...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blowing smoke

"A house is not news. A house on fire, now that's news." -- an old journalism wisdom shared by one of my writing mentors in college.

Unfortunately that gem has recently been rendered ridiculous. Trying to follow the Dem's Convention has become an act of futility as nothingness get spun and spun and spun until it seems like conflict!, gossip!, something! Though I hope all of the media provides equal crazy time coverage of the Rep's convention, I have switched off this product.

Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, we no longer receive news. Turn on all of the media information networks (CNN, Fox, MSNBC, CNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.), there's no news. There's speculation, commentary, commentary on the speculation, and occasionally some speculation on commentary. These businesses need to distract you long enough so that you forget that you're watching 24 hours of advertising. It's tough to put something on screen all day, it takes a lot of work from a lot of individuals, and it becomes more difficult when other journalism portals are racing to say something first or louder.

The house is not on fire. But it's up to these companies to make us keep checking to see if things are ablaze. If we stop watching, ad revenue goes down, stock prices go down, and these shops start folding up.

Some of you know that I haven't had any television channels in my home for the last 7 years. This abandonment of the box wasn't due to reality programming, bread-and-circus distractions, or terrible writing.

Seven years ago, a day came when the sky fell. The house really was on fire. I, like most of the nation, couldn't stop watching the reporting. For weeks. Once I came out of the somnambulism induced by falling buildings and death counts, I realized that every station kept saying, The House Is on Fire. Experts were coming in re-explaining the events and speculating on every moment of the fire. Though a little exploration of why the house was burning would have gone a long way, the actual commentary was repetitive. The voices and images kept saying the same thing. Why? Because there was nothing left to report. The house was no longer on fire. Fear had turned us into the perfect captive audience. And that realization spelled the end of television in my home.

One of the media networks, who had up to that point been poorly constructed and been limited to awkward lurching amateurish programming, caught full hold of that fear and hasn't let go since. And it has been the best thing to ever happen to them. Besides holding a consistent political bent to their product, they still wage in that same fear which has now spread to every part of society. They keep saying every day, THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. And their consistent viewers have to believe it if they receive all of their information from this source.

That network's blossoming has since caused the rest of the companies to rush to keep up. Instead they don't always say the house is ablaze when it's not. Chris Matthews talks to experts about potential sources of conflagration. Wolf Blitzer showcases people who have lived in burning houses. There are graphics of what would happen if the fire starts. And all of this proves very addictive viewing. But it doesn't mean that anything is actually happening. It is the definition of pornography -- an artificial manipulation of real feelings in order to create a temporary false emotion.

Now, I'm the first one to say that everything is not right in this country. The wiring is all messed up, the appliances were never strong to begin with, there are cracks in our foundation, and we apparently have no basement. But, well, let me tell you a quick personal story:

In 1995, during my family's first full year in Santa Barbara, we were enjoying another in a series of 200+ consecutive beautiful late mornings. I was on the can, thumbing through a Baseball Digest and Sporting News, when I heard my dad's running thumping footsteps passing by the door. He was shouting, "THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. Get out of the house!" He'd seen dark smoke coming from the vent in his room. My idyll was interrupted and as we all scurried out through the garage, my heart raced with adrenaline. I believe the SBFD was called in (need to fact check through Jason), but one thing was for certain. The house was not on fire. A towel in my parents' bathroom had gotten a little close to a light bulb and started smoking. I'm not saying that wasn't important. The smoking towel needed to be addressed. But the house was not on fire.

As for the republic of Georgia, their house is on fire. The U.S. has the potential, and that potential must be explored, but to scream and frighten in the disguise of News is a lie. We need to focus on and fix the faulty things, the open flames, the smoldering towels, the blocked fire exits. But current reporting (journalism?) is an illusion, a trumped up distraction to keep you watching and the ad sales coffers filling. What will happen when this current programming process is no longer of interest? Will some of these media companies begin starting fires in order provide a product? Maybe, maybe not. But I'm sure they will do their best to slow the fire department from putting it out.

I am not interested in debating the difference between Truth and Fact here, but I am calling a lie a lie, a cheat a cheat, and emotional abuse a reality. Networks! Save the Fear for the unpopular politicians. Bring news back. And let us know how people are planning on fixing the plumbing, opening up their windows to the outdoors again, and what's being done to lower the electric bill.

In the meantime, please expand your coverage of Megan Fox's latest nipple-slip. Thank you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Happy birthday to Diving for Pearls!

I must drop a quick post to announce that as of last week, this blog is now 1 year old! Just a baby. He's a little hairy, has small feet, and is beginning to grow some teeth. Thanks to everyone's support!

I did break one of my rules in the previous let's-blame-Bush-for-my-faulty-dishwasher post. I do not want to bring politickin' into this blog and will do my best to resist it in the future. Some things that you can look forward to in the near future: more whine, more wine, finishing the Lubitsch reviews that I'd started 4 months ago, a review of the so-called Star Wars prequel trilogy, a meditation on Fassbinder's BRD trilogy, some thoughts on food, and $10 for every person you refer. There was a lie in there somewhere.

Thanks again for every one of the 1130 hits! We're 25.6% of the way to Pete Rose's career record.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dear Mr. President,

As you finish your final months in office, you must have many important duties to fulfill. There are people you have to pardon, post-term speaking engagements to settle, long-term contracting deals to sign, and maybe some final political scores to settle.

Within the last year your administration has begun to publicly acknowledge the economic downturn that the nation currently experiences. There are other negatives that have been reluctantly mentioned as well, such as failures in overseas diplomacy, military action, and the worldview of the United States. Maybe you haven't addressed these directly -- it may just be my optimistic imagination -- but even if you have, I am not entirely certain that you, your advisers, or cabinet members can see our nation's day-to-day collapse due to the blindfold of Wealth.

My girlfriend and I (yes, we live together and are not betrothed) recently moved to another apartment. No, we are not homeowners. Despite the fact that we both have jobs that pay well, we still cannot afford to purchase a home even amidst the current housing market disaster. Our new apartment, mere feet from luxurious Beverly Hills, surrounded by seven- and eight-figure houses, is not of the inexpensive sort, but not unreasonably priced either. The apartment and the building themselves are of quality and the nights are exceptionally quiet by Los Angeles standards. The problem with our place resides with the things within, objects and labor. American products and American work. To summarize:
  • Uneven kitchen tiling of different heights that can cut bare feet. Tiling which was installed two weeks later than needed, thus keeping us out of our apartment for two days after we had already moved in.
  • A dishwasher that sometimes washes dishes when not activated and does not dry them once it is activated. It is brand new.
  • A freezer door that does not seal the same as the refrigerator below it, thus potentially causing high utility bills. It is brand new.
  • An oven installed on a slight slant so that burning hot trays can slide out and hit passersby. An oven that may not reach the actual temperatures that it indicates. It is brand new.
  • A stove top that is slippery, thus causing burning hot pans to slide off and hit passersby. It is brand new.
  • A toilet that was installed under a shelf so that the toilet cannot fully open. Without going into graphic detail, I will just say that it presents a problem for both men and women. This was installed 20 to 30 years ago in every apartment in the building.
  • A shoe rack, new in the box, with three broken pieces so that it cannot be assembled.
  • A shoe rack, new in the box, with at least two missing pieces so that it cannot be assembled.
  • A shower rack, or caddy, with metal so flimsy that it cannot serve its own purpose, bending out even without holding a single bar of soap. It has shelves that cannot stay straight due to flimsy rubber wedges, causing anything placed on the shelf to come sliding off, hitting naked surprised bathers. It is brand new.
  • Screen doors that do not open. Screen doors that do not open are no longer doors, but walls for exhibitionists.
  • Cabinet doors that either do not open or do not close.
  • Closet bars that will collapse under the weight of the clothing hung upon them.
  • Front door locks that do not lock.
  • Kitchen shelves installed on a downslope causing dishware to, yes, slide off and hit passersby.
I will stop here, Mr. President, because to go further would likely seem to be nitpicking. What I hope is apparent is the shoddy nature of these American-made products, this work, this labor provided in America, this sliding away of the last shards of American quality. My girlfriend and I do not live in a $600 studio in South LA, these things are happening within the middle-class.

When I do my job, I do my best, focusing on the clients, vendors, and people who are affected by the results. If we Americans know that we cannot afford a house, cannot afford to get sick, cannot take any pride in our international standing, cannot assume that our jobs are stable, cannot afford to travel, cannot expect to get our Social Security back when we are old, cannot expect privacy laws to be upheld, and cannot assume that it is okay not to be afraid anymore, what are we supposed to do when we come home from work to an apartment full of broken things. Shoddy labor going into shoddy products. The complete lack of effort and pride.

You, sir, set the example.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Go on singing

In the process of taking care of apartment matters while KP suns in Sweden, I've remained frighteningly sober. Even a run-in with Coppola's Rosso ended earlier than it normally would.

On Saturday, my dad and I went out to Anaheim to watch the Yanks. In typical fashion the Angels beat the crap out of them. We had decent seats but the O.C. sun was burning up the deck. So we went progressively higher and higher up the ballpark to stay in the shade. By the 9th, the view was such:
I did get to see ARod and J. Stach-less Giambi go yard, back-to-back. But we left once the over-praised Yankee relief staff allowed 8 straight runners (7 hits) without being able to get an out in the 8th inning. They've taken their two best relievers (Chamberlain and Giese) and made them starters. That leaves a problem. I witnessed it. It was great to see a game with my dad though. But the blondes with silicone stacks kept getting in the way of my view of the field, even when they were standing in the beer line.

In between unpacking boxes this weekend, I had a chance to get through some DVDs. Finally finished the first Popeye set. Awesome. Highly recommended. Remember these aren't the crappy cheap color cartoons. These were the original ones from the 1930s. Once Jack Mercer signs on as the voice of Popeye, these short violent films become very funny. Mercer ad-libs, mutters grandly terrible puns under his breath, and (if my hearing's right) occasionally comments on the cartoon itself. As far as the un-PC element goes, Olive Oyl gets socked around as much as the boys do. Off-putting at first, it eventually blends in and makes sense, since everyone else gets punched and she takes a hit better than the boys do, sometimes. The racial incorrectness, though, is very dated and seems like laziness on the part of the writers and animators. Otherwise these B&W cartoons are still enjoyable 70 years later. Note: Popeye apparently liked to dance a lot at this point in his life. One out of every six cartoons has him cutting a rug.

Kristen brought me Babe (the one about the pig, not the Ruth picture) as a present a week or so ago. It was in the DVD player as soon as I'd set it up. 13 years ago (wow) I watched Babe -- with Stacy Lydon, I just realized -- in a theater full of children. I hate kids in theatres and I normally despise kid's movies, so I was anticipating disaster. But it was beautiful. Once the movie started, there wasn't a peep from the little people. And as the film came to a close in a striking, zen-like, peacefully composed sequence of shots, I began reading into a film for the first time. I think this was the first time...at least it makes for a decent story.
What's surprising all of these years later is how dark this G-rated squeaker-pic can be. Much of it centers around the accepting of one's destiny to be eaten. When Babe sings Jingle Bells right after being measured for a Christmas ham, I thought that if one were to replace the animals with humans, the irony of his joy would be too gruesome to film. But, alas, Babe has a different destiny. And I was surprised how emotionally connected I still am to the film's final act. I think it's largely due to James Cromwell's commanding, almost wordless, performance as the farmer. If any of y'all watch this one again, keep an eye on Cromwell, he's amazing.

Finally, I watched F for Fake. I've had it sitting around for a month, courtesy of Netflix. It was my loss to have waited so long. It can easily stand with Kane and Touch of Evil as Orson Welles's best cinema. I can't add much more than what has already been written, but I'll try. It's at least 20 years ahead of its time. The editing is fast and brilliant as it tips the film towards the avant-garde, which in turn probably kept any distributor from picking it up back in '76.
It's Orson's last completed film, but he shows no signs of slowing down. The tone is mischievous, youthful but wise. It's about two famous con artists, one who was one of the great art forgers, the other an author of a true biography on a faker and a fake biography on a real person. Besides being full of twists and turns and commentary on the art market, it really is about beauty and truth. If someone can recreate a Picasso or Modigliani (in minutes!) with perfect precision, who's to say that this person is not an artist as well? And what then is art? And why does the artist matter? It is the art that is profound. Once the art is created it belongs to the universe, not one person.

I've never seen anything like this film. It's a documentary, but not. It's a mediation with tons of titillation. My favorite part comes an hour and 2 minutes into the running time. Welles abruptly cuts to a monologue about Chartres which turns out to be the thesis of the whole film.
The monologue follows, below. Imagine the great Welles voice -- like a large sleepy bear sipping Cabernet -- weaving his thoughts in almost a whisper. And as you listen, it's as if the world stands still for a minute:

"Now, this has been standing here for centuries, the premiere work of man, perhaps, in the whole Western world. And it's without a signature. Chartres. A celebration to God's glory and to the dignity of man.

"All that's left, most artists seem to feel these days, is man. Naked. Poor, forked radish. There aren't any celebrations.

"Ours, the scientists keep telling us, is a universe which is disposable. You know, it might be just this one anonymous glory, of all things, this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand choiring shout of affirmation, which we choose, when all our cities are dust, to stand intact, to mark where we've been, to testify to what we had it in us to accomplish. Our works in stone, in paint, in print are spared, some of them for a few decades or a millennium or two. But everything must finally fall in war or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash. The triumphs and the frauds. The treasures and the fakes.

"Fact of life, we're going to die. Be of good heart, cry the dead artists out of the living past. Our songs will all be silenced. But what of it? Go on singing. Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

We are here

If West Hollywood goes by WeHo and North Hollywood is called NoHo, then we're just plain Ho. Actually we're on the Beverly Hills / Hollywood border so we're at BH Ho. Say it out loud. (For those who need to be handheld through this juvenile joke, add an "ass" after BH, so you'll have a BH ass Ho. You're welcome.)

The apartment started to feel like home for a moment this morning, even though we'll still be box-squatting for a couple more weeks. We have no internets there; until I do, these posts will be brief as I pretend I'm cost reporting at work. But we ate an actual dinner and breakfast in our dining room during actual dinner and breakfast times. Our bedroom smells less and less toxic each night. And the most exciting part is that I showered in our shower for the first time. Four mornings. Four different showers. Four different women.

I'm kidding.

Five different women.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

OK. I cannot go out on that note today. Here are two pictures:

This is great. Did I already post this? If so, T.S.

And some bananas.

Not very moving

Just a quick update. Our move has been very messy. We have no working apartment to live in. Instead we spent the night at a hotel. Walking into one's new apartment and seeing the toilet in the living room and fridge in the dining room was an experience I'd rather not repeat. KP and I are okay and will not let our lives be interrupted by odd fortune.

In other uplifting news, Joba Chamberlain is hurt. I declare on August 5th that the Yankees' season is over, even if he only misses a few starts. There's a guy from the NY Post who agrees as well. He proves his point via facts. I felt it in my stomach after reading the story this morning. That grand slam given up in the bottom of the ninth (to the RANGERS) by their supposedly stellar relief staff contributed to it. I still predict that despite scoring well at the trading deadline, the Yanks will win 87 wins. That's not enough for the AL East nor the wild card. Keep in mind they're missing Hughes, Kennedy, Pavano (haHA!), Wang, Matsui, and Posada for the rest of the year. Chamberlain and Rivera are hurt. Plus missing Damon and A-Rod for 20-game periods put them at least 4 wins behind. I didn't see them making it too far anyway even with all of those people healthy year-round. I'll jump on the Cubs or Mets bandwagon depending on who gets to the playoffs.

I'll end on a good note. We found a great BBQ place called Zeke's near the Formosa Cafe on SM Blvd. And my commute this morning was a smooth as Giambi's newly-shaven upper lip.