Saturday, July 28, 2007

Not Up to Snuff

This recent Sunday Telegraph article details the rise of what New York magazine's David Edelstein dubbed torture porn. You know the recent proliferation of flicks like Saw (1,2,3), Hostel (1,2), Cabin Fever, The Hills Have Eyes remake (1,2), Wolf Creek, The Devil's Rejects, and Captivity. (Edelstein rightly suggests The Passion of Christ also.)

The Telegraph's Jenny McCartney grew up in Ulster and is disgusted with the genre. She suggests:
We might begin by questioning if we ever have the moral right to watch terrorist victims such as Daniel Pearl or Nick Berg being beheaded. I do not think we have, because the argument that has always prohibited the watching of child pornography - that the helpless victim was unable to give or withhold consent to the act or the filming - applies equally to al-Qa'eda's home-made snuff films.
That probably nails why I couldn't bring myself to watch, say, the beheading of Daniel Pearl, the hanging of Saddam, or this hanging in Iran Andrew Sullivan recently felt compelled to post.

But those movies are just fiction, right, so what's the problem? I agree with McCartney's conclusions:
The cinematic child of voyeurism and terror, 'torture porn' is a genre that gorges on the world's horrors and regurgitates them, but learns nothing from them.

The more of it audiences consume, the less they understand. In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four the panicked hero, Winston Smith, describes a nightmarish night at the flicks, as the audience relishes the sight of a boatload of enemy refugees being bombed, and roars with laughter at a mother's hapless struggles to protect her small boy from death.

We are not so very far away from that now. There must come a point at which audiences ask a different question from what will the torturer do next to his victims on screen? We must ask what watching him is doing to us.
I think we'd be a little creeped out by someone who enjoyed watching films, which simply featured scene after scene of rape for two hours. So why are we OK with watching flicks which consist solely of scene after scene of amputation, mutilation, maiming, dismemberment, disfiguring, butchering, impalement, and torture?

Monday, July 23, 2007

It Takes a Nation of 6-Year-Olds

How refreshing to hear a Republican, Ron Paul, speak candidly about why Osama bin Laden attacked the U.S. on 9/11. Of course, Giuliani immediately has to reach for the old canard that pointing out the reasons is the same as saying we deserved what we got. This clip finishes with a great quote from David Cross, which also speaks the truth with even greater candor:
If the terrorists hated freedom then the Netherlands would be fucking dust. As would Denmark and Sweden, and Switzerland and New Zealand and Canada and every other country that's truly freer than we are.

I don't think Osama bin Laden sent those planes to attack us because he hated our freedom. I think he did it because of our support for Israel, and our ties with the Saudi family and all our military bases in Saudi Arabia. You know why I think that? Because that's what he fucking said! Are we a nation of 6-year-olds? Answer: yes.

"Why did the bad man put the plane in the building?"

"Cos he hated freedom."

"Oh, cos I went to the Lexis Nexis database, and there's over fourteen hundred articles that actually explain wha..."

"Shhhh. He hated freedom. Have a cookie. Get him in the back yard! Show him the outdoor pool!"
Giuliani, you listening? Of course, even if he were, I doubt he'd change his tune. Not when mendacious criticism plays so well with the base. As usual, the jester speaks more honestly than the courtier. Maybe Ron Paul will prove an influential exception. We need folks who get it on both sides of the political divide.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sliding Down the Surface of Things

I'm watching a few minutes of this Paula Abdul show on Bravo (I know, I know, bear with me) and it's showing her in New York preparing to do Letterman. She's worried about her impending performance on the show, so she flies in a stylist and a consultant to advise her what to say - this in addition to her usual entourage. She talks about how she wants to the interview to be fun, but is in tears as she rides in her limousine to the Ed Sullivan Theater, her consultant still coaching her on the way. So part of me feels sorry for her - that every appearance is such an ordeal, such a project - but part of me is also dismayed at how celebrities are seldom themselves in these appearances, how they're a carefully-packaged, illusory, market-driven advertisement for themselves.

"It's so simple," she says at one point. "Let me do what I do." If only. There's nothing remotely simple, nothing natural or organic about the manufactured celebrity lifecycle.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Not My Bag

So, I'm sliding onto the 2nd Ave subway this morning when I see this huge line snaking outside of the new Whole Foods on Bowery all the way around the corner, and I think to myself, "Wow, they're all waiting for Whole Foods to open" and promptly descend into the sweaty hell that is the F train and I don't give it another moment's thought. Turns out these folks were in line to buy a $15 limited edition shopping bag. And, now, I think, "What suckers." These bags apparently caused riots in Taiwan, where 30 people were hospitalized (I kid you not) and similar melees in Hong Kong and elsewhere. And you thought standing around for hours for an iPhone was lame! And, by the way, these bags are selling for over $300 on eBay, which probably reveals the real reason a lot of folks were in line. You can buy similar canvas bags (without the holier-than-thou slogan) at other NY supermarkets for like, a buck. Oh, and I understand people left carrying their canvas bags ... in a Whole Foods plastic bag.

Now, as the NYT article above describes, the gazillion plastic bags we've unleashed on the environment are a serious problem. I witnessed a remarkable display of this traveling by train through Morocco and would see huge fields stretching for acres upon acres - probably square miles - littered, blacked with hundred, probably thousands of these black plastic bags they place fruit and veggies in within the medina. It was as clear an example of the Tragedy of the Commons as I've seen.

  • Apparently, the bags are made in China using cheap labor.
  • And look, Trader Joe's are way cooler anyway.
  • There's a satirical version of said bag, of course.
  • Globototes look like a handsome and much cheaper alternative, too.
  • Gothamist story from which I ripped off some of these links. This guy in the comments proves even more cynical about this whole event than me:
    I waited in this line, bought three bags, and now have an extra $300+ in my pocket that I will use to pay down some credit card debt. This whole operation was a joke - the "I'm NOT a plastic bag" bags were given to me inside a Whole Foods plastic bag. I don't feel bad in the slightest for taking advantage of the "it's hip to be eco-friendly" girls that I sold these bags to. We're all powerless to stop this rampant consumerism that plagues this country anyway.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Grinderman CD Cover

Grinderman (CD) – Anti

As Nick Cave nears 50, he engages his new band Grinderman to bequeath us with some of his most bracing and profane work yet. Cave grouses, growls and grumbles his way through this lacerating little effort. About what? Well, ostensibly women, but you’ll eventually conclude it’s the velocity of life he has a beef with. Throughout, on tracks like the fuzzy "Electric Alice," the grinding "Depth Charge Ethel," and the bluesy "Go Tell the Women," the fairer sex dominates the proceedings, and a visceral sexuality seeps into everything from the light-hearted buzz of "Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars)" to the more acidic, but comical "No Pussy Blues." Cave isn’t really berating women; he’s mocking himself, his own predilections, archly tracking his own mid-life crises. Compare Grinderman’s cover with its content: Is it a coincidence that the grinder monkey on the cover appears to be cowering, its tiny fists protecting its genitals? The tongue-in-cheek emasculation on "No Pussy Blues" epitomizes the theme here, as Cave complains about the contortions he engages in to secure some booty – even petting his lover’s "revolting little Chihuahua" – all to no avail. "My face is finished, my body’s gone," he laments. Life is flitting by and any desired words of wisdom can be reduced to the mantra repeated on the disk’s opening track: "Get It On." - Robert Stribley

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 25 (Summer 2007)

Feist - The Reminder

The Reminder (CD) – Cherrytree/Interscope

The danger in anyone’s covering the traditional "See-Line Woman" is that one can’t help but compare the results with Nina Simone's incantatory cover of the song, but on her rewarding new album The Reminder, Leslie Feist clears that hurdle with a great version. Spelled "Sealion” here, the song is based on a field recording from the 30s and its spelling has varied ever since. Feist’s version folds her skipping vocals into a convincing mélange of handclaps, minimalist glitch keys, country guitar and eventually throbbing rock. She further cements her considerable abilities throughout this, her third release, with compelling performances of her own material, such as “I Feel It All” and her gorgeous duet with Eirik Glambek Bøe (Kings of Convenience) on “How my Heart Behaves.” Feist’s voice is both strong and sensual, and she employs both of those traits to great effect on the pounding, propulsive “My Moon, My Man” and amidst her sighing vocals on the seductive "Honey Honey." The Reminder also features some superlative collaborative work, notably “Limit to your Love,” which Feist wrote with Jason Charles Beck and “1 2 3 4,” which she wrote with Australia’s Sally Seltmann. With fellow-Canadian Ron Sexsmith, she produces “Brandy Alexander,” which begins as a simple pretty tune, but eventually dissolves into gorgeous twinkling vocal fragments. - Robert Stribley

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 25 (Summer 2007)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Impeach Is Not a Dirty Word

The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism.

In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

- Umberto Eco
There was a time when I thought the idea of impeaching Bush was a little radical. After all, we get the government we deserve. But now that it's clear that his administration is likely the most inept and deceptive one we've had in my lifetime, I'll happily acquiesce to the idea. Forgetting about the war in Iraq, just within the last couple of weeks:
  • Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona describes how he was asked to ignore science in order to propagate a political agenda:

    "The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to 'water down' a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.

    Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

    And administration officials even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because, he said, of that charitable organization’s longtime ties to a 'prominent family' that he refused to name.

    'I was specifically told by a senior person, "Why would you want to help those people?"' Dr. Carmona said.

    The Special Olympics is one of the nation’s premier charitable organizations to benefit disabled people, and the Kennedys have long been deeply involved in it."

    All indignant emphasis mine.
  • Bush commutes the sentence of a crony, Scooter Libby, who may have implicated people further up the food chain in his administration.

  • Bush exerts executive privilege, telling Sara Taylor she need not testify openly before Congress on matters, which might also implicate his administration. (What do you have to hide, W?)

  • Bush tells Harriet Miers not to show up for questioning before Congress, an action which may lead to contempt charges against Miers. (Keeping in mind that neither Taylor nor Miers even work for Bush any more.)

Conservatives don't like you to throw the "f" word (not to mention the "d" word) around, and, sure it does sound a little intemperate, but these four recent actions being just part of a long litany of similar action under this administration, doesn't the term "Ur-fascism" begin to apply?

If I sound a little obstreperous at this point, please consider giving Umberto Eco's "14 Ways of Looking at a Brown Shirt" a read. His short piece ends thusly:
Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, "I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares." Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances — every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt's words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: "If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land." Freedom and liberation are an unending task.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Alas, I will miss Manhattanhenge tonight, as I will be in Brooklyn (seeing David Cross though!), and I'm not aware of any Brooklynhenge. Too bad, since the view from right outside our office would likely be fantastic. Tonight at 8:27.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Elbow - Grace Under Pressure

When I first heard Elbow's debut disk Asleep in the Back, I quickly discovered another favorite band to add to list that already included several British bands. This video shows Elbow on the road and in the studio as they perform "Grace Under Pressure," a song which sounds a lot like a hymn, but ends with a punch if you listen carefully. Lead singer Guy Garvey often sounds like Peter Gabriel and he has song-writing chops to match.

Pick the Notes You Really Mean

One of my favorite writers and all round cool guy Haruki Murakami writes in the NYT about how he would never have become a writer if it weren't for his love of jazz:
One of my all-time favorite jazz pianists is Thelonious Monk. Once, when someone asked him how he managed to get a certain special sound out of the piano, Monk pointed to the keyboard and said: “It can’t be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!”

I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, “It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.” I find the thought reassuring. It means that vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Killing In the Name Of

Mohsin Hamid's Moth Smoke is one of those books I've had sitting on a shelf for ages before I finally decided to delve into it. And it's excellent. Anyone who has little idea about what's going in modern-day Pakistan (i.e. most of us) should really pick it up to see just how dramatically life there differs from how you'd probably expect. For one thing pot and ecstasy use figures heavily in the plot. And the default position for feelings towards religious fundamentalism among the novel's inhabitants is disdain. From the reviews I'd read, I expected Moth Smoke to be an engaging read; I didn't expect it to be a cross between Rashomon and Chuck Palahniuk. I've already bought Hamid's latest, The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Though it's only a single thread in this remarkable novel, I found the following passage about murder particularly provocative:
You can always justify killing animals on the grounds that you want to eat them, or wear them, or that they smell bad, look funny, bother you, threaten you, and have the bad luck of being in your way. What about killing humans? Well, aside from a few die-hard individualists on the fringe, the general consensus among people these days seems to be that eating and wearing other people is just not on. Wearing a suit which costs as much as a farmer will make in his lifetime is acceptable, but actually putting his eyeballs on a string a letting them dangle above tastefully exposed cleavage is bad form.

That said, killing someone because of the other reasons we mentioned above (smell, looks, bother, threat, or bad luck) is quite acceptable. You want deoderants, you know that one in 6.87 million will die from a violent allergic reaction, you shrug and churn the stuff out, and some poor fellow suffers a pain in the armpit beyond imagining and dies, and that's that: acceptable. You drive cars, knowing eventually you will probably kill someone or be killed, but "Hurry up, I don't want to be late for my threading," and you're off. No regrets. Or someone who has never been to your farm and seen the cute dimples your youngest daughter is already showing when she smiles decides a line on a piece of paper should be a little to the left, and in the name of God and all that is right, to war boys: kill, kill, kill! Yours not to reason why, but damn it hurts when a land mine blows off your leg.
What an excellent, angry passage.

The ideas of acceptable risk and "collateral damage" are nothing new, of course, but at what point do we become uncomfortable with the results? If a cell phone explodes and someone's burnt to death, you can bet that will make the news and that one person's death may actually result in changes to the product's construction. But how many dead bodies do we have to see (given the opportunity to actually be exposed to them, of course) before we accept significant increases in the price of, oh, petroleum, shall we say? I'd venture, it's far, far more than one.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Charlie 2.0

Charlie Rose has a new site, which is chock-full of great interviews. There are seven interviews with one of my favorite authors Martin Amis alone.

Only thing I can't figure out: why is it so darn hard to get to a larger view of each video? The results lead to these tiny little screen, which activate at the same size when you click on them. But when you click on "comments," you get a much larger, user-friendly version of the video with comments below. Huh? Bad usability. If I'm overlooking something obvious, someone please let me know.


I shouldn't make movies anymore. I should go to a lunatic asylum.
- Werner Herzog during the making of Fitzcarraldo
Werner Herzog must be my favorite insane director. Which I mean in the nicest possible way. In this New York Times slideshow, he talks about the making of his new movie, Rescue Dawn. Christian Bale does his whole Machinist radical weight-loss thing again. Tangentially, I like the simple elegant design the NYT uses for its slideshow, too.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Dept. of We Report You Decide

Wherein we juxtapose two distinct but related items and allow you to draw your own conclusions.

Ted Nugent in The Wall Street Journal today:
Forty years ago hordes of stoned, dirty, stinky hippies converged on San Francisco to "turn on, tune in, and drop out," which was the calling card of LSD proponent Timothy Leary. Turned off by the work ethic and productive American Dream values of their parents, hippies instead opted for a cowardly, irresponsible lifestyle of random sex, life-destroying drugs and mostly soulless rock music that flourished in San Francisco. ... I saw first-hand too many destroyed lives and wrecked families to ever want to drool and vomit on myself and call that a good time. I put my heart and soul into creating the best music I possibly could and I went hunting instead. ... While I salute and commend the political and cultural activism of the 1960s that fueled the civil rights movement, other than that, the decade is barren of any positive cultural or social impact.
Ted Nugent's lyrics to "Catch Scratch Fever" from his album of the same name in 1977:
I make the pussy purr with
The stroke of my hand
They know they gettin' it from me
They know just where to go
When they need their lovin man
They know I do it for free

They give me cat scratch fever
Cat scratch fever
That's the first song from the album; the second being "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang."

Monday, July 02, 2007

Official Stribs Workout Playlist

  • Foo Fighters - "Best of You"
  • Chemical Brothers - "Galvanize"
  • Groove Armada - "Suntoucher"
  • Faithless - "Muhammed Ali"
  • Vitalic - "My Friend Dario"
  • Elbow - "Station Approach"
  • Nine Inch Nails - "Survivalism"
  • Jay-Z & Linkin Park - "Numb/Encore"
  • Bjork - "What Is It (Vitalic Remix)"
  • The Prodigy - "Girls (Geht's Noch?)"
Mr. Stribley reserves the right to update to update this list at any time without forethought or explanation; so, for example, if Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" no longer appears in this listing upon further visits, please refrain from forwarding emails of protestation.