23 December 2008

The football playoffs are here! There have been grumblings, however, that the playoff system is unfair. This is because some teams could make the playoffs with 8-8 records while other teams could miss the playoffs despite having records of 10-6 or even 11-5. The grumblers argue the system would be more "fair" if the teams with the top records made the playoffs regardless of division.

Just as every political system has its drawbacks, so too does every playoffs scheme. Some are fairer than others, but none is perfect. The NFL has some of the best divisional rivalries in professional sports, and presumably the grumblers do not propose demolishing those rivalries. But if the divisions stay intact, team schedules will certainly be imbalanced. (Unlike in basketball, for example, where there are enough games to balance out schedules.) How fair is it for a team like Washington, who faces tough divisional opponents week in and week out, to get beat out by a team like Chicago, who gets two automatic wins against Detroit?

My feeling is that the teams who get shut out of the playoffs are sufficiently inconsistent that they're not great threats to win it all. A playoffs system is designed to select the best single team as a champion, not reward decent teams for solid seasons.

23 November 2008

Here's how you know that the economy is really in trouble: Rich cut back on payments to mistresses.

21 November 2008

I'm sure all who attended last week's wedding would agree that it was absolutely lovely. I'm also happy to report that an esteemed (some might say notorious) member of our proctor group had her wedding the same day, according to this announcement in the New York Times. I hope no one got conflicting invitations.
I can't put it any better than Dave once did: other authors of this blog (and certain other regular readers), mark your calendars for August 22, 2009.

07 November 2008

So what's going on with Alaska? The polls were 15% off and the number of ballots cast is 15% less than in 2004. Sounds fishy to me. (More info here.)

06 November 2008

It's looking like Omaha might come through and make my prediction right!

05 November 2008

Topic for discussion: should Larry Summers be the next Secretary of the Treasury?

(It's hard to believe that I've already met two high-ranking cabinet members in my uneventful life. Summers was one. The other was the Secretary of Defense under the first President Bush. What was that guy's name again?)
Looks like my Senate prediction was too optimistic. Seriously, there must be something in the water in Alaska. On the other hand, Obama could appoint Specter or Snowe to the cabinet and flip a seat.

The Onion, as usual, is spot on.

No, really, I'm happy. In fact, for the first time in my adult life I can honestly say I'm proud to be an American. This will make living abroad a whole lot easier.
None of us hit the number 364 exactly (I'm assuming NC and IN will go to Obama and MO to McCain). But no one else did, either.
I finally went to bed around 1:30 am, waiting in vain for some results from IN, MO, NC, MT. Or the senate races in Alaska or Minnesota. Turns out that I didn't miss too much. (IN, though...crazy!)

For some reason, as I went to bed after following this crazy campaign for two years, that line from Macbeth came to mind: "After life's fitful fever he sleeps well."

Anyway, today's analysis is going to be a lot more fun than the postmortem from last time. (Scroll down for the good stuff.) Although this post now seems smugly prescient. Yes indeed.

04 November 2008

You really asked for my predictions?

Obama wins the Kerry states + IA, CO, NM, VA, but loses PA, giving him 265 EV. Franken loses in MN because the third party candidate pulls 25%, almost all of which is the "kick-the-bum-out" vote. (Robby shares this prediction.) Prop 8 wins because polling underestimates support for gay-marriage bans. Dems have 57 Senate seats after Lieberman defects.

I may not be right, but at least I won't be disappointed. :)
Lest anyone be tempted, the fabulous Nate Silver has 10 reasons why you should ignore exit polls today.
Nat = Karl Rove + NC - OH.

I'm less optimistic about NC now that I bothered to check the weather, where I see there is rain in the Democratic part of NC and no rain in the Republican part. There is also rain all over VA but I don't think VA voters will be affected as much by the rain as NC voters.

The only other parts of the country where rain might play a factor are Denver and Philly, but I don't think it's raining in either place yet.
In rough summary (ignoring the 10th circuit where Alec and I agree anyway).

Nat = Alec + (FL-OH) + 2 more states (FL and NC)
Noah = Nat + 3 more states (OH and then IN/MO and GA/MT/ND)

03 November 2008

Are you trying to get us to bet on this? Count me out! I'm declining to talk about any races where my judge might hear an appeal, so that means nothing on Utah, Colorado, NM, Oklahoma, Kansas, or Wyoming. I'm giving Obama 5.5 points nationwide.

As for the rest of the relevant states, here are my predictions:

Obama wins:
New Hampshire
North Carolina
(Garnering 319 EV, not counting 10th circuit states)

McCain wins:
West Virginia
(Garnering 184 EV, not counting 10th circuit states)

As for the Senate, I predict Dem pickups in NC, OR, AK, and VA. I'm also guessing Prop 8 goes down in a nail-biter.
And here's my prediction: Obama by 5%. 311 electoral votes. OH but not FL; VA but not NC. IN, MO, GA, MT, ND all go to McCain. And yes, we should know by 8:45, although the networks probably won't call it until 11:01 or so. 59 Senate seats for the Dems.

Nat, Dave, what about you? Care to make it interesting?
With the election only a few hours away, I thought I'd share some of my favorite thoughts about Barack Obama, courtesy of the noted pundit R. W. Emerson:
History is full, down to this day, of the imbecility of kings and governors. They are a class of persons much to be pitied, for they know not what they should do. The weavers strike for bread, and the king and his ministers, not knowing what to do, meet them with bayonets. But Obama understood his business. Here was a man who, in each moment and emergency, knew what to do next. It is an immense comfort and refreshment to the spirits, not only of kings, but of citizens. Few men have any next; they live from hand to mouth, without a plan, and are ever at the end of their line, and, after each action, wait for an impulse from abroad...As he is, Obama inspires confidence and vigor by the extraordinary unity of his action...His victories were only so many doors, and he never for a moment lost sight of his way forward, in the dazzle and uproar of the present circumstance. He knew what to do, and he flew at his mark...

We cannot in the universal imbecility, indecision, and indolence of men, sufficiently congratulate ourselves on this strong and ready actor, who took Occasion by the beard, and showed us how much may be accomplished by the mere force of such virtues as all men possess in less degrees; namely, by punctuality, by personal attention, by courage, and thoroughness.
The original text can be found here.
After a long long campaign season, it's prediction time. Here's mine. Obama by 7 in the popular vote. Electoral vote either 375 or 379. Kerry states + IA, NM, CO, VA, OH, NV + all but one of FL, IN, NC, MO + one of GA, MT, ND, Omaha. If I have to pick exactly one scenario I'll go with MO as the loss above and GA as the win. Senate pickups in VA, NM, CO, NH, OR, AK, NC, MN, with GA going into a runoff. Time when we'll know the presidential election is over: around 8:45EST when VA and OH are called. The close races keeping us up at night: MN Senate and Prop 8, both of which will come down to a couple points.

01 November 2008

I was really looking forward to Halloween this year. I finally live in a neighborhood where parents let their children go trick-or-threating, and I had a perfect costume idea: John Stockton. Then the wheels came off. Incomprehensibly, there were no John Stockton jerseys in my size in any sporting goods store in town or on ebay, so no costume for me. Then I bought $30 worth of candy because I thought there would be tons of trick-or-treaters given the region's robust fertility rate. Alas, it rained, and I had something like five or six groups of kids. Now I'm stuck with a LOT of candy; luckily this stuff never goes bad.

28 October 2008

Today on the reduced price bakery rack at my neighborhood grocery store I noticed a peculiar item for sale: a "Marion Berry pie." Because it was very cheap, and because I was fascinated by the prospect of a pie named after the former mayor of DC, I bought the pie.

It turns out that the marionberry is a type of blackberry. The "Marion" in the name comes from an Oregon county where the hybrid was developed. So my pie is more likely to be filled with fruit than with, say, cocaine.

19 October 2008

I became somewhat depressed today when I began researching the various discount ticket packages available at Salt Lake's ski resorts, and I learned I wasn't young enough to qualify for a "young adult" discount. (And they don't mean "young adult" as a euphemism for teens or students. K-12 students have their own discount, as do college students.)

Luckily my old age didn't prevent me from climbing Mount Olympus yesterday. (They're kind of weird about mountain names in these parts.)

11 October 2008

We had our first snowfall of the season today. I hope things clear up by Monday, though, because I have plans to visit a corn maze cut in the shape of Utah's American Idol hero David Archuleta.

06 October 2008

I really miss Mike Huckabee.

02 October 2008

I'm incredibly proud to announce that Wailin's weekly column debuted today in the Chicago Tribune. If you look carefully, you may be able to see a cameo appearance by yours truly. (Hint: I'm a "friend.")

13 September 2008

I've become settled in my new digs in Salt Lake City. It's really a lovely place, and there's a standing invitation for anyone who wants to visit to ski, hike, or go to the Sundance Film Festival.

A couple of initial thoughts:

1) There are tons of bees here. It's the state symbol, and so I guess there are a lot of beekeepers. If that much-dreaded bee extinction is still a problem somewhere else, they know where to get extras.

2) There's no Trader Joe's here, which is deeply unfortunate. Rumor has it they won't come here because of our wacky restrictions on liquor sales. This confirms my suspicion that Trader Joe's is really a liquor store with good snacks.

02 September 2008

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, but I've been busy, among other things, catching up on The Wire. I just finished the third season (out of five), and it's great. But the trouble with watching a television series that follows a single epic storyline over the course of sixty episodes is that you can't read anything about it in the press, for fear of learning crucial plot points. For the better part of a year now, I've been extremely careful about avoiding spoilers for The Wire—shunning Wikipedia's coverage of the show and not even reading the recent New Yorker profile of its creator—and I've done pretty well.

Until now. A few minutes ago, I learned that a popular character, to quote my source, "is murdered in the antepenultimate episode of the series." And where did I learn who this character is?

It's the answer to 58-Down in today's New York Sun crossword puzzle.

Aaaargh! Why, Peter Gordon, why?

01 September 2008

Tomorrow I begin my new job as part of the article III branch of the U.S. Government. As such, I'm going to stop commenting on politics (even though this might be the most interesting political moment in my lifetime to date).

Instead, I'm sharing my observation of the day - when moving large pieces of furniture alone, try rolling them instead of carrying them. I found it to be very efficient.

27 August 2008

This month's Harvard Magazine has an interesting article by Larry Summers about the economic challenges facing the next president. I've always wondered why the Clinton economic team was so successful, and this article helps explain why: Summers is pragmatic, nuanced, and open to changing positions as the facts warrant. In particular, he seems much more concerned with income inequality than I would have expected him to be (he even promotes universal health care as one way of combatting it), and his views on free trade agreements and globalization seem to have evolved, as he now favors negotiating international corporate taxation and labor standards.

Of course, he's still Larry Summers, so he has to say something that is capable of generating a lot of smoke. This time, it's advocating against a reduction in energy prices (on environmental grounds): "with the economy getting used to far higher energy prices...it would be a great tragedy if prices were allowed to decline very sharply when the current crisis passes." Ouch. Something tells me that quote will resurface if he ever gets appointed to anything.

21 August 2008

Some readers may remember that I have, in my youthful days, used microwaves to put on light shows. Rumor has it I also have some experience with grease fires.

I was reminded of this when I read these comments on the Volokh Conspiracy, a law professor blog. The original post remarked that many household cleaners have a warning that failure to follow the directions is a violation of federal law; the blogger was curious what federal law that might be (the best suggestion was FIFRA, which regulates pesticide use). Many commentors, however, decided to speculate about which federal laws they could violate with cleaners and other household products. It looks as if there's some pretty potent explosives you can make; lest any readers worry, however, I think my pyromaniacal days are behind me.

19 August 2008

I heard about this on the radio this morning...the worst obituary ever, and apparently real - it was written about a woman from New Mexico who moved to northern California.

Note to self: if you're about to die, and your kid just got foreclosed on or something, tell them it's not necessary to write an obituary.

16 August 2008

I just saw this t-shirt today, and I have to say the design wasn't very well conceived - I thought it was one of these t-shirts until I puzzled through why the color scheme wasn't crimson and white. Apparently someone else noticed the problem and came up with these things as a joke.

14 August 2008

I just got back from a successful apartment hunt in Salt Lake City, and last night I stopped in Moab on the way back home. The place was chock full of European tourists, which I had not expected but which made sense once I saw it. What was more suprising was that the servers at both restaurants where I ate in Moab weren't native English speakers. This struck me as an odd coincidence, especially since I had noticed the same thing in Aspen a week before.

I dug around on the internet when I got back home and sure enough, it turns out that there's a government program allowing foreign university students to do seasonal work in the US during their summer vacations. There's also a whole slew of companies offering to pair these students with employers. While I'm not certain all my servers were part of this program, I'm guessing at least some of them were. The one thing I'm still trying to figure out is why I've never heard of anyone in Santa Fe participating in the program; Santa Fe has a very big need for seasonal hospitality workers, so I'd expect there to be some of these workers there. The program looks like it's been up and running since around 1999, but maybe Santa Fe employers just haven't caught on yet.

10 August 2008

Note to self: when you return home from a week in the mountains, smelling like a Superfund site, and your spouse is kind enough to not only greet you (despite said smell) but also to help unpack your filthy belongings, it is not a good idea to give your spouse a firestarter pellet (which is basically a clump of compressed sawdust) and tell her it's a macaroon. Apparently that's bad form.

30 July 2008

Yippee! I'm done with the bar exam, but not after it took two months of my life. Plenty has been said about bar exams already, but one positive that I took away was that I really did get to learn a lot of stuff that I wanted to learn in law school. Sure, I learned it in a superficial way (and I'm already on my way to forgetting much of it), but for a few fleeting moments I actually felt like I knew something about the law.

Anyhow, New Mexico has a high pass rate (you could invert that statement and say we have lower standards than some states) so I'm not too worried about failing, but there was enough wacky stuff on there that one can never be too sure. Thankfully I have one month of freedom before I return to the folds of the gainfully employed, and I aim to enjoy it. First, I'm going to watch the Dark Knight and play minature golf. Then, I'm going to disappear into the mountains of Colorado for a week. After that, I'm not sure, but I'll think of something.

25 July 2008

In a recent review in the New Yorker, David Denby describes The Dark Knight, unfairly I think, as having a mood of "constant climax." Reading his review made me wonder what it might be like to see a movie with a mood of "constant anticlimax." Now I know. And unfortunately, it's called The X-Files: I Want to Believe.

This isn't a terrible movie, but it's unbearably—and, it seems, intentionally—disappointing. Over the nine seasons of the original series, The X-Files managed to come up with at least fifty amazing stories (out of a total, it must be noted, of two hundred episodes). Now they've had six years to write one more story, and this is the best they can do? Clyde Bruckman must be spinning in his grave.

19 July 2008

Apparently The Dark Knight is on track to break the all-time record for an opening weekend. If it maintains its current trajectory, this may turn out to be the first year since 1981 when the highest-grossing movie was also the best.

18 July 2008

To call The Dark Knight the best comic book movie ever made is to do it a disservice: as a crime epic, as a thriller, as a portrait of a city, it deserves comparison with The Departed and L.A. Confidential. Watching scene after scene unfold with incredible invention, complexity, and ingenuity, I was reminded that Christopher and Jonathan Nolan once wrote and directed a little movie called Memento, which is still the cleverest movie of the decade. That film was a twisty, intricate indie thriller shot on a shoestring; The Dark Knight must have cost something like $180 million, but it lavishes the same amount of care and attention on every image, every story point, and every line of dialogue—it has enough ideas and inspiration for half a dozen lesser movies. What's more, in the three years since Batman Begins, where the big set pieces were often a little muddled, Chris Nolan has learned how to shoot an action scene, and he gives us two or three that are as good as anything since Children of Men.

In this movie, the pleasures come as large as a semi truck turning a somersault—and as small as a graceful somersault of the camera itself. And the cast is, by and large, phenomenal. Heath Ledger has, deservedly, received most of the attention, but I'd like to spotlight the work of another actor: Gary Oldman. Back when Batman Begins was released, Oldman seemed like an odd choice for Commissioner Gordon—Kurt Russell was originally tapped for the part—and at the time, it felt as if the producers had simply tried to cast a big name, regardless of his suitability for the role. Not anymore. It may seem strange, but Gordon is the heart of The Dark Knight, and Oldman follows through with his best performance in years. He's the closest thing to a recognizable human being that I've ever seen in a film like this. Could Commissioner Gordon: The Movie be far behind?

Anyway, I could go on and on about The Dark Knight, which belongs to a very short list of recent films—including Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, Zodiac, and There Will Be Blood—that have raised the bar for the entire industry. But you probably don't need my encouragement to see this movie. Right?

17 July 2008

For some reason, this website featuring Norman Schwarzkopf as the national spokesperson for the "Be Bear Aware" campaign was one of the funniest things I'd seen in a while. Schwarzkopf instructs us that "North America is home to three different species of bears, some say actually four." Huh? Why did this campaign (which seems designed to prevent people from approaching bears) need a celebrity spokesperson? And why Stormin' Norman?

Well, I poked around on Google and found out that Schwarzkopf's other nickname is "The Bear," so that makes some sense. And according to Wikipedia, he's spent his retirement as spokesman for lots of charities, so I guess that helps answer the puzzle. (He also sits on the board of directors of Remington Arms, if you care about that sort of thing.) I guess you learn something new every day.

04 July 2008

Despite such postings as this, this, and this, it seems that this blog's language is pretty tame:

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou

(For what it's worth, I was unable to find any instances of Nat swearing online.)

02 July 2008

What's the deal with prosciutto and fruit? I went to an engagement party on Friday night where they had canteloupe wrapped in prosciutto, and now I read in the New York Times that that's how one is supposed to eat prunes, er, dried plums. Is this some trend that everyone else knew about and is only now trickling into the the flyover states?

26 June 2008

Yesterday I waited in line for five hours to see the Public Theater's production of Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park, and while I wouldn't say that the effort was wasted, the more I think about it, the more I end up feeling perplexed and disappointed. For most of its great length, this version of Hamlet is a fine one: Michael Stuhlbarg—although old for the part at 39—makes for a manic but lucid Hamlet; Sam Waterston and Jay O. Sanders are excellent as Polonius and the Ghost; and Lauren Ambrose—yes, her—is a perfect Ophelia. As far as the cast goes, the only real letdown is Andre Braugher's Claudius: I've been a huge fan of Braugher for years, but he fails to give the part any spark of inner life. As a character, Claudius is always outmatched by Hamlet, of course, but here, his presence barely seems to register on the other characters, much less the audience.

This isn't a fatal flaw. Up to the very last moment, this production of Hamlet is entertaining, engaging, and, best of all, beautifully spoken—it does perfect justice to the density and beauty of the text. And then...

The last ten seconds are a travesty. John Lahr describes the utterly baffling ending here, and does a nice job of expressing how bizarre and unmotivated it seems: "What is going on? Is this the end of history? Of storytelling? Are we on Candid Camera?" It's as if the last scene of The Departed had been accidentally spliced onto the end of the play. On its own terms, the ending is clever, but in context, it's so grossly miscalculated that it makes me question my lingering goodwill towards the rest of the production. Instead of leaving the theater with thoughts of Hamlet, Shakespeare, or anything else, the audience is compelled to discuss an infantile sick joke. It hijacks the entire play. If other directorial choices throughout the production had prepared us for it, I might feel differently, but as it stands, it feels utterly arbitrary. As such, it represents an incredible show of vanity on the part of the director, Oskar Eustis, who should have known better. As Hamlet says to the players: "That's villainous, and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it."

10 June 2008

Before going to the R.E.M. concert on Friday, I ended up at a bookstore near Wailin's office, where I bought a discounted copy of the tie-in book to Wordplay. (I was running out of crossword puzzles.) Later, during an intermission at the concert, Wailin and I ended up working on one of the crosswords. When the man seated next to me saw what we were doing, the following conversation took place:

Man: "Is that a Will Shortz puzzle?"
Me (holding up the book): "Yeah, from Wordplay. Have you heard of it?"
Man: "Well, actually, it was directed by my brother-in-law."

His wife, who was seated nearby (along with their three children), turned out to be Patrick Creadon's sister. She was amused by the coincidence, and even took a picture of me holding up the book, which she said that she would send to Patrick. (Apparently he's a big R.E.M. fan.) We chatted a bit about crosswords before the concert began. Apparently they held the premiere party for Wordplay at their house, where they got to meet all of the contestants profiled in the movie. According to the husband, Al Sanders, not surprisingly, is a one heck of a nice guy, while one of the other guests was "one of the weirdest people I've ever met in my life." (Guess which one!)

Anyway, that improbable coincidence overshadowed the rest of the concert, which was a lot of fun, although I quickly realized that most of my favorite R.E.M. songs ("Find the River," "Electrolite," etc.) are less than suited for a stadium setting. Stipe looked and sounded great, though, and they even brought Johnny Marr onstage for a quick jam session. At the end of the concert, Stipe pinned an Obama button to his lapel, to thunderous applause and cheers from the Chicago crowd. All in all, it was a pretty good night.

06 June 2008

Wailin and I are seeing R.E.M. tonight at the United Center in Chicago, allowing me to cross another entry off my list of Bands to See Before I Die. (Largest remaining omission: the Arcade Fire.) Although I'm excited by the prospect of the concert, and reassured by the fact that Accelerate is a very solid album (Noah, any thoughts?), I'm finding myself even more thrilled by the presence of Modest Mouse, a band to which I've hitherto had little exposure. The reason for my excitement? Their latest album is a fine one, yes, but there's also the matter of the band's latest member, a fellow named Johnny Marr. Marr is arguably the greatest guitarist of my lifetime, and between this concert and the Morrissey show at Radio City Music Hall (four years ago!), I'm that much closer to mentally assembling the Smiths reunion of my dreams. And who knows? Sometimes these dreams come true. Stranger things have happened...

31 May 2008

Quote of the Day:

"Now I guess you folks have heard, or read, or been told somewhere that recently I became fifty years old, and I'm here to tell you right now, it's a dirty Communist lie. Direct from Hanoi—it came right outta there! My body may be fifty, but I'm twenty-eight!"

—Frank Sinatra, Sinatra at the Sands

(Sinatra adds: "And I would further like to say that I'd be twenty-two if I hadn't spent all those years drinking with Joe E. Lewis, who nearly wrecked me.")

26 May 2008

Sydney Pollack, 1934-2008. The obituaries understandably focus on his career as a director, but for me, Pollack will always be Victor Ziegler in Eyes Wide Shut, delivering one of my favorite lines in movie history: "Life goes on. It always does. Until it doesn't."
With a little trepidation, I'm wading into the wars over the supposed "liberal bias" of today's academy. Stanley Fish blasts the University of Colorado over its plan to endow a Chair of Conservative Thought and Policy. While I agree with Fish that it's a silly idea, I disagree with some of his reasoning.

It's a silly idea, to me, because the academy should strive to describe the world in (we hope) useful ways. The manner (or subject) of inquiry should dictate how the academy is structured - not the normative conclusion to be reached. Professors should be selected based upon the quality of their research, not upon their political views. Problems arise, however, when faculty politicize their positions - either by blocking new faculty hires who are talented but who have minority political views, or by using their teaching positions to indoctrinate new students. If these practices are going on, then administrators should address them directly, instead of further politicizing the university by expressly hiring faculty based on their political views. Fish spends a bit of time on this point.

Where I disagree with Fish is where he argues that a politically slanted faculty has no bearing on the quality of the university. As I mentioned above, politically slanted faculties can create problems - for instance, they might influence the hiring process by blocking candidates based upon politics. This can create a chilling effect that can only be detrimental to the free pursuit of knowledge - the world is deprived of talented scholars whose only fault is their political persuasion, and young scholars might alter their research queries to avoid politically unpopular results.

I'm not saying much of this is happening - at least not yet. And it's surely less likely to be a problem in less-politicized disciplines (the field where I have the most experience, the law, is probably the most politicized of all). But I'm not ready to say that political homogeneity is problem-free.

24 May 2008

Having just seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for a second time—never mind why—I'd like to add the following observations:

1. When viewed with reduced expectations, the first ninety minutes of this movie are passably good. If the ending were anything other than an anticlimactic fiasco, I'd be pretty happy.

2. The first three Indiana Jones movies were about the search for a sacred artifact—the Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara stones, the Grail—and climaxed with the artifact's recovery. In the new installment, the crystal skull is found within the first forty minutes, and the rest of the movie is devoted to putting it back. Somehow this doesn't seem as dramatically compelling.

3. During the "climactic" scene, in which the true nature of the crystal skull is finally revealed, instead of being overwhelmed with awe, I found myself remembering something that Chief Wiggum once said: "Yeah, right. How ya gonna get 'em? Skeleton power?"

23 May 2008

According to Wikipedia, screenwriters who either wrote or were approached to write drafts of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull included M. Night Shyamalan, Tom Stoppard, Stephen Gaghan, Jeffrey Boam (who wrote Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), and Frank Darabont (writer and director of The Shawshank Redemption). Apparently Darabont's version of the story was enthusiastically approved by Steven Spielberg, but rejected by George Lucas, prompting the immortal observation (by me) that Hollywood is the sort of place where the guy who wrote The Shawshank Redemption gets script notes from the guy who wrote Attack of the Clones.

I mention all these names because although the new Indiana Jones movie is energetic and sometimes fun, the final screenplay, by David Koepp, is a real mess, a hodgepodge of half-developed plot elements and MacGuffins without an emotional center. It's especially disappointing compared to the screenplay for The Last Crusade, which is literate, exciting, emotional, and makes a surprising amount of sense. No other screenplay has ever seized my imagination as strongly as The Last Crusade did (partly because I was ten years old at the time). By the last reel of Crystal Skull, by contrast, we're still confused about basic plot points and character relationships, and the ending could be scored, not with John Williams, but with Peggy Lee singing "Is That All There Is?"

As my previous postings on the subject might indicate, nobody approached this movie with more unnatural passion than I did. It's possible that I'll change my mind after another viewing—which may happen tonight. There's a lot to admire here, especially near the beginning, and there's one extended chase scene that ranks with the best in the series. In the end, though, action is cheap. I'm not sure what I was hoping to feel instead. Awe, maybe. Or illumination. George Lucas would probably tell me that I'm crazy. (Although, as the Onion points out, he'll probably fix it twenty years from now.)
It's graduation season, so congratulations to those bloggers and readers who are getting degrees. My graduation doesn't really feel like such because I immediately began studying for the bar. Nonetheless, I got some post-graduation validation that I had entered the right field when I read that the legal profession ranks as one of the top career fields for introverts. This was surprising to me, since my personal feeling is that a lot of legal work involves dealing with other people, and I don't think introversion helps at all.

The most interesting thing about the list is it ranks the legal field second in the category of best-paid professions for introverts. What is first, you ask? Astronomers! Who knew? Maybe those people who took Celestial Navigation were on to something.

10 May 2008

When I heard that Errol Morris was making a movie about Abu Ghraib, my first reaction was unmitigated excitement. Morris, as I've said before, may be the most consistently interesting director in America, and he's one of the few artists in any medium whose engagement with a topic tends to yield meaningful, valuable discoveries. I genuinely thought that I was going to learn something important from this movie. Having finally seen Standard Operating Procedure, I'm left feeling alternately impressed and frustrated, with a sense that the film raises more questions than it answers. This may have been what Morris intended, but it's unfortunate that I find myself suspecting that the answers I wanted to see, far from being inconceivable, have simply been left on the cutting room floor.

Morris's great gift has always been for exploring the personalities of his subjects. It's hard to think of Fast, Cheap and Out of Control or Gates of Heaven or his short profiles for First Person without remembering specific, indelible human faces, men and women who have taken up permanent residence in my imagination. None of the participants in Standard Operating Procedure ever comes to life in quite the same way, which is a considerable loss. If Morris could have turned Abu Ghraib into a place populated by individuals we've come to know and understand, it would have been his greatest achievement. Instead, we're left with a very intelligent and ambitious essay by a filmmaker who exercises complete control over his material, to the exclusion of the weird, tangential, serendipitous moments that made his earlier work so wonderful. The result is still compelling, and there are some virtuoso sequences, but it leaves you craving the raw footage.

For what it's worth, a recent piece by Morris and Philip Gourevitch in the New Yorker fleshes out one of his subjects, Sabrina Harman, in a way that the movie does not. Reading this piece makes me wonder about the messier, more humane film that Morris could have made instead. The footage must exist, but it's outside the frame.
It's hard to believe that more than two years have passed since I last saw Blue Velvet on the big screen, but this weekend, it's playing at midnight at Landmark Sunshine, a theater that may be one of the great unsung treasures of New York moviegoing. (In the past year alone, I've seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Pink Floyd the Wall at the Sunshine, and in two weeks, they'll be playing The Shining.) I went to see Blue Velvet last night, and I can say that the Sunshine has provided close to the perfect set of conditions for seeing this movie—large screen, nice auditorium, gorgeous print. The sound could be a little sharper, perhaps, but since this movie has some of the most challenging sound design of any film ever made, all things considered, the sound crew has done commendable work on what had to have been a rush job.

Watching Blue Velvet again, I was struck for the first time by the work of one of its unsung heroes: Duwayne Dunham, the editor, who also edited Return of the Jedi and Wild at Heart and went on to direct important episodes of Twin Peaks, as well as Little Giants and Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. (That's one hell of a resume.) Although it's impossible to say for sure, I have a hunch that Dunham was responsible for pulling this movie into its current shape. A glance at the original screenplay, as well as the deleted scenes on the DVD, reveal that a lot of extra material, some extraordinary, some naive, was shot and cut. The final version of the film moves from one astonishing set piece to another, going from high point to high point almost without interruption. Nothing that David Lynch has done before or since matches Blue Velvet's focus and power, and Dunham may be largely responsible for this.

At the moment, Dunham doesn't seem to be doing much, spending his time directing TV movies and contributing to special features on the Twin Peaks box set. Would a reunion be too much to ask?

05 May 2008

On a lighter note, you can take this prediction to the bank: Robert Downey Jr. will be named People's Sexiest Man Alive within the next twelve months. It isn't that Downey has suddenly become all that more attractive, but People has been running short of reasonably presentable A-list actors for some time now (seriously—Matt Damon?), and a $100 million opening weekend is enough to make anyone look good.

A decade ago, Downey was in jail. Now he's Iron Man. Apparently there are second acts in some American lives. I was contemplating Downey's meteoric rise, and pondering the equally dramatic, but opposite, trend in the life of Tom Cruise over exactly the same period, when I remembered an astonishing fact:

Tom Cruise turned down the part of Iron Man.

Interesting, isn't it?

Was there a secret karmic transfer between Cruise and Downey in early 2005? Is the role of Iron Man the opposite of the Superman curse? And what does this mean for Gwyneth Paltrow? I'm sure that the blogosphere will uncover the real story soon...
Iron Man may be the first $180 million comic book movie in history with a great curtain line—which means, of course, that the New Yorker spoiled it. I'm getting a little tired of Anthony Lane and David Denby's determination to reveal the ending of every movie that has ever been released. Denby is usually a little better about this, but if you look at his Iron Man review, you'll see that he blows the ending for absolutely no reason. You could delete the offending sentence entirely without detracting from the point he's trying to make, which (spoiler alert!) is that there may be a sequel in the works. Really?

For the record, A.O. Scott, who is probably the best movie critic working today, hints at the ending much more gracefully in his own review, and without detracting at all from its critical merit. Clearly, this is an institutional issue. The New Yorker's editorial policy on spoilers, if it exists, must be a joke. Well, no more. As of today, I'm no longer reading Lane or Denby reviews of movies that I haven't seen yet. It just isn't worth it.

03 May 2008

What the heck kind of sport is this where you surround injured competitors with large trucks (so no one can see what you're doing) and then kill them? Sheesh.

02 May 2008

I can't say I ever expected a video of me shaving my legs to make in on Youtube.

(Last month I went with the UNM triathlon team to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for the collegiate national triathlon championship. Gatorade sponsored a contest for teams to shoot videos that featured Gatorade. I shaved my legs to help on the swim, which is a bad idea because they're still scratchy three weeks later.)

30 April 2008

I used to think that having 25 pounds of rice in the house demonstrated an admirable degree of preparedness, but it turns out that I'm behind the curve. (Wailin and I saw this sign in a restaurant during our recent trip to Seattle.)

10 April 2008

My Blueberry Nights is minor Wong Kar-Wai, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Chungking Express is minor Wong Kar-Wai, too—and also one of the greatest movies ever made. Whenever My Blueberry Nights manages to tap into the same spontaneous, inventive spirit that informs all of Wong's best films, it's literally intoxicating. There are moments in the opening scenes, in which Wong brings his style and sensibility to New York City, when I was all but levitating out of my seat with happiness—and that was before I heard Cat Power on the soundtrack.

The frame narrative, which stars Jude Law (miscast but irresistible) and Norah Jones (amateurish but adorable) as a pair of Wong's quintessentially romantic oddballs, promises a lot more than the film ultimately delivers. Once Jones hits the road, we're treated to a series of bittersweet episodes set in an entirely imaginary America, none of which is especially compelling, despite the presence of Rachel Weisz (luminous, with one perfectly tousled lock of hair across her face), Natalie Portman (miscast as usual), and David Strathairn (underused). A detour to Las Vegas, which should have been amazing—Wong Kar-Wai in Las Vegas!—fizzles out too quickly. In the end, we're left with a double handful of wonderful moments and a movie that is intermittently enchanting if you're a Wong Kar-Wai fan, and if not, not.

If My Blueberry Nights is something of a misfire, at least it's an encouraging one. Over the past decade, Wong has made a pair of undeniable masterpieces—In the Mood for Love and 2046—that are formally perfect, visually stunning, and utterly unlike his best work. This new movie represents a tentative return to the qualities that made him, for a few precious years, the most exciting filmmaker in the world. With Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, all of the stars were perfectly aligned, but you can't expect it to happen every time. I'd rather see Wong make ten more movies like My Blueberry Nights than another 2046, because, sooner or later, lightning is bound to strike again. Or so I hope. Because when it does, it's going to light up the entire world.

03 April 2008

The Times has finally written an article combining two of my favorite subjects: typography and Obama. (My favorite exchange: "What is it about the typeface Gotham that adds personality to the Obama brand?" "I don’t think that Gotham adds any personality to Senator Obama’s brand.")

02 April 2008

Recently, after realizing that my annual Kinko's bill has reached levels much too embarrassing to mention, I splurged and bought myself a refurbished 3-in-1 printer. (HP Photosmart C3180, in case you're interested. Less than fifty bucks, not counting shipping and USB cable.) I'm fairly satisfied, except for the fact that the darned thing drinks ink. It took fewer than two hundred manuscript pages for the cartridge to run dry. Fortunately, I've just discovered that Walgreen's is offering a free ink refill for one day only. All I need to do is, uh, print out a coupon...
April Fool's Update:

I managed to fool AM for the first time in years (I think since the wombat farm hoax of '00). Here are some pointers I learned from this year's prank:

-Red food coloring is a GREAT substitute for blood, both on skin/clothing and splattered about, say, a kitchen.

-That being said, it seeps into the skin fairly quickly to create a sort of pink stain, so apply the food coloring just moments before the prank for maximum effect.

-Aforementioned pink stain does not wash off the skin, so think about where you apply it (i.e. avoid the face. Luckily for me it's confined to the hands and wrists).

-Food coloring can be washed out of clothing quite effectively with a rapid application of dishwashing soap, followed by vigorous scrubbing and rinsing.

31 March 2008

I'm not sure why, but I had an uncontrollable urge to post a link to this article today.

I also enjoyed reading this list of the top 100 all-time hoaxes. The only one that I've been fooled by was the Hotheaded Naked Ice Borer (#9 on the list). Some of my favorites include Nixon for President in '92 (#6 on the list), the Arm the Homeless charity drive (#23), the Tasmanian Mock Walrus (# 44), the Nat Tate memorial (#60), and the closure of all of LA's highways for a month (#92).

I have to admire some pranksters for their tireless efforts: one man airlifted hundreds of tires into the crater of a dormant volcano and then lit them on fire to scare nearby townspeople (Mount Edgecumb, #14), and another man transported horse manure by gondola to make it appear that horses had ridden through Venice's water-bound Piazza San Marco (#78).

Some entities seem to make for good pranks. The old Soviet Union was an easy target; their reported purchase of two Connecticut newspapers is number 28 on the list. Euro Disney is another easy target (case in point: its reported purchase of the Eiffel Tower (#93)), and the two were combined when it was announced that Lenin's body would be put on display at Euro Disney (#68).

24 March 2008

Today's random but possibly meaningful discovery: when you type the search term "Wikipedia" into Google, the first three subsidiary pages to appear—at least this morning—are Commodity Market, Denzel Washington, and Chitty Bang.

23 March 2008

I was inordinately pleased to see this article in the New York Times Magazine discussing Obama's candidacy from a biracial perspective. It's a charming essay, even if most of its points about "the future of race in this country, the paradigm and paradox of its simultaneous intransigence and disappearance" aren't exactly new. Along with the recent piece about Obama's mama, it helps me own up to a fundamental fact: I relate to Barack Obama. I know that I'm not alone in this—the guy is a blank screen—but until recently, it always made me feel a little silly. But should it? I'm not going to rehash my own life story, or Obama's, but I can't help feeling that this is the first presidential candidate in history with whom I have anything in common. (Well, I guess a few of these guys went to Harvard, too...but you know what I mean.)
I really enjoyed yesterday's New York Times crossword, which contained the lovely crossing of HAPAX (as in hapax legomenon, which, believe it or not, was the first answer I filled in) with JELLOSHOT (clued as "jigger that jiggles"). As Rex Parker, my favorite crossword blogger, writes: "That's the alpha and omega of the college experience right there." Amen.

18 March 2008

If you've ever wished that someone would finally get around to writing a vampire slash fic starring Sufjan Stevens, the Vampire Lestat, and Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields, brother (or sister), this is your lucky day. (Thanks to the AV Club for the tip.)
Dodgertown is closing up shop. It's probably impossible to describe what Dodgertown meant to me, even though I was only there for a day. I was 10 or 11 years old, the age when you're old enough to understand a sport and young enough to keep all the idealism and sense of fantasy that are necessary to be a true fan. The place was like heaven - perfect weather, the whole town painted Dodger Blue, and players so close you could talk to them (I was too shy, of course, which is probably just as well, since I don't know what I'd do with a Darryl Strawberry autograph these days). In the outfield, instead of bleachers, fans sat on a grassy hill right behind the fence. I watched a game between the Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds, and when we got bored, my brothers and I got up and started throwing a ball to each other. After the game, we went to the beach and swam. I always vowed I'd go back.

A few years ago, the Dodgers drew up plans to move their spring training facility to Las Vegas, and I was crushed. Those plans fell through somehow, but by that time I realized I'd never be able to go back to the Dodgertown I knew as a kid. Sure, I still like sports, and every year I predict the Dodgers will win the World Series, but I can't live the simple fantasy that Dodgertown represented. If were to go back, I'd wonder about the sanity of the fans, and I'd also think about the racism that black baseball players faced during spring training in Florida in the 1950s and 60s (well documented in the new biography Clemente by David Maraniss). Still, it would have been nice to sit on the grassy hill with a picnic lunch and a baseball glove one last time.

17 March 2008

I love my school. For the second year in a row, spring break corresponds to the first week of the NCAA basketball tournament. Let others go to Cancun; I'll spend some quality time watching upsets on TV.

Slate has a wonderful March Madness article by some guy who has developed a formula for determining when a lead is "safe" in men's college basketball. I'm sure plenty of sports geeks (myself included) are combing the internet for games that violate the formula, but there aren't many out there - it seems like it's pretty accurate. The best part, though, is now we have reason to keep watching games even when we think that games are out of reach - we'll want to figure out the exact time when the lead becomes Safe.

13 March 2008

I really enjoyed this list of the 100 best closing lines from novels. (Even more nominees can be found here.) It's too bad that they restrict the list to fiction, though, because some of my favorite closing lines are from memoirs. From Seven Pillars of Wisdom: "In the end he agreed; and then at once I knew how much I was sorry." And from The Kid Stays in the Picture: "Resolve: Fuck 'em, fuck 'em all."

It's also strange that they nominate the closing lines of all of Updike's Rabbit novels except for Rabbit Redux, which may have my favorite last line of any contemporary novel. ("He. She. Sleeps. O.K.?") The last sentence of Atonement probably also deserved a nod. Any other nominees?

10 March 2008

This article, bumped off the top of the NY Times most-emailed list by the Spitzer story, deserves a lot of attention. So many adolescents devote their energy to sports on the belief that it's their ticket to college, when in reality the number of college scholarships that are passed around are far fewer than the number of college athletes. In this day and age of lottery scholarships, it's a lot easier to get a scholarship with a 3.0 GPA, and it might just be a better idea to spend your high school years studying rather than traveling to elite competitions.

The other interesting part of the article is the fact that scholarship money is rarely apportioned equally among athletes on a team. This is mind-boggling to me. I can't think of any easier way to insert discord into the locker room than to give the athletes differently sized scholarships; I've spoken with former athletes who have confirmed that this does actually affect team chemistry. While I'm not likely to be a college coach anytime soon, I'd advise anyone who is to avoid giving your athletes reasons to hate each other.
This Eliot Spitzer business is an especially bitter pill to swallow. Spitzer, more than any other politician in the past decade, was able to take on the most powerful people in the country and hold them to account for the wrongs they committed against the general public. His crusades against white collar criminals belied the idea, so prevalent these days, that government is by its very nature slower and more incompetent than private industry. I suppose my dreams about working in a Spitzer-led Justice Department aren't very likely to come to pass.

05 March 2008

According to Gawker, attending a crossword puzzle convention is nerdier than playing Dungeons and Dragons:
This year's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament had a joke from Will Shortz about an obscure word for "needle case." It had contestants gasping at a story about leaving one square blank. It had cosplay. And crossword contestants asked aloud why ESPN doesn't cover their tourney.
Personally, I thought that the etui joke was pretty funny. (As funny as an inside joke, anyway, than the umpteenth Gawker reference to Julia Allison or Tinsley Mortimer.) But maybe you had to be there...

27 February 2008

In preparation for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, I've been reading a lot of crossword books, including Cruciverbalism by Stanley Newman, which I finished yesterday. In a section on the need for "a robust, wide-ranging, malleable, and ever-growing vocabulary," Newman writes:
Our conversational vocabulary of 3,000 words represents less than one-sixth of the total words with which we're familiar; most of us actually know and recognize about 20,000 words. That national average may drop substantially when William F. Buckley finally shuffles off this mortal coil...but there's no reason why we should rely on the estimable Mr. Buckley to prop up our stats.
Well, great. So what's the average now? (For more thoughts on Mr. Buckley, see here.)

22 February 2008

Other authors of this blog (and certain other regular readers): mark your calendars for November 15, 2008.

21 February 2008

I'm in White Plains right now for an environmental law moot court competition. One of the perks of visiting New York: I'm blogging from a sushi joint.

Another perk (sort of): cable TV. This morning, I psyched myself up for the competition by watching the 1970 NY Knicks on ESPN classic. This evening, we turned on Fox News, and within 5 minutes Brit Hume compared Barack Obama to Chairman Mao because both of them attracted throngs of listeners. Boy, I wish I could watch that on a regular basis.

16 February 2008

I also love David Lynch's thoughts on product placement.

These clips are especially striking, because in the old days, Lynch couldn't even bring himself to say the f-word. According to Dennis Hopper—I can't find the source, but I think it was on Inside the Actor's Studio—Lynch would write the word on a piece of paper and point to it while giving him direction on his dialogue in Blue Velvet. He seems to have loosened up in the meantime. Maybe it's all that Transcendental Meditation...

15 February 2008

Evidently David Lynch has some pretty strong views on iPhones.

14 February 2008

By the way, it's important to point out that Obama hasn't been winning caucuses and primaries because of his vision and charisma—it's because of his superior organization, both on the grassroots level and on the higher levels of technology, analysis, and strategy. Placed in an admirable position by good timing and high hopes, he didn't flame out like a Fred Thompson or Rudy Giuliani—he rose to the occasion. He followed through. Anyone who claims that Clinton is better at execution or specifics needs to explain why she's been consistently outmaneuvered by a guy she's trying to paint as a visionary milquetoast.

13 February 2008

Are movies simply better now than ever before? A year ago, I was blogging about Children of Men, The Departed, and Pan's Labyrinth, and the latest crop of great films certainly suggests that something remarkable is happening. A glance at last year's box office reveals that there will always be room for pandering and mediocity, but the best movies of last year demonstrate a willingness to pair big stars and budgets with equally vast ambitions:

1. Zodiac. The most technically accomplished and comprehensively organized film of the year is also the best serial killer movie, the best newspaper movie, and the best San Francisco movie I've ever seen. It's so scary, funny, and fascinating, so rammed with life, that I actually forgive David Fincher for Fight Club.

2. There Will Be Blood. "The more books we read," Cyril Connolly writes, "the clearer it becomes that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence." Alone among directors of his generation, Paul Thomas Anderson has kept his eye on the long game. This amazing, aggravating movie is the enduring result.

3. Once. Even more than the insanely ambitious films mentioned above, this slight, magical story cuts to the heart of the mystery of movies. How can a few good songs and a handful of perfect moments, apparently captured on the fly, become a permanent part of a moviegoer's inner life?

4. No Country For Old Men. I've always had mixed feelings about the Coen Brothers, especially their comedies, but this movie demonstrates how design, suspense, and narrative ingenuity can result in their own kind of mordant wit. I have a feeling that this is one of those terrifying movies, like The Shining, that will become weirdly funny with time.

5. Michael Clayton. Screenwriters rarely make great directors, but Tony Gilroy has fashioned a beautiful centaur, a big commercial movie with the heart of an indie film. My favorite image, aside from the final shot, is Tom Wilkinson's penultimate scene, a nod to a timeless movie cliché: "Every shopping bag contains at least one baguette."

6. Grindhouse. In time, a lot of people are going to regret not seeing this encyclopedic, immersive, overwrought sensation on the big screen. Both halves are brilliant, but it's the ending of Death Proof, and that amazing car chase, that sticks with me the most. This movie's failure, and the unlikelihood of future sequels, is a loss for the entire culture.

7. Eastern Promises. This perfectly conceived and executed gangster movie features, of course, the greatest fight scene in years, the sort of brawl that you can closely track, with your eyes closed, by listening to the screams of the audience. After—and perhaps because of—three decades of anatomical creepiness, David Cronenberg has emerged, inexplicably, as one of the best genre directors in the world.

8. American Gangster. This may be Ridley Scott's best movie, terrific in ways both big and small, an epic of seamless momentum, intelligence, and taste. The grace with which it assembles its huge cast and detailed story is comparable, on all levels, to L.A. Confidential. Higher praise is not required.

9. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. In its own quiet way, this is one of the most beautifully composed movies of the year, with a suspenseful, involving story told in fewer than seventy separate shots. Every frame radiates intelligence—especially in the dinner party scene, which is a real tour de force. The fact that it wasn't nominated for Best Foreign Film is one of the year's biggest scandals.

10. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. A consummate artist with a huge ego, Julian Schnabel lavished all of his skills on this exquisitely conceived movie, with considerable help, one assumes, from cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. At times, it resembles a bottomless bag of tricks, but the acting and soundtrack allow the emotion of the story to permeate what is, at heart, a brilliant excuse for showing off.

If anything is missing from this list, it's an animated movie, since Ratatouille, Persepolis, The Simpsons Movie, and even Enchanted served, in highly diverse ways, as a reminder of how vital the medium can be. As for the worst movie of the year, it's hard for me to say anything good about 300, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. That's the mark of a great year for cinema—when even its lowest point is some kind of classic.
DC v. Heller, the 2nd Amendment case currently before the Supreme Court, presents an interesting legal issue, but (as I've mentioned to some of you in person) just as interesting is the political posturing regarding the case.

The first wrinkle is the fact that the NRA originally tried to sabotage the case to avoid a direct Supreme Court ruling on the scope of the Second Amendment.

The second wrinkle is how governments are lining up on either side of the suit. The federal government is split; while the United States supports the DC gun ban (sort of), Dick Cheney has gone ahead and joined a brief supporting gun owners. Former DOJ officials have filed briefs on both sides. Most interestingly, more states (31, including New Mexico) have lined up on behalf of the gun owners than have on behalf of the District of Columbia (6, counting Puerto Rico). Unlike most of the amicus briefs, I think the state briefs could prove important.

There are also a whole slew of political interest groups who have jumped in, like "Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership." My favorite: the Pink Pistols, a GBLT rights group that wants to prevent firearm ownership from being conditioned upon military service (since gays and lesbians can't serve in the military). It's an interesting argument.

The above-mentioned briefs can be accessed here.

12 February 2008

According to the latest polls, Obama leads McCain by eight points, while Clinton is within the margin of error. Nobody's going to beat McCain by playing the experience card.

10 February 2008

Torrey and I had the feelings of Nat's classmate as we were watching the candidates on CNN at the gym this morning. (If you're ever in Chicago, I highly recommend the gym at the Ritz-Carlton. Of course, it helps if your fiancée's grandparents live in the apartment building.) I missed Hillary's 5 minutes, but when Barack got up there I thought "he looks like a president" and then he spouted vague generalities. Torrey reported that Hillary was much more concrete. Perhaps my infatuation is fading. Can either of them really beat McCain?
Mike Huckabee's response to the fact that John McCain holds such a commanding lead in the delegate count that he's effectively unstoppable:
I didn't major in math, I majored in miracles.

Huckabee is like my sticky-fingered 7 year old neighbor who comes over to play on the computer - he's cute and he makes you laugh, but you have to keep your eye on him and don't let him get near your valuables.
The latest word from the New York Times is that Barack Obama may have actually exaggerated the extent of his drug use during high school and college. Was he just trying to inflate his score on the purity test?

08 February 2008

August: Osage County isn't just the best play I've ever seen on Broadway—it's arguably the best work of art I've seen all year, trumping even the fruits of an exceptional year for movies. It's like the mirror image of There Will Be Blood: instead of an epic movie with no women set in all of the outdoors, it's an implosive play with seven amazing female characters—and six amazing men—set entirely in a house where the windows have been papered over. Yet the chain-smoking, pill-popping family matriarch is more frightening than Daniel Plainview with a bowling ball. Even Anton Chigurh would feel uncomfortable in this crowd. (I can easily imagine Violet Weston, the scariest mother in recent theatrical history, reducing Chigurh to a sniveling lump with a few choice remarks about his awful haircut.)

As an occasional playgoer, I've often sympathized with Homer Simpson, who, confronted with a quiet day at the zoo, exclaimed: "I've seen plays that were more exciting than this! Honest to God—plays!" And at first glance, August: Osage County seems like a hard sell. Yes, it's three hours long. But in practice, those three hours feel more like thirty minutes, and they're over all too soon. It isn't a perfect play—the bracketing of the story with quotations by T.S. Eliot feels too neat, a saintly American Indian character is woefully undeveloped, and there are one or two surprise revelations too many—but you get the feeling that these issues would have been addressed if the play ran four, five, or six hours. I would have been more than willing to spend an entire day with these characters, if the results remained as consistently funny, shocking, and compelling as they are now. Will there be blood? Are you kidding?

07 February 2008

This is my last post about Obama love. At school there has been a heated debate over email over whom to support, and one Hillary supporter summed her feelings up this way:
I read Obama’s books last summer and I was really into him then much like I see how people are into him now. But after time had passed and the debates began, my infatuation with Obama subsided and my confidence in Hillary came to the forefront.

Discovering Obama is like falling in love because of the freshness of his ideas and fairytale-like quality to the vision he articulates. But, like most loves, after time the novelty fades away and you just have a sincere guy who has great ideas and great potential.

As for Hillary, she may not invoke “Beatles-level” hysteria, but she seems to me to be sharper, stronger, and steadier than Obama, and that’s why I voted for her. I think Obama is presidential material—just not yet.

06 February 2008

My best guess as to Paul Krugman's vitriole is that he must want a job in the Clinton Administration.
Once again, New Mexico is too close to call. And once again, we botched things up. After running out of ballots in our first presidential caucus four years ago, we decided to do it again this year.

I was a presiding site judge at a voting site in Albuquerque, and we made the executive decision to have people start voting on scraps of paper. (Other voting sites just halted voting in the hopes that they'd receive more ballots, but we weren't that optimistic and didn't want to keep people waiting.) I felt like part of the Iraqi Provisional Authority. Luckily, though, the voters were tremendously patient under the circumstances, and kinder to us poll workers than I would have been. We did receive an influx of ballots near the end of the day, and we thankfully received confirmation that our paper scraps would be counted like all other ballots.

More on the love metaphor - only time will tell if the infatuation of politics wears off as quickly as the normal kind. But a friend told me this morning that her Republican girlfriend felt like she was going through a "bad breakup" because Giuliani dropped out of the race after she fell for him.

05 February 2008

Just got back from voting. It was a tough call, but I was finally swayed by the Tatyana Ali endorsement.

Also, in response to an unanswered comment below, I think that Obama is much stronger against McCain, for reasons that Frank Rich can articulate far better than I can. (I was telling Wailin last night that Frank Rich is by far my favorite of the current roster of Times pundits, although he has an unfair advantage, since he has a whole week to prepare his column. Krugman has also been really cranky recently. Or maybe he really just doesn't like Obama.)

In any event, the prospect of Obama vs. McCain is a joy to contemplate. But I'm also used to having my heart broken. We'll see...

30 January 2008

I'm guessing that the other bloggers and blog readers are experiencing an environment similar to the one I'm in - it seems like people all around me are extremely psyched for the Feb. 5 primaries. For the most part, my contemporaries are supporting Obama - but "supporting" isn't quite the right word. With the best candidates, it's more like falling in love. You hinge on their every word, can't wait to see their name or their picture again, and you would go to the ends of the earth for them. I'm sure some poet somewhere has written about love being the most powerful force in the world, and I think that's probably true (though attack ads might give love a run for its money).

Of course, Obama has a long way to go, and I give him even money to win the nomination. It'll be interesting to see how the, er, ardor of his supporters plays out in a general election. I don't see too many swooning volunteers on the Republican side of the ticket - outside of New Hampshire, I think most McCain supporters have chosen him as the "least bad" option. Ditto for Mitt Romney (and no one else matters anymore).

26 January 2008

A while back, I had an idea for a movie with roles written specifically for Michael Caine, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Walken, Ben Kingsley, and Jon Voight, which I would pitch based solely on the premise that these guys will take any part that is offered to them. For the evidence, see On Deadly Ground, Body of Evidence, Balls of Fury, BloodRayne, and, uh, Giuliani '08. Could a Cuba Gooding, Jr. endorsement be far behind?

22 January 2008

When he was twenty-six, Jack Nicholson's best movie role had been in Roger Corman's The Raven. Robert De Niro had starred in one movie, a goofy satire called Greetings, and Mean Streets was still four years away. Dustin Hoffman had appeared in a couple of forgotten television shows. Al Pacino had no screen credits at all.

When he was twenty-six, Heath Ledger played Ennis in Brokeback Mountain.

This is a major loss.
Well, I wasn't expecting Zodiac, my favorite movie from last year, to get any nominations, and it didn't. That aside, my vote for the biggest omission is the lack of a music nomination for There Will Be Blood. At least a third of that movie's power comes from Jonny Greenwood's remarkable score. As Noah pointed out, a greater percentage of the film's impact would be retained if there were music and no dialogue, than if there were dialogue and no music...
There's a lot to digest with today's Oscar nominations, but I'm happiest about the fact that Once got a nomination for Best Original Song. I'll be very sad if there isn't a telecast. I want to see Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova sing "Falling Slowly" in front of a billion viewers. If they lose their chance because of the writer's strike, it will be a shame. Even a tragedy. Is the Writer's Guild listening to this?

20 January 2008

First review of mystery hunt: Lots of Saturday puzzles, not very many Wednesday puzzles.

My favorite puzzle was either "Picture Puzzle" or the "political" black book meta.

Congratulations to the Bombers, and I'm glad they managed to finish it, because the hunt defeated us and we wouldn't have finished it even with another day. Thanks to the writing team for all the effort they put into writing and testsolving (the latter particular impresses me as the puzzles were really hard, but nonetheless seemed to have all been testsolved). I'm sure I'll have more to say later.

17 January 2008

I have a feeling that this is going to be a great year. Today I was hearing good news from friends from all over, and then I saw this.
I vowed that I wasn't going to post any more parody trailers from YouTube, but the 1966 and 1989 versions of The Dark Knight trailer are too good to pass up. For the full effect, you should watch the real trailer first, assuming that you haven't watched it twenty times already (Joker voice) "like me!"

14 January 2008

I absolutely love the domain name for this fan and discussion site for There Will Be Blood: idrinkyourmilkshake.com. The sound file that plays when you open the page is worth a visit by itself.

13 January 2008

Is the NY Times copy editing staff in need of some help, or do I just not know what the colloquialism "jump the snark" means?

12 January 2008

Upon closer examination, it appears that the name Mutt is embroidered on Shia LaBeouf's leather jacket on the Vanity Fair cover, which doesn't bode well for my pet theory about the new Indiana Jones movie. Well, maybe there's a twist ending. (This guy wrote a draft of the screenplay, after all...)

11 January 2008

By the way, the last scene of There Will Be Blood makes a lot more sense when you look beyond the film's obvious debts to Huston and Ford to its true patron saint. From start to finish, There Will Be Blood plays more like a missing Kubrick film than anything else, and the ending manages to simultaneously evoke A Clockwork Orange, the first scene of Lolita, and much of The Shining, as if the Overlook Hotel had suddenly sprouted a bowling alley. I was cured, all right...

10 January 2008

For a long time, I was worried that Paul Thomas Anderson, the director I had once acclaimed (in public, no less) as the most extravagantly talented young filmmaker of his generation, had taken his eye off the ball. No more worries. His latest movie opens with a mingled nod to Kubrick and John Ford, and was evidently shot with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre playing continuously in the background. More than anything else, it's an attempt to outdo Gangs of New York and The Aviator in a single movie. And it succeeds. This is the high point, to date, of a career that can only get better.

It's clear to me that Anderson is one of the few directors under forty—Alfonso Cuaron may be another—who understands the scope of the game involved, and is truly interested in challenging the gods. There Will Be Blood is a great movie—possibly one of the best of the decade, although it's a bit too early to be sure. For me, the ending is what puts it over the top. For a lot of other people, it will be what sinks it. And yet the last scene impresses me as necessary and perfect. I like my films to end abruptly, with a full stop, and this huge, incredibly weird and complex movie concludes with a curtain line and a cut to black. In my eyes, it's a home run. Or, more precisely, a strike.
My theory about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, by the way, is that Shia LaBeouf isn't playing Indy's son at all—he's playing a younger version of Indy himself. This is vaguely supported by the fact that his character's name has not yet been officially revealed, as well as by hints from Vanity Fair and this site. Are we looking at extended flashback scenes? Time travel? The fountain of youth? Not sure—although I have a hunch that the story will involve Indy coming face to face with his younger self. And I'm willing to bet that there will be a fifth and sixth installment, and that LaBeouf will take over the role of the man in the fedora. (Of course, the Wikipedia page for the movie contradicts all of the above, suggesting that LaBeouf is playing a motorcycle-riding greaser. But what does Wikipedia know?)
The latest issue of Vanity Fair has a decent article about the new Indiana Jones movie. Not a lot of new material here, but it's worth clicking through, if only for the picture of Cate Blanchett, who plays the picture's Russian villain. If I were fifteen years younger, I would have taped this picture to the inside of my locker. If I were twelve and British, who knows?

09 January 2008

Since I'm going to see There Will Be Blood on Thursday, maybe it's time for a quick movie update. I thought that Atonement was a masterful job of adapting an unadaptable book, even if the ending seemed arbitrary when transferred to film. (The novel is astoundingly good, by the way, and makes me want to read everything Ian McEwan has written.) Juno had four-star performances in a three-star story, but it has held up well in my memory. (And I've always been a fan of that Sonic Youth cover of "Superstar.") And Beowulf had a surprisingly good screenplay, although its ultimate legacy will undoubtedly be in the erotic memories of a lot of twelve-year-old boys. As Roger Ebert writes, in reference to the movie's PG-13 rating in the United States and 12A rating in England: "If I were 13, Angelina Jolie would be plenty nude enough for me in this movie, animated or not. If I were 12 and British, who knows?"
I've spent most of the morning watching the special features on the new Twin Peaks box set, which is an uncanny experience—like discovering a whole country of my inner life that I hadn't explored in years. It isn't going too far to say that this television show, along with the other films of David Lynch and the music of Angelo Badalamenti, had a greater impact on my formative years, at least on a subconscious level, than any other body of work. There are other artists who have influenced me more deeply, but none whose work has penetrated my dreams to the same degree.

I'm not sure if this is something that a casual viewer can appreciate today. (Maybe you had to be ten years old when Laura Palmer was killed.) There's no denying that the series itself often fell short of its own promise. But if you have the time, I recommend that you watch the first season of Twin Peaks, especially the pilot, and the first, seventh, ninth, and final episodes of the second season. As time goes on, I realize that Twin Peaks wasn't just a television show: it was the lens through which I used to see much of the world. And maybe it still is.

08 January 2008

Also, unless we have a sentimental attachment to sickly green, I recommend that we change the background color of this blog. How about a nice blue iris?
I'm glad that someone (Dave?) finally got around to updating the layout of this blog, an overhaul that was several years overdue. However, I also wonder whether we should update the blog's description as well. Our musings are no longer daily, none of us are gainfully employed, and I think it's safe to say that we've all managed fairly well in the absence of our female classmates. (It seems that the number of blog postings in any given year is inversely correlated to how many of the authors have girlfriends, as a glance at the archives will reveal.) Any thoughts on what the new description should be?

07 January 2008

I know you're thinking this must be something extraordinary if Noah's posting. And it is, Malia and my first published crossword appears in tomorrow's New York Times. Hope you all enjoy! Also if you buy a copy and do it on paper please cut it out and sign it and send it to us as we'd love to see it!