Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Why the terrorists hate us

Within the last couple years, ISIS or people associated with it have apparently attacked a pop concert in Manchester, England, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and a rock concert in Paris, France.

These are not the kinds of attacks you'd carry out if your goal were to protest US foreign policy. France's very public opposition to the Iraq War didn't gain it any points with terrorists.

This is what you'd do if you hated great Western countries for our freedom. There is no way to appease the mass murderers' demands without giving up our whole culture.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The problem with social criticism

So much "social criticism" that's considered brilliant when phrased at the societal level ("our lives have become increasingly purposeless and devoid of meaning because ____") would seem like a clear symptom of depression if it were phrased at the individual level ("lately my life feels pointless and meaningless because ____").

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Annie Hall

Annie Hall was released 40 years ago today, on April 20, 1977.

A friend of mine once said he found the movie so sad it's difficult to watch. And I can understand that — it has an understated but heart-breaking pathos. But it's also probably brought more joy to more people than any other Woody Allen movie.

Woody Allen has said he doesn't think this is one of his outstanding movies. And it's not my favorite movie of his either. But when he dies, it'll be the first movie mentioned in every obituary. It was nominated for all five Academy Awards (best picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay), and won all of them except best actor. It was also the only time Woody Allen has won best director out of over 40 movies.

There's so much to say about this movie's innovative techniques (subtitles of the characters' thoughts, split screens to show how the two main characters live in different worlds, animation, etc.); witty and insightful dialogue; affecting performances by Diane Keaton and Woody Allen; nice minor roles for Christopher Walken, Shelley Duvall, Carol Kane, and Paul Simon; and one great line by a young Jeff Goldblum.

But for now I'll just say that I lurve this movie, I luff it, it's transplendent, it's too wonderful for words.

The trailer:




The first meeting:




The Christopher Walken scene:




The subtitle scene (the "15 years" line refers to how long Woody Allen's character has been in therapy):




Diane Keaton accepting her Oscar:

Monday, April 17, 2017

The problem with talking about cultural appropriation

Even if what gets called "cultural appropriation" is often bad, calling it "cultural appropriation" doesn't explain what's bad about it. On the contrary, labeling something "cultural appropriation" distracts from any other criticism that might have been made of that thing, because once the attention-getting phrase "cultural appropriation" is invoked, all the attention turns to debating whether cultural appropriation is inherently bad. And the idea that it's inherently bad is pretty easily refuted, so the object of criticism gets off easy. Meanwhile, the kinds of people who are drawn to the "cultural appropriation" critique have spent their time and energy on what will ultimately be a losing argument (because the consequences of consistently rejecting cultural appropriation would never be accepted). They could've spent that time and energy putting forward a more powerful critique, but they didn't, and now that time and energy — finite resources — are lost.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy 50th birthday to Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins!

As I turn 36, I'm thinking of someone else born on St. Patrick's Day: Billy Corgan, who turns 50 today.

It's hard to know what to say about Billy Corgan. Any words would seem inadequate to describe someone whose music has loomed so large in my life. The idea of growing up and being in the 1990s without the Smashing Pumpkins is inconceivable; to think of myself in an alternate universe in which I had never heard their music is virtually impossible, because the word "myself" would no longer seem to apply. Billy Corgan, and especially his inimitable way with melody, has colored so much of my life that if you asked what it feels like to be me, I don't know that I could come up with words more accurate than listening to a Smashing Pumpkins song. To paraphrase Mendelssohn, it is not that the music is too indefinite or hazy to be put into words, but that any words would be too vague to express music so precisely definite.

As a singer/songwriter/guitarist, Billy Corgan is not just great. He's life-changing.

I shall be free!


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Whitney Houston died 5 years ago today.

Whitney Houston died 5 years ago, in 2012, at the tragic age of 48.

I'm not really a big fan of hers, but I love this song. I love how everything about it is just a little too much: the song is a bit too exciting, her voice is slightly too expressive and sensuous, the video is excessively colorful, and the whole thing is just too perfect an encapsulation of '80s pop. It would all be a little embarrassing, if it weren't so undeniably joyous and uplifting.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Green Day's Kerplunk turns 25

25 years ago today, on January 17, 1992, an obscure band called Green Day released their second album, Kerplunk (or at least the version we're familiar with — a shorter version was released a month earlier).

The production of Kerplunk, which was released by the indie label Lookout! Records, was weak. But the songwriting had already reached the level of excellence that would be exposed to the world two years later on their commercial breakthrough, Dookie.

This becomes especially clear if you listen to the versions of "Welcome to Paradise" on both albums. Unsurprisingly, the Kerplunk version lacks the polish of the Dookie version. But the fact that one of the best songs from Dookie had already appeared on Kerplunk shows that this band was pretty great from early on.




"Christie Road" is a nice break from the band's usual fare: introspective and mid-tempo — at least for a little while . . .




"2,000 Light Years Away" is an energetic but poignant pop-punk love song:

Monday, January 16, 2017

James Baldwin on race in America, 1965

James Baldwin, debating William F. Buckley, Jr., in 1965:

40 years ago, when I was born, the question of having to deal with what is unspoken by the subjugated, what is never said to the master — of ever having to deal with this reality, was a very remote possibility. It was in no one’s mind. When I was growing up, I was taught in American history books that Africa had no history, and neither did I — that I was a savage, about whom the less said the better, who had been saved by Europe and brought to America. And of course, I believed it. I didn’t have much choice. Those were the only books there were. Everyone else seemed to agree.
If you walk out of Harlem, ride out of Harlem, downtown, the world agrees: what you see is much bigger, cleaner, whiter, richer, safer than where you are. . . . Their children look happy, safe. You’re not. And you go back home, and it would seem that, of course, that it’s an act of God, that this is true: that you belong where white people have put you. . . .

One of the great things that the white world does not know, but that I think I do know, is that black people are just like everybody else. One has used the myth of Negro and the myth of color to pretend and to assume that you were dealing . . . with something exotic, bizarre, and . . . unknown. Alas, it is not true. We are also mercenaries, dictators, murderers, liars — we are human too. . . .

What is dangerous here is the turning away from . . . anything any white American says. The reason for the political hesitation, in spite of the Johnson landslide, is that one has been betrayed by American politicians for so long. Of course, I am a grown man, and perhaps I can be reasoned with. I certainly hope I can be. But I don’t know, and neither does Martin Luther King, none of us know how to deal with those other people whom the white world has so long ignored, who don’t believe anything the white world says, and don’t entirely believe anything I or Martin is saying.
And one can’t blame them. You watch what has happened to them in less than 20 years. It seems to me that the City of New York, for example . . . [is] able . . . to reconstruct itself, tear down buildings and raise great new ones downtown . . . and has done nothing whatever except build housing projects in the ghetto for the Negroes. . . .

Until the moment comes when . . . we the American people are able to accept the fact . . . that on that continent we are trying to forge a new identity for which we need each other, and that I am not a ward of America, I am not an object of missionary charity, I am one of the people who built the country — until this moment, there is scarcely any hope for the American dream, because the people who are denied participation in it, by their very presence, will wreck it. And if that happens, it is a very grave moment for the West.

That excerpt starts at 30:14 in this video: