Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding

The only Royal Wedding that captures my interest. Fred Astaire and Jane Powell performing a great tune by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner - with one of the longest song titles ever: "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life?"

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Grooving with The Isley Brothers

Have enjoyed discovering the Isley Brothers 1970s stuff. Dig this cover of the Seals & Croft hit. With some wicked guitar by Ernie Isley, who was influenced by a young guitarist who joined the Isley Brothers backing group in 1964 and stayed until 1966, living for a while in the Isley family home: Jimmy James. Better known as Jimi Hendrix.

UPDATE: I said "1970s," but that includes some of their late 1960s stuff as well. For instance, their classic, "It's Your Thing," from 1969.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Your Movie Sucks

I was reading David Denby's film reviews in this week's New Yorker and his opening line about Arthur (2011) caught my attention:

"Arthur," a remake of the sloshed "classic" from 1981, has so many things wrong with it that one can only stare at the screen in disbelief.

I was reminded of the famous opening line of Greil Marcus' 1970 Rolling Stone review of Bob Dylan's Self Portrait album:
"What is this shit?"
(It was an awful album. Though it had a few gems buried in the muck.)

Which got me thinking about Roger Ebert's book and ongoing web site section that collects his most brutal reviews: Your Movie Sucks. Critics always seem to save their most entertaining work for the least entertaining films. Here are a couple of excerpts from recent dogs:
"Battle: Los Angeles" is noisy, violent, ugly and stupid. Its manufacture is a reflection of appalling cynicism on the part of its makers, who don't even try to make it more than senseless chaos. Here's a science-fiction film that's an insult to the words "science" and "fiction," and the hyphen in between them.

"The Green Hornet" is an almost unendurable demonstration of a movie with nothing to be about. Although it follows the rough storyline of previous versions of the title, it neglects the construction of a plot engine to pull us through. There are pointless dialogue scenes going nowhere much too slowly, and then pointless action scenes going everywhere much too quickly.

And now I am faced with this movie ("Atlas Shrugged"), the most anticlimactic non-event since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault. I suspect only someone very familiar with Rand’s 1957 novel could understand the film at all, and I doubt they will be happy with it. For the rest of us, it involves a series of business meetings in luxurious retro leather-and-brass board rooms and offices, and restaurants and bedrooms that look borrowed from a hotel no doubt known as the Robber Baron Arms. . . .

There are conversations in English after which I sometimes found myself asking, "What did they just say?" The dialogue seems to have been ripped throbbing with passion from the pages of Investors’ Business Daily.

There's also a special section called Ebert's Most Hated, which has a number of enjoyable reviews.
I hated this movie (North, from 1995). Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.
I have to say, though, Ebert's never been as gleefully vicious in his reviews as others. He likes too many films, giving some pretty bad movies decent ratings. I mean, he awarded two stars to "Batman & Robin," the 1997 motion picture turd with George Clooney as Batman. Even the teenage boys at IMDB gave it a 3.5 rating.

I've been enjoying the reviews of Andrew O'Hehir at Salon for the last few months. He's a good writer. And he does get gleefully vicious:
"Your Highness" must have seemed like a great idea at the outset -- and by "the outset," I mean the six baked minutes it took co-writer and star Danny McBride to scribble the basic concept on the back of an unpaid invoice from the swimming-pool guy. That basic concept appears to be "Cheech & Chong make 'The Princess Bride,'" or perhaps "Beavis and Butt-head meet 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail.'" Except, two things: Both of those concepts sound way funnier than this movie is in practice and, no, it shouldn't take six minutes to write that. I'm thinking there was a lot of giggling and high-fiving and talking in junior-high Shakespeare accents involved. . . .

Gingival surgery would be more fun than watching this brain-draining, spirit-sucking attempt at a stoner spoof, which combines the cutting edge of frat-boy wit, the excitement of a mid-'80s made-for-TV action flick and the authenticity of a Renaissance Faire held in an abandoned field behind a Courtyard by Marriott. A bus trip from Duluth to Sioux City would be more fun, and don't think I didn't do my research: That takes 13 hours and costs 96 bucks. . . .

For a few hours after having seen "Your Highness," I considered the possibility that it was the worst movie ever made. The image of McBride as the dim, smug and beefy Prince Thadeous, who begins the story as an irritating lardass loser and ends it as an even more irritating hero, was burned into my brain. . . .

Almost a full day of near-sobriety later, "Your Highness" no longer looks like the worst movie in history (although it might make the top 1 percent). . . . It's not a criminal act, exactly, that [Danny McBride] has dragged a once-promising director and several talented co-stars down the cannabis-scented rathole that is this epic, unwatchable disaster. I can only assume that his parents and friends and various other people genuinely enjoy his work as a writer and performer, and do not wish as fervently as I do that he would find some other occupation.
Anyone have a favorite brutal review?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why They Use Their Feet

With the King and Queen in attendance*, Real Madrid finally won Spain's Copa del Rey tournament again, after an 18 year drought, defeating Barcelona 1-0 in extra time.


Unfortunately, while celebrating the victory in Madrid, Segio Ramos dropped the trophy off the top of the team bus, which then ran over the cup.

"Emergency services gathered up the broken pieces and returned them to the bus, but the trophy did not reappear at the club's traditional celebration spot at the Plaza de Cibeles in central Madrid."

* "Coach Jose Mourinho bowed before King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia as he received his mini-trophy, while Madrid goalkeeper Casillas hugged the pair before using the king as support to climb up on a support and hoist the trophy high."

I love Iker Casillas. Evidently, he played quite well in the match.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

JFK Killed by the CIA Because of his Interest in UFOs

Part of the "burned" memo, stamped Top Secret/MJ-12, rescued from a fire before it was destroyed. The memo is written by the director of Central Intelligence (circa early 1960s) and refers to Lancer (Secret Service code word for JFK), and states that he has made inquiries about their activities "which we cannot allow."

Obviously, the Cigarette Smoking Man has his hand in all of this...

Was JFK killed because of his interest in aliens? Secret memo shows president demanded UFO files 10 days before death

An uncovered letter written by John F Kennedy to the head of the CIA shows that the president demanded to be shown highly confidential documents about UFOs 10 days before his assassination.

The secret memo is one of two letters written by JFK asking for information about the paranormal on November 12 1963, which have been released by the CIA for the first time. . . .

Alien researchers say the latest documents, released to Mr Lester by the CIA, add weight to the suggestion that the president could have been shot to stop him discovering the truth about UFOs. . . .

[C]onspiracy theorists said the documents add interest to a disputed file, nicknamed the ‘burned memo’, which a UFO investigator claims he received in the 1990s.

The document, which has scorch marks, is claimed to have been posted to UFO hunter Timothy Cooper in 1999 by an unknown CIA leak, but has never been verified.

In a note sent with the document, the apparent leaker said he worked for CIA between 1960 and 1974 and pulled the memo from a fire when the agency was burning some of its most sensitive files.

The undated memo contains a reference to ‘Lancer’, which was JFK's Secret Service code name.

On the first page, the director of Central Intelligence wrote: ‘As you must know, Lancer has made some inquiries regarding our activities, which we cannot allow.

AOL News (who knew there was such a thing?!) offers a more in-depth look in The JFK-UFO Connection: Bogus Documents or Unanswered Questions?

Now, if we could just find a connection between JFK and the Knights Templar. . .

Oh, wait. Pope Clement issued the papal bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae, ordering the arrest of all Templars and the seizure of their assets, on November 22, 1307.

Coincidence or conspiracy?

Nine seasons of the X-Files, and they couldn't do this episode?!?!?

Yes, he knows where Elvis is living.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

America's Two-Tiered Justice System

Glenn Greenwald has a good summary of recent examples of how our two-tiered justice system works, or, as he describes it, "the way in which political and financial elites now enjoy virtually full-scale legal immunity for even the most egregious lawbreaking, while ordinary Americans, especially the poor and racial and ethnic minorities, are subjected to exactly the opposite treatment: the world's largest prison state and most merciless justice system."

The New York Times this morning has a long article so perfectly illustrating what I mean by "two-tiered justice system" -- and the way in which it obliterates the core covenant of the American Founding: equality before the law -- that it's impossible for me not to highlight it.

The article's headline tells most of the story: "In Financial Crisis, No Prosecutions of Top Figures." It asks: "why, in the aftermath of a financial mess that generated hundreds of billions in losses, have no high-profile participants in the disaster been prosecuted?" And it recounts that not only have no high-level culprits been indicted (or even subjected to meaningful criminal investigations), but few have suffered any financial repercussions in the form of civil enforcements or other lawsuits. The evidence of rampant criminality that led to the 2008 financial crisis is overwhelming, but perhaps the clearest and most compelling such evidence comes from long-time Wall-Street-servant Alan Greenspan; even he was forced to acknowledge that much of the precipitating conduct was "certainly illegal and clearly criminal" and that "a lot of that stuff was just plain fraud."

Despite that clarity and abundance of the evidence proving pervasive criminality, it's entirely unsurprising that there have been no real criminal investigations or prosecutions. That's because the overarching "principle" of our justice system is that criminal prosecutions are only for ordinary rabble, not for those who are most politically and financially empowered. We have thus created precisely the two-tiered justice system against which the Founders most stridently warned and which contemporary legal scholars all agree is the hallmark of a lawless political culture.

After a series of illustrations, he closes with this:
In a 1795 letter, George Washington vowed that "the executive branch of this government never has, nor will suffer, while I preside, any improper conduct of its officers to escape with impunity." Thomas Jefferson -- in an April 16, 1784, letter to Washington -- argued that the foundation on which American justice must rest is "the denial of every preeminence." It's literally difficult to imagine how we could be further away from those core principles.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Finally. . . Sun and Spring

After what's seemed like an endless winter, when yesterday was cold and foggy, the sun came out today and the temperatures finally broke into the 70s. I'm sitting outside on the roof next to us, listening to some groovy music, sipping on a margarita and staring out across the Long Island sound all the way to Connecticut. Grateful for this life and this sun.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Revisionist History?

Is it okay now to think that Sweet was pretty good?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yes, We Can Torture

Glad to see my political donations have gone to good use.

More news the U.S. media isn't covering. Yet again, from The Guardian.

Bradley Manning: top US legal scholars voice outrage at 'torture'

Obama professor among 250 experts who have signed letter condemning humiliation of alleged WikiLeaks source

More than 250 of America's most eminent legal scholars have signed a letter protesting against the treatment in military prison of the alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, contesting that his "degrading and inhumane conditions" are illegal, unconstitutional and could even amount to torture.

The list of signatories includes Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who is considered to be America's foremost liberal authority on constitutional law. He taught constitutional law to Barack Obama and was a key backer of his 2008 presidential campaign.

Tribe joined the Obama administration last year as a legal adviser in the justice department, a post he held until three months ago. . . .

The harsh restrictions have been denounced by a raft of human rights groups, including Amnesty International, and are being investigated by the United Nations' rapporteur on torture. . . .

The protest letter, published in the New York Review of Books, was written by two distinguished law professors, Bruce Ackerman of Yale and Yochai Benkler of Harvard. They claim Manning's reported treatment is a violation of the US constitution, specifically the eighth amendment forbidding cruel and unusual punishment and the fifth amendment that prevents punishment without trial.

In a stinging rebuke to Obama, they say "he was once a professor of constitutional law, and entered the national stage as an eloquent moral leader. The question now, however, is whether his conduct as commander in chief meets fundamental standards of decency".

[Benkler] said Manning's conditions were being used "as a warning to future whistleblowers" and added: "I find it tragic that it is Obama's administration that is pursuing whistleblowers and imposing this kind of treatment."
Perhaps Obama will hire John Yoo to draft a response.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Major Problems Continue at Fukushima

While the U.S. media now seem to have lost interest in what's happening at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, major problems continue.

Al Jazeera has a long article: Fukushima: A 'nuclear sacrifice zone'

Some experts believe Japan's nuclear disaster could become worse than Chernobyl.

"The situation is very concerning," Dr MV Ramana, a physicist specialising in issues of nuclear safety with the Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University told Al Jazeera, "They are finding it very difficult to stabilize the situation."

Operators of the plant are no closer to regaining control of damaged reactors, as fuel rods remain overheated and high levels of radiation are being released. . . .

Mary Olson [director of the Southeast Office of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS)] . . . expressed concern over the fact that in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in the United States, "All the contaminated material generated from that was released to our environment in a planned and 'regulated' way. It was dumped in rivers or boiled off into the atmosphere."

"All of those [Fukushima] reactors have been in a catastrophic level of radioactive release that exceeds Chernobyl," she said,."Two of these have exploded, No. 2 is in meltdown, and we believe it has gone back into criticality and that there is a nuclear chain reaction coming and going."

She also pointed out that the fuel core in reactor No. 4 was offloaded for refueling at the time of the earthquake and tsunami, "So none of the fuel was in containment and was all in the pool and that's why it's gotten hotter faster and there has been very little attention to this. All of these are catastrophic in themselves. Having them in one place in one month is truly catastrophic." . . .

"Since unit two is showing signs of fission happening, the chances of something more catastrophic happening at that site are increasing," Olson added, "People are acting like the worst is over, and that is just not understanding the real issues here as far as the radiological impacts."

She also pointed out that the fuel pool in reactor No. 3 "is gone, according to recent photos. There is no fuel there. The reactor fuel pool in No. 3 is gone. Where did it go?"
Given the reluctance of TEPCO, the company in charge of the power plant, and the Japanese government to give out much information, and our own media's fickle coverage - from obsessive to invisible - how will we ever know what's really going on?

Just wait till Godzilla shows up in Manhattan. Then some questions will be asked.

This recent photo, taken outside of Piscataway, New Jersey, may offer evidence that the situation at Fukushima nuclear power plant is still not under control - and that its effects around the globe have not been fully determined.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Debating the "Director's Cut"

Jean-Luc Godard was forced by producer Carlo Ponti to add an opening sequence to Le Mépris (1963) in which Brigitte Bardot lies naked in bed. An argument against the "Director's Cut"?

From the Guardian: "Is a 'director's cut' ever a good idea?"

Is the director's cut just one big self-indulgence, or the chance for an auteur to get his vision across to the public untrammelled by the money men?
Elle E. Jones uses the release of a new version of Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show to discuss the history of the "director's cut" - it started in 1974, with Sam Peckinpaw's Wild Bunch - and some of the different points of view on the whole concept.

The comments following the article continue the discussion and are, for the most part, quite thoughtful, especially compared to most Comments sections.

Unlike most people, I actually prefer the original theatrical release of Blade Runner, though it was interesting to see Ridley Scott's "Final Cut." And after seeing the mess Francis Ford Coppola made of Apocalypse Now: Redux, I haven't exactly rushed out see a lot of Director's Cuts. But there are a few mentioned by people in the Comments section that I might check out. Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, for one.

I think it's great that technology now allows us to compare different versions of a film. On the other hand, the "Director's Cut" is being used more and more to justify yet another release of the same product, only in a bloated, inferior version. And in some cases, the original theatrical version is no longer available, which is not good. The original publication of Leaves of Grass may not be considered the best version of Whitman's classic, but it's crucial for scholarship that we can compare his short original to the later longer editions.

Also, why should the director always be the one to make the "final" authoritative cut? Motion pictures aren't the product of a single person as books are. They involve the artistic and technical efforts of many people. One reader suggested that there should be a "Screenwriter's Cut" that shows the original vision of the work before the arrogant, money-hungry director ruined it. Although made in jest, it's an interesting idea. I would also be intrigued to see a Cinematographer's Cut of certain films. Maybe Gregg Toland's "final" version of The Outlaw, which was directed by Howard Hughes. Or maybe an Actor's Cut. Humphrey Bogart's scenes were deleted from the 1931 comedy Women of All Nations. Why not put him back in the film? He's certainly more important at this point than the original movie.

Personally, I'm hoping some crass, money-grubbing Hollywood studio will do a trimmed-down Commercial Cut of Andy Warhol's Sleep.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Lost Dr. Seuss Stories to Be Published

From The Guardian:

Seven rarely-seen Dr. Seuss stories from the 50s, which were tracked down by a Massachusetts dentist, will finally be published in book form this autumn. . . .

The Bippolo Seed – described by the publisher as "the literary equivalent of buried treasure" – is lined up for publication in September. "These stories were published during what could arguably be called Dr Seuss's most fertile creative period, a time that would yield both Cat in the Hat and Grinch, a time when his theories about how to reach children through rhyme, rhythm, and a resonant combination of nonsense and sagacity, were coming into full bloom," said [Random House vice-president and publisher Kate Klimo]. "The stories are as good as anything in the already-published canon and readers of all ages are in for a treat."

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Georgian woman cuts off web access to whole of Armenia

Entire country loses internet for five hours after woman, 75, slices through cable while scavenging for copper

An elderly Georgian woman was scavenging for copper to sell as scrap when she accidentally sliced through an underground cable and cut off internet services to all of neighbouring Armenia. . . .

Web users in the nation of 3.2 million people were left twiddling their thumbs for up to five hours. . . . Television pictures showed reporters at a news agency in the capital Yerevan staring glumly at blank screens.

Large parts of Georgia and some areas of Azerbaijan were also affected. . . .

[T]the woman – who has not been named – is being investigated on suspicion of damaging property. She faces up to three years in prison if charged and convicted.

A spokesman for Georgia's interior ministry said the woman was temporarily released "on account of her old age" but could face more questioning. . . .

Pulling up unused copper cables for scrap is a common means of making money in the former Soviet Union.
This is what's going to happen here after Glenn Beck leaves Fox. The granny Muslim Atheist Socialist illegal immigrants will take away our internets.

Mona Lisa Must Have Had the Highway Blues...

French singer Barbara (1930-1997) gives voice to La Joconde. Turns out, she gets bored.

"La Joconde"

C'est moi que je suis la Joconde.
Je suis connue par le monde.
Au Louvre où la foule abonde
Pour me voir, on fait la ronde
Et moi, faut que je me morfonde,
La Joconde,
La Joconde.

C'est moi que je suis la Joconde.
Léonard me crut gironde.
Va quand Léonard vagabonde
Mais que voulez-vous
Qu'on réponde ?
C'est vrai, j'suis pas trop immonde,
La Joconde,
La Joconde.

C'est moi que je suis la Joconde.
Que de mots vains on m'inonde.
Critiques, artistes abondent
En intarissables facondes.
Plusieurs milliers par seconde
Disent: "La Joconde ! Ah ! La Joconde.
Venez voir le sourire de la Joconde.
C'est le plus beau du monde,
La Joconde."

C'est moi que je suis la Joconde.
Mon sourire vient d'outre-tombe.
Attendez que le vernis tombe.
Attendez la fin du monde
Et je sourirai sous les bombes,
La Joconde,
La Joconde,
Et je sourirai sous les bombes,
La Joconde,
La Joconde

Monday, April 04, 2011

In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr

By June Jordan


honey people murder mercy U.S.A.
the milkland turn to monsters teach
to kill to violate pull down destroy
the weakly freedom growing fruit
from being born


tomorrow yesterday rip rape
exacerbate despoil disfigure
crazy running threat the
deadly thrall
appall belief dispel
the wildlife burn the breast
the onward tongue
the outward hand
deform the normal rainy
riot sunshine shelter wreck
of darkness derogate
delimit blank
explode deprive
assassinate and batten up
like bullets fatten up
the raving greed
reactivate a springtime

death by men by more
than you or I can



They sleep who know a regulated place
or pulse or tide or changing sky
according to some universal
stage direction obvious
like shorewashed shells

we share an afternoon of mourning
in between no next predictable
except for wild reversal hearse rehearsal
bleach the blacklong lunging
ritual of fright insanity and more
deplorable abortion
more and

June Jordan, “In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.” from Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005).

No, Really, More Cowbell

Christopher Walken as The Bruce Dickinson.

I've been putting together a playlist on my iPod of classic tunes from the late 1960s through the mid 1970s. Maybe it's because I've been listening to the music in earphones, or because I re-watched the famous Saturday Night Live skit with Christopher Walken not long ago, but for whatever reason, I suddenly realized just how much damn cowbell there was in that era.

But seriously. Rock and roll was cowbell crazy. No wonder SNL did their skit.

The question, then, is: How did I grow up in that time period and never notice all the cowbell around me? I had some of these records, certainly heard the songs on the radio.

Perhaps, as in Kabbalah (cow-bell-ah?), one doesn't really enter the orchard, or hear the cowbell, until one has reached the age of forty. Cowbell may have been too much for a child of the late 1960s and early 1970s to comprehend, what with having to deal with Watergate, Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the energy crisis, the breakup of the Beatles. . . There's only so much you can fit in your head.

My recent cowbell consciousness kicked off with a bang thanks to Mountain's "Mississippi Queen."

Then came Grand Funk Railroad's "We're an American Band."

And the Rolling Stones, for goodness sakes: "Honky Tonk Women."

Or the Kinks, on "King Kong."

There's cowbell action in the middle of "Stuck in the Middle With You," by Stealers Wheel (RIP Gerry Rafferty), with a good close-up of the humble yet powerful instrument at 2:27 of the video.

And, of course, there's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," by Blue Oyster Cult, the song featured in the SNL skit that touched off what has become a veritable cowbell renaissance.

(As it turns out, Blue Oyster Cult was formed in 1967 at Stony Brook University. The same Stony Brook University where I currently work. Talk about your far-out spiritual connections, right? )

The list goes on and on. . . into infinity, I suppose.

I can't explain cowbell. I can only listen for it here and there in the world around me. "He or she who has ears to hear" and all that.

All I know is that I got a fever, and the only prescription is . . . UPDATE: And yet more cowbell...

War: "Low Rider."

Edgar Winter Group: "Frankenstein."

Head East: "Never Been Any Reason."

Three Dog Night: "Black and White."

Bachman Turner Overdrive: "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet."

Blood, Sweat & Tears: "Spinning Wheel."

Electric Light Orchestra: "Do Ya."

Electric Light Orchestra: "Evil Woman."

Crosby, Still, Nash & Young: "Carry On."

Friday, April 01, 2011

"As we were saying yesterday..."

I see from my previous post that I promised to add new material to ZONE the weekend of August 1-2, 2009.

That didn't happen.

And despite a 20-month hiatus, I still don't have anything interesting to post!

But I may start putting up some short pieces now and then.

For now, a film recommendation: The Lincoln Lawyer. Matthew McConaghey finally lands a good role in this gritty, 1970s-flavored trial-mystery thing based on Michael Connelly's book. With Marisa Tomei. Directed by Brad Furman, who I didn't know before this.

Andrew O'Hehir, from Salon, my new favorite film critic, says this:
Furman's film has a funk 'n' soul late-'70s feeling with a dynamite soundtrack to match, as if it were a forgotten West Coast project from early in Martin Scorsese's career. . . . Furman fills up the movie with delicious supporting characters and a baked-L.A. vibe so strong you can almost smell the weed, smog and hot asphalt. . . . It's rare enough to see a Hollywood movie made with this much attention and personality, let alone one that balances comedy and darkness as well as this one does. Not everybody makes it out of "The Lincoln Lawyer" alive, but this is a colorful and generous entertainment, not a plunge into the abyss. If its charming, roguish and not-quite-depraved hero can be redeemed, there may be hope for the rest of us.
Read his full review.

Connelly's a very good writer, the real heir, in my eyes, to Hammett, Chandler and Ross Macdonald. I'm glad to see one of his books and characters treated well by Hollywood. The last attempt (Blood Work) was a mixed bag.