For you, a podcast

March 24, 2008

Noted friend of Yesterday’s Salad, JJ, has started a podcast about Jewish Philosophy.  While there is so far only one podcast up, the show seems to be pretty candid, and from the sounds of it, should have something for everyone (whether they are Jewish, have met a Jewish person, are interested in philosophy, or are one of those free-thinking atheist-types). Well, most everyone.

You should check it out:

(word has it that it will be available via iTunes soon)


March 24, 2008

The Bank Job is easily one of the best heist movies of recent vintage. With nary an electronic gizmo in sight, our would-be bank robbers have to get by on those most timeless of qualities; drills, British accents, and a wee bit of guff are all that’s needed to loot and plunder. The movie is funny, refreshing, and exciting, and Jason Statham shows that he can be a legitimate movie star, and not just an action wind-up-doll. Yet the movie falls into a rather unexpected trap. While it manages to deconstruct the modern heist movie, exposing the genre’s over-reliance on technology and precision timing, as well as its over glamourizing of the robbers, The Bank Job does manage to fall into one rather common cinematic pratfall: the torture scene.

Too many movies make use of torture scenes these days, to the point where moviegoers now have the (often) opposite impulses of wondering if a) the scene goes too far and b) if the scene was necessary at all. Movies have always utilized torture scenes, but recent years have seen them proliferate as a result of the Iraq war and the implied political statement that they entail. As a result, the once harrowing moments have become repetitive and obvious, or excessive and cruel without reason. In this regard, these moments resemble drug use/abuse; while not everyone personally knows what the problem is like, everyone knows what it looks like to play a junkie, and how that role is played. Now, everyone knows the emotional responses of torture. The scene has been cheapened, and the emotional impact of pointed torture scenes blunted. Moviemakers need to find a new visual language for addressing these problems rather than relying on the ease of familiar moments.

Presidents Then and Now

March 19, 2008

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Barack Obama minister controversy. There are multiple issues here that deserve consideration: 1) can a person belong to a religious community without agreeing with everything the spiritual leader says; 2) should we be held accountable for the views of our leaders; 3) do personal relationships transcend ideology? None of these will be treated here. In fact, the whole premise of the controversy is false; as we all know, Barack Obama is a crypto-muslim. Therefore the views of “his” Christian pastor are meaningless. It’s all an act.

But lost amidst the transformation of the presidential circus from a hootenanny to a hullabaloo is the release of a new The Presidents of the United States of America album. As in 1996, The Presidents decided to have their new album coincide with the US elections. That album, II is an excellent album with an incredible A-Side and brilliantly nonsensical lyrics. The greatest example of this is “Twig” by Chris Ballew and Beck, a perfect storm of lyrical daff (old English root, cf “daffy”). For example:

“You paint a monkey gold, let him loose downtown
You start him with a smile, he’ll come back with a frown”

While I’m not really sure what the lines are supposed to mean in a grand sense, they have an inner narrative logic that makes them work. Why should a monkey be satisfied in gold paint? This idea of inner-narrativity was later perfected by the President’s frontman Chris Ballew in his solo project “The Giraffes.” From, “Ghost of a Bad Friend”:

Check out that bunny with the sick fat tumor
Busy ducking punches and dodgin dirty rumors
Evening magazine shows up at his hole
And catches that bunny with the money that he stole
Can’t find an explanation for the way
He got rich as a rabbit in a day

Here Ballew exploits his inner-narrativity to collapse it. The verse begins in an animal world, a familiar motif in Ballew’s lyrics. As in a fable, the Bunny is endowed with certain human characteristics. It lives in a world where Evening Magazines will show up at his hole. But as soon as the world is constructed, Ballew destablizes it. The rabbit “can’t find an explanation for the way/He got rich as a rabbit in a day.” He’s still just a rabbit, no matter how personified he may be, and rabbits can’t get rich that fast. This, by the way, is similar to one of my favourite lyrical techniques: literalizing metaphors. As in this great Destroyer line, “Tried to summon up the spirits/live on Face the Nation/But the Port Authority’s just taxed incantations”

All this said, the new Presidents of the United States of America album, “These are the Good Times People,” is borderline terrible. I should have known from the over-emphatic nature of the title that these would not, in fact, be good times. I just never expected them to be so bad. Ballew’s still singing songs about animals, but now the songs are only about animals. No lyrical or musical complexity. The last album saw the Presidents successfully move in the direction of a standard, “non-gimmicky” rock group with even its most quirky song, “Some Postman,” being incredibly rational, only with a more interesting premise. The album also showed the band’s improving ability to craft narrative as in, “Shreds of Boa.” “These are the Good Times People” is a regression from the last album, the bands worst—worse than “Pure Frosting” which wasn’t even a real album—and, ironically, in their blatant disregard for the reality of the situation, their failures now mirror those of our current President. I only hope the band does some honest soul searching, rather than removing all dissidents from office and minimizing their voices.

Some of you may remember me. I am the eyebiter.

Some of you may remember my droopy pants-ed story.

Some of you, if you be Floridian readers sportin’ a reckless disregard for belts or suspenders, be in trouble.

I had been planning on penning a piece about the new Presidents of the United States of America album before real-life interrupted. A friend of mine died tragically today. All deaths are tragedies, but this one was made all the worse for its randomness. An accident. A truck. He was one of the most welcoming people I’d ever met, and one of the smartest. Grad school is a place that encourages people to isolate themselves and to stay away from others. But that wasn’t my friend. We never talked about a lot of things even though we talked about a lot. I found out tonight that he used to write for The Forward but he never talked about it with me, nor did I ever talk to him about my various writings, no matter how insignificant they might have been, even though I always dreamed of inviting him to contribute to the Salad or to our as yet unprinted print companion, Fortnightly Salad. He was a man of diverse interests, and in tribute I’d like to mention two of them, two poets: Saul Tchernichovsky and They Might Be Giants.

Tchernichovsky was a man of the Hebrew renaissance. In my mind, Tchernichovsky, even more than Bialik, was the Hebrew renaissance. He translated the classics into Hebrew, be they from English (Longfellow) or from Greek (the Iliad). He made everything into Hebrew culture, and made world culture a part of the Hebrew rebirth. He even tried to turn the country around him into Hebrew culture, writing such “Canaanite poems” as “My Astarte.” My friend wrote his thesis about Tchernichovsky and his research cuts infinitely deeper than my curt introductory remarks. For me Tchernichovsky is a street more than a poet, an intersection with Bialik and Allenby, and a place of overpriced cafes. Somehow his words became history, became reality, an unbelievable feat.

For a different view on history, consider They Might Be Giant’s “Purple Toupee.” The song is a brilliant reworking of twentieth-century history, a comic inversion of the inversions in society. For me, the song is incapsulated by the brilliant line, “I shouted out, free the Expo 67!” One 60’s event so quickly turned into another. But for my friend the best line was, “Now I’m very big, I’m a big important man.” I never figured out why. Was it the double assertion? The posturing? Or just the great vocal inflections? I’ll never know, but I’ll always wonder.

Previous installments of the Yesterday’s Salad Index: 0

Percentage of hits due to ibiteyoureyes’ posts about foot fetishists on Craigslist: %15

Average hits due to ibiteyoureyes’ “hottest cartoon redheads” post: 80

Average of these hits due to searches for “Jessica Rabbit”: 79

Comments asking for the return of L. P. Mandrake: 7

Typos featured in an average Yesterday’s Salad post: 4

Typos featured in an average L.P. Mandrake post: 0.2

Combined years of Yesterday’s Salad graduate school attendance: 6

Total letters contained in said graduate degrees: 11

Letters belonging to Rabbi Haverstam: 6

Barenaked Ladies albums listened to while composing last NWB post: 3

Years since listening to Barenaked Ladies was socially acceptable in the United States: 10

Diatribes written by the Ciceronian: 3

References to Cicero contained in the Ciceronian’s last posting: 67

Cumulative references to Catullus contained in the Ciceronian’s postings: 2

Unedited manuscripts written by Dash: 2

Total references to Portal in NWB postings thus far: 7

Letters of hate mail received after Yahtzee retrospective: 7

Letters of hate mail with correct punctuation, spelling, or coherence: 2