Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Notes from the Death of Newsprint

While reading yesterday's paper (in the print edition, thank you very much), I noticed an interesting detail from this NYTimes article on the San Francisco Examiner, which is not long for this world:

''On any sunny weekend, the long brunch lines outside Dottie's True Blue Cafe in the Tenderloin district illustrate the printed paper's shrinking place in city life. People who, a few years ago, would have leafed through The Chronicle while waiting for tables are instead tapping on IPhones and laptops.

"People eat through their whole meals texting, emailing, where they used to read papers," said Kurt Abney, owner of Dottie's. "At the end of the day, we used to have a huge pile of newspapers by the front door that people had left behind, but now it's only a few."


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Movie Notes: Woyzeck (1979)

I've been meaning to talk about Werner Herzog here for some time. Herzog's films are never really disappointing to me; even when they're not entirely to my tastes, I always find them surprising and illuminating in some strange way. Woyzeck is not really a tour de force like Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes; but it has a number of standout scenes, great dialogue, and is solidly constructed.

In the third of their collaborations together, Herzog directs Klaus Kinski playing Friedrich Johann Franz Woyzeck, a soldier in 19th century Germany who murders the mother of his child for being unfaithful to him. The character is pathetic, cringing and a bit deranged; but the script- based in the unfinished 1836 play by Georg Büchner (which has been performed any number of times in Germany)- the performance and the direction are sympathetic, casting Woyzeck as a victim of a bullying society that gives him no real freedom, aside from bullying the one person who might conceivably be more pathetic than he is.

It's impossible not to feel bad for poor Woyzeck: the General constantly hectors him about his moral fiber, his physician is experimenting on him to see if he can drive Woyzeck mad by allowing him to eat nothing but peas, and his beloved Marie has put the horns on him with a higher ranking officer. Kinski plays Woyzeck with a thousand yard stare that looks as if he is afraid of the entire universe, and indeed he seems to be convinced that there are things underground and in the air communicating with him, and stringed instruments that want him to commit murder. If there was ever an actor who was born to play this character, it's Klaus Kinski, Germany's Most Haunted.

Herzog is also sympathetic to Marie, who is a relatively pathetic little thing, and he seems to see the other characters as being nearly as cracked as Woyzeck; there is also a social conscience here- Herzog realizes that the poor cannot expect much from life. He stages the film in a series of gorgeous, nearly static shots; it's hard to remember the film as having more than twenty or so scenes, and many of them one remembers as photographs. But, as in all Herzog films, it's the oddities: a monkey in military uniform, a "scientist" throwing a cat out of a window to Woyzeck for research purposes, a six-minute slow-motion murder, the General explaining that he went to war to express his love for humanity, those damned peas, etc., that really stand out in your memory.

Werner Herzog is cinema's poet of man's experience of a strange and overwhelming world; so he's ideal for directing this story.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Testing Aptitude Test

I used to date a girl who strongly believed that it's discriminatory to give grades to students. She argued that grading is culturally-biased, harmful to the student's self-esteem, and too subjective to be of any use. Eventually, she believed, all schools would understand this truth and phase out grades altogether.

For some reason, this came to mind when I read this article about universities phasing out the SAT requirement. I have a somewhat unique take on this- I never took the SATs, not expecting to actually attend university, and wound up doing fine without it. So it's sort of hard for me to believe that the SAT is the key to later success in academia.

On the other hand, it's tempting to make the lazy quip that this should lead to more richness and diversity among the group of college drop-outs. I teach an introductory course to freshmen who, across the board, know nothing- they are completely and totally uneducated after high school. Their high school diplomas are barely worth the paper they're printed on. It's nothing personal, or particularly culturally-specific- they're mostly white kids from the suburbs- it's not even their fault. It's just that public education has completely failed them. It's too much public and too little education. The SATs are messages from that dying world.

So, on we go. Our eternal dream is to take the uneducated and to educate them. This is what keeps me awake at night. When I meet a student who wants to know anything more than they know, my heart soars. And, thankfully, some of them will indeed be more educated after four years of university. Many of them will not. It's still fairly hard for us nerds to compete for attention with the college booze cruise. Over half of them will flunk out. But I'm skeptical that the SATs really do predict which ones will thrive and which ones will wilt in the college soil.

Honestly, it seems to me that the ''factor'' that is most important to future college success is simply fear. The ones who do well seem to me to be the ones who are most shocked when they realize just how uneducated they are, and they scramble to get through university without flunking out. Ultimately, a humanistic education should assault your sense of self. It's not supposed to be therapeutic or comforting. It's hard work and sometimes painful, but in the end, it's worth the struggle. I still believe that this is good for us. Year after year, the students I see who are the most assaulted by the ''college experience'' are the ones who graduate magna cum laude, all the while sure that they'll fail. They're the ones I would do anything to help when I have them in my classes, probably because I see myself in them. I am still only partially educated, and still working every day to become educated.

It's hard for me to see what difference the SATs make in any of this. Given the total failure of public high schools, I see no distinction between a student with good scores and one with lousy scores. What makes the difference is just their desire, and frankly most people, much less most teenagers, simply lack that.



''O hateful Error, Melancholy's child,
Why dost thou show to the apt thoughts of men
The things that are not? O Error, soon concieved,
Thou never com'st unto a happy birth,
But kill'st the mother that engendered thee.''
-William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, V.3 66-70.

It felt timely somehow.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Just finished reading The Invisible Landscape by Dennis and Terence McKenna, an account of the brothers' experiments with hallucinogenic plants in 1971. The book contains a weird mixture of philosophy and mid-70s science- particularly physics and psychpharmacology. It's also very entertaining, if taken with a grain of salt.

Late in the book, the brothers subject the King Wen sequence of the I Ching to a thorough mathematical analysis and conclude that its 64 hexagrams work as a calendar- nothing new there- suggest that it corresponds to the 64 codons in DNA, and that it mathematically encodes the time wave system underlying change in the universe. They claim to have found a complex fractal wave in which each level is 64 times greater than the one below, which they correspond to epochs in history.

The Invisible Landscape: "The universe is subject to cycles of temporal variables, occurring on many levels and generating appropriate forms of novelty on each such level. Life's epoch began one to two billion years ago- 1.3 billion years on our scale. Eighteen million years brings one to the closure of the next smallest level. This occurred at the height of the age of mammals. 1/64th of this 18 million year cycle is a cycle whose inception was 275,000 years ago, a time which corresponds well with the emergence of homo sapiens. 1/64th of this cycle brings us to the cycle which epitomizes what might be called historical time, that cycle which began 4,300 years ago, around 2,300 BC. The duration of the cycle next encountered is 67+ years, and we have assumed the most recent such epoch to have begun in 1945. The end of World War II and the development of atomic weapons and their use in war are forms of novelty whose appearance attend the shift of epochs that created the post-modern world. If our understanding is correct, then this same 67+- year cycle at, or near, the end of a 4,300 year cycle will terminate around the year 2012."

I don't know if I'd make too much out of the similarity to the Mayan calendar, which also ends in 2012; although, it is worth noting that the McKennas didn't note the Mayan calendar because they didn't know about it- it wasn't widely known about at the time. Coincidentally, they put ''timewave zero'' at 2012, like the Mayans did, probably after ingesting the same plants. Other people have written much more than me about this topic. And, for the record, I'm not a big believer in teleologies- underlying forces moving history towards any particular endpoint. I'm not a believer in the immanent "end of the world". To be pedantic, I also wouldn't put the start of historical time at 2,300 BC.

But, I do understand the desire some people have to see 2012, or any future date, as a time of either epochal change or annihilation. I often have the sense, especially of late, that the systems that we have created to handle our basic needs are deeply flawed and falling apart. From the economy to energy, from the environment to education, there seems to be a situation in which: 1. Things are falling apart, 2. They might never have been sustainable, but 3. We all want them to run the way they used to, back when the flaws were less apparent. For all the talk in public about the economy, it's striking to me that the debate seems to be between A. people who want to take serious action to return to an unsustainable past, and B. those who think we will return to that unsustainable past when things run their natural course. But, nowhere do I hear anyone willing to suggest that an epoch might have simply ended, a rather common occurrence in history. Cultural systems are all subject to their own sort of entropy. It's always a safe bet that the future will be stranger.

Our brains don't seem to be equipped for the scale of change that we're encountering all of a sudden. I don't get the idea that anyone has mapped out a future which is radically different from the world in which we live now, while constituting a significant improvement. Yet change and novelty are inescapable for those of us who live in the temporal dimension. Change will come, whether we like it or not.

So, if we're approaching an epochal shift, let it first involve a mental revolution.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

The ''spending so much time online'' problem

Don’t you think that the “spending so much time online” problem effects all of us, whether or not we’re taking our clothes of while doing it? It seems to me like ordinary people getting naked on the internet is just an extreme part of a more widespread problem. I think in some ways people choose the internet over real life daily, but because they’re doing it in a more socially acceptable or “moral” way our culture seems to accept it as “progress.” It seems from what you’re telling me that you feel the internet and it’s “social” uses are a band aid solution for a larger problem?

From an interesting interview here about porn personas on the internet. It reminds me to mention that I'm thinking about changing the format of GSM once again, partially because I'm a bit tired of running around the rabbit holes of the internet and directing everyone who stops by this one increasingly farther down. It might mean, however, that all of this will become even more unreadable and tedious! We shall see. I'll explain more in the future. Stay tuned!


Well, if everyone did it, they couldn't call it the Garden state anymore...

Don't look now, New Jersey, but the long arm of the state might be moving into your bikini area.

''The state Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling is moving toward a ban on genital waxing altogether after two women reported being injured in their quest for a smooth bikini line.

Both women were hospitalized for infections following so-called "Brazilian" bikini waxes; one of the women has filed a lawsuit, according to Jeff Lamm, a spokesman for New Jersey's Division of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the cosmetology board.''

Somehow, New Jersey is the last state I would imagine actually having a board of Hairstyling. It's funny that they feel the need to protect their citizens from this, but not mullets. I'm just glad though that someone's protecting the children from waxed twats.

''Technically, genital waxing has never been allowed — only the face, neck, abdomen, legs and arms are permitted — but because bare-it-all "Brazilians" weren't specifically banned, state regulators haven't enforced the law.

"The genital area is not part of the abdomen or legs as some might assume," Lamm said.

She then looked wistfully into the distance and added, ''...like my husband Larry, for example...''

''Spa owner Linda Orsuto, who owns 800 West Salon & Spa in Cherry Hill, estimates that most of 1,800 bikini waxes performed at her business last year were Brazilian-style.

"It's huge," she said, adding that her customers don't think their bikini lines are anyone's business but their own. "It's just not right."

She said many customers would likely travel across state lines to get it and some might even try to wax themselves.''

You'll only get my waxed pussy when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers...


Saturday, March 21, 2009

The End of the World has been rescheduled...

Reality Sandwich has a very entertaining interview with Dennis McKenna, in which he discusses the experiments he performed with his brother Terence and psychedelic mushrooms in La Chorerra back in 1971. Terence also talked about 2012 as an endpoint, as revealed by the I-Ching; but more an end to an old mentality than an actual end of the world.

“Clearly we're undergoing a collective psychic transformation, and there's all kinds of apocalyptarian mythology about, and transformation, some of it horrific and some of it quite encouraging. It seems to be a race: are we going to wake up and become enlightened post-historical beings, or are we going to destroy ourselves by any of the numerous means at our disposal? Is something else going to intervene? Do the asteroids come, do the aliens come? Or does nothing happen? Or will something happen and nobody notices?” He wondered, laughing.

“It's happened so many times through history,” I remarked. “Like after the ministry of Jesus, the community that was left was expecting the Second Coming – like, is it tomorrow? In forty days?”

“This is a very similar phenomenon,” Dennis agreed. “I remember reading this book in a Comparative Religions class as an undergraduate, called When Prophecy Fails. It talks about these various millenarian and prophetic cults. When prophecy fails, the pattern is that instead of the guru or the leader saying, 'Well... Guess I got it wrong! You can all go back to your cubicles, or whatever you were doing, I was mistaken' – that doesn't happen. The followers become even more fanatical and there's a regrouping, a reexamination of the teachings, and they come up with a new date. Then time goes on and that one comes and nothing happens, then they revise the prediction again but they don't give up the prophecy, they just keep revising the date.”

“It's like the anticipation of the event fulfills a psychological need,” I suggested, “like there's something about life right now that's unbearable, so instead of addressing that directly people project some kind of salvation forward into the future, which might be what they legitimately need to keep it together...”


Friday, March 20, 2009

Gene Vincent - Long Tall Sally

1963 in Belgium. Holy moley.



''A headline today said, "Americans lose 18 percent of their wealth." Well, no, it wasn't real wealth, it was a bubble. You're down 18 percent? You're not. It shouldn't have been up there in the first place. So get over it. Shut up. Go to work, produce stuff that has value. I really think the days are gone, I hope, when people can rearrange the furniture and get rich on it. You got to produce something.''

-Travel-writer Rick Steves, in this interview.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is that a tocsin I hear?

It's a bad time to be an expert at AIG. The public is pissed about having to pay millions of dollars in bonuses to AIG executives, given that they bankrupt AIG. Edward Liddy, the CEO of AIG, testifying live and under oath before Congress, says that those bonuses are necessary to avoid total collapse of the company, the economy, and the baby Jesus.

''I am trying to desperately prevent an uncontrolled collapse of the business," said Liddy, who was brought out of retirement six months ago to run AIG. There is still risk that that could blow up," said Liddy, and it was clear from his expression that the prospect was not a rhetorical exercise.

Liddy didn't need to further connect the dots. If AIG F.P.'s outstanding portfolio of derivative products "blows up" -- the cascade could likely bring down AIG's counterparties. Which would inevitably require the expenditure of further government trillions to prevent a systemic crash.''

However, now Congress doesn't want to give them that money because the public is pissed.

Salon: ''You have to love -- or hate -- the beauty of this showdown. The CEO of AIG tells Congress that giving out bonuses is necessary in order to prevent a financial cascade of destruction that could bring down the economy. And Congress tells the CEO of AIG that giving out the bonuses ensures that Congress will not authorize any more funds to mitigate exactly that disaster.''

Okay, I hate drawing historical parallels, but... As someone who studies French history, it's pretty hard to think of another situation in which an entrenched and corrupted elite went begging a public- that already had a deep and justified hatred for them- for more money to keep them in lifestyles that were no longer sustainable with the excuse that they really needed the money because they'd messed up the nation's economy and now needed to save it...

Oh, wait, no it's not!


The Mourning Paper

There's a lot of discussion going on right now about the ''death of newspapers''. A number of US papers are close to bankruptcy, a few have folded, and others are trying to move online. A few things occur to me about this:

1. I know Le Monde was having trouble, but I have no idea if the ''death of newspapers'' doesn't mean the death of US newspapers. Are other countries having this problem? Or is this another example of projecting American issues onto the rest of the universe?

2. There are some clear-cut economic factors at play here. Newspapers used to control the means of news production because they owned the printing presses. Now anyone can post the contents of the paper online, or post their own news online, and the rest of us can read it for free. It's naive to think that people will pay for something they can get for free.

3. More importantly, advertisers can run their ads online and reach more people, and those of us who might have once used the classifieds can run ads on Craigslist.

4. Not to mention the fact- which nobody is mentioning- that a significant percentage of adult Americans are now testing as being unable to read and comprehend a full-length newspaper article. Perhaps the popularity of sites like the Drudge Report or the Huffington Post is that they simplify newspaper articles to about a fifth-grade reading level, while highlighting key facts.

5. At exactly the same time as developments 1 through 4 were occurring, media moguls were buying up newspapers, thereby putting themselves into a debt that they hoped would be paid off with the new revenues of their papers. If you consider what was going on, this was a perfectly disastrous business model- ramping up at a time when all signs pointed towards scaling back. They seem to have completely underestimated what the Internet would do to their business.

6. It's pretty easy to see why they're going under. In fact, it would be surprising if more of the papers didn't disappear. From a simple economic standpoint, the fact that people would rather get a product for free than pay for it, and to read something simpler instead of something complex, is a good explanation for the crisis facing papers. And better than wishful thinking about educated readers rejecting the ''bias'' of the media and turning to the net, which has all of the bias and no professional, or intellectual standards whatsoever.

Conclusion: It's entirely likely that most newspapers will disappear in the United States. While this is good news for trees, it's clear that journalism will have to move to other mediums in order to survive. It's not, however, clear how this will happen. It's also not clear that this will happen.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Lord, I think you'd overdose if you knew what's going down.

''Drugs are very dangerous, but there are a lot of things that are dangerous. The question is who should regulate danger? Should we assume responsibility for ourselves or should the government take care of us? And I don't believe in the nanny state.''
-Congressman Ron Paul, in this fairly amusing 'debate' on CNN.

Okay, one thing here- talk about stacking the deck! I mean, Ron Paul debating Stephen Baldwin? It's like watching a kindly older teacher trying to reason with the smirking dumbass who just got caught cheating on the final exam! Baldwin calls his approach ''faith-based'', which apparently means ''not based on any evidence'', and then goes on to mindlessly spout the ''gateway'' argument that pot-smokers all go on to harder drugs. Working as I do with a number of people for whom marijuana was a gateway to PhDs, I'm not convinced.

Dr. Paul thinks that the drug war will be soon reconsidered, and there does seem to be a lot of discussion of the topic as of late. I'm skeptical that things will change any time soon, at least in a sclerotic society such as this one. But then again, we've had three Presidents in a row for whom marijuana was a gateway to political office... although, one might actually take that as a warning against drug use!


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lux Interior's Astral Ascension

"Lux seemed like a creature from another world, with one foot already out of this dimension. As much as we might wonder 'Where are you now?' we can also wonder 'Where on Earth did you come from?' Now that's a mystery!"
-Poison Ivy Rorschach, from the program accompanying Lux Interior's astral ascension ceremony.

It had to happen at some point, and I'm glad the service was appropriate for Lux's departure from the mystery plane. ''Held on February 21 inside a reproduction of a 18th century windmill, the trans-denominational service was performed before an ornate sandalwood altar with a backdrop of six portraits -- Jesus, Krishna and the Fellowships own assorted founding gurus; the mood was muted, bleak, and Ivy's entrance brought a flood of tears; clad in form fitting leopard print, she placed a Hurrell-style glamour portrait of Lux beside the rostrum where speakers would address the crowd of 50 or 60 people.''

There are some nice stories in there, such as this email that Lux sent to the fellow who was driving when he picked up Ivy hitchiking back in 1974 "you don't know who this is" -- of course I did -- "but do you remember when we picked up that really pretty girl hitchhiker and your dog Wheezer jumped all over her? Well I've been jumping all over her for the past 35 years and we have a band called the Cramps."

Also, this comment from Rev. Susie the Floozie, herself the wife of Ivan Stang:
''Lux's spirit is so crystalline, so pure and shining, that he makes me glad to be a Weirdo. I would've gladly traded my own life to bargain for his--because we so badly need a Mad Daddy to shepherd us through this shitty world, making us laugh at the darkness and pointing out the diamonds in the garbage.''

He jumped so high he never came down/ Left the record spinning round and round... I guess the rest of us just Weirdos'll keep on moving on.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Macho, macho man...

Do young men face a ''new sexual double standard''? The National Post seems to think so, citing a recent questionaire answered by 104 university students that supposedly indicated ''that society accords men less "sexual latitude" than women, deeming it abnormal for a man to be disinterested in sex, to engage in homosexual fantasy, and to engage in submissive sexual acts.'' Supposedly, playing a ''macho role'' leaves these young men feeling constrained, particularly those who desire to be restrained. They feel they're expected to be more sexual, but less experimental, than women.

There are a surprising number of assumptions here. First off, that a sample group of 104 college undergrads can reveal much of anything about ''society''. Secondly, there's the startling assumption that ''normal human behavior'' is as the researchers idealize it, and any deviation can be only explained by social influence. In other words, young men would want to experiment with rum, sodomy and the lash, if only it wasn't for those pesky gender-based cultural standards. And then, of course, there's the assumption that the sexes are, biologically, identical in their sexuality. When people talk about the ''traditional double standard'', which they do here too, they complain that men are ''expected'' to be more promiscuous and sexually-aggressive, while women are ''pressured'' to be less promiscuous and more geared towards reproduction, blaming all of this on culture. That's fine, as it goes, but doesn't explain why so many other species of mammals exhibit quite similar behavior without any ''cultural pressures'' bearing down on them.

I would say, in my observation, that young men do seem a bit hung up as of late on achieving an exaggerated masculine ideal, and a bit too obsessed with homosexuality. But, honestly, I'm not terribly concerned with the dopey sexuality of undergrads, and I would hope that's not how we now measure ''society''. I would also note that this sort of nonsense is why I don't generally read the National Post.


Shopping Maul

I write this while sitting in the Student Union building at McMaster Universtiy in Hamilton, watching throngs of students pass by or eat their lunches together. The Student Union building, liks so many places designed for the public at present, was built on the model of an atrium: high open spaces with a glass-windowed roof to let in light and a lower level of storefronts. Music plays constantly and student groups vie for space with local vendors. They've actually removed much of the seating since I was here last, encouraging students to keep moving through and boosting sales. Foucault is upended- it's not the factory but the mall that our architecture emulates. He might have been right in France, where schoolyards often do resemble prison yards; but in North America, our universities look like shopping plazas. It's a sort of kitsch architecture: the bourgeois attempt at self-representation in its most deluded, and self-deluding, form; architecture as con.

Who designs these places? Who wants university buildings to be more like malls? The students have no say in any of this, of course, but it's hard to imagine that they object very much. For the hyper-bourgeois, the experience of shopping has become almost a stage of perception, a way of mastering the object of perception: the internal self mastering the external world. Maybe people first percieve by looking at the world through a digital screen, and then relate to the world as shoppers. Only later in life would other modes of perception become developed, and then only rarely. That's, of course, entirely too cynical, but one wonders if, in the gnosticism appropriate to the children of Coca-Cola and Steven Spielburg, education isn't akin to shopping. ''I can learn as much, or as little, as I want, and nobody can call me 'uneducated'''. The self is in no way threatened by perception, as it always had been in a humanist education. Education no longer contextualizes us.

And not even our architecture contextualizes us anymore. It is ''timeless'' and anodyne and reflects our lonely narcissism. We design places around demography, not history.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Nah, we'll stick with the most bad policy, thank you.

The Economist takes a stand:

''Next week ministers from around the world gather in Vienna to set international drug policy for the next decade. Like first-world-war generals, many will claim that all that is needed is more of the same. In fact the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why The Economist continues to believe that the least bad policy is to legalise drugs.''

I like the use of the term ''least bad''; that pretty much captures it. It's not that legalizing drugs would be good. It's that using the money spent by states to wage a semi-war against their own citizens- particularly those ones actually suffering from addiction- to educate about drugs and treat addicts for addiction would be less bad. It would also answer better the question of ''public health'', which has always been the pretense for the creeping authoritarian militarism of the ''war on drugs''. However, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for ''legalization'' to get past the police lobbies and those of our fellow bed-wetters who can't sleep at night without the government watching over them.


Ben Bernanke

To simplify our understanding of financial matters, here's a surprisingly accurate introduction to Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Movie Notes: Friday the 13th (2009)

To confess right from the beginning, I did watch this on a bootleg DVD. I usually disapprove of stealing money from artists like this, but in the case of such a formulaic, mercenary cash-grab as the 'reimagining' of the Friday the 13th films, it felt like a preemptive strike.

Secondly, I should point out from the start that the original Friday the 13th movies were, themselves, formulaic cash-grabs. The first one was a low budget Halloween rip off that made a small fortune; and it was followed by a string of low budget rip offs of the original that became increasingly ludicrous with time until the whole racket collapsed under the weight of its own stupidity. They were also made so recently that there would seem to be no need for a remake; but like McDonald's food, people enjoy getting the same thing dependably over and over again. And their money is green.
(picture- violence)

So, let's plow through this crap. The opening credits are interwoven with a black and white sequence of crazy woman Mrs. Voorhees being decapitated by the last living camper- basically the end of the first film. And forget about calling this a remake; if you haven't seen the other films, this section will make almost no sense. This sequence also includes a stunningly tasteless cut from a shot of the woman's torso and severed head lying on the ground to a title for Daniel C. Pearl, the director of photography. I'm sure they meant no harm. But seemingly someone could have made the connection as the shot perfectly echoes the Daniel Pearl beheading video. I think the fact that they didn't reflects the general carelessness of the film.

After this brief 'remake' of the first film, there's a brief remake of the second film, in which a group of unlikeable teenagers played by people in their 30s go looking for a marijuana crop in the woods, have sex, and get killed by a hulking maniac with a machete. Technically, this part could count as a 'remake' of any of the original films, all of which featured stoned, unlikeable, fuck-crazy, elderly teens being killed by a hulking maniac with a machete. Like I said, it's a formula. Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce; special orders don't upset us.

(picture- nudity)

Anyway, the old youth get killed right before they can collect social security, and then some other horny, stoned, middle-aged teenagers who are even more unlikeable show up to get killed. At this point, I assume they're remaking the third film because Jason gets his iconic hockey mask. This could, concievably, be a big Oscar moment in the movie; but nope- he pretty much finds a hockey mask lying around and puts it on, which I think gives you an idea of how little the filmmakers gave a shit. There's also a handsome lad who is looking for his missing sister that seems to have been borrowed from the fourth movie.

Calling these cardboard characters would be demeaning to pressed pulp paper used for making cartons and boxes. So, let's just say that the film's ''menu'' includes the black guy, the funny Asian guy, the rich prick, a couple of girls who take their shirts off, the sexy brooding guy, and a nice girl with zero personality who might or might not make it to the end. Also that I felt pretty stupid by the end of the DVD.

Differences between this and the older movies are few, but include:

1. The teens now talk incessantly about pot and fucking. This was always there before, but the kids once seemed to have other things going on, and to be a bit less puerile. Probably true of the writers as well.

2. The kills are a bit more ''brutal'' and angry, no doubt in reference to movies like Hostel. Also, there's a captive girl here, definitely in reference to more recent, boring torture movies. Yay.

3. There's more rock music in the soundtrack. I think the tendency of directors to telegraph emotions through the rock music on the soundtrack is ripe for parody at this point.

But, otherwise, I couldn't see anything different here that might justify actually making this movie. So, I'm forced to conclude that they just wanted my money. And, thus, not ashamed of buying a three dollar bootleg DVD, watching it once, and throwing it away.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Spring Break

Claire and I are off to the Bahamas for a much-needed vacation.

Enjoy this website explaining a fairly cool-looking hydrogen rail transit system.

And the very silly 'Martian Hop' by the Ran-Dells.

Martian Hop - Ran-Dells



My numbers were wrong on personal bankruptcies. It's worse than I thought.

Karen Tumulty in Time Magazine:
''Health problems are behind half the bankruptcies in this country, and three-quarters of those bankrupt people had health insurance when they got sick.''


Wednesday, March 04, 2009


''Because Iceland is really just one big family, it’s simply annoying to go around asking Icelanders if they’ve met Björk. Of course they’ve met Björk; who hasn’t met Björk? Who, for that matter, didn’t know Björk when she was two? “Yes, I know Björk,” a professor of finance at the University of Iceland says in reply to my question, in a weary tone. “She can’t sing, and I know her mother from childhood, and they were both crazy. That she is so well known outside of Iceland tells me more about the world than it does about Björk.”
-From this Vanity Fair article on how Iceland went bankrupt.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Effortless snark (sorry)

There is probably a good argument for the government not meddling in health care. But, I'm not sure that this Charles Krauthammer column makes it:

"Obama wants to be to universal health care what Lyndon Johnson was to Medicare. Obama has publicly abandoned his once-stated preference for a single-payer system as in Canada and Britain. But that is for practical reasons. In America, you can't get there from here directly.

Instead, Obama will create the middle step that will lead ultimately and inevitably to single-payer. The way to do it is to establish a reformed system that retains a private health-insurance sector but offers a new government-run plan (based on benefits open to members of Congress) so relatively attractive that people voluntarily move out of the private sector, thereby starving it. The ultimate result is a system of fully socialized medicine."

Krauthammer believes that socialized medicine is a bad thing that will weaken our dynamic society, and so forth. But his argument here seems to be that we can't let people choose between our system and the single-payer system because nobody in their right mind would choose our shitty system, and we'd be screwed! I think he has to do better than that.

I've actually had both American health insurance and a Canadian health card (at different times!), so I have some knowledge about this. The bottom line: both systems suck in different ways, and honestly a sort of dual system would be the best possible option. However, let me say that I greatly prefer the Canadian system, and have actually never met anyone else who has used both systems who doesn't prefer the Canadian system.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Killer Architecture Project!

This video is a very superficial intro to a project for rebuilding New Orleans, in particular the classic shotgun house. I could detail all the wild things about this, but basically, you'll get it all again when you watch the video.

It is unfortunately narrated in the style of Cast Commentary, which means that the voice over comes from someone who was watching the thing at the same time as recording, very distracted-sounding. I'll forgive that, the project is just too cool.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Meet the new boss...

Remember the Bush administration's grotesque NSA warrantless eavesdropping program? It looks like the Obama administration has decided they're going to keep it.

Seriously, did anyone not see this coming?

Well, I did, back when the Bush people pushed this stuff through. And since I'm apparently psychic, I'm going to guess that all of our 'conservative', 'Republican', and 'libertarian' brothers, who haven't given a shit about civil liberties for the last eight years, will soon begin to; while the 'progressives', 'liberals', and 'Democratic' bretheren, who used to oppose these things, at least verbally, will shut their mouths. Radicals, I assume and hope, will keep bitching.

Seriously, when will freedom ever increase?