Thursday, August 31, 2006

Home Again, Still Screaming

They're back. Two paintings by Edvard Munch, stolen from the Munch Museum in Oslo, have been recovered by police, according to this story in The Guardian. The paintings include "Madonna" and Munch's best-known work (in fact, one of art's most-recognized works), "The Scream," seen at left.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Mysterious Guitar God of Seoul

YouTube has quickly become one of the most popular sites on the web, with hundreds of millions of videos uploaded to it by people all over the world. Some are incredibly stupid (e.g., people have uploaded videos of themselves picking their nose) and some are incredible. I've tried to point you to a few of what I feel are some of the most amazing. (Even a few of my corporate videos have been posted.)

Today, the New York Times published a story revealing the mystery behind one of YouTube's top-ten most viewed videos: a guitarist, face obscured, playing a blazing electric guitar version of Pachebel's Canon in D. Read the story, then watch the video here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Instant Finger Pointing

Take a look at this item from The Guardian. Apparently, Microsoft has added some code to their instant messaging service that allows anyone using the service to click one button in a window and report the person chatting on the end as a sexual predator.

I'm sure the motives behind this are honorable, but I'm anxious to see how it works in practice. How many reports will they get a day? How will they be followed up on? Does the British police force have the level of resources needed to investigate every complaint? How many false reports will they receive?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

9/11 Commission Report Reimagined

The 568-page report of the 9/11 Commission has now been reimagined -- as a comic book. You can find a link to the entire book here. It's being serialized on Slate. They are currently on Chapter 3, but click on the link I just gave you and you can navigate back to the beginning of the book pretty easily.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


The play "Bug" was one of my favorites of the past few years. Now, it's a movie. It was quite a taut psychological thriller on stage, but it looks like they've gone a bit more graphic here. All those things that one had to imagine during the play can be visually realized. This is going to be another tough one.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Treadmill Choreography

If this doesn't make you smile, double-check your DNA to make certain you are completely human.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Four-Pointed Cane Theory of Conservatism

As I watch the ever-growing influence of conservatism taking over America (especially the knee-jerk, xenophobic variety represented by Christianists), I've wondered why this should be the case. Why does it seem that Americans, who have traditionally been a people willing to explore new frontiers, embrace fresh ideas and seek after innovative solutions, are becoming more and more reactionary, insulated, and tradition-bound? Why is "stay the course" seemingly the mantra of success in American politics?

This is obviously a complex question that I can't hope to answer completely in a few paragraphs. (Or even a few books, if I had the time -- or intellectual prowess -- to tackle such a subject.)

But one thought that occurs to me is that some of this is due entirely to demographics. It's clear that as people get older, they tend to embrace the values established in their youth and are less likely to change their minds. Opinions are labile in adolescence, but as the joints begin to lock up, so does the mind. The older a person is, the more likely they are to vote Republican. (Interestingly enough, the fatter a person is, the more likely they are to vote Republican, as well.) Given that science has greatly extended the average lifespan, conservatives aren't dying at the rates they used to, and therefore conservative voters hang on to vote in more elections, therefore swinging the country more and more to the right.

The View From My Window

A perfect day to sit outside and read. (The book is "Memoirs of a Geisha.")

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Terrorists? Or Wannabes?

Here is a fascinating and thought-provoking post from the ever-insightful Andrew Sullivan. Is it possible the fabulous thwarting of a terrorist plot from Britain could be only a step above wagging the dog? If the threat was real, why have no formal charges been filed against any of the suspects yet?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Short Film

A fascinating short film by San Francisco artist/designer Ahree Lee. She took a picture of herself every day for three years, then put them all together, in order. It's really a quite fascinating three minutes. And the musical score is lovely, too.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Two Films on Terrorism

One of the key moments in the development of what we consider to be modern terrorism took place on September 30,1956, when three Arab women placed bombs in three public places in Algiers, the capital city of Algeria. The bombs were a response to an earlier bombing in the Arab quarter of town (as opposed to European quarter - the country was under French colonial rule at the time), which may have been carried out by rogue members of the French police in Algeria.

What's most fascinating about the film is how incredibly relevant it still seems, 30 years later. Except for the antique weapons and vehicles (the film is worth watching just for the oh-so-cool black BMW motorcycles the French police ride), it feels like it could be the story of insurgents in Iraq or Hezbollah in Lebanon. It's all here, terror against civilians (on both sides), torture (more important, torture justified and rationalized), a minor defeat of an insurgency, only to see it flare later because the core cause of dispute was not addressed.

When the French want to send in the paratroopers, the colonel in charge talks about the need for a motivating event: "We need an occasion that will justify our intervention and make it possible. We ourselves must create this occasion, unless our adversary provides us with one, as it seems to be doing now." That seems like it's something that could be said in the Situation Room at the White House.

The second terrorism film is Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center." Technically wonderful, but a little manipulative and forced I think. It seems to have a big painted-on heart, but no real heart. The story is amazing, but I ultimately left feeling cold.

Friday, August 11, 2006

No Punishment Yet For Mel

So far, no real punishment seems to be awaiting Mel Gibson. Disney just announced they will not sell distribution rights to Mel Gibson's film "Apocalypto" which is scheduled for a December release.

Did Britain Get It Right?

Yesterday's mass arrests and foiled terrorist plot got me thinking -- post 9/11, doesn't it seem the British took the right direction? Instead of spending billions upon billions from their treasury invading another country and stirring up greater unrest and anti-Western sentiment, they quietly focused on intelligence, truly protecting their homeland and putting fewer of their resources at risk -- and scored with a major defeat for the bad guys. Tony Blair doesn't just speak more elequently than George Bush, he thinks more elequently, too.

Powers of Ten

Went last night to a festival of the short films of Ray and Charles Eames, a husband and wife team who were most famous for the furniture they designed for Herman Miller. The Eames lounge chair and ottoman is one of the best-known pieces of modern furniture. Here's a picture of one to refresh your memory:Their films were about lots of things: patterns, repetition, beauty, the nature of the universe. They are sometimes hypnotic (boring to some), whimsical, intellectually challenging, funny -- sometimes a combination of several of these elements. Their most famous work is "Powers of Ten." If you haven't seen it, click on the link I just gave you and view it. Better yet, put it in your queue on Netflix and view it under better conditions.

After you've seen it (or if you already have), click here and see another take on it -- through the eyes of Homer Simpson.

Andrew's Angry

From Andrew Sullivan:

"There is something terribly sick within the Muslim mind at this moment in history. It is Nietzsche's ressentiment, but with God re-attached. We should indeed fear these people for the hideous carnage they can wreak for the sake of their God. But we should never let our fear overwhelm our contempt for them - their sickness, their evil, their petty insecurities, their inability to live meaningful lives and their attempt to assuage this by murdering others in God's name. Yes, they are evil. But they are also pathetic, miserable excuses for human beings."


Relaxed Cat

If only we could all achieve such a state of relaxation:

Meager Harvest

One of the things I like best about where I live is that three minutes' walk from the house leads you to a creek and a path by the creek, where there are several hundred linear feet of blackberry canes. These are mostly what my mother called "Himalaya Blackberries," and when they are plump and ripe and sweet they are absolutely delicious. The best way to pick them is to choose the ones that are fattest and blackest and that come off with barely a tug. If you have to pull to the point where the cane moves more than a quarter-inch, that berry isn't ripe enough yet.

Every year since I've lived here (this is summer number six), I've been able to harvest -- on good days -- six to eight cups of berries, perfect for a pie or cobbler or crisp. (I like a blackberry-peach crisp -- very easy and quite delicious, especially hot, with vanilla ice cream.) Most days I'd just grab a cup or so to have with breakfast or to make a berry shake.

But so far this year, a cup's worth of berries has been my biggest haul. Here's what I was able to pull in this morning, even expanding my foraging to areas I don't usually have to explore to meet my quota:

As you can see, pretty pitiful. I even needed to pluck some marginal berries just to get this many. (Sometimes a berry is plump and ripe, except for one drupelet --berries being drupes, the individual elements of the fruit are called drupelets. So I pick them, then at home remove the offending drupelet which was causing it to cling to its cane.) I don't know whether it was the big rains this winter, or the extra hot weather we've had (these sorts of berries thrived in the cool climate of my Humboldt County birthplace, so it's entirely possible they hate the heat), but the harvest just isn't there. Maybe it's just one more sign of global climate change.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Doug and Dinsdale In Real Life

That's Doug and Dinsdale Pirahna of Monty Python fame. Brothers united in violent crime. Here are there real-life counterparts.


...a Manhattan Project equal to the skills of our President.

Fighting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" From Within

Here is an interesting piece written a year or so ago by an Army officer who was at the time a West Point cadet. The essay won a contest in the Academy's English department. What I find most interesting about this essay is how logically and dispassionately he lays out the case. I think the piece could have benefitted from some discussion of the harm to readiness the ban on gay soldiers is doing to our military (55 fewer Arab translators because of who they are sexually attracted to? Ridiculous.), but overall I think Lieutenant Raggio's essay should be required reading at the Department of Defense.

"Star Wars" Theme -- on a banjo

I think the title says it all. Click here to listen.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Big Air Conditioning

According to this piece from Slate, we use more electricity just to cool ourselves that the entire country of India does for ALL its electrical needs.

Big Air

It's the last 20 seconds of this clip that will really blow you away.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Little Miss Sunshine"

Oddness often attempts to pass for entertainment, sometimes even for art. And fails. Witness "Me and You and Everyone We Know."

Though "Little Miss Sunshine," which opened this weekend, is definitely odd, it's not faking anything. Sure, it's ostensibly about getting to a pre-teen beauty pageant, which is almost entirely about false fronts, the power of the film itself is in telling a hard truth: lots of people, maybe everyone, have dreams they have absolutely no hope of achieving. Yet, somehow, they all manage to wake up and see the dream that has been in front of them the whole time they were striving for other goals.

Everyone in this film has a dream: seven-year old Olive's dream is to win the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant. Her father has a self-help program he wants to see published. Her stepbrother Dwayne (who reads nothing but Nietzsche and has taken vow of silence until he reaches his goal) wants to go to the Air Force Academy and become a fighter pilot. The problem is, no one told him that brooding, emo kids who communicate via a note pad tend not to get academy commissions. Grandpa's dream seems to be to slip quietly out of life in the arms of Morpheus -- late in life he has apparently picked up a bit of jones for smack and snorts H from a vial he keeps in his fanny pack. Uncle Frank, fresh from a suicide attempt, wants the person he loves to love him back, or at the very least, to regain his standing as the number one Proust scholar in the United States. The only character who seems to lack a stated dream is Sheryl (the ever-amazing Toni Collette), Olive's and Dwayne's mother.

They all go off on a journey, ostensibly only to seek Olive's dream. But everyone's future is on the line on this trip.

Ultimately, dreams will be fulfilled -- though probably not in the way you might expect. I can't say "Little Miss Sunshine" is for everyone, but I will say Olive's talent portion of the pageant had me laughing harder than I have in at least six months, maybe longer.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Middle-Class Exodus

Tom Ricks, the Washington Post Pentagon correspondent and author of the new book (and now #1 bestseller) "Fiasco" was a guest of Michael Krasny's "Forum" show on KQED radio yesterday. At the very end of the hour, he said something that resonated very strongly with me. He said that it is the middle class that is the "glue of democracy." The doctors, accountants, journalists, engineers, etc. are the people Iraq needs most now, but they are the sort of people who are fleeing Iraq in droves, leaving the process of creating a nascent democracy to "the hard men," the Iraqis of multiple extremes, who are not interested in making the sort of compromises democracy requires.

You can find a link that will allow you to listen to the entire program here. It was an excellent interview, perhaps even better than Terri Gross's talk with Mr. Ricks on one of last week's "Fresh Air" programs.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Mel's most convincing on-camera role...

...may not be released, but it's the only movie of his I'm interested in seeing. It's the video taken by the Sheriff's Department of his booking. Unfortunately, it is now evidence in his case, and so won't be released until the case is resolved, at the very earliest. I guess we'll all just have to wait.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"Perfume" Smells Creepy

Years ago, I listened to an audiobook of a translation of Patrick Suskind's novel, "Perfume, the Story of a Murderer." It was fascinating and engaging, but also deeply creepy. Its (anti-) hero is a young man born (literally) on a heap of rotting scraps of fish and offal and other assorted garbage. And we're talking 18th century garbage here. Oddly enough, this child grows up to have absolutely no smell of his own -- but with a nose exquisitely-tuned to all other scents. It's like his super power. (My super power, by the way, is the ability to discern a Christian radio station in less than five seconds.) But he doesn't always use his powers for good.

Now "Perfume" is finally becoming a movie, directed by Tom Tykwer, who directed one of my favorite movies of the past decade, "Run Lola Run." You can see a teaser trailer here, though it's a pretty small window.

I warn you, this one will not be for the faint-hearted.

Mel-icious Intent

Something about the Mel Gibson incident doesn't sit right with me. It's not the hateful, bigoted comments, much as I despise them. It's the SORT of hateful, bigoted comments he made, and their timing. In the news accounts, it's generally reported that when he failed his sobriety test and it was clear he would be arrested, he first bemoaned how his celebrity meant this incident would be publicized. He said "my life is fucked," then tried to escape. It was when he was handcuffed and placed in the sheriff's car that the tirade against Jews began.

This is where it gets odd for me. What motivated the anti-Semitic comments? I can understand his rant about "owning Malibu" and "you're going to regret you ever did this to me." But why rail against Jews? He doesn't even ask the arresting officer if he's a Jew until after he's made the comment about Jews being responsible for all the wars in the world. If he felt he was being persecuted by a Jewish officer, wouldn't that have been the first question? So why? A blood alcohol level of .12 is impaired, to be sure, and freed of a few inhibitions, but not so scuttered one loses total control over what one is saying.

So, in the tradition of "there's no such thing as bad publicity," is it possible that Mel planned this incident? That he went to his car with an open bottle of tequila and roared up and down PCH at double the limit until he was pulled over, then ranted about how awful it would be if this was publicized (please -- whatever you do, don't throw me in that briar patch!)? After Mel's last dust-up over anti-Semitism his movie pulled in over $600 million worldwide, so why not stick with a tried and true formula? Mel's upcoming film, "Apocalypto" doesn't have any anti-Semitic content (the trailer makes it seem that the movie is an allegory about moral degeneracy and its effect on powerful nations), so he stokes the publicity fire with a few comments of his own, and adds a touch of sexism ("what are you looking at, sugar-tits?) for good measure.

On one level, it seems insane. But we're talking about a world where attention brings money. Lots of it. And lots of money can make people do lots of strange things.

A Bit of Good News

Voters in Kansas seem to be smartening up. Yesterday they elected a new state Board of Education which supports the teaching of evolution as the most accurate theory of how life appeared on Earth. The previous board supported the teaching of intelligent design. I take this vote as a hopeful sign that even voters in flyover country are beginning to realize that science and logic are more important to the glue of a civil society that superstition and fundamentalism.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Great Line from Letterman

Click here to see a very funny (brief) bit from "Late Night with David Letterman."