you gonna save me or not?

Last week, I wrote about discovering sushi, something I avoided for a while (in part) because I feared it was pretentious.

I copied this post to LiveJournal, where rival asked,

“You mention that you had been writing sushi off as a pretentious/inaccessible food. I have heard this sentiment from other people. Where does it come from?”

rival, permit me to demonstrate:

Last Sunday, I went to the grocery store in Porter Square. I got some sushi from the seafood aisle. It came in a pre-packaged little tray: eel, tuna, salmon, all in little ricey rolls. It had been made that morning, but would supposedly keep until the 19th (five days later) if I were in no hurry.

I took it home and ate it. And I really liked it.

(sits back, waits)


Taking a few days off for the Thanksgiving holiday. Expect a new post on Tuesday or Wednesday or thereabouts.

well yeah, I guess it’s obvious, I also like to write

This post sounded a lot different in its first draft.

This post would have been all about how I want to take part in NaNoWriMo, but I think the concept’s silly*, so I’m going to do my own thing instead. It would have been called MyNoWriMo (get it? because I’m a clever guy. I’ll explain it to you if you want), and it’d be about how I’m writing a novel in the month of October. The post would have closed with an apology for infrequent posts over the next thirty days, but I would be sure you’d understand. Because you’re supportive.

And then I took on two new projects at work. So, with regret, I’m not going to try writing a novel in one month.

I’m going to write a novel in three months.

Sixty thousand words. I already have the entire thing outlined, from beginning to end. I feel better about this one than any project I’ve started in the last few years, because it excites me. The other two novels had exciting parts, but I felt I had to pad the word count out to get to them. Not this one. Cliffhangers left and right. It’s almost a formula. Hell, it is a formula. And I think I have it figured out.

So, again, bear with me if posts grow scarce. I’ll be busy.

* Briefly: (A) I believe that reliable, professional work comes from a dedication to the practice of writing, not relying on bursts of inspiration and sudden sprints; as such, while I don’t sneer at people who try NaNoWriMo – I applaud all attempts at writing, seriously – I’d be much more impressed by someone who writes five novels over sixty months than one novel in one month; and (B) if you’re going to pick a month to challenge people to write 50,000 words, don’t pick a month which has the busiest American travel holiday in it. That’s just poor planning.

and I’ve been putting out the fire with gasoline

Inglourious Basterds: I’m posting this on Labor Day in the hopes that no one sees it.

Quentin Tarantino has always approached films with the geeky enthusiasm of a comic book collector, rather than the affected aloofness of a film student. The movies he makes reflect that: a smorgasbord of styles, an epic assault on the senses that’s as likely to confuse as delight. Most of his movies suffer for it. But when he makes a movie about the affect movies have on audiences – as he did with Inglourious Basterds, a cheeky little piece of overthinking masquerading as a war film – the encyclopedia in his brain serves him well.

Not that every choice he makes is a good one. Midway through the film, two characters eat strudel with whipped cream in a Paris cafe. A fiber-detailed closeup on the bowl of cream: backlit, the spoon descending from above to harvest a dollop, and the spongy texture remaining. Artfully done, but what purpose does it serve in the scene in which it takes place? It’s likely a reference to some obscure film that Tarantino’s patting himself on the back for knowing. Likewise an early interrogation in a rural French farmhouse: the camera circles around Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and a hapless French farmer during one point in the questioning. Why does it circle? What does it reveal, or heighten, or say that the two-shots we’d had to that point wasn’t revealing?

(This scene also brings up another recurring peeve I have with Tarantino: characters who talk about how delicious something is, rather than reacting as if they tasted something delicious. Samuel L. Jackson does it in Pulp Fiction – “you mind if I have some of your tasty beverage to wash this down?” – and Waltz does it in this scene as well. I know complaining about implausible dialogue in a Quentin Tarantino film’s like complaining about how quiet you have to be at a golf match, but it’s just stupid. Enough with the kvetching; on to how great the film is)

But tricks of camera, editing and pacing are the way films tell stories, and, oddly enough, Tarantino has a story to tell. He didn’t in Pulp Fiction (other than, “hey, wouldn’t it be neat if a lot of unbelievable coincidences linked the lives of a lot of ridiculous characters, and Uma Thurman’s hot?”, to which of course, yes) or Kill Bill (other than “aren’t kung fu films cool, and isn’t Uma Thurman hot?”, to which et cetera). He coasted on style. But Inglourious Basterds is all about style: the unspoken language that we use to hint without vocalizing. It’s a commentary on style. And given that Tarantino doesn’t just deliver a verdict on style, but uses style so effectively to do it, makes this – as Brad Pitt observes – his masterpiece.

Brad Pitt, as we all know from the trailer, is Lt. Aldo Raine, a snarling Tennesseean who claims enough Apache blood to lead a platoon of eight Jewish soldiers deep into German territory. He plans for them a campaign of terror and brutality in order to inspire fear in the minds of Nazi soldiers. We watch him deliver an inspiring speech to his men about just what he intends to do to every Nazi they capture. And that’s it. We get one scene of the Basterds scalping, executing and bludgeoning a Nazi squadron, but otherwise see very little of them in action. This might disappoint the casual action audience, but this is exactly the point. The movie’s not about the Basterds. We merely need to establish that the Basterds exist, and they’re doing stuff in France.

If the movie’s about anyone, it’s Shoshanna Dreyfus (who, since Tarantino couldn’t plausibly cast Uma Thurman as a 19-year-old Jew, is played by Thurman-lookalike Melanie Laurent), sole survivor of the scene with Col. Landa that begins the movie. Fleeing to Paris, she poses as a native Parisian and the owner of a small local cinema. There, she catches the eye of a young German soldier (the haplessly likable Daniel Bruhl), who’s been thrust into fame as suddenly as she avoids it. This soldier has the ear of Joseph Goebbels, and arranges for the premiere of a populist war film at Shoshanna’s cinema. She puts in motion a plan that’ll end in the deaths of every German officer in attendance, not knowing that the Allies already have a similar plan in motion. And that sets the tension which carries the rest of the film.

“What have you heard?”, everyone in the film keeps asking. Reputation and word of mouth are the most important currency in the film, whether Landa’s uncomfortable nickname “The Jew Hunter,” the campaign of terror spread by the Basterds, or even a stuffy British lieutenant proving his bona fides to Winston Churchill by comparing Goebbels and Selznick. Language itself also plays a critical role: Landa speaks English in the opening scene not just as a sly concession to WW2 films targeting American audiences, but also because the Jewish prisoners beneath the floorboards can’t speak it. The ability or inability to speak a language proves critical at various climaxes; note that the polyglot Landa survives to the end of the film.

Tarantino uses the language of film to make his point: that the language of film tells us whom to root for and whom against. The action climaxes at the Paris premiere of Goebbels’ crowning achievement, Nation’s Pride, a film that (apparently) consists of nothing but a lone heroic German sniping Allies from a clock tower. The audience (including Hitler himself) cackles and cheers. Later, when two of the Basterds massacre fleeing German civilians from a similarly elevated perch, the correspondence is obvious. And if it’s not, Landa makes it obvious when he captures Raine: “Were I sitting where you are now, should I expect mercy?” We are told by the film to imagine the characters in reversed positions.

The point isn’t mere moral relativism: that you can’t tell the Nazis from the Allies. Tarantino’s not leveling judgment on WW2. The entire movie takes place in a WW2 that never happened, as the film’s final outcome should make abundantly clear. The point Tarantino’s making is that you can only tell the heroes from the villains based on who gets the better close-ups.

It helps that Tarantino has assembled the finest cast he’s ever worked with for this movie. It’d be a waste of time to call out individual performances: they’re all fantastic. Especially the Germans, whom he invests with a great deal of humanity – although never without one perfunctory flourish of villainy on the end that justifies their execution. It seems odd, if you think about it, that someone would be a decent, patriotic German their entire life only to descend into savagery right before getting shot. But you’re not supposed to think about it. You’re supposed to recoil from the character’s villainy and then relax as the movie shares our judgment and ends their life. That’s how movies tell us who the villains are. And that is Tarantino’s point.

everybody knows that you’re in trouble; everybody knows what you’ve been through

“You should join Twitter!”
“I can’t.”
“Why not?”
“If I had another outlet for self-indulgent blurbs, I’d have nothing to write about.”

. . .

Thanks to everyone who came out to Asgard last night for my birthday. I appreciate all your shout-outs and dedications. I reserve a special spotlight for Doug, the only man who can pull of Andrea Bocelli at karaoke; Melissa and Fraley, who came out all that way; and Rachel V., who rocked a vicious rhyme like she never did before. And to choreographer Kate, and MB back from New York, and the drunken panda, and, and … well, you’re all great.

. . .

The water in my Brita tank has started to take on a vaguely sweet aftertaste. Since my initial efforts at diagnosing it have all failed, I’m using PathWise Root Cause Analysis to find an answer.

What is the object affected? Taste of water.
What other, similar, objects could be affected but aren’t? Appearance of water (no weird particles or changes of color); temperature of water.

What exactly is wrong? Very mild aftertaste of something sweet.
What else could be going wrong but is not? Could be a stronger aftertaste. Could be a really foul aftertaste.

Where do you see the problem? In the water that comes out of the Brita pitcher.
Where else could I expect to see this problem occur, but hasn’t? In the milk. In the bread. In the cheese or yogurt.

When did the problem first occur? Couple of weeks ago.
When else could the problem have occurred, but didn’t? Couple of months ago. In the old apartment. Just yesterday for the first time.

When in the process flow does the problem occur? After the water’s been sitting in the fridge for at least a few hours. (I discovered this on Tuesday, having poured myself the dregs of a pitcher and getting that sweetish smack of the lips. Then I poured myself a second glass, having just refilled the pitcher, and tasted nothing)
When else in the process flow could the problem occur, but hasn’t? As soon as the water filters. Before the water filters (i.e., could be originating at the tap).

In what pattern does the event occur? Every instance, given enough time.
How else could the problem repeat itself, but hasn’t? Every second or third or nth instance.

How big is the problem? Mild but not ruinous aftertaste.
How big could the problem be? Bad taste that ruins the water-drinking experience.

Based on the above, I’m going to test one theory, by filling the pitcher with water and leaving it on the counter rather than refrigerating it. I’ll keep you posted, as I’m sure the suspense is killing you

Edit: I never spelled out the next step, confusing some of you, so let me continue. What I do now is test several theories and see whether they satisfy the Is/Is-Not conditions listed above.

  • “You need to change the filter.” This doesn’t satisfy the “when” condition – the fact that a pitcher sitting in the fridge for hours gets funky, but a freshly-filtered pitcher does not.
  • “There’s something in the fridge emitting odor.” This one gets a little shaken by the “where” condition – it’s odd that only the water would be affected by whatever the thing is. But right now it’s a strong possibility.

  • “The tap water itself is funky.” This is a heavy runner-up. Any changes to the consistency of the tap water would be beyond my control. It seems odd that I wouldn’t have noticed any other symptoms (see first question – “what other, similar objects”), but it’s eminently possible.

Science – it’s a method!

I’m taking a greyhound on the hudson river line

Out of town for the weekend. If you find yourself in need of my insight or presence, try the following:

  1. Think of something you like or believe to be true.
  2. Imagine me saying, “That’s not exactly [correct / precise / as good as you think / indicative of the genre / healthy for you].”
  3. Sigh and tousle my imaginary hair.

it’s coming; keep the car running

So, a little over a month into the move from LiveJournal, how’m I doin’?

#: Between February 29th and April 2nd, I had 2748 views – an average of 83 per day. That average varies pretty wildly, though – linking to a post by The Ferrett about Barack Obama’s speech brought a lot of eyeballs; talking about Patrick Swayze’s pancreatic cancer, not so much. I didn’t move to WordPress strictly to increase my page hits – for more on that, see my new blog, Eliot Spitzer Sex Prostitute Barack Obama Steroids Final Four American Idol. But having the numbers now makes me curious.

#: I love the ability to write a post, set it to publish while I’m away, and then forget about it. Love it, love it, love it.

#: I miss threading comments and auto-reply comments. If I find a solution I’ll let you know.

#: I’ve also hit up Akismet for answers for those of you who keep getting quashed as spam. My apologies for that – not sure why Akismet’s much-vaunted ability to “learn” isn’t coming in to play here. I’ve sent them some fairly detailed e-mails; we’ll see if that makes a difference.

#: At some point I will probably stop duplicating posts to LiveJournal (and will watch my audience plummet as a result). LJ readers can prepare for that day by subscribing to my RSS feed (thank you, Lindsay Jean). Every now and then I’ll write a post on here that I don’t mirror, like my deconstruction of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. This is largely due to laziness.

#: Every day I’m grateful to Tom for inspiring the name of this weblog.