Monthly Archives: October 2010

Money bungle

The worldwide economic meltdown has brought out some great, pissed off songs from Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello.

Costello’s song has a great chorus for that next Goldman Sachs meeting:

They’re running wild
Just like some childish tantrum
Meanwhile we’re working every day
Paying off the National Ransom

Go Galt with that, you turkeys.

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Friday finds

As much as I admire Lucino Visconti’s film version of The Leopard, there’s no getting around the fact that Giuseppi Tomasi di Lampedusa’s original novel (published in 1958, a year after his death) is sharper, wittier, more probing and, in an unexpected way, more scathing than anything Visconti put on the screen. Set during the Italian Risorgimento, Lampedusa’s novel follows Don Fabrizio, a Sicilian nobleman who anticipates change by arranging the marriage of his beloved nephew, Tancredi, to a merchant’s daughter — something that would have been unheard of in the family’s heyday.  The signature line — “Things are going to have to change if we want them to stay the same” — characterizes Lampedusa’s barbed style, and the book’s closing image, which I’ll leave you to discover for yourself, is far crueler than Visconti’s sentimental sendoff. This post by the Accidental Blogger is a nice summation of the book’s qualities; this appreciation by Roger Ebert overrates the movie, but only slightly.

Larry Niven’s Ringworld may well be the most tedious novel ever to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards, but as this post demonstrates, it can provoke scientific debates far more interesting than anything Niven thought up.

A real historian talks about the Tea Party’s grasp of the Constitution, and can barely keep from collapsing into horselaughs.

Try your movie knowledge against Dennis Cozzalio’s Halloween Horror Screengrab Contest. It’s a toughie.

Jimi Hendrix and his military career.

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Quark, strangeness, and Mondays

3 Quarks Daily, one of my Internet must-reads, is looking for somebody to write a column for every fourth Monday. Will I submit a column for consideration? Maybe. Should you? Maybe.

Cat people

The Author was in a pretty snippy mood. Not at me, fortunately, but at his publisher. The Author’s last book, the debut of a new series, had been out for the better part of the year but was still not available in a  Kindle edition. The second book in the series was being prepped for publication, and the Author was pissed off about the cover, which was dominated by a cat.

“I called them up and I told them there isn’t a cat in the book,” the Author groused. “They told me, ‘Cats sell.’ I told them I didn’t care, there was no cat in the book. So they told me to put one in.”

“That’s all it took?” I asked. “One mention of a cat?”

“I hate cats,” the Author said. “I wouldn’t write a book with cats in it.”

“Maybe you could make it a Schrodinger kind of cat,” I suggested. “You could write a scene with a box, and the cat is inside it either alive or dead.”

We batted that one around for a bit. Then the Author said, “So my agent called me and said, ‘Just put the damned cat in.’ I told them I’d put the cat in as soon as the first book went up on Kindle. So now the book is on Kindle and I wrote in the cat.”

In some ways, the scenario reminded me of the scene in Tootsie where Dustin Hoffman and Sydney Pollack argue about the motivation of a tomato. But that’s publishing for you.

Rizzo the Raider

Shortly after my folks moved us to the suburbs of Philadelphia in 1975, I began to hear about the Philly police department’s Gestapo-like reputation, and the bullyboy tactics of then-mayor Frank Rizzo. At one point, a bunch of goons actually encircled the Philadelphia Inquirer building and blocked access for at least an hour, apparently to express their displeasure with an Inquirer series that cast Rizzo in an unflattering light. Even Doonesbury made jokes about Frank Rizzo. Mike Doonesbury and Mark Slackmeyer, stopping at a Philly diner during a cross-country road trip, are warned to get out of town before sundown by a thug with bandoliers criss-crossing his chest. “Who was that?” they ask. “The mayor,” the counterman says.

Like they say, you had to be there, but if you weren’t here’s a good documentary about Rizzo’s penchant for  conducting surveillance against anyone with the nerve to criticize the powers-that-be. A lot of it reminded me of my favorite political boss, Frank Hague, when his newfound obsession with stamping out communist agents dovetailed conveniently with his crusade against the CIO as it tried to organize workers in Hudson County.

Who knows? Maybe I ended up writing this book because life just outside Ciudad Rizzo gave me an appreciation for the workings of political bosses.

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Blue Monday (Columbus Day special)

I hereby move we discontinue the observance of Columbus Day, the most bogus holiday on the calendar. And when the legislation passes, this Burning Spear song will be its soundtrack.

I and I old I know
I and I old I say
I and I reconsider
I and I see upfully that
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Yes Jah

He’s saying that, he is the first one
who discover Jamaica
I and I say that,
What about the Arawak Indians and the few Black man
Who were around here, before him
The Indians couldn’t hang on no longer
Here comes first Black man and woman and children,
In a Jam Down Land ya
A whole heap of mix up and mix up
A whole heap a ben up, ben up,
We have fi straighten out,
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Yes Jah

What a long way from home
I and I longing to go home
Within a Red, Green, and Gold Robe
Come on Twelve Tribe of Isreal
Come on Twelve Tribe of Isreal
Out a Jam Down land ya
A whole heap of mix up mix up
A whole heap a ben up, ben up,
Come on Twelve Tribe of Isreal
Come on Twelve Tribe of Isreal
Out a Jam Down land ya

Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Yes Jah, he is a liar
Yes Jah, he is a liar
Yes Jah, he is a liar
Columbus is a liar
Yes jah Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar

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Everywhere Man

I don’t know if this is my single favorite John Lennon song. It’s certainly the best of his post-Beatles tunes, and yes that includes “Imagine” — a lovely tune, but one I get sick of due to overexposure and misappropriation. I never get sick of “Instant Karma.”

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What the hexagrams said

It took me a long time to come around to appreciating the virtues of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the classic Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Since the film has gone from being critically plastered to critically overpraised, those real minor virtues tend to be overshadowed by imaginary major ones. I still think it’s a great setting for a movie rather than a great movie in itself, but it has this much going for it —  Scott’s adaptation left out so much of what made PKD’s novel great that a more faithful adaptation could be filmed and hardly anyone would be the wiser.

So I’m not entirely dismayed to hear that Ridley Scott is overseeing production of a mini-series based on another seminal PKD novel, The Man in the High Castle, but I’m not all that happy, either. It’s one of the all-time champs of the alternative history subgenre, set in a world where the Third Reich and Imperial Japan have divided most of the world between them, and America has been balkanized into a collection of puppet states and ineffectual enclaves. (This Wikipedia entry has a pretty spiffy map laying out the power blocs in this alternate universe.) It’s a cerebral book, with multiple plotlines converging in a search for the author of an alternate-history novel that upends PKD’s scenario, scandalizing readers (and enraging the Reich) by showing a world where the Axis powers were defeated.

That search, which includes at least one undercover assassin, could be used to make The Man in the High Castle into a straight-ahead action flick, much as Blade Runner turned its source novel into a hunt-the-androids video game, which would be a shame. On the other hand, I’d love to see who gets cast as Juliana Frink, one of the few truly engaging female characters PKD ever set to paper.

One element likely to get lost in the wash is the presence of the I Ching as a guide to life. At the novel’s close (which is too open-ended to qualify as a true ending) Juliana consults the I Ching and learns that she is living in a false reality — as is everyone else in the story. We won’t need to consult the oracle to see if Scott’s Castle is equally false.

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The real moral clarity

Radio host Michelangelo Signorile takes on a Jesus whooper over the church’s role in fueling anti-gay hysteria. The invincible ignorance of the whooper is astonishing but not, alas, surprising. Signorile cleans his clock not just once but many times, but he probably went away thinking he’d shown good Christian compassion.

“You go and think instead of reading your Bible all the time.” Genius.

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