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Friday, January 19, 2007

about time we played hooky again

Stanley and I took a mental health afternoon off and went to see Pan’s Labryinth. We’re both huge fans of Guillermo del Toro since seeing The Devil’s Backbone (one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever seen), Hellboy, and Cronos.


Pan’s Labryinth is outstanding. I was kind of worried that all the raves the critics have been giving it were bullshit, kind of like the accolades heaped on crap like Dances with Wolves or The English Patient or [gag] The Sound of Music.

The movie is categorized as a fantasy, but that’s only what’s going on in one character’s head as she tries to escape the brutality of her life. It’s also about history and the heart of darkness and, I think, the reality of life for most of the children of the world.


Del Toro has a knack for getting the monsters right. The Paleman (the picture on the right) is the ultimate bogeyman. Ofelia, the little girl with the fantasies, looked at the murals in his chamber which show the Paleman devouring children. There is also a huge pile of shoes in the room, which made me think of Hitler and the Holocaust, which was underway and part of the backdrop of this movie. What got to me about this monster was I swear I dreamt of him myself, or a monster very close to the way he looks, as a child. Maybe our brains are wired to imagine monsters in a certain way.

Pan’s Labryinth is set in 1944 and, supposedly, a kind of continuation of The Devil’s Backbone, which was set in 1939. I think they show the impact of war on children, the despair children feel when their lives are completely out of their own control. There is a lot to think about. It’s interesting how much scarier a human, the Captain, is than even a bogeyman that eats children. And how deadening fascism is.

The little girl playing Ofelia, Ivana Baquero, is an amazing actress. She manages to play a tragic child without melodrama, without being twee. Sergi López is good as the Captain, showing evil and obsession without over-acting. And Maribel Verdú, as Mercedes, I thought played her part flawlessly. I liked the way the film looked, that slightly greenish tinge that you see in old color photographs. And the scenes beneath the ground were lit—I even wondered where the light was coming from and was grateful for it.

This is a line of dialog I thought was wonderful, when Ofelia asked the faun for his name: “Me? I’ve had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce. I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. I am ... I am a faun.”

I think this movie is brilliant. It’s a hard movie—del Toro is not one to sugar-coat anything and this movie would’ve been weak if he had. It’s interesting to me that a lot of critics warn parents not to bring their kids to see this movie because it might scar them and, yes, it is scary. But then I think of the hundreds of thousands of kids who are living this daily; there are no lights that come up for them when the credits roll. That’s why it’s brilliant—it makes you think, and keep thinking, long after the lights come back on.

posted by lee on 01/19/07 at 06:32 PM

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

mourning nightline

Isn’t it weird to advertise a show while the show is airing? The only time I see those ridiculous lightbulb ads for Nightline is during Nightline. I just assume that advertisers are just not paying for ad time on the broadcast any more, so they have to fill the time with something, no matter how inane.

I miss Ted Koppel. I miss being able to watch Nightline to get a deeper analysis of what’s going on in the world. I miss Dave Marash and Michel Martin.

The new format sucks. Many stories are several days old—I’ve already read about whatever the topic is in the New York Times or Salon, or even Newsweek. Martin Bashir cackling about the secret code in the judge’s ruling on the DaVinci Code lawsuit was already a couple of days old and solved by the time he got around to it. Jake Tapper’s lame interview with Markos Molitsas—hasn’t that story been done to death yet? Dogs eating at restaurants, men carrying purses, Cynthia McFadden’s ridiculous earrings taking center stage as she interviews ... who, I forget, was it Mel Brooks? All I remember are those big blue beachballs hanging from her ears as she stole center stage ... let’s see, celebrity baby names ... ooh such important topics to cover. Even Terry Moran has lost credibility—certainly pitched no hardballs during his Guantanamo “investigation.” And what’s with all the topics relating strictly to rich (or upper middle class) white folks with kids? Like the day care series, or single moms who can afford to be inseminated artificially and can afford to raise a kid on her own

The most retarded show yet was the show about khat, which was billed as the drug of terror—I guess because terrorists are allegedly making money “trafficking” in it. What was stupid about it was the lack balance. Is khat more dangerous than caffeine? What immigrant communities has it devastated? What drug lords in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia? Back when I was in graduate school at Columbia University, I went out with an Ethiopian grad student and hung out with him and his friends—all either students or immigrants and all khat chewers and all of them productive members of society. I tried it several times. Khat gave me less of a buzz than expresso. For people from the Horn of Africa and, I think, Yemen, chewing khat is like drinking coffee for us.

Anyway ... back to why I don’t care about Nightline anymore ...

The main reason is there isn’t enough depth. The anchor du jour makes a good start covering something important such as say, Iraq, or Israel/Lebanon, or North Korea, or whatever, then just as it’s starting to matter, it’s time to move on to the next story. The anchors, or whatever they’re supposed to be, look like morons when they smile brightly and say, after showing image after image of mayhem and destruction in Lebanon or Iraq or whatever the current horror of the week happens to be, “Now for a look at [insert some inane topic here]” Makes it really hard to take them seriously as journalists. Three stories in 20 minutes means none get covered well. It used to be that I could count on turning to Nightline for a closer look at whatever important news broke that day—a war, a Supreme Court decision, a law enacted, a disaster—and get some idea of what it might really mean. If not that very night, then the next night. And Ted & Co. seemed perfectly capable of running with breaking news. You know, like real journalists.

Not Nightline Lite.

When did McFadden turn into such a lightweight? She used to cover stories that mattered. Bashir has always been a celebrity hack (he did that show with Michael Jackson—which I didn’t bother watching because I don’t give a shiite about Jackson) so I don’t expect much from him. Moran—well, maybe he pissed somebody off—I always thought he was a decent reporter, especially since his CourtTV days, but being stuck at Nightline as his regular gig seems like a big step down. ABC will succeed in killing off the show once and for all.

I don’t care anymore.

posted by lee on 07/27/06 at 10:43 PM

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Monday, July 17, 2006

the canary project

The Canary Project photographs and exhibits landscapes around the world that are showing dramatic transformation due to global warming. The project’s photographers/developers are trying to use these photos to convince people that global warming is a clear and present danger by showing via photos, rather than telling via statistics, the evidence that global warming is already happening and should concern us right now.

The photos of the disappearing glaciers in Austria are compelling. And the Katrina photos. Maybe even the Venice photos. But the Netherlands photos don’t really show anything alarming. What the exhibit lacks are comparative photos—the before and after stuff that Al Gore used so effectively in An Inconvenient Truth. The Costa Rica cloud forest series suffers from a big lack of information—I don’t know what, exactly, I’m looking at and why it’s significant or foreboding. I do understand the dead coral reef photos because I know what a living coral reef looks like, but I’m not sure most people do. Since more people will see the website than the exhibition, the Project should spend a lot more time developing it to be a more effective tool.

The site itself is pretty, but the web designer needs to close up the space at the top because it shoves the photos down too far and makes it annoying to view them. It’s also annoying to have to squint at light gray text on all that white.

There could be more links—a lot more links—which would make the website a better resource, but perhaps those will come with time.

It could also stress what you can do right now, rather than burying it in the links page. After we saw An Inconvenient Truth, we switched our Connecticut Light & Power electricity source to 100% green (wind and methane-recovery from landfills) even though it will cost us a bit more per kilowatt hour (1.1 cent per kwh). And we switched our heating oil to biofuel last fall. We’ll buy carbon offsets as soon as we can afford to. We try to conserve energy as much as possible (which is why we were reluctant to put in the air conditioners) and we follow as many guidelines as we can (energy efficient lightbulbs, unplugging bricks and appliances when possible ... ) Multiply our efforts by millions of other households and companies doing similar things, and this might have more of an impact than anything else short of a 60s-era, NASA-like program by our government to lead the world in coming up with alternatives to fossil fuels.

posted by lee on 07/17/06 at 08:26 AM

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

still no luck with teva

Un-frigging-believable. I called back again today, since the so-called manager never called me back yesterday. Was told something about my street address and zip code and my amex card not authorizing—which is total BS since it authorized just fine two months ago with the same information. So now, I’ve been assured, Gena or Jenna or whatever her name is, the woman who is allegedly responsible for these transactions, will call me back after she gets back from lunch. I asked why nobody called me, and, of course, didn’t get an answer.

posted by lee on 06/28/06 at 11:54 AM

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

teva ecommerce’s utter lack of competence

I love Teva sandals, particularly Mush flip flops. My dad has a pair of Teva’s for walking—he said last year how much he likes them. So, for father’s day, we went to Teva‘s website to send him a gift certificate. Piece of cake. Automatic. One would think. This was June 17.

I’m now on the phone with Teva yet again (third call), and it’s now ten days later, and they still haven’t figured out how to send a gift certificate via email. This was supposed to have been taken care of on Monday, June 19, then again on Thursday, and now, today, we’ll find out if the third time is the charm. Or not. The guy said he is going to personally walk upstair to the woman, Jeana or Gina or something like that, who is responsible for sending out gift certicates (why they need a PERSON to do this is beyond my fathom—with all the stores we run, email gift certificates are sent out automatically) and stand over her while she sends it out to my dad, along with a mea culpa from Teva for screwing up our father’s day present. That promise was made at 2:34 pm edt—I wonder when (or if) I will get a copy of what they sent or if I will have to call yet again. This is not rocket science—it’s simple web technology that’s been around for, oh, more than ten years ...

The first time I called, I was told there was a hold on the order because the name of my street did not fit into the box. I don’t quite know where this bullshit came from since my address was prepopulated in the form as I had already logged in to my account. I asked why this was even relevant, since this order was not being shipped to me (let me mention, not quite two months ago I successfully ordered online and received my Mush flip flops), but was supposed to be delivered via email to my dad. Never got an answer to that one.

The second time I called, Thursday, I was told that Teva had instituted a new payment system over the weekend and when the customer service crew walked in on Monday morning, they discovered not only was there a new system, but that it didn’t work and that not one order was processed. “Ohsosorrysorrysorry ... we will get your order out right now, along with an apology and by the way you get 50% off your next order as an apology from us, just mention it when you call.” Yeah, right.

Third call, today,  ...

More "teva ecommerce’s utter lack of competence"

posted by lee on 06/27/06 at 10:30 AM

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

digital universe

Did some link hopping, first from a New York Times article about Wikipedia to Earth Portal: The Encyclodpedia of the Earth (which appears to be pending—I couldn’t figure out how to actually access anything) to, finally, Digital Universe.

Digital Universe is the beginning of the Encyclopedia Galactica, that compendium of everything envisioned by Isaac Asimov. DU is a portal to portals: “It is an ever-growing array of commercial-free portals mapping the highest-quality Internet destinations, as recommended by experts recognized in their fields. These experts review public contributions, create context and attest to the reliability, integrity, and accuracy of the portals.”

It is an inteface that organizes existing websites into topic areas. For example, if you want to look up some medical information, you’d select the “Human” portal, then “Health,” and look at the resources available on the right side of the screen, which are organized further into topics such as “Essentials,” In-Depth,” etc. In some cases, the site selected loads into the main screen, in other cases it lauches in a new tab or window. (I imagine what happens has to do with copyright agreements.)

DU’s founders write: “The vision of the Digital Universe is to organize the sum total of human knowledge and make it available to everyone.” Hey, shoot for the stars, why not?

Just go poke around; it really is pretty amazing. Sparse or empty in certain areas (such as women’s health), loaded with information in others (Tree of Life).

posted by lee on 06/17/06 at 11:15 AM

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Friday, May 26, 2006

x-men 3 disappoints; da vinci code is fun

Stanley pretty much insists we go see every comic book movie made. Not all of them, but most of them. Usually, they bore me. But X-Men1 and X-Men 2 were movies that I liked a lot. There was a story, they were elegant, intelligent, and had quite a bit of humor in them, and were exciting.

This latest, X-Men 3, well, it was crass, stupid, humorless, and, well, boring. I was so disappointed. When some key characters died, I just didn’t care. There is no real storyline, just excuses for special effects. Enough loose ends left to make one suspect there will be another sequel, but I gotta tell you, if Brett Ratner directs again, I don’t give a damn. What a stupid mess he made. Don’t waste your money.

DA VINCI CODE, on the other hand ...
Which we saw last week, was a lot of fun. Preachy in parts, not perfect by any means, but fun and at times exciting even though I knew what was going to happen next. It was easy to suspend disbelief for 2.5 hours—would’ve liked to have seen even more. It was beautifully filmed. Now this movie was worth a Friday afternoon—I wouldn’t have minded paying evening prices for it.

posted by lee on 05/26/06 at 02:36 PM

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

google earth

Spent a while downloading and then zooming around Google Earth. It’s pretty amazing—seeing places I know from above.

But I wonder how old the data is? I know some of it has to be more than two years out of date since the house I grew up in still shows a big elm tree in front—but the tree came down maybe ten years ago. Seeing my sister’s house in Natick, MA was cool—but I can’t see ours since Fairfield County is this green blob—no buildings are visible. I wonder why. It’s pretty disappointing not to be able to discern our house in the blob. I can see the houses of most of my relatives, but not my house or my parents’ house.

This is my sister’s house in Natick, MA. See how clearly you can see the house! [click to enlarge]

And this is the view of our house in Norwalk. A green blob. You can’t even see the school next door, which is a fairly large building. [click to enlarge]

The other weird thing is some of the data is wrong. The house I grew up in, in Southgate, MI (now the mall capitol of southeastern Michigan), is shown two doors up from where it actually is (the target is over the wrong house—the Franklins lived there when I was growing up!) My youngest sister’s house, in Dearborn Heights, MI, looks wrong. She lives in a small house, with a small garage behind it but the image shows some big buildings there. I forget what her cross street is—will have to ask her to see if it’s even showing the correct corner lot.

So, an interesting start, but disappointing (and useless for seeing where you need to go) for those of us who live in Blob Land. Google directions, the last time I checked (like two months ago) leave a LOT to be desired (like accuracy), at least here in Fairfield County, so maybe when they update the imagery they’ll also update the directions. Or vice versa. When it’s working properly, I’ll start thinking about integrating it into the websites we manage, at least the ones with storefronts.

But it is so FUN to fly over the country!

posted by lee on 12/20/05 at 02:37 PM

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

cigarette burns

We’ve been watching the Masters of Horror series of 13 (of course) movies on Showtime. The latest episode is directed by John Carpenter, titled Cigarette Burns.

imageDefinitely on the creepy side, but derivative as hell. A cross between The Ninth Gate (that Johnny Depp movie where Depp’s character is supposed to track down a demonic book for some rich old fart, and terrible things happen along the way, you know, that overrated Polanski film) and The Ring (where watching a video means you’re gonna die—and the Japanese version, Ringu, which is even better, or scarier, whatever).

Well, in this MofH installment, a movie expert is hired by a rich old fart to find a movie that was shown only once and was allegedly destroyed by “the government” because the audience when berserk and several were murdered after watching it, though there’s a rumor that a copy of it still exists. Even those just looking for the film are subject to its spell ... the rich old fart all has an angel (or devil?) chained up in the gallery. Part of the horror of the movie was watching the angel (or devil) get its wings hacked off, something about the horror of evil. I won’t say too much, except that I kept expecting the lead, who is not Johnny Depp, to pull out a sword and start swashbuckling—why not throw in a third movie ripoff? And there were some definite gaps in the plot there ... it’s interesting to watch. But confusing more than scary.

Dario Argento’s contribution, Jenifer, is my favorite so far. It’s about an incubus succubus, sort of, the whole horror of no good deed goes unpunished. I like Deer Woman, directed by John Landis (well written and funny) and Homecoming, by Joe Dante. Chocolate is the worst so far—way too slow and not very interesting.

There’s one thing I’ve noticed so far—there must be a rule that each installment should show at least one boob shot. Whether or not it’s relevant to the story. Makes me laugh—can’t disappoint the boys now, can we? Are there any women who direct horror movies? I mean decent ones. There aren’t that many women directors, so probably not. Will have to ask Stanley—this is just the sort of thing he’d know (he creamed me at Jeopardy Friday night. I must acknowledge. Guess that heart valve replacement really does allow more oxygen to get to his brain.)

posted by lee on 12/17/05 at 11:37 PM

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

good night, and good luck

We finally got a chance to go see Good Night, and Good Luck last night. It is superb.

imageI have to admit, I was a little leery of this movie, mainly because I was worried that the confluence of George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh would lead to a godawful mess like K Street, the short-lived series they did for HBO. But the reviews for GN&GL are great, and I just wanted to see it.

It took just 50 years for the kind of crap McCarthy pulled to cycle through again. GN&GL a straightforward presentation of a slice of our history during the McCarthy era, and how a group of journalists, led by Edward R. Murrow, decided “enough is enough.”  Nobody acted in the role of McCarthy—Clooney used real footage of McCarthy spewing his poison, which was, I think, the most effective way to do it. The movie slaps you in the face with the parallels to what is happening now, but the slaps are not delivered by the actors—they’re delivered by McCarthy himself, and toward the end, by President Eisenhower.

It took Katrina for some journalists in the country to start waking up, to start saying “enough is enough.” I hope the rest see this movie and are, finally, shamed into doing their jobs.

posted by lee on 12/11/05 at 11:18 AM

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