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August 2002
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October 2002

the tuxedo

Well, that sucked. The Tuxedo is a Jackie Chan movie that doesn't understand anything about why Jackie Chan is appealing. I understand Jackie's getting older, but still, why would you make a Jackie Chan movie with car chase scenes, where Jackie drives the car? Where's the Chan-ness in that? The Jackie Chan that audiences love doesn't need a magic tuxedo to defy the laws of physics ... that Jackie Chan defies physics all by himself. The Tuxedo is a bad movie, although the scene featuring James Brown is pretty good. For what it's worth, Jennifer Love Hewitt's Breasts have a cameo role, as well.

skeptical 9/11

Meanwhile, the Skeptical Inquirer folks of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal offer "A Skeptical Look at September 11th", which concludes:

[W]e suggest that most homeland security expenditures, which in the zero-sum budget game are diverted from other vital purposes, are terribly expensive and disproportionate to competing needs for preventing other causes of death and misery in our society. While prudent, focused improvements in security are called for, the sheer costs of most security initiatives greatly distort the way we address the many threats to our individual and collective well-being. Our greatest vulnerability to terrorism is the persisting, irrational fear of terrorism that has gripped our country. We must start behaving like the informed, reasoning beings we profess to be.

dear congress

The editors of The Nation post an Open Letter to Congress. An excerpt:

The genius of the American form of government was the creation of a system of institutions to check and balance government power and so render it accountable to the people. Today that system is threatened by a monster of unbalanced and unaccountable power--a new Leviathan--that is taking shape among us in the executive branch of the government. This Leviathan--concealed in an ever-deepening, self-created secrecy and fed by streams of money from corporations that, as scandal after scandal has shown, have themselves broken free of elementary accountability--menaces civil liberties even as it threatens endless, unprovoked war. As disrespectful of the Constitution as it is of the UN Charter, the Administration has turned away from law in all its manifestations and placed its reliance on overwhelming force to achieve its ends.

In pursuit of empire abroad, it endangers the Republic at home. The bully of the world threatens to become the bully of Americans, too. Already, the Justice Department claims the right to jail American citizens indefinitely on the sole ground that a bureaucrat in the Pentagon has labeled them something called an "enemy combatant." ... [T]his year's Congressional campaign, by shunning debate on the fundamental issue of war and peace, has signaled to the public that even in the most important matters facing the country neither it nor its representatives decide; only the executive does.

wild card

Well, the Giants are in the post-season again. I am an old-fogey holdout who thinks the Wild Card system is bad for baseball; the team I have followed for 44 years is in the playoffs thanks to that system; what's a boy to do?

First, I'll be at Pac Bell Park rooting on the Giants next weekend. Beyond that, though, there is a difference here between what's good for Steven the Giants Fan and Steven the Baseball Fan. Some people believe you must always fight for yourself without considering the larger picture, because no one else is looking out for you. My own mother told me this once; I can no longer remember the issue, but it was something where I was about to vote for some candidate or issue, and if my side won, my own life in the narrow sense would be worse off. She said you shouldn't vote that way; I said if everyone's life was better off, than mine would be too, so I felt it counterproductive to "vote Steven" in the manner she was suggesting.

Look, I've been waiting for the San Francisco Giants, my favorite sports franchise, to win the World Series since the team came to San Francisco when I was 5 years old. If they somehow manage to win the World Series this year, I won't worry for a second about how they "snuck" in via the Wild Card. But when looking at the bigger picture, it's easy to see why the Wild Card sux.

Baseball, pretty much alone out of the major team spectator sports in America, still has a regular season that means something. In virtually every other major sports league in the U.S. (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS, add your own fave), a large number of teams qualify for post-season play, making the regular season less important. (MLS is the king in this regard: a full 80% of MLS teams make the playoffs.) Baseball, though, the sport where teams play 162 games over 6 long months, manages to retain a bit of regular-season integrity: with the exception of one "wild card" team per league, to advance to the post-season, a baseball team must win its division. Before the wild card system began to poison baseball, a team could win 103 games and still miss the playoffs if they finished in second place, as fans of the 1993 Giants are well aware.

The wild card system is supposed to make September baseball more exciting by allowing more teams to remain in contention in the last month of the season. There used to be a name for September baseball ... we called it "the pennant race" because teams were fighting to win their league/division/whatever. It's no longer a pennant race; what the Giants "won" yesterday was "The Wild Card," whatever that is. And of course I was elated, but baseball is (or should be) bigger than Steven.

What did the Wild Card do for September baseball in 2002? The AL Wild Card "race" came down to Oakland vs. Anaheim. The "race" was almost completely meaningless, since both teams were going to make the playoffs, absent a huge collapse. The "race" wasn't to make the post-season, but merely to position oneself relative to home-field advantage. Meanwhile, much was made of the Giants and Dodgers putting together a great wild-card "race" in the NL, but what did that "race" really add to September baseball excitement? On the last Saturday of the regular season, the Giants finally clinched the Wild Card over the Dodgers, so one could suggest the Wild Card made for a more exciting conclusion to the regular season. Except that on the very same Saturday, Arizona clinched the divisional title over the Giants. In other words, with the Wild Card, the "race" came down to the penultimate day of the season ... without the Wild Card, the race would have come down to the penultimate day of the season. For this, baseball destroys the integrity of the regular season?

The Wild Card system in 2002 did nothing to create exciting September races. The only people who benefit, short term, from the 2002 Wild Card system are the players and fans of the Angels and Giants. The Wild Card system sux.

And if the Giants somehow win it all this year, I won't give two shits about any of the above :-).

eric hayot

To finish off this round, Eric Hayot chimes in with top ten lists in both music and movies:

My lists are based on the idea that I would be stranded on the desert island with Charlie, so that certain genres, etc., would be taken care of in advance.


1. Sugar, Copper Blue
2. Evan Dando, Live at the Brattle Theater, vol 1
3. Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
4. Cake, Fashion Nugget
5. Zi Yue, Zi Yue (bass-heavy Chinese rock)
6. REM, Life's Rich Pageant
7. Radiohead, OK Computer
8. Sarah Vaughn, Greatest Hits
9. Verdi, La Traviata
10. Billy Bragg, Workers Playtime


1. Bloodsport (awesome; can be watched over and over; Jean-Claude fights blind at the end!).
2. Lone Star (makes you cheer for incest; hooray!)
3. Supercop (Jackie Chan's best movie; saw it for the first time on the same night I saw Lone Star).
4. Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige, plus a great story, plus Chinese opera = gooood.)
5. The Terminator
6. Toto le heros (fabulous Belgian movie about love and memory)
7. Chungking Express (I once touched Wang Fei's shoulder...; great soundtrack)
8. Not a movie but available at Casa, so I'm counting it: Mr. Show (HBO comedy series)
9. Lord of the Rings (can I count the trilogy? You all counted Godfather and 2; in any case chosen entirely for the story).
10. Rouge (of the blue/white/red series): once I was in a theater waiting for some other movie, and the preview of this began, so imagine: on screen a waving red scarf. Voiceover: From Krzysztof Kieslowski, the man who brought you Blue, and White... A film that bla bla bla ... Right at that moment, the guy in front of me leans over to his date and whispers, loudly, "Red!". For that reason alone worth bringing along.)

kim nicolini

Next up, Kim Nicolini's top ten movies:

#1 (non-negotiable) HAROLD AND MAUDE

Now in, no particular order but delineated by genre or director:

2. Sunset Boulevard (combo genre - noir/horror/musical - yuk.yuk)
3. Rebecca (spooky women's film meets noir)
4. Night of the Living Dead (horror)
5. River's Edge (coming of age story)
6. All that Jazz (musical)
7. Godfather I and II (gangster)

8. Blue Velvet (Lynch)
9. Goodfellas (Scorsese)
10. Taxi Driver (Scorsese)

charlie's top ten sleater-kinney songs

Charlie: I think I like The Hot Rock best because A) some of the songs capture what I like about the first album, but with better songwriting and infinitely better sound; B) many of the songs have a more meditative sheen that captures something I love about the band that people tend to overlook; C) the guitars resemble Pavement -- see "A Quarter To Three" -- more than on their other records (and Pavement is my favorite, as you know)

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone
Heart Attack
One More Hour
Words and Guitar
The End of You
The Size of Our Love
A Quarter To Three
You're No Rock'n Roll Fun
#1 Must Have
One Beat

The last cuts from the list:

Dig Me Out
Start Together
Don't Talk Like
You're No Rock 'n Roll Fun

more top tens

Lots of folks are chiming in on their top ten movies and music, so here goes. First, Charlie Bertsch gives his picks:

The criteria:

1) It must have given me viewing pleasure for many years, preferably in a variety of contexts;
3) It must have great power of association (reminding me of the times and places when I first saw it and providing a boost to my acts of remembering the past);
4) It must fit into the conception of a "Desert Island Movie" list, providing something that the other records on the list cannot (i.e. I had the entirety of the list in mind when making each choice)

Here goes:

1) Singin' In the Rain

-- Because any movie you can see 40 times and still enjoy as much as the first time has to be doing something right
-- Because it reminds me of sitting in the pitch-black Pacific Film Archive at 4pm in Richard Hutson's English 176 Literature and Popular Culture class and enjoying it with the readers
-- Because it was Skylar's first film with "real" people and brings her all kinds of joy
-- Because she makes me rent it every time I go to Casa Video

2) Badlands

-- Because I first saw it on a triple bill at the AFI as a teenager while my parents were at the opera next door and realized how great movies can be (rarely having seen them in the theater to that point, and always with my family)
-- Because I fell in love with the outsiderness of the protagonists and wanted to live like them
-- Because I saw it with Kim at the Castro the day before we learned she was pregnant with Skylar

3) Sunset Boulevard

-- Because it was one of the three movies Kim picked to show me on a rented VCR our first Thanksgiving together
-- Because she quoted lines from it endlessly and taught me how to appreciate camp
-- Because it does a better job of giving the aura of the ancient to the recent past of any text I've ever experienced

4) Der Himmel ueber Berlin/Wings of Desire (the English title sucks)

-- Because I went to see it by myself in D.C. the summer after my freshman year of college, when I was depressed as hell
-- Because it gave me something to talk about with my former girlfriend who had just broken up with me
-- Because the shift from black-and-white to color made me remember walking around Berlin in winter and, more specifically, seeing the beauty of the Berlin Wall before it was destroyed
-- Because the German is beautiful Peter Handke
-- Because I still love it after all these years, even though Kim hates it
-- Because Wim Wenders said that his idea for the angels came from reading Rilke's Duino Elegies and listening to The Cure's Pornography
-- Because I've often felt like an angel deciding whether to descend to the messiness of the body

5) Blue Velvet

-- Because I read about it in The Face while I was an exchange student in Germany and, for the first time really, knew that I just HAD to see a film
-- Because my high school comrades Rob and Dave made me watch it as soon as I got back
-- Because of the way it sounds
-- Because I just adore the idea of a facade that hides corruption just beneath the surface
-- Because angels -- see my comments on Wings of Desire above -- are always voyeurs, but not all voyeurs are angels

6) My Neighbor Totoro

-- Because of Totoro
-- Because it captures the fears and compensations of childhood like no other film I've seen
-- Because of the way the giant tree looks
-- Because I've always had this weird thing for Japan
-- Because of Kimono My House in Emeryville

7) The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (they can be combined,

-- Because you have to have one acknowledged Top-10 film on the list
-- Because I can never stop watching it when it's on TV
-- Because Kim can't either
-- Because it's like opera
-- Because it has positive associations connected with the front room of my house in Tucson
-- Because just when you thought you'd left this too solid flesh behind, it pulls you back in

8) Diva

-- Because I'd never seen anything like it when I saw it on TV as an otherwise miserable eighth grader
-- Because it taught me the concept of the total aesthetic environment
-- Because of the aria from La Wally
-- Because I've had a weird fixation on mysterious Asian women ever since
-- Because it almost made me want to go to France

9) Dazed and Confused

-- Because I saw it in a sneak preview with Kim way out in the Richmond
-- Because I went to see it twice more on the week it came out and liked it even more
-- Because when I was in the second grade in 1976, I used to get scared when my mom had to stop at Palisades High School for some PTA-type matter
-- Because I told her I never wanted to be a teenager
-- Because I had the right idea
-- Because the end of the gravel road we lived on was always littered with beercans etc. in the morning when I waited for the school bus and my mom would say that teenagers had been "making whoopee" there the night before
-- Because now I'm nostalgic for the 70s teenage lifestyle I missed out on
-- Because of the music
-- Because I just put it in the VCR to look for a clip and had to watch the whole movie again
-- Because I adore Richard Linklater's work

10) World on a Wire

-- Because the Fassbinder Festival at the PFA and Castro in the summer of 1997 is the highlight of my life at the movies
-- Because the "Fass phase", as Kim calls it, marks the point at which I came closest to a life of dissolute, decadent pleasure and pain
-- Because the same people kept coming to every screening in Berkeley and changed from a respectful PFA audience to a beer-smuggling, shouting, laughing mob
-- Because World on Wire is Fassbinder's longest, hardest to see film and his only foray into science fiction
-- Because it's beautiful
-- Because we cheered for the lead actor as an old friend
-- Because I can lord my having seen it over people who didn't

s-k, bruce, giants

In the great tradition of Jimmy's old website where he posted fan reviews of Sleater-Kinney concerts, someone named Han Q Duong has cranked up a website devoted to fan reviews of the current tour. There's a link to my S-K comments from a coupla days ago ... what made me laugh was the comments Han added:

"I'm glad they played Promised Land for him, as his entire blog is pretty much entirely Sleater-Kinney and Bruce Springsteen, with a little bit of the San Francisco Giants mixed in."