Notre Musique

This evening, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Jean-Luc Godard’s latest luminous rant, Notre Musique. The film is a panoply of feelings and conflicted politics but is mostly an elegy, a one-way visual poem set to the saddened tune of our times.
The movie is broken up into three parts. The first part, Hell, is a montage of Hollywood and documentary war footage so well melded together that it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction and fiction from fact. In this section, Godard both pokes fun at our inability to differentiate and describe the sheer horrors of war and gleefully relishes the chaos of images that emanate from the silver screen. The beauty is in the juxtaposition, which like any American Avant-Garde production, relishes the sheer cacophony of a given topic’s sights and sounds; this one happens to be about war and human death. I’m sure that Godard had Goya’s (pun intended?) Disasters of War in mind.
The second part, Purgatory, is a narrative of (I think) numerous intellectuals meeting up in contemporary Sarajevo to talk about and think about the samesaid horrors of war and the dread that comes along thereafter. It’s also a meditation on our pre-occupation with death in life as the characters ask questions of each other that can’t be answered. In one scene, a character asks Godard himself whether digital video will save “cinema” and he only stares back, no answer forthcoming, as if the focus on technology is really just a staving off of death. In fact, I always believed that our focus on technology is really just a staving off of death. One line of this part of the film struck me as particularly beautiful and overwhelming in it’s insight. In thinking about death, the narrator says something like “There are two ways to think about [it]: One is that death is the impossibility of the possible. The other is that death is the possibility of the impossible.” But this is not profound. This was: “Death is when the word ‘I’ gets to be said by someone else”.
This last sentence struck my bones hard and chilled them to the marrow.
The final part of Notre Musique, Heaven, is an ironic take on the unreality and unknowable climax of existence. In this short, one of the protagonists is seen traipsing through gorgeous forests guarded by American marines and militia as in a dream. People in heaven are reading, are nice to each other, and seem immune to the vagaries and vapidity of modern life. Yet they are clearly moderns. It’s a gorgeous set of scenes set on the edge of an island that feels phenomenally claustrophobic and severe in its limited real estate yet someone Heaven appears free.
(I take some umbrage with Godard’s inane political opportunism. During much of the second part, for some reason he places Native Americans in the mise en scene like some bad 1970s advertisement. The scene takes place in war-ravaged Sarajevo and Native Americans (sometimes in tribal dress) are so completely out of place that their placement there as a foil is patronizing at best. Similarly, the two female protagonists in this section are female Jews, who are essentially (and delightfully watchable) cardboard characters that think and talk about the Israeli/Palestinian dilemma. Why does Godard need these particular characters in Sarajevo to talk about the tragedies of war? In his attempt to link footage of the the United States with newspaper headlines on the current Iraq war with Israel and the Palestinian crisis to Sarajevo, it seems that he’s attributing the fall of Sarajevo to the Americans, which is a lie and a conceit. I don’t know why French intellectuals can’t take blame for the genocides on their own continent. Jews and Native Americans have about as much to do with Yugoslavia as Godard does with Justin Timberlake.)

NNW 2.0

A short but salvating post about Ranchero Software’s new NetNewsWire application for Mac OS X. If you haven’t downloaded it and you read news, weblogs, digests, or other somesuch or somethings, you must try it.
The application, even in beta, works quickly, allows you to browse websites without opening Safari or Firefox, and has an integrated (if buggy) one-click subscription button. In other words, if you like a blog that you’re reading, one click of the “Subscribe” button in NetNewsWire and the appropriate RSS feed is bookmarked for your continual viewing pleasure. It even has that special three-paned interface that iTunes users know and love. Although it’s been out for a few months, congratulations to Ranchero. And thanks!

B and A

It’s been a not very interesting week so I’ll end it in the middle with a not very interesting set of designs for Boxes and Arrows, an online group that focuses on information design and user experience for the Web.
Click through some of the designs, including the winning one, and you’ll be able to see the full range of possibilities people are offering up for the future Web. None are bad, some are good, but none are grabbing and perhaps, as the comments indicate, perhaps this is what you get when you get for free.
In better news, a happy and peaceful and joyful Thanksgiving to all. I plan on reading a book.

Not Horrible

Saturday Night Live is now a terribly turgid show and I barely can stay awake through the supposedly “juicy” first half hour of the thing anymore. The SNL Saturday Night Live” href=””>website
is crappy and, while Tina Fey is still beautiful, she’s no longer funny.
U2 was on last night and they gave a near-lip-synched rendition of the lead song off of their upcoming How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.
The only thing that caught my closing eye was during the Robert Smigel cartoon of George Bush demonstrating to an audience of the faithful how to convert gays into straights. The cartoon was not funny nor interesting. But there was a sign hanging up in the back of the cartooned Christian right audience that read “Everything is NOT Horrible.” I felt immediately that this captures much of the likely feeling of the red states. For many in the United States, everything is fine if not good if not very fine if not very good and the sheer worry of liberals was disheartening to them during this campaign. I understand this to a certain extent. Moral clarity can be filled with personal grace, no doubt, but I do wonder aloud about the possibility of a more national redemption when governed by those who prefer being “cheery.”

Giving Good Call

In the past week, I’ve had some unexpected success with calling the customer service departments of a few large companies. In contrast to earlier times, like during my customer service caveman era when I spoke with an Apple technical assistant in Bangalore who kept putting me on hold to ask his cubicle-mate questions, these are much brighter days indeed! During this same shadowed era, a call to Washington Mutual to request ATM cards was greeted with a request on their part for us to visit our local WAMU branch office to order these cards ourselves — as they couldn’t place ATM card orders over the phone.
First, a call to AT&T to inquire about an extra month’s charge. It turned out that they were right and I was wrong. Who knew? I did not. But then the customer service representative said, “Let’s see how we can save you money each month” and she actually did: about $40.00 per month with another phone plan. [Why they couldn’t have just called me first about this deal, I don’t know.]
Second, a call to T-Mobile, my new bad mobile service provider (Sprint was the old bad one). Customer service reps at T-Mobile are nearly always cheerful (even giddy) and cut to the quick. They tracked down an order, made sure the service was good by asking if it was good, and promptly won my well-worn threads of mobile loyalty.
Third, a call to Chase (a.k.a. JP Morgan Chase) to start a new bank account. For some reason, the genius programmers there did not test their Java applets on Safari or Firefox (on Macintosh), so my online application got lost in the digital shuffle. But in calling them, they quickly picked up, put me through to a kindly man named Michael who took down my most personal Federal information and told me that the account would be ready to set up and sign in a few days time.
Are these three examples of good reverse patronage a sign of our times in some way? Do they represent a fearful workforce forced to be smiling at all times at work lest they frown at home forever alone? Do these examples spell the return of jobs to the United States where “friendly Americans” can again cater to our friendly American needs?
More interestingly, perhaps, I wonder if other countries are as equally fond of finding good customer service and, more darkly, I wonder if Americans’ fondness for good customer service is connected with our slave-holding past.

Arafat 101

If you’ve ever taken a basic course in leadership, you’re told that Rule Number 1 for building sustainable communities is to ensure that you have a successor. That person should be groomed, educated, and assured that they will maintain the values, objectives, and aspirations of a community if the leader is, for whatever reason, absent. This rule holds whether you’re a president, activist, CEO, radical, athlete on a team, military officer, executive director, or chairman.
Mr. Yasser Arafat, moving through the crowd in a bulletproof coffin, had a tremendous amount of time to ensure that his complex constituency would be represented and empowered. As in his life, in which he surely represented the dreams of many Palestinians but could never get past his intransigence to earn his people real peace, he has failed in his death to be a leader of substance and action. It’s a sad judgment and a sad day for many people but I actually believe the future for Palestinians may start today.

iPod Sucks

I know that I’m not the only one without an iPod but the whole thing just gets sillier and sillier.
Besides the reasons that I enumerated earlier, Apple has come out with iPod Socks (U.S.) that allows a device owner to, well, put your iPod in a sock. Dumb.
And the iPod U2 Special Edition? Dumb and not even nicely designed with its black and red palette and laser-etched signatures on the back making U2, once original musicians, look like a bunch of clowns.

The Shock and Awe of It All

This will be the last political post for perhaps some time as I seek to re-transition myself and the blog to other, more pressing matters like design, the use of the color brown, the latest Palm handheld, and the dearth of good museums today.
Actually, I don’t mean to jest. Politics, for almost everyone I know, has taken center stage in their lives and the way they live, act, work, eat, and, probably, sleep. Some state it outright while others suffer quietly and with the conviction that others are enduring similar angst and dolor.
I think what I find most disquieting (pun intended) right now is the presence of tremendous — but unexpected — sadness among many I know and others I don’t. It’s as if no one expected Mr. Bush to win the election — or if he did, that his winning would be less triumphant somehow. This inexplicable (to me) feeling of collective sorrow is not like anything else I can remember during my lifetime.
I certainly don’t mean to act like some sensor of the collective masses — though I aspire to be a kind of psychic sponge that assesses the mood ring color of the totality of the populace. And, if anything, I’m projecting my something onto others’ nothing. Yet, I can’t help but think that the sorrow I’m seeing (on magazines, in friends, at gatherings) is the sense that an era has ended — an era of New Deal sentiment and policy that helped drive such sentiment into our communal core. It’s not about liberals or progressive or democrats or independents; it’s about gentleness, thoughtfulness, and justice and the expectation that those values were in the hearts and minds of other U.S. citizens.
It turns out that those expectations are dashed and our senses about the future of hope — are dashed.

A Blue State

First, thanks to M.B, for the title of this post.
It’s not without some incredible feelings of awe that the Democrats lost the election in large part because of people who believe that their particular kind of morality is key to the future of the country. The recent post by Victor (see end of posting) is important because it outlines what liberals and social democrats generally have been accused of for ages: government is built to help people make decisions about their utterly complex lives. In the case of this election, it seems that a slim majority of voters would like the government to be involved in a different set of relationships: not social welfare, poverty, old age, health and wellbeing, or education but rather marriage, sexuality, and science.
I want to change the corner slightly and point out some very interesting data points that have been published by the New York Times a few days ago. They speak to the reality of a very confused electorate, an empassioned and bitter set of folks that seem to think government is somehow both the problem and the solution, and a population filled with minorities that are not getting, somehow, represented in government. Here:

  • 54% of voters over 60 (24% of total voters) voted for Bush
  • 58% of white voters (77% of total voters) voted for Bush
  • 88% of black voters (11% of total voters) voted for Kerry
  • 74% of Jewish voters (3% of total voters) voted for Kerry
  • 22% of voters felt that moral values were the issues that “mattered most” to them – these were the folks that won Mr. Bush II the election as 80% of them voted for him

P.S. The actual article (up for a few more days) is here but the superbly well-designed chart is hosted here.