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Just a couple of quick observations on the Susan Sontag New York Times Magazine essay on the Abu Ghraib photos. She talks as if the photos were exclusively private pics that soldiers were passing around, and relates the activity to webcams, internet p0rn, school hazings, etc. Some of that's valid pop-sociological speculation, but it's also been reported that the picture-taking was officially encouraged, used to humiliate and blackmail the sexually prim Iraqis. ("What do you want from me?" "Ve vant...ze information. Do you want ze family to see zese pictures?") Her "soldiers running amuck with cameras" argument plays into the government propaganda that a few unsupervised crazies were behind the prison torture. Also, she talks about our "quite justified" invasion of Afghanistan, something lefties love to throw as a sop to the right to make complaints about Iraq seem reasonable. Justifed how? By not catching Bin Laden? By jumpstarting the heroin trade over there again? Killing and bombing for women's rights? That war wasn't the right response to 9/11 any more than Iraq was. It was just to make the majority of Americans feel better after the government failed them on 9/11, by bombing some Muslims.
[UPDATE - this post has been completely rewritten since its original appearance.]
In his May 21, 2004 column, the New York Times' Frank Rich mentions the "Let Them Eat Cake" quote of our time--Barbara Bush's statement in a "Good Morning America" interview given a few days before the commencement of Iraq War (March 18, 2003). She and the first President Bush discussed the invasion from the armchair perspective of two old folks sittin' around the house:
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: (OC) You said that, that Mrs. Bush at one point had said to the two of you, don't watch too much TV. You may be watching too much TV.The "him" she's apparently talking about in that last sentence is Bush Junior, who doesnt seem to be suffering much in a clip from Michael Moore's new film Fahrenheit 9/11, as Rich noted--it's the much linked-to video where he clowns around as he is being made up for his televised announcement of the Iraq invasion. When I first read the Barbara Bush quote months ago, I didn't realize she was talking about her son, though. She uses "he" a couple of times, referring to her husband, and it seemed weird for her to be talking about "watching him suffer" with Bush the Elder sitting right next to her. (Maybe if I wasted my own beautiful mind watching more TV, I wouldn't have to parse these nuances from internet transcripts.) At any rate, my initial reaction to Rich's column was that he'd read it wrong, which I unfortunately blurted out in the first published version of this post. But I guess she is fussing over her poor suffering son, so lonely at the top. Privately she probably wants to knock him upside the head for embarrassing the family.
FORMER FIRST LADY BARBARA BUSH, UNITED STATES: No question.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: (OC) You do watch?
FORMER FIRST LADY BARBARA BUSH, UNITED STATES: I watch none. He sits and listens and I read books, because I know perfectly well that, don't take offense, that 90 percent of what I hear on television is supposition, when we're talking about the news. And he's not, not as understanding of my pettiness about that. But why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it's gonna happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it's, it's not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that. And watch him suffer.
Two good shows glimpsed at the Chelsea Concrete Outlet Mall yesterday: Tony Feher at D'Amelio Terras and Tal R at LFL. One is sculpture, the other painting; both are relatively unmediated, primal, happy work. But here, let's let the NY Times' Ken Johnson deaden Feher's show for us:
Tony Feher makes wryly poetic and visually enchanting sculptures from the least promising of materials. His palette includes plastic and glass bottles and bottle caps, foam packing material, bent wire, fruit baskets, soda stacking crates, Windex and other colored liquids, marbles, colored string, crushed aluminum foil and stones. What he does with these and other materials requires no manual skill. He puts disparate things together or performs simple operations that produce something surprisingly more than the sum of its mundane parts.To put it a bit more casually, Feher has a super-light touch and an eye for putting together cast-off, post-consumer items so that they "pop."1 This show is less precious and more humorous than others I've seen by him. As for Tal R's work, the "mundane parts" are his influences, which are all right up front: Emil Nolde, Matisse cutouts, Art Brut. But there's something fairly "Chelsea Hotel ca. 1979" (i.e., punk) in the slashing, childlike way the paint is applied. Not visible in the jpegs is all the collaging with fabric, sticky-notes, magazine cutouts, etc. This is the type of work Donald Baechler might have done 20 years ago if he didn't have so much finesse. Here's an image:
1. I shouldn't pick on Johnson; his heart seems to be in the right place and he gave me a good review once. It's just that too often you feel in his prose the crushing weight of all the shows he has to write up. I couldn't handle that pace, even if I did want to give up my creative career to be a full-time critic, which I don't.
Outside the New York metro area people think ex-mayor Rudolph Giuliani is some kind of 9/11 hero because he looked better on TV than George Bush did, but take it from someone who lives here: he's a prick. Apparently the 9/11 commission asked him a bunch of softball questions about his performance that day, and were surprised when New Yorkers started screaming from the galleries. Jimmy Breslin best expresses the anger many people here feel about this (now very rich) man's unjustified reputation:
Giuliani wanted a high security bunker, placed 23 stories high in a building at 7 World Trade Center. Anybody with the least bit of common sense knew that the bunker in the sky was insane and the price, $15.1 million, a scandal. But he said it would house "My Police Commissioner" and "My Fire Commissioner." In Giuliani's world, everything was "mine."Steve Gilliard, another New Yorker, has more here (scroll down).
And on the morning of Sept. 11, Rudy Giuliani's bunker went out into the air like a Frisbee.
The first thing he did, he was telling the 9/11 Commission yesterday, was to go out and search for a new command post. He walked away from the trade center and headed for the command post that made his career: the nearest television camera.
The Man from Planet Risk debuted last night at the The Lucky Cat in Williamsburg. Their CD Escaping Chixalub is what might be called "downtempo horrorcore" (or The Music Formerly Known As Triphop--more on this below) but the live set, substituting drums for old skool hip hop beat machines, changed the feel of the sound quite a bit. Live, drummer Cave Precise seems to be imitating a beatbox or drum instruction cassette, except he's trying as hard as he can to destroy the drums. His manic rigidity and intensity tipped the sound over from the hiphop column to rock-and-roll, a kind of minimalist psychedelic metal. "Minimalist" because each "song" is basically just a really cool metalloid riff--a big ungainly slab of doomstruck sound--played long enough for the audience to get the point and then ended.
For all its echo-y horror soundtrack atmospherics and Black Sab-like bass riffs, the CD is much lighter: the beats are spryer, with turntable twists & jazzy piano riffs livening up the doom and gloom. I mentioned triphop because the sound is truly trippy: keyboardist/laptopper Jenghizkhan approaches music like a painter (and is in fact a visual artist, exhibiting under his real name John Parker), taking advantage of all the filtering and timestretching capabilities of modern keyboard tech to make layers of artfully mangled sound. Imagine Ennio Morricone eclectism shot through with the kind of dreamy, smeared psychedelia of San Francisco post-punkers Chrome, or the European hardcore tech of The Mover set to a hiphop beat. But also none of the above. You can check out samples of the CD here.
Below: a couple more screen grabs from A Beautiful Mind, previously discussed here. Ronny Howard's art installation(s) are at once exotic, invoking the crazed outsider look of Thomas Hirschhorn's work, and familiar, amplifying the hoary Hollywood cliche of the "clipping filled shrine" from a hundred serial killer films. I wonder if anyone ever photographed the real John Nash's "codebreaking rooms" and if they looked anything like this? According to critic tedg (who took a class from Nash after the mathematician was first hospitalized), "Nash's madness was almost certainly caused by his 'breaking' his mind by straying too far from reality to get outside th[e] large problem he was working [on]. The conspiracies came not from cold war silliness but something far deeper: Phil Dick science fiction and Kabbalah. Not stupid numbers but topologies (forms). Not codes but manifold patterns in higher spaces. Literally extraterrestrial voices."
On the subject of extrinsic connections, you might recognize the male actors above as the "student newspaper nerds" from Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, a film about random but meaningful collisions (as was Linklater's Slacker), and of course the lovely, wholesome but somewhat cypherish Jennifer Connelly, who has served as the emotional constant in a topological maelstrom of quirky films. Quite a career she's had, from eclipsing Elizabeth McGovern as McGovern's younger self in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time In America, to sliding into a pool of maggots in Dario Argento's Phenomena, to besting Goblin King David Bowie in Labyrinth, to famously skinnydipping in Dennis Hopper's The Hot Spot, to wrecking Nick Nolte's marriage in Mulholland Falls, to recoiling from a mutant poodle in The Hulk, to doing heroin and a "double dildo dance" in Requiem for a Dream, to competing with Russell Crowe's imaginary friends in this film. What explains such a rich filmography? Is it just because she's "purdy"?
DEVELOPMENTAL VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT LUNCH MENUS FOR THIS WEEK
Copyright 2003 by Phil Austin
Plain Elementary School
Mon: Paper Stack; Boneless Burrito; Paste; Kitten on a Stick; Milkaroni
Tue: White Bread on Toast; Glass of Sugar; See-Through Lettuce; Liquid Milk
Wed: Sponge; Sugar Sandwich; Butter Plate; Cloth Pudding; Milk
Thu: Simple Pie; Banana Splat; Sugar Mound; Blanched Cookie; Milk
Fri: Diaper Surprise; Clear Peaches; Steamed Cereal Boxes; Sugar; Milk
Mystery Island School for Girls
Mon: Soft Eggs on a Mirror; Hard-boiled Hollow Birds; Handful of Tacos; Milk
Tue: Rack of Clever Hans; Whisked Apple Fly; Coronation Ham; Nylon Bunnies; Big Carton
Wed: Mystery Potato; Curd; Slippery Tart; Milk Pie; Leg Salad Sandwich; Clear Liquid
Thurs: Oysters Frightened by Chickens; Liver Mounds; Nest of Interesting Spiders; Mai Tai; Pack of Camels
Fri: Breast of Clam ala "Eddie"; Wieners in a Basket Under a Blanket; Teacher's Surprise; Milk
Earnest Boys Academy
Mon; Beef Throats; Smoked Leg; Hind Quarters; Gros Livers; Old-Fashioned Milk; Cigars
Tue: Flat Motor Pies; Fisherman's Regret; Loin of Fat; Stunned Ducks in Alcohol Sauce; Milk
Wed; Tart Bottoms; Slick Fritters; Breasts of Toast; Sweetbreads in Hand; Cuckoo Punch; Cigars; Milk
Thurs: Roast Puffins; Revenge Pudding; Pancakes in Water; Baked Salad; Ring of Fire; Milk
Fri; Ducklings ala Moron; Smothered Rodents; Closet Pie; Turbo Skeletons; Champagne; Brandies; Cigars; Milk
Willy Loman Public High School
Mon: Horse Butter Sandwiches; Hot Jello Salad; French Kisses; Curb Cake; Milk
Tue: Toads in Blanket in a Hole; Complicated Salad; Ice Bread; Lomax Pie; Milk Cocktail
Wed: Hat with Cheese; Insurance Salad; V6 Bread; Field Surprise; Milk
Thurs: Battered Vegetables; Wax Wrappers; Wallet and Raisin Salad; Adult Milkshake
Fri: Fried Chuck; Paper Salad; Responsibility Pie; White Dessert; Retirement Milk
Alternate Current Magnet School
Mon: Eco-Veggie Bar; Rainbow Krazy Krunch; Twig Sticks; Turkey Straws; Cow Milk
Tue: Helpless Nuggets with Sour Sauce; Gator Tots; Trial Mix; White Milk
Wed: False Rabbit Wedges; Farm Dip; Sloppy Joans; French Acid; Goat Milk
Thurs: Meatless Hot Creatures; Sweetened Cherries; Meltdown on a bun; Squares; Mother's Milk
Fri: Refried Fries; Early Dismissal Cup; Hemp Wheels; Party on a Bun; Dip; Sheep Milk