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5/26/2005

Quick hits


Bush Country on the Euphrates

"To venture into the Arab world, as I did recently over four weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq, is to travel into Bush Country," says Fouad Ajami in The Wall Street Journal.
I met Lebanese giddy with the Cedar Revolution that liberated their country from the Syrian prison that had seemed an unalterable curse. They were under no illusions about the change that had come their way. They knew that this new history was the gift of an American president who had put the Syrian rulers on notice. The speed with which Syria quit Lebanon was astonishing, a race to the border to forestall an American strike that the regime could not discount. I met Syrians in the know who admitted that the fear of American power, and the example of American forces flushing Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, now drive Syrian policy. They hang on George Bush's words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future.

Really a staggering essay that puts in context the various recent news reports of change coming out from Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, etc. Of course, for those of us who a get a lot of news from blogs, especially people like Instapundit and Chrenkoff, no individual part of it is all that surprising, but seeing it all in aggregate is quite thought-provoking.

In one of those recent pieces of news that I think reveals quite a bit about Arab democracy and its future, the Iraqi government just re-legalized the selling of alcohol, along with nightclubs and casinos. (Second link via Ace of Spades)

5/23/2005

Computer Blue

I'm glad someone else shares my opinion of the new Star Wars movie (didn't like it). The people I saw it with all basically liked it, even though they were laughing at the dialogue like everyone else. To start my critique, let me flip to my trusty copy of Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth" with Bill Moyers (Moyers' crowning achievement before he became an angry left-wing commentator). Page 177:
CAMPBELL: ... The monster masks that are put on people in Star Wars represent the real monster force in the modern world. When the mask of Darth Vader is removed, you see an unformed man, one who has not developed as a human individual. What you see is a strange and pitiful sort of undifferentiated face.

MOYERS: What's the significance of that?

CAMPBELL: Darth Vader has not developed his own humanity. He's a robot. He's a bureaucrat, living not in terms of himself but in terms of an imposed system. This is the threat to our lives that we all face today. Is the system going to flatten you out and deny you your humanity, or are you going to be able to make use of the system to the attainment of human purposes? How do you relate to the system so that you are not compulsively serving it?

I'd do without the "we all face today", since I'd call it a timeless myth, but otherwise Campbell is right on: the story of humanity vs. soulless machine was what made the original trilogy so resonant. Luke came from a barren planet, and his sidekicks were two bumbling droids and, later, a ragtag group that (except for their guide, Obi-Wan) didn't have any special skills. The cool gadgets were all on the other side: sleek spaceships, rows of stormtroopers, an artificial base planet. Luke was able to overthrow an empire only by tapping into his humanity and his feelings, through "the Force"; it was the one thing he had that the soulless Empire, for all their gadgetry, didn't.

In "Revenge of the Sith", it looks like the machines have taken over the film-making process itself. The thousands of ships and creatures that cluttered up every scene in the "re-released" first three movies are now the movie itself: lots of sleek things flying around with no great significance. Anakin and wife live in an anonymous high-rise that looks like it was stocked with Ikea furniture and, like every other computer-generated set in the movie, looks boring and sterile. Like the previous two movies it's all shot digitally, making everything look silvery and pale (Samuel L. Jackson, especially, looks like a sickly man). And since the massive battle scenes have to be maximized for ass-kicking, the "good guys" (like the Wookiees) are well-trained and have as nice weaponry as the people they're fighting. Even R2D2 (?) turns out to be a crowd-pleasing fighting machine.

Here's the real problem with the new three movies: the special effects overwhelm the human element in every scene. It looks like George Lucas was so encumbered with the possibilities of computerized filmmaking that in the end he was trapped by the machinery. That's the very lesson the original series should have taught.

5/20/2005

Knowing your enemy

I'm making a brief return to politics-blogging because this succession of quotes is hilarious.

"I've resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found. I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials."
- Howard Dean in an interview, 12/26/03

"[Tom DeLay] ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence."
- Howard Dean at a Democratic convention, 5/14/05

(Via Best of the Web) This is the public face of the Democratic party. It sadly seems to be led at the moment by a demagogue.

The Washington Post has a rundown of some more of Dean-O's recent Quotable Quotes. Seriously, the man's an embarassment. The fact that he's become a major political figure should be embarassing to anyone in this country, regardless of what party they belong to.

5/16/2005

Reconciliation

A very entertaining piece on fans who try to maintain logical consistency in their favorite fictional universes, despite massive incompetence on the part of the creators. The piece is mostly about Star Wars and comic books, but this is my favorite quote:
Ali once said that he felt great pride, after years of telling his wife Michelle about DC Comics’ system of parallel timelines (Earth-1, Earth-2, etc.), when the two of them watched an episode of The Odd Couple together and Michelle, on realizing that the episode contained an explanation for Oscar and Felix’s first meeting that contradicted the explanation given in a previous episode, said that the newer episode must take place on “Earth-2.” Ali beamed, “My work here is done.”

Also mentioned: the Klingon pointy-forehead controversy.

Via Hit and Run.

5/13/2005

The premiere

We had a good first show yesterday. Thanks to everyone who showed up to support us, and thanks to Karol for the roundup. Also, Petite Dov took some great pictures... so, ladies and gentlemen, presenting the Wifebeaters!

Somebody got convinced by his bandmates to dress up like Robert Palmer.

Also, through the magic of photography, it looks like the bassist is singing, but actually that microphone's about a foot away. Just to clarify. We are not the Byrds.

Speaking of the band, the fearless leader Ivan is too humble to mention it but he was engaging in some revolutionary activities while visiting the Old Country last month. Wily capitalists, fear the power of a dual-Lenin assault!

5/10/2005

Shrinking of the MSM

John Podhoretz writes in the New York Post (registration required) about the major decline in legacy/mainstream media viewership over the last year:
The mass-media melt down is happening everywhere you look — from the multiplex to the newsstand, from late-night television to drive-time radio.

* Hollywood is in a panic, because for nine weeks straight, box office grosses have been lower than last year's.

...

* The editors and publishers of most major American newspapers are terrified, because declines in newspaper circulation are accelerating at an alarming clip. By one reckoning, the Los Angeles Times lost an astounding 13 percent of its readers in a year's time.

* Television networks are reeling from a dramatic contraction of its audience of young male viewers aged 18-34 — the cohort most desired by advertisers. According to a controversial Nielsen study, their prime-time viewership has declined by nearly 8 percent. The number has been shrinking for more than a decade.

* Talk-radio audiences in major cities like New York and Washington have fallen since the 2004 election. Meanwhile, radio executives who program music stations — and who have been packing every hour with increasing numbers of commercials — are being forced by their impatient audiences to limit the number of ads and play more music.

* The American recording industry is in tatters, increasingly unable to introduce new stars and to sell new music.

Still on the up-and-up: blogs, cable TV, DVD's, and, of course, internet radio, like Karol and Ace's new radio show (starts today!)

5/09/2005

What the heck?

Looks like I'm in a band.

5/06/2005

Mark those calendars

Used to be that at MIT they invented things like radar, distributed networks... these days, they organize a one-night-only time traveller convention on one lawn on campus, set for Saturday, and publicizing the time and latitute/longitude coordinates so time travellers from anytime in the future will know where to go.

All I can say is, great idea, guys. So now every thrill-seeking traveller from the rest of time (after, say, 3100 AD), and from throughout the universe, will be converging on one less-than-an-acre spot during a brief several-hour time window. Yeah, nice going, brainiacs. Have you thought this one through? Are you aware of the magnitude of an impact collision of two nuclear-fuelled positronic-relay time-travel pods travelling at near-light-speed? Okay, then how about a few hundred thousand of them hitting the same spot at the same moment? Even taking into account the inevitable future improvements in on-impact-reverse-fission technology, it's an energy release that's quite frankly staggering. I hope all you sane people will be nowhere near the East Coast tomorrow.

Actually, although I don't have time-travel capabilities, I do have the ability to see into the future. I predict that the "convention" will feature plenty of people in wrinkled khakis and computer t-shirts standing around. Also, the organizer will probably get laid... who says miracles can't happen?

5/04/2005

There's water, and then there's water

I enjoyed some "Vittel: Product of France" bottled water today, or rather I didn't really enjoy it. What am I doing near a French water, you may ask? We ordered in dinner at work yesterday, and they came with the order, with a few extra bottles to spare. It has a strange sort-of-metallic taste to it. I think the problem with the French is that everything has to be complex and overly loaded with flavors to be considered "high quality". It's the same thing with their wines. And no doubt there's some Institute de L'Eau Superieure somewhere that gives the Vittel people high marks for their "earthy bouquet" or some such.

Personally, my favorite is probably Poland Spring (I say it's #1 for a reason). I also like Coke's Dasani, which I'm aware is just tap water, purified and re-mineralized, but what can I say? They know the right minerals to add.

5/03/2005

President paragraph

Yesterday I read the kind of speculative article I've been looking for for a while. We're supposed to have some idea of who the front-runners are on the Republican side for the '08 presidential nomination, but none of the usual listees (McCain, Rice, whoever else) look at all serious to me. The thing that's not mentioned enough is that in the last 40 years the only people who have been elected president have been sitting governors, vice-presidents and presidents. Not much of an "open field" there. Voters want someone with real administrative experience, and you can't really get that elsewhere. Nonetheless senators and representatives keep making up the majority of candidates, and then they invariably lose. The current VP, Dick Cheney, won't be running, so my guess is that the '08 Republican nominee will be some sitting governor, probably from the South or Midwest. Even among the names that I've heard mentioned, none of them seem serious: Arnold Schwarzenegger can't run, George Pataki has what you could call a lifeless personality, and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is both pro-abortion and a Mormon; either one alone might be a dealbreaker. Jeb Bush (Florida) has said he's not running either, which is probably for the best because someone with a last name other than Bush would be nice.

So, via yesterday's New York Sun I give you: Haley Barbour of Mississippi. Seems like a reasonable choice.

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