Thursday, July 23, 2009

5 Thoughts On A Thursday

1) I have a whole slew of longer blog posts that have gotten backed up, so today I'm just going to try to get this out.

2) This is one of the funniest things that I've read on the Internet in a long time: Shocking: Man Finds "Menage A Trois" Secret to Successful Relationship. My favorite quote is:

The ménage is certainly not for everyone, its demands are taxing and there are victims. Many now claim that the affairs of Sartre and De Beauvoir were exploitative, that their "third parties" were abused. Their lovers were certainly not treated as equals (ironic, as they were both Gauchiste radicals). To the modern mind, which advocates equality, fairness, and the avoidance of all conflict, this must seem utterly undemocratic - a tyranny of the passions...Nonetheless, one must look at the many artists and radicals who were involved in ménages and acknowledge the power of the artworks and concepts that have been unleashed from living in such a way.
Doesn't it just make you want to give this dude a wedgie? I mean, I think we all know this guy: That 22-year old who had his heart broken once too often in high school, and now thinks that every relationship that he has ever had is just laden with meaning. Also, I'm pretty sure he's the only person ever to refer to "De Beauvoir," rather than "Beauvoir." Odd.

3) R.A. and I visited our friends in Minnesota, Mr. and Mrs. H Richard Spryte, last weekend. Next weekend, we're going to New Hampshire to visit her family and celebrate her brother's high school graduation. With all of this traveling around the country, I've visited more than a few cool towns. The following is my tentative list of crazy-cool American towns about which I would like to write someday:

Ashland, OR (19,522)
Duluth, MN (84,397)
Walla Walla, WA (31,350)
Burlington, VT (38,889)
Farmington, ME (7,410)

4) Mark Buehrle just completed a perfect game against the Rays! That's awesome. I was considering going to the game this afternoon, and now I am sad that I didn't. For historical reference, this was the 18th perfect game in the history of baseball. (I was listening on the radio.) But, you know, if I had gone, I know that it wouldn't have happened. The metaphysics of baseball are funny that way. Somehow, I am certain that the presence of my very Being at the ballpark would have effected the outcome, and Buehrle would've given up a hit, or Ramirez would have committed an error, or Wise wouldn't have made that great catch to prevent a home run. Or it would've rained. One man's superstition is another man's religion. Also, this win puts the Sox in a tie with Detroit for the AL Central division lead. Next up: at Detroit, at Minnesota, vs. Yankees, vs. Angels. This could be exciting.

5) "Everyone takes the limits of his own vision as the limits of the world." - Schopenhauer

Update 5:57 pm: Obama Calls Buehrle After Perfect Game

Presidents have a long history of calling Major League Baseball clubhouses to offer congratulations, but it typically has been after a World Series clincher. This was another extreme example of Obama's love for baseball and specifically the White Sox.

Buehrle explained after the call that Obama also "was taking a little bit of credit because he wore the White Sox jacket at the All-Star Game and I told him how surprised I was that he actually did it. He said, 'Congratulations,' and it's an honor. A lot of people are going to remember this forever."

Obama's such a nerd. I actually saw some people at U.S. Cellular Field wearing #44 Obama White Sox jerseys. I think it's hilarious/awesome that you can get those.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Midseason Update

Happy Bastille Day!

Also, happy All-Star Game day, although, really, I don't think anyone cares anymore. However, the Midsummer Classic does mark the official half-way point of the season, and, now that we're finally getting some sunny days that faintly resemble July, and now that I have finally gone to a White Sox game (a 10-8 loss to the Indians), I'm finally getting into the spirit of things.

Back in April, I made some outrageous claims about this year's MLB season. But now, halfway through the season, those claims are looking pretty, um, stupid. For starters, my pick of Arizona as the eventual NL champs is looking a little bit like a stretch right now. Also, the Cubs are the very definition of mediocre right now, at .500, although I don't feel as bad about that prediction, given that pretty much everyone thought that they would run away with the NL Central. Plus, the Cubs losing keeps the drunken douchebags off of my front porch.

So who is, in the end, going to come out on top and get to the World Series? I have no idea. But here is a list of some possible match-ups that also might be intriguing to watch.

1) New York Yankees (51-37, 2nd in AL East) vs Los Angeles Dodgers (56-32, 1st in NL West): Boo. At least that's what I would say at this match-up, pitting the Evil Empire against a team that would be hoping to bring a second championship to L.A. this year. But this would be a network exec's dream, brining together the two biggest TV markets in the country, along with a whole slew of juicy subplots. Torre returns to the Bronx. A World Series in Yankee Stadium's first year. The steroid and tabloid troubles of both Manny and A-Rod. It would also be the 12th World Series match-up between these two franchises, dating back to 1941, which the Yankees currently lead 8-3.

2) Boston Red Sox (54-34, 1st in AL East) vs San Francisco Giants (49-39, 2nd in NL West): I would much rather watch this East-West match-up than NY-LA, plus it would have the added bonus of having a (likely) wild card team in it, which 9 of the last 11 World Series have had. It would be the first meeting of these two teams in the World Series since 1912, a 4-3-1 victory by the Red Sox. (Game 2 ended in a tie when the game was called due to darkness.) It could also be a great Series because both teams have such good pitching, with Tim Lincecum for the Giants and Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield for the Red Sox.

3) Detroit Tigers (48-39, 1st in AL Central) vs St. Louis Cardinals (49-42, 1st in NL Central): This would be a re-match of the 2006 World Series, won by St. Louis, and would be the 4th time in history that they played each other, with the Cards currently leading 2-1. I personally don't really like either of these teams right now, but the Tigers could have what it takes, and St. Louis has always had a habit of doing more with less. Plus, a win by the Cardinals would give them a reasonable claim to team of the decade, as they would have a 2-1 record in the World Series since 2000, compared to 2-0 for Boston and 1-2 for the Yankees. (Of course, that one loss was a sweep hand the hands of the Red Sox.)

4) Tampa Bay Rays (48-41, 3rd in AL East) vs Florida Marlins (46-44, 2nd in NL East): OK, this one is a bit of a stretch. The Fish are 4 games behind defending champion Phillies in the East and also 4 behind the Giants for the wild card, while the Rays trail the Yankees by 3.5 and the Red Sox by 6.5. But both of these expansion franchises have made a big splash (punny!) with the Marlins winning championships in 1997 and 2003, and the Rays being the defending AL champs. It would also be interesting to see how both MLB and Fox would handle/market an all Florida Series. After all, despite their success, both of these teams continue to struggle to get butts in the seats during games. Plus, there would be the very real possibility of having to relocate the entire Series to AAA Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, SC after Hurricana Zapato hits and causes severe damage to both Tropicana Field and Dolphin Stadium.

And here is your treat for reading this far:

Viva la France!

Friday, July 10, 2009

In Praise of the Bizarre, or, Why Tom Waits Will Save Us From The Nazis and Save My Soul

I don't know if I've ever told you this before, but I really like Tom Waits. Yes, I know that's a little like saying I like... um... cake*... but it is, nonetheless, true. Tom Waits has been a part of my life since high school, and if I were to fill out one of those "Which Albums Have Shaped You?" Pick 5's on Facebook, Rain Dogs would have to be on my list. But what keeps me amazed about Waits is how, almost ten years after I first started listening to him, he keeps surprising me with the both the depth and breadth of his art.

OK, wait, let me backtrack and explain to you why I'm telling you this now.

So you know that I've been reading Gogol lately, and, yesterday, I finally got around to reading The Nose, of which I had heard a lot about, but have never before read. And, kind of to my surprise, what it reminded me the most of us was not Kafka but rather Woyzeck by Georg Büchner. It was the sense of humor, I think, the slapstick, the kind of naïve peasant sensibility with which the narrative unfolds.

But what really struck me about The Nose was the manner in which the main character, Kovalyov, goes about the streets of St. Petersburg, in search of his AWOL nose, and throughout, he tries to find someone to blame for us bizarre predicament, from his barber to his doorman to the mother of a young woman whom he had been courting. But there is nobody for Kovalyov to accuse for his situation; not that he can be necessarily faulted, either, but the point is that this is just something that happens, that, you know, sometimes your nose just runs off your face and becomes a state counsellor for the Russian government.

I'm sorry, that was a long sentence.

But it brings me to Woyzeck, which, as you know, will eventually get me back to Tom Waits. And then to Heidegger.

Woyzeck has the same kind of desperate, slapstick frenzy that characterizes The Nose.** Woyzeck is shown as being a kind of victim to doctors and soldiers, but in the end, he doesn't have somebody upon which to lay the blame for his sense of victimhood. And how does that end? Well, he murders his wife and then kills himself. So, yes, he ends up much worse than Kovalyov, but they both run into this obstacle of having an anger and a frustration to vent and not being able to find anyone upon whom to vent. It's a form of impotence, of course, but also an example of something that we see even today in our post-existential world - you feel angry, and deeply, deeply wronged, but, in the end, there is nothing to stand there to act as an object for your anger.

Which is why we get shit like Mars Hill. And Nazis. Horrid, horrid, Nazis. That is, groups that invent a target for their rage when they cannot find one in this world.

Which gets me back to Tom Waits.

My second favorite Tom Waits album is Blood Money, which Waits wrote as a soundtrack for Woyzeck.*** Of course, I only learned this years after I had bought the album and read the play. But the fact that Tom Waits has such a deep and committed appreciation for this strange and fractured play says a great deal about his ideological standings. Which is why I love him. Woyzeck, like The Nose, is a story about one man, one very flawed, ridiculous man, trying to find something approximating justice in his world, and, in the end, failing miserably. And for Tom Waits, this is a kind of hero worth memorializing in song. Beyond that, Tom Waits has devoted his entire career to cultivating an ideology directly opposed to the kind that is celebrated by the SA; an alien and an outsider that has perhaps become a kind of a trope in today's irony obsessed white middle-class culture, but one that, I think, will be important to remember during these coming times of woe and want.

For evidence of this, I direct you to Tom Waits' IMDB page:

  1. (2010) (post-production) .... Engineer

  2. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) .... Mr. Nick
    ... aka L'Imaginarium du Docteur Parnassus (France)
  3. Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) .... Kneller
    ... aka Pizzeria Kamikaze (International: English title: informal title)
    ... aka Pizzerija Kamikaze (Croatia)
  4. Domino (2005) .... Wanderer
    ... aka Domino (France)
  5. Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) .... Tom (segment "Somewhere in California")

  6. Mystery Men (1999) .... Dr. Heller
  7. Short Cuts (1993) .... Earl Piggot
  8. Coffee and Cigarettes III (1993) .... Tom
    ... aka Coffee and Cigarettes: Somewhere in California (USA)
  9. Dracula (1992) .... R.M. Renfield
    ... aka Bram Stoker's Dracula (USA: complete title)
  10. At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1991) .... Wolf
  11. The Fisher King (1991) (uncredited) .... Disabled veteran
  12. Queens Logic (1991) .... Monte
  13. The Two Jakes (1990) (uncredited) .... Plainclothes Policeman
The Fisher King. Coffee and Cigarettes. The Two Jakes. Fucking Mystery Men! Even in his film career, which, I might remind you of, is his secondary career, Tom Waits has crafted an oeuvre of distinctively independent characters with distinctively unique aesthetics.

I'm tired now, but my point is this: That embracing the absurdity and ridiculousness of life is key to resisting the impulses of resentment, entitlement, and anger that lead, well, maybe not to fascism, but to the kind of attitude towards life that encourages violence and the oppression of others.

That is, that the world would be better and more full of pirates if only everyone listened to Tom Waits.

*Which I don't, really, unless it's carrot cake.
** And
Crime and Punishment, although that novel, in my opinion, is lacking insofar as it is not nearly as darkly comic.
Blood Money is also the album I was listening to when I drove my mother's car into a tree. So, you know, score one for Tom Waits.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My Summer Reading List

The weather has finally become a bit more Summer-y this week, and we're finally supposed to hit ninety degrees on Friday. So, yes, soon that lovely cold and rainy season will become the much expected hot and muggy season, making the next three days the only "nice" weather that we'll have until September.

This meteorological shift has inspired within me a desire to get back into that old hobby of mine called "reading." I have enough time on my hands these days, God knows, and R.A. is always coming home from the bookstore/ library/ rummage sale with new books in her clutches, and so I often end up picking up the books that she has just finished, many times after she gets too frustrated trying to talk to me about something that I haven't yet read.

Therefore, without (much) further ado, and to kinda coincide with my summer movie list, I present a partial list of books that I have either read, am reading, or will read this summer:

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.

This is one of those aforementioned books that I read after R.A. finished it in order for us to be able to talk about it. We have seen the movie "The Namesake," based on Lahiri's novel, although I haven't read that book (yet). Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories that Lahiri wrote for her M.A. thesis at Boston University and then went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. Most of the stories revolve around the lives of immigrant Indian families in the U.S., or around the tensions between generations of Indian-Americans. I really, really liked this book. I especially liked how each of these stories seemed to be a reiteration of the same story over and over again, with slight modifications in the characters and settings. It gave the book a sense of being both a complete and whole piece, while also existing in time as a work in progress. It actually made me think a little bit of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, although I think I prefer Interpreter of Maladies because it deals with real people and not with crazy, surrealist Italian hallucinations.

Short Stories by Nikolay Gogol
File:Gogol by Repin.jpg
Speaking of crazy, surrealist hallucinations...

So I'm reading Gogol for a couple of reasons. The first was because Lahiri's protagonist in "The Namesake" is named "Gogol," and I thought that knowing more about the Russian writer would give me some additional insight into the story. So far, it hasn't. However, the second reason is that I wanted to resurrect my tradition of reading Russian lit during the summer. From 2004-2007, I read a Dostoyevsky novel each summer (The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons.) And then, last year, because I suck, I stopped. I tried replacing Dostoyevsky with Henry James, but it too me, like, eight months to finish The Golden Bowl, and besides, stories that so often take place in London sitting rooms while everyone drinks tea and has long soliloquies about the rain outside ought to be read between January and April. On the other hand, I feel like stories about opium induced madness and suicide and about your nose leaving your body and usurping your identity are best read during the dog days of summer, as they will help with the night sweats and fever dreams.*

Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

OK, so I am probably the last person in the world to have read this book. And, even though I'm only about a quarter of the way through it, it is pretty awesome. My favorite thing about Wicked is the political intrigue; I have always been in awe of authors, especially fantasy and sci-fi authors, who can create a society that has believable and realistic political issues. On one level, Wicked makes me laugh at the absurdity of the class conflict between the Munchkinlanders and the Gillikinese and the constant debating over whether or not to expand the Yellow Brick Road. But then they become real, important issues that I care about very deeply. I think that the epitome of this kind of construction of a real and yet imaginary politics is Frank Herbert's Dune, although that series becomes so wrapped up in the theology and metaphysics of its universe that it loses sight of what makes it initially intriguing to the reader, those issues that apply categorically to all people of every class, creed, and ideology.

By which I mean fighting over water rights.

*Help in the sense of making them weirder and more terrifying.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

My Summer at the Movies!

Well, it's July. More importantly, it's the 4th of July weekend, which, as everybody knows, means not only that you have the patriotic duty to blow off one or more of your digits and/or limbs, but also that it's the official start of the Summer Blockbuster Season. I have yet to see any movies at all this summer, and, while many of these fine films have already been out for a month or more, it is only now that I have been getting the urge to go out and see any of them. So, without further ado, I present to you a brief list of the big Summer Sizzlers that I may or may not be enjoying this month with a ginormous tub of artificially flavored popcorn and a 64 oz. Dr Pepper:

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

Few film reviews have given me as much pleasure as the ones for Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. The critics absolutely hate it, and they're being driven especially mad by the fact that it grossed over $109 million on its opening weekend. Apparently the movie just doesn't make any god-damn sense at all. Even looking at that still above, it's kind of hard to tell what's going on. As Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune says, "I've just spent 2 1/2 hours watching a movie and another hour thinking about what I saw and I have no earthly idea what "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is about." I think that Mr. Covert stumbled upon a hidden truth about this movie and its appeal later in his review when he says, "The conflicts make about as much sense as sandlot battles fought by 8-year-olds wielding their Hasbro Megatrons, Starscreams and Optimus Primes." I remember playing those games as a kid, and it always made me so mad when the other kid would suddenly announce that Optimus Prime had a billion a-bombs hidden in his arms and was using them to nuke all of my guys pkkksshhhk-ABOOOM!!!! Those weren't the rules. (I would be interested in reading a study on the differences between children who establish and follow rules during playtime and those who willfully disobey them.)

But if you want to read the real nasty stuff about "Transformers 2," I suggest that you head over to Roger Ebert's column. I am one of those many people who believe that there is a special spot in Hell reserved for Micheal Bay, perhaps one where he is tied to a chair and forced to watch BBC period pieces for all of eternity, but Roger Ebert has a much more intriguing place for Bay: In history:

The day will come when "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" will be studied in film classes and shown at cult film festivals. It will be seen, in retrospect, as marking the end of an era. Of course there will be many more CGI-based action epics, but never again one this bloated, excessive, incomprehensible, long (149 minutes) or expensive (more than $200 million). Like the dinosaurs, the species has grown too big to survive, and will be wiped out in a cataclysmic event, replaced by more compact, durable forms.
Of course, this interesting observation doesn't prevent Ebert from lashing out at the film's utter horridness. In particular, he seems constantly vexed by the repeated phenomenon of humans out-running explosions in the film.

Her hair is perfect.

Angels & Demons

On our recent California road trip, we listened to most of The Da Vinci Code on tape. I've actually listened to it before on tape, and I have seen the movie, although I have never actually read the book itself. On this time listening through, I realized a couple of things. First, Dan Brown is a pretty bad writer. He seems to think that every verb necessarily needs an adverb attached to it, so that none of his characters ever just do something, but they always do it sneakily, or bravely, or angrily, or in some other fashion completely in accord with their essential moral character. Also, he is way too into that French chick's eyes. Second - and not enough people realize this - there is no such thing as Symbology. You can't get your degree in it, you can't teach it, you can't give lectures in it. I don't quite know why Brown decided that he needed to make up an entirely new academic discipline for his books. Most of what Robert Langdon does is covered by pre-existing - or, as I like to call them, "real" - areas of study, like Art History or Anthropology.

Third, Robert Langdon is kind of a dick.

But, as for the new movie. I hear that Angels & Demons has a better plot than the Da Vinci Code. Also, I like watching Tom Hanks' haircut solve mysteries.

free movie screening da vinci code.jpg
Does this picture look weird to anyone else? Like, Audrey Tautou has some Mona Lisa-shaped growth coming out of her head, and it's about to kill her and assume her identity? No? Just me? Hmmm... maybe I should lay off the Russian Lit for a while....

Public Enemies

Honestly, this is the only movie on this list that I would be willing to spend ten bucks to see right now. This happens everytime too; just when I think that I'm beyond Hollywood's lame marketing techniques, someone in the studio says, "I know! Johnny Depp in an old-timey gangster movie! Joel would totally pay to see that!" Damn you Hollywood!
Yes! That's it! That's what cool is!

But the real reason why I'm listing it here is that I have a personal reason to go see it, too. One morning, about a year ago, I was leaving my friend's apartment in Lincoln Park after a good night of drunken debauchery*, and decided to stop by the CVS to buy a pack of cigarettes. I turned on the corner of Lincoln and Fullerton, and suddenly came upon this scene:

This is a picture from the set of Public Enemies outside of the Biograph Theater on Lincoln. I had unknowingly wandered on the set, surrounded by people dressed in 1930's outfits, driving 1930's cars, standing outside of 1930's buildings. I'm pretty sure that no one was filming, because I went unhassled for over five minutes. Then I realized that the entrance to the CVS had been blocked, and that the CVS had been changed into a "National Food Store and Pharmacy." Thwarted, hungover, and confused, I gave up, walked back through the time warp, and boarded the Red Line home.

* R.A. thinks that I don't need to add "drunken" here, because that's implied by the term "debauchery." I told her that the alliteration of "drunken debauchery" makes my brain happy. Then she said that the Romans considered alliteration to be the lowest form of poetry. I told her that's because they were writing in Latin. Then she said that rhyming in Latin was for idiot children.