November 2002

The less said, the better

I’ve noticed a rash of websites lately that cater to the harried film buff (who may not have time for the kind of review Pauline Kael cranked out–the kind that takes longer to read than the movie takes to watch…or perhaps film) by turning film reviewing into a lapidary art: Four word film reviews, Haiku movie reviews, and Movie-a-minute. The review for Dr Strangelove perfectly summarizes both the movie and this approach to criticism: “Oops.”

Auto Focus

Saw Auto Focus last night. A good movie, but very emphatically not a bring-the-whole-family movie: I mentioned to Gwen midway through “we’ll need to bathe as soon as this is over.

The bizarre story it tells, of Hogan’s Heroes star Bob Crane’s descent into an obsession with random sex and (ahem) home movies, and a relationship with a friend, John Carpenter, that can only be described in the psychobabble of today as “co-dependent,” is disturbing and absorbing. The complete disconnect between Crane’s self-image and his behavior is fascinating.

It’s a Paul Schrader movie, unmistakably so. He’s one of those directors you can just recognize by the look and the subject matter. In his case, dark, stylized lighting and strong colors. And dark, often sexualized stories.

Deja vu all over again.

Another way George II’s upcoming war really feels like a sequel to George I’s gulf war: I was in traffic today, behind a new SUV with a yellow-ribbon sticker that had the attached text “Support our troops.” This definitely wasn’t a leftover from the last gulf war–it just looked like it.


Caught a performance by an Indian drummer named Ganesh above the Clay Pit last night. Some of the usual suspects were there, including Adina. Ganesh was playing a tiny handheld drum–smaller than a tamborine–that produced uncannily deep, liquid sounds, somewhat like a kettle drum. I believe it’s called a kanjira. It was a good show, and despite the Indian connection, it was really more of a jazz improv session (they even played Billie’s Bounce, I think it was).

They just don’t get it

There’s a truly hilarious website out there, It satirizes a quiet and unintentional sort of racism sometimes found in white people.

Evidently, not everyone gets it. And some people who do get it feel that racism is too serious to make light of (violating my personal prime directive, “fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke”). The site has gotten enough public attention that it was featured on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Take a look at the ABC page discussing this–it doesn’t actually link to the site (though it does give the URL, so you could get there), and at the bottom, the page has a feedback form which starts off with “Now that you’ve heard about, we would like to know what you think.” Note that they are subtly discouraging you from actually checking the site out for yourself, and encouraging you to treat the ABC writeup as the only source you need–to make decisions and offer feedback based on incomplete information when the source is right under your nose.

They just don’t get it.


I’ve been seeing a lot of ads lately for a videogame called Desert Storm: Conflict. Although it putatively is a simulation of the 1990 Gulf War, is it clearly intended as an anticipation of the upcoming Gulf War, Episode II. Cashing in on war fever with a videogame? There’s something about this that strikes me as wrong, wrong, wrong. And weird.

More Word Weirdness

Microsoft Word is legendary for its awfulness. This is not news. But I just ran across a quirk so funny that I had to stop working on my tight-deadline job and blog it.

I’ve got auto-correct turned on. I’m zipping along and type “arcana.” Word corrects it to “arcane.” That’s odd–I couldn’t imagine that there would be an arcana/arcane pair in the auto-correct dictionary. And there isn’t. But there’s another feature (that can be disabled, fortunately) that will auto-correct based on the regular spellcheck dictionary. Apparently that dictionary doesn’t include “arcana” but does include “arcane,” and the spellcheck algorithm decided the latter was the only viable candidate to replace the former. So it did.

Here’s where it gets funny. Word also includes a regular dictionary with definitions–the whole works. Arcana is in that dictionary. Go ahead, make jokes about one hand not knowing what the other is doing, the insane redundnancy of two different word lists, etc. I’m with you.


Saw the Mr Sinus treatment of Crossroads last night. No, not the one with Ralph Macchio, the one with Britney Spears.

As usual, they did a fine job. Of course, with this material, their job was like shooting fish in a barrel, but nevertheless, I was in tears from laughing so hard.

Stealth politics

A couple of recent news items about China have intrigued me. NPR reported that a stage adaptation of Animal Farm is showing in Beijing (audio link). And a Chinese national who has spent much of his life in America but recently returned to his hometown, Shanghai, reflects on how much things have changed there.

It seems amazing that Animal Farm could be showing in China. But the story makes clear that while the older generation found it moving and relevant, the younger generation just didn’t get it–perhaps because they were all busy sending text messages to their friends on their cellphones during the play. The story in the NY Times is even more astounding:

I listened to my 14-year-old cousin sing rap in Chinese about the fantasized martial arts, jiang hu. When I asked him about Chairman Mao, he gave me a blank stare, just like teenagers in Harlem had when I inquired about Malcolm X. “Who is Mao?” my cousin asked. “They might have mentioned him in school, but I didn’t pay attention.”

If nobody except for politicians care about politics, then everyone else will leave the politicians alone to do…whatever they want.

Is it possible that China’s political class has secured its future by making the citizens fat and happy, and pretending that it is irrelevant? Is it possible that the same thing has happened in the USA?

Apple nomenclature

Macintouch today had an item on Apple’s infernal model nomenclature

Continuing a tradition of absurdly awkward computer names, Apple has posted technical specifications for the new iBook (Opaque 16 VRAM), iBook (32 VRAM), and iBook (14.1 LCD 32 VRAM). [This naming silliness has gone so far, Apple’s Knowledge Base actually has to use footnotes to help define its iBook names! “Note 1. The parenthetical product description (Summer 2000) refers to the summer of the Northern Hemisphere.”]

While I like the initial attempt at simplicity–just calling models “iBook” or “Powermac” without four-digit numbers added on to the end to impress you–they need to come up with a better way of distinguishing variants of a model. I propose putting a few simple shapes in a discreet (but not inaccessible) spot on the machines, so they can refer to them instead as the “iBook (○△△ circle-triangle-triangle model).

Software find du jour: Calendar

While there’s no shortage of calendar apps for every taste, it seems that this is the only one that caters to mine. Calendar is very simple. I have it sitting in the background, all but invisible on top of my desktop picture. It has minimal functionality for adding events. And it displays five days worth of weather information, although it’s questionable when compared to other forecasts.

Microsoft and the market

A couple days ago, a final decree was issued in the interminable Microsoft anti-trust suit. Microsoft got off with a slap on the wrist. Unsurprisingly, this boosted Microsoft’s stock. More surprisingly, the market rallied overall.

Microsoft lifted many other technology stocks with it today, including Cisco Systems, I.B.M., Intel and Dell Computer.

This baffles me. Microsoft is a convicted monopolist, with predatory business policies. Investors appear to be operating under the principle that “what’s good for Microsoft is good for the market.” The opposite is the case. Although one company’s success need not be at the expense of another’s in general, Microsoft operates according to Gore Vidal’s maxim: “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”

Bowling for Columbine

Saw Michael Moore’s new movie, Bowling for Columbine yesterday. This is a documentary about gun violence in the USA. It asks a lot more questions than it answers, the central question being “why is there so much gun violence in America?” Moore trots out the counter-example of Canada, which has widespread gun ownership, a similar culture, and very few gun-related deaths. He doesn’t have an answer to this question, but gives a lot of food for thought. Is America’s bellicose foreign policy somehow related to street violence? He suggests that it is, but doesn’t say how (if at all), and it doesn’t quite ring true for me.

One review I read before seeing the movie criticized Moore for his argumentative interview with Charlton Heston at the end of the movie. I had a different reaction: If Heston didn’t already know that Moore is a rabble-rouser, he had time (and a publicist on-hand) to find out between the time he made the appointment for the interview and the time of the interview itself. But more to the point, Heston clearly did not have the moxie to defend his position. If someone is a prominent representative of a controversial viewpoint, as Heston is, that person should have the intellectual courage to defend it. Heston didn’t–he allowed himself to be backed into a corner very easily. If I had any respect for him before, I lost it there.

Election time 2002

Mid-term elections attract something like 20% voter turnout. Pretty sad, and ripe fodder for jokes, but perhaps things won’t be quite so bad this time. News is that early voting has been unusually active, which may be cause for optimism.

At any rate, I do believe it’s important to vote, and to be an educated voter. With that in mind, here are a couple of scooby-snacks for the interested voter: Open Secrets and Vote Smart.


Went down with Gwen to Cafe Mundi for what is now a tradition–the Tantien Halloween Show. I was one of the safeties, and I think more than half the fire-folk in Austin were involved in some capacity. It was a good show, and a good crowd–excellent people-watching. Unfortunately, I got almost no photos.

Gwen’s costume, which involved a liquid-latex top, took quite a long time to apply, so we missed out on the 6th-Street experience.