Friday, December 31, 2004

No Passport Needed

Interesting, both Monster (back in October) and now eBay have dropped Microsoft's Passport service due to privacy and security concerns. That's pretty bad news for Microsoft. Wonder if that'll spur other companies to dump Passport, too. And Microsoft says it's withdrawing the product from the market all together, but it'll still be used for logging into Microsoft sites like Hotmail. Whoops. That's not the greatest end of year news for Microsoft.

Guess it's good to know they don't have a monopoly on *something*.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Help

The tsunami death toll has reached 100,000 more quickly than I imagined it could--and I knew it was rising very quickly--and has now topped 125,000 according to Reuters. With 80,000 dead in Indonesia alone. It's hard to even grasp the extent of it.

Here's a good selection of relief agencies I just heard mentioned on NPR's The World.

Top 10 NPR Reporter Names

Here's an idea I've had for quite a while: a Top 10 list of NPR Reporter Names. Specifically, names that when you hear them, you think, man, that's a cool name. And then you have to say it out loud a few times: "Man-dah-leet Del-bah-ko." The fact that most of these reporters seem to be women? I can't help that!

1. Mandalit del Barco
2. Snigdha Prakash
3. Sylvia Poggioli
4. Lakshmi Singh
5. Neda Ulaby
6. Anne Garrels
7. Joanne Silberner
8. Daniel Zwerdling
9. Linda Wertheimer/Eric Westervelt
10. Corey Flintoff

BTW, Don'tcha think "Robert Stribley" would be a cool-sounding name for an NPR reporter? [click] Mandalit? Mandalit? Are you still there?

Running Robot

Check this out. From Honda: their robot ASIMO's running action is starting to look eerily human. But what use is it? Well, given what we know about Wi-Fi, GPS, robotics and other related technologies, it's not too hard to imagine robotic couriers in the near future is it? Robotic nurses distributing hourly medicine to patients? The expense would be prohibitive now, of course, but . . . give 'em a few years. I'm not suggesting such robots could replace humans in every case, but they could certainly take care of some of the simpler, more repetitive tasks, couldn't they?

(Via Boing Boing)

My Favorite Movies of 2004

This post has become embarrassingly long - a clear indication of my compulsive interest in movies, I guess. As usual, there were so many flicks I didn't get to see, but here's my list of favorites for this past year. I reserve to edit it over the next few days. Some movies were released earlier than this year, but in every case, I saw it this year - often because Charlotte's a la C-Level city for movie releases. Wish that were a joke, but it's true. For now my list in no particular order:

>Control Room - sorry, Mr. Moore, but this documentary easily bests Fahrenheit 9/11 as the year's best. Both thought-provoking and provocative, but - most importantly - much more honest than Moore's admittedly stirring effort.
>Crimson Gold - a gem from Iran, also written by Abbas Kiarostami who wrote and directed personal favorites The Wind Will Carry Us and The Taste of Cherry
>Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - he thrilled you with his rock videos, now Michel Gondry blows your mind with his cinematic directorial debut. Written by Charlie Kaufman, of course. What a pairing!
>Kinsey - a solid portrayal by Neeson and if not exactly a masterpiece as a movie, it's certainly playing an important role in our current culture.
>The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - you'll love it or hate it. I loved it. Call Wes Anderson eccentric, precious, whatever, but you leave his movies thinking most of the rest of the stuff that makes it to theaters is dull and colorless. Bill Murray's hilarious and who'da thunk Willem Dafoe could be so funny?
>Sideways - charming, funny colorful both sunny and sour. Back to back hits for Paul Giamatti with this and American Splendor, and what a run for Alexander Payne, too, with this, Election and About Schmidt.
>The Son (2002) - takes a while to get used to the claustrophobic camera work, but The Son proved utterly realistic, profoundly moving. Magnificent. One of the best movies in recent years. And who saw it?
>Super Size Me - you'll never look at Big Mac a bottle of Coke the same way again. Morgan Spurlock proves a funnier more amiable Michael Moore. Apparently, Spurlock was rejected five times by the USC film school. Joke's on them.
>Hero (2002) - finally released in the US - beautiful, if you love the cinematography of Chistopher Doyle (Wong Kar Wai's shooter for Chunking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, etc) as I do, see this movie for that alone .It's painterly.
>My Architect (2003) - Thrilling documentary about the odd relationship between a famous architect, Louis Kahn, and his son, Louis. Kahn had three families - one by marriage and two other not-so-secret families with two other women. Louis Kahn traces his fathers steps around the world, trying to get to know the father who spent so little time with him. Would you imagine weeping over a documentary about an architect? One of the best documentaries I've ever seen.
>The Fog of War - another documentary and one of those rare ones that compel you to see the world in a new way. Timely as all get out, too.
>Maria Full of Grace - "Grace" being cocaine, in this case. OK, bad joke, but a fascinating movie and a compelling performance from a brand-new actor.
>Touching the Void - I hate the cold and this superb documentary about two friends and a horrific mountaineering accident did little to change my feelings about it.
>Osama - tragic story of an Afghani girl trying to pass as a boy.
>The Mother - sad, disturbing, yet oddly humanistic and touching. After the death of her husband, an older woman becomes obsessed with her daughter's all too obliging boyfriend
>The Manchurian Candidate - a bit loony, almost lapsing into camp here and there, but overall, the year's most surprisingly successful remake
>Napolean Dynamite - another love or hate movie - I loved it - what can I say? "There exists a long and honorable history of intellectuals fully enjoying both the high and the low art." That work for yah?
>The Machinist - worked for me and it was about much more than Christian Bale's truly disturbing weight loss. It's a story of redemption with clear aspirations of Dostoevsky in mind.
>Enduring Love - I'm a huge Ian McEwan fan and I thought this movie did his novel of the same name pretty good justice. The male lead is Daniel Craig, also the boyfriend in The Mother.

Also ran:

>Team America - might've been a favorite, but I found the treatment of liberals in the movie particularly vicious compared to, say, the treatment of Kim Il Jung! I mean, come on! Some criticism of Hollywood's often vacuous style of dissent is certainly called, though, and Team America itself proved a spectacular metaphor for the United States' foreign policy--though the South Park boys drummed up more sympathy for the neocon modus operandi than I've been able to.

Worst Movie:

>Stepford Wives - by a long shot - utterly, irredeemably disappointing - full of plot holes and inconsistencies which are an insult to the viewer's intelligence. An atrocity of a movie.

Other contenders which I didn't see: Alexander, which sounded like an unmitigated disaster and Christmas with the Kranks which was apparently little more than a wowser love letter to red stater types. Celebrate Christmas or else! And Taxi - based on the trailer alone.

Disappointing Movies:

>Collateral - I have a Michael Mann fetish, but that didn't stop him from losing me after the ridiculous coincidence in the second half of the movie - stylish as hell though and great performances by Cruise and Foxx.
>The Village - most of us got the telegraphed ending early on, only I thought maybe the girl would walk into Eckerds or something at the end to fill a prescription.
>Ocean's Twelve - sorry, it had it's moments and was fine for a no-brainer, eye-candy movie, but that whole Julia Roberts thing in the second half - ugh, nonsensical.

Didn't See/Mighta Liked:

>Before Sunset, Anatomy of Hell, Dogville, The Sea Inside (Is Javier Bardem ever bad?), Vera Drake (Does -- ever direct a bad movie?), Hotel Rwanda. Bad Education (Amodovar: say no more), Moolaade, Tarnation, Time of the Wolf, The Big Red One (re-release), Goodbye Dragon Inn, The Corporation, 2046 (my not be released in US yet, but it's Wong Kar Wai and a semi sequel to In the Mood for Love, so ...) Why haven't I seen these movies? Mainly 'cos Charlotte's movie scene sucketh. Thank god for the Manor, though.

Trends:

>Documentaries - what phenomenal year for documentaries, and I'm not even talking about Fahrenheit 9/11. Look at how many of my favorites above were documentaries. And, yes, I enjoyed Fahrenheit 9/11. But it was a masterpiece of propaganda, and I wish Moore had been a little more even-handed and somehow kept the humor.

>Bombast: Troy, Alexander, Passion of the Christ, etc - pretty self-explanatory

Final Thought:

Can someone please give me a job as a movie reviewer? Maybe at the New Yorker or New York Times. I ain't picky. Salon or Slate'd do.

What'd ya'll like?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Bor-ring!

Sometimes, naming the family business after yourself isn't such a good idea.

Give

Not to advertise for Amazon, but they've currently made it very easy to give to the American Red Cross for the tsunami disaster with a single click. They've already raised 1.5 million. It's great to see prominent companies on the Web taking advantage of their popularity to do good.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Very Coulter Christmas

Here's what passes for humor over at anncoulter.com these days:
To The People Of Islam:

Just think: If we'd invaded your countries, killed your leaders and converted you to Christianity YOU'D ALL BE OPENING CHRISTMAS PRESENTS RIGHT ABOUT NOW!

Merry Christmas
Guess she's following her President's example: never apologize for your biggest mistakes; just joke about them later on.

(Via Wonkette. It would've been satire if Wonkette had written it, but, unfortunately, Coulter really did write it.)

Conservatives Grieve Over O'Reilly's Sins

His sins of defending the mainstream media, that is.

It's funny but sad that when conservatives like this writer over at the National Review Online find something wrong with Bill O'Reilly, it's just his "self-aggrandizement" and the fact that he's defending Dan Rather. Think, Catherine. Think hard, and I bet you can come up with some other reasons to criticize him.

But, no, the very title of Cathy Seipp's piece is "We Want O’Reilly Back!" You see, she's "Missing the old maverick." In her very same piece, Seipp alludes to Clinton's infidelities and O'Reilly's obsession with them. In fact, she details his indignation over the media's ignoring Clinton's rape accuser, Juanita Broaddrick. Even so, she deftly manages to omit any explicit mention of the recent airing of O'Reilly's own dirty laundry.

One "Bill" the conservatives got impeached; the other they want back. Guess it's all about redemption or something, huh? But why is that redemption only available to conservatives?

(Hint: it's not really about redemption when you completely and conveniently overlook gaping flaws and hypocrisy in your idols, is it?)

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Scissors You Can Run With

Dang, you can download a really high-quality version of the Scissor Sisters' video for their ridiculously giddy hit song "Take Your Mama" here. Think early Elton John and Bee Gees and lyrics which concern a young gay man's coming out to his Mom on the dance floor. Rod Keen, whose site hosts the video, makes the hats you'll see the band members and many other celebrities wearing. The New York band's eponymous debut album is nothing short of glamtastic. One of the better recent pop albums and a nice homage to the disco era. You also have to check out their utterly unique take on Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." It involves a lot of falsetto. You can check it out on their site.

Link directly to the 61 MB video.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Massive in the Area



Check out this stunning ├╝ber minimalist video version of Massive Attack's "Special Cases," the original version of which you can hear on their recent album, The 100th Window. Shot by the influential Brit photographer Nick Knight, it simply depicts an exploding flower against a sky blue background. The music is an Akufen remix of the orginal tune. Can you guess who the vocalist is who drifts in near the end? The answer's in the comments.

BTW, I found this video via Yahoo's excellent new video search feature. You also find other great stuff like the classic Blue Oyster Cult skit from SNL with Christopher Walken: "Guess what. I got a fever. And the only prescription is more cowbell."

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Well and Truly Hitched

Psalms

I wish everyone
in the world
would begin to read
the names
in this phone book
more than the Psalms.

- Yehuda Amichai
translated from the Hebrew by Leon Wieseltier, p. 42, The New Republic, December 13, 2004
As I read it, that poem ties in with the implicit theme of this blog--or at least the name, I've chosen--which I've never taken the time to elaborate on. John Muir was likely referring specifically to nature when he said it: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." But I intend the theme to be even broader: philosophically, religiously, naturally, universally. However you want to read it, we're all hitched together.

Democrats and Republicans, hippies and hipsters, men and women, believers and non-believers, businessmen and homeless people, single mothers and Baptist deacons, Americans and Frenchmen, Westerners and Middle Easterners, gays and straights, Yuschenko and Yanukovych, flower arrangers and day traders, dogs and cats, the PHD candidate and the unschooled, bullies and submissives, the fashionable and the frump, priests and petty criminals, the married and the single, movie stars and children in their school plays, introverts and extroverts, elephants and insects, the poet and the illiterate, black and white, gym bunnies and couch potatoes, the eldery and the newborn, North Koreans and South Koreans, congressmen and trial lawyers, the loved and the unloved, Protestants and Catholics, dullards and debutantes, Muslims and Christians, pacifists and terrorists. No, they are not all the same, but they are all hitched together.

Like it or not, believe it or not. It's true. It's sometimes a thing of horror; it's always a thing of beauty.

I often have to remind myself that it's true. But maybe that's what's worth remembering during this season.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Oy Ya!

If you love Outkast and Hanukkah, you'll love this -- Jewish "Hey Ya!".

You can catch more of this guy's parody songs in mp3 format on his site.

"Oy is just Yo backwards!"

Indeed.

(Via Waterbones.)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Joseph Arthur

I spent last weekend in Denver where I had the pleasure of seeing Joseph Arthur play at the Bluebird. While there, I thought I'd take a photo of the joint



and try to reproduce the famous Faithless album cover for Sunday 8pm



from memory. (OK, I cheated and cropped it a little, but probably so did they.)

It was a great show, except for the fact that a whole table full of folks behind me talked through the whole show. And when Arthur got louder, so did they. Made up for it after by getting to chat with Arthur and show opener and fellow caterwauler (and I mean that in a good way) Joan as Police Woman.

I've posted a few more Denver photos on my photoblog, Mezzanine.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Social Insecurity

The Onion sums up the stupidity of privatizing Social Security so well, they hardly leave room for further comment: "New Social Security Plan Allows Workers To Put Portion Of Earnings On Favorite Team."

"It's your money," they quote Bush as saying. "You earned it. You should be able to bet it on whatever team you want." Heh-heh.

Call me a Commie, but there's something despicable about saying, "Hey, here's you're retirement savings, feel free to gamble on your future." All in the name of avoiding "socialism," which you'd think were akin to the black plague or something. As if it weren't actually working in countries like Canada and half of Europe. I'm not for a purely communistic society any more than I am for unchecked capitalism, but blend of socialistist capitalism would be nice. Privatized social security just reeks of Capitalism worship to me. I'm sure the Ayn Rand acolytes approve.

[Robert hits Google.]

Well, whaddya know: they do approve. Only they believe Bush isn't going far enough. Of course, they do. "This is why the left loves Social Security," writes Robert W. Tracinski, a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute. "It is a system under which all must sacrifice for all--and none may profit. Everyone is made dependent on government--and no one is allowed to provide for himself." See how the Aynrandians despise community? Look out for yourself only. Contribute to the increasing isolation in American society. Yeah! &$%ing Objectivists. How about some balance? Night, day. Man, woman. Capitalism, socialism. Isn't it as plain as the nose on your face that you can't have one without the other? I mean, that's no profound economic discovery on my part, is it?

Of course, what Tracinski neglects to mention is that the filthy rich are already profoundly capable of saving millions and making a killing in the stock market and that the money they dole out for social security has zero impact on their lifestyles. You see, it's the principle the Objectivist's are standing up for: you don't let the parasitic poor benefit from the hard-earned fruits of your illegal stock trades.

Grumble, grumble.

(Onion Story via Kevin Drum.)

Friday, December 03, 2004

Gentlemen, You Can't Fight in Here! This is the War Room.

I stumbled across this 1963 review of Dr.Strangelove, and it's fascinating to see how it reviewed at the time. Now, I happen think Strangelove is perhaps the best satirical movie of all time and to a certain extent the NYT's reviewer Bosley Crowther saw the movie's value, too. Crowther's conclusions about the film, however, prove far more conservative than mine--perhaps indicative of how much more respect was expected of your average American for the government at the time:
As I say, there are parts of this satire that are almost beyond compare.

On the other hand, I am troubled by the feeling, which runs all through the film, of discredit and even contempt for our whole defense establishment, up to and even including the hypothetical Commander in Chief.

It is all right to show the general who starts this wild foray as a Communist-hating madman, convinced that a "Red conspiracy" is fluoridating our water in order to pollute our precious body fluids. That is pointed satire, and Sterling Hayden plays the role with just a right blend of wackiness and meanness to give the character significance.

But when virtually everybody turns up stupid or insane—or, what is worse, psychopathic—I want to know what this picture proves. The President, played by Peter Sellers with a shiny bald head, is a dolt, whining and unavailing with the nation in a life-or-death spot. But worse yet, his technical expert, Dr. Strangelove, whom Mr. Sellers also plays, is a devious and noxious ex-German whose mechanical arm insists on making the Nazi salute.

And, oddly enough, the only character who seems to have much common sense is a British flying officer, whom Mr. Sellers—yes, he again—plays.

The ultimate touch of ghoulish humor is when we see the bomb actually going off, dropped on some point in Russia, and a jazzy sound track comes in with a cheerful melodic rendition of "We'll Meet Again Some Sunny Day." Somehow, to me, it isn't funny. It is malefic and sick.
My thought: yes, Kubrick's movie was uniform in its satire reserving little sympathy for any of the parties involved. That's because it's a satire. And the stuff that bothers Crowther is the same stuff that always bothers critics of great (and I mean "great" as in "of major significance or importance") satire: it is unflinching in its engagement. But satire only undermines its own purpose--its very authority and integrity--if proves anything less than an equal opportunity critic. Satire should be beholden to no one.

I'm glad Stanley Kubrick didn't choose to preserve figures like the United States President and members of the military from judgment due to some misguided sense of nationalism or respect. Of course, Kubrick was practically British, too (though born in the Bronx), so he had little reason to bow and scrape before POTUS.

Dr. Strangelove remains one of my favorite movies to this day. And, clearly, it still proves disturbingly relevant.

Also, that last line about the movie's denouement being "malefic and sick." No, no, no. Satire doesn't have to have a happy ending. (Do satires ever *really* have a happy ending? Really?) Satire is a funhouse mirror held up to society; it's a surgeon's scalpel which must lacerate in order to heal. It doesn't show a pretty picture; it doesn't tickle and tantalize with a dull blade.

Now, a society that pursues a nuclear policy dubbed MAD--for Mutually Assured Destruction--now that's malefic and sick. And respect for the Commander in Chief ought not to be considered a given.

Related: Check out this updated version of the movie poster, too--starring Donald Rumsfeld.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Machineries of Madness

Check out the trailer for the new Christian Bale movie The Machinist. Yeah, the one Bale starved himself far beyond waif dimensions for. Looks positively horrifying. Also looks like it's showing at the Landmark Mayan in Denver, where I'm going to be chilling this weekend, so hopefully, I'll get to see it. It's my first trip to Denver, so let me know if there's anywhere I *must* go!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

We Can Be Heroes

Here's a superlative review of the movie Hero by TNR's Chris Orr succintly describes the gaping moral problem with the stupendously beautiful movie's apparent penultimate theme: "the powerless should lay themselves down so that the powerful may inherit the earth." And that pretty much sums up my essential problem with true pacificism, too--much as I might sympathize with its adherants. Orr concurs that the film's theme may have been contrived to survive China's censors, but I agree that this possibility will be lost of most of the flick's intended audience.

Hero was just released on DVD.