Saturday, May 18, 2002

I Have a Canadian Stamp in My Passport

It's always disappointed me in the past that when I've entered Canada, they've neglected to stamp my passport. I flew to Ottawa in 1996, Toronto in 1999 and Winnipeg in 1999, and each time the immigration control canuks just looked at my passport and handed it back to me. I've even tried asking them to stamp it, but to no avail. I mean, if a passport doesn't tell you where you've been, what fun is it? (I've had equal luck when driving across the border.)

Well, I'm in Montreal now, and on the way in, they stamped my passport with a nice red stamp. They joined the UK in disregarding the "arrival" and "depature" columns and sticking the stamp in the departure column. (At least they didn't stamp it in the middle of the page, like the Brits sometimes do.)

I checked into my hotel and wandered around until I found an ATM and this place. It's some sort of Internet cafe, which seems mostly to be populated by Asian individuals playing shooting games. Except for the guy next to me, who is using his PC to listen to Asian pop music.

Anyway, I probably won't stay too long -- it hasn't been that long since I was in the good ol' USA checking my e-mail. But I thought I'd use this opportunity to send e-mail to people letting them know I got in safely and post this entry. I'll probably have access at the conference tomorrow, but just in case I get a jonesin' for a 3-AM Internet session, I know where this place is. Now if I can only remember where my hotel is...


Paint Your Wagon

Christina and I watched Paint Your Wagon last night, at her recommendation. While I did not enjoy it as much as she did, it still made for an evening's viewing.

It's an odd movie -- a western musical farce. Sort of a cross between "Blazing Saddles" and "McCabe and Mrs. Miller." With singing. By Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin. It's the story of a California mining boomtown, two of its founders and their wife. Yes, I said "their wife" -- remember the farce part? It's a silly story that takes delight in poking fun at many of the conventions of the western -- the lonely pioneer, the rowdy saloon, the bawdy house of ill repute. It does so with some amount of cynicism (which put me in mind of "McCabe"); there are no gunslinging heroes in this movie. At the same time, however, the story follows the basic pattern of the Western -- the rough-and-tumble days are drifting away as respectable folks move into the area.

Either 3 or 3 1/2 stars; I can't decide.

The Phantom Menace

In preparation for Thursday's opening of Attack of the Clones, I re-watched Episode I, The Phantom Menace this week.

Three years later, I was struck by a few things. First of all, it wasn't as bad as many are making it out to be. It wasn't the best Star Wars movie (in fact, it was the worst -- which is sort of the opposite of "damning with faint praise"), but it was very watchable. Jar-Jar was, in fact, annoying (mostly because of the inescapable conclusion that even if he wasn't intended as a racial stereotype, he ended up that way, and somebody should have changed the character on that basis). But I didn't find him incredibly annoying -- he didn't make "Wesley Crusher" on my scale.

The main problem I had with the movie was that it was very flat. I didn't find myself engaged by the characters. Qui-Gon? Let's see, you have a Jedi on a negotiation mission. That's about all you get about him. Queen Amidala? Bo-ring. By design, I suppose, and Padme's the interesting one, but that gets obscured for most of the movie. Anakin? Look, I know it's a movie for kids, but does it have to be a movie about kids? The original was the first without the second. Anakin in this movie doesn't provide the requisite "cool character" you need. Your Han Solo, your Chewie, your Princess Leia.

Well, I take that back. There is Obi-Wan. Ewan McGregor does his best Alec Guiness, and the story from A New Hope helps bring his character to life. The first heart-pounding moment I had re-watching this -- the kind of moment I expect from Star Wars movies -- was during the light-saber battle with Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul. After Darth Maul takes out Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan has to wait for that weird force field to let him at D.M., the tension is just palpable.

I must admit, however, after seeing Clones, I can see more what Lucas was trying to do with Menace. I'll probably see it even more when I watch the DVD with the director's commentary. I don't think that will entirely redeem the movie for me, though.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Tom Benson, Makin' Stuff Up

The Washington Post is reporting that many NFL owners oppose putting a Super Bowl in DC. That's fine. It would be nice to have one here, but I understand some people don't want to have the game played in messy weather. I don't agree, but I understand.

This quote from Saints owner Tom Benson, however, caught my eye:

"It's the weather. Why would you go to a place where people couldn't walk around those cities in nice weather, temperatures like we have here today [sunshine and mid-seventies]? I personally do not think the votes are there. Everyone would like to go to New York or Washington . . . in August, not January."

First of all, the site selection has nothing to do with "walk[ing] around those cities in nice weather." If it did Detroit wouldn't be getting the 2006 Super Bowl. I don't know that a lot of people want to walk around Detroit in good weather, but you're not going to have much of that in January (well, actually February).

And second, nobody wants to walk around DC in August. I mean, maybe compared to New Orleans, it's not a sauna, but please.

If you want to make the argument that the Super Bowl should only be held in warm weather cities, go ahead. (I think that's what he's getting at.) But don't conspire with dome-cities like Detroit to deny DC a Super Bowl if you're only going to turn against them later. That's as lame as naming yourself general manager of the team.

Sunday, May 12, 2002

What's News?

I am sort of a news junkie. I read wire stories, check CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times frequently, listen to news radio and NPR. But I've found I end up scanning the headlines, but reading very few of the actual stories.

Why? After years of paying attention to the news, I've become a bit jaded about what actually matters. Most stories are repetitions of what I've already heard, stories that most people knew were coming, or variations on the same theme.

Let's look at the current Reuters headlines.

I guess my point is that none of these stories gives me a more complete understanding of the universe around me -- a tall order, but that's why I pay attention to the news these days. What I'm really looking for is the unexpected -- Israelis and Palestinians making peace, Finns and Swedes fighting a war, a cure for cancer...

Often times, though, these stories aren't on the front page. Perhaps the most interesting story I read today was on page A17 of today's Post. "Egyptian Radicals Veering Away From Violence." "Egyptian Radicals Denounce America" makes the catchier story, but this is more compelling. If we don't want things to get really ugly, we need to see a trend towards moderation in the Middle East. As I type that, I realize how obvious it sounds. Good; that means it's probably true. So it's worth watching this to see if it's a trend -- from the article, "veering" seems a bit of an exaggeration, but this is about a trend that could make a difference.

While finding the link for that article, I ran across several others from the Post that bear reading. There's an article about fears of "belt-bombers" in the US -- that'll keep me up tonight. There's an article about an arrest in the US that may be related to the Sept. 9 slaying of Gen. Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance -- kind of freaky that an American postal worker may be involved, but it's heartening that investigators are making progress. That's one of the reasons I, and a lot of others, I'm sure, turn on the news these days -- to see if the good guys are catching the bad guys. Keep your fingers crossed. The article about people upset about DC's new Grand Prix race is pretty interesting too. It brings together a few things that I keep an eye on -- attempts to revitalize the DC economy, the high-handedness of these attempts toward local citizens, the general whininess of local citizens...

I guess as I get bombarded with 24-hour news, the what, when and where is so easily available that I barely need to read the stories. What I really am looking for is the whys and what ifs.