Silicon Valley, Mike Judge, YouTube

Posted on April 7th, 2014 by admin

Now that it’s in production you wonder why this show wasn’t created before.

Silicon Valley, a Mike Judge HBO production, is on YouTube, at least for now. This show is very funny.

It’s not exactly a Buñuel / Dali L’Age d’or collaboration, a sophisticated satire on bourgeois values, but Silicon Valley strikes a sweet spot, hitting the newly tech-rich and their hangers on, their uneven emotional and intellectual development, their guild language, New Age philosophy, and the comic personality cults surrounding the young ‘n wealthy.

Boy, has this period ached for satire. Satire almost doesn’t exist, or if it does, it is only comfortable with trendy, predictable, acceptable targets – Sarah Palin or Republicans or the Tea Party – rather than the comical clueless vitiating the power centers of contemporary society.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Later Woody Allen

Posted on April 6th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is one of those Woody Allen movies that reminds you that the man does not know who he is or who he wants to be. The whole movie has a derivative feel – derivative of Allen’s earlier movies. Even the art used in Vicky Cristina Barcelona by Agustí Puig seemed derivative of Antoni Tàpies – although the artist says his greatest influence is Picasso? Maybe Picasso by way of the Abstract Expressionists. Allen’s trademark wit, which seemed to bubble out of his early movies, has been replaced by affectation; this from a movie maker who was so satisfyingly cutting in his treatment of artificiality.

From Vicky Cristina Barcelona you get the idea Allen wants to be a European, making sophisticated Jean Renoir sex romps, but to which, jarringly, Allen includes an awful lot of My Dinner With Andre cocktail party self-analysis; thence resolving to a false melancholic ending, hoping to evoke in the audience, “yeah, that’s life – it sorta sucks”. The movies Allen has made recently in this vein are actually sad, but not in the way Allen intends.

The settings in Spain are all gorgeous. The movie is like a Spanish travelogue advertisement. Setting makes a big difference, and this backdrop aids the movie enormously. It was one of Allen’s most financially successful movies. Despite the criticisms, I watched the whole thing, and, given the alternatives, it was a pleasant if disappointing excursion.

The cast was very good, Allen’s directorial skills have sharpened; the individual lines, as might be expected, are often well wrought, but it doesn’t add up. Not surprisingly, the movie won tons of awards.

Jimmy and Billy Doo-wop

Posted on March 21st, 2014 by Ira Altschiller

Billy Joel and Jimmy Fallon performed a doo-wop version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight that had me smiling through the four minute rendition.

I haven’t been watching Fallon, he is an acquired taste I suppose, but now I’m a fan.

[via the Twitter feed of Apple’s Tim Cook]

Flu Virus Evolution

Posted on February 16th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller

This article has so many interesting ideas about the evolution of flu viruses it’s hard to pick one quote.

“People tend to think of wild birds as the source of everything, but we see a very strong indication of spillover from domestic birds to wild birds,” he said. “It turns out the animals we keep for food and eggs may be substantially shaping the diversity of these viruses in the wild over time spans of decades. That is a surprise.”

They figured out the evolution of viruses by including the length of time the virus was in each host:

“My longtime collaborator Andrew Rambaut implemented in the computer what I had been doing with a plastic ruler. We developed software that allows the clock to tick at different rates in different host species. Once we had that, it produces these very clear and clean results.”

Recently it had been cosmology and astronomy that had been in the throes of a golden age. Now it feels that science is exploding with new found wonders and insights daily in nearly all the sciences. There is great hope in this sort of news – a hope seldom found in the daily stream. There is implied hope that these discoveries can all come together into a deeper, wider understanding, and cures for the ancient miseries of humankind; even clarity about the physical context of our human spirit.

Who Are You David Brooks?

Posted on February 13th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller

I used to like the interchanges between Brooks and Shields on NewsHour. Brooks brought a non-contentious manner that infected Mark Shields, an extreme ideologue. The discussions were civilized, mostly convivial. Brooks sometimes had insights, which stood out, given the usual yenta level commentary in the media. Brooks brought the class and Shields brought the sex. (That great comparative actually refers to Astaire / Rogers, but it really doesn’t work with the two tired fellows, even as amusement, does it.)

Brooks changed into….I actually don’t know what he is now. Even when Brooks has an observation that has some weight or edge it is delivered with all the life force of Harry Reid. Brooks really doesn’t care. Brooks thinks academic guild talk is the same thing as being smart. He thinks the oligarchy is a meritocracy. I simply stopped listening.

This is Brooks meditating on politics:

…politics is different from academia. In academia, you use words to persuade or discover; in politics, you use words to establish a connection. Academia is a cerebral enterprise, but politics is a physical enterprise, a charismatic form of athletics in which you touch people to show you care.

Well, if so, what? A “charismatic form of athletics?” Almost none of those connections, if they mean anything, is true. Academia uses words to persuade or discover? More, academia conveys, right now, ideology shorn of insight or depth or balance. Much of academia infuses resentment politics and destroys critical thinking.

I wondered if Brooks was subject to the same syndrome he observed in those who run for the presidency and lose: they change, said Brooks about such fauna. He meant they declined and became extreme neurotics. Al Gore was a particular target of this observation.

A similar fate has befallen Brooks, who didn’t lose the presidency but has become fat and happy in the fields of the oligarchy. Brooks’ major insights seem to be, “He’s humble, he’s modest, I’m optimistic…” To which Judy Woodruff would respond, “So, is this good for Obama. This is good for Obama, right? Okay, let’s go on…”

Teller’s Friend Is Vermeer

Posted on January 30th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller

Teller of Penn and Teller was on Tavis Smiley promoting his movie about a geek trying to replicate Vermeer. Teller does not come across well. He doesn’t understand art (his parents were “artists”?!), nor the context of Vermeer’s talent, nor the obsessive self-absorption of their friend who tried to “discover” Vermeer’s talent in technology. Their friend has too much time on his hands.

Vermeer came out of a context of artists with great talent who honed those talents over years. Vermeer’s sensibility, where light became a subject and the world as pearl metaphor realized, was inspired. The simplified presentation in Vermeer’s work is borne of the taste and talent of his age. Like Bach, Vermeer perfected the trends of his age. Vermeer’s work was done by his spirit and mind, not his hand and technology. To Teller Vermeer’s work “looks like a photograph”. But in reality, the many simplifications and decisions made in Vermeer’s imagery has nothing to do with the detailed approximations of reality (as perceived by the mind) in photography.

If Teller, or his friend, really think something has been discovered that leads to creating a Vermeer, well, let’s see them do it. Crude approximations of Vermeer’s genius, derived from Vermeer’s sensibility, yet claiming equivalence, could only exist in a self-absorbed pop culture. I suppose this means if Tavis steps on a basketball court, then gosh, he’s Michael Jordan. We’re all just folks. Anyone could do it. You just have to build a machine to be Vermeer, or play a lot of basketball to be Michael Jordan.

Its been theorized for years that Vermeer used a camera obscura, a device which replicates a room size camera. Of course, Degas used photos. And Sargent was influenced by them. Zorn as well. No doubt The Diner had its origin in Hopper’s exposure to photos. Even the dramatic compositions of  Eisner’s seminal comic, The Spirit, were influenced by Hitchcock-like angle shots.

The goofball leap of saying artists of old were aware and influenced by the technologies of their time, so therefore their work could have been done by anyone, requires a leap of narcissism which would be laughable in a more mature age.

Inadvertently, Smiley said it all, summarizing the impulse: “If Vermeer was a genius then that depresses me because I can’t do that”. So Teller, and a condescending, politically driven agenda of, “we are all just folks,” needs to diminish achievement to make themselves feel better. Yeah, Vermeer didn’t earn it. “Genius is toxic”, and gosh, we’re good enough and smart enough and…

Self-aggrandizing mediocrity masquerading as egalitarianism.

Art Library

Posted on January 29th, 2014 by admin

Borrowing art the way people borrow books from the library is not a bad idea. It’s being tried in Germany.

Probably prints provided by the artist would be the way to go, rather than through galleries, which are an unreliable filter anyway. Any “curating” will probably do more harm than good — other than the usual cautions public institutions need to take as to subject matter.

Exposure for the artist a plus. People don’t go to libraries the way they used to, the minus.

German art libraries – “artotheks”

Pride and Prejudice: Feh!

Posted on January 28th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller

[via Poisoned Pens: Literary Invective from Amis to Zola and]

The Downton Abbey of its time, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, has evoked a good bit of enmity for its precious lives decorously parsed:

DH Lawrence, “In the old England, the curious blood-connection held the classes together. The squires might be arrogant, violent, bullying and unjust, yet in some ways, they were at one with the people, part of the same blood-stream. We feel it in Defoe or Fielding. And then, in the mean Jane Austen, it is gone. Already this old maid typifies ‘personality’ instead of character, the sharp knowing in apartness instead of togetherness, and she is, to my feeling, English in the bad, mean snobbish sense of the word, just as Fielding is English in the good generous sense.”

In our age you could substitute celebrity for personality. The media is a celebrity manufacturing machine, divisive in its oligarchic enterprise. It’s not much interested in character either.

Mark Twain, “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin bone!”

1729, The Taxicab Number

Posted on January 1st, 2014 by Ira Altschiller

In this video Simon Singh explains the taxicab number (Simpsons), 1729.

The real story is that of Ramanujan, his astonishing genius, his sad and victorious journey as a mathematical genius. Singh has been on PBS explaining this and that – Simon has a real gift for explaining stuff, making the abstract into human stories.

Ramanujan’s genius unites the aesthetic and scientific. Ramanujan had an intuitive sense of the underlying order of the world.

Wiki writes that Ramanujan said, “An equation for me has no meaning, unless it represents a thought of God.”

Auden: Doubt

Posted on December 29th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller

“The basic stimulus to the intelligence is doubt, a feeling that the meaning of an experience is not self-evident.”
― W.H. Auden, Selected Essays

Lee Child: A Wanted Man: Jack Reacher

Posted on December 20th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller

Just finished A Wanted Man, another in Lee Child’s enjoyable series of Jack Reacher novels. I started reading interviews with Child. One of the many great things about the internet – you can easily explore the context and background of things which interest you. (I know, this is a revelation.) Child has a helpful site, listing interviews, if you are so inclined.

Child worked in TV, was summarily fired, which seems to still simmer as a resentment, and began writing at 40. A fantastic success, his novels are #1 bestsellers. He tells a good story. Child hated the folks in TV, when he was a producer, but loves the publishing folks. He doesn’t realize he was just a media bureaucrat and treated as such in TV, but now he is a big money producer in publishing. He should ask “mid-list” writers what they think of publishers. Might not be that different from his attitude towards TV. It’s a corporate thing, not located in venue – generate bucks and they love you and treat you well.

It is the Reacher character which carries the books forward. Reacher is a Clint Eastwood force of nature. Strong, big, a man of few words, given to appropriate action (or, what the hey, inappropriate action), he’ll do anything necessary; Reacher is a martial craftsman, a technician of violence. He is the good guy we want to right the wrongs. Someone who manages to stay on the outside, dipping in to fix what needs fixin’. He makes reality seem simple, without ambiguity, and subject to clear victory. The audience becomes a youngster, trusting all powerful daddy will make things right.

There was disappointment from the fans when Tom Cruise was cast, who isn’t 6 foot 5 and 250 pounds, in a Reacher movie. Child was sanguine about the choice. I think he should be. Cruise is a fine action movie performer. Cruise’s eager sincerity might be a bit to the edge of Reacher’s laid back, hair trigger persona. But it should work fine.

Wikipedia says that A Wanted Man was interpreted as a liberal criticism of the CIA; although Child is a fan of the FBI. The CIA is an easy target – it’s made some ghastly mistakes. But it is there to protect a country that has many trying to bring it down, hurt its citizens, cause havoc. Because that is what psychopaths do. We just don’t hear about it, about what the president must hear daily. Apparently Child, like everyone else, is not aware of the successes of the CIA, which have to be many, done at great risk, but are not published, as a default of their existence. A successful operation is one of which you never hear. The CIA is an easy target for a pop novelist.