Friday, January 30, 2009

Light Painting

Self-portrait at a wine bar in NYC, where our awesome Siberian bartender did me the favor of understanding my stilted, mushy Russian. Practice!


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Che pasa?

Worst case scenario, Soderbergh's Che was going to be five hours of the sort of stuff that leads to this:

It wasn't. But unfortunately, it wasn't much of anything else either.

Incidentally, while looking for pictures of hipster-types in Che shirts, I discovered that I am way behind the times and it is now fashionable to proclaim your disdain for Guevara, even to recognize his more sanguinary excesses. Still through the medium of t-shirts though. Baby steps. This one was my favorite:

But back to the film...

There are basically two ways of looking at Che: as a charismatic, inspiring revolutionary who stood up for the downtrodden or as a murderer with a messiah complex. While devotees of either would never admit it, both views are pretty accurate. And that's where Soderbergh's movie fails- he seems unwilling to commit to the extremes of personality and myth inherent in his subject.

The five-hour epic was divided into two films, The Argentine, covering the Cuban Revolution and Che's 1964 trip to the UN and The Guerilla, depicting his abortive attempt at exporting the revolution to Bolivia. By dividing the films this way, Soderbergh neatly side-steps the most problematic period of the Che history: the intervening time in the Cuban government and his role in the mass executions of "counter-revolutionaries" as Castro consolidated power. The most infuriating thing is that Soderbergh goes out of his way to acknowledge the massacres, but in the most toothless way possible: through Che's blithe admission in his (admittedly quite eloquent) speech to the UN, "yes, we have executed; we are executing and we will continue to execute as long as it is necessary." I think this would have been a far more interesting dichotomy to explore: the humanist, the doctor who thinks nothing of using mass murder as a political tool; the liberator who becomes the jailor of La Cabana.

But really, I would have been 85% fine with a movie that romaniticized Che Guevara if it did it in an entertaining or interesting way. From a filmmaking perspective, all I can say is: meh. Part 1, The Argentine, was decent. The cinematography was beautiful, with interesting framing and saturated colors. The black and white flash-forwards to the UN speech were a nice visual contrast and well edited. There was an ensemble of supporting characters who, if not exactly fleshed-out, were at least recognizable and imbued with life and personality. Benicio del Toro did a good job of portraying Che's quiet, brainy charisma tempered with a firey, somewhat monomaniacal desire to be always on the front line, to be "a guerilla." In short, even if it didn't have much to say, The Argentine at least said it well.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for Part 2, The Guerilla. Rise and fall, promise and failure- visually, everything was meant to contrast the Cuban success with the trapped, impotent feeling of the Bolivian revolutionaries. Lush jungle colors were traded for the washed-out pallette of the andean forests and cinematic widescreen traded for the seriously claustrophobic 1.85:1 format ratio. Effective visual metaphor perhaps, but not terribly pleasant or memorable.

Even worse, the narrative and pacing of The Guerilla was...nonexistent. The background characters were indistinguishable. The narrative became entirely linear and extremely plodding, and, worst of all, it wasn't even about Che! The only "character developments" poor Guevara had in the second half of this butt-numbing ordeal were predicted entirely by the FIRST MOVIE. Che's tragic flaw was that he just wasn't that good a supreme commander. He needed someone over him, someone to use his talents wisely, to hold him back or redirect his passions as needed. In the first film, Castro explicitly served this purpose. Who could doubt, given the first film, that Che on his own would not be so successful? Given this predictablity (and the fact that we all know how it ends), The Guerilla amounts to the most average war movie you can conceive of. Indeed it is worse, because I have a sneaking suspicion that Soderbergh unpardonably stretched the running time of Part 2 to achieve symmetry (Part 1 is 129 min, Part 2 is 128).

Granted, its hard to show the entirety of a person in the running time of a biopic, but with an extra three hours, I expect Soderbergh to do more, not less, in illuminating his subject. What a wasted opportunity to show us the man behind the t-shirts.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

4am commercials never cease to amuse

Hooray for YOOOOOOOU!

I hope that guy got paid alot. Course, judging by that way-too-forced smile and glassy stare, maybe he'd be better off getting paid in product. Looks like dude could use some of that sweet, sweet self-esteem.


Couldn't they at least have made the pieces fit together? And is it really a good idea to try to get people to affirm their individuality by reminding them of their cog-in-the-machine status?

Good Start

1. During the inauguration day (!), Obama ordered a freeze on all pending Bush regulations for a legal and policy review. Way to waste no time in cleaning that filth out of the system, buddy.

2. A midnight legal filing ordering a halt to the Guantanamo military tribunals with an eye to closing the detention center and, yknow, no longer pissing on the constitution and the geneva conventions.

3. And, in more of a symbolic than substantive move, the traditional prayer service at the National Cathedral was conducted by a female preacher for the first time ever. It also included more than 20 representatives of different faiths, including woman leaders of Islam and Hinduism. Stick that in your "big tent" and smoke it, GOP!

I await the forthcoming "series of announcements both on domestic and on foreign policy that I think will be critical for us to act swiftly on."

Rock out with your Barack out, America!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lucky #44

Yes. We. Did.

So...its going to be all puppies and rainbows now, right? A job in every pot and a 401k in every garage, right?

Ah, Hoover. Seems a fitting man to quote...hopefully ironically.

I keed, I keed. I know there will be times when he disappoints me, times when he has to compromise with political unsavories to get the job done...but for now, I'm all kinds of inspired. Goshdarnit, I'm hopeful.

After the jump, an inauguration rundown.

Say what you will about the starry-eyed Obamaniacs, the beginning of that speech proved once again exactly why he has that effect on people. Starting out all dark and foreboding (perhaps aka "realistic"), then building to that crescendo of "Yes We Can"? My cynical ass got goosebumps. I'm not too proud to admit it. The man can deliver a speech. And its easy to discount that, but its a pretty powerful ability. Those speeches, after all, are how we are fed presidential policy. The president is the face of our government, and not only is this one able to string two coherent words together, but he can do it with some inspiring flair.

Although, I also have to admit I kinda cringed when he flubbed the oath of office. Whoops. He laughed it off though, so hey, he's just human or whatever. [Edit: It was Roberts' fault! Ha!] [Edit AGAIN!: Mulligan!]

Below are some of the quotes that really stuck out to me (read: the aforementioned goosebumps). Going back through the transcript, the speech was a little more derivative than it seemed while watching. On paper, at times it even sounds a little...Shakespearean. But thats the power of good oration- even recycled words can sound like they're being spoken just for you.

Watch the whole speech here.

"Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age."

"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

[At this point I half expected him to bust out with a "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."]

"Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."

(I'm ok w the vendoring...especially goods of hilarious bad quality or dubious usage (obama belts?), but these freak me out cause they're so evocative of the little Putin portraits I saw in every Russian house. Krasny ugol is not for deifying politicians.)

(THAT is a portrait. And its where it belongs: in the Natl Portrait Gallery)

"But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

"We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake."

[On MSNBC, the only time GW Bush was shown in this speech was during the first sentence of this quote. That is a pretty awesome and subtle (for cable news) indictment.]

"And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

"...your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

"This is the price and the promise of citizenship."
[Helloooo, JFK]

But nothing can top the super-awesome number one moment of the day:


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Probably my one ski adventure of this year :(

Not gonna lie...probably not going to get to any other Holiday Odyssey chapters. >.<

But as consolation, here are some pics.

Darco picking his line through the trees at Ski Santa Fe.

Me parsing the (annoyingly irregular) mogul fields.

And, to induce straight-up jealousy, this is Darco's sister's backyard:

Hidden in that cloud is the back of the ski mountain. So. Un. Fair. READ MORE! READ MORE!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Jezebel, I Hardly Knew Ye

About a year and a half ago, I discovered Jezebel. And I fell in time-killing, page-refreshing love. The blog had a pretty unique mix of news, politics and pop culture, all viewed through a feminist lens. It touched on alot of issues that are important to me, but in a snarky, irreverent, entertaining way.

Well, those days are gone. Sadly, Jezebel has betrayed me and now I have the data to prove it.

Jezebel is a horse in the stable of the Nick Denton/Gawker Media empire. It launched with a bang in July 2007 when their offer of a $10,000 prize for an unretouched cover photo from a big ladymag led to the dramatic reveal of Faith Hill as an actual human being (as opposed to the plastic glamour-cyborg published on the cover of Redbook).

Granted this coup de journalism was more monetary lubrication than reportage, but still- it was a pretty sensational, facade-busting way to come into the saturated women's media market. And it set the tone for alot of what came after- namely, revealing the market-driven nonsense spoon-fed to women for the bullshit that it is and shining a feminist spotlight on alot of the misogynistic (overt or not) crap that goes on in our world. With a healthy dose of humor to make the medicine go down.

All was well.

Then came the recession. There was "restructuring" and layoffs. And still, I thought, all was well. I mean, there might be less posting and different voices, but surely the content would remain the same? After all it is Jezebel's content and refusal to dumb-down that made the blog popular in the first place.


Since September-ish I've noticed a steady falling-off in, I don't know, the worthiness of the things Jez chooses to post about. In the days leading up to the hols, the drop-off became pretty steep. So now, with the holidays over, I decided to try to analyze, in a totally amateur fashion, NowJezebel versus PastJezebel. I categorized the attributes of every post put up yesterday, Monday, January 5th, 2009 and compared them to the posts of Monday, January 7th, 2008.

Here are the criteria I looked at:

1. Category/subject- ie, fashion, news, celebrity, etc.

2. Whether the post required an author or a journalist as opposed to an intern with an RSS feed. Is it just an image? Just a link to a real article? I did not count short summaries of articles, but I did decide to count any longer summaries, particularly if they were summarized through a lens of opinion or position.

3. Whether there was any sign of analysis, opinion or thought. I also credited the sharing of personal info or anecdotes. This is another of the things that made OldJezebel so fun- you got to know the editors and contributors through their posts.

4. Whether or not I personally was interested in or amused by the post. Obviously this one is completely subjective, but I like to think that I am fairly representative of the average Jezebel reader.

Here are the spreadsheets:

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Monday, January 5th 2009

Bottom line, the data supports exactly what I felt in my gut and in my increasing boredom with the posts on Jez. More celebrity crap, less news or feminist issues. More quick links and short posts, less actual writing. More of the hated TMZ-like paparazzied snap judgments. Less personality in the writing.

Here's how it broke down:

Jezebel Comparison

Kinda sad, no? That's a pretty conclusive ~10% fall-off in all criteria. The one thing I was suprised about was that there wasn't appreciably more Snap Judgments, cause lord, it feels like there's a new one every time i refresh nowadays. I guess cause there's less worthwile content posted between them...

And qualitatively, there was one post yesterday that particularly struck me as emblematic of the change. This item, "Couple Splits over Extreme PMS," is definitely something that would have elicited something more than a link and a pull quote in the days of OldJezebel. Comments on the way PMS, something inherent to female physiology and connected to propogation of the freakin species, is still so taboo and stigmatized that this woman was not only nearly divorced over it but didn't even realize that her symptoms were extreme? Maybe about why medication is always the instant answer to "female trouble"? Certainly at least an anecdote about the Jez editor's personal experiences with boyfriends and PMS. But no. Just a link, a pic and a pull quote. I'm all for commenter participation, but allowing them to generate ALL your content is just lazy.

I know Nick Denton and the most of the Jez editors would argue that this is temporary and due to the recession. Well, its a slippery slope guys, and I don't see you climbing back up.

Pour one out for OldJezebel. RIP.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

He's Good Enough and He's Smart Enough

And doggone it, apparently people like him! (Yeah, I know everyone and their mom is going to use that joke. I don't care.)

Obvs, there's going to be a big ol' legal challenge, but for now I salute Senator Al Franken. Even if he is the worst senator in the history of the world, I still dig him cause he put his money where his mouth was.

And I know thats not the most flattering picture to use on the day of his victory, but hell, the man looks like a cartoon character at the best of times and this pic makes me smile.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Holiday Odyssey, Part One

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that (wo)man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after (s)he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy Delta Airlines.

Yeah, yeah. It's hyperbole until you're the one spending the night in the Atlanta Airport Best Western East with bonus food poisoning courtesy of Juanito's "Mexican" "Grill" (or possibly IHOP).

Freezing rain in Philly...

Led to 1.5 hr de-icing...

(with some seriously noxious looking chemicals, including a gelatinous green liquid that came right out of TMNT...I could see the drain they all went down. Wonder how many three-eyed simpsons-esque fish live down there?)

Led to a missed connection to NM in Atlanta and the aforementioned Best Western.

The best part was when they put us into a customer service line hundreds of people long and after waiting for nearly an hour we got close enough to see that it only led to a phone bank and one (one!) Delta rep. Nice!

Darco's Mom was shocked shocked! that they weren't going to pay for our hotel room. We tried to tell her unless the airline itself (not the weather, not air traffic control) mucks up- like only if the engine falls off your plane while you're taxiing or the pilot kicks your puppy or something-will they pay for your hotel room. And with the amount of people travelling before x-mas (and their total lack of alternatives), maybe not even then.

As one might guess, the industrial area around the Atlanta Airport Best Western East does not present much diversion. We did pass a decomissioned Ford factory that was half torn down, and I would have LOVED to go shoot photos there, but it was pretty well guarded. Other than that, there's the TV, IHOP and (brrr) Juanito's. The evening passed slowly, but I felt the worst for Darco's son (at least until my digestive system revolted) as he was stuck with Darco's mum who decided that she HAD to spend all day and night watching Fox News. At one point he burst into our room, moaned "Mike Huckabee has been on TV talking for TWO HOURS" and then turned around and walked sadly back to his (admittedly unbearable) torture.

Anyway. Atlanta led to Chicago (where the temp was 18 below!)...

Led to Salt Lake (where we just snuck in ahead of a snow storm), led (finally) to Albuquerque. And then the hour+ drive to Santa Fe (in a fucking ridiculous rented Dodge SUV that was humongous and didn't even have four-wheel drive), where we enjoyed the local law enforcement!

"Super Blitz" is pretty damn accurate- they stopped every car on the highway. Our cop even commented on Darco's perpetually red eyes. He bought the story that Darco is part albino rat, however, so we went on our way unmolested. No walking lines or backwards alphabets or anything.

Icing on the cake, we ascended the Santa Fe plateau in a blinding blizzard that would dump about 2' of snow over the next 12 hours. But we finally made it to Darco's sister's beatiful house nestled in the hills at the tail end of the rockies. And it was good.

Ah, but the Odyssey is not over (although it is a hell of a lot better from here on out, rough return journey notwithstanding). Part two soon!