30 January 2007

Rafe Esquith

Others, I'm sure, heard about Rafe Esquith long before I did. Judging from his awards and honors -- including a National Medal of Arts, a $100,000 Use Your Life Award from Oprah, and, oh yeah, an OBE (albeit honorary) -- you might even be tired of hearing about him by now. But, because I've just discovered him, you'll just have to pardon my exuberance ...

In the past couple of weeks I've heard him give two NPR interviews. The first (here) is relatively brief. The second is an hour long edition of Dick Gordon's The Story (here). The recent spate of publicity is due to his new book, Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Method and Madness Inside Room 56, which he's currently promoting (and which I immediately ran out and bought for my wife, as soon as I heard these interviews) -- not that that any of that keeps him from his regular teaching duties at Hobart Elementary School in inner-city Los Angeles.

In fact, 'Hobart' might sound familiar to PBS viewers. A few years ago, Academy Award-nominated director Mel Stuart made a documentary about Esquith entitled The Hobart Shakespeareans. (Yes, the same Mel Stuart who directed the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder!) I imagine that's where most folks heard of him ... Acutally, let's be honest: most people probably heard about him via that would-be mouthpiece of American culture, known as Oprah. But that's a tirade for another day.

For now, you can catch a glimpse -- just a glimpse -- of the man's extraordinary work in this trailer for The Hobart Shakespeareans here:

29 January 2007

Another Knockout

Waits triumphs over The Man again. This must be the first time anyone has ever confused Waits with Brahms!

LOS ANGELES Jan 27, 2007 (AP) — Grammy Award-winning singer Tom Waits has settled a lawsuit in which he claimed an automaker and an ad agency violated his rights by imitating him in TV commercials, his lawyer said.

The lawsuit was resolved "recently" in a state court in Frankfurt, Germany, but the settlement required other details be kept confidential, attorney Kevin Marks said Friday. Waits will donate the "net settlement proceeds" to charity, Marks said.

"I'm glad to be out of the car sales business once and for all," Waits said in a statement issued on Thursday.

The gravel-voiced singer sued Adam Opel AG, which is part of General Motors Corp., and the advertising firm McCann Erickson in 2005 on grounds that his personality rights had been violated.

Waits, who has a policy of not doing commercials, claimed that a singer imitating his voice and style appeared on the soundtrack for Opel ads that aired in Scandinavia after he turned down several offers to do the commercials.

Opel said the music was a Brahms composition and wasn't intended to mimic Waits. The ad music was later changed. [Continued here.]

Incidentally, Waits did do a commercial once ... a long time ago. The commercial was for a new Purina dog food called (appropriately enough) Butcher's Blend. Here it is:

As usual, all of the details concerning this bit of Waits trivia can be found here, at the Tom Waits Library.

25 January 2007

The Language of Autism

A woman with autism, first, performs her own language, and then discusses discrimination (in our language). Remarkable!

Behind the Curve

In the UK, a debate is underway concerning only whether Catholic adoption agencies should be granted an exemption from last year's Equality Act, which made it illegal to discriminate against homosexuals in the provision of goods and services. In fact, as of this afternoon, it looks as though the exception won't be granted:

Blair: I Have Always Backed Gay Adoption
The Guardian
January 25, 2007

An interesting turn of events, given that Tony Blair has long been reputed to be a "closeted" Catholic.

Incredibly, the American debate centers on whether gay couples should be allowed to raise children at all. Our own Vice President, when asked yesterday about his own gay daughter's pregnancy, refused comment on the issue:

21 January 2007

Who's Free?

A wonderful discussion of the problem of free will a few weeks ago in -- where else? -- the New York Times:

Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t
The New York Times
January 2, 2007

" ... physicists, neuroscientists and computer scientists have joined the heirs of Plato and Aristotle in arguing about what free will is, whether we have it, and if not, why we ever thought we did in the first place."

The popular discussion there reminds me of this scene in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life in which University of Texas philosopher, David Sosa, ably introduces the problem like this:

Immaculate Confection

If only religion worked like this -- a confection in the mouth, some confetti in the air -- I'd be spending Sundays like today in the pews rather than in front of a screen ...

19 January 2007

The Wife Strikes Again

Caroline won another race last weekend -- this time, the (wonderful!) 2nd Annual Little River Trail Run. Along the way, she managed to set a new course record (1:07:20) for the technically demanding 9-mile stretch. Good friend and fellow Fleet Feet team member, Sarah Hallenbeck, finished just behind Caroline in second place. Congratulations to them both! An excerpt from the Race Director's Report:

Equally amazing were the top three women, Caroline Blatti, Sarah Hallenbeck, and Allison Peters. The women's course record was 1:07:35. After the men's results, all bets were off as to how quickly the first woman would come out of the woods. I heard someone yell, "there she is!" It was Caroline, making the loop around the field and breaking the course record by 15 seconds, finishing in a blistering 1:07:20. Sarah was just a minute behind her at 1:08:22, with Allison finishing third in 1:11 flat. A fast day, indeed.

The Chapel Hill News covered the race in a lengthy article here.

18 January 2007

Online Conference in Aesthetics

This celebration of the 25th anniversary of Arthur Danto's groundbreaking, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace promises to be a wonderful online conference. Discussions will kick off next Monday, January 22.

Additional details here:

Most recent discussions of Danto's work have focused either on his art criticism or his historical claims about the end of art. This conference aims to focus instead on topics raised by Danto’s earlier work. Papers might take several approaches, including:

1. Critical discussion of Danto's arguments in Transfiguration.
2. Comparisons of Danto's philosophy of art to that of others, whether within or outside the analytic or Western traditions.
3. Explorations of questions raised or left open by Danto’s book.
4. Specific discussions of the Transfiguration’s continued relevance within aesthetics or its application to particular arts (painting, music, literature, dance, etc.).

The conference, to be presented online in January 2007, will feature papers from scholars in philosophy, art history, and other fields impacted by Danto’s work. Keynote papers will be offered by Richard Shusterman (Philosophy, Florida Atlantic) and David Carrier (Art History, Case Western). Professor Danto will close the conference with a response to the papers presented.

The program can be found here.

Tom Waits for No One

It's remarkable what discoveries the internet affords the avid fan. To wit, this entry in the Tom Waits Library:

Since the late 1970's, the undercurrent buzz of an obscure animated rock video entitled, "Tom Waits For No One", has been circulating amongst the worldwide hardcore aficionados of Tom Waits. Rumors have been fueled only by occasional and rare photographs; perhaps these are stills from the video itself, or perhaps images taken from the animation cels. The intriguing source of the photos has been a baffling chase for more than twenty years. Who made it, what was it about, where did it originate geographically, why hasn't it been available to the public, and how was it made, all the basic questions, have been nothing short of a discouraging riddle. The 5 1/2 minute animated short is an erotic visual featuring Waits crooning "The One That Got Away" to a sultry long-haired stripper on a desolate boulevard of broken hearts.

At long last we got in touch with the director of this beautiful and technologically groundbreaking video, John Lamb. Through email conversations John has finally come forth with the history behind this video and graciously clarified the mystery. He explains how he came to make it, the persons involved with the making of it, the creative process of Rotoscoping, why the video dived into a black hole, Tom Waits' involvement, and delectable anecdotes on working with Waits.

This really is remarkable work. In fact, as you'll learn from the interview with John Lamb here, the "Video Animation System for testing motion picture animation sequences" that Lamb invented in 1976 (with the help of his business partner, Bruce Lyon) earned the two an Academy Award in the category of Scientific and Technical Achievement (1980). So here, at long last, is the video itself:

17 January 2007

Springfield, IL ... Sound Familiar?

I haven't yet seen anyone comparing Obama to Abraham Lincoln (he's from Illinois, he's spent only a few years in the Senate, he's a charismatic speaker apparently above the fray, etc.), but I'm sure such comparisons are forthcoming ... and will be welcomed by those in the Obama camp.

Obama Starts ’08 Bid
The New York Times
January 16, 2007

Two years after arriving in Washington, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois made clear on Tuesday his intention to enter the Democratic presidential race, creating an exploratory committee while preparing to open a full-fledged campaign next month to become the nation’s first black president. ... Obama said he would formally declare his intention to run on Feb. 10 in Springfield, Ill.

Here's Obama's announcement in full:

16 January 2007

Just Another Night at the Volksbühne

I miss Berlin ...

Under [Castorf's] direction, actors ignored huge portions of the classical texts they performed, stripped naked, screamed their lines for the duration of five-hour productions, got drunk onstage, dropped out of character, conducted private fights, tossed paint at their public, saw a third of the audience walk out as they spoke two lines at an excruciatingly slow pace, may or may not have induced a theatergoer to drink urine, threw potato salad, immersed themselves in water, recited newspaper reports of Hitler’s last peacetime birthday party, told bad jokes, called the audience East German sellouts and appeared to but did not kill a mouse. After their first season the prestigious magazine Theaterheute (Theater Today) named the Volksbühne Theater of the Year.


This is a charming -- if possibly disturbing -- short from Blue Sky Studios. It won the 1998 Academy Award for Best Animated Short, and it features music by Waits ("Bend Down the Branches," recently released on Orphans).

Is the recommendation supposed to be that the elderly should put their heads in the oven if they wish to become reunited with their dead spouses? Hmmmm.

15 January 2007

Beware the Bassist

A vintage recording of Reg Kehoe and His Marimba Queens ... with updated bass solo.

That guy should be chained up somewhere!

Organ Donation Petition

Under current UK law, your organs may be used for transplants (after your death) only if you explicitly “opt-in” to the system by adding your name to the NHS Organ Donor Register. Too few do so: the NHS has a critical need for far more organs than this system provides.

The link below is to an e-petition lobbying the government to change the system from “opt-in” to “opt-out”, so that organs in dead adult bodies would be automatically available for transplant unless the deceased had explicitly registered his/her dissent (or his/her family does so post-mortem).

A move by Evan Harris (Lib Dem. MP) to amend the Human Tissue Bill to his effect was defeated in parliament in 2004, but the issue is unlikely to go away. (Austria and Spain already have an opt-out system. Demand for organs in the UK continues far to exceed supply, etc.)

If you agree that the system should be changed, and you're a UK resident, please sign the petition:


Jazz in the Shadows

Two jazz musicians who spent much of their respective careers in the shadows died this weekend: saxophonist, Michael Brecker, and pianist, Alice Coltrane. The shadow cast over Brecker depended on the session—notwisthstanding his solo-work, Brecker spent much of his life in the studio, in support of everyone from Aerosmith to Zappa—while the shadow cast over Coltrane was, of course, her husband's.

Listen to Alice Coltrane here.

Listen to Michael Brecker here.

Beethoven, Philly Style

Did you know that, on this National Public Radio page, one can hear (for free!) recent Philadelphia Orchestra performances of all nine Beethoven symphonies? I didn't.

"The Philadelphia Orchestra performs all nine of Beethoven's symphonies as part of a season-long tribute. Conductor Christoph Eschenbach's goal is to remove Beethoven from 'the classical box' to show his 'revolutionary and visionary' side. The orchestra's virtuosity is on display throughout."

That solves the problem of determining the soundtrack for today's work ...

12 January 2007

Time Killer

Some gems to be found here.

11 January 2007

Case Study in How Not to Recruit: Haaavad Econ

From Leiter Reports comes the news that Harvard's Economics Department actually prepared this video as a recruiting device for prospective PhD students:

As should’ve been expected, parodies were soon to follow. This one is the best by far:

Another spoof can be found here.

10 January 2007

Step Right Up

As our president tries to sell us another bill of goods tonight, an apt tune:
Waits for any occasion ...

09 January 2007

Remembering P. F. Strawson

The great Peter Strawson (my teacher's teacher) died last year, but I missed this former student's letter, published in the Guardian not long afterwards ...

Thursday March 9, 2006
The Guardian

While I was a philosophy student of Sir Peter Strawson at University College, Oxford, in summer 1965, my father died. I had a tutorial with Professor Strawson at which I was due to deliver an essay the day before the funeral. Unable to write anything, I went to apologise. I have never forgotten his response: "To think that you should be worried about writing an essay at such a time. Philosophy is just a game played by clever people to avoid having to get their knees brown.
" We spent the rest of the hour talking about coming to terms with my loss. That was true humanity.
(Jeremey Hein)

Although I was fortunate enough to share quite a few meals and conversations with him while at Univ, I never knew Professor Strawson well. But from all that I've gathered from those who knew him better than I, such humanity was no less characteristic than was his acumen.

Florida 41 -- Ohio State 14

A black day for Buckeye nation. Sad details here.

The Bucks seemed to have taken to heart all of those who said that the real national championship game was played in November against Michigan. That's one hypothesis anyway. Some possible diagnoses here. For my part, it was the play of Florida's offensive line that, I believe, threw our gameplan into chaos.

05 January 2007

Fire at the American Philosophical Association!

As if the life of a young philosopher in search of a job weren't trying enough, apparently there was a fire at last month's APA convention in Washington D.C.!

A few details can be found here. And the D.C. Fire Department report can be found here.

Update concerning reimbursements here.

UNICEF International Photo of the Year

UNICEF’sInternational Photo of the Year has been awarded to Jan Grarup. But personally, I found this entry (left) more compelling. Taken by the Israeli photographer, Oded Balilty, the photo depicts 8-year old Vika Chervinska and her mother in the children's hospital in Kiev. Though the catastrophe at Chernobyl took place long before she was born, Vika suffers from a cancer that she acquired via genetic material inherited from her mother, who was in the vicinity at the time of the disaster.

04 January 2007

Saatchi Strikes Again

Say what you will about the man himselfnot to mention what he has done to the contemporary artworld (particularly in the UK)—this idea of Saatchi's is brilliant ...

I Like Ur Art: Saatchi Creates an Online Hangout for Artists
The New York Times
December 28, 2006

"Julie Ann Travis , 23, a graduate student at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, is curious to see what her peers are up to and to share some of her latest work. So recently she posted a self-portrait in which her head is buried in a pile of dirt at Stuart (saatchi-gallery.co.uk/stuart), the latest addition to a recently redesigned Web site for the Saatchi Gallery in London.

"The brainchild of the London-based advertising magnate and collector Charles Saatchi, this social networking outlet -- a kind of MySpace knockoff for artists -- is causing something of a sensation, boosting traffic at the gallery's Web site overall to more than three million hits a day.

The site discussed can be found here.

Gomez on Tom Waits

I used to be an avid fan of the Southport band, Gomez. (Truth be told, I really only know Liquid Skin [1998] and Bring it On [1999], from when I first moved to England.)

But be that as it may, the band was recently interviewed as part of MP3.com's Great Albums series, and they discussed my hero, Tom Waits, at some length. Seems that, like me, they too first discovered Waits through Bone Machine (1992) and only subsequently worked their way through the corpus, beginning with Closing Time (1973). Worth a listen here.

Shakespeare's Church Is Crumbling

A metaphor for the state of Bard-worship today? Probably not.

Shakespeare's Church is Crumbling
The New York Times
January 4, 2007

All flip innuendo aside, the the Holy Trinity Church is a wonderful place; I highly recommend it to all visitors to Stratford. One only hopes that any successful fundraising effort won't be accompanied by the tourism-fueled commercialization which plagues the rest of Stratford, but which has, until now, been largely absent at the church.

03 January 2007

Hazmat Modine -- part 2

The paean to Hazmat Modine continues. (Readers who don’t know me well enough yet will one day be grateful for the reprieve from my penchant for Tom Waits idolatry.) Witness the virtuosity of Wade Schuman:

I love how this “solo” was shot, with each other band member holding his instrument, watching, as if to say: “This is our tune, but this guy is clearly a band unto himself.”

Two more links:

02 January 2007

Musical Year in Review: 2006

Around the holidays, I give to friends and family—those who aren’t already sick of hearing me laud my most recent “find”—a collection of some of the tunes I’ve been listening to throughout the preceding year. While some of the material was released during the past year or so (noted with an asterisk), most of it features established bands and/or older tunes that I happen to have discovered only recently. In this (narcissistic) sense, it's less the musical year in review, and more my musical year in review. But my mother taught me not to look a gift horse in the mouth, and nor should you.

Anyway, here is this year's tracklist:

1. Travelin’ Prayer (Dolly Parton, The Grass Is Blue)
2. Please Come Home Before It Rains (Otis Taylor, Double V)
3. The Hunter (Albert King, Born Under A Bad Sign)
4. Someday (Los Lobos with Mavis Staples, The Ride)
5. Go Wash an Elephant (Baby Gramps, Same Ol’ Timeously)
6. Kontroll på Kontinentet (Kaizers Orchestra, Ompa Til Du Dør)
7. Dayton, Ohio – 1903 (Randy Newman, Sail Away)
8. It Calls Me (Hazmat Modine, Bahamut)*
9. The Pontiac (Tom Waits, Orphans: Bastards)*
10. Scrape Me Off The Side Of The World (Erin Blatti, Work In Progress)*
11. Be Good To Them Always (The Books, Lost and Safe)*
12. I Wasted Time (Paul Kelly, Nothing But A Dream)
13. The Fox (Odetta, American Folk Pioneer)
14. Lost Fox Train (Hazmat Modine, Bahamut)*
15. Sam Hall (Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around)
16. Anywhere (Erin Blatti, Work In Progress)*
17. Smells Like Funk (Black Eyed Peas, Elephunk)
18. Shake It ‘n’ Break It (Baby Gramps, Same Ol’ Timeously)
19. Stay Up All Night (Drink Me, Drink Me)
20. Hospital Beds (Cold War Kids, Robbers & Cowards)*
21. The Dream Before (Laurie Anderson, Strange Angels)

Included among the year’s highlights—in addition to two tunes by Hazmat Modine (see previous post)—are the utterly outlandish Baby Gramps Boston’s newest sensation, Erin Blatti, newcomers Cold War Kids, the unheralded (and incomprehensible) Norwegian band, Kaizers Orchestra, and the underrated early-90’s duo, Drink Me. More thoughts on some of these artists in future posts ... Time now to call it a night.