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republican update

From their 2004 platform:

We strongly support President Bush’s call for a Constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage, and we believe that neither federal nor state judges nor bureaucrats should force states to recognize other living arrangements as equivalent to marriage. We believe, and the social science confirms, that the well-being of children is best accomplished in the environment of the home, nurtured by their mother and father anchored by the bonds of marriage. We further believe that legal recognition and the accompanying benefits afforded couples should be preserved for that unique and special union of one man and one woman which has historically been called marriage.

Fucking dickheads.


karma top ten

Time for the monthly Karma Top Ten. I'm really getting suspicious about these lists ... the same song has been #1 all three times I've done this, and yet I barely remember ever hearing it. Anyway, here's the Top Ten, with last month's ranking in parentheses:

1. Queen Latifah, "Ladies First" (1)
2. Bruce Springsteen, "Glory Days" (8)
3. Donovan, "Riding in My Car (Car Song) (2)
4. Marianne Faithfull, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (3)
5. Simon & Garfunkel, "Cecilia" (7)
6. En Vogue, "Don't Let Go (Love)" (4)
7. Peggy Lee, "Fever" (-)
8. Hall & Oates, "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" (-)
9. Andrew Gold, "Lonely Boy" (-)
10. Buffalo Springfield, "Kind Woman" (5)
Andrew Gold was #9 two months ago, but Peggy Lee and Hall & Oates are making their first appearances on the list. Falling off from last month are Des'ree, "You Gotta Be" (last month #6, this month #12), Spirit, "Nature's Way" (#9, #15) and R. Kelly, "Ignition (Remix)" (#10, #16).

Basic Karma stats: 2861 songs, more than 186 hours of music. Most recent addition: "Sometimes It Snows in April" by Prince. Most recent listen: the "Dirty South" genre.


more hero

This is more of a followup on Steve's excellent comments about my Hero post ... and while the relevant link is here, there are some spoilers if you follow the link, so be careful if you haven't seen the movie.

Salon gives us replies from two readers to Charles Taylor's review of Hero ... here are some mostly spoiler-free excerpts that admittedly do some damage to the originals in my attempt to remove the spoilers, but what the heck:

"Hero" is both a beautifully filmed movie and a really frightening piece of fascist propaganda. (No contradiction there -- one can admire the aesthetics of a Leni Riefenstahl film and loathe the message.) ... That the King is a violent, paranoid thug, bringing peace and unity only by the sword, is all but forgotten in the movie's rush to judgment that a unified China is a great goal regardless of the cost in human life ...
Peace is a great goal. So is patriotism. Having both without justice and freedom, however, makes one think of Hitler's vision of a unified Europe bringing patriotism, or Stalin's vision of world revolution bringing peace.... possibly the dreariest, coldest, most pessimistic message I've taken away from a movie this decade.
-- Lionel Artom-Ginzburg

The most damning thing about this fable and this movie is that it pushes the argument that to have peace in China, there needs to be a strong, autocratic figure. It supports and validates bloody and oppressive regimes that are in power. Better this, goes the reasoning, then to have chaos.
What this movie does not do is point out that this kind of peace is temporary. Futhermore, it closes any avenues for discovering whether it's even possible to have peace without all-centralized power and mass suffering. Because the filmmaker is pushing party lines, he is tacitly acting as an instrument of the government. The ambiguity that Taylor alludes to simply does not exist....
It's not just a good yarn. It's dangerous propaganda.
-- Jackie Yuen

And, for folks who don't read comments ... you should, some of the best stuff on this blog comes from readers ... here's an excerpt from Steve's original comments:
But watching Hero in Hong Kong is a very frightening experience. All we get on a daily basis from our masters in Beijing is this bleating about the paramount, overriding need for "stability"--i.e., go ahead and make money by any means available, be as corrupt as you want, but never, ever challenge The Party or we'll shut you up but good. It's nothing more than the postmodern CCCP's version of the iron fist in the (garishly decorated) velvet glove.


five years

Five years ago today, we got broadband Internet access at our home.

If I had to list the three most important events in our home computing lives, they would be:

1983, when we got our first computer.

1984 or thereabouts, when we got our first modem.

August 31, 1999, when we got cable internet.

The first one is obvious ... without a computer in the house, I wouldn't be having this discussion. A tip of the cap, though, to that Macy's salesman back in '83, when we walked in and I announced that I'd done some studying and clearly what we wanted was a Timex Sinclair 1000. The Sinclair was about the size of a paperback from an academic press (about 7 inches square, roughly). Crucially, the "keyboard" was membrane, like what the workers use at McDonald's when they key in your order. If we had bought that computer, we would have played with it for a couple of days and then used it as a door stop. But the Macy's salesman told us we didn't want the Sinclair. I figured he was just trying to make commission, but far as I can tell, he wasn't making commission. He was just pointing out to us that a real keyboard would make a difference. And that's why we walked out of Macy's with a VIC-20.

The first modem came not long after we saw War Games for the first time. I SO wanted to start WWIII, and soon afterwards, we had a modem for our VIC-20. 300 baud, but it seemed much faster because the VIC screen only allowed 22 characters per line and only fit 23 lines on a screen, so everything scrolled by really fast no matter how slow the modem was. The modem helped introduce us to a new world ... the computer did that too, of course, but it was an insular world ... the modem opened the door so we could see all the other geeks.

And for the next 15 years, things changed only gradually. We went from VIC-20 to Commodore 64. When I had to write my honors thesis for my bachelor's degree in 1987, we got a DOS machine. Sometime after that we moved up to Windows ... 3.1, I guess, then 95, 98, and now XP. In 1988, I began working for CompuServe, and those years (through the mid-90s) were my ultimate online geek years ... nowadays, people like me who are online all the time are hardly unusual (what the heck, I *work* online now), but in those days, we were like a club, and I would spent hours every night chatting with my CompuServe friends. But in all of this, I hadn't moved much beyond that first VIC modem.

Broadband changed everything. By that point, we'd been online for 16 years, so it would be a lie to claim that the cable modem introduced me to the online world. And Robin and I both had killer net access at our jobs by then. But being able to access the internet from home 24/7 at usefully high speeds was truly a different experience. All that information at our fingertips whenever we wanted it. Some of this was frivolous ... we'd see one of those "who is that guy" actors on teevee, and during a commercial break we'd check online to see who it was. Some of it was educational ... I grew up in a household with a set of World Book encyclopedias, but now, it felt like I had access to every bit of information, at any time. And some of it changed my life in ways some would call unfortunate. I have so much to read online now that I barely have time any longer for books, and so the vast majority of my books at this point were purchased more than five years ago. And I teach English at the college level. I rarely watch news any more ... why bother, I already know what happened. Same with the newspaper ... hell, I don't even look at the hardcopy Chronicle that comes to our house every morning, I read it online.

The speed of broadband is part of it, of course, especially for media-heavy stuff. It's no coincidence that within a year of getting broadband, I had my first portable MP3 player (a Rio 500). The whole notion of turning thousands of songs into files that can be stored on tiny players owes its existence to broadband net access.

But more important even than speed is the 24/7-ness of my cable modem. It's partly physical, partly mental: physical, in that the computer is now connected to the internet 24 hours a day unless I turn it off (which I don't do very often), mental in that I have the assumption in my brain that I can go online whenever I want. That mental step is crucial to why going broadband was a more important step than anything in the previous 15 years.

Now we have a wireless laptop, so we are not only 24/7 at broadband speeds, we can do it from any room in the house. That's a pretty big step itself. But the fundamental change came five years ago, when the cable guy came to our house and changed our lives.

You'll hear it said on occasion ... Stewart Brand of Whole Earth Catalog fame was one person who made this argument, as I recall ... that computers were to the last few decades as psychedelics were to the 1960s. I think the idea was that computers helped us to expand our minds or something like that. I can tell you that pretty much my only ambition when I was in high school was to become a hippie, and outside of one year in Capitola living off my brother, I didn't really achieve my ambition, but if the idea was to get inside my own brain, work things out inside there, and then connect those workings to the outside world, well, that's pretty much what the computer does for me now.

Not long after we got our first computer back in the early 80s, I remarked that the computer thought just like me. I haven't changed much over the last 21 years ... I guess now I'd rephrase it to say that I think just like the computer. And then there's that afternoon in Nerja last November, when Robin looked out at the Mediterranean and wondered what animal she would come back as if she was reincarnated. I thought about that for a bit, and then said I'd like to come back as a computer, so I'd know everything.


hero (zhang yimou, 2002)

Hero finally arrives in the States two years after its original release, and it's worth the wait. A gorgeous epic that manages to take care of business in less than two hours, Hero is every bit as beautiful as you've heard, and if you've seen the arrows flying through the air in the previews, the full version of those arrows is even better than you hope.

The plot seemed a bit confusing to us at first, and as we left the theatre, everyone in turn said "very pretty, not sure what it was about." Everyone, that is, except Robin, who broke down the themes in a succinct fashion. Once she stated it so plainly, I realized I, too, had understood what the movie was trying to say, but I resisted the message because I liked how it looked. To explain without too many spoilers, Hero takes place when China is split into several warring provinces. A brutal king of one province attempts to achieve his goal of uniting all of China under a common banner, no matter the cost. To the extent he succeeds, and to the extent the film shares his vision, Hero is a model of fascist ideology: the individual matters less than the community, efficiency is paramount, a strong leader is needed to mold the people into a cohesive whole.

The fine Salon critic Charles Taylor complains that "the anti-'Hero' arguments don't take into account that the film ends not in a surge of patriotic feeling but on a pronounced mournful note of contingency and skepticism. And they ignore how the movie forces the King to live up to the ideology he so glibly spouts about sacrificing the happiness of the individual for the good of all. In our final glimpse of the King, the man has been dwarfed by the trappings of his power." All of which may be true, but none of which deflects the possibility that the movie is ultimately on the side of nationalistic ideology. And when Taylor notes that the "real shame of the political quibbling that has taken part in some quarters over 'Hero' is that those arguments have nothing to do with how enjoyable the film is," he is correct to foreground the beauty of the movie, but, I think, wrong in claiming that it has nothing to do with our enjoyment of the film. Or rather, the film is extremely enjoyable UNTIL we think about the ideology, at which point some of that enjoyment may take a back seat to other concerns.

And I don't suppose they should, because Hero really is a feast. The cast is a dream for HK fans: Jet Li, always better when he's not trying to speak English; Donnie Yen, who has a small part but who allows Li to engage in one extended fight sequence that is astounding; the incomparable Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung; and Zhang Ziyi, who for my money hasn't quite moved beyond adorable yet but who is getting there. And, honest, those damn arrows are really something. Hero may not be the best movie these stars have made (those would include Hard-Boiled for Leung, In the Mood for Love with Leung and Cheung, Iron Monkey for Yen, Crouching Tiger for Ziyi)), but it's close enough to count. Seven on a scale of ten.


willie nelson

Well, Robin and I are going to see Willie Nelson.

He will probably be the oldest musician we ever saw in concert. We saw Muddy Waters near the end of his life, but he didn't make 70, and Willie is already 71. Back when we used to go to the Concord Jazz Festival we probably saw some old guy ... I remember seeing Joe Venuti then, he might have been in his 70s. But Willie Nelson will at the least be the oldest guy we went specifically to see.

Lucinda Williams is the opening act ... even she's a few months older than us. So we'll be spring chickens!

It's hard to figure out the seating chart for Zellerbach, where the concert takes place, but I think we're either 8th or 9th row, just off-center, so that'll be nice.


if only

Sad commentary from 2001, given the joyous victory of the U.S. women in Olympic soccer and the tenuous state of the local San Jose Earthquakes:

[T]he hope ... is to average 15,000 per game. At first, I thought that goal would be reached fairly easily in the Bay Area, but it is a real challenge to capture the attention of the people who live in an area where there are so many options of how to spend their time and money. We may build in attendance more slowly than I had originally thought. If we have a team that is entertaining and wins a lot, and if our fans have a good experience from parking lot to parking lot when they come to our games, and if our fans begin to feel connected with the players and feel a part of the ... family, then we will meet our attendance goals.
The Earthquakes are currently averaging just over 11,000 fans per match, next-to-last in the league ... and, of course, they may be moved out of the state next season. The above comments seem on target ... even though they aren't about the Quakes. The speaker was Marlene Bjornsrud, at the time the general manager of the CyberRays of the WUSA. That league only lasted three seasons before (temporarily?) disbanding. Pretinha, who scored the Brazilian goal vs. the USA in the Olympic final, was once a CyberRay, as was Brandi Chastain of the now-legendary "Fab 5." As I type this, though, the WUSA is still in limbo. So where there were once two top-level professional soccer teams in San Jose, there may soon be none.

The quote comes from an article I wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian at the beginning of the WUSA. "Women kick ass!" was the title, which is still true, even if the league didn't kick quite enough ass overall.