Thursday, December 30, 2010

Celebrating The New Year

New Year's Eve celebrations are a paradox.
It's deeply counter intuitive to try to take
advantage of a new year as an opportunity
for a new start by indulging the night before
in behavior which insures your new start
starts with a hangover guaranteed to rob you
of the initiative needed for change.

The problem is that the new year comes in
the midst of winter.  Balanced against our
desire for a fresh start lies the role the
holidays play in getting us through the winter.

The winter is the toughest part of the year
for an animal such as a human being.  There
is too little light.  The sun falls early, often
pulling our spirits down too.  The cold
numbs our capacity for sensual enjoyment,
and our physical natures can't forget that
which - given modern heating systems - we
intellectually forget: against the cold,
survival is a struggle.

But before the holidays, winter is enlivened
by the prospect of their coming.  Magic's
in the air.  Snow's romantic when tied
to Christmas.  People brave the cold to
keep wearing clothing with a bit of
erotic charm; holiday lights enchant the
darkness; and the coming celebrations
generally enliven the growing gloom of the
natural world.

After the holidays, winter's long and dreary. 
It must just be gotten through until Spring
returns, mixing memory with desire to bring
us the cruel joys of April.

The passing of the holidays can be very
depressing indeed, and so

Excess is the whole point of New Year's Eve.
Yes, excess!  Its purpose is to give us too much
of the holidays, and so cut the pain of watching
them disappear with the old year into the great
vanished with nothing to look forward to but
two or three more dreary months of winter.

Yes, New Year's Eve is at war with New Years.
So use the contradiction to fit  your own needs.
If you want a new start, get to bed early and
rise and shine and go for a bracing swim at
dawn on New Year's Day.  Make your new
start.  If you're sad to see the holidays go,
party until you can barely lift your painful
head from its hung over pillow and say with
someone or the other from Shakespeare:

"If all the year were sporting holidays,
To play would be as tedious as to work."


Monday, December 27, 2010

Her Certain Smile


She took me lovingly by the hand, and I wondered
how many germs passed between us at that moment
and all the other customers she had taken in the same
way that day tenderly by the hand.

Why had I slowed down?  I knew exactly why.  The
way she smiled at me, although she was only selling
me a hand product. 

I enjoyed the way she handled my fingers.  I told
her I thought she had the wrong customer.  Her
product cost $40 - that was half off - and she was
disappointed when I moved on. 

I wished I had given her the money.  She would
have smiled again, and it would have been worth
every bit of my $40 plus tax.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Shop Around The Corner

Trying to pick up The Shop Around The Corner
yesterday, I was informed by the clerk that it
had gone the DVD equivalent of "out of print."

This is quite surprising as its the perfect
Christmas movie for rough economic times.
For one thing it's the one holiday film which
is honest about the economics of Christmas.
The characters are living in a rough
environment, and they are depending on
good Christmas receipts to keep them all

Still, though seemingly sentimental in
spots, it's quite tough-minded.   The store
owner finding happiness on Christmas Eve
by befriending his poorest employee may be
a sentimental clichè, but comparing the encounter
to one between a rich man and a gold digger
is pure Lubitsch.

And no one from the Golden Era of Hollywood
moved the camera with greater ease and fluidity
than Lubitsch.  His camera and Jimmy Stewart's
performance function in perfect synchronicty with
each other.

Undergirding Stewart's fine and moving performance
is the fear voiced by Margaret Sullivan's Clara that
at bottom he is nothing but an insignificant clerk.
The look on his face after she calls hims such is
likely to haunt you for days, a perfect distillation
of the essence of film acting.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Updating Memories, or

Why We Go Home For The Holidays

As people age out of college and into their
20s and 30s, they often find their regular
trips home for the holiday celebrations
difficult in several ways.

First there is the problem of regressing.
Adults tend to fall back into relationships with
their siblings and parents more typical of
adolescence, and the result is often to feel
somewhat frustrated or even powerless
in the face of certain seemingly inevitable
family dynamics. 

Tensions between family members are often
present but suppressed under the social pressure
of togetherness at the holidays, and boredom
is very common as time can hang heavy under
the rigors of enforced family unity.

All in all it can be a rough couple of days.
Relief and a feeling of liberation is often the
overwhelming feelings when returning to
one's own home from the family home at
the end of these ordeals; but the funny thing
is that once the trip is actually over, it does
not take much time for the trip to move within
our memory in a positive direction.

Our minds take a trip which was not entirely
satisfactory at the time - of course I exclude
the extreme episodes of dysfunction and
unhappiness which are a different matter - and
turns it into another in a series of happy memories,
these happy memories being mainly made up of
episodes which were generally flatter and sometimes
fraught with tension at their origin.*

It's not that all these episodes are remembered as
happy, it's that as a whole the series of them is very
satisfying to us.   Small gestures such as toasts or
giving thanks together grow in significance in
our memories.  Much is forgotten, and that which
is remembered is necessarily that which holds
interest for us.  The people we love have a special
charm for us in their absence,  and we come to
value those things which hold us together more than
those which divide us.

It's a very important process.  If romantic love
grows in the imagination, familial love takes hold
and survives in the memory.  Each family trip
extends the reign of memory over another piece
of time, keeping the family members' memories
aging in synch, and building together the foundation
for happy future memories.

*To speak of an experience's origin is to
acknowledge that the experience of anything
extends through all the times the mind 
remembers and dwells on it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In A Pool, Not Swimming


If I am honest, I have always taken some relish in going
in a pool - urinating only, I'm not disgusting - but I did
not make a habit of it and always did my best to
avoid it until 2 weeks ago.  Of course you encouraged
me to swim - everyday was best, you said - after I could
no longer run.

"You must take care of yourself."

I didn't enjoy swimming too much.  I always worried I
would panic when I first submerged in the cold water,
and then never enjoyed the monotony of going back and
forth inside the deprivation tank, but I learned to let my
thoughts wander to methods of self-improvement and even
tried to make plans for a better future.

I didn't really start taking pleasure time after time in
urinating in the pool until two weeks ago.  But since
then I've done it everytime I've gone in the water.
You see, since you left me, it's absolutely the only power I have left.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Should Writers Twitter?

I am facing the question, because I made a mistake
and decided to follow on Twitter an English novelist
and actor whom I respect.  It took me less than a day
to realize that his posts were, if not ruining his other
work for me, at least seriously diminishing the respect
I felt for him as an artist.

It led me to wonder if it's not usually the case that the
more real the artist is, the less real their work.  Is it
coincidence that greatest author of the English language,
Shakespeare, is one of the least known biographically?
Once the work becomes simply an extension of biography -
something to which many critics eagerly try to reduce an
artist's body of work - does it not lose its status as a
world onto itself with the power to transform our experience
of reality and ourselves?

Must the artist withdraw to let his world come fully to life?
Should she be everywhere present but nowhere apparent,
as Flaubert suggested and the great MacIntosh agreed?
If the artist is not at least somewhat  remote, is he then
not too much with us late and soon?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reading Pale Fire: Note by Note

For those who have only read Pale Fire
from the first page to the last, I'd very much
suggest trying to read following the instructions
Kinbote leaves in the text.  Of course it gives a
sense of Kinbote's obsessive mind, brooding
over slights which can never be redressed, lost
paradises and missed opportunities - as well
as a certain playfulness which can not be
dismissed - but although Kinbote is the one
giving the instructions, progressing through
the work using his instructions, e.g., see note to
line 919, as a road map also defeats him in the end.

Kinbote makes a point that the commentator
gets the last word, but I defy any two readers
(or even any one re-reader twice )to take the exact
same journey through the notes.  It's too
complicated.  There are too many ambiguities.
No two readings will always return to the
same place after all the departures.

Although Nabokov believed fervently in
rereading books, once you start following
the notes, you'll never read the exact same
Pale Fire twice.  (Support me here,
Heraclitus!)  Inevitably the final word will
be shared - between Nabokov and the
sympathetic reader.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On The Freedom of Infants

?                    ?                       ?

The question is not often asked:

Who is more free:  an intelligent person or an
unintelligent one?

But I think most people's assumption would
be that intelligence enlarges one's freedom.
After all you'd think intelligence would at
least help you come up with a wider range
of choices on which to act.

But I wonder how true our intuition is on
this point.  If very intelligent babies learn
learn to speak earlier than other babies in
similar circumstances, doesn't this mean
they have less freedom?

They don't choose to speak; they are
programmed or designed by nature to learn
to speak, and the more intelligent the child,
the more relentlessly nature makes her
develop according to a preset design. 

Perhaps intelligence is finally a measure
of how successfully nature shapes us
to her own ends.

Friday, December 3, 2010



I was walking down a street here in Old Town (Chicago) 
not really paying attention when the back door of an SUV 
opened.  I probably  wouldn't have noticed it, but a little 
boy, 4 years old I'd guess, jumped out.  

A woman was sitting behind the wheel and speaking
on the cell phone and didn't notice what had happened.
Without thinking I noticed the car's engine was running.
The boy for some reason ran round behind the car,
and then to my horror, the white tail lights came on.

I don't know if the car actually started backing up,
or I just imagined it, but I started shouting,
"Stop!  Stop! and ran back to her window and started
tapping on the glass.

I must have not frightened her, because she rolled
down her window, and clearly annoyed, asked me,
"What is it?'   

Suddenly I didn't know what to say.  If I said, " You're
about to run over and kill your child," it would amount
to saying, "You're a bad mother."

"Your back door's open."  She looked back: Oh my God!
She jumped out of the car.  Her first reaction when she 
saw her son was safe was to let out an immense sigh of
relief through her whole body; then she ran over
half hugged-half grabbed  the boy, upbraiding him for 
what a bad boy he had been, how much he had scared
Mommy.  The phone was still in her hand, but I don't
think realized it.

She didn't look back at me, which I thought was 
sensitive of her, because I was embarrassed to have 
witnessed the scene and would not have known
what to say.  I came here and met you.

--My best recreation of a story I overheard at
The Starbucks at North & Wells in Chicago.

The speaker was a young man in his twenties
I'd guess.  He was talking to another guy much
more casually dressed.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pale Fire: V. Sirin's Dream Life

V.                                                                                    S.

If Pnin seems to be asking its reader to uncritically enjoy
a few stretches of time spent in Pnin's company, Pale
Fire invites, almost compels interpretation.   Its many
layers, its various ways of reading, its multiple narrators
all suggest complexity.

I wonder if on a much simpler level Pale Fire isn't also
Nabokov's attempt to deal with the sense of unreality his
earlier life must have come to hold for him ensconced
in the academic wilds of New England.

Of course Nabokov's father was killed by a real
assassin's bullet; but one must wonder if there were not
times when Nabokov's memories of a Tsarist-tinged
social order  -  from the estate at Rozhdestveno which
belonged to him for less than year to his father's death
in the futile tumult of Russian emigre politics in Berlin -
came to seem as unreal to him as Kinbote's musings on
his friendship with John Shade or as dream-like as a
deposed king's memory of ruling and
fleeing an imaginary kingdom called Zembla.

V.                                                                           N.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Letter from Someone Who Nearly Loved You

_ - _ - _ - _ - _ - _ - _ - _ _

First off he had sent a letter, and she had  replied by email;
but nevermind.    He had shared with her all - all he
couldn't with the people around him because of the pain it
might cause.  When her reply came he was so nervous and excited
that he was unable to open the communication for several
days.  He noticed her user name the day before Thanksgiving,
and he didn't end up opening it until Sunday evening.

At first the letter filled him with gratitude and relief.  He
started composing replies in his head.  It was encouraging,
even tender.  Regret was expressed at the distance that
had grown up between the two.  He felt encouraged and
continued thinking about the proper reply - e-mail it had to,
be; it would be ostentatious to return to  the post unilaterally -
and the mood lasted for some part of an hour after he left
thc computer.  He read nothing after her letter of course.

Slowly, slowly suspicion began to grow on him that
he wished she had not answered him, that it was 
her listening which he valued so highly.  What
he had loved about her was he knew she heard him
even when she did not respond.  He was soon certain
he would have preferred her silence.  But how could 
that be? She had been so open to him, spoke of facing 
her own aloneness as she lost an uncle who had always
meant the world to her.  How would she live with him gone?

Suddenly  he realized what was bothering him.

Whether she had intended it so or not, her writing
had turned into an acknowledgment of all the people
who meant more to her than he did.

_ - _ - _ - _ - _ - _ - _ - _ _ 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Indie Film's Week of Winners and (Mainly) Losers

This is the most difficult week of the year for
American Filmmakers, the week Sundance
announces its picks for next year's Festival.

Of course for a few hundred filmmakers,
including those with shorts and documentary
makers, it's a wonderful week; but for thousands
more it's a disappointing week.  The chance to
gain a little attention for their labor of love has
been denied them.

And beyond the filmmakers who applied in
a specific year and did not get in, there are
tens times more who applied in previous
years, failed to get in and know their
work is unlikely to ever get even the little
attention an unsuccessful film at Sundance
will get.  (Full Disclosure:  I do NOT have
a full submitted to Sundance presently. )

Nassim Nicholas Taleb suggested in The 
Black Swan that all prizes, such as the
Pulitzer and the Nobel, be abolished,
because luck plays such a large role in
who wins and the prize hurts a much
larger number of worthies who never
win or receive attention than the few
who do.  I admire him for admitting the
psychic pain of losing out to others is
real for artists and not pretending it's
petty or doesn't matter. 

His critique seems to apply to Sundance
as well, which for many American independent
filmmakers divides the winners from the losers.
And in ways that don't always seem based on
merit.  Certainly having well known actors
in your film gives it a better chance to get
in Sundance than any other factor.

Those small films that do sneak in do so on a
combination of factors, including luck.

The year I came close to getting in
I know, because I was warned to make
sure my print was ready - I knew someone
who worked at Sundance who made sure
John Cooper looked at it personally.

Still to admit chance plays a role in who
gets in - and how could it not with so
many entrants for so few spots - does not
negate the good Sundance does in widening
the opportunities for lower budget films.
It's only right to admit that it does so at
a high psychic price for myriads of
disappointed American filmmakers who
find the week before Thanksgiving the most
painful of the year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Claudio Monteverdi, Opera's Dr. Frankenstein

When I taught beginning filmmaking at Columbia College
Chicago, I used to tell my students that making a film was
like making a Frankenstein monster:  the important test
was not how pretty the creature looked on the table but
whether life coursed through its veins once the cutting
and stitching were done.

When it comes to opera, it was Claudio Monteverdi 
who found a way to breathe life into the new form. 

What fascinates me about Monteverdi is that his
letters reveal a very uptight man, insecure, obsessed
with money and titles and at times pinched and
bitter; but in his music he is the least judgemental and
most generous of artists.

In his Il ritorno d'Ulisses a partria, based on The
Odyssey,   Homer's villains become two young
lovers experiencing the joy and excitement of
first falling in love.   In one of the most powerful
transitions in all opera, the two young lovers
sing of their joy right after Di Misera Regina,
Penelope's cry of anguish at just how painful
love can be.  "You thought it so important to
punish the Trojans and have left me all alone."

It's archetypical Monteverdi to run love at its
most painful right into love at its freshest and
most exciting, and let the grinding of the two
coming into contact with each other create
the strongest of emotions within his listeners.

Those who endlessly worry over L'incoronazione
di Poppea, especially its portrayal of Nero and
Poppea as human lovers  and not as unconscionable
monsters, do not understand that the unique power
of Monteverdi's work comes precisely from his
unflinching generosity towards the various motions
of the human heart.

The Animal Sigh

I won her heart when she asked,
"What pet would you most like?"

"A black swan of course, and
Whenever she lifted her wing in flight,
She would darken my heart with joy."

She listened to me with a sigh.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Samuel Alito, Leader of the Republican Party

There has been a lot of speculation that Rush Limbaugh
has become the true leader of the Republican party, but
given the Congressional Republican Leadership's decison
to emulate Alito's actions at the State of the Union and
to disrespect the People's elected leader by declining to
meet with President Obama and have dinner, I think it would
be more accurate to identify Samuel Alito as their new
spiritual leader. 

He's already giving them quite a bit of help with their
fundraising, both by voting to allow corporations
to contribute as much as they want anonymously to run
political ads and also by attending conservative fundraisers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

William Christie & Il Ritorno di Monteverdi

William Christie is in America's opera eye now,
because he is making his Metropolitan Opera debut
with Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte

He has conducted Mozart before, but he is better
known for his conducting  of early opera, notably
for his conducting of the music of Claudio Monteverdi,
the composer who breathed life into the form.

The Les Arts Florissants production of Monteverdi's
Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria*, conducted by William
Christie is the greatest operatic video production
I know of for any composer's work.   I should make it
clear I am not making this claim based on the vocal
quality of the singers - which is very high - but from
the viewpoint of effective theater. 

The Ritorno is perhaps the most neglected opera
in the repertory.  It does not have the popularity of
Monteverdi's first opera, Orfeo, or the cache of
his final one, Poppea.   I would compare it 
storywise to a film noir of the late 1940s or early
50s such as Out of the Past.  

To see the Ritorno, especially its stunning four
part duet finale, is to realize that opera could
have gone in a very different direction if the
music had not come to mean so much more
than the acting and the story, and especially
if the da capo aria had not come to dominate
the expression of emotion from the time of
Handel on. 

To my unscholared mind, Handel's genius
forced opera away from to theater to the concert
hall.  Compare his operas to Dido and Aeneas,
the last opera in the Monteverdian tradition still
performed today, and you can see how much
more direct and theatrical Purcell's opera is
than any of Handel's.

Given the Ritorno's neglected status and the general
dearth of early operas in performance,
Christie's production, admirably directed for
the stage by Adrian Noble of the Royal
Shakespeare Company, is especially important
as it shows the way to present this early music
with power and vitality.

I am linking to the finale.  It starts with
Penelope's song of joy at Ulisses's return
follows through a more meditative passage
and back into joy before quieting down
like Joyce's Ulysses into the word, "yes"
as its final word.  Monteverdi's is a much more
flexible way to express the changing emotions
of the human heart than the da capo aria,
which sacrifices complexity for hummability.

Monteverdi's sensibility is also much more modern
than traditional opera's.   Yes, today our sensibility
is closer to Monteverdi's of 1640  than Puccini's a
hundred years ago.  As William Christie said,  an
audience comes out of a good production of
Monteverdi not only moved but also "bewildered
by the modernity".

*The production in question is Les Arts Florissants
first video production filmed in July 2002.  There
is a very recent production of which I have only seen

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Beatles BreakUp! Why Bother?

                                   - - -
                   •                                    •
When my six year old son asked me today
"Why did The Beatles break up?" I realized
that for whatever other reasons they broke
up, The Beatles also broke up partly just
because they were the first rock super group.

They had no model for how to stop playing
together.  The other super groups who emerged
in their wake such as The Rolling Stones
and The Who were not long in figuring out
that you could take breaks from playing with
each other without formally breaking up;
but once Paul realized that the other guys
didn't want to keep up with his pace anymore,
he seemed to see things in terms of either
breaking up or maintaining the Beatles' killing
recording pace.

In this way he seems to have  been the Keith Richards
of the group, though their public personas were so
different.   Richards' new biography, Life, shows he
also drove the Stones so hard no one else could stand
the pace.  Still Richards was used to having to defer
publicly to the lead singer in a way Paul never had to
to John, giving the Stones more durability as a band than
the Beatles precisely, because they were less driven.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Citizens United & Judicial Politics

Perhaps the justices of the Supreme Court ruled
as they did on Citizens United not so foreign
donors and corporations could make unlimited
political donations with impunity, but so that
the justices such as Alito and their family members
such as Clarence Thomas's wife could?

Justice Alito has been indiscreet enough as to
attend conservative fundraisers, but who knows
what secret donations Justice Roberts and company
may be making with complete anonymity while
maintaining the myth of impartiality on the bench.

It's as if the referee were helping one team train
to use Justice Roberts' own metaphor.   The question
continues to grow:  Is Chief Justice Roberts going to
give Roger Taney a run for his money as the worst
Chief Justice in Supreme Court history?  Will Citizens
United be his Dred Scott case?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Maternal Instinct & Death Mobiles

Everytime an SUV rounds too close to my
kids and I as we are crossing the street,
and I look up and see a mom - identifiable
by the back seat children's car seats,
sometimes filled with actual live children -
talking on a cell phone or texting, I wonder
what has become of that driver's maternal

It's strange to strap your child carefully
into her car seat and then drive distracted.
The only explanation that comes to mind
is that most people when driving an SUV
or even a regular car don't really realize
the destructive potential of thousands of
pounds of steel and combustible fuel
hurdling along at speeds their ancestors of
even a 100 years ago hardly dreamed.

Automobiles are also death mobiles.  The
convenience they bring us is bought at a
high price in many ways, but still of course
they can not move us through space as quickly
as a cell phone or Blackberry can.

While in an automobile, we're almost nowhere.
The car is a bubble which separates us from
the humans around us so we can move as quickly
as possible to another place; but a phone allows our
body to be in one spot and our mind in another.

Travelling in a car while speaking on a phone,
we're not even really present in the strange limbo
of the automobile itself; and we're certainly not
as mindful of those bodily around but
doubly excluded from our attention by car
and phone.  Unfortunately, the vehicle with all
its destructive potential is actually there, and
if not minded can cause great harm or kill.

It's not an exaggeration to  say humans need
attention; and unfortunately when someone
driving does not give it and others the attention
required, it can prove this point in dramatically
catastrophic fashion.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Blood Buzz & Long Walk Home

I was listening to the sonic wave in the
middle of Blood Buzz Ohio   
when I suddenly realized that the
beautifully textured instrumental break
reminded me of another song.  It took me
several days to realize with surprise that 
the song it resembled was Springsteen's
Long Walk Home.

Although the songs and the artists might
seem on first consideration about as different
as two "wall of sound productions" and
bands could be - Springsteen being a classicist
from the lost generation of rock n' roll and
The National being post modernists from
the contemporary splintered music world -
I soon saw the songs actually have some
incredible similarities.

Both have a political resonance; both have
main characters who no longer know and
are known at home; and both look to a
return journey as a response to alienation.

Though in the Springsteen song, there seems
more hope for the journey than in the Ohio
where things have grown desperate for our
loveless and deeply debt ridden hero, in neither
is the return at all certain.

The beautiful sonic wave of each song
doesn't so much carry our heroes forward
as flow against them as they try to beat their
way onward through the rising tide of
American Mediocrity.

*                           *                             *

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The MidTerm Election

One thing is certain.  For the next few days
we're going to hear a lot of silliness from
pundits and politicians about the meaning
of this election.

This midterm defeat for the Democrats
was inevitable from the moment Obama
was elected with a combination of such
high hopes - almost messianic among
some of his supporters - and such difficult
problems to overcome.

The next few days would be a good time
to take Nassim Taleb's advice and avoid
the newspapers, cable news channel and
NPR.   It would be about as useful as
listening to the endless stream of banal
clichès streaming out of Republican
victors' mouths about "taking back the

Monday, November 1, 2010

Jack Aubrey, Master & Filmmaker

Strangely enough, the best series of books on
the life of a film director - as opposed to the craft -
are Patrick O'Brian's  Aubrey-Maturin Sea Saga
set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Being a captain of ship at this time of total
naval war is a lot like being a director in this
time of total media saturation in that time is
neatly divided between the times you have a
command (a film) and the times you don't.

When you don't have a film (a ship), everything
becomes about obtaining your next project (command);
and then when you finally get a project, you are not
so much in control - at least not if your budgets are as
small as mine were on NIGHTINGALE IN A MUSIC
BOX and BLACK MAIL - as in a dance with chaos.

Ship's captains of that time were in a similar position
of having absolute authority - but only authority to
improvise in dealing with the chaos that the sea,
the weather and the enemy dealt their way.   

Of course in the end, both captains and directors are
held responsible for the final results as if they really
did have control over the process.

Those made to be captains and filmmakers would not
trade the life for any other.

The first of the series is MASTER & COMMANDER.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cinema's Greatest Boethius

?                          ?                                ?

Whenever people ask me as a filmmaker,
"Hurt, whose portrayal of Boethius do
you consider the greatest in the history
of cinema?"

I always answer:

"Christopher Eccleston in 24 Hour Party People"

For those of you who love Carmina Burana
by Carl Orf, it is largely a Boethian Text:

Hey there, Fortune,
Like the moon,
You are changeable!
_                                        _

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Death of Declan Sullivan

Graham Greene once wrote that the sign of a
Christian Society is not one without sin, but
one with a divided conscience.

So far Notre Dame's response to Declan Sullivan's death
from its football coach's obvious negligence shows
the same depressing united-front-refusal-to take-responsibility
mentality you would expect from any secular institution.

Fr. Tom Doyle in his homily at Sullivan's memorial
mass went for uplift when repentance was called for.
Fr. John Jenkins, the President of Notre Dame had
passed the unpleasant task to him.
Notre Dame no doubt is worried about itself as an institution,
but it's a depressing spectacle none the less to see football
become so important at a Christian institution that a boy
dies, and no one will step forward and say, "This should
never have happened.  I am so sorry.  Lord, forgive me.

Forgive us all.  Amen."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

World Enough And Time

*                *                 *

The World is forgiveness:
it keeps ticking on,
no matter what you do.

Time is justice:
it spins you out finally
for your failures.

*               *                 *

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Athens, America & The Power of Success

One of the most difficult writing assignments I have
ever undertaken was to render Aristophanes' BIRDS
into English for the TUTA Theatre Company and
its visionary director, Zeljko Djukic.  (I also met
Natasha Bogojevich, the divine composer for
whose Bajalica I provided video stream, on this

I was at first taken aback by the many similarities
between Athens at the time of its war with Sparta
and America at war in Iraq, but the ending of
Aristophanes' portrait of Athens seemed at first
very alien to the contemporary world, because
BIRDS ends with the apotheosis of a new god
in Cloudcukopolis.

I got to thinking about the ending of BIRDS and
the revelation I had about it, because I heard Charles
Ferguson interviewed about his new film INSIDE
JOB over the weekend.  It's a very precise portrait -
Balzacian really - of the world which produced the
Greenspan-Paulson Financial Crisis.

Perhaps Zola would be a better comparison, because
there's a real "J'accuse" feel to it.  Ferguson
has no doubt who is guilty.  I have to agree with
him about the financial players, but more deeply
we have to ask what creates a world in which these
guys can thrive without being questioned:  it's
America's love affair with success.

From Aristophanes' portrait of Athens after Pericles,
we see the same unquestioning bowing and scraping
to success.  This was my revelation about the ending
of BIRDS.  Aristophanes was talking about a love
of success bordering on worship.

The play ends:
All hail blesséd success,
Of all the gods the greatest.

It's this unquestioning love of success which leads to
a world in which the successful can basically do what
they want until the success blows up in all our faces,
and our heroes become our villains once it's too late to matter.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dignity Lost: John Roberts' Supreme Court

   -                        -                            -

One may have thought the Supreme Court
could sink no lower than it already had
under petulant child Chief Justice Roberts,
and his smirking schoolboy companion,
pulling faces during the State of the Union Address.

(You would have thought they would just
 pity those who lack their Augustan job security, 
and would let a little politics slip under their notice; 
but since baby boomers need constant affirmation,
our own Child in Chief felt called upon to throw
the dignity of his office and the court into a hissy
fit.  What would his hero Roger Taney say?)

Still the waking of the Clarence Thomas scandal
has sunk the Court even further.  The strangest
aspect to these recent events is that the worms,
though very much alive it turns out, were certainly
buried deep until Mrs. Clarence Thomas of all people
decided to go digging for them in her own garden.

For those who wonder why at this time she
would reawaken doubts about this conservative
hero's morality, the answer may be that her
concern has more to do with quieting her own
doubts than advocating for her husband.

A new study covered here in the on-line blogs
of Discover Magazine shows that when a person's
faith in a belief is shaken, he or she is likely
to grow aggressive in advocacy of that belief.

So when we see someone out the blue trying to
convince others on an issue that isn't even on
their horizon, there's a good chance, something
has shaken her own faith and left her needing
to convince herself.

Or maybe it was just good politics - a deft manuever
to distract attention from the far more pressing
question of whether it is right for the wife of a
Supreme Court Justice to take large sums of money
for her political group Liberty Central, while her
husband holds such a powerful position within
what used to be a venerated democratic insitution,
but which now seems to be more the
vanguard of the coming oligarchy*.

* Oligarchy: rule of the rich, a political system in
which the wealthy hold all power.

Monday, October 18, 2010

End of Democracy

James Madison and others of the Founding Fathers believed that
inevitably our Republic would eventually turn into an oligarchy*.
With the help of the Supreme Court, I think the time is arriving
with alarmingly little alarm.

Republicans are outspending Democrats 9:1.  Most of this spending is
coming from anonymous sources such as corporations who officially
have no party affiliation, but which just all seems to line up against the
Democrats.  How can the two party system survive such lack of parity?

Money rules in America.  Even the Tea Party members want to
keep receiving their Social Security Checks and Medicare Benefits.
I don't see how even the little choice we get from the two party
system can be maintained.

This year is a water shed.  Soon the Democrats will just lead the list
of underfunded non-mainstream parties, such as the Greens and the

* Oligarchy: rule of the rich, a political system in
which the wealthy hold all power.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wistful, a short story

*                  *                *
It was to her everlasting, if rather mild, regret
that she gave her virginity to a man whom she
found rather unattractive.  It was not for money
or career advantage or because she felt
threatened in any serious way that the thing
fell in the way it did.

No:  when asked - by her own irritated
conscience; no one else could care
about such a trivial event so long ago -
how she could let such a  thing happen,
she could only answer,

Because he took control of the situation.
He was a true inside man.
*                  *                *

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What Makes A Mark Gullible?

If N. Nicholas Taleb is looking for confirmatory
evidence for some of his views on human psychology,
he would be interested in this little bit from David Maurer's
classic study, The Big Con,  a technical term meaning
a con in which the sucker, i.e. you or me in the right
circumstances perhaps, not only gets taken for the money
which he has readily available, but he also gets sent home
to raise some more.

Maurer talks about what makes a person a good mark,
ruling out stupidity.  It usually takes intelligence to
follow the con man's scheme.  Here is Maurer's
description of the ideal mark:

Most marks come from the upper strata of society, 
which in America, means that they have made,
married or inherited money.  Because of this, they
acquire status which in time they come to attribute
to some inherent superiority, especially as regards
matters of sound judgment in finance and investment.
Friends and associates... help to maintain this illusion
of superiority.  Eventually the mark.... forgets the 
part which luck and chicanery have played in his 
financial rise: he accepts his mantle of respectability
without question; he naively attributes his success to 
sound business judgment.

-                                            - The Big Con,
-                                              Chapter 4, p.102
-                                              Anchor Books edition

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The 20th Century's Mona Lisa

If you asked what image from the 20th Century comes
closest to capturing the universal sense of female
mysteriousness, that ineffable female mysteriousness,
it might well be the famous production still from
of Greta Garbo as Queen Christina.

Greta Garbo is a great screen icon whose fame and mystique today rests mainly on a still image.  The only film she made that can compare is Ninotchka.

Late in her career she realized it was the quality of the
directors she worked with that mattered, not the DPs.
But earlier she had insisted only on control of the
men who lit and shot her.

Looking at the above shot I can't help thinking of Graham Parker's
line, "The Mona Lisa's sister doesn't smile."

Monday, October 4, 2010

You Tube's raison d'etre

You Tube
is justified by work such as this:

You Tube is inundated by material which should
have never been posted, but that's the price we
pay for magical material like this we'd never get
a chance to see or hear otherwise.

A sublime little piece of time......

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Remembering Kit

Oct. 3 was Kit Carsson's birthday,
and in her memory, I want to recount
something she once told me:

It was a winter night, and Kit had to
run out to the pharmacy to get something
for the pain her life-partner, Leah, was
suffering from that night.  It was very cold,
and Kit wanted to quickly get the medicine
and then get back into their snug bed.

Two steps out the door, and Kit slipped on
the ice, landed on her back in the snow and
hit her elbow especially painfully, but she
got up, ran her errand, brought Leah her
pain medicine and climbed back into bed
with her.  Her elbow was killing her, but
Kit never told Leah what happened.

But she lay awake wishing that somehow
Rachel could know what had happened to
her that night, how she lay in the snow a
few seconds even in the bitter cold, thinking
"If only Rachel could see me now.  If only
she could know what I'm going through."

That night Kit hardly slept, dwelling on how
little Rachel knew of her life, of the small things
like a few moments lying on the frozen ground
on a windy night, wishing that her Rachel of the
Windows, as she always called her to me, were there
see what she was going through and to be seen back.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Secret Pain: a quiz

I am taking a little quiz of my readers.  Tell me whether the following
seems true or false to you:

Any pain you have -  from massive but silent heartbreak to
a bruise on the outside of your left foot which hurts
every time you step on it - feels as if you're carrying 
around a secret from the world and makes you feel special.

Use the comments to reply, and I'll let you know how it


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Questioning Success: Learning From Aristotle

            .                         ?                       .
Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan criticizes
Aristotle quite severely even though they are both
peripatetic thinkers, but on one point they agree:
Success* can be difficult to measure or even recognize.

Taleb talks about banks which make ungodly profits in
a very short term and pay their directors huge bonuses,
even though a slightly more distant perspective would
soon show those profits to actually be not only losses,
but also  the destruction of jobs and pensions and 
reasonable prosperity. 

Aristotle asks a question which startles any reader with
a pulse:  how do we know that the Greek Kings who
went to war with Troy were more successful than Priam,
the King of Troy who not only saw his city destroyed,
but all his sons killed, his wife, daughters, non-warrior
population and grandchildren enslaved in defeat?

Of the Greek Kings, the only one who could have even
understood the question was Odysseus.  (Plato had him
choosing a quiet life away from fame and away from
even the question of success when he went to choose
his next life.  He chose last, but taking the soul no
one else wanted, said "I would have taken this quiet
artisan, even if I had chosen first.")  The other kings...

Well, the best emblem for the other kings may  be
Agamemnon sailing home, confident that he
had done what it took to succeed,  proud of himself
for sacrificing even what was closest to his heart,
his only daughter to obtain success; and thus secure in
his feeling of success, he sailed home to be murdered
in his bath by his still angry wife and her lover.

As he died, looking at his own blood dripping in the
bath, did Agamemnon compare his own fate with Priam's
and wonder whether it was he, the victorious warrior,
or was it Priam, the defeated one whose city was destroyed
and who had lost all his sons but who died still loved by 
his wife, which was the more succesful? 

_ -  __ ---___ ----   _______  ------ 

* When an Ancient Greek philosopher such as Aristotle
talks about happiness, the closest concept we have in
America today is success.  

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Value of Prizes, a catechism

Q - Who was the final recipient of the
   .   Enron Prize For Distinguished Public Service?

A - Alan Greenspan.

Q - When did he accept the award?

A - November 2001, two weeks before Enron
declared bankruptcy and 4 and 1/2 years
before Kenneth Lay, the presenter of the
award was found guilty of conspiracy,
false statements, securities fraud and bank fraud.

Q - Who were other recipients of this prize?

A - Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Colin Powell.

Q - Should a political hero like Gorbachev, a war hero like Powell
   .  or a moral hero like Mandela be held accountable for not being
   .  more careful about questioning the source of a prize he was
   .  willing to accept?

A -

-  -  -  -  -   -  - -  -  - -- -- --   -  - - - -- -- - -  -- -- - -  - - -- - -
Source:  The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson, page 168.
Photo on page 170 shows Greenspan accepting award before
he even dreamed of taking co-credit for the Greenspan-Paulson
Financial Collapse of 2007.

-  -  -  -  -   -  - -  -  - -- -- --   -  - - - -- -- - -  -- -- - -  - - -- - -

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

We Don't Learn to Swim

Only God controls his thoughts, Catte,
She said to me.  The rest of us
Are the creation of our thoughts,
And we swim in their consequences,
Our reactions the waves we ride
Until we are pulled under, and
No light penetrates, and
Even the surf is so distant
It sounds intelligible.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Higher Education

In the David Brooks New York Times column yesterday,
there was a very depressing statistic:  just over 50% of
male graduates of Harvard last year went to work as
financial consultants and over 40% of female Harvard
graduates did too.

If these numbers can be believed, they are very depressing
for two reasons:

1) they confirm how that higher education
    functions mainly as the servant of success;
2) they  show how conformist even the best
    educated minds are with such a large number
    of Harvard minds clustering around a single
    field of endeavor.

Perhaps it was ever thus.  Still the hope that
education would lead to the questioning of success
rather than the serving of it, and that it would
make the educated more independent minded, not
less so are ideas which retain their hold on
some of our imaginations.

The good news for parents who really care about
education is that they have less reason to care
if their kids get into these highly competitive
schools, seeing as rather than educating young
minds, the elite schools are rather just training
them to serve the financial sector.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Loneliness of Obama

I have to say that I am very disappointed that
as Obama has had to deal with a tide of hatred
that no recent president, including Bill Clinton,
has ever had to deal with before, so many
natural supporters feel comfortable abandoning
him, because he has not done enough.

When I look at how out of touch with reality
both sides of the vocal political spectrum are
at the moment, it makes me tremble for my
country in that history does not suffer fools

To keep from fanning the partisan flames
any higher, I won't discuss the delusions of
the right; but those on the left who wish for
Obama to do more, seem not to have any
understanding of the huge forces, both
inchoate and organized, arrayed against him -
not to mention the incredible difficulty of
the political problems he inherited.

When Obama was running, he took the calculated
risk of somewhat encouraging the messianic fervour
of some of his supporters.  Especially among the
young, many had hopes and expectations simply
not consistent with the political realities of the

It seems to me almost everyone underestimates
the potential for some violent outbreak in the
current climate of fear and resentment.  Obama's
political enemies are not going to stop attacking
him in vicious terms, wishing on him the worst
possible outcome they dare imagine. 

Meanwhile many liberals talk earnestly about why
they can't help being disappointed by his this or
that and turn their backs on him and somehow
don't seem to realize how alone Obama is or what
a tightrope he needs to walk, not only to survive
himself, but to keep the body politic from
exploding into ungovernably divisive rancor.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Questioning Success

                            _ - - _                         $$

Charles Ferguson who made the very clear-eyed
No End in Sight, a documentary which showed the
problems of the Iraq war before the view became
fashionable, has a new doc coming out about the
Alan Greenspan - Hank Paulson financial meltdown
from which now we're still trying to recover.

His doc is called Inside Job, and from the trailer one
can see that like Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black
Swan) - but using a different set of evidence - he
believes that the meltdown was plainly foreseeable,
to the players who brought it on.  (Or in Taleb's terminology,
this seeming Black Swan was not really a Black Swan.) 

Ferguson was one of the first filmmaker's to express
and I am sure this will be a fascinating study in many
ways.  I am looking forward to seeing the movie
and urge anyone who wants to understand the crisis
to go see it.   At the same time I hope in his desire
to tell the truth about the money-players who made
so much money while destroying so many people's
lives, he doesn't overlook our own culpability in
what happened to us.

As much as we would like to blame only
Wall Street for our current problems, a usually
overlooked root cause of the meltdown and crisis
is that as Americans we love success.

Our ancestors came here looking for some form
of success; and usually finding it in a different
form than they originally imagined, we as a
people have come to accept and value success
in whatever form it comes: wealth, attention
or even actually achieving something which
helps others.

The one thing we rarely do is question success.
When someone is successful, we rarely ask why.
We usually credit the other person as the source
of his success and never ask if perhaps luck or
unscrupulousness or even weakness in the face
of peer pressure was the cause of his success.

Yes, in the run up to the Greenspan-Paulson meltdown,
personal weakness of character in the face of peer
pressure - in this case peer  pressure took the form of
other people's success - led to great wealth.

Many in the financial industry realized the sub-prime
mortgage market was based on a rotten foundation
and therefore  bound to fall, but the enormous sums of
money their peers were making created an anxiety about
being left out which led all but the most asocial
traders or most self-confident and self-sufficient money
managers on a dance of short term gain and long term

The famous quote by Citicorp's Chuck Prince that
"We have to keep dancing until the music stops"
makes it pretty clear that many in financial industry
knew that (in the words of the Squirrel Nut Zippers)
"in the morning there'll be Hell to pay."   

But what if they were wrong?

Or what if they were right but others, the
unscrupulous, made out like bandits while they, 
the clear-eyes seers of truth, were left out in the 
cold ?   

The success of others - especially if we view them as
peers - is too strong for most of us to resist, even if
we know the success may be built on shaky ground.*

As Americans, we believe that nothing succeeds like
success.  Success is self-justifying until it blows
up in our face, revealing a cost we really weren't
prepared to pay.  At this point it becomes easy to draw
the conclusions which we could have come to earlier,
if only we were less enthralled with the successful,
if only we were willing to question success while the
answers might still do us some good.

* To view this from another perspective, see Dan 
Ariely's psychological explanation of this process,
especially paying attention to the 11th and 12th 
minutes of this fascinating video.

/:/)                        $

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Domestic Life of Magicians

_/ ][

I'm now in pre-production on a short film I'm directing
taken from an episode in Harry Swan Jr's memoir Alter Ego.
Swan Jr. is doing the voice-over narration, but more than
that he's been answering my questions.  I asked him if he didn't
think it was a problem for magicians getting married when
deception is their profession and life-blood while marriage
is based on trust and honesty.

"It's tricky," he said, quoting one of my own films back
at me, then he pulled one of his business cards from his
coat pocket and handed it to me.  "Check and see there's
no other card in my pocket."  I looked.  There was no
other card.

  "Turn it over," he said.

   On the back he had written, "I knew you'd ask this
sooner  rather than later.   Choose an odd number
between 10 and 50 in which the two digits are not
the same.  For instance 11 would  not work but
15 would be fine."

  It took me a moment to understand the
instructions, but then I looked up at him and
said 37. He smiled slightly and handed me a copy
of Alter Ego. Before I opened to page 37, I knew
what would be printed there:

    Any average magician knows that when a move designed to be secret is spotted by the audience, the trick is to some degree exposed even if the exact mechanics remain unknown.  On the other hand, a gesture that looks like a secret move when the sleight has already occurred can be the perfect misdirection, and in retrospect make a rather simple trick look life a miracle. 

    Here, the confident magician is able to let the alert spectator think herself into an inescapable corner.  By thinking she has spotted the crucial move, she feels she has some sense of how the trick was effected and goes home feeling a bit superior to most, if not all, in the audience.   She goes to bed in innocence and peace only to wake with the realization that the trick could not have possibly been done the way she thought. 

  She does not go back to sleep but spends days and nights racking her brain, all hope of discovering the right method thwarted by the precious bit of misinformation she holds onto and which she keeps using as the foundation to work out a new variation which will hold up under her astute scrutiny.  It does not take long for her obsession with knowing to turn to an obsession with the magician who knows. 

   It ends in marriage - or from another perspective begins - and on the wedding night she withholds the expected favors until the truth be given to her.  The magician faces a dilemma.  Beyond his sacred duty to his art, he must ask himself:  will he lose his hold on his love when she learns how banal was the artifice, how simple the ruse for which she fell?  Will she still love him when she no longer needs him to free her from the impossible place in which she has cornered her mind?  

  The confraternity holds that whether the two will make a relatively happy or the most miserable of unions depends on how the delicate matter is handled, i. e., he must find a way to satisfy her without actually exposing the banality of the magic which has fascinated her for so long, that is he must lie to her and effectively.  If he tells the truth, she will never forgive him for being a magician.   

  How often has this old scenario played itself out one way or the other in the backstage annals of magic?  Many, many times certainly, second probably only in frequency to the endless variations of the magician becoming obsessed with his assistant - always futilely, it need not be added, as a magician is nothing without his secrets, which his assistant believes that she already knows. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

That Certain Physical Manifestation of Feeling

Harry Swan Jr. in his entertaining samzidat,
Alter Ego, recounts a day in which

"Nothing I could think of was wrong.
Everything seemed fine.  Everything had
been fine the day before.  Nothing preyed
on my mind - well nothing but the usual
things over which I used to eat my heart
out but which had lost most of their
anxious urgency over the years - and yet
I could not deny that my heart, not my
symbolic, poetic heart, but my my actual
physical heart was encased in a heaviness
which I can only label as depression.

I think of depression as mental, but I
know these physical sensations well,
the hyper-awareness of my inner chest
heart area, the way this heaviness
ebbs and flows down the left inside
of my torso, sometimes at its furthest
extension, bending to the right into
my small intenstines, never moving
straight down into my leg or up into
my shoulder. And they are not simple
pain.  They are not even in themselves
painful.  For a few moments, you'd
think nothing of these sensations, but
when they extend themselves over time,
they become depression itself, not
the physical manifestation of something
else, but the rude, unholy enchiladada itself."

Swan Jr's description ran very true for me,
but when I get my physical equivalent of
this form of seemingly purely physical depression,
I often find it's an early warning system of anxiety,
or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it's the
first stage of anxiety about something coming up
which had not entered into my consciousness yet.

Still, I doubt this facile explanation covers all cases.
When I was younger I often woke up horribly depressed,
though I had gone to sleep happy.  I knew I was depressed
because of how my chest felt, but the intense physical feeling
tended to dissipate rather quickly over an hour or two. 
Now such episodes are much, much rarer, but they last longer. 
_                                                                                   -

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mussourgnakov's End

              _                   _

And finally he came to
Where good writers start
And failed writers find their end:

He turned to writing poetry.

--                                               _

It was perhaps because Chicago was the 
Eastern Europe of America that he felt 
so at home here.  -- Life of Mussourgnakov

Monday, August 16, 2010

And Who Will Report on The Newspaper?

Further Thoughts on Donald Rosenberg's Law Suit
(see Cleveland UnPlain Dealer 8•15•10 below)

What was the point of Don Rosenberg suing his own
newspaper for taking him off the Cleveland Orchestra

Strange as it may sound, it may have been the only
way for Rosenberg to fulfill his function as a reporter and
to cover - or in this case uncover that which  The Cleveland
UnPlain Dealer would dearly have liked to cover up -
i.e., the story of how the Cleveland's leading newspaper
came to let the Cleveland Orchestra dictate how
music director Franz Welser-Möst would be reviewed.

The great Chicago labor lawyer and writer, Tom
Geoghehan, has taught us that the underdog must
often file lawsuits they know they can not win - even
though the moral right is on their side - not to win in
the courts but precisely to move the issue from the
judicial courts to the court of public opinion. 

Donald Rosenberg needed to file his lawsuit for
a related reason:   not to win; but to make sure
that editors and publishers know they can pay
a price for kow-towing to the powerful.

Rosenberg has stood up for all the critics in
America whose editors certainly don't want to
face the same fate that has now befallen Susan Goldberg,
the editor of who put the Un in front of Plain Dealer.

Simply put, this one decision will define her career
It is her legacy.  She has proven that an editor has
a right to muzzle any writer on her staff who writes
something the rich and powerful don't like, but I
doubt it's the legacy she would have chosen. 

Most journalists have idealistic streaks, or they
would have chosen more remunerative fields,
and I picture Ms. Goldberg as a girl imagining
herself fighting corruption and standing up for
the truth against the powerful.  Life is complicated
and somehow she ended up on the wrong side of this

She has defended herself saying she sensed a
closed mind in Rosenberg's writings.  It sounds like a
fair reason to reassign a writer, but if she really
felt that Rosenberg had lost his objectivity, the
least she should have done was let a very respected
critic write a goodbye column in which he was
not only allowed to use the words Cleveland and
Orchestra together, but also in which he could
have justified himself and let readers decide if she
were right or wrong.  

In the end she felt enough in the wrong to fear
his pen as much as she feared the Plain Dealer's and
The Cleveland Orchestra's interlocked boards.
This fear is evident in the restrictions she has put on
what Rosenberg can write even away from his beat of
reviewing the Orchestra, and she didn't have the
nerve to let him write that necessary farewell.  She
must have realized that not only The Plain Dealer but
her own career would tarnished if he had his say.

It is this failure of nerve by which her career
will be remembered and defined.  But what
about Rosenber's legacy?

Editors and publishers beware:  Donald Rosenberg
has shown critics how to cover the stories their
own papers would like to bury.
                                                     -   = >

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cleveland UnPlain Dealer

I just read that Don Rosenberg lost his
law suit filed against the Cleveland Orchestra
and the Cleveland Plain Dealer for conspiring
to fire him, simply because he told the truth
as he saw it.  I have a lot of sympathy for
Rosenberg, but if newspapers were expected
to stand up for the truth, what would happen
to the First Amendment?

Given the proximity of this suit's outcome
to Lebron James leaving Cleveland, Susan Goldberg
and the Cleveland Plain Dealer should expect their
names to be forever linked to Dan Gilbert and
the Cleveland Cavaliers, both institutions
finding their leadership to be quite awkward
in dealing with ungrateful employees working
in the public eye who won't meekly toe the line.  

(The most interesting discussion I have found of
the controversy is here:

Some of the comments add quite a bit to the discussion.)

As to judging Franz Welser-Most's significance in the classical
music world, I think a good indicator of his importance lies
in the fact that outside of Cleveland it's hard to find a
classical music fan who even knows how to spell his name,
much less who has a firm opinion of music making abilities. 

Sports Fans

_                            _                               _

Going by the numbers, being a sports fan
makes no sense.  Only one team a year
wins a championship.  Every other team's
fans end up to some degree unsatisfied.

The further you go, the more painful the
loss.   The Black Hawks won the Stanley
Cup after 49 years of struggle, and it was
the Flyer's who felt like a team of destiny
whose fans suffered the most.

The amount of suffering sports affords its
fans is much greater than the joy.   So why
do we think sports spectatorship is worth it?

Desmond Morris believes that sports takes
care of our hunter - gathering instincts in
a society where we're cut off from the
primitive expression of these instincts. 

The jolts winning and losing give the fan
also seem related to the urge to gamble with
its uncertain rewards system, the excitement
of which for some becomes highly addictive. 

Sport fans become addicted too, but to the
excitement in other people's lives, not their
own winnings and losings. 
_                            _                               _

Saturday, August 14, 2010


_ ___  ____   ______     ________       

You'll notice a new link in the sidebar of my works,
though the work has been up a while actually.  

It's to a youtube entitled BAJALICA or "Healing Chant."

Natasha Bogojevich, a wonderful contemporary composer,
wanted to write a piece for various instruments (winds in
the case of this version, though not all) electronic drone
and video.  Natasha and I have collaborated on 4 pieces,
3 of which have been completed and the fourth to be
performed in the fall or winter.   I think she's a genius, but
at first I didn't know why she wanted visuals to add to
her incredibly powerful music.

After I was done though, I realized that my images were
an intensifier to her work.  For one thing, most people
don't have attention for new music anymore.  The
images help keep the mind still, so the ears can listen.
(It's somewhat analogous for my needing to write in
a coffee shop surrounded by noise and distractions.)

She had one important rule.  No images of people.
It was the exact right amount of direction I needed to
figure out how to set images which help other peoples
eyes really hear her music not only with their ears but
with their whole nervous system, electrified up and
down the spinal chord.

Bajalica  pt 1


I shot this with a consumer grade still camera set on
video.  I knew I couldn't compete with great
cinematographers on professional equipment, so
I went the other day, focusing especially on
different forms of movement.

This video has been shown dozens of times
as part of live performance, including at the Maryenski
Theater, the most famous theater in Russia. 


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Grand Hotel, Mackinack Island

Tonight I had to put on a jacket and tie
to make a phone call.  My children were
sleeping in our hotel room, and the Grand
Hotel where we are staying has a policy
that you have to wear a jacket and tie to
hang around in the halls after 6:30.

(It's a funny hotel.  There's a sign that says
Your Room is Free if our Clerks Don't Smile
above the check in desk, and our clerk didn't
smile.  How do you collect on that?  "Excuse
me, but you didn't actually smile, can I stay
an extra night?"    There is also a big sign
which warns, No Tipping!  which may well
be the reason the clerks aren't smiling.)

Still when I got to the lobby to make my
call, the director with whom I'm collaborating
had to bag out for a sick child, and I spent
the time working on my short play,
The Youngest Detainee, about the youngest
detainee at Guantanomo Bay.

Walking back to my room, I passed photos of
John Kennedy and Harry Truman and other guests
of this hotel which has played an outside role in
history - given its remote location - and I wondered
if part of its lore would someday be that Hurt
McDermott worked on The Youngest Detainee in the
lobby.  If so, the little factoid will never compete
with the fact that Somewhere In Time was shot here.

My 2nd Shortest Story

________________                  ________________

Wisdom is hard to come by, my father always said,
which may be why he never found any.

From which, the lack thereof,
resulted all our heartbreak and suppressed tears.

Is this a story?  Does it conjure a world
 for you?  Cunningly made?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Does Ἀπόλλων Ever Give Διόνυσος or Διώνυσος His Due?

Ἀπόλλων & Διόνυσος or ΔιώνυσοςA

All right, I'll give you the Apollo/Dionysus dichotmy
if you'll admit it was Apollo who suffered more for love.

Still even we followers of Apollo must sometimes give
Dionysus his due.

Who Could Deny the Healing Power of This Reveling?

Start Wearing Purple

And who could resist the Wanderlust Kings? (sic 'em)

Ἀπόλλων & Διόνυσος or ΔιώνυσοςA

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Redoubtable Steve Key

I ran into one of my favorite actors, Steve Key,
in the streets of Chicago of all places.   He had
just come back from a national tour with
Steppenwolf in Tracy Letts's August: Osage
County, a play with a deceptively hard to
remember title. 

Steve has what I consider the trickiest role to cast in
BLACK MAIL, my most recent film.  He played
the cop who romances  a Presbyterian minister
who is in every way above his head.   She is
beautiful, better educated and has veneer of
sophistication he can not match; but in the
same way Benedict ends up with Beatrice in
Much Ado About Nothing he wins
her heart by knowing how to take his time. 

Beyond his acting talent, Steve is just a wonderful
guy, and it was such a joy to see an open seat
next to him on the bus.  Being an independent
filmmaker entails making films with about 1% of
your time - if you're successful, that is - you spend
about 10 times that trying to get a film up and a lot
of time writing.

It's a real gift to run into someone who thinks of
you primarily as a filmmaker!  It helps you get
through the 90% or so of your life you spend in
exile from the film community.  It puts a smile
on your face.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Roasted Swan

?                                                  ?!

Those of you who know Carmina Burana know there is
a Black Swan in it, actually a white swan roasted black:

The Roasted Swan

Neither the surprised bird nor Carmina Burana shows
up in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan, but
this doesn't stop the book from being the perfect gift for
the young filmmaker or novelist starting out into a career
in which randomness (or luck, if you prefer) plays a large
role.  Taleb has caught the artist's predicament very well,
covering everything from how rewards are doled out to
artists in a less satisfying manner than to accountants
to the real toll the success of lesser artists exacts from the artist
struggling with  lack of recognition and the knowledge that
there is a very real chance - a strong probability if one is
honest with oneself - that not only will he or she neither get
the money nor attract the many attractive people attracted to
success, but that the work itself, that for which all else has been
sacrificed, might well vanish into a void too.

By Black Swan  he means a highly improbable event,
say 9-11 or a stock market crash.   People in power and
insurance executives fear Black Swans, but obscure artists
chase after them.  For filmmakers, even getting into a film
festival is a highly improbable event if they have no
actors the public has heard of.  The one Black Swan I have
managed to catch is winning the Jury Prize for Screenwriting
at Slamdance in 2004 for  NIGHTINGALE IN MUSIC
BOX, which I also directed.   

This was the only one of my four features to make any
splash on the festival scene, eventually winning several
more prizes and playing European festivals as well.
Slamdance receives over 5,000 submissions per year with
about 3,0000 of of them being features.  They show under
30 features, meaning getting shown there at all is by
objective measure a highly improbable event. 

It leads to Park City, but it did not lead to fame and fortune,
and my next film BLACK MAIL has had the same difficulty
all my films previous to NIGHTINGALE had even getting into
a festival.  What's the difference between NIGHTINGALE'S relative
success - you can buy it on Amazon after all! - and the
obscurity of my other films?  Taleb would argue that it's as
likely to be a question of luck as of the quality of the movies
themselves.  To say I was lucky with NIGHTINGALE is not
to deny its quality, but just to say the first reviewer had to
like science fiction, or be in a good mood that day to even
give the film a chance.

Taleb's concern with randomness and luck reminds me
of Boethius and his Consolation of Philosophy, a wonderful
book whose Wheel of Fortune shows up in 24 Hour Party 
People.   Taleb also finds some consolation in randomness,
especially since the internet now gives the obscure thinker
or artist a place to wait in the antechamber of success for
the work to be discovered.*  This is because work can
survive basically forever in digital form on the net.  He
uses the term long tail to refer to this relative permanency
of any work now, no matter how obscure, and says of the
long tail:  "the world is made no less unfair for the little
guy, but it now becomes extremely unfair for the big man.
Nobody is truly established."

In other words, those at the top of the wheel will come
down when it turns again - thereby creating room at the
top - and so those of us who feel we have not yet
received the attention our work deserves can pray,

Oh, Fortune, turn your wheel one more time!

---                ----                      -----

*Of course it could turn out to be the antechamber
of further obscurity too.   There is no way to tell is
one of his points.  The insecurity is not only
frustrating but over the course of a lifetime injurious
to the health of the artist, Taleb argues.

I want to stress that I can not comment on his
economic advice, which is what he is best known
for.  I just do not know enough about it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Big Nothing

------      -------       ---------------->

Time is that which doesn't exist
.and which will remain
..after we're gone.

*                 *                   *

It's precisely because it doesn't exist
...            ...   that it can't come to an end.


Friday, July 23, 2010

WFMT Cancels The Romantic Hours

I am a big fan of WFMT.  I am not shy about saying
it is clearly the best radio station I know of in the
United States.  I give money regularly to keep it
going.  I'd like to suggest the slogan to
Steve Robinson:

WFMT, Chicago's Gift to the Nation

but I have to strongly lament the canceling of
The Romantic Hours.  It's ironic they did it
so soon after their poetry month, because it
was the one show on the air that consistently
featured poetry - and not the dozen classics
you always hear either.

Beyond that, The Romantic Hours was a
truly bizarre and sometimes very affecting
hour of radio.  Where else could you hear
Cosima and Richard Wagner exchanging
letters admitting that all they truly wanted to
do was die, but of course they had a duty to
live while Siegfried Idol played in the background?

Mona Golabek is a completely committed
host, and it doesn't matter that the taste of
the show isn't always impeccable, it always
delivered a slice of our cultural history you
could get no where else; and it was perfectly
positioned at midnight on Saturday, bringing
the week to a contemplative end.

Please go to WFMT's contact page
and let them know if you'd like to
bring The Romantic Hours back.
Lets show the power of this blog,
and the untold millions who read it.


Untold, forward.
 _                             !

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Secret Diplomat

_ _        ________      _  _

He considered his wife beautiful - even after 11
years of marriage,  that is he still considered
her beautiful except on those social occasions
when she decided lipstick was called for.  
The amount of lipstick she used
struck him (the verb none too strong) as so
entirely excessive and the effect of this excess
as so obviously garish that he wondered how
she could ever fail to see how unattractive
her efforts made her look and how completely
her lack of discretion in front of the mirror
destroyed her beauty.

He said nothing,  because he did not
want to hurt her feelings, and he knew
beyond a doubt that  he could hurt
her quite effectively if he expressed 
exactly his thoughts.

 *      *     *

One night when he had drunk enough to
have honest thoughts,  but before his
mind and sensibility had been clouded into
a comfortable insensitivity, his wife excused
herself from the table during a riveting
table wide discussion at an important dinner
party and went into the bathroom.

She took the opportunity to refresh her make up
and lipstick, and as she came out of the bathroom,
he hardly recognized the gaudy stranger walking
towards him.    He touched his bow tie and
for the first time reflected that he could never
really know the sort of person who could
make such a gross mistake.  Not only her beauty
was suddenly called into question, but the whole
basis of their marriage.  He could no longer say 
with confidence he was capable of loving her.

He felt sorry for their children.