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.