Yesterday’s Coffee

January 26, 2010

is it also Today’s? I wake up confronted by a ghost in my coffee pot. It holds the open promise of yesterday and its failure. For it is not all consumed. Shall I throw it out? Let it fill the sink, and let me pretend again that today I will write my thank you notes.  Today, I shall call my senator and tell them to pass a climate change bill. Today, I will eat yesterday’s salad, and not tomorrow. Will this new pot of coffee be wholly consumed? Or will it stare at me again tomorrow, bleary eyed in the kitchen, as I stumble for the grinder?

We at the Salad are kind of shocked and awed that John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate–if only because we were sure that Bobby “The Exorcist” Jindal would be nominated for VP to play up the whole Joe Biden Indian 7-11 Incident. But we’re even more shocked at the rationales people use to defend the pick. Here’s a truly perplexing reader email that Andrew Sullivan just posted at the Daily Dish:

…In addition, I predict a bonus unintended consequence for McCain among middle class/educated/post-college/pre-adult white males. A demographic label that follows many into their late 30s and currently trends for Obama. Basically the gamers/Gen-Xers/Seth Rogen/Will Farrell crowd. The GOP has already rolled out video of Palin in snugly tailored fatigues, combat boots and tight t-shirt brandishing a weapon at a meet-n-greet with the Alaska National Guard in Kuwait. I’m sure they’re scrambling to find more. “Sarah Palin as Laura Croft” will leave these guys drooling like zombies.

First off, it needs to be pointed out just how many demographic groups have been unfairly rolled into one. Just look at all the slashes! What does it even mean to be post-college/pre-adult? Is our reader referring to the Dougie Howsers of the world? If so, they represent a minute constituency and are, more importantly, ineligible to vote as they have not yet reached the age of majority. I also find it hard to believe that there is an electorally significant constituency of emotionally stunted “pre-adult” post-collegiates who nonetheless feel the social responsibility to vote.

This is not to mention my immediate skepticism towards a grouping of  “Gen-Xers” and “gamers.” These terms are meaningless: one tells us nothing about demographics, while the other tells us nothing about the stance on the defining question of Generation X: Ginger or Maryanne?

As your film correspondent, I’m more capable of responding to the “Will Farrell/Seth Rogen” statement. Both are funny, and I’ve obviously seen movies with both of them, but I don’t believe one can place them under the same rubric. They represent different comic traditions (SNL/funny or die vs. Apatow), and approaches to acting. (Will Ferrell” is a surprisingly good dramatic actor–see, Stranger than Fiction and don’t see, Melinda and Melinda.) Yes, they both regularly play infantilized, repressed Americans, but they approach this question with different levels of earnestness, and moral rectitude. Besides, Ferrell, more often than not, plays with mental immaturity, whereas Rogen plays that “pre-Adult,” albeit one who understands the eventual need to mature.

This is to say nothing of the medium. Despite Lara’s success as a video game character, she was less successful as a film character, and, most likely, would garner almost no votes for higher office. The success in one medium does not mean success in another; adaptation is an art. Of course, Lara Croft is making something of a comeback, (I refer you to Notwithabang…’s review of the Tomb Raider anniversary edition) but it’s still a bit soon for even Karl Rove to mastermind her to victory. Oh, and did I mention the character’s British?

Lastly, the problem with the letter has nothing to do with the bizarre demographic categories, and everything to do with the trivialization of a significant group of American men by the letter-writer. We–and, for arguments sake, I’ll reckon myself a part of this unclear category–have been maligned as incapable of voting on merits, and positions, and instead vote on looks and image. In large numbers, no less. Our support of Obama has everything to do with his positions and beliefs, and much less to do with his image. The war and climate change are the defining issues for young people this cycle, and Palin’s positions on these matters are problematic. Does she have anything resembling a strategy for Iraq? We know she doesn’t believe climate change is man made. Younger Americans are perfectly capable of seeing beyond a candidate’s looks or image and voting on the issues. In fact, I think you’ll often find that younger Americans care more about the issues than older Americans who often care about personal lives (remember, we came of age during the Clinton presidency) and other external factors.

And, for what it’s worth, I knew Lara Croft, and Sarah Palin is no Lara Croft.

Actually, I don’t know if that’s true. But, I do need to report that rumors of Derek Jeter visiting Austin are true. While visiting the legendary Bryan from Cake City and Hash Browns…and Toast!, said Bryan and I went to the Austin Four Seasons where we were told that Derek Jeter was there with some very attractive women. I did a once over of the room, and sure enough he was there. About 20 minutes later I decided to actually say something to him. For no reason whatsoever, I had “Huey Lewis and the News” on my mind. And, because the piano player wouldn’t play “Hip to Be Square,” I decided to ask Mr. Jeter what he thought of the band.

After Bryan told a clearly uninterested Jeter that he wasn’t a Yankees fan but really respected him as a ballplayer, I decided to tell Mr. Jeter that we had bet on whether or not he liked Huey Lewis and the News. He asked me what I said, I said that he did, and Mr. Jeter, looking nonplused, said “That’s right,” as if it was somehow possible not to like Huey Lewis and the News.

No, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the band’s merits, but still something that the world should know about.

And, in other Huey Lewis news, did you know that they’re Academy Award nominees for “The Power of Love”? Huey Lewis 1, Donald Sutherland, Bruce Willis, Martin Sheen 0

It is my pleasure to bring you Yesterday’s Salad‘s post-inaugural topic-of-the-week: Switzerland. Switzerland follows grammatically from last week’s topic of discussion, as we need to transition from abstract to proper noun. It also follows thematically, for if James Baldwin is to be believed (which he is), Switzerland is somewhere that cosmopolitanism is altogether lacking. So, to add another layer to that eternal question, “should Switzerland exist?” I’m going to say no, no it shouldn’t, on account of the fact that it’s spineless, ridiculous, and simply not as quaint as people say it is.

Politically, Switzerland is synonymous with neutrality, a position that the country has held since 1815. At that point in time, and during the hundred or so years that followed, this was a pretty laudable position to take; in essence, Switzerland declared that it had no interest in the Napoleonic saber-rattling and Bismarckian proxy-wars that plagued the continent. During the mechanized mayhem of the First World War, this remained a sober position. Yet, when the Nazis rolled into town, Swiss neutrality went from high-minded pragmatism to gauche opportunism overnight (unless you consider the point of view of Vichy France, from which Swiss neutrality was gauche for not collaborating enough), as the Swiss were quite willing to provide favorable terms toward the deposit of Nazi finances and plunder. While holding a sixty-five-year-old transgression over an entire nation might appear unfair, consider that Switzerland remains neutral in regard to the Second World War, letting that Nazi gold gather dust in safety-deposit boxes. Either they’re not hip to the fact that we won, or they know something we don’t and expect the Nazis to reclaim their spoils, in which case we should actively pursue Switzerland not existing, pronto.

Were that not enough, the sheer ridiculousness of Switzerland is simply too painful to countenance. Apart from the usual suspects of overpriced watches, knives with more utilities than Batman has use for, and perforated cheese, all of which are exceedingly worthy of ridicule, Switzerland has given the world its national sport of Schwingen, sawdust wrestling. That’s right, sawdust wrestling. However, were this not enough, the Swiss have also devised Hornussen, a cross between cricket, skeet-shooting, and good old-fashioned clobberin’. Were such a sport created in Bulgaria, it might be par for the course, but for the Swiss, it’s ridiculous.

Now, there are many who would say that these perceived faults of Switzerland are just quaint, as Switzerland is essentially Germany’s Canada. I find such reasoning to be repugnant, firstly because I detest false analogies, and secondly I value Canadians. Canada managed to kick ass in World War Two. Canada is being awfully nice by pouring tourism dollars into our once awesome economy. Canada isn’t trying to get us fat on chocolate. Canada plays hockey, not floorball. Canada, you’re looking nice this morning. And whatever you think about the relative merits of steel tariffs, Canada sure as hell isn’t trying to destroy our national book culture (we’re doing a good enough job of that on our own, thank you).

So there you have it. Switzerland is neutral when it feels like it, idiosyncratic when you need a straight answer, and not Canada. But what has been the yield of all these years of malfeasance, of the Swiss living high off the rest of the world’s irritation? Perhaps Orson Welles put it best: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Editor’s Note: Today is the first day of a new format here at Yesterday’s Salad. From now on, each week will have a theme, with 3-4 posts addressing the topic at hand. This should make YS slightly more coherent–but only slightly. After all, we’re all going to continue reading the topic at hand with our own unique biases with our interests intact. So expect my posts to keep talking about language, theory, transit, and movies while Notwithabang continues the AGS pursuits, the Ciceronian declaims, and so forth. That brings me to this weeks topic: Cosmopolitanism.

Lo, the inconsistency that is Cosmopolitanism! Just look at these conflicting definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary:

1) Cosmopolitan character; adherence to cosmopolitan principles (Belonging to all parts of the world; not restricted to any one country or its inhabitants)

2) Disparagement of Russian traditions and culture (equated with disloyalty)

What should we make of this antagonym? (More a feature of Semitic languages as in Hebrew where the same root means both “heresy” and “atone” or in Arabic than it is of English). Is it possible to construct an actual philosophy, humanistic or political, that belongs to all parts of the world equally, yet regularly disparages Russian traditions and culture? Or could it be that Cosmopolitanism, one of the great hopes for moving the world into a post-War, post-National era is simply a repackaged, hidden form of the Reagan Revolution? Maybe the only thing the world, even educated liberals, can agree on is “Russia bad, us good.”

Of course its unfair, even in a post-Deconstruction world to burden a word with contradictory meanings simultaneously. Though Deconstruction teaches that a word always bears all of its meanings, some meanings are, in great Soviet style, more equal than others. So even though “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” disparages Soviets, its orientalist faux archeology (naturally the best kind) disqualifies it from being Cosmopolitan. So too one does not confuse the legendary blogtrix Rootless Cosmopolitan with the cosmopolitan (oed draft entry 12/07: A cocktail made with vodka, orange-flavoured liqueur, cranberry juice, and lime juice.), even if that beverage can be variously spelled with a capital C, nor does one suspect that Cosmopolitanism is a philosophy of drunkhead (though it would, no doubt, rally more people to the cause).

Indeed, the greatest problem with Cosmopolitanism as a political philosophy is that it makes no sense as an electoral strategy. Martha Nussbaum Harvard may be a bastion of multiculturalism, but that doesn\'t do anything to help the poor drainage in the squarehas called for allegiance to humanity as a whole, while Bruce Robbins opens one of his many pieces on the topic with this terrific quote: “‘In the course of my life, I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians; I even know, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be a Persian; but man I have never met.‘” (source) And therein lies the rub: politics is local, and appealing to internationalism rarely fixes your drainage problems.

Harvard may be a bastion of multiculturalism, but that doesn’t seem to help in a downpour.

But if there is one place where multiculturalism might work as a political philosophy, its the Cosmopolis (either the (capital) city of the world or a cosmopolitan city or community). Indeed, in such a city, politics could be both local and cosmopolitan, both inclusive and unique. Walter Benjamin famously declared Paris the capital of the 19th century, but today another city best represents global trends, better serves as an example of the cosmopolitan society. That’s right, the Elm City, New Haven, Connecticut.

Why New Haven and not its predecessor, the Atlantis/El Dorado-like lost city of Old Haven? Here are but three reasons:

1) Food. For this we turn back to that eminent scholar of Cosmopolitanism, Bruce Robbins and his sometime alter ego Mark Bittman. We live in a global world marked by flows and misflows (Yid: vegn und umvegn) of resources and culture, and nowhere is this more felt than the realm of cuisine. New Haven was not only an early adopter of fusion cuisines [citation needed], it was also the site of one of America’s first great experiments in taking something that clearly doesn’t belong to you and claiming it as your own. Such was the case with the legendary New Haven Pizza, the choice of all effete Cosmopolitans as they wrest themselves from New York or Chicago provincialism. But few know the true origins of New Haven Pizza. Read the rest of this entry »

Friday night Dash and occasional commenter Jennifer went to go see the highly anticipated “Sex and the City.” Even though we had already bought our tickets, Jennifer wanted to get to the theater early to get seats and impetuously insisted I turn off Top Chef. As I tarried, longing to see the nefarious Lisa get bounced from the cooking competition (alas, t’wasn’t to be), Jennifer grew more and more harried, and I eventually realized what was happening: this was her first “fanboy” movie. As a veteran of midnight shows for different Star Warses (Star Warsi? Star Warseux?), Matrixes (aha! a known plural!), Spidermen, the recent Indiana, and assorted other popcorn flicks, I’d learned that there are real event movies that require waiting hours in the cold, and fake event movies that simply require buying tickets on time. I was sure that this was one of the latter. And besides, how violent could an audience of fashionista dilettantes be? Getting to the theater on time to get good seats, Jennifer and I settled in for what we hoped would be an epic (2 hours and twenty minutes!) celebration of all things copulation, Manhattan, and, above all, excess told with its trademark brand of bittersweet punning.

Sadly the movie is nowhere near as good as its television forerunner. In fact, it’s pretty bad. The Metro paper proudly proclaimed that Bad Sex is better than No Sex, but I’m not really sure if that’s true. While it was nice to see some of the characters again, we now have the misfortune of added plot developments. Our lasting image of Miranda is not one of character growth, but of regression; Charlotte becomes a caricature; Samantha loses her sex appeal; and Carrie momentarily loses her ability to pun, and, save for the opening and denouement, her ability to narrate. This may not sound like much, but it’s a significant change in storytelling from the show, emblematic of the movie’s biggest problem.

“Sex and the City” the movie’s biggest defect is its obsession with movieness. Terrified of resembling a TV show, Sex goes to extremes to distance itself from its past: gone are the voice-overs, the sets, the pacing, even the theme song. It’s a brave new “Movie” world and everything needs to look new, bright, shiny, and new. The biggest blame for this lies with the movie’s “auteur” Michael Patrick King. The showrunner the last few years, King is a novice feature film director and it shows. Leaving aside the story for a moment, the movie has serious stylistic flaws. The cinematography is the primary example of Sex’s mal du cinema: the shots are bizarre, obsessed with monumentality rather than normal composition. Everything is made to look larger than life, and as a result, we’re visually separated from the characters. No-longer intimately in their world, but held at a distance. The mis en scene is also particularly troubling. Gone are the textures and contrasts. It cannot be repeated enough that the film’s primary aesthetic is blinding brightness. There are no shadows, no darker hues with which to cue our eyes to what is visually important or simply to give us something new to see. On the show, Carrie’s apartment was noticeably darker than the superficial world outside and matched Carrie’s introspective monologues. But the movie has no room for such applications of the objective correlative, and Carrie is given a bright and shiny apartment of her own. Even the show’s trademark costuming suffers from the malady of supersizing. The Times Style section perfectly deconstructed the film’s take on fashion: “But in the film the characters are now four years older and, in a disappointing way, their styles appear to have changed into one: the offbeat, orgiastic, do-it-yourself madness of Carrie, the dominant female. It is not only that they now dress alike. In every scene the women are practically coordinated by both color and style, as if they had received a morning memo detailing the day’s dress code. Let’s all wear primary colors to a jewelry auction! Let’s all wear psychedelic hippie dresses on a trip to Mexico! Let’s all wear smart black-and-white ensembles and fur coats to a fashion show!” (more here) Read the rest of this entry »