Saturday, January 02, 2010

Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 Mvmt. 1 for Cello and Orchestra

What an honor, to be featured at the Albuquerque Youth Symphony!

Jason Schindwolf is the son of my good friends from college days, Karl & Karen.

New Year's Day Party At The Hendersons

Pam Mackenzie (nee Pam Kelly) sings from 'Carmen'.
Chris Petersen sings "Springtime For Hitler".

(Chris has changed in appearance from two years ago).
Alec Henderson and Neil Henderson (no relation) play 'Amazing Grace' (among other tunes.
Doug MacClane and Duncan MacMartin play (as Neil Henderson waits).
Doug MacClane and Duncan MacMartin tune up.
Master of Ceremonies Alec Henderson.

"The Producers" - New Year's Eve Gala - Bows

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tea Party Folks Getting All In a Huff About "Chops"

Well, there's some reason to be all in a huff about "Chops". It's a pretty expensive restaurant!

We went to "Chops" last month. It was good, but if it wasn't for the coupon (thank goodness for the coupon!), I would have spent far more than the $50 I did spend. A reasonably-sized meal there generally costs $40 - $50 per person, without coupon. So six people could easily spend $300, and maybe only just get full....

Still, $266 each IS quite a bit! Must be lots of liquor in that bill!

The main advantage "Chops" has is that it is easy walking distance from the California State Capitol building. Just across the street! I can see why it would attractive to the politicos. Very attractive! But still, appearances matter!

But what did they expect from a top-down kind of political movement anyway? At least in California, the Tea Party folks are pure astroturf, not grass roots.

The Tea Party movement could fragment over these sorts of matters. Here's hoping!:
Would a true Tea Party patriot drop nearly $1,600 in donor money for a small meal at a fancy steakhouse? Robin Stublen says no, and he's mad as hell about the profligate expenditures of a GOP political organization that has glommed on to his grassroots movement. Stublen is the organizer of the Punta Gorda, Florida, Tea Party and a member of Tea Party Patriots, a national grassroots organization that has no offices, no president, raises virtually no money, operates largely on volunteer efforts, and, most important, doesn't endorse candidates. But unbeknownst to many, there's another outfit claiming ownership of this conservative movement. It's called the Tea Party Express, and it has dominated Fox News coverage over the past year with its multistate bus tours and political rallies.

Behind it is a well-established Republican political action committee that has raked in tons of money fundraising under the "Tea Party" banner—and it has also spent a lot of that money in a fashion unbecoming a supposedly grassroots insurrection. For instance, according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission, the PAC that created Tea Party Express dropped $1,597.29 over the summer for a meal for six at a tony Sacramento Chops restaurant, an expenditure that has Stublen seeing red.

"Six people averaged $266; that's not grassroots. I kill bugs and cut grass for a living. I'm splurging when I spend $19 at Chili's. Outback Steakhouse is reserved for Mother's Day," Stublen says.

For Stublen the pricey Chops tab is only the latest evidence that Tea Party Express is trying to capitalize on the movement for crass and self-serving political purposes—mainly as a fundraising machine for Republican causes. Starting in August, Tea Party Express organized two cross-country bus tours that bashed the Obama administration's health reform and attacked members of Congress not deemed conservative enough. Fox News heavily promoted the first tour, even embedding a reporter to cover the trip.

The organization is planning a third tour for the end of March that will culminate in Washington, DC, on Tax Day, its purpose to target vulnerable Democrats and moderate Republicans in the lead-up to the midterm elections. These trips, which include rallies in cities and towns across the country and speeches by political candidates, have proven reliable fundraising vehicles. FEC filings show that Our Country Deserves Better (OCDB), the PAC that set up the Tea Party Express, raised $1.9 million this year, $600,000 more than it took in during the heated 2008 presidential election.

While Tea Party Express professes to be a driving force in the Tea Party movement, it was actually started by a California-based GOP political consulting firm, Russo Marsh & Rogers, which also set up OCDB. OCDB originally focused on attacking Barack Obama during the 2008 election, running ads assaulting the then-candidate for failing to put his hand over his heart during the pledge of allegiance, and digging up footage of one of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's heated sermons. Many of OCDB's principals are also connected to Move America Forward, a conservative group that ran PR campaigns and bus tours in support of the Iraq War during the Bush administration. During this election cycle, OCDB has spent $123,000 on an independent expenditure campaign bashing Senate majority leader Harry Reid, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Express have been clashing for months over which group truly represents the movement. A flashpoint came this fall when a member of the Tea Party Patriots' board, Amy Kremer, switched sides and joined Tea Party Express, allegedly taking the Patriots' extensive email database with her and locking the rest of the board out of the TPP website. In November, this led the Patriots to go to court to get an injunction against her to reclaim ownership of the group's electronic resources. The fight hasn't helped the Patriots' view of their tea party rivals. In fact, "real" Tea Party activists—i.e., local organizers like Stublen who consider themselves the grassroots heart of the movement—see Tea Party Express as bad for business, as it lends credence to criticism that the movement is nothing more than a sophisticated astroturf scheme or GOP front.

As a result, Stublen has been trying to publicize the group's GOP ties and discourage Tea Party activists from donating to Tea Party Express. He's outraged that of the nearly $2 million the group has raised this year, almost half ($857,000) has gone to consulting firm Russo Marsh or people connected to it. He suspects that most donors to Tea Party Express support the movement but have no idea their money is actually going to the very type of mainstream political operation the Tea Partiers oppose. Pointing to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that OCDB has dropped on Tea Party Express advertising, Stublen notes, "None of this is grassroots tea party stuff. But they're trying to portray themselves as grassroots."

..."People think this money is going to the Tea Party movement," Stublen complains. He says he asked Wierzbicki to put a disclaimer on all of Tea Party Express' fundraising materials and emails saying that they are not affiliated with any other tea party groups, but Wierzbicki refused. All this has made Stublen one of Tea Party Express' loudest critics. "I don't like what I think they stand for," he says. "These are my opinions, but the bottom line, personally, I think they want to take over the movement, make it their own, and take over the fundraising potential to get their candidates elected." And in his view, there's nothing grassroots about that

Extraterritoriality Is Alive And Well

Dismissing charges will enflame anti-American sentiment in Iraq:
Citing Justice Department missteps, a judge has dismissed all charges against the Blackwater guards accused in the killing of civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square in 2007, the AP is reporting.

From the AP:
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina said Thursday the Justice Department overstepped its bounds and wrongly used evidence it was not allowed to see. He said the government's explanations have been contradictory, unbelievable and not credible.
In the September 2007 Nisour Square incident, 17 Iraqi civilians were killed by Blackwater guards. They have said they were fired on.

Making Sense Of Next Week's Weather Forecast

Big storms approach California, but accountably fall apart before penetrating far inland, raining untold quintillions of tons of water into the ocean.

Seems kind of pointless, really.

Meanwhile, in Australia, in a belt between Darwin and Sydney, monsoonal madness takes hold - but clear skies and bad luck reign elsewhere. Still, at least the rain falls on land.

Makes a little more sense, somehow.

"Rejected" Really Is Strange!

Is it any wonder so few saw this 2000 animation?:
The premise is incredibly simple: An animator continually fails to create consumer-friendly TV commercials as he quickly loses his mind. But there's brilliance coursing through this fundamental strangeness. Hertzfeldt crams riotous absurdity and profound epistemological inquiry into a trippy shot of comedic inspiration. In less than 10 minutes, he hurls through a series of endlessly quotable non sequitur vignettes ("Mah spoon is too big!") as his rudimentary characters grapple with their absurdly untenable existence. It's sheer madness in bite-size chunks of hilarity (with a keen anti-consumerist message to boot), delivered entirely by way of stick figures less complicated than the earliest cave paintings.

Riding The Yuletide Whip

North Pole kind of fun:
SAN CLEMENTE -- A teenager is recovering after slamming into a parked car while "Christmas tree surfing."

According to Orange County Sheriff's officials two people were riding separate Christmas trees tied to the back of a car around 10:45 p.m. Sunday night.

The car was trying to negotiate a turn when one of the trees flew out wide, slamming the 18-year-old into a parked car, said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Sheriff's Department.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Proceeds Of Making A Career Of Kicking 'Em While They're Down

"Who's sorry now?:
Radio host Rush Limbaugh was rushed to a Hawaii hospital Wednesday afternoon after suffering from chest pains, KITV, a local television station, reports.

Paramedics reportedly responded to a call from the hotel where Limbaugh is staying, and transported him by ambulance to the hospital. He's said to be in serious condition.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lady Gaga - "Speechless"

Said to be written about her father, who underwent heart surgery earlier this year.

May As Well Take Some Political Advantage

It's so difficult to make transportation systems foolproof against terrorists. It's rather easier to make the Senate foolproof against fools:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will force the confirmation of a Transportation Security Administration chief back into motion as soon as the Senate reconvenes on January 19th.

Talking Points Memo reports: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will schedule a formal Senate roll call vote on the nomination of Errol Southers," the Obama appointee who Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has blocked for the past four months over worries about TSA employees being able to unionize. Reid will file a cloture motion to overcome DeMint's block.

Sen. Reid's promise to act comes in the wake of widespread Democratic outrage over DeMint's continued politicization of the confirmation, even after the recent terror attempt on a trans-national airliner headed to Detroit.

Chad McGowan, a Democratic candidate for South Carolina Senate, said of his opponent in a statement: "This is not the time to have nobody in charge of America's air security. Terrorists don't care if we're Republicans or Democrats -- they only care that we're Americans. Senator DeMint needs to understand that."

Firedoglake's David Dayen also notes that almost all security industries, including police, firefighters and EMTs, as well as flight attendants and pilots, are currently members of labor unions, seemingly without detriment to their effectiveness.

Apologies For The Comment Counter On Marc Valdez Weblog

Like everyone else who uses HaloScan for comment management on blogs hosted by Blogger, I've had to deal with the sudden year-end stickup: pay $10/year for the upgrade to Echo, or lose your comments. So, like the obedient sheep that I am, I've upgraded, but perhaps predictably, the counter showing the presence of new comments seems to be nonfunctional.

Sorry. Like all Luddites, that's why I hate the future: it just doesn't seem to work like the past. Maybe I'll get there again, if I study hard. So, there may be existing comments already there, but the only way right now to find out for sure is to click on the comments link and check.

Hard To Get To Be A Millionaire At This Rate

E.: MMMAAAARRRRCCC! Is potassium one of the Table of Contents?

M.: Table of Contents?

E.: Chris and I were watching "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" and one of the questions was whether certain chemicals were elements.

M.: Potassium is an element.

E.: Oh no! I chose Ceranium over Ka-Li-Kium AND Potassium!

M.: Calcium is an element too.

E.: No, Ka-Li-Kium! Darn! But did I tell you the other day I got the million dollar question?

M.: No!

E.: Yes! I know one day I'll be a millionaire, and you and I and Chris will all live together in a big house!

M.: No!

E.: Yes! But I've got to study my elements harder.....

Gary Johnson For Prez?

Don't do it! The former Governor of New Mexico is thinking about running for President? N-N-N-O-O-O-O-O!

But why?:
Under Gov. Johnson's administration, New Mexico experienced the longest period without a tax increase in the state's history, the rate of growth in the state government was cut in half, half of the state's prisons were privatized, state Medicaid was shifted to managed care, and the state was left with approximately one thousand fewer employees (with no firings) and a budget surplus.
(But remember, the economy was booming under President Clinton at the time....)

Well, if Bill Richardson can lunge for the brass ring, why not Gary Johnson? There are worse yo-yos in the GOP. And in comparison to Sarah Palin, he's a towering statesman! At least he finished his term!

Libertarians are a strange breed. The more literal they get in applying their philosophy, the farther they get from Big Business. That's why they never seem to get much traction in the GOP. And having a Republican who can talk about recreational drug use would be refreshing, particularly as he avoids even caffeine today.

But still, I've got a bad feeling.....

"The Producers" - DMTC Monday Night Rehearsal

It was stop-and-go rehearsal tonight as the cast and crew do their utmost to assemble "The Producers" for the New Year's Eve Gala preview!

Many aspects of the show still are being finalized. The members of the cast are beginning to use their costumes, and trying to make their costume changes in time, and saying "you've GOT to be kidding!"

"It's Bad Luck To Say Good Luck On Opening Night".

Left to right: Max Bialystock (Martin Lehman), Carmen Ghia (Joseph Boyette), Franz (Kyle Hadley), and Leo Bloom (Andy Hyun).

The anticipation builds for "Springtime for Hitler".

"Springtime For Hitler". Left to right, Gerald Shearman, Chris Petersen, and Thomas Lea.

Amy Jacques-Jones as "Springtime For Hitler" Showgirl!

"Springtime For Hitler". Roger De Bris playing Adolf Hitler (Richard Spierto).

"Springtime For Hitler". Roger De Bris playing Adolf Hitler (Richard Spierto).

Left to right in the sensemble: x,x, Joseph Boyette, Giorgio Selvaggio, (one of the Fernandez sisters?), Laura Brink, Brennan Ballard, Mary Young, Eimi Stokes, Dian Hoel, Scott Griffith, Andrew Lemons, x.

"Springtime For Hitler". Roger De Bris playing Adolf Hitler (Richard Spierto).

"Springtime For Hitler". Roger De Bris playing Adolf Hitler (Richard Spierto).

Leo Bloom (Andy Hyun).

Max Bialystock (Martin Lehman) and Leo Bloom (Andy Hyun).

"Kill The Actors!"

Franz (Kyle Hadley) and Max Bialystock (Martin Lehman).

Franz (Kyle Hadley) and Max Bialystock (Martin Lehman).

Leo Bloom (Andy Hyun).

Amy Jacques-Jones as Ulla Inga Hansen Bensen Yonsen Tallen-Hallen Svaden-Svanson.

"At last, my right arm is complete!"

(sorry, wrong musical).

Martin Lehman as Max Bialystock.

Sabrina Fernandez as Little Old Lady and Martin Lehman as Max Bialystock.

Little Old Ladies. Pamela Kay Lourentzos (obscured), Monica Parisi, x, x, x, Dian Hoel, Mary Young, and Sabrina Fernandez.

Judge (Brennan Ballard), Recorder (Laura Brink), Bailff (Eimi Stokes) and Defendant Leo Bloom (Andy Hyun).

Eimi Stokes as Bailiff and Andy Hyun as Leo Bloom.

Martin Lehman as Max Bialystock, and Little Old Ladies (Pamela Kay Lourentzos, Monica Parisi, x, x, x, Dian Hoel, and Mary Young).

Little Old Ladies, Leo Bloom (Andy Hyun) and Max Bialystock (Martin Lehman).

Amy Jacques-Jones as Ulla and Brennan Ballard as the Judge.

"Prisoners Of Love" (Giorgio Selvaggio).

"Prisoners Of Love" (Adam Sartain, Thomas Lea, Scott Griffith, Martin Lehman, Brennan Ballard, Andre Lemons, Gerald Shearman, Chris Petersen, and Kyle Hadley).

Amy Jacques-Jones as Ulla.

Max Bialystock (Martin Lehman) and Leo Bloom (Andy Hyun).

Max Bialystock (Martin Lehman) and Leo Bloom (Andy Hyun).

Jennifer Homans Loves "La Danse"

She gets it! She really gets it! But then, she's a dancer too!:
Wiseman gives us no obvious plot, no narrator, and no music other than that which goes with the dances. We move, ghost-like, around the theater: from studio to stage to costume shop, canteen, and administrative offices--always passing through the old hallways and winding staircases that join them. Ballet, he makes us feel, is a place and an institution as much as it is an art. Occasionally we re-emerge onto the streets, bleary-eyed, to glimpse the theater lobby or to travel to the Bastille Opera House, the company’s second (and garishly modern) home, but the film’s heart lies inside the Palais Garnier. We are there for nearly three hours, enclosed in the heavy stone walls of a tradition.

La Danse is the only film I know that successfully conveys what it feels like, physically, to be a dancer--to get inside a step or a phrase and to make it work on your own body--but also to live, as dancers do, absorbed in the repetitive, ritualized, and seemingly timeless practices of their art. None of this is monkish or self-sacrificing, as it is often portrayed. It is simply what dancers do: it is their work. (When I was myself a dancer I was always surprised when people marveled at the discipline of dancers: that, it seemed to me, was utterly unremarkable--a given.) Wiseman studiously avoids backstage gossip and competitive tensions, and says nothing about injuries, nerves, divas, casting sheets. He never indulges high-drama tantrums or celebrity worship: he does not even give us the names or the ranks of the dancers, nor does he identify Brigitte Lefèvre, the Paris Opera’s formidable director of dance. We do not know exactly who these people are, we only see the work they are doing.

...In 1995 [Wiseman] turned to--of all things--dance, and made Ballet about the American Ballet Theater, a close (and very long) study of the work of a ballet company. Yet the film--like the American tradition that it documented--had a freewheeling and relaxed rhythm that made it feel diffuse; it lacked the intensity of the art that it described. La Danse, by contrast, goes straight to the source: the Paris Opera is where ballet formally began. Founded by Louis XIV in 1669, it is a centralized national institution with an unbroken tradition.

It is not that Wiseman gives us a history. He doesn’t have to do so; it is all there in the art. The dancers may have sleek twenty-first-century bodies, but they inhabit an archaic society based on hierarchy and patronage: this is perhaps the only surviving court art in our hyper-modern age. It requires, as Molière once noted of Louis XIV’s theatrical ventures, “an army” of artisans--dressers, costume designers, seamstresses, makeup artists, painters, lighting technicians, cooks, ballet masters. Costumes are still sewn by hand, sequin by sequin, and toe shoes (dozens of them) are carefully sprayed, one by one, with the appropriate dye and hung to dry. Fabrics are dipped and stirred in great vats of color; lighting engineers painstakingly set each cue; painters plaster and re-paint the timeworn walls; and all the while dancers labor at their craft. The food in the canteen--presented to us fully plated in still-life close-up shots--looks as if it had been served that way for centuries.

...La Danse pays meticulous attention to the details of the art. Thus we watch a dancer struggle to master a single step (we are not told that she is an étoile, a “star” at the pinnacle of the Paris Opera hierarchy). She goes after it over and over again, with the ballet master and her partner coaching her, but she cannot seem to get it. Her body just can’t feel it. Finally her partner muses that “she imagines an arabesque where there is none.” Immediately we understand: she has to change her physical mind, shift her body’s thinking, in order to internalize the step. Figuring out how to do this takes some time, and we are made to feel the consuming repetition and the long hours that go into even the tiniest refinements in a dance. Wiseman offsets this concentrated technical analysis with images of languid stretching, and we sense the way in which dancers are always in their bodies, always aware and feeling them, even when they are not controlling them: the stretching is like the body daydreaming or doodling. At one point we get an extended shot of dancers’ feet--only the feet--which reminded me of the games that dancers like to play, such as identifying a colleague exclusively by the distinctive shape of her instep.

If Wiseman takes us inside the physicality of ballet, he also evokes its wispy ethereality. All theaters are haunted--with memories, past performances, yesterday’s dancers. Thus instead of walking his camera (and us) smoothly through the theater, Wiseman cuts from a dancer in a class to an empty room to a patch of light to a staircase; or from a staircase to a hallway to a studio. This might sound a bit arty, but it is not at all: the staccato rhythm and the visual disjuncture make us feel that we are appearing suddenly--invisibly--around the theater and in the dancers’ midst. (How did we get from the staircase to the hallway?) It is like a child’s trick: we see, but we are not seen.

In an art form with no standardized notation--no scores or scripts--the way that ballets are passed on from one generation to the next is vital, and Wiseman is not afraid to show us the process in all of its technical detail. Thus two older coaches working with a younger dancer disagree at some length over whether a dancer’s heels should drop fully to the floor when she bends her knees before a jump (more power), or whether they should remain raised a fraction of an inch from the floor (more agility and speed). If this sounds like hairsplitting--or shoptalk--it is not. Wiseman has chosen carefully. The “heels raised” approach was first introduced by Balanchine, and denotes a modernist orientation, whereas “heels down” points to a more traditional nineteenth-century manner. It is a debate that has been re-enacted in dance studios for decades. The coaches know this. They carry out the argument with consummate ease, each knowing exactly what the other will say but saying it nonetheless, because it still matters: what the younger dancers decide is one of many details that shape the future of the art.

The dancers in La Danse are like dancers everywhere: verbally reticent, often painfully so, but possessed of a striking physical confidence and ease. The company’s youngest dancers in particular appear childlike and timid. They do not talk much, and when they do they are self-effacing. No one thinks this odd, and in ballet it is not: deference is implicit in the art. Watching them, however, we realize that it is they, and not their coaches or an older generation, who stand for tradition and conservatism. These young people do not question their superiors or the tradition that is being bequeathed to them. On the contrary: in one of the film’s most striking moments, we observe an exasperated Brigitte Lefèvre urging her staff to push young dancers to experiment with new styles and techniques--to be more radical. Partly this is Lefèvre, who reached her prime in the 1960s and was an unusually bold and innovative artist, but it is also a general point. Young dancers everywhere want to dance the toughest, most technically demanding virtuosic roles. For this reason, the challenges of contemporary works, which often move against the classical grain, are less appealing. It is ballet’s youth that now anchors it in the past.

What about the choreography? Wiseman shows the tremendous range demanded of dancers today: from the raw athleticism of the British choreographer Wayne McGregor to the ornate lyricism and carnivalesque spectacle of The Nutcracker or Paquita. We get extended excerpts of these dances, mostly shot (I think) from the first wing. But these are not like the excerpts in other documentaries or films. They are not snippets or reminders, but improvements: many of the dances that Wiseman shows us--and this is especially true for the more modern works--are better on film, certainly on this film, than they are live.

The reason is that Wiseman gives them a context and a history that they do not themselves possess. Consider Le Songe de Médée, choreographed by Angelin Preljocaj. We watch a dancer rehearsing the role, crawling forward and pulling her body heavily along the floor behind her (we don’t know this is from Medée until later). At another point in the film we see a dancer discussing the role (we still don’t know which) with a ballet master who reassures her that the performance will carry her, that she will find the role once the music, the costumes, and the spattered blood are real on stage. The dance, he says, has its own internal momentum and will build, step by step. Then we see the performance up close from the wings: the rehearsals rush to mind and “synch” with the dance, adding layers and depth. We are left with the astonishing feeling that Wiseman has re-assembled all the elements and thereby re-choreographed the dance, and also strengthened it by inserting it into a tradition and giving us visual images--and memories--that live performance precludes.

...By cutting from unidentified rehearsals with unidentified dancers to an unidentified performance, he focuses our attention purely on the dances themselves. There is no clutter of personality; just the dancer and the dance. The result is a film that allows us to know ballet and dancers more intimately than we may ever have known them, because we know the work they do.

Wiseman has called La Danse a “love letter” to ballet, and so it is. But it is also more. It is the film that ballet modernists have been waiting for: detached, controlled, at moments ironic. Wiseman does not shy away from artifice. Lest we be fooled, he distilled La Danse from some 130 hours of film shot over twelve weeks, and spent many months editing, crafting--choreographing--its sequences and montage. Nor does he mistake artifice for ornament, seeing it instead as a tool for getting to the truth--and for creating, as he has described his work, “reality fictions.” These “fictions” have nothing to do with the romanticized or melodramatic ballet of popular imagining; they are simply ballet the way it is now, for dancers. But--and this is the point--Wiseman’s single-minded focus on the craft and the inner workings of dance does not in any way trivialize or diminish the art. Ballet is all the more elevated and noble because of it. George Balanchine, to whom I imagine this film owes a debt, liked to say to his dancers of audiences, “they look but they do not see, so we must show them.” Now Wiseman has shown them, too.

"Hoodwinked" On Coast-To-Coast AM

Hard to believe, but Coast-to-Coast AM with substitute host Ian Punnett featured an interesting, spot-on guest! There is hope for AM radio yet!

John Perkins discussed his book "Hoodwinked":
John Perkins has seen the signs of today's economic meltdown before. The subprime mortgage fiascos, the banking industry collapse, the rising tide of unemployment, the shuttering of small businesses across the landscape are all too familiar symptoms of a far greater disease. In his former life as an economic hit man, he was on the front lines both as an observer and a perpetrator of events, once confined only to the third world, that have now sent the United States—and in fact the entire planet—spiraling toward disaster.

Here, Perkins pulls back the curtain on the real cause of the current global financial meltdown. He shows how we've been hoodwinked by the CEOs who run the corporatocracy—those few corporations that control the vast amounts of capital, land, and resources around the globe—and the politicians they manipulate. These corporate fat cats, Perkins explains, have sold us all on what he calls predatory capitalism, a misguided form of geopolitics and capitalism that encourages a widespread exploitation of the many to benefit a small number of the already very wealthy. Their arrogance, gluttony, and mismanagement have brought us to this perilous edge. The solution is not a "return to normal."

But there is a way out. As Perkins makes clear, we can create a healthy economy that will encourage businesses to act responsibly, not only in the interests of their shareholders and corporate partners (and the lobbyists they have in their pockets), but in the interests of their employees, their customers, the environment, and society at large.

We can create a society that fosters a just, sustainable, and safe world for us andour children. Each one of us makes these choices every day, in ways that are clearly spelled out in this book.

"We hold the power," he says, "if only we recognize it." Hoodwinked is a powerful polemic that shows not only how we arrived at this precarious point in our history but also what we must do to stop the global tailspin.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Interior Queensland Picking Up Rain

It's monsoon season in the Outback!

And the dams are ready to catch the inflow:
Rainfall and storm activity over the Christmas-Boxing Day period delivered some good falls across South East Queensland however it was largely isolated and inconsistent with no significant increase in dam levels.

The extreme dry state of the catchments meant most of the rainfall was soaked up by the ground conditions.

The good news is the majority of dam catchments, apart from Wivenhoe, are now primed to deliver inflows should the region receive any solid follow up rainfall over the next 5-7 days.

Pay No Mind To The Man Yelling From His Window

Sleeping at 6 a.m. this morning, I heard a sound. It sounded like a small piece of wood being kicked along on pavement. Since I've been anxious about security issues around the home lately, I jumped up out of bed and quickly looked out the bedroom window.

I saw a man kneeling next to my car's rear wheel. What was he doing? Was he slashing the tires?

I pounded on my bedroom window. "Stop that!" I shouted. I pounded some more, slapping my palm on the glass in order to avoid breaking the glass, and yelled again. Then, I opened the window, and shouting at the top of my lungs, yelled "WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?"

As I stared into the soft light of dawn, in an instant, the man dissolved away without a trace. One instant I was asleep; the next - I was awake.

Whoa! Sleepwalking under duress! I've done this before, but rarely: it's been years. I was lucky I didn't shatter the bedroom window. And embarrassing - I hope I didn't wake the neighbors!

It took two hours to fall asleep again.

Later in the morning, E. returned home, and I explained about my sleepwalking episode:
E.: Chris and I were watching - what was that called? - The Andy Griffin Show.

M.: The Andy Griffin show?

E.: Yes, he is a policeman. Or maybe not a policeman, exactly, but some kind of security guard, because he always has to "secure the building." Anyway, he did some sleepwalking and he started making passes at this woman - I don't know who she is, exactly, but I think she's his aunt - because his personality changed when he was sleepwalking! It was so funny! Maybe your personality will change too! MMMAAAARRRRRCCCC! My poor baby brother!
Under the circumstances this seemed apropos, once again:

That Personal Touch

This felt a bit odd. In the Internet Age, everything is ostentatiously My-this and My-that - MySpace, for example. So, a distant politician is now My Politician, and he sends a pained personal E-Mail:
Dear Marc,

I want to tell you myself about this article published today in the Star Tribune. In it, I disclose that for many years I have been challenged by mild depression, and also that, for a brief period while I was in the Senate, I "slipped" in my recovery from alcoholism.

These are deeply personal matters, and it is very hard for me to disclose them publicly. However, I believe that you and others have the right to know them about me, as you consider supporting me for Governor of Minnesota.
My first thought was 'why are you telling ME this, Mark (if I may be so bold as to call you by your first name, which I suppose I should, since it's My-World, even though I haven't thought to 'friend' you yet on Facebook)? I mean, even though we are on a first name basis, you aren't even my Senator!

Then, I remembered, I've given Mark some money. Not directly, mind you, but through 'Wellstone Action', which is a part of His-World. So, in a way, we're old acquaintances. Pals, even.

Mark, it's OK! Who wouldn't get depressed once in a while, facing the likes of Norm Coleman and Michelle Bachmann? What matters is that you aren't Republican! But remember to stay healthy, too. Because, in the Internet Age, we frequently get too busy, and lose that personal touch - with oneself, most of all. Liquid lunches are costly in more ways than money!

So, how's everything else going? How are the wife and kids?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wow, The Critics And I Live In Separate Universes!

That's to be expected, I suppose. They have taste; I don't!

Still, it's remarkable. I LOVE Dance music, really LOVE it, but on this Top 50 list of 2009's Dance Albums, I got real excited about #2 (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and maybe #42 (Lily Allen), and that's about it! Didn't even hear about the rest! How about that?:
1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz
3. The XX - The XX
4. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
5. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
6. Horrors - Primary Colours
7. Fever Ray - Fever Ray
8. Florence and the Machine - Lungs
9. Bat For Lashes - Two Suns
10. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
11. F*** Buttons - Tarot Sport
12. Girls - Album
13. Mastodon - Crack The Skye
14. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
15. Manic Street Preachers - Journal for Plague Lovers
16. La Roux - La Roux
17. Arctic Monkeys - Humbug
18. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
19. Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Pains of Being Pure at Heart
20. Jamie T - Kings & Queens
21. Doves - Kingdom of Rust
22. Bob Dylan - Together Through Life
23. Sun O))) - Monoliths and Dimensions
24. Mos Def - The Ecstatic
25. Richard Hawley - Truelove's Gutter
26. Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream
27. Future of the Left - Travels With Myself and Another
28. Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
29. Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
30. Muse - The Resistance
31. Martyn - Great Lengths
32. Bombay Bicycle Club - I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose
33. Big Pink - A Brief History of Love
34. White Denim - Fits
35. U2 - No Line on the Horizon
36. Passion Pit - Manners
37. HEALTH - Get Colour
38. Major Lazer - Guns Don't Kill People Lazers Do
39. Empire of the Sun - Walking on a Dream
40. Madness - The Liberty of Norton Folgate
41. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
42. Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You
43. Noah and the Whale - The First Days of Spring
44. Telepathe - Dance Mother
45. Micachu and the Shapes - Jewellery
46. Dead Weather - Horehound
47. Sonic Youth - The Eternal
48. Japandroids - Post-Nothing
49. Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
50. Gallows - Grey Britain
Here is "Summer Clothes" from Animal Collective's 'Merriweather Post Pavilion', which I don't much like - I mean, it's OK; especially the visuals - but since it's NUMBER ONE it must not only be good, but the wave of the future!:

"Nine" Trailer, Featuring 'Cinema Italiano'

And remember! Ron Cisneros likes the movie "Nine"! What better recommendation does anyone need?

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, critics!

Meanwhile, Back At Video Clearance Center's Going-Out-Of-Business Sale....

A vigorous internal dialogue:
Me: What's this? Jennifer Lopez in "Gigli" AND Madonna in "Swept Away"? Two movies that consistently rank among the worst movies ever made? Together on just this one shelf of videos? Should I buy them both at the severe discount being offered?

Devil on Left Shoulder: Buy them! They are conversation pieces!

Angel on Right Shoulder: NO! DON'T BUY THEM! These movies have no redeeming value. They aren't campy, or sad: they're just bad. They don't even have the conversational and historical value of "Plan Nine From Outer Space". People should pay YOU to watch them!

Devil on Left Shoulder: Buy them! These movies are landmarks of popular culture!

Angel on Right Shoulder: NO! DON'T BUY THEM! Paris Hilton is a better actress than either of these two dimwits! Watching these movies will plunge you into a time-sucking black hole of monstrous proportions! Highly-successful people wouldn't waste a nanosecond on either movie! And you do want to be highly-successful, don't you?

Me: Madonna was a pretty good actress in 'Evita'....

Angel on Right Shoulder: But remember, Madonna doesn't have to act to play a strident, vengeful megalomaniac. "Swept Away" shows Madonna's true range!

Devil on Left Shoulder: But how will you know unless you watch the movie?

Angel on Right Shoulder: ......

Me: I'll buy them both!
Interestingly enough, I didn't see "Heaven's Gate" on the shelves anywhere. Bargain hunters must have picked the store clean of this work of art!

Which leads me to reprint a large portion Joe Queenan's wonderful discussion regarding bad movies (I've posted it before, but I return to it again and again, for the nice warm feeling I get when I read it):
Though it is a natural impulse to believe that the excruciating film one is watching today is on a par with the excruciating films of yesterday, this is a slight to those who have worked long and hard to make movies so moronic that the public will still be talking about them decades later. Anyone can make a bad movie; Kate Hudson and Adam Sandler make them by the fistful. Anyone can make a sickening movie; we are already up to Saw IV. Anyone can make an unwatchable movie; Jack Black and Martin Lawrence do it every week. And anyone can make a comedy that is not funny; Jack Black and Martin Lawrence do it every week. But to make a movie that destroys a studio, wrecks careers, bankrupts investors, and turns everyone connected with it into a laughing stock requires a level of moxie, self-involvement, lack of taste, obliviousness to reality and general contempt for mankind that the average director, producer and movie star can only dream of attaining.

A generically appalling film like The Hottie and the Nottie is a scab that looks revolting while it is freshly coagulated; but once it festers, hardens and falls off the skin, it leaves no scar. By contrast, a truly bad movie, a bad movie for the ages, a bad movie made on an epic, lavish scale, is the cultural equivalent of leprosy: you can't stand looking at it, but at the same time you can't take your eyes off it. You are horrified by it, repelled by it, yet you are simultaneously mesmerised by its enticing hideousness. A monstrously bad movie is like the Medusa: those who gaze on its hideous countenance are doomed, but who can resist taking a gander?

The worst film I have ever seen is a low-budget 1969 production called Futz. It was about a man who fell in love with a pig, and even by the dismal standards of the era, it was dismal. There is also a special place in my heart for La Grande Bouffe, the 1973 film about four men who eat themselves to death, and for Anjelica Huston's 1969 debut in her father's A Walk With Love and Death, which also starred Assaf Dayan, the son of the Israeli general with the flashy eyepatch. Pasolini's 120 Days of Sodom is as vile as any film I have ever seen, The Way We Were as treacly and flatulent as any movie I know of, and the lighthearted Holocaust-era comedy Life Is Beautiful as morally repugnant - precisely because of its apparent innocence - as any film I can name. But these are personal tastes; I would never be so bold as to argue that a 39-year-old film about an arrant porcophile is the worst movie ever made, not only because so few people have seen it but because there may be several other movies about men who rapturously lie down with comely sows that are actually worse than Futz. Though I kind of doubt it.

This brings me to my major point. To qualify as one of the worst films of all time, several strict requirements must be met. For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful. That is why making a horrific, cheapo motion picture that stars Hilton or Jessica Simpson is not really much of an accomplishment. Did anyone seriously expect a film called The Hottie and The Nottie not to suck? Two, an authentically bad movie has to be famous; it can't simply be an obscure student film about a boy who eats live rodents to impress dead girls. Three, the film cannot be a deliberate attempt to make the worst movie ever, as this is cheating. Four, the film must feature real movie stars, not jocks, bozos, has-beens or fleetingly famous media fabrications like Hilton. Five, the film must generate a negative buzz long before it reaches cinemas; like the Black Plague or the Mongol invasions, it must be an impending disaster of which there has been abundant advance warning; it cannot simply appear out of nowhere. And it must, upon release, answer the question: could it possibly be as bad as everyone says it is? This is what separates Waterworld, a financial disaster but not an uncompromisingly dreadful film, and Ishtar, which has one or two amusing moments, from The Postman, Gigli and Heaven's Gate, all of which are bona fide nightmares.

Six, to qualify as one of the worst movies ever made, a motion picture must induce a sense of dread in those who have seen it, a fear that they may one day be forced to watch the film again - and again - and again. To pass muster as one of the all-time celluloid disasters, a film must be so bad that when a person is asked, "Which will it be? Waterboarding, invasive cattle prods or Jersey Girl?", the answer needs no further reflection. This phenomenon resembles Stockholm Syndrome, where a victim ends up befriending his tormentors, so long as they promise not to make him watch any more Kevin Smith movies. The condition is sometimes referred to as Blunted Affleck.

Several years ago, I read that a movie about a blind dental technician and a paraplegic athlete who enter a white-water rafting competition was playing at a cinema near me. I immediately bought a ticket for Good Luck, enthralled at the idea of seeing what figured to be one of the worst movies ever made. To be honest, that is the reason I became a critic in the first place; criticism seemed to be a way to channel my unwholesome fascination with train wrecks and fires into a socially acceptable framework. The truth is, every time I go to the pictures, I get goose bumps all over, anticipating that this, after all these years, could be the worst movie ever made.

Sadly, it never is. Yes, Good Luck was bad. It was an inane premise, poorly executed, and the results were not pretty. But it was not so bad that I spent the rest of my life thinking about it. I didn't even spend the rest of the afternoon thinking about it. What's more, because there was no one else in the cinema at the time, and because I have never met anyone else who has seen the film, its imbecilic charms were not something I could share with others.

There is one other requirement for a movie to be considered one of the worst ever: it must keep getting worse. By this, I mean that it not only must keep getting worse while you are watching it, but it must, upon subsequent viewings, seem even worse than the last time you saw it. That is what distinguishes Ishthar from Gigli and Showgirls from Swept Away. Widely viewed as one of the worst movies ever when it was released in 1987, Ishtar actually has several comic moments. Gigli doesn't. Similarly, Showgirls has a certain campy allure that grows a bit each time I see it. Madonna's Swept Away doesn't; it seems more amateurish on each viewing, like a morass that starts out as a quagmire, then morphs into a cesspool and finally turns into a slime pit on the road to its ultimate destination in the bowels of Hell.

All that said, none of these very, very, very bad movies automatically qualify as the worst film ever made. While it may disappoint those who welcome my occasionally unconventional opinions, I am firmly in the camp that believes that Heaven's Gate is the worst movie ever made. For my money, none of these other films can hold a candle to Michael Cimino's 1980 apocalyptic disaster. This is a movie that destroyed the director's career. This is a movie that lost so much money it literally drove a major American studio out of business. This is a movie about Harvard-educated gunslingers who face off against eastern European sodbusters in an epic struggle for the soul of America. This is a movie that stars Isabelle Huppert as a shotgun-toting cowgirl. This is a movie in which Jeff Bridges pukes while mounted on roller skates. This is a movie that has five minutes of uninterrupted fiddle-playing by a fiddler who is also mounted on roller skates. This is a movie that defies belief.

A friend of mine, now deceased, was working for the public relations company handling Heaven's Gate when it was released. He told me that when the 220-minute extravaganza debuted at the Toronto film festival, the reaction was so thermonuclear that the stars and the film-maker had to immediately be flown back to Hollywood, perhaps out of fear for their lives. No one at the studio wanted to go out and greet them upon their return; no one wanted to be seen in that particular hearse. My friend eventually agreed to man the limo that would meet the children of the damned on the airport tarmac and whisk them to safety, but only provided he was given free use of the vehicle for the next three days. After he dropped off the halt and the lame at suitable safe houses and hiding places, he went to Mexico for the weekend. Nothing like this ever happened when Showgirls or Gigli or Ishtar or Xanadu or Glitter or Cleopatra were released. Nothing like this happened when The Hottie and the Nottie dropped dead the day it was released. Heaven's Gate was so bad that people literally had to be bribed to go meet the survivors. Proving that, in living memory, giants of bad taste once ruled the earth. Giants. By comparison with the titans who brought you Heaven's Gate, Paris Hilton is a rank amateur.

Sacramento Convenience Store Clerk Is Sure Something Is Up

After waiting in line for a minute, or so, a person idling in the store suddenly sprang forward to ring up my purchase....
Me: Oh, you're a clerk! I wasn't sure. I thought maybe you might have been a customer, or maybe a security guard.

Clerk: Security would be good - they make a good wage. And speaking about security, have you seen the National Security folks out on the street in their little cars?

Me: No, what's that? Little cars? Like golf carts? Or meter maid vehicles?

Clerk: No, like a fleet of recently-painted 10-year-old Geo Metros. I've been seeing them everywhere today.

Me: I heard about some folks in Montana who faked being National Security folks.

Clerk: Maybe these folks are fake too. I don't know. But they're in uniform and they are present today on the streets, in force....

Weird Urban Cacophony

Saturday evening, about 10 p.m., I walked past the intersection of 11th & I Streets in Sacramento, and listened.....

First, there was the familiar sound of the solo jazz trumpeter, who likes to practice in the parking structure there. Bright and peppy and jazzy!

Then, somewhere high above the street to the north, an eerie chorus of wailing and screeching birds perched on parapets echoed through the downtown street canyons. I don't know what birds those are, but it sounded a lot like a Tarzan movie soundtrack.

The combination was really peculiar to listen to!

The Vatican Hearts 'The Simpsons'

And why not?:
L'Osservatore Romano on Tuesday congratulated the show on its 20th anniversary, praising its philosophical leanings as well as its stinging and often irreverent take on religion.

Without Homer Simpson and the other yellow-skinned characters "many today wouldn't know how to laugh," said the article titled "Aristotle's Virtues and Homer's Doughnut."

The paper credited "The Simpsons" - the longest-running American animated program - with opening up cartoons to an adult audience.

The Fox show is based on "realistic and intelligent writing," it said, though it added there was some reason to criticize its "excessively crude language, the violence of certain episodes or some extreme choices by the scriptwriters."

Religion, from the snore-evoking sermons of the Rev. Lovejoy to Homer's face-to-face talks with God, appears so frequently on the show that it could be possible to come up with a "Simpsonian theology," it said.

Homer's religious confusion and ignorance are "a mirror of the indifference and the need that modern man feels toward faith," the paper said.

It commented on several religion-themed episodes, including one in which Homer calls for divine intervention by crying: "I'm not normally a religious man, but if you're up there, save me, Superman!"

"Homer finds in God his last refuge, even though he sometimes gets His name sensationally wrong," L'Osservatore said. "But these are just minor mistakes, after all, the two know each other well."