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February 28, 2003

e-Monkey Newsletter -- Volume 1, Issue 11

Newest e-Monkey Newsletter is up on the archive. Most of the items have to do with a monkey that escaped from a UC Davis biodefense lab.

Posted by mph at 11:13 PM

It's Getting Ugly

As good a general indicator of our economic hosedness as any (besides, I guess, being a running joke on Doonesbury) is the fact that a bailout of Portland public schools is about to lend the stink of desperation to the usual city/country conflict as rural representatives come for our tax revenues.

It's really special: Portlanders bite the bullet and vote for measure 28, the rest of the state slaps it down, so when Portland bites another bullet and levies a tax on its businesses to scrape up the $15 million it needs to keep the schools from chopping three weeks off the year, the rest of the state is standing there with its hand out because suddenly the rural Republicans are all about equitable distribution of wealth.

I get the feeling our Republican Maoists aren't going to be encouraging their municipalities to raise their own taxes.

Anyhow... Portland Communique has more, as does The Oregon Blog. A look around Portland Communique's recent entries will net a more lucid rundown than I can provide.

Posted by mph at 11:07 PM

February 26, 2003

We're Here, We're Not Particularly Loud, Get Used To It

"How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice?

"First, recognize that it's not a choice. It's not a lifestyle. It's an orientation.

"Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don't say 'What's the matter?' or 'Are you all right?'

"Third, don't say anything else, either."

Complete Story

Posted by mph at 9:34 AM

February 21, 2003

M Butterfly (1993)

M Butterfly started life as a reasonably successful Broadway production written by David Henry Hwang. The play concerned itself with the sorts of issues raised by Edward Said's presentation of "Orientalism". As a play, it succeeded in creating a largely internal dialogue in which the main character, a French diplomat in China, attempts to create his own Madame Butterfly fantasy with a Chinese actor he believes is a woman.

The story the play grew from is true, sort of. In the 1960's, a French diplomat in China maintained a decades-spanning relationship with a Chinese actor. They had a few sexual encounters over a very short period of time. He was convinced the actor was a woman. He was convinced the actor had borne him a son. He was ultimately convicted of espionage when it turned out the actor was also a spy. It's reported that the diplomat insisted his "Butterfly" was a woman, not merely in chosen gender but in physiology, right up until he was actually shown the actor's penis. Setting aside the slippery language of transgender issues, the obvious question raised by many was "How did he have a sixteen-year-long relationship with the actor without realizing he was involved with a man?"

Hwang's play uses that essential question as a resonant invitation to recurse through the comments made by characters passing in and out of the diplomat's memory. Ultimately, and considered in the context of Said's notions about Orientalism, the question is something of a misdirection. It's never meant to be answered directly. The play itself is a running commentary on the only possible answer: blinded by his vision of an exotic, inscrutable, picture-perfect state of chinese-ness, the diplomat created a perceptual schema where his lover couldn't be anything but a woman. Within the dictates of that schema, the diplomat locked himself, as Said says Orientalism requires, into a binary relationship with his "Butterfly" that required he either be victim or oppressor, female or male, east or west.

Some reviewers have said the play and movie seek to prove "love is blind," but that's selling Hwang's vision short. The axe he had to grind was much bigger than a mere story about an improbable couple... he was out to dismantle a feminized, mysterious "Orient" before the eyes of an audience that unconsciously participates in a collective cultural myth about what it is to be Asian.

So that brings us to the movie, directed by David Cronenberg, which he did right after his adaptation of Naked Lunch.

The play succeeded, in my opinion, because it took place inside one man's head, and it gave audiences enough to realize that the main character is deeply delusional on a level that only makes sense if he's viewed as a metaphor for broader cultural misperceptions. In Cronenberg's hands, though, the action of the play is shifted out of the main character's head and brought to life in an "authentic" and "real" China, which is just as exotic and mysterious as the stereotypes would have us believe. Essentially, Cronenberg recreates and validates the myth, rather than attempting to undermine it. The sex life of the characters in the play, never really explored or depicted, receives a couple of treatments on screen (Cronenberg is not the director to resist the impulse to do so), serving to move the story from the surreal and personal to the lurid and spectacular.

Wrong director. Wrong material. Executed in a technically competent manner if you're into watching movies for that reason alone.

A fairly complete discussion of the "true story" behind the play and movie appeared in People.

Posted by mph at 2:40 PM

e-Monkey Newsletter -- Volume 1, Issue 10

e-Monkey Newsletter -- Volume 1, Issue 10 is out, the highlight probably being the Darwin-disproving lesbian monkey item.

Posted by mph at 10:54 AM

February 20, 2003

Honor in Pulp

This is what passed for a mid-term in the beginning fiction class I'm in. We were supposed to "describe a character and face him/her with an unresolved choice," which provoked a lot of unhappiness and hand-wringing as I came to realize how much I hate the sound of my own voice when I'm writing about things besides computers. So I handed the camera over to Stan, a mean old crook, and let him mess around with Nick, whom I was unable to draw on my own (and who was supposed to be the character under consideration). So more consternation and hand-wringing ensued when the nice grade and positive comments were for Stan, who just wasn't the point.

It's probably an indicator of a high nerd factor at work that I confronted the professor and told him I didn't mean for Stan to be the character of interest and that I'd like to know how I did with Nick. He told me it didn't matter what I meant and that Nick was fine, but simply not the point.

O.k. Just wanted to be clear.

One additional fun thing from this term has been realizing how much leaning on genre can relieve the tensions generated by a lengthy series of exercises designed to thwart my narrative impulse. There's a story in there, even if it's only implied by the conventions of the gangster/thug narrative.


New guy came up to the second floor today. There's one from down in collections every few months. Always the same guys: muscle used to smacking bookies and barbers around, shaking out the cigar boxes of mom-n-pops all over the east side. Someone decides these kids are ready to manage their own thing, so they send them up to me for an interview and some OJT with a real earner.

The way this kid comes through the door? Same as the rest, slamming it open and standing there like he’s in a room full of Korean grocers he needs to squeeze. Whatever. When no one jumps up and offers him coffee, he’s a little more quiet about closing the door behind him.

You can't miss that I'm the guy up here. He figures it out, but he’s too busy trying to stare down Sal and Vic to notice me watching him as he walks over.

Have to give the kid points for size. Big. Indiana prom king big. Corn-fed. Marks probably tip him after he’s done shaking them down. From across the room it’s sort of hard to see where that big neck ends and that ugly little head begins... he could be one solid block of non-moving parts from the waist up.

But Jesus, who dresses this kid? It’s like he’s some sort of sausage his mommy stuffed into a blue polyester used car salesman costume. I almost want to cover my eyes. When that jacket button he forced over that gut goes, someone’s going with it.

I decide his new name is Jethro even before I get a good look into those mule-stupid eyes or hear his breath coming out of his mouth. With the hair and the freckles, Jethro’s more merciful than Howdy Goddamn Doody.

By the time he’s at my desk I notice that nose, too. There's this theory among the guys that the big ones don't know how to get bopped, but that nose is a mess. If he'd had it bent that bad out of shape as many times as it looked and still came up from collections, he either didn't mind taking one or two for the cause or he was someone's nephew, sent up for his own protection.

He stops in front of my desk.

"You Stan?" he asks in this high voice, and I almost feel sorry for him. His voice is what got that nose broken. How could a tough guy not want to test the waters with Hulk Junior after hearing that voice? Hell... I know some rabbity little accountants who’d take a poke at him, just to see.

"Yeah," I say, looking over my glasses. "I'm Stan. You must be, uh..."

"Nick," he says, after a beat, like I was supposed to know.

"Jethro, right. Roll that chair over there. Sit down."

The Jethro crack pisses him off. He snatches at the chair and rolls it around fast. It gets away from him and bounces off the front of my desk and into his legs. He knocks over my waste paper basket trying to stop it. His face gets red. Here I am, this little mick Mr. Miyagi and I’m already all in his head, making him look stupid.

After he sits down, we do some talking. He must mention his respect for “old schoolers” twenty damn times. Once these kids think they have you snowed with their whole “reverence for the old ways” routine, you can learn something. So once he’s warmed up, punching the air and pulling pretend people over imaginary counters, I lock him down a little.

“Look... Jethro... quit flappin’ your hands around,” I say. “It makes me nervous.”

So his hands go into his lap, and his stories about this guy or that he shook down or straightened out are a little less scenic. For a big, hick-looking hog-wrestler, this kid’s a natural actor and it bugs him he can’t perform. But I don’t get him. Ten minutes later, he’s walked me through the time he knocked out seven bookies with one blow, and I still don’t get him.

Now that his hands have stopped moving, I give them a look. Big, like the rest of him, but fat, too. And almost pink. Class ring sitting there on one finger. Nail biter.

He’s still talking, jogging his leg like he’s gotta go to the bathroom or something, and I’m smiling and nodding and he’s blabbing about some thing he did with Stinky Smith in that high little voice of his and my eyes drop back down to his hands. His pink, fat hands with their perfect, smooth knuckles.

“Alright,” I say to myself, “it’s time for the skill assessment phase of this interview.”

“Good story, Jethro,” I say. “Too bad all your little fairy tales are a buncha bullshit.”

Funny how suddenly the kid stops jiggling, and sits there, hands in his lap, eyes wide.

“Hunh?” he gets out.

“Hunh?” I say, mocking him. “Hunh, as in: you ain’t done none of that shit, and if you’ve seen half of it with your own eyes, you were just standing in the door lookin’ out for cops while the men inside earned the damn money.”

His fists ball up around his thumbs down there on that fat lap of his, and he’s trying to work that moon face into a glare, and I’m out of my seat, grabbing him by his little sport coat and pulling him over the desk, close enough that he blinks when spit sprays from my mouth.

“Take a poke,” I say. “Let’s see some a’ that grief you brought down on that tailor that one time. Just a little of it. You’re ready to be a boss... let’s see. Show me or I’m throwin’ you down those god-damned stairs.”

Posted by mph at 10:51 PM

In Like Flint (1967)

James Coburn is a genius in this movie, a parody of Bond flicks that features a plot by feminist beauty salon owners to take over the world. Highlights include Flint talking to porpoises, and several fight sequences involving James Coburn showing off martial arts moves that look like a ritalin-deprived six-year-old boy reenacting a Batman episode.

Much camp gets boring pretty quickly, if only because the highlights don't come fast enough to get us through the parts that are simply bad. But between Coburn's monkey-like capering and reasonably hilarious scenes of women being brainwashed into feminism by special hair driers ("The wet hair is conductive and allows the programming to reach the brain," muses Flint), it's one to at least keep an eye cocked on as it progresses.

Flint's three live-in girlies are, of course, immune to the programming because his lovin's that good.

Posted by mph at 8:20 AM

Cinema Suits

Irritated by the ten minutes worth of ads they have to sit through before a film starts, people are beginning to sue:

"One of the suits was filed by Miriam Fisch, 36, of Evanston, who teaches English and film in Lincolnshire and is Weinberg's former girlfriend. On Feb. 8, she went to see 'The Quiet American'' at Loews' Pipers Alley theater in Chicago. She said she sat through commercials for Coca-Cola, Cingular Wireless, Fandango and one for the NAACP, which delayed the beginning of the movie by four minutes past its advertised starting time.

"Greg Scott, 35, a DePaul University sociology professor from Oak Park, sued Classic Cinemas after he went to see 'The Pianist' Jan. 26 at the Lake Theater in the west suburb. He said he had to sit through three commercials before the movie started.

"Both suits ask for damages of no more than $75 per person. More important, the attorneys who filed them say, is that their clients want the commercials dropped--or they want ads to state the time a movie actually begins, not just when the commercials begin to roll."

There are already grassroots organizations protesting the movie ad flood.

(Via BoingBoing)

Posted by mph at 7:50 AM

February 18, 2003

Here's Spam In Your Ear

Oregon has a no-call list to thwart telemarketers. $6.50 should, come April, take a bite out of the three or four phone spams we get a day. I'll pay them double if they decide to include a state-sanctioned, herd-thinning telemarketer hunt.

Posted by mph at 8:08 PM

Microsoft's Bigger, Badder IM

Well, this is sort of interesting. Microsoft is about to release a public beta of "Three Degrees," which looks to be an enhanced, ad hoc chatroom with multimedia:

"Here's how the software works. You invite friends to form a posse of up to 10 participants. Representing the group on your desktop will be a colorful image, either one from a set provided by the software or something one of the group has produced. (It could even be a digital photo.) If you're online -- and since threedegrees assumes you have broadband, you're probably online all the time -- you give your friends a holler simply by sending the equivalent of an instant message. Everyone in the group will see it. If you want to send them a digital photo, you simply drag it over the icon and it shows up on everyone's computer. Then there are 'winks': small animations that you trigger to run on everyone's screen.

"[. . .] The most ambitious feature is called musicmix, an online equivalent of a pajama party where people take turns playing deejay. Each group member contributes favorite tunes into a shared playlist, displayed on a dashboard with a customized 'skin,' and everyone listens together. A click from any participant can choose a new song."

(Via /.)

Posted by mph at 7:26 AM

February 17, 2003

We Like It Here

"A Tale of Three Cities" is a Seattlite's look at Portland, OR and Vancouver, BC. It focuses on the transportation and commercial development in each, and glosses over some parts of Portland living our local indy media are happy to detail, but it catches things I've noticed after 18 months here and gets it right when it says our downtown is comfortable. The writer's whining about how screwed-up Seattle is distracts a little.

My favorite parts of Portland right now are the downtown-bound buses that hit the stop a block from my house every ten minutes and the fact that if I decide to take a car, I can avoid the two highways running through town to get wherever I want to go in town. It doesn't hurt that we're ten blocks from a good-sized grocery store and a block away from a well-stocked mom-n-pop.

Posted by mph at 11:22 AM

February 16, 2003

Enough Jazz to Choke a Horse

On Phil's good word I went out and bought the Penguin Guide To Jazz on CD. Holy Cow. 1638 pages of just about everything I'd want to know, and the authors aren't afraid to gore the occasional sacred ox. Right up there with my copy of Videohound's Golden Movie Retriever.

Posted by mph at 10:02 PM

Bullets of Love (2001)

Wow... sort of a "Solaris meets The Killer" deal from Hong Kong.

When a cop and his prosecutor girlfriend put away a crime lord, a mysterious assassin kills the girlfriend in Paris with a signature three-shot kill (one in each shoulder and a last in the throat "so they can think about it"). Heartbroken, the cop takes up soccer, rock-n-roll, and helping out with his mentally retarded uncle's courtship. Then a Japanese photographer who looks just like his dead finacé appears on the scene...

With the exception of the opening shootout and closing massacre, the movie kept a low bodycount through the bulk of the action. It's pretty nicely shot (even though the director's love of slow motion, desaturation, and doubletakes is on display throughout) and has some great sound work (no bullet goes aurally unaccounted).

Your enjoyment of this one will probably hinge on your enjoyment of Hong Kong action flicks in general. It has a genuine disdain of narrative economy that makes it feel sprawling. Its 107 minute playing time seem longish as a result. On the other hand, the prominent "uncle and girlfriend" subplot does a lot to make the closing scenes a little more gripping and punishing than they would have been otherwise.

Posted by mph at 1:13 PM

PatriotWatch Documents Patriot Act

PatriotWatch is a blog devoted to coverage of the Patriot Act and Patriot Act II. There are some odd design decisions at work, but the main feed is readable enough.

(Via TalkLeft)

Posted by mph at 10:53 AM

God Buys Blogosphere

O.k., so it isn't exactly that... but it's close:

"Google, which runs the Web's premier search site, has purchased Pyra Labs , a San Francisco company that created some of the earliest technology for writing weblogs, the increasingly popular personal and opinion journals."

The study and contemplation of God is ultimately narcissistic. Once we say God created us in his own image, no amount of humble posturing, "O Lords" or "How Great Thou Arts" can obscure the underlying signification of ultimate self-regard.

Google is the blogosphere's God. It walks among the faithful and they look for signs of its passing. It rewards and punishes. Its ways are not wholly knowable. In contemplation of it and its wonderousness , its worshipers contemplate their own greatness.

So in reaching down and buying a struggling but prominent entity in the blogosphere, God has reached down and annointed his worshipers. After their years of contemplation and study, worship and love, God has acknowledged them:

"With Google buying Pyra, we are about to see blogging not only go mainstream but perhaps be THE way information is delivered in the future. Weblogging coupled with news feeds, aggregators and the most interactive search engine, this is a formidable set of tools -- the information era is just about to begin!" exults Google Village.

Either that, or God has just jumped the shark.

Posted by mph at 10:34 AM

Bamboozled (2000)

"Scabrous" seemed to win the sweepstakes for favorite critical descriptive when Bamboozled came out in 2000. From there, consensus broke down as reviewers struggled with the sledgehammer sensibility behind the satire driving the movie. The premise involves an angry television writer who convinces his network to revive minstrelcy, complete with blackface. The screen time given to the "New Millenium Minstrel Show" with "Mantan" and "Sleep'n Eat" is every bit as awful as you'd expect.

Lee's anger is palpable and drives some moments hard, but the scene in the movie that's most telling isn't during the grotesqueries of the minstrel show with its audience of blackface-wearing fans. It comes when a media relations specialist explains that the first line of defense against charges of racism and bigotry is to tell people to "lighten up, it's just good fun" and demands to know "who gets to define what's black?"

The movie isn't as tight as some Lee's done, but it's still compelling.

Posted by mph at 1:38 AM

The Great Escape (1963)

Take every vintage tough guy from Coburn to Bronson, stick them in a German POW camp, and give them three hours to get out, and you get this one. Pretty good escape movie, though the Paul Brickhill book was better, and perhaps more engaging, if only because it didn't have to labor under tossing big hunks of meat into a testosterone stew.

Posted by mph at 12:31 AM

February 15, 2003

"Unspeakable Conversations" and Peter Singer's Utilitarian Urge for Euthanasia

Peter Singer, in addition to being a passionate, influential voice for animal liberation, is also, apparently, entrenched enough in his utilitarianism that he believes in infanticide under some circumstances, and euthanasia for people mentally impaired enough that they no longer enjoy personhood, with "personhood" defined broadly as "awareness of your own existence in time. The capacity to harbor preferences as to the future, including the preference for continuing to live."

As a result of his beliefs, he (understandably) receives no small amount of comparison to soft-spoken, well-intentioned members of the SS by members of groups like Not Dead Yet.

Harriet McBryde Johnson, a lawyer, disability rights activist, and self-described "crip," met him over the objections of fellow anti-euthanasia activists, who are naturally concerned with one of their own appearing to legitimate his views. Her account of their meetings, "Unspeakable Conversations", is one of the most fascinating things I've read on the Web this year.

(via Flutterby)

Posted by mph at 11:13 AM


"MovableType 2.6 came out a few days ago (MovableType.org)":http://www.movabletype.org/docs/mt26.html and includes some good stuff: * Support for easy integration of "Creative Commons Licenses(PuddingTime!: Creative Commons Licenses Considered and Applied)":http://www.puddingbowl.org/mph/archives/000262.php * Support for file upload from a 'blog client (like the "nifty kung log":http://www.kung-foo.tv/blog/index.php) * Support for 'humane Web text formatting' via "Brad Choate's textile plugin (bradchoate.com: textile)":http://www.bradchoate.com/past/mttextile.php, which allows for more "Wiki-like (Wiki.org: What is Wiki?)":http://www.wiki.org/wiki.cgi?WhatIsWiki text formatting. Unlike some wiki implementations, textile still allows normal HTML syntax, which is good for people with mixed finger memory. And while we're on Movable Type, "the MT Plugin Directory (Movable Type Plugin Directory)":http://mt-plugins.org/ has launched.

Posted by mph at 9:26 AM

February 14, 2003

e-Monkey Newsletter -- Volume 1, Issue 9

It's a decent week for monkey news. e-Monkey Newsletter -- Volume 1, Issue 9 is up in the archives:

plus several more headlines.

Posted by mph at 10:50 AM

February 13, 2003


BoingBoing guest blogger Andrew Zolli describes an advertising scheme where people bear logos on their foreheads for about $7 an hour. Someone be sure to mention that it's good for the economy and provides a dignity found only in honest work.

Posted by mph at 9:51 AM


Before Wolverine captured the hearts of insecure adolescent boys with his near-total invulnerability and barely supressed berserker rage, there was Iron Man.

It's pretty easy to understand Iron Man's appeal to any proto-geek of the '70s: he's a brilliant inventor who builds a suit of armor that makes him impervious to virtually any *FOOOM* or *SHRAAAAKOOOM* the bad guys dish out, but the price for removing his remarkable armor is the failure of his heart. He's also an arms contractor, which is problematic, but we'll let that go because he has a drinking problem, too.

Anyhow, looks like New Line is going to do a movie.

Posted by mph at 8:26 AM

Safire: The Vast Middle Ground (And Some Extremists) Ain't So Bad

Columnist William Safire, who sounded an early alarm regarding the Information Awareness Office's intent to catalog everything about everybody to achieve a state of "Total Information Awareness," says despite being accused of fanaticism by the likes of the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, there's a consensus building against the overreach of the Bush administration:

"Those of us on the flapdoodle fringe - from Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum on the right to People for the American Way on the left - found wide and deep bipartisan agreement in the usually contentious Congress. An amendment to the budget bill by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, co-sponsored by Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, put a bit in the mouth of the Pentagon's runaway horse.

"The Wyden amendment held up funding for the Total Information Awareness penetration of the American home until the administration (1) explained it in detail to Congress, including its impact on civil liberties, and (2) barred any deployment of the technology against U.S. citizens without prior Congressional approval. One hundred senators voted in favor."

Which seems to make the score 1-1, considering the obscene ease with which the Patriot Act flew through congress. And that makes Patriot Act II a tiebreaker. It also undermines a little of my pessimism, but not much... Poindexter's past disdain for pesky things like congressional oversight was probably a highlighted bullet on his resumé when he applied for the IAO job.

Meanwhile, local Fox affiliates are running features of frightened suburban moms teaching their children to make disaster preparedness kits in case of terrorist strikes on Beaverton, and reporters are stalking PDX to give the travelling yeomanry a chance to speak out with gratitude for our national alert system.

(WIRED has a warmed-over Reuters item on the Wyden amendment, too.)

Posted by mph at 7:18 AM

February 12, 2003

Modesty Blaise (1966)

It's hard to believe that the production team behind Barbarella didn't decide to do their film with the idea that they'd somehow improve on this one, which they did. I can't think of a more remarkable testimony to the sublime ineptitude involved in Modesty Blaise than that: it makes Barbarella look pretty damn good.

The film manages to toss in all the genre conventions of a spy movie, from the stodgy, old "controller" figure to mandatory stabs at German expressionism (as filtered through a healthy lung-hit). But the conventions, in this case, amount to a pile of bizarre-o spy-dada that's almost lurid in its awfulness. The good parts involve the costumes and sets, which are every bit as nutty as you'd expect from squares tasked to come up with something psychedelic.

I squirmed. Vogon poetry would have been better. Sure hit for camp fans.

Posted by mph at 10:42 PM

February 10, 2003

Paging Dr. Kafka

Boy, we're gonna let the doc here force this antipsychotic medicine down yer throat, an' when he's done with ya an' yer feelin' all better, we're a-gonna kill ya.

"The federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled yesterday that officials in Arkansas can force a prisoner on death row to take antipsychotic medication to make him sane enough to execute. Without the drugs, the prisoner, Charles Laverne Singleton, could not be put to death under a United States Supreme Court decision that prohibits the execution of the insane. Yesterday's 6-to-5 decision is the first by a federal appeals court to allow such an execution."

Complete Story (it's at the NYT, which will require you to register)

Posted by mph at 8:34 PM

February 9, 2003

Ronin (1998)

Post-Cold War France is the setting for this spy film about ex-spies trying to make a living now that no one needs them anymore. The title refers to masterless samurai who chose to continue as hired swords in feudal Japan.

Robert De Niro and Jean Reno make a pretty good team. The car chases are good, showing how much editing and intent can do to make a tired convention palatable. Compare and contrast these to the chase scene in Attack of the Clones, which manages to produce a dizzying and gut-wrenching special effects spectacle that leaves us with no sense of having traversed three dimensional space and no idea where anything is in relationship to anything else.

The basic plot involves a mysterious box our team of rootless spies has to retrieve, the IRA, Russian mafia bosses, and assorted betrayals. De Niro's great as a world-weary ex-CIA operative, Natascha McElhone (Solaris) is pretty good too.

You aren't getting a timeless classic here, but there's enough "clever spy stuff," tough guy carrying on (De Niro's character supervises the removal of a bullet from his own side), and atmospheric location to make it a decent enough ride. The early scenes devoted to assembling the team are especially fun.

Posted by mph at 12:36 PM

Red Dawn (1984)

If you're wondering how much longer you'll be able to stand the "current political climate", a viewing of Red Dawn will remind you that the people who were wandering around as adults during the Reagan era had their own kulturkampf to endure. This flick is Reaganista camp at its finest, putting food on the table of many future A-list B-grade actors from Patrick Swayze to Charlie Sheen to C. Thomas Howell (who does a turn as a blood-maddened revenge freak).

The premise involves a lengthy chain of events, including, as the prologue tells us, the "Greens Party" (running, no doubt, on a "kail for the masses" platform) taking over Germany, Nicaragua raising a 500,000-person army, and all of Europe deciding to take a pass when Russia, Cuba, and Nicaragua march through war-torn Mexico and into the US, landing paratroopers out of planes disguised as charter commercial jets.

Once small-town America is occupied, there's a lot of loving detail sprinkled throughout, from a foreshadowing high school history lecture about how heartless and vile the Mongol hoards could be, to a cineplex that shows Alexander Nevsky. Heroic men-folk are machine-gunned as they sing "America the Beautiful" and a bunch of high school football players (Sheen, Howell, and crew) flee into the woods to wage guerilla war against the occupiers.

What's not to like?

This movie didn't stand alone, by the way. Others in the genre included the ABC miniseries Amerika (1987) and the Chuck Norris vehicle Invasion U.S.A. (1985)

Posted by mph at 11:59 AM

Funeral in Berlin (1966)

If From Russia With Love established one end of the "spy film" genre with its apolitical, larky approach to international espionage, and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold positioned itself as the "realistic" antithesis of Bondian glamour, Funeral in Berlin is a synthesis of the two, providing enough womanizing and caricaturized bad guys to keep things light, but with a decidedly prole Michael Caine as the cockney hero, Harry Palmer.

If you're into the genre, the ride is pretty fun. It has all the requisite twists, turns and betrayals

Posted by mph at 11:27 AM

The Quiller Memorandum (1966)

The Quiller Memorandum is a spy movie with a few differences from much of the rest of the genre that make it seem a little less anchored in its Cold War setting. George Segal plays a spy trying to track down murderous neo-Nazis in Berlin. Alec Guiness stands in as the prissy, antagonist "controller," and Max von Sydow is the head bad guy.

Segal's acting is interesting. Though he's young and brash (providing much of Harrison Ford's eventual "smirking, irreverent hero" playbook), he conveys a certain unhappiness with the business he's in, and a sense of vulnerability that indicates his seduction of the leading lady isn't without a price. The most distracting part of the movie is the collection of mod goons who pursue Quiller through Berlin: in twenty years, their children will be shaking down bowlers and sneering "Vheeeere's the MO-ney Le-BOW-ski?"

Pretty fun movie, though. Less by-the-numbers than Bond, and a lot more suspense.

Posted by mph at 11:11 AM

The Joy Luck Club (1993)

The Joy Luck Club is a tear-jerker that sometimes comes off as blatantly and shamelessly manipulative. If you can get past the manipulation, you'll have to overcome some expository dialog that assumes an audience of dullards, with key plot points and bits of dialog witlessly echoed by characters for no apparent reason.

There's no taking away from the lushness of the film's visuals, or the overall quality of the production, but it eventually devolves into mere spectacle as the melodrama and leaden exposition turn it into a costume pageant that periodically cannibalizes the principals to turn them into a chorus.

Posted by mph at 10:59 AM

Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry

So, a few weeks back I set up a special No Mac version of the front page, and along the way that attracted more than just Mac haters... it attracted a few readers I'm fairly sure just don't care about computing or technology (as a "personal interest") at all. So now that some design cleanup is done (except for a few niggling things), I've gone ahead and added a No Tech page, which skips all the tech items in addition to all the Mac bits.

Next, I guess, is wittling down the movie categories to "liked" and "didn't like," because assigning stars is getting to be an exercise in "hold it... it's better than that movie, but I gave it less stars" silliness in the service of exactly nothing... we aren't really helping people make timely movie-going choices here.

Posted by mph at 12:21 AM

February 8, 2003

The Empire Strikes Ba... Again.

The Center for Public Integrity has a leaked copy of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 (12MB, PDF), a sequel to last year's civil liberties smash hit, the US Patriot Act.

Among its provisions:

Some won't like the rest of the politics on display at the CPI's web site. I'd encourage them to put that aside long enough to download the document in question or give a reasoned consideration of the group's summary. It's also worth considering TalkLeft's scoop that the DoJ is lying about who this document has gone to, trying to downplay the fact that it slipped a copy to the White House but hasn't solicited any congressional review.

Instapundit says "Jeez. We need this like we need 'Dude, Where's My Car? II.'"

I'm not a big fan of linking to people for one little quip, but InstaPundit's out on that libertarian/right tip that accentuates the nature of opposition to this sort of legislation: it's a case where "the vast middle ground" holding will be a disaster. The vast middle ground is a bunch of scared people willing to believe the likes of John Ashcroft when he says "if you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear," and more than willing to believe people languishing in secret prisons must have done something to get in there in the first place.

Posted by mph at 6:09 PM

February 7, 2003

Sad, Sad Friday Night

Which OS are You?
Which OS are You?

Oh... Sam pointed there's an alternate reading of that headline. Naturally I'm not unhappy to be designated as Debian-like in my personality traits... the 'sad' part comes in where it's Friday night and I'm taking the quiz in the first place.

Posted by mph at 10:48 PM

The 800 Pound Synergy Gorilla

The CJR's Who Owns What is a guide to which media companies own (or are owned by) what.

Posted by mph at 8:39 AM

Tell Michael It Was Only Business

Whaddya know... Random House wants to bring back The Godfather. This morning, the editor who runs the property told the Today Show "I love this world, I want to return to it!"

Gross, but I'm not going to begrudge an editor the chance to be on tv.

The Godfather wasn't exactly a literary marvel, regardless of how much the NBC morning crew obligingly pimps it for Random House's promotional staff. It took Coppola for those characters to take on iconic weight and meaning.

Posted by mph at 8:10 AM

February 6, 2003

Newsfeeds for the Masses

RSS/RDF is for more than just telling you all the new headlines on a blog. You can use it to point to anything with an address. DirectRSS is an app for OS X that makes it possible to generate an RSS from the desktop and syndicate files of all sorts.

Posted by mph at 10:27 PM

"Hangin' John" Ashcroft

If the prospect of war in Iraq in the name of "the New American Century" doesn't put you off your lunch, TalkLeft's got a bit about John Ashcroft's insistence on the death penalty at the expense of the autonomy of local prosecutors.

Posted by mph at 7:11 AM

New Unemployment Stats: "Worst Hiring Slump in 20 Years"

The New York Times says we're in the worst hiring slump in twenty years:

"The employment decline has become even worse than it was at a comparable point in the so-called jobless recovery of the early 1990's, according to recently revised statistics from the Labor Department. The economy has lost more than two million jobs, a drop of 1.5 percent, since the most recent recession began in March 2001, as layoffs have continued despite the resumption of economic growth more than a year ago. The decline was 1.3 percent at the same point in the business cycle a decade ago."

The article attributes the situation to skittish management and improved "management techniques" and automation. It also notes that government numbers concern themselves with people who are looking for work, and aren't taking into consideration the one million workers who have just given up in the last year and aren't.

Posted by mph at 7:02 AM

February 5, 2003

Sleep's Good, Too.

Ed pointed me at an item about sleep deprivation on 20/20's site. It's got the earmarks of the sort of science reporting that aims for the breathless a little too readily, but the study it sources is interesting anyhow, claiming that there may be a link between obesity and sleep deprivation (which the scientists cited say occurs if you get less than eight hours a night). Some findings:

Crazy. I get about five to six hours a night, and I'm beginning to wonder if my Charlie Rose habit is worth it.

Posted by mph at 1:22 PM

Standards Are Good, M'Kay?

Yesterday Sam noticed an entry by Jason Kottke about header abuse, namely RSS readers reporting themselves as referers when they access Web sites. This isn't the right thing to do according to the standard, which mandates that referers must have a URI of their own. Good to note that with the latest release of NetNewsWire, that's been fixed, which means I get to feel less antisocial when I use it since my visit won't represent a borderline case of spamming an admin's logs.

Nothing wrong with a little advertising, but it's good to stick to the specification... it's what makes the Internet go 'round.

Posted by mph at 12:58 PM

February 4, 2003

Still A Bill World

William Greider of The Nation says the Democratic Party is still Clinton's show as it continues the struggle to figure out what the hell it thinks about much of anything.

Posted by mph at 12:53 AM

February 3, 2003

GNUPG for Apple's Mail.app

When we're all down in the sewers living on hidden caches of government cheese while we evade the gov-bot assassin drones, we'll certainly be using strong encryption to communicate where the best rat hunting and illegal mp3 downloads can be had. For those of us who choose to use Macs to do that, GPG for Apple's Mail.app will come in handy, as will MacGPG.

Don't forget, if you're using fink, to set a symlink from your /sw/bin gnupg binaries to /usr/local/bin.

Posted by mph at 11:51 AM

February 2, 2003

Teenagers: They're What's for Dinner

Got a teenage girl in your life and want to make sure she's growing up healthy and strong?

"Cool-2B-Real is about real girls like you! Whether you're in school, playing sports or just having fun, strive to be the best you can be! Real girls are "keepin' it real" by building strong bodies and strong minds... and they're feeling great about themselves!"

Brought to you by The Cattlemen's Beef Board, who we can only hope will soon be showing ads of attractive models with blood-smeared faces asking us "Got Flesh?"

Posted by mph at 11:28 PM

Build Your Own Russian Fairytale

"The silver fish leapt from the water from his gurgling mouth came a bubble that solidified and dropped into my lap. Just as quickly as he had emerged, the fish plopped back into the water, leaving me to puzzle over this mysterious orb."

Curious about what element of narrative analysis might apply to a paragraph like that?

It may be time to go visit the Proppian Fairytale Generator (v 1.0) and explore the universality of "branding," "villainy," "receipt of a magical agent," "liquidation," and "absention" in fairytales. Once you're done there, learn how to build a better Dungeons and Dragons game from it.

Posted by mph at 4:56 PM