Friday, August 15, 2003

Just had the following conversation with my parents:

Mom: "I missed the one in 1965. I was at college in Ohio. You obviously missed it because you weren't born yet."
Dad: "I remember it!"
Me: "Yes, you were coming up the stairs at Jacob's Shoes. Mr. Jacobs opened the door at the top of the stairs and told you to go stand by the door to make sure the customers didn't walk out with any merchandise."
Dad: "Did he? I don't remember that part."
"A marauding minority of poor blacks and Hispanics...." This Time article from 1977 is pretty amazing (found on this site, an archive of the 1977 and 1965 Northeast blackouts). First, it's obviously notable that nothing of this sort happened in 2003. Second, the language of the article itself just seems incredibly dated -- and frankly, somewhat racist, at least to my politically correct ears. "Said Frank Ross, a black police officer..."
From The New York Times:
Christopher Davie, 32, a hairdresser by profession, turned into traffic cop at Eighth Avenue and 29th Street.... Charles Eads, a drapery installer in town from Utah on business, was another impromptu traffic cop.
Hairdresser? Drapery installer?

"Are you scared?" Howard Rosen called out to his two boys, Ryan, 8, and Brandon, 12, stranded high up in the Ferris wheel that stands in the center of the Toys "R" Us in Times Square.

"Yeah," they replied. They buried their heads in their arms, and store employees pulled out ladders to rescue those on the lowest cars. A small girl at the top began to sob.

"Dad," Brandon called to Mr. Rosen, visiting from Miami. "I'm never coming here again."

Is it me, or are heat and electricity just a really big deal this year? First you have the madhouse election in California, which stems in no small part from the weird energy crisis two years back. Then you have Iraqis rioting because they ain't got no power, or they do and they don't, then they do, then they don't. And now there's the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003.

I was watching CNN when the power outage news broke, and I was reminded how disturbing it is to see a major news network in panic mode. First they mentioned there was no electricity in "in midtown Manhattan, as far south as Wall Street," which is a big like saying there's no power in Eastern Germany as far south as Vienna. Then reports of more outages started trickling in: Detroit... Cleveland... Toronto, Ottawa, Toledo... And you're thinking, "Um, they didn't just say what I think they did, did they?" They got a comment from the White House, which basically said, "We haven't the slightest clue what's going on." Then the anchors began uttering sentences starting with, "Of course we don't want anybody to panic...." Yet it was clear that's exactly what they were doing.

In a tizzy, I called my sister in Boston. She hadn't heard anything about it, and completely brushed it off, saying, "Oh, it's probably people just using their air conditioners too much!" I frankly feel a bit silly now.

Credit NYC Michael Bloomberg for being the first to calm things down by getting on the phone with CNN and offering some reassuring words (meaning, this doesn't look like terrorism). He held a press conference shortly thereafter. I'd never seen Bloomberg work the press before, but he has this amazing and corporate-creepy way of saying "SIR" or "MISS" at the end of each answer, immediately choosing the next question. As in, "Yes we have top people working on that right now SIR," pointing to the next person without skipping a beat. It's as though his time is too valuable to waste scanning the room or pausing to allow a potential follow-up question.

Stuff garnered from CNN's web site today: Here's the "Blame Canada" piece (via PragueBlog). Canada's Defense Minister said his U.S. counterparts told him "as a fact" that the problem started at a power plant on the U.S. side, probably in Pennsylvania. Yet Pennsylvania says all their power plants are working fine, except they don't have any power to plug them into! (Let me get this straight: In order for these plants to produce electricity, they need to have electricity coming into them. That's just brilliant. I'll bet you a bright shiny Canadian nickel this all started with a circuit breaker in some guy's basement in Rochester, New York.)

Apparently there was "serious looting" in Ottawa, yet In New York City only four burglaries were reported. Wonder what Michael Moore has to say about that! And by the way, does it strike anybody else as odd that Texas has its own separate power grid?

Back on this side of the ocean, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is practically facing the guillotine over his government's lazy response to the pan-European heat wave that has killed over 3,000 people in France alone. Paris daily Liberation reminded him yesterday that the sweltering summer of 1788 sparked the French Revolution. "You have been warned, Mr Raffarin," said RFI's press review yesterday. Meanwhile, tempers of American soldiers and Iraqis are growing short in the Mesopotamian heat.

This is one long, hot, strange summer.

Things are lovely in Prague, thank you for asking. Poured cats and buckets last night, and now it's sunny, cool and even a bit breezy. Power's working. And it's Friday!

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Right now it's looking like the big U.S. power outage is a "natural phenomenon," which is an interesting but reassuring choice of words. For about half an hour, CNN was in full panic mode. Now things seem to be settling down. Provided things go back to normal quickly, I think a few Iraqis could be forgiven for having a little giggle over this.

Mmmm... toast...
Alabama's Chief Justice Refuses to Remove Ten Commandments:
"We have a federal judge saying we can't recognize who God is, yet that's the basis of our justice system," Moore told Fox News Thursday. "They have the audacity to come into our court and say we have to remove the foundation of our law, which is the Ten Commandments."
Funny, I though the basis of our law was the U.S. Constitution.

I have a much better idea. Let's let them keep the plaque, and then sell Alabama to Cuba for one dollar.
"The Islamic Transitional Government of Afghanistan is obliged to give the death penalty to the people who have abused or made fun of Islam, and also to the ones who cause public disruption."

That's what the "fatwa department" of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan has to say about Afghan journalists Mer-hossin Mahdawi and Ali Raza Payam, according to this article from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

These two journalists stand accused of criticizing Islamic practice in two articles and publishing a cartoon showing man evolving from apes, both of them no-nos according to the Koran. Therefore they must die. Lucky for them, nobody seems to know where they are right now.

A maverick order issued by some discredited loony mullahs over at the "fatwa department"? Actually the recommendation bears a stamp of approval from Chief Justice Fazil Hadi Shinwari, a noted conservative. This appears to be a challenge of sorts to President Hamid Karzai, who could technically sack Shinwari if he wanted to.
This should definitely be illegal. At certain websites, a pop-up window takes over your entire screen and informs you that the a virus has been detected, the system is shutting down and all unsaved data will be lost. But wait! Fix detected! Click here to buy it.

In the good old days we called that "fraud."

I'm also a bit ticked off that my homepage was somehow changed to Kazaa.
OK, I just wasted a ton of time adding a bunch of new links for "Random & Obscure News Sources" and "Press Reviews". These are not supposed to be sites that I actually visit every day. In fact, there's mainly there to encourage me to check them more often. But please, feel free to explore, and let me know if any of the links are broken.
Sure, it's hot all across Europe. But let's put things in perspective. At least we got toast!

some iraqi just rolled across the ultimate war trophy [an M16]... i hope he doesn't put it to good use...he should turn it into a flower pot...or maybe a toaster... mmmmm... toast...
Schwarzenegger names Warren Buffett as recall campaign adviser: "'It's a move that's going to hurt Schwarzenegger with the base of the Republican Party, moderates and conservatives alike, because Warren Buffett is one of the biggest supporters of Hillary Clinton, who is despised by all Republicans,' said K.B. Forbes, spokesman for GOP candidate Bill Simon, who lost to Davis in November. "
The night before last I went to the going-away party of a friend of mine who's going to Sweden to study international relations or something. At this party there was a very animated Mexican woman with pointy shoes. She emphasized that she was not just from Mexico, but from the state of Chiuaua. So we asked what brought her to Prague, and she began to explain: She came here to learn Czech and it happened "because of many coincidences." Thing is, her accent was so strong that I was certain she said she came because of the many consonants.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

No way. Gotta lift this wholesale, because IMDB's celebrity gossip page has no archive or permalinks:

Marlon Brando Is Courtney Love's Grandfather?

Veteran actor Marlon Brando has been revealed as the unexpected grandfather of wild rocker Courtney Love in a new book. The singer's mother, psychologist Linda Carroll, claims she has taken DNA tests to confirm she is the Godfather star's daughter. Love, former wife of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, says, "I am incredibly shocked by this news. I have heard Mr. Brando has more than 30 children so I can't imagine how many cousins I have.".... However, it is not known whether 79-year-old recluse Brando knows that Linda - who was given up for adoption - was the result of this....
At last, my long-awaited and widely demanded (OK, so again one person asked for my opinion...) review of The Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

First of all, if you, like me, have been asking what the hell has the once beautiful and magnificent Claire Danes been doing the last few years, now you have your answer: Getting old. (I say this never even having watched "My So-Called Life.") Hey, it happens to the best of us. Fortunately she's reminiscent enough of the 17-year-old from Baz Lurhmann's Romeo + Juliet that she's still a pleasure to watch, although it seems she's maybe not the greatest actress the world has ever known.

(Though maybe the script had something to do with that. This ain't exactly Shakespeare. I wonder if Claire Danes had any misgivings about the token "Die, you bitch!" line she was forced to utter, tossed out to the Terminatrix as she's melting on top of a giant magnet, which by the way as far as I can tell appears in the film with no explanation whatsoever. Fact I see it right now: Bunch of weenie studio execs are reviewing the script in a conference room, and one says, "Are you seriously telling me that we're casting an ice-cold blonde as the new Terminator but we haven't even included a single 'Die you bitch'? Can't have it. Make a note to slip that in there, Harry.")

That said, I thought it was great that Claire Danes's fiancee was named "Scott" in the movie. Not so great that he buys it pretty early on. (What did you expect? His name is Scott! Have you ever seen a bad-ass movie character named Scott? Have you ever met any bad-ass named Scott? Didn't think so. That reminds me of a cartoon my 11th-grade German teacher brought into class one day, just for me. Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden standing under the Tree of Knowledge. The snake watches on, anticipating.... Eve's about to take a bite, when up from behind a bush, a guy pops up with a big huge pepper mill and says, "Freshly ground pepper?" Caption: "Adam and Eve and Scott.")

Um, anyway... The movie. Walk, don't run. But see it. It's probably more culturally important to familiarize yourself with the Terminator world at this point than it is to remember anything from pre-Episode IV Star Wars.

I think we're supposed to think it's significant that the Terminator comes back to the present by jumping out of a disco ball setting a bunch of desert shrubs on fire. I can't explain the symbolism of the disco ball, but the burning bush is easy enough: "And the angel of the LORD appeared unto [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed," sayeth Exodus.

In that regard, perhaps the biggest conceptual flaw in the film is one that couldn't have been avoided, at least not during the writing of the current script. According to the original 1984 movie (the Terminator series probably sets the record for longest time between sequels, both in real time and movie time) a nuclear holocaust takes place in 1997. Some not-very-forward-thinking producer is kicking himself for that right now, because it meant that a rather sloppy plot device had to be inserted in the third film, whereby Judgment Day had somehow been postponed, but not avoided, due to whatever it was that good old Linda Hamilton pulled off 12 years ago in T2. But if it can be postponed, why can't it be avoided? Who's calling the shots here, anyway? The postponement of judgment day is pure distraction from the main thematic issue of T3, which is essentially the same as in most Greek tragedies and the myths of the earliest civilizations: that humans are creatures of destiny, cursed with free will but unable to alter their fates, which are determined by the gods. (That said, this movie world is clearly not 100% pre-determined. What fun would that be?) In T2, Arnold played a sort of Uber-Freudian Oedipal father figure. In this one, he's not just the protector of John Connor, but a messenger of God.

Now that's we've got that tedious stuff out of the way, I have to say the movie was hilarious. Not as in chuckling-at-the-bad-script hilarious, but actually cracking-up-over-the-one-liners hilarious. Also, has anybody noticed the action movie genre's convergence with slapstick? The part where Arnie's hanging for his dear cyborg "life" from the hook and ladder truck, and then he smashed into the fire engine going the other direction? That was hilarious! And right out of the Three Stooges. Or at least Buster Keaton. Arnold is truly a comic -- OK, I hesitate to say "genius" -- a good comic actor, let's leave it at that. This movie made me want to rent Kindergarten Cop.

If you're too lazy to see T3, you can catch all the best one-liners here, but I'm afraid they don't stand up very well on the page.

Plots holes and I-just-didn't-buy-it department: How did Claire Danes's dad, having just been riddled with bullets, so quickly come to the conclusion that nothing could be done to stop the nuclear holocaust and he therefore had to tell his daughter an eleborate lie in his dying breath to save her life so she could go on to lead the human resistance? (That the Good Terminator had the smarts to play along with this fib I can buy, but it wasn't he who came up with the bogus story about Skynet's core. It was the dad. This is a script problem that should have been fixed.) What was that huge electromagnetic field doing there and how did John Connor know to turn it on?

This reviewer has something to add to the list:

If the machines come to power by obliterating the world with nuclear weapons, wouldn't they'd be vanquishing much of the own circuitry, energy and computer connectivity needed for them to exist and replicate themselves? Look, why not simply place the humans in slime pods, give them "virtual" lives to make them think they're alive, and just feed off the energy they produce? Wouldn't that be a better solution for everyone involved, machine and man?
Finally, I was about to ask why the Good Terminator's last words to John Connor were "We'll meet again." How?! He goes on to blow himself to smithereens along with the Bad Terminatrix! Then I realized: This isn't simply a cheap way to leave the path open to an implausible sequel. In fact, this is the exact same machine that goes on to kill (and has already killed) John Connor. Creepy.

I also have a hard time figuring out why the ending, which was supposed to be a shocker, seemed so flat and hurried. On that note, this film was a comedy, but a pretty dark one, at least by the standards of most Hollywood features. Not many films end with.... Oh, sorry. Don't want to spoil it for you (although I think I already did).
Just catching up. Worth noting on Nicmoc blog: "It got so hot on Friday that a stretch of asphalt on the Jizni spojka in Prague melted, making for some very pissed off chata-bound families, and tardy arrivals." Yowza!
It's official. Yesterday I started listening to Johnny Cash.
So it's looking likely that Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme ass-kicker, will run for Leader of the Free World. Now, don't know much about Clark, but from the look of things, he kicks ass. How much ass does he kick? Ask Slobodan fucking Milosevic how much ass he kicks! Clark TOTALLY kicks ass.
Looks like BBC's Andrew Gilligan is running out of friends. First one of his bosses, Kevin Marsh, says his report (that the Blair gov't sexed up weapons intelligence) was "marred by flawed reporting." Then his colleague Susan Watts, who also spoke to the late David Kelly, submitted a taped conversation with Kelly in which he said.... well, definitely something a good deal different than what Gilligan says he said. And then...

Watts' testimony was supported by Gavin Hewitt, a third BBC reporter who spoke to Kelly. Hewitt said he asked Kelly in June if the 45-minute assertion was inserted into the dossier against the wishes of intelligence agents. ``I'm not sure I'd go that far,'' Kelly replied, according to Hewitt.
Notice, however, that this Bloomberg report is significantly different from a New York Times piece that appeared in today's IHT. Story seems to be changing by the hour. In that piece, Susan Watts revealed her shorthand notes of one of her conversations with David Kelly, which went something like this: "A mistake to put in, Alastair Campbell seeing something in there, single source, but not corroborated, sounded good." The journalist thought these remarks were too "glib" to warrant reporting.

The row seems to be centering on the "45 minute" statement (the assertion that Iraq had WMD that could be deployed within 45 minutes of an order being given to do so). Lost in all of this is that fact that the 45 minute statement is looking pretty bogus at this point, whether or not Kelly actually said that Downing Street inserted it. You might say it's a rather minor point. I'd say maybe, but it's certainly no less important than who said what to whom about who wanted or didn't want what in the dossier.
Holy gallopin' gumdrops. It rained! Not a whole lot, but it certainly came down hard for a few choice moments. PRAISE THE LORD!
Probably this will be fixed by the time you read this, but how do you suggle missles?

British man, 2 others charged in plot to suggle missile into U.S.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Go to search.msn.com and type in "buy barstools Tallinn." Pretty cool, huh? Neat things you find from the referring URLs. Of course, it sucks if you're actually trying to buy barstool in Tallinn and all you could find was my blog and some Thai export promotion site.
I just read Arnold Schwarzenegger's "The Education of an American," a speech he gave in September 2001. I'm beginning to like the guy. Don't laugh. I'm being totally serious. Read it. Yes, this is a guy who sees the world in pretty broad strokes. But unlike most public figures, he at least pretends to be humbled by his own experience, which is a quality I admire.

You know, I used to go around saying: "Everybody should pull himself up by his own bootstraps - just like I did!"

What I learned about this country is this: Not everybody has boots.
I don't know anything about California politics, and I don't really care to learn too much, but I have a feeling it won't be the end of the world if the meathead's elected. (Which seems to be far from a sure thing, says Matt Welch. I got the link above from the comments on his blog.)

Oh yeah. I saw the Terminator last night. Review coming later.
"I invite you to join my prayer for the victims of this calamity and I urge you to fervently pray to the Lord to give the parched earth a bit of cool rain."

Yes, that's the Pope praying for rain yesterday. The Pope, as in the head Catholic guy in Rome. Some things just defy comment.

Rain dances, anyone?