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Category Archives: Arts and Culture

In one week in September, 1991, Miles Davis and Theodor Seuss Geisel died. That Sunday night, on the radio show Idiot’s Delight, host Vin Scelsa said the thing he often said after a week like that. As I remember it, he played music for 30 minutes or so before saying anything – and it wasn’t Miles Davis he played, either, but maybe Beethoven or something – and then he opened the mic, and it was pretty quiet, and pretty reflective, and pretty sacred. Eventually he spoke, and it wasn’t heavy with oratory or morbid or overly sentimental or any of that.

“What a cool week it must be in heaven, you know?”

This is the ebullience that I like to remember when I think of all the emotion around, well, death. It’s an easier response when the person you want to celebrate was an artist, because you’ve still got something of theirs, and it’s likely vivid and even dates from a moment in their life when they were perhaps beautiful, or vibrant or anyway not decrepit with age or physically mangled by accident or addiction. It’s something I think of when Jerry Orbach or John Spencer shows up on TV — two actors whom I certainly miss. It isn’t too hard to see that both men have, by virtue of the weirdness of the re-run, probably never been as ubiquitous, so accessible for study and appreciation, as they are today. That is a true legacy.

This past week, another odd couple died. First, Farrah Fawcett, who was remembered in the New York Times in a column that was monstrous, even if it had the ring of truth. The sentiment, if you missed it, was sort of a bad-joke-epitaph: “Here Lies Farrah Fawcett, Who Wasn’t Very Bright Or Talented, But She Tried Anyway, So I Guess One Should At Least Acknowledge That Much.”

More could have been said about Fawcett. Writing for The Daily Beast, Amy Wallace shares some recent correspondence with Fawcett, in which it becomes clear that Fawcett had a pen-pal friendship with Ayn Rand, and that Rand was impressed with something she saw in the young actress. It wasn’t the first time that Rand had seen a diamond buried deep in what was already widely recognized as a diamond. She wrote an encomium for the deceased Marilyn Monroe, (this, unearthed by Brian Doherty at Reason) in which she discovers the murderer of Monroe to be the world of Salieris who begrudge beauty, genius and talent its fame:

The evil of a cultural atmosphere is made by all those who share it. Anyone who has ever felt resentment against the good for being the good and has given voice to it, is the murderer of Marilyn Monroe.

Wallace shares some of Fawcett’s thoughts on Rand (in addition to watching the film version of The Fountainhead, Fawcett did read the copy of Atlas Shrugged that Rand sent her), and the quotes that Wallace shares are decidedly not those of a bimbo. Wallace and her editors may be overstating it a little when they use the word “brainy,” to describe the actress (Fawcett: “I remember liking the movie [The Fountainhead] because it was unique in that the characters seemed to be the embodiments of ideas as opposed to real flesh and blood people with interests and lives. Now that I think about it, I think that’s why Ayn was drawn to Charlie’s Angels. Because the characters that Kate, Jaclyn and I played weren’t really characters (the audience never saw us outside of work) as much as personifications of the idea that three sexy women could do all the things that Kojak and Columbo did. Our characters existed only to serve the idea of the show (even “Charlie” was just a faceless voice on a speaker phone).”)

She’s definitely onto something there, but while Charlie’s Angels may well have been about something else — something more — than it seemed, one senses that Fawcett took her foot of the intellectual gas pedal when she settled on her alternate “three sexy women” reading of the show. She’s much closer to something interesting when she observes that Charlie was an invisible, disembodied voice, and maybe she was getting revved up to observe that in a society that objectifies women totally, the show she was on was both complicit and commenting on the Freudian complications for successful women as they try both to live up to their Goddess status and live down to the expectations of men who see them as a collection of attractive distractions.

In any event, within hours of the news of Fawcett’s death, Michael Jackson’s death kicked everything from Iranian political protests to North Korean sabre-rattling to the philanderings of the Governor of South Carolina and, yes, the death of Farrah Fawcett, completely out of the spotlight. Much, much more will be written about Jackson in the next few days and weeks, and he will always retain a critically important place in the history of the past few decades, as a truly remarkable artist, as a talented businessperson, as a thwarted, twisted and troubled personality, and an almost mythical, self-defeating, self-destroying eccentric.

But in a way, both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died of the same disease: living beyond their years. (It’s debatable, of course — Jackson was planning a comeback. One wonders if Fawcett, deep down, may also have been planning one, too.) What are we to make of this? When someone’s death is still on our minds, we wonder whether their memory will ever eclipse the news of their death. Quite by accident, I turned to Herodotus today. And here is what I found:

He that is greatly rich is not more blessed than he that has enough for the day unless fortune so attend upon him that he ends his life well, having all those fine things still with him. Moreover, many very rich men are unblessed, and many who who have a moderate competence are fortunate. Now he that is greatly rich but is unblessed has an advantage over the lucky man in two respects only; but the latter has an advantage over the rich and unblessed in many. The rich and unblessed man is better able to accomplish his every desire and to support such great visitation of evil as shall befall him. But the moderately rich and lucky man wins over the other in these ways: true, he is not equally able to support both the visitation of evil and his own desire, but his good fortune turns these aside from him; he is uncrippled and healthy, without evils to afflict him and with good children and good looks. If, in addition to all this, he shall end his life well, he is the man you seek, the one who is worthy to be called blessed; but wait till he is dead to call him so, and till them call him not blessed but lucky.


first of all, i’m surprised that clinton’s not campaigning in Vermont more seriously. i didn’t forget about VT, but i hadn’t been following any polling, and i assumed she would have a chance there. the iraq war vote thing, if that’s what’s bugging people there, was a problem for me at the time that she cast it until i heard her explanation at that time, which to my buddingly neoconservative views (sort of kidding…) made sense (at some point we have to stand behind the president and at least pretend to agree, so that his efforts will carry some weight…. that, to my recollection, was the gist of it, and i guess i bought into that too, because that was before we bombed iraq, and there was still the distant, faint glimmer of a hope that the UN resolutions and the support of countries like, i dunno, any of them, might have played a role in diffusing the situation. and the only reason anyone would want to diffuse the situation would be if they realized that the US was really gonna do it this time, and the only reason they’d think that would be if even the fairly liberal wing of the democratic party thought about signing on….. but then all this other stuff happened and now we look back at that vote and blame – i think – the wrong people. but the fact that clinton has failed to articulate that effectively enough, and failed to keep the focus of her campaign on the need to undo the damage of the bush administration will probably cost her the nomination, and my feelings about that are similar to the feelings of disappointment that i have around john edwards’ failure to convince even ME that he was serious about ending poverty in the US, and my continued frustration with the imbecilic john kerry at somehow failing to allow his actual war record to stand as a suitable defense against his made-up war record. the sad fact is that there’s only one howard dean, and even if he lacked some of the stature or experience or panache or even clarity around issues that we’re looking for today, he had something that i can only continue to describe as “electability,” and i have the serious concern that we will look back on this election from the vantage point of having lost in November and realize that by nominating a historical first — either a woman or a black man — we seriously eroded our ability to maintain focus on the primary issue, which should be rescuing the country from some weird faith-based totalitarianism.)
leave it to me to bury the lead. somewhere in that rant of a parenthetical thought lies evidence of what i’m calling — and i’ve coined this term, so far as i can tell — my “obivalence”. when obama announced on MTP more than a year ago that he was beginning to consider the possibility of thinking of planning to consider running for president, i was very excited about it. he seemed like a godsend, and i looked forward to a substantive candidate emerging…. since then, i have become increasingly unimpressed with him. he seems almost like a Democratic version of W — the kind of guy who can be portrayed as plainly and incorrectly by the far right as the far left portrays W (to call bush reactionary, a despot, a fascist — these may have some basis in reality. but to insist that he’s truly a buffoon is to inadvertently give him greater power, because while he might be a bit bumbling, he’s not stupid, and we have clearly been underestimating him for a long time, despite a TON of evidence that he’s as calculating as anyone could be, but i digress again). point is, W is a flat character, with no real depth, and that enables us to map onto him whatever we like (dems map bad things, rich fat people map good things, etc.). that’s where obama is, too. the lefty optimist in me sees jfk, rfk, carter, john lennon, etc etc in obama, because why not? he won’t say anything to dispel those long shadows, because they benefit him tremendously. but the right can overlay a similarly one-sided image-set on him — naif, pop star, teen idol, pin-up politician, etc etc. And since his strengths are the same as his weaknesses (just like W), there’s an “around and around we go” quality to this kind of dialogue, and i do not relish the idea of four or eight years of it.
that said, i’m not thrilled with clinton, and i miss edwards (or rather, my sense of what edwards could have been — in my wildest dreams, he would have actually SET UP his campaign headquarters in the upper ninth ward, where he announced his run. he would have bought a few houses to convert to HQ, he would have hired local new orleans kids to help set up shop around iowa and new hampshire, he would have held all of his policy announcements on the same front lawn down there, and would have conducted essentially a front-porch campaign. when he won — and he definitely would have won if he’d done this — he could have made new orleans his crawford, and allowed the upper ninth ward to become an international center of diplomacy, lobbying and power, generally, at least for a few weeks each summer or fall. that would have been a campaign of change and whatever, and i would have been very proud to have that kind of president, giving unprecedented access to power directly to the most disenfranchised population in this country. but oh well. at least he wasn’t derailed by something as stoopid as a directional microphone. that still hurts.)
i don’t like that supporters of obama have been given enough reason to detest clinton, which is my way of saying that obama supporters can’t be entirely blamed for being, sometimes, quite mean about their preference. i’m not sure this race was every truly hers to lose, but she has lost entirely the original message, which was methodical one, arguing against current administration policies. eyes on the prize was all she needed, in a way. 
but i can’t get fully behind obama. i’m sure he’s a great guy, and i do wish i knew him personally. but those aren’t reasons to vote for someone. this is the longest definition ever, but it is OBIVALENCE. 

As we know, it takes all kinds. The reason that’s a cliche is because it’s true. And in my limited-but-ever-growing experience as a human, I’m beginning to see that certain things — other cliches, mostly — that I had been aware of as cliche, but not aware of as truisms (we’ll try to split the difference, yes?) are, in fact, real. And when I say “real,” I mean “true,” to which you may add “truism” or “beautiful,” or whatever. You may, in addition, add “untrue,” “false,” “dishonest,” or “deceitful.” (Later on, after you’ve finished reading this, you may also want to add “insecure,” “cloying,” “overreaching,” “annoying” or “bullshit.”) The cliche I’m sort of surprised to be noticing as “real” is one that I have, for a long time, made light of, the way one might make fun of Batman for not really being able to fly. It’s always been fun to take pot-shots at beautiful women who can’t seem to escape the allure of homely old men. It’s funny because it’s the most physically apparent expression of dissonance you can imagine. I mean this, because the more layers you peel off of something, oftentimes, the easier it is to explain it, to get to the root of it. But in a very literal sense, if you’ve got a case where a 24-year-old woman of apparent beauty finds herself in, um, volved with some old guy, the peeling off of layers doesn’t so much alleviate as horribly fail to account for the dissonance with which you began. I should clarify that, in raising the cliche of the young woman and the old man, I am not talking about the “trophy wife” thing. That’s just a bore. Old man needs companionship, young woman needs money, etc. It’s transactional, it represents opportunity taken. In a way, the Trophy Wife Scenario represents the pinnacle of Capitalist society’s achievements. We have found a way to conquer mortality through love and money. In the Trophy Wife Scenario, there’s no need for Death, except as a punctuation mark that fairly well validates the entire exercise. “Congratulations, Old Man, you crossed the finish line! Well done, geezer.” See? A bore. I’m so much more interested now in the not-quite-at-Death’s-door man, say in his late 50’s, and the late-20’s beauty he can somehow attract. Here’s where it gets interesting: Whereas the old man of the Trophy Wife Scenario looks at himself and says, “I am a loose-fitting, saggy, pitiful Old Man, but I still have the desires of a younger man,” this 50-something man — the one I’m thinking of, at least — is completely delusional.He looks at himself and says, “I am a hip cat. I am a young man. I am not old. I will not get old. I will stay young.”And he builds Hearst Castle using the means at his disposal. Instead of a private zoo, a leather jacket. Instead of a fleet of safari vehicles, one sports car (or hybrid, or German luxury car, or fill in the goddam blank). He goes out to places where he would never be invited – places for people twenty or thirty years younger. He tries not to seem old. And it seems to be working. Especially when he sees, from across the room, the beautiful woman, not quite a girl, not quite able to mask her confusion at his wolf-like stare combined with his narrow, osteoporetic shoulders under a shiny black leather jacket. And maybe a goatee. Yes. A goatee. Why a goatee? <a href=””>Here’s why</a>. Let’s cut to the chase, avoiding a boring retelling of the completely inane conversation that must precede their inevitable hook-up. Actually, let’s at least pay tribute to the awkwardness of their need to appear willing to address the necessity of at least basic personal-information-exchange without hitting any detail that would address age or position in society. (i.e., “I got my first job the same year you were conceived, and I am older than your parents,” or “I just graduated college, so I guess that makes me the same age as your daughter.”) Cutting to the chase, then, the part that I want to dwell on is the part, referenced by the title of this post. We know there are insecure horny old men. Whooptishit. That’s not news, or interesting.But young beautiful women with father issues! That’s the cliche I’ve always poked at and never given the real, thoughtful attention it absolutely deserves. Because even while the man with sloping shoulders and a drool in his eye seems worldly in a sad, lonely, pathetic way, and might have the value-add of being the same age as your daddy (i.e. Which of them is your daddy??), your daddy, one hopes, is not an arrested adolescent with a not-so-new Porsche. But at least Mr. Old and Nasty brings you the derision of your peers. That way, you can continue to tell yourself (correctly, by the way) that nobody understands the real you. Nobody, that is, except daddy Porsche. So that’s what it takes. I always wondered what it took. 

The Goatee is the timeless affect of young men as they develop the ability to grow facial hair in a more regimented way than unexplained shadows and blotches on cheeks and upper lips. The Goatee is always in style for the adolescent, but grows and fades in popularity among slightly older men along with fashions like skinniness and the mullet. As a fashion, it has been associated with blue collar workers, country music, German intellectuals and professional athletes. In the instance of faux academics, it has achieved placement on the gaunt and striving face of no less an exemplar than Eric Alterman. And it is through Eric Alterman that The Goatee is now best examined. The lupine, but otherwise meaningless, accoutrement there bespeaks insecurity and self-loathing. Significantly, in Alterman’s case, the self-loathing is oftentimes not as intense as the just-plain-loathing that he engenders. But that’s really for another day. The Goatee is a pretense. A lie that Alterman tells himself and his probably-captive audience. The lie: “I am cool. You like me. You think I’m mature and enlightened.” What makes it a lie is that nobody — not Alterman, not the people he’s looking at, not even God — believes it to be true.

See? (thanks to marct)

More here.

In fact, as hockey season winds down, it’s poised to step into the void created by hockey’s TV absence. I’m expecting an ESPN-2 morning-after wrap-up of concerts around the country. Especially now that summer festival season is getting ready to kick off. (“Billionaire Aspen, Colo. Smack-Down In The Tent! Ted Turner says he’s only sorry he left Levin enough room to curl up and cry in the corner…”).

An interesting pair of articles bookended this past weekend, and both addressed a point about behavior. There was this one, on March 16, which took a few shots at Socrates from the perspective of zealous but unenlightened (or in-process enlightening) undergrads, and the other took a look at what to do if you’re being treated like some of those students might have been treated, but by your superior at work. One thought I might share is that in both cases – as students of Socrates and as employees of an insecurity-driven bully – one is essentially powerless. The student feedback on Socrates won’t have much of an impact on a professor already despised by the Gender Studies department, so we might presume that Socrates is happy in his isolated state of pariah-hood. And in the corollary article, the Times points out that you might try confronting your boss directly about his or her tendency to shout you down and destroy your sense of self-worth. But direct confrontation could lead, as even Socrates ultimately found out, to termination.
Therefore, embrace powerlessness.

Tired of the usual shapes? Had enough of circles, squares, rectangles, and megalopoli? (Yes, that is a shape. It was added last year. Nobody was using it as a word, so it got pulled for a new shape.)

I’m proposing a call for new shapes. How about “Squircle,” or “Rectircle?” Anything that ends with “ircle” could be a promising new shape.

It’s been long enough with the same boring shapes. Let’s get some new ones.

I like to complain. I complain about lots of things, like if it’s too hot or cold, or if I’m a little drowsy, or if the price of gas goes up, or, in fact, if it goes down. I suppose I like to complain so much because I’m — and I don’t mean to sound immodest here — I’m good at it. We do what we’re good at. Perhaps you knit or play a musical instrument. I complain. And even though you may think you’re good at complaining, unless you devote as much time and energy to it as I do, and I’m talking more than 50% of your time awake each day, you’re probably not going to be able to compete with me. For me, it’s reached a level of virtuosity that is, if not unmatched, at least world class. I can convey a significant complaint with an eyebrow, a flutter of a grimace, a shuffle of one foot. I can convey a specific, highly-articulate complaint by saying and doing nothing, letting the absense of a remark speak as loudly as any screaming fit. It isn’t a god-given gift. I have worked at it.

Here’s my point: this past weekend here (I’m in San Francisco), it’s been cold during the day and much colder at night. It’s unseasonable and the low temperatures overnight have been record lows. The windows in this part of the world can tend toward the drafty side, because the stakes are usually fairly low. Meaning, the temperatures outside versus those inside aren’t usually significantly different. They differ, but not usually by more than, say, 40 degrees, at the outside. It’s typical, for example, in the summer, for the outdoor temperature to be perhaps 85 degrees, while indoors would be in the mid-70s. It is equally common, in the winter months, for the temperature to be in the mid-40s overnight, while indoors it would be in the mid-60s. The stress on the windows isn’t usually drastic (like on the East coast, where one side of the glass could be 20 degrees and the other side a cozy 72).

So a cold night or two comes along, and there’s a little draft and some wind and one bundles up with a sweater and a blanket and, quite naturally, complains. One may complain about the temperature outside or in. There’s justification for both.

But then, one reads a story about people who work very, very hard to produce something – a crop, in this case. They run small farms whose yields are then sold to local establishments, and they make a living against so many odds — economic valuations of their chosen crops, fluctuating demand for their crops, the tenacity and energy it takes to raise those crops, etc.

And then, along comes a weekend like this one. Farmers around Calif. stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars (or more, or less) after this temperature drop. For some, it won’t make a huge difference. And for others, it’s going to have a big impact on their lives.

Catherine Saillant, at the Los Angeles Times, has written it the way it deserves to be written. Steinbeck, whatever you think of him, has really got his talons into the way we write about farming. She doesn’t sound like Steinbeck, but it’s hard not to think of him, at least a little.

As one farmer “walked his 17 acres of citrus and avocados near midnight, he made quick calculations on what was worth trying to save and what he should let go. ‘I’m writing them off,’ Churchill said of a small grove of Hass avocados adjoining his citrus orchard. ‘I just can’t save them.'”

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Supernatural is pretty good to work such a pasty crowd with such aplomb. He’s getting paid. Look at the crowd grooving. Rockin’. Rockin’.