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)
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Too-Good-To-Be-True Update

The picture of a lively street scene that was not of Baghdad has been replaced by a boring picture of Some Buildings. As added proof of how well things are going in Iraq, one of buildings in the picture is reportedly no longer there, because it was bombed by insurgents since the picture was taken.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Famous People

...all know each other, and have for years. When Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were at Bard College, their band, Leather Canary, sometimes featured Chevy Chase on drums. On other occasions Chevy was hanging with his girlfriend, Blythe Danner.
Washington Calling

Because I usually go to their blog by direct link, I just noticed that the graphic button linking to TAPPED from the Prospect's home page has this endorsement:
"The only blog that matters." -- the late Joe Strummer

Too-Good-To-Be-True Alert!

Via Josh Marshall who has the direct links: A Republican candidate for Duke Cunningham's old seat posted a picture of a street corner Baghdad on his web site, with this super-asshole caption:
We took this photo of downtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it - in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism.
The obvious retort is that routine life goes on during the kind of attacks that are happening in Iraq, which doesn't mean that they aren't happening. But that's not really the point here, since it turns out that the street isn't in Baghdad. Or Iraq. It's in Bakirkoy, a suburb of Istanbul. That would be in Turkey. Amazingly, a Kos diarist found another shot of the same random street corner, in a portfolio of a Turkish photographer.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Favorite Sentences From Blogs

Commenter on But I Digress, Peter David's blog:
Coming back to comics, there's a scene in "Amazing Spider-Man #391", just after Peter's parents turned out to be robots.
The Slacktivist, continuing his series ripping apart Left Behind:
This is hermeneutical Fizzbin.

Friday, March 17, 2006
Usage Note

An interesting case in a headline at the Boston Globe: Sellers literally put homes on the block

The story is about the people who sell their houses through traditional, non-eBay-based auctions, with an auctioneer and everything. It's interesting because the usual "mis-use" (I'm being agnostic here for the moment) of "literally" is as an intensifier of a metaphor, as in "I literally exploded with joy". In this instance, though, it's being used to indicate that one level of possible metaphor is being stripped away, since as I said, the auction is real and physical, not virtual.

But obviously the homes are not actually being raised off the ground and put onto a physical auction block for display; the set expression "on the block" is being treated as so opaque that it's impervious to "literal"-ization. So it's both right and wrong. Non-agnostically speaking.
Sunday, March 05, 2006

From Tell Me How You Love the Picture, a book of Hollywood reminiscences by longtime producer Ed Feldman:
The first test screenings of [The Truman Show] didn't go very well. Not many people know this, but the initial cut of the movie started wth the introduction to the Truman TV show: "Coming to you now from Seahaven Island...It's The Truman Show!" The audience knew immediately that they were watching a movie about a man whose life is a TV show. And it just didn't work. The audience was in on too much, too early. I was one of a chorus of people who saw an easy fix to this problem.

[Director] Peter [Weir] simply moved the revelation of the TV show to about the sixty-minute mark, with miraculous results. The audience was now merely watching this man's rather humdrum life, knowing something is out of kilter but not being able to pinpoint the reason. As the film reaches a dramatic crescendo, all is revealed. The test scores went up.

But Truman never tested all that well for reasons unknown to me. This was somewhat surprising, given that it became a smash hit.
Hm. On the one hand, I agree that the film must play differently if the audience is shown the reality up front. On the other hand, here's one of the one-sheets (lobby ads) used at its release:

"On The Air, Unaware". And that's just the one-sheet. See a trailer here, and how much documentation do you need anyway -- you and I both remember that everybody went into the theatre knowing exactly what the deal was. (Test audiences, of course, don't get to see the marketing; they're probably the only people in America who don't.)

But let's go back to the first hand -- Feldman is right that it's a different experience if the knowledge is given inside the movie instead of outside it. Here's another example: Terminator 2 is clearly made as if it's a huge plot twist that this time, Arnold, who was the evil unstoppable killing machine in T1, is a good unstoppable killing machine. T2 begins with the same appearences, through the time portal, of Arnold and a normal-looking guy. It's not until both of them are at the mental institution that we learn that the Arnie-bot is protecting Sarah Connor, not attacking her.

And yet, the marketing of the movie told everyone up front that Arnold was a good Terminator this time -- although in this case, it wasn't in the posters or the trailers, but it was bandied about in other publicity. And I guess you can't blame them, and it obviously didn't hurt the success of the film; but it's completely at odds with the movie seems to intend.

So how do we watch a movie and appreciate the "surprise" under those circumstances? Simple: we just pretend not to know. Most viewers are used to doing this; it's what we're doing when we rewatch a movie and perceive a surprise in the story, but do not experience surprise.

But hold on again; does that mean that there's no such thing as "spoiling" a movie? Oh, hell no. I demand to experience all the movies with big plot twists as they're intended to be seen. I find that I can only really do the "pretend" thing -- or do it better -- if I saw the movie the first time unspoiled. In that case, I can summon the self-as-I-was-before-I-knew and, in a way, relive the unspoiled state. But if I don't have that past self, I can't do it. That's why having it spoiled is so galling; it screws up every re-viewing as well as the original viewing.

So what's the difference between the case where I need the unspoiled-me, and the case where I don't? I don't know. It might just be how I think I'm "supposed" to watch the movie - that is, the cases of Truman and T2 above are cases where I've been told by the creators that it's OK to know certain plot aspects beforehand -- even though they've told me outside the fiction. And in some cases to not-know is explicitly against the intent of the creators. That may seem a stretch, but consider the apocryphal stories of younger viewers of Titanic who thought they had the film "spoiled" by someone telling them in advance that the ship sinks. Or for that matter, the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy. Or the Smallville TV series.

So after all that, I guess it comes down to "I like to see movies as the creators intended me to see them". The interesting part is that the creators' intentions are more carefully calibrated than you might think, and sometimes they change during the process of creation.

(But, if you ever get a chance to see the anime series Paranoia Agent, do it the way I did: with absolutely no knowledge of anything about it. Cartoon Network had it on last year and they'll probably run it again.)
Saturday, March 04, 2006
The Simpsons, Live!

And in person. The title sequence, at least.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Ya Think?

Under the headline "U.S. Intel: Qaeda Plotting 'Big Bang'" [in Iraq], CBS/AP says:
Last week's mosque bombing in city of Samarra that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war was the work of terrorists, some U.S. officials have theorized.
Oh, all right: I suppose there's a theoretical question of whether something that doesn't kill anyone can be called "terrorism", and a more specific question as to what it means that the bombing was apparently designed not to kill anyone. But it wasn't the local DPW or anything. (If somebody blew up the Statue of Liberty while it was empty, would we wonder if it had been "terrorists"?)
Thursday, March 02, 2006
zimzim urallala zimzim urallala zimzim zanzibar zimzalla zam

The Mayor of Lawrence, Kansas proclaims
the days of February 4, April 1, March 28, July 15, August 2, August 7, August 16, August 26, September 18, September 22, October 1, October 17, and October 26, 2006 as


[Unfogged, again.]
Bumper Sticker

I'm not sure if Patrick Belton is reporting this or proposing it, but:
BUMPER STICKER OF THE DAY: 'Si hoc adfixum in obice legere potes, et liberaliter educatus et nimis propinquus ades.' (If you can read this bumper sticker, you are both very well educated, and much too close.)

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