October 21, 2012 - October 14, 2012
Friday, July 15, 2011
Lake checks in:
Too precious by half.
This is less of a proper post with a grand point and more a collection
of notes, experiences, and impressions about my experience with Apple
and its products. Fair warning, since the Mac vs. PC debate has
provoked thousands of internet flamewars over the years and for all I
know, it could lead to one in the hardened halls of Instapunk comments.
I proposed this guest post with some trepidation: the Boss is old
school to the
core, and I could only imagine his disdain for the haughty hipster
output of a 'magical' company like Apple. I was shocked to hear that
like me, Mrs. CP's life has been altered for the better by her iPhone.
I was less shocked to hear that the Boss himself loves his iPod -- all
that music from every era, yeah, I can picture him liking that.
I started out as one of those hardcore computer nerds who not only
didn't use a Mac but scorned those who did. Even before the
too-cool-for-the-room ads, I saw them as pretty little packages that
couldn't be doing real computer work and the people who used them as
n00bs who had their cute little computers but didn't know about
anything under the hood. I found myself spouting all the common lies
when friends and relatives questioned me about it: "They're great for
design work and art stuff, but if you want a real computer, get a PC;"
"They have no choices between programs, and there's a lot you can do on
a PC that you can't do on a Mac;" "Macs are twice as expensive as PCs,
and I could build a much better machine for under $500."
When I came to this teaching career, now ten years ago (my life is
accelerating!), I found a campus evenly split between Mac and PC users.
Our computer labs were Macs because they were used for design courses
and managed by one of the top tech gurus on campus. But faculty were
given PC laptops to use and that was perfect for me. I immediately
customized mine and quickly gained a reputation for being a guy who can
help you out with computer problems. A lot of colleagues had a lot
of problems, and since the head tech guy was primarily an Apple
acolyte, they came to me. This worked out well for me, and my disdain
for students and teachers who were such rabid Apple 'fanboys' grew,
despite the fact that some of the smartest people on campus used them.
Then it happened. The screen on my beautiful, light, and fast PC
laptop got cracked. No big deal, all data was safe, but it was going to
take a week to repair and I was about to take a trip to the southwest
national parks. Tons of pictures and video would need to be processed,
we'd need some entertainment for the slow parts of the trip, and I had
to stay in contact with the wider world to keep up with my master's
program work. So I was given a loaner: A Mac. An overly-designed little
white clamshell with this foreign operating system. I did a whole
grin-and-bear-it act with the tech guy, but I was secretly interested
to see just what all the hype was about.
It only took a week. It was a fun challenge to switch mental models,
figuring out how Mac used the centered 'dock' vs. the Start menu of the
Windows world, why programs didn't seem to quit when you closed them,
why a menu bar was ever present at the top of the screen. But by the
end of the week, I was hooked. I had never been more efficient as a
computer user, and as much as it irked me, they were right, it just
worked. There was no threat of malware and viruses. I never had to
install any drivers or spend hours on the internet trying to find
someone who got that same cryptic error message. It was blazingly fast
and had dozens of keyboard shortcuts that I thrived on. By the time my
PC screen was fixed and I gave back the loaner, I was sold -- my next
computer would be a Mac.
So here I am, five years later, typing away on a MacBook Pro,
surrounded by Apple gear. My iPad sits next to me, already loading
itself up with the day's news, weather info before we get on the road,
and the books I'm going to read on vacation. The iPhone in my pocket
just reminded me about my meeting with the new headmaster, and it
occurs to me how organized it's made me. Did you read that? It made
me. As ridiculous as it seems, these devices are literally
transforming my life.
I know how that sounds, and I don't like it either. But I have to be
honest with myself. Reading apps for kids on the iPad have truly helped
my three year old son with a speech delay learn to verbalize. The
phone's GPS maps have helped us get lost with style: instead of
doggedly pursuing a set path, we took random exits off the Jersey
Turnpike and found wonderful little towns to eat something other than
fast food. The AppleTV has transformed our viewing habits, and
commercials are a thing of the past. When my dad got a Mac at my
suggestion, it rekindled his love of finding new music, and the two of
us have communicated better and more frequently than ever.
Yes, these devices are more expensive than their non-Apple
counterparts. But they work beautifully, Apple continues to innovate,
and I'm left with a more efficient and enjoyable life, so the premium
has been worth it for me. Does that make me a snotty fanboy? Well, I
can still laugh at a good Mac-bashing...
So, Instapunk readers, Mac or Windows? Or are you one of those Linux
Ten Best Novels
The ones who wrote
in ways I can't.
TRICKY GAME. Now Brizoni intends to talk about death. Before
he does, I want to talk about life. Therefore: the ten best novels of
the twentieth century. I won't say much about them. Just a line or two.
The rest would be up to you. My criteria are simple. The book gets you,
and you want to read whole passages out loud, because the words are so
determined to be said.
Night, F. Scott
Maybe the most moving novel ever written. Speaking the words of the
text makes you despair of ever saying anything half as beautiful.
The Sun Also Rises. Ernest Hemingway.
Yes, it should have started with Chapter 3, but it's still the best
writer's textbook I know. Oddly, you're seeing writing done to
perfection and being drawn in, but only as far as the writer's willing
to let you. The buffer between him writing and you reading is the whole
The Waves, Virginia Woolf.
She didn't need any of us to read it. It was enough that she wrote it.
But without the affectations of Joyce, she made stream of consciousness
a scoop of shimmering water, not a literary and philological final exam.
The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford
Hemingway minimalism without the "look at me writing" factor.
Brilliantly subdued and ultimately devastating.
The Tin Drum, Gunther Grasse
Pure explosion of genius. Can't tell you how many times I've read the
chapter called "Faith, Hope, and Love" out loud to myself. Even in
translation, it's a wonder.
Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh.
The absolute apex of satire. Funny, vicious, and true. Follow the life
and death of Lord Tangent, son of Lady Circumference, and report back
that you are a good person because you didn't laugh.
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner.
Someone finally played around with point of view. In many ways his most
accessible work. And, yes, he was a genius.
The Trial, Franz Kafka.
Who else has written one novel that got copied a thousand times by
lesser lights who all got great reviews in The New York Times? Nobody. I
understand he was actually a cheerful and charming soul. Figures,
Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry.
If confession is the soul of twentieth century fiction, nothing can
ever surpass this book. He confessed, and converted, countless readers
to his own fatal illness. That's talent.
A Day in the Life of Ivan
Courage to write what is forbidden. A literary talent? In this case,
1984, George Orwell.
To introduce ideas into fiction, in the twentieth century? No! Yes! If
only it were more world-shaking than it has proven to be.
If you think I'm trying to buy more time for Brizoni and starting a
fight as some kind of distraction, you're wrong. Well, not really.
Actually, I'm just showing off. Which is my way.
CP knows about westerns. I know about novels. Let's fight.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The Ten Best
The Westerner. Not on the list.
Proof that the list is too short.
Someone gaffed me about thinking of myself as
Shane. So I revisited an old post about the ten best gunfights, in
which I promised to come up with a list of ten best westerns, which is
infinitely harder to do. But Brizoni is offline at the moment for
excellent reasons, so I feel an obligation to post for your
entertainment, and when I looked at Drudge this morning, I had to go
throw up. Everything's falling apart and there's no resolution in
sight. Presto. Ten best westerns. A completely arbitrary list, designed
to make you all mad as hornets about stuff that doesn't really matter
all that much. A post that's only a setup for your own memories and
You're welcome. [simpering mock bow, because my list really is the
right one. Only the order is actually up for grabs. Which is why there
is no order. Only the Ten Best.]
I'll begin with a confession of biases. No Howard Hawks. He's
overpraised and John Wayne is always loafing in his movies, as if the
production is just an opportunity for old friends to get together and
drink after the set is struck every day. No High Noon. A ghastly, awful
abominatiobn of a movie, well skewered by Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, which is also
not on the list because it's a remake of, uh, High Noon. You're all free to
disagree, of course. It's just that if you do, you'll be wrong.
There will also be an Honorable Mention list at the end, with brief
explanations of why they're not on the list. Best I can do.
Herewith, the List, in the order in which I initially typed them off
the top of my head. No YouTubes. If you're interested, go find them.
I'm too lazy. I know they're there, but trailers are misleading and if
you care about your favorites, I know there will be abundant links in
the Comments section.
Ah. The young John Wayne and the young John Ford. Completely iconic.
Even the cliches don't matter because they predate the dozens,
hundreds, of imitations that would follow. The drunken doctor, the
pregnant lady, the hooker with a heart of gold, the fugitive outlaw
who's brave and good behind the wanted poster. Amazingly, it's still
engaging in black and white, not just as a taproot of movie western
conventions but as an elemental narrative that enduringly compels your
Before there was an official Hollywood antihero mold, there was John
Wayne in The Searchers. It's
been nominated many times as the greatest western ever, but there's a
lot wrong with the movie that really should deny it that laurel.
Jeffrey Hunter hadn't really learned how to act yet. The reversal at
the end is a bit too sudden. But it's still great. John Wayne commands
the screen as an obsessed and relentless force of nature whose motives
we don't entirely understand or accept, and John Ford the director gets
away with it by filling in a background of frontier life that is as
warm and moving as Wayne is cold and monotonic. Extremes. Meaning life
on the frontier. What it took to survive and prosper in the infant
west. Iron men, strong women, family ties, hard work, love, and the
inevitable tensions and accommodations among them.
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
More John Ford. I'll defend myself with Orson Welles's response to the
question, at the height of his own fame, who were the best three
directors in Hollywood. He said, "John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford."
Here's a precis of this movie's highpoints from a third party:
In an Oscar-calibre performance,
42-year old John Wayne plays sixtyish Cavalry Captain Nathan Brittles.
In his last days before his compulsory retirement, Brittles must face
the possibility of a full-scale attack from the Arapahos, fomented by
the recent defeat of Custer and by double-dealing Indian agents. After
a series of minor victories and major frustrations, Brittles decides to
ride into the Arapaho camp, there to smoke a pipe of peace with his old
friend, Chief Pony That Walks (Chief John Big Tree). Before he leaves,
he is presented with his retirement present by his troops: a gold
pocket watch, with the inscription "Lest We Forget"(Wayne's playing of
this scene, barely holding back tears as he adjusts his spectacles to
read the inscription, is one of his finest moments on film). Brittles
is able to forestall an Indian attack, just in time for his official
Anyone who thinks John Wayne couldn't act either hasn't seen this movie
or should just be shot.
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Yeah. Robert Altman. An anti-western. Dark, sad, cliche-breaking, and
shockingly memorable from the music to the cinematography to the
masterful direction of ugly murder. Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, and
Keith Carradine in career-high performances. The wild west buried in
snow and blood. And drugs and sex and cold-blooded murder. A haunting
piece that can be watched again and again, but only at great intervals.
Because it is more affecting than it is fun.
The only good recent western. Val Kilmer steals the show, but Kurt
Russell is surprisingly effective as Wyatt Earp, backed by predictably
strong performances from Michael Biehn and Sam Elliott. There is a line between good guys and bad
guys, but it's fuzzier than we'd like to think. Myth and history
intertwine here, and there are subtle references to older classics like
Stagecoach and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
The ending is somehow almost contemporary, a time displacement that
puts the prior theatrics into doubt, as if our entire wild western
memory was simply a dream or hallucination. Kilmer again. His greatest
The Magnificent Seven
The only time I ever understood Yul Brynner's shockingly bald head was
in Taras Bulba (which I saw on the HMS
Elizabeth in 1963). Apart from that, this is a great
movie, despite the fact that it was remake of a Kurosawa film. Flawed
by the performance of the German kid (don't remember his name), but
elevated by the only good acting performance I've ever seen from Robert
Vaughn. The plot is classic, the gunfighters are stars, and it's just
impossible not to put this one on the list. And don't forget the music.
A minor piece, but great music is written in both major and minor keys.
It continually surprised me that Jimmy Stewart appeared in almost as
many fine westerns as John Wayne, and his performances did not vary
nearly as much from great to awful as Wayne's did. This movie has
always stuck with me, because it's not a story of frontier heroism.
It's the opposite. What happened to the families who couldn;'t
withstand the privations of the wagon train, the ones who gave up and
settled for less? Fire Creek. Jimmy Stewart makes a heroic last stand
in this movie, but only because there's no place left to run to, and
he's at the very end of his illusions about hope, faith, and duty.
Jacqueline Scott, Inger Stevens, and Henry Fonda are also on hand.
(More shades of Liberty Valance as well).
Destry Rides Again
A rollicking romp that can't be described but has to be seen. Marlene
Dietrich in her finest role. Jimmy Stewart young, insouciant, and
incredibly charming. Bar fights with all the wild haymakers anyone
could want, and maybe the first of many attempts to introduce pacifist
ideas westerns. Doesn't work, of course, At the end, Destry has to open
the trunk and pull out his sixguns. Hurray.
Speaking of trunks containing sixguns... that would be Shane. If I were ordering this
list, Shane would probably be
number one. Lyrical, visually beautiful, cunningly written, elegantly
crafted and acted, stunningly complete in its climax, there's nothing
more to say about it.
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
No. Not necessarily best because last. Just too huge to be anything but
the final word. Operatic. Viscerally cinematic and memorable. Maybe one
of the most repeat-watched movies ever, along with the Godfather and
Gone with the Wind. The Man with No Name. Which is to say an archetype
with no filters or screens. He just is. Walking Nemesis. Sergio Leone
really did rip away all the dross and show us the God of the Gun. As we
always wanted him to be. A movie that will never die.
There you have it. The List. If you disagree, as I promised, you're
just wrong. Now for my Honorable Mentions. Red River is on a lot of lists, but
Montgomery Clift was never a fit antagonist for John Wayne. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is
mentioned several times above, but it's hardly the best work of
John Ford, John Wayne, or Jimmy Stewart. Stewart was 50 playing 25.
Doesn't work. Unforgiven,
also an Honorable Mention, did a much better job of contrasting reality
with legend, so much so that it makes Ford seem self-serving late in
his career, as if he were saying, I could have filmed the truth but the
legend sells more tickets. But Unforgiven
was just a boring overlong movie with a slambang finish. Clint
Eastwood's other western directorial efforts -- High Plains Drifter, Pale Rider,
and The Outlaw Josie Wales --
are also only Honorable Mentions because they're mostly remakes,
critical homages but homages nonethess. Not Josie Wales! you say. Yes.
It's the one that goes aaaallll the way back. To Stagecoach (with more than a nod to Yellow Ribbon). Others? Silverado? Too Hollywood, too
Oh. The Westerner. Gary
Cooper and Walter Brennan. Brilliant. Ambiguous. Subtle. Before Robert
Altman was born. No excuses. As I said, the list is too short.
I dunno. Maybe I'll go back later and stick in some YouTubes. Got my
feet up on the desk, don't you know. But you can get started without
know you know how wrong I am even before I post this absolutely
perfect definitive list.
thanks to Bud and Bill, who ante'd up more than I did. Brizoni still
needs some time, so let's argue heatedly about these trifles in the
interim. (I was going to do a post a la Criminal Minds, the best bad TV
show on the air, in which I finally delivered my "profile" of Obama,
but when I got to my first criterion, "white male, age 35 to 55," I got
cold feet. Discuss.) Anyhow. A few Youtube videos to bring your
competitive juices to a boil.
Bill likes The Wild Bunch
because it has William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, and Warren
And Bud wants to nominate Once Upon
a Time in the West for best film score (embedding disabled). The link also reminds us that the movie had Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Jack Elam, and Woody Strode. AND Claudia Cardinale. Not too shabby. As I conceded, the list is too short. So, keep fighting for your favorites.
And since they've gone to that trouble, I'll proffer two Youtubes of my
own. McCabe and Mrs. Miller:
And from Stagecoach, the
grand entrance of John Wayne onto the stage of superstardom..
Keep pushing and I'll respond in kind. I think Bud has a right idea.
Nominations for particular aspects of westerns. For example, I know
somebody could come up with a unique laurel for Quigley Down Under. Discuss.