Malibu Up My Nose

This Is What I Have Been Breathing for Weeks

Take a deep breath: You will notice a certain burnt flavor to the air, because it is full of ashes … from brush, from houses, from unfortunate pets and wild critters, and from God knows what all. When the devil wind blows in the autumn, it doesn’t take much to turn Malibu into a charnel house. It’s not so much the trees that burn as the underlying brush, which thereupon sends up flaming embers that land on roofs hundreds of feet away. And when one house goes up in smoke, there’s a good chance that surrounding structures will as well.

All evening, I have been blowing my nose constantly, turning several handkerchiefs into soppy messes. There have been times in the past when this constant sneezing and nose-blowing is the prelude to a nasty cold. I hope that this is not one of those instances. I got my flu shot six days ago, and I am not sure it is protecting me just yet.

I often wonder why people want to live in Malibu. There is only one real highway in and out, with a couple of mountain routes that connect California Route 1 to the San Fernando and Conejo Valleys. There is something to be said for a nice ocean view, but the people who could afford to live there get pretty blasé about the view after a few weeks. And there is a near certainty of destruction by fire or flood over a period of several decades. I suppose it is one of the things people do “because they can.” Regardless how stupid it is in the long run.

 

Giorgio di Chirico, Surrealist Painter

His Surrealist Landscapes Are Endlessly Fascinating

The scene is a port somewhere. You can see the unfurled sails of a ship just over the wall while two muffled figures hover around the entrance of a building. There is a tower just over the wall that could be a lighthouse, but maybe not. Note the conflicting shadows: The building on the left is casting its shadow in the 4 o’clock position, while the unseen structures on the right have shadows that are closer to the 10 o’clock position, I love these strange Mediterranean landscapes which seem to suggest so much but say nothing clearly.

Giorgio di Chirico (1888-1978) was, to my mind, the greatest of the surrealist painters. Although I prefer the landscapes, he painted other subjects as well:

Miscellaneous Objects Suggesting Strange Geometries

In one of his writings, the painter states, “What is especially needed is great sensitivity: to look upon everything in the world as enigma….To live in the world as in an immense museum of strange things.” The above image certainly qualifies.

Another Chirico Landscape

The flags atop the facing buildings show a strong wind blowing from right to left. The steam from the locomotive beyond the wall in the background, on the other hand, is going straight up. Again, we have two muffled figures in the middle distance and a strange statue of a reclining male in the middle of the square. Again—not unusual with Chirico—the shadows are a little inconsistent. Where, for instance, is the shadow of the tall phallic tower.

 

“Married Blues”

I Never Had One Myself, But I Could Imagine …

The following poem by Kenneth Rexroth appeared in a poetry collection in Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets entitled Blues Poems. It is entitled “Married Blues.” I know I never had any children (I’m sterile as a result of an old pituitary tumor), never even got married; but I can appreciate Rexroth’s poetic vision.

Married Blues

I didn’t want it, you wanted it.
Now you’ve got it you don’t like it.
You can’t get out of it now.

Pork and beans, diapers to wash,
Too poor for the movies, too tired to love,
There’s nothing we can do.

Hot stenographers on the subway.
The grocery boy’s got a big one.
We can’t do anything about it.

You’re only young once.
You’ve got to go when your time comes.
That’s how it is. Nobody can change it.

Guys in big cars whistle.
Freight trains moan in the night.
We can’t get away with it.

That’s the way life is.
Everybody’s in the same fix.
It will never be any different.

 

 

 

Crypto-Economics

Stack of Cryptocurrencies Including Bitcoin and Others

Today was my day downtown. After my mindful meditation session, I took the Dash B bus to Chinatown and had a delicious lunch of Beef in Black Bean Sauce at the Hong Kong BBQ on Broadway. As I ate my lunch, I read a long article in The New Yorker about cryptocurrencies. It was entitled “The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of” and was by Nick Paumgarten. I have held back from the subject because I used to be a computer programmer myself and know how tempting it can be to game whatever system I am designing to my advantage.

People are so mesmerized by the concept of a blockchain because it is something new and edgy. Therefore it exercises a powerful attraction, especially to people who are not quite conversant with the technology.

Do you know what a blockchain is? One can’t advance far into the subject without coming to terms with the concept. Here is a link to a graphic presentation from Reuters entitled “Blockchain Explained”: Click Here. I am familiar with hash codes in search algorithms, so I feel somewhat familiar with the ground. What disturbs me is that human nature keeps rearing its ugly head and leading to the system being easily scammed. Also, I am not happy about ransomware from hackers demanding payment in cryptocurrencies, because the transfer is untraceable by law enforcement.

I am always suspicious about economic activities that require more faith than I am willing to repose in them. There is such a marketing aspect to the whole technology that one feels one were being assailed by timesharing condominium salesmen, as I was when I landed at the Cabo San Lucas airport a couple years ago.

What if cryptocurrencies became more popular than the 1% share of the global financial services market they currently occupy. Even at the current level, blockchain software requires incredible computer power. According to the Paumgarten article:

This year, it is said, the Bitcoin network will use as much energy as the nation of Austria, and produce as much carbon dioxide as a million transatlantic flights. Mining rigs—computers designed specifically to do this work—are thirsty machines. Mining farms tend to sprout up where juice is cheap (typically, in proximity to hydropower projects with excess capacity to unload) and where temperatures are low (so you don’t have to burn even more electricity to keep the rigs cool). There are open-air warehouses in remote corners of sub-Arctic Canada, Russia, and China, with machines whirring away on the tundra, creating magic money, while the permafrost melts.

I can foresee Thomas Pynchon writing a sequel to his Bleeding Edge about this activity. It’s almost as if the subject of cryptocurrencies and the high priests who run them were made to order for him.

As David Chaum, one of the pioneers of cryptocurrency software, once said, “There’s never been, in the history of civilization, this much money aggregated as a result of doing nothing.”

My Brilliant Acting Career

Me As a Dissolute 19th Century Gambler

Martine and I have been working at thinning my overflowing collection of books and papers. Today, two 8 x 10 photos emerged of me in a 1970s student film by Trevor Black and Lynette Cahill. If I remember rightly, the film was based on a Chekhov story called “The Duel.” I played a bit part as a cheating gambler. How any self-respecting gambler sport such a rat’s nest of a hairdo is beyond me. The interesting thing is that, unconsciously, in costume I resembled my literary hero, G. K. Chesterton, hair and all. (Today my hair is not much to look at.)

G. K. Chesterton

I enjoyed this brief acting stint, though I was never requested to act again. No casting directors have besieged me to try out for any major studio (or even indie) productions. No matter: I was never really that interested in film production, whether as director, crew, or actor. I just liked to see, talk about, and write about great films. I would have liked to become a professor of film history, but that was not in the cards for me; and I have no regrets about the winding path I wound up taking.

Here is another view of me in costume, acting as the second in a duel:

Me as the Crooked Gambler Acting as the Second in a Duel


If any of you have any lucrative roles for a ratty looking retired guy, please contact me at once.
 

Favorite Films: Two Men in Manhattan (1959)

French Film Director Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973)

You have to admit it: He looks like an American. But he comes by it honestly. Not only is he a hero of the French Resistance during the Second World War, but his code name was Melville, based on his love of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. His real name was Jean-Pierre Grumbach, born an Alsatian Jew in Paris; but he signed all his films as Jean-Pierre Melville.

I have seen four of Melville’s thirteen films. Although the French New Wave of the 1960s resulted in a publicity windfall for Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Alain Resnais, there were many French directors who never became quite so well-known across the Atlantic. Jean-Pierre Melville is one of them. Others include Jacques Becker, Jacques Rivette, and Claude Chabrol.

Two Men in Manhattan (Deux Hommes dans Manhattan) is like a Valentine dedicated to New York City at night. A newsman for Agence France Presse in New York is told to investigate the non-appearance of a French diplomat at the United Nations. Moreau (played by Melville himself) looks up his paparazzi friend Delmas. Together, they search for three known past girlfriends of the diplomat, including a Broadway actress, a jazz singer, and a stripper. They even visit a high-priced prostitute known to favor diplomats. When they find that he has died in a girlfriend’s apartment, a conflict erupts when Delmas sees the potential for selling photos that show his death to have been a squalid one. It turns out the deceased was a hero in the Resistance, and Moreau’s boss wants the negatives of the pictures Delmas took.

French Title for Two Men in Manhattan

In no American film of the period have I seen such beautiful scenes of night-time Manhattan. The exteriors in this film are lovely, and the scuttlebutt is that Melville shot them himself. If so, I would regard it as high on the list of the best noir films, irrespective of country of origin.

If you should rent the DVD, I suggest you also watch the extra footage of a conversation between Jonathan Rosenbaum and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, two knowledgeable film critics who provide excellent background to the movie and Melville’s career.

 

Fending Off the Wrathful Deities

Another Eastern Holy Book I Forgot to Mention Yesterday

Memory is like that. You write about the importance of A and B in your life, and then you realize you have left out C. In addition to the Bhagavad Gita and the Tao Te Ching, the other work of Eastern wisdom you have totally forgotten is The Tibetan Book of the Dead. In many ways, it’s he most important of the three. The Christians have their Hell, the Jews their Sheol, the Muslims their Jahannam … but for the Tantric Buddhists of Tibet, Hell was a way station on the road to rebirth.

When one died, one entered an in-between state known as the Bardo. The goal for a Tibetan was to prepare oneself to be assailed by wrathful deities. By expressing fear at this confrontation, the departed soul was delivered over for rebirth. The wrathful deities are, in a way, like the ghosts in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: They were there only for Scrooge’s benefit.

According to the Buddhist Weekly, one of the worst of the wrathful deities was Palden Lhamo, illustrated above:

With a world-shaking cry the figure, now blue black, starts to its feet… The giant figure pounds forward, wild hair streaming upward, tied around with snakes. The massive body, nearly naked, girt only in a tiger-skin, wears skulls—pretty, staring skulls—as jewels. Snake-enwreathed, fang-mouthed, three eyes glaring bloodshot from an awesome face, he marches onward bellowing challenge…

The goal in Tantric Buddhism is not heaven, of which there is no sign in the religion, but annihilation. That is the only true nirvana. To be reborn is a defeat of sorts.

In many ways—even before one dies—one is always fending off wrathful deities, be they Trump or one’s boss or one’s wife. In many ways, fending off the wrathful deities is not only important after one’s death, but also during one’s life.