Indianapolis got a bit of heavy weather today about noon; in fact, at midday it was quite dark outside as a line of thunderstorms passed overhead. Not that I care, but the storms cancelled today's qualifying runs for the upcoming Indianapolis 500. Several tornadoes were sighted in the surrounding area, but fortunately Indy didn't receive a tornado warning.
Of course, the storms cooled things off quite a bit; it had been quite humid with the recent rainfall, but the wind and rain seem to have washed it all out. It promises to be a pleasant rest of the day.
CEO Eric Schmidt made the announcement on Monday, at the JP Morgan Technology and Telecom conference. 'Soon the company will also offer a service for searching Web logs, known as "blogs,"' reported Reuters.
It isn't clear if weblogs will be removed from the main search results, but precedent suggests they will be. After Google acquired Usenet groups from Deja.com, it developed a unique user interface and a refined search engine, and removed the groups from the main index. After a sticky start, Usenet veterans welcomed the new interface. Google recently acquired Blogger, and sources suggest this is the most likely option.
Bloggers too are likely to welcome their very own tab as a legitimization of the publishing format. But many others will breathe a sigh of relief as blogs disappear from the main index.
"I just want a search engine that works," laments Chris Roddy, a politics and linguistics undergraduate at the University of Emory.
"I can get a Google search with porn turned off; why can't I get blogs turned off too?" he asked on Slashdot.
Google has strived in vain to maintain the quality of its search results in the face of a blizzard of links generated by a small number of sources. (Google searches 3,083,324,652 pages as of 4PM PT today. Assuming there are one million bloggers, and generously assuming they have a hundred pages each, that amounts to 0.032 per cent of web content indexed by Google. Recent research by Pew put the number of blog readers as opposed to writers, as "statistically insignificant").
However, through dense and incestuous linking, results from blogs can drown out other sources.
"The main problem with blogs is that, as far as Google is concerned, they masquerade as useful information when all they contain is idle chatter," wrote Roddy. "And through some fluke of their evil software, they seem to get indexed really fast, so when a major political or social event happens, Google is noised to the brim with blogs and you have to start at result number 40 or so before you get past the blogs."
It'll be interesting to see what this feature does to this site's traffic; the vast majority is directed here from search engines, although I haven't really been keeping track of what they're searching for lately.
In my review of the first Neon Genesis Evangelion movie, I noted the oddity of the show's "wonderful—and incongruously upbeat—opening theme." It's never ceased to amaze me that such an introspective—indeed, practically despondent—series has such a peppy theme; if I got to battle world-destroying alien invaders in a giant robot, you can bet I'd have this tune blaring from the speakers while I did so.
I haven't posted a music file in a while, so here's the TV version of "Cruel Angel's Thesis," sung by seiyuu Yôko Takahashi, so y'all can see for yourselves. There's also a four-minute extended version you should be able to find without too much trouble.
As I mentioned yesterday, I recently purchased a cheapo an inexpensive copy of the fine romantic comedy The Truth About Cats and Dogs, a gender-switch version of Cyrano de Bergerac. My purchase back then reminded me of the excellent 1987 Steve Martin adaptation Roxanne, and so I watched it during my apheresis appointment yesterday morning. Watching both films back-to-back, the contrasts between the two really struck me.
(If I were a stellar researcher, I suppose I should rent the superb Depardieu film adaptation, but I've seen it and Jose Ferrer's immortal version several times, and read the play countless more, so I'll wing it.)
One of the departures both recent comedies make from Edmond Rostand's original play is that in each case, the Christian character -- Rick Rossovich's Chris in Roxanne and Uma Thurman's Noelle in TTACAD -- is depicted as not nearly as ardent in their passion for the protagonist's inamorata. In the original, Christian was sincerely in love with Roxanne; he lacked Cyrano's ability to express it -- indeed, any ability whatever -- but his feelings were genuine. I think that's why in the second act, when Christian realizes that Cyrano really does love Roxanne and that she probably loves Cyrano, not him, he rushes off to die gloriously in battle. Cyrano recognizes this, and eases his passing by telling him that he, Cyrano, had confessed to Roxanne, and that she loves Christian after all, and further, keeps pretending that's so for the rest of his life. By contrast, in both the later comedies, the rival is ultimately willing to step aside, for various reasons I'll explore later.
There's also a subtext in the two movies about fidelity, and the propriety of pursuing someone you know should be with someone else. In Roxanne, Rossovich's character Chris never quite seems to realize that Martin's C.D. Bales loves Roxanne too. I think this lack of realization leads to one of the most stark contrasts among all the films -- Roxanne's window scene, in which C.D. (following in Cyrano's footsteps) woos Roxanne, only to have Chris be the one to climb up to her bedroom. (In a very funny and human moment, C.D. is alternately elated and horrified to realize that he's successfully charmed Roxanne into bed by proxy.) I was frankly astonished about how the physical relationship between Chris and Roxanne is ultimately treated as No Big Deal by everyone involved. Ah, the '80s...simpler times.
The equivalent in TTACAD is the scene in which Brian and Abby talk the phone all night; that event leads to an, um, different kind of intimacy; in a later scene, Noelle and Chaplin go to bed, but Noelle later confesses to Abby that she couldn’t go through with it; she knows of Abby’s feelings, and believes it isn’t right for her to move in on Brian. This issue is more important, and explored much more overtly, in the film whose protagonists are female. (In the original play, the 11th-hour marriage of Christian and Roxanne is never consummated.)
There’s another interesting contrast between the rival characters of Chris and Noelle. Thurman at first agrees to stand in for Janeane Garofalo’s Dr. Abby Barnes only reluctantly, but finds herself attracted to Ben Chaplin’s character Brian because he treats her with respect and presumes that she’s intelligent, clever, and witty. In other words, being around Chaplin makes Thurman feel smart, and that sensation motivates her interest in him. By contrast, the titular Roxanne’s intelligence clearly intimidates the hell out of Chris; it’s obvious that he’s never going to be able to enjoy True Love with her.
The concept of a triangle is a venerable device in romantic comedies. Well-written ones (The Philadelphia Story, While You Were Sleeping) make the triangle a genuine dilemma; poor ones simply use the presence of a romantic rival as a convenient plot point to keep the protagonists apart, discarding them as soon as it’s expedient. Indeed, modern romantic comedies seem to delight in making the rival as unpleasant as possible, so there’s little second thought when he or she is tossed aside, although one wonders what the protagonists are doing with them in the first place. (I caught the end of The Wedding Planner, which uses this very construct to explain why Mathtew McConaughey’s character leaves his fiancée – a person he’d already committed to spend the rest of his life with – for Jennifer Lopez. All right, it’s Jennifer Lopez and all, and I’m sure the script explained how They’re Right For Each Other. But ultimately it’s the fact that the fiancée is a b---h that makes it all OK, you see…still, I’d always wonder about someone who dropped a fiancée at the very last minute for me.)
The alternative, of course, is to supply a last-minute sop to the rejected party. Frankly, I’ve never forgiven John Hughes for having Molly Ringwald choose Andrew McCarthy’s character over Jon Cryer’s Duckie in Pretty in Pink; I don’t think the preceding movie – a film about how Duckie is The One – justifies that choice for one minute. Indeed, if memory serves me right, that outcome re-written and re-shot after test audiences disapproved, which is disturbing in all sorts of ways. And frankly, I found the film’s almost literally dropping a pretty Popular Girl into Duckie’s lap an insult; it implies that not only Duckie’s distrust of the popular kids, but also his very affection for Ringwald’s character, was as shallow as the rest of movie. I never bought it, which is why I’ve always preferred the oft-overlooked Some Kind of Wonderful. I think that’s the film Pretty in Pink was supposed to be, in which the Popular One realizes she needs to get her own act together, and Eric Stoltz quite properly chooses the radiant Mary Stuart Masterson. (Film Freak Central agrees.)
Having said all that, though, the device works for once in Roxanne. There’s a sweet little scene in which Chris strikes up a conversation with a pretty bartender – earlier established as not being of the sharpest wit – and he’s relaxed, funny, and charming, without being aware of it, or even aware that for once, he isn’t nervous around a woman. (To her credit, the bartender is reluctant to move in on Roxanne’s turf; Chris assures her that they aren’t really in a relationship, and from his perspective, he’s right.) The pair’s departure to Tahoe neatly and satisfyingly resolves the triangle dilemma, leaving Roxanne and C.D. to deal with the real problem, the identity crisis.
TTACAD is much more about self-image, or more importantly, self-perception; Garofalo’s character isn’t unattractive (are you kidding? I think she’s gorgeous); she just thinks she is. And Thurman’s character isn’t dumb; she just thinks she is (and hey, if finding Sartre a bit too dense for comfort makes you dumb, count me in; after all, I’m discussing romantic comedies here instead.) Cyrano and C.D. may have attached too much importance to their noses, but there they were; Christian and Chris may not have been dopes, but they really couldn’t talk to women.
Regardless of the particulars, however, each story maintains the common theme that what’s truly lovable about a person has much more to do with his – or her – mind and soul than face and body.
I haven't been followoing the story of Katrina Leung, the GOP activist and FBI informant who was recently indicted on charges of being a double agent for China, very closely. But as I've skimmed the various stories -- mostly from online versions of print publications -- one thing has struck me: not one of the stories about this case of espionage, sex, and intrigue has seen fit to run her photo.
Leave it to Auntie Beeb to satisfy my curiosity about just what this chick looks like:
I honestly don't know what to make of this. I think it's a reasonable curiosity in a case of seduction and intrigue to wonder about the physical charms of the parties involved. I also notice, of course, that no one seems to have pictured the FBI agents said to be Leung's lovers. The WaPo story notes that Leung is married by quoting a statement by her husband in her defense, but makes no mention of the agents' status (once again, CNN comes thru: at least one of them was...).
Now, with all due respect to Ms. Leung, she's hardly a Lucy Liu or an Angela Sora. I have a ticklish feeling that the news sources may have declined to run her photo in order to encourage the archetypal image of the Asian temptress -- think Miss Scarlet on the cover of the '70s editions of the board game Clue -- an image that the media (and admittedly, this very site) seems to be heavily invested in promoting, Leung's photo may have dispelled. I couldn't begin to divine with their motivations actually were -- it could all be coincidence, after all -- but given that a mug shot is a standard feature of many news stories, and an AP file photo is obviously available, the lack of one in Leung's case was conspicuous.
We only get the Sunday edition of the Indianapolis Star, by the way; I ususally just check it out online. But I did catch a couple of interesting items in the print edition this morning: HIGH-END RETAIL: NO MORE IN STORE? Demographics make Indy a tough sell Population, income not in top tier
Neiman Marcus, Tiffany & Co., Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor.
They're all around us: high-end retailers carrying designer labels, $1,000 shoes, $500 perfume and a splash of sophistication most Indianapolis malls have never known. They're in Ohio, Michigan, even Kentucky. Taunting us. Tempting us to make weekend shopping trips.
They are, however, not here. A broad offering of high-end shopping establishments has been missing from the city for decades. Customers have asked, even complained that Louisville, Ky., has a Lord & Taylor. Beachwood, Ohio, has a Neiman Marcus. Chicago? It has everything. "I've even gone to Cincinnati for the Saks store there," said Yvonne Perkins, 53, a self-professed high-end shopaholic who regularly travels from her Northeastside home to Chicago and New York to get her fix. "There is definitely a void in Indianapolis." The city just doesn't have the economic muscle, a strong concentration of high-income residents or the sheer population that retailers want to surround their stores.
This observation, of course, ties in with the paper's earlier notations (as pointed out by Cooped Up) that chain restaurants (with their higher name recognition and lower overhead due to economies of scale) seem to be driving out locally owned upscale eateries.
President Bush is coming to Indianapolis next week as part of a three-state campaign to win support for his embattled tax-cut package.
Bush will arrive in Indianapolis on Monday night and speak to two groups of Hoosiers on Tuesday morning at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
One will be a private meeting with a small sgroup of senior citizens. The second will be with several thousand Hoosiers in the Pepsi Coliseum. The White House declined to release further details on who will attend. [emphasis added]
I realize that I have no room whatever to throw stones about typos, but this one -- in the lead story in a major metropolitan newspaper -- is rather embarassing, isn't it?
I woke up extra early this morning to keep an appointment to donate platelets at the Indiana Blood Center. I was there for a bit more than two hours; I managed to squeeze out a double donation.
Apheresis is about the only time I watch movies on videotape any more. My recent purchase of The Truth About Cats and Dogs had put me in mind to watch the earlier Steve Martin adaptation of the Cyrano story, Roxanne, so I brought it along. It's an excellent adaptation; I particularly enjoy the way Martin managed to include not only the duel with a pair of ruffians and the I-can-come-up-with-more-insults-about-my-nose-than-you-can bit (and refreshingly made the battle of wits the real test; the subsequent fistfight is over before it's hardly begun), but also included a riff on the scene where Cyrano delays the Duc by pretending to have just returned from the moon. Here's a great quote from early in the film, courtesy of the IMDb:
[Roxanne Kowalski is walking behind a hedge because she is nude]
Roxanne Kowalski: Nobody had a coat?
C.D. Bales: You said you didn't want a coat...
Roxanne Kowalski: Why would I not want a coat?
C.D. Bales: You said you didn't want a coat...
Roxanne Kowalski: I was being ironic.
C.D. Bales: Oh, ho, ho, irony! Oh, no, no, we don't get that here. See, uh, people ski topless here while smoking dope, so irony's not really a, a high priority. We haven't had any irony here since about, uh, '83, when I was the only practitioner of it. And I stopped because I was getting tired of being stared at.
The film ended before my donation, so I switched over to AMC, and lo and behold, caught the last 20 minutes of Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte. I love the string of movies Bette Davis made in which she plays mentally disurbed killers -- she's so much fun to watch, especially the wildly smug expression she wears when she whacks someone.
The blood center is running a promotion this year in which they give premiums with certain donations; this time, they gave me a fleece blanked with their logo embroidered. That's great; it's warm but compact; I can keep it in my care in its clear plastic case. A blanket is a good thing to have in one's trunk, just in case.
As always, I urge you to contact your local blood center about donating. You could save a life.
Stomp Tokyo looks at the insanely entertaining Hong Kong action flick Shaolin Soccer. It's about...well, the title really says it all: It's a kung-fu flick that's about soccer, as a band of Shaolin monks help redeem a disgraced player by applying their martial arts skills to the sport. I watched this very flick Sunday evening when our friend Onye came over for dinner and a movie; Musashi of Destroy All Monsters was kind enough to send me the bootleg import DVD he used for his review.
The iLoo being developed by the MSN division of Microsoft Corp. in Britain is a standard portable toilet — a loo to the English — with a wireless keyboard and extending, height-adjustable plasma screen in front of the seat.
There would also be a "Hotmail station" with waterproof keyboard and plasma screen on the outside for those waiting in line.
MSN officials say they're negotiating for the manufacture of toilet paper imprinted with Web addresses that users may not have tried.
"The Internet's so much a part of everyday life now that surfing on the loo was the next natural step," MSN marketing manager Tracy Blacher said. "People used to reach for a book or mag(azine) when they were on the loo, but now they'll be logging on."
I really don't know about this...I've used portable toilets, and generally they're something you want to get out of as quickly as possible. I doubt Internet access will make the experience any more pleasant.
Sunday's Indianapolis Star had a rather shocking front-page story that I've been meaning to mention. It dealt with parents who leave their children unattended while they (the parents) gamble at Indiana's riverboat casinos, and recent reforms in the state's child-endangerment law that had the unintended consequence of exempting merely leaving children unattended for hours on end.
They were found in sweltering cars, freezing trucks, hotel rooms and parking garages -- children as young as 3 months old who had been left alone, sometimes for hours, while their parents pumped token after token into slot machines.
But for the 215 children left unattended at Indiana's 10 riverboat casinos since 1999, the state offers little protection.
Indiana does not require its riverboats to provide child care. And a 1999 change to state law intended to make it easier to prosecute cases of child neglect has instead made it more difficult. State Police estimate only about half a dozen of the cases have ever been prosecuted.
...Much of the problem, county prosecutors say, is with the 1999 change to the child neglect law.
The change stemmed from a 1985 ruling in which the Indiana Supreme Court found the previous neglect law was unconstitutionally vague. Under the law, the court ruled, even the practice of raising a child in a high-rise apartment building could be considered a crime that could endanger a child.
Lawmakers attempted to strengthen the law by raising some cases of neglect from a Class D to a Class C felony. But the revised law made leaving a child unattended a crime of neglect only if the child is hurt or otherwise endangered.
That meant that simply leaving a child unattended wasn't grounds for prosecution.
Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, and Rep. Bill Ruppel, R-North Manchester, two of the bill's authors, say they intend to make changing the law a priority next year.
"Our purpose wasn't to allow an escape hatch," Foley said. "It was to make things more defined, to clarify the law, not to get a way out for this kind of sloppy parenting."
The article notes that so far, no children have died while being left unattended at a casino. Still, with the sewltering summer months just around the corner, it's just a matter of time. The unintentional shortcoming of Indiana's child endangerment law needs to be addressed posthaste. I also agree with an opinion the Star expressed in a Sunday editorial -- parents caught leaving children unattended should be banned for life from the casino.
While sales slump under the sour economy, competition from chains grows stiffer as new restaurants continue to open in Indianapolis. Nearly six out of 10 local restaurants are chain-owned, significantly more than in similar cities across the country [average: 43%].
More broadly, the lack of restaurant entrepreneurs points to a state and local culture that doesn't like risks, said George Geib, a history professor at Butler University. [The Star has written about that phenomenon in previous editions.]
That inclination seems ill-suited for the rough-and-tumble restaurant world. The barrier to entry is extremely high, Delaney said, in a city where a 2,000-square-foot restaurant can cost $500,000 to start. Launching an 8,000-square-foot, upscale restaurant can exceed $2 million.
"That's a chunk of change you're paying out," said Craig Huse, owner of St. Elmo Steakhouse.
Local developers also want sure-bet tenants -- something hard to come by in the restaurant industry. According to the Restaurant and Hospitality Association of Indiana, 27 percent of eateries fail within a year and 60 percent within five years.
Those figures lead most banks to avoid lending to restaurants. And it leads developers to look for recognizable names and proven concepts. Chains fit that bill.
"The developers want names," Huse said. He recently started discussing a second restaurant concept with developers, but talks might derail because Huse won't use the St. Elmo name on a new restaurant. "Frankly, they're not interested in someone who doesn't have huge name recognition."
This is disappointing news indeed. One of the things that appealed to me about the city, when I was considering takign a job that would require me to move up from my beloved home town of Louisville, was the number of independent restaurants.
Alas, with two young daughters, my wife and I don't dine out all that much, and hardly ever in upscale eateries. So I must admit that we aren't doing much to keep the locals in business. Sad indeed.
Today's installment of NPR's Morning Edition carried a segment on audio and photo blogging. The feature's Web page contains a number of links, which, ironically, illustrates why I prefer text blogs: it's so much easier to drill down onto the main points, skim a lengthy post, or traverse a link. Audio blogging is an interesting toy, but I don't see it taking the Web log world by storm.
GameSpy's Top Ten Sexiest Babes in Games. I'm sure I'm not issuing a major spoiler by noting that #1 is Tomb Raider's Lara Croft. Still, I think the list cheats somewhat by nominating all the girls of the Street Fighter and Dead or Alive series.
And I consider Resident Evil's Claire Redfield to be sexier than Jill Valentine; maybe it's Claire's motorcycle duds, or Jill's atrocious voice acting in the original Resident Evil, or the fact that Claire chooses to hunt zombies, while Jill has to, because she is a cop, after all, but there you go.
gun lobby seeks lawsuit protection, and my remedial suggestion
I'd been considering posting some thoughts on the always-volatile issue of gun control apropos of nothing, but lo and behold, this morning's Washington Post gives me the perfect springboard.
The gun industry, demonstrating its resurgent influence over Washington politics, is on the cusp of convincing President Bush and Congress to protect it from pending and future lawsuits.
Under pressure from the National Rifle Association and a lesser-known organization funded with $100 million from gun manufacturers, Bush and a majority of lawmakers are on record supporting significant new legal protections for companies that make and sell guns. The legislation would prevent victims of gun crimes from making civil claims against companies that manufactured, imported or sold the weapons.
The NRA calls the legislation a prudent way to prevent companies from going belly up simply because a criminal used their gun illegally. But critics say the measure would allow some gunmakers who misplace caches of weapons -- or dealers who sell guns to felons -- to escape civil penalties.
Victims of the Washington area sniper, for instance, might be prohibited from suing the controversial gun dealer in Tacoma, Wash., who supplied the Bushmaster rifle used in some of last October's shootings if the bill becomes law, according to legal experts.
I don't intend to discuss the merits or demerits of this particular measure, but rather, to muse about some ideas I've been having that could hopefully find some middle ground on this controversial issue.
A major problem with guns, of course, is that they can do -- indeed, are designed to do -- grievous harm to people. Unfortunately, as in the case of the victims of the D.C. area sniper, people are wounded or killed -- and they and their families suffer great financial setback, to boot -- by someone without the ability to make civil restitution. Lawsuits can result out of a genuine need for people to recover actual damages incurred through no fault of their own -- a prospect I'm sure no one objects to in principle, regardless of whether they agree as to the targets of the suits.
That's why I suggest that guns not so much be banned or regulated as insured. After all, we require liability insurance on automobiles out of the realization that a driver can inflict massive harm, even by accident. Insurance on cars can help compensate the injured for their medical claims, even if the at-fault driver can't pay the medical bills.
If someone can't afford the insurance, there's little reason to beleive he or she can accept financial responsibility for the damage they may cause, and so few would argue that such a person should be permitted to drive. And insurance companies get into the act of assessing risk; if a person is convicted of repeat drunken driving, for example, he or she may find it hard to obtain insurance, or be foreced to pay dearly for the privilege, while cautious, reasonable, law-abiding drivers get a deserved price break.
The same rules should apply to guns, and would go a long way to satisfying legitimate public safety goals without criminalizing guns or imposing an undue burden on law-abiding, reasonable gun owners. Many fear the "slippery slope" coming into play. But insurance need not carry the threat of legal intrusion -- it should operate the way car insurance does, with an officer being entitled to demand proof if the owner is stopped for some other reason. For example, cheap "Saturday Night Specials" are dangerous even to the person that wields them, and of little use for anything other than crime. Yet legislation to outlaw them runs afoul of the Second Amendment; there's no easy legal distinction between such guns and legitimate weapons.
But if they were required to carry insurance, such cheap, dangerous weapons would no doubt carry a high price tag. While insurance laws would not necessarily deter genuine criminals, neither would they keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens for self defence. (Posession of an uninsured gun could also carry a criminal penalty; if not a deterrent, such a law could at least help keep violent criminals locked up.) And let's face it: Not a few assaults and murders are carried out by so-called "law abiding citizens" in a moment of rage or poor judgement; others fall victims to carelessness. Mandatory insurance can help alleviate the damage done, and serve as a reminder to gun owners of their responsibility.
Again the marketplace would come into play: Perhaps insurers would hope to lure members of the NRA with a discount. They might also offer discounts for collectors, whose weapons are generally unloaded and locked behind glass. And they might well require -- as a matter of company policy, not law -- households with young children to have firearms secured by a trigger lock.
In addition, an insurance requirement would harness the impressive investigatory power of the brokers, which could aid in preventing felons, the mentally ill, and those under restraining orders -- who I'm sure few would argue should have unrestricted access to firearms -- from obtaining the deadly weapons. A waiting period may be deemed too arbitrary and may place too heavy a burden on local law enforcement resources, but a waiting period to obtain insurance could be a highly effective filter.
I think this idea would satisfy reasonable people on both sides of the gun-control argument. For gun-control advocates, it may have the practical effect of implementing desired safety measures or even reducing the number of guns on the streets. It'd give police yet another asset in prosecuting felons, without making criminals of genuinely law-abiding gun owners. It'd give innocent victims of gunplay a means of redressing their grievances, thus reducing the need to pursue once-removed claims. And it'd use the mechanisms of the marketplace -- not the civil authority -- to achieve these aims.
Frankly, I don't see how anyone could object to having guns, unique among so many devices with the potential to inflict great harm, go uninsured.
w00t! Two of my favorite Disney flicks are coming out on DVD May 20: the utterly swank 1968 classic The Love Bug and 1977's The Rescuers, which featured the memorable pairing of Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor!