26 May 2004

Great line from one of my friends earlier this week:
"Isn't that the perfect example of gentrification? A liquor store being torn down and replaced by a Montesori school."

25 May 2004

After noticing it in hundreds of Google searches, I'm finally beginning to appreciate the joys of Wikipedia, the first encyclopedia written entirely by nerds. Well, that's not entirely accurate. It's an open-content encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute, and although this might seem like a recipe for vandalism and shoddy writing, it appears that the discipline of anonymous editors and thousands of contributors actually works: I've discovered good and informative articles on almost every subject I've tried to find, ranging from the Thirty Years' War to Amphiaraus to the Pet Shop Boys. Because Wikipedia is so easy to use and so hard to stump, I've begun to use it, rather to my surprise, as my default reference book. (Its nerdish origins are only occasionally visible, as in such features as its comprehensive articles on every alien race in the Star Trek universe.)

(Unfortunately, not even Wikipedia has heard of some of those Russian guys in Noah's geneaology.)

24 May 2004

This morning I was reading Kevin Drum's post on Ahmed Chalabi's biography and discovered that he got a math Ph.D. from the University of Chicago!

That's worse even than having the unibomber! (He was an undergrad at MIT, so now Harvard's off the hook for the unibomber.)

Turns out he has three papers (link requires subscription):

Pure submodules of injective modules.

The Jacobson radical of a group algebra under field extensions in characteristic $p$.

and Modules over group algebras and their application in undermining democracy in Iraq

errr... wait, that last one should be his Ph.D. thesis:
Modules over group algebras and their application in the study of semi-simplicity.

One of his big results was:
Suppose that $G$ is any group and $K$ is any field. $JKG$ denotes the Jacobson radical of $KG$. $KG$ is called semisimple if $JKG=(0)$. The following theorem is proved: Let $K$ have characteristic $p$ and let $Z_p$ be its prime subfield; then if $Z_PG$ is semisimple, so is $KG$.

I really shouldn't be quite so amused by all this, but nonetheless I am.

His advisor was the infamous George Glauberman (AJ's response to how my life would be different if I were at Chicago always includes him saying i'd probably be working for (said in a weird slow voice) g-e-o-r-g-e g-l-a-u-b-e-r-m-a-n and then maniacally laughing). The rest of his genealogy is Glauberman-Bruck-Brauer-Schur-Frobenius-Weierstrass-Gudermann-Gauss.

Damn! that's a fine geneology. Better than mine will be.

Maybe I should give up and go try to become a puppet leader of a 3rd world country instead.
Boy, am I annoyed. Those right wing commentators have gone too far. They're actually making me sympathize with a movie by Roland Emmerich, for Chrissake:
Supporters of President Bush's re-election are steamed that the U.S. Army has aided the producers of the envirocrat film backed by Al Gore and others who want to oust him from the White House.

As confirmed to NewsMax by a military spokeswoman, the Army allowed the makers of "The Day After Tomorrow" to use its Blackhawk helicopters on location in Montreal (more outsourcing of jobs by the Hollywood left to Canada) for the disaster flick, which hypes the theory of human-caused global warming.

Although Gore has admitted some of the scenarios in the film are implausible, it nonetheless serves what he sees as the noble purpose of indoctrinating the public with a Kyoto-like polemic.

Courageously, President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol as a threat to millions of jobs in the U.S.

Katherine Ross, the Army's director of public affairs in Los Angeles, confirmed to NewsMax that the service did in fact aid in the film's production.

Ross told NewsMax's Wes Vernon that in agreeing to participate, the Army did not know the movie would create a controversy.

She said the flick was intended to be a "summer entertainment," a "time-honored genre" of the disaster movie, not unlike "aliens landing." The Army takes no position on the theory of global warming, she said.

NewsMax has interviewed climatologist Patrick Michaels, long a critic of the "global warming" theory, who says liberal politicians and left-wing groups see "The Day After Tomorrow" as the movie that will make John Kerry president of the United States.
Does the FEC know about this?

22 May 2004

Here's an historic event: Dave posts about a movie! If only to say, I really really really hope this film finds a distributor very soon.

In other movie news, I saw Big Fish tonight. It was very enjoyable, and touching. I probably would have seen it earlier had the previews not made it look really stupid.

(Tangentially: maybe I should go to France. The son's French wife was, um, not too hard on the eyes.)
As requested by one of our commenters, here's the skinny on Andy Kauffman. Apparently, he (like Franco) is still dead.
Random pop cultural updates:

1. Last night I caught a screening of As Tears Go By, Wong Kar-Wai's first movie, at BAM's two-week retrospective. It's a messy, cheap riff on Mean Streets, filtered through John Woo sunglasses, but irresistably watchable, even in a print where subtitles occasionally disappear for reels at a time or assume Dadaist levels of incomprehensibility: "I go to hospital." "Stomach-washing again?" And there are a few hints of Wong's greatness to come, especially in a long fatal love chase scored to a Cantonese-language version of Berlin's "Take My Breath Away," which is exactly the sort of thing that makes this sentimental critic quiver with delight.

2. The first volume of The Complete Peanuts, spanning the years 1950-1952, is even more delectable a pop cultural object than I'd hoped. The humor isn't nearly as developed as it would soon become, but the graphics, if anything, are even more luscious: Schulz fell into a sort of happy minimalism in the strip's golden period, but in these early strips, especially the Sunday funnies, the backyards and suburban landscapes are lovingly rendered, the perfect place for a kid to play. I have a hunch that one of these twenty-four fat little volumes (maybe the 1966-1967 edition?) will eventually make it onto my desert island list, right there along with Dante and Borges.

3. Finally, the first disc of Disney's On the Front Lines has finally arrived from Netflix. Many of the cartoons in this collection of World War II-era shorts are a bit of a bore ("Donald Gets Drafted" isn't nearly as fun as it sounds), but the educational shorts about war bonds and kitchen grease are great, and works like "Education for Death" and "Der Fuerher's Face" (aka "Donald Duck in Nutziland") haven't lost any of their fascination. The most revealing of the shorts is "Chicken Little." I remember seeing this cartoon on the Disney Channel when I was growing up, and its grim conclusion makes a lot more sense when you realize that Foxy Loxy was originally reading from Mein Kampf.

20 May 2004

Sunday I saw Eternal Sunshine again. I liked it, but it didn't have the same affect as the first time I saw it. I guess that this is because I spent more time watching the movie and less time thinking about the things it made me think about.

I was also reminded of a post I wanted to make a couple weeks ago. If you recall my initial review of Eternal Sunshine was: "Anyone who has ever fallen in love with someone and broken up needs to go out and see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"

After seeing Kill Bill Vol. 2 a week later, I really wanted to post (but couldn't quite with a straight face): "Anyone who has ever fallen in love with someone and then hated them needs to go out and see Kill Bill."

But honestly, aside from it just being an excellent film, it really was one of the best films about bad breakups I've ever seen. I loved the final scenes between Bill and the bride where they see where the other is coming from, but there's still enough history and need for revenge that it doesn't matter.

19 May 2004

Btw, if you sign into Blogger there's a link on the right sidebar that lets you set up a gmail account. Get the names before other people can. I'm nsnyder.
I find Chris Webber to be one of the most compelling figures in sports. In all of life there are people who excel under pressure and people who crack. Some people test well, and other don't. And it isn't a question of how hard you try or how much you practice. Some people thrive off the buzz, and other choke on the pressure.

In sports people tend to identify the ability to perform under pressure with effort or toughness. If you're talented enough and just try hard enough you'll be like Mike.

Webber is the example that proves just how wrong this is. He's so talented and he really does try hard. If you watched him tonight drive hard to the basket on his bum leg and limp off in pain afterwards, and then a minute later dive on the ground after a loose ball, you can see that the man really really wants it. But the fact of the matter is that unlike the Jordan's of the world, Webber is just bad under pressure.

But still, he's so good and tries so hard that every time you desperately want to believe, for his sake, that this time he'll step up. Just this once, cause he deserves it.

And when he gets the ball with that second on the clock and it looks good, you believe he's finally going to pull one off. And for that one second you really really believe it. And then, bounce, bounce, game over...

And you see him sink to the ground... And you feel sorry for the guy. And that's what makes him so compelling, there aren't many sports stars you ever pitty.

And the worst part is, next year it'll happen again. And I know it, and all the other hundred King's fans packed into La Val's know it, and Chris Webber knows it too.
According to wire reports, Wong Kar-Wai's long-awaited 2046 could miss its premiere at Cannes, because it isn't quite ready yet. Despite the fact that Wong has been working on this project for four years, he's still scrambling to get it finished in time. Reminds me of college.

Elsewhere, this interview with Tony Leung, Wong's favorite leading man and one of the most splendid actors in the world, includes some interesting hints about the plot of 2046, including the disclosure that it's partially a sequel to In the Mood for Love. Leung's account of how he was "tricked" into playing a gay character in Happy Together is also illuminating:
Wong didn't persuade Leung to play the role; he tricked him. "He gave me a fake script," Leung laughs. "Originally my character wasn't gay--his father was. In my script, the father dies in Argentina and I go there and find out he had a lover, who is Leslie. So we go to Argentina and we spend six weeks learning Spanish and the tango. And after that, Kar-wai says, 'I think it would be much more interesting if your role is gay.' I was surprised, but not angry. We start shooting the next day--and the first scene is a love scene."
It's hard to think of another contemporary director who could get away with something like that. Well, maybe Lars von Trier.
Don't classicists have anything better to do? According to the Wall Street Journal, the six hundred members of the Vergilian Society, publishers of the scholarly journal Vergilius and dedicated followers of a certain epic poet, are embroiled in a messy dispute over internal governance, cronyism, the payment of dues, and the upkeep of the society's villa in Naples, complete with mass resignations and e-mailed invective. The terms of the dispute aren't important, but some of the details are delicious:
In a Nov. 19 e-mail to officers and board members, [the society's president-elect] said that "those of us" opposed to Prof. Fears [the society's president] "had all the independence of the Senate under Tiberius" -- a Roman emperor notorious for executing senators for defamation.

Prof. Fears responded by threatening her with a libel suit, arguing that her barb suggested he was a child molester because Tiberius was described by an early biographer as having been one.
Well, maybe. I don't ever remember hearing about this particular allegation against Tiberius, even though I've probably read I, Claudius more recently than you. This Professor Fears, of the University of Oklahoma, is apparently quite a character. According to the Journal, Professor Fears "went on to assert that his supporters embody pietas, Latin for piety," and he noted that a petition calling for his resignation was "remarkable testimony to the workings of impius furor." Right. This sort of thing would be embarrassing in any context, but these days, there's no excuse. There's a war on, and the only classicist who seems to be saying a damned thing about it is Victor Davis Hanson.

18 May 2004

I can't wait for Fahrenheit 9/11. From Roger Ebert's initial review:
After the first press screening on Monday, journalists noted on their way out that Moore was more serious in this film and took fewer cheap shots. But there are a few. Wait until you see Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz preparing for a TV interview. First he puts a pocket comb in his mouth to wet it and combs down his hair. Still not satisfied, he spits on his hand and wipes the hair into place. Catching politicians being made up for TV is an old game, but this is a first.
More importantly, would commercials and trailers for Fahrenheit 9/11 violate campaign finance law? It's an interesting point, and after fifteen minutes of sifting through the snooze-inducing text of McCain-Feingold, I'm still not sure. (Never let it be said that I don't suffer for this blog.) I do think that it would be possible to cut together a compelling trailer and commercial for the movie that would fall outside the law's provisions (if, among other things, the trailers didn't mention Bush by name). The issue is whether Moore should be forced to do so in the first place. Stay tuned.

17 May 2004

Yesterday John, Jessica, Nathan and I got up at 6.30 am to participate in the nth annual Bay to Breakers run. It was a massive event, shutting down traffic throughout the city for the whole morning. How massive? When I signed up late Saturday, I was given number 52,681. I saw only one person with a higher number the whole day.

As we exited the Embarcadero MUNI station and approached the starting line, we saw from a distance small white objects flying through the air, which, as we got closer, turned out to be tortillas. Hundreds of them, being thrown every which way, picked up, and thrown again. The street was covered with them, as were the awnings along the side of the street. The soles of my shoes became encrusted with tortilla goo.

The race started at 8, and we surged ahead, walking at first, then jogging, and finally, at about the one-mile mark, breaking into a run. We went through SoMa, past City Hall and up Hayes Street (which is a really big hill) then down through the Panhandle and then through Golden Gate Park to the ocean. (Hence the name.) It was a very San Francisco event. There were all sorts of crazy costumes, and more than a few naked runners. People stood by the side of the road drinking; one guy was offering a bottle of champagne to anyone who would take it.

The race was 12k (7.5 miles). I finished in about 1:14, which was good enough for 3,644th place. (I could probably have shaved 10-15 minutes off that time simply by arriving earlier and being closer to the starting line.) Afterward there was an event called 'Footstock' in the park which seemed to involve lots of waiting in lines, so we opted out and retired to John's apartment to take a nap. All in all, it was a fun day.
Speaking of Donnie Darko, I have been told by two people at work that I resemble Jake Glyllenhal or whatever his name is (for the record, I don't see it).

The first person told me I look like the kid in Donnie Darko and that didn"t bother me> (I apologize for punctuation, I'm doing this from a hotel TV). The second individual said I looked like the guy in Lovely and Amazing, and since I hadn't seen the movie that didn't mean much to me. Only later did I learn what kind of a character the guy is in Lovely and Amazing, and that's when the source of the comparison started to bug me -- the comment had been made by my boss's wife. I haven't the heart to ask her why I reminded her of him.
From Time's review of a new book called The Wisdom of Crowds:
Surowiecki describes a 1958 experiment in which a group of law students from New Haven, Conn., were asked to consider this scenario: You have to meet someone in New York City but don't know where to meet him or when. You cannot talk to the other person ahead of time. Where do you go, and when? The collective wisdom overwhelmingly answered: the Grand Central Terminal information booth, at noon.
Of course, this reminds me of my favorite Yale law student, whom I've often met at this very spot!
I'm very pleased by the news that an extended Director's Cut of Donnie Darko is scheduled to be released in theaters later this month, with twenty minutes of additional footage, improved special effects, and an expanded soundtrack, including an additional plum for fans of the Pet Shop Boys: as originally intended, a big dance number by Sparkle Motion will be choreographed to "West End Girls." (It was replaced by Duran Duran's "Notorious" in the original cut, for budgetary reasons.)

Donnie Darko, of course, already features a classic sequence choroegraphed to "Head Over Heels" by Tears For Fears, as well as Gary Jules's haunting cover of "Mad World." Clearly, to make a movie with a great soundtrack, you only need to set it in the late 1980s.
The New York Daily News is a great source for alarming but unattributed media gossip. For example:
Michael Moore's Bush-whacking documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," could become a campaign issue.

We hear that Republican officials plan to complain to the Federal Election Commission that Miramax honchos Harvey and Bob Weinstein have violated campaign-finance laws by bankrolling Moore's film, according to one well-placed GOP source.

"This is a blatant political ad in the guise of a documentary," says the source. "It's totally in contravention of the McCain-Feingold [soft-money ban]."

An FEC spokesman said he had no record of complaints from the Republican National Committee or the Bush-Cheney campaign about Moore's film.

Reps for both organizations denied filing protests.

"The GOP doesn't want this to leak right now," says our source. "It's only going to give Moore more publicity."

Moore spokesman Howard Wolfson said he hadn't heard of a GOP gripe to the FEC, but "it wouldn't surprise me."
I'm halfway inclined to believe that this is some Democrat's wishful thinking, because it's hard to see how this could possibly work to the GOP's benefit. It seems pretty clear that if you pay to see a movie, it isn't an advertisement. (Nope, not even New York Minute.)

15 May 2004

We had a party at our house last night which seemed to be a success, even though not as many people showed up as last time. (I guess some people actually have finals.) No one danced though, even when I put on Beatles.

Noah and I were trying to remember...where did we get the 20-foot high British flag for our party at Senior House? It's not the sort of thing that one just has lying around in one's closet.
Speaking of which, it's orgy season at WHRB! Today: Hildegard von Bingen. Monday: Harvard composers. Talk about eclectic.
Over pizza last night, S. expressed disbelief that I could be at all surprised by the goings-on at Abu Ghraib prison. Well, I don't know. Prisoner abuse is one thing, but I'll admit that I was a teeny bit surprised by all those orgies. (Her response: "Yeah, you would be surprised by the orgies." Or maybe Haiwen said this. Either way, I think it might have been an insult.)
As you may have heard by now, Troy is a lumbering disappointment. Granted, my thoughts may have been skewed by the fact that I attended Troy after midnight in the company of a classical milkmaid and a Maoist polymath, both with a tendency to guffaw at tedious moments. It's hard to pin down exactly where things go wrong: the casting is mostly fine, the money is right there on the screen, and the screenplay (by David Benioff, author of 25th Hour) is tantalizingly close to what it should have been. In trying to condense and dramatize and find a cinematic shape for the story's more incredible moments, it's an effort of which even Aristotle might have approved, compromises and all. But when the movie founders, it founders for reasons that the author of The Poetics would have easily diagnosed: craftsmanship and intelligence are no substitute for emotional committment, and Troy, above all, is an epic filmed without any apparent curiosity or passion. I'll give Aristotle the last word:
The Spectacle, though an attraction, is the least artistic of all the parts, and has the least to do with the art of poetry. The tragic effect is quite possible without a public performance and actors; and besides, the getting-up of the Spectacle is more a matter for the costumier than the poet.
Well, I guess I'm not quite done yet. Multiple spoilers ahead: 1) I approve of Benioff's revison of the duel between Menelaus and Paris, which provides a pretty surrogate for divine intervention and neatly dispatches of a boring character. 2) I was pleased that Andromache and Astyanax, Hector's wife and baby son, were allowed to escape at the end. I love them both dearly, and I'm glad that in this version of events, anyway, there aren't any babies tossed off the walls. 3) Based on what happens to Agamemnon, Hollywood isn't going to produce an Oresteia anytime soon, but do I smell The Aeneid in the works? (As Sharon H. pointed out, The Aeneid would make raw material for a much better movie, if only because Virgil is already writing for an audience of skeptics and ironists.) 4) A huge disappointment is the film's inability to find a solution to the problem of the Trojan Horse, which was recognized as all but unworkable even in Virgil's time. That's doubly sad, because a few minutes' thought suggests a couple of decent solutions. I'd share them, but I think there might be a potential story here. 5) Peter O'Toole makes a wonderful Priam, and if nothing else, his visit to the tents of Achilles will provide Gregory Nagy with another clip or two for Heroes. 6) As Hector says to Achilles, "Even enemies can show respect." De nobis fabula narratur.

14 May 2004

Tommorow is the 20th anniversary of Andy Kauffman's "death."

Here's some details on the party planned in his honor. Those of you in New York might be tempted to check it out.

And at midnight I plan to propose a toast to Andy Kauffman and whatever he still has up his sleeve.
So last week (as dave blogged) we went to see the A's game. One of the people we went with happens to work for google. At some point I complained that it was kind of ridiculous that google owned blogger and I still couldn't search my blog for old entries. He mentioned that there would be some big blogger announcement this week, so who knows. Today for the first time I tried using this since the update, and it has a search feature! And it works like a charm. I'm thrilled.

I'm going to have to get gmail, just so i can search my mail too.
Apparently the same multi-billion dollar hedge fund that bought eToys also wants to buy a bunch of scary, headless dolls.

13 May 2004

If you weren't a member of our blocking group in college, there's absolutely no reason why you'd want to visit this link. But if you were a member of that particular circle of friends, you probably should. Wow.

12 May 2004

KB Toys Online has just been purchased by a multibillion-dollar hedge fund. Can you guess which one?
Many thanks to Tamara for pointing out that the Brooklyn Academy of Music is doing a comprehensive retrospective, starting this weekend, of the world's greatest living director. Wow. If any of you are planning to visit, this is where I'll be for the next two weeks.

Come to think of it, Nat, weren't you going to be in town sometime soon? Or was that just another prank?

11 May 2004

Check out this New York Times article about fish shooting. The picture of the bearded fellow in camouflage gear blasting the bejeezus out of something in an otherwise peaceful swamp is one of the most priceless photos I've ever seen.

10 May 2004

I've just discovered that The Wonderful World of Disney is airing a three-hour adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, my favorite book from grade school, tonight at 8:00 on ABC. I'm surprisingly moved by the news; in a way, I've been waiting for a movie version of this book since I was eight years old. I haven't read L'Engle's books in years, but they still mean a lot to me.

About five years ago, I think during freshman year, Noah said something mildly critical about A Wrinkle in Time, and I still fume at the memory. Without exaggeration, I've begun to realize that I have a startlingly voluminous memory of every aesthetic opinion ever made by any of my friends about anything. It comes in handy when I'm making mix tapes.
As the Public Editor helpfully pointed out on Sunday, the Tonys are a travesty of a mockery of a sham. But I'm still quite pleased that Avenue Q has been nominated for six Tony Awards, including a nod for leading man John Tartaglia, the one guy on Broadway who really could play me. This means that I'll actually be watching this year's awards with interest, since Avenue Q is, in my utterly uninformed opinion, clearly the best show ever.

08 May 2004

Here's my attempt to subvert the adverts about which a commenter complained, and turn this from a movie blog to a baseball blog: I went with Noah and John and Nathan (John's roommate) to see the Minnesota Twins play the Oakland A's today. It was a very exciting game; the Minnesota Twins relievers pitched out of big jams in the 8th and 9th to send it to extra innings, they scored in the top of the 10th on an error by the Oakland A's shortstop, and the closer struck out the side in the bottom of the 10th to hold on for a 3-2 win. It's nice going to see a baseball game in a real stadium, the Network Associates Coliseum. And while it's not as nice as Pacific Bell Park, we saw the game for the same price as a movie, and had decent seats in the outfield. There aren't many places where you can do that.
Over the past couple of years, I've confessed to a number of embarrassing things on this blog, but nothing compared to this: although my memories on the morning after are a bit fuzzy, and only a jumble of images and vague sensory impressions remain, I have the sinking feeling that I may actually have enjoyed New York Minute.

I know, I know. Hear me out.

At least, I was impressed that they cared enough to make a slick, professional production, unlike the unwatchable Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! Is it vaguely condescending? Sure. But it's condescending in its assumption that its audience only wants bright colors, fast cuts, a cheery pop soundtrack, and a cartoonish string of implausible events featuring the Olsen twins. Believe me, there are far worse ways of spending eighty minutes in a movie theater. (The second half of The Passion comes to mind.) This is much preferable to condescension on the order of Tad Hamilton, which assumes that the audience is too benumbed to want anything more than a pabulum, with extra syrup.

Haiwen was less impressed, I think. Of course, he was only in the audience as a representative of the Chinese-American Anti-Defamation League. (When I asked him if he liked New York Minute more than Van Helsing, which he'd seen on a school field trip earlier that day, he said, "Well, there were more Chinese people...")

By the way, the big screen makes one thing very clear: the Olsen twins are fraternal, not identical. And Ashley is much more, um, huggable than Mary-Kate. (Can I even say this before June 13?)

07 May 2004

Apparently I'm seeing New York Minute later tonight. This is what happens when I let Haiwen choose the movie.
Quote of the day, from a Wall Street Journal article on the regulation of model rocket enthusiasts by the Department of Homeland Security:

"Most of the people involved in these activities are harmless fanatics and nerds," says one federal law-enforcement official. "But since 9/11, we have a responsibility to make sure the nerds are not terrorists."
Great line from Roger Ebert's review of New York Minute:

"Because the movie all takes place during one day and Roxy is being chased by a truant officer, it compares itself to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It might as reasonably compare itself to The Third Man because they wade through sewers."

06 May 2004

By the way, the FAQ on Michael Moore's homepage is pretty funny. It mostly complains about people who confuse him with Roger Moore.

05 May 2004

I need to stop inventing conspiracy theories like the one below. According to Page Six:
GOODBYE, Michael Eisner! Hello...Mel Gibson? A consortium of mysterious European investors has approached Gibson about a possible takeover of Disney now that Comcast has thrown in the towel, sources told PAGE SIX. "We were very impressed with the way Gibson handled 'The Passion of the Christ,'" one insider said. The group was especially motivated after "The Passion," made for $25 million, raked in almost $600 million. "Gibson has the sensibilities Hollywood needs," says a source close to the star. "He has the right insight to lead a studio. Look at those numbers! Now, that is how to make movies - none of this $120 million nonsense." The backers would want Gibson to kick in a few hundred million of his own money and want him to run Disney if the takeover succeeded. So far, Gibson has kept his cards close to his vest. "He hasn't said yes, and he hasn't said no," said the source. But there is always hope - Gibson is "always looking for something new and interesting to do." However, one person close to Gibson said: "The discussions have not gone anywhere...yet." A rep for the "Mad Max" star didn't return calls.
"A consortium of mysterious European investors?" Sounds like the Illuminati to me...
Disney's refusal to distribute Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11, apparently on the grounds that it might cause them to lose lucrative tax breaks in the state governed by the President's brother, provides a vivid example of how labelling the media as liberal or conservative often misses the point. While most directors, actors, screenwriters, documentary filmmakers, journalists, and other creative types tend to skew liberal, they all work for massive multinational corporations staffed by studio executives who are overwhelmingly conservative.

The interesting part is that Icon Productions was originally slated to finance Farenheit 9/11, but backed out for unspecified reasons. My theory is that Icon passed the project along to Miramax with full knowledge that Disney would balk at the movie's political consequences and create headlines. The plan: Icon picks up the movie for distribution, sends Michael Moore on the talk show circuit (which is now national news, because of the Disney angle), and rides the wave of controversy and free media coverage to a massive opening weekend. Sound familiar? It should, because Icon is Mel Gibson's production company, and that's the same strategy that turned The Passion into the highest-grossing independent film of all time.

Even if this isn't a conscious strategy, the flak over Disney will only increase this movie's potential viewership, which is presumably a good thing.

04 May 2004

New York Times movie critic Elvis Mitchell, recently praised in these pages, has apparently quit after colleague A.O. Scott was promoted over his head as the senior critic at the Times. Even more interestingly, Mitchell seems to be pondering a position in the New York office of Columbia Pictures, which would be a rare instance of a major movie journalist becoming a studio executive. (In fact, I can't think of another example of this offhand, except maybe Peter Bart's ascendancy at Paramount Pictures back in the 1970s.)

I need to apply for Mitchell's old job.
Apparently there's a screenplay in the works celebrating Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr's theoretical contribution to wartime communications technology. (Lamarr invented and patented the concept behind "frequency hopping," which is still used today in cellular phones and wireless Internet transmission.) It's a great story, and you can read more about it here, at the Britney Spears Guide to Semiconductor Physics.

03 May 2004

After reading William Safire's column today, and remembering a recent conversation with Haiwen, I found myself wondering how often journalists quote the first line of "The Waste Land" during the month of April. The answer: pretty often.

02 May 2004

The current topic of debate is: should I spend the fall in Paris? There's a semester-long program in number theory that a Berkeley professor whom I consider a possible advisor is going to. He's taking a bunch of his students, so I asked him what it would take for me to be able to go. He said, "Just show up."

Now before you say, "Who wouldn't want to spend a semester in Paris?" consider the drawbacks: (a) I may not want to study number theory, in which case I would come back a semester behind in terms of both learning math and finding an advisor. (b) Paris is very expensive. Especially with the dollar in its current state. (c) I won't have any friends there. (d) Can Paris really be that much better than the Bay Area?

On the other hand, it is Paris. And when else will I have the opportunity to spend four months there fully funded?

Today was a great Saturday. I talked on the phone for three hours to people I hadn't heard from in months, I went on a 20-mile bike ride, I cooked dinner for myself and Noah (oven-baked chicken with sun-dried tomatoes and polenta) and then was too tipsy to do anything productive so I talked on the phone some more and baked ginger snaps and lemon bars. (They haven't cooled yet so I haven't tried them, but they don't look nearly as good as Noah's mom's.) Now I'm blogging and listening to the Beatles for the first time in months. It's been far too long.

Tomorrow I'll talk on the phone some more and maybe do some math.