Monday, July 31, 2006

One Thing I Like About New Mexico

OK, so I kind of make fun of New Mexico a lot. It's hard not to. There's so much crazy stuff that goes on here. I have a incest story (among people I kind of know) that I really want to share but I can't because I don't want to get my source in trouble. So it's kind of hard to know what to make of this state.

But between the middle of July and the end of August this is one of the best places in the country to live. Why? The monsoon season. After nearly a year of wicked drought, we are having a top-notch monsoon this year. The monsoon means that it doesn't really get that hot. The highs for the last 3 days in Albuquerque: 81, 74, 84. Today was maybe in the mid 70s and it's been raining since about 5:00.

Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest, I know you all are seriously jealous. I'm remembering all of you when I am enjoying the beautiful days.

Also, when I talk about great weather, you have to understand that the closer the weather is to Oregon in November or March, the better it is. So maybe my views are a little skewed on this.

Come Back Soon Peter Gammons!

I got really frustrated watching the Red Sox-Angels game last night on ESPN because they kept going back to the studio for trading deadline updates with Steve Phillips. I just can't take this guy's analysis seriously.

All I do is think, "Dude, how could have traded Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano? What drugs were you on at the time and could share them with me?"

God, I miss Peter Gammons.

PS--Kidney stone procedure was pretty minor. I just have some very minor discomfort and am quite functional. This makes me very happy.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

More Fun with Kidney Stones

I might be quiet for a couple of days as I deal with a procedure tomorrow to get rid of the other kidney stone making its home in my left kidney. This procedure is supposed to be less invasive than what I had done in May. I sure as hell hope so. For one, it's an outpatient procedure. In May, I was admitted to the hospital over night. So that's a good sign.

Preventive medicine is hard. I feel great and I don't want to feel bad. But anything to prevent the hellish pain I suffered in May.

Luckily, Mr. Trend and Lyrad are here to keep the blog worth reading in my short absence.

The More Things Change...Torture in a Global Context

I recently had the chance to follow up the viewing of "The Battle of Algiers" with a series of documentaries on the making of the film and on the actual battle for Algerian Independence on the Criterion set. While the making-of-the-film documentaries were so-so, the documentaries on the actually independence fight, and particularly the French methods, were harrowing and important into understanding geopolitics to today. Witnessing actual accounts not just from the tortured, but from French paratroopers and officers themselves, we are reminded that, after 50 years, the techniques and the rhetoric have barely changed.

Many of the French officers take a dual-line approach, insisting that what they are doing/did in Algeria was not "torture," but rather "intense interrogations" (ah, semantics), even while also defending in the abstract the use of torture against their "enemy combatants" due to the guerrilla-nature style of warfare in Algeria. They downplay the actual effects of torture on the mental and physical condition of the victims in the abstract, insisting that what they do isn't torture, and even if it were, it's not that severe.

There is much to take from this. First, there is the origins of torture itself. I previously posted about the ways in which the United States bears much of the burden for the conditions of neo-liberalism in the world today, while Europe conveniently forgets or ignores its role in processes of colonialization and globalization. Certainly, the film "The Battle of Algiers" reminds us that Europe has been complicit and involved even longer than the US (the dividing up of Africa in the mid-1800s the most obvious, but not the exclusive, example). However, the documentaries are also compelling. We are all aware of the use of torture throughout the world, particularly in the "Medieval" period of Europe. However, the family tree of torture comes up again in the excerpt from a 2002 French program on the French-Algerian war. Many officers refer to the torture they themselves suffered at the hands of the SS during World War II, when many of France's military leaders in later wars (Indochina, Algeria) were involved in the resistance. One in particular even comments on the guilt he felt, saying that here he was doing the same thing to Algerians that, only 15 years earlier, Nazis had done to him. He doesn't reassign blame to his subordinates - he admits doing it, and admits that much of the tactics derived directly from the Nazis, who doubtless had their own antecedents (though my familiarity ends there).

Just as we see the precedents for French torture, so, too, do we see the legacies. The same conditions that dominated in Algeria would come to dominate throughout Latin America throughout the 1960s-1980s, from Mexico to Argentina and Chile, and virtually everywhere in between. Just as in Algeria, the military either overtakes or co-opts the police force, often proclaiming a "military state" or the need to impose martial law, only to proceed with torture, summary executions, and disappearances with virtual impunity (we won't discuss the legacy of truth commissions and legal loopholes that are still working their way in Chile, Guatemala and elsewhere - that's a post unto itself.) We even see the same methods. For example, in Pontecorvo's film, we see a technique in which a man's legs and hands are tied together, and he's put on a rack for torture purposes. I don't know if France was the innovator of this, but I do know that, only 7 years later, beginning in 1964, in Brazil, the same techique was used, called in Brazil the "Parrot's perch." The techniques the French used - beatings, burnings, water torture, the "Parrot's perch," and numerous others, all made their way into Latin America, which should be no surprise, as many French officers who fought in or were trained in Algeria offered advice to their Latin American counterparts. The relation between the military taking on a police role and the subsequent use of torture is undeniable.

Finally, there is the importance of this analysis to the current geopolitical condition, particularly the US's role in the so-called "War on Terror." Here we are, 50 years after Algeria, and despite the collapse of Communism as it was understood, despite the success of nationalist movements throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, things haven't changed. As the reports of the United States's use of torture and secret European prisons came out, Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and press secretaries, and senators all insisted, just like the French officers, that the US was not "torturing" but "interrogating" (despite the photos from Abu Ghraib and other reports), and besides, we ARE at war against "terrorists" (conveniently enough, the same term that the French used for the Casbah and that Latin American dictatorships uniformly used for their opposition), and thus, abstractly, torture could be necessary and isn't that bad anyways. The politics of the globe have transformed radically since the 1950s, yet the rhetoric is the same, with the same double-speak that both denies even while defending.

Perhaps more frighteningly, yet unnoticed by the American populous at the time it was uttered or since forgotten, there is the prospect of military figures serving police roles. Although it flew under the radar in all of the real tragedy, in the wake of 2005's Hurricane Katrina, as the New Orleans police force was devastated, Bush proposed giving the military a police role in future "disasters" (doubtlessly to be defined by the administration). While African-Americans "looted" and Caucasian-Americans "foraged," Bush thought putting the military in the capacity of police would be a great idea, and although it hasn't popped up in recent rhetoric, he at the time made it clear that such an option could remain open in the event of future "catastrophes" such as hurricanes (or whatever else demanded a military state.) While such a prospect seems relatively unlikely, it still seems far more likely than it had prior to September 2001, and given the other blatant violations of executive power during the current administration, it seems vaguely realistic.

Certainly, Pontecorvo's "Battle of Algiers" has much to offer us, but the documentaries that accompany it may offer even more in the current political and cultural climate. Anybody who would deny the glaringly obvious similarities between the US military and the current administration on the one hand and the French officers on the other would have the right to do so, but it would be only one more example of the American tendency to believe we're "different" from those oppressive forces of the past, and to continue the "hide in your shell when reality confronts you" attitude that has dominated the general population of this country since 2000.

Film Review--Quien Sabe? (A Bullet for the General)

In the fifteen years following the international success of Sergio Leone's epics, Italian producers churned out one Western after another, of varying (often marginal) quality and success. In response to the John Ford interpretation of the American west, these films often show the individual who, for whatever selfish purpose, finds himself with a choice to aid another, even more selfish, individual (a landowner or mine baron) or aid the collective (oppressed townspeople or miners). The choice is clear in the majority of these films, but the politics are often muddy, if not entirely forgotten in lieu of the need for ticket sales.

Not so in Quien Sabe? (unfortunately titled A Bullet for the General for international release, both telegraphing the climax and undermining the ambiguousness of the situation). Here, we find American Bill Tate (Luigi Castellano) on a train with a group of Federales that is robbed by bandits for their weapons. The bandit leader, El Chuncho (played by Gian Maria Volonte of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More fame) specifically tells his troops to leave the people alone, to only get the guns. Tate joins with the bandits for unknown reasons, but demonstrates his loyalty and is embraced. The bandits sell the guns to aid the revolution and see along the way the oppression that the Mexican government, with American aid, lays on its people.

Directed by Damiano Damiani and written by Franco Solinas (who wrote both of Gillo Pontecorvo's most political films: Battle of Algiers and Burn!), this is definitely the most overtly political of any Italian Western I've seen. Damiani, in fact, would always contend that this is not a Western at all, but a political film entirely. Whatever, it's a Western. No matter, the struggle of the oppressed has never been more clearly represented, at least in a genre film, and its influence is clear in the revisionist Westerns of Sam Peckinpah a few years later. Living outside the law allows the bandits the freedom to galvanize the townspeople and organize them into their own collective. The bandits gain nothing financially from this, only the hope for a better life for all of Mexico. The closing moments of the film and El Chuncho's final statement drive the point home and gives the sense that these statements were not for those on screen, but those in the audience.

Cinematically, Quien Sabe? is at the upper eschelon of the genre and, if it doesn't break new ground, it represents the work of a skilled craftsman. The music by Luis Baclov is derivative of Morricone's Western scores (Morricone was the musical supervisor, and the producers agenda is clear). It isn't necessarily bad, but they'd have done a lot better by just using the Maestro himself. As a whole, the film has a lot more to offer than just the usual trappings of the genre, and, through quality writing, fine direction, and better than average perfomances, is highly recommended.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Book Review--Barbara Goldoftas, The Green Tiger: The Costs of Ecological Decline in the Philippines

Being an environmental historian is depressing. I don't know what field would depress me more. Maybe if I were a historian of Central America or Cambodia. The stories are often the same. Until a relatively short time ago (sometimes decades, sometimes several centuries), people usually lived in a way that did not completely destroy the environment. Then they acquired the technologies and standard of living that required or led to mass denuding of forests, destruction of wildlife, horrible pollution, etc. Unfortunately, this story is a key element of human existence and its importance grows daily. It's hard to research and write this stuff, much in the same way as it is hard to hear about global warming all the time. Humans have completely screwed up the world and here is the research that shows everyone how it has happened and how our future is going to be tough at best and damn near hopeless at worst.

Barbara Goldoftas, The Green Tiger: The Costs of Ecological Decline in the Philippines is a book that tells this story in a particular place. It's a story that we more or less know before we read it. In 1900, most of the Philippines were covered in forest. For a variety of reasons, almost all of those forests are gone and the rest are in trouble. This leads to all sorts of environmental problems, from people moving to cities and overwhelming sanitation systems to siltation of rivers to deadly floods. There are people working on these problems but they face all sorts of obstacles, from US companies to government officials looking to get rich off natural resources to local people thinking there is nothing that can be done.

Nevertheless, these stories are worth telling and reading. Goldoftas does a particularly good job with her version of environmental catastrophe for several reasons. First, she is excellent at parcelling out blame. We know throughout that there are multiple reasons for these problems and that any solutions will be difficult and complex. She is too smart to assign any one group, company, or institution the lion's share of blame. She does a great job weaving in the history of whatever problem she is discussing at the time, from the legacy of US colonialism to the long-term problems of martial law under the Marcos' regime to Japanese and American consumers whose insatiable demand led to widespread deforestation after World War II.

She also shows the conflicts between local peoples, the goverment, and environmentalists. Local people have long used the forest and given the lack of economic options in the Philippines want to continue illegal logging, hunting, and fishing. These are tricky issues. Environmental protection rarely works when local people feel alientated by these new-fangled protections imposed from the outside. But what happens when what the local people want is continued unfettered use of the land? Goldoftas gives one strong example of how local people were convinced to protect a coral reef and that's promising, but she has many more examples of disgruntled locals, ineffective governmental measures for conservation, and a general sense of hopelessness about positive environmental change.

Goldoftas is actually much more hopeful than I am. She sees the kind of grassroots environmental organizing of the post-Marcos years as laying the groundwork for a more sustainable future. Maybe she's right. But from my perspective, I'm not sure how much of a future there will be to sustain.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Why the rest of the world hates Americans: Exhibit A

This afternoon, Mr. Trend was driving to his favorite local bar in Albuquerque (O'Niells pub - check it out if you're in town), and he was flipping through the radio channels, seeking something worth listening to, when he occasioned upon a discussion of area codes.

For those who are unaware, New Mexico currently is so poorly populated, it has only one area code - 505. However, there is serious talk of adding a new area code, due to the growth of the population, part of the broader growth of the sunbelt. Suffice to say, those traditionally-minded people in the area are strongly opposed to the new area code.

The radio rant from the DJ, followed by calls in to the station, that I heard, are such strong clear examples of the "spoiled" American lifestyle, and provide insight into why people hate us.

Put simply: they were all bitching about having to dial 10 numbers in a phone call, instead of 7.

Now, Mr. Trend is from a land where they ALWAYS had to dial 10. Yet the point bears emphasis. While not all of the US enjoys the "luxury" of only dialing 7 instead of 10 numbers, much of it does. While many in Africa are starving and, in some areas, facing genocide, while many in the Middle East (currently, Israel and Lebanon especially) are facing random death, while people in South America face the squalor of poverty, it's good to know Americans are aware of their plights, relating to them through the inconvenience of the prospect (it's not reality yet) of having to dial 10 numbers instead of 7.

God bless America.


Mr. Trend's random 10

Letting others gain the appearance of "coolness" before Mr. Trend revealed how trendy it really was, here's my own "Random 10."

1. Todo o Amor que Houver Nessa Vida - Cassia Eller (Brazil).
2. Mortming - Cibo Matto (Japan/US).
3. Ultravisitor - Squarepusher,
4. Santa Chuva - Maria Rita (Brazil).
5. Born Never Asked - Spiritualized.
6. Big Brother - Stevie Wonder.
7. I Was Meant for the Stage - The Decembrists.
8. Broken Drum - Beck.
9. Boa vs. Python - Test Icicles.
10. Kela Village - Mali Music (album title).

Lyrad's Random 10

I didn't really understand the "Random 10" concept, but asked Erik about it and it sounded like a funny idea, given the volume of music I have. Anyway, here goes:

1. God--On All Fours
2. Johannes Brahms--Symphony No.4 in e, 2.Andante
3. Leadbelly--Pig Latin Song
4. Nirvana--Grey Goose (a renamed "Sail On, Little Girl, Sail On" by Leadbelly)
5. Shawn Colvin--You and the Mona Lisa
6. Air--Surfing on a Rocket (Joachim Mix)
7. Townes Van Zandt--Heavenly Household Blues
8. Roberto Juan Rodriguez--Shalom a Shango
9. Misanthropes--Desperate for Friends
10. Sonic Youth--Cinderella's Big Score

Friday Random Ten

The ongoing random selection of music from my stuff. Less cowboy music than last time. Too bad.

1. Ladytron--CSKA Sofia
2. Bob Dylan--Buckets of Rain
3. Miles Davis--Little Church
4. Hacienda Brothers--Keep It Together
5. Magnetic Fields--A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off
6. Chris Gaffney--East of Houston, West of Baton Rouge
7. Richard and Linda Thompson--Back Street Slide
8. Marvin Gaye--Right On
9. Don Byron--Crown Heights
10. Smog--I'm New Here

Quick Movie Review--She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949)

1. The more I watch the John Ford/John Wayne films, the less it surprises me that they haven't really caught on with people under the age of 40. There are several reasons for this I think--the constant moralizing about American history and the role of individual in the West, the lack of nuance in the characters, the inability of Wayne to act. That doesn't mean that the Ford/Wayne films aren't good. Obviously The Searchers is one of the greatest films made in America. But a lot of them just don't hold up. And She Wore A Yellow Ribbon is one of them. The film's Confederate sympathies are annoying. The ham-fisted way Ford and Wayne push a particular version of American history probably meant a great deal to audiences at the time. But when young people don't believe in this version of history anymore, or just don't care, it makes the film feel really dated.

2. That said, Ford was a master craftsman. The use of color in this movie was masterful. He really brought out the grandeur of the Monument Valley in a way that black and white can't do. He knew how to film a chase scene. He put together stories that meant a lot to audiences at the time. Although I personally never cared very much about the calvary members (despite a lingering fondness for Ben Johnson) or about the calvary in general, it is so obvious why Ford was so influential for multiple generations of directors.

3. I usually pooh-pooh people's criticism of Ford for bad politics. Yeah, his portrayal of Indians would be laughable if it wasn't so powerful in a negative way. But he was a man of his time. Therefore, I shouldn't express such irritation at his pro-Confederate characters. But I have to. I guess I care about the history of slavery and the Civil War more than the Indian Wars. There's no good reason for that. Plus, were there cases of ex-Confederates entering the US Army under psuedonyms? I suppose it is possible. Anyway, the myth of the Lost Cause and nobility of the southern soldiers is really hard for me to swallow.

Questions of the Ages: Who Are the Most Influential American Musicians?

The other day I was in a conversation that asked the following question:

If you had to represent American music to the rest of the world, which 3 artists would you select? I have also had similar conversations that asked which 10 artists. Here's my answer to both:

1. Elvis Presley
2. Stephen Foster
3. Duke Ellington

The other 7 (not in any particular order)
4. Miles Davis
5. George and Ira Gershwin
6. Hank Williams
7. Bob Dylan
8. Skip James
9. Bill Monroe
10. Woody Guthrie

There are lots of people who are really close. I really wanted to include a newer artist but I wasn't sure who. I thought about The Ramones but I'm not sure that they were that much more influential to American music than The Clash so it didn't seem right. I thought about Nirvana as well. No doubt they were huge but they were also so in debt to bands like The Ramones and The Clash that I just wasn't sure. Of course Dylan was heavily influenced by every other person on here so I don't know if that matters.

Maybe I've forgotten someone who clearly deserves inclusion on this list but I think I would pick most of these people most of the time.

How would you answer this question?

Mr. Trend's Benefits of being out of the country (I): Cleveland heartbreaks

In the near future, Mr. Trend will be traveling to Brazil for an extended stay (over a year, hopefully). Now, I love life in the US, but there are many benefits from being away from it for awhile, too (number one being - one year out of the US right now is one year less of living under Bush).

But right now, one reason I'm glad I'll be gone? Greater distance from Cleveland sports. I had decent hopes for the Browns this year, what with their draft and their signing of the number one free agend on last year's market, center LeCharles Bentley.

But some forces hate the browns (see injuries from the past years: Winslow's broken leg; Winslow's motorcycle accident; a STAPH INFECTION (???) on Braylon Edwards last year). This year? Bentley's knee explodes on the first DAY of TRAINING camp. Out for the season. Suddenly, those hopes for a 8-8 or even 9-7 season have evaporated.

At least I won't be around to agonize over it during the season.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Link of the Day: History and Yankee-Hating

I'm extremely glad to see Axis of Evel Knievel back. He continues his discussions of history by connecting random historical events to his hatred of the Yankees. Every post is worth reading, but none so much as today.

Horrible and Indelible Memories - Alain Resnais's "Night and Fog" ("Nuit et Brouillard")

As the few remaining survivors of the Holocaust diminish each year, the memories and our familiarity and understanding of this event fade into the background. We forget about the Nazi holocaust in our daily happenings, just as we generally ignore the holocausts in Rwanda in the 1990s and in the Sudan at this very moment. The notion of holocaust becomes an abstract, something most of us do not have to confront, and we all remember the notion as something that's indescribably evil, but without really thinking about how evil and awful they are.

It is for these reasons that the Criterion Collection production of Alain Resnais's "Night and Fog" is so important to all of us. Filmed and released fifty-one years ago, in 1955, only 10 years after the end of World War II, Resnais's work takes to Auschwitz as it looked in 1955, juxtaposing his color footage of the camp with archived black and white footage and photographs from Auschwitz and other concentration camps in the 1940s. It is, quite simply, one of the most powerful anti-war films ever, relying on the wake of the war to show the quotidian horrors of life during war.

The black and white sections trace the rise of the Nazis through the establishments of the camps and, in 1942, the institution of Hitler's "Final Solution". As is always the case, thanks to the Nazis' meticulous desire to document everything, we see footage of people herded in train stations, rounded up onto trains, and brought into camps. Resnais shows us his 1955 footage of the barracks, the prisons, the crematorium, juxtaposing these images with the same buildings in the 1940s black and white photographs, all to suggest the cyclical nature of violence in general while revealing the particular horror of Auschwitz.

The most important images in his documentary, however, are those showing the victims. As we watch people crammed into the trains, we ask ourselves, how many of them survived? Any? An old woman is being carted around near the trains, unable to walk, and you can't help but ask, did the SS kill her right there? How fast was her death? We see images of people pleading for food in the camps, too weak to do anything themselves. We see the bodies of victims, shot, leaning against the fences, trying to escape. We see the "hospitals" at the camps, where you see corpses, eyes frozen wide open in terror and shock. We see how the Nazis treated the bodies, images of burnt bodies, shot, starving, decapitated.

Through Resnais's work, and 61 years after the Second World War ended, the horrors of the Holocaust become fresh in our memories again. This is what makes Resnais's work so amazing, so powerful, and so important. You are forced to face true violence, truly inhumane acts, to witness human beings forced to the most degraded and impossibly inhumane conditions. In a world where we grow dull to the ultra-violence of so many films, where the daily news of civil war and the bombings of civilians elicits a "that's a shame," the horror and violence of the Holocaust comes through crystal clear. Resnais is not gratuitous in his use of images - if anybody is to be accused of gratuity, it is the Nazis. It is not the film, or the editing, that is vile - it is the very acts themselves. Not only this, but confronting this horror, Resnais knows that the memory of such events will eventually fade into the past, will become part of a general narrative, an abstract that we ideologically condemn without actually doing anything about it even when it faces us today. And thus, even while we recoil, we think of the Balkans in the 1990s, of Africa today, of who-knows-where tomorrow, and there's no comfort to be found, no reassurance that "this only happened once...never again."

Resnais knew the importance and impact of this in his film. The narration, written by Jean Cayrol, himself a Holocaust survivor, closes by commenting on the fading of the memory of Auschwitz even in 1955, of the ways in which people go about their lives even while war only temporarily sleeps, keeping one eye open and ready for death and violence in the future. Cayrol's narratiive is incredible, steady and calm in the face of all of the images and the memories he himself doubtlessly had to confront. And seeing the horrors, and knowing they exist today still, "Night and Fog" should be required viewing for everybody on this planet, regardless of race, creed, or nation.

Reflections on Asia: Malaysia, The World's Largest Palm Oil Plantation

Although I love much about Malaysia, riding the bus through the nation is a profoundly depressing experience. Malaysia has decided to turn their nation into a palm oil plantation. Riding through the jungle is exciting. You don't usually see wildlife, though a few birds every now and then come around. But the sheer wildness, variety of flora, and slight tinge of fear you feel make it a great drive, no matter what country you are in. In Malaysia however, the government has replaced the natural jungle with palm trees. These trees go on endlessly--as far as the eye can see. Miles on every side, literally. This has now expanded from the peninsula to Borneo, where the incredibly diverse jungle there has increasingly been cut down for palm oil.

First, what is palm oil? Here's the article from wikipedia. It is a cheap oil desired by food manufacturers. It is also a key ingredient in biodiesel fuel.

Check out this picture of a palm oil plantation in Indonesia from as well as several links to the damage caused by these plantations.

Malaysia has long received international criticism for its forestry policies. This criticism is well-deserved. However, we should remember that this palm oil is not just dumped in the ocean. It is for consumption in the West. It is our consuming needs that drives not only the transformation of Malaysian forests but environmental disasters around the world. And isn't it interesting that palm oil is important for biodiesel. We keep coming up with technological "solutions" for the world's problems. But these solutions always have unintended consequences. In this case, we are pouring flourocarbons into the atomsphere, so we look to alternative fuels rather than find an end to our car culture. This is helping destroy the world's last remaining rainforests, making it even harder for the planet to process all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Malaysia and Indonesia simply do not care about the criticism they receive. After all, members of these governments are getting rich off the palm oil business. But that drive through Malaysia, and I should state that this started at the Thai border and continued all the way to Singapore, was so depressing that it is really hard to imagine ever visiting Malaysia again.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Film Review--Ichi the Killer

Ichi the Killer’s infamy has preceded it since its release in 2001. Historically, I have been sorely disappointed in films that promise the extremities that they will go. It allows for unrealistic expectations, at least. I have always enjoyed the thrill of bringing home a video from the store that has a warning label, and have thus seen a lot of things I wish I could have avoided. Still, I seek them out for the rare chance of finding something that can live up to its promises. Because I’ve become so jaded to these promises, though, I come at them each time fairly coldly, expecting to be disappointed, but hoping to be shocked. One thing I can’t bring myself to hope for is that the film is actually worthwhile in some cinematic sense, beyond my own masochistic desires. And then there was Ichi.

The story comes from manga comic Koroshiya 1 by Hideo Yamamoto and tells about Kakihara, the right hand man of a Yakuza boss who is brutally killed by an unknown attaker. Kakihara believes (or hopes) Anjo is still alive and goes on a search for him and, eventually, his killer: babyfaced assassin Ichi. Seems that Ichi has an issue with bullies. His strongest memory is of being beaten up as a kid and helped by a girl who is summarily raped by the bullies, but Ichi was too cowardly to help her. He has never been able to rectify this in his mind and takes out his anger on the bullies of the world dressed in a cheap looking latex outfit with razor blades in the boots in bizarre and sadistic ways. As Kakihara gets closer to his goal, he sees the extreme sadism in Ichi and begins, in ways, to fall in love with him.

This is, arguably, the most violent film I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of very violent films. It comes in all forms here, from the cheesiest to the most visceral, and comes at you from all directions. The film could be easy to dismiss for its overt grotesqueness, but there is so much more here. Takashi Miike (who also directed cult favorites Visitor Q, Audition, and Happiness of the Katakuris and is as prolific as he is violent, releasing six other films in 2001 alone) works magic with a story that is typical in ultra-violent manga and Yakuza films, using the violence to move and change the characters rather than using the characters to exploit the violence. The actors are outstanding for this type of film, most notably Tadanobu Asano, who plays Kakihara, in an understated, subtle performance in an overstated, overt scenario. The soundtrack by Karera Musication (which is Japanese experimental group The Boredoms, minus Yamataka Eye) is an ever-changing montage of noise and music that often comments on the action on-screen, and is very effective. This film was a huge surprise on both counts: a truly brutal, but excellent film.

Unfortunately, as much as I may appreciate it, Ichi is hard to recommend to very many people. The extremity of the violence is a very real thing and, worse, a good percentage of the most realistic violence is performed against women. It is sickening to watch and, for a lot of people I know, a deal breaker. There is little to no moral stand taken on the issue of violence, instead it is a polemic on the effects of sado-masochism and, to some, the philosophy may come off as pointless (similar arguments have always been presented against Bataille’s Story of the Eye, one of my favorite short works and the finest piece of erotica ever written). But, if viewed with an open mind and a strong stomach, the artistic onslaught is often overpowering.

Ponder this....

Is there a worse person than a Yankee fan who lives in Texas?

How useful are musical categorizations?

This is a question that I find myself asking periodically, and the other night I found the impetus to write about this. While watching a little TV, I see a commercial for the new Helmet album. First, I had no idea Helmet was still around, much less making a new album. More importantly, however, is how it was marketed (and that will be the crux, I think). This testosterone-driven, aggressive man's voice said, "Helmet - the prog-metal gods!" I immediately (and half-jokingly, but only half-jokingly, said, "Prog-metal? Didn't they used to be grunge?"

This leads into a bigger issue. Musical categorizations are so difficult. About four years ago, when asking some teens about what the fuck emo was (besides bands with shitty names and shittier music). To put this in context, Weezer had just made their "comeback," with 2 albums in less than a year, and I found them rather underwhelming, compared to the so-called Blue album and Pinkerton. Anyhow, asking what the fuck emo was, they couldn't explain, so they tried to name bands, saying, "Weezer's emo, and Dashboard Confessional, and At the Drive-In." I was immediately furious, because A) I HATE retroactive labeling of bands. Given there WAS NO emo in 1994, I failed to see how Weezer, who, if they had changed their sound, had simply dumbed it down, was suddenly "emo" in 2001/2002, and second, besides the fact that Weezer, Dashboard Confessional, and At the Drive-In all make music, there is NO similarity. It's like saying that Ellington, Django Reinhardt, and Wayne Horvitz (more on him in a second) are all jazz. All of this just left me wondering, in an earlier time of life, if labeling types of music into specific genres was useful for anything more than marketing ("Buy the new Weezer album!! An emo-masterpiece!!!!")

Finally, there's the aforementioned Wayne Horvitz. A friend and I had the opportunity to see him play a few months ago, and while it may have been jazz in the loosest sense, both this friend and I were discussing how many boundaries it crossed, how you can't really classify it (a point, we soon learned, that Horvitz himself made in the liner-notes of the new album). Again, was saying something was "jazz" or "free jazz" when really it incorporated jazz, blues, and classical in new and fascinating ways useful for anything besides marketing?

I'm still very ambivalent about genre-labels. In the most general sense, I guess they can be useful - if you're trying to explain to somebody what Joe McPhee is, "jazz" is more appropriate than "blues" or certainly than our general understanding of "blues" or "classical". Nonetheless, beyond the most elementary level, I'm really not sure that genre-labels have much to offer in understanding music. What's Sonic Youth? They have elements of "No Wave," "punk," "jazz," "ambient," and numerous other styles - "Alternative" might be useful for the most basic, "what kind of music does Sonic Youth play?" question, but it doesn't answer anything.

Anyhow, if you in the so-called "blogosphere" have any comments, I would love to hear them. I'm definitely unsure if and how labels, or even words, can accurately describe music.

"Me and Billy the Kid," Mythology, and the American West

Lyrad's post on the Joe Ely show reminded me a story Ely told when I saw him about his song "Me and Billy the Kid." Ely was at the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. While Billy the Kid's grave is there, the museum itself has almost nothing about him. Instead it's a pile of junk--old saddles, guns, cowboy equipment, etc. Ely said that if they are going to advertise themselves as a museum on Billy the Kid and not say anything about him at all, that he could do the same thing in a song. And so here's what he wrote:

Well, me and Billy The Kid never got along:
I didn't like the way he cocked his hat and he wore his gun all wrong.
Well, we had the same girlfriend and he never forgot it.
She had a cute little Chihuahua till one day he up and shot it.
He rode the hard country down the New Mexico line.
He had a silver pocket watch that he never did wind.
He crippled a piano player for playin' his favorite song.
Yeah, me and Billy The Kid, we ain't never got along.
Yeah, me and Billy The Kid never got along:
I didn't like the way he buckled his belt and he wore his gun all wrong.
He was bad to the bone, all hopped up on speed.
I would've left him alone if it wasn't for that senorita:
He gave her silver and he paid her hotel bill.
But it was me she loved: she said she always will.
I'd always go see her whenever Billy was gone
Yeah, me and Billy The Kid, we never got along.

Yeah, me and Billy The Kid never got along:
I didn't like the way he buckled his boots an' he wore his gun all wrong.
One day, I said to Billy: "I got this foolproof scheme.
"We'll rob Wells Fargo, it's bustin at the seams."
I admit that I framed him. I don't feel no remorse.
It was just my way of gettin' even with the man who shot my horse.
Yeah, Billy reached for his gun but his gun was on wrong.
Yeah, me and Billy The Kid, we never got along.

Well, me and Billy The Kid never got along:
But I did like the way he swayed in the wind while I played him his favorite song.
Now my baby sings harmony with me, to "La Cucaracha".
She winds her silver pocket watch and pets her new Chihuahua.
I moved into the hotel, I got a room with a shower.
We lay an' listen to that watch tick hour after hour.
Outside, I hear the wind blowin' oh so strong:
Me and Billy The Kid, we never got along!

We never got along.

Ely's song is obviously tongue in cheek and remains popular with his audience to this day. Although, to be honest, I'm not a big fan of this particular number. But in any case, I think it says a lot about the way we remember our past. Particularly with the American West, Americans use the region and an interpretation of its history to justify their own position in life. Perhaps the most famous example of this was Ronald Reagan with his ranch and the cowboy image that he liked to portray. Of course, Reagan was not a westerner by birth. But then again, neither were a lot of the Orange County folks who were his base. Figures like Reagan and John Wayne were popular at least in part because they promoted a myth of the individualistic West that many postwar Americans felt they had lost. By projecting their belief that the West was a land where the single, tough, masculine individual could pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make a go of it, they perhaps believed that a touch of that could survive in Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Land.

The post-1960s image of Native Americans as touchstones of spirituality is the flip side of the coin. Native Americans have their own relationships with the land, their own belief systems, and their own rituals, but they are neither more nor less legitimate, true, or authentic than Catholicism, Islam, or indigenous African religions. These Native American religions took on western clothing, both because many more indigenous peoples live in the West these days, but also because Indians taking peyote on the Navajo nation makes for a much better image than Indians in Massachusetts. The West is an integral part of this myth. Again, we see the West as a place where individuals can go to get in touch with a spirituality impossible in the urbanized East. While most of the people who buy into this myth would be horrified to be compared to the fans of John Wayne (in fact I know many people who hate The Searchers based solely on its portrayal of Native Americans without considering the actual quality of the film), but in reality their view of the West is grounded in the same individualistic mythology that the West holds something we cannot have in modern society. What they want is different but where to find it is the same.

It's not too different for environmentalists either. In a lot of ways, environmentalists split the difference between the Wayne fans and the Native American fetishists here. They would identify more with those who see the West as the location of Native American spirituality, but for the environmental community, the West is a place of rugged landscapes where the individual can go and regenerate themselves from the enervating city. Monument Valley is not just where John Ford movies were shot. It's also on the Navajo Nation and an archetype of rugged landscapes that need protection from any development. To an unfortunately large extent, environmentalists over the past thirty years have turned their attention to wilderness protection, wilderness that exists almost entirely in the American West, instead of focusing on more human-centric issues or for that matter protecting smaller landscapes in the East from the development--landscapes that humans will actually use as oppose to someplace in Alaska that 2,000 people a year go to. The myth of the lonely man in the wilderness has near-fascist implications. Edward Abbey pushed these ideas and his influence on modern environmentalism is less than ideal--his ideas about the interactions between humans and the environment were wrong-headed at best and dangerous at worst.

Conservatives, hippies, and environmentalists have all mythologized the West for their own purposes. Songwriters might as well do the same thing.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Gender behind the Camera

There is a local film festival going on here in Albuquerque called "The Duke City Shootout" (I'll leave any comments on the implication for westerns to Erik), and they are running a commercial where they talk about how you can see up and coming filmmakers, "so you can say you knew that dude before he did the crappy romantic comedy."

My question is, why a "dude" right away? And unfortunately, it's not even the fault of the advertisers who came up with the word choice. How many famous women are directors? And not just in terms of mainstream films, but in the independent and foreign world, as well? Sure, we hear about people like Catherine Breillat, but the name-checking she gets seems to just reiterate the point - how many other famous women directors do we hear of? (And this isn't a slur on Breillat's fans - it simply seems she's one of the few female directors who is cited, and I can't help but wonder to what extent it's her filmmaking, and to what extent it's her gender). People like Penny Marshall get acclaim - "A Penny Marshall film" - one suspects, again, because, in part, it's her gender, and not her filmmaking, that gives her attention and credit.

Why is this? Why is directing (and even producing) a movie such a male-dominated world? Does the boy's-world shut out women, or do they have no desire to participate in such a world? I suspect the answer to this dilemma really shows how far we still have to go towards gender equality in this country and elsewhere.

Mr. Trend's Best-of-2006 thus far

Part of being hip and cool is knowing what's hip and cool elsewhere. So, like many publications (at least the legitimate, non-Rolling-Stone, non-Spin ones), here's my "best albums so far of 2006" list, in order.

1. TV on the Radio - "Return to Cookie Mountain" (Ok, so it's only out in England, and doesn't hit the states until August - it's still the best album of the year, period). While their first album ("Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes") was a minor-revelation, coming out of your speakers like a late-night security-blanket and paranoia-driven freakout all at once, this album surpasses the first in every way - unbelievable, an in-your-face manifesto on music as art and a delightful and beautiful collection of songs at the same time, packing aggression, beauty, energy, and the wonderful soundscapes that only the TVOTR collective offer at this current juncture.

2. Sonic Youth - "Rather Ripped." Enough of this bullshit of the "last of a trio of albums" or "poppiest album" or "most song-driven album" - it's just fucking good. Sonic Youth's "worst" album (whatever you may say it is, though they don't have a bad one) is still any band's best album.

3. Neko Case - "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood." Sure, lots of people say she always sounds the same, is a one-trick pony, etc., but I can't agree. This album has new elements, very subtle, and its as haunting (if not moreso) than "Blacklisted" was. The best album of the first three months of the year.

4. The Black Keys - "Chulahoma". Sure, they're from my stomping grounds of Akron, OH, even went to high school with me, but this is nothing about regional bias. They, like no other rock band out there right now, get the blues, and know how to turn it into grinding, filthy, bluesy rock. Saw them in a show a few years ago, and they tore the roof off the building. They haven't lost it. This is an outstanding EP, covering Junior Kimbrough songs and making them their own (and if you haven't heard them, do so NOW. While we're at it, if you haven't heard Junior Kimbrough, go out and get his best-of, "You Better Run", NOW too).

5. Matthew Shipp - "One". I've always been a fan of solo-piano, from Beethoven to Monk and beyond. Shipp's new one is remarkable, showing just how much one man can do with just a piano, how boundaries can be extended in any instrument and any direction, and how one can perform such violence on an instrument and still make something so beautiful (you should see his shows - to cop a friends analogy, it's like he's in a 50-minute epic of completely physically assaulting the piano and then making the most passionate, delicate love to it, over and over).

6. Belle and Sebastian - "The Life Pursuit." While we're on mild rants, enough of this "they're back" bullshit, too. Sure, the middle albums weren't "genius" (a word thrown around too often), but they had some good songs on it. Get over it. And this one, while not my favorite at first, and still not my favorite of theirs (still can't decide b/t "If You're Feeling Sinister" and "The Boy with the Arab Strap"), it's damn good.

7. Scott Walker - "The Drift." This one is one of the scariest albums I've ever heard. Walker, a former 50s hearthrob, has recently been releasing albums at the pace of one every 11 years (1984, 1995, this year). It's terrifying ambient- and noise-rock, with Walker's baritone making it scarier by a magnitude of ten. All paranoia, fear, and terror. Delightful.

8. Gnarls Barkley - "St. Elsewhere." A good example of how popular tastes can actually meet with good music. The bluesy bass and drums of Danger Mouse go perfect with Cee-Lo's tenor. Seriously, does everything Danger Mouse touches turn to gold? I sure hope so...looking forward to his next "project."

9. Mojave 3 - "Puzzles Like You." Another fundamental shift from their earlier stuff. While I enjoy thoroughly their first four albums, with the slow, dreamlike pace and sound, they sound like they smoked crack (for them), picking up the speed and making the best pop album of the year.

10. The Futureheads - "News and Tributes" - A radical shift from the first album (which, for the record, I also love), showing an amazing development of maturity and sounds, while still keeping their fun, rocking sound. One of those albums that could piss off fans of the first album, while being far more enjoyable for those who may have brushed off their first album.

11. Psapp - "This Way." Rounding out the list, a humble, charming little piece, just nice beats and a voice that pulls off both cute and sexy.

Album Review--Music for Moviebikers

I picked up an album six months ago called Romances, a collaboration Mike Patton did with Norwegian composer John Kaada, on a Patton binge, having no experience with Kaada, and it became one of my favorite albums in some time. The album certainly demonstrated Patton's modern style of vocal improvisation, but most of the album was decidedly not Patton-like...and this, Kaada's sound, was what I appreciated most. When Kaada released Music for Moviebikers, I was eager to hear him on his own.

Originally slated to be called Music for an Imaginary Film, the sound of the album represents a lot of what is great about film scores. While Music for Moviebikers would make a fatastic accompaniment to any number of silent films (rather than the stale piano scores present on nearly every release) through Kaada's evocation of time, place, and image in sound, it does not have the theme and variation aspects that are necessary for effective film composition. This is a complete piece in its own right, using the music to create a kind of movie. Styles and textures change track to track, giving the mood of a biker traveling through Europe, with all the discovery, loss, and isolation that comes with it; almost like a musical version of a Wim Wenders film. Classical influence, pop sensibilities, and folk tradition allow the music to skirt many lines very effectively, but the clear vision of the album allows all of this to move as one.

This is not an eclectic mish-mash of styles, this is, however, the kind of music that could both stand alone in a chamber setting (Music for Moviebikers [13 Pieces] for Small Orchestra is what I'd list is as if Schwann Opus was still alive) or back up Tom Waits on his post-Rain Dogs albums. It is mood music, but not background music; it is evocative, but not quite manipulative. It is an interesting sound experience and one well worth checking out.

Musing on the State of Bluegrass Music

I was recently reading the latest copy of No Depression, the magazine devoted more or less to American music. 2 different articles, one on Chatham County Line and the other on the Earl Brothers, see the artists complain about the packaged nature of modern bluegrass music. CCL talks about how audiences want to see covers, some of bluegrass standards and some of bluegrassed-up rock songs. The Earl Brothers say "Bluegrass now is like rock in the 70s. It's produced. It's predictable."

How true is this? And why has this come to pass?

While I'll admit I haven't kept up on new bluegrass releases as well as I should over the past couple of years, there is definitely a trend toward the normalization of bluegrass music. Coming out of the O Brother phemonena, audiences expect bluegrass to be a particular thing rather than an organic and changing musical tradition. When Karl Shiflett added a drummer to his band a few years ago, something that was quite common among bluegrass bands in the 50s, fans revolted and he had to get rid of the guy so as not to not sacrifice his entire career. That is just disgusting. Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, not only basically made up the genre but he experimented with it throughout his life. Some bands had both drums and accordion. You never see either of those instruments today.

While some bluegrass musicians may just be scared to have an anti-Shiflett-like reaction aimed against themselves, some seem to have bought into the canonization of the genre. The worst is probably Ricky Skaggs, whose Skaggs Family Records puts out extremely produced and slick albums, which while technically proficient, have the life sucked out of them. Which isn't surprising given Skaggs' own music.

Bluegrass risks becoming like mainstream jazz. Jazz has seen its canonization over the past 20 years as both artists and audiences rejected the innovations of the late 1960s and 1970s. Today, if it sounds like anything recorded after 1965, it's not going to sell. The master of this process is Wynton Marsalis, who sees innovation as heresy. Skaggs could be the Marsalis of bluegrass--an amazing player with a very solid background but completely wrongheaded about the music. Unfortunately, both Marsalis and Skaggs have a lot of money and power within their respective genres and both are using their influence for harm.

Why are audiences buying into this? Bluegrass audiences in the post-O Brother era seem to be dominated by middle-aged urban residents who believe they are buying authencity through music. They think that bluegrass is something that is concrete and unchanging. Change questions the authenicity of the music they are consuming. And they don't want to think too much. They want to go and enjoy the music without having to wonder what is happening. They want to hear "Orange Blossom Special" at the end of the show, a couple of old-timey murder ballads, and a bluegrass cover of some Zeppelin for laughs. Sadly, these are the same type of fans (and in fact many are the same people) who believe the same thing about jazz.

No music can live without change. The 1960s and 1970s saw constant innovation in bluegrass. A lot of this I frankly don't like, particularly the influence of jam music. But at least they were doing something new. The bluegrass traditionalism of the 1990s was welcome as well, curbing the excesses of the jam-bluegrass and making some great music. But the best bands will always be pushing the boundaries, whether musically or lyrically. So good luck to all the bands out there who are trying new things, getting rejected by bluegrass festivals, and knowing they will probably be cult bands at best. They're going to need it as well as your money. Attend some shows, buy some albums. Look at bluegrass as a living music and love it as such.

Questions of the Ages: Great Food or Great Sex

Once, maybe a year or two ago, I got in a conversation that forced you to answer the following question:

Would you rather have a great meal or great sex?

I'm not talking about some average meal here. But if I could only have one before I die, and it would be like the meals I had in Thailand, I think I would have to go with food. Or maybe if it was a first rate Italian meal. This might be anathema in today's culture (or maybe it's not) but it's hard to beat the sensuality of food.

I could also be easily convinced of the other answer.

What do you think?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Race and Racism in Popular Culture

There is a fascinating "rant" from writer/filmmaker John Ridley (author of the criminally under-the-radar satire "Undercover Brother") in the latest issue of Filter magazine. You have to flip to the back page for it, but he makes some amazing points in just a page. Commenting on a recent cross-over storyline in the DC (comics, for those not hip enough to know) Universe called "Infinite Crises," he makes an important point about how superheroes reflect a liberal worldview in which a batch of "civilized" and "moral" superheroes (read: subtext for Americans) go out and save the world, civilizing it and bringing it peace with their political (and economic) missions. More important to his commentary, however, are his points on race. He laments the fact that, out of a comic universe of "millions" of superheroes, a total of three are black, and they all are "closet" blacks (either masked or, in the absurd case of one, a guy who used to be white but now is black).

As a comic book connosseur since his early years, Mr. Trend fully understands and appreciates Mr. Ridley's efforts and commentary. I'm not terribly familiar with the DC Universe - I was always a Marvel guy myself, and from my favorite comics (particularly X-Men), minorities were and are better represented than they seem to be in the DC Universe (having read Batman in my earlier years, too, you see virtually no "black" people, as Mr. Ridley insists, deriding the "African-American" epithet). Yet even Marvel isn't exclusive. Many of the black superheroes are either one part of a broader team (such as Falcon on the Avengers or Bishop with the X-Men) or in those very masks that Mr. Ridley condemns (such as Moon Knight, who wears all white, head to toe). Additionally, while we often see white people and the few minority superheroes saving minorities (again implying that liberal worldview that will "save" all cultures), and we see white people saving white people, rare are the times we see minorities, be they African American, Hispanic, Asian, or other, saving white people in the comics universe.

Some might say, "so what? They're just comic books" (or graphic novels, for the snobs), but to brush aside such a component of popular culture is to refuse the very nature of our own culture, a culture that those who do treat comics as "childish" are a part of. To ignore the implications are to perpetuate such stereotypes. You only need to look at how superheroes of the 40s combated Nazis (where do you think Superman and Captain America began?), or communists in the 60s (Iron Man very blatantly, as well as Captain America, and numerous, more subtle battles among heroes such as Spiderman and Daredevil, who combatted egomaniacal and authoritarian villains such as Dr. Doom and Kingpin, men who had designs that subtly reflected how the US viewed people like Stalin, Tito, and others). Even now, there is a series going on in Marvel in which, due to increased terrorism in the US, superheroes are being forced to unmask and become public, "coming out" with their identities, a move that leads to hesitancy among some heroes (including Captain America) and has implications both in terms of an increasing monitoring of the American public in the Bush administration and less-than-subtle connotations on the burden of "coming out" in terms of sexuality. Thus, the ways in which race is represented (or under-represented) in comics speaks very real on the subtlties of racism and representation in the USA (providing the good counterexample to the stupid portrayal of American racism that Erik recently ranted about in "Crash" [not the Cronenberg one]).

Nor does one need to look simply at comic books. Professional wrestling (it was bound to appear on this blog sooner or later) is another important insight. Again, focusing on African Americans, but with other minorities as well, we see appalling portrayals. Currently, there are only a handful of black wrestlers in the WWE, the largest and most popular wrestling association in the US. Of this handful, only one, Bobby Lashley, is currently a "face," or a good guy. The other two, Mark Henry and Booker T [not real subtle here, either - subltly never was wrestling's strong suit] are currently "heels," or bad guys. Not only this, but Lashley is not out there wailing on a bunch of white guys (save for one man, Finlay, who's Irish, but we should all be familiar with where the Irish fell in the American-race-hierarchy until recently), but on Booker T. Thus, out of three blacks on WWE Smackdown, two of them are fighting each other, and the third is a "bad guy" as well. If you're looking for similar treatment on WWE Raw or ECW, good luck - the number of headlining African Americans there is nil. Hispanics get a bit better treatment. Rey Mysterio, also of Smackdown, was, until Sunday night, the world champion, and is one of WWE's most popular and loved heroes, bringing the lucha libre style to WWE. However, once again, he lost his title to whom? Booker T. We again witness the clash of minorities, while a bunch of Anglo-descendant executives in the office pull in the big bucks and create these storylines that, instead of speaking to opportunity among all, let the white people beat each other up separately than the minorities.

Certainly, this may seem rather absurd to many, but again, to brush aside the popular culture forms of expression, no matter how "crass" they may appear, is to perpetuate such notions of racism in their most subtle forms in the US. Bringing it back to Mr. Ridley's piece in Filter, you need to read the article yourselves - go out to a store and find it, but it's an important and thought-provoking piece that provides more insights into race in American society and popular culture.

Link of the Day: Chavez and Lukashenko

Read Rob's post on Hugo Chavez snuggling up to the horrid dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko.

Why is Chavez doing this? While I certainly appreciate his attacks on W, not only do I think he is a revolutionary leader we should follow, I don't even think he's very good for the left. His interference in the Peruvian elections, quite possibly costing the leftist candidate the election, is a example #1. Hanging out with people like Lukashenko is example #2.

The comment thread is also very interesting. Read that too.

Reflections on Asia: When Bad Ideas Cross the Ocean

With the onset of globalization, bad ideas cross the world as well (or perhaps better) than good ideas. Here are 2 cases.

First, on my visit to Asia, I visited Malacca, Malaysia. While in Malacca, I went to the Cheng Ho Museum. Ho was the admiral who led the Chinese navy on seven expeditions in the early 15th century that explored the Indian Ocean basin, reaching as far as Africa. Malacca was a major stopping point for these expeditions. It was a major world trading post from the 14th century through World War II. It has since declined.

Unfortunately, now connected with Cheng Ho's history is the Gavin Menzies theory that his fleet discovered the entire world around 1421. Here's my review of this awful book. Essentially, it argues that in 1421, Cheng Ho sent his fleet around the world and they discovered every major land mass on Earth, including the Americans, Australia and New Zealand, Europe, and Antarctica. This is idiotic. The evidence simply does not exist, as I point out in my longer review.

The people behind promoting this idea have poured money into the museum. Honestly, the museum needs the money. Most of the exhibits can barely be called that while the 1421 exhibit is professionally done with interesting text and great graphics. The parts that don't make outlandish claims are actually quite good. Unfortunately, that's only about 1/2 of the exhibit.

What distrubs me is that people are actually going to believe this crap. While they have a couple of disclaimers referring to these claims as theories rather than established fact, the average person in there, whether Malaysian, European, or American, is likely to be persuaded, not by the evidence but by the graphics. These people know the power of the media and they use it effectively.

However, the claims are so ridiculuous that at least some people will see through them. 2 to highlight this. They claim that the ruins of some Chinese junks are high on a New Zealand cliff. Having no other way to explain this, Menzies asserts that a comet hit the ocean and the resulting tsunami threw the boats high on the cliff face. Right.

They also say that they have found the ruins to a large Chinese city in Nova Scotia. Yes, that's right. Nova Scotia. They provide no actual photographs of these ruins but Menzies says that without doubt this was the Chinese capital in North America. Uh, OK.

The second bad idea to cross the ocean is the movie Crash. My general feelings on the movie are here. I don't know if Malaysians have really watched this movie or not. But in these guesthouses I was staying in, they often show a movie at night. People can request what they want to see. At one guesthouse, someone actually chose Crash. I was infuriated and was literally ranting about this for the next 2 days. For Europeans, who along with the Australians probably made up the entire viewing audience of 15-20, this movie is likely to influence how they see American race relations. They can see how racist Americans are and talk about how fucked up America is. This, when they not only don't know what they're talking about, but their own nations have race relations that are at least as messed up as our own. No doubt the French Muslims feel pretty good about French tolerance these days. Really, this film should be banned for international audiences unless I or someone else who knows something about American race relations accompanies it with a lecture afterwards describing the 10 million ways that it is wrong.

What a terrible movie.

Random 10 Songs

A lot of blogs put up a random 10 songs off their ipods or computers of whatever each Friday. Looking at these, I figure that my music is at least as good as theirs. So I thought, why the hell not? I always like discussing music anyway. I know it's Monday but I'll do it today and then again on Friday.

Despite these songs, I don't listen to that much music about cowboys. Really.

1. Patsy Cline--Leavin' On Your Mind
2. Snakefinger--Thrashing All The Loves In History
3. Sons of the Pioneers--Cowboy Country
4. Peter Rowan and Don Edwards--I'm Going To Leave Old Texas Now
5. Buddy Tabor--Black Crow Night
6. Allman Brothers--Stand Back
7. Jim & Jesse--Hard Hearted
8. Charles Mingus Big Band--Pussycat Dues
9. Steep Canyon Rangers--Southwind
10. Hazel and Alice--Montana Cowboy

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Dying Malls

Mr. Trend isn't a big mall fan, and hadn't stepped foot in Albuquerque's Winrock mall in quite sometime (outside of trips to Borders and Dillards, which don't require entering the mall proper). Today, I made the first such foray in at least two years.

It's stunning. In a regular-sized mall, it has fifteen - FIFTEEN - stores still in it, and two of those fifteen are Dillards and Borders. The former food "court" is now a food "pit stop" - only Sbarro's occupies the so-called "court." the other stores are scattered and sparse, and of those fifteen, one of them (Victoria's Secret) is apparently closing. You have no idea how a dying mall looks until you're there.

I must say, this leaves me with some ambivalence. I hate malls. I have hated them since I was in middle school, and we would be forced on eternal quests for a pair of 34-29 men's jeans (Mr. Trend grew tall before he grew out, and had quite the svelte frame for awhile). So in a way, the sight of a dying mall gives me a bit of pleasure.

On the other hand, I find it really depressing, too. For one reason, I can't imagine a good alternative that is replacing this dying mall. If it's just more strip malls, then you're really not gaining anything, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the death of this particular mall, and perhaps of any mall, does very little for local business. Additionally, a dying mall is remarkably desolate and depressing. If you've never seen such a dying mall, it's remarkable - it's the perfect setting for a film on existential crises and solitude of humanity in the twentieth and twenty-first century. You see a weird batch of people, all operating in their vacuum - the goth-teen couple who will grow out of it, the son pushing his elderly father in a wheelchair to get him out of the house a bit, the occasional person looking for a ghetto-fabulous nail job - all people with almost nothing to do with each other. Who knows? Maybe some of them come to the mall because of the isolation and solitude, which in itself is a rare feat (few people have such an option in the US as going to a mall for QUIET).

Anyhow, if you're in the Albuquerque area, or if you have a dying mall in your 'hood, I highly recommend the trip. One of the oddest and, in a way I still can't explain, saddest things you can see.

Tour de France--Go USA

On Floyd Landis' victory in the Tour de France, I'd just like to say that I love it when Americans win international sports that are closely followed in the rest of the world but that no one here actually cares about. I guess it brings out some sort of latent patriotism in me. Who knows why. But I'd love it if the US won the World Cup at some point before I die. The rest of the world would be outraged and Americans would care until the next NASCAR race. I'd laugh and laugh.

Speaking of international sports, I was watching some of the international ESPN when I was in Asia. Man people around the world care about some lame sports. Not only golf, which of course Americans play probably more than anyone and which is an abomination on the face of the earth, but other, even lamer events. They were really pumping this international archery tournament. Now archery is cool and all and I'm sure it's fun to do. But how could you watch that? I'm getting sleepy just writing about it.

Also, I'd like to congratulate Floyd Landis on being the first Floyd to win something since Floyd Tillman was inducted into the Country Music of Hall of Fame in 1984.

Really the point of this entire post was to give me a chance to discuss Floyd Tillman.

Quick Movie Review: The Squid and the Whale

I'm not exactly always on top of the movie world, so I just recently saw Noah Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale." That said, I believe it's time to revive Erik's "Quick-review" format. My thoughts:

1.) Any movie that uses Lou Reed's "Street Hassle" is alright by me.

2.) I love the fact that Baumbach had the guts to keep his movie at a slim 81 minutes. It was the perfect length - you cared about the characters, you were involved in the story, and when it ended, it felt right, and you hadn't been thinking it was going to end for the previous hour. I wish more movie directors would realize that "artistic" and "wonderful" doesn't necessarily have to mean "lengthy" too.

3.) I've never been through a divorce, and I've never witnessed one in my family personally, yet I suspect Baumbach hit it dead on. Divorces are usually messy and difficult, especially when kids are involved, and I think he hit that dead on. Doubtless his own experiences in childhood helped in this, but I think I saw one of the most succinct statements on divorce and how detailed and difficult it can be when Jeff Daniels says to Ivan (William Baldwin), the tennis coach, that his wife pays - "She's tennis lessons and winter coats, I'm swimming lessons and sneakers."

4.) Finally, and briefly, it was criminal that Daniels was overlooked for an Oscar nomination. I know the Oscars haven't exactly been "legitimate" in many people's eyes since the early 80s (particularly with the triumph of "Ordinary People" over "Raging Bull"), but it was just sinister. He's definitely put in one of the finest acting jobs I've seen from any movie in the last 10 years. Kudos to you, Jeff. We knew you had more in you than Dumb and Dumber let on.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

More Republican Corruption

No doubt this won't go down in the annals of the Bush administration as a major scandal, but Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt's sketchy family foundation that has allowed him to take over $1 million in tax breaks over the past 4 years is typical of the behavior this administration not only tolerates but encourages.

Both Republicans (Charles Grassley at least) and Democrats are denouncing Leavitt, though it seems highly unlikely that the Bush administration cares.

Both Republicans in the administration and Congress have assumed that their power means they can enrich themselves, their families, and their friends. Whether it's Enron, Duke Cunningham, Halliburton, Jack Abramoff, or Mike Leavitt, Republicans have shown that they do not care about fiscal honesty.

We shouldn't be surprised. Nearly every time in American history that Republicans have entered a period of ascendancy, they have followed with intense corruption. Both the Gilded Age and the 1920s, probably the 2 periods between the Civil War and 1994 when the Republicans have been most powerful, they have tarnished their own legacy with extreme corruption. Now they are doing it again.

I guess it's just a matter of whether Americans care about this or not. We'll find out in the fall.

Jack Warden, RIP

I'm always sad to see the death of solid character actors. With Jack Warden, you didn't know if the movie was good, but you always knew that he would make it better.

Joe Ely & Joel Guzman @ Dan's

I've said it before, and I'll surely say it again, but Dan's Silverleaf here in Denton, TX is the king of clubs. Last night, in front of a crowd probably just shy of 200, Joe Ely stepped on the small stage to loud applause from a very mixed crowd. They quieted immediately on Ely's first chords and a toothy smile. He opened with Butch Hancock's "Livin' on a Dry Land Farm" and played two more by himself. Then, out of nowhere, he said that he had invited a friend to come, a Tejano legend, and he welcomed Joel Guzman! I know they've played together many, many times before, and I don't know whether or not they'll be playing together at Ely's next date, but he was not advertised and I felt privileged to have the two of them standing 20 feet away. They played a few of Ely's big songs, though not many ("Me and Billy the Kid" went over like gangbusters), but Ely's soulful voice and rhythm guitar mixed with Guzman's stunningly subtle bandeon brought a wellspring of emotion from the crowd. His populist politics were met with mostly positive responses (although his desire to drag the president by the arm and make him work on a dryland farm, while eliciting big cheers from the mostly liberal college crowd, did cause the straw-hatted, slim-eyed contingent, who appeared to have come straight from their own dryland farms, to go out to the patio in frustration), and he was not shy in expressing them. Then, they played "Gallo del Cielo," one of my all time favorite songs. When Carlos Saragosa feared the crack that ran along the rooster's beak, I damn near cried. Two encores and six songs later (including a fantastic version of Townes' "White Freighliner Blues," that the whole audience sang along to) and they left the stage. It was one of the finest shows I've ever been lucky enough to see.

After the show ended, my friends and I got another drink and stood around, taking it in, gushing over what we'd just seen. Ely and Guzman had come out into the bar and were having a drink themselves, talking to fans, signing autographs, thanking them for coming, etc. I am not one to go up and speak to a performer. Reverence isn't my bag and I don't feel it does any good for anybody to kiss the feet of artists. However, as we were standing around talking, Guzman comes over and strikes a conversation with us! This is not something I expect from people in general, let alone Grammy Award-winning artists. We thanked him for the great time, but he wasn't there for adulation. After we got the thank yous out of the way, we sat and talked about music, the songs they played and, probably most importantly, the lack of difference between Country and Tejano music. "It's all Texas," he said. He's absolutely right, but it goes way beyond Texas. Folk music is folk music. Whether it comes from Texas, the Mississippi Delta, or Belarus, the differences are scant and they all deal with similar emotions and tribulations, no matter the instruments played or the races and nationalities of those playing the instruments.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Shorter CNN: I'm A Blogger, So I Love Lying

In a story on Bush's disgusting back rub to German chancellor Andrea Merkel, talks about the power of bloggers to amplify a story. The story quotes the excellent blog firedoglake:

"This isn't a Sigma Chi kegger, it's the G-8 Summit,"

A valid point.

CNN follows it up by saying:

"(Bush was actually in Delta Kappa Epsilon. Another Web 2.0 truism: Blogs are not always friendly with the facts.)"

Clearly firedoglake hates the truth because the name of his fucking fraternity is wrong.

How fucking stupid. Classic--let's take an irrelevant fact to show how blogs aren't real news like CNN. We can't trust those dastardly blogs because they don't care about the truth. Real news only comes from mainstream media like us.


Film Reviewers Versus The Public

I found A.O. Scott's article on the criticism of negative film revewiers by a lemming-like public both interesting and frustrating. Frustrating not because of Scott, but because of the topic itself. This has turned into a yearly debate. Summer movies come out. Reviewers talk about how shitty they are. The public doesn't care. The movies make millions, viewers talk about annoying reviewers are, and reviewers are doomed to irrelevancy.

You know what? I don't care. Reviewers serve a useful purpose in the world. Some of us actually care about film. Some of us don't think that a worthwhile movie experience is having your brain rotted away with total crap. Some of us think that the Pirates of the Caribbean films are a grotesque waste of money, and that includes the first one, a film mysteriously on imdb's top 250 films of all time and which shows that even big movie fans are often idiots.

Of course there was a time when film reviewers and the moviegoing public were on the same page. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when movies such as The Graduate and Love Story were both critically lauded and popular. It's not the reviewers who have they changed. Sometimes it's literally the same people. What's changed are both the movies and the audience. Spielberg and Lucas deserve a lot of the blame for the movies. By turning the movie going experience into mindless popcorn crap, they dumbed down the movies for decades. Younger people blame Bruckheimer and Bay for this but they are just following in the footsteps of their elders. Because people like mindless entertainment in a way they didn't even during the Great Depression (why this is I don't know), people's expectations for a movie is to entertain them with a bunch of explosions and car chases without having to think or feel, even for a minute. During the Christmas season the supposedly Oscar-worthy movies come out and moviegoers might see one of those but grudingly.

Hell, even the readers of the New York Times, certainly a highly educated set, are still rating the Pirates of the Caribbean movie as their #4 most popular movie.

So what is a reviewer to do. Tell the public to fuck off. Those few of us who still care about film will read them. Don't worry what the general public thinks. I'm sure they want to be read by more people and have their opinions taken seriously. Hell, I want that for this blog. But just keep doing your job and ignore the public if they are going to ignore you.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Link of the Day--The Police in Downtown Albuquerque

Be sure to read Maggie's post on the police presence of downtown Albuquerque. This city is going through a period of rapid change and the police, perhaps not surprisingly, are not responding well to this. They still have the mentality that the young people of Albuquerque are a menace to be repressed as opposed to a diverse group of citizens that each bring something different to the social fabric of downtown, usually good and occasionally bad.

Anyway, it's a fine post so read it.

In Case We Needed More Evidence that the Cincinnati Reds Are One Of The Stupidest Teams in Baseball

The much derided trade of Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez to the Nationals for Val Majewski and Bill Bray was shown to be even stupider today.

A quick rundown.

The Reds bullpen sucks. They made one bad but fairly cost-free move by picking up Eddie Guardado from the Mariners for Travis Chick. Guardado sucks at this point and gives up tons of home runs, not a good trait for pitching in Cincinnati. But Travis Chick is a back of the bullpen guy at best. So not such a big deal.

Trading Kearns and Lopez, 2 cheap young players for 2 average bullpen guys was just incredibly stupid. Majewski and Bray might help the Reds bullpen but at that cost? Oh yeah, they picked up Royce Clayton as well. Great.

To put it all in perspective, on a day that Majewski takes the loss for the Reds the Atlanta Braves trade for Cleveland's closer Bob Wickman. What did they give up? Minor league catcher Max Ramirez. Ramirez is a nice catching prospect. The Indians are out of the race and Wickman is expendible. Victor Martinez can't actually catch or throw anyone out and Kelly Shoppach is probably not a long-term solution at catcher. So it's a nice guy to get back. But for the Braves, they just picked up a proven closer for very little. This is what you do when you're in the wildcard race (though whether the Braves are actually in that race is debatable, though considering it's the National League I guess they are). What you don't do is trade 2 young and proven hitters for 2 average relievers.

The Braves got a better reliever and gave up far less than the Reds. I guess that's why the Braves are the Braves and the Reds are the Reds.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Mercykilling Under Dire Circumstances Does Not Equal Murder

Dr. B is right on in her post attacking the murder charges filed against the doctor and two nurses in New Orleans who gave patients in dire straits lethal injections of morphine during Hurricane Katrina. What were they supposed to do? Let the people suffer on endlessly. The hospital was without power for several days. Even the generators had broken down. Temperatures inside were over 100 degrees. These patients were already in life-threatening situations. Perhaps some of them would have survived for a brief time after they were evacuated, or maybe they would have died in extreme pain and suffering.

In any case, how can some prosecutor make claims that these health care providers were murderers given the circumstances? I sure hope that some people's anger over the failure of the New Orleans health care system in the days after Katrina doesn't end up resting on the heads of doctors and nurses who made the best call they could at the time. Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti certainly wants to, saying, "“This is a homicide. This is not euthanasia. . . . If someone goes to a nursing home you want to think that they are safe."

If this is not the definition of euthanasia, I would like to know what is.

The Human Body is a Messy Thing

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Bodyworlds exhibit in Denver at the Museum of Science and Nature. For those who don't know, a German has created a process called plastination, in which he basically injects recently dead bodies with some kind of material that allows for almost pristine preservation of muscles, organs, fluids, veins, nerves, etc. He has used this process to create a series of exhibits that allow the general public to see organs, nerve networks, and full cadavers in various positions and postures, allowing unprecedented insight into how the human body looks and works in its numerous facets. And from that show, I definitely left with a better understanding of how complicated, complex, and simply messy the human body is.

Suffice to say, this exhibition kept me thinking on numerous issues. First, I found it more slightly more disturbing than I thought I would. Throughout the show, I had a perpetual dull sense of pain in my stomach, a pain driven from the abstract "grossness" of it all, and sometimes increasing with certain images (such as the cross-section of a woman's body in the abdomen area, complete with an illustration of her in her constipated state at the time of her death). However, from talking to others, the queasiness varies from one person to another - I had no problem with a skeleton and the nerve system of a late-human mapped out, so you could see where all the nerves went, yet my girlfriend found it one of the grossest parts.

One nice thing about the show is it forces us to break taboos about death. When you see all these bodies and body parts and know (sometimes, though rarely) what might have caused these deaths, you deal with death. It's also not uncommon to find yourself pondering what you would like done with your body. The show was a smash success financially - it was sold out everyday I was there, with shows every fifteen minutes from 8 AM to 10:30 PM. THis inherently means that thousands upon thousands of people are witnessing this exhibition and probably confronting death and dealing with it in their own way. Thus, in one regard, the show perhaps provides us with an important benefit by shattering the social taboo and silence we have on death and the body.

I can't speak to the ethics of the show. I did joke that "only the Germans" would come up with such an exhibit. However, in ethical terms, there's really no way to judge, for you know nothing about the bodies, who they were, how they died, if this is what they wanted, etc. The point was to put them up there without such info so you could see the inner workings of the body. Thus, I have no way of knowing whether they (the ex-people) had desired to have their bodies donated to science, or even if this particular show was the "science" they were dedicating their bodies to.

Being only about 70 miles from Colorado Springs (AKA James Dobson's world headquarters), I also found myself wondering about the religious and/or socio-political ideological response to this show. Overall, it seemed peaceful enough, and there wasn't much in the media saying how horribly it had been received by certain political sectors (though the show began in March, so the storm may have died down). Particularly intersting to me was the ramifications of the birth section. They had a woman who died at five months of pregnancy, and had her standing and cut open so that you could see the fetus inside her. Also, you could see what a human embryo looked like every two weeks from 4 weeks old to 16 weeks old, and then they had fetuses the rest of the time. Most of us have seen a fetus on TV, medical journals, etc., but the embryos were particularly amazing to me, both for the fact that such a fuss has erupted in Washington D.C. over something so small, and that scientists have learned how to use such tiny things to perhaps help with such ailments as paralysis, alzheimers, and numerous others.

I'm still unsure to what extent the purpos of the show was education vs. exhibition vs. exploitation. There were certainly some amazingly educational parts - I found the comparison of different organs to be particularly remarkable. You had the opportunity to see regular lungs vs. smoker's lungs vs. coal miner's lungs. You could see a regular kidney compared to diseased kidneys (including poly-cystic kidney disease - a condition that a family member of mine had, and thus was particularly remarkable). You could see a regular liver vs. a fatty liver vs. a liver with cirrhosis. You could even see what a cross section of a fat person's body looked like (amazing, and if most Americans could see that, you might hope that they would eat better).

However, I found the exhibit particularly exhibitionist and perhaps even exploitative with the posing of full bodies. For example, they had male bodies posed swinging a baseball bat or doing a ski jump or a skateboard move to "show" how the body works. However, the emphasis was on the muscles, and one can't help but suggest that frozen images of muscles in a particular activity aren't very useful - the whole way to understand muscles is through motion, not stasis. Additionally, there was an odd gender component to these full-cadavers in various poses. Almost all of them were men. The only ones with women were in a figure skating pose (with a male cadaver, though to be fair, the placard describing what you were seeing placed the woman ice skater in the more active, skilled, difficult role, pointing out all she had to do for such a pose, while the male figure "passively" balanced her), as well as a woman in a yoga pose and the aforementioned woman-with-fetus. The rest were men. I don't know if this was simply b/c the show had more men to work with than women or what, but it certainly leads one to consider the show and the poses in terms of social constructs.

Finally, the "exploitation" component comes through in the cadavers, because they are all doing remarkable activities - not everyday activities like eating, sleeping, etc. One has know way of knowing if the skier actually skied, if the baseball cadaver actually played baseball, etc. Thus, you can't help but wonder if the full-bodies were actually to a degree there for shock value as much as anything. Certainly, the use of some bodies in non-activity-based poses was amazing, such as the body that was cut into numerous vertical cross sections for you to see just about everything inside. But the poses (which dominate on the website) leave one, not necessarily unsettled, but just uncertain of what it is one has just seen.

If Bodyworlds comes to a town near you, it's worth considering whether you would go or not, and if you do, it's definitely worth it for what you can learn. More valuable for such exhibitions, however, is how we consider their purpose, their constructs, what they say about society, etc. After all, who knows if, in 20, 30, 50 years, we'll look back at this show as brilliant, as remarkably ignorant or flawed, or if we'll just forget it. And that's one of the strongest benefits of such a show - it gets us thinking about issues that we can't necessarily answer.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

DVD Transfer and Studio Pandering

In an article from the New York Times on Sunday, Fred Kaplan describes the differences in a 2001 DVD release of Yi Yi by Fox Lorber and its 2006 Criterion Collection counterpart. While I have not actually seen the film in particular, Mr. Kaplan's words about the state of Fox Lorber DVD releases ring true, given the offerings from the label I have seen. They spent years making unwatchable DVDs out of fantastic classic and modern independent films. Unfortunately, as soon as he makes these statements, he immediately backtracks to make excuses for why their releases are so poor; the worst of which that the label released more classic films during the early period of the format than any other label. The trouble with the statement is the majority of the films they did release are films they already had the rights to and already released on VHS. For their DVD releases, all they did was transfer the tape master to a digital one (remastering the print in the most tenuous sense) and put it in a different box. Quantity over quality when it comes to classic films does not hold. I have a collection of 50 "Western Classics" on 12 DVDs released by Treeline Films. The company is simply a manufacturer and distributor, and did nothing for the universally horrific prints except put them on a plastic disc. Just becuase many of these films have never otherwise been released does not mean that the company should be applauded for their preservation efforts. I was reviewing DVDs for two publications at the time Yi Yi was released to the home market, and I can say with full confidence that Fox Lorber was, even in the dark ages of DVD described in the article, at the very bottom of the barrel in terms of quality. My reviews always had to approximate 1/3 synopsis, 1/3 film review, and 1/3 technical review, and Fox Lorber's releases consistently were given dreadful scores in the latter category, and not just in my work.

Worse than this, however, is the statement Mr. Kaplan makes about other companies besides Criterion that are praised for their "fastidiousness." He lists Warner, Universal, Columbia TriStar, Fox, and Disney. Do I sense a pattern? These are the only five major distribution companies (no omissions) and he gladhands them, giving them a free pass for releasing films like Titanic and Braveheart in pristine form. Whoopdeedoo, these were new films when released and likely had digital prints made in the initial mastering process. It's not so hard to keep films in good condition when they haven't had the chance to deteriorate. Look at the original releases of The Maltese Falcon or The Wild Bunch for reference to see how much major studios cared about their own classic films. Criterion does deserve applause for the effort they put forth to produce that kind of quality, but so do other groups that, in many ways, go much farther than Criterion. Those that really deserve the applause are companies like Kino on Video and Image Entertainment. While the releases are rarely "pristine," the companies are often working with the worst possible original materials and turn them into, not just watchable, but quality releases. Additional note should go out to a number of genre film distributors, but none more so than Blue Underground, who remaster films that very few people care anything about and make DVD releases that look and sound better than when the film was originally released in theaters. This is a true technical feat and one that goes unnoticed. They aren't making much money off these films, but they care about the films and the enjoyment of the viewer who pays for them.

My hat almost always goes off to those who do more with less, as these small companies often do. It rings very hollow to hope that Disney/Pixar's release of Cars to DVD will look nice since it's from a digital print anyway.

Random Thoughts about the World

I'm so blasted by jet lag that I can't think too straight and I know that I don't really have anything to say on these issues that hasn't already been said by very good bloggers. That said, let me just throw out a few thoughts on some of the crazy shit going on in the world over the last week.

1. Israel-Hezbollah. A curse on both their houses. Israel is wrong on so many issues. And to some extent they are wrong on this one. But Hezbollah is just awful. What is Israel supposed to do here? They can't just let their soldiers be kidnapped. But I'm not sure what bombing Lebanese infrastrucutre is supposed to do. The Lebanese government doesn't even really control the southern part of the country. I really feel bad for the Lebanese people. What the hell did they have to do with this? They have worked to come back from the civil war and to some success. Beirut is again an important tourist destination. And Israel is destroying that. Very bad stuff.

2. Indonesia has the worst luck. This new tsunami, while fairly small when compared to the 2004 tsunami, is still awfully sad. Tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes...Indonesia just can't catch a break. Though I guess the combination of being on the Ring of Fire, deforestation, overpopulation, and a repressive government will lead to a lot of disasters, natural or not.

3. So George W. Bush is a lecher as well as an idiot. Good to know. I'd much rather have Bill Clinton's lechery. At least he was into pleasure. Bush is just a creep. This ought to really help America's popularity in Europe. What an asshole.

4. And thanks again to W for tying us down in Iraq so that we can't effectively deal with the real security problems we have. Iran is a new power in the region, Israel and Hezbollah can bomb each other, India and Pakistan can move back toward a state of near war, Afghanistan again moves toward collapse, and the US is almost powerless to stop it. W and his Middle East policy is a national shame.

5. Can the Seattle Mariners move to the National League please? After dominating interleague play and fooling us into thinking they could theoretically win the weak AL West, they unfortunately have come back to the American League where they find fun ways of losing every night.

6. The idea that the Arizona Cardinals could compete in the NFC West this year is a joke. Didn't people say this last year? They're the Cardinals. They are really going to have to prove it. I'm real curious to see Edgerrin James in Arizona. While the Seahawks have to be heavy favorites, I am concerned about the loss of Steve Hutchinson to the Vikings. That's a huge loss and I am avoiding Shawn Alexander in fantasy football.

7. If the Sonics move to Oklahoma City, good riddance. It's a major market loss for the NBA and they're stupid for letting it happen. It's also about time that a city stood up to the cries of multimillionaries for public stadium funding. Let them build their own damn playgrounds. Good work Seattle.