Thursday, May 25, 2017

Recordings: Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

From the onset of Neon Bible, with the apocalyptic guitar and stealthy drums of ""Black Mirror,"" the Arcade Fire make their new territory clear - a bleak and dogged universe where the mere act of waking up requires some bravery.

The human/machine dynamic of the band's debut was a headphone junkie's surround-sound paradise, stacked with catchy hooks aplenty and enough lyrical depth to get at least a few midnight conversations going. In this album, we see a shift: Rather than focusing on the ties that bind, the Arcade Fire branch into a global adventure void of hope. Neon Bible takes the band's already soaring arrangements, adding everything but bagpipes and kazoos to reach more regal heights, including a full orchestra and even a spontaneous organ solo.

But the album's problem is that it's too epic. What made Funeral one of the best albums of 2004 was that it balanced sound: There were peaks and troughs and plateaus, all in paced subtlety. Here, nearly every song hits a point where the band feels it must prove its conviction by playing as loud as every other song, making for a worn effort in which the few songs that do tone it down - notably the title track - are all the more relieving. That's not to say there aren't some killer, heart-racing tracks: ""(Antichrist Television Blues)"" finds the band channeling the husky Bruce Springsteen machismo of the late 1970s while ""Keep the Car Running"" is an anthem for anyone who's ever had to skip town. Neon Bible neither takes the Arcade Fire back into familiar doldrums, nor does it propel them into a new level of epiphany - rather, theirs is a flawed search for identity after success.

3 1/2 Stars

Druthers: Hiatus Picks the Week’s Best Bets

“Belle De Jour” – March 8, 7 p.m. – MCASD, $5

A few weeks ago, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego offered us Bunuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” — and today it big-screens another of his classics: “Belle De Jour.” The film follows Severine (Catherine Deneuve), a bored housewife who indulges in secret desires and becomes a prostitute. Balancing her erotic fantasies with a lack of intimacy at home proves no easy task, especially when different men begin to enter her life. Bunuel balances the true struggles of sexuality with the surreal elements of the mind’s eye, never becoming condescending, but rather stepping back and letting the characters act naturally — a great film on all accounts. (CM)

Eileen Myles & Ali Liebegott – March 9, 7 p.m. – D.G.Wills, La Jolla, FREE

If you’ve never experienced the exuberance of UCSD’s writing series on campus, then you can get a taste on Friday when two prominent writer/professors, Eileen Myles and Ali Liebegott, will read from their newly-published books. Myles, the patron saint of razor-edge, feminist punk poetry, will be reading from “Sorry, Tree,” her new collection of poems on love and politics. Liebegott, a poet and fiction writer, will read from her critically acclaimed debut novel “The IHOP Papers,” which is filled with her signature philosophical compassion and innocent maturity set amongst all-too-real situations. Each approaches her work with curious honesty and a search for unexplored truth. (CM)

Contention on the Ancient Warfront

If you have a stomach for brazen sex and violence - and this movie will put many to the test - then ""300"" is a visual feast more satisfying to the warmonger inside of you than anything before or after it for many years. Never has a movie utilized so much of the screen. Every inch of every frame is such a stunning masterpiece that we can safely give cinematographer Larry Fong next year's Oscar right now, without question. It's that impressive.

The Spartans are huge - absurdly huge. These burly goliaths, clad in Speedos and red capes, put Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, even in his prime, to miserable shame. Each of the 300 men have a six pack that could grind a tank to dust - that's 1,800 packs of skull-crushing abs. The Persians just don't stand a chance. Hundreds of thousands are slaughtered on the tips of Spartan spears before a single Greco he-man dies. Half a dozen slow-motion rampages of blood-spraying carnage help the movie play out like a graceful ballet of gruesome maiming and horrible death. After the first few waves of Persian soldiers, the Spartans busy themselves by making a wall of corpses 20 feet tall, and the unlucky enemies keep on coming. But there's no reason to pity these lemming hordes: As in all good action flicks where untold scores of baddies must give up the Persians' ghosts to progress the plot, their faces are covered with long scarves, scary masks or full helmets.

The story is as simple as it gets: the bad guys are coming, and we're going to stop them, no matter the odds. There is a historical basis for the story: the Persian king Xerxes' failed campaign to conquer Greece, and the Greek play ""The Persians,"" by Aeschylus, about the cause of that defeat. But Frank Miller's ""300"" stands alone. Many characters are entirely fictional, and even the real ones take on comic-book proportions, from a Spartan traitor who looks like Quasimodo on steroids to a godlike Xerxes, who towers several feet over the tallest Spartan.

The Greek template for the story was political for its time, exemplifying a pivotal Greek victory as a showpiece for the consequences of hubris. ""300"" is no different, lacing every line of the movie's dialogue with political bias a la the current Iraq war. When not extolling the supreme value of freedom every chance they get, Director Zack Snyder's characters like reminding themselves of the cost of freedom with the repeated line ""freedom isn't free,"" and parallels with the Marine invasion of Iraq are palpable when the Persian campaign of terror arrives at the Spartan doorsteps and the Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler) decides to lead an elite troop of hoplites to defend their country's freedom. But his fellow leaders disapprove of his brash actions. Sound familiar? There is even a climactic plea by the Spartan queen before an assembly of senators, begging them to send more troops.

Despite the unnecessary politics, the movie doesn't suffer because it remains true to its ultimate goal of providing its audience with an endless stream of kick-ass fight scenes and compulsory nudity. Unlike ""Gladiator,"" in which the plot drives the violence, the violence in ""300"" clearly drives the plot, and audiences seeking a serious look at war, or Greek history for that matter, should simply look elsewhere. ""300"" is really just about violence for the sake of violence, and nudity for the sake of nudity. If that's what you're after, then you can sit back and gorge on this visceral masterpiece.

No one involved in the movie has a very exciting resume. Snyder's only significant claim to fame was the absurd romp in zombie land that was 2004's ""Dawn of the Dead,"" and his co-writer Kurt Johnstad has nothing but forgotten independent films under his belt. Fong's only experience has been in television shows. But they came together to breathe amazing life into Miller's comic. The ""300"" comic book upon which this movie-theater powerhouse is based never received much acclaim, but it's going to leave a dent in box-office sales like few before it, and movie stills are going to litter laptop wallpapers across chemistry classes for years to come.

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

Regarding Jim Shen's article ""Controversial Origins"" on Feb. 26 and Jeremiah Runyan's and Eddie Herrera's subsequent letters to the editor: When Albert Einstein proposed his theory of general relativity in 1915, it was met with enormous resistance and controversy. Yet he did not lobby legislators to enact laws to force its teaching into classrooms or start a public relations campaign to influence the public debate. He presented his ideas in public where their validity could be challenged by experiments. It wasn't until 1959 that technology improved enough to show that Einstein's predictions offer our best understanding of the universe.

Despite Runyan's and Herrera's passionate defense of intelligent design, the theory has not yielded any empirical evidence that supports it or that directly challenges evolution. There is a fundamental distinction between the search for intelligent design in archaeology, which involves the study of physical remains left behind by ancient human cultures (human design), and the search for the supernatural in explaining the origin of man. Runyan and Herrera lack an understanding of the scientific process. ID proposes that there are biological systems in nature that are ""irreducibly complex,"" and therefore the only plausible explanation is the presence of an intelligent agent.

Simply saying something appears too complicated to be the product of evolution does not prove the alternative hypothesis of ID. If ID is truly hypothesis-driven and testable, then its supporters must provide evidence for the intelligent agent and its effects on the natural world. Supporters have not even proposed experiments that directly test their hypothesis, let alone provide evidence.

ID also proposes that the fossil record does not have enough intermediate species. This claim is continuously being refuted by paleontologists uncovering new species, including the recent and notable discovery of a transitional fish fossil from the late Devonian age (approximately 375 million years ago) which has fins and scales, but also a neck and the precursors to modern shoulders, wrists and elbows (Nature, April 6, 2006).

The more we discover about nature, the more evolution fits the data. Herrera's definition of science is wrong: Science is not a belief system and scientists do not ""believe in evolution."" We accept or reject theories based on empirical evidence.

Theories are constantly revised as new evidence is produced, and often times scratched entirely when they can no longer explain it. ID as an explanation for our origins is a belief system, as Herrera notes, because it requires faith that God shaped the process. These are beliefs that are neither provable nor testable, and therefore not science.

Scientists look at a problem and say, ""We don't know what the answer is yet, but if we ask the right questions and do the right experiments, maybe we will some day."" ID looks at the same questions and says, ""We don't have an answer for this yet, so it must be the work of an undetectable intelligent agent.""

I would hate to think we are trading our pioneering spirit of discovery in favor of giving up because things seem too complicated or because we're too impatient for answers.

- Aaron S. Parker

Graduate Student

Division of Biological Sciences

Fanboy Fix: Frank Miller – 300

It's the chief indicator of a clever creative mind - only the best writers can take a story and personalize it, while somehow preserving the work's core sensibilities. Fanboys will remember Frank Miller for his dark and heavy brutalization of notable characters Daredevil and Batman, but even those revolutionary makeovers were primers for the graphic novelist's latest comic-turned-film yarn: ""300.""

I consider the blood-drenched opus - following the inevitable death of a Spartan king in the Battle of Thermopylae, where his 300-man phalanx is outmatched by an invading Persian horde - to be Miller's most underappreciated work.

Yes, the author did modernize Batman. And yes, his ""The Dark Knight Returns,"" a dark and tortured take on an aged Bruce Wayne, did become the current normative understanding of the character.

But true Miller fans, especially the ones who live to see him operate in a creatively open arena, should sneer a bit at the writer's translation of the character; Miller left DC Comics after he published the graphic novel, complaining he was being handcuffed by the corporate comic world. For a writer so attuned to the sinister and violent sides of human nature, it was a shame to see a waste of that awareness.

However, Miller's reformation of Greek history (under the flag of indie publisher Dark Horse) has no similar scruples about carnality and violence. Half-naked Spartans patrol the scenic expanse of Greece, and swordplay often means the detachment of limbs, all illustrated by Miller himself in an off-center, edgy style.

Though blood and gore are the essence of ""300,"" substance and meaning provide a foundation for the carnage. Miller's knack for engaging dialogue and narrative asides maintains attention to the story itself. The source material is a perfect fit for Miller, a bluntly crude and character-based writer. The story's themes of glory, bravery and lost causes combine with a primitive wartime setting to form one of modern-day comics' best semi-historical pieces.

Forty Days, Forty Nights and Zero Substance

The widespread Mardi Gras celebrations have died down - and for many Christians, they've been replaced with the grueling 40 days and nights of sacrifice known as Lent. Whether this means abstaining from junk food, swearing or masturbation, generally it is not a time practitioners of Lent look forward to.

It's not hard to see why most wouldn't look forward to Lent. According to UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, there has been a nearly 20-percent increase in consumption of alcohol by college students since the 1980s. This is merely one example of the increasing prevalence of vice. But despite this trend, self discipline shouldn't apply only to those of faith, nor should it be reserved only for special seasons such as Lent.

To put it simply, Lent is a time of alms giving, fasting and increased worship. It's best known for the requirement to give something up for the entirety of the season, lasting from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday - symbolic of the same 40 days Jesus was tempted by the devil but resisted. This is supposed to be a time for sacrifice and self reflection, during which sin is discarded.

The main ideology of the tradition is embodied by the difficult sacrifice Jesus made by giving his life up for the salvation of sinners. More than just his bravery, Lent is about recognizing the ideal for which he stood - that it's possible to sacrifice sin and instead help your fellow man. Sadly, however, Lent is commonly misunderstood.

The religious practice is deeper than a bunch of Christians acting their best for 40 days and nights - it's a symbolic season encouraging everyone to take a stand against hedonism. The time should be spent reflecting on the vices in life and striving to understand the trivial nature of such vices.

Take the vice gluttony. At one point or another, most students at UCSD have looked in the mirror and wanted to lose a few pounds. Their goals, however, would likely be more tenable if they instead attempted more self-discipline.

Instead of focusing on selfish interests and thus encouraging materialism, Lent should be a time reach out and help others. According to a study conducted by HERI, volunteer work has dropped over 44 percent among college students since 2003. It's clear that altruism is a dying ideal in the midst of a society where materialism and individualism are emphasized.

With this in mind, the problem with Lent is that it is viewed as a temporary ordeal - almost a chore. It's as if being moral has been manifested as something undesirable. Society has reached a point where immorality and lack of discipline is the norm (just take a look at the lyrics in contemporary rap music) and altruism has to hold some reward to encourage practice (extracurricular activities for college admissions for example). Feats of altruism have become extraordinary while vices such as pornography have become rampant. In other words, there is a trend to sacrifice ideals and replace with them with depravity.

Sure, one could argue that life is too short to spend constantly abstaining from indulgence - but honestly, at what point is the excess just that? We were raised with the false notion that substance abuse, sex and other superficial ideals to be happy are acceptable practices. The innocence of happiness has been lost and the simplest things have lost their meaning. Society is increasingly becoming enslaved to the depravity created by manmade media, and ideals such as Lent are now revolutions against such hedonism.

We shouldn't wait for Lent to remind us about the value of sacrifice and altruism. It shouldn't be a burden for us to sacrifice our vices for 40 days and the ideals of Lent should be integrated into our daily lives - Christian or not. The core ideals of Lent are not reserved just for the pious but for the secular as well and should be observed all 365 days of the year, not a mere 40 and perhaps finally people will be able to lose those extra five pounds they've been putting off.

The Week in Live Hip-Hop

Before Curtis ""50 Cent"" Jackson started dropping quarters into his piggy bank, before Mike Jones held his dentist at gunpoint to chisel little diamonds into his grill, before crews gave themselves names like Cash Money Millionaires - before $100 bills grew on screen-imbedded trees, there was Erick and Parrish Making Dollars. The underdogs of the funkier, rock-fueled strain of hip-hop that kick-started in the late '80s, EPMD often get side-noted to simultaneous groundbreakers Run DMC and Public Enemy. But the rough-edged smooth of Strictly Business, their first, and definitely most awesome, record, has stood the test of time as the untouchable godfather of money-minded raps. And after five more albums, all with ""Business"" in the title (yes, that's called overkill), EPMD are still around to teach the blinged-out crazies a thing or two about the original hustle. Joining the pair is the more recently famed duo People Under the Stairs, known to pop a few wisecracks and bounce skits off the audience in between the heavy, labyrinthal beats and rhymes of their live show. EPMD will perform live with People Under the Stairs at the Belly Up Tavern on March 14.

There actually is something better than Akon and Bubba Sparx - but just as catchy - to blast at your dorm room dance party Sunday night! Diplo, short for Diplodicus (even wordly DJs had childhood dinosaur fetishes), chooses no favorites, weaving anything that catches his fancy - from foreign beats to UK garage/grime and top-40 - into the bumpin'-est bangers this side of Timbaland. Diplo can also be credited for the synthey dancehall of M.I.A.'s Arular, the straight-up sexiest dance album of the last two years. Diplo will perform live at the Casbah with Blondo do Role on March 11.

JDilla's art has seen more light in the mourning period since his 2006 death than life ever gave him, between countless live tribute sets and the release/re-release of everything he ever touched. Stones Throw Records has been a key player in this memorium, now reissuing the DJ's most experimental release - 2003's Ruff Draft - over two discs, including orginal rejects. Now imagine if he'd been shot! Stones Throw will hold a listening party for the reissue of Ruff Draft at Kava Lounge on March 9.

The Money's for Nothing Even if the Therapy Is Free

I suppose it should come as no surprise that I've been a customer of the campus's psychological services. As the youngest sibling of three, my persona draws from a childhood spent tableside and bedside, ears open to stern, long-winded and often conflicting advice from elders.

I've since been a walking sponge of sorts, drinking in all the counsel and input possible in preparation for an unforeseen day when I'm asked, ""Do you understand yourself?"" So, contextually, it makes sense that later in life, I would find my comfort zone in an easy chair, in front of another adult telling me what things mean and what to do about them.

This month, I will have spent a year away from that chair and the shrink across from it.

So, in therapeutic fashion, this piece is meant to chronicle a trek across years of psychological development (or regression, if you want to be mean about it), and hopefully provide some amount of useful introspection for other furniture-familiar students - and there are many.

In 2004, UCSD Psychological Services served 2,000 students (a figure pulled from an article this newspaper published on issues of staff shortages and budgetary deficiencies).

A year later, a university-commissioned report on students' mental health formalized the problem: UCSD, specifically, had about 11.5 full-time employees at the time, a ratio of one psychologist to every 2,300 students. In some cases, the picture was even darker for other UC campuses, most of them reeling from the same state and administrative budget cuts that racked our campus in 2003-04.

Modern-day politicalization of all things is inevitable, though it is truly sad when such a mindset is applied to health care. A personality becomes a number, and the intangibilities that we enjoy about life become demarcated in a colder, more definable manner. Revelle College then-sophomore Tracy Ho, an interviewee for the previously mentioned Guardian article, was one of many statistics forced to wait weeks for one appointment. Ho was then referred to UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest, after her on-campus counselor told her there were not enough staff to accommodate her longer-term needs.

I was luckier. My own campus therapist was both earnest and excitable, always pushing mental homework - which included forced conversation, Excel charts scribbled with daily emotive discourses and physical exercise. My give-to-get mentality kept me in the program week after week, but throughout it I realized, ""Man, mental health is hard to sustain.""

It's a hard world out there. The hermit archetype is all but dead; it's impossible to drop all things to wander into the desert alone, Biblical-like.

Today's world is a primitive one, where we are forced into moral fights as we sit and deal with our problems, our spouse's problems, our neighbors' problems, our children's problems - the list is infinite.

I often reflect on my own therapist's investment in me (he extended me past the 12-session limit and continued the meetings until I cut them off), and realized further that other students lack such a luxury. Even a small deterrent - i.e. having to take a weekly bus trip to Hillcrest - is enough to stymie a student from seeking help for mental health issues.

The last of my regular sessions occurred in the campus's newest offices, in a collection of buildings that emanated an unsettling dead-tech, postmodern ambience. It was an unabashedly cold design for an environment meant to fit every warm, welcoming, couch-laying typecast.

By the tail end of my therapy, I concluded that there was something self-serving about paying to talk about yourself - sessions became, for me, something unbecoming and shameful. But because departmental fees are divvied up to make on-campus psychological care free, students can enjoy one more degree of separation from embarrassment, and I can stop prying conversations with the ""hey, it's free"" defense.

But are psych services ""free,"" in the word's strictest sense? Students pay mandatory fees, which have been directed to other campus units in previous years. But this is no whine-fest, stumping for psychological services while cutting down Student Affairs officials (who dole out fee money); this is a sincere reflection on the street-level impact of budget movers and shakers.

I'll be forever indebted to my therapist's devotion, though such an extended experience in therapy is an anomaly for the cash-strapped state and university. But even just one session offered me a memorable epiphany: There is a gaping abyss between self-awareness and self-improvement, and I'm still trying to build a bridge to the latter. The issue of mental health, in all its sensitivity, can be supported by even a simple act, such as enrolling in one session.

A simple slight, however, can be damaging on an equal level, and staffing and funding shortfalls are in no way simple.

The Closing Scenes of a Labored Love

What's a cowgirl like you doing with such a small truck?"" asks Jim, the head honcho at the Media Checkout. He smiles at us tying down dolly tracks protruding from the already-overstuffed bed of my truck. It's Friday morning, and this is the last time Devin, Randy and myself (the small Friday crew) will pick up equipment and head out to Temecula before the rest of the cast and crew arrives. I am inwardly ecstatic.

Rewind to a few years ago: me, terrified of going inside the Media Checkout - I don't know what the equipment is called or what it's for, and the gruff student employees have no time for newbies. ""It's OK to be ignorant,"" says one of my film professors. ""But you must work to bridge that gap of ignorance.""

Skip back to this Friday: I waltz in with my cowboy boots on, I don't have to say my name or what I am here for, because the people at checkout already know. I smile mischievously at the students just beginning, clutching their checkout forms while we stand next to our truck, roped and weighed down with hundreds of pounds of equipment. These are the kind of moments that interest me - moments of aftermath, where scenes drip with that invisible ghost of action that has led up to this moment. You can see the traces of movement, the invisible marks of my hands on the windowpane, Randy's sweat on the truck bed and Devin's fingers tying the rope, all intangibly marking the struggle that preceded this end product. This is, in part, what the world of my film is about: characters living in an aftermath. But this is also a parallel for the process of filmmaking. Film is an end-product, nothing more than two-dimensional ghosts existing in a frame, referencing the moment that existed at one point in time when these images were recorded on tape.

Cut to a few hours later, in Temecula. I hold the camera while Randy and Devin throw logs into the water to simulate the truck crashing in - but the log keeps floating back into frame like an albino alligator. ""We should just drive the truck in the water,"" says Randy. ""Yeah, I guess we could,"" I respond. Ten minutes later, the back tires are spinning out of control, hopelessly stuck in the mud.

Back up five days: Paul is spraying a violent storm of white powder from the fire extinguisher to put out the fire creeping up the side of the wooden shack we're filming. Fast forward one day, Steven is yelling on top of the truck because I've slammed his hand in the closed truck door.

Rewind a few hours and the sound of shattering glass rings in the canyon as Josh does a somersault down the side of a rocky hill.

Fast forward to six days and five guys with hardhats are pushing the Volkswagen van up a hill; it's my crew, my dad and my cousin, acting the role of construction workers, but we are not filming. We can't get the key in the cantankerous ignition, so for every take where the van goes downhill, they must push it back up under the midday sun.

Skip to the last Sunday. ""Dad, what's the best way to cut a glass bottle evenly?"" A moment later my dad is raising an axe up while I hold a glass bottle against cement.

Skip back to a quarter to midnight on President's Day, and we have been rehearsing and setting up lights in an old abandoned house for hours. Everyone has gotten very little sleep in the past two days, and it is starting to show; the camera operator is nodding off, the assistant director has his eyes closed, the actors are falling asleep in between takes. Coffee keeps coming in, but is having no effect. I am shouting and trying to pretend I could go on all night. I pick up a c-stand and it drops limply out of my hand. Every glance I get and word I hear is asking me to utter those three pleasant words … that's a wrap.

A slow fade in to an empty field. It's Saturday a week later, after the last shoot. I am back in Temecula by myself, filming forgotten shots. Holding the camera in one hand, a rock in the other, I am trying to scare some quails so they will fly up in front of the camera. It's so quiet, you can hear the wind in the grass and the distant sound of children playing. The clothesline has fallen down. The plates are all askew inside the van, next to paper shreds gnawed by mice, and outside I can see a tiny piece of purple fabric stuck in a cactus. It's another moment of comedown, of aftermath. No more Devin, no more Randy, no more Paul, Steven, Tricia, Mom, Dad, Tom, Josh, Jake, Norbert, Christie, John, Salomon, Adam. Just me in a field with a camera. Filming is done and now what's left to show for all the action are seven Mini DV tapes, holding all our efforts in their tiny digital ones and zeros, like phantasms trapped on electronic tape. This is film, a 2-D memory.

Tuition Fee Policy Needed to Guard Student Interests

When the UC Regents meet on March 14, millions of dollars of student money will be in their hands. In Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's January budget proposal, he recommended that undergraduate student fees be raised 7 percent for the 2007-08 academic year, with some UC law and business programs facing 10-percent hikes. However, California's nonpartisan fiscal adviser, the Legislative Analyst's Office, urged that fees only be increased 2.4 percent for all programs, arguing that given the absence of an explicit policy on student fee increases, fees should continue to cover the same share of educational costs. The LAO's increase would account for inflation.

It is time for the regents to formulate a fee policy that is more transparent than their current ""compact"" with Schwarzenegger, which stipulates that fees always rise in accordance with California's per-capita income (not inflation rates) in addition to increases (up to 10 percent total) that the board feels the UC system needs.

Essentially, this means that under the compact, the regents can raise student fees up to 10 percent per year with very limited accountability.

It's no secret that the regents and the state of California have been leaning on students to subsidize the university's bills at their discretion.

However, an explicit fee policy from the board that protects student interests in the face of much more powerful political actors would reflect an attitude of respect toward the population that gives the university its leverage as the premier educator of California's future.

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