Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What Generation Gap?

I was looking for a video of Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You" to post and found this really cool mash-up-- combining the aforementioned song with clips of Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth from You Were Never Lovelier and You'll Never Get Rich. I found the combination really cool; maybe you will too:

Tuesday's Quotation

Reading the news lately makes me think that John Lennon (1940-1980) was pretty close to the mark with this comment, and it must reflect a recurring feature of political (and other) leadership:

"Our society is run by insane people for
insane objectives. I think we're being run
by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think
I'm liable to be put away as insane for
expressing that. That's what's insane
about it."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cool Song

You've got to appreciate a rock band that names their new album after a Civil War era ironclad battleship (The Monitor), and actually construct a song cycle playing around with that theme (civil war). Titus Andronicus is the group in question, and they are one of those contemporary bands that make it clear that rock and roll still has considerable life left in it:

Three Pictures (Assisi)

Here are three pictures I took in Assisi Italy back in the fall of 2008. I've been monkeying around with PhotoShop effects, and I'm more or less pleased with how these turned out.

Assisi is one of those medieval towns, with lots of narrow, winding streets. It was fun wandering around, wondering what you might see as you turned the next corner.

I hope I get a chance to go back someday (and visit some more of these cool old places).

The Last Movie I Saw

Is there any question that Bill Murray has established himself as the pre-eminent alumni of Saturday Night Live? I know his roots go back to Second City, so it's little surprise that he has the acting chops to sustain a long career. But unlike most of the folks who first found fame on SNL and then moved on to movies, he has resisted the temptation to coast. Most would probably chart his turnaround as a serious actor to Rushmore (1998) or Lost in Translation (2003), but I'd argue that at least since Quick Change (1990) (and arguably The Razor's Edge in '84) the guy has consistently challenged himself with roles that are not mere retreads of his earliest successes (like Stripes). Get Low, directed by Aaron Schneider, is much more Robert Duvall's vehicle than Murray's, but the latter's character is as critical to bringing the film to life (as is that played by Lucas Black)-- maybe moreso-- than Duvall's old coot. The reason I say that is because by design Duvall needs to remain something of an enigma, and so the weight of elevating the movie above a simple mystery rests largely on the supporting cast. Murray plays a big city hustler exiled in a small town exhibiting what I would call restrained avarice, knowing he's got a situation he can exploit but ultimately gun-shy either because past schemes blew up in his face or because he's been seduced by the bucolic nature of small town life and people (no doubt the latter, if you stop to think about it). It's a charming performance in a charming movie, which makes it easy to overlook a couple of narrative flaws (undelivered payoffs to a couple key set-ups). I can't wait to see what Murray does next.

A Monday Quote

Tecumseh (1768-1813) was one of the great Indian leaders of his time, generating support from the people of many tribes. This comment remains as relevant today as when he said it:

"When you rise in the morning, give thanks
for the light, for your life, for your strength.
Give thanks for your food and for the joy of
living. If you see no reason to give thanks,
the fault lies in yourself."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Classic Comedy

It's been awhile since I posted something from W.C. Fields, so let's take care of that with this clip from one of the funniest movies of all time, It's a Gift:

Three Pictures

I'm not a big boat person, except that I think they make for interesting pictures. So, since today is kind of overcast and cool outside in Dillon, I'm thinking of warmer weather and days spent near one or another bodies of water, and thought I'd share a few photos I'd taken at those times.

The first one up top is from Canandaigua Lake in central New York from a couple summers ago. Directly above is a shot of one of the motorboats that zip into the whirlpool downriver from Niagara Falls (passed through a couple Photoshop processes).

Anyone care to guess where this last photo was taken? I'll give you a hint: it's somewhere east of the Mississippi. Put your guesses in the comments section.

Sunday Funnies

Boy I'm really a baseball geek. This first appeared when I was about three or four years old, but I recognize every single name Charlie Brown mentions in his attempt to pry Joe Schlabotnik away from Lucy, except for three.* As a result, and probably needless to say, I love this strip-- and how does she possibly turn down the offer of Hank Aaron especially?

*Orlando Pena, Tom Cheney, and Don Nottebart, in case you were wondering.

Sunday's Quote

Hard to believe the following came from a guy best known as a politician. But then, DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) was from a generation of political figures who were apparently motivated more by civic duty and public responsibility than personal aggrandizement.

"Pleasure is a shadow, wealth is vanity,
and power a pageant; but knowledge is
ecstatic in enjoyment, perennial in frame,
unlimited in space and indefinite
in duration.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Psychedelic Garage Music at Its Finest

If you saw High Fidelity, you may recall this as the song John Cusack puts on when he's dumped by his girlfriend at the start of the movie. It's a classic from about 1966 by the 13th Floor Elevators, led by the inimitable Roky Erickson (who's in the midst of a big comeback, having just released a new album backed by Okkervill River). Hard to believe that this song is almost 45 years old...

Soup Diary 100828

My soup-eating has been considerably curtailed over the last ten days, for a couple of reasons I won't get into. But the exception has been the discovery of a new (to me) packaged soup that's actually quite tasty. Regular readers may recall that after regularly imbibing (I know that verb usually applies to a different kind of liquid, but the effect in my case is more or less the same, so it seems appropriate here) the homemade fare at places like Fables Cafe, I was concerned that I could never again enjoy something heated up out of my cupboard. The one exception up to now has been the Roasted Red Pepper stuff made by the Pacific company, and now I've found that their Spicy Black Bean is pretty good too. I'd tried a couple of their other varieties, and generally been less than enthusiastic. But the Black Bean, despite being a bit thin in texture (and not augmented by avocado and whole beans as the picture above suggests), is actually pretty tasty, with the added benefit of being low in fat (even more so than the Red Pepper). So it looks like it'll be a regular part of my rotation from here on out, and I won't have to go out of the house to enjoy it either.

Saturday Morning Cartoon

Jay Ward, producer of the cartoons that comprised the Rocky and Bullwinkle program, was a cartoon genius. Who else could take a bunch of old-fashioned kids fairy tales and turn them into comic gold? Well, maybe someone else could, but Ward did, as in this neat little "political" fable:

Quote of the Day

Here's a rather heavy idea, courtesy of German philosopher Theodor Adorno ( 1903-1969), who generally tended towards a pessimistic outlook on things. It's still worth thinking about, though:

"That all men are alike is exactly what society
would like to hear. It considers actual or imagined
differences as stigmas indicating that not enough
has yet been done; that something has still been
left outside its machinery, not quite determined
by its totality."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Music for a Friday Night

Here's one of the three or four guys who can make a legitimate claim to have invented rock and roll-- the great Bo Diddley. This isn't his best known song, but it might be my favorite from his considerable list of classics. And this clip shows he could rock it a good thirty plus years after he first recorded the tune (make sure you check out the dance moves at about the 3:30 mark):

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

This week I have a two part question-- you get credit for answering either one correctly. First, who is sitting on either side of Ben in this cropped photo? Second, what celebration was going on the day I took this picture? Put your guesses in the comments section.

Two weeks ago, I asked you to identify the two figures in the background of a picture of Helen. Sally correctly said it was her and Mom (Gramma), so congrats to my big sister! Good luck to all this week.

Big Sky

Without a doubt, the most reliable photographic subject in Dillon often seems to be the sky. These three shots were taken over the course of about ten minutes one night last week, albeit with the camera pointed in slightly different directions.

I'm thinking that as summer turns to fall there will be even more spectacular colors, so stay tuned for more photos of the skies of SW Montana.

More Friday Family Blogging

Doesn't this look exactly like the face of a cherub in some fifties-era Life magazine ad for Campbell's soup or something? Maybe we need to get Emma an agent.

Friday Family Blogging

Here's a nice picture of Maria, demonstrating the acrobatic skills the banning kids are known for, at least amongst the rest of the family.

Friday Philosophy

I like this quote from the American author Ralph Ellison (1914-1994). I think that those who are rabidly opposed to immigration into this country are generally ignorant of how (socially, politically, intellectually) we came to be in the first place:

"America is woven of many strands. I would
recognize them and let it so remain. Our fate
is to become one, and yet many. This is not
prophecy, but description."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cool Song

Here's one of those artists who seems to be flowing along just outside the mainstream of popular music. Jesse Malin has put out four or five straight strong albums, playing what I would call grown-up rock and roll; that is, it has a classic kick without pandering to pop trends. "In the Modern World" is a good example of what I mean:

The Last Movie I Saw

The key aesthetic differences between indie films and their Hollywood counterparts almost always be expressed in terms of size. Indie films are smaller, obviously in budget and promotion, but often thematically as well, resisting the so-called high concept construction of the blockbusters. The irony of this distinction is that indie films often exhibit considerably more emotional and intellectual depth, which is consistent with their smaller scale because there are no high tech distractions or pandering to star power to draw attention away from what the filmmaker wants to say. I'm not suggesting anything radical here, but it's interesting to think about how that trade-off results in really good movies going largely unseen, and the consequences of that on the culture in general. In a perfect world, Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right could make an intelligent contribution to the ongoing cultural debates about family and marriage mostly dominated by the ignorant and self-serving loudmouths who appear on cable TV news shows. Instead, it's measured tone and willingness to engage more than one side of those issues (while clearly representing a specific position), not to mention its status as an indie release, leaves it largely on the sidelines while the latest Jennifer Aniston vehicle gets all the hype along with the re-release (really? already?!?) of the pretentious, simplistic nonsense of Avatar. I certainly don't believe that movies can change the world, but there's no reason why they can't offer something constructive to our understanding of the world, and do so for more than the handful of people who are likely to make an effort to seek out those films that require more involvement than checking your brain at the theater door for a couple hours. The Kids Are All Right is no classic, but it is thoughtful, somewhat complex, and it allows several excellent actors to build memorable characters from within a realistic premise. Why can't we have more of that?

Thursday's Quote

Charles de Montesquieu (1689-1755) was a French philosopher associated with the early stages of the Enlightenment. Here's something he wrote that bears remembering:

"False happiness renders men stern and proud,
and that happiness is never communicated.
True happiness renders them kind and
sensible, and that happiness is always shared."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Golden Oldie

I was a big fan of the Leroi Brothers back in the eighties (when this song and video first came out). I gather that they are still around, so maybe I'll still get a chance to see them live sometime-- I gotta believe they put on a great show.

Cool Glass

The Pyramid, Marian Karel

I thought I would share some photos I took at the Corning Museum of Glass back in July. MUch of the museum consists of historical artifacts from various eras and places around the globe, and includes both functional and decorative items. But when I was there, they had a special exhibit of contemporary glass sculpture from the Heineman Collection, which was my favorite part of the visit. The four items pictured were among those that made the biggest impression, and I only wish the photos conveyed how cool they looked in person, in 3-D.

Wave 11 and Wave 12, Niyoko Okuto

Eye, Harvey K. Littleton

Lacrima 1, Lino Tagliapietra

My Gambling Experiment

I'm not sure exactly where this idea came from, but one day it popped into my head that I should invest in the PowerBall lottery on my drive back to Montana from New York. My misguided thought was that, if I buy a ticket every time I stop for gas or lunch or a rest stop, that I would have tickets (and a chance) in virtually every state along the way. I should mention that I have never before in my life purchased a PowerBall ticket, and the only other time that I played any lottery at all was about twenty five years ago when I had a huge jug of pennies finally rolled, and went out and spurged it all (about thirty bucks) on a New York drawing. When I mentioned my plan to brother-in-law Tom, he decided to invest in my venture as well, and gave me the cash to buy an additional ticket at each stop, doubling our chances to win (we would be co-owners of every set of numbers). When my brother Nick heard about it, he kicked in a few bucks too, and so I set off on my 2000 mile journey ready to gamble.

I should mention that part of my thinking was that, since I'm not a regular player, that I would buy the tickets, put them in the glove box, and only check for winners long after my return and the actual drawing day. Becasue I would not be expending any psychic energy in wishing and hoping, waiting with baited breath for the results, my non-chalance would somehow add to my prospects of winning. Isn't it funny what you tell yourself?

Anyway, the first part of the plan went without a hitch-- I actually remembered to ask for a couple of "Quick Picks" at every stop (coached by Tom on what to ask for). Each time, I didn't even glance at the numbers, but just deposited the tickets in the glove compartment. Along the whole way, there was only one place I stopped for gas that did not sell lottery tickets (and the guy looked at me a little funny when I asked too), so in the end I had 14 chances to win. As expected, I pretty much forgot about them by the time I arrived at my apartment-- distracted by unloading and unpacking and getting back into the swing of things. When it dawned on me a couple days ago that I had'nt yet checked the results, I went out to the car, retrieved the tickets, and logged into the PowerBall results site. You can probably guess the rest-- no winners, not even close, not even a lousy free ticket. In fact, out of the 14 sets of six numbers (including the PowerBall itself), I think I matched a total of six, without registering a single hit on more than half the six-number sequences. So, I guess that about does it for my lottery playing days-- if you can't beat the system through studied indifference, then what's the point?

A Thought for Wednesday

Here's a good line from the famous German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926):

"If your daily life seems poor, do not
blame it; blame yourself that you are
not poet enough to call forth its riches;
for the Creator, there is no poverty."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Real Rock and Roll

I was not a big fan of the movie Backbeat, which told the story of the early days of the Beatles, focusing on their time in Hamburg. I found it kind of unnecessarily mushy. But the soundtrack album is a killer, with alternative icons like Mike Mills, Thurston Moore, Dave Grohl, Greg Dulli, and Don Fleming ripping up the classic material on which John, Paul, George, Pete and Stu honed their skills. Here's a clip of that latter day super group performing the Motown staple "Money:"

Adventures in Night Photography

It might seem like this is turning into a photo blog, but then playing around with my camera and the pictures I've taken has been good therapy after my recent health problems, so it'll probably be like that for awhile. These are all slightly older photos that I've been processing in the past few days; all night shots that I've been monkeying with using Photoshop Elements. The first is from the Erie Basin Marina in Buffalo.

This was taken outside a bar on Main Street in Sheridan, Wyoming, where the cowboy motif is quite big.

This is the framework of a building that was under construction across from the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. That blue color was not added-- that's what the lights looked like the night I shot this.

Another Cool Photography Site

My friend Jennifer sent me this link after I posted about the color Russian photos from the early 20th century last week. These are pictures that I believe were taken by Farm Securities Administration (a New Deal program) photographers around 1940. I'd seen a few of them before in different collections, but never in color. They pretty much span the country and provide a wonderful look at a variety of communities across the land. This includes my current home of Dillon, MT, seen above (that corner looks pretty much the same today, minus the awnings and vintage automobiles). Take a step back in time and check it out (thanks Jennifer!).

Quote of the Day

Greil Marcus is a pretty well-known American music and cultural critic. I think he's on to something with this line:

"It may be that the most interesting American
struggle is the struggle to set oneself free from
the limits one is born to, and then to learn
something of the value of those limits."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Great Song

For some reason, this song popped into my head earlier today and it made me wonder if there'd be a version I can share from YouTube. Sure enough, there it was, though the video part is nothing special, just a still shot of the artist, Bap Kennedy. Give it a listen...

Cool Website

This is the castle in Segovia, Spain, which I visited (along with Catie and Nick) back in the late 1980s. But I didn't take this picture, which I found at this interesting website called "15 Amazing Castles." If, like me, you enjoy the architectural beauty of medieval castles, check it out. Maybe I'll follow up with some scanned images from my visit to Segovia, to give you a couple other views of this spectacular structure (and the views from its parapets).

Pictures of Bannack

One of my favorite places to take pictures here in SW Montana is at Bannack State Park. Bannack was the first territorial capital back in the 1860s, a gold boom town that soon enough was supplanted in influence and prosperity by places like Virginia City and Helena. By the 1960s, the place was largely abandoned, but many of the buildings were left standing, including a bunch that date back to the town's 19th century heyday.

Both of these pictures have been processed through PhotoShop to create the "painterly" effects you see. On top is a picture I took last winter of several houses on the main street. Above is one I took last week of a corral down by Grasshopper Creek. I think they evoke a good sense of what it's like to visit the place.

Monday's Quotation

On my first day back to work with the start of the Fall semester, this seems an appropriate quote. It's from the great civil rights activist and author W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963):

“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow,
not some more convenient season. It is today
that our best work can be done and not some
future day or future year. It is today that we
fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of
tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are
the hours of work, and tomorrow comes
the harvest and the playtime.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Short Hiatus

Sorry to regular readers that I haven't been posting for a couple days. A health issue knocked me out for a couple days, and though I'm feeling a lot better, I find myself behind in getting ready for the start of school on Monday, so the blog has to take a backseat. I should be back with regular posts sometime in the next few days, so please check back soon.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Classic

I love this song by the Replacements, but then I love almost every song by the Replacements. This one closed my radio show for a year, and I never got tired of hearing it week after week. Some might complain that it's a bit too pop-ish, but really that's just an acknowledgment of its killer hook, which also abound in their more punk oriented material. See if you're not singing along by the end of this (especially since the video provides the lyrics):

Soup Diary 100817

Oh the hubris! Ten days removed from my last taste of Fables great soup, I decided this afternoon to see if I couldn't replicate one of their best in my very own kitchen. I didn't have their recipe, so I based my efforts on the memory embedded in my taste buds (not a normal repository of memories, I know), and fell short (though not woefully short). My Broccoli Cheddar had the same consistency, and at least a hint of the flavor of theirs, but some ineffable something was missing-- and it wasn't the crushed red peppers, which I did remember, and which probably were responsible for me coming as close as I did with my imitation. I have enough broccoli left to try again, but maybe I'll get even more ambitious and see if I can whip up some sweet potato poblano, for which I'll have to stretch those taste memories back to over a year ago. As I said at the start of this post, hubris.

Two Photos

There's this old abandoned truck out at Bannack that I like to photograph, though frankly I don't think I've yet gotten a really good shot of it. I'll keep trying, but in the meantime, here are two that I shot today.

A Tuesday Quote

You normally wouldn't look to Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) for profundity, but I think he was on to something with this statement:

"No man is so foolish but he may sometimes
give another good counsel, and no man so wise
that he may not easily err if he takes no other
counsel than his own. He that is taught only by
himself has a fool for a master."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Good Song

Maybe some of you remember Ian Hunter from his days in the great band Mott the Hoople, or from the early stages of his solo career when he had a couple of mild hits in the late seventies/early eighties. Well he never went away, and has recently put out a really fine album in the roots rock/singer-songwriter vein, from which this is the title cut. The guy recently turned seventy years old, but you wouldn't guess it from this:

The Last Movie I Saw

Wow, that was a surprise! I was in Bozeman a couple days ago with some time on my hands and so I went to see a movie. I have to admit that I like going to see movies in theaters, and there are times that I'll go even if their isn't a particularly compelling title pulling me in. On this particular occasion, the only thing at the multiplex that looked even mildly interesting was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (directed by Edgar Wright and starring the ubiquitous Michael Cera, who I've liked since his days in the sorely missed Arrested Development). Without a doubt, this was the most purely entertaining movie I've seen in ages. The premise isn't anything earthshaking-- boy meets girl... you know the rest. But the execution is so fresh and unexpectedly funny, it caught me completely off-guard. Wright has a pretty cockeyed view of things, which plays really well in the fantastic elements of his narrative (which suggest video game twists and fights-- not an idea that would normally appeal to me). I gather this is based on a comic book series, so maybe those elements were there in the original, but it's hard to imagine they popped with the same energy provided by this cast (Jason Schwartzman, Kieran Culkin and Anna Kendrick are the most familiar names to me, but every one does a fine job). I guess it just goes to show that a little imagination can bring almost anything to life on screen, so much so that I'm already looking forward to seeing this one again.

Thinking of Prague

Here are three pictures that I've been playing around with from my trip to Prague last Spring. By "playing around," I mean that I've been applying various effects using Photoshop Elements. Above is a shot of the old train station.

Here's one of Ben relaxing in Wenceslas Square, with the big history museum (which somehow we never got around to going into) in the background.

Last, a night shot in the Old Town Hall Square. One of the things I like about Elements is that you can rescue photos that didn't look so hot as shot. This is a good example, as it was quite out of focus, a feature that kind of works when you make it look like an impressionist painting.

Today's Words of Wisdom

It's gratifying to see this particular sentiment coming from a politician, albeit one of an earlier generation. This is something once said by Winston Churchill (1874-1965):

"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is
necessary. It fulfills the same function as
pain in the human body. It calls attention
to an unhealthy state of things."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Good Stuff

I never understood why the band Belly wasn't much bigger. Here's a cool live clip of one of their signature songs, "Feed the Tree."

The Last Book I Read

I have to admit with just a week to go before I head beack to work, I wanted to read something somewhat light and entertaining. I couldn't have made a beter choice than Volume 1 of Roy Crane's Captain Easy: Soldier of Fortune. Captain Easy was one of the greatest adventure strips in newspaper comics history, and although I've known its reputation for quite awhile, I've never seen more than a handful of the actual pages. This collection provides two years worth of stories. and they are fantastic. Crane, who would go on to create another classic with Buz Sawyer, was a master of the form, and although these strips are over 75 years old, they still deliver a great jolt of pure entertainment. Easy is, as the subtitle suggests, something of a free agent, wandering the four corners of the globe (mainly Asia in this volume) looking for fortune, adventure and romance. He is a character of immense physical and mental resources, and part of the fun here is watching the ways he outwits his adversaries over and over again. Crane is a fantastic draftsman, creating beautiful imaginary lands, populated with interesting characters. More to the point, his tales are filled with wit and humor, as well as action, not to mention a lot of pretty girls. Nowadays it's hard to find this kind of story-- action-adventures in the funnies, in movies, or on TV seem to revolve around the supernatural or are ripe with moral ambiguity. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's something deeply satisfying about watching a somewhat normal guy overcome great odds without the help of superpowers, or by giving in to his dark side. The pop culture comparison that seems most apt to me is actually contemporary to Easy, the classic radio drama I Love a Mystery, created by Carlton E. Morse. In fact, Easy seems to combine the key traits of that program's three protagonists: the brains of Jack Packard, the brawn of Reggie York, and the good humor and free-spiritedness of Doc Long. Maybe the world has become too complicated a place to sustain these kinds of idealistic images of heroism, but the fact that this book held me enthralled from beginning to end suggests that they still have some validity and even relevance n the modern world. I hope there's at least enough interest to insure that this is only the first of a long series of reprints collecting the rest of Easy's adventures.

Sunday Funnies

Maybe you already saw this one, but I really liked the Luann strip this morning-- so here it is in case you missed it.

Sunday's Words of Wisdom

I think this is an idea that is worth thinking about, even if the truth of the statement isn't self-evident. It was uttered by the famous sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986):

"The secret of life is to have a task, something
you devote your entire life to, something you
bring everything to, every minute of the day
for the rest of your life. And the most
important thing is, it must be something
you cannot possibly do."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Duke

Here's one of the all-time jazz classics, courtesy of the incomparable Duke Ellington Orchestra:

Three Photos (Night Photography)

As regular readers know, I've been experimenting for some time with taking pictures at night without any artificial light (or at least, without me providing the artificial light). One evening last June, I spent an hour or so shooting on the University of Buffalo campus, near the Ellicott Complex. Here are three that turned out pretty good (cropped a bit in a couple of cases).

The white balance is way out of whack on this one, but I liked the effect-- almost a surreal landscape with that orange tinge.

The glowing foreground plants in this one were illuminated by a street light behind me, and I overcompensated for the darkness by keeping the shutter open a bit too long; though again, I like the way it turned out, even if it isn't quite how the scene actually looked.