January 17, 2004

There's a nice piece in The New Yorker about Larry David:
“It was a Korean deli, and we were waiting to pay, and we started making fun of the products they kept by the register,” Seinfeld says. “You know, those fig bars in cellophane, without a label, that look like somebody made them in their basement?”

David turned to Seinfeld and said, “This is what the show should be—this is the kind of dialogue that we should do on the show.”
The first season of his HBO show has finally come out on DVD, which I bought, preferring HBO on DVD to HBO on cable, even if I have to wait years for the shows, because I simply cannot tolerate the decoder box. I love Tivo but I hate the cable decoder box.

According to the New Yorker article, David once wrote a screenplay called "Prognosis Negative." That title, I note, was used as a fake movie title in two Seinfeld episodes ("The Dog" and "The Junior Mints").

The phrase "Prognosis Negative" is used to dark comic effect in the movie "Dark Victory," by the way. It's weird when cultural references get out of order, so that you already think saying "Prognosis Negative!" is funny, then one day you're sitting around watching "Dark Victory," and Bette Davis comes out with "Prognosis Negative!," and you're like "Hey! That's from Seinfeld!" There should be a word for that backwards allusion effect.

The New Yorker seems to think that if you wanted to read about Larry David, you'll want to read about The Simpsons.

UPDATE: Anachrollusion?
Why don't things like this bring out the Big Brother hyperbole?

We tend to forget this part of the Big Brother scheme, so let me provide a passage from Chapter III of 1984, as Winston's telescreen wakes him with "an ear-splitting whistle":
The Physical Jerks would begin in three minutes. ...

'Thirty to forty group!' yapped a piercing female voice. 'Thirty to forty group! Take your places, please. Thirties to forties!'

Winston sprang to attention in front of the telescreen, upon which the image of a youngish woman, scrawny but muscular, dressed in tunic and gym-shoes, had already appeared.

'Arms bending and stretching!' she rapped out. 'Take your time by me. One, two, three, four! One, two, three, four! Come on, comrades, put a bit of life into it! One, two, three, four! One, two, three, four! ...'

... As he mechanically shot his arms back and forth, wearing on his face the look of grim enjoyment which was considered proper during the Physical Jerks, ....
The passage continues with material you're more likely to remember ("Winston could not definitely remember a time when his country had not been at war," "doublethink"), but do remember the Physical Jerks the next time someone on tv, especially the President, urges you to exercise. It's really quite unnecessary.
The other "Big Brother" headline is "Watching Big Brother/Pulling Back the Curtain on Hidden Surveillance," by Sabrina Tavernise. This one is about a man who
has made it his business to spot and map surveillance cameras in New York City. The goal of his research is to help New Yorkers gain a sense of how much of their lives - from a jog in the park to some secretive hand-holding - is actually being recorded by somebody.
We're told he has six cats, so maybe we aren't supposed to take him seriously. He also runs a "Surveillance Camera Outdoor Walking Tour (Scowt for short)." Somebody should make a documentary about him, but only if he's hilarious, which he probably isn't.

Should we feel some sympathy for the people with the job of watching through all of these cameras?
Watchers quickly tire of staring at empty street corners, the argument goes, and begin peeping at people, such as attractive women. A camera at a foreign consulate was found to have been trained on a nearby apartment, Mr. Brown said.

"The watchers get bored after 20 minutes," he said. "But they are working for seven hours, so they start amusing themselves."
Not quite the fearsome image of Big Brother, but, yeah, that's bad of them. A good angle for people who oppose survellance cameras in public places.
"Big Brother" appears in two headlines in today's NYT.

(No, it isn't my abiding purpose to dog the NYT. It's just the newspaper I get in newspaper form, which I like to see there, in its blue bag, every morning.)

One article, written by Emily Eakin is called "Greeting Big Brother With Open Arms." “Mark Andrejevic, a professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa at Iowa City … influenced by the theories of Theodor Adorno and Michel Foucault” has written a book called "Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched."
Reality shows glamorize surveillance, he writes, presenting it "as one of the hip attributes of the contemporary world," "an entree into the world of wealth and celebrity" and even a moral good. … [T]he reality genre appears to fulfill the democratic promise of the emerging interactive economy, turning passive cultural consumers into active ones who can star on shows or vote on their outcomes. …

[But] reality television is essentially a scam: propaganda for a new business model that only pretends to give consumers more control while in fact subjecting them to increasingly sophisticated forms of monitoring and manipulation.
Andrejevic finds his students unreceptive to his theories, theorizing that because they were:
Raised on Web logs, Google, cellphones and instant messaging, they "divulge much more information about themselves on a daily basis than previous generations," he said, and they don't associate the idea of surveillance with a totalitarian Big Brother.
Or maybe they are just tired of hearing about Foucault all the time.
At least in one respect, he added, reality television does conform to real life. "It portrays the reality of contrivance, the way consumers are manipulated," he said. "I look at it with the fascination of somebody watching a car wreck."
"Somebody" watching a car wreck. That’s somebody else presumably. Hey, isn't that a reality show?
Delightfully roiling the metaphors, Carl Hulse writes in the NYT:
Momentum, the holy grail of political campaigns, is evidently spreading through the Democratic presidential candidates like the flu.
You'd think the Presidency itself would count as the holy grail. (Maybe drop the "holy" part.)

And if it's something to be desired, how is it like the flu? The point is everyone wants momentum, but what's "spreading ... like the flu" is claiming to have momentum. Once again, writers like to cram a lot of material into a single sentence. Writing two sentences is something they resist like the flu, which is not as bad as the plague.
"We have a ton of momentum," said a spokesman for Representative Gephardt, of Missouri.
Seems like a ton would weigh you down.

More from Hulse:
Candidates crave momentum and hope to ride it like a wave. The problem is that it is difficult to gauge who is actually moving forward and who is engaged in wishful thinking. The laws of physics would seem to preclude everyone from having momentum simultaneously.
I'm no physicist, but it seems to me that if Kerry, Gephardt, Dean, Edwards, and Lieberman tucked into the summersault position at the top of a hill, momentum would simultaneously favor them all. They could all also "ride ... a wave" simultaneously, and I for one would be interested in following their choice of surfwear.

Hulse also treats us to a great old momentum quote--from Old Bush:
It was the first George Bush who shook hands with what he called "Big Mo" after he won the Iowa caucuses in 1980. "I suppose I am out of the pack," he said in a classic bit of political analysis, "but they will be after me, howling and yowling at my heels. What we will have is momentum. We will look forward to Big Mo being on our side, as they say in athletics."
I pause for a moment of Old Bush nostalgia. Who else could talk like that, coming up with "Big Mo," then calling sports "athletics"?
Whether Michael Jackson is guilty or not, the child involved in the case must be suffering.

On a much lower level of child suffering is poor Ariel Lederman, whose father had him play guitar for the dying George Harrison.

The guitar, which George devoted one of his last moments to autographing, "will be disposed of privately," the NYT reports, according to the terms of the settlement. George's estate showed kindness and decency toward the boy. The settlement agreement reads:
"The Harrison estate will provide Dr. Lederman's son, Ariel, with a replacement guitar... The Harrison estate never contended that Ariel did anything wrong and appreciates that Ariel is an admirer of George Harrison."
Parents will forever seek advantages for their own children and fear missing any opportunity that they might have snagged for them. Children will forever risk humiliation from their parents' efforts on their behalf.
"With every mistake, we must surely be learning..."
While my replacement guitar gently cringes.
Michael Jackson showed up in court fashionably late in unfashionable sunglasses.

The judge, grandly named Melville, seemed to need to cut the great entertainer down to courtroom size. The NYT reports:

"Mr. Jackson, you have started out on the wrong foot with me," Judge Melville told the defendant, who wore oversized aviator-style sunglasses and a silver arm band. "I want to advise you that I will not put up with that. It's an insult to the court. You must be on time. Do you understand that?"

But how can you tell if you've intimidated a man who "whispers" "Yes,sir," when that man has always whispered and has always adopted a deferential manner? Here, respectful speech cannot demonstrate appropriate submission to the Leviathan.

Judge Melville seemed to switch tactics. When Jackson's lawyer requested a break "as a personal courtesy," the judge spoke plainly:

"I assume Mr. Jackson has to go to the bathroom. So do I."

He added, "I understand when you have to go you have to go," but then warned Mr. Geragos to tell his client to restrict his "liquid intake" before court.

Outside the courtroom, Jackson resumed his Artist of the Millennium dimension, by leaping onto an SUV and dancing for the assembled idolators, then inviting them to Neverland.

January 16, 2004

So David Byrne, being an artist, could perceive "the negative effect [Powerpoint] had on the way people communicate."

"Artists are notoriously snooty and suspicious of anything coming from the business community," he says, using that expression "business community" that has such a negative effect on the way people communicate.

But check out the slide show he made after he overcame his "initial disdain for the program" and "became intrigued by its artistic potential." I'm still going with "initial disdain for the program."

I remember back in the early 1970s, when a computer printout consisted only of letters and numbers, people figured out how to get a printout to form a recognizable image, using the same principle of perception that makes it possible to do something that is really worth doing, like this. But making printer crank out a face made of letters and numbers was not, without more, worth doing, though it seemed pretty amazing at the time.
The solution to my little Macintosh problem was to use Mozilla. Thanks, Blogger Support! Ah, buttons!
The perfect food:

In the 1930s, Admiral Byrd took 2 1/2 tons of NECCO Wafers to the South Pole -- almost a pound a week for each of his men during their two-year stay in the Antarctic. During World War II, the U.S. government ordered a major portion of the production of the wafers. Since the candy doesn't melt and is 'practically indestructible' during transit, it was the perfect food to ship overseas to the troops.


I never really knew what the Necco colors stood for. It was always just mint, chocolate, licorice, and the horrible ones.

Nor did I realize there even could be such a thing as a "candy alliance," let alone “one of the candy industry's most powerful alliances."

Strange how reconfiguring them as message-imparting hearts makes them seem so much better. Text beats taste.
You know how people can't keep Iowa and Idaho straight?

Is there something about the letter I?

UPDATE: Isn't it ridiculous to update a post that's nearly a year old? (It's 1/6/05 as I write this.) This is blog-tending gone mad. Don't I realize the old posts sink into oblivion? These old posts don't really exist at all. Nevertheless, I don't like the way the original joke here is obliterated because the error I spotted has been corrected. The link goes to an Amazon page for a Fodor's travel guide for India and the book pictured, at the time of the original post, was the Fodor's guide for Italy.
“Bush's new initiative to promote marriage on Mars” is a good phrase.

Marriage, Mars. I guess we’ve reached Week M.

And what’s with black and white M&M’s? I’m willing to eat them but not willing to spend time understanding their latest color-based gimmick. I still miss the ochre-colored ones.

I’m a candy traditionalist.

“House of Sand and Fog” introduces a character by having him take a bite out of a Snickers bar and then subtract its cost in his account book. That movie may be the melodrama equivalent of “The Odd Couple”: One keeps account of a candy bar, the other never opens the mail. Both are trying to live in the same place. Hijinks/tragedy ensues.

January 15, 2004

I've got a feeling that Hepburn/Tracy movie was "State of the Union". Frank Capra directed. Shameful! Some drivel about running for President.

Our local free tabloid, The Isthmus, has a nice set of columns comparing the Democratic candidates for President.

Hmmm.... "Little known fact: at 59, Wesley Clark has only 5% body fat."

Christopher asks, "Should it be Wesley Clark is 5% body fat?"
Driving to the movies, we passed a fast food restaurant that had put up a sign: "Life is short/Eat Now." I don't see how that follows, other than that anxiety might bring on a bout of binge eating. Or binge eating might result in a short life.

The woman in front of us in line at the theater bought a ticket to "Something's Gotta Give," which caused the ticket seller to announce into the loudspeaker mike that someone would need to run that movie. The ticket seller explained that they don't run the movie unless someone buys a ticket. Isn't SGG supposed to be a hit? I guess not around here.

We dropped into "Cold Mountain" for a couple minutes, enough to gather that it was badly written. You could tell the movie was going to be excruciatingly slow by the time it took for various minor characters to assert that Nicole Kidman was pretty. Get on with it!

The movie we'd come to see, though, was "House of Sand and Fog," which had a good script, the kind of story that works so well in a movie, where some little thing happens in the beginning, then one thing leads to another, with all sorts of extravagant consequences. At some point you have to just let go of the thought "Jennifer Connelly should have opened her mail" and follow the characters.
I finally got all the books off the floor. I started this blog after pulling half the books onto the floor, got distracted by the blog, then, hearing my colleague across the hall cleaning like mad, decided to face reality for a few minutes and do the same. The offices around here (law school) tend to be quite messy, but every once and a while, often just before a semester begins, somebody launches into a major cleaning.
Why no SAG nomination for Scarlett Johansson? My theory is she’s just too damn beautiful and fortunate. The backlash has set in early.

Christopher Althouse provides this analysis:
The thing about Johansson, at least when it comes to her personas in Ghost World and Lost In Translation, is that a big part of her appeal is that her technique is very minimal. You're supposed to be able to see a lot of thought behind her expressions, but at the same time she doesn't seem like she's trying very hard to impress the audience. It's the exact opposite of something like Charlize Theron's performance in Monster--Johansson is great in the way that Catherine Keener is. She's someone who you aren't automatically impressed by and I could see someone watching her performances and missing what the big deal is. I can more easily see a backlash against her, because she's getting huge aclaim for a performance that is often very minimal and where she often seems to be playing herself (even though there are some emotional scenes), than I could with the performances by Sean Penn or Charlize Theron or Naomi Watts. On the other hand, I have reason to believe Johansson does something more removed from her usual persona in Girl With A Pearl Earring, so that might be different, but even that performance is known for the fact that she has almost no lines and is supposed to be subtle to an extreme.
I saw a Hepburn-Tracy scene on TV this morning—don't know what movie—and it reeked. She had to deliver a very stagey monologue, and she missed every opportunity to make it moving. He's much better, and I wondered if the concerned expression on his face betrayed the thought, man, she really isn't very good.
Picasso looks way more photographic on line than in the print edition. The print edition has a bit more to do with the real thing. When I see a painting I'm used to seeing reproduced I'm always impressed, once again, by what paint looks like. The images on line are fascinating--I've got some of my own to post some day--but they are only things that resemble paintings. The texture (metrotexture) is different, and the size often seems absurd.

But I really want to quibble about grammar. The New York Times writes: "The collection includes works by Manet, Degas, Monet and Sargent as well as a rare Rose Period Picasso, 'Boy With a Pipe.'"

Isn't every painting rare? There's one. That's the height of rarity. Rose Period Picassos may be rare, but "Boy With a Pipe" is no more rare than any given Clown Painting From the Collection of Diane Keaton.

I know they mean "The collection includes works by Manet, Degas, Monet and Sargent as well as a rare Rose Period Picasso. The Picasso is 'Boy With a Pipe.'"

Why stick to logic if you might have to write two sentences? Just go ahead and cram more information into one sentence.
I hope for the best for Spalding Gray.

On one of the cable news channels this morning, they went to commercial with a teaser for an update about him, but they printed his name as "Spalding Gary."

Yet you'd think they'd be all over this story. A celebrity is missing. Sometimes just being missing is enough to make you a celebrity. Perhaps it is just too complicated to explain to the audience who Spalding Gray is--complicated compared to showing picture of a smiling young woman like Elizabeth Smart or Laci Peterson, for whom the picture is the explanation.
So Dennis Miller "worked in delis and scooped ice cream until he realized that his life was going to turn into a 'Kafka novella' unless he began seriously pursuing comedy."

I've set the Tivo for his show, which starts next week. Currently, his Rant Zone has a slot in my car CD player. Pleasantly, my commute from home to work is exactly the length of one rant: it's kind of delightful to ease into your parking space just as Dennis returns, according to his rant format, to a calm sign-off.
No, not metrosexual, metrotextual.

An odd place for a witticism, but Herbert Muschamp always surprises, like a Constitution, and maybe even shocks, like a woman singing on television.
Blogger really doesn't like Macintosh much, does it?

I'll have to investigate how to indent a paragraph and hope it's not as cumbersome as linking. The only thing it lets me do with a button is spell check, and the only word it's ever flagged for me as misspelled was not misspelled.

Update: I figured out how to indent. It is cumbersome, but I got my wish. It's not as cumbersome as linking.
Judges in Afghanistan are surprised to see how a constitution works.
The Supreme Court protested the lifting of a ban on female singers on state television. "This is totally against the decisions of the Supreme Court and it has to be stopped," the deputy chief justice, Fazl Ahmad Manawi, said. He said the court had complained to the culture minister, Sayed Makhdoom Raheen, the main figure behind the ending of the ban, which had been in force for nearly 12 years. A broadcast by Kabul Television on Monday featured old images of Parasto, a popular singer who now lives in the West, performing without a head scarf. The deputy culture minister, Abdul Hamid Mubaiz, said the move was in line with the new Constitution. "There should be no discrimination between man and woman," he said.
It's nice that Blogger provides a spell check, but odd that it counts "blog" as a spelling error, preferring "bloc."
After some deep thought, I've decided to go with my last name.

1. It's fairly unusual. I've never met anyone outside of my own family who has this name, though I always can find one or two in a phone book when I travel about the United States. Especially Pennsylvania.

2. It has the word "house" in it, which makes it seem like a place, and a blog is a sort of place.

3. I think the trend may be more toward using one's own name, but that is just a casual observation.

4. People who know me will eventually find this blog, and it's good to remember that what one writes in public counts against (or for) your reputation.

5. My family is so very small, so why not have a shred of visibility for the old family name--which really does mean "old" (along with "house").

6. I considered This Old House, but that too was taken.
I'm going to have to change the title of this blog, which I chose a bit impulsively, even though I took the time to explain it (oldest post) and used it as a device. Someone else has it as the title (and address) of their blog, which really isn't at all surprising.

I was glad to snag my own last name for the address, but then didn't use it as the title. I'll have to think about this a bit. Use "Althouse," but how? But howse?

January 14, 2004

Next to me at the hair-washing station of the salon was a woman who was ranting about bangs.

"I've always had bangs. Then, not having bangs, I was going crazy."

Googling "bangs," by the way, is not a good way to come up with websites about the kind of bangs people rave about in hair salons.
In the seat next to me at the hair salon just now was a fifyish man with the sort of aging hippie/out-of-season Santa Claus hair and beard that you see a lot of here in Marginalia. He told the stylist he wanted a "Princeton Haircut." What?
What sort of person wants to reorganize an office while listening to a Fresh Air about "An End to Evil"?

But what I most wanted to comment on about that last post is the use of the phrase "go ahead." I've noticed a lot of people larding their speech with that phrase lately. I wish they'd stop. I needed to use it because I really was going ahead. Then I had to regret using the phrase. I notice they use the phrase a lot on the TV show Trading Spaces, as in "We're going to go ahead and paint the room yellow."

Actually, my office is quite yellow. (I was quite yellow about starting this blog.)
I was in the midst of cleaning out my office, having just covered the floor with books and papers. I paused the direct streaming "Fresh Air" I was listening to and checked my email, which included a colleague's description of her reasons for starting a blog. I had just emailed her about my admiration for her and my own timidity: "I'll have to think about getting up the nerve to do this sort of thing. It seems if you're going to do it, you need to become somewhat chatty and revealing, which is a strange thing to do to the entire world." Then it seemed altogether too lame not to go ahead and start the blog.
This blog is called Marginalia, because I'm writing from Madison, Wisconsin, and Marginalia is a fictionalized name for Madison that I thought up a long time ago when I seriously believed I would write a fictionalized account of my life in Madison, Wisconsin. There is nothing terribly marginal about Madison, really, but I do like writing in the margins of books, something I once caused a librarian to gasp by saying. Writing in a blog is both less and more permanent than writing in the margin of a book.