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Friday, Feb 23, 2007

Building off the finding that low-income workers work fewer hours than higher-income workers, this post at The Economist‘s Free Exchange blog floats the idea that the problem with the poor is not that they’re lazy but that their entertainment has become too affordable:


In America since the 1970’s, the relative returns to low-skilled labour have markedly declined.  At the same time, the value of leisure has skyrocketed, thanks to improved entertainment opportunities.  Even a poor family can afford a television, a cheap DVD player, and a subscription to Netflix; they are also highly likely to have cable.  Thanks to cheap airfare, they may also be able to fly somewhere better than their backyard for vacation.
A 1970’s high-school educated worker looking at the tradeoff between work and leisure might be thinking:  “the price of a steak, versus an hour watching the grass grow and arguing with my wife.”  These days, the calculation is more like:  “the price of some terrible fast food, against an hour of watching scantily clad women bouncing around on cable.”  Small surprise that they are choosing to consume more free time.


This strikes me as a variation on that favorite refutation of the problem posed by income inequality, what Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber has dubbed the Playstation proof: that measures of income don’t necessarily account for all the quality-of-life improvements now taken for granted and how much more purchasing power there is in even a small income relative to horse-and-buggy days. And it can skew ideologically in opposite directions, as a criticism of the deeply unfulfilling work the poor reject in favor of entertainment or as a conjecture that the poor are not merely lazy but are perhaps too easily entertained—their modicum of ambition is too easily subsumed by diverting distractions. The observation doesn’t seem to lead to any useful policy prescriptions: “We need to make poverty more unpleasant. The poor are enjoying themselves far too much.” Or “Poverty is not really a problem: see, they have Netflix.” And that’s not even considering potential problems with the initial premise that the fewer hours the poor are working is a matter of choice: what about the “reserve army of the poor”? What about the unpaid hours logged in transportation and what not? Ehrenreich’s Nickeled and Dimed does a pretty good job demonstrating how everything in lower-class life has elements of logistical hassle to it, even before one considers the psychological burdens of relative deprivation, the lack of any form of safety net and the forced improvisations of life at society’s margins.


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Thursday, Feb 22, 2007


It’s bandwagon jumping time, and since Hollywood is about ready to hand out its own brand of bewildering backslapping, the seven month old SE&L figures it too can champion its own choices for award winners. Oscar might have the hoopla, the designer duds, and all that staggering star power, but what the newly christened SEALS have is something the Academy can never boast – artistic integrity. Granted, the gray hairs in the group sometimes get it right – can’t argue with all their choices, Shakespeare in Love aside – and it’s possible that these new prizes will clash with conventional thinking. But when it comes right down to it, if Blockbuster Video, MTV and The National Rolling (Down a Hill) Association can declare their preferences for the year’s trophy-deserving best, why can’t we?


That being said, we have to set up some guidelines. First and foremost, as joking Johnny-Come-Latelys, we will avoid the already nominated Academy entries. If it has already been pointed out by Oscar, we will let the Gold One have his glory and simply move on. After all, nothing smacks more of Tinsel Town tonsils to tushy than agreeing on who they feel deserves Best of Year recognition. Secondly, we will try to mine the ENTIRE previous 12 months in film. We won’t skip over efforts from January or March just because most of the cachet pictures wind up playing between November and December. And finally, this isn’t a competition. Other choices may be mentioned, but the SEALS don’t play the nomination game. Either you’re a winner, or you’re not.


So, without further ado, lame jokes from a PC host, or an interpretive dance number based around the choices for Best Song, here are the 2007 SEALS:


Best Film – The Prestige
This one is easy – it was SE&L’s favorite film of 2006 and remains, even with last minute entries like Children of Men and Pan’s Labyrinth, the greatest artistic triumph of the cinematic calendar year. Christopher Nolan may not have a lot of mantle candy to ogle when this awards season is over, and there are still those who dismiss this movie as an overcomplicated lament configuration, but here’s one filmmaker who can rest assured that, decades from now, his magician film will be a heralded motion picture masterpiece. Can any of Oscar’s current candidates claim that?


Best Director – Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men)
Here’s a head scratcher. In a medium that frequently loves to reward visionary filmmakers with aesthetics larger than their commercial counterparts, why was Cuarón’s work in Children of Men more or less marginalized? Perhaps it has something to do with the stigma of serious science fiction thrust upon this stunningly apocalyptic film. As an illustration of society in biological freefall, and a wounded allegory to the pointlessness of armed conflict/resistance, Cuarón does what all directors dealing with war typically avoid – he shows why life is more important.


Best Actor – Toby Jones (Infamous)
If Oscar had any brains, and being a small metal statue its fairly obvious that he doesn’t, it would have dropped any one of the five nominated non-entities selected and given British thespian Jones a toss. As Truman Capote – yes AGAIN, you have a problem with that??? -  dealing with his mixed motives of career vs. comfort, this version of the famed writer gets to hobnob with the spoiled and snotty while finding the sympathetic heart inside a Cold Blood-ed killer. Capote may be more serious, but Infamous and Jones are more insightful…and iconic. 


Best Actress – Jenna Fischer (Lollilove)
It’s the best film that no one has seen, and it features some of the best, most self-effacing acting in a mock documentary ever. Fisher, now famous for her role on NBC’s The Office, and her Hollywood screenwriter hubby James Gunn, brainstormed this under appreciated take on confused celebrity and their equally inept charitable causes. While the film’s format can allow for shameless mugging (right James?) it also gave Fisher a chance to play both serious and spoiled, clueless and cunning. She’s likeable and loathsome at the same time. Now that’s acting.


Best Supporting Actor – David Bowie (The Prestige)
He’s barely on screen long enough to register real potency, but there is something about Ziggy Stardust as the inventor of alternating current that seems so cosmically correct. Bowie, never one for spectacular acting turns, here seems like the grand old man of electricity, reduced to hiding from the monopoly minded Thomas Edison and his incandescent thugs. For his gorgeous accent alone, so clipped it cuts through conversations like a delicate little knife, the performance deserves rewarding.


Best Supporting Actress – Rosario Dawson (Clerks II)
How is this for an acting mission impossible? You are called in by Kevin Smith, creator of the glorified geek View Askew universe, asked to play the part of a fast food manager in love with a lumpy loser and – oh yeah – the project will be a sequel to the filmmaker’s first cinematic touchstone. That’s the requirements foisted upon this fascinating performer, and Ms. Dawson stands firm, outright stealing the movie from her wisecracking cast mates. She’s smart, funny and oh so sexy.


Best Script – Mike Judge and Etan Cohen (Idiocracy)
It takes balls the size of Branson to bite the hand that’s been signing your meal ticket for the last 15 years, but that’s exactly what Beavis and Butthead creator Judge did with this amazing social satire. One of the wickedest, most mean-spirited comedies every created – in a very good way – this story of an America dumbed down plays like an inverted 1984. Big Brother may be watching, but he doesn’t understand what he’s seeing.


Best Documentary – This Film is Not Yet Rated
Talk about your ironclad cajones! Kirby Dick more or less committed career suicide for taking on the MPAA and outing the ridiculous ratings board for the self-serving studio censorship committee they really are. Using anecdotal and empirical evidence (including a mindboggling montage of indie vs. mainstream movie edits) as well as the hiring of a private investigator to get the goods on these goons, Dick did something no other filmmaker dared. He not only challenged the board’s inferred integrity. He questioned its very reason for being.


Best Animated Film – A Scanner Darkly
Believe it or not, there was a time when animated films were geared mostly toward adults. It seems only director Richard Linklater remembers that commercial corollary. With this inventive version of the Philip K. Dick novel, and his previous computer penned pastiche, Waking Life, the man behind such stellar outsider efforts as Slacker and Dazed and Confused finds the proper balance between science fiction and technological fact, creating an alternative reality worthy of the genre’s most compelling author. Forget anthropomorphized creatures. Humans remain the most compelling cartoons.


Best Foreign Film – District B13
Leave it to the French to reinvent the action film. With the free running sport Parkour as the basis for the stunt work, and a futuristic flavor that mixes equal parts Escape from New York and the Mad Max films, first time director Pierre Morel delivers a stunning high octane treat. Certainly the acting can be a bit problematic, considering most in the cast were hired for their athleticism first and their performance chops second. But the amount of invention involved is hard to top. Apparently, it takes foreign eyes to rediscover the inherent motion picture magic in human physicality.


Best Guilty Pleasure – Crank
…and leave it to the Americans to take the genre back to its veiled post-modern video game roots. In a year that saw more than its fair share of big screen crap, no filmic feces was more ludicrously enjoyable than this cinematically steroided Grand Theft Auto attempt. With King of Tripwire Testosterone Jeremy Statham in the lead – no one does pumped up punkness better than this cauliflowered character actor from the UK – and a warts and all approach to straightforward storytelling, directing pair Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have created the first geek epic. Consider this schlock nerd more than satisfied.


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Thursday, Feb 22, 2007


Why must we dream in metaphors? Try to hold on to something we couldn’t understand. Couldn’t understand.


Seal sings that provocative line in a haunting song that otherwise—lyrically, at least—is pedestrian, if not wholly unintelligible.


But there is in that one statement, a kernel of something; a thought worth considering. Although, for me it isn’t Seal’s dreams of sleep—the peripatetic ventures of the mind locked in slumber—rather, it is or collective, yet dissimilar dreams accompanying daily travail—the constant associative ramblings of our brains that can’t sit still—that this peripatetic pauses to ponder.


Not really sure (if you care to learn) what I’m talking about? Well, try this . . .


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Thursday, Feb 22, 2007
by Harlem Shakes

Harlem Shakes w/ Deerhoof
Diary #6


The van smelt funny today.


When last we spoke, the subject of our discontent was THE NOISE. The noise is the total lack of silence on tour, and its result is mild insanity. But today we couldn’t help but shout over the constant chattin’ and iPod shufflin’ that something smelt awful—not funny… awful. Thevandra has become a moving dungeon, a pit of sounds and smells that puts Hades, or CBGB‘s for that matter, to shame.


But, at last, we arrived in Athens.


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Thursday, Feb 22, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Future Clouds and Radar —"Drugstore Bust"
From Future Clouds and Radar: Self-Titled


Listen to “Drugstore Bust”

Heavily influenced by cameras, the asterisk (*), loss of any kind and Bill Monroe’s falsetto, Future Clouds and Radar is the latest creation of Robert Harrison, best known as the leader of Austin cult-garage-heroes, Cotton Mather. Harrison and Cotton Mather were the sleepy underground pioneers of the late ‘90s, having toured with Oasis (during the band’s heyday) they were hailed by NME as perhaps “the best guitar band since Supergrass”, and were most recently featured on Little Steven Van Zandt’s Coolest Songs in the World Vol. 1.


Radical Face —"Glory"
From Ghost on Morr Music


Listen to “Glory”

This record started with a simple idea: What if houses had memories? What if, when we lived in them, our stories bled into the walls and became a part of the house? What if our ghosts were always going to haunt the places we’ve lived, along with everyone else who’s lived there? In comparison to the very song-oriented debut by Electric President, 24-year-old Ben Cooper’s alter ego (Radical Face) and second musical affair of the heart, Ghost, has become a songwriter-album. Or rather a song-writing album, the tracks as carefully arranged interiors, chamber folk, pocket symphonies, passionate
melodies.


The Go Find —"Dictionary"
From Stars on the Wall on Morr Music


Listen to “Dictionary”

When Dieter Sermeus set out to write a follow-up for his 2004 The Go-Find debut Miami, he felt he wanted to move away from solitary song-writing and recording, and involved his live band from a very early stage. Together, they crafted a collection of (quote) “good-sounding danceable pop tunes” in a studio in his Antwerp home-town, which provided a warm and friendly environment, full of ancient keyboards and rare Moogs.


Willy Mason —"When The River Moves On"
From If the Ocean Gets Rough on Astralwerks


Listen to “The River Moves On”

If the Ocean Gets Rough is filled with 11 of Willy’s best songs to date, some immediately direct, others more subtle and evocative. With more developed and ambitious songwriting and instrumentation, Mason joins personal tales with socio-cultural commentary, effortlessly expressing his own experiences while making them our own.


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