Saturday, December 31, 2005


Every few years, I'll get a feeling that a particular movie is going to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and there's no possible way it's going to lose. I don't get this feeling every year, because sometimes there's more competition and the race isn't as clear-cut. I remember thinking that OUT OF AFRICA and AMERICAN BEAUTY would win the Oscar when I didn't know anything about them except that their posters made them look like winners (for the record, I haven't seen OOF and I thought AB was a load of hooey). Anyway, I've got that feeling again with BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, and this time I've even seen the movie. Mark my words: there is no way this thing isn't going to win the Oscar for Best Picture. And this time, it'll be a worthy winner. Now, that's not to say it's my favorite movie of the year (Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 is).

But BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is a movie Hollywood can be proud of. While I'm sure being The Gay Cowboy Movie (actually, they herd sheep) has done nothing but help its cachet in Hollywood, and I'm sure some people will vote for it just to send a message, the movie renders criticism of it somehow being an affirmative action pick void by the undisputable power of its story and the filmmaking behind it.

Ang Lee has built his career on skillful observations of human interactions, and from THE WEDDING BANQUET all the way through HULK and to this movie, he's focused on characters whose repressed emotions tear them up inside (or cause them to turn into the Hulk). The characters Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal play in BROKEBACK love each other deeply, but they know that there is no way their romance can work. At one point Ledger's Ennis Del Mar says, "If you can't fix it, you've gotta stand it." My fiancee says that's a very Chinese attitude to take; the social order is not something easily knocked from its foundations.

Movie snobs might accuse Lee of being "middlebrow," as if being able to use classical moviemaking techniques to tell moving stories with realistic characters were an inherently inferior skill to those employed by filmmakers who push the stylistic envelope. If you ask me, being able to extract an intimate story of four characters from a book to life on the screen using the inherently elaborate, time-consuming process of filmmaking is a pretty remarkable artistic feat. Just think of how many lousy movies there are.

Ang Lee (d) 8
Heath Ledger 3
Jake Gyllenhaal 4
Randy Quaid 6
Michelle Williams 2 (DICK)
Linda Cardellini 2 (LEGALLY BLONDE)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Blah blah internet blah blah

I figure I could probably start a blog where each day I list something annoying by people overstating the importance of technology or are in some other way irritating in internet-specific ways, but that would probably get boring really quick.

So I'll try to keep that sort of complaining at a minimum, but here's a few to start with:

1. This guy ranks the top ten ways technology has supposedly transformed us in 2005. Don't a lot of his entries overlap? How many of these are really transforming our lives in meaningful ways? Couldn't someone have made something very close to the same list each of the past few years? A related group of irritants are the people arguing that the rise of blogging is the most important thing in the world to happen this year.

2. These people who think seeing "Goatse" in a public place is the pinnacle of wit. What is it about the internet that turns items of mild amusement into cultural totems? C.f. Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc. I'll bet a lot of these same people complain about Saturday Night Live repeating lame jokes in its weekly struggle for laughs. (And no, I'm not going to link to a Goatse picture for you.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Manuea le Kirisimasi

Or something close to that. I guess I was just stressed out Christmas Eve. Christmas wasn't ruined after all. You know how, in general, there's a direct relationship between body mass and singing ability? Well, everybody ought to have a Samoan choir at Midnight Mass to melt away any holiday blahs they might have. Christmas Day was a joyous time with the family.

Pie and Coffee has links to some Christmas homilies and messages.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Think like a criminal

A remarkable story of a woman who had her purse stolen --- containing the only copy of her Master's thesis --- and tracked it down herself by thinking like a thief.

Bad Celebrity Photos

If you enjoy laughing at celebrities, a good place to start is this collection of the year's worst celebrity sartorial choices.

Unfortunately for her, the picture they've got in there of the Black Eyed Peas' Fergie isn't the year's worst photo of her. This one is:

Yep, that's pee.

It's not just the ladies who do odd things to their hair. Check out the coiffure that indie rock darling Rivers Cuomo sported in high school.

Aron's Records is Closing

I stopped by Aron's Records in Hollywood last night and was sad to see that they're having a going-out-of-business sale. Aron's was the biggest independent record store in L.A. for years before Amoeba came along. They were the one store all the others looked weak compared to. Amoeba pretty much wrote the book on having just about any album you could think of in stock, but going there kind of feels like going to Home Depot, and they've always had higher prices than Aron's. Well, now Aron's prices are even lower, because used and new CDs are both 30% off. They'll probably stay open until sometime in February.

Boy, many of the indie record stores I frequented in the 1990s are gone now. Here's a few that remain, at least the last time I checked:

1. Fingerprints on 2nd St. in Long Beach. This store's significantly smaller than Aron's, but it's my pick for the best selection (or at least, the selection that's most in line with my own taste) in a store that's the size of a store instead of a warehouse. Good prices, good selection of both used and new, knowledgeable and friendly staff, in-store concerts, and well-chosen displays of new stuff. If any record/CD store is going to survive in this economy, it'll be these guys.

2. Rhino Records in Claremont. Claremont is one of my favorite undiscovered towns around SoCal. You've got more colleges than you can shake a stick at, beautiful old oak-lined streets of Craftsman houses, and a great independent record store across the street from a great independent ice cream shop. Good selection, helpful staff, frequent sales, and lots of "imports" *cough* *cough*. Better than their supposed flagship store in Westwood. They have some sort of relationship with Mad Platter near UCR in Riverside, which is one of the few saving graces of that city.

3. Poo-Bah in Pasadena. They moved to a storefront on East Colorado Blvd. a couple years ago from their funky longtime location in a converted house, but they're still doing things the same. Selection kinda leans towards music for old guys (e.g., classic rock, jazz, blues), but I always find something good here, and the atmosphere reminds me of the old days.

4. Noise Noise Noise in Costa Mesa. Every time I visit this tiny shop behind a 7-11 in Orange County, I expect to see that it's closed, but it was still there as of this summer. Small selection of CDs, but heavy on the vinyl, if you go for that, both old and new. They're not trying to be all things to all people, but they've got their niche. Their battle with the City of Costa Mesa over tinting their windows to prevent sun damage is a good example of code enforcement gone awry.

5. Penny Lane in Alhambra. PL is a SoCal mini-chain that's okay but I've always found kind of annoying. But I give props to the one in Alhambra because it seems to be run by a clerk determined to drive away customers with his in-store music selections. Nice guy, though, and he turned me on to Venetian Snares.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Bah! Humbug!

1. The temperature today was somewhere in the mid-80s. It's Christmas Eve! What kind of stupid weather is it where it's hot on Christmas Eve?

2. This year I finally ordered my gifts from Amazon soon enough for them to arrive before Christmas. Unfortunately, the management at my apartment complex decided to take the day off without telling anybody, so I can't pick up the package. They ruined Christmas!

Monday, December 12, 2005


I'm writing this less than an hour before Tookie Williams is scheduled to be executed, but I just wanted to say a few words. Basically, I agree with Mr. Balloon Juice here that I oppose the death penalty, but I don't see anything exceptional about Stanley "Tookie" Williams's case that would be cause for granting him clemency unless you were prepared to give it to everybody, or nearly everybody on death row. And yes, for the record, I would commute everyone on California's death row's sentence to life in prison. There is no reason for the state to kill people when it can remove them from society by locking them up for life instead.

But that's not the argument most of his supporters are making. They're saying that somehow writing a few children's books and brokering a not-particularly-successful gang truce makes up for brutally and deliberately murdering four completely innocent people and starting the Crips. (Actually, a few folks, apparently emboldened by the awards given to Henry Kissinger and Yasir Arafat, even thought this was somehow worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.) I'm sorry, but that's a load of crap. The guy never expressed any remorse for his crimes (although of course, that's something of a "well, if she's a witch, she'll float, and then we'll burn her" aspect to that) and never even helped out the police by informing on any other members of his gang. The jury found him guilty, and there's never been much of a case made for his innocence, at least as far as I can tell. So he's a scumbag who lightened up a bit and tried to at least do something positive with his life. That's nice, and I can't look into a man's heart, but from all appearances he still looks guilty.

Nevertheless he's a human being who is going to die having committed some heinous crimes, and so I will say a prayer for him, guilty or not.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Miles and Kilometers

A while ago on the Roadgeek Yahoogroup, the question arose of where one could see distance signs marked in both miles and kilometers. I couldn't remember the locations of any offhand, but maybe I just hadn't been noticing them. Coming back from Las Vegas, I found one at the southern end of CA-127 in Baker:

Yes, CA-127 is not the normal route to take back to L.A. from Vegas. I had headed west on NV-160 south of Las Vegas to Pahrump, then southwest on NV-372, which quickly crosses the state line and becomes CA-178, which meets up with CA-127 in Shoshone, not far from one entrance to Death Valley.

I took this route just for the scenery; I had never been to Pahrump before, though I had visited Beatty, in the same county. Shoshone is a tiny community of 52 people. There are fewer than a hundred in Tecopa, a few miles away, and aside from the hot springs in Tecopa (I visited once on a Geology field trip as an undergrad) that's pretty much it for miles around. Heading south on CA-127, one crosses Ibex Pass when crossing into San Bernardino County, where some faint lights can be seen in the distance after dark. Those lights are the town of Baker, 40 miles away and the next place you'll see anything besides another vehicle with an electric light.

I also saw another distance sign marked in both miles and kilometers heading south on I-15, six miles north of Victorville. I didn't get a picture. These dual-signed signs were not standard, though; I saw multiple signs marked only in miles on both I-15 and CA-127.

Clark County Route 215 in Las Vegas

I spent the weekend in Las Vegas tagging along with my fiancee while she attended a pharmacy conference. I left a day before she did (she hitched a ride home with a friend) and scoped out some of the new beltway they're building around the periphery of the city. For now, only the portion starting south of the Strip and heading east to Henderson is signed as an Interstate, I-215. The rest of the road is signed for now as Clark County route 215. Presumably it'll get designated as an Interstate when the whole thing gets built around the west and north sides of town, ending near Nellis Air Force Base. I haven't seen any indication on maps that there will be an eastern leg of this beltway anytime in the near future. For now CC-215 is a weird mixed bag of a highway. Parts of it are freeway, parts are built only to expressway standards (i.e., there are at-grade intersections), and parts are aligned for the time being along the periphery of the right-of-way, which will be the frontage roads for the route once the main roadway in the center of the right-of-way is completed.

I headed north out of the city along Rancho Rd., former US-95 (I didn't notice any BUS-95 signs on it, though I may have just missed them) and met up with CC-215 at its northern intersection with Jones Rd. Here the road is just an expressway, built almost to freeway standards in a below-grade alignment, but with at-grade intersections. Distressingly, though, was the fact that there was no median between the two directions of travel, only a double yellow line separating the heavy, fast-moving traffic:

West of US-95, there are a couple of full interchanges before reverting back to an expressway. At about the point where the beltway turns from westbound to southbound, you're treated to a commanding view of the whole Las Vegas valley. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture. The western leg of this road has some of the starkest landscaping I've ever seen, just a big field of naked rocks, looking more like a gravel quarry than anything else:

One weird thing I noticed was a subtle change in the shape of the CC-215 shields. North of somewhere around the Far Hills intersection, we see this pentagonal shape familiar as a standard county route marker, although I'd never seen that diamond seal in the middle:

South of that point, though, we still have a pentagon, but the shape is distorted from the standard:

See how the top two sides of the pentagon conform to the shape of the diamond and the overall effect is more squat? I have no idea why they did this. I think the oddly-shaped ones might be in the older-constructed parts of the route, but I'm not sure. The squat pentagons may have even been diamond-shaped signs that the county retrofitted to become pentagons.

If you really want an extensive log of this route and set of photos of it, you can check out this site here, although it hasn't been updated since April of 2004.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Christmas is Cancelled

I have my own issues with the Church not responding to modern needs, but if you want to see an extreme example of churches completely gone over to a consumerist approach to religion, check out these Evangelical megachurches cancelling Sunday services this Christmas because its congregation will be too busy opening presents! What's next, closing the church on Easter so that they can have an egg hunt instead? Aren't these the same fundamentalists who complain about stores wishing customers "Happy Holidays?"

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"We don't torture"

Andrew Sullivan has been extensively covering the Bush Administration's weaselly attempts to claim it doesn't torture prisoners. Keep scrolling down; he's got a zillion posts on the subject. This is a terrible black blot on America's soul, the kind of wrongdoing on Bush's part that can't be justified by any amount of rhetoric.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Sealers of Weights and Measures

For a number of years it seemed like it was a requirement of the position for the various county Agricultural Commissioners/Sealers of Weights and Measures to have a wacky name. The proof of this seemed to be when E. Leon Spaugy's replacement in L.A. County was revealed to be one Cato R. Fiksdal. There are some good ones in neighboring counties, too, like Edouard P. Layaye (I dig the spelling of his first name) in San Bernardino and Jim Delperdang in Ventura. Now we have some new guy to replace Cato R. Fiksdal who's got an ordinary name, and it just isn't the same.

So I was in Las Vegas over the weekend and took a look at the seal on the gas pumps there. The Nevada Sealer doesn't stamp his name on the pumps, but he does leave us with an inspirational motto, "That Equity May Prevail."

Back in June I drove the length of Florida and found their Sealer a bit more intimidating.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Blair's teeth

Man, Tony Blair has nasty teeth.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bush's Strategy for Iraq

Hey kids, guess what? George Bush (or, more accurately, the National Security Council) has articulated a strategy for victory in Iraq, and you can even download a .pdf of the document here. I've only taken a cursory look at it, but at least on the surface it makes a reasonable amount of good sense. So we can be thankful for that. But couldn't he actually give us more concrete, measurable goals? Everything's qualitative, not quantitative. Definitions could be fudged either way. I have a feeling that a year from now, the President's supporters will be able to point to the language in this document and say, "See, the strategy is working!" and his opponents will be able to use the same language and say, "See the strategy isn't working!" But hey, at least it's a strategy. And only two and a half years into the war. What the hell has he been doing since 2003, just winging it?

Fred Kaplan at Slate frames it this way:

To put this in perspective: From December 1941 to August 1945, the U.S. government mobilized an entire nation; manufactured a mighty arsenal; played a huge role in defeating the armies, air forces, and navies of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan; and emerged from battle poised to shape the destiny of half the globe. By comparison, from September 2001 to December 2005, the U.S. government has advanced to the point of describing a path to victory in a country the size of California.

Scroll down to the bottom of Page 17 in the strategy document and find this piece of advice on "Continued Challenges in the Political Sphere"

Nurturing a culture of reconciliation, human rights, and transparency in a society scarred by three decades of arbitrary violence and rampant corruption.

Maybe if they actually felt like implementing this they could, oh, I dunno, maybe ban torture or be a bit more judicious when they round up civilians and throw them in jail and stuff like that.