Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Thursday, April 28, 2005

On The Road Again...

I'm moving this weekend to the garrett apartment of a dear friend whose wealth is exceeded only by his generosity to a parasitic academic who will most like steal all the silverware and pawn in for beer money. So that means that I'll be out of touch with electricity for a bit, and unable to regale you with the persistent irritations and miseries of my existence. Your patience is appreciated, but not required.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

This One's For The Ladies...Well, Not Really.

Calista Flockhart has dropped off the public radar--a fact for which I'm not entirely grateful, since viewers of Neal Labute's Bash will be struck by the fact that she's quite a good actress when she wants to be--but her legacy lingers painfully. As does that of Twiggy, for all of you old enough to recall that unwelcome British import. And Kate Moss. And Fiona Apple. And every woman everywhere who appears on camera and is expected to be found 'attractive.' I refer, of course, to the seemingly eternal tyranny of Dachau chic--that evil that takes genuinely attractive women (Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Connelly, Thandie Newton) and turns them into nightmarish creatures that look like Edward Gorey, Edvard Munch, and Modigliani put all their worst visual impulses into a blender that spat out a skeletal freak of skin-covered bone. This is so...wrong. And not for the women, mind you--for us, the men of the world. Because the sight of hot, hot chicks is really one of the few things that gets us out of bed in the morning--we're essentially knuckle-dragging thugs, as I'm sure I don't have to tell you, so food and sex are the only things that push us forward through our daily routines--otherwise, we'd just stop and scratch ourselves in unmentionable places for hours on end.

But our right to this visual compensation for the crushing misery that is life has been slowly eroded over the years. Oh, there was that brief moment of hope when Anna Nicole Smith (back when a daily diet of big ol' heapin' bowls of Percocet and Oxycontin hadn't reduced her to a slurring manatee) became the Guess! jeans girl and men around the planet crossed their fingers in the hopes that this marked a swing backward of the pendular zeitgeist. Alas, it did not. Now we're stuck with Victoria's Secret models who look like they've been temporarily dragged upright from lying prone in a heroin-induced stupor, dipped in body make-up and had their over-priced whore-garb Krazy-glued onto their cadaverous frames (because they don't have enough bodily articulation to support the garments with their own flesh), then thrown in front of the cameras to totter down oddly lit, dove-strewn hallways while a perverse voice-over tells us these resurrected corpses are 'sexy.' Not unless necrophilia's your thing, they're not. (Tyra Banks at least has the ability to smile--so maybe she just likes being hungry all the time--we'll let Tyra take a walk on this one, provided that walk leads her to a Dairy Queen for a Blizzard.)

Look, I know we're a nation of fatties. (And yeah, I ruefully add myself into that category. I'm not 'helper belt' fat--I'm still in the comparative mild "Could Stand To Lose A Few Pounds" category--but I'm not what I was in college, and dammit, I looked good back then. Sigh. But I'll start losing the weight real soon. I promise. Heh, I crack myself up.) I know that obesity is out of control and we're becoming more sedentary by the minute--I'm surprised I can muster up the energy to type...so weary...must...stop...(Long nap, followed by half-a-dozen Red Bulls.) OK, I'm back. Seriously, we need to get off the damn couch and run our asses around the block for a half-hour every day. We need to order the salad as a side instead of the fries (and potato/macaroni salads don't count!)--we need to eat less, drink more water, and walk to the Post Office instead of driving. And so I don't want what I say next to be taken as a suggestion that we can all let ourselves go. Diabetes is no fun, people, and heart attacks hurt. If you can only bathe with a scrubbing stick, you need to lose the weight. But that said--

Dammit, ladies, enough with the damn skinniness! Stop listening to those evil f***s who 'set the public taste'--a group, I'm convinced, that is entirely made up of evil gay men (who, because they find all women unattractive, want all women to be as unattractive as they themselves find them, and so create a standard that succeeds in making all women unattractive, thus vindicating said evil gay men in their preferance for boinking shaven-chested studs) and bitter old hags (who know that their youth and bloom are lost, and are determined, like the Queen in Snow White, to doom all other women to lives of blighted beauty rather than face up to this unpleasant fact)! Stop listening to them when they tell you that Gwyneth Paltrow and Rene Zellweger "look fabulous" in their Vera Wangs! No, they don't! They look like they're about to collapse like a stack of pick-a-sticks! They look, in the words of Patton Oswalt, like "if you f*** [them, they'll] tear!" They look bad, in other words.

Ladies, listen to me, and listen close; I say this on behalf of all men everywhere: If you're ten pounds 'overweight,' we will not notice. If you're twenty pounds, we will not care. Breasts and hips are good things--flesh is attractive, not repulsive--you are far more beautiful and sexy and head-spinningly attractive now than you would be if you looked like the freaks who teeter down the catwalks, whom the slightest breeze would knock over. We like you the way you look now. We really, really do. You are the hot chicks we get out of bed to see in the morning. You. Not the bony figurines on-screen. You. We love and desire you. Because you're real. Because you show us what women are supposed to look like--because you have what we want--a body with shape and form and curves. You look good, ladies--no, f*** that--you look damn fine. F*** the half-decayed zombies who shuffle across the airwaves and movie screens and the pages of Vogue. It's you we want. Please, please, please stop listening to the invisible monsters who tell you you're not good enough and listen to us: Yes. You are.

Now I trust we'll never have to revisit this topic. Please?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Death of Dworkin

I'm going to Hell. I just am. I don't like this fact. I hope that the afterlife of the damned is just a bleak world where the only torment is the absence of God, because the prospect of spending eternity crammed into a body-stuffed pit of sulphurous fire while being jabbed by cackling malfreeti is something I'd rather not dwell upon. 'Cause that would, you know, suck.

Why, you ask, am I going to Hell? Many reasons--not the least of which is I never see the inside of a church unless someone's getting married or ritually interred. (Or both--one half of my family is numerous and Irish--redundant--so we occasionally double up to save time/cost. Anyway--) Part of the reason I'm going to Hell is that I can't control certain moments of pure evil--thoughts only, but thoughts can damn as much as deeds, I'm afraid. One such thought occurred last week with the death of Andrea Dworkin.

My mother, as a schoolgirl, attended a Catholic school--like many of the students, she herself wasn't Catholic, but it was the best education that could be had for the money, and so she went. Not being Catholics, she and her fellow Protestants tended to regard with predictable irreverence the nuns who instructed them with predictably punitive dogmatism. Nuns being nuns--and thus mortal--one of the sisters died while my mother was at the school. There was a school ceremony as part of her funeral, and on the way back from this ceremony, one of my mother's peers--a girl I will forever admire as a fellow in humanistic villainy--commented: "Well, that's one less to contend with." Of course, she was overheard and expelled--probably because she should have said "That's one fewer with which to contend." Those nuns can be strict about their grammar. Regardless--when I heard of Dworkin's passing, I could not stifle a smile of wicked satisfaction and the thought "One less to contend with." (Yeah, I know, I'm also going to Hell for my own internal bad grammar.)

What's worse is that upon reflection, I just can't regret this inner sin of mine. Andrea Dworkin was an apostle of hate, and just because her chosen constituency (all women everywhere, except for the ones who chose to pursue beliefs/practices she disagreed with) is more sympathetic than, say, the redneck monsters who compose the Klan, that doesn't make her any less of a divisive, bigoted monster herself. Her motivation was resentment--her driving force was wrath. She was not a person of righteous anger--she was a person of self-righteous anger--a person for whom notoriety was mark of distinction, and who thus insulated herself from all legitimate criticism. She was not, in short, a person of good will or good deeds, and as far as I can tell, the world is better off without her. I've slammed folks on the right like Coulter--I slam Dworkin just as hard. (She'd probably read that last sentence as a thinly disguised threat of rape, a bugbear she saw lurking behind every corner--a paranoia that dilutes the power of the real thing.) I do not mourn her death--I celebrate it, quietly.

Which, frankly, does not make me a good person myself. On the contrary. It makes me the kind of wrath-driven monster I decry her for having been. And for that, I blame her. I'm going to Hell, and it's all Andrea Dworkin's fault. Is it any wonder I'm glad she's dead?

This Is So Totally Cool/Terrifying

Here's the article that's been circulating on the (buzzword alert! buzzword alert!) blogosphere lately, and it's something that will either make you laugh darkly (as I did) or make you click to a webpage explaining the procedure for transferring residence to, say, the Netherlands or Denmark or someplace far, far away from here:


Obviously, anything Phyllis Schlafly says is going to be hilarious--and frankly, doesn't this woman prove what a totally uncreative hack Ann Coulter is? Why people lose their minds over Ann's insane rantings (batsh*t loony though they are) when Phyllis has been doing this sort of thing for decades is beyond me. Ann's just following in the footsteps of the true Mistress of the Dark Side--a mere padawan of evil, if you will. And here, Phyllis doesn't disappoint, especially in her staggeringly ignorant statement "The Constitution is not what the Supreme Court says it is." Um, Phyllis? Actually, that's exactly what the Constitution is. Did you fall asleep in Civics class when they explained Marbury v. Madison? Dig out your old high school textbook and read that chapter--boy will you be in for a surprise!

But of course it's the truly jaw-droppingly evil remarks by Edwin Vieira that have all those liberal bloggers in a panty-twisting snit. (And rightly so, even if this guy is kind of a lunatic fringe non-enitity.) Referring to Stalin as "the greatest politician of the 20th century" is pretty stunning stuff--especially since, as a far-right loon, aren't you required by blood-oath to view Ronald Reagan in that position? Regardless, you gotta love a guy who equates "Marxist" and "Leninist" principles with "satanic" ones, but doesn't seem to have a problem with Stalinism. (Apparently, he hasn't cracked a history book for a while either.) And as for advocating Stalinist purges, well--you know what, I think he's done us a favor.

See, for the longest time public "discourse" (the screaming and ranting that claims to be "the free exchange of ideas") has been completely paralyzed by what's known as Godwin's Law, which started out, courtesy of Mike Godwin (former Staff Counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation), as the witty and largely accurate proposition that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one," and quickly morphed into the rhetorically reasonable proposition that "Comparing anything to Hitler or the Nazis in a debate automatically ends the discussion, giving victory to he who did not bring them up." True enough. The Nazis and Hitler were a unique phenomenon. Other murderous regimes of pure evil there have been (and will be), but the Nazis disturb like no other--they have become, almost beyond the bounds of their unspeakable actions, the symbol for pure, total, unquestionable evil--the mortal equivalent of the demonic. A symbolism they richly deserve, no doubt--though as mortals, they were confined in their evil by the bounds of certain elements of human nature, material considerations, etc. But it doesn't matter--the Nazis are simply short-hand for the absolute of evil. Thus, to compare anyone/thing to them is to equate that person/thing with absolute evil--and in the realm of the absolute, argument, discourse, and reason cannot function. So we can't use the Nazis as a point of comparison--which is a pity, because it's occasionally historically/factually appropriate to do so--but their symbolic nature trumps their historical/factual one every time.

But not Stalin, oddly enough. Even though Stalin was, I'd argue, actually much more evil than Hitler (Hitler, after all, actually believed in the cause for which he slaughtered millions--Stalin just liked the power and didn't give sh*t about Communism except insofar as it reinforced his totalitarian authority), he doesn't carry the same stamp of absolute evil as the Nazi regime. So maybe we should thank Mr Vieira. Because I think he's given us something/one to replace our Nazi comparisons. I think that instead of comparing, oh, say, Bush to Hitler, we might start comparing him to Stalin. (Actually, I think that the parallels between Karl Rove and Stalin are eerie. Paranoid, power-mad, given to purges of those who do not tow his own personal 'party-line,' oh, yeah, this guy and Dzhugashvili would see eye-to-evil-eye, I think.) I think that by publicly admitting his admiration for Stalin (admiration that won applause from the Delay crowd, mind you!), Vieira has revealed the rhetorical way for us. No more talk of Nazis or Goebbels or Hitler. No more lost arguments. We now have a new point of comparison when we need to point out the monstrous nature of our foes--and one that doesn't immediately lose us the argument. So, bloggers of the world, unite--we can now point the finger at our foes and cry "Stalin!" More evil than Hitler, and none of the 'irrational' stigma! And the internet dialogue will be a much more reasoned, logical process because of it, I've no doubt...

Friday, April 15, 2005

Satan in 2008

I've had another epiphany--a vision of such clarity as to provide absolute conviction--said epiphany taking the form of a political ad:

(Behind a desk sits the Devil. Horns, hooves, barbed tail, maybe a flaming halo, the whole demonic bit. He is, however, not red-skinned, but decidedly--almost pointedly--Teutonic in appearance. He has, of course, a charming smile and a soothing voice.)

Voiceover: I'm Lucifer, Lord of the Flies, and I approve this ad.

Devil: My fellow Americans--yeah, I'm one of you, "a citizen of all nations," you know the drill--I'd like to introduce myself. Some call me Satan, some call me Beelzebub, some call me a man of wealth and taste. But tonight, I'd like you all to get to know me as the Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States.

Now I know what you're thinking--and it's true, I've had a few youthful indiscretions. A few misdeeds. A few acts of pure and utter evil. But which of us hasn't done one or two things in his youth he'd just as soon forget? The important thing is, I've learned from my mistakes--and I like to think I'm a better candidate because of them.

(Gets up from behind the desk to half-sit in front of it--intimate and friendly. A wider shot reveals that the floor of his office is carpeted with the faces of the damned, their whispered howls of torment occasionally audible. The Devil notices the sound, and chuckles good-humoredly.)

Don't mind the noise--those are just gents who died of AIDS and ladies who died during botched abortions. I think we can agree we don't need to worry about them too much! (Laughs mildly, then gets serious.)

Folks, I want you all to know that, whatever you may think of me, I share your values. It's true--for one thing, like you, I believe in Jesus and acknowledge Him as the Son of God. Heck, I've met Him on more than one occasion, and I can tell you, He's a heckuva guy! Changed my life, I can tell you that for sure. I don't hold with those secularists who want to tell us there's no Heaven, no Hell, no consequences to the moral choices we make--why, I'm living proof that's just not so. So that judiciary who tries to make decisions based on science and the law--well, I've got no place for those folks--like you, I was happier back in the days when the Church made the calls--when people either followed the word of God as interpreted by, let's say, 'deeply committed,' absolutist-minded men of unthinking spirituality, or they got the worst kind of punishment humanity could devise. Let's face it, folks: a few more burnings at the stake, and this whole 'teaching evolution in our schools' situation is gonna shape up real quick. So you see, I'm right on your side on this whole 'rule of religion' thing. I say make prayer in schools mandatory--make kids think that religious devotion is a chore--a burden--homework!--rather than a chosen solace and a means of self-reflection and growing commitment to a higher power. Teach 'em to pray by rote, and they'll never think about the meaning of the words. Prayer in schools--it's got my vote, if I get yours.

Abortion? Hate it! Can't stand it! Those innocent little babies with their pure souls going straight to Heaven? It's an abomination, a Holocaust--and believe me, I know Holocausts! And the idea that women should be allowed to choose to avoid the misery and hardship that comes from their sins of fornication--or the rape and incest that, really, we all know they really wanted, the dirty, dirty whores--oh, you better believe I'm not in favor of that. The more lives on this earth, the better, I say--more souls equals more raw material for me--and for God, of course! But mostly me--heh! I mean, the more souls born into poverty and neglect and the cruelty of life that makes them question the existence of a loving God--why, that's my meat and potatoes! Folks, vote for me, and I'll stop this terrible, terrible medical procedure from ever happening again. Heck, I'll outlaw birth-control and sexual education, too--nothing like a fresh outbreak of STDs to teach these youngsters a lesson--their ignorant, soul-crushing suffering is better for me, and for you.

Gay marriage? Don't approve of it--hate it! Like all marriage, it promotes monogamy, encourages loving commitment, and creates a stable home environment. Marriage can be misery, and I love that, but come on--marriage is a sacrament, I've got to be against that. Plus, married people live longer, which means they go to hell later. Keep those faggots and dykes desperate and promiscuous, I say. Vote for me, and marriage will be a closed door to those...people.

Homeland security? Oh, we're gonna lock a lot of people up, you can bet on that--and I guarantee, they'll all be brown--none of you good white folks need to worry! Nothing like a little pandemic of racism to make sure that you folks feel nice and proud of your ethnic identity, and those folks feel envy and wrath because of theirs. Vote for me, and I'll figure out a way to put blacks and Latinos on the list, too--I'll turn this country a whiter shade of pale, my fellow Caucasian-Americans.

Environment? I think we've heard just about enough of it, right? I mean, God made the Earth, right? So anything that upsets His handiwork has got to please me, and hey, if He really cared, He'd do something to stop us, right? Vote for me, and we'll be drilling in Alaska, Yosemite, and Central Park before the year's out. And I'll be offering incentives for folks to buy SUVs--got to make sure that those terrorist-supporting regimes get their blood money! A Hummer in every driveway, that's a promise. And who cares about global warming--that's why we've all got air-conditioning, right?

Taxes? Don't like 'em. I mean, where does all that money go? The military? Why, if we just used our army correctly--if we just marched in and took whatever booty we needed from the weaker, lesser nations, it'd pay for itself! Bring back the good old days of naked Imperialism, I say. And the rest of the money goes to things like Welfare, Medicare, Social Security--folks, you've got to know I can't stand the idea of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. I'm the candidate of Mammon, people--vote for me, and I'll make sure your wallets stay good and fat.

Gun rights? Oh, Lord, do I even have to go there? Folks, more guns means more gun violence--a gun in the home means that wrath is enabled a hundred-fold. I don't want to ban guns, folks--I want to make them mandatory. Background checks? Waiting periods? This isn't Canada, folks! We're Americans, and we believe in our right to bear arms--and to use them, at the slightest provocation.

Drugs? Keep 'em illegal, I say--make 'em more illegal, I say! Overcrowded prisons, monstrous drug lords maintaining their strangle-hold on terrified citizens, the violence and whoring that come from their unavailabilty--people, you don't want your kids to be able to get their hands on pot legally, and neither do I.

Censorship? Oh, you better believe I'm in favor of that. Look, if artists have the freedom to express themselves, they're just going to end up telling you stuff you don't want to hear. If sex becomes an open subject, people might learn that it's nothing to be ashamed of! Folks, I want to make TV and movies as bland and homogenous as they were back in the good old days. Nothing subversive. Nothing offensive. Drive those libidinal impulses down nice and deep--let 'em fester--let 'em turn ugly and mean. Vote for me, and all you'll see on your screen is stuff that makes Ozzie and Harriet look like Reservoir Dogs.

I could go on. Lord knows, I could. But folks, I think I've said enough. Sure, I'm the Devil. Sure, I'm the personification of Evil. Sure, I'm just doing these things to make the world a more horrible place to live in. But folks, I'm gonna do exactly what you've been clamoring for from your government. I'm gonna give you exactly the kind of country you want. And, come on, what are you gonna do--vote for a Democrat? I'm the nominee of the party you're always gonna vote for no matter what--you've got no choice. But that's OK, my fellow Americans. Because I'm a choice you can feel good about. I'll get the job done--the job you want me to do--the job I want to do. Thank you, and--oh, what the heck--God Bless The United States of America. (Under his breath.) Yeah. Right.

(A low-voiced announcer gives the sign off.)

Satan: He's doing the 'right' things for the wrong reasons.

He'd win in a landslide, people. It wouldn't even be close. Scary...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Biopic Dilemma

I remember a fragment of a review I read of The Big Chill--I think it was in The New Yorker--that said something to the effect that it was "the cinematic equivalent of a wonderful Chinese dinner--absolutely delightful when you're in the theater, forgotten less than twenty minutes after you leave." I just saw Ray, and I had a similar experience. I really enjoyed the movie--cried at all the right places, really got into the music--the music is the reason to see the movie, frankly, but that's because it's a movie about--duh-huh!--a musician--if the music hadn't been the reason to see the movie, there wouldn't have been a movie. And of course I was curious to see the performance by Jamie Foxx that caused brilliant work by Paul Giamatti (Sideways) and Liam Neeson (Kinsey) to get passed over by the academy (hell, those guys weren't even nominated!) And I've got to say, what the hell is with Jamie Foxx? When did this guy get so damn good? I mean, am I the only one who still instinctively thinks of him as 'one of those guys from In Living Color'? As a stand-up? And yet here he goes with this really frighteningly good performance--I'm not saying he should have won all the awards, since much of the role demanded imitation rather than creative work, but still--damn. Damn. And this in the same year he did Collateral. What happened? Did he go to the same crossroads where Tommy Johnson sold his soul to the devil and make a similar deal? Damn.

But having said Damn, I have to say that the film has faded in the light of day. And not because I can find any particular flaw therein--strong, unpretentious direction--a really fine supporting cast (no-one is miscast, a rare and remarkable thing)--and of course, the music, my God, the music. But I don't feel I know much more about Ray Charles than I did going in (apart from the fact that he quit heroin the very first time he tried to, to which I have to say again: Damn.) But apart from gleefully watching Foxx launching into song after song in the recording studio and in front of those crowds on 'the Chitlin Circuit,' few moments from the film linger--broad strokes of the death of his brother, his nightmarish withdrawal pains, but not too much else. One would think that I'd just blame the screenwriter and be done with it. But it occurs to me that the fault of film lies in the fact that biopics--films that attempt to 'sum up' the life of a great person, must inevitably fail. (N.B.: I am not referring to films that tell the stories of historical events--Erin Brockovich works because it's the story of a legal case, fueled by the character of its unlikely lead investigator--Topsy-Turvy [a stunningly brilliant film] works because it's the story of the first production of The Mikado, and how the lives of the artists involved went into its creation. Such films do not attempt to 'tell all' about their historically extant characters--they simply show enough of those characters to fuel the larger plot. A subtle difference, but a key one, as we'll see.)

Why? Well, it's what I'm sure someone else before now has referred to as 'The Rosebud Principle'--at the end of Citizen Kane, the reporter Thompson abandons his quest to discover the meaning of 'Rosebud,' not out of failure, but out of a conviction that his experiences have led him to: "I don't think a man's life can be summed up in a single word." And you know what? That is the moment we should carry away from the film--the fact that Rosebud is something as trivial as a sled--something that poor film critics have invested with so much meaning and symbolic significane--is precisely the point: it's just a f***ing sled, folks. Sure, it means a lot--but it doesn't mean everything. I mean, think about it: who doesn't long for the innocence of childhood? We all do--so the supposed 'revelation' of Rosebud is no revelation at all. There are plenty of 'moments' in the film that are more illuminative about Kane's character: his decision to finish Leland's scathing review of his wife's opera, his firm insistence to his anti-Semitic first wife that Mr. Bernstein will be allowed to visit the nursery and that his employee's gift will be visible when he does, his voiced desire to become everything Thatcher hates, his tearing up of the list of principles that Leland sends him in the ultimate 'f*** you' gesture--these moments show us a hell of a lot more of who Kane is than that damn sled. And yet it's the sled people focus on. Because we've only got two hours to 'explain' a man, and the sled is simple, digestible. It's also a complete lie. (We also might offer the corrolary of "The Psycho Principle," since the movie concludes with that lengthy, dry, and--I'm convinced, intentionally 'neat' and 'tidy' and 'safely comprehensible'--lecture as to why Norman went completely bats**t--then we cut to Norman as 'Mother' and realize that the explanation is completely irrelevant in the face of the monstrous thing this man has become.)

So the makers of biopics are forced to choose--do we give the audience a Rosebud, or not? If they do, you get things like Kinsey--man has a sexually repressive father whom he hates, man goes out to unrepress the world. Yeah, I'm sure that had something to do with it, Alfred, but come on, that's not all. Or Cobb: man's father is murdered by wife/wife's lover, man becomes hideous human being and greatest baseball player who ever lived. Or worse, you get things like A Beautiful Mind, which sucked on so many levels I can't begin to discuss it, except to say that yes, in the words of my ancestor, "Great wits to madness are near allied," but they're not the same.

On the other hand, if we don't have a Rosebud, we get things like Ray, which, yes, tells us about Ray's heroin addiction, but never gives us a strong sense as to why he started it--apart from odd and really inadequate suggestions that it was guilt over the death of his brother. Maybe, but the movie also shows that the guys who introduce him to heroin are rude jerks who treat him quite poorly, so why would he want to be one of their club, especially when the film focuses on his stubborn, go-it-alone streak? Or Nixon, which never really explains the man beyond vague allusions to his Quaker upbringing--which doesn't, if you think about it, explain at all why he became a son-of-a-b*tch. And while some lives are interesting enough to watch without an explanation (Citizen Cohn is a good example), such biopics become little more than a checklist of 'high points' from the life, without the connecting thread of the artistically interpreted character of the biographical subject. Great acting often disguises this flaw--it certainly does in Ray, and Kinsey, and The Aviator--to name but three recent biopics, all of which I really enjoyed, but didn't come away with any reaction other than, maybe, a desire to read the biographies of the men portrayed so I could get a real notion of who they were. Film is ultimately a poor medium for portraying a life--character can be conveyed, but not enough to explain the decades of existance that contribute to the great achievements of that life. Biopics must, I think, always be unfulfilling--enjoyable for the bravura performances that they elicit (speaking of A Beautiful Mind...)--but they can't contain enough to explain--to portray in an intellectually as well as an emotionally appreciable way--the lives they're attempting to capture. One word can't sum up a man's life. Neither can a film.

This concludes today's lecture. Quiz on Monday, so study up.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Still Down

Alas, depression continues to fester. Mostly a reaction to stress and isolation, I imagine--gotta move soon, wife's away up north doing her theater gig--but there it is. Which means that I'm still bereft of anything of substantial interest to say, since all I can really think about is how everything feels empty and pointless. (Well, not everything--I'm still having my parents Tivo Deadwood every week, and I'm keeping up with my 'self-improvement' reading--right now I'm hacking my way through Adorno's Negative Dialectics, and don't you wish you were me? Or is it 'I'? Let's see, 'to be' takes the nominative as its accusative...Hell with it.) Mostly I'm just moody and withdrawn and inclined to react to the world with retreat and/or a shrug that says 'whatever, fine with me, can't care right now.' Not an appealing, witty frame of mind. Still, history has shown that time passes and so does the mood, and that thought alone is some comfort. Just have to dig in and wait/work it through...Stay tuned.

Friday, April 08, 2005

I...I...I just...I Can't Believe...

Words continue to fail me on this one:

A transcript of the words of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on the Senate floor on April 4th:

"I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence."

That's right; according to the Senator from the great state of Texas, the spate of violence isn't the fault of jihad-ist monsters and thuggish loons who don't like the fact that there's a separation between church and state and that judges, often reluctantly, must ethically choose the latter when confronted with a choice--nope, it's the fault of those damned 'political' judges. And, by implication, said judges kind of have it coming--oh, he doesn't condone--but, you know, he understands.

Sometimes...sometimes...words just aren't capable of expressing sufficient disgust. "The muck-wallowing depths of crapulence" comes close, though.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

More Laziness

In lieu of a post today, please read the semi-substantial response I made to a comment on my April 1st b*tch-and-moan-fest about my depression returning (still there, by the way, but less so.) On the cheering side, I walked into my classroom to teach my first section yesterday, only to discover that over half of my students were former students, who'd gone out of their way to follow me this term. Kind of nice to know that somebody thinks I'm doing a good job. (And no, it's not because I'm an easy grader, wiseacres. Quite the contrary, really.) Anyhoo, read the response; it's short but trivial...

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Quotation Rather Than Originality

What I think will be my--well, not really my--last thought on the Schiavo fiasco, and really not so much on her and the moral implications of what letting her life end meant and blah blah blah, but instead the eerie decision of officials to attempt to override the laws and the courts--not to initiate reform, but to ignore the rule of law--not to change what they perceived to be an unjust judicial process, but to deny the authority of that process altogether. That way chaos lies, and I was reminded of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, in which Thomas More ('Saint' or 'Sir,' depending on your Christian orientation) has to keep chiding his empty-headed son-in-law, Will Roper, who perpetually adopts radical (and polar) religious and political positions. A new law is being discussed--an oath which all prominent Englishmen must take, recognizing Anne Boleyn as Henry VIII's lawful wife, certifying his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. This oath (which effectively created the Church of England) obviously demands that practicing Catholics renounce their belief in Catholic dogma, and this More refuses to do (which, of course, is why he ends up nine inches shorter by the end of the play/film.) But More concedes that if he can find some way to reconcile his conscience to the wording of the law, he will take it. With typical stupidity, Will dismisses this decision as inadequate and urges him to flout what he calls the Devil's law--to ignore it--and More responds with uncharacteristic--and thus quite deeply felt--harshness:

Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Amen, Sir Thomas. Senator Delay would do well to consider it--when, of course, he's not busy "murdering" his own brain-dead father in the name of compassion. Oh, wait, that was different--Delay's father needed kidney dialysis and a feeding tube. Completely unrelated situations. Right.

Oh, and can someone out there get off the g*ddamned dime and recognize that we're now well beyond an agricultural age--hell, we're beyond an industrial age and now well into a digital one--and put an end to the archaic nonsense of daylight savings time? So it gets dark sooner/later, so f*cking what?! I had to spend the whole morning fixing all the clocks--you notice how everything has a clock in it these days?--and I just feel as if my time could have been better spent...

Friday, April 01, 2005

Depression's Back

Yeah, I know, it's as boring to read as it is to relate, but the black tide has rolled in again, and it has once again left me unmotivated to spew my usual dose of witty bile. No major reason--well, I'll be moving soon, and the new grind of teaching is starting soon (which also means that I'm stuck in the do-nothing limbo of 'what-good-am-I' idleness), and I haven't heard back from the folks at Singapore, which means that I'm not their first choice and they're just waiting for said first-choice to say "yes" so they can get around to telling me "no," and I just had pretty clever paper (Hamlet and Rear Window--A Clash of Neurotically Compulsive Hyper-interpretations!) rejected for a conference, and I don't have any irons in the fire with regard to jobs or a project or a life, and basically, what with wife away and parents away and my being pressed into service as a housesitter, I'm trapped here up in Oxnard, moping around the empty house and moodily ruminating on the failures of my life. So, I mean, what's the deal? Why on earth should I be depressed, I ask you? Still, I am, and I'll have to claw my way out a bit before I can offer you words of snarling and perspicuous charm. Sorry...

...oh, and I wish I could say this was all part of some elaborate April Fool's Joke, but alas, it is not. As a side note, does it strike that this day must have an appalling amount of personal/emotional blow-back for people who have to try to do/say something really serious, only to be presumed in jest?
"I have cancer."
"Hah! Good one, Bob!"
"No, really, I have cancer!"
"You slay me!"
"G*ddammit, I have cancer!!!"
"This guy's a wild man!"
And so forth. Not an entirely well-thought-out holiday--perhaps we need a 'safety-word' to be used in the event of genuine communication.
"I've fallen in love with someone else and I'm leaving you."
"Oh, honey, you always could make me laugh!"
"Oh, sh*t--you're serious!"
See how much better that would be? Sigh. Depression sucks. Wheelbarrow.