Thursday, March 31, 2011

waiting for bad weather

I've been waiting for nearly 40 years for Seattle to become Hollywood's favorite shooting location, due to the city's low-key photogenic qualities combined with its constant overcast, which lends a brooding quality to anything shot outdoors here. In 1974 the city starred with John Wayne in "McQ," a boilerplate crime drama about an aging Seattle detective who drives around in a Pontiac Trans-Am "Green Hornet" model looking for gratuitous car chases to get involved in. It was his role as McQ that prompted film critic Pauline Kael to observe that Wayne looked like one of those stone heads from Easter Island when filmed sitting behind the wheel of his trendy ride.

But "McQ" didn't set off a large-scale migration of directors and cinematographers to Seattle. "Frazier" helped in the '80's, but the TV show was shot almost entirely indoors, and at most viewers caught a glimpse of the Space Needle through a window once in a while.

In the '90's it was another televised offering with an entirely different kind of director that brought attention to the area in David Lynch's strange and at times surreal murder-mystery "Twin Peaks." It was shot about 50 miles from here, mostly in the town of North Bend and its nearby scenic location, Snoqualmie Falls. The show's opening credits ran against a backdrop of fog-enshrouded Mt. Si -- a sight that can't help leave an impression on anyone who's ever seen it close up -- and the stunning beauty of the Cascade Range was as much a part of the series as its convoluted plot.

And now comes "The Killing," a 13-part series debuting April 3 on AMC, which unabashedly and openly appropriates "Twin Peaks" gloomy Northwestern cloud cover to underscore the melancholy events of the narrative. Actually, the makers of "The Killing" cite a Danish TV series as their inspiration, the Danish work having derived from "Twin Peaks."

As we enter the era of political and economic doom and gloom, one bright spot for those of us here is that our home town might at last achieve the cachet it deserves.

Gato Triste

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Moloch was an ancient semitic god worshipped by Canaanites, early Hebrews, and especially the Phoenicians. Archaeological and documentary evidence of him is spotty, but from what we know he seems to have been a god who demanded sacrifices of live victims, including children.

In our own time the name of Moloch often refers to something which requires costly sacrifices, and in Allen Ginsberg's classic poem of the mid-1950's, "Howl," Moloch has become the worship of material, which in the poet's view has led us to the ultimate sacrifice -- loss of self. After opening the poem with a long description of how he "saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness," Ginsberg begins the second part with the question "what sphinx of cement and aluminium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?"

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!

Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!

Even though most inhabitants of our modern industrialized world might express an attachment to one or another of the traditional religions, most of them actually worship material. In doing so they worship not just a false god, but a cruel one. Materialism urges us to spend our lives working ceaselessly toward a vaguely-defined goal which, even when achieved, will leave us feeling empty, for it's at that point we will realize that we have sacrificed our souls, as Faust did, exchanging them for a heap of lifeless objects.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

a jealous god

The history of modern belly dance is incomplete and spotty, but even without tangible evidence we know that the sensuous and sexually provocative movements of this gorgeous dance form go back a long, long way. The dance is, in fact, older than history itself.

How do we know this? Because the movements of belly dance, the hip locks, shimmies, belly rolls, chest pushes, and sinuous arm movements, and the male responses to them express instincts embedded in every human psyche. They're hard to perfect, but at the same time as natural as breathing.

In ancient times, when gods and goddesses ruled the earth from their temples and sacred groves, before the one male god arose to drive out the old deities and impose his jealous paternalism, ritual marriage and its sexual fulfillment were integral components of goddess worship. Priestesses taking the part of Inanna in Sumer, Sekhmet in Egypt, and Ishtar in Babylon married and bedded their annual consorts, and it might be reasonable to assume the dance was an essential prelude to the event. The ancient temples of the goddess of fertility, love, and war might also have been centers of the sacred dance, where both ensemble and solo performances of the art occurred, and where candidates for priestesshood were trained and rehearsed.

Then came the Hebrews with their one emphatically paternalistic God who could brook no competition, and they quickly realized that his most daunting challenge came from beautiful Ishtar and her irresistible dance. Some of the Hebrew people "would not hearken to their Iudges, but they went a-whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves down vnto them: they turned quickly out of the way, which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the Lord; but they did not so" (Judges 2:17). The beauty of the goddess had a hold on men which was not easily suppressed, and it took many generations and the advent of the Arab version of the one paternal God, Allah, to finally eliminate Ishtar in her many manifestations from the lands where she once ruled supreme.

But she could never be eliminated entirely because love of beauty and sexual desire are natural expressions of the most fundamental human traits, as well as expressions of the fact that we are bound to our animal bodies. And so she has returned in our own time, through the medium of the ancient dance.

I went to a celebration of Ishtar (modern form = Esther = "the star") this past Friday and watched the good, the indifferent, the unusual, and the spectacular versions of the ancient form enacted by living women (and one man!), including she who will not be named here, but is the living embodiment of Ishtar, the queen of heaven and the tribal dance.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Springtime in Seattle arrived uncharacteristically right on schedule this year, signaled by the vernal equinox which occurred overnight on March 20-21. Primavera's advent is usually on a two-month delay in this part of the world, but today it's fully here, with bright sunshine, gentle zephyrs, and pastel blossoms everywhere.

Robins chirp; frogs burp.

And it's intoxicating. The masses are out walking, biking, and driving, burning their $4 gas and enjoying the scenery, which includes Mt. Rainier looking like a colossal scoop of ice cream the deity (if you believe in that sort of thing) dropped from his cone.

Will it last? My magic eight ball says "Don't count on it," and Yahoo! Weather says the gloom and drip will re-commence tomorrow and last the rest of the month. So enjoy it while you can.

Maybe in April...

Gato Intoxicado

Monday, March 21, 2011

numa numa

Yesterday the young guy who is my upstairs neighbor asked me as we rode the elevator whether the yellow VW bug with the "All your base are belong to us" license frame was mine.

"Yeah," says I, "that's me."

"That was back in the infancy of the net," he said. "Very cool."

"All your base and the Numa Numa Dance were the greatest things ever on the web," says I. "You're familiar with the Numa Numa Dance?"

"Unfortunately," he says.

OK, not everybody is a fan of Gary Brolsma, the shy, overweight New Jersey teen-ager who made the "Numa Numa" video in his parents' basement in December of 2004. But I'm with the critic who said "It's really a thing of beauty to see someone so committed to a lip-sync." Besides that, Brolsma has an instinct for choreographic composition, and his scrupulous attention to the fine details of performance helped the video to go viral upon release.

Numa Numa's success, however, was mainly propelled by the song Brolsma chose to lip-sync, a Romanian-language hit "Dragostea Din Tei" (in English, "Love from the Linden Trees"), recorded in the spring of 2004 by O-Zone, a pop group from Moldova. Why would anyone travel to Romania to seek fame and fortune? That's another story.

The fact is, this obscure-seeming tune was world famous when Brolsma discovered it. It was number 72 on the U.S. pop 100, and number one all over Europe and in Japan for many weeks in the summer of '04. What I'm saying is that millions of people all over the world really loved this song, and for good reason. It's pure dance music, like the Macarena, with a beat that makes your toes itch, and leadsinger Dan Balan hammers the nonsensical lyrics confidently, and with charisma,

So enjoy the video, even if my sometime fellow elevator passenger doesn't.

O-Zone broke up a month after the video came out. Gary Brolsma has followed up his debut effort with other video projects, but without the same spectacular success. Dan Balan continues working a lot in Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, but none of his recent stuff hits my G-spot. In retrospect it seems the Numa Numa moment was one of those magical occurrences which happen only once, never again to be duplicated.


Saturday, March 19, 2011


In God we trusted; under Bush Two we busted.

With that in mind, I went shopping for silver today, and at a small shop in a strip mall bought a few old coins --

1921 silver dollars. There were two kinds minted that year: the Morgan, named for its designer, and the Peace Dollar (pictured), to commemorate the armistice that ended the Great War. I find the Peace Dollar more aesthetically pleasing, but since both are 90 percent silver they have identical value.

These things are intoxicating, and I can see why hoarders in earlier epochs became misers and loved running their fingers through piles of precious metals. Unlike paper money, checks, or an unromantic debit card, they're hard and shiny, kind of like Madonna's face, which they also resemble because they've seen better days but are still very appealing. They're also like magical talismans -- archaeological artifacts from a gone world and long-departed nation.

I don't know if there's going to be a currency meltdown of some kind, or a hyperinflation which would have the same effect. Those things are possible but not certain, and I don't know what the probabilities are. However, I would like to be prepared for such a long- or short-term emergency.

At the time these things were minted their one-dollar face value was way greater than the value of the three-quarters ounce of silver they contained. That's certainly not true any longer with silver trading at $35/oz. I'm not confident enough to say this is a word to the wise, but it's a suggestion.

E Pluribus Unum; don't neglect the states; you'll rune 'em.

--Troilius Crassassius

Thursday, March 17, 2011

open de boxx

For today's post, open the catboxx.

Gato Renunció

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

15 minutes

Rebecca Black's "Friday," released by Ark Music Factory this past weekend on YouTube, has already gotten six-and-a-half million hits, and nobody knows why.

I mean nobody knows why any of this. Why this song? Why this singer? Why is everybody watching this? What's going on?

It's Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday;
Everybody's lookin' forward to the weekend.
Partyin', partyin' (yeah!), partyin', partyin' (yeah!)
Lookin' forward to the weekend.

I presume Ms. Black herself penned (or keyboarded) these somewhat less than memorable lyrics, which she sings in an on-key and tonally adequate but affectless voice that resonates in a kind of nasally honk, accompanied by an autotune drone. Also, Rebecca is a very cute 13-year-old, but YouTube is loaded with pretty young girls singing dopey original songs.

So if it's not the song and not the singer which account for the millions of views, then what is it? Some have suggested that the inherent badness of this work is enough to attract attention, but it's really not all that bad. It sounds exactly like the music they play at the McDonald's in Port Orchard, which I call "machine pop." It's like music written and performed by a computer program, and sounds basically inhuman.

My theory is that even though this is a truly terrible song performed by an indifferent singer, it's well made, and the combination works. A terrible song by an unmemorable singer, if shot on a cell phone, is simply boring to try to watch, but "Friday" is kind of fun, And it has 6,932,810 views -- up by half a million or so since I started writing this -- plus new parodies of it are appearing every hour. Judge for yourself, and keep in mind that tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes "afterwards."

Note: The topic "15 Minutes of fame" was suggested by a random blog topic generator.

UPDATE: 26 Million views in one week. Fun fun fun fun.

--Chai Kowski

Sunday, March 13, 2011

a fool's advice

This is the third month in the last five that the fool has shown up in my short monthly spread. It's actually three times in the last four, since the deck I used in January (Mexican loteria cards) doesn't have a fool card.

In December he was right in the middle of the spread, as he is this month, and back then I wrote a few words analyzing the image along with some comments on the history of the deck, over at Catboxx. In November he appeared on the far right (the place of honor!) of a four-card spread in a reading done by someone other than me. He may be a fool, but he's persistent.

Skeptics will say this is a coincidence, or possibly the result of careless shuffling. But I shuffle the cards thoroughly before each use, and in addition choose one pile of cards at random out of a triple-cut deck from which to select the three of 74 or 78 cards (depending on which pack I'm using). And I don't think it's a coincidence. I believe there's a message here, in the image.

But what is it? The homeless and essentially rudderless fool might be telling me I'm spiritually adrift, and looking for safe harbor. Or maybe it's something else I'm not quite ready to understand, and understanding is in the womb of time.


Friday, March 11, 2011

drawing hope

Sometimes the New Yorker's famous covers say all that needs to be said. This week's by one of the magazine's regular stable of artists, Barry Blitt, is entitled "Hope is the Thing with Feathers."

That's also the famous first line of Emily Dickinson's poem "Hope," a metaphorical riff on the standard image of the Holy Ghost (or spirit) as a white dove. Dickinson, a gentle, eccentric, and reclusive spirit who died in 1886, no doubt would have been shocked and dismayed by just how much our contemporary, dictator-ridden world hungers for hope.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Click on the image for a larger view

Mike L. Angelo

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

smile please

Last evening on NPR's "Fresh Air," Terry Gross ran an old interview she'd done with Sam Chwat, speech therapist and researcher and "dialect coach to the stars." It was he that taught Robert DeNiro to sound like somebody from Appalachia for a role, rather than someone from New York City. Chwat died recently at 57, from lymphoma.

One of the things he discovered during his researches, though he was certainly not the first, is that facial expression helps convey vocal tone, which means we can hear people smiling on the radio. To document and assess the impact, Chwat created a strange justaposition:

One funny exercise that we have is we have people grin while reading into a tape recorder a bloody, bloody story, a really grotesquely bloody story from a tabloid newspaper and then play it back. It's not even their language. And all they were doing was grinning while they were reading the story and they will sound like the most psychotic thing going as a result on the playback.

I haven't heard any of these recordings, so I'll try making one of my own here at home. Sam Chwat's extremely innovative research technique has enormous possibilities.

Lost Writer "Q"

Monday, March 07, 2011


I didn't want to admit it, but now I have to. And along with the admission comes yet another significant drug-related change in behavior. Where does all this change stuff end?

I've been drinking too much coffee. For years. The habit, which we fall into thinking it will make us more energetic and alert, ruined my sleep and ended up having the opposite effect.

I discovered this about a week ago when for some reason I didn't feel like having my usual two or three late-afternoon cups of hot, black Java. I had peppermint tea instead, then slept like a baby that night, without the usual two, three, or four hours of restless tossing that has been ruining my nights. For years.

Since then I've been repeating the performance every day and every night, so I guess it's now a rule -- no coffee after noon.

I'd read for years that drinking coffee in the afternoon will keep a person awake at night, but persisted in thinking myself an exception to the rule. Life is rough on the banks of denial.

Gato Tranquilo

Saturday, March 05, 2011


Holy #@$!!

Diana Krall is totally awesome in about every way imaginable. If I tried to watch any more of her 2nite I would absolutely plotz.

Check out this museum piece.

Sorry. I just had to get that off my chest.

Sidney Plotznik

Thursday, March 03, 2011

walkin blues

The "new normal" price of oil is a hundred bucks a barrel, so what's a poor person to do? Whatcha gonna do when "the pump don't work cause some vandals took the handle."*

Nothin to do but walk.

I'm using neighborhood resources as much as possible. I've been out already this morning to see my tax accountant (right across the street) and make an appointment with the dentist (two doors down). Later on I'll walk the half mile to the produce market. Looks like a no-car day here in the urban hellhole I love.

Or it would be if I didn't have to go to Edmonds later this afternoon, eight-and-a-half miles over hill and down dale and out to the Salish Seashore. I guess I'll gas up while I'm out there.

*Bob Dylan, "Subterranean Homesick Blues"

Gato Boxeador

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

yoga power

Meditation is not exclusive to yoga, and many people other than yogis meditate. As part of a complete yoga routine, however, meditation is the natural and logical culmination of the sequence, following asana (movement) and the concentrated, disciplined breathing called pranayama. It's the "mind" part of a practice meant to improve and maintain optimal functioning of the body, breath, and mind.

I've heard and read many meditators of all stripes testify that they have been "transformed" by the practice. It's not for me to throw doubt on anyone else's testimony, but in my own experience, "transformation" is too strong a word. Instead, I find that meditation has softened my personality, smoothing out the rough edges and rounding the sharp corners. All the basic building blocks of the personality remain in place, but under the influence of meditation have become less angular, rounded and loosely fitted together where they were once straight and unyielding.

This is my analogy for the power of meditation; it's like the power of water in a clear stream moving over stones, gently and slowly but relentlessly wearing away their sharp surfaces and rigid angles, making them smoother and rounder, and at the same time brighter, as they harmoniously settle down into the creek bed alongside their similarly altered fellow stones.

Etaoin Shrdlu