September 29, 2003


What's the etiquette when responding to an email with no subject line? I have relatives who have discovered email but have not discovered that they can enter a subject line.

But I feel strange replying to it and having the subject line be just "Re:" Am I the only one that thinks about these things?

Not much blogging lately - for almost two weeks. A lot of cat things have been going on, which has pushed blogging sort of way down my list. Much to come on it later.

I was also made to feel guilty by some random thing I read about my liberal theft of other websites' imagery. Maybe I'll try to hold off on that for a while. Welcome to Planet Plaintext.

Posted by Chris on 09/29/03

September 18, 2003

Speaking Joe Q. Lunchpail's language

I'd like to suggest an Al Franken-like technique that opponents of our current administration might use for a while.

Since the administration has benefited SO much from a nation of Joe Q. Lunchpails that don't like too many details and pretty much go with their first gut emotional reaction to everything, I suggest that the opposition might just run this picture for a while instead of debating with words.

For Joe Q.'s benefit, since he probably doesn't know this, that is Donald Rumsfeld, our current Secretary of Defense, shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, our current bad guy.

I personally think there's a quasi-valid explanation to be made for it.

But let the Republicans try to make it to Joe Q.

Posted by Chris on 09/18/03

September 12, 2003

An electorate tired of details

This phrase comes from Ebert's review of the movie Tycoon: The New Russian:

"It's haunting, the way in which Lomov is created from nothing, grows popular through bald-faced lies, is forgiven his stupidity by an electorate tired of details, and is obedient to the interests of his billionaire backers."

And I wanted to save it because that phrase "An electorate tired of details" is what I was searching for yesterday, when I was describing the attributes of Joe. Q. Lunchpail to FattyFat.

Posted by Chris on 09/12/03

September 11, 2003

That tears it...

Lileks today points out that we didn't "go Roman" on Kabul and Mecca and Baghdad and Tehran after 9/11/2001, but could have. I suppose the message then is that since we showed that restraint then no one has any right to complain about anything our leaders have been up to since then.

And yesterday he dismissed Howard Dean with a clever heart vs. guts vs. brain thing (Howard's apparently just got the brain, which is trumped by Bush's guts n' heart combo), so there's no need to consider HIM anymore, either. I hadn't really even gotten around to paying attention to Dean yet, but who cares. Case closed!

Sorry - I can't read him anymore. His column has gone from charming to myopic to actually hateful for me. The sites he reads and links from have moved from merely one-sided to blatantly racist. Did you check out his link to LGF yesterday? They're calling for wiping out the Palestinians over there, folks. They're barely restraining the urge to condemn all Muslims. Now, frankly, embarassingly, I sometimes suspect that Palestinians are nuts too. But has anyone checked the listing in the Book of History under Violence, perpetuating the cycle of lately?

Lileks seamlessly transitioned his anger over 9/11 to Iraq just like our leaders wanted him to. He's not alone, but I've written before about how his attitudes in particular - such a smart man - have been consistently disappointing. Any request for him to check his facts will be met with a list of Hussein's atrocities, and that will be the end of the discussion.

I was thinking today should be a day not of intellect and politics, but just emotion and remembering. But Lileks has been nothing BUT emotional about this for two years.

It's terrible, but not every thorny political issue can be resolved by interrupting to recount a family's last horrific moments onboard one of the hijacked aircraft. I don't think we can afford to listen to people like him seriously anymore.

He has made up his mind, and I'm done with him.

Posted by Chris on 09/11/03

September 9, 2003

How cool

This is why the Internet is the coolest of all things, no matter how much is given over to porn:

Posted by Chris on 09/ 9/03

Apropos of nothing...

...let me say that I've always considered the career of Jon Bon Jovi a bit of a mystery.

His continued presence has always struck me as sort of the music world equivalent of that floating plastic bag that Wes Bentley's eccentric teenager liked to shoot video of in American Beauty; by all known forms of logic it should have fallen to the ground long ago.

Yet, caught up by a freak combination of updrafts, it remains afloat.

Posted by Chris on 09/ 9/03

September 4, 2003

Jason v. Shyamalan

FattyFat has put me on report because I gave "Freddy v. Jason" a higher grade than "Signs."

I stand by the grade, because "Jason" knew what it wanted to be and fulfilled that with a little extra; "Signs" came in pretending to be something else, wasn't that, and then didn't even live up to it's own standards. That's a little pithier and less substantive than I want, but it will have to do because of my fevered condition.

But it's not like I have boycotted Shyamalan, like Verhoeven and Araki! He's great - I'll be there on the opening day of whatever his next one is!

Posted by Chris on 09/ 4/03


I've been sick for a few days, with some sort of burning thing that sits inside my sinuses. There is aching, there are chills, there is a bit of fever. But I have a problem choosing medication for myself at the drugstore, because I am remarkably stupid about drugs. Much like automobile makes and models, I do not retain any of that data.

I don't retain the names of what I took because nothing has ever really totally just ZAPPED the symptoms for me. I'm wandering the aisles of the "Boots" store here, looking at medication, feeling like an idiot because I feel so bad I can't even articulate my symptoms. Am I dehydrated? Then why is there all this nose-running? Is this a cold? Allergy? Sinus stuff? Clariton, Allergen, Tavist-D? OK, last time I had a burning sensation behind my nose and felt like sludge I took a Zytec, or a Zyrtec, which is the generic name for... Botox? Hydrocortisone? Steroids? What is an anti-Histimine? Are Histimines bad for me, then? Thera-Flu is sometimes good, it knocks you out and seems to do something good. But they only have Lem-Sep here, which doesn't work.

I also believe that I build up immunities to cold / flu / allergy medicines over the months, so what works this season won't work next. And I do not like to be asked by a doctor what I've taken in the past or what has worked in the past. Don't they keep charts for that sort of thing?

The creature to the left is what I believe is living in my sinuses right now.

This is especially unwelcome as I will be on a plane for eight hours in two days, and this will compound my misery there.

Scary stuff from This Modern World today.

Posted by Chris on 09/ 4/03

September 3, 2003

Note to journalists:

To save time: when referring to a city in Iraq, just let us know if it is NOT a holy city.

Otherwise, just give the name of the place and we'll assume it is holy.

Posted by Chris on 09/ 3/03

Good idea

From P.J. O' Rourke in today's AV Club interview:

If there are three words that need to be used more in American journalism, commentary, politics, personal life... it's the magic words "I don't know."

Posted by Chris on 09/ 3/03

September 2, 2003

The Clients Coming In Tomorrow Vortex

Beware how you move around the office at 5:30 P.M. - for that is when you will be approached by the Hysterical P.M.

Hysterical P.M. is doing a client presentation FIRST THING TOMORROW MORNING and nothing is working in the D.C. By the way the plotter is driving them MAD and they HAVE to get these things done before tomorrow. Also they are having problems with the PowerPoint part of the presentation and can you help. It's 5:30 P.M., remember.

BEWARE: You will be able to provide help and perhaps fix some things for them, but nothing will be enough. Once you are in the Hysterical P.M. With Clients Coming In Tomorrow Vortex, problems elongate, time speeds up, and expectations stretch to completely AMAZING proportions.

My advice - steer a wide berth around these vortices.

Posted by Chris on 09/ 2/03

Email restored...

I lost email access on Monday. It just came up again, right as my hosting service in Virginia was coming to work today. Hmmm. Seems like someone forgot to check the server over the long Labor Day weekend. Thanks a lot, fellas. Anytime you're ready to start working again - thanks for showing up today.

Posted by Chris on 09/ 2/03

Review - The Woman In Black


What spooky fun this play was! By far the most favorite play I've seen here so far. And regular readers will remember an earlier play that I was quite taken with, so that's saying a lot.

The story in brief: a man hires an actor to help him stage a "performance" of a story that's been weighing heavily on his mind, causing him nightmares for years. He believes by finally getting it out, he'll be rid of it - and the performance will be just for family and friends. The story is of the time, as a solicitor, he visited a remote English manor accessible only when the tide is low, and of the mysterious spectral woman he saw there... and also how it affected his life later.

The brilliant part of the play is the framing device of the man hiring an actor to help him "perform" the story. They spend a few scenes fussing over the main character's stilted delivery at first, and then hit upon the idea that the actor will play the man's part - whereas the man will play every other part. So the entire play is done with two actors (and one spectral woman). They tell the story at first merely using a single wicker basket that serves as a bed, a horse carriage, a desk, etc., and a coat rack full of jackets. The idea - and the beautifully realized effect is to have the story unfold mainly in our own minds. It was not a play of spectacle so much as haunting mood.

They also have great fun with sound effects. After leaving the theatre I felt I'd actually spent the night in the haunted mansion with the main character. Three times a blood-curdling shriek made everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - in the theatre sink into their seat. The show also makes liberal use of moody single lights - sometimes candles - and fog effects. The set design is brilliant and bare, and reveals itself very slowly over the course of the play. The back scrim reveals a graveyard behind it, then an enormous staircase up to the mysterious locked room.

And then there is that ghostly third character. The man is awakened by a thumping upstairs. He creeps up the stairs and finds the room that was locked before is now open. Inside is the room of the child that drowned 50 years ago - and all the toys and clothes look as if they've just been played with. And there in the corner is the rocking chair, rocking by itself. He stops it, then goes back downstairs. He drops his flashlight, and everything goes black. He finds it, turns it on, then turns it around - ILLUMINATING THE FACE OF THE SPECTRAL LADY STANDING RIGHT BEHIND HIM.

What a play!

And then there is the history of the theatre itself. This show was at the Fortune, just across from the market at Covent Garden, and Drury Lane. Good grief, the history. It didn't really hit me where I was until I read that Peter Cook and Dudley Moore premiered "Beyond The Fringe" in that theatre. Good God - I'm going to regret not knowing more about the theatrical history in about two weeks.

Posted by Chris on 09/ 2/03

September 1, 2003

Movie reviews

CYPHER - grade: A (review underway)
ROGER DODGER - grade: A (review underway)

STRAW DOGS- grade: A

Finally saw this classic on BBC, along with an accompanying documentary. Excellent. Like "Roger Dodger," which I compare it to because I saw them close together, it's great to see a movie with not a single wasted shot or line of dialogue.

SIGNS - grade: C

I rented this again to find out if my negative feeling towards it has changed. It hasn't - it's still fundamentally disappointing, even though there are good performances and suspense.

M. Night Shyamalan has done two TOP NOTCH supernatural / fantasy films, and although you may blame my feeling on the marketing of the film or an unfair assumption by me of how the film would deal with its subject matter, I say if Shyamalan does a film ostensibly about alien invasion and then only peripherally deals with the aliens, then I have a right to be disappointed.

It seems clear he set some strict parameters for himself in the making of the film, stating that he would show as little as possible and let our imagination do the work. Conventional cinematic wisdom holds that this is usually a good course of action (Hitchcock's "Psycho," Spielberg's "Jaws," etc.), but it takes a steady hand. Many moments in the film stick out awkwardly because of how hard he has to strain not to show us something. For instance: The final appearance of one of the aliens becomes frustrating to watch because Shymalan is so intent on showing us only the creature's reflection in a T.V. screen as long as possible. Then: at the height of the tension of aliens forcing their way into a cellar, he refuses to focus on anything but a flashlight and the scuffle of feet. Tension turns to irritation. These are clear stylistic choices that come across as just awkwardly staged moments.

But that's not the worst of it. The central theme of the film is such a vastly oversimplified cosmology that it became hard for me to keep interest. Shyamalan offers us two choices: believe in a God that has His hand in every detail and who gives clear signs that add up to a happy ending if you follow them, or wallow in an atheist's fear that these aliens represent the End of the World. There's no room for anything else in this story, such as believing in a supreme being that may not offer dream-clues; or aliens that may not have come here to kill us. It might have been different if Shyamalan chose to be subtle about his thesis, but it is firmly foregrounded in the struggle of Mel Gibson's lapsed priest. In fact it is dealt with to the exclusion of the alien invasion portion of this story.

What is actually worse than THAT, is that Shymalan's demonstration of God's signs that lead the family to salvation is weak and tacked-on. His set-up of the various strange details that eventually add up to the saving grace - the dying wife whispered "swing away," which reminds Joaquin Phoenix to hit the alien with a bat; the little girl has a strange habit of taking one drink of water and then leaving the glasses everywhere, and by the way the aliens cannot stand water - is annoyingly frail.

Does it really require a woman to be killed and have a final moment of prescience as she dies for someone to get the idea to use a bat hanging beside them on the wall to dispatch an alien? Do the randomly-placed glasses of water strike anyone else as less miraculous and just sort of a plot convenience? Only the son's asthma working to immunize him from the alien's gas attack had any resonance, and by the time it came in to play I felt we'd only really heard about his condition a few scenes before.

I just changed the grade from a D to a C because, oversimplified thematic elements and alien invasion afterthought aside, Shyamalan truly has a great sense of suspense and visual flair, and there are some great character moments throughout.


I won't apologize for seeing this, although I will mention that 1) it was an EXTREMELY hot day in London and I just wanted some air-conditioning, and 2) this is only the THIRD Freddy or Jason movie I've actually seen at the movies and not on cable.

That said, I ended up seeing this on opening day, and it was a whole lot of fun to see with its fans. The moment the two theme songs - really just a few notes for Freddy and then the chi-chi-chi-bah-ah-ah of Jason's theme - were combined over the studio logo at the beginning drew cheers, and that sort of characetrized the whole movie. Something about combining characters from different stories is really big right now.

In terms of story... who cares. There was a bit of an Othello / Iago thing going between Jason and Freddy that was really fun to watch; and the filmmakers took some time to explore. But when they went after each other in combat, it was truly the Immoveable Object vs. the Unstoppable Force, and there's only so much fun in watching that. Overall, though, it was a clever interweaving of the two different characters, and was REALLY well photographed, if you can believe it.

I like an occasional teen slasher movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Posted by Chris on 09/ 1/03

It's a good job I came here

It's my last week here in London. Here are some things I've especially enjoyed:

1) pound coins
2) "Sorting" things out
3) Triangular sandwiches from Tescos - don't ask why.
4) The relative cleanliness of the underground trains, as compared to Chicago's
5) The cool shows

Things that continue to perplex me:

1) The phone numbers. They have 11 digits, but you can divide them up any way you like. I can be reached at 020 7786 4557, (0) 207 786 4557, or 0207 78 64 557, or... you get the picture.
2) The backup rotation here.
3) Crop circles (not related to this trip, but thought I'd just throw it in.)
4) The accent of my corporate apartment's porter.

Posted by Chris on 09/ 1/03

My Fear of Exact Change

The key to me, I'm realizing, is my fear of check-out people. I am terrified to do anything that may hold up a transaction. Actually, the exact nature of the fear is this: I am terrified to hold people up that are in line behind me. I live in fear of the frustrated sigh. Pathetic.

Because of this I speed through a transaction, and when the amount is announced, I make NO ATTEMPT - much as Wife Ami does, who sees every transaction as an opportunity to offload pennies - to give correct change. I don't want anyone staring at me angrily while I sort through small change.

Because of this I often end up eating things I didn't order, which sometimes gives me the chance to try other things on the menu.

Perhaps this explains my anger over vending machines that require exact change or won't take my perfectly good dollar bill. I have to be scared of humans over exact change, and now the robots are giving me shit as well?

I also stammer and speak too softly to counter-people, which makes it all the more excruciating. I think it has to do with that time as a small child that I didn't have as much money as I thought once I got to the counter to buy an action figure and the lady sighed heavily. Oh, and also she burned me with a hot iron. At least that's how I remember it.

Posted by Chris on 09/ 1/03

Whence Comest FattyFat & It's Not Your Fault?

Where are their blogs these days? Are they affected by some highly localized black-out? Have they been censored by the Man? Should we go to Terror Condition: Mauve, and start filling our bathtubs with water?

I'll just have to blog for all three of us, then. If this were FattyFat's blog he'd say something about Howard Dean, and if this were John's, he'd have pictures from a fabulous vacation.

There - now I'm exhausted.

Posted by Chris on 09/ 1/03