Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Another reason to go to church

For Christmas my mother bought me a box of chocolates made by a woman who sings with her in the church choir in Portland, Maine. You certainly couldn't tell by looking at them that they were home made. They are more like truffles than sampler bonbons, but more adventurous than even your average truffle. For instance: Ginger: "Intriguing infusion of blended chocolates with fresh ginger. Dark rounds garnished with candied ginger"; Calvados Caramel: "Decadently dark blend of chocolates and raw Piloncillo sugar caramel, spiked with the regional French brandy"; and a real surprise, Maya: "Honey, fragrant vanilla, and the smoky heat of chipotle. Dark rounds with chipotle garnish." Yes, chipotle, as in the smoke-dried jalapeno pepper. They were all amazing but not really surprising since the woman who made them insists on doing everything just so (won't buy tempered chocolate, has to temper it herself). She sells them as Box Hill Confections, phone number 207-829-6027, e-mail boxhill@verizon.net. I'm someone who takes candy seriously--they were great, and each one big enough to share.
Movie Review: P.S.

Due to the flood of e-mails I've received about the title of Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which I recently reviewed, I'm posting this link to the explanations the director has provided, including the most unfortunate last one.

Monday, December 29, 2003

My Dirty Laundry-- how truth is stranger than fiction

Where I live now, there is a severe lack of laundromats, and I do not have laundry in my building. I have had to resort to a combination of lugging laundry on trips to see Lily and Iris, who have laundry in their homes, and utilizing laundry service at dry cleaners (wash, dry, fold type stuff). Well, I started using this place downstairs when I moved here. Different building, but right next door. They were good at first -- "we're open all the time" they said. And they were. Two times ago, the hours began to get erratic. I started to have a hard time picking up my laundry after work, in large part because I tend to get home after 7pm. So I had to get it before work, which is hard too, because I try to get to work by 8:45.

So, two Tuesdays ago, I dropped off some laundry before work. Two Fridays ago, I showed up at the laundromat before work and was told that the laundry wasn't picked up on Tuesday after I dropped it off, but Wednesday. Ah, so much for "in by 11am, out by the next day." They said I could pick it up later that day. Unfortunately, I couldn't, because I was headed out of town from work that day. (This turns out to be fortunate for the laundromat, you will see later in the story.) So, I said I'd be back on Tuesday morning, since I wouldn't be back in town until Monday morning at which point I would head straight to work.

I arrived at the laundromat the following Tuesday (which is last Tuesday), only to find it closed. It was 8:45am. Most dry cleaners, most people know, are open by 7am. I left them a nasty note about how they were never open, and informed them I would be back the following Monday (today). The reason for the delay was my trip home, which I would be leaving on from work that day.

So, last night, I roll into town and arrive at my apartment. It's midnight. I look to my right as I put the key into the door and see in the window of the laundromat, a giant sign. The sign said: "For Lease."

For lease! My brain sort of shut down for a bit. But I tried to take it in stride. Checked my mail and walked into the lobby. But the more I thought about it, the more distressed I became. I mean, think about it. I was gone for five days and the place shut down. There had been no indication that they were closing, no signs, no warning. So I left my bags and headed upstairs, and came back down with some tape and paper. I left a note on the door with my name and phone number, indicating I wanted to pick up my laundry. I took a peek inside--the place looked veritably cleaned out. CLEANED OUT.

Mind you, it isn't the clothes. Well, not totally. I mean, there were some nice shirts and jeans in there which would total a few hundred dollars, but it's more the feeling of violation. Like my house had burned down or something.

So I fretted about it, called my parents, called Lily, called work and told them I'd be late (since there was no way I could resolve this outside of business hours now, especially since they were out of business). I finally got to bed at 3am.

At 9am, I headed downstairs. No one there. Lights on, note gone, but no one there. Let me repeat, the note was gone. But I hadn't been called.

So I sat down on the steps and waited, thinking maybe they were slinking in and out, trying to avoid people. I called the leasing agency, which seemed oddly prepared for my phone call and directed me to "Carol." At 9:45 I got tired of waiting and went upstairs to do something productive for a bit. At 10:15, Carol called to inform me that she had received several calls and that she could only hope the former proprieter would "peaceably" return the keys. She gave me their only contact info, which I called, only to reach one of those answering machines with the weird computer voices. Bogus.

At 10:30 I went back downstairs where I found a contractor type fellow poking around the dry cleaners. I followed him surreptitiously around back, thinking he had some secret way in. But he couldn't get in and left. So I came back around front and sat on the steps some more, where I was verbally assaulted by a drunk, homeless man. Great.

At 11am, I gave up. I had to go to work. Headed back upstairs to get dressed for work, only to break a lamp while trying to change the bulb. Strike three.

On my way to work, I stopped by the laundry place again. I was in luck! There were people inside. I pounded on the door and someone came to glare at me -- I got the "what are you doing here" look. What was I doing there? "I want my laundry." "Oh, come on in."

Laundry man then says, "Do you have a ticket?" Are you kidding me? Are we still pretending that you are a legitimate business and not some fly-by-night operation that tried to swindle its customers? "Yes, I have a ticket." He returned with my laundry -- "that'll be ten bucks." My mind blew. Seriously. All sense of reason evaded me. In retrospect, I should have said, "Sure, you just pay me for the three hours of lost wages from skipping work today." Instead, I huffed something about them having my laundry for two weeks and packing up in the middle of the night. I then noticed some other guy, who I gather was another former customer ("victim"), who said, "If it makes you feel better, we're all in the same boat." What? No, it doesn't make me feel better you crazy nutter.

But laundry freak wouldn't give me my laundry. So I gave in and dug out a $20. He says ... you guessed it ... "I don't have any change." Sheesh. "Do you have anything smaller?" NO. Of course I don't. If I did, I'd have given it to you. "Oh, well, I have to go make change." Crazy former customer started to get nervous. "Uh, could you write down your phone number?"

At that time, another customer came in looking for her shoes. She'd been by four times and was starting to "freak out." Crazy former customer says, "Hey, you have nice shoes on. Doesn't she have nice shoes?" I wanted to tear his head off and shove the shoes down his stump of a neck.

So laundry man runs off to get change. He returns and gives me my $10. As I'm leaving I think, maybe I should check the laundry. So I open the bag and find -- it's not done. Dirty. Dirty laundry, two weeks old. Laundry man says to me, "Oh, right, sorry" and hands me my ten dollars.

I was speechless.

I could comment on this, but I won't I'll just let the story stand for itself. As an addendum, I checked the place when I got home from work today. It's boarded up. I feel so fortunate that I found them at 11am. I'm not sure what I would have done now...
Just came back from being home for the holidays.

Let me just say this: baggage claim carousels will never cease to freak me out. How weird is it that baggage claim is probably the single biggest free-for-all honor system we have in this country?
Pizza Freaks

According to a survey released by Domino's pizza:

(1) "'Paris Hilton' is the No. 1 fake name used by people calling for pizza deliveries, according to a survey of Domino's Pizza drivers in Washington, D.C., released Monday by the pizza delivery chain. And 38 percent of those using the name of the socialite model ordered pepperoni topping."

(2) "U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft . . . was No. 2 on the list of assumed names used by people ordering pizza."

(3) "According to the survey of 630 drivers, nine percent of people who answer the door in the nude tip more than 20 percent, compared with 2 percent of people in pajamas."

For more weird stuff, check out the article at the Boston Globe.



Movie Review

Elephant is writer-director Gus Van Sant's take on school shootings like the one that took place on 20 April 1999 at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado. Van Sant, director of Mala Noche (1985), a poetic masterpiece about a gay convenience store cashier's hopeless crush on a younger illegal immigrant, and Drugstore Cowboy (1989), is a good man for the job because his best work has been out of the mainstream. He can't think his way into the Hollywood box (not even in his best-known and most popular work, Good Will Hunting (1997), Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's shrewd piece of juvenile narcissism) and Columbine is the kind of complex situation that doesn't fit in that box (custom-cut for melodrama and heroic romance). In Elephant Van Sant isn't trying to think at all, but to see. His achievement here with this hot topic is perhaps mostly negative: he's so concerned with devising a moviemaking technique for avoiding glib answers that he doesn't get past the technique. But the technique has a definite fascination.

You can tell what Van Sant didn't want: an overwrought script that merely dramatized the usual editorial explanations of such crimes. Columbine is an ideological Rorschach ink blot--people's "explanations" tend to be coordinated to the things they already believe. The editorialists' "causes" are present in Elephant--parents who fail to supervise their children; schools that fail to deal with students who pick on other students; readily available weaponry; violent entertainment; the mystique of extremist viewpoints--but Van Sant's narrative doesn't emphasize them dramatically. No villains, no heroes, not even protagonists, scarcely what you'd call characters at all, in fact. It's an antidote both to Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine (2002), with its obscenely smug self-assurance, and to Nicholas Ray and Stewart Stern's Rebel Without a Cause (1955), with its Technicolor-Freudian approach to teen anguish.

Instead Van Sant and his cinematographer Harris Savides have come up with a visual correlative for literary naturalism: for long stretches their camera simply follows students as they walk around the high school campus. These aren't self-conscious tracking shots of the kind Martin Scorsese used in GoodFellas (1990; in the famous entry into the Copacabana nightclub, for example) in which our awareness of the milieu is heightened by the elaborately timed choreography that brings characters and actions into range just as the camera sweeps past. The artificiality functions in GoodFellas expressionistically to tell you that the gangsters move in a created underworld, a big greased machine.

In Elephant the tracking shots attempt paradoxically to purify the action of the moviemakers' intentions. The shots go on so long they almost function as jokes because you become aware of yourself as a movie-"magic" junkie waiting in vain for the non-actors to hit their marks, for the point of the technique to be revealed. (There's a shot of a kid crossing an empty gym that reminded me of the scene of Jerry Lewis in The Bellboy (1960) filling a vast auditorium with folding chairs, one at a time.) In Elephant Van Sant is after the opposite effect from GoodFellas. He's not trying to compact a specific viewpoint into the imagery but rather to replicate the random trajectories of a handful of students through an average day. The fact that it turns out not to be average isn't even shaped for irony.

Van Sant thus has two contradictory things to convey at once: on the one hand the sense that the crime was somehow produced and on the other the everyday life that it disrupted seemingly out of the blue. (The more usual thing he gets down is how to show various simultaneous strands of action without intercutting them.) His aesthetic hunch pays off, but it is perhaps not a long enough, or full enough, movie to make this intriguingly unstressed technique pay off in terms of the subject matter.

Possibly the only way to do justice to the subject matter, the why of the crime, would be to employ the technique on a much broader scale. In A Cry in the Dark (1988), a movie about the sensational Australian case of a woman convicted of murdering her baby, which had in fact been killed by a dingo, Fred Schepisi intercuts the woman's travails with the public reaction to the story as they follow it through the news media, and you get an almost sociological sense of how justice gets distorted in her case.

In Elephant Van Sant closes out the world beyond the kids he follows. We don't see much of parents, teachers, administrators, or all that much of student interactions or the culture they enjoy. We glimpse everything and though there are no barriers to our access neither is there the kind of authorial shaping that might produce insight. It appears Van Sant would consider that objectionably intrusive, with the result that he's so engaged in how to film the subject that the subject is barely broached.

Which is not to say that you can't tell it's a Van Sant movie. In this interview with FilmForce Van Sant cites Frederick Wiseman, the director of the great documentary High School (1968), among others, as someone who had got the kind of effect he was after. But despite the technique for attenuating a too-ready "message," for merely transmitting lived reality, Elephant can hardly be called documentary naturalism. I can admire it as one of the least banal movies about a headline issue ever (it can't even really be called discursive), but the long, long tracking shots following these dewy-faced kids, shots that go into and out of slow motion, are too hypnotic for naturalism.

In addition, I haven't read anything that comments on the difference in the way Van Sant views the boys and the girls. I was about to say that his style here makes the ordinary too sensuous for a documentary, but that's really only when he's got the boys in his sights. The camera caresses their cheeks and chests; there's no pull back even when the two shooters get into the shower together and experiment with a kiss.

By contrast, one of the strands involves three chattery girls who check out a jock one of them has a crush on, gossip about his girlfriend, have a spat over how much time you should spend with guys versus girlfriends, eat lunch and then go into the bathroom to regurgitate together before heading off campus to go shopping. You react to this sequence in a completely different way from everything else. The movie's dialogue is said to have been improvised, but the girls' hencoop prattle sounds scripted, wickedly, and the action feels choreographed, dementedly. When all three go into side-by-side stalls to puke it's like a dramatization of a medical article in a teen magazine as shot by Busby Berkeley. It made me sit up and respond as if the movie were an entertainment, and I wasn't sorry for the respite. It's the only sequence that doesn't require concentration, the only one that comes to you. It is also the closest the picture comes to irony. The girls' inane jabber and in-sync energy bring the movie in the range of Brian DePalma's version of Stephen King's Carrie (1976), in which we are free to enjoy the gaudy deaths of the bitchy chicks.

The most recognizably sympathetic treatment is of a nerdy girl who doesn't want to wear shorts for gym and can't explain why to the gym teacher and is made fun of in the locker room. But that's nothing like the masturbatory homoerotic poeticism of the way Van Sant films the boys. However, Van Sant doesn't in the end compromise his restraint. You can see it in the boy who's a photographer developing his first portfolio. He's an artist figure and you expect him to have a special relationship to the shooting, mirroring Van Sant's. But Van Sant backs away from that once the shooting starts because he doesn't want the movie to have a center. (Who gets shot doesn't follow any predictable pattern, either.) That would violate his focus on the aesthetic means of capturing the lives of the students.

Similarly, he uses non-professional actors precisely because they don't have the power and technique to "say" too much. Professionals might tell you more about what it was like to live through the event but as you can see in a waterlogged hunk of naturalism like Mystic River, experienced actors are too hungry for big scenes, bolded and underlined messages. They'd almost inevitably coarsen what Van Sant is trying for here. (Van Sant's only critical failure of taste is in his use of Beethoven on the soundtrack. He lets it do his work for him and the effect is pre-fab elegiac.)

In Elephant all Van Sant's imagination went into the visual-narrative problem of how to represent his subject without altering it. We can still make out his fingerprints, but he got me thinking. About representation, however, not about Columbine, but that's arguably an even rarer ambition in American movies.

You can find this review and a lot besides at Blogcritics.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

This "American Brandstand" list gives us the top brands mentioned in singles that made the Billboard top 20 in 2003.

The most mentioned brand -- by far -- is Mercedes Benz.

Ludacris wins the award for "boldest use of a difficult rhyme" with: "But Louis Vuitton bras all over your breasts / Got me wanting to put hickies all over ya chest (ah!)"

Some decry the increasing commercialization of rap and hip-hop, but I say it's hard to find stuff this entertaining. And besides, product placement in songs has been around a long time. Witness the 1903 tune "Under the Anheuser-Busch":

"Come, Come, Come and make eyes with me, / Under the Anheuser Bush / Come, Come, drink some Budwise with me / Under the Anheuser Bush, / Hear the old German band, / Just let me hold your hand / Yah! Do, Do, Come and have a stein or two, / Under the Anheuser Bush. Bush."
Some of the more surprising brands in the top 100: U-Haul, Polaroid, and Payless Shoe Source.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

We got an early Christmas present today: our 100,000th hit. Thanks to all our loyal readers -- and the Google folks who just dropped by looking for things like "bath vanities."
The KC, sans Alan, saw the The Return of the King Saturday night. We loved it, but of course we understand that our readers only care what Alan has to say.

M.E. Russell saw the movie at one of those "Trilogy Tuesday" marathons:

The audience keeps breaking out in paroxysms of applause I haven't heard since I was 11 years old watching "Superman II." Applause explosions at 11:02 p.m. ("And Rohan will answer!"), 11:39 p.m. (Eowyn: "Ride with me!"), 12:25 a.m. ("That still only counts as one!"), 12:39 a.m. ("Certainty of death? Small chance of success? What are we waiting for?"), 12:48 a.m. ("I can't carry it for you, Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you"), 1:09 a.m. (a big fat kiss), and 1:13 a.m. (someone gets married), among others.
I was incredibly touched by the "I can carry you" scene, in small part because it was so like I had imagined it from the book.

Take the Lord of the Rings test here and see which character you're most like.
Noemie Emery sees Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean as part of Gore's pattern of "congenital gracelessness."

Gore is the man who in 1996 made a tearful speech about the evil tobacco that had caused his sister's death from lung cancer, knowing that four years after her death he had made an emotional speech praising tobacco. He is a man who denied having voted pro-life, when there were votes on record for a bill to declare the fetus a person. He is the man who crafted the "no controlling legal authority" defense in the fund-raising scandal, and thought he had turned in a stellar performance. He is the man who thought it was a good idea to hire Naomi Wolf for $15,000 a month to dress him in earth tones, who showed his disdain for Bush in the first debate by sighing noisily, and who sealed his fate in the third debate by ignoring the counsel of all his advisers and roaming the stage and looming over Bush awkwardly.
Gore, she concludes, is God's "risky scheme" for the Democratic Party.
Former YLS professor Ruth Wedgwood continues, no doubt, to horrify the Yale faculty with this op-ed in the NYT condemning the 2nd Circuit's Padilla decision.
Slate reviews ABC's Line of Fire, calling David Paymer (the nerdy guy from City Slickers and Quiz Show) a "refreshingly hands-on" mobster.

Also in Slate, former securities analyst Henry Blodget has been examining the Martha Stewart case as it prepares to go to trial. Unlike many commentators, he doesn't think the securities fraud charge is preposterous:

If a key executive intentionally makes false statements about a subject relevant to his or her company's stock price, this can be fairly viewed as a fraud on the shareholders, and Martha Stewart is not only Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's key executive, but also its brand and primary product, so her reputation is clearly relevant to the stock price. Because the alleged false statements were issued primarily to deny serious (and, in this case, false) allegations, however, I do think the charge is unfair. I also think it sets a dangerous precedent, one that places too much power in the hands of prosecutors, a group whose individual motives and incentives are often no better aligned with the "common good" than those of business executives (and, for that matter, most professionals).
Here's a timeline of events in the case.
David Cay Johnston has a profile in the NYT magazine of Jonathan Blattmachr, whiz trusts and estates lawyer:

Blattmachr helps the superrich keep their riches -- at the expense of everyone else.... Since there is no free lunch and since the bill for government has to be paid, that means Blattmachr's clients simply leave part of their bill on your table."
Oh, come now. It's not as if there's a gigantic government tab that must be squared away at the end of the evening. Does anybody really think that if the "superrich" started paying "their fair share" (whatever that is -- the wealthiest one percent already pay a third of all income taxes), the government would cut the not-superrich-but-merely-comfortable -- or even the "middle class" -- a break?
Quote of the Day:
"It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, 'God Bless Us, Every One!'"
~ Charles Dickens

Song of the Day:
Wilson Phillips, "Hey Santa"

Happy Birthday:
Robert Bly
James B. Duke
John Jay
Susan Lucci
Connie Mack
Joseph Smith

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Spin City

A huge case came out of the D.C. Circuit yesterday.
A federal appeals court yesterday ruled that Internet account providers do not have to give record companies the names of computer users who share songs online, dealing a sharp blow to the industry's efforts to crack down on illegal copying of digital music.

The ruling throws out two lower-court decisions that gave the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) the right to subpoena the names of thousands of suspected users of file-sharing software programs without first filing lawsuits.
This is as it should be. It does not prevent the RIAA from getting the names of the users behind the IP addresses, but it forces them to first bring suit.

But I'm not planning on engaging in a legal analysis of this--I just want to point out the absurd spin the RIAA has put on this case.
[Cary Sherman, RIAA president,] added that the decision "is inconsistent with both the view of Congress and the findings of the District Court. It unfortunately means we can no longer notify illegal file sharers before we file lawsuits against them to offer the opportunity to settle outside of litigation. Verizon is solely responsible for a legal process that will now be less sensitive to the interests of its subscribers who engage in illegal activity."
NO IT DOESN'T. What a load of crap. It's like Lily says--there are some people who are just so used to spinning stuff for the media, that they just can't stop. This is a bad decision for RIAA and a good decision for consumers--plain and simple. Don't try to make it seem otherwise. It is a simple fact that people can settle lawsuits even in the midst of litigation. Sheesh.

As a side note, this quotation was in the Washington Post article yesterday, but now it is nowhere to be found. I had to dig around to find this quotation in another article. Coincidence? You make the call.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Quote of the Day:
"A Christmas candle is a lovely thing; It makes no noise at all, But softly gives itself away; While quite unselfish, it grows small."
~ Eva K. Logue

Song of the Day:
Mariah Carey, "All I Want for Christmas Is You"

Happy Birthday:
Jennifer Beals
Leonid Brezhnev
Robert Urich

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Yale, I mean Duke

For those who care, current Dean of Undergraduate students at Yale, Richard Brodhead, has accepted the Presidency of Duke University. As many have said, this is a loss for Yale and a gain for Duke. But I'm not here to belabor that point, I just want to report on this little snafu (which, I was recently informed, is a naval term standing for "situation normal all fouled up"): "At a press conference at Duke University Friday morning, Brodhead accidentally replaced the word 'Duke' with 'Yale' in prepared remarks, the Associated Press reported." So take that, you Dean-stealing Dukies.
Why is this news?

"A 48-year-old Texas man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to shooting dead a whooping crane, one of the world's rarest birds." I mean, yes, I got from the Oddly Enough section of Yahoo.com, but why is it even there? My life has not been enriched in any way--in fact, I wish I could have the last three minutes back.
Dirty Politics?

Is there any other kind? (Ah, I kill myself. I'll be here all the week. Tip your waiters.)

"[F]ormer Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is telling reporters that the Bush administration may already have captured Osama bin Laden and will release the news just before next year's presidential election."

Say what? I dunno. This is according to Roll Call reporter Morton Kondracke.
Holiday Shopping

Hey, if you're still looking for a gift, be sure to check out our friend VJ at VanessaJean.com. She has done so well for herself since we last plugged her fabulous duct tape products -- just look at this list of retailers! And she's gotten herself into Uncommon Goods, and the product featured in that catalog apparently has SOLD OUT!

Give her a glance, and if you order soon, I think she'll guarantee a Christmas delivery...
Oscar Calls, take II

"Jackson brings an intensity to the battle of good and evil that makes the stiff, well-mannered drones of George Lucas' Star Wars epics look like stick figures in a bad, Japanese-made Saturday-morning cartoon."

Don't miss this one folks. It's one for the ages that you'll want to see on the big screen.

"It's more than a movie—it's a gift."
Tool of the Trade, take II

More great stuff from the National Law Journal. I picked up this story from the NLJ, although the link here is not to the NLJ, because I don't have a subscription to get the full story.

"A New York appeals court has upheld a murder conviction, even though a judge dozed off while the jury was being selected."

One of my colleagues said to me today: "The law isn't science." Take that for whatever you want to make of it. Just let me say that the practice of law, I think, is more like the making of sausage than lawyers want non-lawyers to believe.
The Mailbag

We got a very nice email from Alex of The Adam Smith Institute.

And a nice email from Dean Jens, who says of my Groundhog Day experience at Best Buy, "Not meaning to take too much pleasure in your misery, but this story makes it worth having pulled myself out of bed this morning."

Dean adds this interesting tidbit in response to my post about Lawrence Taylor's pre-game tactics, "It's my understanding that, the night before the New York legislature was scheduled to vote on the U.S. Constitution, several Federalists took several anti-Federalist legislators out for a night of drinking. In fact, this probably did more for the Federalist cause than the famous Federalist papers did."

Also a few nice emails from readers JT and RH.

Thanks for all the mail folks. And, seriously, it keeps us going to know people read our stuff, especially when we get busy with work and, having spent all day at a computer, want nothing less than to spend more time at a computer when we get home.

Keep it coming!
Best Show

If you haven't seen the Food Network's show Unwrapped, you are missing out.

And yes, that's the guy from Nickelodeon's Double Dare.
Abercrombie and Fitch

Over the past few years, Abercrombie has become embroiled in a number of media "scandals," most of them involving risque catalogues as Abercrombie has continued to sink to the lowest denominator in their search for sales. The most recent problem for Abercrombie is a suit brought by racial minorities who were once employees or who sought to be employees of A&F. 60 Minutes ran an extensive report on the suit a week or two ago.

Two questions come to mind for me when thinking about Abercrombie and their recent "problems." (1) Isn't it all just about the bottom line? (2) Could they really be racist?

To an extent, the questions overlap in what is probably the gut reaction to the suit: in this day and age, a leading retailer like Abercrombie can't possibly have insidious and actual racist beliefs. Rather, in their pursuit of increased sales, which they are entitled to do, they have decided that it is in their business interest to pursue a market comprised of mostly white, middle class teens. And if that is their chosen market, they should be entitled, in their pursuit of the bottom line, to choose an image that best attracts that market.

All fair and good. But here's my take on it: I agree. I agree that Abercrombie executives probably aren't racist. I also agree that they are probably just pursuing increased sales. And moreover, I believe in the free market, and I think they are entitled to make choices about their market and how best to attract that market. The question for me, however, is where we draw the line (and, yes, I realize I am assuming we must draw a line somewhere). And I believe A&F has crossed the line. I believe that there are two levels of pursuing the bottom line. The first is an "innocent" pursuit. You believe that risque catalogues of mostly white teens will increase sales. So you do that. The second is more insidious. You believe that risque catalogues of mostly white teens will increase sales, and that they will generate scandal and controversy, which will further increase sales. So you do it, not just for the first level of sales, but also for the scandal and controversy. You are not racist per se-- you don't actually believe that whites are superior. However, I contend that this is nevertheless wrong. You are trying to be perceived as racist to capitalize on the ensuing furor. You are unnecessarily making race an issue, and possibly even conveying that some racism can be good. Now before you jump on me for being all liberal, my objection here applies equally to those liberals who advocate "playing the race card." It's the same thing, really.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Oscar Calls

The NY Times review of Return of the King is glowing. Will Peter Jackson finally get his due? Will Return win Best Picture, and Jackson Best Director? I certainly hope so. I've loved both Fellowship and Two Towers and I don't expect to be disappointed this week.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Rod Dreher takes Saddam-logic out for a spin:

When offered a glass of water by his interrogators, Saddam replied, "If I drink water I will have to go to the bathroom and how can I use the bathroom when my people are in bondage?"

I like his logic, and will have to employ it around my house. "Honey, if I sack the garbage up I'll have to take it out back, and I can't go out back when my people are in bondage." "Honey, if I remember to put the lid down, I'll just have to lift it again, and I can't do that when my people are in bondage." "Sweetheart, if you want to watch Food Network, I'll have to change the channel from 'Cops,' and I can't do that when my people are in bondage." ...
And as usual, check out InstaPundit for all the latest Iraq buzz.
"I can't believe this. I'm crying here. I feel that we now don't have a chance in this election."
~ Howard Dean supporter "Carrie B." on Dean's campaign blog, keeping the capture of a tyrannical mass-murderer in perspective.

(Via Andrew Sullivan, who has a long list of similar quotes.)
Quote of the Day:
That night when joy began
Our narrowest veins to flush,
We waited for the flash
Of morning's leveled gun.
But morning let us pass,
And day by day relief
Outgrows his nervous laugh,
Grown credulous of peace,
As mile by mile is seen
No trespasser's reproach,
And love's best glasses reach
No fields but are his own.
~ W. H. Auden, Five Songs - II

Song of the Day:
Billy Joel, "To Make You Feel My Love"

Happy Birthday:
Nero
Alexander A. Eiffel
J. Paul Getty
Don Johnson
Tool of the Trade

I am such a tool. Two new favorite reads: National Law Journal and Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

It's sad, I know. But think about it. This is what I've learned recently from the NLJ. The number one largest verdict of 2003? $11 billion dollars. It's also where I first learned about the suit against gun manufacturers for liability having been reinstated.

And from Mass Lawyers Weekly? Well, there's this big hubbub here in Mass about the state budget crunch. One of the ways they've decided to make money is by upping the Massachusetts bar entry fee from around $400 to around $1000 (I don't remember the exact numbers). They've also, coincidentally, added an "anniversary fee" for all cases pending in state court. The fee is charged for every year your case remains on the state court docket. The fee is being presented as a means of moving cases along, but I am skeptical. At any rate, I learned from Mass Lawyers Weekly about a successful due process-based challenge of the fee.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

I'm hoping Alan sees Mona Lisa Smile and offers us a review. I'd need major reassurance that it's watchable before I plunk down $8.50.

Judging by this trailer, the movie seems to urge young women to seek happiness and fulfillment by applying to "The Yale School of Law" (seriously, Julia Roberts plunks down an application on a student's desk).

I'm waiting for them to come out with another movie -- a documentary -- about all the YLS grads, many female, who want nothing to do with the law.

Speaking of the law, I participated in a conference call this morning while very, very quietly rolling out a batch of cookies. And watching CNN out of the corner of my eye. Smile at that, Julia!

Other weekend news: I re-confirmed that mall + holidays = hell. What is with these strollers? Since when did we start putting babies in armored tanks?

And, as I predicted, the store is out of boots.

The good news is that I found a tree! It's glowing right now in the living room.
Mickey Kaus predicts a three-way

The rise of internet campaigns and the weakening of the major parties could lead to another Ross Perot phenomenon in 2004:

If Dean locks up the Democratic nomination but trails badly in the polls, a non-trivial centrist third party candidate will emerge in the current, 2004, election. Think about it. Dean could wrap the nomination up by mid-March. That leaves almost half a year before the summer conventions--not an eternity, but rather several excruciating eternities for Democrats if Bush's lead in the national polls continues to hold.

Are we really to spend five months reading wishful Adam Nagourney pieces about how this strategy or that strategy (New voters! Hispanics! Reservists! Metrosexuals!) might bring victory for Dean's Democrats? No. Thanks to the Web, it doesn't cost much to start up a moderate third-party alternative. If Dean's still 20 points behind by mid-May, I expect some New Perot to go for it.... And things move fast. Ask Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Who? Kaus doesn't know. Maybe no one you've heard of. But how many people had heard of Ross Perot in December 1991?

Duke will soon have a new president:

Richard H. Brodhead, dean of Yale College and the A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of English at Yale University, has been elected Duke University's ninth president, Peter M. Nicholas, chair of the University's trustees, announced Friday.
Best of luck to President Brodhead.
Check out InstaPundit and Andrew Sullivan for round-ups of the Saddam capture news.

Not everyone is rejoicing.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

"Black Woman Says She Is Thurmond's Daughter: A retired schoolteacher says she is the mixed-race child of former U.S. senator Strom Thurmond."

This is an odd headline. If she's "black," and she's claiming that Strom Thurmond is her father, then of course part of her claim is that she's of mixed race. Do they think we don't know Thurmond was white?

Friday, December 12, 2003

The Weekly Standard mounts a surprising defense (soft of) of trial lawyers:

On the one hand, it is easy to agree when articulate critics such as Walter Olson and Philip Howard complain that America is "overlawyered" and lament an age when everyone runs to the courthouse to solve grievances. But having a lot of lawyers is as inevitable as having a lot of people with college degrees. And there are compensations in being able to take grievances before a neutral arbitrator. Lawsuits, like war, are policy carried out by other means. Although personal injuries, consumer claims, mass torts, and class actions occupy a growing portion of the docket, the vast majority of time in American courtrooms is still occupied by one corporation suing another. That's what makes America such a great place to do business (unless you prefer to see such disputes settled with payoffs, collusion, or violence).
The article calls for a truce between the plaintiffs' bar and the GOP.
Computer snow globe. Click on it and shake it around -- it really works! (And turn your sound on.)
So my posting has been low --- Sorry. A result of my overseas travel two weeks ago. I spent last week reacclimating to the time zone here, and then I spent this past week doing all the work I missed two weeks ago when I was gone and last week while I was reacclimating. Yugh.

Have you heard of the "Barney Video"? Apparently, the White House released a video of Barney the dog last Christmas that was such a big hit, they have released a second version this holiday season. It's sort of fun, but the sound quality sucks.

Oh, how the Internet has changed our lives.
I've been putting in too many hours at this ovary-shriveling job. I spent this morning on a conference call with seven other attorneys, all men, all but one old enough to be my father or grandfather. All very nice people, but it's made me want to come home and bake things.

Not to mention all the Christmas decorating I still need to do. Can a good mid-sized pre-lit artificial tree still be found in the northern Virginia area? Stay tuned...
Quote of the Day:
"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important."
~ Bertrand Russell

Song of the Day:
Frank Sinatra, "New York, New York"

Happy Birthday:
Bob Barker
Emerson Fittipaldi
Ed Koch
Edvard Munch
Frank Sinatra
Dionne Warwick

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Simon Blackburn has an excellent, excellent review the latest collection of essays by Richard Dawkins:

Dawkins unashamedly and gloriously delights in science. If anything is sacred to him, it is truth and the patient road to it. He loves the methods of science and its self-correcting nature. He loves the amazing world that it reveals--a world far more amazing than any that human beings could invent out of their own heads. A quotation that he provides from Douglas Adams fits him exactly: "I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day."
Blackburn doesn't think Dawkins, a militant atheist, really grasps the way science and religion relate to each other:

Why should anyone "respect" the belief that there is a china teapot orbiting the sun? It is just dotty, and that is the end of it. But if we see a religious tradition as a record of a culture's ongoing attempts to cope with fear and hope, life and death, gain and loss, then it certainly becomes a candidate for respect, just as much as the artistic and literary traditions of our ancestors.
Read the whole thing.
An angry piece in Slate complains about our selfish elderly. Apparently old folks have never had it so good, but they want more:

But it's not just the interests of old coots that are being served here. Young and middle-aged adults tend to look kindly upon lavish federal generosity to Grandma because it means she won't be hitting them up for help. Paying taxes may be onerous, but it's nothing compared to the cost, financial and otherwise, of adding a mother-in-law suite to the house.
And just wait till the baby boomers get old themselves: "If politicians think the current geezers are greedy, they ain't seen nothin' yet."
Department of Silver Linings

The Democrats "are going to be in trouble," says a political scientist about yesterday's campaign finance reform decision.
Quote of the Day:
"Lawyers are men whom we hire to protect us from lawyers."
~ Elbert Hubbard

Song of the Day:
Barenaked Ladies, "Another Postcard"

Happy Birthday:
Hector Berlioz
Robert Koch
Fiorello La Guardia
Jean Racine
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Click hereabouts for the Volokh take on the SCOTUS campaign finance decision.

Bashman, unfortunately, is out of the country.
Reader mail:

I was sorry to read about your clothing retail trauma. What's funny is that the Timberland boot you bought is from the "canard" line. This is the French word for "duck," which makes sense since the boots are supposed to be waterproof. But canard also means an "unfounded or false, deliberately misleading story" - a more appropriate name given the poor quality.
We love our pedantic readers!

I haven't yet attempted to take the boots back. Work has been beastly, and I am paying dearly for the extra day in Kateville.
Groundhog Day

Remember that movie, Groundhog Day? It's the movie starring Bill Murray in which he goes to report on the groundhog and ends up waking up to the same day over and over and over again.

It turns out that the movie has quite a religious following. Literally. I mean, literally religious. So says the NY Times:
Since its debut a decade ago, the film has become a curious favorite of religious leaders of many faiths, who all see in "Groundhog Day" a reflection of their own spiritual messages. Curators of the series, polling some 35 critics in the literary, religious and film worlds to suggest films with religious interpretations, found that "Groundhog Day" came up so many times that there was actually a squabble over who would write about it in the retrospective's catalog.

Harold Ramis, the director of the film and one of its writers, said last week that since it came out he has heard from Jesuit priests, rabbis and Buddhists, and that the letters keep coming. "At first I would get mail saying, 'Oh, you must be a Christian, because the movie so beautifully expresses Christian belief,' " Mr. Ramis said during a conversation on his mobile phone as he was walking the streets of Los Angeles. "Then rabbis started calling from all over, saying they were preaching the film as their next sermon. And the Buddhists! Well, I knew they loved it, because my mother-in-law has lived in a Buddhist meditation center for 30 years and my wife lived there for 5 years."
Yeah, well, I hate that movie. I worked at Best Buy for a bit during high school. I'm not sure there's anyone who doesn't know what Best Buy is, but in brief, it's an electronics superstore. As you might imagine, the store is filled with televisions that play stuff (movies, etc.) all the time. Well, when I was working at Best Buy, every time I went into work the movie Groundhog Day was playing. Talk about deep irony. I felt no spiritual refreshment, only deep deep frustration.

Monday, December 08, 2003

It is beyond frustrating to buy a fine product from a reputable company and have one's enjoyment of said product spoiled by poor quality control and customer service hassles.

I bought a pair of Timberland boots on Friday at a large department store. Love the boots. Love them. A bit woodsier than my usual style, but they're comfy and warm and perfect for my commute. And I got them for considerably less than the listed price.

One small problem -- the left boot won't stay zipped. Close inspection of the zipper reveals that a small piece of metal (presumably the piece that locks the zipper) is missing.

The department store is now out of the boots in my size.

So now I must take the boots home to DC, and, during the height of holiday shopping madness, convince another large department store (not the same one I bought the boots at, but an affiliate -- so they are sure to give me trouble) to exchange the boots. If they have them in my size. Which they probably won't.

And all because of a piece of metal the length of an eyelash.

I've had a similar saga this fall with Brooks Brothers. I went into one of their stores in October trying to buy three of their non-iron fitted shirts. Again, love the product. Whatever space-age chemical they treat that fabric with, it's a miracle and I say spray everything with it. I was eager to part with my money in exchange for the shirts' just-like-starched goodness. But Brooks Brothers didn't make it easy.

I wanted pink, white, and purple. The store had purple in my size, but not pink and white. The salesman said they would order them to be sent to me. Foolishly, I agreed to this plan. That's where all the trouble started.

I got the pink shirt with no problem. Then the white shirt came, but it wasn't the fitted style. I sent it back, specifying the problem in a nice typed note. They sent another shirt. Still not the fitted style. I called to complain. The saleswoman said ungraciously that she could cancel that order and start a new order. Again sensing doom, I nonetheless agreed.

The good news is that some weeks later I did receive the fitted shirt. The bad news is that approximately every ten days I still get a little postcard from Brooks Brothers telling me that my shirt is back-ordered and asking me if I want to cancel my order. I have now returned three postcards cancelling an order for a shirt I've already received. I fear that one day I'm going walk out my door and find a huge Brooks Brothers box stuffed with white fitted non-iron shirts.

One final complaint. Neither of these problems would have happened (well, the first one would have happened, but it would have been more easily fixed) if merchants would consider, when stocking their products, that there are a lot of average-sized people in the world. Does the fact that you run out of medium shirts and have an entire stack of size XXL suggest that maybe you should stock more of the former next time?

I know that you women with size 11 feet have trouble finding shoes, and I feel for you. Truly I do. But sometimes shopping is no picnic for the gazillion of us with average-size feet, either.
Snowed In

My flight home last night was cancelled, so Kate's apartment is my HQ for another day. Unfortunately, with all this new-fangled technology it's practically like I'm in the office. Well, in the office in my pajamas, at least.

Kate and I enjoyed watching a non-taped episode of Alias together last night. It appears that next week's is a re-run.

We've also been watching another guilty-pleasure show on ABC that's too embarrassing to mention.
Movie Review: Irony for Christmas

"Irony" has been one of the most used and least understood terms in cultural criticism for a decade now. After September 11 there were righteous predictions of the end of irony, as if it had been an irresponsible pose struck by shiftless adolescents who would now have to grow up. With respect to narrative, irony is not, of course, merely an attitude but a genre, a fundamental approach to experience that dramatizes the distance between the real and the ideal. If it went away we'd simply have to reinvent it. I feel as if it's being called out of me all the time, and perhaps never more so than at Christmas.

For this reason I'm downright grateful for Terry Zwigoff's Bad Santa, which presents a raunchy burlesque show in desecration of what passes for Christmas spirit (see Zwigoff's comments at the end of this article). But irony per se is not the key. Strange as it may sound, both of the Hollywood movies that people take to be straightforward expressions of holiday spirit--Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and George Seaton's Miracle on 34th Street (1947)--are technically works of irony.

Irony positions itself against tragedy and romance, which feature noble protagonists who are capable of heroic efforts that may end badly as in a nightmare or successfully as in a fantasy, respectively, but either way resonate in an enlarged existential context. Irony tracks such plots but presents, by contrast, the wrong man for the wrong job bringing about the wrong outcome (alone or in any combination), and offers us the experience of baffled expectations as the only "explanation" we're likely to get in this life. Irony doesn't feel as profound as tragedy or as stirring as romance, and it doesn't provide a discursive theme any more than comedy does. But it does get at how fucked-up life can feel and teases us, sometimes sadistically, for wanting the exalted insight and austere consolation of tragedy or romance's sensuous wish fulfillment and orderly system of justification.

The irony of It's a Wonderful Life resides in the fact that George Bailey (James Stewart) is an unlikely hero. He himself is so disappointed with his life he's about to commit suicide when an agent from heaven descends to show him what the small town he lives in would have been like if he hadn't been born. That is, his heroism is apparent only by a supernatural vision of the negative alternative. Since George has never accomplished anything beyond the scope of that small town, the movie is ironic in its rescaling of what "heroism" means. Which is to say that whereas formally it's irony, it's irony of a paradoxically romantic kind. Normally, irony undermines the ideal by incongruously incorporating the real--Don Quixote chasing windmills undermines the chivalric romance Amadis de Gaul that has addled his brains and sent him out on his nag. It's a Wonderful Life attempts to do the reverse, to elevate the real by recasting it as a new, theretofore unappreciated, ideal.

It's icky but Capra knew the taste of American audiences. Think of all those unlikely, "little" heroes and heroines who overcome the odds and achieve fill-in-the-blank, the Rockys and Norma Raes and Erin Brockoviches who show that the "wrong" man is really the right man. The idea that someone who is socially a "nobody" can accomplish anything is central to American identity, of course. But movies like It's a Wonderful Life and Rocky transmongrelize irony back into romance--a sentimental version of the modern romance of meritocracy. I'm all about meritocracy, but what I object to in these movies is the packaged way they celebrate the little guy's triumph, as if whatever he's accomplished isn't enough on its own terms but has to be pumped up so we can really feel how much it matters. These movies are built moment to moment out of realistic details but they falsify them in the very act of capturing them. That's the "magic" by which they get audiences to cheer.

Zwigoff's Bad Santa, from a script by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, starts out as brashly comic irony and keeps the needle in the groove nearly to the end of the record. It's an antidote to Miracle on 34th Street in which the Macy's Santa turns out to be the man himself. Billy Bob Thornton's Willie T. Soke, a professional department store Santa, is doubly fake: he not only isn't Santa, he and his hotheaded, foul-mouthed partner and front man Marcus (Tony Cox), a dwarf, hire on to a new store every winter and use their position as insiders to empty the store safe. (Marcus's wife spends December strolling through the store with a notepad in order to give him a list of specific merchandise to grab in addition.)

Willie, however, is a fall-down soak who couldn't be worse cast as the 19th-century Germanic-kitsch icon of the holiday. He's lean as a coyote and sports a permanent scowl under his stubble. He smokes and swears and staggers. The only thing that radiates off him (besides fumes) is a self-loathing so total it encompasses the entire population of the world and all possible experience. The only thing he appears to enjoy is anal sex, which Marcus has made him promise to restrict to the big-size ladies' dressing rooms. Most important, Willie is the least paternal Father Christmas imaginable--he allows the brats to tell him one thing they want, responds with barely concealed disgust, and shoves them on their bewildered way. And the kiddies don't even have to piss in Willie's lap because he's alcoholic enough to do that himself.

Thornton and Zwigoff have the perfect touch for this material--they never try to force us to get behind Willie's feelings, to hate the kids as much as he does by making them obnoxious (as in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), for instance) and that makes it all the more liberating, because we don't feel the push of moviemakers desperate for a hit. And Thornton comes through as never before. He has a down-home quality that other actors can only try to synthesize but nevertheless always registers as a self-conscious actor, a Harry Dean Stanton who preens over his artistry. In Bad Santa Willie's depressive alcoholic self-pity somehow enables him to relax. His enclosed quality suits this cut-off man but he's also working the comedy in a more instantly enjoyable style than he ever has. His reactions to the kids, in which he alternates muttering with yelping, his indifference giving way to hostility and foul language with surprising rhythmic changes, are fast, unfussed-over marvels.

Willie's reactions to the children plainly call to mind W.C. Fields--his peerless comedy short The Golf Specialist (1930) is worth seeing for the bit in which he tries to grab a little girl's piggy bank alone. Fields was cagey, and even repulsive, but at the same time a juggler, a mountebank, a Ziegfeld star, and always in more direct contact with his audience than a thespian like Thornton. But Thornton, a meatless soupbone stewing in the southwestern heat, is so good I didn't wish the movie had starred Fields (who would, however, die all over again of envy at the uncensored dialogue). Thornton brings such a distinctive style to such relentless material that I became greedy for it--I felt I could listen to him blurt obscenities at the most inappropriate moments forever.

At the same time, Willie is clearly in need of redemption and it's bound to come in the form of a child who reaches him through his haze. What keeps the movie on track is that the child, played by Brett Kelly, is also ironically unlikely for his part. In as much as he's a depressed fat kid who's picked on by the other kids and whose father is in prison, he's prime for a "heartwarming" surrogate father story. But he's also yucky in the way kids can be (the first time he sits on Willie's lap he sneezes chocolate ice cream onto his beard, which Willie never bothers to clean off) and pesky, asking Willie why he doesn't look like Santa.

The plot maneuvers Willie into holing up at the Kid's house (when Willie arrives there and the Kid says there's no one else at home, Willie's faster-than-thought response is to put on a ski mask and pull out a gun) and Willie does start responding to him, though in burnt-out character. And the movie manages to keep the Kid weird without trying too hard; he's believably unaware of his own strangeness in the way kids are because of gaps in their socialization and their lack of experience. There's pathos, of course, but it's so odd--the Kid giving Willie a blood-stained hand-carved wooden pickle for Christmas, for instance, or Willie repairing the Kid's Advent calendar that he ate his way through in a drunken stupor, putting candy corn and aspirin in where the missing chocolate was--that it doesn't disrupt your sense that this is a work of irony, that the real and the ideal are being kept in their respective corners.

I began thinking of Charlie Chaplin in his great, early days, most evident in the Mutual shorts of 1916-1917, in which he gloried in his freedom as an unassimilable outsider without worrying about whether his audience approved of him. This is when he embraced his standing as an ironic protagonist, and was truly heroic, a defiant archetype for the entire world. But by the time he made his sentimental feature The Kid (1921), in which the Tramp character raises an abandoned infant boy, he had gone soft, seeking sympathy as a protector of dogs, orphans, and later, most famously, the blind girl of City Lights (1931).

As a result, The Kid is an invertebrate version of Oliver Twist. In Dickens the child's inherent goodness and that of his protectors has allegorical significance: Oliver is the Christian soul that cannot be corrupted by any temptations or trials. Chaplin, intellectually underequipped for his pretensions, plays the same story for direct sentiment without the allegorical structure and it must have felt antique even on its release. There's one good moment, however, when the Tramp first finds the baby and having failed to pass it off fiddles with a storm grate at his feet, clearly thinking, That'd take care of the problem. Bad Santa is full of jokes so raw you can't believe you're hearing them in the mall (and many of them far more sexual than Chaplin ever was). It's the Tramp-and-kid movie that Chaplin didn't have the nerve to make.

Bad Santa naturally can't compare as physical comedy to even the lesser Chaplin pictures. The most elaborate attempt, in which Willie enlists Marcus to teach the Kid how to box, almost makes you lose respect for the moviemakers because they seem unaware of the nature and difficulty of what they're attempting. (If you can't do it yourself, hire someone who can--ironists are the last people who should expect indulgence for good intentions.) And like Chaplin and most other slapstick artists (Harold Lloyd, the Marx Brothers, and Preston Sturges being the main exceptions), the moviemakers don't know what to do with the female characters. Only in a dream world, i.e., the world of romance not irony, would Willie be pursued by a gingery young woman like Lauren Graham. (He'd be more likely to end up with someone like Woody Harrelson's landlady played by Lin Shaye in the Farrelly Brothers' classic down-and-outer Kingpin (1996).)

There is a redemption here, bringing the movie into the neighborhood of that other holiday perennial A Christmas Carol, which is, as a formal matter, Dickens's usual blend of romance and realism. But Dickens expects us to identify with the Cratchits, not Scrooge, whereas in Bad Santa we respond to the unregenerate Willie, as if somehow he were out there losing the battle with life on our behalf. Willie needs redemption but his outlook expresses a dropout's rejection of stale commercial culture that these independent moviemakers, including Zwigoff, with his head in underground comics, expect us to share.

At the same time, there are three key moments in Bad Santa that weren't encompassed by the lowest-estimate jadedness of the rest of the movie: when the Kid says he thought Willie would get him a present not because he believes he's Santa but because they're friends; a shocking jump cut to Willie angrily pounding the blond skateboarder who picks on the Kid--the blond is himself a child, after all; and Willie dropping a tear at the climax because Marcus and his wife really want all the department store crap they're lifting. These moments are directly emotional and in that sense violate the irony. But because I felt the movie wasn't simply trying to massage a few more jingle bucks out of my wallet (how else can you describe Elf, finally?), I was willing to let it break through to heartache or terror or a pained sense of futility.

In the classic Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Al Pacino's fumbling bisexual bank robber is the wrong man for the wrong job and moves straight on toward the wrong outcome, and yet the irony merges imperceptibly with tragedy, which at some theoretical level isn't necessarily desirable and perhaps shouldn't even be possible. But like surgeons who have to sterilize their instruments before using them on us, ironists have only to assure us that they're not going to lie to us and then they can lay us open for whatever purpose they choose.

You can find this review and a lot besides at Blogcritics.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Michael Judge is reading Playboy's 50th anniversary issue:

Playboy's editors take a bow for being at the forefront of every liberal cause of the past half-century, including civil rights, equal rights, gay rights, birth control, gun control and abortion. Call me naïve, but somehow I think these social movements would have taken place with or without a magazine that was nearly named Stag Party.
Also in the anniversary issue, Hunter S. Thompson says that he's "personally embarrassed by the fascist sink these [expletive]-eating greedheads from Texas have plunged us into," and "Those pigs deserve to be boiled in their own oil."

Sorta makes me wish I had a subscription just so I could cancel it.
I'm posting from Kate's apartment, where work has managed to follow me despite it being my day off.

But never fear -- Christmas shopping awaits on the streets outside, and I am having lunch with Kate later.

Enjoy your four to six inches of snow, Washingtonians!

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Quote of the Day:
"And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots
And the Cabots talk only to God."
~ John Collins Bossidy

Song of the Day:
George Strait, "Run"

Happy Birthday:
Samuel Butler
Edith Cavell
Francisco Franco
Wassily Kandinsky
Lillian Russell

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

I'm off to Kateville tomorrow night for a long weekend of visiting and Christmas-y activities!
Volokh on Lithwick on religious freedom:

Lithwick says: "Of course chasing religion from the public square is hostile. The point is that it's the only means of avoiding a theocracy."

Volokh responds: "Equal treatment of people and programs, without regard for whether they are religious or secular, is not theocracy. Discrimination against the religious is not required to prevent theocracy, any more than discrimination against the secular is required to prevent atheocracy."
This is the kind of thing that seemed ridiculous to me before I went to law school.
A former teacher had a letter blasting the teachers' unions in the WSJ on Monday:

Nothing has changed, except for the solidification of union power, arcane work rules (we had a teacher whose assignment was to be a "cookie monitor" because she was too incompetent to do anything else; in the real world she would have been fired), and the pretension that teachers are professionals. Professionals do not count the minutes of their "preparation periods," use "sick and personal days" as automatic salary enhancers or remain in place primarily by the virtue that their bodies are warm.
Click here to read about the outrageous behavior of some top officials of the Washington Teachers' Union.
Give telemarketers a taste of their own medicine.
The Wall Street Journal chides fellow journalists for missing the point about those Judiciary Committee leaks.

[E]vidence of how liberal interest groups are colluding with Democrats to decide which judges get through and which don't doesn't qualify as "news." Instead, the press has been only too happy to help the Democrats change the subject from the substance of the memos to the nonissue of how they ended up on the editorial page of the Journal.
A staffer has been put on administrative leave.
Dick Gephardt casts quite a shadow.
Quote of the Day:
"Beauty and the lust for learning have yet to be allied."
~ Max Beerbohm

Song of the Day:
John Lennon, "So This Is Christmas"

Happy Birthday:
Bobby Allison
Joseph Conrad
Anna Freud
George B. McClellan
Ozzie Osbourne
Katarina Witt

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Quote of the Day:
"That's not a lie, it's a terminological inexactitude."
~ Alexander Haig

Song of the Day:
Elvis Presley, "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful"

Happy Birthday:
Maria Callas
Alexander Haig
Edwin Meese III
Monica Seles
Georges Seurat
William Wegman
My new favorite shoe.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Quote of the Day:
"His lack of education is more than compensated for by his keenly developed moral bankruptcy."
~ Woody Allen

Song of the Day:
Michael Bolton, "Once in a Lifetime"

Happy Birthday:
Woody Allen
Mary Martin
Bette Midler
Richard Pryor