"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen

"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister

"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont

"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister

"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Better Angels

This song Angels by Wax Poetic is pretty good.

Wax Poetic is a New York trip-hop band who came together in 1997 founded by Turkish-born music guru Ilhan Ersahin and originated at the popular and now defunct club Save the Robots. Norah Jones was a member before her break-out album Come Away with Me.

Seems like most people are afraid of robots, so it's good to see some believe they are worth saving.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cool for Cats

Hitchens* wishes upon a star.
I have a small wish of my own in this season of public and private Utopias. It is that the emergence—or should I say ascendance?—of Barack Hussein Obama will allow the reentry into circulation of an old linguistic coinage. Exploited perhaps to greatest effect by James Baldwin, the word I have in mind is cat. Some of you will be old enough to remember it in real time, before the lugubrious and nerve-racking days when people never knew from one moment to the next what expression would put them in the wrong: the days of Negro and colored and black and African American and people of color. After all of this strenuous and heated and boring discourse, does not the very mien of our new president suggest something lithe and laid-back, agile but rested, cool but not too cool? A “cat” also, in jazz vernacular, can be a white person, just as Obama, in some non–Plessy v. Ferguson ways, can be. I think it might be rather nice to have a feline for president, even if only after enduring so many dogs. (Think, for one thing, of the kitten-like grace of those daughters.) The metaphor also puts us in mind of a useful cliché, which is that cats have nine lives—and an ability to land noiselessly and painlessly on their feet.
In his Golden Globe acceptance speech, Mickey Rourke used "cat." I can't remember who he used it in reference to, but I do remember thinking "that's not a word you hear very often anymore."

Alessandra Stanley writes about Rourke
When Mr. Rourke won a Golden Globe award for “The Wrestler” last Sunday, that comeback within a comeback movie was not merely a vindication for an aging, underemployed, sometimes mocked but mostly forgotten movie star.

It was a needling reminder that the French, after so many years and after so much derision, never gave up on an actor who, in this country, became a living symbol of French contrariness — a human Security Council veto, the Tinseltown embodiment of the force de frappe and fromage de tête.

We mocked the French for admiring Mickey Rourke the way we laughed at their serious assessment of Jerry Lewis as a comic genius. In both cases, the French despised us right back for disparaging artists who are avatars of what they consider to be the best of American popular culture.
I had forgetten the French were fans, but I do remember being a big fan myself in the '80s, and was glad to see he was making a comback back in 2005 and 2006.

In 1980, I was a little shit 10-year-old and in 1990 I turned 20. In between I enjoyed many of Rourke's movies, like Body Heat, Diner, Rumble Fish, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Year of the Dragon, Angel Heart**, and Barfly.***

The types of characters he'd play reminded me of a couple of acquaintances of mine at the time, guys who didn't give a shit but also had a certain amount of integrity.
* Again, Hitchens has all the fun: "And yes, that was me at the ball given by The Root, making a mild fool of myself as I boogied chubbily on down to the strains of Biz Markie, DJ to the capital's black elite." Also at the party: Oprah, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Tom Joyner, Chris Tucker, Samuel L. Jackson, Kal Penn, and token white guys David Gregory and Larry King. The mention of Biz Markie brings back memories of college, when late in the evening/early in the morning the entire drunken party would be singing/yelling along to "Just a Friend."
** Robert De Niro's Satan was portrayed as I imagined him to be.
*** "Drinks for all my friends!"
No-Drama Obama

Although inauguration day was rather dramatic. Obama's mien during his speech was somber and serious, as it was during his victory speech in Chicago.

Regarding the economic crisis, he said: "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age."

William Safire found this a tolerant note, while I suspect this is why those like John Judis didn't like the speech.

But Obama also said,
"Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.

But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous."
And he notes that his election marks the coming of age of new generation that will not be hindered by false choices.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.
False choices are presented by those in power in order to limit options and it was good to see Obama note this. It is often a ploy by older, "serious" people to present false choices as the "hard reality." But Obama does recognize there are hard choices, they're just not always the ones presented.

He wisely states, "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," which ruffles Safire's feathers. However, Safire notes
"Obama followed that soon enough with a paragraph appealing to hardliners, promising to "responsibly leave Iraq to its people" - hawks can hope the operative word is "responsibly" - and "forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan," which is a dovish way of saying he may have to risk the doves' charge of "Obama’s war.""
Iraq and Afghanistan are the arenas for his hard choices. My favorite part of the speech was the multicultural bit:
"And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, "Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."


For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
As the New York Times observed
"There was a lot to reflect on in President Obama’s inaugural speech today, but there were two small points that are worth noting, two things that Mr. Obama mentioned that American politicians, especially presidents, never mention: Vietnam and atheism."
"To hear most American leaders tell it, the Constitutional freedom of religion allows you to be a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Christian Scientist, a Sikh — well you get the idea. Basically, a member of any religion. But they never talk about people who do not participate in an organized religion, or are even — gasp! — atheists."
"At another point in his address, the new president was paying homage to our ancestors, “who carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

“For us,” he said, “they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sanh.”

Khe Sanh? The 1968 battle in Vietnam that was one of the many times the military leadership badly underestimated the power and intentions of the North Vietnamese Army, at great cost in the lives of American Marines?

Military historians still argue about what happened at Khe Sanh, which has become an iconic symbol of the tragic failures of Vietnam. (Go back and listen to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” for an example of what we mean.)

So why did Mr. Obama mention the battle? Perhaps because it also is a symbol of the courage and self-sacrifice of the Marines, and he wanted to include their service to America in his speech? We’re not certain. But it was interesting to note that he stopped there and did not go on to mention, say, Fallujah.

As for his reference to atheists, the answer could be simple: Mr. Obama actually meant it when he said, "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recrminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics."
Like Obama's election, the mention of the two topics symbolize a change in the zeitgeist and a new generation. The only old grumpies during the inauguration drama were the non-heteros - and they have their reasons - but they should recognize that religion is their main adversary.

Catherine Winslow

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dance Fucker Dance
(or You're Gonna Go Far, Kid Part Deux)

Okay this is my last post on The House Bunny and hopefully that will get it out of my system. Having paid off my creditors, I can now spend money on frivolous impulse buys like magazines. So I picked up the latest issue of Geek magazine because Janeane Garofalo was on the cover and it would be interesting to learn what she thinks about her new gig on 24.

Coincidently there's a piece on Anna Faris:
To House Bunny's credit, one of the montages shows Faris' character actually learning - it's the first intelligence makeover scene. But Faris who gets story credit on the movie, orginally had something slightly less inspirational in mind when she met with writers Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Luts.

"We met and talked, and they asked what I was thinking about and I said I was playing around with this idea about a Playboy bunny who's thrown out of the Mansion, and maybe she's addicted to drugs or has an abusive father and she has to go back to her small Christian town and everybody hates her, and maybe she can't kick her meth habit... They were smiling and nodding and they came back a week later and said, 'OR... she could become a house mom at a sorority!' I wanted to make something comedic, I was just out-loud musing about why a Playboy bunny would really be kicked out of the Mansion.

Faris was eventually talked down to something slightly more family-friendly. "We really wanted to make sure that even though she had lived in this fantasy deviant lifestyle, for whatever strange reason she was an innocent. We decided not to go down the darker avenues of what a Playboy bunny's duties might be."
The picareque tale with bildungsroman traits reminded me of Zoolander, another story about a beautiful Ingénue and the theme of the cosmetic and superficial versus the authentic. The darker side Faris mentions brought to mind Martin Amis's journalistic journey into the porno industry.
If you're going to be a porno star, what do you need? It's pretty clear by now. You need to be an exhibitionist. You need to have a ferocious sex drive. You need to suffer from nostalgie de la boue (literally "mud nostalgia": a childish, even babyish delight in bodily functions and wastes). And - probably - you need damage in your past. You also need to be humourless. Chloe is not humourless. When she talked to me she was like someone peeping over a wall demarcating two different worlds, telling me stories about the other side.
Fifteen minutes later, referring to the achievements of Lola, [porn star] Chloe stabbed a hand through the air at me, and shouted with joy and triumph (Chloe is the director, remember, and she was thrilled to have this scene in the can): "That's the kind of blowjob I was telling you about yesterday!"

I reeled out into the yard with my notebook, laughing, and shaking my head. There are plenty of "jokes" on a porno set, and there is much raucous mirth to dispel tension. But only a Chloe, only an exception, can inject humour. She sounded like Mel Brooks, in The Producers, saying, "That's our Hitler!"
Jeet Heer writes:
Yet it’s worth reminding ourselves in the not too distant past, the exact opposite strategy was followed. In the 1970s both the United States and Israel thought that secular left-wing Arab nationalism was a bigger threat than religious fundamentalism. For that reason, Israel worked strongly to empower Hamas and undermine Fatah.
And he points to a UPI article:
Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.

Israel “aided Hamas directly — the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization),” said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies.

Israel’s support for Hamas “was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative,” said a former senior CIA official.