Wednesday, January 31, 2007Yesterday, on the coldest Chicago night this winter so far, my friend Matt and I took in David Lynch’s Inland Empire at the Music Box. The subzero wind chill virtually emptied that typically buzzing section of Southport, desolation exaggerating the film's strange aftertaste the way a shot of icy vodka enhances caviar's salty bite. For quite some time after leaving the theater, nothing in the outside world appeared quite that same as it did about three hours before.
One caveat: don’t let anyone convince you that Inland Empire would be better with chemical seasoning.* Taken straight it's enough of a freak-out, and I suspect combining mind-altering substances with this film’s elemental nightmarishness [or as the occasional Polish-speaking character might say, koszmar] could send a more-sensitive soul on a little holiday in a padded room.
Scenes drift into and out of comprehensibility, with characters’ dialogue often devolving into the kind of non-sequitur that makes no literal sense, but makes perfect sense in REM sleep. Different people substitute for one another, and unknown faces stand in for the familiar. The discordant, swelling score alternates between suggestive vibration and head-on sensory assault, lending menace to scenes as innocent as a young woman’s laugh. I think the digital cameras Lynch uses are especially appropriate for the subject matter, shattering lens flares into prismatic streaks and giving skin, light, and shadow intense, unflattering hues. Oddly, the look is familiar because it's frequently the way our eyes and brain function. It's just not the stylized vision we're accustomed to seeing on the big screen.
Let me say Laura Dern is simply amazing in her multiple personalities/manifestations, but it would be counterproductive for me to try to describe the storyline, since what you might take away from seeing this Rorshach-blot of an epic may be very different. For example, one of the creepiest things in this movie - for me, at least - is a squat mid-Century table lamp with a rectangular red shade sitting ominously atop a dresser. We first see it unlit in silhouette, its angularity suggesting a killer skulking in a shadowy hallway bleached of warmth. In a later scene, the lamp's red glow looks terrifying, not comforting. There is, in fact, little or nothing about Inland Empire that's comfortable.
Lynch accentuates the natural physiological effect of dim light upon the human retina, where darkness shifts perceived chroma blue, by showing sets in varying luminosities. In fact, keep an eye out for all red lamps in this film. There is also a squad of hookers that periodically appears like a taunting Greek chorus, or the faceless wraiths in the underrated 80's supernatural thriller, Nomads. The red lamps may be an allusion to a "Red Light district," or they may be a symbolic portal between the film's shifting time signatures; just remember when you see a red lamp, "reality" is about to slip into the quicksand.
While jarringly surreal, Inland Empire never becomes simple phantasmagoria. There are no human-headed cockroaches or smoking caterpillars on mushrooms here (although we do see a "family sitcom" where the players wear costume rabbit-heads, speaking terse dialogue as if reciting a prayer card) just bubbling streams of distilled subconscious, strained through California-cum-East European anxiety. And forget about trying to keep track of linear time: here it’s always after midnight, even in the scorching midday sun.
The movie is extraordinarily challenging to watch. For the first time in years, I had the urge to walk out of the theater at several points, and a few people actually did. Not because the film was bad, but it was so overstimulating and intense for lengthy periods I could hardly stay in my seat. However, I’m sure that’s the effect Lynch intended, as one leaves with the uncomfortable brain trail you get upon waking from a nasty nightmare. But if you’re up to facing over three hours of full-on Lynchian mindf---(hint: the dashed letters do not start with a “u,” nor end in “k”) this is a limbic-system feast. Today, I actually want to see it again.
* Not unless that's your normal state. If not, I wouldn't suggest you mix the two, as I predict a raging case of the 'noids.
MORE: The Boston Globe's Ty Burr has one of the most elucidating reviews of Inland Empire I've read to date.
"The Trippy Dreams of David Lynch" by Manohla Dargis, New York Times
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
[Yes, I know "free" means it's probably sucking all sorts of data and clickthrough info, but, hey ... it looks cool.]
Would you be so kind as to let me know how this feature works for you? Is it helpful, or does it cause problems or slow loading? I haven't noticed anything untoward on my Windows XP machine(s) running Firefox, but I'd be curious to know if you run into any issues. Personally, I've found Snap Web Preview fun and painless to use on OPB's (Other People's Blogs).
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Bought a jug of Cheer Dark™ (now there's an oxymoron) today, since my darks always lose their tenebrosity after repeated washings, and I couldn't resist a little Photoshopping.
Friday, January 26, 2007
- The Devil's Dictionary, 2.0
- Geschmackverstarker: Natriumglutemat, or MSG, often found in Wurstel. It's also the name of a band.
- This sounds like a tasty snack: pan sushi, found on Art Pollard's mouthwatering Local Kine Recipes 2.0 website at the University of Hawaii, which is packed with local island treats that would be perfect at a Tiki (or Super Bowl - Go Bears!) party. [UPDATE: Made the pan sushi today - it really is as easy as it sounds; it was a big hit!
- A word that simply rubs me the wrong way, and would love to never see again: webinar.
- What's your Hello Kitty™ Horoscope for today?
- I'm going to go see "Die Fledermaus" tomorrow night at the Lyric, and today I learned that there was a tenor who performed the operetta in the 1950's and 60's named Wolfgang Windgassen. And yes, that was his real name.
- "The Poutine, She's Delicious" by Cheeseburger Brown, a musing on Quebec's favorite bellybuster, french fries with gravy and cheese curds. [Thanks to my friend James, who sent me a Neat-O-Rama poutine story yesterday for the inspiration!]
- Here's a tipple with kick to try this weekend: The Jack Rabbit, composed of bourbon, lemons, and a smidgen of sugar. It sounds like something George W. might have enjoyed in his drinking days: a sour drunk. [via Slashfood]
- Bruce Schneier: In Praise of Security Theater [via Rebecca's Pocket]
- Timesuck of the Day: Rush Hour, a Flash version of the sliding numbers puzzle that uses cars and trucks on a parking lot grid. Get your car out of the lot in the fewest moves you can!
- Even more Flash fun: Tube Crisis, where the goal is to find the hidden weakness of each strange subway rider cramping your style, and shoo them off the train. It's ostensibly based on London's Tube, but is could just as easily be Chicago's 'L'.
- A geologist from Brazil who bears a striking resemblance to the Who's Pete Townshend, and who has a rather unfortunate name for English-speakers.
- All Proverbs are better with lions in them [via Language Log]
- "You're supposed to burn it": molecular gastronomy tools inspired by stoners around the world. "Yes, officer - I bought this bong for cooking." Smoked lettuce, anyone? [via CHOW]
Labels: links du jour
Thursday, January 25, 2007Nultitasking: trying to perform several tasks simultaneously, but the end result is that nothing gets done.
The Truth is Out There. [via Neatorama]
Tuesday, January 23, 2007I confess I never really noticed Hello Kitty® until three years ago, when I adopted Snoë, a large entirely white cat who bears a striking resemblance to the cartoon character. With a real-life version in-home, I now see how pervasive the Hello Kitty® franchise really is: she's bigger than Mickey, but without a mouth she can't swallow the Mouse.
The Bizarro Empire of Hello Kitty (Corina Zappia in Village Voice):
In their book, Hello Kitty: The Remarkable Story of the Billion Dollar Feline Phenomenon, authors Ken Belson and Brian Bemner describe Hello Kitty's ability to appeal to all: "With few exceptions, her creators at Sanrio Ltd. have shied away from developing any story to her life, instead leaving her personality to the eyes and minds of the beholder. This Zen-like technique, intentionally or not, has allowed Kitty to become at once the princess of purity to toddlers, a cuddly playmate for young girls and a walk down memory lane for adults yearning for another taste of childhood."Chanpon: Hello Kitty Has No Mouth by Mizuko Ito:
Sanrio itself ties Kitty's lack of mouth in with her universality: "Hello Kitty speaks from her heart," the official Sanrio FAQ says, explaining Kitty's mouthlessness. "She is Sanrio's ambassador to the world who isn't bound to one certain language."
Without a mouth, Kitty can exclude no one. But on the other hand, do we really want more women, even if they're cats, unable to speak up for themselves? [keep reading]
A discussion of Hello Kitty is nearly impossible without an explanation of kawaii and the culture that surrounds the term. Historically, the rise of cuteness is traced back to the 1970s, with the popularization of cute handwriting and manga and disillusionment with earlier student riots and subsequent capitalization of those trends by the fancy goods industry (Kinsella, 1995:225). Though the general meaning of the word is “cute,” the qualities and connotations associated with the term are many. As Kinsella writes, a survey among men and women in 1992 revealed a number of other terms associated with kawaii, including: childlike, innocent, naïve, unconscious, natural, emotional contact between individuals, fashionable, associated with animals, and weak (1995:237-240). Kawaii is a produced style and aesthetic as well as an inherent quality a person, place, or thing possesses.And, the $64,000 Question: If Hello Kitty® has no mouth, is she also missing the opposite end of the digestive tract, another (perhaps more literal) manifestation of "cultural odorlessness"?
The rise of Hello Kitty in the global consumer market, like other successful pop cultural imports, may be attributed to the process of removing traces of Japanese origin. Iwabuchi has coined the expression "culturally odorless products" to describe the ways in which Japanese products erase their "Japaneseness" in order to be more successfully marketed overseas (Allison, 2000:70). Moreover, "effacing the identity—the Japaneseness—of Japanese products appears to be even more prominent in the US Market" (Allison, 2000:70). Making a product "culturally odorless" somehow reduces resistance to a product through its reduction of difference. [read full article]
"Hello Kitty Has No Mouth" - the poem
Sanrio Hello Kitty® FAQ
["Darth Kitty" costume image found on Linkbunnies]
Also see Sanrio's "grown-up" Hello Kitty® line, Momoberry
Sunday, January 21, 2007If you think all the hazardous radioactive material being transported across the country is safeguarded - or at least properly packaged and prepared for shipment on public thorofares - think again. The circumstances of last Tuesday's truck crash near the Mojave National Preserve are truly frightening if they're any indication of how carelessly lethal materials like plutonium might be traveling, perhaps in a vehicle rolling alongside you. From the San Bernadino Sun:
Baking soda, bunk beds, fire extinguishers - and a drum with plutonium-238. The truck that crashed Tuesday near Needles [CA] with a load of radioactive waste was a plain old commercial truck carrying plain old products.
When emergency workers checked the truck's manifest they were surprised that radioactive material was being shipped with ordinary goods. "This, in and of itself, is very alarming," said San Bernardino County Fire Marshal Peter Brierty, who also directs his agency's hazardous materials unit. Government and industry officials say shipping radioactive materials by commercial carriers is a perfectly safe, perfectly routine practice. The containers, the routes and the shipping companies are all heavily regulated, and there has never been an accident that resulted in a release of radiation, they said.
The radiation emitted by the truck's amount of plutonium-238 is trillions of times more than is allowed in drinking water, Brierty said. The four grams of plutonium involved in the crash would be roughly the volume of a pencil eraser. But that amount kicks out more than 60 curies, a measure of radioactivity. In contrast, the drinking water standard is 15 picocuries per liter, or 15 trillionths of one curie.
The truck, pulling two trailers, crashed into a guardrail on eastbound Interstate 40, rupturing the tractor's fuel tank and causing the rear trailer to overturn and split open. The driver was unhurt. Part of the freeway was shut down for 18 hours. The heavily shielded, 500-pound, 55-gallon drum with the plutonium was in the front of the damaged trailer, California Highway Patrol Officer Michael Callahan said. The entire cargo had to be unloaded to get at the drum.
The drum was undamaged, and there was no leakage of radiation. [But,] "What the hell is that doing in that truck?" said Robert Halstead, an expert in the transportation of nuclear waste. [read full article]
Friday, January 19, 2007Not only is sock knitting (especially the genteel, lady-of-the-house Christian variety) seen as a diametric opposite to worldly speculative thought on the level of Ray Bradbury, but in a strange real-world twist, monetarily successful sock knitters trigger their bank's fraud alarm:
The knitting community is large and rich (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s blog, yarnharlot.ca, raised over $120,000 for Tricoteuses Sans Frontiers in less than three days, this Christmas), so it’s surprising that we are still so socially invisible. Maybe $120K isn’t so much, on the scale of the entertainment industry. But here’s the interesting part:Perhaps the bank thought Blue Moon was selling crack-infused sock yarn, or something equally ridiculous; more on the story at the Yarn Harlot. [Image comes with apologies to Vincent van Gogh and Warrant...well, maybe not Warrant.]
This morning, one of the most popular producers of hand-dyed sock yarn, Blue Moon Fiber Arts, announced that they were making so much money on their sock yarn that their bank managers decided it must be a front for something illegal, and shut down Blue Moon’s credit card system, and refunded all of the money for the 2007 Sock Club! [Katrina Triezenberg, Ph.D., in a communiqué to Freakonomics Blog]
- The New York Times spotlights Roland G. Fryer, a rising star in the field of economics who draws on multiple disciplines in an effort to derive a "Unified Theory of Black America" (by Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics). Taking into account the circumstances of his childhood, Fryer has also beat incredible odds:
Fryer's heroes are not contemporary economists like Glenn Loury or James Heckman or Gary Becker, even though he admires their work on racial issues and has been mentored by all three of them. Nor are his models the estimable crowd of Afro-American scholars assembled at Harvard by Gates, who happens to be Fryer's next-door neighbor. There is only one forebear whom Fryer aspires to emulate: W.E.B. DuBois, the fiercely interdisciplinary black scholar and writer who helped to pioneer the field of ethnography. "The problem of the 20th century," DuBois said, presciently, in 1900, "is the problem of the color line."Dr. Fryer spent a year or so here teaching at the University of Chicago, so I had a chance to speak to him briefly now and then. Read his story and you will be amazed and heartened by how far Fryer's come - and where he's headed - at the young age of 27. Definitely one to watch.
In person, Fryer gives the appearance of coming from a middle-class background, some kind of Cosby kid all grown up. But as I spent more time with him, it became obvious that that wasn't remotely the case. He began to tell me stories about his past that -- although I didn't know it then -- he didn't share with people in his ''new life,'' as he called it.
One morning, as we sat on a bench in Central Park in New York, he talked about his childhood in Daytona Beach, Fla. When he was a boy, he sometimes lived there with his grandmother Farrise, whom the family called Fat. She was a schoolteacher and a disciplinarian. But Fat's sister Ernestine, who lived nearby, ran a looser household, and Fryer preferred to hang out there...At the same time, Lacey and Ernestine and some of their children were running one of the biggest crack gangs in the area. They would drive down to Miami to buy cocaine and then turn it into crack in their kitchen. ... The family processed and sold as much as two kilograms of cocaine a week. [read full article [NYT reg. req.]]
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
- There are bad band names, and then there are really bad band names...The Onion's A/V Club compiles the scatological, the sacrilegious, and the just plain stupid. Oh, yes, they are bad; but don't take my word for it. [Actual band name examples: "Guns N' Rosa Parks," "U.S. Pipe & The Balls Johnson Dance Machine," and "The Poontang Wranglers."]
- Paranoids take heed - your money may be spying on you:
[Washington (AP)] In a U.S. government warning high on the creepiness scale, the Defense Department cautioned its American contractors over what it described as a new espionage threat: Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters hidden inside. The government said the mysterious coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.Seduction to obtain computer passwords? I can picture it now - someone blurting out "25stuDMuffN!" in the heat of passion: "Was that with two "f"s or one, dear?"
Intelligence and technology experts said such transmitters, if they exist, could be used to surreptitiously track the movements of people carrying the spy coins. The U.S. report doesn't suggest who might be tracking American defense contractors or why. It also doesn't describe how the Pentagon discovered the ruse, how the transmitters might function or even which Canadian currency contained them.
The government's 29-page report was filled with other espionage warnings. It described unrelated hacker attacks, eavesdropping with miniature pen recorders and the case of a female foreign spy who seduced her American boyfriend to steal his computer passwords. [read full article]
- Liquids that become more viscous when placed under pressure? Objects than become thicker, not thinner, when stretched? These are just some examples of Strange Substances that don't quite obey the laws of physics as we generally know them, and New Scientist has the scoop - including mindboggling action videos of ferrofluids, dilatants and auxetic substances.
Labels: links du jour
Thursday, January 11, 2007Migrating farkleberries over to Blogger Beta had a curious side-effect I dicovered only recently: my birthdate on my Blogger profile is now 1756, and it states that I'm 250 years old...er, wouldn't that be 251? Hardly funny...at all.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007Woman 1: "Ya know there's a ressaraw downstair?"
Woman 2: "Really? Is it expensive? What do they serve down there?"
Woman 1: "What do they serve??"
Woman 2: "At the restaurant?!"
Woman 1: "Not ressaraw - I said rest room!"
Woman 2: "Oh."
UPDATE: Contrary to speculation, I was not one of the parties in this conversation.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
So, if the report of an "unarmed gunman" were false, does that mean the gunman was armed, after all? Spotted on the CBC News website RSS feed (though it's been corrected).
Monday, January 08, 2007
- What's your "Peculiar Aristocratic Title"? Mine is "Her Most Serene Highness Lady Lenka the Encompassing of Lower Beanthrop in the Hedge" (well, one of the more flattering ones is, anyway). [via Octopus' Garden]
"Athenian Owls were arguably the most influential of all coins, and the Classical Owl tetradrachm is the most widely recognized ancient coin among the general public today. Owls were the first widely used international coin. They popularized the practice of putting a head on the obverse of a coin and a tail (animal) on the reverse. Owls were handled by Pythagoras, Xenophanes, Democritus, Hippocrates, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, and others whose thinking formed the very foundation of Western civilization. They remained thematically unchanged, Athena on the obverse, her owl on the reverse, for half a millennium, through great changes in the ancient world. President Theodore Roosevelt used a Classical Owl as a pocket piece, which inspired him to order the redesign of U.S. coins early last century."
- Slurp your next Bloody Mary through a genetically engineered hollow stalk of celery [via BoingBoing]
- Celebrities create inventions, too - often ones bearing some relation to their field of specialty: Michael Jackson patented a "method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion," Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller invented a "Hydro-therapeutic stimulator," (you could call it "magic" of a certain sort, har har) and Julie Newmar (of "Batman" fame) holds Patent #3,914,799 — "Pantyhose with shaping band for cheeky derriere relief". You may have also heard of actress Hedy Lamarr's (star of the 1930's film, "Ecstasy," published under her married name, Hedy Kiesler Markey) World War II-era invention: a cipher engine for creating and reading secret codes. [via Ironic Sans]
- I can't decide whether this culinary trend is tasty or terrible: now you too can create home-made "molecular gastronomy" creations (just like El Bulli's Ferran Adria or Moto's Homaru Cantu! Or maybe not) like Tea Bubbles, using upscale gourmet chemicals like sodium alginate and calcium chloride. Albert and Ferran Adria's "Texturas" line offers a variety of products for a most Willy Wonka-esque cooking experience; e.g., you can add "explosive" or "effervescent" effects to your recipes! How about exploding cranberry sauce next Thanksgiving? [via CHOW]
- "You give us the moose, we'll let you have yer sheep." [via CNN]
Labels: links du jour
Thursday, January 04, 2007So it's official - it's not my imagination - Chicago (like many other U.S. cities) is having one heck of a mild winter so far. From CNN:
CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- Crocuses are pushing out of the ground in New Jersey. Ice fishing tournaments in Minnesota are being canceled for lack of ice. And golfers are hitting the links in Chicago in January. Much of the Midwest and the East Coast are experiencing remarkably warm winter, with temperatures running 10 and 20 degrees higher than normal in many places.I, for one, am enjoying this thermal twist immensely - but I'll be the first one to complain when we finally get our 12 inches of snow this April. [Photo courtesy Physorg.com; © 2007 AP/Charles Rex Arbogast]
New York City saw a November and December without snow for the first time since 1877. And New Jersey had its warmest December since records started being kept 111 years ago. Maria Freitas said that not only are crocus bulbs blooming in her Rahway, N.J., backyard, but the asparagus is three inches high. "They think it's spring. They're so confused," she said.
Meteorologists say the warm spell is due to a combination of factors. El Nino, a cyclical warming trend now under way in the Pacific Ocean, can lead to milder weather, particularly in the Northeast. The jet stream, the high-altitude air current that works like a barricade to hold back warm Southern air, is running much farther north than usual over the East Coast.
The weather is prone to short-term fluctuations, and forecasters said the mild winter does not necessarily mean global warming is upon us. In fact, the Plains have been hit by back-to-back blizzards in the past two weeks. "No cause for alarm. Enjoy it while you have it," said Mike Halpert, head of forecast operations at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center.
Whatever the explanation, Amanda Dickens was enjoying the weather Wednesday at Baltimore's Inner Harbor as she ate lunch outside with her husband and 3-year-old son. Temperatures there were expected to reach 60 degrees. At the Marovitz Golf Course in Chicago near Lake Michigan, 30 people teed off between 9 a.m. and noon, when there are usually no golfers at all this time of year.
Leonard Berg, the course's superintendent for maintenance, gestured to the fairways with pride: "Normally this time of year there would be a brown singe to it. Look at that nice emerald green."