Sunday, December 31, 2006

On the Dawn of a New Year

Now that the year is just about over, it seems like an appropriate time to look back to our recent past and laugh about how stupid we were not too long ago.

Remember in the mid-90s when the media used to refer to the internet as the "information superhighway"? Doesn't that term seem quaint today? Of course, even back then the term seemed kind of stupid, mostly because of the word "superhighway," which, as far as I can tell, was invented just so it could be a part of the term "information superhighway."

I mean, what is a "superhighway" anyway? How many lanes would a highway need to have in order to be considered super? Or maybe it's not just a matter of lanes -- maybe a superhighway would allow you to go faster than you could on a regular highway, sort of like those motorized walkways they have at a lot of airports.

I have the same question about the term "supermodel." What makes those models so super? Are there any other superprofessions, like superdoctor, supermailman, or supergymnast? If we have supermodels, it seems only fair that we should reward outstanding professionals in other fields with a similar designation.

Fortunately, the term "superhighway" never really caught on, but it does reflect the sort of naive enthusiasm the media had back when "internet" first became a household word.

Of course, what makes the term sound so quaint today is not the use of the word "superhighway," but the use of the word "information." Remember when people called the internet "the world's largest library" and things like that? Nobody does that anymore. Today we know better.

With all its emphasis on streaming and downloadable video, the internet has become more a vehicle for entertainment than for information. So even though it's still accurate to call it "the world's largest library," we could just as easily call it "the world's biggest TV station" or the "world's largest adult bookstore."

By the way, since this superhighway of ours is such a vehicle for entertainment, it ends up being a highway and a vehicle at the same time. How many other inventions can make a similar claim?

Anyway, I have nothing against entertainment, so I'm not making any judgments here. But I also have nothing against information, which is why I strive to bring you something entertaining and informative each week. And this week is no exception, although today's post is a little shorter than a lot of the others. That's because I'm busy doing other things today, so now I must go. But you can look forward to more enjoyable and educational posts by reading this superblog in the weeks and months to come.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Lynch

I finally saw David Lynch's Inland Empire last night, and while I was watching it, it struck me that Lynch is a filmmaker of many talents. He can make films that totally suck, like Wild at Heart; films that mostly suck, like Lost Highway; films that are neither good nor bad, like Dune; and films that totally kick ass, like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Dr.

And then there are films like Inland Empire, which belong in a separate category, but I don't know what that category is.

His movies used to be relatively straightforward. They were bizarre and surreal, but they were straightforward. But little by little (with the exception of The Elephant Man and The Straight Story), his films have gotten increasingly enigmatic and dreamlike, to the point that I'm not sure what the purpose of seeing a David Lynch film is anymore.

The first time I saw Mulholland Dr., I tried to figure out what the story was, but it was impossible. That's because even though Lynch feeds you clues and keeps you guessing, he never wraps everything up in the end. He doesn't even partially wrap anything up. What he does instead is make you even more confused.

We're not supposed to understand his movies. We're not supposed to figure them out. So what are we supposed to do? We're not supposed to just sit back and enjoy them, because they aren't necessarily all that enjoyable. Mulholland Dr. is pretty enjoyable to watch, in part because Naomi Watts and Laura Harring are so enjoyable to watch, but there's so much violence and suffering and pain in Inland Empire that only the cruelest, most sadistic sort of person could enjoy watching it.

So I guess we're just supposed to experience his films, the way you experience a dream.

Of course, that won't stop a lot people from theorizing what Inland Empire is all about. It's a provocative movie, so it's bound to provoke a lot of thought, and I'm sure a lot of film geeks will post their theories and expositions on the web somewhere. I'll probably read a few of them one day and end up understanding Inland Empire no better than I do now.

And when the DVD comes out, after I watch it I'm sure I'll be just as confused as ever. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the DVD includes bonus material that makes the movie even more incomprehensible. Did you ever watch the bonus material on the Eraserhead DVD? It's just David Lynch talking endlessly about everything and nothing. At least, that's what I think it is. To be honest, I fell asleep while watching it, and all I remember is that when I woke up, he was still talking. Which, of course, leads me to wonder if maybe the purpose of a David Lynch film is to induce some sort of trance state. So, I can't wait to see what kind of bonus material shows up on the Inland Empire DVD.

Of course, one of the pleasures of watching the movie in a theater is that when it's over, you get to look at the confused expressions on everyone's faces. That's something you can't get on a DVD.

And that reminds me of the first time I ever saw a David Lynch movie. It was in 1977, when Eraserhead was released. I don't know if that movie was ever released the "normal" way -- as I recall, it played every Friday at midnight for years, but it was never shown at any other time. Or at least that's how I remember it -- maybe I'm mistaken.

In any event, the first time I saw Eraserhead, I was blown away, and so was everyone else in the audience. You could see the wide-eyed looks of confusion on everyone's faces as they left the theater. But a couple of months later, when I saw it again, nobody seemed to think it was that big a deal. I guess most of the people in the audience had seen it at least once before, so nobody was as dumbfounded, awestruck, flabbergasted, or dazed as they were a few months earlier.

But by the third or fourth time I saw it, it had already been playing for, I don't know, maybe a year, and people in the audience were yelling out lines of dialog at the screen like they would for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That was depressing. It was also the last time I saw Eraserhead in a theater.

However, I can't help wondering what would happen if they decided to show Inland Empire every Friday at midnight for years and years. It's a three-hour movie, so I don't know how many people would see it over and over, but I bet there'd be a few. And after a while, they'd have a lot of the dialog memorized and they'd yell it at the screen. They might even know every scene by heart, and they might mistake that sort of familiarity for some kind of understanding, but they'd be wrong. Totally wrong. You can dream the same dream over and over again, but that doesn't mean you know what you're dreaming about.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Reputable Man of Influence

I saw the new James Bond movie a couple of weeks ago. It was better than some movies and not as good as some others. It was fun to watch, but I pretty much forgot about it after a day or two. That, however, is not the subject of this week's post.

Not too long ago, I got an email from some guy who said he saw my "James Bond blog entry" and he wanted to know if I was interested in posting a review of the Showtime series Sleeper Cell: American Terror on my blog.

Okay, first of all, recall that in the blog entry he was referring to, all I said about the Bond movie was that I wasn't planning on seeing it, but I might end up seeing it anyway. That hardly makes me a fan of James Bond movies or shows like Sleeper Cell, but the guy might not have actually read the post -- he probably just searched all the blogs for keywords like "James Bond" and "espionage" and "terrorism" and things like that.

As it happens, I'm a Showtime subscriber and I've heard of Sleeper Cell, but I've never actually seen it. It might be the greatest show in the world, but I wouldn't know because I never happened to switch to one of the many Showtime channels I receive when Sleeper Cell happened to be on.

In his email to me, the guy described Sleeper Cell as follows: "The hidden face of terrorism is again revealed, as you go beyond the headlines for an unflinching look at the defining issue of our time."

Okay, well, terrorism is certainly one of the defining issues of our time, but as for actual sleeper cells, I have my doubts, especially since no one has ever been able to find the slightest bit of evidence to show that one ever existed. So Sleeper Cell might be a great show, but it doesn't sound like it has a whole lot to do with the truth. For more information on the real face of terrorism, you might want to take a look at the three-part Adam Curtis documentary The Power of Nightmares. He proposes a few interesting theories, most of which are based on solid incontrovertible facts, but since facts aren't considered terribly important these days, I wouldn't be too surprised if half the people who see his documentary don't believe a word of it.

I'm not going to get into all that, but I will mention one thing he says in the introduction. It's basically that in the past, political leaders used to appeal to the voters by making all sorts of great promises about a better future, whereas today the best they can do is promise to protect us from evil. In other words, rather than looking toward brighter days ahead, they instill a sense of fear in their constituents.

That seems pretty obvious to me. There's very little optimism about the future these days. Everyone's worried about global warming or overpopulation or poisons in our air, water, and food. Or if they don't believe in all that science stuff, maybe they're worried about whether or not they'll have enough money for retirement, or whether some inner city kid will carjack and murder them. It doesn't really matter what people are worried about -- the point is, a lot of people believe that things are only going to get worse.

And they may be right, but I'm not going to get into all that. I just wanted to comment on how this sense of dread about the future is reflected in current trends in architecture and design.

Back when people were optimistic about the future, you could see it in just about all aspects of design. Maybe they went a little overboard with some of their "space-age" designs -- like cars with rocket fins, and "futuristic" radios and clocks that look sort of silly today -- but you had to admire their enthusiasm in the belief of a better world ahead. Look at the best that that era had to offer: simple elegant houses that we now refer to as "mid-century modern," beautiful cars like the Jaguar XKE, and the timeless beauty of Scandinavian Modern furniture. I'm not saying that every modern house was absolutely beautiful or every chair designed in Denmark was perfect in every way -- all I'm saying is that when that era passed, we were all out of ideas. From that point on, we just started copying older designs.

That's why, if you've been in a furniture store recently, or looked at any new tract homes built in the last 20 years, or noticed some of the automobiles rolling off the assembly line these days, you've probably noticed a backwards trend. Most houses built in the last two decades are based on architectural styles from the 18th and 19th centuries. The same is true for most furniture, and sadly, it's becoming true of a lot of automobiles.

I used to think it was a matter of ignorance. I used to think the people who bought Tudor or Victorian or Tuscan style homes and furniture just didn't know any better. I assumed they had no sense of style and were ignorant of the beauty of modern architecture and design. I figured that if they were exposed to it, they would prefer it to the outdated and hideous architecture they were used to.

And then one day it dawned on me that a lot of people actually prefer the older styles. I couldn't understand why, but I figured it was based on some pathological need to pretend they were living in the past.

But I never understood the cause of that pathology, since, as we all know, the past wasn't all that great. That seems obvious enough, but maybe if we built 18th-century-style houses without electricity or indoor plumbing it would make this point a little clearer.

But after I heard the introduction to The Power of Nightmares, I put two and two together. I realized that maybe this pathological need to live in the past isn't caused by a belief that the past was so great. Maybe it's caused by a belief that the future is going to be unspeakably awful.

It all seems pretty obvious, but now that we understand this, how can we use it to create a better future? I wish I knew.

By the way, in his email, the guy who wanted me to review Sleeper Cell told me that I "seem like a reputable influencer" but I think he was exaggerating so he could get on my good side. I don't think I have any influence over other people at all. I wish I did, but I don't. I think I entertain people, and I inform them about things they couldn't care less about, but I don't think anything I've written in this blog has influenced anyone's opinions or decisions.

I also don't think that "influencer" is a real word, but even if it is, I still don't like the way it sounds. The guy could have said, "you seem reputable and influential" or something like that. He'd still be wrong about me, but at least his writing would have sounded a lot better.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Lost Art

First of all, I made a slight mistake in last week's post. I said I bought my copy of It crawled into my hand, honest in 1968, but I actually bought it in 1969. It was released in 1968, but I didn't hear about it until the following year. Not that you care.

I also mentioned last week that I thought the album cover art for Golden Filth was better than the album itself. The same could perhaps also be said of another album by The Fugs, Tenderness Junction, since the cover photographs were done by Richard Avedon.

Back in the LP days, a lot of thought often went into the design of album covers, from the art itself to the liner notes. So the consumer was rewarded twice: You could listen to the music while looking at the album cover and derive pleasure from both.

Album cover art was such a big deal back then that people used to publish art books consisting of nothing but LP album cover reproductions. I don't know how many such books were ever published, but I remember looking through one and thinking it was pretty cool.

This kind of attention isn't given to album art anymore. LP covers were about 12" x 12", which was plenty of space for some interesting and unusual art. And for gatefold covers, there was twice as much space, so the artwork could be even twice as interesting. But unfortunately, a CD jewel case insert is too small to inspire much artistic creativity. And when LP covers are scaled down to fit jewel cases, so much detail is lost that it isn't any fun to look at them -- they just remind you of everything you're missing.

Of course just as LPs became obsolete, CDs are also becoming obsolete, due to the increasing popularity of downloadable music. When we reach the point where music downloading services obviate the need for CDs, album cover art will be a lost art form. In a way, that's too bad, but it's not unprecedented and it's actually not that big a deal. No one makes cave drawings anymore, for example, but the art world doesn't seem to have suffered much because of it.

And we're definitely getting to the point where CDs are becoming obsolete. A lot of people buy CDs and never even listen to them. They just rip them to their computer and either play them on the computer or copy them to a portable MP3 player.

For some reason, I think this is sort of interesting -- not so much from a technical standpoint, but from a social standpoint.

It used to be that you'd buy a record, or even a CD, and you could sit around with a bunch of people listening to it on your stereo. I don't think that happens as much anymore.

I also don't think a lot of people are interested in audio equipment anymore -- they're more interested in what kind of storage capacity their MP3 player has or how many buttons they have to click to rip a CD. The fact that the fidelity of compressed digital audio played through a set of headphones is nowhere near the fidelity of uncompressed audio played through a decent amplifier and a good pair of speakers is almost irrelevant. The decrease in sound quality is more than made up for by the convenience of being able to store all your music in a tiny little box and take it with you wherever you go. Besides, most people can't hear the difference in sound quality anyway.

But a consequence of being able to take your own little personal music library with you wherever you go is that people don't listen to music together as much anymore. They might share their music (by making a copy of it and giving it to a friend, for example), but they're less likely to listen to it together since so much music is listened to through headphones and earbuds these days.

This "personal music" phenomenon didn't start with digital music, of course. It started sometime in the 80s when the Sony Walkman was invented. I never had a Walkman and I don't have a portable MP3 player, but it's not because I'm old-fashioned or anything -- it's because I don't really feel the need to listen to music wherever I go, and I don't like carrying things like MP3 players with me. My pockets are too full already. But the real reason is that I don't like sticking things in my ears. I can't stand those little earbuds. And headphones aren't much better. I'd rather listen to music through a set of speakers.

But even the portable MP3 player will be obsolete one day. Within a few years, they'll be able to inject portable music players right into our skin. They'll probably do it at birth, when they inject the RFID tags. I don't know what could be more convenient than that. And if future generations of music lovers have absolutely no idea what album art was, or why people went to the trouble of creating it, it's no big deal. Most of it wasn't that good anyway.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Cold Fork of Naked Reality

The big news this week was the repeated use of The N-Word by Michael Richards. According to an article I read, his publicist said that Richards wants to "heal the tremendous wound that he's inflicted on the American public." That must be why he won't stop apologizing to everyone.

The truth, of course, is that the only one hurt by what Richards said was Michael Richards. Sure, a lot of people were probably offended, and a lot more people probably shook their heads in disgust at yet another celebrity acting like a nut on a rampage, but I don't think anyone was really hurt by his remarks. And even if they were, I think it's somewhat of an exaggeration to call it a "tremendous wound," especially since the use of The N-Word has become so common these days. Listen to just about any rap song, or any black comedian, or any Quentin Tarantino movie, and you'll hear the word about a million times.

Things were much different in 1968, when late at night I happened to be listening to what I suppose we could call an "underground radio station" and I heard the song Johnny Pissoff Meets the Red Angel by The Fugs. It was the first time I'd ever heard the song -- it was the first time I'd even heard of The Fugs -- but even though the song was an obvious parody of how a stereotypical redneck might feel about minorities, draft resisters, and just about everyone else, the use of The N-Word was still shocking to my tender 14-year-old ears.

Of course, that didn't stop me from buying the album. The only trouble, as you may be able to guess, is that the album wasn't exactly carried in most record stores. But I knew where to look, so I found it somewhere and bought the one copy in the store.

Within a year or two, I bought a copy of every other Fugs album that was ever released.

It seems like a lot of people who know anything about The Fugs have a pretty strong opinion about what happened to their music when they moved from the virtually unknown ESP Disk record label to the much bigger Reprise label. Their early stuff on ESP Disk was raw and unpolished. Some of it didn't even sound like it was ever rehearsed. The Reprise stuff, on the other hand, often featured backup singers and was sometimes heavily orchestrated. So, people who heard the early stuff first complained that the later stuff was over-produced, and people who heard the later stuff first complained that the early stuff was amateurish.

I heard the later stuff first. As a matter of fact, what I heard first is widely recognized to be their greatest musical accomplishment: the album It crawled into my hand, honest. So every other album after that was initially sort of a letdown for me, although it didn't take long for me to learn to like most of them.

Even at their most popular, The Fugs were nowhere near as well known as, say, The Beatles, so I pretty much expected them to fade into obscurity. I never expected to see all their records re-released on CD, but they have been. The ESP Disk records were individually re-released over the years, but all the Reprise stuff was collected into a three-CD set (four albums and a bunch of previously-unreleased stuff), which means that if you want to buy one of the CDs, you have to buy them all, including the live album Golden Filth, which I could have probably done without. Ever since I first bought the LP in 1970, I always thought that the best thing about Golden Filth was the cover art.

It's not that the music was so bad -- it's just that Ed Sanders insisted on being as obscene as possible. Again, it was a shock to my tender young ears, which were 16 years old at the time. So I played the album a few times and then buried it away in my record collection.

There it sat until a couple years later, when I went off to college. One day, a few people were in my dorm room, and somebody was sifting through my records. He'd never heard of most of the stuff, since my musical tastes never ran particularly close to the mainstream, but for some reason, Golden Filth caught his eye. (Perhaps it was the cover art by Cal Schenkel. It really is a pretty good painting.) I told him it wasn't very good, that it was just profanity for the sake of profanity, but that only made him more interested. It also made everyone else in the room more interested. I warned them that they wouldn't like it, but they ignored me and made me play it.

So we took the record down the hall, into the room of someone who had a stereo, and put the record on the turntable. I don't remember how long it took, maybe a couple of minutes, but before too long, one of the women said she didn't want to hear any more and then asked me, "How can you stand to listen to this?" I didn't have an immediate answer, but it didn't matter anyway -- she was out of earshot within seconds. Everyone else was gone as well, so I put the record back in the cover and brought it back to my room.

Throughout most of my college career, I guess I never really knew anyone who shared my musical tastes, but I did meet someone in my senior year whose tastes overlapped with mine pretty well. One of the stories I remember him telling me was that he once brought some of his records to a party, and a few minutes after putting his copy of Trout Mask Replica on the turntable, not only was he asked to remove it, he was asked to leave the party as well. He may have been exaggerating -- he was somewhat prone to that -- or he may have omitted a crucial element of the story, such as him becoming obnoxious and insufferable -- he was also somewhat prone to that. But it's still a pretty good story. And by the way, if I'm not mistaken, Cal Schenkel had something to do with the cover art for Trout Mask Replica as well, not that that's particularly relevant.

Anyway, I ordered the Reprise collection and it arrived in the mail a few days ago. I wasn't particularly looking forward to listening to the Golden Filth tracks, but when I did, I realized that they're not quite as filthy as I remember them being. They're filthy -- make no mistake -- but not as shocking as they were when I was a teenager. Of course, times have changed a little since then, and my ears are now 52 years old, which probably accounts for part of it. Still, I doubt if I'll ever play that particular CD again, and if anyone ever asks me to, I'll probably refuse. You never know how people will react. It might scar someone for life. And I wouldn't want to be accused of inflicting a tremendous wound on anybody.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Babble

As you may have noticed, I didn't post anything here last week. It wasn't because I was too busy or anything like that. As a matter of fact, I had plenty of time -- it seems like all I did last weekend was get a haircut and see a movie.

The movie, by the way, was Babel, which is a good movie that I recommend you go see, unless you don't want to or you've already seen it and you don't feel like seeing it again. But when I told a friend of mine I wanted to see it, she laughed at the way I pronounced the title. I pronounced it as "babble," but she told me it's pronounced "BAY-bl."

So the next thing I did, of course, was look it up in the nearest dictionary, which in this case happened to be Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition. It listed both pronunciations, but the preferred pronunciation was "BAY-bl."

I was a little surprised, I have to admit, but preferred or not, "BAY-bl" sounds too much like an Americanization to me. "Babble," on the other hand, is not only closer to the pronunciation of "Babylon" (the reputed location of the Tower of Babel), but it also seems more apt, considering the meaning of the word "babble" dovetails nicely with the story of the Tower of Babel.

But I was left with a question: When I get to the theater, should I ask for tickets for "Babble" or "BAY-bl"? I debated this in my mind for a few seconds. On the one hand, "Babble" is probably a more accurate pronunciation, but if "BAY-bl" is the preferred pronunciation (which means that it's more common among speakers of American English), then maybe the woman at the ticket booth wouldn't know what I was talking about if I said "Babble." But I said it anyway, and she knew what I meant, and we saw the movie without incident.

As a side note, a few days later I was having lunch with a friend of mine and I asked her how she would pronounce "B-A-B-E-L." Her answer was "babble." This proves nothing, of course, other than that I know people who use both pronunciations, but it still made me feel vindicated.

By the way, I think the term "Americanization" is also sort of an interesting word. You can't form a word like that out of all nationalities. It works pretty well with nationalities that end with -an (e.g., "Mexican," "Russian," and "Brazilian") but not so well with others, such as "French" (for which we'd have to say either "Franconization" or the comically stupid "Frenchification"), and "Portuguese" (for which we'd have to come up with something really awkward like "Portuguization"). I don't know what to do for Spain -- maybe "Spaniardization" or something clumsy like that. And as for the tiny nation of Singapore, whatever we come up with is bound to have too many syllables to be useful. So perhaps it's best if we don't spend any more time thinking about this.

Back to the subject of movies, then. If you happened to read a post I wrote a long time ago, you'll know that I'm no great fan of James Bond movies, so perhaps it won't surprise you to learn that I wasn't planning on seeing Casino Royale.

It's been getting some pretty good reviews, though -- even from people who hate most movies, like Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com and Manhola Dargis of the New York Times. What they both like about it is that it's so different from previous James Bond movies, so I may have to reconsider my decision. At this point, I'm still not planning on seeing it, but that doesn't mean I won't see it -- it just means that I'm not planning on it.

Anyway, whether I see it or not, I do feel the need to point out that with this latest addition to the endless stream of Bond movies, a milestone of a sort has been reached: This is the first Bond movie in which the actor portraying James Bond is younger than I am.

Okay, maybe that's more of a milestone for me than it is for James Bond movies, but it's still worth mentioning. I think the last time something like this happened was when I was about twenty and I suddenly realized I was older than most of the women who modeled in Playboy. I suppose the next time will be when we elect a United States President who's younger than I am. That's pretty hard to imagine right now, but it's bound to happen one of these days, especially if I continue to grow older, which most current evidence indicates will very likely be the case.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Other Robert B. Kaplan

Last week, I reviewed a book that somebody mailed me. As you may recall, I didn't think much of the book. However, one thing I liked was that it was mailed to me from clear across the country (which in this case is the United States of America), and it took less than a week to get to my mailbox.

"Big deal," you may be thinking, and normally I'd be inclined to agree with you, but this week I consider such speedy delivery to be some sort of minor miracle.

On October 8th or 9th, I ordered a book from an Amazon.com partner. I was notified by email that the book would be mailed on the 10th and that I could expect to receive it by the 30th.

Twenty days seems like enough time to get a book from one place to another, but it wasn't. On October 30th, I contacted the seller and she agreed with me that the book must have gotten lost in the mail. It wasn't, though. I finally received the book on October 31st. I checked the postmark, and it was sent on the 10th, so there's no explanation for why it took so long to get to me. Maybe it's because October is a busy mail month, which I doubt because I know it isn't.

The book, by the way, is called The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker. It's probably one of the funniest collections of single-panel cartoons I've seen in a long time, but it wasn't too hard to see why a lot of them were rejected.

A few times, I even laughed out loud. I don't laugh out loud a lot, and I don't think I've ever laughed out loud at a cartoon that was published in The New Yorker. The cartoons they publish are usually pretty funny, and they usually make me think something like, "That was pretty funny" or "That was kind of cute" or "That was sort of droll" or "That's the kind of witty but not necessarily funny sort of cartoon that The New Yorker tends to print." But I never laughed out loud at one. Or if I did, I don't remember. So consider that a recommendation of The Rejection Collection.

By the way, speaking of people named Robert B. Kaplan getting books in the mail, a week or two ago I got a sort of interesting phone message from someone I didn't know. She got my number from the phone book and she called to tell me that a package from some publishing company had been delivered for me at her address, and she had no idea why that happened. She left me her phone number and street address. The only thing her address and my address have in common is that they're both in the same city.

I knew immediately what had happened, of course, although not because I'm such a genius but rather because I happen to know that in the sleepy little bedroom community that I live in, there used to be another Robert B. Kaplan.

I never met him, but there was a time when he was an inescapable presence in my life. That's because he had an unlisted phone number and I didn't, so whenever anyone wanted to call him and didn't have his number, they always ended up calling me instead. And there were a lot of people who wanted to call him. I could never understand why so many of the people he knew didn't have his phone number, but I could never ask him, because his phone number was unlisted.

As an aside, have you ever wondered where the term "bedroom community" comes from, or for that matter, what it even means? I always thought it meant a quiet cozy little community, but it doesn't. According to wikipedia.org, it's a primarily residential area in which most of its workers commute to a nearby city. In England, they apparently call it a "dormitory town," which doesn't have as nice a ring to it, but it still gets the idea across: It's a place where people go to sleep when their work day is over. Then when morning comes, they get out of bed and go back to work again.

Anyway, in my cozy little bedroom community of about 42,000 people, it seemed sort of odds-defying that we'd both have the same name. But we did, and as a result, I used to get a lot of phone messages intended for the other Robert B. Kaplan. And, strangely enough, in not one of those messages did the caller leave a phone number, so I could never call him back and explain the situation. I always used to wonder if all those people ever got angry at the other Robert B. Kaplan for never returning their phone calls. I also used to wonder if his voice sounded anything like mine -- I would have expected that at least one person listening to my outgoing message might have thought, "Hmm. That doesn't sound like the Robert B. Kaplan I know."

Of course, for all I know, maybe at least one person did think that. Maybe he was the one person out of twenty or thirty or forty who didn't leave me a message. We'll never know, of course, but there was a time when I got so many messages for the other Robert B. Kaplan that it seemed like I was getting more messages for him than I was for myself. So I changed my outgoing message to explain that there were two Robert B. Kaplans and to inform the callers that they were very likely contacting the wrong one.

I thought that might do the trick, but I was wrong. The messages I got for the other Robert B. Kaplan just kept pouring in.

The problem eventually went away, but not until the other Robert B. Kaplan went away. And the only reason I knew he was leaving is that a few real estate agents left me phone messages that were obviously intended for him.

So he moved away, and the phone messages eventually went away too. That was years ago, so I was a little surprised when I got the phone call from the woman in the other Robert B. Kaplan's old house. I called her back but she wasn't home, so I left her a message. I told her there used to be a guy named Robert B. Kaplan who lived in her house, but I was thinking of leaving her an entirely different message. I was thinking of just telling her to forward the package she received to me. That way, I'd at least receive a book in the mail, even if it wasn't the one I ordered.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Portmanteaux

Last week, I mentioned that I got an email from a total stranger, which I cited as evidence that there are people in this world who actually read my blog from time to time.

This week, I will reveal the purpose of her email. It was to ask me if I would review the book Mixtionary on my blog or web site.

My first thought was, "I don't even promote my own books, so why should I promote someone else's?" I was never able to answer that question, but I told her I'd review it anyway because it sounded like an interesting book. The book, as she described it, "is a guide to communicating efficiently in the modern world -- in which new-fangled ideas and phenomena leave us at a loss for words." She then went on to say "I feel your readers who enjoy the multitude of humorous ways the English language can be changed to fit modern situations will find Mixtionary appealing." She also included a few sample definitions that appear in Mixtionary, which I will quote herein:

SHOERU (guru + shoe) A deeply knowledgeable style queen to whom you can turn for guidance in matters of footwear.

BIDIOT (idiot + bid) People who pay far too much for junk sold on eBay.


So the book is basically a collection of humorous portmanteaux, or as it calls them, "mixed-up modern words for the mixed-up modern world."

I was immediately reminded, of course, of the Sniglets books written by Rich Hall in the '80s. In all honesty, I never actually read one -- I never even saw one -- but they were sort of popular back then, and I'd occasionally hear somebody quote one on a radio show or see one in a post to some Usenet group.

Sniglets weren't necessarily portmanteaux, by the way -- they were billed as "words that aren't in the dictionary but should be," or something to that effect. Here are some examples:

CARPERPETUATION (kar' pur pet u a shun) n. The act, when vacuuming, of running over a string or a piece of lint at least a dozen times, reaching over and picking it up, examining it, then putting it back down to give the vacuum one more chance.

EXASPIRIN (eks as' prin) n. Any bottle of pain reliever with an impossible-to-remove cotton wad at the top.

ROVALERT (ro' val urt) n. The system whereby one dog can quickly establish an entire neighborhood network of barking.

TELECRASTINATION (tel e kras tin ay' shun) n. The act of always letting the phone ring at least twice before you pick it up, even when you're only six inches away.


I don't know about you, but I happen to think that sniglets are a lot funnier than mixtionary words. And that's the biggest problem I had with Mixtionary -- it isn't very funny. Sure, there are some clever entries, such as the two I mentioned above, and several others, such as BUREAUCRAP and JPEG'D and STOREGASM, but by and large, this book has more misses than hits.

And a lot of times, even when the words are funny, the definitions are cumbersome. For example, citing one of the examples above:

BUREAUCRAP (Bureaucracy + Crap) The obtuse web of intricate processes by which large organizations operate. Baffling systems only make sense to long time insiders.

They should have stopped after the first sentence. The second sentence does nothing except make the definition less funny. Still, it's not such a terrible definition, especially compared to some of the others. And the book is so full of turgid definitions that reading it becomes tedious after a while. For example, consider this definition:

CLIMACTING (acting/actress + climax) Working very hard to perform a fake orgasmic state that you've seen in the movies, read about in Cosmo and now try to recreate in your own boudoir.

This was actually one of the more clever words, but the definition is bloated and awkward ("perform a fake orgasmic state"?), and no funnier because of it.

I would have simply written:

CLIMACTING (climax + acting) Faking an orgasm.

The word is clever enough, and it doesn't need a lot of explanation, so why not keep the definition simple? That's just my opinion, of course, and I'm just one person. There are actually three writers of Mixtionary, so maybe they each felt the need to contribute something to every definition.

Here's another example:

HAULIDAYS (Haul + Holidays) That time of the year when you have to pull out all the stops to get your wife, your kids and all their crap to your in-laws house for the holidays, punctuated by the shrill cries of "Are we there yet?" from the kids.

Brevity is the soul of wit. Or that's what they say, but obviously there are at least three people who don't believe it. I'm just speculating, of course, but I think the authors of Mixtionary would have redefined one of the sniglets as follows:

CARPERPETUATION (Perpetual + Carpet) The act of vacuuming the same spot over and over again, until you finally pick up the offending piece of lint or string, take a good hard look at it, put it back on the floor and try vacuuming it again one final time before you ultimately give up in exasperation. Then you pour yourself a drink and decide to put off your house-cleaning responsibilities for another day.

In case you think I'm being too critical, I'm not. I haven't even mentioned some of the not-so-clever words. I'll spare you their definitions, but here are a few of them: CLEVERVOIDANCE, DUMPPOSURE, SETTLECIDAL, and SHOEPEDE.

So, all in all, I didn't like this book a whole lot. I think it showed promise, but it stumbled and fell too often. Of course, to be fair, a lot of sniglets aren't that funny either.

By the way, even though they're at least twenty years old, sniglets are still very popular, if we are to judge by the number of Google hits we find. As of today, there are about 147,000 hits for "sniglets," and 14,600 for "mixtionary." The "mixtionary" number is still very respectable, of course, especially when compared to such obscure search terms as "Catch-Hanger Fallcaster" (129 hits) and "Robert Barry Kaplan" (204 hits).

Of course, part of the reason there are so many "mixtionary" hits is that the book has a fairly massive advertising campaign. I've seen sponsored links to the Mixtionary site on language-related web sites, and the book has a page on MySpace as well. And of course, if a book gets sent to me for review, whoever is in charge of advertising is obviously leaving absolutely no stone unturned.

So I wish I could have given Mixtionary a better review, but I also know that whatever I think of it is not likely to affect its sales one way or another. I just don't have that kind of power. If I thought I could stop people from buying books just by saying I don't like them, I'd be seriously deluding myself. And if I thought I could get people to buy books just by saying how great they are, I'd probably start reviewing my own books.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Invisible

Last Monday, two people emailed me, wondering why I hadn't posted anything over the previous weekend. Well, I was sort of busy with other things, but that isn't the point. The point is that this proves there are at least two people in the world who are regular readers of this blog. They both happen to be friends of mine, but I'm going to ignore that for the moment since I also got an email from a total stranger. I don't know if she's a regular reader of my blog, but her email indicates that she has read it at least once.

Maybe this wouldn't be such a big deal to you, but I'm not used to all the attention because I've been invisible for most of my life.

Normally, when you mention you're invisible, people immediately think about how cool it would be and how they could use the so-called "power" of invisibility to their own advantage. Well, there are definitely some advantages -- I won't argue with that -- but they're so outweighed by the disadvantages that it isn't even funny.

For example, when you're invisible, try ordering something in a restaurant. It's next to impossible, since the waiters and waitresses literally do not see you. Or try walking on a sidewalk downtown or any other busy area without getting bumped into a hundred times. It's just not going to happen. Or worse yet, try crossing a busy street by yourself. It'll be a miracle if you get to the other side without killing yourself.

And there are a lot of less obvious problems as well, such as an increased susceptibility to nearsightedness, a distaste for certain types of music, and a profound inability to distinguish between various species of bats.

As for the advantages, if you're a guy, is it really that important for you to see some beautiful woman naked without her knowing about it? And if you answered "yes," then think about that same beautiful woman walking right past you the next day in a park or someplace without even acknowledging your existence.

Being invisible is a physiological condition, but it's not considered a medical condition because there's no medical treatment for it. Amazingly, there aren't any researchers who are even studying the condition. Part of the reason is that it's such a rare condition that a lot of people don't even know it exists. And when you try to tell them otherwise, they simply don't believe you.

The other part of the reason is that for most people the condition tends to go away as they get older, although it isn't always a very smooth transition. Some people just sort of gradually fade into visibility over the years, but for most people, including me, one day you're visible and everything's fine, but the next day you could be completely invisible again. It's totally unpredictable, which sometimes makes it difficult to plan ahead.

I'm mostly invisible these days, but unfortunately, you can't tell just by looking at yourself -- I can always see myself whether other people can see me or not. The only way to know for certain is by looking into a mirror. And that can sometimes lead to confusion. For example, just the other day, I was walking downtown and not a single person bumped into me, so I figured I must be visible, but then a beautiful woman walked right by me without even acknowledging my existence.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

'Highway 61 Revisited' Revisted

A guy I know sent me a message about my previous post, in which he mentioned that there are significant differences between button board and a piece of drywall with holes drilled into it. He also pointed out that I didn't mention anything about expanded metal lath or blue board. I'd never even heard of blue board before, but it sounds like what I should be using. I guess I could go out and buy some, since I still haven't gotten around to patching the hole, but I'll probably stick with the piece of scrap drywall.

A few months ago, the New Yorker reviewed a book that was basically just a collection of Bob Dylan interviews. It seemed like they didn't review the book as much as they reviewed Bob Dylan, but that isn't atypical for the New Yorker. For example, a month or two earlier, in their review of a Timothy Leary biography, they critiqued Leary much more than the book about him.

I didn't really care in either case, since I wasn't particularly interested in reading either book, but I did learn a few interesting facts from the reviews. For example, did you know that Timothy Leary was a shameless self-promoter who, whatever he was doing, whether he was advocating hallucinogenic drugs or the colonization of other planets, was really just trying desperately to attract attention to himself?

Actually, that probably wasn't in the review -- that's just something I already knew. As a matter of fact, that's something just about everybody who was alive in the '60s and '70s should know. But I did learn that despite what the mass media reported in the late '60s, Leary was not a Harvard professor at the time he started taking LSD. He was just a young post-doc who was asked by a friend of his to lecture at Harvard. And since he never held a teaching position after he was fired from Harvard, he was never actually a professor at any university. (File this under "Interesting Facts about Dead Egotistical Buffoons.")

As for Dylan, if you've ever read an interview of him, you know that they're often just as impenetrable as his lyrics. I guess Dylan didn't like talking to strangers much, especially about his history or his songs. So whenever someone asked him about his past, he'd just make something up. And when someone asked him what the lyrics to a particular song meant, he'd just give some enigmatic response that would leave the reviewer even more confused. So there really aren't a lot of reasons to read a Bob Dylan interview -- not if you're interested in actually learning anything about the man or his music.

But what I learned from the New Yorker review is that when it came to discussing the sound of his songs (as opposed to their meanings), Dylan was anything but mysterious. He could go on and on about the sound. After reading the review, I got the feeling that the words were there just to help give some sound to the song -- not to convey any particular message.

Of course, that might be a little hard to take for all the people who regard Dylan as some kind of poet or prophet, but it makes a lot of sense if you think about it a little.

As it happens, I've been listening to Bob Dylan's iconic Highway 61 Revisited for the last couple of weeks in my car, which means I've probably heard the album about 15 or 20 times in the last two weeks. And it occurred to me that even though there's a big difference in the sound and tone and mood from one song to another, the difference in lyrics isn't always that great.

The album ends with Desolation Row, and the mood of this song is so melancholy that if you were depressed enough, it might make you want to commit suicide. But let's look at some of the lyrics:

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row


Okay, now let's consider the eponymous song Highway 61 Revisited, the tone of which is uplifting and comically absurd. Again, let's examine some of the lyrics:

Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night
Told the first father that things weren't right
My complexion she said is much too white
He said come here and step into the light he says hmm you're right
Let me tell the second mother this has been done
But the second mother was with the seventh son
And they were both out on Highway 61


So we've got two songs with completely different moods, but I contend that the lyrics in Desolation Row are inherently no sadder than those of Highway 61 Revisited. As a matter of fact, if Dylan had given Desolation Row an upbeat mood and Highway 61 Revisited a downcast mood, it would have seemed perfectly reasonable, and the world would have been none the wiser.

But while I'm on the subject of Dylan, when the album Blood on the Tracks was released, I remember someone I knew saying that one of the things that made that album so different from his earlier albums is that for each song, the title of the song is repeated in the chorus, so you could actually figure out the name of the song just by listening to it. That's pretty much what most songwriters have always done, but Dylan used to make a habit of giving his songs titles that had absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics, like Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35, Ballad of a Thin Man, From a Buick 6, and Temporary Like Achilles.

I just checked a few early Dylan albums, and I'd say that about half the songs have the title somewhere in the lyrics and half of them don't. In contrast, all except one of the songs in Blood on the Tracks have the title in the lyrics. But even the one song that doesn't -- Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts -- repeats the individual names Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts several times in the lyrics.

So what's my point? I guess it's that some guy I knew thirty years ago was right, more or less. But why am I making this point? I don't know. I don't have a reason. My mind just wandered off in a particular direction and this is where it ended up.

But the truth is, my mind didn't end up there. It has since moved on to other thoughts. For example, now I'm thinking of other things, such as mixing up some plaster and troweling it into a hole.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Hole

When I got home yesterday, I found a big hole in a wall of my house.

By "big," I mean about 8 inches in diameter. By "hole," I mean I could stand inside the house and see outside. By "wall," I mean one of those vertical things that aren't supposed to have holes in them. And by "house," I mean the place where I live.

I don't know about you, but I'm not used to coming home and finding big holes in my walls. Nothing in my past has led me to expect something like that. So I wasn't happy to see the hole, but on the other hand, I'm fully aware that all around the world, every day of the year, people come home to find that much worse things have happened.

For example, people get their cities bombed into rubble and their villages burned to ashes, because there is war and strife all over the world. Our little planet is not a very happy place and it probably never will be.

But I don't live in a war zone. I live in a construction zone. But the construction isn't supposed to involve putting big holes in the walls of my house. As a matter of fact, it isn't even supposed to involve my house at all.

In case you're interested, I'm building a retaining wall along one side of my property. But before they can build the wall, they have to do some excavation, and the little bulldozer or whatever it is they're using apparently kept bumping into the side of my house and knocking little holes in the wall. Only one of those holes actually went through to the inside of my house, so I guess in that sense, I'm pretty lucky.

I called the contractor and he said he'd take care of it, but he didn't say when. It's not one of his top priorities, so I assume he'll get around to it sometime after the retaining wall is built. But since I don't want to wait four or five weeks, I decided I'd patch the interior hole myself. I'll let him take care of all the exterior holes.

Unfortunately, there's a big bookcase in front of the hole, which means that in order to patch the hole, the bookcase had to be moved. But before the bookcase could be moved, the books had to be removed. So now, there are books all over the floor. Lots of them.

I went to my local hardware megastore to buy some button board. If you don't know what button board is, don't feel bad because nobody who works at the store I went to knows what it is either. Button board is like drywall, except it has holes in it. Why would anyone want such a thing? Well, apparently no one does, because they don't sell it anymore -- at least not at the store I went to.

And now, here's a brief lesson in the history of walls: Before the days of drywall, people used to apply plaster to interior walls. For wood frame walls, they obviously needed some kind of backing material (or "lath") to apply the plaster to. At first they used strips of wood, but after a while they started using button board instead. You nail the button board to the studs, and then you plaster over it. The holes in the button board are so the plaster has something to grab onto, so when it dries it has a good mechanical bond and won't just slide off the lath.

My house was build after the days of drywall, but for some reason they used plaster instead of drywall. So I figured I'd repair the hole with plaster. But I couldn't find any button board. I don't even know if they make it anymore.

Fortunately, you can make it yourself. Just get a piece of drywall and start drilling holes into it. I'd probably go with 3/4" holes spaced a few inches apart, but what you decide is entirely up to you.

And even though the store I went to didn't sell button board, they had a lot of scrap pieces of drywall lying around. I asked the guy if I could have a piece and he said I could take all I wanted since they were just going to throw it away. All I wanted was one little piece, so that's what I took. And since it didn't cost me anything, I suppose I can consider myself pretty lucky.

Here's another way in which I'm pretty lucky: If they had driven the little bulldozer another twenty or so feet before knocking a hole in the wall, they would have broken through a tiled bathroom wall. Since the tiles I've got aren't even manufactured anymore, it probably would have meant retiling the entire area, which is not a simple job since there are about ten or twelve tiled surfaces. Of course, they're not through excavating yet, so there's still the possiblilty that they'll break through another wall.

But while I'm thinking of ways in which I'm pretty lucky, here's another: I don't live in a war zone, so there's very little danger that my neighborhood will be bombed to rubble or burned to ashes. Of course, if I were really lucky, they wouldn't have made any holes in my house at all. But then I would have had to think of something else to write about this week.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Vicarious Chef

I don't watch a lot of cooking shows, but every now and then one happens to be on and I happen to be watching it. So I'm hardly an expert on the subject, but based on the few shows I've seen, I have to say my favorite cooking show host Kylie Kwong.

So I was sort of intrigued that according to the on-screen guide provided by my cable company, her show is rated TV-PG. This means that "parental guidance" is recommended. In other words, children should seek the guidance of their parents before attempting to watch the show.

This perplexed me, since all other cooking shows are rated TV-G, which means they're suitable for general audiences. So what, you may be asking, is so different about Kylie Kwong's show? That's a very good question -- one which I set out to find the answer for.

There's no obvious answer. There isn't any profanity. There isn't any nudity. There isn't even any violence, unless you consider the cooking of animal flesh to be an act of violence of some sort. But even if you do, her show is no different from all other cooking shows in that respect. I haven't watched the show that much, but the few times I have seen it, she never actually killed anything.

Well, she did once. She dropped a live lobster into a pot of boiling water. But first she put it in the refrigerator for a while, which she claimed would help the lobster fall asleep. But again, I'm sure that's been done on a lot of other shows.

By the way, I don't know if her show is still being produced -- the few episodes I saw were from 2003. And I don't know how many shows they air, but I've already seen one episode that I'd seen before. As a matter of fact, it was the first episode I ever saw -- the one in which she made her famous remark, "It's different to a squid." And when I saw that episode again, I realized that I misquoted her in my previous post. What she said was, "It's different from a squid."

Actually, that isn't true, but it would be funny if it were, since it would have made my earlier post on the subject completely pointless and irrelevant. What she really said was, "The octopus is different to a squid." Not "it," but "the octopus." It's funny how the mind can play tricks on you.

Anyway, getting back to my original topic, I can't say that I'm totally against the idea of introducing a little nudity into some of these cooking shows. It might be kind of interesting to watch. Some judiciousness would have to be exercised in deciding which cooking show hosts would appear nude, of course. Many of them should keep their clothes on. And I'm not going to mention any names, but have you ever noticed that people who make a lot of fattening foods often tend to be a bit overweight themselves? I wonder if there's any connection.

As far as I'm concerned, the interesting thing about Kylie Kwong is that you hardly ever see her cook, especially compared to some of the other hosts who show you exactly how to prepare something step by step. Kylie Kwong will start out by chopping some vegetables or peeling some shrimp, but before you know it, she'll be drifting off into some long monologue on the many varieties of mushrooms and how they differ in taste and texture, or maybe she'll start reminiscing about the foods her mother used to prepare for her when she was a child. She'll eventually get back to talking about the food she's making, but by that time it's already done.

I'm not much of a cook, so I don't really care. As a matter of fact, that may be what sets her show apart from the others. Besides, I watch these shows for entertainment -- not because I need to know how to prepare something I'd probably never eat anyway. And I'm sure I'm not alone in that respect -- I bet most people who watch cooking shows never make anything from the recipes they see on TV. Some small percentage may intend to, and an even smaller percentage may actually do it, but that isn't really the point. The point of TV shows isn't to teach you something -- it's provide you with vicarious experiences that will keep you entertained.

That's all fine and dandy, but you may still be wondering why Kylie Kwong's show is rated TV-PG. Well, I'm happy to inform you, it isn't. It's rated TV-G. As it turns out, the cable company (or whoever provides the cable company with this information) just got it wrong.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hail to the Drunken Bastard

A little while ago, a friend of mine got into a minor altercation with some drunken bastard in the parking lot of an inner-city pool hall. Unfortunately, there wasn't much he could do about it since it happened to be Drunken Bastard Day.

In case you grew up somewhere other than the United States, Drunken Bastard Day is a holiday celebrated on the last Friday of every August. It's not an official holiday, so banks and government offices stay open and the mail gets delivered. It's what we call a "Hallmark Holiday" (after the Hallmark Greeting Card company), sort of like Mother's Day and Valentine's Day -- holidays that have been observed throughout the country for years, but without benefit of any official governmental recognition.

I don't remember when people started celebrating Drunken Bastard day -- all I remember is that one year nobody was celebrating it and the next year everyone was. I was a little kid back then, so I don't know the exact year. I remember being vaguely aware of it and wondering what the big deal was, but in retrospect, I guess I didn't really understand its importance.

Of course, there was a lot I didn't understand back then. For example, in 1958 they took down all the flags with 48 stars and put up flags with 49 stars. Then, the following year, they took down all the flags with 49 stars and put up flags with 50 stars. I didn't know it was because we made Alaska a state in 1958 and Hawaii a state in 1959 -- I just figured that every year, they took down all the old flags and put up new ones with an additional star.

I hardly ever drink, but a friend of mine got me a Drunken Bastard Day card as a joke this year. I thought the card was kind of cute, so I'll share the poem with you, even though doing so may be in violation of current United States copyright laws.

You slur all your words.
You stumble and fall.
You get into fights
outside the pool hall.
You're always in trouble.
It hurts when you think.
But stop by the bar
and I'll buy you a drink.

Happy Drunken Bastard Day.


In closing, I'd like to wish a happy (belated) Drunken Bastard Day to all of my faithful readers, and may the spirit of Drunken Bastard Day stay with you throughout the entire year.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Reality TV

When Reality TV was first invented, it was a lot different from what we have today. I can't claim to be an expert on the subject since I never watched much of it, but I have an observation or two to make nonetheless.

As far as I know, the first Reality TV show was aired on MTV about a decade or so ago. I think it was called The Real World and it involved gathering together a group of really annoying or neurotic people in their twenties and making them live together under one roof. It was an interesting idea, I suppose, but it wasn't that much fun to watch -- not for me at least, since I don't get any particular enjoyment from watching neurotic and annoying people fighting about stupid and inconsequential things. If I enjoyed that sort of thing, I'd probably get a few roommates.

I did see that show once -- mostly out of curiosity -- and it wasn't awful, but I thought its appeal would be limited and short-lived. I wouldn't have guessed that it would have spawned the huge multi-billion dollar Reality TV industry that we have today.

But as I said, Reality TV is a lot different today. It doesn't have much to do with reality anymore, but the real difference is that the shows today are basically high-stakes game shows. The participants are contestants who are hoping to win some sort of prize, whether it's a truckload of money or a career as a TV personality.

Of course, I'm basing that statement on my general impression, not on any actual viewing experience. The only two Reality TV shows I've ever seen are The Real World and some show about Anna Nicole Smith, which I also saw only once.

But I have seen a lot of previews and promos, so I know, for example, that Donald Trump had a show in which the grand prize was the opportunity to be his assistant. I also know that the Food Network (whose new motto is something like "It's not just about food") has a show in which the winner gets to be the host of a new cooking show. And not to be outdone, HGTV has a show in which the winning contestant gets to host a new home design show.

I haven't seen any of those shows, by the way, but as far as I'm concerned, the only qualification needed for hosting a show on HGTV is a lot of what often gets mislabeled as "personality" but is actually just the ability to make idiotic jokes and generally get on people's nerves. I liked HGTV a lot more when the focus was on home renovation. Now I hardly ever watch it.

Anyway, Reality TV shows no signs of impending demise. As a matter of fact, I think there's even a cable channel that shows nothing but Reality TV shows. So since they're obviously here to stay, I've got a proposal to make.

But before I go any further, I'm pretty sure I'm not the first person to make this suggestion, so I don't want you to think I'm trying to take credit for something I didn't come up with myself. However, I might be the first person who ever made this proposal in earnest. I think everyone else has said it jokingly or cynically.

In any event, here's the idea: Instead of presidential elections, we have a Reality TV show called The Next President or American President or something like that. I think this would be a really good idea -- or at least it would be a much better way of choosing a president than the one we have now. And if you think I'm kidding, consider all the tribulations and ordeals that the Reality TV contestants have to endure. It's a lot more than what we ask from our presidential candidates.

That's because presidential candidates basically do nothing. Sure, they fly all over the country, telling people what they want to hear and reading speeches that someone else wrote for them. Okay, they also engage in a few so-called debates, for which they're given the questions in advance. But that's about it. They're never really put to the test. They never have to think on their feet. They're never forced to show us how they perform in crisis situations. As a result, it takes a lot more effort to become a pop star or a TV show host than it does to become the President of the United States.

So let's get this idea off the ground. If some TV producer starts the ball rolling now, the show could be in production by the time the current presidential term expires. I really think it will improve things.

Of course, I don't think it will solve all our problems. In particular, it won't ensure that we get any halfway decent candidates to begin with. I know that all the other Reality TV shows have a pre-screening process designed to eliminate most of the potential contestants, but it doesn't seem to do much good. I've never seen American Idol, for example, but I know that the winner is always some bland singer who mostly knows how to please a crowd. That may be okay for manufactured pop stars, but our standards for presidential candidates should probably be a little higher. I don't have a solution for this yet, but if I think of something, I'll let you know.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Top Ten

One of my many loyal and devoted readers suggested recently that I write about current events and other things people are actually interested in rather than obscure topics of little interest to anyone. To me, writing about things that people are interested in borders on pandering, but since no obscure topics spring to mind this week, I'll give it a try.

I guess the world can breathe a huge collective sigh of relief now that Warren Jeffs has been captured. Warren Jeffs is, of course, the leader of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints -- a Mormon sect that practices polygamy.

Whatever your personal beliefs about polygamy happen to be, it's illegal in the United States, so anyone who engages in such a practice in this country is subject to arrest.

The interesting thing to me is that being a leader of a polygamous sect didn't simply make Jeffs a common criminal -- it somehow put him on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List, right up there with Osama Bin Laden and eight other guys.

Unfortunately, the Top Ten List doesn't rank these guys, so we don't know if the FBI considers any one of them to be more wanted than the others. If there were such a ranking, I have a feeling Bin Laden would be on top of the list, but there's no way to tell from looking at the web site.

But just to give you an idea of what sort of things you have to do to get on the list, I'll provide you with a short summary. Quoting from the web site:

Jorge Alberto Lopez-Orozco is wanted for allegedly shooting to death three people in Elmore County, Idaho.

Diego Leon Montoya Sanchez is being sought in connection with the manufacture and distribution of multiple tons of cocaine, knowing or intending that it will be imported into the United States.

Victor Manuel Gerena is being sought in connection with the armed robbery of approximately $7 million from a security company in Connecticut in 1983.

Richard Steve Goldberg is wanted for allegedly engaging in sexual activities with several female children under the age of ten in Long Beach, California, from January through May of 2001.

Usama Bin Laden is wanted in connection with the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States embassies in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. These attacks killed over 200 people. In addition, Bin Laden is a suspect in other terrorist attacks throughout the world.

James J. Bulger is being sought for his role in numerous murders committed from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s in connection with his leadership of an organized crime group that allegedly controlled extortion, drug deals, and other illegal activities in the Boston, Massachusetts, area.

Robert William Fisher is wanted for allegedly killing his wife and two young children and then blowing up the house in which they all lived in Scottsdale, Arizona in April of 2001.

Glen Stewart Godwin is being sought for his 1987 escape from Folsom State Prison in California, where he was serving a lengthy sentence for murder.

Donald Eugene Webb is being sought in connection with the murder of a police chief in Pennsylvania who was shot twice at close range after being brutally beaten about the head and face with a blunt instrument.


And then, of course, there's Warren Jeffs:

Warren Steed Jeffs, the leader of a polygamous sect, is wanted for the alleged sexual assault on a minor in 2002. He is also wanted for one count of conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor in 2002. Additionally, Jeffs is wanted for rape as an accomplice in Utah.

So what's my point in mentioning all this? First of all, it seems like who gets on the list and who doesn't is pretty arbitrary. Bin Laden should definitely be there, but most of the other guys seem like ordinary felons to me. What I mean is, considering all the violent crimes that get committed every year, what these guys did just doesn't seem that noteworthy. Their crimes may be despicable and unforgivable, but they're probably no more gruesome or violent than thousands of others.

Second, if I'm not mistaken, Bin Laden is believed to be responsible for the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York City. I don't know why there was no mention of that on the web site, but it seems like a pretty big omission.

Third, I really don't know what Warren Jeffs is doing on the list. Being the leader of some non-violent religious cult just doesn't seem like that big a deal to me -- at least, not as big a deal as murdering someone or stealing millions of dollars or blowing up buildings.

So let's look again at what Jeffs is wanted for: the alleged sexual assault on a minor, conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, and rape as an accomplice. It's pretty sleazy stuff, but my understanding is that all these charges result from the fact that Jeffs arranged marriages between adult men and underage women. ("Rape as an accomplice" means he facilitated the sexual intercourse between a man and a girl -- he didn't have sex with her himself. And "sexual assault on a minor" means that at least one of his many wives was underage.)

I'm not defending the guy or condoning his behavior or anything like that. It's just that I can't help thinking that somewhere in this great country of ours, there are a lot of other guys who did something a whole lot worse.

If you visit the FBI's web site, you'll see that Jeffs is now listed as "Captured." So my first question is, can someone be "Captured" and "Wanted" at the same time? Technically, I suppose you could be, but I don't really see the point in having a Most Wanted List of people who are already in custody. So I assume that Jeffs will eventually be removed from the list and replaced with someone else. And that brings me to my second question, which is who that person is and what crime he committed. My third question is, who decides who gets on the list and on what criteria do they base their decision? I'll probably never know the answer to that one, but it doesn't matter since I don't really care anyway.

In any event, I'll continue to check the web site from time to time, so I can let you know when a new Most Wanted Criminal has been selected. Or you can just check the web site yourself and let me go back to doing what I do best, which is writing about things that have little or no interest to anyone.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Backward View

A couple of weeks ago, I told you about Elmer the Backward Cow -- the titular bovine in the bedtime stories my dad used to tell us when we were kids. Well, after my dad read that post, he emailed me to let me know that the correct title was Elmer the Backwards Cow.

He then described the difference between "backward" and "backwards," which I will present to you verbatim: "Backward implies a mental deficiency of some sort, whereas Elmer was merely set in reverse."

Well, he's a Professor Emeritus of American Literature, and people like that usually know a thing or two about words, but I don't know if what he says is true. So I wrote back and told him that I didn't think "backwards" was even a real word, just like "towards" and "forwards."

However, if what he says is true, then I believe it's by convention and not by definition. And even though I couldn't find any independent confirmation of his assertion in the dictionary, from time to time I've used "backward" to denote a mental deficiency of some sort. For example, when I was a freshman in college, I remember telling someone, "She's sort of forward, but I'm sort of backward, so it all works out." (It didn't.)

Anyway, like so many other people, I used to think "backwards" was a real word, until sometime in the late '70s when I used it in a document I was writing for work. The editor didn't like it, though. She may have even made a note like "not a real word" or something. Somewhat confused, I went right to the dictionary, and sure enough, "backwards" was nowhere to be found. So I corrected the manuscript and stopped using the word.

But before you rush off to your dictionaries in shock and disbelief, I'll tell you in advance that you're likely to find the word in just about any dictionary you look in, whether "backwards" is a real word or not. That, of course, is because dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive, i.e., they describe how people talk, they don't prescribe how people should talk. That makes sense, since languages are always changing, and the most common way for those changes to occur is through the widespread adoption of mistakes. So it's misguided to think of a dictionary as the ultimate authority on what's right and what's wrong, since right and wrong are ultimately determined by popularity and not so much by rules of grammar, pronunciation, semantics, spelling, or whatever. It's sort of like living in a democracy: If enough people say it, it must be right, despite the best intentions of linguistic purists like me.

(As for why the particular dictionary I looked in didn't have an entry for "backwards," I can offer no explanation, other than that it was an abridged dictionary, so there were a lot of other words missing from it as well.)

In any case, I thought it might be a good idea to look online and see what I could dig up.

According to The American Heritage® Book of English Usage: "You can spell the adverb backward or backwards. The forms are interchangeable: stepped backward, a mirror facing backwards. But in Standard English the adjective has no -s: a backward view."

Okay. Since we're using it as an adjective in Elmer the cow's case, Standard English would dictate that we use "backward" instead of "backwards."

But that isn't the end of the story. AskOxford.com begins its answer to the question Is it acceptable to use 'backwards' instead of 'backward'? as follows: "This is a point on which British and US usage differs."

In other words, no matter what else they tell us, they won't be able to give us a definitive answer. They go on to cite two usage guides, but I'm not going to quote them here -- you can follow the link if you want. However, they do mention that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term "backwards" has been in use in English since the 16th century. So it seems like that editor back in the '70s could have cut me a little slack.

So I guess it's okay to say "backwards." I prefer the word "backward" but to be honest, I still use "backwards" from time to time. Sometimes it just sounds better. For example, Elmer the Backwards Cow sounds better than Elmer the Backward Cow, so that's probably what I should have written in my earlier post. I'm still never going to use "forwards" and "towards," though. There's just no reason to. And I probably won't ever use "afterwards" either.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Year

This weekend marks my one-year blogging anniversary. That's right -- one whole year. That means I've been providing you with top-quality blog entries for fifty-two weeks. Although, if you've been keeping track, you're probably aware that I only wrote forty-nine posts in those fifty-two weeks.

In any event, it may be hard to believe that a year has gone by already, but time goes quickly when you have an entertaining and informative blog to read every week.

I have other things to write about today, but they'll have to wait. This week, I think we all just want to bask in the glory of this momentous event. But if you're planning on celebrating, please remember to celebrate responsibly.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Goodnight M. Night

Remember how productive I said I felt last Saturday? Well, the following Sunday turned out to be a waste of time. But not the entire day -- only about an hour and 45 minutes. After some plans fell through at the last minute, I decided to watch the copy of Lady in the Water I'd downloaded a day or two earlier. I've never downloaded a movie before, because if it's any good, I'd rather see it in a theater, and if it isn't any good, I'd just as soon not watch it. But as I mentioned before, I was sort of curious about Lady in the Water. On the one hand, it's gotten some of the worst reviews ever written, but on the other hand, even though most of his movies are self-important and pretentious, M. Night Shyamalan has demonstrated that he's capable of making good movies, and even when I think his movies are stupid -- which is just about always -- at some level I still enjoy watching them.

Lady in the Water turns out to be a really big exception to that rule. It was stupid, but I didn't enjoy watching it at all. While I was watching it, I couldn't help wondering if Shyamalan actually expected anyone to take this movie seriously. It didn't even seem like he took it seriously himself. It seemed more like a parody of a Shyamalan movie, sort of like those Scary Movie movies. As you probably already know, the movie began as a bedtime story that Shyamalan told his daughters. Several movie critics have already pointed out that the purpose of a bedtime story is to put the audience to sleep, a task at which Lady in the Water apparently succeeds, so I won't bother to elucidate on its soporific qualities. But I will say that if there is a message to be learned from Lady in the Water, it is that bedtime stories don't necessarily always translate very well into feature-length movies.

Oh, by the way, before I go any further, when I was complaining about 3D animation a little while ago, I forgot to mention Bill Plympton's movies and short films in my examples of good animation. His stories are funny and imaginative, and his animation style is distinctive and unique. If you get a chance, see his movie I Married a Strange Person. It's available on DVD. You can probably find a compilation of his short films on DVD as well.

Okay, now back to Lady in the Water. The problem with this movie is that there's no real story. That's all I'm going to say about the plot because I don't want to spoil it for you. Of course, I don't really think I could spoil it even if I wanted to, because it may not even be possible. It's like trying to spoil a sack full of rotting fruit and decaying vegetables. There's nothing you can do to make it worse.

So I'm glad I didn't pay to see it. Wasting my time watching it was bad enough, but wasting my time and money would have been too much to take.

When my sisters and I were kids, my dad used to tell us bedtime stories. I think he just made them up as he went along, but that didn't stop us from enjoying them. The only one I remember was Elmer the Backward Cow. Elmer was just like every other cow in the world, except that he did everything backward.

What I didn't understand then, and what it took me many years to realize, is that besides doing everything backward, Elmer was different from other cows in another respect as well, since he was a male and cows are female. At least that's according to the common definition of "cow," which is applied only to mature female cattle. (Mature male cattle are called "bulls," in case you're wondering.) Of course, there's a secondary definition of "cow" as well: any domestic bovine animal regardless of sex or age. This definition is much more appropriate to Elmer, I believe.

In any case, Elmer the Backward Cow wasn't just one single story -- it was a series of stories, each new episode being invented on the spot whenever my sisters or I demanded to hear another tale before bedtime. I don't remember any of the specifics, like what sort of backward things Elmer did or why they were so funny, but we liked the stories anyway. However, as much as we enjoyed them, it never occurred to any of us that they should be made into a movie. I'm sure it never occurred to my dad either.

And if they had been, Elmer the Backward Cow: The Movie would have probably been no better than Lady in the Water, but at least it wouldn't have been so self-important and pretentious.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Errands

It's been sort of a productive weekend so far -- or at least it seems like one, despite the fact that I haven't actually produced anything.

I did have a few errands to run, however, and those have all been taken care of. By the way, why is it that we say we have errands to run, even though running is almost never involved? The dictionary defines an errand as a short trip that is taken in the performance of a necessary task or mission, but it doesn't say how that trip must be taken. Specifically, it doesn't say that you must run.

My first errand actually involved some driving and some walking. I had to get an oil change for my truck, so I drove the truck over to the repair place and walked back. Then, after the work was done, I walked over and drove back.

My second errand was to get some cash, and my third errand was to get a haircut. For these errands, I took the car.

And as it turns out, those were all the errands I had today. So I really have no right to feel productive, since I didn't actually accomplish anything. After all, I wasn't the one who changed the oil -- I just drove the truck someplace where someone could change it for me. And I didn't give myself a haircut either -- all I did was drive somewhere and have someone cut my hair for me. However, I did manage to get the cash all on my own, so if I feel like I've accomplished something, it's probably because I dipped a card into a slot, pressed a few buttons, took some cash out of another slot, and put it in my wallet.

Actually, I haven't told you the whole story, because in addition to the errands, I also had some other things to do. For example, I had to wash my car. I could have easily converted this from a task to an errand simply by driving over to the car wash place and letting someone wash the car for me. As a matter of fact, the place that does oil changes will also wash your car. And they must do a pretty good job, judging by the long line of expensive cars full of people waiting patiently to get them washed. But the truth is, I sort of like washing my car myself. It takes some effort -- a lot more work than just driving somewhere -- but I don't mind doing it. That's why I called it a task rather than a chore. The two words may be synonymous, but a chore sometimes has the connotation of being undesirable or disagreeable. And even though I'd rather have a car that washes itself without my doing anything, I don't consider the work to be undesirable or disagreeable.

Okay, now I have to tell you something about haircuts. I used to hate getting haircuts. One of the reasons is that I grew up when long hair on men was fairly common, so I just regarded getting my hair cut as a superfluous activity and a complete waste of time. The other reason is that it seemed like I could never get a decent haircut. When I was younger, my hair was a lot thicker and a lot wavier, and it seemed like no two people could ever cut it the same way. So getting my hair cut was pretty much a gamble -- I never really knew what I'd look like when it was done. It didn't matter if I went to an expensive place or a cheap place -- it didn't even matter if I cut it myself -- it was always pretty much a hit-or-miss proposition. And it used to take forever, since I was constantly telling them things like "Okay, I want it just a little shorter over here" and "Now just trim this part a tiny bit and even it out here a little." And an hour or so later, after they finally kicked me out of the chair in exasperation, I'd usually go home and make a few final corrections myself. So getting a haircut always ended up being both an errand and a chore.

Every now and then, I'd find someone who gave me a decent haircut, but the next time I'd get the same person to cut my hair, it would end up looking completely different. I did finally find someone in the mid-90s who always did a pretty good job. The only problem was, after a few years, she quit and moved away. I couldn't find anyone else who did half as good a job as she, so I decided to let my hair grow for a while. Five years, to be exact. (Actually, that isn't very exact, since it was actually a month or two less than five years.)

In the five years during which I let my hair grow, two things happened. One was that my hair started thinning and becoming less wavy. The other was that I stopped wearing contact lenses and went back to wearing glasses. So when I started getting my hair cut again, it was easier for them to do a good job, since my hair wasn't going off in all different directions. As for getting rid of the contacts, that's only important because when you wear glasses and you go to get your hair cut, they always ask you to remove them. So since I couldn't see myself in the mirror too well anyway, I somehow got in the habit of closing my eyes throughout most of the haircut. So now I always get a pretty good haircut, and it hardly takes any time, even though I still have to occasionaly make a few changes myself when I get home.

So all my errands and chores and tasks for today are completed. I usually work out and ride my exercise bike on Saturday mornings and I've taken care of that too, although I don't consider that to be an errand, a task, or a chore. It's not really work and it's not really fun, so I don't really know what to call it.

In any case, the only thing left for me to do today is to finish this blog entry, and I'm just about done with that as well. I'm pretty dilligent about posting an entry every week, but it never seems like a chore. That's because it's fun. It's fun for me to write and it's fun for you to read, which means that everybody's happy.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Automobile and Animation Technology

I kind of wanted to see M. Knight Shyamalan's Lady in the Water last week, but I had just seen A Scanner Darkly the week before and I didn't want to be disappointed two weeks in a row.

People make a lot of noise about M. Knight Shyamalan, but let's face it, with the exception of The Sixth Sense, every movie he's ever made has been a big disappointment. His movies don't get very good reviews, but they still rake in hundreds of millions of dollars, and some people cite that as evidence that despite what the critics say, his movies are a big success with movie-goers.

Well, they're certainly a financial success, but that's only because you have to pay in advance to see them. If you could pay afterward, based on what you thought they were worth, his movies wouldn't make half of what they make now. And I think the reason so many people see his movies in the first place is that they're a lot like me -- they go to the theater thinking "Maybe this one will be as good as The Sixth Sense," or "This one couldn't possibly be as stupid as Signs or as predictable as The Village," but they leave the theater thinking, "I guess he's just a one-trick pony after all."

So I didn't see Lady in the Water -- I ended up seeing the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? instead. I was never a big fan of electric cars, but apparently the people who drove them really loved them. They were fast, economical, not as harmful to the environment, and a lot of fun to drive. Maybe if I drove one, I'd fall in love with it too.

The thing I never understood is why they had to make them so dorky-looing. Just because a car runs on an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine, that doesn't mean it has to look so dorky. But there's apparently some unwritten law among auto manufacturers that the more revolutionary a car's insides are, the goofier it has to look on the outside.

The Toyota Prius is a good case in point. It's a hybrid, so it doesn't look as goofy as an electric car, but it looks a lot goofier than a conventional one. And most internal combustion cars aren't that great-looking to begin with, so it's not like there's a lot of room to play with.

Anyway, when I mentioned A Scanner Darkly last week, I said something about how lifeless the animation was compared to Waking Life. That's still true, but compared to most other animated features today, A Scanner Darkly is a visual masterpiece. In all fairness, I should mention that I haven't actually seen many other animated features, but that turns out to be irrelevant because I've probably seen hours worth of previews for them. My problem with them is that they all look pretty much the same, as if they'd all been cranked out by the same CGI factory.

When 3D animation first came to movies, people were amazed. It was a revolutionary technique and it made all other animation look so flat and old. But now, about a decade later, 3D animation doesn't seem so special. It doesn't look new anymore, and since we're no longer distracted by its novelty, it becomes obvious to us that there's nothing very interesting about it. Sure, it's more realistic than any other animation technique, but so what? If it's realism you want, go see a live-action movie with real actors. I think the black-and-white cartoons of the 1920s and '30s were a lot more visually interesting than any recent animation (with the exception of Waking Life, of course). The old cartoons didn't look real -- they looked cartoonish, but that's why they're called cartoons.

I'm not against 3D animation, by the way. I don't think all cartoons should look like they came out of the Max Fleischer Studios eighty years ago. I just think that at this point, 3D animation is more of a technological marvel than an artistic one. That will probably change over the next few years -- the potential is certainly there -- but at this point, I'd rather watch a non-animated movie, even if it's supposed to be really bad, like Lady in the Water.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

Last week, I saw A Scanner Darkly, which has all the elements of a great movie: it was directed by Richard Linklater; it stars Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder; it was based on a story by Philip K. Dick, and it's animated with Bob Sabiston's ultra-cool rotoscoping software. So why was the movie so relentlessly boring?

Well, let's examine these elements one by one, starting with the cast. Keanu Reeves was okay, but Robert Downey Jr. talked way too much without saying anything, Woody Harrelson apparently thought he was in a comedy, and Winona Ryder was good but there just wasn't enough of her. And to get an idea of the level of interaction between these four people, imagine you're watching an episode of Seinfeld, except the characters are neither funny nor interesting, even though they might think they are. Now imagine that episode lasts for two hours.

As for Richard Linklater and Philip K. Dick, I can't explain what happened here. As far as I know, Linklater has never made a bad movie until now. I don't know if I've seen everything he's done, but whatever I've seen I liked what a lot. And to my knowledge, no story by Philip K. Dick has ever been made into a particularly bad movie. Consider Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report. Sure, Paycheck had some pretty big plot holes and discrepancies, but at least it was fun to watch.

And the animation was a big disappointment as well. It's the same technique used in Linklater's Waking Life, but the overall result is much less compelling. In Waking Life, the animation served a purpose, and it was also more visually interesting. In A Scanner Darkly, it was just a gimmick -- perhaps nothing more than a way to lure the people who raved about Waking Life back into the theater. In Waking Life, the animation was kinetic and vibrant, with pulsating throbbing backgrounds, lending the appropriate air of surrealism to the movie. In A Scanner Darkly, the animation was dull and lifeless -- as a matter of fact, if your vision were bad enough and you were sitting far enough away from the screen, you probably wouldn't even be able to tell it was animation. So what was the point?

But lest I sound too critical, I think it's actually quite an accomplishment to take all the right ingredients and make something bad out of them. The last time something like that happened was when Charlie's Angels 2 was made. (Yes, I saw it, and I'm embarrassed to admit it, but at least I didn't pay to see it in a theater -- I waited until it went to cable.) It's hard to imagine that a movie starring four hot babes could be so awful, but you don't need to imagine it -- all you need to do is watch the movie. A photograph of Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore, and Demi Moore would have been infinitely more entertaining to look at, and it wouldn't have annoyed you with inane dialog and short-attention-span cinematography. In its defense, A Scanner Darkly was nowhere near as bad as Charlie's Angels 2, but since Charlie's Angels 2 was probably one of the worst movies in the entire history of motion pictures, that's not much of a defense.

I realize I'm making an unfair comparison, of course. Charlie's Angels 2 is an awful movie by any standards, while A Scanner Darkly is merely a disappointing one. To clarify the distinction, I would never even consider watching Charlie's Angels 2 again, but when A Scanner Darkly makes its way to cable, I'll probably give it another chance. Even though I'd rather watch a movie in a theater than on TV, the truth is that some movies are better on TV. That's because when you see them in a theater, you unconsciously compare them to other movies, but when you see them on TV, you unconsciously compare them to other TV shows. And since the average TV show is pretty bad, the movie ends up looking pretty good. That's just my theory, of course, but it seems to be true. We'll see in a year or so, whenever A Scanner Darkly comes to cable.