Sunday, July 24, 2005

A Blog for Everything

And for everything a blog: Apartment Therapy is an engaging blog about improving your apartment or living space, incliuding making the best use of space, acquiring furniture, shopping flea markets, and buying these great custom-made house numbers online.

Friday, July 22, 2005

MiniReview: Abbas Kiarostami - 10

Does Abbas Kiarostami make bad films? Well, if you don't like movies which largely consist of people driving around talking in cars, you may think so. But I thoroughly enjoyed his minimalist masterpieces The Wind Will Carry Us and Taste of Cherry, so 10 just seems like another entry in his impeccable canon to me.

10 consists purely of 10 conversations shot in the same car, driven by the same Iranian woman. All the actors were non-professional, as Kiarostami explains in the excellent, instructive documentary cum film-making lesson inclused on the DVD, which also is divided into 10 chapters.

There's little or no "action" in this movie. Everything we learn we learn from conversation, inflection, body language. We learn that the driver--in her mid 30s--has gotten a divorce the only way an Iranian woman can, by either saying she was beaten or by claiming (in this case fallaciously) that her husband is a drug addict. Her son--portrayed by her real life son, who looks somewhat like George Clooney as a young Iranian boy--despises his mother for the divorce. Four of the scenes involve their interaction, from the fiurst, in which we do not see her, only him. So, as Kiarostami points out, any woman watching can imagine herself as the mother. Her son is the only male passenger. His father appears briefly twice as a figure in a old Land Rover as the former couple converse from their respective car windows across two lanes of traffic.

The other passengers include a couple of female friends (or sisters?), an elderly relgious woman (the driver seems relatively secular) and a prostitute whose face is never shown.

The acting from these "nonactors" is nothing short of astonishing. It's difficult to imagine the young boy is acting, so vivid is his rage and his annoyance with his mother's preachy conversation. The is somewhat of a lightly surprising ending, which includes a woman's poignant alteration of her appearance. When the woman begins laughing and weeping simultaneously with a sort of relief at the discovery of her change, it's again difficult to remember that this is a work of fiction. The discussion of sexuality--and the inclusion of a prostitute--which is frank but not explicit, and the periodic but brief criticism of the government also surprised me. That may just indicate my ignorance of what's permissable in Iranian cinema, but it may also simply indicate Kiarostami's stature as a filmmaker. In the documentary he mentions that the government no longer requires detailed scripts from him, since they know he won't stick to them anyway.

10 details the very modern concerns of Iranian woman, whilst simulteneously, as ever proving a tender, and rigidly realistic portrayal of the human condition.

Here's a review I wrote on Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry a few years ago.

Still Life

Here's a fun one for movie buffs/addicts: The Stills Quiz. Take the quiz and see how you do, then try another one with all new stills. 445 still in total. Addictive!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Cultural Relativism

"All the concepts men live by are a product of the historic formation in which they find themselves.

"The man of the East cannot take Americans seriously because they have never undergone the experiences that teach men how relative their judgments and thinking habits are. Their resultant lack of imagination is appalling. Because they were born and raised in a given social order and in a given system of values, they believe that any other order must be 'unnatural,' and that it cannot last because it is incompatible with human nature." - Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind

I think this goes a long way towards explaining current attitudes about a number of things here in the States, including but not limited to gay marriage and our not particularly nuanced foreign policy. We can't forget that the United States is a young strapping country (and 200+ years is very, very young) without the experience of our older neighbors to the east, and like an adolescent, I think we're often guilty of over-reacting and lashing out in ways that we may not when we're older and wiser.

Not to oversimplify, but our giddy emphasis on success, upon economic growth, upon the superficial display of wealth, and upon youth culture might be tied into this, too. No doubt, our relative geographic isolation and our disinclination as a people to travel abroad, compared with people of other nations only further contributes to the problem.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Now You See It

Now You Don't

Recently, they imploded the old Charlotte Convention Center to make way for a brand spanking new 53-story residential high rise and shopping complex. Truth be told, the rather ugly, long-empty building won't be missed. The 200,000 square foot building came down in 5 seconds, 100,000 tons of rubble. I've been taking photos of it before and after the implosion. The earth moving equipment on display is fascinating for the kid in me to behold.

I remember reading an excellent New Yorker article ages ago by Paul Goldberger about the new cityscapes that emerge when buildings are destroyed. You're given the opportunity to see the surrounding buildings quite literally in an entirely new light. That's true here, though not for long. As an amateur student of architecture, I'll be interested to see what they build in it's place.


I'm amazed how often I hear the question "What's the business case for Diversity?" (Capitalized because I'm referring to it as a program.) Isn't that like asking, "What's the business case for civility?"

I guess as long as the question's being asked, it's just an indicator of the continued need for the emphasis.

The other thing I've noticed (even in diversity training) is that whenever I've heard people say they think their workplace is "pretty diverse" or doesn't have any diversity problems, they're invariably straight, white folks. I haven't met a single gay person or person of color at any job I've ever had who thought everything was honky dory diversity-wise.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

It's 2005 already. Where's my Flying Car?

Here's a captivating series of articles about the design of the spinners seen in Ridley Scott's 1982 masterwork, Blader Runner. Believe it or not, they were built around the frame of a VW Bug. Nonetheless, they still look darn cool today.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Thomas Paine on Gitmo

OK, not exactly, but
An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression: for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach unto himself.

- Paine, from his "Dissertation on First Principles of Government" (Paris, July 1795)

Protecting the Homeland from International DJs

Apparently, this happened back in early March, but I hadn't realized that the enormously talented French DJ Laurent Garnier had canceled the U.S. tour in support of his new album due to difficulties he'd encountered with the U.S. Embassy in Paris. In a statement to his fans, he says,
In order to obtain this new visa, the rules have once again changed since November 2004 and I would now have to not only fill out an exceedingly probing application form, but also be interviewed by a member of the Embassy staff, and provide proof of ownership of my house, details of my bank account, my mobile phone records, personal information on all my family members and more. I consider these demands to be a complete violation of my privacy and my civil liberties and I refuse to comply.

I am horrified by these new regulations and feel really sad that this is what some call freedom and democracy.
He says the new regulations make it difficult for artists to come here and says he won't return until the procedures change. This isn't the first case of artists having difficult coming here that I've heard of either. You may also have heard about the difficulties Cuban artists have had in coming to the United States, even to accept Grammy Awards.

Friday, July 15, 2005

In the Spirit of the Week's News

How Machiavellian are you?

Me? "Not at all Machiavellian." But supposedly borderline to the moderate category. Arguably, of course, the term "Machiavellian" has become somewhat perverted. And I think it's possible to recognize that human beings tend to be motivated by selfishness, but still recognize that their are more ideal conditions for humanity to aspire to.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

TNR's Christopher Orr sums up the mixed blessings of Eastwood's latest flick adroitly:
Million Dollar Baby ... ought to be a cheap exercise in audience manipulation. But it's not--or rather, it's not only that. For all its clichés and hamfisted metaphors and overwrought melodrama, there is a grim magnificence to the film, a seriousness of purpose that elevates it not only above the schlock it might easily have been, but into the upper tiers of recent American film.
That's about right. Kinda how I felt about Mystic River, too, which I thought an even better film.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Searching for a Nonviolent Soldier of Islam

Andrew Sullivan asks, "Where's the pacifist Gandhi?" so I asked him, "Where’s the Christian Gandhi?" I mean, I’m on the side of democracy, and all--insofar as democracy is right and decent--but let’s be real about this.

I take his point about Muslim society needing to condemn violence more vociferously, but based upon the reports of the last two days, I think we’ve made some progress on this front.

Maybe Sullivan shouldn’t have reached for the particular person of Gandhi in establishing his metaphor. After all, I'm sure he's not advocating we respond to terrorism only with non-violence, as Gandhi would have.

Having said that, of course, I’d love to see a Muslim Gandhi. And a Christian one, too. (I don't think the Pope counts. The Catholic church might tend anti-war, but you'll hardly see the Pope going on a hunger strike for peace.)

By the way, apparently, there was a Muslim Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and he was a life-long pacifist.

More on Abdul Ghaffar Khan:
  • veiled4allah: A Muslim Gandhi
  • Asian Reflection: Bacha Khan in Afghanistan
  • Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan, A Man to Match His Mountains
  • Abbe Normal: Ghaffar Khan

    On the blog above, veiled4allah writes today:
    Whoever is responsible for this atrocity will face the wrath of God for the crime they have committed. He who takes a single innocent life is as though he had killed all mankind (Quran 5:32). My prayers are with the victims and their families. May God ease their pain and help them cope. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.
    Sounds like the words of a young female Muslim Gandhi right there, Mr. Sullivan.
  • Thursday, July 07, 2005

    Hometown Hero

    On NPR's Marketplace tonight I heard a story about a 94-year old Red Cross volunteer who walked some miles to her local chapter in order to help victims of the terrorist attacks. She said she understood that volunteers were supposed to come in to help after such catastrophes and cheerily explained that she thought people could benefit from "a good cuppa tea" after such an ordeal.

    What an astonishing woman! At the rate I'm going and should I live that long, I expect to immobilized at home with a blanket over my knees, gazing vapidly at tghe television and trying vainly to remember my own name. If I can walk the distance she did, to do what she did, with the spirit she did, I'll consider myself quite lucky indeed. What a hero!

    As Others Have Said

    The Union Jack
    We are all Britons today.

    Sunday, July 03, 2005

    War of the Worlds
    Plus: Wrestling with Spielberg's Dystopian Vision

    Artwork by Alvim Corréa This fantastic site details artwork from various editions of H. G. Well's The War of the Worlds over the years. It includes the particularly elegant work of Edwards Gorey and Alvim Corréa, whose work appears at left.

    Additionally, the version with Gorey's lovely, eerie artwork has just been reissued by The New York Review of Books.

    I've just seen Stephen Spielberg's version of the story this weekend, and it proved gripping and even horrifying at times. The special effects are spectacular in that how-on-earth-did-they-do-that sort of way that begs a making-of feature. It's also not a movie without faults, many of which you may have seen discussed elsewhere. What I think is less discussed is what this flick tells us about what's going on in Spielberg's head. Some have argued that it's a grotesque, opportunistic movie, and I'm not sure I entirely disagree. In fact, some passages of the movie made me rather angry, as Spielberg does indeed appear to be cashing in on 9/11--or at least playing into our fears, as he's actually admitted.

    But that's not what I want to draw attention to when I talk about what's going on inside his head; what I mean is this: Is Spielberg a misanthrope, a humanist, or both?

    After all, this isn't the first of his movies to deal with the mass extermination of humanity. You think immediately of Schindler's List, of course, but there's a third example: AI.

    Perhaps the most disturbing element of AI is that the extermination of all humanity pretty much ends up a footnote in that movie. (Others noticed this, of course.) It's a movie whose protagonist is a robot. All the human people depicted in it are wicked. Not just flawed, but pretty much wicked. And they're all dispensed with in a future that's populated solely by highly advanced machinery. It's artificial intelligence that finally provides David with the comfort he needs and with the end to his fairy tale story.

    And AI was just that, a fairy tale, and fairy tales are full of wicked humans. But consider War of the Worlds, as well. Here humans are extinguished en masse, too, and Spielberg depicts a far more vicious (and admittedly more realistic) reaction by humans to one another than previous versions, as people trample and kill one another in their efforts to escape the inexorable progress of the alien tripods.

    Let's also not forget that the most truly accomplished segments of Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan also depict men butchering other men--in however heroic a fashion.

    Now, I'm not developing a strict thesis here, and I'd certainly not gloss over the horrors mankind visits upon mankind (and Schindler's List was masterful), but I do think there's more to Spielberg's psyche than the humanistic side we've so often seen lauded.

    But that's probably true for all of us.

    Of course, it's also true that humanity's past is rife with horrors, and so likely is its future. So perhaps Spielberg isn't a misanthrope so much as a realist. And a humanist calling upon his species to confront themselves with their tendency towards self-annihilation. Isn't the same true of a writer like Jonathan Swift? He was decried as a misanthrope, too, but " A Modest Proposal" could also be read as the work of an outraged humanist, couldn't it? And I have to admit I left War of the Worlds with a profound feeling of the preciousness of human life, as well as the importance of focusing on our commonality as humans, rather eternally focusing on our differences.

    Still, there's something about the casual disappearance of humanity from AI that troubles me.

    Here's an audio version of this post:

    this is an audio post - click to play

    Save Our SCOTUS

    SCOTUSblog might be a site to keep an eye on over the next few months. Looks like this will turn out to be a very important year for the future of the United States. (Of course, we've had a few of those lately.)

    I think it's fortunate that we have Arlen Specter heading the committee to review the judicial nomination. If you don't think so, imagine Trent Lott or Rick Santorum in his place. I think Specter's more likely to lead without allowing any personal or political agenda to influence the selection of the candidate, and the fact the far right isn't particularly enamored with him may speak well of him.

    And does anyone think Rehnquist will last until the end of Bush's term?

    Whither goest thou, America?

    Food for Thought

    Vaclav Havel
    Things are changing so rapidly that we don't even have time to be astonished.
    -Vaclav Havel

    Quod enim mavult homo verum esse, id potius credit.
    For what a man would like to be true, that he more readily believes.
    - Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

    Saturday, July 02, 2005

    Virtual Eavesdropping

    What a great idea: an overheard lines blog.

    A couple samples:
    "The GAP had a sign that they're looking for 'Motivated Go-Getters.' What motivated go-getter wants to fold shirts? They should be looking for 'Friendly Idiots.'"

    "So they sent me a letter saying he'd been stabbed and was dead, and I just went looney tunes. But they were graceful enough to write back and say they were mistaken."

    "I think from now on I'm only going to speak in expired slang."

    Girl: " I hope we don't get there and you go, 'Oh, now I remember her -- I hate her!'"
    Guy: "No, I'm pretty good at remembering the names of people I hate."

    Computer Geek Enjoying An Aranciata: "That's weird. It's like an Orangina without the particulate matter."
    It's hard to stop reading.

    (Via Misanthropicity)

    Friday, July 01, 2005

    Whitman Sampler

    I celebrate myself,
    And what I assume you shall assume.
    For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.

    I loafe and invite my soul,
    I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass.

    - Walt Whitman, from "Song of Myself"
    The Teaching Company is offering a free lecture on Walt Whitman. It's presented by Professor James A. W. Heffernan of Dartmouth College from his course “Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition, 2nd Edition.” Enjoy!

    The Eternal L. Ron Hubbard

    Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion. - L. Ron Hubbard
    And I believe that's exactly what he did.

    Just one of the many odd things about Scientologists I've noticed is that they seems always to speak about Hubbard as if he's still alive. He died in 1986. Punkt. Das Ende. But try finding any mention of that in this bio or in any other Scientologist literature for that matter. Check out this time line of his life; you have to click through 18 pages individually before you find out that "on 24 January 1986, having accomplished all he set out to do, Ron departs his body." OK, that sounds like an admission to me.

    Also, I believe additional books supposedly written by him have also been released since his death. I'm not sure I've ever heard this dancing around his demise discussed in the media; it's just something I've noticed.

    Why on earth would the "church" want to bury this particular fact from us? Part of their plan to fabricate a mythos perhaps?

    So, to Kevin Drum's list of questions, I would add, "When did L. Ron Hubbard die?" It'd be interesting to hear a Scientologist's response to that.

    The Sins of the Father
    Scientology is a power-and-money-and-intelligence-gathering game.

    I began to see that my father was a sick, sadistic, vicious man. I saw more and more parallels between his behavior and what I read about the way Hitler thought and acted. I was realizing that my father really wanted to destroy his enemies and take over the world. Whoever was perceived as his enemy had to be destroyed, including me.

    Well, he didn't really want people killed, because how could you really destroy them if you just killed them? What he wanted to do was to destroy their lives, their families, their reputations, their jobs, their money, everything. - L. Ron Hubbard Jr. in a 1983 Penthouse interview, referencing Scientology and his father, who founded it.

    Clarity of Vision

    We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world--its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it.

    We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create. - Bertrand Russell

    Mandatory Data Retention

    Annalee Newitz explains why those three words should give you chills. The Department of Justice started by regulating porn, a move that went pretty much unchallenged. Next they want to focus on every single individual's online activity. Could our eagerness to bring the Web into our homes have also been an unwitting open invitation for Big Brother to come squat, too? Just askin'.

    (Via Clayton Cubitt)