The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Storm And Stress
Gustav, Republicans and Palin, Oh My

When reading his post, let the vid run, and crank the volume loud as you can. This is Gustav Mahler, and Mahler and quiet don't mesh. The tumultuous music, from the Fourth Movement of Mahler's First Symphony, is appropriate for current national and world conditions. I think the strings in the early measures resemble the hysteria of television and the InterTubes.

Déja-Vú, All Over Again

Gustav slams into Jamaica and the Caymans... (via BBC/AP)

Mayor Ray Nagin didn't mince words: "Get your butts out of New Orleans." He then referred to Gustav as "the storm of the century" when we're not even a decade in...though if New Orleans levees fail, this storm and floods might eclipse the city's history. (via BBC/AP)

Not good signs of things to come. Gustav is in the Gulf of Mexico, stoking its hurricane engines with fresh warm air fuel to crank up to Category 4, and as the newscasters are hyperventilating to tell us, the winds must exceed 155 miles per hour to slide over into Cat 5 class. But--it is hoped--Gustav will have braked down to Cat 3 when it makes landfall (how gracious a phrase) in what appears to be a hit on Southern Louisiana just west of NOLA. That means the Crescent City will get Gustav's backhand, its most forceful winds and greatest rain. (via BBC/AP)

Contessa Brewer is Charotte York as a pony-tailed storm tracker...

The teevee news is delighting in the use of split screens or boxes to indicate the inexorable and unstoppable progress of Gustav while interviewing grave-faced Republicans who are converging in Minneapolis-St. Paul to meet in their version of the Globco Corporate Center. This is the third anniversary of Katrina-Rita (Karita, as Dr. John says) and everybody has seen this movie before. The story does not end well.

I enjoyed seeing MSNBC's Contessa Brewer, her dark hair pulled into a pig-tail, and in a pretty, colorful summer wrap dress, wandering around in the northbound traffic and interviewing a guy with his puffy white pooch fleeing the city. And while undertaking this important story, she looks all the world like Kristin Davis' Charlotte York. That'd be an interesting twist to the Sex And The City storyline...Charlotte becomes a Storm Chaser for the Weather Channel with Stephanie Abrams and Jim that would be appointment television.

One hurricane. One Stephanie Abrams. Any questions? Via devildogdailynews.

Slippery News

One aspect that I don't think is understood well enough is the extent that the U.S. domestic oil and natural gas production is involved with the Gulf Coast. There are some 13 refineries in the region to be affected. According to Bloomberg, "The Gulf accounts for about 14 percent of U.S. gas output. The coast along Louisiana and Texas is home to 42 percent of U.S. refining capacity."

The Bloomberg report goes on to describe how in August and September 2005 that U.S. crude oil and fuel production tanked, " and prices rose to records when hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast. Katrina closed 95 percent of offshore output in the region. Almost 19 percent of U.S. refining capacity was idled because of damage and blackouts caused by the storms."

To further cause the billion-eyed audience to corduroy its collective brow and say, "H'mm" grok this post from the Naples (Fla.) Daily News from Ironside

"Speaking of oil spills, SkyTruth images revealed significant spills covering a large area of the northern Gulf of Mexico in the wake of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. At the time, nobody was talking about what had happened to the 4,000 offshore oil platforms - and 34,000 miles of pipeline on the seafloor - when Katrina ripped through the Gulf as a Cat 5 storm, followed a few weeks later by Hurricane Rita. Attention was rightly focused on the unfolding human tragedy, as well as the 7-9 million gallons of oil spilled from damaged pipelines, refineries and storage tanks onshore. (More facts and images here.)

But for months after the storms, officials from government and industry repeatedly claimed that there were no "significant" spills in the Gulf. That line is still heard even now. Yet in May 2006, the U.S. Minerals Management Service published their offshore damage assessment: 113 platforms totally destroyed, and - more importantly - 457 pipelines damaged, 101 of those major lines with 10" or larger diameter. At least 741,000 gallons were spilled from 124 reported sources (the Coast Guard calls anything over 100,000 gallons a "major" spill).

Wells and platforms were shut down before the storm, so leakage from those facilities was minimal. Pipelines were shut down too. But what the officials failed to mention is they don't require industry to "purge" pipelines before a severe storm - so they were probably still loaded with oil, gas or liquid gas condensate. Any section of pipeline that was breached leaked all of that product into the Gulf within hours of the storm. That's what we think accounts for the widespread slicks seen on the imagery from September 1 and 2, covering hundreds of square miles and obviously emanating from many points of origin. These slicks dispersed after several days of high winds offshore, as shown by our followup imagery taken on September 12, but a few problems remained as evidenced by ongoing leaks from wrecked platforms."

And as POC remarks on the Naples site:

In the winter gas prices go up, because of home heating oil.

In the spring gas prices go up, to reformulate gasoline for the summer blend.

In the summer gas prices go up, to meet summer time demand.

In the fall gas prices go down, because there are elections.

On Oil drilling in the Gulf: 25 miles or 50 miles off our coast?

Hard Blows and Blow Hards

Because down-scaled news divisions cannot cover more than two and a half major stories at one time, the flood devastation in Nepal has rated barely a blip. More than a million people are homeless and more displaced, and health conditions are deteriorating. The BBC reports that this on-going disaster began on 18 August when a dam burst on the Saptakoshi river in Nepal. The Saptakoshi, which becomes the Kosi when it enters India, subsequently broke its banks in Bihar. And with the axiomatic finality of an ice tray filling one compartment at a time, the flood waters have devastated villages. See here. Image from BBC/AP.

No matter what happens on the Gulf Coast, it will not come close to the horrendous death and damage caused from the the cyclone that hit Burma earlier this year--causing some 77,000 deaths (here), or the tsunamis of recent years (here). Of course, when such a thing is happening to you, and you are uprooted from your home and everything you know, perspective is difficult to maintain and to understand that, yes, things almost always can be worse.

Between the storm and the Republicans, practically all other news got blown off screen, though there is something going on with that whole Russia-Georgia discussion, into which other European nations are entering into with some mis-matched rhetoric.

Meanwhile, the Palin Predicament is blossoming on the InterTube. Witness this image that popped up on Facebook, with Palin posed in this "Gentlemen, start your engines" number...

At a quick glance, fools the eye at this size, but, well, it's a fake. Somebody already called a flag on the play when realizing this faux Palin's head is a taken from this Flickr image:

So there you go; this is how the rumor mill gets propelled through the cyber-aether. Palin has this Ashleigh Banfield/Tina Fey/librarian/hot soccer/hockey mom thang going on that befuddles some people.

The reaction reminds me of the tin-foil Royal Air Force bombers dropped during raids over Germany. The German radar picked up the foil bundles and mistook them for aircraft.

What should disturb people more than anything else is that Palin was once a local sports news anchor. You can witness it here. That's right, reporting the basketball and hockey game scores. Well, everybody is entitled to a good job at a good wage. But..did you ever see Nicole Kidman in 1995's To Die For? (here and here) This was back before Nicole got herself botoxed into almost unrecognizable condition.

Unlike the lethally ambitious character played by Kidman, though, Palin's dream of going on to ESPN was deferred when she chose not to leave her home and family to do so. But that ambition had to go somewhere, and thus she went a into politics.

Besides that television newscaster background, has anybody noticed this? Palin (left) and former reporter Ashleigh Banfield, who made a name for herself covering the 9/11 attacks live from the streets of Manhattan, went to Iraq, then she ended up on Court TV.

Her entering the political sphere, from being in the PTA and hockey mom, to town councilman and mayor to Governor, kind of reminds me of that wonderful scene in the film Dave in which Ben Kingsley, as Vice-President Gary Nance, reminisces about how he got into politics. He was, like Truman, a haberdasher. And if I recall, it was his wife who said: Look, you're complaining all the time about how things are in this town, why don't you run for office? And I think his first position was as a town councilman, and one thing led to another, and as I recall, the scene was an ode to the value of public service, Sorkin-esque, but written by Gary Ross.

In the entertainment-distraction complex dominated nation we have, would serve us right to have Palin as a former talking head to ascend to the vice-presidency. There's a certain symmetry to the whole trajectory. We have had no lack of former actors and entertainers entering electoral politics since Ronald Reagan took to the national spotlight.

I bet you some producer in Hollywood right now is thinking what a great reality television program Palin's settling in to the v-p office would make...five kids, the working man husband,'s Northern Exposure meets Commander-in-Chief. Dick Cheney she is--and we should give thanks for this--not.

Then there's this rumor going on about Palin and her fifth child and, you know, rather than .. here, go to Digg. Seems to me like John Edwards payback and wishful thinking rather than real, but.

As one poster to Digg put the issue, perhaps uttering the most true statement on the Internet today: "America's politics is ridiculous. Instead of focusing on the actual policies, it's a competition of who can make the most mud stick. I've lived in UK for almost 10 years now and I have never seen such behaviour."

But nothing is new in U.S. politics, despite what our Brit observer says. President Grover Cleveland was dogged by persistent rumors that he had fathered an "illegitimate child" (such a quaint term now). There was a doggerel song that went with the accusation: Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa?, Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha! The Cleveland camp responded with this jab at opponent James G. Blaine: "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine."

Ah, those were the days.

Meanwhile, U.S. politics continues its descent into irrelevancy, corporatist control and pornographic proportions.

And a big, big storm is coming.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

North, To Alaska
The Race Is On!
That Civics teacher we had crushes on. Gov. Sarah Palin, via Girl In Short Shorts.

Well, first of all, I imagine earlier today that that tremendous revebrating yawlp of glee from the direction of the Great Southwest game from Becky, The Girl In Short Shorts, who pegged early on in that uncanny way that bloggers who aren't In The System are able to. She picked John McCain's running mate for him.

And thus Obama's historic acceptance spectacle at the Globco Inc. Stadium got not even quite 24 hours worth of reflection and jubilation. (Image of Obama at Globco Field, from Huffington Post)

Welcome to the Republican MILF ticket. McCain's "people" if not McCain himself are connected to the current culture. Amie said to me, "He's picked the woman every man wants to marry." Well. Or something.

And she's got that anti-corruption, low-tax -- quasi-libertarian thing goin' on, too. McCain with Palin has stolen a march on Obama, and that's just the truth. Whether this will lead to the White House will make for must see teevee. As I've said, this is the Best Episode Of The West Wing Ever.

She can drive a motorcycle and a snow mobile, shoots guns, fishes with her Dad, is mother to five children. The latest came just some four months ago, with Down's Syndrome, and her eldest son is shipping out to Iraq. Her husband looks like that bearded fellow from Home Improvement (or maybe one of the guys from Ice Road Truckers), and she's pretty easy on the eyes, for a U.S. Republican politician. But as the ladies around the office here advised, she's gotta lose the bangs. Otherwise, she looks like one of those, um, "actresses" on certain websites devoted to fantasies about teachers and the best friend's mom. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

She's better looking than Joe Biden. And at 44, she's younger than anybody running.

I could belabor her political background, which is even more slender than Obama is skinny, but at McCain Command-and-Control, that doesn't matter. She's a woman. She's hot. She's anti-gay, anti-Pro Choice and pro-gun. So, there you go. All she has to do is look good and be colorful and say the right things at the right time. That's enough to pass before the U.S. voting public, as McCain's people see the situation. Whether she's qualified is a reality-based world concern. What matters first is entertaining, and second winning, and the two are almost the same.

On the part of the McCain team, this choice is a cynical, cheap political ploy, but 95 percent of anything in politics is cheap and a ploy, so that doesn't really mean anything.

No, it's the calculated risk McCain's staff seeks to widen the wedge in the almost neck-and-neck race he's in. That's the bottom line, and anybody that thinks different shouldn't go near a voting booth. This is all going to come down to two or three precincts in Ohio or Pennsylvania, anyway.

Of the Dems at Denver, what I can say is: all you need to know about the event is that both of their major venues were rechristened for businesses, not a person, nor a city, not even a quality. (The same goes for where the R's will have their week-long orgy of self-congratulation for a "job well done" even as a potential Class 3 hurricane roars toward the Gulf Coast).

The names of the gathering places for these conventions do not refer to anything of civic pride or individual achievement, just commerce. That is the circumstance of our corporatist nation now. And the Democrats are culpable in this transformation, much as the Republicans, as they've done little to stop its subtle and inexorable encroachment in our lives. In fact, they've both encouraged the development.

Some good speeches were made by a few people. But it's all just bread and circuses, no matter --and especially because-- of how good it may makes us feel. We here watched the spectacle on C-SPAN, which allowed us to view without yelling talking heads or commercial interruption, and, more Greta in the morning. (Image via reportercaps.)

I draw your attention now to an interview I heard this past week on Democracy Now! with the publisher and president of Harper's Magazine, Rick MacArthur. His latest book, which I've not read but will, is You Can’t Be President: The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America.

Obama: Preposterous for reasons you'd not think of

Says MacArthur:

"Well, one reason you can’t be president is because not everyone could get slated by the Cook County Democratic machine the way Barack Obama was on several occasions when he was an Illinois politician. One of the paradoxes about Barack Obama and the notion that he represents the American ideal that anyone can become president is that he is sponsored by the political organization that epitomizes one-party rule in this country, the Cook County Democratic machine run by Richard Daley, which previously was run by his father. I mean, this is a dynasty, a political dynasty of fifty years, sixty years standing, that doesn’t allow people to run just because they feel like it or because they think they have a bright, fresh new idea. So the idea that Barack Obama represents this ideal or epitomizes this ideal is preposterous."

The Hope of Audacity

"Another thing that astonishes me is that no one seems to have read his book, The Audacity of Hope. It’s all over his book that he favors free trade, he favors—he’s very friendly with the investment bank community, with the hedge funds, with the corporate lawyers and so on and so forth. And these are the people—despite the fact that he has raised a great number of small contributions from individuals with not much money, his campaign is dominated by the corporate and the financial sectors. He does this by saying to people, “Look, you have nothing to fear from me. I’m essentially sympathetic to your points of view.” And he says so in his book. The Audacity of Hope is essentially an advertisement for his availability, for his nonthreatening position vis-a-vis the financial community."

If he goes too far outside the box and tries to become a freelancer, in other words, a real independent reformer, there’s no way Barack Obama could be the nominee for president. Absolutely inconceivable. The only hope he—

AMY GOODMAN: So why is Barack Obama giving so much play to the Clintons? I mean, Hillary Clinton will be speaking on Tuesday. President Clinton will be speaking on Wednesday. Her name will be entered. There will be the vote. It’s as if it’s a Clinton convention.

RICK MACARTHUR: Well, now we’re getting into tactics. We’re getting away from some of the other things I’m talking about. And tactically, I think this is very stupid on the part of Obama. And I seem to be the only person besides Dick Morris, Bill Clinton’s former adviser, who’s saying this. The idea—in fact, Dick Morris wrote a very funny piece the other day, saying—on his blog, saying that if Clinton—excuse me, if Obama can’t stand up to the Clintons, how can he stand up to President Putin of Russia? I would say that that’s exactly right, that he has given way too much air time to the Clintons and that Hillary Clinton has not conceded. This is another central part of the thesis of my book, which is that this is a factional fight within the Democratic Party. It’s not an ideological fight, it’s a fight over power.

You can read and should read the whole thing here.

Vast Ambitions

So, I'm not sure where that leaves us, billion-eyed audience. I'm done with third parties. None of them have the money or the leverage to even make a dint in this noise that passes for politics. We don't have a parliamentary or run off system, and there's that Electoral College, still.

Obama is not McCain, that's for sure, but he is a political animal with vast ambitions toward power. Maybe he'll do some good. Maybe he'll be Jimmy Carterized, who, by the way, was barely seen-- an asterisk-- at the Convention, nor was Wesley Clark.

The Balcony

But, like any revolutionary, you get rid of everything that came before, otherwise, you're not having a revolution. Except. This election isn't a revolution, or rather, just a revolution at the top, like those town hall clocks in Europe. At the striking of the hour, mechanical figures come out of their opposite sides of the clock face, they comically beat each other over the head, then switch places. To repeat what MacArthur said above, "It’s not an ideological fight, it’s a fight over power."

I am reminded, again, of Jean Genet's The Balcony, set in a brothel called "The House of Illusions" during the time of great social upheaval. There, the men pretend to be bishops, generals and judges, and the prostitutes fulfill their fantasies -- until the real world intrudes on their existence, and one of the whores becomes a symbol of the revolt. (image via Read a recent review here.

And so it goes.

But the first thing is, BHO-JRB have to get elected.

And I don't know how that is possible, given the lamentable state of our electorate. I am, too, reminded of the recent film Idiocracy, which almost had to circulate through the samizdat of YouTube and video. Mike Judge, who brought us Office Space and Beavis & Butthead among other such indicators of culture turns punk and deplores the audience who is watching the film. It is set in the "future" but is painful in a depiction that doesn't seem so far removed.


A low-level army man named Joe and a hooker named Rita are in a cryogenics experiment gone wrong when they awaken, Rip Van Winkle like, 500 years into a horrendous--and silly--future. The U.S. is a cul-de-sac disaster, where things have stopped working and everybody is too dumb to fix anything.

In a way, Idiocracy is a variant of Walker Percy's great novel, Love In The Ruins, wherein a scientist has devised a machine to bridge the gap between the extremes of human character, with the problem that it uses volatile "heavy sodium." Culture is deteriorating every day, but so is the protagonist's sobriety and mental stability. While the book is about Percy's reaction to the tumult of the 1960s, the general themes remain relevant today. The billion-eyed audience should read this book if you haven't, and a description is here.

Joe also fits into the mold of the classic "hero" in that he is in the Wasteland and must regenerate the fecundity of the world. He goes through the requisite trials and comes out the victor, though dubious as triumph is in the Idiocracy world.

Costco and Carl's Jr. run the culture and nobody seems to care. The President is a hulking world "Smackdown" champion--who delivers his state of address with the combination of James Brown performance and a wrestler's braggadocio. And a machine gun.

The culture is reduced to fornication and violence, and the crops are getting watered with Gator-Aide because the company owns the Department of Agriculture, and the drink has "electro-lytes" which nobody knows what it means, except that this is supposed to be good.

The crops have died, and Joe gets catapulted into the role of "smartest man in the world" to solve all the problems. There's this great scene that is sort of like the Roman emperor bringing his triumphant entry, and Comacho and Joe are having a discussion, in which Joe tries to explain he's not really smart and this is all a mistake.

If I'd written it--I would've messed the thing up, probably--I'd have this take a veer into the existential and absurd, with Joe folding his arms and refusing to help, even if he gets killed, because he knows he can't fix any of these problems due to the overwhelming stupidity of these people, and this place is so messed up, and he's stuck here, so he'd rather die. A motorized "Christian to the lions" scene occurs later in the film, and Joe, mostly because his opponents are too clumsy and dumb, wins.

I'd have moved that up -- making Comancho even more angry and confused. Sentenced to prison, he escapes, thus, since he's cheated death and incarceration, Comancho forces him to join his cabinet and not come out of a meeting until he's solved All The Problems.

Again, Joe refuses, somehow seizes a weapon, and screams, "Just fucking turn on the damn water--you're irrigating the crops with freaking Gator-Aide, you idiots!" He rants and rages. There is an argument about electrolytes. Comancho gives an order to immediately begin watering the crops with water. Joe is, after all, now too smart to be killed or jailed and he's hijacked the government -- more out of frustration and exasperation than anger.

Then they all go out to the field in folding chairs sit and wait. And wait. There is comic existential dialogue viz. Waiting For Godot, punctuated by sexual innuendo and gunplay, and just when it looks like Joe has pushed this far as he can, the plants start growing.

Now, he is made President, regardless of whether he cares for the position. ("I'd prefer not to," he'd keep saying). Rita talks him into it--turning into a kind of down market Lady Macbeth and that's how it ends, Joe installed as President because he had the sense to do one thing right.

But Judge's real version is funnier, I reckon.

Meanwhile, Down On The "Jay Dee"

Idiocracy doe not seem so distant when we take a look at a recent issue of Style Weekly that covered Obama's recent visit to Chester, Va., in the company of Gov. Tim Kaine. This is real, billion-eyed audience, not made up. Read this excerpt from Amy Begelson's story, and you tell me how the future looks to you.

"Supporters are fond of saying Obama doesn’t need to convert old voters, just find enough new ones to push himself over the edge in the rural South. Two miles down Jefferson Davis Highway, however, the message has yet to reverberate.

At the White House Motel, whose five freestanding buildings form a semi-circle around a brown lawn, the check-in clerk has not heard of Obama. A woman working the fruit stand across the highway has, but isn’t sure when the election is.

Not so for visitors at D&A Auto Service. The shop’s front lobby serves as a dayroom with plastic plants and a TV for two Vietnam vets. One has a foot-long beard, the other has tan ovals on the backs of hands where gloves left his skin exposed to the sun during a motorcycle ride.

They say Sen. Hillary Clinton might have put up a tougher fight against McCain, even if she swings both ways. And race — and Internet rumors — haven’t escaped them. They wonder aloud how a half-black, half-Indian Muslim not even born in this country got on the ticket in the first place.

“What is he going to do? Go down the census list and send out boxes of basketballs and watermelons?” one of the men asks. They would like to see Norman Schwarzkopf or Oliver North throw a hat in the ring.

They’ll settle for McCain, they say, but aren’t optimistic. “I don’t give a damn which party, which man,” one says. “It ain’t going to make a damn bit of difference.”

“Mmhmm,” the other vet agrees. “They’ve got their hands tied.”"

The whole piece is here.

And things have just started to get interesting.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Will it be the same ole thing, or The West Wing?
"Yes We Can"... do what?

Image of the cast, via West Wing, summary of "Shibboleth" episode here.

"Senators Barack Obama and Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Springfield, Ill., Saturday." via The Caucus, New York Times political blog, here.

Billion-eyed audience, I realize that The West Wing was just a television show, and political porn for us trapped in the reign of George II, but I was addicted and loved it for most of the run--at least long as Aaron Sorkin was writing until his own deviltries and frailities unseated him. And it was OK after that, with some major gaffes (that whole thing with Leo in Cuba and the spy mission --echhh) and the series ending with a Hispanic elected as President. H'mmm. How unlikely did that seem?

I got hooked on the series during reruns on Bravo and brought up to speed. I even liked the West Wing see an empty office until Donna jumps up, "A-hah!" Or the announcer, underscoring the multiple times the show ran, repeating. "The West Wing...The West Wing...The West Wing," with some kind of funny tag line, I think about a copy machine, delivered by Josh.

So forgive me if, when watching some of these scenes of BHL and JRB and the attendant families and dignatorial functionaries in flag-draped scenes among clamoring crowds, that I get an attenuated form of cultural vertigo--that feeling you may know from when the elevator tops but you feel as though it is still moving. This is not just a campaign. This the Best West Wing Episode Ever.

I thought it interesting how in a slip of the tongue, Obama almost introduced Biden as the next President of the United States, and Biden referred to his running mate as "Barack America," like a spoken word poet, or, a superhero. Or perhaps both. And that Biden came out of the gate "literally" (as he so often said yesterday) running was fun to see. (I had a PBR to drink from each time he said "folks" and my guess is one of his media people told him to lay off the phrase--so I had just two sips by that word).

"Damn It Jim, I'm A Politician, Not An Actor."

You can tell Obama is tired. He didn't sell his lines quite right. His statement, "Joe Biden will give some real straight talk to America" was kind of a throwaway when the emphasis should've been on "some real straight talk" and that would've been a more direct jab at McCain. But, having made a few score curtain speeches, I know how difficult remembering all your notes can be, especially if you don't want some bright piece of paper distracting the audience's attention. Then again, he's a politician, not an actor.

I recall how years ago--when Tim Kaine was a Richmond City Councilman, and not even mayor, the Firehouse invited him to participate in a fund raiser and he accepted. Tim is one of the primary reasons there is a Firehouse today. Anyway, I wrote the show that had this Laugh-In style Advent Calendar-esque door opening-and-closing-quip-tossing scene. At the time, radio personality Jim Jacobs was broadcasting on WRVA here, and rather popular.

As written, Jacobs popped his head out and set up a joke, to which Tim replied, "Damn it Jim, I'm a lawyer, not an actor!" My little nod to Star Trek. OK. So Tim comes to me and asks if he can change the line to "politician" not an actor. Not only was this line alteration funnier, as it proved, but accurate. Tim then had his sights on the next thing, and as so happened he's gone a considerable distance.

The Climax of Climaxes So Far

The climax of climaxes of the Obama Experience thus far will be the stadium-sized acceptance speech. Seems to me this is an idea Sorkin might've had in some West Wing variant, and rejected due to the implausibility. When BHC came down here last year and his nervy staff had to hide art work at Plant Zero for fear of sending the wrong message (another West Wing-esque moment), I couldn't have anticipated where his candidacy would go.

I will say this: all politicians fail to live up to expectations. The younger, first-time voters may learn this the hard way. Also, placing too much faith in anybody running for office is a one-way ticket to Disappointment Junction. Even if the wellspring of a candidate's motivation is of the most pure and idealistic, the way to the highest level of governance is a chutes and ladders game of moral and ethical deviations and compromise. Also, there is something fundamentally wrong with anybody who wants the job of President of the United States. The massive ego and a certain level of arrogance required to endure an inhumane and over-long campaign and a constant assault on one's character and personal history means the possession of almost superhuman levels of confidence.

An Ambivalent Cynic

And, further, to place one's full faith in any leader--temporal or spiritual-- is dangerous. To think that any one person can undertake an overhaul of such a vast maelstrom of corruption as the government at Washington and do so without, to borrow a phrase, massive resistance, is foolish. To paraphrase Twain, our world is either governed by well-intentioned mediocrities or malicious idiots. I tend to think there is a bountiful combination of the two.

And that we have all these sitting senators running--does this not indicate some kind of rift in the Millionaire's Club that is the Senate? This reflects, too, the split in the country. And if we had a functioning non-money-special-interest polluted political system, a parliamentary style--not this show biz thing we have now--there'd be more voices and greater choices. And I'm not going to get started about the electoral college and manipulated voting and how we are today a corporatist nation. That elections today are about as profound as an "American Idol" and with fewer voters. Call me and ambivalent cynic. Hell, I voted for John Anderson in my first time out, and once even for Ross Perot.

In conversation this weekend with a neighbor, he told of how a friend who was accused of being a "liberal" once too often finally snapped, "I'm not a liberal, I'm a radical. I don't think any of it works." Or, as acquaintance of mine from years ago remarked, shrugging, "Why vote? It just encourages them."

"What Do We Do Now?"

Well, I don't think any of it works. I mean, not really. So much of what passes for action is just momentum. And voting encourages a misplaced hopefulness -- yet I vote whenever I get the chance. The real politics happens in your civic associations, community gardens, your theaters, and neighborhoods, on your front stoop. When the power goes out and the InterTubes crash, you're left with the people living to around you. That's where the solutions get worked out, and what has the most affect on you.

Some in the billion-eyed audience may be familiar with the 1972 film The Candidate, featuring Robert Redford, as a young vital politician who goes through a rigorous campaign that at times barely acknowledges his existence, and in the end, victorious and arms raised, he says through his smile, "What do we do now?" Read more here.

And here is just one reason why I liked that show so much; the crackling dialogue, the tangled situations--Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme-- the cinematic lighting and camera, and the great doors. West Wing had awesome doors.

"Well, Here I Am, Anyway."

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Ebony & Ivory"
Admit it. The song was a hit and you knew (most) of the words.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Notes on the News
Hello, is anybody out there?

Scarlett Johansson shows her support for the O-Man. I don't know where I got this, otherwise I'd give credit.

If any member of the billion-eyed audience thought there'd be a Part II for my previous Springsteen entry, I thought, naahhh. I'll just add to the one that's there, which I've done somewhat, and I may put more in, for what it's worth.

But I know why you come here is my trenchant political commentary, because, well, there is so little of the species anywhere else on the InterTubes.

This Georgia thing and Russia, with the stupid missile defense thing thrown in:

The U.S. didn't intervene when the Soviets rolled over Hungary or Czechoslovakia (back when there was a Czechoslovakia). And for more recent history, after encouraging the Kurds of Iraq to rise up, we left them hanging in the breeze. Lebanon and Somalia both turned out so well. And then there was Nicaragua.

Why would the Georgians think we'd come galloping to their rescue? And now Putin, wanting to stand up to the hyperpower, is playing into Bush's Gog-Magog Manichean view of the world -- because he can get away with the maneuver since he runs the media there. Here, we suffer from a corporatized media that feeds into the worst and baser aspects of human voyeurism and cheap grasping. The public by and large prefers not to be bothered with much that is significant. Sartre's elitist dismissal was: all they care about is fornication and the newspapers. Just change that to "the Internet" and I think the statement still holds. 

My view: I think that the citizenry are in some ways smarter, yet in other ways dumber, than most professional observers understand. People are more concerned and sometimes less able to articulate their worries (you ride public transit as I do, and you get an earful if you but listen) but don't know what exactly to do. We already had a revolution here. George Washington won it all by himself. 

But, about current events. 

The missile defense shield is a chimera and a pretext to rattle sabers. Georgia is getting bullied by Russia because of historic differences and can't stand yet another independent nation could spring up at its border. And there's that gas pipeline, too. Russia understands that with dwindling oil resources, whoever controls a sizable slice of the pie, gets power.

What is the U.S. going to do? Bomb Smolensk? NATO is literally over the barrel because they need Gazprom's oil. Don't listen to me, read Anne Applebaum, who knows this stuff. 

• Obama's vice presidential pick.

My fantasy of Vice President Wesley Clark dwindles, unless this has been a huge effort of misdirection. Maybe Obama is taking his present tour of possible VPs to tell them: I'm not choosing you, but I want to know if you'd accept x or y position should I be elected. 

Clark is (supposedly) not even attending the convention, and after the manufactured kerfluffle in which Clark was made to look like he was impugning McCain's several-decades old war record, Obama for some strange damn reason had to distance himself. This is a  full general who once ran NATO. Seems like Obama could use this expertise right about now. Further, as I've stated elsewhere, he's from Clinton country without the baggage of being a Clinton, looks and sounds good on teevee, and would up the guy factor, seeming a bit more experienced in the world than Hopey. 

I like Tim Kaine, personally--he was even at the Springsteen concert the other night--but for Virginia's sake and our future, I want to keep him down in the Alexander Parris-designed Executive Mansion until his term expires. Then, because our idiotic state constitution forbids governors succeeding themselves, he can become president of Virginia Commonwealth University. There. Done.

Evan Bayh may get the text or cell phone call that he's the one, but I think it's a lame choice; a conservative Democrat is going to appease who? Carry what state?

 Joe Biden-- Mr. "He's clean and neat" himself--is my pick among those being bruited. I prefer the Democratic white-haired loose cannon to the other white-haired loose cannon currently seeking the highest office. He's got foreign policy bona fides, he's smart, and he and Obama look good together.

• By the way, I don't know what politics matters anymore. This Broken Saddleback Whatever Non-Debate that McCain cheated on.

Why have this at all? Screw it, have Dr. Phil interview the candidates. Would make as much damn sense and be even more entertaining. This genuflecting before the evangelical right is just downright annoying and if you feed the beast, you but make it stronger.

Like Dr. Lindsey my college philosophy professor would say--and he, also an ordained minister--soon as you drag God kicking and screaming into an argument, you've proven the weakness of your argument.

Ipso facto, politics, as it is practiced here, is fallacious.

• August in Virginia--eerily balmy.

Temperatures in the 80s with pleasant breezes for a couple of weeks in what should be the most torrid days of summer. I'm not complaining except that we've not had any significant rainfall in--what?--two months? What's up with that?

We now return you to your regular web surfing for shoes and/or porn.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Boss and the "booty shakin' history-makin'" E-Street Band,
Richmond Coliseum, August 18, 2008

Bruce Springsteen performs at The Coliseum. Photo By: JOE MAHONEY/TIMES-DISPATCH

In this Olympic season, the analogy is an easy one: if medals could be given for rock concerts, the band would get the gold, the venue wouldn't even take the bronze. Maybe lead, if such a thing existed.

Suffice to say, billion-eyed audience, this was an amazing show that blended all the better elements of the genre except for the freaking dreadful sound at the Coliseum. But for the true believers, none of this matters. They know all the words, anyway.

All those waving hands! And Bruce at one point turning into a sweaty preacher, invoking us to get into the spirit, and I thought with detachment that here the political, spiritual and entertainment all blur, as these days, that is what they've become.

Guy de Bord occurred to me, and I wondered, can a famous man be famous and still be a man? De Bord didn't think so; though he developed an illness related from his alcoholism and killed himself. I don't think Bruce would ever isolate himself in a cabin to write Situationist screeds. I know little of this biography, and I'm sure--since he is something of a poet--that he has his darknesses and moods. But why go off into a scholar's hermitage to kvetch about the utter injustice of life in the world when you're a brand as recognizable as jeans and Coke? Sulking isn't fun.

Yes, Bruce Springsteen is flesh and blood--he sweats buckets--but his art, conducted as his better lights have guided him, have allowed our popular culture to reward him with great wealth and access. He is the fulfillment and embodiment of his audience's hopes and dreams; a poet, a protean and erotic force, a Dionysian hero.


  Bruce: Deconstructed

In a sense, he is one of the last great entertainers -- his success has not destroyed him as it has so many others, but behind the quasar of fame and associations--Esquire Magazine putting him on the cover as an icon with a halo a few years ago--where is the person?

Slate writer Stephen Metcalf, in 2005, observed:

"...Springsteen is no longer a musician. He's a belief system. And, like any belief system worth its salt, he brooks no in-between. You're either in or you're out. This has solidified Bruce's standing with his base, for whom he remains a god of total rock authenticity. But it's killed him with everyone else. To a legion of devout nonbelievers—they're not saying Bruuuce, they're booing—Bruce is more a phenomenon akin to Dianetics or Tinkerbell than "the new Dylan," as the Columbia Records promotions machine once hyped him. And so we've reached a strange juncture. About America's last rock star, it's either Pentecostal enthusiasm or total disdain."
(You can read Metcalf's Faux Americana: Why I Still Love Bruce Springsteen, here.)

Or as A.O. Scott assayed Springsteen for the New York Times in 2005:

"John Lennon sang that a working-class hero was something to be. In England, maybe, but in this country, where money and mobility tend to dissolve and to mystify social divisions, a working-class hero may be a contradiction in terms. And so Springsteen, the son of a bus driver and a legal secretary, occasionally encounters suspicion when, from his current position as an unimaginably rich and successful rock star, he speaks up for, and in the voices of, the marginal and the downtrodden. His preacherly demeanor solicits accusations of bad faith, while his forays into political activism (including his mini-tour in support of John Kerry near the end of last year's presidential campaign) can be caricatured as the well-meaning sentiments of yet another wealthy show-business liberal. Springsteen's sincerity can also rankle those who prefer their pop culture affectless and ironical, or who are more attuned to the clever manipulation of sampled bric-a-brac than to the struggle for mastery over historical influences."
You can get it all here.

What occurs to me is that a compelling team-up, either for a print interview, or one of those Iconoclasts higher-brow reality shows, is to put Springsteen in with writer William T. Vollmann. Vollmann, who is married with a daughter, early this year came out with his ruminations about hopping box cars, Riding Towards Everywhere. His cross-country hoboing wasn't done in some wild Guthrie-esque college adventure, but for this book. Or his contemplations about the activity turned into a book. Writer J.R. Moehringer says:

"The man is miserable. The man is filled with irredeemable gloom about the state of the world. Many of us are filled with irredeemable gloom about the state of the world, but not like Vollmann. So bummed out is he that only one thing gives him relief. Being a bum. A transient. We're talking full-on hobo here...Vollmann doesn't care where the trains go. He rides from Wyoming to Idaho, up and down California, here and there in Utah, giving little forethought to where he'll jump off or how he'll get back. He catches out (hobo talk for train hopping) with only a backpack of meager rations (water, whiskey, chocolate, cowboy jerky) and an orange bucket in which to relieve himself. He has no ticket, no credit card, no cellphone and frankly no real purpose, which is ultimately the fatal flaw of "Riding Toward Everywhere," his earnest, diverting and baffling new book about life on the rails."


..."Riding Toward Everywhere" bears all the water-marks of Vollmannism. The absence of quotation marks. The fondness for footnotes and endnotes. The preoccupation with squalor. Vollmann is an avid student of squalor, a Rhodes scholar of squalor, and thus this book also features an ensemble of demented waysiders, ceaseless transcriptions of loathsome graffiti - and the requisite references to prostitution. Whores are to Vollmann as bears are to John Irving. Early on, Vollmann mentions "a Cambodian whore" he nearly married. Why? No reason. He also complains about having to borrow cars to cruise his local red-light district, because men caught soliciting have their cars impounded. This has nothing to do with trains. It mainly serves to remind us we've entered Vollmann's world. Love for sale, 24-7.

I don't know if it's a prostitute, per se, with whom Vollmann makes out near the end of this book. I'm not sure it matters, except maybe to Mrs. Vollmann. He encounters his anonymous inamorata near some tracks, "very high . . . dancing alone by her campfire," an umbrella poking out of her grocery cart - what guy wouldn't be turned on? He kisses her, and kisses her some more. The episode is so freaky, so out there, you later wonder if you actually read it or nodded off and dreamed it." The review is here. I've not read the book; but sounds reminiscent of Henry Miller's proto-Kerouacian journey cross-country by car, The Air Conditioned Nightmare. Like Vollmann's book, Miller has photoraphs, and he also enjoys squalor and sex.

Some of these aspects seem...Springsteenian; he whose music was banned from Starbucks. But it is unlikely that Bruce would just hang it all up and go ride the rails -- as a musician, he's traveled plenty and in varying circumstances. The preoccupation, though,  with finding some America; the rails, the girl dancing high by the campfire. Springteen, too, is disressed by, as Vollmann calls it, this "time of extreme national politics."

Vollmann is younger that Springsteen, a different generation, and the gap is where the irony goes, except neither of them are ironists. Vollmann wrote a massive multi-volume history of violence. Springsteen has songs about small-time criminals, races, and class struggles. The two would have plenty to discuss, should they have the opportunity. 


  True Article of Bruce

We saw Bruce & Co. in Charlottesville on April 30 and while Springsteen gave his customary 175 percent, an elegiac tone could not be overcome. Just a few weeks prior, Bruce's long-time keyboardist and friend Danny Federici had died (April 17), of melanoma. See Bruce's eulogy, here. That concert opened with a somber tribute accompanying a photo montage on the big screens.

Amie's history with Bruce goes way back. She helped book him and the E-Street Band at Mississippi State in Starkville (his chronology dates this as 2/13/1981.) Bruce and the band performed for hours, though he was ill. Clarence Clemons remarked to a friend of Amie's that this was the first time during their touring that he'd seen a black girl on the front row.

Amie was with the Music Makers organization that brought acts in and she, somewhere, still has the backstage pass Springsteen signed. But when he exited the auditorium he left behind the hat or cap he was wearing and Amie, standing there with it in her hand, was faced with a choice: run to his bus, or....

The decision was made for her by the road manager who showed up, none too amused, and snatched away her True Article of Bruce.

Since being together, we've seen Bruce as just himself, sometimes with a few players. And the venues and the weather and moods weren't right. An earlier Richmond Coliseum show-- for "Devils and Dust"-- was on a raw rainy night, the place cold as a mausoleum and the space given poor apportionment, though we received a genuine treat of watching Bruce play a pedal organ.

Then there was the Charlottesville show.

Events move on, Norfolk, Va., native Clemons got married, and this Richmond show was momentous (and somewhat nostalgic, but for good reasons).

The city otherwise worked as it should. After a sunburning wave-buffeted day at the beach with colleagues at the office, I met Amie at the Fan house of our friends Ruth and Charlie, dined on plump, fresh shrimp brought up two days ago from South Carolina and prepared four different ways and mojitos.

One Night Only At The Richmond Coliseum

We ditched our belongings, I showered and changed, and we dashed for a GRTC bus that got us downtown by 7:30 p.m. (Even though the bus driver couldn't say where to best get off for the Coliseum was, "I just drive," he said. Note to GRTC and Tourism: You really need to give your drivers some basic city knowledge -- this isn't the first time for me, or that I've overheard a driver profess total ignorance of the location of important landmarks. They also don't ever seem to know what bus is coming behind them. I hope with the new control center and GPS tracking this'll get resolved).

At the Coliseum we sat for an hour while the place filled up, our friend Katherine responding to Amie's urgent call got a scalper ticket and we watched her clamber around on the second tier with her young son. Then we learned we were in the wrong section and had to move down.

Still, excellent seats (thank you Michael, Amie's Music Maker advisor and concert impresario today). So we had the Springsteen E-Street Band Experience. The Boss threw himself into the audience and flung across the stage on his knees in a maneuver I saw in Charlottesville and reminds me of Roy Scheider as Joel Gideon in the finale of All That Jazz ; and at one point bent backward on his knees that must be the result of many hours of yoga or Plates. During a later song he slumped in front of the mike on the stage like puppet whose strings were cut, for one of the more introspective tunes. If he's not the hardest working man in show business, I really want to see who the other man is.

He ran all over the stage, and up stairs to a catwalk behind him, pointing and acknowledging the cheap seats; one received the impression that if he could've, Springsteen would've run down every aisle and to shake all our hands.

The big screens mounted above the alter-like stage made the experience seem more intimate than it was; still, having seen him a few times, I can attest that Springsteen is one of those performers who shrink a massive venue to his own size, or rather, he and the E-Street Band fill the hall with his energy. The image here is from Sharif Ewees, via Facebook.

Max Weinberg played drums, as Amie says, without seeming to break a sweat (though when the camera cut to him during "Born To Run" I thought he looked a little fatigued -- he is, well, human, not bionic); Nils Lofgren provided masterful riffs; Steven van Zandt had just one solo on one line and that showed his voice was great; The Big Man blew, and not a weak player in the line up. I missed seeing Patti, just because I don't know when if ever he and the E-Street band will do something like this again. What can I say? I like red heads. And so does Bruce. He even married one. "But you ain't lived until you've got your tires rotated by a red-headed woman."

Who knows if Bruce might just in his later years turn into a folk duo with his wife and show up under assumed names and play A Prairie Home Companion.

Still and all, Soozie Tyrell was quite fine.

Prior to his barn storming "Living In The Future" he gave a political commentary--some fans like when he does this, others could care less. After eight years of feeling the need to say something, I bet Springsteen is tired of the remarks, too. But out of the 16,000 people gathered there, my guess is several thousand of them felt that, here, too, he was speaking for them. In 32L, this was the case, judging from the arms upraised screaming.

One of the signs he plucked from the crowd was one that pleaded that he do "Back Streets" because the person's band had just broken up. Whereupon they launched into a ripping, thundering version of the song. This event probably earned the sign-writer drinks for the next three months and I hope he or somebody he knew had a video phone to record the occurrence. "It's really hard when your band breaks up," Springsteen mused afterward.

Of course, I want to know -- who was the person, what was the band? If this were a story, or a film, that would be the climactic scene, meaning he band would either get back together, or transform into another one.

Got out, back on the bus and running into acquaintances which is the great part of public transportation, thence returning Ruth and Charlie's to retrieve stuff, and where we drank martinis on the back roof of their house reached by a narrow stair and dormer hatchway, under an almost full moon and basking in a wafting breeze from the south, and surrounded by the stage-set like backdrop of silhouettes of turrets and finials, the nearby Lee Monument and the Stuart Circle Apartments and the former Shenandoah Apartments. Then home at 3 a.m, ears ringing, and Bruce still singing in our heads, as he is now.

Full review from Backstreets, the official Springsteenophile house organ, and from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

You can find a compilation of Springsteen concerts in Richmond from 1969 to 2005, many entries with set lists, at Handful of Brains.

Set list:

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Radio Nowhere
Out in The Street
Prove it All Night
Lonesome Day
Spirit in The Night
Stand On It
Cadillac Ranch
For You (solo piano)
Murder Incorporated
She's The One
Livin' in The Future
Mary's Place
I'll Work For Your Love
The Rising
Last To Die
Long Walk Home
Crush on you
Quarter to Three
Born To Run
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Bobby Jean
Dancing in The Dark
American Land
Twist & Shout +

+ con / with Robbin Thompson

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Going To See Bruce Tonight

...Hoping the Third World War doesn't erupt over this thing with Georgia. It'll be enjoyable climbing into Springsteen's E-Street entertainment machine, and to hear him talk some sense.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

An Hephaestos For The 21st Century
Iron Man has always been with us

Robert Downey, Jr. at his forge beneath the mountains of Afghanistan...

Hephaestos, the blacksmith for the Olympians--and the single one of the Immortals who
has an actual real world job--as interpreted by Rubens.

I will leave aside the story arc of the comic book Iron Man, of which I know little, and address the film as the film.

We went the other night to The Byrd Theatre to see Iron Man on the big screen with the Dolby sound. In our customary way, a visit to the Byrd is to see something because we can--it's just about at our doorstep--and if we've at least hear about the flick, give a view--for a buck ninety-nine you can't go far too wrong. These films tend to arrive at the Byrd as they've been released to DVD or gone to cable, but we don't care. Amie doesn't have an office water cooler to chat around and we at the office have one, but we're just usually to busy to have such discussions.

What I'm saying is, the peer pressure to see a film that's new isn't that great.

I did not know Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow are in this production. And straight outta the Fan District, Leslie Bibb! (Bibb plays an annoying Vanity Fair reporter, and why is it that in films journalists always end up in bed with their subjects?)

Terrence Howard conveys the proper bristling military attaché who is all efficiency and expertise; in what has come to be associated as The Cuba Gooding, Jr. role.

And that John Favreau directed it; and that he appears in the first minutes dressed like Oddjob, then vanishes. This cast worth millions proves, as a friend told me, that so few films are being made and most of them are so bad, that working actors of a certain marquee variety--who want to work--can be had for these summer no-brainers.

Much is made of this gloomy gus interpretation of Bat Man and the dead Heath Ledger. I've not seen the film -- it's not yet come to the Byrd. But rather than a psychologically damaged vigilante in a bat suit who is battling enemies who are just two or three degrees removed from his own dementia, here in Iron Man we have someone who, like Bat Man, likes great toys and knows how to make them. A great deal of time is spent in the film showing the diligence of experimentation, of making and building -- ingenuity.

Bruce Wayne has his Robin, but Tony Stark has Pepper Potts, and both Amie and I think we want one of her. She keeps him on track. Like Aphrodite and Aries, they cannot live together, nor can they live apart. They are each other's everything. Stark is like Hephaestos, the black smith--I'd have to see it again, but at times, Stark seems to limp like the lame god. The Stark character blurs the lines of that ancient paradigm--both Hephaestos and Aries, the god of War. Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, takes on the characteristics of Zeus, the father ,who must be defeated so that Stark as Iron Man can be born.

Like every cereal box hero, he fits Joseph Campbell's paradigms -- even to the extent that when we first see Stark he is being transported through a wasteland. As befits the resume, he is wounded--and basically dies--but here, cheats death through an intercessor who keeps him alive and alters Stark's motivations, then sacrifices himself in the process. Yinsen is the psychopomp of this story.

Stark literally and figuratively has a change of heart. He goes from cock of the walk industrialist, to vulnerable super hero. He is a hero for our time, really; he turns himself into a kind of proto Terminator.

There is something else, though. Hephaestos built a bronze robot named Talos/Talus -- the original Iron Man. Or, more appropriate, the Bronze Man. Here, I'll let tell the tale:

"TALOS was a giant, bronze automoton or living statue forged by the divine smith Hephaistos. Zeus presented him to his lover Europa, as her personal protector, after delivering her to the island of Krete. Others imagined him as a bronze bull or the last of the bronze race of men.

Talos was given the task of patrolling the island, circling it three times in a day, and driving pirates from the shore with volleys of rocks or a fiery death-embrace. He was eventually destroyed by Poeas or the Dioskouroi twins with the aid of the magic of the witch Medea, when he tried to prevent the Argonauts from the landing on the island."

What is most interesting to us is the idea of Talos firing volleys of rocks--our Iron Man equips himself with missiles--and the "fiery death embrace." Well.

Robert Downey, Jr. owns this role, the casting is perfect.

Pepper Potts is sort of Aphrodite (here, the "Aphrodite of Cyprus" is shown) --though she is not married to Stark, as the goddess was to Hephaestos, but like their Olympian predecessors, they are attracted while also pulled apart like the magnet that keeps the shrapnel from cutting into Stark's heart. In this still, though I'm sure unintentional, she seems to have a halo, or, a glowing stephane, the tiara as worn by the ancient goddesses.

Well, you can have your Batman and Joker. The exuberance of Iron Man is more enjoyable. And a new franchise, to boot; and Robert Downey, Jr. will be in more movies. And Gwyneth, too.

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And now, the ladies...
A series of images

The convoluted message behind this image of the 1931 film in which the incomparable Louise Brooks, then on the downside of her career, appeared in a small but memorable role. Michael Curtiz among other pictures, would go on to direct "Casablanca" and "Viva Las Vegas." Is Louise God's gift to women? Some have certainly thought so.

A recent Wonderbra publicity stunt in London with this pulchritudinous squadron (what would the collective noun be for a gathering of high-heeled, lingerie wearing exhibitionists-for-hire?) gallivanting in front of a massive billboard comprised of hundreds of smaller pictures of all kinds of women wearing the product. You can read more about this here.

A portion of the billboard at Tottenham and Court roads...
The tag line, "We're more than a handful," is supposed to address the varieties of women's shapes and sizes.

Allison Carroll, a former gymnast, to portray Lara Croft. I don't much like guns, and certainly not pointed at me, but the Ms. Carroll's ferocity and her, um, display of power is rather stunning. Indeed, compare her visage to that of Ms. Brooks above...their expressions are quite similar. But Louise didn't tote weapons. Except when she did.

...As opposed to this, "I'm Louise Brooks; I rob merchant vessels," flippant flirtatiousness. I find Louise's smirking assurance less contrived than that of Ms. Carroll's double-barreled faux ferocity. Louise's impact exceeded her physical size -- five foot two inches. Imagine the kick on those things. Wish we could've seen Louise in a pirate costume....that'd hoist up the mainsail, for sure. Image via Louise Brooks Society at Myspace.

And just because I like the music -- the piece is "Rez" by Underworld, here is one of the several YouTube appreciations of Herself. Go to about 1:48, and despite the muddy reproduciton of Pandora's Box, you can get the "Ecstasy" of this creation's title, and see the girl dance. She was in Denishawn and Ziegfield, too; and again at about 3: 44 and at 5:37. Yes, a gun went off. Was it yours or mine?

And just because I can, and there's not a good reason not to, here's some unabashed mawkishness related to Lara Croft. For the record, my faves are at 12, 16, 57, and there's a few more, but this goes on too long: 3:11, 3:17, 3:32, 3:41, 3:56, 4:32.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Huche-Kuche at the Watermelon Festival?
"Wish I could figure out a way to separate 50 cents from each of these people."

Hoochie Coochie--a variant spelling, from the vonbourbon blog.

So, this is the annual Carytown Watermelon Festival, and judging from the pleasant weather we're having, probably a couple hundred thousand people will troop through the mile of kiosks with knick knacks, funnel cakes, Thai food vendors, crafts and hats. Many of these visitors are the people who in ordinary times find parallel parking a challenge, so today they will get out and walk.

But on my way this morning to pick up breakfast biscuits from the coffee shop, I encountered an old friend who mused how every year he's tried to figure out a way to separate fifty cents from every visitor. He was thinking about a "dunk the chump" booth, just because he loved the guys' ratta-tat-tat insults designed to annoy the person trying to toss the ball to activate the switch that would drop the clown into a tank. "If it was hot enough, I'd do it myself," he said, "But I'd have to store up the patter for a year."

My mind went to the "huchy kuchy" or "huche kuche" shows at the Virginia State Fair circa 1909-1910 that so annoyed progressive purist Adon Yoder. I'm not sure what they were--probably early burlesque or vaudevillian style dancer entertainers-- nothing so daring as stripping but shuddering bare shoulders and wriggling ships in abbreviated costumes.

For verisimilitude we could have members of the Moral Improvement League, in their bowler hats and dour pince nez with signs protesting our act. Stage some altercations. Some woman in black and a bonnet standing on a crate decrying our evil ways. Thrown in some suffragists passing out pamphlets -- they tended to gather wherever there was crowd. Not that's a show.

I'd stand outside a tent in a striped jacket, bow tie, and straw boater with a megaphone, if my friend was inside collecting money, and we had some musicians and ladies in the spirit who could perform such a good-clean-naughtiness act. Between the my take of the split, I bet I could at least retire one credit card's accumulation.

Wonder if such at thing would even be allowed in Carytown in 2009?

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Berlin-Baghdad Railway Part Zwo
The "Eisenbahn zum Mesopotamia" ran short of funds, friends, money and time--and helped exacerbate frictions between Europe's Great Powers

German locomotive captured on the Berlin-Baghdad Railway, 1918. From

A part of the equation to the success of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway is how the Germans, through the Deutsche Bank, couldn't afford to finish the road without extending themselves to their rivals, the French and British. They altered the course for the Russians, fine, but how could one of Europe's most prosperous nations--perhaps the must industrious--not have the jack to build this railroad?

True, it was in remote, rough country and entailed tunnel building and station construction, but seems to me--like most everything leading up to the historic World War I--this could've been handled better.

I say, to the vainglorious Willy Deuce, build a cruiser or two less and quit this stupid naval race that Tirpitz has put you on, that you cannot win with Britain, and finish the railway where you can subvert their Mesopotamia strategy and run troops right down to Egypt's doorstep. I mean, Willy Nilly and the Junkers are trying to latch on to some grand militarist scheme to capture the national imagination to dilute the power of the Social Democrats and the growing middle class: big ships with big manly guns that go boom-boom. The naval expenditure bills were tough fights through the Reichstag, anyway. Some votes go this way or that way, or somebody does some back-room dealing to emphasize rail strategy over capital battleships...

The British are going to object to the railroad by 1903 anyway and through the French force concessions ,and the rail line will be delayed more than a decade. Germany needs that road built according to schedule.

David M. Castlewitz in his blog summarizes this crucial dysfunction in the B to B plan -- German arrogance overmatched by German undercapitalization:

Oddly, Britian, ensconced in Egypt, their sights on their Indian Empire, welcomed German influence in the region. It acted as a counterweight to French activity in Syria and Russian ambitions. But German dreams were just as vast. By 1903, with the first stretch of the railway to Baghdad complete, the economically sinister aspects of the enterprise began percolating to the top. Following the historic highway of the ancient caravans, emerging from the Taurus Mountain Range onto the plains and through the Cilician Gates and across Amanus, east to Mosul and south to Baghdad, the iron freeway promised to be just that -- free.

Germany had no intention of paying customs as it crossed the borders. From Baghdad, through Anatolia and across Eastern Europe, the route was to be duty free. Germany would control land rights wherever the rails lay and the prospect of the Reich gorging itself on the riches of the Ottoman Empire alarmed the European Powers to the same degree as had Russian military machinations.

Luckily for the European Powers, they exerted more than a small degree of leverage. Turkey's finances were administered by the Ottoman Public Debt Administration, an organization created to the foreign debtors who panicked everytime the Sultan's enemies, ranging from recalcitrant Greeks to plotting Turks, went to war or mounted the barricades. Bonded together by the West's desire not to see the Ottoman Empire dissolve into anarchy and chaos through mismanagement, the organization consisted of representatives from Great Britian, France, Germany, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and Italy. As representatives of the foreign bond holders, they exercised absolute control over the Turk's taxes and expenditures. The Ottoman Empire was not just the "Sick Man of Europe," but an economically enslaved invalid as well.
So the Ottoman Turks are kind of like the South after the Civil War. Lands and businesses are bought up by outside interests and the revenue stream heads elsewhere. Or, how in Richmond, Virginia, when New York Dutchman ex-Confederate tobacco tycoon Lewis Ginter failed to grasp the practicality of the cigarette rolling machine--after he sponsored a contest to have one built.

Ginter sold the rights to James Buchanan Duke, whose American Tobacco firm was denied a corporate license by the General Assembly, and all those profits got siphoned off to New York. Richmond in a fundamental way became a vassal to outside commercial interests.

The Ottomans lacked an industrial base with which to produce the sinews of war, their decentralized government did not promote effective administration and their military was not well led and riven by secret societies (some of which were pan-Ottoman) and low morale. Yet, as one historian has noted, the Ottoman military (with German command assistance) defeated the Allied army in the Dardanelles, held off British forces in Iraq for several years, and kicked out the French, Greeks and Italians from Anatolia in 1920. That they were able to do anything at all is due to the intensive activities of he reformist Ottoman Freedom Society that evolved into the Committee of the Union of Progress (CUP) that in 1907 merged with the Young Turks organization.

A delay in the outbreak of general war prevents the disastrous Ottoman winter offensive against the Russians in December 1914-January 1915 that led to reprisals against the purported fifth columnist Armenians, and the eventual genocide about which Hitler seems to have made a later and infamous observation in defense of his own pogroms, "Who now remembers the Armenians?" Well, in our new world order, neither the Anatolian massacres nor Hitler's rise occur.

Armenians of Eastern Anatolia were farmers and their destruction, in the end, prevented the Ottoman army from receiving proper supplies.

If our alternative time line is put into place, none of that happens. The Young Turks are able to work without the sped up necessities of war.

If I'm waving a bio-chemical-electro-magic wand over members of the Black Hand to prevent their formation, I may as well tinker with the forces involved in the construction of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway.

Victorious Germans in 1914 means no Nazis and no Stalin in 1941.

Basically, it's like this:

A) Black Hand lopped off in 1911

1) Synapses of Serbian conspirators rewired by electro-chemical-bio means; get their shot of  "Scrooge On Christmas Day," realize their terror could plunge the entire world into death and destruction, the Black Hand disperses and collapses in the spring of 1911. Likely the Austro-Hungarian secret police get blamed for causing the disruption by who ever is left, and there'll be other sectarian violence -- these things never really end. 

2) Regional conflicts sputter and spark causing conditions to escalate, but a general outbreak is avoided.

3) General war doesn't occur in 1914. 
   A significant way to avoid the outbreak is to have the elderly and dying Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph die of the pneumonia that came close to killing him during early 1914. The more moderate and contemporary Franz Ferdinand then comes to power; though he has problems with the Hungarians. Still, he would've led massive reformations in the power structure, and may have had to defend himself from more conservative plotters. 

Fact is, by this time the Hapsburg monarchy was played out and the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a working model obsolete. The nation was due to fly to pieces, the only question whether it would peaceably deconstruct, or fall down like a tower constructed of a child's blocks.

B) Berlin-Baghdad Railway

1) Germans find the money to build the road themselves without internationalizing the process. They give further assistance to the Ottomans.

2) Germans somehow negotiate way around political obstacles.

3) Reduce level of capital ship construction to appease British--with more magic wand brain rewiring-- because, in the end, the railroad is more important.

C) War

1) Presume something drags Great Powers into conflict around 1917.

2) Germany axes Schlieffen plan, instead, goes into Russia and sustains great victories.

3) Russian regime collapses.
Perhaps Kerensky takes over. In the historic procession of events, Kerensky repealed anti-Semitic laws and removed the boundaries of the "Pale of Settlement" that restricted Jews to certain impoverished sections. But in this alternative worldline, most of this region comes under the control of the Germans, who, in the historic 1917-1918 timeline were far more gracious toward the Jews living in the Pale than their descendants would ever be. The absence of pogroms against Jews, and citizenship within independent nations, would make a huge difference in future history.

[Image from 1917, Kerensky in white uniform, via danielcutler.]

4) A more liberal-minded Germany liberates states from Russia --
--including Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia, and sets them up as independent nations allied to Germany. A 1917 German soldier gives sustenance to a Polish Jewish boy, in this image.

The realization of nation status of this group of former Russian lands will cause trouble later, once the Russians get a new government and wants its breadbasket back, and access to the Caucasian oil fields. [Image via Daniel Cutler.]

5) Germany locks up the French
German defense in depth prevents French invasion. Perhaps a more amenable arrangement can be made about German-occupied Alsace-Lorraine; however, accommodation with the French will cause outrage among conservative German militarists, and the revanchists among the French won't be happy  until they burn down the Ruhr factories. This is the situation that could bring down the Kaiser and perhaps give rise to a representation, constitutional government like Weimar. Franco-German industrial agreements -- a half century ahead of their time -- result.

6)Britain and Germany get into proxy wars in Mesopotamia and Africa that threaten again to upset the balance. German covert efforts  to aide anti-British independence forces in India also take place. With the railroad built, Germany upsets the balance of power with the Suez Canal that gives Britain complete access to Mesopotamian petroleum. One way or another, here would occur the first oil-wealth conflict.

Given this situation, the 1916 British compact devised with Sharif Hussein, the Emir of Mecca, and the eventual involvement of T. E. "Lawrence of Arabia" may have less probability of working. The tensions within the foreshortened Ottoman Empire and pan-Arabism will erupt, however; it's just a matter of time.

7) Germany meanwhile may see the displacement of the Kaiser and establishment of a less militaristic constitutional republic. With the rise of socialists and the middle class, less desirous of military adventures, there could come a clash between the commercial and Junkers ruling élite -- civil upheaval, if not outright conflict. The communists would have less influence without a ruling soviet in Russia but socialists like Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg would have greater influence in the restive population. Other stirring nationalist forces, though, might prove more attractive among returning soldiers and their families. 

Much depends on what all else is occurring. If Germany is striding Europe as a cultural and industrial colossus, and many of its national aims achieved for the most part through economic and diplomatic means, with some off-stage wars, then there is less demand for a violent revolt.

D) No Great Depression. And the world is a very different place...

The world remains troubled; but with a different set of problems, and without the cataclysms of two world wars and Nazis and Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Kim Jung Il and so forth.

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