28 February 2006

A couple weeks ago I received an invitation to give a talk at the 10th Workshop on Elliptic Curves in Cryptography in Toronto in September. The content will include the results of this paper and similar construction methods. Apparently I now qualify as an "internationally leading expert"!

27 February 2006

Death penalty defendants are asking courts to find that death by lethal injection is "cruel and unusual punishment" because, apparently, it may cause pain (even though a painkiller is used in the treatment).

For defendants who are looking for relief any way they can, this is a legitimate strategy. But I really don't think that the anti-death penalty movement, which has made enormous strides in the past couple of years, should be too eager about encouraging judges to make such a decision. Legislative enactments and moratoriums by governors signal that popular attitudes are changing; decisions by judges based on novel 8th amendment theories make judges look like out-of-touch fools.

25 February 2006

Remember when Noah freaked out because the trailer for Closer featured the song "Caramel" by Suzanne Vega? Well, I'm starting to feel the same way, now that I've seen the trailer for Age of Consent...er, I mean, Marie-Antoinette. Wow.

23 February 2006

As I recently explained to a bewildered dinner companion (who was impressed, I think, by my plan to read the entire Bible this year), I read a lot. Currently, my subway reading is Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, or at least as much as I can comfortably hold while standing up on the D train. (This amounts to about half a volume, bisected and rebound by myself.) Gibbon's wonderful, and extraordinarily funny. Everyone has a cherished example of Gibbon's incredibly rarified sense of humor, but here's my favorite, from a footnote in chapter XI:
Apollonius of Tyana was born about the same time as Jesus Christ. His life (that of the former) is related in so fabulous a manner by his disciples, that we are at a loss to discover whether he was a sage, an impostor, or a fanatic.
The dry, parenthetical "that of the former" is pure Gibbon. I love it.

21 February 2006

As some of you may have heard, I recently quit my job of more than three years to spend twelve months doing...well, nothing in particular, really, although hopefully it will involve staying in Brooklyn, writing a novel, and occasionally going to the ballet. This particular decision was the product of about eight hundred separate epiphanies, of which the following is a random sample:
1. The last scene of Brokeback Mountain. Enough said.
2. Moby's controversial cover of "Temptation" by New Order. A lot of people find it soporific, but there's something in the way that the singer whispers "From time to time / I find I've lost some meaning / That was urgent to myself / I do believe" that makes me want to run off to an ashram somewhere.
3. The following speech from The Phantom Tollbooth, spoken by the Terrible Trivium: "There are things to fill and things to empty, things to take away and things to bring back, things to pick up and things to put down, and besides all that we have pencils to sharpen, holes to dig, nails to straighten, stamps to lick, and ever so much more. Why, if you stay here, you'll never have to think again—and with a little practice you can become a monster of habit, too."
By the way, if you haven't read The Phantom Tollbooth since you were ten years old (or haven't read it at all), you might want to pick it up again. I recently reread it for the first time in about fifteen years, and was blown away at how much more sense it makes to me today, even after I voluntarily relocated from Dictionopolis to the Mountains of Ignorance.
Apparently three men in Ohio have been charged with planning attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq. I believe that the technical term for such activity is "taking coals to Newcastle."
For some reason, I find this picture of Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code remarkably amusing.
Many thanks to T.S. for alerting me to the fact that High Fidelity is set to become a musical later this year, from the producers of Avenue Q, no less. This is the best news I've heard since they announced a musical version of The Princess Bride.
The last paragraph of the Summers article raises some serious questions about the future of academia. Namely, does Alan Dershowitz really not know how to operate a telephone? Or a phonebook? Decide for yourself:

Asked why he hasn’t sought out Corporation members himself, Dershowitz said: “Nobody ever told me the secret handshake. I would be delighted to talk to anyone in the Corporation, but I wouldn’t know how to begin a call."
Well, that's the way it goes: Larry Summers will resign as president of Harvard University.

20 February 2006

Speaking of John Cusack, I've noticed that when you search for the phrase "mix tape" in Google, the Wikipedia article that I created is one of the first five hits. I'm unaccountably pleased by this.

19 February 2006

I think most of us, even those of us who shoot their TVs, want to have a vague sense of what's going on in pop culture.

When I was a kid, my indispensible source of pop culture knowledge was Mad Magazine. I didn't have to watch all those TV shows or all those movies to know what was what. Nowadays, I've got Alec to keep me up to date on movies, and Bill Simmons to keep me in the loop on everything else. His column is ostensibly about sports, but that's like saying Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is about motorcycle maintenance. It's about TV, lowbrow culture, gambling, and everything else in this guy's twisted little head...and it's about ten times funnier than any other column I'm aware of since Dave Barry retired.
There's an article about Lloyd Dobler in last week's Washington Post. My favorite quote:
Lloyd Dobler ruined men forever. I can't take total credit for this, an ex-boyfriend said this to me once. He contended that Lloyd Dobler's boombox moment became the pinnacle of romance—the standard that no man could ever meet no matter how hard he tried. I've always loved Lloyd Dobler and have grown to appreciate him more as the years have gone on...the guy in high school that no woman wanted but ultimately now the kind of man we want to marry.
On the other hand, another woman quoted in the same article says: "And let's face it, if a guy stood outside with a boombox playing music outside my window, I'd be unimpressed and slightly freaked out."

15 February 2006

My favorite moment from Brit Hume's interview of Dick Cheney: "And I take it you missed the bird."

13 February 2006

You know, it must be hard to write for late night television. You've got to come up with fifteen or twenty topical jokes every night, and sometimes there just isn't anything remotely amusing in the news. Take this past weekend, for example. You can imagine the nation's comedy writers going diligently through the newspaper, looking for an item, a colorful incident, anything, really, that might lend itself to a witty one-liner or offbeat observation. Even when something seems vaguely promising, though, it isn't easy to find the right angle, or a sufficiently amusing take on the subject. Overall, a frustrating process. Better luck next week, perhaps.

11 February 2006

I have no plans to see Firewall, even though it co-stars the wonderful Mary Lynn Rajskub (essentially, and delightfully, reprising her role as Chloe on 24). However, the reviews have made one thing painfully obvious: there should be no Indiana Jones 4. It hurts me to say this, especially these days, when my respect for Spielberg is higher than ever, and after I've just rewatched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade while cleaning the bathroom. (My laptop has seen a lot of mileage.) Ten years ago, a sequel would have been a great idea. Five years ago, it still might have been possible. But Harrison Ford just isn't aging well, especially for someone who supposedly drank from the Holy Grail, and it's hard to see how a fourth movie could ever improve on the good feelings left by Last Crusade.

By the way, Mary Lynn Rajskub's last name is pronounced "rice cub," which sounds like it ought to be a term in someone's polemical queer taxonomy.

09 February 2006

I'm one of the few New Yorkers who is relatively uninterested in real estate, but even I found Zillow.com to be hopelessly addictive. Type in your address—or any address—and you can see a satellite picture of the home, a current estimate of its value, a history of price changes over the past one- or five-year period, prices of all the other houses in the neighborhood, facts about square footage and when it was built, etc., etc. It probably doesn't have much information about, say, Saugatuck, Michigan, but if you live in the Bay Area or New York City, my guess is that you'll find this site almost pornographically fascinating.

06 February 2006

Trivia question of the day: who are the only two directors to currently have movies in both the Top 250 and Bottom 100 rankings on IMdb.com? (If you guessed that Jim Sheridan was one, you're close. In America was on the Top 250 list until recently, and Get Rich or Die Tryin' is still in the Bottom 100, which probably makes Sheridan the only director to hit both lists with consecutive movies. But there are two other directors who currently hold the prize.)

03 February 2006

Don't ask me how I ended up on the Wikipedia page for Fred Phelps, the head of the Westboro Baptist Church, but I definitely learned a lot from it. I had previously heard something about his issues with gays, the Sago miners, and Mr. Rogers, but I had no idea that he also despised the Finnish. (This time, it's personal.)
As some of you may have heard, Joaquin Phoenix overturned his car last week in an accident on Laurel Canyon. Here's what happened next:
"I remember this knocking on the passenger window," said Phoenix. "There was this German voice saying, 'Just relax.' There's the air bag, I can't see and I'm saying, 'I'm fine. I am relaxed.'

"Finally, I rolled down the window and this head pops inside. And he said, 'No, you're not.' And suddenly I said to myself, 'That's Werner Herzog!'"
As a random Hollywood encounter with the German New Wave, there hasn't been anything like it since Jack Lemmon saw Klaus Kinski at the hardware store.

02 February 2006

Moira Shearer, 1926-2006.

"Take off the red shoes."

01 February 2006

I'm also unreasonably pleased by the Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature, even though I never caught Wallace and Gromit and was left somewhat cold by Howl's Moving Castle and Corpse Bride. Why am I so happy? No Chicken Little. No Robots. No Madagascar. No CGI. Just three ambitious movies that were crafted by hand—one of which somebody actually drew. Crazy, huh?