Wednesday, June 30, 2004

What's in a song?

It's amazing how individual songs and their respective covers can have such different meanings and evoke such a variety of feelings depending upon the artist, venue, and life context of the listener.

I hate to get all schlocky about this, but Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is certainly one such song for me.

I must admit that the first version I heard was Jeff Buckley's haunting interpretation on his album "Grace." It was certainly the most beautiful song on that album and continues to be one of my favorites.

When I finally did hear Cohen's original, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it somehow did not spark the same emotional response. And though I love Rufus Wainwright, his all-too-speedy, flippant cover of such an amazing tune was extremely ill-advised.

Having recently undergone a substantial move (from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C.), I was happy to spend my first Saturday night in the District listening to a friend of a friend play some respectable coffee house music at Murky Coffee. He was followed by a similarly respectable performer, who I was content to listen to while gazing out the window or talking with my friend and her brother.

Then - the performer, Sam Kim, muttered something about doing a "cover of a cover" and proceeded to knock me cold with a cover of Jeff Buckley's cover of Hallelujah. Welcome to D.C., Sarah.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Scraping the dregs

So it appears the Democratic presidential nominee is proposing an increase in the minimum wage. It's about damn time, but is it enough?

Here in Minnesota, a Humphrey Institute professor and economist recently published a brief that makes "A Case for a Substantial Minimum Wage Hike for Minnesota." She and her colleagues note that the real value of the minimum wage in Minnesota has fallen from $8.27 to $5.15 over the years, and they also call for an increase to $7/hr. [The authors also astutely note that those who claim a minimum wage increase will disproportionately affect the income of teenagers or other, apparently less worthy, single workers are making an argument that is remarkably akin to those made to "legitimize" paying women less than their husbands...]

Of course, people are also afraid of the negative economic consequences of such a "substantial" increase to the minimum wage. While Card and Krueger have been forced to revise some of their conclusions, I do believe that their research offers some powerful evidence that, in the limited circumstances they analyzed, the minimum wage increase did not have a severe negative impact on the local economies in question.

While I'm still not sure of the adequacy of the $7 level, at least the minimum wage discussion appears to be starting again on the national stage. Especially given the CEO salaries compiled by xx in today's posting, you would think companies could pony up a bit more.

Oh yeah. But I forgot that companies like Wal-Mart are spending all their money in order to engage in sleazy tactics like there's no tomorrow. How could they ever afford to pay their workers more than $7 when they're spending millions to bust up unions?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Don't Tell Me What's 'Intellectually Stimulating'

From a "dear bitch" letter in the Spring 2004 issue of Bitch magazine:

I know some intelligent people who gave parenting a real try and weren't turned on by it. But I can't help considering that a character flaw. People who are intellectually alive ought to be capable of being interested in children.
-John Schapiro
Philadelphia, PA

First, I can't help but notice that the author of these accusatory statements is a man. Assuming, of course, that the loaded prenom 'John' usually represents a male perspective...

Second, now not only are women who choose not to breed (1) upsetting the "natural" gender order, (2) demonstrating our ultimate self-involvement, and (3) letting the rest of society down by not contributing to the furthering of the human race, but we are also...(4) quite stupid.

Clearly, if women who claim to be intelligent cannot connect to children, they are just not using their intelligence properly. Or they are simply not as smart as they claim to be. Yes, clearly. Say what?

Due to the variety of human nature, individual people are stimulated aesthetically, intellectually, and, I might add, physically and emotionally, by extremely different works of art, pieces of music, writings, films, people, places, scents, sexual acts, foods, etc., etc. Why should children be the universal intellectual stimulant?

John's argument seems to be, conveniently, yet another way of making women who decide not to pursue childrearing feel guilty, de-gendered, and now stupid as well. Enough already.

I do not find children intellectually stimulating. I just don't. And I don't feel guilty about it. I don't want to be criticized for preferring: to watch a film noir, to read a feminist detective novel, to analyze anti-poverty policy, to bake goodies, to walk or rollerblade or skateboard around my neighborhood, to chat with adult friends, or to sit in my own quiet apartment by raising a child. I am not saying that there aren't women and men who find raising children intellectually challenging and rewarding. I just think it's dangerous to question the intellect of any person who does not "get turned on" by raising children.

So - if I have to choose between having a character flaw or having children...goddamit, please just call me stupid.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

What a Difference a Year Makes

Things I am legally allowed to do in this country:
1) Vote
2) Join the armed forces and fight, though only in limited situations due to my gender
3) Give birth to and raise children, as frightening as that scenario is to me
4) Run for certain elective offices
5) Fly a plane
6) Practice law or medicine, if I desired to attend and was smart enough to speed through medical or law school

What I must wait one more year to do, according to most of the companies I contacted today:

Oh, the absurdity of it all...

Monday, June 14, 2004

Ghost Dog It Ain't; But Still Quietly Fun

Some recent criticism of Jim Jarmusch's latest flick, Coffee and Cigarettes, seems to take the "unreached potential" slant, a view with which I have a little trouble aligning myself.

For example, in an overall favorable IMDb review of the Benigni/Wright skit that opens the film, Filmjack 3 writes, "The letdown is that the laughs aren't as great as they could've been."

Additionally, a fine friend and fellow blogger discusses the "irritatingly trite and banal" dialogue in which the actors engage throughout a great number of the skits, and also slanders the amusing and endearing Waits/Pop skit as "wasteful."

My perspective on why the movie appears to some not to have always met its "potential," especially with respect to the verbal exchanges and level of celebrity witticism:

1) The actors/musicians/famous peeps in this film are supremely talented folk. We expect them to be brilliant, especially in a film that echoes certain French New Wave films from a certain era of which we're all aware that emphasized deep conversation and astute insights into humanity...oh the profundity! [An obvious comparison I'm somewhat ashamed to make here...]

2) BUT: that is precisely not what Jarmusch set out to do! As described in the official synopsis of the film on its website [note: by way of using the word 'official,' I do not mean to imply any superior authority of perspective], "Jarmusch delves into the normal pace of our world from an extraordinary angle..."
Exactly - he wanted to capture the normal awkwardness and ineptitude that many of us face in day-to-day social situations, including coffeeshop interactions. Celebs are not to be exempted from these social difficulties, even when meeting people with whom they ostensibly have much in common (thinking the Waits/Pop vignette here...)

3) The film's efficacy lies in the very fact that the viewer is not allowed to be mesmerized by witty repartee (though, as Cheek notes, the visuals are quite mesmerizing...), but instead is forced to confront the fact, which I find rather endearingly human, that everyone is subject to periods of social awkwardness, though some experience far more of these situations than others. [On a side note: I actually did find the verbal exchanges, even those seemingly reeking of banality, amusing..."Are you saying I'm a Taco Bell kind of guy?"]

4) If you accept my interpretation of Jarmusch's choice of dialogue, or anti-dialogue, if you will, for his comic skits, then the combination of the words, music, and visuals of the film make it starkly original, smart, and beautiful. Which, in my book, meets any possible potential a creator of a film may want to meet.

Though not as subtle and entertaining as Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, C&C was a fine way to spend a Saturday afternoon in good company, and I probably will see it again.

P.S. Do check out the official movie website for some clips from the movie, as well as the cool, though rather unnecessary, opportunity to customize a cup of coffee for your very own virtual coffee break...

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Goose on a spit

“‘All I know is I feel good going to bed nights, Doug. That’s a happy ending once a day. Next morning I’m up and maybe things go bad. But all I got to do is remember that I’m going to bed that night and just lying there a while makes everything okay.’”
-Tom to Doug in Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

“...rolling over and over, four sides at five minutes per side, a Goose upon Insomnia’s spit...”
-Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon

Lately I've been plagued by bouts of insomnia worse than usual. I'm not entirely sure what that's about, but I do know that being speared and cooked on "Insomnia's spit" completely negates the comfort that Bradbury's character purports can be found in bed. Instead, it seems as if my bed has become a nightly opponent who can only bring frustration, inspire mindless punches into my mattress, or deliver bouts of fear related to ants and spiders.

Ahhh...well...who needs sleep anyway?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

City Scape

Word on the street in DC is that there was a plethora of tour buses in the city, carting around folks interested in viewing the casket of the former Prez. [Literally, this was the word on the street, as my friend was relating the tour bus viewing while he was walking the streets of Washington today.] This friend, a federal employee, also let me in on the fact that all federal employees were told to be gone by 3:30 p.m. While an interesting factoid, what intrigued me even more during our conversation was the fact that while he was walking the streets of DC talking to me, I was walking the streets of Minneapolis. And how someone had planned the layout and names of these streets. And how some urban planners are supremely more inspired than others.

Here are some of my faves:
Pierre-Charles L'Enfant, who of course is largely responsible for the plan of our fair District of Columbia. [Check this out for an interesting glimpse into (or perhaps random speculation about) L'Enfant's personal life.]

James Edward Oglethorpe, who designed Savannah into a gorgeous, squareful city. Check out this biography and portrait expertly executed by children of the Calvary Baptist Day School.

Baron Georges Hausmann, who obviously knew what he was doing in creating a brilliant 12-spoke wheel within Paris. But - I wonder if the city would have maintained more of its charm without the expansive streets of Hausmann's design that are now lined with Gaps, Sephoras, and other capitalist enterprises...

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Madam Secretary

If only she could run for President...

This afternoon at a discussion about her book Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright unequivocally demonstrated her wit, intellect, and just general awesomeness. She provided clever insights into the current administration's [mis]behavior and related some rather humorous stories about her tenure as Secretary of State.

A particularly witty story about her relationship with and role in ousting then-UN Sec-General Boutros-Gahli:

[As related by Albright and re-imagined by myself]
BBG: I went to a Nigerian seer and he told me there was a woman named Madeleine and that she would betray me.
MA: [thinking to herself] My name is Madeleine...and so I will...

I have yet to read her memoir, but am now looking forward to it. She supposedly wove gender throughout her telling of her personal and political exploits.

Speaking of gender, in addressing a question about the women involved in the Abu Ghraib atrocity, she emphasized her belief in the necessity of having women in the military, but stated that they can't just become "one of the boys"...mmmhmm, yes.

[On a side note, I was the recipient of a random act of kindness today when a Loft Literary Center board member, upon overhearing of my lack of funds and consequent inability to purchase a book to have Ms. Albright sign, turned around and gave me her extra copy. "I have two and was trying to decide who I should give the second one to anyway..."

People can truly be beautiful when they want to. Thank you, Joanne.]