Thursday, April 12, 2007

Pay Street Musicians

Mean Gene Weingarten recently published an eloquent article on the plight of the street musician - or better said, the tunnel vision of the American commuter. They took a world-class violinist, a $3 million violin, and put both in a Metro station during rush hour. Usually, tickets to see Joshua Bell perform run upwards of $100 per. In 45 minutes, Bell cleared $32 and was largely ignored.

Here's the article. Give yourself some time to watch the videos, which are critical. And there's some good psychoanalysis of the American Way of Life, focusing to get to work on time, a compulsion to stay out of it, the goal usually being money.

Weingarten also notes that every single kid who walked by tried to watch Bell perform. My favorite quote:
The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.
I always tip street musicians if they're halfway decent because they make life better. Beware the chokehold of life!

The Dream Obituary First Line

From the NYTimes:
Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died last night in Manhattan.
Just swap in San Francisco and a few titles, and we're cooking.

(Wish I had more to say on ol' Kurt, but I don't remember his books being as ground-breaking as many claim. But there are certainly enough of his kind of readers out there to make his death notable.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hail Sanjaya

Sanjaya is saving American Idol.

Sanjaya's smart. He's a ham. He dominates the stage. And best of all, he's a terrible, terrible singer.

Last night, he sang "Besame Mucho." An awesome song, which was delivered largely in-key. And as the camera panned him for the closing shot, he followed the camera with those big sappy eyes and winked. Pure theater. Tonight, they gave him the critical "te quiero, mi amor," whisper from the group song: Enrique Iglesias's Bailamos. And the producers are supporting Sanjaya's surge to power, largely because it makes the show a lot more interesting.

Let's be honest: American Idol is a glorified karaoke/popularity contest. It's so ridiculous it's fun. But after six seasons of watching contestants take the show ultra-seriously, what a relief to have a comedian up there. Best of all, Howard Stern has ordered all of his legions to vote for him, thus undermining the silly show entirely.

Nearly everyone goes down in flames on reality shows. Hopefully Sanjaya can take the system down with him.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Magical Beginnings

A few months ago, a couple I'm friends with told me how they met. They both joined a JET-like teach English in Japan program and were congregating in Narita. It was summer, very hot. The girl is waiting in the lounge, sweltering. The guy walks in lugging a suitcase and wearing his winter jacket. On the hottest day of the year. Everybody else is dying of heat and this guy's wearing his warmest jacket. So she asks him why he's wearing his heavy winter jacket, and he tells her that it was too heavy to carry.

Which in its own way makes perfect sense.

They've been dating ever since. And that beginning kind tells you everything you need to know. He's a little zany. She likes it.

Needless to say, they're fun people.

When I first "met" Karla, she was descending from a ladder outside her apartment building, which was on fire. Black fumes, 30 fire trucks. I didn't hit on her or anything, I just asked if she was ok. She shook a little bit and walked past me. It was a fine response. Then a few weeks later I met her in a bar called Viva Zapata. (Funny story there: Mark Smith once convinced me that their phone number was 777-SHOE, because zapato means shoe in Spanish). She was drinking a Labatt's Blue that she'd smuggled into the bar in her purse. Being Canadian, she liked Canadian beer (which wasn't offered at Viva's) and she was trying to polish off the rest of her stash.

And really, that was all I needed to know.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Why We Don't Do Anything

I've been thinking a lot about a question I posed in my last post -- why we don't get too angry about Iraq and the Bushies. I mean, sure we gripe and blog and send emails and yell at the TV, but we're not quitting our jobs or starting movements or holding be-ins or anything. For the most part, we're not actually acting on our disapproval.

I think it's because all the problems are so easy, so insulated.

There's no draft. Unemployment is low. Gas prices are fine. Most people getting killed over there are very patriotic, whose families will support the machine more than criticize it. We're not disrupted. It's sunny out. Ski season is upon us. We go for a bike ride. There's a cool new Will Farrell movie out. The news is so easy to turn off.

During World War II, people sacrificed. Factories were converted into munitions plants; the draft took everyone. People made do with less and were happy about it. Today, we're never asked to sacrifice or do anything differently. American values mean lots of steak and big cars. We earned all this comfort and now it's expected.

Truth is, we're resting on our laurels. What have we earned lately?

Friday, April 06, 2007


I'm back.

As my man Usher said:
These are my confessions
Man I'm thrown and I dont know what to do
In the past few weeks, we've seen some of the most ridiculous confessions this side of the Soviet Show Trials and the Cultural Revolution. First, our man in the scoop t-shirt, Khalid Sheikh Muhammed:
confessed that he plotted every terrorist attack since 1776, from the explosion on the USS Maine to 9/11 to the Kennedy assassination. KSM isn't the nicest guy on the block, and he could certainly use a full-body wax, but it's pretty obvious he was tortured day and night for three years in some hole down in Cuba until he was ready to sign anything they put in front of him with his fingernail-less hands.

It didn't need to be that way. They could have brought KSM into District Court in Manhattan (ironically, in the heart of the civilization he tried to destroy), afforded him all the liberties that he hates, given him the care and consideration in prison that he denied thousands of innocents, and systematically given him a public thrashing that was fully respectable and lended credibility to the Western way of life.

That's justice. That's why we're better than they are. I worked for a while on the Pinochet case, and went through thousands of affadavits detailing torture and murder in places like the Villa Grimaldi in Santiago. It's disgusting, wrenching, terrible. So one day I asked my boss (who was the last one out of the palace before Pinochet killed everybody during the 1973 coup) if he ever felt the urge to just go in there and take care of Pinochet rather than deal with the prolonged bureaucracy and politics of a trial. And he mild-manneredly explained that he wanted to give Pinochet exactly what Pinochet had denied: justice.

Because we're better than they are. (It's the same argument for being against the death penalty.)

Now we've got the Iran-UK situation. Another show trial, more propoganda. Who did the Iranians think they were kidding? How dumb do they think we are? The Brits wisely said whatever they had to to avoid going to Iranian prison for 7 years for something they didn't do. The Iranians lied their sexist faces off about pretty much everything, then magnanimously gave the prisoners freedom as an Easter present. (NOTE: Easter is the next-to-last popular holiday in Iran, edged out by Purim.) And now the world is that much closer to nuclear war.

Two confessions, two lies. And for what? To assuage the egos of tremendously high-powered arrogant idiots, Bush and
Ahmadinejad, who need propoganda to sustain their illegal, morally deprived regimes. Yeah, Bush's regime is illegal. He spies on people and lies about wars and fires people who disagree with him. And he never really won in the first place. And he killed New Orleans. I could go on.

Point is, the Gestapo is back, even in the West. I sometimes wonder why my generation doesn't get truly angry about this stuff like our parents did. This is just as bad as Nixon, right? Is this any different than Vietnam? Why aren't we in the streets stopping traffic and blowing kisses and getting kids to vote? Does that stuff work any more? Hell, I can't even be bothered to blog more than once every four months.

As usual, no easy answers. Stay in the light. And buy my dad's book for a look at how the battle of good versus evil has been with this nation from the start.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Best Picture I've Taken This Year

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Barking in Heaven

The guy who ran the SPCA's Animal Assistant Therapy program died this week. It's pretty sad - Chris Bergman was a colorful character, always signing his emails to me "Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" and other guy-friendly amusing ways, and he had a deep philosophical belief in the healing power of animals. Based on my visit with Otis in the program, he's one hundred percent right - nothing makes a bad day good like a visit from a friendly dog.

Ironicall,y I found out about his death this morning, while on an AAT visit.