The last Friday of 2010

>> Friday, December 31, 2010

And so here we are, three-hundred-and-sixty-five (and seven-twelfths of a) days on from the last time it was 2009, on the last day it'll be 2010. And then tonight in around ten hours, or nine-and-a-half, I guess, it's 2011. The second decade of the Twenty-First Century starts, and I don't know that it'll be radically different from the first, but so it goes.

I feel almost guilty saying this: it hasn't been a terrible year for me. It's been a terrible year for a lot of my friends and I've lost count of how many people I know have already been bidding 2010 a good riddance and saying they'll be happy to see it gone. I won't be sad to see the year gone, but I can't say it's been all that bad to me. 2009? That was a bad year, that was a year I could have died, no shit and no exaggeration. But this year? This year it was good to be alive. This year a lot of my soul-crushing debt went away (thanks to not-dying and all I had to do was have a broken wrist for months--it's not a financial program I recommend, seriously). This was a year I sold my first short story, and I'll be damned if I can get another one sold (or even finished these days), but I can officially say I'm a paid published writer now, which counts for something.

So the year hasn't been unkind to me, personally. Which I feel sort of bad for saying, because I know it's been cruel to others. But it is what it is, and speaking for myself I could deal with 2011 being mostly like 2010 if cause-and-effect deems it fit. I don't want to seem like I'm bragging, I just can't say it's been all that bad for me, izall.

If it's been a year for you that you endured, I'm nonetheless glad you survived, which is sometimes all we get in this life and more than we can reasonably expect when you look at everything the universe arrays against us. I hope you have good friends by your side and success in your endeavors this coming year, and a good portion of joy allotted to you amidst it all.

Happy New Year.


Patti Smith Group: "Horses / Hey Joe"

>> Thursday, December 30, 2010

Well, shit: I may have a new favorite version of "Hey Joe" to trump Medeski, Martin & Wood's version. The Patti Smith Group and the one-and-only (world's not cool enough for two of her) Patti Smith, natch, on the Old Grey Whistle Test back in '76 with an incendiary version of "Horses" segueing into a lovely raw version of, yeah, "Hey Joe." Damn.


"On Melancholy Hill"

>> Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gorillaz, "On Melancholy Hill":


True Grit

>> Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I'm at the Original Pancake House over by South Park. I mention this, not because it has anything to do with the Coen Brothers' new adaptation of the novel True Grit, but because it has everything to do withthis review, which is being written on my BlackBerry while I await eggs and sausage links. Normally when I'm doing a movie review, I like to include IMDB links and a copy of the movie poster and other relevant links and so on; and if I had a faster tabbed browser, if (for instance) I'd thought to bring the netbook along, I might have all of that.

I don't. I have a BlackBerry and thumbs and coffee and I'm awaiting breakfast-for-lunch and I just saw an utterly amazing piece of film, and I expect I won't be getting home 'til much later this evening. And I want to get this down, although I'm afraid my food just arrived and I'll be taking a moment, here.

(This isn't spectacular, but it hits the spot; all I've had to eat today was a bag of popcorn. The hashbrowns and sausages could be crisper--a good sausage skin ought to pop, y'know? But the eggs are about right. And you might be thinking, "Yeah, but eggs aren't that hard to do," and I can only say, "Sure, but you'd be surprised and offended.")

Anyway, True Grit: I know there are some people who are offended by the idea of a "remake" of an iconic Western starring John Wayne. And I don't know that I have an adequate response to that. It's been quite a number of years since I've seen the 1969 version, and I've never read Charles Portis' novel. I know my Dad loved the novel when it was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post and was kind of miffed by the liberties the '69 film took and didn't think John Wayne really captured his idea of Rooster Cogburn, the Federal marshall played by Wayne in '69 and in the 2010 film by Jeff Bridges; I point this out because maybe my answer to those who see the Coens' film as a sacrilege against John Wayne is that mileage varies, and some people who weren't keen on the first movie might like this one more, since it apparently hews more closely to the book than the first one did. I don't know, I would like to read the book now, which hadn't occurred to me before.

Rooster Cogburn is the iconic character here, but he isn't the main character in the Coens' adaptation: that would be--

(--and here we had a long pause, and I'm no longer on the BlackBerry, but finishing this review on a friend's Macintosh--)

--young Mattie Ross, played by Ms. Hailee Steinfeld. Mattie's situation, explained to us in voiceover over a shot of her late father lying in the snow and light falling from the door of a rooming house, is that her father was killed by a ne'er-do-well, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and it's up to her to settle his affairs, though she's but fourteen. However, she sees her portfolio broadly, believing that settling her father's affairs includes making sure Chaney is brought to justice, for which she recruits Cogburn, thinking he's the meanest man she can find for the job.

Steinfeld holds the movie together brilliantly well, and does a masterful job with the role. She's not alone: Bridges' performance as Cogburn may very well be the performance of his career, and they're joined by Matt Damon as the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf and a stellar collection of character actors filling in the various sundry roles.

The Coens and regular collaborator Roger Deakins shoot the whole thing with a nicely faded look suitable to the post-Civil War setting. It's another lovely looking film.

The Coens' dialogue is always a bit on the stylized side, as always, but here there's an extra layer to it: the lines have a very formalized cadence to them, an unusual diction and interesting choices of words. Dana Stevens at Slate said of the dialogue in Grit (here's the advantage of being back on a computer, though I'm hoping to wrap this up quickly and will eschew a link):

Its most marked characteristic is its dialogue, written in a peculiar archaic diction that, for reasons I still haven't fully understood, never interferes with the movie's emotional directness. Informed that another character has died, Mattie observes gravely, "His depredations are over." These characters, none of whom seem likely to have had much education, toss around words like braggadocio and remonstrate, and contractions, as a rule, are eschewed. The effect is non-naturalistic but curiously convincing. We're not meant to believe that people in 19th-century America actually spoke this way, only to accept that this is a world with its own formal (and often very funny) language and its own inscrutable moral code.

But I'm not sure that's right, actually. I don't know if people in the 19th Century spoke the way they do in True Grit or not, but I do know that if you look at letters people wrote in the period around the American Civil War and at literature from the era, there is a highfalutin' diction amidst the frequent mis-or-alternate spellings ("standardized" spelling still being a relatively recent thing in those days). This was a time in which everybody liked to name their kids and horses after figures from the classical era; I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if someone said another's "depredations are over."

Anyway, I'd like to wrap this up, and fear I haven't done it enough justice. This is one of the best movies I've seen this year, and I realize I've said that a good bit this year. But I think I'd have a hard time choosing between this and Winter's Bone and Black Swan, and that's a heady company to be a part of. This is a fine film, well acted and beautifully shot, and there's no legitimate reason not to see it; I'm already ready to see it again.


Black Swan

>> Monday, December 27, 2010

So I went and saw Black Swan today; I liked it, liked it a lot--but then, that's hardly surprising: I liked it a lot when it had a serial killer in it and was a cartoon.

I kid, I kid from affection. Black Swan is an excellent movie, one of the more visually interesting things I think I saw all year (up there with The American, Inception and The Ghost Writer--y'know, it's been a damn good year for movies). But it was hard, watching it, not to think that director Darren Aronofsky had finally gotten around to that live-action remake of Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue that he's apparently been jonesin' to do for awhile. A psychological thriller about a sexually-repressed ingénue surrounded by players with ambiguous or hostile intentions, her mental disintegration accompanied by escalating violence, told with a visual vocabulary that uses mirrors symbolically and literally in depicting the protagonist's downward spiral, all with generous debts and demonstrations of homage to Hitchcock and Cronenberg? Like I said, the only thing Swan is missing would be the serial killer. (And, one can't help observing with a dollop of snark directed at the run-of-the-mill Hollywood remakes of foreign film: there are plenty of live-action "adaptations" of Japanese films--animated or otherwise--that hew less closely to their supposed predecessors than the "original" Black Swan chooses to follow Blue.)

Which isn't a negative review at all, and indeed, I hope I've actually sold you on the necessity of seeing Swan if you're a fan of Kon's work.

And I hope I haven't put you off of seeing Swan if you're leery of anime for whatever stupid reason. 1

By way of a brief and hopefully spoiler-free plot synopsis: Natalie Portman is Nina, a repressed and neurotic ballet dancer living with her weird mother (Barbara Hershey) and dancing for a New York company. Dance is all Nina has, having no life outside of rehearsals and dealing with the daily minor injuries her art inflicts on women. Things change, not necessarily for the better, when the company director (Vincent Cassel) fires the company diva (Winona Ryder) and chooses Nina for the lead in the company's new production of Swan Lake. Under pressure, Nina begins suffering a psychological breakdown, accompanied by a fracturing of her subjective reality; a breakdown which accelerates with the introduction of the company's new hire (or is she really there at all?), played by Mila Kunis.

With a cast like that, do I even need to comment on the acting? It's well-played all around. It's the kind of material people could go overboard with, but nobody is wholly unsympathetic and nobody chews any scenery; fine restraint all around, in other words.

Director Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique eschew the blues that one would think are legally mandated in thrillers and suspense films (or any other film these days, really), preferring a wintry palette of blacks, greys and whites. As mentioned above, reflections are an important literal and symbolic part of this tale, and there's quite a lot of nice bits where scenes play out mostly in mirrors while the primary action occurs offscreen or so unfocused in the foreground that your attention is drawn to what's happening in a piece of glass. I have to confess, I still haven't gotten around to any of Aronofsky's other stuff despite a hellroad's worth of good intentions to, so I can't say how the visuals compare to his other films, all of which have been praised for their images regardless of their overall reception. But I thought Swan was a damn good looking film, and I'll even add that it's an honestly good looking movie, by which I mean that it's not quite like The American (which I loved), in which the look of the movie is incidental to everything else in it, or The Ghost Writer (which I also liked) in which the look of the film is almost just a casual byproduct of the director having a good eye that's been honed by so many decades as an auteur2: the lovely imagery in Black Swan serves the story quite well.

I should also say that you're unlikely to find somebody who knows less about ballet than I do, and ballet is hardly necessary to the whole thing, though I'm sure there are various nuances and references that a ballet lover will pick up and groove on. I'm not sure I've ever actually sat through one or ever watched one in its entirety on TV or elsewhere. (Not even The Nutcracker... or was I forced to watch that in school at some point? Huh. I don't remember.) About all I know about it beyond that is that it seems to lead women to abuse the hell out of their bodies, which, aesthetics be damned, makes it about as swell as a burqa in my book, but what do I know? It's fine art, right? At any rate, Black Swan isn't a ballet movie anymore than Psycho is about motel management.

Which brings us, I suppose, to the caveat: deciding you don't want to see Black Swan because it has dancing in it or because it bears more than passing resemblance to a foreign animated film would be pretty stupid and self-depriving for no good reason. You'd miss a tense, beautifully-shot, well-acted, disturbing psychological thriller. On the other hand, if you don't like Hitchcock, Cronenberg or, yes, Kon, then you might want to give this one a pass: it has body horror and sexual awakenings gone horribly awry and disturbing hallucinations, and the twists in the plot are less "twists" than confirmations that the movie is shot from the POV of an unreliable narrator.3 Black Swan is one of the better movies I've seen in a year full of pretty good movies, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to the squeamish, the faint of heart, or to people who prefer straightforward narratives and prefer to take what they see on a movie screen at face value with as little untidy ambiguity as can be managed.

For anyone else, of course, I hope you'll like it as much as I did.

1Let's point out the obvious: "anime" is a form--Japanese animation--not a genre or subject; in other words, while there certainly are animated films and TV shows from Japan about superpowered schoolgirls (just as there are such live action things from Hollywood, e.g. Buffy The Vampire Slayer), there are also Japanese animated films about other things, like completely ordinary children trying to survive the Allied bombing of Japan during WWII or magical realist Capraesque "fantasies" about homeless people spending their Christmas trying to figure out how to deal with an abandoned baby dropped in their laps.

In other words, making generalizations about "anime" that confuse it with genre are like saying "all live action films are science fiction movies like Star Wars" or "all television shows are police/legal procedurals like Law And Order." Movies and television--and anime--are media, media which can be used to tell whatever stories somebody wants to tell. If a lot of the ones that end up crossing the Pacific happen to be science fiction or fantasy, well, those things sell over here.

2Look, Polanski may be a morally-depraved creep, or undeniably was one nearly forty years ago, but the guy knows how to make a movie. Unless it's Fearless Vampire Killers, which, you know, he could fuck off and die if that was the only thing he'd ever shat out, but there's more to his résumé than that, okay?

3Links in there not because I expect you're unfamiliar with those terms, dear reader, but because, yes, I do mean them in their literary or critical senses. Or, if it happens you were unfamiliar with either of those terms, well: yes, they're meant in their literary and critical senses, as explained in those Wikipedia entries I linked to, and you should probably read those articles.


Five photos: Boxing day walk in the snow edition

>> Sunday, December 26, 2010

Off and on for the last week the weathermen had been calling for snow on Christmas Day, off and on, sometimes saying it was a sure thing and then sometimes it wasn't, until Christmas Eve when everyone began saying yes, it would happen, and lots of it for this part of the country. And it finally did come, falling from Saturday evening through this morning.

I thought I'd take a walk with the camera, have brunch if Boudreaux's was open and it was alright if it wasn't. (They were open and I had a nice tasso ham-egg-and-cheese sandwich.) Here are five of the photographs I took in the neighborhood today:


Merry Christmas Or Holiday Of Your Choice, Everybody!

>> Saturday, December 25, 2010


"Baby, please come home..."

>> Friday, December 24, 2010

One of my favorite Christmas songs has long been "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" (my favorite being The Pogues' "Fairytale Of New York," which I'm skipping on the blog this year 'coz everyone seems to be linking to it everywhere); could be, above everything else, that the original Darlene Love-Phil Spector-Wall-Of-Sound rendition is just so blow you out of your chair. Then again, there have been so many damn good covers, including this one by the Max Weinberg Seven and....

And... well who else do we have on stage with the MW7? Mr. and Mrs. Springsteen, obviously, and Little Steven Van Zandt, and Jon Bon Jovi, and Nils Lofgren, and someone in the comments at YouTube ID'd Southside Johnny and Gary U.S. Bonds (which I confirmed) and Jesse Malin (also appears to be a correct ID)... and that still leaves, what? A dozen more people on the stage?

It's like "Where's Waldo?" for New Jersey rockers or something. Feel free to tell me who else is up there, and I hope you dig the whole thing--especially Mighty Max's fusillade on the kit--as much as I do. "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)":


"Come on, Santa, make me feel alright..."

>> Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Raveonettes, "Come On Santa":


"Christmas Time Is Here"

>> Wednesday, December 22, 2010

If you're of a certain TV-watching age, I doubt there's any composer more evocative of Christmastime than jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. Great composer and wonderful player, but what he'll always be known for more than anything else is his score for A Charlie Brown Christmas, a perennial holiday favorite since it debuted almost half a century ago (!) in 1965. Just the first few sprinkled notes of "Christmas Time Is Here" is enough to conjure images of snow, kids skating and little trees that aren't that bad after all, they just need a little love.

Here's guitarist Rob Bourassa performing "Christmas Time Is Here":


"A child is bored."

>> Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This came up on Facebook the other day, and I figured (in keeping with the holiday season and having nothing special to say at the moment) I'd share it here as well: one of my all-time favorite David Sedaris pieces, "Front Row Center With Thaddeus Bristol":


"The Spirit Of Christmas"

>> Monday, December 20, 2010

No doubt you've seen this a million times before, but my guess is that it's been long enough for it to be fresh all over again; or, at least, it's been a while and it still makes me laugh....

The 1995 animated "Christmas card" short that led to the television series and feature film: "The Spirit Of Christmas" by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, starring Stan, Kenny, Kyle, Cartman, Jesus, Santa and Brian Boitano, set in the little redneck town of South Park, Colorado (and I feel obligated to warn--N(the least bit)SFW):

A valuable reminder that Christmas is still about one very important thing:

CARTMAN: Yeah, ham!

STAN: No, not ham, you fat fuck!

CARTMAN: Fuck you!

STAN: Christmas is about something much more important!

KYLE: What?

STAN: Presents.

I dunno. Ham's pretty good....



>> Sunday, December 19, 2010

Huzzah! Hooray! A new animated short by Don Hertzfeldt! And, true to form, this one by the creator of "Billy's Balloon" and "Rejected" is as painful to watch as it is hysterically funny.

"Wisdom Tooth":

and--in a roundabout way--to Nathan for sending me there!)


TRON: Legacy

>> Saturday, December 18, 2010

I'm not sure how often it is you go to a movie and it's exactly what you expected--no better and no worse, exactly as good and exactly as bad as you went in thinking it would be, hitting exactly the notes you thought it would and delivering the precise elements you came in for. A movie might be close, but I'm not sure how often it just hits right where it ought to, rising no higher and sinking no lower--

So that's TRON: Legacy in a nutshell, at least for me.

I went with a group of friends last night; we saw it in IMAX 3D and I recommend seeing it that way. Legacy is the kind of movie that just demands that, and if you're planning on seeing it, or you decide to go, go ahead and fork out the extra bucks for the IMAX digital sound and the pretty 3D visuals, which are as good as I've seen so far. (Bear in mind, I still haven't seen Avatar, evidently the gold standard of the format.) And, like I said, I got exactly what I paid for and was quite happy for it; pleased, even.

I guess to explain what I expected, you have to go back to TRON, one of Disney's ill-fated attempts in the early-'80s to try to reach out to more mature audiences with a series of PG-rated, bigger-budget, live-action features, a break from Disney's usual fare of G-rated mostly-big-budget animated films and low-budget live-action movies like the Herbie Franchise.1

TRON wasn't actually a very good film. If you're reading this, you probably recall the plot, and you may very well remember some of the things that were wrong with the thing as a concept. In short, a computer programmer, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) tries to prove some software he wrote was stolen by the nefarious Ed Dillinger (David Warner), and so breaks into his old company, ENCOM, and tries to hack into one of the terminals there in search of evidence, but instead is shot in the back by a laser operated by the company's evil Master Control Program (MCP), originally a piece of chess(!!) software written by Dillinger that has somehow become a malevolent AI; the laser, anyway, somehow scans Flynn into ENCOM's computer system, where he finds himself in a virtual world in which programs (played by the same actors who play the characters who wrote them) live in fear of the MCP's tyranny and are forced to play video games against each other--to the death, or "derezzing" as it's known on The Grid.

Unfortunately, all of that plays out pretty much the way it sounds, despite some heroic attempts to salvage things by Bridges and his costar Bruce Boxleitner (who plays the titular TRON on The Grid and Flynn's friend, Alan Bradley, back home in Kansas) and yet another wonderfully villainous turn by the ever-game Warner. And yet the film is a cult classic, perhaps even a classic classic. Why?

For starters, TRON was one of the first movies to feature quite a lot of CGI, and as quaint as it looks in retrospect, it remains pretty badass and dream-haunting. For another thing, along with the CGI went a particularly distinctive and unforgettable look. And, for a third, TRON was one of those movies that caught the zeitgeist at the right time, was maybe even a little ahead of it.

See, TRON was there around the dawn of the personal computing age; again, you probably remember this for yourself. PCs were appearing in offices and in homes, everybody was saying the computer age had begun, and if you were school-age (as I was when I saw TRON in the theatre2), you may remember that a lot of schools were teaching the kids computing classes because that was going to be a big life skill along with reading and 'rithmatic. What's more, computer classes back then were all basic programming classes, because--and this is, I think, crucial to TRON's appeal--in the near-future everybody was going to be a programmer.

That last bit, as I say, is important. You could buy commercial software to do big, common tasks like spreadsheets and word processing, and you could buy games, but there was still this strong DIY strand in computing--heck, the idea that you'd buy a completely-functional computer as opposed to buying a lot of parts out of a magazine and building it yourself was still a bit novel in those years. Sometimes "buying a program" meant buying a magazine with the code inside it; I remember one of the first RPG-aide programs for D&D players was like that, you typed in the fecking thing by hand and if you made a mistake somehwere in the hundreds of lines of code, well, gee, good luck with that.

Everybody was going to be a programmer and/or user, and this wasn't just the coming paradigm as everybody (inaccurately, as it turned out3) saw it, this was central to TRON's mythos and premise. If you were the least bit a computer geek, the TRONverse was, as the oxymoronic cliché goes, "familiar yet strange"; no, you weren't in Kansas anymore, but here are programmers (that's you) and their programs (you know those), and this is surely what the whole mysterious action of commands would be like if the one could get on the level of the other.

Even the gladiator games business of TRON was parcel with this. TRON was the first videogame movie, long before videogames came in franchises and had iconic characters and settings. The famous lightcycles were awesome; they were also a version of Snake (a.k.a. Tapeworm), one of the first videogames invented and not merely that: Snake was also a game that was incorporated into beginning lesson plans and that many who were learning programming in those days took a shot at writing, since it involves polling the keyboard for directional keys, rendering the results on the screen, and tracking placement of the rendered objects in relation to previously-rendered pixels (i.e. collision detection). Similarly, those tanks in the maze were a brandless, generic staple of early gaming platforms and programs: TRON was offering up a ground-level POV of the kinds of blocky things we were all playing with--sure, all you might see on the monitor is a lengthening line or a blocky block navigating between blocks shooting blocks at other blocky blocks, but in the machine, surely this was what it would look like. Right?

So TRON captured the imagination.

What, then, does TRON: Legacy have to offer? TRON was there at the birth, offering both a visualization of what we thought we were doing and offering a direction, something aspirational. (TRON was one of the first depictions of virtual reality, too, and is it any surprise that subsequent depictions of VR tended to use TRON as a starting point?4) TRON may have used generic versions of the generic computer culture, but that culture has become, to a great degree, the norm. TRON offered innovative CGI, but CGI is now ubiquitous, etc., etc., etc.

Well, here's what Legacy has to offer, then: nothing new, only more of the same, but modernized and updated. Legacy isn't the first album by your favorite band, clumsy and rough but having something special that points a way forward, but that you can't put your fingers on. No, Legacy is the "Best Of" package released thirty years later, and maybe it's not quite as special but that's not what it's aiming for.

Bridges and Boxleitner are back: both as older men, Kevin Flynn and Alan Bradley, and also as their computer program counterparts, CLU and TRON, thanks to a nifty bit of computer de-aging that works pretty well about 85%-90% of the time (the other ten-to-fifteen percent of the time, there are some uncanny valley effects or the face seems to slip somehow, but it's still a pretty effective trick all the same). The lightcycles are back, this time in three dimensions, and not just in the you're-wearing-the-glasses sense, but the cycles don't stay stuck to the grid, they dip down off-ramps to lower levels or jump each other or pop wheelies. The gladiatorial Frisbee games are back, but now they're hyperkinetic and programs don't "derezz" into puffy pastel clouds, they blow apart into bits of digital neon broken glass, crash! The evil recognizers growl through the air and the solar sailship is back (and just as non-solar and gratuitously-sailed as it's predecessor, but still iconic). All brilliantly executed and set to a buzzing, melodic, pulsing, trés cool Daft Punk soundtrack (which I'm listening to right now, courtesy of Amazon's MP3 store--the ordinary magic of our times, indeed). And, oh yes, another thing someone who loved the original TRON in all it's spectacular, brilliant mediocrity would want: plenty of Easter eggs for the attentive viewer (e.g. note where Sam Flynn, Legacy's protagonist played primarily by Garrett Hedlund, lives5).


Is adequate. Are you going to see TRON: Legacy because you want a tensely-knit, well-plotted intellectual something-or-other or because you want to have a cool, fun visual experience that hearkens back to what was probably a formative moment if you first saw the original TRON at a formative point in your life and have carried it in your heart since? Compelling story? You don't understand, I'm afraid: they have flying lightcycles now. Flying lightcycles. Do you know what that means? It means they fly. It's awesome.

No, wait, I'll say this for the plot: one of the reasons TRON is awful and never lives up to its visual promise is that the movie tried so stubbornly to live up (or down) to its concept of "what if computer programs were people living inside a computer," which, let's be honest doesn't actually work. I mean, why would a spreadsheet need a house, for instance, and why is a security protocol playing a Frisbee-based PONG variant to the "death" against a hapless bookkeeping applet, etc.? I'm actually happy to say that Legacy almost entirely glosses over the premise of the original while keeping the same generalized idea; put another way, while TRON attempts to be a science-fiction film, Legacy is essentially a fantasy. Whereas the grid in TRON is pushed as a visualization of actual technical ideas and concepts6, however clumsily, Legacy treats the grid as just a neat place to go, like Narnia if you got there via disintegrating laser instead of by wardrobe. (Indeed, Legacy doesn't even explain the laser, trusting TRON fans to remember it and hoping newbies will just go along with it, perhaps realizing that trying to explain it would be a mistake.) There are science fiction themes and trappings to be sure--a little bit of a Frankenstein riff going on, for instance among other things, but I don't want to spoil anything there. But ultimately Legacy is a fun and sharp-looking addition to the tradition of brave-heroes-lost-in-new-worlds fantasy tradition that includes, say, the Narnia books, the John Carter stories, et al., with neon piping replacing thatched roofs and flung identity discs in lieu of swords. Oh, and the princess wears PVC instead of some kind of hide bikini, but she looks great in it.

I think I've gone on enough and said most of what I wanted to. Hope it wasn't too rambly and cohered more than I suspect it does. I enjoyed it, it was fun. It wasn't great and it wasn't terrible. I bought the soundtrack and maybe I'll get it on DVD when it comes out. It won't change your world, but it won't waste your money, either. If you go see it, see it in IMAX 3D if you can, and I hope you have a good time.

1Other films in the experimental "series" included: The Black Hole (1979), Dragonslayer (1981), Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) and Never Cry Wolf (1983). The films ranged from flops to very modest successes (which in Hollywood terms, in which something needs to be a smash to be a success, amounts to the same as a flop), and the conventional wisdom was that the Walt Disney label was the reason: people associated the brand with family films, and so they failed to find their proper audience, what with the intended audience avoiding a "kiddie" film and parents bringing in unintended audiences--their small children--and being horrified or whatever at what they were shown. Ultimately, in 1984, Disney solved the problem by forming Touchstone as a subsidiary brand, with a good bit of success.

Things have changed, obviously, in the past thirty years. TRON: Legacy appears under the Walt Disney brand and isn't the only PG-rated film the studio has released in recent years; furthermore, even Disney's G-rated animated fare reaches a wider audience now than was once the case.

2I mention this last bit because, depressingly, I realized very quickly last night that I was the only person in my group of twenty-something, thirty-something friends who had seen TRON in the theatre, that everybody else there had first seen the original movie on VHS or perhaps on the Disney Channel in the late '80s or early '90s.

Indeed, one reason the list of movies in the first footnote, supra, sticks out is that I saw all of them in the theatre, once upon a time; there were other PG-rated Disney movies in the same timeframe, but I didn't see them or didn't see them until much later on videotape or cable, but those listed, I was there in the darkness with them, watching reflected light on silvered screen, etc.

Sigh. Getting old is a bitch, but I guess it beats the obvious alternative.

3Because programming, of course, is hard, time-consuming work and a pain-in-the-ass, and computers quickly became both more complicated and more ordinary than anyone expected, faster than anyone expected. It turned out that just about the only people who would be programmers would be professional programmers, while most users would be satisfied to have something that "just works" without worrying about how it worked. Computing has become the ordinary magic of our lives.

4Exhibit A, notice the neon piping in the background:

5I also have to mention a non-TRON-specific Easter egg of sorts: Quorra's (Olivia Wilde) favorite book is a cute little SF reference and I got a nice laugh out of it, charmed by the gag.

6TRON himself, for instance, is named after a debugging command, and that's his function in the original movie, more-or-less: Alan Bradley wrote him to trace bugs in the ENCOM mainframe, which is how he ends up fighting the MCP's irregularities "for the users." He's really just a BASIC command. Sort of.


EXCLUSIVE: The "lost" seventeen minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey!

>> Friday, December 17, 2010

It would seem seventeen "lost" minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey have been discovered in a vault in Kansas. Kubrick being the perfectionist he was, one would assume he cut these minutes for a very good reason, although it's interesting that these minutes may have been cut shortly after the initial release.

Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets is pleased to announce that we've obtained a copy of the footage in question.

What we discovered was remarkable. As those familiar with 2001 may recall, the bulk of the movie is a static and staid affair involving three characters on the ill-fated spaceship, Discovery: two astronauts, Dave Bowman and Frank Poole, and the sedate voice of the ship's computer, HAL-9000. However, audiences of the very first cut of the film were introduced to two additional characters, the Discovery's alien janitor, Roscoe, and a Russian spy stowing away on the vessel, Tatiana.

Roscoe's origin or exact species is not offered nor explained in the footage Giant Midgets was provided with. He mostly appears human, aside from enormous prosthetic ears, a pair of antennae jutting from his eyebrows, a prosthetic forehead (that anticipates the makeup designs of '80s-and-subsequent Star Trek), and a shiny silver uniform that's apparently meant to indicate his exotic origins. It's hard to determine what role he's meant to play in advancing the story, although it does appear he is intended to offer comic relief by way of comments like, "Me's afrait of dem Monoliffs, dey's blacker den I am!"

As for Tatiana, she apparently was conceived of to provide a romantic interest for astronaut Frank Poole, at least based on what Giant Midgets has been provided with. The longest clip of footage featuring Tatiana is a scene between her and Poole in the Discovery's sauna room (unseen in any other footage!) in which Poole grabs Tatiana by the towel as she's attempting to leave and tells her, "It may be hot in here, but you're as cold as space, baby," and then plants a heavy kiss on her while her bosom heaves beneath the wrapped towel.

The newly-discovered Tatiana and Roscoe scenes comprise about nine minutes of the seventeen-minutes that have been discovered, and suggest that there's quite a bit more footage that may still be in a vault somewhere. But the most shocking revelations come in the remaining eight minutes: it appears that Kubrick actually shot a completely different ending, and these eight minutes comprise a significant chunk of the intended alternate ending and suggest that the original plot of 2001 was something much different than what SF fans think they know so well.

We see the familiar title card: "Jupiter And Beyond The Infinite," and a pod leaving Discovery much as in the familiar version of the film. But from here, things almost immediately take a sudden, surprising turn: the extending claws of the space pod produce a pair of what appear to be some sort of enormous pistols! And indeed, we quickly see that this is what they are: Bowman's space pod (for indeed, we quickly cut to Bowman inside, working the controls) swoops towards the enigmatic Monolith with guns blazing!

More surprises follow: Bowman radios back to the Discovery and asks how many "bogeys" are approaching--and HAL, apparently not deactivated after all, responds. A dogfight in space ensues, Bowman's pod against a half dozen "mini-Monoliths" which dart about firing some sort of electrical-blast at Bowman's pod. Just as it looks like Bowman's goose is cooked, there's a massive discharge of energy--Roscoe has repaired the AE-35 antenna unit, which apparently doubles as some sort of laser weapon, and the Discovery is diving into the fray now, as well! We cut to a painful scene in which Roscoe is bouncing around the command center of Discovery and HAL is telling him not to touch anything.

Bowman says he's about to make his run on the Monolith, and positions his ship accordingly. But two of the "mini-Monoliths" have moved to intercept. Bowman blasts one to pieces but the other one shoots the weapon out of the pod's left hand and we learn that Bowman only has one shot left in the right-claw weapon, a "meta-atomic-nucleoblast that will send the Monolith to Hell where it belongs." If Bowman wastes the shot on the other mini-Monolith, he tells HAL, "The Monolith will make it back to Earth and command the Tycho Monolith to crash the moon into the Earth! Thousands of people will die!" This, then, is the dire purpose for which Discovery has been sent to Jupiter.

At just that moment, the last remaining "mini-Monolith" explodes.

Bowman looks around the cockpit of his pod and demands to know where that shot came from; instead of hearing HAL, as expected, we hear Frank Poole's voice over the speaker: "I've got your back, hotshot, now let's send that ugly block back to The Dawn Of Man!" Poole, it seems, isn't actually dead, though we're given no explanation for this and must assume that if it's addressed at all, it's yet another piece of missing footage. In any case, Poole and Bowman make a strafing run over the surface of the Jupiter Monolith, and at the end of it, Bowman shoots the "meta-atomic-nucleoblast"; the discerning viewer will quickly realize that the psychedelic "through the Monolith" sequence clearly recycled footage from the abandoned alternate ending, since the "nucleoblast" and resulting explosion are almost identical.

The last moment before the footage abruptly ends features our heroes gathered in the docking bay: Bowman, Poole, Tatiana and "mobile HAL," a cute anthropomorphic robot with only one eye that seems clearly designed with toy sales in mind. The are embracing on the deck when mobile HAL announces a radio transmission from Earth which Poole tells the robot to patch through: "Congratulations," Dr. Floyd says, "but I have some bad news... sensors have detected Monolith activity at Saturn--and there are two of them this time!" And that's where everything suddenly cuts--is this where the credits were to go? Was there a last line of dialogue? Was that it?

One can only wonder why Kubrick cut these moments out of the film, or how much better-regarded 2001 would be today if he left them in. Hopefully, a restored Blu-Ray edition will bring back 2001 as it was clearly meant to be.


"Hello, my old country, hello..."

>> Thursday, December 16, 2010

I have to be honest, when I first heard Joanna Newsom (I think it was around the time of Ys), I didn't think much of what I heard. But "Good Intentions Paving Company," from Have One On Me, has been one I've been turning up every time it comes on the radio since its release last February. It's like an early-'70s Joni Mitchell outtake, and I mean that as an enormous compliment to Ms. Newsom. It's just an amazingly good song, is what it is.



>> Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The weather outside is cold, and it's supposed to get colder. Not as cold as some of my friends elsewhere in the country will be, but undeniably cold for the South, even in December. And in the waning hours of the day and waxing hours of the new morn, we're supposed to get freezing rain and wintry mix if the forecasts bear truth.

Here's something hot with a cold title (though one the man himself can't explain; no big--it means what you want it to mean and that's all anything can mean)--the man himself, The Boss, Mr. Bruce Springsteen with The Big Man and Miami Steve and the rest of the gang, live in Jersey in 1978 with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out":

I'd like to think the moment around 3:45 where the picture goes to hell isn't because that's what happens to videotape after years and years and years; I'd like to think that's because Bruce's magnificence at that moment caused an electromagnetic pulse that frazzed the original source tape, a criticality excursion caused by Bruce rocking too damn hard for just a moment there.

Stay warm, kids.


An open letter to Mr. Shawn Henry of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Bank Commission for Europe

>> Tuesday, December 14, 2010

FBI Official Notice, Urgent‏


Sent: Tue 12/14/10 9:55 AM

View attachment to read FBI Official notice for your best understanding.

--Forwarded Message Attachment--

Anti-Terrorist And Monetary Crimes Division

Federal Bureau of Investigation

J. Edgar Hoover Building

935 Pennsylvania Avenue, Nw Washington, D.C. 20535-0001

DATE: 12/14/2010

Attention Fund Beneficiary,

This is an official advice from the Federal Bureau Of Investigation Foreign Remittance Telegraphic Dept, It Has Come To Our Notice That The C.B.N Bank Nigeria District Has Released 10,500,000.00 U.S Dollars Into Bank Of America In Your Name As The Beneficiary, By Inheritance Means.

The C.B.N Bank Nigeria Knowing Fully Well That They Do Not Have Enough Facilities To Effect This Payment From The United Kingdom To Your Account, Used What We Know As A Secret Diplomatic Transit Payment S.T.D.P To Pay This Fund Through Wire Transfer, They Used This Means To Complete The Payment.

These letter serves as notification of the present transaction confirmed in your name, on our research and investigations as a mode of operation with the Federal Bureau Of Investigation Banking Commission, we investigated a fresh transfer what of million dollars as mentioned above in your name. The funds are undergoing proper verifications to proof the legitimacy of the transaction, you are to provide all the legal documents to back up the transaction and clear all requirements on your behalf.

They are still, waiting for confirmation from you on the already transferred funds which was made in direct transfer so that they can do final crediting to your account. secret diplomatic payments are not made unless the funds are related to terrorist activities why must your payment be made in secret transfer, if your transaction is legitimate, if you are not a terrorist, then why did you not receive the money directly into your account, this is a pure coded ,means of payment.

Records which we have had with this method of payment in the past has always been related to terrorist acts, we do not want you to get into trouble as soon as these funds reflect in your account in the U.S.A, so it is our duty as a word wide commission to correct this little problem before this fund will be credited into your personal account. The funds are presently on hold for further proof of the legal documents before releasing directly to you.

Due to the increased difficulty and unnecessary scrutiny by the American authorities when funds come from outside of America, precisely Africa, the federal bureau of investigation bank commission for Europe has stopped the transfer on its way to deliver payment of $10,500,000.00 to debit your reserve account and pay you through a secured diplomatic transit account (S.T.D.A). We govern and oversee funds transfer for the World Bank and the rest of the world.

we advice you contact us immediately, as the funds have been stopped and are being held in our custody ,until you can be able to provide us with a diplomatic immunity seal of transfer(dist) within 3 days from the world local bank that authorize the transfer from where the funds was transferred from to certify that the funds that you are about to receive from Nigeria are antiterrorist/drug free or we shall have cause to cross and impound the payment, we shall release the funds immediately we receive this legal documents .

We have decided to contact you directly to acquire the proper verifications and proof from you to show that you are the rightful person to receive this fund, because of the amount involve, we want to make sure is a clean and legal money you are about to receive. Be informed that the fund are now in United State in your name , but right now we have ask the bank not to release the fund to anybody that comes to them , unless we ask them to do so, because we have to carry out our investigations first before releasing the fund to you. Note that the fund is in the BANK OF AMERICA right now, but we have ask them not to credit the fund to you yet, because we need a solid proof and verifications from you before releasing the funds.

So to this regards you are to re-assure and proof to us that what you are about to receive is a clean money by sending to us Federal Bureau Of Investigation Identification Record and also Diplomatic Immunity Seal Of Transfer(DIST) to satisfy to us that the money your about to receive is legitimate and real money. You are to forward the documents to us immediately if you have it in your possession, if you don't have it let us know so that we will direct and inform you where to obtain the document and send to us so that we will ask the bank holding the funds the Bank Of America to go ahead Crediting your account immediately.

This Documents are to be issued to you from the World Local Bank that Authorized the transfer, so get back to us immediately if you don't have the document so that we will inform you the particular place to obtain the document in Federal Republic of Nigeria, because we have come to realize that the fund was Authorized by H.S.B.C Bank in London and release by C.B.N. Bank Nigeria.



Final Instruction:

Shawn Henry

Assistant Director,

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Washington D.C.

Dear Mr. Henry,

As I read and re-read your missive, I find myself increasingly disturbed by the nerve of your presumption that funds coming out of Africa are related to terrorism and/or drug transactions. Is this some rank cultural, ethnic or racial bigotry rearing its ugly head, I'd like to know? Since when does a law-abiding citizen need a Diplomatic Immunity Seal of Transfer (DIST) to access funds which are rightfully his? I have never heard of such a thing, and the fact that you plainly say that funds from Africa are receiving, in your own word, "unnecessary" scrutiny suggests that you are little more than a crude bigot.

I will have you know that my wealthy uncle, Mr. Abrahem VanNewkirk of Port Elizabeth, recently deceased, left me the princely sum of $10,500,000.00 upon his death of old age. He was no terrorist nor drug runner, having made his money conducting legitimate business. The fact that he arranged for some of his money to be held in a Nigerian bank merely results from the fact he conducted some business in Nigeria, and the C.B.N. Bank Nigeria offers interest on checking accounts and also provided him with a beautiful toaster which I much envied, but I believe was bequeathed to a museum.

What makes your request for a DIST truly ridiculous is that I certainly didn't need one six months ago, when I inherited $10,500,000.00 from my late cousin, Johannes, after his unfortunate demise while hiking a few miles outside Klipplaat. No, the authorities supervising the World Bank transfers demanded nothing more than a signature, respecting my horrible grief to hear the news that poor Johannes had finally been found, tragically struck down in his youth. Adding insult to your new requests for documentation is the fact that the very same bank that Uncle Abrahem used in Nigeria was also handling the funds for Johannes, Uncle Abrahem having told Johannes about the reasonable bank fees, efficient yet courteous customer service, and a promotion offering new customers a duffel bag with the opening of any savings account with a minimum deposit of $50.00.

Similarly, last December, when my Aunt Nadine passed away (she lived in Port Elizabeth as well, only a few miles from Uncle Abrahem, who visited her every day while she was alive and advised her financially), leaving me $10,500,000.00, you meddlesome nitwits said nothing of it. The money was transferred quickly and without a hitch, the customer service of C.B.N. Bank Nigeria, as I noted in the previous paragraph, being efficient and courteous. They even asked me if I wanted them to ship me the princess phone my Aunt received as a free gift when she opened her accounts, at no extra cost or effort on my part. (I considered their offer, but ultimately declined.)

I could go on and on about how ridiculous you people are being! In June, 2009, when my brother Jan fell of a ladder and left us, bequeathing me with $10,500,000.00 and a small piece of carry-on luggage stamped with C.B.N. Bank Nigeria's logo, the funds appeared in my account, no problem! When the estate of my missing-presumed-dead stepsister, Helen, was settled in December of 2008, my $10,500,000.00 bequest was credited to my account in a fashion that well-bespoke the speed and efficiency of the fine men and women at C.B.N. Bank (and her children tell me the toaster they inherited, while not quite as nice as Uncle Abrahem's, lacking a specialized bagel setting, still works wonderfully well). In June of that year, my $10,500,000.00 inheritance from my dear friend, Gaotbert Boever, was settled and transferred to my accounts quite to my satisfaction, and I believe that Gaotbert was so happy with the services of C.B.N. Bank Nigeria that he even asked to be buried wearing the lapel pin they gave him when he opened his checking account with them.

So why, why, why are you people suddenly insisting that my accounts be frozen and my monies seized, threatening me with legal action? It isn't like this is the first time I've had money transferred to me from C.B.N. in a time of grief and crisis, during which I would rather be focused on the five stages of grief and acceptance than dealing with piddling paperwork! Nor is there anything unusual, I must say, in the amount which I've been bequeathed this time which would lead one to wonder if there was some irregularity afoot! The insensitivity your agency is showing in my time of loss only adds to my psychological distress and, frankly, has me wondering if I should consult with my attorneys regarding the infliction of emotional distress!

I assure you that there is nothing illegal or suspicious going on. Especially not anything involving terrorism or the drug trade as such things have been historically defined.

I thank you in advance for your consideration, and since I am certain you'll realize you're being unreasonable and release my funds, I thank you for that, as well.

R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets


Another video filler post...

>> Monday, December 13, 2010

Sorry for the lack of bloggaliciousness. Here's R.E.M., "Fall On Me":


Sunday, and no post, what?

>> Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's around three o'clock, and it occurs to me I haven't posted anything yet, and I don't have anything to post, not even a music video to post.

I don't like that, much: I've been pretty good about having some sort of post every day, but it is what it is. I'm having a good, if unproductive Sunday afternoon, and I hope you are, too. If something comes up, I'll post it, otherwise: have a great Sunday, and I'll see you fine folks tomorrow, I imagine.


"What's the news, and where ya' been...?"

>> Saturday, December 11, 2010

Inspired by a comment Vince made over on Facebook, here's David Gilmour performing one of my favorite Floyd songs on his 2006 solo tour, "Wot's... Uh, The Deal" (originally from Floyd's soundtrack forBarbet Schroeder's 1972 film, La Vallée, Obscured By Clouds):

Additional members of the band, for those interested in such things, are the late Richard Wright (Floyd's original keyboardist), former Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, longtime Pink Floyd/Roger Waters/David Gilmour keyboardist Jon Carin backing up Rick, the great Guy Pratt on bass, and a drummer I'm not otherwise familiar with named Steve DiStanislao. The "fifth Floyd," saxophonist Dick Parry, was on tour with them but doesn't join them on this song.

Some excellent lapsteel work there at the end from Gilmour, so if you didn't already watch, I hope you'll go back and click on the vid.


Why is it your very first car is always special, even if it was a clunker?

>> Friday, December 10, 2010

One of my very favorite bits'o'Neil, "Long May You Run":

Mine was an old Honda Civic hatchback given to me by an aunt, silver-grey and almost as old as I was, maybe even a year older. Five speed transmission, manual choke, an FM adapter and cassette player run bolted under the dash and run through the AM. The sort of car that was indestructible until I destroyed her in a bang-up in high school. Good little car, though.



Take away the love and the anger...

>> Thursday, December 09, 2010

People ask what Twitter's good for. Aside from netting me my first sale, there's also the occasional odd productive conversation.

Wednesday night, it was being on the losing end of an exchange with Bob Cesca, though I'm not entirely convinced he's right. It started with:

@bobcesca_go Bob Cesca

Has the progressive whining and quitting slowed over the last 12 hours? I sense the answer is no.

And yours truly responding:

@sotsogm Eric VanNewkirk

@bobcesca_go You're not helping...

Which, to be clear, he isn't. It's not exactly mollifying to anybody the President insulted this week to pour gasoline on the fire by suggesting nobody ought to be upset and anybody who is, is merely throwing a tantrum.

That deserves elaboration before we move on: let us suppose the President is right that we unhappy progressives are myopic and immature, that we have little to complain over and overlook the President's list of progressive accomplishments. Even if true, it's a dumb thing to say unless he really doesn't need us.

I mean, I get e-mails from the President and First Lady every week, just about. I don't mean from the President and his wife: some staffer writes the thing and someone else probably approves it and then they paste a JPEG of the President's signature to it (or his wife's) and they send it out to the mass e-mail mailing list. "The President needs your support!" "Watch the President explain his policy!" "Michelle needs your help!" "The Republicans want to do something awful!" "Only you can help!" Yada, yada, yada. The President and his party want my time, my money, my vote, and they ask for it constantly. And then he says I'm sanctimonious and unrealistic.

The thing is, I don't actually care whether Democrats win or lose an election. If an Independent like Bernie Sanders is closer to my views and can be effective in pushing my objectives, he's the guy I want in office. I would, indeed, prefer a Democratic Socialist or Green candidate representing me in either or both houses of Congress and sitting in the Oval Office if such a character existed and was electable. This is why I'm an independent.

I vote for Democrats, and send them my money and would give them time if I had it for the same reason Sanders caucuses with them: because they're the next-best-thing to somebody I'd actually like to see elected. But I think this leads to some confusion; I don't vote for Democrats because I think they're particularly liberal, but because a few of them are and quite a lot of them are less-conservative, except maybe the "Blue Dogs" who are maybe barely-less-conservative than most (not even all!) Republicans.

At some point, rebelling because the Democrats won't or can't give me what I want isn't petulance so much as it's being sick of a politics of fear that demands I vote for an inferior representative because he's the only alternative to a repulsive one, as well as what you might call "addict's remorse," for want of a better phrase at the moment, as in, "Why do I continue to buy something that is slowly leeching away my dignity and rotting my heart and soul?" At some point voting for a Green candidate with no chance of winning or supporting a nutty fringe primary candidate like Dennis Kucinich seems less quixotic and suicidal than quixotic and brave. And at some point, really, one finds oneself inevitably asking what, indeed, is the difference, a logic that backfired horribly in 2000 for those of us who voted for Ralph Nader that year, not realizing that as poor a candidate as Al Gore appeared to be, his opponent would manage to fail every test of his mettle as President, but is nonetheless a pertinent question. I mean, it's frankly degrading to vote for the guy who won't actually represent you less only because the other choice is the other guy who won't actually represent you at all.

But that wasn't the only point of this post. The real point is that Cesca pointed to two websites full of things President Obama has done or allegedly has done (I'll explain that in a second, it's not just snark), and it was a reminder; there are progressive things the President has done that I overlooked in my anger this week and wasn't up to answering to with a bellyful of Guinness, hanger steak in sauce and homemade fries, so I'll concede the point and provide the links to those regulars who I know have commiserated with me in my frustration and rage.

We have The Obama's Achievements Center, which is sober and occasionally misleading and What The Fuck Has Obama Done So Far? which is vaguely amusing but more than a little asinine. The latter is the one to send your friends via Twitter or Facebook, probably, with it's bite-sized one-factoid-per-page format, click on the little box below each easily-digested nugget and see the next thing in the list. The Achievements Center is, I think, a little more worth your while, though I find it to be a mixed bag altogether.

The reason, and this goes back to my "what Obama's allegedly done" comment earlier, is that some of the things listed at the Achievement Center (and possibly at WTFHODSF?, though I didn't necessarily click through enough to say for sure) aren't really actually accomplishments or can hardly be counted as such. For instance, the President's stated opposition to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is listed, but the policy remains in effect and the Administration's actual actions have consisted of moving slowly, seeking review, and appealing a Federal District Court ruling overturning the policy even though they "don't like" DADT. Other points listed are, yes, to the President's credit, but don't rate as accomplishments: the denunciation of the Citizen's United decision, for instance, was appreciated, and thank you for reminding me that he talked tough about it, but the President's denunciation or endorsement of a SCOTUS decision counts for about as much as my opinion does; actually, upon consideration, I could imagine the President's opinion of a SCOTUS opinion counting for less than my own, since I'm more likely to personally argue with a judge over it in a courtroom than he is, but nevermind.

Winning the Nobel is an achievement, but I don't know that it rates as a progressive achievement or much of anything; indeed, it's something of a dubious achievement, and if it was meant to empower the President to bring a swifter end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or give the President some leverage in gaining the support of the United States Senate in ratifying treaties, it's kind of failed to do much of anything other than give critics of the President and the Nobel Awards Committee another target.

I could go on in that vein, but I'd prefer to concede this to Cesca: there are a number of items on the list that have merit from a progressive point-of-view. Reforming credit card laws, increasing access to student aid, providing education funding, what healthcare form he was able to get passed, pledges to curtail greenhouse emissions (though this could go into the same column as "DADT opposition"--sounds nice, but where do we stand action-wise?), expanded SCHIP coverage for children, et al. And while I'm still trying to decide whether this week's actual compromise was a good thing, President's asinine comments afterwards or no, there are certainly attractive points such as the extension of unemployment benefits. (I am not prepared to say, yet, that the middle-class tax cut extension was worth the extension of other tax cuts. I am a firm believer in progressive taxation and that the poor should pay less than the middle-class and the middle-class less than the wealthy; however, I also believe that a lot of Americans are going to have to bite the bullet and pay more in taxes across much of the board if we want to have a functional government capable of providing services to everybody. And yeah, that may include the middle-class.1

So there's a shot at the little piece of hope holding us together. There are accomplishments, actual accomplishments, progressive accomplishments that should be lauded and maybe ought to take away the anger, at least, even if it's hard to imagine restoring the love that some of us may have felt in 2008. I am mollified, at least. Whether this translates into something less than grudging--well, I have to be honest, I'm going to have to see how the next two years go. And no doubt someone--maybe Cesca--will ask what some of us want Obama to do, what will make us happy, and maybe the fair response is that nothing he can do will make us happy because he's not really the President we wanted, he's just the one we had to settle for because, gods, did you see the other guy? Maybe in the end we're foolish and unrealistic and immature, and should take what little we can get; I suppose that's fair enough to, as far as it goes, or it might be. (Is it poor taste to suggest that "He beats me but I can't leave him because he's all I've got," sounds suspiciously like the political version of an abusive domestic relationship? Maybe, but maybe it is what it is.)

But if you're looking for all we've got, well I guess there it is, and it isn't nothing, though I'm digesting whether it's much. But, point taken, Mr. Cesca.

1Did you know that it's actually hard to determine what constitutes the middle-class in America? The easiest place to look for a definition, Wikipedia, tells us: "While the concept remains largely ambiguous in popular opinion and common language use, contemporary sociologists have put forward several, more or less congruent, theories on the American middle class," and then proceeds to offer up definitions, many of which are less-than-concrete.

I looked, because when I was writing that bit about raising middle-class taxes, I very much wanted to add "like myself," only to recall that everybody in America thinks they're middle-class whether they live in a trailer or own a yacht, and it's totally ridiculous. It's asinine. We're all going around yammering about what will affect the middle-class or whatever, with this vague kind of social idea of what middle-class is and nothing objective to it, and that's why you get things like that asshole economist a few months back who was yapping about how poor and middle-class he was with his fancy Chicago home and kids in private-school, etc.

Anyway, here's what I'll say about myself: I can never remember my actual salary, so I get it online, which I can do because--I shouldn't tell you this, I imagine--it's public record. And if we define middle-class by way of one of Obama's accomplishments, the portion of the stimulus package called "Making Work Pay," which gave a tax break to single earners making less than $75,000 and couples earning less than $150,000, well, I'm middle-class by a comfortable-ish margin, and let's leave it at that.

The point being: yes, raise my taxes if it will pay for better government. And raise the taxes of people earning more than $250,000 even more than that, please, if it'll pay for even better government. And if it won't, nevermind.


Dumb quotes of the day

>> Wednesday, December 08, 2010

"I understand the desire for a fight. I'm sympathetic to that," [President Obama] says, but "it would be a bad deal for the economy" and for the American people.


"I've just gone through two years where the rap on me was that I was too stubborn," [President Obama] replies to Chuck Todd's followup about whether he gave up too much ground early in the negotiations.


Obama: "I will take John Boehner at his word that nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse. That would not be a good thing to happen."


But Boehner "is going to have responsibilities to govern" once he's sworn in as Speaker of the House, Obama remarks.


Over the next two years, they [Republicans] are going to have to show me what it is that they can do. I think it becomes pretty clear when you go through the budget line by line that if in fact they want to pay for $700 billion in tax breaks to wealthy individuals, that's a lot of money.

"Either they're going to have to rethink their position of I dont [sic] think they're going to do very well in 2012," Obama warns.


Obama closing with some visible irritation: "I've got a whole bunch of lines in the sand."

"This is the public option debate all over again. "He also notes Democratic victories on health care, "something that Democrats have been fighting for for 100 years."

If compromise is unacceptable, "we will never get anything done," he says heatedly.

"We will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctiminoious [sic] about how pure our intentions are" but the American people will still be suffering. "That cannot be the measure of what it is to be a Democrat."

Yeah, well I'm not a Democrat, Mr. President, I'm a progressive and leftist who voted for you with the expectation you wouldn't roll over on your supporters.

And fucking hell, sir, if you don't want my vote maybe you ought to just go ahead and tell me. Just come out and fucking say it: "I don't care if any of my former supporters vote for me." Because--I never thought I'd say this--because if this is the kind of performance we can continue to expect, I might as well vote for a Green candidate in 2012 like I did in 2000, because my vote will be no more wasted than my 2008 vote may have been if this is the way it's going to be.

Mr. President, have you been paying attention? At all? The only people who have been giving you the rap that you've been too stubborn are the Republicans who have vowed to make you a one-term president. The same people you're claiming are going to have responsibilities to govern, even though they have made it perfectly clear that they're willing to let the country go to hell on a rail if it will allow them to cling to power. They said they wanted healthcare reform to be your Waterloo, they indicated a willingness to shut down the government, they have threatened to burden you with subpoenas to prove your citizenship and whatever other horseshit they can dream up, they say (again) they want you out in 2012: why the fuck won't you take their word for that? Responsibility to govern? It is entirely to their advantage to shirk the responsibility and then claim it was your fault for being too stubborn, too liberal, too ivory-tower, too, too, too whatever and they'll bring things to order with their "commonsense" approach to running the government as a business.

And do you know how they're going to balance the budget with their tax breaks for the rich? Surely you do, because they've been saying for years, for decades, they want to "starve the beast". "Starve the beast." They're not going to suddenly realize they can't have runaway military spending and tax cuts for corporations and billionaires, no, no, no, they're going to announce what they already take as a matter of faith in their flinty little hearts: that you can't have tax cuts and Social Security, tax cuts and school lunches, tax cuts and National Parks, tax cuts and environmental regulatory enforcement, tax cuts and a National Endowment For The Arts, tax cuts and disease-prevention programs for foreign countries, tax cuts and unemployment benefits--and they've made it clear time and time and time again what they will choose when they have a "tough choice" between lower taxes and funding anything the government of a modern, First World nation ought to be funding. It's not a tough choice for them at all. They take it as an article of faith that the government that governs best governs least, and therefore the government that doesn't govern at all is the bee's knees--unless it's policing what happens in somebody's bedroom (that's different, that's what God wants).

And they've only been saying this for more than half your entire life, Mr. President--why don't you take them at their fucking word for it?

Their word is that they hate you, they want you to fail, they want your programs to fail, a bunch of them don't even think you were eligible to be President of the United States--maybe you should take them at their word.

And those of us who voted for you in 2008 wanted you to lead, wanted you to show a fucking spine. What we wanted, in terms of negotiation, was for you to go in like a lawyer, like a political broker reared in the smoke-filled-blood-on-the-floor backrooms of Chi-Town, like the charismatic hotshot junior Senator who outdanced the Clintons in the '08 primaries, and we expected you to deal but we also expected that when the other side showed their teeth you'd knock them out of their fucking mouths because we thought you weren't just calm and brainy--we thought you were tough and smart (and the fact you probably don't know the difference might be why I want to fucking weep right now, I shit you not, Mr. President, I am mad enough with impotent rage to ball my fists up in my eyes and scream like a baby).

Well, fine. It is what it is. If there was a God, maybe He'd have mercy on us, but there isn't so He won't, and I guess it's all over but sifting through the rubble when the Republicans are finished with you, Mr. President.


While I briefly join the blog of missing persons...

>> Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Meanwhile, kids, here's Talking Heads, "And She Was":


A horseshoe nail

>> Sunday, December 05, 2010

The first and most important thing to remember about Tom Scott's five-minute Ignite lecture is that this is a work of fiction: the story he tells hasn't happened... yet. The second thing to remember is that the story he tells is based on real, relatively recent events: each piece leading up to the fictional climax of the story he tells is an event that did happen, somewhere, to someone. It's a remarkable, remarkable and chilling, account of how the posting of an idiotic video to YouTube leads to a flash mob leads to tragedy:

The funny thing about the world changing is that you don't always notice it at the time--no, that's wrong: you almost never notice it at the time; there, corrected. One day you're trundling along and it suddenly occurs to you that you can't remember the last time you saw something--a rotary dial phone or a set of rabbit ears antennae or a gas pump with a rolling analog dial or whatever. Or one day something happens--oh, hopefully it isn't a riot and a dead girl and blood in the streets--and you're not exactly surprised by it, that is, it's not that you knew it was going to happen in advance (you're not psychic) but the fact that it happened seems so ordinary and commonplace afterwards, that it was something that had to happen, that was inevitable and you can't feel shocked by it; almost a sense of déjà vu, indeed, I'm sure the French have some saying for it (they do for almost everything else).

Like Spider Robinson said in the quote Scott refers to in his first slide: the world turns upside down, but you turn upside down with it.


A post: the best song the Rolling Stones ever wrote

>> Saturday, December 04, 2010

Here, I will present you with a question: what is the best song the Rolling Stones ever wrote? One ought to be careful, of course, to disentangle one's favorite from which one is best: one might love "Miss You" for some obscure reason, possibly a head injury, and yet one surely would concede it isn't remotely close to being the best the Stones could offer.

A proposal: the best Rolling Stones song would be one that was snarky and sly; one that melded the Stones' disparate primary influences--blues, rock and country; a song that was dark and bright; one that dealt with all of the Stones' chief thematic obsessions: love, lower-class us-v.-them bitterness, death, romantic regret, no-good wayward women.

I will now answer the question. This is the best Rolling Stones song, as performed not by the Stones, but by a Stone, Keith, along with Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Hank Williams III, available via the magic that is YouTube; although the video is choppy, the audio, happily, is fine:

A statement: that you're welcome to explain why clearly inferior Rolling Stones songs should be nominated as the best Rolling Stones song. Also, a benediction (of sorts): I hope you are having a fine weekend so far.


Quote of the day--lefty voice in the wilderness edition

>> Friday, December 03, 2010

Now one of the things that we're going to see going on is that while we struggle with a record-breaking deficit and a large national debt caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, caused by tax breaks for the wealthy, caused by unpaid-for Medicare Part D prescription drug program, caused by the Wall Street bailout; driving up the deficit, driving up the national debt, and then some people can say, "Oh my goodness, we've got all of those expenses, and then we've got to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, but we want to balance the budget--gee, how we gonna do that?"

Well, obviously we know how they're gonna do that. We're gonna cut back on healthcare, we're gonna cut back on education, we're gonna cut back on childcare, We're gonna cut back on Pell programs; we just don't have enough money for working families and their needs. We're gonna cut back on Food Stamps, we're surely not going to expand unemployment compensation, we got a higher priority, Mr. President, we have got to, got to, got to give tax breaks to billionaires, I mean, that is what this whole place is about, isn't it? They fund the campaigns, they get what's due them.

-Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT
November 30th, 2010

Of course what Senator Sanders apparently doesn't get about our noble plutocracy is that if poor and middle-class people really, really cared about unemployment benefits and subsidies for their kids' college educations and putting food on the table, they'd hire one of the many fine lobbyist organizations struggling to do business out there or support the fertilizer and athletic accessories industries by taking their members of Congress golfing. Surely they don't think their elected representatives are psychic, do they? Able to somehow magically read minds and just divine that voters care about having jobs or the availability of decent educations for their kids, just not enough to actually, as the old saying goes, put their money where their mouths are.

We are, as so many Republicans like to remind us, a capitalist society, something a socialist like Senator Sanders clearly has contempt for. And in a capitalist economy, friends, someone who has a useful service to offer, such as the ability to write legislation or vote upon pending acts of government, is entitled to demand a fair market price for their labor--the idea that a person might give away the fruits of his labor for nothing is obviously preposterous and communistic. The invisible hand of the market, of course, will determine what that fair price will be, but given that there are only a hundred Senators and 435 Representatives who have a stranglehold on the legislative powers in this country, it's readily apparent that these Representatives deserve top-dollar and the Senators yet more, much like a professional basketball player in the NBA or a professional football player in the NFL. We don't expect a gifted athlete to wander around working for peanuts or the mere joy of the game or the pleasure of the masses of sports fans wherever the winds blow him: no, an interested community pays for the exclusive services of a player as their star center or quarterback. In similar fashion, why shouldn't an industry pay for the exclusive rights to a member of Congress?

We live in dangerous times, times when the American way of life is besieged by the lazy parasites who would demand something for nothing, whether it's having a fire in their house put out or the vote of an elected official. When time and time again, the free market has demonstrated it is the best way to get things done.

Think about law enforcement for a moment: people frequently complain that crimes go unsolved, that police officers must divide too much of their time amongst too many cases, that resources are stretched thin, that their aren't enough cops on the streets, etc. I submit to you that the problem is the socialist structure imposed on law enforcement disincentivizes cops: under the current regime, police officers are paid the same whether they solve a crime or not. But if you paid a cop to only investigate your car being broken into, he'd certainly have a special desire to satisfy you as a customer. And if a criminal paid the cop even more not to be caught? Well, if it's worth more to the criminal to go free than it is for you to pay for his arrest, the market has effectively priced the solution to the crime, hasn't it? And if it's worth more to you, the cop deserves more, doesn't he? Simple, really.

Or consider the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They've been going on for years, but don't you realize soldiers get paid whether they win or not? What kind of incentive is that? No, the free market solution is that those who want to have wars in those countries need to pay the soldiers to win, although I imagine if some wealthy oil magnate in the Middle East wants to pay them to go home, that's the invisible hand working its magic again. No doubt the folks who want to pay for the wars can find somebody, anyway, to fight for them if the oil princes hire away the professional soldiers already deployed--after all, one of the reasons it's important not to give in to the "altruistic" corrupting demands for minimum wages, unemployment benefits, public education and similar vices is that a readily-available pool of minimally-skilled workers is necessary to maintain the profit margins of the worthy real Americans whose greatness is demonstrated by their success, the natural struggle seen in the natural world replicated in the social order as the fit acquire wealth and the unfit rot in the mire of their own decrepitude; if you were worth being alive, you would have a nice home and fat investments and a Senator of your own, and if you don't have these things you should get out of the way by dying once you're no longer good for serving your betters.

God Bless America.

(H/t Mrs. Bitch!)

No, wait! I got so swept up in my dark sarcasm, I almost forgot to embed the whole Sanders speech, which is worth a look! Behold:


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