Friday, September 29, 2006


Deadspin linked to this video today, and many others have over the past few weeks. It's strangely impossible to take your eyes off it. Enjoy (I guess). Oh, and watch to the very end -- as if you have a choice.

AP Headline of the Day

Police Find Meth in Man's Prosthetic Leg


My Dad at the Multiplex

OK, time for a new feature around here, which I think promises endless entertainment. My dad has always been a junkie for the movies. Not quite as dedicated to their consumption as others I could name, but devoted to seeing his fair share. And while he's one of the smartest people I know, he admits that he doesn't hold the movies to very high standards. He claims to have an incredible ability to suspend disbelief, and having been his son for 32 years, I can back up that claim. He can acknowledge that something is not of the highest quality while thoroughly enjoying himself as he watches it. This accounts for the legendary and entirely characteristic verbal review he once gave me of The Bodyguard, the Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston vehicle. He said it was "basically awful, but worth seeing." That line lived in infamy among my junior-year college roommates.

So, having heard many equally hilarious and somehow spot-on reviews in the years since -- left on various answering machines or delivered in person, but always best when they're spoken, as Dad's a very good writer and once he starts penning things they become more fleshed out and lose a bit in terse, koan-like humor what they gain in protracted insight -- I figured it was time to share. Here are two brief snippets from his reviews today of Jet Li's Fearless and The Last Kiss starring Zach Braff.

On Fearless:
He goes around beating the crap out of people. He’s a fighter. He’s not, like, a businessman who can fight. He’s just a fighter.
On The Last Kiss:
Give it a shot. It’s like a lighter version of Closer. Well, it’s like a Mary Poppins version of Closer, but there’s a lot of heavy, bad things going on, in a way. I don't like (Braff) that much either, but he's not terrible. You’ve got to stretch a little to picture some hot chick being all over him, but...
I didn't have the heart to tell him that, thanks to the indefensible taste of many women in my age range, it's not that much of a stretch. Ugh.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Short But Sweet

Through Jim Hanas' blog, I just learned about the video artist who goes by PES. He's evidently most famous for a short film in which he animated two chairs having sex on a New York rooftop. I don't link to that, partly because it's not my favorite thing among what I've seen, and also because, well, chairs having sex is kind of creepy.

Instead, like Jim, I really enjoyed this short, in which explosions are represented by wrapping bows and Christmas ornaments. And maybe even more, I like the commercials he's done -- particularly this one for Coinstar, and this one for Bacardi "Limon," which might be my favorite (the lemon rinds-as-seahorses idea is brilliant).

Watching all of these will take, combined, maybe two minutes. So do it. You'll probably end up watching the rest of the stuff on his site. I can't be held accountable for those extra minutes.

Men "Converting" Gay Men Back to the Straight Fold by...Cradling Them

You don't have to watch the entirety of this CNN clip about "gay conversion theory." It's filled with the insanity and sad self-denial you would expect. But if nothing else, watch starting at the 4:04 and 4:34 marks. I have no earthly idea how the reporter kept a straight face during those two moments, but I'm pretty sure she deserves a Pulitzer for the effort.

(Via The Stranger)

Steve v. Steve

Tonight's going to be video-centric, since I'm just back from the Yankees-Orioles game and pretty exhausted. Watching people exert themselves really takes it out of me. Our first clip is a compilation of great moments from The Daily Show's "Even Stev/phen" sketch, in which Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert duked it out, Crossfire-style...

Senior Citizens vs. Mascots

I originally meant to write a long post about a recent trip to see the Staten Island Yankees play the Brooklyn Cyclones, which included my first trip on the Staten Island Ferry and a strange run-in with a large group of British tourists who were crazily celebrating on said ferry after the game as if the UK had just won the World Cup. Very bizarre.

But while my memory has faded to the point where a longer post would be even less entertaining than it normally would, I do want to share one anecdote. And only partly because it involves mascots.

Like all minor league games, those in Staten Island evidently involve a whole lot of distracting people between innings. Included in this effort are three bovine mascots, pictured below:

I'll get to the point. The game was a very well played pitchers' duel, and when the Yankees were trying to clinch a 1-0 win in the ninth, the mascots were cheering them on from the top of the dugout, as in the photos above. There was a very old man at the end of our row who was clearly agitated by having his view blocked by overly enthusiastic foam cattle. I took a friend's camera and moved in to get a closer shot of the mascots. As I was focusing the lens, the codger got my attention and gestured toward the phone. "Excuse me," he said, with a strange air of optimism, "does that operate a death ray?"



The phone camera also means that (as below) I'll occasionally post a few photos on their own, inspired by the template (and finer photography) of the Humorless Feminist.

Park Slope Laundry Shop, 11:30 p.m.

Hello, Children

Apologies for the deep silence around here. Rest assured that I've missed you much, much more than you've missed me. I would tell you in detail how our heartbreaking separation is due mostly to Time Warner Cable's stubborn, seemingly purposeful incompetence, but that would just send me flying back into a rage that I've spent the past several days, if not weeks, learning to contain.

Deep breath.

Just know that blogging was the least of the casualties during this difficult time. I...I...bought a cell phone. As you've heard.

I've made my peace with that, too. The fact is, it's very difficult to maintain, simultaneously, a blog and a sense of yourself as a righteous Luddite. So.

The one unqualified good thing about the phone is that it includes a camera, which I've gone without for several years. That means more personal photos for all of you (for the thousandth time -- you're welcome). Here's one to get us started, inspired by Andrew Sullivan's "view from your window" feature. It's the view from my new apartment:

Friday, September 22, 2006

Cat Power Redux

It's been sparse around here lately, due to: life. More over the weekend, I hope. And next week, I should finally be hooked up online at my new home, meaning I'll have one less excuse. In the meantime, here's another Cat Power video, this a live performance from Jools Holland's show in the UK.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cat Power Inching Toward Normalcy

The singer Chan (pronounced "Shawn") Marshall, who records under the name Cat Power, has long been notorious for concerts that go off the rails, fast. The Times recaps the problem:
It would seem that every fan has a Cat Power concert story: the time she mooned the audience, cursed out techies, talked to a squirrel (outdoors), played three chords and changed her mind (song after song) or played fragments of a few songs and then told everyone to get out, even encouraging fans to sue her.
The paper also reports that a pretty bad alcohol problem was at the root of that behavior. It turns out she hit her lowest point right around the time The Greatest was released this past January (it's still one of the year's best records, I think). But she's sober now, and supposedly putting on great shows. In addition to one of the coolest voices around, she's also, as you can see in this charming video for "Lived in Bars," really, really hot:

Wary of the Right, Wary of the Left

Continuing the "via Andrew Sullivan" trend this week, here's an essay by Sam Harris about liberals and terrorism. Harris has written at length about his desire to eradicate religious belief from the planet, so he's hardly a holy warrior. His take is worth reading:
Perhaps I should establish my liberal bone fides at the outset. I'd like to see taxes raised on the wealthy, drugs decriminalized and homosexuals free to marry. I also think that the Bush administration deserves most of the criticism it has received in the last six years —- especially with respect to its waging of the war in Iraq, its scuttling of science and its fiscal irresponsibility.

But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world —- specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.
I sometimes tell people that I feel more conservative in New York than I otherwise would, just like I feel more liberal in Texas than I normally would. Some people think this makes me unconnected to some deeper principle. No. Contrarianism is a deeper principle, as long as it doesn't lapse into sheerly reflexive antagonism. I don't like orthodoxy, and while I understand there's an awful lot of it (and increasingly so) on the right, Harris has a point: where I live, you would think the only dangers in the world are those posed by the Bush administration, which, despite the very real domestic mess we're in, is absurd.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"We're kind of being trained to be warriors."

One of the creepiest elements of organized religion is the way it emotionally manipulates and puts blinders on the young in order to indoctrinate them. This video (via Andrew Sullivan) is terrifying. It's an ABC News clip about a new documentary called "Jesus Camp." Granted, the images in the video come from a Bible camp in North Dakota, and honestly, I'm not really afraid of what's happening in North Dakota. I figure the 400 people there are lonely and cold, and what they're doing isn't likely to greatly influence the rest of us. Hell, I imagine that Minnesotans and Montanans derisively refer to N.D. as "flyover country."

But I'm sure this is happening in other parts of the country as well, and it's quite scary. The author interviewed in this clip, Lauren Sandler, has a new book on the subject of Christian youth culture. It's worth checking out. I saw her read from it and answer questions last week at a Manhattan church, and her overarching point is that the organized and impassioned radicalism of the 1960s is back today, it's just occurring on the opposite end of the political spectrum. That gives me a serious case of the shudders. Because as much as I hate hippies, if you're going to replace them with the girl in this clip who's saying "No more!," well, then I'm going to be doing my best to colonize Jupiter pretty soon. Who's with me?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Five Songs, Chapter Twelve

Bet you thought I was done with these. Wishful thinking.

“Jealous” by Sinead O’Connor

I’m not going to lie. Even after a long break from this feature, when you’d think I have lots of things to say stored up, I often just go with things that happen to be playing while I write. So, this just came on. It’s pretty. That’s all.

“Over and Done With” by The Proclaimers

Used to great effect in the movie Bottle Rocket, when Dignan drives away in the white car, but also a pretty great song on its own.

“Canyon” by Richard Buckner

I keep waiting to get tired of Buckner, because his sound hasn’t changed too much over the last few albums, but it’s not happening. I’m not saying it’s still a thrill when he releases a record, but it’s a reliably enjoyable experience. His latest, Meadow, is just out, and after a first listen, this is my choice for standout track.

“I Work Here, I Grew Up Here” by Mark Mallman

Mallman defies description, but I’ll try. He’s based in Minneapolis, and he writes songs that merge glam-rock and poppy influences. And though the songs are often melodic, his live persona is a screaming, campy, sometimes barely-held-together creation. I know enough about him now to know that his shtick is not necessarily my ball of wax, but I saw him play an industry showcase at Joe’s Pub in New York a few years ago where he was accompanied by a band that had been thrown together for him at the last minute. I don’t know if it was the pressure of the setting or the strangers backing him up, but the persona was kept on a very short leash that night, and he delivered the songs almost perfectly, including this earnest piano-and-voice number about staying in place, which includes the lines, “there is a long road, there is a short one/but they both go the same damn place.”

“Losing My Religion” by REM

A friend said that she recently heard this song on the radio, after having liked it all these many years, and it suddenly struck her as over-produced and not very good. Boo, I say. I’ve always thought a song that holds up to five thousand listens is, ipso facto, a brilliant creation. And the lyric “I’ve said too much, I haven’t said enough” is a classic nonsensical-but-affecting Stipean effort. I was going to link to the band’s performance of the song on MTV Unplugged, but you can find that if you want. Instead, here’s a version that rocks, or approximates rocking:


The Secret Lives of Jelly Jars

I was a pretty big fan of Miranda July's movie Me and You and Everyone We Know. She has a collection of short stories coming out next year, and I imagine one of them is "Something That Needs Nothing," which was featured in last week's issue of The New Yorker. It's about two young women, the unrequited love of one for the other, and working in a sex shop. It's about more than that, actually, but that recap serves my purpose here. You should read the whole thing, and if you plan to, don't read what's below, because it spoils what I thought was the funniest line in the story. This is the narrator talking about her new job at Mr. Peepers Adult Video Store and More:
The "and More" part was in the back. Allen left me there with a woman named Christy. She was sitting in a green plastic patio chair and wearing a pink OshKosh overall dress. Looking at the sturdy brass overall fasteners, I wondered if everything familiar was actually part of a secret sexual underworld. Christy showed me into a booth and began packing dildos and bottles and strings of beads into a sporty Adidas bag. Her tools were laid out on an old flowery towel that smelled like my grandmother. She wrapped the towel around a small empty jelly jar.

"What's that for?" I asked.


Even pee was in on this.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Wire

I watched the first season of HBO's The Wire last year, and immediately concluded it was better than anything (dramatic) that had ever been on TV. It was so good, in fact, that I've put off watching the second installment until now, because of what I figured were unfair expectations. So I'm far from ready to watch the fourth season, which just began and is already being called...really, really good.

I'm two episodes into the second season, and like the first, it's clear it will take a little while to get my bearings. I've been promised by a friend that Omar is going to show up again soon, and that's more than enough to keep me going, as if I needed a reason. If you're not familiar, this is Omar below. And in case you can't figure it out from this clip (which seems highly unlikely), he's a bad dude.

AP Headline of the Day

Man Who Claims Toupee Caused Attack Sues

Showing Up Fashionably Late for 1995

I finally caved and bought a cell phone. Yes, it's September 16, 2006. I'm aware of that.

I'm actually not thrilled about it, but it was necessary. Time Warner, those friendly folks, were supposed to come hook up my cable in the middle of last week. I left work early to sit on my couch for those legendary hours, "2-to-6," and no one showed. I called them the next morning from work to see what happened. "They reported that no one was home," the operator said.

"Well, I was home the whole time," I replied.

"It shows that they called at 3:21, and no one answered," she said.

I then asked why they were calling instead of ringing the doorbell to confirm my presence, given that they were coming, in part, to hook up my phone service. The stupidity of the world is bottomless, it really is.

I've gotten tired of using pay phones for basic things in the meantime, so I went to T-Mobile and I'm now "reachable," god help me. Needless to say, I won't be the most enthusiastic user of the gadget, but it will serve its limited purpose. My second call on it was to my sister, and it didn't take her long to say, "Welcome to the 20th century." It took her five seconds longer than that to say, "You're breaking up."

What was so great about the 20th century, again?

"When you've loved and lost the way Frank has..."

Others have written in greater psychological detail than I ever could about the recent death of actor Bruno Kirby, but I'd like to add a belated "rest in peace." To me, Kirby's crowning achievement will always be a brief one -- his role as Tommy Pischedda, the band's limo driver in This is Spinal Tap. One of my favorite moments in the movie comes about 25 seconds into this scene (the entirety of which is great), when Nigel stares straight ahead while rolling up the window on Kirby's Frank Sinatra anecdote. Greatness.

Soon after Kirby passed, someone posted this outtake from the movie. It's long, and it features probably too much of Kirby in skimpy underwear ("too much" meaning "an amount able to be registered by the unassisted eye"). But it's funny.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Please Make it Stop

If Katie Couric started a blog, imagine how vapid it would be. Are you imagining a level of vapidity? Good. Now, triple it.
Visiting the White House is always a humbling experience. I’m always in awe of the history those walls have witnessed. And I was impressed by the respect President Bush has for the place. He even told one of our producers “Straighten your tie, young man. You’re in the White House.” I loved that.

Needless to say, it was what we call in the business, a crash. (That means there was very little time to put the interview together!)
And here's a great moment on the comments board of the blog. A viewer writes (if "writes" isn't too strong a word):
(Via Pop Candy)


Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Lose the chapter on mice."

Alex Ross, music critic at The New Yorker, is in the process of finishing what should be a fascinating book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. He's cut nearly 150,000 words from his initial draft. Here is his update on the project and a funny pic of his cats suggesting some final edits.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lost in the Bronx

You can read here about a funny stunt put on by an improv troupe, in which one of their actors gets "lost" in Yankee Stadium trying to find his way back to his seat. The account is long, but you get the gist early on. The Yankees crowd becomes interested in Rob's journey, watching as he crops up in sections increasingly far-flung from his actual seat. Fans in his section offer up an appropriate Bronx cheer when he finally finds his way home. The whole thing is very good-natured, even this brief clip in which several fans start a "Rob's retarded" cheer. I love the little girl in the glasses when the camera pans up. We teach them young here. (Rob's the one laughing at the very end of the clip. Is it just me, or does he look a lot like Jim Carrey?)

(Via Deadspin)

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Unannotated World

McSweeney's marks today's anniversary by reprinting remarks made by John Hodgman at a literary reading on September 25, 2001. They read, in part:
In the immediate aftermath, we have only our very personal flash memories, but personalizing an event that has touched so many and so cruelly, announcing by byline our own survival, feels shamefully self-involved. To convert this experience into metaphor, into symbolic gesture, feels almost offensive when we are still pressed by such an urgent reality that is ongoing and uncontainable by words.

I have heard a lot recently about the role of writing, song, music, painting, in the tragic blank space in our souls that this event has left behind. Of course, this preoccupation is largely a result of an unconscious bias of the media. If pig farmers had as much currency with NPR as literary novelists, we would be hearing just as much about the healing power of bacon. And knowing that power well, I can say that it is certainly comparable to the reading of a sensitive short story as far as comfort goes; and yet both fall far below the direct aid that is being passed from person to person, below Chambers Street, in our homes, on the phone with strangers, with an actual touch, in the actual, nonsymbolic, unannotated world of grief in which we live. The great temptation is to be silent, forever, in sympathy.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Navel-gazing has been elevated to an art by a man named Robert Shields (via Normblog) . . . In case you hadn't figured it out: Roger Federer is not like you and me . . . Monkeys cross the road . . . Speaking of monkeys, it's never been easier to miss the days of Donkey Kong.

Five Years On

Five years ago tonight, I was out meeting friends on a Monday after work -- I don’t remember for what; dinner or a comedy show, probably -- and walked to the subway afterwards in a torrential downpour. It was one of those storms when you initially lament not having an umbrella before giving in and getting soaked, almost taking joy in it, turning it into a leisurely stroll and rescuing some pleasure from the uncommon sensation provided by a half-inch of water between your feet and the soles of your shoes.

Of course, I might not remember that soggy night, or the striking blue morning that followed it, so vividly if it weren’t for the historical nature of that particular September 11. I had only been back in the northeast for a year at that point (almost exactly), and I spent the next several days, like about a million others, I suppose, grappling with whether I wanted my short-term future to unfold here. After spending some time alternately mourning and scared out of my mind, questioning the wisdom of working two blocks from Rockefeller Center when they were finding anthrax there, I made the decision to stay without really making it at all. My thinking certainly wasn’t based on the tough-guy ethos of “these colors don’t run.” (Those who know me would probably place “tough guy” somewhere beneath "four-star chef" on a list that describes me, and I can barely turn on a stove. I still think the most accurate description of my state of mind in the days after came when I told a friend, sometime around September 13: "I want to rent a car, put in my Son Volt CDs, and drive to Texas to see my mom." I didn't do that, but still: Pretty tough, eh?)

It’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s true -- having been lucky enough not to know anyone personally affected by the massacre that day, I was (eventually) grieving for the city as an abstract entity more than I was grieving for individual people. Don’t get me wrong, this was an eventual reaction. Initially, I would find myself at a Brooklyn bar, trying to pay distracting attention to a Mets game, and would find myself crying for real people, tears I wouldn’t have conjured so easily if I was trying to forget footage of, say, a mudslide halfway across the world (in that way, the sadness I felt was also for belonging to a species more than willing to consciously create its own disasters for the most specious of reasons).

Five years later, I have nothing original to say about that day (almost no one does, so I wish the parade of hacks who try at this time every year would just stop already; it's time to come up with a phrase for the print equivalent of a "talking head" -- "writing hand"?), but I do have one overwhelming feeling, and that is disgust at the lack of a proper memorial. It seems clearer to me now that my favorite abstract entity, when it comes to the big things, can’t be beat. And the personal, generous gestures in the immediate aftermath were not astonishing to someone who grew up near here, but for outsiders they certainly put to bed many myths about the cold, rude heart of this place. But when it comes to the small things, to quieting the din of competing commercial interests in order to simply acknowledge a wound, to the human-scale-social and not the grand-social, maybe a smaller place is the place to be. Oklahoma City, a city many New Yorkers wouldn’t hesitate to decry as an outpost of God-zealous rubes, proposed a design for its famous memorial a little more than two years after its own massive tragedy, and so now, in the space where its residents witnessed mindlessness, they’ve created a pocket of mindfulness. We’ll build a giant skyscraper on Ground Zero, with a tactful memorial tucked somewhere in the base of its shadow, and I suppose that’s defiant, but it doesn’t strike me as wise. This strikes me as wise:

Friday, September 08, 2006

AP Headline of the Day

Tip of the hat to Laurie, who told my living-under-a-rock self that a hurricane with my name has been making some noise, leading to headlines like this one:

Sorry for the light posting lately. I don't have Internet access at my new place yet, but will by the middle of next week. I'll keep updating in the meantime, but that's when things will really get back to the avalanche of goodness to which you've become accustomed. Right?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


The esteemed "Comish," noted Lone Star litigator and frequent incisive commenter around here, should have his own blog. Really. It would be massively entertaining. I guess he's too busy "practicing law" and "securing his future" and "understanding that it's humiliating to have a blog," things I don't waste my time on. So, I'll take it upon myself to bring his vision to the world. This afternoon, he sent this analysis and visual aid:

Here's a picture of Paris Hilton after she was denied entry into Bungalow 8 and then burst into tears and had to be consoled by her friends. So naturally I was looking at this and thinking that maybe humanity should *not* be mercilessly wiped out by an asteroid the size of Argentina, when I noticed that Paris Hilton looks almost exactly like Marge after she’s been shot by Homer’s make-up shotgun:

Something We Haven't Figured Out

We’ve gotten away from god and science in these parts, but the recent flurry of comments about women and the church has inspired me. Robert Wright continues his "meaning of life" series of interviews on Slate with John Maynard Smith, a leading evolutionary biologist who died in 2004. (The interview took place in 2001.) I really enjoy this series, which is marred only by the fact that, despite useful links to transcripts of the entire interviews, those transcripts aren’t cleaned up, so that verbal tics and inconsistencies make them very difficult/painful to read.

Here’s the link to the brief excerpt of the video that Slate pulled for emphasis. Here’s the whole thing. But since it’s an hour long, you probably won’t watch it. Hell, I didn’t watch it. So below, I’ve polished two longer excerpts that I found entertaining/enlightening/thought-provoking. The second excerpt is found on the shorter video, but I include it anyway. I’m the boss here.

(Watch at least some of the video, because Smith is the prototype of a charming, aged British wonk. To paraphrase an appropriate sentiment, if he didn't exist, Nick Park would have had to create him out of clay.)

John Maynard Smith: Well I remember reading Darwin when I was at school, and I had been raised in the Church of England; not passionately or fundamentally or anything, but it was an accepted part of my life. And I can remember reading Darwin and saying, “Now wait a minute, this is an alternative explanation,” and it was at least in part the kind of philosophical-religious implications that first got me excited...

Wright: Really? Excited in the sense that you were happy that you preferred the new philosophy to your religious world view?

John Maynard Smith: I think it was an enormous relief to escape from religion, yes. Yes.

Wright: And what had been burdensome about religion?

John Maynard Smith: Well I think what had been burdensome was that I didn't feel it allowed me to follow my thought to the end. I would be thinking about something, and then I'd think, "No, but that's sort of dangerous if I think like that, maybe I'll have doubts," and then reading Darwin, the doubts just overwhelmed and I thought, "Right, I don't have to bother anymore. I don't believe it." And I do remember that moment, yes.

Wright: I'm inferring from this that you moved more or less directly into something...either agnosticism or atheism...

John Maynard Smith: Yes, yes. That's right.

Wright: Is there one of those labels that you particularly apply?

Smith: Well, I think I'm sort of torn. I'm an atheist, but I don't like being sure about anything, so I think an agnostic is a better word.

Wright: OK, so you didn't miss the sense that there's some larger purpose in the universe or anything?

Smith: Once I accepted it, I felt very happy about it, yes. But I think it was just sort of like getting into a swim bath -- you're nervous of doing it, but once you're in, it's great.

Wright: Ok.

Smith: And I think it was difficult to give up my faith, but once I gave it up it was marvelous.

Wright: And you don't miss it?

Smith: No. No.


Wright: I think I'm much more inclined than you to look for signs that there's something more out there than the material world. I think I would like more than you to think there is some kind of higher purpose out there. But certainly when I'm in that mode, looking for signs of that, this mystery of consciousness, at least to me, is a big kind of question mark. ... there's definitely something we haven't figured out, something fundamental.

Smith: Yes, I'm inclined to agree with you. I'm quite clear in my mind that I do not understand consciousness, that I have nothing sensible or intelligent to say about it, that I don't even have any good ideas or experiments or investigations that would shed light on it. What I don't know is whether it's possible to have intelligent ideas of how we might investigate it... I mean, if I came back in 50 years time, would somebody take me in to a corner and say, "Look, John, actually it's really quite simple" and explain it and it would be very illuminating? I wonder.

Wright: I guess one reason I find it such an interesting dimension of reality to be so far inexplicable is that it's the part of reality that gives life meaning in a certain sense. I mean, if it didn't feel like something to be you, you wouldn't really care if you lived or died.

Smith: No, just so...

Wright: And you wouldn't really think that moral issues matter. If there were a planet full of robots and they had no sentience, you wouldn't think there'd be anything wrong with killing them.

Smith: That's right.

Wright: So...

Smith: It's really quite a problem.

Wright: And I just find it interesting and suggestive that the thing that infuses life with meaning is the thing that seems at this point at least entirely inexplicable and mysterious. At least to you and me.

Smith: Yes. Sure. No, I agree with all of that...

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Week Ahead

I've been busy moving apartments, preparing for the arrival of a house guest, sifting through the post-Labor Day work avalanche, and starting long lists of the pros and cons of living in this vibrant, godforsaken city.

BUT, I'm charged up. I've got a lot to say, including an overdue link to something god/science related, a line-by-line(ish) critique of a "letter to America" by Margaret Atwood, and probably some useless thoughts on songs, if my past behavior is any indicator.

So, if any of that sounds fun, stick around.

AP Breaking News Headline of the Day

Study: Celebrities More Narcissistic

Exit Siegel Stage Left

The New Republic has canned cultural critic Lee Siegel after he anonymously wrote responses defending himself on his TNR blog. If you're a media geek, you already know this. If you're not, and you care, the curt public dismissal is here.

I've never been a fan of Siegel's work, though there's something sad about this development, the way he took up his own cause with such fevered egomania. One of his comments ran like this (remember, this is Siegel writing about Siegel, but unbeknownst to the readers):
How angry people get when a powerful critic says he doesn't like their favorite show! Like little babies. Such fragile egos. Siegel accuses Stewart of a "pandering puerility" and he gets an onslaught of puerile responses from the insecure herd of independent minds. I'm well within Stewart's target group, and I think he's about as funny as a wet towel in a locker room. Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep.
This is particularly ridiculous because of the magnitude of the delusion. Wittier than Jon Stewart? I've never laughed at a single thing Siegel has written. Honestly, I didn't know I was supposed to have.

He's been more responsible for the rolling of my eyes. He could have defended himself with something like, "Siegel has sent more eyes rolling than stoned undergraduates." I don't mean to kick a guy when he's down, but the most egregious example of his work, and the first I remember encountering, was a review of Eyes Wide Shut in a 1999 issue of Harper's. You remember Eyes Wide Shut, the interminable, cripplingly austere, Kidman-and-Cruise-infested whimper that ended Stanley Kubrick's brilliant career? Well, Siegel thought it was a masterpiece, and his review included this classic line: "...the movie begins with a shot of Kidman's back and her unforgettable ass." Now that's criticism!

But the real topper is elsewhere, and I'll stop here (I'm not even getting into his diary on Slate a few years back, less from a sense of mercy and more because I only have so much time). This is still perhaps the greatest poser sentiment I've ever read. I italicize the triple axel of nonsense that ends the routine, since that's the moment that sticks in my mind after all these years:
Pairs proliferate throughout the film, reminders of our double natures. A sculpture in Ziegler's house, seen at the beginning of the film, is of two figures, a winged one bending over another without wings; people lift both their arms and raise both their hands; there are symmetrical doors and coffee cups; in Ziegler's billiard room, you see two pineapples, a perfect image of the banal duality of our desires.



I'm now officially a D-train rider, and this morning's maiden commute was not entirely pleasant, mostly because of three loud- (and foul-) mouthed teenage girls standing right next to me. Like many moments in New York, it reminded me that overpopulation isn't a problem because of resource distribution or the like, but because it means more exposure to people. And who needs that?

On that note, here's a photo of Coney Island from 1951, with text from the photo service, I believe:

Coney Island had been luring hot, weather-weary New Yorkers for more than a century when this photograph appeared in the March 1951 Geographic; the picture's caption claimed a count of 1.3 million bathers. Not actually an island at all (decades ago, silt filled the shallow creek that separated it from the rest of Brooklyn), Coney is said to have been named for wild crowds of a different sort: In the mid-1600s, Dutch sailors observing the frolics along its dunes knew it as Conyne Eylandt, or "rabbit island."

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Brief Intermission

I'll be back after Labor Day. Enjoy the time off if you've got it.