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November 29, 2003

The Glued Towers

Just finished a viewing of "The Two Towers" (after whetting our appetites with "The Fellowship of the Ring" yesterday). As I'd hoped when I made the entry before this one, the added footage did make for a much better movie.

The theatrical release held together just fine, but the additional material in the extended DVD version created a greater sense of coherence. The bits of back story we get in the extended release do more to flesh out Middle Earth and key characters. Great stuff for a long weekend with a luxury of time.

Posted by mph at 4:46 PM

November 25, 2003

Saved for Thanksgiving

If Polytropos has it right, it's a tragedy that my recently purchased "Two Towers" special edition is still sitting in the shrink-wrap.

On the other hand, we're working through the pretty good fourth season of "The Sopranos," and I've got no complaints about the stuff I'm sitting through in class. Buster Keaton's "The General", for instance, provided one of those great "ah-hah!" late-in-the-term moments where everything we've been talking about comes together.

I guess the best way to recreate the revelation would be to sit through a D.W. Griffith ("Birth of a Nation" or "Broken Blossoms"), take copious notes about how numb your butt is getting while you appreciate all the parallel editing and craftsmanship. Then watch Chaplain's "City Lights" and admire his virtuosity on screen while taking copious notes about how tissue thin the unifying story that holds the gags together is. Then fire up "The General" and prepare for the pleasure of seeing it all come together in the service of a real story that lasts from beginning to end, with story elements that persist and arc beyond their immediate use as a motivator or gag.

Much that has come since in American action and comedy movies is embedded in "The General." Enough that, as with the recent viewing of "The Man With a Movie Camera", I'm reminded of the value of taking a history of cinema class: I probably wouldn't see some of these movies on my own (what with the steady supply of DVDs from Netflix arriving every few days and that copy of "The Two Towers" sitting on the coffee table).

Posted by mph at 9:24 AM

November 23, 2003

Mac Issue du Jour

Why is WEP killing printing over Wi-FI?

Posted by mph at 11:54 AM

'Round the Blogroll

Well, we don't really have much of a blogroll, but here are a few changes:

Thanks to Sven, I've been paying more attention to "ham sandwich" blogs, and I'm coming around to seeing their utility more and more. Hating them is like hating a family holiday letter you find on the street. Maybe you can make some metaphorical hay about "litter," but hating Mrs. Jones' account of a year of braces, ballet recitals, and promotions at work seems a little pinched. Leave Mrs. Jones alone. Save your ire for Andrew Sullivan, who has an Oxford education and a selective wit that fails him where President Bush and appearances on George "Like Unsweetened Oatmeal for Politics" Stephanopoulos' weekly show are concerned.

Posted by mph at 11:28 AM

November 21, 2003

Consumer Reports for the Seeker

In these troubled times, we're all seeking answers. Before you choose your next guru, kick the tires with this simple rating tool.

PuddingTime-brand gurus are guaranteed to have fewer than 1,000 disciples and guarantee no ugly architecture in any of their ashrams.

Posted by mph at 4:08 PM

Royale with Cheese

Make mine the Bulbogi Burger!

Posted by mph at 8:49 AM

November 20, 2003

Life in the Weird

Michael Jackson Faces Arrest on Charges of Child Molesting

Sometime I might unfurl a long meditation on the bizarre entirety of Michael Jackson. For now, I just want to share this oddity: At the grocery this morning--entirely by chance, I assume--I heard Little Michael and the Jackson 5 singing a song I didn't know: "(Let me be your) Sugar Daddy."

Posted by pk at 6:57 AM

November 19, 2003

Catchy, Though

Confronted with the deadline for this week's Enterprise Unix Roundup, which surely must deal with Sun's adoption of Opteron processors, I'm guessing "Sun: Back Up In Your Ass With the (x86) Resurrection" will go over no better than "Methane Breathers From Planet Unix" did several weeks ago.

Posted by mph at 2:01 PM

Panic in the Streets

Crazy. The forecast called for 50-ish and rainy. We've got snow instead.

It's supposed to be mostly gone from the roads this afternoon, but I'm happy to see it out the window this morning. Shot taken from the front porch. Click for the big version.

Posted by mph at 10:39 AM

November 18, 2003

Just Saying

Salon rounds up rightist reactions to the Massachussets marriage decision, including one from the president:

The question, though, is just how far George W. Bush will go to embrace the anti-gay message. The White House issued a brief statement by the president Tuesday in which he condemned the Massachusetts decision as violating "a sacred institution between a man and a woman." And while the statement indicated that Bush would work with "congressional leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage," it stopped short of endorsing the only thing that Bush really can do -- work for passage of the constitutional amendment.

Speaking as a married person, I don't think the Massachusetts decision undermines the sanctity of my marriage. I'll thank the raft of bigots presuming to speak for me to stop. (Which is more or less what pk said back in June, the last time some judges did something reasonable in this department.)

And by all means go read Andrew Sullivan on this one, not because I'm selectively linking him when I agree with him, but because you'll want to read his plaintive plea to Bush to think twice before exploiting the anger of America's worst elements.

Clue for Andrew: He doesn't care what you think. In fact, he thinks you're evil. Flip through your playbook and dust off a chestnut you've been fond of over the past few years: "useful idiot."

Posted by mph at 10:50 PM

I Wish to Convey to You My Passion in This Area

Sympathetic lurch of nausea this morning as I listened to John Kerry on NPR (Real or Windows Media) earnestly telling reporters "I am feisty." Yeesh. The point, John, is that you don't say things like that, you show it. Saying "I am feisty" is like acting out every Chevy Chase sex scene in the "Family Vacation" movies.

Pretty clear that NPR wants to write the obit on Kerry's campaign, and went for the stake through the heart with a moment involving Kerry spelling his last name out to a New Hampshire restaurant owner who's never heard of him.

Posted by mph at 10:06 AM


E.J. Dionne asks "Is Dean Goldwater?"

It is the Goldwater campaign, not George McGovern's 1972 antiwar crusade, that Dean's movement most resembles. Goldwater was not about "new ideas." He was about preaching the full conservative gospel and giving his followers a vehicle through which they could organize and put it into practice. Goldwater had his share of verbal gaffes. His supporters found them endearing. "Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue," Goldwater said. You could imagine a Dean supporter saying that.

Posted by mph at 9:03 AM

Boxed Heads

The wakeup NPR piece this morning was an interview with David Byrne of Talking Heads. There's a new box set out. I was just happy to wake up to something besides the news, which never sits quite right.

Posted by mph at 8:29 AM

November 17, 2003

That Font Thing

That font thing got to nagging me, so I went out and cribbed the same Javascript from A List Apart that everyone else seems to have cribbed two years ago. Over on the left sidebar (there's only one sidebar today, tomorrow you may be grateful I specified):


One button picks sans body text, one picks serifed body text, and the third with the red ban sign on it presents a stylesheet with no font-family declarations at all, which means you're in charge of how it looks depending on your browser preferences. It sets a cookie, so the page should remember your choice next time you visit.

Posted by mph at 12:46 AM

November 16, 2003

Looking for the Shatner Version

Driving back from class last week, I caught a weirdly mellow show on the local NPR affiliate (I think there's usually a book reading show of some sort on then). The host played Karrin Allyson's rendition of "Insensatez," which has a complementary bit of Chopin for bookends. It got in my head. iTunes Music Store to the rescue. $0.99 later, I was able to get some relief, but it took another $0.99 for the Tony Bennett version, which is a little more emotive (natch).

There are also Lalo Schifrin (of "Enter the Dragon" soundtrack fame), Ella Fitzgerald, Wes Montgomery, and Earl Klugh versions, but no sign of the Shatner cover anywhere. Rats. I know he did it best without even hearing it.

Several Hours Later: Score! Thanks, Shareaza! And yes, Shatner rawks!

Posted by mph at 12:23 PM

New Stuff to Play With

I've been on a Windows kick the past few months, thanks mainly to some work requirements and an unwillingness to do long-haul editing on a laptop. But I did pause this weekend to update the iBook to OS X 10.3 (Panther) and grab the latest update to BBEdit.

Panther is pretty nice. Pieces of it seem, to use the subjective phrase of choice among people with low-end hardware, "snappier." The new Exposé feature is cool, and the changes to the way the Finder works make a lot of sense. Pleasant upgrade. I'll be happier when it's running on a G4 iBook.

If you're at all tempted to buy an iBook with the thought that you'll run something like Microsoft Word or PhotoShop Elements on it, save your pennies and hold out for at least one of the G3/800 or 900's, which will confer the benefit of Word running at a speed that doesn't drive you into a killing frenzy waiting for it to catch up to your typing if you try to listen to an MP3 at the same time. In a few months, market inertia will put decent refurbs of those models at way reasonable prices.

Just my $0.02. I'm sure there's someone out there who thinks Word peels his lips back with its blazing speed on lesser hardware than I have.

BBEdit on the other hand, finally introduces something I've been pining for since I first started using it: SFTP copying, which means I can move stuff around untrusted networks (including the wireless one in my home) without (much) fear for my security. Yay. One less thing to be paranoid about.

Posted by mph at 10:51 AM

November 14, 2003

One More and I'll Quit Harping

Me: And the so-called "religious allegory." Oh! She's named "Trinity!" It must be a fucking allegory. News flash: I can name a pair of ducks "Biggie" and "Tupac," but that doesn't make it a rap group. I defy you to tell me how that movie was any better than fucking "Underworld."

Al: Yeah. I mean, which is more ridiculous? Kevin Costner's webbed feet, or...

Me: "Underworld," honey. "Underworld."

Posted by mph at 10:06 PM

November 13, 2003

Triumph of the Will

Sam just told me he hasn't bothered to go see "The Matrix Revolutions" and probably won't. Why didn't I think of that?

Posted by mph at 8:38 PM

Major Combat II: Mission Back in Effect

You'll never hear it from the White House, but at least Slate's Fred Kaplan acknowledges that the war isn't over:

The latest lesson of the war might be this: Whatever great improvements are wrought in a military force--in the firepower of the weapons, the maneuverability of the troops, the coordination of the individual services, the accuracy of the missiles and bombs--these factors comprise but the first phase of a war. As many predicted all along, the harder and more enduring part is the second phase. Neglecting this truth a few months ago, at the end of the first phase, means that the second phase will now be much harder than it might have been for all concerned.

It's nice to be able to point out that, five months ago, I was not neglecting this truth.

Last night Ted Koppel ran a long piece on the Toledo Blade's investigation into Vietnam War atrocities committed over several months by Tiger Force, an elite Army paratrooper unit. (More on that via Salon--and it's worth the commercial if you haven't read about this yet.)

I missed most of the Nightline piece, but caught Ted's follow-up with two retired military men. After recounting that, in his own experience in Vietnam, he saw how confused and brutal things could easily get on the unit level, he sought to point a crooked finger into the future of our operation in Iraq. One of the military guys was visibly dejected if not disturbed as he agreed that, although Vietnam was very different, the possibility for similar confusion, violence, and polarization of citizens exists in Iraq. Destroying them in order to save them, that sort of thing.

When will they ever learn?

Posted by pk at 9:33 AM

November 12, 2003

Mission creep

The New York Observer's Nicholas von Hoffman boils down a David Ignatius Washington Post column lauding the Iraq War and one of its chief architects: "Mr. Wolfowitz, you look great! What's your secret?"

Also a good front-page Observer piece on the tight control of information by Bush politicos assigned to the Coalition Provisional Authority; no surprise that they deploy "media filters" when it suits them and deplore them when they don't.

It's hard to tell what this week's ahems and handshakes amongst Bremer and the Bush administration mean, but I have to say I get nervous when I hear someone refer to an intent to copy "the Afghanistan model." Is there enough of a there there to emulate? Of course, it's hard to imagine that any action could worsen the Iraq situation in the short run, though at least it was just Italians who died last night. Wait--are they New Europe?

Meanwhile, we can look forward to a semantic debate over what level of U.S. airstrikes return our combat operations to something one could call "major," thus indicating that the "mission" hasn't been "accomplished," whatever the hell they're saying this week it is.

Posted by pk at 2:25 PM

November 11, 2003

I Have A Server Under My Desktop... Does That Count?

El Reg is getting spit all over the screen in its eagerness to subject IBM to death by 1,000 snarks for saying "The Time is Now for Linux on the Desktop." That's been a recent Enterprise Unix Roundup topic. My opinion hasn't changed much from last year, except to note that Red Hat's being more direct and less cowardly about desktop Linux's prospects now that it has a clearer focus on the "enterprise space."

Posted by mph at 1:16 PM

Larry's Veteran's Day Gift

Happy Veteran's Day, Private Lynch, from your friends at "Hustler."

"Pornographer Larry Flynt claims he bought nude photos of Pfc. Jessica Lynch last month to publish in Hustler magazine, but changed his mind because she is 'a good kid ... and a victim of the Bush administration.'"

Posted by mph at 1:05 PM

Schlock the Vote

CNN producer dumbs down "Rock the Vote" debate question.

Posted by mph at 10:26 AM

No Wonder the Reviewers Hate It

Roger Ebert makes a compelling case for Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" in the face of a chilly general reception:

"Of course a movie about a tragedy that does not explain the tragedy -- that provides no personal of social 'reasons' and offers no 'solutions' -- is almost against the law in the American entertainment industry. When it comes to tragedy, Hollywood is in the catharsis business."

Posted by mph at 12:47 AM

November 10, 2003

ActiveX Mozilla Control

An ActiveX control using Gecko:

"The Mozilla control is an ActiveX control that encapsulates the Gecko layout engine, allowing it to be used in any ActiveX container. Developers can use any ActiveX development tool such as VB, Visual C , Delphi and even Internet Explorer to embed the Mozilla ActiveX control into a form."

At this stage, unfortunately, it's missing a few things the MSIE renderer includes in embedded settings, like being able to resize text and (apparently) retain cookies. So while Newzcrawler can use it, it isn't as nice as using the IE control.

One to watch, anyhow.

Posted by mph at 4:01 PM

True That

"Reason" takes its shot at "Matrix Revolutions":

"When critics comment on the Gnostic-conspiracy genre, they usually cite the novelist Philip K. Dick as its patron saint. Well, there are no traces of Dick in The Matrix: Revolutions, unless Dick secretly ghostwrote an episode of Battlestar Galactica."

Tidy look back on the bumper crop of late '90s paranoia films.

Posted by mph at 2:38 PM

From the Dept. of Borderline Cases

Outlook 2003's default refusal to display images in HTML mail has at least one direct marketing industry type worried about the bottom line. Unfortunate tip-of-the-hand: Worry that Microsoft's decision will "solidify a correlation between e-mail that's not from a known source with 'junk.'"

For most of us, most of the time, that's exactly what "e-mail that's not from a known source" is.

Sorry if some legitimate marketers are getting caught in the Spam War crossfire, not sorry Microsoft is cleaning up Outlook's act after years of creating the infrastructure that perpetuates some of the worst abuses on the 'net.

Posted by mph at 10:06 AM

November 9, 2003

The Matrix: Revolting

Slate nails what went wrong with "The Matrix Revolutions" about as well as anyone can, considering the broad swaths of ground fertile for loathing it and its co-sequel cleared:

"It seems that, in conceiving their pair of sequels to The Matrix, the writing and directing team of Andy and Larry Wachowski overestimated the profundity of the original's philosophical musings. The resulting ponderousness might have been excusable, except that they disastrously misidentified which of those musings was most important to the original -- namely, the Matrix itself."

The piece concerns itself with the areas where the sequels fell apart in terms of their world view and general philosophical thrust. I agree with a lot of the author's discontent, but I'm still contending with the real source of my disappointment, which is either in the content, as identified by the Slate author, or the form, which is flayed with some accuracy by James Berardinelli.

I was left as non-plussed by "Revolutions" as I was "Underworld," which is a shocking comment on how far things degenerated between the original and its sequels. Perhaps all the Wachowskis were ever really up for were the twin moments of Trinity's first fight in the opening scene and the moment when Neo is awakened in his pod. What has come after hasn't come near the impact of those moments, and as a certified member of the "Neo can stop the sentinels because 'the real world' isn't," club I'd say they dropped the one good opportunity they had to recreate those moments in the sequels.

As it is things fall flat and come off, somehow, as listless and by-the-numbers. Some of that is the unfortunate division into several plot lines: Neo's trip to the machine city and battle with Agent Smith, Niobe and Morpheus' flight to Zion, and the defense of Zion.

Niobe's story could have been discarded altogether with little lost except a chase scene, and with the gain of reclaiming Morpheus for a more useful thread. Until Neo came into his own, Morpheus was the badass of the original cast, and in "Revolutions" he's reduced to sitting around and co-piloting. Not only is there a sense that narrative economy has been squandered to squeeze in a chase scene, there's a sense that one of the more interesting players was needlessly sidelined to enhance our sense of investment in that chase.

The defense of Zion, while rousing at points by dint of its sheer volume, ate screen time with special effects of such improbable magnitude that I was yanked out of the moment time and time again. As several reviewers have noted, the battle sequences felt more like video game tie-in opportunities than things that were intrinsic to the plot, since it's almost immediately clear that regardless of how well Zion defends itself, its survival will depend on Neo's actions.

Neo's story, in which he receives the last bits of knowledge he needs to complete his transformation from clueless nerd to messiah, had the most potential, but it was reduced, in the end, to a big fist fight with Agent Smith, who's still spending most of his time complaining about smelly humans. While Smith was a great foil in the first movie, it seems wrong to turn him into the putative Satan of an allegory wrapped up in the idea that evil lies not in the functionaries ("the woman in the red dress" training sequence in the first movie made that point), but in the very "matrix" in which good and evil contend.

But wondering if Agent Smith is properly used begins crossing me into the territory of issues with the content of the film as opposed to its form, and I'm still not sure if better content would have helped me overcome the generic and confused form, or if that troubled form would have dulled some of the joy good content would have brought.

Considering my enjoyment of "The Animatrix," which involved several simple stories that further explored the dynamics of the world in which The Matrix exists, I'm inclined to say they could have botched the mechanics quite a bit and gotten away with it, if those nagging issues of content had been dealt with better. But they didn't, and I'm a little surprised to note that my disappointment is less the angry seething of a fan betrayed and more the dull indifference of an audience member taken for yet another ride by the Hollywood hype machine.

Posted by mph at 3:42 PM

November 7, 2003

Rebel yell

Tardy and vis-a-vis last weekend's "Dean gaffe": Maybe I've completely misunderstood the reasons for the hubbub, but since when is the South all sensitive about being pegged with the Stars'n'Bars?

There are still states that can't muster the popular will to lower it from their courthouse flagpoles, and yet it's apparently bad form for a candidate to use it as shorthand to refer to citizens whose support he is seeking--a context in which one could reasonably assume it is, if a bit clumsy, meant to be complimentary?

Who made the leap--which must have been made, since offense was taken--that Rebel flag = Klansman's hood, or at least "chaw-spittin' redneck"? Mind you, I'm not saying it does. Sometimes it strikes me as having a certain historical charm, as long as it's fluttering over the gray-woolen ranks of some would-be Johnny Rebs at a summertime reenactment and not bedecking the pickup truck of a chaw-spittin' redneck.

But Dean's opponents jumped down Dean's collar, thinking either, "DON'T MAKE THE SOUTH THINK WE THINK THEY'RE A BUNCH OF CHAW-SPITTIN' REDNECKS!" or "DON'T PANDER TO THE WORST INSTINCTS OF OUR NATION'S RACIST BACKWATERS!" (I couldn't tell--anyone else know which it was?)

Then Zell Miller of Georgia (very busy lately hawking a book to undermine the party he represents) popped up, twanging either, "DON'T YOU YANKS DARE CALL US A BUNCH OF CHAW-SPITTIN' REDNECKS!" or "DON'T PANDER TO THE WORST INSTINCTS OF MY STATE'S RACIST BACKWATERS!" (Again, other interpretations welcome.)

Me, I don't get it. There are people who fly the Confederate flag on their pickup trucks (and not just in the South). If you're not one of them, you can't deny that you have neighbors who are, and if you think that's bad, is there something wrong with Dean trying to bring them into the fold? And, of course, if you're flying a Rebel flag, and you're offended by having it pointed out, then why are you flying it?

And, of course, apologies in advance if my less-than-perfect character has again caused anyone pain. Really, I don't mean to.

Posted by pk at 1:26 PM

November 6, 2003

New Toy From Google

ShadowGoogle handles this sort of thing for OS X, but Google does it a little better under Windows with the new Google Deskbar. It sits in the task bar as a little search form.

Click for a bigger picture.

Entering a query pops up a small window with search results (not a full browser window), or movie review links from Rotten Tomatoes, dictionary/thesaurus entries, Google's image search feature, or several other choices selectable from a menu. It's customizable, too, which means I'll be replacing Rotten Tomatoes with The Movie Review Query Engine. Sort of handy. No comment on its long-term stability.

Posted by mph at 11:20 PM


I've been avoiding it for assorted reasons, including its owner calling it a "miserable hack," but in the past few days I've dropped in the MT exclude categories plugin (mainly to drive the two section approach the front page takes). Besides the front page, the Mac Free page and feed should also benefit from this, but I'll be happy to get bug reports if they don't work as intended.

The "flavor" feeds are based on dates instead of number of items now, by the way.

Posted by mph at 8:56 AM

It's Late. They Know I'm Susceptible.

I'm probably not being very charitable because it's late and because the Apple "Pods Unite" commercial has made all twenty seconds of their best-known song more overexposed than Liz Taylor's leathery bosom, but I think the best way to characterize The Polyphonic Spree (on tv right now with Conan) would have to be "It's Up With People meets the Moonies, only they're allowed to use laptops."

(And their site requires Flash with no exceptions, revealing their designer's flirtation with a dangerous cult of his or her own.)

Posted by mph at 1:46 AM


It's probably the year I spent hunched over a CompuEdit II that did it to me, but I can't get the whole predisposition toward serifed body text out of my head. The Web usability people say it's a bad habit that doesn't work in the Web world (except when they don't), the marketroids agree, but I can't work up the courage to resist like those rebels at Salon.

I think it's time to work up a cool stylesheet switcher.

Posted by mph at 1:13 AM

November 5, 2003

Gear Fetish

Here's an interesting rundown on the ongoing value of the 50mm prime lens vs. the "consumer zoom" most new camera purchasers are guided toward by camera store clerks. I'm one of those purchasers, by the way. I like the 28-200mm zoom I walked out with, and it was great for vacation pictures, but this article's definitely piqued my curiosity about the potential of even an inexpensive 50mm/f1.8 prime.

The other side of the same coin is a quick case against zooms.

Posted by mph at 8:59 PM

Matrix Devolutions

Yow. It looks like "Matrix Revolutions" might be a disaster.

The Slashdolts are having a mixed reaction, Salon's just plain turned off (mandatory ad viewing required), and Rotten Tomatoes has it pegged at a lameish 38%.

The Slashdolts get into which questions didn't get answered, which is pretty spoilerish in its own right and might break your heart before you've even sat through the whole thing. Proceed with caution. Or just read a past kvetch about why it was all wrong anyhow.

Posted by mph at 12:01 PM

Drawing Fire

Sam's recent anti-Firebird screed drew some attention from Mozilla project devotees. And I'll note that I'm pleasantly surprised at their civility.

Posted by mph at 11:49 AM

More Housekeeping

Finally and at long last the search page is all cleaned up and in line with the rest of the site.

Another thing I'm goofing around with is a division between "long form" content and the shorter, "here's a link" stuff that makes a blog a blog. The work in progress for that is on the digest index page. The old index, if you can't abide the new one, will be kept around at flat_index.htm for a while.

Posted by mph at 1:06 AM

November 4, 2003

Shill yr idols

Ryan Adams is my last rock star. I've had it, and I'm not having any more. I'm so jealous of him I want to fucking kill myself. And it's not like he's even all that cool. He isn't; he knows he isn't. Which, of course, makes him. He's a flake and a genius and he tries too hard on too many songs to sound raspy and Bad--instead of writing a decent chorus, half the time--but it's all an inversion, the dog chasing its tail--he knows he's not that Bad, he knows you know he's trying too hard--or not hard enough, sometimes, but if the rest of the song's cool, or some of it, who needs a real chorus?--which brings us to a new plateau of "fuck you if you say I can't I know I can't but I am fuck you." Which, of course, is 90% of the deal right there.

Beat happened, Elvis happened, rock and roll happened, DylanBeatlesStonesWoodstockAltamont happened, punk happened, metal happened, post-punk happened, indie-college-alterna-shit happened (whoops, everybody missed that), rap happened, Kurt happened, Eddie happened, alt.country sorta happened, then ... the dog's been chasing its tail for a long time, and guys like Beck and Ryan Adams put out peripheral albums without putting out a "real" album--that's his "this" album, this is his "that" album--but it's OK because what is it anymore, anyway? Does Ryan Adams sum it up? Can anyone? What is it? The most exciting music of the past five years has been put out by Swedish guys imitating the most exciting music of the past 25 years, and nothing sounds like Now, although if Now feels like 18 years ago--foreign threats, no safety net, death from above---it might as well sound like it, too, especially since Rock History didn't acknowledge it the first time, too busy with Prince and Michael and Bruce and the umpteenth coming of the Rolling Stones, who were the last ones, really, 30 years ago, 10 years after forming, to tie it all up and matter, too, before everything splintered--Vietnam, Nixon, urban despair, Sonny & Cher, game show disco ball car wash subway leg warmer boom bust boom bust new wave coke pot crack pot handgun drive-by and a big fuck YOU, motherfucker.

I mean, what a mess. It seems impossible now that lone guitarslingers could take the stage and stir generations into tidal waves with one hand, but they could, they did, didn't they? I've read about it, anyway, and millions of accounts verify--the books get PUBLISHED, dammit, I mean, there wouldn't be PRODUCT in the CHANNEL if it wasn't true at least on some level, and it is, but only by a demographic anomoly, a population bulge precipitated, I suppose, by the entangling alliances of the European nation-states, arcane empires holding in check an onrush of human forces they ought to have constructively released but instead shortsightedly sought to contain, inevitably collapsing with unnecessary and catastrophic damage in this war, then that war--none of which HAD to happen, understand, imagine, if you can--then a frenzy of post-war fucking and a tot-glut to coddle in undreamt material luxury and raise into an AUDIENCE, the grandest the world has ever known, and canny entrepreneurs set before them a stage, and from their midst--where else?--came mighty performers whose music we hear and revere still. And fine music it was, but no finer than any before or since--it was the AUDIENCE that set it apart, the AUDIENCE whose numbers future performers would have to match, lest they be judged less worthy, lest the culture be judged less whole.

And so it is. It even knows it is. It's only music for dancing that's pulled those numbers since, and the one guy who came along and mattered and moved that many units didn't ever, ever want to, knew in fact that to do so was a betrayal of everyone like him who was sick to fucking death of the shadow of that Great Audience. So, faced with the mortal choice of getting popular or staying cool, he got hooked on drugs and shot himself. I mean, there was some other stuff wrong with him, too, but it was the choice fame forced upon him that did him in.

What he did really wasn't cool at all, by any definition, and cool is really all there is. Bruce and U2 and even R.E.M., they're more like church. Van Halen and Bon Jovi, they're more like football. Rock and roll is the exact opposite of church and football, and if that gets us past the notion that rock and roll should lead stadiums of whip-smart brothers and sisters to rise up and be their own bad-ass selves--it should, it did, but it can't, it shouldn't--then Ryan Adams is as good as anybody to be my last rock star.

I write the same essay every time I write about music and he puts out too many albums that now have to slot in more than one "genre" of "rock and roll" because the thing is just too big--this is his New Wave album, that one's Alternative Country--but what the fuck does he care? He's a rock star! Dude lives in New York City with a smart, sexy actress! Dresses like trash and smokes cigarettes! He named this album "Rock N Roll," except backwards! He tries too hard on too many songs to sound raspy and Bad, then on one song or two he's a genuine, desperate poet of love and despair, and a kickass guitar player, too. Those pictures in the booklet, with the hair damage, cheap shades, and his hot actress girlfriend--the more fucked-up and lame he acts, the cooler he is. What a dumbass. I wish I was him.

Posted by pk at 11:52 AM

November 3, 2003

Lost in Translation (2003)

Haven't gotten around to writing a lot about it, and probably won't, but I'll take a second to say "Lost in Translation" might be my favorite movie of 2003. It has the same combination of craft and heartfelt honesty that hooked me on "Magnolia" four years ago, without the disadvantage "Magnolia" suffered, which was sharing a year with a lot of other great Hollywood releases ("Three Kings," "American Beauty," and "Being John Malkovich" all spring to mind).

Bill Murray is getting better and better at being understated without being overstated about it. Something about his ability to play "sly" is drawing less and less attention to itself, which is really refreshing when we compare it (and I'm stuck on this for whatever reason) to the sort of goop Al Pacino dishes out with his "emotionally disturbed = passionate" notions about screen presence that turn acting into a thing you're supposed to notice rather than take for granted.*

Compared to my last favorite Bill Murray performance in "Rushmore", this one's even better. Less Bugs Bunny, more heart. I'd love to see him keep moving in this direction.

The other pleasant surprise of "Lost in Translation" was the soundtrack, which I dug enough to buy. I didn't know anything about My Bloody Valentine when it was still a going concern, but much of the soundtrack is driven by Kevin Shields, that group's front man, along with some nicely complementary stuff from Jesus and Mary Chain and the seminal Japanese pop band Happy End. There's a warm, dense, passion to many of the tracks that captures the mood of the film.

* When I think about Pacino and where he went wrong, I'm at a loss. Somewhere between "The Godfather, Part II" and "Scent of a Woman" he ran off the tracks and never got back on them. pk and I chatted about him in Godfather II last week, and I noted his restrained, barely controlled fury, especially in the classic "If you ever go against the family again" confrontation with Fredo, in which he's barely in control of a dark rage we know will eventually consume him. pk tells me some production notes have credited the performance as much to a result of Coppola putting the brakes on Pacino's need to level the set with his AC-ting as it was any particular insight on the actor's part. I can buy it. Somewhere after "young and hungry" and before "tottering up to get a special Oscar while the audience mists up in memory of your wonderful work past" lies The Master Thespian.

Posted by mph at 3:12 PM

Companies Behaving Badly

Stories about Yahoo! throwing its weight around at the expense of its users aren't all that uncommon, so I suppose I shouldn't have gotten as mad as I am on behalf of Yet Another Yahoo! Victim when Leopoldo told me his long-standing mailing list, People With a Sense of Humor, has been axed for violations Yahoo! won't specify.

PWASOH was one of those corners of the 'net that makes it pleasant to deal with: It was an idiosyncratic daily humor list that offered subscribers light laughs. Leopoldo had built it up to around 1,000 users or so last I checked.

Leopoldo's perfectly competent at setting up his own mailing list software, and was headed in that direction anyhow when Yahoo! lowered the boom and told him they were terminating the list. The thing that makes the situation infuriating and unjust is that rather than merely suspending the list, Yahoo! took it offline, removing his archives and (apparently) destroying his membership list. So not only is Leopoldo out of hosting for his list (no big loss, considering Yahoo!'s clumsy interface), he's out of all his subscribers, who represented over a decade of steady work.

The immediate response from a reasonable person would probably be to say "Well, he should just write Yahoo! and have them send him his membership list so he can reconstitute it elsewhere," which he's tried. Yahoo!'s response is stony silence and automated response systems intent on getting him to say he's been well served even as they refuse to hand over his list or explain why they terminated PWASOH in the first place.

As with all free services, we pretty much get what we pay for, but I can say that this episode has me uncertain if I care to entrust anything to Yahoo!, which is a real shame: Some of their services are nice "Damn-I-left-my-Palm-at-home-but-here's-a-browser" things to have, but the combination of apparent arbitrary action and simple refusal to respond tell me they aren't even worth the eyeballs I give them when I use their pages.

Meanwhile, Leopoldo is still working on a replacement setup using his own server, and in the meantime the PWASOH archive is still in place for your browsing pleasure. If you're into joke-a-day sorts of things, keep an eye on the site and consider signing up once he's got his mailing list software online: He's not trying to monetize it or turn it into something it's not, and he could use a few new members to give him a fresh start once he's up and running again.

Posted by mph at 2:19 PM

November 2, 2003

A Revelatory Work Remembrance

Scene: Charlottesville High School administration office, some time in 1998

Me: I don't know. It doesn't feel like the secretaries and I are warming up to each other much. I'm trying, but I guess I'm still too new.

Boss: They're probably waiting for your hair to change again.

Posted by mph at 10:46 AM