Saturday, September 15, 2007

Remember Acting?

This morning, I watched Serpico on TiVo. I'd seen it before, half my life ago when I was in high school and seeing all of those milestone movies from the seventies that film buffs are supposed to see (or at least, they used to see them--I so sick of so-called buffs who haven't seen anything that pre-dates Reservoir Dogs other than The Godfather). I liked a lot of those movies, and many of them are still favorites of mine, but for some reason, Serpico never really stuck. I'm not really a fan of Sidney Lumet, and I think that's part of it. Maybe I just saw it around the same time as a bunch of other stuff.

Either way, I really loved it this morning. I can relate to it better, for one. I understand what it's like to try and be the voice of reason in a system that grinds you down. I know what it's like to work jobs that you just want to be able to do, and everyone you work with thinks there's something wrong with you for not being as shiftless and lazy as they are. I'll probably re-review it when I do Film Week this week, because this is one of those nice occasions when I see a movie I'd previously dismissed and really gotten a new appreciation for it.

So, Al Pacino is great in the movie, obviously. And that's what's on my mind as a result: great acting. Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks that the last great movies were made in 1978 and there's nothing good anymore and everything is a rip-off & c. But I think even the most generous critic might admit that there is a higher occurence of outright crap these days. There has been since at least the late eighties. Now I know that there have always been crappy movies--there has always been as much product as there is quality, probably more. I don't really believe that movies were once all great and serious and extremely well-made, and now they're all based on TV shows and stuff like that. That's the kind of cynical thinking I don't believe in. Much.

But seriously, what the hell happened?

The reason this all ties in to Al Pacino has to do with some recent reviews I've seen about how awful Ocean's Thirteen is supposed to be. In the seventies, a new breed of Brando-and-Strasberg-inspired actor came to the fore, and they were (rightly so) considered the best actors of their generation, if not some of the best actors who ever graced the screen: Pacino, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty. They were the guys who didn't act so much as they behaved. They embodied people, not characters. Even when they were making the kind of movie I would consider a cheesy studio movie (Heaven Can Wait, Little Big Man, just two examples), they brought something original and interesting to them. I remember becoming conscious of these people in the eighties; they were Huge Stars. De Niro or Pacino or Hoffman or Jack or Beatty starring in a movie automatically made it a prestigious picture. That's why Ishtar was such a high profile flop: Elaine May directing, Hoffman and Beatty starring, and the movie was completely terrible. But the star calibre alone made it an even bigger disappointment.

Everyone went commercial in the eighties, and it seems like the above stars made fewer and fewer pictures then. I remember it being a big deal when Pacino made a movie at all; Jack Nicholson won an Oscar, but didn't make very many movies. But everyone sort of declined and, in the nineties, they kind of became jokes.

Again: what the hell happened?

I think you could almost blame a movie that I love: Dick Tracy. Warren Beatty directed and starred and co-produce and even co-write, if I remember correctly. Doing a movie based on a comic strip was risky, especially after how Superman IV had done and how disappointing Annie had been. But Batman was just stupid money, and Jack Nicholson had come out clean on that one. So Beatty had Dick Tracy, a movie which I think did mixed business but which I loved and went to see about four times. It was big news that Al Pacino was playing the villain, Al "Big Boy" Caprice. And because of Beatty's involvement, other stars began to appear. This was before you could quanitatively prove that Madonna was one of the worst actresses who ever lived, so it was a big deal she was in it. Dustin Hoffman appeared, too.

Now, not to pin all the blame on this picture, but it seems like since then the great actors--De Niro, Pacino, Jack, Hoffman, Beatty--it seems like they've been content to just sell themselves out on gimmicks and situations and stunt casting instead of acting. They never embody characters anymore; they just show up and get paid, because the simple fact that they've been cast in a role is gimmick enough. And it kind of sucks. Why aren't they acting anymore?

Robert De Niro, for example. Who told him it would be a cute idea for him to do comedy? Analyze This, Meet the Parents, so on--they really suck, and he's just embarrassing in them. Showtime? He still does some good work, but why is he whoring himself out, choosing quantity over quality? Now, I actually like him in this movie, but how do you tell a kid that the guy from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle was once one of the greatest actors in the history of movies? Today, his mere presence in a movie makes me think there must be something wrong with it.

Al Pacino. Oh, man--The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico... You know how many movies he did in the eighties? Seven, three of them in 1990. You know how many movies he's done since The Godfather, Part III (his seventeenth movie)? 21. How many of them have been really great movies? And how many of them have been Gigli? Will he just appear in anything now?

Dustin Hoffman, I can't even talk about. He seems to take roles because he's never been able to do a certain overly-studied, affected, carefully enunciated accent before. It's almost impossible to take him seriously when all he does is wander about acting quirky and over-the-top, which is what I'm sure he'll do in Mr. Magorium's Hoody-Hoo Blah Blah. It's all he's been doing since Hook. Yeah, there's an occasional good performance in there, but my God.

Warren Beatty... the less said about his ego-driven appearances the better. Town & Country? I wanted to kill myself afterwards.

The real exception here, I guess, is Jack Nicholson. Somehow, anything lame he makes just slides right off of him. Even when he's cast as a gimmick--The Witches of Eastwick, for example, or Batman--he gives it his all and comes up with something. And I've seen the man rest on his laurels, we all have. But he still brings his A-game to the mat when it counts. There's a man who's sold out time and again, yet still manages to be someone I can take seriously.

And women are doing it, too, to the extent that they can. Once a woman reaches the age of 35 or so, the parts dry up (if they make it that far). I can't believe that someone as wonderful and talented as Susan Sarandon is doing a throwaway like Mr. Woodcock. (A quick note on that one: is Woodcock really that funny a name? I would think Mr. Glascock would be funnier, if only because it's a real name but a less common one. Woodcock seems pedestrian.) And Sarandon is one of the actresses faring better these days.

I don't know, this is unfocused, it's just something I'm rattling off. And we do have a lot of very good actors playing very good roles these days, don't get me wrong. I'm just tired of seeing girls in their early 20s trying to play seasoned adults, or every movie focusing on the troubles of people who've just gotten out of college. I'd like to see stuff about grown-ups. I'd like to see characters and plots that are really about something interesting, instead of just trying to take my money with no merit. I know the shift towards a younger audience over the past decades has been business-related, but if there's one thing I've seen in a movie audience, it's this: if you make a movie for adults, adults will go and see it. We're not all 15 anymore.

I guess what I'm thinking, too, is this: do these actors really deserve the respect they get for their past work? Does their later work invalidate their past greatness, or no? How do you feel about it?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Do Bush's Lies Even Matter Anymore?

In lieu of a Throwdown, tonight I just want to talk about the president and his total fucking bullshit. I'm sorry, but it's hard for me to take any news, soft or hard, very seriously when we can't even get our own government to come to some sort of consensus on the notion that war is bad.

I couldn't watch the presidential address on TV last night. As always, I had to read the actual words later. I turned the sound down on my TV and left it on so that I knew when The Office was going to come back on. I can't watch the Chimperor, and listening to him try to speak is even worse. He can't speak English, and as bad as he is at simple pronunciation and grammar, he's much, much worse at attempting to read it. Yeah, he moves his head slowly to try and mask the fact that he's reading, but check him out with the sound off. Not only is it obvious, it looks like a bad tic. And his eyes are horribly dead and empty. He doesn't give a shit about trying to look like a human being, decent or otherwise. There's just no personality there at all. He's like an unformed child.

So what did he say last night? What lies does he keep trying to hammer home? And does it even matter anymore? I mean, we're stuck in this situation, based on lies or no, and it's not like anyone is going to do anything about it. I don't think a single candidate on either side takes what it has to lead, and I don't think the majority of Americans really care. They're more interested in who Oprah is going to endorse--surprise, surprise, it's the black guy. Big fucking deal. Where's the leadership? Where's the inspiration?

Where's the proof that this country gives a shit about more than a good haircut and what kind of music a candidate likes?

Becca was talking to someone at work the other day, and this person said they would never vote for Hillary Clinton because, after the Monica Lewinsky affair, she stayed with Bill. How could you ever respect someone so humiliated? Why would you stay with that person? Becca pointed out: political gain, because Hillary doesn't want to run as the candidate from Lesbos. Fake family values shit. What really made me laugh was the idea that, after hundreds of years of American history, people are still looking for the candidate who isn't lying. Good luck with that one.

So, Bush.

To quote a friend, ay dios mio. Here are some of the moments that especially piss me off.

"In the life of all free nations, there come moments that decide the direction of a country and reveal the character of its people. [Pause for dramatic effect.] We are now at such a moment."

Look, he doesn't even take the intro seriously. Already he's treating this like it were a scene from a B movie about World War II. Such overdramatic nonsense; this guy's worst problem when it comes to speaking is that he can never just cut the shit and speak plainly. Instead, he's got to tart it up with doom-laden prophesying, like he's a character in The Lord of the Rings. This man is so empty.

"We must help Iraq defeat those who threaten its future and also threaten ours."

Look, does anyone actually believe that shit about terrorists anymore? The administration keeps telling us that terrorism is the biggest problem in the world. The media tries to sell that line of shit, too. But how many of you are really losing sleep over this? If I know America, and I hope I do, they're worried about the shit I'm worried about--getting work, getting insurance, being able to pay the rent, being able to buy food, not having to go on public assistance just to keep the lights on and the TV running. The economy in this country is so fucked, thanks especially to Bush and his criminal gang, that we don't have time to give a shit about terror. We're worried about our families.

I think more people are worried about what is being done in our name in the world--not just the war, but also the way our corporations are enslaving people and ruining the environment of every country we can jam a foothold onto--than in terror. Seriously, I'm starting to believe that Osama bin Laden had nothing to do with 9/11. You know why? Because he seems basically powerless. Think back to the schoolyard, fellas. Who was the guy to worry about? The guy who walked up to you and beat you in the back of the head with no warning, or the guy who stood there and yelled "I'm gonna fuck you up next time I see you, man!" Osama can release all of the videos he wants, I still don't believe there's anything to this guy. I'm sorry, but there are worse people. Muqtada, for example. Why aren't we worried about him?

"Yet [General Betray-Us and Crocker of Shit] concluded that conditions in Iraq are improving, that we are seizing the initiative from the enemy, and that the troop surge is working."

Look, no matter how much you say this, it ain't gonna make it true. Go to the blog of any Iraqi, as I have. Go look at news from Great Britain or Israel, who actually has a free press. We're not "seizing the initiative," and the surge is not working. If it's working so well, why does Bush have to sneak into Iraq in the middle of the night?

"The premise of our strategy is that securing the Iraqi population is the foundation for all other progress."

Ah, yes, the famous "Let's Give Basketballs to Children" initiative. Fuck that. The Iraqi population knows that the American government doesn't give a shit about "securing" them. They want to secure the oil access and make sure that American companies make all the profit from it. Do you understand how this works? The history of the Middle East has been, in the last hundred years, the history of rightfully pissed off Arabs kicking Westerners out of their countries because all the Westerners wanted to do was exploit the oil. If some nation came over here and started a war because they wanted our stuff and wanted to take it without paying for it, we'd be pretty pissed and start attacking them too. I feel terrible that this is happening and that the world sees America as something oppressive instead of something friendly.

"For Iraqis to bridge sectarian divides, they need to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods."

Does anyone have a number on how many Iraqis have fled the country? It's not the sectarian violence, it's the oppression and mismanagement. Perhaps Iraqis would feel safer if we could actually protect them. Which we can't.

"As I will explain tonight, our success in meeting these objectives now allows us to begin bringing some of our troops home."

There's the biggest lie yet: we're not having any success in Iraq at all. The surge has not worked at all. Things haven't changed in eight months. It's just that we don't have any more troops to send, that's why we've got to start bringing them home. They've been there too long, and no one else is going to go. And Bush knows his hold on the country is far too tenuous to call for a draft.

I really hope I'm wrong about this country, and that if a draft were to happen, people would finally stop consuming and ignoring the problem and say "This is enough; no more."

"Finally, in areas that have been cleared, we are surging diplomatic and civilian resources to ensure that military progress is quickly followed up with real improvements in daily life."

Quit saying "surge," you giant douchebag. It's not a catchphrase.

And I hate to sound like one of those racist/nationalist fuckwits, but how about some real improvements in the daily life of Americans? And not just rich people this time?

"The local people were suffering under the Taliban-like rule of Al Qaeda, and they were sick of it. So they asked us for help."

Like America's the fucking A-Team, riding around in a big black van dispensing justice. Give me a fucking break. And nice job on quoting the Taliban for the few morons who still believe that the war in Iraq has anything to do with 9/11 and the Taliban.

"To take advantage of this opportunity, I sent an additional 4,000 Marines to Anbar as part of the surge."

"I"? Oh, Bush did it himself, did he? He's actually leading our military now, right? You didn't even fly that plane, shit for brains.

"These developments do not often make the headlines..."

Success in Iraq wouldn't make headlines? Why? I mean, unless they're made up.

"During my visit to Anbar on Labor Day, local Sunni leaders thanked me for America’s support. They pledged they would never allow Al Qaeda to return. And they told me they now see a place for their people in a democratic Iraq. The Sunni governor of Anbar Province put it this way: Our tomorrow starts today."

Wow, who wrote that story? You can almost feel the frosting coming off of it, it's so saccharine. Gee, did you and the governor then go and ride ponies together while you wore cowboy hats and laughed at finding stickers on the ground? Maybe built a treehouse that said "No Gurls Allowed" with a backwards "s." Don't sell us on this Sunday school shit, alright? Bigger picture, asshole. Bigger picture. I'd love to hear someone from Iraq with their perspective on this.

"And they show the world that ordinary people in the Middle East want the same things for their children that we want for ours - a decent life and a peaceful future."

And they're going to get it forced on them, anyway, so they may as well lie back and take it.

"In Anbar, the enemy remains active and deadly."

Wait, I thought things were all rainbows and lollipops! What happened?

"Now the Iraqi government must bring the same determination to achieving reconciliation."

Instead of taking all of August off, like you usually do? And why shouldn't they? I mean, our soldiers are only dying brutally so that those guys can have a few weeks off.

"They are allowing former Baathists to rejoin Iraq's military or receive government pensions."

As a socialist, it amuses me that our government will speak out against social programs (really non-profit, non-capitalist programs) as something evil, but will support the Baath Party, which is a socialist party.

"Our troops in Iraq are performing brilliantly. Along with Iraqi forces, they have captured or killed an average of more than 1,500 enemy fighters per month since January."

And only an average of 80 or more of our troops have been killed every month. Especially in May, when casualties were the highest they'd been since November 2004.

"Because of this success, General Petraeus believes we have now reached the point where we can maintain our security gains with fewer American forces."

No he doesn't. And you don't either. You just know you can't push this much longer. Even Americans will eventually snap from their complacency.

"Over time, our troops will shift from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and eventually to overwatching those forces. As this transition in our mission takes place, our troops will focus on a more limited set of tasks, including counterterrorism operations and training, equipping, and supporting Iraqi forces."

I have to admit, this sounds good. This is what we should have been doing all along--like, say, 17 years ago when Bush's idiot father said we would support the Iraqis in their fight against Saddam.

"I have also directed them to deliver another report to Congress in March. At that time, they will provide a fresh assessment of the situation in Iraq and of the troop levels and resources we need to meet our national security objectives."

Delay, delay, delay. Always delaying the inevitable.

"Americans want our country to be safe and our troops to begin coming home from Iraq. Yet those of us who believe success in Iraq is essential to our security, and those who believe we should bring our troops home, have been at odds. Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home."

I honestly don't understand how success in Iraq is essential to our security, especially considering that Bush is going to start a war with Iran, which is just stupidity. It seems to me that non-interference in Iraq is what's going to be essential to our security. Hey, I'm all for unity and peace and friendship, but I wonder what our new Arab buddies in Iraq are going to think the next time Israel starts a fight with an Arab nation and we blindly support it like we always do, no matter how illegal it might be. And Iran... God, how stupid is that? When we know what we know about loose standards and relaxing morals and the way the majority of the population is under 30--and those people don't want the oppressive theocracy that their parents have imposed on them. Just a little talk and a little friendship with the youngsters who will soon be running the country is all it takes. Make it clear to them who our friends really are, and they'll support peace with America. At least I like to hope so.

I want peace, but not only strategic peace. I want genuine peace. Quit picking sides over there, dammit.

"The way forward I have described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together."

Oh, you wish, pal. You're still a fucking moron and a fucking liar. Don't you talk down to me.

"This vision for a reduced American presence also has the support of Iraqi leaders from all communities."

No fucking shit.

"The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States."

Again: how?

"A free Iraq will deny Al Qaeda a safe haven."

In Iraq. They'll just move somewhere else.

"Iraq could face a humanitarian nightmare. Democracy movements would be violently reversed. We would leave our children to face a far more dangerous world. And as we saw on September the 11th, 2001, those dangers can reach our cities and kill our people."

Yeah, bring up September the 11th again, like a bad refrain in a sappy song. Keep trying to link the two together.

And from there on, he just makes pleas to give his plan a chance to work--the same one he's been harping on for two years--and sounds all pompous and sanctimonious. I can't talk about this anymore.

Is it any wonder I can't take any news seriously right now? I'm just too fucking frustrated to form an idea here.

Great Britain, clear a space for me. Paris, I'm coming home.

Keith Olbermann

Here are some quotes I actually dug from Keith Olbermann's Playboy interview:

On Rudy Giuliani:
"He tried to get votes by talking about casualties as if another attack like 9/11 were inevitable, suggesting that voting for anyone but him would lead to more people getting killed. That's about an inch from saying, 'If you don't vote for me, you'll die,' which is another inch from saying, 'If you don't vote for me, I'll kill you.' And that, to me, is not America. In fact, it's not Earth."

On Newt Gingrich:
"Newt Gingrich would like to suspend parts of the Constitution. That may save money: You don't need a counterterrorism budget if you're the terrorists' enabler."

On international terrorism:
"If you want to go around worrying about something, worry about hereditary disease. Lose some weight. Stop smoking. But people think we're in a constant state of threat from terrorists, with the world more dangerous every day. There's not a shred of evidence for that."

On why the debates are so uninspiring:
"Lincoln used to give 30-minute answers in debates; today we expect 30 seconds. You can't hold an audience spellbound for 30 seconds. And sadly, for the most part the best speakers today are broadcasters and actors. Our politicians should try speaking more like Charles Osgood and Charles Kuralt and less like Charlie the Tuna."

On the military draft:
"The difference between Bush and Richard Nixon is that Nixon sent draftees to Vietnam. If draftees instead of volunteers were dying in Iraq, I think Bush would have been impeached by now. We will see a draft if the Republicans win in 2008, because they've got a plan to invade every country except Liechtenstein but not enough soldiers to do it. And that would be interesting. You'd have rioting in the streets within 48 hours. And it wouldn't be the kids rioting; it would be their parents."

On Osama bin Laden:
"Will you please die?"

On Bill O'Reilly:
"One of the most buffoonish, laughable characters in broadcasting history."

On his former employer Fox News:
"Al Qaeda really hurt us but not as much as Rupert Murdoch has hurt us, particularly in the case of Fox News. Fox News is worse than Al Qaeda--worse for our society. It's as dangerous an organization as the Ku Klux Klan ever was. Fox News will say anything about anybody and accepts no criticism."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

In Other Words, Music

The fifth Green Monkey Music Project mix, No Speak English, is live. This is my second time playing. The rules for this one were, as might be obvious, songs that are in any language other than English. I was sorely tempted to cheat here, thinking of songs like Billy Joel's pretty "C'Etait Toi," which is partially in English, or Nat "King" Cole's "Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup," which is about his problems speaking French to a girl he likes. But I stuck to the rule, and here are my contributions:

1. Pizzicato Five: "Sweet Soul Revue"
Is there anything that can make soul music more awesome? Why yes, and it turns out it's the sweet voice of Maki Nomiya. This is one of those ultra-modern throwbacks that was popular in the decade leading up to the millennium; it sounds like a mid-nineties idea of what a late sixties stereo commercial should have sounded like. Infectious and, frankly, perfect.

2. Ludivine Sagnier: "Papa t'es plus dans l'coup"
From the 8 Femmes soundtrack. It's just under two minutes of sax-filled 50s pastiche, sung by a young, beautiful French girl.
Vive le goddamn France! I love you, Ludivine!

3. Seu Jorge: "O Astronaute De Marmore (Starman)"
You, I hope, remember Seu Jorge as the Portuguese guitar player who basically sat around and played David Bowie songs. In Portuguese. Thankfully, they released an album of those songs, The Life Aquatic Sessions; I knew I wanted to use one of these songs, and I just picked "Starman" because it's my favorite Bowie song.

4. Jacques Brel: "Amsterdam"
I almost hate that I used this song now; not that it's a bad song, it's actually gorgeous. A sort of low cabaret story-song, very moody and theatrical. Bowie did a great cover of it in English. But after I submitted this list I found my Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom soundtrack, with Kate Capshaw singing "Anything Goes" in Chinese. Then, instead of using French twice, I'd have had seven different languages. Well, next time. Either way, "Amsterdam" is a great song.

5. Milla: "In a Glade"
I wonder if I'm the only one with a Ukrainian folk song on their list. Milla is, of course, Milla Jovovich, from her beautiful album The Divine Comedy. It's a sort of airy-fairy, magical folk album, but it's an unusually good one. Because she's Milla.
Ja hochu z vamy odruzhyt'sja, Milla! I love you!

6. Petula Clark: "Downtown (German)"
I've got a surprising amount of German versions of pop songs--the Beatles, the Beach Boys, ABBA, Black Sabbath--but I think "Downtown" is pretty and had been in the mood for it lately.

7. Ruben Blades: "Buscando Guayaba"
I love this song, and it trails off into the sunset in its way, so it seemed like a natural closer. I first heard this song when I was 12, and I've never been able to forget it. I don't usually like salsa music all that much, either, but this is sort of playful and has some interesting instrumentation, especially the trombones. I understand this song is full of double entendres, but I don't speak Spanish well enough to get them, alas.

So it ends on a playful up-note, anyways.

Lo Siento

My hurts seem small in comparison.
They are petty and childish and selfish.
But they are mine.
They are me.
And if I could let them go,
Where would they go?
Would I be the same man?
And would that man
Be the right one?

13 September 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The American Nietzsche

Today marks the birth of one of my greatest heroes of the English language: H.L. Mencken. To celebrate; some quotes.

"Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

"Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it."

"Explanations exist: they have existed for all times, for there is always an easy solution to every problem — neat, plausible and wrong."

"Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary."

"All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among them. All it can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are."

"It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull."

"When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost... All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

"To sum up: 1. The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. 2. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. 3. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him the ride."

"The fact is that the average man's love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty — and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies."

"The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught."

"The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by such learned dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe — that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power, and hence a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent."

"I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind — that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overborne by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking."

"All successful newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never defend anyone or anything if they can help it; if the job is forced on them, they tackle it by denouncing someone or something else."

"The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man — that is, virtuous in the Y.M.C.A. sense — has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading."

"Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only error to be exposed."

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."

"A man full of faith is simply one who has lost (or never had) the capacity for clear and realistic thought. He is not a mere ass; he is actually ill. Worse, he is incurable, for disappointment, being essentially an objective phenomenon, cannot permanently affect his subjective infirmity. His faith takes on the virulence of a chronic infection. What he usually says, in substance, is this: 'Let us trust in God, who has always fooled us in the past.'"

"Nature abhors a moron."

"The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind."

"Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking."

"Immorality is the morality of those who are having a better time."

"An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup."

"A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn't know."

"Platitude — An idea (a) that is admitted to be true by everyone, and (b) that is not true."

"Remorse — Regret that one waited so long to do it."

"Self-respect — The secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious."

"We are here and it is now: further than that, all human knowledge is moonshine."

"Historian — An unsuccessful novelist."

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

"Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage."

"The theory seems to be that so long as a man is a failure he is one of God's chillun, but that as soon as he has any luck he owes it to the Devil."

"Lawyer — One who protects us against robbers by taking away the temptation."

"Jealousy is the theory that some other fellow has just as little taste."

"Misogynist — A man who hates women as much as women hate one another."

"A man may be a fool and not know it — but not if he is married."

"Bachelors know more about women than married men. If they didn't they'd be married, too."

"Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under."

"In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for. As for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican."

"Theology — An effort to explain the unknowable by putting it into terms of the not worth knowing."

"Creator — A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh."

"Sunday — A day given over by Americans to wishing that they themselves were dead and in Heaven, and that their neighbors were dead and in Hell."

"A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier."

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."

"I have often argued that a poet more than thirty years old is simply an overgrown child."

"A society made up of individuals who were all capable of original thought would probably be unendurable. The pressure of ideas would simply drive it frantic. The normal human society is very little troubled by them. Whenever a new one appears the average man displays signs of dismay and resentment, The only way he can take in such a new idea is by translating it crudely into terms of more familiar ideas. That translation is one of the chief functions of politicians, not to mention journalists. They devote themselves largely to debasing the ideas launched by their betters. This debasement is intellectually reprehensible, but probably necessary to carry on the business of the world."

"Human life is basically a comedy. Even its tragedies often seem comic to the spectator, and not infrequently they actually have comic touches to the victim. Happiness probably consists largely in the capacity to detect and relish them. A man who can laugh, if only at himself, is never really miserable."

"No government is ever really in favor of so-called civil rights. It always tries to whittle them down. They are preserved under all governments, insofar as they survive at all, by special classes of fanatics, often highly dubious."

"God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless, the miserable. They find not only sanctuary in His arms, but also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos: He will set them above their betters."

"Equality before the law is probably forever inattainable. It is a noble ideal, but it can never be realized, for what men value in this world is not rights but priveleges."

"Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses."

"Democracy is the pathetic belief in the wisdom of collective ignorance."

"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats."

"Firmness in decision is often merely a form of stupidity. It indicates an inability to think the same thing out twice."

"It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place."

"It is often argued that religion is valuable because it makes men good, but even if this were true it would not be a proof that religion is true. That would be an extension of pragmatism beyond endurance. Santa Claus makes children good in precisely the same way, and yet no one would argue seriously that the fact proves his existence. The defense of religion is full of such logical imbecilities."

"Liberals have many tails and chase them all."

"One seldom discovers a true believer that is worth knowing."

"Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all other philosophers are jackasses. He usually proves it, and I should add that he also usually proves that he is one himself."

"School teachers, taking them by and large, are probably the most ignorant and stupid class of men in the whole group of mental workers."

"Sunday School: A prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents."

"Suppose two-thirds of the members of the national House of Representatives were dumped into the Washington garbage incinerator tomorrow, what would we lose to offset our gain of their salaries and the salaries of their parasites?"

"The essence of science is that it is always willing to abandon a given idea for a better one; the essence of theology is that it holds its truths to be eternal and immutable."

"The essential dilemma of education is to be found in the fact that the sort of man (or woman) who knows a given subject sufficiently well to teach it is usually unwilling to do so."

"The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of the truth — that error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it has been cured of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one."

"The United States has never developed an aristocracy really disinterested or an intelligentsia really intelligent. Its history is simply a record of vacillations between two gangs of frauds."

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Jonah Hill is hilarious, but what a piece of shit. It's like the movie equivalent of one of those idiotic, smarmy Mac vs. PC commercials. Quit trying to convince me that Justin Long is a star! He sucks! He's not clever enough to be Chevy Chase and he's not charismatic enough to be Bill Murray, but he sure tries hard to be both of them. I liked seeing Diora Baird in a movie, but the screenplay thinks it's funny to have her every line of dialogue be a clumsy, thudding, unfunny double entendre. Everyone else is just boring. Lewis Black might as well be wearing his price tag on his forehead. This feels like it was written by 13 year-olds for the benefit of 10 year-olds. And the ending... damn, that shit bugs me. If your ending is going to be total bullshit, at least make me feel like you've earned it. * star for Hill.

I don't know if this was just dated or not that good, but I found it hard to get through. Idealism can often be boring, and I don't think the movie follows the right character around. Seriously, the reporter? Didn't care. Broderick Crawford is magnificent in what feels like a B movie about city planning. *1/2 stars.

As a director, Liev Schreiber somehow manages to stay just on the right side of quirky without going too far overboard. Elijah Wood stars as a man collecting his family history; he takes a trip to the Ukraine to discover where his grandfather came from, and his family's history becomes intertwined with that of the family who guides him on his way. It's magical without being too full of itself, and manages not to overdo the coincidences. I was touched by it. **** stars.

Melina Mercouri is wonderful in this movie about a Greek prostitute and the intellectual American (director Jules Dassin) who tries to reform her. It's really a great commentary on the silly American need to intellectualize sex and control how it makes them feel by controlling people who embody it somehow. Of course, it merely stifles the poor woman and finally boils over. It makes its point hilariously. **** stars.

CONVOY (1978)
All I'm going to say is this: how sad it was to see the words "Directed by Sam Peckinpah" on this awful thing. * star.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Never forgetting does not mean starting a war with Iran. Or Iraq.

The Health Report: Week 39

How can I be putting on weight when I never eat?

I know, it's possible, it just sucks that it is.

Anyway, as you may have discerned, I've put some of the lost weight back on. I've got a rash again from the sweat and the fat, which is gross and a little sore. We moved some stuff around this weekend, so the sweating was pretty bad. We finally busted up and threw away the gigantic dresser we've had in our library room forever; we got a new bookcase and moved some stuff around, and my library is finally looking normal again. I'm going through another of my periodic phases were I want to pare down and get rid of things to clear it up a bit. It always makes me feel good to divest and get rid of things and rearrange a bit.

What I need is to rearrange my body. Get back on track. Now that I'm working during the day, I don't get a chance to eat every few hours like I used to, so I'm not snacking on the lettuce and the fruit all day anymore. I also haven't been to the gym in a couple of weeks now, partially because I still need to work out my parking situation at work; I want to get things so that I don't have to walk home, but can drive to the gym after work.

Hmm, it seemed like a lot was going on this week when I thought about writing this post, but that's really it. I'm doing well at my job--the words "excellent work" have been used to describe it--and it's busy enough that I've got stuff to do all day. Most of it is, however, done from a chair. Gots to make sure I get up and work myself out every day.

And, you know, stop eating so many cheeseburgers. Can't wait to start getting paid.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Did Charlie Brown Have Cancer?

Does anyone know? I heard that Charlie Brown was named after a childhood friend of Charles M. Schulz who later died of cancer, but did the character Charlie Brown actually have cancer?

Here's what I'm basing this on. In one cartoon (I think it's Snoopy Come Home, but I can't remember for sure), Charlie Brown talks about how he adopted Snoopy from a puppy farm. His parents took him there when he was recovering after a long illness to make him feel better. And I thought I'd read that that was the reason Charlie Brown was bald--chemotherapy.

Am I just way off-base there? I don't know why I have this firm memory of Charlie Brown having been a cancer patient, but I can't find any info about whether that's a myth or not online, and it's driving me crazy this morning.

What Does the Administration Do All Day?

This is kind of random and brief, so bear with me.

If Israel had been attacked by al-Qaeda on 9/11, Osama bin Laden would have been dead inside of a month, and the entire organization would either be destroyed or so deep underground that they wouldn't emerge for decades. Now, I'm not exactly a supporter of Israel--and I do find it hilariously hypocritical that Israel has nuclear weapons, but we feel we can tell Iran that they shouldn't be allowed to have them, because if anyone's gonna not hesitate to use them, it's Israel--but they do know how to take care of their own. I find it hilarious that our intelligence is able to figure out that he's going to release a new video before he does it, but they can't seem to get an exact fix on his location and bring him in.

Does anyone really believe we're looking for him? He's worth too much to the Administration alive as a wily boogeyman than as a war criminal. If we were really looking for him, we'd have him. It's been six years.

Like I said, Israel would've gotten him within a month, maybe two. They're not afraid to do whatever they have to for their own safety. Their leaders at least care about that. Our leaders don't. We have 1000 times the resources of Israel, and we can't even rebuild a city in less than two years. We can't actually help our own people if there's a chance that someone can make a few extra bucks off of a service exchange. Jesus, we don't even know how to build cars and electronic equipment anymore.

Please tell me why you keep voting Republican. Because I'm not sure what any Republican has ever done for this country. Other than freeing the slaves, they get that one. But, in the last 140 years, has there been anything else? Let's hear from New Orleans first on this one.

Ah, Brief ScarJo

Commonwealth Edison

Excuse me while I vent here, but is there a reason why the power companies needed to be privatized in the first place? Rural electrification was a government program, so why shouldn't there be regulation of the power industry, too?

I'm incredibly pissed off this morning because of ComEd and their typically shitty customer service. They train their phone drones to do one function, and when you need to talk to someone like a human being, it's like talking to a wall instead. I'm late paying my bill (a year of unemployment will do that to you), and they're supposed to shut off my power today. I got a disconnection notice in the mail. Now, Friday is pay day, and Friday the bill can be paid in full, but that's not important to the phone drones. Friday, four days from now, isn't fast enough for them. And because I apparently defaulted on an extended payment earlier this year (a year of unemployment will do that to you), I can't have them wait until Friday to let me pay the bill. No, it has to be right now, on my overdrawn bank account, or they're going to shut me off.

And all of this is over a matter of $109.40. Yeah, it hasn't been late for seven months and now they're after me. No, this is over 109 bucks that they so desperately need to stay afloat, even with their shitty service and the fact that they can't seem to bury those power lines because, you know, why should Illinois be an American state when it can have the infrastructure of Turkey?

I just got off the phone with some completely unhelpful person. I told her my story--that I've been unemployed for a year, but I'm working now, and I will have the money on Friday to pay for this. And because customer service employees are so badly trained and can't do anything but what the computer tells them to do, all she did was repeat that she couldn't give me an extra four days to actually pay the bill and I'm very sorry, sir, but there's nothing that can be done. Nice to know that when you're dealing with a monopoly, even talking to a human is like talking to a machine.

I asked to talk to her supervisor about this, since she obviously couldn't help me out. I was put on hold for several minutes, and then she took my number and said someone would call me back by the end of the day. Yeah, right. I'll just hold my breath over here.

How is waiting four days so I can actually pay my bill outside of the realm of possibility? What can you say about a company so unconcerned about fairness and good customer relations that, over 109 dollars, they're going to shut me off without taking into consideration my ability to pay?

Oh, ComEd, I promise that you have messed with the wrong person. Trust me on this. Because now things are going to get difficult for you.

UPDATE 10:52 AM: Ah, that was nice and fast.

I took it upon myself to call the Illinois Commerce Commission (1-800-524-0795) and talked to a very helpful and realistic woman. I may have claimed to be a newspaper writer. I told her my story, and didn't have to talk to her for very long before she put me on hold to call ComEd and talk to someone over there about my problem. She found their attitude to be pretty ridiculous (although she didn't use that word), but she negotiated a stay of disconnection with them, giving me until--wait for it--Friday when I get paid. I had to go through a third party to negotiate a complete non-issue like this.

Still, thanks to the ICC for taking care of it. I appreciate it. I just think it's kind of sad that ComEd won't just listen to their customer. So much so, that Illinois needs to set up a commission to watch these assholes.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Song of the Week: "Always On Your Side"

Because I am. Sheryl Crow and Sting, from last year or so.

A Quick Message to the Credit Card Companies

Maybe you can learn a lesson from what's happening to mortgages right now. Seriously, think about it. The real estate bubble burst; yours will too. Enjoy your bankruptcy.

Ah, the American economy. When you go to vote next year, just remember that we have Ronald Reagan and his need to make everything profit-driven to thank for this. That we had a functioning economy with a surplus under Clinton. That the Republicans always like to claim that big government doesn't work, but they always make things worse for you and me and everyone else struggling to live just above the poverty line.

Privatization is not capitalism in action. It's the way that the government abdicates its responsibility and leaves poor people to fend for themselves.

Equality? Not here.

Why This Is the Best Picture Ever

Okay, maybe not ever, but it is pretty great. I can't get enough of it. I'm using it as my desktop wallpaper right now. I don't know how this is going to sound, really, but I've been thinking about it and this is what I've got.

I love this picture beyond what it probably deserves. After years of being saturated with pictures of 16 to 22 year-old female celebrities, this is a breath of fresh air. Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan, etc. etc. ad nauseum and so forth--they've been showing us their dirty pussies and their plastic tits and their skanky, lanky bodies for years now. We've become inured to it; if the above bunch had set out to make America think that young women were all icky and nasty and fake and disgusting, then mission accomplished. The flower of young, feminine sexuality has been twisted in such an ugly way by Hollywood and the media, and it's a constant disappointment seeing those young women constantly play along. Boob jobs at 18, nose jobs at 14, flashing their gashes, all that crap. It's cynical and it's dead and it's boring and it's unattractive.

And then this picture of Vanessa Hudgens comes along, and it's, as I said, fresh air. She looks like a normal, healthy, pretty 18 year-old girl. She's not waxed, she's not surgically enhanced, she's not creepy skeletal, and she's very cute. She's not posing or full of herself; she looks as awkward and uncertain and blessedly normal as any other girl her age. There's a little magic there.

Granted, it probably won't last. But that's one of the things about it; it's more precious because it doesn't last. I don't expect it to. But for right now, after seeing an endless march of cynical celebutantes and wasted teen stars (you're next, Hayden Panetierre, I'm sure of it), this is a nice moment in time. And I'm enjoying it this weekend. Thanks, Vanessa. And I think it's bullshit you had to apologize to Disney for doing something in your personal life.