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.