31 March 2003

Apparently Peter Jackson's next movie after The Return of the King will be the big-budget remake of King Kong that he's been working on for years. You can even find the script here. Looks like it will be a period piece (unlike the 1975 remake) and that the climax will be set at the Empire State Building (again, for obvious reasons, unlike the 1975 version, which ended atop the World Trade Center).
Another satisfying Google hit: someone found our page by searching for "the phrase 'sea change.'" I'd also like to note that an Amazon search uncovers at least a dozen, maybe more, books called Sea Change, including the one that Bessie was kind enough to send me from England. What I really should do, of course, is find the place in From Dawn to Decadence where Jacques Barzun complains about how cliched the phrase has become...but since the book is 877 pages long and I can't remember where I read it, maybe that will have to wait.
By the way, I don't remember if Michael Moore actually said "fictition" twice or not. I just post what I find.
And what the hell, here's Michael Moore's considerably shorter acceptance speech:

"Whoa. On behalf of our producers Kathleen Glynn and Michael Donovan from Canada, I'd like to thank the Academy for this. I have invited my fellow documentary nominees on the stage with us, and we would like to -- they're here in solidarity with me because we like nonfiction. We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fictition of duct tape or fictition of orange alerts we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. (Orchestra starts playing loudly) And any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up. Thank you very much."
In the spirit of giving the people what they want, here's a complete transcript of Adrien Brody's acceptance speech (courtesy of Oscar.com:

"(To Halle Berry) I bet they didn't tell you that was in the gift bag. Oh my god. Thank you. Thank you, really. Oh my goodness. It doesn't come out in slow motion, but it doesn't really ring a bell. The name -- I didn't know my name. This Adrien? Okay. I haven't really written a speech because every time I wrote a speech for the past one of these things I didn't win. But, you know, there comes a time in life when everything seems to make sense and this is not one of those times. What I do know though is that I've never felt this much love and encouragement from my peers and from people I admire and from complete strangers. And it means a great deal to me. And if it weren't for the insomnia and the sudden panic attacks, this has been an amazing, amazing journey.

"I have to thank -- they're already flashing time's up. I have to thank my mother and father, most importantly, for all the creativity and encouragement and they've been just real strength. They've given me a great deal of strength. What can I say? This film would not be possible without the blue print provided by Wladyslaw Szpilman. This is a tribute to his survival. I'd like to thank Roman Polanski for the role of a lifetime. And for those of you who have seen the film and have sat through the credits, you know there are too many people to thank individually. I would not be there without all their efforts. And I thank them. And everyone worked extremely hard to make this film. And I have to thank Focus Features for getting us out there. To my longtime friend, manager, agent, consigliare Joanne Colonna everybody at the firm, PMK/HBH.

"(To the orchestra) And you know, wait one second. One second, please one second. Cut it out, cut it out. I get one shot at this. I'm sorry. I didn't say more than five names, I don't think, but. This is, you know, it fills me with great joy, but I am also filled with a lot of sadness tonight because I am accepting an award at such a strange time. And you know my experiences of making this film made me very aware of the sadness and the dehumanization of people at times of war. And the repercussions of war. And whatever you believe in, if it's God or Allah, may he watch over you and let's pray for a peaceful and swift resolution. Thank you. And I have a friend from Queens who's a soldier in Kuwait right now, Tommy Zarabinski, and I hope you and your boys make it back real soon. God bless you guys. I love you. Thank you very much."
Let's hold off on that analysis of my "dating utility function." Haiwen does a quantitative analysis of my nonexistent love life every couple of weeks or so, and it isn't pretty. (152...153...)

30 March 2003

I just had this image of an economists analysis of Alec's "dating utility function" and how many utils each kind of Hittite counts as relative to say, more normal measurements of who you might want to date.
Well, it wouldn't have lasted more than a day anyway, since my visitor left the next morning. (Incidentally erin's comment about david and i, definitely applies to me and alec senior year.)
(Needless to say, it's my fault that the Great Convergence didn't last more than twenty-four hours. I did my best, of course, but it just wasn't meant to be. Even if she had been willing to give it a try, it would have been hard to sustain a relationship with a girl I was attracted to mostly because she knew three different kinds of Hittite.)
Noah, it's very weird that you should bring this up now, because a few hours ago I was going through some boxes of college stuff, found my old journal, and actually read the entry for April 7, 2001 (for the first time in at least a year). In that entry, I do, in fact, note the once-in-a-lifetime coincidence of four happily occupied roommates, along with some other details that I can't quite bring myself to blog. However, I will quote one classic exchange from that evening. Noah might remember it (he was there):

She: I was at rugby practice. I've been tackling women for two hours.
Me (wistfully): It's been a long time since I've tackled a woman.
So I was just talking to erin who was saying that i shouldn't complain about being the only single person in the room since, the expected number of days i'll kiss a girl this semester may be higher for me than for David since they only see each other on visits. This segued into some very amusing stories about her blocking group and my saying that i wasn't ever the only single person in our room, and that in turn reminded me that there was one day during college when all 4 of us were with girls we were dating. Erin said "which day?" and we concluded it was: Saturday, 7 April, 2001.
I can see Noah taking a bus down to the Oakland A's offices and offering his services to Billy Beane. One thing about that article that was interesting... it treated the Ricardo Rincon trade as if it was just another day at the office. But GMs only make a few trades a year, even GMs as wily as Beane. That means that the two hours encapsulated in that article were two of the most vital hours in the entire Athletics' season. That guy's got confidence.

I had to do nothing sneaky to win those cookies, by the way. I just went to the current Yale website. Furthermore, I even told the person that she might have left already, but she has been the provost for a while.

I don't think I have anything to add to the triplet story. It speaks volumes for itself.
Interested in joining the fedayeen (or something similar)? Here's the application. (Thanks to Haiwen for this link.)

29 March 2003

Regarding that whole Korean triplet-snatching thing: Huh? I especially appreciate how the North Korean government notes that each triplet is provided with "a one-year supply of dairy products." I mean, I was worried there for a second.
Why must Michael Moore wear out his welcome? I really liked Bowling for Columbine, but his next film as described here just sounds like a disaster. I mean, there's nothing wrong with the Binladin family, and this attack seems really unfair and misguided. Aren't we supposed to be learning not to associate all arabs or muslims with the few wackos? Why does he want us to heep a whole family in with one nutcase?
I can't believe this isn't a fairy tale or a biblical story...
A Salon article says: "Sunday-night viewers of C-SPAN 2 already know that Blair has a tendency to acknowledge his opponents' arguments even before they can make them. It's a disarming trait, because it depletes his rivals' ammunition before they can even fire a shot." This of course reminded me of the wonderful end of 8 mile, which as a final showdown to a boxing movie is right up there with the karate kid.
Bessie and Flora and I drove to Stratford-upon-Avon yesterday and saw As You Like It. It was fun, and the Royal Shakespeare Company is really good. The part that wasn't fun was driving on the wrong side of the road late at night in a fog that cut visibility to about four feet.

Also, the British have a very different concept of distance than we do. I told the rental car guy we were driving to Stratford and back in the same day, and he looked at us like we were crazy. Stratford is 95 miles from Cambridge, which is a distance that, in Bill Bryson's words, most Americans would happily drive to go get a hamburger. I get a similarly confused response when I tell people who don't know where Minneapolis is that it's 400 miles northwest of Chicago. Nothing in Britain is 400 miles from anything else.
Btw, I'm in Geneva now. It's nice to come back to a place that's very foreign and also very familiar. It helps that it's about 15 degrees warmer than England. Despite the fact that this is the banking capital of the world, it took me several hours to find an ATM. No one told me to look under the bank.
Alec, I love the parody. Isn't Alison Richard no longer the provost at Yale? Did you win the bet by going to an out of date page, you sneaky sneaky boy. Sarah Hatter has this great long post today on being jealous of monogamy, or something like that.

I think one could make many strong arguments for gravity working roughly the same in Middle Earth as here, even without resorting to claiming that middle earth is an earlier version of the same planet.
Are we also assuming that the (surface) gravitational acceleration in Middle Earth is 9.8 meters per second squared? Is Middle Earth even round?
Speaking of The Name of the Rose, here's a link to a parody of it that I wrote in high school. I still think it's pretty amusing, especially if you're a fan of The X-Files. (Note that this was written before I'd studied any dead languages, which means that all of the copious Latin quotations were ripped straight from The Anatomy of Melancholy.)
I miss rereading novels by accident. I did that a lot when I was younger, almost never today (when reading is part of the deadly serious business of educating myself). I know I reread The Name of the Rose by accident a few times, also Foucault's Pendulum, although the book that holds the record for the most accidental rereadings has to be The Princess Bride.
Here is my lay definition of an isotope:

"An atom is made up of the nucleus and the electrons that surround it. In the nucleus you have protons and neutrons. If you change the number of protons, you change what element it is, so you can change Oxygen to Carbon or Nitrogen if you add some protons. If you change the number of neutrons, you don't change the element, you change the isotope. The isotope is kinda what type of the element the atom is.

The reason we talk about isotopes at all is because for nuclear reactions you need specific elements like uranium, but on top of that you need specific isotopes of uranium because only some isotopes act the right way for nuclear reactions to take place."
I do not believe that the vertical component of Gandalf's run up the mountain could be faster than 5 miles per hour. I think humans can travel up staircases at no faster than 1.5 miles per hour. That means you go up one 10-foot flight of stairs in 4.5 seconds. It's not so difficult to sprint up one flight that fast, but to run up more than a few flights you have to slow down considerably. Do we assume that Gandalf can run faster than humans, in addition to having more stamina? I think he could probably run quite fast if he needed to.

I'm not even going to touch the east coast-west coast/mars-venus debate. We southwesterners have a different take. West coasters are flakes, East Coasters are bitter, neither wave hello at others for no reason as you drive down the road like we do.

I won a batch of cookies from a new intern who went to Yale. I mentioned something about her provost and she was adamant that Alison Richard was not their provost, and in fact it wasn't even a woman. So we bet a batch of cookies and I won by directing her to www.safetyschool.org.

We're about to start minor league baseball again in Albuquerque, and everyone's pretty excited. Here's an excerpt from the paper:

Question from pitcher Doug Botchler at a team meeting on Friday: "What is an Isotope?"

"It's from the Simpsons TV show," another player answered.

"Yeah, I know that, but what is an Isotope?"

"It's like electrons and neutrons," another offered.

"It's just chemical (stuff)," yet another player said.

The article's definition of an isotope:"a form of a chemical element whose atomic nucleus contains a specific number of neutrons, in addition to the number of protons that uniquely defines the element." Obviously that came right from the dictionary, and I don't think it's the easiest definition for people who don't exactly remember what a nucleus or an element is.

How would you have answered Doug Botchler's question?
So the other day we were trying to get some bounds on how far Gandalf and the Balrog fall. This is difficult since the geology of middle earth is not cannonical. However, we thought perhaps we could get a good bound by estimating how long it took Gandalf and the Balrog to run from the bottom all the way to the top (and then subtracting the height of the mountain). This can be done, but we can't answer the question because we don't know how fast Gandalf can run up stairs. Any suggestions?
I read The Name of the Rose, almost by accident (pulled it off the shelf for a quote, read the introduction, didn't stop), and it was still absolutely amazing. I love that book. William's speach answering Jorge's question of what he's looking for just sends chills up my spine.
Great article on the A's general manager in the NYtimes magazine this week. Alec, is the world of high finance at all like this article (which seems to be trying to sell this guys approach to being a GM as slush funds meet baseball)?

28 March 2003

I had no such qualms about seeing The Core, of course. This is one of those dumb adventure movies, like Mission to Mars, that please me out of all proportion: it isn't quite as good as Mission to Mars (I say this with a completely straight face, you understand), and not nearly as good as The Mummy, and there isn't a line or scene that I could defend on a rational basis...but I still found it inordinately pleasing, probably because I could see myself happily writing a story like this someday. (Indeed, the first hour of The Core has a number of plot points involving the earth's electromagnetic field that are uncomfortably close to a science fiction story I submitted to Analog magazine a couple of months ago. Obviously, I'm underpaid.)

What did I like about this movie? I loved the breathless climax, in which footage of a high-tech craft speeding through the earth's core is interrupted by a subtitle reading "16 Hours Later," followed by a cut to more speeding. I loved the moment when the main character finds himself trapped in a tiny capsule, in the middle of the ocean, with power failing, with no hope of rescue, and with Hilary Swank...and doesn't even think to make a pass. And I loved Stanley Tucci, who plays a rather...effete evil scientist sporting a silver coiffure and a cigarette held loosely between two fingers. This scientist has discovered a way to restart the spinning of the earth's core using a series of nuclear charges, which leads to one of the greatest exit lines in recent movie history: "To make the bomb bigger, use the fuel rods from the reac--"
I knew Kobe was going to put on a show in his last game against Jordan... But this is a bit rediculous... He has 40 points... And the first half still isn't over! He is 8-11 for 3-pointers. The score is 57-44 and Kobe has 40 points. No one can say the kid isn't competitive.
I have no idea whether I'm going to see this movie or not. Actually, that's not quite true: I'm pretty sure I won't. At least not while it's playing in theaters. I don't usually shy away from a movie because of the violence it contains...in fact, this may be the first time I've ever done so...but I just can't imagine subjecting myself voluntarily to this particular cinematic experience. Maybe I'll wait until a friend of mine catches it, and ask his or her honest opinion. Unfortunately, I'm usually on the cinematic vanguard in my particular social circle, so that day may never come. No great loss, I'm tempted to say...except that it's hard for me to completely disregard a movie that divides the critics so deeply.

Anyway, if you or someone you know happens to see Irreversible, let me know what your thoughts are.
It may seem odd that a bridge being closed in New York would cause the price of gold to rise, but apparently that's how finance works these days.
Also from FAIR: if you always thought that the "pro-life vs. pro-choice" dichotomy was a little absurd, check out "anti-war vs. pro-troop."
Another site that I've been visiting recently is Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. Good articles there on the bombing of Iraqi TV, which the mainstream press doesn't seem to realize is in violation of the Geneva Convention; the uncritical press coverage of "surgical strikes" in Iraq; and the imaginary ultimatum.

27 March 2003

By the way, the mystery of "where can i buy a city mantis mantis in england" has been solved. Frankly, I'd like to know where I can buy a City Mantis.
I thought she was from either Pittsburg or Michigan and I couldn't remember which. Both are pretty east coastish, but east coasters describe both as midwest, which was what I was trying to get at.
Great mysteries that will almost certainly remain unsolved:

1. Who sent me The Harvard Guide to Asian America junior year.
2. Who changed my name in pine to "Dave the Magical Chicken Man."
Does anyone find it strange that nobody in power mentioned the Fedayeen Saddam until they were right on top of us? I've been hard-pressed to find any mainstream media reference to the Fedayeen prior to Tuesday...and I'd say that their existence, and the unlikelihood of their surrender, should have at least been taken into account in the "debate" leading up to this war.
Also at said dinner, I found myself in the position of having to describe to humanities people what a math paper is like, and I failed miserably. Why would you solve a problem that's already been solved and for which good references already exist?
So as Alec and Heather can testify, if you come visit Cambridge you get one free dinner chez Dave...last night it was Flora's turn. After much food and wine and Bailey's (imported from Ireland) and other spirits, it was decided to go to a club. It was pretty fun, though the music wasn't as cheesy as I expected. It also helped that I had drunk enough so I wasn't self-conscious of my dancing. Anyway, at the end of the night a random guy with whom one of our party had been dancing asked her, "Would you like to come to my place for tea?" So that's what they call it over here...
It must be spring break...I don't log on for a day and then I have to read for nearly a half hour to catch up. I believe it's the "Pigeonhole principle." I wonder what the etymology of that one is...is it concerned with putting pigeons into holes, or with pigeonholing in the more abstract sense? Do pigeons even live in holes?

Oh, and what does "'midwest' in the east of the Mississippi sense" mean? I'm from the midwest, but not from east of the Mississippi.

26 March 2003

So do we need to start a new book series called "Men are from gotham, women are from frisco"?
I wish there were some way to make bad pun noises on the weblog. At any rate, Alec you're my hero.
"When someone asks for action and the response is 'Oh, I wish you didn't need that.'"

I've had dates like this....
The problem with that mars/venus scenario that you've laid out is that it doesn't mention the opposite situation: when someone asks for action and the response is "oh i wish you didn't need that." That scenario you've described makes it seem as though men are just clueless (which many might be). The scenario that inspired this conversation was one where what was asked for was not sympathy but action, and the response that well sympathy is all you can ask for is a bit inadequate, and seems at best dishonest.
Funny you should mention those gender stereoypes, Noah, because I was thinking the same thing when I posted my response to your question. Psychologists of the men-are-from-Mars school often say that when couples try to discuss problems, women (West coasters at heart) want sympathy, while men (the East coasters of the natural world) think they're expected to give advice or take action, which is why those discussions never seem to get anywhere. One should always be skeptical of such generalizations in the absence of real evidence, of course...which I suppose is my way of saying that when it comes to distinctions between West Coast and East Coast, I'm from Missouri.
More on the zietgeist: TiVo reports that the most-replayed segments from Sunday's Oscarcast were Michael Moore's acceptance speech and Adrien Brody's acceptance speech. The most-paused moment, by contrast, was Julia Roberts's entrance in her sexy black dress.

(Obviously, I'm trying to engineer things so that this blog will receive Google hits from people searching for "Julia Roberts" + "sexy black dress." Opportunistic, sure, but I'll do anything to snag more readers.)
Oooh, yay, Dahlia Lithwick did make the sodomy case, although it will be her last before baby arrival.

"Souter wonders why Texas doesn't limit sodomy among heterosexuals. "Because it can lead to marriage and procreation," says Rosenthal. (So you really want your daughters to be good at oral sex, folks, if you want to see them married.)"
Speaking of gender stereotypes:
Gender-bending in the virtual world: Will Wright, creator of the best-selling computer game The Sims, has used data collected from the simulated world to shed some light on how men and women interact.

Wright told an audience at PC Forum that recent data indicated female players were far more likely to pose as men than male players were to pose as women. This, he said, was the direct opposite of the trend in the role-playing game EverQuest, in which male players often consider it advantageous to pose as women.

The Sims data also showed that male characters were more likely to be officially ignored than females, meaning that other characters opt not to interact with them.

However, female characters were more likely to be banned by other players, which is essentially the virtual equivalent of being subject to a restraining order.

"We found 80 percent of the players who were ignored were male," Wright said. "And 75 percent of the players who were banned were female."

Wright attributed the high incidence of banned females to the desire among male players to distance themselves from their virtual ex-girlfriends.

Great exchange from the sodomy case today (Dahlia please have your baby soon and start writing about these things again):

"You say there is 200 years of history (underpinning morality laws like this one) ... so there was a law on the books in 1803," criminalizing homosexual sodomy? asked Justice David Souter.

"I don't think that Texas was a state in 1803," said Rosenthal, looking apprehensive.

"It's a trick question, Mr. Rosenthal. Don't fall into that trap," said Scalia.

Incidentally everything turned out ok. The east coaster (errr... actually maybe "midwest" in the east of the mississippi sense, I forget.) hosting the party offered to drive the person home and then come back, but at this point someone else (who didn't even know the person in question, and was from the west coast) agreed to go home rather than stay the night (which she was kinda undecided on). So everything ended up turning out well.

Someone who agreed with the west coast view on this would say "look it turned out ok, good thing no one made a big deal out of it."

Someone who agreed with the east coast view would say: "If it weren't for the east coaster having her back she'd have missed her plane. (Or paid $35 for a taxi)"
Bessie kindly points out that I probably meant "subconsciously projecting my anger" not "projecting my subconscious anger" and she's probably right. Although since neither one is true (since I was clearly conscious of whichever I was doing) its hard to completely tell which it should have been.
I have this theory that there are many fewer possible stereotypes than their are groups of people and thus any particular stereotype you should be able to find several different groups which have that stereotypes (by the infamous "Pidgeon Hold Principle").

As a case in point, I've also heard the same sort of stereotype we're discussing in terms of East/West as a gender difference (where it is probably even less true), with women playing the part of the West coast (more important to be friendly and maintain the sense that everyone is polite to everyone, while not bringing tensions out into the open) and men playing the part of the East coast (you tend to know if guys are on the same side or not, and guys are less likely to want to maintain politeness if someone isn't doing what you need).

Again, I'm not at all claiming this stereotype is true, only that I'm always amused by how many different groups (or contrasts of groups) any given stereotype must apply to.
I think I wasn't so much thinking of "words" vs. "deeds," although perhaps you have a point there. Thinking about this to myself while walking somewhere yesterday I thought perhaps it could be phrased more that on the east coast there's more of an "us vs. them" mentality, which means some people get treated like "them" but some people get treated like "us," while on the west coast they don't make anyone "them" and what they've lost is that people don't really become an "us." So oddly being more inclusive leads to everyone just being an "I".

When I think about this I'm also often remind of 25th hour, and the rant in the bathroom and how his friends did what he needed them to do when he asked them to.

But this situation at the party really jumped out at me because it was so much like Laura's opinions on a lot of disagreements (with me and others), where what everyone would have thought was really rude would be anyone pointing out that anyone else was being awful and thus breaking the important illusion that we were all nice and friendly.
Glad to know our president values the opinions of congress:

"President George Bush formally asked Congress yesterday for almost $75bn (£48bn) to fund the war. He had delayed making the request until the invasion got under way, for fear of objections."
--the guardian

I wonder how much of the Bush administrations behavior comes from their attempt to reverse the "weakening" of the executive branch over the past however many years as a result of Nixon and Clinton. There were certainly a lot of early comments made by the administration implying this was one of their big goals.
Looks like Dolphins aren't the only smart animals helping us in the war. Beware attack of the Moroccan monkeys!

(David points out the difficulty in training monkeys to detonate land mines: "So if you want to train a monkey to go through a hoop, you put a hoop out in front of it and when it goes through the hoop you give it a banana... If you want to train it to detonate land mines you put him in a field of landmines and then when he detonates one, you can't give him a banana cause there's no more monkey...")
I'm not sure how useful my insights on East Coast vs. West Coast people would be. Clearly my experiences on both sides of the country have been very different, but for reasons that have nothing to do with geography: public high school vs. Ivy League college, suburban vs. urban, and, to give Haiwen his due, mid- to high-prole vs. bourgeoise are much more meaningful pairings that only incidentally happen to coincide with West Coast and East Coast. In general, the people I've met on the East Coast tend to be less immediately outgoing than the people I knew back home, and in some ways more loyal once I get to know them...but again, this could be for any number of reasons.

Here's an example of how tough it can be to draw comparisons. A good measure of the friendliness of a place, obviously, is how you feel when you start a new job. Well, I've started two jobs in my life: once, at the Bay Guardian in San Francisco, and now, at my current employer. The feel of these jobs was very different, of course, and in some ways the atmosphere at the Bay Guardian was more "friendly"...but that probably has more to do with the difference between a high-tech hedge fund in Times Square and a progressive (and, as we've seen, suspiciously gay) newspaper in the Mission District, and also with the fact that I started at the Bay Guardian with a bunch of other interns my age, while I started in New York as my group's first new hire in a while.

So anyway, for lack of any perfectly parallel situations, I'm free to speculate irresponsibly (as usual). I think you might be right, Noah, that some people on the West Coast think of being "nice" as being sympathetic and polite, rather than as taking any actual steps to help someone, while some people on the East Coast are the other way around. I don't know if this means that West Coasters think in terms of words and East Coasters in terms of deeds, but it isn't a bad theory.

That said, I can't vouch either way for the people in Eugene, Oregon.
As is often the case these days, real life seems to have left The Onion far behind: according to the New York Times, a memo circulating at MTV Europe has recommended that the network cease airing all videos by the B-52s, among other things, in an attempt to avoid images of "war, soldiers, war planes, bombs, missiles, riots and social unrest, executions" and "other obviously sensitive material" for the duration of the war in Iraq. The B-52 ban is only the most absurd example given; other videos that might be affected include "Lucky" by Radiohead and Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," which includes images from Armageddon. It all seems pretty pointless (how much airplay are the B-52s even getting these days, anyway?) until you realize that this could also affect songs and videos with a legitimate message about the war...many more of which, I'm sure, will be appearing in weeks and months to come. (Also, "riots and social unrest" seems pretty broad to me; half the rock videos ever made seem to include social unrest in one form or another. I guess there won't be any airings of Pink Floyd The Wall on British MTV anytime soon....)
I finally got around to finishing the last third or so of Great Expectation, and it was as good as it was every other time I've read it. While finishing it I've been struck with the particular joy of enjoying something which is not a flight of sheer brilliance or a unique achievement, but simply a job well done, but really well done. Its the difference between a Citizen Kane and a Casablanca. Its the sort of thing that makes something like The Borne Identity or Toy Story Two so much fun, you know what you're getting into, you know what to expect, and then its done really well. I like to read something like Gatsby or Lolita, but sometimes its nice to read someone who wrote installments in magazines and was paid by the word, but earned that pay with every one of those words. Someone who is writing books as a job, not out of some grand artistic vision, but who is the best at that job that the world can find.

Now if only I could go back in time and convince Dickens to keep the first ending he wrote:

"Tell me, as an old, old friend. Have you quite forgotten her?"
"My dear Biddy, I have forgotten nothing in my life that ever had a foremost place there, and little that ever had any place there. But that poor dream, as I once used to call it, has all gone by, Biddy, all gone by!"

It was four years more, before I saw herself... [A paragraph or so about her life]

I was in England again--in London, and walking along Piccadilly with [my nephew]--when a servant came running after me to ask would I step back to a lady in a carriage who wished to speak to me. It was a little pony carriage, which the lady was driving; and the lady and I looked sadly enough on one another.

"I am greatly changed, I know; but I thought you would like to shake hands with Estella too, Pip. Lift up that pretty child and let me kiss it!" (She supposed the child, I think, to be my child.)

I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview; for, in her face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance, that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham's teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be."

25 March 2003

So Alec, as a west coast person who has lived on the east coast for a while now I'd like to know you're opinion on an east coast-west coast stereotype. Someone was talking the other month (i forget who or why) about how on the west coast everyone is friendly, but no one is close. That in New York City you are not friendly to strangers and often downright hostile, but the few people you do let inside the circle you know have your back and will put their own neck on the line when you really need it, while in the bay area everyone is nice to you but no one is willing to go out on a limb for anyone else. I was reminded of this the other day at a theater party, where one of the girls at the party had to get home that night because she was flying out the next morning, and the person driving her car decided not to drive back cause he'd been drinking and just crash there that night, so she needed to find a ride home. There was a car full of people from the show who were leaving, but all the spots in the car were taken. Now these are all really really nice people who have been amazingly friendly and warm and nice to me since I've been doing the show and I don't have much bad to say about any of them, but... no one gave up their seat for this friend of theirs who needed to go home. And no one really thought of it as a big deal. It wasn't as though she was upset at them for it or any of them thought they should give up their seat, or even just squish in an extra person. Now I'm used to in situations like that someone being willing to do something for that person who really needs it, and if no one does it being a very rude antagonistic thing that someone would be upset about. But here it was just sort of like "yeah i hope you get a ride back" and everyone thinking everyone was being nice whereas I thought people were being awful. What really surprised me was that no one thought it was a big deal... Do you agree with this as a west coast-east coast difference Alec? Or am I just combining someone else's misconception, one story, and projecting my subconcious anger at Laura onto an entire coast?
I don't think there's such a thing as "nonstatutory rape," since I'm pretty sure most states have statues that prohibit nonconsensual sex. The point of distinguishing a certain kind of illegal sexual activity as "statutory" is to highlight the fact that it's only because of the statute that anyone notices at all; most people (religious fanatics aside) would probably have no problem with consensual sex between, say, a 19-year-old and a 17-year-old.
One good thing about having a war... A new REM song!
I love the onion... The Gordon Jackson still has me laughing a minute later.
Yeah, we're on the first 20 google results for many of those Polanksi hits. Which is good, because all the mainstream press continues to refer to this as "statutory rape" without explaining that it was also nonstatutory rape.

We still, however, get searches for completely off the wall things, my favorite recent one is: where can i buy a city mantis mantis in england

What was that person looking for???
Our good friends the millitary dolphins seem to be making a comeback in Gulf War II: This time we're going to Bagdad.
I don't know if you guys have been keeping track of usage statistics recently, but this blog has gotten a huge amount of traffic over the past few days from Google searches for some combination of "Roman Polanski," "underage," and "statutory rape." It seems that we've finally tapped into the zeitgeist...
Great news: because of its Best Animated Feature win, Spirited Away will expand into a widened release this weekend of about 800 screens (compared to a peak of about 150 during its release last year). If you haven't seen this amazing movie yet, you've got no excuse.
Note that the Oscars tend to award older actors and younger actresses in general, given that the star system gives men a much better chance at career longevity than women. The classic example was 1973, when the winner for Best Supporting Actor (John Houseman, for The Paper Chase) was 71, and the winner for Best Supporting Actress (Tatum O'Neal, for Paper Moon) was 10.
I have a hunch that the Big Smooch was inspired by just such a chain of events as Noah describes. I also have a hunch that Brody's acceptance speech will be remembered, in years to come, as the moment he became a bona fide movie star.
The youngest woman to ever win Best Actress was Marlee Matlin, who was all of 21 when she won for Children of a Lesser God in 1982. The fact that she was also the first deaf actress to win the Oscar probably tended to obscure this fact.
So I was reading some shuttle story and it referred to "the Challenger accident 17 years ago," and I realized that while I know academically that the Challanger blew up in 1986, I never really comprehended the concept that I could remember something that happened seventeen years ago. I'm not that old!!!

24 March 2003

Great headline:

War is the new black
The conflict in Iraq might be the best thing that ever happened to Oscar fashion.
So I wish someone had the story of Adrien Brody hanging out with his buddies talking about how Halle Berry would be presenting the award he was nominated for and one of them pipes up "You know, if you win it'd be the only chance you'll ever have to kiss Halle Berry." And then another says "yeah, if you win you'd better kiss her, you'd be letting us all down if you didn't." And eventually a wager is made that if he doesn't kiss her he has to do something or other for his buddies... At least this is my explanation for the big smooch.
So there's this play I'm running lights for, and one of the perks is that in the past 3 weekends I've been at 4 show related parties, which is really quite great. Anyway, there's this woman in the show who is an undergraduate but grownup (I'm not going to go on the record guessing anyones age online, in case they ever google me, but she's certainly older than 30 and certainly younger than 50) and was hosting a general theater party. She lives way out in the suburbs in this nice big house, but it was her back yard that was really rediculous. It had a pool and a hot tub, and then it sloped up and had this walkway in between lanscaped gardens passing over a little wodden bridge and sloping up to a gazebo at the top (she also has lots of real frogs which make a lot of noise). She also has a cottage in wales... Anyway it was a fun party: good white wine, fun people, a hot tub. (Warning though, drinking + hot tub + waking up to go to a 9:30 math lecture = a hangover, even if you thought you drank a lot of water.) Met a really cute undergrad to whom I tought a juggling trick (juggling drunk is somewhat difficult, but can be done), but she turned out to have a boyfriend.
So, as I usually do when I haven't eaten until 2:30 or 3ish (its spring break) or when we're low on food (which we also are now) I went to the "Au Couquelette Cafe" on the corner (which doubles as the coffee shop where I met the famous Sarah Hatter). So as I was waiting in line to buy my usual (Mexican Scramble, with corn tortillas, not bread) the person in front of me was talking to one of the waitresses who he is apparently friends with (and I have somewhat of a crush on, but anyway...) and she was talking about how she was stressed and moving or something and the friend asked her if she were moving cause of her boyfriend or something to that effect to which she responded that "yes, but not why you think" and showed off a few rather large bruises on her side and the inside of her arm. Anyway she seemed ok and explained that she wasn't one of the "oh but he loves me... battered women" and that she made it clear if he could never touch her again and that her bruises would heal but he'd have to live with having done it forever... And she seemed fine and having moved on, but it still was one of these really weird "merp, that happens to real people" sort of moments... I mean, you know there are bad people out there who do things like beat up their girlfriend, but I hadn't ever really come accross it before.
Reading Matt Yglesias is reminding me of my mad dash to finish my thesis this time last year. At Lenstra's Treurfeest (mourning-party) I ran into William Stein and he couldn't quite place me at first beyond knowing me from harvard and I mentioned that he'd read my thesis and he said "Oh yeah, you wrote the really long one..." For which I then had to apologize once again...

Apparently the rediulcousness of my hair right now makes me a little difficult to recognize, need to cut it again...
Who was the youngest actress?
Interestingly enough, Adrien Brody, at 29, is the youngest man to ever win an Oscar for Best Actor. The identity of the most immature man to ever win the Oscar is still open to debate.
It turns out that Michael Moore's acceptance speech at the Oscars was basically the same as the speech he'd given at the Independent Spirit Awards the previous day...where, I'm sure it's safe to assume, he received a somewhat more sympathetic reception. His remarks there included: "We have a fictitious President, who was put in office with fictitious results and he's now conducting a war for fictitious reasons. This is absolutely insane. The lesson for the children of Columbine this week is that violence is an accepted means to resolve a conflict and it's a sad, sick and immoral lesson." (Courtesy of imdb.com.)
Belated Oscar comment:

In the closing credits for last night's Academy Awards, it was mentioned that Penelope Spheeris, the very talented director of Wayne's World and We Sold Our Souls for Rock N' Roll, the Ozzfest rockumentary that was the unofficial inspiration for The Osbournes, edited together the montage of past speeches by Academy presidents. I know that it's hard for talented women to find work in Hollywood these days, but that's just ridiculous...

23 March 2003

As I said, I have no problem with rewarding the movie even though one person involved did something terrible. Its simply that rewarding that particular person is very different.
And shouldn't repentence precede forgiveness? He's obviously completely unrepentant, hence society should not give him another chance.

What is wrong with the French??
I do wonder how much of the success of The Pianist can be attributed to the current political climate; that is, by the Academy's desire to justify the relevance of its art form in light of world events. If that's at all the case, it means that the movie's subject matter was enough to counterbalance, and even overcome, Polanski's private immorality.

I'd prefer to think, of course, that the Academy simply knew a good movie when it saw one...but when has that ever been the case? (Answer: many times, but mostly by accident.)

Anyway, it's time for bed.
I wonder if there would be more or less outrage at Polanski if he'd raped someone of age since then articles wouldn't say he was in trouble for "sex with a minor" but instead for "forcible rape" (which is what it was).

I really think the flipside of when I argue about women's groups on campus inflating the number of rapes and administrations calling certain things which aren't rape rape, is that when someone is actually a rapist then i think we need to treat them as we would say Saddam's sons who torture and kill people for fun.
I guess the point being that especially if the victim of something forgives the person the rest of us have all the more responsibility not to do so so that it is clear that this forgiveness was up to that person and the goodness of their heart and not deserved in any way.
I was looking at some articles on Polanski and many of them mentioned that his victim has later publically "forgiven" him. Which reminds me of a philosohpy which I've developed recently, which is that if someone it is harmed it is their choice whether to forgive or not, because sometimes you just have to forgive them whether they deserve it or not, but just because you forgive someone doesn't mean those around you should and there are many situations where ones friends and acquantences and those who know what happened should never forgive.
Harrison Ford said the same thing that they always say: "The Academy congratulates Roman Polanski, and accepts this award on his behalf." If there were any boos, they were drowned out by cheers. It's not as surprising as you might think: Hollywood is always willing to forgive its prodigal sons. Just ask Elia Kazan.
Anyone know the details on why France hasn't arrested and extradited Polanski?
Well, my Oscar predictions were about as accurate as always, which is to say, not very. However, I don't recall being so pleased to have been so wrong in so many cases.

But Gangs of New York, shut out? As Bill the Butcher might say, "This is a wound."
So what happened when they announced Polanski and he wasn't there to pick up the award?
Obviously my comment was as wrong as it could have been...
This will probably be out of date by the time I post this, but... We've mentioned before how Best Director is a sort of "movie that should have won best picture" award. I was thinking about my personal opinion that I'd vote for the Pianist if I thought it was the best film, but wouldn't vote for Polanski even if he were the best director, that it'd be interesting if they got reversed this year and Best Picture was "should have won Best Director."
Yeah: The Pianist.
Before it is too late do you want to make a revised Best Picture prediction on the record?
Haiwen on Steve Martin: "He never won an Oscar? Not even for The Jerk?"
Wow, Olivia de Havilland. I hope I look that good when I'm 112.
Here's a link with some of Moore's comments: Moore Overtly Political at Oscars.
One of the times i wish i had a tv... I'm flipping between the Nytimes oscar winners page, Alec's live oscar blogging (a little while ago I was about to complain about the lack of that, when I realized I just hadn't updated in a while), and the Warriors-Wizards all W game. (The 4th quarter began with the warriors making a shot, followed by the Wizards missing 6 shots and then making their 7th before the Warriors shot again... The Warriors put on a run at the beginning of the 4th, but it'd been so much better if they could have bought some rebounds.)

What did Michael Moore say?
Peter O'Toole...still a class act. But did they have to mention Caligula?
Wow, Eminem? That's even better.
Wow, Adrien Brody? That's fucking great.
Note all the Home Depot ads that have been airing during the Oscar telecast, which are allegedly intended to make Home Depot more appealing to women. Here's another way: stop designing stores that look like cold, cheerless nail factories.
Believe it or not, Michael Moore is not the first man to be booed at the Oscars; at the 1942 awards, Citizen Kane was booed every time it was up for a nomination.
I still haven't been able to figure out how they're going to perform "Lose Yourself" without Eminem, unless he's actually decided to show up after all. The best compromise, I guess, would be to show clips from the movie over Eminem's isolated vocal track, with percussion and guitar done live....Anyway, we'll see what they come up with.
Hmmm...Chicago 4, Gangs of New York 0. I suppose I could go back and re-edit my predictions after the fact, but that'd just be unethical.
Haiwen's and my reaction to the clip of Leonardo DiCaprio that accompanied the nomination of Gangs of New York for Best Costume Design: "Not for that hat."
Best Oscar moment so far: Martin Scorsese and Daniel Day-Lewis looking completely unamused at the Jennifer Garner-Mickey Mouse presentation of Best Animated Short. What was the logic behind that cutaway shot?
Errr... I thought there were still some standards of non-judgmental language in the media:

He told his intelligence handlers that on the night of March 19, Saddam, probably accompanied by his demonic sons Uday and Qusay, was sleeping in a bunker beneath a nondescript house in a residential area of Baghdad.
Wow, Catherine Zeta-Jones can really sing. And is really pregnant. (Another point in her favor.)
I'll grant that Chris Cooper would have been up against some tough contenders, but I'd still back him over Tom Cruise and Haley Joel Osment. (Admittedly, this is how I feel now; I'm not sure how I would have felt back then, or how I'll feel tomorrow, for that matter.) And, okay, I didn't take the competition into consideration when I said that Cooper should have won. (Now that I think about it, in fact, I'd have to say that the best supporting actor of that year wasn't Cooper, or any of the nominated actors; it was Jason Robards, Jr., as the dying father in Magnolia. And that's all I have to say about that.)
Incidentally, previous Oscar nominees can be found at this site.
Alec, perhaps you need a little refresher... You comment that, "Cooper's been around for a long time; he's even had plum leading roles in movies like Lone Star, and arguably should have won an Oscar for his supporting turn in American Beauty, which wasn't even nominated." Yes he was good, but still that's one heck of a hard argument to make. Let me remind who else put in supporting turns that year: Tom Cruise in Magnolia and Haley Joel Osment in the Sixth Sense headline the nominees, and I still maintain that John Malkovich's performance in Being John Malkovich beats all of those named above. Are you really going to tell me you'd take Cooper in American Beauty over any of those other three I named?
Oh Jesus, it's Oscar night. Brace yourselves:

Best Picture: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Gangs of New York will steal it from Chicago, the juggernaut. Why? Because Best Picture almost always goes to a movie that wins one of the other major awards (Best Actor, Best Actress, or Best Director), and as you'll see below, my money says that Chicago won't win a single one, while Gangs of New York has a good chance of nabbing at least one, probably two. Of course, Miramax has been pushing Chicago, not Gangs, as its favored choice...but I've always been something of a contrarian.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese for Gangs of New York. On balance, I'd have to say that Roman Polanski deserves to win for The Pianist, but there's no way in hell that's going to happen. By any measure, Scorsese is long overdue; and I do love Roger Ebert's comment on Scorsese's loss (with GoodFellas) to Kevin Costner and Dances With Wolvesin 1990: "Which one of those two would you want to see again tonight?" Not entirely fair (Ebert did give Dances With Wolves a four-star review on its first release) but true enough.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis for Gangs of New York. Just because he deserves it: it was an awe-inspiring performance whose every aspect (the moustache, the glass eye, the bloodthirsty Walt Whitman accent) seemed to have been sculpted by hand, or by sheer force of will. It was more of a special effect than all the digital creations of The Two Towers and Spider-Man put together, but weirdly human and affecting. One could argue that Nicolas Cage's performance(s) in Adaptation was equally accomplished, but the Oscars don't usually care for comedy; and Nicholson and Caine have been awarded often enough. For Adrian Brody, the nomination is the award.

Best Actress: Julianne Moore for Far From Heaven. Again, this is the contrarian view; almost everyone else has pegged Nicole Kidman, both because her performance in The Hours was dignified and effective and because Kidman's stock in Hollywood couldn't be higher. And yet...I can't help wondering whether many Academy members have the sneaking suspicion, as I do, that Kidman's role was more of a supporting one, and more a triumph of makeup and facial prosthetics (and digital engineering) than acting. Moore, on the other hand, fully embodied a surprisingly complex role in Far From Heaven, which demanded that she play both a woman and a '50's movie's idea of a woman, and succeeded beautifully on both counts.

Best Supporting Actor: I haven't seen Christopher Walken's performance in Catch Me If You Can, but of the remaining nominees, Chris Cooper in Adaptation is both my favorite and the likely winner. Cooper's been around for a long time; he's even had plum leading roles in movies like Lone Star, and arguably should have won an Oscar for his supporting turn in American Beauty, which wasn't even nominated. Adaptation probably had more good acting than any other movie last year (Cage and Streep, of course, but also Brian Cox's terrific vignette as Robert McKee), but Cooper stood out even in that crowd. (I'd also be happy to see John C. Reilly win for Chicago but more for his work in general than for that role in particular.)

Best Supporting Actress: I haven't a clue here, despite having seen all of the nominated performances. Julianne Moore's performance was inarguably the best, but having chosen her for Best Actress, above, I can't very well choose her again; although, come to think of it, if any actress could win two Oscars in one year, it's her. Kathy Bates is a possibility; she was overshadowed by Nicholson in About Schmidt, but Supporting Actress can often go to a woman's performance in a movie dominated by a powerful actor (e.g., Marcia Gay Harden's win for Pollock). But I'll go with Catherine Zeta-Jones; she won the SAG award, which is usually a good indication, and was almost scarily good in Chicago.

Best Original Screenplay: I'm a bit adrift in the screenplay categories, usually one of my favorites. For one thing, it's a bit strange that Gangs of New York is nominated here, and not in Adapted Screenplay, given that Herbert Ashbury's The Gangs of New York provided the movie with both its title and raw material. Leaving that aside, it's clear that the screenplay for Gangs of New York, with its underdeveloped hero and occasional plot inanities (e.g. DiCaprio's isolated moments of "inspiration" regarding body-snatching and offshore boxing) was the weakest part of the movie. Far From Heaven deserves to win, but in the absence of any real consensus, I think that Nia Vardalos will take the prize, for sentimental reasons.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Adaptation, of course. Some Academy members may not have gotten it, but the temptation to award an engraved statuette to Donald Kaufman should be too great to resist. In a weird way, however, I think that The Hours may be most deserving; I didn't like the movie at all, but the screenplay was ingenious and literate, and had the sort of discipline and structural coherence that Adaptation essentially ignores, to mixed results. Some surprising omissions here, too; I would think that About Schmidt would have been a sure winner, if nominated, and also that Minority Report, despite the weakness of its ending, was so rich a mainstream screenplay that it at least deserved a nod.

Other Predictions, leaving aside all those technical awards: I'd say that Bowling for Columbine is positioned, both politically and artistically, to be the first winner of Best Documentary ever that somebody might actually have seen, and that Michael Moore's acceptance speech will be one of the evening's highlights. Spirited Away will win for Best Animated Feature, I'd say, with a trace of optimism (although Lilo and Stitch would cause me no pain). Best Cinematography, the late Conrad Hall, for Road to Perdition. Best Foreign Film, no idea (except that it obviously won't be City of God). Best Song, U2; not sure how they're planning to perform "Lose Yourself," the best of the bunch, if Eminem is avoiding the ceremony. Best Editing, Thelma Schoonmaker for Gangs of New York, because she's a genius and probably a sweetheart as well.

And it looks like Peter O'Toole will be showing up to claim his honorary Oscar, despite some reluctance. Which is a very good thing: I've long felt that Lawrence of Arabia, which recently has spent more time in my DVD player than any other movie, is the pop cultural starting point for understanding our predicament in the world, at least for those of us who haven't made it through all eight hundred pages of Seven Pillars of Wisdom just yet; T.E. Lawrence, who was made and betrayed by imperial dreams in the Middle East, really is the prince of our disorder, and the desert images that will be included in O'Toole's tribute reel couldn't be appearing on our television screens at a more timely moment.

22 March 2003

A few days ago, I came to the illuminating realization that most of the music I listen to is...well, kind of lame. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I was just listening to Moby's 18, an album that I like an awful lot, when I suddenly thought: "You know, if this album weren't so good, it would suck." Which is to say: a song like the single "We Are All Made of Stars," which sounds like it could have been recorded in someone's rumpus room, seems terminally unhip and obvious at first, yet is so dogged and gracefully done that it passes through lameness and emerges on the other side into something like perfection. If anything, this is a testament to Moby's talents; it's hard to begin with the lame and transmute it into the sublime, which is precisely what Moby does in just about every track on this album.

He's not alone in this. Pauline Kael once mentioned a critic who quoted a few lines from Walt Whitman and stated, "There are problems with these lines--and they do not matter." I'm never happier than when I can say the same thing about a song; it's amazing how often a pop song can violate most of my aesthetic standards and still light up my life, which in a way is more impressive than when the song is rooted in established notions of coolness. (I'd be prepared to argue, for example, that Shelley Duvall's "He Needs Me" is a greater miracle of music than Bruce Springsteen's "The River," since the latter has every reason to be amazing, and is, while the former, a featherweight vocal from the movie Popeye resurrected for the Punch-Drunk Love soundtrack, has no reason to be amazing, and is anyway.)

This also applies to song lyrics that are so awful that they're somehow wonderful, ranging from many of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's lyrics (notably the one in "Your Song," about the man who makes potions in the medicine show) to Eminem's "I put lives at risk when I drive like this / I put wives at risk with a knife like this"...an awful line, but a weirdly compelling one. It's all in the delivery, maybe; or maybe certain artists, at certain moments, are able to get away with aesthetic transgressions that would doom the more tasteful. You can't pin down why these things work, and you can't reduce them to craft, which is probably why I love them so much. (Needless to say, you'll always find people who insist that all of the above examples, not to mention the complete works of the Pet Shop Boys, actually do suck...but they just haven't listened for long enough.)
NBA trivia question (for Nat, or anyone else who cares):

Name all the players who lead their teams in all three major categories (points assists and rebounds).

Unsuprisingly there are only three. Perhaps more surprisingly the vast majority of teams have one player who leads their team in two of those three categories. Excluding Milwaukee and Seattle whose leaders are hard to define because of their big trade and Toronto whose best player hasn't played enough to be on their leaders, name the only 6 teams which do not have a player leading in two of those three major categories.
If you have a few minutes to waste (Noah), go to buzz and tell me what I should do with my $144 credit (£90/€130/CHF200), keeping in mind that buzz is stopping all service as of 1 April, and that I'll be alone. (Departing London Stansted; return on easyJet to Stansted or Luton is a possibility.)
I'd stopped using Google News for several months after realizing that it actually lagged behind news sites with human editors when it came to updating itself for breaking news. However, I'll have to admit that it was made for something like the war in Iraq, when the maddening sameness of mainstream coverage leaves you hungry for alternative viewpoints. One of my favorites is swissinfo.org.
87.5% of the girls with whom I have ever had a Romantic Encounter still reside on my buddy list. (The remaining 12.5% is from high school, in the Dark Ages before IM.) I'm only in regular IM contact with one of them.
Robby cancelled his trip to England. So I'm opening it up: anyone who can make it to Luton Airport by 1.30 pm on Monday gets to come with me to Paris. Or if you are less ambitious, show up Friday morning and come with me to see As You Like It with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-on-Avon.
Some notes from Dublin:

  • The Irish hate the British. Mention anything about England to a Dublin cab driver, and you get a ten-minute rant on how the British spent somewhere between 700 and 10,000 years pushing Irish farmers off their land, raping Irish women, and eating Irish babies for afternoon tea.

  • Dublin is a national capital. The only previous national capitals I'd visited are Washington, London, Paris, and Beijing, all of which are much bigger, have less friendly people, and have better public transportation (yes, even Beijing) than Dublin. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the American embassy was less than half a mile up the road from our hotel. And you can perhaps imagine my more than slight anxiety as I walked to dinner on Thursday night alongside a rather large protest headed towards said embassy.

  • There is no better way to spend an evening than sitting in a pub listening to traditional Irish music played by a random group of people who are there not for money or an audience but simply because they love the music and love playing it. Also it helps if one of the fiddlers is a cute girl around the age of 23.

  • The Bailey's really does taste better there. I brought home a liter and a half. Sadly, I didn't try any Guinness.

  • 1200-year-old books are really fucking impressive.

  • The Choir of St. Patrick's Cathedral is rather mediocre, a sad decline from the days when it premiered Handel's Messiah. Perhaps that is why the only people in attendance at a Thursday evensong were me and my mom and a busload of Eastern European high school kids. Or perhaps it's because the Anglican church service is listless and perfunctory.

  • Bill Bryson is a really funny writer.
  • Hey Dave, before you start thinking humanity is too good, you know they only helped you out cause you're the only american tourist in Paris who can speek french.

    21 March 2003

    Another movie note: it's unusual for horrendous reviews to make me want to avoid the movie but read the book, but that's exactly what's happening with Dreamcatcher. Critics seem to agree that the movie is pretty terrible, but the genre-busting plot sounds so strange and messy and off-the-wall that I'm tempted to go out and buy the novel just to see how Stephen King manages to pull it off, if he even does.
    The Pianist isn't at all boring, by the way. In fact, it moves at the pace of a thriller (although it has few of a thriller's pleasures, obviously). Whatever his personal flaws, Polanski is incredibly rapid and assured as a director: this is an epic film that runs for more than two and a half hours, but there isn't a single wasted shot or scene. This is all the more amazing when you realize that much of the second half basically just consists of a man in a room, and that whole reels can go by without a line of dialogue.

    In a way, comparing this movie to Gangs of New York is instructive. One is a film by a great director who knows precisely what effect he wants to achieve at any given moment, and the other is by an even greater director who often seems unsure of what to do next. I enjoyed Gangs more, but I'll have to concede that of the two, Polanski is the one who deserves to win Best Director...even if he won't be at the ceremony to pick up his statuette.
    In other news (Dave) and I just got huge raises for no apparent reason...
    Great Cary Tennis quote:

    "If you're not making a priority of the people in your life, that's probably related to why you're not meeting women. Because women are people. You meet them and relate to them much the same way you meet and relate to other people."

    20 March 2003

    This is beautiful. The weird thing is that a man in a bunny suit waving a strange flag you've probably never seen before wouldn't be completely implausible for a peace protest.

    Being in Berkeley these days is interesting, you can't throw a stone without hitting a peace protest.
    "And when it comes to sweethearts, especially former and future ones, away messaging adds a new immediacy. Those unwilling to delete a former flame's screen name can effortlessly if painfully keep track of a life they are no longer part of."

    I proudly have an ex-girlfriend free buddy list for over half a year.
    I've pretty much stopped using away messages last fall because i was afraid of them turning too mopey or bitter or whatnot, but since i used to be so obsessed with them, i figured i'd pass along this article in the paper of record on "the art of away messaging."

    Maybe I'll do a top 5 lists of my old away messages, just for old times sake.

    19 March 2003

    As Michael Moore observes, Clinton was one of the best Republican presidents we've ever had.
    What do you guys think of Clinton's op-ed in the Guardian?

    18 March 2003

    Lastest "Humanity is Evil" observation:

    It's really disappointing when the confused guy on the Paris RER you thought you were helping find his stop turns out just to be distracting you so his little munchkin sidekicks can go through your bags and steal your stuff.

    Latest "There's Hope for Humanity" observation:

    It's nice when another passenger notices the above and as he's passing by warns you to be careful.
    Has anyone been following the great preregistration controversy? (Articles in the Crimson and fm.) It's sad to think that six months from now I'll be in regular contact with no Harvard undergrads.
    I'm a big fan of that Beatles song that goes "you have to admit its getting better, its getting better all the time..." for dislodging catchy tunes.

    17 March 2003

    More on polls real quick... A response to Sasha's post.

    So here's how i boil down what's going on. With 95% confidence we can say the following two things:

    1) Bush's numbers changed by something between +.3% and -8.3%

    2) Bush's numbers changed by something more negative than -.4%

    I'm not claiming that the latter is preferable because the odds of a drop of 8 percentage points is a priori unlikely (the reason given in the text book for using method 2), but only because the question we are trying to answer is "did bush's numbers drop?" not "are bush's numbers within a certain band around the mean?"

    Stated otherwise, you are right that the result of the two polls is that Bush's approval rating changed by -4% with margin of error of +/- 4.3%. However, you can't simply say that because 4.3% > 4% we can't be confident that his approval ratings dropped.

    This is true of any poll. Suppose we needed 50% or more to pass a measure, and a poll gave a "yes" estimate of 54% +/- 4.3%. You could still say with the required 95% confidence level that the measure was going to pass even though at first glance it seems that 50% is within the margin of error.
    You'll probably hate me for posting this, but oh well: MSN has an amusing article on the songs that get stuck in your head. According to a survey taken at the University of Cincinnati, the worst offenders include:

    1. Other
    2. The Chili's "Baby Back Ribs" jingle
    3. "Who Let the Dogs Out" by the Baha Men
    4. "We Will Rock You" by Queen
    5. The Kit-Kat candy-bar jingle
    6. The Mission Impossible theme
    7. "YMCA" by the Village People
    8. "Whoomp, There It Is" by Tag Team
    9. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by The Tokens
    10. "It's a Small World After All"

    Oddly enough, as I read this article, I realized that the song from The Cat in the Hat had been stuck in my head ever since I woke up this morning. (This is the song that begins "Cat...hat! In French, chat, chapeau...!" As an aside, I'm quite pleased that Mike Myers has been cast as the Cat in the upcoming movie, because I can imagine him doing a wonderfully arch version of this song.)

    Anyway, here's a question for you all: what's the song that you'll use to dislodge one of the above? It's got to be catchy enough to take the place of whatever song has been driving you crazy, but not annoying enough so that the cure is worse than the disease....These days, I find that "Wonderwall" by Oasis fits the bill nicely. In fact, I'm playing it now, just to keep that damned baby back ribs song at bay....
    The short thing to remember on the changes between two polls is: when adding margins of error don't just add, take the square root of the sums of the squares.

    (This computation was a little complicated by the fact that for the original polls we want margin of error on both sides, whereas for the difference we're just trying to find out whether the difference is at least say 1 point, not in between 1 and 7 points.)
    Sorry to temporarily hijack the blog to something related to general blogosphere debates, but I needed to chip in on a math question that came up in these posts on the Volokh Conspiracy and Matt Yglesias.

    The question is as follows: Two polls each have a margin of error of 3 points, together they show a decline of 4 points, what is the odds that the this decline is actually real.

    We compute this as follows. The original distributions are assumed to be roughly normal with means differing by 4 points and with 3 points = 1.96 standard deviations (this is what a 3 point margin of error means, since getting it within 1.96 standard deviations happens .95% of the time, see this link for how to make calculations turning standard deviations into percentages). Thus 1 standard deviation = 3/1.96 points = 1.53 points.

    Now we turn to looking at the distribution of the difference of these two random variables. We recall the well known fact (cf. this site) that the difference of two normal distributions is a normal distribution whose mean is the difference of the means and whose standard deviation is gotten by taking the square root of the sum of the squares. Therefore the difference is distributed in a normal distribution whose mean is 4 points and whose standard deviation is sqrt(2) * 1.53 points = 2.16 points.

    We want to know the chances that the difference is larger than one. That is asking what are the chances that you lie within 4 points on one side and anything on the other side of the mean. Translating into standard deviations we find we are asking to find the probability that a randomly distributed variable is smaller than 4/2.16 = 1.85 standard deviations above the mean. Using a standard table this happens almost 97% of the time.

    Therefore, one can say with almost 97% accuracy that this two polls do show that the popularity of the war has declined.

    If you want a more particular question like has it dropped by at least two points, this can also be easily calculated using the above method. 2 points is .93 standard deviations, and again using the table shows that we have a 82% confidence level that Bush's Iraq policy popularity dropped by at least two points.

    Using these sorts of results we can see that what we can say with the usual 95% accuracy is the following. Since we only care about the error in one direction we get 95% accuracy within 1.65 standard deviations. 1.65 standard deviations is just under 3.6 points. So we can say with 95% confidence that Bush's approval ratings dropped by at least .4%.

    So the long and short of it is that it seems Eugene and Matt (I feel weird calling profs by first names but anyway) are both right here. Even though it is within 6 points you can still say with over 95% accuracy that Bush's numbers did actually drop, and so the story is accurate. However, Eugene is right that if you really want that 95% confidence then its not much of a story cause you're only confident of a .5% drop which is hardly newsworthy.

    16 March 2003

    Funny you should mention Lynne Thigpen (whose name I recognized but couldn't quite place)...bored on a very slow train from London to Cambridge last Monday, Laura and I played the variant of 20 questions where you try to guess the person the other is thinking of, and she stumped me for a really long time with Carmen Sandiego. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how a TV show could be both animated and not animated.

    15 March 2003

    Now that I mention it, I've been thinking a lot about character actors recently. One of the pleasures of watching a lot of movies is learning to recognize the lesser-known actors you'll often see three or four times a year in random films, and being as pleased to see them as you are when you meet a friend in the street. Character actors rarely, if ever, give a bad performance; they usually aren't cast for anything but talent, for one thing, so when you're in the presence of a great character actor, you can relax and feel assured that you're about to see a finely crafted little vingette, even in mediocre roles.

    My discovery of the year was Brian Cox, who has been around for a long time but whose career seemed to reach critical mass in 2002 (he appeared in The Rookie, The Bourne Identity, The Ring, Adaptation, and 25th Hour), and who was given two extended speeches that I'll treasure forver: his harangue on the drama of everyday life, as screenwriting guru Robert McKee in Adaptation, and his vision of the life that "came so close to never happening," as Edward Norton's father in 25th Hour.

    So far as other character actors go, it's nice to see that Chris Cooper, with his Oscar nomination for Adaptation, is finally slipping across that vague boundary that separates character actor from star; William H. Macy and James Cromwell are among his more recent predecessors. That boundary is a fascinating one; only time will tell where John C. Reilly will end up.
    Lynne Thigpen died yesterday. You might not recognize her name, but she was one of those wonderful character actors who seem to pop up everywhere, whose face is unforgettable, and whose presence is always a pleasure. She was a Tony award-winning actress and appeared in recent films ranging from Shaft to the upcoming Anger Management, but to many of us who grew up in the early '90s, she'll always be The Chief.
    So with more thought here's my response to Nat... Although I don't particularly like it, its not evil to behave as you've described behaving so long as you have rule 6) and within a certain inside circle you do behave as I've described. With strangers there's a limit to how much you can put yourself at risk, but there needs to be a boundary inside of which people can trust you to live more or less by balancing the two rules that I described.
    So tonite we had a show and a party afterwards and at some point i realized I'd left my keys in the pockets of the pants i'd played soccer in in the afternoon... One of my roomates is in Michigan all weekend (visiting erin) and when i got back the other one was still at his girlfriend's... (Yes, i'm the only single person in my room, shut up!) Its really annoying to be in the real world and not just be able to go to the super's office and have everything taken care of. Anyway I go over to a friends apt. to see if he's around and no one answers... When I come back again I discover my roomate standing outside and realize he's locked out too... It was somewhat amusing if it weren't so annoying. We eventually tried a neighbors with the lights on to use their phone book and call a locksmith, but instead he ended up helping us undo the screens with a screwdriver and we got lucky and one of the windows wasn't quite latched shut.

    As for Nat's response to the moralizing, I realize that in certain situations it may be rather difficult to behave in that way, and i guess there's a less of a requirement for people to act morally in proffesional interactions than in personal ones... Still though I think its a pretty horrible way to treat people to just be trying to beat them at a game where you try to get as much out of them while giving up as little as possible... Another way of saying things, after just being reminded by the new Dune trailer, I want to live in the Lord of the Rings not in Dune.

    14 March 2003

    Yes, the person who forwarded me the photos apologized. I thought they could be real because he really did used to work in aerospace stuff, but I guess anyone can create a hoax, no matter what their position.

    Noah, your moralizing was very frightening to me because that's not at all how I'm learning to deal with people "professionally." While I haven't thought about it enough to form a coherent code of interaction, the rules go something like this:
    1) Cover yourself at all times
    2) If they can hurt you, don't give them the ammo to do so
    3) If they can help you, be nice, help them when you can (but still don't expose yourself)
    4) If they can't help you or hurt you, be nice because you don't want a bad image
    5) If you're planning on hurting them, don't be too nice to them beforehand. It just makes things more difficult in the end.
    6) Be loyal to your people, don't hurt them unless you absolutely have to
    7) Keep your commitments, and don't make a commitment you can't keep
    8) Cover yourself at all times!

    These rules apply to political infighting, which really just boils down to power and influence. My job is spent sitting in a bunker fighting political fights, putting out fires, and helping political friends. As a team, my office is very nice to each other. When we have to deal with the outside world, though, we put on our armor and present a united and formidable front. It's a weird world. And if this post scares you into thinking I've become evil and corrupt, let me know about it. I want to be able to defend myself in a snakepit, but I don't want to be evil and corrupt.

    13 March 2003

    Hmmm, so I was right about those shuttle photos. I wasn't able to view them, actually, because Nat's e-mail was too big for my inbox (Hotmail is pretty stingy when it comes to available space), but I do remember thinking, "If it's from a movie, it's probably Armageddon."
    Noah, I don't think men are invited.
    Apparently the contract dispute between HBO and James Gandolfini, star of The Sopranos, is getting pretty ugly. (Basically Gandolfini has sued to get out of his contract for a fifth season because of an issue over salary, and HBO has countersued for $100 million.) The most amusing thing about the whole mess is how HBO laywer and spokesman Bert Fields seems to think that, because he's suing the actor who plays Tony Soprano, he suddenly has the right to talk like Joe Pesci's character in GoodFellas. Two sample quotes from Fields: "Lawyers don't say things like this, but I'll say it: He can't win; he's just dead; he is dead, he just won't lie down." And: "Gandolfini's agents believe they're holding a gun to HBO's head to get them to pay this massive salary increase, but it's really a water pistol -- and doesn't even have any water in it."

    I'm funny how? Funny like a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh?
    I'm sure it won't last long, but... Google is down! All the other websites I'm trying are working, but when i try google i get: "The page you are looking for is currently unavailable. The Web site might be experiencing technical difficulties, or you may need to adjust your browser settings."

    So much for the theory that the google/blogger merger was going to make blogger relyable, maby it'll be the other way round...
    So I hadn't seen any of Artest's flagrants previously, and remembering what the deal was with Kenyon Martin last year I assumed they were just trying a bit hard and being a bit too physical for a strong person, but looking at this video it seems like Artest is just an idiot.

    12 March 2003

    Question (salon):
    "Why is it that polls show President Bush losing the '04 election to an "Unnamed Democrat," but beating all the Democrats who are currently in the race?"

    Clinton isn't running.
    For more on the shuttle photos our good friend snopes has the story. Makes me miss the good old days of Kyle Gilman's form letter-like responses to adams schmooze... Sadly his fake snopes page on killing mice is no longer online, stupid harvard killing web pages...
    I got the following email from the graduate assembly:

    >Greetings All!
    >Hope your semester has been intellectually challenging and fruitfull.
    >Well, to continue the celebration for Women's History Month the Graduate
    >Women's Project and The Gender and Equity Resource Center is hosting a
    >Thursday, 13 March 2003
    >Anthony Hall Patio (aka Pelican Bldg)
    >for everyone! Join us for free food, conversation and raffle prizes!

    I can't figure out whether men are invited or not... What do you guys think? Here's a link with more on the event.
    An article on how the census screwed up who it counted says:

    "Critics say the bureau should have used a complicated statistical method called "sampling" to make up for historic undercounts of minorities. Opponents of that method, mainly Republicans, have said sampling actually inserts more error into a census."

    My recollection wasn't that republicans thought that you shouldn't sample cause it would give the wrong answer, but rather because the constitution says to count and sampling isn't counting...
    I don't know if I've ever had to cut anything particularly juicy from a movie review; after all, the nice thing about being a film critic is that you can say just about anything you want. I mean, you're talking to the guy who called The Beach "a technically exquisite but vacuous work of cinematic self-abuse" and Charlie's Angels "a two-hour campaign video for Cameron Diaz's rear end," and said of Disney's Dinosaur: "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper." Man, I was such a bitch.
    I just made an important observation in morals. When it comes to interacting with people there are two options and it is crucial that if you do less of one you have to do more of the other:

    a) are sufficiently honest that people have enough information soon enough to watch out for their own interests.
    b) you have to genuinely care about how things affect them and try hard not to have something bad happen, and take responsibility if it does.

    lowering one without changing the other is most of what hurts people.

    Anyway, enough moralizing for the day.
    I had a "good grief i'm sick and twisted"-moment today when i arrived at the math dept. and the building was covered in chalk rememberences of a person who killed himself last year today and my first thought was "if it weren't for jerks like you i could still go out on the balcony!"

    11 March 2003

    I also just sent you guys some shuttle pictures that were forwarded to my mom. I would have posted them somewhere if I knew how. It looks so much like scenes from a movie that I'm tempted to try to find out what movie they could be taken from...I'm still of the opinion that they're real, though.
    Almea informed me that she remembers where she was when she heard Princess Di died -- she was on a run with me in high school. Apparently it took about a mile for me to convince her that I wasn't making it up. For my part, I had forgotten this incident. I don't know whether I'm less proud of the former or the latter...
    These Zagat outtakes are quite funny... So Alec, what's the best line you've wanted to use which wouldn't be really fit to print in a movie review?
    Oddly enough, I saw The Italian Job last Thursday with Bessie and a bunch of random Harvard people. It was a pretty painful experience...the movie just begged for the MST3K treatment, but it appeared no one in the audience had that sort of sense of humour. So we just sat there in stony silence. I'm a bit apprehensive about this alleged remake.
    While browsing memorable quotes on imdb.com, I stumbled across this verbatim transcript from this week's UN proceedings, courtesy of The Empire Strikes Back:

    Lando Calrissian: Lord Vader, what about Leia and the Wookie?
    Darth Vader: They must never again leave this city.
    Lando Calrissian: That was never a condition of our agreement, nor was giving Han to this bounty hunter!
    Darth Vader: Perhaps you think you're being treated unfairly?
    Lando Calrissian: No.
    Darth Vader: Good, because it would be unfortunate if I had to leave a garrison here.
    Lando Calrissian: (to himself) This deal is getting worse all the time.
    According to imdb.com, the London Daily Telegraph just conducted a poll to name the best movie line of all time. The winner is a surprising one, from the heist comedyThe Italian Job, spoken by Michael Caine to a bumbling criminal who has just blown up a truck: "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" I'm sure it's much funnier in context. (Note that audiences will soon be able to thrill to Edward Norton and Mark Wahlberg in the upcoming remake.)

    The runner-up is probably the most famous movie line of them all: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

    I was going to post my own choices, but you know...it's really the actor and the situation, even more than the words, that makes a line great. I realized this after noticing that most of the lines that intially came to mind were spoken by Sean Connery. (My favorites from his oeuvre: "I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne." And: "Isn't that just like a wop? Brings a knife to a gunfight.") Anyway, I'll keep thinking, and maybe later today I'll post my real choice for the best movie line, ever.
    I remember where I was when I heard that Deng Xiaoping died, not because I have any particular attachment to Deng Xiaoping, but because I was sitting in my school's lobby discussing Mozambique with a friend (goodness knows why), and someone told us Deng had died, and my friend said to me, "Now you'll always remember that you were discussing Mozambique with Chris McKimm when you heard Deng Xiaoping died."

    So now Deng Xiapoing and Mozambique, two entities which have little in common other than both being high-scoring Scrabble words (if they were legal), are inextricably linked in my mind.
    Saw Les Mis for the first time last night, with my sister in London's West End. Quite a good show (though the rotating stage made me dizzy at times). However, I had somehow been led to believe that little Cosette is the star of the show, when in fact she's only in two scenes.

    10 March 2003

    Hmmmm...I remember where I was when I heard that Gene Siskel had died. (In Annenberg Hall, with you guys. That was a real shock. You can tell that I'm a born film critic.)
    So I was reading this ESPN article on the most shocking moments in basketball history. Number one was Magic Johnson's announcement that he was retiring because he had HIV. The writer says: "People were saying they'd remember forever where they were when they heard the news. Just like people did when they heard about JFK." And I realized I do remember the moment when I heard this news. I was playing hockey that year and for some reason I went to this shop in Lancaster to buy some equipment (maybe I was shopping for rollerblades for the summer, which I ended up not getting? I dunno, it wasn't the place I got my skates), and it was on the radio in the shop. There aren't many national events I remember this way, and this was one of them.

    I guess hearing the Bill Berry left REM doesn't count as one of these events, although I do remember that too.
    From imdb.com:

    "Under the headline, "Diana said to be in good spirits," The Sydney (Australia) Daily Telegraph reported today (Monday) on the weekend U.S. pay-TV show in which British mediums Craig and Jane Hamilton-Parker claimed to have contacted Princess Diana from beyond the grave. The show is due to be shown in Britain tonight, but the live seance, conducted in the presence of Dodi Fayed's father and biographer Andrew Morton, was deleted because of British regulations prohibiting the airing of seances and exorcisms except as part of a news investigation."

    I know that BBC News sometimes uses unconventional sources, but this is ridiculous...
    Noah, I'd be curious to hear about the cool single girls in your life, or at least about the show that you're doing. As for me, my universe of dating prospects seems to have narrowed considerably over the past few months: Rachel has gone back to Connecticut to take care of her father, and I seem to have made a few tactical miscalculations with the girl who shall be known, in the pages of this blog, only as Robo-Prospect. (She acquired this nickname through no fault of her own. It was an inspiration of Haiwen's, in response to the following exchange: "Did you call _________?" "No, I just got her machine.")
    Speaking of Fark, I've just realized that the "not safe for work" tag actually means something these days, which is a frightening thought.
    And no, I didn't actually see Talk to Her on a first date. (I actually saw it by myself; Haiwen and John were away for the weekend, and Tamara was off at her brother's wedding.) However, it did make me think of various ill-advised first movie dates I've had in the past, notably the famous Eyes Wide Shut debacle, when my date walked out halfway through, and came back only because she had to give me a ride home.
    I'm so embarrassed. I was completely taken in by this site, to the point where I was about to post a very long and outraged rant to this blog, and actually sent an e-mail to Roger Ebert alerting him to this travesty. Needless to say, it's a parody, albeit a rather brilliant one. My only defense is that the page I originally happened to stumble across (after doing a Google search for "Lawrence of Arabia + IMAX") seems much less absurd than other pages on the site, if only because there really is an IMAX release of Lawrence of Arabia being prepared as we speak. (I don't know whether it will be edited or reformatted at all, and haven't found any real information about it online.)

    This all comes up because I finally bought Lawrence of Arabia on DVD this weekend, only to find that it was sadly diminished on the small screen. (I'd seen it twice before in theaters, once at the dear departed UC Theater in Berkeley, and again last summer at the Ziegfield in New York.) It's still the greatest widescreen epic ever to come out of Hollywood, but it isn't the same on television; I find that I tend to play it like a CD, letting Maurice Jarre's wonderful score and the occasional pleasures of Peter O'Toole's performance linger in the background of the room. Which brings me to my point: if Lawrence of Arabia ever returns to theaters in our lifetime, and I think it probably will, see it. It's an experience that every thinking and feeling person should have at least once. Whether this upcoming IMAX release will qualify or not remains to be seen, but I'll let you know if I hear anything more about it.