February 2008


These guys are from outside our building.  I’m not sure who made them – there are several families in the building.  I’m glad I got a picture before they melted.

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The link title was “Seventy-two small fish launched into space.”  Of course, 99 Red Balloons sprang to mind, and for a few seconds I savored the image of a large floating globule of water containing confused fish, triggering nuclear war. 

But then, the water would boil away in space.  So, no.

The German scientist – ew.  Granted, I haven’t met him, but his comments immediately reminded me of a German engineer I dated very briefly.  Stupid joke, possibly betraying hint of sadism (the fish loved it and want to do it again!), repugnance of body fat, and the use of “sporty” to mean “athletic.”  Reminiscent.  Ick.

It’s interesting that fish are often associated with surrealism.  Maybe it’s because they’re the archetypal occupant of a foreign, hostile ecosystem, one that frequently gets yanked into our ecosystem. 

In that way, they’re kind of like the estranged, buried images and bits of thought that get yanked into consciousness in surrealist art and fiction.  And in the same way that fish can survive only in their world and not ours, these alien images, random or suppressed, perish upon contact with the conscious, rational mind.

B. and I saw “There Will Be Blood” last Saturday.

I liked it, but I think my expectations may have been too high.  Someone recommended it highly last Thanksgiving, and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since.

A central problem for me was being unable to relate to the character of Daniel Plainview.  I’ve read that the movie has dark lessons for modern society about corporatism and runaway greed, etc.  But I don’t think it does, really. 

Plainview was a man of his time.  Robber barons – the self-made men, the empire builders – were qualitatively different from modern CEOs, corporation men.  Robber barons were obsessed with cornering the market, gathering all resources under their control, yes.  But they were individuals, who wanted to succeed on their own terms, not in the straitjacket of a corporation.  

The only person I could really understand in the movie was the young Standard Oil man.  He was fully recognizable as a modern personality, a company man.  I went looking for the name of the actor, and I couldn’t find it.  Not on the official website, not on IMDB.  On IMDB, they list three actors as “Standard Oil Man” numbers 1, 2, 3.  As if they were interchangeable.  Which, in a sense, they are.

B. and I disagreed about just how crazy Plainview was.  B. thought he was a sociopath – so pathologically self-centered that he was literally incapable of caring about others.  And that it was all due to his personality, not to circumstances.  I disagreed, on both points. 

The Javier Bardem character in No Country for Old Men, now, he was a sociopath.  He had literally no feeling for his fellow man – didn’t recognize them as human, nor himself, really. 

But Daniel Plainview, while antisocial and paranoid, clearly did recognize the humanity of others.  This was demonstrated in his conversation with his purported brother Henry, where he talks about his drive for competition, and how he hated most people, and saw only the worst in them.  He acknowledged people – he just didn’t like or trust them.  But he also said, “I can’t keep doing this on my own.”

Why didn’t he like or trust other people, and why did he descend into isolation and madness?  Here again, B. and I disagreed.  I think partly it was his temperament, yes – his greed set him at odds with other greedy men.  But partly it was the world in which he lived – the times, the cutthroat oil business. 

I think of my great-grandfather (who had mines and ranches in the West) – how he walked into town one day, walked into the barber shop, and shot his main rival at point-blank range, as the man sat there defenseless in the barber’s chair. 

Granted, my g-grandfather shot him for an arguably good reason – the rival had broken a dam between their land.  My g-grandfather’s two children were playing in the river.  When the dam broke, the river flooded, and the children drowned.  But the point is not why he did it – it’s that in the West of that era, might made right.  My g-grandfather was an important man.  He didn’t suffer any consequences for murdering a man in cold blood – I don’t even think there was a trial. 

That was the world in which Daniel Plainview lived.

I think of my father’s father, an executive for Big Steel, who drank a fifth of scotch a day and dropped dead of a heart attack at age 59.  He once told my father he hated and distrusted men on sight.  Not just withheld judgment – hated them.  Unless he came to have a reason not to.  He carried a gun at all times, because he had to.  He had to be smarter and tougher and meaner than the men he bossed, or he would get rolled. 

That was the world in which Daniel Plainview lived.

So I think it was a combination of Plainview’s innate temperament and the harshness of the world in which he lived that drove him to madness.  I don’t think he was a sociopath at all.  I think he was at a breaking point when he met Henry – a breaking point that could have been a turning point.  When Henry became someone he could no longer trust, Plainview broke.

B. and I saw a Smart Car in a showroom last week, while shopping for a new TV.  It looks like one of those toy cars for kids.  (Real-life scale shown here, here.)

But the really surprising thing is, its listed mileage kind of sucks.  I don’t remember exactly, but it was something like 35/41 city/hwy.  I don’t know what model we saw, but the official site lists mileage for the basic car as 40/45 (EPA 2007), and 33/41 (EPA 2008).

At first I thought, wow, that’s crap mileage – for a car that should get really good mileage, given its small size and light weight.  (And for which I would think good mileage would be the main reason to buy it, given that it looks absurd, and if you’re ever in an accident, I have to think you’d be toast.)

But then I read that in 2007, EPA revised its testing models (for all cars) to increase accuracy, and now even mileage for hybrids isn’t so hot.  The EPA estimates are now much closer to actual use, which is great.  Consumers have a better basis for comparison.  And, it makes me feel better for only getting an average of 40 mpg with my ’03 Honda Civic hybrid. 

President Bush promoted the “ABC” HIV-prevention program in a speech in Tanzania today.  Everytime I read about this stupid, stupid policy, I feel like my head is going to explode.  The program limits the “C” – education about the importance of condoms and distribution of condoms – to high-risk groups, not the general population.  Counselors and educators working with the general population are under a gag rule.

All moralism aside, and granting for the sake of argument the importance of abstinence until marriage and all the rest of the conservative claptrap – does Bush not get that you can only control your own faithfulness, not your spouse’s?  That you can be as faithful as the day is long, and your spouse can step out on you, get HIV, and give it to you?  

Statistically, contracting HIV from one’s spouse is a really common cause of HIV in women in the countries this program operates in.  Married women ARE high-risk.

I would think it was paternalistic racism toward developing nations, but we’re all subject to this abstinence-only crap in the U.S. too.

Do Bush and the programs’ architects really not see this gigantic gaping hole in their logic?  Or do they see and not care?  Are they that stupid, or that callous?   It’s one or the other.

MONORAIL CAT

I read about these scary trends last year when the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was enacted, but it didn’t get any media attention, and probably something shiny happened by.  So I forgot about it. 

What the hell?  People engaging in sit-ins for animal rights are terrorists?  Secret detention camps in the U.S.?  Secret trials for U.S. citizens?  The president can declare martial law for basically any reason?  

It’s been said many times before, but this really is the beginnings of a police state.  After the laws are passed and detention centers are actually being built, it’s not Chicken Little to say so.  The concrete foundation is actually in place.  Literally.

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