God damn it.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 yesterday (sound familiar?) that an Oklahoma school could drug test any student participating in extracurriculars. I had had hope, but it wasn't a surprise: because previous decisions had already upheld the testing of atheletes, the poor ACLU lawyer didn't really have two legs to stand on.
Get ready for the following unintended consequence, should schools actually start doing this: the languishing of high school theatre. If they had drug tested my high school theatre troupe, every single performance would have been nearly emptied of cast and crew. And we would have spent every night breaking the law, not just weekends.
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Salon's Spelunking in the Empire of Death describes my ideal experience. I've wanted to sneak into catacombs after hours ever since the first time I visited some of these dark, bone-laden tunnels, carrying only a thin white candle, in Central Ukraine in 1994. I could kill myself for not finding a way in when I lived in Paris. And I would give my right earlobe to get underneath St. Sulpice, which was right around the corner from my first home in Paris, an insanely cheap student foyer-coop oddly nestled on the posh northern edge of the Luxembourg Gardens. (Well, not anymore; I just got word that it's being shut down so that the hotel next door can expand.)
Rhys: You up to it? (Trolling the Paris catacombs, not removing my earlobe.) Someday.
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Over the weekend I saw John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Mimicking the parlance of those who market classic Hollywood movies, I'd call it "a film to cherish." It was my first John Wayne movie, and I was absolutely charmed after his first five minutes on the screen. I've only seen Saturday Night Live comedians imitating George HW Bush imitating John Wayne, so I was shocked to find out that he's truly one-of-a-kind charismatic.
In the movie, John Wayne recedes into the background and dies a quiet, small-town death, handing fame over to Jimmy Stewart character, a pasty but sincere lawyer who's not ashamed to wash dishes. In the film's world, Stewart becomes the hero of legend; in our world—and in fact, in the world of Stewart and his wife, within the film—it’s John Wayne, the sacrificial lamb, who's the hero.
My friend, whose seen the picture a million times, called it a movie about how legends are made. That's true in so many ways, and that theme is so compelling that it influenced my consumption of the next two movies on my plate: the documentary Horns and Halos and Prince's Purple Rain.
*Horns and Halos* introduces us to Jim Hatfield, the man who wrote the G.W. Bush biography that was quickly pulled from shelves during election season for two reasons. One, Hatfield accused Bush of having a cocaine rap without providing evidence beyond undisclosed sources. (But who doubts it's not true?) And two, because Hatfield's mainstream credibility went down the tubes when was found to have served time for conspiring to kill his former boss. (A few months ago, he commited suicide.) Once St. Martin's killed the book, small-scale, basement publisher Soft Skull Press picked it up. The film is the story of the collaboration between Soft Skull and Hatfield, especially the difficulties they had in getting anyone to take the book seriously—or acknowledge it at all. Though the film is gently ambiguous, Hatfield doesn't come off very well anyway; the guy who runs Soft Skull seems cool and determined but naive.
There are so many fascinating things to pick apart in this doc. But because of Liberty Valance, the most interesting to me is the question of who gets to write history? Who's credible? Which stories are worth telling and which actually get told? Which get squashed?
That leads us to the question of how much lone nuts influence events, a perfect segue to the book I'm now reading, the excellent *Big Book of Conspiracy Theories* comic book. My favorite so far is a sect known as the Knights of Templar (of which John Cocteau was apparently a member). They believe that Christ was never crucified, and actually fathered children who became the Merovingians (and whose decendents still walk the Earth). The Knights want to restore Merovingian monarchies to all of Europe.
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And now for some amusing malaise, via Sam Smith's *Progressive Review*:
Georgina Kenyon, BBC - A man who studied art theory and postmodernism at university says feelings of disengagement and alienation as a result of his studies caused him to suffer serious depression after graduation. Scott Reid, 28, currently a secondary school history teacher in Hackney, London, says the theory of postmodernism and its teachings that everything is relative made him feel he no longer knew what reality was. "I felt that no activity had any more meaning than any other. I became seriously depressed," he said. "What was the point of concentrating on any activity if it had no real point? If you believed what we had been taught at university, everything had equal meaning . . . According to psychiatrist Dr Jan Scott, Kings College London: "there is no empirical data to suggest that modern art or exposure to its theories can cause any form of mental disorder."
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Downtown L.A., Willow St., 10:30 p.m. last night, a performance of San Francisco's Seemen. Fifty-odd jovial Forty-drinkers gathered to watch fire-belching machines that defied gravity, made loud noises, exploded beer cans, and generally looked cool and industrial. I felt like I had walked into the pages of an H.R. Geiger collection, except there weren’t any semi-nude, busty Deborah Harry’s wandering about.
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I've found my new calling in life. It's scavenger hunting in the age of satellites, called geocaching. I'm going to get a GPS system asap--or at least as soon as I'm out of debt from putting my cat on Prozak.
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Doubt there's any cosmic justice in the world? Hope resides in the ongoing Martha Stewart scandal. Today the NY Post gleefully reports: "Martha Stewart tried to keep up appearances yesterday, even though she was clearly in shock and agony as the ImClone scandal closed in on her." Muahahahahaha!
But maybe you're turned on by her laminated pears, fluffy albino cats, and cut-throat business acumen. Fine, but here's some shameful evidence of her trademark bitchiness, courtesy of the Smoking Gun.
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I have a piece on Reason Online today: Jim Henson's White House. I mean no disrespect to The Muppets.
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OK, I fully recognize that Jose Padilla was a nefarious wannabe terrorist. Though the details are at this point too hazy to know whether he was detained prematurely, I'm intuitively glad he's off the streets. What I don't like is that only with careful reading do you realize that the farthest the "plot" went was meetings with Al-Queda bosses in Pakistan. He didn't have radioactive material, and no one has written anything suggesting he had access to it. (The closest I've seen is one article noting that the suspect and his terrorist pals didn't seem concerned about where they might get the radioactive material.)
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A movie to recommend: Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), a.k.a. *Bay of Blood*. Featuring oversexed teens, corpse-sucking squids, creative gore, lots of humor, and a great punchline.This was the first I'd seen of Bava, the Godfather of Italian gore cinema, and now plan to see more.
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Well, I'm newly shamed: Apparently, I have a "strong, automatic bias" favoring thin people. In doing some research on fat culture, I stumbled across the "Hidden Bias Tests" at the Southern Poverty Law Center's site, tolerance.org. There, you can take some quacky tests to find out, among other things, if you secretly like light-skinned blacks better than dark-skinned blacks, if you automatically think of people of Asian descent as less American than white crackers like myself, and, as previously mentioned, if you like thin people better than fat. Taking the test was a somewhat interesting experience, but I'm not sure about what, if anything, my alleged bias says about the way I treat people in the real world. Supposedly, the test is for "unconscious bias." Wouldn't you become conscious of your bias rather quickly if you were basing decisions on it? Hmmm. Am I being overly dismissive?
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It's really irking me that TV reviewers seem to be taking "The Hamptons" more seriously than they should, purely because it was directed by a two-time Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker (Barbara Koppel). I knew that going into the airing last night. If anything, it added to my disappointment.
I've heard great things about her previous documentaries; nevertheless, the mini-series she put together is bland fluff TV, just like any other fluff TV -- except that fails even worse by trying to rise above its mission. It's a TV documentary about a VACATION SPOT! Yes, I understand that the Hamptons occupies a certain space in the cultural imagination, but the doc tried to dispell that instead of playing to it. No fun at all.
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My friend Jesse Walker, who must always be right (and damn it, usually is) writes to remind me that Cleaver is talking about the James Bond books, not the movies; *Soul on Ice* was published approximately a decade before *Moonraker* hit the big screen. D'oh.
This weekend, I visited my friend Josh (and his infected elbow) in the hospital at Cedar Sinai. While a man in the next room moaned, "Oh God, please kill me," we watched Paddy Chayevsky's *The Hospital.* It was very surreal. It's a fun, twisted movie with lots of great one-liners ("Where'd you train your nurses -- Dachau??") delivered by a throaty George C. Scott. But it's basically an inferior version of the writer's later *Network.*
Last night, I saw an embarrassingly large chunk of the ABC miniseries "The Hamptons." I knew it would be bad, and sweet Jesus did it exceed my expectations. They might have succeeded in making a "bad-but-entertaining" updated "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," but the director felt the need to represent the "real" Hamptons, so we get enthralling bits about local yokels and their various activities. The production's major failure is an obvious effort to avoid a low brow drool fest about the glitterati and their various accutriments. Big mistake--esp since it's lowbrow anyway.
The cast of characters couldn't be more pathetic. There's some sorry New York lawyer who's looking under every slimy rock in town for a husband, Christie Brinkley as a demonically happy super mom, a bunch of keg-standing, thick-headed yuppies, and writer Steven Gaines, who moans about how rich and vacuous everyone is -- and simultaneously sucks up endlessly. That's just a few.
The only character who might be sympathetic is a mousy investment banker from rural America who's stunned by all the depraved morons who surround her. Of course, she's a complete masochist ("I'm surviving the Hamptons," she says, and bravely chins up to another day), so I didn't feel much need to be sorry for her.
Speaking of masochism, I'm undecided as to whether I'll watch the second half tonight, featuring the aftermath of Lizzie Grubman's slip-o-the-brakes bloodbath.
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