Thursday, July 31, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

Here’s some great news. My son and his wife came home from California this week. I ran out to greet them, shouting, “My son is home, kill the fatted eggplant.” His wife is vegan.

I’ve been asked where the eggplant humor comes from. It’s not demented, if that’s what you mean. It’s what you get when you cross certain strains of ethnic jokes with lawyer jokes. It awakens the dormant genome within the structure of the lawyer joke DNA.

For this reason, my favorite eggplant joke is, “How many eggplants does it take to roof a house? A: It depends on how thin you slice them.”

I raise eggplants on the side. I catch 'em in the wild using eggplant traps. They’re not easy to have around though. They go bad pretty fast. First they steal pencils, then they steal money from your wallet, and the next thing you know you have an eggplant crackhouse in the back yard.

I’ve not given up on my attempts to domesticate them despite the reports of eggplant violence in parts of Florida and the Southwest.*

It’s good to have Micah home. He is a very talented cook, but on the side he’s been making extra income as a mime. He developed a skit in which he impersonated the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. He calls it Random Acts of Silence. A lot of his punch lines seem to fall on deaf ears, he confided to me last night.

I was thinking recently how the Sixties Free Speech Movement and a Bowel Movement had a lot in common. Ever notice how a bowel movement varies in duration based on how constipated one is? Maybe if our nation hadn’t been so constipated, the Sixties would not have given us such a hard time.

The irony is, the Free Speech radicals won, and now poets can stand on soapboxes shouting the F-word and calling it poetry. This has evidently been deemed a great advance for Western Civilization.

What I don’t understand is why the list of things you CAN’T say today is longer than the original list. If it ain’t Politically Correct… you better scrub out your mouth with soap. In fact, don’t even THINK it.

PHOTO Captions
Top right: Self portrait as someone else
Left middle: Eggplant dinner dish. We've found that our eggplants really like rose petals.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

SHS: Should We Be Afraid?

I’m not sure if anyone saw the story a couple years ago linking television watching to what has now been labeled Sawdust Head Syndrome or SHS. There were some who cited a conspiracy of media and either the State or Justice Department to keep the story from going public. CBS was even planning a Sixty Minutes feature on the phenomenon, but under pressure from the Justice Department pulled the piece. Evidently, the TV networks, who helped foster the Alar scare which did huge damage to the apple industry that year, did not want people frightened into not watching television.

Sawdust Head Syndrome was discovered in an increasing number of instances where autopsies were performed and it was discovered that portions of the brain had become sawdust. I can’t recall all the details other than it somehow involved Columbia University. I vaguely recall that research into SHS was also being conducted at the University of MN and Stanford.

At first it was believed the sawdust like material was caused by either a bacteria or virus. When the link to excessive television viewing was finally established, the investigation went under wraps. I guess you can imagine what would happen to our court system if everyone who ever watched TV suddenly sued the TV manufacturers, or Best Buys and Circuit Cities where they bought their gear.

I just did a Google Search and actually found a few stories on the subject. The American Medical Association (AMA) also seems to have been implicated in the cover up. I also found a couple links from a blog to YouTube videos but they came up “file not found” so I’m not sure what’s going on there.

The article about the Justice Department came out in 2006, verifying that Stanford and the U of M were indeed aware of the matter. According to this article they were working in conjunction with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. The piece ends by mentioning that TV sets might be forced to come with warning labels by 2007. I haven’t bought one lately, but if anyone has a new television, I’d be interested in knowing what kind of warnings it carries.

In another article, some of the first reported cases of SHS were from nursing homes where aides would occasionally find flecks of sawdust on patient’s pillows. The sawdust like material usually went unreported until a grad student from Temple University, who himself had been a former aide, made the correlation between the patients having sawdust on the pillows and television viewing.

Personally, I have long suspected that television has been having some kind of impact on our brains. For the purposes of comedy, if this story is proven true, it might also prove that to some extent we’re a nation of blockheads. TV could then be likened to a big saw.

And now, one wonders about the stories circulating that cell phones might cause cancer. Is this true as well, or just another story... or maybe there's another cover up. Should we be afraid?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thomas Sowell, Random Thoughts

I’m not sure where I first encountered Thomas Sowell’s writings, but from the start I was hooked. His articles used to appear in National Review, I believe, when I was a regular reader a ways back in time and though I recall not its title, the first book of his that I read was a collection of essays bound in a light blue cover.

Essentially Sowell writes with an incisive wit about tough, complex topics in an accesible, straight-talking style. As a black conservative with Harvard roots (earned the hard way) he appeals to me because he’s not afraid to speak his mind, to call it as he sees it. And he doesn’t stay in the corral.

Here are some notes from an article I came across at National Review Online tonight called "Random thoughts on the passing scene." There are many more pearls where these come from. Google Search: Thomas Sowell. If you don’t know his work, he’s worth getting acquainted with.

Government bailouts are like potato chips: You can’t stop with just one.

Anyone who is honest with himself and with others knows that there is not a snow ball’s chance in hell to have an honest dialogue about race.

I wonder what radical feminists make of the fact that it was men who created the rule of “women and children first” when it came to rescuing people from life-threatening emergencies.

Barack Obama’s motto “Change you can believe in” has acquired a new meaning — changing his positions is the only thing you can believe in. His campaign began with a huge change in the image he projects, compared to what he was doing for 20 years before.

After getting DVDs of old Perry Mason TV programs and old Law & Order programs, I found myself watching far more of the Perry Mason series. The difference is that too many Law & Order programs tried to raise my consciousness on social issues, as if that is their role or their competence.

Although most of the mainstream media are still swooning over Barack Obama, a few critics are calling the things he advocates “naive.” But that assumes that he is trying to solve the country’s problems. If he is trying to solve his own problem of getting elected, then he is telling the voters just what they want to hear. That is not naive but shrewd and cynical.

Full article here

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Story of the Day

I have already shared one of these before, but from time to time I may just share another because I find them so... short and sweet.

If you get on their email mailing list, you will have one in your mailbox each morning at the start of your day (depending roughly on where your day starts, I suppose.) For me it is between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. that the day's story arrives.

This morning's story, with original illustration to accompany, is called Plumber. She comes at things from unexpected angle, yet penetrating, a kindred spirit striving like many of us to make the world a better place by using our unique and original gifts to the best of our powers.

The plumber was digging around in the pipes & he saw something shine in the muck & it turned out to be the soul of the last tenant. He gave it to me & I said I wonder how we can return it & he shrugged & said he found stuff like that all the time. You'd be amazed what people lose, he said.

For more information about Storypeople,
Check out my first entry about this discovery here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Privacy Issues and The Dark Knight

After mulling it over a while, I have upgraded my opinions about the new Batman flick featuring the Dark Knight and the Joker. I can’t change my rating at IMDB, but I did modify my blog review, from an 8 to a 9 on the Richter scale.

Reality is, though initially critical about a few small things, the big questions it raised still loom large, knocking about against the walls of my wooden skull. The film touches on some important issues related to belief systems, good and evil, and the nature of how power should be used.

In this fictional construct, Bruce Wayne / Batman crosses a line in regards to the invasion of privacy. The technology may be fictional, but the realities are not.

Today I read an article about how Google wishes to photograph every front door in England, the aim of which is to be able to show people not only an aerial view of every place, but also what it is like to walk down the street anywhere and everywhere. Many people feel uneasy or even disturbed by this.

Objections include this one. It gives criminals a great tool for scoping out your place so they can plan getaway routes. And some people simply do not want a camera in their yard.

Cities all over the world have embraced the eye in the sky network of cameras, in the name of “security.” For the sake of personal peace and security, people will give up freedoms. But how much freedom do we put on the altar of security?

We have by now all heard stories of people whose computers were raided by “the authorities” for containing child porn or other illegally downloaded content. The most vivid story that comes to mind is a police raid in which a man had been downloading child porn. They show up and find he is not home. The wife is very cooperative, and offers his computer. They say, “We don’t need it. We already took all the evidence before we came.”

That’s a bit scary to me. What else can these legal, professional hackers steal from us without our permission?

And so Batman takes this new technology, the ability to “see” via peoples’ cell phones, and uses it to locate his arch nemesis The Joker. His purpose is admirable: save innocent lives. His assistant, Lucius Fox as the voice of conscience (Morgan Freeman) is repulsed by the idea, though not so repulsed as to fail to carry out the request. It’s an ugly business this law and order stuff.

And one wonders how much invasion of privacy is taking place today in our society, carried out by people “following orders” who are equally repulsed. Morgan Freeman says he will do it this once and then resign. How many others are there who resign rather than carry on clandestine surveillance?

Here’s yet another story that highlights grey areas of the privacy problem. Currently the state of Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Jack Wagner wants to put GPS units on the ankles of sex offenders in that state. It has been learned that nearly ten thousand registered sex offenders in Pennsy alone have disappeared and are unaccounted for.

A few years back I wrote about the thousands of Wisconsin sex offenders that likewise disappeared, escaped, were “out there somewhere”… predators. Isn’t this what our parents and grandparents were really trying to warn us about when they told us about the bogeyman? The bugger man gonna get you, chile. Stay away from the dark.

And so we have terrorists and sex offenders, and all manner of vile dangers to make us afraid. People dislike being afraid, so they make a trade-off. Yes, I will give up some of my freedom if you'll watch over me, Big Brother. Please help so I can sleep tonight.

But what if our government is not quite as benevolent as our favorite comic book hero? Where do we draw the line in how freely we should allow Big Brother to monitor all our activities?

Currently there is a case in court in which Viacom is fighting Google for the right to have access to all websites Google users have visited. The purpose is to bust people who illegally borrow (steal) Viacom images and video content. Theoretically this sounds noble, but how secure will that database be if or when it gets into the wrong hands? My alma mater's database was hacked so that all my personal info was taken. A year later my personal info was stolen in another dBase theft from a broker I’d ceased doing business with twelve years ago. And more than one bank has been similarly hacked. If Viacom wins, will that info be safe or pilfered for profit on the black market.

Alas, the future remains unwrit. But there are legitimate causes for concern.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dark Knight Fulfills Many Expectations

There are seven basic ingredients to a short story. To illustrate, let's examine The Dark Knight, Ridley Scott's dark vision / interpretation of the Batman story, now showing in theaters everywhere. THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.

First, there is Setting.
This story takes place in the big city of Gotham, Bruce Wayne's hometown. Itis the center of their world, as in real life Gotham believes itself the center of our world. I have heard it compared to Babylon more than once in my life, and some there are who would say rightfully so. It's police and its history were famously corrupt, though in the past ten years crime and corruption has been significantly reduced in the real Gotham, even without a Batman. Maybe with all that new eye-in-the-sky technology we don't need superheroes any more?

Second, there are the Characters.
Can you believe the names in this film? Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman and an especially disturbing Heath Ledger lead an all star cast. But these are not characters. These are the actors who play our story's characters. Batman is, of course, the hero. His nemesis: The Joker.

Third, we have the Problem or Goal.
Drawing from mythology, the hero's quest is what gives the story its impetus. What does he want? What are his motivations? Batman exists to fight crime, but he also wants to give it up, to quit. In this film, he longs to hang up his cape and spurs, uhnm, mask... and settle into a quiet life with his one true love played by Maggie G.

Fourth, there are the Complications
The complications are what create the tension. The hero has a goal, and the screenwriter puts in his way every conceivable barrier that be can be dreamed up while still being believable. Believable is the operative word here. Even within a fictional construct, the rules of the game are established. The audience will happily suspend disbelief if the story remains faithful to its own rules.

In The Dark Knight, the primary complication is The Joker, who's goal is to destroy all notions of order and decency, first by creating fear and chaos, and second, by corrupting the uncorrupted hero of Gotham Harvey Dent, who is striving to clean up crime and wipe out evil... The Joker's own motivation or quest is the corrupt this paragon of virtue, thus dispelling hope or confidence in the moral order of right and wrong.

Fifth, there is the Turning Point.
Alas, there must be a dark moment when it appears all is lost. In this film, sadly, Harvey Dent himself becomes a comic book villain: Two Face. Clever story line here, flows logically out of the fluid and flames that make for good comic book drama. There is philosophy here, too. Are moral actions merely the result of a chance act like the flip of a coin. Or is there truly a virtuous act? The Joker simultaneously puts his theory to the test with two boatloads of people out on the river. Is self-preservation the final value, or is there another set of values that excels beyond looking out for number one?

Sixth, the Climax.
The last and most dramatic scene of the story. There are two here, because there are two bad guys now. The irony is abundant as Bruce Wayne/Batman persuades his right hand man Lucius Fox to violate his own code of ethics in order to reach an ethical conclusion. In short, for the powers of right to ultimately win, ethical considerations must be temporarily set aside. Is this the rationale for torture and other ethical violations in today's real world drama regarding terrorism?

The Joker must be brought to justice, and to save more innocent lives from being taken, Batman must rid the world of Two Face as well. It is all so dramatic... if at this point you are identifying with there characters as real people. Alas, it's a Hollywood blockbuster budget extravaganza, and gosh, at this point I am just watching and waiting. The good guy has to win, right?

Seventh, and finally, Resolution.
The denouement comes quick. It is a tidy little knot tying all the loose ends. And so it is, with dramatic music pulsing through the veins of the dark theater, we have just experienced The Dark Knight.

As for the overall effect: Well done... The sets, the mood, the whole feel here was a phenomenal achievement. No indie filmmaker can ever compete with Hollywood in that department. There was some originality and entertaining interpretation in the bat cave as well as the ultramodernized gizmos etc. Mr. Wayne had access to.

I had a few other minor criticisms not worth mentioning. Overall I have rated this film an 9 (out of 10) because I'm not sure if this is my kind of movie any more. I get more engaged in films like The Kite Runner. I haven't figured out, in other words, whether there was a problem with the film (I saw it last night) or just the viewer's tastes have changed.

Nevertheless, this film has all the elements. The unexpected death of Heath Ledger, post-production, will sell a few additional seats as well. It's a role that just might give a few people the creeps.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Media Bias? You're Kidding, Right?

Several years ago I read David Brock's damning manuscript Blinded By The Right in which he comes clean as a dirty insider who shaped and shaded the truth in order to achieve conservative objectives. He was a central player during the Clarence Thomas hearings, a chapter of his life for which he is ashamed. Afterwards I began subscribing to the weekly update for Media Matters for America, which I believe he founded. Their mission: "A non-profit progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation..." They are a media watchdog.

Here is the intro to today's Media Matters for America update.

Even while carrying John McCain's water, media worry they aren't doing enough for him.

John McCain’s complaining about media coverage is a little like an oil company complaining about profit margins: hard to believe, and even harder to feel much sympathy.

This is, after all, a politician who has referred to the press as his "base," and a politician about whom MSNBC's Joe Scarborough has said "every last one of them [reporters] would move to Massachusetts and marry John McCain if they could." As Eric Alterman and George Zornick recently explained in The Nation, "no candidate since John F. Kennedy, and perhaps none since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, has enjoyed such cozy relations with the press."

But the coziness of that relationship has become increasingly one-sided in recent months, as McCain and his campaign lash out at the media, who then redouble their efforts to please the Arizona senator.

There are also conservative media watchdogs barking toward the left as well, with many of their own eNewsletters. I read the Media Research Center's almost daily CyberAlert, which monitors media for left leaning coverage. The current presidential campaign keeps both sides amply supplied with ammo.
On the other side of the aisle we read:

CBS tried to bring some balance Tuesday night to Barack Obama's Magical Media Tour by having Katie Couric interview both Barack Obama and John McCain, and though she pressed Obama repeatedly on the success of the surge, Obama still came out ahead since CBS devoted more than seven minutes (over two excerpts) to Couric's questions and Obama's answers as the two sat together in a foreign setting compared to barely three minutes allocated to Couric and McCain by satellite. Couric touted at the top of the CBS Evening News: "We spoke exclusively and separately with both presidential candidates today and what emerged was a kind of a long distance debate. And their differences on the wars have never been sharper or clearer." At the end of the newscast, Couric wondered: "Will this summer of love last" for Obama? And she conceded the media are part of the infatuation: "It has been an Obamathon ever since the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee touched down in Afghanistan. At today's press conference in Amman, a throng of reporters recorded his every move. In total, 200 journalists requested seats on 'Air Obama' -- 40 of them were accepted. The bill for the trip? About $20,000 each."

This was followed by a story about journalist George Stephanapoulos and ABC's Diane Sawyer rhapsodizing over Barack Obama's Middle East trip.

Pollsters now are taking America's pulse on the matter of media bias, and whether true or not, a recent Rasmussen Reports survey revealed that Americans certainly believe the media is biased in favor of Obama. The RR survey indicated three times as many American believe "that most reporters will try to help Obama with their coverage" as the reverse.

Fox News (conservative) followed up with its own poll of 900 registered voters and discovered six times as many think “most members of the media” want Obama to win than wish for a McCain victory. On Thursday's Special Report, FNC's Brit Hume relayed: “67 percent of the respondents think most media members want Obama to win. Just 11 percent think most in the media are for McCain.”

We've all heard the phrase, "follow the money." Source: Deep Throat, Watergate scandal. Here's an Investors Business Daily stat regarding where journalists are sending their campaign contributions. IBD is conservative, for what it's worth.

Oh well, the slugfest, left and right, will go on for many more rounds, I am sure. There will be no knockouts any time soon.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Please note... I do not have my philosophy/world view all of one piece. I am inconsistent, both in my life and in my statements. For example, I do not believe in violence, but do believe that it was necessary to oppose Hitler with arms. The U.S. could not have remained isolationist and survived the 20th century. Or so it would appear to me. Ultimately, one does the best one can.

This blog may likewise contradict itself at times. My aim is to help people think, and to offer insights, information and new angles for viewing information, events and other cultural phenomenon. I welcome dialogue, and do thereby hope to refine and clarify our mutual understanding.

Knowing how few readers there are here, I realize that I am standing on a very small soap box. It is my aim to use the process of putting my ideas into words as a tool to better understand myself, and in some small way you as a reader will benefit as well.

Life Is Not A Game.

Life Is A Game, Play To Win

I am... your humble servant.

Ellul Clarification

In order to understand yesterday's Ellul remarks regarding anarchy, it would be helpful for me to explain where he is coming from in terms of philosophy or world view. To do this I will cite a few additional passages from his book Anarchy & Christianity.

For Ellul, Jesus never intended to see a new institutional religion created in His name after dismantling the institutionalized religion of the Jews, the Old Covenant of Law having been replaced by a New Covenant: Love. The word of God is not a religion. As regards Christian faith, the truth is a person. Jesus said, “I am the truth.”

It is self evident that faith cannot be coerced. We cannot be manipulated to believe anything, at least not in our most inward being.

Sadly the whole of history is littered with examples of coercion and force being utilized in the name of religion. The Muslim world is famously brutal, but Christianity has had its share of lurid moments. Charlemagne, after conquering Saxony gave the Saxons a choice of either becoming Christians or being put to death. (“Gee, Regis, if I still have a lifeline left, I’d like to phone a friend.”) Over 6,000 were slaughtered. Witch hunts, crusades, Constantine’s exploits, and sadly even Augustine gave in to the admonition that force was acceptable to defend civilization.

“In his cynical way,” writes Ellul, “Napoleon said that the clergy control the people, the bishops the clergy, and he himself the bishops. No one could state more clearly the real situation that the church was an agent of state propaganda. Obedience to the authorities was also a Christian duty.”

I’m sorry, but when the same things happen in our own time, wrapped in an American flag, why are so many so enamored? The sincerity of those taken in is not in doubt. But sincerity has never been truth. As I am fond of repeating, a person driving West can sincerely believe they are driving east, even when they are not. And sincerity does not make it so.

Well, it’s time to turn the page. Anyone wishing to dialogue further can send a note to ennyman at northlc dot com. And as we head toward Election 2008, we do well to heed the admonition, “Let the buyer beware.”

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Christian Anarchy

It might be worthwhile to make a differentiation between Christian anarchy and Marxism, which looks to anarchy as the path to a new world order. Marxism endorses violence. Christianity cannot.

Jacques Ellul, in his book Anarchy and Christianity, notes that the achievements of both Gandhi and Martin Luther King were accomplished by virtuous means. By way of contrast, the Black Panther movement did not advance the cause of black liberation that it purportedly intended.

Political power corrupts. And against this corruption we must take a stand.

Ellul notes that once we rule out violence as an option, we must resort to persuasion, “the creation of small groups and networks, denouncing falsehood and oppression.”

Dr. Glenn Martin, in his book Prevailing Worldviews, points out how the institution of slavery was ended in England without violence through persuasion, and the tireless efforts of a few important voices. Even though it took more than forty years, spearheaded by the Society of Friends (Quakers) and politician/philanthropist William Wilberforce, the abolition of slavery was ultimately accomplished without bloodshed.

By way of contrast, the U.S. experienced a torrid Civil War as a result of the activist revolutionary approach to the problem of slavery. Yes, there were some who sought slavery’s termination by peaceful means, but the revolutionary approach ultimately superceded the tireless efforts of the persistent persuaders. According to Martin, actions like the Nat Turner rebellion, which left eighty persons dead, set back the cause of peaceful negotiation, and helped fortify the deeply entrenched status quo of slavery.

It reminds me of the story of the wind and the sun. Each made a bet to see who could force a desert traveler to remove his cloak. The wind went first, blowing fiercely, but the more savagely the wind assaulted, the more firmly the man clutched his linen. Then the sun took his turn, and we all know how that story ends.

Lest I babble indefinitely, let me cite two additional observations from Ellul’s challenging book.

1. “Our experience today is the strange one of empty political institutions in which no one has any confidence any more, of a system of government which functions only in the interests of a political class, and at the same time of the almost infinite growth of power, authority, and social control which makes any one of our democracies a more authoritarian mechanism than any Napoleonic state.” ~ p. 22

2. “Most people, living heedlessly, tanning themselves, engaging in terrorism, or becoming TV slaves, ridicule political chatter and politics. They see that there is nothing to hope for from them. They are also exasperated by bureaucratic structures and administrative bickering.” ~ p. 23

To be sure, it would be nice if everything were black and white, which it will never be. But let’s not be lulled into the stupor of non-thinking, quasi-acceptance of all that is, as if it cannot be any different.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lenny Bruce: Challenging the Status Quo

The term status quo is a Latin term meaning "the present state of affairs." To maintain the status quo is to keep things as they are.

Many of history’s most significant names were at odds with the status quo. Martin Luther was one of a long string of those who challenged Roman authority, resulting in the Reformation, which altered the balance of power in Europe. Kierkegaard passionately challenged people to awaken from their status quo stupor and choose “life.” Nietzsche raised his voice against the decadence that in his day was status quo as well as the church that in its acquiescence to things as they were had become an irrelevant voice for these present times. In point of fact, the Christian faith was founded by an anarchist who stood against the powers of his own era, both political and ecclesiastical.

I recently stumbled across a copy of Frank Kofsky’s bio of Lenny Bruce called Lenny Bruce: The Comedian as Social Critic. Comic Lenny Bruce could easily be characterized as an entertainer who was persecuted simply for pushing the boundaries and being ahead of his time. According to Kofsky, he was much more than that. His troubles came from upsetting the status quo.

Though often in line with the liberal causes of the day, his fight was not against conservatives. In point of fact he frequently pulled up liberals’ skirts to show their dirty undergarments as well. Liberal Dems might wish to claim him, but his real stance was against all of them. “I don’t get involved with politics… because I know that to be a [successful] politician you must be what all politicians have always been: chameleonlike.”
For Lenny, who was repeatedly prosecuted on obscenity charges, “Better Dead Than Red” and similar ultra-patriotic slogans were the real obscenities. He was appalled when ultra-Right ideologues condemned U-2 pilot Gary Powers for not taking his own life when his plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. Talk is cheap when it’s someone else’s life on the line.

Lenny’s life, Kofsky asserts, was “a wholesale assault, as opposed to a piecemeal reformist modification, on the status quo.” But this posture carried a heavy price. Harassed and prosecuted till he could no longer find work, punched down to the gutter, victimized by trumped up charges, perpetually in court, anathema to the establishment… because he dared to speak, to challenge the status quo. In the end, bankrupt. In the end, Lenny Bruce was dead.

What’s status quo that Lenny might attack were he alive today? I think the continued machinations of our political parties would remain under his microscope. Political Correctness would give him offense. The Religious Right, though it has in recent years taken a hit as witnessed by the nomination of McCain in the GOP, would be in the crosshairs. Then there’s that weirdness in the religious TV evangelist wilderness that would certainly take a hit. Check out the digs on some of our mega-famous Christian leaders and it’s hard to imagine them giving it all up for a camel’s hair garment or locust treats.

Here’s another Lenny bit.

First convict: I’m a strung out junkie. I started smoking pot, that’s the way I started. By the way, cellmate, how did you get to be a murderer of eighteen people and the horrible gambler that you are?
Second convict: I started gambling with bingo in the Catholic church.
First convict: I see.

And how about this political jab? Change the name and the same story could be on last night's news.

“I grew up in New York, and I was hip as a kid that I was corrupt and that the mayor was corrupt. I have no illusions. You believe politicians, what they say? It’s a device to get elected. If you were to follow Stevenson from New York to Alabama you would s*&% from the changes. It’s like two syndicates, man… but morals don’t enter into it.”
Oh well. Another election coming. There’s still no third party candidate with a ghost of a chance. The power brokers have seen to that.

Dylan wrote a tribute to Lenny that begins, “Lenny Bruce is dead" noting that "he fought a war on a battlefield where every victory hurt."

I can’t say I agree with everything Lenny said or stood for, but I do agree with his stance. He challenged peoples’ thinking and made them uncomfortable, not for the cheap laugh or to score points, but to help them see their own inconsistencies and their failure to get serious about this serious business called life.

Meditation #17

As the world's knowledge exponentially compounds, we find ourselves increasingly removed from the knowledge that has gone before us. When we encounter a passage from literature today, few there are who recall its source, who can identify its root.

At various points in history many great libraries were burned. Today, such book burning is no longer necessary. Whether history, theology, philosophy, literature, biography, science or travel, the great books are all but forgotten.

In a nation where reading is mandatory, it is literally amazing how few there are that read today. Maybe it is our educational system that presents classic lit in a manner that turns us away from their rich bounty. Or maybe the easy seduction of so many other distractions.

I'd mentioned Hemingway a few weeks back. Here is the source for the title of his masterpiece For Whom the Bell Tolls, beginning with another oft quoted phrase worth taking to heart.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

And here is the context for this passage, a worthy meditation.

Meditation #17
By John Donne

From Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1623), XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris (Now, this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.)

Perchance, he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

Read the complete essay here

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I stood on the balcony listening to the quiet, the placid lake rejuvenating my depleted energy.

Out of the silence I heard voices.

Strange. There were no people here. Trees, brush, flowers, a lawn, the lake, the overcast sky. Then, all was explained as the kayaks emerged from 'round the bend, sloshing leisurely by, the kayakers engaged in an easygoing conversation.

In the midst of the stillness it seemed shouting to me, but was surely nothing louder than a coffee table chat.

The episode quickly passed.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Miscellaneous Findings

Downtime. Visiting shops and such here in Bayfield. Dropped in on Madeline Island from mid-morn till two. Breakfast at the Egg Toss Bakery Cafe. Across street from the Stone's Throw. Made bad joke by asking the waitress if there were any cool shops a stone's throw from here. She looked up, and laughed.

The Stone's Throw was indeed a cute little shop. Next door we spied a used book store and quite naturally gravitated there. Susie found Volume 9 of Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi. Signed by Mark Twain, which appears to be genuine. We'll have to research it. (I once bought a used paperback by Erskine Caldwell that he had signed. I disliked the book at the time, and traded it for four books at a used book store in Duluth.)

Looked at a biography of Lenny Bruce by Kofsky. Made note to check it out from library.

Also looked at a number of art books for ideas. A book of graphic art by Eugene Berman appealed to me as a source of ideas for my own brush and ink drawing that I have been doing lately. Also found lots of idea stimulants in the many art galleries and shops we visited on Mad Island.

Spent time thumbing through a pictorial bio of gangster Al Capone. Seemed as if the book existed to glorify the lawless thug, as if he were a hero. Made me wonder what it is about gangsters, gunslingers and pirates that so appeals to people. I was certainly fascinated by their stories as a kid.

Enjoyed reading the following phrase in Gunther Grass' My Century while crossing the waters on the ferry: "A symphony of snores." It made me think about sleeping in a cabin on a men's retreat many years ago and the range of snoring styles that kept me awake that night.

The forecast was rain and thunderstorms. But the sun has now emerged from Bayfield's dormant sky and blessed the day with warm brilliance.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Verdict On Twitter

Do you twitter? That's how the article began in the Wall Street Journal or some other high culture rag where I first heard of the site. Twitter is the name of the site, it was explained, because it is something akin to a bird twittering, short chirps in brief bursts.

The website,, is essentially a web based social network of sorts that is different from MySpace or FaceBook, but offering an easier version of a similar thing. When you log in to the site, it asks, "What are you doing?" You have a one hundred forty character limit. You don't have a lot of space, so you need to be efficient. It's a twitter, not a sonata.

Like Plaxo, and some other social networking sites that have shroomed, you also have a chance to "follow" people in your network, and they can choose to follow you.

I became interested in part because I am inquisitive, and in part because I am in marketing/advertising. I like staying in touch with what is happening, what's new, to evaluate what it is and determine its value as both a business opportunity as well as a social phenomenon. I have posted a couple vids on YouTube and built a MySpace space, which I don't think I could find again. Made a podcast of myself singing four part harmony. And maintaining a blog sprang from the same impetus, to learn through doing.

After several months of twittering, I have made the following observation. I find it interesting that I would bother to write on the Internet what I am doing at any time. I mean, in thirty years of journal writing I have almost never written what is going on in my life, what I am doing. Rather, I usually write about what I am thinking or feeling, what I am experiencing on the inside or my inward wrestling with ideas, concepts, situations. So this twittering business just feels strange to me.

Add to this that other people can follow you... I am impressed that some people can be so transparent. They lay their lives bare, it seems. As for me, it seems doubtful that people are going to also share their warts, their inadequacies, self-doubts and fears in the same manner with a host of unknown followers.

I wonder, too, what people like Mother Teresa would think about twittering. Would she take time to invite others to follow her? Would she take time to tell all the details of her day while on the fly pouring herself out to the handicapped, hungry and needy?

Then my mind flits to Jesus. WWJT? What Would Jesus Twitter? "Just finished healing a blind man. Put mud on his eyes. He washed and could see."

Would Socrates tell what he was doing all day? Or, would he just ask questions? "Are you doing the right thing or just doing what you think the gods will approve?" or "Where do we come from? And where are we going? How can you know for sure?" Or "Why are you here? Why is there air? And who is Bill Cosby?"

At the end of the day, the verdict is still out for me. It's interesting to observe emerging trends in social networking, and probably difficult to predict where they will lead. For now, I'll play along and see what happens. That's why I Twitter anyways. How about you?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Tempo of Life

This week AMSOIL, the company I work for, has been celebrating its 35th Anniversary Convention. Once every five years the company pulls out all the stops as we pass another milestone.

Such events are very demanding as everyone pours themselves into making this the best convention ever for the eight hundred-plus Dealers who are here. In addition to a motivational experience, this time together is filled with content as we give our Dealers new products, new knowledge, ideas for growing their businesses, opportunities to meet with staff, and spaces of time to engage the extended AMSOIL family.

Life has its rhythms, and for our staff who have been involved in making this a stellar event, we're now experiencing the crescendo.

In music, there are written designations for everything. Largo is slow and dignified. Andante is a "walking" tempo. Moderato is a little faster pace. Allegro is a fast, upbeat tempo. Vivace means lively and presto is very fast. The word of the week is prestissimo, that is, very, very fast.

Like music, there are times when the tempo accelerates, and there are places where the symphony is at rest. For sure, the attempt to live life at full bore may be impressive in the short term, but even the best musicians need spaces where they can catch their breath. The next few days I look forward to catching mine.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Healing the Hurting Through Music

Music has long been understood to have power to comfort distress, to deliver us from the solitude of our sufferings. In the Old Testament, David the shepherd boy was brought before King Saul to play the harp, thereby relieving the king from his depression. Three thousand years later, we have CD players and radios. In whatever form it is delivered, the simple beauty of music is a therapeutic wonder.

To the hurting soul every bitter moment is an eternity. As the music unfolds, we are comforted.

Who can understand it, this miracle that music brings? For many at life’s end, whether ill or simply bed-ridden, time slows to a crawl. In fact, with little to look forward to, there really is nothing but time. The hours stand still, especially when magnified by pain. Time is impossibly slow for those who hurt or grieve.

One musician who understands music’s power is Henry Wiens, a Midwest pianist, Yamaha recording artist and founder of Quiet Heart Music. After years of receiving letters and calls from grateful listeners coping with grief, chronic pain, and stress, Wiens recognized that his music had significant healing potential and began to distribute his CDs to nursing homes, hospices and hospitals across the nation.

My wife and I first met Henry and his wife Lisa when we all lived in the Twin Cities back in the early eighties. Both are sensitive, thoughtful people with good hearts.

Earlier this year I asked Henry why music has such power. He replied as follows:

Music is like beauty for the ears and mind. The answer to why people are moved by beauty is rooted in what it means to be human. For me, creating and listening to music is linked to expressing love for everything that is beautiful about life. As a listener, I respond to what I "read between the lines"; as a composer-performer, I try to express that love & beauty to others. Any power that music may have to touch others is rooted in the authenticity and depth of the artist's expression.

As people experience music throughout their lives, they build up associations with that music which reinforce each other. Hearing a familiar melody will bring past experiences to life. For example, hearing a song that you danced to when you were 18 and in love will probably elicit some of those good feelings even decades later. Hearing a song that was sung in church while you were held on your mother's lap may bring comfort the rest of your life.

This summer, Quiet Heart Music was featured The Director magazine, a publication for NADONA, the National Association Directors Of Nursing Administration. You can read The Power of Music to Comfort and Heal here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Marie Antoinette: Life in a Bubble

A few brief comments on Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst, which I finished watching last night.

The cover of this DVD really does tell the story. A Hollywood teen plays at living inside the royal courts of France two centuries past. The prominence of bright pinks and pastel blues carries throughout the film. It's all about style, powder, silks and gowns, and excess.

The movie begins with young Marie (Dunst) being requested by her mother to be wed to young Louis. Initially the film focuses more on the humiliations of being the dauphine than on the power she had. Ultimately, the film never deviates from its one aim, to show how Marie Antoinette lived in her strange royal world.

As the film goes along, however, I could not help but make comparisons to another film about how the rich lived in days gone by, the superbly crafted and beautifully tragic Vatel, starring Gerard Depardieu. Vatel reveals what continuously remains absent in Coppola's film, the contrast between the privileged and the impoverished.

There is one brief scene in Antoinette that refers to her infamous remark, "Let them eat cake." The spin here is that she never made the statement and dismissed any need to have to defend herself in the press. It's very possible that this was the case, but who can really say.

Coppola obviously did not wish for her heroine to be stained by all the grittiness that led to the French Revolution. Did she believe Antoinette to be above it? The way the film is told, I did feel sympathy for the young queen. But eventually, thoughtful viewers need more.

The sets are fabulous, the preening and pomp delicious, the re-creation of life in a Royal Court exotic… but as the film moves forward one gets the sense of being in a bubble. There is no true sense of historical context other than very brief hints.

The portrayal of her distracted husband Louis is likewise unreliable, as his legendary sexual dalliances would attest. The man portrayed here is simply too much a simpleton to be believed.

Those who know nothing of the real Marie Antoinette story would never surmise from the way this film ends that she is heading toward a beheading. Nor why such an end is even awaiting her. But then, such gruesome details might mar the delight modern audiences derive from this kind of period piece.

If you like a period story with reality as its base, the film to see is Vatel. Marie Antoinette, for me, got lost in translation.

Can the Laugh Track

OK, so I had a photo of cans, and wanted to write words to surround it. A title like Cannes came immediately to mind. But then I might have to show how little I know about Cannes, the French city or the film festival that takes its name by virtue of being there.

I grew up in the earlier days of television, peppered with sitcoms and laugh tracks. Perhaps it was canned laughter that ultimately turned me off to television. (Or was it the banal content?) Laugh tracks certainly contributed.

Essentially a laugh track is a tool that television producers use to juice up an audience response. It is a way of letting viewers know, "Hey, that was funny." It is as if we need a cue, like trained monkeys. Come on, people, if it is funny, we will laugh.

In point of fact, canned laughter has the opposite effect. First off, due to its implied insincerity as if to say "we do not know if this is funny, but we wanted you to know that it was intended to be funny."

Doing stand up in front of a live audience is no piece of cake when you're not funny. The canned laughter really would help at times, but isn't the aim in comedy to actually be funny?

I was thinking it might be fun to used canned laughter in a few scenes of No Country For Old Men, because of the absence of sound... It would certainly change the mood. Especially in the motel scenes.

These cans also reminds me of my idyllic childhood in Maple Heights, Ohio, where we played whiffle ball and games like spud and kick the can endlessly. We were oblivious to the grit of life, in our brand new suburban Cleveland neighborhood. Neighborhoods get rundown, though and after we left in '64 that one did the same. It's uncanny how in childhood we can be preserved from life's harsher realities... That was my experience, though I know it is not everyones.

Oh well, time to hit the laugh track if you can.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

For Whom the Bell Tolls

I was re-introduced to Hemingway in the late '70s through his first collection of short stories titled In Our Time. I was stunned by the power of Hemingway's prose. Though I'd never worn glasses, the stories there were like being a grandma who gets hit in the face with a fist, glasses flying across the room from the impact. I read the book continuously two and a half time through. The description of the doctor in The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife is so loaded with tension, yet achieved with sleight of hand, never once saying the guy was mad or outraged, or any such thing... it is nothing short of miraculous how he accomplishes so much with such simple prose.

I'd read Old Man and the Sea in high school, which is likely out of favor now due to his overbearing machisimo and politically incorrect attitudes. It is, however, a good read. The story did make an impression.

The first Hemingway novel that followed my return to classic literature during this period in my life was For Whom the Bell Tolls. Its setting is the Spanish Civil War. The hero's quest turns out to be a futile mission. The characters are vividly drawn, and tragic. Can one man make a difference? Robert Jordan believes he can.

The real tragedy of the Spanish Civil War was the pillaging of a section of European real estate in order to try out new war technologies. Franco fascists were not armed with Mussolini's planes for nothing. Hitler and friends watched with avid interest as the peoples were subjugated. Technology, not ideology, proved the winning variable in this situation.

In the novel, idealism and realism collide. Pablo, the local leader of a small guerilla band of anti-fascists, represents one shade of realism. Pilar, his wife, epitomizes another. Robert Jordan, the American teacher who has joined the war effort, is the idealist.

What really happened in Spain has still not fully been understood. The events of that time were significant, though soon lost in the shadows and mists of the world war that follow. Orwell lost his faith in communist socialism as a result of things he saw. Others were appalled by fascism's jackboot horrors. Picasso was inspired by the destruction of a town called Guernica to paint his famous statement decrying the brutality of this kind of "total war," which the U.S. continued to carry out in Viet Nam.

What follows here is an excerpt from one of Michael Mazza's reviews at I find reading reviews to be a mentally stimulating exercise. Movie reviews at and the Amazon reviews are frequently cogent, insightful offerings from people who are thinking at least a little beneath the surface of things.

"Hemingway offers a grim and graphic look at the brutality of 20th century warfare. War is not glamorized or sanitized, and atrocities are described in unflinching detail. The characters explore the ethics of killing in war. As the story progresses, Hemingway skillfully peels back the layers of Jordan and other characters to reveal their psychological wounds. But the book is not all about pain and violence. In the midst of war Hemingway finds the joy and beauty that keep his characters going. He also incorporates storytelling as a powerful motif in the book; his characters share stories with each other, recall missing untold stories, or resist a story too hard to bear. In Hemingway's world storytelling is as essential a human activity as eating, fighting, and lovemaking."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Will I Ever Sleep Again?

So much to experience, so much to comment on. So much to write, so much to read. So much to make... so much to fix. Too much to do, and so many hours devoured by sleep. Ah, but it is the rhythm of life. From the beginning our days have been divided by nights.

This evening, I would like to write about music, about A Whiter Shade of Pale and about the beauty of harmonies and melodies, and the complexity of lyrics that evoke moods despite their ambiguity. But it's not to be. Not tonight.

And I would like to explore the meaning of fanaticism. Today fanaticism is definitely a perjorative. Everything has a pro and con, a positive and a negative feature, as well as many interesting aspects. How is it that today being fanatical is now such a heinous attitude?

OK, I do understand the problematic side of fanaticism, but what is its opposite? Lifelessness? Apathy? If it is a crime to be too passionate, what does this do to our natural desire to yield to total immolation, total self-sacrifice to something more importasnt than ourselves?

Someone once said "Fanaticism today is as rare as the dodo."

I knew an American who once wanted to meet a true Communist so he could encounter someone who was utterly all-out committed to something he believed in. Nowadays, we have a society of people who play it safe. Everything is calculated. Zeal is a posture, not a true heartfelt attitude for most.

OK, so Winston Churchill puts a different spin on it: "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." This kind of fanatic is problematic, associated more with bitterness and intolerance than passion for a positive thing. Maybe the issue revolves around what we're fanatical about? Alas.... It would make for a good digression.

And I'd like to write about my screenplay Uprooted, which takes place in Estonia during WWII. And the history of aviation, Howard Hughes, the power of Hollywood, and the mesmerization of the masses.... and...

Well, here I am listening to Dylan and splattering ideas onto my blog. Maybe I should just close up shop and get the rest we all require. Don't let the bedbugs bite.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New CD Offers Audio Satisfaction

I met John Heino on the set of Iron Will in 1993. We were extras in a celluloid production that was bigger than life for most of us small town folks here up north. The thrills and stimulation created by the Hollywood film making machinery invigorated nearly everyone involved. Few of us will ever watch a movie without noticing those extras.

Our creative interests ultimately led to a friendship that now extends fifteen years. Hard to believe it has been that long! The band for which John plays keyboards has been out there making music for decades... which is probably hard to believe for the band.

That story is for another space in time. For the moment, I just wanted to introduce their music to a wider audience. The following is a portion of the review that appeared this week in Duluth's Reader Weekly. The link at the bottom here will lead you to the full story. But to really get the most of it, you will want to obtain the CD.

New Centerville All Stars CD Offers Audio Satisfaction

Have you heard the news? Party With The Band is now in stores everywhere, or ought to be.

They’re back. The Centerville All Stars have given birth to a new CD. One criticism of last year’s supergreat Not Dead Yet CD was that people were expecting to hear Lance Cloutier on vocals. Maybe it wasn’t clear to some folks that it was a John Heino assemblage. Heino had wearied of putting off his desire to get some tracks down somewhere in this lifetime, and despite a Centerville All Stars cast, circumstances did not really make it a true All Stars CD. But the effort ignited a spark, and this year the band is back. And their CD is gift to the City by the Lake, and an homage to its soul, its spaces, its people and places.

With the full band in place, the All Stars put in motion some great energy toward preserving for a wider audience their special breed of rock, blues and creative power. Their fans reap the benefits. This is a true mirror of a band Twin Ports clubbers have grown to love and admire. It’s solidly produced, thoroughly entertaining and is clearly a tribute to every facet of the home town that has inspired and motivated them. What’s more, the All Stars step out with a range of styles and sounds that will surprise a few listeners, combining re-energized inventiveness with its classic sounds.

Here’s my take of the CD’s contents, before interviewing the band.

City by the Lake
Unless a group is utterly unknown, you always approach a new album with a certain set of expectations. For this reason, the band chooses an opening cut that sends a signal: Lance is back. It also sends a second signal: This album will be a tribute to its roots. The opening number tips the hat to Duluth. Right away we also have echoes of riffs from Not Dead Yet so that while something new, there is a measure of continuity in this offering.

The second and shortest song, also sends a signal: this CD is going to be something different. Prelude has a Scottish Highlands feel… I can hear Braveheart, and Rob Roy, tender waves of simple longing. Julie and Lance blend their voices into the gentle stream of sound, a beautiful lead in to the next tune, a playful instrumental.

Continuing out of the Scots/Irish firmament, Troll is an exploration of the joy of making music. The acoustic guitars, synthesized flute, dancing keyboards, vibrant with life and spirited beauty.

I Believe
Organ music introduces a short duet by Lance and Julie, which releases itself into a caliente calypso rumba. The song is built on a syncopated rhythmic frame with keyboard embellishments and slithery guitar work. The emotive exchanges between Lance and Julie on vocals are effective. Lance wrote the song as a tribute to his beloved Barbara, one of three wonderful people to whom the CD is dedicated.

The rest of the tracks include a jazzy I’m Not Done Lovin’ You Yet, Dirt Track Rocks, From the Heart, Bayfront Blues, Misery Loves Me, No More Tears, and the raucous exclamation point at the end titled Party With The Band (All Night Long).

It’s obvious the band is here to have fun, and they want you to have some fun, too. To lose yourself in the music pick up a copy at the Electric Fetus next time your downtown. Or, if you prefer the thoroughly modern method of acquiring music, you’ll be able to soon download your CD from or Itunes.

Party With the Band
Read the full review here

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Burning Questions

Why did the eggplant cross the road?
Which came first, the eggplant or the egg?
And, why is Randy Johnson still pitching? Inquiring minds want to know.

There was a time when the very thought of facing Diamondbacks hurler Randy Johnson would cause opposing batters to lose sleep. Nail-biting, bed wetting, facial tics and other bad behaviors were not uncommon. Sometimes whole teams would face the lanky fireballer with terrified deer-in-the-headlights faces that begged “mercy.”

This year, he is making 15 million dollars. To do what? He finally broke a six game losing streak (yippee) and does still throw strikeouts, but man, once you have an ERA over 5, what are you doing on the mound? At what point do you hang up your cleats?

OK, maybe I'm being harsh. And maybe that’s partly the problem with baseball today. Are there too many teams and not enough pitchers to go around?

Former Cleveland Indians pitcher Herb Score once said that any pitcher with an ERA over 3.00 should not be playing. He was roundly criticized, since that is what most pitchers in the game are doing. To be merciful, it should be noted that adjustments have been made in recent decades to give hitters more advantages. Nevertheless, look at the dollars some of these guys are getting?

That fifteen million dollar salary has to be embarrassing to lug around. But then, baseball today is full of these kinds of salaries with performance that has only limited relationship. Pick a team at random, for example the Toronto Blue Jays, and look at their pitchers. Here’s a guy named A.J. Burnett – and believe me I'm not picking on him… I do not even know a thing about him, though a Google search will yield truckloads, no doubt – and I see here that he is making 13.2 million dollars this year. He is 31 years old and is, essentially, getting mediocre results this season. He’s won eight games and lost eight games. In his last ten he’s been bombed three times where he actually gave up eight runs before they took him out of the game. That’s gotta be embarrassing. But the paycheck… how can they give these guys so much money to be average? His 4.92 ERA puts him…

Hold the line. I see he throws strikeouts. Like, a lot of them. I guess he gets a few points for that. But I thought the aim was to actually not give up any runs.

Alas, there may be another side to this story. If so, your intrepid reporter will endeavor to keep you in the loop. Keep your eye on the ball.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cassandra’s Dream

Just finished watching Woody Allen’s most recent release, Cassandra’s Dream, starring Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor, among others. There are many great facets of the film, including the superfine way Allen creates fully developed characters with a minimal number of brushstrokes. He’s a master in this regard.

A follow up to Match Point, the film has the same seriousness, setting (England), ironies, and mix of characters with their different generational viewpoints and motivations. The characters are transparent to the viewer, but not to one another. In this regard, the screen writing is brilliant.

It is a story of two brothers -- and their love interests as well as family ties -- who have character flaws. Each has dreams that require money, and each seems intent on escaping the responsibilities of the family business to pursue what are patently foolish paths. At one point the brothers reminded me of some of Elmore Leonard’s criminals who are both smart and foolish. The outcome of the film was from the beginning self-evident, why could they not see it coming? Yet people do these kinds of things all the time. The music track alone tells you this is a tragedy and going to have a bad ending.

I did have a problem with the Phillip Glass soundtrack on one level. Yes, it worked well in this film, but for me it evoked The Illusionist. If someone pointed this out (and someone must have) I can picture Allen saying, “That’ll work. Not that many people will have seen both films.” Or something to that effect.

That may be the one weakness of the film, not the music, but the decision to not push something to another level. Mr. Allen’s philosophy of film making is not to produce great art. It is to get the stories out. He is undoubtedly filled with stories, and simply doesn’t waste time on time consuming details. Or so it seems.

For this reason, despite the fabulous acting and great dialogue, crisp character development and tight story, the movie might not receive its share of critical acclaim. But then, in reading his book Woody Allen on Woody Allen, he owns up to the fact that he is not striving to be Bergman or Fellini. He does not wish the comparison to be even made. He is simply a man who loved the movies, and who has lived out his dream of being able to make movies. Ultimately, he probably doesn’t really care what the critics think, which is a nice place to be if you can get there.

In the end, I would have re-shot at least two or three moments in the film that should have been re-shot to “get it right.” Though maybe in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter. There is much to like here with its echoes of Greek tragedy and other classic moments in literature. (The scene in the bedroom felt eerily close to the problem Raskalnikov encountered in Crime & Punishment, undoubtedly intentional.)

The film has sensuousness as a theme with almost none of the usual Hollywood demonstrativeness. It hints, rather than reveals.

The title for the film comes from the name of a boat which the brothers buy. The name Cassandra is taken from mythical Greek tragedy. Cassandra was loved by Apollo, but ended up being cursed by him when she did not return his love. Her gift of being able to foresee the future was forever a source of pain and frustration for her. The viewer of this film, like Cassandra, knows from the first that things will turn out bad, but can do nothing to stop it.

As is often the case, “The best laid plans of mice and men do often go awry.” Or to quote a maxim of my own, “We tend to get what we want, but we usually get more than we bargained for.”

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