August 3, 2009

Honoring women by putting them last

This is the form on the Susan G. Komen website where, if you're giving a donation, you have to specify a title. There's several odd things about it. First up, where are the imperial titles like Sir and Dame? Do they not want the aristocracy to give money? What about religious titles? What if you were both Doctors? Or Professors? A badly coded list.

But the thing that really got me, given that this is an organization dedicated to a disease that mostly affects women, is that if you're putting two titles down, the woman's title comes last. Yes, yes, I know, that's convention, Emily Post probably says this is the way to do it, but it doesn't make it right. If any organization should put women first, it should be this one.


Posted by eroberts at 4:50 PM

January 30, 2007

Modern Times

Bob Dylan's Modern Times album has been a delight to listen to in the last five months. A friend asked me what I thought of it, so I'll self-plagiarize in the service of getting a semi-interesting post up.

There's a level of knowing irony and historical sense throughout the album. It's called Modern Times, but most of the cultural references (other than to Alicia Keys) are to events quite distant to most people, certainly a lot of them before Bob's time. The other irony, in the day of iTunes and the move away from the album, is that it's an album, not a CD-length collection of songs. This is interesting, as Dylan has been quite deliberate in adapting to new media over the years (XM radio, now iTunes), in a way that makes me think he keeps up with what's happening and thinks about it. This is not to say he's taken on board every musical innovation in the last 45 years, ever seen a good Dylan music video? Not so much, other than "Series of Dreams," and even that is a great song without the video. Perhaps the video is over-rated because expectations for Dylan videos are so low.

Anyway, back to this being an album. More than Time out of Mind and Love and Theft, Modern Times really does benefit from being being listened to in the order on the CD. But if the move away from albums is post-modern, then perhaps the album format is modern. In any case, I think that by making an album qua album, Dylan has done something to stop the slide towards popular music sliding into a 3-7 minute commercial radio/download format. While I think digital distribution of music will probably lead towards some artists doing longer songs (since there's now a semi-viable way to make money off songs that don't fit into commercial radio time slots), the inevitable tendency of selling music in single songs will be that fewer artists will do albums that make coherent sense as albums. On the other hand, we may well be spared some of the dreaded marginal songs that are not of the same quality as the other pieces, but have to be put on the CD to meet audience or marketing expectations of what constitutes an album. The bottom line is that the album form of inter-related songs is a distinct form in popular music. Done well it's great. It would be a shame to lose it from the culture. Modern Times is a good advertisement for the genre.

The other aspect that's knowingly ironic is that a lot of the songs have a very direct lineage to other older material. Is that modern? I've always thought that one of the defining characteristics of modernity (everything changed in December 1910) was at least the cultivated appearance of rejecting the past, and making everything out to be New and Exciting. Emphasize Modernity by writing in Somewhat Random Capital Letters because type setting bold is more expensive etc etc ... Modern Times doesn't do that. It's very consciously historical.

I do think that there is something new and distinctive in what Dylan's doing with the old blues influence on his work. There's a richness to the sound, due to his good backing band, that some blues lacks. For a man whose contribution to musical history will primarily be the poetry of his lyrics, his re-acquisition of a good band at this late stage of his career adds something to his legacy. Between Blood and the Tracks and Time Out of Mind the backing music for Dylan's work was pretty poor (though Under the Red Sky, note the influence of Daniel Lanois, is a noteworthy exception).

All in all, an album well worth an historian's time.

Posted by eroberts at 1:43 PM

December 22, 2006


If you knew the history of Australia claiming the talents of New Zealand born and bred musicians (only this one web reference on a hasty google search) then the above, from Minneapolis' Electric Fetus will be perversely amusing.

Posted by eroberts at 5:07 PM

December 18, 2006

Tokyo Olympiad

Anyone with any interest in running history should rent and watch Tokyo Olympiad. Directed and produced by Kon Ichikawa this is the best moving footage of the Olympics I've seen from before the era of mass-televised coverage. The movie is in color, which instantly sets it apart from all the other Tokyo coverage I've seen (e.g; these YouTube links) If you are expecting, say, full coverage of the 10,000m you'll be disappointed. But they do have 3 minutes in full, clear color including the whole last lap and it is amazing to see how many lapped runners Mills, Gammoudi and Clarke had to pass as they swapped the lead in the last 400m. Other, shorter, races are covered in full.

The coverage is artistic, rather than functional, There could be coverage of more events in its 170 minutes. You might get frustrated at the women's 80m hurdles being replayed from multiple angles—from the front, focusing on their leg muscles etc—while the men's 1500m gets only the briefest finish shot. But that would be to miss Ichikawa's intentions of recording the human drama and artistry of the Olympics.

It is not entirely track and field, with gymnastics and swimming also being covered. But the "other sports" get surprisingly little coverage. Track and field, and especially Abebe Bikila's marathon, receive the most footage.

There is no plot to the coverage, so it's quite possible to watch it in snippets when you have the chance. I've been watching it while doing my daily stretches. It might make for good relief from boredom on the treadmill. However you watch it, if you instantly recognize some of these names—Hayes, Clarke, Gammoudi, Packer, Roelants, Odlozil, Tyus—you'll get more than a little enjoyment out of this film.

Links: New York Times review. Wikipedia

Posted by eroberts at 7:52 AM

May 24, 2006

Happy birthday ...

... to Bob Dylan. Searching for any Minneapolis events commemorating the same, the google news headlines included this slightly strange one: Cate Blanchett to play young Dylan.

Posted by eroberts at 7:31 AM

April 2, 2006

Like a flour mill

Apparently the new Guthrie theater really is meant to evoke the flour mills it is replacing.

Posted by robe0419 at 6:20 PM

March 8, 2006

Music recommendations (not Bob Dylan)

One of the other delights of a trip home to New Zealand was getting the opportunity to buy New Zealand music. Now, some of this purchasing was a little redundant since it's available in iTunes, but not all of it. Flipping through the CD racks has its own pleasures that are only complemented by iTunes' suggestions and search engine.

So, what's been on the CD player (on the iPod) since I returned?
Fat Freddy's Drop. Based on a True Story. Wellington reggae band who I'd heard one previous song from (on a 1998 compilation CD). That one song was enough to make me drop the money on a full album, and I have not been disappointed.

Bic Runga continues to impress with her new album, Birds. What an amazing voice. Unfortunately, only her 2002 album Beautiful Collision is available on iTunes. And there's something neat about a song called Election Night.

Another purchase was Goldenhorse's second album Out of the Moon. Goldenhorse is more in the classic New Zealand tradition of indie rock, with the influence of British music not hard to discern.

The Exponents' retrospective album, Sex and Agriculture was a bargain, a double CD for a single CD price. If I read the album cover notes correctly "Sex" is the well-known hits, and "Agriculture" the B-sides and rarities. The Exponents are probably still a better live band, summer concerts their forte, but the album shows that their range is more than summer rock appreciated after a couple of beers.

Rounding out the additions to the collection was More Nature, a compilation of someone's judgment of New Zealand's best music in the past five years. Not a dud amongst them, and nice to hear that the indie rock influence has been complemented by groups with a different sound.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:58 AM

December 20, 2005

Is King Kong racist?

Interesting article in the Star Tribune by James Pinkerton (no lefty, having worked for the Reagan and Bush I campaigns and administrations), asking "Is King Kong racist?" Let me try and summarize his answer: "Maybe it is, but there is worse racism all around the world, so why not enjoy a good remake of a classic movie."

You can tell Pinkerton is not well informed about this issue, when he writes:

Director Jackson took people of Melanesian stock -- the dark-skinned peoples who are indigenous to much of the South Pacific, including Jackson's own country, New Zealand -- and made them up to look and act like monsters, more zombie-ish than human. Indeed, one is moved to compare these human devils to the ogre-ish Orcs from Jackson's mega-Oscar "Lord of the Rings" films. The bad guys are dark, hideous and undifferentiatedly evil. [emphasis added]

Ummm ... No. Melanesians actually live thousands of miles away from New Zealand. The indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand, the Maori, are regarded as Polynesian. It's an important distinction, since it was generally the case that 18th and 19th century Europeans regarded the Polynesians—if anything, especially the Maori—as being more "civilized" and assimilable to European manners and modes than the Melanesians.

The image of the cannibalistic Pacific savage with loin cloths and bones through their noses is a stereotype based on 19th century portrayals of Melanesians. Pinkerton is right: King Kong does trade on stereotypes of Melanesians. But since the comparison of Polynesian and Melanesian flattered the Polynesians—from a European perspective—it's hardly surprising that Peter Jackson and his New Zealand based collaborators could [re]produce a movie that implicitly damned Melanesian people. Indeed, if you read the credits you'll notice a non-trivial number of Maori names in the roll of people who worked on the film. Contemporary New Zealand society is sensitive to negative portrayals of Maori and Polynesian people, but it isn't at all surprising that King Kong generates little controversy there. In 1933 and 2005, the popular image in European culture of Pacific peoples praises the Polynesians and damns the Melanesians.

In the end it's an entertaining movie, if 30 minutes too long for its own good. Support the Wellington economy and go see it.

(For what it's worth, the discussion about King Kong and racism seems to revolve around what it implicitly says about black Americans. This mystified me. I came away from the movie wondering about it's portrayal of Melanesians, but I must confess to not seeing any implications about black Americans in the movie. I know, I know, the ape-black man connection, but I saw a large ape and thought that's meant to be a large ape. A little exploring with google found very little discussion of racism and King Kong from New Zealand, suggesting perhaps that this is a peculiarly American view of the film, and maybe also that the racial politics you see in King Kong reflect the racial politics you bring to it.)

Posted by robe0419 at 2:46 PM

September 12, 2005

Highway 61

The first time I drove down Highway 61 I wasn't that excited. Every subsequent time has been more special.

The New York Times has a good writeup of a roadtrip on 61 in this week's travel section.

Highway Five, though. sounds pretty bad. But worth seeing in a macabre kind of way.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:09 PM

June 13, 2005


Closer. Great play. Less great movie. Jude Law was the problem.

We watched a dvd of Closer the other night. It's the movie adaptation of the Patrick Marber play.

It really is a film of a play. I'm pretty confident in saying that other than the four main characters no-one else speaks. Besides a few scenes in a studio and art gallery, the setting of each scene is largely irrelevant to the development of the plot.

When I saw the play in Auckland I liked it a lot. But the movie left me a little cold. The relationships did not appear plausible, the attraction between Dan (Jude Law) and Anna (Julia Roberts) which subverts the other relationships portrayed doesn't appear real. It wasn't clear that they were really attracted to each other. Or, rather it's not clear that Dan is attracted to Anna, and why he wants to leave Alice. He seems to be doing it on a whim without a lot of inner conflict.

That wasn't the sense I got in the play. In the play, it was really pretty clear that Anna, Larry (Clive Owen in the movie) and Dan are all conflicted people with a bit of baggage, who aren't quite sure where their hearts, minds and loins are taking them.

The problem in the movie was Jude Law. That's a pity, because he's a good actor. His portrayal of the manipulative Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr. Ripley was especially good, and some of his other work has shown a range of acting capabilities.

But in Closer Law is emotionally flat -- he doesn't give Dan the range of emotions that appear to animate him on stage. In the movie it's not clear that Dan is capable of loving or lusting either Anna or Alice, let alone both of them.

It reminds me of the review I saw in The Australian of Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise's performance in Eyes Wide Shut that it made "sex look boring."

Jude Law does the same thing for affairs in Closer. He makes them look boring. In its own way that's quite the achievement, and perhaps socially useful, but it doesn't do justice to the script he was paid to portray.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:59 PM