when he complained about how was he supposed to pay child support while on strike? - um, Barry, you were already a millionaire baseball player, not a coal miner). Sure, most of his teammates swore by him, and that's fine - they knew him far better than I, obviously. But Bonds never seemed to be a particularly sympathetic or gracious character in public, and so I figured that, more than racism, factored into popular opinion on him. (This all may not seem like a revelation, but bear with me here.)


However, given a recent poll on whether Clemens should go into the Hall of Fame, I guess I'm forced to reconsider my stance. Maybe I'm just out of touch with your "average-Joe" baseball fan (I've been outside of the U.S. for the last 17 months, for example), but I have long thought that Roger Clemens was the epitome of sports jerk - arrogant to a fault, loud and abrasive, confrontational, reactionary, and unable to accept that he wasn't perfect (Clemens' fastball, Mike Piazza's head; Mike Piazza's head, Clemens' fastball), and I imagined that his performance before Congress (throwing everybody under the bus to escape responsibility, for example) would probably negatively affect how people viewed those Hall of Fame Chances.

Yet, in that recent poll, despite the fact that 62 percent believe he was lying, 62 percent also think he still belongs in the Hall of Fame, while only 46 percent also believe Bonds belongs there. Again, maybe my perception is skewed, yet to me, we're dealing with two men who almost certainly committed perjury, used steroids to gain an advantage, and both still belong in the Hall of Fame (if anywhere near as many players used steroids in the 90s as is claimed by reasoned analysts and ex-players, I think it's safe to say lots of players were at an "elevated level", yet these two guys still dominated those already-roided players).

But a 16% difference in support between the white guy and the African-American? Over a majority supporting the white guy, and less than a majority support the African-American, when both have made it patently clear that, if nothing else, they are major assholes? How else can one explain this other than racism affecting Bonds? Sure, pitchers have always gotten a "oh, that's just pitchers being pitchers" attitude where hitters faced a "What? CHEATING? HOW COULD YOU, YOU BASTARD?" attitude (just see the loveability and nostalgia of the spitball vs. corked bats). But I don't think this enters into the equation here. I always thought analysts who said Bonds was held in low regard due to popular racist attitudes didn't really have a case, but now, it's a lot more difficult to see how racism isn't entering into opinions on Bonds vs. Clemens.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Notes on Western Politics--Including Montana Secessionists!!!!

There's a lot of interesting things happening in western politics right now.

Montana:

Led by Montana Congressmen Denny Rehberg (R), a group of right-wing Montana politicians are threatening to secede from the union (!!!!!) if the Supreme Court doesn't decide in favor of gun rights in the D.C. v. Heller case now pending. Read their resolution here. Secretary of State Brad Johnson has also hinted in a letter to the Washington Times (read down a bit) that the state should have seceded in 1939 when the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Miller that gun ownership was subject to a two-part test: the type of weapon and its connection to a legitimate militia function, to steal the words from the good blog Intelligent Discontent. As Jay Stevens writes, Rehberg and the Montana secessionists are cowards and they won't do a damn thing except blubber and bluster about gun rights and secession. I guess this is Treason in Defense of Killin' Shit or something. I firmly believe the Democrats should never touch the gun issue again, but this kind of extremism is disturbing. There is political room to separate the loonies from the people who just like their guns. If there's a way to take advantage of this, I'd like to see it.

I'm surprised this hasn't received more attention. As always, Left in the West has great coverage on anything going on in Montana.

God damn, Montana is crazy sometimes.

Nebraska:

Scott Kleeb is running for Senate! Kleeb, running for Congress in one of the most conservative districts in the nation in 2006, put fear into the hearts of Republicans. He didn't win, but he did force Republicans to spend time and money in western Nebraska. W even came out to give a speech. With Chuck Hagel's retirement, there is potential for a Democratic takeover. Right now, the favorite for the Democratic nomination is Tony Raimundo. Raimundo was a Republican until recently. His switch reeks of opportunism. He wasn't going to win the Republican nomination against Mike Johanns. So he switched parties. The Democratic establishment supports Raimundo, but he sucks. At best, he's Ben Nelson, arguably the worst Democrat in the Senate not named Lieberman. I'd take him over Johanns, but Kleeb could be really great.

Candidates like Scott Kleeb really test both Howard Dean's 50 state strategy and the Netroots' ability to affect elections. In 2006, the Democratic party apparatus supported conservative Democrats in both the Virginia and Montana primaries. The Netroots got behind Jim Webb and Jon Tester instead. Both came out of nowhere to win the nomination and then the general election. They proved that Democrats can win statewide election in red states if they run true to their beliefs. Kleeb's candidacy more closely mirrors Tester's--these are very conservative western states that will occasionally elect Democrats to statewide office. Kleeb deserves a huge amount of support from the grassroots now and from the party if he wins the primary. Very exciting news.

Arizona:

This news is a bit older, but worth mentioning. Last week was a reminder how screwed up Arizona is. The massively corrupt Rick Renzi, Republican congressman, was indicted on 35 felony charges, including fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, and extortion. As of now, he is refusing to resign, though he is not running for reelection. Classic Republican. Meanwhile, Republicans, desperate to not have to fill more vacancies, convinced retiring Republican John Shadegg to change his mind and run for reelection. Endorsed by the Hair Club for Growth, Shadegg is awful, voting against raising the minimum wage and lowering interest rates on student loans, while voting for building the border fence and lowering taxes while also funding the war. He won less than 60% of the vote in 2006, meaning that the Democrats should give him a run for this money this time around.

Finally, there is the death of former Governor Evan Mecham. Like Renzi, Shadegg, Goldwater, McCain, Kyl, etc., Mecham epitomized class. He won the governorship in 1986 on an extreme right-wing agenda and openly touted the endorsement he received from the John Birch Society. He immediately canceled the state's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Arizona was already one of the last two states to honor King. He blamed working women for the nation's high divorce rates and freely used the racist slur "pickaninny." When accused of being racist, Mechem said, "I've got black friends. I employ black people. I don't employ them because they are black; I employ them because they are the best people who applied for the cotton-picking job." He also said that a group of Japanese businessmen "got round eyes" when he told them how many golf courses Arizona had.

Of course, in less than a year, impeachment proceedings had begun against Mechem, not because of the horrid positions listed above; many Arizonans loved that. No, he was as corrupt as Renzi! He was impeached for misuse of government funds, perjury, fraud, not reporting campaign contributions, and obstruction of justice, but he was found not guilty by a sympathetic legislature.

Arizona embodies the worst of western politics--anti-government rhetoric coming out of their mouths during the rare periods when they are not sucking the government tit for every cent it can, corrupt as all get out, racist as the Deep South. The place was settled by right-wing retirees, military men, developers, and defense contractors after World War II and it has never looked back. Farmworkers, Latinos, and Native Americans are routinely treated like third-class citizens and have been basically forever. It's hardly surprising Barry Goldwater was from here--he embodied this ethic. Except that by Arizona standards, he was hardly crazy. It's also fitting that John McCain is from here. McCain fits the place perfectly. He holds retrograde positions on every issue, but he blinds the nation to his craziness by a facade of rugged masculinity. This is a tried and true strategy for Arizona politicians going back a long time. When the general public thinks of scary places in America, they come up with Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and West Virginia. But Arizona can give any of these states a run for its money.

South Dakota:

Finally, a quick note about South Dakota. The Republicans are desperate to pick up the SD Senate seat from incumbent Tim Johnson. But despite his recent health problems, Johnson is quite popular in the state. Nonetheless, the Republicans are recruiting wealthy businessman Steve Kirby to join the race. Where has Kirby made his money? He runs a company that harvests skin from dead people to sell to plastic surgeons. Not for burn victims but for cosmetic surgery like making your lips bigger or thickening your penis.

Well, that should make for some fun Democratic campaign ads at the very least.

Historical Image of the Day


U.S. soldier, South Korea, 1968

Personal Assistant Needed

I am completely overwhelmed with work this week, which explains the lack of posting. I need a personal assistant. I can't pay you anything, but you would get to hang out with me. I don't know if any amount of money could equal that experience. Also, you could do lots of fun things like file my dissertation materials, make copies of my dissertation, burn a bunch of CDs onto my computer, and edit a ton of stuff. If you really want, you can even grade papers.

Try to file in an orderly line so I can interview you. I want to avoid a mob situation.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Quick Oscar Notes

I have very little time to write today, but let me throw down a few quick notes on the awards last night.

1. Tilda Swinton is awesome. She is seriously weird. And that's a good thing coming from artists. Her fashion statement last night kind of summed that up--between the dress and the super intense hair. But she is great and I am glad she won.

2. I am fine with No Country winning but I am bit disappointed that it wasn't There Will Be Blood. I can't help but feeling Blood is just a better film. I was surprised to see Cormac McCarthy there. I guess if you are going to come out of your reclusive lifestyle, why not do it at the Oscars.

3. Cameron Diaz may be the stupidest person in Hollywood. And that is saying something.

4. Damn, I was hoping Norbit would win the Academy Award. That would have been awesome.

5. The Oscar people have to chill with cutting people off. They looked really bad when they cut Marketa Iglova off before she had the chance to say anything. That they gave her extra time was a really great thing. Don't know if Stewart was behind that or not. But after that, they stopped cutting people off. Flexibility people, flexibility.

6. I was sad as always when the academy members who died came up. Ingmar Bergman and Heath Ledger of course were major bummers. I had forgotten that Jean-Claude Brialy died. Brialy was the star of Eric Rohmer's Claire's Knee. A great film.

7. I can sit down and watch something like that exactly one time during the year. No more. Especially seeing the god-awful production numbers for best song. Ugh.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

2007 Top 10 Movies

Just in time for the Oscars, I have my 2007 Top 10 Movies list. I have never had a harder time putting together a top 10 list than this year. What a great year for films! As I look at my list for last year, what I see is some really good films at the top and some good but not great films toward the bottom. But this year, this list is dominated by really great films and toward the bottom you get to the really good ones. Only maybe the top 4 could have made the list this year. The actual best film of 2006 was The Lives of Others but I didn't get a chance to see it before the Oscars. Although I've seen other lists that put it in their top 10, it is so tied up with 2006, having won best foreign picture, that I have trouble justifying it. It would probably be #2 this year though, being a fantastic picture.

As for this year, I haven't seen 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. It's playing in Austin right now, but I don't think it is going to happen today. Maybe I will include it in next year's list.

Why was 2007 so great? First, it was a fantastic year for comedy. This is a real golden age for comedy in Hollywood. Second, a certain amount of luck I suppose. I don't think there is any reason to think we are generally in a fantastic era for film; looking at the recent past, it's hard to see this year as any kind of trend. Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers both released their best pictures in many years in 2007, helping push up the whole crop of films. Third, I paid more attention to foreign film, which really fills in the bottom of the list and the honorable mentions especially. So it could be my perceptions to some extent.

The one thing this year lacked was the era-defining movie. The really great film years that people cite have a picture you can point at. 1994 and Pulp Fiction. 1972 and The Godfather. 1967 and The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde. I'm not sure that Juno or There Will Be Blood or No Country quite reach those levels.

Anyway, here's the list, along with a lengthy honorable mention list.

1. Juno
This is just a fantastic film. People have talked it to death so I'll keep it short. Despite some somewhat less than convincing dialogue toward the beginning of the film, it is a winner all the way through. The cast is fantastic. I was sure that Vanessa would come across as a horrible shrew who was holding back Mark but it turns out she was the hero. Honest, funny, well-written, wonderfully acted.

2. The Savages
Hilarious. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are phenomenal in this film. Philip Bosco is great too as the aging father. The scene where Hoffman chooses the film for the nursing home movie night is just about the funniest thing I've seen in many years. I can't say enough about this picture. I hope Linney wins best supporting actress, but I'm sure she'll lose to Cate Blanchett's imitation of Dylan in Don't Look Back. Hoffman got robbed of a nomination for best actor.

3. Knocked Up
The backlash to this film has been the most annoying aspect of the movies this year. I have rarely read more boring, self-righteous, and humorless blog discussions as those about this film and abortion. Sure, the film is a little sexist. You know what else? It's fucking funny as hell. While analyzing the politics of film is fine, it becomes tiresome very quickly when no appreciation is paid to the film's art. Knocked Up is like a cross between Eric Rohmer, a slapstick film, and a bad stoner comedy. It's a great combination. Sweet, funny, and not nearly as unrealistic as its critics claim, in many years this would be my #1 film. It's a testimony to how absolutely fantastic both Juno and The Savages are that it comes in at #3.

4. There Will Be Blood
People sure love this film. It's BIG and SERIOUS and is SAYING SOMETHING IMPORTANT. Now don't get me wrong. It's a very good film. Daniel Day-Lewis is superb and Paul Dano holds his own. It is my #4 in a off the charts great year after all. I just think critics and smart movie goers attach themselves to this type of film almost reflexively. In any case, it is Paul Thomas Anderson's best work. It says a lot about American history and development. I do think that oil and religion do not have to be at odds here; its not like they haven't worked together since the late 19th century. But that is a minor complaint. Others have claimed not to like the last half-hour. I don't understand this. Plainview is clearly a man with no sympathy for humanity. That he could turn on his adopted son when he decides to become a competitor is hardly surprising.

5. Persepolis
God, this is a great little movie. The monochromatic animation and use of shadowing really brings the story home. This story of a girl living through the Iranian Revolution is one of the most powerful political films I have seen in a long time; this is at least in part because it doesn't beat you over the head with its message. I love films that deal smartly with immigration and globalization. The scenes after she leaves Iran are great, particularly as she is in the airport trying to decide whether to go home. Heartbreaking.

6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Julian Schnabel's best film. You wouldn't think a film shot from the perspective of the one working eye on a totally disabled man would be interesting. You would be wrong. The artistic aspect of this film is first rate. It also features two of my favorite actors: Mathieu Almaric as the disabled man and Swedish legend Max von Sydow as his father.

7. No Country for Old Men
This is a very good film based on Cormac McCarthy's worst book. Chigurh's overwhelming evil gets less in the way in the film than it did in the book. Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Kelly McDonald, Woody Harrelson--all are very good. I'm not sure that this is the greatest film in the universe as a lot of people say. Is it better than 3 or 4 other Coen Brothers films? I don't think so. It's first rate, even for them. But I don't think it's appreciably better than Miller's Crossing, Fargo, or The Big Lebowski. But again, it's BIG and IMPORTANT, and SAYING SOMETHING, even if most viewers aren't quite sure what. Anyway, it will make a better Best Picture choice than most of the films the Academy chooses.

8. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Sidney Lumet comes out of nowhere to direct a first-rate film again. In the 1970s he had a string of amazing work--Network, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, The Verdict, etc. As he as aged, his work has slipped. But this is a nice film. Well, not nice in any conventional way. The opening scene will shock you enough to prepare you for the rest of the film. I would have liked to see Marisa Tomei act more when she is not naked. She is great for sure, but the fact that she seems to exist in the film for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke to have sex with is emblematic of the inherent sexism that was so obvious in film this year. For all the great male roles in every movie, there were hardly any good roles for women. Anyway, great morality tale.

9. Climates
This quiet Turkish film really moved me. A film about the end of a relationship between a pretty immature university professor and his TV journalist girlfriend. Climates doesn't lay everything out for you. You have to think about the significance of the images to appreciate it fully I think. Like most relationships, the end of the film (and the relationship within the film) is not particularly clean, nor is it well-defined. While that lack of conclusion might bother some viewers, that's because they are too used to formulaic Hollywood films. Climates also has one of the most disturbing sex scenes I have seen in a long time. Just to warn you.

10. This is England
Hardly anyone has seen in this in America I think. I watched it on Netflix recently and was very impressed. This Shane Meadows film is about skinheads in 1983. The hero is a boy of about 11 whose father has been killed in the Falklands. He is an outcast and has a very quick temper. He makes friends with some older people, maybe late teens and early twenties, who are skinheads, but not necessarily racist skinheads. One in the gang is a Jamaican immigrant for instance. They invite him in and treat him like one of their own. But then the old leader of the gang gets out of prison where he has become a white supremacist. He comes back and all hell breaks loose. The gang breaks up, but the boy stays with the racists after the leader makes an impassioned speech about them standing up for the men who died in the Falklands. The last 20 minutes of this film are about as powerful as anything I've seen in a long time.

Honorable Mention

11. Control--excellent biopic of Ian Curtis. A useful counterexample to the usual dreck.
12. The Wind That Shakes the Barley--Ken Loach's best film in several years. About the internal dynamics of the Irish Revolution. That the English conservatives were really pissed off about should recommend it to you.
13. Sicko--Michael Moore's best film
14. Paris Je T'aime--Just a fun film. A set of 20 or so short films about love in Paris. Not all work, but the ones that don't are over in 5 minutes so who cares.
15. Superbad--Maybe not as great a film as Knocked Up or Juno, but it's also evidence for this great era of comedy.
16. Manufactured Landscapes--first-rate documentary about an artist who specializes in polluted landscapes. The artist and filmmaker have very different, but complimentary, aesthetics. It follows the photographer to China, which also makes this a great film about globalization.
17. 12:08 East of Bucharest--Nice little film on memory, communism, and the Romanian revolution.
18. Eastern Promises--We are at #18 here. Last year, this is a certain top 10 film. Again, 2007 was great. Viggo is great. Very solid film. Naomi Watts is an incredibly beautiful woman.
19. The Darjeeling Limited--Unjustly forgotten. Yes, all of Wes Anderson's films are the same. That's OK. This works very well I think. Even if Adrien Brody is clearly a much better actor than Owen Wilson or Jason Schwartzmann. Anderson has the most unique aesthetic of any working director today.
20. The Golden Door--A lovely little Italian film about Sicilian immigrants to the New World. Except you never see America outside of the interiors of Ellis Island. About hopes, dreams, and the bewildering confusion of leaving one culture for another.
21. Michael Clayton--good film with good acting. Not one for the ages but worth getting on Netflix if you haven't seen it.
22. Once--a charming little film. Nothing more, nothing less. I recommend it but its boosters turn the film into something far more than it actually is, much like Little Miss Sunshine last year.

Also worth a viewing
Regular Lovers, Syndromes and a Century, 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, Avenue Montaigne, I'm Not There, Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, Rescue Dawn

Overrated films, not recommended:
Into the Wild, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Historical Image of the Day


Currier & Ives lithograph romanticizing the lives of slaves, 1872

Suppression of Homosexuality in Jamaica

There is a lot of material in this report on the suppression of homesexuality in Jamaica that is extremely distressing, from the use of "homo" in the media to the blaming of homosexuals for shortages in women's underwear; from the blatant physical attacks and the need to be in hiding to the protests at funerals. There is clearly not much good in the way Jamaica treats homosexuality. I hope it isn't as bad as the article suggests, but if the attitudes truly are as pervasive as they seem to be (the closing paragraph is extremely damning, given not just the fact that homosexual men are seeking ministers to be "cured," but that ministers themselves have to stay in hiding because they even associate with homosexuals puts their life at risk), then I'm not sure exactly what can be done - more international pressure? Travel boycotts? Other options? No matter what, things are definitely far more dire in Jamaica than people realize, and this kind of report is really important in shattering (generally racist) notions of the "happy Caribbean".

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Historical Image of the Day


Wade Hampton III, South Carolina senator after Reconstruction. Hampton was known as "The Savior of South Carolina" for his opposition to Reconstruction, which should tell you all you need to know about this guy.

Hampton also provides a superb example of Gilded Age facial hair.

Friday, February 22, 2008

RIP - Teo Macero

Teo Macero, the legendary producer who worked with Miles Davis on much of his "fusion" material, has died at 82.

I'll be honest - I really don't pay attention to who produces jazz albums, because most of the time, I feel the jazz I really like (generally more avant-garde and free-improvisation) is far more a creation of the artist than the producer. But Teo Macero is the exception. I know his name because of his work with Miles Davis. While Macero had worked with Davis since the early 60s, the stuff I absolutely love is his work with Miles on In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson, Live-Evil, and On the Corner. Those albums are as much Macero's creations as they are Davis's, in the way Macero took extended sessions and edited them, molded them, and turned them into coherent albums that lost none of the energy or beauty of the extended sessions. Just one listen to any of the box sets of the complete sessions of Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson, or On the Corner reveals just how important Macero's work as a producer was with Davis.

Macero worked with other greats (Mingus, Monk, Brubeck, Ellington, and Fitzgerald), but to me, his work alone with Miles would have been enough to leave a lasting mark. His passing is an enormous loss to the music world, and I encourage anybody and everybody to listen to a little Miles tonight and reflect on the value, invention, and beauty of Teo Macero's production.

Historical Image of the Day


Still from The Exiles, Kent MacKenzie's 1961 film about Native Americans leaving their reservations and moving to Los Angeles. I haven't seen this, but I clearly need to.

Erik's Random 10

"New Sad" is off of Marc Ribot's fascinating Rootless Cosmopolitans album, released in 1990. An early Ribot classic, it combines his own compositions with interesting covers of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Mood Indigo," and "The Wind Cries Mary." "New Sad" is a trio piece that sort of splits the difference between the soulful playing of the Cuban albums and the experimental work that so often dominates his albums. With Don Byron on clarinet and Melvin Gibbs also on guitar, "New Sad" is one of the quieter and more interesting songs on this underappreciated gem of an album.

1. Marc Ribot, New Sad
2. Brownie Ford, Don't Let the Deal Go Down
3. Naked City, Obeah Man
4. Nail Kesova, Hor Bakma Sen Topraga
5. Duke Ellington, Toot Toot Tootie Toot
6. Frederick Soegaard, Track 4 from Multiverse
7. Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, Can't Let Go
8. Sly and the Family Stone, Africa Talks To You
9. Television, Mars
10. Frank Zappa, Sweet Leilani

Mister Trend's Random 10

I really know very little about American Folk music, and only got into John Jacob Niles because of Scorcese's documentary on Bob Dylan. In discussing the early influences on Dylan as he was moving to New York City, Niles comes up, and they show about 10 seconds of him singing "Go 'Way from My Window." With Niles' otherworldly falsetto, it is simply one of the more haunting things I'd heard, and that's how I got into more of his music. His songs range from playful to political to personal, and, in true folk fashion, often sang standards, but his voice always made the traditional songs completely new.

1. "Don't Go Back to Rockville" - R.E.M.
2. "The Letter" - P.J. Harvey
3. "It's Me" - Dinosaur Jr.
4. "Hunting for Witches" - Bloc Party
5. "Broken Train" - Beck
6. "Ghost Bitch" - Sonic Youth
7. "American Street, Field and Jail House Cries" - John Jacob Niles
8. "Untitled" - Akron/Family
9. "I Surrender, Dear" - Thelonious Monk
10. "Coisa No. 10" - Moacir Santos

Lula as a Broker between Cuba and the U.S.?

One of Brazil's better newspapers, Folha de São Paulo, has recently reported that, on his last trip to Cuba, Lula met with Raul Castro. Folha reported this past Wednesday that, during their meeting, among the other items Raul mentioned were the possibility of entering an agreement with Brazil that would send more sugar-based ethanol to Cuba, as well as the possibility of Lula brokering a dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba that could potentially open relations between the two and end the embargo.

I've commented before on how important I think Lula's international relations approach has been. Instead of trying to kowtow to Europe and the United States in order to improve Brazil's economic standing, he has not been afraid to enter into any trade agreement that might help Brazil down the road, be it in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, or North America. Cuba is no exception, and Lula has periodically visited there. Clearly, if this report is accurate, Cuba's efforts to switch to sugar-based fuel sources would be useful for Brazil from an economic standpoint, and would also help Cuba move away from oil dependency.

However, what really stands out to me here is Raul's suggestion that Lula broker an end to the embargo and an opening of relations between the United States and Cuba. This would be a great opportunity for Lula, and for Brazil, in several ways. Brazil, undeniably a growing power in the world, would be able to extend some of its influence into the Caribbean, providing a potential (but not antagonistic) second option to the U.S. for Caribbean countries. And lets play with what are simply hypotheticals, now. Let's say Obama should reach the White House next January, and he sticks to his promise to open relations with Cuba. Lula is called in to broker the talks, and after 48 years, the embargo falls, and the political landscape between the United States fundamentally changes (since anytime you start having diplomatic relations with a neighbor after shutting them off for 48 years constitutes quite a "change"). The entire world would probably be rather impressed by all members' participation in the talks, but Lula I think would particularly benefit, simply because it would give Brazil a political standing in the world it hasn't really achieved yet. Sure, it's greatly improving its economic participation and influence in the world, but Brazil hasn't really been considered a major diplomatic influence in the world. Brokering an agreement between the U.S. and Cuba would certainly help change that. And given his relations with Africa, China, the United States, and the European Union, Lula and, perhaps by extension, Brazil, would certainly have a strong claim on being a capable broker for international deals, economic and political.

Now of course, there is plenty of possibility that the above doesn't happen, or that it does, but Lula leaves office in 2010, and the new president doesn't continue Lula's efforts to increase Brazil's influence economically and diplomatically. I still think that the report (and again, this is if it's true) is still great news for Brazil - again, if nothing else holds, it's clear that Brazil is starting to have more influence in the Caribbean than it did. For all of the criticism Lula gets for being from the working class, for starting off as a metalworker, for being from the Northeast, etc. (none of which have any bearing on Lula's ability, but are totally revelatory of the classism and racism of parts of Brazil's middle class and the media here), no president in recent memory (including the presidents during the dictatorship) has done so much to increase Brazil's role in the international community as Lula has.

(via Boz).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

WTF????!!!!???!?!?!?!?!

Although they are on 2 different nights, I would pay $500 of my poor grad-student income just to see Charlie Daniels fans react to a Sonic Youth show.

As one funny guy said, ".38 Special and Sonic Youth, finally together and not just in my dreams!"

Now If the Indians Could Just Get a World Series....

Wally Szerbiak? Eh. (Though 13.1 is better than Larry Hughes - see below).

Ben Wallace, joining Zyndrunas Ilgauskas and Lebron James? Not Bad.

Extending Jamal Lewis' contract, giving the Browns a steady running back? Good.

Getting rid of Larry Hughes and one of the worst contracts in the NBA ($38.5 million for three years of 12.3 points per game)? WONDERFUL. This is hands down the best trade the Cavs have pulled since dumping Shawn Kemp on Portland (you're welcome, Erik).

I'm not making any unrealistic championship predictions, but given what the Cavs get by subtraction in this deal (no more Hughes, Newble's discontent, Drew Gooden's confounding lack of energy), where the Browns are, and where the Tribe is, it's not a bad time to be a Cleveland fan.

My New Favorite Humor Blog

When Joe Mathelete went on hiatus (he's recently returned), I had to find a new source of blog-comedy (blomedy?), and Stuff White People Like has come through in spectacular fashion.

Satricial? Yep. True? More often than not (I am a white person, and I do indeed like things like recycling, standing still at concerts, and Arrested Development, although nothing on the list is universal, nor does it claim to be - I don't care about Japan, I don't go to ethnic restaurants only if I'm the only white person there, and I don't like any of these songs, though I know plenty of people who do). Overstated? Occasionally. Offensive? Probably (at least to some).

But it's very funny and often rather biting on many social and cultural items (on the Toyota Prius: "The Toyota Prius gets 45 miles per gallon. That’s right, you can drive 45 miles and burn only one gallon of gasoline. So somehow, through marketing or perception, the Prius lets people think that driving their car is GOOD for the environment. It’s a pretty sweet deal for white people. You can buy a car, continue to drive to work and Barak Obama rallies and feel like you are helping the environment! Some white people decide to pull the ultimate move. Prius, Apple Sticker on the back, iPod rocking, and Democratic Candidate bumper sticker. Unstoppable!" Good times.

Historical Image of the Day


George Washington Murray, South Carolina congressman during the 1890s, author of Race Ideals: Effects, Cause, and Remedy for the Afro-American Race Troubles, 1914.

Adoption and Argentina's "Dirty War"

Argentina and Argentines have been confronting the military junta of 1976-1983 in the courts for awhile, going especially after former military men and the Catholic Church. However, there is a new and far more sensitive issue arriving to the courts: adoption. It is no secret that children in Argentina (and Chile, and probably other countries that saw repressive regimes) whose parents the state killed were then adopted into other families, and oftentimes these children didn't (and still do not) know that they are adopted, or what the true fate of their biological parents was.

For the first time ever, one of these children, 30-year-old Maria Eugenia Sampallo Barragan, is suing her adoptive parents for what amounts to kidnapping. The case itself charges her parents in falsifying documents that claimed she was their child, as well as charging captain Enrich Berthier for committing child theft in delivering Maria to her adoptive parents.I really have no idea where this may go. According to the article, Sampallo is on of 88 people who the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo helped in discovering their past. I don't know if there will be many more cases like this - I suspect not. Nor do I have any idea where this case may go - whether Berthier is punished (financially, professionally, or via imprisonment) or whether her adoptive parents may receive any type of punishment.

This case, to my knowledge, is totally without precedent, and I really don't know what to make of it. While in one way, at a more abstract level, I'm glad to see punishments sought against non-military individuals who may have taken part in any part of repression, at the more practical level I don't know where you stop, if ever. I have no idea what the intentions or emotions behind the adoption were on the part of Sampallo's parents, and without knowing more (did they just desparately want a kid and were unable to do so, and took what was the easiest path at the time, submitting to foolish mistake? Were they really sinister people who were glad the country was rid of two more "leftists"? Was it something else?) I guess in the case of Sampallo, I hope things work out in a way that she is most satisfied, and in terms of the officer, I have little trouble with him being punished, too, but I'm just not sure what to make of the case of the parents, and probably never will without knowing more.

UPDATE: The Latin Americanist has more. As they point out there, the fact that children of murdered parents were adopted by others clandestinely isn't exactly a news-shattering event in Argenitna. It has been suspected and acknowledged frequently enough to have apparently spawned novelas and films, so obviously the existence of these types of cases has been in the public sphere for awhile. Still, Sampallo's case is a whole new arena for the human-rights struggle as Argentina continues to reconcile the Dirty War.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New England Patriots "World Champion 2008" Shirts in Nicaragua - Photographic Proof!!




I wrote about the "New England Patriots World Champions" t-shirts going to Nicaragua 2 weeks ago, and now, here is photo evidence for those interested. I particularly like the "19-0" below the "Champions". Oops.

February 20

Roy Cohn (1927); French Stewart (1964 - born in Albuquerque, for what it's worth); and Brian Littrell (1975 - a Backstreet Boy) share birthdays today. Ugh.

Obama: The Darkey Commie Jew

Let's play a game. It's called "How Many Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories and Stereotypes Can You Use on a Democrat?"

And we have a winner! It's Lisa Schriffen at The Corner. Congratulations!!!!!

Her winning entry speculates on Obama's parents:


But maybe it's not so simple. Obama and I are roughly the same age. I grew up in liberal circles in New York City — a place to which people who wished to rebel against their upbringings had gravitated for generations. And yet, all of my mixed race, black/white classmates throughout my youth, some of whom I am still in contact with, were the product of very culturally specific unions. They were always the offspring of a white mother, (in my circles, she was usually Jewish, but elsewhere not necessarily) and usually a highly educated black father. And how had these two come together at a time when it was neither natural nor easy for such relationships to flourish? Always through politics. No, not the young Republicans. Usually the Communist Youth League. Or maybe a different arm of the CPUSA. But, for a white woman to marry a black man in 1958, or 60, there was almost inevitably a connection to explicit Communist politics. (During the Clinton Administration we were all introduced to then U. of Pennsylvania Professor Lani Guinier — also a half black/half Jewish, red diaper baby.)

Then later:

It was, of course, an explicit tactic of the Communist party to stir up discontent among American blacks, with an eye toward using them as the leading edge of the revolution. To be sure, there was much to be discontented about, for black Americans, prior to the civil-rights revolution. To their credit, of course, most black Americans didn't buy the commie line — and showed more faith in the possibilities of democratic change than in radical politics, and the results on display in Moscow.

Time for some investigative journalism about the Obama family's background, now that his chances of being president have increased so much.


I would tell you to read the whole thing. But don't. You've read too much already.

Do Republicans have no shame? Sorry, that's the easiest question you'll ever be asked.

Historical Image of the Day



A pioneering first! A movie as a historical image!!

This is Le Cochon Danseur, a 1907 film. Thanks to The Wonderful Pig of Knowledge for posting this.

I think you will find this 2 minutes worth your while.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

33 Regimes More Oppressive Than Castro's Cuba

The only thing in American society that can match the rhetoric over how the supposed awfulness of Fidel Castro is the pro-Derek Jeter crowd. Joe Garcia, who is running for Congress as a Democrat from Florida, says, "We are witnessing the beginning of the end of one of the most oppressive regimes in history."

Really? Um, no.

Again, I'm not really defending Castro. But this is ridiculous. Here's a list of 33 regimes more oppressive than Castro just since 1900. I'll even leave out colonial rule.

1. Fulgencio Batista, Cuba--let's just get this out of the way. Batista was a bigger bastard than Castro. But Batista was a bastard to the poor instead of the rich. So Castro must be much worse.
2. Trujillo, Dominican Republic
3. USSR
4. Nazi Germany
5. Saudi Arabia, now
6. Guatemala, under a variety of dictators, but especially Ríos Montt
7. El Salvador, again under a variety of military men
8. Brazilian dictatorship
9. Argentine dictatorship
10. Paraguay under Stroessner
11. Pinochet, Chile
12. Mussolini, Italy
13. Franco, Spain
14. Honecker, East Germany
15. Ceausescu, Romania
16. Saddam Hussein
17. Iran, 1979-present
18. Iran under the Shah
19. North Korea, 1945-present
20. Mobutu
21. South Africa during apartheid
22. Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) under Ian Smith
23. Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe
24. Maoist China
25. Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge
26. Burma, now
27. Sudan, now
28. Haiti under Duvalier
29. Colombia, under both the US backed regime and the FARC, depending on where you are.
30. Uganda under Idi Amin
31. Liberia under Charles Taylor
32. Afghanistan under the Taliban
33. Serbia under Milosevic

And that's just me sitting here thinking about this. There might be more. Is Castro really worse than the Greek dictatorship? Or Algeria in the past 20 years? Probably not, but I'd have to do research which I'm not going to do. One might quibble with a few of these, but is Castro worse than any one of at least 25 of these guys? No.

So we can please knock it off about how historically awful Fidel is supposed to be. There just isn't the historical evidence to call him one of the worst dictators ever. There's not even evidence to call him Cuba's worst dictator ever. In fact, there might be evidence to say that Fidel Castro is the best leader Cuba has ever had, which says a lot about Spanish and American control, as well as Batista.

Decent historical comparisons to Castro might be Mubarak or to some of the South Korean dictators before 1980. Maybe to Hungary or Czechoslovakia during the 1960s and 70s. Not good certainly. But not "one of the most repressive regimes in history."

Preemptive Defense of Juno as Best Picture

There is some talk that Juno could win best picture.

I will be publishing my best of 2007 movies on Saturday. Let me say that I am having a hell of a time figuring this out because there are so many great films this year.

But Juno will almost certainly be #1, unless 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, which comes out in Austin on Friday, beats it.

Juno may not be as SERIOUS or IMPORTANT as There Will Be Blood or No Country for Old Men. And those are very good movies, don't get me wrong. But Juno may be ever bit as good as those films. Just because a movie is a comedy does not mean that it is an illegitimate choice as best picture. Choosing Juno as best picture would not be even close to the same league of absurdity as Crash, Chicago, or any number of the bad pictures it has selected in the past.

Fidel

I'm sure Rob is right. If Fidel weren't near death, he would not have resigned.

In some ways, I'm kind of sad about this. It would have been nice for him to reach 50 years in power. I always feel the need to defend Fidel. He's not really that defensible I guess. His human rights record is far from good, his willingness to have his country be blown to smithereens in the Cuban Missile Crisis was crazy, his treatment of homosexuals was abysmal, and his inflexibility never said much for building Cuba into a modern state.

However, the Gusanos celebration in the streets when they heard he died a few years ago infuriated me. Moreover, Bush talking about what a dictator Castro is and how free elections are needed is the rankest hypocrisy imaginable. This hypocrisy has continued for the past 50 years. Although free elections would be great in Cuba, the fact is that the U.S. never cared that he was a dictator. They cared that he was a dictator who had expropriated land from U.S. companies and thumbed his nose in the face of the United States.

Sorry that Castro couldn't be the kind of Latin American leader that really promotes democracy and freedom. Like José Efraín Ríos Montt for instance. Or Alfredo Stroessner. Or Augusto Pinochet. Or so many others. I'm even more sorry that he goes against George W. Bush's high standards of democratic rule and human rights, unlike Pervez Musharraf or the Saudi royal family. Or himself for that matter.

It is very interesting to hear the muted reaction in Miami to Castro's demise. Perhaps those earlier celebrations provided the catharsis the Gusanos needed. I doubt it though. I think they've realized that they aren't going to be able to waltz back to Cuba, take back their property, and turn the clock to 1958. They may finally understand that the revolution was always more than Fidel and that enough people still support at least parts of the project to not rise up when Fidel dies. Cubans definitely wish for more economic freedoms, less corruption, and less government interference in their lives. They also like Cuba's great health care and education. Americans talk about the lack of human rights in Cuba, but this is overblown. Yes, you can go to prison for coming out as an enemy of the regime. This is a terrible thing. But it's not as if there are hundreds of thousands of political prisoners, gulags, etc. We're not talking about the Stalinist Soviet Union here, despite what Miami and Washington want you to believe.

I also want to defend Castro from the left. In particular the idealization of Che Guevara over Castro bugs the hell out of me. Che is on the posters because he was a sexy rebel. But Castro stayed and built a country while Che left to play revolutionary in Africa and Bolivia. He wasn't even a smart revolutionary--had he really wanted to make a difference he could have gone to Nicaragua where an actual revolutionary movement was already going on rather than to create one out of nothing in Bolivia. Instead, he had other revolutionaries carry his asthmatic ass up mountains in Bolivia while the local population was wondering what he was even doing there. He died for nothing. Had he gone to Nicaragua or another nation with an active leftist movement, he might have died too, but it would have been for something at least.

One might not agree with everything Castro did. Certainly I don't. But I still respect the man for bringing basic services to the Cuban people. Certainly Cuba is no worse off now that it would have been had the revolution failed. It still ranks as one of the highest Latin American nations on the UN Human Development Index. The hypocritical U.S. government needs to shut the hell up about Castro's decline, start actually supporting democracy and human rights around the world, and engage with Cuba rather than try and bring it down.

Historical Image of the Day


"Rice Cultivation on the Ogeechee River, near Savannah, Georgia" Harper's Weekly, January 5, 1867

My First Baseball Post of 2008

The only way my first baseball post of 2008 could be better would be if it were theorizing about the chances of a Cleveland Indians repeat. However, as they discovered a strange new hell for me and countless others to suffer through last year (3-1?? YOU COULDN'T WIN ONE MORE FUCKING GAME?????), I'll have to settle for posting about Mr. Clutchiosity himself. A new study that evaluates defensive studies based on statistics confirms what many baseball fans who actually use their heads to THINK have always known: Derek Jeter's defense sucks.

While it's always fun to add to the arsenal of arguments against frothing Jeter fans ("look at his clutchness! But he's a captain! World Series! Clutch hits. clutch Clutch CLUTCH!!!!!!ONE!!!!111!!!!), I generally stay out of the fray because trying to convince Yankee fans that Jeter is not, in fact, the second coming, is like trying to convince my mother-in-law that Lula is not the devil - it's just not going to happen.

However, I can't help but jump in this time. Winter often provides us with a respite from the Yankeedolatry, and the first violent Yankee freakout each spring is like the sun breaking through again. And the sun has broken out, thanks to the New York Post's absolute freakout over this statistical, reasoned study. Refusing to believe a bunch of "professors" at some good "university" like "Penn," New Yorkers (and the Post) fall back on a bunch of typically arrogant-yet-whiny "what are they smoking"/"look at his character!!!!"/"But he's the CAPTAIN"/"YOU'RE WRONG YOU'RE WRONG I KNOW WHAT'S REAL YOUR PANTS ARE ON FIRE STOP YOUR LIES MISTER POOPIE HEAD!!!!" type arguments.

Who needs statistics when you have such STRONG arguments as to Jeter's greatness? In some ways, die-hard Yankee fans of this type (and there are Yankee fans who actually do follow stats and are aware that nobody is perfect, even if they are few) really remind me of the current Republican administration and its followers - "statistics" and "data" must be ignored at all costs if they actually put your sanctity and sanity in question.

(And as the guys at Fire Joe Morgan say, "Although I've learned nothing yet about this junky "science" study and of course I will learn nothing further by reading the rest of the article (thank you, Post!)." So for an actual explanation of the ratings system, see this article, via dday in this comment thread).

Tropa de Elite at the Berlin Film Festival

Late last year, I commented on Tropa de Elite, a fictional film based on real people that tried to look at corruption among one of the elite police force squads in Rio, the BOPE. What was really disturbing to me at the time was the insane heroization of BOPE among many sectors of society in the wake of the movie's official release. Many of my friends felt that the movie really did lend itself towards this kind of understanding of BOPE as heroic, rather than as a corrupt group of cops that murder civilians at random without any consequences whatsoever. These people (many of whom attended college) kept comparing Tropa de Elite to City of God, a movie that looks at violence in one of Rio's favelas from the 1960s to 1980s. Many of the criticisms of Tropa de Elite, from their point of view, were the same as the criticisms that they had of Cidade de Deus - that it glorified violence, it didn't adequately address the social circumstances that led to the favelas, that it wasn't critical enough of Brazilian society, etc.

I found these parallels intriguing at the time, but not worth really mentioning. Everybody I know who isn't from Brazil (including myself) thought City of God was a great film, both technically and narratively. While I was open to the criticisms Brazilians had, I completely disagreed (and, in a barely-related aside, Crash seemed to be my City of God - I pure, straight, hated that movie to the point of wanting that 2 hours of my life back, yet Brazilians absolutely adored it. The joint-theory between my self and people I talked to was how different such movies look from inside a culture as opposed to outside it). Given the way that Brazilians were comparing Tropa de Elite to City of God, I wondered if, and half-hypothesized, that Tropa de Elite would be far more warmly received in an international context, where people saw the violence for what it was, and neither heroized BOPE or knew enough of Brazil's complex social conditions to issue a strong criticism of what the movie didn't do, in the same way that had happened with international reception of City of God.

While my hypothesis is far from proven, yesterday, Tropa de Elite won the coveted Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, becoming only the second Brazilian film to do so (Central Station, a great movie that offers some wonderful portrayals of Brazil's interior and local religious and cultural expressions in Brazil, was the first, 10 years ago - if you haven't seen it, I can't recommend it strongly enough). While this could mean nothing, the fact that it won such a well-regarded award in the international film world will probably mean greater chances for release in the U.S. and Europe, on DVD if not in the theaters. I'm willing to openly wager that its reception abroad will be far different from its reception in Brazil. It will be curious to see if and how this develops.

Wrath of God?


I'd been looking for this photo again, and Rob found it for me (it's more impressive in its original size). There was quite a storm in Rio last week - summer storms are rather remarkable here, as you can see. However, in response to Rob's question, Jesus did not come alive, storm down from the mountain, and lay waste to Rio, though the lights that illuminate him at night were out for a few days.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Climate Change and National Security

Part of the struggle in dealing with climate change its intangible nature. It seems far away and it is not obvious what we can do about it. John Podesta and Peter Ogden provide useful insight into one small piece of the puzzle: how will the U.S. military respond to climate change? While this might seem like a low priority, climate change will so radically change every aspect of our lives that asking such questions now is a really good exercise.

I'm not sure how useful the actual policy points are. For instance, the authors suggest that traditional military operations will take place more often in violent storms. I doubt it. While climate change will lead to more great storms, in reality, they will still be relatively few at any one place on the earth. A greater problem will be drought, which affects a wide swath of area for a long time. I'm sure we are learning something out of Iraq on that. Maybe this will be the only useful thing to come out of the war.

An important larger question is what role will the military play in dealing with climate change related natural disasters. Will the U.S. military take on the role of evacuating people around the world in the face of rising waters, big hurricanes, etc. I tend to be skeptical. I believe the U.S. will be so overwhelmed in dealing with its own disasters that I don't really see us going into Bangladesh to help that nation for example, even though they will need help very badly.

Of course, by thinking about the relationship between the military and climate change, Podesta and Ogden also help focus the conversation on the role of the U.S. government more broadly in this disaster. By considering what will happen to U.S. naval bases that are inundated with rising sea waters, we will also have to think about our cities, industrial capability, and natural environment.

And I am not confident in the least that we will even begin to approach any real useful solutions until it is too late. But at least this is a start.

Historical Image of the Day


Continuing with the journalist theme today.

Henry Watterson, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Democratic congressman, imperialist, supporter of free trade.

He also called on a mass march of Democrats on Washington to protest the Republicans stealing the 1876 election of Samuel Tilden to the presidency, upon which Grant erupted claiming that no one dares to threaten Grant.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Saturday, February 16, 2008

FEMA Trailers

I am utterly disgusted, but not in the least surprised, to hear about the high levels of formaldehyde contamination in FEMA trailers in trailers provided for refugees of Hurricane Katrina.

I am less critical of FEMA than many commentators; I think the problems emanate from the highest reaches of the federal government. But not just from there. They also stem from our own indifference to the poor. A natural disaster is just another event in the news cycle. One week it's a hurricane, the next a school shooting. We see news as entertainment and we need something new to keep us sated. But it takes a long time to fix people's destroyed lives. We don't elect a government that will take the necessary measures to find permanent housing for Katrina refugees. It's 2 1/2 years later and tens of thousands of people are stuck in trailers. Tens of thousands more are scattered to the winds and are struggling as well.

Whenever natural disasters strike in this country, the poor pay the price. As Mike Davis pointed out in his provocative piece, "The Case for Letting Malibu Burn," half the nation rushes to help the wealthy movie stars of Malibu when fire strikes but no one could care less when fires break out in the horrific tenement housing of downtown Los Angeles. It's the same in New Orleans. Corporations, especially casinos, received a massive influx of money after Katrina and Rita and the poor are breathing in formaldehyde.

As a country, we have an out of sight, out of mind mentality. We didn't care about the poor of New Orleans before the hurricane. Then the storm struck and they were in our sight and we were supposedly horrified at their plight. Then we forgot them by the end of 2005. It's 2008 and we keep forgetting.

Sarah J has more.

Vintage Films Online

In awesome news, many European nations are combining to release many of their rare films online. It's a little unclear to me if they will be available for U.S. viewers. I certainly hope so. Some of these look amazing. The 1916 documentary about life on a German sub? Awesome. The short 1910 film about Copenhagen's nighlife? Really freaking cool.

Historical Image of the Day


Jerry Falwell and Ronald Reagan.

There should be a special "When Bastards Meet" edition for pictures like this.

Evo Morales and Cocalero

The troubles in Bolivia continue to mount and the thought of civil war has come closer to a reality. This report certainly makes it seem like the supporters of Morales and MAS are ready for violence resulting from the continued push of positive leftist reforms that Morales has instilled in his two years in power. With the secession of the four eastern states, the devestating floods and the US spy scandal, Bolivia looks to be close to the brink of an internal disaster.

This week, I was lucky to review Cocalero for DVD Verdict. This documentary by Alejandro Landes follows Morales and Movement toward Socialism (MAS) through their 2005 campaign that led to Morales' election as the first indigenous president of Bolivia. I highly recommend the film, released on DVD by First Run Features (a fantastic company that also releases the Human Rights Watch-sponsored films), to see the grass roots support of Morales and the president's prior understanding of the opposition he would face by the US and right-leaning Bolivians. Many of Morales' premonitions have come to pass and he has continued strong and undaunted.

Lyrad's Random 10

Little information is available about Antoni Rutkowski, a Polish Romantic composer who lived 1859-1886. In fact, beyond his dates and a quote in a book about Ignacy Paderewski [Paderewski: The Story of a Modern Immortal by Charles Phillips], which describes Rutkowski as a close, but short-lived, friend of his "...whose creative powers were exceptional, lived long enough to see his boyhood companion reach the height of fame; but himself only in his thirties when he died [he wasn't quite in his thirties...he's a writer, not an arithmetician, give him a break], he might have achieved high rank, especially as a composer, had he been spared." His cause of death is a mystery. This sonata is a playful work with interesting and complex interplay between the violin and the piano that is reminiscent of Tchaikovsky and other contemporaries from the East, with a large helping of Polish traditional music on top of it. It's good stuff. I wish I could find more about him, or at least hear some more works but, according to what I can find, this cd of 19th and 20th century Polish violin music is the extent of his recorded catalog.

If anybody has further information [friends at Detritus Review, I'm looking at you] on this obscure Polish composer, or some recommendations to more of his work, I'm all ears.

1. Antoni Rutkowski--Sonata in c for Violin & Piano, Op.5; 4.Rondo. Finale; Adagio. Presto (Tyrone Greive, Vn; Ellen Burmeister, Pn)
2. Gustav Holst--Beni Mora (Oriental Suite) in e for Orchestra; 3.In the Street of Ouled Nails (London SO; Gustav Holst, cond)
3. Tom Waits--Bottom of the World
4. Matthew Shipp--Pastoral Composure
5. Blind Willie McTell--Chainey
6. Maritime Murder--Copache
7. Artist Unknown--Hot Buttered Beans (from the soundtrack to Manimal [some '70s porno])
8. Lou Reed--Metal Machine Music
9. Golden Gate Quartet--Bye and Bye Little Children
10. John Zorn--End Titles (from the soundtrack to The Golden Boat)

Friday, February 15, 2008

He Breeds

Treason in Defense of Slavery Yankee's wife had a daughter. The poor thing. Will they put her in Confederate flag diapers? Home school her? Will her history textbooks for that home schooling come from 1939? Will she learn to fear the uncontrolled sexuality of black men? Will she be trained to put Bob's grill back together?

If there was a ever an argument for state custody of a child, this is it.

Mississippi Senate Race

When Trent Lott retired to go make millions giving speeches to old white men, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour named Roger Wicker to take his place. Then he moved the special election to permanently replace Lott to November. This was to give Wicker the advantage of incumbency.

Wicker's opponent is Ronnie Musgrove, a popular long-time Mississippi Democrat. A recent poll shows Musgrove up 48-34.

Yes, it's early. And sure, the polling company works mostly for Democrats. But the idea that the Democrats could win a Senate seat in Mississippi is fantastic news. If the Republicans have to use resources to defend Mississippi, they are in even more trouble nationwide than I thought.

Historical Image of the Day


Mennonite church tent, Camp Sherman, OH, 1918

Erik's Random 10

"Evita's Lullaby" comes off Alejandro Escovedo's most recent album, The Boxing Mirror. As a whole, the album hasn't worn that well on me. John Cale's production sense is not always the best. Escovedo was flattered that Cale, one of his heroes, would want to work with him. That's cool except that Cale overproduced the album, making each song sound like the work of some different 70s icon rather than like Escovedo.

That said, there are three really fantastic songs on the album. "Dear Head on the Wall," "Arizona," and "Evita's Lullaby." Escovedo has recorded several songs about his father but this is the first about his mother. It's a touching song. I was happy it was the song I had to talk about today.

1. Alejandro Escovedo, Evita's Lullaby
2. Greg Brown, So Hard
3. Leonard Cohen, Love Calls You By Your Name
4. Charlie Poole, Goodbye Sweet Liza Jane
5. Bob Willis, Dinah
6. Merle Haggard, Stay a Little Longer
7. Caitlin Cary, What Will You Do
8. The Allman Brothers, Mountain Jam
9. Mi & L'au, Merry Go Round
10. Sun Kil Moon, Somewhere (Version 2)

Mister Trend's Random 10

I'm not quite sure what's left to say about Creedence. It seems to me like they don't get mentioned as much as they should by music journalists and "hipsters," which is a shame, but they're still far from underrated. Fogerty was a force of nature, and I'm not quite sure how he still keeps his voice going like that even now. "Travelin' Band" isn't my favorite of theirs, but it's really hard to go wrong with any Creedence (excepting the other members' songs on the final Creedence album).

1. "Marquinhos Cabeção" - MV Bill
2. "Heavy Denim" - Stereolab
3. "Senor F" - Os Mutantes
4. "Sometimes" - My Bloody Valentine
5. "Get a Shot of the Refrigerator" - Stereolab
6. "Segundo Sol" - Cássia Eller
7. "Travelin' Band" - Creedence Clearwater Revival
8. Sonata No. 8 in C Minor - "Pathetique" - 3. Rondo (Allegro) - Ludwig Van Beethoven
9. "Samba do Gringo Paulista" - Suba
10. "Free at Last" - Antony & the Johnsons

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Album Review--The Mars Volta "The Bedlam in Goliath"

The Mars Volta came up a while back in Mr. Trend’s post on bad prog album covers. While, admittedly, a lot of those covers were pretty silly and excessive, a lot of the music is really good. Anyway, The Mars Volta was represented on the list by their album “De-loused in the Comatorium,” an excellent debut with one of the best album openings I’ve heard. They’ve moved forward from that and their music has only gotten better over the years. More complicated, for sure, but they’ve stayed fairly true to their original sound, only adding to the thick production without subtracting from it. While they only released “Amputechture” in ‘06, they have come back in early ’08 with their fourth album, “The Bedlam in Goliath.” It doesn’t deviate far from the sound of earlier albums, but the focus on this one has changed again to give another side of this fantastically talented band.

Singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala comes screaming out of the gate in the opener, “Aberinkula,” and this is the tone for the entire album. This is definitely the heaviest all around release from them and, for that reason alone, I’m enjoying the hell out of it. While songwriter and producer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has often worked in the soft-loud-soft paradigm a lot of modern rock has used, “Bedlam” is loud-loud-loud. There are a few softer bits here and there but, as on “Tourniquet Man,” these parts work more as interludes between harder and more difficult passages. Bixler-Zavala is constantly in his highest register singing his bafflingly obscure lyrics and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante, now the regular studio stand-in for Rodriguez-Lopez, screams doing the intricate, heavy guitar work that he’s always been most at home with. New drummer Thomas Pridgen does a lot to tie the songs together better than they ever have been. Latin rhythms fused with standard rock drumming fits The Mars Volta like a glove, and they’ve made their most explosive album in “The Bedlam in Goliath.”

There is still a lot of self-indulgence in The Mars Volta, but I’ve never really seen a problem with that. It’s a lot better to me that the pandering, fan-indulgent garbage I’m used to hearing. The fact is that they’ve continued doing exactly what they want, surprisingly staying on Universal Records, and are making rock like nobody else. I don’t think any single one of their best songs is on this album, and it’s not my favorite (yet, at least, the more I listen to each of their records, the more they each grow on me) but, from top to bottom, “The Bedlam in Goliath” is their most consistent work yet. I’m not sure I see where they go from here, but I never have been able to and they’ve always surprised me. Highly recommended and the best album released thus far in 2008.

Republican Jerk of the Day

It's a day of awards here at Alterdestiny! Preparing for the Oscars I guess.

The Republican Jerk of the Day is Montana Representative Denny Rehberg. You have to scroll down but you will get some other good stories about jerk Republicans. The Chinese businessman attacking the Republican rep from Michigan is especially entertaining.

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) recently played a gag on Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) on their Middle East congressional delegation trip last month.

Rehberg left an "Idaho Travel Package" on Simpson's airplane seat.

Contents included a stuffed sheep with gloves attached to it (draw your own conclusions), a Village People CD, books on cross-dressing and sign language and a T-shirt that reads, "My senator may not be gay, but my governor is Butch."

Rehberg is proud of the gift bag. "I spent a bit of time putting the things together," he boasted.


Classy! I really love the insinuation that gay people love to fuck sheep.

Rehberg is the worst kind of Republican. Like Conrad Burns, the former Republican Senator from Montana, Rehberg is a stupid person. He is mean-spirited and plays to America's worst fears and prejudices. I believe he has a serious challenger in his re-election campaign. He is just about the only Republican in a state-wide office at this point so he could easily go down. The sooner we get rid of idiots like Rehberg, the better off both Montana and the rest of the nation will be.

Via Left in the West

Hypocrite of the Year

At least once a year, Treason in Defense of Slavery Yankee publishes one blog post that is beyond the pale jaw-dropping stupid. Most of his posts are generally stupid. But no one can go the extra mile in fucktardness like TIDOS Yankee. A couple of years ago, there was his famous Baby Jesus butt plug post. This actually won him Crooks and Liars' award for worst blog post of 2005. Then, after talking about how he didn't think we should waste money rebuilding New Orleans, he begged for money on his site when his backyard grill was damaged in a windstorm.

Now, he complains about the Obama campaign office that had the Cuban flag with Che on it. Che is a "terrorist" after all and people should hate terrorists.

This from a man whose fucking logo incorporates the Confederate flag.

Wow.

Wow, wow, wow.

He may realize what a big mistake that was because he's been awfully silent amongst the vast numbers of comments ridiculing him. But I doubt it. He's probably eating Cheetos and figuring out how to put his new grill together.

Editing

I'm spending the afternoon editing. Someone please come shoot me in the face. I need you to put me out of my misery.

I respect the hell out of editors but how do they do this for a living?

Why Platinum Prices Should Matter To You

Platinum prices have reached an all-time high at over $2K an ounce. The official reason is a drop in supply due to some mine problems in South Africa. But more generally, we are seeing metal prices skyrocket around the world. The reason--overconsumption. It is exactly the same as price changes in oil. There is a limited amount of resources on the planet. More and more people want to use those resources. Thus, the price goes up.

We think of oil as a huge deal, and it is. But we think this way because cars play a giant role in our lives in a very visceral way. We pay directly for gas and we love cars. But these other metals are equally important, especially within in a technological global community. The expanding demand for a lot of these metals comes from computers. In fact, it is questionable what computers will be made of in 50 years because a lot of these metals are going to become extremely expensive. Platinum itself is particularly important for cars because it goes into catalytic converters. But it can serve for a discussion of rising prices for metal of all kinds.

Historical Image of the Day


"A New England Kitchen: A Hundred Years Ago."
Published 1876, thus portraying 1776.

Look at me, I can do math.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Goin' Shopping

Via Bean, I have found out that a federal appeals court struck down Texas' ban on sex toys.

If you don't hear from me tomorrow, you'll know where I am. But you'll have to imagine what I am doing.

Book Review: Philip Jenkins, Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America

U.S. historians intentionally stay a little behind the times. Usually, U.S. historians don't begin working on a period until about 25 years later. This is opposed to Latin Americanists, who start about 25 seconds later. This means that our first really good histories of the 1970s and early 1980s are just starting to come out. The most interesting, challenging, and provocative of these works I've read so far is Philip Jenkins' Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America, published by Oxford in 2006.

Jenkins argues that the mid to late 1970s truly were an awful time in American history. Certainly people at the time believed that. The making of Reagan's America came on the heels of that sense of disaster. Disgust over Watergate and political corruption was high. The economy was bad. It seemed that serial killers roamed every neighborhood. Sex was everywhere, including child pornography. The cities had collapsed. The nation's international prestige was at an all-time low. Domestic abuse, drunk driving, and PCP use raged like an epidemic.

As the conservative myth goes, Ronald Reagan came riding through this muck and saving America. He made America whole again. And all of that crap. The 80s saw the rejection of drugs, sex, abuse, weak foreign policy, etc. Well, maybe. That seems simplistic, but Jenkins really believes that the late 70s were a bad time. He seems to buy into more than one conservative talking point about the period. It's a good book. I do recommend it for anyone interested in the period. But beware that you may read some really annoying sentences and have to take some of the conclusions with a grain of salt.

One thing Jenkins does particularly well is move the narrative out of traditional political and social history and centers his story on cultural phenomena like the rise of the serial killer in the American media, the nation beginning to take child abuse seriously, and the rise of the war on drugs. He rightly points out that none of these things were new to the late 1970s. Serial killers had been around for a long time. Various drugs were popular at different times. But the impending sense that America was going down the toilet helped focus media and public attention on these problems.

Another strength of Jenkins' work is downplaying the central role of Ronald Reagan in the period's narrative. While I think he doesn't take a critical enough stance toward Reagan, he rightly points out that most of the cultural phenomena we think of as resulting from Reagan, including support of anti-revolutionary movements in Central America, the drug war, and economic policy began during the Carter administration.

Jenkins' book is challenging and I have some trouble accepting some thrusts in his argument. I can't help but believing he thinks that liberals are at fault for many of the problems of the 70s. He claims that the "extreme liberalism of the 1970s naturally generated the conservative reaction of the following decade" (56). He connects liberalism with the worst killers of the decade, with child pornographers, and with cultish religious movements. I just can't agree with this. I don't think the rise of conservatism was just a reaction against an extreme liberalism of this type. It's not that I don't think conservatives were horrified by these things. I'm sure they did connect them to the evils of liberalism. But I don't think these things were liberal in any way. I don't think liberalism really helped child pornography except perhaps to not be inclined to push for punitive laws. He also claims that liberals in the mid-70s saw the government as evil. Well, a) we had just fought a war that killed 58,000 Americans for no good reason, b) this was just after Watergate, where Richard Nixon brought disgrace to the office, and c) no they didn't. Jenkins makes an incredible overstatement. Liberals distrusted government, and for good reasons. They thought the government had been acting evil. Hell, maybe some of them did believe the government was evil. You can't paint 1/2 the country with an unfounded blanket charge like this without challenge.

He also comes across as rather conservative on foreign policy issues. He dismisses critics of the U.S. selling arms to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, saying that Iran was legitimately the greater threat, neglecting the argument that the U.S. should not have armed anyone during that stupid, pointless conflict. What really bugged me though was his brutal attack of Cyrus Vance, Carter's Secretary of State. Evaluating Vance's work during the Iran crisis, Jenkins writes, "Cyrus Vance consistently behaved the way a stereotypical ultra-liberal politician might have done in a simplistic morality tale drafted by the far-right: at every stage favoring negotiation in the face of extortion, and resisting attempts to grant the shah asylum in the United States" (158).

I think this is unfair. There are lots of options in diplomacy outside of military attack and it makes a lot of sense to use them up before you start killing people. Vance rightly opposed the attack--how many hostages would have died had the attack reached Tehran? When the attack was launched, Vance resigned. He said the the attack would destroy U.S. prestige in the Middle East and around the word. He was right, in no small part because the attack helicopters wrecked in the Iranian desert.

In any case, it's a good narrative with a ton of interesting information (did you know that George W. Bush won 25 of top 26 states in white fertility?) and Jenkins does a great job of periodization--the 70s don't work that well as a coherent decade for historical study--essentially splitting it between the 60s and 80s makes a lot of sense. Jenkins certainly gets at the mindset of conservatives in the late 70s and early 80s, showing both why they were so angry and why they were successful at drawing people to their causes. His examination of cultural phenomena is first rate.

Like most really challenging books about the recent past, I can't agree with everything Jenkins says. Maybe I am too invested in my own narrative of the period. But I certainly recommend this book to anyone looking to understand the rise of conservatism in the United States.