29 April 2009

On nervous habits

I hate it when I'm talking to someone I have a crush on and then get nervous and pick at a hangnail until it bleeds all down my finger onto the glass of cheap, sweet-ass champagne I'm drinking.

28 April 2009

Libertarian freakazoid blames the downfall of American democracy on the female franchise

Peter Thiel is a founder of PayPal and current hedge fund bazillionaire. He's written a thoughtful piece, blaming the downfall of American democracy on the female franchise, for the Cato Institute:
The decade that followed — the roaring 1920s — was so strong that historians have forgotten the depression that started it. The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of "capitalist democracy" into an oxymoron.

23 April 2009

Judge Posner: the free market needs more regulation

Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has written a forthcoming book, A Failure of Capitalism (Harvard University Press, May 2009), in which he (contritely?) expresses that it is, in fact, important and necessary to regulate the free market:
If you're worried that lions are eating too many zebras, you don't say to the lions, "You're eating too many zebras." You have to build a fence around the lions. They're not going to build it.
But wait, there's more:
You can't expect [an] individual firm to be worrying about what his collapse will do to the rest of economy. That's why you need government regulation of banking. [. . .] Coal-burning utilities in the Midwest don't worry about acid rain because that's going to be in the east. That's why you need regulation.

22 April 2009

21 April 2009

Driberally tonight

Drinking Liberally is a weekly social gathering where progressives talk politics and get to know one another. In Center City Philadelphia, we meet on Tuesday nights at Triumph Brewery's upstairs bar, where there are drink and food specials from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. I hope to see you there!

Triumph Brewery is at 117 Chestnut Street in Old City. It's conveniently SEPTA-accessible via the Market-Frankford El (2nd Street station), all the buses that turn around at or near Penn's Landing (5, 12, 17, 21, 33, 42, 48), and a few other buses that pass nearby (9, 25, 38, 40, 44, 47, 57, 61).

This week's topic: President Obama smiled at and shook hands with Hugo Chavez the other day -- one of the seven signs?

"Come for the beer, stay for the check"

20 April 2009

Another thing I need to do

I think I was mistaken as to what I needed to do to retain my Canadian citizenship. (For those of you playing along at home: one of my parents was still a Canadian citizen when I was born here in the States.) I was under the impression that I'd needed to file some paperwork by age 24, but since I failed to do so I'd lost my status as a "Canadian born abroad" and would have to start the immigration process from scratch if I ever wanted a Canadian passport or wanted to move to Canada.

Turns out, that age was probably wrong, and the rule was changed in 1977 anyway. My formerly Canadian parent thought they knew the law as it stood the year I was born -- this was before 1977 -- but hadn't been aware of the change. Of course, that was in the days before the 24-hour news cycle and YouTube.

Hrm. For the cost of a few hours fiddling with paperwork and a relatively small amount of American money, it may be very easy for me to renew my Canadian citizenship and be able to get a Canadian passport in the next several months.

I like to keep my options open.

19 April 2009

Michelle Malkin lies, defaming the Southern Poverty Law Center in recent column

Malkin's lie about the SPLC:
The SPLC, you see, has designated the venerable American Legion a “hate group” for its stance on immigration enforcement.
The truth:
In fact, the SPLC has never listed the legion as a “hate group” nor put it on any other kind of list.
Malkin appears to have followed the bouncing links to an SPLC blog post from July, 2008, pointing out errors in something the American Legion published regarding immigration. Since then, the Legion has corrected itself on most of the errors. But nowhere in that blog post, or anywhere else, has the SPLC called the American Legion a hate group. I looked it up, just to be sure. The American Legion is headquartered in Indiana, with another office in Washington, D.C.; but the SPLC's lists of hate groups for Indiana and D.C. do not include the American Legion.

Just another example of a right-wing extremist not letting the actual facts get in the way of her vitriol.

Things I need to do

I need to take some TSP to the bathroom walls.

I need to quit going to parties with the gang, and then cornering this one particular friend and pestering her about how sad it is that I can't find a real boyfriend, just a series of sub-satisfactory fumblings with a 25-year-old fellow law student. For chrissakes.

I need to clean out the window boxes and plant something on the deck other than tarragon, a dying fern, and a sole surviving vinca.

I need to make an omelet with fresh tarragon for lunch today.

I need to write more, like about the anti-fascist subtext of Zazie dans le métro and the contention that the whale is the Church of England.

15 April 2009

A Discussion with the Quay Brothers

Local poet, puppet artist, and filmmaker Ish Klein interviews the Quay Brothers on poetry, puppetry, and films:

By evilolive3000films.

14 April 2009

Driberally tonight

Drinking Liberally Center City meets every Tuesday evening at Triumph Brewery's upstairs bar. Hope to meet you there and share the drink and food specials, including half-price burgers, $4 single-serve pizzas, and $3 beers brewed on-site.

Triumph Brewery is at 117 Chestnut Street in Old City. It's conveniently SEPTA-accessible via the Market-Frankford El (2nd Street station), all the buses that turn around at or near Penn's Landing (5, 12, 17, 21, 33, 42, 48), and a few other buses that pass nearby (9, 25, 38, 40, 44, 47, 57, 61).

This week's topic: Did Duncan get to keep the suit, or, more importantly, the hat?

"Come for the beer, stay for the check"

13 April 2009

another film festival note

The Prince Music Theater needs to fix its sound system. Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life is challenging to begin with; but when the already impenetrable dialogue is unintelligible because of lousy sound design in an over-large cinema, you get what we had: a steady stream of viewers exiting the space as the film turned. During a screening that the expatriate creators attended and where they were honored with a festival award.


12 April 2009

apparently there is a holiday happening this weekend

The other day at school, I ran into a fellow classmate in the hall, and she started making small talk with me. It was fine until she asked if I had plans for a big family dinner today. The question went over like a lead balloon. I paused way too long, though not on purpose. I didn't mean to make her uncomfortable; but I had paused and was wondering, "Why would I have a family dinner? What's going on? Is she mistaking me for another student she had a conversation with earlier about something else? Does she think I'm Jewish?"

Eventually I answered, slowly, "For what?" She replied, carefully, "Er, for the . . . holiday?" I said, "Oh! Oh, no. I'm on my own this weekend." Which is true; my daughter's paternal grandmother and uncle are in town for Easter and I won't get her back until Monday after school.

It was awkward. I'm so out of touch with religious holidays that, even when the grandmother's visit was planned, I thought, "Well, that's kind of a weird time and a short stay; nobody's even on spring break that week."

But happy Easter, Passover, and various pagan-informed fertility and renewal holidays to all my dear readers. I'm off to do some grocery shopping and get some schoolwork done.

11 April 2009

Late film festival reviews

Julia - Not a remake of the 1977 drama but a re-imagining of the 1980 thriller Gloria. Tilda Swinton is an alcoholic who has regular blackouts; she meets a woman who's lost her son in a custody battle; Julia undertakes an adventurous scheme; and a series of ever more improbable happenings ensues. I mean, I say improbable, but I really was never forced to suspend my disbelief -- somehow everything followed, all 140 minutes of it. Maybe because much of the last third of the film was in rapid-fire Spanish. I thought it was a fine thriller, and I enjoyed it thoroughly (as the end credits rolled I found I'd been sweating). My only complaint would be to ask whether the resolution was supposed to show Julia accepting that a woman's true role in life and the only path to total feminine fulfillment and satisfaction is to be a mother. That would be a tiresome message, and one that's out of character for her. However, it's a role she rejects at the beginning and one she appears to take on in her last line, so I fear that it's what the film is trying to say. Damn.

Sita Sings the Blues - I remember seeing Nina Paley's comics years and years ago in Seattle's alternative weekly, The Stranger, and I'd heard the copyright buzz about this film, so I was very interested to see it. Now that I've seen it . . .  well, Paley should have had a filmmaker finish it. Blasphemy, I know! Everybody else in the world loves this movie! But honestly, didn't you think that the modern-life sequences with the Paley stand-in and the partner stand-in were just a little bit ploddingly slow? And did we really have to have the message hammered into our heads (that her story paralleled the Ramayana) by seeing the Paley stand-in reading the Ramayana at the end? The dialogue during the Rajput-style sequences was more stilted and slow-paced than seemed intentional; better writing or better voice acting would have improved them. And finally, you know, frankly the musical interludes got a little old after a while. The film is a neat, innovative idea, but it's not as well executed as it could have been.

No one will believe me when I say this, but my lukewarm review of the film is not influenced by my position that I disagree vehemently with Paley's views on copyright, in 2 major ways. First, she says that "[her] personal experience confirms audiences are generous and want to support artists," concluding, it appears, that artists will magically be paid enough to support themselves, nay, thrive, even, without having to actually charge people to experience their art. But this is not what happens when you aren't Nina Paley. Remember that she's coming from years of experience, exposure, and relative success with her previous work. She's an unusual case. For every Nina Paley, though, there are hundreds of very talented artists who can't sell a single piece or get a single gig despite years of training their talent and flogging their work. They shouldn't be economic victims of Paley's lofty "[f]rom the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes" ideals.

Second, dude, she took all these songs without permission and ripped off the estate of Anne Hanshaw. (Or maybe Hanshaw had a lousy deal with the music publisher, never saw a dime from the recordings, and was left with no rights to revert to her estate and heirs. I don't know. But bear with me anyway.) Maybe Hanshaw would have been happy to know, before her death, that in the next century her recordings would live on, repurposed in a modern retelling of an ancient story. We can't and don't know; but we do know that it certainly wasn't her mindset when she cut these tracks that she shouldn't get paid for her work because she's adding to "shared culture." Crediting her as the star is sweet and all, but it's not enough. Paley's protesting that she's happy to give the film free to the masses, in the name of "shared culture" and "trust" is very high-minded; but it won't pay anybody's bills.

And a final snark: "Some of the songs in Sita Sings the Blues are not free, and may never be," notes Paley. In fact, this is an incorrect statement of the law of copyright. The songs and the recordings (which are separate things) will all eventually fall into the public domain. Paley's biggest mistake was to use music that had not already done so.

I'll finish on a positive note, though. As an appreciator and former maker of experimental film, I very much enjoyed the rotoscoped dance sequence after the intermission (that said, I'm not sure why an 85-minute film required an intermission. And that said, I'm not the only one who didn't like the movie; some people left during the intermission and didn't return). The piece reminded me of Martha Colburn's work.

10 April 2009

Survey from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission

From the interminably long menu of e-mail lists I subscribe to, a survey for people who live or work in Philadelphia:
Dear interested Delaware Valley residents and stakeholders,

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) is developing a pedestrian and bicycle plan for the City of Philadelphia. The plan will identify and help to prioritize strategies that will increase the number and frequency of people walking and bicycling within the City of Philadelphia. The plan will provide recommendations for improving the connectivity, safety, convenience, and attractiveness of the pedestrian and bicycle networks. And if you live in or around Philadelphia, we want to hear from you!

Your input is critical to help develop a plan that addresses the needs of people on foot and on bike in neighborhoods across the study area. But you don’t have to live in the study area to answer the questionnaire. We’re looking for responses from anyone who lives or works in Philadelphia. The questionnaire should take no more than 15 minutes to complete and will be available online for several months. Information collected will be confidential and used solely for developing the Philadelphia Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan.

To complete the questionnaire, click here:

For more info on the plan and how to get involved, click here:

Thank you for your help!

07 April 2009

Driberally tonight

Another week, another chance to mingle with fellow liberal-minded people from Philadelphia and the surrounding tri-state area. Hope to see you this week for drink and food specials at Triumph Brewery's upstairs bar.

Triumph Brewery is at 117 Chestnut Street in Old City. It's conveniently SEPTA-accessible via the Market-Frankford El (2nd Street station), all the buses that turn around at or near Penn's Landing (5, 12, 17, 21, 33, 42, 48), and a few other buses that pass nearby (9, 25, 38, 40, 44, 47, 57, 61).

"Come for the beer, stay for the check"

05 April 2009

more film festival reviews

Dioses - Thoughtful examination of the extreme class differences in Peru. I had been urged to see it; it was sold to me as one of the most devastating films of the festival. I won't go that far -- it's hard to draw believable and sympathetic characters in "poor little rich kids" stories, and this film doesn't always succeed. Also it's problematic that the protagonist's emotional growth was handled almost completely off-screen. But while there are some storytelling flaws here, it's nice that it's not a hands-off, "blameless" narrator, like in The Great Gatsby. Also: excellently photographed. Worthwhile.

You know, I don't think I've ever seen a film from Peru (that is, primarily or exclusively from Peru) before. If you can name one for me, please add a comment.

White Night Wedding - A bit of an odd duck, but one I really liked, maybe because it's (very, very loosely) based on Chekov's Ivanov, and I've had a fascination with Russian literature and cinema for several years now. Summary: On the midsummer Icelandic night before his wedding to a much younger woman, university professor has crisis of conscience, recalling the tumultuous end of his previous marriage. There are comic moments, which may detract from the film's mood, to some people; but I like a serious story that's cut up, even if a little jarringly, with lightheartedness: it seems much more true to life that way. Offhand I can think of 2 other things I enjoyed. First, the opening credits sequence featured white, serif text on blown-out images of the sky, sea, and buildings. I think that nicely set the stage for action occurring on a night with no actual night. Second, I never asked myself this question, but now I know the answer. In a culture where your last name is completely patronymic, how do you list people alphabetically? By first names. The end credits included a long list of people thanked for their help, and they were listed alphabetically by first name. Now I know.

This makes 3 films, now, during the festival that I've seen projected digitally. White Night Wedding looked great; it was at the Ritz East and they've clearly spent what they had to to get the right equipment. But the projectionist at Dioses, at the Bridge, was less prepared. The aspect ratio was wrong for the first 10 minutes or so, and the subtitles were cut off on the bottom of the screen. This is the "CinemaScope flatted to fit TV screens" of the 21st century, I guess. Testing the equipment and running a few minutes of the movie before the house opened would have avoided it. (The other digital film was Saving Grace B. Jones, at the Prince. It was clearly just a DVD of a movie that hadn't been filmed in HD in the first place. At least I used a friend's free pass to see it. And anyway, the less said about that movie the better. Ugh.)

You know what I find most disconcerting about digitally projected films? Actually, there are 2 things. I mean, sure, it's great not to have the little black flecks every 1/24th of a second and all, and there's no chance of the projectionist falling asleep at the reel and not having the next reel ready after one runs out. The first disconcerting thing is the white. It's not . . . white. It's all colors, it's too white. It's not the color of the projector's lightbulb; it's the color of titanium white paint, brilliant white copy paper, the white coming out of a computer screen. The second disconcerting thing is that the flicker is wrong. The refresh rate is too fast; it's faster than 24p. I might as well be watching TV.

I acknowledge that the second issue there is a "get offa my lawn" issue.

04 April 2009

17-year-old girl flogged for adultery in Pakistan; court hearing ordered

Direct from Afghanistan, some adherents of the religion of peace were cell-phone recorded flogging a reportedly 17-year-old girl for adultery. The incident occurred some 6 weeks ago, even before sharia law was officially permitted through recent negotiations with militants in the Swat region. I lost count at 15 blows (if you've ever been flogged with an actual, for-real flogger, you may find the video hard to watch; the blows only look sort of light):

From the Timesonline article:
[S]some residents of Matta have accused the commander of ordering the beating to get revenge after the girl refused to accept his proposal of marriage, the reporters told The Times.

“Please! Enough! Enough!” the girl is heard crying in Pashtu[. . . .] At another point, she cries: “I am repenting, my father is repenting what I have done, my grandmother is repenting what I have done...”

The man flogging her is also heard abusing his colleague as he struggles to hold her down and stop her covering her backside with her hands.

“You should hold her tightly so she doesn’t move,” he is heard saying.
It's reported that the man holding the girl down is her brother.

This is what happens when you return the Taliban to legitimacy, folks. The chief justice of Pakistan's supreme court has ordered a hearing -- that is, he's ordered the girl to come in and explain what happened. As the BBC further reports:
After the incident, the Taleban forced the couple to marry and instructed the man not to divorce his wife. His relatives say he has been left mentally scarred.
How terrible for him. But hey, could be worse. Before they were allowed to have sharia courts, the Taliban "[p]reviously . . . had beheaded dissidents and killed women accused of un-Islamic behaviour." I guess the girl is just lucky she wasn't stoned.

03 April 2009

Plan B to be available without prescription to 17-year-olds

Missed this news item from early last week; I must have been caught up in a whirlwind of film festival planning:

Concluding that the FDA in 2006 had been operating under the influence of abstinence religionists seeking to punish women for having sex (in legal terms the agency's actions were "arbitrary and capricious"), a federal judge has ordered the FDA to allow pharmacies to sell Plan B without a prescription to minor women who have reached the age of 17. The agency has 30 days to comply.

02 April 2009

more film festival

Stone of Destiny - Fun caper about a troupe of Glaswegian students with Scottish nationalist leanings who decide to steal the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey. Since the event occurred in 1951, the guys were not shot on sight as they entered a building of global historical importance after hours, and they didn't trigger any alarm system. The film itself is suitable for kids, though they likely won't really understand how important it was for the students to take on the task. Worthwhile, though not so visually amazing that it can't wait until Netflix.