Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Good news for and at The Washington Times

As I predicted, the new editor of The Washington Times, John Soloman, is making some good changes. He starts tomorrow but today he's already begun changing the ridiculous style rules at the Times. Now they can acknowledge that there's gay marriage! From The Washington City Paper:
John Solomon took over the Washington Times on Jan. 28.

But he arrived today, via a message from the paper’s copy operation.

The news, in short: No more scare quotes.

Longtime Washington Times readers know well what this is all about: Under the regime of Wesley Pruden, the Times, unwilling to acknowledge anything so radical and immoral as gay marriage, treated the term in its pages as gay “marriage.”

Likewise other terms. In the old Washington Times, there were no illegal immigrants, just “illegal aliens”; no gays, just “homosexuals.”

Now comes the following memo from the Solomon regime, wiping out this legacy in one flick of the wrist:

All:

Here are some recent updates to TWT style.

1) Clinton will be the headline word for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

2) Gay is approved for copy and preferred over homosexual, except in clinical references or references to sexual activity.

3) The quotation marks will come off gay marriage (preferred over homosexual marriage).

4) Moderate is approved, but centrist is still allowed.

5) We will use illegal immigrants, not illegal aliens.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

FDR, Lincoln and Bush

Reading The Prince again for a class, I came upon the famous discussion of cruelty. Machiavelli draws the distinction between cruelty well used and badly used. Cruelty well used is performed "at a stroke," ruthlessly but cleanly. Cruelty badly used is prolonged and gradually undermines a prince's hold on his subjects' loyalty. Machiavelli concludes by saying that a prince who uses cruelty well will find favor with both God and men.

In other words, the ends justify the means. Thoughts of Machiavelli naturally led me to the current administration's flaunting of both the Constitution and international rules in its treatment of prisoners, suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, etc.

Bush hasn't succeeded at attaining his ends; he leaves a disastrous war, bloated government, deficit, and economic recession behind him. But what of other presidents? Did the ends justify the means?

Franklin Roosevelt flagrantly violated the constitution when he gave the order to detain 120,000 Japanese-Americans, most of them citizens. Yet no one would consider his presidency a failure, even though the Internment is now common knowledge.

Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and declared martial law at the start of the American Civil War.

All profoundly illiberal and unconstitutional measures, even though they were mitigated, to a certain extent, by the fact that these presidents, while scrapping civil liberties in this specific case, still upheld the legal and political system in general. Moreover, both presidencies are viewed as successes because Lincoln and FDR saw the nation through two great crises.

I don't think it's enough to say that the two former presidents were justified by the fact that the threat to the country was greater in their cases. This isn't even true. Terrorists hit Manhattan on 2001; the Japanese never made it further than Pearl Harbor and the Aleutians. Which enemy posed a greater existential threat?

So I think Machiavelli may be right. The difference between FDR and Bush is not the degree to which they threw aside civil liberties in times of national crisis; FDR was far more illiberal than Bush has been, anyway. The difference is that FDR shepherded the country through the dark years of war and into an era of prosperity. The same, or similar, could be said of Abraham Lincoln.

In times of war, our democracy congeals around the executive branch. Our judgment of a war president is not based upon his regard for civil liberties. It is all just a question of cruelty well used or badly used.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Poll results

So this week the WNE poll posed a scenario that actually happened. On Derek Kravitz's blog, he notes that an ATM at the University of Missouri generously gave $20 bills but charged $10 to bank accounts. Word got out quickly and students (mostly) lined up around the block to get some cash. I see two sides to this:
  1. It's really immoral and qualifies as stealing
  2. Look, yes it's wrong but I'm a poor college student here. It's the system's fault for making everything so expensive that I have to override any ethical apprehensions I have.
75% (6 votes) of WNE poll takers voted on #2
25% (2 votes) went the other way and voted on #1, adhering to principals.

I'm actually not surprised by these results. Desperation really does seem to trump principles.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Continuing The Conspiracy Chit-Chat

Within a week of Febuary 7, five undersea cables that connect the Middle East to the wide, wide world of the internet were severed. It started slow, with a single break being blamed on a ship dropping anchor further from port than normal. People didn't really get nervous until the next four broke in rapid succession. Only one of these could be explained -- it wasn't a break, but a disruption of service caused by a power outtage.

So, that leaves two unexplained breaks and one shifty sounding anchor accident. While the technology blog Gizmodo is inclined to blame Godzilla, rumors were starting boil and tin foil suddenly found itself being shaped into hats all across the internet. But a recent announcement in various news agencies that sabotage has not been ruled out as a possibility, and is actually quite likely (one article with the title "Sea Cable Snappage Was Sabotage: Middle eastern cables destroyed deliberately") has reinvigorated the conspiracy discussion.

It's important to note that no one has drawn any conclusions yet, and the investigation continues.

Could this be the new face of warfare? Cut off a country's access to the internet to prevent news of the attack from getting out? In the past few years, movies shot form cell phones and posted to YouTube helped to cause quite a stir and directed public attention where it might never have been before. (Tasers, anyone?)

But who knows. It's probably just a giant squid pissed at seeing his wife's oviducts on the internet.

[Inquirer, Sydney Morning Herald]

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gail Collins skeptical about big overly dramatic satellite shooting

In a rare pause from the usual political analysis (especially because there's a great deal of meaningless political gossip going on) insightful columnist Gail Collins ponders the shooting down of a military satellite that's gotten so much attention in the media lately. The column is particularly humorous as Collins reveals that she, like me and others, are manic paranoids.
Back to the subject though. I've been rather amused by the whole topic. It all seemed really ludicrous to me. I mean really? The government has to launch a missile to destroy a piece of its own equipment? With all this sophisticated technology and resources in the U.S. we have to blow up something we made recently and sent into space? Is shooting down a dysfunctional spy satellite really worthy of so much time on CNN and so many graphs in the Times, Washington Post, and LA Times?
Collins reveals why it is: Because something here isn't right. As she says, the military warns that not only is the satellite dangerous because it's the size of a school bus and is speeding to Earth, but also it contains noxious gases that can be life threatening if inhaled in large quantities. The government is worried that the satellite will land in, perhaps, a schoolyard and kids will all stand around it and just breath in the fumes for a while. Nobody else will notice or point or anything. The Fire Department won't come and quarantine the area.
Yeah, right.
Plus the statistical probability of being hit by something like this satellite are slim.
Something, besides the gas, stinks here. The excuse itself is like one from a bad ABC movie; as if viewers were meant to see right through it. That's another mistake for the government. I forsee a scandal ahead. One's been overdue anyway, it's been like...a month! Far too long these days.
Collins goes on to suggest some actual reasons to destroy the satellite:

"Other conspiracy theories include:

— The Pentagon is afraid the supersecret satellite will fall into the hands of our enemies, revealing the sophisticated new technology that conked out shortly after leaving Earth and utterly failed to accomplish its mission. [Because we can't let them have our defective technology.]

— Pentagon is hoping to bolster support for the missile defense system by demonstrating that it has many other side benefits, such as the ability to shoot down rogue satellites full of poisonous gas that could force victims to endure inconvenient waits at the doctor’s office.

— Pentagon wants something to think about besides sectarian religious feuds in the Middle East."

Well whatever it is, Collins now has bragging rights when the real reason comes out. And it will.
I highly recommend reading Collins' column, not only because she's my favorite columnist, but also because I can only think of one other time where something was published by her not on politics since the twentieth century. It's really a celestial event.

This post also published on my personal blog.

J.M. Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year

J.M. Coetzee's new novel came out in June of last year, was reviewed about two issues ago in the New York Review of Books, and fell into my grubby hands a little after winter break. I've never been a big Coetzee fan, but after reading this book I think I'll withhold judgment until I can dig a little deeper into his corpus. "Diary of a Bad Year" is an intellectually stimulating and moving work of fiction.

The novel follows a senescent writer, known variously as Senor C or Juan, as he compiles a collection of short diatribes on culture, politics, and philosophy for a book called "Strong Opinions". He meets a gorgeous young woman named Anya who lives above him in in his Sydney apartment building and offers her a job as his typist. Her husband Alan, motivated by a mixture of avarice and jealousy, conspires to defraud Senor C of his money.

This is the bare outline of the plot. Yet the novel tells this simple story in an unconventional way. Not content with showing us a few isolated snippets of Senor C's opinions, nor to present only one perspective at a time, Coetzee divides the page into three separate rows of text, each narrating a distinct strand of the story from different viewpoints. At the top are the opinions themselves, written in the old scribe's elegant, formal locution. In the center, the writer narrates his own real-time experiences. And, after a time, a third row appears, narrated from the perspective of Anya.

The novel begins with C's opinion on the state; underneath, in spare strokes, C tells of his first encounter with Anya:

My first glimpse of her was in the laundry room. It was a mid-morning on a quiet spring day and I was sitting, watching the washing go around, when this quite startling young woman walked in. Startling because the last thing I was expecting was such an apparition; also because the tomato-red shift she wore was so startling in its brevity.

Next page, the discourse on the state continues. Underneath:

The spectacle of me may have given her a start too: a crumpled old fellow in a corner who at first glance might have been a tramp off the street.

So far, so "Grumpy Old Men 3". The sense of creepy old man lust only intensifies when C describes Anya's ass as "so near to perfect as to be angelic." What are we to make of C's claim that Anya's beauty elicits in him a "metaphysical" or "post-physical" ache? Is this just an academic gloss on a pretty mundane sexual urge?

Coetzee delights in dashing our expectations. Instead of having Anya be unaware of Senor C's lasciviousness, she actually goads him on. Instead of giving us Anya only through C's idealizing eyes, she is given her own autonomous voice and reveals herself to be an intelligent, sensitive, and sympathetic character.

Senor C's (this is the name Anya gives him, mistaking his South African for South American origins) strong opinions range from insightful to glib, but the arguments themselves, at least for most of the book, are not of prime importance. What's being explored here is the connection between the mind and the body, the private and the public. C's opinions reveal a vibrant intellect; his life is shabby and his body decrepit. What happens between the two selves?

Conventions of discourse require that the writer's existential situation, which like everyone else's is a perilous one, and at every moment too, be bracketed off from what he writes. But why should we always bow to convention?

Anya's boyfriend turns out to be of some interest, as well. He opines on many of Senor C's arguments, roundly criticizing them and revealing himself to be a philosophical materialist and political realist; thus a counterweight to C's philosophical idealism and political liberalism. When Anya takes him to C's place and he begins to criticize C on having a naive conception of human nature and having only accomplished anything in the realm of the fanciful, we expect an epic battle between the two philosophical viewpoints. Yet again, Coetzee doesn't deliver on the expected; Senor C says not a word in response.

Ultimately, accepting the uncertainess of his "strong opinions" in the face of his "existential situation" is C's greatest challenge. Here the warmth of human contact serves where the intellect falls down, and Anya becomes his soft, soothing escort to the other world. "Diary of a Bad Year" may not be perfect. It wasn't totally necessary to show every one of C's strong opinions and thus break up the narrative to such a degree. Still, it's a touching and intriguing novel, full of dark humor and insight.

Jason In The Funny Pages

This past Sunday saw a welcome addition to the New York Times Funny Pages from the amazing Norwegian cartoonist "Jason."

It's called Low Moon, and I don't know why you're not reading it right now.

Much of Jason's work relies on timing rather than dialog to tell his stories. It's not unusual for whole pages to pass without a word spoken between any of Jason's anthropomorphic characters. Jason's strong lines, and fiercely regular panel work underline an overall feeling of disconnection and silence between his characters. In our modern world, filled with denizens increasingly detached from those around them it sometimes seems a little too real to be comfortable. For many mainstream comic readers, this might feel slow and draggy -- verging on the boring.

But Jason is making a new kind of comic. A wittier and more subdued experience instead of the bombastic explosions of extravagance which has long been the staple of the medium. Instead, Jason's comics carry a quiet weight, and can feel cripplingly lonely at times, and incredibly funny the next.

More off beat artists and writers like Jason have come into the comic market in recent years, and have started to make a mark on the industry. A lot of attention is being given to these so-called "indie" or "indie-style" comics, and it may just revolutionize the industry.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Guns Don't Kill People, CounterStrike Kills People

The Entertainment Consumer Association has stated the obvious, but it seems to have been necessary.

We’d like to extend our condolences to the families, friends and classmates of those who were affected in the school shooting at Northern Illinois University.

Separately, we are disgusted, but no longer shocked, to find that anti-game activists are again rushing to conclusions about what drove Stephen Kazmierczak, the clearly disturbed 27-year-old who police say was responsible for this tragedy, to commit such an act.

Blaming video games for the behavior of the mentally-challenged is vile on many levels. And, as Generations X and Y mature, it is extremely likely that just about all of us have played at least one video game at some point in our lives.

Drawing a parallel between games and violence without any substantive proof is sensationalism for its own sake. This is a sad event, made worse by the irresponsible actions of attention-seekers and the media that has given them a platform for their reckless venom.

[Game Politics]

I'm not quite sure what I can add to this statement, except to say that while it saddens me that these things apparently need to be said, at least someone did.

I am oft concerned that people are quite willing to blame art and entertainment, and are more than willing to ban them then they are to ban firearms. I would remind them which amendment comes first in the bill of rights.

Wikileaks Taken Offline

The New York Times just came out with an article on a judicial decision that has sent ripples of consternation through the blogging community this weekend. On Friday, a California court ordered Wikileaks, a website devoted to disclosing sensitive information about governments and corporations, to be taken offline. The injunction to disable the site's domain name was the outcome of a suit by a Cayman Islands Bank implicated in money laundering by documents posted on the site. But, haha, it seems like neither the judge nor the bank understand that shutting down the domain name doesn't keep people from seeing mirror sites and the like.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Stanley Fish on Identity Politics

Distinguished academic Stanley Fish came out last night with another thought-provoking post on his New York Times blog, Think Again, about the use and abuse of identity politics. As both the Clinton and Obama camps sling mud at each other for playing the gender and race cards, the topic seems particularly relevant to the current state of political discourse.

Fish, typically, uses some slippery logic to make his argument that voting according to the race, religion or gender of the candidate is not very much different from voting for a candidate based on a particular interest such as the candidate's stance on abortion. This "interest" conception of identity politics is, to quote Fish, "based on the assumption (itself resting on history and observation) that because of his or her race or ethnicity or gender a candidate might pursue an agenda that would advance the interests a voter is committed to." Well, okay, but why assume this if it's not the stated policy of the candidate? As almost everyone knows, there are stronger forces at work shaping a candidate's policy than his ethnicity, race or creed. And what are these special identity-dependent interests? He gives the example of American Jews supporting a candidate who wants to maintain strong ties with Israel. Of course, this has nothing to do with the ethnicity of the candidate and in fact most Republicans and Democrats support Israel to varying degrees without being Jewish. Jewish votes for a pro-Israel candidate are policy votes for what amounts to a special interest group; this isn't identity politics as Fish defines it or as it is commonly understood. Finally, is it acceptable that people vote solely on issues that affect their group? What about the common interest?

But that's just my opinion.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Raison d'etre

It's been a stressful weekend for me and I suppose WNE. We've articulated my role as the editor and are deciding where to go next. As I was telling Max, and Ben was telling me, WNE is going in a new direction. This realization, when I saw it, made me panic at first. And then wonder as to what we should do with the blog. In the last month there have been more entries by WNE staff than I've seen on any blog in a single month (although the Goings On About Town blog may contradict that statement) and I at least am finally starting to feel tired. Thankfully, I have overly eager colleagues to write in my stead. But I'm not vacationing. We concluded this weekend that my job is to tinker with the site and be aware of what's being posted (and potentially take something down if I disagree with it passionately). So while I rejuvenate I will still be reading the blog and commenting and all that jazz. I will continue to post also -although at the moment my inspiration well is bone dry.
Another frightening realization I had this weekend is that I long for a solo blog where I don't have to polish stuff as we do here before it's posted. I want a blog where I can just throw something up and be done with it. So look out in the coming days for my personal blog. WNE has served me that way in the past but now it's shifting to more an online magazine project which we here are embracing. In the coming days we're going to be experimenting with it a bit and probably move it to a different site, thanks to some cleverness on Max's part. So look out.

The State of Nature On Stage

Last night was opening night for the new improvisational University Theater production, "State of Nature." It was one of the most memorable opening nights on record. Rarely in theater does a show have such an immediate and profound affect on its audience.

"State of Nature" is an ensemble piece developed over the past two months by five seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen. The cast's preparation didn't put as much emphasis on acting as one might expect. In January they read Hobbes' "Leviathan" all the way through in one sitting and went home. This was the sum total of their group rehearsing. To prepare mentally each actor deprived him or herself of all food save some watery gruel specially provided by our dining hall. They also pledged to deprive themselves of all but two hours of sleep a night, but this didn't deviate significantly from their sleeping habits before rehearsals began.

Last night, forty-give minutes before the show started, UT crew placed various items of food on the stage, as well as thin blankets, some animal hides and canteens of water. The theater was cooled to about forty-five degrees. Five minutes before showtime, I caught a glimpse of a uniformed policeman leading a blindfolded troop of naked actors onto the stage from the side entrance. The program assured us, however, that for the sake of realism the police had been told to stand down no matter what transpired on stage.

As the curtain went up, the audience was hushed and still with anticipation. There on the stage were the naked actors, standing as if in a daze. "Must be the diet and sleep regimen," I thought. For a minute they just stood there, looking around and shivering. Then senior Joel Fisherbak made the first move. Freshman Tanya Gelding was standing over a glistening ham, as if to instinctively guard it from the others; I could see Joel's eyes flash as he lunged for it, elbowing Tanya in the solar plexus and kicking her in the teeth when she hit the ground. Bits of dental matter flew everywhere. The audience clapped. "What realism!" I heard someone say. "It's just like in the 'Leviathan'!" The other actors quickly claimed their bits of property, but, in true Hobbesian form, no one kept it for very long. The state of war was on. The stench of blood filled the room.

Surprisingly, it was another senior, Emily Smatterson, who was the first to die. Joel had claimed her by knocking her out with a joint of mutton and dragging her off to upstage right. Unfortunately this made him momentarily forget his water canteen, which was snatched up by sophomore Amadeus Walker. Joel left Emily to fight him off, and freshman John Cho used the opportunity to quietly ravish her. In fact, John was the cause of all but one of the many on-stage rapes last night. I asked afterwards what kind of a guy John was, and I learned from his friends that he was a physics major who was "quiet," "polite," and "unobtrusive." Given his performance, John clearly had amazing potential, if he hadn't been brained by Joel in the second act. Joel, apparently in a rage, killed Emily just after discovering her with John, who ran away laughing.

Then something unexpected happened. Junior Ben Garadin, it seems, was the first to remember the audience. Walking slowly over to the edge of the stage and peering into the gallery, Ben Garadin appeared thoughtful for a moment. People in the front row, who had brought other tasty morsels (the food on the stage was almost completely devoured), shook them in his face. He stepped back a few paces and then sprinted off the stage and into the first rows, tearing at everyone he could find with his fingernails and stealing all he could get. Audience members seemed somewhat concerned, but their fears were allayed when a UT crew-member came on stage in riot gear and announced through a mega phone that this was all part of the show. A few minutes later, Ben appeared back on the stage, wearing a woman's fur coat stained with blood and carrying three chairs, with which he began to construct a primitive fortification upstage left. Other actors, following his lead, began to systematically attack the audience, bringing back on stage with them women, clothes, and food. Joel brought back three rings and a lovely necklace, which he wore for the rest of the production. He also apparently painted his face using a woman's lipstick.

As the uninjured audience members left the theater for intermission (the actors were put into cages), the general consensus was that Joel would establish some sort of stable dominance over the others and thereby create a kind of hierarchical tribal organization. As for the robberies, rapes, and bleeding wounds, no one seemed too upset about them. When I asked a man if he was angry that his wife had been carried on stage by Ben Garadin and then accidentally dropped, causing instant paralysis, he replied, "Well, it's the state of nature, isn't it? It was Ben [Garadin's] right of nature to do that. Actually, I've never been so invigorated in my life, and I've seen a lot of theater."

Hopes that Joel would establish dominance were dashed, however, when midway through the second act, exhausted by the constant fighting required to keep his possessions, he fell asleep and was killed. Tanya Gelding and freshman Bridget Blunker, fashioning crude knives out of sharpened stiletto heels, gouged Joel's eyes out and then strangled him with a strip of torn curtain. Audience members rose to their feet in spontaneous ovation. Tanya and Bridget bowed, defecated on Joel's corpse (a surprisingly common occurrence), took his possessions and walked offstage holding hands. They had formed, at least for now, a kind of defensive alliance.

Only a few actors remained. But at the very end of the show, they appeared to realize the futility of their situation and gingerly approached each other. They left their possessions behind, unguarded. After talking briefly, they shook hands, and a number of armed UT techies came on stage. Everything appeared to be sorting out as the coercive power of the sovereign took its effect, but apparently sophomore Sui Chin hadn't heard about the contract. Appearing from a trap door with a brick, he knocked Ben Garadin unconscious and stole his food. The stage was thrown into pandemonium as UT crew shot into the air, breaking all the stage lights. The theater was plunged into darkness. The audience went berserk.

Bizzaro World Found

The New York Times is reporting on the discovery of "a miniature version of our own solar system 5,000 light years across the galaxy." WNE Labs astronomers have confirmed this report, but have made a shocking discovery. It appears that this lilliputian variant of our celestial neighborhood is located right smack in the "Bizarro Quadrant," according to lead WNE Labs Scientist Franklin R. Zarathustra.

Though we currently have no means of contacting anyone on "Bizarro Earth," top Bizzarologists have speculated as to what life on their humble maroon planet would be like. For instance, on Bizarro Earth nearly all the cars are small, fuel-efficient, well-designed, affordable, and all made domestically in Bizarro America. A Bizarro-Chevy would typically last a family of 4 (Bizarro families tend to be small in order to stay within the means of the family and to keep the population at a reasonable number) 135 years, usually becoming an heirloom.

Bizarro America is believed to be a mid-sized country which prides itself on a history of vicious authoritarianism. Blurry Hubble images suggest the existence of a large statue of a man dressed in a suit, with eyes of fire, standing off the coast of Bizarro Manhattan. Radio spectrometry on the statue suggests the existence of an inscription which reads, "Stay the hell away from us, you dirty freaks. I'll hit you with my big stick. And let that be a lesson to the rest of you!" Ironically, Bizarro America has a small, effective, democratic government which has delivered a balanced budget for the past 298 years. Most of it's tax money is spent on schools, as well as artistic and scientific endeavors. Bizarro NASA, for instance, is believed to have a space program 235x cooler than our own, and for half the money.

Some terrestrial analysts worry that Bizarro Earth could lay conquest to our home planet, but top brass in the pentagon disagree. Recently declassified reports indicate that the ubiquitous weapon of Bizarro world is the hug, and that wars usually fought in the form of strenuous negotiation or make-out sessions. Images from the Bizarro Middle East show hundreds of violent rioters being pacified by police forces with milk and cookies.

If anything, it would appear that the denizens of Bizarro world have much to fear from us. Highly opinionated, but very civil, the entire planet has excellent taste in art and entertainment. Because of these discrimination standards, it appears that our own entertainment industry is lethal to most Bizarro People. Recently, a misfired transmission from a television satalite accidentally beamed 4000 hours of TV programs directly at the planet. Advanced telemetry hints that this may have killed millions of Bizarros, whose heads exploded when "Friends" and "CSI" interrupted regularly scheduled Bizarro programs.

Scientists fear that our reality television may soon be reaching the planet, as well as our commercial radio, 24-Hour News stations and the FOX network. Widespread hysteria and mass suicide is expected to follow in its wake.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Are Comedies Unsatisfying By Nature?

I don't know how many times I've walked out of the theater after watching the latest comedy, whether it be glittery Will Ferrell flagship or intimate indie cockel-warmer, and thought, "That was bullshit!"

I don't mean by this that the movie wasn't funny. Nor even that it wasn't satisfying, in a way. Nor that it has no relation to reality, because what kind of preposterous grumbler would I be if I required all movies (or plays) to wear reality's grim clothes? What I mean is that no matter how good the movie is, the ending will always be unsatisfying. In fact, in most cases it will border on illogical. And the question becomes for me: Do comedies, in seeking a clean resolution, always have to compromise whatever has come before in terms of character development and plot?

Not that what we would consider "tragedies," which in a classical sense there are very few of at the multiplex or at theaters today, always meet strict criteria of logic in their endings. Just that it seems like in comedies there is a systematic problem enfolded in the nature of a comedy that makes it impossible to have a logical, and thus, for me, a satisfying ending. This problem is the requirement of a clean resolution.

I'd have to get into particular instances, of course, to truly explore my theme. I don't have enough space to do that. But consider this: Even Shakespeare's comedies suffer from this problem. Many times it feels as if Shakespeare uses fifth acts to quickly tie up any loose ends remaining in the plot and marry off all the sonzabitches before the curtain closes. This is particularly true of "The Taming of the Shrew" and "Much Ado About Nothing" but it's true of all the comedies, more or less. Meanwhile, modern commentators busily chip away at the notion that Shakespeare wanted to have a clean resolution at all. But that's only because the endings are never satisfying, not necessarily because Shakespeare wanted us to take it another way.

Comedy is suffering, just like tragedy. But comedy is also tragedy averted. So it seems comedy by its very nature wants to have its cake and eat it too: Give me the suffering, but avert the tragedy that usually follows from suffering so I can laugh at it. Do so at any cost: Make the woman who hates her lover fly back into his arms for some reason, etc. Yet as we all know, suffering isn't always mutable; second chances aren't always given.

Then again, most of us probably wouldn't be happy going to the movies to watch unrelieved suffering. So maybe I am just that irrelevant crank again, raving about the reality principle. But it seems interesting to point out that comedies are delicate houses of cards; let one bit of suffering go unrewarded, one bit of love go unrequited, and the whole thing will collapse. We'll all go home with a bitter taste in our mouths. Some playwrights, screenwriters and directors deliberately let this happen, but don't tell me you'd rather watch their work than the traditional, pure comedies.

Insomniac dignity

So I go in with some friends to a cafe called Rendez Vous and decide to order cake. I'm attracted to the two chocolate cakes: The Triple Chocolate Cake and the Dark Forest Cake.

me: What's the difference between the Triple Chocolate and Dark Forest?
Server breaks out laughing: Are you serious?
me: What?
Server: They're two totally different cakes.
me: They look similar
Server: No they don't
I point to the labels both of which are in front of the rows of Triple Chocolates
Server: Oh, well, forget it. You win, I lose. You 21, me nothing.

What happened here exactly?

End Of DVD Format War: I Don't Care

The whole HD-TV craze caught me off guard. I hadn't heard anything about HD-TV since a zinger in the Simpsons about seven years ago. All of a sudden everyone is going out and deciding, "Zounds! I need a TV with more definition!"

And like a flock of seagulls following a garbage scow, the next-gen DVD war began. Would Sony's Blu-Ray take the day? Or would Toshiba's HD-DVD win handily?

bluraystupid.gif

Word is that Blu-Ray has come out on top. Seems that Walmart, BestBuy, and all those other soulless, wallet-emptying barn stores were at least part of the deciding factor. That, and apparently Sony paid off some major Hollywood studios.

But who cares? Change is inevitable. This only affects the rabidly rich early adopter crowd that plonked down serious benjamins to ride the wave of the future. Honestly, I find these kind of discussions about which is better, the advantages of HD in general, or if video is really 1080i (or whatever) incredibly vexing.

The only joy I take from this news is that the format "war" is over (how are those other wars going?) is that it won't be generating news anymore. That, and I wrote this while taking a tremendous dump.

[Reuters, Gizmodo, Post-Gazette}

Changes in the newspaper world

'Transformative' is the optimistic word for the newspaper industry this week. The New York Times finally joined everyone else in having to cut jobs from the newsroom. Not wanting to get muscled out of the spotlight, Tribune Co. announced hundreds of job cuts.
On the brighter side, new editors were finally announced at The Washington Times and The Los Angeles Times. First there's John Soloman, a former Washington Post reporter who was leading the multimedia investigative unit at The Associated Press before The Washington Times picked him up. At the L.A. Times, Russ Stanton, the paper's website editor, got the job. There's obviously a theme to this.
I'm actually optimistic of Soloman in particular. He's got a lot of experience at respectable publications and hopefully will make the Times more competitive against The Washington Post which improves journalism in Washington and in general. It may be really good for all.
Coincidentally, I was reading up on the Talk to The Newsroom's Q&A with Jim Roberts, editor of digital news this week. It's probably not a coincidence that they featured him for readers to ask questions. What I (and likely anyone else) take from these events is that newspaper companies are giving in and admitting that online is the way to go. Sadly, I'm starting to waiver from my print-or-die loyalty and agree with the internet fans. I predict that Jim Roberts may be in the running when the current editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller, steps down. Don't know when that will be though. Here's why:
  • The New York Times is a highly WASPy organization and Roberts fits the criteria there
  • Even if newspapers continue to be around in print form, advertising and revenue departments can sleep better at night with an internet expert at the helm
  • Roberts also has experience in the important sections like political editing posts and the national desk
On the other hand, most New York Times editors have a Pulitzer under the belt (which Roberts does not) so maybe he needs more time in the oven. I have no idea what he's going to be like though, his responses to the Q&A are somewhat vague at times. Roberts can't help that, given the industry.

Friday, February 15, 2008

post Playmate Interview

I had my interview Dr. Victoria Zdrok. As a reminder, she's the Playmate of the Year and Penthouse Pet who wrote a how-to guide to love. The interview was definitely a balancing act; on one side, I wanted to hear about her years in front of the camera, on the other side, Zdrok wanted to talk about her research methods in writing the book -some sociological approaches were involved. We went dutch and split the difference, in my opinion. A few new ideas about love according to Zdrok:
  • Girls care less about hair than guys think.
  • Teeth matter, clean them!
  • Gait is important. The way one walks makes a difference. This last one was confirmed by a female friend later on in the same day.
But wait for the next issue of The Gargoyle for a full transcript!
The book sounds kind of interesting actually.

Another Unwanted Pregnancy Movie


I forgot in my post "Abortion in the Movies" to include "Waitress," a movie about a waitress (Keri Russell) impregnated by her repugnant husband somewhere in the deep south. She carries her baby to term, all the while baking brilliant pies and struggling to escape her suffocating marriage. "Waitress" is probably the most mature of the comedies I mentioned in its treatment of the pregnancy itself, with Keri Russell's character alternating between hostility and love for her little burden. What finally enables her to take control of her life is not, as in "Juno," finding true love, but rather finding profound joy in motherhood. Of course, she gets the cute northern gyno in the bargain. Unlike "Knocked Up," I thought the movie did a good job of conveying particular reasons why Keri Russell's character wouldn't have an abortion.

What was more interesting to me about "Waitress" was how heavily it relies on the North's stereotypical understanding of the South, particularly of southern men. What wouldn't seem credible if set anywhere else, such as all males being grubby and misogynistic, northern audiences can accept without reservation if it's in the South. And Keri Russell's character's knight in shining armor is a New England doctor who saves her from the trailer trash that all southern men are. To me, the southern setting was just an excuse to have northern actors drawl extravagantly and act sassier than would seem believable up North. Not that the South isn't sassy, however.

Campus Shootings


The NIU shooting was the big story today and yesterday. A 27-year-old former student opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, killing 5 before taking his own life. But this incident is by no means the only recent shooting reported by the national media. Last week, on Friday the 8th, Latina Williams, 23, gunned down two students at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge during an emergency medical technology class. Yet this event passed under the media radar, save for a brief mention in the major news outlets. Why? I can think of a few reasons. What do you think?


Here's an AP list of recent campus shootings.

Destroy All Wiki Editors

Ever wanted to have that asshat who flagrantly removed your totally brilliant thoughts from the Iron Man entry on Wikipedia blown off the face of the Earth?

Well, now you can!

Thanks to László Kozma, you can watch in (more or less) real-time as changes are made to the giant brain which is Wikipedia. With enough time and patience you'll snag those pesky eFactcheckers.

LINK

[via if:book]

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Abortion in the Movies


It's really interesting: Within the year, three critically acclaimed movies have arrived in theaters, all of them directly dealing with unwanted pregnancies. These three are "Juno," "Knocked Up," and "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 days," a Romanian film set in Cold War Romania. Of course, the theme of unwanted pregnancy logically leads to the abortion question, and all three films have something to say about this, too.

"Knocked Up," the summer comedy smash, is probably the most squeamish in its treatment of abortion. In a movie about unwanted pregnancy it's strange that abortion receives mention only a few times and mostly in a disguised form (Shmashmortion). For Katherine Heigl's character, abortion is simply not an option, even when her mother (a representative, perhaps, of the old guard women's lib type) discreetly suggests it. Some will say, "If there were an abortion, there would be no movie." Yes, that's true, but a young career gal accidentally impregnated during a night of carousing needs to have a solid reason for not wanting one. By "solid reason" I mean no more than a strong desire to have children, religious or moral scruple, etc., none of which appear in the movie. My objection, in short, is not that Heigl's character ultimately doesn't get an abortion; it is that she never even considers getting one, and we are left with no answers as to why she wouldn't. This constitutes a weakness in the film in the sense that it shows her character lacks motivation for a decision crucial to the plot. But there's something more: Since no motives particular to her character are given for her not getting an abortion, we can only conclude that for women of her age and class abortion is simply indefensible, or at least not a possibility, in the movie's opinion.

"Juno" addresses abortion more directly. Juno actually goes to an abortion clinic immediately after discovering she is pregnant. There she encounters two obstacles: A classmate picketing outside and a rather nonchalant receptionist within. The first makes her pause, but does not break her determination to go through with the procedure. I believe the viewer is supposed to see that the second obstacle finally dissuades her from it. The choice of making the staff of the clinic callously off-the-cuff was an interesting one. And her picketing friend doesn't fail to move her: Juno repeats throughout the movie what she told her, that the baby already has fingernails. Some people I know also questioned whether it was credible that Juno could feel no strong attachment to her baby; she seems to have no problem handing it over to Jennifer Garner's character. This, with the gooey love story involving Bleeker and Juno on top, makes for a somewhat disingenuous view of teen pregnancy, I would say. In the end, Juno grows emotionally, gets the guy, we're all happy.

"4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" presents by far the bleakest picture of unwanted pregnancy; it is many light years removed from either "Juno" or "Knocked Up." Of course, the movie begins with a different premise than the first two. In "Juno" and "Knocked Up," the kind of lifestyle change pregnancy implies is a possibility for the two women. Their lives are sufficiently comfortable: They have a lot of support from family and friends and their communities can support and even nurture such a change. Even though in "Juno" keeping the baby is not considered for long, Juno has no trouble finding others who will care for it. In "4 Months" this kind of community is absent. Our protagonists (the pregnant woman and her friend) can't rely on family support. They are poor students. There are no free clinics and no one wants to take care of a child. Everything, from food to a hotel room, is a struggle to obtain. Every male seems aware of their helplessness and seeks to exploit it. It goes without saying that this is the sort of community in which unwanted pregnancies most frequently occur. As a result of these conditions, the girls are forced to break the law (abortion was illegal in Ceausescu's Romania) and find an abortionist. They find a monstrous man who is aware of their desperation and takes advantage of it to the hilt.

All in all, "4 Months" is a movie willing to explore both sides of the abortion issue. On the one hand, there's everything I've said about the failure of the community. On the other hand, the aborted fetus appears on camera, quite recognizably and terrifyingly human, and the horror of the fetus's back-alley burial isn't whitewashed. But I think we are supposed to ask: Is this the failure of the individuals involved, or of the community? I would say the movie comes down on the latter side.

Three movies, three distinct viewpoints. I'm interested in what "Juno" and "Knocked Up" say about our culture. Both seem to have tapped into the zeitgeist in a certain sense, judging by their extreme popularity and the moutains of commentary they've generated (including this). "4 Months" is just an artistic triumph and a welcome counterweight to the sunniness of the first two, at least for me.

Movie poll results



















According to an WNE poll, either Juno or I Am Legend were the most overrated movies of the season. I agree with the Juno people but disagree with the Legend haters. What's wrong with Will Smith?

The tally for most overrated movie:
Sweeney Todd: 12% one vote
Juno: 37% three votes
I Am Legend: 37% three votes
No Country for Old Men: 12% one vote

Who says chivalry's dead?

I was with my friend shopping for a Valentine's Day card today when I came across this gem:
How romantic.
Happy Valentines Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Curious Interview

Today I had a practice interview. I'm applying for a number of internships and the university offers one-on-one interview tutorials. Sounds pretty good.

So I arrived and quickly realized that I was a little underdressed. Staggering in fresh from a lukewarm shower after running a mile for my phys ed class, in my ragged jeans and loose-fitting shirt, I saw before me students robed in their "I am desperately serious" suits. This was a bad sign. The receptionist gave me the old up-down, then chided me on my shambolic appearance. Great. Dressed down, literally, by the receptionist. Good start.

So I sat, twiddling my thumbs for about twenty minutes. Then my interviewer appeared. He was a young, thin, dark haired man, probably in his mid twenties. I apologized for my attire, and he seemed unconcerned by it. Finally, a sympathetic soul.

He asked me if I had had any classes this morning, and I told him about my phys ed class. Then he told me: "Yeah, in my college we had a required swim test. This happened just when they started letting in African-Americans, and one of them couldn't swim. But he didn't tell anyone, jumped into the pool, and drowned."

This was the beginning of my practice interview. I was dumbstruck, unable to think about anything except this incident he had just related to me. It was like a hallway full of closed doors, each door a question I couldn't answer. Behind door A: This is this guy's generic response to someone who tells him "I just had my phys ed class?" Door B: What school is this? Clearly it was a long time ago. Door C: What relationship does his being African American have with his drowning, or his not being able to swim? Was he too ashamed to admit it? Door D: Why didn't anyone help him? Door E: What was he trying to say by telling me this, if it's not (and God forbid it is) part of his normal conversational repertoire? Is it something like: Sink or swim? Does this have anything to do with my interview?

This was not the only off-putting part of the interview. He asked me to describe a negative review of a play I had recently written. I started off by giving him a quick plot summary. The play was about Robert Peary's conquest of the North Pole. But instead of Robert Peary I said Matthew Peary, because Matthew Henson was Robert Peary's African American (connection to my interviewer's story, is it coincidental?) companion in real life and I got the first names confused. My interviewer looked very puzzled when I corrected myself, and said, "I thought you meant Matthew Perry of 'Friends,'" ie, the TV show. Then when he was debriefing me he mentioned that he was confused about Matthew Perry once again. Was he asking himself, "Did Matthew Perry of 'Friends' conquer the North Pole in 1909? I mean, he was great in the show, but that's just impressive." I don't understand why that, in the midst of all my meandering and pontification, was the confusing bit. Oh well.

On the plus side, he gave me some useful advice. Go CAPS!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

MAXimizing efficiency

Write No Evil welcomes our latest WNE staffer: Max a.k.a. Little Max or as we say in Hyde Park: Lil' Max. Because we do say that...in Hyde Park...Hyde Park, Chicago...
Anyway, Max is editor of Michigan's top humor publication, The Gargoyle. He's also full of nerdiness successfully hidden by a charming, rugged exterior, so be prepared!
Max blogs as well. His main personal blog is here.
I'm praying to the writing gods that he'll post some of the insightful jabber that I've heard him spew in our conversations.
Because both Max and I are editors for each other, (I'm part of The Gargoyle and editor of this blog) we can refer to each other in experimental forms. Sadly, while I provide only painfully corny (and most likely recycled) ones for Max, The Gargoyle endowed me with a call-sign I actually like: Mos Def. This is the first pseudonym I've eagerly consented to. Rejected ones include: Stress, Eor, and Dr.Zhivago.
See the resemblance?














All things in common with the rapper/actor end there though. I lack all ability to sing, act, or be cool.

*Apologies to Max for the slightly embarrassing post and including my new nickname -which I'm really excited about- in an entry dedicated to you.

The NeverEnding Analysis

My friend suggested a capitalist interpretation of Wolfgang Petersen's seminal 1984 fantasy film, "The NeverEnding Story" ( "Die Unendliche Geschichte"). I don't remember exactly how it went but it got me thinking about old-time Disney films: Do they all have a political subtext?

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) Released at the height of the Spanish Civil War, Snow White is an incisive rendering of social struggle masked as a bucolic fairytale. The film is principally concerned with the tension between the seven dwarfs' paradisaical syndicalist commune and the eroding institutions of feudal domination, embodied in the person of the horrid Queen. This tension is dramatized by Snow White's forced transition from one society to another: Snow White becomes an explorer of antipodal worlds. She has been psychologically conditioned for this transition, of course, by her service as a scullery maid. Her ethic of noble work for man is perfectly in accord with the dwarfs' ethos. In the end, the Queen is chased to her death by the dwarfs; however, she is not killed by them, but by a bolt of lightning. This is significant, as it shows Disney's basic alignment with then in vogue world-historical theories. The lightning represents not nature but inevitable progress; the movie seems to be saying that the destruction of feudal institutions is as ineluctable as lightning in a rain storm. Those who object to this interpretation by pointing out that lightning strikes are freak accidents would do well to remember that nature, in Disney films, is never random.

Song of the South (1946). Just embarassing. Even during the film's production, Disney publicist Vern Caldwell wrote to producer Perce Pearce that "The negro situation is a dangerous one. Between the negro haters and the negro lovers there are many chances to run afoul of situations that could run the gamut all the way from the nasty to the controversial." The NAACP diplomatically praised it for its artistic merits. Oh, youthful representatives of white patriarchy, what would old Uncle Remus do without you?

The Three Caballeros (1944) Actually, no shit, commissioned by the US government to be released in Latin America as part of a propaganda campaign to help establish cordial relations with our southern neighbors. So there isn't a "subtext." More of an outright "shill." Simply unfathomable how Disney thought the definitive assortment of Latin American stereotypes (cigar chomping parrot representing Brazil, pistol-packing rooster representing Mexico, Carmen Miranda's sister) could possibly woo Latin American audiences.

Finally, the all encompassing, never-fail interpretation of any Disney movie's message?

"Damn the Jews. Damn them all to hell."

Revenge is sweet


I've become a double-agent of sorts. I've joined Michigan's humor magazine, The Gargoyle and soon I'll enjoy the fruits of my wisdom: I get to interview a former Playboy Playmate and Pet of the Year (I'm unfamiliar with this second honorific but I'm sure it's prestigious). Earlier this year I was passed up on covering Playboy magazine coming to Ann Arbor in search of fresh meat because, as a heterosexual male, I could be biased.
Well hah! Instead of girls from the University trying to get a little photo time I get a one-on-one with someone who's had a lot of time in front of the camera.
A.
Lot.
And then wrote a book!


Post Script:
I wouldn't mention this for any reason other than the fact that it's insanely bizarre: Recently a girl said she thought -in complete seriousness- that Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was cute. I'd think that any attractive qualities would dissolve when you publicly deny the existence of homosexuals in your country and argue that the Holocaust didn't happen. Racially and ethnically diverse Ann Arbor may be, just don't forget tastes!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Good Will hunting

A new collection of movies are about to hit the screen. In my opinion there are certain attributes a good movie has. This does not include a compelling trailer. Some of the best movies had mediocre or horrible trailers. The explanation is that a film's essence is hard to capture in two minutes or less. Actors also are an indication of a movie's fineness. Has the star acted in good movies in the past? Are the supporting actors good at what they do? Do either the star or supporting cast act in a range of movies?
Both these rules have exceptions, sometimes. First is Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins which follows my statements to the letter. Two minutes and thirty seconds of this movie is two minutes and thirty seconds too much:



And then there's Hancock, with Will Smith -one of the few mainstream actors I respect. Even though I Am Legend was good but not great, I thought his acting was phenomenal and displayed a range which had, until that movie, gone untapped.



Both trailers may be wrong but I doubt it, especially for Roscoe Jenkins. One question bugs me about this movie though. Why is the honorable James Earl Jones acting along side the rest of the halfwit cast of that movie? Ben suggested that someone is holding his family and loved ones hostage, which is the only plausible explanation I can think of.

Moor is more

Saw Chicago Shakespeare's Othello a few nights ago. I should have waited to go for the Maroon so I wouldn't have to shell out 70 bucks for a little Bard, but whatever. It was an admirable rendition, quite conservative, with the costumes given a Victorian update but otherwise little tampering with the language or scene cutting. Othello was unquestionably the center of the show, striding hugely across the stage and setting every scene aflame. I wish I had the program so I can properly praise the actor, but he was wonderful. So was the actress who played Desdemona and the actress who gave an incredibly compelling turn as Emilia, Iago's wife.

But then there was Iago. With the most lines, Iago displays his astounding verbal dexterity and, moreover, drives the plot. In many productions he, and not Othello, is the focal point. Yet in this Othello his presence was slight, and his soliloquies dragged. Iago was a bit of a showboat, a swaggerer, charming in a distasteful sort of way; but I could never believe his evil. When he said, a number of times, "I hate the moor," it was in the petulant tones of a spoiled child, not the demonic voice of an unfathomable hatred. Indeed, Iago's motivations are unfathomable. Given the abundance of religious imagery in the text, including endless descriptions of the infernal zone, it is clear that Iago is a devil, a man who approaches evil as others would "sport." Sport is another word that Iago frequently utters, and it conveys something of the pleasure he takes in simply wreaking havoc, regardless of his objective. Jealousy just doesn't explain his actions. And I didn't get this from the production.

On the other side, Emilia's defiance was vividly brought to the fore, and indeed Emilia was one of the most interesting characters. This Othello turned Emilia into a proto-feminist, as one could argue she is in the text. Very good.

I Go A'Googling


Write No Evil shows up on the second page of query hits for a google search of the keywords, "Write no Evil." I've never been much interested in what else is dredged up from the oozy deeps, what else is vomited up from the infinite belly of the electronic leviathan. But today seems like as good a day as any to list all the sites that show up before ours.
1. Jac Zagoory: Write no Evil Pen Holder
"See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil -- and the fourth monkey is here to warn: write no evil. This witty pen holder offers protection and easy access to your pen on a cluttered desk. Finely crafted of pewter in the USA. (Pen not included.)" It's a 100 dollar pen holder offered by the New York Public Library's gift store so that idiots can spend money in a library. A second, related hit from the same site offers the pen for 65 bucks. Both were designed by Jac Zagoory, a New York City artist.

2. This is the bastard who has our true address, "writenoevil.com" And guess what? "Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage." Thanks for wasting my time, putz.

3. Third hit is an article in "The Walrus," a Canadian magazine covering current events with an "international outlook". A lot like the "New Yorker" or "Atlantic Monthly," except for Canadians who don't know their ass from their elbow.

4. Again Jac Zagoory! Except this time his inimitable decorated roller-ball pen, with the phrase "write no evil" embossed all over it, is offered on an online marketplace called "UncommonGoods." By "uncommon" I assume they mean "tacky." Ah, but here's the rub: This pen goes for 60 bucks, not 65 as at the NYPL's site! Ho ho ho! Caveat emptor, indeed!

5. Jac Zagoory, you haunt my nightmares. A stationary company called Crane & Co. offers his pewter penholder. Yet again, the New York Public Library commits highway robbery: at Crane it's 85 bucks, not 100.

6. Zounds! Jac Zagoory! Write No Evil Pewter Pen Holders!

7. Quoth the Raven: "Jac Zagoory."

8. An article from the August 22, 1999 issue of the Sunday Herald by Rennie McOwan, who argues that internal conflicts between British Catholics are the Church's gravest threat in England. Say what?

9. UncommonGoods again.

10. A pen retailer called Passion4Pens.com sells Jac Zagoory's pen for 65 bucks. Jac Zagoory: the name is taking on a mythological quality. Is that a person or a brand name? How can anyone survive childhood with such an appellation?

11. Finally, the site just above ours is a blog called "The Little Professor," with the descriptive subtitle: "Things Victorian and academic." His or her November 18, 2004 post, entitled "Write No Evil," is concerned with "words, phrases, sentences that I desperately wish my students to eliminate from their minds." A long list of taboos follows. Am I by some cosmic joke just behind my 8th grade home room teacher on Google?

What have we learned? One important thing: Jac Zagoory is sweeping the nation with his one-of-a-kind, witty yet elegant novelty pens. A possible business deal between Write No Evil and Jac Zagoory is in consideration. With a creative artist like Jac Zagoory churning out ball point pens to sell to our fans, we are bound to nothing but glory. Jac Zagoory.



Jac Zagoory.

Write No Evil 2.0

WNE has changed a bit and will continue to. I had been planning on acknowledging it in a post but couldn't figure out quite the right time or what to say until I read an article in The New York Review of Books about blogging. I just finished it in fact.
Sarah Boxer writes about her findings for a new book chronicling blogs -think something like The Best American Blog Writing. She has a lot to say including what works on blogs and what doesn't, and an accurate description of the meaninglessness of it. In particular I sensed a strong disdain for the linking feature of blogs. There are also some constructive nuggets of wisdom here, including the fact that blogging is both tough and unique. I also learned that the movie Juno which is the subject of the current WNE poll, was written by a stripper with a trivial blog. That explains so much about that movie. My vote in the poll went to Juno.
Blogs can be very powerful in breaking news and uncovering scandal, or in some cases, creating them, Boxer notes.
Also, most blogs will not become rockstars. Depressing yes, but also something we at WNE came to terms with pretty much at the moment of the site's conception. The most popular blogs, according to Boxer, are the ones that are crude, vulgar, angry, sexual, partisan, and outrageous in every way imaginable. That's not us though. WNE is meant to be more like The New York Review of Books in that we read, see, think, or do something that's seems interesting and share it. The writing in the Review of Books is inspired by books. The idea is that books are an essential part of life and a source of everything creative and constructive. WNE will of course never be as successful as the Review of Books but that's what we're trying to achieve here: a home for what interests us.
I want to model Write No Evil after three intellectual entities:
The New York Review of Books for its genuine passion in the topics it examines and respect for literature.
The New Yorker because I love The New Yorker, along with, unusually, a large portion of the student body at Michigan.
And finally, a now deceased blog called Elm Rock City.
I feel an explanation is necessary for this last one. I discovered the blog a little less than a year ago while searching for a piece in The New Yorker on a pair of philosophers (the Churchlands). The blog is a mix of the highly intellectual -specifically post-modernism, the humorous -anything funny that happens in the author's -who refers to herself as Elm Rock City or ERC for short- life, the personal, and of course the responsive to aspects of culture that interests her. This last attribute is an ingredient in every college blog in existence so nothing new there. Nobody said ERC wasn't a cliche.
But it is charming and an exception to Boxer's laws of a successful blog. ERC writes about the Virginia Quarterly, and her classes, and pop culture, and psychological post-modernism and literary post-modernism. I could go on. Over the blog's lifespan it gained notoriety around the Yale campus, although not as much as the simply annoying Johnny Quest here. (I'm not jealous, I just would like to think that my classmates are interested in things other than what sorority was ranked the highest this year) As Boxer writes, part of being a blogger, like being a writer, includes a desire for a large audience. The more attention, the better. That would be nice but it's probably not going to happen. I want WNE to please the friends of those who post on it and maybe spark a discussion or two. I also want to write for WNE because it's fun.

Pictured: (top photo) Robert B. Silvers, editor of The New York Review of Books, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. (bottom photo) Elm Rock City.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Extinction is visible for Sun-Times Media

It's delayed but I just got word that the SouthtownStar canned their two publishers. I cannot articulate my disappointment and increasing resentment for the Sun-Times Media Group right now. Frank, one of the publishers, pictured, (with me, who was rather snockered at the time -it was New Year's eve) had worked at the SouthtownStar for nearly 20 years. He also got me my first professional internship. I have only fond memories of working for him at the then Star in Tinley Park. Frank is also a skilled journalist and hopefully some fine journalism institution has the sharp instinct to hire him. It's a major loss for his former employers. I do take solace in the fact that the business world is much like the biological: The most capable survive. Sun-Times Media doesn't stand a chance now.

A Chicago Lens


Check out this blog by architecture critic, photographer and former Chicago Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning and Design Lee Bey. It's a beautiful photographic record of architectural Chicago and the city's working-class denizens.
Stormy weather, Febrary 7, 2008

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Could a Frenchman be elected in the U.S.?


I hadn't realized until the other day what a smoking hottie Carla Bruni is. I first heard about her in Adam Gopnik's New Yorker piece but I usually go elsewhere when seeking choice celebrities to drool over so I didn't pay much attention. When Carla Bruni came up recently I was stunned both by Bruni and the sheer pimpage of her new husband, French President Nicolas Sarkozy who flaunts Bruni like a rich old man would his new gold digging trophy wife. Make no mistake though, Sarkozy is a strict follower of separation of heart and state. In the most recent issue of The Economist, a piece about the newlyweds concludes:

"When it comes to affairs of state, it is hard to imagine even Mr Sarkozy letting affairs of the heart triumph over his Gaullist style deference of French business."

He's definitely not lovey-dovey all over the place: Sarkozy has passed a huge tax break which did little to fix the economy, he's also ignoring working class citizens who helped to elect him. Okay well maybe he's paying more attention to his supermodel wife. In the U.S. one might think that a president whose nickname is Bling-Bling and prances around with genuine international eye candy would collect a large amount of praise from his constituents. Not so. The same article in The Economist says:

"To many, "President bling-bling", as Libération has dubbed him, seems altogether too busy looking after himself when he should be looking after them."

And Gopnik's earlier piece isn't much better:

"The French press, by contrast, has seen in the story something so obviously second-rate and vulgar that it must be in some way American. The tone in the upper reaches of the French press has been not “We have a right to know!” but “Do we really have to cover this crap?”"

How Sarkozy would fair in the White House and how Bush would in the Élysée Palace? I must admit, during Sarkozy's run for office, I rooted for his chief rival, Ségolène Royale. I didn't know anything about her other than her gender. I'm ashamed of my political shallowness. Thankfully (...I guess), I'm not alone. According to the textbook for my African American Politics class, African American Politics and the African American Question, the very fact that a black person is running for office

"increases black turnout by 2.3 percent (the presense of a black Republican has no effect on black turnout), while the presence of a black of either party increases white turnout by 2.2 percent."

In the U.S., voters are highly likely to disregard ignorance when it comes to policy as long as appearances are good. I've noticed this first hand from a number of classmates who support Obama: they like him but have no idea what his policies are.
A scary example of this is the success of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Nagin is largely regarded as one of the key figures in the failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina. Despite this he's won reelection comfortably. African American Politics continues:

"While there are many explanations for his victory, the most basic one appears to be race. In the final analysis, for both blacks and whites racial loyalties appear to have trumped both ideology and competence."

Frightening.
Gail Collins has suggested Hillary Clinton's victory in the New Hampshire primary was because of sympathetic women voters. Could that have possibly been because of Hillary's gender?

Back in France, Sarkozy wants his country to adopt the work-a-ridiculous-amount attitude of the West. While he's looking at us for guidance, perhaps voters over here should look at French politics, at least when it comes to voting.

Friday, February 8, 2008

An Israeli and a Palestinian walk into a...

An Israeli, a Palestinian plus two come to Ann Arbor. It sounds like a joke but it's actually happening on Wednesday. The Israeli-Palestinian Comedy tour, made up of Yisrael Campbell, Ray Hanania, Aaron Freeman (a veteran of Second City), and Charley Warady, will be performing at the Michigan League. The event is being advertised as one of "Pointing fingers at each other and instead of blaming...laughing. And pointing fingers in indiscriminate directions...and laughing." Despite some shrugs and unenthusiastic sighs from people around me, I think it sounds hilarious and since Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan are actually highly ethnically and racially tense, this could also prove progressive.

Good news and bad at The Washington Post



The good news: The Washington Post named Katharine Weymouth Publisher and CEO of Washington Post Media She's of the Graham family one of the most highly respected journalism guardian families in the country. The paper is in good hands.
The bad news: In the same article, the Post announced job cuts that include the newsroom.

I for one fantasized that the newspaper woes of our era couldn't reach the prime newspapers in the country. After all, a Michigan Daily alumn told me that while every other newspaper is cutting costs, The New York Times is hiring. I guess that's over, at least for the Post.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Evuuul


According to an WNE poll, the evilest presidential candidate just dropped out! Voters said Mitt "America is a business" Romney is by far the darkest man out there. But now he's given up, leaving Hillary (who took second place) as the evilest. On the opposite side of the spectrum, poll takers said Obama practically has a halo on him -he got zero percent of the evil vote.
The specifics:

Romney: 63% seven votes
Hillary: 27% three votes
McCain: 9% one vote
Obama: 0% no votes

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

China's censors have built a new Great Wall, but what it protects is unclear


You know something's up when the Chinese government, quickly becoming renowned for its trigger-happy use of the censorship gun, is aiming at sites like Flickr and Youtube. Censorship in general is repressive to a country's success, a fact that most communist nations historically don't seem to understand. China clearly still doesn't. The walls barring Chinese from exploring these harmless sites have been collectively named "The Great Firewall" and the latest fad on the Chinese part of the information superhighway is finding ways around the roadblock. Bloggers are blogging about backdoors and secret loopholes to watch that really interesting clip on Youtube.
Okay, I'm being a bit harsh here. The real mystery, besides why China won't even acknowledge that this censorship is taking place, is what threat could Flickr possibly hold? Are people suddenly posting evil capitalist secrets alongside their pics of vacation in New Mexico? Even though more and more Chinese are getting into this internet war of free information, the Chinese government is also worrying about an equally increasing number of sites: online mulitplayer games and eBay. Some of us are curious at this point, not even surprised, just wondering what possible danger there could be?
The one service that Chinese censors mostly refuse to touch are the many ways to get pirated...everything. Which is good because I use tudou every once in a while to keep up with my stories.

Heath Ledger: In case of an emergency, listen carefully: Call an Olsen and only after call 911


Alright, I'm almost ashamed to even acknowledge a Hollywood style death on WNE but really now, this is just bizarre. According to Associated Press coverage, Heath Ledger's masseuse didn't first call 911 when she found him lying on the floor, clearly overdosed:

"Ledger's masseuse found him unresponsive after she arrived for an appointment at his rented apartment. She called 911 after first repeatedly calling actress Mary Kate Olsen."

Do the Olsens have some kind of secret healing power? What is this?
If anyone finds me drugged up, here's a hint CALL AN AMBULANCE...and then Scarlett Johansson.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

There Will Be More Blood


I've seen Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" twice now, and both times I have to say I was both awed and frustrated by it. On the one hand, the oil-black darkness of its plot and themes is breathtakingly grim; the story's novelty is a virtue in itself. The dramatic peaks are stupendous: I hope the baptism scene will attain iconic status, as it is darkly funny, cathartic and deeply disturbing at the same time. The cinematography excels as Daniel has pointed out, with panoramic views of desolate landscape evoking dread and wonder. Most of all, Daniel Day Lewis's performance as oil prospector Daniel Plainview is of the very first order, more a demonic possession than a thespian feat.

Yet the film fails to say anything really exciting or interesting about its two main motifs, capitalism and religion. I was really anticipating something meaty about the latter especially, and I felt Anderson grasping for it during Eli Sunday's sermon; there was something there about religion as entertainment. But Eli Sunday is a charlatan through and through, and to explore religion would require some time devoted to the town of Little Boston. "Blood" is pretty much single-mindedly focused on Plainview, so that's not in the cards. Capitalism is a better-drawn theme; Anderson manages to convey the excitement and terror of America's driving force. But again, since Plainview looms so large, there is little time to explore the wider implications.

I also thought the film's last act doesn't support its dramatic weight; it's short and abrupt, yet we're supposed to get a lot out of it. There should be more about Plainview after he's struck it rich and settled in his mansion. Plainview's conversation with his son, which leads to their estrangement, could have been anticipated given earlier scenes, but Plainview's bitterness still feels a little disconnected from the rest of what we've seen of his feelings about his son. Plainview's confrontation with Eli Sunday, however, is another high point, something to which the whole film has been building. Which is basically how I feel about the film as a whole: There are a few great peaks, but the buildup is unnecessarily slow and disjointed.

"There Will Be Blood" is not a masterpiece. It is a thin garment drapped over Daniel Day Lewis's sinewy shoulders. But what shoulders! Lewis's performance is a once-in-a-decade event; it may even be one of the best turns in movie history. His dogged, monstrous and tender Plainview transcends the themes of the film; he's in that pantheon of tragic figures that includes Oedipus and King Lear.

So is it worth seeing "There Will Be Blood?" Without a fucking doubt. But it's better to see it as a superlative character study than a compelling allegory.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Chicago, a one horse town when horses are newspapers

The Chicago Sun-Times has been having some trouble lately (and by lately I mean the last ten years at least) and its parent company, Sun-Times Media Group, which owns the Sun-Times, is now trying to figure out what to do. Should it sell to a new company? Should it close The Chicago Sun-Times?
'It's a tough time for newspapers' is a cliche nowadays but it's true and of the two dominating papers in Chicago, the Sun-Times is a pathetic second. But still some competition is better than no competition.
Actually, Chicago's media problem is kind of a strange occurrence. Despite harsh economic times in the U.S. Chicago has been doing pretty well, growing into a city of international notoriety. You'd think that such a city could support more than one major newspaper.
Michael Miner of the vastly under appreciated Chicago Reader has been following events at the Sun-Times. What one might not get from Miner's blog though is that once upon a time, the Sun-Times was a respectable publication.
But, perhaps like newspapers soon, that's a thing of the past.

Fun fact: Even though the Sun-Times is the flagship of Sun-Times Media Group, it also owns a number of excellent community papers like the SouthtownStar and Naperville Sun.