Saturday, January 26, 2008

Brando gets political

I'm trying to keep myself uninvolved in politics this year, but my dog Brando is another story. After falling into an early evening nap, he woke me a while ago, apparently to alert me that his candidate just won the South Carolina primary. This news also inspired one of his old dog sitters to contribute to the campaign via Brando's somewhat inactive fundraising page.

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to figure out the New York Times endorsements earlier this week. Obviously timed to influence the South Carolina results and Super Tuesday, they picked Clinton and McCain, saying that they didn't really like either of them, but...

In the case of Clinton, they acknowledge that she's divisive and has broken many promises and isn't nearly as inspiring as her competitor, but she does know a lot of people. As for McCain, they say they don't like any Republicans but if you have to vote for one, they hate him least of all. Whatever happened to having an actual opinion?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Online course: Advanced Personal Essay, begins today!

I meant to post this earlier, but today my latest course starts with Mediabistro. Once again I'll be teaching Advanced Personal Essay.

I've also been meaning to post some news on my former students, who keep popping up in print all over the place: Felicia Sullivan has a memoir out next month, Don Strange is a finalist in Amazon's novel contest, Anne Trubek has a piece in Poets and Writers, a few others have had pieces over at Salon. I'll post links later, after I've finished the real chores of the day: filing paperwork for the Sula Foundation; welcoming Wells Tower to his week as a visiting artist at NOCCA; finishing up (I hope) my latest book proposal; etc.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Best Film of the Year: The Savages

On Friday I went to see two matinees back to back. I can't remember the last time I did this, and it will likely be quite a while before I do it again.

I started with The Savages, Tamara Jenkins's new film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as adult siblings dealing with their father's health. Tamara and I used to go to the same dog park in NYC. In fact, a mutual friend introduced us one day by saying "Ken, did you see The Slums of Beverly Hills?" And, without thinking, I said "I HATED that movie." As I was saying, I thought two things. One, I didn't actually hate it, and in fact, claiming to hate a film is really kind of silly. Two, the person sitting in front of me was probably the director, Tamara Jenkins. But I couldn't stop the words. Tamara burst into laughter, confirming that it was, indeed, her. From that day on, we were dog park friends. Usually, one or the other of us was reading something in galleys, and we'd compare opinions. Sometime later, after I'd left New York, I ran into on the street. I was back in town for a funeral, and when I began explaining that, in response to her simple hello, I broke down on the street in front of her. And then never saw her again.

So, this is how I came to see The Savages. I don't want to give too much away, except to say that the performances are great. The movie is funny and heartbreaking. It reminded me of living in New York--and it reminded me of why I left New York. There are animals that play important roles, but they aren't cutesy or manipulative--and for that alone there should be a reward. Afterwards, in conversation with one of the theater staff, we talked about how few memorable films there were this past year. It was difficult for any of us to really remember what we'd seen. But two days later, I like The Savages even more than I did on Friday.

We followed that with There Will Be Blood, which begins with promise. The first hour or so is great--and then it all falls apart. I won't go into detail, since I'm sure many people want to go see it on their own. But it eventually becomes a remake of Citizen Kane, with one great difference. Kane started out with some humanity and then lost it to greed. Daniel Day Lewis's character is all greed from the very start, so he has nowhere to go and nowhere to take the audience.

Dogs bites, pit bulls, owned strays, etc

There was a really horrific dog attack in the Treme section of New Orleans a week ago; two "pit bull type" dogs, both intact, one rumored to be pregnant, ran loose and jumped on a four year old girl and then attacked an older man (I think he was 59). There were serious injuries, and there were also reports of injuries that were inaccurate. In any case, a nasty situation. I heard from neighbors that the owner of the dogs was a problem, that he couldn't control the dogs, that they had worried for some time that something would happen, but didn't know what to do, since we live in a place were response to reports is typically slow. The local paper quoted someone from the SPCA suggesting the dogs would have been less likely to attack if they'd been spayed or neutered. The owner responded by saying that castrating a dog is cruel.

Owned strays are a big problem. I've been chased by individual dogs and packs of dogs in the past month, and in nearly every case the dogs are owned--and intact, which means that they are creating more dogs every time they roam. (Well, not literally every time, but you know what I mean.) If the neighbors in Treme had felt that reporting these dogs would get them somewhere, or if a beat cop had reported them previously, the attack last week would not have occurred.

But, of course, there are still people who think the solution is to ban dogs that look that way. So this morning I saw that someone had arrived at this blog searching for a petition to ban pit bulls in Louisiana. Of course, this person was not actually from Louisiana, or even a neighboring state.

This took me to an utterly insane site called, which was trumpeting the possibility of a ban in Louisiana. This was particularly interesting (ie. hypocritical), because elsewhere on their site, they express their outrage at the possibility of pro-dog people from out of state participated in an online survey in Loudon County, where the legislature was trying enact BSL. This was dishonest and manipulative, they say, and typical of the evil pit bull owner. And yet they also highlight a study that "proves" pit bulls are responsible for most dog bites--yet they never identify the report as being the infamous CDC report, which even the CDC has denounced as inaccurate and misleading.

The site is registered to someone named Gary Stevens in Seattle, although at one point he had listed the site to the Seattle Police Department, and he currently lists a contact phone number that is apparently a pay phone outside a Chevron station. Just the kind of person one would trust for truthful info?