Friday, March 30, 2007
I Used To Live In Tooting

Does anyone else remember that Kids in the Hall episode where Scott Thompson plays a young middle-class guy who decides he wants to be an Indian woman?
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Wednesday, March 28, 2007
I Only Tease Those I Like The Most

Sorry I've been so distant lately, blog. I've just been really busy working. We'll talk soon. Not tonight, but soon. This weekend definitely. I miss you.



(I don't remember exactly where this came from. Probably here.)
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Thursday, March 22, 2007
Quiet Thursday

The weather has begun to warm up here, and this brief period before the storms and brain-melting heat set in always makes me feel languid. I've decided to take advantage of it by doing some things that often take too long to seem worth doing -- I've got a pot of soon-to-be chicken stock going, and I think I'll be doing some bread baking this weekend. It's been much too long.

And if anything goes even remotely to plan, this might be the last good chance I have for a while. The coming months will be, I hope, somewhat more intense than the last few months have been, with an eye towards making progress on future plans. To that end, I've found myself contemplating possibilities lately, thinking about how I want the near-ish future to be different from the recent-ish past. I know the general outlines of what I want my life to be, but I've been thinking that I could do with a little more focus on the details. At least a few of them -- I always want to leave room for surprises.

Anyway, here are a few things I've come up with that I think I might like to try to work in over the next 2 - 3 years.

- take up taekwondo (I'm not the fastest or the most graceful, but I bet I could kick the fuck out of some shit)

- build my own Linux machine

- make friends with some crazy old broad with three ex-husbands, and go out drinking and ogling boys with her

- spend more time in the woods

- spend more time by the water

- spend more time gawking at stars (and learn how to use my telescope)

- learn more about using sound (listening to it, recording it, manipulating it, etc.)

- pick up some music theory (at least enough to converse intelligently)

- shift to eating seasonally/locally (I don't know if this is even really possible in the south)

- go traveling somewhere intimidating on my own

- go traveling somewhere intimidating with a companion

- finally frame all these goddamn posters/art pieces/bits of miscellaneous ephemera

- get really, really good at some new skill (ideally something that hasn't even occured to me yet)

- get paid for writing something

- construct something really complicated that does something useless and/or pointless (because I can, damn it)

Really I should just pull together a "100 Things in 1000 Days" list and get to work. But this, I think, is enough to start. The thing I've really been thinking about lately is that it's high goddamn time -- distressingly past time -- that I shook off the Memphis Malaise and started thinking like a person with potential again. I didn't realize how completely I'd fallen into the habit of assuming that effort will always be futile, that progress will always be slow and painful, that work will never be recognized, until I started thinking about going somewhere entirely new. Not that a change of place is the solution to everything, obviously, but judging from how dead I always seem to end up feeling here, it certainly wouldn't fucking hurt.

But this weekend my little world will smell like fresh bread and chicken soup. So that's not so bad.

PS: Oh, also, if you're interested, I finally got around to plugging one of those little del.icio.us linkroll thingies that are so popular with the kids into the blog template. I've really only started using del.icio.us since I started bouncing between different computers, but I've gotten into the habit now and find myself using it most days, so I figure I might as well milk it for a tiny bit of extra blog content. Anyway, if you look below the links on the left but above the search box, you can see whatever it is that I've decided was worth saving in the last week or so. Because I know you're just fucking dying to see.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Unhappy Anniversary

And so, we enter the fifth year of the second war in Iraq.

Coalition fatalities: 3,477*

US armed forces fatalities: 3,219*

Total US armed forces casualties: 23,417 *

Average number of Coalition deaths per day: 2.4*

Number of troops killed since "Mission Accomplished": 3,305*

Number of troops killed since "bring them on": 3,012*

Number of troops killed since the capture of Saddam Hussein: 2,437*

Number of troops killed since the first Iraqi election: 1,882*

Number of troops killed since permanent Iraqi election: 1,124*

Cost of Iraq war so far: $ 410 billion and counting**

Predicted length of time the war would last, according to Donald Rumsfeld: "Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that."***

Weapons of Mass Destruction found: 0

(* source 1)
(** source 2)
(*** source 3)
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Monday, March 19, 2007
Scream Real Loud

Has anyone else encountered the odd phenomenon of theme days? By which I mean, days which seem to acquire a completely arbitrary "theme" in the form of some situation or object that appears over and over again in unconnected contexts?

Like last week, for example, on three separate occasions I saw cops being dickheads for no good reason -- never to me, thank goodness, but always in proximity. And it seemed to be following from the cop doing a less-than-fantastic job. I saw one cop stop directing traffic and give a blistering lecture (though nothing more) to a driver who hadn't stopped fast enough on his signal. I was two cars behind the driver, though, and I felt like sticking up for the guy -- it was night, and the safety lighting given to the cop was woefully inadequate. But the real issue was that the cop was giving some very sloppy, hard-to-decode signals. It was fucking impossible to tell whether he was signalling oncoming traffic to stop or to proceed through the intersection. I'm sure anybody would be edgy about standing out in traffic at night, but shit, there's no need to be an asshole about an honest misunderstanding. (And cops wonder why nobody will be their friends.)

Yesterday the theme was non-functioning brake lights. It seemed like every time I got behind someone in traffic, they had a brake light out. The problem seemed particularly prevalent among white domestic SUVs with 'W' stickers on the back -- but then, there are just a shitload of those around anyway. Today's theme was meth users. I'm seeing them absolutely everywhere, with that drawn, withered look peculiar to the drug. At the gas station today I found myself standing behind one woman (buying four packs of cigarettes and three candy bars) who was dressed for 40 but looked 75, and bone skinny. It's not even that she looked old as such; there's something about methamphetamine that gives users the appearance of rattling around in their own dried-up husk. It goes beyond looking "old," edging off towards corpse-like. I bet going to a redneck bar in sub-rural Tennessee on a Saturday night must be a lot like working as an extra in the video for the Kenny Chesney cover of "Thriller." (Especially if they're line dancing. Eek.)

Or maybe it's just that meth users are like streetwalkers, in as much as once you've learned to recognize them, you start seeing them all the time. (Hell, in most cases it's the same thing anyway.) But if these things are around all the time, why do you notice them on one day and not on all the others? Is it coincidence that similar events coalesce, or is it just a matter of perception?

PS: Heh, this one's fantastically awesome. Go, crazy meth lady!
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Sunday, March 18, 2007
Huh, How About That...

So maybe it wasn't food poisoning after all. Now, I've always heard that if you're acutely ill for less than 24 hours, it's almost certainly a food-borne illness. But three days after I spent a shivering night praying for it to all be over, my mother has gotten sick with almost exactly the same symptoms. And yet, we've eaten nothing in common.

Poor Mom. The good news is, I'm finally feeling back to normal today. So she's only got to last until, say, Thursday. At least she knows what to expect.

Anyway, this weekend I've just been enjoying my newly-rediscovered ability to digest solid foods. But I'm sure I'll find something at least marginally interesting to post about in the next couple of days.
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Thursday, March 15, 2007
The Girl's Not Well

I swear, I was going to post yesterday, but then I went and got my ass kicked by a glass of milk. At least, I'm blaming the milk -- there were a couple of other likely suspects, but it's the thought of milk that's making my stomach turn today (actually, pretty much everything is making my stomach turn today), so that's where I'm pointing the bony finger of accusation. "You! You did this to me!"

But hey, maybe this will finally cure me of my residual milk-drinking habit. It's more than two years since the last time this happened, and I still haven't eaten fish again.
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Sunday, March 11, 2007
Nothing New

The arrival of spring has made me squirmy and restless. I feel like a walking mass of skin-covered passions, but I have nowhere to direct them, so I'm left feeling frustrated and thwarted. It's like this every year. I'm only really happy in the fall.

Anyway, I read this a few days ago and have been meaning to comment on it briefly:

Director Deborah Scranton made her feature film directorial debut with the award winning The War Tapes, which premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival and won Best Documentary Feature. The War Tapes grew out of her locally acclaimed World War II television documentary, Stories From Silence, Witness To War - and her own commitment to using new technologies to give people power in creating their own media, and tell their own stories. Declining an offer in 2004 from the New Hampshire National Guard to embed herself as a filmmaker in Iraq, Scranton instead gave the soldiers cameras and trained them as cinematographers. Scranton directed The War Tapes using email and near-perpetual instant messaging with the Soldiers with Cameras to answer questions, share techniques, and explore stories with the soldiers as they filmed their very personal experiences.

The War Tapes

I've seen this film cited a few times as an example of a "new" method of filmmaking, and it's bugging the shit out of me. This approach hasn't been used much for a few very good reasons, but it's hardly new. Which isn't to say that this film won't be one of the few to use it effectively, or that it's not a worthwhile film; just that it's a problematic way to make a film, and for that reason there aren't that many extant examples of it. Which means it might appear to be new, but I had this one figured out the third week of my junior-year tutorial on anthropological and ethnographic film (ten years ago), so it can't possibly be as new as all that.

The only thing that's arguably different now is that the technology finally exists to make this kind of filmmaking reasonably practical -- almost anyone can be taught how to handle a MiniDV camera with reasonable competence, and they're cheap enough to be expendable, so it's possible to hand cameras out to non-filmmakers and see what they do with them. Whether it's an effective method is another question. The idea is to remove the filmmaker's biases from the process with an eye towards objectivity, or at least a more "true" version of truth. But in reality it only shifts the burden of bias from one person -- who at least might be able to discern reality -- to another, who will all but certainly have even more of an agenda. They'll be very protective of their own perception of themselves, and less open to unfavorable possibilities. Ultimately it comes down to a question of who's responsible for the point of view of the film -- the subject, or the filmmaker?

The one thing I've learned: there's nothing new in cinema. A few years ago, for example, Lars von Trier and the Dogme 95 kids were being lauded as the most original filmmakers in years because they proposed a direct, stripped-down approach to filmmaking which had been out of the ascendancy for a couple of decades, and film people, having a notoriously short memory, had forgotten that they'd seen it all before. The cinema verite people had done it in the 60s; Maya Deren did it in the 50s; and she likely took it from Dziga Vertov, who did it in the 20s.

I hope to fuck that I haven't seen the end of meaningful innovation in film; I will never ascribe to the philosophy that the basic structure of film is irrevocably in place and all we can aspire to now is variation on the theme. Sooner or later some brilliant fucker will come up with a blinding new insight, and the rest of us will weep at our stupidity for not having recognized before what was so obvious. But I've learned to be very skeptical of any movement that claims originality or novelty -- there's always a direct ancestor, even if the bulk of the film scholars and critics, the audiences, and even the filmmakers themselves are unaware of it.
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Tuesday, March 06, 2007
The Downside Of Faith

Okay... let's take a look at this from a different perspective. There's this new thing that's apparently all the rage with the kids (if by "kids" you mean gullible middle-aged people) called The Secret that's this year's What The Bleep Do We Know? It's suddenly especially popular because Oprah said it was good. And everyone knows that Oprah is the final arbiter of taste and intellect in America today, right? I mean, she likes Toni Morrison; are you seriously going to question her judgment?

Anyway, setting Oprah aside, "the secret" turns out to be another re-hash of the law of attraction, which says, in a nutshell, that wishes are indeed ponies, and if you don't have a pony, it's only because you're not wishing hard enough. The film obviously pads that out a bit, but it's just bullshit to confuse you. The bottom line is wishes=ponies.

The only person I've known so far who actually attempted to live the law of attraction was a filmmaker with whom I did some work a few years ago -- if you know where to look, you could find a few posts about that shoot. He was annoying at the time, but in the last year he's reached a whole new level of irritating. He's discovered his spirituality, in the most Deepak-Chopra, woo-woo sense possible. He gave up church for a coven. He once ranted about Penn and Teller's Bullshit for an hour, talking about what bad people they were for attacking people's beliefs (to which I didn't respond -- I think you know how I feel about that, but the guy wasn't even close to being up to a real discussion on the subject, and I didn't feel like wasting my energy.)

Anyway, last time I talked to him, he'd just sent his film off to Sundance. He told me that every night, he was spending time visualizing his film being accepted. He visualized the selection committee watching his film and loving it. He visualized the head of the festival personally calling to invite him. He visualized his great critical success. He visualized the distributors who would approach him and offer him buckets of cash for the right to make his film famous. He knew that if he just generated enough of the right energy, he would draw Sundance success to him.

So you'll never guess how it turned out: the people at Sundance completely ignored him -- but they still kept his entry fee. I guess the Sundance folks haven't heard about how they're cosmically obligated to screen the films of people who really, really want them to.

Or to look at the same thing from slightly different angle: a couple of nights ago I was indulging in one of my guilty pleasures, a show on A&E called "Intervention." It doubtless has something to do with my own first-hand experience with a drug user, but I just can't turn away from the train-wreck of addiction. Anyway, this particular show dealt with a young woman who had been sexually abused for a number of years as a child, and had subsequently grown up to be an addict and a cutter. At one point during her intervention, her parents, committed evangelical Christians, admitted that at the time they'd hoped that the church would help their daughter get over her shame and humiliation. Her mother explicitly said that she'd hoped that God would take care of her, would "fix" her after she'd been broken. The addict's parents had completely abdicated responsibility for their child's well-being in the belief that their god would do their job for them. In their minds, action was optional; prayer was their only obligation. And they didn't seem to be able to comprehend how such faithful Christian parents could end up with a sliced-up junkie for a daughter.

This is my problem with faith, whether in a Judeo-Christian god or in new-age woo: it encourages you to believe that belief is enough. Faith, by definition, is belief without proof; and so no lack of proof or evidence to the contrary can convince you that your beliefs are false. By the same token, it tells you that you already know all you really need to know, so further thought and investigation is unnecessary at best and destructive at worst. You don't need to try to act or respond when things become more difficult than you can manage, whether that means a problem you can't cope with or a question you can't answer. Put your faith in the Big Invisible Power, and it'll take care of everything.

It can convince you that someone else will take care of your damaged kid, that you can make others bend to your will, that you can have anything you want without cost. I was unsurprised to learn that one of the figures at the center of this film was a former Amway bigwig; the basic concept is the same: you can have everything you want with no effort. And like Amway, it downplays and even ignores the raw truth that somewhere down the line, someone has to absorb the expense of whatever good things come to you -- and that that person can either be you, through work and constructive effort, or someone else through less justifiable means. I was equally unsurprised to learn that the purported "author" of this work claims that it's in accordance with and supported by Christian doctrine. "Faith" and "the secret" are the same premise by different names.


I have been thinking about something someone said to me this weekend. And that is, "Maybe very few people are capable of not believing in God." And I was so arrested by that comment and I have been chewing on it for the last two days. Hmmm... maybe very few people are capable of not believing in God. I have to say; I think I agree at this point. But I hate that so much. It makes me feel elitist. I cringe at the thought, and I am automatically recoiling at that idea.

Except, I might... sorta... agree.

I said to this person who said this, "But what about Sweden or all those Scandinavian countries where hardly anyone believes in God." And he said, "Well, yeah. But I guess what I mean is supernatural ideas too, or New Age-y ideas or basically a reluctance to look at the world squarely without divine influence. You have no idea what those people (the non-religious Scandinavians) believe besides not believing in God. Maybe they don't believe in God but they believe in faeries, like they do in Iceland, or that the 'universe' 'means' for them to do this or that, or that when they put a gnome under their pillow it always rains. Maybe people are just superstitious, or religious. Maybe that's what humans just are."

Then I said, "But I cannot come to that conclusion. To come to that conclusion means that I am the silent superior one and I have no hope for humanity. It puts me in the most arrogant position. I don't want to feel this way about those people -- about people in general!" And my friend said, "You don't think the people who are religious or New Agey don't look down on you? You don't think they feel arrogantly towards you?"

And he is right.

Argh.

I think this came up because this weekend -- with several friends -- I watched "The Secret." This is the movie that Oprah has been promoting on her show. Everywhere I drove last week, I saw ads on billboards for... The Secret. Basically the film takes the perfectly good ideas of "The Power Of Positive Thinking" but ads a lot of mumbo jumbo to it. Like giving the Universe a personality that wants "abundance" for us and "feels" the energy of our thoughts and puts a whole supernatural schpiritual schpin on the whole thing. It was so awful, it was so insufferable, it was so excruciating, I could barely watch any of it. If I had any energy I would go through the whole movie point by point. But I cannot. All I can say is, I thought Oprah was smarter than that. Not smart, mind you. But smarter.

(Julia Sweeney)

Faith tells you that you can stop looking, that you have the answer. To my mind, the only sin is to turn away from the one function we fulfill throughout our lives, the role we somehow uniquely (as far as we know) evolved to play: to experience, to think, to question, to try to understand. And that purpose requires that we never settle on faith. As soon as you think you've got the big questions settled, you have to set your answers aside and start all over again, because feeling certain that you know the truth is the surest sign that you've succumbed to the temptations of the easy answer. Faith is a cheap shortcut to complacency that we can't afford to take. It's hard to try to deal with the world as it is and not as we wish it could be, and that extends to gods and cosmic laws of attraction. It's uncomfortable. It would be so much easier if we could the hard problems and the impossible questions to someone bigger and smarter than us like we did when we were children, but to do so means staying a child forever. This is the hard lesson of being an adult in this reality: wishing for a pony doesn't make a pony appear; spending hours and days and weeks visualizing your acceptance to Sundance doesn't get you in; praying to God to fix your wounded child doesn't help them heal after they've been violated.

You won't find the secret to life in The Secret, despite what it says on the box. You won't find it in the Bible, either. There's no secret to find, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something. All we have is our limited ability to see and feel and understand, and a painfully finite span of time in which to use it. I, for one, am not going to waste this short interlude of consciousness inexplicably granted me sitting around making wishes.

PS: So far, Jello Biafra seems to be a thoroughly decent person, and no whinier than any of the rest of us around here. Maybe I'll get to dodge disillusionment this time (not like with that Monkees debacle.)

update: He was actually really cool. In spite of some early reports of whininess, once he got to the Co-op he was cordial and seemed very interested in giving his audience their money's worth. And he talked for the best part of four hours, so I think we can give him full marks for that one. And while a lot of his material I'd heard before, it comes off better in person -- less aggressive, and carrying more of a sense of comradeship -- than it does in audio alone. He's almost 50 now, and gelling into one of those cool, crotchety old guys who has a lot of interesting things to say. As abrasive as he can be, it's nice to see someone you admired when you were young become someone you can still like and respect when you're older. It's more than most of my generation's heroes can claim.

Anyway, it was a good show.
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Thursday, March 01, 2007
Three Damn Years

That's how long I've been writing this blog now. In that time, I've gotten just over 60,000 hits (my mom reads my blog like 50 times a day) and, counting this one, I've written 948 posts (how many have you read?)

It's true, my narcissism knows no bounds.
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