Category: Culture

A troubling plot hole in a classic

Headley and Caine meet for the first time

Made a disturbing realization recently with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

So, in Act II of the movie, Janet meets Lawrence for the first time at the casino (above). In this scene they are playing roulette and Lawrence is being friendly toward Janet.

A minute or so after this happens, Lawrence spots Freddie in his military uniform and fake wheelchair, and Freddie rams himself in between them. Janet helps Freddie place a losing bet, then follows him out in pity. They start talking, and Freddie tells Janet he needs to meet Dr. Emil Schaufhausen.

A few minutes later in the film (it’s the next day, or is it?), Lawrence begins to pretend to be Dr. Schaufhausen–in his clipped little West German accent. Lawrence meets Janet again in the lobby in this outrageous chair.

Janet meets Dr. Schaufhausen in the lobby.

Janet says, “Oh it’s so nice to meet you! I recognized you from the casino!”

But here’s the problem. When she sees him in the lobby, he is doing the German accent. But when he was in the casino, he did not yet know about his own Dr. Schaufhausen cover story–because he did not even know yet that Freddie was going to show up in the wheelchair. So if he talked to Janet at the roulette table, he would have been doing it as himself: Lawrence Jameson, the ambiguously European prince with the English accent.

Wouldn’t Janet have detected the switch in accents and personae from one day to the next? I’m troubled and this movie is obviously ruined now.

Sidebar: The 1980s version is a remake of an earlier version of the same movie. Having seen the older one, it’s awesome–because some of the exact dialogue is the same.

Why I Love Flying (?)

It’s the absurdity plus the corporate know-nothing-ism. Conversation with an airline club employee:

BC3: Thanks for checking me in. Could you also help me with a seat change? I’m trying to get out of the bulkhead. Any other seat is fine.
DA: What do you have… 1A? Let me check. Yes. 1A is a bulkhead. So you’re fine!
BC3: Right, but I’m looking to get out of the bulkhead.
DA: I have 1B and 1C available, but those are aisles.
BC3: No, I’m trying to get out of the bulkhead. No problem. Just thought I’d ask.

This is where I should have walked away. However…

BC3: [trying to be chatty and fun] 1B and 1C are the worst seats up front anyway. That’s the seat where you get bumped or kicked by every other passenger as they board the plane.
DA: [truly confused] Well, they’re all bulkheads.
BC3: Right, but I’m saying–see, because they’re right at the very front, right on the aisle, every single person passes by that seat. So, every person can bump, kick, or brush by you.
DA: Well, I would beg to differ with you. Not every person goes past that seat.
BC3: Look. I’m just–look. Like, take 30C. At least if you had 30C, you are only going to get hit by the people seated behind row 30. Row 1–
DA: I just don’t think I agree.

I gave up.

One more thing lost

I’m watching The Pelican Brief (and I’m only 20 minutes in).  Two things stand out.  First of all, Cynthia Nixon played one of Julia Roberts’ law student friends, which is kind of hot.  I guess she got her Sex and The City J.D. by having a part in this film.

Second, I loved — as I always do — the library scene where Julia Roberts rifles through countless dusty old law books, trying to figure out who might have killed the Supreme Court justices.  You can feel the drama.  Then I thought about it: in the digital age, there is no dramatic dusty old book scene.  There’s just Julia Roberts, staring slackjawed at shitty old Westlaw.  Hollywood is never going to put together any frantic iPad research sequence.  (“Turn it to portrait orientation!  Hurry!”)  I hate the iPad and all it is doing to the death of print.

Chinese news

I’ve been really sick the last four days, and probably spending more time on the Internet than usual.  Nothing is more discouraging than a few minutes at the China Daily website, the English-language “news” site which has become increasingly more professional over the years, and thusly, more dangerous.

The lead story on the BBC News webpage is about severe protests and demonstrations against Chinese rule in Tibet.  There, you can read that activists have released graphic photos of dead bodies showing bullet wounds, and that the police have finally admitted to firing shots at some protesters.  You’ll also read that riot police raided a monastery, causing 300 monks to run for their lives as police committed acts of “gratuitous violence” and kicked monks in the stomach while they lay on the ground.  The phone service had mysteriously been cut.  And the BBC’s own reporters noted that there had been severe limitations on their travel and ability to report.

Cruise over to China Daily.  The lead story is on the Olympic flame.  Click on “China” to get national news stories.  The lead story there is “China’s new cabinet maps out working rules.”  You have to dig for a story about the crisis, and I found one.  105 Lhasa rioters surrender to police.  There, you’ll read that “rioters” killed innocent civilians.  There’s no mention of China’s military actions.  But, there is a link to a story couple of days old titled, We fired no gunshots — Tibetan government chairman.  I wasn’t able to find any article admitting that the government in fact had shot anyone.  Rather, I found a humorous and pathetic grab-all story recounting that local religious authorities were decrying the Dalai Lama (who’s won the Nobel Peace Prize), that Tibet’s 1957 military invasion was “peaceful,” and for good measure, that “mobs” stoned a Han Chinese girl’s head without provocation.  (The Han are eastern China’s ethnic majority.)

Although China Daily never likes airing China’s own dirty laundry, it always enjoys having a good laugh at the United States — a country where protests against the government usually do not result in death.  Some people actually take pride in the fact that this is a country where protesting is legal: a point that seems lost on the site’s editors.  Thus, photos of Iraq war protesters are often prominently displayed on the front page, including today.  This is pretty typical for the website, but what I found truly bizarre is that the CD has created a special slideshow about Eliot Spitzer.  For fans of the absurd, this is not to be missed.  What sounds like plaintive Chinese pop music starts up soon into the slides.  As the captions peter out, it appears that the editors are simply running out the clock so that they can finish the song.  I have asked for a translation.

Also good for a laugh is the commentary, Property boom is here to stay.  After the ritualistic paean to Beijing’s “beaming vitality” and the amusingly gushing reference to “millions of skyscrapers being erected” (do the math — even in China, it can’t be millions), the author gets down to business.  “Are these sprouting buildings constructed on speculated ground, as property prices have been surging at a pace faster than the average growth in incomes?”  The answer is, of course not.  Do I even need to spell out the irony here?  And tragically, the author has failed to learn his microecon 101, confusingly calling the government to impose “price controls to make housing affordable for everyone” (but China must not “resort to administrative means to rein in housing prices”) while at the same time “subsidizing buyers with cash reimbursement” and cutting deals with developers to cap initial sale prices.  Huh?  Even Paul Krugman could not get behind this weird a plan, but “the authorities seem to have acknowledged this approach.”  And despite the opening reference to China’s glittering array of wealth, the column contains the rare admission that it is “a society where the majority of people cannot afford housing.”

As the Olympics near, we are going to hear more and more about how China is doing for itself.  The record continues to be one of shame.  And I remind people that it was just 2001 that China’s military captured and interrogated several U.S. airmen after one of their inept pilots caused a mid-air collision.  They are not our friends.  In the 1980’s, America was obsessed with the prospect of having to surrender our economy to the Japanese, and that was a country we actually got along with.  It is a long road from the China of 2008 to the Japan of 1980.

Aviation security

I rarely do this, but I’m simply going to link to a New York Times weblog posting from a commercial pilot.  While he doesn’t do a whole lot in the way of positive suggestions for security, he does kick the legs out from under several of the ridiculous security measures currently in place in the US.  I was surprised to learn that while pilots and flight attendants must go through the metal detectors, ramp workers and others who have direct access to the planes undergo only sporadic security checks.  It’s long, but it’s a good screed and a good read.

Britain crumbles

I ran across a very surprising article from the Daily Telegraph that the Labour Government in the UK has decided to allow rising ocean levels to consume British villages and farmland in several vulnerable areas.  Under a points-based formula, only certain regions will be “defended” against incursions by the sea.  The article leaks some of the details from the official analysis.

Not surprisingly, some people are very cross about this, and some Conservative members accuse the government of sacrificing Conservative districts (literally) while shoring up marginal Labour constituencies that were affected by this year’s massive river floods.  Whatever; I can’t pass judgment on that.

It is interesting, though, that Britain has the stomach (or lack of backbone, depending on how you feel) to decide what to save and what to let go.  In America, we haven’t made many honest decisions about this, except for a few million-dollar cliffs in Massachusetts.  We certainly haven’t faced up to certain geological and physical realities in many places where a decision will be inevitable.  I’m thinking of New Orleans, of course, but also North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the Florida Keys, and a scattering of Appalachian hollows and river towns.  Our course is always to shore up and rebuild on shaky ground, burying our heads in the sand as it washes away around us.

Cityboy goes green

Lately I’ve found the time to read a ton of books in the sort of earthy/environmental vein.  That and the impending Florida move have made me just feel a lot “greener.”  Let me explain.

When I was growing up, we had all kinds of things in the backyard: apple trees, a cherry tree, a peach tree, grapevines, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries (disgusting), asparagus, tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, carrots, beans, sunflowers, corn, and God knows what else.  We had a shed, which my dad built from the ground up to hold all the tools, and a compost pile (a mysterious shaggy creature).  We also had some kind of mini-greenhouse on legs, which I think was used to grow herbs.  In the front yard we had a huge lilac bush and a ton of flowers.

It’s kind like I’m going through repressed memory therapy here, but I’m just realizing that damn, I grew up with a ton of gardening going on. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.  I’m sure I assumed everybody kept a grape arbor in the backyard, if I had even decided to think about it, which I’m sure I hadn’t.

Now I’m thinking that reviving this life would be a great thing to do on my own, but living downtown in a condo isn’t exactly conducive to having a garden and a compost pile.  The next best thing is to read about it, so I did.

I went down to the library and picked up Compost, a deceptively small book about composting.  The British author says you should actually compost food waste and paper waste in equal quantities — great, because I generate huge amounts of paper waste.  I also read The Square-Foot Garden, a classic that eschews the traditional row method of planting in favor of little squares that you never walk on, so as not to compact the soil.  (I now am realizing our garden looked like that — another thing I just assumed everybody else did.)  For a human perspective, I tried to sift through The 3,000 Mile Garden, a book of sort of gardeny love letters between an Englishman and a Maine cat lady, but it got too creepy.  (I tried!)  Because it was there (in the gardening section! what a scam the Dewey decimal system was!), I also picked up and devoured Silent Spring, the 1962 classic that helped launch the environmental revolution and crusaded against broad-spectrum synthetic pesticides like heptachlor, dieldrin, and DDT, all of which are now off the market.  I read all this stuff in the span of about three days last week, when I should have been studying, then I slept on it.  I heartily recommend all these books except the one.

After all this ecological ferment, I’ve decided: I can’t wait to move to Florida so I can grow a garden.  Apparently the soil is crummy (either sandy or clayey, and full of nematodes), but you can fix that, and you can grow up to five crops a year because of the wonderful sun, temperatures, and humidity.  I also decided I would like to try to never throw anything away, again, ever.  According to Compost, you can even compost things like old clothes (they’re cotton, a natural fiber) and cardboard.  I already recycle all kinds of stuff, including my cans, paper, electronics, and so on.  The only things you really can’t recycle are certain plastics — what else is there to throw out?  So, once the move comes, everything’s going on the compost pile or in the recycling.  I even researched how to compost meat, which everybody says is a bad idea (rats and flies), and I came across “bokashi,” a Japanese invention involving a sealed bucket, wheat bran, and bacteria, which is a process that anaerobically “pickles” your meat, permitting it to then be composted.  Sounds gross, though, to leave a bucket of rotting meat outside, but if it works, why not.

Amusingly, these decisions have led me to realize I’m going to have to live on a lot with some sun and some amount of land, i.e., I might actually have to move to the suburbs or the country (!).  Cityboy might go on hiatus for a while.  But I think it will be enjoyable to come home, change from the suit into the play clothes, go muck about in the garden for an hour or so, then get a shower and have a refreshing drink while admiring the garden, and have a dinner including vegetables I grew myself.  That kind of life should give plenty of time for contemplation.  Shouldn’t life be relaxing and innately rewarding?


Those jerks at HBO have turned down my latest idea for a TV show, which would compete with a certain Sunday night megahit.  My show would be called Disparate Housewives.  Each woman character would be totally unique.

Take the hummus challenge

As you may know, I recently had a few people around for a party and decided it would be a good idea to settle the question: who makes the best hummus in Columbus?  Over twenty people voted and I tabulated the results.  There’s something for everyone.  Go to my Columbus hummus challenge page and see the results.

Lying authors and the readers who love them

Much ado has been made lately over the case of Winfrey v. Frey, the public tiff between the Queen of Pages and the author who fabricated large parts of his criminal history so as to arouse the sympathy of his readers. While I thought the whole affair was a carnival sideshow to begin with, I am pleased that The O had a change of mind and brought James Frey back to justice. While her sheep are hers to command, I’m glad she is herding them back to an appreciation of the truth. It will be interesting to see whose stock rises faster now, hers or his.

Predictably, the evil publishing industry and its media minstrels have been falling over themselves to “debate” the issue of whether nonfiction should be true. I find the whole thing rather distressing, because I believe that books are sacred and not to be trifled with. Call me naive, but the idea of an author, editor, or publisher knowingly permitting outright lies to go into a book offends me deeply.

On the other hand, it is amusing for bookwatchers to act as though this kind of thing has never happened before, and that’s the main reason for this post. I was reminded by some of the Frey coverage that John Berendt was similarly involved in a controversy over his book, Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil. Not only did I buy this book, it inspired me to take a trip to Savannah so I could see it for myself. Only after I got back did I learn just how much had been made up in his story. This Columbia Journalism Review article from 1998 lists some of Berendt’s sins (not all, I should note, are admitted by him). The most egregious in my mind is the allegation that he did not really start hanging around Savannah until 1985, four years after the murder that is the central event of the story, but there are several other slips and misstatements. Several of these problems, I researched, made it into national newspapers.

I think it is interesting to compare this historical book “flap” (pun couldn’t have been avoided) with today’s. Both authors were embarrassed in the national press. Both prompted a nominal “debate” over the fate of nonfiction. And both sold like a jillion copies. Nothing much changes, it seems.

More on Google Book Search

I couldn’t help writing a rejoinder to those defenders of Google Book Search and, of course, good old Banks.  Because everyone should have the right to own their own content, however, I’ve posted it here on Before.  Why should World get all the good material?  For those who haven’t been following this storyline, start at Marcus’ original post on Google Book Search, then read my comment, followed by his “redux” second posting.

I’m still troubled by some of the arguments advanced in Google’s favor.  However nice or wonderful it would be to have every book in the world instantly searchable on the Internet, we cannot ignore the steady policy and laws of all the world’s democratic governments just because somebody would like to have that index.

Marcus claims that because some of the books have “absolutely no commercial significance to the publishers” somehow immunizes Google from abridging the copyright of the publisher or author.  Unfortunately, our laws don’t permit an infringer to make their own assessment of a work’s commercial significance and, if they find it to be zero, to use with impunity.  Further, I think the fact that the books are scanned shows they do have some commercial significance to Google.  And perhaps many of these titles have been out of print for years: as Google clearly plans to demonstrate, these old books have a value that can be unlocked by the technologies of scanning and indexing.

And, since each book does have indisputable value, why should Google be the one to profit from the unlocking of that value?  They’re not the author who wrote the book.  They’re not the publishers who took a chance and made an investment in the book.  They’re not even the libraries who shelled out a few bucks to buy the book.  They have no stake in the business of writing books at all.  So why should they benefit to the exclusion of the authors and publishers who do?  It’s argued that our copyright laws are out of date, so there should be some special exception for the Googles of the world.  But inventing a new technology is not some magic wand or shield that, when produced, defeats all claims held by the original creator and owner of a work.  The MP3 pirates learned that the hard way.

And I have to disagree that the appropriation of property with no monetary value can’t be “theft” or even just plain wrong.  I myself have been a victim of copyright infringement, so I know what it’s like.  I posted a rather ridiculous video of myself on my web site scaling down the face of an artificial climbing wall.  Months later, I went to the City Center mall and found it was showing on a fifteen-foot-high screen in a continuous loop!  This was part of a video advertising all the fun things that might be found in a great downtown (for the record, the rock-climbing happened at Easton).  Did my video have any monetary value?  No.  Did the company that stole my work and aired it thousands of times in a very public forum derive a commercial benefit?  Yes — else why do it.  Did they have, at the very minimum, the courteous obligation to ask whether they could use it?  I think the answer to that is clear.

Google argues it would be impractical for them to ask the author or publisher of each book for the rights to scan the book before including it in their permanent digital archive.  Therefore, they’re just going to do them all, copyright be damned.  A simple analogy to the physical world points up the absurdity in this logic.  Google’s stance is like my saying I can drive my car across the backyard of every house in the neighborhood, because it would just take too long to get permission from each homeowner.

Our system of copyright could not be more liberal.  In order to claim the copyright on an original work, all the author has to do is put the word “Copyright” and the year on it.  Unlike with patents, there is no central registry that authors have to apply to for permission: we just want to encourage creative endeavors by giving them reassurance that they’ll earn the fruits of their labors without interference.  No high-flying tech company should be permitted to swoop in and take that away.

Google Book Search

Marcus has written on the legality of the Google Print program, now renamed to Google Book Search.  He cites a six-page Congressional Research Service report that looks at the issue from a lightweight legal perspective.  Partly because of my membership in the Young Conservatives Union, partly because I enjoy taunting the techno-establishment whom I’m supposed to be digitally brainwashed by based on my age and occupation, and partly because I think I’m right, I’ve written a comment digesting the issue and generally opposing the project.  If you’re interested, read all three writings and comment over at Marcus’ World (or here).

Boldface names II

Special thanks to Ben and Nathan for another “fabulous” 918 Christmas party.  This year I did not embarrass myself and incur the substantial wrath of Matt Brown; rather, I behaved according to the reasonable person standard and we can all be grateful for that.

I did have the jarring experience of meeting a hair-wax-loving chap called Bill Couch, which was very disturbing, since the other guests were getting us confused.  And I thought I was so original.  So I talked to him and told him that he would have to change both his first and last names for party purposes, which he agreed to do: he said, “Tell you what, you can have Bill, I’ll take BC3.”  Whereupon, poooof! my head exploded, because of course, I invented BC3.  I almost slapped him, but he was straight, and that would only deepen the divide.  So I just sort of walked away and bitterly complained to everyone else.

In other news, I now have a new pet.  My cat enjoys dusting under my bed with his body, drinking out of the toilet, and, inexplicably, soft-sided luggage.  Yes, I actually got his favorite suitcase out and am leaving around the house so he can lie on it.  It’s been an interesting experience so far; I never thought I would be a cat person, but it’s one of those things: when you live in the city, you don’t have a choice.

Finally, I have to suggest for anyone interested in the Supreme Court to check out The Brethren, a book by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong.  OK, it’s real old, but it’s a “tell-all” that discusses events and cases during the first several years of the Burger Supreme Court.  I just ran across it and it’s hard to put down.

On California

From the June 2004 issue of Metropolis (yes, Virginia, the huge piles of newspapers and magazines do eventually get digested).

For all their flaky granola daffiness, Californians gave us Silicon Valley, Multimedia Gulch, and the Lockheed Skunk Works.  Who are we to question the spiritual needs of these gentle unworldly people and their cyborg governor?