Thursday, November 27, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving. I'll be eating lasagna and apple cobbler...turkey-day doesn't come until Saturday for us. But lasagna and apple cobbler are pretty good, too, and we've got the parade on and holiday cheer is being spread throughout the apartment.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

MFA here I come. My grad school applications have been submitted! I am so ahead of the game: the earliest due-date I had to meet was 12/15, and others are due by the end of the year. I imagine that admissions people everywhere are salivating over me right now, and any minute will be clambering over each other to offer me extravagant fellowships and benefits-packages. (I mailed them out yesterday, so by the end of the week isn't too soon to expect to hear back, is it?)

My Nike endorsement deal is still in the works, however.
Slate article on LeBron James: "His vision and his sense of the game's rhythms...are exquisitely mature and damned near flawless."

Really the only reason it's too bad LeBron went straight to the pros from high school is that pro basketball isn't as much fun to watch as college basketball. But then, he did make $100 million from the move, so who can fault him? And he sure is fun to watch, even on the weak Cavaliers.
Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums of the 90s Redux list has its third and final installment today. Lists are fun, and some things about this list I like a lot, e.g. their inclusion of Bonnie Prince Billy's I See a Darkness in the top ten and their #1 pick, which I won't spoil. I would've ranked A Tribe Called Quest's Low End Theory considerably higher (ditto the Beasties' Check Your Head), and the exclusion of The Roots' Things Fall Apart, Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt, the Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star album and Mos Def's Black on Both Sides seem like serious mistakes in a list that is so heavy on releases by, say, the Jesus Lizard. But, whatever, lists are fun and this is a fun list, casting an admirably wide net across the decade's music from an independent-minded perspective.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Last night on HBO I watched the documentary "Born Rich," made by Jamie Johnson, 24 year old heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. Johnson interviews other super-rich kids in his age-group, which is also my age-group. Let me tell you something: the children of the super-rich sure are obnoxious! But the documentary is good not just because Johnson displays a canny sense of humor toward his subjects' self-absorption but because it's able to represent a spectrum of responses to privilege.

Besides the candid, likeable Johnson, coming off best by far is Vanderbilt/Whitney heir Josiah Hornblower, who is both self-aware and considerate and who works a $50,000-per-year job in spite of the million or so dollars he makes in interest every year. He describes the two years he took off from college, during which he did getting-his-hands-dirty work (e.g. for an oil rig), as "the most important years of my life," teaching him that "working hard makes me feel good."

Most of the interview subjects are quite articulate, and if they're not always especially self-aware, neither would be their middle- or working-class counterparts, were they put in front of a camera and asked questions about the class system. They're shallow and absurd and they lack empathy...but one of the great things about "Born Rich" is that their personalities are also recognizable as non-exotic types, the sort of kids any of us would've known in high school.

There are plenty of opportunities for derisive snorts, though, as there should be. Cody Franchetti, European "textile heir," expresses irritation that people he meets in the U.S. always ask him what he "does." (His reply: "I'm rich.") Asked to name a meaningful activity, he cites going to the tailor.

Another striking aspect is how isolated these kids' social lives are. Even the down-to-earth Josiah Hornblower admits that he wouldn't feel comfortable dating outside of his class, imagining the awkwardness of bringing someone to his house for the first time, or having his parents ask, "So, where do you summer?" Obviously, this social isolation is very much the design of these kids' lives. But it still isn't enviable.

Then this afternoon in my junk-email box I got a piece of spam with the title, "Paris Hilton is unreal." And you know, she kind of is.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

You'll be glad to know that they've caught the "Naked Photographer," the guy who has been going around Columbus flashing women & taking a picture of their reaction to him.

And get this: the guy, Stephen P. Linnen, is deputy legal counsel for the Ohio House Republican caucus.

Now, I'm not saying that all Republicans go around flashing women & snapping their photos. But...well, we don't know how high up this goes, now do we? Was Linnen acting on the orders from his House Republican superiors? Say, orders that came from Tim Grendell? Could there be a massive underground organization of Republican flashers/photographers in which Linnen was only a minor cog? Did Linnen use film or cameras--or, for that matter, trenchcoats--paid for with taxpayer money?

All important questions, I'm sure you'd agree. Here's a link to the story, though the Dispatch requires a subscription so I'm not sure it will work.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Friday, November 21, 2003

There may be a worse writer/director than Neil LaBute, but I can't think of one. He is bad in so many ways and at so many things. Possession is terrible literary adaptation, Your Friends and Neighbors is terrible domestic drama, In the Company of Men is terrible indie dating-movie. I think he's done others, but I haven't seen them and won't (unless of course I'm paid to). This week's award for most pretentious bullshit goes to his journal in Slate. Here's a mere sampling of the self-importance:

In my own work, I have always strived to
give an honest finish to a given story. Not
happy, not sad, not surprising. Just honest.
Now, many times said stories have ended in
ways that were unconventional -- that is,
outside of the tidy confines of what I was
taught as a child or in the classroom. But I am
only interested in my work concluding
in a way that is true to the characters and the
tale, without concern for the needs or wishes
of the audience. Just because my readers or
viewers may have been raised on stories that
have convenient conclusions—endings that
allow them to fall asleep easily or get back
to the ordeal of living—I feel no desire or
requirement to do the same in my own work.

What a prick! Does he sound like a high school sophomore or what? (Other pearls include "I'm kind of fascinated by this whole Internet thing...I can't help feeling that it casts a certain shadow over us, a darkness..." and "If you want to write, do it.")
Interesting, entertaining interview with Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA in the Onion AV Club. The Wu's best days are behind them, and so is RZA's moment as one of rap's most influential and consistent producers. But, bad rap records aside, he hasn't fallen off artistically: his atmospheric, tension-filled compositions provided the score of one of my favorite movies, Ghost Dog, and more recently for Kill Bill.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The new Alive is up, with my review of the new Diverse CD and a preview of an upcoming Bugz in the Attic show. See also, Stephen Slaybaugh's piece on the Rapture.
Kelefa Sanneh writes about The Source's new Eminem-related scandal, which comes from an unearthed decade-old freestyle in which Eminem tosses off some ill-considered racial insults at a black ex-girlfriend (e.g. "Black girls are dumb," "Black girls only want your money"). Eminem has issued a statement calling the lyrics "foolishness" and "stupidity." Truthfully, no one who hears the recording can miss how terrible it is as rap music, let alone as race-baiting. Recorded when Eminem was a teenager, not only are his style and voice unrecognizable, the rhymes are terrible and the insults aren't even cutting--seriously, "Black girls are dumb"?

But, okay, it's a stupid thing to say, a stupid thing for Eminem to have ever recorded. It's hardly the first stupid thing he's said on record, though. As former poet-laureate Robert Pinsky said about anti-semitic Newark poet/provocateur Amiri Baraka, "Poets are people; their works are human works. We all likely know, or can easily imagine, people capable of saying stupid, vicious things who also sometimes say beautiful or wise things."

Eminem doesn't specialize in beautiful or wise, of course (actually, neither does Baraka), but the spirit of the point stands.

Also complicating matters, the co-founder of The Source is a failed rapper named Benzino, who earlier this year released a couple of mix-tape battles aimed at Eminem which themselves were attacks based largely on race, not only calling him Vanilla Ice but also "the rap Hitler, the culture-stealer," etc. Benzino also argued that hip-hop should only tell the stories of urban drug dealers ("What you know about cutting up rocks?"). (Eminem's response: "If you was really selling coke/ well then what the fuck'd you stop for, dummy?/ If you slew some crack/ you'd make a lot more money than you do from rap.")

Whatever you think about Eminem, his effect on hip-hop music has been to dramatically expand the types of stories that can be told through rap. (Sanneh notes that Eminem's "persona comes straight out of rock 'n' roll: the sullen loner, the paranoid rebel.") While a lot of the best rap ever recorded has been about urban drug-dealing, The Source's editorial attacks on Eminem represented the worst type of hip-hop establishment conservatism, and certainly undermines their case now. Race is certainly one of the factors at work here, but it is far from the only one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

An article in Slate about Adbusters' stupid new anti-Nike shoe-brand poses these questions:

[I]s the sales pitch based on the shoe's
merits, or does it just suggest that
wearing Black Spots will broadcast a
facile message about how anticorporate
(and therefore cool) you are? And if it's
the latter, then isn't that precisely as
vacuous as the ideology of the swoosh,
which assumes that there is no better
way to express ourselves than through
the logos we choose (or reject)?

The answer to the second question, by the way, is that the anti-brand is actually more vacuous than the brand, by anti-virtue of snobbish self-righteousness.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

A gaggle of articles on the new, highly anticipated Jay-Z record. Here's one in Pitchfork, here's one in Slate, here's one (a good one) in the NYT. I am on my way to the Alive office to pick up my own copy, so my comments will be forthcoming.

Monday, November 17, 2003

"We're trying to get away from just being a pot magazine," Norman Mailer's son, who is also the new editor of High Times magazine, tells the NYT. The story also features these words from Norman himself:

"I used to be a heavy marijuana smoker
in the 50's," he said. "I loved it, but one
paid a heavy price for it. It could leave you
good for nothing for two days afterwards."
Finally, he gave it up, he said. "Not a stick
of pot in 10 years."
From the Bartleby the Scrivener Department:

Today in my grad school application process I called an officer of admissions to determine whether I needed to have a transcript sent from the Irish university at which I did a semester of study-abroad.
"We prefer that you do," I was told.
"Prefer?" I asked. But was it a requirement?
Long pause.
"It's up to you."
"It's up to me?" I said.
"We prefer that you do."
[And so on.]

Ah, admissions office! Ah, humanity!
One of the bad things about my job is the fact that, rather than having separate offices or even cubicles, we work in a single room, with desks/workspaces set up in the corners, surrounded by file cabinets & work-stuff but all three of us basically in one common area. One of the good things about my job, though, is that my boss and coworkers are often absent, as they are today and were all of last week. This means I am in the office by myself again today, which is especially nice because I am on a down-cycle & don't have much urgent work to do. Instead, I'm doing work on grad school applications (today I requested GRE transcripts to one school & college transcripts to three), web-surfing, radio-listening, etc.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

So my parents visited this weekend. Items were bought, coffee was had, foods were eaten. We watched the second half of the OSU game on TV while Laura and her father watched the game at the stadium. This morning we ate breakfast together before they headed back to Illinois. Very nice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

It's nice to see Ice-T back on his feet again, apparently recovered from the burst dot-com bubble. I just saw him on Conan hawking a clothing line (IceWear), a malt liquor (Royal Ice) and an energy drink called, prepare yourself, Liquid Ice.
"[R]eaders familiar with Wallace may not be surprised to learn that he fetishizes technical terms to the point of becoming irritating and inconsiderate."
--from Salon's review of David Foster Wallace's new book about math.
There are many types of political discourse, and reasoned argument is only one of them. Much of our political understanding comes straight from the gut, from our response to personalities. Successful politics combines a whole bunch of modes, and it is better for Democrats to shout back when shouted at than to refuse to get their hands dirty with the "lower" forms of argument. In spite of all this, today Nicholas Kristof scolds:

Liberals have now become as intemperate
as conservatives, and the result --
everybody shouting at everybody else --
corrodes the body politic and is
counterproductive for Democrats themselves.

Oh, dear! "Corrodes the body politic"!

The World's Smallest Countries!, from Andorra (180 sq. miles) to Tuvalu (9 sq. miles) to Vatican City, which is only 0.2 sq. miles, but doesn't really count as a country, if you ask me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

As a college-educated urban liberal, I guess I am a member of the "Starbucks ghetto" that is still the large part of Howard Dean's constituency. Today Josh Marshall and Atrios both express doubts about a Dean candidacy, many of which I share. Nevertheless, in my judgement, Dean is the best candidate for the Democratic nomination. Here we go:

1.) The quality of the campaign. Not only has Dean shown remarkable fundraising capability, but the organization and energy of his campaign is unmatched by any other Democratic candidate. Actually, not just unmatched--it is not even approached. (Gephardt, at least, has campaigned hard in Iowa, but recent rumblings notwithstanding, I don't think anybody sees Gephardt getting the nomination...and with yesterday's big union endorsements of Dean, Gephardt shrinks considerably.) My gut tells me that the organization and execution of campaigning has a nuts-and-bolts importance that can't easily be made up for by biography (i.e. a military record, a Southern birthplace).

2.) Dean isn't McGovern. Only by Fox News or WSJ-editorial-page standards is Dean a radical left-winger. As &c. has pointed out repeatedly, Dean's fiery, Bush-bashing way of energizing the base will be relatively easy to moderate, as we're already seeing. He' been cast as far-left because of his style, but his more moderate substance will likely swing swing voters. A gun-friendly fiscal moderate, Dean has always been a lot closer to Bill Clinton than to Dennis Kucinich. In fact, in some ways Dean is borrowing a page from George W. Bush's 2000 campaign--form an early, emotional bond with the activist base, who will then stick with you come general elections, when, inevitably, you have to maneuver toward the center.

3.) The Democratic party establishment doesn't like Dean. Duly noted, but I see no evidence that the Democratic party establishment has the clearest perspective on the subject. The past years (even during Clinton's presidency) have seen a stunning slide of Democratic seats in Congress, and most recently the loss of three governorships (Mississippi, Kentucky, and California, which I know is a special case...). I think it's time to recognize that in the absence of Clinton's charisma and passion, the New Dem strategy just leaves us with Joe Lieberman--not good enough morally, not good enough politically. Not only do I not want to see Democrats retreat ever further rightward (true, I don't, but I'm no Naderite--I'm a practical man!), but there is evidence all around that it isn't even an effective political strategy. Clinton's centrism was good for the party...but I think party officials still view it as a Magical Formula for Success, when in fact it was the winning strategy of one extraordinarily effective politician at one particular moment in history. The "stick with what works" strategy doesn't work, because what works is always changing. John Edwards is to Bill Clinton as Collective Soul were to Pearl Jam, as "Bachelorettes in Alaska" was to "The Bachelor."

Of course I have reservations, too. I admit it, I wish Dean weren't from the Northeast...and I worry that I lack a political understanding of the South. I live in Columbus, Ohio, a gay-friendly northern city...am I underestimating the political liability Dean's civil union legislation will be to rural Southern voters? It's possible. On the other hand, there has clearly been a sea-change on gay rights in this country--the summer's Supreme Court decision, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, etc. It seems equally possible to me that the "Stop Dean" people exaggerate the political damage Dean's gay-friendly stances will do. Quite apart from the fact that Dean is right and Republicans are wrong on this issue, this (like the party's radical anti-choice agenda) seems like something that could blow up in Republicans' faces, alienating moderates. I just don't think gay-bashing has the political clout it had just a few years ago.

Is this wishful thinking on my part? I guess we'll see!

Monday, November 10, 2003

Last week's Onion AV Club has a totally awesome interview with Ira Glass of This American Life that I just got around to reading today. Before getting to radio, he talks TV--Smallville, reality shows, TiVo. ("Before I started watching reality television, I'd never believed that nice-looking people are stupider than the rest of us.") And here's what he says about writing:

It's like a law of nature, a law of aerodynamics,
that anything that's written or anything that's
created wants to be mediocre. The natural state
of all writing is mediocrity. It's all tending toward
mediocrity in the same way that all atoms are
sort of dissipating out toward the expanse of the
universe. Everything wants to be mediocre, so
what it takes to make anything more than
mediocre is such a fucking act of will.
Here's an article in the New York Observer on Letterman's kid. Not much new in it, but it's a nice piece and includes the Top Ten List, "Reasons I'm Excited to Be a Father."

Further down the column, David Cross on his new boss Rupert Murdoch:

He's my favorite billionaire. We
definitely hang around, and he
gets my jokes and stuff. And I
tolerate the anti-Semitism for
the sake of the relationship.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

"The Best Novelists, the Worst Movie Adaptations." NYT article on why Bellow, Roth and Updike books don't make good movies. I was surprised to learn that there was a Rabbit, Run movie...made in 1970, it wasn't released in the US and has never come out on video or DVD. Shrug. Also, apparently there's a movie of Roth's American Pastoral coming out next year.

Letter-writer to Salon:

[A]nyone who grew up in Texas will
tell you Bush is no cowboy. Texans
have a name for men like him, who
have never done the work of a cowboy
but try to cash in on cowboy cachet by
wearing western shirts and boots, and
smearing cow paddies on their pickups.
The name for these men, an artifact left
over from the fencing wars between
cattlemen and sheep farmers before the
days of political correctness, was "goat
ropers."

Ice Cube with what I think is a sensible policy: "I don't feel comfortable until the check clears."

Friday, November 07, 2003

Right-wingers have lately been claiming that the Bush administration never said Iraq was an "imminent threat," a claim Josh Marshall describes as "sort of like [saying] 'I didn’t accuse you of eating the cake. All I said was that you sliced it up and put it in your mouth.'" Today Marshall's Talking Points Memo announces the winners of its "Imminent Threat" contest, which should put to rest the right's disingenuous arguments on this subject. Should but won't.

I will go ahead and spoil it for you by posting the winning quotation, which is from the President's speech on Oct. 7, 2002, in Cincinnati, Ohio:

Iraq could decide on any given day to provide
a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist
group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists
could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America
without leaving any fingerprints.

But he never said "imminent threat"!

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Dean gives a straight-talking apology in today's NYT article:

"When people get in my face, I tend to
get in theirs," Dr. Dean said in the interview
at The Times. "Al Sharpton was in my face
last night and I was not going to step one
step, half a step, backwards, and I don't care
who's in my face.

"I tend to be reflective rather later than
sooner," he added. ..."[T]he things that make
me a strong candidate are also my Achille's heel."

He said in several interviews that Mr. Edwards'
suggestion at the debate that he was being
patronizing to the South had played a
"significant role" in his decision that he had to
speak out further and clarify his views. "I
came to the conclusion that he actually had
been really wounded, that he felt the patronizing
personally," he said at The New York Times.

I am on Dean's side on this one. He doesn't support the Confederate flag and neither do I. But guys with Confederate flag stickers on their trucks do exist, and Republicans have used race and racism over and over again for the sake of votes. Since no one thinks Dean was announcing some intention to race-bait like Karl Rove, what exactly is the problem here? Dean is right to claim that he speaks about race more frankly than any other candidate:

"The irony of this Confederate flag thing...is that
there has been nobody who has been more
outspoken about race on this campaign trail than
me," Dr. Dean said. "I talk about affirmative action.
I talk about it in ways that nobody else talks
about it. I talk about institutional racism.

"Every election in the South is about race and a
good many in the North are about race as well," he
said, "and until we openly discuss the problems in
this country they are not going to go way."
So I finally saw Kill Bill Vol. 1 last night, and I kinda don't know what to say, except that I almost didn't make it to the end because I didn't care for the gore. I am glad I stayed, though, or I would have missed Lucy Liu's scenes, plus the great, rather lengthy animated chapter about her character, "The Origin of Oren-Ishii."

Not for nothin', but Tarantino's best film so far wasn't Pulp Fiction, it was Jackie Brown, where his narrative was the most straightforward. Kill Bill is certainly the opposite of that: compositional extravagance always trumps realism. Check out all the blood-spewing limblessness! Marvel at the nonlinear narrative structure!

It is a technical marvel, and it is exhilirating. It does have some awesome fighting. Like Pulp Fiction, it deftly manipulates a catalog of B-movie types and techniques in more- and less-ironic ways. Tarantino sure does micromanage (intertitles, effects, wire-fu, stylized gore and grossness, animation...), but often he is virtuosic enough to get away with it. His sense of humor, and of cool, keeps him from becoming Oliver Stone.

But how much detachment are we supposed to have from these images? It's not clear to me. I squirmed and looked away from the screen many times, then the over-the-top artificiality of the closing Tokyo fight scenes made me think maybe I shouldn't have been taking all this movie-violence stuff so seriously. Incorporating a broad array of the tones and styles of on-screen violence may well be a part of Tarantino's point--but even if so, this doesn't illuminate the question of the audience's relationship to the movie's characters.

What can you tell from only the first half of a movie, though? We'll see how it turns out when Vol. 2 is released, whenever that is, February or March or something.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Wesley Clark at Rock the Vote: "I don't care what people say. Outkast isn't breaking up; Big Boi and Andre 3000 just cut separate records."

Ah, Wes, if only that were true!
Howard Dean was so right to say "I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." Here is Dean using the same example months ago:

I intend to talk about race during this election
in the South. The Republicans have been talking
about it since 1968 in order to divide us, and I'm
going to bring us together. Because you know
what? White folks in the South who drive pickup
trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back
ought to be voting with us because their kids don't
have health insurance either, and their kids need
better schools, too.

Kerry and Gephardt and Sharpton and Edwards can criticize Dean all they want for holding such wild, outlandish views (imagine! Dean welcomes and reaches out for the votes of working-class white Southerners!), but it just makes them look prissy and P.C. Meanwhile, Dean shows his political skill once again, emerging unscathed from another pseudo-scandal. Here's Salon's piece, from which I got the above quote.
The Onion AV Club is pitch-perfect on the Strokes' new disc:

"Every song had to be a step forward," Julian
Casablancas has said of the mindset behind his
band's second album, Room On Fire. Seldom has
the word "step" sounded so much like hyperbole.

Further down the page, The AV Club reviews Matthew Dear's new LP on Ann Arbor's excellent Ghostly International label, which Pitchfork also reviews today and which yours truly reviewed a few weeks ago.
Letterman on his new son: "I could never imagine ever being a part of something that turned out this beautiful."

Snarling irony!

On last night's show, Dave talked about his trip with his girlfriend to the hospital, shared weight/length stats, thanked the hospital staff and showed pictures of Harry Joseph Letterman. Needless to say, it was touching and sincere, as well as funny and unschmaltzy. A great show and a rare window into Dave's personal life, one that did not bear out his still-persistent reputation as some kind of arch cynic.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

First, an edifying statement of truisms:

a.) Arnold Schwarzenegger is an asshole.
b.) Jay Leno is not funny, and is an asshole.
c.) Jay Leno is a bootlicker who openly kisses up to anyone in a position of power, e.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Soon after the California recall election, David Letterman took the unusual (but warranted!) step of pointing out these truths on the air.

(And this after Jay’s had made comments about wanting to reconcile--he just didn't see the big deal, he said, about his stealing Dave’s job.)

Now Jay’s producers are getting pissy: see this NYT article for some of their chest-beating. And, true, Leno’s ratings are consistently better. Speculating on the cause of Leno’s ratings-dominance, Andrew Sullivan states the obvious before veering off the track:

Leno is a conservative voice in an unsettled time.
His hackneyed humor and old-as-the-hills jokes,
and non-confrontational suck-ups with Hollywood-
approved celebs are more comforting than Letterman's
snarling irony. More to the point: IRONY IS DEAD. It
died years ago - even before 9/11. Letterman, much
as I admire him, is a relic. It's over, Dave. Over.

"Irony is dead" is itself a hackneyed and old-as-the-hills pronouncement, but I actually sort of agree in spirit. But the Letterman show hasn’t relied on irony--snarling or otherwise--for many years. (To his credit, Sullivan admits that he hasn’t watched The Late Show in years, so how could he know?) The Letterman show has developed an internally consistent logic, and zips along at a breakneck pace with weird, hilarious mini-bits like "Will It Float?" and "The George W. Bush Joke That Isn’t Really a Joke." Dave’s on-air interactions with audience, regulars (Biff Henderson, Rupert of the Hello Deli) and celebrity guests are a little weird, but also basically warm and genial. The show's jokes are still anti-jokes, based on disappointed expectations, which I guess is "irony" in some sense. But they bear no apparent snark.

Meanwhile, in between stunt-appearances and promotions, Leno keeps kicking out hacky, self-satisfied, mean-spirited crap.

I defer to Letterman’s producer, Rob Burnett:

"There are two parts of the so-called late-night
war," Mr. Burnett said. "One is: who's the best.
That part of the war is over. Dave won."

Monday, November 03, 2003

A great piece on our least judicious Supreme Court judge and his decision to recuse himself in the "under God" case. Dahlia Lithwick has a grudging respect for Scalia's hardheadedness (he "is intellectually honest enough to know that he slipped...by discussing a case that would come before the court"), and also has a little fun with him:

In effect, says Scalia, his only job as a
judge is to get out of the Framers' way
as they rule the land. By casting himself,
rather ghoulishly, as crypt-keeper rather
than as judge, Scalia can render his
personal morality and preferences
immaterial. He can make all the speeches
he wants without compromising his
neutrality, simply by acting as the constitutional
Ouija board he was meant to be.

Tongue-in-cheek or no, I believe this is a fair characterization of Scalia, and his sanctimonious self-importance. In Lawrence v. Texas (the one from the beginning of the summer that finally and forcefully declared sodomy laws unconstitutional), he criticized the court for taking a side in the "culture war." As if he--with his identification with the most reactionary, reductionist elements of the religious right, his sarcastic tone on the bench, his apoplectic dissents--weren't taking a side!
K Street really got good last night, with an exciting episode where James Carville gets questioned by gov't lawyers about his firm's shady dealings with the "Center for Middle East Progress," suspected of being terrorist front. (One thing that should be very clear by now is the distinction between James Carville and the show's "James Carville" character.)

The Soderbergh-/Clooney-produced show's use of digital video has been dumbly dismissed as "edgier-than-thou," as if it were trying to be Kids or something. But handheld-cam shakiness is actually used sparingly, with most interior scenes shot from one or two fixed perspectives. Static as they are, they are also often kind of drably well-composed.

K Street's weaknesses: the senator-cameos almost never fail to be boring and blustery, and at times it has strained for a plot. But last night's episode was as good as any since the killer season-opener!

For more drably well-composed DV weirdness, I give my highest recommendation to Soderbergh's Schizopolis, which has a fancy new deluxe DVD out. Rather than viewing it as a self-indulgent, weird-for-the-sake-of-weird mess (which, okay, looked at from one perspective, it is!), remember that it's funny--weird-funny. I love this movie. But then I have odd tastes.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Laura Miller says a lot of sensible and interesting things about Toni Morrison in her NYT review of Love, despite her CRAZY, RIDICULOUS assertion that Morrison's "Jazz wilts on the page."