Tuesday, July 25, 2006

This sucks

In the last week, I've found out that two of my favorite Little Rock establishments are closing their doors.

First I got a notice in the mail that the landmark Design Center on Kavanaugh was closing its doors after 35 years of bringing style and substance to Little Rock. I've bought lots of gifts for friends and family at that shop, as well as a few trinkets for myself, but not nearly what I looked forward to spending at that shop.

Next, I stop into From The Garden for lunch today only to find a sign posted on their wall that says after this Friday they'll be shutting down the take out business and putting all their energy into the catering enterprise. It makes sense, in a way. Less overhead, more profit. But what am I going to do for lunch. No more pot pie. No more fajita's with cucumber sauce and onion rings. No more black eyed pea patties with gravy, greens, and a corn pone. I think I'm going to die. Boulevard is all organic, but it doesn't give a rat's ass about vegetarians (Seriously, Scott teased us today with a delicious vegetable soup... cooked in a chicken stock--DAMN YOU!!!). You know what would be the ideal: a small neighborhood cafe that's vegetarian, organic, fair trade, open late, wi-fi access, etc. Kind of like Kate's Joint in NYC. If I had the money, I think I'd open it. As it is, I'm spending all my money at these two locations before they're shut up for good.

I'm a geek

The cast of Spider-Man 3 paid a visit to Comi-Con in San Diego this week. Along with the cast members returning from the previous adventures, Bryce Dallas Howard was introduced as portraying Gwen Stacey in the third part of the trilogy. It will be interesting to see what they have her to do, as Mr. Raimi cribbed substantially from her character's arc in the first film, only apply those elements to the character of Mary Jane. Will he repeat himself? Will he risk the ire of comic nerds everywhere and come up with a new story arc?

Anyway... I thought it was momentarily funny that noted blonde Ms. Kirsten Dunst plays red-headed MJ and very firey red-head Ms. Dallas-Howard portrays yellow-headed blonde Gwen Stacey. A stupid and meaningless observation, but it occupied my attention for the length of time it took me to write out this post and find a photo online.

Monday, July 24, 2006

My favorite thing

Two years ago last Sunday I placed my order for a shiny, brand new fourth generation iPod. And I bought the $60 extended warranty (figuring it would be cheaper than the $100 fee to replace the battery, when or if I needed to have that done). Finally, two days before the warranty expired, I decided to take advantage of the warranty and sent in my iPod to have the battery replaced. According the the Apple tech support guy, I can plan on not having my iPod for at least 10 days... which is probably actually two weeks. This is like telling a crack addict that it's going to be two weeks until he's going to get his next fix. I wish they gave you a loaner unit, maybe a nano, or even a shuffle, to get you bye while the other unit was being serviced. Even better... would be a possible upgrade... I'd love to get one of those new video iPods... maybe a year from now... when they roll out the seventh generation.

Before I go to work tomorrow, I'll actually have to pick out a bunch of cds to take with me. I'm not going to know how to choose anymore. I'm so used to having EVERYTHING with me in that little shiny white box. Count them down with me... Ten more days...

Friday, July 21, 2006

Rain, finally

After two weeks of increasingly unbearable heat, we finally got some clouds and rain tonight during an impressive thunderstorm. I got out on the balcony and took about 200 shots. This picture was my one in a million (or 200). It was also about the fourth photo I snapped. A lucky shot.

Andrew Sullivan ran this photo as part of the ongoing "View From Your Window" series on his blog. Would it be appropriate now to say I've been published by Time?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I believe the children are our future, part 2

Watch the little girl behind President Bush near the end of the clip.

After bombing with the baby in Germany (see the post below), you'd think Bush would not allow children at his photo-ops. You can't "stage" a child, after all. Nor should you, in my opinion. Especially when it is a short logical leap to demonstrate the fallacy of the President's reasoning by vetoing the bill to expand embryonic stem cell research but parading around the "snowflake" children for a photo-op.

Ethical support of embryonic stem cell research is a "pro-life" position. When a couple receives treatment for invitro fertilization, and other fertility treatments, dozens, if not hundreds, of zygotes (i.e., embryos) are created, screened for the best possible candidates for implantation, and the rest are frozen, in case the first does not take. Invariably, by the time a couple conceives or gives up, there are still many, many of these frozen embryos left over. President Bush's attempt to demonstrate that these frozen zygotes are "alive" by marching through the White House a group of precocious children who were "adopted" as embryos from the supply left over from families who had completed their fertility treatments is an unconvincing argument that embryonic stem cell research is unethical. No where in his speech or in his rhetoric is the admission that, if these frozen zygotes are not "adopted" or appropriated for research, they will simply be discarded as "biological waste." If the President truly believes that these zygotes are alive, then he should logically be opposed to invitro fertilization and other fertility procedures that create these dozens or hundreds or (aggregately) thousands of frozen blastocysts that will never develop beyond a few cells.

Bush offers next-to-no reasoning for his support of the science that creates these cells in the first place, and his crafting of policy that throws the vast majority of them in the trash. Half to two-thirds of all fertilized eggs are flushed out of the uterus without implanting in the uterine wall. Perhaps Bush thinks discarding these cells is in line with this natural sort of "dying with dignity." But he has not said so explicitly, and to assume so is certainly reading too much into the President's logic, especially considering his constant references to the so-called "culture of life" and his desire to "save" these embryos through fetal adoption.

Many even in the pro-life movement believe that allowing researchers to use embryonic stem cells to find new cures and treatments to improve the quality and quantity of life assigns a purpose and dignity to these cells that otherwise would be discarded like last week's chinese take-out. The President doesn't see it that way. And in that regard, as in virtually every other regard of his administration, the President is wrong.

The Passion of the Clerks

It's no secret, I'm a big fan of Kevin Smith's films, the original "Clerks" in particular. I'm very excited about "Clerks II" which hits theaters this Friday, though I'm fairly certain that it will not have the personal or cultural impact of the first. But, if the film provides 90 minutes of solid entertainment, I don't think many people will be disappointed.

Personally, however, I thought a sequel to "Clerks" was made years ago, and is a cult classic in its own right: Mike Judge's "Office Space." That film hits on many of the same themes and is a logical progression from the original premise of "Clerks." But "Office Space" never made Joel Siegel run screaming, quite literally, from the theater.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Any day you find $10 in the parking lot...

... is a good day. And it was made all the better when I discovered at the grocery store I had forgotten my wallet, but I had the $10 in my pocket. It got me a box of cereal for breakfast tomorrow and a trio of deli salads for dinner tonight.

Rest assured, I washed my hands thoroughly when I got home after handling the mystery money.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Pirates of the Multiplex

Being a dutiful Johnny Depp fan, last night I went to see Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dean Man's Chest. I was going to write about how utterly dissapointing the film was, but Josh and Josh summed it up for me perfectly:

Here's what you need to know about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: It's 150 minutes long, and during approximately 148 of those minutes you will be bored, uninterested, uninvested, and praying that it'll eventually "get good" and be more like its predecessor. Eventually you just pray for the credits to roll.

You'll be waiting a long time.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is officially going on my list of Ten Most Disappointing Movies of 2006. (It shall reside in the slot next to King Kong.)

Johnny Depp was funny, but not funny enough to save the film. They didn't make me care about the characters, the story and plot were wimpier and thinner than Mary-Kate Olsen, and the creators apparently didn't realize that having constant action isn't a solution for not being at all interesting.

But, hey, maybe the third one (coming out next summer, I kid you not) will be better.


Then again, maybe not.

The first installment I thought was Jerry Bruckheimer's first step at artistic reformation. Now I see it was a fluke.

I rate it a generous 5-to-5 1/2. It didn't help that theater showed the entire film slightly out-of-focus, despite complaints to the management.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Huckabee makes inflammatory remarks in Iowa

Governor Mike Huckabee was in Iowa this past weekend, stumping for Republican legislative candidates, and trying to convince Iowa voters (who traditionally begin the presidential campaign season) that he would not be the worst candidate for President in 2008. As is typical whenever the Governor speaks out of state, he can’t come back until he has said something to embarrass or outrage a large percentage of his constituents at home. On this visit to Iowa, however, he went beyond the pale of even his typically insensitive and embarrassing off-the-cuff remarks. Much as the segregationists before him came to regret their hateful beliefs, I hope Governor Huckabee lives long enough to realize the shame of the hurtful comments he made in Iowa regarding homosexuals, foster parents and marriage rights.

In its ruling overturning the ban on gays and lesbians serving as foster parents, the State Supreme Court said not only had the state agency overstepped its jurisdiction by imposing the ban, but also, contrary to what Governor Huckabee says, that restricting gays and lesbians from serving as foster parents is not in the best interest of the children because the need for foster homes is so great, and, more compellingly, the state failed to show that children in foster care fare any better with heterosexual guardians or any worse with homosexual guardians.

Furthermore, the governor insulted the duty and compassion of the plaintiffs in the suit to overturn the ban on homosexual foster parents, saying they were more interested in “homosexual activism” than in the interests of the foster children. He said it was “troubling” that children would be used as “political tools.” Does the Governor believe that caring for orphaned and abused children is political activism whereas bad-mouthing homosexuals to curry votes is responsible civic and/or religious service?

More inflammatory still was the Governor’s comment that marriage has never historically meant “two men, two women, a man and his pet, or a man and a whole herd of pets.” First, the statement is not accurate. For “thousands of years,” as the Governor says, the rules of marriage were more often about the transfer of property and inheritance where women were given in marriage, along with livestock, land, and other material assets, as just another possession like chattel. Polygamy was and is an accepted practice only in cultures where women are valued less than men. And to compare the committed, monogamous, loving relationship between two men or two women to bestial rape is to be like one of the mob shouting “the n word” at the Little Rock Nine as they entered Central High in 1957. Words like that undo all Christian principles. They are “fighting words” yelled in a public space. And they place our Governor on the wrong side of decency, of liberty and of history.

Everyone knows at least one gay or lesbian person. It could be someone they work with, go to school with, go to church with, or is in their near or extended family. I would hope our Governor, before making such hateful, divisive, and inflammatory statements, would please think of a gay or lesbian person he knows and consider if he would make such a statement about him or her personally.

Finally, if the legislature is to pass a law stating that only married persons may care for foster children, might I suggest that such a law not go into effect until all married couples are, indeed, caring every child in need. Until then, any qualified, compassionate person who is willing to take care of foster children is requited to meet this urgent need.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Vacation #2

To commemorate the July 4th Holiday, I've been on vacation all this week. As is usual, I didn't go anywhere. I preferred instead to stay at home and take it easy.

I saw the parents on Monday. Had dinner with Tim and Beth on Tuesday. I finished reading Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History Of The Dead. On Kevin's recommendation, I started reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. I also got around town to take some photos. My photos of graffiti are damn near a photo essay. And I made a new friend online.

Tonight I'm going back to Tim and Beth's for Beth's birthday extravaganza. By the time the weekend rolls through, I might, might, be ready to go back to work. But probably not. I kind of like being off work.

Vacation #3 is coming up the first week of August.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th of July!

Hope you got a bang out of it.

Remember to exercise your freedom for the rest of the year. Use your freedom of speech. Write to your congressman. Write to your newspaper. Start a blog. Campaign door to door for your favored candidate this fall. And be sure to vote this November.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Quote of the day

Andrew Sullivan turned up this nugget of wisdom from founding father Thomas Jefferson. I thought since we are about to celebrate our nation's independence and tradition of freedom, it would be proper to share it here as well.

"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake," - Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Taylor, June 4, 1798.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

How I rate a movie

I belong to a movie club.

Currently, there are six of us in the club. Rusty and Pepper started the club. Rusty is a computer programmer and Pepper owns an art gallery. I was invited to join when the club first started meeting (and even went to the first film that was attended as a club), but didn't start attending regularly until I was re-invited a couple of years later. Diane is an audiologist. Rusty and Pepper met her at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Kevin is a writer. Michael is a political consultant.

We call ourselves the "Manny Perry Movie Club" in honor of the stunt man who was featured in the anti-movie-piracy trailers a few years ago. We flirted briefly with calling the club "Friends United through Cinema, Kind Of." But that didn't stick. It would've made a terrific t-shirt, however.

Every Sunday a different club member picks a movie (we take turns alphabetically) and we go to the last matineƩ screening and then go out to dinner (the restaurant is also picked by that week's picker) where we talk about the movie and whatever else comes up in conversation.

There are rules and by-laws of the club. The most important one being that all films have to be "fresh" (over 60% positive ratings) on Rotten Tomatoes. If a film isn't fresh, but if it's close and that week's picker really wants to see it, that movie can be picked if the other club members agree to relax the rule.

At dinner, we rate each movie on a scale from 1 to 10. Everybody in the club has a different method for scoring a particular film. For most, it's generally a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" proposal, their score being an indicator of how far up or down their thumb actually is. Mine is generally regarded as the most elaborate (i.e. weird) and complicated and I think I'm the only one who fully understands it. But it makes sense for me.

My scoring system is basically a composite scoring of three different elements of a film: the Technical Element, The Intelligence Element, and the Creative Element. Each element has a possible score of zero to three, and added together those make up my total score for any given film. A two in any given category means the film makers were generally competent in that area, and a total score of six generally means a film is well made, makes sense, and entertained me.

On the technical level, I'll give a film a one if its in focus, the boom mic isn't in every other shot, and the lighting doesn't switch suddenly between day and night within the same scene. Most Ed Wood films, for instance, would not get scored even a one on the techincal element. I'll rate a film a two in this category if the method of film making is skillfully employed and integrated into the other two elements of the film. A prime example of this is in Brokeback Mountain in which director Ang Lee cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto contrast shots of wide-open vistas with shots of cramped interiors to portray through the external scenery what the characters are experiencing internally. Threes are reserved for films that do something technically that is extraordinarily creative or innovative. This doesn't just mean special effects (though, certainly I would rate, say, Star Wars or Toy Story as a three for technique), but would also include innovative editing or shooting techniques, such as Christoper Nolan's Memento, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, or Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.

The other two elements are a tad more subjective. For intelligence, a film would earn a zero if it insults my intelligence. The first Bad Boys movie, for example, I felt like I was stupider when I went out of the theater than when I went in. I'll award a film a one if it's scripted and acted in such a way that it doesn't take an unreasonable suspension of disbelief to enjoy what's happening on the screen. Most films get a one or better. A two goes to a film that is thematically complex, employs metaphor, symbolism, complex motivations, irony, etc. In other words, it gives you something to think about. Woody Allen's Match Point is a good example. I save a three for films that challenge what I know or perhaps even teach me something new. Like Judy Irving's The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, for example. Or Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon.

The creative element is usually the easiest to score. It's all right brain. Or left brain. I forget which is which. If a film so fails to hold my attention that I walk out, that's a zero. If a film bores me, but I make it all the way through, that's a one. Twos go to films that keep me consistently interested and entertained. A three is reserved for a film that moves me, that causes me to empathize with the characters and the situation on the screen, that, ultimately, gives me a feeling of catharsis. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moved me in such a way. As did Pulp Fiction and Rebel Without A Cause.

Now, those of you out there with advanced math degrees are surely thinking, wait a minute, it's a ten-point scale, but you rating scheme only goes up to nine. That's true. And, for that reason, I hold in reserve a "Magic Point" for certain films. I don't always award the Magic Point so much to films that I think are "perfect," that is they score a three in all three elements. (Though I do have some ten-point movies. The Godfather I and II, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Pulp Fiction, for example). More often than not, I'll award the Magic Point to a film that I enjoyed more than my "objective" scores would indicate. Napoleon Dynamite is a perfect example. Taken separately, each element of that movie warrants about a two, give or take a little. But the alchemic chemistry between each element gives it a little extra bump when I take it in as a whole.

You might wonder how I can possibly enjoy a film with all that going on in the back of my head while I'm watching it. But, to be honest, I'm not really thinking about all that while I'm watching the movie, unless the movie can't hold my attention. And in that case, it's probably going to get a lower score. That's where reflection and discussion over dinner, and the other members' challenging or assenting viewpoints, really helps me to see a movie's merits or lack thereof. Though everyone else still says they can't quite understand how my rating system works.

A good movies usually gives us a lot to talk about. Bad movies usually give us less, but we have the most to say about movies over which we disagree. Napoleon Dynamite, for instance, split the group right down the middle. Half of us thought it was brilliant, the other half thought it was wretched. And the debate continues even today. But even though we don't always agree on how good any particular movie is, we enjoy seeing them. More than that, we enjoy seeing them together. Half of our current members we met for the first time while standing on line to see a movie. Which is why I thought our originally proposed name was so appropriate. We really are "Friends United through Cinema, Kind Of." I say kind of, not only because it gives the desired ending to the name's acronym, but because even though it was movies that brought us together, our friendships have all extended so that we've become invested in each others' lives. The story of which may or may not make for a good movie (or even an interesting blog post). But I bet it qualifies for a Magic Point.


I don't know if a U.S. release has yet been secured, but my favorite summer cd thus far is Alright, Still by Lily Allen, due out 17 July in the U.K.

Ms. Allen's debut effortlessly combines impeccable pop hooks, indie-rock overtones and reggaeton flourishes for a bright, sunny sound that is unique, hip, and innovative while still familiar enough to appeal to the Top 40 crowd.

"Smile," and ebulient revenge fantasy about getting even with a roaming lover, is the first single and is proving to be nearly as popular as "Crazy" was for Gnarls Barkley earlier this year.

But, as was the case with "Crazy," the acclaim is deserved.

The video is airing on the internet now, courtesy of EMI records and youTube. It's sinfully delicious. Enjoy.