Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman

Two of my favorite Paul Newman films are "Absence of Malice" and "The Verdict". The latter is essential viewing for anyone interested in the craft of acting, especially his summation at the end of the trial. Both films are suffused with intelligence: every shot, every line of dialogue, every character, and every beat of the plot. I suppose that's what we came to expect from a Paul Newman film.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What Would Tolstoy Say?

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm not saying this to show off, but I've read "War and Peace" and I loved it. I've also read a little of Isaiah Berlin, who famously commented on Tolstoy. The idea is this: great leaders think they shape events, but in truth, history is out of their hands. It is the heroics, or lack thereof, of individual soldiers acting in concert with their comrades, combined with the weather and other unforseeable circumstances, and let's not forget luck, that determines troop movements, the delivery of dispatches, skirmishes that grow into battles, wars, and the fate of empires.
In our present crisis, which threatens to end America's economic pre-eminence, I keep wondering what happened to the whistle blowers. I want to hear from the loan officer at a branch of Washington Mutual who told her supervisor that Joe Shmo would never be able to repay the loan they were floating him, only to be told to shut up because their region was under pressure to write more mortgages, and if Mr. Shmo defaults, it's not their concern since that's handled by a different department, and besides, in the roaring real estate market, they'd all be shmos not to ride the crest and the devil take the hindmost. I'll bet she left WaMu thinking she'd hit the glass ceiling, only to realize now that she'd just failed to be a team player among lemmings.
And the loans they made! Zero down payment; no proof of income required; history of bankruptcies not considered; complicit home inspectors and appraisers never challenged. People got loans for 110% of the purchase price, never made a single mortgage payment, defaulted, and then walked away with the extra 10% free and clear--truly a license to steal.
And why? I think Count Tolstoy could have explained it very clearly.

Here’s to Rupert Murdoch after all

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It costs a few nickels, but I subscribe to the online version of the Wall Street Journal. The site recently overhauled itself and it's stunning. More important, I'm impressed, even flabbergasted, at how even-handed it is in the presidential campaign and with the credit meltdown. I never expected Rupert Murdoch, who bought the Journal earlier this year, to steer it into the middle of the road. Just shows to go you.

Goldman-Sachs-Morgan-Stanley-Lehman-Merrill-Lynch-Pierce-Fenner-Smith-and Trotsky

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'm trying to absorb the financial news, but it's happening so quickly I doubt that anyone, including our presidential and vice-presidential candidates, can keep up. I have one comment to make, and it will only take one sentence. Reality check: it seems we became a quasi-socialist country this week, and so we need to explore the best ideas of socialist thinkers, however unappetizing that task may be, lest we blunder from a failed capitalist state to a failed collectivist one.

Garage Cleaning

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My garage was filled with more stuff than Hector the Collector (c.f. Shel Silverstein) could ever dream of. I had visions of one day holding a giant sale in which every practical, decorative, arcane, and hard-to-find item would be united with its pre-destined owner--like Shiva in search of Shakti. However, there were three problems with this strategy. First, there aren't any Shivas or Shaktis in my neighborhood, and no one who'd be willing to pay what any of my arcana is worth. Second, my garage and driveway are not suitable for a sale because I live on a slope at a dead-end, where people who actually find my place are likely to trip, fall, and sue my ass. Third, I had ceded the use of my garage, sans payment, to the storage of stuff I don't want (c.f. George Carlin) which means that even if I eventually sold everything for top dollar, I would never recoup the loss of the use of my property. (Did I ever tell you I have an M.B.A.?)
Sooo, today I started loading up my SUV and I'm about to take it all to St. Vincent DePaul. It's actually going to take me several trips. The garage, only partially emptied, now has an airiness to it, a feeling of decadent spaciousness. It's like the man who told the Rabbi his family were at each other's throats because his house was so small and there wasn't room to turn around. The Rabbi said, "Move the cow into the house," and later, the horse, the chickens, the goat...you see where this is going. When the Rabbi finally gave the man permission to kick out all the animals, the family said their house felt like a palace. So be it with my garage.

Dark Knight

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I broke my own rule and went to a movie with a car chase in it, The Dark Knight, but only to see Heath Ledger. I guess I'm just past the point in life when super-heroes can enthrall me, although as a pre-adolescent I was devoted to them. BTW, comic books sold for a dime back then. The present film toys with the idea of how slippery evil can be, tripping the soul and making it slide; but it doesn't mean a word of it. Batman is still irreproachable albeit misunderstood. Morgan Freeman's character, at his moral crisis, sanctimoniously has it both ways. As for the DA (Aaron Eckhart), since his transmorgrified face doesn't seem to be bothering him at all, how can we take him seriously? It's all comic book moralizing. For that reason, my favorite sans-Ledger-moment of the movie happens on the ferry boat when Tiny Lister, in orange convict jump suit, charts the course.


Guero Bear-o

I said good bye to an old friend this afternoon.
He first arrived around Christmas, thirteen years ago;
A stray running up and down my street,
Causing all the other pups on the block to raise a ruckus;
I went outside to shoo him away, but he came to me;
I threw a stone at him and he tried to fetch it;
He was mine--a 50th birthday present of himself to me.

After hosing him down, I saw he was a handsome boy;
And sweet--he didn't begrudge losing his masculinity.
He was never top-dog at my house,
But I don't think that mattered to him.
His smile never withheld the least bit of his heart.
And so he lived, and departed, in the wisdom of Milton's words:
"Who best bear his mild yoke, they serve Him best;"