The Stepford Lives

My buddy V.S. went to Beijing a few months ago and brought me back some DVDs he purchased in that fair city. When he sent The Stepford Wives to me, the official studio version of it wasn’t even out yet (I think) and I saw it at the video store a few times wondering if about the movie.
I finally had a chance to review the video and it was what I expected. It was filmed at some late-night theatrical center somewhere probably in Los Angeles (I figure that a projectionist was paid $100.00 to get out of bed at 2:00 a.m. to project), then piped to China over the information superhighway and recorded to look like a real DVD with its poorly rendered “buttons” reading “Play, “Chapters,” and “Trailer.” I expected the sounds to be terrible and it was and I expected anything fast moving to be slightly blurred because of the video capture rate.
More interestingly, my expectations were also set by the promotional quotation on the packaging, which brilliantly said, and I quote: “An empty comedy that takes hac-kneyed [sic] potshots at consumerism.” It’s true. The film was as flat and disorganized as any I’ve seen in recent memory. Nicole Kidman puts in a great performance, particularly in the beginning, as an executive in the television industry — a role she has mastered in previous movies. But the story, in which aging men manipulate their better halfs such that they in turn become better, has no rubber and rides on no road. The men in the film rely upon complicated Microsoft and AOL technologies to modify their wives behaviors, turning them into robots so that their country club fantasies could be lived.
It struck me that the conceit of the movie is fundamentally flawed: wealthy men never have had a need for those complex technologies to run their fantasy lives — the system was set up by them long ago for them and is still mastered by them. [Note: I’m a capitalist at heart and don’t deny the beauty of capital which alone can make beauty.] If I was a semiotician, I guess I’d ask if the movie seriously questions the substance of the system that created mastery over women and industry. Or does it more subtly demand us to look at the rather frail mechanisms upon which capital is raised and nurtured? Or, furthermore, does the film simply reproduce our fantasy about wealth and privilege and power?

Good Idea

The title of the email below, which came today from a spammer, is Good Idea. I’ve been tempted to call this person on their phone number (548-946-1628) or mobile number (961-650-1357) but perhaps I can leave that one for Monday.
Die land, divide. Big near when. About, describe begin want. I give little plan meet. Rock boy engine, receive. Build kind ocean. Young small among base. Car sun river, who self some. Travel drive surprise, perhaps group. Contain apple sent direct. Feel, come special effect. Equal listen team glass possible lay.

Blog Independence

Jason Kottke, weblog writer par excellence, has taken the quietly loud step of going indie. It means that he’s quit day job to focus on the content and coding of his site. It means that blogging has taken a new turn as a vehicle for communicating complexity to a mass audience. It means that Jason’s gonna work his tail off to keep frozen pizzas on the table in his new Brooklyn digs. It means that, without advertising, Jason’s going to need a lot of contributors. I’m supporting his efforts with the same spirit that I support Independent, constructive, and mildly funny commentary is, regardless of what anyone else says, hard to find on the Web or in print.
I just got back from a long trip to Canada and I’ll write more about that soon.


There comes a time when every man must confess what he desires. This is not that time. However, there are a few newish applications out there that look worthwhile, including:
Process: A small but sophisticated outlining application for OS X that allows one to plan projects. It should open with the capability of planning to buy this program. It’s 25 bucks.
Transmit: today released its newest FTP application which makes it an even sexier, smarter, and faster way to get files to and from Websites. I love Transmit and will likely want to pay 18 bucks to get the upgrade.
Snapz Pro X: This has been on the list for a while. The application allows you to capture anything on your screen including full motion video. Imagine recording your mouse movements as you roll over the relationship of your name to historical circumstance on sites like The Baby Name Wizard’s NameVoyager! [Note: the whole purpose of this post is to promote the ogling of this last site. The NameVoyager is truly amazing.] I can’t seem to find the 69 bucks for this yet, though.

Movable Type Not Org

Finally, it seems that the good folks at Six Apart, the company behind Movable Type, have knocked the “.org” on its head. I still don’t understand the appeal of commercial ventures having a non-profit .org address — with a redesigned site and reincorporation of into the fold, the company is starting to make sense to me and probably to many users who might fear the oddity of a technology company with identity issues.
Jay Allen writes about the new design and so does Mena Trott, co-founder of the company.
Regarding the design, it’s just nice. There’s nothing sharp about it, literally. All of the edges have been sanded down, the colors are awfully dull, and the typefaces used look so friendly that I feel like gagging. In terms of usability, it’s fantastic — much easier to read, recognize information, and find new knowledge. Mule Design did the job.

Those Orange Gates

I had the privilege of being able to tour the The Gates for a brief period this morning. It was a cold, rainy morning and there were not many people out but I loved the experience of walking underneath orange fabric and metal gates beneath the gray skies and the yawning chasm of Central Park near scraping residential buildings, ant-like tourists, and watchful watchers. For those outside NYC, a few great photos and some contextual ones can be seen.
I won’t repeat what has already been well noted about this project but I do have a few personal thoughts:

  • Before walking through, under, and beneath The Gates, I was looking for a reason not to like them. The money, the press, the privilege, the resources, the color orange — none of these fit the bill and so I don’t not like them.
  • One little mentioned note is that The Gates are actually of different heights and widths depending on the narrowness of the particular path or the way the trees or landscape or physical architecture lay. This lends itself to a bit to a feeling of disorientation as you walk beneath the structures and they change on you, irregularly.
  • I walked East to West. This seemed to be the way that Manifest Destiny works and I wanted to follow the multitude of paths that pushed me forward.
  • One sublime moment was experienced in looking up at The Gates as I was walking through them. I was focusing on the small squares that make up the tapestries and as I’d pass each draped one, I’d see the sky and the blurred orange of the next one, and so on. The tapestries bled together like streaming orange hair and I felt whole.
  • There were nice people posted every few thousand feet. Gates helpers armed with a long metal pole and a bright green tennis ball attached to the end. These helpers were gently keeping the tapestries flying.
  • The Park will feel empty when the minimalist heraldry is gone. But I visit it so rarely that it already feels that way.
  • Walking beneath The Gates in the rain, I felt somehow protected by them, held by them. At one point I was walking near Tavern on the Green and strayed from the “course” and was outside of the path lit by the tapestries. I felt exposed and walked back under The Gates. In the end, The Gates are a mild shelter from the storm of spectacles that encroach upon our commercial and political lives. They very temporarily gave me a respite from the mersh, the mess, and the madness.

Owner Ship

I was listening to the radio today and there was a news segment on a Michigan insurance company that is testing workers for smoking. If they are found to be positive as smokers, they would be asked to leave the company. Four employees left, all presumably committed smokers.
On the segment, a question arose about the First Amendment. Granted speech and smoking are not the same; however, the assumption is that legal behaviors are legal in the workplace. We’re taught in school and on television and in the movies that you have a right to say and do whatever you want so long as it doesn’t harm others in the process. Of course, there are many shades of gray around the First Amendment and these shades of gray dutifully employ many lawyers and nonprofits. One shade of gray, of course, is whether overweight people, those who skydive, and motorcylists should also be held up to rigorous employment standards.
But what isn’t so gray is that employers don’t have to give a damn about your freedoms. One of the commentators on the radio show said explicitly, and I quote, “You have no right to freedom of speech where your employer is concerned. The First Amendment only concerns your rights that apply to the Government.” I did not know this. The commentator mentioned that last year, a woman in Alabama was fired for driving to work with a Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker.
I feel dumb, confused and bamboozled by my own ignorance. I’m less “mad” at the Government than at the educational system that tells us our freedoms are sacrosanct. Where did the educational system go wrong in telling us that we had the freedom to speak our minds? How did employers become immune to First Amendment law? Where does the “ownership society” take us if it is our employers that own us?

Bad Boy Bands Bug

I’ve been really trying hard to like some of the “special, new” boy bands out there like The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Keane and Snow Patrol. Each of these dude-groups have a few quirky, interesting songs like Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know.” But mostly, and sadly, these folks have pretty limited skill sets as musicians, despite their widespread popularity and alt-fan bases. Like The Bachelorette might say, I really want to like these guys. Too bad they rule and don’t rock.

Public Notices

Here are a few random things I’ve noticed while riding the subway almost all morning, going to and fro from client to client and back again:

  • There seems to be an increase in the number of designers relying upon outlined fonts to make their words display better. Perhaps the most seen and diagnosed version is used in the new and now old The Life Aquatic.
  • I don’t remember a State of the Union address that has received as much attention as the one tonight to be given by our President George W. Bush. This must due, in part, to the immense following Mr. Bush has from both the right and the left. It goes unreported but there will be probably just as many red state beer-drinkers tonight watching Mr. Bush as there will be wine-swilling blue staters. I hand it to the President for giving the people what they want — even the 49% percent who didn’t want him.
  • For a number of reasons, I’ve had to deal with some state and city government bureaucracies lately and to a tee, all of the people I’ve been in touch with (either on the phone or in person) have been pretty nice, straightforward and easy to deal with. As much as we all bash our government custodians of civil society, I’ve been impressed with the efficiency and carefulness of their work.
  • There was a small news item in today’s newspaper about the largest Canadian t-shirt maker, Gildan Activewear, Inc. shutting down their plants in Canada and will move some of its operations to the United States. This may be one of the first examples of offshoring Canadian work to lower paid Americans.

Nice or Mad?

During particularly hasteful mornings, my daughter has taken to ask me whether I’m “Nice or Mad.” It helps her sort out whether or not to be anxious, angry, or aggressive or something else entirely. I’ve never before thought about this unique justaposition but it, in fact, jibes nicely with other psychological differentiations that I’ve been fond of in the past. These include:

  • Creep or Asshole: A former professor of mine at the University at Albany remarked once that all people could be easily categorized into the former or latter. I’m the former.
  • Dumb or Stupid: I recall being in high school and people called each other one or the other. I’m dumb.
  • Sorry or Sordid: I made this one up. I’m sorry.