Thursday, September 27, 2007

For Fuck's Sake

Enough already! I'm writing! Nevermind that I started with nothing to write about. I'm sitting here typing words that appear as I push the buttons. It's really quite remarkable that my fingers know where to find the letters to type even when I have nothing to say.

I could write about those bastards over at Blackwater. Nah, others have done that already. Or muse over taking a wide-stance in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Nope, too easy. Post a review of Superbad? It was super good. But nay, that needs to be experienced. McLovin will tell you what time it is. I watched Bionic Woman tonight, that wasn't half-bad. Probably because it had half the cast of Battlestar Galactica. Ooh, I can't wait for season four. Even if season three kinda sucked...

Hmm. Maybe I should go back to having writer's block.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Writer's Block?

All of the sudden, click! Nothing. I've sat down a few times this week with the intention of posting some new content here, but the words are just not pouring out of me like they usually do. Perhaps I have finally exhausted my store of reserve ideas built up over the last twenty years, and now I need some time to incubate new ones.

I should confess that I have spent a lot of intellectual capital at work this week. I cannot recommend that, really: it offers a poor return on investment for most people in corporate America. And if you are like me you need to protect those assets! Anyway, it is possible that these expenditures have interrupted the natural flow of thoughts into posts on this humble space.

Whatever the reason, I'm sitting here, thinking about what to write. Ideas welcome.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's All In A Day

Six a.m. The alarm bleats its unpleasant call. Another day. My dog Frodo is resting comfortably between my knees, where he's been most of the night. Hercules is under my arm pressed against my left side. They are Italian greyhounds, so they get cold easily and sleep under my blankets and sheets, even in the middle of summer. Neither show an interest in allowing me to move. I stare at the ceiling wondering how on earth I'm gonna make it out of bed this morning, or if there is any excuse I can conjure that might let me stay in my blessed cocoon, away from my worldly cares.

My daughter opens my bedroom door and my third dog Durin, a Pomeranian, scrambles into my bed on top of me and begins to lick my face. My arms are under the covers, protecting my vital areas, while he tramples all over me. I turn my head in a vain attempt to avoid his kisses and breath. Hercules begins to growl at the intrusion. He is being trampled too. While Hercules emerges from beneath the blankets, the jostling extends to Frodo as well.

Herkie and Durin are now engaged in a contest of wills. They are growling and whining and gnawing at each other. This amuses me and I tip my head to enjoy the show. Someone inevitably steps on my face. Ow, dammat! Playtime is over. "C'mon boys," I say as pull myself out of bed and trudge across the bedroom. Two follow eagerly, while one lingers in bed. I'm not sure how they determine who stays behind. But one of them always seems to. I spend a half a moment coaxing the third along, and we all go downstairs to the front door.

I open the door and the three are off like a shot! Greyhounds are fast, and because Durin has two greyhound brothers, he has become quite speedy himself. Usually they bend to the left to chase the squirrels on the lawn into the silver maple tree in the corner of the yard. Frodo is the fastest: he takes the outside track and still beats the other two. Sometimes they race to their favorite marking spot. I watch them for a moment, then go fetch my juice and coffee.

It's six twenty and the dogs are barking at something: a bicyclist, a pedestrian, a baby stroller, another dog. I loathe this behavior, but nothing I've tried seems to keep it in check. I'd better go check on them before Hercules decides to jump the four-foot high fence, which he can do easily. Left unsupervised, they charge the fence to defend their yard and bark until I intervene or the person is passed. I apologize to the passerby, and tell the boys that they are perpetuating the stereotype of yippy little dogs. But do they listen? No. I ask them if they are sorry for what they've done. No answer. Bastids.

By this time I've finished my juice and I am halfway through my coffee while having a look at the morning news, mainly for the weather. The boys sense that their time is approaching and begin to pine for their walk. Durin begins to bite my nose out of excitement. Hercules and Frodo bow and let out short, high-pitched, happy barks in anticipation. "Shhh!" I tell them. This does not help. "Are you ready? Do ya wanna go? Do ya?! OK!" I offer, more to their liking. They caper about and jump for joy.

I need to use the toilet and dress before we go, but they don't mind. They'll follow me anywhere. So the four of us spend a moment in the bathroom, then I replace my pajamas with jeans and a shirt. I come back downstairs and they are in a frenzy, so excited they can't stand it, twirling and jumping and vocalizing with pleasure. I pull on my shoes and fasten their leashes and we are off.

Though our walk follows a prescribed one-mile route around the neighborhood, it never is exactly the same. My favorite walks are when the four of us remain silent for the entire half-hour circuit, each lost in his own thoughts. I sometimes try to fathom their dog-thoughts, which I imagine are formed by their incredible sensory acuity. But then I think that, just as I am entitled to my own private musings, so are they. My mind wanders back to its own reflections.

These quiet walks are sadly somewhat rare, because all too often there is a bicyclist or another dog at whom to bark, or a neighbor who wants to say hello, or a curious passerby who wants to meet these three. I don't mind the attention, but I do prefer our solitude. When the dogs bark or become unruly, I shush them and force them all to heel. It isn't easy to walk three dogs at once. I can't complain too much, though: they are mostly high-spirited, enjoyable, and respectful fellow travelers.

Walking the boys is all about scents and marking and bodily function. They seek out every clue and investigate every curiosity. They micturate upon landmarks and squat to do their business. Hercules is the most careful about marking. By the time we are one-third into the walk, Frodo and Durin have no urine left, while Hercules has saved himself to hit every spot he intends.

It is strange and funny and altogether remarkable what they notice. Once they barked at some Halloween decorations placed in a pattern around the base of a sapling tree in a neighbor's yard. They were spooked by a landscaping boulder, a favorite spot to mark, which had been rolled out into the street. When ant swarms appear on the sidewalk in midsummer they seem to superstitiously avoid the miniature melee.

We make it back to the house and they are quite pleased with themselves. I put them into their kennel. I shower, shave, and dress for work. I make my lunch and find my way in to the office. It's eight fifteen now. No dogs here. It's people who want something from me now: someone is knocking on my cube, my telephone is ringing, and the email is pouring in. My stomach is growling, because I forgot to eat breakfast again. The makings of a long day. Oh well. At least the boys will be happy to see me when I get home from work.

But maybe I shoulda stayed in bed.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Intersection of Evil

There has been a lot of talk over the last six years about the Axis of Evil. Sadly, too little is known of the Intersection of Evil. Thankfully, there is a diagram to illustrate this menace:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

There Is Power In A Union

Conventional wisdom seems to hold that the labor movement is a relic of a bygone era, outmoded in the information age. A consumerist society doesn't have a lot of patience for collectivist ideals. Everyone seems to believe that selfishness and media conditioning has wrought an unbridled capitalist culture. No one expects workers, hell, even citizens, to act in their own political and economic best interests any more. Thankfully, reports of the union's demise has been somewhat overstated.

This week clerical, health care and technical workers at the University of Minnesota are on strike for better wages. My bus route takes me through the university, so I have seen many groups of picketers every day this week. Their morale is strong, and is buoyed by an obvious source, though unexpected to me: the bus drivers themselves. Every driver of every bus I have ridden has honked and called out and cheered, and the demonstrators have run to the drivers' windows to chat and distribute buttons. I can't tell you how heartening it was to witness this solidarity between people. It felt good to be alive, if only for a moment.

I leave you with Billy Bragg's opus...

There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hand of the worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand
There is power in a Union

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers blood
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud
War has always been the bosses way, sir

The Union forever, defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters from many far-off lands
There is power in a Union

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws cannot defeat us
But who'll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone?
What a comfort for the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a Union

The Union forever,defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters together we will stand
There is power in a Union

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Spidey's Last Stand

I've always loved Spiderman. Such an iconic character: as Peter Parker, he was the first superhero with an ordinary kid's problems. And he had a whip-smart sense of humor when he put on the red-and-blue. And let's not forget that the Ramones did a kick-ass version of the 70s Spiderman cartoon theme song! So I felt shame that I didn't get out and see the latest installment of the film series right away. One thing piled on top of the next and soon three months had past without having seen our friendly neighborhood web-head.

Salvation from my spider-exile came in an unlikely form - Delta Airlines Flight 35, service from Johannesburg to Atlanta. The first leg of the red-eye flight was made hellacious by two frat-boyish dumbasses, drinking themselves into a stupor with the help of a slutty flight attendant. Their loud, banal chatter penetrated even my industrial-strength earplugs. Finally I tapped one of them on the shoulder and told him, "that's enough now, I can hear your bullshit through my earplugs. Quiet down."

It worked, but only very briefly. They quickly redoubled their idiotic revelry, and now they had me as a target to mock. Quick thinking on my part! I had no one to appeal to, as the stewardess was making doe-eyes at the two of them and pouring them more drinks, when she bothered to come by at all. I decided that forcing them to pick up their teeth with broken fingers would get me into more trouble than I deserved. A shame, really. So I just had to deal.

Needless to say, my adrenaline was pumping and I was too pissed to sleep by this point. So imagine my surprise and relief when I saw the opening credits to Spiderman 3 began to roll, just as the drunken a-holes were nodding off. I had never watched closely, let alone enjoyed, a movie on an airplane so much as Spiderman 3. Of course, maybe my critical faculties had been dulled beyond reckoning by sleep deprivation and the witless chatter of those two primates. I may well have enjoyed Bio-Dome with Pauly Shore on that flight.

Spiderman 3, like its predecessors, cleaved closely to the source material. Perhaps too much so: the storyline of this third installment is loose and episodic, and at times a bit uneven. But it played well as a comic book slice of Spidey's life in New York City. The pain, conflict, and hilarious awkwardness are here in all their glorious splendor in this movie. A soaper! I must admit I got misty and choked up more than once. Then again, it may have been the dry airplane air.

Oh, and the two jackasses? They staggered off the plane, so hungover I don't think they remembered who I was.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Nothing + Nothing = Bummer

I have been cultivating my online persona "Knight of Nothing" since January of this year. I have many channels that use the moniker: gmail, blogger, stumble upon, myspace, dire cafe, and so on. Yesterday, anticipating my glorious video-making enterprise, I went to add a YouTube profile to Knight of Nothing's domain, only to find that some person in Chile had created a Knight of Nothing account back in May! Rats.

I actually wrote him to ask if I could have the user name. He was gracious enough to reply, but unfortunately for me he has become quite attached to the title as well. So, there is now more than one Knight of Nothing out there. Shucks! I thought I had come up with something original for once. Dammat!

Rock and Roll, Baby

I miss the Strummones! A while back some friends and I formed a Clash/Ramones tribute band, just for fun. We're all big fans and it seemed like a good idea. Man, were those shows a blast. It's hard to believe, but it's already been a year since our last gig! Time flies. Anyway, I needed to get some rock and roll mojo back, so I had a look at some video my uncle shot of us. We rock!

I should confess that "the Strummones" is more of a project than a band: we get together to practice a couple of times only when we have a gig. There are long hiatuses between shows, though this one has been the longest. Mikey and Johnny both play original music in more serious acts. So their time for a party cover band is somewhat limited. I don't mind at all though: it's such an honor for me to play with those guys that I'm thrilled by every chance I get.

Meanwhile, over the summer another friend of mine asked me to help him make a rock video. How cool is that? So Friday, I finally bought Pinnacle Studio Ultimate to prepare for that project. Last night I was playing with it, and I immediately decided that I needed to post some Strummones videos to You Tube. Music and movies - my two favorite things, together! Check it out!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

War Actually

They jokingly call prostitution "the oldest profession." That is of course rubbish. But what really is the oldest profession? My money is on soldiering. War seems to be the natural state for most social creatures: from ants to human beings, we organize ourselves into fighting units for defense and for conquest. I can imagine that this was so for homo sapiens long before the first farmers put seed into the earth or the first craftsmen wrought primitive tools.

I have been fascinated by war since being a youngster. I suppose this isn't exactly an original phenomenon, little boys dreaming of heroic exploits upon a field of battle. Throughout the ages this has been the norm. Like countless other boys, I swung imaginary swords and parried with a pillow for a shield. I filled notebooks with images of tanks and planes and guns and weaponry. My brother and I had a gigantic collection of green army men. We ran through the neighborhood defeating evil through our martial prowess.

As a teenager my fascination became revulsion, but war still had no less a hold on me: though I defaced my draft card by scrawling "I wish to register as a conscientious objector" upon it, I still wrestled with its seductive appeal, watching films and documentaries and reading history on the subject. Almost inexplicably, I took the military entrance exam and contemplated enlisting in the Air Force. Something held me back, but still: war has a terrifyingly powerful hold upon the imagination of boys and men.

Clint Eastwood's diptych Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima portrays some of the contradictions of violent struggle. Flags tells the story of three of the men who raised the widely seen flag over Iwo Jima. The picture that became one of the most famous photographs in history was an accident: the first flag raised on that war-torn island was wanted as a trophy, so a second flag was run up. A wartime photographer snapped a hasty shot of this second flag being raised. The picture immediately became an iconic symbol of the American war effort, and the soldiers involved in the picture became pawns in the wartime propaganda machine.

Flags of Our Fathers does not have a strong narrative. Rather, it is told in loosely associated recollections and anecdotes. It is a sad tale of the disconnect between the actual experience of the soldier on the battlefield and the packaging and selling of heroism as a commodity. It was not a great movie, but parts of it were compelling and poignant.

Letters from Iwo Jima tells the same story of the invasion of that tiny island from the Japanese perspective. It is the more formal of the two films, following the traditional plot arc of a tragedy. This is easily the better of the two films, though both are worthy of a rental. The film introduces all levels of the island's defense. Ken Watanabe gives a strong performance as a noble officer, intent upon reconciling honor, duty, and compassion for his men. Kazunari Ninomiya is touching as a baker who was conscripted to fight in the war, already a lost cause by the time he reaches the front. As they prepare for the inevitable invasion, we find the humanity in these men. What follows next is the horror of lethal armed combat.

Which brings us back to fighting. Let us set aside political arguments that weigh the justifications for war for a moment. If using violent struggle to resolve conflict is one of our basic instincts, does that mean we should simply embrace what is natural? I am skeptical. We have so many other instincts as well. But the instinct is very strong indeed: to fight to defend one's family, one's land, one's beliefs, to render aid unto the weak and helpless. These are things that seem as natural as breathing, and inspire boys of all ages to fantasize of heroic deeds. And yet these very justifications become political talking points in the selling of any conflict, and even in the most "moral" of wars, the belligerents commit unspeakable atrocities against the demonized other.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Bridge Pilgrim

Today I walked down to have a look at what is left of the I-35 Bridge over the Mississippi River. Though I live only about a mile from the bridge, and I cross the river daily on my way to work, I had caught only a few glimpses of it in the distance. Officials had kept the Tenth Avenue Bridge (labeled on the map as the "Cedar Ave Bridge," though no one I know calls it that), the bridge closest to the collapse, closed until last Friday to ensure safety and to prevent onlookers from seeing bodies being pulled out of the wreckage. Now that the adjacent bridge has been thoroughly inspected for damage that may have been caused by the fall of the I-35 Bridge, and the last of the victims has been removed from the site, they have re-opened it.

Police have wisely have restricted the Tenth Avenue Bridge to one lane of traffic, and have set up temporary pedestrian walkways so that people may now gaze upon the fallen structure. It is quite a sobering sight. They have already cleared away a lot of the debris, but still a colossal amount of clean up remains.

While walking back I spotted this sign hung on the balcony of the apartment building closest to the fallen bridge. It says it all.

I Forgot to Mention Something...

Last night, having been turned down by a friend to go see Superbad, I was flipping through cable stations and lit upon The Matador, a sleeper of a film I had caught on DVD a number of months ago but never wrote about. I settled in eagerly: this was a great, great movie. Pierce Brosnan turns in a manic, inspired performance as a boozy, oversexed, aging assassin, and Greg Kinnear is equally magnificent as his straight-man character foil.

This film bristles with the pathos and hilarity of manliness in decline: "are you serious?" asks a wide-eyed Danny, when confronted with Julian's profession. "As serious as an erection problem," deadpans Julian. The caricature of a macho asshole is here rendered human through self-effacing tragi-comedy.

The film has a clever storyline and a surprising hook, and the misdirection of the audience is well-executed. But what makes this movie so great are the performances. Brosnan and Kinnear have terrific screen chemistry as the unlikeliest of friends, and both put in fearless performances as men with a sense of humor about the fact that they are past their prime.

Pierce Brosnan is so much better as hit man Julian Noble than he was as superspy James Bond. This role offered him a chance to showcase his broad range, which includes a gleeful sense of comedic timing. Greg Kinnear of course shares Brosnan's talent for comedy, but he is an underrated actor in my book. He deserves a wide audience and many more accolades. His all-American good looks belie a thoughtful craftsman.

Have a look at it, you won't be disappointed.

Aren't You Dogs Supposed To Be Helping Me?

One of the very few advantages of living nearby a major university is the presence of all the college-aged women in the area. I see them often while out walking my dogs: sunbathing, bike-riding, walking to class, and generally doing what girls do when not going wild. But inevitably, when one of these lovely young lasses approaches, one of my dogs squats to take a dump. So instead of smiling and saying hello to these women as they pass by, I am in the undignified position of bending down to pick up my dog's excrement. Thanks a lot, fellas.