Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why Hasn't Mars Caught On?

You'd think it would. Compared to putting men and women on Mars, putting men on the moon was a baby step. The trip to Mars will take months, and the astronauts will have to wait 3 years for the planets to align again so they can return. But NASA's unveiling of the Mars spacecraft yesterday went almost unnoticed.

I think the problem is Bush had the idea, and he had it at a time when he easily could be accused of trying to divert attention from Iraq.

Now, I suppose, people will say we have to get the economy and healthcare fixed before we think about going to Mars. Reviving the space program seems extravagant. But what about those people living in Detroit? Are they supposed to pack up and move when the automotive industry shuts down? Maybe so. It's happened before. Happened with steel.

But the thought of those auto-workers turning out spaceships, of Detroit at the red hot center of the Mars Mission, seems to me to be a hopeful thought at a time when hopeful thoughts are hard to find. Godspeed, NASA. Go for it, Detroit.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Woman Under The Infuence

I started Cassavetes' A Woman Under The Influence last night, continuing my look at Cassavetes to test the theory that, more than any other American director, he's about people up against the limits of their existence and unable to break out. I had to turn it off. I only got as far as Gena Rowlands, coming back to her house with a man she picked up in a bar.

There is something almost unbearably edgy about the young Rowlands for me. Like somebody jammed a 220v wire into her brain. It takes her about two minutes to convince me she's the most fragile woman I'll ever meet. Right now, I don't want to know what happens to her. I don't want to know what Cassavetes is about to do.

I knew a woman who lived on the edge, in and out of wards. Overdoses. Slashed wrists. The last time I talked to her was the night she called and said: "I did it again."

I hung up the phone, took a long shower, got dressed, fixed a sandwich and watched a little TV. Then I called 911.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It Was Hemingway, I Think

I've always been fascinated by what writers have to say about writing, actors about acting, directors about directing. But I can think of only one good piece of advice I ever gleaned from all those interviews. It was Hemingway, I think, who said something like: The trick is to stop writing while you know what's going to happen next.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Where Do Americans Come From?

I grew up in America, in south Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. I was taught American history, Texas history and the history of the South, mainly by Dominican nuns, though I think the text books were the same texts used in all Texas schools.

I remember thinking at an early age that being an American was an accident of birth. And, growing up in the 40's and 50's, I took American military and economic power for granted. I took American culture for granted. I think I was out of highschool before I began to deviate. The effect of what I read.

I can't think of a person who jogged me, moved me away from the mainstream or in any way enlightened me. Just books.

Now, I'm writing about an intellect and spirit that develops in a world of limitless information but few people -- almost in a vacuum -- and I'm challenged to answer simple questions like how will she decide what's right and wrong? Will she think of herself as an American? How will she decide what to do with her life? How will she interpret the history of the human race? Will she simply accept the information and instructions she's given like some inanimate machine? How and what do people learn who are locked away in basements when they're growing up? What would a person be like who lived their first 20 years in the New York Public Library, able to read, but never meeting another soul?

What, I wonder, in all that reading, would be the most significant thing he or she read? What, to her, would be the most significant event in human history? The worst thing that ever happened? The best? What would her universe coalesce around?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Foreclosed Spaces

All spaces retain the imprints of the people who once occupied them long after the people have moved on.

This is true of rooms and ruins above and under the ground, of large and small spaces.

You just have to know how to photograph them.

Copyright 2009 Billy Glad

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Subject of Science on Obama's Tell

When Obama compared Washington to American Idol, he revealed more than he knew.

Obama's elevator ride to the top skipped several floors. He’s as aware of this as we are. Apparently, the President is so stressed out he's decided to demote himself. He campaigned as the World’s Top Pop Icon, rivaling the likes of Bono. Now, he's just another American Idol Contestant. And he expects us to laugh about that?

-- Subject of Science

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

History Lesson

I keep this picture on my desktop to remind me that I don't know jack about what's going on most of the time.

What's happening here is Norman Schwartzkopf, the first general to double envelope an enemy army since Hannibal and an authentic member of MENSA -- I remember those guys -- with an I.Q. of 168, is telling the leaders of the Iraqi army he destroyed that they can keep their helicopters so they can massacre the Shiites down around Basra when they revolt. The Shiites in the South were Iran's way into Iraq, you see.

Schwartzkopf's version of the event is the Iraqis fooled him, he says with a wry smile. He thought they wanted those helicopters to fly to business meetings or something like that. They fooled Powell, Cheney and George H.W. Bush at the same time, of course.

This is Schwartzkopf's envelopment of the Iraqi army. Look where the 24th Mechanized Division is. You tell me if you believe Schwartzkopf could be gulled by a bunch of Iraqis.

For The Girl From The Bronx

You and Tom Waits. The jazz singers.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Let's Get Serious

It's time to figure out our porn star names.

You take the name of your first pet and add the street you grew up on.

I'm Buddy Mechanic.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Culture And Politics

Yesterday, I was listening to some kind of NPR afternoon concert on the car radio while I waited for my daughter to get out of school, and I had the satisfying experience of realizing I knew the opera I had tuned in on was by Wagner. The long, melodic baritone solo in German, joined by a chorus at the end, had to be Wagner. Did he ever compose voices singing in harmony? Maybe he did, but all I remember are conversations. When the piece ended, I found out I had been listening to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and it struck me that there are people who would have immediately recognized the opera, the baritone and the conductor as well, maybe even remembered the exact date of the performance. But I don't need to know that much to enjoy, at some level anyway, a few minutes of Wagner on a bright Thursday afternoon while I wait for my daughter to come out of school. I just have to have a radio of some kind and tune it to my public radio station, or some other station that broadcasts classical music. As long as those stations exist. As long as nobody comes along and decides classical music is a waste of time. A waste of money. The same goes for Public Television, doesn't it? Anyway, I think it does.

I've been trying to remember the programs I saw in Austin the night PBS programming came on the air in 1969. No luck so far. There was something about Joplin and Hendrix about that time, but I don't know if I saw it that first night.

I saw some good things on PBS. Sometimes, I wonder why they don't pull out all that tape and put together a week-long best of PBS. I remember Orson Bean in Star Wagon, singing Jerusalem, telling his side-kick as long as I've got a dollar, you've got fifty cents. Krishnamurti. Alan Watts in the afternoon. Documentaries like High School.

I was at Arden House in New York at a Corporation For Public Broadcasting bash for documentary film makers the night Richard Nixon cracked down on PBS and the CPB. Rumor had it the disaster had something to do with Frederick Wiseman's Basic Training. I never found out. But, after that week, it seems to me the story of PBS has been the saga of a long, slow climb back into the light.

Let's keep it there.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Summer Of '67

The Summer of 1967, an army buddy and I took over the 2nd floor of an old duplex in Galveston and spent a lot of time arguing politics versus culture. He was a Marcusian and argued that politics shaped culture. I argued culture shaped politics.

It was the summer of the Six-Day War, and our favorite cartoon showed the aftermath of a collision between an Arab and an Israeli tank, the Arabs holding their hands in the air, the Jews holding their necks.

I read the Koran that summer, and I was impressed by the idea of houris.

I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Sitting by the pool one afternoon, I suddenly understood what a function was and lost my fear of mathematics forever.

My friend hung out at the beach all day while I programmed computers at an insurance company. After work every day, I'd drop a deck of punch cards off at the computer room, and the operators would run my latest Keynesian model for me on the IBM 7080. The models always blew up. I never got the accelerator and the multiplier right.

My friend relieved me of the burden of paying the note on my '65 Baracuda by totaling it on the boulevard one afternoon. He had just come back from the Monterey Jazz festival. The richest man in town sent him out there with some banker's wife, probably as a joke.

My friend ended up inheriting a department store in Basel and slowly disappearing, like that big cat. I wonder what he's doing sometimes, but never enough to try to find out.

The banker's wife ended up finding Jesus under the sink in the bathroom of a cheap motel in Laredo one night. She was crouched in the corner, desperate for help, and it was Jesus or the big cockroach that had just crawled out from under the sink. She hated roaches.

I still think it's about culture. About education in all its forms. If I don't know what a credit default swap is, never saw a play or an opera, never read a real book, don't know what a function is, never read any history, how can I believe I know enough to pick the people who are going to run my country?

And I'm not arguing for government by the elite.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You've Come A Long Way, Baby

Yesterday afternoon, I spent 15 minutes watching Fred Zinneman's 1977 film: Julia. The film is based on a book by Lillian Hellman, author of The Children's Hour, which was noted briefly here the other day. Ms. Hellman's relationship with Dashiell Hammet, the detective story writer, is pretty well known, as is the fact that she was a prominent and controversial, maybe a fascinating, figure in the McCarthy saga. There are people around who know a lot more about that than I do.

I'm interested in the relationship between Hellman and Hammet, Lilly and Dash, as portrayed by Fonda and Robards, that I caught a little of yesterday.

I started watching at about the time Hellman is finishing her first play. Hammet sends her back to rewrite it. The second try meets his approval. It's a success on Broadway. She gets royalty checks, he gives her the benefit of his wisdom on the subject of money, fame and writing.

"Free me glazies!" Little Alex cried.

I can't explain why, but that piece of film literally made me sick to my stomach.

I haven't found a way to capture short pieces of video for fair use yet, or I'd inflict the needy, cloying Fonda and the smug, condescending Robards on you here. Be grateful for small favors.

An Imperfect AI Or Is It?

When we comment back and forth, I get an email with the comment. If you use gmail, you know they throw up ads on the right side of the window, based on the content of the mail. Picked up Hive Talk or whatever it was there last night, for instance.

I've been thinking it would be fun to keep a list of some of the better ones.

Here's what came up for Des' latest comment about Neil Young.

Don't Pay for a Face Lift

I Cured My Wrinkles Miraculously!


Is that scary or what?

Wake Me When It's Over

I'm going to stick this Bob Herbert column on Reviving The Dream away in a corner of The Hive for future reference. Herbert sums up the political and economic history of the last 40 years from the viewpoint of the middle and lower economic "classes" pretty well. It might have been helpful during the election if Herbert had pointed out the dangers inherent in Democratic candidates kow-towing to the Reagan myth instead of confronting Reaganism directly as Jesse Jackson, followed by Bill Clinton, did. But that's water under the bridge, and, clearly, Herbert had a different agenda back then.

Now, with the economy in free fall and likely to get worse, Americans — despite their suffering — have an opportunity to reshape the society, and then to move it in a fairer, smarter and ultimately more productive direction. That is the only way to revive the dream, but it will take a long time and require great courage and sacrifice, Herbert says.

I wonder what that mumbo jumbo is code for. What's the esoteric message, the dog whistle everybody but me can hear?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Age Appropriate Models

I think I mentioned I've been revisiting calculus, just to keep the blood flowing to the old noggin, and I've seen a lot of resources out there, everything from books to classes on the web.

The most intriguing resource I've run into so far is Karl The Tutor.

I don't know Karl or anything about him. I don't know if he's a real person or a group of people, I don't know how old he is, if he's really a he, or even what country he posts from. All I know about Karl is what I see when I link to his site. And he interests me.

In the first place, I like his approach to math. It works for me. Makes me feel good about spending time with calculus.

But, beyond that, his business model fires my imagination. How does he do it? I wonder. I don't see any ads or other obvious source of revenue, but the site looks a little more industrial strength than the kind of hobby sites like The Hive that you find on Blogger. Is Karl independently wealthy? Is he a tenured math professor with a little time on his hands? Is he funded by an elite group of intellectuals who want to foist their particular view of calculus off on the world? Or is he selling something that I'll find out about later, once I'm hooked on his site? I don't know.

And, because I don't know, I can make Karl up any way I want to. And here's how I see him.

I figure Karl is a guy whose greed is under control. What he wants is a way to make a living doing what he loves to do, teaching calculus. He doesn't waste his time trying to make more money out of his site than he needs for a comfortable living. He'd rather spend that time teaching math. So he sets up a not for profit, gets some grants and pays himself a reasonable salary. Throw in some money to maintain the site and maybe take a trip to a good conference now and then, and you have it.

At my age, that's a model that appeals to me.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Earth Day

On April 22nd, I'm going to try again to clean up Lake Michigan. I tried last year on the Wisconsin side, but didn't do much good. The water looks cleaner here on the Michigan side of the lake, so I'm hoping for better results. I'm also going to be more scientific about it this year by sampling the lake water for bacteria and contaminants before and after I filter it.

My portable water filter will clean about 8 gallons of water per hour, so, if the weather is good, I hope to run at least 80 gallons of lake water through the filter during the day.

We set up the filter, go get a gallon jug of lake water and dump it in the tank. When the clean water starts coming out, we drain it into another gallon jug and pour it back into the lake. It's a slow process, but it leaves us plenty of time to barbeque.

With all the people out of work around here, we're hoping we can hire a few people to help out this year. Maybe set up another portable filter. Clean 160 gallons of lake water.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


*♪ * One - Mary J Blige & U2

Well, it's too late tonight to drag the past out into the light. I'm through with politics. I don't care what Obama and the Congress do or don't do anymore. All I care about now is the personal life. Maybe seeing some bankers and financiers twisting slowly in the wind. Maybe understanding how part of America keeps getting richer while the rest sink into poverty. But not politics. Not Washington. Not the Middle East. There are plenty of places for that. If you're looking for politics, go someplace else. Fall back by here for the personal life. All I care about anymore is the personal life.

Orbison (The Opera)

If it were a movie, it would open with a montage, the white stripes of the highway, Phoenix, where you abruptly leave 1987, enter a time warp and get lost in the Fifties one night in a cinder block motel, buy a box of .38 Special cartridges the next morning and stop on the highway between Phoenix and L.A. to shoot half the box up, wondering if the highway patrol is going to make something of it. The music, which has been low in the background, begins to climb when you hit the L.A. freeway, a two-car convoy, staying together in the bumper to bumper traffic at 70 m.p.h. by flashing lights and slowing the lead car down when anyone gets between you, on up to Santa Barbara that night, then to Oregon the next day. You spend the night on the Oregon border. In the morning, you slide down ice-covered roads into Oregon and on into Washington until you hit the Emerald City on one of those early September afternoons that make you wonder why anyone would live anywhere else, and you can hear the voice now, not his voice, but the voice, like Bono says, not his exactly, but accompanying him somehow. You follow the voice. You walk down the hill a couple of blocks and wander into the mob at the Center, following the voice through the crowd and into the coliseum, trying to figure out what's going on, looking for a place to stand where you can see, and, all at once, he's right in front of you, maybe ten feet away. You're so close to the voice that you think you've done something wrong. You expect someone to pull you back, tell you you can't stand there. But they never do.

Let's make an opera. I'll work on the libretto. Working title: The 4th Octave