It's not just a steady drip, drip of bad news - things seem to be getting cataclysmic-ally, epoch ending bad. No witnesses, corona-virus - now a quarantined cruise ship with at least 10 infected - the daily worsening of the climate crisis, Brexit finalized, the Niners blow the Super Bowl, Rush Limbaugh getting the Presidential Medal of something or other, the homeless epidemic in SF, and on and on. But really, Rush Limbaugh getting a Presidential Medal? For what? Being a bloated bag of bile? Clogging up America's airways for decades? And then there's the Shadow App ... some days its better just to never even log on ...
Fun to watch the very public spat - though initially it was only a snit from one side of the argument - going on between Martin Scorcese and directors like James Gunn from the Marvel series of kids' films. Scorcese, whose "The Irishman" I cannot wait to see, stated that Marvel films aren't cinema: they're like a trip to the theme park. By which he means entertaining, eye-catching with all sorts of flashing lights, loud noises and unhealthy food, based on simple ideas, offering little of substance. Is he being elitist? Francis Ford Coppola joined the fray, calling them "despicable." James Gunn shot back that they are both "out of touch." Who is right?
Anyone who knows me, knows (if we talk about film) that I have been saying the same thing for a long time - though I place the blame on the "Star Wars" franchise which in comparison to Marvel films, feel like "The Godfather" in terms of content. Let me put it to you this way: when you stack up the three Godfather films and "Apocalypse Now", and the best of Scorcese: "Taxi Drive", "Raging Bull", "Good Fellas" and "Casino" against the best of Marvel Studio's "oeuvre", since 2008 or so, what is the outcome?
It's like pitting men against boys. When Gunn claimed the two were "out of touch", you have to ask if this alleged "director" has ever been in touch with the possibilities of film, its history, the great directors. and the real idea of film as a visual and aural language capable of expressing the human experience. Even Scorcese's secondary efforts - "The Last Temptation of Christ" or "Kundun," the latter of which I thought was a fantastic movie - tower over "Iron Man" or "The Avengers." It feels a bit ridiculous to even have to say that. Ior the lives of Christ, or the Dalai Lama, no more compelling than fictitious characters whose main achievements center upon wearing armor, flying, having stereotypical love interests, and churning through melodramatic, predictable plots in the service of special effects?
Gunn is being less than sincere when he says that not everyone will be able to "appreciate then" (referring to superhero movies). Its like saying not everyone will be able to appreciate an Incredible Burger: sure it's meatless, pseudo-PC and very au courant, but its still also just junk food, which is what the Marvel series is. essentially: gaudy junk food.
In a series of tweets late Sunday night, President Trump claimed he is going to "re-legalize" cannibalism through an Executive Order. Trump stated that he would do so as "many people go hungry, yet have large families. Waste of natural resources. Sad." When he thought cannibalism was previously legal is unclear, though in his visit to Paradise, California last year to view the devastation caused by the Paradise Fire, he referred obliquely to the "Dinner Party," apparently thinking of the Donner Party, though that reference went unquestioned by those present. Perhaps he is simply trying to do literally what he has been doing via what passes for policy since elected: legalize the rich consuming the poor.
Darwin's first camping experience, so we just spent two nights next to this 7700 foot elevation lake in the Western Sierras, part of a group of man-made lakes (Shaver, Florence and Huntington) owned by SoCal Dept of Water and Electricity. Edison is the last of the lakes, connected by Highway 168, which ends near Huntington and then turns into the Kaiser Pass road, a bumpy one-lane paved road which goes over Kaiser Pass (9200 feet). No sign of Wilhelm. So the campgrounds were pretty empty, due also to traveling during the week. Lots of great trails out of the lake: there is also a ferry across the lake for backpackers doing the JMT, as many use Vermilion Resort, a small general store with cabins and a restaurant as a refueling point. And, Mono Hot Springs is close by. A spot to spend a lot more time at: Dev proposed spending at least a week next year up in the high country, camping and hiking, though it might be a good idea to rent a small camper-wagon.
The last two photos are from Shaver Lake, 2200 feet lower, the first lake you encounter on heading into the Sierras east from beautiful Fresno, and with a lot more people, cabins, burger joints and all the other necessary accoutrements of Western Sierra living....
I'm lucky that in living in the Bay Area I'm so close to something like nature - not wilderness, which I've only truly encountered a few times in my life (and I'm going to make a podcast about one of these adventures in Dolpo, Nepal), but still someplace where flora and fauna predominate, and we humans go there to, at least for a little bit, get away from the noise, cement, and electronics, though they're never far away.
Nature doesn't care about you. But that being said, the birds and insects, even the occasional mammal in Quarry Lakes park, are interested - they notice you more than you notice them. The geese just shit and warily walk around you; sparrows curious, hop nearby and then dart into the bushes or up high on tree branches; ground squirrels perch on their hind legs and gaze at you with their big black eyes, always ready to dart into their burrows; dragonflies hover around, often stopping to hover just in front of you, just as hummingbirds often do. If you stop and let them. A month ago or so I saw a red-tail hawk, with a freshly caught rattlesnake in its beak, perched on a tree branch maybe two feet off the ground - uncommonly low for hawks, who prefer to espy their surrounding from on high. Nature will talk to you, if you have the time and awareness to listen. And if you keep your ear buds out. I've climbed, hiked, backpacked and trekked all over the world for decades; never once have I done so with earbuds, or earphones on. I prefer the sounds of my surroundings.
At any rate, the idea "nature" is simply a human construct; there is nothing natural about it. Just like "organic" food; its a shared idea, or not-so-shared, a series of subjective ideas about a space, which satisfy some objective criteria: no concrete? Check. No gardeners or leaf blowers? Check. Are the animals and plants winning? Uhm ... looks like it. If you live in the city, Quarry Lakes looks natural. If you've just come back from a back-country trip to the Sierras, its very much an urban park.
I respect the animal's and plant's rights to existence, and that they are equal to my claim.
Frightening to see how many earthquakes have been clustered around the 7.1 & 6.4 earthquakes in the Ridgecrest/Coso Junction area. And the 7.1 was eight times as strong as the earlier quake. California get ready - this is probably just the beginning of a very active next few years.
Watching HBO’s miniseries “Chernobyl,” I cannot help but react with something like astonishment at the ham-handed review in the New York Times of May 3 by Mike Hale, a reviewer I’m unfamiliar with. Mr. Hale seems to have had expectations quite at odds with the film he viewed, for reasons I’m not entirely clear on. First of all, he chastises the film for being a “disaster film.” The review just covers the first five episodes, which centers, oddly enough, on the partial nuclear meltdown at the power plant in April of 1986. Well, it was a disaster, and this is a film, so perhaps viewing it as a “disaster film” is unavoidable. He carps about factual inaccuracies: well, this is fiction, not a documentary, so some facts are going to suffer from “reductionism,” as he puts it, or streamlining, but fiction-based films usually have to hew some sort of narrative line that can elide complexities. He also laments the fact that documentary film makers did not make the film; if it’s a documentary exposé of the disaster he wants, there’s Svetlana Alexievich’s book “Chernobylskaya molitva, Chernobyl Prayer,” which covered this aspect of the incident some 22 years ago.
The reviewer also complains about the Soviet Minister of Energy’s lack of knowledge about nuclear fission (Boris Shcherbina, as played by Stellan Skarsgard). I have two words, one name, as a response: Rick Perry. The idea that a government official may not be entirely informed about the department they run is being played out daily right now by our own government by our president, the Secretary of Education, Mr. Perry, and too many other officials in the Trump “administration.” Apparatchiks are not simply figures from a bygone era; they exist in all governments. And his criticism of the omnipresence of “stoic-peasant and menacing-strongman Soviet stereotypes” really rings false. Having spent five years in an ex-Soviet Republic in Central Asia, I can assure him these are not stereotypes; unfortunately, they are still living and very real archetypes for bureaucrats, military and other functionaries. I witnessed this on a daily basis up until my return to the US less than two years ago, stodgy unqualified men with a penchant for vodka and sausages running departments that they knew nothing about: they just knew how to act stern and threatening, while the more qualified underlings cowered in fear and kowtowed to these domineering blobs.
The movie is filled with realistic detail, from the Krushchevs (the old-style Soviet apartment blocks with their characteristic sun rooms), which I saw so many of on the North Bank in Astana, to the typical Russian wall-paper, lace curtains, Ladas, omnipresent cigarettes and vodka, dilapidated infrastructure and more. My closing thought is on the radiation which will cause cancer and other illnesses for generations to come in Kyiv Oblast and surrounding areas. When my family lived in Astana (recently rebranded Nur-Sultan), we lived a few hundred miles downstream from Semipalatinsk, the Soviet nuclear testing site in eastern Kazakhstan, where generations of Kazakhs have suffered from unusually high rates of cancer, birth defects, and other effects of radiation poisoning. Our first year there, my wife had big chunks of her hair fall out. In hindsight, I realized that I also lost hair, only realizing it through looking at photos of myself trekking in Nepal and seeing far more scalp on the back of my head than I had ever seen before. And most tellingly, my wife and I had to decide whether to proceed with her pregnancy, when we found out that our daughter to-be, Anoushka, was missing two of her four heart chambers. In ultrasounds, where there should have been motion and light, there were simply two black voids. After consulting doctors at Kings College London, we mad the difficult decision to cease her life, as the outlook for her life had no future.
A very strange and short-sighted review. Perhaps he was expecting a musical comedy.
I've been listening to this CD a lot since I bought three months ago; an outstanding, scintillating live performance recorded by Deutsche Gramaphon, and the concert highlights Yuja's strengths. For a number of years she was regarded as technically brilliant, but still finding her way artistically. This concert suits her strengths, from what I've heard from her: late Romanticism, in this case Rachmaninoff; modern classical with Prokofiev; Scriabin, who is his own genre; and avant-garde classical, with Ligeti. Her playing is forceful, with great rubato at times, light touch and quite dominating at other times, in that not only does Yuja let the music drive her playing, but she also brings out counter melodies and rhythms, nuances, but rarely lets her interpretation of individual passages mar the compositions as a whole. The Rachmaninoff Prelude 23/5 is fantastic: driving, imperial, with a lovely almost sotto voce and lyrical legato passage. The Prelude 32/10 is lovely, and she plays the Scriabin Sonata 10 almost as well as a recording I have of Horowitz. The Ligeti Etudes - well, it's just great to hear a classical pianist cover this composer, one of my favorite avant-garde classical composers, and the Prokofiev Sonata No. 8 suits her well: technically complex, very modern in that it eschews Romanticism for a harder edge.
Some of her fans have said she is the next Argerich, but she is not there yet. My yardmark for making this judgement is comparing her performance of Chopin's Preludes Op. 28, with the recording of Argerich's on DG. And honestly, there is no comparison. This series of 24 preludes is considered by many pianists to be one of the benchmarks for a pianist's technique and interpretation. 24 compositions in the 24 different keys, ranging in time from 32 seconds(#1 in C major) to 4 minutes and 51 seconds for the magesterial and mystical Raindrop Prelude (#15), this is really the pinnacle of solo classical piano, in that each individual prelude is a whole unto itself, and all 24 form a whole. Just comparing the two pianists in two of my favorites, the aforementioned Raindrop, and the 44 second #7 reveals that Yuja still has some work to do. Sure, she has no problem playing anything, but the #7 is tricky in that it builds to a contrasting chord that produces a sublime denouement. With Yuja, the individual phrasing is beautiful, but she breaks the brief prelude into little phrases that dent the flow to the almost cathartic chord, and the sublime ending. With Argerich, you get this mellifluous flow that hinges upon this unforeseen chord, and then this almost ethereal ending. Argerich has both technique and interpretation; as the great cellist and conductor Mistislav Rostoprovich said of her, there are no limits. She can do anything: her soft touch, and capability of astounding force and speed, make her one of the greatest pianists. Ever.
So while I love this recording, when I need to feel the full soul of classical piano, I just listen to Argerich playing Chopin..... It's no surprise that when DG released their complete Chopin, recording of all his piano compositions (did he write for any other instruments?), with all the great pianists in their catalogue, the pianist's recording they chose for the Preludes Op. 28 was, of course, Martha Argerich.
The very public rancor generated by Representative Ilhan Omar has brought to light a vital distinction - is to be anti-Zionist to be anti-Semetic? Manchester Guardian columnist Peter Beinart, pitching his two-cents worth into the melee, makes the following observations in today;s (3/7/19) edition:
"The first is that opposing Zionism is antisemitic because it denies to Jews what every other people enjoys: a state of its own. “The idea that all other peoples can seek and defend their right to self-determination but Jews cannot,” declared US Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer in 2017, “is antisemitism.”As David Harris, head of the American Jewish Committee, put it last year: “To deny the Jewish people, of all the peoples on earth, the right to self-determination surely is discriminatory.”
All the peoples on earth? The Kurds don’t have their own state. Neither do the Basques, Catalans, Scots, Kashmiris, Tibetans, Abkhazians, Ossetians, Lombards, Igbo, Oromo, Uyghurs, Tamils and Québécois, nor dozens of other peoples who have created nationalist movements to seek self-determination but failed to achieve it.
Yet barely anyone suggests that opposing a Kurdish or Catalan state makes you an anti-Kurdish or anti-Catalan bigot. It is widely recognised that states based on ethnic nationalism – states created to represent and protect one particular ethnic group – are not the only legitimate way to ensure public order and individual freedom. Sometimes it is better to foster civic nationalism, a nationalism built around borders rather than heritage: to make Spanish identity more inclusive of Catalans or Iraqi identity more inclusive of Kurds, rather than carving those multiethnic states up.
You’d think Jewish leaders would understand this. You’d think they would understand it because many of the same Jewish leaders who call national self-determination a universal right are quite comfortable denying it to Palestinians."
This is a vital point: Zionism is a political agenda: to be a Jewish Semite (there are other kinds of Semites) and believe in "semitism" is a religious/cultural/social identity. Are there Jews who do not believe in Zionism? Many. They believe in a Jewish state, and the right of it to exist, but not in a lot of the political baggage than can be associated with Zionism, which can include a very anti-Palestinian stance, and often anti-Islamic attitude.
And that's where Ilhan Omar gets caught up: in her staunchly pro-Palestinian stance, she has gotten caught up in the semantics around anti-Zionism and antisemitism. She needs to be clearer that she is opposed to the state of Israel's political agenda, not to it's right to exist. But we in the US have to take into consideration that for perhaps the first time in our country's history we are dealing with on openly Muslim congressperson, and her points of view might diverge from the norm, in presenting an openly pro-Muslim voice. Are there PAC who openly push for Zionist policy in the US? I don't know, but it is hardly a secret that Israel has been the favorite child of US foreign policy for decades, and anyone who dares to criticize this publicly will be taken to task.
So as the Guardian columnist asks, why is it morally offensive to be considered anti-Israel, when being anti-Tibet, anti-Kurdistan, anti-East Turkestan (the proposed Uighur homeland) are not?
Just watched "Free Solo," the documentary following Alex Honnold's successful free solo (along without rope or any gear) of Freerider on the Southwest Face of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley - rated at 5.12D. Alone - without a rope. 3,000 feet of climbing in under four hours, a route he rehearsed roped for several years, on and off, especially around 1/2 a dozen key stretches involving dicey moves a thousand or two feet above the deck. Almost too gripping to watch, the film also takes you into his life, the lives of some around him, and you get to know Alex, fellow climber Tommy Caldwell (who did the first free roped ascent of the Dawn Wall on El Cap), Alex's partner Sanni McCandless, Jimmy Chin, the lead lensman of the climb, and others such as climbing legends Peter Croft and Mark Synnott. But the mind boggling thing is that Honnold does, after one initial effort he bails on, a climb that takes roped teams several days, a climb that once Honnold is more than 100 feet up the 3000 foot, thirty pitch climb, if he falls, that's it. Amazing feat, and a gripping film. Plus its amazing to see the mental approach he has, especially as he has to compensate for a bit of a media circus filming the climb.
I used to climb, and 5.12 is the hardest moves I ever climbed - with a rope. And following, not leading, and certainly not 2,000 feet above the ground. To call this amazing is selling it short - quite simply put, the most astonishing athletic feat of our times: perhaps of any time. I did free solo some peaks in the Sierras, some of which were easy roped routes, but this is just a totally different level of human achievements. He's soloed El Cap and Half Dome: what's next?