One hundred wounded in Tel Aviv yesterday. It made me reconsider Stalin’s Rule: one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. Even the smaller numbers are hard to imagine, really . Do I know a hundred people? I could probably come up with 100 if I sat down, thought back, toted up uncles and cousins and guys in the dorm, coworkers from that summer job in '77 - I’d get 100 eventually. As would you. Then imagine all of them lying in the street with nails through their bodies and glass in their eyes, condemned to pain no matter how short or long their lives will be. And imagine that they’re merely described as “wounded,” as though they really caught a piece of luck today.

When the news tells me that 20 are dead, and they add “including the bombers,” I want to throw a coffee cup through the TV screen. The proper way to say it is “Eighteen murdered by two suicide bombers.” Keep the victims and the killers on opposite ends of the sentence, please.

Twenty dead I can imagine. I tote up 20 of my friends and relatives, and imagine them gone. Reaction? Tonight I had dinner in Edina with wife and child - I’d we’d driven separately because they went to see the Veggie Tales movie. (Gnat’s review: big dolphin! Pushed ship. Lots of pirates. But they were safe.) I went home afterwards and folded laundry, waiting for them to return. My wife was incandescent when they showed up - a driver on France Ave. had merged with oblivious velocity, and had my wife not wrenched the car two lanes over the other vehicle would have smacked her car right where Gnat was sitting. The other driver was a young woman yammering on a phone, and I swear if I had the power I’d find out who she was and reprogram her phone so it delivered an electrical shock sufficient to set her hair on fire and blow off her shoes if she used it while driving more than 6 MPH. That’s how I feel about someone whose casual rote stupidity almost cost the life of my daughter.

Towards those who would do that intentionally I can imagine a wide variety of rejoinders. If I turned on the TV and I saw people celebrating the car wreck that killed my daughter, I think I would go mad. I think I would claw my eyes until everything was red. I would want to call down hell on their heads.

Every time I think I’ve had it I find that there are still a few jots of sympathy left - and by “sympathy” I mean that last weary civilized impulse that makes you stay the hand of your inner beserker. I don’t think I’m alone in this. It doesn’t mean there’s now a vast angry mass advocating for the immolation of those who want to scour the earth clean of Jews. No. But before I didn’t care what happened to the people in the organizations that arrange these attacks. Now I don’t care about what happens to the culture that permits it. Approves of it. Defends it, sanctions it, shelters it, sings it praises, names streets after the men who do it. I’m done. I don’t want to hear the word “but” in any sentence uttered by a PLO / Fatah / Al Aqsa / Hamaz / Hezbollah apologist. I don’t want to hear the phrase “cycle of violence” used outside the context of a gang fight at the Tour De France.

I never want to see Arafat asking for anything anywhere any more. I don’t want to see people on the West Bank cheering as clumsy Scuds lumber over their heads in February, because I know they’ll head to Israeli hospitals when the germs hit them, and I know they’ll be admitted for treatment.

I’m not saying I wish them ill. But the line of people I care about now is very, very long. The apologists and supporters of the bombers can get behind the 100 wounded I never met. The 20 who died. The one who was the child of a father my age. And when it’s their turn to ask for my sympathy, I’ll probably point to the line with 3000 New Yorkers, and kindly request that they head to the back.

Nail bombs in a cafe. Jesus Christ.

Here in Happyland, a subdued weekend; my wife wrenched her back on Thursday. It’s as if someone had stabbed her with an invisible trident, and the thing’s still there. If she turns around, she hits the trident handle against the fridge: pain. If she sits down, it jams the trident deeper: pain. No, honey, Mommy can’t pick you up now. She has the symbol of Neptune’s reign imbedded in her soft tissue. “Okay.” She got a muscle relaxant so powerful it fells elephants; the pharmacist had to use tongs to put the things in the bottle, and she turned away lest the sight of the pills make her lose bowel control. Just carrying them in my pocket made it hard for me to walk up the stairs. They help, a little. Mostly she’s in pain, and she emanates red spiky waves that make Jasper Dog leave the room and hide in the basement. Complain? Maybe once a day, in the form of a frown. But it’s made for a downbeat weekend; even Gnat gets it, and no longer asks to be picked. She walks Mommy up the stairs as if she’s helping her.

Yes, Little Miss Sweetness and Light. Also Little Miss Capricious Tyrant. Such are the twos; the word NO is her answer to everything, and she’s caught on to the Bugs Bunny Mind Control Trick, too: when I say “No” to her “No,” she doesn’t say “Yes” anymore. She says NO, LOUDER. And we’re dealing with the appearance of new rules, drafted daily, none of which are announced in advance and each of which requires strict adherence. Two-year olds have the soul of a 19th century European bureaucrat. Ritual, routine, capricious application of power, devotion to process. Also naps. Today, for example, I learned that I had to stand on the right side when we walked up the stairs, not the left, because standing on the left would RUIN EVERYTHING in some inscrutable way, and provoke tears and lamentations not heard since the plagues of Egypt.

Many of her rules are a response to my rules, all of which are predicated on the assumption that she will fall and break her head. Unfortunately, until a kid falls and breaks their head, the severity of this consequence cannot be internalized, so you’re just a CD yammering in a MaxHeadroom scratch-loop, a recitation of a consequence that never occurs. Well, it occurred today, almost. She has a new two-step platform that lets her get up to counter or washbasin level. I was against buying it, since she would most likely fall and break her head. (That, plus it was $80.) Today she pushed it against the radiator in her bathroom, and conducted a grooming exercise with six animal-shaped soaps on the stone slab that sits atop the radiator. I videotaped this, since it was So Cute. At some point she attempted to descend while holding all six soaps, and I advised against it; she put all but one soap back on the slab and turned around - and here equilibrium and gravity suddenly leaped for one another’s throat, locked in mortal combat.

I shouldn’t have been taping at all. I had the camera in my right hand, so when she toppled forward my brain instantly consulted its instincts, found the first-priority tool unavailable, and shot out Hand #2, which grabbed her as she fell. Bonk. Tears. Run for Mommy. She was scared, not hurt, and when my wife asked what happened I said “let’s go to the videotape!” and I replayed the entire event - the totter, the fall, then a blur as I lunged forward and caught her. Hero Dad! But in retrospect, nothing prevented me from turning my right hand so I captured the great save for posterity. I’ll have to work on my instincts.

When the videoblog is up, I’ll include thrilling moments like this, set to music. I think this project will be limited to the broadbandbund - I did the opening title sequence the other night, and the six simple 12 fps seconds take 435KB. I need to compress these things, yes, but I want them to look better than a flip-book. ETA for the streaming video is February, when I think we’ll all want a break from sweaty, fingernail-chomping attention to the news.

Ah, to hell with it. I was working on a piece about two editorials from my own paper, but really: what’s the point. When I read the editorial page this morning, it didn’t seem to make a great deal of sense, but I’d only had four and a half hours of sleep. I got up with Gnat this morning; I slumped into her room in the inky dark, and heard her command: you lay on floor and go seep. So I did. Woke later when she had started to sing some tuneless ditty, keeping the time by banging her feet on the crib rail. Up, out, downstairs. I got the paper and spent the next half hour attempting to focus. When my wife relieved me later I slept for two hard deep hours, then woke, determined to read the editorial page again. And I’m still confused.

The articles are here and here.

The articles were part of a package about this shattered state, this bifurcated land riven by cultural schisms. Twas not always so. When the state was, oh, 60% Democrat and 40% Republican, we were united, marching into the glorious dawn with ours arms linked, a hymn on our lips to Great Leader Hubert and Dear Leader Mondale. Now that the state appears to be 60% Republican and 40% Democrat, however, we are like a cold bar of taffy smashed on the granite tabletop - pieces and shards, a whole no more. The reason? Individualism. The articles all lament the sad fact that Minnesotans no longer think of themselves as a collective, but regard themselves as individuals. And where are these doubleplus ungood rebels? They’re out there living in THE SUBURBS.

For expert analysis on these social trends, one of the pieces quotes a geographer. (Next week: heart surgeons discuss the sediment of ancient lakebeds.) He says “Most people in the suburbs don’t have anything to do with Minneapolis or St. Paul. More and more of the economy is outside the core cities.”

As for the first part, it’s a useless overgeneralization. Most people in Minneapolis don’t have anything to do with St. Paul. Most people in the southwestern suburbs don’t have anything to do with the northeastern suburbs. There’s this mindset that there are two urban entities: the Core Cities, and The Monolithic Suburbs. When you leave the former you cross a dotted line, enter a dark wood full of hooting owls and strange scuttling sounds, and EVERYTHING CHANGES. Fact is, I skip back and forth between burb and city every day, and the distinctions are few. Does someone who live one block to the north of Highway 62 have a different view than someone who lives one block to the south? After all, it’s the border between City and Suburb, and despite the fact that they were built at the same time and are economically homogenous, surely they must be riven by deep bright differences . . . or not.

Eh. It’s this kind of talk that makes people in the burbs shrug and go on with their business. You must be interested in us here in the cities, because our urban model is better than yours! Even though you’ve rejected it! Come back! We have non-chain coffee shops and laundromats whose patrons are a fascinating mix of social strata! Hello?

People who don’t live in the city don’t want to live in the city; why should we think they’ll be abashed if we start turning the thumbscrews of guilt? Personally, I’d never live anywhere else; I love the city. But if you don’t, fine. When the people who bleed for The City start demanding lower taxes, lower regulation, smaller school bureaucracies, and an end to fatuous public spending - $800 million for a trolley, millions for Block E - I’ll be on your side. The Core Cities will succeed when they’re safer, cheaper, more attractive, more efficient, and when enough people want a house whose walls will break your hand if you punch them.

I’m serious. I could have someone rebuild Jasperwood in a suburb for half the cost, but it would be a drywall shanty. I could put my fist through any wall. Not here. This place is made of rock. They built them to last in those days.

Of course, when they laid out this neighborhood in 1888, this was considered a suburb, and people who moved here were devil-may-care plutocrats fleeing the malarial canyons of the core cities to gambol in the green fields of freedom.


We mark the first haircut, the first tooth, the first deposit of processed waste into the porcelain receptacle. Milestones, all. I have another nomination: the first correct use of an adverb. “Will you hold me carefully?” Gnat asked today. And I promised her I would.

Her verbal development is a source of constant delight and amusement - today, after an hour nap, I said that she’s had a good nap.

“I had an excellent nap,” said my 29-month-old spawn. I can’t wait for this word to enter general circulation; there’s something transcendently cute about a toddler saying “this is excellent juice” or “you are my excellent daddy.” I’m still working on “pardon me?” as an interrogative, but it’ll come; in a few weeks she’ll be playing with her plastic barn, and I’ll overhear “pardon me, sheep? Yes, this is excellent straw.”

I’ve been passing off Lucky Charms as “Fortuitous Tokens,” but I don’t think that one’s working.

Okay, it’s a column night, so I have to dredge up some stuff I wrote over the hiatus. One of those dreaded Movie Review entries. Nothing about LOTR or Star Trek. I had a long, long essay writtenn on "The Jazz Singer" and "Singin' in the Rain" but to my horror I seem to have deleted it in one of my period frenzies of desktop cleaning. I'm left with two pallid entries typed over the weekend. Here we go:

I watched “Reign of Fire,” a dragon movie without a great deal of dragons. Oh, when you need them, they’re there, but you find yourself thinking: this would be better with more dragons. As it is, the movie consists of 93% set design, 4% costumes and 3% dragons. As befits the Post-Apocalyptic Future, everyone wears clothing the color of dog crap. There’s something about the end of the world that just drains the color out of shirts, pants, socks, etc. Perhaps there was a public service announcement: DRAGONS ARE COMING. TAKE ONLY CLOTHING THE COLOR OF WET SAND. Even if people chose white, thinking of those nice Bahamian beaches, it would be brown eventually after you’d spent half a decade toiling in the Mud Mines, bringing up the pails of dirt people slap on their faces and limbs, in the proper Post-Apoc tradition.

The movie did have an interesting subtext: a bunch of Europeans are cowering in an ancient castle, and who should appear to deliver them? Why, it’s a multiracial army of Americans bent on killing dragons, led by a reasonably insane Southerner. I could accept the dragons, despite the unlikelihood of a dragon infestation destroying civilization, but I balked at the idea that this convoy of tanks and helicopters could just drive around at will, never refueling. Ah well - not entirely bad in a post-midnight, third-scotch, finger-on-the-FF sort of way.

Back to the Future, pt. 1: as good as I remembered it, and I remembered it fondly. It’s a period piece, high 80s right down to the suspenders, poufed hair and Huey Lewis music. Clever, cheerful, and innocuous. I followed it with Part 2, and this was a mistake. It suffers from the same clammy insecurity as the Indy Jones sequel: it believes that the only way to top the predecessor is to be louder, faster, and dumber. The difference between the two BTTF movies is striking, and shows what happened to Hollywood in the years it took to make the sequel. Compared to the mechanistic overkill of the second movie, the first was a low-budget John Sayles character study. It doesn’t trust the audience. It’s afraid of the audience. It thinks the audience will drift away the moment the pace slackens and the volume drops. At some point in the 80s movies started to make me feel tired, because they confused If a character had ever said “pacing? We don’t need no steenking pacing” the director would have had them edit out “no” and “Steeking” because it took too much time to say.

The movie isn’t that old, but its vision of 2015 already looks ridiculous. We’re just 12 years away, but I’m reasonably sure that hovercars aren’t going to be an option, nor will 512K Macs sit in antique store windows. 2015 will look like 1990, because you can’t photograph wireless networks. The best part of the future is always invisible.

I’m dead tired and dizzy from exhaustion; it’s all I can do to spellcheck this. If it makes no sense, sue me. I should be in bed. ZZZZzzzzz. Anyway:

On floor two of StarTribune World HQ there was a lounging area with chairs swathed in Hip Fabrics, walled off with panels suspended in midair by taunt silver wires. Like most areas designed for Spontaneous Congregation, it was empty ninety percent of the time. Then came the Coffee Kiosk: an espresso machine, a granita grinder, three airpots, and an entirely Asian staff - three guys, two of whom pored over car magazines while waiting for customers. I went down there daily for a Large Americano, i.e., espresso dumped in a broth of coffee and water. A man ought to have one place in his life where he can say “the usual” and get what he wants; this was that place. When I went down last week the kiosk was closed, and I figured: holiday hours. Today I went down for The Usual, and found a different crew: two white guys, new logos, Starbuck-branded airpots.

“Large Americano,” I said. One fellow made the drink, and he did so hunched over the machinery with a posture that said uh - uhm - oh crap. You know what I mean; think back to your first day at a job, how unsure and tentative you felt. If the drink he handed me tasted like tepid thin mud, well, so be it. Let them get their bearings.

The guy at the register asked what I’d ordered. “A 20 ounce Americano,” I smiled. He looked down at the price list taped to the counter, where it said Americano, 20 oz, $1.95. He looked back to the price list on the wall, where it said Americano, 20 oz, $1.95.

He punched “$1.45” into the cash register.

“Actually, it’s $1.95,” I said.

He stared at me, looked at the register, and said “It’s $1.45, plus fifty-five cents, for two additional shots of espresso.”

I pointed at the menu. “I don’t understand. It’s a 20 ounce Americano. $1.95.”

He looked at the wall, looked at the menu taped to the counter. “Oh. Right.” He grinned. “Still workin’ out the bugs!”

“No problem!” I grinned brightly, thinking: what bugs?

I hope these guys stay around; I hope some day I can walk down, request The Usual, and get the usual. Maybe so, maybe not. What’s interesting is that this big solid newspaper office has this lone outpost of the Service Economy Stratum, an embassy of the economic world we write about with Olympian detachment. What happened to the previous coffee vendor? What happened to the guys he hired? Here we have an inexplicable random economic spasm that threw some guys out of work. It’s probably not worth a story in the paper - this stuff happens all the time, and if any of us recall our youthful employment histories, we know that jobs come and go when you’re dogpaddling through your twenties.

But still. Our coffee satisfaction continues; we get our Americanos. Does it matter who supplies them? Well, yes, it does. Perhaps the new vendors made a cheaper bid - but don’t expect me to click my heels in whoo-hoo gratitude. I’d rather pay an extra dime and buy my coffee from the same fellow over the years than save a few pennies and deal with an endless parade of interchangeable clerks.

We get a brief, grim glimpse of the reality outside our comfortable castle . . . then we head back to work, coffee in hand.

There’s a high tiny whine in the family room. It comes and it goes. It’s like someone is pressing hard on the ribcage of a small robot mouse. I turned off all the lights. I unplugged all the electric devices.

“There, it’s gone -” said my wife, and of course we both heard it again. Then I turned off the lights in the next room. “That’s it -” she said - but then we heard it again.

When we talk, we hear it.

When we don’t, we don’t.

“Maybe the speakers are picking up the voices,” she said.

“It’s possible,” I say, thinking “no, it’s not.”

Three hours later, an Ah-Hah moment. I bolt outside, go around the corner, and disconnect the Christmas lights, which are hooked up to a timer plugged into an outlet right outside the family room. There’s a guy walking his dog, and I’m sure he wondered why someone ran around the corner and yanked the plug on the holiday decorations with an air of triumphal certainty. I mean, we all know the season’s over, but chill, man. I head back in. No whine. Success! Yes? Stay tuned.

Apple came out with a batch of apps today, and they’re all niftily spiffy, but the company is doomed because the computers aren’t fast enough, and people will always prefer PCs which let them do Apple-type things half as well but twice as fast, and besides, there are no games for the Apple, which is why I threw out my camcorder because it couldn’t play chess.

There. I think that covers it.

The new browser was unexpected, but welcome - sites that once loaded with the ease and speed of a Wagnerian soprano running a steeplechase course now just ping onto the screen. I heard some early complaints about importing bookmarks, but I found that the program automatically imported my IE sites - I typed a few letters of some obscure site, and hey presto, autocomplete. Of course there were immediate sniffs from the PC world on various message boards - “Oh great, another browser, just what the world needs.” Yes, by all means, let us be happy with what we have, and foreswear any attempt to improve anything. These people would have peed on the first campfire, insisting that we already had so many stars to shed light.

No, I am not equating a new browser with the domestication of combustion, but you get the idea. This browser has Google built into the window itself, which is nice.

There’s also something called iLife, which made me want to open a bottle of iLler Beer. The name made me wince, since it reminded me of that mLife thing one of the telecommunication companies is pushing. I’ve no idea what it is. The ads say things like “When you’re ordering Pizza on the corner while spelling out ‘Botswana’ in American Sign Language, that’s mLife.” Mm-hmm. But I soon learned that iLife means the integration of my favorite programs, the MP3 / video editing / DVD creation programs. It’s not as if getting them to work together before was like convincing Wahabbi mullahs to oil-wrestle with cheerleaders, but now the integration will be seamless. The iMovie updates are just what I needed. The iDVD updates are just what I needed. That’s what I love about Apple: when they finish an app, everyone takes a month off, then returns to figure out what people want in the next version. And when they finish tweaking, the new version is more powerful, leaner, and has no bloat whatsoever. I always feel as if the next version will allow me to put my hands right through the screen and move things around.

But, they’re doomed, because no one cares about making home movies, and no one wants to burn DVDs, and everyone wants computers that provide Task Wizards and winking paperclips. On the other hand, there’s my brother-in-law, who shot lots of film of the birth of his new daughter. He cannot get his new PC video-editing program to talk to his camera. I had this problem too, for a while - I had a brand-spanking-new camcorder, and it took Apple three weeks to include the driver in a system update. But his camcorder is two years old. He spent hours on line, searching for something that would let the two devices talk.

“Let me see if it works on my laptop,” I said. I have a spare Firewire cord in the kitchen utility drawer, since I usually do the rough edits of the movies on the laptop while Gnat plays. I plugged the camera in. Ching! Whoa! Placenta! Jeebus! Point is, it worked.

I just plugged in the outside lights again. The whine did not return.

At this point, I’d be relieved to discover I’m being bugged.
I hate Chuck Barris
. And I don’t spend that emotion on many in the entertainment business - what’s the point? If a Baldwin offend thee, change the channel. I don’t hate Michael Moore, I pity him - he’s going to die in 15 years of a massive coronary on a cold tiled bathroom floor, awash in the blasts of his emptied bowels, his autopsy photos posted to The Smoking Gun's new 3D holographic photo section. People in Hollywood may be idiots; they may be full of sophomoric moralizing, they may trot off to Baghdad and play the puppet for a megalomaniac toddler-torturer, but I can’t hate them. You have to husband that emotion and spend it carefully. Once, twice, maybe three times in your life you’ll come across someone who just plain needs hatin’. Hitler. Bin Laden. Stalin. Barris. Check, check, check, Chuck.

I’m one of the 17 people in the world who read “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” when it came out - that’s the “autobiography” in which he details his double life as a TV producer and a CIA agent. I reviewed it back in the college days. Now a major motion picture. It was an incoherent sack of self-loathing, loaded with contempt for anyone who didn’t love him - and if you did love him, he was contemptuous of you, because COULDN’T YOU SEE how contemptible he was? STUPID BITCH! I read the book because I’d watched every Gong Show episode there was - as a dull-eyed teenaged TV addict I wasted hours every day soaking up the craptacular output of the game-show and sitcom bilge factories. I loved the Gong Show, because it was what PoMosexual critics today would call “Transgressive.” Meaning, it was rude. It was stupid. It was
cruel. We loved it. Couldn’t get enough. More! More, Chuckie! More, you sweaty little homunculus with the stoner grin and the Leo Sayer hair! MORE!

The smutty drivel of the Dating Game, the floodlit humiliations of the Newlywed Game (hosted by uber-arsehole Bob Eubanks), the Gong Show, the pathetically gynophobic $1.98 Beauty Pageant - each show just screams contempt for its creator, its participants, the audience . He was smart enough to toss sex and envy into the mix, so in the end hating Chuck Barris was the last thing on our minds. Why, we were positively grateful.

I see his picture, and I am filled with loathing. It’s completely irrational, I know. What surprised me when I saw his picture in Entertainment Weekly was how old he looked. Chuck Barris looked like a guy my dad would know. Inasmuch as men of a certain age start to look alike, Barris almost looked like my dad. I read the article: Chuck Barris is 73.

WTF? My father’s three years older. He fought in WW2. Barris was the capering imp on TV when I was in high school; he was the anti-dad, wiry, youthful, Pan with a hashpipe instead of a flute. The idea that Barris and my dad are peers Does Not Compute.

Barris will get national obits when he kicks. Every day WW2 vets die, and they get an inch in the local paper.

I hate Chuck Barris. And I wish him a long life, because he knows what a coal-hearted, solipsistic SOB he is. Ten more years on the beach, grappling with his perfidious uselessness? Make it twenty.

One of these days I’m going to be the first person to add information to the CD Database, and I will be very careful. I will realize the solemn responsibility I’ve been given. I will not put the artist’s name in the album field. I will not attribute an entire album to Bing Crobsy. And if it’s a classical CD, I will not put II - bertwig geschellen mit actung; Adagio as a track name. My entire classical MP3 collection is useless, I’ve realized, because you can’t tell a damn thing from the title - and also because many classical CDs break up a glacial shelf like the first movement to Mahler's 3rd into 149 separate track. If you have shuffleplay and crossfading enabled, you’ll fade from a Chris Isaac cover of a Bo Diddley tune into a cowbell-sprinkled passage from the middle of a Mahler reverie. It’s all useless, and I have to redo everything.

Yes, I’m going to do that tomorrow. Sure I am. I still have a hundred details to fix on this site; after I finished uploading v. 9 of this site, I was so sick of it that I let some clumsy incomplete pages stand, thinking no one will notice. And I was probably right. But having a busted 404 page was inexcusable. This has been fixed. Some people will get it instantly; others will have no clue what it means. In which camp are you?

This might be interesting to some, if you’re interested in postwar urban archeology. A half century ago someone hung a metal sign on the side of a building in my neighborhood - 54th and Penn Av. S., if you're in Minneapolis. Over the last fifty years they painted and repainted the wall, but left the metal sign alone. A few weeks ago the metal sign came down, revealing an old painted sign for the building’s original tenant, a National Grocery Store. It’s in perfect condition. The sun hasn't touched it since the Eisenhower days. The building now houses a deli, but the first time I saw it I knew it had been an grocery store in its previous life. It had the telltale two-door entry way, with a guardrail separating the two. (Why? Perhaps to keep people from pushing their carts out, angling towards the parking lot and clipping whoever was walking in.) And there was an old rubber mat for an ancient automatic door, too. The store seemed too small to be a grocery store, but they weren’t that big in those days. (Consult “Double Indemnity” if you want to see what the average store looked like; there’s a scene in which Stanwick and Fred MacMurray meet in an A&P. Tiny.) I checked the newspaper ads from the fifties, and found that it was indeed a National store.

The front of the store is covered with this:

Pure postwar America, that stone. The house in which I was raised in Fargo had it too:

It’s one of those visual cues that was ubiquitous for years, then vanished; those who grew up used to it regarded it as old and lame and so parental, so no one bothered to preserve it. Right now someone’s rehabbing a house in a first-ring burb, crowbarring it off, thinking good riddance. I’d long thought that this stone made this building a postwar structure - it was after all, south of 54th street, which was the unofficial border between the old and new parts of town. The houses north of 54th date from the 20s; south of the border, mostly postwar stock. You can look left, look right, and see the Depression and WW2 reflected in the difference in architecture. It took thirty years for the city to cross the street. Or so I though.

Then I saw this, a patch of brick revealed by the renovation:

This is a pre WW2 cornice. The faux stone was a rehab job. This structure wasn’t built in the postwar boom; it was a outpost on the edge of town, probably built on spec.

Sprawl, in other words.

Dreaded, horrid,
eeeevil spraaaaawwwwwl.

It’s a one-story building; most of the commercial structures built in the commercial nodes that sprung up around streetcar lines had two stories, with apartments upstairs. That means the streetcar line may not have gone this far (and I don’t think it did, for reasons too wonky to get into here.) So this was meant to be accessed . . . by automobile. There’s a parking lot on the premises to prove the point. In other words, it’s everything people hate about the suburbs today, but now it’s beloved as an example of an urban amenity because the city grew around it, and no one can visualize the neighborhood as the unspoiled farmland it once was. Because it’s small, no one loathes it the way they hate the big-box stores that sit like pharonic mausoleums in a blacktop desert. But it’s the strip-mall’s granddad, and I’d have never have noticed if they hadn’t exposed a few square feet of brick during a renovation.

Living in the city is full of small pleasures like these. (If you consider this a pleasure, of course.) You’ll be walking down the sidewalk, notice a tear in the asphalt fabric, and see cobblestones exposed for the first time in forty years, and you imagine the sound of horse’s hooves. Every city is Pompeii.

I realize this is of limited interest - well, like lots of stuff I talk about - but since some anonymous shitheel in the local alternative paper recently called me "A hateful nostalgia monkey" I figured I'd best live up to the description. Tomorrow: why I steal bananas from homeless people.

: Dog reboot; Scorsese’s blather

Every night Jasper and I play Hedgehog baseball. He fetches his favorite toy, an ancient stinky ball of kapok and synthetic fur, cured and flavored by two years spent outdoors in all seasons. I throw it in the air, hit it with Gnat’s little baseball bat, and he fetches. The bat is a new innovation; now I can knock the thing to the other side of the yard. Well, tonight we found a flaw in Hedgehog Baseball. One’s eagerness to get the toy might mean one leaps up as the hedgehog is tossed for the swing, and one’s head might be exactly in the zone occupied by the bat. CRACK-

Ouch. He didn’t yipe. He just stood there blinking for a few seconds - then back to normal. I did a Backfence on this once, how dogs take blows to the head and go blank for a few seconds as if reloading all the programs.


If at some point I could interrupt this load and edit the program, I’d remove all knowledge of Frosty Paws frozen treats. These are small little custards that have no tastes human can detect - I know, I’ve tried them - but are irresistible to dogs. Jasper has come to expect one every day after the walk. He probably believes the walk is something he has to do to get one. When we get home he runs up the Bat-tunnel, stands at the top of the stairs and barks; when we get into the house he bounds up two more flights and stands there and barks; when I follow he goes to the fridge and barks, as though this will be the first time in SIX YEARS he does not get a Frosty Paws. For a while Gnat wanted to give them to him, which added agonizing step: bark bark barkedy bark! Dammit! Hand it over! Come on! Let’s go! If the grocery store is out when I do the weekly shopping, I have to stop at another store on the way home to get them, because he would be bereft without them.

Come to think of it, there’d be no point to deleting them from his database, because I’d just give him one anyway, just to make him happy. I think he loves them more than anything else, including pizza, or us.

At some point in preproduction for “The Gangs of New York,” Martin Scorsese’s forty-five kazillion dollar movie about people stabbing each other in the eyesockets, someone had to insure the project. The number of people who work on these movies is huge, and things happen - gaffers grab the wrong wire, carpenters fall off scaffolds, smokepots go off in a FX tech’s face. People can get hurt making a movie, and the production companies have to take out policies to prepare for the possibility. In other words, to put it as chillingly as possible:

Martin Scorsese knew that people might die making his movie.

Granted, they were volunteers; they knew the risk. But in a work of this scale and scope, it was obvious that innocent lives might be lost. And still he went ahead. Why? Why not just spend the money to print a million copies of the book on which the movie was based, and distribute it for free? Why not film a staged version of the story with cheesecloth backdrops and cardboard sets? It goes without saying that a successful box-office draw would mean a few dollars in Marty’s pocket, even if it meant marching to the bank on the backs of dead grips and set-dressers.

No, I’m not serious. Mostly. Every director knows that someone could croak during production, and no one gives it any thought. It rarely happens. If it does, well, alas / alack. I cannot imagine anyone asking a director why he had made a movie knowing that someone could be hurt in the process. Stupid question: because the likelihood of a completed movie is more important than the possibility of a skewered gaffer, and besides, they’re careful.

I thought about this when reading Scorsese’s comments on Iraq (courtesy the invaluable lgf: "Redlining the BS detection meter since 9/12”) Marty is the latest American artist to head overseas, inhale the heady Ashcroft-free air of liberated Europe, and assure his interlocutors he’s not one of those Americans. It’s not his opposition to the war that makes him foolish - there are fine, smart, decent people who don’t want a military campaign against Iraq, and they can argue at length without resorting to cliché, anti-globo boilerplate and ad hominem stabs at the Cowboy-in-Chief. But Marty is not one of them. He says that the war might have something to do with oil, that strange mysterious substance that some people seem so attached to. (It’s quite probable that Scorsese, as a lifelong New Yorker and successful filmmaker, has never put the nozzle to the tank in his life; for the last three decades he’s been shuttled around by vehicles that were fully fueled before the driver told the doorman the car was ready. He probably regards gasoline the way Oscar Madison regarded gravy, and needs a Felix to tell him that you have to MAKE GASOLINE. It doesn’t just COME.)

But let’s let him speak:

"One hopes that this kind of war can be done diplomatically, with intelligence rather than wiping out a lot of innocent civilians," Scorsese told BBC radio.

Well, war is diplomacy by other means, and we can certainly “do” this “kind of war diplomatically” - we’d lose it, of course, because the end result of diplomacy would be the continuation of Saddam’s regime, and the eventual transfer of power to his merry rape-happy offspring. One wonders if Marty was in NYC in 9/11, and whether he looked out the window at the caul of ash flowing from the tip of the island, and thought: I hope they find the bastards and enter into frank and productive talks with them, resulting in seventeen protocols that clearly specify the obligations of each signatory to the treaty, BY GOD.

I should note that Scorsese was one of my favorite directors - “After Hours” and “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” - yes. “Taxi Driver” - Oh yes. But then he remade “Goodfellas” as “Casino” - a nineteen-hour movie, seven hours of which consisted of shots of money being counted. Then he made “Waking the Dead” - a movie about which I remember absolutely nothing, except that it contained large portions of Nicholas Cage acting crazy, agonized, and agonizingly crazy. Imagine that. “Gangs of New York” sounds interesting, and I’ll buy the inevitable six-DVD edition, but to be frank I’m not all that piqued by the notion of seeing three hour’s worth of enraged extras in period dress stomping around in horse offal carving each other up with ice picks. The presence of Cameron Diaz doesn’t help either - for a month I had to turn away from that awful Vanity Fair cover, which showed she has successfully completed her transition into America’s Happiest Skeleton. (Side note: the new Vanity Fair cover has Selma Hayek. WWWM say? Why, Walter Monheit would say “Ooof!” Gnat looked at the magazine when I tossed it in the cart, and said “who dad, daddee?” “That is empirical proof of a benevolent God,” I said. She seemed satisfied with the answer.) The fact that GONY was Marty’s dream project, sixty-seven years in the making, was never good news. Dream projects long deferred usually bite the wax tadpole. I’ll call it the “Saucy Jack” syndrome, and leave the obscure reference at that.

He’s lost his touch. Most of them do. One of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen is Hitchcock’s “Frenzy,” because you get the feeling that this is what he always wanted to do, and was finally able to do it because of the new post-60s frankness in cinema. It’s cheap and dank and smegmatic like no other Hitchcock film, and it’s depressing that he didn’t see how altogether smelly it was.

We always make the mistake of conflating the art with the artist - if we like the product, we want to like the person who made it. We may not agree with them, but we want some sort of simpatico bond. And they always disappoint us. Always. Not because they’re human - we can accept it when they fail or stumble. No one dislikes an actor who has a powerful thirst, but I think everyone in the Western World thinks Russell Crowe is pure fresh buttcake, because he compounds his boozyphilia with violence and poor hygiene. It wasn’t that Woody Allen married a woman young enough to be his daughter, it was the fact that she was, indeed, his daughter. Sort of. Scorsese has flaws by the steamer trunk, but none of them bothered me. I’m not bothered to learn that he might have behaved poorly now and again. What disappoints me to learn that like so many of his profession, he has a big fat blind spot that betrays both intellectual complacency and his disinclination to study the very thing he thinks he understands.

Scorsese also appeared to suggest that the U.S. was heavy-handed in the way it approached other cultures.

"I think it really has to come down to respecting how other people live," he said. "There's got to be ways this can be worked out diplomatically, there simply has to be."

This from a guy who’s been butting heads with Harvey Weinstein for three years.

The coming war in Iraq will indeed be disrespectful of how other people live - in particular, the Tikriti mob that has shoved the head of the nation in the toilet for ten years and buggered its fundament with a splintery plunger. If Bush banned the opposition party, shot every Democratic Congressman and Senator, nationalized all media and made filmmakers petition the State Board of Cinema for each can of 35MM film, I think Marty might be peeved. I don’t think he’d be content to be told that this was how we were living now, and he should respect that.

Maybe directors like dictators because they understand the desire to have final cut.

You know what I’d like to hear, just once? “As a New Yorker, I remember too well the death and destruction that arrived on our doorstep that day in September. As an American, I worry about regimes who possess both the means to kill innocent citizens and the devilish will to do it. As an artist, I value the freedom I have in a pluralistic, secular democracy, and I realize that these traits are not only rare and worthy of defense, but deserve to be extended to people in other nations. As a student of history, I am impressed by how our military - which has the ability to annihilate cities and nations - has spent billions to develop weapons that destroy a single building. Surely this says as much about us as our crass and extroverted culture; what other nation with our abilities would take such care? Presented with enemies who build weapons factories next to kindergartens, we invent missiles that take the former and spare the latter. This may not mean we are right, but it surely means we are are bound by a notion of decency our opposites lack. As a human being, I mourn the loss of innocent life that will surely attend any war - but I must admit, if we could have prevented 9/11 with a military action that cost a dozen innocent lives, I would have supported it with the reluctance that must attend any act of organized violence. And finally, as a filmmaker who lives in a special kind of isolation, surrounded mostly by affluent like-minded people from the arts community, I must admit that when it comes to foreign affairs and military matters I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

“Can we please talk about what it was like to work with Leo?”

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