Thursday, December 07, 2006

Time to Jump Off the Al Gore Bandwagon

No one would make a better Prez than Al Gore. He is wise like Solomon and strong like Samson. At night I dream of living in an Al Gore administration, where my 80-inch super-magnetic-polymer-TV will be powered by a touch of golden Sun, and where Arab children will play hopscotch with Jewish children in peace and harmony. Al Gore was right about Iraq, and he'll be right about Iran too. Al Gore, after all, is the best.

Sadly, Al Gore will now never be elected president. All because of that skank Lindsay Lohan. You suck, Lindsay!

Update: After reading the full text of Miss Lohan's manifesto, I retract all of the above. She's been tragically misunderstood. In fact, Lindsay Lohan is perhaps our best hope of directing the world's attention to the right priorities. She wants to help. Why won't Al Gore help her?

The Horse-Race that Matters Least

Recently, my Wednesday papers have come bundled with a "special section" called The Envelope. In this special weekly fold-out section, we're treated to a blow-by-blow account of the "Oscar season" as it's now known. Urgent questions are raised: Would the voters penalize Leo for his Costneresque accent? Or will the boy wonder finally get his shot with The Departed? Can you hear that deafening industry buzz on Dreamgirls? No? Do you live east of La Cienega, you loser? Is Letters of Iwo Jima a late arriving dark horse, a la Million Dollar Baby? Will Peter O'Toole's refusal to cross the Atlantic cost him his last shot at the elusive award?

Eager for answers? Me neither. Until I started perusing this section one idle morning, I hadn't given these questions a second thought. And considering that I'm a movie geek who can name every Oscar Best Picture winner from 1927 on, I started to wonder: does the general reader actually care about this crap? If so, why?

Since the Los Angeles Times caters to the entertainment industry, you can argue that maybe this section is a local thing. But how to explain the editorial decision of the Paper of Record, which deemed the Oscar horse-race so vital to its readership that it has been hosting a frequently-updated blog called "The CarpetBagger" for over a year? And the hundreds of Oscar sites that obsessively detail the studios' every move? Besides the actual industry insiders, why are there so many people eager to play-act being an insider on one of blogs now tracking the Oscar race? In fact, why "track" the Oscar race at all?

It's one thing to be disappointed at the Oscar party when your favorite loses out to some piece of shit. But if you can't get over Brokeback Mountain's loss last year in a couple of hours -- unless your name is James Schamus or Ang Lee -- you're in need of some serious medical attention. The Oscar results, in the grand scheme of things, mean next to nothing. I know, we care about all kinds of trivialities. How is following the Oscars any different than following sports, for example? First of all, allegiances to sports teams have been formed over years; there's a longstanding emotional attachment, not to mention civic or national pride that you feel about the team from your city or country. Can someone really be that attached to Capote? And so what if a bunch of strangers prefer Crash to your favorite? A more important distinction is that the point of sports is winning. You follow sports to find out who wins and loses, which is settled on the field. The point of movie-watching isn't, or shouldn't be, following "winners and losers". If O'Toole wins his Oscar, does it actually enhance your enjoyment of the movie? Would it make Venus any better, more worthwhile as art or entertainment?

Why not devote that wasted ink to something important, like when we'll be getting out of Iraq, or when Britney will finally start donning knickers again? Vexed as I may be, it's apparent that throngs of people care about the Oscar race as a kind of sport, keeping horse-race sites like Movie City News thriving. Scott Tobias and Noel Murray share my befuddlement, and in their Onionavclub exchange, offer up some terrific points. Noel is on to something when he links the rise of Oscar prognostication to a decline in the esteem of movie criticism. Oscar prognostication/tracking satisfies the reader's temptation to see what's up and down, but does so in a putatively "objective" fashion. Oscar stories end up flattering the reader by offering up buzz instead of expertise, and they provide the reader with handy movie-ranking shorthand. Why bother discussing the merits of a movie when you can now argue about the more "objective" Oscar-worthiness of the movie? "You liked The Good German? Well, I see no nominations besides at best cinematography. Oscar voters would never go for something that dark."

At one time, the Oscar race was interesting as a parlor game. But now it's been inflated to such a degree that the Oscar campaign itself is worthy of extensive news coverage. We now have innumerable weirdos, folks who aren't even film aficionados, now versed in the Best Supporting Actress race, which means being experts in predicting how a bunch of old farts will feel about unseen female supporting performances. The end is nigh, I say.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hail to the Baby Bears + BCS

Congrats to the LA satellite campus for pulling off one of the more satisfying upsets of the college football season, using an unpredictable blitzing scheme that knocked the $C quarterback on his booty time and time again. By outwitting a physically superior team, the Powdered Blues bought beleaguered coach Kevin Dorrell more time and put UCLA football back on the radar. Oh, and they knocked the Spoiled Children out of the national championship race. Ha ha.

SC will play in the BCS consolation game, aka The Granddaddy of Them All, against the Wolverines, who were sorta jobbed out of the championship game by the shameless lobbying of Florida head coach Urban "Mack" Meyer. Few believe that the SEC champ is a better team than Michigan -- rumors on message boards suggest that Vegas would make Big Blue six point favorites against the Gators on a neutral field. From parts of four Gator games I've seen, Florida is a fast, athletic team that relies too much on trickery and played to their opponent's level (South Carolina, Florida St.). I think the Buckeyes will destroy them. And the custom in determining who's the more deserving one-loss team, absent games vs. common opponents, is to see who had the better loss: Michigan fell to the #1 team in the country on the road in a competitive game; Florida fell to the #8 team on the road, in an equally competitive game. Advantage Michigan. But I can't deny that the Gators prevailed in the toughest conference, had a tougher schedule, and that, all things being equal, you'd knock out the team that "already had its shot".

In the end, it's probably better for the overall BCS championship game that Florida got in. If the Buckeyes were to prevail a second time over the Wolverines, and Florida routs its opponent (as would have been likely if its opponent were the Foldin' Irish) in the Sugar Bowl, we'd never hear the end of it. (Though imagine what would happen if Florida ekes out a sloppy win against an uninspired OSU, and Michigan destroys the Trojans?)

Is this controversy yet another reason to scrap the BCS system and go to a sixteen team playoff? Let me defend the BCS for a sec. The college football season is the most exciting in American sports because regular season games take on immense stakes. Each game becomes a kind of playoff, as one stumble may torpedo your chances for a national championship/conference championship. With a playoff system, would Texas-Ohio St. in September be so crucial? Or Louisville-Rutgers? The NBA doesn't really start until the playoffs. The NFL doesn't start until the 14th week. Whatever its flaws, the bowl system eliminates the "meaningless game" for contending teams. And it keeps people debating well into the night.

That said, my preferred approach is the oft-proposed BCS+ system. Either a 4-team or 8-team playoff, rotating existing bowls, makes a whole lot of sense. The 8-team playoff works like this: you play 4 bowl games in late December featuring 8 qualified BCS teams (6 major conferences and two at-large bids) using the present system. The four winners square off in the 2 bowl games in early January, leading to a championship game on January 9 or 10th. By adopting this approach, you'd be sacrificing some of the drama of the regular season. But the bowl games would be much more meaningful -- they won't be a bunch of exhibition games. And it'd cut down on the annual BCS controversy (nobody would really argue that Notre Dame or Arkansas "deserves" a shot to be the national champ).

The other way to do it is to keep the present system, but have a four-team playoff. If this format had been enacted for this year, you'd have Ohio St. v. LSU in the Rose Bowl and Michigan v. Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The winners of each game will play in the BCS championship game. The benefit would be to keep the intrigue of the BCS and the excitement of regular season games, but avoid the main problem we see every two years: screwing over an equally deserving third team or fourth team. I think this makes the most sense, being the least disruptive and radical way of addressing the #2 vs. #3 problem. Why not do this?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

porno niche marketing

Are nerds really that easy to seduce? In the spirit of the lonelygirl15 hoax, we've got this superhot 18 year-old porn star who just happens to love Antonioni, Gasper Noe, graphic design, House of Leaves, Bukowski, Carl Jung, Coltrane, Ladytron, Gang of Four and Mos Def. What, no neo-Marxist literary theorists tickle your fancy, Sasha? You wonder where she finds the time for three way anals.

So, erm

How 'bout them Democrats! 29 seats and control of the Senate! Exciting stuff, huh?

Clippers are looking okay, but Chris Kaman needs to step up. Maybe he's still recovering from last year's vicious scrotum-tug.

Ahm. What else? How about a few treats from the Larry King grab bag?

Extremely underrated: an additional gig of RAM and high performance all-season tires...You know what's tasty? Monkfish liver... Nancy Pelosi reminds me of Miss Lampley, my second grade teacher... Scarlett Johansson is Jewish? Oy... The best place to shop for white athletic socks is Ross... Tobey Maguire should play assholes more often... Don't have your wedding on December 23! It messes up the wedding-goers' vacation plans!... Folks often misuse the word "qua"... Sometimes, the dude at the bar with the best game is the creepy hunchback... I need to up my weight on the last set of tricep pulldowns... How many hipster boutiques can survive in one square mile? Go to Prenzlauer Berg to find out... I wonder if Bilge is a common Turkish name... The Decemberists' "Yankee Bayonet" is a song that can make a grown man cry... Be gone, accursed itch on left knee!... The world's best beer is served in a grungy little bar in New Town, Prague... Shouldn't Maxim magazine sue the producers of The Break-Up for misappropriation of the content of every issue ever published? ... Daniel Negreanu is such a payoff wizard... Given the chance between going to a Turkish Bath that attracts tourists or one that caters to locals in Budapest, you should go with the tourist one... When will they develop non-greasy hair sculpting products?... The Humorless Left lives... 4th and 2 at your opponent's 37 in a close game! Always go for it!... I am concerned about trans-fat and overfishing... Lawyers suck... Friends don't let friends ____... Has my fish been fed?... Five years ago, I would have paid $100 to download a Britney sex tape. Now?... Two of the best Firefox add-ons: Foxytunes (to control your music player with your browser) and All Peers, a file sharing program for friends... The world would be a better place if every existing copy of Better Than Ezra's "Good" is destroyed. Also, Deathcab's "The Song of Settling."... The voting patterns in Washington state disappoint me... It doesn't get any better than drip coffee from the office coffee machine... Try not to commit an unnecessary personal foul penalty on a third and long, especially when the national championship is on the line... $51 million is a lot to pay just to chat with a Shibuya punk... Do not live on goulash and potatoes if you want to look good in your thirties, ... If you're gonna taser a kid of Middle Eastern descent with no evident justification, make sure you're not surrounded by students with cellphone cameras...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Unleash Hell

"Find them, bind them, tie them to a pole and break
their fingers to splinters, drag them to a hole until they wake up naked --
clawing at the ceiling of their graves"


November 18, 2006 may lack the historical import of November 7, 2006, but the battles that will be waged tomor
row will be no less fierce, the combatants no less determined.
Just as good stomped evil two Tuesdays ago, tomorrow promises to a joyous day for white hats. The #2 Wolverines, with their fearsome front seven and top playmakers, will shock top-ranked Ohio State. The Buckeyes haven't played an offense with so many skilled players all year (their win at overrated Texas came before the emergence of prodigy Colt McCoy). And they won't be able to dominate the line of scrimmage. In possibly the biggest game in the history of this great rivalry, Big Blue will win it for Bo.

The nightcap will see the Bears maul the hated Trojans, thus delivering a double death blow to our favorite spoiled retarded right-wing OC babies. Last week, the Bears lost a heartbreaking fluke of a game in which every bad call and bounce of the ball went against them. It won't happen again. The Trojans woke up after their loss to Oregon State but the Bears will make two or three big plays that will break the back of the boys from Troy. Look out for USC cheerleader retardation after DeSean Jackson runs one back in the 4th. Also, good job Stewart Mandel.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

Achtung baby

I've long been fascinated with that period during which a particular culture is on the cusp of extinction, holding on for dear life as the inevitable tide of history is set to wash over it. A culture's death rattle, I call it. That's at the core of my romanticization of Weimar Berlin, which, along with Paris in the Sixties, NYC during the Jazz Age, and Shanghai before the revolution, rests in my imagination as a place out of time, pausing to party before the horror erupted. And it was quite a party. The myth of Berlin in the 20s is a magical city where you swig whisky at a cabaret while chatting with Walter Benjamin about Proust. Art, sex, and ideas flourished, as did crime, poverty, and discontent. The underlying reality was something much uglier, with the gruesome paintings of George Grosz prefiguring the totalitarian "solution" to come.

I'll be setting foot in Berlin in nine days. From what I've heard and read, Berlin today is a city fueled by intense creative energy and yet paralyzed by inertia. Designers and artists have flocked to East Berlin for the cheap housing and bohemian vibe. Dance clubs rage until dawn and exquisitely designed boutiques line the streets. Yet unemployment remains high in East Berlin. As in the 20s, Berlin is again an artist paradise beset by structural economic problems. (Thankfully, on the whole the German economy is fine shape, so we won't likely see a significant Fascist re-emergence.)


In any case, I'll be in Europe for ten days. If anyone has any recommendations on where to go in Berlin, or surrounding areas, please drop a comment. And if anyone can help me out on my Prague v. Vienna v. Budapest dilemma, I'd appreciated it.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Alternative theory on the poker ban (updated)

I usually think the simplest explanation is best, but the following idea is less reliant on Frist being evil incarnate and seems to make a bit more sense. News reports are surfacing that the American-based casino and World of Series of Poker owner Harrah's has been approached with a buy out by a private investment group. On 2+2, there've been suggestions that the buy-out is contingent on the online gaming ban going through. The ultimate plan is for Harrah's to begin buying out smaller online poker sites in an effort to gain entry for the inevitable legalization/regulation of online gaming.

Before you dismiss this as too fanciful, consider the facts: Harrah's, which has no presence in Tennessee, nonetheless gave Frist a crapload of money through the years, and so should have a direct pipeline to the kitten killer's chambers. I can't imagine Frist pulling a parliamentary maneuver like this to sabotage one of his biggest contributors. So assume Harrah's is benefiting from this legislation. Then there this article, which hints that PartyGaming and smaller off-shore sites may be gobbled up by American companies. Why would American companies take over an industry completely crippled by legislation?

You can see where I'm headed. But I'm not actually gonna get there and say that the online gaming ban is an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by Frist and Harrah's in order to devalue PartyGaming et al. for an American takeover. I do think, though, given these facts, that somebody had a strong financial interest in getting this bill passed. And Frist did that "somebody's" bidding.

Conspiracy theories are often rationalizations for people who fear a world without pattern or meaning, which is why I don't usually buy them. They're too neat. I'm not sure there's a neat explanation, but I have to think someone's gonna make out with some money here. In politics, something is done: (1) to benefit a preferred interest group; (2) for political advantage; or far less frequently, (3) because it's in the public interest. Almost every piece of legislation passed by Congress will fit into those three boxes, usually the first two. On its face, the online poker ban meets none of the criteria. If Frist wanted to stoked the fundie base, there are many more hot button issues that would do a better job. It can't be for political advantage, since this was snuck into the port protection bill with almost no publicity -- the Republicans did not want to publicize this. And this bill won't really stop online gambling the way it's written or generate tax revenue.

Billion-dollar business are also assumed to be rational actors. And what most arouses my curiousity is this strange immediate surrender of PartyGaming, which has the most at stake here. They're cutting off American customers without a fight. Considering how difficult it will be to enforce this legislation, it's not clear why Party Gaming would concede hundreds of millions in profits annually without so much as a whimper. You would think they'd want to wait-and-see or threaten litigation or something.

Something's going on here. Somebody must be making out here. But whom? How about the American casinos, who may have figured that the short-term increases in poker/gambling addicts outweigh the long-term danger of a growing online competition. They want to snuff it out before it gets any bigger. Or they might want to gain entry into the marketplace on the cheap, which would happen if the legislation turns out toothless or if subsequent legislation legalizes and heavily regulates online gambling. This pattern apparently occurred in Italy, where a brief ban was lifted in favor of a regulatory scheme. There, though, the online casinos fought. Why wouldn't PartyGaming fight here, when the entire viability of their business may be at stake?

Party's behavior doesn't make sense unless something has already been worked out. Harrah's getting bought-out, and is tight with the Senate Majority Leader. Are Party and Harrah's linked somehow? Or maybe Party's announcing a pull-out from the US to show prudence to shareholders, but then will buy out the outstanding shares and become closely-held again so that they can resume the risk of taking US players?

Who knows. I'm confused. In trying to synthesize the more plausible ideas and germane data points posted on 2+2, especially the ones posted in this thread, into something like a coherent political narrative, I'm hoping to make some sense of this situation. But it assumes that, given the amount of money involved, all the participants have to be fairly rational actors and have either expected or at least have some plan in place for this contingency. The alternative, obvious explanation is that Party is just as idiotic as they appear, Frist is demagoguing, and Harrah's is just an innocent bystander to the whole thing. This time, for once, the latter seems more far-fetched to me.

Update: Theory has found support in the media! Both MSNBC and the London Telegraph have articles offering the same type of explanation, that this bill is likely aimed to help American casinos by driving out the existing infrastructure as we move towards eventual regulation of online gaming. Also, this theory from a poster on 2+2 seems somewhat plausible, if overextended.

slight correction and apology

In the vulgar post immediately below, I called the Republican Party "douchebags." I apologize. Douchebags, of course, can be useful, though the perceived benefits are disputed according to Wikipedia. In any case, I won't besmirch the good and fine douchebag users and manufacturers by comparing them to the Republican Party, who are more like genital warts, unhealthy, unsightly blights with no possible benefit to society.

As if (updated)

there is another reason to hate the fucking Republican Party, the evil, incompetent, hypocritical douchebags that they are.

These fuckers snuck in language banning online gaming into the port security bill. The leading poker site, Party Poker, has just announced that it will not allow US players to play money games. Poker Stars, the second biggest site, is expected to follow suit. For more, check out the threads here.

Thanks Bill Frist, you maggot-brained, money-grubbing, insider-trading, TV-diagnosing, moron pandering, sheep-fucking turd.

It's pretty trivial compared to, say, squandering billions of dollars, causing tens of thousands of people to die, ignoring environmental disaster, etc. But I guess this one stings me personally more than most. Whatever the case, can we get these fucking bitches out of power? Now?

Also, PartyGaming, you dumb fucks. You have billions of dollars and a motivated base of people. You guys are printing money. Your opponents, the religious right, regard this as a low-intensity issue. How in the fuck did you get gamed by Bill fricking Frist, a man who can be outmaneuvered by a cement block? Nice way to squander billions of dollars.

Update: This write-up by Bloomberg is the most comprehensive article on the legislation that I can find thus far.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Burning the Constitution

Five years down the line, people will look back on the last two weeks and the passage of the Right of the President to Detain and Torture Whomever He Pleases Act and shudder at what could have been if it had not been repealed two years later. Or we'll look back and take note of the delicious irony that this bill, so ardently championed by the far right, legally justified President Hillary Rodham Clinton's order to round up a number of fringe right-wing militia members and detain them indefinitely. Don't believe me? Check out the frightening analysis from one of the country's foremost constitutional scholars, Bruce Ackerman. We're slouching towards fascism, one compromise at a time.

For more, check out Sully or Greenwald. Here's Sullivan's take:

How do I put this in words as clearly as possible. If the U.S. government decides, for reasons of its own, that you are an "illegal enemy combatant," i.e. that you are someone who

"has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States,"

they can detain you without charges indefinitely, granting you no legal recourse except to a military tribunal, and, under the proposed bill, "disappear" and torture you. This is not just restricted to aliens or foreigners, but applies to U.S. citizens as well. It can happen anywhere in the U.S. at any time. We are all at potential risk.


As for the way the Dems played it politically, I'm not confident in taking a stand. Kevin Drum, not a reflexively confrontational guy, thinks the Dems blew it. Liberal stalwarts like Ohio Senate hopeful Sherrod Brown have disappointed the rank & file by voting for this odious bill. It's dispiriting, but I see the rationale of appeasers like Brown: win back control of one or the other chamber and the days of Bush/Rove's power-grabbing are over. Vote against this bill now and immediately you'll be faced with a flurry of ads accusing you of putting "the rights of terrorists above the security of the American people." Is the fear of getting "Max Clelandized" justified? Polling data from the beginning of time has shown American people don't go to bat for abstract rights. Majorities are perfectly willing to sell out constitutional guaranteed principles if they don't think it applies to them (separation of church and state, Fourth Amendment rights). Having waged highly successful campaigns attacking Democrats' concern for "rights of criminals," the Republicans understand the American mentality very well. Until white, middle class Christians get detained for no good reason by authorities, the GOP can always cast their attack on civil liberties and the Bill of Rights as a battle between middle America and unpopular groups. Vulnerable GOoPers are already charging that Dems care more about the rights of terrorists and illegal immigrants than the security of the American people. Given this context, I'm not sure it's entirely wrong to try to avoid a political battle where you put all your chips on the enduring need for the writ of habeas corpus.

On the other side, this is a crushing degree of cowardice. We have the values of the country at stake here. And one reason the Democrats have been losing election after election is their habitual fear of being outplayed by Republicans. The Democrats, in poker parlance, play weak-tight. Always on the defense, the quivering Democrats play their cards with the assumption that Republicans are holding the stronger hand. Instead of taking control of the table, they will meekly call a couple of bets before folding. They don't play up Bush's failure and lack of effort in catching bin Laden for fear that Karl Rove will pull Osama's decapitated out in an October surprise. They don't want to come out against the trampling of the Constitution for fear of being tagged weak on security or "more concerned with the rights of terrorists." Only when they're holding a monster hand will they start playing aggressively.

Actually, weak-tight dudes are often winning players, but they're easily manipulated by good aggressive players, who are the ones taking control of the pot and the betting. And to be fair, the Democrats have been trying to control the debate a little more. Bill Clinton's Fox News outburst and the party's ever-mounting attacks on the Iraq debacle are two hands that are being played right -- or at least aggressively. But overall the Democrats are still folding the best hand way too much.

In this instance, I'm not sure pocket 7s is a hand you want to reraise with. But when you see the player fold good hand after good hand to big bets, you kinda start hoping that player will make a stand somewhere. Maybe on the very next hand the Dems will pick up pocket aces and trap the Repugs for all their chips, but being a poker player myself, I wouldn't bet on it.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Obama on Webb

Let's just settle it now. This man will be the first black president one day.

Here Obama is introducing the most compelling candidate of this cycle, Jim Webb. The rugged Webb, war hero and novelist, is running against "pond scum" George Allen, a racist, pretend cowboy with the IQ of Dubya's asscheeks. He is that bad. Webb, like my man Wesley Clark, hits that sweet spot of brawn + brain: highly credentialed military men who were smart enough to oppose the War in Iraq from the start. If only either of them can absorb just a fraction of Obama's political skills...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

blog update

I just installed a nifty del.icio.us bookmark javascript which will provide a linkroll of tagged articles posted on the right sidebar. This little upgrade is done in the hopes of (1) curing me of the temptation to post a link to a good article about which I have nothing to say; and (2) making me a tad more motivated and systematic about tagging and archiving interesting articles. Learn how to create a linkroll on your blog here.

For those of you who use Firefox, I recommend this del.icio.us add-on. Also, do not use the Google Accelerator, aka the web decelerator.

Friday, September 15, 2006

know your audience

Since I rarely view homemade vids on YouTube, I never got sucked into the lonelygirl15 phenomenon. And from the professionally-edited clips I did see, can't say I'm surprised that it turned out to be a hoax. Actually, let's call this ambiguously mimetic performance art, or maybe something catchier, like "postmodern kabuki," describing the artistic strategies of creators as diverse as Andy Kaufman, An(thony) Coulter, and the sockpuppetry of Lee Siegel (now with hilarious new site!). It's even possible the brilliant outlaw movie critic Vern is also one of these performance artists, though I can't be sure.

Back to lonelygirl15. Now exposed, we see it for what it is: a stroke of marketing genius.[1] Millions of hits, throngs of fans and addicts and now news stories on the front pages of major dailies. You can't buy publicity like this, and all to launch some mysterious indie movie. And the reason it worked? Let me direct you to the punchline at the end of yesterday's NY Times lonelygirl expose:
On learning that Ms. Rose was an actress whose interests, unlike the scientific and religious issues that fascinated Bree, ran to parties and posing, one fan wrote, “Very cute, but she’s really not into Feynmann and Jared Diamond! (I’m heart-broken ...But a wonderful actress, had me fooled into thinking she was a geek like me.)”
Schhhwwing! Ah yes, the good ol' cute-but-parentally-oppressed nymphette who adores Richard Feynmann. With a bit of luck, maybe I can find a Maria Sharapova-look-alike on YouTube who digs Alan Moore, Walter Benjamin, and Edward Yang and who's just dying to reach out.

What's the old H.L. Mencken saying? Nobody has ever went broke exploiting the sexual frustrations of nerds who spend all their time on the internet?

[1] But wait. Didn't the box office disappointment of the net-hyped Snakes on a Plane demonstrate that an internet phenomenon won't necessarily translate into "mainstream" success? Weren't we treated to a gaggle of articles pronouncing the irrelevance of bloggers?

Two important distinctions must be made here. One, this lonelygirl thing is likely a small-scale movie, and the filmmakers would suck goat balls for a 30 million gross. Let's look at what the viral exposure from the YouTube clips accomplished: it cultivated a core fan base who were totally hooked. And now news stories make non-fans curious. This is an incredible coup. I'm sure some fans feel betrayed, but I bet most of 'em still plunk down their $10 to see the movie. Second, from all accounts, the legion of lonelygirl fans appear to be transfixed by the teen's persona and problems. They're into the text. Contrast that with Snakes' internet appeal, which is always been something of a collective meta-joke. The title tickled culture maven/info junkie/blogger types who loved that the title reduces the movie to its one sentence studio pitch -- which is essentially what these high-gloss b-movies are: a concept movie that can be summed up by one phrase. We're tired of studios laboring to class up these offerings with a generic title ("Terminal Velocity" or "Flight 893" or whatever). "Snakes on a Plane"! How refreshingly honest! You see how the appreciation is snarky and ironic, with the content of the movie itself nearly irrelevant? (Not for everyone, though. A small element of cultists loved the old school purity of the title, and demanded an old fashioned b-movie to match (which is what they got).)

The reality is that relatively few consumers evince this second level of appreciation. Most products that operate on some secondary level end up as niche items. Take satire. There's a reason the Colbert Report won't ever come close to the ratings of Jay Leno, even if they put Colbert on CBS opposite Leno. And there's a reason why satires don't ever hit $300 million at the box office. The fact is there are far more consumers who want face-value entertainment, and who are largely uncritical of marketing concepts and advertising strategy directed at them. Think of product placement. A lot of people snicker at obvious product placement, but it works. It works on the majority of the population who don't disseminate information with a critical eye on advertising/marketing, etc. (I don't work in advertising, but I'm confident Weiden & Kennedy or whatever big ad agency will have tons of research data supporting my contentions.)

To use another example, consider those obnoxious Apple commercials, with a casual Mac guy lecturing the dweeby PC man about viruses and such. They've spawned a collection of spoofs on YouTube, with this being the most popular series out there. In Apple's ad campaign, they take the basic "sell the lifestyle" adage (perfected by Apple) to a whole new level, with actors actually personifying the product. The Mac is cool, casual, urban, young, confident, creative and stylish. Dude's attractive, fun-loving, yet on top of it (he doesn't get viruses). And he's tall. The PC is a humorless, bumbling company man. He's overworked and uptight, yet doesn't have it together. The underlying strategy is pretty obvious to anyone who's remotely sophisticated about marketing practices.

The spoofs basically adopt Apple's ad concepts except they invert the players. Instead of the attractive hipster representing the Mac, the funniest spoof showcases an actor who completely captures the urban hipster's less attractive qualities: he's an obnoxiously smug and unkempt child-man with an infantile obsession for pop ephemera. And a trust-funded layabout. Dude's basically Jack Black in High Fidelity. Plus, he's short. In the same ad, the PC guy is sober, serious, uncool, but confident and competent. You may not want to borrow his CDs, but you'd hire the guy to manage your money. Plus, he's tall. The contrast being established here is just as pointed as the one in the real Mac commericals, except reversed. As with the real commercials, the spoofs aren't exaggerating the PC's virtues and the Mac's flaws; what all these ads are saying about their products and the competition are true (or at least unfalsifiable). It's all about manipulating brand image and playing to the viewer's lifestyle and values biases -- the bread and butter of advertising.

If you show every American these spoofs, many will get it. A greater number won't, because in order to get it you have to be appreciate the second-level nature of it. In order to make big money, you have to attract these face-value consumers, the same ones who see the title Snakes on a Plane and think "how stupid is that". In The Tipping Point, Gladwell identifies "connectors" as super-popular social hubs who are able to fan out the ideas first identified by "mavens" to a larger, more general populace, to turn a niche item into a fad. Gladwell's ideas can't work here. With second level products, the connection stops at mavens. Hence Snakes on a Plane, the internet geek joke that stayed an internet geek joke.

Too bad. Catching Snakes on opening night with an amped up crowd at the Mann's Chinese was one of the highlights of my moviegoing season. Scott Foundas', too.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Most Awesome Movie of the Year In Two Years Time

The title is Synecdoche, New York. The creator? Any nerd with two connecting synapses can figure it out from the title alone. It's Charlie Kaufman's new movie, and reportedly it is one for the ages:
If this film gets made in any way that resembles what's on the page — and with the writer himself directing, it will likely gain even more color and potency in the translation — it will be some kind of miracle. "Synecdoche" will make "Adaptation" and "Eternal Sunshine" look like instructional industrial films. No one has ever written a screenplay like this. It's questionable whether cinema is even capable of handling the thematic, tonal and narrative weight of a story this ambitious. [emphasis added]
Wow. Okay. Since Eternal Sunshine was itself one of the all-timers, this supposed exponential advance in Kaufman art will obviously have to supplant the nerd fantasia version of The Black Dahlia, the new Hong Sang-soo, or the new Assayas as the Most Awesome Movie Playing in My Imaginary Kiddie Corner. DVDs of my imagined versions of Demonlover, Not on the Lips, and Purple Butterfly are available upon request.

NB: The Net and the Traditional Media, Part LXII: Curiously, this breathless fanboy missive is fronted on the LA Times Calendar section, lodged in between Patrick Goldstein's interview with the director of the super-controversial Bush assassination mocumentary, and Tim Rutten (the Ikea-grade Frank Rich) annointing Frank Rich as the conscience of our nation. A few years ago, this sort of scoop -- no reporting, just sweaty, gleeful anticipation -- would be left to the likes of Moriarty or Twitch. Now a net-geek piece is given the same prominence as pieces from the LA Times' two most visible columnists. Hmmm....

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Remember the Reagan mini-series?

Wingers whined about "misrepresentations" and CBS caved? ABC is hyping its $40 million dollar "docudrama" The Path to 9/11, going so far as to air it with no commercial interruptions. It also plans to send the video out to 100,000 educators. So what's wrong? It is described as a right-wing propaganda film, made by wingnuts, screened for wingnuts in advance (but not liberals), and pointedly suggesting that the Clinton administration had Osama dead in sight but let him go due to lack of will. A year long inquiry by the 9/11 Commission do not support this allegation, and folks who were there, like Richard Clarke and Madeline Albright, contradict this.

A right-wing film timed to make the Democrats look weak on security in an election year? You don't say.

If you're looking for a quick and dirty account of the events leading up to the September 11 attacks, you can do worse than the comic book adaptation of the 9/11 Commission Report instead, which I got through during one short flight and is currently being serialized at Slate. Illustrated in functional rough lines a la John Buscema, the comic doesn't use the artform in any inspired way. Unlike United 93, it doesn't rise ot the level of art and is essentially nothing more than an illustrated Cliff's Notes version of the 9/11 Commission Report. But as far as that goes, it's highly readable. And it doesn't devolve into political propaganda.

It may be good business to suck up to wingers, but wouldn't it be funny if Disney and ABC found themselves in a shitstorm trying to do so? Check out this site for more. Also, here's a good post by Digby on why pop interpretations of history matter.

Friday, September 01, 2006

the bloodied corpse of the noble counter-blogofascist

The story of the brief, meteoric rise and fall Lee Siegel, The New Republic's culture blogger, has yet to be written. This will not be that story. This post is something of a requiem, as I now mourn for the blogosphere. For surely we are all poorer when they succeed in silencing such an original voice as Siegel's. For surely few can provoke such memorably vicious takedowns such as this one by James Wolcott. Yes, we should mourn. The man was probably the most consistently amusing target of blogger ire, and I'm truly sorry that we won't have. Lee Siegel to. Kick around. Anymore.

Why was Siegel so widely mocked? Siegel fashioned himself as a kind of intellectual David, slaying overpraised Goliaths such as Malcolm Gladwell, mean bloggers, Stephen Colbert etc. with his deft pen. His particular genius, however, lied not in counterintuitive brilliance, but in his unerring instinct for the perfect "firestarter" blog post. Style was part of the problem. Siegel crafts infuriatingly obtuse, grandstanding nonsense, written in a tone that is at once stentorian and snide. But there are plenty of delusional, self-satisfied blowhards published in important journals and fora. What made Siegel truly special was his inimitable fighting style -- two parts Randy Savage to one part Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka. Siegel's m.o. is to lash out, in an especially indignant tone, at some hyperbolic straw man of his own creation. An academic who mused about Americans' sexual attraction to the lurid JonBenet Ramsay beauty pageant images looped ad infinitum on cable news is not merely wrong. According to Siegel, that academic is a pedophile and probable child-molester. (Never mind that Siegel once posted a Red Shoe Diary on how he should've fucked a sixteen-year-old Uma Thurman when he had the chance.) And those who disagreed with Siegel are permissive sexual degenerates who have doomed the Democrats to permanent minority status. And bloggers? They aren't just potty mouths with predictable opinions. They're the natural descendents of Mussolini.

You can see why Siegel attracted so much attention, almost none of it positive. Like a few others before him, Siegel could not withstand the viciousness of the blogosphere and got caught creating a sock puppet that was defending him against the army of infidels and haters that populated his comments section. (It gets a little suspicious when you've got your "fan" consistently writing suckups like "Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep." I try to at least vary the vocabulary and syntax of my own sock puppets.) It's a shame, really. Siegel had so much more left in him. No one but Siegel could have ushered in the Golden Age of blogofascism, an explosion of brilliant snark unrivaled in the history of the blogosphere. Fortunately for us, long after Siegel's forgotten, his immortal locution will survive.

Robert Farley over at Lawyers, Guns and Money graciously credited me for reporting the story (actually, I merely noticed that TNR took down Siegel's archive and noted it in that blog's comments). In any case, he's put together some very interesting thoughts concerning the desperate hostility towards the blogosphere of writers like Siegel (the blogosphere essentially devaluing smart but unexceptional writers like him), which will nicely dovetail into a longer post I'm currently drafting, my long-awaited magnum opus on the role of pundits, movie critics and other opinion traffickers in the age of the blogorrhea. Look for it at around the same time Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights is released, some time in 2009.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

chocolates compliments of Scarlett's publicist

[Lee Walker: slowly step back from your computer. Gently click on "back" on your browser. Okay. You're safe.]

There are basically two types of celebrity suck-up jobs. There's the rote kind you find in Entertainment Weekly, which amounts to a gushing profile accompanied by a few tastefully airbrushed Herb Ritts-styled photos, all scrubbed over by two publicists and an unpaid intern. Then there's the Ring Cycle of the celeb-rimjobs, the kind in which the subject of the profile becomes Marie Curie, George Eliot, Catherine Denueve and Mata Hari all rolled into one. This one, fawning over the delicious (if one-note) bombshell Scarlett Johansson, is the Wagnerian kind. I link to it not because of its hyperbolic ridiculousness because it offers some enthusiastic praise for what will assuredly be the Most Awesome Movie of the Year. Or of the month, hopefully. Also, because this blog has been so pictorially challenged of late, it'll give me an excuse to post something to liven up the proceedings. So here ya go, courtesy of Egotastic:


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Some needed perspective

This site, which (sorta) tells you how rich you are compared to the rest of the world, can be either uplifting or depressing, depending on your point of view.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

the pathetic little satisfactions of the humble blogger

Blogging doesn't change the world. Most bloggers can't even change a single mind. The activity yields mostly modest satisfactions: an e-mail or comment giving you props or an exchange that inspires a coherent thought. Even flamewars that lead to barbed insults can be fun, if it so happens that you think you got in the better dig. Then there's the satisfaction of learning that your words have found their way to people you admire (or loathe).

That leads to today's installment of little satisfactions: it looks like a snarky little comment on Kevin Drum's blog was highlighted by Robert Wright in an exchange on bloggingheads.tv. I had written:

Watching [Kaus] battle the estimable Robert Wright on bloggingheads.tv is akin to [watching] a one-on-one basketball game between Helen Thomas and Dwayne Wade.
Wright brought up my line in a long exchange with Kaus about how everyone in the blogosphere hates him (for good reason).

Why has this little line-dropping proved so satisfying to me? Here's the context:

(1) Robert Wright is awesome. Robert Wright is probably the intellectual I most admire in public life. His work in evolutionary psychology is mind-blowing, and seemingly everything he's written about geopolitics, bioethics, technology, and what have you has been impeccably reasoned. His lengthy Times op-ed making the case for "progressive realism" is about the most sensible foreign policy doctrine I've seen. What's great about Wright's writing is how clearly he shows his work. He marshalls facts in support of arguments and arrives at conclusions through clear, logical reasoning. He'll address strong counter-arguments and methodological difficulties along the way. In the world of punditry, he's a mad baller.

(2) Mickey Kaus is a smarmy half-wit. On the other hand, there is no contemporary pundit I despise more than Mickey Kaus. Imagine a witless Larry David, except unfurling his neurosis not through self-effacing comedy but through incoherent, bilious screeds against Democrats (the party to which Kaus unconvincingly still insists he belongs) and you have this small, petty man. Like Lieberman, Kaus is the product of the late 80s, when self-loathing Dems were in vogue and not a bad type to be. Nothing wrong with being critical of liberal orthodoxy per se -- I'm all for welfare reform, reducing the power of teacher's unions, means-testing Social Security, and skepticism on affirmative action, etc. It's just that, like Lieberman, he's not making any constructive "centrist" critiques (or taking proportionate measure of the right-wing-led disaster currently playing at a town near you). Instead, we're treated to an endless stream of self-congratulatory nonsequiturs, with the odd snipes at assorted liberal bogeymen. For a man who hasn't uttered a useful idea since the Herbert Walker Bush administration, when he was a leading proponent of welfare reform, Kaus has got quite an ego. I think people still pay attention to him out of habit, since he's published by Slate and is, by all accounts, the first "name" blogger. But he's about as obsolete as the pica font at this point.

(2) (a) Kaus haters of the world unite! The one great thing about Kaus is the bond Kaus-haters have. One day, needing my Kaus-hatin' fix, I googled "Kaus moron" and found this terrific group political blog called Lawyers, Guns and Money, which has a continuing series on why Mickey Kaus blows chunks, weekly battleship blogging, and even a little something on Olivier Assayas' awesomeness for good measure. So Kaus can be a force for good -- by helping Kaus haters locate one another.

(3) bloggingheads.tv is misguided but addictive to hopeless wonks. However smart Wright is, I can't vouch for his business acumen. His current project is bloggingheads.tv. The format pits two talking heads against each other on the topic of the day, with links on the side of the page. The visuals add very little to the debate (except by humanizing the debaters), and it's mostly the kind of dry back-and-forth that can't possible interest anyone outside of the wonkiest of wonks. I am, of course, hooked, mainly because I'm a nerdy wonk, but also because of my fanboy interest in both Wright and guest-blogger Matthew Yglesias's takes on the great issues of the day. Unfortunately Wright is frequently pitted against Kaus, who evinces the same level of intellectual incoherence in these "diavlogs" that he does on his blog. It is like watching Wade play Helen Thomas or Harry Knowles in hoops -- the obvious disparity in intellectual firepower is so staggering as to become distracting within the first two minutes of any diavlog. It's instructive, I suppose, to watch Wright reason through an issue while minutes later Kaus will simply try bulldoze his way to some pre-ordinained conclusion that makes no sense (Kaus's desperate defenses of Nazi drag queen An(thony) Coulter is probably the nadir of many low-points). If you want your kid to learn the value of rigorous thinking as opposed to lazy thinking, you can do worse than to show her these diavlogs. Otherwise, seeing Kaus get destroyed in this debate club format would be more fun if the self-delusional twit actually realized he's getting pwned.

Conclusion: No point, really. I guess it's kind of awesome when you write something that makes an impression on both an intellectual idol and an object of scorn.

Monday, August 14, 2006

More macho than thou

What's left to say about Joementum besides concluding that he's a world-class wanker? The blogosphere has about five thousand ways of saying the same thing, and I don't disagree with much of it, but the one useful column comes from Spencer Ackerman today. Taking a break from the increasingly unhinged New Republic, Ackerman takes a considered look at Joe Lieberman's actual record in The American Prospect, and finds his record pathetically weak. Nut graph:
But belligerence isn't the same thing as wisdom -- and hawkishness does not always lead to a safer America. Lieberman has, of course, been the most vigorous Democratic defender of the Iraq quagmire, which has laid waste to U.S. defense capabilities in a way that not even Vietnam was able to....Indeed, Lieberman's judgment on defense questions is like that of a stopped clock: the hawkish position, applied consistently, has to be right sooner or later. What Lieberman is asking Connecticut -- and the Democratic Party, and the country -- to accept is that the only secure America is a bellicose America. And that position is a guarantee of future Iraqs.

The Washington establishment, with Lieberman as a surrogate, continues to perpetuate this idea that the only badge of national security seriousness is knee-jerk "hawkishness". But what does this mean? The bizarre idea that one should support every proposed war, always? It would seem so, if you take a look at what people like neocon Robert Kagan are saying.

One of the grand memes that has taken hold among lazy writers (and thinkers) is the hawk v. dove dichotomy. Implicit in these terms is the idea that "hawks" take national security seriously while "doves" don't. In practice, the idea is less than useless -- it's pernicious. The formulaton inverts priorities by neglecting what actually matters -- whether a policy choice is *effective* in furthering national security goals -- in favor of an undue emphasis on the machismo implicit in one's war stance. Wes Clark, who led the NATO campaign in Kosovo, is apparently a "dove" or "antiwar" because he opposed the Iraq War and had exceptionally good reasons to do so. Joe Lieberman, who's wrong about the Iraq War every step of the way, is a tough-on-defense hawk, according to the media narrative. Never mind Lieberman's position has actually made America weaker and less secure. All that matters is that Lieberman talks tough, at least he does if you can ignore the whiny, schoolmarmish timbre of his voice. But if you scrutinize his statements, he's as "unserious" as they come, a guy who can't get the first thing right in measuring and identifying current threats. But Lieberman's a symptom of a larger ailment. As Ackerman puts it: "
If there's one myth that neocons have cultivated -- and the media have bought into -- since their post-Vietnam origins in the 1970s, it's that the greater danger to U.S. security comes not from disastrous wars but from overzealous opposition to disastrous wars."

The hawk/dove formulation leads to a strong bias in favor of war. But if the Iraq debacle tells us anything, it's that wars should not be entered into lightly, not only due to the sacrifices in blood and treasure, but because war dramatically increases the number of unpredictable or uncontrollable variables. We should always be skeptical of war. But we apparently haven't learned much. If Sy Hersh's new bombshell New Yorker piece is correct, the Lebanon incursion was vehemently supported by the U.S., especially by Dick "Mr. Fucktard" Cheney, as a warm-up for Iran. Predictably, the Israeli offensive did not go as well as expected and now the West needs a face-saving way for Israel to get out of there. Quelle surprise.

It would seem obvious that the war
├╝ber alles mindset is not a sign of seriousness but of a feeble and weak mind. Shouldn't we go to war only when we must, and only when we can achieve our objectives by way of war? The War in Afghanistan was a shining example: it was just (we were attacked), there were discrete, achievable goals (destroy al Qaeda cells and remove the Taliban), and we had decent intelligence on the ground (aided by Pakistani intellegence). The Iraq War was just the opposite. Supporting both wars isn't the sign of seriousness or consistency or strength. To mix animal metaphors, the hawks, those who advocate war at the slightest provocation, are not unlike the donkeys in poker who will push all-in in any situation where they're uncertain. Yeah, the donk *might* take it down, but he will often go bust as well. Better poker players analyze all the information available before coming to a decision for all his chips. That would include the cards, the other player's tendencies, past play, what your opponent's likely hand (or range) is, what he thinks you have, what he thinks you think he has, etc. Shouldn't this be the approach to any important policy decision?

Remarkably, many writers, even smart, contrite hawks like Andrew Sullivan, are still inordinately obsessed with optics rather than efficacy. One long-standing Sully stance is his apparent insistence that the surest sign of national security seriousness is one's inclination to denounce our enemies with great gusto.
So only someone who vocally express his hatred for Islamic terrorists or evil dictators is worth taking seriously.
"You hate Saddam? I hate Saddam more!"
"Oh yeah? I hate Saddam so much I'll send a bunch of poor kids to die to prove it!"
"Oh, yeah? Me, too!"
This is the sort of peurile thinking at the heart of "hawkish" calls for war. Most reasonable people can agree that Saddam is an evil dude. But I don't think going to war, absent other considerations, is a good way to express one' s moral indictment. I mean, we can all agree Stalin's a bad, evil dude. But we didn't freaking invade the Soviet Union just to prove our "moral resolve" either.

What's a good approach? I think Robert Wright's proposal for "progressive realism" is a great start, with weapons-monitoring and deterrence, image-building, and economic liberalization as the three pillars of our foreign policy. On the false machismo front, check out Glenn Greenwald's invaluable analysis of that most odious of species, the chickenhawk. When talking about chickenhawks, the idea isn't that only those with military experience can hold legitimate opinions about war and peace. Rather, "chickenhawk" is an apt description of the type -- usually an out-of-shape, overweight white guy suspiciously over-concerned with demonstrating "masculinity" (think Dick Cheney) -- who thumps for war as a first option. Being a warmonger is supposed to be a sign of personal strength in the chickenhawk world view, but it bears pointing out (again and again) that, when it comes to actual fighting, these wusses have their tails between their legs (think Dick Cheney and his five deferments). It's easy to call for war against any and all enemies when one's neck is conveniently not on the line.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Archduke Ferdinand revisited

Just think what a difference it would make if this dude were in charge instead of the imbeciles we have now. Also, Matthew Yglesias offers the most concise indictment of Bush's anti-terror policies yet.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Damascus nuked

August 7, 2010. (AP) Jerusalem. Israel fired three nuclear missles into Damascus early this morning, killing an estimated 4.5 million inhabitants of Syria's capital city. This attack follows a series of warnings issued by Israel to Syria demanding the return of an Israeli Defense Force guarddog, affectionately known Baruch, which had been abducted two weeks ago in the Golan Heights by a Syrian-sponsored militia known as the Hajibi. It is not known whether the leadership of this extremist group, which aims to "liberate all of God's creatures from the Zionist state" according to the group's Web site, survived the attack.

A swift round of international condemnation immediately followed, with violent demonstrations erupting in cities all over the globe. The United States was the only nation to publicly express support for Israel's actions. "The United States supports Israel's right to defend herself," President Hillary Rodham Clinton stated during a televised address to the nation. "Syria was warned time and time again to stop harboring terrorist groups bent on the annihilation of Israel. Had Syria reined in these terrorist groups, millions of Syrian civilians would be alive today," she insisted. Calling the the abduction of "an innocent cuddly pomeranian" an "unacceptable provocation", President Clinton echoed the arguments made by hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has met every provocation by an Arab neighbor with a resounding retaliatory strike, none more devastating than this one.

American intellectuals leaped to Israel's defense. "Any talk of 'proportional force' would be tantamount to Vichyism," wrote Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post. Martin Peretz, in a vituperative editorial published on the The New Republic web site, argued that "the ultramontane Arabs in Syria, by acceding to perfervid pan-Arab fantasies of a second Holocaust, deserved no less." Peretz added that the attack was justified because the "Arabs have an inferior culture, one with no sense of humor." Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz argues that millions of Syrian killed in the attack should not be considered civillians under international law but "collaborators complicit in Syria's support of terrorism." And discredited neoconservative William Kristol, in his four hundredth sixty-eighth call for a wider Middle East war, praised "our nuking of the terrorists." "America's enemies are now on notice to attack us at your peril," Kristrol exhorts in an odd, bellicose editorial that appears to conflate the United States with Israel. The aforementioned commentators also accused anyone who didn't support Israel's nuclear attack of being anti-Semites and "terrorist sympathizers."

Other American analysts, sensitive to accusations of anti-Semitism even though many are themselves Jewish, fear that Israel's massive attack will backfire on Israel and the United States by creating more terrorists and a destabilization of pro-American regimes in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. These analysts point to the massive anti-American and anti-Israeli demonstrations raging across Arab and European cities immediately following the attack as a warning sign.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Sneak peeks

Trailers for three of the four most anticipated English-language movies of the year are up. Check it out.

1. The Black Dahlia. Brian De Palma in the middle of a third renaissance, and even though he's not exactly the auteur you turn to for a "true crime" story, the infamous Black Dahlia slaying may just pack all of De Palma's obsessions -- voyeurism, lust, whodunnit, and well, obssessiveness -- into one neat Ellroy-tied box. And yes, the trailer looks like a movie nerd's wet dream.

2. Inland Empire. David Lynch's three hour opus. No trailer that I can find. All I know is this is Lynch's follow-up to one of the best movies of the decade has wrapped and is ready to go. Good enough for me.

3. The Departed. Already inducted into the Movies for Guys Hall of Fame on the basis of the cast and plot alone, this American remake of Infernal Affairs could be Marty's Heat or Scarface, the kind of dude classic destined to be referenced in a Sports Guy column about the NBA Draft ten years hence. From the looks of the trailer, though, Leo lacks the stature and gravitas in a role Tony Leung was born to play (it's a role perfect for Pacino circa Serpico), and Damon doesn't exactly project that slippery, snake-oil salesman charm that comes so naturally to Andy Lau in this role (alternaverse casting: Alec Baldwin, 1991). (The original Infernal Affairs worked only because it was so perfectly cast.) Still, it's Marty, Jack Nicholson, and a crackerjack plot -- so it's unlikely to suck even if doesn't completely rock.

4. The Fountain. Could very well be awful, though I'm a sucker for time-travel romances. Gotta admit the trailer dampens my enthusiasm, as it comes off looking like The Cell meets Possession. But here's hoping Mr. ADDronofsky has one awesome picture in him.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Incinerate - Sonic Youth (d. Claire Denis)

Context: Excited by the announcement that French auteur Claire Denis has lent her visual genius to Sonic Youth, I began trolling YouTube every couple of weeks, finally locating the video today.

Thought: In L'Intrus, Trouble Every Day, and Friday Night, Denis's camera transforms the human body into something like an alien landscape, the contours of human flesh lit and shot like a desert on Io. Astonishingly radical in a narrative film, Denis' tight shots of pixellated body parts are little more than just another decorative effect in the music video context.

Cool video, but more intriguing in concept than practice, sorta like Sonic Youth's score for Olivier Assayas's Demonlover.

Jon Stewart on GOP internet follies

Hilarious, especially the graphic representation of Ted Stevens' brain around the 4:30 mark. And in case you're wondering why his name sounds familiar, this is the same Senator Stevens who famously threw whiny-ass titty fit over the Senate plans to kill his "Bridge to Nowhere" pork project. Now this moron wants to create a two-tiered internet and effectively ban internet poker.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A pat on my back

Hey, why have a blog if you can't brag on it from time to time, right? Today in Slate, Jack Shafer explores the incredible phenomenon of the NY Times' "What Shamu Taught Me About Marriage" article, which has topped the web site's most e-mailed list dating back to at least the Carter administration. The Times piece itself I found unremarkable and obvious, and like Shafer I long held a theory about the enduring popularity of animal articles and relationship features -- which I guess is not exactly a revelation to anyone who pays attention to the Times' "Most e-mailed" chart (1. "How to Calm Your Dog with Cell Phone Ring Tones" 2. "The Stepfather: Perils of Dating Your Mom's Ex-hubby." 3. "Lupe, an Abyssinian, Finds Comfort in the Meatpacking District", etc.). Shafer traces the Shamu article's astonishing popularity to the way the author andheadline writer combine both "mundane" mainstays -- animals and relationships. That's probably right.

But maybe readers just took to heart the column's thesis? What then? Upon re-reading the piece today, I realized something: the basic premise was employed by a post I made six months back, in an open letter to my girlfriend (whose resemblence to my actual girlfriend, if any, is purely coincidental -- except when it's not). We both say: Ladies, quit the nagging and instead try a little lovin'. A little positive reinforcement may very well turn that caterpillar of a boyfriend into a beautiful butterfly. Or something.

Sure, my post was labored while the Times' piece was breezy and charming. But genius advice is genius advice. And you fifteen loyal readers saw it here first.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Armageddon thwarted

You might think the greatest threat facing our great civilization is the Islamist/jihadi/Islamofascist menace. If so, maybe our top priority should be to guard against terrorist attacks, especially if they attack our treasured petting zoos in Indiana. Or, if you caught Al Gore's movie (or better yet, read Elizabeth Kolbert's Notes from a Castastrophe), you might be rightfully terrified by the planetary disaster that awaits if carbon emissions continue at our current pace. Or perhaps you're most concerned about North Korea and their errant missles, or Iraq, which is has just erupted (again).

Look, I won't belittle you: these are all legitimate fears. But you'd be mistaken to believe that these should be our top national priorities. Let's instead turn to our elected representatives, who, in their infinite wisdom, have identified the greatest threat to our way of life: a fence-jumping Mexican who arrives on our shores, burns Old Glory for kicks, and wants nothing much than to destroy the sacred bonds of married people everywhere by marrying some dude out in El Paso. Worst of all, this America-hating homo illegal siphons away American dollars by playing internet poker! To rub it in, this donk types in "en fuego," "tu es un pesco!" and other non-English taunts with his dirty brown fingers as he sucks out on red-blooded American males whose only crime is to flop top pair against the villain's gutshot draw. Suffice it to say, these dark degenerates must be stopped.

Budget deficits, Iran, Gitmo, health care costs and all that crap can, of course, be consigned to subcommittee hell. The most urgent point of business is to do something about internet poker. Make no mistake: a clear and gathering threat is on the horizon. If we fail to act, those ragtag Full Tilt bandits will seek to shut down Wal-Mart, take away our guns, and force us to speak French while praying to Allah. We can't let that happen. We must defend our way of life, with treasure and blood if need be.

There are those who don't think Congress can stop internet poker completely. Well, sure. But they sure can stop the flow of fish. And for that, we have our great GOP congressional leadership to thank once again. Thank you, Roachman Delay...or should I thank that new guy, whathisname?

One of the most dangerous criminals alive?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Pedro's pitching tonight

One of the greatest, and most unheralded web inventions is the gamecast/gameday. Live play-by-play of baseball games, coupled with following witty, rambunctious internet message board game-threads, made you feel like you're watching a game at a bar with your buddies, even as you're simultaneously trying to churn out an outline in your dorm room.

In my late twenties, spent in Berkeley and Ann Arbor, every fifth day during the summers and fall held out a special promise. It's not that breathless anticipation you feel when you're going on a date with a woman you've fallen for. That would be overstating it. But as soon as you wake up, the air seems, well, fresher, more oxidized even. You sense that something electrifying might happen that night (or afternoon). That's because Pedro's taking the hill, and if you can't be in front of the computer or tv, you might miss a 17 K two hit masterpiece. The sheer dominance is something else (Pedro's run with the Sox is arguably the best run of any pitcher ever), but what made Pedro one of a kind was the way he'd throw five consecutive change-ups, or an unhittable 3-2 bender to strike out Albert Belle or Ken Griffey, Jr. To paraphrase those (awesome) Nike ads on Brazilian football, Pedro pitches beautiful-- incomparably so.

I'd trade my left nut to be in Fenway an hour from now to give Pedro a thunderous ovation loud enough to shatter those plastic Coke bottles perched atop the Green Monster.


* The only game I saw this year was at Dodger Stadium, where I saw Pedro pitch opposite Derek Lowe. The Sports Guy said all there is to say about this game straight out of the Twilight Zone. All I can add is I hope Pedro does better tonight (and also: the Mets fan in Reserve section 8, row N, seat 8, please shut the fuck up. Everyone in the stadium will thank you.) I can't root for him to win, but I hope he matches zeroes with Josh Beckett for 7, and the Sox win it in the 9th. On that note, I've got to rush home to catch the game.

** The miracle of technology has brought us mlb.tv, so you can catch most non-blackout games of all your favorite teams, right on your computer screen.

*** It also included immediate access to baseball's equivalent of Bible study, Peter Gammons' densely packed Sunday Globe columns. Formerly, I had to troll Barnes & Nobles or Cody's Books on Monday, open up their big out-of-town Sunday paper, and savor the sports pages secretly by the magazine rack. Thank you, world wide web, for sparing me from such future indignities. Gammons, who's now nearly as identifiable with baseball as John Madden is with football, suffered an brain aneurysm yesterday. Sounds like he's on the road to recovery. Best wishes to him.

NB: Wow. The Fenway crowd did Pedro right, but he had nothing tonight. Maybe the emotions got to him. Fastball in the mid-80s wasn't gonna get it done, especially not against the deepest lineup in baseball. Also, when did the NL become AAAA? After noticing the staggering disparity between the leagues, I had the inkling to start betting AL "across" -- AL teams on every Interleague matchup -- on Monday. Didn't get around to doing it. At $20 a game, I think I would made a couple of hundred bucks over the last three days. The AL has been the superior league for the better part of the decade, but the gap has never been so pronounced.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

al deada

Depending on who you ask and when you ask it, Abu Musab Zarqawi is either the cunning and fearsome leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, or a hapless poseur. Others, including the this lengthy Atlantic profile, say the Zarqawi we know is mostly myth. And we should be rightly skeptical of information provided by the Pentagon on anything.

But whatever the case, it's great news that Zarqawi has been killed. Yes, we can add even more caveats: it's true that al Qaeda in Iraq is just a bunch of violent maniacs hated by the locals, and that the real problem, the inability for the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to find a political solution to patch up ancient divisions, won't get resolved even if AQ in Iraq is completely eliminated. As with the Saddam capture, this is not a turning point.

But let's also be clear. This maniac and his band of foreign terrorists have been going around beheading people, bombing hotels, bombing civilians, and just killing Iraqis and American soldiers alike with ruthless efficiency. Zarqawi disrupted the furtive attempts at peace and successfully helped foment chaos in parts of Iraq. There are few tangible goals our military in Iraq can achieve in Iraq at this point, but killing Zarqawi has gotta be right near the top. Good job.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Reminder

It's almost that time. If you're thinking about a birthday gift for your faithful blogger and don't know what to get, may I humbly suggest this little item?It's a little pricey and won't be released until after my b-day, but I won't mind if you don't mind. Also, Douglas Sirk. Thanks.

* Nerve's recently launched movie news blog Screengrab is edited by cinebud Bilge Ebiri. In format, this blog is like the indispensable Greencine Daily, but more irreverent and funny (though far less comprehensive). The only annoying thing is that you have to be a Nerve subscriber to comment. But you don't have to subscribe in order to bookmark the page.

* Okay, "objectively" Brett Ratner's comic book extravaganza isn't really comparable to Claire Denis' poetic reverie on mortality and regret, L'intrus. So why the same grade? For one thing, I fell asleep watching L'intrus (though the parts I managed to stay awake for were indeed magnificent if puzzling). For another, Hugh Jackman, besides being a foot taller than the "real" Wolverine, is exactly how I had always pictured the Canadian mutant. Dude's perfect. And the script managed to compress a bunch of X-Men story threads (including the canonical Dark Phoenix saga) into one taut and accessible narrative that didn't betray the spirit of the original stories. All worth some props. But mainly I liked this movie because Madrox the Multiple Man made a surprise appearance (as a bad guy). This was especially awesome since I had ruminated on this obscure, useless but nonetheless awesome character the night before in a discussion on dating.

* You can now find the answer for every question you've ever had on Wikipedia. For example, I now finally understand what the fuck "he is teh crap" means in reference to crappy Sox pitcher Matt Clement (why teh fuck did you not offer Pedro five years, Theo? Why?).

* Following some links from the entry on pwn3d in Wikipedia, I eventually discovered the amusing if unconvincing entry on "Nice Guy Syndrome". Is it me or has pop psychologizing of romantic rituals become the new American pasttime? Witness, for example, the Washington Post's 4 page examination of that all-important role, the wingman.

* During my blogging hiatus, I spent a lot of time commenting on other blogs, mainly about politics and especially about the role of the blogosphere. (Look! LA Times columnist Jonathan Chait gave me props (actually it's buried deep in the comments section, so don't bother).) I had been trying to work my thoughts into a post, but Josh Marshall kinda did it for me (and pretty much voiced my own thoughts on both Jeffrey Goldberg's New Yorker piece on the Democrats and the New Yorker in general).

Short version: the blogosphere cannot win elections, but it's serving a valuable function in creating alternative narratives and puncturing stupid conventional wisdom. Also, most people who follow the blogosphere understand that the liberal side is not especially ideological -- it's combative and partisan, but doesn't demand litmus tests, contrary to the bullshit "responsible centrists v. nutty activist bloggers" memes perpetuated by clueless pundits. (Centrists like Brian Schweitzer and Mark Warner are blog darlings; Lieberman is hated not because he's a centrist, but because he can't help but "parrot right-wing talking points" about Democrats while kissing Bush's ass.) The problem with the blogs is (1) insularity; (2) overinflates the crime of "transcribing right-wing talking point" or "MSM meme", which I guess can't be helped when the main goal is to provide an alternative narrative;(3) self-importance; and (4) irritating and shrill. Some blogosphere developments, such as the inexplicable worship of nutcase dKos diarist Mary Scott O'Connor, are indeed pretty lame. But the liberal blogosphere is the response to right-wing talk radio; by itself, it can't change politics. In attacking the Democrats' timid, consultant-driven approach, though, it's changing Dem tactics, mostly for the better.

* But the blogs can't do anything about California. What if, in the biggest blue state of them all, you held a Dem primary election for governor and nobody cared? $50 million spent on ads, and still nobody gives a hoot about the colorless monkeys Westly and Angelides.

* One of the best political ideas in the history of the republic.