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January 2004 Archives

January 31, 2004

Violins in the News


Wow, it's been an unusually big week for violins in the news.

January 30, 2004

Michael Jackson and To Kill a Mockingbird

Today's revelation that Michael Jackson drinks wine (which he calls "Jesus juice") from Coke cans so no one will know he's drinking reminds me of Dolphus Raymond, a character in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, except with a twist.

Just like Michael, Dolphus Raymond is regarded as an eccentric figure in his community, and like Michael, he has more money than most. Also like Michael, Dolphus has an ambiguous relationship with his race: he's white, but he had an affair with, and then married, a black woman, with whom he had a handful of bi-racial children. Similarly, Michael has married a couple of white women, with whom he has had some bi-racial kids. Dolphus spends most of his time hanging out with the black people of Maycomb in the town square, where is he derided by judgmental passers-by, just as Michael spends a lot of time in the public eye, and is similarly derided because of his eccentricities and indefinite relationship to his race.

But what makes the latest revelation about Michael really reminiscent of Dolphus is this: Everybody in town thought Dolphus was an alcoholic, because they always saw him in public drinking from a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag. But one day, Scout and Dill learn the truth: Dolphus was drinking Coke, not alcohol, out of that brown paper bag. By contrast, Michael Jackson appears to be drinking Coke, but is really drinking alcohol. Both Dolphus and Michael (reportedly) allowed children to taste their respective beverages to learn the truth.

When asked why he acts so strangely all the time and lets everyone think he is an alcoholic, Dolphus says he wanted to give people an excuse for his behavior, so they would leave him alone. Without his alcoholic persona, the people of Maycomb would persecute him because of his relationship with the black woman. But because they could say, "Oh, that's just old Dolphus the alcoholic," they gave him a free pass to act oddly. Unfortunately for him, the "oh, that's just how Michael is" excuse has worn thin for MJ, and his eccentricity doesn't seem to be much protection any more. Maybe he should have followed the lead of his literary complement and laid off the sauce.

It's All Over but the Crying

This Reuters chart says it all: Dean is getting killed in Arizona, Missouri, South Carolina, and Missouri. He's in third-place or worse in each state, and he has double-digit support only in Arizona. But with very large percentages of undecided voters in each state, can his new campaign chief perform a miracle by Tuesday, even with no cash? Unlikely: at this stage in the game, it doesn't seem like Dean will capture the hearts of fence-sitting undecided voters.

I almost think Kerry should let Edwards win South Carolina, just so he'll seem like a more viable vice-presidential candidate in the South.

Celebrity News

Lots of good stories on WENN today:

Dennis Quaid thanks Russell Crowe for having an affair with his then-wife Meg Ryan while they were still married; Selma Blair has married Ahmet Zappa; Dweezil Zappa's girlfriend is Lisa Loeb; Melanie Griffith's mother, Tippi Hedron, lives with 60 large cats like tigers and leopards; and Scarlett Johannsen is going to star in a film version of The Black Dahlia, based on James Elroy's novel.

January 29, 2004

NY Times Frees Sex Slaves

The NYT continues its suddenly all-encompassing coverage of the sex slave industry with this "special op-ed" multimedia feature. Nicholas Kristof goes to Cambodia and buys the freedom of two slave girls.

This is reminiscent of a banner headline in Spin magazine about 10 years ago: "WE FREE A SEX SLAVE" The experiential journalistic behind that piece? Indefatigable novelist, historian, and reporter William T. Vollmann. The article isn't online, but he briefly discusses it in this interview.

San Francisco knows how to party, and also hates the man

Hilarious and cynical piece in the NYT about subway parties on the San Francisco BART. Such parties have been taking place in New York and London for many years, and you might not be surprised to hear that the SFO version is smaller, weirder, and much more pretentious. Lots of freaky, indepedently-minded people were there, like Romance the Love Pirate, a clown with a rubber chicken, and a whole lot of unemployed programmers. Maybe my take on these partiers is being colored by the disdainful tone of the article, but come on, can you honestly read this: "the party car was up and running... a time and place to meet, mingle, act up, wind down, express themselves, dangle from poles, rage against the machine or do none of that, anonymously, anarchically, all in the cramped, swaying confines of a subway car," and not feel disdainful too? It all reminds me of the flash mob trend from this summer: "The point of the party was that there was no point."

So then the cops come on board, and the already unfun party gets busted, and the unemployed computer people all start in on how the journalist covering their unfun party is "stealing our art" and "commercializing our culture."

If I didn't hate San Francisco's irritatingly self-obsessed "counter-culture" already, I sure do now. Oh wait. I did already hate it.

Unforeseen Consequences of 9/11

In our continuing series of unintended consequences of the September 11 tragedies, we bring you the latest installment: the success of Norah Jones. And Ally McBeal's own Josh Groban, who seems to perform on TV more often than he does in regular venues. Yeah, according to their producer Arif Mardin, we're all seeking solace in this post-9/11 world and "things that take us back to a safer time." But for a producer who worked with Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield in the 1960's, only to produce "Wind Beneath My Wings" in the 1980's, he's got some reevaluating to do. The treacly music of Norah Jones threatens my personal safety, Arif, because it makes me a danger to myself.

January 28, 2004

Celebrity Courthouse

faith evans martha stewart
It's been a busy 24 hours on the celebrity court docket: James Brown, Courtney Love, Faith Evans, Martha Stewart. Not to mention Scott Weiland and Michael Jackson, who have been hanging around on the courthouse steps.

Being famous is soooo hard. I feel very bad for these people. I really do.

"Beat Bush" becomes "Beat Dean" +

Results from yesterday's primary in New Hampshire, and polls of voters' attitudes about candidates, seem to reveal a deepening rift between centrist Democrats and the party members who have supported Howard Dean from the beginning. I think these centrist Democrats woke up about two days before the Iowa caucuses, having ignored the last year of campaigning, and within a couple of days what they saw was (a) Kerry winning and being happy, and (b) Dean screaming. This left them with a positive view of Kerry and an emotionally negative response to Dean. So when it came time to decide who to vote for, people naturally leaned towards the happy winner instead of the (seemingly) angry loser. This reaction translated into an astonishing poll a couple days after the caucus that showed Kerry beating BUSH by 49% to 47%. If that's how people feel, it's no mystery why Kerry performed so well in New Hampshire: all the Democrats want to beat Bush no matter what, and an unexpectedly large share of Democrats seem intent on beating Dean no matter what.

Dean's recent declining numbers are attributable to the same kind of problem that messed up Joe Lieberman. In both cases, I think, the root cause was timing. In Lieberman's case, in the earliest days of the campaign (a year ago), he misjudged the politics of the Democrats who would be deciding the "front runner." The people who cared a year ago about who would get the nomination are the angriest and most active members of the Democratic party -- the people who are fed up with Bush and Republican-lite Democrats like Lieberman. Lieberman's mistake was to think that because America wanted a right-centrist Democrat, then the Democrats interested in the pre-Iowa politicking would want the same thing. This was a fatal mistake. What actually happened was that everyone involved early on wanted a left-wing liberal, and they found something close to this in Dean.

Consequently, the hard-core Democrats embraced Dean early on, and they carried him all the way to Iowa. But like I said, two days before the caucus (maybe a little earlier in Iowa itself), all the mainstream Democrats woke up and realized that Dean doesn't really represent their beliefs: Kerry does. Dean's platform is great for the angry, fed-up left-wing of the Democratic party, but it doesn't really resonate with mainstream Americans who, when you ask them, tend to be relatively happy (and certainly not angry) about the way things are going in this country. In this way, Dean has suffered from timing. It's not really his fault, because he shouldn't have to change his platform based on the audience he's addressing, but it's forcing the left to wake up to a cold, hard fact: America, as a whole, does not seem interested in a unabashedly liberal candidate like Dean. The irony of this is that poor old Joe Lieberman, in the end, was right. If he had started off with more liberal ideology, instead of trying to out-Bush Bush, he might have appealed to Democratic faithful early on. Then, as the mainstream started waking up, he could shift a bit to the center, and garner the support of a larger number of voters. Instead, he ended up being painted as a loser, and I think this has had more of an impact on his chances than his actual platform.

So what happens next? Dean is who he is, and that's not changing, so at this point, he'd have a hell of a time trying to come across as a centrist, and he doesn't seem interested in doing that regardless of the impact it would have on his chances. Kerry and Edwards have already staked out the left-center, anyway, and it seems that's where they're going to find the most Democratic voters, and as the campaign wears on, the most undecided voters.

So if Kerry and Edwards are roughly in the same territory, and Kerry was won both Iowa and NH, where does that leave Edwards? The buzz lately has certainly shifted from a Dean/Edwards ticket to a Kerry/Edwards ticket, and a lot of people seem to think this is the solution for everything.

A lot of people, yes, but apparently not Edwards himself: on one of the morning talk shows earlier today (I think it was the Today show), the interviewer asked Edwards, "Will you consider being a vice-presidential candidate." Edwards' response: "No." The interviewer, a little surprised at the directness and unambiguity of his reply, asked again. Again, Edwards said, "No," and added he's in it for the presidency and nothing else. This was very surprising to me, as Edwards is the obvious choice for the VP position. Why would he be so unambiguous? Couldn't he have given a standard "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it" response? Maybe he's thinking that Kerry or Dean have no chance of winning the presidency, so it makes sense for him to just return to the Senate until 2008, when he'd be in a strong position to run again, without the taint of having been part of a losing ticket in 2004? Well, that doesn't work either, because as a reader points out, Edwards' term expires this year and he is not running for re-election. I have no idea if this is his logic, but if people's main concern with him is his lack of experience, wouldn't he do well to be in the public eye as a VP candidate for the whole campaign season? Regardless, I think Edwards made a mistake in being so unambiguous in his response. It's one thing to say it on the Today show, but if that's going to be his standard reply, it could cause problems in the next 2 weeks or so as his presidential aspirations go down the drain.

Regardless of Edwards' stance, it's not over between Kerry and Dean just yet, but Dean certainly has some pretty long odds to overcome. As far as I know, Clinton is the only candidate to recover from losing both Iowa and New Hampshire and ultimately go on to get the nomination. But in 1992, Clinton had upward momentum at this stage in the game, and Dean's momentum seems headed downward. The only way he can recover is if he wins a couple of hotly contested states like Missouri, Arizona, and New Mexico on February 3. If he doesn't, he better start thinking about closing up shop and convincing his faithful to go support Kerry. Kerry is going to need all the help he can get.

24: Like Christians in Rome +

2424, the show we love to hate and hate to love, has been rewarding our bloodlust with zeal lately, sacrificing one character after another for no reason other than to titillate those of us in the audience. I say, Keep up the good work!

24 won the Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Series the other night. I have no idea why. 24 is a lot of things, but if it's the best show on television, we've got problems. The plots rely on manufactured coincidences and implausabilities, the dialogue is often teeth-grittingly bad, and each episode drags on sometimes like you're sitting there just watching the little orange clock tick for an hour. But I guess the Hollywood Foreign Press and America still find something compelling about the show: maybe because it's so over the top, Kiefer is so great, and because the basic conceit of it -- telling a story in 60 minutes of real-time, and a full-day over the course of the season -- is just innately tantalizing.

24 invented the genre of the action soap-opera...maudlin portrayals of human relationships interspersed with gun battles and helicopter chases. If the show has any subtext at all anymore, it's that the torture and physical beatings the characters go through every week are metaphors for the emotional pain inflicted on them by the other characters on the show. Jack gets Chase hung up by his thumbs and beaten nearly to death, but Jack is also angry at Chase for dating his daughter. Nina ties Jack to the chair and threatens to kill him. She's already killed him emotionally. It's just a matter of time before Kimmy, the perennial damsel in distress, finds herself out of the cozy confines of CTU headquarters, and at the mercy of Nina in the same way she was when Nina killed her mom a couple of years ago.

So the last two weeks have seen the deaths of two fairly major characters who happened to be in love with each other, at least in the way people are in love on 24. In this way, the two episodes presented a kind of 24-ified version of Romeo and Juliet, a star-crossed love that was doomed from the beginning -- one family immersed in the drug world, another simpler family drawn into that world for love. Even with these omens, their doom was hastened by Kiefer's attempting to rescue a woman who, deep down, maybe didn't want to be rescued.

Like Shakespeare, 24 isn't afraid to kill off important characters midway through the story, but unlike Shakespeare, only rarely do the deaths feel called for. More often, people die because of seemingly arbitrary decisions made by the show's writers and producers. Death on 24 is a sport, a spectacle, a tease, like the writers are sacrificing their creations on the altar of ratings and shock value. But we'll take what we can get. Since no other show is willing to take the chances that 24 does, even if those chances are merely meant to manipulate and shock us, we'll go along with it and keep watching, even if we're not exactly sure why. -ADM

This hasn't been the strongest season of 24 so far, it's true. But last night's return of the villainesses was our reward for slogging through that goddamn Chloe's baby plot and every single moment that Chapelle is on screen. Lady MacPalmer has returned, and keeps calling everyone "sweetie," which is I guess what overtly evil people do on this show. She also sports those super-long, below-the-eyebrows bangs, the same ones that Kim has this year. Will they engage in a vicious hair-pulling hand-to-hand gunfight by the end of the season? I hope so.

Nina's return has been less spectacular and violent than I might have hoped, though getting to watch her engage in evil tongue-kissing with Kiefer is a thrill, and apparently it gives her the ability to see through his "I've left CTU" lies. Nina, if you want to know if he's gone renegade, or at least if he wants to have another illicit and life-threatening affair with you, it's in his kiss.

I like ADM's ideas about the show's subtext, but the subtext I see is all about the ambiguous nature of truth, which we're all experiencing in the real world these days too. Kiefer presents a fake truth to Nina, who sees through it, and understands the real truth of his plan to double-cross the Salazars. Palmer thinks he can stand up to political threats by himself, but Lady MacPalmer understands that underhanded, devious blackmail works better. Kim thinks she knows that her dad won't be able to control his revenge-lust to work constructively with Nina, while Tony understands the real truth that Kiefer will do whatever it takes to do his job. Even if that means making out with the sexiest character on the show. -Amy

January 27, 2004

Reaction to the Oscar Nominations

Some good, some bad.

  • If Sean Penn wins Best Actor for Mystic River, I am going to urinate on his likeness in public.
  • Thank god Nicole didn't get nominated: It looks like Charlize has a real shot at winning. If she doesn't, I'm going to piss on Sean Penn's likeness in public.
Already on the Amy's Robot Link Factory, but: here's the complete list of nominees, most of whom do not merit the old pissing routine.

Gay People do Stand-Up

In a move that expands gay TV beyond serio-comedy on Showtime and home decoration reality shows, Comedy Central debuts its new gay stand-up comedy show, Out on the Edge, on Monday. The host is Amy's Robot's favorite omnisexual Scotsman, Alan Cumming, who as ADM says, stole the entire Spy Kids 2 movie in his single 3-minute scene. (there's a great tidbit on the Trivia page in his IMDB record: For Halloween 2002 in Vancouver, Cumming and his X2 costar, Ian McKellen, dressed as their characters Fegan Floop (from Spy Kids) and Gandalf (from the Lord of the Rings trilogy) respectively. "He carved me this great Nightcrawler pumpkin and helped answer the door so there were Gandalf and Floop handing out candies," says Cumming.)

I always thought one of the most important components of the women's movement has been female comedians reminding everyone that women aren't grim, single-minded feminist machines, but can tell jokes too. You can watch segments of many featured comics routines on the Comedy Central site, and The Gay Pimp especially illustrates the point very well. He also created a show called Dirty Gay Teen Pop Superstars in Concert, so you know he's onto something.

History of the New Hampshire Primary +

Slightly more often than in the situation in Iowa, winning the New Hampshire primary is often a stepping stone to the nomination, especially if you've already won Iowa:

1972 Edmund Muskie [McGovern got it]
1976 Jimmy Carter*
1980 Jimmy Carter
1984 Gary Hart [Mondale got nomination]
1988 Michael Dukakis*
1992 Paul Tsongas [Comeback Kid got nomination]
1996 Bill Clinton
2000 Al Gore*

1972 Richard Nixon
1976 Gerald R. Ford
1980 Ronald Reagan*
1984 Ronald Reagan
1988 George H. W. Bush
1992 George H. W. Bush*
1996 Pat Buchanan [Dole got nomination]
2000 John McCain [GWB got nomination]


Update: I wrote this post this morning when I was in a hurry and extremely tired. The data is sort of skewed to look like NH determines the nominee more often then it really does, because (unlike Iowa's caucus) the primary happens even with unopposed incumbents. To help, I listed all campaigns back to 1972 and put *'s next to every non-incumbent candidate who went on to get the nomination. It's also worth pointing out that only three candidates from either party (Carter, Ford, Muskie) have won both NH and Iowa in the same year. Carter and Ford got the nomination, but Muskie won both in 1972, then ultimately lost the nomination to McGovern. Then Nixon kicked McGovern's ass.

Lost in Lost in Translation

A reader tells Roger Ebert he knows exactly what is said between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in the closing moments of Lost in Translation:
...I could understand fairly easily what Murray whispered into her ear at the end. While I could not hear every word, it was obvious to me that he said something like "As soon as possible, call your husband and tell him you love him, OK?" The last six words I have no doubt about whatsoever.
Compelling, but true? Ebert investigates:
I saw the film again, and closed my eyes and concentrated every aural nerve during that scene, and still could not hear a word. Apparently I am not alone. In an interview with writer-director Sofia Coppola in the new issue of Sight & Sound, she's asked, "Dare I ask what Bob whispers to Charlotte at the end?" And she replies: "Someone asked Bill, and he said, 'It's between lovers.' I love that answer."

Then she was asked if she had written lines for the scene, and said: "I wrote some stuff but I wasn't happy with it. There was dialogue but it was really sparse. Ultimately I liked it better that you don't hear it, that you can put in what you want them to say. You wish he'd say, 'I had a great time and you're great,' but instead he says, 'I left my jacket.' That's what people do."

I wonder if Ebert's reader knows what was in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, too.

January 26, 2004

The Golden Globes: Night of the "Golden Globes"...if you catch my meaning... +

golden globes

Sorry. We had to remove the pictures, because it was costing us too much money. You can try accessing the files here.

Just a few comments on the show last night, and maybe Amy will add some more later.
  • Why did everybody pick last night to hang their boobs out? Renee in her fat suit, Cate Blanchett, Mary Louise Parker, Jennifer Aniston, Nicole (on the sides), Six Feet Under lady, J. Lo (well, she always does), and seemingly everybody else. Even Allison Janney tried to get in on the act. (Queen Latifah must have felt dumb for getting hers reduced a couple of months ago.) You know, in this post-September 11 world, I just find the whole thing very distasteful. I guess they were thinking if they didn't expose a lot of tits, the terrorists would have won.
  • Can you EVEN BELIEVE they made Nicole introduce the nominees for Best Actor?? SHE'S SLEPT WITH ALL OF THEM!! Tom, Russell, and Jude have all given in to the temptation of her side cleavage. And the maniacal grin on Tom's face through that torture! He must have had the Scientology Brain-Wash-O-Tron turned up to 11 during that whole mess. Which reminds me: did the Hollywood Foreign Press Association borrow this device from Tom to hypnotize all the winners so everyone would robotically thank them?
  • J. Lo looked like a man. Was that her in that soldier-loves-a-tranvestite TV movie they kept talking about?

Here's a list of winners. -adm

Adding to the list of boobs, there was also Susan Sarandon, arguably the hottest person there last night, who apparently tried to breast feed Tim's Golden Globe later that night. Then Clint Eastwood tried to get his award in on the mammary action too. Does all this breast emphasis indicate our nation's yearning for security, comfort, and retreat from the anxieties of our world? Perhaps. Though Danny DeVito and Michael Douglas apparently found more solace in each other's arms. Poor Nicole probably would be comforted enough by changing out of her figure-skater-gone-Vegas outfit. Those mesh panels just don't work off the ice. -amy
While we're on the topic, here's Britney busting out all over at Cannes. -adm

January 25, 2004

What Thomas Pynchon Sounds Like

After much anticipation, Thomas Pynchon appeared on The Simpsons earlier tonight, with a paper bag over his animated head. The set-up: Marge writes a book and needs celebrity author endorsements of it. Pynchon gives her one, of sorts. Here's the mp3 and some screen captures:

He's speaking as he's standing in front of a house with a flashing sign reading "Thomas Pynchon's House -- Come On In." The paper bag has a question mark painted on the forehead. He says, "Here's your quote: Thomas Pynchon loved this book...almost as much as he loves cameras." As a car drives by he yells, "Hey, over here! Have your picture taken with a reclusive author! Today only, we'll throw in a free autograph! But wait! There's more!" The voice after his is Tom Clancy's.

ps. In case you were wondering, Pynchon says his own name "Pinch-On," not "Pinch-un." That settles that. Maybe John Le Carre will show up on The Simpsons next week, so we can solve that mystery, too.

January 24, 2004

Celebrity Moms in Trouble

  • Eminem's Mom car-jacked ON EIGHT MILE ROAD.

  • Francis Ford Coppola's mom died.

  • ps. Other dead celebrities today: Helmut Newton and, obviously, Captain Kangaroo.

    January 23, 2004

    Choose Your Own Olympic Torch-bearer

    The mayor's office is accepting nominations of people who will carry the Athens 2004 Olympic Torch through the city. According to the mayor, these are the qualities they are looking for a in a torchbearer:
    • People who unite their communities through sport, education or culture;
    • People who inspire others through: Participation, Celebration, Human Scale and/or Heritage
      • Unity: People who build bridges between individuals, communities, cultures and generations. Those who look to emphasize what makes us alike, not what sets us apart.
      • Human Scale: People who believe in the value of the individual -- the strength of one person's deeds and the power of a single expression. The extraordinary people who prove that one individual can make a difference.
      • Celebration: People who take joy in life and whose positive attitudes lift the spirits of those around them.
      • Participation: People who know life is not always about winning, but also about taking part. Those who actively seek to experience life's adventures and challenges large or small.
      • Heritage: People who embrace history and culture and pass the lessons learned from one generation to the next, in order to build a brighter future.
    Here's some more details on the qualifications and nomination process, and here's the nomination form.

    NYT discovers the LES

    Since it's the Times reporting, this article probably should have come out about 10 months ago, but it's still worth reading. The northern blocks of the lower east side have been getting uppity and posh for years, so now the real LES no longer starts at Houston, but rather at Delancey (which used to have a rough image, as recounted by the Fun Lovin' Criminals.) Lolita, a bar covered extensively in the article, also hosts a monthly trash-rock DJ night called Blue Collar on the last Thursday of the month. It's a 'bot favorite.

    Five Degrees of Kevin Bacon and Pedoph*lia

    Has anyone noticed that Kevin Bacon has starred in at least five movies in which pedoph*lia has played a central role? In reverse chronological order:

    • The Woodsman. His latest, now playing at Sundance. He's the pedophile.
    • Mystic River. Tim Robbins is the pedophile, he's the cop.
    • Wild Things. He's the pedophile, if Neve Campbell (or was it Denise Richards? Or both?) count as kids.
    • Sleepers. He's the pedophile.
    • Forty Deuce. He's a young hustler. The other guy is the pedophile.
    So that's more than 10% of his movies. -adm
    Hey ADM, what are you doing, blaming the victim here? Isn't Tim Robbins the victim of pedoph*les in Mystic River? Or maybe there are more nuances in the book, which I haven't read, suggesting otherwise. Unless there's some sort of vampire=pedoph*le symbolism going on (we all know that the Tim Robbins character feels like he is a vampire, because he repeats a phrase indicating as much over and over again. That movie just sucked.) Also, don't forget about Kevin Bacon's 1999 movie Stir of Echoes, in which a young teenage girl is raped. -amy

    January 22, 2004

    Celebrities watch Bush

    Great Lloyd Grove column today, covering the Atlantic Monthly hosted State of the Union viewing party, attended by a surprising collection of celebrities and media types, including Walter Cronkite, Lauren Hutton, David Dinkins, Tina Brown, and Moby. Moby, in keeping with his pretentious though (I guess) admirable politically-vocal style (yes, I still react all out of proportion when he does stuff like this. Like remember when he put a Gore/Lieberman sticker on the podium at the VMA's three years ago? It...I just---ARGH he gets to me) placed a piece of tape over the V in LIVE while Bush was speaking. Yeah, so it said LI E. WOW Moby that is so powerful. Now make me another one of those confounded delicious un-turkey club sandwiches.

    In more irritating celebrity news, Ashton Kutcher punks Katie Couric.

    January 21, 2004

    Ben & Jen: Linguistic Marvels

    This bit is a few days old, but it just hit WENN today, and there's some stuff in it worth pointing out:

    Ben Affleck speaks better Spanish than his fiancee Jennifer Lopez, even though she was raised by Puerto Rican US immigrants. The Daredevil hunk -- who has just returned from a vast European tour promoting new movie Paycheck -- stunned journalists in Madrid by holding a press conference in Spanish. His Latina fiancee, however, reportedly struggles to converse in her parent's native tongue. Ben says, "Many people think that Jennifer has taught me but I learnt it at 13 because I lived in Mexico when I was a teenager." [source]
    First of all, the part of the story about J. Lo not speaking Spanish is about 1,000,000 years old, and goes back to her role in Selena, because Selena, like J. Lo, also had trouble with Spanish.

    Next up: Ok, look, PUERTO RICANS ARE NOT IMMIGRANTS.* They have been citizens since 1917. If she grew up in Texas, would they have written "she was raised by Texan US immigrants"?

    Finally: "Learnt"?? At first I was going to excoriate Ben for it, but then it occurred to me that WENN is a British (I think) service, and they must have Britified Ben's diction for their own imperial purposes. So fine. But that in itself raises some interesting issues about what reporters are supposed to do when interview subjects speak in non-standard English. My English teacher in high school told me that newspapers in the old days would do things like quote people who said "It was her" as saying "It was she." I don't know to what extent this is still done, although I imagine it goes on in some cases. Maybe somebody who is a practicing journalist can write in and say. And it also makes me wonder whether the Spanish journalists covering Affleck's "fluent" press conference cleaned up his Spanish conjugations for him.

    *My friend Van proposed this exact phrase as a t-shirt slogan a few years ago while I was pushing my line of defunct dot-com apparel. Coincidentally, Van is also the subject of a post from earlier today about his new movie in Times Square.

    We're too dumb to watch TV

    The British Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, has stated that people in the UK need lessons in television viewing, so that they may better understand the difference between opinion and fact. She said that watching television as an informed viewer is like "understanding great literature," and that "Everyone needs to be able to decode the way the media works, questioning everything in order to understand everything."

    The Secretary is encouraging viewers to catch up with postmodern trends in television programming (scripted "reality" shows, Law and Order using real news stories as plots, last night's State of the Union address) in hopes that they will stop complaining about shows they find worrisome, like Shattered, a game show in which participants went a week without sleep. Has the public gotten too lazy and complacent and unquestioning to even watch TV effectively? As Bill Hicks said, Go back to bed, America. And Britain.

    Review of Media Response to State of the Union

    Tom Shales of the Washington Post reviews media responses to last night's address, covering the networks, Wolf Blitzer, and the Senator who looks more and more like a Hollywood, central casting version of himself, Ted Kennedy, who sat grumpily shaking his head and grimacing through the speech. And of course Tom Shales can't let that red tie go unnoticed.

    The only way I could get through the event without deciding once and for all that the whole world is total bullshit was by pretending that it was merely an episode of a sort of tiresome but blustery reality show that has a crappy cast this season. Hopefully that Al Franken cameo mud-wrestling episode will come around soon.

    The Neistat Brothers +

    Our friends Van and Casey, known professionally/artistically as The Neistat Brothers, have an opening/party tonight at Marquee in Chelsea, coinciding with the debut of their short film, The Mousetrap, on the giant screen in Times Square. The Mousetrap will be shown on the last minute of every hour from 6am - 1am until June 26, alternating with a couple of other films. The film is part of a series called The 59th Minute, which is responsible for presenting films in Times Square on the last minute of every hour, and is sponsored by Creative Time, a non-profit group dedicated to public art in the city.

    The Neistat Brothers are best known for the "iPod's Dirty Secret" campaign that made headlines last month. You can watch their short film in support of that project here.

    January 20, 2004

    State of the Horse

    I was joking with Amy about this the other day, but then GWB actually said it tonight, so I thought I'd point it out:
    GWB: "We have not come all this way -- through tragedy, and trial, and war -- only to falter and leave our work unfinished."

    Campaign ad from Wag the Dog:

    We see two business people on the plane: a man and a woman.

    Businessman: Well, all I know, you don't change horses in the middle of the stream.

    Businesswoman:"Don't change horses," well, there's a lot of truth in that.

    The image shifts to a President, doing presidential things.

    Voice-Over: For peace, prosperity, for all of us: Don't change horses in...

    I love the idea of running on the platform that your work isn't done yet. Doesn't matter what that work is, just as long as you can convince people they should let you finish it.

    Which trial does he mean, by the way? I guess not the trial of Osama bin Laden. Or the trial of Dick Cheney in France, for that matter.

    Anyway, here's the full text of the speech.

    Jude: "Cover that stuff up."

    The ongoing dissolution of Jude Law and Sadie's marriage reached a new level of bitterness and degradation after photos of Sadie leaving Kate Moss's birthday party (she's 30! Hey Kate! You're almost exactly half way between ADM and I in age! Let's be best friends!) were printed, in which her breast was visible due to dress strap slippage. Jude could have just laughed it off, "oh dear, Sadie's plastered again, har har!", or ignored it, or felt sorry for his poor ditched wife, getting drunk and sloppy at parties, and suffering through the entire world seeing her partially undressed. But instead, he used it as an excuse to call her up and lay into her for embarrassing him. And being a bad role model for their children. Jude, you divorced her. Her exposed breasts are no longer within your jurisdiction. She didn't ask for those photos to be taken. Get over yourself. And let me tell you, while I was in London last week, Jude certainly had no qualms about indecent exposure when he was testing the resilience of the waistband on my skirt on the dancefloor at Turnmills. So fresh!

    Also some good details in the Sun article about the McCartney daughters, Stella and Mary, at the same party, arguing about Stella partying too hard and Mary being old and boring.

    January 19, 2004

    The History of Thomas Pynchon on TV


    It's been talked about for what feels like forever, and on Sunday it will finally happen: Thomas Pynchon will appear on The Simpsons. [Update: Here's our post containing screen caps and audio from the episode.] The famously reclusive author will not show even his animated face, though: he'll be wearing a paper bag over it. But at least we'll get to hear what he sounds like. The episode involves Marge writing a novel and is called "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife."

    Pynchon's association with the Simpsons began in an episode called "Little Girl in the Big Ten," in which Lisa heads off to college, and is in awe of those around her. She asks a girl holding a copy of Gravity's Rainbow whether the girl is reading it. "Rereading it," she replies.

    But there are many other intersections of Pynchon and television.

    • Those who follow Pynchon's occasional transgressions of his own wall of secrecy will remember his relationship with The John Larroquette Show. Larroquette considers himself a pretty literate guy, and is a big fan of Pynchon, so he started slipping references to Pynchon into the show. Eventually, the writers sent a script mentioning TP off to the man himself. The script called for TP to be represented on camera by an extra with his back turned, but Pynchon vetoed that idea. Nonetheless, the plot of the episode revolves around a character who claimed he knows Pynchon. Before the show was cancelled, the writers managed to squeeze in a few more TP references, including one in which the the girl from Blossom assumes the name of a character from V.. If you're really that interested in Larroquette's literary tastes, here's a long interview with him about that very topic.
    • In 1998, CNN attempted to track down Pynchon in New York and videotape him. The film crew quickly accomplished its mission, and a seemingly panicked Pynchon contacted CNN and offered an interview in exchange for the tape's never airing. CNN agreed, and the interview is here. After the segment ran, an announcer revealed that TP could be spotted among the pedestrians in the street scenes it had just shown. Shortly thereafter, Salon featured an article about Pynchon's appearance on the tape, written by someone who saw an enhanced version of it. If you still have access to the old video streaming software VXtreme (remember those heady days?), you may be able to view the video.
    • On the sitcom Pearl, which starred Rhea Pearlman and lasted only one season, a character named Professor Pynchon (Malcolm McDowell) played a prominent role, and several TP references were made. There's even an episode called "Pynchon's Pynchon."
    • The worlds of TP and Star Trek collide in an episode of Deep Space Nine called "In the Cards," in which the plot bears a resemblance to Pynchon's short novel The Crying of Lot 49 [synopsis | full text(!)].
    • You can catch some Pynchon references on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in their 1993 treatment of "The Rebel Set" and a couple of other movies.
    • Finally, it's not from TV, but the movie The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension is in its entirety a pretty big reference to Crying of Lot 49.

    Here's another page that covers some of the same ground as this post, sometimes in more detail, sometimes in less.

    History of the Iowa Caucuses and Democratic Nominees +

    In case anyone is wondering, here's how Iowa's Democratic caucuses have gone historically:

    • 1972: Muskie
    • 1976: Carter
    • 1980: Carter
    • 1984: Mondale
    • 1988: Gephardt
    • 1992: Harkin
    • 1996: none held
    • 2000: Gore
    So, not much of a data set there, but 4 times, the winner has gone on to the nomination, and 3 times he hasn't. But the problem for Dean here isn't contending with historical precedent: it's that he has utterly lost momentum.

    Oh, well, maybe the Democrats will have better luck in 2036 when the government considers legalizing the Democratic party again.

    Here's a more detailed look at the winners and losers in Iowa over the years. Isn't it funny that out of 7 caucuses, only one winner (Carter) has gone on to become President. Update: When I wrote that, I meant out of Democratic caucuses, but when I looked back, I noticed that even out of 12 caucuses (either party), only Carter and GWB went on to win the general election the same year they won Iowa. Not exactly a kingmaking caucus.

    January 18, 2004

    Everyone Loves Bad Singers

    NYT has an article and accompanying audio feature on bad singers who are popular anyway: e.g., Pharrell, Lumidee, 50 Cent, and Biz Markie (who is so bad he's practically a novelty).

    Relatedly, last night's episode of Saturday Night Live offered an all-celebrity edition of American Idol that parodied the poor singing voices of a handful of successful singers (J. Lo, Madonna, Britney, and "the guy from Creed"). Coincidentally, 50 Cent (along with members of his posse who are more talented than he is) was the show's musical guest.

    So what's so great about bad singers? I guess it's that they offer proof of the American Dream....if you want something bad enough, it can happen, even if you suck.

    January 16, 2004

    Bush gets booed

    Listen to NPR's coverage of Bush's visit to Atlanta yesterday, and the protestors that booed him from across the street and behind a row of five parked buses that the city placed to separate them from Bush. Here's a video of local coverage of the visit, with clips of booing and protesting (windows media player req'd). NY Times coverage is here, Atlanta Journal-Constitution coverage is here.

    January 15, 2004

    CBS Refuses MoveOn.org, PETA ads for Super Bowl

    Great news, everyone! CBS is continuing its proud tradition of refusing to run "advocacy"-oriented ads during the Superbowl! They say ads on "controversial issues of public importance" are off-limits, by which they mean controversial issues like the soon-to-be trillion dollar deficit, the erosion of civil rights, and your right not to eat meat. Good move, CBS. Why worry America when there's a football game to watch? All you card-carrying liberals should wake up: Football and peace of mind are WAY more important than sparking a debate in this country about 3 million lost jobs and irrelevant health concerns like mad cow disease. I mean, why would CBS want to run ads from PETA when they have all those great McDonald's commercials to show? It's not like McDonald's advocates anything. They're just ads. Besides, they are really funny and heart-warming!

    Remember the way George Bush kicked off this year's football season and asked America, "Are you ready for some football?™" That's the kind of advocacy we should have more of, not opinions from people who aren't the President.

    I knew CBS was the network we could trust ever since they killed that mini-series about the Reagans.

    Not that I'm interested in this sort of thing, but you can see the ad that MoveOn.org was going to run, and the one from PETA.

    Poor Lonely Tony Blair

    Interesting commentary in The Guardian about the strange position Tony Blair has been put in regarding the US presidential election: he can't back the Democrats. Blair has swiveled his loyalty to Bush after his old flame Clinton left town, so he's maintained his alliance with the US (sort of) but simultaneously alienated himself from the rest of Europe and the developed world. Now that American Democratic candidates are letting the Bush/Blair policy have it, what's Tony to do? Change sides again? It will be interesting to see how Blair deals with Bush and UK/US relations when the really vicious campaigning starts.

    January 13, 2004

    Blackwell's Increasingly Irrelevant 'Worst-Dressed' List Announced

    Ole Mr Blackwell is still at it. His list is so ripe for supplanting, any two-bit celebrity watcher could take it over and establish their own '"institution" in about two years. We had a post last year about Blackwell and his lameness.

    He's like the Fidel Castro of celebrity watchers: even though he's been around forever, he doesn't really have much of an impact on anything, but everybody makes a big deal out of him anyway.

    Anyway, here's this year's list.

    Now, Mr Blackwell, climb back into whatever Spider Hole you hide in from January 15, YYYY to January 12, YYYY+1 and leave us alone.

    ps. At least he took our advice last year to "stick with cold media." His website, which hadn't been updated since just after HTML was invented, is now non-existent, as far as I can tell. His domain name has been taken over by a squatter.

    January 12, 2004

    GWB Touts His Human Rights Record

    President George W. Bush: "No President has ever done more for human rights than I have."

    From Lloyd Grove's column today. As Grove points out, the presidents who freed slaves, defeated Hitler, or even brought down the Berlin Wall might beg to differ.

    This is yet another example of the Bush administration's rejection of the very concept of truth. There was another one earlier today: they announced they're going after former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill over the document that turned up on 60 Minutes the other night ("Plan for post-Saddam Iraq"). Asked whether the probe might seem vindictive, a spokeperson said, "We don't see it that way." Maybe they'll announce whether his wife was a CIA agent, too.

    January 9, 2004

    Criminals and Crashes

    Here's a little detail from the story of that guy who killed four relatives (including his daughter) and then kidnapped the three step-daughters: when the police were in pursuit, this is how it ended:

    Keenan said deputies spotted the car and saw the children, but Jones refused to pull over. He drove a short way off the interstate when a state trooper bumped the back of the car, forcing it to spin and crash into a telephone pole. The 10-year-old got out and ran, and officers saw Jones slump in the front seat, Keenan said. They pulled the other children out, one of them covered in Jones' blood [because he shot himself in the face].
    Now, I've seen this bumper-car move on World's Scariest Police Chases a thousand times, but I didn't think the police would use it on a car carrying a bunch of little girls. I guess they figured they were in greater danger from the homicidal maniac driving the car, so they'd take their chances. I wonder if that's a standard procedure for such instances, or if the deputy just did what he thought he had to do.

    Anyway, here's another interesting tidbit:

    Jones' mother and stepfather were killed in the 1996 ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades, and David O'Donnell said Jones got a substantial settlement. "He blew the money almost as fast as he got it, mostly on drugs," [his ex-brother-in-law] said.
    Sort of strange how the sad trajectory of this guy's life on the wrong side of the law was book-ended by crashes that in each case presumably traumatized the children involved -- he being the child traumatized by the first one.

    Nerds Love Chicks

    This isn't the kind of thing we usually talk about here, but it's pretty ridiculous so I figure somebody should mention it.

    My friend Vinny pointed out these auction listings on eBay from this guy who has a "mature" blonde model posing with the action figures and Dungeons & Dragons rule books he's selling.

    dungeons and dragons

    Some of those things she's doing with Captain Kirk look pretty close to illegal. He's got like 30 of these auctions up, with 4 or 5 similarly SEXY SEXY SEXY pictures per auction.

    How did this girl get this gig? However it happened, it's depressing. Is she the guy's girlfriend or grudging ex-wife? Did she answer an ad in the local paper ("WANTED: fading beauty to hawk aging nerd memorabilia")? Is she the part-time cashier at the guy's hobby shop? Unfortunately, it looks like she's in the denoument of her modeling career. Particularly depressing is her "Playboy" branded underwear, as if the giant block letters are going to convince potential buyers of her sensuality. I don't think that will work any better than the "Hottie" t-shirt I routinely wear on first dates. But, then again, maybe it will.

    This whole thing reminds me of this guy I* knew in high school who used to wear a t-shirt with a giant hamburger on it, figuring that girls would displace their desire for the hamburger onto him, and find him that much more appealing.

    *and by "I," I mean the professor in college who told me this story.

    Slate Roundtable on 2003's Movies

    Slate has one of those email roundtables going on between various big-time movie reviewers about last year's movies. It started on Monday.

    Although these roundtables are sometimes tiresome, this one offers some engaging and original ideas about various trends (commodification of dead children) and specific films (all the usual suspects). At one point, the LAT's Manohla Dargis appears to freak out on the New York Times' A.O. ("Tony") Scott a little bit, cursing at him for sharing her off-the-record remarks with all his readers. I can't tell how serious she's being, but even without the tirade, the whole roundtable makes for interesting, if time-consuming, reading.

    January 8, 2004

    WMD lies easier to discover than WMD +

    A new study from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace comes out today, arguing that the Bush administration systematically mislead everybody about the threat of Iraq's WMD program. Here's coverage from The Guardian, from the Washington Post, and from Reuters.

    The report will be released and discussed at a press conference at 12:30 EST. You can listen here. As I write this, the report hasn't been posted, but I'm sure it will be availble on the Publications page, or the main page of the site shortly.

    So Bush misled us about WMD. Well, at least he didn't lie about having oral sex with an intern. Now that would be something you could impeach somebody over.

    Update: The site seems to be getting heavy traffic, but if you can get through, you can read the full report here.

    January 7, 2004

    9/11: Unintended Consequences

    One of the things we've been interested in since 9/11 are consequences of the attacks that Osama bin Laden could never have foreseen. Like when the release of Arnold Schwarzegger's movie Collateral Damage was delayed, or when Union Square Cafe slipped to second place in the Zagat's survey last year.

    So here's the latest unintended consequence of that fateful day: the Port Authority cop who was caught videotaping his 11-year-old neighbor taking a shower has offered his defense: "9/11 made me do it."

    His lawyer, Steven Gaitman, said Bass was driven to commit the crime because of the stress he felt after losing scores of friends at the World Trade Center and then helping search for bodies hours after the attacks.
    And what a way to honor the memory of his fallen buddies! Forget the reflecting pools! Let's all commit acts of sexual perversion instead.

    January 6, 2004

    I'm burning at least 40 calories just by typing this

    Interesting piece in the Washington Post in which a writer stops all intentional exercise for 9 days, and instead meticulously counts his calories taken in from food and calories burned through everyday activity (these details make for a good character study--12 beers at two parties!) If you're just careful about what you eat, and lead a moderately active day-to-day life, can you get by without gaining weight if you don't do any exercise? The answer is yes, but only in the short term. If you don't exercise, your metabolism will slow down, meaning calories won't get burned as efficiently just by going about your day, and soon you'll start to gain weight. And let's not forget about the endorphins that get released while you're slogging away on the treadmill, which seem to make watching closed-captioned Jay-Z videos and Seinfeld reruns strangely thrilling for me while I'm ellipticizing.

    And let's not forget the greatest benefit of exercise: feeling smug. -amy

    Smugness, eh? I guess that explains the "ADM, the only time you elevate your heart rate is when you have palpitations" crack you made the other day. -adm

    Mars Rover III: The 3-D Adventure

    mars audience
    This is the most interesting Mars photo so far. Everybody loves 3-D, even jaded space reporters. If you still have your Spy Kids 3-D glasses lying around, you can see what they're looking at in all three dimensions!

    January 5, 2004

    Mayor Mike and School Safety

    Whether you agree with his chosen methods or not, it has to make you feel good about NYC to see Bloomberg taking such a prominent and bold stand on school safety. He's doing something rare for a politician: taking responsibility for a problem no one wants to address. He's kept it in the news for the last three weeks, and has outright apologized for his administration's ineffectual handling of the problem thus far. Beginning a few weeks ago, he began to tackle the problem head on, and today marked another day in the process: he identified the city's 12 most difficult schools and outlined his plan for dealing with them. Incredibly, these 12 schools are responsible for 13% of the criminal acts in the city's school system of 1,200 schools. As Bloomberg identified the schools and gave some details on the next phase, he passionately announced his commitment to the problem: "If I have to put a police officer next to every kid, we will do it," Bloomberg said. "We are not going to tolerate disruptive behavior or criminal behavior, period." Like I said, you might disagree with this seeming equation of bad students and criminals, but his efforts to do something dramatic about the problem should be appreciated.

    When students in our public school do not feel safe inside the school building, something dramatic needs to be done. You can talk all you want about testing, and standards, and "kids today," and the color of bulletin boards, but it all starts with giving the kids an environment where, first and foremost, they can feel safe. Only then can we even begin to worry about what and how they are being taught. Bloomberg's "whatever it takes" attitude is the only appropriate mindset in this situation: something is so seriously and fundamentally wrong if our kids cannot even feel physically safe in the classroom. As a city and a nation, we should make this issue our top priority. As is often said but rarely truly considered, these kids are the future of this city, and in many neighborhoods they have been abandoned before they've even had a chance to define their future for themselves. I agree with Bloomberg: no matter how much it costs, or how radically we need to change things, it must be done, and it must be done now. There is little doubt that as the new system gets put into place some kids will be treated too harshly and some kids will slip through the cracks, but whatever happens, we can hope that Bloomberg and his administration will continue their candid approach to the issue and fix problems as they arise. To start the program and not evaluate it would be as big a sin as ignoring it completely, but Bloomberg seems to paying the issue more than just lip service.

    School safety is one of only a handful of issues that we simply cannot afford to sweep under the rug and ignore, and it's a good sign that Bloomberg has finally put the issue in the spotlight where it belongs.

    Here's some coverage of his announcement today, and the mayor's detailed press release from the event, which is filled with some pretty amazing statistics about the selected schools.

    Here's our earlier post on the topic.

    Amy's Robot Security Alert: Beware These Flight Numbers

    It's been reported that terrorists may have targeted British Airways flight #223 because 223 is the number of a UN resolution criticizing Israel's policies toward Palestinians. Because in These Uncertain Times™, you can't be too careful, we thought we'd point out some other flight numbers you might want to avoid:

    Flight 227

    Long-running feud between Jack馥 and Marla Gibbs might erupt into unexpected shoe bomb attack.

    Flight 3.14 or 3.141

    Engineers have been arguing for decades about whether rounding to three digits is really any better than stopping at just two. Could boil over.

    Flight 662

    662 is the number of a bill in the North Dakota legislature that would change that state's name to the catchier, more inviting "Dakota." Take a guess how South Dakota feels about that one.

    Flight Pennsylvania 6-5000

    German nihilists prefer the Kruder & Dorfmeister dub version to the Glenn Miller original. Don't even get them started on Flight 867-5309.

    Don't say we didn't warn you.

    Digital Tracking at Airports +

    The U.S. continues to equate national security with stricter border controls, and today starts to take digital photos and fingerprint images of foreign visitors as they arrive in air and seaports. The new program, called US-VISIT, is launched today. Visitors will be recorded only at arrival, with plans to start tracking departures by the end of the year. The idea is to collect additional information about entrants so that tracking anyone who overstays their visa will be easier, though I don't see how having two digital fingerprints will make much difference in finding and deporting foreign visitors.

    Also, most U.S. border crossings take place over land, and the barricading and militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border in the last 10 years has resulted in huge increases in the flow of illegal migration, as this INS report tells us. If anything, stricter border controls encourage would-be visitors to find underground channels to gain entry, thereby making it even harder for our government to screen them for possible terrorist connections. If increasing border control over the last 10 years didn't solve the illegal migration problem, why would it help protect us from terrorists? -amy

    You know what this country needs? A wall. A big wall between us and them. Unless it's the "them" from Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. In which case, we should let them right in, just like US-VISIT. In the meantime, I guess this fingerprint system will help us catch some turnstile jumpers.

    Anyway, here's the official page for US-VISIT at the DHS. -adm

    Guns + Planes = Security?

    A few weeks ago, when the most recent spate of terror warnings started ramping up, we heard that planes in other countries were vulnerable to airline employees. Foreigners cannot be trusted! But then, before that news cycle had even reached its conclusion, we learn that the US is demanding armed foreign agents on planes headed here. Do these two ideas seem at odds? If we can't trust them enough not to hijack a cargo plane, why do we trust them to take guns on passenger planes? Are we supposed to take comfort in the fact that the foreign air marshals have an official law enforcement job? It's hard to be confident that these low-level air marshals will necessarily be immune to recruitment efforts of terrorist groups. Perhaps realizing that guns on planes aren't likely to make the situation any safer, an international pilots group has filed an objection to the US's demands, but the US continues to insist. A battle between British pilots and the British government over this issue led to some of those flight delays last week, and now the pilots are suggesting that the US is intentionally cancelling the flights to exert political pressure to accept the air marshal mandate.

    According to a report on air marshals from the General Accounting Office [pdf], we can't even trust our own air marshals: since 9/11/01, there have been SIX HUNDRED reports of US air marshal misconduct. 600 incidents of misconduct, and now we want to put armed people we didn't even train on planes with us for trans-oceanic flights?

    January 2, 2004

    Top 10 Movies of 2003

    Actually, there are 11 movies on the list (I had 9 in 2002, and 11 again in 2001. Obviously I am a wild, independent spirit that cannot be bound by the establishment's arbitrary rules.) 2003 wasn?t an especially knockout year for movies, but since there was a decent number of good ones, I thought I?d leave them all in.

    Last year's list is here (bottom of the post); 2001's is here.

    So here you go: Amy's Robot's Top 10 Movies of 2003:

    Continue reading "Top 10 Movies of 2003" »

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    It doesn't open until March, but it's already time to start bouncing up and down about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (movie website here.) Despite mixed feelings about the last 1/3 of Adaptation, we generally love writer Charlie Kaufman, and this new movie, shot in NYC, about memory, love, loss, and manipulation of identity and perception is my #1 most anticipated movie of the new year.

    First: the title. It's taken from a poem called "Eloisa to Abelard" by Alexander Pope, which is about the unrealized desire to forget a former lover. It also shows us all that Charlie Kaufman is a big smarty-pants, despite all the "fat, miserable, pathetic" chronic masturbator stuff from Adaptation. Kaufman seems to have a fixation on this poem: ADM points out that John Cusack's sidewalk puppet show in Being John Malkovich is about the same characters from the poem, who are more commonly known as Heloise and Abelard.

    There are also some interesting things about the director, Michel Gondry. He has primarily done music videos in the past, and a DVD retrospective of his work was released this summer in a series that also included videos by Spike Jonze, who directed two of Charlie Kaufman's other screenplays. Gondry's videos include several by Bjork, like the "Human Behavior" one where she is running around the woods with a giant bear and big flying insects, "Star Guitar" by the Chemical Brothers, and "Fell in Love with a Girl" (the Lego one) by the White Stripes. He also directed Human Nature, also written by Kaufman, which was reportedly pretty bad, though it does feature a really hairy Patricia Arquette. Gondry also reportedly gave the idea for this new movie to Kaufman when he agreed to direct Human Nature: Kaufman wrote the script, then brought it back to Gondry, who describes the story as "very geometrical."

    Perhaps Kaufman's work is especially well-suited to imaginative directors of music videos who can work with themes of fantasy and transformation. Let's just hope his next director is not video director Chris Cunningham, also of the DVD series including Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, or else Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) will have to play all the parts, like that terrifying "Come to Daddy" video. Shudder.

    The Year in Murder

    chalkIt's been a mixed year for homicide: the rate was down in Chicago, LA, and DC, but up in New York. The Windy City just barely defeated us for the title of Murder Capital. The score: Chicago: 599, New York 596. But some might say we had an unfair advantage anyway: Chicago has only about 1/3 of the population of NYC.

    Washington, D.C., had 247 murders in 2003 (down a few), Los Angeles had just under 500, down about 170 from last year. St Louis was down, too, but Baltimore was up. The killers there are using more bullets per shooting, they say. Per capita, poor old Gary, Indiana is the winner again, for the ninth year in a row, but let's be fair: they only had 69 suspicious deaths.

    If these other cities have anyone to thank for their declining rates, it might be New York. Ever since NYC introduced the CompStat system, we've gotten a handle on violent crime, and other cities are learning from us. It's remarkable that some of these cities, even in the midst of a pretty dark economic climate, can make such progress in reducing homicides. Cutting the murder rate by almost 20% in one year is a testament to the benefits of adopting NYC's approach. So why did our murder rate climb by 9 deaths this year? I would chalk it up to the sustained poor economic climate and the perception (fair or not) that Bloomberg is not as tough as Giuliani on crime. Even so, it's almost incredible to think that just as recently as the early 1990s, there were 2,000 homicides a year in the city.

    As long as our violent crime rates continue to trend downwards or stay flat I think we'll be okay, but it makes you wonder what the mayoral administrations of the 70s and 80s were doing as the rate just kept going up and up and up. And it also makes you wonder how low the rate can go. As our techniques for reducing crime become more refined, and the economy improves, would it be possible 5 years from now to have a mere 200 killings a year? Or fewer? Or is it just a part of American urban life that there is some kind of statistical wall that we will never be able to penetrate, regardless of crime prevention programs and economic and social conditions? Maybe to get those kind of results, we would have to spend as much effort on social programs as we do crime-fighting, but I don't think any city has offered itself as a test case for such an enterprise. Ironically, no mayor is going to look "tough on crime" if he advocates spending a sizable amount of a city's budget on "soft" programs intended to reduce crime.

    Maybe violence this year will motivate the powers-that-be to take some additional steps, however: already this year, we've had three murders, a dozen shootings, and a half-dozen stabbings.

    Here's an article summarizing the homicide rates in several large cities, the Washington Post's coverage of DC's murders, the NYT's coverage of 2003 murders in this city, and lastly, a detailed special report in the LA Times about the high rate of unsolved murders in that city. The article includes an interactive Flash presentation that shows the relationship between zip codes and the probability that a murder will be solved.

    About January 2004

    This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in January 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

    December 2003 is the previous archive.

    February 2004 is the next archive.

    Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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