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Thursday, Oct 18, 2007

Given the Bush administration’s past crowing about the “ownership” society and the conservative pundits’ view that predatory lending is a way of democratizing credit, it was momentarily disconcerting to see Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson rip into “shameful” lenders. The timid NYT account goes like this:


Mr. Paulson made it clear that he was dissatisfied with what had happened in the marketplace and that he wanted to push for change. But on many issues, he stopped short of advocating proposals of his own.
He sharply criticized credit rating agencies that had failed to recognize the risks in hundreds of billions of dollars worth of mortgage-backed securities. But he tiptoed around the issue that many analysts have argued is a central conflict of interest for rating agencies: that they earn their fees for evaluating a new security offering only after the offering has been sold to investors.
Mr. Paulson mentioned the issue, saying that “we must examine the role of credit rating agencies, including transparency and potential conflicts of interest.”


The Financial Times was considerably more vivid:


The Treasury, he said, was working on developing a “blueprint” for the overhaul of the country’s fragmented financial regulatory structure but such “fundamental changes” would take years to implement.
Saying the US needed to “ensure yesterday’s excesses are not repeated tomorrow”, he stressed interim changes were needed. These should focus on disclosure, mortgage origination, predatory lending and liability.
Home buyers “get writer’s cramp from initialing pages and pages of unintelligible and mostly unread boilerplate that appears to be designed to insulate the [mortgage] originator or lender from liability rather than to provide useful information to the borrower”, Mr Paulson said.


I’d guess Paulson’s turnabout on this issue has something to do with the way sloppy lending at the level of shady brokers taking advantage of poor rubes has trickled its way up to where it is crippling investment banks and hedge funds and constraining credit for private equity. But it’s still strange to hear him talk like a “Democrat-lite,” as Chuck Schumer called him.


But as weird as that was, reading this bit from Collin Peterson, Democratic chair of the agriculture committee, was even weirder:


Collin Peterson, chairman of the House of Representatives agricultural committee, says the farm sector that raises organic produce and grass-fed beef for local consumers needs little federal help. “It is growing, and it has nothing to do with the government, and that is good,” he told the FT. “For whatever reason, people are willing to pay two or three times as much for something that says ‘organic’ or ‘local’. Far be it from me to understand what that’s about, but that’s reality. And if people are dumb enough to pay that much then hallelujah.”


You have to presume that democrats in Minnesota’s seventh district are not conforming to the ““Whole Foods-loving yuppies” stereotype.


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Thursday, Oct 18, 2007

After two days at CMJ, the mad dash to make every shows subsides, and you begin to feel a lot more comfortable going with your gut. This year, day two’s artists made that easy, maintaining remarkable energy even as the listeners themselves started to feel the strain that comes with getting out to so many shows. There’s a lot of sweat in today’s pics from our friends at Flavorpill, so best to view from a distance — unless you’re carrying a towel of course.


Check out Flavorpill’s CMJ preview...


DAN DEACON


CMJ Day 2: Moshing On-Stage to Dan Deacon


Dan Deacon shows tend to have an aura of crowd participation. This was the case at the Bowery Ballroom, first when L.A. punk duo No Age started an on-stage mosh pit which escalated into guitarist Randy Randall riding on someone’s shoulders while rocking out the set’s final song. Then, as usual, Dan Deacon took it to the next level, inviting the crowd on stage while he set up on the floor to exude his electronic mayhem. After performing in complete darkness, except for the glow of a skull strobe light, Deacon requested the house lights be turned up and cleared the dance floor to allow space for a spastic dance contest. The prolific production artist Diplo was on hand, rocking out to Deacon’s electro-anthems, and even received a congratulatory round of high fives from the crowd. The party atmosphere was admittedly not fitting for the more cerebral, white-noise-inspired sound of Deerhunter whose lead singer Bradford Cox called Deacon “a tough act to follow”. Nevertheless, Deerhunter killed with a set of their atmospheric rock from their stellar Cryptograms album. Cox’s airy vocals and the band’s spatial pop songs were a welcome reprieve from the over-indulgence of the previous acts.
Joe Tacopino


DEERHUNTER


IDA MARIA


NO AGE


PONYTAIL
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Wednesday, Oct 17, 2007


Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s collaborative cinematic crack, the brilliant and brash Grindhouse, was a failure in perception, not in execution. Opening up a blood and body part drenched motion picture the weekend of Easter may have seemed like the biggest bonehead move since Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake bowed at the very end of Summer (?), but what the three hour return to exploitation’s gruesome Golden Era proved was that, as revivalists, these moviemaking mavericks really understood their subject. For Tarantino, it was West Coast sex slaughter – slutty gals doing erotic things before meeting their anarchic action film fate. Rodriguez, on the other hand, delved right into the drive-in motif of macabre – whisper thin premise, smoking hot stars, unholy helpings of human suet. Together, they offered an overview of the taboo-busting film format, the moment movies woke up from their Hays Code induced coma and found their sex and violence voice.


Of the two, Planet Terror stands as the most faithfully inappropriate. Unlike his partner in retro crime, Rodriguez purposefully avoids any semblance of the arthouse to literally throw balls to the wall. In a MPAA mandated mentality that believes all cruelty creates socially inappropriate behavior, it’s Ritalin’s regressive antidote. Bringing the best bits of splatter directly into the new CGI heavy horror film while remembering to accent the physical, it’s a movie made up of iconic insanity and moments of proto-porn wackiness. Though it deals with such fright film standards as a corrupt military, a science experiment gone sour, and hundreds of flesh feasting zombies, there is more to this movie than mere bloody cinematic showdowns. What Rodriguez has accomplished is something very rare – a crowd pleasing celebration of all that Hollywood hates, filtered through a true geek’s love of glop.


When we first meet our heroine Cherry Darling (an absolutely brilliant Rose McGowen), she’s leaving her life as a go-go dancer and pursuing a dream as a stand up comic. Stopping off at local BBQ pit The Bone Shack on her way out, she runs into ex-boyfriend Wray (Freddie Rodriguez, grade-A badass). In the meantime, there’s trouble over at the military base. A noxious cloud of green gas has been unleashed, turning the local population into brain-hungry members of the undead. As law enforcement, including a serious sheriff (Michael Biehn) and his lunkheaded deputies (Tom Savini, Carlos Gallardo) battle the fiends, the doctors on call at the hospital (Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton) are seeing an increase in infected individuals. They have their own personal problems making matters worse. Eventually, it’s survivors vs. soldiers to determine who will live, and who will become part of this unending nightmare.


With his creative cameos, attention to genre detail, and meta-manipulation of the medium itself, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror stands as a pert post-modern masterpiece, one of the best self-referential scarefests ever conceived. On par with the brilliance that is Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive and aided by a homage-heavy aesthetic, it’s Lucio Fulci with a funny bone, Cannibal Ferox with a crackerjack sense of sexy humor. Unabashed in its motives and fearless in how it realizes them, it’s a highlight reel with very little filler, a collection of horror hits that worms its way directly into your sickening slime time aesthetic. When offered up originally, truncated by a few minutes to meet the 85 minute mandatory for Grindhouse’s running time, it was a scrapbook of sensational arterial spray. Now, on DVD, we can see what Rodriguez was really driving at – and we enjoy the journey even more.

In his sensational audio commentary, the director points out the one thing he hated loosing in the original edit – the transitions. Trying to replicate the experimental extremism of exploitation’s heyday, he purposefully made each scene meld into the next. Sequences ending with a walk through a doorway would match new segments starting with same. Faucets turned on in one setting would lead to water covering someone’s foot in the next. These are wonderfully arty touches, moments of mise-en-scene that make you smile by their very obviousness. There are also little character tags, snippets of dialogue and interpersonal interaction that held to broaden our understanding of the relationships at work. We get more of Michael Park’s cancer ridden wife in the DVD version, explanations of why the marriage between Brolin and Shelton is falling apart. Unlike Death Proof, which Tarantino reconfigured into a weird internalized take on every ‘70s movie he’d ever seen, Rodriguez stayed firmly ensconced in the passion pit – and its shows. 


Indeed, if Grindhouse was divided – yin and yang style – into two halfs, Planet Terror would be the portion that eats. It’s the movie directed at the audience, not the critic, and contains more applause/shout/scream worthy moments than the entire Hollywood horror output of 2006. One of the DVD’s biggest surprises is a second auditory track which offers up actual reactions recorded during a packed house showing of the film. The gasps, shouts, and shrieks are priceless, like the Beatlemania of b-moviedom. It illustrates how effectively Rodriguez was at tapping into the splatter fanatic zeitgeist. While it’s clear that the biggest cheers and jeers come at the proper scary movie moments, it’s a hoot to hear such a unified front. Since the advent of home video, the theatrical experience has been marginalized to the point of meaninglessness. Planet Terror argues that, in the right setting, with the right mindset, group participation is a film’s greatest purpose.


For those wondering if the “unrated” label means more and more gore, the answer, oddly enough is undecided. Rodriguez mentions a couple of scenes where the ratings board mandated massive trims (they involve brain eating and torso tearing), but the added back bits don’t really accentuate the excess. Similarly, the director states over and over that he purposefully held back in certain moments, the use of post-production print deterioration and aging helping to increase the level of brutality in his mind. So aside from a few additional seconds of melting testicles, and an overall augmented level of post-gunshot spray, Planet Terror plays exactly like it did in theaters. McGowen still swivels her hips and picks off bad guys with leg weapon ease. Actor Rodriguez is still Rambo with a rebel’s edge. Brolin is still a cuckold clinging to his own inner rage, and Shelton stands in stark contrast to the champions surrounding her. When required to step up, however, she does.


Individuals interested in the backstage particulars of this production will also love the second disc full of behind the scenes info. The “10 Minute Film School” highlights how CGI and camera tricks created many of the movie’s most memorable sequences while “The Badass Babes and Tough Guys” featurette focuses on the cast. “Sickos, Bullets, and Explosions” deals with the movie’s amazing stunts, while “The Friend, The Doctor, and The Real Estate Agent” centers on pals of Rodriguez who stepped up to participate in the film. As usual, the filmmaker uses the DVD format as a way of imparting knowledge and hands-on information to the uninitiated. Perhaps the most telling stat is his desire to keep his part of Grindhouse as cheap as possible, knowing the expanded scope Tarantino was planning for his installment.


If there is one downside to the whole Planet Terror experience, it comes about three-quarters of the way through Rodriguez’s commentary. There, during a lull in the action, he lets the double dip secret out – there will be a legitimate, two disc DVD release of the original Grindhouse sometime in the format’s near future. Now before you go ballistic and start screaming sell-out, remember this: as a project, this daring double feature was always about the films first, the experience second. The unflinching success of both solo outings confirms this fact. Had they been planned as a chaotic combo platter only, neither movie would work outside the setting. But Planet Terror, ‘missing scene’ still intact (yep – no extra McGowan nudity – sorry guys), easily survives its initial attack of cinematic separation anxiety. It remains a great film, and an excellent first digital package.


 


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Wednesday, Oct 17, 2007

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day . . .


All things must pass
All things must pass away


George Harrison, All Things Must Pass


Deborah Kerr passed today. As with all people and all things, eventually there comes a passing.


Being of a different generation, I didn’t have intimate awareness of Kerr. But sharing the common cloth that enfolds all generations through pop, I knew of her. In their twenties and thirties, my parents sat in theaters—smiling, chuckling, weeping, fretting in relative reel-time—as Kerr emoted and kissed and sang and danced on-screen. I, probably like you, have only known her from images like the one below, in coffee-table books, or else in scenes flitting across the TV screen or on DVD.


 


So, when I read the obit here what had been basically just a name and a set of two-hour diversions, became something more substantial; something organic and teeming with life.  For those of you - like me—who really only knew Kerr second hand, it turns out that she had quite a life. Quite a PopMatters kind of life. The kind of life that contributed to the popular, entertainment and artistic currents of our times. The times of your grandparents’ or parents’ lives, sure, but yours, too, Even if you’ve never seen From Here to Eternity or The King and I or An Affair to Remember, or . . . for that matter, Sleepless in Seattle. Because, Kerr was part of the stream—a significant stone in that stream—who helped, in some small way, to shape the popular world of today. The one burbling around us; the one that washes up over us in an incessant torrent—no different that the waves crashing over the lovers in From Here to Eternity . . .


 


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Wednesday, Oct 17, 2007

Hopefully the title of this entry doesn’t have you expecting an exegesis of Marillion lyrics or something; instead I wanted to revisit the point I was trying to make in the previous entry about education and try to illuminate it with a concept from an essay by Leszek Kolakowski. In his essay “The Priest and the Jester,” Kolakowski posits two eternally warring approaches to philosophy, which in his view has yet to shake its theological roots and is always taking up eschatological questions.


The antagonism between a philosophy that perpetuates the absolute and a philosophy that questions accepted absolutes seems incurable, as incurable as that which exists between conservatism and radicalism in all aspect s of human life. This is the antagonism between the priest and the jester, and in almost every epoch the philosophy of the priest and the philosophy of the jester are the two most general forms of intellectual culture. The priest is the guardian of the absolute; he sustains the cult of the final and the obvious as acknowledged by and contained in tradition. The jester is he who moves in good society without belonging to it, and treats it with impertinence; he who doubts all that appears self-evident. He could not do this if he belonged to good society; he would then be at best a salon scandalmonger. The jester must stand outside good society and observe it from the sidelines in order to unveil the nonobvious behind the obvious, the nonfinal behind the final; yet he must frequent society to know what it holds sacred.


In the previous post, I was trying to argue that everyday life tends to make jesters of us all, while cultural institutions tend to try to instill us the reverence of the priest and the complacency that comes with believing moral questions have been settled—in Venezuela, in favor of the “new man.” But the “new man” himself was supposed to be a jester; his demeanor was precisely something that can’t be taught, an attitude that self-consciousness and second-handedness destroys.


When I was a college teacher, this dilemma was palpable to me, but I didn’t have this vocabulary to describe it. I could tell that some other English dept. professors clearly took inherited standards seriously and saw these traditions as self-justifying, worth preserving simply because others had saw fit to do the same. These priestly professors would teach appreciation classes and pass off subjective judgments on poetry, etc., without a blush or a moment’s hesitation—to them, that’s why you got credentialed, so that others would have to take your opinion as gospel, so you could essentially say whether various works of art rock, rot, or rule. Others, the teaching assistants especially, wanted to challenge the students to contest everything and reject all hierarchies and make it all up for themselves, as though they weren’t in the classroom to learn from someone else. These instructors wanted to dismantle all authority, particularly their own, and affirm the students’ voice. I would sort of ricochet back and forth between those poles, with an ad hoc pedagogy and a faithlessness in the whole process. Inevitably, one may have to become a priest to become entrenched in academia; one must professionalize and buy into one’s own bullshit, or in other words, have the dignity to take one’s own career seriously. And as a by-product of that, you might so piss off some students with your righteousness that they’ll develop their own jester-like qualities and fulfill their subversive potential.


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