Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tension Rising in Mexico

Events in Mexico could take an ugly turn in the next few days. Mexican newspapers are reporting that Federal forces may launch an attack on the capital of Oaxaca, where thousands of teachers have been on strike since last May. The APPO (Popular Assembly of the Oaxacan People), an umbrella organization made up of the teachers and their supporters, which include students, the indigenous, farmers and other workers, have declared a Red Alert and are refusing to back down. Designated "Operation Oaxaca," the attack could occur as early as Friday or Saturday and has already been approved by President Vicente Fox. Fox has been under pressure from the incoming administration of Felipe Calderon, of the right-wing PAN party, to resolve the growing crisis in Oaxaca before the inauguration ceremony on December 1. That is, IF, the inauguration takes place. Manuel López Obrador, the center-left PRD candidate who lost the closely contested election and still claims the results were rigged, has convened a ''national democratic convention'' and joined forces with two smaller parties to construct a parallel government. He plans his inauguration for November 20 and has said that he will disrupt Calderon's official inauguration on December 1.

Up till now, some of the teachers and their supporters in Oaxaca have viewed López Obrador and the PRD with suspicion - just another part of the corrupt and failed political system that continues to favor the rich. The situation in Oaxaca has been closer in spirit to that of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, part of a long-term grassroots political movement led by the people, or “the other campaign,” as it has been termed. While López Obrador has been branded an extreme leftist in a lot of U.S. coverage, his candidacy was actually rejected by parts of the left in Mexico for promoting the same neo-liberal policies as the other political parties. Subcomandante Marcos, for example, refused to endorse any of the candidates in the recent Presidential election and asked supporters of the Zapatistas to not vote for any of them. While most people in the U.S. pin their political hopes on the outcome of Presidential elections and the two-party system, an interesting development has been taking place in Mexico since the appearance of the Zapatistas in 1994 - a growing movement away from existing political structures towards newly developed methods of conducting politics from the ground up. We have nothing comparable in the United States right now, at least not developed to the extent it has been in Mexico. The teachers' strike in Oaxaca continues this trend. One wonders what would happen, however, if the situation in Oaxaca, led from “down below,” becomes linked more directly with López Obrador and his reformist efforts “from above.” Already last week, Subcomandante Marcos came out in public and agreed that election had been fraudulent and that López Obrador, who he has long disliked, was the legitimate winner. Could this be a sign that these two movements might collaborate more, at least temporarily? Perhaps, though Marcos has emphasized that the two movements are on distinct paths.

By sending Federal forces to attack the teachers in Oaxaca, could Calderon (via Fox) be warning López Obrador that he might be next? Most Mexicans are against using violence to resolve the situation in Oaxaca, but it wouldn't be the first time that a movement of poor people was violently attacked in Mexico to maintain the political system. And it's all happening right at our doorstep.

Actually, it's not even at our doorstep – it’s here, too. The economic situation in Oaxaca, which has the second largest indigenous population in Mexico, has been beyond terrible. EDUCA, a Oaxacan education and development organization, reports that 75% of the state's 3.4 million residents live in extreme poverty. Many of the Mexican immigrants in the U.S. are from Oaxaca. Some of them, especially in California, have been here a while and have formed political organizations such as the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (the Frente). In 2002, when one of their members was arrested in Mexico, they launched large and effective protests in Fresno, CA. If the present situation in Oaxaca escalates into violence and repression, it will no doubt have direct reverberations in the U.S. as well.

Interesting that the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution is just around the corner.

UPDATED: Five minutes after posting, I came across an article in The New York Times (via Reuters): "Panic Shopping in Mexico's Oaxaca as Crisis Deepens." Incredibly, the article makes no reference at all to the impending attack of Federal forces, which may be a tiny reason WHY people are panic shopping, as has been discussed in the Mexican Press. Thanks, NYT, for that in-depth coverage. But, hey, at least they finally sniffed out the story.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Serious Look at Official Silly Blogging Day

After 15 months of intense preparation, I was ready to launch a triple-threat blog post today on Jean-Paul Sartre's Being & Nothingness, Martin Heidegger's Being & Time, and Thomas Wright Waller's Time & Nothingness, but then Liam went and declared this Official Silly Blogging Day, so all of my research (including an interview with the last remaining existentialist in the Northern Hemisphere, one Mrs. Humphrey Dingledorff, 93, of Chastise, Mo.) went out the window, the window of opportunity only open between 8:37 am this morning and 6:14 this evening. Thanks a lot, Liam.

But out of deference to Liam, and because I think he's on to something serious with Official Silly Blogging Day, and because I want to use all the cool "Generate-your-own-sign" things he led me to on his blog, I'll abandon my 15-month research project and adapt to the present situation.

What I can offer is a kind of abbreviated analysis of these three historical and life-changing tomes:

1) Being & Nothingness - Jean-Paul's version of To Be or Not To Be rocks. Or at least that's what I've heard. I haven't actually read it yet. But I was going to. Really.

2) Being & Time - Marty's masterpiece is a fairly thick paperback, if I may say so myself. It's right there on the shelf, between The Raymond Chandler Omnibus and Julio Cortázar's Around the Day in 80 Worlds, which is a wonderful book that my wife picked up for me at the Strand Bookstore in New York on her way back to Madrid several years ago. Cortázar seriously rocked. Really. Especially Cronopios and Famas. And Blow-Up, of course, which Antonioni made into a film in the 1960s that was in English and had some British dude in it, even though the story was written by an Argentine who lived in Paris and the director was an Italian. Go figure. But what can I say of Being & Time? Well, it looks pretty daunting. I own it. I've even picked it up a few times and thumbed through the pages. And once, after drinking too much, I actually opened it up and read the first page. Six times, to be exact. I think it's probably an important work.

3) Time & Nothingness - I’m on a little firmer ground here. The famous 20th century American philosopher Thomas Wright Waller (better known as “Fats” Waller) gave the world this classic work (better known as “Loafin’ Time) in 1935, at the height of, uh, well, the 1930s. He takes a penetrating look at time and its complex relationship to nothingness. He confronts these two themes head-on, as it were. Part spiritual tract, part philosophical meditation, and part swing masterpiece. He lays it on the line for us:

I just love this lazy way of living
Honey, don't you know, doing nothing ain't no sin
If it is, I hope that I'm forgiven
'Cause I've got nothing to do and I've got all day to do it in.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell, isn’t it? Doing nothing is NOT a sin. (Notice the skillful use of the triple negative.) But if it IS a sin (notice how he shows doubt and certainty at the same time), I hope that G-d, in his infinite mercy and love of swing jazz, offers me forgiveness. What is jazz all about in the end if it isn’t about time? How time can stretch and bend and generally be more fluid in than we’re normally accustomed to in our everyday lives. Jazz says, “Be-bop, re-bop,” which we can interpret as, “Slow down, buddy, and smell the roses.” Connections here to Taoism and Buddhism. Life is going by pretty fast, but if you enter jazz (i.e., spiritual living), you can move at a different pace and observe things more closely. You can live in harmony with everything around you, which is all interconnected anyway and gets tangled up in your pajama legs at night. It’s not a sin if you sit on your G-d given derriere and listen to Fats Waller. Or better, if you turn out the lights and lay on the floor with someone you love and listen to Lester Young playing “Blue Lester.” Think I’m joking? Charles Simic, one of our greatest contemporary American poets commented on this phenomenon in his personal notebook:

The closeness of two people listening together to music they both love. There’s no more perfect union. I remember a summer evening, a good bottle of white wine and Helen and I listening to Prez play “Blue Lester.” We were so attentive, as only those who have heard a piece a hundred times can be, so this time it seemed the piece lasted forever.

The recording of “Blue Lester,” which lasts 3 minutes and 22 seconds in our limited space-time world, seemed to last forever. Because it does. Lester is still playing his tenor saxophone, and Fats Waller is still singing “I’ve got nothing to do and I’ve got all day to do it in,” and Cortázar is still writing his beautifully funny stories, and Siddartha Gautama’s still sitting under his tree, and I’m still writing this silly entry on Official Silly Blogging Day and will be even after I stop.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Song Stuck in My Head When I Woke Up This Morning

I had a dream that I was playing piano. I was also part of the music, which took the form of something like mercury. This was the song - a great, underrated Beatles tune.

The Beatles ~ Hey Bulldog

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Recent Screenings

Winter Light (1962) – Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, starring Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow and Ingrid Thulin.

My G-d this is a bleak film. Powerful. Important, perhaps. With tremendous acting from all three principals. And interesting and excellent direction from Bergman. But incredibly bleak. Even Sven Nykvist’s cinematography, which can be so beautiful and poetic, cuts sharp, harsh and without mercy. There’s not a single frame of this film that offers any comfort. There's no way out, which is what I think Bergman was getting at. People often discuss his existentialism or atheism, but it struck me after watching this that there's actually something Buddhistic in his outlook. But, oh man, it's tough going. We really enjoyed the first part of Bergman’s Silence Trilogy, Through a Glass Darkly, (see previous Recent Screenings) and were looking forward to this one. In the end, I don’t think Winter Light is as complete a film as the previous one. And it’s certainly not as enjoyable. But it has lingered with me for two weeks, and I respect that. And Bergman is one of the very few directors who truly and deeply probes the tougher spiritual questions. Oh man, if you want to spend a dreary winter afternoon with a Lutheran priest in a dead parish as he loses faith in the Almighty, offers no help to a suicidal parishioner and treats cruelly the one person who loves him, then this is the film for you. Thank G-d Bergman keeps it to 80 minutes. Another half-hour of this and I’d have been listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Dress Rehearsal Rag” and fingering my safety razor. RECOMMENDED (But Not for Everyone). 8/10

I Married a Witch (1942) – Directed by René Clair, starring Veronica Lake and Fredric March.

Brooklyn girl Veronica Lake was on quite a roll in 1942, starring in the great Sullivan’s Travels, two excellent film noir efforts with Alan Ladd - This Gun for Hire (based on a novel by Graham Greene) and The Glass Key (based on a novel by Dashiel Hammett) - and this delightful supernatural comedy about a witch who entangles herself in the life of a Gubernatorial candidate, played by Fredric March. As good an actor as March was, and he was very good and deserves to be remembered more than he is, Veronica steals the show. She somehow manages to be mischievous, innocent, hilarious and sexy all at the same time. Directed by the great French director René Clair (The Italian Straw Hat, Le Millon) during his sojourn in Hollywood, the film moves along at a quick clip and has several wonderful comic moments. (It would later serve as the basis for the television show Bewitched.) Unfortunately for Lake, her life wasn’t exactly a laughing matter. After a meteoric rise to the top, when she was courted by Howard Hughes and Aristotle Onassis, her career plummeted almost as quickly. A reporter discovered her again in the 1960s working as a barmaid in a New York hotel. But her films in the early 1940s remain a testament to a very special and beautiful talent. RECOMMENDED. 7-8/10.

Syriana (2005) – Written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, Amanda Peet, Christopher Plummer.

In scope and style, this reminded me of Steven Soderberg’s Traffic, and it turns out to have been written by the same guy. It’s a good film in many ways and does an excellent job showing the interconnections (obvious and not so obvious) of global petrol politics. But it’s incredibly hard to follow at times. We stopped the DVD on several occasions, trying to figure out who was who and what exactly was happening. Probably would have worked better as a mini-series, something along the lines of those BBC efforts to tackle John LeCarré’s complex works. As it stands, I came away a bit frustrated, but I also wanted to read the book it was based on. And I want to see the film again at some point, which is a good sign. So, we'll say it's problematic but worthwhile. You won't get many films talking about global politics as well as this on does. Clooney does a fine job, but I’m not sure why he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Oh, right, because he wasn’t going to get Best Director for Good Night, and Good Luck. RECOMMENDED. 7/10

The Farmer's Daughter (1947) – Directed by H.C. Potter, starring Loretta Young, Joseph Cotten, Ethel Barrymore.

What a pleasant surprise. La Reina was a bit down one Friday, so I worked overtime to find something she’d like. I did an advanced search on IMDB for all comedies produced in the U.S. between 1934 and 1950 that had IMDB rankings higher than 6.0. I went carefully through the list – it’s scary how many we’d already seen - and this was one I’d never heard of. But the film earned Loretta Young an Oscar for Best Actress, it had good reviews and, most importantly, it starred Joseph Cotten, who La Reina has always had a bit of a crush on. I thought she would like it, and I think she did, but I may have enjoyed it even more. The lovely Loretta Young (The Bishop’s Wife) plays a Swedish farm girl who leaves home to go to nursing school in “Capital City.” But she immediately runs into trouble and winds up having to take a temporary job as a waitress at a political shindig hosted by a wealthy family whose son, Cotten, is a young, idealistic Congressman. Loretta winds up working for the family and gets more involved in politics until she actually winds up running for office herself. It’s very much a Frank Capra-esque film – sort of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington but with a strong-willed woman and Swedish farmers. It’s sentimental, yes, but it’s also got an intelligently done script that supplies plenty of comedy, some good bi-partisan pokes at corrupt politics (you’re never given the names of the parties), a little action ( a fight scene involving Loretta’s hunky Swedish brothers from the farm), great acting by all invloved, and some nicely developed interpersonal relationships. (Oh, yes, and romance, of course.) The film also features splendid cinematography, including two well-constructed scenes that really knocked me out, the kind of rare gems that make movie-watching so pleasurable. And I'll admit it, I’m a sucker for those 1930s-40s films when the common guy or gal would take on the crooked political system and win. We can laugh now at the naiveté, but there are some strong little speeches tucked away in these films, including one here, and they really show that our political system hasn’t changed much over time, only our attitudes toward it have become increasingly cynical. Anyway, The Farmer’s Daughter isn’t the greatest film ever made, but I think it could be a pleasant surpise for other people besides me. RECOMMENDED. 8/10

Portrait of Jennie (1948) – Directed by William Dieterle, starring Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten and Ethel Barrymore.

If you’re noticing a pattern here, you’re right. I re-kindled La Reina’s crush on Joseph Cotten, so we had to do a little Joseph Cotten film cycle. Cotten’s next film after The Farmer’s Daughter, actually won him an award for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival in 1948. He was at the peak of his career in the late 1940s. The film after this one turned out to be one of the all-time greats, The Third Man. In Portrait of Jennie, he plays a down-on-his-luck artist who encounters a quirky young girl in Central Park one night. She inspires him to do new and powerful art, so he keeps looking for her in the park. But something strange is going on with the girl. He becomes more and more obsessed with her and the mystery deepens, leading him to paint more intensely and find himself on a journey to track her down that eventually climaxes in a raging sea-storm. Cinematographer Joseph H. August does several interesting things in this film, using a filter to create a canvas-like effect at times; manipulating shadows for a strange, dreamy atmosphere; and actually shooting some of the best realistic shots of New York City that I’ve ever seen in a Hollywood film. The score by Dimitri Tiompkin is based on themes by Debussy and enhances the lyrical melancholy of the film. Some will find it overly sentimental, but I liked the mood it created. A dark and aching romanticism. 7-8/10.

Gaslight (1944) – Directed by George Cukor, starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten and Angela Lansbury.

Ingrid won an Academy Award for Best Actress for this role, and the film was nominated for seven Oscars altogether, including Best Picture, which it lost to the tepid Going My Way. (The nominee that should have won that year, hands down, was Double Indemnity.) Boyer was nominated for Best Actor (losing to Herr Bing) and Angela Lansbury, in her first role, received a nod for Best Supporting Actress. They all deserved their nominations. Joseph Cotten, the reason we watched this one to begin with, wasn’t nominated for his role, but he also does well. Gaslight is a classic psychological thriller about . . . er . . . a newlywed couple. I’d heard so much about the film, and have certainly used the phrase “to gaslight someone,” though I haven’t actually engaged in the practice, or at least not so that La Reina would notice. Amazingly, the film lived up to my expectations. A great, moody atmosphere, though it’s almost too oppressive at times – just when I was about to beg for mercy, it let up. And I have to say, though he never really gets mentioned as one of the Great American Directors, George Cukor had an incredible career, directing four of my Top 100 Favorite Films: Holiday, Born Yesterday, Adam’s Rib and The Philadelphia Story, not to mention Gone with the Wind (with about 3 other people), A Star is Born, Dinner at Eight, My Fair Lady and several other classics. RECOMMENDED. 8/10

The White Countess
(2005) – Directed by James Ivory, screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, starring Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, and Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave.

Set in Shanghai in 1936, The White Countess has a cool, exotic atmosphere, some very strong acting, and an interesting storyline, but the parts never really come together as a whole and the film plods along without much energy. The script by Ishiguro, author of The Remains of the Day, works well, so I pin the blame on James Ivory’s direction. Fiennes plays a former American diplomat who worked with the League of Nations but has lost everything (including his sight) in the violence of various international conflicts, leaving him fatalistic about politics and life. Richardson is a countess from Russia who now lives in poverty in Shanghai and has to work as a “hostess” in nightclubs and sometimes sleep with the clientele in order to support her once aristocratic family. She and Fiennes are both excellent. (In fact, Fiennes has been excellent in two other films I've seen recently, The Constant Gardener and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.) The Redgrave sisters show up as Natasha's mother and aunt, and, of course, they really are her mother and aunt, except that in this case her mother plays her aunt and her aunt plays her mother. Or something like that. Just to keep you on your toes, I guess. The soundtrack to the film offers an interesting melange of swing jazz with Asian touches, melancholy Russian songs and a beautiful score. The White Countess is worth watching, but it could have been something special. 6-7/10.

Good Night, Constance Ockelman

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Dada Iraq

Hugo Ball performing "Karawane" at Cabaret Voltaire, 1916

From the diaries of Hugo Ball, one of the founders of Dada:

18 may 1921

“Some strange things happen. In the English budget a thousand pounds are requested to build a mosque in Mesopotamia as compensation for a tree that English soldiers pulled down. According to tradition, this tree was the genuine ‘tree of knowledge’ from the Garden of Eden from which the serpent seduced Eve. The tree of knowledge collapsed under the weight of the soldiers who were having their photograph taken in its branches.”

From Flight out of time [English translation of Die Flucht aus der Zeit]. Viking Press, 1974.

After those elephant days at the Cabaret Voltaire, Ball re-joined the Catholic church and became something of a mystic. He studied the saints John Climacus, Dionysius the Aeropagite, and Simeon Stylites, and wrote two religious works: Byzantinisches Christentum and Die Folgen der Reformation [The Consequences of the Reformation].

Meanwhile, after the British destroyed the Tree of Knowledge, their empire went into permanent decline.

Though they did manage to produce the Beatles.

Iraq, on the other hand, did smashingly well. At least if you were Sunni. And later a Bathist. And you didn't look at Saddam Hussein in the wrong way. And you didn't happened to be living there when the New Brits - whose leaders hadn't bothered to read Hugo Ball or a simple history on the British in Mesopotamia - blessed the country with Democracy. (Afterwards the New Brits' Empire went into permanent decline.)

Democracy, version 2.0

For more information on Hugo Ball, try

For more information on Dada, take today's newspaper and turn to page 13. In the bottom right-hand corner, you should see some text or an image from an advertisement. Cut it out. Take the clipping outside and hand it to the first stranger you see wearing a hat. Next, remove your left shoe, place it on top of your head and begin chanting, "There are no chickens in the warehouse! There are no fish in the matrix!" When you are tired of this, or the police have come, return to your home, throw away the newspaper and write down the first 20 words that come into your head. Mail this to five friends and ask them to do the same thing. You have started a revolution. You are Dada.

Or, you can go see the big exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which runs until last Monday, September 11th. (Dada in an art museum. Like making a plastic mould of your breath.)

For more information on Iraq, stop reading this idiotic post and go to Juan Cole's website.

For more information on Simeon Stylites, one must definitely waste time at, which offers an animated website about St. Simeon.

For more information on St. John Climacus and his Ladder of Divine Ascent (or, The Stairway to Paradise) [see image, left] go to Orthodoxwiki. Or listen to this recording.

For a good time, call (631) 902-3177.

For more information about information, or information about cyberspace, or nothing in particular, or nothingness in particular try this.

jolifanto bambla ô falli bambla

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ann Richards (1933-2006)

After bashing the Democrats yesterday, one of the few I really liked upped and died. Damn it, Ann.

She was the REAL Texas politician - not the Connecticut Bushes who came down for the oil. I've included some of her quotes below. But to really get a sense of her in action, try this hilarious speech at the Washington Gridiron Club (transcript courtesy of the Texas State Archives), where she gets to roast George Bush and all of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates in the 1992 election.

The Austin American-Statesman offers quite a bit of coverage, but you have to do a free subscription, to read anything, so here's an article about her from the Brits.

Ann Richards:

I am delighted to be here with you this evening because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like." (1988 keynote address, Democratic National Convention)

The here and now is all we have, and if we play it right it's all we'll need."

"There's something a little scary about funny women. There was a survey done one time where they asked women what they were most afraid of from men. And their response was they were most afraid of being hit or beaten or hurt from men. They asked men what they were most afraid of from women, and they said being laughed at."

"They blame the low income women for ruining the country because they are staying home with their children and not going out to work. They blame the middle income women for ruining the country because they go out to work and do not stay home to take care of their children."

"Let me tell you, sisters, seeing dried egg on a plate in the morning is a lot dirtier than anything I've had to deal with in politics."

"I have always had the feeling I could do anything and my dad told me I could. I was in college before I found out he might be wrong."

"Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels."

"I thought I knew Texas pretty well, but I had no notion of its size until I campaigned it."

"I've always said that in politics, your enemies can't hurt you, but your friends will kill you."

"Teaching was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I have done to date."

"I have a real soft spot in my heart for librarians and people who care about books.”

Ann Richards on How to Be a Good Republican:

1. You have to believe that the nation's current 8-year prosperity was due to the work of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, but yesterday's gasoline prices are all Clinton's fault.

2. You have to believe that those privileged from birth achieve success all on their own.

3. You have to be against all government programs, but expect Social Security checks on time.

4. You have to believe that AIDS victims deserve their disease, but smokers with lung cancer and overweight individuals with heart disease don't deserve theirs.

5. You have to appreciate the power rush that comes with sporting a gun.

6. You have to believe . . . everything Rush Limbaugh says.

7. You have to believe that the agricultural, restaurant, housing and hotel industries can survive without immigrant labor.

8. You have to believe God hates homosexuality, but loves the death penalty.

9. You have to believe society is color-blind and growing up black in America doesn't diminish your opportunities, but you still won't vote for Alan Keyes.

10. You have to believe that pollution is OK as long as it makes a profit.

11. You have to believe in prayer in schools, as long as you don't pray to Allah or Buddha.

12. You have to believe Newt Gingrich and Henry Hyde were really faithful husbands.

13. You have to believe speaking a few Spanish phrases makes you instantly popular in the barrio.

14. You have to believe that only your own teenagers are still virgins.

15. You have to be against government interference in business, until your oil company, corporation or Savings and Loan is about to go broke and you beg for a government bail out.

16. You love Jesus and Jesus loves you and, by the way, Jesus shares your hatred for AIDS victims, homosexuals, and President Clinton.

17. You have to believe government has nothing to do with providing police protection, national defense, and building roads.

18. You have to believe a poor, minority student with a disciplinary history and failing grades will be admitted into an elite private school with a $1,000 voucher.

"I did not want my tombstone to read, 'She kept a really clean house.' I think I'd like them to remember me by saying, 'She opened government to everyone.'''

Take 'er easy, Ann

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why We Love Politics, Part 1

You've gotta love the Democrats. Oh my, what moral outrage among Liberals because the Republican Party wants Joe Lieberman to beat Ned Lamont in the Connecticut race for senator. What fervent rants and high-minded diatribe against Lieberman for such an underhanded strategy as to court conservatives.

So why hadn't I seen much about the Arizona primary on DailyKos or Huffington? The New York Times offers a clue:

"The front-runner in the Republican primary, according to the most recent poll, is Randy Graf . . . a supporter of the Minuteman Project, a civilian border patrol group; [Graf] has campaigned on a pledge to ensure that illegal immigrants have no path to citizenship and that the border will be further secured.

But so concerned are national Republicans about Mr. Graf, who once sponsored a bill to let patrons carry guns into bars and restaurants (it did not pass), that they have taken the rare step of spending more than $200,000 on advertising endorsing the more moderate Steve Huffman, also a former state representative."

Sounds reasonable. You don't want a supporter of a racist paramilitary organization representing your party. Liberals should rejoice, right? After all, comments on DailyKos have said Graf is "far right . . . the poster-boy for the far-right, anti-immigrant wing . . . he's waaaaayyyyy off to the right." The Dems will be glad to see him gone, taken care of in the democratic process of a primary election, right? Right?

"The national Democratic Party has made it clear that it would like to see Mr. Graf as the Republican candidate. It has spent nearly $200,000 here, a large part of that for advertisements critical of Mr. Huffman in an effort to help Mr. Graf’s candidacy."

Uh . . . excuse me?

So if GOP support for Lieberman clearly shows that Lieberman was always a closet Republican, does the Dems giving $200,000 to a right-wing racist in Arizona mean that Graf is actually a closet Democrat?

It may just be politics, but it's pretty disgusting. I can't believe the national Democrat Party has given almost a quarter of a millions dollars to help a far-right racist win an election. What about giving that kind of money to an organization that teaches racial tolerance and letting the Republicans fight their own damn battles? Instead of combatting racism, which certainly needs to be done right now, the Democrats stoop to Karl-Rove-like tactics. Probably because their own candidate, like a lot of their candidates, has so little to offer.

This is why I haven't been a registered Democrat for several years now, and why I've never regretted it for a moment. I would vote for Lamont if I had the chance, but I can't abide this kind of crap. Whoever made this decision in the Democratic Party (my guess is that it's the DCCC) should be ashamed of themselves. (As if that were possible.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

100 Yards of War and Peace - And a Poem

It seems a little early - no autumn leaves falling yet - but the National Football League kicks off its new season on Thursday night. I love football, what can I say. The Texas thing, perhaps. For some reason, I don't remember why now, I once wrote: Basketball is like a video game, baseball like a Whitman poem on a lazy summer afternoon, and football is Napoleon’s march into Russia. It’s War and Peace over 100 yards. I thought of that line again just a few days ago, as I was reading through various predictions for the upcoming season. Then, this morning, I see New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini refer to Tolstoy’s masterpiece in an article in the New York Times: “The positive thing about game-planning is the playbook goes from War and Peace to something a lot more manageable, because it’s so opponent-specific.”

What’s great about football is how it combines the gracefulness of dance, the intelligence and strategy of chess, and the sweaty, grunting, primordial struggle of one human body against another. It's the beautiful, acrobatic catches of Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann, who “took several years of dance lessons that included ballet, tap and jazz. They helped a great deal with body control, balance, a sense of rhythm, and timing." In 1980, he danced on stage with Gene Kelly and Twyla Tharp. It's Curtis Martin and Shaun Alexander, who have been the leading NFL rushers for the last two years, and who are also avid chess players. Alexander has even set up a chess-in-the schools program. It's the brilliant strategizing of Bill Belichick, head coach of the 3-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. And it's the goal-line stand, a powerful archetype of: “You shall not cross this line and defeat us.” Or: “We will, by whatever means necessary, cross this line.” One of the greatest football games of all time came down to a massive pile of bodies at the goal line - on an icy field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, New Year's Eve, 1967, with the wind chill at -40 degrees. The Ice Bowl. My childhood team, Tom Landry's Dallas Cowboys, losing a heartbreaker to the Vince Lombardi-led Packers. (Landry had been the brilliant offensive coordinator and Lombardi the brilliant defensive coordinator for the great New York Giants teams of the 1950s.) With time running out, Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr slammed through a massive defensive wall to barely cross into the end zone.

Bart Starr (#15), barely over the goal line, as time ran out.

I can't go away without mentioning James Wright. One of the greatest American poets of the 20th century wrote what I think is the best poem ever about football:

Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.

From The Branch Will Not Break by James Wright, published by Wesleyan University Press. Copyright © 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963 James Wright.

Luckily the Academy of American Poets ( has both the poem and a 1964 recording of Wright reading it at the Guggenheim Museum.

I don't know what will happen this season. Most so-called experts pick the Jets to be one of the worst teams in the league this year, finishing at 4-12 or 5-11. That's okay - I prefer the low expectations. Last year, many people (including yours truly) thought they were legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and they wound up 4-12. In a space of 5 minutes, they lost their #1 and #2 quarterbacks for the season. Future Hall-of-Famer Curtis Martin, who holds an NFL record (with Barry Sanders) for rushing over 1,000 yards for 10 consecutive seasons, and is one of the classiest guys in the sport, as well as one of the toughest, was seriously injured and couldn't finish the season. Kevin Mawae, another classic warrior, who once played for weeks with a broken hand (the guy's a center and had to learn to snap with his left hand, no small feat), tore his pectoral muscle and was out for the year. It all went downhill fast. So, fine, let's say they're going to be 4-12. Then maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

But whatever happens, I know that an epic narrative will slowly unfold week after week over the course of the next 5 months. There will be tragedy, comedy, drama, pathos, and euphoria. Like the best of all sports - and literature - there's a great story waiting to be told. And we don't know what will happen next.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sunday Afternoon Miscellany

Things are really heating up in Mexico, yet with the exception of a few patronizing articles in the New York Times, who wishes Lopez Obrador and the little brown people would stop being so uppity, I don't see much steady coverage in the U.S. media about what's going on. And I haven't seen anything among "Liberal" bloggers. While all eyes are on the Middle East or mid-term elections, our next-door neighbor is veering deeper and deeper into a violent crisis that sounds at times like the lead-up to a civil war. The fight over the presidential election continues. Lopez Obrador, the PRD candidate who lost by 240,000 votes out of 41 million, and who claims there was serious fraud in the ballot counting, is threatening to set up a parallel government and to disrupt the swearing-in ceremony for PAN candidate Felipe Calderon. He and thousands of his supporters have been living in tents in Mexico City's main plaza for 36 days now. At the same time, the ongoing teacher's strike in Oaxaca has turned quite violent and has now become a referendum on ousting the governor of the state. About the only news in the U.S. about Mexico has been the increasingly racist rhetoric about illegal immigrants ruining our country. Ironically, if our eyes are on the Middle East, the most consistent and thorough coverage of Mexico that I've seenin the English-language press has been on Al-Jazeera, who at least recognizes an important international story when it sees one, including a front-page article today. To its credit, the U.S State Department at least knows something is up, as they've just released a Travel Warning for Oaxaca, telling U.S. citizens to "remain in their hotels or homes." According to them, "teachers, students, and other groups have engaged in increasingly violent demonstrations in and around Oaxaca City for several months." As far as I know, it isn't the teachers who have been killing people but right-wing paramilitary who have killed at least two teachers.

Jeff at Aun Estamos Vivos has an interesting post today on FDR - FDR's First 100 Days and the Saving of Democracy. I also enjoyed his book meme, and see that he also listed Woody Allen's Without Feathers as a book that made him laugh.

Egyptian novelist
Naguib Mahfouz died this week at the age of 94. He is the only Arab to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He's one of the many writers I've always meant to read but haven't. I can even picture myself at some point, thumbing through one of his books. A shame to wait until he was dead for me to get interested. I'm going to see if I can pick up Midaq Alley this week, though, which was recommended as a good starting point. And just how good a marketing move is it for a major novelist to kick the bucket? On August 29, 2006, the Sales Rank for Midaq Alley was #24,761. Today it's #1,210.

An interesting headline (via Susie Madrak's site): ICE arrests 15 aliens in Roswell working for U.S. military contractor.

Something to ponder:

"The inner, subtle essences can be contemplated only by sucking, not by knowing."

Isaac the Blind, 12th-13th century Jewish mystic

Recent Soundtrack

I've been on an Italian kick the last week or two, listening repeatedly to the first three of these.

Paolo Conte Reveries (Nonesuch 2003) - Italian singer-songwriter Conte has a gruff voice along the lines of Louis Armstrong or Tom Waits, and some of his music incorporates similar jazz and folk elements. Think also Yves Montand, Piaf and a French/Italian cafe sound. The title tune, "Reveries," which he actually sings in French, is one of the most beautiful tunes I've heard in a while. La Reina says "I Giardini Pensili Hanno Fatto Il Loro Tempo" sounds like a carnival in outer space, and she hits it on the head. Reveries is a mixture of the atmospheric, joyful, meditative, and rollicking. With great lyrics that come translated in the liner notes. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Paolo Conte The Best of Paolo Conte (Nonesuch 2000) - Though Conte has been around since the early 70s and was already a fairly well-known international star, it took this CD to finally bring him some attention in the U.S. A good selection of some of his classic tunes. Some will recognize "Via Con Me," which was used in French Kiss (1995), an underrated romantic comedy (Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline) with a great soundtrack. RECOMMENDED.

Gianmaria Testa Extra-Muros (La chant du monde 1996) - Testa also has a raspy voice and strong jazz and folk elements, mixed with a cabaret style. He's a little jazzier than Conte, and some songs here, especially track 2, "Un Po' Di La Del Mare," actually reminds me a lot of Bruce Cockburn circa Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws, particularly the bass work. Like Conte, he's also a poet, and his lyrics, while sparser than Conte's, are quite strong. I said Conte's "Reveries" was one of the most beautiful tunes I'd heard in a long time - the other would be the opening song on Extra-Muros, "Per accompagnarti," an achingly lovely song. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Gianmaria Testa Altre Latitudini (La chant du monde 2004) - I just got this one and haven't listened to it as much, but it also seems quite strong. RECOMMENDED.

Various Artists Italian Cafe
(Putumayo World Music 2005) - This is a fun CD and what eventually led me to Gianmaria Testa; it includes two of his tunes. A little uneven at times and not as poetic as Conte or Testa's albums, but a good one for exploring some of this music. It also has two great tracks by Paolo Conte's brother, Giorgio. Alas, I haven't been able to find one of his CDs yet.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Song Stuck in My Head When I Woke Up This Morning

"Le plat pays" by Jacques Brel

A List of Books

Liam recently put together a "book meme" and asked five of his friends to do the same. I hate chain-letterish things, so I swore under my breath that I wouldn't do it. But I liked what he wrote, and I appreciate his choosing me. Plus, I enjoyed trying to work through some of the questions. (And, of course, I'm self-centered and want everyone to know what I think about certain books.) I refuse, however, to ask anyone else to do it. (But if you read the list and don't do your own, the phone may ring and your prayers may or may not be answered, and, G-d forbid, your pinkie may get caught in the blender. Or worse. You may be cursed with receiving an endless number of chain letters.)

Weldon Kees

1. One book that changed your life: The Voice That Is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century, edited by Hayden Carruth (Bantam Books, 1970). When I was about fifteen years old, I stole this chubby little paperback in an act of adolescent bravado/stupidity. Most of my experience with poetry up to that point had come via rock and roll. (“I am the Lizard King. I can do anything.”) Poetry on the page seemed a little uncool, something forced upon me by an unforgiving educational institution. Suddenly, with this book, a new world blossomed open; it was like a lightning flash that opened up a magical door. In the work of poets such as Frank O’Hara, Weldon Kees, and T.S. Eliot, I found a whole range of new and interesting voices. The stories they told me about life weren’t the same stories I had gotten from television, school lessons, movies or even rock music. The world out there suddenly seemed a lot bigger and more mysterious, a little darker, a little more intense, but also more intriguing and exciting. I stopped trying to write rock songs and began crafting my words for the page. After a couple of decades and many, many moves, I still have my battered and bruised copy of the book - its cover barely held on by strapping tape - and it still brings me great pleasure. Luckily, I stole a great anthology. Carruth did an excellent job with the poets he included and by choosing interesting work that wasn’t typically anthologized. He did so well, in fact, that the book is still in print after 36 years, an amazing feat for a poetry anthology.

2. One book that you've read more than once: I haven’t read that many books all the way through more than once. I tend to re-read parts of books, sometimes numerous times. I think especially of Pensées by Pascal, Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by Trungpa Rinpoche, the Bible, Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme, and lots of poetry. I guess there are a handful of novels I’ve read straight-through twice: The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway and The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler come to mind. Also Going after Cacciato by Tim O’Brien.

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island: The Norton Anthology of World Literature. From a practical standpoint, I can’t imagine a better choice. It contains 43 complete works (The Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno, Hamlet, Madame Bovary, Death in Venice, etc.) and large chunks of other major works. It also contains a good selection of texts from every major spiritual tradition. And hey, what other book can give you Sappho, Hildegard of Bingen, Rumi, García Marquez, and the dada poems of Tristan Tzara?

La Reina says this selection doesn’t count, however, because it’s a six-volume set. Like she’s suddenly an expert on Desert Island Rules & Regulations. I argue back that there’s a single ISBN and a single Library of Congress catalog record for this title, so it should be counted as one book. (I forget to mention that there are also individual ISBNs and catalog records for each volume, because that would only confuse matters.) We’re having dinner (veggie burgers and fresh green beans), and the conversation’s getting heated now. “And what about the Bible,” I add. “It’s actually a collection of books. Are you saying I could only take Ecclesiastes instead of the whole thing? You want me to tear out that part so it counts?” “But the Bible is contained within one set of covers,” she says, “so it’s okay.” “Oh, so I couldn’t take my three old paperbacks of The Lord of the Rings, but I could take a one-volume edition? That doesn’t make any sense.” This seems to confuse her. She looks like she’s getting ready to flick a green bean at me. I decide I better cool it. “Well, then, I’ll just take the one-volume edition of How to Get off a Desert Island When You’re Stuck with a Cranky Woman.” And that’s when she lovingly offers me her green bean.

4. One book that made you laugh: Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme. La Reina says she can always tell when I'm reading Barthleme, because I have a particular kind of laugh. Kind of mischievous, she says. Brilliant, insightful, poetic, tremendously creative, and terribly funny, Barthelme ultimately conveys a great sense of wonder and humanity, as well as a deep appreciation for the tragic absurdity of life. This collection covers his work from the 1960s and 70s. Almost as good is Forty Stories, which covers some of his later work as well, including the wonderful "Overnight to Many Distant Cities." Honorable mention has to go to Without Feathers, by Woody Allen. I was reading it in the library one day in college and had to put it down because I was laughing so hard everyone started looking at me.

5. One book that made you cry: This was a tough one. I couldn't remember ever having cried while reading a book, though I figured it must have happened at some point. I've cried watching films. I've cried listening to music a number of times. Why shouldn't I cry at a book? I remember the end of Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls impacting me powerfully, but I wasn't crying. I still feel haunted by that final scene, though. Reading about Lester Young, Marvin Gaye and Eric Dolphy could have easily left me in tears. I just couldn’t recall. Finally, after a few days, something popped into my head. I remember getting choked up while listening to a tape of Martin Luther King’s speech the night before he died, which reminded me that I also shed tears at some point while reading through A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Harper & Row, 1986). It could have been his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” or “A Christmas Sermon on Peace, 1967.” It’s a powerful collection from one of the greatest human beings of the 20th Century.

Ben Webster

6. One book you wish had been written: A novel by Raymond Carver. In his great essay, "Fires," he talks about stealing out into his car at night to scribble his short stories and how he never had the time to write a novel. After a long, brave struggle to recover from alcoholism, he finally found some success as a writer and started to attain a bit of financial security. Only to die of cancer. Life sucks sometimes. It would also be nice to read a biography of the great tenor saxophonist Ben Webster. But at least we have his music.

7. One book you wish had never been written: In response to Liam’s answer to this question, I suggested that the world might have been better off if the Bible hadn’t been written, because so much bloodshed and inhumanity had resulted from it. (The same could probably be said of other major religious works). But then we would have missed out on a lot of beautiful and meaningful writing as well. As Saint Tom said, “If I exorcise my devils, well my angels may leave, too, and when they leave, they’re so hard to find.” Plus, it’s not the fault of the book, it’s the fault of the people who interpret the book according to their own desires, in order to justify whatever crap it is they’re trying to pull. Still, if we believed that Horton Hears a Who had been inspired by G-d and decided to start using it as the sacred text of our civilization, would we really come up with the Crusades again?

8. One book you're currently reading: The Revenge of God: the resurgence of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism in the modern world, by Gilles Kepel. (Originally published in France in 1991, translated by Alan Braley for Penn State University Press, 1994.) Kepel is a leading French scholar of Islam, Professor of Political Science in Paris. His book Jihad: On the Trail of Political Islam is considered by some to be one of the essential texts right now on what’s happening in the Middle East. (See, for example, Juan Cole’s useful Reading List.) I read Kepel's Bad Moon Rising, his (short) personal journal of traveling in the Middle East and the U.S. right after 9/11 and thought it was a unique and lyrical work. The Revenge of God is a more straightforward look at similarities between Islam, Christianity and Judaism as they have responded over the last half-century to “the crisis of modernism” and the perceived threats of secular humanism. He discusses attempts at re-Christianization, re-Islamization, and re-Judaization “from above” (by seizing political power, i.e. Khomeini and the Iranian revolution) and “from below” (via longterm grassroots efforts that can eventually exert political pressure, i.e. the Religious Right in the U.S.) Catholics may find his discussion of Vatican II interesting for being slightly different than one might expect, and for his foresight (he wrote this in 1991) in focusing on a prime mover in the Vatican’s efforts at re-Christianization, a certain Cardinal Ratzinger. He also spends a fair amount of time analyzing the Communion and Liberation movement in Italy, which I knew nothing about, and the charismatic movement in France that was inspired by the charismatic movement in the U.S. a decade earlier. (French charismatics, who knew?! I can only imagine what they sound like speaking in tongues. And how bitchy they get if you don’t speak in tongues as well as they do.) Of course, given Kepel’s background, the strength of the book is probably in his look at Islam and the various movements within it during the last part of the 20th century. I haven’t gotten to the part about the religious right in the U.S., but I did read criticism of that part of the book in a review, that it wasn't a very thorough or accurate analysis. I also haven’t gotten to the part about Judaism, so I don’t know what he covers there. His book is similar to the last part of Karen Armstrong’s Islam, which also discusses militant Islam and fundamentalist Christianity as reactions to a world that has lost its sense of the spiritual in the aftermath of the Enlightenment. It’s an interesting topic, and I find both of their takes on it to be respectful yet concerned, which is I guess where I find myself. I’d like to think that there’s a healthier middle ground than the extremes of Stalinism on one hand and al-Qaeda or the Moral Majority on the other. As I look around right now, I see religion to blame in part or entirely for much of the worst violence taking place in our world – militant Islamic terrorism, the U.S invasion of Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian nightmare, and the disturbing Pakistani-Indian situation, just to mention a few. I think it’s time for everyone to chill out and put their gods back in their holsters. I doubt Kepel is going to mention any positive paths forward in this book; he’s mainly interested in looking at how we got to this point. That other book is still waiting to be written. And it will be – because this topic is only going to become more important as the 21st century plods forward.

9. One book you've been meaning to read: Ulysses by James Joyce. One of these days, one of these days. I keep waiting for the movie version, but no such luck.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Recent Screenings

Bas-fonds, Les [The Lower Depths] (1936) - Directed by Jean Renoir, screenplay by Renoir and Charles Spaak (based on the play by Maxim Gorky), starring Jean Gabin, Louis Jouvet, et al. Renoir, Gabin and Spaak teamed up the following year for Grande illusion, one of the great films of all-time. Les Bas-fonds never reaches that level, but it's very strong and definitely worth watching. Despite its title and its setting among destitute characters living in a flophouse, the film has a good sense of humor and a strong dose of Renoir's humanity, which prevent it from ever getting dreary. A good pace, great dialogue, excellent camera work and Jean Gabin. I often refer to him as a mix of Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart. He's more like Tracy here. Louis Jouvet as the Baron is a delight. RECOMMENDED. 8/10

Through a glass darkly (1961) - Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, cinematography by Sven Nykvist, starring Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Harriet Andersson and Lars Passgård. The first part of a trilogy that includes Winter Light and The Silence, Through a Glass Darkly won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Björnstrand plays a writer who has had trouble matching his earlier success and who has become somewhat estranged from his children in the pursuit of his art. He joins his 17 year-old son, his daughter, and her husband for a vacation on an island. The daughter, Karin, struggles with her sanity, and the emotional and spiritual tension increases until the film reaches a haunting climax that transforms all parties involved. Part coming-of-age story, part theological exploration, part psychological thriller. Excellent writing and acting. Andersson's portrayal of the daughter is especially powerful. Nykvist's beautiful camera work adds a lot to the interesting, somewhat melancholy atmosphere. I hadn't seen a Bergman film in a while, and this was a great reminder of how good he really was. I'm looking forward to the other two parts of the trilogy. RECOMMENDED. 8/10

Jane Eyre (1944) - Directed by Robert Stevenson, screenplay by Stevenson, Aldous Huxley and John Houseman, starrring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. La Reina loves Charlotte Bronte's book (yes, so do I), and this is the third film version we've seen. Given the people involved in the project, I was hoping for a little more. Like many other literary figures who wound up in the brave new world of Hollywood, Huxley struggled as a screenwriter, and I can't say that he and Houseman really do justice to the original work. They actually show you pages of a book at times, and Fontaine reads little bits in a voice over, but the passages aren't really from Bronte's book and don't stand up to her own writing. (I can't decide if that's an interesting post-modern touch or just a misleading Hollywood trick.) Luckily, Welles and Fontaine did a good job as Rochester and Jane, and they make the film worth watching. In a few cases, I thought Welles was overacting, but he has so much presence and such a great voice that you can't help but enjoy him on the screen. Stevenson's direction is a little heavy-handed at times, and I don't really like his desperate attempt to create a Gothic atmosphere. The dry-ice budget for this film must have been extraordinary, what with all the fake mist and fog covering everything. Look for a very young Elizabeth Taylor in a small role in the first part of the film. 7/10

Stalker (1979) - Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky's a brilliant director at times. He has a stunning visual sensibility and a masterful way of letting the camera linger on a scene for a long period of time, creating a unique and powerful atmosphere in his films. In many quarters, Stalker gets rave reviews - on IMDB, for example, a hefty 51.6% of the people rating it give it a 10, which is unusal. But I found the film pretentious rather than profound, and painfully slow, even for Tarkovsky. I say this as someone who enjoys slow films and settled in on a rainy Sunday afternoon to linger in that world for a while (163 minutes, to be exact). Unfortunately, I came away frustrated, with my estimation of Tarkovsky diminished. Perhaps the translation (from Russian) was weak, but lines that were supposed to be spiritually penetrating seemed like they belonged on a Yogi tea bag. Maybe if I'd never seen a Bergman film or Kieslowski's Dekalog, or if I hadn't done a lot of reading, then Stalker would have struck me as being more profound. As it is, people lying in the mud moaning about their existential dilemmas seems like something out of a Monty Python skit. While I can't recommend the film, I realize others might find it powerful. And Tarkovsky is worth investigating. 6/10

Enigma (2001) - Directed by Michael Apted, screenplay by Tom Stoppard, starring Kate Winslet, Dougray Scott, Jeremy Northam, et al. This romance/thriller takes place among British codebreakers during WWII and invloves Nazi spies, a missing woman, and a mathematical genius trying to recover from a nervous breakdown. I loved Apted's Thunderheart, and Stoppard certainly has a great rep, which makes this run-of-the-mill production all the more disappointing. Not bad, but given the crew invovled, it should have been much better. Don't be fooled by the back of the DVD, which promotes it as a highly "intelligent" film. It's about intelligence agents, but it's not particularly intelligent. 6/10

40 year old virgin, The - Directed by . . . Does it matter? Starring Steve Carell. When I saw the trailers for this film, I thought, "Wow, that really looks bad." Then it did well last summer and I heard some good things. ("Carell was on the Daily Show for a while," yadda, yadda, yadda.) One of my trusted friends (you know who you are) even recommended it. So, looking for a comedy last week, I thought I would give it a chance. No. Should have listened to my gut instincts. This is a weird mixture of raunchy sex talk, bathroom humor and cliched sentimentality. I still can't figure out who the target audience was - the humor seems aimed at 13 year-olds, but it's rated R. Adults really find this funny? There are also some disturbing sexist and racist undercurrents throughout the film, which no one ever mentioned. Yes, it has some humorous scenes here and there, but I can only laugh so much at a drunk woman puking on a guy's face. I'm missing something here. Wouldn't be the first time. 4/10