Monday, October 31, 2005

Parks... Daaaaaamn Right

As long as the topic of giving tribute to 92-year-old African-American heroes named Parks is in the news, let me just say a few words about Gordon Parks. Mr. Parks is a Renaissance man of the sort that is in short supply today.

Parks was born in 1912 in Kansas in a racially tense area. (Remember, this was only a couple of generations removed from Bloody Kansas.) He grew up there and in Minnesota, and after a series of odd jobs, eventually got into photography, first as a freelance fashion photographer, then for the Farm Security Administration (whose photographic unit was transferred to the Office of War Information in 1943), then Vogue, Glamour, Standard Oil, and finally Life Magazine, where he stayed for 20 years. (That is, if you can call frequent world travel "staying.") For you shutterbugs out there, check out the annual Gordon Parks International Photography Competition sponsored by the community college in his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas.

American Gothic

Here's part of the story on the FSA photograph of Ella Watson (above), excerpted from the transcript of an excellent oral history interview done for the Smithsonian. Here Parks describes how, new to Washington, he was sent out to do some research by his boss, Roy Stryker:

Roy of course put me through a very strict and revealing process in getting me acquainted with what was going on there, a very sharp, quick thing, at times I thought rather brutal, but he had to shape me up rather quickly. He used a method of taking my camera away from me the first days I got there and sending me out in Washington to the theatres and department stores and drug stores and so forth and I had some rather miserable experiences. Having just come from Minnesota and Chicago, especially Minnesota, things aren't segregated in any sense and very rarely in Chicago, in places at least where I could afford to go, you see. But suddenly you were down to the level of the drugstores on the corner; I used to take my son for a hotdog or malted milk and suddenly they're saying, "We don't serve Negroes," "niggers" in some sections and "You can't go to a picture show." Or "No use stopping, for we can't sell you a coat." Not refusing but not selling me one; circumventing the whole thing, you see? And Roy more or less expected all this, because he could see that I was green as a pea when I came to Washington and not too involved in all this as I might have been, in humanity. So he said, "Go out and see these things, the people, eat here, go to a theatre, go to the department store and buy yourself a coat. You need a coat." And I came back roaring mad and I wanted my camera and he said, "For what?" and I said I wanted to expose some of this corruption down here, this discrimination. And he says, "How you gonna do it?" "Well, with my camera." So he says, "Well, you sit down and write me a little paper on how you intend to do this," and I said, "Fine." I sat down, wrote several papers, brought them in. He kept after me until he got me down to one simple little project. That was my first lesson in how to approach a subject, that you didn't have to go blaring in with all horns blasting away, but I did a picture there that he often laughed at because of, I suppose, of what I thought was the shock appeal of it. He finally got me to talk to a charwoman out in the hall, a Negro lady, and ask her some questions. As simple as that, you know, and I came to find out a very significant thing. She had moved into the building at the same time she said as the woman who was now a notary public. They came there with the same education, the same mental facilities and equipment and she was now scrubbing this woman's room every evening. So out of her I got a charming story but in the heat of all this I took her into this woman's office and there was the American flag and I stood her up with her mop hanging down with the American flag hanging down Grant Wood style and did this marvelous portrait, which Stryker thought it was just about the end.

He also played piano, composed, wrote books, and, starting in the late 60s, made movies. He made The Learning Tree based on his memories of growing up in Kansas, but started to wonder why blacks were largely relegated to either non-threatening, minor supporting or slapstick roles, or else Poitier-esque roles of great stature and seriousness. Why couldn't there be something for the black everyman? 'Why not?' indeed...

And don't forget...

These and one or two other excursions into Blaxploitation/action movies were followed by a biopic of Huddie Ledbetter, aka Leadbelly. Both "Shaft" and "The Learning Tree" were named to the National Film Registry. (Oddly enough, "Shaft's Big Score" was not.)

Mr. Parks is still very much alive and with us. I saw him on C-Span a few years ago and he was as lucid an octagenarian as they have ever hosted. You may have seen Parks sitting with Isaac Hayes in the bar, greeted by Richard Roundtree and Samuel L. Jackson (Jackson/Shaft addressed him as "Mr. P"), in John Singelton's very good 2000 Shaft remake/homage. There is a fantastic (but out-of-print!!!) documentary on his life, Half Past Autumn, that I have to recommend strongly. (Ask your library to get it if you can't find it elsewhere.)

PBS News Hour interview here; NPR stories here. And do yourself a favor and check out these excellent annotated galleries and resources from Photo District News and Kodak.

The Main Man.
Update, 9:01 PM 11/1/05: Purely by coincidence, I saw the Nov-Dec. issue of Black Issues Book Review today, and guess who was the subject of the cover story? (Sorry, they only give the first few paragraphs for free. Maybe look for it at the library?) He's talking about his two new books, (again, not bad for someone born during the Taft Administration) A Hungry Heart: A Memoir and Eyes With Winged Thoughts: Poetry and Images. Just released today!

Alito's Big Day

President Bush has just announced the nomination of Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court. For a little insight into the man behind the headlines, here is Sam Alito's Blog. Excerpt:

I hear that Mike Luttig seems to be gloating a little about Little Miss Harriet's sudden cold feet. He's popping 21 bottles of champagne, and I'm popping his bubble. After all, Mike, when you were home drinking that champagne last night, I was going over my acceptance speech with Karl. So let's see who's still on the list come Monday, shall we?

Also, if you were wondering about Harriet Miers, she's handling her 'dis'appointment very philosophically. Excerpts:

I've done alot of thinking over the last few days and you know what? I really do think this worked out as good as it possibly could have. No, I won't be a Justice. But then again most people are never a Justice, even really successful people. I learned alot about the Supreme Court, I learned alot about "Blogging"--and I learned alot about myself.

Also I've been thinking about, what if they say "Hey, Harriet would've actually been great!! Lets get her again." How would I answer. Well you know what, this may surprise you, but my answer would actually be no! I've always had a philosophy of, "Judge not or you'll be judged yourself." And here I was thinking about being a judge full-time. Not a good fit.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Blogroll Revisions

OK, so I did a bunch of cutting and pasting and so on and moved the links on the sidebar into some semblance of order. This organization is far from set in stone. There is still a certain lack of consistency in the categories, but whattya gonna do? Lots of bloggers or sites could fit into two or more of these categories, and I picked the ones that seemed best without agonizing over them (too much). (Examples: Is Vodka a self-identified libertarian? Not sure, but he seems like he leans enough that direction to justify his inclusion.) Obviously there are plenty of bloggers outside of the Bloggers category. I was going to include a "Left" and "Right" section, but that seemed too limiting and awkward, even though I did include a "Libertarians" section. I gave professors and librarians their own sections, even though many (Insta, Althouse, et al) could have gone in Politics/Current Events. I put POTUS in History even though it's mostly history professors writing about history. Why did U of C's Becker and Posner end up listed in the Academy section while Freakonomics co-author and U of C Economist Steven Levitt ended up in the Politics/Current Events/History/Econ section? They just did. As for listing within a category, they mostly just fell where they fell.

In short, if anyone doesn't like where they ended up, please let me know.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Weekend Update

A number of items that I didn't have time to get to in the past few days:

Batoru Rowaiaru

This week I watched Battle Royale (directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku) for the first time, although I've been wanting to for quite a while. I got it through Netflix (which I am becoming quite happy with, although I am still in the honeymoon period). BR is a Japanese combination of Lord of the Flies, 1984, and Survivor. The government puts a ninth-grade class on a deserted (but booby-trapped) island, gives them a random distribution of weapons (you might get a machine gun; you might get a folding paper fan) and the last one alive is the winner. This is a great movie, except for those of the Bill Bennett/Joe Lieberman school of thought. And really, if you are of that school of thought, why do you even bother being on the Internet?

This and other Fukasaku films were some of Tarantino's inspirations for KBV1&2. (Btw, when is QT going to do something with Takeshi Kitano?) Checking IMDB for Fukasaku, I see that I have more of a history with him than I had realized. He directed a late-60s international space monster movie called The Green Slime, which I remember from the late late show (on the low-budget indy station) circa 1977. He directed some of the Japanese portions of Tora! Tora! Tora! There is a recently released six-volume DVD series that I have been wanting to check out called The Yakuza Papers: Battles Without Honor and Humanity. There is also a recently released stand-alone DVD version of Under the Flag of the Rising Sun that I am putting on my Netflix queue. And, to my pleasant surprise, he is the director of the acid-trippy, occultish, disturbing-image-laden Samurai Resurrection (recently remade), which I have on VHS because Sonny Chiba starred in it.

Next on the agenda? Battle Royale II: Requiem, of course.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lame Thursday Morning Update: Oniongate's First Victim

Lame. So lame I thought at first it was a joke. It might still turn out to be one. NYT excerpts:

You might have thought that the White House had enough on its plate late last month, what with its search for a new Supreme Court nominee, the continuing war in Iraq and the C.I.A. leak investigation. But it found time to add another item to its agenda - stopping The Onion, the satirical newspaper, from using the presidential seal.

"It has come to my attention that The Onion is using the presidential seal on its Web site," Grant M. Dixton, associate counsel to the president, wrote to The Onion on Sept. 28. (At the time, Mr. Dixton's office was also helping Mr. Bush find a Supreme Court nominee; days later his boss, Harriet E. Miers, was nominated.)

Onion response here. Excerpt:

It started on Sept. 28, when Grant Dixton, associate counsel to President Bush, sent a letter to The Onion. The classy thing is that it was written on White House stationery. The not so classy thing is that it was addressed, "To Whom It May Concern."

The Moderate Voice opines here. Also, comments from across the Atlantic and across the Pacific. And, Wikipedia is already on the job. Does the Bush White House not know that there is such a thing as the Blogosphere? Lame.

Oniongate Update: 8:19 AM, Thursday 10/27/05: Oniongate has claimed its first victim! Less than 24 hours after media-fueled outrage percolated over the Office of the White House Counsel's harrassment of The Onion, Harriet Miers has withdrawn her name from consideration for the Supreme Court. The announcement of her nomination (noted above) coincided with the "Seal" letter to the editors of The Onion. What did The Onion know, and when did they know it? Hmmm... Ann Althouse is a Madisonian, just like the Onion editors. (Adjective for Ann applies to both the Wisconsin city and the author of the Constitution.) I wonder if she has any insights about the obvious connections.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A Long Shelf Life

I am moving a bunch of books, VHS tapes, and DVDs from various spots around the house into their new homes in the living room. For the past few weeks, my ♥GF♥ and I have been fixing up the living room. It's now painted, has new curtains, and features a big-ass entertainment center that we inherited. I already had about 5 or 6 full-sized Wal-Mart bookshelves lining two walls plus a big homemade standup thing for my VHS tapes; The shelves have been moved around to make an "L"-shape to accomodate the entertainment center, and yesterday they got three younger siblings running along the portion of the living room wall underneath the side window. The standup thing is now awaiting its new assignment in the garage. All that's left is to get a couch and a fishtank.

Most of the books I have are in rough Dewey Decimal order. The living room is for geography and history (the 900s) and the book room (currently unwalkable-in) has all the fiction plus the 000s through 800s plus a bunch of other junk. It was totally impractical to keep the books in any order when we were moving them around to do the painting, so I have been devising my strategy to get them back how I want them in Living Room 2.0.

Also, I am trying to figure out how I want to get all these videos in order. Straight alpha is one option, though not the one I had been using before. I had had them semi-alpha by genre, though that was with the open-space of the standup thing. The shelves of the entertainment center only display a few; The rest will be accessible but not immediately visible. Do I want to let the whims of the alphabet decide which are shown, or do I want to make sure that my faves are out there for people to see?

I decided to keep aside a box two boxes of the tapes and DVDs that I have that I have either never watched at all, or that I want to finish watching, or that I want to watch again in light of a new perspective, or for which I have seen the film but still need to listen to the commentary. (Lots of Criterion Collection extras that I want to absorb; Also some good stuff I forgot I even had that I taped off of AMC before it went to shit.) Plus, a few giveaways. Anyone need a spare copy of Sonny Chiba's Legend of the Eight Samurai? (Sorry -- Pan & Scanned version.)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Know-It-Almost-All

This guy named A.J. Jacobs read through the entire 2002 Encyclopedia Britannica (all 32 volumes). This is a feat that I admire tremendously; I'm sure many blogreaders do as well. In fact, my curiosity about Switzerland's Aar river, Aardvarks, and Hank Aaron is piqued already. The 32 volumes contained 33,000 pages and 44 million words. Last year he wrote a 400-page book titled The Know-It-All about his experiences with this project. This book is available on audio as well, either on CD or cassette, unabridged. I am a big fan of audiobooks (Note: This is the correct term; "Books on Tape" is a specific brand name, like "Kleenex") and I'd be just as happy to listen to this as read it.

Here's the thing that drives me beserk: That someone would think that it was a good idea to release an abridged version of his book on compact disc!! Slap!

The whole theme of TKIA is completion; They should save abridgements for the guy who writes about the experience of reading a year's worth of People Magazine.

Star Wars, Fabulous Staaaaar Waaaars....

Here's Han Solo/Hunter Thompson and Chewbacca (who kind of looks like a Brown Buffalo) in Fear and Loathing in Mos Eisley. ("You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy...")

Also, Star Wars Ep. IV pixillated:

Update: 8:40 PM, 10-25-05 -- Empire! (Props to BB for both.)

(NSFW) Star Wars dialogue.

And, a bunch more Star Wars funny stuff.

Que la Force soit avec vous!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Good Stuff From Around the Web

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Saying Hello to the Neighbors.

I've been wavering 50 slots or so either side of 10,000 on TTLB for the last week or so. This is significantly more maddening than most variations in ranking of the same size, because one day my rank has five digits, and the next day only four! Then back to five again. In any event, I'm currently at 10,018, and I have been checking up on some of my interesting-looking new neighbors. Stop over and tell them hi.
  • French Toast Girl at # 10,015. If you need some holiday cards, give her a look. She has one that's kind of a happier M.C. Escher fish pattern.
  • From across the Atlantic, here's #10,005, Mental Nurse. I feel an affinity with her already (I worked in a mental health facility for ten years) because it seems like she realizes that a) the crazy people she has to take care of are in fact crazy, and b) that most of her co-workers and bosses are also crazy. For some reason, those two facts are difficult for many mental health professionals to grasp. Note to office, retail, warehouse, etc. workers: A bad day to you might mean that somebody was rude to you on the phone. A bad day when you work in a nut hut is when as soon as you walk in the door to begin your shift, you find that a violent, crazy, pissed-off, 6-ft./200-lb. teenager has smashed up a bunch of windows and furniture and has a bunch of smaller, intimidated kids and smaller, intimidated staff cowering in another room. You have ten seconds to decide what to do. The ten seconds started nine seconds ago. Mental, if you're reading this, just remember that if you're ever in a situation to need them, God gave you two knees and gave that crazy guy two testicles.
  • If you're into libraries (and who of the Blogosphere isn't?) check out Peter Scott's Library Blog (#9,994).
  • LBNL, you ought to check out Capt. Platypus over at Paltypus-Society (#10,025) at your earliest conveniece.

So -- Hi, everybody!

Now Showing

I'm watching Frankenheimer's Seven Days in May right now, an early-60s thriller about an attempted coup by the Pentagon. It doesn't seem to have much in common with that bizarre orgy of 70s epistemologies, A Boy and His Dog, except that neither could have possibly predicted that Western Civilization's greatest threat in the early 21st Century would not be from the organized nations behind the Iron Curtain, but from small cells of networked extremists. (ABAHD gets the small cells thing right for the above-grounders, but only posits this occurence after a nation-on-nation conflict.) Most Cold War thrillers (whether post-apocalyptic satire/fantasy/melodrama/pseudo-realism, All-American-hero-in-the-nick-of-time, behind-the-scenes-amoral espionage, or whatever) seem so outdated; They're from a whole different era, although I remember the activist nuclear holocaust movies of the 80s like they were yesterday (as does MaryAnn J.) But, that doesn't mean they're not good or great movies, nor that they aren't historically interesting.

Anyhow: Frankenheimer -- Awesome! Seven Days -- Excellent! (Contemporary NYT review here.) ABAHD - Watch it with an open mind, and remember it was the 70s. (I still can't figure out what the white makeup w/red cheeks thing was about, either.)

A few interesting things I caught about ABAHD on this viewing that I had not caught the last time I watched it, a few years ago. First, the director is a guy named L.Q. Jones, a cult figure who has acted in films from 1955's Battle Cry through 1995's Casino. Also, the film features the late Alvy Moore, better known by his nom-de Hooterville, Mr. Kimball. I recognized him the first time I saw this film, years ago.

What I didn't realize until just this week is that he also was the producer of ABAHD. Not only that, but IMDB (celebrating 15 years this week) tells me that he produced movies like Brotherhood of Satan and The Witchmaker. I am fascinated by that era of the entertainment industry, in which All-American (Moore was an Iwo Jima Marine), non-threatening, establishment backbenchers went apeshit bananas at the first opportunity.

The NYT had quite an opener to the BoS review back in the 70s. Excerpt:
Lovers of horror movies are doubly deceived. Already so lost in Plato's cave that our eyes can only recognize the shadows, we still seek an ideal that is no more than what our dreams project into the deeper darkness. Almost everybody I know has a perfect horror movie in mind, and, of course, nobody has ever seen it. Everybody has seen bits and pieces of it, however.

It's like this guy knows me..

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

ASME Top 40 Magazine Covers

The American Society of Magazine Editors has announced their Top 40 Magazine Covers of the Last 40 Years. (Update: Link fixed. Cover images here. Note to ASME -- Don't underestimate the Blogosphere when you allocate bandwidth for stuff like this. We love pop culture and we love lists of things. End of update.) Here's what The Gothamist has to say, and here's the NYT article.

I think it'd be cool to do a mash-up of some of these covers with each other -- Princess Diana's B/W portrait (#36) on the cover of Time w/the Ellen caption (#37); The blue-eyed Afghan girl (#10) pregnant, naked, and on the cover of Vanity Fair (#2); The comely (but chilly) Dixie Chicks (#27) with phrases such as "Is God Dead?" (#12) "To the Moon and Back"(#13) "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We Kill This Dog" (#7) and "The Trouble With Mergers" (#16) magic-markered on them; and of course, Al Gore and G.W. Bush (#31) in an intimate embrace (#1) with the caption "The Next American Revolution" (#22).

Monday, October 17, 2005

They Have the Internet on Computers Now!

Here's Technorati's State of the Blogosphere, October 2005. Excerpt:

Technorati is now tracking 19.6 Million weblogs, and the total number of weblogs tracked continues to double about every 5 months. This trend has been consistent for at least the last 36 months. In other words, the blogosphere has doubled at least 5 times in the last 3 years. Another way of looking at it is that the blogosphere is now over 30 times as big as it was 3 years ago.

On the other hand, FY1976 sales figures for pet rocks were 30 times greater than they had been three years previously. (Kidding.)

Also, Yahoo started adding blogs to its news searches last week; Here's Technology Review on various other Yahoo initiatives. Excerpts:

At Google, research is woven into the fabric of the company: software engineers are required to spend 20 percent of their time on far-out ideas, a policy that's given rise to a host of spin-off Google sites.

Microsoft, for its part, has funded extensive research in areas such as data mining and information retrieval, including a system that assembles information from the Web and a user's hard drive before he or she has even realized they need it.

But for Yahoo, having a research operation that helps to invent emerging information tools has never been a major priority. Indeed, until two years ago, the company didn't even have its own search engine -- it rented Google's.

But now that's changing -- and fast.

Competition is sweet -- The Invisible Handwidth. But, it looks like Yahoo has some tweaking to do, unless they were just trying to blogw sweet nothings into our ears... This Yahoo news + blogs search for the word 'Porkbusters' only got seven hits, all of which were from such eminent non-blogs as USN&WR and Investor's Business Daily, dated as far back as late September. Technorati has about 20 hits for the same search for just blogs for the last four days.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Catching Up

Catching up on various items:


Today I watched Peter Jackson's early, silly, low-budget gorefest Bad Taste, and I got a kick out of it. Plenty of gratuitous blood and guts and splatter, but really nothing in that bad taste. (Unlike certain films I could mention -- one of which I do mention below!)

Also, I am now watching Clint Eastwood's Charlie Parker biopic, Bird. I am a big Charlie Parker fan, and I have been meaning to get around to this for years, but I didn't grab the opportunity until today.

More weekend/early-next-week screenings will probably include His Girl Friday, The Asphalt Jungle, Pickup on South Street, Seven Days in May, and A Boy and His Dog. (As you can tell from the first three second and third, I've been feeling kind of Noirish lately.) (Edit: HGF is not Noir, obviously, but I lumped it in as such initially because it's from the era and has crooked cops and pols and fast-talking newspapermen and street-smart newspaperdames. Screwball Noir. End edit.) I've seen all of these before (though not recently) and like them, and I picked them all from the library so I can listen to the director's and/or critics' commentaries on each.

There may be some adjustments to my movie-watching habits, because the other day I signed up for NetFlix. Comments to come as I see how it works out.

Web Stuff:

  • MTA's discourse on the Wifebeater.
  • Please welcome Logic and Language to the blogroll. (That is, welcome the blog L&L -- I still haven't decided on the logic I want to employ to organize the sidebar.)
  • The Blowhards point to this list of the Top 50 Horror Films Ever. I've seen 32 of them, including all of the top 14. The most recent of those 14 that I have viewed was Cannibal Holocaust (#10), which a friend of mine loaned me a few weeks ago. (Note the reviewer's chosen adjectives -- Powerful. Visceral. Disturbing. -- Get it? Visceral?) If the name doesn't immediately either repel you or intrigue you, then you need to read the first and second words of the title again, this time reflecting more closely on their definitions and context. If you want to see some of TBWP's (#14) ancestry, then check this one out. Warning: NSFW (Not Safe for Wussies).
  • Kurosawa's Rashomon is one of my favorite films. RaShOmoN the blog has a bunch of cool links and images.
  • Here's the Klingon translation of the Sesame Street theme song, via Maximum Verbosity.
  • I'm not sure if this EFF article makes me feel better or worse about post-9/11 government intrusion. Excerpt: After receiving hundreds of requests from Americans asking to know what personal information the government has obtained about them, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) told passengers that it "does not have the capability to perform a simple computer-based search" to locate individual records.
  • Here's The Blogger's Blog, Blogging the Blogosphere.
  • Pete at Perfectly Cromulent on the Arab World's version of The Simpsons.

...The Schoolyard's Up and the Shopping Mall's Down...

My ♥GF♥ and I got back from Springfield last night, Lincolnized enough for at least the foreseeable future. The new Presidential Museuem is state-of-the-art and worth a morning or afternoon for any history fan. A few blocks away Lincoln's house and neighborhood is, well, Lincoln's house and neighborhood. A young ranger conducted the tour of the place and a bunch of unassuming senior citizens were following along dutifully. When she was finished with the tour, I heard some of the seniors citing quotes from obscure Lincoln family correspondence and the arcana of Central Illinois history, like hardcore Trekkiesers dissatisfied with the scripted comments of a Paramount tour guide. It takes all kinds of geekery to make the world a fun place.

If you find yourself visiting, make sure you check out the Prairie Archives bookstore, which has lots of real cool stuff and reminds me a lot of Bookman's Alley. I got a two-volume bio of Thomas Jefferson for six bucks, a two-volume bio of Charles Dickens for two bucks, and good-condition copies of Capt. Storm #1 & #2 for nine bucks. (Note -- this is DC's Capt. Storm, we're talking about, not Marvel's Capt. Savage.)

Here's a Salon article on Springfield.

The two books I am most interested in going through (haven't started either; been meaning to for some time) are David Herbert Donald's Lincoln and Merrill Peterson's Lincoln in American Memory.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Land of Linkin'

(Apologies to Eric Zorn, from whom I stole that obvious-but-perfect phrase.)

I'm at the midpoint of my vacation this week, and so far it has been a bunch of taking it easy, doing errands, fixing stuff up around the house, yardwork, finishing painting, watching movies, etc.

Shortly, my ♥GF♥ and I will be road-tripping down to Springfield to see the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library for a day or two. I am a big history fan, and this should be fun. We're just going to take the back roads and take our time getting there, and probably listen to Gregory Maguire's Leaping Beauty on audiobook. If there's free Internet service down there that I can get ahold of, I'll blog from the road just for the sheer thrill of it.

In the interim, here's some good stuff to tide you over:

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


I'm currently watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which I have never seen before, at the recommendation of a friend of mine. It's OK but not great, and I'll finish watching it just because I started it.

TCM2, made in 1986, is a lot more NOES(2+)ish or FT13(2+)ish than it is classic TCMish. It's even kind of ROTNish in the very beginning. That's a little bit disappointing (though really not unexpected). Even though I have a fond place in my heart for mid-80s American horror, it's really 70s-to-early-80s American horror that does it for me -- It's more like most 80s American horror is "cute" in it's own way. (Note: This description does not include indie horror of any decade) (And of course, 80s European horror is a whole 'nother thing entirely.)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Love Is in the Air... In the Flowers, in the Trees...

I just got an idea for a kick-ass reality show.

Sunday Items of Interest

Several items of interest from around the Blogosphere and the rest of the Web:

  • Here is the blog of Harriet Miers, via Geeky Mom.
  • Here are some interesting comments on the overlap between science and philosophy, from Dr. Free-Ride, Ph.D.
  • Please welcome Eric Zorn, SciTech Daily, Underneath Their Robes, and The Moderate Voice to the blogroll.
  • These have been around for a while, but the other day at work discussion having to do with GoogleWatch came up. Also, here's GoogleWatch Watch.
  • It looks like Sylvia at The Bookworm has also read Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Educated Mind. I shared my experiences with the books Bauer recommends here, and shared my clarification of Bauer's misstatement that equated ASINs with ISBNs here. Also, Rachel's Tinkerty comments on the TWEM list can be found here. My comments were much more list-oriented, and Bookworm's comments (with follow-up here) deal with the method of study espoused in TWEM. Anyhow, I think I'll add her to the blogroll as well.
  • I thought this Chris Anderson/Long Tail post on Lego Blocks was really good. The Long Tail Concept has to do with supply & demand and the application of new technologies to market-oriented supply chains. Check out that link and also the relevant Wikipedia entry for further explanation of the idea. On a side note, when I was a kid, the whole point of Legos was that you had these building blocks of various shapes and colors and the end product would only be limited by your imagination. In recent years (OK, recent decades) the Lego stuff you find in retail stores reminds me a lot more of the plastic model airplanes I did when I was little, in that there is a picture on the box of a specific object (castle, fire engine, Star Wars ship, etc) that kids are supposed to end up with when they are finished. The specificty of the design of the individual Lego pieces of these sets make them more like puzzles with a right answer than tools with which to do one's own thing. For years, my job involved working with kids of Lego age and I remember once that one of them built a very creative and original Lego sculpture that had nothing to do with the spaceship depicted on the box cover, and another kid berated him for doing it wrong. The Long Tail model (as opposed to retail model) kind of incorporates the imaginations of Lego users into the supply of the product.
  • Last but not least, this document spells out very clearly the discipline, preparation, and manner of thinking that would be expected of you if you worked at Hooters. Excerpt:
    The deal with science — the thing that makes it different from some "philosophical theories" you might worry about — it that there's a serious attempt to do the job of describing, explaining, and manipulating the universe with a relatively lean set of metaphysical commitments, and to keep many of the commitments methodological. If you're in the business of using information from the observables, there are many junctures where the evidence is not going to tell you for certain whether P is true or not-P is true. There has to be a sensible way to deal with, or to bracket, the question of P so that science doesn't grind to a halt while you wait around for more evidence. Encounter a phenomenon that you're not sure is explainable in terms of any of the theories or data you have at the ready? You can respond by throwing your hands up and hypothesizing, "A wizard did it!" , or you can dig in and see whether further investigation of the phenomenon will yield an explanation. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't. In cases where it does not, science is still driven by a commitment to build an explanation in terms of stuff in the natural world, despite the fact that we may have to reframe our understanding of that natural world in fairly significant ways.
    I love questions that ask how we know what we know. (Wait, was that from the Hooters thing? I'll double check later.)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

C-Span's 25 Years of Call-In Shows

I am currently in the midst of watching the 25-hour C-Span call-in marathon, being held in honor of the 25th anniversary of their first call-in show. (Their first caller, as you probably know, was from Yankton, South Dakota. Must have been with CFR.)

C-Span is simply the best overall experience on television. Its visionary, poker-faced founder and CEO, Brian Lamb, is a great American and my personal hero.

My main man.

Sorry ladies, he's taken.

I had the pleasure of visiting C-Span's facilities once about 10 years ago. I was in the Washington area on vacation, and I asked a (non-Spanhead) aunt of mine who lived near there if she wanted to stop at the C-Span building for a while before heading on to the Smithsonian. All I had to do was call and say that I'd like pay a visit, and one of their staff took the two of us, as well as another Spanhead (a septuagenarian New Dealer from San Francisco whom I had never met) and his nephew on a tour of the place.

So we got upstairs, and the two tag-alongs were acting politely interested, while Grandpa NewDeal and I were floating around like first-time Hadjgoers in Mecca. (By the way -- the old guy was the one who made the first comment about what a hottie Susan Swain is -- he beat me to it! And I know that he and I aren't the only ones who feel that way.) I look over and see a modest office with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on all the walls, and guess who walks out? The main man himself. He invites us into his office and just kind of hangs out with us for a while, chatting about what we do, why we're here, what was in the news that day, how C-Span works, etc. Can you even imagine Brian Williams or Ted Koppel or somebody like that just dropping what they're doing to chat with two people who walked in off the street? I looked at the books on the shelves in his office and realized that those were the books used for his now-dear-departed Booknotes program. I asked if I could look at a few and he was like "Sure - be my guest." and inside I was like "Yessss!!" but outwardly I was just like "OK, thanks." Sure enough, the shelves housed every book used for Booknotes, with the notes he made in the margins about things to discuss with the authors during the interviews. (Unlike many who conduct book interviews, Lamb actually reads the books prior to the discussion -- take a look at the books in the photo above.)

Here's the great thing about Mr. Lamb -- He has interviewed every president since Nixon, all sorts of world leaders, all sorts of big media types, practically everyone who has been in Congress in the last quarter-century, etc., but he treats the opinions and insights of regular old whomevers with the same attention and respect as he treats those of world leaders, even though it often requires the patience of a kindergarten teacher. C-Span democritizes without being populist.

As to the call-in show(s) in particular, they can sometimes try one's patience, but in the aggregate are fantastic. Even though we get to hear all sorts of interesting assertions about the Trilateral Comission, the Bilderbergers, and so on, we also get to hear from people around the country who hold the experts' feet to the fire. You get some historian who wrote an article about a certain battle, and then get three (unscreened) callers who were veterans of that battle who correct him, support him, denounce him, or whatever. Conspiracy theorists and talking-points faxees are tolerated so as to allow viewers to share their legitimate expertise in all sorts of areas.

As far as the guests go, they run the gamut. There are five basic types of guests that I can identify, although certainly all guests do not fit into these boxes:
  1. The Used Car Salesman. (Ed Gillespie, Ann Lewis, et al.) These are people who have a specific, scripted message to get across, who want you to buy what they are selling, and are expert in deflecting logical deconstruction of their assertions. My least-favorite kind of guest.
  2. The True Believer. (Pat Buchanan, Rep. Martin Frost, Mona Charen, Patricia Schroeder) These people have a core set of beliefs that are unlikely to change; They are usually on the program to tell you what the fill-in-the-blank view is of whatever is in the headlines that day. With practice, you can predict what any given True Believer will say on a certain issue or news story with pretty decent accuracy. There is certainly overlap between this group and Group #1.
  3. The Expert. (Senate Historian Richard Baker, Defense Correspondent Tony Capaccio, Sen. Sam Nunn, assorted biologists, engineers, and international journalists) These people may or may not have opinions, but their mainstay is fact-based explanations of their specialties for the intelligent layman. These are some of my favorites.
  4. The Renaissance Opinionated. (Christopher "Are You Still a Socialist?" Hitchens, Sen. John McCain, Stanley Crouch, Thomas Sowell, Camille Paglia, most of the staff of Reason Magazine) These are people who have a wide range of interests, and who are certainly not afraid to have opinions. However, they are much harder to stick into one box or another than group #2. These are also among my favorites.
  5. The Observer. (Howie Kurtz, Joan Biskupic, the entire staffs of Roll Call, The Hill, and CQ) The people who keep track of those listed above -- lots of inside-baseball stuff. I like them too.

Interviews with Mr. Lamb and others about the origins and various stages in the life of C-Span here, here, here, here, and here.

So happy anniversary C-Span, and I wish you well for 25 more.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My Dear Old Aunt Harriet

Amba comments on Harriet Miers here and here. Also, Ann Althouse gives her opinions on George Will's strongly worded column. And I wonder if Howard Dean has been working too hard... Maybe it's been too long since his last war whoop?

Harriet with companion.

(For those who are interested, Aunt Harriet was a character introduced into the Batman myth in the 1960s by Julius Schwartz, possibly to help deter questions about the propriety of two grown men living with a teenaged boy. The name "Aunt Harriet" was taken from a line in the Hoagy Carmichael song "Rockin' Chair.")

Here's a San Francisco Chronicle article that explains that Ms. Miers used to work for Melvin Belli. She left after a short internship to return to Texas. That's probably just as well, given what we know has happened with Mr. Belli's proteges in the past.

(L) - Mr. Belli's interns challenging the establishment. (R) - Let's make sure this kid doesn't get nominated for anything; It'd just be asking for trouble.

Bad Facts Beyond Superdome

Here's a Reason Magazine interview with Maj. Ed Bush of the Louisiana National Guard, who had first-hand knowledge of the events inside the Superdome during the Katrina crisis. I presume he is of no relation to the Commander-in-Chief. Excerpt:

Bush: ...I mean, those 20,000 people no longer had TV or really any contact with the outside world, for the most part, from their point of view.

And then there was a lot of things that made my job a lot harder in the way of what they would hear on the radio. A lot of them had AM radios, and they would listen to news reports that talked about the "dead bodies at the Superdome," and the "murders in the bathrooms of the Superdome," and the "babies being raped at the Superdome," and it would create terrible panic, of which I would have to try and convince them that no, it wasn't happening.... You could use logic, but I mean there was so much desperation and so much fear already, because of what had happened to us.

Someone would say, "You know they're killing people in the bathroom; they found a girl's body and she'd been raped and her throat was slit and they found her in the bathroom," and you could say, "Well, did you see it?"

"No, I heard."

"Well, what bathroom?"

"Well, I don't know; one of those over there."

Everything was some other place, and "I heard it"...and none of it was true.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

"Control Room" Marine Goes to Work for al-Jazeera

This story must have slipped past me until this morning. Former Marine Josh Rushing is going to be a journalist for the al Jazeera network. He will be part of an English-language network they are developing. Why is this significant? Rushing was featured prominently in the very interesting documentary Control Room. This is a controversial move on his part, but I'll be interested to see how it pans out. The loonies at Accuracy in Media have already expressed their displeasure.

(Sidenote: I'm not sure whether I care less about what the crackpots at the late Mr. Irvine's AIM say or less about what the crackpots at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting say. It's always a close race, and I guess it depends what the topic of the day is. Besides, both chose the names of their organizations with predetermined, homonymic acronyms in mind, and that immature practice is Teh Lame. I long for the days of NATO and NASA when institutions had enough sense of their own importance that they would introduce their own acro-name into popular parlance without relying on a lame description fitted around the spelling of an already-existing word with positive connotations.)

But back to Mr. Rushing. For the record, I do not think he is being played by propagandists (although I encourage him to keep his eyes open, just in case), and I think he has the potential to give a valuable American perspective to viewers around the world. Excerpts from USA Today article:

But Rushing, who will appear on a global, English-language news channel the network hopes to start by spring, considers his decision to work for Al-Jazeera noble, not seditious. "I've given my entire adult life to the health and well-being of this nation," Rushing says. "I wouldn't do anything to threaten that. What the Marines trained me to do was to represent the best of what America stands for to a foreign audience. That's exactly what I'm going to do."

The network has been hiring staff for more than a year. A spokeswoman, Katie Bergius, said in an e-mail that the channel is "over halfway there" in hiring the "hundreds" of people it will need. In past statements, the network has said it will need about 200 staffers.

So far, Bergius said, Al-Jazeera has hired reporters and producers from several Western competitors, including the Associated Press, the BBC, the Canadian Broadcast Corp., CNBC, CNN and Fox News.

Lastly, if you have not seen Control Room, you'd be doing yourself a favor to check it out, whether you end up agreeing with everything you see or not.

Shining Trailer

I'm sure everyone has seen this by now, but if you are in the minority and have missed it, you have to check out the new Shining trailer!

NYT article here on film editor Robert Ryang. Excerpt:

A few weeks back, he said, he entered a contest for editors’ assistants sponsored by the New York chapter of the Association of Independent Creative Editors. The challenge? Take any movie and cut a new trailer for it — but in an entirely different genre. Only the sound and dialogue could be modified, not the visuals, he said.

Mr. Ryang chose “The Shining,” Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. In his hands, it became a saccharine comedy — about a writer struggling to find his muse and a boy lonely for a father.

Matt at Tattered Coat points out a site devoted to movie trailers, and in it a trailer for Psycho that depicts it as a love story.

Of course, Woody Allen did this decades ago with an entire film in "What's Up, Tiger Lily?." Hmmm... What would I do if I had the chance to do something like this...

"Ah, forgive me Mr. Gregory, for you must not have realized that when I said I'd like to have your friends in for dinner, I meant it in an altogether different context. Bwaaaah Ha Ha Ha Ha!"

Monday, October 03, 2005

Underneath Their Robes

I think the link that bumped me up from Crawly Amphibian to Slithering Reptile may have been from a way cool site called Underneath Their Robes.
Oh, wait... I think I might be getting different robes mixed up... ummmmmm... wrong pics. My mistake. Nevermind.

Nudged Up

Slithering Reptile. Sweet! Flappy Birds, here I come!

Slithering Reptile.

Next on the Agenda.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Taken for Granite

I'm glancing at C-Span's Road to the White House program right now, in which Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold is visiting some group or another up in New Hampshire, and it occurred to me that I ought to mention something that has long made me bristle.

It's absolute bullshit that someone in New Hampshire or Iowa gets to exercise significantly more influence over who the next president is than I do.

I know, I know, I've read all the "Making of the President" books by Theodore H. White and I know that supposedly this is the only practical way to do it, blah blah blah. (Btw, I'm surprised that there's not more analysis of that series floating around out there on the Internet.) But the interested voters of the other 48 are left largely to contribute a bunch of money or something if they want to have their opinion be worth anything (money that will probably be spent on champagne and caviar for the indecisive of Nashua), or else hope against hopes that the guy that they like is still in the race by the time their state's primaries come around. (I'm still burned about not even being able to attempt to help get out the Illinois vote for Richard Lugar back in '96.)

Tough Times for Lookout! Records

Here's a very interesting article about Lookout! Records, first home of Green Day and The Donnas, et al. Lengthy, but worth reading if you're into that sort of thing.

My Five Votes in the Prospect/FP Poll

Below is the list of the five people for whom I voted in the Prospect/Foreign Policy poll of the top 100 public intellectuals. I think you have until October 10 if you want to vote too.

They also allowed you to nominate one person whom they did not list:

Four of these people -- Eco, Paglia, Posner, Crouch -- are represented in one way or another in my blogroll. Why these and not others? (Some of the other nominees that presented themselves included Christopher Hitchens, Tom Friedman, Robert Hughes, Francis Fukuyama, and Michael Ignatieff.)

For one thing, to be straightforward, there are quite a few of these folks that I have never heard of. I suspect I would benefit from reading things by Eric Hobsbawm or Peter Sloterdijk, but I have not yet simply because their names had not yet passed into my view. (I just did my own tally of the nominees and found that there are exactly 50 of whom I have never even heard. There were 19 I have heard of but of whom I lack any but the most basic familiarity. There are 31 for whom I have at least read a book, article, or blog by or about them, or else seen an interview with or documentary about them.)

For another thing, the poll's stated objective is excerpted below. And guess what? Maybe I don't want to pick them based on what Prospect is asking for. I think I feel like just picking the ones that I think are personally most interesting. I can do that, because this is Teh Internets.

The irony of this “thinkers” list is that it does not bear thinking about too closely. The problems of definition and judgment that it involves would discourage more rigorous souls. But some criteria must be spelled out. What is a public intellectual? Someone who has shown distinction in their own field along with the ability to communicate ideas and influence debate outside of it.

Candidates must have been alive, and still active in public life (though many on this list are past their prime). Such criteria ruled out the likes of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Milton Friedman, who would have been automatic inclusions 20 or so years ago. This list is about public influence, not intrinsic achievement. And that is where things get really tricky. Judging influence is hard enough inside one’s own culture, but when you are peering across cultures and languages, the problem becomes far harder. Obviously our list of 100 has been influenced by where most of us sit, in the English-speaking west.

So, I think I will share brief (brevity being subjective, of course -- just ask any of my co-workers who ask me for "The Short Version") points about my five (six) picks over the course of the next couple of weeks. Let's start alphabetically.

Hernando de Soto is an economist from Peru who wrote a fascinating book (one among many, but this is the only one I've read) called The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. One of its main ideas is that the prosperity associated with free-market capitalism is based on a society's propensity and ability to respect, transfer, and keep track of property in an orderly, accurate, and efficient manner. Record-keeping and paperwork may be a PITA, but they are essential to our way of life.

Let's say that a Haitian farmer wants to get a loan to fix up his farm. Let's say he has ten cows that he wants to use as collateral against that loan. He gets a bank or some other institution to loan him the money under certain terms, with the understanding that if he defaults, he loses the cows. He comes home with the money, and his brother-in-law finds out and wants a loan for himself, but only has 4 cows. He gets the first farmer to loan him six cows to add to his four, and the brother-in-law walks them all down to the bank, shows them to the loan officer, and gets another loan. The farmer next door finds out, doesn't have any cows, borrows some from the other two, and shows the same bank 14 cows against which he borrows a bunch of money. This could all be done with the best of intentions, to improve their farms and businesses so as to provide for their families. But, let's say all three default on the loans. Even if the bank collects all 14 cows, they have shelled out 34 cows worth of loans. Throw into the mix that some thuggish local militia colonel decides that he's just going to take some of the cows, cash, or stuff bought with the cash from the farmers (or the bankers!) who would have little recourse but to surrender their property. Multiply that by X number of people doing the same thing, and no one will ever want to (or be able to) loan anything to anyone else ever again. If you envision that scenario on a large scale, you will understand (as one of many related reasons, no doubt) why the capitalist engine that works well in the West has difficulty running in many Third-World nations where the concept of private property is not well-defined and does not have a strong tradition.

Here is the website of de Soto's think tank, The Institute for Liberty and Democracy.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

First Saturday in October

Here is an interblog discussion between Amba and Althouse on Barack Obama's vote against confirming John Roberts as Chief Justice.

My personal (admittedly under-informed) idea is that Roberts seems quite professional and qualified, and doesn't seem like a political hatchet man or crackpot at all. Even though he hasn't been on the bench for years and years, he's quite obviously not a patronage-ish appointment like some people we could mention. So, let let me wish Mr. Roberts good luck on his new appointment, on this, the birthday of his late predecessor. Looks like he's just in time to meet Anna Nicole Smith.

I think the first thing Roberts ought to do is to replace this...

...with this.