Sunday, April 30, 2006

Another Mix For You.

Loyal Blah Blah Blah readers, today is the day all your hours spent poring over barely cohernet rants and pretentious foreign film analyses pay off. I have uploaded another DJ mix. I quite like this one. It features everything from the Blackbyrds to Chic to Peven Everett to Theo Parrish, and some surprises too. It was recorded in May of 2004, and it is called "The Afternoon Mix." I think that it makes a nice soundtrack for a lazy spring/summer afternoon around the house (or maybe on the hammock). Like last time, you'll have to wait a few weeks for a tracklisting. I think it's more fun when you don't know what's next.

One note about the download. The service I used last time is now too restrictive, so I am trying MEGAUPLOAD. There are a lot of ads, and it can be hard to find the download option. When you get to the correct screen, you will be asked to wait 42 seconds and you can watch the time count down. Then, cleverly, a pop up box appears over the button. This is in the upper right hand corner. Close that box, and you will see a "Click here to Download" button. I know, it's kind of a pain in the butt, but it's free.

Download it here.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

I Take Leisure Seriously

I just made an investment that I expect will pay a handsome return of many hours of glorious slothdom. If today is any indication, the backyard will be a lovely place this summer.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Six Degrees of Idris Muhammad

As I was driving around town yesterday, I looked at the collection of CD's cluttering up the passenger seat of the Sentra. I suddenly noticed the similarities between the cover art of Nas' Illmatic and Idris Muhammad's The Power of Soul. Both feature an image of the artist superimposed over an urban setting.

Illmatic is a bonafide classic and should find a warm home in any hip hop fan's collection. The Power of Soul is marketed as a Jazz Funk classic, but I'm not yet convinced. As a drummer, Idris Muhammad definitely has the chops, but I've never really been into Bob James, who's responsible for much the the arranging here. At times the album drifts off into light 70's funk that I can almost hear as bed music on Magnum P.I. or The Love Boat. The fourth and final cut, however, is a Grover Washington Jr. piece that does truly groove.

The coincidence is that I bought the Idris record on a recent trip to the bookstore when I couldn't find the album I came for. That record was one by Olu Dara, who happens to be the father of Nas and who also appears on Illmatic.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Recycling Apples

It just got a lot easier. Good for Apple.
From AP:
The Cupertino-based company said its expanded take-back offer will begin in June. U.S. customers who buy a new Mac through the Apple store online or any Apple retail store will receive free shipping and recycling of their old machines.

Currently, Apple retail stores accept old iPod music players for free recycling. In addition, Cupertino residents may drop off old Macs at company headquarters, while others pay a $30 recycling fee to drop off or ship their computers.
Now let's see exactly what they do with the old machines.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Politics of Oil. A Rant.

I never cease to be amazed by the political gymnastics we are forced to watch every election cycle. This time around, a key issue seems to oil. At first glance, it's refreshing to hear Bill O'Reilly types rile against corporate greed on the part of Big Oil, but it didn't take long for me grow resentful of the right's sudden piousness on the topic.

Republicans have been siding with the oil companies for decades. The current about-face is laughable and little more than deceitful electioneering. Deceitful, because I can't believe that anyone competent enough to hold an elected public office (granted, its a low bar) is ignorant enough to believe that corporate greed is actually responsible for our current oil crisis. Even as much as we all love to feign outrage at CEO's salaries, we all know that it's just how our game is played.

Shareholders want the best man for the job, the one who will create the biggest return per share, and they will pay to get the best available. To decry high CEO salaries is to deny reality. Similarly, it's ignorant to point to amazing oil company profits as evidence of some kind of fraudulent behavior. On the contrary, it's economics 101. Supply and Demand. And the oil economy is suffering from the double whammy of increasing demand (hello, China) and decreasing supply. It's natural for prices to skyrocket and oil companies to reap fantastic profits while it lasts. Welcome to Capitalism.

The fact that no one seems to grasp is this. Unless we make drastic changes, we will all be using our cars as planters sometime in the not too distant future. Tax cuts won't create new oil. Loosening environmental laws will only accelerate environmental degradation. Cutting up Alaska will only delay the inevitable. An oil-free economy is on it's way, and it's up to us to face that fact and take preparations ASAP. Personally, I'd rather taste a little pain now and have clean air and a somewhat intact ecosystem to live in later. That means that I'm trying to drive my compact car less. I'm trying to take my share, and no more. And my share is getting smaller every day.

Politicians think that we don't get it, and I kinda think they're right. I'm insulted anyway. Let's get real. The sooner the better. In the meantime, I'm trying to conserve where I can, and I'm giving my vote to a straight talking politician who is willing to face facts and respect me as a voter, granted I find one matching that description.

In the movie The Corporation, the CEO of a carpet company called Interface (I'm a shareholder) made a great comparison. He compared our situation on this planet to a person who has taken off from a high cliff in a plane. Unfortunately, the plane is falling fast, but the pilot doesn't realize it because he is still so far above the ground. The ground appears to be only gradually approaching. The sooner he realizes his true predicament, the more likely it is that he will be able to right the plane and prevent a crash. Right now instead of taking steps to right the plane, our politicians seem more concerned with making the trip as comfortable as possible until we crash.

The rising price of oil is natural, economically speaking. As a society, we agreed on these rules a long time ago, and every kid knows you can't change the rules in the middle of the game. The difference here is that this is no game, and the stakes are high. Curb your consumption.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Shock'n Y'all

"I am confident in our plan for victory; I am confident in the will of the Iraqi people; I am confident in the skill and spirit of our military. Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win, and we are winning."
- George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 31, 2006

Meanwhile, violence continued to ravage parts of the country.

Electric Boogaloo

This is what the Internet was made for.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

More Random Bits

I ran 15 miles on Friday. The last few were tough.
Afterwards I joined some people to make a film in 24 hours for a festival.
We made a valiant effort, but we ran out of time. We aimed too high. Too bad.
Seu Jorge's CRU is my album of the moment.
Happy Earth Day.
Fox is airing Nascar instead of the local news.
I'm missing my Detroit peeps.
I've spent entirely too much time in cookie cutter suburbian homes this weekend.
I'm beginning to think that my money is better spent at the local farmer's market than sent to Greenpeace.
I can't help but feel like a snob sometimes. I take this to mean that I have a long way to go before I reach enlightenment.
The Corporation is a movie you should watch.
Especially if you live in a cookie cutter home in the suburban sprawl lands.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hooray For Bollywood

I saw the new Spike Lee Joint, Inside Man, last night. It was pretty good, but the opening and closing music was awesome. It's a piece called Chaiya Chaiya and it's originally from a Bollywood pic called Dil Se. I can't get enough. By the way, Indian cinema is great at capturing an innocent exuberance that I haven't seen in American movies since Gene Kelley was Singin' In the Rain. I love this stuff. (The video takes a while to load, but it's worth it.)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Godard and Delta Force

As far as I know, the two topics have little in common other than that they are both fascinating subjects of my morning reading. I'm not even going to mention the Chuck Norris film. . . 'DOH!

From The Atlantic (May 06):
In April 1980, President Jimmy Carter sent the Army's Delta Force to bring back fifty-three American citizens held hostage in Iran. Everything went wrong. The fireball in the Iranian desert took the Carter presidency with it.
From Cigar Aficionado (Sept/Oct 97):
Godard believes that it is the world's moviegoers, and not the filmmakers, who have changed. They prefer big-budget Hollywood spectaculars and they rely on the big screen to escape, rather than to discover universal truths. "Movies are not as good as they should be," Godard says. "Actors work, but they don't know how to be better. And people don't find in the French movie the things that interest them. Even when they find them, the material is too difficult. They prefer an American movie. The world audience has become an American audience.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

La Petit Soldat

Jean-Luc Godard's second film. I had previously seen his first (Breathless) and his most recent (Notre Musique). Le Petit Soldat (The Little Soldier) shares elements with both. The French Algerian war is central to the complicated plot. The film was actually banned in France for 3 years until the war was mostly over. I'm not at all original in noting the similarities between that war and the mess we're in now. Godard takes a good look at torture in this film. Anna Karina is stunning. There's a Pell Mell tune named after her (which you may recognize due to its popularity as a music bed on MTV or NPR, for example). I love Godard's writing. I feel like watching his films with a pen and pad handy. Lots of art and politics. I notice that Godard often shows his characters reading. I love that too. Of course, the acting is great. The cinematography and editing share much with the loose, improvisational breakthrough that was "Breathless," but maybe just a little more focused.

Another film about Algeria is "The Battle of Algiers." It was shown at the Pentagon sometime near the beginning of the current war. The film has a wikipedia entry where you can read about that. The flyer for the Pentagon showing read:
How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

D Makes The Paper!

My friend Devon has been working as a curator/researcher at the new Arab American museum in Dearborn since it's inception. Now that it's been a year, things seem to been going strong.

From the Detroit News:
Today, the 35,800-square-foot museum enjoys a steady stream of more than 1,000 visitors per week.
"It's like you were in the Middle East, in one of these fancy architectural places," Freij said.
The first floor of the museum features a permanent exhibit on the Arab civilization and its contributions to science, medicine, mathematics and astronomy, as well as Arab architecture and decorative arts.
The second floor includes thematic galleries focusing on immigration from 1500 to the present, especially since the 1800s. Museum curators collected items for these exhibits from Arab-Americans across the United States. The collection includes historic documents, personal remembrances and artifacts that tell countless stories immigrants.
The museum also borrows from other museums' collections for special displays. A special exhibit of Kahlil Gibran's illustrations is currently on display through the end of April.
The museum's own collections include about 1,000 items, according to Devon Ackmon, curator of research. Nearly everything in the museum is authentic, as opposed to a reproduction.
"If you see a suitcase, it will be the suitcase of an immigrant," said Ackmon said. "The beauty of this is it's really a community thing, where the artifacts came from people in the community and not just from a collector.
"It feels like it's owned by the community, because they've contributed to it and made it theirs."
Nice one, D! Too bad they misspelled your last name. Typical.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Michael Pollan on Food

Terry Gross featured Mr. Pollan on Fresh Air yesterday for an absolutely riveting (to me, at least) hour of radio. Everyone should give some thought to where their food comes from.

From NPR:
Fresh Air from WHYY, April 11, 2006 · Journalist Michael Pollan's new book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, follows industrial food, organic food, and food that consumers procure or hunt for themselves, from the source to the dinner plate. It also examines the importance of corn in all of our food products.

Pollan is a professor of science and environmental journalism at University of California at Berkeley. His previous books include The Botany of Desire and A Place of My Own.
The show is also available as a downloadable mp3 at I wish we had a Whole Foods in Grand Rapids.

'78 Nova

Today I met a woman who sat behind the wheel of a green 1978 Nova. She was driving it at the time. The first car I ever remember being in was a green Chevy Nova. The lady asked me a question and I repsonded with another question: "How is that thing still running?!?!? She told me that she had driven it ever since she bought it new off the showroom floor, even though she hardly looked older than me. "How many miles do you got on it," I asked.

"I don't know! I got seventy three thousand on this engine." She said it was the third engine the car has had. I said that I thought that her car was awesome, and I meant it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Apocalypse Now.

Forgive the glib title, but I just read Seymour Hersh's article in The New Yorker. If Iraq was kinda scary, this is truly terrifying. It would appear that we have two religious zealots (three if you include the collective nation of Israel) prepared, perhaps even eager, to bomb the world into oblivion. Really and truly terrifying. Have a nice day!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Vodka Lemon

More Russian. Old People. I liked it

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Bat Signal

Play Ball

Opening Day for the West Michigan Whitecaps. Support your local farm team. Speaking of baseball, how' bout dem Tigers!

Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead.

From AP:
"These numbers are scary. We've lost every advantage we've ever had," GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio said. "The good news is Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one."
It'd be funny if it wasn't so sad.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I'd Like To Have An Argument, Please.

I love to argue.

Let me clarify. I love to argue the right way. When it's done correctly, it's a Socratic exercise during which all sides air their points and eventually either find agreement or agree to disagree. When it's done poorly, things get way off topic, feelings get hurt, and nothing gets resolved. It can be really good, and it can be really bad.

It's paradoxical that the what starts most arguments also dooms them to failure. I'm referring to anger. Anger is useful if an argument leads to a physical fight, but we don't want that, do we? If we resort to anger too early, we often increase rather than decrease the risk of injury. Since I hate fighting, I'd much rather argue. Since we are only human, we have only so much control over our emotion, but we can take steps to make our arguments as productive as possible.

My advice to you:
1. Assume ignorance (your own, that is). Never enter an argument without coming to terms with your own human fallibility. You are not God, and you have and will continue to make mistakes, missteps, and errors of judgment. This will prevent unnecessary negativity in your life. Accept it. A closed mind will only bring frustration. The best argument is one that is between parties prepared to be proven wrong, which in the end, is learning.

2. Do your best to stay in the rational sphere and out of the emotional sphere. It's not always possible, especially when you are taken by surprise by an argument (which leads me to my next point), but try your best. Breathe deeply, listen closely, and think before you speak.

3. If you are planning to bring up a contentious point, or in other words, start an argument, introduce your point in a manner that does not pressure the other party into a defensive position. Instead of characterizing a behavior or statement made by the other party, describe how it made you feel. For example, instead of "you behaved (spoke) poorly," you could say: "the way you behaved (spoke) made me feel like "x."

4. Define the terms. Don't change the topic or bring up the past. A narrowly defined argument in an efficient argument.

5. See rules 1. and 2
By preparing for an argument with these tips, your argument is likely to end before it begins. If an argument is sprung upon you, Begin with no. 4, and then proceed to no. 1.

Of course, all this is taking for granted that you always do what you feel is the right thing. Whether or not it is actually the right thing is irrelevant as long as you can honestly make a case for why you believe it is. On the other hand, if you know you are wrong, the best course of action is to apologize and change your behavior. Doing what you know is the wrong thing always makes you a loser in the end. It doesn't matter if you're found out or not, because what my 7th grade English teacher said was true: A guilty conscience needs no accuser. And a guilty conscience almost always creates rotten arguments.

Arguing doesn't have to a painful, negative experience. It should be a positive experience resulting in deepened intimacy, or at least deepened understanding. An argument should always be a journey from ignorance towards enlightenment, which is always better and never worse.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Life In The Impulse Lane

There's an interesting article in the NYTimes about a recent psychological study on impulsive behavior. At different points in the article I was reminded of different friends of mine. I love a lot of impulsive people - including some who unfortunately trend toward the self-destructive side.

From the NYTimes:
Analyzing the responses to questions intended to gauge thrill seeking like, "I like to explore a strange city or section of town by myself, even if it means getting lost," and, "I like to try foods I've never tried before," the researchers found that an appetite for risk was associated with smoking in both groups.

But in the healthy volunteers, the appetite was also associated with higher education. In previous studies, healthy risk seekers scored highly for curiosity and openness to new experiences. On measurements of instinctive planning — "I am better at saving money than most people" and "I hate to make decisions based on first impressions"— the researchers found that less deliberative habits were related to heavy drinking in the healthy group and the troubled group.
By the way, the Times on the web has a new layout which I hated at first but am warming up to. I still say that some of that font is too small.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Cranes Are Flying

This is a movie you're unlikely to find at the local Blockbuster, but the Grand Rapids Public Library has come through for me again. It's a Russian film set during WWII, the tragic love story of Boris and Veronica. Made shortly after the death of Stalin in a newly liberalized film climate, it is regarded as a touchstone work of Russian cinema.

The team behind this film eventually went on to make I Am Cuba, which is famous for its dazzling camerawork. The seeds of that film's greatness can be seen in this earlier work. Director Mikheil Kalatozishvili and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky were doing nothing if not pushing the filmmaking envelope. Each scene is beautifully lighted, often hitting the perfect middle between stylistic accent and naturalism (particularly on closeups). The strikingly unorthodox angles and technically marvelous camera moves inspire awe. As the lens tracks Boris up the winding staircase near the beginning of the film, the viewer is stunned, perhaps even to distraction, wondering "How'd they do that?" Later Veronica rushes deliriously up the same staircase, this time through flames, immediately after the building has been firebombed. Urusevsky achieves famously mind-bending results by moving the camera on a vertical plane, often finishing his impossible moves close up on the actor's expression in deftly kept focus. In this film, he never lets the camera sit still for long.

All this is not to detract, however, from the excellent performances of the entire cast, which are tastefully restrained compared to the dazzling backdrops and camera wizardry. Tatyana Samojlova as Veronica is a softly stunning brunette who reminded me of Bjork, actually, but the real stars of this picture are the people behind the lens.

Before I make my criticism of this film, I'll say that I highly recommend it, and anyone with more than a passing interest in filmmaking would be rewarded by going out of their way for this picture. That noted, I gotta say these guys go a little overboard. I'm not convinced that every spectacular camera elevation is necessary, and worst of all, the moves at times take the attention away from the story. In that sense, this is at times what my old bandmates and I used to call "wanking". The filmmakers struck a much more elegant balance seven years later in I Am Cuba, which still includes the most vertigo-inducing, incredibly uncut shot I have seen in a film. But by the time the credits role on Cranes, the performances have regained the spotlight, a pleasing emotional catharsis has been achieved, and all excess is forgiven.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Kind of Blue

My sophomore year of college was when I discovered Kind of Blue. I had a single dorm room at my favorite Midwestern Big Ten university, and I had a record player. I can't remember what exactly moved me to buy the album. I do remember consciously wanting to learn more about jazz, and in that time period I bought records by Coltrane and Monk as well, but none have the place in my heart that Kind of Blue does.

It's funny about music and memory. Whenever I listen to this record I always recall that dorm room. I was on the 12th floor, the top. I was in and out of a mild depression most of the year, and often skipped class and stayed up late. I used to go skate the AT&T building across the street late at night by myself. I don't remember if it was spring or fall, but it was cool out. After an hour or so of ollies and manuals on the sidewalk, I'd skate back home.

At that time I had a bottle of Kahlua that neighbors had given to my parents after a trip to Mexico. My parents don't really drink and I adopted it. I gave it a good and loving home. After skating, I'd come home and put on Kind of Blue, and make a White Russian, minus the vodka. Lit by candlelight. It was my time to think about the future, the past, girls, the world, art, mixtapes, friends, and everything. It was a romantic time in my life, when the future still held infinite possibilities, be it the next day or 20 years on. I didn't know then, but I know now. Those moments are fleeting. I really fell in love with that record.