Thursday, April 30, 2009
04. The Beautiful and Damned (1922). If there's an underrated novel in this powerful four, it's this tale about Anthony Patch, who weaves his way through the fabric of the Jazz Age and his many East Coast elite social circles.
03. Tender Is the Night (1934). Fitzgerald's answer to Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. It's about the exploits of Dick and Nicole Diver and their (mostly) American ex-pat friends in the South of France.
02. This Side of Paradise (1920). Scott wrote this tale about a Princeton student named Amory Blaine. He and Zelda had broken up and he hoped to win her back by getting his first novel published. It worked.
01. The Great Gatsby (1925). After the Fitzgeralds moved from Great Neck, Long Island, Scott finished TGG while living on the French Riviera in 1925.
The book is mostly about the tensions between the busy lives we lead and the quiet, meditative moments we seek amongst the madness. Should translate well to our era, but it doesn't. Waugh really is a poor man's F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Or, as one reviewer in The Austin Chronicle surmised: "Evelyn Waugh was a cruel, faddish, reactionary snob -- a pattern, in other words, to succeeding English satirists like Martin Amis and Will Self." That's about right, although Self's Great Apes is a classic, humorous, and weird alternate take on the Planet of Apes.
Scoop gets **1/2 out of ***** stars
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Jenkins has been a great bit player in films like Burn After Reading, There's Something About Mary, amd Hannah and Her Sisters, but here he shines in the lead as someone who isn't what he appears to be. He deserved his Oscar nomination for best actor.
The couple is from Syria and Senegal, and when Tarek gets separated from Zainab, with threats of being deported, Tarek's mother arrives from Michigan to check on the welfare of her son. The cast does an all-around excellent job. The four main players are all so likeable and so good with and for each other that it puts a truly human face on the realities of how U.S. immigration authorities act in cold blood to enforce a set of considerably dubious and frequently unfair American laws.
**** out of ***** stars
April 17th, 11 a.m.: We rush over to Kenilworth for another site visit, this time we’re greeted by the guys we’ve been working with plus about 10 secret service in suits, press liaisons, and communications people carrying strange bags with wires and mics. This is when I decide I better tell the park staff what is going on, because this was no ordinary-looking group of birders or park-goers. I did pick this park because of the great relationship that we have with the staff and the high level of support SCA gets from them throughout the year. Still, it was awkard telling the site manager that the president would be planting trees in the park in 4 days.
We talk through the plan, where the motorcade may drive in, and also develop the rain plan of planting in the greenhouse. At this point I’m thinking that I should probably tell our high-school volunteers what is going on and get them ready.
April 18th: I still haven’t told the volunteers who they'll be working with! Ran around getting t-shirts printed, continued to keep my mouth shut about the event, and prayed for sunshine!
April 19th: Went to the nursery to look at trees with Amtchat and Jackson. Called 10 nurseries to find plants for the indoor option. Went to Home Depot to buy work gloves. I was buying gloves for the president! And I also had to find something neutral to match whatever Michelle would wear. Not to mention a large pair for big-hands Bill. (Jackson thought shopping at Home Depot was fun and loves saying Obama.)
We then picked up the students and, in the car on the way to the park, told them who they’d be working with. They went crazy! Since we were in 2 cars, the highlight of the day was when they all got out at the park, screaming, jumping, and hugging each other. (Have I mentioned how much I love the students I work with?) We met Leah, briefed the students, walked through the project, and made plans to get them out of school on Tuesday.
April 20th, 9 a.m.: Pouring rain, our final walk through/site visit with White House staff, secret service, National Park Service and my other three SCA co-workers who would be directly involved. This went pretty smoothly. We went over the program for both the outside and inside plans, got confirmation on a lot of questions, and got soaked!
The rest of the day Amtchat and I spent running around getting supplies, buying trees, gathering tools, delivering them to the park, talking to students, having meetings about the program, deciding who was working with each of the "principals" and periodically asking ourselves if this was really happening. Evidentally, according to Amtchat, it was meant to happen, but I haven’t seen The Secret so don’t understand yet.
Tomorrow's the big day ...
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Each year, for Earth Day, we have over 100 volunteers join our staff for a huge project at Anacostia Park. We’ve done it so many times that it barely needs planning, other then getting the word out and moving tools and supplies to the park the day before. We send crews out to parks all over the country for weeks, many that we’ve never seen, some that we spend less then an hour talking to on the phone. This project was different.
Here’s how it all started:
April 9th, 9:30 a.m.: I walk into the office and Leah, SCA’s Director of Government Relations, pulls me into a phone call with some of our New Hampshire-based staff, who are asking if we can do an Earth Day project for some Americorps members. I say absolutely not, it’s our busy season and our staff is maxed out.
Later that day at 3 p.m.: I’m in a meeting and Leah runs in and grabs me, she’s on a call with the White House and the National Cooperation for Service. Can we do a site visit at Kingman Island for a project with First Lady Michelle Obama and a group of kids the next morning? Confidential.
April 10th, my day off: Amtchat Edwards, Leah and I go to Kingman Island with 2 members of the White House Advance Team to look at a potential project for the first lady, a group of students and some Americorps members. I suggest going to Kenilworth because it’s a more appropriate park. Still no clear answer on whether or not it’s really going to happen.
April 14th: Second site visit with two separate White House reps. They like Kenilworth better, still no confirmation and talk is for the first lady only. Still top secret.
April 16th, 10:30 p.m.: I’m getting antsy, haven’t heard from the White House in a day, and don’t know if it’s happening or not. Leah calls me at home and says, “Rachel, this is huge, and it’s confidential … are you ready? We’re on and it’s going to be The President, the First Lady, The Vice President, Dr. Biden, and Ted Kennedy. We need 12 students/Americorps members' social security numbers by morning and don’t tell them why.” Holy shit! My heart is racing, I can’t believe it. It’s 11 p.m. and I start texting all of our best students asking for their social security numbers. It’s all very surreal. Somehow I manage to get everyone’s socials to the White House the next day for vetting.
April 17th, 10 a.m.: Conference call with the White House: They go over the list of principals and I write these down. Not like I’m going to forget, but when will I ever be told such high-level superstars would be at one of my events again! “President Obama, Michelle Obama, VP Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, and Bill Clinton.” ... My heart stops again ... did they just say Bill Clinton? OK, I’ll trade Ted for Bill. It’s not like Ted was going to get out there and dig a hole anyway.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
It begins with a Balram "Munna" Halwai telling his story (in a letter to the soon-to-visit Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao) of growing up as one of thousands of entrepreneurs from the streets of the southern city of Bangalore. "You hope to make a few Chinese entrepreneurs, that's why you're visiting," he writes. And he claims the president will learn a lot by reading his story as one the city's "most successful, but probably least known, businessmen. I am tomorrow," he proclaims.
We slowly begin to learn pieces about Halwei. He is the son of a rickshaw puller and a very sick mother who "lies in bed and spews blood." He was briefly, three years ago, a "person of national importance," in what sounds like he was a wanted criminal, but we're still not sure at this point.
Unfortunately, the opening of the book doesn't jump off the page with much momentum. Instead of wasting any more time with this one, I'll look elsewhere to satisfy my curiosity of these two great nations. Unless you can change my mind ...
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The title track opens the album, and it owes a great deal to the guitar rock acts of the 60s and 70s. Apocryphal Story Moment: Eddie Hazel was supposedly told by George Clinton to play the guitar solo “like your momma just died.” And Hazel indeed offers a solo so emotionally wrought and powerful that it exists in and of itself. It is truly a testament to what music can be in the hands of a master. "Maggot Brain," the song, even though it is 10 minutes long, is the opening track to my Spring/Summer mix. It’s the perfect way to signal the cathartic end of Winter and the new possibilities of the coming sun.
"Can You Get to That" combines funk bass and folk-rhythm guitar with great lyrics, including opening lines: "I once had a life, or rather life had me/I was one among many or at least I seemed to be/But I read an old quotation in a book just yesterday/It said you’re gonna reap just what you sow/the debts you make you’ll have to pay/can you get to that."
After trying to get your mind right, the album brings your ass into the picture. I dare anyone to not dance to "Hit It and Quit It," a thunderous funk jam. The song title hearkens back to a line you can hear on any of James Brown’s albums. Here Funkadelic and George Clinton bring James Brown’s tightly orchestrated funk into the realm of men in diapers, platform shoes, LSD, and UFOs. "Hit It and Quit It" isn’t as tight as JB's stuff by any stretch, but one of the great things about this album is that it doesn’t have to be.
Maggot Brain goes on into the realms of race relations in "You and Your Folks," "Me and My Folks," and even some straight Chuck Brown, DC, go-go style funk on "Super Stupid" (Clinton did spend some early years in D.C. and Virginia). The album closes with the tracks "Back in Our Minds" (note: editor's favorite) and "Wars of Armageddon," the former which belies the drugged-out-haze form that Clinton brought into the mainstream of funk music, and the latter a psychedelic funk jam combining the sounds of the streets (tenements, protesters, police, laugh tracks, and airports?).
As an ex-journalist and a current director of media relations, I read a lot about the media industry. One book I've always heard kicked around as a "must-read" for those in my profession is a 1938 novel by Evelyn Waugh called Scoop. It's billed as "a satire of sensationalist journalism," so what more could someone like me, who once came close to taking a job at the National Enquirer, ask for? I finally got around to starting it last week, but after about 35 pages, I'm not impressed. It's like the worst of F. Scott Fitzgerald's writings. Dated stuff from the '30s. A fascinating and wonderful decade, by the way.
I'm going to press on because people claim Scoop is hilarious. But, so far, as a Waugh newbie, it doesn't look like his writing has translated well over the years. He was once very popular and, still, his novel Brideshead Revisited (about the spiritual lives of an agnostic family) was turned into a movie in 2008, and Vile Bodies, about decadent London society in the 30s, was made into a 2003 movie called Bright Young Things, with Stephen Fry.
Scoop is about a young man named William Boot, who writes a backwoods column about nature for a national newspaper in
More to come (hopefully positive) soon ...
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Peoria, Illinois native Philip Jose Farmer died in late February. I had never read anything by him, but was intrigued by descriptions of his Riverworld series, in which everyone who dies comes back to live along the bank of a very long river.
After a little research, I thought I'd test the waters with a highly regarded Farmer novella, "The Lovers," which is supposedly the first instance in sci-fi of a human having sexual relations with an alien. It won a Hugo Award in 1953. And Robert A. Heinlein (who wrote my favorite sci-fi novel, Stranger in a Strange Land) also cited Farmer and the story as an influence.
In "The Lovers," Hal Yarrow is a linguist Earthman who goes with his crew to the planet Ozagen. He rebels against a world of religious fundamentalism by falling in love with and impregnating a female alien. Although obviously tame by today's standards, Farmer is exceedingly creative, especially in his description of how the baby takes shape in the alien's body, and the story and its originality hold up well.
****1/2 out of ***** stars
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
I rank them 1982, 2009, 2005, and the Eric Montross/Donald Williams championship team of 1993 as honorable mention.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Monday, April 6, 2009
Sunday, April 5, 2009
The main reason I’m doing this is because I don’t have anyone to talk about music with these days, even though I can’t stop buying new music and even rediscovering old music.
On that last note, for the past couple of months, I’ve been saying that I was going to re-pot my plants so that they don't die slowly. Well, I actually got around to it on Wednesday while listening to CSNY's album Déjà Vu. It’s got a bunch of great songs, including "Carry On," "Almost Cut My Hair," and "Woodstock," to name a few. I got so distracted listening to it I got lost in listening to it.
I almost regret not having listened to the album during the House/pseudo-hippie phase I went through, but I don’t think I would have appreciated it nearly as much. Being high and listening to it back in the day would have been fine, but I wouldn't have gotten most of the songs on the album. Not because I wouldn't have understood what they were saying, but I was pretty dumb back then, both intellectually and emotionally. And this album and many of the albums from that era require you to have either lived during the late '60s or to at least understand what the era meant to the hippies, the squares, the soldiers, and the everyday families like those of our parents.
Having gained a musical literacy through the years makes the album come to life. The fantastic harmonization on most of the songs rivals the harmonization Brian Wilson dragged out of the Beach Boys. And the acoustic arrangements on all of the songs make you appreciate what an acoustic guitar can do in folk music, almost making you forgive the douche bag on your college campus with no shirt on, playing guitar on the quad.
But more than anything, growing older and listening to this album means I can sit on my balcony when I’m done potting my plants with a glass of Wild Turkey, and get loaded nice and slowly while enjoying a music style that I totally wrote off when I was younger.