saavedra77: Doc from Deadwood has a dark turn of mind .. (dark)
A conversation with a co-worker prompted me to start re-reading Faulkner's Light in August a couple of weeks ago, a novel I had first attempted (and rapidly given up on) before college.

Light in August is reputedly one of Faulkner's more accessible novels--and an important one. Less formally experimental than The Sound and Fury, As I Lay Dying, or Absalom, Absalom!, the book nonetheless wrestles with equally weighty themes: the legacies of racial and religious communalism and bigotry in the early twentieth-century American Southeast. Jim Crow, John Calvin, and Joe Christmas )
saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (us)
Michael Dobbs' re-examination of the Cuban missile crisis gets beyond the mythology surrounding Kennedy and Krushchev's 1962 confrontation. chaos diplomacy )
saavedra77: Don Quijote (Don Quijote)
So I took that Civic Literacy Quiz that's been going around.

Reportedly, a random sample of 2,500+ Americans positively bombed this test, managing an average score of 49%. The average for those with a high school diploma was 44%. The average score for those with a bachelor's degree was 57%, still essentially a "failing grade." We can argue about sampling methods (self-selected respondents on the Web are doing a ways better, averaging scores in the seventies). But this is the real killer stat: elected officials actually performed at about the same level as high school graduates, averaging 44%. (I'm tempted to think that Sarah Palin was disproportionately represented ...)

Looking over these questions, I just have trouble ... well ... believing the reported results. I mean, I went to what I considered a so-so public high school in the 1980s, and I think that we covered pretty much all of the material in the quiz's civics and history sections. Moreover, these strike me as the kind of quotes and factoids you see cited more or less constantly in political news stories, TV documentaries, etc.

Most people don't find high school history all that interesting, I'll grant you. And I'm probably the most jonesin' political junkie you're likely to know: My unhealthy NPR and New York Times fixations have no doubt helped keep it all fresh in my head for the past 20 years.

But, seriously, I thought most of us had the basic civics and U.S. history stuff--who can declare war, who controls government spending, oft-quoted phrases from the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address--down before we learned how to drive ...?

Then there are those economics questions: I didn't take any economics classes in high school or college. But, you know, there are circumstances where the process of elimination can take you pretty far ...

I scored 96.97 %--literally just getting one question wrong (an economic one, natch)--which I realize now that I misread.

Then again, there has to be some explanation for George W. Bush's enduring popularity in some quarters, to say nothing of the burgeoning Palin fan club, right?
saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (quijote2)
OK. I know how pathetic this sounds, but I'm positively beside myself with glee at the prospect of staying home to watch a
documentary about medieval Spain, tonight.

I mean it. Beside myself. With glee. It's like they filmed it just for me ...
saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (rightwrong)
My experience of the festival rounded out with three exceedingly dark features, including one that I'd argue is an out-and-out masterpiece:

Pushover )

Nightmare Alley )

Scarlet Street )

Next (or soon, at any rate): Inevitably, something about Robert Altman and Raymond Chandler.
saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (highway)

99 River Street and I Love Trouble didn't strike me as particularly deep, but they were both vastly entertaining:

99 River Street )


I Love Trouble )

Pig Noir )

More tomorrow.

saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (goin' to hell)
The idea of technicolor film noir strikes a lot of people as a contradiction in terms, and, yet, how else to classify these two ...?

Desert Fury )

Leave Her To Heaven )

Next: Something really lightweight.
saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (existentialism)
I'm pleased to say that I ended up seeing even more of the Noir City festival than I'd initially planned, last week: ten films noir from the '40s and '50s, some of them exceedingly rare, as well as Robert Altman's 1973 The Long Goodbye. I'd meant to post notes as I went, but better late than never, right? These were my impressions of the first three pictures I saw during the festival:

Thieves' Highway )

Woman on the Run )

The Pitfall )

More Later.
saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (hagia sofia)
On Sunday, I finally had the opportunity to see Lawrence of Arabia the way it’s really meant to be seen, in its full 70mm glory, at Seattle’s Cinerama. I already knew the film well enough to recite many lines from memory (“A man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But a man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it.” “With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners. You may judge which motive is the more reliable.” etc.) And I’d always been impressed by the film’s look. But, my God, I just had no idea how how immersive the film’s desert setting is until seeing it up there on that gigantic screen: I felt as small as the figures onscreen looked against that immense landscape, felt the baking heat of “the Sun’s Anvil” during the ride to Aqaba, the dust whirling around Lawrence and his followers as they trudge across Sinai.

I was also struck by how multifaceted the film’s sense of history is: When Prince Feisal confronts Allenby and Dryden about the Sykes-Picot agreement, one can sense the whole sad history of the British and French Mandates about to unfold. When Dryden comments ruefully about “riding the whirlwind”, the film reminds us of what that project would come to. Bentley’s frank desire to draw the U.S. into the war (and his interest in Lawrence as a propaganda tool) forshadows both Washington’s eventual eclipse of London as global superpower, and the burgeoning role of the media in twentieth-century geopolitics. The scene in which Ali announces his desire to take up politics and Auda warns him that “Being an Arab will be thornier than you suppose, Harith!”, seems to anticipate the whole torturous course of Pan-Arabism. And of course the contrast between Lawrence’s national liberation rhetoric and his superiors’ imperial intentions provides the film's most glaringly obvious parallel to contemporary events.

Above all, the movie is blessed by Peter O’Toole’s eccentric, mercurial, tortured T.E. Lawrence. Even if it weren’t for everything else that’s amazing about this picture, even if it were a one-man show on an otherwise empty stage, O’Toole’s performance would be mesmerizing. It’s a staggering crime that the Academy has still never awarded this man a Best Actor Oscar--he richly deserved it, even here in his first major film role, and several times since.
saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (romanempire)
Over the holidays, I was reading Colin Wells' Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World, which traces the influences of the medieval Byzantine Empire on Western, Islamic, and Slavic civilizations. Wells describes Byzantine culture as having a "dual nature," embracing "both Christian faith and Greek culture" ("Athens and Jerusalem"), and recounts how different aspects of that "dual legacy" impacted the cited "younger civilizations."

Besides treating one of my favorite intellectual hobbyhorses, Wells' book is one of the more quote-able academic treatises I've run across lately:

peckish condor )

Athens and Jerusalem )

After reading this and several general histories of the Byzantine Empire, I find that I want to know a lot more about the Empire's so-called "Golden Age" under the Macedonian dynasty. In particular, I'd like to get my hands on a copy of Digenes Akritas, which was apparently a kind of Byzantine equivalent to El Cid and The Song of Roland.
saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (bob evil)
Saturday, [livejournal.com profile] ryuusama and I finally went to see Steven Zaillian's All the King's Men, with which we both were duly impressed:

conceived in sin and born in corruption )

Underworld

Oct. 2nd, 2006 07:18 pm
saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (secrets)
Friday night, [livejournal.com profile] ryuusama, Christie and I took in the Underworld Tour. We'd all been on the plain-vanilla Underground Tour at some point in the past, but we were all curious about the advertised extra sketchiness. So, what did we learn? Well, we already knew that early Seattle was more or less Deadwood: a resource-extraction- and prostition-based economy. Only wetter and smellier than the South Dakota version. And possibly with less gunplay. What distinguished the Underworld version of the tour consisted in a franker discussion of early Seattle's prominent pimps and madams--particularly the remarkable Lou Graham, opium dens, the total lack of sanitation, etc. Also, your ticket buys you a drink, afterward.

Conclusion: If you've never been on the Underground Tour before and you're not overly squeamish, the Underworld Tour is for you. Also, if you haven't been in awhile and you're as big a history geek as I am. :)

Iberiad

May. 18th, 2006 08:15 pm
saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (quijote2)
Way back in January, [livejournal.com profile] waysofseeing recommended Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan to me, a novel which touches on a favorite historical subject of mine, but by way of fantasy. I finally got around to reading it, a few weeks ago.

Since I first I plunged into the novel, I've been puzzled by one, nagging question--which troubled me precisely because I've read so much about the events which clearly provide Kay's inspiration, here: Why write what could almost be a historical novel, or an alternate-historical novel, with reconfigured geography and even cosmology? Why rewrite history as fantasy?

History vs Fantasy )

Obviously, Kay's venture into fantasia saves the author from having to explain to history geeks like me why certain, carefully-selected historical details are rendered so un-historically, permitting him for example to occasionally condense events that took place decades or even centuries apart.

More importantly, though, Kay's flights of poetic license allow him to defuse the fraught subject of relations between Christians, Muslims, and Jews in what was about to become the era of the Crusades and Reconquista, events which would lay the foundations of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Instead, Kay imagines a triad of faiths that differ not about scriptures but about heavenly bodies, a move which is both sublime and (in an alternate-universe sense) plausible. So, historical preoccupations aside, I can understand and respect Kay's flights of fancy.

Speaking of my geekiness, did I bother to mention that The Lions of Al-Rassan is vividly, movingly written novel that kept me up at nights and left me with a lump in my throat ...?
saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (sejanusstudious)

On balance, 2005 involved more losses than gains for me, and global events weren't particularly cheering, either. I did however come across some really fascinating books, during those 365 days. My top 10:

1) The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq, by George Packer. Read more... )

2) The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design, by Richard Dawkins. Read more... )

3) The Coming of the Third Reich, by Richard J. Evans. Read more... )

4) Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond. Read more... )

5) The March, by E.L. Doctorow.Read more... )

6) The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth. Read more... )

7) Shalimar the Clown, by Salman Rushdie.Read more... )

8) Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer.Read more... )

9) A Vanished World: Medieval Spain's Golden Age of Enlightenment, by Chris Lowney. Read more... )

10) What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, by Thomas Frank.Read more... )

saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (abberline candle)
I'm not an Anne Rice fan--I've never even read one of her books.  But Rice has written a very eloquent essay on the city's history and significance, and the events of the past week: "Do You Know What It Means To Lose New Orleans?"
saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (claudiuswhoa)

In yesterday's Washington Post, Bob Woodward explains how Mark Felt became Deep Throat, providing a lot of insight into Felt's--not to mention Woodward's--motivations.  Woodward explains their chance meeting, and Felt emerges as more than a confidential source; he's almost a father figure to Woodward.  It's a fascinating read.

saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (powercorrupts)

The Watergate scandal was my earliest introduction to politics: I watched the hearings every night at my grandparents' feet and absorbed a lot of lasting impressions about how power works and how the powerful can be challenged.  As of yesterday, we all know that it was former FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt whose clandestine meetings with reporter Bob Woodward helped keep the story alive until it boiled over into a 1973 Senate investigation and the eventual unravelling of a presidency. 

On being loyal versus being a whistle-blower ... )

I don't necessarily buy into the idea of Felt as a selfless hero who set out to save the Republic: there's ample reason to suspect that careerism and institutional motives played a role in his decision.  But whatever his motives, Felt blew the whistle on a lawless Administration. As disillusioning as the Watergate revelations were, I doubt that anything less than the light of day could have cured what John Dean famously called "a cancer on the presidency."

saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (springheeljack)

Today's featured Wikipedia article is on Spring-Heeled Jack, a Victorian urban legend bearing a suspicious resemblance to several 20th-century comic book characters (black cape, metal claws, pointy ears, glowing eyes, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, a big letter on his chest, etc.). Jack sounds for all the world like a circus acrobat gone bad, doesn't he?

The story would have the makings of an excellent Tim Burton picture ... that is, if Burton hadn't already visited so many similar images and notions in films like Batman, Edward Scissorhands, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow ...

saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (sejanusstudious)

I love history and have a sort of love-hate relationship with historical melodramas.  The genre tends to appeal to my fascinations with origins, with change, and with the real-but-exotic.  Of course, the bare facts are rarely sufficient in themselves to achieve a dramatic effect without at least some imaginative intervention, and onscreen historical fictions are generally more faithful to Hollywood story conventions than to history as such.  And, yes, most of the audience is there to be entertained, not to participate in a conversation about how things used to be or how they got to be the way they are.  But, being me, I often find myself watching a movie like The Kingdom of Heaven with one eye on the film's success as simple storytelling, or spectacle, and another on how much it really tells you about a real place and time.  It makes for a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.

Contrary to expectation, however, I found that The Kingdom of Heaven derived some of its most effective dramatic moments from history, and was at its weakest when the writers indulged their own cliché-ridden imaginations:  A lot of spoilers interspersed with things we know about the actual Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem ... )


But do I recommend the movie?  Sure, if you like costume drama, exotic desert locales, swordplay, spectacular battle scenes (this is a Ridley Scott film, after all), pure imagery (I'm thinking particularly of the portrayal of Edward Norton's Baldwin in his silver mask and strange costume--I've no idea whether it was historical, but it was certainly striking), or if you're a big fan of any of the film's scenery-chewing big stars.  Just remember that if a scene looks, sounds, feels like a Hollywood cliché, that's probably all that it is ...

saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (hadrian)
The other day I noticed that the guy in the next office, the other company's CFO, was reading Aeschylus, of all things. We got into a surprisingly interesting conversation about Agamemnon, Klytemnestra, Orestes, Elektra, an eye for an eye leaving everyone dead or accursed, how amazing 4th/5th century Greece was--It was a pleasant surprise to find someone else in the office interested in one of my intellectual hobby-horses.

Coincidentally, I went a little Classical-Greece-crazy at the bookstore, last weekend:

Read more... )

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saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (Default)
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