Monthly Archives: December 2005

Flickr: The Music Video

I’ve been a big fan of singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton ever since I heard Bacteria, his techno-remix of a Kentucky Fried Chicken food safety video. His songs download page is a place of riches– I especially recommend Ikea, Furry Old Lobster, and his soulful cover of Baby Got Back. And if you are geeky enough to think you might possibly like a song called Mandelbrot Set, well, then, you definitely will.
He’s now released his first video, and it’s charming and funny. It’s called Flickr, and appropriately enough, it’s assembled entirely out of images he found on

A Very Special Club

My US address seems to have gotten on some sort of odd mailing list. I received the following letter in the mail:

Dear Jacob,
This is a personal letter just to you. Notice: this is not a mass mailing; this letter came to you by first-class mail, not by third-class bulk mail. This is not a solicitation for money. In fact, you will get something of immense value from us absolutely free with no strings attached… Jacob, please keep what I tell you a secret, because this information is confidential. These words are meant for you only

Paging Miss Marple

The second best thing about this news article is the opening paragraph:

A 63-year-old woman has been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to blackmail the owners of a Staffordshire guinea pig breeding farm.

The first best thing is that the article never mentions what, exactly, the guinea pig breeders were being blackmailed over, as if it were so blatantly obvious what kind of dirty secret Staffordshire guinea pig breeders are harboring that there is no need to embarrass the breeders, the guinea pigs, or ourselves by spelling it out.
The only hint the article gives is the following cryptic paragraph:


I went to a screening of the excellent and thoughtful Syriana last night, followed by a Q&A with writer/director Stephen Gaghan, and I’m pleased to report that Mr. Gaghan–who also wrote Traffic–speaks the way he writes screenplays. That is, when asked a simple question, he launches into a lengthy and intelligent narrative that cuts back and forth between several seemingly unrelated anecdotes before finally bringing them together in an ending that makes you feel better informed, even if it raises as many questions as it actually answers. At most of the Q&A’s I’ve attended, the subject ends up answering five or six questions from the moderator, and roughly as many from the audience. Last night, given the same amount of time, Gaghan only got through two questions from the moderator and three from the audience, and he still managed to run over.
Oh, and by the way, to the British lady who turned to her husband on the way out of the screening and said, “Of course, the Americans won’t understand that movie,” I would just like to say: You’re absolutely right. The country that gave you The Sopranos, West Wing, The Simpsons, and, oh yes, THE FREAKING MOVIE YOU JUST WATCHED can’t possibly provide the same sort of sophisticated mass audience that makes The Sun your country’s most-read newspaper, but we do our best to muddle through somehow.

Golden Globe nominations

The Golden Globe nominations have been announced. I don’t have too much to add to Alligators in a Helicopter’s thoughtful and thorough post on the subject, but I did want to highlight two disagreements with him.
He writes:

Given the mediocre reviews that “Mrs. Henderson Presents” is getting, and looking at the list of the 9 female Best Actress nominees other than Judi Dench, it seems like Reese Witherspoon might be getting an Oscar in about three months.

The Bay of Pigs

I’m reading The Wisdom of Crowds, and I came across the following passage:

After a detailed study of American foreign-policy fiascos, including the Bay of Pigs invasion and the failure to anticipate Pearl Harbor, [psychologist Irving] Janis argued that when the decision makers are too much alike — in worldview and mind-set– they easily fall prey to groupthink. Homogeneous groups become cohesive more easily than diverse groups, and as they become more cohesive they also become more dependent on the group, more insulated from outside opinions, and therefore more convinced that the group’s judgment on important issues must be right. These kinds of groups, Janis suggested, share an illusion of invulnerability, a willingness to rationalize away possible counterargument to the group’s position, and a conviction that dissent is not useful.
In the case of the Bay of Pigs invasion, for instance, the Kennedy administration planned and carried out its strategy without ever really talking to anyone who was skeptical of the prospects of success. The people who planned the operation were the same ones who were asked to judge whether it would be successful or not. The few people who voiced caution were quickly silenced. And, most remarkably, neither the intelligence branch of the CIA nor the Cuban desk of the State Department was consulted about the plan. The result was a bizarre neglect of some of the most elemental facts about Cuba in 1961, including the popularity of Fidel Castro, the strength of the Cuban army, and even the size of the island itself. (The invasion was predicated on the idea that 1,200 men could take over all of Cuba)

A Conversation I Overheard Last Night As I Was Waiting For My Take-Away Falafel

[SCENE: A take-away Greek restaurant counter next to the Tottenham Court Road Tube. The guy behind the counter is waiting on a customer.]
GUY BEHIND THE COUNTER (in a heavy Greek accent): So, where are you from?
CUSTOMER (in a crisp British accent): London.
[The Guy Behind The Counter looks skeptically at the Customer, who appears to be of some non-British ethnic group.]
GUY BEHIND THE COUNTER: No, but where are you originally from?
CUSTOMER: My mother’s womb.
[The Guy Behind The Counter hasn’t heard of this country, but doesn’t wish to offend.]

Changes in BAFTA voting

I’ve received my BAFTA voting pack, and I note two interesting changes this year.
First is the increased power of voters in specific “chapters” of BAFTA. In the first round of voting, BAFTA members winnow down the hundreds of possible nominees in every category down to a more manageable 12. At this stage, everybody can vote in all categories–set decorators can vote for Best Editing, editors can vote for Best Screenplay, screenwriters can vote for Best Sound, and so on. However, the Academy is now giving a little extra weight to votes cast by members within their area of expertise. For example, as a member of the Direction Chapter, I received a letter informing me that:

The Paul Simon Variations

Ways Paul Simon Might Have Advised Leaving Your Lover If He Had Been Born In India
Say “No, danke,” Banke.
Make yourself disappear, Samir.
Send her off on some kind of wonky safari, Bankebihari.
Tell her to ride back out on the horse she rode in on, Bollywood star Salman Khan.
It-spay on her in-chay, Chinmay
Send her on a plane flight after you’ve spiked her carry-on luggage with hashish, Debashish.
Sneak off to Marikech, Harikesh.
Just poison her naan, Ishaan. You don’t need a big plaan, maan.
Ways Paul Simon Might Have Advised Leaving Your Lover If He Only Wrote Songs About Members of the Bach Family
Tell her she will find somebody who will provide for her better than you will, Carl Phillip Emmanual.
Just poison her naan, Wilhelm Friedeman.
Write a cantata using ornate contrapuntal harmony to set a text informing her that you wouldn’t touch her if you were an alcoholic and she were Earth’s last gin, Johann Sebastian.