Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bomb Surfing

While Russian youth are doing this, Robert Alter has written in Slate about his new translation of the Book of Psalms. Related? Ask the Big Kahuna...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I Don't Want to Change Anything I Do, So Blame Myself? No, No, No.

Let me start by saying that I do not like Chelsea. Not in the least. Although I do like Drogba. And Terry. And Essien. What footballers! And I like Mourinho. What a marvelous bastard! Just look at him! And, of course, the footballing world woke up last Thursday, following Chelsea's 1-1 home draw with Rosenborg of Trondheim in the Champions League, stunned to learn that Mourinho is out! So it goes in world football. And it won't be long before he turns up again, I'm sure, at Barca or Parma or Leverkeusen or somewhere (all unfounded, not even rumors). But in the meantime, we're without one of the sport's true characters, so far from most American eyes, the self-proclaimed Special One. So I thought a few choice quotes (from his exit interview, no less!) were in order:
Were you sacked or did you resign?

The Chelsea statement is a correct statement. The relationship broke down, it is true, and a 'mutual agreement' is true. They didn't sack me, I didn't close the door. It is true that we both agreed I should leave.

Is that the official line?

You know that I'm not the kind of guy who will be told what to say. If I was sacked I would say I was sacked. If I had closed the door I would say I'd closed the door, that is the truth. So when I say the relationship broke down I am telling you the truth. They haven't said why the relationship broke down and I'm not going to say why it happened either.

Do you blame yourself for that?

No. I'm Jose Mourinho with all my good qualities and all my bad qualities. I'm Jose Mourinho and I don't change. I don't want to change anything I do, so blame myself? No, no, no.

How can I blame myself when I'm leaving a country and the people there are not happy that I'm going? The club is not happy, the fans are not happy, my opponents are not happy - even the referees are not happy. Yes, a few of the referees have rung me to say they are sad to see me go. But not the linesman against Blackburn.

Will you be going back to Chelsea to say goodbye?

No. It is over. Chelsea is over. It is the end for me at Chelsea. And I'm very happy with what I did - the way I started and the way I finished.

I will be around the area, taking my kids for a bicycle ride, but I won't go back to the fans. Just imagine if I did - I would die in the crush out in the middle of the pitch. It is better that doesn't happen. It is so difficult, though. Not difficult from a football point of view, that's life, that's football. But the emotional strain of it all is not easy.

You sound very upset.

I must admit I caught a tear. Just as the tear was coming out I was catching it. I did not want to cry even though I felt like it. This was so hard for me. This is the most hurtful, painful experience of my career. My worst moment at any club anywhere. It hurts me more than anything that has gone before. This was the longest period I was ever at a club.

How angry are you with what has happened?

Not at all. I'm just sad from the human point of view. Even with you journalists I'm sad. I like you. I'm sad to be leaving you behind, so it is not easy. But there's no anger. Not a single part of me is angry. There's no anger at all.

Everything above from the Guardian interview. And if you can't get enough, here's an old Time Out London interview and a BBC 'best of' (that isn't that great... but when Sheva is a class 3 egg...)

Until Mourinho finds his feat, it'll be fun to watch Arsenal chew up the EPL table this year...

And for the title quote, yeah, JM, I'm with you.

Editorial note: Thanks to RM for the editorial guidance throughout the creation of this post

Even Destroyers Have A Price

Well, alright.

Apropos of nothing, really, or the most recent New Pornographers album, I suppose, and mostly the Dan Bejar-penned track "Myriad Harbor," I wanted to take a moment to write about Dan Bejar aka Destroyer. A minor poet, is how I'll introduce him, not as a slur, but fully as a compliment. And musically? Baroque. Rich, indulgent, ornamented pop anthems. You'll be entering a world that is not your own, but it is well worth your while.

I can't remember exactly when I first started listening to Destroyer. I remember distinctly LM recommending him to me, sometime in 1999, and I have a vague impression of someone slipping in Streethawk: A Seduction into a car's CD player. So it was either LM and the Cabriolet driving down El Camino in '99 or TL and a rental heading down 95 to D.C. Either way, I had formed exactly the wrong impression of Destroyer, based strictly on the band's name. In no way was I prepared for the hand claps, the orchestration, the fragments of poetry, the allusions within allusions, wandering in and out of a narrative arc that seems to have loosely woven through five albums, jabbing at idiosyncratic targets. But, well, c'mon in.

Take a few listens, as Destroyer isn't for everybody. I may even go so far as to say an acquired taste, although I think it is probably more love or hate. But at the moment, I am entirely digging Bejar again.

See Merge Records for MP3s and more information about the band, or this site for a couple of MP3s and a fawning profile (though no more fawning than this slight one). Bejar is also very articulate as a songwriter and craftsman, and speaks openly about his process and his music - not always the case in rock 'n roll. A couple of interviews that are older, but diverting reads, are here and here.

Rave: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Oprah's already blessed the novel long ago, so it doesn't really matter what I say. I'll chime in, nevertheless. I liked The Road by Cormac McCarthy. But I'm not sure that it was quite the spiritual revelation that all the back covers claim it to be. A page-turner, yes. The novel is compelling: every time you feel like you have to put it down to go to sleep, and you peek forward to find where the next logical break is going to come, well, when you reach that break, you just can't stop. You just have to keep going. The book's got the fire within it.

The novel is also haunting. The dystopian vision of America - the Mad Max future of people eating other people, a landscape of black and ash, of people scurrying in the shadows at the periphery of your vision, the mangled, wreckage of an industrial society - that vision stays with you, when you put the book down, once you've left the book. They're spectral and scary. If you've got a weak heart or frighten easily like a little girl, steer clear. You'll have nightmares. Of course, I believe America needs nightmares.

But does the novel have something to say about goodness in the world? Goodness in the face of nihilism and evil? I had a nice conversation about the novel this weekend at a wedding, where my friend spoke about how the novel illustrated the choices a father has to make to protect a child, whether by deciding how truthfully to describe a harsh world to a child, creating hope where none should exist, or by enacting extreme violence and inhumanity in defense of a child? She spoke also of how the novel projected hope, through the ability of the child to embrace hope, offer charity and kindness, and maintain faith against unspeakable odds. Well, I see it, I guess, but I'm not sure what The Road tells us that we didn't already know. What would a father do, but protect a child? And why wouldn't a child take pity on enfeebled creatures? Do we need a burned out landscape filled with raving packs of bearded cannibals to tell us that? And does it actually tell us anything? When compared with Lord of the Flies? Or Eichmann in Jerusalem? Is it our capacity for good in the face of evil that is really interesting? Or redeeming? Or our capacity for evil in the face of nothing that extraordinary?

But, let me return to my point: read this novel. It's fun. It works. It's a little disconcerting. You will want to finish it before you put it down.

And, also, take time to read this profile of Cormac McCarthy.

Architects Are Misunderstood...

... and so are my emails.

First off, Skyscraper page is a pretty cool resource if you are into buildings or cities (although a supremely utilitarian UI). Secondly, here is the charming exchange that brought it to me, through my company-wide distribution list:

On Sep 25, 2007, at 10:40 AM, Mark wrote:

It's the IMDB of architecture. Amazing.

On Sep 25, 2007, at 2:53 PM, Sean wrote:

and the winner of "tackiest architecture" goes to middle east for sure.

On Sep 25, 2007, at 2:57 PM, Ritik wrote:

Just another reason to keep on bombing, as far as I'm concerned...

Then, in real-life, MK calls over the desk: "I'm not sure the company gets you yet..."

A couple minutes later, MK says, "I'll talk to Al. Make sure you don't get fired."

On Sep 25, 2007, at 3:15 PM, Ritik wrote:

Ha, btw, I was *just kidding* about that. If, as the liberal-blog-o-sphere continues to scare the crap out of me about, we start any truck with anybody else, I am opening up a new office in Buenos Aires...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lonely and Single...

... is the tag-line on Slate's Today's Pictures, in honor of National Unmarried and Single Americans Week, which, apparently, exists. Reminds me of the moment that I sat down at my assigned table at TL and LC's wedding, with three other couples and one other bachelor -- who, when AF introduced me, the bachelor responded, "Hi, I'm Chris. I'm single and alone." To which AF responded, "This is Ritik. He, also, is single. But not alone."

Very sweet (and pretty funny).

But look at some of these photos! Egads! Yay Us!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tired Nation So Depraved

How much fucking cuter is it going to get? Seriously, though, I think Malkmus has finally found the right voice for his lyrics. God, if I ever have kids, how much time we're going to waste...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Doomsday Scenario

In 1998, for no particular reason other than I had an ultimatum to spend fifteen hundred dollars in unearned grant money, I flew to New Mexico for two weeks, rented an anonymous white sedan, and drove around. My mission, de-facto, was to check out a lo-fi innovation in green building design - the cool, strange houses called Earthships. I spent about a week with a community building Earthships. From a design perspective, the structures are very compelling - applying age-old principles of designing in harmony with the local environment, a handful of modern innovations, and effectively reusing waste and natural, sustainable materials to build simple, highly efficient structures. The egalitarian and community ethos of the organization was also compelling. Ultimately, the only odd impression I left with was of many of the volunteers and die-hards who had found themselves working on Earthships in the desert - a noxious mixture of a righteous hippie vibe with a survivalist paranoia. Maybe they will inherit the Earth.

After exhausting my single week of research, I took the opportunity to point my sedan down to Sandia, where I wanted to visit the National Atomic Museum. Through countless American History classes, war movies, documentaries on the Manhattan Project, and influenced, at some level, by Joy Kogawa's Obasan, I had developed an interest in the iconography of the Bomb, and through it, a morbid fascination with the most unimaginable and unholy outcome - a doomsday event. I won't spend much time describing this fascination, but suffice to say that while I was intellectually engaged, the visceral reaction never rose much above the level of kitsch. I bought postcards to tape to my dorm room wall.

Living in New York in the post-millennial, you can't escape that nagging feeling (it wouldn't be accurate to call it fear) that in some permutation of some horrible world, a doomsday is in the offing, and this is where it would have to happen. Whether it's a rogue nuke lost by the listless administrations of a Soviet satellite state or the one-off concoction of some manic and misled nuclear engineer in some disappointing corner of the world, that shadow looms. Which is why Ron Rosenbaum's recent article in Slate brought me no comfort:
according to a new book called Doomsday Men and several papers on the subject by U.S. analysts, it may not have been merely a fantasy. According to these accounts, the Soviets built and activated a variation of a doomsday machine in the mid-'80s. And there is no evidence Putin's Russia has deactivated the system.

Instead, something was reactivated in Russia last week. I'm referring to the ominous announcement—given insufficient attention by most U.S. media (the Economist made it the opening of a lead editorial on Putin's Russia)—by Vladimir Putin that Russia has resumed regular "strategic flights" of nuclear bombers. (They may or may not be carrying nuclear bombs, but you can practically hear Putin's smirking tone as he says, "Our [nuclear bomber] pilots have been grounded for too long. They are happy to start a new life.")

These twin developments raise a troubling question: What are the United States' and Russia's current nuclear policies with regard to how and when they will respond to a perceived nuclear attack? In most accounts, once the president or Russian premier receives radar warning of an attack, they have less than 15 minutes to decide whether the warning is valid. The pressure is on to "use it or lose it"—launch our missiles before they can be destroyed in their silos. Pressure that makes the wrong decision more likely. Pressure that makes accidental nuclear war a real possibility.

Once you start to poke into this matter, you discover a disturbing level of uncertainty, which leads me to believe we should be demanding that the United States and Russia define and defend their nuclear postures. Bush and Putin should be compelled to tell us just what "failsafe" provisions are installed on their respective nuclear bombers, missiles, and submarines—what the current provisions against warning malfunctions are and what kinds of controls there are over the ability of lone madman nuclear bombers to bring on the unhappy end of history.
The scenario that Rosenbaum portrays is unlikely, but not impossible. And scary. My addled mind began racing. It didn't help that I had just started Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Immediately, the speculative movies and novels of and after a nuclear holocaust leapt to the fore of my unsteady imagination. I quickly ran to Wikipedia, to learn all that I could about the Doomsday device. I made one key finding.

Before veering too far from the track of paranoia, let me forward one hypothesis: pop culture won the war against mutually assured destruction. The theory itself is unsound in every way. Only the weight of its own ridiculousness, reflected in the fun-house mirror of pop, brought it down - or at least quieted the beast, if Rosenbaum is to be believed. If you don't believe me, peruse for yourself the list of key pop culture references to the Doomsday device in Wikipedia. All they share is a complete ridiculousness in dealing with such a traumatic eventuality. I was, and still am, disappointed. Here are the highlights:
  • In the film Dr. Strangelove, the Soviet Ambassador, upon learning that the Americans could not call back a bomber set to deliver nuclear weapons inside the Soviet Union, informs the President that Soviet Premier Kisof had ordered the creation of a doomsday device. The existence of the device hadn't yet been announced, simply because the Premier "liked surprises," making it useless for its intended purpose of deterring nuclear attack.
  • In the Star Trek episode The Doomsday Machine, a conical planet killer goes on a planet destroying rampage, its projected path threatening "...the very heart of the Federation". Captain Kirk speculates that the machine was created as a doomsday device, and used, thus destroying its creators and then going on a random path of destruction.
  • In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle, a doomsday substance called ice-nine is created with the capability to freeze all the water on Earth. The creator of ice-nine is depicted as being willfully negligent of the practical dangers of his research, and it is carelessness in the handling of the substance which causes the Earth to freeze.
  • In the novel Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams, the supercomputer Hactar was asked by the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax to "create the ultimate weapon." When he asked them what they meant by ultimate, he was told to "look it up in the dictionary", and concluded that they wanted him to destroy the universe. Hactar, reasoning that the known consequences of setting off such a device are worse than any possible consequence of not setting it off, creates a non-functional one. The device Hactar created was designed to be "a very small bomb" that was simply a "junction box in Hyperspace that would, when activated, connect the heart of every major sun with the heart of every other major sun", thus destroying the Universe in one gigantic Hyperspacial-Supernova. However, as stated, Hactar ensured that the device was non-functional.
  • In Robert McCammon's novel, Swan Song, the President of the United States, delusional and believing himself God fallen from heaven, decides that evil has won on Earth (after the nuclear holocaust he helped induce) and the planet must therefore be purged using the Talons of Heaven. This concept involves firing a massive payload of nuclear weapons at the poles, knocking the earth off its axis, causing massive icecap melting and subsequent flooding.
  • In Futurama, Professor Farnsworth is known to possess several doomsday devices, which (ironically) infrequently come in handy for saving the universe.
  • In the video game Halo, the central plot device, Halo, was designed to eradicate all organic life in the galaxy, ironically to stop the very enemy threatening it.
  • In the book Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, the Molecular Disruption Device can destroy an object, and any object near it, such as a fleet of space ships. Eventuality it is used on a planet near the Bugger's main fleet, destroying it, and ending a long war. In the sequels Speaker for the Dead and Children of the Mind the threat of the MD Device (also called "Dr. Device") looms over a human colony on a world with a newly discovered sentient species.
  • In the Discworld story The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett, Cohen the Barbarian plans to detonate an explosive called Agatean Thunder Clay at the Hub, to show the gods how annoyed he is with them. Unknown to him, this would disrupt the Discworld's standing magical field, thereby rendering it impossible for it to exist.
  • In Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the "Alpha-Omega bomb" works by igniting the atmosphere.
  • In Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, both Death Stars can be seen as doomsday devices as it has a superlaser which can destroy entire planets.
  • In the James Bond movie Moonraker, Sir Hugo Drax creates a doomsday device -a poison dispersed by satellites- to eradicate all human life on earth. Afterwards, he wants to re-inhabit the earth using a colony of "perfect" human beings, orbiting in space while the doomsday device is active.
  • The Tom Clancy book Rainbow Six has a plot line in which a wealthy industrialist develops an airborne toxin and an "antidote" to the toxin that will actually spread the effects further, and will be released during the Sydney Olympics, with the so-called antidote actually being lethal to everyone not previously inoculated by the "real" antidote, and only his group of people who have been so inoculated will be alive to repopulate the earth.
  • In the cartoon series The Flintstones, the character The Great Gazoo is sent to earth as punishment for creating a button which would annihilate the entire universe.
  • In the 1987 spy comedy Real Men, the climax of the movie involves two CIA agents charged with the task of receiving, on behalf of the U.S. government, a choice of one of two gifts from a group of extraterrestrials. One of the choices is referred to only as "The Big Gun", a weapon apparently capable of destroying the entire old Soviet Union (along with the United States). The other choice is called "The Good Package". (Neither device is ever actually seen on screen, nor has its function described in great detail and for purposes of the story either one can be regarded as a Big Dumb Object).
  • The final story arc of the animated television series Exosquad is dedicated to the dictator Phaeton's attempt to detonate a doomsday device on Earth as revenge for the destruction of his homeplanet Mars.
  • In the videogame Warzone 2100, a nuclear missile defense system gets infected with a computer virus, launching missile strikes to all major cities of the world. This event creates the phenomena called nuclear winter.

Rave: JBL OnStage

Raving about things is not my normal M.O. I'm not a fanatic for the material world. Even the iPod, that ur-object in the design world, is something I often find baffling. I like the form factor in its purest sense - its heft, how slim it is, the black-on-black-on-silver chic, the way the stainless steel casing captures in cascading hillocks the greasy prints of my fingertips. It is an object I want to toss up and down and move through the air. It is Kubrick's obelisk writ small - a perfect piece of industrial design.

I like, too, that it holds all my music, or almost all, now that I am busting the seams (and, rightfully, with albums that I have both purchased and actually listened to, as opposed to simply stolen from others and then forcefully engorged my disk drive with).

I dislike intensely the navigation, the rotating wheel which is an imprecise way to jump or skip from album to album, or song to song. I take issue with the general orientation, via playlists, on-the-go lists, and the iPod Mini in its whole raison d'etre, of listening to songs, to singles, to whatever comes next, randomly, with little care for the experience of listening to albums as a whole. I dislike the little bud earphones, constantly slipping out of my ears, or being jerked out by an inopportune movement. I dislike the knock-heads of teenagers on the subway, always with the wrong speaker in the wrong ear - should we bother to record in stereo?

That said, I have an iPod. It's the second I've bought, having given away one this winter in India. Until recently, I rarely used it.

For me, music should fill a room. You should be able to move through it. Music is atmosphere.

And since, consequence of my disconnected life, I have managed to set most of my possessions in boxes on either coast, I did not have my iHome stereo in which to dock my iPod.

A short visit to J&R's today changed all of that. The JBL OnStage portable dock, a tiny air hockey puck of a thing, has been kicking out the jams all night. My life is whole again.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Richard Serra @ MoMA

I managed to leave it to the death, but last Sunday morning, it occurred to me that the Richard Serra exhibition at the MoMA had come due, and I was compelled to brave the weekend tourist crowd to see it. I am a big fan of Serra's work, having first been introduced to it through installations at Stanford's Cantor Center, and been further impressed by his command of the main gallery at the Bilbao Guggenheim, by site-specific work at Storm King, and through encounters with his sculptures in Northern California.

While the MoMA show was ostensibly a forty year retrospective, including his work with vulcanized rubber, and forays into the formless mess of harnesses, the draw for me is always the massive plates of weathered steel snaking, arching, soaring, always forcing themselves into air and space, then disappearing, dull, rust, and mottled, into the near horizon. As sculpture, Serra's work challenges at every level: scale dwarfing the viewer, industrial materials that molt and flake like organic edifices, sheer geometries whose curves warp the edges of reality, and just-comprehensible density and mass that balances just-incomprehensibly. I'll let Robert Hughes do the talking, from his review of Serra's Bilbao installation:
Serra has embarked on a magnificent, productive maturity. Put in the simplest terms - ones that Serra might find too simple, but never mind - his achievement has been to give fabricated steel the power and density, the emotional address to the human body, the sense of empathy and urgency and liberation, that once belonged only to bronze and stone, but now no longer does. He has achieved a very deep synthesis, and it may not matter whether others follow him. Once you are in the enormous Guggenheim gallery which these sculptures fill, once you are absorbed in their space and pacing out their convolutions, you feel suddenly free - far from the dead zone of mass-media quotation, released from all that vulgar, tedious postmodernist litter and twitter, from the creepy posturings, tired bad-boy claptrap and squalid sanctimony that characterise PoMo and BritArt. It is quite a good feeling - rather like the old days, one's inner fogey is tempted to say. The work is as new as new could be, but when you are experiencing it you may also think of an 18th-century definition of the spirit of classical sculpture: "A noble inwardness," wrote Johann Winckelmann, "a calm grandeur."
High praise, but echoing true. The only disappointment I felt at the MoMA exhibit was that aside from the mazy sculptures Band, Torqued Torus Inversion, and Sequence dominating the second floor, and even then, MoMA was not a great showcase for Serra's work - providing neither the dramatic backdrop of a natural context, grass, earth, and sky, that installations like Storm King or even courtyard settings like the Cantor museum provide, nor the cavernous solemnity of rooms like the Guggenheim in Bilbao. The MoMA never provided the sculptures a sufficiently rich environment to invert, negate, or warp.

Nevertheless, walking among the sculptures on a crowded day allowed me to appreciate Serra as high artist. His sculptures are the perfect gauntlet thrown down at the feet of Johnny Tourist -- engaging and destroying the snide "What is this? Is this art? This is just steel!" initial reaction of so many, morphing it into a craned neck appraisal tracing the sculpture's edge to the horizon, the close quarter examination of the weathering and rust marks on each plate, the impulse to touch, the measuring, arguing, and final marvel at the pure balance and weight of each piece. Watching children, dull-faced teenagers, and pink and white oldsters equally indulging in Serra's sculptures is a testament to the power of the work.

Pictures from a Flickr search for 'Richard Serra' (not necessarily depicting the MoMA show).

The World Is Not Only Beautiful...

I am a sucker for monuments, and a sucker for shiny, modern objects stuck in the midst of charming, old world cities (or dropped in the middle of nowhere nature). So how I missed the opening of the Dublin Spire, I don't know. Just adding to my list of reasons to visit Dublin, I guess.

In the meantime, while we're sitting at home in front of our computers on a Friday night drinking beer because we're too lazy to go see The Walkmen up in Williamsburg, why don't you check these out:

- An interview with the foxiest band in Brooklyn, Fur Cups For Teeth, who are back in action this fall;
- The Says-It Mix Tape Generator;
- Alyson Fox's excellent drawings, courtesy of JG's blog;
- Listen to "Myriad Harbor," one of the Dan Bejar tracks on the new Challengers album by the New Pornographers, and my current favorite song of the moment;
- And just so I don't have to say it again (and again), the best blog on the Internet right now: Paleo Future (aka, holy shit did we miss the mark!!!)

Photos above and below from a Flickr search for 'Dublin Spire.'

As in Police Work, So in Life

From KN at work...

Gainsbourg Ad

Courtesy SM at work. Poached from a site worth checking out, Ads of the World...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Shit Cars

The car has a horse's head!
Eight wagon wheels!

Whether it was a business or editorial decision I don't know (I could guess), but both CNN and Time's online presence have taken a strange turn into the world of ephemera. At the level of news, this is disheartening, when Does Your Love Life Need A Wingman takes morning billing over Putin's strange machinations to retain control over the Russian government, the earthquakes in Indonesia, and the aftermath of Petraeus' testimony, etc. But at the level of quirky feature story (or, better yet, top 50 list), the embrace of the weird and unnecessary is most amusing, and even enlightening. Take, for example, this "Top 50 Worst Cars of All Time." Do I need this in my life? Yes.

One of the cars has a horse's head!

It's a Lamborghini!

Holy shit, John, isn't this the car your family bought for thirty years running?
And then got stolen from a body shop in Brooklyn when some Italian guy
claimed to be your cousin? It made the list! Top 50 Worst Cars. Evah!

The JumboTron Prank

It's crossed everybody's mind. Kudos to these kids for pulling it off... Courtesy SR.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Orson Welles

ORSON WELLES: THE ONE-MAN BAND is a fascinating glimpse at this extraordinary man's final years - made with the cooperation of Oja Kodar, Welles' longtime companion, to whom he bequeathed a wealth of unedited films and fragments when he died in 1985. Granted exclusive access to Welles' heretofore unseen archives - and drawing from almost two tons of film cans containing fragments, shorts, project ideas, and sketches - the filmmakers are led by Kodar through the rich but unfulfilled Welles legacy. Far from being the gloomy megalomaniac that Hollywood has sometimes branded him, Welles emerges here a protean creator, at times vulnerable and lonely, but always unshakeably optimistic and unfailingly innovative.

Among the many works included are:

  • A hilarious trailer for F FOR FAKE
  • Excerpts from THE DEEP, a thriller set in the Pacific Ocean, starring Jeanne Moreau and Laurence Harvey
  • SWINGING LONDON, a wacky sketch featuring Welles in drag as a housewife!
  • A clip from a one-man show of MOBY DICK, with Welles playing all parts sans makeup or costume
  • Footage of a charming and self-deprecating Welles meeting with American students after a screening of THE TRIAL ("I use my own work to subsidize my work; in other words, I am crazy!")
  • Highlights from THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, the most prestigious production of Welles' later years: it's the story of an aging, egotistical director (played by John Huston) who rails against Hollywood. Shot in a jumpy, frenetic style, it's unlike anything Welles had done before.
At 90 minutes long, it is a bit of a stretch for a single session internet viewing, but the unreleased documentary One Man Band is well worth a look, for Orson Welles the out-sized personality, for glimpses into the strange, indulgent, and ultimately interesting projects that Welles undertook but never quite finished, and mostly for the manic intensity that Welles projects through every action. Clearly a genius, if a bit touched. Thanks to RM for the forward.

Also, the Orson Welles web resource looks like it could be a good bit of fun, as well.

Paleo Future

Holy shit, can I just say you need to look at this blog, Paleo Future, and the attendant videos and photos that they are posting on the Internet. A good place to start is here, which is the video that MF sent me that started this all of for me, and you may as well follow up here. MF, thanks for the heads up, and if this is one of your projects, you are doubly-genius and making the rest of us look completely useless...

The August Raves List

Challengers, New Pornographers
Andorra, Caribou
You Follow Me, Nina Nastasia & Jim White
The Remains, The Remains


Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
Class Matters, Correspondents of the New York Times

Food & Drink
Bahn Mi Saigon Bakery, Chinatown, New York, NY
D.O.C. Wine Bar, Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL
Aunt Carrie's, Narragansett, RI
Planet Rose Karaoke, East Village, New York, NY

TL and LC's wedding
JJK and EBC's wedding
The Big Rig Jig

The August Reading List

Indecision, Benjamin Kunkel
Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis
The New, New Thing, Michael Lewis
Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
Cosmopolis, Don DeLillo
Class Matters, Correspondents of the New York Times

J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace was in so many ways foreign to me, and all the more compelling for it. The first third of the novel introduces us to David Lurie, Professor of Communications at a Cape Town technical university, and chronicles his attempts to satisfy his desires and find sexual release within the constraints of his fifty-something, divorced lifestyle. Unsatisfied by his employment, where he is unable to engage his disaffected students in his deep poetic and literary interests, notably Keats, and perhaps slightly past his prime as a once rakish and successful womanizer, Lurie twice transgresses in what is left of his love life. First, when he accidentally encroaches on the anonymity demanded by the profession of a prostitute he has established a patronage of, and then again when he lures a young student of his into a brief, illicit affair.

The second of these affairs calls the wrath of the university, and in the novel's thematic concerns, a new cultural sensibility, crashing down on his head. Obstinate in his defense, admitting guilt to the act but unwilling to join the parade of his own condemnation, Lurie is forced into the hinterlands, to visit with his estranged daughter Lucy. Where the desires of an old but still virile codger are recognizable but not resonant for me (yet), it is in this visit to Lucy's farm, and the introduction of the cultural tensions specific to South Africa that Disgrace begins to move into deeper, bolder, and more foreign territory.

An event of horrific and gut-wrenching violence pivots the narrative, tenor, and impact of the book sharply - as both Lucy and David fall victim to an attack that is set in high contrast against the historical racial and colonial tensions of the country. In David and Lucy's approaches to coping with this event, as David finds himself further and further estranged from everything he thought he knew, Disgrace explores multiple layers of human conflict: of a man, a Romantic, in a world increasingly un-accommodating of that romance, of the difficulty of creating art in a world lacking in audiences, of men connecting with women, and of fathers connecting with daughters, and of course, against it all, of South Africa convulsing against its own legacy.

The power of the novel will be evident upon a read, and better yet, Disgrace is, for lack of a better word, a bit of a page turner, pushing the reader quickly through the narrative as it evolves from the kernel of one man's dissent with love and explodes into its historical and cultural themes. Completely recommended.

Class Matters, the collection of essays on class in America from New York Times columnists, is thoroughly engaging from start to finish. Tracing the evolution of class in America, mixing statistical analysis on economic standing with perceptions of class, mobility, and privilege, and surrounding those analyses with touching and illuminating case studies, portraits, and anecdotes, Class Matters is a provoking read. Of particular interest, and themes that I hope to return to soon, or the gaps between perception of class and economic standing, the leveling of those material signifiers of class in America as credit has allowed us to buy more things, and those things we buy are more common and more accessible, the binds between class and race, and class and immigration to this country, and class and the urban/suburban divide. Rich in data, analysis, and anecdote, Class Matters was excellent.

Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis is a slim volume that attempts to ask big questions about contemporary post-millenial, globalized and terrorized America. The novel's success is dubious. Chronicling a day in the life (and eventual and impending death) of Eric Packer, a 28-year old buy-you-and-sell-you billionaire, as he tries to cross Manhattan from east to west, Cosmopolis is a stilted, forced narrative that is much more about ideas than characters or plot, and even given that, about ideas that seem hardly as relevant or pressing as DeLillo seems to believe. All in all, disappointing, and even more so in contrast to a novel like White Noise, that managed to create full characters and a compelling narrative while also engaging some of the big ideas of the day.

The twin pairing of Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision and Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero, both novels about lost generations of privileged American youth - in post-millenial New York, and in Reagan's Los Angeles, were devoured over a week-long business trip to Chicago early in the month. I've written about both already, and have nothing further to say about Less Than Zero, which I enjoyed not at all, at any level, and would certainly suggest you spend two hours watching the movie rather than the four hours it takes to read the book, if you are forced to. Kunkel's novel proves a bit more difficult. With a few weeks remove, I find it engaging, pretty smart, and an enjoyable-enough read. But I am still unconvinced of its final value, as the story wasn't that good, the characters were a bit too archetypal of people who aren't really archetypes, and a lot of smart pontificating was force-fit onto a somewhat unnecessary frame. So I am going to have to leave it filed under 'not bad,' although I have a nagging feeling that it deserves better. Or worse.

Michael Lewis' The New New Thing rounded out the month's reading list. While Michael Lewis is one of my favorite authors, The New New Thing was disappointing overall, largely as it served as hagiography of Jim Clark without really understanding or explaining what dynamics drive the successes and failures of innovation in an era, Silicon Valley during the Boom, that seems increasingly consequential, all of the rampant silliness aside. But you can read more about my take on the book over at the other blog.

All in all, a productive month of reading, if there was less of the highest quality work than I would have liked - largely determined by my predisposition to buy slim novels with nice covers, and my binge spending on books when forced into bookstores in airports or on rainy afternoons.

The Jig Is Up

Ran into NW out at the bars last night, back from Oakland and Black Rock where she was helping MR with the Big Rig Jig installation. By all accounts, it went off very successfully - and it looks beautiful in the desert. The only negative, according to NW, were the hippies. But at Burning Man, how can you avoid them?

Photos from Laughing Squid, where there is also a great write-up.

Happy Birthday, HP!

On the occasion of her 30th, CC made this video for HP. Does it get much cuter?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Excited: Tree of Smoke

Color me excited. One of the few authors who I will buy in hardcover, and in my opinion, one of the best writers in the US:
Good morning and please listen to me: Denis Johnson is a true American artist, and “Tree of Smoke” is a tremendous book, a strange entertainment, very long but very fast, a great whirly ride that starts out sad and gets sadder and sadder, loops unpredictably out and around, and then lurches down so suddenly at the very end that it will make your stomach flop. It comes with the armor and accoutrements of a Major Novel: big historical theme (Vietnam), semi-mythical cultural institution (military intelligence), long time span (1963-70, with a coda set in 1983) and unreasonable length (614 pages), all of which would be off-putting if this were not, in fact, a major novel, and if Johnson’s last big book hadn’t been the small collection of eccentric and addictive short stories called “Jesus’ Son” (1992). “Tree of Smoke” is a soulful book, even a numinous one (it’s dedicated “Again for H.P.” and I’ll bet you a bundle that stands for “higher power”), and it ought to secure Johnson’s status as a revelator for this still new century — a prediction I voice confidently but reluctantly, and with a little disappointment and dismay.
NYT review here.