Thursday, February 24, 2011

I think they would like it

I have not watched this new show everyone is buzzing about called Portlandia, but I hear that it is incredibly on point when it comes to Portland culture and pretention. It got me to thinking a lot about the atmosphere in Portland; what I like and dislike about it, and what type of people are drawn to Portland. And that got me to thinking about a specific group of people that I think would like Portland very much...Hobbits.
If you think about it, Portland is the perfect city for Hobbits. We have great ale here, terrific food, and plenty of pipe weed. In addition, everyone is so relaxed and laid back, and people are free to be whoever they want to be. Plus, there are a ton of community gardens for growing beautiful plants and vegetables, and countless parks and green spaces for exploring and connecting with nature.
All in all, I could see the Hobbits resettling in northwest Portland, near Forest Park, and being very content enjoying the local micro's, the boutique grocery stores, and the pungent west coast pipe weed.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Beyond Tunisia...

It's been an interesting several weeks in North Africa and the Middle East. We've seen the toppling of two long-standing dictatorships, and the grumblings of insurrection in several other countries in the area. While I don't necessarily think that modern revolution is necessarily that helpful when looking at the larger impact upon the stability of the country, the country's economy, and even who's hands the government will eventually end up in, I do think that these rebellion's demonstrate a couple of things that should be a wake up call for the citizens of this country, as well as our government.
The first thing these widely popular rebellion's in these predominately Muslim countries demonstrate is that, unlike what too many people in the United States believe, Muslim's around the world, within country's, or even within local communities, do not all believe the same things about religion, government, morality, or social justice. Just the same as Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Atheists, etc. do not. The only difference is that the perception of Muslim's in the "western world", and specifically in the United States, has been warped by a worldview of American exceptionalism, and the drum beat of wars against those who "hate democracy". Somewhat ironic considering the last two dicators to fall, and those on the verge of falling (i.e., the King of Bahrain) have been supported by the United States for decades, in the face of their brutal suppression of opposition, and their less-than-fair "elections".
This brings me directly to my next point, the awkwardness with which the United States has supported these popular uprisings, in the face of historal support for the regimes that are being uprose against. We only support democracy when it is convenient for us to do so; otherwise, we'll support an autocratic regime when it is convenient for us to do so. Now, I should write a small caveat, not necessarily justifying this practice, but rather explaining my rational understanding that governments, specifically government in the western world, when faced with either dealing with an autocratic regime or no not dealing with an autocratic regime, are going to be much better situated to make a positive impact in the country by keeping up some semblance of good relations. Therefore, it is possible to "support democracy" while maintaining a cordial relationship with a dictatorial, monarchical, theocratic, or one-party governmental system.
The final lesson to be gleaned from this wave of insurrection in North Africa and the Middle East is that these uprisings are not only possible, but can have serious results (and consequences) that can and will impact the future of the country forever. The reason this is an important lesson to learn is that most of the people in the United States find rebellion to be an antiquated notion. It's not that people agree with everything the government does, but in our political system (which lies somewhere between Democracy and Plutocracy, the founders liked to call it a Republic), it's at least somewhat possible to create small ripples that spread far enough to have an impact on elections and laws. Therefore, the idea of demanding the president leave office is somewhat far-fetched, considering we can vote him or her out of office in less than 4 years.
However, what I think should be prescient to the American people about the North African examples, is that these were stable countries, where things were not perfect, but were still far from being the political tinderboxes that exist in so many other places in the world, and yet it was because of that that the impact was so great. When you push a wagon, it's easy to slow and stop it; but when you get a train going, it takes a much longer time to stop it, and you need a much greater force. So I think the American government should heed some of the warning signs, that though the American people are for the most part complacent, if not down downright apathetic, their disenchantment is growing, and it could be possible that at some point we may decide we've had enough of this government and this constitution, and decide to reshuffle the deck, write a new constitution, and elect new officials. It doesn't seem like it is going to happen here, but you never know...
"History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullsh!t, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons nobody really understands at the time - and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened." ~ Hunter S. Thompson

Thursday, February 10, 2011

And the award goes to...

I am a big movie fan, as anybody that knows me well is already aware of. While I've delved into my favorite movies numerous times with many different people, I haven't broached the subject yet on this blog. Therefore, over the course of several blogs (not to be posted back to back), I will go through my favorites. I'm not necessarily going to go by genre, I'm just going to do it as it comes to me.
I'll start with the top 10 movies that I can think of as being my favorite right now. These movies are in no particular order, because basically it's impossible for me to determine where in the top 10 these movies should go.

1. Godfather Part II
I know I said above that these movies are in no particular order, but that is not true for the Godfather Part II. This is unquestionably both my favorite movie of all time, and what I consider to be the best movie off all time. It's true that it doesn't work as well if you haven't seen the first, but this movie has so much depth, and such great acting, it's easy to understand why it's close to the top of most people's greatest movie list.

2. Apocalypse Now
This movie is unquestionably my favorite war movie off all time, and what I would consider one of the best made films of all time. Reading about the struggle it was to get this movie made; the budget, the weather, the heart attack, the weight, it all makes for a hardship that I think actually added to the movie, instead of detracted from it. This movie perfectly captures the growing feeling of uneasiness our protagonists feel as they go deeper and deeper into the jungle.

3. Lawrence of Arabia
For those of you that have not seen this film, SEE THIS FILM! I had heard the name for years, as well as the lauditory comments made about Peter O'Toole's performance, but until I watched it I had no idea what I was missing. This film is the ultimate "epic". The scope of the story, the music, the scenes, the acting; it's all so huge and so beautiful, it just wraps you up, and you don't want to be let go. While the first part of this film (before the intermission) is admittedly better than the second, upon subsequent viewings, the second part gets better and better.

4. High Fidelity
I won't try and tell you that this is a great "film". It's not a bad film, but it definitely isn't going on any critics top 100 lists. But I think what this movie does is cut through some bullshit, and really gets to the heart of what many men feel in relationships. It's hard to be happy with the good things we have. The guy has exactly what he could want, but he doesn't want it. I know I've been in this situation (no reference to current situation), and it's frustrating to want to want to be happy, but not being happy with being happy with what you want.

5. Mean Streets
What can I say, this movie has everything I love about great movies. Martin Scorsese is a genius, and this movie was made even before Martin Scorsese was a genius. It's incredibly raw in both its shots, its cuts, and its language. The movie feels as though it was Marty hanging out with a bunch of his hustler buddies around the neighborhood, and filming the whole thing.

6. Annie Hall
I consider this a quintessential New York movie. Not only is it quintessential because it was written, directed and acted in by Woody Allen, but because the language and the motives of the characters are quintessentially New York. I know a lot of people are not big fans of Woody, but I consider his nebbishness to be satirically funny, as if he's making fun of himself, but it was funny because at least in his earlier movies it was before he actually became himself.

7. The Shawshank Redemption
This is a perfect movie. I repeat, this is a perfect movie. I've never said that about any film, and it doesn't necessarily make it the best movie of all time, but it's still perfect. The setting, the writing, the music, the acting, the shots used, the dialogue, and the triumph. This is a movie about a prison, but as the title states, redemption is the center motif, and we see this time and again as the plot rolls on.

8. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Great music, great director, great film. This movie meanders through the unforgiving landscape of the civil war (which the main characters seem completely ambivalent to), and somehow makes all three of the protagonists Blondie (the good), Angel Eyes (the bad), and Tuco (the ugly) seem likable. The films final climactic scene, is probably the best finish in movie history.

9. Once Upon a Time in America
This movie I stumbled upon a few years ago, and I have watched it repeatedly since my first viewing. Like the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, this movie is another Sergio Leone/Ennion Morricone teaming, where the music plays an indespensible part of creating the mood and scope of the movie. I like this movie because unlike so many others shot in New York, it highlights Brooklyn instead of Manhattan, and especially Dumbo which is such an interesting neighborhood; its boutique shops and cobblestone streets, darkened by the shadows of the brick warehouses and dual bridges that tower above.

10. Trainspotting
Let me say from the outset that I don't like this movie because it is a "drug movie". I am not particularly drawn to drug movies (although I do like a few, but it's for their aesthetic quality, not because of the subject matter), but this movie is much more interesting than just a drug trip movie, because it actually follows the characters throughout their experiences, rather than just their experiences on drugs. A great scene in the movie is where the crew takes the train out to the hills, and instead of being happy with being out of the city, they are all pissed off because there's nothing to do there. What this movie lacks in real character development, it makes up for in wit.

I understand that this is not a particularly inspired list, but these are movies that I can watch repeatedly (and do watch repeatedly), and that I continue to enjoy - they age well over time.
Some honorable mentions: Boyz n the Hood, Pulp Fiction, Inception, Fight Club, City of God, the Usual Suspects, Saving Private Ryan, Unforgiven, the Star Wars Trilogy, Almost Famous, and Field of Dreams (I still cry at the end).

What are you some of your favorites?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Life (or something like it)

So when I created this blog, I didn't intend for it to become an inherently political blog. However, since I have a penchant for politics, it usually tends to be an easy and interesting topic for discussion.

But here I will take a break from politics, and go back to the original goal of this blog which was to examine the interesting, and often odd, routes that our lives take as we attempt to live them out with some sort of normalcy.
It may not bode well for me, but for some reason the quote "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" seems depressingly accurate. I'm not saying that I personally live a life of quiet desperation, or that I'm pointing fingers at anyone else, but it seems the modern standard of "making it" or "settling down" has less to do with success and happiness, and more to do with simply spending time with your family; not even necessarily quality time, just time.
As an unmarried man, childless man, I have a freedom to spend time with my friends whenever they're free, and pretty much participate in whatever activity they're interested in doing. Now, I don't expect life to be exactly the same once I get married, and especially once I have kids, but I've never understood this phenomenon of men (and women) essentially disappearing from their lives with their friends, and only seeing them on a very infrequent and time-sensitive basis. There's always one person that dominates marriage relationships, and that person's friends inevitably become the other person's friends (by default); the friends of the other person just fall by the wayside, and are only see sporadically, and it's usually when the dominating person it out of town, or spending the day with one of their close friends.
(Just to clarify, I'm not disparaging my friends, and I'm not referring to anyone in particular, I'm rather highlighting what I consider to be an unfortunate phenomenon.)
Back to the quote above: I consider this phenomenon of people (often men) losing their individuality and friends once they become part of a relationship - especially a serious relationship - to be rather disconcerting, and to be not only a factor, but a MAJOR factor in the high incidence of infidelity and divorce. Men and women cannot get everything they need from one relationship; they can get sex, love, intimacy, friendship, and much more, but that's still not everything. Men and women have friends in the first place because those friends share their interests, and so they can talk about things and enjoy things together that others are not necessarily privvy to.
Most life partner relationships involve some aspect of this (and should), but that still doesn't mean that one doesn't need any outside contact or relationships. In fact, in that situation, just the opposite of what would be expected to happen is probably happening. The people think they're in a perfect relationship because they have so many shared interests, but fail to recognize that no one person can provide anybody with everything, and therefore there are still pieces of you that are not being nurtured.
All in all, I'm terribly troubled by the fact that so many relationships go down this road. It starts with not being able to stay out all night, because the spouse/girfriend/boyfriend expects you home. Then it's not being able to hang out because the spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend wants to hang out with other couples. Then you can't hang out because there is housework to do. And then you start making excuses for why you can't do things, because it's just easier than dealing with any blowback coming from the spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend for hanging out. And all of this is before kids even come into the mix. It's easy to see how this scenario causes people (especially men) to lead lives of quiet desperation.