Tuesday, August 01, 2006

After all they've done for truthiness...

On this evening's Colbert Report (yeah, that's what I do when Lady C is out of town, watch recently Tivo'd shows at 1:30 in the morning), Colbert asked his viewers to revise entries on African elephants to say that the population of African elephants have grown in the last decade or so and I notice that if you search for "African elephants", all the initial entries are currently under semi-protected status due to acts of vandalism.

Wikipedia, like Mel Gibson, is not having the Best Week Ever. Just last week I read this piece in The Onion and this article in the New Yorker.

Now, I really like Wikipedia. I've defended it before and visit it pretty frequently. When I want to know something like what else Robert W. Chambers wrote besides The King in Yellow or when James Rhodes first appeared in Iron Man comics I'll check it out on Wikipedia, but I wouldn't rely on it for any important information. The really neat thing about Wikipedia, as I see it, is its role as an experiment in self-organized systems. It is rather impressive that such a vast and decentralized group of contributors have collectively produced so many entries about so many topics in such a short space of time, but we've also learned, I think, that the accuracy and thoroughness of such a decentralized system depends on its editors' tastes for accuracy and thoroughness.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the Wikipedia entry on The Matrix movies is longer than the entry on matrices. Likewise, some subjects are just too controversial, too contested, to ever be reliable under such a system. My rule of thumb for deciding whether to credit a Wikipedia article is to do so when I would expect to be told reliable information on a subject if I were to ask a stranger who'd told me s/he was interested in the subject. The real question is, why would someone volunteer to write/edit a Wikipedia entry? For some subjects, the likely motivation is to share their accumulated knowledge, born of pure enthusiasm (known in some quarters as geekishness). In other cases, people are interested in shaping other people's perspectives to conform to their own. You can never know for sure what motivated a particular entry, or even how warranted a person's confidence in being well-versed enough to write an entry, but you can make some educated guesses.

Still, you can never really know for sure what subject someone will want to mess with. I think I'll try to edit the entry on the African Bush Elephant.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Cruel Summer

Lady Crumpet is away, leaving me here on my own. I've been extremely lax this month with regard to the blog. I haven't even checked in on the CR in a week or so and have left two or three posts languishing after just a few minutes of work. My ADD is deepening, I fear. I'll try to do a bit more core dumping and less dissertating, maybe that will increase my output.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Fashion industry professionals unsatisfied, film at eleven

Just spotted this review of the fashion on display in The Devil Wears Prada. As Ruth La Ferla (isn't that the name of a show on Univision?) reports, fashionistas who have seen advance screenings of the movie give it low marks for verisimilitude and understanding of the industry it purports to depict/satirize. Apparently, hold your breath, a Hollywood movie doesn't present the fashion industry in a manner that meets with the approval of those in the industry, and the New York Times has a story about it before the movie even appears.

Like I (or anyone) should care. First off, the movie is (as I understand) something of a satirical take on the fashion industry, so it should surprise no one that its presentation indulges in caricature or excess. Second, nothing short of hagiographic boot-licking adulation ever satisfies the mandarins of the fashion industry, so their opinion is a poor signal regardless. Beyond all that, however, is the most important point: Hollywood so rarely gets anything "right" as the most knowledgeable would recognize it that it shouldn't be news that another movie is about to be released that arguably fails to conform to reality. Are we now to be treated to a story saying that the Strangers With Candy movie, also opening this week, doesn't accurately reflect the modern high school? Perhaps the Miami Vice movie will bear little resemblance to actual police work? Next, they'll be telling me Pirates of the Caribbean is a misleading depiction of life at sea.

Really, if I had a nickel for every time I saw some appalling distortion of the political or legal process, American history, or math and statistics, I'd be able to give up teaching all that stuff. Frankly, I think it's a tad more important that popular entertainment floats a ton of ignorance about important subjects than whether they get the accessories right on a fashion magazine editor. Unfortunately, fashionistas have little more to do of significance than monitor how they're portrayed in popular entertainment, so we're treated to their opinions.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Will to Power-Shakes

New Woody Allen piece in the New Yorker. It's mildly cute, but nothing more. If anything, it inspires you to recall earlier, funnier Woody stuff like the "Fabrizio's" restaurant piece in Side Effects and "The Metterling Lists" from Getting Even.

I Tivo'd Love and Death last week and watched most of it over the weekend. I've probably seen it 100 times since I was a kid and it's still pretty funny. Like it or not, Woody will forever be haunted by the criticism he lobbed at himself in Stardust Memories, favoring his "early, funny" films to his presumably more recent serious ones. Unfortunately, it's a fair criticism. I used to see every Woody movie the day they opened (from Hannah and Her Sisters through Manhattan Murder Mystery), but after awhile they just stopped delivering. Oddly enough, I now consider Stardust Memories itself one of my favorite of Woody's "early, funny ones." As with everything, there are variations in Woody's output, but not nearly enough in terms of quality or approach.

I haven't seen Match Point yet, and even the comparisons to one of Woody's latter-day successes, Crimes and Misdemeanors, doesn't really entice me that much. C&M has been better regarded than many of Woody's movies from that era, but I think for the wrong reasons. Simply put, Woody's strengths are not in drama. The dramatic elements of C&M aren't that compelling; what's powerful about that movie is the juxtaposition of his rather obvious, melodramatic appropriations of Dostoevsky (the Martin Landau plot, complete with ponderous Schubert string quartet) with the far more effective, acerbic humor in the parallel story featuring himself and Mia Farrow. Even the ending of the humorous storyline has more punch than the murder plot. From what I've heard, Match Point is drawn more from the dramatic thread of C&M.

I find that my opinion of every Woody movie is based on how funny it is. I think he succeeds most, though, when he leaves at least some of his taste for silly verbal slapstick and erudite horseplay behind for something more bitter and caustic. The sad thing is that his harshest feelings are usually reserved for himself, while his standard approach to humor is as something light and harmless. Thus, the two don't meet very often.

Oh yeah, it's been quite a while since my last post. I wasn't going to mention it if you didn't.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

You know they got a hell of a band...

I've been neglecting the blog recently for no good reason, so I won't offer excuses, although I will note that the end of the Supreme Court's current term has produced more whimpers than bangs. The legal cognoscenti have been straining to drum up some sense of moment or outrage at the mostly trivial decisions handed down recently, especially Garcetti v. Ceballos and I'm reluctant to join in.

Anyway, I really should have posted something yesterday to mark the arrival of 6/6/06, but it's just too corny. The Omen remake opened yesterday, probably generating more interest because of its release date than anything else. I wasn't that enthused about the original, so I can't get too worked up about this one, although I must say that it shouldn't surprise anyone that the antichrist issues from the union of Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles (OK, he's adopted, but still). Interestingly, they played brother (Laertes) and sister (Ophelia) in Michael Almereyda's successful updating of Hamlet a few years ago, back when you couldn't do an update of Shakespeare without Julia Stiles in it.

I just noticed this piece on the all music guide in which the staff pick their favorite God-related tunes, presumably to counteract the devilish vibes of the week so far. I don't know all the music on this list, but a few that I do know are really stand outs, especially Donny Hathaway's "Thank You Master (For My Soul)" a spiritual song that always makes this self-described atheist lose his composure. I just bought Chris Bell's I Am the Cosmos recently, but "Better Save Yourself" is really a great tune. I've also got a lot of affection for "My Sweet Lord", although I've long preferred Billy Preston's (RIP) version that appeared on his fantastic "Encouraging Words" album.

I'm gonna need to give some thought to what my favorite God-connected songs are. The only thing that pops to mind immediately is "Good Old Desk" by Harry Nilsson, which isn't really about God, even though Harry once jokingly suggested it was to Hugh Hefner on Playboy After Dark. Nilsson is also responsible for the genuinely deity-related "Good for God", but it's not that great. Any suggestions are, of course, appreciated.

P.S. I really wrote this post on the 7th, but in the middle of the last sentence above, blogger decided to take the rest of the day off. I didn't get back to posting it yesterday, so here it is.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Somebody set up us the bomb

I was thrown out of my office in downtown Atlanta yesterday afternoon by the sounding of a fire alarm that eventually was revealed to have been prompted by a bomb of some type. Persistent rumor among those milling about on the street held that a device was discovered in the third floor men's restroom. Explosives teams were present along with about 50 different jurisdictions of law enforcement (we are less than a mile from the state capitol building) and I got to watch the little bomb disposing robot roll into the building at one point.

They were still preparing to deal with the device when I left at about 5:30, so I went home without my wallet or any work materials. Now, however, I can't find anything in the news about the incident at all. It's like the whole thing never happened. Irritating.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer

I wasn't sure what to think while reading this article in the NYT this Sunday about people's relationships with television shows. Although saying that I couldn't even imagine this kind of commitment to a television show could (and possibly should) carry an air of superiority, I genuinely didn't feel superior at the thought. I can't help wondering how nice it would be to have something in your life that you got excited about.

Today, with the season finale of American Idol safely behind us, I feel a little more satisfied that I'm not a dedicated follower of TV shows. I'm sure the American Idol phenomenon is relatively harmless, but it sure doesn't feel that way. I wonder if suicides and other, less dramatic indicators of major depression tend to hit a local peak in early summer when viewers have to say goodbye temporarily or permanently to new episodes of beloved shows.

I'm a bit surprised that the television networks are still structured around a Fall-to-late-Spring rollout schedule. Way back in the early 90s when Fox (I think) started experimenting with introducing new shows or broadcasting new episodes of shows in summer, I was pretty sure that it was only a matter of time before the fat Fall issue of TV Guide with all the new network shows was a thing of the past. It might be anyway, since I understand TV Guide isn't even a tv guide anymore, but I really don't know. I find it strange that television production still follows a model that was initially developed to coincide with the production schedule of automobiles.

A bunch of shows are ending this season, it seems, although I guess that's true every season. I'm often tempted to watch the last episode of shows, even the ones I didn't watch, just to see how they end. Since the art of the television show is so wrapped up with trying to create the illusion of perpetual motion without abandoning the things that viewers like about the show in the first place, bringing the vehicle to a halt offers an opportunity for something unusual to happen. Closing episodes often defy the general rules of television physics. I really liked the last episode of Seinfeld, for instance, despite never liking the show (this is apparently a common dichotomy; you can either like the show or the finale, but not both). I watched a few minutes of the Alias finale, but it looked like the show was closing on a note just as superficially busy and ridiculous as it had always been. In some cases, like the West Wing and Will and Grace, I suspect that the last episodes would merely amplify the things I hated about them in the first place. I considered watching the finale of Charmed just to make sure it really ended since I genuinely fear that Fall will come around and we'll all discover that, just as James Bond always manages to escape from whatever diabolic death trap his enemies cast him in, the Charmed Ones were somehow renewed for a Dick Wolf-ishly scary number of seasons.

One way in which Tivo has changed my life is that it has made me realize how little I care about most of what's on television. We've set it up so that it will record "Tivo suggestions" if there's nothing else on and if there's space, and we haven't yet filled the thing up, so every day I turn the thing on to see what it recorded for me. I end up deleting pretty much all of it. I think I've only actually watched one or two things Tivo has independently recorded on my behalf. What's more, I look at the list of things I actually asked it to record for me and often feel like they're just not worth watching. Maybe I would have watched whatever it was if it had been on when I set it to record, but now I don't feel like it anymore. I kind of expected this. I tend to see television as a serendipitous alternative to DVDs, but now that it's just a bunch of recordings that I didn't choose to buy, I don't know that I want it.

Since I haven't watched any of the major shows this season, I suppose I could just rent them and watch them all in a row now, if I wanted to. What network was it that used to have a slogan that a rerun isn't a rerun if it's "new to you"? I can't remember, but I guess it's all new to me now.

Do I have a dog in this fight?

Scanning the NYT this morning, I spotted this article from Kelefa Sanneh about the Dixie Chicks' new album and its predictable reception from the country music establishment. Now, I should say up front that (like Sanneh, I've gathered from reading him for some time now) I don't listen to a lot of country music. This is true despite the fact that I grew up with it in a lower middle class suburb of Atlanta. Therefore, I'm not sure if the current conflict between the Chicks and country's stars/industry/fans is really any of my business.

If Sanneh can express an opinion, though, I guess I can. First, I like the Dixie Chicks. My wife has several of their albums (including the new one, purchased for full retail price in a departure from our standard practice of buying music used) and plays them occasionally. It was a welcome relief to hear what I considered their genuinely country sound in contrast to the faux-country mall-pop confections of Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and Toby Keith (he recorded a song with Sting, of all people).

Still, none of that matters. What irritates me about Sanneh's article is the implicit assertion that country music fans (read Southerners) can't understand the dimensions of this argument. It starts with Sanneh's claim that "some former fans" thought Maines was insulting Texas in her statement about Bush. I saw no evidence of this when the controversy initially blew up. Everybody knew what she said and what it meant, even "country fans", whom Sanneh seems to think can't understand plain English.

Even as he accuses the Dixie Chicks of conflating "politics and culture" (typical critic-speak for something he doesn't want to describe clearly), Sanneh conflates the country music establishment and industry with its fans, and its fans with the South, who mistakenly believed they were being insulted personally. I remember the public outcry over Maines' comments just before the invasion of Iraq, and everybody knew that the conflict was over her failure to support the president. Sanneh offers no evidence to the contrary, merely assumption.

Sanneh is right that Nashville isn't politically monolithic (although it's a big difference to criticize the president for Katrina-related failings when his ratings are in the toilet than just before a disastrous and immoral, but widely popular, foreign invasion) and neither are country music fans. Those who responded angrily to the Chicks did so because they didn't like what she actually said, not because they misinterpreted Maines' statement as a slap at country fans or Southerners in general.

Now, it does appear that the Dixie Chicks are taking shots at some country fans for their reaction, but again, the ones they are dissing know who they are. To suggest otherwise is condescension. CMT and the country establishment are bound to be driven by what they consider the central tendency in country fans, who are likely to be conservative and Southern, so naturally they'll be hostile. Whether fans will desert them entirely is a different matter.

As someone raised in the South (and a genuine Cracker, having been born in the Cracker State), but with significant ties elsewhere, I get pissed off when I read and hear others from outside fail to acknowledge the heterogeneity and sophistication of Southerners. That said, there are also rednecks (meaning ignorant backward assholes, which you can find everywhere, even though "redneck" can have a positive connotation) in the South, and if the Dixie Chicks want to insult them, I'm all for it. Believe me, I knew a bunch of rednecks growing up, and I hated them.

In conclusion, I just want to stress that Southerners, and country fans in general I'm sure, are quite capable of understanding just who the Dixie Chicks are trying to defy and who they aren't. If they aren't fighting for some of their former fans, as Sanneh suggests, it's probably because they don't want or need them.