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February 24, 2004

Hello Squirrelly

February 20, 2004

Friday Afternoon Scratchpad

Oscar Pool Creator

In case you missed it, my annual "Make-Yer-Own Oscar Pool Page" is here.

Thank You Mr. Bus Driver

I almost missed my bus yesterday. As it was pulling away from the curb I ran alongside it, waving my arm, and the driver kindly brought the behemoth to a stop and allowed me to board.

Moments later, as I sat panting in a seat halfway back, I could hear the driver's voice boom from overhead. He was having a private chat with the person sitting in the front row and was clearly unaware that the intercom was on. I, and everyone on the bus, heard him say, "I probably wouldn't shouldn't have stopped for that guy, but I kinda felt sorry for him. He had such a dopy, desperate look on his face as he ran."

How Many ...?

Moderator: If you are elected president in 2004, what will your administration's policy be in regards to changing the lightbulb?

Kerry: "Like most Vietnam veterans who fought in the Vietnam war, I know a little something about changing lightbulbs, on account of my experience in Vietnam."

Edwards: "No need to change the bulb -- I'll just light up the room with my sunny optimism!"

Bush: "Someone needs to change a lightbulb? Woohoo -- we created a job!"

Nader: "These is no fundamental difference between a lit room and the darkness."


Conversation with my single female friend R.:

R: I was trying to find a copy of that card game, Mamma Mia, so I went to the game store you suggested.

Me: And?

R: And omigod -- the guy that worked there was so nice and friendly! And cute!

Me: [Incredulous] Cute? The guy working at the game store?

R: He was totally cute!

[Momentary pause. Then, hurriedly ...]

R: I mean, "cute" in a Geppeto kind of way.


No Squirrely yet. As of this writing The Queen and I are still living in 2004 BC (before child).

February 19, 2004

Movies: Lost In Translation

When I named my favorite movies of 2003, there was a caveat. "I somehow never got around to seeing Lost In Translation," I wrote after listing the top five, "but I have a hunch that it might have been up there."

Once in a great while one of my hunches turns out to be correct -- although rarely as resoundingly correct as this one turned out to be. Not only would Lost In Translation have made my Top Five, it would have placed squarely in my Top One.

Indeed, Translation crossed the magical line that divides, in my mind, the very good movies from the great: it left me feeling completely ensorcelled by the time the closing credits rolled. This happens to me from time to time, but only rarely, and only with the most extraordinary of films: the first two Lord of the Rings movies, Memento, How's Your News and a handful of others in the last few years. In theater the term is "transported": to be carried away with strong and often intensely pleasant emotion. And the beauty of Translation is such that I not only felt transported emotionally, but physically as well: it was if I was actually visiting Japan.

Set in Tokyo, the whisper-thin plot revolves around Bob Harris (Bill Murray), a washed up action star in town to film a whiskey commercial for two million bucks. Estranged from his wife, resigned to his fate, and unable to get a good night's sleep, Bob bumbles about his surroundings like a bee in a jar. Meanwhile, in the same hotel, the recently married Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is realizing that her husband of two years is largely a stranger to her. Her spouse is a photographer of rock bands and she has accompanied him to Japan for a shoot. As the husband is slowly drawn into the superficial world of celebrity, Charlotte begins to consider herself as essentially on her own.

Like two somnambulists bumping into one another in the dark, Bob and Charlotte eventually cross paths in the hotel lounge, and the remainder of the movie is about the unusual bond that forms between them. After Charlotte's husband leaves Tokyo for a weeklong business trip, the two begin spending their sleepless nights together: watching TV, partying with friends, or simply conversing about topics big and small. Befuddled by the local culture, the two rely on one another to stay sane and keep a looming cloud of depression at bay.

The acting in Translation is astounding -- or, rather, would have be astounding if both Murray and Johansson weren't so skilled at making the audience believe that they aren't acting at all. The scenes of intimacy between the two are so uncannily authentic that, at times, the film feels like a documentary. And every time you think the screenplay is going to take a turn for the predictable, it doesn't.

I would have loved Translation for these reasons alone, but two other factors put the film into the class of my favorites. First, the sense of dislocation expressed so eloquently by the two leads was hauntingly familiar to me, and recalled to mind my own experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bolivia. anyone who has ever been stranded in a foreign culture owes it to themselves to see the movie.

But here's the real reason why this film moved me like few others. The Queen and I had decided to go see our Last Movie Ever as a childless couple on Saturday, and Lost In Translation was our mutual pick. We'd all but forgotten that it was February 14th (expecting a baby to arrive any moment will do that to you) and, knowing nothing of the film, we didn't realize that it was a romance of sorts, so we sort of stumbled into the perfect Valentine's Day date by accident. Then, halfway through the film we were treated to this dialog:

Bob: It gets a whole lot more complicated when you have kids.

Charlotte: It's scary.

Bob: The most terrifying day of your life is the day the first one is born.

Charlotte: Nobody ever tells you that.

Bob: Your life, as you know it ... is gone. Never to return. But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk ... and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.

Standing, as we are, on the precipice of parenthood, this is exactly what we needed to hear.

And this exchange neatly encapsulates the essence of the film: life -- and relationships -- are hard. But ultimately worth the effort.

If Lost In Translation is still playing at a nearby theater and you haven't seen it yet, please make an effort to do so. It's wonderful, wonderful.

February 18, 2004

Make-Yer-Own Oscar Pool Page

Okay, the 2004 Make-Yer-Own Oscar Pool Page is up and running. Sorry I got it out so soon before the awards this year, but, until yesterday, I didn't realize they'd moved the ceremony all the way up to February.

If you find any bugs or have any suggestions, please let me know by email or in the comments to this post. Thanks.

February 13, 2004

Bush Seeks $131 Billion For War On Carbs

President George Bush submitted an emergency appropriation bill to Congress today seeking an additional $131 billion for the war on carbs, the bulk of which would be used to establish a cabinet-level Department of Carbohydrate Reduction. The proposal comes just days after a Reuters poll revealed that carbs have eclipsed terrorism and job uncertainty as Americans' greatest fear.

Democrats were quick to denounce the proposal as election-year grandstanding. "I'll match my record on carbohydrate with the President's any day," said Senator John Kerry. Kerry was a prominent figure in the anti-carb movement of the late 60's and early 70's, even going so far as to throw his croutons onto the steps of the Capitol Building during a 1971 protest.

However, A recent photo showing Kerry sharing linguini with Jane Fonda has caused some to question his carb-fighting credentials. Hoping to capitalize on the controversy, Howard Dean is repositioning himself as an anti-carbohydrate populist. "When I was Governor of Vermont, no one ate their pizza crust!" Dean boasted in a fiery speech given at a recent rally. "And when I become President, we're going to go after Big Bread! We're going to go after Big Potato! We're going to go after Big Sugar and Big Cracker and Big Muffin, yeeeeargh!"

But with the election nine months away and broad bipartisan support for the war on carbs, Congress is likely to hand Bush a political victory on the funding request. "We're going to work quickly and get this passed," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. "We need to reassure the nation that we're taking this battle seriously, and this is just the sort of legislation American wants to see: an enormous spending proposal loaded with pork. Sweet, sweet, low-carb pork."

If approved, the appropriations bill would be the most expensive dietary legislation passed since the 1986 Promotion Of Frozen Yogurt Act.

[ link | News]

The Bad Review Revue

Torque: It's only January, but already we have a strong candidate for the most thunderingly stupid movie of the year. -- Peter Hartlaub, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

You Got Served: "About as real as Lil' Kim's chest." -- Jami Bernard, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

The Butterfy Effect: "Like receiving a box of Valentine's chocolates in which someone has deliberately hidden ground glass." -- Charles Taylor, SALON

The Big Bounce "Go in with lowered expectations and expect to have them dashed." -- Joe Morgenstern, WALL STREET JOURNAL

50 First Dates: ""When Rob Schneider is the best thing about your movie, you know you have a problem." -- Josh Bell, LAS VEGAS WEEKLY

February 12, 2004

Meets Expectations

A friend of mine was an officer with the Seattle Police Department, and one thing that always amazed me was that he and his coworkers voluntarily hung out in donut shops while on duty, despite the widespread stereotype that police officers hang out in donut shops while on duty.

I was reminded of this a moment ago when I saw a firetruck go by and noticed that each and every fireman inside had the stereotypical "fireman mustache."

February 11, 2004

I Never Thought I'd Say This But I'm Starting To Miss Ari

Ask White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan About Bush's National Guard Record!

Poetry Corner

One, two, three, four, five.
Then seven syllables more
And you've got haiku!

Apprently I didn't inherit the poetic gene.

My father, meanwhile, writes actual poetry over at Measured Phrase.

Update: Hey, Ariel's father does poetry -- just like my da!

[ link | Links]

February 10, 2004

Carrier ... Or Killer??!

Okay, I made up Yugo To Hell in my last post, but the other two are actual Traffic Safety Film titles that I took from this pdf. Here are some other of my favorites, with the corresponding (and actual) descriptions:

Buckleman!: Buckleman is a fast-paced adventure focusing on the importance of using safety belts. Using his hi-tech belt-gun, Buckleman saves lives and protects the citizens of Buckeye City from his arch-foe, the Heckler.

All The Kids Do It: Dramatizes danger from a teen's point of view. Directed by Henry Winkler, it stars Scott Baio as Buddy, a high school student and Olympic caliber diver who learns that drinking and driving don't mix.

Just Like A Car: A musical and somewhat humorous presentation demonstrating how a bicycle is just like a car!

So Long, Pal: Fantasy and humor succeed in breaking down the resistance to treatment that people who have been arrested for driving under the influence often feel.

Gambling With Death: An effective presentation that utilizes the appealing touch of early silent movies in dealing with people's attitudes about railroad grade crossings.

Uneasy Rider: "Uneasy," in this case, means special awareness.

I love that last one the best. It's too bad Traffic Safety Film makers don't follow the porn industry's lead and use more titles that are based on popular motion pictures. Then kids would get to see Spinnin' In The Rain and Driving Miss Daisy While Intoxicated and The Crashed Samurai, or whatever.

[ link | Links]

February 09, 2004

Date Night

The Queen and I got into a weekly ritual to celebrate our remaining weeks as a childless couple. Every Wednesday we met at my place of business, had dinner at one of the delightful ethnic restaurants on Capitol Hill, and then gathered with eight or ten other couples to watch horrific videos of strangers coming out of other strangers' private parts.

Yes, we're attending childbirth classes, and Date Night will never be the same again.

Our first class started charmingly enough, with a round of introductions and some gentle prefatory remarks by the instructor. Then, about an hour into the session, the teacher announced that it was time for a video. Perhaps remembering "movie time" from high school, we all settled back in our seats and prepared to snooze. And sure enough, the film opened with some soothing music and feel good imagery, enough to lull us all into a false sense of serenity. And then, a few moments later, everyone was sitting bolt upright in their chairs and gripping their arm rests, their mouths perfect O's of terror.

The closest kin to childbirth videos are traffic safety films -- you know, the ones with names like "Mechanized Death" and "The Final Swerve." Both employ frightening, gory imagery, which make the viewer never want to go through the ordeal depicted on screen. The difference, of course, is that by the time you see the childbirth videos, it's already too late. It's like showing "Yugo To Hell!" to a driver who has already crashed through the guardrail but has yet to hit the rocks below.

Between videos we learned the nuts and bolts of labor: breathing techniques, coping mechanisms, and what to say when your child comes out ("That doesn't look like a baby!" was a popular exclamation in the films we saw). Most of this, obviously, was for the benefit of the mothers, but we did cover a few dad-centric topics, like how to take a punch and smile while your wife is in the "transition stage".

We also learned the father of the child traditionally cuts the umbilical cord. "Why?" I asked, upon hearing this. Our teacher seemed confused by the question, so I clarified. "I mean, if there an actual reason for the father to do it -- like, because he's standing right there anyhow, and the midwife's hands are full -- or is this just a feel-good measure to make the husband feel useful, so, later, with the guys, he can be all, like, 'dude, I totally helped out with that birth!'" The teacher conceded that the latter was the case. Knowing that the cord cutting is purely ceremonial, I've decided to go whole hog. I plan to wear a suit with a sash that reads "DAD," and proclaim "I declare this baby to be ... born!" while cutting the cord with a giant pair of scissors.

Our final class was last Wednesday, and it was our turn to bring snacks. The previous lesson had been all about breastfeeding, so while The Queen and I were discussing our options on the drive home I came up with a brilliant idea. "You know what we should do," I said, "We should go to The Erotic Bakery up in Wallingford , get one of those cakes shaped like a huge pair of breasts, and serve it with milk! To which The Queen said, and I quote, "Hah hah hah hah hah, we should totally do that, hah hah hah hah hah, that would be great, hah hah hah hah! But, no." Stupid impending adulthood.

Anyway, with classes over we're "officially" "ready" to have an "baby," if you can believe that. Now we're just sort of hanging around, killing time until the dirty deed takes place. It's like waiting for a really, really slow elevator to show up, but without the little arrow on the mother's belly to tell you exactly when it's going arrive (although that would be super cool -- somebody invent that).

But what's really got us anxious is that everything feels weighted with foreshadowing these days, even the most insignificant events seem indicative of our upcoming adventure. Over the weekend, for example, we went out to Chinese food. When the fortune cookies arrived, I gave mine to The Queen, saying "This is our child's. It will tell us what his life -- and our future -- holds in store." Solemnly she cracked it open and read the slip of paper therein. Then she laughed and handed it to me.

The Squirrelly's fortune said, "You may soon win a contest."

February 05, 2004

D & Dean

I think reading this paragraph (from a New Republic article about the Democratic primaries) provides a pretty definitive geek test:

As a result, the only way Edwards catches on is a) if Kerry makes a huge mistake; b) if Edwards manages to stick around long enough for the press to savage Kerry; c) if Dean draws blood against Kerry with all those $100 donations he's planning to turn into rhetorical RPG attacks.
Real men immediately recognize "RPG attacks" is a reference to rocket-propelled grenades.

Guys like me, on the other hand, first summon a mental image of Dean sitting at a table, acting out a fiery denunciation of Kerry, and then rolling a 20-sided die against his CHR attribute.

P.S.: By my reckoning, the stats work out to be about:
Howard Dean

STR: 11
INT: 13
WIS: 9
DEX: 10
CON: 12
CHR: 13

Wesley Clark

STR: 14
INT: 12
WIS: 11
DEX: 12 (-4 when trying to dodge questions about his platform)
CON: 14
CHR: 10

John Edwards

STR: 10
INT: 13
WIS: 10
DEX: 12
CON: 10 (+2 for Forehead of Perpetual Youth)
CHR: 13

John Kerry

STR: 10
INT: 13
WIS: 13
DEX: 9
CON: 10
CHR: 9

February 04, 2004

Pizza Party U.S.A.

Please support my latest initiative.

February 02, 2004

Movies: The Triplets of Belleville

I want animated movies for adults to become viable form of entertainment in America. When I become king, I will simply issue a decree stating that, for every Treasure Planet churns out, they have to match it with a Waking Life or two. But until that time, the only thing I can do to advance my cause is to see each and every adult animated movie that comes to town and hope that my pocketbook vote somehow translates into more of them being distributed.

And thus I went to see The Triplets of Belleville. It had been getting rave reviews (rottentomatoes.com has it at a phenomenal 95% -- just one point lower than Return of the King), so my expectations were dizzyingly high. Maybe this, thought I, was going to be the film that made America wake up to the extraordinary possibilities of animated entertainment.

So, really, how could I not wind up a little disappointed, holding it up to such an impossibly high standard? And it didn't help that, before going, I'd read a review comparing it to both City of Lost Children and Delicatessen two of my all-time favorite flicks. Triplets is a fine movie to be sure, but it ain't gonna revolutionize the motion picture industry, alas - and it's no Delicatessen.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around an old woman whose son is kidnapped while competing in the Tour de France. [Update: Sorry, I meant "grandson," here -- this was a typo, not me completely missing a major plot point.] She follows the culprits to the titular Belleville and joins forces with the titular triplets to free her offspring from an underworld that's as nefarious as it is bizarre.

Honestly, the story is fairly inconsequential compared to the animation, which is a wonder to behold - for a spell, at least. But clocking in at 80 minutes, Triplets actually had fidgeting in my seat for the final 20. Yes, it's meticulously hand-animated, but I felt like I'd seen all the beauty and grotesquery it had to offer in the first hour. When the realization came that there would be no real plot, I was pretty much ready for the wrap-up.

Despite all that, I commend it to you(and not just because the more people who go see it, the more money it will gross, and the closer my dream of a adult animation revolution will come to realization). It's actually quite a wonderful movie if, unlike me, you go in knowing that story is going to be in short supply. I strongly suspect that if I saw it a second time - this time knowing what I was getting into - my estimation of it would skyrocket. It's not of Spirited Away caliber, true - but it's better than Finding Nemo by an order of magnitude, and that's good enough for me.