Wednesday, December 16, 2015

the only wine i will wake up in the morning and try to remember

So all of you who know me and know my friends--that vast and elaborately entwined circle--will know who this is, whose post I'm putting up here.  He was my year in High School.  He's very very smart.  He's a doctor.  He's perhaps insane?  But maybe that's just how smart he is?

Also he knows A LOT about wine.  As in, could be a professional sommelier tomorrow, if he wanted to.  And has been collecting--seriously collecting--since the early 90s.

Which means, as I've gotten more and more into wine, he's the one I always email.  (He's also the person, in middle school, who introduced me to a) David Bowie and b) Bob Dylan.  And then, much later, to c) Tarkovsky.  So, probably three of my five greatest artistic heroes--and it's because of him I know about them!)

Anyway, I email him a lot about wines--which ones to buy, if my wine dealer is giving me good prices or not, etc. [That's right.  I have a wine dealer!  I'm the narrator of Brideshead Revisited!]

So after a lot of recent back and forth about all sorts of wine-relates stuff (BTW--on Esquire network, the show Uncorked is highly worth watching) he just sent me this.  Which I'm posting just because it's so good.  And perfectly summarizes everything that's wonderful about this person.

And also because, smart as he is, and as good as is his taste (i.e.: impeccable) I'm pretty sure this is 100% correct:

my biggest concern is whether 2015 white burgundy prices are going to be higher or lower than 2012. that is my main concern.... :p'

it's just so funny - what i'm saying is... the idea of concerning myself with all these inferior wines is just - well - i don't have the time frankly ? i already know what the best wine is - it's burgundy. the end. ??? red and white. and there's enough there that you can spend 100% of your attention and still not know enough... so.. um... albarino? what is that? lol. no but really. even bordeaux is kind of a joke compared to burgundy. there is no other wine as good as burgundy. full stop. red and white. it's the best wine in the world. end of story. i'm simply trying to figure out who is going to make the best wine in 2015. and how much i should spend on grand cru versus 1er cru. that's about the only issue.
everything else is totally easy. you buy the requisite amount of italian and bla bla. but there's nothing difficult about that. the critics are basically all correct about italian wine. except the one issue is that most people don't let it age long enough or air out long enough when opening. etc. there's some basics. everyone drinks barolo and amarone and brunello about 5-10 years too soon. but that's not complicated. what's complicated is trying to figure out whose white burgundy will age well or not. where the value is. if there is any. there are subtleties in burgundy that are confounding even for people who have a basic idea. it's the only region in the entire world of wine which is genuinely difficult to fully grasp.
my evidence: there is an entire publication called burghound. there are multiple publications entirely devoted to burgundy. there's a reason for that. other wines bring appropriate pleasure. certain bordeaux do fetch extreme prices. okay. but the only wine that i will wake up in the morning and try to remember and second guess and just sit there and ponder... days later.. weeks later.. is burgundy. it genuinely taxes your intellect. there is no other region in the world of wine which can do that. :) fin. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Europe Trip I

We've been back from France for a month now.  I keep meaning to post about the trip, but other projects continue to interfere.  But, at long last, I have cobbled together a post.

What I've done is basically just take the journal I wrote while traveling, proof-read it (I hope) and add, on top, a few ex post facto thoughts.  The stuff written recently--today, to be exact--is marked in brackets.  Everything else is what I wrote while there.

The trip had three legs: Barcelona, the Loire, Paris.  I'll try to get it all out in three posts, though it may take four.  I also took a lot of photos, so I'll include some of those.

* * Post I: Barcelona * *

First full day in Barcelona underway. The total combined trip took about thirteen hours--LA to Newark, Newark to Barcelona, with an hour layover in between.  We spent travel miles to go business class on the last leg, which meant--in theory--we could sleep, but I can't sleep on planes, so instead I drank a vast amount of execrable coffee (probably the worst I've had in my entire life) and worked all night.  At the end, watched the Pixar/Disney Inside Out, partially on my brother's recommendation.  I loved it.  [Still thinking about it a month later, in fact]  A guy I play tennis with--a screenwriter, no less--steered me away from it this summer.  He said he found it too didactic (my word, not his)--too much like he was attending a neuroscience lecture.  Then last month, the same guy told me he loved Birdman (which he thought was clearly intended as a spoof!??).  After which point I realized: he was an idiot.  Anyway, thinking that movie was like a lecture on neuroscience is like thinking Finding Nemo is similar to a lecture on Ichthyology.

Arrived Barcelona at Nine AM.  My usual strategy for adapting to jet lag going to Europe is to immediately go to my hotel and sleep till the next morning--no matter what time of day.  But sleeping from nine AM till five the next day would be too much for even me (nearly 24 hours of sleep) so instead we once we got a cab to the Old Quarter (aka Gothic Quarter) and walked around. 

The Old Quarter

The old quarter dates back to the Romans, and the highlights included old Roman walls (built around 400 AD).  First impressions of Barcelona generally positive--I would say it's sort of a mix between parts of Rome and parts of Paris.  Well that's incredibly vague.  Not necessarily a city to fall in love with, but that's OK.

Our hotel deserves its own description.  Called the Hotel Arts and located right on the Mediterranean.  Lots of sculptures and paintings in the lobby.  While we were there the Port of Rotterdam was having an enormous conference in its halls, so everywhere we went we kept finding ourselves surrounded by suited European technocrats talking in many languages about port maintenance.  About which I, obviously, had a lot to say.     

We got a room with access to the Club Level, because that's how we roll.  Always get Club Level has become a working motto for my life.  They put out free food five times a day and gave us free champagne.  Which, because we were both working, we sadly only took advantage of only once.  (The champagne, I mean.  The food--which was great--we ate frequently.)

The Old Quarter Again.  
In some way a marriage consists of an array of never-concluded,debates.  One ongoing discussion between the wife and I involves the public sector [You can just imagine the sparks of romance that engenders!]  My general conservatism--philosophically more than politically--revolves in some part around the belief that (regulated) markets are (mostly) good, and that public enterprises funded by the state are ipso facto doomed to be less efficient and effective than ones run privately.  [Traveling confirms these prejudices.  Look no further than the TSA for ample proof].  Europe, though, provides strong counter-factuals.  Here the public sector is efficient, it's staffed by competent people, and it's effective.  Anyone who's travelled by rail in Europe can attest to that.

So, for example, my reason for opposing the Death Penalty is not on moral grounds, but because I can't believe the state can be charged with administering it--they can't be trusted to do so effectively and accurately.  Most state government can barely deal with giving people's driver's license, and we're going to trust them with the power to put people to death?  No way.  

The wife, to try and encapsulate a broad series of views, broadly disagrees.   She thinks that instead of saying "the State doesn't do thing well, therefore we should take everything out of the State's hands" we should say "the State may not do most thing well, but that doesn't mean they can't improve.  And since there are a number of roles the State MUST fulfill--which the private sector just isn't equipped to handle (education and health care chief among them)--we're better off trying to fix the State than starving it off."  
The New Quarter.  No.  Just Kidding.  Still The Old Quarter.

It's worth noting that the lion's share of her job involves protracted negotiations with large government bureaucracies, and that her patience for dealing with incompetence and inefficiency is about 3000 times that of mine.

Anyway, in the cab to the hotel I was ruminating, in the wise and profound manner my friends know and value, about how Europe does, in fact, support her view--because, broadly speaking, The State, in Europe does many things well.  (Certainly they do them better than in America).  

But my thoughts on that are that, in essence, the American DNA--the way we're raised--is fundamentally unlike that of Europeans.  American views and ideals all revolve around the individual.  We're raised to try and be stars--not to work in teams. [Look at the people we celebrate.  Steve Jobs has had fourteen movies made about him this decade.  And in all of them he's portrayed--rightly--as a difficult, unpleasant jerk.  And we still love him!]  Whereas, in Europe they're trained from birth to regard group achievement as valuable, and they learn to subordinate the needs of the individual to the needs of the group.  [This reading of Europe v America is, I know, hardly novel.  No one said my ideas were original.  What makes them compelling is, basically, that I'm so handsome.  So I can present them well.] 

But there are drawbacks to this seemingly fundamentally decent way of doing things [Drawbacks that Knausgaard writes about, interestingly, in My Struggle].   It was those drawbacks I adumbrated in the car. But since at this point we'd both been up for something like 30 hours, it might not have been the best time to get into the issue.    [Certainly the wife's eyes, listening to me talk, were even more glazed over than they are usually, listening to me talk.]
They're All The Old Quarter.  Ok?
Why am I talking about this?  It bears not at all on our trip.  But no, because, it does. Because it's just these kinds of thoughts that travel engenders.  What travel does--why it has value--is make you reexamine your own views.  It challenges your settled assumptions and, possibly even makes you alter them.

Anyway, we walked around Barcelona till about 2 pm [note pictures of Old Quarter] then went to bed.  Slept till 4 AM the next morning.  

* * *
Now I'm up, after too much sleep, and ready to go.

Body is off schedule.  Slept fitfully and got no REM.  Am now awake but with part of my brain turned off.  Not pleasant.

* * * 

Spent yesterday in hotel working, then lifted weights in gym, then worked more.  Uneventful.
Our hotel--which is one of the best I've stayed at--is being attended by major executives from the world's international coal companies.  Every morning at breakfast I listen to groups of men sit around and talk about the prices of coke; China; moving ships out of Croatia, The Czech Republic.  It's like I'm eavesdropping on the Trilateral Commission.  Last night I eavesdropped on an interesting meeting between an American man--a folksy unassuming guy from, I think West Virginia--and two suave Italians--one older and very distinguished looking, the other young and respectful.  The young one, we learned at the end, had just had to relocate from Milan to Lugano and was describing how dead it was, living in Lugano.  And you can't even get any good food!  

That was good stuff.  I'm more or less ready to be an international coal dealer, now, I think.

Barcelona's a huge foodie town so we spent some time last night considering where to eat tonight and tomorrow.  And same with Paris.  I have to send an email to our concierge in Paris with our list of preferred restaurants.  White People problems!

Ok, Well, This Isn't.  This is The View from our Hotel Room.  That's Lake Baikal

Friday Morning

In an hour or so we leave for Lyon.  We had planned to take the train but then two nights ago it occurred to me flying would possibly be easier.   The prices were comparable and a flight only takes an hour and change (the train take five hours) so we bought tickets on EasyJet at the last minute. 
My wife was made grouchy by the whole thing.  She thought we had settled on train.  She thinks that I'm too prone, once we've made plans, to want to change them.  But that's how I roll.  I'm all about flexibility and spontaneity.

[Digression added later: Actually that doesn't state her view of the situation fairly.  She thinks--and not without some justification--that I have too much of a tendency, once a plan has been made, to start to question it.  To pick at it, and niggle and doubt.  And that once we've decided to do something, we should just stick with it, because it's easier.  And that, presumably, the original plan was one arrived at after careful thought and deliberation and to go and alter it, in the spur of the moment will generally go badly.   

Except that the 'plan' to take a train was NOT one that had been carefully considered--or even really considered at all.  And when I got online and started researching trains v planes it became pretty clear (to me) that a plane was the better option.

As indeed, she ultimately agreed, it proved to be.  And by the way, EasyJet is good.  Their reputation is well-deserved.]

That will take us to Lyon, where we stay one night and then drive to our hotel in the Loire.
Outside our Hotel.  This is the Sea of Azov

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Please Read

This link is undoubtedly the best article I have read on the Internet this year.  It may be the best article I have read on the Internet ever.  It's too far-ranging to summarize easily.  Ostensibly its topic is "Consumer Buddhism," but it is replete with insights on class, religion, and ethics.  It's impossible to excerpt it in a way that does justice to its brilliance but I'll give it a shot.

Please read.  The insights about the differences between middle class and upper-middle class--they come about 2/3 through--are particularly notable.

* * *
In economics and in evolutionary biology, “saying what sort of person you are” is called signaling.
People differ; and so we discriminate. We’d rather marry someone generous and considerate than someone selfish and oblivious. We prefer doctors who are knowledgeable and attentive to ones who are incompetent and arrogant. We don’t want to sleep with someone who “forgets” to mention they are married and have active herpes, or buy a used car from an acquaintance who has turned the odometer back.
In short, we would rather collaborate with good people than bad people. However, the people we want to collaborate with are more likely to cooperate if they think we’re good people. So everyone goes around saying “I’m good! I’m good!” a million times a day.
Except that it’s really easy to say “I’m good!” even if you aren’t. Bad people go around saying “I’m good!” all day too. How do you know who is telling the truth?
This is such a difficult and important problem that much of everyone’s day consists of trying to figure out whether other people are good, and trying to convince them that you are. How?
Someone saying “I’m good!” is not credible because it’s cheap and easy. (So no one says that literally.) You are more likely to be persuaded if you see them writing a check to a charitable organization, or if they spend a weekend volunteering with you at a homeless shelter. Those are costly signals—one in money, one in time.
Religion is a costly signal. Going to church every Sunday wastes much of your leisure time, and they want ten percent of your income. Meditation retreats take a whole weekend at least; they’re excruciatingly boring, physically painful, the food is usually awful, and you aren’t supposed to get high or or play video games. In both religions you have to sit through tiresome morality lectures and pretend to be nice to everyone. These are credible signals. If you know someone is religious, you know for sure something about them; no one would do those things unless they had a compelling reason. But what is religion signaling?
Partly—this should be obvious now—religiosity signals that you are ethical. That is mainly what Consensus “Buddhist ethics” was invented for. But why does it work? Why would you believe that someone who wastes a lot of time and money on religion is ethical, rather than stupid or crazy?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Though We Touched and Went Our Separate Ways

Anyone I meet, there are two bands where, if they don't like them, I can't really take them seriously, as humans.  Def Leppard and Journey.  If you don't like at least 1/3 of the songs produced by those two bands then you are, essentially, a bad person.  I'm sorry to be reductive, but there it is.

If I were dating some woman and they told me that they hated Journey? I don't know what I would do.  But clearly I couldn't be involved with that kind of anti-American criminal.  I just couldn't.

* * *

The two artists I'm listening to right now, almost exclusively, are The Jam and James McMurtry.  One is the quintessence of Britain.  The other, the quintessence of America.  How did that come to be?

* * *

An idea: KickStopper.  Where many people give money to PREVENT something from happening.  For example, Jonathan Franzen announces plans to write another novel.  Immediately, Kickstopper swings into action.  10 Million dollars are raised.  And Franzen desists.

We all win!

* * *

I've gotten to a point, with Birdman, where if I meet people who truly value it, artistically, I mentally check them off my list, of people I can spend time with.  They're just too stupid.

* * *

Been reading Greek Tragedy.  Also, rereading Barthelme's Flying To America, all his previously unpublished work.  Also, My Struggle, volume II.  Which deals so far exclusively with the burdens of raising small children.  It's not making me want to be a father.  No it is not.

* * *

Spent an entertaining weekend with my brother's family at Disneyland.  Lots of interesting interactions with my (five year old) niece.

Sample dialogue:
ME: asks why she has elected to dress as SpiderMan for Halloween, given that she's never seen a single SpiderMan movie, tv show, or cartoon
HER: He is really brave and I am really brave so I decided to be him.
ME: Well, ok.  Good answer.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

What's Up?

What's Up round here you ask? Not much. Books and movies and gin and tonics. Usual stuff. I'm going through a 'let's reread Dicken' phase. Just finishing up on Great Expectations. Before that was Dombey and Son. Before that was David Copperfield. The first half of David Copperfield is up there with the best stuff Dickens ever did. Great Expectations doesn't hold up as well as I thought it would. Dickens doesn't do well with novels that are too focused. He needs room to digress and wander. Great Expectations reminds me a bit of Tale of Two Cities; both focus intently on small handful of narratives.  Their cast of characters stays small (for Dickens).  I think they suffer as a result.  His greatest books, to me: Bleak House, Pickwick Papers, Our Mutual Friend. All the rest tend to have at least one or two great characters--Captain Cuttle alone makes Dombey and Son worth reading--but can't maintain consistent greatness throughout.

Just saw Boyhood, which I found really excellent.  My brother and one of his friends told me it was overrated.  I didn't think so--I thought it was properly rated.  I've been thinking of it ever since I saw it.  Especially the last half, as Mason hits high school--a moving and often profound work, I thought.

Anything else?  I read a bunch of other stuff.  Ronald Firbank, Wolf Hall (fantastic), Trollope's Palliser series, some other odds and ends.

We're going to Spain and France in two weeks, so I'll try to write some entries while there.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Moving Through Some Changes

So what I think is, this whole Donald Trump presidency thing, it's important.  It means something.

I think we can all take it as read that Trump is a buffoon.  The thought of him being President of even a local bingo league is horrifying in extremis.  According to current polls, however, he is--if not actually leading in the Republican primaries--then at least near the top.

If you haven't been following his candidacy--and if that's the case, then I'm sorry for you, because it's been excellent--the highlights are too many and too uproarious to even name.  I'd urge you all to go to the Jon Stewart homepage and watch some of his dissections of Trump's various appearances and media hits.  They're very excellent.

In brief, he's already stated that most, if not all, Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists; that John McCain, by virtue of being captured during Vietnam, and not having escaped, is not only not a war hero, but maybe a coward; and that, despite having a surefire, secret plan to defeat ISIS utterly, he can't tell us what that plan is, in case someone steals it.

Oh, and also, that he's very very smart.  That comes up a lot.  And also, that he's very rich.

What interests me about Trump is that he represents a sort of reductio ad absurdum of a certain growing strain of Republicanism.  I'd call it Fox News Republicanism.  Which is, essentially, the strain of Republicanism which believes that being conservative means being "free-thinking," and that being free-thinking means denouncing, as idiots, anyone else who's been in power.  Mostly, that means saying that Democrats are corrupt and venial idiots, but if a certain stripe of Republican gets close to public office--Mitt Romney, John McCain, Jeb Bush--they can be defamed as well.

The logic, such as it is, goes like this: most politicians are stupid.  Therefore most of their ideas are stupid.  Therefore, most of the ideas and laws we've been given are useless.  Therefore we need all-new ideas and all-new laws!

The emotion at the core of this view is anger.  But the assumption at its core is that the world, despite is apparent complexity, is in fact very simple.   Right and wrong are easy to differentiate, and [candidate in question] is able to do without any problems.

The Fox News aspect of this view lies in its inherent TV-friendliness.  It's a view that's ready-made for television.  It's a view that trades in controversy.  It's a view that thinks in sound-bites.  It's a view that loves the immediate and the simple, that rejects complexity or subtly as the province of liars and Europeans.  All candidates have to kowtow to this way of thinking, of acting, to an extent, but Trump's genius, such as it is, has been to locate it at the center of his campaign/

And here's the interesting paradox.  Fox News is clearly the organization, above all others, that should and does love Donald Trump.  He is a never-ending goldmine of bullet-point discussion topics.  Are all immigrants criminals?  Why are our politicians so stupid?  Why does (that whinging moderate) McCain get treated with such kid gloves?  Where are our leaders?

And yet, even as he gives them, on a day-to-day level, everything the network needs, he is, obviously, a toxic poison to the Republican party.  Can you imagine how happy Hillary Clinton would be to have Trump as her opponent?  (I actually heard a serious roundtable radio discussion yesterday in which a number of people opined that Trump had been paid off by the Clintons to wreck the Republican nominating process).

So what does Fox News do?  On the one hand, Trump makes great copy.  He's far and above the most TV-friendly candidate.  A whole network dedicated entirely to what he did and said could probably not only survive, but make real money.  And yet, he's a death-wish for the party as a whole.  So what does Fox News do?  Continue to stoke the fires of extremism, which stoking has made them so rich over so many years?  Or develop some kind of patriotic conscience, and try to purge the party of a known toxin?

It will be interesting to track.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Say You Don't Want To Chance It

A large part of me, at this point, is inclined to do nothing but post Yes videos for, like, the next twelve posts.

Because, I mean, I'm not joking.  The more I watch that "Leave It" video, the more my deep love for Yes is rekindled.  And I feel, kind of, that people who hate on Yes, are going to be destroyed when the Revolution comes.

At least, I hope that'll be the case.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

We Had The Same Intrigue As A Court Of Kings

First things first.  This is important.  And good.  If you do not find it good, you are wrong.  I cannot be persuasive about it, but it is so.  Trevor Rabin!!! (Or is it Nigel Tufnel?  They look a lot alike).

And obviously, the glorious departed Squire.  The second-best rock bassist ever??

I love this song unironically and unabashedly.  This video I also love, though I'll confess to a small smidgeon of irony in that love.

At what point did rock musicians decide that wearing wristbands and/or headbands was a good idea?  Forgetting all the other assaults on fashion manifest in this video, the headbands and wristbands--they stand out.  Especially because many, if not all, of them seem to involve glitter.


But no more on that.

What of my car wreck?  

Well, it was a wreck.  My first, as it happens.  Never before been in a car accident.  As they go, this one wasn't bad.  I was driving, a car ahead of me stopped--rather abruptly, I'd say--at a crosswalk (relevant because there's no light or other signal to alert people that a stop is imminent).  I stopped about two feet behind him.  

BAMMM.  A car behind me slammed into my back, ramming me forward into the car ahead of me.  Both ends of my car were deeply crumpled, the back especially.

Cut forward through various non-thrilling parlays with kindly-enough Insurance folks and the result was: Insurance decided my car was a total loss.  The amount of damage done was about 9k and the car was worth 11.5k.  So, I got a check for 11.5k, and I had to get a new car.

Now the story of me getting a new car--there hangs a tale.  I mean, I want to go into that.  I do.  But at this very moment I'll put that off.  The summary is: I have a new car.  A McLaren SX.  Retail: 450, 500.   And it can teleport!

No no.  I have another Honda.  But the thing that's funny is--I love it!   I's not really funny, but it is, to me, surprising.  How much I like it.  I loved my first car, deeply--a Honda Accord (LX 1990).  Probably, though, that was because it was my first car?  But I deeply loved that car.  Then, after it logged about two million miles, I replaced it with another Honda.   And that car…I thought I loved.  Or at least liked.

It turns out I did NOT love that car.  It's like, if you've spent all your life drinking Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, and then one day you drink a 2002 Mersault--that's what it's like with my new car.  Well, maybe it's not a 2002 Mersault.  But a Macon Villages, at least.  

Which is another way of saying that, I didn't realize how mediocre my last car was.  And, not realizing that, it's been wonderful to see how great cars these days have become.

Because I had no interest or desire for a new car, viewing this whole thing as nothing more than a massive hassle.  I was perfectly happy with my last car (I thought)--a 2005 Honda, which served all my necessary needs.

But, as it turns out, it did NOT serve my necessary needs--or at least, not as well as I thought.  Because driving this new Honda I find myself so unexpectedly happy.  I mean, it's a great car!  It handles well, accelerates, brakes--it has real zip.  And gets great mileage.  And has a bluetooth system!  And, can decrypt classified Nazi codes!  

Also, now that my entire iphone is suddenly available to my (much-improved) speakers, that's...just, a new frontier in joy.  Being able to instantly go to any album I've ever owned, in the car, or to talk on the phone, to all my brokers in Hong Kong and Sri Lanka--it's incalcuably great.

But now as I write this, the familiar darkness comes on me and I think: who cares?  Vanity, saith the preacher, all is vanity.  And I am drinking a mediocre Grenache, and the river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf clutch and sink into the wet bank.  The wind crosses the brown land, unheard….

Should I go watch that Yes video again?  I think so!

BONUS SIDENOTE: As some of you may notice, I change the quote in the header every time I post. Usually I pick a fairly well-known song.  This time I did not.  Anyone who can identify the song from which the quote above is taken will win....a million dollars!  And my respect!  Or, one of the two.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

What Did You Learn From the Time In the Solitary Cell of Your Mind?

This is just a programming note, to say that I'm going to have to delay my long-awaited discussion of my recent wine tasting dinner.  I was in a car wreck on Wednesday--totally fine, no big deal, physically--but my car is totaled and I may have to now buy a new car or some nonsense.  Anyway, between that and my burgeoning tuna fisheries business, I won't have the necessary love and energy to do a good write-up of the whole thing any time in the next week.

But I do still like Belle and Sebastian.  Everyone suffers in silence the burden….

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Best Link of The Week?

I heartily recommend you check out this post over on The Corner.  It's about what happens when an entitled bitchy NYC feminista (who naturally blogs for Jezebel) is refused service at a hipster NYC tattoo parlor.  Opening graph:
This is, unquestionably, my favorite story of the week. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds, I ran across one of the more absurd P.C. meltdowns I’ve ever seen (and that’s saying a lot). A Jezebel blogger pitched an online fit after a tattoo artist denied her request for a neck tattoo. Her post, titled in Jezebel’s oh-so-winsome style, “Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Get a F**king Neck Tattoo” (edited since this is a family blog), relates the sad tale. She wanted to get a tattoo of her daughter’s name on her neck, had been warned that some tattoo artists might not like to do that, but pressed on to “hipster-est tattoo parlor in New York City” anyway. The following exchange took place between Jane Marie (the blogger) and Dan (the tattoo artist):
Dan: “And then you want your daughter’s name… on your neck?” Shakes head left to right.
Me: “What.”
Dan: “Not gonna happen.”
Me: “Wait, what? Why?”
Dan: “It’ll look tacky. It’s just tacky.” 
Me: “Wait, you’re telling me what will look tacky on me? Don’t I get to decide that?”
Dan: “A neck tattoo on someone without a lot of tattoos is like lighting a birthday candle on an unbaked cake.”
Does she react well?  She does not.  But Dan--who turns out to be a highly righteous dude--does not back down.  Read the rest here....

Sunday, June 14, 2015

You Can Get F*****

So rarely do I blog that, at times, one wonders why I blog at all?  

Certainly I so wonder.

I blog rarely because the "events" that comprise my life tend toward the minimal and the mental.  And thus the uneventful.  E.g.: an "event" of last month was borne of a documentary I watched about Bowie (Five Years on Showtime).  The key moment: Robert Fripp, describing the difference between POP and ROCK said something….

Well, what he said is R-rated.  But the essence is: danger.  Danger.

And that gibes with the Ian Buruma NYRB review of the Bowie museum exhibit he saw at the Victoria and Albert--the element of danger in his music.  A meaningful revelation to me.  Yes.  An event, though mental, in my life: that is an element I respond to in his music.  Deeply.  The danger.  Non-ironic danger.  Real danger. 

In graduate school (I have a BSS in orthopedic dentistry) I remember driving some people somewhere--probably to the Corn Rodeo--and I put on Diamond Dogs--which opens with a spoken-word section about dogs eating cats, and filth, and the broken city--and this silly person in the backseat, who's now a semi-famous writer, asked me in a whimpering, doll-voice to please, turn it off.  It was scary.  And I did so, smiling, and wishing her destroyed….

And that's true, utterly, what Fripp and Buruma note.  That IS one of the great powers in his music: the sense of real danger.  Of, to use the LA-appropriate word, stakes.  

The Fripp quote: "the difference between pop at rock is that, at a rock show, you can get F******"

Meaning the last word in all its senses.  And Fripp--bespectacled and buttoned-up as he comes on--is, in truth, a dark, subversive wizard.  (Like Burroughs, another seemingly buttoned-up martinet).  Listen to early 70s King Crimson, and you'll know.  "Starless and Bible Black"--that song, to this day, unsettles me.  It is legitimately menacing.  In the best, most non-negotiable way.  

Anyway, that insight seems to me utterly true.  (Is this why, as we age, we tire of rock music?  Because  danger seems much less appealing at 40 than 20?  Because it has become real?  Much more, uhm, dangerous.)  And explains why I have so much weariness for, say, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Elton John, and Bruce Springsteen.  To pick at random.  Where there is no danger, there is no rock.  This is what McCartney lacked--why without Lennon, there was no greatness. 

Not to say that danger alone suffices to make great, or even good, music.  (Exhibit One: solo John Lennon).  It clearly does not.  But madness, depravity, being TAKEN--that is always in the cards, at a good rock show.  On a good rock album.  "You might get F******."  Literally or otherwise.  (Hence the deep linkages between rock music and mind-altering drugs.  "You might get F*****").

So that was an "event" of the last month--seeing that documentary, being reminded of how much of Bowie's power derives from danger and also, seeing him in images (and I'm moving to a new topic now, in the non-eventful way of thought, as captured--the rhythm of thought I mean--in Eno's Music For Airports) from his unearthly beauty.  (A brief clip of him striding from a hotel in Paris in 1976 clad in trousers and a loose black knit sweater has convinced me to never wear jeans again.  Really.)

Which made me think of the dissappointing last season of a much-overrrated show, Mad Men--one of the few great moments in a forgettable ending involving a junior nobody who's been fired telling Don that the only reason for his success is that "he's good-looking."  Yes.  Correct!  That reminds me of Jaigello in the Aubrey/Maturin books--the sense we all have, I believe, of wanting to befriend and to be liked by those who have true beauty.  Not the beautiful people… but the truly beautiful.  And there are very few of those.

If Bowie looked like Meatloaf, but wrote the same songs, would he be Bowie?  Of course not.  And it's a stupid question, obviously, because if he looked like Meatloaf he wouldn't have had the same experiences that Bowie had, and could never have written the same songs.

So that's an event, so to speak.  Or reading the Palliser series.  Or watching the sublime Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  And my thoughts about Trollope.  Or Charles Baxter's essays, which include one about Bartheleme which deserves to be read.  Or The War On Drugs, which is who I'm listening to a lot, but who cares?

BUT.. here's why I bother writing... Oh--remind me--I have a link you all need to read--about computer languages...the best thing I've read on the net in months, especially great for all those (like me)who always wonder what comptuer programming's really all about, and what all those languages are and mean.  It's not brief, but you will love every word.  And you'll finally have a sense about the difference between Perl and Python and Java and C.   Just give it a few paragraphs.  WHAT THE HELL ELSE DO YOU HAVE TO DO YOU RECALCITRANT NINNIES!

Where was I?

Man, isn't Mad Men such a wearying, tedious, repetitive show?  Not that it doesn't have its moments, but how limited it proves to be in the end?  You know why?   Because no one ever takes any action, ever, out of generosity of spirit.  There is no altruism, no kindness, no wit (has there ever been a popular show that had so few moments of humor?  Which is a central experience of all life!) 

All actions in Mad Men are borne of covetousness and fear and vituperation.  As if that's the sum total of the human experience!   I mean, yes, obviously: humans tend frequently toward the petty, toward the fearful and mean.  No doubt.  But to represent human expereince in ONLY those terms--as Mad Men does (has Betty ever done anything even slightly generous?)--is just as stupid and ignorant as would be a show that showed people acting only out of high-minded ideals.

Contrast it to The Sopranos, a show that's two orders of magnitude greater.   Obviously, on The Sopranos pettiness and cruelty abounds.  But what makes it a great, a transcendental show, is that there is a full spectrum of emotions depicted there.

I'm suddenly so tired.  So so tired.  And I can't go on about The Sopranos.  But do I need to?  You all know that its powers, how it shows many, many more aspects of human emotion.  Meadow cleaning the floor of her grandmother's house after she has the party there, in Season One.  Tony and his conflicted efforts to be a good son.  His attempts to help Irina to find a better life.  Carmela hungering after a true spiritual life.  AJ trying to join the military, in the final season, to help his country (stymied by his parents).

But wait.

My ultimate point is subverted.  Because, though mostly I don't experience any real events, I did, this weekend.  

Yes.  Yes yes.  A Real Event!  Involving other people! And wine!  And some lawyer insulting my wife!  And more wine!  Wine that's better than any I've ever had.  Wine that costs 1200$ a bottle!  And people insulting Texas!  And me having to translate French poetry!  And plastic surgery!  

This is all true.  Activity!  And activity that's not only mental!  But real!  In my life!  And it will be described to you, my friends.  Soon.   So, so, soon.....

And you know what?  I'm listening, right now, to August and Everything After.  And I love it.  And I won't apologize!  SO DON'T TRY TO MAKE ME.

You don't want to waste your life, now, baby....

Friday, May 22, 2015

"Moral Indignation is a standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity"

I love the site Brain Pickings in general, but I'd like to point my reader(s) to this post about the perniciousness of 'intellectuals.'  It's taken, mostly, from a Tom Wolfe commencement address.  Check it out.  

"One of the things that I find really makes it worth watching all the Academy Awards, all the Emmys, all those awards ceremonies, is to see how today’s actors and television performers have discovered the formula. If you become indignant, this elevates you to the plane of “intellectual.” No mental activity is required. It is a rule, to which there has never been an exception, that when an actor or a television performer rises up to the microphone at one of these awards ceremonies and expresses moral indignation over something, he illustrates Marshall McLuhan’s dictum that “moral indignation is a standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

It's A Drive-In Saturday

So I'm not going to pretend that the howling absence of responses to my last hundred posts hasn't, slightly, discouraged me.  It has.  It has discouraged me.  But, on I go.  Unbowed.  Unbroken and dauntless.  Or, at least only slightly broken.

It may be that only posting about books is a recipe for crickets?  So, ok.  Fine.  You peasants…. I'll post about sports.  Will that make you happy?  SPORTS.  AND KIM KARDASHIAN.  AND AMERICAN IDOL.

Sports.  I am following the run-up to the NFL draft with my customary guilt-ridden obsession.  Last night I made my patient wife watch the Jon Gruden "QB Camp" on Marcus Mariotta and Jameis Winston.

To both of our benefits, I believe.

Let's start with Mariotta.  Prior to last night, I'd generally been positively disposed towards Mariotta.  Good kid, Hawaiian, never been accused of sexual assault…. Ok, I'm on board.  Yes, he plays a running-style offense.  Yes, Oregon quarterbacks have had a pretty poor history of transitioning to the NFL.  But, you know... I can see how San Diego might trade Rivers and move up to draft him.

I can see that no longer.  I'm totally unqualified to evaluate his physical attributes, so I'll put that to one side.  His personality, though, is… I mean, watching him do an interview, it was like watching a ferret go to sleep.  It was like watching a teenage boy, at a dance, think about going up to ask a girl to dance, and then deciding he doesn't want to, and he goes to huddle in the corner, and looks at old baseball cards or something.

The guy is a total dud.  It's not just that he's quiet or reserved, he's just utterly devoid of personality.  Trying to imagine how he could possibly command a locker room, or get a bunch of veterans to believe in HIM as a leader…impossible.  He's just a big nothing.  Add that to his proclivities to run before pass, his unfamiliarity with an NFL-style offense, and I say: no no no.   He's another Akili Smith in the making.

Winston, on the other hand…. I was predisposed to loathe Winston.  And I still kind of loathe him.  But, I don't know.  Seeing him interviewed, I have to say: I would not be at all surprised if he turns out to be a very good NFL quarterback.  He's a real leader, first of all, and I can absolutely imagine him taking over a team as a rookie, and getting veterans to buy in.  I think he's got the physical skills (though, again, I'm massively unqualified to make that judgement) but more than that, he seems like he has…the will to win.  He lives and breathes football, and he's got charisma (score of 17).  Will he be in court in a year, on another sexual assault charge?  Maybe.  But, if he's not, I bet he'll be a great QB.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Let's Flay the Dead Entrails?

So maybe I should adumbrate the failures of Birdman?  Which are legion….

The characters exist as nothing more than types.  Once you've named their station and status in life, you've said everything there is to say about them.  So, M Keaton is "successful Hollywood actor who wants to be taken seriously as an artist."  His daughter (Emma Stone) is "neglected LA child who's been in rehab."  Edward Norton (still, to my mind, the most overrated actor of his generation--what has he been good in?) is "tortured genius actor."

And it's fine and true enough to say: yes, those types do exist in the world.  They're not unrepresentative.  But the role of a good--or even decent--writer is to make those types more than types.  To give the washed-up, popular Hollywood actor some kind of dimensionality.  Of distinction.  To make him more than just a type--to make him a person.  An individual.  Maybe, for example, he's a washed-up Hollywood star who loves racing motorcycles.  Or is obsessed with the book of Job.  Or is flirting with becoming a Jehovah's Witness.  Or has a foot fetish.  Or…just…something!  Something that makes him an actual person, and not just a lazily-conceived, hastily sketched, poorly-imagined type.  Because types do not excite interest.  Types do not compel imagination.  They don't make us care.   They reflect, merely, the laziness, and imaginative paucity of their creators.  And so, you watch this movie, and because Keaton's character is so faintly sketched, and has so few attributes about him that remind us of what it is to exist, of what it is to be human, his failures as a father and husband and actor, they mean nothing.  We don't care, at all, that his play is about to bomb.  In fact, more than that, we actually root for him to fail.  Because, why not?  He seems like, in balance, a fairly horrible person.  Let his stupid reductionist take on Raymond Carver disappear into nothingness.  Why does it matter?

And, also, the whole conceit that this theater critic (who perches every night at the same bar, laboring, with demonic concentration, over her all-important reviews) can, with a single review, utterly destroy his play offends credulity.  I mean, come on.  Maybe in, like, 1940, a single critic with The Times actually could torpedo a play.  But in 2014?  Give me a break.  Every exchange between the critic and Keaton is embarrassing.  Beyond embarrassing--shameful.

* * *

I've been reading…well…quite a lot.  But let's start with H Is For Hawk.  My wife said, tonight, that everytime she asks me about this book I say something diametrically opposed to what I said about it last time.  Is that true?  It might be.

It's got, at minimum, three strands running through it.  One involves the details of what's involved in training a hawk.  That strand is fascinating.  Hawks, it turns out, are far more difficult to handle than falcons.  Falcons are birds for the rich, the elite.  They need large expanses of land--which, in the UK, generally means, the land of the gentry.  Hawks, on the other hand, tend to hunt in more constrained parcels.  So, their connotations are more to do with the un-landeded.

And that's good and interesting.  So, too, is her discussions--which occupy at least a third of the book--of T.H. White.  We all know White as the author of The Once And Future King but he wrote and lived a million lives before and after that one book, and one of those lives saw him live alone in a cottage with a wild hawk about whom he also wrote a book (Goshawk).  And White was, essentially, insane.  The details of his life are too complex and intricate to go into here, but, suffice it to say, that anyone saying anything about his biography is bound to say something interesting.

But, then, the third strand of her book (we're back to MacDonald) involves the death of her father.  And her grieving over it.  And so…I'm not sure why I didn't really like this bit, but I sure didn't.  I felt the language was overwrought and that it strained, unsuccessfully, most of the time, for effects it couldn't establish.  And, in general, I found her prose to be tautened beyond what it would bear.  And that it had a labored "written" quality which deeply bothered me.

But, on the other hand, she was writing about a deeply moving thing--the death of a parent.  Which is a subject I find difficult to approach. So maybe the flaw and fault and failing was with me?  Very possibly.

A bit of minor trivia: someone who handles hawks (as opposed to falcons) is an austringer.  

Or is that something everybody knows?  It's always hard to know, isn't it?

I have been reading, also, some Charles Baxter stories, some M Robinson criticism, a scholarly work about image reception theory in the history of art, Gravity's Rainbow (trying to get through it to the end, this time) and Turgenev's Sportman's Sketches.  

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Striped With Love and Emblazed Tattoos

So I saw Birdman.  Man, that was bad.  And I mean, not just, "OK but overrated." But out-and-out bad.  Like, it had been written by a dim, bipolar college student who was high on bath salts.

So part of me is like, let's go to town on this.  Let's dissect it.  And then another larger, tireder part is like, why?  There's a great quote about Randall Jarrell lamenting how, as a critic, he spent far too much of his time beating and beating on clearly dead horses.  (Sorry for the animal cruelty image).  The point being: why spend so many pages and so much energy explaining and dissecting exactly what makes a failure a failure?  Why not expend your energy on praise?  Or at least, on art that is in the middle?  That is debatably good or bad?  Which Birdman, clearly, is not.  And it's true that Jarrell--who was a bit mad--could go on forever about some mediocre book that would sink into oblivion irrespective of what he or anyone else did.

And this is valid, I think.  And I bring it up because...  Birdman was just horrible.  I mean…my wife, who has a far higher tolerance for junk than I do (and I mean that not as an insult--but rather that she's way way more tolerant and forgiving, whereas I am predisposed, sadly, to just hate everything) wife, halfway through, announced she'd had enough.  (It was right after the absurd and bizarre lesbian moment between Naomi Watts and whoever the woman playing Keaton's wife was).  And my wife NEVER gives up on crappy art.  She's a positive person!

So the point is, I lie awake sometimes, now, enumerating all that's horrible about that movie.  I feel like, if called to a podium at some university and asked to talk for an hour on the subject "All That Was Bad about Birdman" I could go to town.

But should I?  And should I do it here?  I mean, it's effort, you know.  Effort I could use to make a chile colorado.  Or to memorize the kings of Judea (I'm reading The Bible, these days, too.  On which more later.)

Anyway… I mean, I know the Academy gives lots of bad movies awards (see Crash) and all that, but I just can't believe they'd be so bamboozled by such jejune and juvenile nonsense.  And there's a part of me that wants to launch into a 5000 word rant where I explicate and pore over every iota of its horribleness.  But then there's a much, much larger part that wants to just…move past it, as though it were a terrible accident on the freeway that I was happy not to be a part of.  And that's what I'll do, now.

 *  *  *

I'd never heard of Charles Baxter until a month ago.  Is that odd?  But then I read about him in the NYRB and now I've read four of his books.  And they're great!  I mean, really good.  Check him out, if you haven't already.  Criticism too.

 *  *  *

And here's another thing that's great: The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber.  I say that slightly provisionally, however; I'm only halfway through it.

But I mean…wow.  It's really making me happy.  But I don't want to talk about it, at all.  And the reason is, I think if any of you want to read it, you should know as little about it as possible.  The less you know, the better.  Not that there are a bunch of plot twists and exciting Usual Suspects-like reveals.  There aren't.  But…it has a quality of wonder and innocence and…whatever the opposite of cynicism is…that I absolutely love and respond to and want to praise.

And so I'll hope that the last 100 pages or so don't let me down and just say: go and read it.  And consider Phlebas, who was once as tall and handsome as you.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Jinx and Zeno

To anyone who is not watching, or does not plan to watch The Jinx on HBO--you are missing something great.  Maybe the greatest documentary I've ever seen.  And as if it wasn't great enough on its own--and the final episode was one of the most mesmerizing and amazing things I've seen on TV--Robert Durst, its subject was arrested on Saturday, the day before the finale. 

I won't say anything about the finale, though the articles currently in all the papers that describe Durst's arrest will all probably talk about it. (My advice: watch the show from the start, and don't read the articles till after).  But it was ridiculously good.  And gripping.  And amazing--name your superlative.  Just insane.  My wife loved it even more than I did.  We joked that she was going to have to quit her job and dedicate herself to full-time Durst blogging.


A long time ago I started but didn't finish Svevo's Zeno's Conscience.  For some reason I got it down off the shelf last week and have been reattempting it.  And, for whatever reason, it now seems to work for me, in a way it didn't last time.  I'm about halfway through at this point, just at the point where his relationship with his mistress Carla is about to end.  

A funny conceit for how it ultimately seems to fall apart: Carla implores Zeno, during their assignations, to let her get a glimpse, somehow, of his wife.  (She knows Zeno loves his wife and won't leave her, and she wants to see this woman to whom Zeno is so devoted).  Finally, worn down, Zeno directs Carla to a certain street on a certain day, when, he says, his wife can be seen walking to the store.  If Carla goes and stands at a certain spot, she will see her.

But, Zeno has in fact not told Carla how to get a glimpse of his wife, but of his sister-in-law, Ada (Zeno, it should be added, has first proposed to Ada, and then to another sister, Agatha, before finally settling on his actual wife--a third sister, Augusta).  So, Carla goes to the appointed spot and waits to see "Augusta", Zeno's wife. (Really his sister-in-law).  And when she does, she is so moved at the sight of the suffering on Ada's face, so affected by her palpable sadness, that she breaks off her affair with Zeno, in order to stop causing his wife so much suffering! (Carla assumes Ada/Augusta is suffering because she knows her husband is unfaithful).

And then, even another layer of twistiness to the plot, we learn later that Ada, the morning that Carla spotted her, had in fact just that day caught her own husband, Guido, in a compromising embrace with their maid.  So that Carla was, in fact, entirely 'correct' as to the cause of what was affecting "Zeno's wife", but only wrong as to the identity of the sufferer. 

That whole web of interations stands in pretty well for the workings of the book as a whole, whose guiding prinpcial is that conventional and expeted things happen but for odd and irrational and unconventional reasons.  Short on incident, though, it can sometimes lag--since almost the entire 'story', such as it is, occurs in Zeno's mind (the ratio of 'thinking about incidents' to 'incidents themselves' stands at about four to one) it can read a little slow.  And, to audiences long familiar with Philip Roth and Woody Allen and Seinfeld all the other 'artist of neuroses' some of what surely seemed original and exciting during Svevo's own time (he lived and wrote about a century ago) now seems a bit familiar.  But worthwhile all the same.

Rented Guardians of the Galaxy this weekend.  Had been lead to expect it would be a light fun thrill-ride type movie, but I found it pretty standard stuff.  Lots of fights and explosions with no story or character to really care about.  Blah.