Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Saturday, December 31, 2005
A New Year's Fact You May Not Have Known

When people say "HAP ------ py New Year", with that longish drunken pause, they're quoting Showboat. I learned this many years ago from the commentary on the Criterion Collection laser disc of the 1933 version. (That was back when film commentary on your high-quality video medium was something special, not like now when just anyone can have it.) According to the commentator, it rose to the level of "catchphrase". I like learning that random stuff has sources.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
The Million Dollar Homepage

Reuters has a story on this web page, a student's fundraising idea: he made a 1000x1000 grid and sells ad space on individual pixels -- or, more realistically, blocks of them, so they'll be visible. The result, as the story says, is:
Tew's home page now looks like an online Times Square, festooned with a multi-colored confetti of ads.
Like this:

But my favorite detail is the fact that some of the ads are for other pixel-selling websites, including the deceptively-named knockoff site Ah, people.
Friday, December 23, 2005

Words fail me:
Undercover New York City police officers have conducted covert surveillance in the last 16 months of people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking part in mass rallies and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist killed in an accident, a series of videotapes show.


Beyond collecting information, some of the undercover officers or their associates are seen on the tape having influence on events. At a demonstration last year during the Republican National Convention, the sham arrest of a man secretly working with the police led to a bruising confrontation between officers in riot gear and bystanders.


[An] arrest that appeared to be a sham changed the dynamics of a demonstration. On Aug. 30, 2004, during the Republican National Convention, a man with vivid blond hair was filmed as he stood on 23rd Street, holding a sign at a march of homeless and poor people. A police lieutenant suddenly moved to arrest him. Onlookers protested, shouting, "Let him go." In response, police officers in helmets and with batons pushed against the crowd, and at least two other people were arrested.

The videotape shows the blond-haired man speaking calmly with the lieutenant. When the lieutenant unzipped the man's backpack, a two-way radio could be seen. Then the man was briskly escorted away, unlike others who were put on the ground, plastic restraints around their wrists. And while the blond-haired man kept his hands clasped behind his back, the tape shows that he was not handcuffed or restrained.

The same man was videotaped a day earlier, observing the actress Rosario Dawson as she and others were arrested on 35th Street and Eighth Avenue as they filmed "This Revolution," a movie that used actual street demonstrations as a backdrop. At one point, the blond-haired man seemed to try to rile bystanders.

After Ms. Dawson and another actress were placed into a police van, the blond-haired man can be seen peering in the window. According to Charles Maol, who was working on the film, the blond-haired man is the source of a voice that is heard calling: "Hey, that's my brother in there. What do you got my brother in there for?"
(Via Tom Tomorrow.)
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Fokke and Sukke Come To America

Hey, did you know there's a Dutch comic panel called Fokke and Sukke? Does that make you laugh? It made me laugh. Innocent explanation of the names here, with the translators' addendum:
For some reason, it’s absolutely impossible to explain all of this to (unceasingly giggling) English speakers, so we decided to do ourselves a favour and go with “Duck & Birdie” instead.
(Reference seen on Language Log.)
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
War on Christmas, Long Island Edition

This is what was standing in the lobby of the Long Island Marriott this past weekend. (Pretend my hand didn't shake when I took the picture.) Notice how the "Chanukah" blue and white bows dominate the tree. Unlike the attempt to rename the "Christmas" tree in Boston to the "Holiday" tree, truly this is a Holiday tree.

As a secular Jew, my feeling about "Merry Christmas" has wobbled over the past few years. Mostly, I've been of the opinion that "Happy Holidays" was a well-intentioned effort that ultimately failed to achieve the "goal" of avoiding the Christmas dominance of the end of December. And so I would have been cool with abandoning it in favor of "Merry Christmas" and accepting the burden of getting over it. But that was before all the "War on Christmas" garbage, which brought me to a new opinion, which was:

Hey, if you're gonna be a dick about it, then go fuck yourself.

That was couple of weeks ago. Since then, I've been thinking about connecting this question to another one, illustrated by an SNL sketch from about 10 years ago. It was a year when the first day, or maybe night, of Purim happened to fall on St. Patrick's Day. The opening sketch was TV coverage of a Purim party where, the concept was, all the Jews there were acting like Irish people on St. Pat's, in one key respect: "Today, everyone's a little bit Jewish!" The point being that Jews don't do that, don't act like they're doing everyone a huge favor by sharing their heritage with you and allowing you the fun of being one of us. And, in fact, we get a little testy about the offer to be something besides Jewish, thanks very much just the same.

But the Irish thing got me thinking that this ethnic sharing thing is pretty strong in America, and more people than the Irish get in on it; to the extent that Columbus Day has been appropriated into Italian-American Day, we're all invited to share in being Italian. (And it distracts from that whole Native American thing. I guess they don't have a day.) There are smaller versions in the street fairs of various immigrant or recent-immigrant groups in our cities. And viewed in that context, the natural American reaction to "some people don't celebrate Christmas, they have Chanukah" is "Really? Well, bring on some of that Chanukah and let's all get a look at it! Show us your yummy Chanukah foods, and in the meantime have maybe some fruitcake." So now I feel better about it.

But, still, don't be a dick about it.

In closing, allow me to link to the TV Funhouse video seen on SNL this past weekend, "Christmastime for the Jews". It's a catchy fake-Phil-Spector song with vocals by the real Darlene Love, and the last time I mentioned a good SNL sketch here, Google hits soared. I'm not proud. Also check out the comments on the lyrics (and one odd substitution in the subtitles) here.
Monday, December 19, 2005
ASPCA Action Alert

Jon Katz has a piece at Slate warning us not to get the family a puppy for Christmas without thinking it through. No argument there. Here's the accompanying art:

So if you do get a puppy, you also shouldn't sodomize it. You've been warned.
Monday, December 12, 2005
The Big Dog Does The Puzzle

Here's a story from Marc Romano's Crossworld, a book about crossword puzzles, the people who create them and/or solve them, and the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Romano is visiting Will Shortz, editor of the New York Times puzzle:
Hanging on the wall in the corridor between his study and office was a framed letter that I was surprised to see is from President Bill Clinton. It's a birthday greeting Clinton had sent two years before. As Will tells it, [his assistant] Helene Hovanec had asked the by then ex-president to come to Will's fiftieth birthday party; although Clinton begged off, he had sent this message instead. Given the Times's relentless pursuit of the Clintons from the Whitewater episode on, the text is actually pretty funny: The crossword puzzle, the president wrote, was about the only section of the paper he consistently enjoyed.

"There's a story behind that letter", Will said.

And a fairly remarkable tale, too. When Will was still at Games magazine just before taking over the editorship of the Times puzzle, his publisher -- a big Clinton supporter who eventually became finance chief of the then-governor's presidential campaign -- had set up a meeting among the candidate, the puzzlemaster, and now-Wall Street Journal crossword editor Mike Shenk, from whom Will had commissioned a puzzle they hoped the candidate would attempt. This was just after Clinton had won his party's nomination at the Democratic National Convention. Clinton was a bit suspicious about the whole thing -- it does seem odd for a politician and a crossword maven to meet in the heat of a presidential run -- and had made clear to Will and Mike Shenk that their time in his hotel room with him would likely be interrupted by all sorts of urgent phone calls, quick talks with campaign workers, and the like. The puzzle Shenk had brought along was a fifteen-by-fifteen clued to about the difficulty level of a Wednesday Times crossword.

Once Clinton saw that Will was in earnest, he agreed to doing the puzzle. He told an aide that only the most urgent calls were to be passed through, clicked the timer on his wristwatch, and set about solving Shenk's grid. Will fell silent, but Clinton said, "Go ahead: don't stop asking me questions," and he answered them as he filled in the puzzle. About three minutes into the proceedings, the phone rang; Clinton clicked off the timer and answered the call, which was long and involved. (Will later found out it was from the Reverend Jesse Jackson.) When he was done, he clicked on the timer again and finished the puzzle -- in six minutes fifty-four seconds. When the meeting was over, Will and Shenk looked at Clinton's answers. They were 100 percent correct; the ex-president would do well at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, if he can find the time for it given his busy schedule, and if the Secret Service don't take away everybody else's no. 2 pencils, just in case.

Saturday, December 10, 2005
Marketing The Producers

I was noticing something interesting about the Universal's trailer for the new version of The Producers. You can see it here, or if you have a TiVo it's available under the Showcases menu. Go have a look.




What's weird is, the trailer goes out of its way to avoid the fact that this version is a musical. There are several excerpts from music of Springtime For Hitler, but that's -- watch this! -- diagetic music; it's there because SFH is seen to be a musical show. OK, you've got Uma Thurman singing, by my count, five words for three seconds, but that clip's more to show off her gymnastic ability than to persuade us to see a musical. If you don't know, you might well expect to be seeing a straight remake of the original. Given that the last live-action movie musical I can think of, Chicago, did pretty well, I wonder why the marketing people decided to downplay that aspect.

UPDATE: Mark Evanier's review of the film addresses this point, and mentions the existence of the film of Rent, whose poor showing is probably relevant, and also illustrates the pitfalls of my logic above -- the last musical I can think of did well, because I didn't think of the one(s) that didn't.
Friday, December 02, 2005
How I Intend to Survive the Coming Winter

Superhero Stamps

Mark Evanier has some items on the fact that there's going to be a commemorative stamp release of DC superheroes. Looking at the full press release about next year's commemorative stamps, several questions suggest themselves:

-- what's with the consistent design element of the stamp price with a line through it? Are they about to give deep, deep discounts but haven't filled in the new price? [OK, I since realized that the line probably indicates that they're not promising that a first class stamp will necessarily be 39 cents by the end of 2006.] [And Mark thinks that it's to avoid the images being reproduced and used for postage.]
-- isn't the idea of "Amber Alert" stamps kind of creepy?
-- most relevantly, how do the DC stamps -- and the Disney stamps, for that matter -- square with these guidelines on what's supposed to go on stamps?

"Stamps or stationery shall not be issued to promote or advertise commercial enterprises or products. Commercial products or enterprises might be used to illustrate more general concepts related to American culture."

The Disney ones are labelled "Art of Disney: Romance", and are the third series to "honor the art of Disney", so it's not like they happened to pick 4 Disney images to illustrate "romance".

Now, I can see how "superheroes" is a legitimate subject, and you can't do that without commercial properties, but how did DC became the beneficiary of this? Does anyone know if there might be another series coming with Marvels? If not, Marvel must be pretty pissed off right about now. I mean, Wonder Woman and (some versions of) Hawkman are foreigners, for cryin' out loud! And despite Arthur Curry's American father, I don't think you can retain US citizenship once you announce that you're King of the Seven Seas. (I believe Silver Age Superman was a naturalized American citizen in his identity as Supes, but I don't know about the current continuity.)

And yet Captain America is not on a US stamp? I rest my case.

UPDATE: According to a commenter at Making Light, Marvel gets their stamps in 2007.

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