Sunday, November 23, 2008

Joan Rivers at the Cutting Room

"You think you're getting a show?
You're getting the ramblings of an old lady."

For a couple of years I've been hearing comedians on talk radio rave about Joan Rivers' sets at a tiny midtown club called the Cutting Room. The other night curiosity got the best of me and we checked it out.

It's an irrisistable prospect: Here's the most sold-out, face-lifted, television-mediocrity, QVC-embarrassment, walking punchline in the world, and in her 70's she suddenly gets the standup bug again. And instead of taking it to Broadway to soak the same rubes who buy her jewelry, she does sets every week she's in town at a little performance space filled with locals who are going to make her work for it.

And work she does. She's on the attack from the word go. Her pop-culture references are mostly 20 years out of date, but who cares, it was as brutal as I'd been led to believe. She started with the California wildfires and just got darker from there, not neglecting to riff on 9/11, the Holocaust, or even her own no-talent daughter along the way.

The crowd eats it up, but a lady at our table did find the Anne Frank material a touch offensive. As Rivers would say, "Is she here?"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Daniel Craig 3

Around the time of Casino Royale I read a fascinating little book called The Man Who Saved Britain, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in James Bond and/or the history of England. Not just an inquiry into who Ian Fleming was and what forces positioned him to create his astonishingly successful little spy novels; not just a howlingly funny memoir of the author's own fevered adolescent Bond obsession; but a comprehensive analysis of the cultural and historical context of post-WWII England that Bond fits into.

Put simply, 1950's England was in the grip of an existential crisis. Their long period of world dominance was coming to a swift, shocking end, their military might was exhausted and their economy was terrifyingly circling the drain. Sound familiar?

Simon Winder argues that Fleming's creation caught on because it created a persuasive alternate reality, a secret unseen world in which the British still dominated the course of world events, when in reality they increasingly found themselves without even a seat at the table. He further argues that Bond gave the British a vessel in which to keep their sense of national identity out of disgrace as they slogged through the tough times and eventually rebounded.

Reading this history of the fall of another recent world empire gave me a few gut-churning moments, I don't mind telling you. But it goes to show why the Bond of Casino and Quantum is the Bond for our time, aside from the brutality and the more contemporary subject matter. Like his post-9/11 American counterpart, Jack Bauer, he offers us a reassuring suggestion that there is something inherently worthwhile in the Western character; a courageous, resourceful spark that will somehow see us through in a world that no longer makes sense. It might be the purest bullshit, but it might be all we've got to go on right now.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


UPDATE: Being fairly new at blogging, it turns out that I have not mastered the art of taking negative comments in stride. It also turns out that when I unintentionally offend someone, I feel pretty guilty about it. I'm leaving this post up, but I wish to point out that it's not a statement of opinion, it's me summarizing something I read from a mainstream source. I further wish to point out that I am a guy who draws cartoons. I'm not a pundit with a specialty in contemporary Russian politics. That is all.

In keeping with the Bond theme: my wife looked up from her Vanity Fair the other day and said, "Did you know that Vladimir Putin rides around in a car with '007' on the license plate?" I said, "Doesn't he know that he's the guy who ends up shot at the end of the James Bond film?" After reading the article ("Dead Soul", October 2008, sorry can't find a link), I can believe both: that he's vain enough to fancy himself a dashing secret agent (as a child he already dreamt of joining the KGB), and is unreflective enough not to see the irony.

Putin was created as a Presidential candidate in 1999 by Yeltsin's embattled inner circle, who saw him as their ideal creature: a small bland bureaucrat, inoffensive enough to be sold to the public, with no accomplishments of his own, lacking the will or imagination to do anything but what they told him. They may have been right about him being undistinguished and small-minded. They soon found out how drastically wrong they were about everything else. Many of the very people who supported him for President-- and almost everyone who knew him and could tell much of anything about him--are now either working close to him, or dead, or living in exile. To this day he remains something of a blank slate. Nonetheless, the VF piece presents a fascinating picture of an accidental tyrant.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Marker study: couple on beach

No, not another James Bond post, just a study from a photo in preparation for a job.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Daniel Craig 2

One thing I appreciate about the new-jack Craig Bond is that the filmmakers seem to understand that the 'gadget' motif has exhausted itself. We live in a gadget world now, and our fascination with clever little doo-dads has been fed in no small part by the Bond films themselves. But we're now living in science fiction and it doesn't make you unique or special to be carrying around a spy cam, or enough computer power to command an army. In the 60's your iPhone would have made you a superhero, but today it makes you one of the sheep. 

In a consumer world focused more and more on comfort, security and luxury, what sets a man apart is the ability to disregard all that. What distinguishes Craig's Bond is simply his raw ability to mix it up. Sad to say, what's science fiction in today's world is that a man can actually be a man.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Daniel Craig 1

I dearly loved Casino Royale, so much so that it make me rethink my opinion of the rest of the series. I think I'm now willing to throw out the entire original Bond canon except for the first six. When I finally getting around to buying the DVDs, it'll be just the first five Connerys plus my previous favorite, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I consider Diamonds are Forever to be a Roger Moore film.

I'm hearing extremely mixed things about Quantum of Solace, but as long as they haven't completely reverted to the old formula I'm probably going to like it. As long as it doesn't start off with Bond pretending to flirt with an aging Moneypenny, and end with a shootout in some big mad scientist lab with army guys and ninjas, and then ten seconds later he's somehow in a boat humping some girl over the end credits, as long as they don't do that I'll probably go home happy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Get dressed, damn you!

This is what it looks like on pretty much any morning that my wife has to leave for work early.


On another topic entirely: I know it's the most typical, annoying thing in the world when someone tries to act like their kid is so talented and blah blah blah, so my apologies but I just can't hold myself back.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Day

9am-- Drop the kids off at preschool. The teachers in Irina's class tell me how they did a mock Presidential election yesterday. My daughter and her best pal ran on a platform of "more snacks". The winning ticket ran for more visits from community members like firemen (my wife maintains the teachers must have heavily influenced that win). Even though she lost, I'm proud of my little girl for the way she shamelessly pandered to the voters' basest instincts. I'll have to teach her about character assassination in time for 2012.

10am-- Settle in to work at my favorite wifi cafe. It's hard not to just hang on all day. I put on Howard Stern to take my mind off things, but he's talking election too. For some reason the old coot is angry that Obama carries a pocketful of good-luck charms, most infuriatingly a "monkey god". Monkey God? I find a picture, and sure enough, Hanuman. Hindu spirit of sacrifice and selfless service, defender of the poor and forgotten throughout Asia. I visited Hanuman temples all over North India, and I once contributed a Hanuman painting to a popular CD of yoga chanting. For some reason I've been getting emails lately from people who want to turn it into a tattoo. I realize I stopped believing in good omens at some point.

5pm-- We were hoping to go out to watch the results tonight, but our sitter was booked--one of her clients was once a Presidential primary candidate. So our "date" consists of voting, picking the kids up and taking them out for Mexican.

8pm-- The restaurant is deserted. Faith thinks that everyone's glued to their TV's. Or battening down the hatches? The first polls are closing and we spend the meal craning our necks to see the TV. I talk to a couple of older guys at the bar, extras right out of a Scorcese movie. They're enraged that CNN is still posting results state-by-state, because it tends to affect the vote in places that are still open. I can't tell for sure which side these guys are pulling for. Eventually they switch to a basketball game, then leave it on AMC. Sylvester Stallone in a tux-- Rocky II. Did they want to watch something where they're sure the black guy is going to lose?

9:30pm-- Home. It looks to be breaking the right way. I take the baby upstairs to walk her around on the roof, a surefire way to get her to sleep. Usually the white noise of the traffic does the trick, but immediately I notice that there's hardly any. Almost no one's out on the street.

10pm-- The kids went down without a fight. Some clients of mine in D.C. are trading emails with their colleagues in India, trying to pin down a location for an event in New Delhi. I suggest a couple of places I visited. How can anyone be thinking about work right now? I haven't thought much about that India trip post-2001. It was a magical time, it's nice to be reminded of it twice in one day.

10:30pm-- Obama has 202 electoral votes--it's looking good. We go up to the roof for a cautiously celebratory drink before the next round of polls come in. Still very little street traffic. The city holds its collective breath. Faith wonders if there'll be a sudden surge of noise. I don't think so--different networks call it at different times. It's not a Giants game.

10:55pm-- I'm wrong. I don't know what was just announced, but suddenly an enormous roar is building all over the city. Cars are honking their horns, we see fireworks across some rooftops. We forget all about CNN-- this is what we want to be watching. The cab drivers at the gas station are high-fiving each other. People are running through the streets chanting "Obama". We stand and watch the impromptu celebration from on high for another hour. This is the spot where I stood and watched the second tower collapse. Today, a good day to be in New York.

Monday, November 03, 2008


"For one shining moment, let's call a halt to our red-blue bickering and predicting. Rather than glancing back at our racist past or peering into our uncertain future, we'll allow ourselves a brief celebration of now. We'll be brave and reckless enough to be happily surprised by one undeniable change:

Against all sensible odds and reasoned predictions, untold numbers of Americans of every persuasion have opened their hearts, minds and souls to the possibility that a black man is the best choice to lead them. Whatever happens, an immeasurable amount of light has illuminated our darkness."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Obama in 16:9

Considering that the line on Obama used to be that he "doesn't give any details", it's been gratifying to see him putting out serious policy proposals lately. Good or bad, you can't accuse him of not having a plan. In these last desperate days, with the McCain side flinging retarded talking points like so much monkey shit, Obama's very much assumed the role of the adult in the room.

Obama has displayed a clear-eyed willingness to be honest about the mess the country's in, and to ask more of us than to wave a flag or take another fucking trip to the mall. Personally, I'm willing to sign off on his tax plan even if I end up on the wrong end of it. If the broader economy keeps imploding it won't be long before there's nothing to tax anyway. The idea of a New Deal-style program, putting people to work rebuilding the infrastructure and converting the power grid, makes my little liberal heart do backflips.

Maybe it's all a bunch of happy horseshit he's selling, maybe the money just isn't there, burned up over the last five years in a faraway desert. But I'm willing to throw in with the guy who wants to see the United States excel again at something besides fear and messianic delusion.