Sunday, December 11, 2011

Iranian Music

Monday, December 5, 2011


Life was pretty rough in remote regions of Japan, especially for women and children, as well as everyone not the head-of-household, and communities often struggled to maintain a balance that threatened to collapse with poor harvests or difficult times. The plight of poor Japanese is well represented in Imamura’s The Ballad of Narayama (1983), an award-winning movie of heartrending insight and beautiful cinematography. Too many mouths to feed can result in infanticide (or a child being sold away, which I understand is still a common practice in places such as Thailand and Cambodia), and the aged (anyone making it to 70) are expected to take a pilgrimage to the sacred mountain where they are exposed to the elements and left to die (sometimes unwillingly). The social structure that privileged heads of household, left the young and female vulnerable, and relegated most everyone to inferior status. Younger brothers could only hope for hard work, deference, and occasional opportunities for happiness (for example, sex). Ballad is primarily about a grandmother, embarrassed by her good fortune in health, who is approaching her own trip to the mountainside (willingly) and is tying up loose ends and preparing a new daughter-in-law for her role as a matriarch. The movie pulls few punches and openly shows the realities of infanticide, patricide, violence, deviant sexuality, hardship, and misogyny. Yet, it also shows the high level of responsibility, sacrifice, cooperation, humor, and order that kept total destruction at bay.
For a foreign viewer or individual not well versed in Japanese culture (such as myself), this movie can be a troubling experience. The punishment of an entire family (being buried alive) for stealing is partially understandable in a society whose existence is so close to the edge, but it was extreme and cruel, especially to the innocent victims (as it seems the actions of one family member is applied to the entire clan). Women have little say in how they are sexually treated. Children, especially girls, are treated little better than calves (an opportunity to make money). The scene where the salt merchant is marching away a small group of children is emotionally heartrending. A widow forced to have sex with the lesser males in the community to atone for the sin of her husband is appalling. The film does show what the domestic life was like, unvarnished.
I am amazed that no one got frostbite in this film. I also thought it interesting that there seemed to be no official (ie, police or local government) presence portrayed. The photography is often beautifully done, though the interspersed nature scenes were roughly cut in, and there seemed to be a special interest in snakes (all seemingly trying to relate that what was going on in the village was just part of the natural order of things). The acting was excellent, especially Sumiko Sakamoto as grandmother Orin.

Monday, November 28, 2011


What’s up with Sam Brownback?
(another religious political hack!)
worried about a young girl’s tweet,
because she didn’t find him sweet,
he’s against gays, women, and freedom,
any threat to his misogynist kingdom,
I’m sure that he’s got a lot of fans,
all those damn Kansan Talibans!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Herewith a picture of the little kitty, which I named Elsie, that we captured near the Greek church. She was so hungry. I think one of the people here is going to take her to his ranch.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Watched a really amazing documentary called CATFISH, about how a young photographer in New York gets sucked into the elaborate Facebook fantasy of a middle-aged mother who passes herself off as several people, beginning with claiming to be a child prodigy in painting and eventually including a fake world populated by creative, beautiful, young people (one of which becomes the love interest of the photographer). Eventually his brother and a friend start producing a film about their relationship, but things really get interesting once they realize the ruse and start unraveling the real story, which is sad and fascinating in its own right. This woman (clearly slighted warped) gave up her dreams in her youth, and takes care of a large family in rural Michigan, which includes two physically and mentally-retarded boys (that she seems to do well with), as well as her daughter, but she loved her fantasy life and her fantasy romance with the young guy (which allowed her to dabble in the arts and feel special). Amazingly, she allowed the truth and story to be told through the documentary. It is a cautionary tale as well, about taking things online at face value.

Monday, November 7, 2011

MJB smile!

Near the end of Will Ferguson's Happiness, a group of men tracking down an author visit the local library, where one of them asks the librarian if she has read a certain book, whereupon: "I don't read," she said firmly. "Book-reading is for idle minds." Matthew Bruccoli, may he rest in peace, would have smiled widely at that statement, seeing as he often considered many librarians "book-dopes."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I can’t reveal what I really feel
as I troll through Goodreads and Book.
Here’s a nice face, in this social space,
but smart is much better than look.
Not ready for any, and there are so many,
and I enjoy speculating and dream,
that an older bookworm, with a heart warm
will think I’m as nice as I seem.
Seldom reach out, so filled with deep doubt,
To any potential cute reader,
though once in a while, a comment I’ll style,
but I’ll run before I ever meet her.


There’s not much music in poetry now,
the poets have taken an austerity vow,
thread-bare lines, no rhythm or rhyme,
con-man words, artistic pantomime?
Lyricists shunned, unless rocking a mike,
It’s not what the Professors like!
Too confused by much now written,
Like abstract art, the critics smitten
by works that display very little skill,
I'd rather view Andrew Wyeth’s hill.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Spent the weekend with the boys and scouts camping on property at Lake Murray, practically in the center of the lake on an island owned by the Turbevilles. Although it was a bit chilly and windy on Friday night, with the leaves rattling as if being struck by rain, it was a delightful and enjoyable trip. The boys mostly fished and did a little hiking and such, but they all seemed to have a wonderful time. A few rough patches with them, but when isn't there when you are talking about a diverse group of boys. Chimo did very well, as basically an honorary member of the troop, and hopefully he will be able to work toward his arrow of light (sounds like a video game, no?) despite the pack he joined suddenly discovering it had no other boys his age, and another pack denying him entry (because he didn't attend the school where the pack met). If he could do it, he'd join the older boys in a second and would be off and running. Chimo will be a great scout, I think; when he arrived he was right to it setting up his tent, and although he was shunted off in many of the activities, he found a lot of fun things to do. It will be interesting to see the dynamic once Joey & Chimo are in the troop together. On Friday a racoon ate his late-night dinner next to my tent. No one believed me, and even mocked me; then on Saturday one of the boys saw the racoon. I felt vindicated. You could hear quite a number of birds. I placed my tent away from the rest of the group, right along the edge of the lake, and the gentle lapping of waves against the rocks was wonderful and soothing. The campsite was a bit on an incline, and I often felt as if I were slipping toward a watery doom, but I managed. Mostly I relaxed and chatted with the adults. I also got to read a little bit (Ishiguro) and even fished a while with the boys a while. No one was particularly successful with the fish, though we did observe turles. I instructed one boy on how to use a rapala lure, and I managed to do some cooking instruction with two of the boys. And I even whipped up a nice sauteed medley of vegetables for the dinner (the food was very good). I hope the others liked it. Joey and others who will likely be attending the upcoming jamboree did some sort of planning. We made a quick visit to a really well-done Halloween display at a nearby mansion. I hurt a little in the hip, but felt pretty well overall, despite sleeping outside. I was pretty cozy on Saturday night, thanks to the gift of an additional blanket.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I came across this drawing by Chimo in my desk, that I am sure is about two or so years old, having been done when he was mid-third grade I am guessing. In it he draws his family, but note the clear separation between Mom and the three guys. He draws himself between his older brother and me (why he gave me a tie and no glasses, I am not sure). Next to his mom he places "Mad man" (Chris Rossi), looking every bit evil with the huge single eye, creepy grin, and wispy ponytail. And his mom, wearing a dress (she seldom did) is looking at him with tears in her eyes. And note too how carefully he draws a line between his mom and madman, writing in the corner that this is the "sukee side". (sucky side?)

Thursday, September 22, 2011


John McWhorter has it right when he writes: "The present-day Republican establishment, with its know-nothing ideology and blithe absence of concern for most American human beings, has become tragically similar to the famously inert, heartless Senate of the Gilded Age, which for decades killed almost all progressive legislation even when it had been carefully hammered out in the House." Do we really need another Republican leader of the Hoover mentality (which of course was after the GA)? I cannot abide for the anti-education, anti-regular folk, anti-freedom crowd that wants to push America back into some 1950s mentality.


Just watched a nice documentary, Afghan Star, about a television music-contest show akin to American Idol, designed to reintroduce popular music to Afghanistanis after their long dark ages under Taliban rule. It basically follows the attempt by four young singers to capture the hearts (and cell phone votes) of enough of their countrymen to garner nationwide fame and a sizable chunk of cash (no telling how valuable $5000 would be to them). The production is one step above amateurish and the quality of performances not what I am used to, but the singers all garner fervent support (often based along ethnic lines), and the show is a hit throughout the country and with just about everyone except religious fundamentalists. I must say that a few performers, especially the young woman who danced on stage during her farewell performance and incensed just about everyone, were extremely brave in challenging the restrictions they have encounter in recent times. Heck, even the fans who clamored for seats at the live performance struck me as brave, considering the possibility of terrorist attack. The documentary does remind viewers about the cultural blind spots in Afghanistan, but also reveals a diversity of viewpoints and a hope that the country can eventually, perhaps, join the rest of the world in enjoyment of the arts. I was shocked by just how dirty many people appeared. And I was surprised and delighted by the beauty of some of the buildings, especially the mosques, and how they stood out from the mud-colored towns and neighborhoods.

Friday, September 9, 2011


What I miss at this old age
is sitting high like some tree sage
in a stately southern oak
not thinking of being rich or broke.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Dad sitting in our kitchen on Keystone; must have been late, cause Mom looks like she is about ready to hit the hay. I think this picture was taken after the wedding of my sister Beth, so they may have been pooped from all the activities of the day.

Dad, with my brother Paul (who is about fifteen in this pic) goofing behind him.


My paternal grandfather Francis "Frank" Tidd. He was visiting the house on Keystone, probably around 1982 or so. He was professional caliber athlete (in tennis and golf) as a young man, and I believe he was a scratch golfer most of his life. WWII intervened and he trained for the D-Day invasion, but was pulled at the last moment to serve as an artillery instructor (much to his everlasting chagrin). For most of his working career, he was a Cadillac salesman in New Jersey, then retired with my grandmother to Clermont, Florida. He was a scary fellow---stern, taciturn---but I spent a few weeks with him not long before he died, and I liked him very much.


At my Eagle presentation, by HCSD Sergeant Beausoleil, Bill Athey, and myself. I had just turned 15 here.

Paul, Dad and I at Paul's Eagle ceremony, the picture taken outside at Brorein Scout Camp.


(l to r) James Francis Tidd Jr. (me); Barbara Morley Tidd (Martin); Elizabeth "Beth" Ann Tidd (Peterson); Paul Brook Tidd. Picture from around late 1965 or early 66. Probably taken in Hawaii, although more likely when we got back to Charleston.


My Dad holding me at about age one (1961), probably in Connecticut or New Jersey, possibly on the way back from (or to) his sub training.


Herewith a couple of pics of my parents, both from early 1980s:

Thursday, September 1, 2011


One-year-old me embarking on a life of letters and editing?


Here he is, in his second season (although first was a washout because we moved days before the start of the first game). #50, third-string center and backup defensive lineman, for Citrus Park Yellowjackets. Can you believe the blonde hair? This was in 1972.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Despite the assertions that the NCAA cannot hand out the Death Penalty to the University of Miami, I certainly hope that it does in response to the revelations of widespread rule breaking by the players, coaches, and administrators. I think a message needs to be set, and it needs to hurt pockets. Although many are guilty, UM is and has been blatant in its bad behavior for decades. Forget that it is Miami. Sadly, many of the players are already millionaires in the pros and cannot be touched, but I hope their reputations at least take a hit. I am tried of hearing about the need for players to be paid. . .the good ones get their paydays, and the lesser ones get their educations, free. Doing what they would be doing anyway. If money is a problem, they need to develop a minor league football arrangement akin to that in baseball and basketball, and let the players who want an education continue to play in college. Yes, I know. . .the schools make millions. But it will get far worse if players start getting paid.

Monday, August 1, 2011


This quote from conservative commentator David Frum: "The United States provides less assistance to the unemployed and the poor than almost any other democracy. It spends 60% more per person on health care than almost any other democracy -- and gets worse results. The problem is not that Americans use too much medicine. People in other countries use more. The problem is that Americans pay too much for the medicine they use. Go where the money is, cut where the waste is grossest."

In addition to that, I might add that we let the energy companies take far too much of a profit off resources everyone in the country owns. If you skimmed just a few billion off the top of the company profits, they would not be hurting (really) and it might help balance the budget.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


A great collection of photographs of dancers in everyday places, well done and interesting, beautiful, often sexy. Really nice.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Obama Commentary I liked

Darn good commentary by a CNN analyst, I though.

"Even though some Republicans have attempted to paint the president as a left-wing radical who is intent on bringing socialism to American shores, the reality is that Obama is very much a product of the 1980s and '90s era of liberalism, when numerous Democrats shifted to the center in an effort to stay relevant.

On economic policies, Obama has continually surrounded himself with moderate, market-oriented liberals such as Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner. The president has continued President George W. Bush's policies that shored up Wall Street following the financial meltdown of 2008.

Notwithstanding Republican rhetoric, his health care plan, which resembled then-Gov. Mitt Romney's program in Massachusetts, was far less government-centered than what previous Democrats had proposed. Indeed, in almost every area of domestic policy, Obama has stuck close to the center of the Democratic Party.

The problem for Democrats is that Republicans have been far more successful at playing the message wars. They have successfully depicted Obama, regardless of what he does or says, as far left."

Julian E. Zelizer, "Is Obama seizing the political center?",, 25 July 2011.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


In a quip attributed to Alaskan politician Andrew Halco, he said of Sarah Palin, "she's a master, not of facts, figures, or insightful policy recommendations, but at the fine art of the nonanswer, the glittering generality." I wonder if Michelle Bachman took the same classes?

And while I am on it, as the corruption and blatant lying unravels Murdock's empire in England---because who can truly believe that he and his son were unaware of payouts and improper investigative tools, such as phone hacking, and that he didn't know about large sums of money paid to victims of his newspapers, or the considerable amounts that must have been paid to lawyers defending his assets---why is it that Americans condone the purchase of media outlets in the United States by foreign interests? If Americans want to read the opinions of the foreign press, they should purchase those papers and magazines; foreigners should not have the ability to financially (and ideologically)influence American reportage. Although I don't see it happening, nothing would make me happier than to see FOX crumble, or at least get a black eye and greater scrutiny for its "reportage," ahhheeemmm, I mean "editorializing" and "propagandizing."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I love my Gamecocks. How sweet it sounds to hear back-to-back national champs. Thank you Coach Tanner. Wingo deserved that MVP. Roth. . .he can forever say he was the winning pitcher in two USC championship games. Everyone contributed. A gritty, scrappy team. . .the personification of a fighting bantam!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Clinton and scandal

"I for one am deeply glad that Bill Clinton did not resign; he was one of the best presidents of my lifetime and left the country in far better shape than he found it. His wife and daughter chose to forgive him and to preserve their family, which is their business, not ours. He also breached the public trust by lying, but in my view not to an extent that it affected his ability to govern successfully." (Anne-Marie Slaughter)

My sentiment, but just said a lot better than I could have done.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


They say that it’s smart and ultimately wise,
for many passwords a person to devise,
to protect access and block meddling hands,
stopping those e-thieves and other brigands.
So I make up code words, a vast array,
I must use one hundred during the day,
mostly at work and definitely home,
and with the laptop wherever I roam.
I use variations from all seven children,
brothers and sisters, nicknames and given,
combinations of numerals important to me,
one that included a grand forty-three.
In the gamerooms I’m studlymanone,
Though used awesomelovr for a short run.
Employed every pet name I’ve ever had,
Buttons, and Curly, and Slobberdogbad.
Some are so secret, I can’t tell you here,
and I change them, three times a year,
So now I’m safe and online protected,
any intrusion quickly detected,
But now I’m stalled like a morning commuter,
forgot the code to unlock my computer!

Monday, May 23, 2011


How many times, while growing up in Florida, did lurid billboards hawking amazing spectacles awaiting at dozens of entertainment venues---ranging from alligator farms and mermaid grottoes of my younger self to strip-clubs with stunning beauties grinning down at my teenaged self---fall far short of supplying what had been promised? SWAMPLANDIA! beckoned in a similar fashion, glowing reviews garnering my interest, only to let me down like so many a tourist trap. Yes, there was entertainment to be had and not all was squandered, but I still felt like a country bumpkin when I put down the book, mildly amused and cheekishly embarrassed that I actually had a little fun. Now, don't get me wrong, I think the book was an interesting read, and despite the increasingly unsettling feeling I got as one trusting protagonist hooked up with a certain lowlife character and she wouldn't listen to my warnings to wise up and escape the quicksand she was headed into, I enjoyed much of the novel and cared about the travails of the Bigtree siblings---all dealing with the dislocating and damaging experience of having their world (cocoon really) torn asunder under the combined onslaught of losing their mother to cancer, their business (an alligator-wrestling emporium) to competition, their father to grief and depression, their grandfather to senility, as they all react in somewhat self-destructive manners. Without giving too much away, the two girls both seemed to slip into fantasy, making them easy prey to inner and outer demons, while the boy---intelligent and striving---chooses a different, but no less immature, path. In some ways, this mishmash of a novel was like reading a first attempt by some unnatural offspring of an unholy union of Neil Gaiman and Dorothy Allison, with a touch of George Saunders thrown in for good measure. I can only conclude that Russell was tapping into the situational depression the children were undergoing. Still there was so much promised: a compelling ghost story, a heroic odyssey, a humorous critique of religious entertainment. But the three story-lines never really pan out, and one feels somewhat duped. Russell's writing is often beautiful and quirky, but also a little too, well, MFAish, and the switching back-and-forth in narrative was jarring at times. This would have been a far better book, I feel, if she had written it in the manner of Louise Erdrich, taking up each story on its own from the perspective of the protagonist, and letting their stories interweave yet stand alone. Russell seems to want to thread three short stories into a novelistic narration, and it didn't work for me. And, I doubt the hardcore advocates of homeschooling will be putting this one on their children's to-read list. Nevertheless, despite these criticisms, in the end I liked the book, and will let the gaudy come-ons calling readers to this young writer's first offering continue to deceive, because in the end the trip to Swamplandia is still worth the price of admission.


I think about Arnold, and how he won the governorship, and was touted as a presidential candidate if only he had been born in American, blah, blah, blah. . .and I remember all the stories of his mistreatment of women and the conservative blowhards on t.v. screaming bloody murder that the liberals were just out to get another conservative. . .and I think to myself, here's another example of liberals who backed down (and common folk who buy into the FOX mentality) and not fighting for what they know is right because we are cowed by the Right. Of course, that is not true for all, because many liberals step up and confront conservative wackos---who are living in some kind of fantasy land of racist, class-based, fundamentalist, tea-lovin' looniness---but it isn't enough. We have to make sure that this country reflects the needs of all its citizens, the entire diversity of its population, the needs of the little guy. Maybe Maria will spill some juicy insider information that sinks a few of the Republican frontrunners, and marginalize some of the kooks. Have you seen how the Republican candidates and potential candidates sidestep questions (evolution, taxes, etc.) that might bother the pitch-fork, shotgun toting, anti-education crackers (especially here in SC)? Any of them who has even strayed into a moderate position has already been pilloried. Makes you want to pull out a bat. . .OK, now let me be careful stepping off my soapbox. I feel better now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Some nice photos and commentary on Obama that I felt I had to share with my friends. This blogger did an awesome job.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Watched tonight the Majid Majidi's movie about a young Iranian man (apparently Kurdish) who is a bit lazy and angry, who suddenly finds himself replaced from his somewhat cushy job as tea boy/messman by a younger Afghan boy who is more efficient and better liked by the construction crew to which he is attached. But he discovers it is a ruse, and the young boy is actually a girl, who is breaking cultural conventions to hide her identity and work alongside men in order to bring much-needed cash home. The Iranian boy matures as he keeps her identity hidden and falls in love, but this is no typical romance. It is also a commentary on the use of illegal labor (Afghans who had fled the Taliban in their homeland for a better opportunity), which mirrors that of illegal workers here, and provides insights into the boss/worker relationship in Iran. Much of the photography is gritty and gloomy, and one is surprised by the manual labor undertaken on the project, especially in modern times (the film was made in the late 1990s). One of the most poignant scenes is when he comes face-to-face with her, and they look into each other's eyes, and then she drops the chador over her head.The actors are very good. I really enjoyed it.

I wonder what happened to Zahra Bahrami (who plays the young girl). She is not listed as having acted in another movie. A woman with the same name, however, was executed this year in Iran for drug smuggling (although most people believe it was because of her support of reform). I hope they are not the same, though that does not diminish the tragedy of the woman's death.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Walter Inglis Anderson

Yesterday I took the boys to the McKissik Museum on the campus of the University of South Carolina and luckily walked into the last day of an exhibition devoted to the Southern painter Walter Inglis Anderson. And I do mean lucky. Largely self taught, and mentally ill, he had a special bond with nature that required increasing amounts of isolation on his part, from his family and the world, and from this exile of a sorts he produced startling beautiful watercolors. Early in his career he provided artwork for his brother's ceramics, lovely designs. He was heavily influenced by ancient art, but his really amazing creations, I think, were his small watercolors, produced apparently in the thousands while he walked about an island off the coast of Mississippi (I think). Some of his frescoes survive. I kept looking at his paitings and thinking that they easily could be ceramic tiles reproduced for the fanciest restaurants and homes. Maybe the family will one day let them be produced in such a manner, because they are really special.

In addition to Anderson's work, there was a really wonderful exhibition in the opposing hall that featured molas from the San Blas islands. Odd that both art works presented at this time would be island-related. These colorful sewn creations were originally used as the bodice panels on the women's dresses (or like a blouse work above a skirt), but they morphed into an industry aimed at gaining money from the tourist trade. I collect molas too, and I was stunned by the collection. I encourage people in Columbia to take a break and check them out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I still look through young man’s, eyes though skin and bones are aging,
My mind’s eye disagrees with it, despite what mirrors are displaying.
How could I have these coltish thoughts, I should be out there playing,
Some say it’s time to pack it in, and spend more time with praying.
This cannot be, I shall not let, this existence be simply delaying,
the inevitable, the lonely slide, death’s scythe in tense belaying.
so off I go to enjoy some romp, though hair is quickly graying,
I’d rather spend my time in sowing than on the winter haying.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I saw today that Iran is proposing to outlaw the ownership of dogs. As they mull this measure, I can envision the squads of basij dogcatchers roaming through the suburbs in search of muslim mongrels. Apparently not only are clerical authorities concerned about the threat pets pose to the faith, but the keeping of dogs (and cats, I understand) is apparently deemed too Western for their tastes. No doubt there is a class element at work here as well (as wealthy Iranians supposedly took up the ownership of lap dogs). I can almost see in my mind the cartoons forming in the minds of political pundits and critics of this oppressive regime!! Immediately I envisioned a possible cartoon of an Iranian woman wearing a burkha walking down the street, with a little dog (also wearing a beaded veil) tucked under her arm, and a basij confronts her, and the caption reads: "But Brother, this is not a dog. . . " In America, next to even considering restricting any aspect of gun ownership, people would simply be apoplectic if someone proposed taking away our pups. People would rebel, they would fight. I wonder if this measure is also aimed at those who are not Muslim (will they be allowed to own dogs), or if this is another way to isolate the few that still live there. I don't quibble with someone of faith choosing not to own a dog, but to impose the restriction on everyone is exactly why I quibble with governments control by religious zealots. As long as one is not imposing on one's neighbor (say, their dog barked all night or deposited gifts in their yard), they should be left alone. I don't believe ownership of dogs is that widespread in Iran, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are 500,000 to 1,000,000, so will there be a terrible slaughter of animal innocents. Maybe a grandfather clause can be established that would allow dogs to live out their natural lives (yeah, can't see that happening, cause it would just give malcontents the opportunity to thumb their noses at the clerics). Personally, I think Allah will be bit irritated, as he stretches down and scratches the heads of his greyhounds.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011


It is no wonder that Bahman Ghobadi’s award-winning (Cannes) and beautiful homage to the underground music scene in Tehran, No One Knows About Persian Cats, was banned from Iranian movie screens. If I were a fundamentalist cleric there, I too would fear the message this wonderful story about two young Iranians seeking to gather a band (Take It Easy Hospital) and obtain visas to play a concert in Europe (if not completely escape the oppression against the arts, and generally live a freer life). Ghobadi lovingly and humorously pokes fun at the truly terrible (and often frightening) realities of police and basij suppression of expression and freedom in Iran. Two scenes stand out: when Nader, the somewhat shifty, unreliable, yet enthusiatic music-lover and “fixer” who wants to be the manager of the group (played well by Hamed Behdad), is grilled by an official censor after thousands of dvds (and some alcohol) are confiscated from his apartment, and he humorously (and successfully) defends his case; and when the two protagonists, played by real-life artists Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad, are stopped in their car because local thugs want to check the cleanliness of their pet dog (her yelp as the dog is dragged through the window was unnerving and totally convincing). Using a small crew and modern technology, Ghobadi followed the intrepid pair of aspiring musicians as they seek additions to their band. Their aspiring manager takes them to many secret locations—ranging from soundproofed cellars to ramshackle additions on rooftops, dairy barns to open fields—and in the process the viewer is introduced to a startling diversity of musical genres and sounds in the process (jazz, indie rock, heavy metal, traditional, even rap). I will try to buy the soundtrack cd, that's how impressed I was. I was stunned and pleased with the quality and variety of the music (perhaps I should have been embarrassed as well to not have expected there to be so many divergent voices). Since I am not an authority on Iranian music, I suspect some of these performers had some sanctions against them within Iran (and I wouldn't be surprised if many have alreeady fled); their appearances in the film must have come at a high level of bravery and danger to themselves. Another strong scene is when the pair is frustrated when they seek illegal assistance from a Mafia-looking pair who promise to provide them with fake official papers. What shines through most in this movie is the recognition that the urge to create (and this extends to the whole spectrum of artistic endeavors) cannot be contained by thugs in the end. What was also surprising, though, was the almost good natured way that victims of oppression accepted the challenges of playing their music and laughed in the face or danger. Thank God/Allah for rebellion. Thanks as well to brave movie makers and musicians who provided and entertaining, critical movie. I enthusiastically encourage people to check out this movie.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Life was tough for Kurds living along the border between Iran and Iraq, especially during the war, as many men turn to smuggling from Iran into Iraq to make money. Humping supplies over snow-covered mountains on their backs or via mule, the smugglers had to avoid robbers, border patrols, and land mines in addition to dangerous terrain and dishonest brokers, as well as the side effects of giving the mules too much alcohol. The Iranian movie A Time for Drunken Horses follows the efforts of a group of orphaned children (the eldest girl about 15, the eldest boy 12) as they struggle to make money and try to save their crippled brother who desperately needs an operation in Iraq. It is a remarkable film, that reveals a different corner of the world and tells a compelling story. What is heartbreaking is the level of work expected of the kids, who often forgo education to pitch in; the jobs are tough and poorly paid, such as carrying loads. Despite the difficulties faced by this family, they sacrifice almost everything to save their brother, against incredible prognoses, and also a deep sense of love and family shines through. I encourage film lovers to give this movie a try.

Friday, April 1, 2011


There is something seriously wrong with me, and there has been for a long time. My son, he can't handle transitions; me, I am deeply affected by endings. When I graduated from high school, I was damn near sick. Happy, but unable to handle the emotion of walking away from my comfortable world. Same thing when I leave a job. Down to just thinking about it at night (in which case I will not be able to sleep for several hours), to finishing of a television series I enjoyed: MASH,FIREFLY, ANGEL, BATTLESTAR GALLACTICA. Doesn't matter. If I invest some level of interest into the characters or storyline, I will suffer when it comes to an end. And so it is tonight, as I finish the finale episodes of DOLLHOUSE. I really enjoyed this Whedon series (which ones haven't I?). The second season was far superior to the first, and I loved the tender parts best. . .how Victor and Sierra kept loving and refinding each other no matter what. I loved the development of Topher. I am going to miss this ensemble, ever bit as much as I missed the FIREFLY/SERENITY crew (many of whom were in both shows). I'll just have to find some other show to give me that melancholy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I have been musing a bit about the documentary WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, a downer of a film about problems in American education. Although there was much to like, it came off as a propaganda piece for charter schools (some of which are doing amazing things) and an attack on teacher unions. You fall in love with the kids who are striving to get into programs with limited enrollments and are crushed alongside them as their bids in the lotteries fall short (I've been there). Isn't it sad that our children have to rely on luck to get seats in good programs? (I purposely moved into a district with the best possible elementary school and high school for my boys). But a little part of you says that these kids are going to make it, no matter. They have the drive. And there is genuine criticism, accurately leveled, against the "failure factories." I've seen it, been subjected to it in my own education. I think my high school lost more than half of the kids who came in with me in the tenth grade. I had teachers who literally ignored me (because I did well), often to try and help students who need more attention. In senior-year English, for instance, I spent most of my time tutoring students who were years behind me, while I was denied entrance into an AP English class (for what reason, I still do not know), back when there were few AP classes. But I also know this film is biased. Many charter schools simply do not measure up to their promises. Many private schools are attempts by parents to keep their kids away from minorities. The filmmakers do not focus on children who are doomed by factors outside the classroom, and who are probably given more chances and opportunities by teachers than any other individuals in their lives. And I support unions, at least in their position of being an advocate for teachers and a protector against arbitrary decisions by political or bureaucratic overseers---who frankly have agendas that are not always to the benefit of children. I think unions would better serve their membership, however, if they took a reformed approach toward getting rid of poor teachers. I think union representation should be there to prevent unfair firings or dismissals, especially politically motivated ones, but unions would be a stronger force for good if they supported and implemented a system that better evaluated member-teachers and either removed or rehabilitated bad or lazy ones. That there are "holding tanks" of teachers who sit on their butts at full pay for multiple years is a crime (as well as is the system of shuttling poor teachers frm school to school). They should be utilized during their appeals as hall monitors, tutors---heck, even as janitors, if needed. Clerks, front-office people. . .something. But states and countries with strong unions also have the better school records, and comparing the American way against countries that have cradle-to-grave social systems (such as Japan, Finland, and China, with thier mandatory child-care, health, and food programs) is dishonest. We Americans don't have the conformist mentality of the asian students nor the nurturing socialistic attitude of the Europeans. We have to find a middle ground. And yes, money matters. Smaller classes, better assessment, structured learning, and other things are needed. I think that if all kids were forced to go to school together, meaning NO private education, the wealthy and influential would damn well make sure the whole system worked better. Teachers deserve good pay and better support, but have to consider their role as more than just getting a check (and I think most teachers want to save the world and do their best to do so).

Friday, March 18, 2011


It is hard to watch the reports and video from the earthquake and devastating tsunami that crashed upon the north-eastern part of the Japanese islands, a crushing wall of mud, sea, and debris that swept nearly everything in front of it, as deep as six miles into the interior, right through numerous cities, towns, and farmland. How fragile we truly are. One haunting video was shot by an American who luckily drove through a doomed city and reached safety, but the images of townsfolk stepping out of their businesses and homes and looking off toward the sound that must have been the wave, when you know they have little hope in a very short time, really affected me. The sight of a stunned woman sitting with a towering pile of rubble behind her was heart-rending. I can't even think about all the people---especially children---suddenly engulfed in the tide. Surely, there are hundreds of heroic stories, many which will never be known, of individuals who sacrificed to save others. I am humbled by the capacity of the Japanese to absorb such a tragedy and yet remain calm and helpful. One knows that would not be the case here, for the most part. Of course, we have many selfless and heroic people who would step up in commendable ways, but I doubt it would be as impressive and universal as what I have seen from the Japanese. It is daunting to think about the effort it will take to clear that mess, to find the bodies, to locate the missing (hopefully to be reuntied alive, and if not, given proper final rites). Thankfully, all of the families of those friends of mine from Japan seem to have escaped. Now, if the authorities can just stop the meltdown.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Caught Rango with the boys this evening, and I really enjoyed it. Amazing animation. Good humor. I kept thinking, however, that the lead role would have gone to Don Knotts, had he been alive. Although Johnny Depp is a wonderful actor, his voice really isn't all that distinctive in this, something one really needs to stand out in the voice-actor field. No doubt the producers were interested in using his name recognition to put fannies in the seats, but he didn't really stand out, say, like Bill Nighy as Jake the Snake or Ned Beatty as the Mayor. The movie is a nice, humorous send up of the traditional Western, and it was a nice twist to have a Clint Eastwood character as the Spirit of the West. I would have to give this film a good rating.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nice Line

Harry Monroe, while talking to his prospective love, Catherine Wrag, in Barry Hannah's GERONIMO REX, says to her: "I'd be a boll of cotton if they made me into your dress." NICE!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Translate this, with beautiful smile,
emerald scarf tied in Iranian style,
chanting crowds in streets transgress,
yearn as well for freedom to express,
an inner truth, some future visions
no political martyrs in filthy prisons,
someday clerical grip will come loose,
corrupt will hang from tightened noose.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Camped this weekend at Poinsett State Park, just outside of Sumter, South Carolina, closest to the town of Wedgefield and abutting the bombing range for aircraft from Sumter Air Force base. It is a charming place, with pines, oak, and laurel full of draped Spanish moss. Wide trails bend through the piney woods from the camping areas to the office alongside a small pond and mill race. A deceptive hill borders the pond. Built by Civilian Conservation Corp workers during the Great Depression, the park features much of the same architecture and design found in similar state parks, including Columbia's Sesqui. As has been my experience in South Carolina, the place was remarkably well-kept. South Carolina really should be proud of their parks. The group camping area, where I stayed with members of my son's troop, featured new, though spartan, bathrooms (a significant improvement according to scouts who had been there before). Apparently the place features horseback riding, though I neither saw nor heard any horses, as well as fishing, boating, and hiking. No swimming appeared to be allowed. Some of the shelters had well-mown and large grassy areas, though this weekend I saw none of the usual family gatherings one sees in the state parks. We hiked (and policed) two trails. I was surprised by how clean the Coquina route was, a short mile and a half route over a 100 foot or so hill that is rather appealing. We also hiked the Scout trail from which the boys trimmed out overhanging bushes and blockages along the wide path that meanders about two fairly flat miles. (So we hiked about 5.5 miles total). Although I lagged I managed to keep up a steady pace and finished not too badly behind the younger set. The park isn't as exciting as some in the state, but it is quiet and pleasant. The scouts did two other services while there: levelling two ash pits and performing flag-retirement ceremonies. The days were very comfortable, thought the nights were a bit colder than expected. I learned a few lessons, that will definitely be applied in future camping trips. I also learned that I cannot share a tent with my youngest: how someone that small can migrate his body back and forth simple amazed me, and that didn't even come close to the surprising range and diversity of sounds emitting from him in his sleep. He ended up being exile to the (albeit warmer) cab of our truck. My older son seemd to have weathered the cold night in comfort in his own tent amongst his compatriots. The food was good, the company enjoyable, the nature invigorating, and I also enjoyed a measure of peace. Looking forward to our next outing to Congaree National Swamp.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Am I allowed, to fall in love?
To unshackle limbo-trapped spirit,
caught in convulsing confusion,
wrapped in responsibility and regret,
no time for individualism or peace,
or a hand held tight on a beach.


Road Warrior meets the Odyssey, with a hero a bit like wise-cracking, irreverent Harry of the Dredsen Files. Some may complain about sexism and violence, and we are not talking great literature here, but if you enjoy postapocalyptic fiction, then I suspect this book may be for you. There are glaring leaps in the storyline, and not a bit of implausibility, but overall it is a page-turning thrill that will satisfy anyone who likes shows such as The Walking Dead. Mortimer Tate ran away from divorce and fortuitously squirreled away supplies in a cave home that protected and isolated him during the destruction of the known world, only to emerge to see what calamity had wrought; a stash of booze and other items allows him entree into a privileged strata in the new reality. Along with two faithful companions (a gunslinging cowboy and tough young lady), he goes on a quest to find his ex-wife. The world is slowly knitting itself together against vicious, brutal overlords and cannibalistic tribes; the emerging society loosely forming around a string of go-go bars (somewhat like western brothels) that provide a sense of the familiar as well as an economic engine that encourages economic industriousness and community building. There are plenty of colorful characters, daring escapes, rough scenes, humorous banter, and even a little sex. One can only wonder why there hasn’t been a graphic novel and screen adaptations, although the book isn’t that old.


The struggle between traditional ways in the historical rice terraces of the Philippines and modernization, as represented by the desire for a new pair of shoes, as well as the generational conflict of a youth trying to find his way in the world, is the focus of the nice little movie Balat. A young man—loving brother, dutiful son, and generous friend—from a poor rice-farming family covets some footwear while dreaming of opportunities of the city, which has been robbing the village of its young and talented. Industrious and clever, every time he earns a little extra cash doing odd jobs ranging from porter to tourist guide, he ends up forking over his earnings for much needed rice or other domestic needs, especially while the father is off helping his grandfather repair his terraces. He discovers however that boots do not always solve all problems and that family and old ways are sometimes better. The film is somewhat slow (lots of walking scenes) and obvious, but the scenery is beautiful and the glimpses into local culture are interesting. The movie touches on the love of the land, traditional methods and religion, family relationships.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Although he apparently was not involved in the making of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, it seems to me that the writers channeled Jim Butcher (Dresden Files series) as they were constructing their movie. Of course, the timeline is much accelerated to fit the constraints of filmmaking, but in the end I thought this Disney film was an enjoyable romp. I fully expect there will be a second. After a millenium of searching for the Prime Merlenium, the only wizard capable of defeating the evil Morgana (fans of The Magical Treehouse series need to avoid this movie), one of the three original apprentices to Merlin finds a candidate for the role in the guise of a young New York City boy, and after a accidental interlude of ten years, tries to mold and develop him into a sorcerer able to challenge the evil sorceress. Dave, played well by Jay Baruchel, a geeky physics student, has love issues, though. Nicholas Cage is very good as Harry Dr. . .I mean Balthazar. There is a nice homage to the famous Mickey scene in Fantasia. The special effects are constrained and not over the top, which is nice, and the humor is good. It would be really awesome if they could find a way to keep Monica Belucci on the screen longer, should there be a next time. I will let my boys see it; I think Joey (who likes fantasy) will really enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Masahiro Kobayashi's Bootleg Film (1999) is an interesting, if not completely satisfying, movie about two old friends (one an older yakuza gangster, the other a former policeman) who are travelling by car to attend the funeral of a woman (the gents' lover and wife, respectively). In many ways a cheap fascimile of Tarantino films (which the director repeatedly makes homage to, as well as several other famous American movies), the almost slapstick, bumbling pair argue almost incessantly about the woman and her true affections. Complicating matters further is the prescence of the yakuza's brother (murdered by his older sibling) in the trunk, and the discovery of this fact by a hapless couple that arrive at a rest stop at the same time as the protagonists. The film is in black & white, and most of the scenes sparse and cold (possibly reflecting the budget), but it works well visually. Unfortunately, the humor was often lost on me, proabably due to translation, though often the acting was too, well, excitable (?). Some portions were simply inexplicable (though they may have had some symbolism to Japanese viewers). Overall it was a decent film, but not first rate.

Monday, January 24, 2011


As Radenko Pavlovich and the Columbia Classical Ballet have done for fifteen years, on Saturday night they reprised community favorite LifeChance (International Gala of the Stars), combining the presentation of a variety of styles which benefit both local dance followers and charity, in this case Big Brothers Big Sisters. The interesting dichotomy of classic performances and modern renditions were much appreciated by the large crowd, which was bigger than I have remembered. Almost all of the performers have danced here before. I wish there had been more dances, but we are so lucky to have this wonderful event every year. The crowd also reflected the fact that LifeChance (as are most CCB shows) is accessible to a wide range of patrons, from the well-heeled to families and students.

Most attendees, it seems, come especially to see hometown favorite Brooklyn Mack, presently of the Washington (D.C.) Ballet, who again did not disappoint with his athleticism, grace, and energy. The capitol crowd is lucky to have him up there; I could easily watch him dance all night. His selection from Lacrymosa was beautiful and inspiring, and elicited the usual enthusiastic response from the audience. Although my memory may be off, I remember seeing him dance the selection from Don Quixote before, but it was still great, especially his soaring, powerful leaps behind his beautiful partner, Maki Onuki, who is lovely and enjoyable to watch as well (sue me, cause I am a sucker for the Japanese ballerinas). Yet, despite my admiration and love of his work, I think Brooklyn seemed just a bit off, maybe a little tired, in some of his performace.

The show, however, belonged this year to the energetic dancing of Chanel DaSilva and Dylan G-Bowley, who especially wowed the crowd with Surrender. Last year I thought DaSilva slightly outshone her partner, but this time they were equally matched and highly entertaining. I remember seeing Wild Sweet Love last year, but it was likewise a crowd favorite. Their style is brisk, funny, and athletic; it reminds me of watching swing dancers from Harlem. Also returning to Columbia were Lia Cirio and James Whiteside, of the Boston Ballet, who combined traditional dance in La Bayadere with a little lighted flash in Indestructible (which my boys called Tron). I really enjoyed the elegant Lauren Ciobanu (with Joseph Walsh) in the selection from Madame Butterfly. Jeffrey Cirio (brother to Lia) was very good in Fleeting. Great Galloping Gottschalk by USC dancers Ashley Johannsen, McCree O’Kelley, and Ryan Thomas, was interesting, but in the choreography the guys didn’t seem to have much to do.

The CCB corps presented two nice dances, Essence and You Don’t Own Me. I thought both were well done, though not as spectacular as they could have been. Perhaps the outfits in the first dance could have been a little more exciting, but I loved the red on black of the second. Lauren Frere and Ivan Popov were featured in Essence, as well as in a piece of their own, Manon, which was theatrical. I thought the company did a good job, especially despite being robbed of practice time due to bad weather. Thanks to Myra for remembering me and the boys. My favorite memory of the night was watching Joey react to the dancers, occasionally turning to me and critiquing, “that was really nice” or “she didn’t seem to be trying too hard on that one.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Black Swan SNL style

Jim Carrey and SNL crew do Black Swan: wonderfully