Wednesday, October 29, 2008
My friends, in case you missed it, today was the “Day of Prayer for the World’s Economies."
Cindy Jacobs, who is spearheading the effort, explains why world economies are sinking:
“This is so severe in the economic area because we are facing judgment from the actions, not only for our stance towards Israel, but our blatant sin against Him in passing laws such as the one allowing homosexual marriages.”
You heard it right. Forget unchecked greed and foolish leveraging practices. Don't believe the "experts" who claim risky mortgages were to blame. Gay marriage and Israel are the reasons behind the meltdown.
“Don’t think you’re going to be in sin and that God will take care of you in these hard economic times. Holiness is key,” Cindy said.
“We are going to intercede at the site of the statue of the bull on Wall Street to ask God to begin a shift from the bull and bear markets to what we feel will be the 'Lion’s Market,' or God’s control over the economic systems,” she said. “While we do not have the full revelation of all this will entail, we do know that without intercession, economies will crumble.”
Hey, that sounds great! If we pray hard enough, we'll get our economies straightened out. The stock market will rise, Gordon Gecko will get his big end-of-year bonus check, and we'll each be able to borrow against our adjustable rate mortgages again.
Sounds like heaven... on earth!
Monday, October 27, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Well, me an Pebby have been roommates for one full year now.
The highlight of our year was the big ice storm last winter. We had no power for 3 days! Luckily, as a Maine Coon, she's genetically adapted to the climate of Maine. She did just fine.
And now, we raise a glass of drained tuna can water for a special toast:
Here's to many more healthy and happy years for Pebbles the Cat!
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Spend just an hour in a beautiful Japanese Garden and try to understand the concept of war. Try to understand why we fight. Why we struggle. Why we hurt. Why we hate.
It doesn't seem possible. Here, everything is serene and peaceful. The world is gentle. Nothing more is necessary, and everything seems right.
Too often, formal Western garden design (of the kind you might see in London or Paris) is heavy-handed and stiff. It reveals the dark side of the Enlightenment: that somehow, mankind can conquer Nature through Reason. Plants are brought in from far-flung locales and assembled in long, strict rows. They're meticulously trimmed into forms they don't wish to take. The overall effect, though beautiful, often resembles a military procession.
Japanese Garden design, on the other hand, values the intellectual recreation (and miniaturization) of natural scenes. Raked sand symbolizes a river. Stones represent mountain ranges. Plant groupings represent forests. As you stroll through a Japanese Garden, new landscapes unfold, and surprises pop up at each turn. It's poetry, written with leaves and stones and water.
I'm especially interested in seeing how Japanese Gardens are interpreted in different climates. I've now seen gardens in the Southeast US (Atlanta), the Pacific Northwest (Portland), Northern California (San Francisco), and the Lower Plains (Ft. Worth). I'm anxious to see the Japanese Gardens in Phoenix to find out how desert plants adapt the aesthetic. And yes, hopefully one day, a tour of the gardens of Kyoto...
A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to spend a weekend at the Grand Hyatt in Atlanta.
If you took the elevator to the 8th floor, you could stroll out into their beautiful Japanese Garden. I fell in love with this garden, and for the magical, transportive qualities of its Japanese aesthetic. I spent much of my free time here, marveling at the fact that just outside was one America's biggest, busiest cities. Here, everything was serene and tranquil. And it was all man-made.
Since then, I've read everything I can about Japanese Garden design, and visited perhaps the finest American Japanese Gardens, in Portand, Oregon.
One would expect a Portland garden to be spectacular; after all, its temperate rainforest climate gives all sorts of exotic flora a chance to thrive. It was indeed spectacular.
But almost equally spectacular was the Japanese Garden I recently visited in Ft. Worth. Yes, dry, sun-baked Ft. Worth, where little seems to grow without constant artificial watering.
These gardens were all the more impressive because I know how hard it is to grow things in a semi-arid climate. The native trees were seamlessly incorporated into the design, which was sprinkled with hardy plants that do well in the region, like the Nandina.
I can't wait to go back. If Portland's Japanese Gardens rate and "A," Ft. Worth's surely rate a solid "B."
Enjoy the pix.
Through endless months of campaigning, Barak Obama has proven himself to be one cool customer.
One by one, his competitors have put their feet in their mouths trying to discover a chink in his armor. So far, he hasn't revealed it.
As a black candidate, he knows all too well that the slightest flash of anger would threaten white voters and drive them away from his message. No worry; except for a borderline snide remark toward Hilary Clinton during a debate, he's not shown the slightest bit of temper.
He's been remarkably level-headed and avoided the divisive language of "small towns. vs. big cities" and "anti-American vs. pro-American" that his opponents have exploited.
In short, he's run a campaign that proves he's a thoughtful, even-keeled politician willing to listen to both sides of an issue.
If you closely look at the life of John McCain, you see story after story of impulsive, hot-headed behavior.
Over a lifetime, he's wrecked five airplanes and one marriage. During the recent economic crisis, he abruptly "halted" his campaign, only to resume it in time for congressional Republicans to defeat the initial bailout package.
He selected a vice-presidential running mate without full vetting, even without fully knowing who she was.
Under pressure, McCain has proven time and again that he's just not cool.
Though I'm sure he's a decent man with many admirable qualities, you must ask yourself: would you want this man to pilot your airplane? Would you want him to run your country?
Saturday, October 18, 2008
From the great Pablo Neruda:
How neatly a cat sleeps,
sleeps with its paws and its posture,
sleeps with its wicked claws,
and with its unfeeling blood,
sleeps with all the rings--
a series of burnt circles--
which have formed the odd geology
of its sand-colored tail.
I should like to sleep like a cat,
with all the fur of time,
with a tongue rough as flint,
with the dry sex of fire;
and after speaking to no one,
stretch myself over the world,
over roofs and landscapes,
with a passionate desire
to hunt the rats in my dreams.
I have seen how the cat asleep
would undulate, how the night
flowed through it like dark water;
and at times, it was going to fall
or possibly plunge into
the bare deserted snowdrifts.
Sometimes it grew so much in sleep
like a tiger's great-grandfather,
and would leap in the darkness over
rooftops, clouds and volcanoes.
Sleep, sleep cat of the night,
with episcopal ceremony
and your stone-carved moustache.
Take care of all our dreams;
control the obscurity
of our slumbering prowess
with your relentless heart
and the great ruff of your tail.
Here's a super-cool residential tower currently under construction in New York City.
The design is based on a stack of cantilevered floors (a cantilever is a beam supported on just one side). Cantilevers are an enduring architectural convention. Probably the most famous example of cantilever archtecture is Fallingwater, by Frank Lloyd Wright, a residence built over a waterfall.
The purest example of cantilever architecture is a tree. Each branch represents a cantilever from the trunk. If the branch is thick enough and short enough, we all know it will support a tremendous amount of weight.
That's why this building by the office of Rem Koolhaas (is there a better name in architecture?) won't fall down, despite looking a little rickety.
If you're in NYC, head down to 23 East 22nd St. The tower should be finished in 2010.
For more pix and info, click here.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The setting: The 1983 NBA All-Star Game, at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
Performing a song that invites bombast, Marvin Gaye takes a soulful approach. In this clip you'll hear hints of his forbears Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke, filtered through Gaye's own urbane, urban style.
His performance seems invented on the spot, with an unexpected phrasing that, like a cat, always lands on its feet. He doesn't just sing the notes; he makes sweet love to them. Gaye was, and is, coolness personified.
What you'll see here is no mere performance. It's an example of a dominated culture recontextualizing a work of the dominant culture to create a thing of transcendent beauty. It's a black man singing a song written by a slave owner, making it his own optimistic creation.
For centuries, the finest African-American musicians have taken Anglo songcraft and revealed the hidden layers of passion and pain we'd overlooked. Gaye's performance here epitomizes this meme, and the crowd certainly knows it.
A year later, he would be dead, killed by his own father.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Just 70 years ago, a young woman from Searcy, Arkansas applied for a position in the Walt Disney creative department.
Silly girl! She obviously didn't realize that Disney maintained a strict hiring policy: men only.
Youngsters who see a rejection letter like this may think, "what possible reason could Walt Disney have had for not hiring women?"
It's simple. In 1938 (or 1968, for that matter), a woman didn't think in terms of developing a "career." A woman's career was simple: get married, raise children, and keep your husband happy enough for him to resist running off with his secretary. If a woman pursued a career, she was seen as an oddity at best, and a worst, a threat. She was a strange creature who obviously had no interest in following her divinely-prescribed societal role and would probably die alone and childless.
If, as a young woman of that time, you had the temerity to question the status quo, you would find no shortage of Bible instructors and moral teachers who would conveniently point out this was the way things were supposed to be, as per God himself. Any deviation from the plan would lead to a breakdown of society, and an eventual Communist overthrow. It was best, they argued, to stick with a Bronze Age sensibility.
When confronted with a relic like this, we usually roll our eyes and think, "wow, we've really come a long way."
Actually, we haven't. Here's an essay question: what sort of cultural imperatives do we cling to that our antecedents will snicker at in the year 2078?
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Woody Allen's latest film is a sensuous examination of youth, travel, and the allure of dangerous, passionate love. Though Allen is 72 years old now, he's still very much attuned to the restless spirit of the young American twenty-somethings navigating their way through the Catlalan capital. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" isn't the work of an elder statesman; rather it's the exuberant work of a man not nearly finished living a searching, artistic life.
Sure, the dialogue might not be as sharp as Allen's best work (or even Whit Stillman's "Barcelona"), but the film is still wonderful. Rebecca Hall (as Vicky) is the moral center of the story, an soon-to-be-married academic with a buttoned-down approach to relationships. Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) is a free-spirit with a "bring it on" approach to life. They meet an abstract painter, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who quickly invites both to join him in a far-away Spanish town for art, wine, and three-way sex. Vicky is repulsed. Cristina is intrigued.
Add a mentally unstable ex-wife to the mix (Penelope Cruz) and the young American girls experience the ride of a lifetime. That's all I'll reveal about the plot.
Cruz is absolutely stunning; she'll likely receive an Oscar nomination for her role as a tortured, suicidal/homicidal genius. Bardem is the quintessential Spanish lothario: hyper-masculine, yet sensitive in a way that only European men can be. It's difficult to believe any woman could resist his advances. Hall ostensibly plays the role of Woody Allen; an intellectual nebbish drawn to life's pleasures, yet simultaneously frightened by them. She preaches temperance as a virtue, but she's not quite sure she believes her own sermon. She's fantastic, with one of the film's best sequences, a wordless exposition of the travails of dressing for a date. Only Johansson seems out of her element; while she's certainly young and ripe; she can't yet own a scene like Penelope Cruz. She still seems like an ingenue plucked from the street, not a fully developed, richly layered actress.
Is the unlived life worth living? Should our only regret be living a life without risk? This is a movie that asks the big questions of life, with one of the world's most exquisite cities as backdrop. Gaudi's architecture. Spanish guitar. A beautiful cast. What's not to love?
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Forever tainted by his dealings with Charles Keating, John McCain enlisted another Keating, former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, to attack rival Barack Obama ("that one!").
Though the brave hero McCain didn't dare confront Obama man-to-man during their second presidential debate, Keating suffers no such compunctions:
"He ought to admit," Keating said, "'You know, I've got to be honest with you. I was a guy of the street. I was way to the left. I used cocaine. I voted liberally, but I'm back at the center.'"
"A guy of the street?" What's that supposed to mean?
Obama edited the Harvard Law Review. He was a professor at The University of Chicago. He's the only African-American in the U.S. Senate. Does that sound like "a guy of the street?"
Keating, as McCain's surrogate, is simply reminding racist whites that all black men, even preternaturally gifted and talented black men, are amoral, beastly animals that simply cannot be trusted.
For shame, Frank Keating. For shame, John McCain.
The NY Times takes a look at legacy of legendary Fed Chairman Allan Greenspan in a sweeping article today.
The article focuses on derivatives, a complex accounting instrument being blamed for the financial crisis gripping the world. Greenspan fought against any regulation of derivatives, while Warren Buffet famously derided them as "financial weapons of mass destruction."
Sadly, even today, Greenspan stands by his belief in derivative contracts. The Times writes:
The problem is not that the contracts failed, he (Greenspan) says. Rather, the people using them got greedy. A lack of integrity spawned the crisis, he argued in a speech a week ago at Georgetown University, intimating that those peddling derivatives were not as reliable as “the pharmacist who fills the prescription ordered by our physician.”
Somehow Greenspan failed to recognize a fundamental human characteristic: greed. In a playing field devoid of regulation, greed will always trump integrity. For such an intelligent man, Greenspan will likely go down in history as a tragically naïve student of human nature.
Monday, October 6, 2008
Failed Lehman Bros. CEO Richard Fuld (who grabbed nearly $500 million in compensation from his sunken firm) wonders to Congress:
"Until the day they put me in the ground I will wonder," Fuld said in his first public comments since Lehman filed for bankruptcy protection. "I do not know why we were the only one" that was not rescued.
Still upset at poor black folk and hillbillies on welfare?
Any form of handouts is wrought with pathos, but I'll side with the poor over the rich every time.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Best known for her role as a groupie on "Flight Of The Conchords," 30-year old Kristin Schaal is one of the funniest women on TV.
Quote: "When you're the awkward ugly girl in junior high, and this" — comedy — "is keeping you from getting your face beat in, you hone it."
It's hard to take your eyes off her perpetually baffled face, but she's clearly a smart, talented woman. Watch for her.