Thursday, March 24, 2005

Links of interest

(1) If, like me, you're a pathetic liberal loser who gets gleeful whenever you read old school conservatives bashing the GOdParty, Andrew Sullivan's recent postings will leave you juiced. His article on the contradictions of the modern Republican Party is as articulate an account as you'll find on the subject. Sullivan's also right about one thing: that far from being a blip, this Schiavo case shows the Republican Party sliding towards theocratic insanity. When will sane people step up and stop this country from being run into the ground by these jokers?

(2) Chris Hayes wrote perhaps the most perceptive post-mortem after the election, and now he's got a provocative piece on Democratic party-building. Check it out.

(3) Friendster the movie! Guess that means I'll have to trash my half-completed script. (Hat tip to Splices.)

(4) Oldboy is finally being released this week, to cheers and hisses. Edelstein (to my great surprise) calls it one of the best revenge movies ever, while Scott Foundas writes an open letter to Quentin telling him to foget about Park and pay attention to Hong Sang-soo instead. Speaking of Hong, I just picked up the Turning Gate DVD, which confirms that, yes, the dude rules.

(5) Aegean Disclosure puts up some choice quotes from the "Voices of Dissent" section of that obscure Movie Nerd Survey I'm always making references to. For non-nerds.

(6) Trying to figure out what to read next. I've got a copy of W.G. Sebald's universally acclaimed Austerlitz on my shelf, but I've been meaning to sample P.G. Wodehouse, whose Code of the Woosters beckons me. Also, everyone should read One Hundred Years of Solitude, but the problem is I haven't even cracked open a page each time I take it with me on a trip. A way out of this dilemma? My tentative solution is to simply re-read The Great Gatsby. Anybody else have a better suggestion?

(7) Lastly, this here is a Craig's List type of forum, except for bloggers, called the Bloggers Market. It's just been launched by a Kossack (Daily Kos contributor) named Jeff Davidson. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Interest Meter

Concerned readers have flooded my inbox with mail demanding that this blog return to its blissful pre-Lars state, when frothy self-absorbed musings abounded. When thus confronted by the venerable voice of the market, what can one humble blogger do but submit? So navel-gazing herein -- what I have been thinking about, and not thinking about.


  • Terri Schiavo case, The recent developments of. Last week, this story merited liquid nitrogen on the interest-meter. Last couple of days, it's been a forest fire. What accounts for the change? In spite of Bush Delay Inc.'s grandstanding, it wasn't the calculated cynicism of the vote itself. Nor is it the dizzying but all-too-frequent hypocrisy of Bush et al. No, it's really the GOP's brazen, absurd, and willful disregard for the basic foundation of American government that's truly repugnant. The Party of Lincoln has shown such a complete disregard for the rule of law, the separation of powers, federalism, et al., that it makes the stomach turn. But what's new this time is that even ingrates can't help noticing that this is the most hideous form of political opportunism, brushing aside the fundamental structure of American government to suck up to some theocons. The American poeople, as it turns out, are overwhelmingly against Congressional intervention and in favor of pulling the plug on a woman whose cerebral cortex has basically turned to mush. True, the polls don't tell the whole story: narrative, and perhaps intensity, matter. Those reservations aside, this Schiavo thing strikes me as the GOP's equivalent of "Gays in the Military" -- an obvious interest-group-pandering ploy that will in retrospect be looked at a harbinger of GOP's electoral downturn. That's of course assuming that the Dems will come up with an effective response, a generous assumption indeed. I say take a hint or two from Jon Stewart. And check out all your Schiavo blogging from Mark A.R. Kleiman.

  • The Collective Action Problem, The dire consequences of. In politics, special interests beat out the "public good" 9 times out of 10 times. Why? Because small numbers are easier to organize. Most special-interest legislation greatly benefit a small number while disbursing small costs to a large number of people. Iowan ethanol farmers are easy to mobilize; taxpayers paying 4 cents or whatever to subsidize them are not. Political scientists call this effect the "collective action problem" and it affects politics and economics at the deepest levels. To use just one example, the horrendous bankruptcy bill, which does nothing for Americans but much for credit card companies (who've been handing out credit cards to young consumers like crack) is the latest way in which this problem is being exploited. How can the internet be marshalled to balance the playing field? Is the internet diminishing or increasing the effects of the collective action problem? It's something to ponder.

  • Otto Preminger, The genius of. A just-concluded Otto retrospective has convinced me that the man is indisputably one of the top-shelf filmmakers of Hollywood's classical period and an axiom of auteurism. To paraphrase Theo: Compelling sense of the dramatic + application of cool intelligence = great director in my opinion. More to come.

  • Newk, The genius of. Aging tenor legend Sonny Rollins
    is arguably the greatest living jazz musician, the only titan from the be-bop era still active. Long a personal favorite -- I wore out my CD of his seminal Saxophone Colossus -- his live appearance at Disney Hall was unmissable for those of us who've never seen him. (Some of my biggest music-going regrets have to do with not seeing Miles, or Dizzy, Ella and Leonard Bernstein when I had the chance.) Only through the life-saving intervention of a friend who worked at the Music Center did my friends and I get in, but we were treated to a surprisingly robust set at Disney Hall last Wednesday. His signature muscular tone and easy swing remained intact even as age diminished his soaring solo lines. Now he relies more on showy solos from sidemen, including gimmicky but fun percussive duets, setting up for a forceful restatement by the Man himself. Sonny needs a longer breather now, but the dude can still play.

  • Chris Ware, the genius of. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Boy on Earth. Illustrated storytelling at its finest. Please read it. More anon.

  • WARM

  • Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Identity politics and. It's a tough spot being a non-black, non-Jewish minority storyteller. Not only are you immediately ghettozied if you depict the ethnic minority experience, you're invariably met with two divergent responses: on the one end, you're lauded by self-absorbed ethnic warriors and numbskull multicultis with no standards (how else to explain the fame of uber-hack Amy "remove my" Tan?). On the other end, your stuff gets dismissed by smug, "high-minded" white types who extol the "universal" (read: white or Jewish) experience, perpetuating the sense of white entitlement that one eventually realizes is intractable. Admittedly, ethnic artists do themselves no favors by pandering to the first demographic: the majority of Asian-Am storytelling can be fairly described as trite mish-mash of: oppressive parents, assimilation anxiety, interracial dating problems, and leaden symbolism involving either chopsticks, kimchee, or somosas. Identity-relate issues have been province for earnest, witless "self-exploration" for some time now, but it took a stoner comedy to do it right. Let's be clear: this is a movie featuring oral sex with a bag of weed. But in their quest for White Castle burgers, Harold and Kumar stumble their way through a surreal night that's a metaphor for the Asian-Am experience, forced to avoid and/or defeat a gallery of White Types Minorities Love to Hate, including the patronizing old man with authority, racist white trash, fucked-up cops, crazy white trash, etc. They do this while touching on, but not belaboring, themes common to Asian-Am lit (racial self-loathing, a desperate rebelling against stereotypes, emasculation, demanding parents and pressure to conform, etc.). Some nice touches, like Harold's barely concealed loathing of the nerds at the Princeton nerd gathering, but none of this would matter if it weren't consistently funny. And Kal Penn rules.

  • Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, The vote to open drilling in. Detroit can't compete with the Japanese on economy cars (Toyota is slated to overtake GM in the near-future as the largest manufacturer of automobiles in the world, a position GM has held since 1931), so they convince gullible suburbanites that the only way to be a real American is to drive monstrous off-road utility cars, while at the same time they successfully lobby Congress to do nothing on fuel-efficiency standards. Predictably, demand for oil increases in the U.S. Meanwhile, rapid industrialization in India and China dramatically increases global demand for oil, leading to sky-high oil prices. Japanese automakers take the lead in building gas-electric hybrids that will continue to gain in sales as fuel-guzzling SUVs drop. So what does Congress do but vote to open drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, which will in the most favorable estimates produce 5% of Americans' daily consumption. Doing nothing about long-term demand and conservation, but everything on increasing short-term supply to benefit the oil and the auto industries, ultimately to their detriment and the detriment of the nation. That's your government in a nutshell.


  • Wolfie, The World Bank nomination of. Why?

  • Gene Hackman, The genius of. Why has this great actor been in so many crappy movies? Yeah, he's good at playing gruff hardasses (see Red October, The Hunt for), but in his best films plumb the emotional reticence underneath that put-on affability, like The Conversation, Night Moves, and The Royal Tenenbaums.

  • Maintenance, or my life in a nutshell. It is sad. It took me thirty one years to figure out that what I am best at doing out of everything is talking to females about relationships. Mine. Ours. Theirs. The twisted conclusion is that "to do what I'm best at" I should either become a relationship counselor of some sort or start writing chick lit under the nom de plume Rhonda Wallerstein. Possibly the latter will be my new career route.

  • FireFox, The increasing market share of. Awesome.

  • Barry Bonds, Possible Career Ending Injury of. Is he an ass? Does an elephant shit? But he's also the most exciting hitter I've ever seen. Records or no records, I'd like to see this guy play a couple more years.

  • COOL

  • Steroids, The congressional investigation of. Let baseball regulate the problem and butt out. Please.

  • Kanye West's The College Dropout, The catchy sound of. Almost as good as advertised -- addictive hooks, clever lyrics, refreshing social consciousness, but Kanye channels the preachy KRS-One one too many times for my taste, and I could do without the Christian stuff.

  • Disney Hall, The plebian interior of. The metallic sheen and cascading surfaces of Frank Gehry's celebrated music hall are impressive to be sure, and the state-of-the-art acoustic engineering even better than the hype. But why is the interior decor decked out like a Florida retirement home, with orange-hued tropical seat covers and airport-styled carpet? I understand the need to de-institutionalize, but egalitarianism does not equal kitsch.

  • COLD

  • Steamboy, My lack of interest in seeing. Why are all fanboy anime either (1) about a boy destined to save the world from impending apocalypse or survive post-apocalypse; (2) a hot girl who looks about fifteen who turns out to be a robot; (3) a hot cyborg girl who wants to be human; or (4) mix and match. Why.

  • A Talking Picture, The lameness of. What this picture is is the most boring movie I have seen since Manoel de Oliveira's Anxiety. What it also is is the interminable History Channel travelogue, which then turns into a ridiculously obvious Symbolic Account of Western Civilization, Post-9/11. You see, the captain of the ship -- AN AMERICAN -- gives an ARAB DOLL to a Portugese child whose mother is a history professor who espouses OLD EUROPE ideals. And well, you know what happens to OLD EUROPE when it tries to save the Arabs, don't you? When Hollywoof [sic] puts out such thuddingly ponderous symbolism, the highbrows spit dismissively. When the 174 year-old level IV auteur of the cinema does it in his typically soporific style, it is a "provocative exploration of the post-9/11 world." Okay, I will give it credit for a totally wacko ending and there's bits of humor here and there. But it is still boring as ass.