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.

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.

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.

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

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?