June 30, 2004
This SEED Needs Money To Grow
The SEED Public Charter School in D.C. is a public boarding school (!) that just sent its first graduating class to college. All of it. Here's the demographics, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor:
Ninety percent come from homes below the poverty line; 88 percent come from single parent or no parent households, and 93 percent are the first generation in their families to go to college.
Plenty more in the CSM about SEED's program, and a more personal view in The Washington Post (in an article titled "SEED's Harvest" -- clearly this school was named expressly for the benefit of headline writers everywhere).
Now, this boarding-school goodness doesn't come cheap: It's about 25 grand per year, per student. Some critics say that invalidates the SEED model; if it needs grants from Bill Gates and Oprah to make ends meet, it clearly isn't applicable to other urban public school systems. That was my initial reaction as well.
... the best way to get more funding is to show that more funding actually helps if used correctly-- which this program seems to do.
Hmm. Oh yeah.
So basically what you're telling me, SEED, is that you are Hogwarts, and with just a little bit of moolah (and come on, we can spare it -- here in Florida we pay $18,000 to incarcerate somebody for a year), you can transform kids with few prospects into college-bound wizards and witches?
I can't believe I ever scoffed at that. Since when did the central challenge of public education become finding ways to stretch a measly $4000 (the average expenditure per public school student in the U.S., more or less)? We oughtta be encouraging experiments like SEED and then trumpeting their successes -- to policymakers, yes, but also to philanthropists.
Sure enough, Eduwonk reports that SEED is planting-- err, planning to set up shop in some new communities. (Har har!)
Sam Raimi's Big Idea
Okay, so Sam Raimi's idea might seem flaky...
The proposal: Position cameras above all major American cities and shoot one frame -- a 24th of a second of film -- each day at noon. The frames would be strung together gradually to create a continuous chronicle of each city's development.
"It's the same idea of all time-lapse photography, but over an outrageous amount of time," Raimi told The Associated Press in an interview to promote "Spider-Man 2." "So you could watch the city of Los Angeles rise, and maybe an earthquake might come in 300 years or a tidal wave."
...but how cool would it be it someone had started this 50 years ago? It would be fascinating to see the last half-century of human habitation in LA -- ooh, or Detroit, I wanna see Detroit -- condensed like this.
Is he imagining a satellite, though, or just a camera bolted to the top of a hill?
I think the aerial view would be more interesting -- maybe it could be a blimp or a balloon or something, not a satellite -- 'cause you'd really get to see the macro patterns of growth, the rings of development (leaving orbits of decrepitude in their wake).
It's all very Long Now, you know?
June 29, 2004
Future of Open Source
Skip this month's sensationally-headlined Wired article "The Linux Killer." But check out its sidebar, an article about how Linus Torvald's laissez-faire approach to sourcing Linux is causing the enterprise legal headaches today.
To put Linux on more solid intellectual property footing in the future, the company has to become a little more corporate and a little less Dangermouse. It has to be a lot more meticulous about making sure all of its code is properly licensed to and by developers, keeping a thorough library of who-coded-what. In fact, the company may send Torvalds and the developers to re-write all the code that's already been written, making sure to pull any proprietary code out of there.
My experiences with open-source technology have been dim so far. I tried working with OpenOffice for several months on my last computer, because Microsoft Works documents only work in MS Works and MS Office was too rich for my blood. The software just had an amateurish feel about it, it crashed my computer regularly, and the interface was unintuitive (it was a little too open-source; i.e., I felt like I had to code a macro to get it to register a carriage return). MS Word may be a fascist, irrational piece of crap technology that mucks up my documents twice as often as it improves them, but at least it deceives me into feeling I have a modicum of stability there.
Open-source browsers have been a mixed bag. There's nothing wrong with Opera or Mozilla, per se, and especially on my old computer, I would go through weeks of heavy Opera usage, but the tangible advantages I would get from making them my primary browser and customizing them to fit snugly with Windows the way IE does (yes, yes, another proof that MS is eee-vil) seem small. It's not all that inconvenient to me to download yet another patch to fix yet another gaping security flaw every few weeks. Ha ha.
I love the idea of open-source — distributed creation, flexibility, affordability ... it sounds like the future. I refer to WikiPedia regularly, and I've long dreamt of an open-source-ish screenplay-writing website. I flirted with making Linux the OS for my new computer before some coworkers nabbed me a $20 copy of XP. Robin's grooving on Firefox, and I may download a free copy of StarOffice (I work at an educational insitution, after all). Talk to Robin long enough and he'll dangle before you visions of an open-source TV network.
My question: what's the future -- Linux or Googlezon? Open source or OpenSource™?
Or, as this Wired article suggests, are the two beginning to grow together towards a murky middle?
It's Us Weekly for Us Wonks
Okay, that's way overstating it, but that seems appropriate for a blog entry written in praise of a magazine that way overstates it.
Foreign Policy, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is by far the hippest policy mag on the rack. The Atlantic Monthly has more authority; The New Yorker is better-written; Foreign Affairs has, um, larger print. But FP has grafs like this:
American neoconservatives such as Robert Kagan look down upon feminine, Venus-like Europeans, gibing their narcissistic obsession with building a postmodern, bureaucratic paradise. The United States, by contrast, supposedly carries the mantle of masculine Mars, boldly imposing freedom in the world's nastiest neighborhoods. But by cleverly deploying both its hard power and its sensitive side, the European Union has become more effective -- and more attractive -- than the United States on the catwalk of diplomatic clout. Meet the real New Europe: the world's first metrosexual superpower.
(That's from "The Metrosexual Superpower" by Parag Khanna, which you'll have to register to read. It's free.)
FP has such a funny attitude. This is from their writer's guidelines:
Don’t send us any article or proposal that begins with “Since the end of the Cold War...” or “In the wake of September 11...” Really. Please don’t.
Notable on the website right now: an article on "Iraq's Excluded Women" (reg. req'd); the metrosexual Europe story; one of FP's great "Think Again" pieces (they're like these laser-guided anti-conventional-wisdom missiles) on Al Qaeda; and one of the mag's indispensable reviews of books in foreign languages (!), this one called "The Nokia Generation Hangs Up," about success and disillusionment in Finland. You gotta love that!
Feel free to ignore the cover story by Niall Ferguson, author of "Colossus." As a historian friend put it to me, "Wild claims are what make historians famous."
But then, it wouldn't be FP if the claim wasn't just a little bit wild.
June 28, 2004
Fahrenheit (Not 9/11)
I'll spare you my review of Michael Moore's crockumentary. Suffice it to say I mostly agree with Chris Hitchens. (I know, I know. I just washed my mouth out with soap.)
I am currently crossing my fingers for the dim, but newly existent, chance that someone has answered my prayers for a good adventure game for the Playstation 2.
Fahrenheit debuted at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, and according to scattered accounts, it completely knocks sliced bread off the map. It's got a decent basic storyline -- complete strangers in New York are killing each other at random, each enacting the same bizarre ritual before committing the murder -- which you can actually affect depending on your actions in the game. (It starts, by the way, after you've just committed one of these random murders.)
And by affect, it apparently doesn't just mean that you get the Murasame sword with seven jewels of power instead of five if you beat the silver-tongued Gorgon using only copper weapons. It seems there are serious game-shattering consequences for your actions. For instance, you could do one thing and play the game for four hours only to discover that the thing you did four hours ago completely screwed you, and now you've lost. Which has the possibility to be very frustrating, but if the game is dynamic enough to keep you playing, then it could also be very, very cool. From the review I linked above:
There is no inventory in the game, which is intended to add an element of realism. You’ll only have whatever you have in your hand. So, pick up the bloody white shirt. Now you’re holding a bloody shirt; what are you going to do with it? You can’t do much else; you’ve got to deal with this darn shirt in your hands first. If there’s one ridiculous thing we just accept about adventure games (other than it should always be impossible to die), it’s that there’s always room in our pockets for more inventory; whatever size, whatever shape. Fahrenheit confronts that un-reality head-on.
At some point, you will either decide to leave your apartment, or your time will run out and the police will arrive. Here is where the game really gets interesting: at this point, your player-character will become Inspector Carla Valenti, inspecting the recent ritual murder. Lucas Kane is your suspect, and here you are at his apartment. You’ll be seeing the apartment exactly as you just left it—if you had Lucas wash his shirt, you’ll see the clean shirt. If you had Lucas take a shower, you’ll see Lucas with clean arms. Quantic Dream calls this the “Bungee Story”; actions that you take have a direct effect on the plot, and not in a yes/no way; the story will evolve and move in different directions based on the decisions you’ve made as one character.
But the potential for coolness doesn't stop there, sports fans. It seems the game also involves some psychological sophistication. You play four or five characters during the course of the game, some of whom are working at cross-purposes. How strong will your motivation be to clean up an apartment, the review asks, if you know that it makes it harder for your police detective character to succeed at their goal?
As long as the French company that designed the game (and, from its official website, has a pretty poor grasp of English, touting the game's "simplified and really intuitive interface that allows to do an infinity of actions through its unique interface") didn't write the game, I'm looking forward to it. I'll keep you posted.
June 25, 2004
The Plan in Iran
I'm not sure I have anything intelligent to add to this op-ed on Iran's nuclear ambitions, save that I found it fascinating. It's by a former Iranian former minister:
Anyone with any knowledge of Iranian politics would know that the present regime in Tehran is strategically committed to developing a nuclear "surge capacity" if not a full arsenal of nuclear weapons. The real question, therefore, is whether the region, and the rest of the world, feel comfortable with the idea of a revolutionary regime, claiming a messianic mission on behalf of Islam, arming itself with nuclear weapons.
A peaceful Iran with no ambitions to export an ideology or seek regional hegemony would be no more threatening than Britain, which also has a nuclear arsenal. The real debate on Iran, therefore, can only be about regime change. And this is precisely the issue that the Europeans are loath to acknowledge as a legitimate topic of discussion.
The author, Ardeshir Zahedi, explains quite a bit about Iran's nuclear past.
Now, read this --
... Iran's first nuclear reactor was installed in Tehran in 1955 and the first batch of Iranians sent to Europe and the U.S. to study nuclear physics and related subjects were back home by the early 1960s. By the mid-1970s, Iran had a well-educated and motivated corps of nuclear scientists who, backed by substantial financial resources from the government, undertook research into all aspects of the new technology, including its military applications.
-- and tell me that planning on that scale doesn't blow your mind. "Okay, guys, we need to learn nuclear physics. Sooo we're going to send a generation of scientists overseas and then have them return. It should only take about ten years."
"We're living in dark times," [Hersh] says, gently rubbing his gray-thatched temples.
He inhabits a reality we can barely glimpse, crosscut by the chatter of encrypted satellite signals. For national security officials, leaking to Hersh is "generally better than writing a memo to the president," remarks his friend and competitor, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus.
In recent months, The New Yorker editor David Remnick says, Hersh "seems to begin every phone call with the line, `It's worse than you think.'"
The secrets don't show on his face, but when Hersh lets down his guard even a little, the inner life of the inside man seems to leak into the air around him. He is haunted by the as-yet-unpublished photographs of Iraq prison abuses. "You haven't begun to see evil until you've seen some of these pictures that haven't come out," he says.
Link via Romenesko.
June 24, 2004
Internet Marketing Works
OMG, I just clicked on a banner ad for the first. time. in. my. life.
But it was for the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, so I don't think that really counts. It's like clicking on a banner ad for Batman: Who wouldn't??
Room-Temperature Tang, Anyone?
On the heels of grim news out of Iraq, here's a revealing piece about nights without electricity in Baghdad by Peter Hong at the LA Times.
In the 110-degree daytime heat, there are no fans. No working refrigerators. No ice cubes.
The night provides little relief. In the pitch-black darkness of his garden, where he has taken refuge from the sauna-like air in the house, Qadr explains his disillusionment. "I'm concerned if you write what I tell you, it will sound like I support Saddam," Qadr says.
It is 10 o'clock. Qadr speaks slowly, just loud enough to be heard over the rolling background noise of automatic-rifle fire. A small flashlight, brought by his visitor, is propped on a table for light.
"After the Americans came, I believed President Bush. I thought things would be better in Iraq," he says. "But now, after almost a year and a half, there is no electricity, no water. There is more unemployment. My life is worse than it was before the war."
If I could give Peter Hong an award for writing this, I would. Wait, actually, no: First I would make him go back and re-write it in the first person instead of the fungly newspaper quasi-first-person. You know what I'm talking about: "On this night, the 15 members of the Qadr family have welcomed one of those reporters into their spacious two-story concrete-and-brick home." Gahhh.
Apparently if the word "me" touches newsprint it explodes.
It's a style that serves only to obfuscate. For instance, I suspect that in this passage --
Ammar Mohammed, a Baghdad native also visiting the house this night, says the Qadr brothers' fear of being mistakenly shot by U.S. troops is exaggerated.
-- Hong is actually introducing his translator or fixer. I think that's worth knowing.
So give that story a quick edit, Peter -- put yourself back in it -- and the Snarkmarket Story of the Week award* is yours!
*Don't get too excited; all you get is a line of bold text.
June 21, 2004
Step Off, Surly Bonds
Space.com is covering the flight of SpaceShipOne out of Mojave, Calif., today. If successful, it will be the first time a privately-funded and -built craft has ferried a human being into space, 100 kilometers up. Boing Boing has some more info. SpaceShipOne, like NASA's space shuttle, actually glides back to earth and lands, which I find totally appealing. I never liked that splash-down business.
June 20, 2004
Superheroes, Meet South Asia
Oh man, this is WEIRD. And awesome. Who's next? Who would Superman turn out to be if his space capsule crashed in Andhra Pradesh instead of Kansas?
(Link via Boing Boing.)
The Emerald City
An eye-opening description of the Coalition Provisional Authority's "Green Zone" in Baghdad, from the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran, in the prismatic first part of a series on the U.S. occupation of Iraq:
Life inside the high-security Green Zone -- what some CPA staffers jokingly call the Emerald City -- bears little resemblance to that in the rest of Baghdad. The power is always on. Shiny shuttle buses zip passengers around. Outdoor cafes stay open late into the night.
There is little effort to comply with Islamic traditions. Beer flows freely at restaurants. Women walk around in shorts. Bacon cheeseburgers are on the CPA's lunch menu.
"It's like a different planet," said an Iraqi American who has a senior position in the CPA and lives in the Green Zone but regularly ventures out to see relatives. "It's cut off from the real Iraq."
Because the earth-toned GMC Suburbans used by CPA personnel and foreign contractors have become a favored target of insurgents, traveling outside the Green Zone -- into the Red Zone that defines the rest of Iraq -- requires armored vehicles and armed escorts, which are limited to senior officials. Lower-ranking employees must either remain within the compound or sneak out without a security detail.
Although the CPA has tried to bring Iraqis into the CPA headquarters for meetings and other events -- there has even been an "Iraqi Culture Night" in the Green Zone -- the inability to mingle with Iraqis has isolated the Americans. "We don't know the outside," the senior adviser to Bremer said. "How many of us have gone out to buy a bottle of milk or a pair of socks?"
What a catch-22: You can't go outside and get your work done 'cause it's so dangerous; it's so dangerous (in part) 'cause you can't go outside and get your work done. For example:
The Daura Power Plant in southern Baghdad was supposed to be a model of the U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq. Bombed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and neglected by Hussein's government, the station could operate at no more than a quarter of its rated capacity, leading to prolonged blackouts in the capital.
After CPA specialists toured the decrepit facility last summer, they vowed to bring it back to life. German and Russian firms were hired to make repairs, and it was placed atop a list of priority projects intended to achieve a 6,000-megawatt goal for national electricity production. More power, Bremer hoped, would improve the economy and daily life enough to reduce violence and stabilize Iraq.
Today, the Daura plant is indeed a model -- of how the U.S. reconstruction effort has failed to meet its goals.
The German contractors fled for their safety in April. The Russians departed in late May, after two of their colleagues were shot to death by insurgents as they approached the plant in a minivan.
Inside the facility, parts are strewn on the floor, awaiting installation. Iraqi technicians in blue coveralls lounge around, smoking cigarettes and waiting for guidance. In the turbine room, graffiti on the wall reads: "Long Live the Resistance."
The CPA intended for the Daura plant to be producing more than 500 megawatts of power by June 1. But the best it can do at the moment is 100 megawatts -- half of its output of last summer.
"We were supposed to have improved," said Bashir Khallaf, the plant director. "But we have gotten worse."
I finally got around to reading James Fallows' "Blind Into Baghdad" from the January Atlantic, which makes it clear that things could have been very different from the beginning.
Also, WTF?: "The job of reorganizing Baghdad's stock exchange, which has not reopened, was given in September to a 24-year-old who had sought a job at the White House."
June 17, 2004
Mr. Doctorow, I Presume
I talked to Cory a little before his talk, before I actually realized that he was the person giving the talk. He's a pretty cool guy, and I learned a neat camera trick from him. If you want to take a long exposure shot, and you need to steady the camera, you can use a neck-strap to help you out. Loop the neck-strap around your leg and pull the camera away from your body until it's taut. As long as you keep the tension, you've got a pretty good makeshift tripod. It's good for taking night pictures when you don't have a good flash or you don't want to use the flash, so you need to take a longer exposure picture.
This is the cool thing about blogs. Imagine if there was a Kevin for every neat talk that happened, everywhere, and really good software to filter and sort it all. There would be even more stuff to blog!! No, actually, there would be a deep, rich record of all the interesting events that happen in the world that currently either a) evaporate instantly, or b) disappear forever into the dungeon-like archives of newspapers and magazines.
Read These Books Now
Here's a Philip Pullman love-fest from the BoGlo's incomparable Ideas section.
But the thing is, Philip Pullman deserves love-fests:
Philip Pullman's trilogy, "His Dark Materials," is marketed for readers 12 and up, most of whom know nothing of the sources behind Pullman's gripping story about two children who join forces with an armored polar bear, a Texan hot-air balloonist, a pair of fallen angels, and a host of other fantastic characters to crisscross parallel universes in order to defeat a theocratic state bent on destroying human consciousness and thus the world itself. [What more do you need to know?? --Snark.]
But like the Harry Potter series (to which they are infinitely superior), Pullman's novels are a crossover hit. In 2001, the third volume, "The Amber Spyglass," became the first young-adult novel to win Britain's prestigious Whitbread Prize. The quality press in America has tuned in to their appeal: Louis Menand of The New Yorker recently assessed the hit London stage adaptation, and Michael Chabon, himself the author of a delightful young-adult novel about baseball in parallel universes, published a substantial appreciation of the trilogy in The New York Review of Books.
June 16, 2004
I've loved the Pistons since their back-to-back championships of '89 and '90. And they just made it to number three.
Joe Dumars, the general manager, was one of the original Bad Boys. I remember shouting his name with the rest of the crowd at the Palace: "Joe Duuuuuuuumars!"
June 15, 2004
Previously on Snarkmarket: Why do influential world leaders have such ghetto e-mail addresses?
I've been complaining about a micro-version of this problem for some time now. Have you ever checked out the website of a member of your state government? It's often sad. Here's mine. This I don't get as worked up about since more states started giving their legislators shiny, functional spaces under the umbrella of the state website. (Although even these can be fugly.)
I'll grant that the UN website is probably an unimaginable morass of information. (I think the current ratio of people on earth to UN satellite programs is running roughly 1:3.) All the more reason not to design your site using 1-2-3 Publish.
June 12, 2004
Lots of Zeroes Here
Check out the weird powers-of-two pattern in the top tier of GDP: the U.S. at 8 trillion, Japan at 4, Germany at 2, France (and more) at 1-ish.
This chart, from 2000, has General Motors as the largest corporation and Wal-Mart as number two, but that's flipped in the intervening years.
I'm not sure how useful charts like these actually are. What exactly is this showing us? It's not like this is money in the bank.
And I'm not so sure these figures map particularly well to power or anything else interesting. Wal-Mart is the world's largest corporation, but I don't think it's the most powerful, influential, or important.
June 10, 2004
The Uncanny Valley
In 1978, the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori noticed something interesting: The more humanlike his robots became, the more people were attracted to them, but only up to a point. If an android become too realistic and lifelike, suddenly people were repelled and disgusted.
The problem, Mori realized, is in the nature of how we identify with robots. When an android, such as R2-D2 or C-3PO, barely looks human, we cut it a lot of slack. It seems cute. We don't care that it's only 50 percent humanlike. But when a robot becomes 99 percent lifelike -- so close that it's almost real -- we focus on the missing 1 percent. We notice the slightly slack skin, the absence of a truly human glitter in the eyes. The once-cute robot now looks like an animated corpse. Our warm feelings, which had been rising the more vivid the robot became, abruptly plunge downward. Mori called this plunge "the Uncanny Valley," the paradoxical point at which a simulation of life becomes so good it's bad.
(Here's a page with graphs to explain it, courtesy of one of Clive's commenters.)
Moving beyond the U.V., Clive's central thesis seems to be that video game developers' efforts to create ever-more-lifelike 3D characters has basically just given us a parade of scary, zombie-eyed skin-puppets. He sez:
Every highly realistic game has the same problem. Resident Evil Outbreak's humans are realistic, but their facial expressions are so deadeningly weird they're almost scarier than the actual zombies you're fighting. The designers of 007: Everything or Nothing managed to take the adorable Shannon Elizabeth and render her as a walleyed replicant.
Now, make no mistake: The Playstation 8 will be rendering characters so sublimely realistic, so human, that they make us feel like walleyed replicants.
But is that even a worthwhile goal?... Read more ....
June 9, 2004
Jim Secreto reports from Pushkar, India, where meat and eggs are outlawed:
There is a fun story to it all: I found one restaurant that was still serving food despite the absolute lack of tourist and ended up going there a few times. On my third visit, the boisterous, pot-belled boss called me over and whispered, in hushed, quite tones, "I have egg. I make omelets. You want you let me know." He proceeded to show me an actual egg, and he and I nodded in mutual understanding that the egg availability should be kept on the down low. I didn't try the contraband eggs, but I couldn't help wondering what the consequences are for getting caught with eggs. Are egg dealers dealt with more harshly than egg users? Are the authorities more lenient toward first time egg offenders?
I should have asked.
Oh, Those Crazy Blogs
It's June 9. The deadline for the transition of power in Iraq is three weeks away. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz lays out the administration's plan in the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal.
And in the very first paragraph of his monolithic treatise... to make his case before an international audience of pundits and policymakers... he cites a blogger??!
After a suicide car bombing killed Iraqi Interim Governing Council President Izzedine Salim and eight others on May 17, one Iraqi put that act of terror into a larger perspective for those who wonder if democracy can work in Iraq. His name is Omar, one of the new Iraqi "bloggers," and he wrote on his Web log: "We cannot . . . protect every single person, including our leaders and the higher officials who make favorite targets for the terrorists--but we can make their attempts go in vain by making our leadership 'replaceable.' "
Is that wild or what?
Dude, I totally think Dick Armitage reads Snarkmarket now.
June 7, 2004
[Clinton] said his editor, Bob Gottlieb, had left his Yeats references but cut his movie odes: "I wanted to write a whole page about 'High Noon,' my favorite movie, and why it's an important movie."
Many leaders see themselves reflected in the plight of Gary Cooper's Will Kane, the lonely, romantic Western hero, the retiring marshal who stays and fights the murderous Miller gang even though his Quaker bride (Grace Kelly) and all the townsfolk desert him. [...]
Let me tell you about "High Noon." It is one of two essential Westerns: Movies that embody the genre and, as an added bonus, articulate very specific, and very different, theories of life and the world.
"High Noon" says: You can't count on anyone. In the end, you face your destiny alone. Be resolute.
This philosophy is, of course, not unfamiliar. Dowd:
And the analogy has often been used by people writing and talking about the Bushes' facing down Saddam. Just as the movie was seen as a classic allegory for the cold war, when the virtuous American sheriff tried to police a paranoid world with enemies lurking everywhere, so it has been cited by some conservatives who like to see it as an allegory of Bush II's "heroic" unilateralism. In an alienated world, a friendless W. had to do the dirty work to get rid of Saddam all by himself, a lawman who refused to be shoved, ready to die all alone on some dusty street for a tin star. [...]
But she ends with this:
There was one powerful man who thought the film was the most un-American he'd ever seen: John Wayne. The Duke couldn't bear to see a hero begging for help.
I wonder if that's really the reason John Wayne didn't like "High Noon."
You see, John Wayne starred in the other essential Western -- a movie that articulates a very different theory of the universe.
That movie is "Rio Bravo."
In "Rio Bravo," John Wayne plays Sheriff John Chance. It's another tick-tock plot: This time, a gang of thugs is coming to break a murderer out of jail.
But in "Rio Bravo," John Wayne doesn't want any help; he shoos everybody away -- even though they all want to stay -- because he thinks they'll just get in the way. Because he thinks they're too weak.
But in the end, even John Chance can't beat the bad guys alone. Luckily, his rag-tag friends -- the aging deputy, the drunk, the dancer, the trail boss -- are with him whether he likes it or not, and they all have a role to play.
"Rio Bravo" says: No man is an island. You're never really alone. Help is on its way.
So which is more your speed -- the fatalism (or is it just realism?) of "High Noon" or the multilateralism (or is it just faith?) of "Rio Bravo"?
June 4, 2004
But the scale of the suffering and the scope of the commitment, they often numb us into a kind of indifference. Wishing for the end to AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa is like wishing that gravity didn't make things so damn heavy. We can wish it, but what the hell can we do about it? Well, more than we think. We can't fix every problem -- corruption, natural calamities are part of the picture here -- but the ones we can, we must. The debt burden, as I say, unfair trade, as I say, sharing our knowledge, the intellectual copyright for lifesaving drugs in a crisis; we can do that. And because we can, we must. Because we can, we must. Amen.
This is the straight truth. The righteous truth. It's not a theory; it's a fact. The fact is that this generation -- yours, my generation -- we're the first generation that can look at poverty and disease, look across the ocean to Africa and say with a straight face, we can be the first to end this stupid extreme poverty, where, in a world of plenty, a child can die for lack of food in it's belly. We can be the first generation. It might take a while, but we can be that generation that says no to stupid poverty. It's a fact, the economists confirm it. It's an expensive fact but cheaper than say the Marshall Plan that saved Europe from communism and fascism. And cheaper I would argue than fighting wave after wave of terrorism's new recruits. That's the economics department over there, very good. It's a fact. So why aren't we pumping our fists in the air and cheering about it? Well probably because when we admit we can do something about it, we've got to do something about it. For the first time in history we have the know-how, we have the cash, we have the lifesaving drugs, but do we have the will?
Samantha Power, an author of incredible moral force, said recently that the fate of Africa will define us. She suspects that in thirty years, our children will be asking, "Where were you when Africa disappeared?"
And for me the proving ground has been Africa. Africa makes a mockery of what we say, at least what I say, about equality. It questions our pieties and our commitments because there's no way to look at what's happening over there and it's effect on all of us and conclude that we actually consider Africans as our equal before God. There is no chance.
Now, I've been down the path of global-poverty-guilt before. That's where you start to look at every Slurpee and think, "Those ninety-four cents could have made a difference... in Africa." But bump that. Worthless. What's needed is real action, strenuous action, and just a tiny -- miniscule -- bit of sacrifice.
Here's more, much more on AIDS in Africa if you're interested.... Read more ....
Distance Between Two Points
A coworker wanted to find out how far away Mexico City was from San Diego, CA, in miles. MapQuest and MapPoint gave the driving distance, but she needed to know the distance as the crow flies. A little Google-fu turned up this pretty cool distance calculator. Just in case you ever wanted to know.
June 2, 2004
Banter (For Half Your Brain?)
I think everyone secretly believes that the funny conversations they have with their friends would make a good show.
I really wanted to love it and think it was rad, but, alas, I did not.
Okay, actually, hold on; I've been playing another P.V. episode in the background as I've been typing this and kinda liking it.
Maybe that's the secret! This is partial-attention entertainment. It can't support the entire weight of a human being's interest... but... just a little bit... oops, I just started paying too much attention again, and it turned lame.
You should try this, it's really interesting.
Hey now, wait, just flipped over to another episode -- the first -- and this one's sturdier. There was just a surprising bit about breakbeats and breakdancing and just what is a "break," anyway?
(Dude, number one Google result for 'breakdancing' is NPR! Nice!)
Okay, maybe these funny conversations do make a good show.... Read more ....