Monday, September 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen (Oh, and is Michael Jackson still Dead?)

A scary bit of news Saturday was that Leonard Cohen collapsed on stage in Spain. We saw him in Austin this past Spring and it still stands out as one of the best concerts I've ever seen. I got my wife the CD/DVD of the London show from this tour, and we play it at least once a week or so.

Today he turns 75, and even though he's in amazing condition for a man his age - he may look small and frail, but he was all over the stage when we saw him, up and down taking a knee regularly, and doing a little jig as he went offstage during the encores - but, sure, he's not going to be around forever.

When Michael Jackson died and we had 24/7 news coverage, it struck me that when Leonard Cohen departs this world, he'll probably get thirty second on the national news and maybe a few minutes on Entertainment Tonight or VH1. Yes, MJ's tragic death was perfect for the tabloid-style coverage that the cable networks love, but as far as anything you can define as "artistic merit" and the value of a life well lived, the attention given to Michael Jackson and the eventual coverage of Leonard Cohen's passing will be completely out of proportion to what they should be.

To me, Exhibit One in the debate over just how screwed up Michael Jackson was as a person and as an artist is the opening sequence to his movie "Moonwalker". That came out in 87 or 88, and it was one of the only American movies playing at this theater one afternoon in Toulon when I was in France during my time in the Marines. I didn't see that whole clip shown anywhere in any of the media coverage I saw because it is so bizarre. But, yes, its on YouTube. It consists of him performing "Man in the Mirror" in concert before a huge crowd of adoring fans interspersed with clips of - among others - Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat, and Menachem in their famous three-way handshake in 1979 at the Israel-Egypt peace treaty signing (at 1:40), Ghandi (at 1:48), Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK (at 2:00 or so), RFK, Mother Theresa, Bishop Desmond Tutu (at 2:25), and so on. No further elaboration on the egotism of Michael Jackson is necessary.

Then there's the damn lyrics to the song:
Gotta make a change
For once in my life
It's gonna feel real good
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right
I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
Make what change? He was still black in this video, so I guess he was contemplating his supposedly vitiligo-inspired cosmetic lightening (though with vitiligo, a condition where your pigment becomes lighter in patches, the usual remedial action is to use dark make-up to cover up the light patches). So he’s basically saying, if you want to make the world a better place, look at yourself and just GO FOR that makeover, new wardrobe, whatever. You don’t have to actually DO anything external to your own narcissism.

Compare that with this clip from the Leonard Cohen DVD of his London concert; it’s the same basic show we saw in Austin (embed is disables for this clip, so you have to click the link):
Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Michael Jackson never wrote anything that comes close to poetry like that.

Full blog post...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

NPR’s Scott Simon Insults All Louisianans

I’m not sure why I’m semi-obsessed with obvious errors in what are otherwise very reliable media and other sources. It must be a librarian thing. Anyway, I’m rarely up at 6:00am on a Saturday, let alone listening to NPR, but in another episode of what is a typical, riveting middle-aged married life, I wanted to get to both Home Depot and Lowe’s soon after they opened.

So I was listening to Scott Simon on NPR wax poetic about Twitter. He had listeners read the “poetic”, “witty”, whatever Tweets that he had solicited from them. But in discussing political Tweets, Simon mis-spoke and referred to - I swear this is what he said - “Congressman Joe Wilson of Louisiana”. The President-heckling Congressman is, of course, from South Carolina, not Louisiana, and we’re so happy that a politician from somewhere ELSE was a national embarrassment for a while.

But when I went to capture the audio from NPR.Org, the error had been edited and he now mentions the correct state. But because this segment was about Twitter I had immediately got on-line and Tweeted my offense at his error, and, luckily, found one other Louisianan who also was not happy with Simon’s confusion about Southern States.

So except for Twitter there is no evidence that this error occurred. And because Twitter doesn't, as far as I know, archive all our Tweets in perpetuity, those two pieces of "evidence" won't be around forever. A minor point about a minor error, sure, but still. Its nice to know that NPR edits such errors out of its on-line archives. And I remain agnostic about Twitter being a revolutionary information/news resource and/or tool, but I’m regularly surprised at how it can be useful for random little things like this.

Oh, and Scott Simon’s whole segment was people reading their “clever” Tweets that he had asked them to submit. A few were cute, but one was about public libraries and was pretty clueless. The caller/Tweeter, Amanda Elend - @amandaelend - read her following Tweet:
Finding myself extremely thankful that the public library system already exists. Imagine trying to get that one past Congress.
Public libraries funding is, of course, mostly local, but the federal government does give a big chunk of change to help at almost every level. But there was no initial “Public Library Act” that had to “get past Congress” in some past halcyon day. In fact Congress still ponies up a big pile of money each year - $158 million for state library agencies in 2005 (out of a total $1.1 billion total revenue, so right at 15% comes from the federal government). I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised because I imagine a majority of the country can’t believe that any government program or function exists that doesn’t flow from the benevolence of the federal government.

Full blog post...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

August 2009 Netflix Report

August 2009 Netflix SummaryArrived at HomeReceived at NetflixDays at HomeMonthly Average Days at HomeCost Per Movie
The Whole Shootin'
Match: Bonus Materials
08/01 08/04 3
Session 9 08/01 08/04 3
Silver City 08/04 08/11 7
Robin and Marion 08/05 08/10 5
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog 08/05 08/07 2
Emergency Kisses 08/07 08/11 4
The Soloist 08/08 08/11 3
The Inglorious Bastards (1978) 08/11 08/13 2
The Strange One 08/12 09/02 21
Hamlet 2 08/12 08/25 13
Shakes the Clown 08/13 09/03 21
Sleeping Dogs Lie 08/14 09/05 22
7.6 $1.54

These 12 movies are all over the board. A recent big release - the Soloist - was neither as cliched or as good as it could have been. Session 9 looked more interesting than it was when it was a "suggested" title at Netflix. Emergency Kisses was the worst of the lot - I only watched it because its a follow up to I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar, which was in last month's queue, and both of which, again, were mentioned in the Sunday New York Times' DVD new releases column and both of which I would gouge my eyes out before watching again - indulgent, autobiographical crap. But the NYT also highlighted the two Bobcat Goldthwait titles - Shakes the Clown (starred and directed) and Sleeping Dogs Lis (directed). The first one was damn funny, but the second one was really good, especially given a premise that must have been a hell of a pitch to try to sell.

And - I think I just realized this - when your next Netflix movie is not available from your closest distribution center, they'll let you know that its being shipped from wherever, BUT they'll also ship an additional movie that is next in your queue at the same time so you have an extra at home at no extra charge. This month, two movies - Shakes the Clown and Emergency Kisses - were extras for me.

Full blog post...

Monday, September 7, 2009

3 Weeks Out: Finally a NYT Book Review Katrina Correction

I guess other folks more concerned and more motivated about this than myself took a bit more effort to point out the problems with Timothy Egan's book review of Dave Eggers' Zeitoun: the Sunday NYT Book Review yesterday had a correction and there is now one appended to the on-line version of the review.

Here in New Orleans, the Times-Picayune did a bit of a better job by quickly publishing a letter to the editor from the founder of Levees.Org about President Obama's characterization of Katrina as a "natural disaster". That statement was made in an interview with the President by local reporters, so his mis-statement didn't get picked up nationally and, besides this one letter, I don't think it got much coverage locally. But, again, in some parallel bizarro world if a President McCain had made such an oversight, he'd be lambasted for being clueless about what flooded New Orleans after Katrina.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Even Published Authors Can Mis-speak

Occasional errors in the morning paper don't surprise me any more. Even the Sunday New York Times we get delivered each week (but at thirty dollars a month, maybe not for much longer when I can walk down the block and get it for $5 at Starbucks) has routine mistakes that I chalk up on too much reliance on spellcheck and not enough on real editorship and skull sweat.

But this egregious mis-use/mis-wording nearly made me do a spit-take with my yogurt this morning. Its from an article-slash-interview with Ethan Brown, the author of "Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder that Rocked New Orleans", an otherwise fine-sounding book about a horrible post-Katrina murder-suicide committed by an Iraqi war vet. Brown worked as a reporter for a while and talked about applying his investigative skills to this story:
"That's what I was doing. Scavenging. Getting everybody's story right. Trying to get these two apocryphal events -- the Iraq war and Katrina -- right. " (Gag-inducing emphasis added.)
Of course - duh - he meant to say "apocalyptic", not "apocryphal", because for damned sure Katrina and the Iraq war are NOT "of doubtful authenticity".

Even a published author, skilled and experienced in weaving words into precise, poetic combinations, can mis-speak. But though these words are similar ... well, they start with the same two syllables, but they really ARE NOT EVEN CLOSE TO BEING SIMILAR ... they are as different in meaning as two words can be. A total, complete, mistaken choice of words.

And isn't it the interviewer's, or the editor's, job to catch this? Doesn't this deserve at least a [sic] after the word? Does anyone at the Times-Picayune own a dictionary that has actual pages?

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