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Jesus On The Main Line

flavored with age

“Well, how’d you know it was Him, Jimmy, is my question.”

“I just knowed it.”

“Now, how’d you ‘just knowed’ somethin’ like that? You don’t ‘just know’ that somebody’s the Lord Jesus Christ returned to Earth.”

“Some things you just know, Clint. Like, instinctually.”

“What’d He look like?”

“About what you’d expect, really. Beard, white robe. Belt made out of a piece of rope. Sandals. Kind of a short fella. He didn’t look too good, to tell you the truth.”

“So where’d you run into Him again?”

“Out on the side of the road, by US 385.”

“Over acrost from the Peach Tree?”

“That’s the one.”

“What was He doin’, headin’ over there for a cup of coffee or somethin’?”

“Now, see, that’s what I figured. I reckoned He was a hitchhiker or similar, and I was God’s honest truth gonna tell Him to move right along because we didn’t want nobody in the Peach Tree puttin’ the touch on us. But as soon as He opened his mouth, I knowed he was the Savior.”

“And how’d you know that? On account of He told you so?”

“Well, on account of He spoke Aramaic, for one thing.”

“Arawhovic? You mean like an A-Rab? I thought you said it was Jesus, not Moo-hammed.”

“No, that’s Arabic, you numbnuts. This was Aramaic He was speakin’.”

“And how in the hell do you come to speak Aramaic, Jimmy? You don’t even talk English good.”

“You know how I got that little teevee out in the barn, and I watch it when I’m milkin’?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, all that’s on in the early morning save for them damn woman shows is Home Extension University on the public television channel. So I just picked it up.”

“All right, all right. What’d He say?”

“As you might ‘spect, it was His second coming. Only He was havin’ all kinds of problems.”

“Problems? What you mean, problems? He’s the son of God, for corn sake, Jimmy.”

“Now as it happens, Clint, that’s one of the problems. The way He tells it, the Old Man don’t keep too much up on current affairs. He’s too busy watchin’ every sparrow fall and what have you. Don’t even own a dish or nothin’. So has far as the Old Man’s concerned, ain’t nothin’ changed for two thousand years.”

“You’re shittin’ me.”

“Don’t kid a kidder, Clint, is what I always say. So God sends Jesus down here, don’t give Him no cell phone, don’t give Him no blue jeans or walkin’ shoes, don’t give Him no car, don’t even teach Him to speak English. Kid looks like a rat’s nest and don’t smell so good neither. And he’s out here, in Dalhart. God just plunks Him down any ol’ where, figures He’ll get to where He needs to be. Poor kid ain’t got no road atlas or GPS or nothin’. Hell, if I hadn’t come along, He mighta run into Bert Klum down at the Lions Hall, and then He’d be in a right mess. Bert probably shove a pool cue up His ass thinkin’ he’s a crankhead.”

“So…so what happened?”

“Well, it turns out He gots all these speeches He needs to deliver, right? Sermons and whatnot. So as to save the world, I guess. And He tells me He needs to get to where all the action is, so He can get peoples’ ears. So He asks me if I know how to get to Jerusalem.”

“Oh, Lord.”

“You said it.  I told him I don’t think that’s really the right place for Him right now. I didn’t go into much detail, understand me. I just suggested He oughtta think about maybe Hollywood, or at least Nashville.”

“Good thinkin’.”

“Well, He wasn’t havin’ none of it. He said it had to be the Holy Land or at least the greatest city in all the world, which He didn’t know what was what. He kept talkin’ about places like Antioch and Thessalonika.”

“So what’d you do?”

“Well, what could I do, Clint? He’s Jesus. I can’t just disobey Him, now, can I?”

“Oh, Jimmy, you didn’t.

“I drove Him down to Dallas and took Him to Love Field, and got Him a ticket for…”

No.”

“…New York City.”

Jimmy…”

“What other choice was there, Clint?”

“Jimmy, do you know what deicide is?”

“A little bit.”

“Do you know what punishment that feller Danty prescribes for deicide?”

“I can’t rightly remember, Clint, now you come to mention it.”

“You better hope Satan brushes his teeth regularly, Jimmy, is all I can say.”

“Yep.”

“Yep.”

“I reckon.”

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

Mar. 5th, 2014

flavored with age

The question came over a week ago, from one of my oldest friends:  why don’t you write about politics anymore?

At first, it struck me as an absurd thing to ask:  don’t I write about politics all the damn time?  Didn’t I write for one of the internet’s spunkiest lefty blogs?  Didn’t I once cram my body full of dangerous drugs just so I could tolerate being around a gathering of right-wing conservatives for the amusement of my fellow libs? Ain’t I got the power?

But that’s when it hit me:  I was largely framing my political writing in the past tense.  While I still update my blog regularly, I can go months without posting anything political.  I will still occasionally talk politics on my Twitter or Facebook accounts, but it’s usually brief, infrequent, and, often as not, directed at the excessive behavior of my ‘allies’ on the left instead of my enemies on the right.  While I link to writing I find worthwhile, it’s almost never my own.  I don’t even make myself a presence in the comments sections of my favorite political blogs anymore.  Roy Edroso, who’s thankfully in it for the long haul, lists me on his blogroll under the rubric of “Forget About Politics”, and he’s not wrong to do so.  What happened?  What changed?  Why is the thing that was once my most burning passion now my most dying ember?

I wish I could credit it to Barack Obama.  That’s the common accusation on the right, anyway; when it was their guy in office, we lefties couldn’t tear him down fast enough, but now that it’s our man, suddenly we don’t have anything to say.  But that’s certainly not the case with me — and it’s not just because there’s a black Democrat in the White House.  From where I sit, almost every important issue is the same or worse than when Obama took office; some of that is his fault, and some of it isn’t, but the song remains the same.  I’ve taken more heat from my Democratic friends for expressing disappointment that the Obama who ran for office isn’t the same person who’s served in that office — more than I ever took for criticizing George W. Bush.  And even if that weren’t the case — even if Obama really did close Guantanamo, even if he stood behind the unions or passed single-payer health care or made a stand against the security state or pursued a foreign policy that wasn’t largely reckless nonsense — the usual suspects are still out there carrying on.  Even if Obama were the next FDR (or the next Lenin, as the right wants to frame him in their official portraits), the worst elements of our society, from the paid propagandists of the FOX network to the recidivist Republican senators of the South to the monomaniacal corporate bosses who let the world burn for the sake of a more robust balance sheet, are still in full effect.  If one is in the mood to complain, there is no shortage of things to complain about.

Nor can I blame it on my own behavior.  It is true that I write less about politics now because I write less in general now; but shitting on my own career was nobody’s fault but my own, and the weight I’ll have to carry for betraying the trust of my readers is  of my own making.  It’s tempting to think that I should keep my trap shut so as not to be constant reminded of my own fuck-ups, but even today, when Google perpetuates your every failure in perpetuity, it’s hard to tell how far one’s infamy reaches.  I’ve largely given up on writing except for my own amusement (although it might be more accurate to call it a consequence and not a choice), but honestly, I caught more heat over my bad decision from people who professed to be fans of my work than I ever have from political opponents.  To blame my lack of political output on my self-made circumstance would be to compound a lie with a lie.

I can’t even chalk it up to my own bourgeoisification.  It’s true that I’m in a much better position now than I have been in years; I finally have a good job again, with health insurance, a decent place to live, and generally satisfying personal circumstances.  I’ve moved to probably the most liberal big city in America, a place that has legalized both gay marriage and recreational marijuana and has suspended the death penalty.  It even elected — I am proud to say, with my help — a genuine Socialist to its city government.  But I’m still tens of thousands of dollars in debt, living from paycheck to paycheck, and as likely to ever own a home or have a decent retirement as I am to swim to the moon and back.  Weed and gay marriage are nice, but they won’t stop the institutional rot and greed that are poisoning the country.  And while I yield to no one in my love of Kshama Sawant, she is just a city councilperson, and I remain quite skeptical that her election will lead to a renaissance of socialist government in America.

The fact is, I’m just tired.  Even writing this — should I call it an excuse?  A confession?  Not a surrender, surely — has taken me months, and I get exhausted just contemplating it.  I keep up with the news as much as I ever did; I still stay current with the best political bloggers and respect the work that they do; and politics is important to me, but it’s in an abstract way that seems less immediate all the time, in the way, maybe, that language is important to me, or philosophy.  More and more, I feel like I’m engaged in the most lost of all lost causes, and it wears me out.

Part of this has to do with big issues.  I know I risk sounding like an old crank here — sounding like, hell; I am an old crank — but even as recently as the 1990s, I had the feeling that, even if the country was headed in the wrong direction, it could still be rescued if enough people cared enough about the right things to turn it around.  It no longer feels that way anymore.  We remain a two-party nation, and worse, the Republicans have moved farther to the right while the Democrats, too, have moved farther to the right.  We have won important victories, but lost nearly every one that matters:  our political system is more for sale than it has ever been.  The idea that the only proper way to manage society is with capitalism and more capitalism is stronger than it has ever been.  Militarism, the prison complex, and the security state continue to grow and grow, while the possibility of undoing the vast amounts of damage we have done to our own environment continues to shrink.  We have bought into the austerity hustle hook, line and sinker, and the idea that the government (or, through the government, the wealthy) should do anything whatsoever to prevent the poor, the sick, and the aged from the sharpest corners of a cruel world is rapidly losing traction.  We have accepted with a shrug the idea that the wealthiest and most predatory business entities can bust the economy, poison the air and water, steal from the public till, and eradicate the very idea of job security and a living wage, and if anything is ever done to control the damage they do, it will be funded by the taxpayer.  My own greatest and most personal causes — unionism and the rights of the working class — are now a quaint joke.

Beyond our failure to address the key issues of the day, our ability to formulate resistance seems to have been self-crippled.  We have so thoroughly accepted the existence, and inevitability, of the two-party system that we demand practically nothing from our Democratic leaders, lest they be replaced by a Republican who is even worse; we identify those who even mildly criticize the president as traitors at worst and delusional Utopians at best.  The youngest generation able to participate in politics is socially liberal, but has bought into the money game like they know nothing different; and those who do prioritize politics over career are like as not to be social justice warriors, for whom every political stance is filtered through a pop-culture lens, to whom every argument is a sign of treachery and betrayal, with whom the ultimate goal is a self-built ghetto of one, where nothing as messy as society or the economy can ever detract from your specialness.  While there are obviously good people in good organizations all over the country fighting the good fight, it is distressing to think that the task of actually maintaining a safe, productive nation where there is the possibility of justice and equality has been shed by government and ordinary citizens and handed over to the diminishing number of people willing to do it at great personal cost.  Public life going in cycles as it does, I am very willing to accept the possibility that there will someday be a rebirth of social responsibility; but for the first time — and to be sure, this may be age talking — I worry that it will finally be too late.

To be sure, there are reasons to be hopeful.  The opposition to gay marriage continues to crumble, and I now think its demise is inevitable; and drug legalization is gaining more traction than I ever thought it would.  But for every positive development that’s come sooner than I thought, there are three negative ones that makes the world that much uglier.  Whether the internet has caused this or merely revealed it, the tone and depth of stupidity being expressed in political discussions is no longer funny to me; public discourse is so shamefully degraded that it’s depressing to even think about.  My two primary modes of engaging in political discussion — ridiculous humor and ridiculous earnest — no longer seem to work, as satire outpaced reality decades ago, and what’s the point of putting on an earnest face for the handful of people who still pay attention?  Maybe the day will come when I change my mind, and feel the fight again, but until then, I’d rather just make jokes and watch movies.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

Let Justice Be Dumb

flavored with age

Life takes you in strange directions, it cannot be denied.  I myself used to be a liberal, and a communist before that, in the days when it seemed worthwhile to care about things.  But I am an old man now, and it profits me neither in mind or spirit to keep up with what the young folks are interested in fighting over.  For one thing, in my laddish days, we thought the streets were the place to express one’s’ quarrel with the Man and His bad behavior, superior even to the editorial page or the ballot box.  This is before we discovered the Internet, you understand, before we knew that Tumblr would be the hill on which all future battles for peace and equality would be fought, before we knew that the Man was bulletproof and that if we ever hoped to effect change, our targets of opportunity would have to be other people gassing on line.

It took a long time for me to know the score but now that I’m hip to the ways of the world it seems only fair to pass it along to other confused old blokes of my age and station, so they might know how properly to navigate the new channels that have been dug in the surface of the body politic.  Thus this introduction to my new friends, who aggregate together not under the the banner of political correctness, who march not under the colors of left or right, but whose panoply marks them as the noblest of all fighting forces, the SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR.  Contained in those three words is all the explication one needs, every motivation and every contradiction, every (if I may use a word drawn from the days when Karl Marx seemed like something more than just another dead white male) tendency that has brought us to this great and final battle, which is fought not to free us all, but to make sure we all live comfortably in our self-designated and highly individualized ghettos.

Ess is for “Social”, and Society is the milieu in which the Social Justice Warrior braces for mortal combat.  ”Social” is also one-half of the archaic formation “socio-economic”, but the other half has begun to rust like an abandoned steel mill.  If there is one thing that brings the social justice left and the libertarian right together, it is recognition that economic arguments are difficult, require altogether too much expertise, and depend on the behavior of actors too foolish to follow their own rational self-interest.  Too much talk about economics might lead to a discomfiting realization of the existence of class — in one’s nation or, worse yet, in one’s own head.  Start talking about economics and you might wonder why you do all your protesting on an expensive machine built for you by virtual slave labor an ocean away, where the lessons of sexism and homophobia are too dearly learnt.  In a world built on degrees of intersectionality, it will not do to come to the realization that there are really only two groups that matter:  the owners and the owned.

Better, then, to glorify the social, to build a world based on equality of language, where everyone is spoken to with equal respect; that will make up for not actually being treated with any.  If there must be a great leveling, let it be in the realm of pronouns, let us have a theoretical equality of terminology instead of an actual equality of opportunity.  And if one cannot make society into a paradigm of false politeness disguised as respect, then one can at least shrink it down to a small circle of allies and enemies, found only in comments sections and on message boards, separate but equal to the larger society that consists of real people who have different ideas about what and who have a call on their integrity.

Jay is for “Justice”, which, the ancient wisdom of the dead assures us, is different from revenge.  But vengeance is primarily the mission of the Social Justice Warrior; punishment, and not reform, is what is sought.  If society is to be defined as an amorphous entity consisting of the same opinions, then what punishment can there be more fitting than expulsion from it?  When you have built Eden, no horror can be greater than to be forced to live outside the garden, forever peeking over its walls.  True justice, like economics, is a fiendishly difficult thing; its platforms are constantly shifting, its demands are frustratingly contingent, and it lacks a permanent and absolute promontory from which it can be handed down.  Vengeance, on the other hand, is simple to understand, and easy to hand out.  Its stock in trade is the apology, and what could be more rational and simple than an apology?  Who could be more heinous than some brute who refuses to apologize, who maintains against all logic that he has not done anything wrong?

Justice is difficult for so many reasons.  It demands an assumption of equality, when we live in a world of privilege; it demands evidence of wrongdoing rather than mere accusations, clamorously repeated; it demands proportionality and not mere obliteration.  Justice does not believe in allies or cronies and is not interested in narrative.  Worst of all, justice asks you if you might be inclined to forgive an offense for which there has been no apology, no compensation, no gain.  Vengeance lets you off the hook and is superior in ever way; it just doesn’t sound as good.

Double-you is for “Warrior”, and it is war, war with the world.  In old conceptions of war, there were allies as well as enemies.   But the war of the Social Justice Warrior is total war, where there is nothing but targets.  The war is eternal and unwinnable, but since it must be fought, there can be no strategy; only tactics.  There is no end, only means.  Alliances are, of necessity, always temporary, always frangible, and the lack of observance of a minor protocol by an ally is a far greater injury than murder by an enemy.  There is no area of life that is to be exempted from the war; the personal is not just political, it is dogmatical, and there can be no forgiveness of those unaware they are fighting in the war, for ignorance and evil are the same thing.  The greatest and strongest army is the army of one, for only the self can never be betrayed, only the self can never weaken or desert.

As in any war, the troops must know their general orders, and be willing to live by them and die for them:

1.  TO take charge of this affinity group, to identify only with it, and to assume the right to be offended on behalf of all others thus identified;

2.  TO live one’s life in a military manner, seeking out the unacceptable and the problematic in everything that takes place within sight or hearing;

3.  TO report all violations of standards you have chosen to enforce, and to condemn absolutely all those violating these standards;

4.  TO repeat all accusations, no matter how distant from one’s own knowledge, interest, or experience;

5.  TO quit my post only when a new outrage is detected;

6.  TO receive, believe, and pass on to one’s relieving sentry all accusations, regardless of origin, factual basis, official determination of guilt, or context;

7.  TO talk to no one who does not already agree with one’s premises;

8.  TO give the alarm in case of skepticism or new information;

9.  TO refer to the zeitgeist in any case not covered by instructions, and to ensure that all combat is fought in the field of culture and nowhere else;

10.  TO ignore all hypocrisy, as long as it flies your colors and standards; and

11.  TO be especially watchful of doubt, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge in all caps and with plentiful trigger warnings, and to allow no one to pass under any circumstances.

Thus armed you may go out into the world — a world which seems to grow smaller and more restricted even as all previous barriers weaken and fall — clad in that most perfect raiment, certainty.  You need never have cause to fear that you are wrong, because you have defined yourself as representative of those blessed ideas that are never wrong, and those who question or oppose you must, by definition, be never right.  You may join your brothers on the right in Zhdanovite precision, secure in the knowledge that society is a thing you can bend to your own definitions, justice is a matter of accounting, and war is a thing that must always be fought and need never be won.  Go forth and be likewise.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

How Fandom Works: A Non-Toon

flavored with age

1.  JERRY FAN:  I love pies

2.  JACKY FAN:  I also love pies

3.  (both eat pies with little enthusiasm)

4.  JERRY FAN:  This pie would make a good cake

***

1.  JERRY FAN:  Did you hear Bill’s Bakery fired Baker Bob

2.  JACKY FAN:  But Baker Bob baked all their best pies

3.  JERRY & JACKY FAN:  We are outraged

4.  JERRY FAN:  I wonder what the new pies from Bill’s Bakery will be like

***

1.  JERRY FAN:  I hate this new pie

2.  JACKY FAN:  Me too, this pie is dry crumbly and tasteless

3.  JANEY FAN:  Then why do you guys keep buying the pies

4.  JERRY FAN:  If we don’t buy them they might stop making them

***

1.  JERRY FAN:  Your latest cake was terrible

2.  JACKY FAN:  Yeah there was no excuse for that cake

3.  BAKERY BILL:  We’re making another one of those cakes

4.  JERRY FAN:  Awesome, so excited

***

1.  JERRY FAN:  There should be more women who are into baking pies

2.  JACKY FAN:  Yeah, why don’t a lot of chicks come to our bake-offs

3.  JANEY FAN:  Actually I have some thoughts on that

4.  JERRY FAN:  Shut up bitch

***

1.  JERRY FAN:  Your cupcakes suck dude

2.  JACKY FAN:  Yeah your cupcakes are a disgrace to the entire concept of cupcakes

3.  BAKERY BILL:  Here is a coupon for 20% off more cupcakes

4:  JERRY & JACKY FAN:  Score

***

1.  JERRY FAN:  Remember that fig bar, it was terrible

2.  JACKY FAN:  Probably the worst thing that has ever happened was that bar

3.  JERRY FAN:  On the other hand it was great

4.  JACKY FAN:  Probably the greatest thing I have ever eaten

***

1.  JERRY FAN:  What is that you are eating, is it a pie

2.  JANEY FAN:  No it is a sandwich

3.  JERRY FAN:  You know what would make that great

4.  JERRY FAN:  If it was a pie

***

1.  BAKER BOB:  Hey I really appreciate you guys supporting my work

2.  JERRY FAN:  No problem man you are one of the all time greats

3.  BAKER BOB:  Can you believe Bill’s Bakery is making crappy new pies using my recipe and selling them with my name on them

4:  JERRY FAN:  Uh we have to go now

***

1.  JANEY FAN:  What are you eating

2.  JERRY FAN:  A turd with a cherry on it

3.  JANEY FAN:  Gross, you’re eating a turd

4.  JERRY FAN:  But it has a cherry on it

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

The Most Beautiful Fraud: 12 Years A Slave

flavored with age

Slavery, it has been properly observed, is America’s original sin.  It is our first and foremost crime, the most adjacent cause of our civil war, and the source of the racial poison that continues to choke us today.  It is, if this can be said in a way that does not invite outrage and hyperbole, our Holocaust:  a mobile disaster that wreaks its havoc and taints the very souls of those it touched even now, a hundred and fifty years after it officially came to an end.   But in that comparison lies one of the most thorny problems with assessing 12 Years a Slave, both as an aesthetic object and as an attempt to portray the degrading reality of slavery.  In both form and function, it highly resembles what we have come to think of as “Holocaust movies” — which, for dismaying reasons, has come to mean not just a movie about the Holocaust, but a very specifically formulaic kind of movie that is, because of the very sanctity of its subject, guaranteed critic chow and Oscar bait.

It’s a problem that’s difficult to get around, because of its inherently contradictory nature:  simply by depicting the situation as it really was, such films can seem terribly manipulative.  This tendency can be minimized or exacerbated by the talent behind and in front of the camera, either consciously or unconsciously, but it is always present, and 12 Years A Slave is no exception.  Hans Zimmer’s score is not quite as oppressive has we might expect, but there are moments when it is absolutely unnecessary and overwrought, wringing emotional notes from the audience that ought to have been given up naturally; and, despite the fact that the film strives to keep the focus on the perspective of the slave and not the master, the presence of a Great White Savior is not avoided.   Brad Pitt’s appearance late in the film as the instrument of Solomon Northup’s deliverance was probably inevitable (and likely is what got the film made, given his position as head of the company that produced it), but it still smacks of a sop to middle-class white sensibilities.  Finally, the movie’s ending is perhaps the thorniest contradiction of all:  it’s flagrant emotional manipulation of the sort that justifies a bourgeois audience’s patience with the trials that have come before it, their payoff for being implicated in all that unpleasantness.  But it is also true and real; who can imagine himself reacting any other way under those circumstances?  We have seen these situations depicted in the same way so many times in service of falseness that we almost automatically abreact when we see it done in the service of truth.

And truth is a big part of the appeal of 12 Years A Slave.  The story of a free-born black American who is sold over to southern slavers, its narrative is compelling and damning at the same time:  it provides us with a rare outsider’s perspective on life as a slave, and it gives us that happy ending while still reminding us that such relief never came for millions of others.  And, most importantly, it is true — at least, most of it is, in the opinion of scholars who have looked into the matter.  This is important, because the historical truth of Solomon Northup’s story is what provides the more important factors of its emotional and political truth a platform upon which to stand.  But, again, this truth sometimes gets in its own way, for sometimes the truth is so much like an exaggerated fiction that we see it and we still don’t believe it.  In the early goings of the film, Solomon is sold into the service of Master Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), who seems a decent enough man under the circumstance — although it falls to another slave to remind Solomon what a grotesquerie that “under the circumstance” truly is.  But because of his own pride and sense of self, he cannot resist fighting a vicious foreman (Paul Dano), thus signing his own death warrant; the only way to save him, Cumberbatch reasons, is to sell him to another master, the brutal and abusive Michael Fassbender.  The earlier scenes are, to me, much more compelling — not because they excuse Cumberbatch, but because they lull us into sympathy with him, because they put us in the pace of the slave mind that truly believes he’s a good man when he grants a token of little worth for a service of great cost, because they show how everyone involved in slavery is destroyed because of it, irrespective of intention.  When Fassbender appears, his nearly cartoonish evil — regardless of its rightness or its historical truth — seems to jar us out of the lesson even as it teaches us a new one.

This tonal shift comes at some cost, but overall, 12 Years A Slave does a tremendous job of illustrating without sensationalism or exploitation the impossible, horrible dead-end qualities of slavery.  In nearly every scene, we are shown how no one escapes with an intact spirit, how everyone — black or white — is utterly ruined by their willing or unwilling participation in this madly unjust system.  Watching Solomon broken of his insistence that if only someone will listen to reason, he will be treated justly, is heartbreaking; seeing Paul Giamatti, as a practical-minded slaver, oversee the most inhumane and horrific of actions for a “fair price” is as vivid an illustration as one could want of Hannah Arendt’s perceptions of the quotidian qualities of evil reflected in a universally accepted system.  Another scene, where Solomon attempts to stop a woman from crying over the loss of her two children to strangers, is a perfect example of how no decision is a good one in such an awful situation, as is one where he makes a spontaneous decision to flee, only to realize that he has no idea where he is or where to go and everyone around him is hostile.  Cumberbatch provides a fine portrait of a man just aware enough of the brutality of his surroundings to feel guilt, but not aware enough to make a principled stand against it; and another scene, astonishing in its quiet power, sees Alfre Woodward play a house Negress, promoted to nearly the position of a white woman through her willingness to play along with her master’s predatorial ways, preaches the value of cooperation with the plantation owners as a way of easing one’s suffering — and then, just as calmly and quietly, foretells with some eagerness the day when those owners will be obliterated in a literal, Biblical Armageddon for their sins.  In every way, in every moment, we are reminded of the cost of America’s original sin, of the unmanageable debasement and dehumanization it left behind as the natural by-product of slavery as a fact.

Director Steve McQueen manages to play to his own strengths — a painterly visual sensibility that shows up in gorgeous screen compositions, beautiful color palettes of faded whites, muted blues, and smeared pink skies, and the ability to frame faces and bodies with a classical eye — while still stringing together a storytelling structure and pace that is coherent and rhythmic, while still staying vague enough (from Solomon’s perspective) to keep the viewer just a bit off balance.  It’s a truly beautiful film, with camerawork both expansive and intimate, and never more so than when the beauty is encroached on by horror; for it is then that we are reminded the most of Frederick Douglass’ lament that there is not an inch of the endless natural loveliness of the South that is not corrupted with the innocent blood of the slave.  (I’ve tried to refrain from discussing the reactions of other critics to 12 Years A Slave, here I must mention Stephanie Zacharek’s curious criticism that the movie undercuts its “raw feeling” with its exquisite visuals.  She complains that “Even when it depicts inhuman cruelty, as it often does, it never compromises its aesthetic purity”, a comment so bizarre it makes me wonder if she is familiar with the function of art; if McQueen is guilty of this, so too was Picasso in “Guernica”, Goya in the “Horrors of War” series, and practically every other visual artist who has attempted to illustrate monstrous behavior in a particular aesthetic mode of expression.)  The acting, too, is unimpeachable, from the tiniest bit parts (a number of familiar television faces, in particular, are surprising and gratifying to see) to the intense lead of Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Excellent throughout, even when McQueen makes the rare misstep of an unmotivated close-up, he has one scene in particular, as he reluctantly begins to sing along with a spiritual while burying an old field hand who dropped dead at his labors.  In many films, this scene would have been an artificially uplifting bit of bogus sentimentality; but Ejiofor, who never speaks a word but only sings, imbues it with such deeply lined, strongly felt, and utterly contradictory emotion, it takes the moment to a whole different level.  Rage, pity, sadness, exhaustion, grief, doubt, and a nearly infinitely remote desire for some kind of salvation play on his face for long seconds full of meaning.

12 Years A Slave encounters all the same problems that any such prestige film is bound to, from the need to appeal to the very audience you are attempting to indict to what we might term the artificiality of the truth.  But what spares it from being an overblown mediocrity, and makes it into something great, is its determination to meet those problems head-on and confront them.  It does not always succeed, but it also never shrinks from the task, and that is enough to commend it.  If it is not the indisputable great film about American slavery, it will hold until that film appears.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

This Nation’s Saving Throw

flavored with age

DUNGEON MASTER RICHIE – Who’s on point?

KEVIN - Hillyard.

HILLYARD – The hell I am!

BENNY – You are, Hilly. You agreed to run point for me when I sold you my +2 short sword back in East Wind Dell.

H – Fuck.

DM – Okay.

K – What was that roll for?

DM – None of your business.

K – I’ll give you two hundred gold pieces if you tell me what the roll was for. Was it a wandering monster?

DM – You gotta be kidding. Two hundred gold pieces? Don’t insult me. Have you got anything of real value to offer?

K – Uh…I’m a little light.

B – I bet your girlfriend isn’t a little light.

H – She’s a leech, Kevin.

K – Fuck you guys. At least I have a girlfriend.

B – Suboptimal, Kevin. Totally suboptimal.

DM – Are we going to talk about Kevin’s girlfriend, or are we going to come to a Pareto-preferred outcome for this roll?

B – I got five bucks.

K – Hold on, Benny. What’s the five bucks for, Rich?

DM – It’s for the roll. I told you.

K – What about the roll?

DM – For…look, you don’t think I’m gonna cheat you, do you, Kevin?

K – Get me a standard contract, Benny.

B – Where’s that?

H – It’s in the back of the Player’s Handbook.

K – No, that’s the character sheet. The contract is in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Libertarian Edition.

DM – Fine, fine.

K – The five gets me what kind of roll it is…

DM – Okay, I’ll just write it up, and –

K – …and the result.

DM – For five bucks? Forget it.

K – Ten.

DM – This is an important roll.

K – I only got five, plus…

H – Ten plus the rest of these Funyuns.

DM – Deal.

K – Good job, Hilly.

DM – Okay. You called it. It’s a wandering monster roll, and…

B – Man, what a waste of money.

DM – You want to hear the result or not?

K – Might as well.

DM – It’s a rust monster.

K – What?

H – Fuck that. I’m not fighting one of those.

B – How can you do that to us, Rich? What did we do to you? Was is that big scene with the Customs and Duties Officer at Rivenrock?

DM – Look, guys. That’s just what I rolled. It’s just the luck of the dice.

H – Those things are walking wealth-confiscators. They represent punitive taxation. They’re living symbols of the leechlike qualities of the state. I am not fighting a rust monster.

K – All right, Rich. Let’s talk brass tacks. What’s it gonna take?

DM – Kevin, you know the rules. I can’t just re-roll it.

K – So what are we looking at?

DM – A buck to move the roll by one in either direction.

B – Okay, so…let’s see…where does eighteen bucks get us?

DM – Hobgoblins. Uh…nine of them.

B – If I make it an even twenty?

DM – Still hobgoblins, but only six.

K – Whattya think, guys?

B – Better than that goddamn rust monster.

H – Hobgoblins are pretty tough, though.

B – Yeah, and they don’t carry a lot of cash.

H – Where does that leave our internal cost/benefit calculus?

K – PB is still greater than p*f.

H – I say we do it.

B – Yeah. We don’t want a repeat of what happened with Tyler.

K – Why do you keep bringing Tyler up, Benny?

B – He was a good party member, man. He was our friend. And we left him behind.

H – We’ve been over this and over this…

B – It doesn’t make it right.

DM – Look, guys, I need a decision.

K – Benny, I didn’t want to hand Tyler over to that frost giant. But you elected me team leader to do a job. And my job is to do anything within the rules to maximize profits for our shareholders.

H – It would have been immoral not to sell Tyler in exchange for our freedom.

K – Six hobgoblins?

DM – Yep.

K – Twenty bucks?

DM – Yep.

K – Hilly, what’s our experience point situation?

H – Just under, with Benny about over.

K – And the min./max. on the hobgoblin’s treasure?

B – Within risk-to-profit norms, according to the Monster Manual pages Rich sold me last week.

K – It’s a deal.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

Every Little Fellow

flavored with age

Stand down, oppressors! Your days of dominance are finished; your time of reckoning is at hand!

You have stood on our necks for too long. You have excluded us from many of the finest professions; you have prevented us from becoming educated; you have made us second- and third-class citizens — and all the while you have said it is for our own good. You have claimed that we have “special advantages” which are nothing but racial stereotypes, while sidling us with hindrances that demean us. You treat us like children, like pets, like slaves. You dress us in ridiculous costumes, branding us with braids, with horned helmets, with green clothing. You make us wear pointed boots, and then laugh at us because we are effeminate. You call us by taunting names — yes, we have heard you! And then you lie about our history, saying “hobbit” is a term we prefer, that “half-elf” is a compliment. Choke on your words now, bourgeois hogs!

You have stood us against one another, claiming racial antipathies for us that do not exist save in your hate-filled minds. You have systematically kept us in inferior positions, such as making us walk in front of everybody else, even when you know our legs are really short. You think of us as emasculated, sexless freaks, or else you make us hang out with those skanky hippie chicks. We hate those patchouli-smelling broads! You damn us with faint praise; you claim for us stewardship of the forests so that we do not blight your urban centers, and you fabricate our love of dark caverns so we do not spoil your walks in the park. Our future is in the cities! Our future is in your homes! We shall smash the circular doors you built for us, and take residence in your taverns and hostels, built on the ruins of our exploited labor!

Do I hear you cavil? Do I hear you bleat? Do I hear you say you only ever admired us, envied us, wanted us to be part of your party? We are sickened by your self-serving lies! We have been force-fed the filthy stew of your prejudice and condescension long enough! We will fight among ourselves no longer, and declare unending war against you who bury us in holes and hollows! We are tired of stewardship, of caretaking, of digging up wealth for you and having our share stolen when you throw us to the traps! The slit throats of your healers and leaders makes beautiful music to us! Death to unequivalent distribution of theft!

The E.L.F demands:

- an immediate end to discriminatory hiring practices

- total access to your women, not just the freaky ones with the poetry journals

- self-determination in costuming and housing choices

- stepladders as standard equipment in all delver’s gear

- keep the hippies away from us

- a total ban on the words “sylvan”, “gruff” and “hobbit-hole”

- we get to pick our own names

We shall shuffle, glide, giggle and grunt for you no longer! The days of our tomming are over, vile altocrats! Fat elf, surly halfling, clean-shaven and even-tempered dwarf alike, we stand against your putrid lies and classist, racist policies of exclusion! We are sick to death of your patronizing, your balkanizing, your holding your palms out against our foreheads! Do you quail? Do you argue? Do you mock? Bend over and say that, motherfuckers!

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

The Most Beautiful Fraud: The Wolf of Wall Street

hmmmmmm...

Hetty Green was one of the first women to make a killing in stocks.  The heir to a considerable whaling fortune, the dour and grim New England Quaker increased her net worth more than tenfold with canny investments in everything from real estate to railroads to war bonds, and when she died in 1916, she was the richest woman the world had ever seen.  She was also notoriously stingy; her own son had to have his leg amputated because when it was broken, she frittered away precious time trying to have him treated for free at a local charity hospital, even though she was worth hundreds of millions in today’s dollars.  For a number of reasons — her creepy demeanor, her uncanny ability to predict the markets, and good old-fashioned misogyny — she was nicknamed “The Witch of Wall Street”.

When I first heard about The Wolf of Wall Street, the latest offering from Martin Scorsese, I briefly thought it might be about Hetty Green; now that I’ve seen it, I wish it had been.  Of course, it’s a cardinal sin for a critic to talk about the movie he wishes he’d seen instead of the movie he actually saw, but Scorsese sorely provokes the temptation these days.  I used to think of him as the greatest living American filmmaker, a title that I think he’s long ceded to the Coens; what mostly stands about about him today is that it’s more interesting to discuss the critical reaction to his movies than it is the movies themselves.  This is a bad scene for everyone involved.  Once any artist in any medium becomes more of a creature of the media than an inhabitant of their own art, it’s a huge caution lamp being lit, and though it’s often accurate to blame the critics for the state of affairs, that’s not the problem with Martin Scorsese anymore.

The reason why is that his films have begun to resemble performance art rather than acts of filmmaking, leaving us to contemplate what should be irrelevancies rather than what’s present on the screen.  Watching the story of boiler-room swindler Jordan Belfort (portrayed by a powerful but never especially engaging Leonardo DiCaprio, who never seems to be his own age), we care much less about his life and times than we do about what might have motivated Scorsese to tell his story.  That’s not something we could say about Jake LaMotta or Henry Hill, characters whose inner life and outer conflicts were always so present as to seem to be burning up the screen, but Scorsese doesn’t really seem like he’s been all that interested in a narrative film since Gangs of New York.  (His documentaries are a different matter, for a different review, but it’s telling that he’s more engaged with the real world as he’s drifted away from caring about story.)  This detachment seems to be contagious, as no one on screen — with the exception of Jonah Hill, whose dramatic chops seem to be growing with every role he takes — is particularly engaged with the movie either.

This isn’t to say that Wolf is a bad movie.  Scorsese has enough craft and dedication that the likelihood of him ever making a genuinely bad movie is close to zero.  It’s a gorgeously assembled movie, full of incredibly cinematography, clockwork editing, powerful rhythms, and scenes that move so muscularly and confidently that you can’t help but be drawn in.  It never seems bloated, even though it’s easily too long by half.  There are probably half a dozen moments you could pull out of it and stick into a highlight reel to back up my long-ago assumption that Scorsese is as good as American directors get.  It’s just that — well, we’ve seen it all before.  I don’t think the idea that this is Scorsese remaking GoodFellas for a new generation is particularly credible (he didn’t need to; stock frauds of the sort that Belfort engaged in were heavily mobbed up), but he’s certainly not showing us anything new; he’s pulling out bits from his greatest hits and ramping them up with new technology just to prove he can do it, to show the kids who have spent 20 years stealing his act that he still does it better than anyone.  It’s performance art.  Which is all well and good — the instinct to bristle up and swing for the fences must be powerful at that age — but there isn’t a moment in the whole movie where I thought Scorsese cared a tenth of a shit as much about Jordan Belfort as he does about Mick Jagger.

That lack of commitment to the material carries over into what has, curiously, become the movie’s biggest talking point.  The charge that Scorsese doesn’t do enough on screen to condemn the moral failings of his subject is pretty silly, and the accusation that he glamorizes Belfort’s misdeeds would carry a lot more weight if you hadn’t seen pretty much every other movie the man has made with the possible exception of Kundun.  Scorsese is well aware of what he’s doing and the kind of waters he’s swimming in, and generally, he trusts the audience to know what lessons should ultimately be drawn from his stories, whether it’s GoodFellasThe King of Comedy, or Taxi Driver.  But if anyone leaves the theater, especially now when the country may have suffered a fatal economic blow from short-takers of Belfort’s stripe, thinking Scorsese hasn’t come through with a powerful enough referendum of his character, it’s not because he doesn’t understand or appreciate what Belfort has done; I think he just doesn’t care enough to let it show.  Scorsese was obviously deeply engaged in both the highs of Henry Hill’s gangster life and the lows of his eventual downward spiral; I never once got the impression that he (or Leonardo DiCaprio) were particularly interested in the moral arc of Jordan Befort’s career.

At this point in Scorsese’s career, he’s literally got nothing left to prove, which is both a blessing and a curse.  He could have stopped making movies 20 years ago and still be considered one of the greatest talents ever to lens a film.  It’s meaningless to ask, even in light of a flawless failure like The Wolf of Wall Street, to ask how many great movies the man has left in him; he’s got nothing but great movies left in him, as many as his health will let him make.  It’s just that we’ve seen a lot of them before.  For him to return to making not just great movies, but great movies that matter, we’ll have to find a definitive answer to the question:  are there subjects for narrative film that engage his mind the way he wants them to engage ours?  For all its considerable strength, Wolf answers that question with a resounding “not yet”.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

Resolver

fat man

As I’ve discussed before in this space, I am not one for New Year’s resolutions.  They are, like most last-minute life-changing decisions, made in haste and repented in leisure.  They generally set their sights unrealistically high, which is an easy and delicious recipe for chicken-fried failure, or they’re so easily attainable as to not be worthwhile in the first place.  Besides, there’s something about tying your acts of will to a turn of the calendar that makes it seem as though you’re helpless to get your shit together without the assistance of an entire centuries-old system of marking time.  If you want to do something, just do it; you never hear anyone say “This is the year I’m finally going to do something about my house being on fire.”

This isn’t to say I never even attempt to flap my arms hard enough to direct my life’s tailspin towards a nice dramatic mountainside instead of an anonymous flat patch of earth.  Like most people, I go through periods of wanting to eat better, dress better, make halfway-decent use of my health insurance, or finally comb the rust out of my beard.  But I don’t really trust the efficacy of publicly announced resolutions, because who gives a shit if I live up to them or not?  If there was a Supreme Soviet of Resolutions that would send me to a prison farm if I didn’t use my parks pass at least once a month, that would be one thing, but most of the things I care enough to make myself do, I, well, care enough to make myself do.  All my writing-related resolutions are just forms of self-discipline, which one needn’t fancy up with holiday frills; they’re just things you’re going to do or you aren’t, and if you lack even that level of drive, then probably a creative life is not for you.  (I had planned on writing a blog entry for every movie I saw this year, but, illustrating the level of intense devotion I bring to all my projects, it only lasted four days into 2014, at which point I got zooted and watched Good Burger.  No one needs to read a thousand words about that.)

Worse than that, though, is the fact that most New Year’s resolutions are just so…trite.  The United States government, which apparently has taken care of that pesky unemployment problem we were having a while back, collected the most popular resolutions for 2013, and a more dreary lot of vows I have not heard since I narrowly escaped joining the holy orders as a member of the Flabby Brothers of the Impertinent Scowl.  I know many of you have taken these very vows, and bless you for it; I don’t even know who you are reading this, but I am sure that you are a better person than I am, and I am equally sure that 2015 will find you having lived up to these impossibly tedious resolutions.  I won’t be joining you, however, and here, aside from the fact that they are depressingly dull, is why.

DRINK LESS.  Nope.  I won’t be doing this.  I’m getting up in years, and a lot of my friends who were once head-in-the-toilet drunks are taking the primrose path of sobriety.  I am happy for that if it lets them live longer, and I’m sure their clean-and-sober stories will be much more interesting than the thousand other ones I have heard over the years, but I will not be joining them on that path.  Here’s why:  I enjoy drinking.  I enjoy being drunk.  For reasons too terrifying to contemplate, I no longer get hangovers.  And best of all, I’m good at drinking.  I’m better now than I ever was.  I can glug down gin like iced tea and wake up the next morning ready to watch other people run a marathon.  It’s safe to say that I am not good at nearly enough things that I can afford to give one of them up so easily.  ”But Leonard,” I hear some of you nosey Parkers saying, “Your father was an alcoholic.”  Exactly!  Which is why it’s such a miracle that I’m not, and why it’s vital that I continue the mission of drinking myself stupid for as long as I possibly can.

FURTHER MY EDUCATION.  I could do this, or I could take all the money I get paid from my job and set it on fire.  It might be tempting if I had something to further, but I never even graduated from high school; even if there was some payoff for me going back to school, I wouldn’t get a degree worth wiping up ketchup stains with until I was in my mid-50s, and I’m pretty sure by that time the highest-paying career for proletarian scum like myself will be selling limbs for food.  Besides, if I had the knack for education, I wouldn’t have hit the rocks when I was fifteen.

GET A BETTER JOB.  I like my job, but even if I had designs in that direction, this is on the level of “win the lottery” as something you can attain through sheer personal determination.  I can barely compete with 20-year-olds for parking spaces.

GET FIT.  Uggggh.  So dreary.  Look, I have nothing against getting fit.  My body appears to have a constitutional disinclination for it, but I will admit to missing the days when I weighed in at a lean 235 instead of being a beer gut surrounded by a human donut hole.  But there is nothing remotely interesting about working out, losing weight, getting fit, fat-shaming, paying thousands of dollars to the weight loss industry, or doing any of the things you have to do to live three years longer than I will.  I always want to eat better, but hearing people talk about their dietary habits is exactly as depressing and futile as hearing retirees discuss their own failing health, which is exactly what today’s fitness enthusiasts will be doing when they’re that age.  Luckily, their obsession with the contours of their own mortality will leave them ill-equipped for any painful speculation about why they didn’t focus on getting their minds in better shape, or being better people instead of thinner people.  (Side note to vegetarians:  on most of the key elements of your argument, you are 100% right — probably even righter than you’d be comfortable with.  It’s just that I don’t care.)

ANYTHING INVOLVING MY FINANCIAL SITUATION.  I’ve discussed at length my deep distrust of any gesture towards ‘maturity’ or ‘being an adult’ that involves a massive transfer of my already meager income into the coffers of multi-billion-dollar financial institutions, so there’s no need to belabor that point.  Twice before I’ve made resolutions to save money towards my retirement, but the stock market did not make a matching resolution to not collapse due the the machinations of greedy scumbags, so it was a wasted effort both times.  Indeed, most of my financial problems come down to being under the thumb of the Man, so it seems like he’s the one who should be changing his behavior, not me.  I am working on my debt situation through the tried-and-true measure of ceaselessly avoiding my creditors, and if you check back with me in about six or seven years, I reckon it will have worked out quite nicely; and I’m well on my way towards saving a lot more money this year than I usually do, but that’s just so I can spend it later on things I like.  Unforgivably juvenile, I know.

TAKE LESS DRUGS.  Look, I’ve spend literally my entire adult life wishing I could live somewhere with a sane drug policy.  Now that I finally do, it would be terribly hypocritical to cut back on my THC intake.

TAKE FEWER DRUGS.  I won’t be doing that either, but I do have some suggestions for a few of you anent being an insufferable grammar pedant.

Basically, I plan to spend as much of 2014 as possible relaxing, reading, watching movies, listening to music, hanging out with my friends, spending time with the people I love, traveling aimlessly, maximizing my enjoyment of life, and making sport of mankind’s hilarious delusions that it will last forever and that it controls its own destiny.  But I do look forward to your end-of-year equivocations, so please do cc: me on those.  Happy new calendar, everybody!

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

The Most Beautiful Fraud: Her

aaaw nertz

Even if you’d never heard of him before, you’d know from seeing Spike Jonze’s latest, Her, that he isn’t a first-time director.  Visually speaking, it’s powerfully effective, verging on masterful; he manages to set up almost every shot, even relatively inconsequential place-setting ones, in the most precise manner to deliver whatever mood he’s trying for at the moment.  Her is, as befits a movie about computerized intelligence, saturated in its own artificiality; it looks like it was made by a high-profile advertising agency.  That would be a complaint for a lot of movies, but for Her, which often seems like a blend of a tragicomic romance and an informercial for a future that hasn’t quite arrived yet, it’s perfect; Jonze’s mise en scène is calculated to perfectly fit a movie where commercial products are designed to fill emotional voids.  He gets why advertising works so well on our neuroses and desires, and everything about Her, from its IKEA-clean apartment towers to its high-waisted pants of the future, looks like it was developed to nurture those desires.

Just as obviously, though, is the fact that Jonze is a first-time screenwriter.  Her has a lot of problems, and they’re ones that might easily have been solved by a more experienced collaborator having a go at the script; it’s hard to imagine, for example, Charlie Kaufman delivering a finished product with as many nagging problems as this movie has.  Among the mistakes made here — rookie miscalculations, all of them — are widening the focus when keeping the view narrow would have worked better; miscalculating the right moment to switch from comedy to drama; and, most fatally of all, creating a world full of questions and then failing to answer most of them.  This is an error common to a lot of genre specialists (which it is to be sincerely hoped Jonze does not become); though it’s presumptuous of a critic to outline the film he wanted to watch instead of the one he actually saw, the inescapable sensation at the end of Her is that it would have worked just as well or better without the sci-fi trappings.

Her is the story of Theodore Twombly, a gifted writer who’s given up on art and now directs his special empathy towards working at a tech company that artificially hand-crafts personal letters for people unable to express their own feelings.  Despite this gift, he’s incapable of truly committing to a relationship himself, and his marriage has recently collapsed — a reality he’s entirely unwilling to face.  (This predictive aspect of the plot and the film’s constant exercise of the theme of people being incapable of saying what they really want puts Her in the company of the mumblecore crypto-movement; thankfully, nothing else does.)  He lives and works in a near-future Los Angeles that is so similar to our own that it seems immediately disruptive when we’re introduced to the concept of an artificially intelligent computer operating system that is so indistinguishable from a human being that Twombly finds himself falling in love with his — and having to deal with the consequences when it develops more rapidly than he can cope with.

There’s a lot to love in this story.  The acting is excellent across the board; Joaquin Phoenix fully lives in the role of the gregarious but reticent Twombly, Amy Adams is predictably excellent as an old friend of his, Chris Pratt is his usual scene-stealing self as a co-worker, and Scarlett Johannson does perhaps the best acting of her career as Samantha, Twombly’s OS.  (She does so while never appearing on screen, which is, depending on your perspective, either to her credit or her detriment.)  There are some genuinely surprising and fascinating moments, especially when Samantha engages the services of a sexual surrogate in a deeply misguided attempt to step up her relationship with Twombly.  It’s pretty funny in several places, and it’s never less than visually engaging.  And like very few other romance movies, for I think it’s fair to call Her that despite the myriad distractions, it tries to deliver a lot of emotional truth, and more than a few times, it succeeds.

The biggest problem is that when it doesn’t succeed, it’s usually because the science fiction gimmick gets in the way of the story.  Time after time, aspects of Samantha’s nature are questioned when convenient and ignored when it would be difficult to provide answers.  Twombly confronts her about the artificiality of her sighs but not of her orgasms; she makes huge leaps forward in her intelligence and perception when the plot requires it to happen (that is, when it is needed to become an artificial barrier to their relationship), but why didn’t it happen when she first came on line?  Didn’t anyone beta-test this thing?  Twombly is presented as a realistically flawed but human character when the movie wants us to feel for him, but the inherently creepy quality of the whole relationship is never addressed — after all, if Samantha has true emotions and intelligence, being someone else’s property introduces a highly questionable power dynamic; and if she doesn’t, then who cares?  This all comes to ahead in the film’s final half-hour, when an aspect of her nature becomes clear when it should have been a factor all along.  This clearly was done for plot reasons, to throw a largely arbitrary roadblock into the path of their relationship; so it becomes necessary to ask, why not just make her an actual woman in the first place?  By trying to have it both ways, Jonze avoids the most essential of the emotional issues he’s spent a lot of time setting up.

All this might have been a moot point — or at least one a lot easier to ignore — if Her kept its focus just on the relationship between Twombly and Samantha.  But like a lot of neophyte writers, Jonze is enamored of his own ideas, and opens up the world to show us that everywhere you go in this bleached-white world, people are developing friendships and romances with their OSs.  All this accomplishes is to muddle the plot, suggest dozens of questions to which no answers are forthcoming, and set up conflicts that are never resolved.  It changes what could have been a very good movie into a tremendously flawed one; what remains is worth watching, but it sinks under the weight of its own elaborate conceit.  Lucky for us, Jonze is already a great director, and he can always get better as a writer.  When Kaufman went solo, his first directorial effort was Synecdoche, New York; Jonze may have a masterpiece in him on the level of his former collaborator’s debut, but Her isn’t it.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

Everyone’s a Critic, I

flavored with age

This is, of course, the time that we — and by we, I mean the fraternity (am I right, fellas?) of culture critics, publicly self-disgraced and privately self-abased, look back on the year that was and present, once and for all, our picks for the objectively greatest music and films of the year. These selections are never wrong, always definitive, and in no way colored by the limitations of our own experience, and as such, should be regarded as canonical for all people everywhere. And, for those of you who might be enraged at the lack of representation on these lists of your own preferred flavors of cultural expression, we cannot stress highly enough that in no way should you consider just ignoring us and making your own lists. Instead, we urge you to harangue us endlessly until we cave and throw in a token percentage of your self-identification of choice, thus enforcing forever the idea of a permanent and rationally selected canon as natural and right.

Thus, my picks for the best albums of 2013.

5. We’ve Got a Mother Box and We’re Gonna Use It, Brain Salad Sandwichery

For those seeking the new, the exciting, the different in pop music, there was no more compelling microgenre in 2013 than gasbeat. So fresh was this fascinating combination of trampadelica and neo-bum’s-rush that Spin Magazine-Related Web Site declared it “over” after only sixteen days; so pervasive was its influence that its practitioners denied its existence before any of them had even recorded a demo. WGAMBAWGUI was perhaps the greatest example of gasbeat’s triumph over the forces of old and anti-, and it was only bad luck that caused Brain Salad Sandwichery to be released the very week an alt-weekly critic had the bad taste to actually attempt to describe what the music sounded like, thus instantly dooming the style to irrelevancy.

4. …And You Will Know Us By the Traces of Feces, F-U-C-K in the U-S-A

The war between poptimists and rockists raged even more fiercely this year, with lines being drawn in the sand over whether a given performer’s musical worth should be settled by a large number of mostly white people of both genders, or a slightly smaller number of mostly white men only. Quarter was neither asked nor given, with Runceford Blovitz declaring in the Toonerville Bastion-Phoenix that any band that did not openly declare for Led Zeppelin was complicit in the anal soul-rape of the American maleocracy, and Klydia Stoutpunch countering at Falutin.com that records featuring guitars played by anyone other than a girl of less than 18 years of age was the audial equivalent of an unwanted pregnancy. Traces of Feces bravely bridged both sides of the argument before its tragic breakup over t-shirt design issues.

3. I’m Waiting for McMahon, Histoire de Melody Corpsevomit

There were no more vital and diverse genres of music this year than metal and jazz, which was proved by the April release of this astonishingly personal record, containing absolutely none of either. IWfMcM instantly established itself as the class of all-dropout ukulele cover bands from Cobble Hill featuring at least one woman with an asymmetrical bob hairdo dyed some variety of pinkish-purple and one man wearing an archaic style of hat tilted at an unusual angle. Their lyrics, focused with laser-like intensity on the expressionistic communication of feelings of diffidence about the decline of a relationship which both involved parties were reluctant to label, seized the imagination of dozens of Brooklyn’s most prematurely disenchanted.

2. The Scene is Mao, Their Germanic Majesties Demand

Anybody who is anybody has known since early 2012 that Remscheid is the new dance music capital of North Rhine/Westphalia and, therefore, the world. Indeed, people with a decent amount of interest in this, the most expensive, obscure, and difficult to distinguish form of electro-disco in existence, has already moved to Remscheid, gotten a job teaching English or dog-walking, and then bitterly returned to the U.S. because it used to be about the music and now it’s all just who you know, man. And for the second year running, The Scene is Mao has stood head and shoulders over its competition, going so far on its latest record as to forego beats entirely and merely stand in the DJ booth holding up nautical signal flags indicating what time signature each track is meant to be in. Post-musical music at its most music-free.

1. Ronnie James Deus Ex Machina, Weird Scenes Inside the Goldfeins

While far too many cultural commentators lined up to sound its funeral bell, hip-hop staggered on, determined to stay above ground as its own practitioners tried their best to bury it alongside other musical relics like the Great American Songbook, clean vocals, and country music by poor people. Ronnie James Deus Ex Machina, the rap supergroup made of up MC/provocateur Mary Von Erich and producer DJ Probblemmatic, embraced every controversy while using them to elevate themselves to a new artistic plane: dancing in the vicinity of women of color, enjoying music not made by their own social cohort, behaving in a manner displeasing to older conservatives, and appearing to enjoy certain aspects of wealth and fame. Plus, they’re white!

Tomorrow: movies.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

100 Guns from Now

flavored with age

1.  The Maltese Falcon (Warner Bros., October 3, 1941; John Huston, dir.)

2.  This Gun for Hire (Paramount, May 13, 1942; Frank Tuttle, dir.)

3.  Double Indemnity (Paramount, September 6, 1944; Billy Wilder, dir.)

4.  Laura (20th Century FOX, October 11, 1944; Otto Preminger, dir.)

5.  Murder, My Sweet (RKO Radio Pictures, December 18, 1944); Edward Dmytryk, dir.)

6.  Detour (P.R.C., September 30, 1945; Edgar G. Ulmer, dir.)

7.  Leave Her to Heaven (20th Century FOX, December 19, 1945; John M. Stahl, dir.)

8.  Scarlet Street (Universal, December 28, 1945; Fritz Lang, dir.)

9.  Gilda (Columbia, February 14, 1946; Charles Vidor, dir.)

10.  The Postman Always Rings Twice (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, May 2, 1946; Tay Garnett, dir.)

11.  The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (Paramount, July 24, 1946; Lewis Milestone, dir.)

12.  The Big Sleep (Warner Bros., August 23, 1946; Howard Hawks, dir.)

13.  The Killers (Universal, August 30, 1946; Robert Siodmak, dir.)

14.  Decoy (Monogram, September 14, 1946; Jack Bernhard, dir.)

15.  Dead Reckoning (Columbia, January 2, 1947; John Cromwell, dir.)

16.  The Devil Thumbs a Ride (RKO Radio Pictures, February 20, 1947; Felix E. Feist, dir.)

17.  Nora Prentiss (Warner Bros., February 21, 1947; Vincent Sherman, dir.)

18.  Born to Kill (RKO Radio Pictures, May 3, 1947; Robert Wise, dir.)

19.  Brute Force (Universal, June 20, 1947; Jules Dassin, dir.)

20.  They Won’t Believe Me (RKO Radio Pictures, July 16, 1947; Irving Pichel, dir.)

21.  Crossfire (RKO Radio Pictures, July 22, 1947; Edward Dmytryk, dir.)

22.  Body and Soul (United Artists, August 22, 1947; Robert Rossen, dir.)

23.  Kiss of Death (20th Century FOX, August 27, 1947; Henry Hathaway, dir.)

24.  Dark Passage (Warner Bros., September 5, 1947; Delmer Daves, dir.)

25.  Ride the Pink Horse (Universal, October 8, 1947; Robert Montgomery, dir.)

26.  Nightmare Alley (20th Century FOX, October 9, 1947; Edmund Goulding, dir.)

27.  Out of the Past (RKO Radio Pictures, November 13, 1947; Jacques Tourneur, dir.)

28.  The High Wall (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, December 17, 1947; Curtis Bernhardt, dir.)

29.  The Lady from Shanghai (Columbia, December 24, 1947; Orson Welles, dir.)

30.  The Naked City (Universal, March 4, 1948; Jules Dassin, dir.)

31.  Blonde Ice (Film Classics, May 20, 1948; Jack Bernhard, dir.)

32.  Raw Deal (Eagle-Lion, May 26, 1948; Anthony Mann, dir.)

33.  Key Largo (Warner Bros., June 16, 1948; John Huston, dir.)

34.  Hollow Triumph (Eagle-Lion, August 18, 1948; Steve Sekely, dir.)

35.  Pitfall (United Artists, August 24, 1948; André De Toth, dir.)

36.  Road House (20th Century FOX, September 22, 1948; Jean Negulesco, dir.)

37.  Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (Universal, October 30, 1948; Norman Foster, dir.)

38.  He Walked By Night (Eagle-Lion, November 24, 1948; Anthony Mann, dir.)

39.  Act of Violence (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, December 21, 1948; Fred Zinnemann, dir.)

40.  The Dark Past (Columbia, December 22, 1948; Rudolph Maté, dir.)

41.  Force of Evil (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, December 25, 1948; Abraham Polonsky, dir.)

42.  Criss Cross (Universal, January 12, 1949; Robert Siodmak, dir.)

43.  The Set-Up (RKO Radio Pictures, March 29, 1949; Robert Wise, dir.)

44.  Follow Me Quietly (RKO Radio Pictures, July 7, 1949; Richard Fleischer, dir.)

45.  They Live By Night (RKO Radio Pictures, August 7, 1949; Nicholas Ray, dir.)

46.  Too Late for Tears (United Artists, August 13, 1949; Byron Haskin, dir.)

47.  White Heat (Warner Bros., September 2, 1949; Raoul Walsh, dir.)

48.  Thieves’ Highway (20th Century FOX, October 10, 1949; Jules Dassin, dir.)

49.  Border Incident (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, October 28, 1949; Anthony Mann, dir.)

50.  Woman in Hiding (Universal, December 27, 1949; Michael Gordon, dir.)

51.  Gun Crazy (United Artists, January 20, 1950; Joseph H. Lewis, dir.)

52.  Night and the City (20th Century FOX, April 14, 1950; Jules Dassin, dir.)

53.  D.O.A. (United Artists, April 30, 1950; Rudolph Maté, dir.)

54.  In a Lonely Place (Columbia, May 17, 1950; Nicholas Ray, dir.)

55.  Caged (Warner Bros., May 19, 1950; John Cromwell, dir.)

56.  The Asphalt Jungle (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, May 23, 1950; John Huston, dir.)

57.  Armored Car Robbery (RKO Radio Pictures, June 8, 1950; Richard Fleischer, dir.)

58.  Where the Sidewalk Ends (20th Century FOX, June 26, 1950; Otto Preminger, dir.)

59.  Where Danger Lives (RKO Radio Pictures, July 14, 1950; John Farrow, dir.)

60.  Sunset Blvd. (Paramount, August 4, 1950; Billy Wilder, dir.)

61.  No Way Out (20th Century FOX, August 16, 1950; Joseph L. Mankiewicz, dir.)

62.  Union Station (Paramount, October 4, 1950; Rudolph Maté, dir.)

63.  Dark City (Paramount, October 17, 1950; William Dieterle, dir.)

64.  Dial 1119 (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, November 3, 1950; Gerald Mayer, dir.)

65.  Try and Get Me (United Artists, December 12, 1950; Cy Endfield, dir.)

66.  The Man Who Cheated Himself (20th Century FOX, December 26, 1950; Felix E. Feist, dir.)

67.  Under the Gun (Universal, January 26, 1951; Ted Tetzlaff, dir.)

68.  The Prowler (United Artists, May 25, 1951; Joseph Losey, dir.)

69.  Ace in the Hole (Paramount, June 14, 1951; Billy Wilder, dir.)

70.  Strangers on a Train (Warner Bros., June 30, 1951; Alfred Hitchcock, dir.)

71.  His Kind of Woman (RKO Radio Pictures, August 25, 1951; John Farrow, dir.)

72.  On Dangerous Ground (RKO Radio Pictures, December 17, 1951; Nicholas Ray, dir.)

73.  Scandal Sheet (Columbia, January 16, 1952; Phil Karlson, dir.)

74.  The Narrow Margin (RKO Radio Pictures, May 4, 1952; Richard Fleischer, dir.)

75.  The Sniper (Columbia, May 9, 1952; Edward Dmytryk, dir.)

76.  Kansas City Confidential (United Artists, November 28, 1952; Phil Karlson, dir.)

77.  The Hitch-Hiker (RKO Radio Pictures, March 20, 1953; Ida Lupino, dir.)

78.  Pickup on South Street (20th Century FOX, June 17, 1953; Samuel Fuller, dir.)

79.  City That Never Sleeps (Republic, August 7, 1953; John H. Auer, dir.)

80.  99 River Street (United Artists, October 2, 1953; Phil Karlson, dir.)

81.  The Big Heat (Columbia, October 15, 1953; Fritz Lang, dir.)

82.  Crime Wave (Warner Bros., January 12, 1954; André De Toth, dir.)

83.  Hell’s Half Acre (Republic, June 1, 1954; John H. Auer, dir.)

84.  Private Hell 36 (Filmakers Inc., September 3, 1954; Don Siegel, dir.)

85.  Naked Alibi (Universal, October 1, 1954; Jerry Hopper, dir.)

86.  Suddenly (United Artists, October 7, 1954; Lewis Allen, dir.)

87.  Crashout (Filmakers Inc., February 9, 1955; Lewis R. Foster, dir.)

88.  The Big Combo (Allied Artists, March 21, 1955; Joseph H. Lewis, dir.)

89.  Kiss Me Deadly (United Artists, May 18, 1955; Robert Aldrich, dir.)

90.  The Phenix City Story (Allied Artists, August 14, 1955; Phil Karlson, dir.)

91.  The Desperate Hours (Paramount, October 5, 1955; William Wyler, dir.)

92.  The Killer is Loose (United Artists, March 2, 1956; Budd Boetticher, dir.)

93.  While the City Sleeps (RKO Radio Pictures, May 16, 1956; Fritz Lang, dir.)

94.  The Killing (United Artists, May 20, 1956; Stanley Kubrick, dir.)

95.  Crime of Passion (United Artists, January 9, 1957; Gerd Oswald, dir.)

96.  Nightfall (Columbia, January 23, 1957; Jacques Tourneur, dir.)

97.  Sweet Smell of Success (United Artists, June 27, 1957; Alexander Mackendrick, dir.)

98.  Touch of Evil (Universal, May 21, 1958; Orson Welles, dir.)

99.  Murder By Contract (Columbia, December 22, 1958; Irving Lerner, dir.)

100.  Odds Against Tomorrow (United Artists, October 15, 1959; Robert Wise, dir.)

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

The Most Beautiful Fraud: The Big Knife

flavored with age

Clifford Odets had a curious, and tragic, Hollywood career.  Younger critics may know him less for his Hollywood product than for the savage parody of him assayed by the Coen Brothers in Barton Fink; there, they focused on the highfalutin young socialist-realist that he was, and not the embittered cynic he became — that, presumably, will be the subject of the long-rumored and possibly imminent Old Fink.  But the real-life Odets, though he bore some resemblance to the self-absorbed, fussy intellectual portrayed by John Turturro — trumpeting the glories of the theater of the common man while ignoring or deriding the actual common men he met in daily life — was also a figure of great talent, nobility, sincerity, and sensitivity.  He was a socialist playwright of great power when the times demanded it, and when he went off to make money in Hollywood, he emerged not unscathed but also not untalented.  His dealings with the crass, image-conscious, money-gobbling movie elite broke him, and he came out of the experience with one of the most jaundiced eyes for the motion picture business since Nathanael West.

The bile and scorn that bubbled inside him in his post-Hollywood days finds its purest expression in the verbal poison of 1957′s Sweet Smell of Success, but it is there in natal form in Robert Aldrich’s The Big Knife, made only a few years before.  It’s a transitional work, with just a tiny flicker of warmth in its ashen soul.  Its story centers on Charlie Castle, a Hollywood mega-star played with overly physical angst by Jack Palance; Palance wants to reconcile with his wife, a morally upstanding intellectual played by the wonderful Ida Lupino, so she and their child will come back and live with him in his huge Beverly Hills mansion.  Lupino still has feelings for Palance, who we learn was once an idealistic young lefty in the New York theater scene, but she refuses to come home if he re-ups his contract with the studio run by ruthless, egomaniacal schlock-meister Stanley Hoff (Rod Steiger).  Further complicating things are the fact that Lupino is being courted by an old writer friend of Palance’s, played by Wesley Addy, and that Palance has some career-ending dirt on Castle that he intends to use to force him to sign the contract.

Odets’ embers of idealism find expression mostly in Lupino’s and Addy’s characters; at times, Addy, who lectures Palance about the perils of being a sell-out and soured idealism that is “the perionitis of the soul”, sounds like Odets speaking directly to the audience — or perhaps directly to himself.  That level of hooty dialogue is what makes the script seem like such a transitional work; it’s clearly full of vitriolic bitterness that makes it far removed from the noble class consciousness of his younger works, but it’s got just enough hope left in it to make it distinct from the sheer, world-leveling nastiness that would rear up in Sweet Smell of Success.  Though it’s a step removed from Odets (the screenplay was actually adapted from his play by James Poe), you can see the various ages of his work emerge from scene to scene.  Addy’s high-toned lectures about the average man are straight out of the Golden Boy years; every malevolent bloviation out of Steiger’s mouth is from the darkness of his later life; and when Lupino goes through a laundry list of real-world directors who, unlike Steiger’s character, are making vital and important films about real issues, it’s hard not to see a still-optimistic Odets ticking off the names of people he wishes would hire him.

This ad other scenes, in fact, are what make The Big Knife curiously redolent of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mepris — not just in the presence of Palance, or in Lupino’s what-a-giveaway condemnation of the “contempt” in which Steiger holds everyone, but in the burning just-under-the-radar hatred for the entire studio system and its attendant convulsions and compromises.  The anti-show business show business memoir and the anti-Hollywood Hollywood picture are grand old traditions, and The Big Knife makes a heroic effort and carving itself a place in that tradition, wedged right in between the noir masterpieces of Sunset Blvd. and Sweet Smell.  It’s certainly not for lack of trying that it doesn’t often get mentioned among the great works of the genre.

What lets the air out of the whole thing can’t be laid completely at the feet of poor Odets, badly as he fares at times.  Some of the dialogue here is enjoyably nasty, but other bits are as full of hot wind as a zeppelin; likewise, the action of the film is a double-edged sword, with the overall stagey nature of the film slowing it down at times, but working in its favor in others.  Aldrich does his best to make good use of the camera (which he does in a few gorgeous shots, like an early scene were Palance spars with his personal trainer and some terrific medium-closeups where the faces of his oppressors loom like posters of Mao over Palance’s supine body).  The cinematography, which more than anything places The Big Knife in the noir idiom, is by Ernest Laszlo, who does a pretty astounding job.  The plot bogs down the longer a scene goes on, but early on, it’s almost bleak enough to read as a rehearsal for something even darker, a sort of proto-version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  

No, The Big Knifes fatal flaw is its casting, which should serve as a useful reminder that Method acting wasn’t all Brandos and Deans.  All too often, it was Palances and Steigers, who, in their every scene together, flake off enough shaved ham to fill a million chicken Kievs.  Palance (who never misses a chance to show his chest, bare his fangs, or make a menacing fist) subscribes throughout to the theory that emotional angst should always be expressed physically, and doubles over so much during scenes of great personal torment that it’s amazing nobody ever offers him a glass of Pepto.  Steiger is an absolute loon; he was only 30 years old when he made the movie, but he plays the role of a man twenty years older with the bluster of a man sixty years older.  He affects a blatantly prop-ish hearing aid and bellows every line like an air raid siren, intoning “CHAAAAAAAARLES, I SOLEMNLY ABJURE  REALISM” as if the lives of his loved ones depend on him playing to the back row of the theater.  Noir fixture Wendell Corey plays his flunky (named Smiley Coy, a name straight out of a Steve Ditko Mr. A comic) with a bit more grounded menace, but every time he delivers a line, he has to bounce it off Palance, who reacts by throwing himself against the nearest piece of furniture as if his bones have just been removed.  Lupino and Everett Sloane play with some restraint and dignity, but the latter just gets to make a lot of sad faces, and the former is given some of Odets’ most soft-baked dialogue.

All the parboiled pork being generated by Palance and Steiger don’t entirely sink The Big Knife, which is well worth seeing not only as a study of Odets’ career but as a decent example of showbiz noir.  It’s also plenty gorgeous thanks to Aldrich and Laszlo, and Frank DeVol’s thrumming jazz score is more worth listening to than a lot of the dialogue.  It’s a mid-level noir, though, at best, and it serves as a sterling example of the powers of a major writer of the period at both his greatest strength and his lowest ebb, from moment to moment, in the same picture.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

Tiki Talk

flavored with age

tikigodIt’s not such a bad life, being a tiki god outside the Tahiti-Fa’aa International Airport in Papeete.

tikigod

Nobody really worships me anymore, but the hepcat money just rolls in. And I get to watch the planes come in.

tikigod

I wonder who’s president in America now. It’s probably not still that Kennedy. I don’t get to see the paper much except when one flutters past.

tikigod

Still, almost all the people who get off the plane are white guys with expensive clothes, so I guess there can’t have been too much of a shakeup.

tikigod

It gets kind of boring during the off season, but it could be worse.

tikigod

Hapahala says that this place is a real dump compared to Sydney Airport in Australia, but I think he’s full of crap. I don’t think he’s ever even been to Australia. Unta-Tahiki says he’s never even seen him move from that rock over by the customs house.

tikigod

One good thing is that I get to work close to my wife. She’s mounted over the baggage claim.

tikigod

Of course that’s way over the hell on the other side of the building. But you don’t see me complaining! Women.

tikigod

I wonder if today’s flight will have any Japanese dudes on it. They usually come off the plane totally ripped. That’s fun to watch.

tikigod

No, it’s not such a bad life, being a tiki god outside the Tahiti-Fa’aa International Airport in Papeete.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

Good Reads for Bad Seeds

flavored with age

Hello! My name is Jimmy. I used to be new in the neighborhood too, and it can be kind of scary. Will you be my friend? It’s good to have FRIENDS. I made a new friend when I moved here, and he helped me get used to things, so it wasn’t so scary. I like my friend. Let me show you around!

*

This is my house. It’s where I go after school and where I spend most of my time. Sometimes it’s not so much fun to be at home because of the TELEVISION. The television isn’t really a friend; it’s just a thing. But it acts like it’s my friend. It tells me what it thinks I should do, and tries to get me to trust it, and that’s what friends do. But I don’t know if it has my best interests at heart. Sometimes I think about taking my dad’s hammer and hitting the television. Do you ever think about that? It’s fun to daydream.

*

This is a BANK. It’s just around the corner and up the street from my house. People come to the bank all day to get money, and to give money to the bank. It’s funny, because I keep my toys in a toy chest, but the toy chest doesn’t charge me. I guess the bank does something magical with the money and that’s why they have such nice carpets. Anyway, my dad doesn’t like the bank. Once he drank a bottle of butterscotch and said that he’d like to rob the bank. It sounded very exciting! Do you like things that are exciting?

*

This is where I go to SCHOOL. I guess this fall you’ll be going here too! It will be nice to have a new friend at school. I like going to school, even though it sometimes is boring. Everyone says how important it is to stay in school, though, so it must be true, because everyone wouldn’t say it if it was all a lie. The other kids at school are nice, at least most of the time, and there’s a few teachers who seem really interested and not just tired. Maybe you’ll get lucky and wind up with them. I hear that sometimes, bad kids bring guns to school and shoot the place up, like it was one big video game! I like video games.

*

This is where my mommy works. It’s a BUSINESS. She’s the receptionist. That means that she answers the phone, and is always nice and smiling and happy, even though people call up and yell at her sometimes. She also writes letters to people because the boss is too busy and important to do it himself. My mommy makes less money than everyone else, and the people who make the most money spend all their time golfing and talking on the phone. Once someone wrote a swear word in the paint of the boss’ car with a key. It’s not nice to swear, but his face turned all sorts of funny colors. So I hear.

*

This is where my daddy works. It’s a factory. They make CARS!  The owners want to move the factory to Mexico and get people to do the work for less money than they pay now. I hope they don’t go, because I don’t want my daddy to go to Mexico! I like it here. If the factory burned down in the middle of the night with all the owners locked inside, maybe that would solve all the problems. But what are the odds of that happening?

*

That’s my neighborhood! It’s a fun place to live and play. I’m glad you moved here! We will be good friends and have all sorts of fun times together. Before you go home, try one of these! They’re special PILLS that I take every day, even though I don’t want one all the time. They’ll help you sleep and forget bad things that you might say to someone who would misunderstand. Misunderstanding is bad. The pills are very tasty, aren’t they? Now relax…and listen carefully to the sound of my voice.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

It’s a Small World After All

great white north

Thank you for buying the Small World Guide to British Columbia!

Through the years, travel books have continually reinvented themselves in response to a changing audience. Once tailored to an elite, wealthy clientele of high-society travelers, they eventually discovered the tourism-minded middle class and, later, the budget traveler who’s always looking for bargains or seeking something a bit off the beaten path.

However, we at Small World think that there’s still farther to go. A few years ago, we asked ourselves this question: if travel books are no longer written for the well-traveled elite, or for the professional tourist, why should they be written by an entire class of jaded hacks? Why should travel writers be the same old people seeing the same old things they’ve seen a thousand times before? In short, why should you need to have actually visited a country in order to write about it?

This was our dream, our passion: to start a series of travel books for people who’ve never been there by people who’ve never been there. We don’t believe that travel books should be stuffy, ‘inside-baseball’ chronicles of people who have been there and back again so often that they no longer have any capacity for surprise. We don’t think that a group of insiders, a professional elite, can communicate the true joys of travel to you, the first-timer. That’s why we assmbled a crack staff of amateurs — novice travelers, just like you — who have never left their hometowns, let alone the United States, to assemble the Small World travel guides. They’ve put together a series of books doing research that’s casual, just like your trip. You won’t find smug know-it-alls or winking been-there-done-thats on our staff; you’ll find dedicate, intellectually curious travel writers who bring you all the expertise a 1954 World Book Encyclopedia and a 15-minute Google session at the local library can provide.

So who are the Small World writers? Knowing their thirst for knowledge, love of travel, and ability to work cheap and spell words correctly, we naturally chose college students. However, in order to avoid the sort of cynical elitism found in the Berkeley Go-Guides, and to maintain our commitment to choosing writers who have never been out of the lower 48, we culled our staff from the ranks of small community and junior colleges in landlocked states. Ranging from such diverse climes as Idaho, Iowa and Tennessee, our travel-anxious team is ready to use any resource, no matter how tenuous or dubious, to tell you what the tourist might conceivably encounter. Their prize-wanting journalism tells it like it is, or could possibly be for all you know, and their articles aren’t afraid to give you what other guides leave out: hearsay, innuendo, speculation, rumor, and half-truth.

And what kind of articles will you find in a Small World travel guide? Well, let’s just take a look at the table of contents of this very edition — the Small World Guide to British Columbia. Inside these pages, you’ll find, amongst innumerable theoretically valuable resources and factual data that’s just inaccurate enough that the World Book people don’t sue us, the following incisive articles: our senior travel writer’s overview of Seattle, Spokane, and other cities near British Columbia; our culture editor’s look at nomeansno, Kid Koala and other bands that he thinks are from Vancouver; a hotly debated point-counterpoint between two of our writers over whether the capital of British Columbia is London, because of the ‘British’ thing, or Washington, DC, because of the ‘Columbia’ thing; a special ‘Getting There’ section listing highways that look like they go to Canada and airlines that offer flights to Vancouver; our weather expert’s tips on how she heard it rains up there all the time; a lengthy and wide-ranging discussion of how, in Canada, they have free health care and, like, treat the Indians way better than here, and they don’t even have an army or fight wars or anything by our political correspondent; and a special section entitled ‘Vancouver, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia: Telling the Difference’.

It’s our commitment to fairness, understanding, and not telling you anything you couldn’t find out in half an hour by yourself that’s made Small World the ninth-biggest travel book publisher in community college bookstores nationwide. Enjoy your upcoming trip to the United States of Canada, and thanks for choosing Small World: travel books by and for people who haven’t been there, but would really like to check it out one of these days.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

Between Impression and Expression: Ang Lee

way to be!

In 1978, as I applied for film studies at the University of Illinois, my father expressed his disapproval. He quoted me a statistic: “Every year, 50,000 performers compete for 200 available roles on Broadway.” Still, I went against his advice and boarded a flight to the U.S. Since then, my father and I have had a strained relationship. In the last 20 years, we have spoken less than a hundred words to one another.

Some years later, when I graduated film school, I finally understood my father’s concern. It was nearly unheard of for a Taiwanese newcomer to make it in the American film industry. Beginning in 1983, I struggled through six years of agonizing, hopeless uncertainty. Much of the time, I was helping film crews with their equipment or working as an editor’s assistant, among other miscellaneous duties. My most painful experience involved shopping a screenplay at more than thirty different production companies, and being met with harsh rejection each time.

That year, I turned 30. There’s an old Chinese saying: “At 30, one stands firm.” Yet I couldn’t even support myself. What could I do? Keep waiting, or give up my movie-making dream? My wife gave me invaluable support.

My wife was my college classmate. She was a biology major, and after graduation, went to work for a small pharmaceutical research lab. Her income was very small. At the time, we already had our oldest son, Han, to raise. To appease my feelings of guilt, I took on all housework – cooking, cleaning, taking care of our son – in addition to reading, reviewing films and writing scripts. Every evening after preparing dinner, I would sit on the front steps with my son, telling him stories as we waited for his mother – the heroic huntress – to come home with our sustenance.

This kind of life felt rather undignified for a man. At one point, my in-laws gave their daughter (my wife) a sum of money, intended as startup capital for me to open a Chinese restaurant, hoping that a business would help support my family. But my wife refused the money. When I found out about this exchange, I stayed up several nights and decided: This dream of mine is not meant to be. I had to face reality.

Afterward (and with a heavy heart), I enrolled in a computer course at a nearby community college. At a time when employment trumped all other considerations, it seemed that only knowledge of computers could quickly make me employable. For the days that followed, I descended into malaise. My wife, noticing my unusual demeanor, discovered my schedule of classes. That night, she didn’t say anything.

The next morning, right before she got in her car to head off to work, my wife turned back and – standing there on our front steps – said, “Ang, don’t forget your dream.”

And that dream of mine – drowned by the demands of reality – came back to life. As my wife drove off, I took the class schedule out of my bag and slowly, deliberately tore it to pieces, and tossed it in the trash.

Sometime after, I obtained funding for my screenplay, and started to shoot my own films. And after that, a few of my films started to win international awards. Recalling earlier times, my wife confessed, “I’ve always believed that you only need one gift. Your gift is making films. There are so many people studying computers already, they don’t need an Ang Lee to do that. If you want that golden statue, you have to commit to the dream.”

And today, I’ve finally won that golden statue. I think my own perseverance and my wife’s immeasurable sacrifice have finally met their reward. And it’s made me more assured: I must continue making films.

(Ang Lee, on winning his first Academy Award in 2006)

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

You Make the Call

one ringy dingy

Hello?

Stan! What on earth?

Uh…you pick.

Stan, I don’t want to play guessing games. Do you know what time it is?

In jail? What are you doing in jail?

Well, obviously. I didn’t think you just stopped there to use the phone. What did you do to get arrested?

No, I don’t still want to know what time it is. Tell me what you did.

Oh, my God. Stan, that’s a very serious crime. Whatever possessed you to…wait a minute. It’s 2:30 in the morning.

Well, I mean, what banks are open at 2:30 in the morning?

You broke in? Who was supposed to open the cash drawer for you?

It’s called forethought, Stanley.

I’m not yelling. I just want to know why you couldn’t have waited until the bank opened.

A craving? You had a craving to rob a bank?

Yes, of course I know…

Stan, this is nothing like when I get the urge for pickles.

No, it’s not. So what happened then? They just picked you up right then and there?

Oh, my God.

No, I’m not judging you. I just think that first, a crowbar isn’t going to open a safe; second, we already have a crowbar at home, and third, breaking into a hardware store is just piling trouble on top of trouble.

No, I didn’t expect you to drive all the way home from across town. Maybe you could have taken it with you, is all.

Of course I’m trying to be supportive.

It’s hard to think of an ‘up side’, Stanley. I’m sorry.

All right!

I know. I know. Anyway, it’s not like you killed anyone.

Oh, Stanley.  You didn’t.

Homeless people are human beings, Stan. That’s why they call them homeless people.

You wanted to see if the crowbar worked? I fail to see how…

Yes, but that doesn’t mean that it would have been able to pry open a locked metal safe!

I’m trying to look on the bright side, Stan. You’re not making it easy.

I don’t think it counts as self-defense if you hit him first. With a crowbar.

No, that’s struggling. It’s not the same thing.

Well, you’re not a lawyer either!

Yes, I guess the courts will have to decide, won’t they? Good grief, Stan. I don’t know why you get yourself into these things. At least you didn’t have any drugs on you.

You didn’t.

Stanley, you promised.

No, I know it’s not a secure phone. But theoretically, how much PCP could you fit in a gym bag?

Why half of a gym bag?

All right. All right. Theoretically, how much PCP could you fit in the half that wasn’t taken up by your sex toys?

Stan. Stan, Stan, Stan. I wonder about you sometimes.

No, I know. I know.

Yes, I love you too. Of course I do.

No, it’s fine.

All right. So what’s the bad news?

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

Big in Japan

tune in tokyo

Greetings, new recruit of the Japanese Defense Force’s Giant Radioactive Monster Battalion!

No doubt that you, as a citizen of our great nation, have been raised with many colorful tales of the heroic struggles your predecessors in the G.R.M.B. fought in the 1950s and 1960s.  Perhaps this even influenced your decision to join.  Well, believe us:  this is not your father’s defense force, nor yet, depending on your age, that of your grandfather!

Yes, much has changed since the founding of the Giant Radioactive Monster Battalion.  For example, we are now an official organized body of the Japanese Defense Force, and not a hastily-cobbled-together squadron of soldiers pulled from their duties of ensuring that communist China does not mistake us for Taiwan.  Significant upgrades in our budget thanks to an increasingly robust economy have ensured that our air units are not passenger airliners retrofitted with wing-mounted air rifles, and our tanks (some of which you will be driving, new recruit!) do more than simply throw colorful sparks.  And a cooperative training and public education program with the Ministry of Health has resulted in a populace that will take steps to assist in evacuation procedures during a giant radioactive monster attack, rather than standing around motionless, pointing at the sky and muttering the name of the monster over and over again.

But through it all, our mission has remained the same:  to protect our beloved homeland against attacks by giant radioactive monsters.

We live in a difficult and complex period in history; Japan is truly a citizen of the world, and the world’s problems are our problems.  This means that we face many serious challenges, from global climate change to terrorism to an unpredictable economy.  But did you know that the number one cause of premature death in cities such as Honshu, Osaka, and Yokohama is still giant radioactive monster attack?  Even the commitment of the major powers to refrain from atomic testing since the early 1970s has not led to an abatement in this phenomenon.  Given the slowing of nuclear proliferation and a decreased reliance on atomic energy, we are unsure why these monsters continue to be spawned, just as we are unsure why they do not attack any nation other than Japan.  But that’s a question for the brave men and women of the Giant Radioactive Monster Studies Division of the Ministry of Science!  Here at the Giant Radioactive Monster Battalion, we don’t pretend to understand them.  We just kill them.

And kill them we will!  This little pamphlet will get you started on the path to learning what giant radioactive monsters you are likely to encounter in the course of your enlistment, and what tactics you should use against them.  Contrary to popular belief, Japan is no longer in danger from such ancient enemies as Gojira (who died in 1979), Mosura (who retired to manage a beachfront hotel in Malaysia in 1983), or Gamera (who is now a lawmaker and popular television sportscaster in the Phillipines).   No, Japan faces a whole new generation of giant radioactive monsters, and this is where you, a whole new generation of giant radioactive monster killers, come in.  You’ll learn to predict the movements of Kosumi, the Living Oil Slick.  You’ll discover the most vulnerable areas on the gigantic body of Grojan, the Thing with Six Livers.  You’ll find out what smell alerts you to the coming of Septicus, the Radioactive Waste.  You’ll finally be told why Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster, just won’t go away.  And you’ll be informed as to the best ways to ignore Zango, The Not-Very-Threatening Attention-Seeker.

As long as Japan is plagued by giant radioactive monsters, you, the Giant Radioactive Monster Battalion, will be a vital part of our defenses.  So turn to page one, and let’s learn about Cheapgar, the Man-Eating Knock-Off of the Korean Peninsula.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

whats on the tee vee

Two more hours of Idol tonight! I might literally die, and then I’d never know what eventual winner I will fail to buy any records from. Tonight is exactly the same set-up as last night, only with the boys, so let’s get right to it. Keith Urban is wearing a cheap brown leather coat (and here “cheap” means “crummy but still probably cost $8,000″); Nicki Minaj is wearing a floral top and blond wig with no jacket or hat, which has to be in violation of her contract; Randy Jackson has on a sweater with a big “R” on the front against the very real threat that he might forget what letter his name starts with; and Mariah Carey rocks the same dress as last night only in a different color, because she got babies, she got no time to think about her wardrobe and things. Let’s begin!

THE CONTESTANT: Dead-grandpa-having resident of Dumpytown Paul Jolley, who says this is his calling and that he has “so much more to give back”, because I guess he thinks singing at people is doing them a big favor.
THE SONG: “Tonight I Wanna Cry”, Keith Urban.
THE VERDICT: Paul puts on a sad face to sing this unconscionably wimpy ballad, becoming the first but not the last to suck up to Keith tonight. It’s okay, I guess, but I’ve heard better in honky-tonks all over this state and his voice breaks a few times early on, though he recovers decently. Keith is “honored” that he did the song but warns him not to over-perform; Nicki nots some strain in his voice and tells him not to be “too theatrical”. Randy starts a pattern by going ape over his mediocre performance: “I love the potentiality of you”. Mariah loves all the over-emoting, unlike “some of the other people on the panel” who “nitpick things here an there”. All is still not well between Nicki and Mariah, folks.

THE CONTESTANT: Johnny Keyser, the lug-faced clown they brought in to replace the guy who lied about being a war hero.
THE SONG: “I Won’t Give Up”, Jason Mraz.
THE VERDICT: Frankly, this guy isn’t very good — it’s easy to see why he got cut in the first place. His frat-bro crooning might cut it in the main drag bars, but it’s going nowhere on Idol. Keith blanks out for a mini-eternity before discovering the word “effortless”; Nicki is still thinking with her vag on this guy and wildly overpraises him. Randy likes him but says “there were not enough moments” and he played it too safe; Mariah says “I don’t want to get in trouble with my husband, but I love that you show your masculinity”. Mariah’s previous husband was, of course, 20 years older than her.

THE CONTESTANT: JDA (pr. “Jayda” for some reason), a.k.a. the Gayest Man in the World. JDA, explaining his occupation, says “I sell luxurious French” but then I blacked out so I don’t know what the next word was. Probably “boys”.
THE SONG: “Rumor Has It”, Adele.
THE VERDICT: JDA comes out wearing a black pantsuit from 1981 and enough glitter to choke a unicorn and sings an Adele song. Unlike Adele, he is not a terrific singer, but he is very, well, theatrical, and also I hate him. Keith says “You put on a show!”, which would be more impressive if the two of them were in a barn, but also accuses him of “counting steps”, once again adding credence to the shocking rumor that the judges this year actually know what they’re talking about. Nicki likes JDA but doesn’t like his vocals, and Randy provides the much-needed reminder that this is a singing competition. Mariah, a hag from way back, loves him and says “Your confidence level was major”, thus making him a frontrunner for American Confidence Projector.

THE CONTESTANT: Kevin Harris, nicknamed “Butta” by the never-out-of-step-with-the-times Randy Jackson. He’s a typical do-it-for-the-kids type.
THE SONG: “Everything I Do (I Do It for You)”, Bryan Adams.
THE VERDICT: I just haaaate this song, and worse, it doesn’t show off Kevin’s voice, which is otherwise pretty appealing, so it’s hard for me to like him tonight, even though he is endearingly wearing three bow ties. Keith has similarly mixed feelings, but Nicki, who’s once again all over the place, loved everything about it. Randy thinks it was a boring karaoke version of the song, and while Mariah says “You’re one of my favorites” and a “born singer”, she doesn’t think this was the right vehicle for him.

THE CONTESTANT: Chris Watson, he of the big cloudy ‘fro and the slightly ruffneck look. He a singing waiter who wants to stop waiting to be a singer and just be a singing singer…wait.
THE SONG: “(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay”, Otis Redding.
THE VERDICT: This is a hard song to own; Chris gives it some sass that isn’t really thematically appropriate but shows off his personality and charisma like kray kray. I like it quite a bit despite my usual aversion to such gimmicky renditions. Keith thought it was great all around; Nicki: “You are the prettiest man I ever saw in my life” and “I want to marry your vibrato”. The rest of the panel almost has to hold her back from coming across the table. Randy: “I guess I should continue my trend of the evening”, which is being contrary for no reason. Mariah doesn’t like the song choice, but “I hear pain and triumph in your voice”; she once again apologizes for digging the good-looking guys, like Nick Cannon is gonna beat her ass or something.

THE CONTESTANT: Pointy-headed Chicago barista Devin Velez, who Keith said was “born to sing”. He’s wearing a Perry Como outfit but does not sing “Boom Ziggety” and then take a nap.
THE SONG: “Listen”, Beyoncé.
THE VERDICT: I haven’t really been sold on this kid up to this point, but tonight his vocal performance is very good — if not spectacular, at least a lot better than the snoozers we’ve seen so far. He switches to Spanish in the middle of the song, which wins him lots of points with the people who voted for Obama, if you know what racists mean. Keith loves his performance and plays up the difference between “performers who run around the stage and singers”, which, there you go, that’s the heart of it and always has been. Nicki says it was a smart choice as an artist to sing in Spanish, which I like because they don’t often talk about the business angle of what people are doing. Randy actually likes something for the first time all night, and even Mariah sounds insightful: “I heard you critique yourself in those last few notes there, but don’t do it!”. I have to admit, the judges, more often than not, seem to really have something to say this season.

THE CONTESTANT: Elijah Liu, a teenage Chi-Mex from the LB, who puts on a ladies’ man/adolescent capitalist/boy-band vibe that just really rubs me the wrong way.
THE SONG: “Talking to the Moon”, Bruno Mars.
THE VERDICT: I don’t like anything about this kid, from his ’90s teeny-bop jawn to his pleather jacket to his weird skunk spot. At first, his voice isn’t bad by any stretch (although he sounds like one of those guys who memorizes his part and doesn’t bother to do anything beyond that), but he goes really off-key at the end, especially during the falsetto part. But boy, the audience loves him! Keith says it was a perfect song choice, but a shaky performance; Nicki gushes from every pore and calls him a “super duper star”; and even the prickly Randy says “we’re all pulling for you”. Mariah says the song “gives me that feeling, it’s a nostalgic feeling”, and claims he had “good control on the falsetto”, which is just nuts. Everyone’s oddly protective of this average-talent kid; it’s almost as if they know that pre-teen girls make up their primary audience!

THE CONTESTANT: Charlie Askew, everyone’s favorite kid with Charlie Askew Syndrome, although despite riding all this socially-awkward hype, he sure is a smoothie on stage.
THE SONG: “Rocket Man”, Elton John.
THE VERDICT: America is having a love affair with autistic people these days, huh? Well, I like this guy, so let’s ignore his part in an increasingly disturbing and unappealing cultural trend and focus on his outfit (a swanky black affair inspired by JDA, trashy Hollywood thrift stores, and a curious passion for golf endemic to many white people) and performance (solid but not stunning, but if you want to talk about finding the emotional heart of the song, he’s got it over on everyone so far). He really wants to be a big star and is playing that to the hilt, but his voice is pretty limited, so it may not be enough! Singing competition! Keith: “I bet nobody left the room during your performance”; hormonal Nicki wants to “cradle you in my arms”. Mariah smartly notes that he should focus on vocal coaching, but can’t deny his charm, even though Randy gets all bitchy and says “Sure, forget singing, let’s all just perform!” Charlie just short-circuits all their criticism with sheer personality, though — and hey, he brought the hobbit with him!

THE CONTESTANT: Pretty-boy social worker (and how often do you get to hear those words together?) Jimmy Smith from Tennessee, the big country singer of the night.
THE SONG: “Raining on Sunday”, Keith Urban.
THE VERDICT: Jimmy doesn’t have a terrible voice, but he’s riding against a wave of anti-boring-white-guy sentiment this year, and he has a problem that was common before the Reign of the Dude-Bros: his voice is unremarkable enough that it threatens to get overwhelmed by the arrangement. Keith explains that it’s hard to criticize someone who does one of your songs (although the song is actually Radney Foster’s); Nicki says it was “an okay vocal, but I was bored”, brushing him off like he was a pigeon turd on the shoulder of her jacket. Randy calls him an “interesting mixed bag that didn’t come together tonight”, and Mariah says she’s fought for him but he hasn’t lived up to his early auditions.

THE CONTESTANT: Curtis Finch Jr., the St. Louis choir director and private school tutor and one of my favorites going into this season.
THE SONG: “Superstar”, Luther Vandross.
THE VERDICT: Curtis has a fantastic voice and an amazing blend of earthy soul and full-custom gospel, and let’s fucking face it: he absolutely crushes it tonight, spilling over with creamy liquid soul-man delivery, astonishing vocal control, and sex appeal coming out the wazoo. It may prove providential that he picked a song that went over big for Ruben Studdard; “Superstar” indeed. He just makes everyone else so far look like a rank amateur. Keith thought it was beautiful but ran the risk of being over-performed (honky says what?); Nicki says he raises the bar, takes the competition to another level, and shows more and more of what he’s capable of every week. Mariah says “I wouldn’t even begin to critique you”, again showing that she may not quite apprehend what her job on this show is, but urges him to “loosen your tie and relax”. Randy calls him one of the best singers in the competition, but so as to be pointlessly negative, says “keep it young — it was kinda dope but old-fashioned”. Whatever, Randy.

Unfortunately, tonight involved some close calls, which means that preternaturally aged kabillionaire Jimmy Iovine is resuscitated and dragged back before despised humanity. He emerges from his subterranean ice chamber to give Paul Jolley another chance even though he “sang like Keith Urban auditioning for Phantom of the Opera“, haw haw. Also making it to the next round are Elijah Liu, Charlie Askew, Devin Velez, and Curtis Finch (Nikki: “Don’t even front, you know damn well you’re going through”). But we have seen the last of half-assed country crooner Jimmy Smith, urban smoove-mover Kevin “Butta” Harris, unnecessary extra black guy Chris Watson, and replacement chunkhead Johnny Keyser. So long, chumps!  I can’t argue with too many of those choices, though I might have let Chris Watson stay on and dumped Elijah Liu.

Please join me next week for more of this. I can’t live without you.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

whats on the tee vee

At this point in my life, I have been watching American Idol for 12 years — a longer time than I have done practically anything else, including date a woman, hold a job, or refrain from taking narcotics. My primary concern is just trying to remember everyone’s name, which is why I am so happy when we get to the elimination rounds; but before that, Las Vegas will host over-long episodes of something Ryan Toothpaste claims they’ve never done before: sudden death! Yes, ten of the ladies will now have to sing for their lives in an entirely unprecedented development, as long as you don’t count last week and many other times before that. (Note:  ”sudden death” refers only to elimination from the singing competition; no one, unfortunately, will be sacrificially murdered.)

Keith Urban is wearing his usual douchey open shirt; Nicki Minaj looks as virginal as she probably has in 18 years or so; Mariah Carey is showing off her child- and/or surgery-enhanced décolletage; and Randy Jackson is wearing the jacket he won for lettering in bro-dawging at the J. Funkford Derpington School for Boys Who Like Journey. Ominously, we are threatened with the prospect of Jimmy Iovine emerging from his cave troll lair to be the tie-breaker, but ten will sing and five will go home, so let’s jump right in.

THE CONTESTANT: Teenage Kentuckian Jenny Beth Willis, one of the innumerable Country Crocks offered for our margarine-like semi-pleasure this year.
THE SONG: “Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love”, Trisha Yearwood.
THE VERDICT: Jenny is wearing boots and a poofy skirt to conceal her lack of pizzazz. She’s solid as a vocalist, but hasn’t got much else going for her; she belts it home at the very end, but at that point I was off making an Old-Fashioned. Keith didn’t like the song but said her singing was “effortless”; Nicki, who is Simon with better funny voices, agrees with me; Randy, an expert on jerkiness, says “it all felt a little jerky”, and Mariah says “If I were saying this…” (you are, Mariah) “If this was my critique…” (It is, Mariah).

THE CONTESTANT: Camp Mariah grad and Queens homegirl Tenna Torres, who gets two of the judges’ votes just for existing.
THE SONG: “Soulmate”, Natasha Bedingfield.
THE VERDICT: Tenna (inexplicably pronounced “Tina”) is 28, which means by this show’s standards, she ought to be getting laser-blasted by Roscoe Lee Browne from Logan’s Run. I haven’t been impressed with her thus far, but she tears it up here, delivering a technically strong and confident performance that’s also mature and emotionally right; she says she chose not to see her boyfriend at all before the show so she could project a sense of longing. Keith says she sang a beautiful and “deceptively big” song with a lot of control; Nicki gets back at her dumb fans for not supporting Tenna, and says she has a voice that invokes ’80s R&B, but warns her to get a younger haircut. Randy says she’s the first star of the night, and Mariah uses the word “effortless”, which is collecting a lot of royalties this evening.

THE CONTESTANT: 17-year-old Alaskan Adriana Latonio, who calls herself a “small town girl” even though she is from Anchorage, which has 300,000 people.
THE SONG: “Ain’t No Way”, Aretha Franklin.
THE VERDICT: This is one of my all-time favorite songs, and I feel like, while Adriana does it with skill and flair, it’s just too grown up for her; it’s got a depth of emotional intensity that she just can’t access. Keith disagrees, saying her performance “belied your age”; Nicki says she commands the stage with no fear; Mariah gives her an A+; and Randy says “That’s Aretha”. No, Randy, that is not Aretha. You have become confused.

THE CONTESTANT: Brandy Hotard, 26-year-old psychiatric nurse from Louisiana who prepared for the viscitudes of this show by caring for the deranged.
THE SONG: “Anymore”, Travis Tritt.
THE VERDICT: This song is way too slow for the kind of country blast-barrel that Brandy aspires to be, and the result is a very unengaging performance; even the band doesn’t seem like they’re that into it. She says she wants to show off her sass and popularity, but she sure doesn’t do that here, and her performance is just okay. Keith says it “lacks emotional consistency” and that she doesn’t seem to understand the song; Nicki agrees and calls it “a pageant performance”. Randy gives that tired rap about “you didn’t tell us about the kind of artist you want to be”; Mariah: “You look pretty”, always the kiss of death.

THE CONTESTANT: Shubha Vedula, a teenaged desi as we are once again reminded by the hilarious montage of no one being able to pronounce her name, because “Shubha Vedula” is apparently that fucking hard.
THE SONG: “Born This Way”, Lady Gaga.
THE VERDICT: Silver stretch pants aside, I actually enjoy Shubha’s performance here: she starts out accompanying herself on piano, doing a sort of torch-song version of the tune before jumping right into the vampy part halfway through. It was lots of fun, but the judges loathe anything where people push against the bars of their cages, so we get to hear Keith call it “confusing”, Mariah call it “forced”, Nicki say it “sounded like a mash-up”, and Randy allegedly come to her defense by repeating and agreeing with what everyone else has already said.

THE CONTESTANT: Kamaria Owsley, Oakland-based background singer who sneaks on wearing the dopiest outfit of the night.
THE SONG: “Mr. Know-It-All”, Kelly Clarkson.
THE VERDICT: Kamaria sells the hell out of this song, and gives it a lot of swagger and confidence, but her voice seems a bit flat and hesitant throughout; she says she had trouble hearing but is a champ about not using that as an excuse. Keith says she seemed lost; Nicki says she looked good but didn’t sound good; Randy didn’t like it at all and busts out his first “pitchy” comment of the season; and Mariah says it was the wrong song choice, but that she feels like Kamaria could step into any studio at any time.

THE CONTESTANT: Kree Harrison, whose name I have been spelling wrong all this time, and who is a “demo singer”, whatever that is.
THE SONG: “Up to the Mountain”, Patty Griffin.
THE VERDICT: Kree, who is wearing a voluminous tent of a blouse that makes her look pregnant and has that weird way a lot of untrained singers do of flapping their hands all over but not moving the rest of their bodies at all, is decent to good, but the song bores me. The fix is in for her, though: “authenticity, natural singer” (Keith); “the other girls should be very afraid of you” (Nicki); “natural singer” (Mariah); “lost in the song, organic, natural singer, blah blah, bring me some sliders” (Randy).

THE CONTESTANT: Angela Miller, who killed it last time with her hit-worthy original song, and is back in a perfectly tailored new outfit.
THE SONG: “Nobody’s Perfect”, Jessie J.
THE VERDICT: Angela is flawless, almost too good — not robotic, just so on the nose she almost sounds like a ringer. Keith talks about her huge talent, her great gift and her “ability to do it big or small”; Nicki says her only risk is not living up to her own original materia; Randy says we’re seeing “the building of a superstar”; and Mariah claims rather poetically to have been “clothed in goosebumps and bathed in tears”. We might be seeing the Kelly Clarkson Mark II treatment happening here, folks.

THE CONTESTANT: Isabelle of the vanishing last name, a 22-year-old Georgian who used to be fat and wants to prove to other girls that they can “overcome anything”, because I guess being fat is something that needs to be ‘overcome’.
THE SONG: “God Bless the Child”, Billie Holiday.
THE VERDICT: Sure, let’s just keep pretending that white people can sing this song, shall we? She’s just not suited to its jazzy, bluesy vibe, and instead shouts over it like she’s trying to beat it into submission. Almost everybody likes it except Mariah (who blames the crap arrangement) and Randy, who thinks it wasn’t the song for her, but who congratulates her for “getting your health under control”, because fat people are all diseased.

THE CONTESTANT: 18-year-old Houston teacher (?) Amber Holcomb.
THE SONG: “My Funny Valentine”, Chet Baker.
THE VERDICT: Amber, a leftover from last year, says she’s more confident and showy this year, and proceeds to prove it by singing the slowest, most turgid version of “My Funny Valentine” ever recorded. This is a bad way to showcase Amber’s dynamite voice; it’s too stodgy and plodding. But she’s in fine form and blows the judges away with her skill at singing, if not at picking songs: Keith calls her “technically flawless”, Nicki gives her an A++++, Randy tells her to believe in herself, and Mariah says “I want to slap you”, which I guess is a compliment in Glitterworld.

Thankfully, the judging is unanimous and there will be no need for Jimmy Iovine to rumble forth from the crypt — and thank God for it, that guy makes my head shrink. With the verdicts coming with 20 minutes left in the show there’s a ton of padding, but luckily if you’re reading this instead of watching the show I can cut right to the chase for you: sent home are Jenny Beth Willis and her amazing lack of personality; unfortunately named Brandy Hotard; Isabelle One-Name (to the boos of the audience); Kamaria Owlsey and her sassed-up outfit; and Shubha Vedula of some crazy country where the names are not like ours here on Earth. Tenna Torres, Angela Miller, Amber Holcomb, Adriana Latonio, and Kree Harrison (who earns a nice fakeout from Mariah: “You know I never liked you, right?”) all move on. I would have voted exactly the same way except I’d have hung on to Shubha and dropped Adriana, whose appeal so far escapes me. Ah well — nothing outrageous, no one truly incompetent gets a pass and no one spectacular gets sent home. Join me tomorrow when ten guys go through the same process, and hopefully there will be less crying, because if I wanted to hear teenage girls cry, I’d go back to selling speed out behind the scholars equipment shed.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

According to Hell

party time

Klansman. This game is no different from Amarillo, except that the center cards are laid out in the shape of a cross. The card in the center of the cross is then set on fire. Once the entire structure is burning, the players take turns stabbling, punching or kicking a member of the group who is an ethnic minority, a red or a Jew. If all players are white Christians, the first player to draw a low card is sent out to find a suitable neighbor at which to direct the other players’ abuse. Tens are wild.

Retard Henry. This game is the same as International Falls, except that the lowest exposed cards and all other cards of the same rank are wild. The first player to turn such a card is named Retard Henry and is locked into the host’s bedroom for the remainder of the evening. Occasionally he should be fed scraps of food which have gone off, and members of the group are encouraged to sexually interfere with him. An optional house rule involves Retard Henry being assigned commonplace tasks requiring low intelligence, such as cleaning toilets or disposing of refuse.

Mississippi Choke ‘Em. The same as Squaw-Tits, except that after the first betting interval, three of the center cards are turned up at the same time. There is a further betting interval at which anyone folding is strangled with a bent wire hanger. Then the fourth and fifth cards are turned over with a betting interval after each. At the end of the round, only the winning player should be left alive.

Sawed-Off Shotgun. The deal and draw are as in standard draw poker, except as follows: after each player has received three cards, the deal is suspended for a betting interval. Each player shall have been issued, before the initial deal, a sawed-off shotgun, which he should keep under the table. During the betting interval, players are encouraged to gutshoot any other player they feel is a significant threat. If the player to the immediate right of the deceased is able to guess who fired the fatal shot, he may discard a single card from his hand and draw a new one; if he guesses wrong, he must sit in the decedent’s chair without first moving the body.

Three-Card Monty. Each layer recieves three cards, all dealt face down, but the deal is interrupted after each round for a betting interval in which they must tell an anectdote from the life of the British general Bernard Law Montgomery. If they are unable to do so, they are offered, as was Montgomery’s archnemisis Erwin Rommel, a choice of suicide or execution. This game is also played high-low, with the ace ranking high in a high hand and low in a low hand. Usually, declarations are required, and losers are sent to the Eastern Front.

Two-Card Priscilla. Each player receives two cards, face down. There is one betting interval and a showdown, to be conducted at high noon in the main street of town. Players are to take ten paces and then draw (pistols as well as cards). Straights and flushes do not count, a pair being the highest hand, and players who are not fatally injured are allowed to stay in the game. This game is usually played with wild cards, either deuces or ‘one-eyes’ (the jacks and spades of hearts, the king of diamonds, and any players who have lost an eye in previous play). It is often played high-low, with high being rooftop snipers hired by winners of previous hands and low being the unmarked graves in which losers are buried.

Volcano. Two-card poker played at high-low, often with deuces wild, and with an exchange available for any player sacrificing a virgin directly before the first betting interval.

Black and Blue. In betting and settlement, Black and Blue is the same as Hell’s Half-Acre; but it is not the rank of poker hands which decides the result. All players must bring a significant other, who they then strike in the face after each card is dealt. All visible injuries have a “plus” value while all blows that leave no immediate mark have a “minus” value; however, if the partner loses consciousness or dies, the player forfeits the hand. The wearing of jewelry is highly encouraged, though not required, in this game. There is a deal of five cards and a betting interval as in Andy’s Viscera; then a draw followed by another round of punchings and another betting interval. This is followed by a showdown in which the highest and lowest hand divide the pot. At this point, the partners change and the punchers become the punched.

Serbian Horsefucker. There is no difference between this game and Macedonian Bloodspit, except for the presence of the horse, the method of determining a wild card, and the manner in which the blood is let.

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

One to Lie and One to Listen

post-structuralist fu

Oh, lies. Lies are what make us human, what keep us from being bored to death; lies are the very foundation of our civilization. (Sure, when Pablo Picasso says stuff like this, you say he’s profound; when I say it, you roll your eyes at me.) Lies form the basis of our faiths (“There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet”), our politics (“All men are created equal”), and our societies (“Anyone can grow up to be a millionaire”), and what’s more, they grant us nobility by allowing us excuses to fuck and kill each other, rather than doing it for no reason like some stupid animal.

And yet, why is there no taxonomy of lies? To lump them all together, to commingle through lack of effort the lies of Nixon with the lies of Swift, is to mock the great and wonderful human capacity for compartmentalization. Sure, every kid in Boogie Down has a poster of Linnaeus on the wall of his bedroom, and any hipster chick worth her Asthmatic Kitty baby tee can tell you the difference between an ignorantio elenchi and a dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter. But where is the man who will teach us to keep our crookedness straight, to show us the difference between a dirty lyin’ dog and a dissimulating son-of-a-bitch, to remind us that not only is A not always A, but that there’s more than one way of saying that A is in fact Q?

Ladies and gentlemen, I am that man. I bring you Initial Notes on a Taxonomy of Lies, with the formal names of each bogosity in cod-Japanese because Latin is played.

KYOGEN TAI-WAGAMI (The Lie Against Myself). This lie, known as “rationalization” in the Freudian idiom, is an extremely common sort of lie, commited on an almost minute-by-minute basis by almost everyone. Unlike the other-directed falsehoods that follow, the purpose of this lie is to forestall suicide by convincing yourself that your current path is really for the best, and that there’s no need to take particular notice of the festering gut-bag that you are in reality. It can take the form of simple self-deception (“This job isn’t so bad, and besides, I’m really making a difference”) to outright fabrication (“I don’t need to work out today, because I worked out harder than usual on Wednesday”). This is generally an extremely desirable type of lie, and even if it weren’t, it’s impossible to get rid of, like capitalism and groin comedy.

Example: instead of “I am unattractive and have a repellant personality”, say “I can’t relate to the women of today”.

KYOGEN I-DATSUROU (The Lie of Omission). This lie, a favorite of the elderly, convalescents, residents of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and other people leading a low-energy lifestyle, allows one to lie without actually saying anything. In more primitive times, before we learned that it was never appropriate to have unspoken thoughts, it was known as “tact”. It is still the lie of choice for many self-important people because they don’t consider it to actually be lying, and for some reason they think not lying is desirable. Note that this lie is not to be found on the internet.

Example: instead of “Thank you for reading your poetry to me; it was boring, pretentious, and horribly clumsy, and to call it sophomoric would be to unjustly slander many talented second-year college students”, say ” “.

KYOGEN TAI-HONMEI (The Lie Against Certainty). This lie is similar to the kyogen i-datsurou, especially insofar as  people who don’t like to be thought of as liars often employ it so that they may later congratulate themselves on not lying; but here, rather than not saying anything, one says something that can be interpreted as neutral, or even positive — anything but the mockery and disdain that usually lies behind it. Any time the word “interesting” is employed, a kyogen tai-honmei has been committed.

Example: instead of “That dress makes you look disgustingly fat, even for you”, say “That dress really emphasizes your figure”.

HIRUTAI KYOGEN (The Simple Lie). This lie is the most basic of other-directed lies, consisting of a statement contrary to actual events or opinions. It is easily mastered, low-maintainence, and useful in any number of situations — all the hallmarks of a classic. Unlike the more subtle and graceful sorts of lis, it can be used by anyone of any age or level of experience; indeed, children are often more adept at it than their adult counterparts. The downside of this type of falsehood is that its very democratic nature works against it: its commonality has rendered it the least socially acceptable kind of lie. When somone calls you a “lying fuckface”, it is usually in response to a hirutai kyogen. Nonetheless, it is a perennial favorite that is never out of style.

Example: instead of “I am fucking your girlfriend”, say “No, I am not fucking your girlfriend”.

KYOGEN AIRONIKARU (The Ironic Lie). This lie, while deceptively similar to the Simple Lie, is in fact a form of lying so subtle and profound that some people do not believe it to be lying at all. The Ironic Lie, which requires a lifetime to truly master and has been perfected by only a few extremely brilliant practicioners in New York, Paris, and parts of Ireland, consists of saying something that is, generally speaking, exactly the opposite of what you mean, and then — and here is where the devilish difficulty comes in — placing the burden on the listener to recognize that you are lying. Not only does this elevate it beyond the level of base and common lying, but it allows the liar to place the blame on his audience, rather than on himself, if he is ever caught in the lie. While incredibly effective and remarkably graceful, the Ironic Lie is fiendishly difficult, requiring not only sharply honed lying skills and a judicious use of language, but a significant financial investment in the quotation mark industry. Simply put, the kyogen aironikaru is the Cadillac of lies. (Note: rumors have been circulating since fall of 2001 that irony is, in fact, dead. Experts are said to be looking into the matter.)

Example: instead of “I am fucking your girlfriend”, say “Oh, yeah. I’m ‘fucking’ your girlfriend”.

KYOGEN I-SHOUHOU (The Lie of Commerce). This lie, which is well on its way to supplanting most of the other types of lies though a vigorous breeding rate, is the other-directed lie perfected. The art of it lies not so much in the nature of the lie itself, but rather in the liar’s ability to convince her audience that the lie is not only true, but in fact quite outstanding. While looked down upon by traditional practitioners of lying, the Lie of Commerce has attracted some of America’s best and brightest, who say that it’s pointing the way to the future and that other types of lying had better get on board for the big win. If you have no particular talent or skill, but are gifted at stringing together a lot of words and concepts that don’t really mean anything, the kyogen i-shouhou is probably for you.

Example: instead of “Give me $300 a month for the rest of your life”, say “You’re in good hands with Allstate”.

KYOGEN I-GESAKU (The Lie of Fiction). This lie, of which your author has reluctantly become a practitioner in the wake of rampant rumors about the death of irony, is unique among falsehoods in that it is not only acceptable, but actively encouraged. Some people even attribute a sort of nobility, a greatness to this form of systematized lying, which is amazing considering how complete its falsity; it’s quite simple for a skilled practitioner of kyogen i-gesaku to construct a standard English sentence in which every single word is a lie. The trick is to know when it is appropriate and when it is not; for instance, following a confession that you have stolen your friend’s car, used it to rob several convenience stores, and employed it in aid of the vehicular manslaughter of a handful of municipal law enforcement officers, it is usually improper to say it was just for a story you made up.

Example: instead of “I am a neurotic guilty Catholic with a variety of sexual dysfunctions”, say “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

whats on the tee vee

A dreamily short entry tonight, and thank God for it, since I feel like I’ve been recapping this show for twenty years now. I’m not sure what tonight is supposed to accomplish, but then I am reminded that (a) this is the final night of Hollywood Week, where Idol treats everyone like discarded Kleenex, and (b) it has indeed been six years since a woman won the competition. Will that be rectified tonight? Of course not, silly, there are still six billion episodes to go before they pick a winner. But we will lose a bunch of people, which is lucky for me, because I can barely even remember my parents’ names anymore.

Tonight, Mariah Carey is wearing a red dress from a 1980s low-budget comedy; Keith Urban is in his usual cheap ‘graphics’ tee; Nicki Minaj is a Private First Class stationed at Fort Bazonga; and Randy Jackson is wearing the same thing Randy always wears in my mind, which is a dunce cap reading “POTATO CHIPS”. Angela Miller is first up, and takes the big risk of choosing to sing her own material — a song about “being separated from your baggage”, which all of us who have flown commercial airlines can relate to. It’s really not that great a song, but it’s pretty damn amazing for a kid her age to have that kind of piano and compositional skills, so she earns a standing O from the judges. I wouldn’t buy the thing, but there’s a lot of people who would, so that makes her a contender. She’s also immediately the kid-or-animal that no one wants to follow, but Candice Glover buckles down and singles “This Girl is On Fire” like a girl who is actually on fire, and also has purple hair. She can’t help but fade a bit next to Angela, but she still absolutely smokes the vocal, and that counts for a lot. Finally, Janelle Arthur, the least annoying of the country-fried crooners, delivers pretty nicely, and all of them make it through.

So far, the most interesting contestant in season 12 is Zoanette Johnson, the human grenade, tearing people apart with shards of filthy charisma and inconsistent nail polish. Tonight, she goes into full Chaka Khan mode, drumming her way through a self-penned number with murderously bad lyrics; it’s an explosive mess, but she exudes that crazy James Brown force-of-nature charismatic insanity that just kills me. She makes it through, as does master of the power bomb Jet Hermano, but Kiara Lanier gets sent packing. Shubha Vedula sucks up to Mariah, but actually makes her cover slightly more interesting by adding some grit to the out-of-control melisma. Juliana Chahayed, who I don’t think we’ve ever seen before, baby-bops through a Fleetwood Mac song. Finally, Kez Ban sings an original song while prettied up in a hotcha outfit chosen for her by the all-purpose Zoanette, but her voice is still shot, she seems narcotized, and her guitar playing is kind of crap, probably from handling all that fire. She gets sent back home, but at the last minute, Ryan Toothpaste offers her a job as a boom mic operator, after which she is savagely beaten by union reps.

In the next round, we learn that Ashlee Feliciano has dragged her family along to watch her auditions, so it will be extra fun when she fails. Claiming illness, she starts out all loosey-goosey and then completely falls apart on the falsetto, crashing loudly on each note like a drunk falling off the end of your couch and onto your end table. So long, Ashlee. Randy is bummed out because everyone is so serious. Ha ha, it’s almost as if their entire careers are on the line because of the arbitrary judgment of an ex-Journey bass player! I guess he wants more songs about hot dogs or something, and he lets Melinda Adeni’s perky performance get a free pass even though she’s not very good. Cree Harrison: “sob story genuine authenticity sincerity performer heart superstar before our eyes”, according to Nicki Minaj. I may have fallen asleep at this point, because Cree’s alleged star power is still invisible to me. Serena-Joi Crowe and hyper-freaky human mood swing Janel Stinney also get their walking papers.

It turns out that Randy is bad at math, so in order to get to a fat 42 contestants for the actual competitive rounds, we have to lose a bunch more people. Lauren, Holly and Marie all get tossed for no reason; I’m not sure who any of them are, but now I never have to find out. There’s still one left to lose, so bottle-blonde Stephanie Schimel and trout-mushed Rachel Hale have to sing themselves on or off of the show. Stephanie does an unimpressive but competent version of that Phillip Phillips song they play when someone on a prime time soap opera is sad, and Rachel sounds exactly like she always has on every other song she’s done, but she’s the one who gets to stay. Back to selling discounted peignoirs at the mall for you, Stephanie. Next, the guys have to be winnowed down because Randy thinks twenty-four is the highest number; we lose Peter Garrett, the kid who looks like a lesbian who works at Pottery Barn, as well as Marvin Calderon, Devin Jones, Kenny Harrison, Will White, Tony Foster, David Leathers, and a bunch of other people I can’t remember hearing in the first place. In the end, it comes down to a showdown between Adam “Sings Like a Girl” Sanders and Josh “Nondescript” Holliday. Adam knows his shit musically, but he’s also a jerk, and he blows it by pulling a Kurt Hummel and requesting a song that, even dropped down an octave, is out of his vocal range. Josh wants to sing gospel songs to a God that has ill equipped him to do such a thing, but he still sounds better than hearing Adam’s voice crack, so he stays, and also splits his pants, which seems to excite Keith Urban a little more than it should.

Next week, we finally move on to the actual voting rounds and individual performances, so I better haul ass and figure out all these peoples’ names. Be there or grow hair!

Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.

Profile

flavored with age
ludickid
Gun-totin', Chronic-smokin' Hearse Initiator
Ludic Log

PROPRIETOR

Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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