Monday, July 29, 2013

chinese chess in harvard sq.

The above piece is an elephant; its movements are related to those of the bishop in western chess.

I played Chinese chess in Harvard Sq. today, fter miraculously finding a parking space directly opposite Holyoke Center, where those who do not talk about much else, and may not be able to, indulge their obsession with chess.

I put out my Xiangqi board, and immediately a young Chinese-American woman came over. She didn't know the game but said why not when I offered to teach her. She didn't know chess either, which made Xiangqi somewhat more difficult to grasp, since it is chess, though she knew the characters that define the pieces, so that, at least, was no problem.

Film Review: “Computer Chess” — An Engaging Dream

The eccentric and charming Computer Chess focuses on a group of geeks concentrating on what they see as the infinite microcosm to be found on the sixty four squares of the chess board.

Computer Chess, directed by Andrew Bujalski. At the Kendall Square Cinema and other screens around New England.

Computer Chess is rather a dear movie even if, as some allege, it is a departure from the genre of mumblecore filmmaking Andrew Bujalski is credited with/accused of creating.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Snowden in Moscow part 3

Edgar J. Snowden, an American citizen, is stuck within the transit zone of a Moscow airport.

We know this, that this is where he's stuck, grounded and becalmed, his luck in neutral.

Transit turns to no-transit. The space curdles, wraps around itself, becomes its opposite.

Matter gets bored with itself and comes up with anti-matter.

Even with the food.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Snowden in Moscow part 2

There's more to say about Snowden in Moscow, where "holed up" — as the NY Times put it — in the transit, or in his case, to date, no transit zone of the Moscow airport for weeks, he has reached out for clean clothes and a copy of  Dostoevsky’s "Crime And Punishment."

We should acknowledge the second part of this request for what it is, namely, given the source, a surprise endorsement of the power of literature. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Comment: Snowden in Moscow

Today's NY Times (7/25/13) reports that: "After a month holed up in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, Edward J. Snowden. . . received a change of clothes and copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment,' during a meeting with his lawyer on Wednesday. . . "

The need for a change of clothes requires no comment. But why that particular novel, not that I disapprove. On the contrary, I hope Snowden will share — leak? —  his thoughts on it. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Commentary: The Best We Have

Sometimes what you want to do is curate, to use that awfully pretentious Huffpo word. Sometimes you want to point to writers and thinkers who provide counsel, a smidgeon of wisdom, an indication that it is possible to wrestle adult sense out of complexity.

For me, two such are JJ. Goldberg, longtime contributor to The Forward, this country's historic organ of secular Jewish news and opinion, and Frank Rich, ex of the NY Times, now writing for New York Magazine (

Of the two, in this case, re Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman, I think Frank Rich's commentary much the best of the many I've read.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dzhokar Tsarnaev, part 2

Dzhokar Tsarnaev, part 2:

Here's a question:

Had Rolling Stone held off on that cover pic of Dzhokar & instead maybe used the police pic of him bloody & wounded, would he be any less popular in a certain set? Any less the rock star? Get any less mail/email?

I suspect not.

Those who want to cuddle him would have wanted to all the more, seeing him in pain, seeing him wounded.

Bigger question:

Why can't people hold 2 discordant ideas in their minds at the same time?

(I think the true neurological limit is more like plus or minus 8.)

Re Dzhokar:

He was cute
& a monster

He looked good
& was a killer

He was hot
& may he be punished to the full extent of the law

He was sweet
& such a sociopath

Thursday, July 18, 2013

made man

i got an air conditioner yesterday

   & it works

today my car aced inspection

i'm a made man
     made man

joe pesci

can't touch me

there is nutting

     he can do about me

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rolling Stone cover: Dzhokar Tsarnaev, terrorist dreamboat . . .

While edging along in traffic today, I left the FM dial for a bit -- some NPR segment about mortgages, I think, just the thing for this  heatwave -- and tried the AM dial. I wound up listening to Howie Carr. It was fun for a while, then, scary and outrageous.

I have to wonder if the ignorance that is his stock-in-trade comes to Carr naturally, a sort of gift, a kind of savantism in reverse, or does Carr have to study for it. (It must take some kind of smarts to be that dumb. Or maybe he just lies.)

The subject came around to the picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of the new Rolling Stone (8/1/13).

Why was Dzhokhar on the cover?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Islamophobia is ugly stuff, or can be. But context counts. In Egypt, a huge section of the overwhelmingly Muslim population resisted theocratic domination by the Muslim Brotherhood to the point of calling in the army to overturn it.

Is that Islamophobia?

I'm jewish. If I lived in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or even parts of Brooklyn and the rabbinic establishment forbade me from driving or even carrying groceries  on Saturday — not to mention telling my female friends how to dress on pain of being stoned — and I resented the hell out of it, and demanded police protection, would that make me anti-Jewish, a Semiteophobe?

The more separation between church and state the more better.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Film Review: Prometheus


*There have been over twenty movie adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft stories, all nearly forgotten. And yet Lovecraft’s sensibility serves as a guide to much of today’s cinema.*

*Prometheus*, directed by Ridley Scott. At theaters throughout New England.

*By Harvey Blume* 

To appreciate Ridley Scott’s *Prometheus*, it’s useful to have seen the director’s *Blade Runner* and his *Alien*. In fact it would be hard to have avoided repeat exposure to both these classics. Beyond that, it’s instructive to have read H.P. Lovecraft. Note I am using the past tense here. Most people who value Lovecraft encountered him at a time in their lives when they were maximally susceptible, ready to be forever imprinted. I am one of them. The likes of me read Lovecraft in batches, inhaled him, way back whenever. I can’t enjoy Lovecraft in anything like the same way now. I can barely get through what Stephen King calls the “lumbering poetry” to the vision underneath.

Book Review: Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos


Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False

Mind And Cosmos, by the philosopher Thomas Nagel, has created a fair amount of stir, arguing that science, as we know it, can't explain things like consciousness, or reason, or even, when it comes down to it, life itself. Science, as per Nagel, fails at what I will call the big "phase changes" (say, from chemistry to biology, and from matter to mind). Hence, he says, it's time to look for other types of causality.

No, not religion — Nagel is secular, with an avowed distaste for any flavor of theism. No, not even intelligent design — he's too intelligent, though he likes that intelligent design keeps the door open. Open for what? He doesn't know, exactly. We humans can't know, yet. To the extent that he does say, it's a throwback to the sort of philosophy that puts mind at the center of things, the view that maintains the universe made for mind, from the get-go, always intended it, so that through our minds the cosmos can know itself.

Art review: Josiah McElheny and CERN

Art and science rebuffed each other in this show. Visitors are unlikely to leave with either a greater understanding of cosmology or of Josiah McElheny’s art.

Josiah McElheny: Some Pictures of the Infinite. At the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA, through October 14.

Scattering Surface, the second piece in Josiah McElheny’s Big Bang Series, which describes the creation of the universe.

Conceptual art is sometimes thought of as a dodge, a shortcut, a way of skipping the detail-oriented work of representing reality. There are times, though, when the conceptual approach does more justice to the complex nature of things than representational skill can achieve.

Book Review: Steve Martin, An Object of Beauty


Steve Martin, An Object of Beauty, Grand Central Publishing, 2010. 295 pages, $26.99

In Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag argued that there is a radical disconnect in our culture between literary concerns and the visual arts. A version of the same divide can be seen at museum openings, where a certain percentage of visitors have cassettes in their ears, telling them what they are seeing, while others are fixated on curatorial captions, as if terrified of being hurled into pure seeing, enjoying it or not, finding meaning or its absence, arriving at their own conclusions.

Something similar is at work in the reception afforded two recent novels set in New York’s art world. The first is Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall. The novel got good reviews, but most centered on relationships among the characters. None that I know of (except, if I may say so, my own) attended much to the art objects themselves, though these, apart from their inherent, often perplexing allure, as well-described and worried over by Cunningham, shape his characters and their demands on each other.

Norman Mailer: Tough Fights

Norman Mailer: Tough Fights

(Artsfuse, 11/12/07)

When I spoke to Norman Mailer re "Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery," I was one of three interviewers going at him. One wanted to know about Mailer's marriages and his love life. Another wanted tips about how to stack the books up against each other; he wanted help structuring the Mailer canon. (What I wanted from Mailer is evident enough in the interview). Mailer had no problem granting three unrelated interviews simultaneously. We all got lots of what we came for.

As I read my interview with Mailer now, it occurs to me that something he said about Oswald applied to him. "Oswald," Mailer said, "was always a bell-shaped curve, always all of a bell-shaped curve. In any activity he engages in you can see him at his worst, you can see him at his best, and there's very little similarity."

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Film review: Hannah Arendt


Hannah Arendt. Directed by Margarethe von Trotta. German and Hebrew with subtitles. At the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

Hannah Arendt

When Hannah Arendt approached New Yorker editor William Shawn with her offer to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann shortly to begin in Jerusalem, she had no way of knowing that the result — published as Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), after serialization in the magazine — would arouse undying controversy. Nor could the famously — even fiercely? — placid Shawn have foreseen that Arendt’s reporting would put The New Yorker at the center of a debate about the Holocaust, though, if truth be told, Shawn had prior warning: the magazine’s publication of Phillip Roth’s story, “Defender of the Faith” in 1959, had attracted its fair share of ire.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dracula & Vampire fiction


On vampires and their grip, or why Drac and his kind can seem kind of eternal.

Vampire tales provide coherence. There is mystery, and, in the end, irrefutable, if nasty, causality. There is suspense and its imperative: pay attention, look around, check out details, especially coincidences, because you never know. Finally, there is finality: no matter how long it takes or how many continents it spans, Drac — at least one of his incarnations — will be cornered, staked out, and staked.

There is the thrill of the chase, of hunter v. hunted (with attendant role reversals).

Friday, July 5, 2013

dreaming gandolfini

gandolfini & i are walking along ocean ave. in brooklyn. some famous people go into a building but i can't recall who they are. gandolfini thinks this area is happening and soaks up my love for it.

 then we get to a boat yard — sheepshead bay — & for the first time i call him by name.


"but you're dead!"

i'm startled, disappointed and wake up.

Book Review: "Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century"


Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century, by Christian Caryl. Basic Books, 432 pages, $28.99.

Near the end of Christian Caryl's eye-opening account of global change, the author makes a return trip to Shenzhen, a city on the Chinese mainland just north of Hong Kong. After taking the elevator to the observation deck on the sixty-ninth floor of the Diwang Mansion, the city's tallest building at the time — he is careful to stipulate it might not hold that title for long— Caryl strolls through an historical exhibit until he is face to face with, "a remarkable sight: Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher are having a chat. The two life size wax figures. . . sit in armchairs against a backdrop photomontage: Beijing’s Forbidden City behind Deng's head, Hong Kong behind Thatcher's. Two pots of tea sit on the table between them."

Thursday, July 4, 2013



ticks without
bedbugs within

not even counting
things with wings