Ben A. Ben H. Doug Later
Proceeding with my first attempt to make an "archive" page. Cross your fingers. [10/27/02 11:55]
No Safe Harbor

How wrong you are. Adam Sandler, like Jim Carrey, dominates any other genre elements of a production. Sandler would make a show of Timon of Athens set during the Stonewall riots count as an 'Adam Sandler Movie.'
[10/27/02 11:43]

Only a very supple mind could come up with ataraxia. You certainly deserve kudos, but alas, not Scrabble points. Even the OED doesn't list ataraxia, although it does have "ataraxy" and gives it the same definition as Greek "ataraxia." In places I've seen "ataraxia" (more than the average Bear, given my background and Bernie's) it's usually in italics.
[10/27/02 09:44]

What was I doing at an Adam Sandler movie? I was under the impression that if the movie is playing at BAM or the Angelica, it automatically falls under the Safe Harbor rules, and I cannot fairly be accused of seeing "an Adam Sandler movie" even if Adam Sandler is in the movie. But trust me, I would have doubled the $10 admission fee if "Punch Drunk Love" could have been swapped for "The Water Boy."
[10/27/02 09:32]
I was in New Orleans for the Inter-American Development Bank Annual Meeting in 2000. An odd choice for a development bank charged with helping Latin American countries. I mean, wouldn't it make sense to hold it in, well, Latin America rather than the Latin Quarter? And if it absolutely had to be in the U.S., perhaps a city with some significance for Latin America, like Los Angeles or Miami? I guess the holiday preferences of the development panjandrums take precedence -- next spring, IADB in Milan!

Anyway, New Orleans is a complete dump. We are talking about a city the main comparative advantage of which is its lax open container laws. Basically, in exchange for tourist dollars, the residents allow the tourists to come and trash their city. The New Orleansians are like that insecure kid in high school, always teetering on the edge of unpopularity, who clings to social respectibility by opening his parents' house to a wild party for his classmates. It's pathetic. And how about that Harrah's casino? Louisiana just about sold its democracy in exchange for the jobs and tax dollars from that casino. In the end, the IADB's choice was apposite. New Orleans, in its squalor, corruption and lawlessness comes as close to the worst of Latin America that one can find in the U.S..
[10/27/02 00:31]
Dao beat me again in Scrabble last night. She didn't have any spectacular plays this time, just a relentless, patient, merciless string of small plays targeting the best bonus squares, turn after turn, keeping the board closed and me unable to counter-attack. I used to have some respect for cold-war domino theorists, but knowing what I know now, you'd be crazy to fight a war against these people. I tried to "go nuclear" with "ataraxia", but the stupid Merriam-Webster online dictionary we agree to use doesn't list it. [10/27/02 04:36]
Hey wait a minute!

What were you doing at an Adam Sandler movie anyway?
[10/27/02 00:42]
I don't believe critics endorse 'punch drunk love' simply through the adversary culture mechanism. These guys have just reviewed ten indistinguishable C-grade romantic comedies; against this background an movie by Andersen or David Lynch provides a needed refreshment. This phenomenon explains why any idiosyncratic movie enjoys a critical multiplier: it gave the critic a rest from Meg Ryan. It may also help to explain why high quality films *within* standard genres (the Fugitive, or About a Boy) inevitably get undersold by critics. [10/27/02 00:32]
It does appear that the Russians chose the other side of the dose curve on the knockout gas. I'm glad for your kind comments. The in house biocehmist (Deb) pointed out re: my hypoxia comment, that pumping in CO2 was a recipie for killing hostages (it's how mice are put down in the lab). I think her correction was prefaced by "you idiot."

Have either of you ever been in New Orleans? The smell of urine, I assure you, would be a welcome distratction. Also, the superdome looks like a the cooling tower of a nuclear plant designed by gnomes. Perhaps the model for the North Korean reactor?
[10/27/02 00:20]
Just got back from seeing "Punch Drunk Love," the new Paul Thomas Anderson film. The emperor, my friends, stands buck naked. As has become his custom, he attempts to pass off outlandish mannerisms and non-sequiturs as profundity. Remember "Magnolia"? Ooh, a downpour of frogs. That's, like, so deep, man. I think that even the credulous crowd at BAM Cinema, where the smug middlebrows clap like trained seals (one can never be sure whether they are clapping for the movie, or for themselves for being sophisticated enough to enjoy the arty movie they just sat through), saw through it.

I think the critical hosannas for "Punch Drunk Love" illustrate a fallacy to which the cultural elite has become helplessly susceptible. If a class of things X is bad, and thing Y is different from X, then thing Y must be good. P.T. Anderson's pretentious cinematic bloat surely veers wildly from Hollywood formula; therefore it is original and praiseworthy.

I am not entirely without sympathy for those who succumb to this fallacy. Look, if I had to eat a diet consisting entirely of, say, thin oatmeal, I'd probably think the first can of Alpo somebody put in front of me was great. But that doesn't mean it's anything other than dog food. While it is not true that every good film is alike, every bad film is bad in its own way.
[10/27/02 00:10]

Apparently, sleeping gas was something of a euphemism. Russian reporter via Georgian media claims FSB used some kind of nerve agent...
[10/26/02 23:59]
Yes, hats off to both the Russian commandos and Ben A, who sure showed me. From now on I'll keep my own military musings to myself. Or maybe one last one: I came up with a great new way for medieval knights to storm castles. They line up side by side as if to joust, gallop forth at the signal, endure the "Holy Grail"-style laughter of the defenders on the thick stone walls, plant their lance-points in the dirt just before smacking into said walls, and do a high-horsepower pole-vault up unto the ramparts whose defenders are now too dumbstruck to defend. (If there were any ten-year-olds reading this site, they'd probably yawn and say this is tactics 101 in the cartoons.)

Also, on an unrelated note, but following up on a theme (from my previous weblog) about weird smells near my computer desk, don't you hate it when a bug torches itself on your halogen bulb? Maybe American models somehow ward off this noxious occurrence. I'd have thought it would be a neutral carbon/smoke smell, but no, it's this nasty icky stench. Ugh.
[10/26/02 15:54]
I feel obligated to finish the public urination thread by answering Ben A's question about whether it's really so bad here.

Maybe you've had the special "negative" pleasure of riding in a German luxury car. However opulent its positive amenities may be, what strikes you is what's missing: the engine noise, the bumpiness, the vibration, any sign that you're driving rather than wafting.

Well, I had a similar experience when I visited Germany this summer, after a year and half in France. I had to walk through a pedestrian tunnel under the train stration -- under a train station, no less -- and there wasn't the barest whiff of anything. Dumbfounding to anyone who lives in France.
[10/26/02 16:09]
One addendum to the note on the RUssian operation. It would seem that the use of hypnotic gas will only work once. Won't the Chechens next time tote along a few gas masks? [10/26/02 11:01]

Spetznaz kicks ass, Ben A wins the clairvoyance award.

Local press reports that FSB forces pumped some sort of hypnotic gas into the building before storming it. None of the Chechens was able to set off a bomb, and apparently several were found stone dead with unexploded munitions strapped to their bodies. As for the dead hostages, footage shows many of them slumped over in their seats, not splayed out and perforated with bullets. Scuttlebut is that they died "choking on their own vomit", apparently as a result of the gas (or perhaps, that threatened musical theater really was lethally bad). Alas, it seems that whatever gas the Russians used, it wasn't the gentle Hannah-Barbara version Ben A had in mind.
[10/26/02 10:56]

My posting will be spotty over the next few days as I travel to New Orleans. If you have any questions about inflammation, now would be a good time to have them answered.
[10/25/02 17:49]
Senator Wellstone dead in a plane crash. Apparently, his wife, too, so the Dems won't be able to pull a Carnahan. [10/25/02 14:07]
We don't have a lot of data points when it comes to anti-communist insurgencies. Communist regimes' totalitarian tendencies make it difficult for an insurgency to operate. Leftist rebels can take advantage of the more respectful attitude toward civil society that liberal regime -- and even, compared to the Commies, autocratic right-wing regimes -- tend to have. And conservatives don't have a particularly rebellious temperament. They find little romance in the outlaw life that so suits Che epigoni.

Let's look at the anti-communist insurgencies that come to mind
1) The Contras. No comment necessary
2) Renamo. Mozambique never got that much attention, but to the extent it did, Samora Machel was a darling of the Europeans, so there was not much sympathy for those who would overthrow him. Renamo was also "tainted" by its support from apartheid South Africa
3) UNITA. Also anathematized, probably for the support it received from Reagan, and the fact that its opponents had the solidarity of those lovely Cubans. Also, Savimbi had a bolshy past himself and only qualifies as an "anti-communist" in that he was fighting a regime that happened to be communist. If Angola had been ruled by Friedrich Hayek himself, Savimbi likely still would have led UNITA against the government.
4) The Laotian mountain tribes. Think most of these guys evacuated to the U.S. Not much radical chic support as far as I can tell
5) Karen tribesmen of Cambodia. I think that after the Khmer Rouge, these guys did enjoy some support, but I don't think they ever achieved a very high profile in the U.S. or Europe.
6) Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy in Burma. Debatable whether Ne Win or the SLORC can be fairly classified as Communist/Socialist or whether they fall under the rubric of repressive lunocracy. She got the Nobel in '91 which means that the Scandinavian Sages (as Doug has dubbed them) regarded her moral worth as on the same plane as Jimmuh the Peanut Man.
[10/25/02 13:10]
Speaking of French pride in their artisanal ways, and their fear of foreign competition, this was in Le Monde a few days ago.

Nous, les prostituées françaises traditionnelles, on est arrivées à l'indépendance. Ces filles venues de l'étranger, ça nous ramène à des temps anciens. Ça donne une mauvaise image de la prostitution. Il faut les renvoyer chez elles. On a perdu 70 % de notre chiffre d'affaires depuis deux ou trois ans... Rue Saint-Denis, il y a vingt ans, il y avait une ambiance ! Tous les mètres, des jolies filles de 20 ou 30 ans. Aujourd'hui, dans mon coin, on n'est plus que huit. La plus jeune a 44 ans, la plus âgée, 62 ans. On parle de nos petits-enfants. Je ne fais plus qu'une passe ou deux par jour. Ça nourrit pas, 100 euros par jour. On sait que si ça continue comme ça, des filles comme nous, y'en aura plus.
[10/25/02 11:09]
Oh, yes, of course. But French piss is European piss, that is elegant, artisanally crafted, so far superior to American piss that it is hardly worthy of the same name. French piss is fragrant (it is an acknowledged fact that their shit doesn't stink). [10/25/02 10:56]
Aside from Tibet, are there any anti-communist insurgencies that have generated radical-chic cachet? If not, why? Can it be explained solely by the intersection of soft-headed Hollywood pantheism and the charisma of the Dalai Lama? [10/25/02 12:27]
I agree that the Tibetans refute the leftist shibboleth that oppression justifies barbaric behavior. Some cultures require a lot less oppression than others to start resorting to violence, which perhaps reveals something about the culture in question. To those who, after each new atrocity (for example, the sniper attacks), tell us not to jump to conclusions about what sort of person might be responsible, I pose the following. I'll give you three choices. If you choose correctly, I'll pay you $100 bucks. The malefactor is:
A - A bloodthirsy Buddhist
B - An angry Amish
C - A muslim of one sort or another
[10/25/02 11:50]
When I commuted to work on the subway, I often thought that exile would be a suitable punishment for public urination (or at least, for the second offense). It's such a needless destruction of our common life.

So I'm intrigued. Doug, is it really true that Paris is more urea-stained than NYC or Boston? I thought they were still hospitalizing lunatics on the continent.
[10/25/02 10:44]
The Crackpottery Barn

Why not pump sleeping gas through the vents? Although, I suppose that no real agent measures up to the knockout gas featured in the cartoons of my childhood. Any slow-onset intoxicant seems sure to provoke an immedaite massacre. I understand hypoxia creeps up on you. Could they flood the place with C02?
[10/25/02 11:50]
The Chechen attack in Moscow is a horror. Russian brutality towards their homeland may explain the attack, but it doesn't justify it, or make it inevitable. The Tibetans have suffered just as much and you don't see the Dali Lama strapping on a C4 parka. (Incidentally, I think it behooves us all to help the "Free Tibet" movement, if only to disprove the claim that the only way for oppressed peoples to get international attention is through violence.)

In classic web-log style, I offer a crackpot tactical solution: ram a whole bunch of heavily armored military vehicles into the theater simultaneously, to shield a majority of the hostages from blasts, and perhaps (I haven't seen pictures of the theater) to hold up the building if supporting pillars are dynamited.
[10/25/02 10:58]
What are you complaining about? Here in France, public urination is in the frigging Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. [10/25/02 10:27]
Why I Love New York Politics

From an advert on TV for Andrew Eristoff, candidate for Assembly in my district of Manhattan. The sound is off, for reasons I've already explained. The ad ends with the following words printed on screen:
Liz Kreuger
You decide

I note in passing that this shouldn't really be a political issue in a civilized place. Of course, in New York it is an entirely germane question.
[10/25/02 09:06]
Best Bug Ever

My Windows Media Player identifies Bach's Art of the Fugue as a Lyle Lovett CD -- Contrapunctus 6 is "the ballad of the snow leopard and the tanqueray cowboy" Nor is this a unique error, the Biggs colelction of organ music is read as the Dixie Chicks' "Sin Wagon." So far the error seems only to effect Bach. Thomas Tallis is just Thomas Tallis.
[10/25/02 09:59]
My primary reaction to the Moscow situation is the dread certainty that this will end badly. Not original, I know. But surely what Ben* says is correct: anyone trying to motivate the Russian government by terrorizing its citizens has miscalculated. Capture an oligarch, maybe, and you'll see some movement.
[10/25/02 08:52]
OK, gentlemen. What do you think about the hostage taking drama in Russia? Let me start out by saying, as is the custom these days, that Islam means Peace. (If Orwell were writing today, he could have Big Brother add that to his other three maxims, no?). I'll stay away from the obvious about the unfitness of Islamic mountain bandits for modern civilization and all that. What's kind of interesting for me (and maybe only for me) is to watch the bond market reaction to this. The first instinct of all the foreigners was to whack the stuffing out of Russia bonds. Not that foreigners had any great explanation of how the mass hostage-taking would impair Russia's credit, but just out of a natural human instinct to run for the door when bad stuff is happening. The interesting thing is that the locals were huge buyers on any dip. The Russian psyche has been honed by hundreds of years of evolutionary selective pressure provided by Czarist and Soviet brutality and indifference to human life. They just aren't rattled by the prospect of a few hundred unlucky theater-goers getting pasted. And it occurs to me that the Chechens have made an enormous tactical mistake. Taking Russian hostages will not prove effective in wringing concessions from the Russians. These are the people who brought you the Ukrainian famine, the Great Terror, the defense of Stalingrad. A few hundred lives means NOTHING to them. This is so evident to Russians, that many of my Russian interlocutors refuse to believe that it is actually Chechens who are responsible. They suspect -- much as they did in the case of the 2000 apartment bombings -- that the Russian security services may be posing as Chechens to create a crisis that allows Putin to save the day, or perhaps not save the day and then crack down on the Chechens as a result.

So now the Chechens are threatening to subject the hostages to continuous musical theater until the Russians meet their demands. (You are aware, of course, that the hostages were taken as they attended a Russian muscial -- "Anatoliy Get Your Gun" maybe?). I'm sure that they'll hold up alright through the cream of the Rodgers and Hammerstein opus, but as the Chechens get down into stuff like "State Fair" the Spetznaz may have no choice but to storm the place.
[10/25/02 06:13]
Stuffing the demon-box in the closet is not sufficient. When I first decided it was too dangerous to have a TV close at hand, I had just moved to California. I decided not to unwrap the set but rather to leave it boxed up and use it as an end-table. Besides proving too difficult to set up (unwrapping and unboxing it would take a lot of time and effort), I got a nice frisson of superiority every time I put a glass or a book on top of it.

The sad irony of my situation is that having gone through great pains to deboobify myself, my work now exposes me to more television than I ever would have watched voluntarily. A giant flat-screen looms at the end of the trading desk. It is only by virtue of the fact that I've made several tens of millions of dollars for the firm this year that I've been able to mandate that the volume remain off unless someone specifically wants to hear something. Yet even mute the TV exercises a powerful attractive -- or perhaps I should say distractive -- force. The weird result is that I have an Encyclopedic knowledge of the visual part of every commercial that runs on CNBC. In our age of irony, it has become very difficult without aid of the audio to figure out what some of these ads are actually trying to peddle. And at times it may be a greater distraction to have a mute TV around than a blaring one. THe temptation to provide scurilous replacement audio is often unbearable. Making Maria Bartiromo comment on her own blazing ignorance and fading beauty may make my colleagues laugh, but it eats up at least 45 minutes of my day.
[10/25/02 06:04]
Hapax legomenon is a great expression itself -- where'd you come up with that? Oh yeah, the Classics department. And I love the English convention of transforming French vowels, especially nasal endings, into "oo". Trollope seems to be following in the footsteps of doubloon, buffoon, etc. It doesn't sound anything like the French original, but it has the nice subtext of "well, this was the only sound in our language of comparable silliness to the sounds in yours."

And then there's my favorite, "lardoon". [10/25/02 05:18]
I remember that you mentioned how you were amused by the French word "bouder." I was reading The Way We Live Now and Trollope used the word "boody". The editor put it a note about this word, claiming that it was unclear exactly what it meant, and that it is virtually a hapax legomenon (it is only attested in one other place, another Trollope novel). The context suggests to me that he means "sulk" and that he, too, liked the French word; so much so, that he made up an English cognate. [10/24/02 14:04]
Oh man. I like so know what you mean. And Heller in particular knows what I mean when I say I know what you mean. When we were roommates I watched a ton of TV, largely to break up the monotony of constant video-game playing. But it wasn't the TV I resented for addicting me. It was the couch. This big brown blubbery leather couch. Maybe you recall it vaguely? It was like some mad geneticist crossed a whale with a venus fly-trap and planted it in our dorm. You just sank into it and dialed up Fox and there was no escape. You felt the couch draining your energy levels like a lich in Dungeons and Dragons. Sometime senior year, half brain-dead, Joel and I staged a desperate mutiny against it, straining our atrophied limbs to shove its cushion modules into a closet. At first it felt tremendously liberating. We'd come home, sit on the bare floor like ascetics, do homework. But after a day or so we heard, we felt the couch, its presence, Telltale-Heart-style, behind the closet door. We broke down and redeployed it.

Sometimes I think back on college and blame it all on the couch. If it weren't for the couch, I'd have gone out on Friday nights, engaged the Radcliffe belles in sparkling conversation, made fascinating friends other than my roommates, met Dao five years earlier, and never have developed the frightening personality traits it took so long subsequently to cure.

Enough reminiscing. What wastes my time these days is the internet. I fall into a pattern of obsessive news-site surfing. My mind switches into a wholly passive state, as though I'd disengaged its clutch and let it roll where it would. This not only wastes time; it tends to put me in an irritable mood the rest of the day. It scratches deep ruts in my brain so that my thoughts veer off towards Iraq scenarios or terrorist attacks or whatever is on the news sites. It got so bad, actually, that I decided to edit my computer's internet hosts file to block and You can?t see those sites from my computer. Surprisingly, this has helped. I waste a fair amount of time at, but not nearly as much as I used to at the Times.
[10/24/02 11:02]
For the sake of putting something in the right column, an obvious observation on current events. This October's news has been dominated by three crimes: the Bali bombing, the Washington sniper, and now the Moscow hostage-taking, which may well become the biggest bloodbath of them all. What they have in common, we learn today, is Islam. The Bali attack is certainly Islamofascists' work, the Chechen rebels are Al Qaeda comrades, and the sniper turns out to have changed his name to "Mohammed". I'm not an essentialist about religions. A religion is nothing but the sum of the thoughts and actions people bring about in its name. I don't think the Koran's letters sum to some kabbalistic code for "horror". "Islam is Evil" is for me a senseless rather than a false statement. Yet I am struck by how dominant the Islam "brand" is in the villain market. Random evil people like this sniper now just think to themselves, Yes! I want to be on that team! [10/24/02 14:02]
TV free

My living room contains a large television. This poses no problem for my wife, a disciplined person, who can take it or leave it alone. I, however, am a sports fan, and lacking in will power. The analogy: alcoholic bar owner. So for me the presence of a television presents the daily, risk that two hours will vanish -- Poof! Goodbye! -- into basketball, the world series, or some fine production of the WB network.

Many of my friends simply don't own televisions, and I often think this is the correct move for me. But then, think of what I would miss! Just today, I discovered that John Lott is Kardassian. And on CNN they had an otter playing with a pumpkin! How many people on their deathbed ever wished they had seen fewer clips of otters playing with pumpkins? Very few, I guarantee that!


Antenna just unplugged. Next step: transfer to closet.
[10/23/02 17:00]
I hereby christen [10/23/02 08:00]



Ben A. Ben H. Doug