Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Boston Audiences and Pod People

What is it with people?

Boston is a world-class city with a world-class Arts scene (I still have to write about my experiences at the biennial Boston Early Music Festival, one of the crowning Gems in Boston cultural life, suffice it to say that this year's Festival was a triumph).

But one problem I really cannot understand is how bad the Boston audiences are. I wonder if they're this bad elsewhere. Why is it that people are willing to pay, say, $125 for a seat, and then waste their money by talking through the performance? We've experienced this now at several venues:

  • The Huntington Theatre for a delightful performance of The Rivals. Here, a retirement-age woman was not only chatting with her companion but unwrapping an endless series of Wurther's Originals wrappers (what's wrong with people?);
  • At Boston Ballet — not only for The Nutcracker, since that's kind of par for the course (everybody in Boston goes to the Nutcracker, not just music officionados) — but even for Swan Lake, where one mother felt entitled to describe every moment in the Ballet to her young daughter;
  • Almost every Symphony Hall or Jordan Hall concert of Handel and Haydn or Boston Baroque or the Boston Early Music Festival or whatever we go to.
  • Several plays at the ART (American Repertory Theatre), including Marlowe's Dido and Aeneas where there was a couple in front of us and a couple behind us both having their little chats.
  • At the sublime Boris Goudenouw, one person was thumbing through his program nonstop while another person was loudly eating a bag of popcorn. Where did he even get the popcorn? (At Thésée in 2005, an old man behind us actually grabbed our heads when we were leaning towards one another [not talking] and shoved us apart so he could get a better look at the stage: of course that's incomprehensible rudeness of a completely different sort, so perhaps I shouldn't list it here.)

It really is amazing. How can people blithely ruin the experience of the performance for everyone around them? And do they have so much money to throw around that they are happy to throw it away by ignoring the performance they paid for? Often I have noticed that it's the most wealthy-looking people; often it's some of the more elderly people who really should know better. But it can be anybody. The young, the old, the in-between. What goes through people's heads? Are they autistic? No, I wouldn't want to malign autistic people by tarring them with this brush.

To our abiding horror it turned out that a good friend of ours — who will have to remain nameless for obvious reasons — who home-schools her children, took the opposite position in a phone conversation today. She explained that sometimes you just have to explain things to your children or they won't be able to follow what's going on and learn. She said that "some people don't seem to be able to drown it out." Hello?! My response of course is that having a child doesn't entitle you to be rude. Oddly enough, this friend used to be a normal person.

There is something about having kids that sometimes turns you into what we like to call a "pod person" (you should know the reference: if not from the original movie then from the wonderful original-cast Saturday Night Live skit where all the former hippies were turning into Republicans and were carrying pods with "REAGAN"on them).

All of a sudden you think the world should revolve around you and your needs. After all, having children is hard work. It's hard to juggle schedules and find time and make ends meet. So you are entitled to just take what you want. The ballet is valuable education time for your kid? That's ok: everyone else should just drown you out and let you turn it into a private lesson.

Don't want to park down the block? That's ok. You can just park in someone else's driveway and then disappear into the crowd in the schoolyard to chat with your friends. It's ok: if the homeowner comes home and needs to get into their own driveway, they can circle around the block a few times until you're ready to come back to your car from chatting with people in the School. Or if they have a medical emergency and have to get to the hospital, that's ok, they won't mind waiting for you.

Your stroller is blocking the aisle in the grocery store? That's ok. You're a mom. You're under stress. Besides, your therapist told you that you need to de-stress yourself. You won't even make eye-contact with the person who's trying to politely ask you if they can squeeze by. After all, you have children, so your needs always come first.

DEEP breath. So, what is it? There are jerks everywhere. Marcus Aurelius warned us that every day we will meet an inconsiderate person so there's no point in getting worked up about it. But honestly. Is it this bad everywhere? Do people going to Broadway Shows really throw their money away on conversations they could have anywhere? Is Boston worse?

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Rove, Rumsfeld, and the Spin Machine - UPDATED

I spared myself the spectacle of Bush's press conference — in general I find it painful to listen to Chimpy's voice (except of course for the occasion of his delightful deer-in-the-headlights look in the debates). I've already read about the fake applause, but on the whole I'm avoiding reading about it for tonight at least.

The purpose of this speech was to shore up the public's approval numbers for the Iraq war. What I have found interesting, however, is how coordinated the effort has been over the last several days, on the part not only of the Right-Wing Talking Heads but of government officials.

A great many seem to have characterized Rove's latest charmer, characterized by Daou correctly, I think, as "vile comments denigrating half of the American public" as a tit-for-tat response to Durbin. And of course many are caught up in the despicable manipulativeness of it all and predictably (and, I feel, misguidedly) some quarters have been demanding an apology.

All of this is a waste of time and energy and, worse than that, merely plays into Rove's hands. The man is a political genius (and of course I agree that his genius appears to be more for winning than for actually accomplishing anything): the point is never to look at what he is saying but to ask why he is saying it. Inasmuch as it may have been a response to Durbin at all, that is mere chicken feed. Its primary goal is clearly to stir up the base, make everyone forget about Iraq and remember 9/11 (and hopefully forget the fact that Bush has done nothing to capture Bin Laden; quite the opposite), and turn Bush's numbers around. It goes along with the recent Senate testimony warning that the war was still "winnable" but only with the Public's support, and now, tonight, with Bush's speech.

All this dwelling on the content of Rove's speech just serves their ends on many levels. It keeps the image of 9/11 in people's minds; it keeps the grotesque slander that liberals are weak and unwilling to defend the country (when has there ever been a Democratic president who was afraid to go to war?) in people's minds; and most of all it makes the Democrats look petulant and whiny.

See (and say it) it for what it is: a propaganda tool. And if you have to talk about it at all, just dismiss it as typical of the Republican Party's obsessive and anti-democratic, anti-republican drive for a One Party State: just another attack on the legitimacy of the very existence of any opposition party at all.

UPDATE: Bien-sûr, this has already been said, and better:
But I actually think Rove's rant should be seen as a somewhat encouraging sign. Rove and his idiot chorus aren't roaring at the top of their lungs to try to drown out the liberals -- that would be absurd overkill, given how effectively the corporate media has ridiculed and/or demonized the likes of Howard Dean and Dick Durbin. No, Rove's hate rally is aimed squarely at suppressing the growing doubts of the great silent majority -- and even, to a certain extent, those of the conservative true believers, some of whom are showing ominous signs of war weariness.
The rhetorical assault on the liberals, in other words, is the core of the PR counteroffensive the White House has been promising to unleash for the past week.
Having been advised by the "moderates" to level with the American people and explain just how badly things have gone off the track in Iraq, and how much time, treasure and blood it will take to redeem Bush's casual promises of victory, the Rovians apparently have decided they can't do it -- not without suffering unacceptable casualties on the home front. American troops, after all, are expendable. But Bush's political capital is both precious and increasingly scarce. Much too scarce, apparently, to waste on an exercise as frivolous as a presidential appeal for patriotic unity and shared sacrifice.
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Monday, June 27, 2005

Much XSL

So I've been quiet lately. I have a whole bunch of topics to post on but I've been busy working with XSL(T) for the first time, really. Bookmarking and Furling sites; learning the ropes; picking up a few tricks, etc.

One of my main foci has been to make it easier to include lists of books.'s Associates UI for building links to products is of an exquisitely inconvenient and unpleasant character. Putting together tables of books, such as I have been doing, has involved numerous trips back and forth between the byzantine Amazon UI (so unlike their customer-oriented UIs) and a text editor for lots of search-and-replace steps, etc. It's horrifically cumbersome.

At first I thought I would use allconsuming, or its new avatar,, where I do have accounts (here and here). The old site is going away by the end of August, so I first tried adding my recent book-acquisitions there. I accidentally hit the "I have consumed this" button — which in my opinion is absurdly easy to press and needs to be made far less prominent — and found there is no UI to either UNconsume nor to delete an item you have added. I applied for and got an API key, but then discovered that the 43things API has not yet been extended to support allconsuming operations.

Ultimately in desperation I just deleted my account, hoping to recreate it. Unfortunately, something in their deletion code left what would seem to be a Zombied fragment of my old account, so I was prevented (even after waiting for several days) from recreating one with the same name, and numerous emails went unanswered ... *

Oh, well. That, plus the fact that it is not currently possible to pass one's associates ID through to allconsuming, plus the fact that I simply, and surprisingly, got bitten by two bugs: the "let's learn's Web Services API better" bug (I say "surprisingly" because I am more and more rarely bitten by this kind of bug — a hankerin' to actually do some off-hours coding — these days: I've been a professional software developer for oodles of years now so I tend to seek my hobbies in other intellectual pursuits, but I guess the tech-nerd in me still has some life yet), and then by the "let's learn XSL(T) properly this time!" bug.

Putting the two together, and throwing in the wonderful free XSLT processor Amazon provides at their site (see here), I have created a number of XSL stylesheets to convert Amazon's XML output to something pretty, for three separate applications:
  1. Replace the badge currently in my sidebar displaying a random list of books answering to the keyword "Progressive" with a badge that looks the same but displays precisely the books I want (at a future time I'll adjust it to display a random selection from precisely the books I want). I haven't installed it yet because I haven't picked the list quite yet. This is an IFrame, just like the existing badge.
  2. Use JavaScript to include a more free-form HTML table in-line with document.write() — the same technique used by most of the other places I have linked to in my sidebar. I generated such a table for inclusion in my recent Schoenhofs post, which started out with a simple list of book names (I was too tired that night to go through the unholy hell of building a list of product links from the associates site), and then changed briefly to an Allconsuming list. UNfortunately, Blogger is not cooperative about including JavaScript in posts. This thread provides a way to do it, which .. works ... kind of. But I found that it often made my blog look like a funhouse mirror: the sidebar would randomly show up inside the post, or the post would show up all wide with some of the text running vertically down the right-hand side, or whatever. No problem, however: I simply copied the generated HTML code, which was already conveniently in a single-line format (to fit in a single document.write()) from my XSL file, and pasted it directly into the post.
  3. My third XSL project has been a way to display my entire $27,000, 1500-item wishlist to display nicely on a single page. A single .. very BIG .. page. Together with sorting (very SLOW sorting) by price, title (I had to make the XSL put ", The" at the end of appropriate titles, and even by discount. This project has actually taken up most of my (off-hours coding) time in the past week, and of course this is a purely anti-social project: nobody else is going to want to see my wishlist on one giant page. For now, I accomplished putting the entire wishlist on one page by writing a simple java command-line application to pull down the raw XML for each page and piping standard out into a file (processing it through a very simple XSL sheet that stripped the Request arguments out of all but the first page) and then putting that honkin' XML file through xalan here on my laptop. I did find an intriguing posting on using recursion with Amazon to read through every page, but somehow I think's xalan processor would probably barf on a 151-page wishlist anyway. (Note also one has to use Amazon's 3.0 API or earlier, since they deliberately gelded the 4.0 API to prevent one from accessing a page higher than 14 or some ridiculous number like that; plus the wishlist search has always been broken with regards to finding out the number of pages: not only is there no way to ask, but one cannot rely on any constant behavior when one reaches the end: either the last page keeps repeating, or you get an error - though sometimes you get an error partway through and need to retry anyway). I found this sample of easy JavaScript to make one's tables sortable - it doesn't quite work and it takes over a minute to sort each column, but it's a start.

My only other change to my Blog itself was to replace the former hard-coded picture of the Tower of Babel with a nicely hacked Flickr Badge that displays a randomly-selected Babel picture from amongst the ones I uploaded and tagged with "babel". I stripped off all the surrounding schmutz from this badge (the one in my sidebar still has the schmutz) and also made it borderless; lastly I had to turn my header into a big table in order to make everything fit and format nicely. I think it's quite an improvement.

Anyway, I'll get back to posting actual content soon.

*Update 07/28/2005: Well, I was wrong. It isn't just zombie data and it probably has nothing to do with the API key. My old account really is still there:

Although I can no longer log in as jjmg or edit that profile.

The new page is at and has the imported data from the old site. Sure would be nice to be able to destroy the old one and rename my new one back to jjmg.

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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Kitten Killer Intones: "Time to Move on"

So the TiVo happened to pick up morning's Early Show, which I like to sometimes watch in order to get a sense of how little information the American Public is actually exposed to by the So-called Liberal Media (e.g. will the Iraq War be mentioned at all? Will the casualties be glossed over? How far down the line after Tom Cruise or Michael Jackson will it be?).

They had Kitten-Killer Frist and Hilary Clinton next to one another to promote a bipartisan health initiative, but this was the day after the Schiavo Autopsy results were released, and Renée took the (uncommon) opportunity to put Dr. Kitty-Vivisectionist on the spot regarding the release of the Schiavo autopsy.

Of course my ears perked up. Would the malpracticing diagnostician fess up that he had perhaps "misspoken" when he remotely diagnosed Terri Schiavo on the basis of a 3-minute video on the floor of the Senate?

Of course not. In an Orwellian wiping of his earlier self, now Frist is all professional and medical; now apparently he remembers his medical education and how to read a doctor's report, so this time he actually believes medical professionals who are there (when he isn't) when they say that Terri's brain has atrophied to the point that there's hardly any cortext left and she's blind and even agrees that no amount of therapy could have improved her condition.

But most importantly, now that he's done using the personal, private personal tragedy of the Schindler and Shiavo families for personal political advantage and gross mis-use of government power, he tells us that "this sad chapter is closed" and "it's time to move on".

How convenient. We're told to "move on" so we won't question his earlier behavior.

Turns out this interview wasn't even the worst. Apparently Frist even went so far as to deny his earlier senatorial malpractice even when his words have been recorded. Apparently there is no level of hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty too low for him to stoop to.

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Schoenhofs, Compulsive Book Buying, and Coincidences

Well, I showed some restraint today.

We had to go in to Harvard Square to get Lisa some new glasses. She has to stay away from contacts for a few weeks to let a corneal abrasion heal, which was caused by her falling asleep in her contacts and waking up in the middle of the night and peeling them out, half-asleep, without saline or anything. Ugh.

While she was getting her prescription updated, I popped across the street to Schoenhofs Foreign Bookstore. Schoenhofs doesn't have very convenient hours, so I'm rarely in Harvard Square when it's open. But I'm on vacation all this week, so we can attend concerts at this year's Boston Early Music Festival, starting with Boris Gudenouw, and therefore Schoenhofs was beckoning to me.

It's always dangerous when I am there during Schoenhof's hours. Especially since they don't discount anything. And foreign language books and textbooks and so forth, can be extremely expensive. Especially reprints of old editions of Classical Greek and Latin books. Those get more expensive every year (and unfortunately used bookstore owners who sell over the internet know perfectly well how expensive the new ones are, so you won't get a better deal on Bookfinder, either). But I digress.

The reason why I mention Coincidences in the title of this posting is that what should be the first thing that I see when I walk up to the front door of Schoenhofs but a book entitled Вальпургиева Ночь (Val'purgieva Noch' for those of you who don't read Cyrillic). I had never seen the Russian rendering of Walpurgis Night before but there was no question that this is what it meant. (Since coming home I've discovered that it's a play by a Венедикт Ерофеев (Venedikt Yerofeyev), of the Soviet era, whom I had never heard of.

Of course this sort of thing happens in life all the time: coincidences like this. You learn a new word, and suddenly you're always hearing it (not that I only just learned about Walpurgisnacht; I've known about it since I read Faust in College, and Roger Zelazny touched on it in the first sequel to his original Amber novels, but I'm just giving that as an example: it doesn't have to be a word you just learned but it could be something you just re-developed an interest in). They say that it is only just that your mind is "keyed" to this new word or concept or whatever and that's why you're only just now noticing it everywhere. But still. It was a remarkable moment of synchronicity.

I only bought four books on this particular outing. I actually was planning on going to Schoenhofs once I remembered that Lisa's appointment was today, since a new book had been brought to my attention on the TextKit Greek and Latin forum I discovered a couple of days ago in the process of uploading all my Classics bookmarks to (while looking at some of my bookmarked pages, I followed some of their links). More about TextKit later, but for now, I'll just list the books I bought at Schoenhofs starting with the one I went there for:

Cover image for Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics)Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics)
Benjamin W., IV Fortson and BENJAMIN W. FORTSON
$44.95 (No discount)
Cover image for Inventing Homer : The Early Reception of Epic (Cambridge Classical Studies)Inventing Homer : The Early Reception of Epic (Cambridge Classical Studies)
Barbara Graziosi, R. L. Hunter, R. G. Osborne, M. D. Reeve, P. D. Garnsey, M. Millett, D. N. Sedley, and G. C. Horrocks
$70.00 (No discount)
Cover image for The Cambridge Companion to Homer (Cambridge Companions to Literature)The Cambridge Companion to Homer (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
Robert Fowler
$29.99 (No discount)
Cover image for Le roman d'Alexandre (Lettres gothiques)Le roman d'Alexandre (Lettres gothiques)
(Not for sale at Amazon)

In a future posting I'll also have to talk about my discovery of Bookcrossing, which has forums of its own. A particularly pertinent topic I found there is Are you a compulsive book buyer? with the question "Why would we continue to buy books if we haven't read the ones we've already bought? " How about, "why would you continue to buy books if you outstripped your ability to read all the ones you own without retiring early about 10-15 years ago and it's only gotten worse since?" Maybe we won't go there.

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Walpurgisnacht, Valborg, Wealdburg, and Ingrid Bergman

So the TiVo™ picked up Valborgsmässoafton, or Walpurgis Night, a Swedish-language movie from 1935 with a very young Ingrid Bergman.

The film is not particularly good in and of itself — it's what one might almost call a 1930's version of a LifeTime Movie — apparently back in the 1930s people worried that Sweden suffered from a low birthrate, and the movie is all about marriage, love affairs, morals, and selfish rich wives wanting abortions so they don't get fat and lose the freedom to go to parties a lot.

The title was what was interesting: of course anybody should know about Walpurgisnacht from Faust and Night on Bald Mountain, but there didn't seem to be anything particularly supernatural about the film's content. When the wife wanted to reschedule her abortion so it didn't fall on Walpurgis Night, I assumed perhaps that she was being superstitutious or something, but in fact it started to look as though Walpurgis Night is some sort of huge holiday celebration in Sweden: like some sort of combination of New Year's Eve and a Spring Festival with singing students and bonfires and all sorts of Scandinavian to-dos. And in fact, according to Wikipedia, that is precisely what it is.

Apparently it's only in Germany that Walpurgis Night is associated with Witches and Corpses and Ghosts and Skeletons and Demons: kind of like an anti-Hallowe'en, exactly at the halfway mark across the year from October 31, on April 30. It would appear that the Church did a better job of demonizing the underlying Viking pagan festivities in Germany than they did in Scandinavia: so in Germany, it's Night on Bald Mountain and Faust having sex with Witches, but in Sweden and Finland it's lots of innocent drunkenness and revelling and celebration of warm weather and sunlight. Chuckle.

I adore Ingrid as much as anybody, but she actually did a lot of pretty terrible overacting in this film; perhaps that was the style in Sweden in 1935. Who knows.

Alors; on apprend quelque chose de nouveau chaque jours, hein?

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More blog infrastructure maintenance ...

So, I added a "Bookmark" link at the bottom of every posting to allow people to automatically post it to I acquired the code from here via here which I got to ultimately from Absolutely - Complete Tool Collection, of course. But I'm particularly pleased with the cute little icon which I "acquired" on the web somewhere or other (*ahem*) and put next to it. Quite pretty.

I also renamed my screen name both here and on flickr from JJMG to IVSTINIANVS (i.e. Justinian), which goes with my icon, of course, which goes with my real name which is not particularly hard to discover via flickr. I was inspired to pick this name when I joined the TextKit Greek and Latin Forums (more on that later). Altogether, more satisfying than JJMG.

To make all this fit, I had to remove the "posted by" text in front of my name, and but to fit everything I still needed to reduce the size of the post footer text. Looks good, actually.

Am I still having too much fun with all these tweaks to spend much time getting around to actually making posts? Mm, you decide.

I still need to add my allconsuming book list, and more Classics and Linguistics sites to my links. (Although it's all getting so long that I think I need to figure out how to make my link categories expand/collapse — i.e. show/hide links.)

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Perseus joins the twenty-first century!

Woo hoo! And it's about time, too! No more CGI scripts! Java!

Much faster. Much more usable UI. Very nice. A couple of Unicode encoding issues in MSIE, which I'll report, but overall very much worth a visit. (Actually, Perseus has always been incredibly useful and worth more than a visit, but now it's even better.)

From this posting at the TextKit Greek and Latin Forums.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

I ♥ I ♥ Huckabees and I ♥ Blogpostings entitled I ♥ I ♥ Huckabees

Well, we finally got around to watching the I ♥ HuckabeesDVDSee this movie's record at the Internet Movie Database, and we weren't disappointed. That makes I think the fourth or fifth movie in a row that was "supposed to be good" and actually was. Let me see:

HolesSee this movie's record at the Internet Movie DatabaseThis we Tivo'ed it off the air, but we may well end up getting the DVD, it was so good. We loved it. Original, fresh, unpredictable, non-formulaic: sweet, but not syrupy; honest but not cynical. We laughed, we cried, yadda yadda, and we recommend it to people.
CloserSee this movie's record at the Internet Movie DatabaseThis we got on DVD when it first came out. So refreshing to see a movie based on dialog, even though there is a lot of "potty mouth", to put it delicately, and in excess this can begin to seem like laziness on the part of the writer. Clive Owen deserved the oscar, as far as we're concerned.
IncrediblesSee this movie's record at the Internet Movie DatabaseThis we also got on DVD as soon as it came out. Again, we had heard good things about it, but it turned out to be much better than we had expected (though you have to get past a bit of a slow start): Pixar just continues to crank out good ideas. I've already talked about this very fun movie, and in particular the mystery of the epigraphic archaic Greek/Etruscan inscription.
SidewaysSee this movie's record at the Internet Movie DatabaseAgain, bought the DVD as soon as it came out. Again, all the reviews had been good. Again, it was just wonderful. Just great filmmaking. Definitely deserved the Oscar it won for screenplay.

That's a pretty good run! We are tired of getting sucked into the rat-hole of movies that are "supposed to be good but aren't" — some day I'll try to publish a full list of the above, but that will have to wait until a later post. I can say, however, that wasn an almost existential (heh) coincidence in that Isabelle Huppert, whom I adore and who stole every scene she was in in in I ? Huckabees, turned out to have been in two of the worst of the "..but weren't" films we've scene lately: firstly the overhyped 8 femmes (ugh; with its puerile eternal-adolescent-French-male-fantasy lesbian scene; and I was really looking forward to loving that film!- but honestly what was Ebert thinking?!) and Merci pour le chocolat, which I had always wanted to see (partly, I admit, because it's one of the oddly large number of "Chocolat(e)" movies that came out between 1992 and 2000: another list I'll have to make some day). No reflection on Isabelle; it's just odd that whenever we watch a movie that has been hyped to death and are surprised and pleased to see that it's as good as we were told, we always think of all the other movies, including all the indies we were really hoping to like, that just made us wonder "why was that supposed to be good", and it is amusing to see that connection with Isabelle between the two sets of films: the "... but werent" and the "... and actually were".

Before starting this post I did a little Google search and actually given what an obvious idea the title of this posting is, I was astonished that there's only slightly more than a page of results for the string I?I?Huckabees. But, duh — there are TEN pages of results for "I Heart I Heart Huckabees". I guess most people just CAN'T be bothered to find the heart in the Unicode spec.

I just loved this movie. Loved it. It was fresh, original unpredictable, fun, silly, funny, just plain nutty, and sweet. Mark Wahlberg was just phenomenal. And this is the first movie where I've actually liked the character Jason Schwartzman plays, though actually I have never sat through a whole screening of one of his movies: what bits of Rushmore I saw made me suspect it was going to go into the "... but weren't" pile, though maybe I should see the whole thing before I decide. That was one of the things I liked most about this movie: I liked the people.

I loved Dustin's mop-top. I always love Lily. Jude Law was perfect for the part though he is unfortunately not as adept as some of the rest of his generation of British actors with American accents and it definitely slipped a few times.

I said it was fresh and unpredictable and so on, and of course there are so many movies that are so aware of being new and differena and shocking and just so very avant garde that they just end up being irritating. This was not one of those movies. As insane and crazy and just over the top as the ideas in this movie were (everybody's going to think of "Existential Detective" when I say that), it just somehow manages to pull it off without becoming a farce or a parody or pompous and self-important.

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Sunday, June 05, 2005

David Brooks is STILL a Moron - The European Way vs. the American

Thank god for David Brooks is a moron. I love this site. You read David Brooks, you get all irritated and steamed, but you don't even have to try to put your finger on why he's such an idiot, they've do it for you! Plus, see, this is why I don't need to write my own content: I can already be sure that somebody else has said whatever I want to say better.

In their Column 2006-6-2 Commentary they pretty much cover all the reasons why Brooks's editorial in thursday's NYT, which made the disingenuous claim that

events in Western Europe are slowly discrediting large swaths of American liberalism

seems so facile and wrongheaded. Ohhhh, where does one even begin? Anyway, you don't have to. Read their excellent post.

Actually, you can always count on the readers of the NYT to rise to the occasion as well. See "Europe, the Good Life, and Us". A few excerpts:
David Brooks is mistaken: far from discrediting American liberalism,
European experiences vindicate it.
German, French and Dutch voters have many desires. Trading their social
achievements for what Mr. Brooks euphemistically terms "flexibility" is not
among them.


An economic system's true success is measured not by its "efficiency" or the latest stock-market peak but by the quality of life it delivers. On that scale,
most Americans are falling further behind Europeans.
Of course there's nothing new here about American conservatives liking to kid themselves that everyone else in the world really wants to live like Americans. "Why else would so many illegal immigrants want to come and live here?" Plus, ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, they have been patting themselves on the back with the canard that all other social and economic systems have been discredited other than capitalism: and indeed not just capitalism, but specifically the American style of Capitalism that means no job security, ever widening yawning gaps between the haves and the have-nots, and no support net for the increasing numbers of the middle class who fall through the cracks. The neocons even came up with the bright idea — which actually does awfully utopian to me, especially coming from supposed "conservatives" — that the American system is the only "sustainable" one.

Now, when one listens to conservative campaign ads, with the mantra of "he's going to raise your taxes", one just gets the idea that Americans must be, well, simply ignorant of a world outside America. How could Americans worry so much about taxation when they are already by far the least taxed people in the Western industrialized world (and get the worst public services for it, not to mention all the extra fees and higher — and more inefficient — local taxes they have to pay)? From the campaign ads, one would imagine that Americans, at least those who buy the messages in these ads, are immensely parochial and inward looking, unaware of any world outside of the United States, as if there is only one laboratory on earth for any political or economic idea to be tried.

But editorials like this remind one that the more educated breed of conservative is aware of a world outside, but is able to simply dismiss it with the notion of "American Exceptionalism": yes, sure these things may have been tried elsewhere, but we would never want to try them here because our system is a beacon to the world, and we're not going to copy the mistakes of the old world.

Did this notion spring from when the United States was founded? Although conservatives may forget that we had copied an awful lot of very important things from the Old World, like the Secular Enlightenment Values that today's theocrats want to dismantle, there were certainly an awful lot of bad things that we left behind for good reason: entrenched aristocracies and highly stratified class systems and warmongering monarchies. Since World War II of course we have given up on isolating ourselves from the rest of the world and come to think of it, we appear to be swapping the good things we got from Europe (like the Enlightenment) for all the bad things we used to abjure (like Imperialism).

And,yes, there are an awful lot of important things about which America is exceptional which any liberal would be proud of, and in fact probably more than any conservative: our stronger-than-anywhere Freedom of Speech and our more-independent-than-anywhere "activist" Judicial system in particular. And it's not hard to make a long list of things wrong with Europe, including even a few that conservatives have complained about recently. Europe sat by while Croatia and then Bosnia burned, and Europeans do have problems with Xenophobia that in some ways are worse than ours. (Of course, conservatives at the time ridiculed Bill Clinton for trying to step in and do something about Bosnia, such as when GWB ran against Gore on the absurdity of "nation building", but evidently they've changed their minds.) These past acts of cynical "realpolitik" played into the neocons' hands when Europe this time had good reason to resist the push to an illegal and destabilizing war in Iraq.

But are "pundits" like David Brooks really so ignorant that people in the rest of the western industrialized world find the thought of living in America to be potentially rather terrifying? That people in other countries think of our country, with its extraordinarily high levels of gun violence and incarceration, as being virtually a war-zone? A country in a state of perpetual civil war? That people elsewhere are proud of their health-care systems, lower infant mortality, lower poverty, and generally more egalitarian societies? (Here comes the "hating America" refrain, but is it "hating America" to want us to be better?)

Anyway. Read the 6/02 "David Brooks is a Moron" post. Besides, they don't ramble as much as I do.

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Where's the content?

Having recently added a sitecounter to my blog, I notice that most people who come across this blog tend not to linger here very long. Indeed some stay for such a short amount of time that the stats report of my sitecounter often shows the time as 0:00. Oops!

The explanation is probably not difficult to find, however. A blog is supposed to be an act of self-expression and yet there's hardly any content here. And even when I do make postings, they are often very short on actual writing: e.g., a list of books I want to buy or books I might possibly be interested in buying, etc.

Plus there's been absolutely no ranting, raving, gripings or even the slightest words on the politics of the day, despite the preponderance of political, left-leaning blogs in my blogroll. Evidently I like to read about politics, but don't have much to say about it.

Well, this blog is still very much a work-in-progress. As self-expression, it is the blog as a whole, with all its links and doodads, that expresses who I am or at least how I want to be perceived. I've spent most of my time with this blog adding links to sites I care about or find interesting, adding more blogs to my blogroll, adding things like my flickr badge (I've been uploading a lot lately, now that I have a pro account), and other infrastructure changes and template tweaks.

Long before I began blogging and discovered things like technorati, del.icious, flickr, or furl, I did a lot of solitary and passive "poor-man's furling" by simply saving an emailed copy of an article I found interesting in the New York Times, or the Boston Globe, or Slate, or Salon, or MSNBC, or some political blog. Now that I have a furl account I can do it online, publicly (for anybody who cares to read my blog and look at my furl feed, etc.), and in a way that is a big part of my "blogging" these days: indeed, Amy Gahran, in 10 Cool Things to do with Furl, described it this way:

Rudimentary blogging: Many blogs are little more than link filters. That is, the authors mainly link to relevant items, perhaps with a short comment, rather than write article-style entries. If that’s all you want to do with your blog, why not just create and syndicate a Furl archive instead?

And that's pretty much what I'm doing. You can see it in my "recently furled" links near the bottom of the sidebar and under "narcissism" in my blogroll as "Furl - the JJMG archive". Anyway, I'll eventually finish puttering around with infrastructure, adding links I want to be associated with, books I'm reading or have read or want to read, etc., and will hopefully actually start saying something — maybe even something worth reading. Hopefully I'll get the hang of this and will find my own voice. Either that or I'll just keep reading what someone else has said about politics or books or whatever, furling what I find interesting or posting links to Eh, either way.

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Book Acquisitions

A little shopping at Porter Square Books today. I showed remarkable restraint and only bought these three:

However, as further proof of my aimlessly wandering attention-span and uncontrollable biblioholism, here is the list of books I wrote down on the back of a receipt while I was there to add to my wishlist:

Product image for ASIN: 0198752733Ancient Philosophy
Author: Anthony Kenny;Buy New: $18.90
Product image for ASIN: 0691120366The Ethics of Identity
Author: Kwame Anthony Appiah; Buy New: $19.77
Product image for ASIN: 1890951498Echolalias
Author: Daniel Heller-Roazen; Buy New: $18.48
Product image for ASIN: 1403965323Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse
Author: David Jay Brown; Buy New: $17.79
Product image for ASIN: 1851682848God: a Guide for the Perplexed
Author: Keith Ward; Buy New: $15.72
Product image for ASIN: 0199264791The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
Author: Ted Honderich; Buy New: $37.80
Product image for ASIN: 0268023662The Myth Of Religious Neutrality
Author: Roy A. Clouser; Buy New: $25.00
Product image for ASIN: 1403968594Greenspan's Fraud
Author: Ravi Batra; Buy New: $16.47
Product image for ASIN: 1586482254Soft Power
Author: Joseph S. Nye; Buy New: $15.75
Product image for ASIN: 1586482483Running The World
Author: David Rothkopf; Buy New: $19.77
Product image for ASIN: 1585676675Chariot
Author: Arthur Cotterell; Buy New: $19.77
Product image for ASIN: 1400032806Under the Banner of Heaven
Author: JON KRAKAUER; Buy New: $10.17
Product image for ASIN: 0802714455Before The Fallout
Author: Diana Preston; Buy New: $17.82
Product image for ASIN: 0316346624The Tipping Point
Author: Malcolm Gladwell; Buy New: $10.17
Product image for ASIN: 0393060101The Story of Britain
Author: Rebecca Fraser; Buy New: $23.80
Product image for ASIN: 0465092810Blind Spot
Author: Timothy Naftali; Buy New: $17.16
Product image for ASIN: 0871138883The Long Emergency
Author: James Howard Kunstler; Buy New: $15.64
Product image for ASIN: 0393326446The Great Pretenders
Author: Jan Bondeson; Buy New: $10.17
Product image for ASIN: 0747230404Imagined Corners
Author: Paul Binding; Buy New: $30.60
Product image for ASIN: 0750923407Kings, Queens, Bones and Bastards
Author: David Hilliam;
Product image for ASIN: 0312335873Who Murdered Chaucer?
Author: Terry Jones; Buy New: $20.37
Product image for ASIN: 0521809185Ancient Rome
Author: Christopher S. Mackay; Buy New: $23.10
Product image for ASIN: 0415223083Imagining Robin Hood
Author: A. J. Pollard; Buy New: $18.45
Product image for ASIN: 0306814358When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World
Author: Hugh Kennedy; Buy New: $17.16
Product image for ASIN: 0345450671The Linguist and the Emperor
Author: DANIEL MEYERSON; Buy New: $16.47
Product image for ASIN: 1932236279Remembered Past
Author: John Lukacs; Buy New: $19.80
Product image for ASIN: 0679454810Seven Ages of Paris
Author: ALISTAIR HORNE; Buy New: $23.10
Product image for ASIN: 0520245539Into the Land of Bones
Author: Frank L. Holt; Buy New: $16.47
Product image for ASIN: 0226534219How to Lie with Maps
Author: Mark Monmonier; Buy New: $10.20
Product image for ASIN: 0300106637Soldiers and Ghosts
Author: J. E. Lendon; Buy New: $23.10
Product image for ASIN: 0786712279Tea
Author: Roy Moxham; Buy New: $14.28

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