Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Final Solution: The History of the World Part III, The End

Do you remember the threats following the release of The Interview, the comic film about Kim Jong-un and how theater chains quickly took the film out of circulation? Remember how Kazakhstan threatened Sacha Baron Cohen with a legal suit over Borat until they realized the film was helping their tourist industry? Been there done that might have been the response say if you were a poet and novelist like Boris Pasternak who was trying to write about what was going on during the time of Stalin. But what happened to The Interview, in particular, seemed outlandish in America where the First Amendment is cherished. How could North Korea be determining what could or could not be shown in our theater chains? But imagine what will happen if and when Donald Trump becomes the subject of such a spoof. Trump has neither been happy with his treatment by the “dishonest press,” nor specifically by SNL, which has created its own Trump doppleganger in the form of Alec Baldwin, whose hairdo actually brings back the transformation Tony Perkins created in Psycho. But what will transpire when liberal Hollywood takes aim at the president on a mass scale with a blockbuster project. Meryl Streep went after him at the Golden Globes. But let’s imagine what will happen when Hollywood’s finest, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Dan Aykroyd all get together to take on Steven Bannon, Rience Priebus, Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway? Imagine A History of the World Part III: The End. When The Interview came out Kim Jong-un, whose title is the Supreme Leader, suddenly became the world’s foremost film critic. Instead of Siskel &Ebert, look forward to seeing a show on PBS called Kim & Don which evaluates films and makes sure the ones they don't like stay out of theaters.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Quantum Idealists

One marvels at the following letter to The New York Review of Books, from one Clinton C. James of Sylvania, Georgia in response to a piece by the N.Y.U. Law School professor and philosopher Thomas Nagel. The letter from James and Nagel’s response appear under the title, “Quantum Idealism?” in the 1/19/17 issue of the journal.  James writes, “Thomas Nagel suggests, perhaps inadvertently, in his review of Anthony Gottlieb’s The Dream of Enlightenment (NYR, September 29, 2016) that modern physics, specifically quantum mechanics, can only be interpreted as a theory of materialistic Hobbesian naturalism. Certainly professor Nagel is aware that the ontological status of quantum mechanics, the supposed theory of physical reality, is far from settled among physicists.” You might want to have your dictionary at hand, but you don’t have to understand anything about physics or philosophy to realize the brilliance of the formulation. The “key words” here are “materialism” and “ontology.” Materialism of course refers to what one can see and feel, the meat and potatoes of life. When you think about Newton’s formula for gravity and the anecdote of the apple, you’re thinking about a scientific theory based on the observation of physical reality. But matters in the quantum world of tiny particles are not always so visible and also do not participate in such easy to parse conceptions. For instance the notion an electron can be at two locations simultaneously is counterintuitive. Here quantum matters verge on the ontological, to the extent that they question the nature of being. Is this what Mr. James is getting at? Maybe not.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Ralph Cramden was a bus driver who wore a uniform and carried a lunch box to work. Paterson (Adam Driver) the lead character of Jim Jarmusch's Paterson drives a number 23 bus which emanates from the Market Street garage. Paterson who loves the poetry of William Carlos Williams, a one time denizen of Paterson, is a poet who also reads Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems when he's eating the sandwich prepared by his exotic wife Laura—by the way the name of the beloved object of Petrarch’s sonnets. The film starts off with the creation of an ode to a box of Ohio Blue Tip matches that reside in Paterson’s house and much of the domestically oriented love poetry which appears on the screen as Jarmusch’s character creates it, comes courtesy of Ron Padgett. Paterson lives in a world of connections. His wife who has a free floating design sensibility makes clothes in the same black and white pattern that she does her cupcakes. Everywhere he goes he see twins. Needless to say, Jarmusch is probing the development of a poetic sensibility. As Paterson’s bus travels past industrial buildings in blue collar neighborhoods, he’s a cipher for experience, which is predicated on a good deal of repetition. Everyday he stops at the same watering hole in the course of walking Marvin, his irrepressible bull terrier. The bar itself is a paen to all the locals who have achieved celebrity like Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello fame. Ruben Hurricane Carter another Paterson native is discussed by two kids riding a bus and Allen Ginsberg is another Paterson poet who receives mention.The filmmaker himself demonstrates a good deal of visual poetry; for instance an early profile shot of Paterson renders a point of view that’s not his protagonist’s line of site. But as a repository for all the perception about poets, poetry and reality, the character Driver plays is emotionally dead or deadpan. His poet is disconnected and it’s not clear if this is an affect or something more profound. The movie is also curiously chaste. The are loads of scenes of Paterson and Laura in bed, but there’s neither sex nor sexuality in their encounters. Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Cramden was no poet, but there was more poetry in his Alceste like personality, rife as it was with contradictions and passions, than in the forlorn self-deprecating spirit portrayed in the film, who, through a chain of untoward events, ends up having to bite his own tongue.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Final Solution: Hitting the Road Running

There were a lot of Republicans who used the phrase hit the ground running when they talked about what was going to happen after Inauguration Day. Hit the ground running is however an odd expression, when you think about it. It connotes being off the ground and then being dropped, say from a chopper ladder or parachuting from an airplane, and when you think about it, hitting the ground running after being airborne is going to result in whoever is doing it falling flat on their face. For instance Trump signed the immigration order barring all Muslims from seven countries which were considered threats to national security and for all intents and purposes he did a belly flop when his initial order was blocked with the Court of Appeals denying the DOJ's request for a stay. Whatever transpires in the future—whether Trump creates a more well thought out order or the case goes to the Supreme Court—there's no doubt he would have done better coming up with a more considered plan. General Michael Flynn probably thought he was hitting the ground running when he spoke to the Russians about easing sanctions even before his boss was sworn into office and the Trump campaign probably thought they were hitting the ground running by working closely with the Russians even during the campaign (if intelligence reports are correct). So perhaps the real problem is this notion of hitting the ground running. What if Trump, Flynn and the campaign had all hit the ground walking like normal people? It probably wouldn’t have made that much of a difference but it’s something to think about.