May 31, 2003

Josef Albers at Pace Wildenstein

Saw the Josef Albers paintings at Pace Wildenstein Gallery on 57th Street.

Nearly all the works are "Homage to the Square" or "Study for Homage to the Square". It's wonderful to seem them all in one space. Some observations:

• These are paintings, not screenprints. When seen up close, they have texture, brushstrokes, gesso showing through. So much of that is toned down in the "known" museum works, the screenprints, the posters.

• The show is grouped by color. The result is to have paintings that seem to refer to each other in a fairly taut conversation, yet are dated 5 years apart. Ah, to have that kind of attention span.

• One gem of the show is the small side room of Albersiana: paper sketches (including intense mathematical calculations), photographs of Albers by Henri Cartier-Bresson, and some lengthy text. There are four unframed sketch pieces on Masonite with Albers squiggles and notations and a range of masonite chunks with color swatches. Just so no one thinks that Albers phoned this all in.

• The printed, hardbound catalog ($60), while attractive, seems to have been made without photographs, but instead has reconstructions of the pieces in offset colors. And the colors don't seem to relate to the actual works. Not worth the price, in my opinion.

Here's an undated study:

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May 30, 2003

Ahhh, did your widdle feelings get hurt?

This article should have been titled: Canadians snippy about being stood up at Prom

This is how silly it has become; and how petty. President Bush is forced to cut short his visit to the G8 summit and that has the Canadians miffed:

"Personally I'm disappointed he has to leave," the [senior Canadian] official told reporters... We have two long formal sessions on Monday morning and afternoon. We have two formal lunches and dinners that day, which means that if he leaves mid-afternoon Monday he will miss maybe half of the session and the dinner."

While it is solicitous of the Canadians to worry about Bush's dinner, I suspect that White House staffers will ensure that he doesn't go hungry.

Of course, recent Canadian, French and German behavior hasn't been particularly promising in guaranteeing bonhomie around the old Summit dining table. Who can blame W. for slipping away as soon as he decently can? "It's been fun, but I have to get home to, er, umm, walk the Scottie."

The real reason Bush needs to rush off:

U.S. officials say Bush needs to leave the G8 meeting early to fly to Egypt to prepare for a meeting with Arab heads of state in Sharm el Sheikh and with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians in Aqaba, Jordan.

Oh, letting a mere bagatelle like Mideast peace get in the way of a leisurely dinner? What a cad! Someone should tell the Canadians that this is what grown-up diplomacy is like: not swanning around in French spas bitching and moaning about every little US slight. But then maybe they would regain some international significance.

Two Canada posts in one day! One more for the Hat Trick.

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Oh, the Humanity!

First SARS, then BSE, now this...

Will Canada never be free from disasters?

Miss Canada showed up at the Miss Universe pageant in this over-the-top costume that is said to represent the Canadian penny ($0.0073 US, 0.0062 EUR), although the last I looked the penny wasn't covered in peacock feathers. Not to mention that peacocks are not indigenous to Canada.

Some commented that the costume could have been a touch more "revealing" [insert usual smutty reference to actual national animal here]:

"Jeanne Beker, the host of Fashion Television, said Canada's costume was 'absolutely frightening.' ... The maple leaf mask should be sent to Jean Chrétien so he can wear it next time he visits the United States, she added." Now, that's a frightening idea.

Thanks to Paul Jané for this item.

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We needed a study to tell us this?

Study: Laziness Makes for Dangerous Fat

The team of experts looked at visceral fat — that hidden flab tucked in among the organs. It is often invisible, but unlike an obvious paunch or heavy thighs, it is linked with insulin resistance — pre-diabetes — and heart disease.

And Snoof used to worry only about his visible fat. Oh well, back to Weight Watchers.

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May 29, 2003

May all your work be fat!

Despite my past career as a typographer, I had never heard this one. But now I have and I'm laughing:

fat \Fat\, a.

6. (Typog.) Of a character which enables the compositor to make large wages; — said of matter containing blank, cuts, or many leads, etc.; as, a fat take; a fat page.
Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary

Type used to be charged by the galley, i.e. by the inch. So, lots of leading, lots of white space meant more money.

The new motto: May all your work be fat!

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Don't Even Think of Doing That Here

When I was a teenager, New York tried to style itself "Fun City." Well, in the words of The Daily News: Welcome to Nit Pick City.

There is a ticket blitz going on. Among the miscreants: an 86-year old pigeon feeder, a very pregnant woman resting on subway stairs, someone riding a bike with feet off the pedals, a tourist falling asleep in the Subway.

Few people know that my only hobby is parking my car on West 92nd Street. If Calvin Trillin hadn't beat me to it, I was angling to produce the great New York parking ode.

Around the last three or four days of the month, the ticket blitz begins. Quota time. Anonymous cops on radio talk shows have, er, copped to what everyone knew who'd lived here for 15 minutes — law officers need to produce a couple of dozen tickets a month.

Come the waning days of the moon, the cops put down their coffees and start creative writing courses. The traffic wardens, usually content to sashay the boulevards lazily, swarm down the byways, scattering little orange blossoms as they go.

There are dozens of nuances in the parking code that get hauled out this time of month. Distances allowed to hydrants shrink like a Wal-Mart shirt. Bumper hanging a molecule too far over crosswalk lines? Too bad.

Last month, I watched a ticket go on a windshield 1 minute after the alternate side time went off. That's cold.

The advantage to the authorities of the tickets is that they are given out one at a time — which doesn't build much group dynamic, like higher subway fares tend to.

I am unlikely to get a ticket for parking (because of my spider instincts), although maybe if I'm tired and use a space just two inches too close to the hydrant... But I jaywalk at will, I take stairs two at a time, I lean against subway bench backs instead of sitting in the seats. Who knows in the course of a day how many antique laws I break?

If you go to Toronto, you'll see the people standing politely (some might say docilely) at crosswalks. Why? Because they really do get tickets for stepping off the curb against the light. Makes for a more civil society — but it has been happening for generations, so its bred in the bone. New Yorkers aren't so "whipped" and, I suspect, are essentially untameable.

Tickets as revenue sources? Okay, but then I think I should get a tax rebate for not actually hitting anyone with my car as I drive through the streets of "Fun City."

Strange times, indeed.

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May 28, 2003

Adam : "The hatred felt toward America becomes absurd..."

Adam , unlike the "antiwar" critics, bears the credibility of actually having risked his life for his beliefs. Rather than demonstrating in a comfy, Western European democracy, he confronted a brutal totalitarian state and spent 6 years in a Polish prison.

Yet a German journalist has claimed that "Vaclav Havel, Adam , and George Konrad, Europe's long-standing moral authorities, [have] suddenly become undiscriminating admirers of America." has replied in a thoughtful piece in Gazeta Wyborcza. He argues against the "moral equivalency" doctrine that puts US action on a par with totalitarianism.

The hatred felt toward America becomes absurd when it ceases to be a critical stance that is normal within democratic discourse and takes up the defense of brutal, totalitarian dictatorships. The so-called peace movements of the Cold War burned effigies of American presidents and genuflected before Stalin's portraits. We will not repeat such a masquerade today.
Do we like the internal politics of the Bush administration, its projects to spy on citizens, or the rightist rhetoric of the Christian fundamentalists of the Republican Party? No, we do not, though we do believe that the American democracy, the wiser for the lessons of McCarthyism and Watergate, will be capable of protecting itself from the self-poisoning of the "open society."

An otherwise sane Canadian filmmaker told me last month that the US frightened him. Unaccountably, he claimed to be more fearful of George Bush than Islamic terror thugs with nuclear weapons!

, I suspect, would not suffer such foolishness. He at least is clear on the main enemy of civilization today, and it isn't the US:

Today, however, the primary threat is terrorism by Islamist fundamentalists. War has been declared against the democratic world. It is this world, whose sins and mistakes we know all too well, that we want to defend.

These are the reasons behind our absolute war on the terrorist, corrupt, intolerant regime of the despot from Baghdad. One cannot perceive totalitarian threats in George W. Bush's policies and at the same time defend Saddam Hussein. There are limits to absurdity, which should not be exceeded recklessly.

There you have it, one of the moral voices of our time versus the usual salon radicalism blinded by hatred of the United States.

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May 27, 2003

Lazy Quote of the Month

I think it was Shakespeare who once said: 
"Blipverts may come 
And blipverts may go 
But the laziness upon which they breed is with us always." 
Actually, that's quite good; perhaps it was me who said it.

—Max Headroom

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Logo Update

When someone gives you lemons, they say, make lemonade.

The Times should take these scandals as a branding opportunity, launching a new campaign to improve its image. Look at the positive characteristics it can project in its new slogan:

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The Celts Had a Word for it

Stumbled across a delightful site where the author has helpfully assembled a massive list of English words borrowed from other languages.
Many languages, from the obvious (French) to the obscure (Kimbundu of Northern Angola: banjo).

Favorite of this batch: Tory meaning outlaw.

banshee (woman of the fairy mound), bard, blarney, bog (soft), bother, brat, brisk, brogue, caddy, cairn, clan, claymore, crag, dour, dune (heap), gab, galore, gob, glamour, glen, golf, hooligan, keen, Kent (English county -white), lashings (abundance), leprechaun, loch, moniker, pet, phoney, pillion (cushion), pony, puck, shamrock, shanty, slob, slogan, smashing, smidgen, smithereens, sporran, spunk, Strontium, swap, Tory (outlaw), trousers, twig (understand), whiskey

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The Poetry of Robert Byrd

Earlier I posted a discourse on a passage of poetry chosen by that great orator, Robert C. Byrd, Senator of West Virginia.

But we shouldn't ignore the Great Senator's own contributions to the literature of this country.

I have taken the liberty of setting some of his choicer pieces as verse. It helps their impact in ways the mere prose renditions do not.

Submitted in the interests of literature, a piece from 2001 and two earlier works from 1946:

I'm going to use that word

There are white n----rs.
I've seen a lot of white n----rs
        in my time.

    I'm going to use that word.

But we all —
        we all —
    we just need to work
    to make
our country a better country,
    and I —

    I'd just as soon quit
    talking about it
        so much.


The Klan is needed
    as never before

and I am anxious to see
    its rebirth here
    in West Virginia.

It is necessary that
    the order be
immediately and

    every state
    of the Union.

Rather would I die

[I will] never submit
    to fight
        that banner
    with a Negro by my side.

Rather would I die
    a thousand times,

and see Old Glory
        the dirt

    never to rise
than to see this beloved land of ours
    become degraded
        by race

a throwback to
    the blackest
    specimen from

the wilds.

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May 25, 2003

Memorial Day 2003

Ground Zero Memorial Wall, St. Paul's Church, New York    Dec 1, 2001

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May 24, 2003

Celts an Oppressed People

I thought this was a joke when it was first pointed out to me:

Celts claim to be oppressed by Ireland and its alcohol

Seems a UN conference on native rights is seating a delegation of Irish as an "indigenous people" like the Native Americans or Australia's Aborigines:

Speaking for Retrieve Foundation, Margaret Connolly said the Irish government had "neglected" Celts, who, for "2,000 years, had been forced to adapt to a culture that was foreign to them."
Irish government officials were equally perplexed. "Ireland's position is to respect the rights of minorities," said one.
"But in Ireland, I don't know whether you can class Celts as a minority."

I always wanted to be a part of a struggling, oppressed minority. Now I am one!

cf: How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It by Arthur Herman
(Certainly "The Greatest Book Ever Written"™)

We Celts are a humble race, you see, we only created everything.

For a bit of background, Celt (pronounced Kelt, no matter what that Boston Basketball team says) likely comes from the Greek word Keltoi, referring to people who lived up in Central Europe around the Danube. They are also called Galatians, Gaels, Gauls and more generally "Barbarians". Virgil and Martial were Celts, as was Asterix.

One standard story of the migration comes out of Central Europe through France to the British Isles. Others suggest that the Irish came from the offshoot in Spain. By 400 BC, we Celts pretty much controlled everything in Western Europe North of Italy. Then came the Romans. I guess this is the "culture" we've been adapting to for so long. Damn.

My professor, the writer Hugh MacLennan (of course) liked to point out that Gaelic is the only remaining original European language, older than Latin.

The British Isles are the main holdouts for Celts in Europe (as defined linguistically, since there is little other way to define these people): Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Manx died off as a language last century, but the people are still ethnically the same.

My grandfather was an Irish immigrant who became a cowboy in Canada. The family legend is that we descended from those Campbells expelled from the Highlands in 1693 for slaughtering the MacDonalds at Glencoe. I'm sticking with that story, although there has always been Irish-Scottish cross emigration -- for the usual reasons (economic, religious and criminal).

My paternal grandmother was also a Celt: a Breton from the northwest of France. They are a people who could conceivably claim oppression more readily than the Irish, as they constitute a distinct ethnic minority in France. (The rest of my ancestry is all from Scotland: 100% Celtic.)

Finally (for completeness) whiskey is from the Gaelic:

Whiskey is a shortened form of usquebaugh, which English borrowed from Irish Gaelic uisce beatha and Scottish Gaelic uisge beatha. This compound descends from Old Irish uisce, "water," and bethad, "of life," and meaning literally "water of life."
—American Heritage Dictionary

Water of Life. We have so much to thank the Celts for. Let my people go.

For more on Celts, there are some interesting excerpts at this pagan-oriented site.

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You are here

Us. From Mars.

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May 23, 2003

Driven to Poetry

Dominique de Villepin has finished an 800 page book on poetry, essays and poets: In Praise of Those Who Stole the Fire.

This eulogy owes nothing to artifice or chance. It has ripened inside me since childhood. From the bottom of my pockets, stuck to the back of my smock, hidden in the corner of abacuses, poetry gushed out, scribbled on scraps of paper, anxiety drove my mother to stick poems everywhere, in verse or prose, quatrains or alexandrines.

{Paging Dr. Freud.}

I'm driven to poetry:

Monsieur de Villepin
reads all the poetry he can
And though he got stomped on by Powell
He didn't write Howl

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House, er, Senate of Pain

"Truth Crushed To Earth Shall Rise Again" is also the title of a CD by the white LA rap group House of Pain.

I think Byrd would have done well to quote some of the lyrics on that album.

Here's Everlast going straight up against Robert Byrd's speaking style:

Ya know my style's butter
Cause every word I utter
Rock's the sky's from the gutter
I make ya shudder

You can't tell me Byrd's stuff is good as this.

OK, Everlast for Senate. Check it out (from different cuts on the album):

Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy
I got demons running through my slate
They like to creep when my thoughts get deep
Scheming, trying to find a place to fit in
And manifest itself in the form of a sin

Cause all that loud gun talk
Dont mean squat
If my tool gets hot
I'm a burst your knot
And give it all I got
Up in your wisdom slot

I be huntin down crews like Pacino in Heat
Puttin psychology in your biology
No scientology
Dianetic anesthetic

Here come the Don Dada
Makin' ghettos red hotter
I drop the boom bada
Like Jake LaMotta
I can single you out
And isolate you like Mato
I'm undefeated like Rocky Marciano
I hit you right below the belt
Now you singin' Soprano
Talk what ya talk
Still you dont know what I know

Greed lust envy sloth gluttony pride and wrath do the math
These seven deadly sins represent my jinn
You scheming on testing me kid where you been
I been told all my life I'm my only friend
There's a killer on the road money it's the end
And you might think that I'm a dummy
But while you're out at the spot I'm homes' chilling with your honey
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The Bard of West Virginny

The Bard of the Holler, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginny, has let loose another golden shower of Rhetoric, including this bit of verse:

"Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again,—
    The eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes in pain,
    And dies among his worshippers."

The verse is from Battle-Field by William Cullen Bryant, poet, lawyer, abolitionist, editor of the New York Post.

He seems to have written it in December, 1863. There was some general unpleasantness going on in the United States at that time, that Byrd himself later fell upon the wrong side of.

(Although I suspect Bryant may have read the poem to Byrd personally at the time.)

Ah, but context is a demanding bitch — the stanza after goes:

Yea, though thou lie upon the dust,
    When they who helped thee flee in fear,
Die full of hope and manly trust,
    Like those who fell in battle here.

Personally I like (from another Bryant verse):

But 'neath yon crimson tree
    Lover to listening maid might breathe his flame,
Nor mark, within its roseate canopy,
    Her blush of maiden shame.

For more on Bryant:

For Bryant Park:

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A Pardon for Lenny Bruce?

There is a movement afoot to get Lenny Bruce's a pardon for his New York conviction.

Fueling the campaign is research done by Ronald K. L. Collins and David M. Skover, who wrote a book last year called "The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon" (Sourcebooks). The authors discovered, to their surprise, that the obscenity conviction still stood.
[Bruce's] supporters insist they are not retroactively applying today's more relaxed standards on language. "The Solomon decision indicates that even under the prevailing standards of the time, the Bruce conviction should never have taken place," Mr. Corn-Revere said. "The fact that the conviction remains on the books is an anomaly and a disgrace to the First Amendment."

In August of 1966, when Lenny Bruce died, I was working for the summer with my father at DuArt Film Labs on 55th Street.

There was a skilled maintenance worker there (one of the last of the classic "dese, dem, doze" Brooklynites) who could communicate a reasonably coherent sentence using little but variations on the word "F--k" — as a verb, adverb, adjective, noun in all its regular and irregular forms.

On the other hand, the Judge in Bruce's New York case claimed to have been in the Army for 4 years and never heard the word. That got as big a laugh in the court as anything Bruce said.

I got Lenny Bruce's album in 1968. It was definitely the funniest thing I'd ever heard. Pardon? He should get a formal apology.

(By the way, I'm not squeamish about the F word, just trying to keep from choking on the spam filters.)

For some more on Lenny, here's part of his FBI file:

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May 22, 2003

Are We Safer? Stephen Cohen Hasn't a Clue

Well, to contradict myself, here's another passing item to comment upon. In defense, I need to quote Walt Whitman "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

In this case, The Nation made me do it. You see, I get this email letter from them every so often, and the one about Stephen Cohen's Are We Safer? mentioned how "thoughtful" people opposed the war. Katrina van den Heuvel may be many things, but thoughtful ain't one of them. "Attack dog" and "peevish" spring to mind. And the implication that "thoughtful" people couldn't support the war just rubbed me the wrong way.

Anyway, Cohen presents an eminently debunkable thesis. He recites some questions post-Iraq that he calls "measurable" criteria. Apparently Cohen has already set up an "alternate" Earth in which the Iraq war didn't take place and that we can use as a control so we can "measure" the consequences.

Would that the world worked that way. In fact, what would have happened if we had or hadn't done some course of action is more unknowable than even predictions of what "will" happen given our chosen course of action, since history eventually gives us some perspective on what "did" happen. "If I had driven to work this morning instead of taking the subway, I would have paid $20 for parking." Sure. But "... I would have met Bill Clinton and joined his staff." Possible? Yes. Likely? Not remotely.

I'm surprised that a historian doesn't grasp this fundamental reality of the world when he talks about "measurable" criteria.

Just a couple of glosses:

(3) Will the war, and the long US occupation that is likely to ensue, reduce the recruitment of young Arabs by terrorist movements or will it inspire many new recruits? The subsequent suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco suggest that the latter result will be the case.

How so? Anyone? You mean the crazies in the Arab world had all settled down to productive careers and have now dropped them to go on jihad? The problems in that part of the world seem to be fairly intractable and out of control of any world events.

(4) With or without more recruits, will the war decrease or increase the number of terrorist plots against the United States, whether at home or abroad?

Whaddaya mean "without"? I thought you just inferred that "with" was the case? I suppose that the previously "unknown" (and unknowable) number of plots against the US has now increased exponentially. Hence, x has now been raised to x^y, with y the "unknown" exponent. OK, so if x was 1, then any number of y is still 1. (Since Cohen holds out the possibility of a decrease in the number of plots, y may be negative.) Again, this is something that is far from a "measurable" outcome.

(7) Finally, considering the rampant anti-Americanism it has provoked, will the war result in more or fewer governments willing to cooperate with — individually or in multinational organizations like the United Nations — George W. Bush's stated top priority, the war against global terrorism? During the weeks since the military campaign ended, anti-American sentiments have continued to grow, from the Middle East to Western Europe, and the United Nations remains profoundly divided by the US war and its ugly aftermath in Iraq.

Anti-americanism was big before Iraq (and Bush), it will be big after Iraq (and Bush). Saying that the US has some responsibility to ignore its security needs to kowtow to world sentiment may verge on delusion. The United Nations, formed in the wake of the totalitarian ventures of the early 20th century seems singularly unadapted to dealing with the totalitarian ventures of the 21st.

You see, Steven, that's how institutions are supposed to evolve — by adapting to new situations on the ground. Maybe you spent so much time trying to shore up the old Marxists of Moscow and were so very surprised when their inflexible structure snapped and collapsed. You still haven't learned from that lesson.

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May 21, 2003

All Hedged About*

Unlike some bloggers, I don't comment on every passing news event (unless it's perfidious French behavior, of course), but this graf in Chris Hedges ill-fated (and ill-considered) graduation speech led me to a profound understanding of the man himself. He is, on the evidence of his speech and his behavior, a narcissistic egomaniac who cares for no one. He neither understands friendship or comradeship; he abandons all those who could provide him insight or understanding. Can't be much of a correspondent.

The danger of the external threat that comes when we have an enemy does not create friendship; it creates comradeship. And those in wartime are deceived about what they are undergoing. And this is why once the threat is over, once war ends, comrades again become strangers to us. This is why after war we fall into despair.

*I vaguely remembered a piece of sappy inspirational poetry with that phrase. Sure enough — the stuff of Sunday sermons — and there's the despair as well:

The town of Nogood is all hedged about
By the mountains of Despair.
No sentinel stands on its gloomy walls,
No trumpet to battle and triumph calls,
For cowards alone are there.
— W.E. Penny
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May 20, 2003

de Villepin Watch continues

I almost forgot. I invoked the great Superhero's name without providing the proper visuals.

To see the whole comic book cover, just cliquez ici.

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May 19, 2003

Hard and Soft Anti-Americanism

I have noted before that anti-Americanism springs from the same totalitarian sources that so tormented the 20th century. This is only in part because it arose initially in the antiwar movements of the 50s through 80s, orchestrated as an arm of Soviet foreign policy. Because the message was putatively peace, there was papering over of a deep anti-democratic force.

These days, the peace/antiwar movement has spent whatever force it had left, despite its rapid inflation and just-as-rapid deflation in the run up to the Iraq war. Barring another situation like Iraq, I don't foresee it mustering another call to arms.

The true anti-democratic force these days is the anti-globalization movement, with globalization being seen as almost exclusively a function of American business and American culture. Like the totalitarian movements of the last century, this movement has an attraction almost exclusively to the intellectual elites. The masses in most countries are indifferent to the antagonism that the educated feel toward the US; they openly consume and lust for the products of US business and media.

Alain Madelin, a free-market classical liberal French MP who has been a minister in past Chirac governments, characterizes it in a speech to the Heritage Foundation:

Behind the anti-Americanism lies the rejection of open societies, the rule of law, free market, and free trade, and that is why it must be fought.

How is this different from the vision of Al Qaeda, as articulated by a left commentator, Peter Beaumont in The Observer?

Strip away the millenarian agenda and its language of apocalyptic struggle - the Great Satans, the enemies of God, references to the Crusaders. Strip away, just for a moment, its extreme religious aspects and what you are left with is a non-negotiable political agenda. That aim is to remove - or neutralise - American and Western influence from large areas of the globe, including states that are not exclusively Islamist.

Bin Laden represents the "hard" form of a worldwide desire to suppress freedom and gain a retraction of Western influence, with an anti-globalization movement that desires much the same — in a "softer" form.

In the 70s, it was the Red Brigades (although it is hard to recall what exact demands they had, apart from freedom for comrades held in prison for prior actions) and the Weather Underground whose violence provided them with credibility as a political force among the idealistic New Left. The destabilization of the Western countries in which they operated was the only true intent of their movements.

The dangerous difference today that the brakes on the totalitarian movements of the late 20th Century no longer exist in the same fashion. The identifiable nation-states like the Soviet Union had much to lose if the radical agenda was pushed too hard. In the 21st Century, the shock troops of the "hard" forces live instead in failed nation-states like Chechnya and Sudan. The "hard" forces don't particularly care if their hosts, like the Afghanis or the Chechens, get pulverized. Unlike true guerilla movements, they sit astride the people rather than swimming among them.

And those in the West who provide the "soft" support — through glib anti-Western, anti-democratic, anti-Semitic attitudes — are just greasing the skids for the "hard" side.

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French Diplomacy: "Irresponsiblity, Futility, Vanity"

Françoise Thom, lecturer at the Sorbonne, on The choices French diplomacy made. English translation available here.

The first explanation for the behavior of our leaders is irresponsibility — they believe that they will not have to answer to anyone.

This irresponsibility is driven so far that they seem to be surprised at the consequences of their acts: thus they were not expecting the flare-up of francophobia in the United States, convinced they could persist in their provocations of Washington without risking retaliation. The habit of impunity in internal politics ended up giving rise to a disastrous foreign policy, as was exactly the case for the late USSR.

In the case of France, one must add futility and vanity, permanent factors in our diplomacy.
We declare that France does not believe in the "clash of civilizations," as if denial were enough to erase it. For greater security, we go as far as abolishing the idea of civilization. This is why we seek to deny at all costs the fact that France shares the same civilization as the United States, by cultivating with some fanfare our overflow into extra-legal zones. Anti-Americanism plays a central role in this mechanism.

Thom equates the foreign policy of the French with the determined obstructionism of the Soviet Union. Worth reading.

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May 17, 2003

New EuroFlag

I wonder if it's too late to submit an entry for the new European flag. I propose one that not only reflects the tremendous historical past of that proud continent, but the bold future they envision (see previous entry): The euroswastickle.

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Rem Koolhaas is a tediously self-promoting architect who has fallen on hard times lately because few clients want to pony up the $40 million for his self-indulgence. That's what Prada paid for their over-the-top SoHo store.

So he's moonlighting in areas where he is over-unqualified, like magazines. Because he's a "thinker", Wired gave him the latest issue to play with.

The general rubric of the issue is redefinition of space (as in physical or mental space — not as in outer space). There's a particularly chilling piece of anti-US writing by a Mark Leonard that masquerades as a description of why Europe will "bury" us. When reading it, try to remember that this guy actually admires this new Europe. It sounds a lot like Hell the way he describes it:

The 80,000 pages of laws the EU has developed since the common market was formed in 1957 - influencing everything from genetic labeling to human rights - have made Europe the world's first viral political space, spreading its authority in three innovative ways.

First, it spreads by stealth. Although the EU legislates up to half of its member states' laws, most of their trade, and many policy decisions - from agriculture to economics - it's practically invisible. [...] By creating common standards that are implemented through national institutions, Europe can take over the world without becoming a target for hostility.
Second, the EU thrives on diversity. The former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once complained that Europe doesn't have a single telephone number. When there's a crisis, Americans don't know who to turn to as the authentic voice of opinion. [...] By sharing control widely, and by making it impossible for any single faction or institution to dominate, a networked business can combine its global presence with innovation and diversity to gain the kind of edge normally reserved for smaller entities.

Great, Europe as internet company, like Cool! I'm not sure how this synchs with the anti-globalization idiots' vision, but let that be. I think the operative word in this passage is "impossible".

[...] Third, Europe "syndicates" its legislation and values, often by threatening others with economic isolation. [...] But this model of passive aggression has had its most dramatic effect in the EU's backyard. [...] The US might have changed the regime in Afghanistan, but Europe is changing all of Polish society, from its economic policies and property laws to its treatment of minorities and what gets served on the nation's tables.

Passive aggressive? Sounds like a continent run by actor/waiters.

The key to this whole piece is in that last sentence. Let's recall the last two attempts by European powers to externally control Poland's "tables" and laws. We generally refer to those powers as the "Axis" and the "Warsaw Pact".

So there you have it:
World domination through communal "non"-decision making, passive-aggressive threatening, stealthy overriding of national traditions and laws.

Okay, let's just drop the Middle East and invade Brussels.

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May 15, 2003

Ooh, Ooh, Count Me!

Seems the French see conspiracies under the bed

"As part of the campaign of explanation we are undertaking in the United States, we have decided to count the untrue accusations which have appeared in the U.S. press and which have deeply shocked the French," spokeswoman Marie Masdupuy said.

To understand how amusant this all is, here's a quote from last February from this political pundit in France:

Mr. [Gilles] Corman denies that the French are anti-American, noting that they love Hollywood movies and fast food as much as anyone. But the Bush administration is viewed as "cowboys who don't know the rest of the world, think all Arabs are the same and that Iraq is the same as Afghanistan."

Les Americains charmants! Their entire, shallow contribution to the world: Hollywood movies and fast food. And their understanding of various other world peoples: nil.

Or check out Dominique in Le Monde this week (translation courtesy Bangkok Post):

Some people think that America, because of her power, is capable of acting more effectively than an international community deemed indecisive, or even impotent. We firmly believe that the United Nations embodies a universal conscience transcending states. Between impotence and unilateral, preventive action there is the path of collective responsibility and the difficult task of building a world democracy.

So the UN is a universal conscience? Here's Jeanne Kirkpatrick in the Interational Herald Tribune this week on the lack of standards in just one UN body:

The Human Rights Commission recently met in Geneva for six weeks to discuss, debate and decide issues concerning "the situation of human rights in the world." Since no standards exist, Libya was permitted to hold the chair, which resulted in a commission filled with an assortment of world-class rights abusers, including Syria, Sudan, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

How are they doing, say on the issue of Cuba executing dissidents:

the Commission rejected an amendment proposed by Costa Rica (E/CN.4/2003/L.74) by a roll-call vote of 15 in favour and 31 against, with 7 abstentions, which would have had [sic] created a new operative paragraph calling upon the Government of Cuba to ensure full respect for all human rights and fundamental freedom of expression and the right to a fair trail, and expressing concern about the recent detention, summary prosecution and harsh sentencing of numerous members of the political opposition.

The results were as follows:

In favour (15): Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Poland, Republic of Korea, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States.

Against (31): Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Burkina Faso, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Syrian Arab Republic, Togo, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe.

Abstentions (7): Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Right, so the democracies of the world (including France) want to slap Cuba mildly on the wrist for its summary executions, and the odious dictatorships vote them down. This is the world that the French would visit upon us in the name of "universal conscience".

Vive les cowboys!

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May 13, 2003

Art Underground

As part of the renovation of the Times Square subway station (Goodbye eclectic record store), capital "A" Art is being installed therein. Roy Lichtenstein and Jacob Lawrence are prominent.

The Lawrence terrazzo piece is spectacular, though partly hidden by columns. The Lichtenstein enamelled panel suffers from a) poor positioning (overhead) and b) banal familiarity. Commissioned 12 years ago and finally installed — I feel as though I've seen it or its like too many times over the past 40 years.

By far my favorite Subway "artwork" is nearby in the newly-widened connecting tunnel from the 1/2/3 line to the Shuttle. It's a wonderful — accidental — 100 foot expanse of wall twice as long as the Lichtenstein and three times the Lawrence.

Raw concrete streaked with salt stains and dotted by construction workers with cryptic green, red and orange markings, it has a subtlety well set off by the perfect lighting.

Click on the image for a larger (300K+) version.

I fear this work will soon be covered, whether by tile or another piece of institutionally-correct public art. I have been meaning to photograph it for months and finally managed to get there and assemble this panorama of about half the length.

As they say in the Michelin guide, worth the detour (and the $2 admission).

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May 10, 2003

Warning: Blogging Ahead

I made this sign at the St. Claire Sign Builder, a terrific piece of programming that builds an industry standard warning sign based on your text. Highly recommended. [Thanks for the tip, Veer, graphics powerhouse.

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May 09, 2003

"Saddam": Media Critic

I didn't notice anyone remarking on how much of a media critique was contained in this week's message from "Saddam". Fully half the message seems to be blaming the "media" for his downfall, as if the 7th Cavalry was there just to hold the coats of Al-Jazeera, CNN and Walter Rodgers.

I addressed some messages before, many messages before. Some of them were by my voice and some were addressed to the mass media, but we know and you know very well the mass media in the whole world is controlled by the Zionists, and especially by its headquarters in the White House. Therefore we have tried hard to address our messages by many, many ways and some of them reached you people in the Iraqi governates, and some will reach them sooner.

In any case, it sounds as if we have to go back to the secret style of struggle that we began our life with. Through this secret means...

Some of these people admired the West and described it as the free world, but it is not. And genuine people would never care about the Western media, because it is controlled by Zionists. Especially the two administrations in Washington and London, which are controlled by the Zionist media.

They tell many, many lies...

So let's see if we can deconstruct this message. "Saddam" believes that there are no true national governments in the world, only fictitious entities created and controlled by the Zionist media. So the Zionists control all news flow in the world and it is the absence of countervailing news sources that led to the loss in Iraq.

"Saddam" is apparently a fan of The Matrix:

Morpheus: You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

And all those Genuine People, they can discern an alternative reality behind the lies.

What does "Saddam" prescribe to fight the Matrix — Graffiti:

The Zionists are baffled how to fight the Palestinian people and you the Iraqi people, men and women, stand together against the invasion and show your stance as much as you can by writing on walls, or making positive demonstrations or not selling them anything or buying anything from them, or by shooting them with your rifles and trying to destroy their cannons and tanks.

I would think destroying their television broadcasting equipment would be more to the point. No wonder Saddam got angry with Al-Jazeera. Apparently, they were insufficiently separate from their Zionist controllers and weren't piercing the veil of lies. This may also explain Mohammed Said Al-Sahhaf's seemingly insane announcements: He took the Red Pill.

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May 08, 2003

A Different Time

There once was a time when the Canadians had the fourth largest army in the world and were loyal allies of their southern neighbor. But recently, dumb national defence strategy and dumber international politics have reduced both to shreds.

Because of the political calculations of their civilian leaders, Canadian commanders at Central Command were frozen out of vital planning during the run-up to the Iraq war. And now there's this:

Canadian soldiers are back in Afghanistan, but this time, they don't have any weapons to help protect them. In Ottawa's rush to put Canadian troops on the ground, 25 elite Canadian soldiers arrived in Afghanistan only to find that they are not allowed to carry guns. What makes the situation particularly embarrassing is that the troops have been assigned German bodyguards to protect them.

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The Oxford Comma and Other Trivia

Who would know better than Oxford? What is the 'Oxford comma'?

The 'Oxford comma' is an optional comma before the word 'and' at the end of a list: We sell books, videos, and magazines.

It is so called because it was traditionally used by printer's readers and editors at Oxford University Press. Sometimes it can be necessary for clarity when the items in the list are not single words: These items are available in black and white, red and yellow, and blue and green.

Some people do not realize that the Oxford comma is acceptable, possibly because they were brought up with the supposed rule (which Fowler would call a 'superstition') about putting punctuation marks before and.

I like that "which Fowler would call a 'superstition'." Just the right note of haughtiness from the Oxford Dictionaries.

There is some interesting reading over at the Ask Oxford web site. The word origins pages cover "codswallop, lukewarm" and other gems, although it disappoints by mostly saying that the common beliefs on the origins of most interesting terms are not very credible. Ah well, there go all those bar bets.

One word I had never heard before is nous, pronounced "nouse":

It appears in our dictionaries of current English, such as the New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998), where it is labelled 'British informal' and defined 'common sense; practical intelligence'. In philosophy, it means 'the mind of intellect'.

Guess I'm not running in circles where common sense or the mind of intellect abounds.

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May 07, 2003


On the streets of Manhattan, there are thousands of plastic boxes that contain free newspapers and brochures. Recently, someone began leaving cryptic messages in some of them.

They look like small bits of an artist's sketchbook, but they are covered with complex symbols and formula — like a logician's notes. They have been made as though torn or cut from a notebook, although they are also obviously photocopies. As I look at the page, words and phrases start to form through the odd punctuation, but a coherent sense never gels. Here's a small example, about 1/2 inch worth on a page covered in similar phrases:

The ramblings of a demented metaphysician seeking to proselytize his theories? An artist's stunt? A clever advertising gimmick by some movie company looking to promote an upcoming apocalyptic film about a paranoid madman? A combination of the above?

Anyway, there was something very intriguing about a number of the glyphs, so I decided to set the one above in type:

Wow! Not bad at all. I'd say this qualifies as the logo for THE FUTURE.

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May 06, 2003

More on Haag-Drugulin

The Robert Grabhorn Collection on the History of Printing and Development of the Book at The San Francisco Public Library owns two volumes that seem related to the book I am scanning:

Haag-Drugulin. Nachtrag zur Schriftprobe der Offizin Haag-Drugulin AG. Leipzig: 1930.

Haag-Drugulin. Schriftproben der Offizin Haag-Drugulin A.-G. Leipzig: 1929.

Next time I'm in San Francisco, I'll try to get a look at these. Has anyone seen them?

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May 05, 2003

Damn, Now You Tell Me

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May 03, 2003

More on Haag-Drugulin

werkstätten und museum für druckkunst leipzig, Workshops and Museum for the Arts of Printing Leipzig has an elegant website with English and German versions. The Museum and the type foundry seem to be the labor of love of Eckehart SchumacherGebler, described on the site as "Master compositor and printer and a real hunter-gatherer."

There are some gems in their collection.

Among the oldest is a font of matrices by the famous punch cutter Jakob Sabon of 1572, as well as an original cutting of an Old Schwabacher from the well-known type foundry of Johann Christoph Zanker in Nuremberg, Frankonia, which likewise stems from the middle of the 16th century.

Anyone want to fund a type excursion? We could take in the bauhaus in Dessau at the same time.

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Haag-Drugulin 1932 Type Sample Book

One of my favorite possessions is the 1932 "Anwendungsproben der schönsten Drugulin Schriften erstes heft" published by Offiziin Haag-Drugulin in Leipzig.

Apparently, the type house is still operating although it had passed into state hands (East Germany) after the war. It has been preserved as part of a Printing History Museum. In September 2000, the Association Typographique Internationale conference was hosted at the Museum. There's an interesting history of the firm at the conference site.

The Offizin Haag-Drugulin has played a significant role in publishing, printing and literary history. Its origins can be traced back to the 18th Century. 1829, when Friedrich Nies from Offenbach acquired the printing workshop, is regarded as the year of its foundation. As early as 1831, Nies had attached a type foundry to the business, which he equipped with typefaces for setting Oriental languages. Since then, the printing workshop has always been a synonym for typographic diversity and quality. At the end of the 19th Century, it was even trying to take the place of the lavishly equipped state printing works in Vienna and Paris in the field of Oriental languages.
In spite of these conditions, business did not always develop smoothly. After the First World War the interest for Oriental books waned. And people no longer had any money for lavishly designed books, once a speciality of the company. In 1928 the company merged with the Haag printing house, which had moved into the area, and it has traded as Offizin Haag-Drugulin since that time.

Each page is a magnificent example of letterpress setting. Samples of Hebrew, Arabic, and other languages as well as a range of styles and fonts from classical Fraktur to the "à la mode" Bauhaus style.

I'm scanning the book now (of course, I'm starting with my favorite pages). Anyone interested in the finished product, or even the progress, should get in touch at haag @

The large version of the cover is in the extended entry.

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More on Canada and Weapons of Intense Bureaucracy

Now US Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci has weighed in with more warnings on marijuana legalization.

"If the perception is it might be more easy to get marijuana here, then that could lead to some pressure on the border because U.S. Customs immigration officers . . . would have their antennae up."

May I make some suggestions?

1) US Customs should open special express lanes for marijuana smokers. That would allow the rest of us to get down to the business of answering the dumb questions about "visiting a farm" or "shaking hands with anyone in Toronto."
2) If you're holding when you get to the border, ask the Customs Official to hold your stash until you leave the country. They are usually more than willing to oblige for our Canadian friends.

While he understands the concerns of the American administration, Mr. [Justice Minister Martin "the Pothead"] Cauchon said Canada is a sovereign country that enacts its own laws.

Why do US officials constantly need to be told this? Do you think their pot-smoking has affected their memory?

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May 02, 2003

Blair: Bush "Highly Intelligent"

I'm no fan of George W. Bush on most things, although I think he did pretty well on Iraq. Apparently, so does Tony Blair, who is a fan of Bush on some things.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose closeness to U.S. President George W. Bush earned him praise from Washington and derision at home, says he thinks the American leader's lightweight image is "complete bull."
"I was about to say, 'He's not someone who will philosophize,' but actually that's not true, because he does. But 'directness' is the best way I can describe it. He has a very, very direct way of stating exactly what he feels about a situation."

Blair added about Bush, "He is highly intelligent, and it's not clotted by so many nuances that the meaning is obscured. The good thing about (Bush) is that once he does really think that an issue has to be tackled he has big reserves of courage for doing it, and he won't really be diverted."

That is sometimes known as integrity (strange in a politician).

I never understood this idée fixe that some on the left have that Bush is some kind of "moron" or "idiot". He may be a good old boy, and his impromptu articulation is weak, but "misunderestimating" him is a sure way to get 4 more years (and further "misunderestimating" then gets you Jeb for 4).

But, hey, the Democrats have a death wish. Forward into the breach.

As an added bonus, the article refers to Scottish Labour MP Tam Dalyell, Saddam-appeaser, distant relative of Harry Truman and general-purpose antiwar loony. It's good he's keeping up the antiwar side. To spare you suspense, it's the Jews' fault (surprise!).

The author then quoted Labour Member of Parliament Tam Dalyell, the longest serving member of the House of Commons, as saying he thought Blair was unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisors.
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I just received my first ... what shall I call it ... blogvert*. By way of the Great Gray Lady, an entertaining note from John Malkovich, written in blog-style, with insights and stories about his new picture:

After some time, we set up the film with an English distribution company, a singularly disreputable group of people who after paying to option the book spent several fruitful years ensuring that it would never be made into a movie."

Reaction: Works surprisingly well, at least on me! Fox's one mistake: it's not available as an actual blog, with a link so I can insert that in my weblog, e-mail it, etc.

*in homage to Max Headroom's "blipvert".

I put the entire text in the extended entry section. Worth reading:

In the winter of 1995 I was making a film in Poland. I got from somewhere a copy of an English newspaper - The Daily Telegraph - which often has articles about what various people are reading. Actually, they're less articles than little blurbs or encapsulations. "I found so and so's book blah blah blah rather stimulating" etc. Someone, I can't remember who, was reading a novel called The Dancer Upstairs by Nicholas Shakespeare and gave the briefest synopsis of the story, and if I remember correctly, commented favorably on the tone of the book. I called my crack staff in Los Angeles for them to hunt up a copy of the book and send it along to my little cabin in the forest next to the requisite icy lake. I read the book, liked it immensely and we immediately set about trying to option it in the hopes of eventually making a film of it through our company Mr. Mudd.

After some time, we set up the film with an English distribution company, a singularly disreputable group of people who after paying to option the book spent several fruitful years ensuring that it would never be made into a movie. Why would they do that? Why would they behave that way? I actually couldn't tell you, and during the two or three years I wasted with these felons I actually didn't much think about it. I've spent many years in the film industry and have on occasions dealt with other liars, some accomplished, poetic and just plain likable, others lacking imagination, creativity or inventiveness.

The film eventually fell apart five or so years ago in Spain when we were only a few weeks from the start of shooting. Every couple of days we were told that the money to make the film would be arriving in the bank on Monday morning. Sorry, Wednesday afternoon, Thursday during siesta hours, and on and on. After a few weeks and a few hundred-thousand dollars of this, I called the owner of the distribution company, made some not so veiled threats, employed the "c" word and shortly after our relationship ended. I tried to rescue the film in a government bailout sort of way, and in the movie industry the government is the studios. I sent the script to several companies in the States and most responded promptly, some (I'm thinking of a gentleman at DreamWorks) were quite fulsome in their praise of the screenplay, but were in no way interested in financing the film.

The film was cancelled; the actors and crew notified, and The Dancer Upstairs became another of the film industry's dreams deferred.

During the ensuing few years we searched high and low for film financing, had scores of meetings and heard some immensely curious and entertaining reasons for financiers' distinct lack of interest. "Who is Javier Bardem?" "It's political." "It's too political." "She's old and has a fat ass." "Who cares about terrorism?" "It's about European Mexicans." "It's not political."

Eventually I met a Spanish film producer and although our relationship was at times less than fully gratifying, he said he would make the film, and wonder of wonders, he did. The Dancer Upstairs started shooting in May of 2000. We shot in Spain, Portugal and Ecuador over a nine week period. The film cost around $4,500,000 or so. Among the nationalities represented in the cast and crew were Spanish, Portuguese, Ecuadorian, Italian, British, German, Belgian, Mexican and American.

During the shooting we lost our electrician and our first and second assistant directors due to deaths in their respective families. The production company had neglected to open a bank account in Ecuador and so we arrived there after having shot in Europe for seven weeks with no money to give the crew, so I spent my two days of final preparation for the shoot going around to cash machines in Quito. The maximum amount one could withdraw was fifteen dollars, still quite a bit of money in Ecuador. A highly trained and tenured university professor might make $40 (U.S.) per month. We had a very dedicated cast and crew and with some per diem money which I had left over from other films probably still Con Air I should hope-we were able to pay people until we eventually received our production money a few days later.

Looking back over the seven years it took us to bring the film to fruition, it seems astonishing to me that it took so long, that so few people were interested, and I must say in closing, that they were so incredibly and so pompously wrong.


John Malkovich makes his directorial debut with The Dancer Upstairs - now playing in select cities.

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Canada Threatened with Weapons of Intense Bureaucracy

US threatens Canada if it legalizes marijuana:

Murray didn't spell out what the American response would be, but he invoked images of tie-ups at border crossings and intense bureaucracy.

Ooooh. Somehow I don't think the Canadians are going to be scared. Having worked for the Canadian Ministry of Transport, I can tell you that intense bureaucracy may be the one threat that Canada is equipped to deal with.

The US may finally be outgunned.

Thanks to Mad Mitch for the heads-up and some appropriately cogent advice to the US drug agency.

Mitch is probably mad because he's in Ottawa, or else he's in Ottawa because he's mad. Either works.

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Kristof Meets the Enemy He Wants Locked Up

I had to check the date on this New York Times column (registration required), it seemed like an April Fool's joke.

Nicholas Kristof advocating breaking down the door in the middle of the night, hauling off people and detaining them against their will?

One main obstacle has been shrieks of protest by civil libertarians, whom I'm usually sympathetic to — but not this time.

Well, okay, Nick. Take a deep breath.

Having just come back from Sars-lyvania (Toronto) myself, I agree with Kristof on the issue and the response. However, if we substitute the words "suspected of terrrorist intentions" for "suspected of having the disease" and "chemical weapon" for "smallpox" — we just fell through the looking glass.

Why is this suspension of civil liberties any more acceptable than the Ashcroft variations? I liked the "shrieks of protest" line, sounds like Charles Krauthammer.

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Caution Men Working

May 1, 2003, Chambers Street, New York

International Worker's Day!

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May 01, 2003

Journalism's Dream Team: Sahhaferaldo

Iraq's irrepressible information minister has been unemployed for almost a month now. But don't fear. Looks like a job is coming his way, according to this Arab News article.

DAMMAM, 30 April 2003 - The Al-Arabiya satellite channel has confirmed that it has offered employment to the former Iraqi Minister of Information Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf ... he could choose between presenting special programs or being a political analyst or both ... [...] In explaining the offer, the director said that Al-Sahaf had been part of the former Iraqi government and that because of that, he knew many things of interest to viewers. He also has wide knowledge and experience that could help in explaining Iraq's history and discussing the country's future. [...] Al-Sahaf is internationally known and many people, especially in the Arab world, would welcome him as a TV personality. Even President Bush admitted last week that he sometimes broke off his official meetings so that he could watch the Iraqi information minister on TV. His press conferences were eagerly awaited during the war when he was called the minister of misinformation.

Why stop there? I propose MSNBC's new dream team to replace Press and Buchanan: presenting Sahhaferaldo:

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