31 December 2004

In an effort to avoid last year's fiasco in which we got trashed at John's apartment and had to call the paramedics, this year we're going out to eat and attending a party at an art gallery in SoMa. Many of John's and Nathan's friends are going; according to Nathan, we're "rolling twenty deep."
Going through a box of old stuff at my dad's house, I discovered an envelope that contained several unspent gift certificates given to me as presents -- twelve years ago for my Bar Mitzvah. One was to a B. Dalton bookstores. When I called and asked if I could redeem a gift certificate dated 1992, they said not only was it still good, but I could also use it at Barnes & Noble. With my unexpected $35, I bought Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas?, a book which has been mentioned as the "must-read political book of the year" on several different web sites. I'm halfway through, and my reaction so far is that instead of making me angry, like Al Franken's book did, this book just makes me sad.
Over the past few days, I've had to make dozens of phone calls across the country, and you know something? People from red states are much nicer on the phone.
I may not have much of a New Year's Eve, unfortunately, since I'll be working tonight until all hours. Not that my plans were especially exciting. I was either going to see The Aviator, or try to pick up girls at Barnes & Noble. (I figure that anyone at Barnes & Noble on New Year's Eve has to be bookish and desperate, right?)

To be honest, my attempts to recast myself as a sexual predator have not been especially successful. If they had, this blog would be a lot more interesting.

30 December 2004

I'm really looking forward to getting back to Berkeley, where I can go out somewhere and my group won't be the only 4 people between the ages of 19 and 25, and where I won't come back smelling like foul smoke.

And that's not even discussing the weather.
It's Thursday night. Bored Farmgirl and Mr. Chu, where are you?
The tsunamis have added two points to the Rapture Index, which now stands at 155.

28 December 2004

The other day I discovered that my brother AJ has 199 buddies on his IM buddy list. There are about a dozen different categories (from "worldview peeps" to "theatre girls" to "homeschool guys"). I asked them who a few random ones were and would get answers like "Oh, I met her at a party once and she gave me her email and IM."

At Christmas Eve service (I eventually decided to compromise and go to that service to say hi to the people I wanted to see and to skip Sunday services) AJ was dressed up, with nice black shoes and pants, a nice blue shirt with the top button unbuttoned to show his small gold chain, and a black sports jacket (and, of course, with his trademark long braids). I made some remark about him being all dressed up and he says "I gotta make my entrance. How do you think I got 199 buddies? I dressed well."

Later I was amused that his standard greating instead of a handshake or a hug is a little shoulder tap and he responded that "I have to move on quick, lots of people to see."

Man, I gotta learn from this kid.
Here's a life imitates the onion headline: Tsunamis Shatter Celebrity Vacations.
Garden State, which has become, somewhat unexpectedly, my favorite movie from this past year, is out on DVD today. We live in a beautiful world...
Susan Sontag, whom we've namechecked on this blog a couple of times, died today at age 71. I always had mixed feelings about Sontag: On Photography is a great, dense source of ideas, an important resource for more than one of my short stories and would-be novels, but on the whole, Sontag always seemed like a creation of her publisher, FSG, and her books never quite lived up to her smarts (or dust jacket photos). Of all the recent public intellectuals in America—Mailer, Vidal, West—Sontag's books will, I would guess, have the shortest shelf life. Still, it couldn't have been easy for her to stay so smart, so cool, and so articulate for so long. I hope I do half as well.

24 December 2004

I love Roger Ebert's review of The Life Aquatic: "I can't recommend it, but I would not for one second discourage you from seeing it." That's a line that only a great critic could write.
Chow Yun-Fat will star in the upcoming sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean as a Chinese pirate. (Does this mean that he sells illegal DVDs of the first movie?)

23 December 2004

The high today was -1 and I don't have a car, so I've been dealing with a lot of family. I'm ready to go back to California any time now, thank you.
Yassir Arafat was apparently a minority investor in this trendy bowling alley in Greenwich Village, the posh spot of choice for ironic bowling in New York. (Even I've been known to toss a game there.) Very weird. But at least the Post got a great headline out of the deal.
Like Noah, I've been frequenting the iTunes music store, sometimes for shame purchases (as noted below), but also, increasingly, to lurk in the iMixes section, a fascinating feature that allows iTunes users to post their own mixes for mutual downloading and critique. The most popular iMixes seem to be the ones that serve some useful function, such as those that compile otherwise unavailable movie soundtracks. On that principle, I've only uploaded two of my own mixes so far: Urgh! A Music War, which collects some songs from the brilliant 1981 concert film of the same name, and Closer, my attempt at a relatively complete soundtrack to this fascinating movie, which oddly enough isn't commercially available. (And yes, I included Suzanne Vega's "Caramel.")

Music store users can rate iMixes on a one- to five-star scale, and there's a separate section for the top-rated and most popular mixes. Out of curiosity, I downloaded one extensive and highly recommended list entitled "I Heart Death Cab for Cutie," and it's pretty great, with a bunch of songs that I'll no doubt cannibalize for my own mixes in the coming year. (High points include "Not for All the Love in the World" by The Thrills, "I Don't Believe You" by The Magnetic Fields, and "If She Wants Me" by Belle & Sebastian.) If you ever have the chance to download it, it's well worth the forty bucks.

22 December 2004

It seems that the talent pool in Hollywood is so deep, and the obstacles to succeeding there so formidable, that we often have actors of unusual talent and beauty essentially playing corpses. This year, by any measure, the two breakout success stories have been Peter Saarsgard, who was so good in Kinsey and Garden State, and, wow, Emmy Rossum, who even makes the trailer of The Phantom of the Opera halfway bearable. Well, Saarsgard got his start playing a dead body in Dead Man Walking, and Rossum played most of her most famous role immobile, as the dead daughter in Mystic River. And there are probably better examples that aren't coming to mind. Which suggests that a smart casting agent should be working to sign the next big star by scouting the morgue on CSI.

19 December 2004

Today's New York Times magazine features an eerily apropos article entitled "Your Blog or Mine?", which considers the newfangled romantic complexities that arise when bloggers date other bloggers. Can it be done?
While we're on the subject of parties and social quirks, I'd like to ask all of you for a bit of advice.

Every month or two I find myself at a party in the following situation. I've had a long and enjoyable conversation with a girl I've just met and whose company I've enjoyed. She's clearly enjoyed talking with me (as opposed to wandering around the party bored), but, by my read of the situation, she feels no particular need to go out of her way to talk to me again (though she'd enjoy talking to me if we were stuck at a party again). What do I do?

On the one hand, if I don't ask for a girl's number after talking to her for an hour when I've enjoyed her company, then when am I ever going to ask for anyone's number?

On the other hand, what's the point when I'm reasonably confident she's not particularly interested in me. This makes me feel silly trying, and it makes me feel unliked when I eventually call and find out that she isn't interested in me.

I think the compromise I've settled down into is that about 2/3 times I don't ask, and then I can just enjoy having had a good night and feel liked (since I met and enjoyed the company of a stranger) and not unliked (since I wasn't actually rejected); and then maybe 1/3 times I ask for her number just so that I won't go a year without at least making an attempt to meet women. But this seems like a dumb compromise.

So, any advice?

(On the good side, I can now show up at parties where I know almost no one and have a lovely time. This is a wonderful feature found only in the most recent version of Noah (v. 5.1).)

18 December 2004

Just got back from an amusing party at Albert's amazing apartment on the Upper East Side. I did commit what seems to have been, in retrospect, a social faux pas. Things are going well; I'm mingling capably among old friends and new, even coming off as halfway charming...when, in response to a random question from a circle of strangers, drink in hand, I overhear myself launching into the Tom Cruise Speech. You know: the one where I insist that Tom Cruise is the most underrated actor in Hollywood, a fascinating figure with a brilliant career, etc., etc. Everyone slowly backs away....

17 December 2004

Oh, and the whole Julie Andrews thing? Inspired by the sparkling new fortieth anniversary DVD edition of Mary Poppins, which just came out on Tuesday, and the brand new West End mega-musical, which premiered earlier this week to rave reviews. It's still a great film, one that astonishes me every time I see it: with Mary Poppins alone, the Walt Disney company almost makes up for all the evil.
I can't defend Beyond the Sea. I really can't. But you haven't lived until you've seen Kevin Spacey dance.
Last one, I promise. This one is from the Village Voice:
A bizarrely misshapen shrine erected in memory of semi-forgotten crooner Bobby Darin, Beyond the Sea may be the worst biopic of the season. But it's also the most fascinating—for reasons that have less to do with Darin, the rags-to-riches lounge lizard who had lifelong heart problems due to childhood rheumatic fever, than with the film's writer-director-producer-star, Kevin Spacey. Drowning in accidental subtext, it's both queasy psychodrama and earnest ego trip, a stunt so bravely defiant of commonsense realism that it borders on the avant-garde....

It's a curious in-joke that boomerangs on Spacey, who has long sought to quash speculations about his sexuality; a queer film scholar with time to kill may one day make the case for this display of camp exhibitionism as an unconscious coming-out movie.
Drew, are you reading this? Want to catch the 7:40 show at Lincoln Square?
There's a kind of negative movie review that makes me want to see a movie much more desperately than a rave review ever could. Beyond the Sea is a good example. The New York Times writes:
The movie's a mess, and at 45, Mr. Spacey is far too old to play Bobby Darin. Yet the star captures his desperation, his braggadocio, and yes, his magnetism. As a hoofer, the actor isn't very limber, but his vocal impersonation of Darin goes beyond imitation. In the same way that Hugh Jackman portraying Peter Allen on the stage became the ur-Peter Allen, Mr. Spacey does Darin better than Darin...Many movies are hyperbolically touted as labors of love. But Beyond the Sea, with all its gaping faults, is the genuine article. It succeeds in being deeply and sincerely insincere.
Even better, from Newsday:
The good news is this: When a movie is described as bad, the question often is "But is it so bad it's good?" In the case of Beyond the Sea, yes. It's a car wreck, a sideshow. You simply have to watch, there are so many things going so terribly, terribly wrong.
How could anyone resist that? The thought of Kevin Spacey moving smugly through his own vanity project, doing arch karaoke verisons of "Splish Splash" and "Mack the Knife" while the movie self-destructs around him...That's the sort of movie I dream about. I could eat that with a spoon.

15 December 2004

So I snuck out to see Million Dollar Baby. This is a sad, mostly wonderful movie. See it alone, if you can. When you see a movie with someone else, there's a tendency to commit yourself to an opinion too soon after leaving the theater, and this is a movie that deserves at least a few untroubled hours to resolve itself in your imagination. Otherwise, there's not much more I want to say. One hint at what to expect: this is the sort of story that Lars von Trier would have enjoyed...although it certainly isn't a movie that von Trier would have made. When you see it, you'll know what I mean.
With today's release of Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, the Oscar race just got a whole lot more interesting. As Roger Ebert puts it: "What happened was, Eastwood showed it to Warner Bros., which had no plans for an Oscar campaign until studio executives realized they had an amazing movie on their hands. The first press screenings were held only two weeks ago, and word began to spread: Tear up your Oscar predictions and start over again." Sample ecstatic reviews can be found here and here. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I'm very encouraged. When was the last time we were surprised by an American masterpiece?
I think I'm in love with Julie Andrews, circa 1965. What can I do?

13 December 2004

Ah, the rooster battles are here again, and this time they're getting national attention. Every year we fight over cockfighting in the state legislature, and there are busloads of cockfighting supporters who show up to lobby legislators. No one has a clue where they come from, but they are surprisingly well organized for people who are used to staying way out of the spotlight.

09 December 2004

Just saw Closer. It's nowhere near perfect and vaguely miscast, but a better cast would have been far less interesting than this one, which allows us to watch the four most beautiful people in the world work through abysses of sexual jealousy that would be completely unbearable if the surfaces weren't so seductive. (Reminds me a bit of Eyes Wide Shut.) Like it or not, this movie got under my skin: I left feeling very sad, for those beautiful people, for me, for everyone. When it was over, I left the theater, took the train back to Brooklyn and walked home in the rain, even though I had an umbrella. It's that kind of movie. (Beautiful apartments, though.)
I've started buying albums on iTunes. I think this is a dangerous precedent. In the last month I bought "Pet Sounds" (brilliant, though I'm worried that after just 2 years in California I already like the Beach Boys), the new U2 album (starts out with two songs I really like, and then is mediocre; the last album started with 5 songs I liked and then was mediocre; I wonder how they know which songs I like to put them at the beginning), and yesterday I finally bought Jason Robert Brown's Parade. JRB is my current favorite writer of musicals, Songs for a New World is great, and The Last Five Years is my favorite musical (narrowly edging out Into the Woods). Parade is his best known piece of work, but somehow it took me this long to get around to listening to it. It's the story of the trial of one Leo Frank. It's a lot bigger and less intimate than his other musicals, but the music is excellent. I'll never like it as much as his other musicals, but I'll still recommend it.
The Chicago Bulls have been absolutely terrible for half a dozen years now. But it just hit me (while reading an article on a recent Knick's game and the development of Crawford) that they've traded away an awful lot of good players. As far as I can tell if they'd sat pretty they could have had the following lineup:

Center = Brad Miller
Power Forward = Elton Brand
Small Forward = Ron Artest
Shooting Guard = Jamal Crawford
Point Guard = Kirk Hinrich

That looks like a good lineup to me. Just goes to show what happens when you give a team to management who thinks that Elton Brand for an untested teenager is a good trade.
By the way, I'll be in New York City roughly between friday january 7 and the next monday or tuesday at which point I'll head to boston until monday the 17th. I'd love to see any of our faithful readers living in or near either of those cities.
I just got back from The Incredibles, which was delightful as expected. I think I spotted a cameo by the guy from the chess short. My only major complaint was the inelegance of Violet having two superpowers instead of one.

I was suprised by the credits at the end of the film which began: "Written and Directed by Brad Bird." I just double checked on IMDB and this is the first of Pixar's films which has a single writer/director credit. All the others have at least two writers and at least two directors listed. I wonder why the change?

I watched Shrek 2 over thanksgiving and both of these films had surprising desplays of healthy sexuality. Couples who weren't just "in love," but also were clearly pretty hot for each other. Not sure what to make of this, but it's an odd trend in cartoons.

08 December 2004

Okay...so the Clay Aiken holiday special sort of sucked. I stand by my previous statements, however.
For reasons known only to myself, the other night, I downloaded a copy of Clay Aiken's holiday album from the iTunes music store. (The iTunes store is great for shame purchases: I also owe my copy of Justified to their anonymous services.) Aiken's album doesn't really stand up to repeat listenings—this ain't Abbey Road—but for Christmas schmaltz, it's pretty good.

My fascination with Clay Aiken, as I tried to explain to a friend recently, stems from the fact that he seems to have taken the shortest road in history from superstar to laughingstock, with nary a stop at legitimacy in between. I plan to be among the first on the Clay Aiken ironic bandwagon. Anyone care to join me?
Today's featured article on Wikipedia is about the Bishojo game, "a type of Japanese video game centered around interactions with attractive anime-style girls." It's pretty fascinating. Lots of interesting terminology, too, like MoƩ ("a term used to describe a genre of works featuring a 'ideally' cute girl, or the cuteness itself") and Meganekko ("a character wearing a pair of glasses who turns out to be quite beautiful once they are removed").

Of all the games listed here, my favorite would have to be Sister Princess, which is described as follows: "If you suddenly become to have twelve sisters, what do you think? More over, they are so pretty, sweet, charming...and loving you so much!" (Be sure to visit the meet the sisters page, too.)

07 December 2004

Speaking of cool inventions, here's one you definitely shouldn't try to use at a party. These guys just got a story about them on NPR, so I'm guessing that they're about to make a lot of money.

05 December 2004

Just rode a Segway for the first time. It was pretty cool. I was terrible at controlling the damned thing, although this may have had something to do with the martini and glass of champagne I'd consumed immediately prior to climbing aboard. This, you realize, is why the Roman empire fell.
It's December, so the diamond people are out in force to try and tug on your heartstrings with their brilliant (no pun intended) commercial blitz. Here's the straight dope on the history of De Beers, the biggest diamond company and the inventor of the international diamond racket. But if I'm not mistaken, I haven't seen a single De Beers commercial this year. This fascinating Economist article about De Beers's current challenges may explain why: they need to contain costs in the face of new competition. Fortunately for the cartel, jewelry stores seem to be picking up the slack. If anyone spots a De Beers commercial ("diamonds are forever"), let me know...I can't get enough diamond intrigue.

04 December 2004

My favorite line from the Wikipedia article on Alfred Kinsey is the story that he "once gave himself an unanesthesized circumcision." Which reminds me of a punchline from an old Warner Bros. cartoon: "Yeah, but I can only do it once."
Having finally seen Kinsey, I have a theory about why biopics, despite their occasional awkwardness, continue to be made and watched: they're the only movies that are allowed to treat marriage as a serious topic. Kinsey contains one of the most interesting portaits of a marriage I've ever seen in a movie, covering many years and including numerous wrong turns, misunderstandings, unintentional cruelties, but also the triumphs of a strong and convincing lifetime partnership. The biopic is just about the only genre structured to tell the story of a marriage from beginning to end, I guess. Here's an interesting thought experiment: can you name five good American movies, not biopics, that treat the story of a marriage in an interesting way? Here's one: The Incredibles. Others?

03 December 2004

Speaking of the top pop songs of all time, I've finally updated my version of iTunes to a version that tells me how many times I've played a particular song on my iPod. I'm not sure how far back the rankings go, but the results are pretty surprising. Way, way ahead of any other song is "Dry the Rain" by The Beta Band, at an amazing 250 listens. The rest of the top five: "You Were Right" by Badly Drawn Boy (180), "Caring is Creepy" by The Shins (160, and that's only since I got the Garden State soundtrack), "Left and Leaving" by The Weakerthans (112), and "I'm Not Sorry" by Morrissey (106). In ten years, I'll probably find that list fascinating or disturbing, or both.

Great songs, though.

02 December 2004

Rolling Stone has put out yet another list of the top pop songs of all time. Didn't they just do this a couple of years ago? Oh, wait—that was during my junior year of college. It has been a long time, hasn't it?

Anyway, such lists are obviously supposed to inspire indignation and rampant second-guessing, so I'll toss a couple out to get things started: are there really 162 songs that are better than "Bohemian Rhapsody?" And where's "Careless Whisper?"

30 November 2004

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban apparently plans to start a hedge fund run by professional gamblers who would bet on sporting events. His blog entry about this is rather interesting.

29 November 2004

Obviously I'm not as tapped into global pop culture as I'd like to think, because until recently, I wasn't aware of Aishwarya Rai. Wow.

24 November 2004

Today's trivia question on imdb.com reads: "The Rocky Horror Picture Show and this film are traditionally shown to incoming Harvard University freshmen." Most of you can probably guess what this film is. But Rocky Horror? Did I miss a field trip on Freshmen Week?
Alexander is getting terrible reviews, which, combined with the debacle of Troy, makes me doubt that I'll ever get my adaptation of Xenophon's Anabasis off the ground. Eheu!

23 November 2004

FAO Schwarz will finally be reopening on Thanksgiving Day. My favorite detail from this article is that the store will offer $50,000 and $100,000 gift cards, each of which come with a free Vespa.

22 November 2004

Apparently a group of Greek lawyers is threatening to sue Oliver Stone and Warner Bros. over their depiction of Alexander the Great as bisexual. "We are not saying that we are against gays," one of the lawyers tells The Guardian. "But we are saying that the production company should make it clear that the film is pure fiction and not a true depiction of the life of Alexander."

Hmmm. Maybe I should get a bunch of outraged classicists to sue the makers of Troy. Any takers?
Obviously, I should have said that Brad Bird "is the closest thing to a genius auteur working in American animation these days." I wouldn't want to be accused of forgetting this fellow.

21 November 2004

I saw Sideways the other day. Afterwards one of my friends noted that it was strikingly similar to Swingers. Although I hadn't noticed it myself, the more I think about it the more right I think he is.

In other news, this guy is on my fantasy basketball team...
Having finally seen The Incredibles, one is left with the question of why Pixar hits home runs so much more consistently than the rest of the major studios. Easy. Just make one movie every eighteen months rather than twenty movies a year, and make that one movie count. Could there be a lesson here for the rest of Hollywood? Eh, maybe. The economics of the movie business probably make it impossible for Fox or Paramount to be quite as selective as Pixar: they'll never get to the point where they can choose to swing at nothing but potential home runs, but they could certainly improve their on-base percentage. (Can you tell that I've read Moneyball recently?)

In terms of wit, invention, and excitement, The Incredibles stands near the top of any list of the best movies released this year. On balance, however, I'd have to place it in the second tier of the great Pixar productions. Why? What sets Finding Nemo and the Toy Story films apart from the rest, along with their other virtues, is that, miraculously, they don't need to resort to villains to tell an exciting story. There aren't any bad guys in Finding Nemo or Toy Story; at worst, there are a couple of snot-nosed kids (or adults) who exist on so remote a plane from the other characters that they become equivalent to forces of nature. Yet those films are able to generate an astonishing amount of conflict and excitement from the realistic interaction of flawed, interesting, and funny cartoon characters.

This isn't the case with A Bug's Life or Monsters Inc., which feature somewhat conventional bad guys scheming on the same level as the heroes themselves. And it certainly isn't the case with The Incredibles, which features, without exaggeration, the most hateful villain I've seen in any movie in a long, long time. (You'd have to go back to John Herzfeld's underrated 15 Minutes to find a villain that I disliked more. It's a combination, I think, of the villainous and the mediocre that aggravates me the most.) Don't get me wrong: the villain in The Incredibles is very funny and brilliantly handled. But if a relatively sophisticated viewer like me can react so intensely to a film like this, I can only wonder how a six year old might feel.

Again, though, a minor quibble about a great movie. (The Onion has a nifty interview with writer and director Brad Bird, who is the closest thing to a genius auteur working in animation these days.)

18 November 2004

No comments in the last 10 days...have our loyal readers stopped reading, or are we just no longer interesting?

17 November 2004

For shame. Apparently not even this year's paralympics were scandal-free. Some guy got an unfair advantage by using legs that were too long for his body.
How many beauty queens were in your class? Allison Porter '02 was crowned Miss Washington and competed in the Miss America pageant this year. I'd like to think that she succeeded because she had a really good math CA in one of her classes (maybe 21b?). Her talent? Boxing! Be sure to follow these links to some hilarious articles.

16 November 2004

Tarnation...wow. Hard to know where to begin here. For a movie that allegedly cost something like two hundred dollars to produce, it covers a lot of ground. It completes an American trilogy of messed-up family pictures that began with Crumb and continued with Capturing the Friedmans. But it's both less and more than a documentary. It reminds me of one of those avant-garde video installations at the Museum of Modern Art where a single television screen in a dark room displays grainy, disturbing images alternating with even more disturbing text. At a museum, you'd watch the video for about ten seconds and move on to the next atrocity. What would eighty minutes of it be like? At times, it's a little like watching a feature-length version of the video in The Ring.

But really, it isn't like that at all. I'm trying, inadequately, to describe one of the most uncanny, mysterious experiences I've had at the movies in a long time. Tarnation is often horrifying. It's often embarrassing, too, as the director keeps the camera running way, way, way beyond the audience's comfort level. But there are also moments that are like vindications of the video medium itself. Watching Tarnation, you might easily come to the conclusion that the movies were invented so that eleven-year-old Jonathan Caouette could hide in a darkened room with a headscarf and perform his eerie drag show as a battered Southern housewife. And the brief glimpses we get of his camp musical version of Blue Velvet are mind-blowing.

Anyway, Tarnation isn't a movie that I can recommend to everyone. It may be too twisted and personal to become the indie or queer movie classic that it truly deserves to be. But if you're in New York and curious about where cinema might be headed in the next decade, or just want to know more about what it might be like to grow up gay in a red state, you need to make a trip to the Film Forum.

11 November 2004

Sorry I've been gone for a while. Thanks to all of you for getting out the rants that need to be ranted about that election we had a little bit ago.

Just about everything that can be said about the election has been said, I think, although someday I'd love to write some grand sociological study about fear, religion, and suburbia, but I haven't gotten to it yet.

One more thing to be upset about: Greg Palast, the man who broke all the gory details of the 2000 Florida debacle, is now running around making totally unsubstantiated claims about fraud in my backyard. I and a number of friends and colleagues have worked very hard to make sure that New Mexico had a clean election. While we've been slow about counting our provisional ballots, we've been clean. The only person who thinks otherwise is Greg Palast. Here's one egregious example of his shoddy journalism: he acts surprised when Chaves County goes 68% Republican, and he doesn't even bother to check and see that they voted by the same proportion 4 years ago. Either his cynicism has eclipsed his inquiring journalistic eye, or he's just a muckraker.
Last night I watched Citizen Kane for the first time in a couple of years, and was struck by two things:

1. I'm basically the same age now as Orson Welles was when he made this movie. Shit.

2. In one famous scene, the Inquirer is trying to decide between two headlines for its morning edition: Kane Elected! or Fraud at Polls! You know something? That's actually pretty funny.

09 November 2004

Yesterday the math grad students got an e-mail about a job posting in the "Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences" at a university in Colombia. I like that distinction: all sciences that are natural are not exact, and all sciences that are exact are not natural. Mathematics, of course, is quite exact.
I was about to post a list of my favorite movie quotes from the past year, but I've realized that nothing can top Paul Giamatti's pronunciation of the word "quaffable." Second place goes to Tom Cruise's deadpan "Yo, homies!" Beyond those two, nothing else really comes to mind, although I do have a soft spot for "Listen to this. This song will change your life."

08 November 2004

Something to be cheerful about:

My mother writes in the context of things about the election that suprised her:
"Then in church Sunday morning, Tim Alleman prayed for the many
people who were saddened and upset about the election results."

Maybe there's hope after all.
Well, UHS did it again. I fell ill with a fever ten days ago, and soon developed a deep cough as well. Last Monday I went to UHS, where the NP told me I probably had the flu, gave me some cough medecine, and said there was little I could do other than rest and drink fluids. When I didn't feel any better by Friday (same cough, same fever) I went back, a different NP checked me out, said it was almost certainly the flu, definitely not pneumonia, and gave me an inhaler to help me breathe. Three more days, no improvement. I went back today, they asked the same questions, I gave the same answers, but this time they decided to do a chest x-ray to see if there's anything in there. Sure enough, the doctor took one look at the x-ray and said "Look at all that fluid in there...you've definitely got pneumonia." So ten days and three visits later I finally have an antibiotic, and you might even see me out of the house in a couple of days.

At least I'm not pregnant.
Thanks to Bessie for this article on indie pop band The Postal Service, which ran into some trouble with the real U.S. Postal Service over copyright infringement. As part of the resulting deal, they've signed an agreement to try and persuade people in their teens and twenties that it's still cool to use snail mail. (You can also buy their CD on www.usps.com.) This isn't as ridiculous an arrangement as it might initially seem: the band has already been known to endorse the proper use of return addresses.

Incidentally, The Postal Service seems to have succeeded Moby and Outkast as this year's source of ubiquitous movie trailer music: their songs are used to great effect in the trailers for Imaginary Heroes and Garden State (the full trailer, mind you, not the famous teaser trailer that left Noah gobsmacked).
Now that Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze have divorced, my new favorite Hollywood couple is Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Saarsgard. They're just so adoraable and loveaable.

07 November 2004

Is Gary Hart really the best spokesperson the Democrats can come up with for faith in politics?

In some way the most frustrating thing for me in the past week, is that I feel like the evangelical church in america --my church-- has gone off the tracks. I think that right now they are dragging the name of Jesus through the sewer. And I want to fight the good fight. I want to get the church headed back in the right direction, believing what it should believe: justice for all mankind, love, respect for life (even arab life), caring for the poor. I want to tell the church to burn its idols: tax cuts, hatred, and, yes, the american flag.

But I can't. No one would listen to me, because I stopped believing years ago. I can't even pray that God will bring to this church --His church-- the prophet she so desperately needs, because I don't believe in God or in prayer.
Reasons to be cheerful, #6: Sideways. A wonderful, wonderful film. If there's any director who ought to make an annual movie for the next twenty years, it's Alexander Payne.

06 November 2004

The hits just keep on coming: if Rhenquist retires before the end of the year and Bush makes a recess appointment after Jan. 1, the justice will be able to sit on the court without confirmation until late 2006. I can envision an awful lot of bad decisions coming in two years. Hang in there, Stevens!
Today's funny Wikipedia article: Fred Tuttle
It was mentioned in the comments that the ammendment to the Alabama constitution removing the requirement for segregated schools and the requirement of a poll tax is headed for a recount and is likely to fail narrowly.

A little bit of investegation shows that those against the ammendment claim that they're worried that by removing the clause saying that explains that saying there will be segregated schools does not mean to imply that there will be any right to an education at all. Apparently people are worried that if there's a right to an education, then there might be a right to a decent education for everyone, which could lead to tax increases (to pay for underfunded, read black, schools).

In other alabama news, in looking all this up I ran accross the 2000 election's real doozy in alabama. The ammendment eliminating the anti-miscegenation portion of the constitution passed by a resounding vote of 60%-40%. In a state that is 75% white voters, that means that around half of white people in Alabama actually voted to get rid of anti-miscegenation. We're making progress!

Remember this the next time people tell you southerners aren't bigots, and don't hate blacks, gays, and muslims. I'm sure a lot of them aren't bigots, BUT HALF THE WHITE PEOPLE IN THE STATE OF ALABAMA ARE FOR ANTI-MISCEGENATION LAWS!

Oh yeah, here are some links on the anti-miscegenation business: the text of the ammendment and the results of the vote
Not just blindsided, sickened.

Somehow, growing up christian, i somehow had the naive idea that most of the evangelical christians in this country were christian because they love Jesus and love their fellow man. Apparently I was wrong. Apparently the most important thing is that Jesus hates fags too.

I thought that christians actually thought moral issues meant things like, oh, not killing random arabs as revenge just cause 10 of them crashed into the world trade center, or not letting the government take your children away just because one parent died. But, apparently I was wrong.

I, for one, do not intend to set foot in a church in a conservative church in this country for any reason for a long long time.

05 November 2004

Karl Rove is a fucking genius. This has probably occurred to some of you already, but this article makes such a good point that I feel compelled to repeat it here: while the Democrats were engaged in expensive and uncertain efforts to get out the vote, the Republicans managed to do the same thing at far less effort and cost by putting referendums on gay marriage on the ballot in eleven states, which guaranteed a massive turnout from evangelical Christians. Evangelical Christians showed up to vote against gay marriage, but they stayed to vote for Bush. And that's how he won Ohio. The referendums themselves will be challenged and probably defeated in the courts, but in terms of motivating the voters who were needed to re-elect the president, they succeeded brilliantly.

As Noah notes below, other factors, such as the "security moms" turnout, were certainly involved. Still, the gay marriage issue was a component of Rove's explicit turnout strategy that unambiguously had a tremendous impact on the election, and I think that most Democrats were blindsided by how well it worked. I sure as hell was.

04 November 2004

Reasons to be cheerful, #5: Tom Wolfe's new novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, will be released next Tuesday, and it looks pretty great.
Reasons to be cheerful, #4: Drew is currently writing a polemical, rage-filled Asian-American novel called Jaundice, available online, at the rate of 2,000 words a day. Apparently one half of a composite character will be based on me.
Day 6: Supplies are dwindling, and so is morale. The rescuers say it'll be at least another day until they can set us free, and probably closer to three -- not much comfort. We were airlifted in a supply of DVDs yesterday afternoon: Ben-Hur, Titanic, and Diamonds are Forever. I had vowed never to watch Titanic, but at this point my defenses are so weakened that resistance may be futile. And Ben-Hur is four hours long -- far too long for my current stamina. Not the choicest selections. Meanwhile, I can only sit here in these ever-unchanging surroundings and dream of returning to civilization.
Reasons to be cheerful, #3: According to the Associated Press, Ashcroft will probably resign soon.
Reasons to be cheerful, #2: This picture of Peter O'Toole, Jason Patric, and Roger Ebert, which I think I'm going to clip and put in my wallet.
Reasons to be cheerful, #1: Badly Drawn Boy is coming to a theater near you.

03 November 2004

Quick bit of research I just did: if the 2000 electoral votes are assigned proportionally in each state, the tally is Gore 258, Bush 262, Nader 7, with 11 unassigned because of rounding. 262 isn't a majority (even of the reduced number), so the election goes to the House, where (presumably) Bush wins. If the votes are assigned with 2 to the overall winner in each state and the rest divided proportionally, then Bush's ability to win the small states makes it Gore 251, Bush 271, Nader 5 -- another Bush win. So there's pretty much no way to maintain any semblance of the Electoral College and have Gore win, unless you count shooting Nader a week before the election. And the Electoral College will never disappear, because you need 34 states to pass an amendment and there are at least 16 states that are small enough to benefit from the disproportionate assignment of power (17 states alone with 5 or fewer EVs).

BTW, not to offend any regular readers of this blog, but I'm wondering why Florida always gets blamed for the Gore loss when Nader got 21,000 votes in New Hampshire, a state Bush won by 7,000, and which went for Kerry this time.
The third-party Senate candidate in Florida got twice as many votes as the difference between the Republican and the Democrat (guess who won). Does anyone know who he was siphoning votes from?
Maybe God is punishing us.

(It certainly feels like He (and it's definitely a He) is punishing me...I'm now approaching the end of my 5th consecutive day stuck in bed with the flu (or a virus that's doing a damn good job of impersonating the flu) and it's not getting any better.)
It may sound silly, but honestly, I only have one thing to say: Go Obama!
Have you ever wondered what would happen in this country if only women (and not men) were allowed to vote? Here's how the electoral college changed between Bush/Gore and Bush/Kerry between the two elections. (For the old numbers I'm going by the change in Bush's percentage. This screws up the Nader factor a bit, so take this with a grain of salt.)

Old numbers:

Bush Wins 154 electoral votes: AK, GA, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, MS, MT, NE, NC, ND, OK, SC, SD, TX, UT, WY
Gore Wins 366: AZ, CA, CT, DE, DC, FL, HA, IL, IA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OR, PA, RI, TN, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI
Too close to call 18:AL, AR, CO

So Gore wins the female electoral vote: 366-154 with 18 too close to call.

New numbers:

Bush Win: AL, AK, AZ, AR, CO, FL, GA, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, MO, MS, MT, NE, NC, ND, OK, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, WY, WV
Kerry Win: CA, CT, DE, DC, HA, IL, IA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, NV, NH, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, WA, WI
Too close to call:NM, OH, VA

So it'd be a cliff hanger. Bush at 236, Kerry at 264 with 38 electoral votes still up in the air.

That's where the election changed. From a Gore blowout among women, to a Bush/Kerry virtual tie among women.

Next interesting factoid:

According to the final data in Florida (for some reason they didn't ask this in Ohio), the Kerry people contacted 35% of voters and got a 65/35 victory there. The Bush people contacted 34% of voters and got 63/36 victory there.

This means that our groundgame was fine. We lost the election among the third of swing staters who were never contacted by either candidate.
It's somewhat depressing to realize that one can win an election in this country based soly on fear, lies, and hate.
Fact: New voters went Kerry 54-45.
Fact: Voter turnout was at a record high.
Fact: Bush gained more votes than Kerry.

Likely Conclusion: Bush got out voters who had voted before, but didn't vote in the last election.
Two comments on the election:

a) my final prediction turned out to be right in 49/50 states. I had bush in IO, NM, NV. I had Kerry in WI, NH... I even had bush in FL. I had bush in the popular vote. But i got the one important state wrong.

b) my prediction on the story of why bush won the election is that white married women don't read the news, they thought that saddam was behind 9/11 and they voted for bush but wouldn't admit it to pollsters. That explains why the exit polls were wrong and why the gender gap narrowed so much accross all states.

UPDATE: I tried to dig up the survey results on the gender gap and those who follow the news closely, and on the gender gap and being misinformed about Iraq (were there WMD, 9/11-Iraq connections, etc.). If I recall correctly they were two seperate surveys. The only thing I could find was just in minnesota, and there women were only about 5% worse than men on the 9/11-saddam connection, but in Minnessotta the gender gap was pretty good for Kerry. At any rate, until I can find the numbers on this prediction b) should just be taken as based on my own faulty memory.

01 November 2004

I've been sick in bed for the last three days, which prevented me doing anything useful like calling Minnesota or Ohio this weekend, and gave me lots of time to read the internet, which is for the most part a depressing exercise. A highlight: opinions from around the world about whether a Kerry win will make any difference.

Go Sox!
I just spent the weekend in Epping, New Hampshire, the alleged center of the universe, where I was treated to a walk in the woods (allegedly at risk of being shot by frustrated hunters) and a merry bonfire, which was indeed impressive, although I was less than impressed with the current state of bonfire-lighting technology: our initial efforts consisted of throwing some diluted varnish on a big pile o'wood, and holding a cigarette lighter to the whole mess. We then tried to ignite it with a plastic bag. Luckily, somebody came up with a bucket of crankcase oil, which got things blazing nicely.

It's nice to know that Epping actually exists. I may end up living there in a cabin in the woods, depending on what happens tomorrow...
One of my minor regrets from the past year was never seeing the supposedly amazing one man-show I Am My Own Wife on Broadway, despite working right across the street from the Lyceum Theater, where it played for many months. Too late now, unfortunately: they've just replaced it with Whoopi.
Apparently not even Peter O'Toole was altogether happy with Troy:
"Ugh, what a disaster. The director, that kraut, what a clown he was," O'Toole said at the Savannah film festival in Georgia. "When it was all over, I watched 15 minutes of the finished movie and then walked out."
Damn, I love that crazy limey.

28 October 2004

This was the year.

27 October 2004

How about that! I wish I were in Boston...oh wait, no I don't.
My two-cent political advice: polls no longer matter. While I've been visiting www.electoral-vote.com as much as anyone in recent weeks, it's my belief that field operations, not polls, will decide the election from this point forward, especially given the unreliability of the polls leading up to the 2000 election. And we really have no idea how effective the field operations are right now.

25 October 2004

For those who haven't heard about this yet, some mighty strange things have been happening on Pitcairn Island, home of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers.
Talking Points Memo, an excellent blog, has some great coverage of the 350 tons of explosives missing from Iraq. My favorite detail is the Bush campaign's stinging response to Kerry's attacks on this issue:
Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt issued the campaign's response: "John Kerry has no vision for fighting and winning the War on Terror, so he is basing his attacks on the headlines he wakes up to each day."

20 October 2004

Speaking of scary stuff, as of ten minutes ago, the FAO Schwarz website is finally live. For your shopping convenience, luxury gifts can be found here. (Remember, for every 3D Motion Simulator that you guys buy, I get another couple of bucks in my annual bonus. I hope.)

19 October 2004

Slate has an article on five possible ways that the upcoming election could end up in the Supreme Court, again. Scary stuff.
Forget all those sissy "Christian" mutual funds: the real challenge lies in starting hedge funds that are compliant with shariah, or Islamic law, which forbids riba ("usury") and gharar ("trading of risk"). Short selling, futures, and options are all prohibited. You can't use leverage, and you can't earn interest on your cash balances. Oh, and you can't invest in companies involved in the sale or distribution of alcohol, pork, gold, music, silver, tobacco and pornography, which also includes restaurants and motels that sell alcohol, casinos, movie theaters and financial services firms. Nonetheless, at least one shariah-compliant hedge fund has just been launched. It required the development, among other things, of a complicated but shariah-friendly way of selling short...which, I guess, is sort of like inventing a Sabbath-friendly light switch. Good stuff.

18 October 2004

Faithful readers will remember that I bought Netflix stock a couple of years ago at $7.00 and sold it shortly thereafter at $9.00, thereby missing out on an incredible run as the stock zoomed to $70 and above. Anyway, Netflix has been up and down since its peak, and, on rumors of a price war, it just plunged 41% to $10.30, not too far above where I originally sold it. I may be forgetting a stock split or two, so this probably isn't quite as catastrophic as it seems. Still, I'm better off sticking to index funds.
It struck me last night that my fondness for The Empire Strikes Back may be due to the fact that it was the number one movie in America on the day I was born. In other news, Mount St. Helens has been acting up again, which may explain why I've been so grumpy lately.

17 October 2004

I finally picked up a copy of the Star Wars trilogy on DVD, and I've got to say, The Empire Strikes Back is still a great movie. Wow. The others...not so much.

12 October 2004

I love wireless internet... It lets me liveblog while i sit here listening to Corrinne Crawford talk about why the Union is so wonderful in a stupid mandetory meeting... She's not using the microphone in a large auditorium and just talking loudly.

11 October 2004

The lovely Ex-Pegasus and I saw Morrissey this weekend at Radio City Music Hall, which was great fun. I love pop stars who cheerfully embrace all of the standard stage conventions of big stadium shows, but ironically. For example, we loved the twenty-foot-high letters reading "MORRISSEY" in flashing red lights that rose slowly up from the fog-shrouded stage, but only because they were set off by invisible quotation marks. The Pet Shop Boys have mastered a similar sort of pop star irony. There's lots of it in Urgh! A Music War. Bono hasn't quite figured it out yet.

My favorite moment was when Morrissey introduced one of his old hits with the words: "When this song came out, there was some controversy. Too depressing, people said. But what's so great about being happy, anyway?" Quick—which one of his songs did he mean?

10 October 2004

Yes, sadly, the Twins are out of the playoffs. This was going to be the year to beat the Yankees...The Twins have the best pitching staff in the league, including the Cy Young winner and another guy in the top five, they finally have a real cleanup hitter, and the Yankees have proven that they are very beatable. Last year they had Mussina, Pettite, Clemens, and Wells, all of whom struck fear into hitters' hearts; this year they have only Mussina.

Saturday's loss was not nearly as heartbreaking as Wednesday's. On Wendesday they battled back against Gordon and Rivera and actually took the lead in the 12th, only to blow it in the end. Saturday they went with the formula that had worked all year: Rincon in the 8th, Nathan in the 9th, and Rincon had a bad day. If Rincon hadn't done what he did this year the Twins would never have been in the playoffs. Also, he had pitched three hitless innings in the first two games, so there was no reason to suspect he would give up four runs. But it was the Yankees, and they always find a way.

This article sums up pretty well Minnesotans' attitude towards the series. I like the paragraph about the Twins fan who was 8 in 1987. But I watched it happen in '87, and I was at Game 7 in '91, and I do believe that someday the stars will align again and the Twins will be back in the World Series. And I will be waving my Homer Hanky the whole time.
One of the big sports questions of the weekend (besides the obvious question of why Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire is allergic to bringing in relief pitchers once the guy on the mound has allowed multiple baserunners) is whether Friday Night Lights would live up to the hype and become one of the great sports movies of all time.

The story itself is hard to top -- hardscrabble, undersized oil patch kids carry the hopes and dreams of their hard-luck town all the way to the state finals. I don't think it tops Hoosiers or Rocky, though, for a couple of reasons. First the coach -- Gary Gaines, played by Billy Bob Thornton -- is more of a soft-spoken, love-your-teammate kind of guy in the mold of John Wooden, and not a Vince Lombardi clone who spits out memorable quotes left and right. The great sports movies give you great quotes that can be posted on the locker room wall of every high school in America, and this movie doesn't measure up.

Second, you see too clearly the toll that football takes on the psyches of these players. You still want them to win, but you also see the absurdity of the whole town pinning its happiness on a band of 17 year-olds. The kids are told that the high point of their lives is playing football, and it will be downhill after that. And no one in town cares to keep that mania in check. It's fascinating, but you lose that romantic vision of the football that is necessary in the great sports movies.

Watch the movie; but watch it as a movie about Odessa, not about winning.
Great news for all those parents who think their kids should take after Fox News commentators: Bill O'Reilly has written a book for kids. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. I also wonder if O'Reilly goes into topics such as anger managment and fact checking, which aren't his strong suit.

07 October 2004

Tom Lehrer claims that when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, political satire became obsolete. The Onion seems to be next in line for obsolescence, now that the Associated Press is running headlines like this.

06 October 2004

To be honest, I was vaguely embarrassed by Edwards's performance last night. He responded to most of the questions with the same handful of talking points, and once he'd gone through each of his sound bites, instead of digging deeper, he'd just repeat them verbatim. As a result, compared to Cheney, he came across as coached and a bit superficial.

He won the debate, of course, but only by being right.
Cnn's graphic puppet sex article of the day:
Hollywood's film ratings board reached accord with producers Tuesday over how much puppet sex moviegoers under age 17 are allowed to see in an upcoming action-thriller spoof starring a cast of marionettes.

05 October 2004

More on surprsingly graphic puppet sex.
I hate to admit it... But I really like Cheney a lot more than Bush. The other day I was complaining about Bush's stupidity and incompetance and whatnot, and someone said "you just don't like him because you don't like his policies" and I had to say that it was definitely the other way around. I wouldn't mind his policies so much if he weren't such an idiot implementing them... Cheney was at least competantly and intellegently evil, and that at least gets some respect from me. I really hate stupid evil a lot more than competant evil (even though the latter is abstractly worse).
Remember the scary, headless dolls that my company bought a while ago? Well, they're b-a-a-a-ack....

Be sure to click through the personalize a doll section before you go. I'd like to hear your comments.

04 October 2004

Request for Nick Hornby fans: I'm trying to remember a quote from the book High Fidelity where Laura complains that Rob's mix tapes are too didactic (i.e., that he's always trying to educate her about obscure blues musicians, and not making tapes of stuff that she actually likes). If someone has a copy of the book, could you find this quote and post it? Thanks.

(This is for my Wikipedia article on the mix tape, which is growing truly enormous.)

02 October 2004

That's what Giants fans deserve. They've gone on plenty long enough with their steroid-induced wins, and they've never represented the division well in the playoffs (in marked contrast to Arizona).

Too bad St. Louis is about ten times better than everyone else at everything...otherwise this could be the Dodgers' year. On a side note, while I'll be the first to cheer if Adrian Beltre gets the MVP, my alternate team MVP candidate is Cesar Izturis, who I firmly believe is the driving force behind the team's success the past couple of years. He's turned into a fine leadoff hitter and he anchors the best defensive middle infield in the league. And most important, he's clutch.
It'a a bad weekend to be a baseball fan in the great state of Northern California.

01 October 2004

The oddest moment in last night's debate, which I haven't seen discussed anywhere, was an inexplicable insertion by Jim Lehrer after the candidates had given their views on "the single most serious threat to the national security of the United States." Kerry said, unequivocally, that it was nuclear proliferation; Bush tried to spin this as "weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network," and said that anti-proliferation was part of a "multiprong strategy" to make the country safer. Lehrer followed up with this:
Mr. Lehrer: Just for this one-minute discussion here, is it—just for whatever seconds it takes: so it's correct to say that if somebody's listening to this, that both of you agree—if you're re-elected, Mr. President, and if you are elected, the single most serious threat you believe—both of you believe is nuclear proliferation.

Mr. Bush: I do—in the hands of a terrorist enemy.

Mr. Kerry: Weapons of mass destruction, nuclear proliferation.
It looked to me like Lehrer was trying hard to get the candidates to say that their positions on nuclear proliferation—or at least on the seriousness of the threat—were identical. Certainly, a lot of viewers may have emerged with that impression. In fact, their answers were considerably different: Kerry said that fighting nuclear proliferation would be his number one priority; Bush that it was one of multiple "prongs" in the war on terror.

I'm not sure what Lehrer was trying to do here. Still, it bugs me, because this is an issue where there is, for once, a clear difference between the two candidates. It's also an issue that could single-handedly sway a lot of undecided voters. I'm especially sensitive about this, if only because I work about a hundred yards from where Seventh Avenue meets Broadway—an intersection which is used, for the sake of vividness, in almost every scenario of a nuclear bomb going off in the United States. (You can only read so many hypothetical case studies of a nuke going off in Grand Central Station before you start to take it personally.)

29 September 2004

In case any of our readers was planning to see the notorious failure Heaven's Gate during its revival next month at the Film Forum, I should warn you that I recently watched the entire four-hour version on DVD to see if this movie is, in fact, the neglected masterpiece that its defenders claim.

It's not.

28 September 2004

Two fortuitous misreadings:

1. The Beta Band, "Dry the Rain." Great song, of course. But is the fade-out chorus I will be all right, I will be all right, I will be all right, or I will be your light, I will be your light, I will be your light? According to their official, but unconfirmed, lyrics page, it's actually both. Personally, it seems to depend on my mood. I like the idea of lyrics that oscillate back and forth between two possibilities, depending on whether I'm feeling inward-looking and resigned, or outward-looking and radiant.

2. Doris Lessing, Prisons We Choose to Live Inside. Haven't read this book. Not sure I ever will. But when I saw this title at the Strand Bookstore recently, I misread it as Persons We Choose to Live Inside, and was flabbergasted. I don't think I've ever heard the existential approach to life expressed so well. You live your life in order to become the sort of person you'd actually choose to live inside. Certainly, I'm not quite there yet. But if anyone ever asks me what I hope to get out of life, I'll finally have an answer. Of a sort.

26 September 2004

Would anyone like to talk me out of going to law school?

24 September 2004

Many thanks to Angela for dragging me to a random screening at the Anthology Film Achives of Urgh! A Music War, which is far and away the best concert movie I've seen, and maybe the best time I've had at the movies all year. Cinematically, there isn't much to be said for it, but there doesn't need to be: it's a low-budget, scorchingly energetic record of thirty-odd (and I do mean odd) concerts by a grab-bag of punk, post-punk, and New Wave bands shot on three continents in 1981, and it's pure joy. For someone who was born twenty years too late, it contains revelation after revelation. You'll be completely transfixed by Toyah Wilcox or Oingo Boingo, say, and then whacked upside the head by a fucked-up brilliant set that makes Spinal Tap look cautious and conservative: Klaus Nomi's incredible tenor-mime drag, for example, or Gary Numan, who mutters catatonically into a microphone while driving a little sci-fi car around the stage. And The Police? Wow. You know, Sting used to be kind of cool once.

Urgh! is hard to find these days (there are copies selling on eBay for over $100), but it's worth prowling the Sundance Channel or your local video store to see if you can track this movie down. And if I send you a mix CD for Christmas leading off with "Enola Gay" by Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark, well, you'll know the reason why.

23 September 2004

Hey Nat, your team's going down. Cubs-Giants NLCS! Also, it's hard not to like the Cardinals.

Over on the other side, I'm pulling for the Twins to finish with a better record than Oakland, so they can get home-field advantage and play the Red Sox. Then when Oakland knocks off the Yankees, I can watch them in the second round!
Here's a good Page 2 column on why the U.S. doesn't do well in international team sports competitions. I don't think things are as simple as he suggests, but he has a point. We honor individual ability far above teamwork, so why should we be surprised when we put our best individual athletes in a difficult team setting?

22 September 2004

Somehow I ended up at a party last night with Howard Lederer and Annie Duke, and was able to watch them watch themselves on ESPN as Annie eliminated her brother Howard from competition and went on to win the $2 million Tournament of Champions at the World Series of Poker. (The show had been taped weeks ago, and both had been sworn to secrecy, although Annie's victory had been leaked to the press in the meantime.) Compelling stuff, even if the room was somewhat cowed by the proximity of so much poker talent: there was a poker table set up in the back of the room, but nobody much felt like playing in the presence of two poker gods, and since two of the participants were in the room, we couldn't even make smart comments about the ESPN telecast. (It reminds me of the time Nat found himself sitting behind this guy at a screening of Project Grizzly, and spent the entire screening afraid to laugh.) Annie's surprisingly hot for a 39-year-old mother of four, especially in person. (There's an intellectual pin-up.) Now she's famous, and with two more victories like this, she'll almost be rich enough to invest with a hedge fund.

18 September 2004

Apparently there are too many Chinese men. Or too few Chinese women. Either way, it's a problem.
The story behind Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is considerably more interesting than the movie itself, and if you haven't already heard how Kerry Conran turned a six-minute reel of handcrafted special effects into the best deal for a novice director since Citizen Kane, you need to read this article now. Sky Captain itself is a fascinating, cold, endlessly watchable movie that doesn't raise the pulse, but God, is it gorgeous. Watching it, I thought to myself, "If Orson Welles were alive today, just think of all the amazing movies he wouldn't be allowed to make!"

Seeing Sky Captain the day after I saw F.W. Murnau's Sunrise at the Film Forum was especially instructive. Sunrise is usually considered the greatest work of the silent era, and its experiments with camera movement, artificial sets, double exposures and special effects are the natural precursors to the digital revolution that movies like Sky Captain are just beginning to explore. If Sky Captain represents the future of movies, and I think it does, it's reassuring to know that the future, in this case, looks an awful lot like the past.

17 September 2004

Speaking of girls who know dead languages, one of Alec's former flames just popped up on the Cal Cycling team. She didn't recognize me. (The roster on the website is somewhat outdated.)

16 September 2004

Is math worth it? Evidently, Math 55ers are coveted by Google in a cryptic job advertisement. Be sure to listen to the audio, where if I'm not mistaken, Noah's former CA tells us that a precocious 6th grader can solve the problem. That's nice.
Maybe our faithful policy wonks and law students already know all about this, but the missing thirteenth amendment qualifies as the most interesting thing I've learned on Wikipedia all week.

15 September 2004

Clearly, our society is in need of a genuine intellectual pin-up. Although many regular readers of this blog would certainly qualify, after a cursory online search, I hereby nominate this young lady, a really cute Rhodes Scholar.
In response to the lone haranguer in the comments section who implies that my fondness for certain sex symbols undermines my stated preference for girls who know dead languages, I should point out that Natalie Portman apparently speaks fluent Hebrew and Japanese. It's not ancient Greek, but it's a start. Keira Knightley is dyslexic, so it isn't her fault. As for the Olsen twins, they still have time. (I don't think they've declared a major yet...)

It's true, moreover, that in my search for objects of romantic fantasy, I've been constrained by what society presents. If a young pin-up who was scary smart and versed in the classics were to appear on the scene, I'd be the first to post her picture on my dorm room wall, but I'm still waiting. At best, I'm forced to go dreamy over actresses whose eyes sometimes seem to shine with an intelligent gleam, even if I have no way of verifying this. (Scarlett Johannsen seems smart. Is she? What about Jessica Cutler?)

11 September 2004

Now that I'm living a stone's throw from UNM, I am hoping to take advantage of the big-time college sports scene that was pretty much absent at Harvard (except for the Yale game). I know, I know, a lot of people would dispute the idea that UNM sports are "big time;" our top sport is women's basketball. But the campus still mobilizes for football and basketball games, and for now I'm happy to be in the middle of it. That opinion will most likely change when drunken revelers throw up on my doorstep, but since that hasn't happened yet, go Lobos!

And yes, I'm one of those hypocritical snobs who thinks the University shouldn't sell out by lowering its academic standards for athletes yet who still attends games and cheers.

10 September 2004

Although it hasn’t been officially released yet, the new FAO Schwarz catalog has been circulating in my office for a few days, and has already received a fair amount of press. Items on sale include a $15,000 Mercedes for kids, a $10,000 jukebox, and La Petite Maison Custom Playhouse for "$30,000 and up." The last item, described as "the most luxurious playhouse in the world," features custom interior decoration, recessed lighting, bay windows, a working kitchen and media room, and a grand staircase. "When children are used to living well," the catalog says, "they should play like this."

09 September 2004

Given the number of policy wonks on this blog, not to mention all the admirers of scary Eurasian girls, I'm surprised that there hasn't been any discussion of Jessica Cutler, whose tell-all D.C. sex blog has become nationally notorious after about two weeks:
As for herself, [Jessica] tries to look on the bright side. "I was only blogging for, what, less than two weeks?" she says. "Some people with blogs are never going to get famous, and they've been doing it for, like, over a year. I feel bad for them."
And we've been doing this for, like, over two years. Clearly we haven't been having enough sex on the Beltway.

Of course, this scandal has been igniting the blogosphere for weeks now, and I'm not sure if love-shy Deadly Mantis has any particular insights here. I'm doubtful if anyone does, really: the Post article strains hard to put Jessica's story into the larger context of contemporary sexual mores, as if we needed some way to justify being titillated by this girl's adventures with handcuffs, threesomes, and sex for money. I've been trying to think of some kind of spin, but the best I can do is irresponsibly speculate that Jessica's background, with a father in the U.S. military and a Korean-born mother, might have made her especially susceptible to being imperialized. But you can probably do better than that.

07 September 2004

Judging from some recent news stories on War of the Worlds, a.k.a. the presumptive "movie of the decade," Paramount is already predicting that this movie (which, to remind everyone, hasn't even been cast yet) could gross $1.8 billion at the international box office, which would top Titanic to become the highest-grossing movie, in unadjusted dollar terms, in the history of cinema. This is the underlying assumption behind the entire project; otherwise, it won't even break even, although Tom Cruise will earn a lot of money. (Sounds like Passion envy to me.)

Admittedly, the project has a few points in its favor:

1. The most commercially successful director of all time.
2. The most commercially successful actor of all time.
3. The ultimate, most famous high-concept science fiction premise of all time, and arguably the best title.

Will it have the highest opening weekend gross in history? Yes. But the highest grossing movies of all time (Titanic, Star Wars, and E.T., to name a few) are always the ones that surprise you. Until this movie is more than just a massive item in Paramount's balance sheet, there's no earthly way of knowing how high it can go.
Finally saw Garden State this weekend. It's great to see Natalie Portman acting again.

Roger Ebert describes her character as "a local girl who is one of those creatures you sometimes find in the movies, a girl who is completely available, absolutely desirable and really likes you." Yeah.

Oddly enough, the soundtrack also features a cover of one of my top ten songs of all time, although probably not the same song that Noah mentioned.

06 September 2004

Now is as good a time as any to tell my thoughts about the U.S. and international basketball. I got an opportunity to watch the U.S. three times in person in Athens, which qualifies me as an expert (inasmuch as Bob Costas is an expert in anything).

The rest of the world is much, much better at basketball than I expected. Each of the top teams had several players who should be in the NBA but aren't. America has an edge over everyone in athleticism and ball handling, but that's it. The team we fielded was obviously worse in perimeter shooting than any other team that made it out of the prelims. But even without any pure shooters, we really didn't have trouble scoring after the Puerto Rico game. Our problem was defense. We didn't play the tight team defense that all good teams should play, and our rebounding was surprisingly weak for a team of our size and strength. I don't know why the rebounding was weak, but you can't expect AI to shut down a wing who's four inches taller than him, and to the best of my knowledge Steph Marbury has never shut down anybody. Larry Brown didn't have the opportunity to build a club -- he had to shift the guys he had around into the best team possible. They were pretty good by the end, but a lot worse than they should have been.

So what's the solution? The NBA champs would have been a better team than the guys we put out there (although I doubted that would be the case). The problem is, with more and more international players coming into the NBA, and with free agency, it's almost impossible to guarantee that you'll have an intact squad for international play over the summer. Plus, I doubt the players union would ever allow it to happen (the summer is the only time off for players, and the union would probably fight any effort to make playing compulsory, which you'd sort of have to do if you were to keep a specific squad intact).

In the alternative, I'd like to see the U.S. actually take international basketball seriously. We can't send the top NBA team to the olympics, but we can send them to international club competitions. Most importantly, we should keep an international team in the interim that can take root. Why should we change coaches every competition? Hire somebody and keep them there for a while so they're not distracted. Why have a new selection every competition? Make clear that being on the olympic team is a long-term commitment, so you have a core of players who play together internationally for a while. You won't get as many stars, but I'd rather have a bunch of mid-level NBAers who play together for a few years rather than a group of guys who are selected for marketing purposes and thrown together at the last minute. I don't know if the U.S. will institute either of these changes, but I hope they do.

04 September 2004

The New York Times has a nifty article on Rock-Paper-Scissor Tournaments. Apparently there's an upcoming documentary on the world championships.
As a state employee, I get to pay into my own deferred compensation retirement account (it's not a Roth IRA, but it's similar). I decided to be good and put 40% into the socially responsible fund, and thus far that fund has been horrible. Not even competitive. Rethinking the wisdom of mixing social views with investing, I wondered, what about Christians? Surely they need their own funds that reflect their social/religious views. I didn't recall this topic ever coming up on the blog, so I did 10 seconds of research, and sure enough, they're out there. Here's one called the Noah Fund, and here's another called the Timothy Plan.

The rules for these funds are no investment in gambling, liquor, tobacco, pornography, gay lifestyles or abortion. Hmmm. Which of the above isn't highly lucrative? Actually, I bet this precludes the Christians from investing in most any health care-affiliated company, since they'd have partnerships with hospitals that do abortions. I highly doubt there is much private capital invested in gay lifestyles -- it's sort of something people do in private, not something you buy.

03 September 2004

Glenn Kessler's article in today's Washington Post about the G.O.P.'s distortions of John Kerry's record is a must-read.
So the sting operation that my brother got caught in made the local news. Somehow I was expecing you know, an actual article that had a story or a point, but in fact it is more or less a list of people charged together with the charges.

It's good to know that newspapers think that their job is to shame people.

02 September 2004

"We have a calling from beyond the stars..." Is Dennis Kucinich writing his speeches?
Watching the convention...Bush's teleprompter seems to be awkwardly positioned. And I'm thrilled about the protestors being hauled out of the Garden during the speech. And the Bush twins look like their pet frog just died. The Smirk is surfacing here and there, and the mockery of Kerry looked pretty childish. That said, he's on message as usual.

The French ban on religious symbols in public schools has been in the news a lot recently. Usually, I'm pretty good at seeing all sides of an argument, but in this case, I'm stumped as to why a large majority of the French population thinks that this is a good idea. In all seriousness, I'd really appreciate it if someone could give me a good, persuasive argument as to why French public school students shouldn't be allowed to wear headscarves, crucifixes, or yarmulkes to class.
Daily Howler has taken great delight in trashing Zell Miller here, here, and here, with promises of more.
The quickly becoming infamous Zell Miller speach can be found on this website.

One question, did this guy ever hear of Abu Ghraib? Does he really think that every american troop everywhere has always been right and good about everything? Oh, and did he really just say something about the great respect that George W. Bush has for his parents? Can you really say that with a straight face? I guess that was more than one question...

There's something really bothersome about the emergence of a party based on blind patriotism, militarism, code-word racism, bashing the Jews Gays.

On the other hand, we can always just go back and listen to Barack Obama's speech.

01 September 2004

There's an interesting article, entitled Millionaire Teachers Next Door, that claims that many college professors are retiring as millionaires, despite their crappy salaries, because of programs that force teachers to save and invest on a regular schedule. The evidence is totally anecdotal, but the point is a good one.

If I ever decide to do something slightly more responsible with my financial training, I might look for a job with TIAA-CREF. They're good guys.
Apparently Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert thinks that George Soros, billionaire hedge fund manager and strong supporter of the Democratic party, may really be getting his money from some sort of international drug cartel:
[Said] Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert on the August 29 edition of FOX Broadcasting Company's FOX News Sunday: "I don't know where George Soros gets his money. I don't know where -- if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from... George Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country. So, I mean, he's got a lot of ancillary interests out there." When asked by host Chris Wallace if Hastert thought Soros "may be getting money from the drug cartel," Hastert responded, "I'm saying I don't know where groups -- could be people who support this type of thing. I'm saying we don't know."
No offense to Dennis Hastert, but even I have a pretty good idea of where George Soros gets his money. Aren't Republicans supposed to know these sorts of things?

I mean, really. Hastert has presumably read the USA Patriot Act; he was Speaker of the House when it passed. He probably also knows that every financial firm in the country, including Soros's, is required to scrutinize every dollar that comes in for possible unsavory activity. To know about the requirements under the Patriot Act and still slanderously insinuate on national television that nobody can possibly know where Soros is getting his money is the worst kind of clowning.

Reading Daily Howler every day has made me especially sensitive to this sort of thing. There are a bunch of conservative talking points that are so obviously bogus that you can only assume that the well-informed pundits who keep repeating them have a very low opinion of their audience's intelligence. (One glaring example is the old canard about Kerry's "voting for the $87 billion appropriations bill before he voted against it," which Rudy Giuliani dug up the other night. It gets an easy laugh, yes, but there's something sickening about all these politicians pretending to be completely confused by this weird vote when, in fact, it makes perfect sense to anyone who thinks about it for more than a few seconds.)

We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Hero, by the way, is the most visually beautiful movie I've seen all year, edging out The Dreamers and Collateral, and it has the best orchestral score I've heard in a long time. These are largely due to a couple of Western ringers: cinematographer Christopher Doyle, whose work with Wong Kar-Wai has already made him one of the immortals, and Itzhak Perlman, who fiddles beautifully on the soundtrack. All in all, though, this is Chinese filmmaking at its very best, and it should serve to introduce a much wider audience to Tony Leung, my favorite living movie star (well, almost) and clearly the dominant presence in Hero, even if Jet Li's name is above the title.

In answer to Noah's question below, it doesn't seem that Tony Leung knows much in the way of martial arts, but he fakes it splendidly. Besides, for Leung, training with a sword would only waste time that would be much better spent in other pursuits, such as cultivating his aura of quiet intensity.

31 August 2004

According to today's Quentin Tarantino interview in USA Today, Kill Bill: The Complete Epic could be released in theaters as early as next year. Here's hoping. After all, this is the movie that I once predicted would wound God himself.
Apparently Rep. Ed Schrock (R-Va.), one of the most conservative members of Congress, is retiring at the end of his current term, after muckraking site blogactive.com revealed that he'd made numerous calls to a gay phone sex hotline. Aren't politicians allowed to do anything fun?

30 August 2004

Maybe you already knew this, but apparently John Kerry's ex-girlfriend, a former Harvard graduate student, has written a steamy novel called Hedge Fund Mistress:
James Willard, self-made billionaire, is one of the original 15 hedge fund managers. Although the industry has grown to more than 8,000 funds, Willard, after 30 years, is still the undisputed king. Willard learns that money does not buy peace from the past. Obsessed, Willard ruins lives in his warped penance for his his deep secret - his hidden torment. Will his obsession with "fixing" the wrongs of the past influence the world?

Poor Nicki Mathews has stepped into a real mess! After a heart-wrenching romance with a United States senator, Nicki Matthews wanders the United States eventually ending up in Greenwich, Connecticut. Although it is years later, the repercussions of that relationship influence her future and that of a nation. She becomes the unwitting pawn of ruthless, powerful titans obsessed with money, power and revenge.

In the end who will be her savior? Will it be Margo Hallworth, the beautiful but fragile heiress to the Hallworth Pharmaceutical fortune. She is in love with the one man she cannot have, William Grant the devoted scientist and CEO of Omega Corporation. Will it be Tammy - the pitiful but strong voice of the jilted, who knows what it's like to soar and to be abruptly shut out of the world of mega-wealth.
In another article, which I can't link to here, the author is characterized as a "self-described recluse," which seems like an oxymoron. Poor dear.

27 August 2004

By the way, where is everyone? Things seem really quiet on the blog and on the comments.
Not only is the finally-about-to-be-released Hero famous director Zhang Yimou's first attempt at martial arts, it also stars: Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, and Zhang Ziyi. It's a who's who of Chinese cinema.

What would be a comparable lineup of U.S. directors and actors?

Anyway, I'm looking forward to it. Especially because however much I love Chow Yun Fat, he just isn't a martial artist. It'll be good to see a beautifully coreographed and shot martial arts epic starring people who know martial arts... (Though, does Tony Leung actually know any martial arts? I can't remember seeing him ever doing it before...)

26 August 2004

Perhaps that last post deserves greater comment... There have been trailers before that use music that I love (cf. Garden State), even trailers that use music that I love and have for a long time (cf. any of the dozens that have Under Pressure), but I think this is the first time that a trailer has used a song that's my music. Not music that I like and everyone else does, but music that's mine that most people have never heard of, that's one of my presonal favorites and I doubt I'll ever meet someone who also has it as one of theirs. This song made my best of Suzanne Vega list, but not Erin Larkspur's for example. Its not even most SV fans top few favorites. But it is one of my songs.

And its in a trailer.
Closer... Has... Suzanne... Vega's... Caramel... As... Trailer... Music...

I think I'm about to feignt.

25 August 2004

As several of you probably know, the trailer to Garden State is my favorite trailer ever. I've been watching it frequently for months. At any rate, I finally saw the whole film today, and it lived up to the promise of the trailer. That is not to say that its my favorite film or anything, its still something that works much better in trailer form, but it was more or less the movie that I hoped it would be after seeing the trailer. It's visually a fun film to watch. The characters are fascinating. Natalie Portman is adorable. And, to quote Jack Black, the soundtrack kicks fucking ass. Sadly, the last 10 minutes are pretty disapointing. But otherwise it was highly worth seeing.

The highlight for me though, was when I knew we were approaching the moment that was the key moment in the trailer. I expected good music from this film, but I expected good music that I'd never heard. In this scene I was surprised to hear one of my top five songs. But the one of them that I never remember about. It was a delightful surprise and went well with the scene.

Which song? Well, you'll just have to see the film I guess.

23 August 2004

I spent this evening doing work on my laptop at the kitchen table. During the few hours I was there 4 different people came in from their days and chatted for a while before disappearing off to there rooms. At some point it hit me that this was very familiar, that there was another time I used to hang out in the common room like this while people came through. After being very confused for a few minutes I realized it was sophomore year visits in H-42 where Heather, Tamara, Joyce (and usually Ezra) would make appearances while Bessie and I were hanging out in the common room. Each person would cause half an hour of new fun conversation about their days or whatever. It was always fun to just stay in one place and have lots of fun people come by without my having to go anywhere. This house feels almost like that. It's pretty nifty.

22 August 2004

Sean Penn in his brilliant cameo in Being John Malkovich suggested that many actors would choose to move in the direction of puppeteering once they could do so without seeming like immitators. After a few years puppets seem to have finally hit main stream pop culture (Avenue Q, Team America: World Police). Discuss.

21 August 2004

One of the small joys of gmail is that if you send an email RSVPing for a potluck and saying you'll make guacamole you don't even have to bother googling guac recipes, cause they all come up as google ads.