Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Few Words of Encouragement

Now then. After criticizing Barry on a few things, the time has come for me to be an Obamabot/Muslin and defend/praise him on a few things.

- The Teleprompter Issue. The new wingnut meme is "ZOMG Nobama uses teleprompterz!!!!1!!11!!" These people seem unaware that 1) every President reads prepared speeches at press conferences, 2) making a joke about the Special Olympics doesn't somehow "prove" that Obama is hopeless and "inarticulate" away from his teleprompter machine (surely the problem was that he was too articulate for people's delicate PC sensibilities?), and 3) EVERY POLITICIAN IN AMERICA USES A TELEPROMPTER FROM TIME TO TIME. Christ.

- Good on Barry for calling on minority publications (geared towards blacks and Latinos, along with the military newspaper the Stars and Stripes) instead of the silly New York Times and Washington Post in his press conference last night. The reaction of the big media outlets was that of Failed spurned lovers. It was Teh Funny.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Weinberger With a New Batch of Essays on the Way

Eliot Weinberger is my favorite living writer. It appears he has a new book of essays coming out this summer via the great publishing house New Directions; now I know what I'll be reading on beaches and under trees this summer. That and Jacques Barzun's biography of Berlioz, possibly...

Anyway, if you don't know about Eliot Weinberger, head over to Amazon and order some of his books of essays: Outside Stories and Karmic Traces might be the best places to start, though all of his output is worth reading. His last book, An Elemental Thing, was probably his most imagistic and "poetic" book so far, full of strange and marvelous tales and hypnotic prose poems. Weinberger's writing has always had a poetic/dreamy strain, but his other collections combine those kinds of essays (many of them historical or mythological reveries written with no stage-setting context, with no hint of an authorial first-person essayist speaking) with more straightforward, recognizable essays about literature, history, culture, and politics. His book What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles is probably the best polemic (really a selection of articles he'd written for foreign newspapers throughout the Bush-Cheney years) about this decade's high crimes: Weinberger throughout is lucid and sharp, and he often writes with a grim gallows humor. 

He's excellent in both of these areas, a 21st century century cross between William Hazlitt and Jorge Luis Borges in the "non-fictions" that Weinberger has so beautifully translated. 

At any rate, can't wait for Oranges and Peanuts for Sale. If you're interested, here's a link to Weinberger introducing and then interviewing the great poet Gary Snyder at the New York Public Library. It's one of those great wandering digressive talks, with Weinberger offering a coruscating introduction, and Snyder radiating warmth, intellect, and good humor and giving excellent readings from Kenneth Rexroth, Jack Spicer, John Keats's "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer," and his own work. Watch if you have time. 

Two Months In, Hopey's Hands Are Hardly Clean

Barack Obama is a cool guy. Barack Obama is a smart guy. He got elected largely thanks to these qualities, and thanks to many people's sound sense that there was no way a McCain-Palin administration would have turned out well.

Alas, he's an American politician, and what's more, an American President, so Obama also happens to be vaguely duplicitous (his handling of Afghanistan and the financial crisis) and conformist (his caving in to corporate America on certain environmental issues, and to AIPAC and its Christian zealot supporters on Charles Freeman). 

The Geitner stimulus plan is retarded, for a few reasons, and several of the decisions Obama has made on civil liberties are mirror images of Bush administration policies. The economic "dream team" he's assembled are mostly well-paid, process-minded technocrats who will achieve nothing in the way of serious reform. Many of his signals on Iran and Israel-Palestine have been very encouraging, but it remains to be seen just what his actual policies will be.

Meanwhile, he appears to be serious about doubling down on the Afghan War, which strikes me as a futile endeavor. 

I didn't expect Obama to be some kind of Black Jesus, but I did think at least some of his policies would implement meaningful change. His performance in certain areas--ordering the closure of Gitmo, appointing someone like George Mitchell, offering a holiday video greeting to the Iranian people and thereby appealing to them over the heads of their theocratic government--has been good, but his handling of the economic crisis is just more of the same technocratic tinkering that will do nothing but postpone the next financial disaster, not prevent it. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Richardson Version

One of the greatest theatre actresses of our time dies in a freak accident far too young, and someone like Dick Cheney gets to live out a long life. The universe can be a pretty wretched place, can't it?

I'll never forget, late one night in London, catching Ken Russell's insane film Gothic, about the Byron-Shelley circle and the writing of Frankenstein. Natasha Richardson was an excellent Mary Shelley, a young Gabriel Byrne was a randy Lord Byron, can't remember who played Percy Shelley. Not that that was anywhere near her finest achievement.

It's impossible to forget watching a DVD of her Ophelia at the National Theatre, and another of her Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Her most recent films, I think, were The White Countess and Asylum, both excellent and both featuring a fine performance from her in particular. In some ways, it seemed like she was just coming into her own. It's a bummer I'll never see her onstage; I'd always hoped to, especially since I've seen two members of the Redgrave-Richardson theatrical dynasty in the flesh: Corin Redgrave as King Lear, and Vanessa Redgrave as Hecuba.

It's a shame we'll never get to see her as Cleopatra, or Hecuba, or Lady Bracknell.

From what we've all heard, it sounds like fiery radical ultra-bohemian Vanessa Redgrave raised a pair of extremely grounded, sane, and sensible daughters in Natasha and Joely. Amazingly, Natasha Richardson seemed to have a quality marriage with Liam Neeson.

Again, the unfairness of it. Natasha Richardson, probably our greatest theatrical actress, dies in a freak accident at the age of 45. People who contribute nothing to the enrichment of the world, people who in fact do nothing but destroy things and preside over the deaths of thousands, get to live out a full life.

The Guardian's theatre critic Michael Billington with a remembrance here.

And here's a photo retrospective from the Daily Beast.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Best Western

Just finished watching John Ford's great film My Darling Clementine, about the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday in Tombstone. You know the story, right? There have been countless movies, including the exuberant and colorful 1993 romp Tombstone, in which Val Kilmer gives a knock-out brilliant performance as Doc Holliday.

I've loved Tombstone since I was a tyke, and I've always been fascinated by the Earp/Holliday/Gunfight at the O.K. Corral story, and by the legends of the American West in general. I can't think of any other artist--filmmaker, writer, anyone--who has a greater and more senstive feel for the West than John Ford. He might well be the greatest American director; in any event he's certainly up there with Howard Hawks and Orson Welles. My Darling Clementine might be his greatest movie.

Obviously I won't give anything away here (go rent it now); I just wanted to note the film's grace and artistry. At times the film seems like Expressionism turned loose in the American West: strange shadows, crooked angles, crowded low-lit saloons, desolate lonely landscapes across which the occasional horse-drawn carriage or mysterious rider will pass...

Henry Fonda plays Wyatt Earp not as a tough-guy sword of justice but as a mild-mannered lawman concerned trying to build some modicum of civilization and order in a violent town. His relationship with the dying, cultivated scoundrel Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) is the most interesting and touching thing in the movie. What separates My Darling Clementine from all other Westerns more than anything, aside from its aesthetic beauty, might be its focus on the feminine principle, captured in the very title. In some ways it's the most "feminine" of Westerns.

The character of Clementine, an old love from back East that Doc left behind and that Wyatt develops feelings for, represents the grace, elegance, and civilization that might alleviate some of the blood and fire. The final shot of the movie tells you all you need to know about her purpose in this rough landscape, and whether or not she succeeds.

Really don't want to say much else; I just wanted to express, I don't know, my gratitude to John Ford. Just watch it. Here's a great scene:

After you watch the film read Roger Ebert's wonderful essay on it (it's a favorite of his too).

I think it's safe to conclude...

that President Change (who I voted for) isn't going to offer much in the way of serious reform, or even serious discussion, on the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

Charles Freeman, who seemed to be qualified for a post on the National Intelligence Council if you evaluate these things by, you know, actual ACHIEVEMENTS, has been run out of town because He Does Not Love Israel. Or more accurately, he's been hounded, harassed, and character-assassinated out of viability for this position because he doesn't believe in unquestioning, unthinking, slavering, blind, self-destructive (and in my opinion, Israel-destructive) loyalty towards Israel's systematic mass murder and robbery.

These are truly degraded times.

From Freeman's statement:

I am saddened by what the controversy and the manner in which the public vitriol of those who devoted themselves to sustaining it have revealed about the state of our civil society. It is apparent that we Americans cannot any longer conduct a serious public discussion or exercise independent judgment about matters of great importance to our country as well as to our allies and friends.

The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

This is especially appalling after all the recent signs that American discussion of Israel and the Palestinians was finally opening up. The visit by several congressmen to destroyed Gaza, Hillary Clinton's demand that Israel let in humanitarian aid, Roger Cohen's recent columns in the New York Times about the Iranian Jewish community and his "shame" over Israel's incineration of Gaza, the fact of President Obama himself: remember, once upon a time he was friends with Rashid Khalidi, a thoughful and humane spokesman for Palestinian dignity if there ever was one. All of these things looked to be breaking the stranglehold of militarist, expansionist "Israel can do wrong even whe she does wrong" Zionism on the public conversation in the United States. It looked like we were beginning to have the same freedom of discussion on this issue that they have in Israel itself.

Unfortunately, it looks like it's not to be. Charles Freeman holds forbidden ideas. He's failed the Blind Loyalty Test. He has to go.

Spoke Too Soon

About the stem cell thing, that is.

Appears a substantial group in my home state's legislature want to keep restrictions on stem cell research. Good job on keeping Georgia a mindless, backwards laughing stock, asshats.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Labyrinth of Multitudes

So both the TV media and the President are finally acknowledging the chaos in Mexico. And why not?

Thousands of murders (often in the most imaginatively gruesome ways: beheading, killing a man and then cutting him into pieces with a chainsaw from Wal Mart, injecting a 5-year-old boy with acid), kidnappings, and all-around violence and havoc disrupting people's lives across the social spectrum. Rich and poor are both dying in droves.

Most reports on the current drug war take the "Will it spill over into the US?" angle, which is fair enough and very much worth thinking about, but very few (a notable exception being an Anderson Cooper CNN report) acknowledge what's fueling it. What IS fueling it? Do I even need to say it?

1) The violent drug cartels make their profits by selling to American customers.

2) Their assault weapons come from America, where it's legal to buy, sell, and own such things. The assault weapons ban was a ten-year "sunset law;" it expired in 2004under Bush-Cheney and no one since has been interested in renewing it.

3) The US "War on Drugs" as inaugurated and designed by the Reagan Administration, and never questioned since, makes the drug cartels far more popular and profitable (and armed) than they need to be. All reasonable people know that if drugs were legal and regulated, or at least if the War on Drugs (which is, in my opinion, the most insane and destructive policy this country has ever followed, including the wars in Indochina and Iraq and the Cuban embargo) was called off in favor of a saner program, the drug cartels would lose most, if not all, of their power.

If President Change* (who I voted for) is serious about trying to alleviate the suffering to our south, he should think about finally starting to treat drugs as a medical problem and not as a damnable offense to society. Some gradual decriminalization would help to take drugs out of the hands of the murderers and kidnappers.

Another thing that might help, a long-term and far-sighted thing, might be--at long last--the creation of a North American Union. I'm not keen to 100% imitate the European Union, which has been a mixed bag as far as I can tell (great success in some areas, futility and pointlessness in others), but that would be impossible anyway given the cultural differences between the Old World and the New. I'd favor a loose confederation: total economic union (with the top priority being investment in Mexico and any Central American states that wanted to join), first-class transportation links between the three big countries, loose travel regulations, and a parliament that meets, say, once a year to discuss continent-wide issues like pollution, military defense, and crime. No power to interfere with the constitutions of the sovereign individual nation-states.

I could see the involved countries being Canada, the US (including Alaska and Hawaii, of course), Mexico, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and the Central American states if they're inclined.

None of this is going to happen anytime soon, of course. The opposition in these United States would be too virulent, and the far-right nativists would probably begin a campaign of terrorism. But wouldn't you enjoy easy travel and job access from Edmonton to the Panama Canal?

*Nice work on the stem cell thing, by the way!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Item! Dumb Frat Boy Yells at Iraqis!

It's important to note, as Dennis Perrin does (yes, I found the video at his blog), that this guy is a first-class asshat.

But I think what's most interesting about this video is that the dumb American frat boy soldier is totally out of his depth and probably knows it. His calling the Iraqi policemen "pussies" and "women" and his imploring them to go "kick some ass" and "go fuck someone up" just sound like the words of someone who's hiding their confusion and bewilderment under the facade of a macho, profane, bellowing tough-guy. This poor idiot has no idea what he's doing: it seems like he has no idea how to undestand the people among which he finds himself, no idea about the divisions and loyalties and antipathies in Iraq, no idea what his current objectives are, and no idea why he's there in the first place.

It's obvious the guy is completely ignorant about the country and its people. It's as obvious that he doesn't know what the larger purpose of Americans dying in Iraq might be (hence his railing at the policemen who "love to see Americans die for you") beyond "fucking people up." The whole clip offers a concrete example of how insane the whole operation in Iraq has been and continues to be: ill-defined, uncomprehending, inflexible, and most of all, mindless and criminal.