Monday, June 27, 2011


Peter Falk passed away last week. He was a wonderful actor, most famous for playing Lieutenant Columbo, a homicide detective in a rumpled trenchcoat who was constantly underestimated by rich and powerful criminals. Of course Columbo would outsmart them, and this undercurrent of class war was part of the pleasure. "Just one more thing," he'd say, as these patricians fumed, ready to dismiss this disheveled cop standing in their beautiful mansion fumbling with his stogie, scratching his forehead, smiling his obsequious smile. They were clever and well-connected and entitled, silver spoon murderers used to getting their own way, and they were growing increasingly impatient with this shambling clown standing in the doorway.

It was a great role, but Peter Falk was more than Columbo. He started as a stage actor (he lied his way in, as he put it) who went on to films. He was absolutely brilliant in several of the John Cassavetes' films (see "Husbands," and "Woman Under the Influence"), in "The Princess Bride," and Wim Wenders' art house hit "Wings of Desire."

Peter Falk in "Wings of Desire."

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Oh, man! We'd never heard about this terrifying bike race until a friend sent it our way and blew our minds. This downhill challenge makes other extreme sports look like strolls in the park. This course--if you can call this obstacle-strewn nightmare a "course"--is absolutely deadly, and the head-cam offers a glimpse of the adrenaline-addled rider's viewpoint as he races toward nearly certain oblivion. In case your brain has been replaced by a candied apple, we should warn you to avoid attempting this in your own backyard. In other words, don't be a suicidal jackass.

The original posting offered this by way of explanation:

"I have seen insanity and it happens on the streets of Valparaiso, Chile. The Valparaiso Cerro Abajo Race is a legendary urban bike race and is more extreme than skydiving. The rider must brave jumps, stray dogs, and flights of stairs along the steep downhill path. The first person perspective provided by the excellent helmet cam lets us take in every glorious and frightening detail."

Monday, June 20, 2011


Clarence Anicholas Clemons, Jr., otherwise known as "The Big Man," saxophone player with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, passed away June 18th. An old friend of Springsteen from the earliest days, Clarence was Springsteen's foil on stage and rocked those soulful sax solos that filled out the E Street sound. He suffered a stroke June 12 and died of complications on the 18th at the age of 69.

"Clarence lived a wonderful life," Springsteen said in a public statement. "He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band."

This clip is Bruce introducing Clarence to the crowd:

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Today, June 16th, James Joyce fans rejoyce because today is Bloomsday, the day celebrated in Joyce's masterpiece Ulysses, a landmark novel that chronicles an ordinary Dublin day and follows meandering Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly, and a clever, soul-searching antihero, Stephen Dedalus. To the casual eye, the eye trained for easy entertaining rewards, the book might seem chaotic or formless, a sprawling experiment in stream-of-consciousness, but Joyce modeled the novel on Homer's Odyssey and every event and character in the Greek classic is represented with wit and gravity in the modern day telling. The book ends with one of the highwater marks of English literature, Molly Bloom's beautifully breathless soliloquy--read here by Marcella Riordian.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


This is the infamous anti-union propaganda film Target employees are required to watch. The 13-minute video, entitled "Think Hard Before You Sign," is hosted by a couple "Target employees," Doug and Maria, played by two actors.

"We're a target because we're a threat to unions," Doug says. "The unions that represent grocery store workers."

"When we take business away from unionized grocery stores that means they need fewer employees," Maria says (or rather reads from her script).

"And fewer grocery store employees means fewer union members," Doug says. "And fewer members? Well that's a problem for the union business. That's right, I said business. Union business."

It's bullshit, of course, and as phony as Hollywood actors playing Target employees. Target couldn't give a rat's ass for employee's rights, unless it impacts their money-making abilities and their right to fire people indiscriminately. Workers' rights are under attack from "pro-business" forces around the country, and this "educational film" targeting unions is just more union-busting. Doug and Maria are neither your friends nor your co-workers, they're just puppets reading a script written by people with a vested interest in keeping the workplace union-free.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Summer had its own sound, and if you grew up in the sixties the Beach Boys were a large part of it. Coming over tinny Japanese transistor radios, their early pop hits celebrated cars and girls and surfing and provided the perfect backdrop to a summer wearing cut-offs and thongs, eating root beer Popsicles, racing Stingrays down Thrill Hill, and talking to girls at the mall or at the movies (this was years before dating, so talking was just about all we could handle). In the background, whether you were going to the Dairy Queen or the swimming pool, "Help Me, Rhonda" would be playing, or "California Girls," or "I Get Around." The Beatles were hipper, and the Motown bands were cooler, but the Beach Boys were all about summer. In Oregon, where we had evergreens and overcast all year around, they painted a picture of our own imaginary California. Hots rods and surfboards, ocean surf and bikinis--this was as far as you could get from our rainy world. At a certain point, the Beach Boys stopped making simple songs about cars and girls, and led by Brian Wilson they entered the studio to create some brilliant teenage symphonies. Wilson stopped touring and started working in the studio/sandbox, playing a creative cat-and-mouse, call-and-response game with Lennon & McCartney, shooting for that long sweet ride. The closest he came was "Pet Sounds," a sublime pop masterpiece. The above video shows the creative process behind one of the hits from the album, "Wouldn't it be Nice." The clip below shows some of the connections between "Pet Sounds" (1966) and the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1967), two masterworks of the era.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Ann Coulter is a vicious political monster right out of Grendel, a crypto-fascist Republican wet dream with fake hair and a fake tan stretched tightly over a death's head skull, a shrill attention-whore who spews odious political views into New York Times bestsellers, a reptile who reeks of brimstone and howls directly into the dark hearts of the violently enraged shock troops of the Tea Party lunatic fringe. She speaks gibberish, of course, lies and half-truths and quarter-truths, but that's okay if it incites the mob. Her mob, that is. Ironically, she speaks out against mobs here in a strange rewrite of history, but it's her version of made-up history that she uses to slop her hogs, all for political advantage and book sales. Here, she says the students killed at Kent State deserved what they got.

You think I'm kidding? Here are some of my "favorite" Ann Coulter quotes.

"Liberals hate America, they hate flag-wavers, they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam, post 9/11. Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do. They don't have the energy. If they had that much energy, they'd have indoor plumbing by now."

"These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband's deaths so much." -on the 9/11 widows who were critical of the Bush administration

"I don't really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating Tiller in the 203rd trimester. ... I am personally opposed to shooting abortionists, but I don't want to impose my moral values on others." --on the murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller, FOX News interview, June 22, 2009

"You will find liberals always rooting for savages against civilization." –Ann Coulter
"They didn't root for the Nazis against civilization." –Bill O'Reilly
"Oh yes they did. ... It was only when Hitler invaded their precious Soviet Union that at the last minute they came in and suddenly started saying oh no, now you have to fight Hitler." –Ann Coulter, "The O'Reilly Factor," May 7, 2010

I wouldn't kill an abortionist myself, but I wouldn't want to impose my moral values on others. No one is for shooting abortionists. But how will criminalizing men making difficult, often tragic, decisions be an effective means of achieving the goal of reducing the shootings of abortionists? (3 June 2009)

Coulter: Every presidential assassination or attempted presidential assassination was committed by some sort of left-wing loon, communist, anarchist, communitarians, yes they were or they had no politics at all.
Joy Behar: The homegrown terrorists are also another group we have to worry about here.
Coulter: Okay but they're all liberals. (Joy Behar Show, 22 October 2009)

Listen to what Ann Coulter said about mobs and the Kent State killings:

--Quotes from WikiQuotes, GoodReads, and "Outrageous and Provocative Ann Coulter Quotes," collected by Daniel Kurtzman


Sarah Palin explains that Paul Revere's purpose was to warn the British about "our well-armed persons individual private militias that we have." She's correcting an earlier statement, and still manages to get it wrong. Palin has a knack for holding our attention, and she parlays her mistake into even more "news." At the same time she's offended we're paying attention. For Palin, every question is a "gotcha!" question, and every accurate quote makes her look foolish. No, it's not a conspiracy against you, Sarah, it's just what happens when you blab at every passing camera and you happen to be as dumb as a mud fence.

Palin is the perfect TV creature, a telegenic airhead who must have evolved in a symbiotic relationship with the idiot box, always playing to the camera with a wink and a smirk. While most people's sound bites are merely the tip of the iceberg of a much larger thought, her "thoughts" are a perfect fit, tiny bite-size nuggets aimed for maximum impact. McLuhan would have immediately recognized Palin as the vapid clone of the cool medium: as deep as a flat-screen, as trashy as trash TV, and as dumb as a commercial whose idiot jingles stick in our collective consciousness time and again.

You'd think that if she were so worried about seeming stupid she might actually crack a book once in a while and prepare for her little speeches. She's entertaining, but imagine her running the most powerful country on earth with that little "the dog ate my homework" smirk on her face and her ability to blame everyone else for making her look so stupid.

In case you missed it, here is the original gaffe:

Just for the record, Paul Revere didn't ring bells or fire shots. He was riding to warn the rebels that the British were coming -- not to warn the British "that they weren't going to be taking away our arms." But you knew that.

UPDATE: We can't leave well enough alone, so here's Stephen Colbert on Sarah Palin's history lesson about Paul Revere:

Thursday, June 2, 2011


You have to see this video about Vancouver. It's unbelievably terrible. Vancouver is a beautiful city nestled between the Coast Range and the Pacific Ocean, a jewel on the lower mainland of British Columbia, but you wouldn't know it from this dorky mess. It's a great place to spend the weekend exploring Chinatown, Granville Island, Gastown and Stanley Park. You can enjoy the Vancouver Folk Festival at Jericho Beach (July 15, 16, 17), drink micro-beer in Yaletown, have a wholesome hippie breakfast in Kitsilano, lose your head at the Cannabis Cafe, and join the stylish throngs shopping on Robson Street. It's a great place to celebrate your birthday with a glass of absinthe, a Cuban cigar and someone you love. Vancouver is a lot of fun. Visit the city, skip the video. Some things are so bad they're good, but this is worse. There is little ironic joy to be found here. It's embarrassing. See what you think. And what's that float plane going to crash into?