Friday, October 31, 2008

The Noose Only Tightens

Ok, fuel prices have fallen drastically. Crisis is over. So why are airlines still imposing luggage surcharges? 

In fact, last week American Airlines announced a tightening measure to add to their already grievously tightened frequent flier program: they'll no longer be awarding 500 miles minimum per flight. Short hops will accrue awards points based on actual distance.

It's one of the hallmarks of big business capitalism: as with labor concessions granted during hard times, anything given up by customers for temporary crises always winds up permanent. Whether as worker or as consumer, we the peons live within a massive, inescapable ratchet wrench.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"How To..."

Wired Magazine's "How-To Wiki,"a compendium of tutorials drawing from both the magazine's writers and editors and web site users, may not be phenomenally over-stocked with articles, but what's there is interesting. 

I particularly enjoyed "How to Do Donuts" (i.e. whirl tight circles with your - or, preferably, someone else's - car), and the brief but amusing "How to Crash a Party".

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We've Gone Completely Jungian

When I was in grade school, I found it eerie to hear other kids parroting their parents' political views. During elections, children who didn't know a thing about government or politics would spout scathing invective about The Other Candidate. No actual ideas were beneath their revilement, of course. Just the deep subconscious influence of tribes on their young. It was like seeing a baby monkey aping its elders by pointing and shrieking at the group two trees over.

As an adult, I noticed how even adults seem to do no better than to mimic, poorly, the rhetoric of whichever team they're on. You had your bad versions of Rush Limbaugh and your bad versions of James Carville. Political positioning began to strike me as mostly a matter of lining up for one's personal style. Liberals look and act like liberals, and conservatives looked and acted like conservatives. One could just smell the Otherness on the other! And the visceral distaste for the opposition stems less from positions on issues than from a deeper, darker place: the archetype of The Other. 

The current side-taking seems no more grown-up (or even more conscious) than the baby monkeys. The political views one hears expressed by people in the street and on the Internet are childish echoes, scarcely different than any other memes or catchphrases inculcated via marketing. It's all empty symbols, stylistic nods and empty gossip. There's no there there!

I have a friend who is extremely kind and reasonable, the sort of person who gets along with lots of different types of people. Yet he keeps forwarding me seething screeds of anonymous origin explaining the sinister secrets of John McCain. I can't make him understand that he's acting as the mirror image of right-wingers who pass around Obama-is-a-Muslim-Terrorist agitprop. 

And liberals can't understand the concerns of Social Conservatives, wondering why they distrust them so, when liberals are all about "live and let live"! Just hand in your shotguns, please, and expect your kids to learn real science because your beliefs are stupid and we know better, and you can pick up your free condoms and clean hypodermic needles at City Hall (just please step respectfully around the flag-burning demonstraters, oh, and we've dismantled your inappropriate Christmas display). You will be tolerant, and we will show no tolerance whatsoever for those who express themselves in a way we deem intolerant. Buckle your safety belt (it's the law!), thank you for not smoking, eating trans fats, polluting, or engaging in what we deem hate speech - or other actions which offend our sense of morality! And, most of all, keep your damned moralism to yourselves!

Neither tribe seems to realize they're mirror images. We are a nation of mesmerized, tribalized children. Can't we go back to nerds hating jocks, or girls hating boys, or rich kids hating poor kids, unleashing our subconscious us-versus-them angst in the social realm, so we can make the important business of governance be about ideas rather than style and archetypes?

Monday, October 27, 2008

VIDEOS: If Obama Wins/If Obama Loses

A liberal friend sent me a link to this "If Obama Loses" video.

And a conservative friend sent me a link to this "If Obama Wins" video.

It's mind-bending to me that "hard-working Americans, white Americans," to borrow Hillary's euphemism, are passing the latter video around. I guess I'm finally starting to understand why
Dave Chappelle had a nervous breakdown, bolted to South Africa, and has scarcely been heard from since.

Sarah Palin Redux, Re-Redux, and Re-Re-Redux

When Sarah Palin first appeared, my comment was:
"Whatever you think of Palin, she's likely to remain on our national scene for another three decades. That's a very long time. She'll fill in the experience gap. Her following, already fervid, will only grow. And she may one day be our Margaret Thatcher."
It would be naive to doubt that sometime soon Palin will be capable of delivering polished talking points on all the many issues about which she's currently gut ignorant. Sarah-Palin-as-ignoramus will be a distant memory. She'll never gain nuanced, supple faculties of comprehension, but she'll have a ready sound bite for just about everything. And that's all that's required of our national figureheads since GW Bush shattered the glass ceiling for smug yahoos.

So the question is: how viable a national politician would Palin be at that point?

The new conventional wisdom among the left, which even made it into
next week's Newsweek, is that Palin is so reflexively divisive and extreme that she could never win broad support. No matter how much she energizes her "base", she'd never attract centrists - the undecided voters who call elections in our evenly polarized country.

But I'm old enough to remember when the same was said of Ronald Reagan. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I Caused the Fiscal Meltdown

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced a visceral glimpse into the inner dynamics of an economic crisis.

When the crisis hit, and money market accounts were doing the unthinkable, dropping below $1/share (i.e. losing money, which money markets are not supposed to ever do), I immediately surfed over to the web site for Vanguard, where I keep my money market account. There I was reassured by a
statement from CEO Bill McNabb, which included this comforting note:
"I'm very proud to say that the portfolio managers of our money market and bond funds have weathered this storm very well. In our money market funds, for example, our managers began in the summer of 2007 to emphasize the most liquid and high-quality securities."
Ah, good old conservative Vanguard! I can trust them to be cautious and not take chances with my savings! Thank goodness they were prudent enough to pull back and only invest in sure things, so I needn't worry about my money market account. I am reassured and well-pacified. I am prudent. I am good.

But wait. Isn't the collapse due to a credit crisis brought about by scared money managers who tightened the free-flowing credit which fueled the nation's engine of commerce? In other words, retreating to the "most liquid and high-quality securities" was the very problem! Yet my feeling of relief and reassurance remains! This, of course, speaks to the very nucleus of the kernel of the heart of the matter.

My parents were among the first to build a house in their area of Suffolk County, Long Island, and they ruefully complained about the hordes who soon followed, increasing traffic and pollution and utterly spoiling what had been bucolic countryside. They never once realized that they, themselves, were the spoilers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Stock Market Silver Lining Reminder

Just a reminder that if you have any capital gains this year (e.g. you sold stock earlier in the year for a gain), you ought to sell something for a loss before year's end in order to offset any taxes on the gain.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Muslims for McCain

I love this video of McCain supporters lashing back against an anti-Muslim bigot.

I'm quite seriously thinking of starting a "Jews for Obama for Muslims for McCain" group.

"Bag of Hurt" Watch: Part 4

Oh, awesome. "Bag of hurt" is up to 151,000 results!

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?"

Here's part of Powell's endorsement speech that was little covered by the mainstream media:
"I'm also troubled by...what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said. Such things as 'Well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well the correct answer is 'He is not a Muslim, he's a Christian, he's always been a Christian.' But the really right answer is 'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?' The answer is 'No. That's not America.' Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo-essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in you can see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American, he was born in New Jersey, he was 14 at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he can go serve his counrty and he gave his life."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Bag of Hurt" Watch: Part 3

"Bag of hurt" seems to have plateaued at  41,000 Google results. I've bet someone - trippily, a Google employee - that it will reach a million in four months. Looks like I might be out four bucks.

Hmm...unless the Googleite rigged the search engine. Come to think of it, the count stuck at 41,000 shortly after I made that bet. Doh!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dear Senator McCain...

I am an independent, non-partisan voter.

Much as I admire Barama's intellect and his remarkably even temperament, and much as I resonate with the message of his speeches, I would have voted for the 2002 John McCain in this election.

One thing's for sure: we don't need more of the past sixteen years (the partisanship started with Clinton, and was merely perfected by Rove/Cheney/Bush). We need, amid this escalating economic crisis, someone the country can rally around, who's unafraid to state hard truths, and who has the credibility and high-sightedness to lead. A president, in other words, who is able to be a statesman as well as a politician.

Obama strikes the right tone and sends the right message. But, as you say: he's unproven. And while I've disagreed with a number of your stances over the years, the 2002 John McCain was at least an independent thinker; a throwback to the time before the Republican party became infested with neocons, brutes and holy rollers, and included some moderates who didn't froth at the mouth about pinkos. He seemed likely to carefully consider his actions, to seek consensus, and to listen to dissenting voices. He seemed to be a centrist, who everyone disagreed with a little, but who no one could despise. We're all so very sick of despising our leaders. I'd have sacrificed some policy preferences to vote for a soft-spoken pragmatic centrist.

But you hired the Roger Aisles machine to run your campaign via tactics you despise. You've turned unrepentant hawk and pandered to the whack-jobs. You've spent four years reversing principled stands against Bush administration policies (e.g. tax credits for the rich) in order to establish your partisan credentials for 2008. You carried water for an administration you loathed, and when its popularity waned, you were left in the agonizing position of having abandoned principles to join the wrong team.

Backed into a corner, you might have reverted to your straight-talking 2002 self and recovered my esteem. But your instinct was to cling to the losing gambit, lying and attacking relentlessly for the Fox News set. You selected a hayseed demagogue as your running mate, dashing any hope that your hawkish neocon partisan hack shtick was a mere pose to be hastily abandoned upon taking office. And when the economic crisis hit, you resorted to cynical grandstanding (jogging memories of the Bushies cynically using 9/11 momentum to advance their long-standing agenda to invade Iraq). You ought not try to make political hay with a crisis, Senator. That's not the sort of president I want. 

You've continued to act the part of the sort of politician you yourself always detested, and this cynical pose will drag you to defeat. I pity you. But you will not get my vote.

We need cool and steady. And while Obama may be nothing
but steady coolness, he's obviously smart and capable, and at least he mostly says the right things. It's been a very long time since a politician even talked the talk.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Bag of Hurt" Watch: Part 2

A mere nine hours later, "Bag of Hurt" yields 2440 google results. I never imagined it'd happen this quickly.

"Bag of Hurt" Watch: Part 1

At Apple's somewhat anticlimatic Laptop Announcement Event today, Steve Jobs explained why Blu-ray drives won't be included:
"Blu-ray is just a bag of hurt. It's great to watch the movies, but the licensing of the tech is so complex, we're waiting till things settle down and Blu-ray takes off in the marketplace."
An hour later, the phrase "Bag of hurt" googles 23 results, most of them referencing Jobs' comment.

I thought it might be interesting to chart expanding use of the term.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Buy Low, Sell High

The mantra is so simple, so clear, so patently reasonable: "Buy Low and Sell High". Yet the investor who most famously sticks to this most obvious of strategies is viewed as a Grand Buddha Of Investment Wisdom. Most investors act on emotion, or chase feverish speculative strategies. They lose their money, of course, as any compulsive gambler must. Meanwhile Buffett makes billions following a simple strategy everyone knows but few diligently ply.

We prize adages; we love their simplicity and savor their wisdom. That's why our holy books are stocked full of them, and our media treasures sound bites. Yet we find it devilishly hard to follow through on simple principles. We all grow up appreciating those great Ben Franklin aphorisms, but how many people actually live any of them? The problem is that while our minds value simplicity, our natures yearn for complexity. We muddy our vision via endless distinctions and footnotes and we slog through the mud of habit, emotion, and cultural pressure until our actions become hopelessly fuzzy and irrational - and radically out of step with our professed values and beliefs.

Consider "Do Not Kill", the Biblical injunction which many of the most fundamentalist Christians not only violate but openly spurn. It's hard to find much evangelical objection to war, capital punishment, or hunting. In fact, all three are disproportionately popular with those who deem themselves Bible literalists. How is this contradiction maintained? First, distinctions - the mental footnotes which carve out wiggle room. We mustn't kill, except in self defense. Or except in the case of infidels and criminals. Etc, etc. Innate emotional propensities lead us to niggle, wiggle, and squirm until we've carved out subtleties in even the most blatant clarity. And, in the end,, one easily abandons self-critical faculties amid the righteous company of millions of like-minded fellow believers.

It's exactly the same with investment. A jillion people sold a jillion shares of stock on Friday. The early players, who got the jump on bad news and slipped their sell orders in before markets tanked, were wise to act. But crowd-followers vastly outnumber the crowd itself. They see sharp dips, they get scared, and they sell - after, rather than before the dip. In so doing, they've lost out on, and can never recover, the 6.4% jump the market made this morning. Per above, the Three F's: fear, flocking, and footnotes induced them to sell low. When will they put their money back in the market? After leaders have already driven up prices, of course. They'll buy high.

Let's face it: greed and fear, being innate human drives, are always in play. The trick to investing wisely, they say, is to subvert them by feeling greed when others are fearful (i.e. prices are low), and fear when others are greedy (i.e. prices are high). It seems to be extraordinarily hard for most people to do.

It should be noted, at the risk of adding the first of a potentially infinite number of muddying footnotes to the mantra's simple wisdom, that the mantra is
not "buy at the bottom and sell at the top". The attempt to do so is the worst pitfall of all. That's the very lair where fear and greed live.

This upturn will be followed by violent downturns, which will be followed by sharp upturns. That's how it works. Over time, money will be made by those who simply let their investments ride, and who sell only during buying frenzies.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Economic Fiasco 101

Three great vehicles for learning about - and staying apprised of - the economic crisis:

Another Frightening Show About the Economy, a special edition of NPR's popular This American Life, is a nice, patient, non-condescending explanation of the complexities that brought us to this point (at least as of last week, when it was produced). For one thing, it (indirectly) explains why Paulson wanted all that unchecked power to implement the bail-out: the deal hinges on smart pricing of the distressed assets the government will buy. Price them too low and you hurt the banks more than you help. Price too high, and taxpayers don't get their investment back. It's extremely difficult, Paulson's extremely qualified, and it wouldn't help to have several hundred indignantly posturing politicians breathing over his shoulder.

2. No explanation's perfect. And NPR's Adam Davidson, the main force behind the program, screws up one thing: he describes the distressed assets as junk. That's a popular assessment, but Warren Buffett disagrees. Buffett (who may be Obama's pick for treasury secretary) has declared that if he could get in on a piece of the government's side of the deal, he'd jump at the opportunity. And his wisdom in deal assessment is long-proven. He explains all this in a 
recent interview on Charlie Rose.

3. The mainstream media is doing a clunky job. The problem is that most financial reporters aren't all-around finance experts (if they were, they'd be in a far more lucrative field); their knowledge is constrained to the sort of thing they usually report on. And no one reports consistently on the commercial paper market! I've been depending on The Economist, which so far has been clear, thorough, and reasonable.

4. Whether your interest in this crisis is selfish (i.e. you're displeased by your 401K losing 1/4 of its value) or historical (one day you'll tell people you were alive for this), you may kick yourself later if you don't keep up with the daily goings on. The situation keeps changing, with each day bringing, or at least revealing, a whole new situation (this explains why Congress - and the constituents they've been trying to represent - did an utter about-face on the bail-out in the space of a mere week). One good way to stay up is via a podcast summing up each day's developements. The
NPR: Planet Money Podcast is a half hour report, produced by the same people who did the This American Life explainer mentioned above (not a completely reliable source, but, hey that's why I suggest the weekly Economist).

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Oh, Shit!" Antidote

I loathe self-help aphorisms. The distraught impulse to dote on that sort of thing reveals a need for stronger measures than the gathering of nuggets of smiley sunshine. But this one's a good one. Really!

I come from an "oh, shit!" family. I was taught from a young age that even the most petty of life's travails warrants an eruption of embittered pique. The world compels us to freely voice our displeasure at the ongoing pattern of cosmic persecution of which these misplaced car keys or that stubbed toe was the latest in a long series of examples. Given that few turns in life fulfill our expectations, the "oh, shit!" reflex can grow to eventually poison one's entire existence.

Here's the antidote. In place of the exclamation, swap in this question: "If this is the worst thing that happens today, would that mean it's been a good day?"

In several years, I have yet to answer "no", though a few legitimately bad things have occurred. That's because while human beings irritate easily at minutiae, we are remarkably resilient in the larger picture. And the act of stepping back to a wider view forces us to react to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune from our oceans of resilience rather than our thin puddles of irritability.

Eventually, the question morphs into an exclamatory, triumphant statement: "If that's the worst thing that happens today, this will have been a really good day!" A parking ticket or a lost wallet can feel like a relief - a small sacrifice to the Gods of entropy. It works for cracked cell phone screens and red lights, but even for blown job interviews and romantic breakups. In fact, it works for everything.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Dancing "To" Music (plus A Brief History of Accompaniment)

I caught a performance this weekend of Morphoses, the joint British/American ballet company founded by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.

I occasionally check out dance performances, always hoping for the sort of inspiration I get from great music, art, writing, theater, and cooking. But I usually come away grumbling about what I call "Figure Skating Syndrome". It's a musician thing (I was a full-time trombone player once), but let me try to explain.

Figure skaters perform to music that serves as mere backdrop. The music may be acknowledged via a couple of arm waves and coquettish movements, but the skaters are front and center, and the music is mere sonic wallpaper. It's "accompaniment".

Most serious dance performances strike me as similar: talented people doing intricate and beautiful things with a backdrop of music. Or course, that's not fair; serious dance does have a deeper musical relationship than figure skating. But still not enough for my taste. No matter how acclaimed the choreographer, the dancers always appear to be dancing
to music, rather than from it.

70 years ago, at the height of its power, the musician's union boldly called a strike on recording. For a very long two years, from 1940 to 1942, musicians recorded no new material. And it changed everything. Before the strike, instrumentalists were kings. Audiences actually listened, they idolized horn players and drummers. Bands were followed like baseball teams. Singers were mere adjuncts to musical performance: second class musical citizens. Props.

But the musicians' strike changed all of that...forever. Two factors contributed. First: the slack was picked up by a slew of vocal recordings, and the public developed an enduring taste for singers. Second, record companies, desperate to maintain revenue, started reissuing old recordings, including one of the Harry James band featuring an unknown singer named Frank Sinatra. The original recording hadn't even listed Sinatra's name, but the reissue hyped him to the hilt, and a sensation was created, which led quickly to screaming, swooning bobbysoxers. After Sinatra, an unbroken string of singers became huge stars. A publicity model was born...and musicians would forevermore be deemed accompanists.

That pecking order has affected the very fabric of music. Vocalists generally sing over the music rather than deeply inside it. Many barely listen to the musicians with whom they perform - whose job is to merely lay down a solid foundation. And that seems perfectly natural to post-1942 audiences, who focus exclusively on the singer. The chasm greatly widened with the advent of music videos, which made the music itself nearly beside the point. Invisible in a visual medium, music grew even less important than wallpaper, become nothing more than subconsciously registered sound stuff, subliminally enriching the lead melodic line.

There are singers who have a musician's ears and understanding, and who sing as an intrinsic part of the music rather than accompanied by it. I was lucky enough to perform with the legendary Joe Williams, and it was exactly like playing with a great instrumentalist. But that's rare. Most singers lack real musical training, have poor "ears", and simply do their thing. Audiences - who, since 1942 have pinned their eyes tightly on the singer - expect nothing else. The result is much like karoake.

And "Karaoke" is the Japanese word for "figure skating syndrome". It's about music serving as the vague backdrop for performances which happen more or less "to"
 the music.

I'm not suggesting that choreography must be musically literal: that each piccolo trill be matched with a corresponding fluttery dance movement. But dance ought to emanate from the very guts of the score. A dancer should be a musician. A choreographer should be a musician. Both the dance and its music should seem to spring from the same muse. Yet even the most acclaimed choreographers merely set beauty to a musical accompaniment. All would surely profess great respect for and commitment to the musical form, but that's not enough. They ought to have a musician's soul.

The only modern choreographer who has struck me as truly possessing a great musician's soul was Jerome Robbins. He choreographed Stravinsky's Les Noce, a lush, hyper-complex work I'd previously come to know very well, and his work offered me fresh, startling insights on the piece, which he understood far more deeply than I had. All movement derived profoundly, brilliantly, ingeniously, from Stravinsky's score. The dance truly completed the music.

The Morphoses performance was virtuosic and beautiful. But it completed nothing.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Ten Terrific Films You've Never Heard Of

A Walk Into The Sea
About the uncle of the filmmaker, a brilliant young man who got entangled in Andy Warhol's factory. Briefly was Andy's boyfriend. Mysteriously died. Nobody knows why or how. We've seen a zillion exhumations of The Factory, with all its eccentric, bitchy denizens trotted before the camera ad infinitum. This is different. Soulful and surprising.

All In This Tea
The latest from Les Blank (director of foodie classic "
Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers" and the acclaimed Burden of Dreams - the only making-of film that's as good as the film it's this case, Herzog's Fitzcarraldo). This one is about tea trader/expert David Hoffman (who I wrote about here). Hoffman singlehandedly, and against horrendous odds, stimulated a market for artisanal, organic tea in China, which was well on its way to expunging that sort of thing in favor of mass-produced drek. He did it via sheer hubris and perspicacity. Incidentally, this is a fantastic behind-scenes look at how business is done in modern China. Which sounds awfully dry...but Les Blank's never dry.

Unflinching Triumph: The Philip Rockhammer Story
Seems like a standard indie doc about an offbeat crowd....this time, professional "Stare Off" competitors. But as you watch, you increasingly notice that something's kind of off, and also kind of great. I won't give away the secret. Revolutionary, in that it was produced entirely for the Web. And it's hilarious.

How To Draw A Bunny
Ray Johnson was the Andy Kaufman of art. Like Kaufman, he was a deep prankster way too slippery to ever be pinned down. And like Kaufman (whose spot-on Elvis impersonation dropped jaws), he invested vast continents of skill, care, and preparation in even his most flippant-seeming work. Whether Johnson was painting a canvas, chopping up a collage to send fragments to strangers as "mail art" (a genre he invented), or simply typing up a quick letter, everything his hands produced was profoundly, dizzyingly beautiful. And while he knew and was known by a vast number of people, nobody in the film shows the slightest idea who he really was or why he chose to die such a singularly mysterious death.

Refusing to Be Enemies
Palestinian women and Jewish women gather to chat. Not debate, just friendship and a sympathetic airing of feelings in an atmosphere of empathy. A humble little movie about a tectonic breakthrough.

Starting Out In the Evening
If you're a fan of great acting, don't miss Frank Lagnella's role of a lifetime as Leonard Schiller, an aging intellectual who walled off the world ages ago, but is reluctantly coaxed into opening up one final time. When it comes to capturing truth on celluloid, it doesn't get richer than this.

King of Masks
An old Sichuan master of quick-change masks needs an apprentice. It's got to be a boy, but there's this real persistent and sweet little girl who just won't give up....yeah, it's predictable and corny. But totally affecting, and offers a very transportive trip through rural China.

My Kid Could Paint That
Adorable little toddler is a fantastic art prodigy, selling her abstract canvases for thousands of dollars. But....wait....what's
really going on here?

Opera Jawa
Ravishingly beautiful, highly stylized musical portrayal of part of the Ramayana (a Hindu epic), done Indonesian-style. Not for viewers with even the slightest tinge of ADD, but if you can lose yourself in the beauty and not fight the exoticism of sight and sound, you'll find this a ravishing aesthetic experience. (Warning: this DVD doesn't play on American region DVD players...but here's a workaround.)

Memorable and intricate German/Turkish tale from Turkish/German director Fatih Akin. Akin's previous films are worth a look, as well: Head On (an uber-twisted love story between two troubled Turks adrift in Germany), and Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (a hyper-transportive look at the multifarious music scene in Istanbul).

And one bonus: Sherman's March
I'm always shocked by how few people know about this classic film. A magnum opus wherein filmmaker Ross McElwee retraces General Sherman's march, but it's more about tracing the ruination of McElwee's love life, as he looks up old flames enroute. Amazon page lists "Burt Reynolds" as a cast member, but that's just a shaggy dog joke within a shaggy dog joke.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

$29 Swiss Army Knife DVD Player

Many DVD players have secret codes that allow them to play all regions. Google the model number plus "multiregion" for tips. Or buy this ultra-compact DVD player at Target for $29, and apply the remote control trick mentioned in the Amazon user reviews to make it play all regions. It also plays PAL (European video format). And SVCDs. And homegrown DVD-Rs and DVD-RWs. And just about anything else you throw at it.

Pecan Pumpkin Butter

Read my hot tip here.

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