Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Unplugged

I am at the beach and away from screens & internets as much as possible all week. #NotDead #Unplugged

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hood to Coast 2011 - Done

Another #hoodtocoast in the books. Great teammates, horrendous van traffic, nausea, & heat. Did I mention great teammates? #likesummercamp

Hood to Coast 2011 - Big Fake Butt

#hoodtocoast Leg 3- bright & beautiful, 1pmish, 7.72 miles in 59 minutes. Passed a woman wearing a big fake butt. +42 roadkills overall.

Hood to Coast 2011 - The Darkness, It ... Darkens

#hoodtocoast Leg 2- 3am, 5 miles in 37 minutes, nothing but gravel, dust, inky black, & the sound of my feet almost veering off the road.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hood to Coast 2011 - The Hobo and the Runner

I enjoyed a refreshing 70 minutes night's sleep in front of the building where I work. #finelinebetweenHoboAndRunner #hoodtocoast

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hood to Coast 2011 - Hot, Flat, and Hot

Leg 1 done- 7 miles in 50.5 minutes or so. I do not like the flat courses, nor the hot sun. #hoodtocoast

Hood to Coast 2011 - Adoration of Portable Toilets

Awaiting our first legs in Sandy- disappointed that we only have normal public bathrooms, no portables. #hoodtocoast

Hood to Coast 2011 -- Train, Pack, Fret, Run

I write this moments before embarking on the running phase of the Hood to Coast, which marks the end of the training, overpacking, and last-minute fretting phases of the event. As always, I have no reason to expect to perform adequately in the event, let alone thrive in it, but also as always, I shall do my best to endure whatever hardships (physical, interpersonal, olfactory, etc.) it presents and emerge with something to brag about.

I plan to send regular-ish dispatches along the way using the text message-blogger-twitter machine. These dispatches will be brief, of dubious coherence and meager interest, but they will be here unless and until my mood swings disfavor sending them.

If you're out there with me, run well and stay safe. If you're not the sort of fool who does this kind of thing to yourself, enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Arrow and Rock

Quoth a Catholic Bishop in the Irish Times:

"The moment of history we live through in Ireland at present is certainly a testing one for the church and for all of us," he said. "Attacked from the outside by the arrows of a secular and godless culture, rocked from the inside by the sins and crimes of priests and consecrated people, we all feel the temptation to lose confidence."
We atheists should be heartened to know we serve as part of the "godless culture" the bishop can so readily blame for whatever happens to be wrong -- it's nice to be useful. Still, the first indication that the moment in history is not being too terribly unkind to you, all things considered, is getting your complaints and blame-castings quoted verbatim in a leading national newspaper.

A further indicator that the "attacks" are not leaving you quite so very "rocked" as you might be is that you're still able to sit back calmly and counterpoise the criticisms of shielding child rapists with the infamies of the rapes you've shielded.

As on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand rock-and-a-hard-place dilemmas go in this world, I have heard of far worse. Consider, for example, the plight of children raped by priests: they face the "arrow" of remaining silent and allowing the abuse to continue, or the "rock" of accusing and denouncing the very people they've been told since birth constitute the anointed representatives of the ultimate power in the universe and the sole conduits to eternal salvation.

The put-upon bishop is right about one thing -- the moment in history strongly tempts me to lose confidence in the Catholic Church, not that I had much to lose before.


Friday, August 19, 2011

They Blew It Up

Sadly, this conversation between actor Troy McClure and his agent was omitted from Rise of the Planet of the Apes (reviews), the latest in a long series of films devoted to the perils and possibilities of ape role reversals:
[phone rings]
Parker: Troy! Mac Parker. Ever hear of... Planet of the Apes?
Troy: Uh... the movie or the planet?
Parker: The brand-new multimillion dollar musical. And _you_ are starring ... as the human.
Troy: It's the part I was born to play, baby!
While every film should have something as rewarding as that exchange, and while Rise of the Planet of the Apes (RPA) lacks even a cameo from the ghost of Phil Hartman (as far as I know), I have not come to bury RPA, but to praise it. Jeffrey Sconce was right --- it's actually quite good!

How is this possible? Am I sure that yet another man-ape species confusion caper isn't stretching the already too extended conceit a few notches too many? Isn't RPA just another two hours of fucking stupid, bloated Hollywood dreck?

No, it really is quite good. Here are some ways:
  • Though rife with CGI -- including but not limited to the movements and facial expressions of the main character, Caesar the drug-enhanced chimpanzee -- the visuals are not distracting. This is not to say they're perfectly convincing in all instances, but the makers of the film did a good job of using these techniques in the story rather than passing them off as the story.
  • Speaking of that, no one in this film is entirely monstrous, and no one is entirely virtuous. Well, OK, maybe the Brian Cox character and his assistant are total monsters throughout, but at least they are monsters of a kind that exist in the real world.
  • Through several fight sequences, physical and verbal and semi-verbal, the scenes are consistently arranged in a way that makes clear which ape is doing what to which ape -- and as an added bonus, we know why the ape is doing the thing to the other ape, and we have a rooting interest without feeling too manipulated -- this is definitely so by the prevailing standards of huge-budget films.
  • The film did not insist on giving us a shocking "Oh dear gawd the chimp just spoke!" moment. I had been dreading that.
  • There were homages to the original P of the A films, but RPA did not insist on echoing -- fore-echoing? -- every last theme, scene, and character. Just to pluck an example from the ether, we did not have to endure a visual that recapitulates the image of the Statue of Liberty's ruins protruding from the sand, let alone a set of narrative contrivances to get us there.
  • The film did not insult us by reaching to be too "topical." It is not a mailed-in commentary on, I don't know, the financial crisis or the Arab Spring or (gawd forbid) the Teabagger movement. Or is it? It could be, but the connections are abstracted more than enough to keep the gag reflex in check. It concerns the specific way hubris can combine with technical and analytical acumen to produce disaster, but beyond that, it declines to read the headlines at us. It is, in other words, the next retelling of Frankenstein, and good for it.
  • Most unexpectedly, and most favorably by my lights, the film left off in a way that leaves sequels genuinely optional. By the end, enough story has been told to allow us to fill in the gaps between this film's conclusion and the original 1968 film's opening. At the same time, it leaves plenty of story to be told to fill out the passage of time from those two points. This manner of storytelling is all but heroic in this time when the ideology of the cancer cell dominates and films exist only to perpetuate franchises, most of which should never have existed in the first place.
Well played, Hollywood. You win this time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Meek and Gentle with Butchers

Somehow I only recently became aware of the 1953 film adaptation of Julius Caesar featuring James Mason as Brutus, Marlon Brando as Antony, and John Gielgud as Cassius --- shouldn't a teacher forced a classroom I was in to watch it at least once? Notwithstanding the regrettable performance behind the title role, I know what I hate, and I don't hate this adaptation.

I wasn't sure of what to make of the idea of Marlon Brando playing Marc Antony until this scene, in which Antony reveals his plans to destroy the conspirators:



Wow. Not that I know what I am talking about, but that's how it should be done.

Here's the text from act 3 scene 1:
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy,—
Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips,
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue—
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dispatch from Narcolepsyville

I suppose it should count as an excuse for light blog posting that I have been, of late, very tired -- constantly so, annoyingly so. I am sleepy right now. You might be surprised to know that walking around in a state of it-sure-would-be-nice-to-take-a-nap-right-now is not conducive to the brand of florid, cogent, utterly compelling writing that this precious, precious blog has always, for purposes of this sentence of this blog post, existed to showcase, but if you were so surprised, I would be surprised. I expect more of both of you, dear readers.

Moreover, yesterday I took an online life stress assessment thingy and found that I am enduring a life of HIGH STRESS. I am skeptical, as I would think people living in soiled tents eating 800 calories of thin gruel every other day in Haiti or suffering the latest famine in east Africa would be enduring lives of HIGH STRESS, whereas I am just wandering along the gray border of depression and narcolepsy amid relative plenty without any real reason to complain, but as this online stress test thingy was endorsed by my health insurer, its findings cannot be doubted under penalty of a blanket, preemptive denial of all present and future medical care. That being so, I accept and embrace the fact of my HIGH STRESS life.

Putting it another way -- a better way -- it's all something like "A Comet Appears" by The Shins:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Songs by Day & Vowels

For 8/14/2011, this is the alphabetically 14th song from my music library that starts with each of the vowels.

Cowboy Junkies, A Common Disaster

PJ Harvey, Ecstasy

Radiohead, I Can't

Devotchka, Ocean of Lust

Portishead, Undenied

And sometimes ...

R.E.M., You

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Get Your Toys


One of The National Review's whiners is really, really upset at the state of things in Britain:
Through British veins runs the poisonous fake idealism of “human rights” and “sensitivity,” of happy-clappy multicultural groveling and sick, weak, deracinated moral universalism — the rotten fruit of a debased, sentimentalized Christianity.

When not begging for forgiveness and chastisement from those who rightfully despise him, the modern Brit is lost in contemplation of his shiny new car or tweeting new gadget; or else he has given over all his attention to some vapid TV production or soccer team.

I treasure my faint, fading recollections of Britain when she was still, for a few years longer, a nation.

Today Britain is merely a place, a bazaar. Let it burn!
"Let it burn!" is the sniveling motto of right-wing "thought" these days, judging not only from the tantrum cited above but from the fondness for reckless brinksmanship that has swept the party of Hoover.

Most of all, I am struck by how hard the National Review scribbler is trying to sound like Nietzsche -- and that would be, I guess, a pretty neat trick if you had the actual gravitas and style to achieve it, but since this wretch has neither, it suggests the image of a furious, self-serious looter reimagined as a kid running to the pool carrying his inflatable toy.

To be clear, this is how Nietzsche actually sounds:
It is a painful and tragic spectacle that rises before me: I have drawn back the curtain from the rottenness of man. This word, in my mouth, is at least free from one suspicion: that it involves a moral accusation against humanity. It is used—and I wish to emphasize the fact again—without any moral significance: and this is so far true that the rottenness I speak of is most apparent to me precisely in those quarters where there has been most aspiration, hitherto, toward "virtue" and "godliness." As you probably surmise, I understand rottenness in the sense of décadence: my argument is that all the values on which mankind now fixes its highest aspirations are décadence-values.

I call an animal, a species, an individual corrupt, when it loses its instincts, when it chooses, when it prefers, what is injurious to it. A history of the "higher feelings," the "ideals of humanity"—and it is possible that I’ll have to write it—would almost explain why man is so degenerate. Life itself appears to me as an instinct for growth, for survival, for the accumulation of forces, for power: whenever the will to power fails there is disaster. My contention is that all the highest values of humanity have been emptied of this will—that the values of décadence, of nihilism, now prevail under the holiest names.
Yes indeed -- one of the holiest names of nihilism going is "conservatism."

(via Obscene Desserts)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Point-Counterpoint


Point: Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" as performed by Rufus Wainwright.




Counterpoint: Joanna Newsom's "Does Not Suffice"



Both songs bewail the unfairness of love and its loss. They're both right because they're both wrong, and vice-versa.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Costly Signaling

All the truly cultivated and sophisticated people have long since committed this passage from Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class to memory:

As seen from the economic point of view, leisure, considered as an employment, is closely allied in kind with the life of exploit; and the achievements which characterise a life of leisure, and which remain as its decorous criteria, have much in common with the trophies of exploit. But leisure in the narrower sense, as distinct from exploit and from any ostensibly productive employment of effort on objects which are of no intrinsic use, does not commonly leave a material product. The criteria of a past performance of leisure therefore commonly take the form of "immaterial" goods. Such immaterial evidences of past leisure are quasi-scholarly or quasi-artistic accomplishments and a knowledge of processes and incidents which do not conduce directly to the furtherance of human life. So, for instance, in our time there is the knowledge of the dead languages and the occult sciences; of correct spelling; of syntax and prosody; of the various forms of domestic music and other household art; of the latest properties of dress, furniture, and equipage; of games, sports, and fancy-bred animals, such as dogs and race-horses. In all these branches of knowledge the initial motive from which their acquisition proceeded at the outset, and through which they first came into vogue, may have been something quite different from the wish to show that one's time had not been spent in industrial employment; but unless these accomplishments had approved themselves as serviceable evidence of an unproductive expenditure of time, they would not have survived and held their place as conventional accomplishments of the leisure class.
Given the way things are going economically, we'll all be more and more acquainted with leisure whether we want it or not.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Lifetime Late and a Trillion Dollar Bill Short


I don't have a weekly comic thing like Eli has, but it occurs to me it's been a while since I posted anything from Married to the Sea, the web's leading comic that features vintage newspaper visuals mashed up with modern captions. The results produce a more coherent picture of the world than the world itself tends to present. To wit:

  • Senator Joe Lieberman, a figure who almost sounds genuine in the squeaks and sighs of regret with which he announces having taken, yet again, the shamefully right wing view --- this time of the relative priority of waging endless war and providing for the the sick and the old:
    So, bottom line, we can’t protect these entitlements and also have the national defense we need to protect us in a dangerous world while we’re at war with Islamist extremists who attacked us on 9/11 and will be for a long time to come.
    As Phila has explained, Every balanced meal for grandma is a freshly loaded clip in the AK-47 of Al Qaida.
  • Rest easy, for Matt Yglesias can explain the likes of Joe Lieberman, even if in doing so he overlooks a few decades worth of extremely well-funded disparagement of the words "liberal" and "left." Advertising, public relations, marketing, messaging, and related forms of fungible opinion-shaping have no effect, and thus need not be mentioned in connection with how American voters self-identify, let alone in which cars and corn chips they prefer.
Had we world enough and time, perhaps we could sort all this out.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

For Spare Instrumentation

The studio version of Leonard Cohen's "Avalanche" gives a good idea of the power of spare instrumentation -- as with most of the songs on Songs of Love and Hate, we have voice, strings in the background, and a guitar, and the way you can hear him pluck at the strings of the guitar increases the intimacy of an already soul-baring work. Have your spine checked if the ending of this song doesn't send a few chills up it:



More recently, this is Thurston Moore's "January," which might as well be classified as a sonata for guitar and violin:




Apropos none of the above, if all the members hadn't died so long, long ago, and if they were still reunited and making music, Fleetwood Mac would sound just like this duet by Fran Healy and Neko Case, "Sing Me to Sleep":



It sounds like Fleetwood Mac all the way down to the awkward little detail that the song has no end, but just fades out. I wish all the members of Fleetwood Mac hadn't died.

The Race Panic That Takes Hostages


You will be shocked, shocked to realize that the hostage-taking faction that has recently dominated US politics is the same basic group of race- and sex-obsessed nihilists that has been resisting modernity in this country since before its formal founding:
The four states with the most Tea Party representatives in Congress are all former members of the Confederate States of America. The states with the greatest number of members of the House Tea Party caucus are Texas (12), Florida (7), Louisiana (5) and Georgia (5). While California is in fifth place with four House Tea Party members, the sixth, seventh and eighth places on the list are taken by two former Southern slave states, South Carolina and Tennessee, and a border state, Missouri, each with three members of the congressional Tea Party caucus.[emphasis mine]
The report goes on to note that the single Tea Party member from the "northeast" is actually from the border state of Maryland. As for the oft-repeated claim that the New South is so very, very different from the bad Old South, here's Amanda Marcotte:
To which I say, as always, dudes, I'm from Texas. Trying to pass off Southern white culture as more tolerant and less superstitious than it is might work on people who haven't spent a lot of time around the very people we're talking about---thus the baffling refusal to get it in the mainstream media---but it doesn't fly with me. I have a lot of years under my belt of trying to get through conversations with your average Southern Joes without some offensive shit coming out of their mouths, and I can attest to what a Herculean task that really is.
The socio-political cohort that murdered Abe Lincoln shortly after wasting several hundred thousand lives in a war to preserve slavery is alive, well, and barely attenuated in its passions. In recent years it was presented with the question of torture and, to no sane person's surprise, answered YES attached to fake assertions of patriotism.

Today the Confederate usuals are not just willing but desperately eager to reduce economic activity and employment under conditions of stalled and falling prospects. The bottom to which they will drag this country -- and with it, if they can, the world -- before touching shame or moderation is still not in sight.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Not Everything Is Terrible

This brief video, featuring the narration of Mr. T and a 1980s pop soundtrack, is not from Everything Is Terrible, but from the Portland Mercury.



By contrast, the video below is from Everything Is Terrible, and more closely resembles the sound and imagery of the 1980s as I experienced them in Oklahoma, far away from the trend-setting coastal haunts where Mr. T recorded his trend-defining voice-overs.



That lazy meandering country bass line that might be a radio or might be the after-effects of ear damage; the casual references to "tar babies;" the dropped G's; the brusque, no-nonsense question, "WELL TELL ME HOW YOU GOT YOUR NAME, CAT-FISH" posed by a man in an irony-free trucker cap --- all of these are as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror, and just as distressing.

I observe the following from genuine charity in the recognition of life's dismal tide and the grim awareness that, sooner or later, death will claim us all: should those reading this enter what they expect to be their last living moments, let the memory of these videos inform and attenuate the sense of grief and loss. Let Mr. T and the thing with the hicks count among the vignettes counting in oblivion's favor. Life is sweet, but life also has shit like this.