Saturday, May 02, 2009
Friday, May 01, 2009
The reviews are in and Wolverine (or, as it is more clunkingly, officially called: X-Men Origins: Wolverine) is judged to be a failure. But by what rubric? Here we might consider last summer's two supremely silly yet (or therefore?) roundly praised comic flicks, Iron Man and Batman: Something or other, as well as this past winter's overlong turd, Watchmen.
Batman fares worse on second viewing. What seemed at the midnight show to be an overedited, cryptofascist male gadget fantasy, a Hammacher-Schlemerer catalogue through which the late Heath Ledger occasionally sashayed like a minor inmate from a college production of Marat/Sade, cast only because the queer director liked his . . . diction, transforms upon review into one of the most supremely turgid eighteen hours in the history of cinema, as if Hans Jurgen Syberberg’s Our Hitler had been reimagined by an adolescent A/V club of Rand enthusiasts and revenge fantasists, two sets that admittedly overlap to a greater, not lesser, degree. It is relentlessly loud and even more relentlessly preposterous for the apparent seriousness of its ambitions. Am I the only one who believes that literary ambition killed the comics? The substitution of pop Freudology for character destroys what makes, or made, comics fun. It is actually possible to construct what are now universally known as "dark" characters without drowning them in a Mariana Trench of Oedipal fuckwhat and shitnot. A real "re-imagining"--another ridiculous neologism--of the character, who after all originated as a detective, would properly look to noir, Hammett, Spillane, Bogart.
If Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight managed anything approaching genuine interest, it was that it maintained an atmosphere of dour portentousness for thirty-nine straight hours without actually portending anything. What was the Gee-Dubyan expression? All sizzle, no steak? It was a fajita pan full of crackling oil but no meat or peppers. Presumably there was some philosophical tension between Control and Chaos, but you can watch the marvelous Stockard Channing expostulate unconvincingly on the same subject in the film version of John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, in which Will Smith plays a genius transformed into a play-actor far more convincingly than baleful Christian in either of Nolan's pulp oeuvres.
The action sequences in The Dark Knight are darker than a bad Italian restaurant, and so I spent the entire movie feeling as if I were trying to read a menu. In any case the fighting was edited by a humming bird. The nec plus ultra of night fighting in films may still be Lee's Crouching Tiger, which made balletic virtue of bodies even at their most absurdly antigravitational and also made a quality of silence, which is more than you can say for the crash-banging of the Dark Knight himself, who is as balletic as a charging hippo . . . and as loud. Poor Morgan Freeman occasionally wandered through the movie, looking slightly befuddled. I assume he was hired to lend gravitas, as he is black, old, and therefore wise. When finally it all ended, after twenty false endings and ninety straight hours at 400 dB, I felt as if I had been beaten, and not in a good way.
And yet . . . this movie was held up as the New Seriousness in comix, while its kinetic and brightly colored summer counterpart, Iron Man, in which Robert Downey Jr. dons a gaudy metallic costume and does battle with Hollywood's two favorite types of evildoers, Muslims and bald guys, was supposedly only the skillfully executed counterpart, the delicious meringue and ice cream to follow Batman's bloody steak. But this movie was the far more enjoyable, and certainly the better, of the two, if only because someone remembered to pay the electric bill. The praise lavished on Downey's performance was thoroughly overdone--playing insouciance isn't exactly a stretch for him. Jeff Bridges was bald . . . and he smoked! Ruh-roh! Gwentyth Paltrow's cheekbones made several interesting cameos. I wished it had eschewed entirely its hopelessly confused attitude about Military Good/Military Bad, Muslims Bad/Muslims Good. Oh for chrissake, who cares? Blow something up! Do it again!
Then Watchmen, based on Alan Moore's dour tales of fetishism, was adapted for the screen. It took one look at The Dark Knight's five-day festival and raised it a whole summer stock season. It dealt with precisely the same, uh, themes, but even more incoherently and with even worse lighting, if such is possible. It was meant to explode the superhero genre, but instead merely exploded. Even more than Batman, it slavered all over the inherent fascism of herodom, and concluded that look over there, a flying thing, cool! Which would have been fine at mile marker 5 or 10, but at 1500? No thanks.
Wolverine, a pastiche of all these things, is even more thoroughly birdbrained which makes you wonder: why do they hate it so much? I suspect residual embarrassment over enjoying something so completely adolescent. Personally, I enjoyed it. It quickly dispatches its psychology, rolls uninterruptedly from genre cliche through fireball, and, at a mere 107 minutes, clocked in at 20 less than even Iron Man. It seemed to me to be exactly what a Marvel comic ought to be, a skein of unintelligible nonsense with amazing pecs. Oh, Hugh!
Here is a risotto recipe for a cool spring evening that looks forward to the bright flavors of summer but recalls the savory taste of winter dishes. For added depth, I crib from the Vietnamese, adding cinnamon and star anise to my broth--the Venetians long controlled the spice trade in Europe, so it seems mostly appropriate. For the greens, I use baby mustard green ("mustard tips") available at most Asian food markets, for their special pungency and aroma, but any similar leafy cabbage--Kale, collards, etc.--will do in a pinch. Instead of folding the cooked greens into the risotto, I serve this dish with the rice as a bed and the greens prominently on top, melting a bit of fruity Trugole, a cow's milk cheese from nearby Asiago, on top to finish,
Lemon Risotto with bitter greens
For the stock
1 yellow onion, quartered
5-6 chicken feet
a 3" cinnamon stick
several whole star anise pods
1 carrot, washed, unpeeled, roughly chopped
For the risotto
2 cups arborio rice
3-4 medium shallots, finely diced
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely diced
several cardamom pods, husk discarded, seeds ground
1 stalk lemon grass cut into several 3" segments
1 cup dry white wine
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup Pecorino Romano (or other aged, very salty cheese), grated
fine sea salt
cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
For the greens
1 lb young mustard greens (or substite--see above), choppped crosswise into 1-2" sections, including stems
1 sweet onion, halved and cut into thin slivers
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon raw sugar
fine sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
For the garnish
Paper-thin slices of Trugole cheese (I use a vegetable peeler--works wonders)
zest of one lemon, blanched for 20 seconds, dunked in icy water, strained out with a fine sieve, and laid out to dry on a paper towel
To make the stock, combine all of the ingredients in a smallish (3 qt or so) stock pot, filling wholly with water. Bring to a boil. Skim any scum that rises to the top. Reduce to a simmer and simmer covered for 3 hours. Easily done in advance. Keeps in the fridge for 4-5 days. Just remember to reheat slowly over a low flame before using in the risotto.
To make the risotto, heat a generous pour of oil in the bottom of a heavy pot, such as a good dutch oven, over a medium high flame. Add the shallots and garlic, salting lightly. When softened, add the rice, cardamom, and lemon grass, scalding for a minute or two in the hot oil. Deglaze with the wine and lemon juice, then begin slowly adding the stock with a ladle, reducing the heat to medium low. When cooking risotto, concern yourself less with stirring constantly than with the level of the liquid, which should be maintained constantly so that all the other ingredients are wholly but just barely submerged. It is good to give it a brisk stir for thirty seconds or so following each addition of liquid, but no more stirring is called for.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a brisk boil. Blanche the chopped greens in boiling water for no more than a minute, then immediately drain and transfer to a bath of ice water. This process softens them slightly, and also releases chemicals which mute the greenness of the chlorophyll, ensuring a more colorful presentation later on. Pat dry with paper towels
When the rice is soft and creamy to taste, add the cheese and stir in thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste. It should still be a bit wet at this point. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand while you prepare the greens. This will allow the remnant liquid to be absorbed and the flavors to further mingle.
To cook the greens, heat olive oil in a heavy sauté pan. Add the onion and toss until it begins to soften. Add the fennel seed and toss for a moment. Begin adding the greens in batches, salting lightly with each handful, adding more when the previous batch has started to visibly wilt. Toss often, but not constantly. When all the greens are in the pot, add the sugar, stir thoroughly, and cook for a few more minutes until the greens appear to be evenly cooked.
To serve, spoon the risotto into a shallow bowl. Use a slotted spoon to transfer a serving of greens into a neat pile on top while still very hot. Lay several thin slivers of the Trugole cheese on top and let melt slightly. Garnish with lemon zest. Serve immediately.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
WASHINGTON - Like many Americans, President Barack Obama's First 100 Days worried about her mortgage, health care, and retirement savings, but it was not until she lost her job that the current economic crisis really hit home.
"You just never expect it to happen to you," said the First 100 Days. "Even as you see it happening all around you to your friends and coworkers." President Barack Obama's First Week in Office and President Barack Obama's First Month in Office were both recently laid off, and a number of other arbitrary periods of time since the beginning of the new administration have seen their benefits and durations substantially reduced.
Not all arbitrary periods are pessimistic. "We all have to accept that their are going to be cutbacks," said The First Year of the Obama Administration. "But I still believe things can turn around.
Peter Orszag, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, was blunt. "The President has directed the departments and agencies to make cuts across the board," he said in an interview. "Obviously, the President feels for every American who loses his or her job, but with hundreds of thousands out of work around the country and a tough economic outlook, he feels strongly that these cuts were and remain necessary.
Peter Pumckineeter of the libertarian think tank The CATO Institute expressed a strong belief that the President's cuts do not go deep enough.
"Are they serious? The First Hundred Days is a rounding error. There are over 1,400 days in the President's First Term alone. This is cosmetic, nothing more."
However, prominent economist and columnist Saul Tuggman disagreed. "Do I think this will singlehandedly rescue the American economy?" he said. "The answer is no. Do I think it represents and important commitment to fiscal responsibility by the Federal Government. You bet I do."
Prominent Democrats largely agree that the cuts represent a small, but important step. Republicans involved in budget negotiations are more cautious, and say it remains to be seen whether Mr. Obama is serious about reducing spending in the Executive.
For President Obama's First 100 Days, though, the effects have been devastating.
For starters, the market for temporal demarcations of the beginning of a new administration is very soft these days.
"I had a friend who suggested I look for corporate work, but how many new CEOs are getting hired these days? Besides, even if they are, they're either looking for First Weeks or First Years. Let's face it, I'm in a pretty specialized profession." She sighs. "I guess I should say that I was in a pretty specialized profession, huh."
Meanwhile the bills pile up, and the collection calls have already begun.
Yeah, so, it turns out that we're not all gonna die after all. Dommage. I guess the Reconquista will have to wait for a more potent biological weapon.
Anyway, I was reading a bit of a fiction piece to a friend the other night, and he particularly liked
I was working my first post-collegiate job at a company called Global Solutions, whose remarkable slogan was Solutions for a Global World.He said, "Oh man, is that supposed to be [your company]?" And I said, No, no. It's supposed to be America.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
And while we've probably never elected a president whose goal was to tread water and simply not screw up the country, one can sense that we're at a crossroads in the American story.Dear Chuck,
-Pisspig slaveboy chaser cub Chuck Todd
So if you type in maps.goog.com, you end up here.
Last night I had a vivid dream that Timothy McVeigh did not drop out of Army Special Forces training, but instead remained in the military, and in 2010 as a prominent colonel launched a successful military coup in Washington. Then some other stuff happened but I was dreaming so I forget. Anyway, this seems to me to be the most compelling counterfactual alternate history scenario since Phil Dick wrote The Man in the High Castle. Trademark, bitches. Copyright! You can start bidding on the screen rights just about now.
MUFFLEY: General, it is the avowed policy of our country never to strike first with nuclear weapons.Recalling the animating slogan, "More, Better Democrats"--mo betta dems, as they said in "da streetz"--I note with absolute delight which of those adjectives is the first to go.
TURGIDSON: Well, Mr. President, I would say that General Ripper has already invalidated that policy. laughs
MUFFLEY: That was not an act of national policy and there are still alternatives left open to us.
TURGIDSON: Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, the truth is not always a pleasant thing, but it is necessary now make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless, distinguishable post-war environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.
MUFFLEY: You're talking about mass murder, General, not war.
TURGIDSON: Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say... no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh... depended on the breaks.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Pittsburgh, fuck yeah.
In a rather hilariously misbegotten--you'll pardon the expression--review, Andrew O'Heir lavishly praises the bumptious Terry Eagleton for disparaging the so-called new atheists habit of attacking religion only "in its stupidest and most literal-minded form" by picking on two of the most stupid and literal-minded atheists. To wit:
As Eagleton ultimately admits, the discount-store atheism of Dawkins and Hitchens is something of a useful straw man, and his real differences with them are, in the main, not theological but political.Thus do the second-rate doxologists of both sides ever creep into each others' nests, stealing eggs.
The new religionists, hoping to reclaim the centrality of their cultural artifacts from the scifi Dispensationalists and other such creatures, have in response to Hitchensian nitpickery trascended their god out of existence, eliminating one by one any discernible quality or attribute that might be observationally, empirically, or logically challenged. God is just, like, the universe, man. Your Eagletons and O'Heirs would object to this as crude caricature, but it's simply indisputable that Yaweh's life chart has plotted a trajectory from the concrete to the ineffable as the centuries and millennia have marched by, at least within Roman Catholicism and the declining sects of mainline Protestantism. Notably, O'Heir and Eagleton both conspicuously discount the rising non-denominational, evangelical creeds with cosmopolitan embarrassment, since these millions upon millions of believers do attribute actual qualities to their god, which are of course easily argued against and shown to be ridiculous.
Appeals to "Judeo-Christian" theology are particularly disingenuous in any argument about god as a thoroughly transcendent entity, because in the Jewish tradition, he is anything but. Much as he likes to thunder "I AM" like some cosmic Popeye, the god of the Tanak is an entity, who acts and communes directly with people and peoples, not merely some cut-rate cryptognostic demiurge. Or less yet:
Eagleton further argues that not only is the Ditchkinsian version of traditional Judeo-Christian belief a travesty, in which God is envisioned as an unproven and improbable creature like the yeti or the Loch Ness monster, but that this strain of post-Enlightenment atheism cannot comprehend the character of religious faith at all. The creedal declaration "I believe in God" is a statement of action and will; it is performative rather than assertive. It is not equivalent to the claim that God exists (although Christians believe that too). It possesses the kind of certainty that belongs to such wistful sentences as "I love you" or "I believe the Mets are the best team in baseball." It clearly lacks the empirical certainty of the sentence "I believe this maple tree will turn red in October."And there you have it, god in all his discorporeal non-glory proven, proven!, through the argument of that most sophisticated of all theologians, George Micahel.
Here is a fine post by Mr. Boyd at ladypoverty. It reiterates concisely a point I've often made:
This is reflected nicely in the current "national debate" -- a debate over whether to enforce the law! -- with Republicans arguing that torture helps the republic by protecting it, and Democrats arguing that torture hurts the republic for miscellaneous reasons, including the notion that it "hurts our image around the world," thereby making the world less malleable to our interests.This reminds me of a recent conversation in which a liberal acquaintance insisted that if there were every a time to "prosecute Bush-era wrongdoing," meaning torture in particular, and thereby "regain credibility," it was now, because "global leadership," meaning America, was necessary "to craft a unified response to the economic crisis." These sorts of tossed-off stock phrases are now more ubiquitous than ever in our popular language, and their utter banality somewhat obscures the point the young man was making without quite noticing the point he was making, namely that our more medieval practices make our various clients and satellites (former clients and satellites?) less amenable to doing whatever it is we tell them to do.
(Of course, any random Middle Easterner suspected of something by US agencies who is subsequently detained and tortured would probably insist that the "image of America" is not the only thing harmed in the process, but that is not a concern which registers very high in the art of statecraft; as such, "harm to ourselves" -- to our very soul! -- appears to be the argument the Democratic Party prefers best.)
What is remarkable is the way that otherwise disconnected people, subjects out here in the provinces, nonetheless mouth the same official sophistry without even noticing.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:As Einstein 'splained it, no matter your velocity, light will always appear to be receding from your position at fixed speed of light.
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
Which means that either the light is getting faster or that you are experiencing time more quickly. And since we know the light isn't getting any faster, that must mean that local time is passing more swiftly.
As one nation, under Obama, I can only hope that we continue to move forward, ever faster, until we achieve that transcendent velocity whereby we achieve instantaneaity and thus become gods.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
When people talk about "criminalizing policy differences", there's a crucial, question-begging assumption, namely: that no one actually broke the law.When liberals talk about "holding the Bush administration to account" and other colorful varieties of that species of songbird, there's a crucial, question-begging assumption, namely that "the Presidency is a public trust, not a license for criminality." Well, if you just learn to think of him a sovereign instead of a citizen. What was that delightful phrase of the early Roman emperors? Primus inter pares? Or of our own scowling would-be Augustus: if the President does it, it's not illegal.
-Hilzoy at the Washington Monthly
I don't mean to be a killjoy, but the wagon train has long since rolled West on the circumscribed presidency. The train has left the station. The ship has sailed. The toothpaste has left the tube. If it comforts them, Democratic partisans can believe that their glorious leader "ended torture as one of his first acts in office," but the more realistic reading is that he codified a public policy whereby the United States tortures prisoners in extremis, during hot warfare or following terrorist attacks, but will not go all France-in-Algeria every time it commits resources to this or that colonial war around the world. The yet more realistic reading is that the United States returns to the status quo ante of keeping its torture private--distant Bagram the obvious counterpart to nearby Guantanamo and all that.
In any case, just the other day the radio told me that the first gang of US soldiers was transferred directly from Iraq to Afghanistan. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.