Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Top Ten Horror Films

Given the holiday and my adoration for the genre, I thought it appropriate to list my favorite horror films in cinema history. Here goes; happy Halloween!

1. Suspiria (1977)—The closest approximation of a true nightmare ever committed to film, Dario Argento’s Suspiria stands tall as the greatest horror picture ever made. The bizarre color schemes, the music box and subliminal message filled Prog-Rock soundtrack by Goblin, and long, heavily choreographed murder sequences, turn a simple story of witches in a dance academy into an all-out sensual assault that is unmatched. This movie taught me that, sometimes, any semblance of real plot can be detrimental to a horror film’s effectiveness.

2. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)—With a zero budget, amateur actors, and grainy old film stock, Tobe Hooper made his first, and best, film into a true classic of the genre which forces the viewer into a truly palpable sense of discomfort. Hooper “composed” a score of noise and ambient sound that runs throughout the film and the tension-release system present in most horror films is thrown out the window for a system of never-ending stress. The most striking part of the film is the memory that gets attached after watching the film. It gets on plenty of “goriest films” lists when, in fact, maybe ½ an ounce of fake blood gets spilled the whole time. That is testament to this film’s power.

3. The Shining (1980)—While this is the most technically accomplished film on this list, it’s really the performances that stand out with Jack Nicholson’s over the top Jack Torrance and Danny Lawrence’s portrayal of the ultimate in ineffectual children. The twin girls have given me nightmares for years and the disintegration of the family structure through multiple means makes this fantastical supernatural tale downright believable. Jack’s chase of Danny through the hedge maze is a great example of Kubrick’s skills as a filmmaker as it touches both beautiful and hair-raising at once.

4. Hellraiser (1987)—Maybe the most unlikely film here, given the many unfortunate sequels that have come since (seven, as of right now). This is, however, the most pure vision of a fine horror author’s work. Clive Barker directed and wrote the screenplay from his own novella and brought in artist HR Geiger for set design. “Pinhead” has been given a modern horror villain stature in the same sense as Freddy Kreuger and Jason, but “Pinhead” is not the bad guy; he and his cohorts exact the desires of the true monster: mankind. The monstrosities are only around to satisfy the curious.

5. Frankenstein (1931)—More movie icons and clichés have come out of James Whale’s classic retelling of Mary Shelley’s amazing novel about a modern Prometheus. At this point, it can really only be called a horror film as a result of the conventions that have stayed around for seventy years because of the sheer sympathy and emotion brought forth through Boris Karloff’s silent performance. While it is often billed alongside Dracula and Wolfman, this is the only of these original iconic horrors that has stood the test of time. In reality, Bride of Frankenstein is the better film, but it is comedy and, while it often isn’t, should be viewed as such.

6. Night of the Living Dead (1968)—George Romero created the modern zombie film single-handedly here, and is the only one who has shown the ability to properly execute it since. Beyond the walking dead, the picture is rife with social and political commentary and is the antithesis of many zombie films, which are overtly racist (especially in the foreign offerings). Frightening in its realism and utter cheapness, using faked news footage gives a documentary feel that makes the situation that much more chilling. Each of Romero’s four “Living Dead” films share the political aspects, but this reigns supreme in the too-oft played genre.

7. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)—Combining horror with the mundane has been done way too much over the last forty years, but Rosemary’s Baby is the film that ushered the trend in. What would seem to be a normal couple moving into a normal apartment building next to normal neighbors slowly, extremely slowly, turns into a menacing study into the horror of greed, childbirth, and religious fanaticism. The film takes its time so deliberately that, while you know that the other shoe will drop, it still takes you by surprise to see the blood orgies and devil babies. Mia Farrow nails her performance so soundly that it’s very hard for me to imagine her as anything but Rosemary. Viewers feel her exploitation in her horrified emotions. Polanski is a true and, until The Pianist, under-represented master of film who is able to turn anything into horror, even Macbeth.

8. Black Sunday (1960)—No horror film from the era better exemplifies the Italians’ desire for creating visual and sensual feasts to confuse and, subsequently, frighten the audience (as also described in Suspiria above). Starring horror princess Barbara Steele, this was the film that defined the European gothic esthetic in film and solidified director Mario Bava’s reputation for nearly fifty years. A ghost/revenge story that makes little sense much of the time, it is the style and imagery that are so memorable here, not the performances or the story.

9. Repulsion (1965)—The horror inherent in sex is commonplace throughout the history of the genre, back to the silent era but, in the case of Repulsion, sex is the cause of the horror, not the excuse for punishment. Catherine Deneuve’s one-woman performance is so staggeringly realistic and frightening that you want to at once comfort her and push her away. Polanski, in his first English-language film, creates an immensely oppressive hallucinatory experience that it’s hard to believe that he really isn’t completely insane. I’m not sure there is another horror film (and few of other genres) that have essentially one character that doesn’t smack of utter pretension, but this is utter success.

10. Cat People (1942)—RKO producer Val Lewton was given a title of Cat People and told to make a movie on essentially no budget and came up with the quietest, and one of the most beautifully atmospheric horror films of all time. Directed by Jacques Tournier (who would be remembered for Noir classic Out of the Past) and starring the enchanting Simone Simone, it is also directly about sex, in which a woman turns into a panther whenever aroused (ostensibly by jealousy, but c’mon) and stalks a man who loves her. The horror is never truly seen at any point in the film, adding to the menace and evoking the fear of the unknown. This, and Lewton’s other fantastic B-horror features, are essentially forgotten, but once Cat People is seen, it’s truly unforgettable.

P.W. Botha

P.W. Botha dead. May he burn in hell.

Film Review--Heading South

SEVERE SPOILER ALERT--I am going to give away the ending to the movie here. So if you care about such things and read on, don't blame me. Honestly, knowing the ending of a movie before I watch it doesn't bother me, but I know I'm in the minority.

I had extremely high expectations for Heading South. It's a great premise--middle-aged female sex tourists in Haiti in the late 1970s. The film centers around two of these women, Brenda from the United States and Ellen, a British woman teaching French Lit at Wellesley, as well as Legba, the male escort that both women fall in love with. A few years earlier, Brenda had come to the Haitian resort with her husband. They picked up Legba from the streets. Some days later, Legba and Brenda are hanging on a beach. Brenda basically rapes Legba. She and her husband go back to Georgia. Brenda obsesses about Legba, leaves her husband, and comes back to Haiti. Ellen on the other hand has been coming to Haiti every summer for the past 6 years. She's given up on meeting any men in Boston and instead wants the sex and companionship she can pay for in the Caribbean. Ellen and Legba have been sleeping together but when Brenda comes along, competition erupts between the two. Legba is confused but pretty much does what he wants with who he wants.

There are many good things about this film. The acting is first rate. Charlotte Rampling is wonderful as Ellen. No surprise there--Rampling has taken more challenging roles than any actor of her generation going back to The Night Porter and in recent years, the films of Francois Ozon. Ménothy Cesar, as Legba, also nails his role. He shows Legba to be both the confident, streetwise young man of Haiti and also a scared and abused kid. Lys Ambroise is outstanding as Albert, the hotel manager. Both Cesar and Ambroise seem to be amateur actors, though perhaps they have careers in whatever passes for the theatre and film in Haiti. I was less enthused at first by Karen Young as Brenda, but over the course of the film, I came around. She did a great job of showing just how loathesome Brenda is while keeping the character realistic.

The film also does a good job cutting to the heart of the racism underlying the entire enterprise. Ellen is smart enough to know what she is doing. She knows she is taking advantage of these men and justifies to herself, but she knows that it is part of a racist system. Plus, she respscts who they are and their independence of choice, a key part of the film it turns out. Brenda though sees these young black men as "natural." They are black sex objects to her, nothing more. She reminds me of how many Anglos viewed New Mexico Indians from the early twentieth century until today--as blank canvases to paint their own desires upon. For Brenda, these young black men exist to fulfill her sexual desires.

I also loved the monologue vignettes the film uses to get at the heart of the characters. First, they reminded me of the charming pretensious of 1960s cinema. It made me want to watch The Passion of Anna again. Brenda talks about she had her first orgasm with Legba. Albert furiously talks about his own famiy's history fighting American imperalism, showing the self-hatred he has with his job of serving Americans at the hotel. But as he says, Americans corrupt everything with their money.

But the first of the two problems I with the movie comes from these vignettes. Why the lack of black voices? While 3 women talk, Albert is the only Haitian. Where is Legba? Legba was raped by Brenda at the age of 15. Brenda is in love with him. Legba moves to protect a small boy from Brenda when they start dancing, so clearly he is conflicted by her presence. Yet we don't hear from him. Hearing from the boy would also have added a useful voice. I'm not sure what the director, Laurent Cantet, had in mind by excluding these voices. For me, it was almost racist. The story becomes far more about the women than the men they buy. I felt it left a gaping hole at the center of the movie.

Worse, Legba dies. 2/3 through the movie, a sub-plot develops where Legba meets an old girlfriend who now sleeps with a powerful military officer. They talk in the car driven by the unseen military man's henchman. I guess, though it's never quite explained, the henchman tells his boss of the conversation and he has them both killed and their bodies dumped at the resort. What a cop out. Why does Legba have to die? Both Ellen and Brenda are distraught and in the movie, the death helps get at the moral center of each, or the lack thereof in Brenda. She spends the night of his death at first looking for him but then getting laid by some other black guy. She then leaves for other islands to explore their sexual possibilities.

But Legba's death damages the film. Again, it focuses the film on the women rather than the Haitians. The film could have had a powerful ending with Legba confronting Brenda about the damage she caused him. Or nothing could have happened. She could have got sick of him and moved on to Dominica or somewhere. Such an ending would have shown us Brenda's lack of soul and the corruptness of Haiti without a pointless death. Why are filmmakers so scared of nothingness? My God, we all need to watch the films of Yasujiro Ozu to see what kind of emotional punch a talented director can deliver with patience and quietude. And while the film did need some discussion of Haiti's social problems, Cantet could have done this in a number of ways without killing Legba.

Ultimately, Heading South is still a good film. But it is like a new album by a favorite musician--I am so hyped for it that any flaws seem magnified. What could have been a great movie is merely a good one.

A Legal Victory--For Rapists

In a disturbing decision, a Maryland appellate court has ruled that once sex has started, consent cannot be withdrawn.

I'm no legal scholar, but from what I can tell, the judges hardly ruled from high legal standards here. So as a male, I can be having sex with someone and once we start, I can do whatever I want, no matter how painful it is for my partner? Are there males who really think this is a good thing? This ruling can only lead to bad things happening. I'm not saying that there are men out there who are going to read about this and then think of all the ways they are going to hurt their partners during sex, but it does undermine a core message of modern America--no means no. That's all that matters. That should be the legal standard. If your partner says to stop, then you stop. Really disturbing stuff.

More outrage, and better writing on the case, at Feministe.

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging: Myles Horton

Too often, we see Southern history as a monolith. This is particularly true of the post-bellum period. Before the war, there is some awareness of Southern opposition to slavery—the rhetoric of Thomas Jefferson, the Grimké sisters, etc. But after the Civil War, we assume that most, if not all, Southern whites fully supported Jim Crow and Southern segregation. That view continues through the Civil Rights movement. Even today, progressives often view southerners as backward racist hicks.

Of course there is some truth in all of this. Many southern whites today are racist, though perhaps an equal number are not. Quite a few southern whites supported the civil rights movement, though not nearly enough. And the vast majority of the South did embrace segregation. But a lot of Southern whites stood up for justice throughout their lives, often at great personal peril. Myles Horton is one such example.

Horton co-founded the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee in 1932. Monteagle, at the southern edge of the Cumberland Plateau, was hardly a bastion of liberalism in the Jim Crow South. Dominated by whites working small farms, the Cumberland Plateau had a national reputation for poverty, even for Appalachia. Monteagle was far from a rich place in 1932. In nearby Sewanee, the University of the South, a bastion of the Old South, taught the region’s elites but hardly in progressive values. Though the Monteagle didn’t have a large number of African-Americans in the early 1930s, the area fully embraced the conservative and often racist values of its era.

But it was here that Myles Horton and Don West founded the Highlander Folk School. Born in 1905 and a native of Savannah, Tennessee, Horton grew up in a deeply Calvinist family that, like many southern families that we never hear about, stressed Christian responsibility for both white and black families less fortunate than themselves. For many people, this background instilled a sense of Christian charity toward all people, but Horton took it a step further. He attended Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, where he began to get involved in social justice movement, coming out publicly in favor of John Scopes and attending a biracial conference at the Southern YMCA College in Nashville. His most formative experience as a young man came in 1927, when he directed a Vacation Bible School in Ozone, Tennessee. There he began to hold meetings at night with local people who were eager for information to help their lives, from new farm methods to public health issues to the economic conditions of their region. Horton came out of this determined to make a difference in Appalachia. He spent the next five years searching for the proper method. He moved to New York where he came under the influence of the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who later heavily influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. Niebuhr helped politicize Horton, making connections between the social gospel and attacks on industrial capitalism. Horton then visited the aging Jane Addams at Hull House in Chicago and other progressives. Determined to return to the South to organize for change, Horton, with the financial connections he made through Niebuhr, raised money to open his school in dirt poor Grundy County, Tennessee.

Grundy County had long been one of Tennessee’s poorest counties. Like other parts of the United States dominated by the coal industry, the county had failed to develop other economic options. Labor unions had a brief moment of success in the 1880s and 1890s but by the 1920s, had disappeared from the map. Horton couldn’t find a more suitable spot for his experiment. Horton believed that education would lead to social change and created an atmosphere that took into account what local people wanted to learn rather than a top-down educational program that had failed in the past.

Although more known for its civil rights work, Highlander's first major campaign involved assisting the CIO to help organize textile workers in Tennessee and the Carolinas, creating and directing labor programs throughout the South, and working to build a racially integrated labor movement throughout the region. Horton and his co-workers got involved in labor issues around Grundy County but they generally made only a very small difference, and usually ended up on the losing side. After 1939, they pretty much played a peripheral role in Grundy County itself, working on larger regional and national issues. While this no doubt disappointed Horton, it also gave Highlander a new sense of life after seven years of struggles. CIO leaders announced the formation of the Textile Workers Organizing Committee in March 1937 and Horton and Highlander jumped at the chance to get involved. They stayed involved in the CIO until around 1947, working to organize textile workers and promote racially integrated unions.

After World War II, and as the CIO began to purge its leftist unions and turn back toward the AFL, Highlander moved its focus to the growing civil rights movement. Beginning in 1953, Highlander began a series of workshops for community leaders, both black and white. In 1957, they started a Citizenship School project on South Carolina’s Sea Islands, teaching blacks to read and write so they could register to vote. The Sea Islands had more in common with the Caribbean than the rest of the US before the Civil War—blacks vastly outnumbering whites, living in extremely poor conditions, and working in labor-intensive crops. After the Civil War, these people were almost totally ignored. No bridge connected the Sea Islands to Charleston until the 1930s. Using mostly black organizers, Highlander managed to change the lives of people on the Sea Islands deeply, educating and politicizing them. By 1959, Horton felt confident that Highlander could slowly withdraw from the program, leaving it to local activists, and moving on to set up citizenship schools in other southern places, particularly in Georgia and west Tennessee. Highlander worked closely with Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) during this period and helped further the movement in deeply important ways.

Student activists convened at Highlander during the sit-in protests to make plans and figure out where to go next. Both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. trained at Highlander. Everyone thinks Rosa Parks came out of nowhere, but of course that is not true. Parks had long served as a NAACP activist in Montgomery and her training at Highlander came before she refused to give up her seat on the bus. She attended Highlander’s 1955 desegregation workshop and said years later, “That was the first time in my life I had lived in an atmosphere of complete equality with the members of the other race.”

Throughout their existence in Monteagle, Horton and Highlander came under attack from local and state authorities. This culminated in 1962 when the State of Tennessee confiscated their property and revoked their charter for being, as they referred to it, “a Communist training school.” Of course, the early 1960s was the height of the Cold War and segregationists constantly red-baited the civil rights movement, hoping to discredit it and forestall any change. Though they failed in that, they did manage to shape the civil rights movement as more conservative than perhaps it would have been. They could close Highlander through red-baiting, they could discourage southern whites from giving even tacit support, and they could marginalize leaders with radical backgrounds such as Bayard Rustin. Highlander particularly came under the wrath of Mississippi arch-segregationist Senator James Eastland, who held hearings investigating the supposedly communist ties of Horton and other Highlander leaders. In 1957, the IRS took away Highlander’s tax-exempt status because of its political activities, or more specifically for its political activities that the Eisenhower administration didn’t like. Later that year, the Georgia Commission of Education published a 4 page color pamphlet entitled Highlander Folk School: Communist Training School, Monteagle, Tennessee, which showed all the communists who were at Highlander, such as Martin Luther King and Pet Seeger, as well as photos of black men and white women dancing. Georgia then put these pictures on billboards around the state. Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett used these photos as proof that the civil rights movement was led by communists. In 1959, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill investigating Highlander. Despite finding no actual evidence of illegal activities there. They did run into trouble for having beer on the premises. They might have even sold some to people. Oddly, the Tennessee legislature didn’t look more broadly into the sale of illegal liquor or moonshining throughout Grundy County. Finally, Highlander property was confiscated by the state and sold at auction.

However, Highlander simply moved to a new compound in the hills east of Knoxville, where it continued to give support to Civil Rights movement. The KKK led rallies past the center, they were firebombed, and gun shots occasionally busted through windows. Yet, they persisted. They played a big role in the Poor People’s Campaign, conducting workshops until the federal government shut down the shantytown that arose from the protests in DC. Horton continued to be involved after his retirement in 1970, though after the major goals of the civil rights movement were met in the late 1960s, Highlander struggled to find a new mission. They spent much of their time organizing Appalachian people to fight for economic rights. Myles Horton died in 1990 but Highlander continues to evolve. Today, it spends much of its energy seeking justice for the growing Latino communities of southern Appalachia.

Ultimately, this story has not centered on Myles Horton. But Horton shows the power of one person to spur others to action. The South desperately needed organizations like Highlander. There were people all over the region looking for a way to organize for racial, economic, and social justice. Horton provided the leadership to direct people into fulfilling these goals. Horton shows us a few important things: that many southerners of the early 20th century had great courage to stand up to the inequalities racking their region, that while movements arise from the workings of many people the role of strong leadership cannot be overestimated, and that there are so many heroes of the past that deserve our attention.

For further reading, see John M. Glen, Highlander: No Ordinary School.

Let the 8-Month Yawn Begin...

Well, this is it...tonight, the NBA kicks off its season.

I find basketball the most boring of all sports, particularly the NBA (and I'm not including golf or Nascar in this - I'm talking about SPORTS). Throughout the regular season, you are bombarded with games that, if you are lucky, are interesting for the last two minutes, as two teams duke it out to win the rare close game. Even then, the last 2 minutes of a game find a way to take up to 25 minutes (I'm not kidding on this - I've timed it before - it can, but doesn't always, take that long between the timeouts, the TV timeouts, the foul-shots, etc.). You often aren't lucky, and are subjected to a 3 hour bore as one team proceeds to completely dismantle the other, with the game never even being close after the opening tipoff.

Now, I'm not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are some decent, exciting events (watching Lebron James play, Kobe's 81-point game, etc.). And certainly, I root on my home-region Cleveland Cavaliers and hometown hero Lebron James (after Michael Jordan broke my heart in the early 1990s with that shot over Craig Ehlo, I never fully recovered until the Cavs got Lebron). So naturally, I will follow the results of the Cavs with interest, hoping they go far this year (if not all the way, though I'm realistic). But you couldn't pay me to just sit at a TV and just catch a random game of basketball the way I could for baseball, football, and even hockey (which is extremely underrated).

Some claim baseball is "boring" and lasts too long at it's six months, but at least it gets as many games as possible out of those six months, and keeps the playoffs to one month. 82 games spread over 6 months, with another two and a half month playoff series? Please.

This is why God gave us spring training and hockey (GO SABRES!).

Wake me up in April when the baseball season starts.

Cool Korea Blog

Just wanted to give some props and hopefully send some readers to Gusts of Popular Feeling, a pretty interesting Korea blog.

This is what's really great about blogging. There are so many smart people around the world with so much to say. I lived in Korea for a year back in the mid 1990s. There was so much I wanted to talk about but I didn't have the forum.

In particular, check out this fascinating post on North Korean propaganda. The writer compares it to US news in a surprisingly useful manner given how these comparisons usually go.

I've enjoyed reading this blog lately. Hope you all enjoy it as well.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Film Review--Behind Locked Doors (1948)

A brash young private eye (Richard Carlson) is hired by an equally brash young reporter (Lucille Brenner) to infiltrate a private sanitarium to corner a corrupt judge who is hiding from the police. Posing as a new patient, he discovers a lot more corruption in the asylum itself than the judge could muster.

The simple plot falls in line with the utterly cheap nature of this production directed by Budd Boetticher, who would go on to direct some of the most progressive and ambiguous American Westerns of the late ‘50s. Very darkly lit to hide this very cheapness, there is a palpable feeling of menace that emerges from the shadows as we watch this detective try and inch closer to the truth, all the while further suppressed by the asylum orderlies…ah, the disgusting corruption in the healing-for-profit game.

While the performances aren’t so hot, which include former professional wrestler and Ed Wood regular Tor Johnson as “The Champ,” a former boxing champion whose manias are regularly exploited for everyone’s amusement, the terse story and dark mood make up for it. In its 62 minutes, the film gives everything anyone could want out of the lurid “poverty row” pictures. It’s pretty good and worth a look, if for no other reason than its obvious comparison, if dubious influence, on Sam Fuller’s phenomenal 1963 thriller Shock Corridor. Despite the fact that the DVD release is part of a Kino collection of “Film Noirs,” it doesn’t really show any of the tell-tale signs of the genre. Really, it’s a simple crime drama but, in this day, if it’s cheap, dark, and old, it’s noir…whatever gets them through the night, I guess.

Chinese History Textbooks

I've found recent discussions on the new Chinese history textbooks fascinating.

These textbooks are minimizing the role of Mao and the Revolution in Chinese history, promoting new views more in line with the present views of the Chinese government.

I have a lot of mixed feelings on this. On one hand, the cult of Mao isn't doing anyone any good. It doesn't really reflect modern China, it caused incalcuable damage to the nation and its people, and it is quite backward looking. On the other hand, how on earth can you discuss China since 1949 without Mao dominating the picture? You can't in any honest way. But the people writing these textbooks aren't interested in honesty. They are pushing a new form of social control rather than any real discussion of Chinese history.

What I find interesting is that, as Shanghaist points out, this is somewhat akin to Howard Zinn and other historians of the late 1960s and early 1970s debunking the great man theory in the United States. Leftists of the 60s and 70s always argued, at least rhetorically, that history needed to focus on the people rather than the leaders, but then again, they usually fell into the trap of glorifying Mao, Che, and others.

On the other hand, given that these books are commissioned by the Chinese government, it's hard to make that comparison to Zinn. These new books reflect new priorities of the government and a move away from anything that might threaten the new authoritarian capitalist order of China. Until Chinese history books are written by independent organizations or people, it's really hard to see a truly new interpretation coming to light. For this change isn't a new interpretation so much as it is a new form of propaganda.

The link above also has an interesting interview with Chinese historian Zhu Xueqin. Scroll to the bottom--it's short and well-worth reading.

East German Westerns?

Well, this is fascinating.

East German westerns--a combination of the Spaghetti Western, German romanticism, and East German communism? The mind reels. But I have to watch these ASAP!

Now, That's Just Embarassing

Basking in the glory of a victory for Luis Inácio "Lula" da Silva last night, the full and absolute defeat of Geraldo Alckmin hadn't fully sunk in. I was just pleased that Lula took 61% of the vote, and Alckmin, 39% (the numbers I originally posted were with 87% of the votes - it ended up a little higher than I originally posted).

But in Brazil, voting is mandatory - virtually the exact same number of people vote in elections in which there are first and second rounds (to not vote in Brazil without a government-approved excuse is to make yourself eligible for the forfeiting of social security and numerous other government programs). So, basically, the same number of people (about 95 million) voted in both rounds.

As I wrote after the first round, Alckmin finished with 41%. Yet this time, he finished with 39%.

With the same number of votes.

Which means he actually LOST support from the first round to the second round. The proof is in the numbers, as he fell from nearly 40 million votes on October 2nd, to just over 37 million yesterday. Over two million of his OWN supporters had second thoughts after the first round...

...Now that's just embarassing.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Academic Job Market

This is my first foray into the job market.

I know that many of you already know this, but I just wanted to say how absolutely loathesome this process is. I want to rip my hair out as I write this.

I should stop now, before the uncontrollable profanity-laced tirade begins.

Brazilian Elections

Lula wins, 60.45% to 39.55%....life is good.

NCAA Top 25, Week 10

USC finally lost. It's about time. Me thinks there are 2 more losses left in them, since they still have Cal, Oregon, Notre Dame, and UCLA.

1. Ohio St.

2. West Virginia--That WVU-Louisville game is going to be huge.

3. Michigan

4. Louisville--If Louisville beats WVU and wins out, they have to be in the national championship game over a 1 loss Texas team.

5. Texas

6. Tennessee

7. California

8. Florida

9. Auburn

10. USC--Actually, I don't think they are the 10th best team in the country, but until they lose again, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

11. Notre Dame

12. Boise St.

13. LSU

14. Arkansas--Probably ranked too low but I don't feel like jumping them over LSU or Boise.

15. Oklahoma--Big time win over Missouri. Give this team credit--they have a lot of guts.

16. Boston College

17. Clemson--Nice choke job against Va Tech.

18. Rutgers

19. Texas A&M

20. Georgia Tech

21. Wisconsin

22. Oregon

23. Wake Forest

24. Tulsa--You can't stop the mighty Golden Hurricanes!

25. Virginia Tech--a strange team. Will they keep moving up or lose again and drop out of sight? Who knows.

Close--Washington St. (didn't think I'd be saying that this year), Missouri, Nebraska, BYU, Maryland

Concert Review--Halloween @ Dan's Silverleaf

Last night, Dan's Silverleaf (of which I've written at length) presented their Halloween extravaganza in which local acts became cover bands of '80s punk rock. I've seen a lot of the groups that performed and I'm a big fan of a lot of the bands covered; it was a fantastically fun time that really showed why Denton is such a good music town.

The show was a lot like eating Tapas at El Farol in Santa Fe (those of you in Santa Fe are missing out big time if you don't eat there). If you don't like the blood sausage with various mustards, don't worry, the goat cheese and sundried tomatoes is coming out soon. There will be something you like. Likewise, each band played three to five songs; just enough so you get a taste of nostalgia, but not enough to get boring at any time.

There were about fifteen bands presented. The groups I remember off the top of my head were The Replacements, Minor Threat, Fugazi, The Butthole Surfers, Husker Du, Mudhoney, The Minutemen, and a bunch of others. I particularly enjoyed Minor Threat and The Butthole Surfers. Both acts channelled their subjects perfectly. For Minor Threat, they had a kid who looked fourteen, angry as hell, screaming his lungs out and flailing around much like a young Ian MacKaye. For The Butthole Surfers, they presented a video show behind the band displaying birth footage, riots, and bullriding while the act, who played only two songs, rambled and rambled. Just when it seemed like the song was ending...no, there's another verse. And why? Because singer Gibby Haynes doesn't give a shit about the audience, he does what he does and it's a crackup. The only acts I didn't care for were the Replacements, performed by The Drams, who have had some moderate success outside of Denton and decided to be big drunk rock stars instead of The Replacements, and Husker Du, mostly because I don't really like Husker Du although the performance was fine. They're the proto-Green Day and I don't much care for melodic punk. It was fine, but not my thing.

The most fantastic thing about the whole night was the simple fact that this club was able to bring together enough quality bands that could put a show like this on. This is, of course, mainly because of the university's focus on music but, still, this town is barely larger than the town I grew up in. It's ridiculous how much music is packed in such a small place and I love it.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Jim Webb's Novels

I haven't read Jim Webb's novels, nor do I intend to. They don't sound particularly interesting to me.

But the attacks on his work by George Allen and conservative bloggers is insane.

First, it's clear from all of this that a huge amount of Americans don't care about reading at all. Hardly surprising, it's a classic example of the anti-intellectualism in American life that Richard Hofstadter wrote about so many decades ago. People are attacking him because he writes fiction. God bless America.

Worse though are the nature of the attacks. To quote one critic, "Mr. Webb had total control over which words he wrote into his book. He chose to write about the basest sexual acts rather than use the books as an opportunity to present something which was uplifting or illuminating."

God forbid people actually write about sex. Because of course no one had sex during the Vietnam War--women were treated like the Virgin Mary and everyone lived good moral Christian lives. Or maybe not.

Not only is this another examples of conservatives hating sex, but it also demonstrates a complete misunderstanding about the role of art in society and a desire to fabricate history in order to present a pleasurable past for Christians.

Jim Webb's books are about Vietnam. People had sex in Vietnam. Sometimes women weren't treated well. Webb is writing about this in a fictional way. This is what fiction is supposed to do.

I'm not sure what disturbs me more--that so many people are stupid enough to believe this or that the smart, often fiction-reading, people who are promoting Allen's attacks are so base to use this against Webb. Disgusting.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Lyrad's Random 10

Pretty varied this week. The last song is of a Portuguese style called Fado that is some of the most touching music in the world that I've ever heard. If you ever find some, do yourself a favor and pick it up.

1. Terry Allen--Cantina Carlotta
2. Little Richard--As Long as I Have You
3. Townes Van Zandt--For the Sake of the Song
4. The Hanoi Ca Tru Thai Ha Ensemble--Thi Noi
5. Ennio Morricone--Horror Movies
6. Jimmy Yancey--Everlasting Blues
7. Chuck Berry--Johnny B. Goode
8. Alix Combelle--Alma Marceau
9. Django Reinhardt--Manoir des mes reves
10. Maria Ana Bobone--Fado de Cada Um

Mr. Trend's South-of-th-Equator Random 10

A little New York City, a little South, and a little bit of Europe (the continent, not the band) this week

1. "I Love N.Y.E." - Badly Drawn Boy
2. "Lady Godiva's Operation" - Velvet Underground
3. "Teen Age Riot" - Sonic Youth
4. "Symphony No. 3 - Eroica - Finale: Allegro Motto" - Beethoven
5. "So Central Rain" - R.E.M.
6. "Take Your Stand" - Blind Willie Johnson
7. "Little People" - The White Stripes
8. "White Palms" - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
9. "The Warrior" - The Concretes
10. "Dress Sexy at My Funeral" - Smog

Verbatim Hitchens: "What's it like to be a minority of one, or a kick bag for the Internet? It washes off me like jizz off a porn star's face."


I was highly amused by Ian Parker's profile of Christopher Hitchens in the October 16 issue of the New Yorker. Hitchens came off just like I figured he would. Entertaining, smart, a tremendous alcoholic, and one of the biggest assholes the world has ever produced. That he has switched to support the Neocons is probably the best thing that could happen to progressives--his way of making himself seem like an enormous jerk is symptomatic of a deep self-destructive streak. The quote from the title says all you need to know about Hitch and why I am so glad he isn't on my side.

What is it, then, a bath?

In the wake of this recent story (which I'm sure is making its way around corners of the country), does the administration really think it's fooling anybody anymore? I love how the White House insists that dunking people in water isn't "torture"...what would they call it? A friendly bath?

As a scholar who has examined military dictatorships and authoritarian states in random parts of the world in the 20th century, I could comment on how, among the numerous means of torture that authoritarian states throughout the 20th century on multiple continents employed, dunking "detainees's" heads in water as a means of torture in order to extract information was one of the most popular measures, but it just seems superfluous anymore.

John Bolton, Failure

Can John Bolton be classified as anything but a failure? South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun refused to talk to him if he came to Korea. When was the last time the president of an ally refused to talk to the US Ambassador to the UN? Bolton's bluster makes the neocons feel good but it does nothing to further US interests abroad. Bolton wants to come to Seoul to yell at the North Koreans. Roh thinks this is a bad idea, further distancing himself from the Bush administration. As I recently said, Roh's policy makes massively more sense than Bush's.

Has John Bolton actually done anything concrete that anyone in the world finds useful?

Erik's Random 10

1. Richard Thompson, Shenandoah
2. Cat Power, Evolution
3. Iron & Wine, Woman King
4. Billy Bragg, All You Fascists
5. Marvin Gaye, Right On
6. Drive-By Truckers, Never Gonna Change
7. Willie Nelson, Nothing I Can Do About It Now
8. Hank Snow, Rhumba Boogie
9. Gillian Welch, Tear My Stillhouse Down
10. Radiohead, Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Does Daniel Ortega Have an Ounce of Credibility Left?

Embedded in this dismaying article about Nicaragua banning all abortions, even for the life of the mother, is the support of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. Ortega once supported women's rights but now is good friends with the Catholic church.

Although Ortega deserves credit for holding elections in 1990 and proving all of the right-wing critics of his government wrong, since then he has done nothing worthwhile. He continues to lead what's left of the Sandinista movement instead of passing leadership to a fresh face. He has long faced allegations of corruption. He continues to run for president, losing every election, though there is a real chance he could win this year. His renewed popularity no doubt has a lot to do with his selling out on issues that he once took a principled stand upon. He has also faced accusations of sexually abusing a young female member of his family.

While the Bush administration is attacking Ortega as being anti-democratic, bringing back tired old mantras from the Cold War, Ortega undermines his own credibility by voting to destroy the rights of 1/2 of the Nicaraguan population.

One of the worst things that ever happened to Nicaragua was the death of FSLN leader Carlos Fonseca in 1976, allowing Ortega to take control of the revolution. They're still dealing with the negative consequences of this today.

India Water Shortages

Michael Specter's excellent New Yorker article from the October 23 issue on water shortages in India, and in the developing world generally, remind me of my own recent discussion of the topic.

Malthusian predictions of civilization's demise because of overstretching resources have long proven false. Technology is a wonderful thing. We can produce immense amounts of food for incredibly low prices. We can pack people into cities and ship food to them from outlying farms around the world.

But there is only so much water in the world and you can't make more. There is no technology that can create water. We can create more fresh water through desalinization, but this comes with intense price and environmental costs.

So we have to live with the water we have. But with severe allocation problems (Specter discusses how farmers get as more water than they can use to grow rice while people in the cities subsist on far less water than they need), pollution, and a rapidly growing population, India is already reaching the point of no return. Wells are being pumped increasingly deep, but if you go too deep, you bring saltwater and arsenic into the aquifer, destroying the entire supply forever. When even if you don't pollute the aquifer, when it's gone, it's gone. There's no more.

India is in serious trouble. They may be able to forestall some of the worst effects of this for a few decades but I continue to argue that there is no way this is a burgeoning world power. They don't have the political leadership, the societal stability, or the consistent rainfall needed to become a long-term world power.

Shorter CNN: We'll Let Any Insane Wingnut Write A Column For Us, So Long As They Are Well-Funded and Have Powerful Friends

CNN has allowed Minutemen founder Jim Gilchirst to write a column extolling his group's virtues. Can John Birch Society CEO Arthur Thompson be far behind?

Stupid Ideas I Just Don't Get

In the United States, many politicians, mostly Republicans but some Democrats, lament "government spending", decrying it's "horrible" (yet, in their own rhetoric), unclear consequences. I used to think maybe it was just a U.S. phenomenon, but the anti-spending rhetoric of Geraldo Alckmin in Brazil has hit a chord here, too. Which leads me to the following:

Since when did governments spending money become a bad thing?

First, the notion that, regardless of WHAT the government is spending money on, the government shouldn't spend, is simply stupid. Such a line of thought ignores the variety of services on which governments spend, and treats the government instead simply like a bank where money is supposed to sit and grow without ever being used.

Secondly, it ignores HOW the government in question is spending. If the government is wasting money on weapons programs and military spending while ignoring social needs of its people (health, nutrition, medicine, famine, poverty, etc.), then spending can be justly criticized. But criticism of spending that, by means of international deals, investments, etc., increases a country's GDP, brings people out of poverty, leads them out of malnouishment, increases employment, literacy, etc., seems ignorant at best. Why is it bad that governments spend to help their citizens? Or, along another line - how do you pay for highways? For the postal service? For infrastructure? How do you offer cheap public university education to your citizens? How do you pay for the issuing of passports so your citizens can travel? It's not private money - it's government spending.

I have no idea where Americans or other people have gotten the idea in the last 40 or so years that spending is awful, but a blanket condemnation of spending without discussing HOW a government is spending is moronic. he state can and does provide services to its citizens, no matter how fucked up the state itself may be, and those services cost money. So can we please get rid of the idea that spending is bad, and instead focus on how we spend?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Argentina Defines Terrorism In Its Own Unique Way

I love this story about Argentina wanting to arrest for Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani for blowing up a Buenos Aires synagogue in 1994, killing 85.

Of course, this was an awful attack. But it's pretty interesting that Argentina has chosen to focus on the terrorism of other nations while ignoring their own terrorism against their own citizen during their dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. The CNN article describes the attack as "the worst terrorist attack on Argentine soil."

Somehow, I think the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo would disagree with this assessment.

Southern Republican Racists

I have long defended the South against accusations that they are the only, or even the most, racist region in the country. While the South certainly has its share of racism, you'd be hard-pressed to find more intensive race hatred than in Chicago and Boston, and even in self-proclaimed liberal havens like Seattle and Santa Fe, there is more than a little racism flowing under the surface.

However, sometimes some Southerners do things that are so off the charts to make me regret the context I try to place American racism in. The Republican Party in Tennessee is doing just that. It's one thing for George Allen to be a racist. There are racists everywhere and some of them go into politics. That's he still likely to win reelection in Virginia is disturbing, but at least the state Republican party has not stooped to racist depths (that I know of) in their advertising.

Not so the campaign of Bob Corker in his race against Harold Ford for Bill Frist's Senate seat. Over the last week, two ads have come out showing the Republican Party for what it is--the party of white supremacy. In probably the worst ads since Jesse Helms' famous white hands ad of 1990, Corker first put out an ad that more than hinted at biracial sex. Today, he put out a radio ad featuring African drums. Both Corker and Ken Mehlman kept their distance from the white woman ad, although neither exactly condemned it either. Probably both are behind it. But there is no question where the African drum ad is coming from--Bob Corker himself has approved the message.

There is no alternative analysis to this, no way to spin it. This is racist. Bob Corker is a racist. The Tennessee Republican Party is racist. And unless the national Republican Party comes out and strongly condemns this, they are also racists.

It's 2006. Racism is still as dominating a feature of American life as ever.

UPDATE--The Republican Party pulled the interracial sex ad after severe criticism from around the country. Of course, the message is still out there and we'll see how Tennessee voters respond. Ken Mehlman continues to insist the ad is not racist. We'll see what happens with the radio ad.

Fuck Jeff Suppan

I really hate it when athletes get involved in politics. Mostly, it's because they are conservatives. But beyond this, most of them are pretty damn stupid. Just because you can throw a ball or catch a touchdown pass doesn't mean that we should listen to your political views. Especially when you're as half-witted as most athletes.

I was pretty ambivalent about rooting for someone in this World Series. It's pretty easy to root for both the Tigers and Cardinals. But now, my decision has been made for me.

Jeff Suppan, second-rate pitcher, has come out against stem-cell research in Missouri, appearing on an advertisement with other white Missouri sports luminaries such as Kurt Warner and Mike Sweeney, as well as some of America's finest actors, whites Patricia Heaton and Jim Caviezel. Jeff Suppan needs to shut the fuck up and concentrate on not sucking tonight. This ad, largely in response to Michael J. Fox's add for Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill, has Suppan and the others urging people to vote against stem-cell research. This is part of a larger attack against Fox, spearheaded by Rush Limbaugh's claims that Fox wasn't taking his medicine that today. More likely is that Limbaugh had taken a large dose of Oxycontin before going on the air, leading to a severe case of assholism.

Also, I wonder what Tony LaRussa and the rest of the Cardinals think about this. No doubt a lot of them agree with him, but do you think they like the attention this is getting? I'm guessing no. I'll also be curious to see what kind of response Suppan gets tonight in the home town of Dick Gephardt.

In any case, Go Tigers!

Brazil's Presidential Debates - The Third Round

For those paying attention, I didn't write about the second round of debates, primarily because I missed them due to the vagaries of time. However, while I thought I might have missed something important in the second round, it turns out I missed virtually nothing. That said, on to the third debate.

The same issues came up in this round that had come up in the first (and, from my reading of news stories, the second) rounds. Alckmin continuously referred to the alleged corruption in Lula's administration and criticized the government spending, again indicating his lack of any real plans, proposals, or goals beyond the vague promises to "cut spending" and "end corruption." For his part, Lula continued to rely upon the accomplishments he has managed in his administration (particularly the curbing of inflation, which is at 2% right now, and the social programs), and his accusations (in essence) that Alckmin is unable to lead and would sell the country to private multinational companies if he won.

There haven't been any general changes in attitudes and appearances in the two men. Alckmin continues to go on, at times continuing bombastically well after his time is up (twice this time). Either he hasn't learned his lesson from the first debate, he doesn't care given his current standing (he has 39% to Lula's 61% in the latest poll today in the Folha de São Paulo polls), or the tantrum-like behavior just isn't as important in the Brazilian electorate's eyes (I'm guessing it's primarily the second reason, with a little bit of the first and third thrown in). Lula, on the other hand, continues his grandfatherly-like (at least to me) appeals to the poor, his charisma, and his (sometimes barely hidden) chastising of and dislike for Alckmin. While the atmosphere between tehse two men remains contentious, it's not as fierce as in the first round. I'm guessing the open hostilities have subsided somewhat, as they now treat each other as antagonists who can't stand each other but who have to deal with the other civilly.

While the general bearing of the debate hadn't changed, the candidates did get into policy more than they did in the first debate, where more personal attacks were present (it was as if, by the third round, they had settled a bit). Alckmin basically continues to criticize Lula's spending, proposing to cut national spending. Throughout his economic goals, the vague threat of privatization still looms above his rhetoric. While he has laid off the initially open privatization rhetoric he first employe, he hasn't steered away from teh goals of liberalism, and his history of privatization of roads, banks, state-owned companies, etc. while governor of São Paulo still follows him, and he hasn't done much to distance himself from such policies.

On the other hand, Lula continues to defend his social programs which have expanded the size of the middle class (including "less white" people, a fact which has pissed off the "white" middle class to no end and has contributed greatly to the extremely antagonistic approach to Lula among the middle class, an antagonism I have seen personally as baseless claims about him being a drunk and lazy have hounded him among acquaintances of mine). In response to Alckmin's critiques of government spending, he points to the gains the country has made both in terms of domestic gross product and the earnings the country has gained via trade agreements with other developing nations during his administration.

Also, at last, the proposed foreign policy of these two men has come up. It appeared briefly in the first round, but was fleshed out more fully in the third. Alckmin basically wants to re-orient policy in Brazil towards the United States and Europe. He feels that Lula has become too "subservient" to South America (nevermind that Alckmin basically wants to become subservient to the United States). The real critique behind these claims rests with Bolivia. Evo Morales has recently nationalized oil, and Brazil's nationalized petroleum company, Petrobras, has fallen under this nationalization. However, Morales has not taken away Brazil's rights to oil. Rather, he has promised to examine the rates which Brazil pays for petroleum, and if it is fair (to Bolivia), he will allow it to continue at said rates; if not, he will increase it to a just rate in comparison to the world market. It is worth bearing in mind that Brazil has lost neither access to oil nor rights to be in Bolivia. It has been a delicate scenario, certainly, but Lula has played the diplomat perfectly, continuing dialogue with Morales. However, Alckmin sees Lula's "dialogue" as "subservience", not just to Bolivia (though that's the hottest spot right now), but also to Venezuela, Argentina, and others.

In response, Lula has criticized Alckmin's northern-hemispheric approach. He feels that dialogue is essential, not just between Brazil and the U.S/European axis, but throughout the world, including South America, Africa, and Asia (hence the economic agreements he has established with places like Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and China, among others). Lula openly criticizes Alckmin's notion of diplomacy as a stand-offish event, and has even gotten digs in on both Alckmin and Bush/the United States by claiming that international politics demands dialogue, not aggression and alienation of other countries. The basic difference, essentially, is that Alckmin wants to isolate Brazil from the rest of Latin America and align solely with the axis of U.S.-Europe, while Lula is more open to dialogue with all countries whom he feels Brazil and said countries can mutually benefit each other. An interesting side-note in this is that, in reality, the U.S. does not dominate the foreign policy of either man. Certainly, Alckmin has referred to the U.S. and relations between Brazil and the U.S., and Lula has criticized the Bush-model of "diplomacy" (if you can call what Bush does diplomacy, though that's another post), but the broader issue at hand in Brazil's foreign policy debate is simply is Brazil going to take an interactive, dialogue-based role within the developing world, or is it going to assume a more subservient role to the so-called "First World."

One final, cultural comment about the debate Monday night is it's time. It started at 10:30 in most of Brazil (which, like the U.S., has multiple time zones), and didn't wrap up until 12:15 in the morning. If debates were so long and so late in the U.S., it's worth wondering if anybody would even bother watching them...

And Still Even More Classy Republicans

One the heels of Erik's blog, Rush Limbaugh decides to go after Michael J. Fox, who is currently in a campaign ad for Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill, who advocates stem-cell research in a quest for cures for Parkinson's disease, which Fox has, and others. Fox apparently is *gasp* showing the effects of Parkinson's (severe, uncontrolled trembling and jerks throughout the body), which has for reasons unknown led Limbaugh to claim Fox was "acting" and "exaggerating" his disease. Limbaugh says he never saw Fox like this before, and while I haven't seen the ad, I've seen impromptu, unplanned footage of Fox, and his case isn't good. He, like any Parkinson's victim, shakes uncontrollably much of the time. I had a great grandmother who had Parkinson's for 15 years, and that's what it does. And once you've had it for awhile, medicine can only do so much. Yet Limbaugh remains convinced that Fox, who got this disease far sooner than anybody should (not that anybody should have to get it at all), didn't take his medicine on purpose or was acting in order "to mislead voters into thinking that their vote for a single United States senator has a direct impact on stem cell research in Missouri."

Memo to Rush Limbaugh: You probably have no good reason to know this, but some people take drugs because they are genuinely sick, and can't always count on the drugs to overcome diseases they actually have.

Film Review--In Cold Blood (1967)

In general, I have big problems with both the True Crime genre that has become popular in the forty years since the release of Truman Capote’s serialized “nonfiction novel” and the biopic genre of film that produced the film Capote. There I was, though, with one genre that I generally despise getting me interested to see the film version of the original example of another that I generally despise. I had seen In Cold Blood, the film, a long time ago, but seeing Capote, as suspicious as I may be of that film, made me realize that I probably didn’t understand a damn thing about the movie.

Released a mere two years after Capote’s serialization of the tragic events of 1959, it still rings as likely the finest example of the genre and, while maybe not the revolution that the novel was on its respective art, is a phenomenal production. The film often comes off as anachronistic; period costumes just barely out of the period, stark black and white photography reminiscent of the noir genre of two decades earlier, and full jazz score by Quincy Jones contrast strikingly with the realistically frank, sometimes crass dialogue, violent imagery, and ambiguous storytelling in ways that really show a change in the way studios and the public would perceive content in film. It was two years later that a similarly frank, although sexual, Midnight Cowboy would receive an infamous X rating and help to lay the groundwork for our prejudice against sex and predilection for violence once restrictions became more lax in film.

What I find strange about the movie is the compassion for everyone involved, including the killers, making them somehow normal. So we vicariously experience the town, the crime, the investigation, and the execution of the murderers, who we’ve come to sympathize with as a product of their time and circumstance which, while very well done, rings a little bit creepy to me. From a storytelling perspective, there is no villain, no animosity bred with the killers, they come off rather sad, particularly in Blake’s representation of Perry who, in one key scene, stands at the window revealing to the preacher information about his father and, while stonefaced, the rain outside reflects against his face giving the sense of both sweat and tears, giving us an indication of both the sadness and pressure of his unique situation.

While I may not like the style that came out of this story in both film and literature, I think it is more of a question of quality in this case that sets this above the others. While films and books about Ted Bundy may give consumers the vicarious thrill of murder when they could not do so themselves, the haphazard presentation of such works has become the standard in the genre. When real thought and emotion are put into such a project it allows, as it does in the case of In Cold Blood, for us to see everyone as equals, killers and victims, investigators and lawyers alike in an attempt to get to the true psychology of crime. I don’t think this is completely successful at that, but it does successfully bring to the table something high above the trash of its brethren.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Troubling Authoritarian Ties of Geraldo Alckmin

For reasons I can't explain, for all of the issues, important and unimportant, that have been made in the press and society in the Brazilian presidential elections, one that has been nearly completely overlooked is the extremely troubling ties between Geraldo Alckmin and the authoritarian dictatorship in Brazil (which lasted from 1964 to 1985, longer than any other Latin American 20th-century dictatorship outside of Paraguay's Alfredo Stroessner).

Least troubling, perhaps, are his family ties to the dictatorship. Alckmin is the nephew of José Maria Alckmin, who was the first vice president during the military dictatorship, serving to president Humberto Castelo Branco, the general who lead the coup that overthrew João Goulart in 1964. However, this is perhaps least Alckmin's fault, for he can't control who is his unkle, and it wouldn't be too troubling in and of itself, if it were the only tie he had to authoritarian forms of government.

Unfortunately, it isn't. In 1972, as a young deputy, he sent a letter to president Emílio Garrastazu Médici. Médici oversaw the most repressive phase of the Brazilian dictatorship, when tortures reached their all time high and repression, censorship, and open police violence dominated. However, Alckmin was nothing but laudatory towards Médici. In a letter written in 1972 (when most of the Brazilian populous, as well as the international community, was well aware of the atrocities of the Médici state), he praised Médici for showing himself "sensible to the social, labor, and social security problems" in working for "the greatness of Brazil." Throughout this period, Alckmin distanced himself from any resistence movemnt in Brazil, be it radical or even moderate, a fact which reveals, as one journalist puts it, "an affable tone" with the regime, "revealing the posture of not confronting the military dictatorship, a fact corroborated by the accounts of [Alckmin's] colleagues in college and politicians with whom he worked."

Some may still say that such activities were 34 years ago, and that he may have turned over a new leaf, but his latest decisions indicate otherwise, pointing to his most offensive activity in this area. Alckmin has made clear that, if he wins, he will appoint Aparecido Laerte Calandra as his chief of national security. Calandra, a military man, was one of the fiercest torturers during Brazil's dictatorship, overseeing hundreds of tortures in the period. Alckmin could have taken a stance. He could have disassociated himself from the repressive past to which he is tied by picking somebody else (even though he most likely will not win Sunday). He could have said, "the dictatorship did horrible things, and I will not support those who openly participated in the torture or repression of innocent civilians." But he hasn't. He has openly embraced a man who practiced torture on fellow civilians, and has decided such a man would make a good head of national security.

There are many reasons why Brazil is better off without Alckmin as president, but these facts are absolutely unforgiveable. Alckmin could have shown a break with the authoritarian, repressive ties to his past. Instead, he has openly embraced them, revealing himself to be little better than authoritarian dictators the world over. And for this, he should be condemned, both in Brazil, and in the international community writ large.

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging--The Cahokia Peoples

One of the more interesting aspects of my trip to St. Louis the other week was a visit to Cahokia. Today, Cahokia is a large group of mounds just east of St. Louis, in Illinois. Virtually no one is familiar with Cahokia today, something I find most unfortunate.

Cahokia was the largest Indian city in the United States before the arrival of Columbus. Long gone by 1492, at its height Cahokia held around 20,000 residents and built huge earthen mounds. The largest of these mounds, Monk's Mound, takes up about 15 acres and is about 100 feet tall. An impressive monument to this mostly unknown civilization. They also had "woodhenges" where logs were placed to mark a calendar, showing significant knowledge of the world. Cahokia was the centerpiece of the wide-ranging Mississippian peoples, who built these characteristic mounds as far away as Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Florida.

As we might imagine, Cahokia was hardly a paradise. It seems to have been ruled as a theocracy, though if it was anything like most Native American cultures, authority was likely fairly decentralized and based more on respect than hard and fast lines. Cahokia was built in a planned way (unlike St. Louis), in a diamond shape with Monk's Mound at its center and with a stockade at the heart of the city. Settled in around 650, significant mound building began around 1050, with abandonment sometime around 1300. A short civilization one might think, but one significantly longer than the United States.

Why did Cahokia disappear? It's hard to know for sure but more than likely resource depletion was a leading cause. Cahokia built its dwellings out of wood, a semi-renewable resource. It is believed that the city deforested the landscape for many miles around, until building became untenable. There were climate changes as well during this period, though I find this less likely--Illinois is not New Mexico and climate changes that would crush desert cultures would likely have a somewhat less destructive impact upon more temperate climates. In any case, the centuries after Cahokia's fall saw a general depopulation of southern Illinois and Indiana. Archaeologists don't know why this happened but the Mississippian cultures held on in more outlying regions.

Today, Cahokia has been named a World Heritage Site. However, its preservation and interpretation is more reminiscent of a poorly funded developing nation than what one would expect in the United States. Run by the state of Illinois rather than the National Park Service, the grounds are kept pretty nice but interpretative signs are few and poorly made and the visitor center is more of a mishmash of various Indian stereotypes from around the United States than any particularly interesting discussion of the Cahokia people. To make it worse, the state of Illinois has celebrated their most interesting piece of pre-Columbian cultural heritage by running a 2 lane highway just south of Monk's Mound, between the mound and the visitor center. Not only does the visitor have to cross this road to visit the mound, but the highway intersects what was the southern plaza surrounding the mound. Just to the north of the mound, runs Interstate 64. Rerouting the freeway seems a bit unrealistic, but moving the highway is something that could be done. But that would take some actual respect from the American people for its pre-Columbian cultures, something that I don't see happening anytime soon.

Marty Peretz, My Favorite Wingnut

Matt points us to yet another nonsensical post by Martin Peretz. This time, he is infuriated that Norton is publshing the diaries of Rachel Corrie, the peace advocate killed by the Israeli army in 2003. Even worse for Marty, Norton is comparing them to the Diary of Anne Frank.

What Marty doesn't understand is this: Just because you're Jewish doesn't mean that you're right. Peretz is like all too many Israelis and Israeli supporters--they believe that there is no comparison between what they do to the Arabs and what was done to them in Europe. It's not the same thing, but it's not nearly as different as Peretz likes to think.

Matt is also right that comparing Corrie to Frank is not accurate. He compares them to Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, the northern SNCC activists killed in Mississippi's Freedom Summer of 1964. Now that's an accurate historical analogy.

More Classy Republicans

Following up on the tasteful comments by Republican candidate Peter Roskam in Illinois' 6th Congressional District that his Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth wanted to "cut and run" from Iraq, even though Duckworth had lost both legs in Iraq, Wyoming's Republican Representative Barbara Cubin walked over to her Libertarian challenger Thomas Rankin and said, "If you weren't sitting in that chair, I'd slap you across the face." And why was Rankin sitting in a chair? Because he has multiple sclerosis. Nice.

Can we please get rid of these people?

Via Shakespeare's Sister

The Historical Analogies of Joe Lieberman

Attempting to one up his neoconservative friends with their tortured and absurd historical analogies, Joe Lieberman compared 2006 to 1861 to justify suspension of habeus corpus. Jesus' General has responded best.

Does Joe really believe this?

Language Can Be Fun!

There's a fun little article on the Portuguese language and a popular new linguistic museum in Brazil in today's New York Times that's worth checking out. One of the finest things about the article is its efforts to deflect the notions that Portuguese is a "second-rate" language in the world behind languages such as English, Spanish, French, German, etc. (a notion that's very common in the U.S., given partly to the fact that we don't deal with Brazil economically and politically to the extent that we do with Europe or Japan, and partly due to the fact that Spanish in the STates is rising so quickly that it receives the majority of our attention).

Anyhow, it's worth checking out, and has some important and fun factoids about the Portuguese language (including delightful differences in words between Portugal and Brazil, not unlike the difference between "pissed" in England and in the United States).

Anyhow, it's worth checking out, particularly if you know little about the POrtuguese language or cultural differences in the Portuguese-speaking world.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Justice Improving in Brazil?

I've long maintained that the only difference betwen the "criminals" and the police in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo is that the police are sanctioned to murder innocents, while "criminals" (i.e., the poor) are not. Certainly, this is a gross oversimplification, yet not necessarily fully wrong, either, and those who remember the masses of dead in São Paulo earlier this summer and/or the more-than-40-or-so poor men, women and children in Rio in May 2005, or who have seen the stunning Bus 174, you know what I'm talking about.

Fortunately, there emerges the story that the Brazilian state is finally doing something about this problem.

Now, if we could just get Brazil to follow Argentina's and Chile's lead, and get around general amnesties that forgave torturers, so we could perhaps see some of the men who committed heinous acts in the name of "democracy" prosecuted before they all die....

Random Daily Things I Love About Brazil

Having been here for a month now, and written plenty on race, politics, etc., I thought I'd toss off some daily things I enjoy in Brazil that don't appear in travel guides or history books. So here's a quick look at some of the quotidian....

-You can buy soda individually, if you want six cans, you can pick up six cans, but if you only want one or two, you can do that, too. There's no 6 or 12 pack restriction.

-The same goes for beer. Going to a party, but want to be mellow? Buy three beers. Want to be drunk, but without buying a twelve pack or two six packs? Buy nine bottles (or cans). Genius.

-Caipirinhas (the national drink - cachaça, lime, and sugar) can be had for about 2 dollars if you know where to go. Nice.

-There are barzinhos (literally, "little bars") everywhere - you can just go and sit with friends on the sidewalk, drinking beer out of cans or sharing liter-bottles with each other, pissing the night away. And I've yet to see a block that didn't have a barzinho (if not two or three or, where I live, 5).

-(Continuing the alcohol theme): With the public transportation system, you can have as much alcohol as you'd like without worrying how you'll get home.

-(This one will have special meaning to males): Urinal cakes are not necessary. Mothballs do the trick just fine, thank you very much.

-Film translations are frequently sublimely absurd. Four of my favorite examples: "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" became "Three Men against Each Other"; "Ocean's 11" and "Ocean's 12" became (with a vaguely homoerotic undertone) "11 Men and a Secret" and "12 Men and Another Secret," respectively; and "Out of Africa" became "Between Two Loves."

-Given the minimum wage in Brazil (about 171 US dollars) and the enormous wage-gaps, you can buy almost anything in installments without interest. Is there a lamp that you need for your desk that costs 50 reais (about 20 dollars_? No problem - pay in two installments of 25 reais. Want that new pair of Nikes that costs 400 reais? Pay 40 reais a month over 10 months with no interest. You can buy just about anything like that, including books, music, and even food. Remarkable.

Mister Trend's (belated) Random 10

After a weekend of moving to a new apartment and getting internet installed today, it's nice to have good music to help relax. Here's this week's fairly diverse sampling...

1. Badly Drawn Boy - "Golden Days"
2. !!! - "Me and Rudy Giuliani Down at the Playground - A True Story"
3. Blind Lemon Jefferson - "Lock Step Blues"
4. Patti Smith - "Hey Joe (Version)"
5. Ornette Coleman - "Chronology"
6. Blur - "You're So Great"
7. Brian Eno - "There Is Nobody"
8. The Dresden Dolls - "The Jeep Song"
9. Scott Walker - "Cue"
10. Boards of Canada - "One Very Important Thought"

Sunday, October 22, 2006


This past week I saw Fred Eaglesmith play a show in Albuquerque. The show was pretty interesting, with some good songs and a lot of talking between the songs that was satrical remarks directed at the 60s generation gone old (i.e. Eaglesmith). While I could have done without some of that, I am glad I went to the show.

What was really remarkable about the show was the mandolin play of Willie P. Bennett. He had it plugged in and basically played it like a lead guitar. I had never seen this before. It made me think harder about the use of mandolin in modern music.

I am probably more ambivalent about the mandolin than any other instrument. Bill Monroe personally rescued the thing--in the early 20th century, the mandolin was heavily feminized by musicians. Literally. It was seen as a woman's instrument that might be nice to have in a band but no self-respecting band leader would play it. Monroe did though, creating bluegrass music with the mandolin as a centerpiece. In the old-time music bluegrass came from, the banjo, fiddle, and guitar were far more important--one of the real innovations of bluegrass is centering the mandolin.

So mandolin became, and continues to be, a central music in bluegrass music. There isn't a whole lot to say about it until the 1960s. David Grisman is, along with Ricky Skaggs, the most known mandolinists today. Grisman, who is a child of the 60s if there ever was one, is an amazing instrumentalist. He took the mandolin to new places. While this can be pretty interesting, it all got caught up in the jam band movement. Grisman, in large part because of his close relationship with Jerry Garcia, has played a central role in the history of jam bands. This is not so good. While I can still listen to some of the Dead stuff and think it's OK, the bands they influenced are almost all unlistenable and pointless to me.

Many of these bands feature the mandolin. My head about exploded a couple of months ago when I went to see the great James McMurtry. After he left the outdoor stage, a little Portland band played some inside. It was another jam band, with a lot of really wankerish fiddle and mandolin solos. I lasted about 10 minutes. After this, I became really frustrated with how mandolin playing has developed and have begun to fear seeing a band with a mandolin since I figure it means a lot of pointless jams.

That's why it was so good to see Willie P. Bennett tear shit up with his mandolin. He took an instrument that has become tired and went to new places with it. Why can't the mandolin be played like an electric guitar? There is no good reason. What's more, Bennett represents the best of musicianship--he is helping to rethink the traditional uses of an instrument. The use of the cello in Alejandro Escovedo's band over the past decade is another great example. Why not use the cello? There is no good reason not too--it's a wonderful instrument. But few bands do. Hopefully, a few jam band mandolinists see Bennett perform and realize that what they are doing is tired old wankery and that there are multiple ways to play what, at its essence, is a wonderful instrument.

NCAA Top 25, Week 9

2 things make me not want to do a poll this week. First, the week was boring. Second, the only major upset involved my Ducks. Washington St.? Good God.

1. Ohio St.

2. West Virginia

3. Michigan

4. USC

5. Louisville

6. Texas--I was really rooting for Nebraska against them because the last thing I want to see is an Ohio St.-Texas rematch. Maybe they'll fall in a Big 12 Championship rematch.

7. Tennessee

8. California

9. Florida

10. Auburn

11. Clemson--Very impressive team and a great win.

12. Notre Dame--Again, how lucky can you be? This team should have lost to both Michigan St. and UCLA. Now they're almost certain to waste our time in a BCS bowl where, just like last year, they will be hammered by a real team.

13. Boise St.

14. LSU

15. Arkansas

16. Oklahoma

17. Boston College

18. Rutgers. They keep rising and they deserve to after beating Pitt.

19. Texas A&M

20. Missouri

21. Georgia Tech

22. Wisconsin

23. Nebraska

24. Oregon

25. Wake Forest

Close--Tulsa, BYU, Georgia, Iowa, South Carolina

Concert Review--Scott Biram

First of all, I'd like to thank Erik for keeping better track of the concerts in my area than I do. Had he not recommended this to me, I'd have missed out on a damned amazing time.

That said, Scott Biram is the kind of one-of-a-kind artist that, I now see, nobody should ever miss if he comes around. He's a one man band, but it's a lot more than a gimmick. In front of stacks of vintage '60s amps and playing a 1959 Gibson hollow body guitar, Biram wails, growls, and hollers original songs and older favorites alike (including two close to my heart: the traditional "True Religion," which I first heard via Rev. Gary Davis and Leadbelly's "Black Betty") through two microphones while stomping a little kick drum. It's dirty, and he has one of the purest blues spirits I've ever witnessed.

His story is the real example of this spirit. Nearly killed in 2003 when a semi swerved and collided head-on with his truck, he was back on stage a month later, wheelchair-bound with IVs hanging from a broken body, unphased and still punishing his equipment. That's seriously tough. He's fully mobile now and doesn't mention the near tragedy, but it's clear that death will have to go out of its way to bring this guy home.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Lyrad's Random 10

1. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovski--Capriccio Italian for Orchestra
2. Clifford Hayes' Louisville Stompers--Dance Hall Shuffle (Take 1)
3. Django Reinhardt--How High the Moon
4. The Bomboras--Project Zero
5. Grupo Bahia--This Masquerade
6. Skillet Lickers--Fiddlers' Convention
7. Buckethead--Speed Flux Quadrant/Inclusion/Exhaust Release
8. Allen Brothers--Padlock Key Blues
9. Pixies--Down to the Well
10. Charlie Barnett and His Orchestra--Murder at Peyton Hall

St. Louis Notes, Part 2

While most of St. Louis' downtown doesn't reflect it, the place has a very interesting history.

One of the best things about the National Park site that includes the Arch is that it also protects the old courthouse. The courthouse is where Dred Scott was first argued and decided. Sadly, the room it occurred in has been split up but nonetheless, that is a vital little spot of American history. Much of the courthouse is about Dred Scott but there's a lot more too.

I was truly amazed in reading about the Dred Scott case. The woman who refused to grant his freedom ended up, sometime in the early 1850s, getting married--to an abolitionist Congressman from Massachusetts! Her response--sell the slaves to her brother. Now, I know that you can't explain why people get married to who they do. These things don't always make sense or lead to the actions you would expect. But how in the hell did that Congressman live with himself knowing that this case was going through the courts and it was his wife's fault. Amazing.

Equally amazing was the pictures of air pollution in St. Louis. St. Louis wasn't any dirtier than other contemporary American cities. But today, we have little ability to comprehend how filthy these cities were. They showed a picture of St. Louis in 1942. The once white courthouse was black with soot. They repainted it the next year. In another picture, you see the glistening white courthouse surrounded by black buildings, a shocking contrast.

Another interesting thing about St. Louis is that it went through its downtown collapse quite early. By the 1930s, downtown had become increasingly abandoned. That's really surprising and I'm not sure why it happened. This was before white flight and the rise of postwar suburbia. The old French and Spanish quarters by the river had fallen into complete dilapidation. The Park Service bought it up and demolished the buildings to make way for the new park that today holds the Arch. Perhaps this happened because the city was so tied to the steamboat that when they finally built a big rail center, it was over a mile from the river and thus business moved that way.

Finally, one note on the Arch. When in the 1940s, the Park Service and Truman Administration decided to build a monument commemorating western expansion, no one image or design was favored. In a video, you can see some of the alternative designs. They are dreadful. Perhaps the worst is reminiscent of that terrible JFK memorial in Dallas. The Finnish architect whose name I forget that won picked the arch because of its classic design. A good choice, as the St. Louis Arch is the most beautiful piece of modernist architecture I've ever seen. But amazingly, it wasn't until the thing was almost completed that the architect realized that the Arch could serve as a metaphor for westward expansion. Typical of an architect to ignore the completely obvious way that people would see and use their work.

Nationalism and Environment in Brazil

Hey, I can talk about Brazil too...

Brazil has responded quite harshly to rumors of foreign nations buying parts of the Amazon to conserve it.

Brazil believes, and I'm trying not to bust out laughing as I write this, that they are the best caretakers of the Amazon.

This is clearly ridiculuous. Brazil wants no international control over its rainforests because it wants to exploit them as much as possible, without realizing that in the long-term, there is more money to make from ecotourism than logging. But of course that tourism money is not going to go to the oligarchs in nearly the boatloads as logging and cattle.

For all the downsides of globalization, one potential upside is that nations can band together and help preserve vital ecosystems. But the Lula presidency seems to me, and no doubt Mr. Trend can comment on this with much more authority, to be looking back to the nationalistic movements of the 50s-70s that focused a lot on land reforms that would give a lot of people access. While that sounds good, doing so almost always results in an environmental disaster. The best recent example is Zimbabwe, where Mugabe's attacks on white landowners has led to more people having more land, but has not helped out poverty one bit, while decimating wildlife populations.

I wish Brazil would not respond so negatively to these proposals and come to realize that they have one of the Earth's greatest resources and that they can exploit this resource economically through tourism while doing much less damage to the landscape.

Colombian Flower Industry

I guess this is part of a series on the international flower industry or something since I just talked about the rise of the Chinese.

In order that the United States continues to get its flowers as cheaply as possible, conditions in Colombia have declined significantly.

I think I'll list the problems we need to know about rather than describe them in an essay.

1. The one unionized flower farm in Colombia has closed. God forbid workers actually be treated with dignity. Of course, that farm is owned by Dole. The workers were fighting against long hours and exposure to pesticides.

2. The even cheaper Chinese flowers are undermining the South Americans, leading to the layoffs of 2600 workers in Colombia and 900 in Ecuador.

3. This line from a manager at one of the closed plants is great, "He told us in Africa they work for a bowl of soup a day--that in Colombia we workers made too many demands." Remember, this is an American company running this. This represents the contempt American businesses still have for unions, both in the US and around the world.

4. Like many agricultural products imported to the US, the Colombian flowers are heavily doused in chemicals illegal in the US, both exposing workers to poisons and bringing some of those poisons into our homes.

Next time you're buying flowers, try to remember the industrial process that takes place to get them from Colombia to the your local flower dealer.

Pointless Border Conflicts

Q:Is there anything more pointless than dumb border conflicts?
A: No.

Tim writes of El Salvador and Honduras bickering over an uninhabited island in the Gulf of Fonseca.

Does the island have any value to either nation? It doesn't seem so.

This reminds of when I lived in South Korea and the Koreans were laying claim to an island held by the Japanese. When I say island, I mean tiny rock sticking out of the sea. Pictures of it were on drink cans. It looked utterly useless. From what I could tell, the Japanese were completely ignoring the Korean complaints.

On the other hand, this post links us to the greatest website I've ever seen, that of the Salvadoran armed forces. Seriously, you have to check this out. That's what I call an intimidating military!

Erik's Random 10

Old-timey day I guess.

1. Alejandro Escovedo, Five Hearts Breaking
2. Beck, Cut 1/2 Blues
3. Fiddlin' John Carson, Hell Broke Loose in Georgia
4. The Allen Brothers, Hey Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line
5. Townes Van Zandt, For the Sake of the Song
6. The Louvin Brothers, Dying From Home, and Lost
7. Tom Russell, Where the Dreams Begins
8. Death Cab for Cutie, Title and Registration
9. Tom Waits, More than Rain
10. Eric Dolphy, The Prophet

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Soundtracks for Silent Film

As much as I love silent film, it is not the easiest or most accessible style of the art out there. If a silent film is made today (and there are a few, although they are direct throwbacks instead of an attempt at anything new), it is considered strictly as art-film and not commercially viable at all. Trying to get an uninitiated person to sit and watch a silent is no easy task, for many reasons. The odd generational and technological issues associated and, especially, the changes in politics and bigotry (for example, characters named "Chin the Chinaman") from when these films were produced to the present can account for a lot of it, but I think the main reason is an artistic and, specifically, a musical one.

Originally, an orchestral score written by someone from the studio accompanied many of the large budget films of the era. However, an orchestra can only perform where there is room to house both 25-40 players as well as an audience. A theater would never sacrifice attendance revenue for musical purposes so, in place of the orchestra, especially in the smaller venues in more rural areas, the musical accompaniment would come from an organ. Sometimes, again for large budget features, the orchestral scores would be arranged for the organ, giving the player something to work from but, more often than not, there would be no arrangement and the organist would be left to his own devices, playing a score based on the action onscreen and some scant cues sent by the studios, giving a good example of early musical improvisation. I saw The Phantom of the Opera, the one silent I was able to see in the theater, this way. A Wurlitzer organ in San Francisco at one of the oldest still standing theaters on the west coast was the way to see it, and a unique experience that I recommend anytime anyone gets the chance.

While I could, I suppose, plink out a tune on a keyboard while I watch a movie, I really don’t have the energy for it and I’m not so good at the instrument. This only leaves me with two options, though. The first, and the one that destroys a lot of people’s enjoyment of these movies, is the scores that are presented with the film. As a rule, I hate these scores. It seems that they’re made to appeal exclusively to people who saw the movies originally in the theaters. They’re completely inoffensive, its true, but they’re horribly derivative, stodgy, and boring. Not only that, it takes away any of the improvisational aspects and canonizes a modern score to a nearly century old movie. Take, for example, The Thief of Baghdad, which I’d previously reviewed. Carl Davis, the biggest offender and possibly the most backward-looking film composer working today, composed the score for a small orchestra and…surprise…the music has a Middle Eastern feel. No doubt, some second-rate Arabic style sounds will put viewers in the time and place much more fully than the massive sets and elaborate period costuming do. There is a scene in which a group rings a huge gong and…surprise…the score has bell sounds. WOW!!!!!!!! A shocking turn! It’s almost like it’s a sound film. Give me a break. The piano scores are much more offensive in the sheer boredom they elicit, and there are only a few listenable scores imprinted on any of the copies of silent films I’ve ever seen.

My solution is to turn the sound off completely and play something of my own, be it a soundtrack to a different film, a piece of classical music, or whatever I randomly pull out of a box. It serves two purposes. First, I’m going to be listening to music I actually like, which goes a long way to my enjoyment of any situation. Second, and more importantly, there is synchronicity in laying disparate things on top of each other. This goes back to the rather silly combination of Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. While I have a very hard time believing that the band intentionally wrote the album to coincide with the movie, the connections are undeniably there. At its heart, film music is emotive and often manipulative, in existence almost exclusively to subconsciously move the viewer’s mind toward an emotion that reflects the action onscreen. The music, without the screen images, is just as emotive if more ambiguous in where it’s supposed to lead you. So, I take a film score, say, the soundtrack to Son of Kong by Max Steiner and start the music at the first title of, say, Tod Browning’s The Unknown starring Lon Chaney (my personal favorite of all the silents). The huge orchestral numbers of the score do not directly reflect anything that goes on plot-wise in this small, lurid circus film. Instead, the hugeness of the music reflects a significant amount of irony on the action, turning it, at times, quite hilarious and, at times, truly disturbing. None of this is intended and, were I to start the music a minute earlier or later, the synchronicities would change, or they wouldn’t be there at all. Not just that, I can reflect differently on the movie watching it a second time with, say, Morricone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly soundtrack, turning much of the film decidedly creepy. It, for any movie, lends an element of randomness to it all and puts the brain in a place that is not as obvious as where the included score will take it. It’s not a perfect method, but I have had more success exposing people to the style this way than the alternative. I’ll take random over stale any day and I recommend giving it a shot.