Archive for March, 2003

War Epigraph

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

William Burroughs, from Ah Pook Is Here:

“Here lived a stupid vulgar son of a bitch who thought he could hire DEATH as a company cop.”

This epigraph would make an appropriate epitaph for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Walkowitz, or Perle, when their time comes.

Beijing Bicycle

Tuesday, March 25th, 2003

Xiaoshuai Wang’s Beijing Bicycle recalls in certain ways VIttorio De Sica’s neorealist classic The Bicycle Thief; but Wang’s film leaves behind the humanist pieties of the Italian film, painting a harsher picture of poverty and wealth in post-Communist China…
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The Biggest Gangsta

Saturday, March 22nd, 2003

What this war is really about is George W. Bush showing the world that he is the biggest, baddest gangsta of them all. The war is a message, sent to everyone on the planet, and written in Iraqi blood: “I can do whatever the fuck I want, and you are powerless to stop me”…
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Ali G

Saturday, March 22nd, 2003

Last night, I caught Da Ali G. Show on HBO. Brilliant and funny. Ali G. is the alter ego of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen; he’s the quintessential white suburban gangsta/hiphop wannabe, and he conducts talk-show interviews and performs various stunts. Mostly he does the talk-show thing, asking his guests the most inane, stupid, and off-the-wall irrelevant questions, This is comedy as real-time performance art, in the manner of Andy Kaufman; the guests are “real” people, i.e. celebrities or authorites, and their encounters with Ali G. are unscripted. I was pretty much hysterical with laughter when Ali G. interviewed C. Everett Koop, asking him importunate questions about various body parts–questions about whether the heart could be reprogrammed to have a drum ‘n’ bass beat instead of its usual one-two; or about the growth of the bones and skeletal system, which turned out to be really about having a “boner”; and as a followup to that, Ali asked Koop (doubtless thinking of lots of chintzy horror films): “I know this is something of a generalization, but why are skeletons evil?” Koop struggled throughout to maintain his dignity, though his puzzlement was obvious, as well as his increasing conviction that Ali G. was an idiot. All in all, pop culture post-ironic performance at its finest.

The War on TV

Friday, March 21st, 2003

I haven’t been watching much of it–I find it hard to take–(whereas Jacalyn has had it on all evening)–but the war coverage on CNN and the other news channels is quite bizarre. Endless shots taken from, and showing, tanks rolling across the utterly empty desert, nothing happening, nothing to see except for the occasional white flag of surrendering Iraqi soldiers (who look like they haven’t gotten a square meal, or a bath or a change of clothes, in weeks). Inane, repetitious voiceovers by the news anchors and reporters, reminding me of nothing so much as the “color commentary” in football games. This is quite different from the war-as-videogame metaphor that dominated media coverage of the first Gulf War. This time, it’s war as reality television. Only it’s not edited down the way Survivor or Anna Nicole are, where each day is compressed into seven minutes or so. Screen time equals real time in the Gulf War Show, which gives it an oddly avant-garde quality. Boredom is the sole redeeming quality of this war coverage. But I wonder what will happen when they get to the actual carnage–will it be the reality show version of Saving Private Ryan, or will it simply not be shown at all?

Haiku Tunnel

Friday, March 21st, 2003

Josh Kornbluth‘s film (with his brother Jacob) Haiku Tunnel (2001) is basically a shaggy-dog story about the horrors of office work, told with self-reflexive wit and self-deprecating Jewish humor. It started out, in fact, as a comic monologue, but its translation into a movie went quite well. You have all these absurd situations, both those imposed by the nature of the workplace (a law firm) and those that result from Josh’s own out-of-control (but endearing) neuroses. (I refer to the fictional “Josh Kornbluth,” of course, not to the person of the same name who wrote, directed, and starred in the film). It’s always nice to see a low-budget, independent film like this, unpretentious but smart and on the money with what it is trying to do. Not to mention that it’s shot in San Francisco, and my old friend (from elementary school!) Joshua Raoul Brody has a small role. Extra points for including, briefly, stuff about heterosexual Jewish men’s lusting after WASP women (on the one hand) and black women (on the other). (A double subject that was treated much more extensively, but also much less interestingly, in Barry Levinson’s Liberty Heights).

Antonio Damasio

Tuesday, March 18th, 2003

Antonio R. Damasio is a neurobiologist, and one of the scientists whose work has seemed most provocative and interesting to me recently. I just finished reading is new book, Looking for Spinoza
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Quoted Without Comment

Tuesday, March 18th, 2003

“Representative John Carter, (R-Texas), suggested that college students would stop downloading if some were prosecuted and received sentences of 33 months or longer, like the defendants in the DOJ’s Operation Buccaneer. ‘I think it’d be a good idea to go out and actually bust a couple of these college kids,’ Carter said. ‘If you want to see college kids duck and run, you let them read the papers and somebody’s got a 33-month sentence in the federal penitentiary for downloading copyrighted materials.’ ” (from Yahoo News)

Iraq

Monday, March 17th, 2003

I have nothing to say about the war. Everything Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and company are doing is too revolting and too cynical for words.

The Value of “Diversity”

Monday, March 17th, 2003

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (paid registration needed to access text–sorry) reports on a new study that casts doubt upon “academic research that asserts the educational benefits of diversity.” According to this new study, “students of all ethnic backgrounds feel that as minority enrollment grows, the quality of their education diminishes and incidents of discrimination increase.” If “diversity” doesn’t improve the quality of education, then one of the main arguments for affirmative action has been refuted. Or so the study suggests. But (as Jerry Springer used to say) there’s more to this story…
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