29 February 2004

Five for thirteen and I don't mind

If it means Peter Jackson gets to take home the Oscar, I'm happy to be wrong.

It's obvious that Return of the King didn't really win those Oscars -- though it is the greatest installment of the three -- but rather The Lord of the Rings as a whole. Which is appropriate: it was one long work, broken into three pieces, not really three films.

A few other things:

What is it with Renee Zellweger? I just don't understand what Hollywood sees in her.

It's a pity that A Mighty Wind is already out on DVD, as it would be lovely to see Mitch and Mickey doing the Oscars show in the extras.

It hurt to see Bill Murray walk home empty-handed, but seeing Sean Penn get that standing O was almost worth it.

As he reported today, it was geek comic author Scott Kurtz who swung the vote.

Oscar picks

We'll know soon. I'm usually wide of the mark, but here are my guesses for who the Academy will pick:

Picture: Mystic River

Well-crafted high drama with beloved actors who all give knockout performances. Clint Eastwood has a couple of Oscars for Unforgiven, the Academy loves him and still owes him a couple.

What about Return of the King? I'm holding out for a special acheivement Oscar for the Lord of the Rings trilogy next year.

Director: Peter Weir, Master and Commander

The safe pick is Clint, but I think the Academy may split the ticket for the benefit of Peter Weir. He's been nominated before but never won, he's getting old, and has a terrific body of work -- it's Weir's turn, I think.

Actor: Sean Penn, Mystic River

This is a heartbreaking one, because Bill Murray gave a spectacular peformance in Lost in Translation and is unlikely to ever see another Oscar nomination -- and finally gets to say ''see, I told you I could be a dramatic actor'' after everybody dissed him for Razor's Edge lo these many years ago. And Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow is one of the most indelible film performances of all time, no less than De Niro's Jake La Motta, Bogart's Rick Blaine, or Brando's Stanley Kowalski.

But Sean Penn is a great actor, in a class with De Niro or Brando, he's never won an Oscar, and Mystic River is his best peformance to date: subtle, unmannered, and compelling. He's walking home with the statue.

Actress: Charlize Theron, Monster

This is the only one I feel rock-solid about. First, it's the kind of stunt the Academy loves: a gorgeous actress doing a purely dramatic turn with her glamour stripped away to the point where she's unrecognizable. Second, Charlize has paid her dues in a lot of turkey roles the industry asked her to do. But most importantly, I've seen the film and it worked: her performance is pitch-perfect in every way -- convincing, hypnotic, and complex -- and is absolutely the centerpiece of the film. Charlize with a bullet.

Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins, Mystic River

This one's a tough call, in part because I haven't seen all of the strong contenders in the category. There's good reason to think that any of the nominees could take this one. But I think that Mystic River might have the magic of momentum to bring this one in for Tim Robbins, who did indeed turn in an impressive peformance.

The rightful holder of that statue is Andy Serkis for peforming Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: he was actually on screen as Smeagol in the flashback sequence in the beginning of Return of the King, so the Academy had the chance to do the right thing and nominate him. But in truth it's like the Oscar Scorscese has never won: he's on a level above even the Oscars, and everyone knows.

Supporting Actress: Holly Hunter, Thirteen

Another tough call, as I haven't seen enough of the films in question. The academy likes Holly Hunter (for good reason) so I'm thinking her odds are good.

Documentary: Fog of War

Errol Morris has been doing terrific -- and entertaining -- documentaries for years, has never seen an Oscar nomination, and absolutely knocked it out of the park with this one. Another easy pick, I think. It's too bad that The Weather Underground was up against this one this year; it might have been a winner in a different year.

Adapted Screenplay: American Splendor

In adapting Harvey Pekar to film there are so many opportunities to screw it up that the success of the film in doing it with wit, style, and reverence for the source material that it's hard to believe that the Academy won't reward this screenplay's panache.

Original Screenplay: In America

A tough one. Dirty Pretty Things is clever, with a corker of an ending. Lost in Translation is a terrific picture which deserves some kind of recognition. But nobody's seen the former, and everyone knows that Sophie's got a long career ahead of her. I'm thinking the Academy will want to do something to bring In America to people's attention.

Editing: Seabiscuit

Horses are cinegenic, but horse races aren't. But you wouldn't know it to see this movie.

Cinematography: Girl with a Pearl Earring

I haven't seen enough of the contenders to really have an informed opinion, but it's hard to imagine anything beating a movie that looks like a Vermeer painting.

Art direction: Master and Commander

Another bit of a heartbreaker. The Two Towers was robbed last year, and if that wasn't gonna do it, there won't be an Oscar for Lord of the Rings this year. Plus, I think that Master and Commander really does deserve it this time: not only is the art direction beautiful and meticulous, it's one of the stars of the movie.

Visual effects: The Return of the King

Any other year, ILM would have a crack at bringing home some gold again (at last!) for the amazing work in Pirates of the Carribean, and maybe I'm wrong -- the underwater scene is both gorgeous and technically impressive.

But it only takes one word to dispell ILM's chances: Oliphant. ''That still only counts as one!'' No contest.

28 February 2004

Two interviews with Terry Gross

This is a funny post, I swear, but first you have to read this long quote from Mr. Bill O'Reilly on his Fox News show:
Broadway Books, which has published my new effort, Who's Looking Out for You? wanted me to go on National Public Radio to talk about the book.

I told them that NPR would try to smash me because along with some other major newspapers in this country, it has championed the defamation books. But I agreed to do the program called Fresh Air, hosted by a woman named Terry Gross.

For half an hour, Mrs. Gross attempted to embarrass me. Well, finally it came to this:

BEGIN VIDEOTAPE

O'Reilly: I came on to this program to talk about Who's Looking Out for You? And what you've done is thrown every kind of defamation you can in my face. Did you do this to Al Franken? Did you? Did you challenge him on what he said?

Terry Gross: We had a different interview.

O'Reilly: Yes. A different interview. Okay. Fine, ''fresh air''? Is this what ''fresh air'' is? I'll get a transcript of this interview -- you want me -- of the Al Franken interview. You want me to do that, and compare the two?

Gross: You're welcome to.

O'Reilly: And compare it, too? All right, why don't you tell your listeners right now? Were you as tough on Al Franken as you are on me? No. You weren't.

Gross: No, I wasn't.

O'Reilly: Okay. Why?

Gross: Well, Al Franken had written a book of political satire.

O'Reilly: Oh, he was satire now, was it? All right, calling people liars and distorting their faces on the book cover. That's satire now, is it? And my book, Who's Looking Out for You? is designed to help people to show them how they have to know how to read people in the society to succeed. Yet you're easy on Franken and you challenge me. This is NPR.

Okay? I think we all know what this is. I think we all know where you're going with this. Don't we?

Gross: Well, you could say...

O'Reilly: Yes, don't we?

Gross: You can think whatever you want to.

O'Reilly: I am. I mean, I'm evaluating this interview very closely. Obviously you are. Now we've spent now, all right, 50 minutes of me being -- defending defamation against me in every possible way, while you gave Al Franken a complete pass on his defamatory book. And if you think that's fair, Terry, then you need to get in another business. I'll tell you that right now. And I'll tell your listeners, if you have the courage to put this on the air, this is basically an unfair interview designed to try to trap me into saying something that Harper's magazine can use. And you know it. And you should be ashamed of yourself. And that is the end of this interview.

END VIDEOTAPE

All right, the problem here is not that interview. I should have known better. But it's that I paid for it. And so did you.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds NPR, gets a billion dollars a year in taxpayer money. Why is the government allowing a far-left outfit like NPR, which is obviously biased, to operate on taxpayer money?

Now a transcript of the Fresh Air interview with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, the hand puppet from Late Night with Conan O'Brian. I've omitted "(laughter)" annotations, since Terry Gross is laughing uncontrollably through most of it.
Gross: Now, Triumph, I don't need to tell you ...

Triumph: Yes.

Gross: ... that one of the more controversial things in the rap world is the use of the word 'bitch' all the time.

Triumph: Here we go again.

Gross: Right. Exactly. Now, it's a word you use a lot...

Triumph: Yes.

Gross: ... in the dog world.

Triumph: It's a word that has -- look, it's a word that everyone uses in the dog world. It's a bitch. A girl is a bitch. Now should a dog be offended to be called a woman? Would that be -- I don't think any dog would be offended, not even Benji. That's right. That's right. You heard me. Benji's gay. It's time people knew that.

Gross: Do you feel that you've been sexist or condescending in your treatment of female dogs ...

Triumph: Holy crap. Listen to this. Let me ask you something. I feel like I'm being bombarded here. I know what's happening here. I know what's happening here. Did you ask the same questions to Kermit the Frog?

Gross: Kermit the Frog didn't do our show.

Triumph: Did you do this ...

Gross: He didn't do our show.

Triumph: All right. Well, OK. How about when Beethoven did your show? Did you challenge him the way you're challenging me? Did you ask ...

Gross: It was a different kind of interview.

Triumph: It was a different ...

Gross: It was a different kind of interview.

Triumph: OK. Yeah, I can see what's going on here.

Gross: Beethoven's funny. No, it's different.

Triumph: Oh, is that right? It's a satire what Beethoven does. Yes, I'm just -- you know, I can't believe the government is paying for this interview. That's what I can't believe, you know? My money that could be going to Pekinese hookers is instead going to this, you know, Public Radio that's obviously more slanted than my (censored) after I've (censored) the St. Bernard. What are we talking about? That's right.

Gross: Triumph, I don't think you're being fair, and I think if you gave Public Radio a chance, you wouldn't feel that way 'cause I think Public Radio has always been fair to the dog world.

Triumph: I'm trying to give it a chance, but you keep bombarding me. You keep bombarding me. I'm evaluating this interview very closely is what I'm doing. You know, this is just 10 minutes of defamation, 70 minutes in dog years. You think it's fair, Terry? You need to get into another business. That's right. No, good. This is all going to be fodder for Harper's magazine, for Dog Fancy magazine, which I know is liberally -- there's liberal publishers of Dog Fancy. I mean, that thing is like gay porn anyway.

Gross: Well, Triumph, I really don't think you're being fair and I'm going to change the subject.

Triumph: Good, because I'm not going to walk out of this interview.

Gross: No, good.

Triumph: I'm not going to do that. I'm better than that, but I am going to take a poop right now. I'm going to poop in this studio right now.

I myself heard the Triumph interview before I learned about the O'Reilly interview, and it was still funny. But now that I know the joke ...

27 February 2004

The FMA may be more important than we realized

Now that Sully has flipped a bit and realized that the Bush administration's alliance with the most intolerant strain of cultural conservatism is no joke, he has some very, very scary speculation for us from a lawyer who emailed him with the implications of the FMA.
Under the Constitution of the United States there is no express right to privacy, rather this right to be free from excessive government interference in our personal lives has arisen from Supreme Court precedent that cites the lack of regulation of intimate relationships and the protections of the bill of rights as the basis for an inference of the right to privacy. The right to privacy, according the Supreme Court is found in the penumbras and emanations of these two factors. A shadow of a right, very delicate and now threatened.

By including a provision regulating the most intimate of relationships into the Constitution, the traditional analysis that the court has used to limit government power will be fundamentally changed and the right to privacy, if it is not destroyed completely, will be severely curtailed. As a result, decisions like Roe v. Wade, (Abortion), Griswold v. Connecticut (Birth Control), Lawrence v. Texas (Private Sexual Acts), will all be fair game for re-analysis ...

If you've read the ongoing attacks on the right to privacy reading of constitutional law in conservative jurists' rhetoric over the last decade, this is terrifyingly credible.

Stuff

I've been reading James Twitchell's surprisingly interesting book Living it Up: America's Love Affair with Luxury. (A big thank you to Indri at Waterbones, who turned me on to it.) It's a discursive cultural criticism book, and while it has a bit of the lefty uneasiness about consumer culture that you would expect, it takes a pretty nuanced view and argues that there is something profoundly democratic about the marketing of luxury products.

He talks a lot about how a certain lust for luxury things is inevitable, sometimes in spite of yourself. There's a terrific passage written by his daughter, who went with him on a shopping / anthropology expedition.

This was an experiment in how the other half — the decadent, materialistic half who threw money away — lived. I believe myself to be everything the woman in Tiffany thought I wasn't: intelligent, self-sufficient, not given over to the whimsical spending of large amounts of money.

Still and yet, when the saleslady pulled out the Gucci bag of the moment, and when my dad pretended he was thinking of buying it for me, there was part of me that was thinking, quite simply, “I want that.'' Everywhere we went, I spent longer than was necessary inspecting the evidence. I was a sucker. Watching a woman in Armani try on the $20,000 beaded dress, I was momenarily entranced — and more than slightly jealous. The stuff was so BEAUTIFUL, and when I looked down at my Old Navy sweater, I couldn't help but feel a bit wanting. And that part of me just kept thinking, “Maybe some day .... ” And so luxury sucked me in, even as I knew I was there solely to be critical of it.

....

Luxury is incredibly powerful, and it gets to almost all of us, even when we're told it's meaningless. Luxury 1, Liz 0.

This makes me think of a strange and wonderful talk I heard years ago by a guy named Brian Moriarty at the Computer Game Developers' Conference. He was talking about why a the web was a success, and a big online hit game was inevitable. On the way, he said something about the roots of human behavior that stuck in my mind.

Biologists explain pleasure by invoking a process they call “natural selection.”

This process is said to favor the evolution of brains that give positive feedback for behaviors which provide a survival advantage.

In other words, nature rewards life-affirming behaviors with pleasure.

That's why it feels good to eat.

Nature rewards a healthy appetite.

That's why it feels good to collect things.

Nature rewards acquisitiveness.

And that is why it feels good to talk and to play.

Nature rewards communicators.

It feels good to communicate.
....
The ways of natural selection are indeed Strange.

Some of you are going to cash in on the Internet and attain positions of power and influence.

Nature rewards a healthy appetite.

Some of you will create new technologies and companies and become comfortably wealthy.

Nature rewards acquisitiveness.

Moriarty's crystal ball turned out to be pretty good, considering that we gave the talk in 1996. Though as my mother will tell you, Moriarty didn't have to look far: the killer app in online games is bridge ....

Film school

OK, I'm going to teach you something important about how films work.

First, go look at a preview trailer for Tarantino's Kill Bill, Vol. 1. Then, go look at a trailer for Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

Now, go look at this satire.

Magic.

26 February 2004

Legal precedent

Atrios reminds us of Loving v. Virginia (1967)
Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

A modest proposal

Jesus' General has proposed a constitutional amendment that goes directly to the point of ''family values.''
A family in the United States shall consist only of a man and a woman, united in wedlock, and a child or children who are their joint offspring. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that familial status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any other groups.
Think about it.

Wacky gnostic art

So I was looking to brush up on my archons and I found Enemies.com, a weird and wacky Gnostic website. There's a lot of crazy stuff there. Most significantly, it has a number of strange and disturbing cartoons. It has a list of Gnostic movies, with links to reviews: The Matrix, of course, but also Repo Man and (would you believe?) Harry Potter.

And there are jokes.

A Briton, a Frenchman and a Russian are viewing a painting of Adam and Eve frolicking in the Garden of Eden.

''Look at their reserve, their calm,'' muses the Brit. ''They must be British.''

''Nonsense,'' the Frenchman disagrees. ''They're naked, and so beautiful. Clearly, they are French.''

''No clothes, no shelter,'' the Russian points out, ''they have only an apple to eat, and they're being told this is paradise. They are Russian.''

Plus, of course, a weblog!

25 February 2004

States' rights, my left foot!

Brad DeLong sums it up nicely.
For forty years the Republican Party has preached the gospel of federalism and states' rights. Democrats and cynics have said that Republicans did this primarily because federalism and states' rights are useful tools for keeping African-Americans' noses in the mud. Republicans have protested that that is not the case, that their commitment to federalism and states' rights is a deep attachment to constitutional principle.

Now comes the Federal Marriage Amendment, and Republican commitment to federalism and states' rights is out the window faster than you can say ''secure the right-wing base.''

A deep attachment to constitutional principle indeed!

Bunches more to stir your ire in his post, if you like that sort of thing.

What is the point of video game violence?

Clive Thomson observes that a video game about killing Japanese soldiers in WWII sells briskly in Japan because the ''subject matter'' of computer games doesn't matter.
Really hard-core gamers often look past the cultural ''content'' of a game. They're mostly worried about a more prosaic concern, which is whether the game is fun. The geopolitics of a game melt away as players, like philosophers musing on their favorite platonic solid, ponder gameplay in the abstract.

We're accustomed to thinking that a piece of entertainment is nothing but its cultural content. A movie or TV show is just what you see on the screen. But a game is also about play, and play is invisible. That's why outsiders are often puzzled by the success of games that would appear to be nothing but screamingly offensive content. They can't see the play. Sure, you've got raw guts flying around -- but for the player, part of the joy is in messing with physics (even if that happens to be bullets and shoulder-launched grenades) or with strategy (even if that's figuring out how to starve a village).

Computer game designer Brian Moriarty finds this puzzling and provocative.
A conflict without hope. A forever war. I suspect that this is the secret reason why non-hobbyists are disdainful of today's computer games. They intuitively sense the lack of a larger purpose behind the events they see on the screen. Aside from a few jingoistic platitudes, a bit of narrative hand-waving to set up the slaughter, there's little or no justification for anything. The fighting just seems to go on and on. It's not the violence that bothers people, really. It's the uselessness.

Coture au courant

From the nice people at T-Shirt Hell, some ''wait a minute, that's actually kind of sophisticated satire.''

I only support gay marriage
if both chicks are hot

Today's quote

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him,--I see no probability of the British invading us"; but he will say to you, ''Be silent: I see it, if you don't.''

Abraham Lincoln

Surprise surprise surprise

Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society. Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all. Today I call upon the Congress to promptly pass, and to send to the states for ratification, an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of man and woman as husband and wife.

George W. Bush (address to the nation)



Those of us who supported this president in 2000, who have backed him whole-heartedly during the war, who have endured scorn from our peers as a result, who trusted that this president was indeed a uniter rather than a divider, now know the truth.

Andrew Sullivan (weblog post)



I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

Captain Louis Renault (dialogue from Casablanca)

24 February 2004

Interracial dialogue

Cobb has a terrific post about one of my favorite points, our lack of a good language for talking about racism in America.
The reason 'racism' seems to be such a squishy term is because of racism. That is to say, blacks and whites and others are not engaged on a permanent basis in discussions about race and racism. They are separate. So if you grow up white talking about racism with whitefolks, then you will have a separate idea about what it is from that of blackfolks. What's also implied is that you will have fewer ways to talk about it in practice because it is a theory to you. So being provocative about it, theoretical discussions about racism within in a single race group only exacerbates the problem of racism itself because it reinforces words with meanings that are not shared outside of the group. Without firsthand experience this dissonance may be irrevocable.
I think this is a powerful insight. It is very, very hard just to get to the point where we are communicating clearly about this stuff, much less are gaining any insight. In my experience, even smart well-intentioned people of mutual goodwill keep saying to each other, ''you're misreading me!''

I suspect this isn't even primarily about miscommunicating the content of what's said -- though there is that. I think a lot of this comes from assumptions in the background. I've had countless dialogues which looked (to me) like this:

Me: I want to get some insight about what kind of things I can do on an individual level to act against racism.

Person of Color: You're letting yourself off easy. Racism exists on an institutional level.

Me: Not at all. I recognize that racism exists at an institutional level, and I think that part of my responsibility is to act against it. I just wanted to open a discussion about individual action.

PoC: I think you're trying to let yourself off the hook, saying ''racism isn't real because look, I personally am not a Klansman.''

Me: I recognize that racism is real. Maybe it's more productive to talk at the institutional level first. There's a lot going on there. What should responsible whites do about it? Voting Democrat sure isn't enough.

PoC: You have to stop accepting the white privilege that comes from those institutions.

Me: Absolutely, but I'm puzzled about how to go about that on an individual, day-to-day level. It's not like I can just sign a form saying ''I renounce my white privilege as of today.''

PoC: You're not recognizing the privilege you experience. Whites don't, because they don't have the perspective that comes from suffering the effects of racism.

Me: Maybe so, but I'm trying to, right here.

PoC: I know you don't see this and you never will, nor are you even capable of even beginning to do so.

There are several breakdowns going on in a situation like this. My perception of this kind of dialogue is that somehow I'm incapable of engaging without repeatedly appearing to dismiss racism as a phenomenon. Indeed, it seems to be hard to ask for elaboration on anything without sounding dismissive of it. It's hard to talk about fixing these rhetorical problems without seeming like I'm saying our problems demand rhetoric rather than action. All of these are in the background before we even get to what's being said.

The net effect is that whites and PoCs both lose interest in the dialogue because it leads nowhere, or even seems to demonstrate intransigence on the other side. I'm stumped for how I personally, or we as a nation, can pull out of this trap.

For readers' convenience, I've created an index of dialogue with commenter Demondoll2001 so you can see the full progress of the discussion

Not that I resent Social Security, mind you

I'm still insanely busy from work, so today it's another dose of ''today's quote'' from my dusty email archives.
Over the next two decades, the Greatest Generation's elderly will be replaced by old boomers, who'll be the largest, noisiest, and most demanding political constituency in American history--you and I among them. Tens of millions of boomer bodies all will be corroding. If you think prescription drug coverage is a big deal now, wait until medical science promises boomers we can look young and have sex like rabbits and party until we drop. Across the land there'll be outcroppings of ''Med-Meds'' for boomer geezers--think of Club Meds combined with medical facilities. Snorkeling all morning; extra oxygen in the afternoon. Worse yet, most boomers haven't saved a dime for retirement. All the equity's in their homes. And home prices will take a dive when the boomers all want to sell.

In other words, brace yourself. We'll be lucky if the Dems, as well as Republicans, don't sell out completely to aging boomers. Increasingly, a fault line in American politics will be generational. Who will represent the young? Who'll inspire them? Enable them to feel the joy of politics? I haven't seen a Dem among the current crop who comes close.

Robert Reich

23 February 2004

Warning: Adult language

Another quote recovered from the old email bin.
A free Iraq, a peaceful Iraq will help change an area of the world that needs peace and freedom. A peaceful Iraq and a free Iraq is part of our campaign to rid the world of terror. And that's why the thugs in Iraq still resist us, because they can't stand the thought of free societies. They understand what freedom means. See, free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don't attack each other. Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction. There will be a free and peaceful Iraq. What's taking place in Iraq is the evolution of a society, to be democratic in nation --- nature, a society in which the people are better off.

George W. Bush, 3 October 2003

When I originally spotted this, my comment to a friend was
Jesus fucking Christ, this rat bastard is a goddamned Kafka nightmare. What the hell is this shit, a fucking ploy to deliberately make intelligent people sputter and swear?

I'm not saying your life is empty in comparison

I've now seen Nina Hagen sing ''Fever''.

Passion

I'm looking forward to seeing Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ which opens Wednesday.

I am not a Christian by a long shot, but I have a weird soft spot for Passion films. It started when, as a teenager working in a video store, I discovered that Jesus Christ Superstar would gather dust on the shelf until you ran it on the TV in the store: by the time Judas shows up on screen, you have half a dozen people begging to rent it. Since then, I've kept an eye on the genre: I own a copy of Scorscese's Last Temptation of Christ and will eventually pick up Jesus of Montreal, which are both terrific films by any measure. Plus you have Max von Sydow as Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told! And Life of Bryan!

Gibson clearly has an interesting cinematic vision. I'm disappointed that the picture will be released with subtitles -- Mel clearly really wanted to do a ''silent'' film.

And there's the dustup over whether the picture is antisemitic. There are reasons to take those concerns seriously. The only way to have an meaningful opinion is to see the picture.

Newsweek has a fascinating article about the film, the history, and the Gospels. Not only does it weave the three strands together intelligently, you have to admire the mainstream media deftness with which it attempts to grapple with the hard questions without offending anyone.

Paranoia will destroy ya

I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist.

Teresa Neilsen Hayden

Ain't it the truth.

22 February 2004

Still more wedding pictures!

I never get tired of looking at them. And this little tribute makes me weepy.

I cannot help but hope that Atrios is right, that looking at pictures of people sleeping outside in the rain for a chance to get married will start to convince ambivalent Americans that opposition to gay marriage is churlish after all.

More wedding fever

What's this I hear about gay weddings ''eroding the institution of marriage''? It's just not so.

Is Heinlein's writing sexist?

I'm pressed for time today, so I'm going to recycle some comments I wrote an online discussion forum some time ago.

A few folks there called SF writer Robert A. Heinlein a “sexist pig” in his writing. I have to agree that it's as fair a short summation of his attitude as you could manage. But he was a writer extraordinarily resistant to such short summation. If you said that his political attitude was “anarchist,” I would agree to that as a fair one-word description. But if you called his political attitude “fascist,” I would agree to that as a fair one-word description, too.

That may sound impossible to those of you who haven't read much of his writing. He's a complicated guy. I know I have readers who have read him and are chuckling because they've probably made both arguments about his politics themselves, at one time or another.

Considering that the man was born in 1907, he was surprisingly un-sexist in many ways. In the 1950s — an era when women showed up in SF to need rescuing, when they showed up at all — he wrote Hazel Stone complaining that none of the men she worked with could solve a double integral without a pencil, and a military recruiting officer telling a young man that he shouldn't apply for training as a starship pilot because the people with the necessary mathematical and kinesthetic talents are almost exclusively women. Later in his career, his character Friday could take any three of his male characters in a fair fight without breaking a sweat. Women are often in positions of authority in his work, and no one thinks it strange. His characters of both genders routinely assert that women are smarter than men without a trace of irony.

But.

Women in Heinlein's fiction are still vastly outnumbered by men. While many of them are strong and interesting, more of them are either cardboard cutouts or fools. Even the strong and interesting ones really, really, really like being pregnant. And are discomfortingly deferential to the male characters. And in fact display a nauseating delight when those men treat them like children. And are pornographically willing to drop into those fellas' beds. And have a particularly unwholesome attraction to grumpy old male author mouthpieces. And are often absurdly psychologically unreal, as any woman — any human — who has read I Will Fear No Evil will attest.

And while I understand that he comes from a generation that sincerely believed that if we could just get over the guilt, sex would be good clean fun, the resulting attitude is chillingly callous toward women in too many places. Women are never frustrated with their feminine gender role, never injured by sexual attention.

And my personal un-favorite: there's a little attempted witticism he repeats in a few different stories about a female character wearing “a perfume that was probably named something like ‘Summer Orchard' but would be better called ‘Justifiable Rape.’ ” At the risk of sounding like a cartoon humorless feminist, Mr. Heinlein, that is just not funny.


Update: Good comment from Mitch Wagner at Tor and M. G. Lord at the New York Times, plus disconcerting quotes from a letter Heinlein wrote about “race relations”.


Update: Mentioned here.

21 February 2004

Strange outbreak of politeness

I cannot discern what the hell is really happening in this story.
The skinheads looked at him incredulously, and not without a degree of sympathy. It was obvious that he actually thought he belonged there, amongst white power kinfolk. ''Well, you haven't broken any of the festival's rules,'' began another skinhead, employing the sort of ''I hate to break it to you'' tone of voice of a father explaining to his 5-year-old son why a bed sheet tied around his neck doesn't mean he can fly. ''The thing is, you're not white.''

Crestfallen, the kid stood silent for a few beats, then responded, ''Okay, okay. I understand. I respect that. I just hope you know I didn't mean any disrespect by being here. I just wanted to come out and show my respect for the white race and support the cause.''

''We respect that, and we appreciate your attitude, you not giving us any trouble,'' said a skinhead, gently guiding him toward the exit. ''It's just we don't allow any non-whites here, and, you know, a judgment call was made and that call was that you're not white. We'll be happy to refund your money. Your friends can stay if they like, and if not, we'll give them their money back as well.''

It's just weird, weird, weird.

He forgot dashboard religious icons

In the middle of a piece about how SUVs are more dangerous than cars, Greg Easterbrook makes this wry observation.
Please don't tell me SUVs and pickup trucks should not be regulated because an American has a ''right'' to any kind of vehicle he or she desires. As far as the Constitution lays it out, you've got a right to own a gun and to read a newspaper; those are the consumer-purchase categories specified as hallowed.

Did she just say what I think she said?

I'm too burned from work to write or find anything new, so here are just a few things heard in passing in Berkeley. I didn't even hear them myself.
''So I got an email from The Guy, and I thought--''
''Hold on, hold on, hold on. The Guy? I'm going to need a lot more context here. Knowing you.''
''Shut up.''
''Could say worse.''
''Shut up.''
--Two women talking at Andronico's
''It's 'nett' not 'dit'. 'Pundit squares' sounds like a tic-tac-toe gameshow from hell.''
''Or a slimy breakfast cereal.''
--A guy and a girl outside Andronico's
''You get a magazine about gardening? What, are there trends and runways like fashion? Celebrity watering tips?''
--One woman to another at Berkeley Bowl
''Did you know that cellos can get frequent flier programs? And they can get upgraded to first class? Because you have to buy a seat for your cello, you can't check it.''
''I wonder if cellos get two pieces of checked baggage. Like a violin, and a viola.''
--Two guys outside Triple Rock
InPassing.org

20 February 2004

''Winning'' isn't everything

Via Atrios, a nice summation from Digby at Hullabaloo of why the Iraq adventure is a catastrophy.
By invading Iraq the way we did and being proved complete asses now that no WMD have been discovered, one of our best defenses has been completely destroyed. It may have always been nothing but a pretense that we had hi-tech, super duper satellites with x-ray vision and all-knowing eavesdropping devices that can hear a pin drop half a world away but it was a very useful pretense. Nobody knew exactly what we were capable of. Now they do. It appears to everyone on the planet that our vaunted intelligence services couldn't find water even if they fell off of a fucking aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.

It's this kind of thing that makes really crazy wackos like Kim Jong Il make mistakes. When a hugely powerful country like the United States proves to the entire world that it is not as powerful as everyone thought, petty tyrants and ambitious generals tend to get excited.

Digby writes largely in response to a post by Nick Confessore who sums up the argument that we've bogged down our military, drawing heavily in turn on James Fallows' dazzling article about military preparedness in The Atlantic Monthly.
It's a slight exaggeration to say that the entire U.S. military is either in Iraq, returning from Iraq, or getting ready to go. But only slight.

The basic problem is that an ever leaner, numerically smaller military is being asked to patrol an ever larger part of the world.

''Unanticipated U.S. ground force requirements in postwar Iraq,'' a report for the Army War College noted late last year, ''have stressed the U.S. Army to the breaking point,'' with more than a third of the Army's total ''end strength'' committed in and around Iraq.
...
Meanwhile, barely noticed, the United States still has some 75,000 soldiers in Germany, 41,000 in Japan, 41,000 in Korea, 13,000 in Italy, 12,000 in the United Kingdom, and so on, down through a list of more than a hundred countries -- plus some 26,000 sailors and Marines deployed afloat. The new jobs keep coming, and the old ones don't go away.
...
Despite our level of spending and our apparent status as the world's mono-power, the United States has few unused reserves of military strength. Sending troops in a hurry to the Korean DMZ -- or to Iran, or the Taiwan Strait -- would mean removing them in a hurry from some other place where, according to U.S. policy, they are also needed.

19 February 2004

Wedding pictures

There's a bloke who has published some neat photographs of couples at SF City Hall -- I'm tempted to buy one of his cool posters of the rose petal and rice strewn steps.

Plus: pictures from the Chronicle.

Remote control design

A New York Times article today describes the process by which the folks at TiVo created their remote control.
In the pursuit of ease of use, the design team struggled with how to symbolize the notion of rating a program, an unfamiliar button concept for most viewers. (By telling the machines what kinds of shows they like or dislike, users ''teach'' TiVo what programs to record on its own.)

''Rather than pick some esoteric technical term about 'preferred' or 'not preferred' television programming, we came up with the thumbs,'' Mr. Newby said.
...
The next challenge was to fend off an attack of buttonitis.

''Buttons proliferate on remotes like rabbits,'' Mr. Newby said, adding that he and his designers, who ranged in age from 25 to 45, had ''bloody battles'' over which ones to include. They managed to hold the number at 30, a considerable achievement given how many functions the TiVo receiver performs.

18 February 2004

Angel in America

Joss Whedon is a little disappointed at the cancellation of his show Angel.
Some of you may have heard the hilarious news. I thought this would be a good time to weigh in. to answer some obvious questions: No, we had no idea this was coming. Yes, we will finish out the season. No, I don't think the WB is doing the right thing. Yes, I'm grateful they did it early enough for my people to find other jobs.

Yes, my heart is breaking.

When Buffy ended, I was tapped out and ready to send it off. When Firefly got the axe, I went into a state of denial so huge it may very well cause a movie. But Angel... we really were starting to feel like we were on top, hitting our stride -- and then we strode right into the Pit of Snakes 'n' Lava. I'm so into these characters, these actors, the situations we're building... you wanna know how I feel? Watch the first act of "The Body."

As far as TV movies or whatever, I'm not thinking that far ahead. I actually hope my actors and writers are all too busy. We always planned this season finale to be a great capper to the season and the show in general. (And a great platform for a new season, of course.) We'll proceed ahead as planned.

I've never made mainstream TV very well. I like surprises, and TV isn't about surprises, unless the surprise is who gets voted off of something. I've been lucky to sneak this strange, strange show over the airwaves for as long as I have. I don't FEEL lucky, but I understand that I am.

Thanks all for your support, your community, and your perfectly sane devotion. It's meant a lot. I regret nothing (except the string of grisley murders in the 80's -- what was THAT all about?) Remember the words of the poet:

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the road less traveled by and they CANCELLED MY FRIKKIN' SHOW. I totally shoulda took the road that had all those people on it. Damn."

See you soon.

Love Love Love

This may be the amazing Mark Morford's best column ever.
I was there. I saw the lines, the smiles, felt the intense emotional energy. It was simply irrefutable: These are people in love. These are couples who have been together for years, decades, who have started families and raised children and set up homes replete with dogs and dinner parties and antiques and regular shopping excursions to Safeway and the mall. You know, just like ''real'' Americans.

These are couples who are willing to go the distance, to commit and connect, and who are eager to prove to themselves and the world that their love is something true and real and momentous, something that, in truth, can only serve to reignite and reunite our stagnant, fractured, contentious, 50 percent-divorce-rate nation. Hey, we need all the help we can get.

And one other thing was very apparent: It was a situation in which you simply could not imagine anyone hurling gobs of intolerant hate at it. It would have required a serious amount of nasty, inbred ignorance and appalling nerve to march up to any of the passionate and committed couples waiting patiently in line for their marriage ceremony and say, you know, God hates you for this, you immoral disgusting sodomites, and it's intolerable and unacceptable that you wish to love and honor each other till death do you part.

Worth every penny

It seems that Howard Dean's run for the presidency is over.

I've been a Dean supporter for a long time -- I first read about him over a year ago, before he had any campaign staff at all, just driving around New Hampshire speaking to anyone who would listen, talking about health care and balancing the budget. I saw a long article about him, and was very taken with the things he was saying, for many of the reasons that people would take to him later: he was pragmatic, forthright, and had picked some good key issues he wanted to focus on. This was a guy who could stand up and fight and win.

At the time, my work situation was looking shaky, and not-so-idly wondered if I shouldn't give up my job and volunteer to work for him like Donna Moss and end up working in the West Wing.

Last year my soul sister Alysse and I both contributed very heavily to his campaign, and I sent him some more money this month to keep things going. With Dean's campaign fading, and Kerry's star rising, we got to talking last week about whether we had wasted our money.

I always thought that Kerry was a potentially strong candidate. His war-hero / anti-war-hero one-two punch is mighty. I couldn't get behind him, though, because you'd look at what he was saying and ask what he stood for. Unlike Dean, and like the other Democrat candidates, I felt like he was so afraid of making a mistake that he hadn't really shown up. He wasn't a guy who I felt could be a vigorous enough candidate to win in '04.

That's not true any more. In the last few months, Kerry's rhetoric has gotten a lot stronger -- especially around Iraq, which had become Dean's signature issue -- and primary voters responded to it. Campaigning against Dean turned Kerry into a candidate with a chance of beating Bush in November.

I told Alysse we bought a change in the discourse. Money well spent.

Product placement

An acquaintance of mine, I recently discovered, has collected several photographs of himself reading The Economist on mountain peaks around the world.

The page has links to a few other odd things, if you look carefully.

17 February 2004

Koufax awards

The Koufax Awards recognize the best of the lefty blogs. If you check it out, you'll recognize the contents of my blogroll. One of these days I mean to introduce my blogroll entries in some detail. In the meantime, check out the award winners and nominees.

I try not to let it get to me

There's nitpicking and there's stuff that kills your willing suspension of disbelief.

The Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics index lets you decide for yourself.

Ever notice how cars in movies always burst into flames the instant they collide with anything? Our favorite is when a car falling from a high place explodes the instant before it hits the ground. It's as though its gas tank gets panicky and detonates at the mere thought of striking Earth.
...
If he were not on the sidewalk by a display window, then invariably he'd be blown into a rack of whisky bottles, a giant mirror, or some other large glass object. This happens so often that if we didn't know better we'd think Hollywood had discovered a new principle of physics: the attractive force of glass for shooting victims.
Of course, the best is ...
Worst Physics Movie Ever
This movie is so bad we finally had to force ourselves to quit writing and post the review
The Core (2003)

16 February 2004

What our president wants to be when he grows up

I really try to resist the temptation to get too deeply into psychoanalyzing our nation's President, but I fail, fail, fail. Kos has a biting rant about ''Bush and hero worship''. It's consistent with the old saw about Bush wanting to be President as a resume item to help him get a job as Comissioner of Baseball.
Most people outgrow hero worship when they develop a sense of their own competence or success in life, and their identity isn't tied to people they don't know as much as it is to their own achievements, fulfilling their own responsibilities and nurturing their ties to family, friends and co-workers. They stop dreaming about what they'll be when they grow up -- pilot, major league pitcher, war hero -- and they just grow up. But for a guy who never succeeded at anything in life until he ran for Governor, and who since then has mostly been a figurehead uninterested in the details of governmental executive power, there is little Bush can plausibly tell himself he's achieved on his own except get sober -- a laudable and not to be scoffed-at accomplishment -- and be disciplined at delivering messages crafted for him but about which he has scant interest.

Today's quote

It turns out that, at least as far as economic policymaking is concerned, things inside the Bush White House were worse than I had imagined possible -- even though I thought that I had already taken account of the principle that things are generally worse than you imagine.

Brad DeLong

Your ad here!

So I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself about weblogging. I wasn't sure if I would take to it, and here I'm posting pretty regularly, getting in a good mix of stuff. Maybe all y'all have stopped reading, but this is a blog I would read.

I told myself that if I stuck with it I would start to pay Blog*Spot to get rid of the ugly advertisements at the top of the page and give MKB his bleedin' geeky RSS feed.

But I'm starting to get entertained by my own ads. There's evidently some kind of none-too-bright algorhtym that determines what your ads should be based on words in your blog. So right now my ads say

President George Bush
Free environmental news by mail. Sign up today at Grist magazine.

Build a Stronger America
Support the RNC and the President's Compassionate Conservative agenda.

Um, yeah. Whatever.

Forensic journalism on Bush's lost Guard duty files

Atrios points to an excellent post by Calpundit today about the ''files in a wastebasket'' strand of the Bush National Guard service story.
[Former Lt. Col.] Burkett's friend and fellow guardsman, George Conn, led him to the base museum, which was run by General Scribner. Once there, Burkett saw a trashcan sitting on a table, and when he looked in he saw 20 to 40 pages of documents with George Bush's name on them.
If this is true, the story is major league Washington scandal. You know the rules: revealation of the cover-up is always more damaging than the original issue would have been.

Beyond the implications of the story itself, Calpundit's article is worth your time for his walk through the supporting research required in covering it.

Unlike the basic National Guard story, which has been fuelled largely by odd discrepencies in the documentary evidence, there is no documentary evidence regarding Burkett's story. We just have his word for it, and needless to say, all the people he has accused of cleaning up Bush's records vigorously deny it.

To judge the truth of Burkett's story, then, all we can do is ask certain questions: Is Burkett's story internally consistent? Has it stayed consistent over time? Do other people corroborate it? Does Burkett have a track record of telling the truth? Does he have any axes to grind?

The short answer is that I think Burkett is probably telling the truth. The long answer is -- well, long.

Calpundit gives us the long answer, answering each of the questions he asked in turn, explaining why he thinks Burkett is credible but making clear what room there is for doubt. It's good journalism.
It's an example of the kind of forensic journalism practiced routinely by mainstream reporters. I see a little more mockery of journalists than I'd like in the blogosphere, and I think a lot of it is because too many people don't realize how much reporting and how much judgment are behind the small snippets of writing that end up on newsprint or on the air.
...
That's one of the nice things about blogs: if I feel like spending a lot of time on a single topic I can do it, and if I feel like posting all the detailed background information I can do that too. I hope you found it an interesting exercise.
Indeed.

This post also points to something important about how things work in American journalism now. I think that the Bush administration is hoping to dodge the bullet on the whole Guard duty story (as well as other potential scandals like the Valerie Plame story) by counting on scandal fatigue from the Clinton years. Journalists were taken for a ride in the '90s by the not-so-vast right-wing conspiracy, spilled a lot of ink -- and burned a lot of credibillity -- covering countless ''scandals'' with no substance. My favourite example is Whitewater, a corruption ''scandal'' in which the Clintons actually lost money. David Brock's strange memoir Blinded by the Right is most interesting for its description, from the inside, of how sloppy journalistic practices prevailed within the right's smear machine.

After following these stories for years, mainstream journalists have learned the wrong lesson, and now easily dismiss potential scandals. Calpundit demonstrates what they should have done during the Clinton era, and what they should do now.

15 February 2004

Liberationist improv television

Heather Havrilevsky is so powerful that she can even tempt me to like Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Most adults are unspeakably full of crap. We recognize this when we're young, but most of us slowly but surely develop into full-grown, full-of-crap adults anyway. A perky co-worker asks, ''How are you?'' and we say, ''Great!'' even when we're in a foul mood and wouldn't mind kicking her teeth in.
...
America is probably the most full-of-crap country on the globe, but the consensus here is that lying and sugarcoating everything keeps us on everybody's good side -- oh, except for the European Union, but they're just jealous, right? We're told that people who speak their minds like, say, Yoko Ono or Denis Leary or Ralph Nader, are slightly unsavory and will only screw things up and rob the rest of us of the good life we're entitled to. Plus, they usually smell funny and have lint on their sweaters.

And then there's Larry David, also known as the Only Man Among Us Who Is Truly Free. On his popular HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm (Sundays at 9:30 p.m.), David does what he wants and says what he's thinking at all costs. While critics have described David's character as obnoxious, selfish, rude, nasty, pathetic and worse, considering the unbearable burden of politesse the rest of us struggle under, David is a true American hero, one whose confrontational behavior is merely a natural response to the absurd and moronic requirements of modern life.

Cho Cho Cho

Comedienne Margaret Cho is a national treasure. But I confess that it took me a while to warm to her weblog, which largely consists of very weird, very funny stream-of-consciousness rants. It can be tiring to read because it's just so wacky.

Much of what she has to say is political ...

The famous ghosts who haunt the White House gather to gossip about him in the Red Room night after night. Mary Todd Lincoln keeps opening up the windows and doors in hopes that Dubya will just fall out, which actually scares me because then Dick Cheney would be in charge and what would you rather have, Dumb or Evil? I guess I would go with Dumb, but you know, it is just a revisit to that old question, ''Is the Presidential Office half full or half empty?'' Dolly Madison wails high pitched screams in the dark corridors to upset his slumber, but of course Dubya doesn't notice. He just snores, sawing logs all night because you know he is so stupid he probably has sleep apnea and breathes through his mouth. JFK walks the ceilings, pacing back and forth, wondering whether the nation will ever be returned to itself.
... or geeky ...
I think that the good wizard needs to condition his hair more because it tends to frizz and get split ends and the bad wizard, even though he is clearly evil, has healthier hair, which at times he even over-conditions, because it is too fine and gets very flat. I want to tell him not to use shampoo AND conditioner, but rather a shampoo with conditioner in it, like a Pantene or something. Sometimes you just need to let go of the notion that you absolutely have to have a creme rinse to feel like you have completed your toilette.

Gandalf, the good wizard, my husband pointed out, has a lot of heat damage to his locks, after having gone to hell and back in the big sword battle with a fiery dragon, and so I reckoned that it is no one's fault that his hair is so dry. It is just a sad fact of his profession/fate.

... or queer ...
People have said the darndest things. It makes me really confused, yet happy.

Let's see. because I am absolutely adamant to fight for the right for same sex couples to marry, enjoy all the benefits that heterosexual couples have, because the government cannot and should not be able to tell consenting adults how and whom they would love, nor should they penalize them for doing what is natural and in the name of the Lord -- righteous -- because love is love is love is love -- because I am a woman, because I am a feminist, because I am an Asian American, because I question our current administration and their disturbing tactics, their hypocrisy, their lies, their murderous, conniving antics -- I should be fucked by pigs? I think that is such a strange penalty for an opinion that is only fair and just. I don't think that the pigs would like me that way. I haven't ever done a pig, but you just know when the other party just isn't attracted to you. I don't think that a pig or a boar for that matter would be that into me. I have tried flirting, looking a little too long in a pig's eyes, touching the pig's leg when I was talking to it, letting my hair fall over the pig's snout while laughing a sexy, snorty chuckle. Pigs just don't think I am hot.

... just plain weird ...
Michael Jackson was on "60 Minutes" being interviewed by Ed Bradley and the most shocking thing about it was Ed Bradley wears an earring! It is a tasteful and small gold hoop in his left ear, I believe, because they did seem to try to hide it, so you might think that he's sporting an earpiece. Ed surprised me with his funk.

Michael Jackson was shocking only in the fact that he is always shocking. It is becoming boring how shocking he is.

... or all of the above at once ...
Protesters, please be warned. Fans of my work are not the nicest people in the world. If you are into me, you have been through it. And if you don't know what that means, you just don't know me yet. The great fanbase I have built up over many years in the ''business'' come to see me with a lot of anticipation, and have a lot invested in what I might have to say. And they can fucking fight. They will throw down in a fucking split second, and really I don't want to see any of you protesters get hurt. Queens do not play. They will fucking kill you. Lesbians know how to throw a punch that will leave a very large bruise, and aren't opposed to kicking protesting men right in the balls. The underrepresented, unvoiced, ignored part of our population, the great many that make up the Cho Army are something you are unaware of, and pretty much the gang not to fuck with. We are the baddest motherfuckers on the block. I don't want to see you protesters get injured, emotionally or physically. I don't want to see a drag queen make you cry. Which will happen, if you actually do show up with picket signs and all your protester accessories.
... and at last I have seen the light. Her blog is way, way cooler than mine. You shouldn't even be reading this right now; you should be reading all of her archives, instead.

14 February 2004

Happy Valentine's Day

Oh, I love my town.
Couples from out of state are answering this city's Valentine's Day invitation to wed in an unprecedented spree of same-sex marriages that has challenged California law and sent conservative groups scrambling for court intervention.

About 300 people lined up Saturday morning outside City Hall to secure marriage licenses -- and then take each other as "spouse for life" in brief vows that have given San Francisco's seat of government the feel of a Las Vegas wedding chapel.

It was the third-straight day that officials issued the licenses to hundreds of gay and lesbian couples. The response has been so overwhelming that nearly 200 city officials, led by newly elected Mayor Gavin Newsom, have volunteered to pitch in, from sheriff's deputies providing security to clerks processing the licenses.

San Francisco Chronicle 14 February 2004

I gather that Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, two of the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis were first in line.

I love my town.

Advice

Some years ago, as a little Valentine's gift to a Dorothy Parker fan whom I've never met, I wrote this little doggerel, which to my embarassment is the best poem I've ever written.

When I want to say something witty
To charm a girl who's smart and pretty
I don't stop and scratch my head.
I quote what Dorothy Parker said.

13 February 2004

When the French were still our allies

In opening a long talk offering a calm voice of reason about our current foreign policy insanity, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's National Security Advisor, tells an amazing story.
40 years ago, almost to the day, an important Presidential emissary was sent abroad by a beleaguered President of the United States. The United States was facing the prospect of nuclear war. These were the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Several emissaries went to our principal allies. One of them was a tough-minded former Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, whose mission was to brief President De Gaulle and to solicit French support in what could be a nuclear war involving not just the United States and the Soviet Union but the entire NATO Alliance and the Warsaw Pact.

The former Secretary of State briefed the French President and then said to him at the end of the briefing, "I would now like to show you the evidence, the photographs that we have of Soviet missiles armed with nuclear weapons." The French President responded by saying, "I do not wish to see the photographs. The word of the President of the United States is good enough for me. Please tell him that France stands with America."

Would any foreign leader today react the same way to an American emissary who would go abroad and say that country X is armed with weapons of mass destruction which threaten the United States? There's food for thought in that question.

Jenny, do you own your number?

From Collision Detection:
On Ebay today, someone is auctioning their mobile number ''867-5309''
...
People believe that they own these things -- so they treat them like property even if they aren't. In the case of mobile numbers, this is likely to lead to some quite interesting culture clashes. What's going to happen when mobile-number auctioning becomes a really big thing? Will Verizon and Cingular and Sprint and all the other carriers suddenly go, ''whoa, hold a second, we should be getting the money for these sales''?
Of course, you know the answer to that question. But the phone companies are likely to want it both ways, at their convenience. Dig it: Cingular is using Tommy TuTone's song Jenny (867-5309) in their advertisements which tout number portability.

Driving in the spikes

Paul Krugman is on a rampage in today's column.
To understand why questions about George Bush's time in the National Guard are legitimate, all you have to do is look at the federal budget published last week. No, not the lies, damned lies and statistics -- the pictures.

By my count, this year's budget contains 27 glossy photos of Mr. Bush. We see the president in front of a giant American flag, in front of the Washington Monument, comforting an elderly woman in a wheelchair, helping a small child with his reading assignment, building a trail through the wilderness and, of course, eating turkey with the troops in Iraq. Somehow the art director neglected to include a photo of the president swimming across the Yangtze River.

He keeps up the pace the whole way. Check it out.

Being a target market

There's an advertisement I clipped from the San Francisco Bay Guardian in July of 1993. A few times a year it turns up among my papers and brings that time back for me.

In my life, it had been just six months since I left college to migrate up to the bay area. I was falling passionately in love with the city of San Francisco. I was living the life of close friends and little adventures you live at that age. For the first time, I was discovering irrational optimism, imagining that perhaps I could fill my life with things that I loved.

In the world, “Generation X” was not yet the commonplace term for people around my age; Generation X was still the title of an obscure cult novel by Douglas Coupland about how our generation was so invisible that it didn't have a name. We were not a marketing demographic. We were not known as “slackers.” Finding anything in print — even an ad for clothing — that spoke in the voice of people my age was a small shock, not the cliché it has become.

And so this little story, meant to sell clothes, was a gem: what it was like to be me that day.

The plane jolted backwards.

A stewardess posed center aisle, ready to point out the overwing exits. A voice crackled over the P.A., “... now bound for San Francisco.”

San Francisco? The four of us gaped across the aisle at ourselves. We were on the wrong flight.

It was supposed to be Dallas. A hot, humid, big-hair Dallas wedding, mountains of matched girls in pink chiffon.

Kegs of flat yellow beer. Dudes with trucks. All this just to keep a pact with college friends.

Joey raised his hand at the stewardess — to confess. I yanked it down. The stewardess covered her face with a mask.

“Wait,” I whispered, “this is better. Pick, Dallas or San Francisco. Quick. Is there an issue here?”

“Debbie's wedding, Steven,” David said. “We all swore on your mother's grave.”

Bonnie said, “We were drunk. Admit it, we hate Debbie. This is the best, an adventure. Let Debbie do Dallas without us.”

The stewardess strolled by checking belts and bags. “What if they find out?” Joey said.

“Act bored,” Bonnie said, “and you can get away with murder.”

Another stweardess walked by. We all yawned at once.

“Okay then,” David said, “Clothes. Our luggage is going to Dallas.”

“Shop,” Bonnie said.

“Buy buy buy,” David said.

“It's an American thing,” Joey said.

Bonnie pointed to her address book. “I have this uncle in San Francisco. Major-big house on a park. Extra rooms.”

“Bonus.”

“We are there.”


We did it all. The famous stuff, the secret stuff. At dusk on the first night we watched the fog swallow the sun.

But first we found this store called ROLO. They dressed us head to toe, hat to shoes, overcoats to underwear.

When we stepped onto the curb, Bonnie snapped a picture of the funny boy ROLO on the banner above the sidewalk. He smiled down at her.

“We cannot go home,” I said. “No one will recognize us. We are far too cool for Cleveland. We'll be banned.”

“Then let's don't. Go home I mean.” Bonnie said.

Joey said, “Just look at us. People will line up to fall in love with us, just so we'll stay. They will give us houses. Find us jobs.”

Someone stopped and asked David for directions, “We are like totally here.”

“Bathing suits,” I said, “Something for the beach.”

Up the street, past perfect palm trees, around a corner, up two blocks and into a place called Undercover.

Bonnie held some teddy thing up to her chest, “Nasty,” she said. “So nasty. How much?”

David stood in a mirror, “Which is it, too much gut or too little suit?”


We had the best time. We danced all night in a black and neon basement, climbed the club steps at dawn, stunned by the sun.

Drank espresso on a cable car while the real tourists still slept. Bonnie lost her new ROLO hat and cried. “Don't cry,” I said, “we'll go back.”

“No,” she said, “no, let's just stay. We can you know.”

I wrapped her in my new coat and we rang down the highest hill toward the bay.

Joey shined his new shoes with his new sleeve. David found Bonnie's hat in his backpack and was the big hero.

San Francisco is the best. All of it. Go there. Or stay here. Change your plans, lose your luggage, and go to ROLO. It's the best.

Today, I'm still in love with San Francisco. My life is full of things that I love. And I occasionally praise things by saying that they are “too cool for Cleveland.”

12 February 2004

Spontaneity has a time and a place

I just stumbled across Mark Pesce's little rant McBurners while I was looking for something else.

I have an axe to grind. I have a fight to pick. I have a hair across my ass.

And I want to share.

It started when I decided not to go to Burning Man this year.
....

It was a hard decision to make. But an easy one to keep.

Because once I’d made the decision—and freed myself from the almost obsessive nature of the planning that precedes each trip to the Playa, all the toy hunting and costume-making and theme planning and buying buying buying—I found I could step aside from the madness which swept into and consumed all of my friends—as it had for me, year after year—and take a good, honest, objective look at it. Well, at least as objective as I can be.

And I realized something. It’s become a cult. And it’s about time we all woke the fuck up and recognized it.

I’m not saying a cult is a bad thing, mind you.

Pesce, by the way, is an all-’round interesting guy, though his website does have that unhappy tendency to create eyestrain.

Today's quote

I love watching the White House press conferences. They are very enjoyable. I love watching talented journalists who have worked their entire lives to get to the point where they are in the White House press corps, only to find themselves turned into dictation machines.

Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, 10 February 2004

Provided by MKB.

Mr. Stewart is a great American. It is a sign of the times that you get more truth watching his faux news comedy show than watching the Fox news channel. (Pun intended.) His show is the only force on American TV right now strong enough to make me feel genuinely tempted to get a TV and cable.

And you may be interested to know that Brad DeLong makes the more elaborate, more academic version of this same point.

Silly web cartoons

It has come to my attention that some of my readers are unfamiliar with some important time-wasting cartoons on the web. So just in case you've missed out, here are my favorites.

Strindberg and Helium
Ripped from the pages of master playwright August Strindberg's journal, these four cartoons will have you saying ''misery!'' and ''decay! decay!'' for weeks. But in a cute way.

Odd Todd
A series of cartoons about unemployment. Fun! Fun! This one will infect your discourse with the word ''coffee,'' spoken in a sleepy way.

Ill Will Press
Jump directly to ''5 More Minutes,'' then see if you can resist watching them all, then see if you can resist threatening your enemies, ''taste my squirrelly wrath!''

Strongbad's Email
Jump directly to ''Dragon,'' move on to ''Japanese cartoon,'' then see if you manage to do anything productive with your day. And don't think that seeing all of Strongbad's email is the end; if you move on to the rest of the Homestar Runner website, you will discover that these animators have way too much time on their hands.

Red vs. Blue
Video games + Samuel Beckett + adolescent humor = Magic

Pornography? On my blog?

In an odd twist of surfing the other day, I stumbled across True Porn Clerk Stories again.

Yeah, I hear that snickering out there. An ''odd twist of surfing''? You stumbled across it? Again?

Hey, I have a point here. TPCS belongs to a whole little web genre of personal anecdotes about taboo subjects. A lot of it's really witty and provocative in the thought-provoking sense. As another example, dig what Diabolo Cody has to say about being a stripper at her blog Pussy Ranch. If more strippers danced as well as Ms. Cody writes, I'd be living a more sinful life.

Colorful occupations come with colorful anecdotes. As, oftentimes, colorless occupations do, if you know where to look. TPCS offers a little bit of both: there's some interesting commentary on porn and some interesting commentary on life in a crummy service industry job. The URL for the site was pretty heavily circulated a couple of years ago, and it's pretty heavily linked now -- hence stumbling across it again.

Like just about every bourgouis member of my generation, I've had my harrowing brushes with working service industry gigs, and TPCS captures that experience very well.

The clerk is of course automatically cooler than the customer because we are accepted by the public at large as snotty arbiters of movie taste, and also because anybody with a shit job is automatically cooler than someone with a 9-to-5. Too bad, no arguing, we're cooler. Our store is a nasal jewelry, snotty film school sort of place and we employ people coldblooded enough to work with hardcore pornography every single day of our lives (Oh, all right. Just every shift.) so there are plenty of extra bonus cool points right there. I have actually had word come back to me that people sometimes hate coming to our store because they feel their relative coolness is being rather harshly judged.

... and yeah, it talks a lot about sex and pornography and the people who rent porn ...

Mr. God came in a little later. He wouldn't be a particularly distinctive renter if it weren't for the huge button he always wears, which I think is homemade:


GOD IS.
IN FULL CONTROL

I am fascinated by the quirky punctuation and always wonder if it was intentional and, if so, what that means.

Mr. God always rents hardcore porn, and it's hard to keep myself from having a knee-jerk snotty reaction to that. If he's so pious, why is he renting Freaks, Hos and Flows? Which would be a good point on my part if it weren't so hypocritical. One of my beefs with traditional Christianity is that most sects treat sex as a dirty or sinful thing. I like the fact that say, Taoism, treats sex as not only good but sacred. Why the hell can't God be. In full control and enjoy a little porn?

Ali Davis has lots more to say, and she has another weblog, Aspiring Hollywood Phony, which you might want to check out as well.

11 February 2004

AWOL

Having trouble making sense of the story about Bush shirking his national guard duty? Confused by rhetoric from Bush's defenders?

David Neiwert once again explains lucidly and at length; his most recent post unpacks recent developments plus includes links to his previous notes on the subject.

07 February 2004

Dynasty, not conspiracy

Atrios points out that Paul Krugman has a terrific article in the New York Review of Books about Kevin Phillips' American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush and Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill.
2002 was the year of corporate scandals; for a brief period the revelations of chicanery at Enron, WorldCom, and other pillars of the economy seemed likely to dominate the midterm election. Instead, the administration -- after making a few gestures toward corporate reform and grudgingly agreeing to a small increase in the SEC's budget -- beat the drums of war, and drowned the issue out.

Still, officials remained concerned about a sluggish economy. But what was the cause of that sluggishness? The President, according to his secretary of the Treasury, had a simple answer: ''SEC overreach.'' That is, those nasty regulators, in their attempt to crack down on corporate malfeasance, were making executives and investors nervous, depressing the economy. Here's how Suskind describes the moment:

O'Neill couldn't quite believe what he was hearing -- SEC overreach? No wonder the White House had backed off from the toughest medicine for crooked executives and eventually ceded the corporate governance debate to Congress. How, though, could the President believe that the largely overwhelmed SEC had any significant effect on the vast US economy?
Kevin Phillips could, of course, have told him: Bush -- whose own business career had involved some remarkably Enron-like moments -- was revealing his instinctive, indeed inbred sympathy for corporate insiders, and his antipathy toward anyone who might try to enforce accountability.
If you like dirt like that, you'll love the article.

06 February 2004

Everybody needs Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert not only has movie reviews published on the web, he maintains an entertaining column called Movie Answer Man, in which he answers reader mail.

A couple of years ago, he kept a running joke alive in the column for an astonshingly long time.

It started with his review of Heist.

Gene Hackman plays a jewel thief who dreams of taking his last haul and sailing into the sunset with his young wife (Rebecca Pidgeon). Danny DeVito is the low-rent mastermind who forces him into pulling one last job. Hackman complains he doesn't need any more money.

DeVito's wounded reply is one of the funniest lines Mamet has ever written: “Everybody needs money! That's why they call it money!”

But this didn't make sense to everyone, so a week or two later Movie Answer Man had to speak to it.

Q. In your review of Heist, you say that the line, ''Everyone needs money. That's why they call it money!'' is one of the funniest lines that David Mamet has ever written. Why is it funny and how do you interpret it? I saw the film this weekend and heard the same line, yet I feel it just doesn't work.
Rory L. Aronsky, Pembroke Pines, Fla.

A. Ali Hirji of Edmonton agrees with you: “I personally do not understand what is so clever about this line, since it seems to have no meaning beyond its literal meaning.” Why is it funny? As Louis Armstrong once said, “There are some folks that, if they don't know, you can't tell 'em.”

But Ebert evidently got even more mail as a result of this comment.

Q. Re your item about the line in David Mamet's Heist, “Everybody needs money! That's why they call it money!” I was wondering myself what was so funny about the line. You quoted Louis Armstrong but you didn't give us an answer as to why YOU thought it was so funny because, I guess, some of us are probably too dense to “get it.” Could you please enlighten us anyway on why you think it's so funny? To me, the word has no meaning beyond its literal meaning.
Binh Ha, Waterloo, Ontario

A. Of course it has no meaning beyond its literal meaning! That's why it's so funny! This is the question that will not go away. Juan-Jose Pichardo of Chicago also writes: “No, really, explain Mamet's money joke.” I cannot explain it. I can only laugh at it, and quote Gene Siskel, who liked to say, “Two things are not debatable: eroticism, and comedy. If you don't think it's sexy, or funny, there's no way I can change your mind.”

I thought that was the end of it. But not for Ebert. The following week, the Answer Man faced a completely different question.

Q. I was looking through the quotes section of the Internet Movie Database and ran across this exchange from Me and My Pal (1933):
Oliver: You know what a magnet is, don't you?

Stan: Sure, it's a thing that eats cheese.
I must not be as fluent in old movie/vaudeville jokes as I thought I was. “Magnet” sounds nothing like “mouse,” so I'm stumped, unless it's just Stan Laurel being silly, I'm stumped.
David Westhart, Philadelphia, Pa.

A. Everybody likes magnets. That's why they call them magnets.

...which just confused the Answer Man's public even more ...

Q. Jeez, you really make us work! In a recent Answer Man, someone asked you to explain the Laurel & Hardy joke about a magnet being something that likes cheese. Your response was, “Everyone likes magnets. That's why they call them magnets.” WHAT were you referring to? I searched through recent AMs until I found debate on the David Mamet line from Heist about how everybody needs money: “That's why they call it money.” I laughed then, and laughed again today.
Paul J. Marasa, Galesburg, Ill.

A. As many readers pointed out, including David E. Miller of Las Vegas, Howard Hoffman of Sterling, Va., and Edward Sullivan of San Francisco, Laurel and Hardy were making a play on “magnets” and “maggots.” Readers who don't think Mamet's line about money is funny continue to write me. I encourage them to write one another.

Finally, Ebert took drastic action, as the Answer Man explained a bit later.

Faithful readers will recall several entries since November about a line in David Mamet's Heist that I said was the funniest he had ever written. Gene Hackman is a thief who wants to retire. Danny DeVito wants him to do one more job, for the money. Hackman says he doesn't like money. DeVito replies: “Everybody needs money! That's why they call it money!” (Earlier I quoted this as “likes” money, which is just as funny—but inaccurate, as Peter Debruge of AOL Movies informs me.)

Many readers said they did not see anything funny about this line. I quoted Louis Armstrong: “There are some folks that, if they don't know, you can't tell 'em.” More protest. I quoted Gene Siskel: “Comedy and eroticism are not debatable. Either it works for you or it doesn't.” This also failed to satisfy many readers.

In desperation I sent the whole correspondence to David Mamet himself, and have received the following reply:

Thank you for your update on the Heist controversy. A lot of people didn't even think ‘World War One’ was funny. So it just shows to go you.

Additionally, Clausewitz's On War was, it seems, originally issued as a serio-comic ‘memoire’ of life in a garret. (Orig. title Tales of a Garterbelt.)

I see where our beloved president has taken to speaking of “terriers and barriffs.” Can he mean “Braniff(s)?”

“Humor is where one finds it” —George Dandin


With all best wishes,
David.

And I thought that was well and truly the end. But no, not quite yet.

Months later, Ebert reviews The Scorpion King.

Special effects send Mathayus and others catapulting into harems, falling from castle walls and narrowly missing death by fire, scorpion, poisonous cobra, swordplay, arrows, explosion and being buried up to the neck in the sand near colonies of fire ants. And that's not even counting the Valley of the Death, which inspires the neo-Mametian dialogue: “No one goes to the Valley of the Death. That's why it's called the Valley of the Death.”

Update: David Ziegler and Jacques Derrida explain the original joke!

Cloud

My soul sister Alysse used to have a comforter she referred to as The Cloud. I think of that as I look at this extremely mysterious ''Cloud'' product. I don't know what it is, but I think I may want one.

Home decor

Just had another silly little web thing brought to my attention. Waste some time! There's a twist ending!

Today's quote

The document the White House has submitted this week cannot be taken seriously as a budget. As vast and extensive as this budget seems, the Administration has omitted essential facts and data that will have enormous consequences for our fiscal future and our economy. There is not a dime in this budget to cover the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the fact that the CBO estimates the cost of these efforts in the coming years will exceed $200 billion. In addition, by stopping short and projecting five years ahead, the budget hides the full cost of the President's tax breaks. When you include the five years after the budget projections stop, the President's tax breaks will add trillions more to the national debt.

Tom Daschle, Senate Democrat Leader

By way of Atrios, who has a bit more of this quote if you're feeling up for a little more fire on the budget.