Thursday, June 30, 2005

Sun Ra Arkestra Update

Good NYT article about the remaining members of the Sun Ra Arkestra attempting to carry on its legacy. Btw, Tuva is the throat-music place depicted in Genghis Blues.

"OK, so let's try for something with a good beat that the kids can dance to. I'm thinking kind of Abbaish."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

R.I.P. Shelby Foote

Novelist, Civil War chronicler, and Proust-reading dip-pen user Shelby Foote has passed away. He hosted C-Span/BookTV's In Depth in his home study for a three-hour interview a few years ago, setting a trend that many other interviewees have followed. He had a lot of cool stuff on his shelves, and I hope it doesn't end up forgotten in a bunch of boxes somewhere.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


The Odd Todd LOTD review. Check out the last sentence of his alternate plot.

Comparison of Salma Hayek and Friedrich Hayek.

I love a good cover album. More on this later.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Animated Map/Timeline of Iraq War Fatalities

Here is a flash animation that charts U.S., U.K., and other allied deaths in Iraq. The way it conveys information is similar (but not exactly the same) to that of a short film by Charles and Ray Eames about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, called Atlas.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

More on DD and LOTD

A refreshing summer rain has averted me from the outside chores I was going to do (honest) so let me make a few notes on the (relatively) new-to-DVD Donnie Darko Director's Cut and Romero's brand-new Land of the Dead.


1. Donnie - I've now watched this movie (counting both versions) about five times, including with and without commentary tracks, and each time I see new things. There's a lot there, and as Kevin Smith says in the commentary, the movie really swings for the fences. It was the first non-student movie that Richard Kelly directed, and (like Welles or Tarantino) he had a lot of ideas percolating his whole life and he wanted to make sure they made it to the screen at least once. As it was first marketed, it was made to seem like it was just some dime-a-dozen teen horror movie. It did not appeal to that market at all, and cult films take a while to develop that status, so for a while Mr. Kelly's prospects seemed dim. However, there's nothing geeks like better than to tell other geeks about geeky stuff, so the film soon took on a life of its own.

It's about a very intelligent teenage boy who may or may not be psychotic. He has cool parents who some might say were too tolerant, but are a nice change from the typical tyrranical family heads of lots of teen angst films (Carrie, Footloose, etc.). Weird stuff happens, and keeping track of it can be a challenge. He wakes up on the other side of town with no memory of how he got there, with a string of gothically drawn numbers inked on his arm. Good thing, because meanwhile an airplane engine has fallen from the sky and landed right on Donnie's bedroom. The authorites can't figure out where the thing came from because there are no airplanes in the area that have had any problems at all. He keeps seeing someone in a macabre rabbit suit even though nobody else does. He has a cool literature teacher and a cool physics teacher who seem like they are conspiring with the students against the school authorities (and would be whether DD was there or not). One of the former teachers at the school is now a crazy (?) old lady who wrote a book about time travel many years ago. Time warp bubbles emerge from his mirror and from his family members' bodies without them noticing. Donnie takes all this in matter-of-factly and thinks it's cool.

It has the ambition of The Matrix, in that it wanted to use an established popular movie genre to ask big questions -- about God, human nature, time, fate, free will, paradoxes... all the stuff that philosophers and bloggers love to ramble on about without coming to a conclusion. It occurs to me that I haven't really said what it is I like about it, so let me put it this way: If you think you will like it based on the comments above, you will! If not, you won't. Note to Open Court: If you put together "Donnie Darko and Philosophy" I'll buy one.

2. Land - Film Freak Central didn't like it at all despite being big fans of Night, Dawn, and Day (that link has links to articles with lots of good insights on N, D, & D). One word they used that stood out was "lame." I'll have to confess after having given this some thought, there was lameness to certain aspects of it. (Again, spoilers warning.)

First, the notion that somewhere in their undead brains the zombies have the capacity for rational thought is acceptable to me. (Is it their brains, though, or their minds? That is, do they have a lump of sophisticated nerve endings or do they still have the roots of something intangible that allows for memories to be processed, moral judgments to be made, predictions and decisions about the future to occur, etc. "Day's" premise was that the latter is possible.)

Also, I love the idea of a fortified city of survivors. I wish they had gone more into the development of that city and how they all got from point A (average day) to point G (barricaded behind some rivers and fences due to the unfolding undead situation). What were points B, C, D, E, and F like? I think the nice people in the excellent Dawn remake were NUTS to leave their well-stocked, relatively safe, relatively comfortable shopping mall to drive through zombietown to a boat that might have sunk to look for an island that might not exist but if it does is probably infested with zombies too. Just because you're agoraphobic doesn't mean it's a bad idea to stay inside. As I mentioned the other day, I like the idea of seeing how a society will react to something like the unburied dead returning to life and preying upon the living. The early-80s TV movie/series V centered around the experiences of the resistance in Los Angeles, but it also spawned a line of paperbacks about the V-experiences of people in cities around the U.S. (BTW - the resistance was to an invasion of facistic reptilian aliens disguised as humans.) The subsequent TV series featured Howard K. Smith broadcasting (from a Visitor-free Zone, of course) news updates about anti-Visitor activity around the world. I would love to see something like that showing various reactions to the events of the Dead movies.

The souped-up truck (named "Dead Reckoning") was cool; I don't care what the Film Freak guy says. It reminded me, as I mentioned earlier, of the vehicle(s) they used in Damnation Alley and to a certain extent, Ark II. Look - if you're going shopping and the grocery store parking lot is infested with the walking dead, that's the vehicle you want.

Here's what was lame, though. All this class warfare stuff has been done to death. Done well in "Gangs of New York," (which also featured armies of slum dwellers in Romeroesque combat); done horribly in "Titanic." I hate to say it, but the sophistication of the class-struggle analysis in "Land" was more akin to the latter than the former. (However, that does suggest another scenario for a zombie movie: Everyone is on an ocean liner, and/or an aircraft carrier, and they have to make periodic runs to the shore to get food and stuff. All in all a fairly decent lifestyle, considering. Then something goes wrong and the ship (or one of them) starts to slowly sink, leaving them mere hours -- 2? 12? 24? A non-integer? -- to figure out what to do.) I think Romero was trying too hard to make Hopper into an amoral, Enronesque, multinational capitalist GOP donor with no scruples at all, rather than giving us insight into how he got to that top penthouse, and whether in fact it is true that the denizens of the city owe their unbitten status to his (admittedly ruthless) organizational skills. Maybe they do, or maybe he's just a guy who knows how to come out on top, or both. I'm sure there is an article somewhere about War-on-Terror profiteers that Romero read and based the Hopper character on. Not only that, but if the downtrodden underclass is so great, how come none of them raised an eyebrow when the Asia Argento character was tossed into the zombie cage for sport?

Also lame was the decision of Riley, the protagonist, to allow the Big Daddy-led zombies to roam free in their formerly fortified city when his assistant wanted to fire on them. He was supposed to be such a great humanitarian; How did he know there weren't other survivors stuck back in the city somewhere waiting for him to show up in the anti-Zombie RV and rescue them? And why does he act like it was such a great thing for the surviving city dwellers to set off on foot to find someplace else to fight off the zombies? Fine and dandy from his perspective, because he had a well-stocked, well-armed, professionally staffed RV/missile launcher to travel in (which would not have even been built had it not been for the Hopper character), but I can't understand why he acted like he was doing the downtrodden a favor by seeing them off in the middle of the night with virtually no prep time, on foot, with minimal armament, into zombie-controlled territory. Talk about your limousine liberals! I don't get it. Romero must have some kind of personal issues with closed spaces. If I could find a steady source of food and water and stuff, I'd be perfectly fine with just hanging out inside a secure building ad infinitum.

The gore (this time supplied by Greg Nicotero) was, IMHO, up to par and then some. Savini had a cameo role, and when I see it again, I want to verify that he has the same clothing as his biker character from "Dawn."

So overall, I liked it, and I'm sure I will see it again and again. Maybe there will be a director's cut after a while to address some of the concerns noted above. And again, if they want to put together "Philosophy of the Dead" then they've got one sold already.

And the Winners Are...


The ALA conference exhibit area had some good stuff yesterday, despite an early-morning power outage and long lines. The registration area got way backlogged, causing large clusters of librarians and hangers-on to have to wait at the bottom of one set of escalators. Probably what really happened was that the Patriot Act-compliant biometrics devices had a glitch, and they had to have people wait for the surreptitious biometrithingies to take the measurements of attendees before they were allowed up the escalator.

Erik Larson, author of the fascinating Devil in the White City spoke in the morning, but I didn't get there in time to see him. It's a shame he couldn't have led a walking tour of the former Expo grounds, only a quick shuttle ride away from the convention site.

In the evening, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley spoke as a warm-up for Sen. Barack Obama. Both garnered applause with anti-Patriot Act and pro-privacy/First Amendment comments. As far as I can see, Daley didn't even get mentioned in the Trib or Sun-Times articles on Obama's speech. Daley is as Alpha as they come; I wonder how much stuff like that rankles him.

Obama was the opening speaker; The closing speaker will be none other than Hank Zipzer creator, literacy proponent, and all-around cool guy Henry Winkler. (Note - The coolest guy I saw at Book Expo was Henry Rollins. Is there a pattern here? Will the next one be Hank Azaria? Buck Henry?)

Next: Ralph Malph to address the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

The Little Search Engine That Could

Well, my hopes for Rafsanjani to get back into office in Iran have been dashed. As I said, it's not that he would have been a Lincoln or a Churchill or an Ataturk, just that he wouldn't have been a loose cannon. On a side note, it has come to my attention that a Yahoo search for (no quotes) Mahmood Ahmadinejad biography leads to this blog as the 7th hit, I suspect as a result of the caption in this post and my earlier reference to reading a biography of Admiral Spruance. It's funny how search engines work. Let's see what other hits we get based on things like this:

Supporters of President-Elect Mahmood Ahmadinejad gather to congratulate him on his victory and wish him luck in bringing a greater degree of theocracy to Iran.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Land of the Dead / ALA Conference

I enjoyed George Romero's new, long-awaited Land of the Dead quite a bit, thank you very much. As with Darko, more comments will follow after I have had time for reflection.

The thing that makes zombie movies far superior to, say, slasher movies, is that we get to see the ways society organizes itself around the fact that the hungry dead now walk the earth. This movie, though a bit heavy on the capitalist-as-villain convention, took that in some interesting directions. (I say "interesting" a lot, don't I?) Aspects of it were similar to "Gangs of New York." It certainly didn't disappoint in the flesh-chomping department either. Also, a major homage to one of my fave bad-post-nuclear films of the 70s, Damnation Alley. More on all this later.

Tomorrow will be spent down at the American Library Association conference. I'm sure bloggable events await. If not from me, then from others.

Lastly, I'll be playing around w/the new Blogger Images feature in days to come.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

More Misc. Items

Older women, then and now: Current actresses who are older than Anne Bancroft was when she played Mrs. Robinson. (Update, 6:11 AM, 6-24-05) -- It occurred to me this morning that this quote from that post not quite accurate: How interesting that none of them have yet begun to play "older woman" roles. Jennifer Aniston plays a Desperate Trailerwife role in 2002's The Good Girl. True, her character was not exactly Robinsonian, but the idea was in the same ballpark. Speaking of Aniston and Mrs. R, this might be clever, though it could go south quickly depending on how it's handled. In the interim since that piece was written, I see that Rob Reiner has taken over as director. How do you make sure it's good? Give all the raw footage to Buck Henry and have him make a movie about someone trying to make a Graduate sequel, as referenced in his pitch in The Player.

John Scalzi on flag desecration, thanks to Wonkette.

I watched the Donnie Darko director's cut, and am now listening to the commentary with director Richard Kelly and his colleague Kevin Smith. My impressions to follow.

Speaking of Kevin Smith, here's a British movie magazine's interview with him.

Every year or so the AFI comes up with some new list to sell more movies. Most recently, it was the top 100 quotes. Here is a less-ambitious poll from India.

Hip-Hop for geeks is developing a following. Note: All the Geeksta Rappers depicted are white kids

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Misc. Items

Enough soapboxing...

Chicago Tribune's culture critic, Julia Keller (whom I like), writes about those who identify with either Batman or Superman.

The fellow on the TV has all the characteristics of both Batman and Superman, and therefore symbolizes those who attempt to empathise and identify with everyone, no matter their personality types. Just look how crabby it has made him.

U.S. News & World Report this week pointed me to the Elvis Trooper.

Virginia Postrel cites Steve Forbes's article on the downsides of restricting movement across our borders.

Bookslut on the covers of books that feature book covers.

Word Detective says that some of us might be able to do some word research, a la Erin McKean or The Professor and the Madman:

Elsewhere in the news, if you've ever had a hankering to lend a hand to the fine folks at the Oxford English Dictionary, your ship has docked. In connection with a major TV series they are producing about the OED, the BBC has set up a nifty Word Hunt site where readers can help identify the origins and first uses of 50 terms, ranging from "boffin" and "bog standard" to "ska" and "snazzy." If your contribution is significant and verifiable, there's a good chance that it will be included in the next revision of the OED. Take a look and help solve the mysteries of "mushy peas" and "mullet."

Stars & Stripes Forever

Don't even get me started on these knuckleheads that can't tell the difference between The Flag and a bunch of flags. They pull the same stunt almost every year. Orrin Hatch shares the following level-headed, non-incendiary rationale:
Burning, urinating, defecating on the flag - this is not speech. This is offensive conduct.

Careful with the poo-poo talk, Orrin -- you might get nabbed for indecency. He must have been hanging around Metallica too long.

Randy 'Duke' Cunningham makes the same point without all the dirty words:

Ask the men and women who stood on top of the (World) Trade Center. Ask them and they will tell you: pass this amendment.

Hmm. Sound logic indeed. The problem with all of this nonsense is that these control freaks mistake The Flag (an abstract symbol of our country) with every flag (physical item, probably made in China, that you can buy at Wal-Mart) that is produced. These clowns should have studied the works of one of their former colleagues, Linguistics Professor/U.S. Senator S.I. Hayakawa (R-CA), who might have told them that they were confusing levels of abstraction.

Also, I think it's interesting that they should use the term "desecrate" in reference to their proposed amendment. The definitions for "desecrate" revolve around things that are sacred (i.e. derive their status from religious traditions, not civic or governmental). Without even getting into Church vs. State, a lot of the same folks who are gung ho on the Flag Anti-Desecration stuff also would like to see the Ten Commandments get bigger play in schools, courthouses, etc. If I may quote from those same Commandments:

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. (Ex. 20:4, NIV)

To me, that says don't start making things sacred that aren't already on the sacred list provided. (Note: See cow picture from earlier post.) And how can you desecrate something that is not sacred? But, what do I know?

Some comments on this from the Atheistic Commie Lovers Union. Also from Cato. To sum up: I have a great big flag in my front window. I like it there. If someone tampered with it without my permission, I would be able to get the police involved due to them messing around with my property. If that person desecrated a flag that he purchased himself, then it might (or might not) upset me. Hatch and company want to change the Constitution just to make sure that I don't have my feelings hurt.

To Stain McCain Just Unchain Bush's Brain

Last night I watched the documentary Bush's Brain, about the Svengalian Karl Rove. It was based on the book of the same name. I was interested to see that Rove got hold of a copy of the book right before it was released and faxed the authors a 15-page rebuttal. The filmmakers incorporated aspects of his responses into the movie. I think that a) Rove is one of many type-A's who lust for power, b) although he certainly "handles" things for G.W., c) he is not really Bush's Brain. Despite my enjoyment of illustrations such as the ones below, I don't think G.W. is particularly dumb or evil, just too cowboy. Sometimes that works to America's advantage, often not. I voted for him in '00 but not '04, specifically because I feel that he sold us a bill of goods on Iraq.

I liked how the film showed some of the schemes and tactics Rove used in Texas, like bugging his own office (probably) to gain sympathy in the media right before a statewide election. Also, I remember John McCain in New Hampshire, Michigan, and South Carolina in 2000. I was surprised when he lost in S.C., and interviewees discuss some of the Rovian tactics used to undermine McC's position in the Republican Primary in that state.

Later, the movie used a lot of footage to illustrate Rove using 9/11 and Iraq to gain political support for his team, but you know what? If the Dems were in under the same circumstances, then Terry McAuliffe and that crowd would be doing the same thing. Also, the directors included a story about a Marine who was killed early in the Iraq War, and I felt as though (even though the interviews with the dead Marine's family were very sad) the filmmakers were trying to manipulate me somehow.

If you are a Bush hater, you'll like this movie; If you're a Bush lover, you won't. I'm an On-the-one-hand/On-the-other-handist, and so I guess I'm glad I spent 90 minutes to watch it once, but I doubt I would be pleased with myself if I spent another 90 minutes to watch it again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Hate the ASIN, Love the ASINner

On the way home from work today, I stopped at the all-you-can-eat buffet at the mall (half-price coupon) and read more of Susan Wise Bauer's "The Well-Educated Mind." I like this book, in that it is ambitious enough to offer Bauer's opinions on what one should read to have a, well... educated mind. Sometime this week I'll list some of her recommendations with my comments. (Comments are likely to include things like "never read it" etc.)

So, I put the book on the table and went to stack my plate up with mac & cheese, pizza, roast beef, mashed taters, and Rice Krispie candy. A few minutes later I almost coughed up a pizza slice when I read the following on page 303:

The movie equivalent of the ISBN (the unique code which identifies each published book) is the ASIN.

A list of various film & video adaptations of the plays she recommended followed, with ASINs for most entries (and studios or producers for hardly any). I must point out that the movie (video) equivalent of the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is not the ASIN. There really is no video equivalent to the ISBN (although some videos do have ISBNs), but if there were it would surely be the UPC (Universal Product Code). "ASIN" stands for Amazon Standard Identification Number. One is assigned by Amazon to any product (except books) it sells, whether the products are DVDs, spark plugs, or socks. If you look on an Amazon page, you will see the ASIN listed, but you will not see it on the product itself. However, you will almost certainly see the UPC (12 digits) or ISBN (10 digits) on the packaging of the physical item. In other words, the ASIN is only used in the context of a purchase from Amazon or one of its on-line database partners (like Target, etc.)

If you want to astound your friends, familiarize yourself with the UPC Check Digit Calculator. If you want astound your friends and your friends' friends, it's not that difficult to learn how to calculate ISBN check digits (the last digit, which is sometimes X) manually. Ask them to give you the first 9 digits off the back of any book, do some quick calculations, and you can give them back the 10th. (Note: Make sure your friend doesn't mistakenly read you the 13-digit EAN.) The reason there is an "X" at the end of the ISBN sometimes is that the check (last) digit is calculated with a formula that looks at all the other nine digits and uses a base-11 counting system. If you understood the Schoolhouse Rock song "Little Twelvetoes" you will have no problem with this.

Susan, if you're reading this, I like your book a lot. You've convinced me to try Edward Gibbon (one of these days). But please, I beg you (in addition to fixing the Adams/Jefferson and Gandhi errors noted earlier)... don't place your video-denumerating faith in the ASIN.

(Golden Calf, representing the Amazon Standard Identification Number)

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Logic & Humo(u)r

The relationship between logic and humo(u)r is one I have been interested in for some time. I am kind of jealous of Ms. Nefsky's authorship of this article, because when I was in college I wanted to do my senior Communications paper on a very similar topic: Why is that which is funny, funny? My adviser talked me out of it saying it was too broad a topic. Instead, I ended up writing 30 pages about the development of the Children's Television Workshop and Sesame Street (a project that gave me great enjoyment, I might add).

My take on the question of "What Makes It Funny?" focuses on discontinuity, which, IMHO, is the mechanism that allows humor to occur. Nefsky's examples have to do with this, even if there may be areas of comedic discontinuity on which she doesn't touch. Sometimes the discontinuity might be subtle, other times blatant. Mixing the two in the right combination can really pack a whollop. If a movie has 10 subtle humorous discontinuities followed by one blatant, then the blatant one is all the more discontinuous and all the more amusing. And vice-versa.

I have a clear childhood memory of one of our substitute teachers (or some adult in semi-authority) in 1st or 2nd grade reading a story to a small group of kids, poker-facedly pretending to forget that he was supposed to turn the pages from left to right rather than right to left. The first time he did it, one of my fellow students pointed out his error in a respectful manner. As he kept repeating the error, feigning lack of understanding without cracking a smile, he had us in stitches. Why? Discontinuity. It was supposed to go ABCD; this guy made it go ABCBD.

Speaking of Sesame Street, Jim Henson was a master of discontinuity in concept and execution. In the research I did for my college project, I came across a video of the short film they made to sell the idea of Sesame Street to PBS executives. It showed a boardroom full of Muppets in suits, smoking cigarettes, discussing the production of this new show. Dialogue was to the effect of:

"Let's call it the '2+2=5 Show.'"
"Two plus two does not equal five."
"Are you sure?"
"Then we'll call it the '2+2 Isn't 5 Show.'"
"Now wait a minute. This is for kids who can't spell or count?"
"Let's call it 'Hey Stupid!'"

Brilliant! "Let's do something important for children" contrasted with "Hey Stupid!" was, in that context, nothing short of brilliant. I fear the P.C. Elmocentrism of the 90s has consigned that piece of film to the deepest darkest Smithsonian archive. Google itself is having a hard time coming up with documentation of it.

A visual example of the notion of discontinuity in SS appears below. If I understand the author correctly, this would fall under the essence rubric that she described. I think it would fall under her definition of equivocation as well, unless she is reserving that term only for the verbal and not the physical. Sculptor Ernie is almost done with a bust of his pal Bert. However, he runs out of clay. His sculpture must have a nose to represent Bert. So...

As my mother will attest, this logical fallacy produced in me unencumbered delight.

In other news, I used my new chainsaw for the first time today and we got rid of one batch of trees that was up against the house, and also chopped up some long trunks/branches that we had cut down by hand previously. One more clump to go, and then it's on to the bushes along the side of the yard. Dang, I'm sore. I had some good crab Rangoons from the Chinese place by me and finally was at Blockbuster when they had a copy of the new edition of Donnie Darko, which I have not yet started watching. It's been out for months and I loved the first release; I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to it. Maybe it's a time-travel thing where my future self... Oh, nevermind.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Items of Interest

  • Take the word test at Etymologic.
  • The recently released Mozart in the Jungle by Oboist/Journalist Blair Tindall gives salacious details about the classical music industry that the typical readers of this blog (all five of you) could probably use to meet their (your) prurience quotas for the month, even though if they (you) (we) were to read about the exact same phenomena involving Jessica Simpson's backup dancers in People Magazine, they (you) (we) would consider it pedestrian and gauche and only suitable for the GFIMFD crowd. Whatever. I'm getting a copy from the library tomorrow. I'm sure bad-girl violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg checked for her name in the index as soon as it came out. Actually, I bet the whole Violinist Blogging Community will be abuzz with gossip for weeks.
  • Michael Hawley writes in last month's Technology Review (I got a free subscription, all I had to do was buy a house) about the ebb of the Renaissance Man.
  • Good Romero/Dead/Zombie resources. A bit old, but still quite worthwhile. Only six more days!

  • Ex-President Rafsanjani might become the Grover Cleveland of Iran if he succeeds in the run-off election. Here's an interesting quote about the guy who came in third and doesn't get to be in the run-off:
    Karoubi came from nowhere in the polls to vault into the top three. He appears to have won support in rural areas which traditionally back clerics after he promised to give all Iranians free monthly handouts of 500,000 rials ($55).
    I can just see it now -- A bunch of Iranian rednecks gathered around him chanting "The Great Santa." Rafsanjani might not be given an honorary chairmanship of Amnesty International, but I bet he'd at least be stable. If that Ahmadinejad nutcase gets in there, watch out... and make sure you don't drive around Tehran with a "Don't blame me, I voted for Rafsanjani" sticker on the back of your car. Just wait -- this guy will do something stupid, Bush will want to invade Iran, decide that Iraq & Iran are practically the same country anyhow, merge them and rename them "Iranqistan." In any event, make sure to keep up with Hossein Derakhshan's ongoing commentary.

Supporters of Tehran Mayor Mahmood Ahmadinejad wait in line to cast their votes.

Now showing:

This past week's video viewings included:

1) The martial arts classic Master of the Flying Guillotine, which I am embarrassed to confess I had (until now) gotten mixed up with an earlier film, The Flying Guillotine. MOTFG should not be confused with Flying Guillotine II either, however it is also known as One-Armed Boxer Vs The Flying Guillotine. In fact, one of the cool things about the version I have is that it incorporated both titles into the opening sequence. It seems like this would be a great film to promote the Americans With Disabilities Act, because the protagonist only has one arm and the antagonist is blind, yet both function quite well in their chosen field. The only reason I can think of that the ADA has not jumped on this already is that the characters are not in fact Americans with disabilities, but Chinese with disabilities.

2) The Hitchcock homage High Anxiety, which I watched for about the 10th time. During this particular viewing, I got a 50-point Scrabble bonus for making the word "botanies" for a total of (I think) 83 points. It's legit; look it up.

3) Uncovered: The War on Iraq by Robert Greenwald. Greenwald is a much less bombastic, much more rational Michael Moore (albeit with a prefix fetish). He directed or produced the Un- Trilogy (Unprecedented, Unconstitutional, and Uncovered) as well as Outfoxed. Greenwald avoids (as far as I am aware) Moore's tendency to throw out a bunch of out-of-context, misleading irrelevancies to support the two or three important points he has per movie.

Even though he is a lefty, I like Greenwald's approach because (unlike Moore or Karen Hughes) he proceeds in an orderly manner, which invites rebuttal in an orderly manner. The combined resumes of his interviewees must have reflected centuries of experience in the intelligence, diplomatic, military, scientific, and journalistic sectors. Were someone to respond to his points in the same style as he presented them (in print, on video, or on the Web) I would certainly take the time to consider the rebuttal as well. Note to "Outfoxed" star Bill O'Reilly: "Shut Up" does not count as an orderly rebuttal.

Speaking of O'Reilly, my problem with Faux News is not that they are conservative; my problem with them is that they are so populist. Elitists often get a bad name, but maybe the reason they got to be elite is that they actually know something about something. To me, populism just tells people what they want to hear, encourages one group to blame another, demonizes cultural change, and celebrates mediocrity and lack of individual achievement. IMHO the best Senator of the last 25 (maybe 50) years is the non-populist, non-sound bite, CFR-friendly hoosier Richard Lugar, the guy who (with Sam Nunn) we may have to thank for the fact that al Qaeda didn't get hold of four planes with nukes on 9/11. Nunn and Lugar have been snubbed by the Nobel Peace Prize folks so often and so egregiously that I hear they are starting a club with Martin Scorsese. I'd like to see Pat Buchanan or John Edwards contain the WMDs of the former Soviet Union using nothing but their populist tactics (bombast in the case of Buchanan; white teeth & hairspray in the case of Edwards).

Greenwald's next (untitled) film is about the much-maligned Wal-Mart, so who knows but I may be directing my "Populist! J'Accuse!" comments at him next year. Or he may win me over. In any event, if you have a catchy title, you can submit it for consideration. Single words with prefixes get extra points. Just like in Scrabble.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

WWJB: What Would Jefferson Blog?

This editorial by Jason Pontin of the M.I.T. Technology Review draws parallels between blogs and the commonplace books of the 17-1800s, such as those created by Thomas Jefferson. These were like scrap albums into which bloggers of the era cut-and-pasted articles from Ye Olde Gazette, which they then annotated with their opinions, observations, and ideas. These musings included what they were slaughtering for dinner, when they were going to wash their garments in the creek, and why they never seemed to have any time to transcribe all the manuscripts they really want to transcribe.

An excerpt from Jefferson's forays into Blogosphere 0.01, courtesy of the LOC. The preceding page listed five things in John Stuart Mill's pantry.

Pontin also cites an essay by Ellen Gruber Garvey in this collection (note the typo in the first sentence of the review. Hmmph!) in which she describes both the olde practice of clipping, annotating, and passing commonplace books around and the current blogging phenomenon as gleaning, which is as OK a way to describe it as anything else. She gleans this phrase from some French theorist I never heard of who is big on the idea of reading as poaching (even though the just-linked reviewer is not). I am now keeping my eyes open for an opportunity to use the phrase "Integrating the Wheat with the Chaff."

I somewhat identify with this quote:

I recently began writing a Web log, or blog (under protest: starting a blog at this late stage feels a little like developing an interest in disco music in 1980)...

But on the other hand, as we were saying at work the other day, in serial killer movies, you never want to be the first cop through the door. There's something to be said for hanging back with the rest of the pack until the moment is right.

THX-1138 for the Memories

Two good Slate articles on Lucas and Spielberg's influences on each other and on Hollywood here and here.

An insightful quote from the latter:

My vote for the archvillain of the changeover is Don Simpson, the auteur of Flashdance, Top Gun, and other Go For It movies for dimwits. As Pauline Kael said of the latter film, "It's not selling anything, it's just selling. … It's a commercial for itself." The high-powered Paramount executive Simpson ushered in the most dire period in American movies, the mid- and late '80s, marked by copycat teen and Go For It movies, with only a handful of American directors managing to turn out significant works.

I love the phrase bolded above. GFIMFD is now in my repertoire of e-cronyms.


Monday, June 13, 2005

Recent Events

Recent events include:
  • Twisting/Spraining/Straining my left ankle Friday at work. Nothing that hasn't happened before, just enough to keep me hobbling around for a couple of days.
  • Watching some taped interviews w/misc. politicians & pundits I had backlogged. I am now to the bottom of my "to-watch" stack of VHS tapes. I just need to twist/sprain/strain my right ankle and then I can do something about these Newsweeks and U.S. News & World Reports.
  • Eating plenty of watermelon. I bring a great big tupperware container full of the stuff to work every day it's in season. I have great hopes that frankenfoods and increased global trade will work together to one day bring me delicious watermelon all year round. And yes, I know the cited source is probably eating out of the palm of some ADM lobbyist.
  • Watching the movie "Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine" about the human chess champ taking on the 0s-&-1s-fueled Big Blue. I'm trying to decide what I thought about this documentary before commenting on it further.
  • Buying a chainsaw. It's the first one I have ever had occasion to own. I thought one with a gas engine would look cooler, but the ones with electric cords were lower maintenance and cheaper, so they talked me into getting one like that. This inspired a couple of ideas for my first horror movie... the bad guy would be a chainsaw killer who didn't own a portable, gas-powered model and so instead had to do his work while plugged into an extension cord. The surviving hero/heroine would be forced to flee to a spooky old house in the middle of nowhere. But wait! The killer has followed them! His downfall? The old-fashioned farmhouse only has two prongs per electric socket and he can't find anywhere to plug in his chainsaw. Teenage heroine makes sassy comment about killer not being grounded in reality and holds up the only 2-prong/3-prong adapter in the house. Killer lunges for it as she throws it out the window. Killer falls to his death with the tangled extension cord, caught on a table leg, forming a fatal noose. Tenative title: "The Merchant of Menace." (He only takes a pound of flesh from each victim.)

"Honey! Why isn't this thing plugged in? Those Shemps are almost here!"

"Look, do you think my hair gets like this without a dryer?"

Props to Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Iran, therefore I blog

Check out the blog of Iranian ex-pat journalist Hossein Derakhshan. One of my hopes post-9/11 was that relations between Iran and the U.S., or at least between Iran and the West in general, would improve. This is not an entirely unrealistic hope, partly because of Iran's access of e-mail. I still think that day is coming, but the Ayatollah Assaholla(s) who run the judiciary and the statist religious institutions need to die off first. That, and for the intellectuals to keep reading Nabokov and the masses to keep watching Baywatch reruns. Note Mike Wallace's questions to (now-ex-)President Rafsanjani on that topic.

So, here's hoping for timely, non-martyrdom, Darwin-Awardesque deaths for the members of the Guardian Council, and maybe a 2007 Baywatch reunion movie to stir popular Iranian sentiment. Also, if Shirley Temple could be the U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia and Ghana, why couldn't whatshername be the first U.S. diplomat to return to Tehran?

Madame Ambassador.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Dead Ant. Dead Ant. Dead Ant Dead Ant Dead Ant Dead Ant Dead Ant...

Three movies I've rented and watched this week that I liked:

The first two messed around with linear storytelling. L&D of PS is a must for anyone who is even remotely a Sellers fan. It used a ton of unconventional techniques to tell the story (making great use of the propensity of Sellers to play multiple roles in the same movie), and there were even more creative methods left on the cutting room floor; some are shown in the DVD extras. Some might call it gimmicky; I still think stuff like that is cool. I hadn't realized that there are a number of (reportedly inferior) Sellers films from the early 70s that have not seen the light of day in years, and have possibly never been on video.

Primer was the first-time effort of a guy who was a math major in college, worked as an engineer, and decided to take a stab at movie making. His film was said to be made on a budget of $7000, making use of the talents of his family, neighbors, school buddies, etc. in front of and behind the camera. It dealt with the ethics and consequences of time travel and explored all those things that might go a teensy bit wrong that could lead to who knows what. Roger Ebert, among others, loved it because he couldn't quite understand it (it won awards at Sundance) but others hated it for the same reason. After watching the movie and the two commentaries, I read about 10 or 12 reviews and still didn't understand everything that happened or find anyone else who did. I still liked it, but if you are one of those people who has to understand everything, you might want to take a pass.

I like time-paradox movies. One of my faves is The Final Countdown which sent my imagination spinning in junior high school. There are some neat ideas too in the Fantastic Four's Time Variance Authority storylines. (OK, there are other Marvel characters who deal with them too, but we all know it's primarily a concept associated with the FF, at least in this cosmic timeline.) And speaking of time paradoxes, among the DVDs I look forward to renting soon, the new, expanded edition of Donnie Darko is toward the top of the list.

Primer had some Blair Witch qualities to the production, which was fine with me. As I mentioned about the kids who remade Raiders, I admire creative people who just give it a stab, if even they do end up with a few rough edges. Primer, Clerks, Blair Witch Project, Melvin Goes to Dinner, and their indy siblings all get points from me just for being different.

The Green Butchers kept to linear storytelling but encourages the viewer to put their squeamishness about cannibalism of innocents aside for an hour and a half. It was a Danish black comedy that shared certain (certainly not most) aspects of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, but without the moral correctness of the cannibalism involved in TCTTHWAHL. These two loserish butcher's assistants realize that they have a wildly popular product after one marinates the leg of an accidentally frozen electrician and it gets served at their grouchy ex-boss's dinner party. Hilarity ensues.

On the topic of cinematic consumption of human flesh, only 13 days until the long-awaited Land of the Dead.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Everyone's a Diacritic

At work today, the topic of the heavy metal umlaut came up. Excerpt from the page my coworkers showed me:

The first gratuitous use appears to have been by the Blue Öyster Cult in 1970. The band's website states it was added by guitarist and keyboardist Allen Lanier[2] , but rock critic Richard Meltzer claims to have suggested it to their producer and manager Sandy Pearlman just after Pearlman came up with the name: "I said, 'How about an umlaut over the O?' Metal had a Wagnerian aspect anyway." [3]

(BTW - The Blue Öyster Cult?)

Discussion of the "frighteningly meticulous" Rocklopedia Fakebandica naturally followed. Sample RF entry:

Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem - Extremely groovy rock band from The Muppet Show, various muppet movies and random muppet TV specials. Lineup: Laid back Dr. Teeth (keyboards), valley girl Janice (guitar), man of few words Zoot (tenor sax), the comically violent Animal (drums) and scruffy Floyd Pepper (bass). I'll bet you didn't know Floyd had a last name, did you? I'll also bet you didn't know that both Janet and Floyd play left-handed, didja? Didja didja didja? The band was created for the 1975 Muppet Show pilot, Sex and Violence. Jim Henson based Dr. Teeth on New Orleans ivory tickler Dr. John. The rest of the band were designed by muppeteer Michael Frith. This fan page is far superior to most real bands' pages. I bow before it. (See also Miss Piggy, Rowlf the Dog)

Having quoted all that about the Muppets, let me also mention the Kermitage.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Bagdizzle fo' Shizzle

Newsweek writes about the Iraq-stationed rap group 4th25. Rap is a populist, DIY genre like blues, garage, and folk that non-celebs can take a crack at w/basic equipment. (Jazz and Blues are often lumped together by the uninitiated, even though Jazz has many more connections to classical, orchestrated music than the Blues do. The lone guitar is the primary vehicle for Mississippi Delta music; Ever try to lug a piano around from farm to farm?)

Eventually the Man will get his hands on guys like these (and probably suck the life out of them or else find guys who are more camera-ready) but until then, it will be interesting to see how the phenomenon of combat rap evolves among U.S. troops in war zones. Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West will sometimes over-academize hip-hop culture and vice-versa, but they are the guys whose comments I would like to read after they research this.

More Lucasian Analysis

Annalee Newitz offers Sith analysis in her Everybody Loves Vader article.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Only a few days to submit your outlines for the Postmodern Brad Pitt Project.

Pulp Fiction in 30 seconds, re-enacted by bunnies.

George Will disagrees with Friedman's conclusion about France and the EU but agrees they are a bunch of welfare-statist loungeabouts.

Check out the Upsidedown Map Page.

Some of the many sources that influenced George Lucas.

Monday, June 06, 2005

D-Day Participants of Note

  • Actor Charles Durning
  • Ex-Rep. Sam Gibbons (D-FL) (Parachuted in with two cans of beer to share with whomever he landed with.)
  • Actor David Niven (British officer assigned to U.S. Division)
  • "Lord of the Flies" author William Golding (Skippered a rocket-launching ship)
  • Ernest Hemingway (Father of Mariel and Margaux Hemingway)
  • Actor Art Carney (Why did Norton walk funny? Carney got shot and lost a chunk of his leg.)
  • Director Sam Fuller
  • Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
  • O.S.S. founder Wild Bill Donovan
  • Western writer Louis L'Amour (In charge of a tank destroyer)
  • Sen. Strom Thurmond (Flew in on a glider)
  • William Westmoreland
  • Baseball great Yogi Berra

Just Because the Number of Elapsed Years is Not Evenly Divisible by Five...

The D in D-Day stood for "Day." And you know what they called the time it started (I think 6:30 AM)? H-Hour. You can infer what the "H" stood for. There were H-Hours and D-Days all over the world, but the one in Normandy is the one that has been associated with that term in the decades since.

If you haven't read Stephen Ambrose's "D-Day" and its sequel, "Citizen Soldiers," both are very readable page-turners. If you read the book or saw "Band of Brothers" on HBO or video, these two books feature the BoB characters (real-life characters, that is) and show how they fit into the larger picture.

Also, Cornelius Ryan's classic "The Longest Day" is a shorter book, but is another good starting point if you want to learn about D-Day goings on. Ryan wrote that book in the late 50s, and it was made into an all-star movie (one of my faves) in 1962. As far as I know, it was the first war movie that had actors from the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany portraying characters from those same countries and speaking the language appropriate to their characters. ("Grand Illusion" might be another, now that I think about it. I'll have to verify later.)

The book "TLD" is part of a trilogy that also includes "A Bridge Too Far" about Operation Market-Garden, and "The Last Battle" about the push to Berlin. "ABTF" was made into an all-star epic in the mid-70s, when the U.S. was in a different mood than the early 60s.

Moviewise, "TLD" ended on an optimistic note, because the Normandy landings were successful, but also because the standard war movie was still very gung-ho. "ABTF" was a lot harder to follow in terms of what was going on, who was where, etc. which could be a metaphor for the confusing battle(s) depicted. It did not end on a very optimistic note at all. Market-Garden (an attempt to drop tens of thousands of paratroopers in a line leading up a key road to an important port) did not work the way Gen. Montgomery planned it, and depending on whom you believe, it was either a disaster or a limited success. Or if you believed Monty, it was just that you didn't understand what he was doing in the first place. I think the post-Vietnam moviegoing public was looking for a more 70s-ish, cynical view of war than the 1962-3 audience, and that was what "ABTF" was able to give them.

As far as I know, Sean Connery is the only actor to appear in both. He's still working of course, so if they decided to adapt "The Last Battle" to the big screen, he could still make an appearance.

Also moviewise, IMDB does not include German actor Oskar Werner in its listings for "TLD" despite his supporting role as a German general. Looks like some people just aren't anal-retentive enough.

Maybe more D-Day stuff later tonight. Now, time for work.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


More nuisance trees and household chores are calling, and after goofing off a bit, resting up after the trip, I guess I should make an effort.

I didn't finish the previously mentioned Well-Educated Mind by Bauer, but I did find two proofing & editing errors:
  • On page 47, it refers to Thomas Jefferson writing to John Adams in 1841; both died on July 4, 1826.
  • On page 153 it refers to Gandhi '...returning to India in the middle of post-World War II unrest...' when it meant post-World War I unrest.

Movies I've watched recently include Word Wars, about the world of competive Scrabble; Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, in which the noted metal band hires a group therapist to talk them through their creative differences; and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, which I liked a lot even though almost no one else I know who saw it did. I recommend the first two to everyone, and the last only to moderate-to-heavy Wes Anderson fans.

Virginia Postrel talks about her ringtones. She and I have the Clash in common ringtone-wise (although I have "Should I Stay or Should I Go"), and I also have "Back in Black," "Dirty Deeds," "Tom Sawyer," and the Imperial March from "Star Wars."

This is a good (reg. req.) NYT column by Tom Friedman. I like him a lot, and am quite optimistic and enthusiastic about the globalization phenomenon of recent years and decades. (Sorry, Greens.) An excerpt:

It was extremely revealing traveling from Europe to India as French voters (and now Dutch ones) were rejecting the E.U. constitution - in one giant snub to President Jacques Chirac, European integration, immigration, Turkish membership in the E.U. and all the forces of globalization eating away at Europe's welfare states. It is interesting because French voters are trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day. Good luck.

Speaking of work, chores await. (Though I might look into a 35-minute work day today.)

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Hey, aren't you...

Among the attendees I saw at the Book Expo:

(That is, the ones who walked the floor with the commoners, not the sequestered hem-of-the-garment-for-pay crowd.)

The three finalists for badassest coolest (sorry Connie - I still think you're the tops):

And the winner is:

Punk Rocker/Essayist/Publisher/Philosophe Rollins. Why? (Forgive lack of logic here.) Pekar and Miller had long lines of people waiting for their autographs, which is not their fault, of course. But Rollins was just kind of hanging around talking to people about his books and music and stuff. (Guy in suit, guy in suit, guy in suit, Tattooed Man, guy in suit, guy in suit -- Hey, wait a minute!) Give him a listen/read sometime if you haven't before. I started the Solipsist and didn't finish it, but maybe I will put it back on the stack.

In other news, I shouldn't have been surprised to see that Woodward has a book coming out on the whole Deep Throat story next month. He's obviously had this in the wings for a while, ready to go, and when Mr. Felt felt the need to let it fly, Woodward and S&S were ready to go.

It looks like Sarah Weinman was there as well. And I saw the guy dressed like a toilet, too.

Back in the Flatlands

Real good trip to NYC. Everyone was very friendly. In fact, this cabbie followed us around Manhattan for a couple days, I guess just to see if we needed anything. He seemed like a super nice guy.

My new friend.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Packing for the Big Apple

Gettting packed for NYC; travelling pretty light. I hope to finish my book (which has a big apple on the cover) by Susan Wise Bauer on the way out there (btw - Publishers, not Publisher's) and then I'd like to start in on Mercer Ellington's bio of his dad.

The last (and only) time I was in New York City was about 16 or 17 years ago and it was for less than a day. After 9/11 I found a picture of myself on Liberty Island with the Trade Towers in the background, which I took out of the album and put on a bulletin board in my room.

So, more blogging to follow after I get back in a few days. In the meantime, here's Hayseed Dixie.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Shining Knight of Anonymity

I like this phrase, which I found in the Post's grouchy competitor:

'Just when the Dan Rather and Newsweek scandals were building momentum against the idea of anonymous sources, along comes the shining knight of anonymity, Deep Throat, to the rescue,' said Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. 'Not only does it finally create closure for the Watergate scandal, it also reminds the American public of the importance of this journalistic tool*.'

Wouldn't it have been cool (and great for L&O's ratings) if DT had turned out to be Senate Watergate Committee chief minority counsel Fred Thompson? Especially if we found that he had been methodically dropping clues in his movies and TV shows all these years. Example:

In the Line of Fire

Aces: Iron Eagle III (with the great Sonny Chiba.)
Matlock Hard 2

Or, for Bible Code fans, "Senator Fred Thompson" anagrams out to:

"Deep Throat - RMN Soon SF" (RMN Soon Shall Fly... In Marine One, departing the White House lawn.)

OK, time for work.

* Journalistic tool does not refer to Bill O'Reilly in this particular instance.