Sunday, September 29, 2002

Walk Like an Egyptian: P.J. O'Rourke visits Egypt and finds, not surprisingly, he's got the tourist spots to himself. "The traffic is too scary. We Americans, who invented traffic, are always being startled by the forms into which it has evolved around the world. (God, if he's a Darwinian, may be similarly aghast at life.)" Also read the follow-up interview.
The Best In College Education: From the demon Clear Channel, what your favorite bands and comedians will charge to perform at your alma mater. You can get ICE-ICE-BABY! for a mere 5 grand. Creed, on the other hand, command in excess of 150k, despite the fact that their music is used by riot police for crowd dispersal. The ones that kill me are the ones labeled "generally available". In some cases, like Hootie and the Blowfish or Kansas, you gotta figure that pretty much describes their lives.
Coming Soon on ESPN-7: Remember that Monty Python skit about the Committee for Putting Things on Top of Other Things? Apparently it wasn't all that silly. CAUTION: this is for trained professionals only. Be sure to get the instructional video from the "Speed Stacks Store."
I Wanna Go To Floooorida: Speaking of bad sports, this whine has gone sour. I'd be happy to let stupid fans boo me for 6.25 million, in case the Mets are listening.
All I Want For Christmas: This private island, just five minutes from Venice. You can visit, but you'll have to pitch in for beer.

Friday, September 27, 2002

That To Which I Have Been Up: I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things (Vegas lingers), by that I mean I'm giving in to distractions again. The re-design is going slowly, the latest problem being that the new design renders reasonably in Internet Explorer, but unreasonably in Netscape/Mozilla. Chalk it up to a learning experience, right? I guess I needn't be in any rush, since it's a re-design for re-design's sake - and to force me to learn some new HTML/CSS techniques.

Again, I find myself distracted by the twin Japanese imports of author Haruki Murakami and the band Pizzicato Five. I've been engrossed with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle which you can get a taste of from the reviews at Amazon. It is as at least as fascinating as is sounds. Meanwhile, Pizzicato Five's super-expensive import This Year's Model is playing on repeat in my car CD player. It's delightful. Yes, the lyrics are in Japanese and so I don't understand a word, but the exuberance shows through. Lucky they have a big catalog to keep me going for a while.

I've also developed an deeper interest in the NFL, which I haven't really had since I was a wee lad. It got me wondering why. Part of the reason is that my favorite boyhood team, the Miami Dolphins are monstrously good this year (so far) and part is that I got sucked into a minor fascination with betting on the games in Vegas (therein lies a tale for the future), but I think the main reason is ESPN Page 2. The sportswriting there is terrific, it goes way beyond standard sports journalism - it's packed with wry commentary, sarcasm, hyperbole, and all the stuff that makes reading fun, along with some genuine insight. As I began reading Page 2 a few months ago, I wasn't really clued in to sports enough to pick up on every reference, but they were having so much fun that I wanted in on it. That's what made me realize what the source of many interests I've adopted over the years. It's the quality of the writing.

Years ago I found myself interested in libertarianism, even though I have very little interest in political philosophy anymore. But I was attracted to the writings of people like P.J. O'Rourke, Florence King, David Brooks, etc., who just seemed to be having a blast while writing some really clever, refined stuff. Before that, I remember reading all sorts of books centered on WWI after I stumbled on the excellent, The Great War in Africa, by Byron Farwell who is a great storyteller in addition to being fine a historian.

I don't think I could overstate the affect the written word has had on my life.

So anyway, my current fascination is ESPN Page 2. Try Greg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback:
The Rams have forgotten how to block. (Note to the Rams O-line after watching the Monday night game -- the trick is to stand in front of the guy you are blocking. Do not step out of his way and watch him go by! Try to get in front of him. It's a technique thing.)
Or anything by Bill Simmons:
I'm ashamed to admit this, but Monday night I went to see the new Drew Barrymore movie "Riding in Cars with Boys," accompanying the Sports Gal as part of our "She won't bitch about the fact that I spend seven hours every Sunday watching football if I escort her to an occasional chick flick and don't bitch about it" deal. Savvy, huh?

I only have two hopes with chick flicks: that they're short and that there's a cute actress prominently involved. Needless to say, since "Riding in Cars" lasted for 140 interminable minutes and the wheels came off the "Drew Barrymore is a babe" bandwagon about three years ago. I spent the last 45 minutes trying to pull a piece of metal off the bottom of my seat so I could jam it into my jugular vein.
Oh, and then there's an odd fellow named Hunter S. Thompson.

Dig in. Have fun. Great writing. Atrocious editing (S. Thompson Hunter????), but I can forgive that.

And if I start making obscure sports references, you'll know why.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Viva Las Vegas!: Woooo Baby! Sweet suites, rhythmic Blue Men, pyramids of glass, triple double diamonds, blistering heat and scalding sun, skywalks, jacuzzis, aquabats and dancing water, comp beers in the sports book, iron chefs, chocolate souffles, and wacked-out cabbies with winning football picks.

Needless to say, I'll need a couple of days to recover.

Oh, and as expected, Northwest Airlines remains Northwest Airlines.

Friday, September 20, 2002

Little Green Men: Those zany technoids over at Slashdot have posted my book review of Little Green Men by Chistopher Buckley, at long last.

Now I really have too much to do to be here, so like I said before, I'll be back in a week-ish. I'm going now... OK here I go... Really... OK this time for sure...

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Scoop D'Jour : Slashdot still hasn't posted my book review. They must be a bit backed up. I'll give 'em another a week and then I'll make other arrangements. You'll see it, one way or another.

I'm making some fitful, frustrating headway with the re-design. It involves my first extensive use of Cascading Style Sheets and, as such, there's been a lot of trial and error. You can take a look at where it's headed. Although this will mean nothing to most of you, I am trying to make it as standards compliant as I can for the sake of consistency of presentation across browsers. Also to that end, there are no tables used for page formatting - this, I have taken on faith from trusted sources, is a Good Thing. Comments are welcome and encouraged. (The design is not entirely original. I'll pass along the appropriate credits once it's all in place.)

The bad news is it will probably be a week-ish until you hear from me again as the next several days will be busy, busy, busy. For now here are some links to hold you over.
  • Doin' time - For CEOs and politicians, Forbes provides a timely guide to the best in prison accomodations.

  • Spendin' dough - Also via, if you're lucky you got to spend a billion before you got locked up.

  • Sailin' away - It's been years since I did any sailing, but I still keep an interest. America's Cup (or maybe it should be New Zealand Cup) sailboat racing is a remarkable spectacle. Only multi-millionaires need apply and then only if you can back up your entry with super-advanced technology. The world's most expensive day sail. The other end of the endurance spectrum is the solo circumnavigation of the Around Alone race.

  • Bigger and/or Better - Lots of ideas about what to do at ground zero. My favorite is #2 on this page. Surprisingly (or perhaps not) submitted by someone from Kuwait.

  • Wrong again! - Once again, in the face of a highly dramatic crisis, journalism chokes like Cass Elliot on a ham sandwich. Believe nothing you read. Ever. (Except from me, of course.)

  • Best Movie Title Ever - It'll be a lame movie, for sure. But then all you need is a good title and the PR folks handle the rest.

Monday, September 16, 2002

Sight Unseen: I'm without material to give you for the moment, primarily because I have a book review that is supposed to be published on slashdot, but it hasn't appeared just yet. Hopefully soon. I've also been making good progress on a site re-design - good enough that I'm confident it willl happen, I just don't know when. Plus, Friday was my birthday (don't ask), so I've been distracted by the millions of cards and letters from my fans (not). Combine all that and, temporarily, I'm empty handed. Hopefully I'll be able to link the review, and maybe some other material, this week some time. Hang tough.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

You have offended my family, and you have offended a Shaolin temple: I never tire of watching Enter the Dragon, even when it's ripped to shreds and laden with commercials like it was on TBS the other night.

This movie has two things going for it.

First, the fight scenes are amazing - proving that you don't need Matrix-esque slow motion or Crouching Tiger tree-walking for a quality fight scene. It's all done with camera angels, editing, and Bruce Lee. The lack of technical enhancement as a crutch means they remain the best fight scenes in cinematic history, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it has no peer when it comes to pegging the unintentional comedy meter.

Let's start with Jim Kelly. Jim Kelly is utterly stupefying. I don't know what sort of activity he was engaged in during the filming of this movie, but it wasn't acting.

My favorite scene: Kelly has just whipped his opponent and his buddy, Roper (John Saxon), has just taken some money from a dorky looking guy who was willing to bet on the fight. It's now Roper's turn to fight so he asks Kelly to keep his fish on the line. While Roper is fighting, we see Kelly negotiating with the fish. Finally, after Roper allows himself to be knocked down three times, Kelly turns to the fish - and this is part I love - the fish holds up two fingers as an offer. What the two fingers mean, we don't really know. Then Kelly looks thoughtfully at his hand, extends three fingers and gleefully thrusts them up as if to say, "Ha! You have extended two fingers, whereas I have extended three! Three is one more than two! You are owned!"

Then, Kelly turns back to Roper to subtly indicate it's OK to start kicking butt. So he squints his eyes and gives Roeper a barely perceptible nod - because, as everyone knows, if you squint your eyes it's harder to see you.

See what I mean? Stupefying. You just can't script comedy like that.

Another great scene: Roper is in his quarters at night when the buxom matron of the place comes by leading four girls from which Roper is asked to choose one for the evening. (This was 1970s action movie morality at its
pinnacle.) The girls parade past the camera. The first two are pretty cute, the third not so, and the fourth, well, let's just say somebody must have lost a bet.

In the midst of this linear decline in aesthetics, John Saxon (Roper) has to deliver the line, "Each one more lovely than the last." With a straight face. A thespian tour de force. Seriously, it was a career moment there for Saxon. He gets the Patrick Stewart Award for making inept dialog sound reasonable.

And did you ever see The Kentucky Fried Movie? It was one of those skit-based, eighth-grade-level toilet humor movies that came out at the intersection of the '70s and the '80s. It's mostly bollocks except for one extended parody of Enter the Dragon entitled "A Fistful of Yen." The thing is, I had seen the parody before I saw the original. I was stunned when I found that much of what was in the parody was in the original word for word.

Here is a brief exchange from Enter the Dragon:

ROPER: "And who are they?"
DR. HAHN: "Refuse. Found in waterfront bars."
ROPER: "Shanghaied?"
DR. HAHN: "Just lost, drunken men who don't know where they are, and no longer care."

When I first saw that, I thought they had edited out the rest of the exchange which went like this in the parody:

LU: "And who are they?"
DR. KLAHN: "Refuse. Found in waterfront bars."
LU: "Shanghaied?"
DR. KLAHN: "Just lost, drunken men who don't know where they are, and no longer care."
PRISONER #1: "Where are we?"
PRISONER #2: "I don't care."
LU: "And these?"
DR. KLAHN: "These are lost, drunken men who don't know where they are, but DO care. And these are men who know where they are and care -- but don't drink."
PRISONER #4: "Wait a minute -- I don't know where I am."
PRISONER #3: "Yeah, and I don't drink."
DR. KLAHN: "Guard!" (to #4) "Do you care?"
PRISONER #4: "No."
DR. KLAHN: "Put this man in cell number 1 and give him a drink."
GUARD: "What do you drink?"
PRISONER #4: "I don't care."

The tone and acting in the original is so perfectly similar to the mockery of the parody that the exchanged seemed unfinished.

If you haven't seen Enter the Dragon, you should. In terms of number of imitators, it would be hard to overstate it's influence on film and video to this day. And get the Kentucky Fried Movie, too, and you'll see what I mean.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

It's Not Like I'm Not Trying: I was hoping to have some more original content for you, and I found a couple of articles in dead tree publications that I was going to dissect, but just my luck, they aren't available on-line. Plus, I've been working on a new book review that should be out relatively soon so I'm afraid all I have to offer is another set of quickies. Mo' better stuff soon.
  • Off the wall home runs - If you've ever watched ESPN Sportscenter you know they have all sorts of cute phrases to describe home runs in the highlight reels. My favorite is "Bring me your finest meats and cheeses!" Another great one: "He hits that one so deep, it's Freudian!" Heh-heh. I'm not sure about "I am Vexorg, destroyer of cats and devourer of chickens!" I'll have to give that one some thought.

  • Diamond anniversary - Television just turned 75. Happy birthday and such, but judging from my last three posts (see below) TV might be showing it's age. Of course, the Sopranos starts Sunday, so maybe there's life left in the box.

  • Kid Fails Science, Parents Cheer - A long article documenting the errors in middle-school level science text books. The errors range from minor typos: "...teacher's edition says a coulomb is 6.25 times ten to the eighth electrons. The correct value is larger by ten orders of magnitude. It should be 6.25 times ten to the eighteenth," to plain stupidity: "The reader is told that the distance traveled by the roller coaster in a certain time is its average speed. That is nonsense," to the truly bizarre: "...Linda Ronstadt [is] described in 1997 as a silicon crystal doped with an arsenic impurity." Alrighty then. Millions of foreign students strive to attend U.S. university every year. I guess we now know why they aren't queued up for middle school.

  • Prosperous cheaters - On the other hand, maybe those students are just here because it's so easy to buy term papers. (A minor character in Apple Pie made money doing this. Just so you know it wasn't my imagination.)

  • Peter Parker's snack of choice - Soon you will find Tarantula jerky at your local mini-mart. File under "E" for Eeew!

  • "I can't find my mouth" - "And at the end of the night, they will even reveal what customers have actually been eating." I bet they're serving spiders.

Friday, September 06, 2002

Linkapalooza: The usual random assortment of HTML musings.
  • Heaven is middle management - at least compared to those jobs. My favorite is from 2001. I wonder if that's the official title. How do you make that sound good on a resume?

  • It's a matter of fitness - I'm actually quite glad they don't have these classes at my gym. My gym shorts don't have pockets for twenties. Those of you in LA may want to attend the 7pm Wednesday class. Pass along a full report.

  • A Rogaine moment - I know a girl who once said "if Ben Affleck was any hotter he'd be on fire." Perhaps his hair burned off. I have to laugh.

  • Good, Bad, Ugly - Quick reviews of books, music, and news from web-writers of all flavors.

  • Life's a beach - If you read about my Florida vacation and you need a bigger beach fix, visit the good doctor.

  • Duck! - P.J. O'Rourke takes life in hand and teaches his ornithophobic wife to hunt birds. Bravest man in history.
The Wolfe is Extinct: Well, after the reality hillbillies and that dispicable swim-in-the-cess-pool show (see last couple of posts), I thought TV couldn't get any worse. Then I read this message from A&E.

A&E has been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such dedicated and talented professionals as actor/director Tim Hutton, and writer/executive producer Michael Jaffe, the team whose passion and creative vision for NERO WOLFE have made it such a truly distinctive drama series. Mr. Hutton and Mr. Jaffe, along with (Maury Chaykin, Bill Smitrovich, Colin Fox) and the rest of this hardworking and talented cast and crew, were responsible for bringing to life this classic mystery series, each week, to devoted viewers in the U.S. and in Canada.

We at A&E remain extremely proud of NERO WOLFE. It is a high quality, beautifully produced and entertaining show, unlike anything else currently on the television landscape. Although it performed moderately well amongst tough competition for two seasons, it simply did not do well enough for us to be able to go on making it, given the current television climate.

A&E will continue to air encore presentations of the first and second season of NERO WOLFE in the coming weeks and months.

We certainly appreciate your support for the series and for the network. We appreciate the time and the care you have taken in sending us your letters, cards, and emails to let us know how strongly you support this wonderful show.

We hope that since you love NERO, you will continue to enjoy the encores, and that you will tune in to enjoy some of the other specials coming up, including Lathe Of Heaven, starring James Caan, Lukas Haas, airing in September, The Lost World, starring Bob Hoskins and Peter Falk, and our documentary special Old Friends, hosted by Academy Award winner Julia Roberts. As well as a number of our weekly documentary series including Biography, City Confidential, Minute By Minute and American Justice.

Thanks again. We appreciate your thoughts and feedback.
Nero Wolfe had the best acting on TV. Dirtbags. Lousy dirtbags. And then the gaul of trying to fob off their pathetic pedestrian fare in place of Nero Wolfe! Lousy, stinking, dirtbags. You would think they could spare one hour of programming a week for the sake of dramatic quality. It doesn't matter when; run it at 3AM, I have a VCR. Lousy, stinking, scum-sucking dirtbags.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Breathe: A media mogul is the most powerful man in the industry. It has been rocked by sex scandal. The big players live lives of extravagant luxury. There is dissension and resentment among the rank and file. The marketing is shameless. The cost outrageous. The competition cutthroat.

Now guess the industry.

Nope, try again.

Nope. Sorry, you'll never get it.

It's the Yoga industry.
"Be successful" is the new mantra of the yoga universe, which has become so competitive that trying to crack the big leagues is far more difficult than it was even a few years ago. But how do yogis in our covetous culture separate themselves from the pack without violating asteya, the yama that strictly forbids stealing? For millennia, the intricate techniques of yoga were passed down freely from teacher to student. Today they form a collection of highly marketable intellectual properties -- a phenomenon that has only encouraged some rather unenlightened behavior.

[Yogi] Bikram says there has been so much stealing of his "hot yoga" techniques during the last few years that he had to spend $500,000 in January for a lawyer to trademark his sequence of 26 asanas, or yoga poses, as well as his word-for-word monologues describing how to do them. Thus yoga, the franchise, was born. "People were doing illegal things," Bikram growls. "I had to stop them."

At Jivamukti in New York City -- the downtown studio with 2,000 students per week and a website that lists 51 celebrity clients, from Steve Martin to Monica Lewinsky -- owner David Life complains that several former teachers have set up shop nearby, offering the same method he painstakingly developed with co-owner Sharon Gannon during the last 17 years. "They're not calling themselves Jivamukti, but the staff is almost 100 percent certified through our training program," Life says, adding that he might consider taking action if they start using the word Jivamukti -- which, naturally, the couple has trademarked.
How long until the Sopranos move in on this racket? These folks should devote more time to their downward dogs or they'll all end up in corpse pose.
Reality is Sick: As I implied below, the hick reality shows may be the stupidest thing ever. But the stupidest people ever are the ones who will participate in Sick Day.
TV bosses are making the sickest reality show - with contestants trying to get as many illnesses as possible.

In Sick Day, three lads will live in the same house for two months and try to catch ailments like nits, lice, flu, venereal diseases and warts.
Oh, heck, don't bother to click through. I'll just quote the rest.
It is being made as a pilot for digital channel E4 by Princess Productions, which also makes breakfast show RI:SE.

Teacher Ray Downing, 23, from North London, auditioned for the show and said: "I was shocked when they told me what it was about.

"It’s up to contestants to find ways to catch the disease, but they talked about snorkelling in sewage."

Contestants were told they would be paid and that a doctor would make sure they did not become too ill.

An E4 spokeswoman said: "None of the illnesses will be life threatening."

John Beyer of Mediawatch UK, which fights for TV decency, said: "This proves reality TV is scraping the bottom of a very deep barrel."
Are you kidding? They've scraped through the bottom of the barrel and underground into the septic tank (where one of them said, "Ew, man, could you imagine snorkeling in this?" and the other said, "That's the ticket!")

This just can't be real. It's satire. It must be. Somebody tell me it's satire. Please.

Sunday, September 01, 2002

Y'all Come Back Now - Y'Hear?: As you may have heard by now, we're about to be treated to something along the lines of The Reality Hillbillies on CBS. Yep, they are planning on finding some backwards rubes from the south, transplanting them into a big ole mansion (with a see-ment pond), giving them a ton of money and putting it all on TV. Now, you're probably thinking, "It's been done, it was called The Clinton Administration," and you'd be right, but what they are really looking for is a reality version of the Beverly Hillbillies.

Think of the tie-ins. Reality Ellie Mae goes on The Bachelor looking for a husband. Reality Jethro on Survivor: Appalachia (squeal like a pig!). Reality Granny chasing around some trampy trailer-trash teens with a frying pan on Jerry Springer. Reality Jed runs for mayor and gets endorsements from Ross Perot and the NRA.

You think I'm kidding? No, I fully expect that about three years after this show has had it's run, we'll see Reality Ellie Mae try to salvage her career by posing in Playboy, and we'll be treated to a Biography episode where we find Reality Jethro was a moonshine addict and only found peace when he joined AA and fought Jesse Ventura in Celebrity Boxing. Reality Granny will turn up as a TV private eye on the WE network, with Jerry Van Dyke as a sidekick/love interest, courtesy of the makers of Matlock. Reality Jed will be running for president and have the support of Larry King and Ted Nugent.

Every day, the news is full of horrible tragedies - violence, poverty, oppression, poisonous flying monkeys - and yet, I can't imagine anything more depressing than this.

Actually I can. It's the reply from Fox. They are going to reverse the formula by taking a some rich and/or famous folks and have them live is a rural backwater. Yes, it's a Reality Green Acres.

I weep. Can somebody spare a small glass of hemlock?