Home | December 2002 »

Quick Ones

If you are anything like me, you will find this very cool. I know this research has been going on for a long time, but molecules? The bleeding edge of science and technology is enough to give anyone goosebumps (for better or worse, I guess).

It is not right to scare people into buying insurance for your own benefit.

Punch-Drunk Love: please come to my town. While you are playing hard to get, I have a date with The Ring in the meantime. John's recommendation convinced me that my initial reaction was correct.

October 24, 2002

Baseball is Important

The biggest knock on professional baseball is that, due to the lack of revenue sharing among teams/markets, money equals success. I wholeheartedly agree with this complaint and am eager to see what the newly approved plan to share profits will look like in implementation next year. However, there are some magical years that restore your hope in the game and bring back the October excitement you felt as a child. This is one of those years.

The Angels play the game of baseball better as a team than any I have ever seen. They hustle. They manufacture runs. They hit line drives, not homeruns. There are no stars (or even well-known players) among them and therefore they have no individual or collective ego, only the will to win the only way they know how (and the only way they can)--as a team.

Since there is no revenue sharing, baseball models the business world more closely than any other sport. The Angels defeating the Yankees in the divisional series in akin to David defeating Goliath, Opera defeating Internet Explorer, Linux defeating Windows. Imagine a world in which doing things the right way not only meant something but actually guaranteed success. This is the world that we baseball fans have been living in for the past few weeks. Every favored team has lost. Money has been taken out of the equation and everything is left to desire.

Even though fans did a horrible job of picking "baseball's most memorable moment" (Ripken? Please. Mastercard did the best job...) and this year's series might garner the lowest ratings ever, baseball still is important and will continue to be if this year is any indication of the direction in which the game is heading.

October 24, 2002 | Comments (1)

Sapped

After two draining days of acclimating myself to a new work environment, I finally came home with a bit of leftover energy after my third day. I thought I might take the opportunity to catch up on my web reading (news, weblogs, articles, etc.). Now I'm exhausted. How do you all manage to work all day, read so much and then proceed to post so much about everything? Unbelievable. While I can't hang with you for now, the best I can do is lead others to you:

I agree with George, this guy can't be serious. No matter how many times you revise it or how you try to dress it up, it will always be ridiculous. I wouldn't even know where to begin except by saying that it must be nice to see everything so clearly.

A very lengthy commentary on Amadeus (the film) and Mozart [via Anil].

Oh no. It is never easy to lose a pet and yet we cannot live without them. It's tough to think about, especially since I'm on the verge of getting a pet myself. It's been said that we experience the purest emotions and at the same time see our own mortality through our pets. My condolences.

One good reason to be in New York (in response to my previous question).

Yet another reason why I need to start getting some exercise again (preferably at a moderate or high level). First I need to make it through my reading routine without feeling exhausted. One step at a time.

Finally, my apologies to all of you that have emailed or commented and haven't yet heard back from me. Our mail server is sick.

October 23, 2002

Overwhelmed

From what I have been told, it's normal for the first day of work to be accompanied by many conflicting feelings, such as: optimism and excitement about a new beginning, concern about whether you will fit in and be able to do the work, and intimidation resulting from the presentation of an overwhelming amount of information. If this is what is expected of employees on their first day then I am already easily meeting (and most likely exceeding) expectations.

Aside: Why is everyone moving to New York?

October 21, 2002

For my Mom

In the spirit of the thirteen (K-12) first day of school pictures taken by my mom, I thought it would be appropriate to take and present a "first day of work" picture, in honor of my entry into the working world. Just look at me, all optimistic with my briefcase. Makes you want to buy school supplies, no?

Lincoln: working stiff

October 21, 2002 | Comments (1)

Plavac and Me*

Since I will begin my first "real" job on Monday, I am taking one final long weekend to relax and enjoy the freedom of unemployment. I am filling my lungs with the purest air before plunging into the murky depths of employment with a partially fogged snorkeling mask. I am breathing deeply of the pure essence of Wisconsin: colder than normal days, hearty food and drink, and luscious manual labor.

Now, for less abstract and interesting information. I golfed today for the first time in probably four years. It went badly (135 shots scattered over 18 holes) but it was great to be outside in a well-landscaped area, as Seinfeld might say. Tomorrow will be my most time-consuming grilling effort to date: 7 pounds of beef brisket grilled in heavy mesquite smoke for about 8 hours and served with a mixture of sweet and tart barbecue sauces, Texas-style. An entry on my obsession with grilling and food preparation is sure to follow in the near future.

I also began reading The Best Amercian Science Writing 2002, thanks in part to Alaina, who constantly keeps my scientific side engaged via her fascinating links. It is significantly less intimidating than I had thought, and much more about exploring unchartered scientific territory/ideas through good writing than presenting known facts in a scientific manner. I would encourage you all to give it a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.

It also looks like we might be moving in the very near future, which I think will be good for the soul. This move would include the addition of a puppy, an extra bedroom, and a tool shed. What more could I ask for? You are welcome to send comments/suggestions about any of these things via comments.

* This entry made possible by Plavac, Croatia's extraordinary red wine from the Plavac Mali grape variety (I believe). We have spent several evenings together, all of which have been enjoyable and left me longing for more.

October 18, 2002 | Comments (1)

Put it Down

For everyone waiting with baited breath, I have updated my about page. There are a few changes I was excited to make, like the addition of some new books and a brief announcement about the job, but there was one change that was made with a good deal of shame--the strike through Ann Lauterbach's If in Time. This collection was something that I had come across late one night on Amazon that seemed interesting. I have never been a particularly avid reader of poetry but I do enjoy it and thought it might be time to get back into the game. I thought nothing of it for another couple of months but then to my surprise, I received a copy as a present (thanks again Tessa). I was anxious to dig in.

To make a long story short, what began as excitement became half-hearted determination, confusion and eventually frustration. I realized that it was time to put the book down. After all, if you're taking nothing from the reading, there's no need to continue. So it's back up on the shelf awaiting the day when my ambition to read it has rebuilt. Perhaps I'll just take it one bit at a time and not try to overwhelm myself with the whole thing. Maybe I need to regress to more remedial material. I'm sure those Dr. Seuss books are around here somewhere...

Poetry 1, Lincoln 0.

October 14, 2002

Jay Oh Bee

Well, the uncomfortable and painful stone of unemployment has finally passed. Yesterday, Friday the 11th of October, I accepted a full-time position and I will begin working next Monday, the 21st. Not only is the job in my field of study, it is the most exciting opportunity that has come along since I have graduated. To my good fortune, it also happened to be the one that worked out (well, it was also my suave looks and mind-boggling ability in addition to fortune). I am very excited.

To celebrate, Dinka and I headed to Chicago for the night. We caught a screening of the Austrian film Hundstage (which I have written a bit about here) at the Chicago Film Festival (which I had earlier complained about not being able to attend), ate a very nice dinner at Yen's and continued the rewarding with the purchase of a few books. Despite a disappointing film, it was all quite nice.

In addition, I am sick for the first time in recent memory. It's been mostly headaches and generally feeling lousy so far, but I can handle it, especially since everything else seems to be going so right.

Consider this entry a tremendous sigh of relief.

October 12, 2002 | Comments (3)

Really, Really Real Reality. Real.

Tape

Where to start... This film was my first experience with the Chicago Film Festival and needless to say, I was quite excited about it. Unfortunately I walked away with quite a bad taste in my mouth. Not only was I disappointed with the film, but I wondered why films like these are consistently chosen for film festivals to represent their countries.

What are "films like these"? Well, essentially they are films that aim to expose as much of the worst aspects of society as possible without any remorse for doing so or any redemptive qualities to save the experience. This attitude is all too pervasive in independent film--that the only antivenom for the glossy, silicone movies produced by Hollywood is the presentation of only the opposite end of the spectrum, i.e. everything not seen or censored in the major market, and to make the viewer as uncomfortable as possible in doing so. Perhaps even more frustrating is the fact that these contemptible characters and scenes are presented as though they are reality, a claim just as ridiculous as the fantasy "real" worlds created by Hollywood. Now, I will sit through a whole lot of uncomfortable scenes if I feel that in the end I will be able to take something from the film or that it makes a significant or original statement on a topic, but in this case, I feel like I walked away empty-handed.

This film is the famed (or so we were told) Austrian documentarian Ulrich Seidl's first attempt at fiction. In response to an interviewer's question claiming that he "merely enjoys showing scenes of humiliation and self-degradation in a voyeuristic manner," he says this: "I disgaree with that. Of course Hundstage tells about the hell people can put each other through, about loneliness and obsession, but more than that it tells about this 'cry for love' - as I call it, about the longing for love and for happiness and the inability to ever fulfill this desire" (via Artechock, translated by Dinka). In this sense, he does have a fair amount of success. Through the eyes of six people, he shows us the severe dysfunction and frustration of their lives in the "suburbs" of Vienna. In fact at least three of these characters are complicated and intriguing enough to keep the film on its feet, but ultimately there isn't any cohesive element to bring it home.

Bottom line: You're welcome to do whatever you like, but I wish you the best of luck if you decide to see this one. You will certainly be shocked at the depravity of the setting and if you're lucky, you might be able to take something from it, negative as it may be.

October 12, 2002

Woe is my computer

Just before I started college (over four years ago, oy vey), I got a brand spankin' new Gateway laptop, the 9100 XL: Pentium II 266 MHz processor, 8 gig hard drive, DVD-ROM, 14.1" display. In 1998, this was really something. In my sophomore year as the techie in me began to take over my life like an unstoppable rebel force, I decided that it would be a good idea to put Linux on there, specifically Debian, as a dual boot with Windows 98. I knew very little about it and was dependent on a friend of a friend (in that case, brother of a friend) to get it up and running. This was a bad idea and left me without a computer for long periods of time, much to my roommate's chagrin. Not long after that, I acquired access to another computer through my marriage (not a bad deal, in all) and I was able to wipe Windows off the laptop and go full-time with Debian.

Since then, my relationship with that laptop has been rocky at best. Over the past two years, I have slowly and painfully found out that there is something very wrong in the innards of this machine. The symptoms were at first hard to diagnose but eventually I realized that it would randomly lose large chunks of valuable personal or OS-dependent information. I quickly recognized that I would not be able to keep anything of significance on this machine and learned the value of backing up data. At first I suspected that it was a hard drive problem, so I replaced it, yet there was no change in its shifty ways. Now I assume it's something on the motherboard and I've learned to cope with it as best I can.

Don't get me wrong, I love this computer. It has probably caused me more frustration than anything else I've ever owned in my life but it has given back so much more. Over the course of at least three months' worth of late nights, it has taught me everything I know about Linux. Every time I think I have it mastered, it gives me a new challenge. "You think you're pretty smart, don't you?", it would say to me. "Try working without your /etc/pam.d/ directory then, tough guy." I would spend hours filled with maddening frustration, rage and disbelief attempting to salvage the system, only to have it impossibly lose some essential kernel modules behind my back. Then comes the reinstallation, of which there have been many. I feel like I could put a Debian system on my VCR in under 20 minutes, I know it so well, or so I will go on thinking until disaster strikes again and I discover that I know so little.

So in the wake of the latest reinstall (Tuesday), I would like to say thank you to my good ole laptop. We've seen the best of times (2.4 kernel works with network card support!) and the worst of times (why does everything keep SEGFAULTING?!?). I hope that it will not mock my appreciative tone but instead choose to accept my gratitude and give me a few trouble-free months. Maybe at my next reinstall, I'll name it "woe."

p.s. If you've sent me an email and are waiting for a response, please resend it, as my inbox was the latest victim in a long line of important personal information lost. I wish I was kidding.

October 10, 2002

53 years and still goodlookin'

Happy belated 53rd anniversary to the handsome couple pictured below. To quote a wise man, "such beautiful life."

October 08, 2002 | Comments (1)

(Lost and) Found Today

Dooce comes clean and stops caring about "what's cool."

Jason discovers Gouda and is forever changed. Being a fellow Wisconsinite and cheesehead, I'm ashamed that I have never become acquainted with the intoxicating power of Gouda. I see it in my immediate future.

Get Your War On, page 15 (warning: rated R for language).

Bill says that everyone has linked to this already, so make me everyone plus one. ColorMatch 5K is a utility to "help you select a matching 6-color palette for your website." For non-design oriented techies like me, this is extremely helpful. Not that I don't have an eye for what works, but sometimes it's hard to imagine new combinations. You know what I mean.

Something older: Evite: War on Iraq [via Mighty Girl].

I post a few thoughts on Hysterical Blindness in Media.

It's funny how quickly you miss a part of your daily routine. I miss The Morning News. Come back soon.

October 07, 2002

It's not TV, it's HBO (Films)

Tape

I finally got around to watching this made-for-HBO movie last week, about a month after it initially aired. The reason I hadn't watched it for so long was most likely the same reason I still haven't watched The Laramie Project--it's sometimes difficult to get yourself in the right frame of mind to watch a serious, dramatic and seemingly depressing film. Thes best examples of this genre make your effort well worth the while. This film does the same, to a certain extent, but ultimately it's more bleak than redemptive.

The impressive cast (Uma Thurman, Gena Rowlands, Juliette Lewis, the inimitable Ben Gazzara) does an unbelievable job of portraying these desperate people in a desolate situation. Uma Thurman is especially outstanding in portraying the awkward and insecure Debby with enough credibility and accuracy to make you as uncomfortable as she is. Debby's world is filled with despair and disappointment, especially in her relations with men. The cinematography, set and costume design effectively recreates the 80s, small town, "white trash" feel that the characters wallow in.

The weakest part of the film is that the message is somewhat transparent and the main character's physical ailment is too convenient of a metaphor for the problems of her life. The result is a film with a powerful presentation and the potential to be moving but that is ultimately unsatisfying because the reward is too easy to obtain.

Bottom line: Worth seeing just for the unbelievable job that Uma Thurman does. The film is well made but the message lacks the strength it deserves.

October 07, 2002

Ouch

If last night's Saturday Night Live is any indication of what post-Will Ferrell SNL will be like, we're all in trouble.

October 06, 2002 | Comments (1)

Undesirable Puzzles

There was a great article in last month's GQ* (the 45th anniversary issue) about Pernkopf's Anatomy, perhaps the most comprehensive, detailed and artistic work on anatomy ever published. Eduard Pernkopf employed eleven out-of-work artists over the course of almost thirty years to produce this remarkable work. Every anatomical detail is said to be made alive by the precision and imagination of the artists. It is truly the standard by which all other works are measured. Even today there are doctors that consult the work before surgery and insist that no equal has been produced. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of the story. Pernkopf was a loyal Nazi in 1930s Austria and participated in the purging of Jewish students and faculty at the University of Vienna, where he was a professor before the invasion and the president after. Many of the artists signed their work with swastikas or other signs showing their loyalty to Hitler. There is speculation that some of the cadavers illustrated are concentration camp victims.

Currently, the Anatomy is out of print and there are no plans for future editions. When so much good can come of the work, shouldn't it be made available for reference? On the other hand, the ends certainly do not justify the means and the work's publication may support that by inference. Quite the dilemma. What does it mean when something of such significance and beauty comes out of such an atrocious crime? To use a less grave example, if Nabokov had written Lolita from an inappropriate or illegal personal experience, should that stand as a mark against the work? I'm sure there are numerous examples of this, some that we're aware of and some that will never be know, but does the context in which a classic is produced ultimately make a difference?

* Note: In what may be my first of many defenses of GQ, let me say that despite all its flaws, there is some genuinely interesting intellectual writing inside the plastic packaging. Until the money comes along for my subscription to the New Yorker, it'll have to do. Unfortunately, GQ's online presence is minimal, so I can't link to anything. I apologize.

October 06, 2002

Independence? Not this year

Flashback: one year ago. I am about a month into my last year of college and read that the Chicago Film Festival will begin at the end of the week. Being a poor college student, I longed for the day when I could afford the tickets to these screenings, parking in Chicago and maybe even a meal before or a drink afterwards. Seeing the light at the end of the academic tunnel, I dreamt that by the time the festival began next year, I might actually not only be able to afford to go, but could even be living in Chicago and gainfully employed. This particular fantasy was only a sliver of the fantastic post-graduation house that I had built in my mind.

Flashforward: earlier this week. I read on Metromix that the festival is beginning again. I again long to bask in the glow of wonderful new independent film and to enjoy originality for a change, after a year of mediocre rentals and big-budget letdowns. The festival features: two screenings of Michael Moore's latest documentary, Bowling for Columbine; Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, Punch-Drunk Love, in a Tuesday, Oct 8 screening that Anderson will be at; a seemingly endless supply of other interesting films that can be seen nowhere else. Once again, I'm forced to put my desire aside for the sake of money and hope for that elusive "next year" in which the money will be there and so will the festival. Ultimately, it's the least of my concerns right now, but it has reminded of how planning can seem so futile when you cannot control every variable in the equation.

To console myself with a poor substitute, I instead caught the local screening of Red Dragon. It was quite similar to Silence of the Lambs but somehow without the same eeriness and ability to get under your skin. I blame this on the character of Hannibal Lecter losing its novelty after three movies and a villian that's not as intriguing as Buffalo Bill. It was well-acted though and it was nice to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in a film again, even in a small part.

So, where's the Red Dragon's lair? Glasgow, of course.

October 06, 2002

It's in the Game

EA Sports: Madden 2003

Chances are if you're interested in this review then you're a gamer of some sort, which also means that there's a good chance that you have problems focusing on anything for more than a few minutes (don't worry, I have ADD too). So before I lose you, I'll get right to the important points, attractively bulleted to keep your attention. By the way, I'm reviewing the PS2 version.




Improvements

Drawbacks


Bottom line: Since my review sounds more like an ad for the game than anything else, it's probably obvious that I would advise buying the game. I know it's hard to come up with the $50 but you won't regret it.

October 05, 2002

How to Keep a One-Room Play Interesting

Tape

It is very difficult to keep a film (and probably moreso a play) interesting for more than an hour if there is essentially one scene taking place in one room. Even with an interesting plot and seemingly interesting characters, the viewer may still eventually feel exhausted by the whole effort. Fortunately for the viewer and for the genre, this movie does a better job than most of keeping it intriguing.

The first thing that director Richard Linklater does right is the employment of great actors: Ethan Hawke (fourth collaboration), Uma Thurman, and Robert Sean Leonard. The second strength of film, probably a credit to the quality of the script, is that the winding nature of the conversations across time and subjects, gradually revealing more about the characters and changing your perception of them, keeps the whole project interesting. This could have easily become a tiring exercise in "independent film" gone wrong, but the marraige of talented people with a good script makes this a worthwhile effort. It's not out to give you straightforward answers about anything but does make you think about first impressions and of what people are made (that was a desperate attempt not to end the sentence with a preposition).

Another Richard Linklater film I liked much more: Waking Life. Another Richard Linklater film I liked much less: SubUrbia.

Bottom line: A 90-minute conversation that's definitely worth seeing.

October 05, 2002

How to Write Dialogue

The Heist

David Mamet knows how to write dialogue like no other. Is it because of his stage background? That might have helped but there are plenty of playwrights that write tepid dialogue. Is it because he has great instincts and is immensely talented? More likely.

In this project, he takes on the classic movie scenario, the heist. Essential elements of this genre are, in no particular order: fast-paced dialogue, often laced with cool criminal jargon; a meandering storyline with enough surprises to keep you guessing throughout and one final, masterful twist at the end; a wise, weathered veteran thief (or even team of thieves) that's considering retirement, and as smooth as Glenlivet; an inexperienced thief whose downfall is his arrogance; oh, and an exorbitant amount of money in exotic form in the most difficult location that the veteran has ever seen.

And yes, this film contains all of those elements. With so much of the movie a given, one might think that there's little hope for an original idea to come out of the thing. But the way that David Mamet meticulously crafts every component of the formula yields a result that almost transcends the genre and reaches for the form--the quintessential heist film. Well maybe I've gotten a little carried away, but I think my point has been made.

Unfortunately this film was released within a few months of another high-profile heist film, The Score, whose cast of stars (including the reclusive Brando) overshadowed the more humble cast of The Heist and brought it better reviews, when in reality, the latter should have won more praise, hands down. Pound for pound (no, that's not a crack on Brando's weight), the cast of The Heist easily outperforms that of The Score. As if that wasn't enough, the script (story, characters, plot twists and and all) of The Score is beaten at every turn by the consummate skill of David Mamet.

As they say, "if you don't know, you betta ax somebody," and if you don't know jack about David Mamet, that somebody is me. For a complete listing of his work courtesy of the good people at IMDb, go here. If you're looking for recommendations, here are a few. In the words of Notorious B.I.G., "and if you don't know, now you know."

Bottom line: If you are a fan of the heist genre and/or David Mamet, go out right now and see it.

October 05, 2002

Where's Dilla?

Slum Village: Trinity

I should probably preface this review by saying that Slum Village's first official effort, Fantastic, Vol. II is one of my top five hip hop albums of all time. Perhaps someday I'll muster the strength to write a comprehensive review of the album, but for now I can sum up why the album was so mind-blowing in two words: Jay Dee. His production was so innovative and ahead of its time that cats still haven't caught up four years later. The perfect sequencing of the album, painstaking attention to detail, unique flow of the trio of lyricists, well-placed guest spots ... it's simply the bomb. So you can understand how excited I was when some new SV finally dropped. Since the group is fairly out of the spotlight, I didn't know anything about the album except what the first single, "Tainted", sounded like. You can also imagine how shocked I was when I eagerly flipped through the liner notes and found that Jay Dee was all but absent from this album. I frantically scoured the Internet for an explanation but all I came up with was nonsense about Jay "pulling back from the day-to-day operations of the group" but that "Slum Village will always be the three of them." From listening to the new album, it certainly doesn't sound like it.

It's not for lack of effort that this album falls short of their debut. In fact, in many places it sounds somewhat like Fantastic, Vol. II and that's exactly how you can tell that Jay Dee is gone, because Jay Dee would never make the same (or even a similar) album twice. Production is handled mainly by T3 and Baatin and they do their best imitations of Jay, desperately trying to duplicate the success of their innovative first album. In order to mix it up a bit, a few guest producers are brought in, most notably Karriem Riggins, who provides the smooth, catchy beat for "Tainted." Jay Dee is present on three tracks but it's only enough to remind the listener how sorely he is missed.

Since I've been so hard on the album, I should say a few nice things. The absence of Jay Dee is pretty much the only thing wrong with the album, even though it's a big one. T3 and Baatin bring the same off-kilter delivery and energy to this album and to add lyrical firepower, they've added a new member, Elzhi. His flow is more traditional and battle-oriented, which is a nice change of pace. Many tracks are quite infectious and most of the hooks are handled with style, with Dwele doing the best job. The sequencing is fairly good and overall, they've managed to keep the feel of the album similar to Fantastic Vol II.

Bottom line: Trinity = Slum Village 1998 - Jay Dee. But a mediocre Slum Village album is still a hell of a lot better than most of that mainstream garbage.

October 05, 2002

Cleanin Out His Closet

Eminem: The Eminem Show

In The Slim Shady LP, we were introduced to Eminem as a phenom with unbelievable skills that was hungry as hell. His delivery, especially in concert, was absolutely electric. His lyrics were often gruesome, fantastic tales about drugs, sex and violence, but also were occasionally brutally honest and revealed the hard life that he had led. Production was handled almost entirely by Dr. Dre. Just over a year later, he released The Marshall Mathers LP and let us feel his rage toward both the sordid world that fame and money had drawn him into and the pent-up anger from his personal life. Dre remained in control of most production but Eminem asserted more production influence. His delivery remained tight but the lyrics became even more shocking, focusing even more on violence.

This brings us to present day and the release of Em's third album, The Eminem Show. I believe that this is by far his most honest and personal album, which is also part of the problem. Everyone knows that Eminem's got a few problems. In the Slim Shady LP, he was lashing out against them and fantasizing to get away from them. With the Marshall Mathers LP, the problems were multiplied under the pressure and scrutiny of fame and the result was almost pure rage. Now he's finally dealing with his problems the only way he knows how, through his music. Artistic expression always has elements of this but generally personal problems are abstracted into more general themes that the audience can relate to. On this album though, it simply doesn't happen. A good portion of the lyrics are Eminem talking directly to his demons (mother, critics, Kim) or his daughter. The only reason this is interesting to people is because his entire life has been dragged into the spotlight and America has followed him through his personal struggles. Without that though, it grows tiring to hear someone's music that is deliberately not addressing the listener.

Now for the other aspects of the album. Dr. Dre's production is almost nowhere to be found (only 3 tracks?) and it is sorely missed. While Eminem is occasionally a good producer, his beats cannot carry an entire album and this is probably the worst of his three efforts, production-wise. However, Eminem is such an incredible and infectious rapper that he can make the weakest beat sound tight, so the result is a bit deceiving. Lyrically, Em is better than ever. Without the overbearing presence of rage, his ideas are more coherent and his rhymes more effective. It seems that no matter what else happens, nothing can stop him from improving his flow. The subjects of these lyrics is what needs improvement. First, he needs to drop the beef with every person that's not worthy of his time (insert name of pop star here). Second, he needs to turn his personal turmoil into less personal material and address his audience (see "White America"). I feel like he's on the verge of this but not quite there. One improvement in the content of his songs is the decreased focus on violence and shocking material. This was tiresome and it's nice to see him move away from it. Oh, and one more piece of advice: stop making pop songs.

Bottom line: This is definitely personal progress for Em but he hasn't peaked yet and this isn't his best effort. I expect (more) great things from him.

October 05, 2002

How to Establish Geek Cred, Installation 1

Douglas Adams: The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I realized a short while ago that if I truly wanted to be a "techie" (commonly known as a "geek") and be accepted within the community as such, I needed to not only possess the desire and fascination for all things technical, but also to jumpstart my progress on the canon of techie literature, movies and media. Since then I have made several promising steps in the right direction: I saw Blade Runner for the first time; I am strongly considering a subscription to Wired; I have added several Philip K. Dick books to my wishlist; but perhaps most importantly, I have purchased and read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Much to my delight, this was quite a pleasant task. Adams' humor is very dry, in that British kind of way. His melding of everyday monotony and activity with the fantastic scenery of the universe beyond Earth is wonderfully witty and entertaining. I tore through the short (143 pages in my edition) book in no time at all and was left hungry for more. Luckily, the collection I bought and have been referring to contains all five novels from the series and I'll get to them as soon as I've finished some more of my self-mandated "serious" reading.

Coming soon: How to Establish Geek Cred, Installation 2, in which I take a lighthearted and humorous look at the Camel Book and how it has changed our lives.

Bottom line: Funny and well told, a must for all computer science majors (obviously).

October 04, 2002

Private Property Sucks, Anyway

Thomas More: Utopia

While Thomas More was made famous in a religious context (he was beheaded by Henry VIII for refusing to officially approve of his divorce, and canonized by the Catholic Church in 1935), he was largely a political thinker. If you would like to know more about his life and infamous death, I would recommend the multiple-Academy Award-winning film A Man for All Seasons, which reinforces this claim. Over the years, Utopia has become somewhat of a classic but for many different reasons, and More's actual intent is still unknown. Paul Turner, the translator of this edition, states in the introduction that the most widely held academic belief at the time was that the entire work was to be meant sarcastically, as a criticism of the sorry condition of 16th century England. Turner disagrees and states that he is "simple minded enough to believe, with certain qualifications, that the book means what it says, that it does attempt to solve the problems of human society."

To decide who was right, I decided to have a go at it myself. More tells the story, through the words of our narrator Raphael Nonsenso (name translated from the Latin), of an island paradise in the New World that is free of all political, economic, social and religious problems. He describes every aspect with painstaking attention to detail, from clothing to war-time strategy. It is a land with no private property, a population of farmers, and priests that are allowed to marry. But the important question is, "What did he mean by it?"

In many ways, More does seem to be vigorously pointing out the wrongs of the tyrannical system he endured. In other places, he makes claims that you would not attribute to More, the staunch Catholic and politician. While discerning what was meant in truth and what in jest certainly has its place, I think the most significant contribution that this book makes is the stimulation of thought on the topic. If all we have to live by are empty beliefs, then we are empty ourselves, or so the logic goes. It would make sense that More--living in and experiencing monarchical madness and its consequences, not to mention the most tumultuous times in the history of the Christian church--would be repulsed by the hypocrisy and emptiness of his times and inspried to motivate people to question the status quo. In this, I think he perfectly succeeds. He walks the fine line between fantasy and reality so well, presenting arguments so well-reasoned that the reader readily accepts them, until he occasionally steps across the line to point out the conflict he has brought you to (he was, after all, a masterful lawyer). The result is an intriguing read that will (hopefully) lead you to question the authority that you have tacitly accepted and to realize the folly of some modern norms.

Bottom line: Highly recommended for its political content, but readers looking for a religious Utopia may be disappointed.

October 04, 2002

The Common Man on Death

Studs Terkel: Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

This book, a gift from my beautiful wife, was my first exposure to Studs Terkel. As most probably know, he has made his name (in print, at least) by producing "oral histories" on various topics, such as the Great Depression, World War II and working. They consist of excerpts from hundreds of interviews with "ordinary people" that lived through or have unique experiences of a certain topic. The same formula is used for his latest book with the subject being "death, rebirth, and hunger for a faith."

The book, while admittedly a very courageous undertaking, ultimately falls short of its lofty goals. Before I criticize, let me list a few of the strong points of the work. The cross section of people interviewed for the book is very interesting. Doctors, cops, veterans, clergymen, members of the media, and artists are just a few types of people represented. In addition, Terkel explores the human relationship to dying in many interesting and thought-provoking ways by partitioning the interviews into related sections: "Doctors," "Brothers," "God's Shepherds," and "A View from the Bridge," to name a few. Probably the strongest and most powerful section is the one dedicated to the modern "plague", AIDS. Through friends, doctors and social workers, Terkel explores the devastating effects of the disease on society, health care and human lives throughout the world. It serves as a poignant reminder of our shortcomings as a nation, society and (human) race despite all our technological and economic progress.

However, there were not enough of these strong moments to carry the book and too much shallow, disposable sentiment. Few people actually approach truly interesting thought about death and the possibility of an afterlife. The bulk of the text is composed of people talking about how their lives have intersected with death and not about their thoughts and feelings about it. Don't get me wrong, these are some very interesting stories and enjoyable to read but not exactly to the point. By the end of the book, I found myself wishing that there had been a larger section on the clergy, not because of the religious content of their testimonies but because there were among the few that talked openly and honestly on topic. Maybe it was less the fault of the subjects and more of those who edited their stories together. Perhaps it says something more profound about our inability to say anything concrete about death due to the nature of the experience, but in that case, do we need to read a whole book to realize that?

I have just one final beef with Studs. If I had read this book with absolutely no idea about his personal religious views, I would have no problem deciphering exactly what he thinks through both his choice of subjects and his presentation of their ideas. Aside from the members of the clergy, Terkel never fails to present religious people as old-fashioned or just plain ignorant while the atheist perspectives seemingly come from the best and brightest in every intellectual field imaginable. No matter what your personal belief, I don't think anyone would claim that this is truly representative of the real world. While the author does have the right to put forth his point of view, in this style of literature in which the author tacitly claims to be accurately portraying "ordinary people," it is misleading and dishonest to selectively put forth or withhold opinion in order to serve a personal cause.

Bottom line: Interesting stories but lacking in interesting insights on the topic at hand. It is especially disappointing if you're expecting anything mildly spiritual.

October 04, 2002

Love, Hate, and the French

Roger Grenier: The Difficulty of Being a Dog

I first encountered this book while browsing through Lia's wishlist. When you've been out of the literature game for as long as I had (read: in college), browsing others' wishlists is not a bad way to go about finding interesting stuff. So I'm scrolling through the wishlist and I see this cover, which was almost enough on its own to make me click "Add to cart." Being both a dog lover and philosophy buff, I thought this book could do no wrong. As it turned out it, it lived up to most of my expectations.

At its best, the book insightfully describes the tender relationship between man and dog through philosophy, literature and anecdote. The major problem with the book is that it focuses almost exclusively on French philosophy, French literature and anecdotes about French men and their predominantly French dogs. To his credit, Grenier does a great job of getting his message across drawing only from the French tradition, but why limit yourself when there is such a wealth of good non-French material? As the title suggests, this book represents everything that I love and hate about the French (disclaimer: I have no real experience with anyone from France, nor have I been there). On one hand, the France of Grenier's affectionate, almost poetic words is truly enchanting, although idealized. His exclusivity is almost endearing too, revealing his passion and pride for his homeland. As an American, I can't say I know much about this, but I sometimes dream of it after seeing movies with subtitles. On the other hand, by the end I just wanted to tell him that there is indeed life, culture and a very interesting world outside the French border.

Bottom line: If you're a dog lover with a taste for philosophizing about the ordinary, you'll love the book. Don't worry, it's still light reading. However, you should be prepared to be bombarded by the French like the Italians in 1797.

October 04, 2002

Ain't Nobody Playin'

Jaguar Wright: Denials Delusions and Decisions

Judging from recent statistics, it seems that one of the most difficult tasks in music these days is the creation of a solid album worthy of the label of "soul" (I would say "R&B" but the mere mention of it conjures up frightening visions of endless K-Ci and Jojo ballads). Not only has there been a noticeable lack of good albums, but due to the rising popularity of "neo-soul", there has been an increasing number of bad albums produced. Unfortunately, the poster child for this movement (as anointed by pop radio and the Recording Academy), Alicia Keys, numbers among the scores of mediocre artists (face it, the album isn't very good, no matter how many awards it received).

But enough negativity. I come bearing good news of an excellent album and an artist that seems to know what it takes to produce music that walks the fine line between soul, R&B and hip hop, and does so in style. The album is Denials Delusions and Decisions, the debut album from long-time Roots crew member and collaborator Jaguar Wright. There are two main reasons that this album is a success: 1) the production team and 2) the instincts of Wright as a vocalist. For this album, Jaguar enlisted the help of some of the most talented and "organic" producers in the game today: ?uestlove (drummer of The Roots and part of essentially every excellent soul album released in the last five years), Scott Storch (former Roots keyboardist and member of Dre's production team), James Poyser (member of Soulquarian production team) and other assorted members of the extended Roots family. The production style is "organic" in that it is centered around live instrumentation, musicianship and achieving the most pure and natural sound with more traditional instruments as opposed to the heavily synthesized and sampled sounds of much of the R&B world. And not only are these artists doing production on the album but they are also putting in time on their respective instruments on all songs, which makes a significant, if subtle, difference in quality. Secondly, Jaguar shows excellent instincts in identifying how her vocal track(s) fits into the scheme of a song. She has an undoubtedly strong voice but instead of falling into the trap of "showcasing" her voice with gratuitous wailing and ad libs on overlapped vocal tracks, she always sings to the mood, feel and momentum of the song and moment. In many cases, she utilizes only one main vocal tracks with overdubs for the chorus. In other words, she has the power to bring it when it needs to be brought but at the same time recognizes when she needs to lay back and ride the cut.

This tasty combination makes for an album with an undeniable groove and a nice blend of soul and hip hop. The guest spots by Black Thought and Bilal make nice additions without distracting the listener from the focus of the album. If this is what her first effort sounds like, we have a lot to look forward to in Jaguar Wright.

Bottom line: Like soul, funk and hip hop? Buy this album. She's not a throwback like D'Angelo, Maxwell and Badu but anyone who enjoys the groove of these artists and occasionally nods their head to some hip hop will certainly (or at least probably) like this album.

October 04, 2002

Bamboozled

Here's an interesting article discussing the history and implications of Uncle Tom's Cabin that George pointed out. My knowledge of this text is shamefully lacking, but the discussion of the negative stereotypes perpetrated by the book got me thinking about the Spike Lee film on the topic, Bamboozled, which I recently saw.

For all the disagreements Spike and I have had over the years, I thought he did a great job with this one (as did Terence Blanchard, whose perfect accompaniment of a score deserves a mention). If you take away all the commentary on Hollywood and the entertainment industry, what's left at the core is a brutal commentary on how oppressive and damaging these stereotypes have been and continue to be for the people subjected to them, as well as the ill effects on society and culture. Probably the most moving scene of the film is Tommy Davidson breaking down and crying while applying his "blackface" make-up before the show. That kind of sums up the weight of these stereotypes in one scene. On this point, Spike perfectly succeeds in getting James Baldwin's criticism of the book across.

October 03, 2002

The Groundbreaking

Well, it's finally here. It's been a couple of years in the making and took over four months' worth of work in my spare time but it's finally here. I know what you're thinking...you're unemployed, all your time should be spare time, right? Not exactly but that's beside the point. Since this is my first post, I thought I might share the story of how this site came about, in particular the weblog portion, and what plans I have for it. I'll skip the part of the story detailed on my about page, but I would encourage you to check it out, if for no other reason than to grab a snazzy picture of my debonair self in my bachelor days.

I first thought of grabbing the souzek.com domain a couple of years ago for personal and family fun through technology. I researched it over the course of a few late evenings in a dorm room until I got that completely overwhelming feeling of ignorance on the topic that often accompanies research. I promptly proceeded to forget about it. The idea resurfaced late last year and I did even more research and realized that it was actually a feasible undertaking. I was too busy to do anything with it until spring break but once the opportunity presented itself, I pounced on it. I found a wonderful host, registered the domain name, and began work on the most important part of the site--my wife's. That was completed in April and my site has finally come about today, the second of October.

I first became aware of weblogs (from here on referred to as "blogs") about a year ago while browsing the ageless project for the first time. I looked for the site whose author's birthday was closest to mine and it happened to be lia's. I began to regularly read her site and found the content, presentation and concept fascinating, and the same was true of many of the blog links on her page. From there, I developed a daily routine of reading her blog along with my other daily sites, and then came another and a couple more, until eventually I began to feel like a part of this terrific online community. However reading them just wasn't enough. I wanted to participate.

So that pretty well brings us up to the present. On this page, I'd like to discuss anything and everything that comes to mind, for my own therapeutic reasons as much as for the participation in the community. I hope I am one day able to be join in this community discussion and contribute something to it, but if not, it's enough to know that at least I'm out here giving it a shot.

October 02, 2002 | Comments (2)