March 31, 2007

Hog Heaven

The Hells Angels are in town, a greying sea of greasy-jacketed geezers from around the world celebrating the Oakland chapter's 50th anniversary en mass in downtown Oaktown. Oakland may not be the place where it all started, but its chapter was one of the most infamous (think "Sonny Barger", "Altamont", and "Hunter S. Thompson", at least), and, stripped of all the spin and cutesy / nostalgic / condescending "how times change" commentaries on the local evening news, the local chapter's still not exactly all sweetness and light…

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March 27, 2007

God Bless!

God bless our brave billionaires



Downtown Berkeley, 25/3/07

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March 25, 2007

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

"Walter Benjamin once wrote that in observing a city, outsiders concentrate mostly on the exotic and picturesque, while the natives always see the place through layers of memory" — Amos Elon reviewing Orhan Pamuk's "Istanbul: Memories and the City" in a recent NYRB.

But it's precisely because of people like Benjamin (and Pamuk, for that matter), that even outsiders see cities like Paris (or Istanbul) through layers of memory — other people's memories, for sure, but what's most striking (for me, at least) about visiting a city like Paris or New York or London or LA is the overwhelming sense of recognition of the ordinary rather than strange exotica. You can't read those cities like unknown books, you read them through layers of half-remembered (or vividly-remembered) memories of other texts and memories, you re-read them (this time in the original). What perhaps feels exotic is the source of the sense of remembrance in each place.

(When I moved to London I felt like I was inhabiting books; coming to California was about inhabiting TV and film).

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March 19, 2007

Topsy Turvy

Mike Leigh's "Topsy Turvy": watching a late 20th century take on a late nineteenth century take on early 19th century Japan… (but The Mikado’s not about Japan any more than Apocalypse Now is about Vietnam, is it?). "The Commitments" for grownups. The beautiful rich complex coloured art deco backgrounds of so many scenes, not a beige wall in sight (reminds me of the way American Beauty works visually in internal scenes, all colourfields and planes of texture — wood, walls, lights, drapes, tables…). Imperious fun. A fluent riot of subtleties, good-natured, good-hearted, rich in language and reference. As always, Sullivan’s music gloriously tuneful, supple, lithe, anachronistic, totally tonal, light-footed; Sullivan himself anarchic, fun, cheerful, smiling eyes; Gilbert’s gruff lugubriousness can’t quite suppress a sense of surrealness and humour (watching Gilbert watching Japan in the London expo, those sad distant eyes lighting up a little)… As always with Leigh’s films, the chorus and supporting cast keep catching the eye — the accents, the off-kilter faces, the usual Leigh ensemble work. Endless good-natured humour, Victorian commonsense, camaraderie… "Maude: Never bear a humorous baby". "The more I see of men the more I like dogs". "I don’t know quite how to take praise. It makes my eyes red."

(Part of Flix).

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March 15, 2007

Bellus Interuptus (It's All About US...)

[I originally wrote this almost exactly two years ago, then forgot to push the "post" button. Plus ca change and all that, I guess… — JL]

The clamor to pull the US out of Iraq grows daily — especially in the US, where, as usual (or, at least, as with Vietnam), it's almost all about what's best for the US rather than what's best for Iraq. But the US helped get Iraq into the current mess, and it should help get Iraq back out of it, one way or another. Simply turning tail and leaving someone else to pick up the pieces — a "solution" shared by the left and right alike here — shouldn't be an option. Unfortunately, in a world where, for the US, war is so often the continuation of domestic politics by other means (yes, I've said that before), it's not just an option, it's SOP.

No, I don't know what the answer is — there may not be an answer here — and as someone who's usually well to the left of my surroundings who was dead against fighting the war for the given (transparently dishonest) reasons, but who might have supported a carefully-thought-out UN-sanctioned attempt to liberate Iraq from Saddam, with serious and realistic plans for the aftermath, I guess I might be expected to support a pull out. But again, the US (and Britain, to a lesser extent), has a responsibility for the havoc wreaked, and to just pick up your ball and walk home as so many on my side of politics seem inclined to do, is self-serving, solipsistic, and deeply irresponsible (no surprise there).

The war in Iraq seems to be turning into a domestic version of those old Cold War wars-by-proxy: but instead of being fought between Soviet and US shadows (or puppets), it's being more and more fought by proxy between different factions of US society.

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March 11, 2007

Gold & Wax

"I found [Gigi's] 'Gold & Wax' in San Francisco. (It's difficult to find music I want to buy in Bamako. […])" — Amadou, in a recent NYT "Playlist" recommendation. The irony: as someone who lives in San Francisco (at least as far as the rest of the world's concerned…) the only damn place I could find (Ethiopian local resident) Gigi's stuff was on iTunes.

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March 07, 2007

UnRooted

It's a measure of how fluid and mobile California's population can be that whenever we have a minor quake here (like the 4.2 just up the road last week) and we start talking about previous quakes, in any group of fewer than about a dozen or so local residents I'm nearly always the only person who experienced the Loma Prieta quake first-hand, even though it happened well within the adult lifetimes of most of the people concerned, and was directly (and destructively) felt across an extensive part of Northern California.

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March 03, 2007

Épater le Bourgeois

"This [notoriety] suited Ibsen: scandalising the bourgeoisie was the best way of becoming a certified Modern." — Martin Puchner reviewing Toril Moi's "Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism" in a recent LRB. Well yes — bourgeois scandalising the bourgeoisie would seem to be the very definition of a model Modern movement. Postmodernism? A project concerned mostly with celebrating the bourgeoisie with faint praise.

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