Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Monday, 30 May 2005

Topic: Oddities

Trends: Time to Change the Tune, or Change the Tone?

Last year I installed tracking software on the homepage of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log. It was free, and shows all sorts of things – the search terms folks use to reach the site (like entering "gay cars" led to this) - and the location of the server used to reach the site (we’re nearing twenty unique logons from Malta, there all always a few from Romania, and today a logon from Sri Lanka, although probably not Arthur C. Clark). There are lots of logons from Western Europe, particularly France – and that is no doubt due to the Our Man In Paris columns, with photos, from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. After the US, the largest numbers of unique visitors, in order, come from Canada, the UK, France and then Australia. Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Spain follow in the distance – then the Philippines and Japan.

The tracking software also shows the name of the server used to reach the site. There have been logons from the government – from the Department of Prisons to the Department of Justice to congress to FEMA (my second ex-wife?) – and from the military, and from a foreign government (parliament.uk). There are lots of logons from universities – Columbia, NYU, MIT and the Ivy League, along with many from small evangelical Christian colleges in the South and Mid-West. And today there was a logon from the Council on Foreign Relations of all things.

This is cool, but the odd thing is the number of unique logons is beginning to fall off – the daily numbers are down, staring to run below the average of 375 or so. Weekly? The week of April 24 there was a peak of 2,867 unique visitors, but last week only 2,537 – and although the weekly average since February is around 2,550 the trend is clear.

What to make of this? As summer arrives folks spend less time surfing the net? The limit of new visitors has been reached and only regular readers should be noted? The thrill is gone? The content is less appealing now?

Hard to tell.

But here is one explanation.

Why some people just don't get it
Brain damage may account for an inability to appreciate sarcasm.
Jamie Talan. Newsday (republished in the Los Angeles Times), May 30, 2005

What is this about?
Scientists have discovered comedy central in the brain — specific tissue regulating the ability to understand sarcasm.

People with damage to the right frontal lobe, right behind the eyes, are unable to appreciate this kind of humor.

In sarcasm, "the literal meaning is different from the true meaning, and some people just don't understand that difference," said Simone Shamay-Tsoory, a psychologist at the Rambam Medical Center and the University of Haifa in Israel. Her study is in the May issue of the journal Neuropsychology.
It seems these folks at this Rambam Medical Center, these curious Israelis, rounded up twenty-five people with damage to the frontal lobe and sixteen with damage in the region to the back of the brain – and a control group of normal-brained folks – hooked them all up to scanners and presented them all with a series of sarcastic comments.

The result?
For instance: Joe fell asleep at work. His boss walks by. "Don't work too hard, Joe," he says. Normal volunteers and people with damage to the back of the brain understood that the boss was being sarcastic. But Shamay-Tsoory said that people with damage to the right frontal lobe didn't get the irony of the comment and failed to understand that the boss was not happy with his lethargic employee.

Shamay-Tsoory says that apart from brain injury, perhaps even subtle differences in the "wiring" of this region can leave people unable to empathize, and it is this lack of ascertaining another's emotional state that may be responsible for the inability to understand sarcasm.

Sarcasm is used in social situations as an indirect way of expressing criticism, she said. The network that regulates one's ability to appreciate sarcasm begins with an understanding of the meaning of the sentence, which is carried out by the left frontal lobe. Then the right frontal lobe helps put it into a social context. Finally, the right frontal lobe must be able to differentiate between the literal meaning and what is really meant.

Dr. Antonio Damasio, head of the neurology department at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, said this finding made perfect sense. "People with damage on the right side of their brain … have major problems with social cognition, or thinking," he said.
Ah, my readership is falling off as the defective-right-side folks, seeing my left-leaning links, skip them and move on to matters more to their liking.

Posted by Alan at 12:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Sunday, 15 May 2005

Topic: Oddities

Paris versus Hollywood – Star Wars on the Champs Elysees and Palm Wars on the Internet

Courtesy of French Word-A-Day, an invaluable and rather pleasant language tool – J'ai decide d'etre heureux parce que c'est bon pour la sante. - Voltaire (I decided to be happy because it's good for the health.)

Okay, that’s out of the way.

This week’s issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 3, Number 20, for the week of May 15, 2005 - the parent site to this web log, has more than the usual pages from and about Paris, in addition to its Hollywood and current affairs items. Covering the Cessna scare in Washington, and the president’s simultaneous and blissfully unaware bicycle ride, Jeremy Stahl, a freelance writer in Paris, offers us My Pet Goat Re-dux: The safer we are, the less they know? - and perhaps we will hear more from him. Recommended.

Not appearing on this web log, but of note, check out Scatology: Protests in Germany - even if the language is a bit rough. There Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, who was a journalist in Germany before he settle in Paris, has some amusing comments. Also exclusive to the weekly are the columns of Bob Patterson. This week he and Ric in Paris go back and forth on a very odd topic in Naked Aggression - and Bob does a number on the Raymond Chandler world of noir as the Book Wrangler and provides this week’s noir quotes.

The Hollywood sections? Those would be the photography pages. Exclusive shots from an auction of custom cars built for the movies and television, including what you might remember from The Beverly Hillbillies, the Flintstones and Grease – and much more – in The George Barris Collection. An amusing statue of John Wayne in John Wayne and Larry Flint, and Harry Shapiro from Chicago, a good friend of Jackson Pollock, channeling Frederic Remington - really. A Double Mini Cooper and Captain Kirk’s motorcycle in Oddities, and four color studies in Architectural Color: West Side Whimsy.

But the real French business? Ric Erickson and I decide to open the Palm Wars. Which city has the most impressive palms – and yes, they do have palms in Paris.

My opening salvo was Palm Wars: Hollywood versus Paris - on how this started. Ric returned fire with Our Man in Paris: A Fool for Palms.

Recent developments?

I suggested there was another war going on in Paris, pitting Paris against Hollywood.

STORMTROOPERS INVADE PARIS IN FIRST EUROPEAN STAR WARS MEET
AFP - l'Agence France-Presse - by way of The Tocqueville Connection - Friday, 13 May 2005 18:48:00 GMT

What is this about?
PARIS, May 13 (AFP) - Darth Vader and the Imperial stormtroopers gave shoppers a nasty shock Friday when they took over part of a Paris boulevard at the start of the first ever official Star Wars convention in Europe.

Some 3,000 fans of George Lucas' action-packed space saga, which has kept fans on the edges of their seats since its launch in 1977, have gathered in Paris for the three-day convention to be attended by some of the films' stars.

The convention coincides with the launch of "The Revenge of the Sith" the long-awaited episode three of the prologue, which brings audiences back to the beginning where the first three films started. Here Lucas finally reveals why the fresh-faced Anakin Skywalker moves over to the dark side to become the frightening, deep-breathing incarnation of evil that is Darth Vader.

The convention was launched with a parade outside the striking Art Deco Grand Rex cinema with some of the most hard-core fans decked out in costumes many of which have been lovingly made by hand.

Confusingly there was more than one Darth Vader, but then everyone loves a bad guy and there were gasps and applause as parents hoisted children onto their shoulders to get a better look.

For many fans unable to afford a trip to one of the official conventions so far only hosted in the United States, this was a unique opportunity to swap news and gossip and show off their own costumes. ?
Geez, there is no end to what Hollywood does to Paris.

How bad is this?
Former policeman Nicolas Hure, 26, from Montarges, became so impassioned by his Star Wars role that he gave up his day job, to work a full-time volunteer job as an extra called on for Star Wars advertising.

"It's just great to be part of another world, another universe," he said.

But getting together the costumes, takes time and money. Video technician Thierry Monmahou, 28, from Besancon, spent around 500 euros (650 dollars) on his garb and looks the spitting image of Anakin played by Hayden Christensen in "Attack of the Clones".

"I was seven, when my father took me to see 'Return of the Jedi', and that was it," he said, explaining how he had to get a riding shop to help him make up the boots, and a tailors to make the costume just right.

But even when the mystery is finally to be solved, Star Wars fans are taking heart from plans for a television series and a cartoon version.

"I think it's going to be bigger than ever, the best is yet to come," said Hure.
Or maybe this is as good as it gets.

Ric?s reaction, on the ground there?
I sat in front of my TV and saw this on the news but it failed to register. I saw chaos and clown costumes, hysteria and insanity, civilians acting weird without reason. This is Cannes film festival time when anything might spring to the little screen. All the excitement is followed closely by the endless and terminally boring tennis at Roland Garros. When I see tennis I think, 'Oops, Cannes must be over.'

On tonight's TV-news, George Lucas was interviewed in Cannes.

Frankly I seem to be operating under the misconception that the latest 'Star Wars' is number 17. Can it be true that the first one was 28 years ago and this new version is only part 3? If so then you have to give the guy credit for keeping it alive with endless 'between-marketing.'

Lucas said, to an overlong question in French, that he thought that the mental level of the newest 'Star Wars' was about 12 years. That's what I thought about the first one; and admired him for doing it that way. Too many adults take it too seriously. As for Lucas, he looks like he's been at it far too long.

And for 'Stormtroopers' in Paris, you know that until recently students were demonstrating here regularly, always surrounded by squads of the CRS riot troops. These look amazingly like Lucas' stormtroopers except for being uniformed in black. White stormtroopers look like Schmoos.

Whatever it is, it'll turn up on TV in three years.
Indeed it will.

But Paris should be Paris. As I have mentioned before, Christmas shopping there five years ago I noted one door from my hotel a store selling California beach wear, and from my window I could see the cinema behind Les Deux Magots was showing Mulholland Drive, and around the corner on rue de Rennes, across the street from the GAP store, was a junk jewelry store named Sunset Boulevard.

Something is wrong here. And they shouldn?t have palm trees.

Sidebar:

In the May 8 item on Iran - Nuclear Ambitions, Automotive Ambitions - I reported that Iran is considering a rescue of the failed MG Rover company and might be willing to continue production in Birmingham in the UK ? or move the whole factory to Iran. Then I came across this:

END OF AN ERA AS IRAN BIDS GOOD RIDDANCE TO BRITISH CAR
AFP - l'Agence France-Presse - by way of The Tocqueville Connection - Sunday, 15 May 2005 10:47:00 GMT

This gives a great deal more detail on the Paykan, a descendent of Britain's long-gone Hillman Hunter, that is being phased out. MG Rover is one answer. But note this on what they build there now:
? the firms now assemble more modern cars such as the functional Peugeot 405 and the trendy Peugeot 206, and a project involving Iran Khodro, Saipa and France's Renault has also been set up to produce the Logan model - a potential replacement for the Paykan as the budget car of choice for ordinary Iranians.
Paris turns Hollywood, and they drive French cars in Tehran. Very odd.

In any event ? here are two Paris palms from Ric you have not yet seen ?







































This is all very odd.

By the way, at this week?s Just Above Sunset you will find modified versions of items that first appeared here ?

- Fish Stories: A Conversation on Displaying One?s Faith
- Ambiguity: We don?t recommend him, so let?s vote!
- Fretting: The Price of Failure in Iraq
- Ethics in Three Parts: The State of Things
- Infamy: Was he number three, or are you?
- Our Turn: The Greatest American of All Time


Posted by Alan at 21:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 15 May 2005 21:41 PDT home

Monday, 9 May 2005

Topic: Oddities

Our Turn: The Greatest American of All Time

In the middle of 2002 the British, via the BBC, got to vote on the Greatest Briton of All Time. Earlier this year the French, via France-2 television, got to vote on Le plus grand Francais de tous les temps - no need to translate that. And now it is our turn.

If you check with the BBC you can see how they voted.

From the BBC top 100 these were the winners:

- Winston Churchill - 456,498 votes (28.1%)
- Isambard Kingdom Brunel - 398,526 votes (24.6%) And that would be this fellow (the son of a Frenchman!)
- Diana, Princess of Wales - 225,584 votes (13.9%)
- Charles Darwin - 112,496 votes (6.9%)
- William Shakespeare - 109,919 votes (6.8%)
- Isaac Newton - 84,628 votes (5.2%)
- Queen Elizabeth I - 71,928 votes (4.4%)
- John Lennon - 68,445 votes (4.2%)
- Horatio Nelson - 49,171 votes (3%)
- Oliver Cromwell - 45,053 (2.8%)

Surprised? It was a popular vote, not a poll of historians after all.

For a jaundiced view of the French vote this year, The Guardian (UK) see this ?

French baffled by list of national heroes
Jon Henley in Paris - Wednesday March 16, 2005 - The Guardian (UK)
Victor Hugo, Moliere, Marie Curie and Charles de Gaulle are still in there fighting. But Alexandre Dumas, Jean-Paul Sartre and Belmondo and even - bit of an upset, this one - Napoleon are sadly out of the running.

? France's top 100 contained some surprises. "What the hell were they thinking of?" asked Le Parisien, noting that the anti-globalisation activist Jose Bove (87) and film director Luc Besson (91) were deemed to have contributed more to Gallic glory than Jean-Paul Sartre (96) and Simone de Beauvoir, who did not even make the list.

The full list contains 90 men and 10 women. Sixty-eight of the candidates are dead, and 32 alive. Even in a country which turns philosophers into household names, the world of show business comfortably tops the French poll with 44 representatives, while the arts and literature muster 22, politics 17 and sport just eight.

The top 10 contains few major upsets, with the possible exception of the anarchic comic and one-time presidential candidate Coluche, and the legendary comedian and actor Bourvil, who starred in 55 films and recorded 300 songs.

France's favourite priest, the Abbe Pierre, who founded the Emmaus charity for the poor and homeless, is in there, as are undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, two-time Nobel prizewinner Marie Curie, General de Gaulle, the great romantic poet and novelist Hugo, the 17th-century dramatic genius Moliere, groundbreaking chemist Louis Pasteur and singer Edith Piaf.

Among the notable also-rans, the late president Francois Mitterrand (24) trounced the incumbent, Jacques Chirac (42). However, the diminutive Corsican emperor who created modern-day France could only manage an undistinguished 16th - while the show's two hosts, TV presenters Michel Drucker and Thierry Ardisson, both made the top 70.
Yeah, whatever.

Just Above Sunset?s Paris columnist, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, in his "Our Man in Paris" columns reported on this for our readers.

See March 20, 2005 - France Picks Its Nose -
The hit British TV reality show 'Great Brits' has been given a Gallic scent of garlic, amusing offshore news organizations somewhat more than the French, who have seldom wondered who among them is most popular national hero because Charles de Gaulle snared the top spot between periods of being a traitor and the ex-President of France.

Despite the heavy advance promotion by France-2 TV for last Monday night's 'Le plus grand Francais de tous les temps,' I easily managed not to watch it. I have nothing against diverting television entertainment but French TV is usually too silly to be diverting, even though veteran host Michel Drucker is not a total jerk. For Monday's amusement he was back-stopped by Thierry Ardisson, who used to pretend to drink jars of whisky in the Palace disco on Saturday night TV.

To compound my error, I failed to read Le Parisien's account of the show on Tuesday. ?
And that was followed by April 17, 2005 - Runners-Up - with the results -
This Frenchman contest only yielded two TV broadcasts. A poll in September of 2004 selected the '100 greatest Frenchmen of all time,' and after the first broadcast 10 remained in the running. With no suspense for the top spot in France, the vote's real interest fell on the nine runner-ups.

The scientist Louis Pasteur was chosen as the number two 'greatest Frenchman of all time.' Pasteur developed pasteurization, vaccines, and invented the science of microbiology. Hardly a random choice, because Marie Curie landed in the fourth spot.

Born in Warsaw, she discovered radium and won Nobel prizes in 1903 and 1911.

Between the two, a very old but living Abbe Pierre was chosen for the third spot. Since the end of World War II he has been saying that some people are poorly housed in France. He is a popular and longstanding moral force even if people are still poorly housed.

It's a surprise to see the dead comedian Coluche edge out Victor Hugo, but not such a surprise to find the writer in the sixth place. But the consistency holds with another comedian, Bourvil, in seventh spot, followed by Moliere the playwright, who died during the fourth performance of 'Le Malade Imaginaire,' in 1673.

In ninth place it's back to science again with the selection of the undersea's Jacques-Yves Cousteau. In the tenth place, the list is completed with name of another entertainer, Edith Piaf.

This adds up to one statesman, three scientists, a moral leader, two comedians and a singer, one writer and one playwright - that the French have chosen to be the 'greatest Frenchmen of all time.' If they were all attending a party, it would probably be an interesting evening, French style.
Yes, it would be, non? And The Nose won ? Charles De Gaulle, of course.

Now it is our turn. The Discovery Channel and AOL are teaming up on this one - seven hours in primetime to be telecast this summer. The idea is to make our choice for ?the person who has most embodied the American dream, having the biggest impact on the way we think, work and live.?

Is the American dream to rip off another BBC television show? Well, All in the Family with its quintessential American, Archie Bunker, worked our for Norman Lear. Any number of American movies have been adaptations of French movies ? Renoir?s son made "Boudu sauve des eaux" in 1932 and we got ?Down and Out in Beverly Hills? forty years later. This might work. Some of us think AOL is a really crappy service, but millions use it. And the Discovery Channel often runs pretty amusing stuff ? this coming weekend you can watch ?Who Killed King Tut?: Case Reopened? for example. The butler did it.

As for the Greatest American of All Time, the top one hundred (so far) can be found here, and the show itself premieres Sunday, June 5 at eight in the evening.
Millions of Americans nominated their choices via AOL to create a list of 100 candidates. Each candidate will be profiled in the four-part weekly primetime series. After learning more about the candidates, viewers will have the chance to make their voices heard through several forums including online voting through AOL, telephone voting and text messaging. After each show, they'll narrow down the candidates until only one great American remains.
As they say in Chicago, vote early, vote often.

Of course there is a web log that accompanies this ? an AOL promotional affair and hardly independent and cutting edge. Since March 15 it shows around 18,000 hits. There you can read AOL members arguing the case for their choices. And the stirring prose so far has suggested one of these is clearly the Greatest American of All Time:

- Michael Jackson
- Howard Hughes
- Bob Hope
- Thomas Jefferson
- Hugh Hefner
- Tom Hanks
- Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Walt Disney
- Elvis Presley
- George W. Bush
- Lance Armstrong

And to think the Brits had fun ragging on the French and their choices.

Other things to do on June 5 should you not want to watch? As it is the anniversary of the first public balloon flight - and that would be Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier in 1783 ? you could get high. Or think about other June 5 events ? in 1968 Robert F. Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel down on Wilshire, and in 1888 the Democrats nominated Grover Cleveland for president. Or you could celebrate the birthday of famous people on June 5 - Adam Smith (1723), Federico Garcia Lorca (1898), Francisco "Pancho" Villa (1877).

Or you could watch the show, and vote for??

Mark Twain is one of the finalists. So is Rush Limbaugh.

But so is Bobby Kennedy.

Posted by Alan at 16:47 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 9 May 2005 16:52 PDT home

Sunday, 8 May 2005

Topic: Oddities

Are YOU a Republican?


Take the test? If you go here (Paul Kienitz) you too can complete the nine question survey.

My results? No surprise.

I am:
1%
Republican.
"You're a complete liberal, utterly without a trace of Republicanism. Your strength is as the strength of ten because your heart is pure. (You hope.)"