To Fuss is Human, To Rant, Divine!!

Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Russian Vampires

In the rather bland 1994 Alec Bladwin movie "The Shadow," the tagline and trailer kicker was "Who knows what evil lurks within the hearts of men?"

In contrast, one of the more interesting lines in the Russian film "Night Watch" is the concept that "it is easier to kill the Light within oneself, than to defeat the Darkness that surrounds us."

It's unfortunate that the movie itself is rather an incoherent jumble of mythologies and Hollywood special effects, because there would have been a good central premise around which one could build a Vampire Trilogy in there, somewhere.

"Night Watch" starts when a plain, unassuming man, Anton Gorodetsky, visit a witch in order to get his wife back - first by casting a spell to bring her back, and then by killing the illegitimate child she is carrying. Before the witch can finish the spell though, a trio of "Light" Vampires burst onto the scene and stop her. Anton witnesses all of it, and is shocked to discover that he too, is a vampire. For you see, everyone might be a Vampire, or an Other; it just take an act of will or a burst of adrenaline to trigger the change or the revelation. And then you have the choice to choose either the Light or the Dark. That's how the narrative appeared to go, at least.

The story then zooms forward twelve years, when Anton is working for the Light, stopping the Dark Others from preying upon humans. A dark prophecy, a Cursed Virgin, and some fights later, something resembling a civil war between Vampires is started anew.

I don't need to dwell on the story, because the filmmakers didn't really either. The conceit of the film, that Light Vampires protect the world from Dark Vampires, is made confusing by the moral ambivalence of both sides.

This would be a very compelling story if the filmmakers did not deluge the viewer with archetypal "Light" and "Dark" imagery, much of which comes from their Hollywood sources - X-Men, the Matrix, so on and so forth. The very tagline above, for example, locks the absolute "Good" and "Evil" sides into the viewer's mind, when the film's central message is anything but that distinct gradation of Good and Evil, Law and Chaos.

The film delivers the action extremely well, and often uses special effects to its advantage. The usage of subtitles is especially innovative. Just as often, however, the effects and narrative strategies stolen from the aforementioned movies detract from the rather brilliant social criticism that lies underneath the skin of the movie.

Just as Anton at one point sees a boy not as a boy, but as a series of blood vessels calling to him, calling to his desire to feed, there is quite an interesting premise dwelling under the glossy CGI effects of the movie.

Reading between the lines, it is evident that the Light Others, the ones who issue licenses, who spy on individuals, who run almost a police state, is a stand-in for Cold War Communism, or an Orwellian Big Brother. And the Dark Others, who are embodied by a twentysomething man who can come up with anything Anton needs, and a pop-singer, stand for materialism, counterculture, and primal drives.

The message, however, is not that one of the sides is better than the other, or that they are both, in fact, evil. No, the message is one that is buried within the vampire mythology itself, which is re-deployed in the society of post-Communist Russia.

The central image of the vampire feeding on the blood of the victim, in a primal satiation of both hunger and sexual desire, is a rather blatant attempt to locate that same urge in all humans - the id, if you will. At least, that is how our culture has developed the vampire mythology in the past century.

The message of "Nightwatch" is that rather than having a superego that prevents constant expression of the id, or a superego that balances the id, the "Light" or superego, is a subverted way to return to the id.

The Light Others can only feed on blood when they hunt Dark Others, and in all other times, they suppress this urge. This urge is satiated in the hunt, and the preparation for the hunt, and so the Light Others go so far as to provoke Dark Others into breaking the Truce.

The Dark Others, the materialists, the druggies, the pleasure-seekers, are directly tapped into the id, the self-centered desire, and they see it as a primary goal. But the Light Others are no better - after the Truce was forged between Dark and Light Others, they use the law, the social extension of the superego, to satisfy their own desires.

Rather than sublimate the pleasure principle to the reality principle, which in classical Freudian terms is what individuals do in order to function in society, the reality principle, or the Light Other in "Night Watch," is merely a path returning to the pleasure principle.

As a statement, I find it simply exhilirating that this, or a criticism of it, could be at the center of a silly vampire movie, and yet I see no other way of interpreting the movie. This then necessitates a re-reading of the tagline ""it is easier to kill the Light within oneself, than to defeat the Darkness that surrounds us."

What the heck that re-reading is exactly, is eluding me at the moment, but until I figure it out, or at least can whip something up that makes sense to me, here's the coolest video you'll ever see (click on WATCH).

Footnote: It's been about a year since I wrote anything about Freud, and I'm out of practice. Also, it's 1:00 AM and I have work in the morning.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Guest Commentators

There's some article floating around Yahoo! Sports about what might happen if the American Idol judges were in charge of figure skating.

Please. There's nothing revolutionary or even remotely entertaining in that concept.

I'll tell you how to get people to watch figure skating.

It is very true that the commentators for figure skating are sorely lacking; they don't have anything resembling good pace, opinions and information. They regularly spout inanities about some foreign skater's program and tell the entire life history of each American skater, neither of which is at all what the viewer at home wants to see.

What does the viewer want then? Well, in all seriousness, I like knowing what music they skate to. And whether the judges are allowed to dock a skater for choreographing her program around Madonna. No really. Someone skated to Madonna in her short program.

And after they announce the music selection, it needs at least some explanation. Even though I know why Torvill and Dean made Ravel's Bolero famous, the average viewer of the Olympics probably has no clue. It also has to be noted every hour that no Olympics is complete without at least five couples or individuals skating to Bizet's Carmen.

So a little context would be nice. Context beyond what the skater's parents did and where they are in the stands. Context beyond what jump they hit in the World Championship that they won't do at the Olympics. I haven't once heard a commentator explain the difference between a salchow, a flip, a toe loop and an axel. So what is the viewer going to know when the skater lands a triple-toe loop/double flip combination? Not a heck of a lot.

Last, none of the commentators are at all interesting. They like the American skaters for their moxie and their passion, and they still decry the Russian skaters for being to mechanical and non-artistic. Their opinions seldom have anything to do with the performance in front of the viewer.

My answer to these problems:

1) Don't use 4 commentators. It's too much noise and no one can speak for long enough to say anything significant. All you need are 2 commentators, one to supply background and technical information, and one to provide direct commentary. No major sport uses 4 commentators and there are several good reasons for that, primarily the fact that you have to pay all 4 of them.

2) The person who supplies technical information and background could theoretically be anyone who once skated, so obviously a big name is needed here. And for the regular layperson, the best skater to go with there is Brian Boitano. Kerrigan and Harding jokes aside, no other skater has been as immortalized in South Park as Boitano. I guarantee that ratings would skyrocket if Boitano was a commentator instead of Dick Button, even though Dick Button is an amusing name.

3) The person who supplies direct commentary of the program could also be anyone, but a celebrity would do best here. Someone who is used to giving short sound bytes, has a good, recognizable voice, and can express emotion from "that looked painful" to "is that move legal?" is all that is called for.

And the best person to hire for that job is evident to me.

Snoop Dogg.

He has a very recognizable voice, and he's been doing advertisements and promotions for a while. He knows about music, and he can tell the viewer whether the skater is staying with the music or not, which is not at all evident sometimes in these routines.

For the ice dancing competitions, he can talk about the skaters twizzles, which are required elements to the ice dancing program. As in "That frizzle twizzle fizzled, so their scizzles are going to drizzle."

And like the people who made "Dancing With the Stars" will tell you, the resident rapper will bring in a different demographic of viewers. Master P managed to stay on that show for something like 5 weeks, so it was evident that people were voting for him.

This is a serious post by the way. The figure skating commentary I've seen has almost been as bad as Joe Morgan talking baseball, and that's saying something. Heck, I think Joe Morgan could do better than the current cadre of commentators.

"I love how this pair plays small-ball, Snoop. They may not be as strong as other couples, but they do all the little things right."

So in conclusion, NBC should think seriously about looking into the whereabouts of Brian Boitano, and getting Snoop Dogg to drop whatever advertisements / Girls Gone Wild shoots he is working on, and get them into the figure skating soundbooth. It's what's best for the future of the sport.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ignorance IS Bliss

A lot has been made in the past couple of days of "ratings doping" by NBC, in which they make the ratings for the opening ceremony of the Olympics look nice, even if they were fairly mundane.

We've also all heard about Michelle Kwan pulling out, Bode Miller failing to get himself onto the podium, and all manner of touted US athletes underacheiving. Hedrick not being able to win 5 golds, Ohno stumbling, etc. etc. These incidents outnumber the few incidents when the US favorites pulled through (see - Flying Tomato).

What does this all mean? Did out athletes buckle under pressure?

Heck no.

All the marketing and promoting of these athletes, in addition to all the attempts to tout the ratings of the games, is just ruining our experience of the Olympics. More so than any of the sports we follow daily, rather than every four years or so, the athletes in the Olympics are anonymous. The nation loves to rally around heroes who rise from the masses. It's not quite as fun when we're told that these are the heroes of tomorrow before the games even start.

Why are Olympic ratings down? Are they even down? Should we even care about ratings?

Well, partially, I blame NBC for running all these taped broadcast when we know the winners 8 hours in advance of the telecast. But more so, I blame the media hype and the advertising blitz. When advertisments attach brands to athletes and sear their images into our minds, the surprise and spontaneity of watching them diminishes.

If every potential star is going to be advertised to death, what is the point of watching the Olympics? The reason to watch turns from watching anonymous individuals succeed to watching as existing expectations are (or aren't) fulfilled. There's no magic, no stunning surprises.

Some individuals point fingers at the end of the Cold War, since there's no big bad Soviet or East German specter looming over the games. But wasn't it just as important that no one at home had ever heard of the victors?

Take a contemporary example - the 2002 games. I remember these because I was in the hospital, actually the only time I've ever spent a night in a hospital. I had some ugly flu-like bug that that sent my temperature up to 104 and my blood pressure down to 90/50. Dick's House (Dartmouth's College Health Services) had told me the night before when I was feeling sick to take a Tylenol and rest. I dragged myself into Dick's House in the morning when I woke up and vaguely remembered rambling incoherently the night before.

I was in bed that night when I watched some random kid win gold in the women's figure skating program. The winner wasn't the Russian favorite, or the Chinese favorite, or even the U.S. favorite. Sarah Hughes wasn't even the second ranked U.S. skater, as Sasha Cohen (the one that's not Ali G) was.

And if you stop a person on the street, and ask them to remember an image from the 2002 Winter Games, I will bet money that if they can think of one, it will be Sarah Hughes winning the gold. No mention of whoever was on the cover of Time or SI the week before the games (who was it?)

And that's what the Olympics are about. It's about random athletes we've never heard of, competing in sports we've never cared about before, inspiring us and drawing our attention once every four years. Not Nike-promoted stars, or controversy-causing individuals who garner Time magazine covers.

Of course the marketing will happen, and you might get sick of hearing about our new heroes in the weeks after the Olympics. But the advertising is just distracting from the true fun of the Olympic games, which is watching those individuals in the first place.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Spam Spam Bacon Eggs and Spam

To use an already overused cliche, has Google jumped the shark?

I remember when Google was merely a good search engine, one which you used instead of Yahoo!, Excite!, Metaseek!, Ask Jeeves! et al (ok, they didn't all have exclamation points).

Then you add the Google image search function, which is either a great tool to use for pr0n searches or an instrument of mental destruction if you don't have the safe-search turned on, Google maps, which I admit are cool, Google Groups, Google Chat, Froogle, and Google News, and I start to wonder why it's all necessary.

Google Ads are either interesting, a nice source of minimal income if you have decent web-traffic, or a scam. I've heard reports that there are smaller websites (with albeit decent traffic) getting their accounts suspended for no reason. Attempts to contact Google have been met with what one might expect from Dell or Microsoft Customer Service (Customer Service not guaranteed).

And if you go to your Gmail today, and take a look at the interface, you now have Chats, as well as A News and Ads bar up top. I know that Google, as a publicly traded stock, needs to turn profits, but is that bar really necessary?

For one, I question its use in my Spam Inbox. Now, I find Google's Spam Filter pretty fair. It catches a lot of stuff.

But the ad bar? Well, since it takes the content of emails to determine the ads that appear, either I get pr0n, ED drugs, or SPAM RECIPES. Has no one else noticed this?

For instance, I go to my spam filter now, and see 8 pieces of spam mail and a recipe for Spam Fajitas. That's disgusting. I delete the spam? I still see a recipe for Creamy Spam Broccoli Casserole. I'm not kidding. I can't make this kind of stuff up.

You can even browse the various ads by way of a back-forward button on the toolbar. Clicking right reveals a cornucopia of spam recipes, including Ginger Spam Salad (serves 1, regfrigerate overnight), Spam Primavera (Toss with linguini, serve immediately), and French Fry Spam Casserole (Bake 30-40 minutes).

Clicking on the recipes brings you to, which looks like epicurious with no bells and whistles, or possibly Wikipedia (Recipe Edition).

I understand Google works a lot on the interface for its websites, and a lot of their stuff is good. Very user-friendly, especially with Mozilla plug-ins being more readily available now. But like all things, moderation is key. And I just think sponsored spam ads are a bit much. I would much rather they addressed issues with their ads before they installed an ad-bar in my gmail account (without telling me, I might add).

Friday, February 03, 2006


Three months since my last post? Not good. Someone should have thrown a brick at my head or something.

I'm not going to write anything too substantive; just a couple of thoughts.

Way back when, John used to tease Mike Hunter about the kind of music he would make - something to the effect that his stuff would come out sounding like Greensleeves. After all, Mike did like that song a lot.

I figured for a while that it wasn't that great of a thing to say, because after all, who wants their prog rock to sound like Greensleeves?

I think that when I started listening to Opeth, something made me think of that statement. But now I've found music that really, really makes me think about it.

Blackmore's Night is a band formed by Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple fame. The guy is an amazing guitarist, and since Deep Purple, he's done some pretty interesting stuff. But the best way to describe Blackmore's Night is that it's what might result if Jethro Tull found a time machine and went back to the 17th Century.

A lot of Baroque sounding tunes led by Blackmore's acousitic guitar, what I've heard of their music is both catchy and experimental.

Anyway, that's what's on my mind at the moment. I've been experimenting with Pandora (, and it has been recommending me some interesting stuff. For those of you that don't know about it, you input music that you like into Pandora, and it sets a kind of radio station up for you.

I'm fairly satisfied with what I have on my only station so far, although every once in a while, it recommends me Hootie and the Blowfish. Not cool. Other than that, I've been getting a lot of Gordon Lightfoot, Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris.... definitely music I approve of. Oh, and Blackmore's Night.