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night meets day

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I had the pleasure, last night, of re-watching the last-but-one episode in the most recent series of E.R., titled When Night Meets Day. It’s the 200th episode they made, and I get the impression that this is the one the producers see as a prime Emmy candidate, since everything about it is not only superior to the rest of the series, it’s superior to most things on TV at the moment.

I won’t describe the storyline, except it’s partly from the point of view of Dr. Carter, who is at this point in real danger of losing it, and the timeline is deliberately warped and non-contiguous to illustrate this. We have aftershocks from the gang warfare of previous days, his beloved grandmother’s funeral was disrupted, the same restaurant appears to catch fire twice, and he treats a Buddhist nun in her last hours, causing him to question everything about his job. By the end of a torrid couple of days he’s ready to drop everything and head off to the Congo civil war to treat patients who really need his help.

By contrast, Dr. Pratt is having a great time, saving patients and having fun, coming into his own as a doctor. He actually gets an appointment elsewhere, but refuses it at the last minute, preferring to stay where he is. Everyone thinks he’s mad, but this is his Day, and Carter’s Night.

It’s technically an excellent production, with jarring shifts in time and perception throwing Carter and us off-balance, and there’s one particular combination of crane tracking shots, cleverly edited together, that had me admiring the kind of technical expertise that you just don’t find in British productions. Even though it’s a TV show, it’s shot on film and benefits from many of the film world’s production values. Well worth watching.

Written by brian t

June 27, 2003 at 4:57 pm

Posted in america, television

jackassed

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Besides my old CDs, I came back from the UK with a couple of new US Import DVDs from the extreme ends of the “family” spectrum. In the Nice corner, we have Spirited Away, the beautiful Anime masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki, which I will surely write more about later. In the Nasty corner, we have Jackass: The Movie.

I’ve mentioned Jackass before, and the movie is essentially the same as the TV show, but the Jackasses go a lot further than before, having a serious budget to work with. They start it off with a huge opening sequence, with lots of explosions, just so you’ll think that they’ve gone all Hollywood on us, but then it’s down to business.

Despite all the warnings, there are still kids going out and doing some truly stupid things. They should watch the DVD, then, during which it becomes clear that there are many safety precautions taken in the planning and execution of these stunts. That doesn’t mean that things always go to plan, as the Golf Cart sequence shows. The other drawback is that people don’t always react the way they’re expected to, especially professionals such as police or medical personnel, who really have seen it all before. The DVD has a lot of extra footage which was cut out of the movie, some of which, such as the Sand Vagina, go a bit too far for either large or small screens.

It’s a good thing that Jackass didn’t outstay its welcome, and went out with a bang, such as it was. You only have to look at the masochistic Welsh imitation, Dirty Sanchez, to appreciate the good-natured humour that went into Jackass. Some of the best pieces in Jackass don’t involve stunts or obscenity at all, such as Steve-O getting his own face tattooed on his back, or the Whale Shark Gummer (OK, not much obscenity). The movie got a very limited release here in Ireland – maybe two cinemas, neither near me, showed it for a week. I can always sell it if I get tired of it.

ps: see also my later op-ed piece on Jackassism.

Written by brian t

May 17, 2003 at 9:11 pm

Posted in america, humour

Tagged with

job lot

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As I’ve said before, keeping this blog has been quite an eye-opener on a few topics, most notably on how incredibly opinionated I can be. Some topics produce an instant response; but with others it can take me some time to build up a head of steam before I can spout off. These are usually topics with wider scientific or cultural importance. One major topic you can expect in the next few weeks will be that of marketing and advertising, and my personal “shit list” of companies whose products I avoid due to their marketing practices.

It’s also possible to spot wider trends in marketing that transcend companies or industries, the most recent I suppose being the increased nudity and sexuality in advertisements, even where it’s not required. Women are usually seen running around naked for products aimed at men, but recently it’s happening all over, even for products aimed at women (depilatories etc.) – what does that mean?

It’s disturbing… but people have been feeling that way about trends in advertising for as long as there has been advertising. It wasn’t too long ago in the USA when the presence of African-Americans in mainstream commercials was sailing too close to the wind. More on this later. Meanwhile, here’s a relatively “quick” op-ed segment:

I’ve been enjoying The Job quite a lot, up till the last episode shown here on Wednesday. On further investigation, I’ve found out that I’ve seen all 13 episodes of this series that were ever made. It was reportedly too racy for prime time TV in the USA, but they’ve had no qualms showing it here, which must be down to Denis Leary’s Irish-American origins. Maybe Leary should move the production to Dublin?

It’s sometimes derivative of Leary’s other work, mostly No Cure For Cancer and Lock And Load, and Leary seems to relish the opportunity to throw in bits from those shows, e.g. getting hooked on cough syrup as a replacement for alcohol. “I’m high as a kite, and my teeth are green… ” It’s far from a Leary-fest, though, since the producers assembled a strong ensemble cast, and the banter flows thick and fast. The production aims for a realistic feel, with most scenes filmed in one take with one camera, and no laugh track – refreshing. Strangeness abounds, such as cops having their car stolen by ten-year-olds, and the Central Park soup vendor whose girlfriend was, um, directly involved in his business.

I’m a little ambivalent about Leary’s comedy work, but when he’s on top form, he’s really something to hear. I can recommend Lock And Load straight away, if only for the rants about Coffee, Beer, and the Pope, and he even gets a chance to do a rock song about the Voices In My Head that tell him to go out and shoot other people.

“If there’s something wrong on the inside, how come I look so good on the outside?”
“Because you’re Satan?”
“Could be.”

Written by brian t

May 9, 2003 at 4:06 pm

Posted in america, humour, television

dogs in elk

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Mayday! The following is allegedly a transcript of a conversation in a newsgroup a few years ago, now archived on the Chaos Manor site and elsewhere. It’s probably true, but still hilarious: Dogs In Elk. My favourite part was the vet’s reaction:

He laughed until he was gagging and breathless. He says a lot of things, which can be summed up as *what did you expect?* and *no, there is no such thing as too much elk meat for a dog.*

Written by brian t

May 1, 2003 at 8:41 am

Posted in america, humour

iraq now

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I believe he said he wasn’t going to do this; but Jerry Pournelle has written a very interesting article about what he hopes will happen in Iraq, now that the war has been won and the real work begins: Governing Iraq – What do we do now?

Even if you don’t read the whole thing, I think it’s crucial to start the way he does – by using Aristotle’s definition of democracy: democracy is rule by the middle classes – “those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation”. Not the super-rich, or those who become super-rich by their position – that’s oligarchy or dictatorship. Not the lower-class “proletariat” – it doesn’t work, because they have nothing to lose and tend towards communism or anarchy.

Or, as Jerry puts it: can you afford to lose the election? Will you survive, and go back to work as before? Or, as has been seen in Africa in particular, will losing a vote carry a high personal price, something to avoid at any cost? He suggests keeping the USA involved for at least a generation, as guardians of what should be a natural process, but has been bent out of proportion by the disparities in wealth and status that have existed in the region for thousands of years. “If we are going to build democracy, we have no choice but to be imperial: not in the sense of an emperor, but in the sense of retaining command.” (I’m not sure I see the distinction – those under control might not see it either.)

Not everyone will agree with Jerry Pournelle – he is, after all, an acknowledged “Conservative”, who wrote parts of Reagan’s SDI (“Star Wars”) speech and even managed the Congressional campaign of Barry Goldwater Jr. From what I’ve read, though, he takes positions based on the merits he sees, and doesn’t lean in a particular direction by default; his interests are more scientific and historical, he has little to do with the current political landscape in the USA. Well worth reading, in my opinion.

Written by brian t

April 29, 2003 at 2:31 pm

Posted in america, countries, demographics, politics

Tagged with

drain brain

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The brain drain continues – I’ll have a short pub visit tonight, for one of my former co-workers who’s leaving for the University literally next door to us. Then tomorrow night, one of my colleagues, Marko, is starting a six-month sabbatical, during which he will walk the whole US West Coast from Mexico to Canada. He’s keeping a journal on his walk, here. Madness, I tell you, madness.

A small ongoing project at home is compiling the complete works of Shakespeare into an “intranet” format for personal use. It’s a lot of words, though not too much to keep on my PDA, but the work is in moulding it into a friendly format, easily navigable. There are such websites on the internet, but they represent someone else’s work, and aren’t as “barebones” as I’d like mine to be. Last night I managed to automate the process of splitting 154 Sonnets into individual pages and adding titles and formatting – took a bit of doing, but the results are looking good. FrontPage also automates the creation of previous / next / up links – as I use here too.

Written by brian t

April 16, 2003 at 5:04 pm

Posted in america, work

bowling for kuwait

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Had a fun night out last night – bowling with our company’s Sports & Social Club. Because I’m a member, I’m paying a little every month, and have now got quite a bit of it back. For a nominal fee, the bowling was covered, then we hit the pub for free food and drinks afterwards. Plus, my team won the team prize, so I have some gift vouchers to spend today. This despite my game fading towards the end, when the ball got really heavy, and changing it wouldn’t have helped (in my experience).

I haven’t commented much on the War in Iraq, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention, it’s more that I can’t find much to say on the topic that needs to be said here. I have the luxury of keeping quiet, compared to some journalists who are obliged to find something fresh to say on a regular basis. Some of the results, to be frank, have been little more than hot air. The events on the ground on Baghdad caught the “501st Chairborne Division” totally by surprise. At the moment, looting is widespread, in the absence of the former regime’s police force.

The American “interim government” isn’t quite in control yet in Baghdad, and basics such as food, water and power are in short supply. Many Iraqis have got the idea that they need some law and order, and are demonstrating to that effect, and that should make the new government’s job easier. To cut a long story short, the Allies are still dealing with a military situation, and the civil issues don’t yet take priority.

We have Sky News at home, though I have hardly watched it at all; it can get a bit “tabloid” for my tastes. I have it on now, and their journalists are reporting from Kuwait – they don’t actually have anyone in Iraq, they’re relying on the Allied briefings and rumour. One journo has just come out with the following line, which had me choking on my coffee: “the law of the jungle rules on the streets of Baghdad.” (Think about it.) I prefer Euronews, which is more sober, and can’t take sides in any major way, since it serves all European countries, supportive of the war or not. This means they generally confine themselves to facts; but I also appreciate one of their innovations: the “No Comment” segments, which let sound and video speak for themselves with no embellishment except for the location and the date on screen.

Written by brian t

April 12, 2003 at 10:41 am

it’s all about power

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Back in 2003, the war in Iraq continues apace, with the added complication of the Kurdish Army trying to carve out a new Kurdistan in the north of Iraq. Turkey is very concerned by this, knowing that a large chunk of eastern Turkey is also part of the Kurdish territorial claim. As before, more Allied soldiers have been killed so far in crashes and other incidents than by the enemy. Last night a disgruntled US Army sergeant used grenades on his commanding officers, after he had been reprimanded and told that he “might not get to see any action”. Maybe he has now, but that’s as far as he’s going in the army.

I’m surprised that I haven’t heard any commentary discussing the similarities between modern Iraq and ancient Babylon. The ruins of the city of Babylon are just 80km south of Baghdad, and the Kingdom of Babylon covered all of modern Iraq and large chunks of Iran. The history of the region is one of near-constant warfare, with only the early Islamic era as a respite after their initial expansion from Mecca across the region, before Islam was factionalized and it all went downhill again.

The 1980-90 Iran-Iraq war, on the other hand, is a more useful guide. It illustrates what Saddam Hussein was capable of before the USA was involved. He invaded Iran in search of oil and out of concern about the ambitions of the new hard-line Islamic regime in Iran – so much for his claims that he’s a defender of Islam. His war included the use of chemical weapons against Iranians and against his own civilians.

So, what is my position on this war? I’m not sure that I have one. I’m not in possession of all the facts, pro and con, and have little patience with people who are so sure they know what’s right based on what they read in the media. I’m left juggling multiple sources of information, some of which may be biased or revisionist. My previous paragraph on the Iran-Iraq war, for example, was informed by encyclopaedias, new and old media reports, and a “what is more likely” analysis of the current situation.

I don’t put much stock in the protests that this is about oil: the USA has its own oil, and access to more, closer to home. If oil was really the issue, they would invade Venezuela first. What I do expect to see, however, is immense relief on many sides once this particular itch has been scratched, heartless as that may sound. The world’s stock markets are already creeping up in anticipation. It remains to be seen whether a clear-cut result will come from all this, though – the same was said twelve years ago.

  • Why is the USA doing this? Because it can, it has the power. It sees a threat, and is trying to neutralize it.
  • Why is the USA the most powerful nation on the planet? Because it has enormous wealth. Some of that wealth has been channelled into weapons production, without the need for outside approval.
  • Why does it have enormous wealth? Because capitalism, like it or not, is best at generating real wealth. People like making and spending money, and capitalism is what happens in the absence of a planned economy (and sometimes beneath a planned economy).

Unlike a dictatorship, however, the USA is vulnerable to worldwide public opinion. It is going to pay an economic price for its actions, and it is all too aware that the magnitude of that price will depend on its actions and how it justifies them. Hence the emphasis on minimizing casualties on both sides, and the talk of relief efforts for the region. Iraq has enough oil of its own to sell at a fair price, once trade relations are restored.

I didn’t get much chance to read Jerry Pournelle’s Chaos Manor site last week, but I was shocked to see he’d published a letter written by an American that basically advocated the destruction of Islam and all Muslims, mixed in with more sensible remarks. Jerry didn’t comment further – I think he’s waiting for others to rebut this correspondent – and I’ll see what happens tomorrow. As if Islam would go away if attacked directly? I admit to concern about religions that advocate literal application of teachings that include the killing of non-believers, but Islam is not alone in holding such views – just ask the Crusaders.

This is not Truth; it’s not even exhaustive analysis, but it doesn’t need to be for my purposes (this Blog). Getting it wrong has no serious consequences. If it did, it would take much more research time before I could say or type a single word, assuming I had the luxury of time.

Written by brian t

March 23, 2003 at 3:30 pm

Posted in america, history, politics

iraq and roll

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Well, the USA is now attacking Iraq. Will this be another Gulf War, the one that had Denis Leary describing how he was glued to his TV with a blood-lust hard-on from eating too much red meat?

The events of September 11, 2001 looked awfully familiar to me, since I’ve read Tom Clancy’s Debt Of Honor. In that book, a politically-aggrieved airline pilot crashes his 747 into the Capitol building in Washington DC, killing the US President and most of Congress. In the next book, Executive Orders, Clancy’s character Jack Ryan became President as a result of those events, and had to fend off a major biological attack against the USA. By the end he formulated the Ryan Doctrine, which promised revenge against those who attack US interests, regardless of borders.

I’ve found a useful commentary piece here that includes the text of that fictional Doctrine. Assuming that George W Bush can actually read, I think he’s been reading Clancy too.

Written by brian t

March 20, 2003 at 9:15 am

Posted in america, books, politics

stillborn in the USA

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About Reborn In The USA: it really is turning out to be a case of “Big Brother For Has-Beens”. As I mentioned, the producers showed how one of the contestants got fed-up, then drunk, and stormed off the series; but they didn’t explain why he and the others were annoyed. According to reports in The Sun and elsewhere, a few had their suspicions confirmed when they found hidden cameras in their motel bedrooms. They had to be cajoled and threatened with contract violation lawsuits to stay on the show and play along. Enough: I was barely watching the first part, and won’t be watching the second.

Written by brian t

March 10, 2003 at 4:47 pm

Posted in america, culture, music

not yet fearful

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Back at work. I still have the dedication line on the front page to the Columbia astronauts, and it will stay there until there is some resolution to this situation.

We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

This is the epitaph on the memorial plaque to John and Phoebe Brashear, pioneering Pittsburgh astronomers, but the line originates in the following poem:

The Old Astronomer to His Pupil

Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, ’tis original and true,
And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men’s fellowship and smiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles?

You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant’s fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

– Sarah Williams, “Best Loved Poems of the American People”, Hazel Felleman, ed.
Garden City Publishing Co., Garden City NY: 1936, pp. 613-614

The old cliché, about knowledge as a light that cuts through darkness, does not seem like such a cliché after all.

Written by brian t

February 10, 2003 at 10:09 am

nothing to be done

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More details today: investigations are focusing on the left rear wheel well of the Columbia, where the undercarriage is stored. It’s a weak spot in the otherwise unbroken wing surface, and NASA suspect that this area was damaged by ice or foam falling from the external fuel tank during takeoff. A break here would catch the wind and channel white-hot air inside, and temperature readings from the inner wing and side of the shuttle appear to confirm this. There are even photos of wing damage, published by NASA yesterday, though they show the upper wing, which doesn’t tell us much.

There are also reports that NASA knew that the damage would make re-entry hazardous, but did not tell the crew, allegedly because “there was nothing anyone could have done”. We can be certain that these allegations will be highly damaging, whether true or not. NASA, for better or for worse, is a political organization; George Bush has paid it almost no attention, never visiting the Johnson Space Centre in Houston during his eight years as Governor of Texas or his two years as President. They definitely have his attention now, and they might not like what happens next.

Written by brian t

February 4, 2003 at 12:01 am

Posted in america, science, space

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