Monday, November 28, 2005

Teh Metamorphosis

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was lying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly stay in place and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes. What has happened to me? he thought. It was no dream." -- Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

The only thing is, I actually found myself transformed to one stage lower than an insect.

People have been gaming the TTLB system (which is what people naturally do when presented with a system; no surprises there) and N.Z. is trying to compensate. Check out those posts; I by and large agree with the course he is taking.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Bad News From Iraq

Thanks to Stone Soup for the comment and link about Deborah Davis. Excerpt from Entirety of Soup's comment: KaneCitizen calls this story "something less than comforting." I say that's an understatement.

I admit to the occasional understatement, so let me be more direct about this L.A. Times story about Col. Ted Westhusing: It depressed and frustrated the hell out of me. What a waste. Excerpt: One hot, dusty day in June, Col. Ted Westhusing was found dead in a trailer at a military base near the Baghdad airport, a single gunshot wound to the head. The Army would conclude that he committed suicide with his service pistol. At the time, he was the highest-ranking officer to die in Iraq. The Army closed its case. But the questions surrounding Westhusing's death continue. Westhusing, 44, was no ordinary officer. He was one of the Army's leading scholars of military ethics, a full professor at West Point who volunteered to serve in Iraq to be able to better teach his students. He had a doctorate in philosophy; his dissertation was an extended meditation on the meaning of honor. So it was only natural that Westhusing acted when he learned of possible corruption by U. S. contractors in Iraq. A few weeks before he died, Westhusing received an anonymous complaint that a private security company he oversaw had cheated the U. S. government and committed human rights violations. Westhusing confronted the contractor and reported the concerns to superiors, who launched an investigation. In e-mails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U. S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military.

I bet this article gets a lot of play on the blogosphere, not so much because it appeals to conspiracy theorists, but because most bloggers see themselves as philosophers of questions great and small (even when, like me, they have none but the vaguest idea of how to approach a philosophical question) and probably are more apt to want to identify with Westhusing than with some NASCAR fanatic from the Arkansas National Guard who also volunteered for duty in Iraq. Part (but certainly not all; maybe not even most) of this phenomenon is simply blogospheric hubris, the desire to have some of Westhusing's intellectualism, honor, and courage osmose to us from the comfort of our keyboards. But on the other hand, I'd like to find out WTF was going on, too!

Also, here's some insight from the archives of the History News Network into the Westhusing's views on how the ideas of honor, courage, etc. are used and practiced in certain contexts in the media. I'm not sure what lessons to take from it for this situation, but I thought it was interesting. Apparently a few years ago, NYT reporter Chris Hedges plagiarized (maybe intending to, maybe not) Hemingway in a book he had written. Prof. Tom Palamia writes the following:

I also made the case that Hedges' plagiarism was inadvertent to my former student, Lt. Col. Ted Westhusing, who teaches at the United States Military Academy at West Point. His frank reply raises a crucial question:

"Inadvertent plagiarism"? Inexcusable, especially from a New York Times commentator, reporter and author. Do you know what this would garner Hedges in the circles I run in? If truly "inadvertent," and if Hedges were a cadet, he might be lucky to garner only a 100-hour "slug." That is, he spends 100 hours of his free time marching back and forth in the hot sun in Central Area under full dress uniform pondering the consequences of his failure (a slug). If intentional, Hedges would get the boot. Kicked out. Gone.

Indeed, why should a professional journalist be treated differently than a military academy cadet?

I say all of the above with the knowledge that it could just be that somebody was sleeping with someone they weren't supposed to, or something like that.

Here's Westhusing's Legacy Guest Book page.

And I can't say I found this Telegraph article too cheery either. The blogosphere is going to go crazy over this... Excerpts: A "trophy" video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal. The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis... ...There are no clues as to the shooter but either a Scottish or Irish accent can be heard in at least one of the clips above Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train," the music which accompanies the video.

Video available here. I'd hate to see what they've put together for "Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love." I'm gonna to be pissed if a) This turns out to be true, or b) This turns out to be a hoax. (Different kinds of pissed, obviously.)

Moustapha Akkad Follow-Up

As a follow-up to this post about producer Moustapha Akkad, killed in the recent terrorist attack in Jordan, here's a Reason piece from a couple of weeks ago (must have missed it) about his two most well-known non-Halloween films and the irony of his death at the hands of the so-called protectors of Islam. Excerpt: Yet by killing Akkad, Zarqawi's jihadis managed to pull off a bloody act of particular stupidity, even for them. Although he is best known to U.S. audiences as the producer of the eight-film Halloween horror franchise, Moustapha Akkad had spent much of his long career in Hollywood—he came to LA from Allepo in the 1950s to study film—attempting to use the movie capital's power to reshape negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims. As the liberal journalist Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed wrote on Monday in the newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, "The irony is that Akkad, the very man who delivered a wonderful image of Islam, was killed by Al-Qaeda, the very organization that has defamed Islam and Muslims." There's actually a larger irony at work as well: Al Qaeda was not the first group of Islamists with whom Akkad found himself in conflict. The motif of a uniquely pro-Islam American moviemaker beset by Islamist foes marks his unusual careeer.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Saturday Stuff

Assorted items from around the Web:
  • Here's a great Blowhards post on audiobooks. Excerpt: Being an on-the-page book reader can be discouraging these days. When to read, for one thing? Commutes are growing longer, life in general tends to get busy, and by the end of most work days, eyes and brain can be very tired. Come 11 pm, settling into a comfy chair and opening a traditional book often results not in an intense reading-session but in a swift fade-to-snooze. Audiobooks, by contrast, are usually listened to while commuting, while exercising, or while doing chores around the house. You're awake and alert as you listen, both because you're doing your listening during the brighter part of the day and because you're physically moving about. I just started in on Jefferson’s War: America’s First War on Terror 1801-1805 by Joseph Wheelan on cassette, and I'm almost done with Daniel Pinkwater's Looking for Bobowicz on CD (a clever sequel to The Hoboken Chicken Emergency).
  • FPFFM shares everything you ever wanted to know about John Locke.
  • Martin Scorcese is one of my favorite filmmakers, and like any great filmmaker, he is first and foremost a movie fan. Here is a SOC piece on the many sources from which he drew when making Taxi Driver.
  • Here's the brand-new blog of the guy who used to be the Director of Consumer Marketing and Brand Management for Google. Props to Search Engine Watch. Excerpt: To understand Google's hiring policies and organizational structure, it helps to think of employees as cells within the corporate corpus. It's useful to have cells that serve specific functions when the need arises, but it's inefficient to have those cells hanging around sucking energy from the rest of the organism if their singular function is no longer required. Better to have cells that can adapt themselves to any situation, solve the problem and then move on to the next issue. Yeah, we're talking about stem cells. Googlers should apply themselves to any project that needs doing, then take on totally unrelated tasks without hesitation. Moreover, they should be able to identify those needs on their own and teach themselves how to solve the problems they present. That's why the company is so fixated on hiring only really smart people without much regard for their prior work experience (no need to comment this post asking how I slipped through).
  • Update, 10:03 PM: I'm working on getting the books in the living room put into rough Dewey order. (They're all 900s -- history and geography; The other topics are in another room.) I know, I'm a party animal. You should see me on New Year's Eve. Here's a great resource from Central York High School in Pennsylvannia that has Dewey-organized links to all sorts of cool stuff.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Few Things

A few things to mention:

  • There's only one more day to submit nominations for the 2005 Weblog Awards!
  • Via A&LD, here's a good Boston Globe story on utopianism, anti-utopianism, and anti-anti-utopianism in science fiction.
  • Welcome some newcomers to the blogroll: Maverick Philosopher, Polyglot Conspiracy, Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds, Language Log, Thomas Jefferson's LiveJournal, and LBNL, Scott Adams's new Dilbert Blog. [BTW, Check out this Polyglot post on Scrabble. We're a big Scrabble family -- last night after T-giving, my aunt (not my snow aunt, my other aunt), my cousin, her daughter, and I played some Scrabble, and none of us insist on such minutiae as having to know the meanings of all the words.] (Reading that last sentence again, I realize it gives two possible interpretations as to the total number of Scrabble players. The total number of Scrabblers was four, not three.)
  • I'm going through the DVD of an interesting Robert Altman/Garry Trudeau project from almost 20 years ago, Tanner '88. It stars Altman regular Michael Murphy as a Democratic candidate in the 1988 primaries. This is one of those things that I've been meaning to watch for years, and until about a year ago, it was almost impossible to find on video. A very young, pre-SATC Cynthia Nixon co-stars as Murphy's daughter. Comments to follow as appropriate.

Not pertinent to Tanner, I know. So sue me. At least I had a good time doing the image search.

Meet Deborah Davis

Here's something less than comforting:

Meet Deborah Davis. She's a 50 year-old mother of four who lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Her kids are all grown-up: her middle son is a soldier fighting in Iraq. She leads an ordinary, middle class life. You probably never would have heard of Deb Davis if it weren't for her belief in the U.S. Constitution. One morning in late September 2005, Deb was riding the public bus to work. She was minding her own business, reading a book and planning for work, when a security guard got on this public bus and demanded that every passenger show their ID. Deb, having done nothing wrong, declined. The guard called in federal cops, and she was arrested and charged with federal criminal misdemeanors after refusing to show ID on demand.

Here's a comprehensive site about Ms. Davis's situation, and here are comments from the Colorado branch of the ACLU.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Plan 'B'

Here's what the National Weather Service said about the route(s) I'd need to take to my aunt's house 150 miles away this morning:


So, Plan B: A visit to my ♥GF♥'s sister's for lunch, then her parents', and then my cousin's in-laws for some Cranium playing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Turkey Day

I think that as the 21st Century unfolds, Turkey will be seen as one of the most important nations in the world. It's the only strictly secular Islamic nation (I think -- Jordan?), the only Islamic member of NATO, and wants to join the European Union. There's no doubt that there are extremely significant gaps in the Turkish view of civil liberties, but in other ways it's been among the most forward-thinking and pro-Western nations in the region for many years.

A few years ago I read Crescent & Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds by Stephen Kinzer, and I have to recommend it to anyone interested. Here's a Booknotes interview with Mr. Kinzer from 10/21/2001 (that is, six weeks after 9/11) which is very instructive. Interview excerpts:

At the moment, Turkey is going through a period of self-examination and trying to decide if it's ready to complete its march toward democracy. It already is the most democratic Islamic country in the world and only country in the world that can call itself, with any justification, a Muslim democracy, so that makes this a fascinating place at any time.

As a result of what is happening in the world right now, Turkey's importance has suddenly mushroomed. Turkey has a big role to play in what's going to be happening over the next weeks and months in central Asia and probably even an eq--a greater role in the long-term future, as it seeks to set a counterexample in the Islamic world to the message that we're getting from the cave.

Turkey brings some very unique and valuable assets to the table when it comes to participation in this anti-terror coalition. First of all, Turkey holds a special role in the Islamic consciousness as a result of the Ottoman Empire and as a result of its very central geography. So Turkey can play a role that Christian countries cannot.

Secondly, Turkey has a long history of involvement in Afghanistan. Not only is it the chief sponsor of one of the principal components in the Northern Alliance, but it has intelligence and experience over many years of training soldiers and having diplomats and having projects on the ground in Turkey. There is no other country who--which has the access to the kind of intelligence experience in Afghanistan that Turkey does.

It's also very interesting to imagine the role that Turkey can play on the ground in Afghanistan in a post-Taliban environment. It is ideally placed because of its heritage, and certainly because of its religious foun--foundation, to go into Afghanistan without arousing the hostility that some other kinds of forces would. This is another role that Turkey is now equipped to play better than any other country in the world. Turkey is the only Muslim country in NATO. And it is the NATO country closest to this theater of operations. It's only one country away from Afghanistan.

So Turkey will play a role in the first stage of this conflict, which will be to depose the Taliban. It will play a role in the transitional phase, which will be to stabilize the country, pob--probably by participating and, I wouldn't be surprised, leading a peacekeeping multinational force under the auspices of the United Nations or some other body. And then it will go on to play what I described earlier as perhaps its most important role, which is helping to reshape not just the consciousness in Afghanistan, but the Islamic approach in--in a wider world.

It will have particular resonance in Pakistan. There is actually a very interesting relationship there. The Pakistanis, who were becoming restive under British rule in the 1920s and '30s, looked to Turkey as an example. They were inspired in many ways by Ataturk. And Jinnah, the founder of the modern Pakistani state, was a great admirer of Ataturk. In addition to that, President Musharraf of Pakistan is a military officer who was trained in Turkey. He speaks Turkish. And I believe, like many of the people of his class and background in Pakistan, he also sees Turkey as a model for what countries can be if they want to embrace Islam as a guidance for--as a guide for personal life, but isolated from influence over state power.

The whole interview really is worth reading or watching if you have the opportunity.

One thing I'd like to do is find a good biography of Kemal Ataturk. Any suggestions? This guy fascinates me. He was the guy who essentially forced Turkey out of centuries-old, Eastern-oriented ways of doing things and into modern, Western-oriented ways of doing things. Like any social planner, he stepped on a lot of people's rights doing so, and like any society, there were plenty of Turks who resisted change with every fiber of their being. Also, don't mention his name to our friends down under... They celebrate ANZAC Day in honor of the Australians and New Zealanders who died at the Battle of Gallipoli in WWI, when Ataturk (then Mustafa Kemal) was directing the battle against them. (Check out the very good Peter Weir film adaptation of that story, starring Mel Gibson.) (One of these days I need to blog on my observations of Mel Gibson's anti-British bias in many of his films. I'm surprised he didn't suggest that Pontius Pilate was Chancellor of the Exchequer.)

For more contemporary touristy stuff (I've never been there, btw) check out this installment of the excellent Globe Trekker travel series.

Update: Here's a bunch of links from the Turkish government.

Happy Turkey Day!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Roger Williams, Harry Potter

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how I thought we should celebrate religious liberty in the United States by honoring the birthday of the great Roger Williams instead of those central-planning social engineers with the blunderbusses and funny hats who landed on Plymouth Rock. I now realize that we can't really do that, because apparently they can't even nail down his birth year (kind of like Zsa Zsa) much less the day. (On the other hand, one of the few things that most biblical scholars agree on is that Jesus of Nazareth was born some other date than Dec. 25.) Anyways, here's a Reason article that references a recent book on Williams from Oxford Press by UC-Riverside scholar Edwin S. Gaustad. Reason excerpts: [Semi-humorous example of ignorance of history] ...None of which excuses our collective amnesia regarding Roger Williams, the first American explicator of religious tolerance and secular government. If ever there was a time to recover his legacy, it’s now, with Christian zealots at home pushing creation science in schools and, far more important, Islamic fundamentalists abroad swearing death to godless infidels... ...In early 1636 he fled [Massachusetts] with his wife and children, wandering the frozen New England landscape for weeks before buying property from Indians and settling Providence, a city dedicated to “Liberty of Conscience,” or true religious freedom. Indeed, even as Williams helped establish the first Baptist congregation in the colonies, he worked to guarantee civil rights for nonbelievers. Later, he would provide a haven for another great religious dissenter, Anne Hutchinson, after her banishment from Massachusetts, and secure a royal charter for what became Rhode Island—the first such English grant to articulate fully secular government.

In other news, my ♥GF♥ and I went to see the new Harry Potter movie this afternoon (Btw, no John Cleese in this one, I noticed). I liked it. It was kind of dark, in the same edgy-but-not-too way that SW Ep3 was. I'm trying to figure out parts of it, still. I think that it has some subtext about al Qaeda and the Global War on Terror, but let me kick that one around before I make a definitive statement. Confession: I have yet to read any of the Harry Potter books. But I will one of these days, I promise. (Even if Harold Bloom gets upset with me.) Here's MaryAnn J.'s review of HPATGOF.

Katrina Updates

Going through some stacks of videos (many of my most-interesting discoveries come from going through stacks of things) I was watching a 1995 National Geographic program called "Cyclone!" and saw something at the end that made me take particular notice. The program was about (duh) cyclones, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. and had a lengthy segment on 1992's Hurricane Andrew in Florida. Immediately after the segment on Andrew, they did a prescient segment that started with a wide shot approaching the New Orleans skyline from the water and the narrator saying:

Andrew was America's costliest disaster, but it had a silver lining. It spared New Orleans, a city defined by water. Repeatedly flooded and drained over the past three centuries, the metropolis was built on swampland surrounded by the Mississippi River. Shaped like a bowl, the city's terrain rises near its edges and dips in its midsection to below sea level...

...The city has known hurricanes in this century, but not a direct hit from a storm like Andrew. And not with up to a million people to evacuate over narrow bridges and causeways. Former Meteorologist-in-Charge of the New Orleans Weather Service Office Bill Crouch fears the levee system provides a false sense of security. "It's a two-edged sword, because it protects the people's homes most of the time. But if water ever comes over the levees, it's going to get as deep as the levees are tall, and the lake would be 19 or 20 feet deep. This means that in parts of New Orleans that are below sea level, the water could be 30 feet deep; That is, you would not be safe even in a three-story house. So, those are the scenarios we look at which would force people to go upward into the buildings downtown, and even using that refuge, it is my belief that there would still be great loss of life."

Also, Ann Althouse links to an NYT article about Katrina returnees who have gotten a glimpse of day-to-day life in places other than New Orleans. NYT excerpt: [A]fter tasting life elsewhere, they are returning with tales of public schools that actually supply textbooks published after the Reagan era, of public housing developments that look like suburban enclaves, of government workers who are not routinely dragged off to prison after pocketing bribes. Local leaders have realized for weeks that they must reckon with widespread anger over how they handled the relief effort. But it is dawning on them that they are also going to have to contend with demands from residents who grew accustomed, however briefly, to the virtues of other communities....

What's new w/some of the K-Bloggers we met a few months ago?

Laurel, the Slidell mom of three, managed to squeeze in a trip to New York, but still has to deal with things such as:

...The neighbors are going to have to stay somewhere else for a few weeks while the inside of their home is repaired (from where the ceiling caved in after the attic took on water during the storm), so they qualified for a trailer from FEMA. They are also going to have to move a lot of their belongings out, so their plan is to rent one of those PODS for their furniture. I've seen dozens of these trailers around town. People are living in trailers and mobile homes everywhere. There are some camped out in the Walmart parking lot, church parking lots, in many driveways of damaged homes, and in the parking lots of private businesses where the owners most likely had their homes destroyed...

And, as for her husband the college professor...

And can you stand one more fetid fridge story? When dh [dear husband] got back to his lab last week, he was greeted with a freezer full of dead rats that have been sitting for two months with no power. It may be some time before they can be disposed of since these are a hazardous waste that require certain protocal to remove them under normal circumstances. But there's no rush now that the power is back on, since they have simply been re-frozen. Yummy. ;-)

Prof. Kaye Trammell has pretty much left her Hurricane blog and returned to her primary blog on mass communications.

And, everybody's favorite survivalist,* The Interdictor, has gone to Florida but has been telling of his experiences in flashbacks. Excerpt: It has been several weeks since I've posted to this blog. When I left New Orleans for Clearwater, Florida, I turned the posting privileges over to my associates who were staying on the ground in New Orleans so that the human perspective on the worst disaster in American history would not be interrupted. They've been doing a great job getting the company, the offices, and the building back to some sense of normalcy and all the while finding time to keep those who are interested abreast of the situation in New Orleans.

* "Survivalist" meant in good fun. Plz don't find me and kill me, Thx.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Saturday Catching Up

Here are some things I've come across this week that I thought were interesting:
  • I've now watched all of Penn & Teller's Bullshit! Season One. I watched Season Two a couple of months ago. As a consequence of this viewing, please welcome The Amazing Randi to the sidebar. Season Three is not yet on DVD and I don't have Showtime. Btw, if you want to have brunch with Teller... (I think Penn must be more of a blinner guy than a brunch guy.)
  • Word Munger had a good post the other day about teaching rhetoric and critical thinking, mostly as a response to the I.D. controversy (about which topic P&T:BS!-SSN1 featured a show). Meanwhile, Dr. Free-Ride, Ph.D. says that I.D. is not even interesting as philosophy, much less science. Here's what James Herrington said about it at Tech Central Station (which I've also been meaning to blogroll). Keep in mind that just the other day, I saw the ad copy for a mainstream-looking "science" video for kids that specifically and clearly asserted that modern DNA research proves that evolution is impossible. Not just questionable, mind you, but impossible. (I guess they could be talking about TTLB...)
  • This is the site of the recently concluded World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunisia.
  • When I had a job that involved writing, editing, and proofing a lot of words for a nitpicky, educated audience (I mean that in a good way, of course), one of the first things I did was read "Lapsing Into a Comma" by Bill Walsh, copy desk chief of the Washington Post Business Section. Here's Blogslot, the blog component to his site, The Slot: A Spot for Copy Editors.
  • Here's the Einstein Formula Generator.


Back in August I made this inaccurate prediction about Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt: Speaking of the Marines and Ohio, Iraq vet Paul Hackett lost the race to succeed Ohio congressman Rob Portman. One more already-anonymous GOP talking head will join the House, and her only claim to fame will probably be that she delayed Congress from having an Iraq vet as a member until January, 2007.

Looks like I was wrong -- Her first claim to fame is that she tried to pwn D-PA Rep. John Murtha. Sun-Times excerpt: At one point in the emotional debate, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) told of a phone call from a Marine colonel. ''He asked me to send Congress a message -- stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message -- that cowards cut and run, Marines never do,'' Schmidt said. Murtha is a 37-year Marine veteran. Democrats booed and shouted her down.

Real good post on the whole thing, plus Friday's lefty-baiting GOP House proposal over at The Moderate Voice. Excerpt: The problem the White House and GOPers now face is that there is an erosion in support of people who back the war and believe the establishment. So what NEW ARGUMENTS did the GOPers offer in this debate? Stay the course? And what could the Democrats offer? An expanded national news forum for Murtha, and a stage on which he could be labeled a coward by a Congresswoman who later had to back off from those comments. The irony: most Democratic lawmakers do NOT go as far as Murtha in calling for an immediate pullout. They are defending him in the face of GOP/White House rhetorical overkill. Murtha is what Hollywood calls "high concept:" he has a colorful, easy-to-grasp-quickly life narrative and, to all but conservative partisans who now suddenly hate him due to him coming out against the war, he oozes sincerity when he speaks.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


This is Your Death.

Speaking of Truth or Consequences (above), it's about time that other towns and cities start taking advantage of the free-market capitalist system in the same way as TOCNM did years ago. Nothing wrong with a little quid pro quo.

Elsewhere, Kofi Annan and MIT have a very good idea, but they should keep open to the idea of having the first ceremony in the village of Compaq, Burkina Faso (or something like that).

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Webbies!

It's that time again, to nominate the best blogs of the blogosphere. Excerpts:

Nominations are being taken in the following 37 categories. The nomination process at The Weblog Awards is an open and public process - take a look at the nominated blogs you might find some interesting new reads.

The links below will take you to the nomination page for each of the categories. Nominations close November 26, 2005. After finalists are selected (more on that in the FAQ), voting will begin December 1, 2005.

The nominations have been open since yesterday, and I am torn between throwing my support behind my candidates early (and often) and stepping back and really considering the ramifications of my votes.

Here are 2003's and 2004's winners.

My first vote? Two Blowhards for Best Group Blog. The rest will need at least a night's sleep.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A few things...

Good post on Free Trade from Minipundit.

To mark their 35th anniversary, Smithsonian Magazine profiles "35 innovators of our time" in this month's issue. List of innovators here. And look who showed up!

Fritz Lang's Metropolis is a great film. Somebody just paid a ton of money for one of the only remaining original posters.

Via ABAHAB?, here's the How Much Do You Know About Blogging? Quiz. My results:
You Know a Lot About Blogging

You got 6/8 correct!

Your not a total blogging geek yet... give it time.

(I might not be a total blogging geek yet but I'm gonna geek all over the missing" ' " and "e.")

Sunday, November 13, 2005

And What the Hell Does That Even Mean, Anyway?

OK, so does anyone else remember a song from the early/mid-80s called "Go for Soda" by a Canadian guy named Kimball Mitchell? I haven't heard it in years, but it's an extremely catchy tune and for some reason it' s been running through my head all day. Maybe because I was thirsty and I didn't have anything handy to drink besides water and coffee, and I didn't get around to going to the store until after 6:00 PM? This might make sense, except that a) I don't really like soda, and b) I don't even call it "soda," I call it "pop." (Note: I purchased milk, coffee, coffee cream, two things of raspberry juice, two things of orange juice, a four-pack of B&J Tropical Mango drinks, and a bottle of wine, so I ought to be set for the rest of the week.)

Here are that song's rankings on the Canadian charts for August, 1984. (Which Canadian charts? Billboard? Something else?) I notice too, that the sixth hit on my Google search for "Go for Soda" is none other than the blogrolled Sarah Weinman, who shares that last year, Mr. Mitchell found employment in the afternoon drive-time slot on one of Toronto's classic rock stations. She also shares this interesting anecdote: I must say, the songs are ridiculously catchy, in an evil-FM kind of way. Although funny story about "Go For Soda": it was adopted as the theme song by MADD when it was released...even though it had been the second single off Mitchell's album. The first? "Lagers & Ale." Eventually MADD, at Mitchell's behest, stopped using the song for their purposes.

(Note: Ms. Weinman and I share at least one thing in common; She and I both encountered the guy dressed like a toilet at Book Expo this summer and kept right on walking.)

More Items

Here's a good post from The Bostonian Exile on the weaknesses of talking points. Excerpt:

Ninth grade Honors English: A one-sentence answer -- to say nothing of the one-word response typical of thirteen-year-olds -- is nearly always inadequate. That I used to think my teacher was diabolical would overrate the Devil's power. But, that man, who died far too young, taught me a great deal about how to express myself... ...I don't need to be reinforced in my beliefs by bullet points. I usually find them overly simplistic anyway. That, or my similar conclusion arrives via differing (and, to my mind, sounder) logic. I guess that's why I took to blogging. Thinking people of all different persuasions offering and developing ideas. There are some parrots out there who toe the party line, but I don't bother reading those. Give me the ideas of someone who is truly grappling with issues, not just feigning difficulty because it is politically expedient. Give me those of someone not afraid to be critical of those in his own fold.

I remember one time on C-Span this guy called up and was obviously reading a prepared script, and Brian Lamb and whoever the guest was just nodded and listened, and then about 30 minutes later, another guy called and said the exact same thing, verbatim! Mr. Lamb inquired about this, and the caller got all flustered and hung up.

On the bookshelf immediately behind my swivel chair, I have a copy of Danny Peary's Guide for the Film Fanatic. I have been searching for evidence of Mr. Peary's presence on the Web for some while, and have not found much. Is he even still with us? What I did find the other day was a Peary enthusiast who made a list of all the reviews in the Peary Guide and is tracking those he has seen/still needs to see. A-M is here; N-Z is here. I quote (and very much agree with) with the list poster's comments below:

Danny Peary is the author of Cult Movies, Cult Movies 2, Cult Movies 3, Alternate Oscars and Guide for the Film Fanatic. He is the main reason I take film and film criticism seriously, and most of my cinematic interests (Argento, Tarkovsky, Westerns, etc.) can be traced back to his books.* Guide for the Film Fanatic (1986) is one of his best books, 486 pages covering over 1600 films, from art films to trash to horror to Kubrick to Hollywood hits to hardcore porn. Entries vary in length, and while none go into the depth of his articles in the Cult Movies books (in fact, he's not above recycling text from one for the other), each one is usually densely packed with info and an opinionated appraisal. Some of his criticisms may seem odd, even discredited in 2004 (I'm thinking Dawn of the Dead here), but he almost** has something interesting to say. Criminally, the book is out of print. Above, I've listed every entry in the book (not counting the "Additional Must-See Films" section, which lists another 2600 titles, sans commentary) for anyone out there, like me, who has spent almost 20 years trying to see everything in the book. If you've never seen the book, and are interested in film, you owe it to yourself to check it out from the library, or, if you can find it, buy it.

Also, here are the checklists for his three Cult Movie books. (As noted, there is much overlap. So you might see Zardoz twice - deal with it!)

* Me too! (Well, one of the main reasons, anyway.)

** -- "...almost always..." he probably meant?

Update 11:50 PM: Here's kza's blog, He Loved Him Some Movies. (That's the guy who posted the Peary list.) And I realize looking at my comments again that I didn't say anything about Alternate Oscars, which in some ways is an even cooler book than GFTFF. It looks at the Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress Oscar winners from 1927 through 1991, and explains which movies/performers should have won, along with Award-worty runners-up. Sometimes, he asserts that the Academy got it right, as when they gave Liza Minnelli the statue for Cabaret. But most often, he explains why they got it wrong and why someone else should have gotten the honor. Any of Peary's movie books are worthy of addition to the library of even the non-fanatical film fanatic, and Alternate might be the best one to start with. (End of update.)

There's a Penn & Teller special on tonight that I will probably either tape or watch live. My ♥GF♥ and I have been watching Season One of Penn & Teller's Bullshit! on DVD. (I Netflixed them -- the Blockbusters and Hollywoods by me didn't carry them and this is just one more reason why I am infatuated with Netflix.) If you haven't seen it, check it out (As long as libertarianism and agnosticism don't rile you up too much.) About 12 years ago or so they hosted a fantastic series for kids about the arts called Behind the Scenes. The foundation of its fantasticness was that it didn't treat kids like they were idiots who needed concepts spoon-fed to them. It featured artists, performers, and musicians like Max Roach, Julie Taymor, and David Hockney explaining what they do, and P&T giving appropriate and fun object lessons about the principles involved. If this sounds even remotely of interest to you, you owe it to yourself to seek these programs out. They also have a new-to-DVD miniseries made for the CBC, Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour, which I have not yet had a chance to see, though I intend to soon.

Proofing concerns aside, this might be interesting -- South Park Republicans. Excerpt:

OK, now we're talkin, this place is getting some color and attitude. This site is not going to be like the other "Serious" South Park site. This is going to be a site of parady that make fun of all side (but mostly of the left because we can). If you are on the left of the spectrum and think you can handle these rules and have something to post email us and we will see about letting you in. if you think that we will listen to the same old talking points then you sould go to the other site. If you think you can have some fun about the topics of today then come on down.

The rules of this site is easy

1) you MUST talk in South Park voices!!!!!!!

2) you MUST be funny. (ears of the beholder)

That is it, nothing more, if you take this site to seriously your post or comment will be removed. The topics are serious, the issues are real, Life is funny enough to make fun of it.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Via A&LD, here are some good observations from Norman Lebrecht on the DVD revolution. Excerpts:

What this means, in cultural terms, is that film now takes its place beside literature, music and visual imagery as an art that can be owned and bookmarked. Where once you had to visit a cinema or spool through half a mile of clunky videotape in order to access a seminal scene in an essential movie, you now zone into it on DVD as quickly as finding a name in the index of an artist biography.

Film has become fact on DVD. It has left the cinema and joined us for drinks, an emancipatory moment for the last of the great western art forms. Books and music have always furnished our rooms, but to have film as a point of home reference, like Oxford English Dictionary and the complete works of Shakespeare, signals a revolution in cultural reception and, inevitably, creation.

Excellent points. However, I must take issue with the following:

It will, for instance, make it that much harder for Hollywood to remake its own milestones when half the world has the originals to hand for instant comparison. The Manchurian Candidate (1962), with its dream cast of Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Janet Leigh was unlikely to be bettered by Jonathan Demme's 2004 reshoot with Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep. But if anyone had foreseen that the original DVD would be around in the public hands, Demme's studio would never have raised the finance, let alone the enthusiasm, for an otiose update.

First of all, the TMC/62 VHS had been around for years before Demme's remake, and if I remember correctly, MGM Home Video already had a TMC/62 DVD on the market (since 1998), and then re-released the TMC/62 DVD in conjunction with the Paramount remake. I believe this article came from a Canadian Web publication, but I don't think that should make a difference in regards to the "if anyone had foreseen" implications. Secondly, IMHO, the Demme TMC remake complements the original and pays it great tribute without being a carbon copy, and I hardly see it as otiose. Demme paid similar tribute to Charade in with The Truth About Charlie, and the TTAC DVD even included the original Charade as part of the package. I think that the presence of the classic DVDs on the market will do significantly more to allow and/or pressure current filmmakers to produce new movies that are homages rather than rip-offs, and will also allow armchair Eberts to appreciate (or criticize, if need be) the new films with the added perspective of the classics.

In other news, here are sketches of the skeletons of well-known cartoon characters.

Finally, Eric Zorn shares the proposed name for the book about the 2004 Alan Keyes Illinois Senate Run: "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time." That's according to his ex-campaign manager, btw. It was only a year ago that the carpetbagging archconservative promised he was "committed to the people of Illinois," and he made good on his commitment by departing from the state immediately after winning 27% of the vote. Here's what happened: You'll remember that establishment GOP Senate candidate George Jim Jack Ryan was found, mid-campaign, to have tried to talk his hottie ex-wife Jeri "7 of 9" Ryan into certain activities that most people wait until after they are elected Senator to engage in. Upon Ryan's withdrawal (Ba-dum-BUM) some influential Illinois GOP mover/shaker was walking down the sidewalk when a flower pot fell off a fifth-story windowsill and landed on his head. This caused singing cartoon birds to circle his head. The cartoon birds were singing "Hey! Why not ask Alan Keyes?"...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Halloween Producer Killed in Jordan Terrorist Attack

Among the victims of the Jordan suicide bombings: Filmmaker Moustapha Akkad. Mr. Akkad's most well-known contributions? The Halloween films. More on his life and work in this interview done with Tinseltown eccentric Luke Ford. Akkad directed a big-budget movie I've always wanted to see, Lion of the Desert (partially financed by Mohamar Qaddafi?) and a kind of here's-what-we're-about 1976 movie about Muslims, The Message. He was reported to be putting together a film about Saladin vefore his death.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fox Getting on the Same Page as Everyone Else?

This morning (9:00? 10:00?) on Fox News, I heard one of the newscasters talking about recent events in Jordan, and he actually used the phrase "suicide bomber" -- I just about fell over! Have they finally come to their senses? Or was this guy just committing career homicide? (Note: I haven't been paying close attention to Fox's phrasology lately, so this may be old news.) Still, they're not going easy. Observe the avoidance of the words "suicide" or "homicide" in the above-linked article: forces snared a group of Iraqis for questioning and officials said one of the bombers spoke Iraqi-accented Arabic... ...Al-Zarqawi is believed to have trained at least 100 Iraqi bombers as a special martyrdom corps... ...Security staff patrolling the Hyatt stopped the middle-aged terrorist as he was wandering the lobby. He spoke briefly to the guards before detonating the explosives strapped underneath his Western-style suit...

Come on, Fox -- Just admit that "suicide bomber" is the correct term, and that using it doesn't make you a bleeding-heart Trotskyite.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Deer Prudence

Well, PW says that in light of the high prices Lewis Libby's book The Apprentice is fetching on Amazon, the publisher is reprinting it. Just in time for Christmas.

If you're into that sort of thing, I mean.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Blogroll Updated

I went through and added a bunch of links to the now-organized sidebar. I also added a section for popular culture, which should serve as a catch-all for those of us who like to talk about The Prisoner and Hitchcock and Galaga and Saul Bellow and The Violent Femmes and Plastic Man. The new-to-NOTM bloggers run the gamut from recently published, well-reviewed author to just some guy with something interesting to say to just some guy.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Blinner, FG v. FCC, NOTL/LOTD, Hirschfeld

This weekend I did some more organizing and cleaning and misc. tasks and stuff. You can actually see the entirety of my bedroom floor now. Mostly. This morning, my ♥GF♥ and I used a coupon I had for what was essentially a 2-for-1 deal at a fancy-schmancy seafood place a couple of towns over that has a champagne brunch every Sunday. OMFG, we ate and ate and ate for like two hours and it was really really good. It is now almost 10 PM and since we left the place at about 1:00, I have had one bowl of ice cream and about ten Cheetos (not in the same bowl) and I'm not really even that hungry. Therefore, I am henceforce referring to that meal as "Blinner."

I thought TOH XVI was pretty good tonight, but what really had me rolling was Family Guy's stand for freedom against the tyranny of the FCC.

Here's a really good essay about NOTLD from Bright Lights. Speaking of which, I watched the commentary for the unrated director's cut of LOTD this weekend, and although I enjoyed it, it didn't clear up the difficulties I mentioned here. They showed some scenes that had been cut from the theatrical release, one of which had some interesting implications. Leguizamo stumbles upon a guy who had just hung himself in the high-rise. The guy's son runs out to cut him down and just then the hangee animates and the son gets bit. How would you handle the unavoidability of death and zombification in a situation like that? I don't mean the part about being sad that your friend/family member died, but I mean people committing suicide, having heart attacks, brain anuerisms, etc. All it would take is one klutzy survivor slipping on a bar of soap and hitting his head on the toilet and the whole enterprise could come tumbling down, even if the city fortress was sealed up tight as a drum.

In other news, here are some galleries of the line drawings of the late great Al Hirschfeld. If you are a Hirschfeld afficianado, let me recommend the documentary The Line King. If you aren't, watch the doc and I bet you'll become one.

Misc. Items of Interest (To Me, Anyway)

Violin bad girl Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg now has her own record label, NSS Music. NS-S is the subject of the documentary Speaking in Strings. (Note: At least one of the captions in that film misspells "Juilliard" as "Julliard.") If you've viewed the film, you know she's a little bit wacky, but how can you have great art w/o at least a little bit of wack?

If you are really really really into George Bush, then you might like to listen to The Environmental Sounds of Crawford, Texas. I like this comment from the creator on the album's Amazon page: The original idea was to release old recordings that even Rhino wouldn't consider.

Want to seem erudite? When I do, I just check out the Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page. I wonder what Boswell would have done with a blog.

ISTJs of the World Unite! Stay Home.

If you, like me, are an introvert (And why do I suspect that most of you are?), then you have to read this fantastic Atlantic article by Jonathan Rauch, even though it's over two years old. Ann Althouse linked to it, and her readers left some interesting comments.

Update, 7:10 AM 11/7/05: Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly also links to this and got a bunch of comments. I'm kind of surprised how many of the commenters from both blogs have been making a big deal out of how the Myers-Briggs test is "junk science." Look, this thing does not purport to tell us that the glaciers are going to melt next summer or anything like that. It's just one of many lenses through which you can look to get (a certain amount of) insight (that must be tempered with personal knowledge and common sense) into your own or others' behaviors and attitudes -- even though by human nature, those behaviors and attitudes will frequently and illogically vary and be inconsistent with previous and future behaviors and attitudes as displayed by the same person. Since we aren't machines, we aren't always going to do ABCDE. But, IMHO, this sort of thing doesn't do any harm and helps you (kind of) understand how others approach the world. It's only junk science if you treat it as science in the first place.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

A Nest of Vipers

Here are some of my fellow Slithering Reptiles that caught my attention:

Hi Everybody!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Assorted Items of Interest

A number of good things from around the Internet:

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Halloween Roundup

Happy All Saints Day and Day of the Dead, Everyone.

This weekend I took my ♥GF♥ and some friends of ours to see a theatrical performance of Night of the Living Dead. It was pretty good! They had the farm house's living room as the set, with the basement off to the side. The field surrounding the house was the audience's seating area, so there were more and more zombies walking up and down the aisles as the performance progressed. There were some elementary-school-aged zombies who looked as though they were having the time of their lives when they got to emotively consume the freshly roasted guts after the gas tank exploded. The producers took a couple of liberties with the movie script, but were mostly pretty faithful. They had the dead body (who was kind of cute, by the way... where have I seen her before?) from the stairs try to grab at Barbara, and at the end the sheriff and his deputy were eaten by the zombies after they shot the black guy. Also, the black guy was played by a white guy. But, if it's OK for Othello...

I suspect they were able to do all that because of this screw-up that has kept NOTLD in public domain basically ever since it was released. (Ever notice that it's one of those movies you always find in the cheapo bin, like It's a Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians? This is not because of how good or bad the content is, but because they have fallen into public domain.)

Unlocked Wordhoard hypothesizes that the average child's Halloween experience has parallels in Bocaccio's Decameron. Excerpt: When you are seven years old, you might intellectually understand that monsters aren't real, but deep down in your heart you know that they are not only real, but lurk in the shadowy corners of your house. Children can take control of these fears through Halloween. They can transform themselves into scary creatures, and be surrounded by scary creature all bound to the same quest for candy. Cookie Monster's desire to gobble cookies and the neighbor kid/ghost's desire to gobble candy turn children's fear's into something familiar, comfortable, and even a little fun.

Here's the trailer for West Side Story as a zombie film, and here's the Zombie Scenario Survival Test.

Great post at The Shelf on ITGPCB and other Halloween specials.

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, let me just point out that those stupid pilgrims were no true friends of liberty; They were just as religiously tyrannical as those they fled. If we really want to celebrate freedom of religion in the United States, how about commemorating the birthday of Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, or something like that? And as for this fourth Thursday stuff? A gift from FDR to Depression-era retailers. (Who says he never encouraged market forces?)

Crystal Ball

Prediction (very likely groundless) -- We will one day learn that the powers that be in the Bush White House cut a deal last week with the powers that be in the Democratic leadership, to wit: The White House gives up Libby (and maybe Rove) to the dogs, and in return they get Alido Alito confirmed with no more than a facade of opposition in the Senate.

Probably not the case, but rest assured that if it does come to pass, I will be returning to this post to edit it and make myself sound more prognosticatious.