Franken. J. Archive 010 (to 25 DEC 03)

an irregular pseudoblog for both cultures by chris lawson

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  Christmas in our time
  Review: Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  Unexpected beauty
  Doorknocking for Cthulhu
  Renting, not owning
  Patent numbers
  A petard of one's own
  THE QUIZ: science vs. culture!
  Alternative dissection
  Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur
  Infinite Matrices
  A fistful of essays
  Review2: Intolerable Cruelty
  The next bioweapon could be...measles?

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Christmas in our time

25 DEC 2003 | source Frankenblog


Review: Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

21 DEC 2003 | source Frankenblog

In one of those disturbing coincidences that only presents itself in hindsight, I finished reading Watchmen almost exactly at midnight. Watchmen, the graphic novel written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons, and coloured by John Higgins, was originally published as a series of twelve comics, each chapter ticking up to midnight. The real-time midnight of my reading ended unspectacularly; in Watchmen time, midnight was a moment of mass destruction. I am glad to report that the membrane between fiction and reality remains unbreached.

Watchmen is an example of postmodernism at its best. As a recidivist critic of postmodernism, this may seem an odd position to take. Please allow me to explain myself.

Part of the problem with post-modernism is that it resists easy description. Modernism is bad enough: the term is now contradictory. Modernism isn't modern any more. It's over a century old. Modernism defined itself in terms of a period of history, but the tide of history has moved out, stranding "modernism" on a linguistic sandbar. Postmodernism is even worse. It does not define itself in terms of meaning, style, or place, as do most artistic movements. It defines itself as what happened after modernism -- that is, the meaning of postmodernism is signified as following after a movement that is itself defined in terms of a vague anachronism.

Although this makes postmodernism hard to grasp, it has a certain irony given that postmodernism is largely about analysing the uncertainties of meaning, signifiers, and definitions. It seems odd to me that so many postmodernists have hailed the end of irony when postmodernism thrives on it.

Postmodernism lends itself to criticism for several reasons. It makes it easy for writers to convince their readers (and themselves) that their thoughts are profound, when in fact they are often exploring concepts no more advanced than adolescent solipsism. It encourages artistic laziness by allowing writers to purloin old ideas and present them as their own work. It allows ignorant people to call themselves academics because they dismiss important knowledge as "just another narrative"; these self-acclaimed ignoramuses then get paid public money to teach students how to profitably maximise their state of ignorance between enrolling and graduating from university. It allows a class of writers whose entire ouvre consists of agonising over other people's moral failures -- professional indignitaries, if you like -- to distort their primary material and leave out balancing data and to justify this insult to the values of journalism and history as part of an alternative narrative -- not as bias and misinformation.

That is what I have against postmodernism. But in every successful philosophy, no matter how corrupted, there is always a core of insight that is worth investigating. Postmodernism is no exception. Think of Pulp Fiction or Fight Club. Think of the fusion of musical styles that marks Portishead and the Cinematic Orchestra. Think of The Eyre Affair or The Princess Bride. The postmodern hallmarks worth exploring are: unreliable narrators, distorted points-of-view, cut-up narratives, reinterpretation of cultural icons, juxtaposition of unexpected objects, and the questioning of political and cultural biases on what we think of as common knowledge. Watchmen has these qualities in spades.

The very idea of Watchmen was to ask, if there really were superheroes who fought crime, what would the world really be like? What sort of a superhero story could be told if the traditional lines of good and evil were blurred? What if the superheroes had to deal with moral quandaries that can't be solved by X-ray vision or the ability to flame on? What if superheroes were alcoholics, rapists, and murderers? What if they were jealous of each other? What happens when they get too old or lose their nerve? How do people with superhuman powers maintain empathy with ordinary humans?

The result of asking these questions is a visceral, disturbing, complex story. The main character, Rorschach, has gone round the twist after a particularly gruesome adventure -- he is deluded, judgemental, violent, and unbending, and yet he is the most sympathetic character in the story. His retired partner, Nite Owl, is a shell of his former self, surviving on nostalgia and sexually impotent without the frisson of his superhero costume. Dr. Manhattan is capable of manipulating time, space, and matter, but he has become so removed from an interest in humanity that he aspires to live on lifeless Mars where he can admire the crags and valleys. The Comedian is a cigar-chomping Geronimo who shoots first and fudges death certificates later. Ozymandias, the smartest man on Earth, has retired from crime-fighting to run a vast commercial empire partly funded by action dolls of himself. These are the good guys. And they are the problem.

I picked up Watchmen after reading the first volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, also written by Alan Moore (and superbly illustrated by Kevin O'Neill, who is disgracefully uncredited on many pages). I was immensely impressed. It is set in Victorian England at the height of its industrial power. Wilhelmina Murray (whom some of you will know from a rather famous old horror novel) is given the task of drawing together England's finest adventurers. When I say finest, I mean, most bloodthirsty. Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll, Captain Nemo, and the Invisible Man team up to recover a stolen power source that could spell the end of London. As with the Watchmen, the characters are hardly the sort of people you'd like in positions of power. Quatermain is a decent man, but Miss Murray has to drag him out of an opium den and dry him out before he is any use, and his appetite for laudanum is a recurring danger to the rest of the League. Dr. Jekyll is also a decent man, but a drop of fear and he is prone to turning into Edward Hyde, a rampaging monster with incredible strength and little self-control. The Invisible Man is an amoral scoundrel. And Captain Nemo is a disenchanted Sikh who did not surrender after the Indian Mutiny; although he is paid to work for England, he is only truly happy when killing Englishmen.

The writing in League is even more accomplished than in Watchmen. In Watchmen, too much is explained and there is a very intrusive interweaving of a pirate story from a comic book that does nothing to advance the story and a lot to irritate this reader; in short, in Watchmen Alan Moore does not trust his readers enough, and inserts stylistic tics that distract from the story arc. By the time he wrote League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he was willing to let the reader connect the dots (or even let the dots slip the reader by -- Wilhelmina Murray's more famous moniker is never explicitly stated) and he was willing to edit out stylistic baroquerie that did not advance the story. Watchmen is the work of a very good writer, League is the work of a very good writer who has discovered his confidence.

Watchmen asks "who watches the watchers?" -- indeed, this question is scrawled as grafitti in the book. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen asks if the old Victorian heroes weren't really thugs. The mark of Alan Moore's brilliance is that he wraps these questions in stories that are so gripping. Watchmen is a paranoid noir conspiracy thriller and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman is a rollicking adventure.

What most surprised me, though, is how many elements of Watchmen seemed familiar to me from works that were written after its publication in 1996-97. For instance, Dr Manhattan is so detached from normal human thought that he experiences time as a plane where history is laid out before him -- just like the aliens in Ted Chiang's wonderful "The Story of Your Life." Because of Dr Manhattan's perception of time, other characters have trouble relating to him. Consider this sequence:

Dr. Manhattan: This is where we hold our conversation. It commences when you surprise me with the information that you and Dreiberg have been sleeping together.
Laurie: Y-you know about Dan and me?
Dr. Manhattan: No. Not yet. But in a few moments you're going to tell me.
Laurie: AAAAAGH! Jon, what are you trying to do to me? When you're like this I can't even talk to you let alone debate the what was it...
Dr. Manhattan: Destiny of the world.
Laurie: Destiny of the world. I mean, this is ridiculous. Why hold a debate when you already know the outcome?
Dr. Manhattan: Because...
Laurie: "Because that's how it happens." I know, I know. Oh God...Listen, Jon, OK, I'll play it your way...but you have to help me understand. I mean, I can't tell the future.
Dr. Manhattan: There is no future. There is no past. Do you see?

Recognise it? You should. It's the Oracle scene from the first Matrix film; not word for word by any means (and I'm not making any accusations of plagiarism), but the semantics are identical. Just as I was feeling smug at the expense of Ted Chiang and the Wachowski Brothers, I discovered that Alan Moore ends a chapter with the exact quote from Albert Einstein that I used to end "Written in Blood" (from 1999). Spooky, eh?


Unexpected beauty

16 DEC 2003 | source Frankenblog and Heavens Above

ISS path and star chart image from Heavens Above.

Frankenblog worked late tonight and it was a hot 37ºC (99ºF). Got home. 2-year old daughter was still awake. Gruntle running out rapidly. Ordered Chinese take-away. Sat outside, which was only about 32ºC (90ºF) by then, and ate straight out of the plastic containers.

Looked up and, without expecting it, saw a bright ISS pass. Good magnitude: 0.2 in a clear sky. Watched it cross the sky. Then, amazingly, saw it thread Orion's Belt. Didn't expect it. Didn't even know there was going to be an ISS pass. Bloody happy to have seen it.



14 DEC 2003 | source Frankenblog

Frankenblog Arkitex is proud to present the latest design by Alex L.

Constructed entirely out of recycled materials, this new design boldly declares its plumbing. Rather than hide the pipes and hoses, Alex L. has brought them to the foreground with a bright yellow that opens a dialogue with the abundant floral garden. The prominence of structure is reminiscent of the famous "inside out" Lloyd's office in London. We expect this to be a very popular addition to our range of residential designs.



13 DEC 2003 | source Ideomancer and Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Two reviews have come to my attention recently.

Lee Battersby wrote a glowing review of my collection Written in Blood on Ideomancer, the very gnarly online magazine. It is such a nice review I'm slightly embarrassed to point to it. Thanks, Lee.

And Texas writer Jayme Lynn Blaschke had this to say about the Dozois Year's Best Science Fiction 17: "Volume 17 contains excellent stories overall, but only Chris Lawson's 'Written in Blood' struck me as a lightning-bolt revelation."

Jeepers! Thanks to Jayme, too!


Doorknocking for Cthulhu

12 DEC 2003 | source David Cake

Perth brainmonkey David Cake pointed me to this hilarious parody of Jack Chick's fundy Christian pamphlets by Howard "Wrong Dimension Boy" Hallis. It has already swept the blogosphere but, what the heck, another pointer can't hurt. Read and enjoy.


Renting, not owning

02 DEC 2003 | source Frankenblog

Frankenblog and family spent the last 24 hours vomiting bile and having watery diarrhoea. When I say watery, I have in mind the mouth of the Amazon. There is something both appalling and fascinating about being struck down by a gastroenteritis. Firstly, it is hard to fathom that this trauma was induced by a small package of DNA or RNA wrapped in a protein coat. Secondly, when one is heaving uncontrollably long past the point where you know there is nothing left to vomit, but your gut is making sure that not a skerrick of material remains, that's when it is brought home that our conscious minds aren't really in control of our bodies. We're only renting.


Patent numbers

02 DEC 2003 | source The Register

Of course, the plus side of being unable to move faster than a snail in a glue factory is that it gives one the time to catch up on reading and surfing. On The Register, one discovers a highly amusing spoof of the US lunacy that is patented genes. The spoof talks about patenting numbers, and the logic is eerily similar.

The sequence starts here. If you follow it through from the start, you will learn about the "extensive prior art" of number 151, the devaluation of binary by numbers speculators, and the joy of sinatra numbers.

"For example, suppose Corporation A was awarded Patent no. n for integer m, at the same time as Corporation B was awarded Patent no. m for integer n. Neither corporation could enforce its own IP rights without violating the IP rights of the other. They would be trapped in a kind of deadly embrace. They’d fight like ferrets in a Yorkshireman’s trousers,” said Mr Po™a®© gleefully.


A petard of one's own

29 NOV 2003 | source Frankenblog

Thanks to Garth Nix for pointing out an error in the quiz below. It has been corrected.


THE QUIZ: science vs. culture!

26 NOV 2003 | source Frankenblog

Since this blog is subtitled after a famous essay by C. P. Snow, I guess it's time to put the two cultures to the test. Hence Frankenblog proudly presents a quiz to test whether you're as good at science as at culture. The questions are designed to be easy, by the way, with only one or two twisty ones thrown in for good measure. There are no mouseovers, no cgi, no perl. The answers are at the end of the entry, just like Frankencleo or Blogmopolitan. Good luck!


C1. The name of the Shakespeare play set in Denmark is:

  • [A] The Tempest
  • [B] Macbeth
  • [C] Hamlet
  • [D] Twelfth Night
  • C2. French movie critic Francois Truffaut was so incensed by the drivel he was forced to watch that he made his own film, now regarded as a cinema classic. The film is:

  • [A] And God Created Woman
  • [B] The 400 Blows
  • [C] Jules et Jim
  • [D] The Wages of Fear
  • C3. In Cervantes' novel Don Quixote, the hero's sidekick is called:

  • [A] Sancho Panza
  • [B] Dulcinea
  • [C] Costa del Sol
  • [D] Pancho Villa
  • C4. The opera Aida was written by:

  • [A] Wolfgang Mozart
  • [B] Ludwig van Beethoven
  • [C] Carl von Suppe
  • [D] Guiseppe Verdi
  • C5. Widely regarded as the first piece of conceptual art is:

  • [A] Andy Warhol's Campbell soup cans
  • [B] Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase No.2
  • [C] R. Mutt's urinal
  • [D] Jeff Koon's Hoovers
  • C6. The famous tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings is:

  • [A] The Beirut Tapestry
  • [B] The Bayreuth Tapestry
  • [C] The Babe Ruth Tapestry
  • [D] The Bayreux Tapestry
  • C7. The Sistine Chapel ceiling was painted by:

  • [A] Michelangelo
  • [B] da Vinci
  • [C] Caravaggio
  • [D] Rembrandt
  • C8. Jazz was named after:

  • [A] a street in Chicago
  • [B] nothing; it's just a sound
  • [C] the biscuit, because of a sponsorship deal
  • [D] The Original Dixieland Jass Band, but people thought the name sounded too much like "ass"
  • C9. According to the American Library Association, the following four titles are among the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books. Which ranks highest?

  • [A] The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • [B] The New Joy of Gay Sex
  • [C] Where's Waldo?
  • [D] American Psycho
  • C10. Antonio Gaudi's Church of the Holy Family is still under construction 78 years after his death; it can be found in:

  • [A] Madrid
  • [B] Barcelona
  • [C] Paris
  • [D] Valledolid
  • Science

    S1. Einstein won the Nobel Prize for his work on:

  • [A] Special Relativity
  • [B] General Relativity
  • [C] The photoelectric effect
  • [D] The statistical basis of Brownian motion
  • S2. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states:

  • [A] entropy in a closed system increases
  • [B] entropy in an closed system decreases
  • [C] entropy in an open system increases
  • [D] entropy in an open system decreases
  • S3. The term "paradigm shift" was first used by:

  • [A] Karl Popper
  • [B] Thomas Kuhn
  • [C] Jacques Lacan
  • [D] Paul Feyerabend
  • S4. If you observe a clock moving towards you at half the speed of light, then the clock will:

  • [A] run fast and be red-shifted
  • [B] run fast and be blue-shifted
  • [C] run slow and be red-shifted
  • [D] run slow and be blue-shifted
  • S5. The biggest mass extinction in Earth's history is:

  • [A] the death of the dinosaurs
  • [B] the Industrial Revolution
  • [C] the Permian-Triassic boundary
  • [D] the rise of the cyanobacteria
  • S6. The sun's energy comes from:

  • [A] gravitational collapse igniting nuclear fusion
  • [B] gravitational collapse igniting nuclear fission
  • [C] solar energy
  • [D] magnetic induction
  • S7. The Milky Way is:

  • [A] a star cluster
  • [B] a galaxy
  • [C] a supernova
  • [D] a nebula
  • S8. The microscopic creatures called amoebae are:

  • [A] bacteria
  • [B] viruses
  • [C] fungi
  • [D] animals
  • S9. The words "algebra" and "algorithm" are:

  • [A] named after the same person
  • [B] different names for the same process
  • [C] derived from Ancient Greek
  • [D] derived from the word "algae"
  • S10. The number pi is:

  • [A] an imaginary number
  • [B] an irrational number
  • [C] a prime number
  • [D] an infinite number
  • So how did you go? Are you a geek or an aesthete? Do you know your sonar from your sonnets? Let's find out. The answers are...

    C1 [C], C2 [B], C3 [A], C4 [D], C5 [C], C6 [D], C7 [A], C8 [D], C9 [A], C10 [B], S1 [C], S2 [A], S3 [B], S4 [D], S5 [C], S6 [A], S7 [B], S8 [D], S9 [A], S10 [B].


    Alternative dissection

    21 NOV 2003 | source ABC Science and Arts and Letters Daily

    ABC's (Australian, not American) eternally wonderful Science Show has published the online transcript of a very amusing critique of homeopathy. After reading this article, even the most scientifically illiterate reader should see what is wrong with homeopathy and have a good chuckle as well. Of course, the True Believers won't be swayed...

    While we're on the hobby horse, CSICOP has published a very telling examination of the NCCAM in the US, the body that was set up to evaluate the evidence for alternative therapies. The article by Kimball C. Atwood criticises the politics behind the NCCAM, the dubious choices for directorships, the flawed research techniques, the refusal to acknowledge fraudulent research, the poor ethical standards, the intimidation of mainstream scientists by politicians who control their funding, and the sad fact that the NCCAM now spends US$110 million a year evaluating therapies that mostly lack either evidence or coherent theory.

    Frankenblog wrote about the subject over a year ago, but Atwood's article has a more rigorous approach to the argument and has a great deal of extra information. Atwood comments that even skeptics sometimes express support for the NCCAM because it can show when therapies do not work, but Atwood is pessimistic about the impact of negative findings. Frankenblog's words on the subject were that the NCCAM should fund a study into whether negative research findings make any difference to alternative health practitioners. There is now little need for a formal study because the effect has been tested in the best laboratory there is: real life. The best trial on ginkgo biloba extract showed no improvement in subject memory -- but ginkgo is still advertised as a memory booster in magazines and health shops around the world. Remarkably, the NCCAM is recruiting subjects for another trial of ginkgo for cognitive impairment, and the site says nothing about the JAMA study. Frankenblog is not against more extensive study -- the JAMA study by Solomon et al only followed patients for six weeks while the NCCAM study plans to follow patients for 42 months -- but the new study should mention the Solomon finding up front; plus the study is designed to test primary prevention -- the sort of experiment that should not be pursued until there is convincing evidence for effectiveness.

    The NCCAM is not a bad idea, and it does have some obvious value in educating the public about known side effects and dangers of alternative treatment. Some of its research subjects are worth pursuing, such as the effectiveness of electro-acupuncture in chemotherapy-induced nausea (although even this trial has a significant design flaw, in Frankenblog's opinion). But overall the NCCAM in its current form is a waste of public money. As Atwood argues, both the alternative health market and the NCCAM seem oblivious to negative evidence. So what exactly is the purpose of the exercise?

    And finally, a monumental exercise in investigative journalism: Po Bronson's Wired story about Dr Elisabeth Targ, her famous study into the healing power of prayer and her coincidence-laden death from a rare brain tumour. Not only is this good research, it is also a very good introduction to the importance of trial design, and Bronson manages to discuss the flaws in Targ's research without losing sympathy for the tragedy that overtook her.


    Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur

    16 NOV 2003 | source Frankenblog

    I'm back into the novel after a protracted lie-down. Rejoice! Rejoice! My brain finally seized on what I needed to do to make the damn thing work. There are still some structural issues I need to deal with, but at least they now seem surmountable. That is, the problem should be resolved by the process of writing. I hope!

    One of the spin-offs of my recent writing is that I needed to check something in Latin. In my travails, I came across two amusing websites, here and here, on Latin translations. A lot of the quotes are culled from Henry Beard's Latin For All Occasions and Latin For Even More Occasions; as Beard is uncredited on these websites, I hereby credit him and recommend you buy the books.

    As for the original Latin problem I had, I was looking for a translation of "beware the reader", along the lines of "cave canem" for "beware of dog." I believe the correct translation is "cave lectorem," as lector (reader) is third declension masculine, and cave implies the accusative case. Any Latin scholars who think I've cocked this up are welcome to contact me. Please.

    The interesting thing about this is that, strictly speaking, lector should be gender neutral rather than masculine in a politically correct language, in which case the accusative would be lector, not lectorem. Apparently the Romans didn't think much of gender studies.

    Spectaculum carissimum est Buffy Occidatrix Lamiarum. Abeo!


    Infinite Matrices

    13 NOV 2003 | source Frankenblog

    The Matrix (1999): What is the Matrix?

    The Matrix Reloaded (2003): Free your mind.

    Matrix Revolutions (2003): Everything that has a beginning has an end.

    The Matrix Renovated (2005): Everything that has a beginning has another end.

    Matrix Refinanced (2006): Everything that makes a profit has a sequel.

    Matrix Regurgitations (2008): This is really the end. We mean it.

    Matrix vs. X-Men (2015): Actually, not everything that has a beginning has an end. Consider some of the topological models of the universe. So get off my back, OK?

    Matrix Revisions (2017): Everything that has an ending has a prequel.

    Matrix Reworked (2018): If Lucas can do it, so can we.

    Matrix Variations (2019): Enough already.

    Matrix: The New Demographic (2029): Merchant Ivory as you've never seen them!


    A fistful of essays

    05 NOV 2003 | source Arts & Letters Daily

    The intellectual clearing house at Arts & Letters Daily has pointed links to some fantastic essays in the last couple of days. Despite ALD's leaning towards conservatism, sometimes to irrational conservatism (eg., its repeated pointing to global warming skeptics with nary a mention from the vast bulk of climate scientists of the opposite persuasion), it remains one of the treasures of the internet. Some of the great articles in the last few days are:

    David P. Barash's "Unreason's Seductive Charms", a wonderful and insightful exploration of the conflict between reason and emotion.

    Anthony Daniels' "History By Other Means", which explores the capacity of gentle people to descend into genocide and political violence.

    "The Rorshach Inkblot Test, Fortune Tellers, and Cold Reading" by Wood, Nezworski, Lilienfeld, and Garb, which compares the pseudoscientific use of the famous Rorschach Test with the pseudoscientific tools of psychics.

    A review by Max Hastings of "The Coming of the Third Reich" by Richard J. Evans, which summarises Hitler's ability to undermine a vibrant, healthy, cultured democracy.

    And my favourite of all, "Karl Marx" by Donald Sassoon, in which Sassoon channels the ghost of Karl Marx in order to evaluate his political theories in the light of modern times. This is a truly extraordinary piece of writing, which captures Marx's urbane/cranky persona while at the same time letting the ghost defend his theory without glossing over the awful ends to which it was turned. My own experience of this came when my father, an economist, suggested I read a book called The Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbroner, which was a brief overview of the life and times of the great economic thinkers of history. One of the subjects was of course Marx, and it astonished me to realise just how clever and insightful his understanding of capitalism was, which made me realise just how badly he had been misrepresented by Marxists (leading to Marx's famous statement, "I am not a Marxist"), and equally badly by anti-Marxists. Marx was wrong to predict a workers' revolution, but that was not because his thinking was wrong, it was because Western capitalism changed; and to a large degree that change was driven by the recognition of what Marx had been describing. Similarly, when you hear people dismissing Malthus for being wrong (especially those who refuse to accept any need to curb population growth), it is worth reminding them that Malthus was describing the effects of England's economy in 1798, and that the economy changed at least partly because of Malthus's argument, and that his central concept is still valid: geometric growth eventually outstrips arithmetic growth. This article is very strongly recommended (as is Heilbroner's book). I doubt it will change anyone's political philosophy, but it will at least allow you to educate yourself rather painlessly about one of the most influential (for good and bad) thinkers in human history.


    Review2: Intolerable Cruelty

    29 OCT 2003 | source Frankenblog and 3RRR

    Andrea and I had a wonderful time seeing Intolerable Cruelty. If you like broad farce with a bit of bite then this is for you. That's the short version. The longer version, which follows, is actually a response to one of the most appalling efforts I have ever experienced from a film reviewer. The review in question took place on 3RRR this morning, and I think it says something that two of the presenters were terribly unimpressed and, although very polite about it, made some rather telling comments about the review. My own objection comes not from the fact that the reviewer didn't like Intolerable Cruelty -- I've had too many disagreements with friends whose opinions I respect to give much credence to the concept of externally validated artistic standards. But this review was just plain wrong. And that gets my goat. So here's my take on the reviewer's "arguments."

    It's very funny with great performances, but it's a Coen Brothers film and it wasn't like the other Coen Brothers films I like, so it's not a great film and I can only give it a lukewarm recommendation.

    I'm sure I don't need to point out how ludicruous the thread of this logic is.

    I love it that no two Coen Brothers films are alike.

    So you didn't like Intolerable Cruelty because it was different to other Coen Brothers films...which were great because they were all different to each other?

    Previous Coen Brothers films immersed the viewer in a weird landscape with its own twisted logic. This film disappoints because it takes place in external reality.

    Hell, I don't know which external reality you live in, but in my external reality there's a legal process called discovery that would have destroyed one of the best scenes in the film. In my reality, dogs are not allowed on witness stands. In my reality, women who defraud their suitors might find that they don't get to keep half the marital assets, prenup or no prenup. There are many other examples that can't be mentioned without ruining the film. Intolerable Cruelty, like all the Coen Brothers films, takes place in a stylised universe; in this case the universe is drawn from the screwball battle-of-the-sexes comedies of the 20s through the 50s, where the two romantic leads are simultaneously drawn to each other and repulsed by each other. Think of vintage Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges. Think of His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby. Wherever it is that Intolerable Cruelty is set, it sure ain't our world.

    I could stand it up until the point George Clooney makes a sappy speech about the Importance of Love. That was too naff for words...

    Let me get this right. You don't understand the use of irony. You didn't figure that Clooney's speech was a set-up. You didn't even notice that the rug was pulled from under him not thirty seconds after he had made that speech. You didn't understand that his Norman Rockwell sincerity was put there in order to blow up in his face. I mean, they used the same motif in the frigging title sequence: all those cute Victorian post-cards of courting couples were used to mock traditional, rose-tinted love-sickness. You didn't notice that? Ye gods!

    Catherine Zeta-Jones looks like a drag queen.

    Huh??? What the...?


    The next bioweapon could be...measles?

    24 OCT 2003 | source Frankenblog via Nature and others

    Unfounded fears and media misrepresentation have lead to a disastrous drop in measles vaccination rates in the UK. At least 90 percent of a population must be immunised to provide the herd immunity needed to stop epidemics in their tracks; currently the UK is running at a terrible 60 percent. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

    Measles caused 40 million infections and killed 777,000 people in the year 2000, mostly in Third World children. While children in the West are relatively protected by good nutrition and well-resourced hospitals, it is inevitable that if an outbreak were to occur in England now there would be thousands of hospital admissions and many deaths. Even in wealthy nations with well-resourced health systems such as the Netherlands, measles kills about one in every thousand of its victims. As well as reducing the incidence of measles, vaccination also reduces the risk of dying from an infection; in Senegal the case fatality rate dropped from 6.5 percent to 1.5 percent after the introduction of mass vaccination. This study also showed that measles did not just target frail children; according to the authors, measles "always killed a broad spectrum of children, most of whom were 'fit to survive'."

    So if there are any terrorists out there who can't afford to pay for black market smallpox or anthrax, just expose a few local fanatics to measles and send them to Heathrow with instructions to congregate in Tube stations and Harrods. It won't cause as big a bang as an anthrax attack, but if you want to kill a lot of Western imperialist running dogs, it's a cheap way of doing it.

    I've thought twice about posting this message, but given that any well-resourced terrorist out there will already have thought of this, and given that the problem is caused entirely by gullibility and (in the case of the UK news media) irresponsible sensationalism, it's better to put it out in the open. After all, there will be a major measles outbreak in the UK in the next few years if the vaccination rate doesn't come up dramatically, with or without a terrorist.



    04 OCT 2003 | source Alex

    Yeah, I know. I did it again. Sorry.



    02 OCT 2003 | source Alex

    I know it's terrible to inflict kids' drawings on unsuspecting browsers, but I do like this.