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There is something about film directors — they are at the top of their field, and they need to juggle artistic, technical, and personal challenges at every stage of their work. But maybe because of that and maybe just because of poor sampling, it seems that directors are always fascinating to listen to. We know about Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino, but perhaps the taker of the cake is Werner Herzog. Even though it’s not an interview, check out this. (But fuck it, let’s have some interviews: how about by Errol Morris, Vice Magazine, Roger Ebert, and The Guardian for starters.)



Down and out in London


8 hours in London. Mission: (1) get from Heathrow into the city, (2) check out the Tate Modern, (3) get fish and chips and a pint, and (4) wander around and get semi-lost. For to your future reference, the best way to get from the airport into the city is the Heathrow Connect, not the Heathrow Express, which costs twice as much and takes 10 minutes (that’s $56 for a 15 minute trip—but who’s counting!).


So, they drive on the left side in London. THE LEFT SIDE. This does not sound like nearly the tourist-life-threatening clusterfuck that it in fact is. Consider that London is a medieval tangle of roads of varying narrowness, many of which are one-way and many of which are motor-vehicle-prohibited, and also that some of which have these friendly “LOOK RIGHT” indicators, and realize that after one or two of those pints, where these indicators are missing your road-crossing instincts are all bass-ackwards and your life is in peril.


So! the Tate Modern. I got told to not take pictures after this one (Next: Museums In Paris Allow Photography, Which is Super-Annoying), but the TM houses several completely primo and ass-kicking Francis Bacons (one of which had a cute girl planted on the floor in front of it making a pretty good sketch (the girl)(of the Bacon)) and a completely brain-popping room with 6 Gerhard Richter squeegee paintings. Also the requisite Picassos, Miros, etc., and the Jackson Pollock that pretty well marks his transition from Miro-esque abstraction to his mature drippiness.


A tres-artsy pedestrian bridge leads from the TM back across the Thames.


Success w/r/t the fish and chips. Also plus a Timothy Taylor Landlord, which would be my beer recommendation if you ever find yourself in a London pub.


Here’s the London pub in which I found myself. I was unable to judge the Disnification (or, perhaps, ‘Fridays-ification’?) level of this particular establishment, but ‘moderate’ is a fair guess. I’m still not sure what the proper ordering/paying/tipping procedure is for GB, but half-assing it worked for a half-day excursion.


Of course all of Europe is cycling-friendly, but did you know that in London they have Bicycle Ambulances?


If they keep building bridges maybe eventually the whole of the Thames will be paved over. Anywho. London: a nice place to visit, and not as expensive as you’d have thought, but still pretty darned expensive, yeah? (Next up: Paris.)

Posted: Tuesday September 29, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [3]



london underground

Here’s a zippy photo of the London Underground for all you sassy types. I’m traveling around Europe for a few weeks. Posting shall to be nonexistent until Friday, and intermittent afterwards. (The itinerary goes thiswise: Thursday was in London, then to Prague, tomorrow morning to Paris by car, Back on Wednesday/Thursday with some time in Germany (Oktoberfest!), then another week and change in Prague.) I’ll try to post photos as often as possible here

Posted: Saturday September 19, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


Dispute Finder

Dispute Finder While discussing the alleged death of polite disagreement at Rex’s blog last week, I expressed the idea that a lot of the disagreement stems from a disagreement about simple facts. It’s almost impossible to support healthcare reform bill if you think it includes “death panels,” and there are folks who consume media in such a way that they genuinely believe this. But even those with every right to call themselves reasonable are at prone to this effect — we tend to be more likely to believe the facts that jibe with our view of the world. Those facts then push our opinion farther along toward certainty, and make those who disagree with us seem ever less reasonable.

It follows that clarifying the facts is a potential way to begin restoring some of the civility that’s been lost from public discourse. By this I mean not only correcting incorrectly held beliefs, but also by exposing reasonable disagreements about what are often presented as established facts.

Interestingly, there is a tool intended to do exactly that: the Dispute Finder. It works like this: you install it as a Firefox extension, and it then alerts you when a fact you are seeing on the internet is in dispute, and cites a few disagreeing sources. It gets to know what sources you respect, and so if you’re a Republican, say, it’s more likely to point you to a story about how death panels are a hoax in the Wall Street Journal then in Harper’s magazine. (Demo here.) Try this at home!: do any of the statements below make you nod in agreement? Click through for contradictory evidence.

The point here isn’t that any of those claims are wrong — the point is that they are not nearly as clear cut as we might suppose, and that having our beliefs challenged makes us more likely to listen to those we disagree with, ergo more civil discourse. Two problems.

1) This is all well and good on the internet, but can we attach it to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck’s asses? And also better yet, what about my uncle who parrots Limbaugh, Beck, et al. at the Sunday cookout? Well, it turns out they’re working on that! Explains Dispute Finder developer Rob Ennals on a recent On the Media:

The bullshit detector is a thing that we’re planning to do next. It’s trying to apply the same kind of ideas we’re applying to the Web to information you hear in real life. So let’s say you’re in a conversation with somebody and they tell you something which is disputed. The device is going to buzz in your pocket and let you know that you just heard something disputed and perhaps you should question it. … [A]nother thing we’re planning [is] to apply this to closed caption TV text; that if some pundit on TV says something disputed, a thing will flash up at the bottom of your screen saying, this is a disputed claim. This source you trust disagreed with some of this.

Nice, right? Sign me up. And sign up my uncle. Better yet, sign up YOU and YOUR uncle, which brings us to

2) This is great, but how do I get the people who disagree with me to sign up for this? To wit, aren’t the very people who are disagreeably disagreeing the least likely to pay any attention to this type of technology? And at first I think this will be true. But I think it’ll have a snowball effect. As this type of technology spreads and improves, the desire for intellectual honesty will begin to drive its adoption. That is, even the most extreme conspiracy theorists want to claim to be open to opposing arguments, right? So unless this whole project manages to get painted as part of the liberal conspiracy (not inconceivable!), some portion of even the wackos at the fringes of the political parties will get on board, which will begin to soften — maybe — the craziness that’s therein harbored.

Posted: Wednesday September 16, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


Attention recovering stalkers: mild voyeouristic content alert. Where were you when you heard that Jim Carroll died? I was sitting in front of my computer last night, when I came across the news reading the Awl in my RSS reader. The reason that this struck me as odd is that at 5:47 pm on Sunday (that would be the day before yesterday), I posted a video of Carroll’s song People Who Died on my tumblr (you can confirm this by refreshing the page today at 5:47, when the date stamp should change from “one day ago” to “two days ago”). I assumed that I’d heard about the death sometime Sunday afternoon, and that’d sparked the post. So, I checked my firefox history — you can see me posting the video at the top, and no mention of Carroll in the preceding few hours. Ah, maybe I heard about it on twitter? Nope.

SO, I’m provisionally going with Coincidence, but watch the tumblr for predictions of future deaths.



Ye olde Kanye West controversy: If you’re one of the billions of people who didn’t even consider watching the VMA’s, but heard about something to do with Kanye West, well Gawker has your back, natch, with the video and the debate about whether the whole thing was staged. (I say YES!!) Update: Choire says, essentially, ‘it’s all good.’ Update #2: I am not even joking with you, Obama is on the record on this situation.



Public financing of elections sounds like a good idea. But so does free speech. And it appears that honest philosophical examination finds these two ideals incompatible. Witness Hillary: The Movie, banned from cable television during the 2008 elections because of its campaign-promotional aspect. Well, off to the Supreme Court it went, which Supreme Court sent the case back for re-arguing. Given that the SC as it currently stands decidedly on the pro-free speech anti-campaign-reform side, this is taken as an indication that they’re planning on doing way more then conceding that the film should have been allowed to run. They very likely are looking at drastic scaling back of the limitations we place on political contributions, etc. If you need the “pro-free speech” argument spelled out again, George Will help you out.



Weekendly clickables XVI

Posted: Monday September 14, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


Something is rotten in the state of C-SPAN: I subscribe to C-SPAN’s Podcast of the Week [iTunes link], and yesterday heard a pretty great speech that Bill Clinton gave [mp3] last month to the Netroots convention. Pretty great speech, if only just to hear how well he can hold interest over a near-hour. Thing is, that link goes directly to an mp3, hosted locally at that, because I have no idea what’s going on with C-SPAN’s site. This page refers to the podcast, and as of this moment still links to the audio file, but there is no reference to the speech anywhere else on C-SPAN’s site that I can find, and no permanent link to the podcast item. Pardon me, but this does not seem like the right way to run a service that is the de-facto record of our government’s activities, does it?



What the internet knows about YOU — “since the problem isn’t an issue with any particular Web browser, but inherently tied to the way the Web works, there are no quick and painless ways to fix this issue.” (via)



If you have any inclination to purchase the complete Seinfeld series (currently: $140), Walter has some thoughts intended to push you over the edge.



Gizmodo’s essential iPhone apps, Fall 2009. I’m not much into iPhone games, but that Star Defense is pretty cool.



To The Best of Our Knowledge

to the best of our knowledge logo You know how episodes of This American Life are supposed to be based on a theme? But they’re not, right? The “theme” thing is a conceit, and the episodes are really an excercise in tying together the most disparate possible group of stories. It’s pretty fantastic, but what if a radio program picked a theme and really tried to explore and shed some light on that theme. Well, that radio program would be To The Best of Our Knowledge. But TTBook, as it calls itself, is not dry and didactic. It’s every bit as poetic and inspirational as This American Life. It’s contributors have enough Midwestern NPR sincerity make Steve Inskeep sound like Steven Colbert, and they sometimes veer dangerously close to paralyzing self-consciousness, but it’s always in the line of trying to get to the real heart of the issue.

But the best way to explain how great this all is might be to present a few episodes. Almost all of the episodes on the site are in RealAudio(!), so I figured I’d try to make them a little more user-friendly. I’d suggest subscribing to the podcast for future episodes.

The New Abolitionists: There are more human slaves in the world today then at any other time in history. The first interview in this show is with a woman who was abducted from the street in New York, and spent 5 years as a slave. The second, with a journalist who wrote a book on contemporary slavery, is about going to Haiti to purchase a child. Then follows the story of the successful abolitionist movement in Britain, over two hundred years ago, which succeeded — while innovating many of the techniques still used by political activists — because it got the whole of society to care. Finally, looks at a modern-day family’s attempts to come to grips with its slave-trading legacy and an interview with a Nobel Peace Prize winner about the economics of poverty which drive slavery. In one hour, the program explains how slavery works, argues that it can be stopped, and explains how to stop it. mp3 link

Alone Time: The first two segments are the quintessential TTBOOK juxtaposition: an in-depth discussion of the neurological and evolutionary origins and consequences of the cognitive process of loneliness, followed by an interview with a guy who spent a year living in complete isolation in the near-Antarctic part of Chile. Plus songs of loneliness, and a look at how American society is becoming increasingly isolated. mp3 link

David Foster Wallace: Obviously a labor of love for the crew, this posthumous look at DFW’s life and writing includes interviews with book critics, family, editors, and the writer himself (the program interviewed him three times between 1996 and 2004). There are links at the bottom of the page to the full versions of these interviews (recommended!) as well as an excerpt from the famous commencement speech DFW gave at Kenyon College in 2005. mp3 link

Posted: Tuesday September 8, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


Diego, Susy, and their kids, photographed on June 17th of every year since 1976. (via)



de-colorized russia

A collection of colorized photographs from Russia from just before the Leninist revolution (about 100 years ago). I wish someone would create a slideshow of these returned to black and white — compare the image above to #25 for reference.



The tall bike kids of Yogya.



A list of pivotal points in various figures’ lives, ordered by their age at the time. Hank Williams starts drinking liquor at age 9, Grandma Moses has is discovered at 78, has a show at MoMA one year later.



diversity of species in the rainforest

Illustration by Oro Verde. (via)



Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, and George Clooney, together at last. (via)



“Singer, drummer, bass player needed. please no ego’s mine is the only one that counts anyway.” Craigslist ad, which is funny despite probably being fake.



Self Magazine recently “retouched” about 30 pounds off Kelly Clarkson for their cover photo. But that sort of thing is nothing new, right? What is entertaining here is what Lucy Danziger, Self’s editor, came up with when her handlers apparently told her to write an explanation that ‘yeah, of course we “retouch,” but it’s all about producing a self-confident and happy image, not about making someone look skinnier.’ Here’s what she came up with: “This is art, creativity and collaboration. It’s not, as in a news photograph, journalism. It is, however, meant to inspire women to want to be their best. That is the point.” The hypocrisy here is on par with politicians talking about Social Security. There is the widening gulf between reality and what can be acceptably said, and there is the requirement for people willing to talk around that gulf. (via)



About Andy Kaufman

andy are you goofing on elvis? The Andy Kaufman Chronicles

Here’s a file I put together something like 12 years ago about Andy Kaufman, with information pulled from the then-internet.

Let me set the stage: back when I was your age, there was no YouTube, no Wikipedia, no blogs. There was no friggin’ Google yet. What there was were tons of websites, lovingly hand-crafted with the first wave of web authoring tools (Dreamweaver 1.0 was cutting-edge), which you browsed on your crappy bulging-front 15” CRT monitor. And these websites had tons of stuff on them. And so if a subject popped into your head, you could pull up the Yahoo[!] and find information — sometimes on multiple sites! — and get your information piped directly into your eye-stream, or whatever. And I used to put together these dossiers on different things to print out and read offline. Well, a dozen years and at least half that many computers later, these files live on (and who says hard drives crash?) on my computer, which suddenly seems like such a shame.

Microsoft Word, which I originally put these together with, of course now exports HTML (hideous, bloated html, but whatever, right?), which I was able to cobble together enough to get it into the most rudimentary of my templates.

I hope you’ll get a kick out of my younger self’s enthusiasm for Kaufman (of course today you can see a lot of the stuff I could only read about) and overlook the horrendeous design choices (more my fault then Word’s, a testament to getting over-the-top formatting stuff out of your system while you’re young) and probably copyright violations (I hope to add citations and links to this file at some point). I hope you enjoy it.

Posted: Tuesday September 1, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [2]