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December 29, 2002

Tolkien Beowulf Manuscript Discovered

An English professor has found a previously undiscovered handwritten manuscript of Tolkien's translation of Beowulf:

"A US academic, Michael Drout, found the Tolkien material by accident in a box of papers at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

"An assistant professor of English at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, Dr Drout was researching Anglo- Saxon scholarship at the Bodleian, and asked to see a copy of a lecture on Beowulf given by Tolkien in 1936.

"It was brought to him in a reading room in a large box. Professor Drout, who reads Anglo-Saxon prose to his two-year-old daughter at bedtime, said: 'I was sitting there going through the transcripts when I saw these four bound volumes at the bottom of the box.

"'I started looking through, and realised I had found an entire book of material that had never seen the light of day. As I turned the page, there was Tolkien's fingerprint in a smudge of ink.'"

Publication date is set for some time this year. I guess I'll replace my old paperback edition with it, but I'll hold on to my other translation.

TheOneRing.net had the story, but I found the link and sent it on to them.

ObNeedlessDiary: I bought a copy of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien over the holidays. Right now, I'm using it to answer all sorts of Lord of the Rings trivia, but I think I'll give it a full read-through once I've worked out from under the other stuff on my reading list.

Posted by mph at 10:54 AM

More Fun in the Ice World

Beth went exploring in some ice towers/caves and brought back some incredible pictures:

(click for more)

Posted by mph at 10:21 AM

Far From Heaven

The common line is that this movie is a tribute of sorts, in particular to the domestic dramas of Douglas Sirk, none of which I've seen yet. After Far From Heaven, I suspect I'll be looking up Sirk's work for a reference point.

The GenX percpetion of the '50s is most informed by a sense of high camp. The '50s were the last sincere decade in the popular imagination, so in Far From Heaven, there's a temptation to poke fun of the '50s affectations of the family portrayed. There's plenty of "Aw... gee!" and "Mind your mother" going on. But the story assaults hypocrisy on two levels: as it's lived out by the characters moving within the story, and as it takes issue with the flatly false belief many continue to embrace that the north was somehow free of "prejudice."

In the end, it's a melodrama. Beautifully filmed, executed with a loving sense of the nuance of the period it seeks to emulate, but perhaps not for everybody. I enjoyed it, I'm glad I saw it on the big screen, and I'm sure I'll revisit it as I explore the material it references.

Posted by mph at 12:32 AM

Coffee grounds... credit card statement... your sense of privacy...

Local free weekly Willamette Week decided to visit some scrutiny on our mayor, police chief, and the Multnomah County District Attorney by going through their garbage and reporting what it found.

They didn't do it for the sheer hell of it... they were provoked by Portland Police, who went through a cop's garbage for an investigation. The cop in question argued that her garbage should enjoy as much privacy as her home, and a local judge agreed. Naturally the police chief made a lot of noise about how ridiculous that ruling was, and how "[once] trash is put out...it's trash, and abandoned in terms of privacy."

At first blush, I was irritated with the "gotcha" tone of the whole piece, then I read the reactions of these folks to having their garbage pilfered... Chief Kroeker became upset that reporters had gone through "[his] personal garbage at [his] home," the mayor took a litigious tone. The DA seemed to think it was funny, which earned him some points.

Now that I've had more time to think about it, all I have to say is "good." There are, of course, worse privacy abusers afoot than our local cops, but Willamette Weekly did what it could to deprive our local abusers of their taste for unreasonable scrutiny.

Posted by mph at 12:03 AM

December 27, 2002

Creative Commons Blogs

Lawrence Lessig reports that Creative Commons now has a weblog and RSS feed.

Posted by mph at 10:13 AM

December 26, 2002

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Much better than its predecessor, The Road Warrior established the basic look for much that came after it. If you see it on DVD, make sure to turn on the subtitles so you can catch such gems as super-freak wasteleand warlord Humungous yelling things like "Gay boy berserkers to the gate!"

Perhaps the worst thing about this movie is what came after... the execrable Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Though The Road Warrior takes place in a small patch of desert, we're left wondering what the rest of the post-apocalyptic Australia might look like. Beyond Thunderdome was eagerly anticipated for the answers it might have provided, but it was lousy enough to make us all sorry we cared. Now there's Mad Max 4: Fury Road, which will bring Mel Gibson back "some time in 2003."

Posted by mph at 7:28 PM

freshmeat Does OS X

Ranchero Software noted that freshmeat now has an OS X section. NetNewsWire fans can plunk http://osx.freshmeat.net/backend/fm-releases-osx.rdf into their subscription list to grab all the latest headlines.

I think VersionTracker remains the top site for Mac stuff, but it'll be interesting to see the sort of people freshmeat attracts to its listings.

Posted by mph at 12:14 PM

PDX Follies (Updated)

A film industry worker from LA had an unfortunate run-in with security here in Portland's PDX:

"...After some more grumbling on my part they eventually finished with me and I went to retrieve our luggage from the x-ray machine. Upon returning I found my wife sitting in a chair, crying. Mary rarely cries, and certainly not in public. When I asked her what was the matter, she tried to quell her tears and sobbed, 'I’m sorry...it’s...they touched my breasts...and...' That’s all I heard. I marched up to the woman who’d been examining her and shouted, 'What did you do to her?' Later I found out that in addition to touching her swollen breasts – to protect the American citizenry – the employee had asked that she lift up her shirt. Not behind a screen, not off to the side – no, right there, directly in front of the hundred or so passengers standing in line. And for you women who’ve been pregnant and worn maternity pants, you know how ridiculous those things look. 'I felt like a clown,' my wife told me later. 'On display for all these people, with the cotton panel on my pants and my stomach sticking out. When I sat down I just lost my composure and began to cry. That’s when you walked up.'

"Of course when I say she 'told me later,' it’s because she wasn’t able to tell me at the time, because as soon as I demanded to know what the federal employee had done to make her cry, I was swarmed by Portland police officers. Instantly. Three of them, cinching my arms, locking me in handcuffs, and telling me I was under arrest. Now my wife really began to cry. As they led me away and she ran alongside, I implored her to calm down, to think of the baby, promising her that everything would turn out all right. She faded into the distance and I was shoved into an elevator, a cop holding each arm. After making me face the corner, the head honcho told that I was under arrest and that I wouldn’t be flying that day – that I was in fact a 'menace.'"

I don't completely trust the narrator for reasons I can't quite finger, but it's an unhappy story akin to the "mothers forced to drink their own breast milk" stories (which are always true enough to be offensive indications of how stupid people behind a uniform can get without perhaps being as terrible as the http-enabled game of 'telephone' makes them out). File under "local interest."

Update: It looks like Snopes.com has opened a file on this story, which has been linked widely in the past few days.

Response to the item is mixed. On PortlandIndyMedia.org, the discussion veers back and forth between unquestioning acceptance and a healthy amount of "blame the victim," with a large middle ground feeling a lot of sympathy for the author's wife and markedly less for the author himself.

Another Update: The Rant has a letter from the airport's Jean Pratt, who acknowledges the incident and reiterates the accusations the author says were made.

Posted by mph at 11:00 AM

December 25, 2002

Talkin' Faramir With Peter Jackson

One of the more hotly disputed changes from book to film in The Two Towers was the way Peter Jackson scuffed up Faramir. He's given an interview where he makes the case for the changes to the previously completely incorruptible captain:

"Q: In the book, for example, Faramir is very pure and very noble, but here in the film, he's got this evil touch. He's even tempted by the ring.

"Peter Jackson: For a short time, yeah. We made that change, just to use that example -- and this is really where being a filmmaker differs from being a writer. You make decisions as a filmmaker and, rightly or wrongly, you change things if you think they need to be changed. We wanted the episode with Faramir in this particular film to have a certain degree of tension. Frodo and Sam were captured. Their journey had become more complicated by the fact that they are prisoners. Which they are in the book for a brief period of time. But then, very quickly in the book, Tolkien sort of backs away from there and, as you say, he reveals Faramir to be very pure. At one point, Faramir says, "Look, I wouldn't even touch the ring if I saw it lying on the side of the road."

"For us, as filmmakers, that sort of thing creates a bit of a problem because we've spent a lot of time in the last film and in this one to establish this ring as incredibly powerful. Then to suddenly come to a character that says, "Oh, I'm not interested in that," to suddenly go against everything that we've established ourselves is sort of going against our own rules. We certainly acknowledge that Faramir should not do what Boromir did and that he ultimately has the strength to say, "No, you go on your way and I understand." We wanted to make it slightly harder, to have a little more tension than there was in the book. But that's where that sort of decision comes from."

Complete Interview

Posted by mph at 9:41 PM

Mad Max

So, in the future, in the time before everybody looks like a member of Loverboy and gets their own androgynous bike punk, the highways are only sort of safe. Safe enough that even though all your tough biker and cop friends have been maimed or killed on them, you'll take your family out on a road trip since that might get them killed by evil bikers so you can go on a rampage of revenge and mayhem, anyhow. More importantly, they're safe enough that our hero, Max, will survive to make the much more entertaining Road Warrior, which goes to eleven.

The special edition DVD has the original Australian dialog (not the stupid "so... your... rabbit... kungfu... is pretty... good... huh huh..." dubbing they did to market the movie in the US). We sat with fingers poised over the subtitle button on the DVD player expecting to need it, but we didn't... it sounds fine and it's much less distracting.

You don't necessarily watch this one to watch it, though the stunts are good and it's fun with beer and popcorn... you watch it because you're getting ready to watch The Road Warrior and you want to get the whole schlamiel, and because if you're going to watch two Mad Max movies in a single sitting, one of them better not be Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

Posted by mph at 8:14 PM

Pulp Fiction

O.k. It's interesting. There are some funny moments. It introduced the phrase "I'm gonna get medieval on your ass" to the vernacular. It showed Quentin Tarantino can do more than shoot inside mortuaries. It also, depending on whose history you care to believe, "catapulted independent cinema into the mainstream" on account of it made a lot of money. That extra half star is held back because Tarantino could do better, and did with Jackie Brown. And maybe also because every time someone gives him a four star review (even people with all of two readers), that incredible forehead gets a little larger.

Posted by mph at 7:04 PM

New OroborOSX Release

OroborOSX 0.8.5 was released for Christmas. It's the first update in a while. Includes some fairly cool stuff like basic drag-and-drop (so I can, f'rinstance, drag an Excel-created file from the Finder onto OroborOSX's icon in the dock and launch Gnumeric).

OroborOSX , by the way, provides a rootless X Window desktop over the top of the standard OS X Aqua GUI, and provides window decorations for the X Window apps that make it fit seamlessly with standard Aqua apps. Keeps the GIMP and gnumeric running, mostly, though Evolution isn't far from ready, either... Aaron Weber has built it, anyhow.

Posted by mph at 5:19 PM

December 24, 2002

Glengarry Glen Ross

James Foley directs a David Mamet screenplay, which is based on Mamet's play.

The cast is excellent, but the presence of Al Pacino's "why emote when you can explode?" outburst halfway through detracts from his performance, which is otherwise good, especially when he lays down obfuscatory sales-dada to a recalcitrant client. Jack Lemmon is great, too... alternately abusive, weedling, ingratiating, and overconfident, his Shelley Levene is both piteous and infuriating. Kevin Spacey's performance is the most reminiscent of the stilted delivery found in the Mamet-directed House of Games, which is similarly entrenched in the argot of its subjects. Alec Baldwin's few minutes on screen help me like him a little more each time I see them.

The studio-inflicted tagline is "A Story For Everyone Who Works For A Living," which is silly enough that it's as applicable to The Godfather.

The 10th Anniversary DVD includes interviews with the director and real salesmen, a clip from Lemmon's appearance on the Charlie Rose Show, and Kevin Spacey's appearance at a workshop.

Posted by mph at 8:59 PM

Creative Commons Licenses Considered and Applied

I spent a little time this morning applying a Creative Commons license to a few of the pages around the site:

Creative C\
ommons License

You can read about the terms I chose, which outline the rights I choose to preserve on Creative Commons license page.

I've never been particularly optimistic about the use of any sort of copyleft for small, amateur works. It's a big Web, people copy or use stuff all the time without us knowing. The most high-profile cases of copyleft enforcement seem to center around insiders tipping off the rest of the world, not authors suddenly discovering an abuse on the part of a third party they've never met or heard of.

My own optimism aside, though, there are bigger issues these days.

As a writer, I'm deeply concerned that the polarization of discussion over copyright and "intellectual property" has led some people to the wrong conclusions.

Because of the simple nature of music sharing and the RIAA's unyielding insistence that even small-scale sharing between friends constitutes "theft," a lot of less sophisticated thinkers have decided there must be something very wrong with the entire concept of copyright because they're being told they can't do something they very badly want to do, and which is very easy to do except when a giant, rich cartel bends the ear of the courts or legislature and takes away their fun. It does not help the RIAA's case that it periodically seeks permission to open back doors into our computers, or that its rhetoric is unyieldingly hostile to people who might not even think about the myriad implications of "just burning a CD" of their favorite music before being called thieves. It does not help the case of people concerned about the integrity of their control over their own creative work that the game afoot on the part of the entertainment industry is grabbing as much legislative turf as possible in the hopes it will only have to give up so much to get to what we all agree is fair, or maybe "more fair" toward its own interests.

There are other side effects that are going to be of more or less concern to people depending on their chief areas of interest. I was pretty put off, for instance, to recently discover that I couldn't listen to a "protected" music file without first choosing a specific Web browser instead of my usual favorite. That's a computer enthusiast's beef, based on a fear that the Web will slowly degenerate into a balkanized space where our continued enjoyment of its wealth is contingent on lining the pockets of big software companies.

What I can do about the RIAA and the entertainment industry on the whole, though, is limited to essentially negative action: I can write about how bad it is to treat customers like thieves, I can encourage my legislators to reject inappropriate bills before they become bad laws, I can boycott the film and record industries (is that likely? not at all), and I can do other things that come down to saying "don't do what I don't want you to do."

These negative actions, though, serve only to beat back a worrisome trend. They're reactive. They're argumentative. They will be seen (appropriately) as combative measures. We have to do more because the very real concerns I have as someone who hopes to earn his way on the back of his own creative labors stand to be pushed aside as conflict-centered rhetoric simplifies and condenses the issues of copyright and intellectual property into all-or-nothing propositions.

When Brian Proffitt and I wrote The Joy of Linux, we made it a point to include a simplified and readable discussion of what it means to copyleft a piece of work. Reviewers sneered at it as base evangelism, but we had the GNU copyleft included in an appendix. Most of the readers looking for an easy field manual to the Linux world probably wouldn't take the time to read the entire license, and many probably skimmed right over our discussion of what it means to produce free software, but it was important to us that people understand there are ways to think about copyright that can lead to something more than the RIAA smashing down your door (or firewall) to make sure you don't have 3 gigs of long-forgotten Britney Spears tracks somewhere in your computer. We convinced the publisher to release a few chapters as PDFs (something Brian told me was a relatively new idea to them at the time) to show that there are middle roads to the process of copyright and redistribution.

Good things can come of people retaining some control over how their creative efforts are redistributed, including the chance for authors and musicians to make a living without having to sell t-shirts and posters, inspired amateurs to get some small amount of recognition and validation for the quality or usefulness of their work, and for all of us to perhaps think on what it means to create and why we should seek to encourage creativity in everybody by providing a system and body of thought that promises reward of some sort, even if it's just validation and recognition.

So choosing to use a Creative Commons license of some sort on my pages and galleries is less a means to "fix" people who blunder along and decide to hand out my amateur photography on their wallpaper site, or take more than seems fair use of an essay I write, and more a way to gently evangelize the idea that there are lots of ways to think about copyright and intellectual property, and that there are ways to express control of creative work that are easy to understand, fair, and generous... ways that might benefit the creator even as a little control is given away. It's also a way to secure some small amount of recognition, which is pretty decent coin when you're doing something for fun.

Posted by mph at 1:47 PM

December 23, 2002

NetNewsWire Pro Revisited

A little poking around revealed the source of that crash bug in NNW Pro, which is that it needs a blog id (duh!) before it can post to a given blog in a Movable Type install. Blog ID can be determined by, among other things, passing your mouse over the "Manage Blog" link in the MT management page. Handy. This post made with NNW Pro's blog editor functionality.

Posted by mph at 11:31 PM

"I Didn't Like the Elf Chick..."

.... but I did feel sorry for her when her boyfriend cheated on her. You know, the dark-haired guy." (Teenager #1)

"He didn't cheat on her!" (Teenager #2)

"Well, he almost did." (Teenager #1)

(Yesterday's matinee.)

-posted by Laurie Forbes on alt.fan.tolkien

Posted by mph at 10:53 PM

Mmmmm.... Snotcicles...

Beth Bartel's posted a Q and A on a few more details of Antarctic life regarding iced beards, weather change survival, and the comforts of Ricky Martin.

Posted by mph at 8:18 AM

December 22, 2002

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

O.k. Call it a 3.99, since it isn't as good as The Fellowship of the Ring, but it's still wonderful.

Some purists are in an uproar over the expanded liberties Peter Jackson took with this installment, which weigh a little more heavily than the changes made for Fellowship. I even made the mistake of looking into a dark Palantir out there on the Web to see how much fussing was justified. Don't follow that link unless you like quibbling. A lot of quibbling. Without going into the rightness or wrongness of the changes themselves, with over twenty readings of the trilogy I've got opinions on many of them, I'll just note that when I've watched this movie (twice so far) and Fellowship, I'm comfortable with what I see. I love Tolkien's books and I feel like their spirit is well served by these adaptations... they seem to take away what I have, and perhaps a little more.

Prior to seeing this one, I believed Fellowship was proof enough that the finished adaptation's three installments will represent a landmark. After The Two Towers, I continue to believe this is so. They're exciting, beautifully shot movies. Perhaps even more importantly, I'll quote a recent mail I sent to a friend:

"A younger me would probably resent the changes as a sort of popularizing encroachment on a thing I have loved since I was nine. Powell's is doing a bustling business in paperback editions of LotR. Twice since last year I've been in the Tolkien section there and had moms ask me if there was a really great edition I could recommend for their kids, which probably would have left me feeling resentful of all the latecomers who needed to see it in pictures before bothering to read it. It's true that along with popularity come video game adaptations and a certain level of uptake from people who don't care to look into the heart of the work, but it also means there are others more likely to read a story that is deeply kind-hearted and intensely interested in inspiring people to recognize their own capacity for goodness, and that makes me really, really happy. Peter Jackson made a movie that helps to share Tolkien with the world... that's very cool. My inner purist is more than offset by my inner evangelist. "

Posted by mph at 9:42 PM

Gangs of New York

Martin Scorsese considers New York's Five Points slum and the bloody conflict between Irish immigrants and "natives," with the climax of the film latching on to the 1863 New York draft riots.

A lot of noise is being made about Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Bill The Butcher, which is good a few times and well over the top too many others. Leonardo DiCaprio is pretty tolerable, as is Cameron Diaz.

The real star of the movie is the production itself. The sets are incredible, the battle scenes are brutal and wrenching. The problems lie in the story's progression, which is uneven, and a few underpainted characters.

The best part is the sense, felt all through the film, that you're watching a world you've never heard of... the kind that seldom makes it into the staid woodcuts of People of Note you get in the history books. Some of my own ancestors came out of New York immediately after the Civil War, and I've found my conception of the world in which they lived changed. It was a little disappointing to do the standard "post historical flick" Google crawl and learn how many liberties were taken, but still fascinating to have the images to hang on the parts we can accept as fact.

Scorsese's gift for "doing badguys" shines through.

The amount of detail is overwhelming, and made it worthwhile as a "go to the theater" experience.

Posted by mph at 1:05 AM

December 21, 2002

NetNewsWire Pro 1.0b1 Released

Cool! Ranchero's NetNewsWire Pro 1.0b1 is out. It adds a weblog editor, a notepad, plus some other stuff. Crashes on attempts to post to my MT blogs, so I'll content myself to explore its other stuff for now.

Posted by mph at 10:51 PM

December 20, 2002

Geekroar Reborn (and DRM experienced)

Leopoldo Marino has redesigned geekroar.com as a film blog. Film Talk already has a collection of things to read and some interesting links. One to follow. For starters, he found a link to "Gollum's Song" from the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack, worth checking out as much for the music as it is for a live, in-the-wild example of DRM in action via Windows Media Player.

Update: Hmmm... it appears the DRM-protected WindowsMedia file they're pushing has a few more requirements than mere ability to run the WM Player, at least under OS X... it also wants your default browser to be Internet Explorer, so it can push a DRM certificate onto your machine via a plugin that doesn't look to be available to Mozilla (or variant) users. Once you've let IE be the default browser long enough to do that, you can set it back to whatever you want.

Not the worst inconvenience ever perpetrated to get at a media file, but yet another reminder of how DRM can serve more than one agenda by making more than just the media player the must-have app on a system, and perhaps also readable as a small news bulletin from the front during the ongoing mop-up operation that is the browser war.

Posted by mph at 11:10 AM

December 18, 2002

How Far Do You Know About Kogepan!?

The Ingram Company seems to exist to bring us all sorts of disturbing Japanese cartoon characters, including Tissue San:

"Living as tissue is busy every day (actually doesn't look so). Usually working in a living room of Tanaka's."

If anthropomorphized tissue boxes ("Poor tissues that is never used at all. But they will some day. They are a comic group") aren't doing it for you, there's a touching morality play in the form of a Flash animation that teaches us if our children are hungry (and perhaps if they have nipples affixed to their heads), the bears will feed them:


There's also Buru Buru Dog, " always shivering and wimpy but having cute eyes."

Posted by mph at 12:46 AM

December 17, 2002

Sauron: Middle Earth's Multicultural Rebel

Building on the popularity of his assault on the underlying despotism of Star Wars, David Brin brands J.R.R. Tolkien an enemy of progress:

"Now ponder something that comes through even the party-line demonization of a crushed enemy -- this clear-cut and undeniable fact: Sauron's army was the one that included every species and race on Middle Earth, including all the despised colors of humanity, and all the lower classes.

"Hmm. Did they all leave their homes and march to war thinking, 'Oh, goody, let's go serve an evil Dark Lord'?

"Or might they instead have thought they were the 'good guys,' with a justifiable grievance worth fighting for, rebelling against an ancient, rigid, pyramid-shaped, feudal hierarchy topped by invader-alien elfs and their Numenorean-colonialist human lackeys?

"Picture, for a moment, Sauron the Eternal Rebel, relentlessly maligned by the victors of the War of the Ring -- the royalists who control the bards and scribes (and moviemakers). Sauron, champion of the common Middle Earthling! Vanquished but still revered by the innumerable poor and oppressed who sit in their squalid huts, wary of the royal secret police with their magical spy-eyes, yet continuing to whisper stories, secretly dreaming and hoping that someday he will return ... bringing more rings."

Clearly Brin did not listen to the lyrics of the classic "Where There's a Whip, There's a Way."

Posted by mph at 8:39 AM

December 16, 2002

Hobbiton, It's On!

In keeping with my pre-Two Towers hysterics, here's Lords of the Rhymes:

I named the nameless hills and dells
I drank from yet untasted wells
Goin’ mad off the hook just like a Numenorean
I got more rhymes than there’s leaves in Lothlorien.

and so on.

Props for samples from the Rankin-Bass productions and Leonard Nimoy's classic "Ballad of Bilbo Baggins". Hit their site for Real and mp3 streams plus lyrics and all that. Via Memepool

Posted by mph at 5:42 PM

Creative Commons Licenses Released

Creative Commons released its licenses today. The project allows for people who produce creative content (writing, photography, music, etc.) to share their creative works with others under certain conditions (such as restriction of the ability to produce derivative works, use the material for commercial purposes, or other issues with which people who would like to produce copyleft material find themselves faced).

The language used to describe how things work is clear and well documented. There are several license modules that allow creators to mix-and-match a license for their material.

At first glance, it looks like a great way to share creative efforts in a simple manner that has a lot of backing juice from the people who make the most noise about this sort of thing. Once I've read things over more carefully, I expect I'll license the material in my gallery and assorted journals under something from Creative Commons. It might not be work for the ages, but it's mine, I'm happy to put it in front of others, and I'm pleased to contribute a few eyeballs a month to raising awareness of ways we can share our work with others without compromising its integrity.

Posted by mph at 1:17 PM

Star Trek: Nemesis

Once upon a time, I liked Star Trek movies enough that I made opening night of five or six of them in a row. Even the bad ones were an event. But the last one was awful in a way that wasn't as bad as the fifth one but flat the same way the seventh one managed. It was disappointing because it was the first time I walked out of even the most rancid ST feature thinking that there was no point in hoping the next one would be better.

So along comes Star Trek: Nemesis and I find myself "anticipating" it like I anticipate changing out license plates that are three weeks away from expiring. I know I'll get to it, and perhaps be happy to have taken care of the matter; but I also know that I change my license plates on time about 85% of the time and nothing much seems to come of a week or two of bad behavior. I skipped opening night, skipped the traditional "vaguely anticipated but not impassioned first Saturday matinee" punt, and went with some friends to a Sunday afternoon showing.

So what did I get?

The weird thing is that I found myself forgiving a lot of the movie until the third act, at which point it just became disjointed, frantic, and loud. Some of it was just par for the Trek course, some of it was stupid, some of it was kind of cool and interesting. The ships always look nice, for instance, and Michael B. pointed out that the sets and sounds of the Trek universe are well done and nicely realized. In the end, though, it earned a throat clearing.

Trek Fan Digression
Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings are the Holy Trinity of Stuff from my childhood. Trek is one of the first things (maybe the very first thing) I remember watching on television. Star Wars hit me about like it did most third graders. LotR blew me away and had me picking up the first volume as soon as I'd finished the third on a few occasions (until Dune-mania got me in seventh grade).

As an adult, a certain winnowing has taken place. George Lucas has wrecked Star Wars beyond simple "no stacking up against childhood memories" mechanics. Even if the Lord of the Rings movies had been (turn out to be) awful, there won't be any touching my essential happiness with the original work. But Star Trek lost a lot years ago when the original crew finally went away. Sure... it was getting pretty sad to see Shatner getting larger and James Doohan getting much larger. The willingness to suspend disbelief that retirees should be out flying around was getting stretched to its breaking point. But there was some nostalgia in the whole thing because, perhaps, the original series had such a hard luck story the first time around. It made the whole endeavor seem somehow plucky and fun.

The Next Gen crew never caught me the same way. I always had this sense that between episodes they spent a lot of time on the holodeck going over Anthony Robbins seminars or Total Quality Management training, eagerly awaiting the breathtaking advances in PowerPoint technology we can expect in the 24th Century. I just never identified with that crew, and I think some of my feelings of ambiguity toward the show have rubbed off on the movies. They might have been the next generation, but they weren't my generation.

Posted by mph at 12:19 AM

December 14, 2002

Brush Up On Your Tolkienology

Only five days to go before The Two Towers and you never got around to reading The Complete Guide to Middle Earth?

Don't get caught in an after-movie pub brawl without the facts. The Tolkien Newsgroups FAQ covers all sorts of details, from which books are canon to interracial relationships; where elves go when they die to whether Treebeard knows what the hell he's talking about.

Posted by mph at 11:13 AM

December 13, 2002

All Monkey, All the Time

e-monkey newswire is sort-of launched. Looks like it's still undergoing some design work, but the headlines are there and I'm going to use them instead of the Google News feed I had running, since at least there won't be any stories about pro golfers (unless they get attacked by a monkey, I suppose).

Posted by mph at 1:42 PM

"Garbage men don't try to sell us skin care products...."

The Captive Motion Picture Audience of America is hopping mad over the tv-style ads showing before movies at the cinema. One nice part of Portland life I've noticed is the occasional audience that's more than willing to hoot at and mock whatever's on screen.

From the CMPAA page, we also get links to badads.org's movie ads page, which is pleasantly link-heavy if you're looking for a new cause that doesn't involve being called a traitor by a warblogger (though they'll probably still call you a commie).

Posted by mph at 2:45 AM

"...We're Counting on You"

While trying to answer a question about the size of the local Latino population, I came aross CensusScope , which can tell you a ton of stuff, like how integrated your home town is by neighborhood. Cool.

Posted by mph at 12:58 AM

The Experts Were Stumped...

...until Beth straightened them out. The Marines over at military.com are evidently researching extreme weather urination.

Posted by mph at 12:17 AM

December 12, 2002

Brace for Hypocrisy Impact

Good Experience interviews Rick Robinson, AOL VP of Community Products:

Q: AOL is getting into weblogs?

A: In a way, we've had them for a while. A few years ago, in our Digital City area, we called them "comment boards." Type your thoughts, click a button, and they're published sequentially on the page. It was essentially the same thing as blogging, only it was a group environment rather than one author publishing to many readers. So yes, we're looking at that type of environment for members to publish in.

Weblogs, over the last several years, have migrated to replace, in some cases, people's home pages. It's natural that the blog and the home page would combine. And when you remember that AOL has the largest collection of home pages in the world, it kinda gets interesting.

Just think... 35 million AOLers blogging. Suddenly all the populist rhetoric of the blogosphere will be confronted with... real populism. Most of the ones old enough to remember The September That Never Ended shouldn't like this much better.

Posted by mph at 8:28 AM

December 11, 2002


Google marches on with Froogle, a shopping search site.

"We always love to hear from our users and we read all the mail we receive. If you have a question, comment, suggestion, complaint, or personal request that we assist in the transfer of funds from a deposed dictator, please send an email to froogle-support@google.com."

Posted by mph at 10:56 PM


Mike Lee discovered Crystalix, a service that renders your face in 3D in a block of crystal, so he had one made and documented the process.

"What affects me the most about these images is that short of using a milling machine to carve your bust out of stone, this is an affordable digital imaging process that produces an image that can last for hundreds of thousands of years. As much as I love photography, printed images are fugitive, especially compared to the time scale of a crystal block.

"[...] I imagine our portraits will live on into another generation and at some point end up buried in a landfill hopefully to be found and pondered by an archeologist of the future."

Complementary reading.

Posted by mph at 10:53 PM

Always With the "Lingo"

To some, it's a creative twist on dialogue, and a new, harmless version of teen slang. But to anxious grammarians and harried teachers, it's the linguistic ruin of Generation IM (instant messenger).

If it's Wednesday, it must be time for another "kids say things funny!" bit about "teen lingo" in the chatrooms. I'd like the word "lingo" stricken from the English language, please.

All you really need to know about the subject is contained in Brittney Cleary's late, lamented IM Me. Young Brittney, by the way, has been purchased by Jive Records, and had her name changed to Nikki for her. They know what a hot property they have in her song, so they've got it hidden away somewhere. I found it in the clutches of an evil genius. No doubt my duplication will register in the RIAA's database as another lost $0.89 by the time all eight of you download it.

Posted by mph at 3:01 PM

Youth Lib

Sven makes a little more of his case in Adult Supremacism - part 2. I'm holding out for some prescriptives on which to gnaw. And standing here at point 'A' in the "evolving toward a better society" continuum, I'm particularly interested in hearing about how we're going to traverse point 'B' on the way to 'C'.

Posted by mph at 12:52 PM


Slashdot bears the news that IBM has posted a Software Withdrawal Notice on OS/2.

Mourning wails echo through the halls of nerddom.

Posted by mph at 8:58 AM

And That's The Way It Was, Mostly

MonkeyX noted the 2002 Google Zeitgeist Timeline is online, sans December.

Posted by mph at 8:16 AM

The Stark Fist of Blog Removal

Jeff Jarvis offers some thoughts on Andrew Sullivan's "pledge week." (Not likely, buddy):

So the net result of this development is that even the guy who was supposed to be making money at this isn't and that means there isn't money to be made. Blogs are wonderful. Blogs are fun. Blogs are good reading. But blogs are no way to earn a living.

Don't know if I agree or not, since "blogs" aren't anything consistent enough to typify like that. But Jarvis touches on one value they have, which is plain old self-promotion, for which blogs are very well suited. As he notes, Glenn Reynolds manages to drum up some paying work through his blogging. I have no idea whether Dave Winer sells much software, but there's no denying Scripting News promotes his wares. Neal Pollack is about to spin his blogging into a small book.

There's the other side of it, though:

Besides out of work 20-somethings, the dotcom bust also gifted us with a plague of pundits who had a brief taste of the good times and now live in fear that they've had it. What to do? I've got my opinions on what some of them seem to be thinking, which includes a healthy amount of wandering around trying to simultaneously rope the next big thing (the better to become its prophet) and figure out a suitably pithy metaphor that can be worked into a book on the subject. I guess it's a thing to do, though the sight of these people moaning about the blogosphere like so many pundit-wraiths, wasting away by the day as they try to maintain appearances (and relevance) might be discomfiting to young liberal arts students contemplating their own life as professional opinionators during the long winter of the famine-stricken bust years.

I guess you can call that a living, too.

Posted by mph at 2:00 AM

December 10, 2002


Michael and Sven wax poetic with 'Rainbows Through Sand' and 'Compass.'

Posted by mph at 10:45 PM

How do you pee in Antarctica?

Answering the question on everybody's mind, Beth explains how she pees in Antarctica.

Posted by mph at 10:25 PM


I really, really like Snappy the Clam.

Posted by mph at 1:35 AM

December 9, 2002

One Geek to Rule Them All

Taking advantage of my general state of quivery anticipation, still 9 days from fulfillment, Nitro and Snaggy hit it today with "the Lord of the Root"

Posted by mph at 1:22 PM


I racked my brain trying to remember why I liked this movie after rewatching about 90% of it last night before deciding conversation with my co-viewers would be more fun. It occurs to me that the first time I ever saw it, it was the only thing playing at the PX movie theater some weekend while I was in Korea. So it gets a 2.5 because I remember it better than it plays now, which is worth .5 or so.

The plot involves a gate to another planet, people with guns, a big bomb, the guy from The Crying Game (proving that playing a drag queen won't kill your career, but playing an Egyptian space-child star-pharoah might), and some "cow-like creature slobber" humor.

We get Kurt Russell's signification of "torment" and "soulfulness" (he lifts a psychic finger now and then, to wiggle that he's still alive under his attempt at "smoldering but cold"). We also get a flustered and bookish James Spader, who manages to make "charmingly addled" repulsive and frustrating.

Whatever it was I liked when I first saw this, I can't remember it now, though I suspect it had something to do with the space Egyptians or the fact that Kurt Russell's hair almost warranted a uniform of its own. Maybe the added material of the "special edition" on the DVD made it drag on too much, elevating it from "fast B-grade romp" to "slow, awful wallow." In a living room, it comes off as loud and small: much better suited to the weekly series it has become.

Posted by mph at 1:00 AM

December 8, 2002

More Monkeys!

Courtesy Julian Bond's gnews2rss.php, I've added the ten most recent Google News headlines with the word "monkey" to the PuddingTime front page sidebar. It gets some false positives, but it helps fill the void when MonkeyWire is slow to get a monkey item.

Thanks, btw, to Monkey X for making me wonder about how I could integrate monkeys into the site somehow.

Posted by mph at 11:51 PM

"We can't send mail farther than 500 miles from here..."

From Sean MacLennan's Gopher archive, we have Trey Harris' account of a curious geographic limit to sendmail's range:

"I was working in a job running the campus email system some years ago when I got a call from the chairman of the statistics department.

"We're having a problem sending email out of the department."

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"We can't send mail more than 500 miles," the chairman explained. I choked on my latte. "Come again?"

"We can't send mail farther than 500 miles from here," he repeated. "A little bit more, actually. Call it 520 miles. But no farther."

Via DayPop

Posted by mph at 11:31 PM

December 7, 2002

Wal-Mart Responsibly Keeps Eye on Bottom Line...

... and responsibly ensures that irresponsible Toys for Tots organizers learn a valuable lesson about following all the rules:

TheDenverChannel.com - News - Sterling Wal-Mart Resells Donated Toys

With 10 days left until the end of the annual Toys for Tots drive for the Logan County Chamber of Commerce, organizer Susan Kraich said she was back at square one.

"I've been keeping an eye on that box every time I went to Wal-Mart, and was so excited as it slowly began to fill. Over the weekend I heard that it was nearly full, so I went to pick it up. I was devastated when I found it empty," Kraich said.

Kraich said she complained to store management, but was told the store would only replace the items she knew for a fact were in the box. She left the store after replacing only three toys that she had purchased and donated to the cause.

Kudos to the store manager for bravely stepping up and putting all the toys back on the shelf for resale rather than risking a single unpurchased item getting out of the store. What sort of a world do we live in where a store manager has to cringe and toady to the unproductive of our society:

"Not that that has anything to do with this situation. Only to say that, as a corporation, we are very community minded. I'd hate to see a discrepancy over a few toys change that perception in the eyes of the public," Barritt said.

Don't you worry at all, Mr. Barritt... my perception of Wal-Mart remains unchanged after this incident.

(via DayPop)

Posted by mph at 11:27 AM

December 6, 2002

Web Ginsus Sharper

My two favorite Web softs finally cooperate:

The latest nightly builds of the Mozilla-derived browser Chimera (aka the Galeon of the OS X world) fix an annoying bug that made tabbed browsing work not quite right for purposes of Brett Simmons' NetNewsWire, an RDF browser that makes keeping up with a big chunk of syndicated sites easy.

I hadn't been particularly happy with Web browsing under OS X. Unless you liked IE, it felt a lot like Web browsing in Linuxland two years ago. Chimera has gotten much better lately, though. On top of its rise in quality (and configurability) is NNW, which deemphasizes the bookmark in favor of an interface that makes so much as visiting some sites with a browser unnecessary, since the summary of each RDF item includes the entry text.

The Chimera pitch:

Much like the Mozilla of the 0.9 era, Chimera is best experienced by grabbing a new build once a week or so. ChimeraKnight provides a lightweight GUI that handles downloading a build, backing up your last download, grabbing a copy of the Changelog to peruse while it's downloading, and installing the new build. Lately it even copes with IE's obnoxious insistence on regrabbing status as your default browser with each new download.

Posted by mph at 10:46 AM

Good Gus Meeting

Got to meet Gus Van Sant, director of Drugstore Cowboy and other good movies, this evening.

Posted by mph at 2:15 AM


Jorn Barger's weblog FAQ was dealing with stuff that was a few years old in 1999. It looks dated now, but it's nice to read things like this:

"A weblog (sometimes called a blog or a newspage or a filter) is a webpage where a weblogger (sometimes called a blogger, or a pre-surfer) 'logs' all the other webpages she finds interesting.

The format is normally to add the newest entry at the top of the page, so that repeat visitors can catch up by simply reading down the page until they reach a link they saw on their last visit."

Simple sounds sort of pleasant.

Posted by mph at 1:48 AM

December 5, 2002

Good Will Hunting

Class Requirement. One of my classmates said he decided to do his final paper on this movie because of its near total conventionality, which I'm happy to grant. Good Will Hunting doesn't have much in the way of the novel or tittilating, so it's easier to take as the feel-good story it is. It might be the most tolerable Ben Affleck ever has been or ever will be on screen. James Berardinelli hits the nail as squarely as anyone.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about tonight's viewing is that Gus Van Sant showed up to discuss his movie. Among other things, we learned that the original Ben Affleck/Matt Damon script was laced with chase scenes that Rob Reiner had to beg them to drop; Mel Gibson coveted Robin Williams' role; and Michael Mann shot a test scene with Damon and Affleck, got Harvey Weinstein to offer them untold sums of money to drop out of their roles so Bradd Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio could step in, and gave up on the project in disgust when they refused.

Posted by mph at 11:34 PM

December 4, 2002


Beth has added a gallery of pictures from Antarctica to complement the ones on iceblog.

Posted by mph at 8:06 PM

Cheesecake for the Masses!

The BBC notes that the Chinese have removed the age old "I only read it for the articles" defense for Internet access:

Chinese internet surfers have almost unfettered access to pornography, but news, health and education sites are routinely blocked, US researchers have found.

Posted by mph at 10:02 AM

December 3, 2002

"The Fighting Uruk-Hai Had Dreadlocks"

If it's December, that means it's time for The Two Towers, which means it's also time for Plastic to debate whether Lord of the Rings is racist. The fans handle the issue a little better, though you're left with the impression the author really just likes typing "Iluvatar" a lot.

Update: MonkeyX says the charges of racism are hogwash, too, but points out that as the movies fail to convey Tolkien's complete world view, discussions like this ought to be welcome as a way to explore the assumptions underneath a story that is necessarily condensed for the screen.

Posted by mph at 11:45 PM

Dear Doc

Shame mingled with pleasure as my humble effort here is noticed by an actual blogger even as I forget to toss the obligatory link into the entry he noticed.

So I called Doc Searls "Doc 'Google Google on the Wall' Searls," which is sort of oblique. In the spirit of clarification, I'll once and for all just get it out of my system (hit the MORE link below):

Update: Doc says we're all renters, with not a single homesteader in the lot of us. But the sum of the Internet in terms of domains, pages, and servers isn't the early pristine farmland at stake. I wonder if Farmer Kibo isn't the one who'll have the bronze statue and coonskin hat in the town square we build. Update 2: Doc noted someone else agrees, in part.

Dear Doc,

What the hell is it with you and Google? More specifically, what the hell is it with you and you & Google?

O.k. Enough. I'm twelve pages into the search and I just came across the entry that made me notice in the first place, so I'll stop there.

Before going any deeper, I'll own up to two bits of hypocrisy in this whole post:

  1. Any scolding from me about Google obsession is a matter of supreme relativism. Every time I mention PuddingWiki, I point out how fabulously high it ranks on some searches.
  2. About once every three months, I search for my book.

There's also the issue of my name, which averages out to be something like the 15th most common in the country. In terms of Google, I don't know if it's even possible for anyone named "Michael Hall" to be one of Jesus' special snowflakes, so maybe it's all sour grapes that I could remedy by changing my name to "Whopper Hall" or "Papa Doc Hall" or something.

But Doc, you're just... more into the whole thing. And you blog about it.

Why? What does it mean? What are your readers supposed to take away with them after reading "57,700 documents with my name on the Web"?

I'm asking because lately I've been dabbling with my own humble infocolony, which has been happening in fits and starts, here and there, for a couple of years, based almost entirely on a profound enthusiasm I had for weblogs three years ago, when they weren't what they are now.

Things have changed enough that my progressive-to-radical friends don't see the case for personal publishing. For every useful blogger takedown/deconstruction of a virulent bit of "mainstream media" stupidity, there are a dozen bite-sized "my little dog" entries that aren't even always about what people care about as much as they are what people happen to have noticed while seated at their computers. For every useful link or mini-review of a good site, we get dozens of inane shout-outs sent for no better reason than, perhaps, raising one's linkage so Google will notice, so we can blog about Google noticing.

If "blogging" (and the word is beginning to dissolve into meaninglessness the more I think about it today... like chanting your own name eventually makes it seem like a really silly and alien word) is so trivial, common, and predictably trite, what's the value?

Or is its eventual valuelessness the real racket here?

I recently read part of a book about the founding of my latest home, Portland, OR. The author describes what the land was like when Portland was a dock and a couple of farms. You can walk around down there, in the part of town that was farms and a dock and trees. It's not a huge act of imagining to realize that whoever was there in downtown Portland first was in a position to make untold amounts of money.

I didn't read far enough to find out if the original farmers sold cheap to pay off gambling debts or passed the land on to their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who held out until some developer was so insane with greed that he made them and all their descendants wealthy in perpetuity. But if you look across the street from some of those spots where the farmers first tilled the land without thinking about riches as much as they thought about survival and, perhaps, simple prosperity, you can see into a park, where bums sleep on benches, and over the river, where we're a city that rents from whoever ended up being Portland's real "first movers."

The people who homesteaded the blogosphere (sorry, esr) didn't come to the Web in covered wagons, and it took much less than two centuries for the highways to stretch out from the populous east/meat-space to bring even more settlers to the banks of the (metaphorical) Willamette. In Oregon, the first farmers or their children probably sold dear as the land around them grew crowded, and moved on to the west hills, where their great-great-great-grandchildren sip lattes on the deck, looking down on a city of second-, third- and fourth movers, renters, and bums. Don't see any bums from your uptown loft on the banks of the virtual Willamette? Look under the cardboard boxes.

Is this obsession with Google placement the result of special understandings by a canny early mover in the blogosphere? Insulation against the day there isn't specialness because there are ten billion people on planet Earth and they all blog? Is it a marketer's justifiable concern with how well "Brand Doc" is selling this week and whether it faces dilution at the hands of another Doc? Is it a simple reminder to your readers that outside the pages of your blog, a blog like so many others, you are somebody? Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds, and others periodically imply blogging is a loss-leader for the work they can sell: are we being reminded that you've got opinions the unstinting eye of Google, with its implied ad populum valuation of your work, deems salable?

Perhaps these are rude questions, like it would be rude to say "Goddamn you spend a lot of time in front of the mirror!" to a coworker. On the other hand, you're fourth in the rankings when I Google 'weblog.' You're Farmer Searls, and we'll someday remember you on Founders' Day with giant Doc floats and a bronze Doc statue with a coonskin hat. Hell, you tell people whether what they're doing is blogging at all. So you're a subject matter expert, and I'm asking:

What the hell does it all mean? Why do you care? Why do we care? What am I missing? Why don't I Get It?

Posted by mph at 5:09 PM


Fascinated by all things monkey?

Monkeywire is a mailing list worth consideration. Low traffic monkeys monkeys monkeys.

Posted by mph at 9:17 AM

December 2, 2002


Sven's back with an essay on Adult Supremacism.
Adult supremacism is an ideology. It is the set of ideas, the belief system, that rationalizes how adults continue to treat youth. Most people don't even give it conscious thought. They agree with adult supremacy by default rather than by choice. Adult supremacism has been built into our institutions and handed down as tradition, so it seems like it's just how the world works, like it's nature. Other individuals are more outspoken about their dislike of youth or belief that parents should be strict disciplinarians. These people are bigots -- but don't make the mistake of thinking that only aberrant individuals are supremacist. The entire society is saturated in adult supremacism; the bigots are just more vocal about their support of the system.

There's not much arguing with the essential material conditions facing youth that Sven identifies: youth are clearly not fully enfranchised. Other assertions will prove more troubling. It looks to be the kickoff of an interesting ride.

Posted by mph at 10:38 PM

Book In Brief: Bobos In Paradise

One of this week's books on the nightstand is Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There.

Early in Class, Paul Fussell discusses the taboo nature of class when Americans consider themselves in society, and the way in which people of every class except, perhaps, the most destitute or most wealthy, believe themselves to be "middle class" when pressed on the issue. He cites an interview in which a woman describes the very idea of class division existing in the U.S. as "filthy."

In Bobos in Paradise, David Brooks bucks the tradition of caste self-effacement Fussell identified by proudly calling himself a member of an "elite." As compelling a world as Brooks tries to paint, though, there's an underlying smugness that his occasional jibes at middle class silliness (and, yes, he's discussing the middle class) do little to dilute.

A "bobo," according to Brooks, is a "bourgeois bohemian." Members of the bobo caste seem to include everyone from dual-income families that make over $100,000 per year to Bill Gates, with Lou Reed and Ben & Jerry somewhere in between the world's wealthiest man and the upper middle class.

Brooks' taxonomy is dubious from a perspective on class that breaks things down along the lines of "those who own vs. those who work for the owners," or perhaps the slightly less charged three-tier class structure that considers the lower classes in terms of occupation, income, and educational distinctions before cutting to the "old money" and "capitalist" chase. We have to live with his divisions in the context of his book, though, and it's soon apparent that Brooks' discussion is, indeed, of the upper-middles, whom he calls bobos and assumes are unstinting in their admiration of people he holds up as his caste peers (like Bill Gates, who has, I suppose, written a book as well).

So what makes a bobo?

According to Brooks, a bobo is usually an information economy worker who makes a lot of money, doesn't think much of work that isn't "fulfilling," and is comfortable with being hard-charging, business-minded and "socially conscious." According to Brooks, bobos swim in a sea of contradiction, reconciling bohemianism with "business sense" to recreate the world in a way that makes it safe for Ben & Jerry to practice their brand of "capitalism with a human face" unimpeded by the dehumanizing demands of an older elite's conception of labor and business. Some bobos own businesses, others work for other people.

There are a few entertaining moments in the book, specifically when Brooks talks about "keeping down with the Joneses" by practicing smug "simpler than thou" consumerism, and when he considers the sort of warm moral glow a grocery store's "96 Organic Items in Our Produce Section" sign is meant to evoke. On the other hand, he never spots the crashing irony of the bobo predilection for SUVs, which are all about eco-stewardship the way people in a pie-eating contest are all about the Epicurean mean.

But the book is less an "entertaining romp" as it is an attempt to paint the professional middle class as substantially different from its past incarnations as Yuppies, rabbits, and sheep by simply destroying older conceptions of what makes one "middle class" in order to front the idea that "things are different now," and that, somehow, squareness and hipness have become one. In the world Brooks tells us exists, a class we would have identified a decade ago as largely materialistic, selfish, and vacuous has reformed into "concerned environmentalists who also like to make a lot of money" that isn't even occupying the same socioeconomic bracket.

To my mind, Fussell handled this better in Class, when he identified what he referred to as "the X class," which bears a lot of similarities to bobos but differs on one key point, which is its resistance to consumerism. Brooks' bobos are, ultimately, consumerists who have created a matrix of rationalizations for their lifestyles that is reflective of their relative wealth and privilege. That they prefer to spend money on "organic," "native-crafted," "eco-friendly," or "all terrain" doesn't dilute their fundamental acquisitiveness or undermine the basic fact that their purchases are meant to signify their status to others. In other words, more of the same, only armed with some laudable criteria for their purchasing decisions, which perhaps makes them more ethically pleasing than they were 30 years ago.

Once we decide bobos are more of the same as far as the middle class goes, the suspicion creeps forward that Brooks is also confusing the immense volumes of venture capital shifting around the economy through the '90s with "success," and that he's embraced the idea of the "information economy" more earnestly than its relative youth warrants.

There are two reviews that nail Bobos down better than I can:

Hermenaut's review is more stinging than anything I can muster on short notice:

The argument of Bobos in Paradise is simple, and the author restates it every two pages (perhaps as a courtesy to the people he is discussing, who must do their reading between cell phone messages). Half a century ago, ancient issues of the Times reveal, the American ruling class was WASP in its deepest cells. Those whose ancestors did not come over on the Mayflower sedulously mimicked the people who did?conducting their lives with a certain quiet and unpleasant dignity. Meanwhile, downtown, artists and writers and other denizens of bohemia whooped it up, enjoying a liberated existence of self-expression, which often included freedom from hot water or electricity.

Jumping ahead in time?to the roaring whatever-we-call-this-decade?we find that all is changed, changed utterly. Today, the elite is a meritocracy with no use for WASP reserve or vital debutante statistics. Its money and power come from brains, not ancestry. To acquire this status?and to manifest it?members of the new ruling class reject all the boring old virtues of stability, regularity and conformity. They are wild and crazy guys. And gals, too, of course. This cohort is post-feminist, post-modernist, post-everything.

while the LA Weekly's review is even harsher:

There are some good things in this book, but it?s so smug in places you want to kick it down the street until some bozo ? pardon me, Bobo ? comes along in a Range Rover and grinds it into the asphalt. ?Bobo businesspeople have created a corporate style attuned to the information age, with its emphasis on creativity, flat hierarchies, flexibility and open expression,? Brooks chirps robotically in the final chapter. ?It?s simply impossible to argue with the unparalleled success of America?s information age industries over the past decade.?

It?s impossible, you see. So don?t even try. A good book, when you close it, opens something inside you. When you close Bobos in Paradise, all doors slam shut. David Brooks is a clever journalist, but his book is an unpleasant combination of cynicism and flattery.

My own take?

I'm willing to buy Brooks' assertion that there's more to "boboism" than hypocritical label-flashing, which means I've walked away from the book with a more gentle perspective than I had going in.

If the educated and professional middle class came out of liberal arts colleges in the '90s infected with a desire to at least pretend to care about sustainable development, neighborhood-building, and acting like humans while they conduct business, I'd call that a net gain over the Bonfire of the Vanities and Gordon Gecko excesses of the '80s. As an examination of that shift in the way the middle class goes about doing its business, Bobos does ok.

But at a deeper level, where Brooks tries to convince me that perhaps there isn't even really a middle class anymore, it fails. At the end of the day, it's not possible to imagine these people are any more socially secure than they were a decade ago, or any less likely to fret about where they are in the pecking order. Fussell identified that essential fear as part and parcel of the middle class experience twenty years ago, pointed out that this has been the story for a century or more, and proceeded to provide a welcome remedy to worrying about it in the form of sometimes brutal demolition of the American concept of "gentility." Brooks paws at that gentility, but never once seems to consider there's something deeply troubling about the bobo conception of morality and authenticity as things they can buy.

Posted by mph at 1:11 AM