December 2008 Archives

I still find front pages one of the best way to understand the day's news. It's irritating that no major newspaper has found a way to replicate this on their web pages. They're all to interested in churning content. The NYT's Times Reader is as close as I've found to replicating the paper newspaper experience while also allowing the constant updating of the web page. But to get an early morning idea of how the papers are seeing the world, I check out the Newseum's front pages. Here's the Times and Post.

The only downside to the Newseum site is that I can spend a lot of the morning checking out the front pages of papers all over the country.
Great Times story on the founder of roller-derby.

Early parkour

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Awesome footage of the sport in the early days when they wore leather helmets.

From a 1977 film called Gizmo.The full film is available on Google Video. (via kottke via waxy)

The sad closing of the Convent of Mercy.

It's been a couple of years since my book came out, but one of the wonderful things about it is that people write in regularly to say nice things about the book and my mother. This recent note I found particularly wonderful:


I have just started reading your book.  Born in 1964,  I obviously got
into the game far too late to have truly appreciated Nancy's impact on
the media.  But, judging from chapter 1,  it would appear I saw her more
often than you did.

A peculiar sentence, you might think, but I was a peculiar kid.  At the
age of four,  I could read "Green Eggs and Ham" cover-to-cover on my
own.  I could count as high as anybody wanted,  due to watching the tape
counter on my dad's reel-to-reel.  and my favourite toy was the World
Book Encyclopaedia (Rand McNally's Pictorial Atlas ran it a close second).

And my daily routine,  since I was not in school at that point,  was
NBC's morning game show lineup.  Concentration with Hugh Downs.  Eye
Guess with Bill Cullen.  Hollywood Squares with Peter Marshall. 
Jeopardy! with Art Fleming.  And at 11.20a central time,  Nancy Dickerson.

Now a 4- or 5-year old can hardly be expected to understand anything
about Vietnam (tho' at least *I* knew where it *was*!),  nor the
Teamsters,  nor Milk Funds,  Civil Unrest, riots, Kent State, Oh!
Calcutta, &c. &c.  but at least I was *aware*.  And there she was, day
in and day out,  her face to one side of the screen,  dark hair flipped
up at the ends, reading her piece (a little later I would be treated to
the news with Edwin Newman).  Her face and voice became ingrained in my
consciousness, pretty much forever.  From 1968 until 1970 when they
dragged me off to school (what a mundane place!),  as far as I was
concerned,  nothing was important until Nancy Dickerson read it to me
from the east coast.

Knowing full well the high cost of videotape in the 1960s encouraged the
wide-spread practice of video wiping for tape reuse,  I sincerely doubt
much video of Nancy from that era still exists.  My childhood has long
since passed as well.

Middle-aged now,  a fairly well-off networking engineer,  and completely
estranged from my own parents for decades,  I look back and realize what
a positive influence something as simple as 5 minutes worth of news each
day can be.  I am very interested in reading this book.

I miss her.

S. R. Wright

The Atlantic's great Jeffrey Goldberg on why Christmas should be called Christmas.

I'd never heard of Jan Lievens until I visited the National Gallery exhibit of his work the other night. Friend of Rembrandt and fan of Caravaggio, his painting of the passion of Christ was particularly striking. It felt far more modern than the 1631 date on the painting suggested. (Alas the online version does not convey what I think I mean)

File:Jan Lievens - Christus aan het kruis.jpg

I stumbled on this 1938 film by accident (my son started looking at it in the video store because he liked the cover), but I've been thinking about it now for two days.

It can either be taken straight (the ending is very good) or as a campy period piece. I'd always assumed James Cagney played the same person in every film: He shot at everything up and down the avenue, wore his hat cocked a little and did a great James Cagney impersonation. The movie proved I was right and the dialogue did not disappoint:

Soapy: Hey! Call a fair game or I'll slap you right in the kisser!
Rocky Sullivan: You'll slap me? You slap me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize.

But still, somehow, it worked for me. (It could be that my reaction was colored by my wife being out of town or the mood I was in, because you have to be in quite a mood to accept the way Cagney fires a revolver. He looks like he's trying to skip a stone across the lake. Maybe the bullets move faster if you wing 'em like that.)

If Cagney played to type, Bogart did not at all. He plays Cagney's weasel lawyer, sweating, darting eyes and making a lot of short-breathed promises. He doesn't play the tough guy. It shows he had great range.

Cagney is befriended by a band of dirty faced Hell's Kitchen kids who are at the moral center of the movie. They are hysterical with their nicknames, tackle basketball and Three Stooges slap fights. They're all like mini-Cagneys who've been given too much soda pop and yet they're crucial to the lovely ending.

Michael Curtiz directed (he went on to make Casablanca)

So just go rent it.

UPDATE: A sharp reader writes in to point out that there's a nod to the film in the movie Home Alone.

First we had email bankruptcy and now we have the wise stratagem from the endlessly interesting Danah Boyd of creating an email black hole.

Merlin Mann, as usual, is responsible for this post. He has wise thoughts on this which you should read here.

Five questions

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UPDATE: The Obama family has a version of this they call Roses and Thorns

At family dinner the other night my son started a family tradition by asking a series of questions of his sister, mother and me: what good thing, bad thing and silly thing, happened in your day. He reminded me of the grandmother he never knew, who made it her job to run the dining room table at home or at dinner parties. It was a great exercise.

With a nod to my son and to Merlin Mann's 5ives, here are my five questions for the dinner table:

Who did you help today?

What silly thing did you do today?

Who did you make smile today?

What did you learn today?

What did you create today?

Frank Langella as Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon. Click image to expand.

How alike are Richard Nixon and George Bush? This was the question debated at the screening of the movie Frost/Nixon in Washington this week.

Rest of the piece can be found on Slate here
A colleague points me to "The Great Slump of 1930"

The world has been slow to realize that we are living this year in the shadow of one of the greatest economic catastrophes of modern history. But now that the man in the street has become aware of what is happening, he, not knowing the why and wherefore, is as full to-day of what may prove excessive fears as, previously, when the trouble was first coming on, he was lacking in what would have been a reasonable anxiety. He begins to doubt the future. Is he now awakening from a pleasant dream to face the darkness of facts? Or dropping off into a nightmare which will pass away?

He need not be doubtful. The other was not a dream. This is a nightmare, which will pass away with the morning. For the resources of nature and men's devices are just as fertile and productive as they were. The rate of our progress towards solving the material problems of life is not less rapid. We are as capable as before of affording for everyone a high standard of life--high, I mean, compared with, say, twenty years ago--and will soon learn to afford a standard higher still. We were not previously deceived. But to-day we have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand. The result is that our possibilities of wealth may run to waste for a time--perhaps for a long time.