Friday, October 01, 2010

Good word

"Madonna’s message boils down to a complex truce between love and narcissism."

-- Jonathan Rosenbaum

Monday, May 03, 2010

Sentence from a blog: That reporter

Oct. 4, 2004: "Franken referred to me as 'that reporter with the bike helmet.'"

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sentence from a diary: Wayne's specialty

Aug. 16, 1995: "Dad brought a plate from Wayne and Joyce's cookout, which included burgers, deviled eggs, beans, and Wayne's specialty, grilled squash."

Friday, March 26, 2010

You want a white-winged horse, or don't you?

I've always loved Judith "Miss Manners" Martin's fussy Washington Post review of the original Clash of the Titans. It's one of my favorite movies from childhood, but Martin's glibly withering pan is appropriate. Here it is, just in time for the remake that comes out April 2.


The Washington Post

June 12, 1981, Friday, Final Edition


BYLINE: By Judith Martin

SECTION: Weekend; Weekend At The Movies; Pg. 19

LENGTH: 451 words

CLASH OF THE TITANS -- At the Flower Twins, Hampton Mall, Riverdale Plaza, Roth's Mount Vernon, Roth's Tysons Corner, Tenley Circle and Towncenter Sterling.

A wonderfully movie-ish spirit pervades "Clash of the Titans," a hilarious outrage in which the special-effects boys take on Greek mythology. Far from being offered as criticism, therefore, the following points are mentioned in a spirit of admiration for the moviemakers' imagination and breadth of vision (compared, for instance, to Homer's) and in belief that the conferences in which these matters were settled must have been even more fun than the movie.

There are no Titans in the film, not even any mentioned. It's about Olympians, heroes and Gorgons. But "Titans" is a good, strong word for a title.

Thetis was a Nereid and her son was Achilles. Obviously, neither of them is dramatic enough, so she has been made an Olympian diety and given Caliban (Hellenicized to Calibos) for a monster-son. Caliban is from Shakespeare's "The Tempest," of course, but who will notice?

Danae and her son Perseus were put out to die by her father because he knew his grandson was destined to kill him, not because he was morally outraged at the illegitimate birth, and Perseus did eventually kill the king with an accidentally mis-tossed discus. However, by having king and kingdom destroyed immediately, by nature on the rampage, you get a great disaster scene.

Pegasus couldn't have helped Perseus on his quest to slay Medusa, because Pegasus was Medusa's posthumous son. It was Bellerophon who rode Pegasus. Look, you want a white-winged horse, or don't you? But you know you don't want a hero with a name like Bellerophon.

Andromeda was chained to a rock, naked except for her jewels, to be attacked by a female sea-monster. This is a little kinky. Leave her clothes on, and make it an aquatic King Kong. That's still sexy, but at least the audience will feel it has the sanction of tradition.

Speaking of cinematic mythology, you got to have an R2-D2, a cute little piece of metal that loves the hero and makes bringing noises. How about Athena gives him a mechanical owl?

Cerberus had three heads, not two. Listen, the visual-effects people are doing a serious job here -- will you keep the pedants out?

And let's not forget the job done in the casting department. A classy old guy for Zeus -- Laurence Olivier. Then Hera's got to be classy, too -- Claire Bloom. Aphrodite? Ursual Andress (snicker, snicker). And Maggie Smith at Thetis. You want good hefty ladies who would look good in marble. Naw, it doesn't matter that they both look like they've been around -- they're immortals, aren't they?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Good word

"I'm no good, and I can prove it."

-- Jimmy Breslin

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The complete nerd

I recently ran across my friend Laura's post about The Complete New Yorker DVD set and James Wolcott's enthusiastic review of it in New Criterion. Wolcott's thoughtful piece isn't free, but it's the best piece of writing I've seen about the set, and it's worth looking up.

As Wolcott and most reviewers have noted, the collection's search function is bad. I could list many complaints, but perhaps most irksome is that the search window is so small. I have a nice big display, but I can only search using this cramped, cluttered little interface, which is made all the more unattractive by the extensive use of bold typeface, a design no-no since, oh, 1995.

I'm also frustrated by the limited options. Yes, under Department I can click Cartoon and see only cartoons. But what if I want to see everything except cartoons? I mean no disrespect to The New Yorker's signature funnies, but there are a lot of them in any given issue, and for the purposes of my browsing I am, for the most part, not that interested.

I could go on. The good news is that with a little IT elbow grease I've devised much more agreeable ways to poke around this marvelous archive. What makes them possible is the fact that although the images of the magazine pages are encrypted, the database with all the information about the archive is not. It is, for those of you following along at home, a plain old SQLite database, as I learned from this page ages ago when I was trying to figure out how to copy all the DVDs to a hard drive.

I have a bit of experience with databases, so after much fiddling -- which involved making a copy of the 640-megabyte database file, installing what's called an ODBC driver to make the database accessible, and dusting off some programming skills -- I used sturdy old Access 97 to build searching and browsing tools that make me a much happier Complete New Yorker owner.

What I'm most pleased with is this form, which lets me look at the article information in a nice big grid. In the upper left corner are drop-down boxes that let me filter by month and year. I like being able to see article abstracts at much greater length, and to see several abstracts on the screen at once. It's also helpful to see the articles in order by page number. If there's a system to how the built-in search interface orders articles, I don't know what it is.

In this form I am filtering out categories of items and articles I don't want to see, like cartoons and -- sorry, poets -- poems. (I was amused to see that in the database, these categories are collectively identified as "rubrics," which seems a New Yorker-y sort of word.) I somewhat crudely do this filtering by directly editing the underlying database query. The query is in SQL, the computer language widely used for manipulating databases. My New Yorker SQL looks like this (it would probably look better if the New Yorker fact checkers had a crack at it):

I also made this form, which lists movie reviews. I love New Yorker movie reviews, including Pauline Kael's and also those by the likes of Penelope Gilliatt. (Remember her?) But another problem with the Complete New Yorker database is that the data entry was sloppy -- surprising, given The New Yorker's famous fussiness -- so for many movie reviews there are no abstracts. But at least the movie titles have been entered as keywords, so on this screen, for example, I can see that Roger Angell's 1979 piece "High and Low" is about (get it?) Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Jerk. Cool.

Of course, when I use this software to find an article I'm interested in, I still have to clumsily switch over to The Complete New Yorker program and look it up. But what I have done here is, for my purposes at least, a big improvement. I have long been so very happy with The Complete New Yorker, and now I am even happier.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Good word

"(Public relations is shown in this picture to be an even more dreadful doom than alcoholism, with the added disadvantage that one doesn't practice it simply because one is sick.)"

-- Brendan Gill, on The Days of Wine and Roses

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Good word

"[Robert Penn] Warren, a large man who was an inspired mimic, did an imitation of FDR canoodling with his little dog Fala which made me laugh so hard my stomach hurt no matter how many times I saw it."

-- Susan Cheever

Friday, February 19, 2010

No comment

Let us mourn a Back With Interest loss. Haloscan, the company whose comments service I used, has dropped out of sight. So eight years' worth of comments are gone. As they say in cyberspace, easy come, easy go.

Here's to eight more years of commenting!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Good word

"Another day, another drama."

Britney Spears, "Piece of Me"
(Compsers: Klas Frans Ahlund, Christian Karlsson, Pontus Winnberg)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Consumer report

When we are at the supermarket together, I let Chef Ereck handle the decisions. Meanwhile, I wander around and use my crappy cell phone camera to photograph sights that amuse me. Recent examples:

Any'tizers. You thought chicken fries were best served just before the main course. But you thought wrong. They're best served any'time. Try rousing yourself from sleep some night for a batch of Any'tizers. You won't be sorry.

Who doesn't love pizza? And who doesn't love burgers? And who doesn't love a cheese center? Two things gratify me about this creation: 1) It's a product of St. Francis, Wis. By my count it traveled only 84 food miles! Attention locavores. 2) Reduced fat.

Deeply snarky subhed on the front page of
The Sunday Times. "She once said to me that she should never have married into a German family."

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Good word

"In 1993, when Bill Clinton tried to do the right thing by allowing gays and lesbians in the military to be themselves, a predecessor of Mullen’s, Colin Powell, directed the embarrassingly public and retrograde rebellion by the generals against it, leading a conga line of heavy brass over to the White House to tell the president not to exercise his authority as commander in chief and order an end to one of the last vestiges of discrimination in the armed forces. Powell helped shape the gutless compromise that those who protect our country must live by a code of honor even while they’re legally bound to be less than honest."

-- Maureen Dowd

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Everything's gone in life; nothing is left

Existence was tough in the old West, as was romance.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Like oh my god

It's not dating well, the homophobia of Moon's discourse about her English teacher, "Mr. Bufu," but it makes me laugh anyway.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Police action

Time to introduce a new series to Back With Interest. It's called Stars on 45. It features cover art from seven-inch vinyl records I collected in, oh, 1988, mostly. To ring in the new year, I give you this obscurity.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

To everything there is a season dept.

Impressed by Mariah Carey's unsmiling performance as a social worker in Precious, I asked Ereck as we left the theater, "NOW can we see Glitter?" (Answer: Yes.)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The last roundup

Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a fitting swansong for Heath Ledger. Read my review.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


K: Do you like [Paul Simon's] Graceland?
E: I think I did, but --
K: -- it came to seem hopelessly bourgeois?
E: Yes.
K: That's why I like it.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Good word

"Tom Carson got [Gina] Arnold's goat when he pointed out, in the wake of 1986's putatively progressive Lifes Rich Pageant, what seems undeniable -- that R.E.M.'s 'tendentious appeals to a cloudily glorious past' and 'wishful confusion of cultural might-have-beens with historical truth' were 'the emotional syntax of Reaganism, pure and simple.' Not that R.E.M. were Reaganites, of course (you knew that, right?) -- just that they didn't escape Reaganism's cultural climate. Fans of both band and pol shared the habit of closing their rapidly moving eyes and wishing stuff would go away, not to mention a disdain for the moral weaklings on the other side of the fence."

-- Robert Christgau

Friday, January 01, 2010


Something struck me last night as I watched Hannah Montana: The Movie, a Walt Disney Pictures picture. There are two scenes involving carnival rides. On the one hand that seems very Disney, since Disney is all about rides. On the other hand, Walt Disney conceived his theme parks as an orderly, controlled alternative to old-style amusement parks and their carnival rides.