Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Gitmo: Cabbages, Kings and Latter-Day Witch Hunts 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
"The authority to unilaterally keep a defendant locked up - conceivably for the rest of his or her life - used to be reserved solely for kings, who could ignore any part of the realm's legal system. This monarchical power - as I've indicated in reporting on the indefinite imprisonment, without charges, of American citizens Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla - has been expanded by George W. Bush to include defendants at Guantánamo." - The Village Voice's Nat Hentoff
I'm not certain what to make of the situation down in Guantánamo. I can hear the outraged calls of "they were responsible for 9/11, or they might mastermind another attack - let's lock them up and throw away the key!" and about 10 percent of me - the fearful, gut level part that would like instantly to feel safer - agrees.

The better part of me says there must be a more just, transparent way to deal with these issues. Indefinite detention without due Constitutional process smacks of the shameful Japanese internment camp days during World War II, when Americans of Japanese descent were detained as being threats to domestic security.

Some - if not many - of the Guantánamo detainees may indeed be security risks. What confounds the matter is that the public isn't privy to the details of the detainees' cases - allegedly, in the interest of national security, revealing that information would in itself constitute a security risk. The problem is that a closed 'secret' system becomes highly vulnerable to both real and unfounded accusations of abuse.

Only a short historical memory would risk leaving a this broad a breach in Constitutional rights as an article of faith: "freedom requires constant surveillance," even if it sometimes ducks around a corner; we've seen before how undercutting domestic civil liberties while pointing outwards at "the enemy" can be a dangerous distraction.

If the detainees are risks and have broken laws, then "get the ball rolling" sooner rather than later - charge them, process them - using accepted and open legal standards. However, as things stand, I don't believe the detainees would receive a fair trial under a secret tribunal system. Even people with vested national security interest and a great deal of expertise in military tribunal law, like USMC Major Michael Mori, told a Washington press conference in January,
...the military commissions will not provide a full and fair trial. . . . The commission process has been created and controlled by those with a vested interest only in convictions. - The Christian Science Monitor, January 22, 2004
If being a threat to security were sufficient reason to detain people indefinitely without being charged, what if we used similar logic to indefinitely detain criminals in the civilian legal system suspected of especially heinous crimes? Perhaps some of us would sleep easier if that were the case, but it gives lie to the treasured American mantra "innocent until proven guilty."

It's true that many criminals remain a threat to others past their scheduled release dates, and while parole hearings often succeed in keeping dangerous individuals behind bars it doesn't always work, as we can read any day in the headlines. However, declaring civilians enemy combatants and "locking them up and throwing away the key" doesn't seem like the best answer.

Let's be practical. We can't leave detainees in a holding camp until the "war on terrorism" is over. This War is going to be a far longer, more drawn-out affair than many of us imagine, and will persist years, even decades after the immediate war in Iraq is over. If you don't believe that's the case, then ask yourself this: what "markers" will we use as a measure to decide when things have returned to normal? Will it be when a new government is in place in Iraq? When we track down and stop all terrorist groups and "sleeper cells" within our borders? When the color of the Homeland Security Alert System drops below Yellow? The answer isn't so clear-cut: as a nation, it looks like we will be in a state of "post-9/11 PTSD" for the foreseeable future.

Achieving that old fashioned, "good-feeling" perception of world and national security will be a Sysiphean task, never quite completed despite much toil. But allowing "creeping fear" to quash our beliefs in equal protection under the law and due process will be, in the end, a poor tradeoff. We would never be fully certain of our safety, even if we do implement draconian limits on civil liberties, because national security is never 100% air-tight, even in the most repressive or self-protective of nations.

To paraphrase one 'Dr. Puvogel' - a minor character menaced by a near-unstoppable metallic monster in the X-Files episode Salvage - after an event like 9/11, "Safe? Where's safe?" That fact may be a bitter pill for us as a nation to swallow, but it's not a justification to amputate our Constitutional protections.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Blog Spotlight: dottocomu 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
If you're a gadget freak like me (though I like to revel in them at a distance, rather than buying most of them), Japan's dottocomu will fill a much needed newsgap - reports on the latest new tech toys and trends fresh from the source. The unusual name is apparently a Japan-ization of the term "dot-com" (much like the anglicized Japanese words miruku, kohi, hanbaga, and orenjusu - "milk," "coffee," "hamburger," and "orange juice" respectively). Dottocomu doesn't have links to older, archived pages, but if you know what you're looking for you can use the search box; which can be a bit harder than you'd think, considering you've never heard of most of the items discussed.

It's a somewhat minimalist, underappreciated blog - no one seems to comment or trackback to writer aragoto's posts, for the most part - but it's apparently a labor of love. Dottocomu avoids the pitfall of many "gadget junkie" websites that try to incorporate too many gadgets and subjects on each page - it's a clean, lean, informative site where you'll learn about many products that never quite make it to the U.S.A., like a Linux-powered CD-ROM PDA from NEC Personal, a phone-powered DoCoMo 3G FOMA appliance controller (eh?), and incongruous watches that look like old fashioned rotary-dial telephones.

Monday, March 29, 2004
The Faces Project 2004 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
What happens when you process 640x480 JPEG webcam photos through a variety of Adobe Photoshop™ filters? The Faces Project is a series of digitally manipulated medium-resolution self-portraits that demonstrate how color, light, texture - and a pixel here, a pixel there - can radically shift the perceived emotional nuances of a face.

The prototype for the series was the little square icon in this blog's titlebar, processed from a January 2004 snapshot using Photoshop's "Stamp" filter in #000000 and #ff0099. As an experiment, I set up an Olympus W10 digital camera/voice recorder in webcam mode and took a series of muggy "photo booth" type snapshots. While this certainly isn't the first project of its kind, I've found the results surprisingly revealing and introspective. Some of the portraits are Warholishly Pop-py or "I-screamy" in the style of Edvard Munch; others look like album covers I've seen - or like nothing I've ever seen before.

Friday, March 26, 2004
Georgia Nixes Genital Piercings for Women 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
From the cloudy sidelines of the Great American Culture Wars, yet another nixie from Dixie:
ATLANTA (AP) -- Genital piercings for women were banned by the Georgia House Wednesday as lawmakers considered a bill outlining punishments for female genital mutilation.

The bill would make such mutilation punishable by two to 20 years in prison. It makes no exception for people who give consent to have the procedure performed on their daughters out of religious or cultural custom. An amendment adopted without objection added "piercing" to the list of things that may not be done to female genitals. Even adult women would not be allowed to get the procedure. The bill eventually passed 160-0, with no debate.

Amendment sponsor Rep. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, was slack-jawed when told after the vote that some adults seek the piercings. "What? I've never seen such a thing," Heath said. "I, uh, I wouldn't approve of anyone doing it. I don't think that's an appropriate thing to be doing."

The [Georgia] ban applies only to women, not men.
{sarcasm} Well, no, of course it doesn't apply to men...that would mean Georgia would have to start arresting mohels and doctors who perform male circumcisions, as well as body-piercing artists and practitioners of FGM. If Bill Heath doesn't approve of women having genital piercings, then, by gum, Georgia women just won't be able to have them. End of discussion. {/sarcasm}

All joking aside, if I somehow come across as being "pro-FGM" (female genital mutilation): no, I don't think we should allow FGM in the U.S. It is a deeply hurtful, reprehensible practice, and while we can not easily stop it outside our shores, we can pass laws and educate people within our borders about its unacceptability. On the other hand, decorative genital piercing is worlds away from FGM, just as FGM (often termed "female circumcision") is a completely different - much more invasive - procedure than its male equivalent.

FGM is nothing less than the permanent sexual maiming of girls and women. While some people invoke "cultural relativism" to justify allowing FGM in the United States and Europe, there clearly needs to be a line drawn somewhere. Chinese foot-binding is another such unjustifiable cultural practice, as is settee (or sati) and "honor-killing". Viewed on this continuum of grey areas, FGM clearly does fall on the dark side.

This Georgia bill is a perfect example of seemingly well-intentioned laws squirreled by legislators' ignorance of the finer points of fact - if politicians don't know the difference between decorative genital piercing and FGM, then they need to get educated before they consider passing laws. We need worldly, informed lawmakers - not cloistered ones.

For a well-spoken, piercing (sorry, couldn't resist) rebuttal to Bill Heath's spur(s)-of-the-moment lawmaking, check out BMEzine.

Thursday, March 25, 2004
Movie Unreview: Searching for Debra Winger 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Rosanna Arquette (Desperately Seeking Susan) proves herself a worthy filmmaker and documentarian in Searching for Debra Winger, an eye-opening, intimate collage of individual interviews and kaffeeklatch conversations with dozens of Hollywood's great female actors. What these women have in common: they are all over 30. As Roger Ebert points out in a vignette with Rosanna, if you're a woman-over-21 in Hollywood, you're automatically categorized as an "older woman," and will soon find yourself increasingly disqualified from the meatiest, most visible roles.

In the opening sequence, Arquette describes a film she saw as a child that had a major impact on her - The Red Shoes, the tale of a ballet dancer forced to choose between the man she loves and her art who finds she cannot bear to lose either, and commits suicide by dancing herself under an oncoming train.

Arquette has gathered a formidable slate of Hollywood Older Women for this project, none of whom - fortunately - danced themselves under a train, but all of whom made sacrifices for their artistic passion: Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Stone, Frances McDormand, Gwyneth Paltrow, Diane Lane, Salma Hayek, Holly Hunter, Laura Dern, Chiara Mastroianni, Daryl Hannah, Alfre Woodard, Teri Garr, Emmanuelle Beart, JoBeth Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, and many others (ranging from "legend," to "sort-of-famous", to "what movie was she in?") candidly sharing poignant views of life in the entertainment industry and how their career decisions affected their personal growth, relationships, parenting, self-esteem and identity.

Whoopi frequently steals the show with her salty, no-holds-barred looks at aging, body image, race and working motherhood, but it's Jane Fonda's appearance that may shock the viewer at first. Unlike the animated, Aerobicized™ Jane we remember from the 80's, the older Jane is formal, conservative and cautious as she discusses her retirement from Hollywood and her recollections of her finest moments in acting, which she describes as reaching "only eight, maybe ten times" in her 49 film-career. Many of the interviewees share both joyful and repellent anecdotes from their careers, including some distasteful, depersonalizing ones involving studio executives whose primary concern is not how well an actor can act, but how "f__k-able" she is, on and off-screen.

All these women are "Hollywood Survivors," some with active careers, others whose stars have all but fallen below the horizon. However, the film's namesake is the one that got away: Debra Winger went into a youthful, self-imposed retirement after a string of box-office hits including Urban Cowboy and An Officer and a Gentleman, and here she makes a rare onscreen appearance to talk to Arquette about "quitting while she was ahead" and the reasons behind her decision.

The fact that Rosanna Arquette is herself a 'Hollywood insider' gives this empowering and unsensationalized portrait familiar depth and relevance, and her examination of the Hollywood icon mystique will make you reconsider what it means to be beautiful and famous, as well as disposable and commodified, by the powerful entertainment industry.

¿Donde es el Blogroll™? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Fellow blogeurs, fear not - the Blogroll is not gone, but has for the time being been relocated to reside on a post rather than the main farkleberries page. Why?

It appears that Blogrolling™ was having some server trouble yesterday, and the result was that pages containing Blogrolling Javascript took ages to load. You can visit my Blogroll by clicking here (the code has been placed in a post dated January 1, 2004), or by scrolling down the right-had sidebar and following the link in the "blogroll" box.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Movie Unreview: Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Sex,* But Were Afraid to Ask 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Every once in a while instead of renting a new release at the video store, I'll take a gamble and pick an old classic I've never seen before. This week I decided to get Woody Allen's 1972 id-exploring ensemble farce, Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Sex,* But Were Afraid to Ask.

Let's just say...it hasn't aged very well, and it's little droopy in the trousers. But then again, look at Woody Allen.

In the intervening 32 years, the impertinent questions answered in Allen's bawdy vignettes are no longer the domain of dogeared paperbacks in the back rows of the bookstore, but glare eye-level from every women's magazine at the grocery checkout aisle: "Do Aphrodisiacs Work?" "Are Transvestites Homosexual?" and "Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Achieving Orgasm?" These burning questions once reddened cheeks at theaters everywhere, but remember, these were the Nixon years.

The funniest bits? "What's My Perversion?" - a mock TV game show spoof of "What's My Line?" complete with fake commercials, featuring a young Regis Philbin as a panelist; Burt Reynolds and Tony Randall as white-coated control room supervisors inside a man's brain during a hot date (with Allen dressed as a hapless "gun-shy" sperm, afraid of where he might be ejected - on a ceiling, or heaven forbid, "what if this is a homosexual encounter?"), and finally, an absurdist Eurocinema spoof in which Allen complains about his new wife's frigidity to anyone and everyone who will listen. He's hilarious as the shady "Latin lover," speaking in subtitled Italian with a Brooklyn accent.

The w[u]rst? Gene Wilder as a sheep-obsessed physician who ends up on Skid Row chugging Woolite™ in the horrible, misnamed segment "What is Sodomy?" You'll never watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory the same way again. Equally bizarre is a pre-Rocky Horror Frankenstein groaner with Allen as a "Brad" to a young blonde's "Janet," featuring a 50-foot-high milk-spurting breast unleashed upon an innocent town by a mad sex-research scientist.

See this if you must, but bring some aspirin: for your head, not for between your knees, as in the contraceptive method Ann Landers once suggested to young women in the 1970's.

Baby, we have come a long way.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004
The Franklin Ace 1000 Computer: haXX0r h15t0r7 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
This morning I was having a pleasant flashback to my early days of computing. The year was 1983, and I had my first real hands-on experience using personal computers at Salmon River High School in Fort Covington, NY under the tutelage of two fantastic teachers, Mr. Gene Childs and Mr. George Emery. They've probably both retired from teaching at this point, but they really inspired me to want to learn math and computing.

Back then, this was a rare and delightful thing: a rural classroom filled with about 40 Franklin Ace 1000 computers - self-contained units, not just "dumb terminals" - so each student could work at their own machine. Each one of these Apple clones had a 12" green-phosphor monitor, a 1MHz CPU processor, and boasted a whopping 64Kb of RAM. Impressive, non? All this for a mere $1049, with a 5-inch floppy drive only $479 extra, plus the interface card. That's a lot of cash for what ended up being a pile of scrap metal and cadmium contamination. Unfortunately, the Franklin Computer company eventually lost a lawsuit launched by Apple for copyright infringement.

The computer lab was one of the "hot spots" of the school, even more popular than the gym or the outdoor smoking lounge (Yes, we had a smoking lounge. This was 1983, and smokes could be seen hanging from many a lip). During any study hall or free period, it would be packed with teens (mostly geekish boys) playing text-based or simple graphic games and writing programs, their shiny new cassette Walkmans blaring Duran Duran or Quiet Riot into earphones. Remember any of these names? Broderbund's Lode Runner™, (the original) Castle Wolfenstein™, XYWrite™, RearGuard™, and any number of text-based BASIC versions of Dungeons and Dragons™, many homebrewed.

Wow. That memory makes me smile. This was the genesis of the global Revenge of the Nerds: the first time in high school history that we geeks could in some way claim superiority over the "popular" kids. Sometimes I would be so obsessed with writing BASIC I would go to sleep at night or daydream in numbered lines of code: "0 START 10 OPEN DOOR 20 STEP INSIDE 25 SUBROUTINE: IF DOOR IS LOCKED...." I'm not kidding.

Who knew then where it all would lead? This was where the Revolution began, in the form of a keyboard and a green screen. Man, do I feel old. I still have two boxes filled with 5-inch floppies of those programs. ;) Sure, there are older systems; the Altair 8800's, the Heathkits - but that was before my time, and with all due respect, before the personal computer was accessible to the general public. When kids start to get their hands on a technology, imagination takes over.

Monday, March 22, 2004
Canada, O Canada, Toke Heartily To Thee - or, McBlunts™ 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The latest news from the Great White North: British Columbia is about to undertake a pilot program, modeled after a similar one in the Netherlands, to sell marijuana for medical purposes in pharmacies:
From the Associated Press in Toronto: "Currently, there are 78 medical users in Canada permitted to buy government marijuana, which is grown in Flin Flon, Manitoba. An ounce sells for about $113, and the marijuana is sent by courier to patients or their doctors.

The Canadian government also has suggested it may decriminalize marijuana, a move criticized by U.S. drug and border agencies, which threaten more intrusive searches of cross-border travelers. Some patients report that marijuana alleviates the pain and nausea associated with AIDS and other diseases. But marijuana's status as a medicinal drug has not been formally approved, [Robin] O'Brien [a consulting pharmacist] said. 'There's no pharmaceutical company that's going to come forward to take it through the regulatory process because they can't get a patent on it, so it's kind of a limbo drug,' he said."
Is Canada going to hell in a handbasket, or taking a brave step forward? It's a bit of a tough call, and both sides of the argument could take counsel from the disciplines of philosophy and economics, rather than simply looking to medicine or the criminal justice system for guidance.

When I say "limbo" drug, I mean that for decades marijuana has been the most widely used non-regulated untaxed drug (read: sales provide no revenue to the government), trapped between tacit social and cultural acceptance and outward illegality. All of us know someone that uses or has used marijuana, and perhaps someone who has incurred the wrath of the legal system as a consequence.

But, is cannabis that much worse of a drug than cigarettes or alcohol? The physiological and psychological effects of marijuana fall somewhere in the continuum of tobacco and alcohol, both "legal" drugs. Although medical evidence shows marijuana has a lingering physiological effect, and THC and other cannabinoids remain in body tissues longer that nicotine and alcohol byproducts, "tar" from cigarettes can also stay in the lungs for months, even years, giving lie to the claim that cigarettes are somehow "safer" than marijuana. However, unlike tobacco and alcohol, both of which enjoy a privileged status by virtue of their longstanding accepted use in our culture and their taxability, marijuana has been uniformly criminalized, with penalties fluctuating between harsh to lenient depending on community, the status of the defendant, and the prevailing political climate.

Many opponents of legalization say that because marijuana is a so-called "gateway drug," it is crucial that we keep it illegal lest we imply social acceptance of "harder" drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Personally, I take issue with the idea that marijuana is a true "gateway drug," the conventional wisdom that once an individual tries marijuana, it is an inevitable slippery downward slope to full-blown hard drug addiction.

I think the truth is that marijuana shares this more obvious connection with harder drugs: unless cultivated at home, it is only available from (illegal) drug dealers, therefore if a person takes the trouble to find a dealer who will sell him or her marijuana, the "gates" are then open to sampling and purchasing other "hard" drugs from those dealers. The "gateway" effect of marijuana is arguably more literal than simply describing a lowered inhibition for trying illegal drugs in general.

So why has marijuana been the scapegoat of the legal system for years? Part of the reason is probably our work-oriented European-American culture's disdain for substances that make us want to work less, and for hallucinogenic substances in general, which carry an aura of paganism and "Third World"-ness. By contrast, legal drugs like cigarettes and tobacco have the all-American air of grit and virility, and function as complementary drugs that help us put our noses to the corporate grindstone and relax afterwards.

Tobacco the stress-reliever has helped the common worker survive the workday for generations, only relatively recently coming under fire for its health risks. Its use is perceived as tough, macho, virile and sophisticated - hence the stereotypes of the hardworking, butt-puffing businessman, soldier, and the "Marlboro Man."

Alcohol is a similar story. While booze doesn't help anyone get work done for the most part, it still serves the important economic function as end-of-the-day tranquilizer and lubricant of social discourse, helping smooth many a major deal following a two or three-Martini "business lunch." Up and down - light up, work; drink up, chill out. Repeat as necessary.

But, then there's marijuana - what images does it conjure? 1930's "viper dens," Afro-American Jazz and Blues, the 1960's and 70's eras of free love and "loose morals," all the way to today's Rasta and Hip-hop culture, "blunts" and "chronic" and indolent slackers. All these stereotypes all have one thing in common: they fly in the face of the "Protestant Work Ethic" and American majority culture, and I think this is the true reason marijuana carries such unacceptable legal and emotional karma in the United States. Would society as we know it collapse if marijuana was legalized? I honestly don't think it would.

By legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, we would automatically make the last weeks or months of life more comfortable for those people suffering from illnesses amenable to use of marijuana as an antiemetic, appetite stimulant or antianxiety agent. If we went further and legalized marijuana a la tobacco or alcohol, we would still have the problem of some people abusing marijuana as a drug that somewhat reduces their "social potential," but we could deal with that problem the way we deal with abuse of other legal drugs. Certainly, no one wants an additional social burden of substance abusers, but placing common marijuana users in prison is hardly an acceptable trade-off in terms of financial and social expense.

I also suspect that the number of actual active marijuana users would rise initially before leveling off and subsiding as some curious first-time users sampled the drug, while chronic users would remain chronic users, and still others would discontinue use as the drug loses its "outlaw appeal."

Do we need a new intoxicant on the market? Probably not, but the fact is marijuana has been on the [black] market for generations. While the same can be said of more addictive narcotics such as heroin and cocaine, the social effects of these "harder" drugs are far more detrimental than the recreational use of marijuana, which unlike alcohol and tobacco, does not produce physical addiction. Recent history has shown that levying harsh fines and prison sentences on individual marijuana users has not been an effective means of eliminating its use, regardless of the amount of tax money thrown into the "war on drugs." I believe increasingly stiffer penalties are a poor substitute for the potential tax revenue the legalization and regulation of marijuana could provide. While the U.S. does not have a full model in place for policy that could be implemented to regulate legalized marijuana (and current political trends are hardly favorable for such a shift), we have tobacco and alcohol regulation models as reference points.

Perhaps the true dynamics are these: Canada is using current American conservative policy as a leverage counterpoint - what else would explain the timing of that nation's recent implementation of such uncharacteristically liberal social policy change?

Meanwhile, the real reasons America continues to refuse to legalize marijuana are only partly ideological, but rather, appear to be economic in nature. Potential marijuana producers and manufacturers cannot patent or market the drug to generate sky-high shareholder profits as with proprietary pharmaceuticals, and our litigious climate would open these companies to untold future lawsuits - hardly an appealing incentive to corporate America. If corporations will not step in, who would grow, distribute and sell legalized marijuana in the United States? The government? Small farmers and growers' cooperatives? Would growers and distributors be offered agricultural subsidies or immunity from future lawsuits? Will someone start marketing McBlunts?

Friday, March 19, 2004
Blogger™ Recent Posts Code Revisited 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
If you've seen this post with instructions for how to create a simple "Recent Posts" linked sidebar list with Blogger™ basic, here's a variation that offers something extra for frequent updaters - it separates the recent posts with a date header divider:
[div class="css_class"][strong][BlogDateHeader][$BlogDateHeaderDate$][/BlogDateHeader][/strong][/div]
[$BlogItemAuthorNickname$]: [strong][a href="[$BlogItemArchiveFileName$]#[$BlogItemNumber$]"][BlogItemTitle]
[$BlogItemTitle$][a name="[$BlogItemNumber$]"][/BlogItemTitle][/a][/strong][br]
Simply substitute "<>" for "[]" as detailed previously, and replace the definition "css_class" with a class name, and include the declarations of your choice in your style sheet; for example,
.sidetitle {
font-family:verdana, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
font-size: 11px;
font-weight: normal;
line-height: 140%;
text-align: center;
background: #222222;
border-top: solid 1px #666666;
border-left: solid 1px #666666;
border-right: solid 1px #666666;
border-bottom: none;
Of course, you can use any style declarations that suit your website's appearance. If you're not yet using CSS, you can also enclose the date header using a table, in similar fashion. An example of the code in action can be seen on farkleberriesUSA.

News Flash: Rhea Co., Tennessee Reverses Gay Ban 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
This just in from The Advocate:
The [Rhea County, Tenn.] board voted 8-0 on Thursday to rescind its Tuesday action. The commissioners declined to comment as deputies escorted them to and from the meeting, where they overturned the earlier vote and quickly adjourned. Fritts said he advised the commissioners that they could not bar gays and lesbians from Rhea County or make them subject to criminal charges. The U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down laws regarding same-sex sodomy as a violation of adults' constitutional right to privacy.

Commissioner J.C. Fugate, whose initiated the Tuesday motion, also made the motion to rescind it Thursday. In a discussion about gays and same-sex marriage at the earlier meeting, Fugate had asked the county attorney to find a way to "keep them out of here." Twelve-year-old Caitlin Kinney, part of a noisy crowd at the courthouse Thursday night, was disappointed by the reversal. The seventh-grader said she doesn't want homosexuals in the community. "It's not a Christian thing," said Kinney, identifying herself as a Baptist.

Rhea County, which is located about 35 miles north of Chattanooga, annually commemorates the 1925 trial at which Scopes, a high school teacher, was convicted of teaching evolution. The verdict was reversed on a technicality, and the trial became the subject of the play and movie Inherit the Wind.

Tennessee Waltz: No Gays Allowed 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I've said this before...but, ahem...what century is this, again?
From Yahoo News/PlanetOut: "Rhea County [TN] Commissioner J.C. Fugate introduced [a] measure during a commissioners' meeting on Tuesday, asking for an amendment to Tennessee's criminal code so homosexuals can be charged with crimes against nature. The audience applauded the motion, and the Rhea County commissioners approved the request 8-0.

Fugate also asked the county attorney to find the best way to ban homosexuals from living within the county. That measure is scheduled for a vote during next month's commission meeting.

'We need to keep them out of here,' Fugate said of homosexuals, telling the Associated Press he was reacting to recent headlines featuring same-sex marriages."
Oh, by the way, Rhea County made headlines back in 1925 when they mounted the infamous Scopes "Monkey Trial" condemning the teaching of evolution. Here's Margaret Cho's take on Rhea County, Tennessee's proposed "no gays allowed" policy:
This is like Salem, but this time, it's Gay-lem. Why are we trying to do a revival of "The Crucible?" Did Goody Proctor witness a man professing fuchsia the color he could absolutely not live without? Did he know for a fact that he was getting manicures AND pedicures once a month, which is proof enough? Is he being burned at the stake? The witch hunts proved to be murderous genocide of innocent women, a disgusting stain on the flag, which you weren't ever able to SHOUT out. So why do you think that this isn't going to leave another mark?

Crimes of Passion 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
It had to happen eventually: a Statesboro, Georgia couple were arrested and charged with simple battery after a heated theological dispute following their viewing of the film The Passion of the Christ.
From CNN: "According to a police report, Melissa Davidson suffered injuries on her arm and face, while her husband [Sean] had a scissors stab wound on his hand and his shirt was ripped off. He also allegedly punched a hole in a wall."
Perhaps they missed the point of the film...WWJD? indeed.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004
Blog Spotlight: Gaper's Block 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
This week's Blog Spotlight belongs to a site I've been visiting over the past few months, the quintessentially Chicago Gaper's Block. This group blog's name refers to the phenomenon of annoying highway traffic delays caused by curious drivers slowing down to stare at a car accident: you just can't take your eyes off it, and frequently you whack into the bumper of the vehicle in front of you in the process, amplifying the effect of...Gaper's Block.

Gaper's Block is halfway between a 'zine and a blog, with an information-dense-but-esthetically-pleasing retrostyle 3-column layout that's jammed tighter than the Dan Ryan Expressway with links, views and news from Our Fair Second City. It's a must for wired-in Chicagoans, but it's also fascinating urban voyeurism for those not fortunate enough to call Chicago home as well.

I'm only half-kidding about that last part, dammit.

Excerpt, from Gaper's Block's One Good Meal cooking column, "Big Fish, Little Fish, Fillet in Your Broiler" by Cinnamon Cooper:
First rule of cooking fish: You don't talk about cooking fish. You just do it.

Second rule of cooking fish: Keep It Simple Stupid! Most fish taste best with a minimum of stuff done to them.

Third rule of cooking fish: Buy fish that doesn't smell like fish, or bleach, or other chemicals. Don't be afraid to ask to smell a piece of fish in the counter before having it wrapped. If you get a fuss about this, go someplace else. I've eaten bad fish, you don't wanna do it.

Fourth rule of cooking fish: If you're going to keep fish in your fridge for more than a day or so before cooking it, freeze it. Fish needs to stay at 32 degrees to stay fresh, while most meats are fine at 40 degrees -- which just happens to be the temperature most refrigerators are kept at. Your other option is to put the fish in a zipper bag, and put it inside another zipper bag, fill that bag with ice, and put it in the back of your fridge. Most fish that spoils does so at home, not at the store.

Fifth rule of cooking fish: Clean your broiling pan.
UPDATE: Very appropriate advice, but it makes me think about the nuances of language.

Isn't there something illogical about the fact we're not supposed to buy fish that smells like fish? After all, we buy oranges that smell like oranges, coffee that smells like coffee, and so on. So, when we say something "smells like fish," what we really mean is that is smells like rotten fish.

So, Last Night I Dreamt of a Buddhist Temple... 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Have I ever told you about my recurring "Buddhist temple" dream? I had another one last night (the third in the past year, I think). I'm not certain exactly why I have this dream every few months, as I don't spend much time around Buddhist temples or monks. In the dream, on a city street I see a beautiful Asian temple built of glossy dark wood, with an anthropomorphic entrance made of dark green jade. I looks like a miniature model blown up to life-size.

I speak (do I speak? Or do I simply interact? I don't recall words being exchanged) with a shaven-headed Asian monk in an orange-yellow robe who gives me a few items: a beaded necklace made of golden-yellow semi-precious stone, a small silver metal amulet bearing blue and red symbols of a stylized human ear with a question mark inscribed in it, and a paper card depicting a human head in profile with symbols showing waves of sound radiating from the mouth and throat areas.

It's a fascinating dream because of all the rich symbolism; I'd love to analyze it. I know consciously that yellow is a color sacred to Buddhism, but the card and amulet are particularly interesting, as they symbolize communication and its reception. I don't think it's a "daily residue" dream, although we did discuss some Karl Marx in my business philosophy class, and I do live several blocks north of a Vietnamese Buddhist center on Argyle Street.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004
The Perfect CSS Book, Revisited 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
While I'm sure there is no one perfect book on the topic for everyone, I think I have finally found the CSS guide that's juuust right for me.

It's called Cascading Style Sheets: Separating Content from Presentation (by Owens Briggs, Steven Champeon, Eric Costello, Matt Peterson et al., a Friends of Ed/Glasshaus book). It starts where it should, at the very beginning, explaining exactly how and why various web layout and styles standards developed, and the authors have a rather common-sense logical argument - if designers today use and adopt CSS techniques properly, there will be far less cobbling, kludging and problematic code deprecation as future web standards evolve.

If you don't wish to read about CSS origins and theory, simply skip ahead for easy-to-follow (but technically detailed) explanations of how to use Cascading Style Sheets, as well as numerous examples of eye-catching creatively adapted CSS pages complete with code and functional details. However, this is much more than a color-by-numbers guide to CSS. Briggs and company have assembled a talented crew of co-authors and contributors who've made this book invaluable to users of varying expertise levels, from personal users customizing pre-assembled blog templates and web pages to commercial site developers. It's farkleberries recommended.

Plus, Glasshaus has another book that looks really useful: Web Graphics for Non Designers.

Movie Unreview: The Passion of the Christ 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
After seeing The Passion of the Christ last night, I have to say I have rarely been as disturbed and angry with a movie as I was last night. This is one of the most pornographically violent, exploitative and misanthropic tales I've had the opportunity of seeing, and I've seen some pretty nasty strips of celluloid.

It's a film about the Redeemer, itself with no redeeming qualities. Before you reply, "But, that's what's in the Bible! That's how the events need to be portrayed!" I could describe to you many scenes in TPOTC having little or no basis in Scripture. This is the core of my dislike of the film: Mel Gibson plays fast and loose with Biblical text with a Hollywood sensationalist's eye, in the process coloring Scripture with his personal beliefs and prejudices and foists it off to the public as "Gospel truth". Seattle Post-Intellgencer's William Arnold points out,
Gibson is less a would-be martyr than a provocateur. There's something in his nature that delights in being abrasive and politically incorrect. He loves to taunt feminists. He loves to light up a cigarette in places where it's forbidden. He's a charismatic, persuasive movie star with a lot of power, but he's also an impressionable man who likes to surprise people by taking on ambitious projects that would seem to be beyond his range of expertise -- such as playing "Hamlet" or directing a big historical epic like "Braveheart." Whatever else he is, he's a natural showman and a born salesman who loves to manipulate people in general, and the press in particular. And with "The Passion of the Christ," he's done this on a scale that would do C.B. DeMille or P.T. Barnum proud.
In addition, I am quite surprised that a movie this gratuitously bloody made it past the MPAA censors. If a film with this much gleeful bloodshed and sadism had been made about other shameful chapters of human existence - say, two hours of mean-spirited leering at flayed, bleeding, oozing flesh of the Salem Witch Trials, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Holocaust, the Inquisition, it never would have made it to theaters unedited. Never.

For sheer gore, it's up there with Hellraiser, the Texas Chainaw Massacre or any Nightmare on Elm Street, only more realistic - and some people are taking their children to see this. I simply can't see how any loving, sensible parent, no matter how devout, would have a child watch this. Unfortunately, I think this will be the work for which Mel Gibson goes down in Hollywood history. Critic Jeffrey Westhoff of the Crystal Lake, IL Northwest Herald details,
With 'The Passion of the Christ' Mel Gibson doesn't redefine the religious film so much as he redefines overkill. Opening his film with Christ's agony in Gethsemane, Gibson focuses almost entirely on Jesus' brutal twelve-hour march to the crucifix.

To remind the faithful that Christ suffered and died for our sins is laudatory. But Gibson goes too far to prove his point. If Jesus (played by Jim Caviezel) actually received the amount of punishment dished out in this film, he would have been dead three times over before arriving at Calvary. Christ's horrible and excruciating death wasn't enough for Gibson and writing collaborator Benedict Fitzgerald. They find ways to make crucifixion even more sadistic: After nailing Jesus to the cross, the Romans drop him flat on his face a few times before driving the cross into the ground.

Earlier, after the Romans have finished scourging him, Jesus looks like the result of an explosion in a butcher shop. The brutality begins right away. As soon as they arrest Jesus in Gethsemane, the temple guards repeatedly belt him in the face, then drop him off a bridge and dangle him from the chains that bind him. These preliminary beatings do not occur in any of the four Gospels.

After his trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high priests aren't satisfied with simply condemning Jesus as a blasphemer. They spit in his face and crack him across the skull with their gold-tipped canes. They encourage the mob to pound him, too.
Yes, the film appears to be period-accurate in terms of dialogue, language, and costuming and scenery. Yes, I can see how the film is intended to portray the love of Mary for her son, of the disciples for their teacher, and the selfless love of Jesus for mankind - even the worst kind of men. However, to those who say this film is "what the world needs now...love, sweet love" - I say, the world does not need this type of inflammatory, excoriating propaganda marketed in the name of faith and Christian love. Not ever, but especially not now.

Newsweek's David Ansen sums it up well:
Instead of being moved by Christ's suffering, or awed by his sacrifice, I felt abused by a filmmaker intent on punishing an audience, for who knows what sins. Others may well find a strong spirituality in "The Passion"—I can't pretend to know what this movie looks like to a believer - but it was Gibson's fury, not his faith, that left a deep, abiding aftertaste.
Related: TPOTC: Drink This in remembrance of Me and Religion and Politics! Aristide, Jesus and the Dead Sea Film Cans.

Monday, March 15, 2004
TPOTC: Drink This in Remembrance of Me 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
So...tonight my friend and I are going to see The Passion of the Christ, because, darn it, it's a Monday and the crowds are less crowd-y. Via Kottke.org, I found the Childcare Action Project's CAPAlert analysis of the film's W.I.S.D.O.M. quotient (but take note, the article is actually a Christian homily disguised as a film review). Now, the fact that some parents would even consider taking younger children to see this film boggles the mind, but that's a subject for another blog post.

Among their exhaustive list of the film's objectionable scenes, I did find something rather amusing: they cited the film for its Drugs and Alcohol content (the "D" in W.I.S.D.O.M.), for its portrayal of "Drinking Wine, repeatedly."

"No, dear, we can't take junior to see The Passion of the Christ. It's not the flesh-ripping, limb-nailing, gut-spearing and whip-scourging that bothers me.

It's all those long-haired people drinking wine."

Sedna: The Tenth Planet? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Newsflash from the far edges of our solar system: NASA is reportedly set to announce today the recent discovery of a 1,700 kilometer diameter object beyond the orbit of Pluto, provisionally named "Sedna" after the goddess of Inuit legend who created the creatures of the sea. Sedna could eventually become the tenth official planet. It's been a long time since we've welcomed a new member to our planetary family, 1930 to be exact.

However, don't expect a manned spaceflight to Sedna any time soon: its temperature never rises above -400°F, making it the coldest known body in the solar system.

The Sound of One Hand Telling Time 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
You've heard the classic Zen koan, "if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" Well...here is a clock that tells time only when you're looking at it: The Looking Clock, via Angermann2.

Friday, March 12, 2004
Religion and Politics! Aristide, Jesus, and the Dead Sea Film Cans 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Some random thoughts on a Friday afternoon, inspired by a visit to a friend's blog, listening to NPR this morning, and a Monday movie date to see The Passion of the Christ with a friend:

Ousted Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide is still insisting he was kidnapped by US forces at gunpoint and forcibly taken out of the country. Could the reason be that he wants to "save face" with the people of Haiti? If he has any aspirations to return to power in Haiti, by claiming to be kidnapped he would come across as the unfortunate victim of a "bully nation," rather than someone who willingly allowed himself to be spirited out of the country to save his own skin. Thoughts?

Frankly, I am a bit disturbed by the number of people who are holding up Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ as some sort of canonical religious work. Folks, it'a movie. Repeat after me: m-o-v-i-e. From some of the things I'm reading, some people are behaving as though Mel had uncovered the long-lost Dead Sea Film Cans portraying Christ's actual crucifixion. Certainly, a film about the event that is that graphic will stir up plenty of intense emotions, especially for devout Christians who have pictured these events all their lives. That's what good movies do. But let's not get carried away.

I saw a quote posted recently to the comments section of my friend's blog, Multifarious Musings.

It said, "you can't pick and choose what parts of the Bible to believe - you either believe and follow all of it, or none of it."

From what I've learned about theology and philosophy, the original 'Bible' was the Hebrew Torah - and it contained many more Commandments than the 10 we assign such importance to today. Many of the teachings attributed to Jesus in the New Testament were essentially "picked and chosen" and modified from its existing 613 mitzvoth, or commandments. Some of these 613 were apodeictic, or absolute mitzvoth - and others were assigned varying degrees of essentiality, and are more appropriately termed "good works" ("do a mitzvah"). So even the "absolute" laws of the Bible were selected from many contained in a far older document. Looking back in history, Jesus would have been seen as a rebel religious leader who preached a radically new interpretation of then-accepted Hebrew doctrine - he "picked and chose" which parts of the Torah he felt were essential: obviously this would not sit well with the establishment of the time. For that "heresy" and that perceived threat to the exisiting, fragile balance of power between Rome and the Jewish nation, Jesus became a political prisoner and was tortured to death for his beliefs and actions. He undoubtedly wasn't the only individual of his time to die in such a way, but his name and the circumstances of his execution are legendary today.

However, let's us not forget that there are many people around the world today who are also making that ultimate sacrifice, by being imprisoned and tortured for their political or religious beliefs; many in ways as gruesome and gut-wrenching as those depicted in Mel Gibson's movie. Who do they die for? Will it ever end? Will we make films about their final hours? Let's remember where this movie really came from: the Hollywood moneymaking machine.

Thursday, March 11, 2004
Gendered Pronouns? Some Antics 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Turns out I have been committing a grammatical no-no for years, in using the gender-neutral plural "they" as a substitute for the more correct phrase "he or she." Though I often shy away from using one word when three would suffice, I suspect the real reason is my longstanding aversion to highly gender-specific language. (No, I'm not advocating that we switch to neutralities like shis, shim, hizzer, cowperson, or heaven forbid, Sh[e]it.)

I stand chastened: Crescat Sententia neatly analyzes the argument.

Aquarius? Moi? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Your Reverse Astrology Results:

Red is your most probable sign and Blue is your least probable sign. The scores are from 0 (not you at all) to 100 (dead on match).
Aries Mar 21 to April 19 54
Taurus April 20 to May 20 64
Gemini May 21 to June 21 57
Cancer June 22 to July 22 45
Leo July 23 to Aug 22 58
Virgo Aug 23 to Sep 22 59
Libra Sep 23 to Oct 22 52
Scorpio Oct 23 to Nov 21 50
Sagittarius Nov 22 to Dec 21 61
Capricorn Dec 22 to Jan 19 52
Aquarius Jan 20 to Feb 18 67
Pisces Feb 19 to Mar 20 60
According to our analysis, you are a Aquarius, Jan 20 to Feb 18. But you are certainly not a Cancer, June 22 to July 22. You claim to be a Capricorn, but you are simply in error. Please consult your parents as to your actual birth date.
Thanks to Decaf Venti No-Whip Mocha!

Blog Spotlight: Angermann2.com 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I'd like to start a new feature on farkleberries to spotlight interesting, unusual or noteworthy blogs I've come across. While my usual course of action is to pop the URLs into my blogroll, I think new additions may occasionally get lost in the shuffle. Today, I'd like to direct your attention to Angermann2.com, a introspective and visually striking blog. I admire how Thomas has used content and style to create a cutting-edge look (oversize fonts, highlighted links and big graphics), and his posts are intriguing, cerebral, and "plugged in" big time.

Site Description: "a (choose your description) about AI, art, architecture, audio, cartography, computing, conference, default, ethnography, haptic, mobile, mundane, retro, social, space-place, spatial, swarming, urban, walking, wearing, wi-fi and stuff."

When I first saw the site, I thought my browser was set incorrectly, but after a moment I realized I had an ingrained set of expectations of what I thought a blog should look like. But then, why should a blog look a certain way? Once you get accustomed to the nontraditional appearance of his page, it's quite appealing in its machinelike, pop-art style. He's also done something very creative with the Blogger header ad: instead of making it go away, he's turned it into a design element.

Via Angermann2, two stories that are right up my alley - on Ethno Log: XML, Stylesheets, and Maya Culture, and Inca May Have Used Computer Code, on UNEXPLAINED: In Search of Truth.

Dang, that's good stuff! Watch this space - I'll try to spotlight at least one blog each week. If you'd like to suggest a site for Blog Spotlight, just drop me a note via the commenting system and I'll have a look-see. Of course, don't forget to visit the many fine sites currently housed on the farkleberries blogroll for your blogulating pleasure!

Tuesday, March 09, 2004
"Recent Posts" Sidebar Code for Blogger Basic 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
UPDATE: If you're a frequent blog updater, see this post for a variation that features a date header divider.

This is a strange story. At about 3:00 this morning I awoke with a headache and heartburn. Normally, my first instinct would be to stroll into the bathroom, prepare an Alka-Seltzer, and go back to sleep. Not last night, I woke up and I had a wild idea about blogging.

Before you say, "Lenka, get a life!" - it occurred to me that there should be a simple means of generating Blogger™ code to create a list of recent posts, including titles and links to the posts. Then it hit me, like five-alarm chili: the code was already there, in the template. It just needed some tweaking.

I rewrote the Blogger template code between the [blogger][/blogger] tags, and used the permalink URLs to generate links utilizing Blogger's current title fields. This new "mini-post" code can be placed in the template to sit on your sidebar, and replicates the current posts on your blog, without the timedate or post body (although I am sure these could be incorporated somehow as well). There doesn't seem to be a problem using two [Blogger][/Blogger] code areas in the template, but try it first in preview for yourself. The result can be seen on the sidebar - click on any title, and you are instantly taken to that post. Here is the prototype code snippet - just replace the '[]' with '<>', and change the font definitions to your taste, or remove the font tags if you're using CSS:
Version 1 (with byline):

[font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=1]
[a href="[$BlogItemArchiveFileName$]#[$BlogItemNumber$]"][BlogItemTitle]
[$BlogItemTitle$] [a name="[$BlogItemNumber$]"]  [/BlogItemTitle][/a]
by [$BlogItemAuthorNickname$][/font][br]
Variations might include omitting the "posted by" reference if only one individual posts on your blog; I used the author nickname field on my group blog, farkleberriesUSA.

PLEASE NOTE: this code is primarily intended as a simple method of displaying recent posts using Blogger™ Basic's data fields, because the system does not include it as a built-in feature. If you're familiar with other systems' data fields (title, time/date and permalinks) it should be possible to modify the code to use them. Most bloggers I have heard from have not had any problems with the code, or needed only minor modifications. However, the code shown here may not work if you use a third party plug-in (such as W.bloggar) to create your posts.

Unless you are using a framed sidebar (with your post permalinks pointing to a separate frame), try to make sure that the "recent posts" appears lower in the page code than your first instance of [Blogger][/Blogger] tags. Reason? The permalinks will always bring up the first instance of the linked text - if your "recent posts" list appears higher on the page, you may end up viewing the link that appears on the list, rather than the actual post. Also, keep in mind that Blogger basic defines the number (or days) of posts displayed "globally" for your blog - for example, if you set your Blogger formatting to display 7 days' posts per page, only those 7 days of recent posts will show up on your sidebar. If your Blogger post title includes an URL to an outside page, that URL will also automatically appear in the Recent Posts area, and even multiple links in the title field should work.

UPDATE v2: Brian from The Olive Press suggests another handy use of the recent posts code:
"I've discovered a neat, unexpected side benefit. If you archive your posts by month (which I do), the Recent Posts section will be specific for each archive page. So, if I go to October, my sidebar for that page links to the title of every post in that month, which is pretty cool."
Thanks, Brian!

UPDATE v3: Some Blogger users may need to omit the
[a name="[$BlogItemNumber$]"]
portion to avoid generating an extra name declaration in the recent posts list. If you try the first version of this code and find that your post titles do not appear as hyperlinks, use this version instead:
Version 2 (no byline):

[a href="[$BlogItemArchiveFileName$]#[$BlogItemNumber$]"][BlogItemTitle]

Monday, March 08, 2004
Blogging Books - and, In Search Of: The Perfect CSS Book 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
This weekend, by accident, I found an excellent book on blogging during a search for the perfect CSS guidebook. First, let me tell you about the CSS Book Search. It's actually very hard to find The. Perfect. CSS. Book.. This is a case where I've had to go to three actual bookstores and leaf through books, rather than buying online.

Why? Many books I examined were two to five years old, an eternity in the technology world. Some CSS books focus on the design aspect too heavily or spend too much time on the more arcane uses like Aural CSS and speechreading; some are too dry and technical and lack practical coding examples, while others are so basic that they aren't suitable for users with intermediate previous Web experience (Look! You can make a text box with borders! Now, let's make RED borders and BIG text! You get the idea).

Like Goldilocks' porridge, I still haven't found the one that's juuust right! - but I'm getting close. Perhaps I shouldn't be this picky, but at $30 to $50 bucks a pop, I'd like something more utilitarian than a future doorstop, which is exactly what happened to my $ 69.95 Windows 98 Bible last year.

Anyone have a recommendation for a design-oriented, intermediate-level book on Cascading Style Sheets? I would really welcome your advice!

But I digress. The blogging book I was initially referring to was Rebecca Blood's The Weblog Handbook (2002, Perseus Publishing). A slim neon-green tome, this invaluable book is packed with practical advice and insights on starting, maintaining and growing a successful blog, from a writer's perspective. Unlike another superb guide, Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content by Biz Stone (2003, New Riders), Blood's book doesn't focus so much on the technology or mechanics of blogging per se, but rather on the juncture of form and function and maximizing content via the unique nature of blogging.

Think of it as the Dr. Spock Book for your blogchildren - I don't know how I've blogged for three years without it!

Movie Unreview: Lost In Translation 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Regular visitors at farkleberries may remember one of my side projects, a movie-review blog named Reeling It All In. After trying to keep up with all the current films and posting reviews of everything I saw in the theater or rented, I realized Reeling... had reached the point of diminishing returns, for the simple fact that there are thousands of wannabe Roger Eberts like myself on the Web. The hours-spent-writing-to-readers ratio was just a bit too high for comfort, and I concluded that my energies were better spent blogging than reviewing films. However, I still like to post about movies on occasion, so I now present you with a movie un-review:

Lost In Translation is a quiet gem of a movie, with Bill Murray as a has-been movie star reduced to shilling Suntory whiskey in Japan, and Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte, the alienated young wife of a jet-set photographer. Helmed by Coppola scion Sofia, the film dryly and humorously observes the permeating pain of cultural and existential isolation.

Murray's Bob Harris is using the Japan gig as an excuse to "take a vacation" from his marriage of 25 years, glimpsed in chilly faxes and phone calls from home consisting of remodeling questions ("I really love the burgundy carpet - but, whatever you want.") and pointed resentments couched as "well, the children miss their father..." No "I love you"s or "I miss you"s are exchanged: the relationship is purely business at this point. Charlotte's (Johansson) callow twenty-something husband (Giovanni Ribisi) is continually away at fashion shoots and club parties, leaving her to navigate the Ginza concrete jungle alone. She spends her days seeking beauty and peace in Japanese-only ikebana classes, and wistfully observing traditional weddings at a Zen garden.

The film shows us American culture warped through the lens of perhaps the other most pop-culture obsessed nation on the planet. It's a hilarious, not-too-pretty reflection, like the greenish, purple-splotched face that stares back at you in a fluorescent-lit motel room mirror. Murray stands out as the too-tall American action cowboy (literally, in an early scene where he's about a foot taller than all the Japanese businessmen sharing the elevator) in a land where nobody speaks his language, even the other Americans in town for various reasons. The only other human tuned in to his frequency is Charlotte, who casually buys Bob a drink at the hotel bar one evening, while her starstruck husband flirts with a starlet at their own table.

We continually wonder whether Charlotte and Bob's fast friendship will cross the line into a full-blown affair, but somehow it never does; what these two lonely souls are craving is genuine human connection, not mere erotic adventure. We see here an example that sometimes complete strangers can see us in finer focus than do "loved ones" whose affiliation needs reading glasses. Though Charlotte is young enough to be Bob's daughter, they forge an authentic bond: their planets circle and orbits feel the pull, and both emerge changed for the better. It's a really good movie, with a fascinating, unpredictably-unfolding plot. I'm sorry I missed it the first time around in theaters, but it's not too late to rent. Highly recommended: 4-and-a-half out of five whiskey glasses.

Thursday, March 04, 2004
Rainbow Over Rockefeller 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Seen in Hyde Park, Chicago, overlooking the University of Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel: a magnificent, full-arc double rainbow just before sunset (the double bow is faint in this shot, but you can see a hint of it above the main arc, toward the upper left corner of the image). The opposite side of the sky was ominously dark and stormy.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004
All You Need Is... 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Seen tonight in the front window of Marshall Field's on State and Randolph: nothing says love like your very own guillotine! Only $299.99 in matte silver, $49.99 extra for gold finish.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004
The Glass is Half Full...or Half Empty? Plus: Who the Martians Really Are! 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Big news from the Mars Rover expedition:
From CNN: "NASA scientists say the Mars rovers have found what they were looking for: Hard evidence that the red planet was once 'soaking wet'. 'We have concluded the rocks here were once soaked in liquid water,' said Steve Squyres of Cornell University['s Athena Project]. He's the principal investigator for the science instruments on Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit. 'The second question we've tried to answer: Were these rocks altered by liquid water? We believe definitively, yes,' said Squyres."
Call a pessimist, but I'm not that excited about the fact that Mars may have once had oceans: I'm more worried that that might mean our oceanic planet may eventually look like present-day Mars.

Here's a conspiracy theory for you: what if all those aliens flying around in UFO's are Martians that left that planet when its oceans dried out? Now they've been bothering us for years, because they couldn't find a better planet to set up shop. Earthlings, take note. Dang, I miss the X-Files. ;)

Monday, March 01, 2004
Spring Has Sprung, and the Music is Playin'... 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
This weekend, I finally gave in to my urges and purchased one of those little portable MP3 players - the ones that look like blobs of plastic with a couple of buttons and headphones sticking out; in fact, mine reminds me of the Pagoo™ - that little pre-DSL-World virtual answering machine that looked like a pager. The model I got was a Rio S10, a basic player that comes with a padded case, earbuds, software and matching USB cable.

Upside - it's light, easy-to-play, gives you at least 20-30 hours of music on a single alkaline AA battery (try that with a Walkman®) and the sound quality is very good, no matter how much you shake-rattle-or-roll, because the device has no moving parts. The downside? If you're not at least moderately computer-literate, you'll undoubtedly run into some downloading errors and media snags, but with a little trial and error (and a few computer reboots, but to be fair, the computer I used is a cobbled-together Old French Whore of a Dell) you'll get about 20 to 30 songs on the out-of-the-box device with enclosed 32Mb memory upgrade.

You also need to observe the correct order of switching-on and plugging-in: first, you need to start the Rio Music Manager software, then you plug the USB cable into the player, then insert the USB cable into a free slot on your computer, then finally, you turn on the player. Any deviation will result in the player not being recognized by the software. Also, if you attempt to download a corrupted music file to the player, you will create a "glitch" in the memory, requiring a full erase of the player, and restart of the downoad. The fact I mention trial-and-error is because there appears to be little detailed troubleshooting info on either the Rio website, or the online documentation provided with the S10.

Anyhoo, now I'm having fun downloading .mp3 and .wma tunes from my hard drive onto the little gadget, like this first playlist of "Dionysian walking music":
  1. Overseer - "Horndog"
  2. Blondie - "Heart of Glass"
  3. Patrick Hernandez - "Born to Be Alive"
  4. The Kings - "Switching to Glide/The Beat Goes On"
  5. Blondie - "Atomic (Xenomania Mix)"
  6. Blur - "Boys and Girls"
  7. Bon Jovi - "Its My Life"
  8. Bran Van 3000 - "Drinking in L.A."
  9. Collective Soul - "Heavy"
  10. Fatboy Slim - "Going Out of My Head"
  11. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts - "Five"
  12. Kraftwerk - "Expo 2000 (Orbital remix)"
  13. The Urge - "Jump Right In"
  14. The Strokes - "Last Nite"
  15. Pink - "Just Like a Pill"
  16. The Verve - "The Drugs Don't Work"
  17. Moulin Rouge Soundtrack - "Because We Can Can"
  18. Sugar Hill Gang - "Rapper's Delight"
  19. Bernard Herrmann - "Twisted Nerve (Kill Bill Vol 1 OST)"
If nothing else, it gives you an idea of my strange, all-over-the-place music collection.

Note to self: rip songs using more compact file modes (so you don't end up with 9.5Mb songs that run a paltry 3:30 apiece), purchase a memory card upgrade, and never, ever put earworm songs like "Twisted Nerve" by Bernard Herrmann (that godforsaken whistling song, from Kill Bill Vol. 1 that plays as an eyepatched Daryl Hannah walks down a hospital corridor in preparation for murder) on a portable music player.

Never, never, never, if you value your sanity.