Archive for January, 2009

More mostly goodness from the Obama administration.

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Obama continued to make mostly the right moves in his first week in office.

  • Closing GITMO and secret overseas CIA prisons: These two things here are why a lot of justice-loving people around the world have turned their back on America. I wouldn’t think it needed saying, but I’ll say it: torturing people is wrong. Holding people indefinitely without a trial is wrong. These things are illegal not only under a host of treaties we signed, but under our own fucking constitution, you remember, that document that founded our country and used to mean something? Republicans ask “what are we supposed to do, let these terrorists into the United States?!?!” Well, yeah. It’s not like we’re sending them to fucking Disney World. We got us plenty of high-value terrorists in US prisons right now.

    I swear I remember living in a country once that wasn’t full of pussies. Then somebody blew up a measly 3000 people and all of a sudden we’re ready to give up all our moral convictions and the principles we’ve at least always said we wanted to live by, give everything over to a bunch of Mayberry Machiavellis in exchange for a bare illusion of safety. Sack up, America.

  • Lifting the gag rule: Denying money to organizations that do good work overseas because they provide abortions is wrong. The world will be a better place without this rule.
  • Restricting the CIA to interrogation techniques in the Army field manual: See above. Torture is wrong and does not make us safer. Ask John McCain.

On the civil liberties front, I was disappointed to see that Obama took Bush’s position on a secret wiretapping case that provides the only known remaining avenue for legal review of warrantless wiretapping. It’s a setback for the fourth amendment and the rule of law (specifically, FISA). I do believe that the government, ultimately, may have compelling reasons to do more monitoring of communications, perhaps even Americans’ communications, in the quickly changing world we live in. However, I think it is vitally important to preserving our way of life that such issues be hashed out in court and in Congress, not in smoky back rooms where the next Nixon can start watching the people on his enemies list–and there’s evidence that some of that went on during that slimy fuck W’s administration.

I hope somebody someday strings that sumbitch up, and Cheney with him. Fuck them in their earholes. There are too many people dead for too little reason, and too many rich motherfuckers that lined their pockets on the backs of the poor and dead soldiers over the last eight years to just let this shit slide. As much as irony demands that they be tried by a military tribunal with secret evidence they’re not allowed to see (and gained under duress by leashing them up and making the sodomize each other), I’m afraid I hope they get a fair trial in open court.

O-ba-MA! O-ba-MA!

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Here are the incredibly important things I think the new President did right today (see this New York Times article for complete story):

1. He suspended the GITMO military tribunals for 120 days, with an obvious eye toward ending them.

2. He reversed Bush’s “keep everything secret you have any nominal reason to” policy toward Freedom of Information Act requests and replaced it with a presumption of disclosure. He also made all the right sounds about replacing a culture of secrecy with a culture of transparency.

3. He barred people who leave his administration from lobbying their former colleagues for as long as he is in office. I believe this practice is in no small part responsible for the tight integration of the government with the military-industrial complex for the last eight years.

4. He banned every appointee from receiving any gifts from lobbyists or lobbying organizations. No more Scottish golfing junkets, assholes.

5. He banned lobbyists for coming to work for the agencies they lobbied for two years. That will mean fewer lobbyists directly running the bureaucracies that are supposed to regulate the industries they previously worked for.

There are a lot of things that could go wrong, a lot of things Obama could not do or do wrong, but this isn’t rhetoric: it’s concrete, legally-binding steps the new President is taking, and so far they’re all exactly right as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s hoping tomorrow is as full of hope. :)

Santa Cruz Beach.

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

The first time I lived in California, I knew this one beach that was just about my favorite place in all the world. Actually, it was two beaches: one called Panther beach, and another, accessible only through a hole in the sandstone cliff at the south end of Panther, called Hole in the Wall beach. I didn’t know the names of these beaches, only that they were peaceful, and there were naked people at them, and I found this amusing.

Hole in the Wall beach

The hole in the wall is only passable at low tide; at high tide, much of both beaches disappear, and if you were stranded on the wrong side of the hole, you’d have to climb some fairly treacherous cliffs to get off the beach. If you’re like me, however, Treacherous* is your middle name, and you’d give those cliffs some what-for.

Hole in the Wall beach

Both beaches have some pretty spectacular sedimentary rock peninsulas that stick out into the bay, covered with mussels and anemones and other intertidal life. At the south end of Hole in the Wall is a huge pyramid of rock with a shallow, pleasant cave perched high above the water; from it, you can see miles and miles of beaches to the southeast, with a thin, pale blue line of Santa Cruz mountains in the background, behind the water.

Hole in the Wall beach

Hole in the Wall beach

Hole in the Wall beach

The cliffs on both beaches are thirty feet tall and hard sandstone, carved by the pounding surf and wind into alien shapes. Sandstone is never a good thing to entrust your life to unnecessarily, but the bottoms of the cliffs are undercut by the water, and with their eroded handholds make for some great bouldering, with only soft sand to fall onto.

Hole in the Wall beach

When I used to come to this beach eight years ago, I remember it as a beautiful, lonely, almost abandoned place. At times I would literally have it to myself.

Hole in the Wall beach

I’m not sure if I came at a different time of year or if my fading memories fail me, but when I returned last Sunday the beach was pretty hopping, full of Santa Cruz students and families out for, uh, a day at the beach. Virtually everybody, sadly, was wearing clothes. There was plenty of sand to go around, a boatload of beautiful women and a German shepherd that really, really wanted to play catch. I only wish I’d brought some beer with me. Maybe a book, too. I had a camera, instead, and hope you enjoy the pictures I took (links go to Flickr set with more pictures).

Hole in the Wall beach

*–Actually, it’s Ray.

Movies I’ve watched lately

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

I just finished watching Ed Harris’ second feature, a western called Appaloosa. I never saw Pollock, but based on its reputation, I was expecting something different than what I got. Ed Harris is not a terribly engaging director. He has a good eye for composition, and a workmanlike mastery of how to move a camera through a scene (on the rare occasions when the camera moves); it’s just that he isn’t that great at pacing, or getting good performances out of so-so actors.

It’s not that the movie is bad; it’s all right, I’d say even pretty good. Harris’ pacing issues don’t leave the movie any more limpid than any other westerns of the last few years, and the deliberate pace sometimes plays into the wry humor that is its strongest suit. Harris’s extras and bit players come across horribly, with stilted, over-delivered lines, but, fortunately, the main roles in the film are anchored by strong actors–Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons, Renee Zellweger, and Harris himself–who don’t need an actor’s director to turn in sterling performances.

Harris and Mortensen, in particular, create interesting, idiosyncratic, believable characters that keep you involved in the movie from beginning to end. Jeremy Irons spends the movie chewing scenery, and Renee Zellweger turns in a realistically false performance as my favorite of real-life characters, the honestly dishonest woman of easy virtue.

The movie really earns its two hours of my life, however, with wry, oddball comedy, snarky lines and situations that often leave you with the impression that you’re laughing at something that wasn’t supposed to be funny, or isn’t to the characters at least.

I recommend it.

Vicky Christina Barcelona is a modest rennaissance for Woody Allen. Javier Bardem, who I’d only seen before as the sinister hitman in No Country for Old Men, turns in an utterly opposite, astounding performance as a suave Spanish painter and lover. Rebecca Hall, a British actress playing one of two American girls vacationing in Spain, is Allen’s alter ego: a quintessentially neurotic, implicitly Jewish woman whose words could only have sprung from Allen’s pen. Given their physical differences, it is remarkable to watch her spend the entire movie doing an entirely credible impression of Allen himself.

Scarlet Johansson, the other American girl, spends the movie playing the same sexy, louche, conflicted character she always seems to play. She does such a good job of it, and looks so good doing it, though, that it’s hard to find any fault with what she’s doing. Nobody blames Harrison Ford for playing Harrison Ford.

If there is one high point to the movie, it’s that you get to see Johnansson (briefly) make out with Penélope Cruz, here playing Bardem’s fiery, crazy ex-wife. Ape shit insane, and she makes you believe it, too.

If the performances are fantastic, the writing is, meh, pretty good. Dialogue is one of Allen’s strong points, but like Kevin Smith, he can overdo it from time to time, and his clever word play sometimes serves to obscure the triteness of the subject matter. At his best, it doesn’t even matter what he’s talking about (egg salad recipe, anyone?); at his worst, you don’t care what he’s talking about. Vicky Christina Barcelona falls somewhere in between. Its study of the many shades and shapes of romantic love, loyalty, and relationships is sometimes pretty ham-handed, and isn’t going to shed much useful light on the subject for anybody who’s been fucking their way across the last decade, but it stops well short of boring or embarrassing.

The movie is beautifully composed and shot, and the beauty of the Catalan city and countryside really adds that extra touch of aesthetic awesome.

I highly recommend it.

Defiance is a Daniel Craig vehicle that tells the true story of the Bielski partisans, a group of Polish jews who hid in the forest and attacked German troops while supporting Russians during wold ward II. Shot, predictably, in shades of blue and gray, it gives Mr. Craig and Liev Schreiber a chance to grimace and practice their Jewish/Polish accents, provides them with occasional opportunities to shoot Germans, and parades us around the now familiar spectacles of the horrors of Nazi Germany (SEE the helpless civilians shot! HEAR the cries of the condemned in the ghettos!)

The movie would be better if the director, Ed Zwick (who also co-wrote the screen play), was not so ham-handed, hammering every thematic and moral point home with a five-pound sledge. As it is, the movie is a slick, craftsmanlike entertainment, and I recommend putting it on your Netflix list.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is one of the most hilarious goddamned movies I’ve seen in years. Seth Rogan and Elizabeth banks give predictable and predictably hilarious performances as two life-long friends who decide to make a porno to get some quick cash, after their electricity gets turned off and they’re reduced to burning bills in a barrel in their living room for warmth. Kevin Smith is not the kind of director who surprises so much with a crazy, unexpected plot structure. His movies are comedies, and you know how they’re going to end. You know more or less what kind of things are going to happen along the way.

Where Smith really shines is with his characters, small plot twists, and, of course, his dialogue. Here, it all wins. MEGA WINS. I only wish I’d turned it off ten minutes before the end, when it goes all Jersey Girl for no good reason. Still, I very much recommend. Justin Long has the funniest gay-guy small parts since Russell Sams played Dick in Rules of Attraction.

Igor sucks ass. Lame jokes, stupid story, dumb themes, crappy voice acting. It might make you giggle once every half hour or so, but at what cost?

RockNRolla is a good movie; given that it’s a spiritual sequel to two great movies, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, that’s not high praise. There’s nothing actually wrong with it, per se. It’s the same kind of wacky east London ensemble crime caper as the previous movies; the mostly unknown actors put in solid performances, and it’s got the same gritty visual feel.

There is one chase scene that rises to the level of madcap awesome the previous movies spent their entire time at, but, by and large, RockNRolla falls short. The characters aren’t as memorable, the story isn’t as memorable, and the camera tricks that seemed so integral to the previous flicks seem a little belabored and gratuitous.

If you haven’t seen the other movies, watch them instead. If you have seen the previous movies, see it based on whether you liked them.

Finally, some crappy weather! (Or, how I spent Christmas week, part 1)

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

The fog outside my house is so pea-soup thick today that I suspect, viewed from the valley, it’s actually low-lying cloud cover. Even the house next door is difficult to pick out. I’m not about to drive down to find out, though: I’m staying right here.

The weather outside

Normally when I have a day off like I do today, I’m hard-pressed not to use it to visit some park or trail I haven’t seen yet. It’s difficult for me to justify to myself staying home when there’s so much beautiful stuff I haven’t seen yet. I still haven’t been, for example, to Almaden Quicksilver or to Ed Levin county parks. Today, though, It’s foggy and wet out, so I’ve finally got an excuse to sit at home, play some Fallout 3, take stock of the last week, and tell you about it.

My buddy Jay flew out for the week of Christmas. This was pretty exciting for me because, my brother aside, he’s the first familiar face I’ve seen since October. I picked him up at the airport and we went back to spend the rest of the night chilling at our place, drinking the Tito’s Vodka he brought to remind us of home and staring out at the view.

The next morning we wanted to go to Lick observatory Mount Hamilton to check out the snow, but found the road cloased by a police officer just above the snow line. On the way back down the mountain we puzzled over what to do next, and decided that on a day clear as that Saturday, San Francisco was as good a place to visit as any. It was a real blast, too. We parked SoMA and ate lunch at the rich people’s food court in the basement of Westfield San Francisco Center. The cost isn’t actually that bad, although finding a seat to sit in six days before Christmas took us almost ten minutes. When we left there we realized we didn’t have a real plan, so we walked down market to The Embarcadero, then walked alongside the port to Fisherman’s Wharf. We then did the most touristy things imaginable, having a beer at a bar on Pier 39, gawking at the Christmas tree, and walking out to the end of Pier 41 to sit and gawk amazed at the view of the bay.

Feels a lot like Christmas

Port from Pier 27

The view of the bay was amazing, too. The air was clear, the sky was blue, you could see Alcatraz and Oakland and the Golden Gate bridge, Angel Island and tiny boats sailing in the bay. I had, of course, forgotten to charge my camera, and ran down tha battery in Jay’s before we got there.

On the plus side, I only live about an hour away.

After resting at the end of the pier, we worked our way further along The Embarcadero, with the intention of catching a cable car. One amazing thing we saw on the way was Boudin Bakery, known, of course, for its sourdough, and with roots that go all the way back to the gold rush. The backers there were forming loaves into the shapes of lobsters, teddy bears, turtles, and, most amazingly, a three-foot-long alligator. It was just about the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen made out of bread, and that’s saying a lot.

IMG_0121

We didn’t catch that cable car, because the line looked long enough that it would probably be quicker just to walk the two miles back–so we did. That was a hella good decision. Our path back wasn’t as terribly hilly as you might think, and took us straight through North Beach, San Francisco’s sublime Italian neighborhood. It almost killed me to walk past all those delicious-looking eateries and neighborhood bars (half of them Irish pubs) without partaking, but I made it, and I know exactly where I’m eating the next time I’m in town. As we approached the financial district, We saw a huge tree wrapped entirely and tightly in thousands and thousands of tiny LED lights. It was, bar none, the most amazing Christmas tree I’ve ever seen. Looking at it closely was hard on the eyes and the mind, as the lights were so numerous, and the black limbs so tightly wrapped, that my mind began to confuse figure and ground. I can’t really describe it: you’ll have to come out next Christmas and see for yourself.

LED XMas Tree in the financial District

So that was that. On Sunday the weather started out nice so we headed for the Santa Cruz mountains, so we could show Jay Big Basin. We didn’t spend too terribly much time there, as a light rain had developed by the time we showed up, but it was enough to see the tallest and largest trees in the park. The tallest has a hollow base so large you could easily have ten people stand in it at the same time.

Me in a Tree.

Levitation

After that we decided to hit up Santa Cruz, since neither Travis nor I had seen the sea in daylight since we moved here. We grabbed some food at Planet Fresh Burritos (it’s no Freebirds, but for California it’s pretty close), then headed directly for the municipal wharf. Since we were a bit chilly and the weather a bit harsh, we decided first to fortify ourselves at Ideal Bar & Grill at the entrance, and that was no mistake. We had a friendly barmaid and a panoramic view of the bay without all the pesky water and wind.

Santa Cruz Beach in the Rain

A brief stint on the beach was followed by an hour or so in the arcade at the Boardwalk, where you can buy Heineken in 24-ounce cans and buy a tortilla-wrapped deep-fried cheesecake chimichanga (I took the former and passed on the latter). After the boardwalk we walked out to the end of the pier; by now it was dark, but we could just see a noisy pack of sea lions, at least a couple dozen of them, milling around the pier and apparently heading out to sea. By then home and sleep was starting to seem like a good idea.

So, that was how we spent the first two days of Jay’s vacation. I’ll write later about the two days we spent in Napa Valley, the day at Pebble Beach and Big Sur, our trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and our drunkariffic Christmas day. If you follow the linked pictures above, however, you can get see the pictures in my photo stream.

Also: Check out Cracked’s 8 Celebrities you didn’t know were geeks; and, in honor of the web site you’re probably reading this on, ‘Watchmen’ Fan Cordially Invites Fox to Eat Several Dicks. Actually, just go read the whole goddamned web site, okay? ‘Cuz it’s hilarious.