Monthly Archives: August 2005

Todd Haynes – "I'm Not There" – 6 Dylans!

Found an interesting side note in today’s NYT article by Caryn James on the topic of having several actors play a single character in a film:

And even now Todd Haynes is getting ready to film “I’m Not There,” an authorized version of Bob Dylan’s life, with Cate Blanchett, Colin Farrell, Christian Bale and Richard Gere all playing aspects of the Dylan personality.

“I’m Not There” is the title of an unreleased Basement Tapes song that has been written about quite a lot (and bootlegged quite a lot!).

Two more Dylan roles are to be cast, for six Dylans in all. But the actors are not portraying a realistic Bob; instead, they play people who represent various elements of Mr. Dylan’s character.

Shooting is supposedly starting early next year… we shall see.

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Is it a war?

On the occasion of the passing of Peter Jennings, I am reminded of the fact that almost every media reference to a person who has or had cancer refers to that person as ‘battling’ or ‘fighting’ the disease. Occasionally I’ve seen lines like “X battled cancer and won.”

I find it strange that the wording is always combative with cancer, but is not so for other diseases – I don’t remember hearing about people ‘battling heart disease’ or ‘fighting diabetes’. Since most of the approaches for cancer are pretty violent – surgery and chemotherapy – maybe it’s appropriate. But I’m not quite sure this is the most helpful verbal approach…

Futures and Predictions – Oil

Just a few thoughts on a topic that is becoming increasingly important… the price of oil in the future.

For years it’s been basically true that prices of commodities continues to drop; as prices rise, there is increasing incentive for people to find more of the material, or increase their efficiency of use, or find substitutes, all tending to keep the price from skyrocketing.

However, we’ve now got a world with not just America and Europe and Japan industrializing – China and India are in the game as well. Oil has recently just about doubled in price, and some predict much higher prices in the future, as demand at even increased prices seems to keep increasing. Many are now skeptical about the ability of the oil producers to ‘open the spigots’ – if production can’t be increased (and is at/near/past ‘peak), then it ain’t gonna happen.

An interesting point is that the futures markets are not ‘predictors’ – they are there as hedging/insurance devices. Can there ever be a case where there is general certainty that the price of something in two years will be twice what it is today (without immediately driving today’s price right up to about that level)?

See interesting discussion on some of these points at Econbrowser and The Oil Drum.

J.G. Ballard Conversations – RE/Search

The latest RE/Search project is now available, a book of conversations with author J.G. Ballard! Pick it up at an independent store near you, or get it from the RE/Search website.

I’ve read about 100 pages, and what I think is most interesting so far is the notion that Americans are choosing belief and the irrational in increasing circumstances. I’d say Bush’s latest comments on ‘Intelligent Design’ are just the latest in this trend. Is it a reaction to the speed-up of technological change? Or is this just playing politics? I don’t know…

The Middle Mind – Curtis White (2003)

I saw an interview with novelist Curtis White recently, which got me interested in his book The Middle Mind, a non-fiction book from 2003. The book is subtitled “Why Americans Don’t Think for Themselves,” and while I’m not sure he answers that question, he does lay out a case for art and the imagination as a way out of the pretty barren wasteland we face today. Some notes on a few things that I found interesting….

1. White is correct that any future vision must be ‘imagined’ – a story about what is possible. He is especially cutting about an episode of Nova entitled “Beyond Human,” and he includes the intro narrative from the show as an example of the ‘techno’ vision of the future:

“A strange new era is dawning. An era of revolutionary experiments. Wired torsos. Chip implanted brains. Creatures of silicon and steel. Welcome to the age of cyborgs and androids. As humans become more machine-like, and machines more human, the line between biology and technology is starting to blur. And in the process we may just be reinventing the future of our species.”

As White puts it, “just what or who is this ‘we’ that the narration assumes. The fiction of a united humanity?” It’s important to read into these narratives, to figure out what assumptions are made, what critical information is simply assumed into being true (for all of us).
I was just reading a story about Monsanto now attempting to patent their process for producing pigs, in essence about patenting a form of life. Is this what we want – corporate control of species? If not, can we imagine a story that makes the absurdity so clear that the future works out in a different way?

2. Early in the book, he discusses the ‘imagination prosthetic’ of the creative industries.

“Insofar as your high-end audio equipment means you won’t produce any music yourself, won’t even listen to live music, won’t know what it feels like to capture the rhythms and textures of music in your own hands and lungs, how playing music changes your relationship to music and changes music’s relationship to the world, your stereo system is a musical wooden leg. It is literally a dis-ability.”

And in what I found to be a very apt & funny footnote to this passage, he goes on:

“Stereophile magazine regularly runs interviews with musicians and is regularly dismayed at what crummy audio rigs they have. The indifference of musicians to the high-tech world of the audiophile is the source of considerable wonderment and pain to the editors of Stereophile.” (p. 10)

3. So in the end White encourages active, open-ended imagination and creativity that does not simply re-iterate corporate goals and social conventions. And he recognizes that this is ‘dangerous’:

“When we have succeeded in reviving the social imagination we will know it by the reaction of those who have most to fear from it.”

"Broken Flowers" (2005)

Today I saw the new Jim Jarmusch film, “Broken Flowers” with Bill Murray. It moves along slowly, but it is rich with detail and moments to savor. The story is set up somewhat like a mystery investigation, and I suppose in a way that is exactly what it is, an investigation into Bill Murray’s character, Bob Johnston, as he goes to meet girlfriends from twenty years before. As the viewer you very much start to see the world as Bob does, picking up on details that matter to him, and trying to discern whether they are meaningful or not. Bob has a good eye for bare legs!

Recommended for folks who can handle films without car crashes.

The Glass Bees – Ernst Jünger (1957)

Found a remaindered copy of The Glass Bees at Moe’s last week, and it’s a quick read. Written by the long-lived German Ernst Jünger in 1957, the book is essentially the tale of a job interview at the ‘campus’ of a high-tech magnate named Zapparoni. Captain Richard, having trained for the military and survived the wars, now needs a job. A colleague sets up a meeting with Zapparoni, and Richard is asked a few questions then left outside where he sees the glass bees of the title, along with some other oddities. Richard wonders what he is to make of what he sees, and he reminisces about his youth. Some very interesting tech ideas are described (Bruce Sterling provided an introduction for this edition)… along with many broader queries about the world…

My query is this: Why are those who have endangered and changed our lives in such terrifying and unpredictable ways not content with unleashing and controlling enormous forces and with enjoying their consequent fame, power and wealth? Why must they want to be saints as well? (p. 92)

Reading a bit further on the Jünger site linked above, I find the following about an earlier work: “the novel Besuch auf Goldenholm (1952), a novel clearly influenced by his early experiments with Mescaline and LSD.” Jünger apparently knew Albert Hofmann and tried LSD with him.

Left Business Observer

This is as good a time as any to put in a plug for the Left Business Observer, run by Doug Henwood. He does periodic newsletters on the US and world economy, from a not particularly ‘lefty’ point of view (I’d say he’s quite rational and considered in his writing). The new LBO #111 is now out; a few previews are available on the site. He also does regular radio shows, and is podcasting!

Graham Parker @ Doug Fir, 3-Aug-2005

Finally saw another ‘big name’ who emerged in the late seventies, Graham Parker, who sure has made a lot of records over the years. I only know the early ones, and this show was a mix of some new songs from his latest CD “Songs of No Consequence” along with a bunch of old ones, like “Passion is no ordinary word” and “Local girls”. There were a couple brand new tunes as well; “I Discovered America” (shades of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”) and another perhaps called “England’s Greatest Clown” (about the Libertines’ wildman singer). Parker played with a fellow named Mike Gent, both of them on guitars.

The Doug Fir Lounge is quite a nice venue on East Burnside in Portland (check out the site for the ‘woody’ ambience). Turnout was unfortunately not great for this show, but Parker quickly did a smart thing, asking the folks at the show to come in near the stage (all were initially sitting off to the sides). This created a nice vibe.

Online Economies

Interesting story today in the SF Chronicle by Tom Abate, titled “Economists to explore world of online games.” Some economists are starting to catch on to the fact that online game worlds are economies (of both real and virtual currency), which could possibly provide ideal laboratories for experiments.

Castronova discovered that an unofficial trading network had grown in which gamers traded platinum pieces — the basic units of Norrathian currency — for dollars. Moreover, this funny money had a real world exchange rate of a little more than a U.S. penny, which was “higher than the yen and the lira.”