Sunday, June 29, 2008



Matthew McConaughey as Ben “Finn” Finnegan and Alexis Dziena as Gemma in Warner Bros. Pictures’ romantic comedy adventure “Fool’s Gold.” Photo by Gene Page.

Fool's Gold is a pleasant slacker of a movie. It's fun. It doesn't try very hard. The action sequences are slightly exciting, but not really very well done. The story is predictable. The romance is more than predictable: it's kind of pre-ordained. Some kissing, some hugging. Fleeting nudity. A few jokes.

(Story: Just divorced couple team up again to find buried treasure.)

So watching this movie is kind of like seeing an old friend again. It's sunny. It's familiar. Nothing to worry about (except for a few scenes of violence that seem out of place). The results are satifying according to the standards of movie-ethics. (Note: Movie-ethics allow "happy-ending" resolutions that would be punishable by long jail terms or worse in the real world.)

The acting is mostly a goof.
Donald Sutherland with a British sort of accent. Matthew McConaughey mostly without a shirt (as a slacker with just three talents: finding treasure, finding sponsors with money to look for treasure, and great sex) . Kate Hudson always with her shirt on. Alexis Dziena as a cheerful, cute bimbo.

Although this film has not won any major awards, it was nominated for "Best Romance Poster!"

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Monday, June 23, 2008



27 Dresses
is a mild mannered, pleasant, but unexciting "romantic comedy."

"Romantic comedy" is in quotes because although the film fits squarely into that genre, it is not really all that romantic or funny. I counted three or four good jokes.

Judging by the commentaries on the DVD, the filmmakers (producers, director, writer, costumer, etc) were just a bit too self-satisfied with what they did. They should have pushed harder.

Katherine Heigl is very good as the lead. She has real star power. Unfortunately, the rest of the supporting cast all seem like understudies for more famous actors. Neither the men that play opposite her, nor the women that support or oppose her, have the gravitas and star power to feel like they should be in the same movie. That's partly because all the other parts are under-written.

One other problem with the story is that it is so very, very targeted at women. To make a really good film, it must either be so specific that it comes fully alive, or so ambitious that it challenges everyone. This film just seems to try to hit some basic elements of a woman's frustration with all the other (ie not her own) weddings she goes to.

The director,
Anne Fletcher, has a distinguished resume as a choreographer, dancer and actress; I suspect she might well have used more of those elements in the film. All in all, the film is not unpleasant. It's just not very good.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008



Boarding Gate
is an A quality B Movie. The scenario (written and directed by Olivier Assayas) unfolds in an original and unpredictable way, helped along by a plot that is just slightly short of comprehensible.

A few things about the story are clear. Sandra (
Asia Argento) is dealing drugs, is a former prostitute, has had an intense relationship with Miles (Michael Madsen), and is trying to get money for a nightclub in Beijing. After a violent encounter with Miles, Sandra flees to Hong Kong, with the help (?) of her boss and lover (?), Lester (Carl Ng) and his wife (Kelly Lin). The details are somewhat murky.

Argento is a mesmerizing, versatile and fearless actress. Kelly Lin is subtle and sophisticated. Elements of sex, violence, betrayal, gun fights, desire, and greed -- along with mystery, thrills and exotic locations make this an unusual and interesting film.

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Tolerance for people of other religions, ethnicities, tastes, etc is important.

But that is not what this post is about.

This post is about engineering tolerance: the amount of leeway permitted by an engineering design for... well, for just about anything. In particular, we are most concerned about the tolerance in the design of things that can be affected by weather: for example, houses and levees.

The climate is changing. Along with the change in climate will come changes in local weather. Some places will be hotter, some colder, some wetter, some dryer, some windier than ever before. Where a levee was designed for the biggest flood expected (or experienced) in a hundred years, that will not necessarily be enough. In fact it was not enough in New Orleans, or along the Mississippi.

We can expect many examples of nature producing severe stresses on our bridges, buildings, roads, forests, water supply, rivers, and other parts of our environment and infrastucture in the years to come. These stresses are likely to be outside the bounds of the current tolerances.

The effect of catastrophic failure is usually a huge cost and, often, loss of life.

We need to examine the current tolerance to stress of our entire national infrastructure and environment, and provide a more relaxed tolerance (that is, a more robust defense against a wider range of stress) everywhere it is needed, before more disasters strike.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008



The Other Boleyn Girl
is a historical drama about the reign of King Henry VIII of England. His Queen and first wife Catherine Of Aragon was not producing a male heir. Henry began sexual relationships with Mary Boleyn and her sister Anne. In order to marry Anne, he needed to divorce Catherine -- but the Pope would not allow the tie to Catholic Spain to be severed by a divorce. So Henry broke with the Catholic Church and founded the Church of England.

Those religious and political events are not the focus of this film. They remain in the background as the relationship between the blonde, nice sister Mary (played by
Scarlett Johansson) and the scheming ambitious Anne (played by Natalie Portman) is the true subject of this film's story. (The film is based, somewhat loosely, on a novel, by Philippa Gregory which is based, somewhat loosely, on the known historical facts.) Though a "historical" drama, students facing a final exam or term paper on the Tudors in England might not want to rely on the details described in this movie as their basic research source.

The acting is excellent. Ana Torrent is very powerful as Catherine of Aragon. (Ana Torrent, by the way, is a distinguished Spanish actress who first gained notice as the child in the Spanish classic film Spirit Of The Beehive -- a film which in its attention to the mind of a young girl, but no other way, was a precurser of Pan's Labyrinth).

Accepting the film as a human scale drama of normal young women -- actually just girls at the beginning -- caught up in power plays with far more history and tradition than they can comprehend, this is an interesting story of sibling interactions and people just figuring things out as they grow up.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008



Lara Logan
, the CBS foreign correspondent in Baghdad will be on the Daily Show tonight.

Her reports from the front lines have been highlights of the CBS Evening News. She has delivered interesting, impressive and sometimes amazing reports.

She is one of the true star reporters.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008



A very hot, most exciting, new venue, Le Poisson Rouge (LPR), opens for previews tomorrow, June 15 on the site of the old, legendary Village Gate, with an official opening in September.

Large (800+!), re-constructed, re-decorated, and re-energized, this elegant, trendy cafe will feature a top notch, eclectic mix of pop, classical, folk, jazz and other music -- together with other entertainments.

The project is the brain-child of violinist/composer David Handler and cellist Justin Kantor, joined by a group of private investors.

Performances over the summer will include events from the JVC Jazz festival, Richie Havens, and Grammy winner, Rickie Lee Jones.

Here are the official LPR web sites, together with some stories about the cafe, including a floor plan!

Official Site:
Current Schedule:

History of the Village Gate from Wikipedia:
Floor Plan:
About LPR:
About LPR & Jazz:

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Monday, June 02, 2008



Three notes on bad campaign tactics.

1- I received a call recently from someone purporting to be from the Lautenberg campaign (Lautenberg is running for the Senate in NJ). Whoever called could not answer several simple questions. Then, when I asked if Lautenberg was facing a primary contest, the caller hung up on me. When I called the number from which (*69) said the call had been made, I reached nothing. Either the Lautenberg team is not training their callers properly, or (maybe) it was a "dirty trick" and not a real campaign call at all.

2- The ads against Lautenberg are hypocritical and unpleasant. They cite him for complaining once that someone was too old and complain that saying that was terrible. Their ad then says Lautenberg is too old... (and gives no other reason to vote for his opponent).

3- Last year, before the election, I received far too many pre-recorded phone calls from the governor. Those calls are annoying and off-putting. Maybe a candidate can do it once. Sending the same or similar pre-recorded message more than once is counter-productive and more likely to lose than gain votes. I hope no-one does that again.



Phoenix has landed on Mars and begun to scoop the Martian soil, to test for possible water ice and organic material under the surface.

Here are some pictures from Mars, from


This image captured by the Robotic Arm Camera aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander on Sol 6, the sixth Martian day of the mission, (May 31, 2008) shows a close-up of the "Snow Queen" feature under the lander.

Swept clear of surface dust by the thruster rockets as Phoenix landed, the area has a smooth surface with layers visible and several smooth, rounded cavities.

The Phoenix Mission is led by the University of Arizona, Tucson, on behalf of NASA. Project management of the mission is by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Spacecraft development is by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute


This image from NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's Robotic Arm Camera (RAC) shows material from the Martian surface captured by the Robotic Arm (RA) scoop during its first test dig and dump on the seventh Martian day of the mission, or Sol 7 (June 1, 2008). The test sample shown was taken from the digging area informally known as "Knave of Hearts."

Scientists speculate that the white patches on the right side of the image could possibly be ice or salts that precipitated into the soil. Scientists also speculate that this white material is probably the same material seen in previous images from under the lander in which an upper surface of an ice table was observed. The color for this image was acquired by illuminating the RA scoop with a set of red, green, and blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute


Here's a picture, (2008-05-26) of the Phoenix Lander parachuting down to Mars, in this image captured by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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I don't know if it's the color scheme, the speed of play, my eyes, or my old TV set, but I'm having trouble following the ball at the
French Open.

If it's not just my eyes or my TV set, perhaps it's time to digitally brighten the ball and make the game easier to follow.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008



Bad rules lead to bad results. The loyalty with which the DNC Rules Committee defended enforcing its terrible rules was very disheartening.

It may have seemed like a good idea at one point to try to prevent the nomination process from being too long by barring states from having early primaries (as if that worked...) But once it became apparent -- a long time ago -- that Florida and Michigan were going to become problems, the rules should have been changed -- a long time ago!

The rule as applied to Florida, for example, gave Florida Republicans, who controlled the state legislative process, another chance to dirty trick the Democrats by legislating the Florida primary date ahead of the deadline; thus, effectively creating a problem for the Democrats in the state.

Regardless of who was responsible for setting the Michigan date early, bringing more Democrats to the polls to support the primary process was much more important for winning the state in November than leaving the primary results unconvincing and just hanging there waiting to disenfranchise or de-enthusi-ize the Democratic voters.

Anyone who thinks it is more important to uphold a bad rule than to mobilize and motivate voters in a state to vote Democratic in November should not be on the DNC.

Since Obama would have been almost as surely the nominee if they had seated the two delegations according to the most pro-Clinton formula as he is with this "compromise," it would have been much wiser to acknowledge the failure in practice (however well intentioned they might once have seemed) of the "timing" rules and seat the delegates, than defend the "principle" of following a rule (however bad) and exacerbate intra-party conflicts, resentment, and general bad feeling in two crucial states for the Democrats.

The object and purpose, after all, of everything the DNC does is to elect Democrats. Why insist on rules that work against this goal? Rules don't exist for themselves. They exist for a purpose. So when the rules are working against the purpose, instead of for it, you change the rules.

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