Sunday, July 31, 2005

D&D: Time to get going again

Well my summer's over and it's time to gear up for some project work. If you're in any of the unfinished scenes, or have unfinished interviews, in any of the following films, i'll be in touch soon . . .


The Extra Mile

Cold & Glass


Burning Soles

(p.s. Peter what's up with your hair? I've heard rumors!)

RIO: And speaking of Alums . . .

Check out Peter's Stanford bio here

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RIO: Chris Fleener

I've been trying to compile a Hall of Fame of Rio Vistans who've gone on to bigger and greater things (as denizens of the Vista Bubble already know). Anyway, tonight i came across a new addition -- Chris Fleener, who i had heard was turning pro as a skater, and has made it big. He was Aggressive Skaters Association Rookie of the Year in 2001, was the featured skater in the video Noise, and was on the cover of Daily Bread Magazine in 2002. Chris' brother Robby is also a Vista alum.

Here's some links:

EXPN Sports Bio Bio

EXPN Video Clips of Chris in Competition -- phenomenal clips of his first pro comp

Scum Magazine Profile

Big Amateur Win article

LG ActionSports Profile

Noise Review

Chris's Connections Skate Shop

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REV: When music video was novel

I Screen, You Screen: The New Age of the Music Video
By JON CARAMANICA, July 31, 2005, The New York Times

IT'S hard to remember now, but there was a time when MTV was new - an upstart with barely enough clips to fill its airtime, using "I Want My MTV!" commercials to urge local providers to take notice. The viewing experience was unlike any before it: almost exclusively music videos, a strange new medium of three-minute units and an uncharted arena of artistic and commercial opportunities.

Back then, the venue and the content seemed so perfectly suited that it was hard to imagine one without the other. Watching the network was like being witness to some media-age wedding. And together, the new medium and the new genre rewrote the rules of both visual culture and music marketing.

But as with all marriages, the partners grew. And in this case, they grew apart. Despite MTV's continued nod to the form it popularized - last week, with typical fanfare, the network announced its latest round of video award nominations - the video and MTV have gone their separate ways. Even MTV2, the little-sister channel once devoted solely to videos, has begun a switch to original programming. But rather than shrivel away, videos have taken on an exciting if uncertain life of their own, far away from the mother ship that launched them. They thrive at online music sites, they're sold in record stores, they connect strangers across the Internet. And just this month, speculation was rampant that they might soon be coming to iPods, the hand-held devices that are obsessing an increasingly large segment of the population.

But as the circumstances in which they are viewed change, so has their function. Once viewed as major cultural events (the debut of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video was a moment not soon forgotten by those who witnessed it), they are now just another part of the crowded, colorful, noisy background of contemporary life. And once regarded as merely promotional tools, they are now expected, in many cases, to return a profit in their own right. For a music industry that has gone through lurching crises in the past few years, as well as for viewers and fans, the proliferation of videos on all kinds of new screens may be one of the quietest changes, but also one of the most profound.

Back when videos lived on MTV, labels viewed them - as cool as they were - as an afterthought. They were made to promote the music, and the bands that recorded it. Labels provided clips, MTV played them, and if it all worked as planned the result was greater record sales. Quickly, a generation of musicians learned the importance of visual marketing. Prince, Michael Jackson, Run-D.M.C., Duran Duran and Madonna all invented and reinvented themselves through video.

But as much as videos could make bands into stars, videos could become stars themselves. Their striking, elaborately staged tableaus frequently overshadowed the throwaway songs they accompanied, and some directors even eclipsed the musicians they were hired to showcase.
By the 90's, "Spike Jonze and his peers were contributing to the culture in as meaningful a way as any of the artists they were working for," says Richard Brown, the producer of the Directors Label DVD series, which anthologizes the work of leading video directors. "The paradigm shifted to the director being the artist."

MTV had become a media giant, record companies were getting revenues, bands were getting exposure, directors were getting respect - even the crew members were coming up in the world. "I once had a makeup person send a list of airplanes they refused to fly on, the type of rental car that had to be available and the acceptable size of their hotel room," says Nigel Dick, who has directed clips for Guns N' Roses and Britney Spears, among others.

The only party having second thoughts about the arrangement was MTV itself. While the company enjoyed low programming costs, it found that people watched videos the way they listened to radio, tuning in and out. For advertisers, there was no guarantee viewers would stick around to watch what was on the other side of the commercial break, still less the commercials themselves. So beginning in the late 80's, with shows like "Remote Control" and later "Beavis and Butt-head," MTV changed its focus. It switched to an amalgam of programming built around music but also including reality television, scripted series, interview programs, Top 10 shows and the like. Videos were still a part of the mix, but a much smaller part.

"Early on in MTV's life cycle, the novelty of video wore off," says Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks Music Group. "We had to evolve with our audience and develop beyond a radio model."

Even the best directors - or makeup artists - couldn't guarantee airtime. Too many videos were now competing for too little MTV exposure. So like apartment seekers squeezed out of the crowded Manhattan housing market, they spread to outlying venues. The video is now one of the only forms of media that truly extend to all screens and devices: while viewers can still watch Kenny Chesney videos on CMT's weekly countdown, they also watch them on DVD's, cellphones and, most overwhelmingly, the Internet - which graciously picked up MTV's role as video host as the network was dropping it.

Videos are extraordinarily well suited to the Internet, because they're short enough to be easily downloaded, and they sound good enough to make up for imperfect visual quality. Services like Yahoo Music and AOL Music allow people to watch videos on demand - choosing what they want to see rather than what a programming executive has lined up. Videos, both current hits and catalog selections, are offered free; typically, the user has to watch a short advertisement before the video will play. The advertising revenue helps cover licensing fees the services have to pay the labels for each video streamed.

"You don't have choice and control on a network," says Bill Wilson, AOL's senior vice president for programming.

Online social networking, especially the kind dominated by teenagers, has been remarkably fertile turf for music marketing. The community site features home pages for more than 350,000 bands, from indie acts to platinum artists like Nine Inch Nails and Black Eyed Peas. MySpace allows users to become "friends" with bands, communicating directly with them (or whomever they hire to answer e-mail) and sharing video and audio clips with other users. For MySpace users, the music content is a draw, giving them something to talk about online. And for labels, MySpace is a marvelously efficient, remarkably cheap and not terribly invasive means of spreading buzz.

Two months ago, MySpace began offering streaming video. Immediately, record labels began using the site for video debuts, including clips from Death Cab for Cutie and the Dears. Chris DeWolfe, MySpace's chief executive, says the new model is superior to MTV's old one.

"Homogenized playlists leave an unfulfilled need," Mr. DeWolfe says. "With community features, users can share video playlists with each other. The word of mouth happens naturally."

AOL Music includes similar features on its weekly video countdown show. Currently, users can post messages that will appear on screen alongside the video of their choice. Later this year, according to Mr. Wilson of AOL, they'll be able to post their own video messages as well. "Online, you can superserve the audience," he says.

The audience clearly appreciates the service. Visitors to the Yahoo site watch more than 350 million videos per month. In the last week of May, AOL Music had an audience of 12.2 million, according to Nielsen/Net Ratings, and Yahoo Music was close behind with 11.3 million. Though the figures aren't directly comparable, in the same time period, "Total Request Live," MTV's flagship countdown show, drew a daily average of 662,000 households, and "106 & Park," BET's countdown show, captures 605,000, according to Nielsen Media Research. Says David Saslow, who is in charge of video promotion at Interscope Records, "If we have a No. 1 video at Yahoo, that's as important as having a No. 1 video on a network."

Dave Goldberg, general manager of Yahoo! Music, adds, "Not counting porn, music video is clearly the most popular video content online."

Online advertisers like it, too: they know their audience has actively requested the content they're pairing with their ads, as opposed to the more static and passive consumption model on television. As Ben Davis, a partner in Blastro, a video site focused on independent music, says, "TV dollars are coming into the online video space, especially now that studies show that the retention numbers with online video ads are very good."

As the outlets for videos have changed, so have the videos themselves. When the music industry's sales contracted over the past few years, budgets plummeted, and labels hesitated to commission expensive videos. But at the same time, music videos have become far cheaper to produce: directors' fees have dropped to mid-80's levels, and digital filmmaking has cut tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars from production budgets. The major labels spend less than they used to, and indie bands often hire aspiring filmmakers to make them videos for less than the price of a car. Says Craig Kallman, president of Atlantic Records, "The ability to make impactful videos cost-efficiently has never been more crucial."

But as cheap videos and the platforms on which to watch them have proliferated, and they ways in which viewers watch them have grown ever more individualized, the videos themselves have lost some drama. "Once a video was out on MTV, everyone would see it. It was like a big event," recalls Stephane Sednaoui, who has directed videos for Bjork and Alanis Morissette. "There was a lot of excitement. That is gone now."

Says Mr. Toffler of MTV: "I believe that MTV as it was would not thrive today. It was perfect and specifically relevant to the time."

THE next great frontier - or tiny frontier, depending on how you look at it - for video could reverse that trend. Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple had met with major record labels to discuss selling videos through Itunes, its online music store, fueling speculation that the introduction of a video iPod was imminent. Apple is officially keeping mum, some hints of a future strategy may already be visible. At the iTunes site, recent albums by the Backstreet Boys, the Go-Betweens and the White Stripes were packaged with bonus videos, which can be downloaded to a computer. And even if the iPod rumors are unfounded, Sony's PlayStation Portable has already made hand-held video watching a possibility.

Bringing music videos to hand-held devices would join two of the most profound innovations in pop music in recent decades. But more than that, it would speed the music video's transformation into a consumer product unto itself. Which might take videos from an expensive afterthought (and in some cases an expensive indulgence) to a basic part of the business model - something artists are simply required to produce, an essential part of the life of a pop song.

REV: Reel Paradise

A Cinema So Indie It's 5,000 Miles Away
By DAVID HOCHMAN, LOS ANGELES, July 31, 2005, The New York Times

IF the actor Rob Schneider ever shows up in the jungles of Taveuni, Fiji, he will undoubtedly be hailed as a Polynesian god. "Our audience went absolutely nuts for 'The Hot Chick,' " said John Pierson, a major player in the American independent film scene who spent a year showing harebrained comedies and other escapist fare free at a ramshackle island theater roughly 5,000 miles from Hollywood.

Out there among the spiky coconut palms, untouched by studio test marketers or Happy Meal tie-ins, all the usual conjectures about box office patterns were like orchid petals to the wind. At Mr. Pierson's 288-seat 180 Meridian Cinema, films by Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese drew giant yawns while the Three Stooges and anything featuring 007 or a grown man in a dress, à la Mr. Schneider, had moviegoers howling with delight.

As Mr. Pierson, an early supporter of filmmakers like Spike Lee, Michael Moore and Kevin Smith, said over lunch here recently, "If this crowd liked a film like, say, 'Jackass' or 'Bend It Like Beckham,' the reaction was so raw and vocal, it bordered on hysteria."

The far-flung adventure of the Pierson clan - John was joined by his wife and business partner, Janet, and their teenagers, Georgia and Wyatt, on a yearlong sabbatical from life in Garrison, N.Y. - is the subject of a documentary, "Reel Paradise," opening Aug. 17 in New York and Los Angeles. Directed by Steve James, best known as the director of the 1994 documentary "Hoop Dreams," this new film chronicles the final month of an experiment in cross-cultural pollination, cinema diplomacy and family displacement.

Taveuni is a fragrant agricultural island of roughly 12,000 inhabitants, but Shangri-La it's not. As Dad, lanky and opinionated, battles dengue fever during a 10-movie marathon, Mom copes with break-ins at the family compound while their offspring, who have become celebrities at the island schools, are out learning Fijian swear words and getting hickeys. Picture the Osbournes in an episode of "Survivor" produced by the Sundance Channel.

"The last thing I wanted was to make a vanity piece about how wonderful it was going to the South Pacific and showing free movies," said Mr. James, who was given no direction by Mr. Pierson other than to capture the earsplitting reactions inside the theater.

It was that wild enthusiasm that drew Mr. Pierson to Fiji in the first place. In 2000, feeling a bit weary of the indie film world, he went searching for the most remote theater imaginable to feature on "Split Screen," his show about independent films for the Independent Film Channel. When he first journeyed to Taveuni, near the international date line, Mr. Pierson watched an audience go gaga over a 1941 Three Stooges short, "Some More of Samoa," a politically incorrect lampoon of island culture (the natives try to boil Curly for dinner). Reminded of how magical movies can be, Mr. Pierson said he had to lease the theater for an extended run. All he needed was financial backing from the now well-heeled moviemakers he had helped in the past.

"When John told me about his crazy idea, I thought, 'Great, I'll give you money,' " said Mr. Smith, who said he was indebted to Mr. Pierson for selling his first feature, "Clerks," to Miramax. "But I told him, 'Don't expect to see me there with all those bugs and dirt roads.' "

That a movie theater exists at all on an island with one semi-paved road and no public electricity is a story in itself. Opened in 1954 by an Indian entrepreneur (the "Fitzcarraldo of Fiji," Mr. Pierson called him), the Meridian, with its crude frescoes of Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny and windows open to the trade winds, screened Bollywood musicals and outdated American blockbusters to the handful of Taveunians who could afford admission (the average wage is $20 a month). When the Piersons moved to the island in 2002 with a $100,000 operating budget, with three-quarters financed by backers like Mr. Smith, the Meridian had been closed for almost a year.

As "Reel Paradise" makes clear, showing free movies was merely a gateway to a larger experience for the Piersons and those they encountered. The family, tranquil as a hurricane, did not exactly blend in. In the film, Georgia, 16, continually talks back to her mother, and acid-tongued Wyatt, 13, could hold his own against Harvey Weinstein ("How many people do you think stayed awake during 'Gangs of New York?' " he barks to his father. "About five."). Meanwhile, the local Catholic priests insist John's movies are bringing damnation to heaven on earth.

As for that last complaint, Mr. Pierson said that even bad films had a positive effect on island culture. "The same people who watch 'Bringing Down the House' and think it's a horrible racist movie owe it to themselves to watch it again with a black audience on an island in the South Pacific," he said. "Queen Latifah is a large black woman in a white man's world running the show, and whether they could articulate that didn't matter. The cheers in the audience told you how it made them feel."

As Mr. James put it, "It was like that 'Sullivan's Travels' moment where you realize for people whose lives are full of hardship - economic and otherwise - the movies offer a chance to be scared or thrilled or to laugh for a couple hours."

Not to mention, to let the imagination run wild. "We were showing 'Die Another Day,' the last James Bond film, and there's an invisible car sequence," Mr. Pierson said, still beaming from the experience even though it's been two years since he returned and the Meridian has been closed all that time. "The kids didn't ask, 'Do you actually have invisible cars in America?' Their big question was 'How do you keep other people from hitting you?' "

ENV: Speaking of Ivory-bills

Got this request from Bob Chapman and the folks issuing conservation stamps:

I got a big favor to ask you. We have developed a web site just for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Conservation Stamp & Print Program. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Nature Conservancy, The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, The Arkansas Game & Fish Foundation, The U.S. Department of the Interior, The Smithsonian, The Audubon Society, The World Wildlife Fund, The Four Man Search Team (Sparling, Gallagher, Luneau, Harrison) that found the bird are just a few organizations that are involved in this project. We need your help too! The Ivory-billed Woodpecker Conservation Stamps and Prints are scheduled to be released Sept.1, 2005.

Click to see the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Conservation Print!

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Saturday, July 30, 2005

REV: Blue Fifth

The Summer Issue of Sam Rasnake's perpetually fantastic ezine Blue Fifth Review is out and you can find it here.

COM: A fair appraisal of John Roberts

Court Nominee Stood Out for Conservative Rigor
ADAM LIPTAK and TODD S. PURDUM, July 31, 2005, The New York Times

They are not exactly father and son, but they share a singular bond in an elite business: 25 years ago this summer, almost exactly half his lifetime ago, John G. Roberts went to work for William H. Rehnquist, and now he stands poised to become the first Supreme Court clerk in American history to sit on the bench alongside the justice he served.

His 13 months in the chambers of Justice Rehnquist spanned the period of the 1980 election and the dawn of the Reagan revolution in Washington. It was a heady time of relentless work, long walks on Capitol Hill discussing cases informally with the justice and sharp-elbowed basketball games in the Supreme Court gym, wryly referred to as the "highest court in the land."

It was a time when the Supreme Court was far different, more liberal, and that made John Roberts stand out among the other clerks.

"John's conservatism was in fact a sign of intellectual courage, coming out of Harvard and being surrounded by law clerks from mainly liberal, East Coast, Ivy institutions," said John A. Siliciano, a law professor at Cornell who clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall at the same time.

His was "a very solid, rigorous, coherent view of very important social questions," Professor Siliciano said, "about the relations between courts and legislatures, about the relationship between the federal government and the state, between the public sphere and the private."

Fifteen of the 32 Supreme Court clerks in the 1980-81 term agreed to be interviewed about Mr. Roberts, including both of his fellow Rehnquist clerks. They offered a revealing portrait of an affable, ambitious and frankly conservative intellectual, much like his boss.

"John certainly was in sync with his justice," said Paul M. Smith, who clerked for Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. and is now a lawyer in Washington who frequently appears before the Supreme Court.

At the most recent reunion of former Rehnquist clerks earlier this summer, Judge Roberts and several other former clerks played the chief justice in a humorous skit depicting various stages of his career, beginning with those long, Nixon-era sideburns and culminating in a white-haired man with a cane.

Mr. Roberts's clerkship was bookended by two shocks to the Supreme Court's system. The first was the publication in December 1979 of "The Brethren," an exposé of the court's inner workings by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong. The book relied heavily on indiscreet accounts by law clerks who had served in earlier years, which made the justices more cautious, several former clerks said.

When Mr. Roberts left a year later, the court was anticipating the arrival of Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female justice and the one Judge Roberts may now replace. The justices voted to drop the traditional reference to "Mr. Justice" in 1980.

But as far as Supreme Court terms go, Mr. Roberts served during a relatively routine one that included important cases on the First Amendment, federalism and sex discrimination, and ended with a notable affirmation of executive power.

At the time, Justice Rehnquist and Chief Justice Warren E. Burger represented the court's conservative wing. Justice Rehnquist, though, had begun to emerge as one of the court's intellectual leaders, intent on methodically moving his colleagues to the right. His influence grew when he became chief justice six years later.

Sprinkled through the arc of Judge Roberts's career, glimmers of Justice Rehnquist's influence can be detected, in memorandums the young clerk wrote at the time to decisions Judge Roberts, 50, has issued during his two years on the federal appeals court in Washington.

On the last day of the term in 1981, for instance, Justice Rehnquist wrote for a unanimous court to say that Presidents Carter and Reagan had the legal authority to nullify court orders and suspend private lawsuits as part of the agreement with Iran that ended the hostage crisis there. The decision, Dames & Moore v. Regan, took an exceptionally deferential view of executive power.

Judge Roberts cited the decision last year in an opinion accepting the Bush administration's position that it could block claims against Iraq from American soldiers who had been tortured there during the Persian Gulf war.

Few if any of the memorandums found so far from Mr. Roberts's clerkship shed much light on his political leanings. They are, if anything, concise and reliant on procedural points. They do, however, bear the dry wit that so many have cited in describing Mr. Roberts's writings and personality.

Most justices hired clerks who shared their views. But the Rehnquist clerks did not wear their politics on their sleeves, said Robert B. Knauss, a Los Angeles lawyer who also clerked for the justice that year.

"Frankly, the people that did were the liberal clerks, who were more out there, more aggressive, more, frankly, intolerant," Mr. Knauss said. "There were a few that were pretty aggressive that would try to come into the chambers and lobby you."

A Supreme Court clerkship is the ultimate legal status symbol, reserved for students of stunning intellectual horsepower. Almost all of the clerks who served with Mr. Roberts came from elite law schools - seven from Yale, five, including Mr. Roberts, from Harvard - and from prestigious lower-court clerkships.

And many would go on to enormous professional success, particularly in the academy. John E. Sexton, a clerk for Chief Justice Burger, is president of New York University. Michael W. McConnell, a clerk for Justice William J. Brennan Jr., was a noted law professor before he was appointed to the federal appeals court in Denver in 2002. Stephen L. Carter, a clerk for Justice Marshall, is now a law professor at Yale and a best-selling author.

But even in that group, Mr. Roberts stood out.

There were, Professor Siliciano said, two clerks he thought at the time might well end up on the Supreme Court. One was Mr. Carter, and the other was Mr. Roberts.

Only four former Supreme Court clerks have returned as justices: Byron R. White, who clerked for Fred M. Vinson; John Paul Stevens, who clerked for Wiley B. Rutledge; Stephen G. Breyer, who clerked for Arthur J. Goldberg; and Justice Rehnquist himself, who clerked for Robert H. Jackson.

The atmosphere in Justice Rehnquist's chambers was cozy and informal, but it was clear who ran the show, said Dean C. Colson, a Florida lawyer who was the third Rehnquist clerk in Mr. Roberts's year.

"This is a guy you didn't get anything by," Mr. Colson said of Justice Rehnquist. Referring to him by his current title, he added: "The chief would say: 'Here's the way I want to go. Here's the way I want it outlined. Here's the way I want it written.' And then he'd edit heavily."

The three clerks shared a small room with three desks, and the close quarters added to the intensity of the experience, Mr. Colson said. The justices worked harder in those days, deciding 138 cases on the merits in that term. In more recent years, the court has decided about 80 cases.

After Justice Rehnquist read the briefs in a case, he would poke his head into the clerks' office, Mr. Knauss recalled.

"He would point to one of us," Mr. Knauss said, "and say, 'I'd like to talk about such and such a case,' and we would go walking in the neighborhood and walk and talk about the case that would be argued in the next few days."

Clerks for other justices said they appreciated the wry humor than emanated from the Rehnquist clerks.

"I had the impression," said Robert Weisberg, a Stanford law professor who clerked for Justice Potter Stewart, "that they, with the permission and even encouragement of their boss, were prone to take a somewhat sardonic view of Chief Justice Burger's operation, which was pretty absurdly regal."

Justice Rehnquist let the clerks decide who would handle which case. They used a system similar to the NFL draft, but with a twist. The clerks could use a vote to claim a case or to reject one, all before knowing whether Justice Rehnquist would be assigned to write the majority opinion or decide to write a concurrence or dissent.

A clerk who did not vote carefully, Mr. Colson said, "could get stuck with a lot of tax cases."
Mr. Knauss and Mr. Colson declined to discuss the substance of the opinions Justice Rehnquist wrote that year or to say which clerks helped draft which decisions.

Much of the clerks' work consisted of summarizing the thousands of requests that the court receives each year to hear particular cases, known as petitions for writs of certiorari, or cert. petitions. In those days, five justices, including Justice Rehnquist, were part of a "cert. pool," meaning that a single clerk would write a "pool memo" for each case for all five justices. Other justices preferred to have their own clerks review every petition.

Mr. Colson estimated that each clerk in the pool produced 7 to 10 memorandums a week.

The memorandums Mr. Roberts wrote are in Justice Blackmun's papers at the Library of Congress, which were made public in 2004. They generally concern mundane topics, and he almost always concluded that the cases were unworthy of the court's attention.

But Mr. Roberts's memorandums stand out as terse, lucid and even elegant.

All through the fall of 1980, Mr. Roberts plowed through a huge range of cases, from an Osage Indian income tax dispute, to a complex cattle transaction, to a claim that a faulty search warrant had led to a cocaine conviction, to the validity of a lien for payment of repair of an aircraft propeller for a bankrupt airline, to the question of whether a hunting and fishing lodge owned by a foundry and used for entertaining customers was tax deductible. None of the cases made it to the court.

Some of the memorandums contain faint flashes of the sarcastic humor that Mr. Roberts would employ in internal communications in later years as a government lawyer. One of the "more modest claims" in a petition from the Christian-Bull Moose-Fighting Tiger Party, he wrote, "is that all the election laws of all the states are unconstitutional."

Twenty-five years after the clerkships ended, the memories that remain most distinct for many of Mr. Roberts's co-clerks involve basketball.

The Rehnquist clerks were a force to be reckoned with "on that horrific cement court above the library," recalled James J. Brudney, a law professor at Ohio State who clerked for Justice Blackmun. But Mr. Roberts brought more enthusiasm than skill to the game.

"He played an aggressive style of basketball that left other co-clerks with the bruises to show for it," Mr. Knauss said of Mr. Roberts.

Professor Brudney recalled that Mr. Colson was the best athlete in the group and so was not shy about shouting commands. When one of Mr. Roberts's shots went awry one afternoon, Professor Brudney said, "Dean Colson screamed 'way off!' to tell people where to position themselves."

That did not sit well with Mr. Roberts.

"You heard this somewhat meek but still assertive voice," Professor Brudney said, recalling Mr. Roberts's words: " 'Just "off" would have been sufficient.' "

RIO: Thanks guys

The Finest People in the Whole World
Thanks guys for being who you are . . .

REV: 40 Days and 40 Nights

WARNING -- Biospoilers

40 Days and 40 Nights

Two quick notes on this flick: First there is a computer-degenerated bird voice near the end of the film that is incredibly familiar, but something about the context and/or the way in which it has been manipulated leaves it hanging on the end of my tongue. The species may or may not be out of context, but (with a nod to recently departed Robert Moog) whatever species it is is not known for carrying a synthesizer around with it. The second instance, and one for which the dear audience-member may make their own decision about whether authenticity is necessary, occurs in a hallucination as Josh Hartnett's character is gliding over a field of mammary glands and encounters a flock of geese -- which quack like ducks (a familiar film failing).

REV: Jim Jarmusch on filmmaking

The Last of the Indies
By LYNN HIRSCHBERG, July 31, 2005, The New York Times

Although he bristles at the title -- his expression hardens, and his face starts to resemble a cloudy day with thunder threatening -- Jim Jarmusch is the last major truly independent film director in America. This is not a statement about his sensibility, although it is true that his minimalist cinematic style and his ability to deftly cross-pollinate pop culture, Eastern philosophy and classic movie genres have made him a unique presence in film for the past 20 years. While other directors may be hailed for their originality and independent point of view, Jarmusch, unlike Quentin Tarantino or pretty much any other auteur, has never made a film under a studio's watch. Ever since his debut feature, ''Stranger Than Paradise,'' in 1984, which cost $150,000, grossed $2.5 million in North America, won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and permanently upended the idea of independent film as an intrinsically inaccessible avant-garde form, he has owned and controlled all of his movies.

Nearly always, if a filmmaker's first, independent effort meets with either box-office or critical success (or both), he will be seduced into the studio system, where financing is provided in exchange for some measure of creative freedom. But despite Jarmusch's early star-is-born success and many offers from Hollywood, he has remained stubbornly distanced from the studios and their deep pockets.

His films, with their immediately recognizable idiosyncracies, testify to his independence. In 1986, he followed ''Stranger Than Paradise'' with ''Down by Law,'' the story of two deadbeats in New Orleans who are joined in jail by an eccentric Italian, played by Roberto Benigni, who plans their escape. Like all Jarmusch films, ''Down by Law'' combined cool, apathetic hipsters with flashes of poetry and wisdom. (For instance, Benigni's character quotes Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, but in Italian.) In 1989, Jarmusch set his protagonists in a seedy hotel in Memphis for ''Mystery Train,'' a film with three related stories, all influenced by Elvis Presley. In what has become his custom, Jarmusch cast musicians in key roles -- Joe Strummer, the lead singer of the Clash, starred in ''Mystery Train,'' just as Tom Waits and John Lurie did in ''Down by Law.'' Benigni resurfaced in 1992 in ''Night on Earth,'' which featured five separate narratives, each set in a different city, all centering on the relationship between cabdrivers and their passengers. ''Dead Man,'' a psychedelic western, was released in 1996, and ''Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai,'' which starred Forest Whitaker as a conflicted hit man who lives by an ancient Japanese-warrior code, came out in 2000, with music by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. ''Ghost Dog'' was chiefly about the blurring of belief systems, cultural lines and ethnicities -- a common theme in Jarmusch's films. Like the bebop music he loves, his movies begin with a familiar melody and then adapt that tune into something else, something new.

''Broken Flowers,'' which opens later this week, represents something of a departure. The movie stars Bill Murray as a man on a road trip, searching for the mother of a son he may have fathered. Like the rest of Jarmusch's work, ''Broken Flowers'' is a kind of foreign film set in America. It seems less concerned with results than with the in-between moments of life: the journey rather than the destination. Throughout his career, Jarmusch, like Jean-Luc Godard, has had a sentimental attachment to a certain American male archetype. He has updated the iconic loner movie guys -- the gangster, the cowboy, the gambler -- by making them modern and deadpan and curious. ''Broken Flowers'' expands that focus, moving beyond hipster cool to something more like maturity, but the film still maintains Jarmusch's outsider stance: it is stripped down, closely observed, with an almost dreamlike aura.

''I know,'' Jarmusch moaned during a recent meeting with me in Manhattan. ''It's all so . . . independent. I'm so sick of that word. I reach for my revolver when I hear the word 'quirky.' Or 'edgy.' Those words are now becoming labels that are slapped on products to sell them. Anyone who makes a film that is the film they want to make, and it is not defined by marketing analysis or a commercial enterprise, is independent. My movies are kind of made by hand. They're not polished -- they're sort of built in the garage. It's more like being an artisan in some way.''

Jarmusch took a sip of hot green tea. It was a humid summer day, and he sat outside under an umbrella at B Bar, down the street from the office of his company, Exoskeleton, on the Bowery. Jarmusch was dressed completely in black, and a pin on his shirt pocket read ''Indian Country,'' a nod to his fondness for Native American culture. At 52, he has a face that is soft and unlined, which contrasts with his trademark, a sweeping pompadour of startling gray hair. ''The key, I think, to Jim, is that he went gray when he was 15,'' Waits, Jarmusch's close friend, would later say to me. ''As a result, he always felt like an immigrant in the teenage world. He's been an immigrant -- a benign, fascinated foreigner -- ever since. And all his films are about that.''

More than anything, Jarmusch is a sort of focused amateur enthusiast. ''I consider myself a dilettante in a positive way, and I always have,'' he said. ''That affects my sense of filmmaking.'' His passions, which reflect his resolute disinterest in the conventional, include the study of mushrooms (''I almost died after eating wild mushrooms''); bird-watching (''In 12 years, I've identified about 80 birds in my yard in my home in the Catskills''); the authorship of Shakespeare's plays (''I think it was Christopher Marlowe''); the history of cinema (''Some mornings I'll wake up and say, 'There's an Ophuls film I haven't seen, and I need to see it today'''); and, most of all, music. He wrote ''Broken Flowers'' while listening to recordings from the early 70's by Mulatu Astatke, an Ethiopian jazz-funk artist (whose music ended up in the film), and is currently enthralled by a duo called Coco Rosie, who, as he described them, ''sound like two little Billie Holidays an octave higher if you were on acid in Tokyo in 1926.'' ''I think I was supposed to be a musician,'' he said. To him, movies should aspire to the immediate sway of music. ''I want to capture the temperature, the texture, the atmosphere you can inhale just by listening to a three-and-a-half-minute song.''

After Jarmusch moved to New York in the 70's to attend Columbia, he formed a band called the Del-Byzanteens, and he lived in the East Village, the same neighborhood he lives in now. The punk and new-wave scene in Lower Manhattan at the time not only introduced bands like the Ramones and the Talking Heads but also gave rise to a group of enterprising filmmakers, like Amos Poe, whose 1978 movie ''The Foreigner'' (in which Debbie Harry played a prostitute) influenced Jarmusch. ''I feel so lucky,'' Jarmusch said. ''During the late 70's in New York, anything seemed possible. You could make a movie or a record and work part time, and you could find an apartment for 160 bucks a month. And the conversations were about ideas. No one was talking about money. It was pretty amazing. But looking back is dangerous. I don't like nostalgia.'' He smiled. ''But, still, damn, it was fun. I'm glad I was there.''

In most of the important ways, he is still there. In the last 30 years, New York may have changed, but Jarmusch has stuck to his original ethos. ''I prefer to be subcultural rather than mass-cultural,'' he explained. ''I'm not interested in hitting the vein of the mainstream.''
And yet ''Broken Flowers'' is, by far, his most mainstream film. By casting Murray, who is in virtually every scene of the movie, Jarmusch has given audiences a more traditional leading man rather than his usual downtown habitue. Immediately, the movie seems adult, grown-up. The subtleties of Murray's beautiful performance -- his ability to move seamlessly from comedy to drama, his sense of stillness when faced with an absurd situation, his distinct out-of-time Americanness -- fit perfectly into Jarmusch's playfully moody world. But the story line of ''Broken Flowers'' -- a man visits his ex-girlfriends (who are played by Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy and Tilda Swinton) to discover which, if any, gave birth to his son -- is more conventional, and more emotionally direct, than Jarmusch's plots have ever been. '''Broken Flowers' is completely accessible,'' Bill Murray told me when I phoned him not long ago. ''A lot of people are going to see this film that have never seen one of Jim's films. It's going to touch all kinds of people. And I think that frightens Jim a little bit. When you're really independent, the fear is as much about losing your independence as having success.''

As we got ready to leave, Jarmusch shrugged off any talk of box-office popularity. ''Bill called and said, 'I'm glad I'm responsible for your crossing over,''' he recalled as he finished a cigarette. ''I called back and said: 'Yeah, I'm crossing over. So if you want to reach me, call my people, and maybe I'll get back to you.''' Jarmusch laughed, but the anxiety in his statement was clear: it may be difficult to remain an outsider -- an independent -- if the paying public applauds your efforts.

It was a rainy Wednesday night around 9 p.m., and Jarmusch, his hair glowing in the semidarkness, was staring intently at a naked girl on a video monitor. ''You don't want her skin too warm,'' Jarmusch said to John Dowdell, a post-production colorist who was sitting next to him in a studio on Leroy Street in Manhattan. Jarmusch was overseeing a transfer of ''Broken Flowers'' from film to video, tweaking the tones and shades in nearly every scene. ''It's so delicate,'' Jarmusch said, as the naked girl's skin was turned slightly pinker. ''If you go one way or the other, it has a different emotional effect on you.'' He stared a second. ''Now she's kind of glowing,'' he said. He tilted his head. ''Very Helmut Newton or Guy Bourdin.''

They moved on to the next frame. ''This is extremely time-consuming,'' Jarmusch said. ''We're getting close to giving the baby away, and I'm exhausted. I'm happiest when I'm shooting the movie. Filming is like sex. Writing the script is like seduction, then shooting is like sex because you're doing the movie with other people. Editing is like being pregnant, and then you give birth and they take your baby away.'' He took a swig of cranberry juice. ''After this process is done, I will watch the movie one more time with a paying audience that doesn't know I'm there, and then I will never see it again. I'm so sick of it.''

As Jarmusch's films go, ''Broken Flowers'' came together quickly. Although he likes to set his films in slightly mythic cities that he never visited (Memphis in ''Mystery Train,'' New Orleans in ''Down by Law''), he prefers to create characters with an actor he knows in mind. He wrote ''Down by Law'' thinking of Tom Waits, ''Dead Man'' was for Johnny Depp and John Lurie inspired ''Stranger Than Paradise.'' Four years ago, Jarmusch spoke with Murray when both were guests on a television show. ''Jim thought and talked about movies the way I think and talk about them,'' Murray recalls. ''It was like meeting a cousin I didn't know I had.''

That kind of empathetic connection with Jarmusch is common. From a distance, Jarmusch is taciturn and can seem forbidding, but he is actually a sort of muscular romantic. He is defined by oppositions: he loves pulp action films from Asia but dedicated ''Broken Flowers'' to the relatively obscure French film director Jean Eustache; he rides old English motorcycles and owns two El Caminos but is a devotee of pearls and sonnets. He is keenly aware of history, especially as it concerns certain actors. A few years ago, Jarmusch created the Sons of Lee Marvin, a secret society that counts as its members Jarmusch, Waits and Lurie. Waits designed fancy business cards for the group, whose members are united in having some physical resemblance to the late actor. ''I can't tell you too much about the Sons of Lee Marvin,'' Waits whispered to me when I asked about the group. ''But we all speak the same language.''

Jarmusch was similarly attuned to Murray. After meeting him, Jarmusch wrote a script called ''Three Moons in the Sky'' with a lead role for Murray. It was the story of a man with three separate wives and families. Murray loved the premise, and Jarmusch went to Cannes in 2002 to raise money for the production of the film.

Setting up a Jarmusch movie is a complicated process. Because he doesn't work within the studio system, each film has to be sold individually. He and his agent, Bart Walker of Creative Artists Agency (who also represents, among others, Sofia Coppola), meet with foreign distributors who have worked with Jarmusch before. Jarmusch has one especially difficult and costly requirement: unlike many other American directors, he strongly resists his films' being dubbed into other languages. ''Jim feels that an actor's voice is a part of who they are in the film,'' Walker explained to me. ''The integrity of his film changes when the actor's voice is changed.'' Jarmusch is also known to shoot his movies in black and white, which also alienates investors; television networks and movie-rental outlets like Blockbuster are chiefly interested in color films.

It helps that Jarmusch is a major star internationally. His movies are acclaimed overseas, and foreign distributors are always interested in hearing about his latest project. In Europe and Asia, filmgoers generally do not differentiate between independent and studio films, and the international film community does not view Jarmusch as some kind of alternative cult director. ''In America, independent film is treated like the minor leagues,'' Jarmusch said. ''And then you're supposed to try and try to get into the majors, which are the studios. That's never been my goal. And in Europe they understand that.''

After hearing Jarmusch describe the plot and cast of his new film (or reading the script if it's ready), foreign movie companies decide how much they are willing to pay for the distribution rights. This negotiation is a laborious process. But if all goes well, agreements are forged, and the contract is then taken to a bank, where a loan is secured, and the movie production can begin. This can take months. After Jarmusch finishes the film, he and Walker will then sell it to an American distributor. (For ''Broken Flowers,'' an American company, Focus Features, provided the financing and is handling worldwide distribution. This is a one-off relationship designed to accommodate Bill Murray's schedule, rather than a long-term creative marriage.)

With ''Three Moons,'' Jarmusch had already raised the money when he began to have qualms about his script. He decided he wanted to write another one instead. The new script, which became ''Broken Flowers,'' was completed in a speedy two and a half weeks. Jarmusch wrote as he always does: at his house in the Catskills, in longhand in unlined sketchbooks, with the scenes composed out of order. He lives upstate (and in the city) with his longtime girlfriend, the filmmaker Sara Driver, who has worked with him since the beginning of his career. His writing desk is in a small room and is surrounded by photographs of Joe Louis, Robert Mitchum, Geronimo, Buster Keaton and Jean Eustache, all tacked to the wall for inspiration. ''Jim's scripts are really like haikus,'' Waits says. ''The script is like a rough map that someone gives you to get to the store. He figures that since he wrote the part with you in mind, you're already the guy, so everything you do in the movie just seems to make sense.''

Murray may have first read the finished script for ''Broken Flowers'' only when filming began -- or he may have never read it at all. ''I can't recall him ever telling me what he thought of the script,'' Jarmusch told me matter-of-factly. At one point in pre-production, Jarmusch and Murray were having dinner, and halfway through the meal Murray left the table, presumably to make a phone call or have a cigarette. He never came back. ''That didn't bother me,'' Jarmusch recalled. ''All my friends are like that. They may disappear, but they always return.''

The first real film that Jarmusch remembers seeing was ''Thunder Road,'' starring Robert Mitchum. Jarmusch was about 6, and he watched it at a drive-in with his mother and older sister. Jarmusch has never seen the whole film again, but something about it stuck in his mind. ''I liked being there,'' he said over yet another cup of hot green tea, at a restaurant in TriBeCa. Although Jarmusch's most recent movie, in 2004, was a collection of 11 short films titled ''Coffee and Cigarettes,'' he has not drunk coffee in years. ''In 1986,'' he explained, ''I decided to stop all kinds of chemicals and drugs at once. I think it had to do with William Burroughs treating his body like an experiment. So, no alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, sugar, beef, coffee. I went insane. I don't remember what I did, but I was insane. When I came back, I never took drugs in the form of powders or pills again. I still don't drink coffee. I never ate meat again. I still smoke. It was an experiment -- it wasn't really for health. And it was interesting.''

When Jarmusch spoke about his past, it was often in the measured manner of a cultural anthropologist. Throughout his life, he has courted and cultivated influences and mentors, and though many of his mentors have now died, they seem to float around his brain like wise, stubborn, pontificating ghosts. ''I really miss Joe Strummer,'' he said. ''Even though he's dead, I still get advice from him. He's very good at telling you to stick to your guns. I have Nick Ray, Sam Fuller and Joe -- I have some great spirits when I need guidance. I hear William Burroughs a lot, too, but I don't really want to listen to his advice.''

Jarmusch grew up in Akron, Ohio, the middle of three children. ''Jim is from Ohio,'' Waits told me, as if it were more an explanation than a fact. ''It's very flat. You dream in very flat places. You learn to solve problems. Six presidents were born there. And Jim.'' Jarmusch's father worked for BF Goodrich, and his mother, before marrying and becoming a housewife, reviewed films for The Akron Beacon Journal. ''My maternal grandmother was amazingly inspiring to me,'' Jarmusch said. ''On my 16th birthday, my grandmother gave me the Moncrieff translation of Proust. She had a lot of activities: she traded Oriental rugs, she knew gypsies and got me interested in Native American culture. By the time I was 14, I discovered the Beats and rock 'n' roll, and I knew I wanted to get out of Akron. By 17, I was gone.''

He studied journalism briefly at Northwestern University and then transferred to Columbia, where he majored in literature. In 1977, he enrolled at N.Y.U.'s film school. In the third year of the program, he became a teaching assistant for Nicholas Ray, the director of ''Rebel Without a Cause.'' Ray, who was dying of cancer at the time, became hugely important to Jarmusch. ''Ray said, 'If you want to make a film, you can make a film,''' Jarmusch said. ''And that sense of possibility made all the difference. It also mirrored the feeling in New York then. Technical expertise was not as crucial as spirit: the punk scene was about expression over virtuosity. It was more important to be open to all influences.''

Ray died in 1979, and afterward the director Wim Wenders, who met Jarmusch while filming a documentary about Ray's last years, gave Jarmusch about 40 minutes' worth of unused black-and-white film stock he had left over from another movie -- a precious gift for a young filmmaker. Seizing the opportunity, Jarmusch used the film to make a 30-minute short, which eventually became the first third of ''Stranger Than Paradise.'' The final, complete film, which the critic Pauline Kael aptly titled a ''punk picaresque,'' has a cool, absurdist sensibility. There is no real plot -- just snippets of conversation between two buddies and a teenage girl from Budapest and a road trip to Cleveland -- but ''Stranger Than Paradise,'' with its irresistible evocation of the downtown spirit of the time, was one of those rare movies that change the culture. The film had a big-city release in the United States, played for one solid year in a theater in Paris and established a new breed of do-it-yourself filmmaking. '''Stranger Than Paradise' made me feel that films could be made in a different way in America,'' Tilda Swinton, who met Jarmusch backstage at a concert by the rock band the Darkness, told me. ''Jim has a way of explaining America. He says, 'I'm an alien, but I'm also an American, and we'll experience this world together.' That's why he's become such a force in international film -- he explains America to aliens, while remaining an alien himself.''

After ''Stranger Than Paradise,'' Hollywood came calling. Eager to absorb his cinematic sensibility, the industry offered Jarmusch action movies, teen movies, movies about hipsters in New York clubs, movies with cocaine-dealing plot lines. He turned everything down. When it became clear that Jarmusch was not interested in signing a deal with any studio, Hollywood stopped offering him projects. He had cemented his reputation as a staunch outsider. ''My place is in the margins,'' he said. ''If I made a film that a lot of people liked, I might wonder what I did wrong.''

Truly independent filmmaking is risky, and the failures can be tremendously frustrating. When ''Dead Man,'' Jarmusch's most ambitious film, finished playing in competition at Cannes in 1995, the audience was virtually silent. The movie, which stars Johnny Depp as an accountant named William Blake (as an homage to the visionary, romantic poet of the same name), is a modernist twist on a classic film genre. Jarmusch loves to take his characters on a journey, and ''Dead Man'' is the western as road trip, with Depp gaining enlightenment through his exposure to Native American culture. Jarmusch persuaded Robert Mitchum, one of his heroes -- ''The only actor I ever found intimidating'' -- to play one of the film's villains. Jarmusch flew out to Mitchum's home in Santa Barbara, Calif., to woo him. They had lunch, and Mitchum said, ''I'll do your damn movie.'' This is typical Jarmusch: by casting Mitchum, he pushed the past into the present and aligned his western with Mitchum's classic persona. Although the film has oddball, comic moments, it is the only Jarmusch movie to directly ponder the subject of mortality. ''Life is very fragile,'' Jarmusch told reporters at the time, ''and 'Dead Man' is about that -- that life is fragile and cruel and that it's also beautiful and funny and emotional.''

Nearly all of Jarmusch's films had been warmly received in competition at Cannes, and ''Dead Man'' had momentum; there had been talk that it was going to be the best movie at the festival. But after the film was shown on the huge screen at the Palais, only a few people applauded. And then, in the vast, mostly quiet auditorium, a voice boomed down from the balcony. ''Jeem,'' a man yelled in a heavy French accent, ''it's [expletive].''

''Jim must have told me that story five times,'' Murray says. ''It's a good story, but it's also upsetting to hear and tells you a lot about how complicated this international film world can be.''

''Dead Man'' had been sold to Miramax before it was shown in Cannes. Excited by the marketing possibilities of Depp and Jarmusch and a new kind of western, Harvey Weinstein, the co-head of Miramax, bought the movie without even seeing it. But after Cannes, Miramax barely released the film. Jarmusch had struggled to make the movie for a budget of only $9 million (astonishingly small for a period film set on location in the American West), and he admits today that it was the most difficult film he has ever directed, but he will not break his Zen-like code and show any disappointment that ''Dead Man'' played in theaters for just a few weeks.

''I never expected Harvey to cross me over to a new audience,'' Jarmusch said. ''I just wanted a classy release, and Miramax kind of washed their hands of the movie.'' Jarmusch paused. ''But it was a great relief to not have another urban film in theaters. At least the press couldn't hang all that on me again. No more aging-punk-rock-indie-downtown-urban. Oh, please -- I'm going to make a western in black and white.''

Jarmusch laughed. If he was ever enraged over ''Dead Man,'' his anger had dissipated. He listens to his mentor-ghosts, who tell him not to dwell on the past but to concentrate, instead, on the work. ''Blake said, 'The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn from the crow,''' Jarmusch recited, as if this explained the heartache of a good movie going unseen. He stared a second. ''I'd like to own a crow,'' he said. ''I think that would be an excellent pet.''

At Cannes in May, before the screening of ''Broken Flowers,'' Jarmusch expected the worst. As he later told me, ''It's easier that way.'' Murray, who was also there, attending Cannes for the first time with a film in competition, said, ''Unlike Jim, I always prefer that people actually see the movie.'' Jarmusch praised Murray's performance: ''Nick Ray said: 'Acting is like piano playing. The dialogue is just the left hand; the melody is in the eyes.' And that would apply to Bill in this movie.'' Before the screening, Murray zipped around La Croisette on a moped, picking up passengers, and gave interviews about searching for his own ex-girlfriends, as his character does in the movie. ''I usually decide to try in the middle of the night in a strange town, and I don't recommend it,'' he said.

It rained on the night of the premiere at the Palais, and the weather nicely underscored the comic melancholy of ''Broken Flowers.'' By all accounts, the Cannes audiences loved the movie, which of course made Jarmusch uncomfortable. ''If something gets too good a response, I want to head for the hills,'' he said later. ''And not Beverly Hills. Popular success is not my area of expertise.''

Before he left the festival, Murray, who claims to be ''semi-psychic,'' turned to Jarmusch and said, enigmatically, ''I think second place is O.K.'' He was referring to the coming announcement of the Palme d'Or, the top prize at Cannes. Jarmusch doesn't really remember the moment, but two days later, ''Broken Flowers'' won the Grand Prix, the runner-up prize at the festival, just as Murray predicted. ''That was better for Jim,'' Murray said. ''He could win and not feel awkward. His victory was a bit off to the side. And he's happier there.''

Lynn Hirschberg, editor at large for the magazine, writes frequently about the movies.

Friday, July 29, 2005

ENV: Not-Really-a-Cat-Friday

Yep, it's time for the Friday Ark at The Modulator. This week the kids found a hatchling DeKay's or Texas Brown Snake, Storeria dekayi texana. The thing was all of three inches long but the little booger packed a strike -- you can see here that it was defensive during the entire encounter. The goofy looking spot between its head and body is a drop of water, which should give some size scale, and of which the thing wouldn't let me remove for photogenicity.

Texas Brown or DeKay's Snake, Storeria dekayi texana

COM: Glitches

Somewhere along the line i lost half of my left navigation bar for reasons i can't decipher. It'll take me a couple of days to get it back in shape. Not that you need it but i thought i'd let you know. Meanwhile it's time for the Friday Ark and i'm working on that . . .

Update: Okay i still don't have any clue what happened, unless i was hacked, but half of my template was gone. I've restored the last full version i had (3 June 2005), and am working from a cached version of the list (23 July 2005), but will have to do a lot of reconstruction of more recent things, so please be patient if you get to bad links or find some obvious things not there anymore.

This will teach me of course to do more frequent backups of the whole template which would have solved the problem pronto.

Update Again 7/30: I'm still restoring some links, etc. but most of the bar is now back to near normal.

Update Again 8/1: Okay i think it's all good now, except that i may have added an obscure link that i can't remember and wasn't cached. So i'm back up to speed now.

ENV: The Schmidt Sting Pain Index

Schmidt Sting Pain Index or The Justin O. Schmidt Pain Index was created by Justin O. Schmidt, an entomologist. Having been stung by almost everything, Schmidt created (on his own time) an index to compare the overall pain of insect stings on a four-point scale.

1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.

1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet & reaching for the light switch.

1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.

2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.

2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine WC Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.

3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.

3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic & burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of Hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.

4.0 Pepsis wasp: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath (if you get stung by one you might as well lie down and scream).

4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

ENV: Notes on Dobsons and Moths

I've been exchanging some emails with Brush Freeman and John Abbott about some Dobsonfly pictures Brush and I took. They returned some great ID info and that's posted below . . .

You are correct on the id, they are Corydalus cornutus, but the so
called "western" one (C. cognatus) does not occur in Texas. We do
get two others in west Texas, C. texanus (quite a bit smaller) and a
slightly larger one, C. luteus, which lacks patterning on the head and


The moth on the limestone is Bulia deducta....I haven't seen one
here inUtley but they are fairly common in Port O'Connor.


COM: The IRA talks peace

I.R.A. Renounces Violence in Potentially Profound Shift
BRIAN LAVERY and ALAN COWELL, July 28, 2005, The New York Times

BELFAST, Northern Ireland, July 28 - The Irish Republican Army declared an end to its campaign of violence against Britain that claimed more than 3,500 lives over 36 years, saying there was "an alternative way to achieve" its goal of a United Ireland.

The announcement in a DVD released to reporters was taken in London as, potentially, a profound shift in Northern Ireland's destiny, reversing decades of Republican commitment to violence in the effort to end British rule.

"This may be the day on which, finally, after all these false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland," Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a televised statement in London. He also said the announcement "creates the circumstances" in which Northern Ireland's power-sharing local government could be revived. "This is a step of unparalleled magnitude in the recent history of Northern Ireland."

The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Aherne, struck a more cautious note, saying the I.R.A. statement would be momentous if the organization matched words with deeds.

Among the troubling issues is whether the I.R.A. will halt the criminal operations - such as armed robbery, smuggling and money laundering - that fund the organization. The I.R.A. said that its members must not engage in any other activities whatsoever, but skeptics worry that the organization may break up into small independent crime gangs.

The statement by the I.R.A. said: "Our decisions have been taken to advance our republican and democratic objectives, including our goal of a united Ireland. We believe there is now an alternative way to achieve this and to end British rule in our country."

"All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms," said the statement, which was read out on a DVD by a former prisoner, Seana Walsh.

Mr. Blair said Unionists - the I.R.A.'s foes - would want to ensure that the "clear statement of principal is kept to in practice."

The widely expected statement could mark the conclusion of the bloodiest chapter in modern Irish history, foretold in 1994, when an I.R.A. cease-fire began winding up the tradition of militant Irish republicanism. And it takes a step towards restoring Northern Ireland's local government, which was established under a 1998 peace accord but suspended in 2002 due to allegations of I.R.A. activity.

Unionists, the province's largest political group who are mostly Protestant, are likely to insist on a delay of at least a year before returning to share seats in the provincial legislature with Sinn Fein, the I.R.A.'s political wing. "There are still a number of areas of loose ends," Jeffrey Donaldson, a Northern Irish member of the British parliament for the hard-line Democratic Unionists, told RTE radio. "We'll probably need a period of time now over which we can judge whether what the I.R.A. says is what they actually do."

The statement came four months after the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, who denies repeated reports that he has been an I.R.A. commander, called on the guerrilla group to embrace purely political and democratic activity. Top Sinn Fein representatives are in Washington, London and Brussels to brief international leaders on the I.R.A. decision.

The loose ends include the possible continuation of I.R.A. criminal operations. Police blame the I.R.A. for crimes like the robbery of $50 million from a Belfast bank last December, and the murder of a Belfast man, Robert McCartney, in January, but no prosecutions have followed in either case.

Mainstream politicians want Sinn Fein, and its I.R.A. supporters, to endorse Northern Ireland's fledgling police service, which has been revamped to gain the trust of Roman Catholics, who suffered from discrimination in the past.

Dismantling the I.R.A.'s massive stashes of weapons, which are mostly hidden in underground bunkers in the countryside, has been the most stubborn obstacle to a functioning power-sharing system between Roman Catholic and Protestant political groups in Northern Ireland.

The I.R.A. has destroyed arms dumps on three separate occasions with the cooperation of John DeChastelain, the retired Canadian general who heads a commission supervising disarmament. But Unionist parties withdrew from government on several occasions after the 1998 pact in protest at the slow pace of the process.

The I.R.A. said on Wednesday that it would complete "the process to verifiably put its arms beyond use", and that it invited Protestant and Catholic clergymen to serve as witnesses so that disarmament can be completed "as quickly as possible."

Analysts said that, based on Mr. DeChastelain's previous methods, the issue would likely be dealt with in a matter of days. Last December, the Democratic Unionists, led by the firebrand preacher Ian Paisley, scuttled an effort to restore Northern Ireland's government by demanding photographic evidence that the arms had been destroyed, which the I.R.A. refused.

Mr. Paisley's party, which favors continued union with Britain, indicated it would take months to negotiate a revival of Northern Ireland's power-sharing assembly.

Even before the I.R.A. statement was issued, Mr. Paisley told the BBC: "I am saying now the proof of the pudding is in the eating and digesting of it. We've heard it all before. You can wrap it up any way you like, put a new bit of ribbon on the package but we want the action, the proof this is happening."

Mr. Paisley's party refuses to talk to Sinn Fein and says it is indistinguishable from the I.R.A.

Brian Lavery reported from Belfast for this article, and Alan Cowell reported from London

ENV: Gough Island delicacies

‘Monster mice’ are eating island’s seabirds
Rodents evolved to triple normal size, attack much larger chicks
Reuters, Updated: 11:37 a.m. ET July 28, 2005

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - “Monster mice” are eating much larger albatross chicks alive, threatening rare bird species on a remote South Atlantic island seen as the world’s most important seabird colony.

Conservationists say the avian massacre is occurring on Gough Island in the South Atlantic, a British territory about 1,000 miles southwest of Cape Town and home to more than 10 million birds.

“Gough Island hosts an astonishing community of seabirds and this catastrophe could make many extinct within decades,” said Geoff Hilton, a senior research biologist with Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

“We think there are about 700,000 mice, which have somehow learned to eat chicks alive,” he said in a statement.

The researchers believe the mice are devouring more than one million petrel, shearwater and albatross chicks on Gough Island every year.

The island is home to 99 percent of the world’s Tristan albatross and Atlantic petrel populations — the birds most often attacked. Just 2,000 Tristan albatross pairs remain.

Like cat attacking a hippo“The albatross chicks weigh up to 10 kg (22 pounds) and ... the mice weigh just 35 grams; it is like a tabby cat attacking a hippopotamus,” Hilton said.

The house mice — believed to have made their way to Gough decades ago on sealing and whaling ships — have evolved to about three times their normal size.

This is a common phenomenon on island habitats — for reasons much debated among scientists — where small animal species often grow larger while big species such as elephants display “dwarfism” and become smaller.

In the case of the mice of Gough Island, their remarkable growth seems to have been given a boost by a vast reservoir of fresh meat and protein.

The rapacious rodents gnaw into the bodies of the defenseless and flightless chicks, leaving a gaping wound that leads to an agonizing death. Scientists say once one mouse attacks the blood seems to draw others to the feast.

The albatross “are nearly a meter tall and 250 times the weight of the mice but are largely immobile and cannot defend themselves,” RSPB researcher Richard Cuthbert said in the statement. “Without predators this would not be a problem but for a carnivorous mouse population on one of the wettest and windiest places on earth it is an easy meal of almost unimaginable quality. The result is carnage.”

‘Ecologically naive’ birdsWhile predation by oversized mice is unusual, birds on small islands are especially vulnerable to extinction from human activities such as the introduction of alien species.

This is because many birds that have evolved on isolated islands with no predators have become what biologists term “ecologically naive” — meaning they do not recognize danger from other animals.

Flightless species — or chicks that cannot yet fly — are especially at risk. The predatory nature of the mice was confirmed by researchers from the RSPB and the University of Cape Town.

Scientists suspect the mice are also eating the eggs and chicks of the rare, ground-nesting Gough bunting, a small finch found nowhere else in the world.

Gough Island is the most southerly of the Tristan da Cunha group. There are 22 bird species nesting on the island of which 20 are seabirds.

ENV: AfriCats

A Rescue Mission, Slowing Cheetahs' Fast Disappearance
By MICHAEL WINES, July 28, 2005, The New York Times

OKONJIMA, Namibia - Roused from his lair in the knee-high grass of the Namibian bush, Dewey the cheetah lifted his head toward his latest clutch of gaping humans, maybe 30 feet away, and offered a contemptuous stare of the sort that only cats can deliver.

Dean Masika played at reading the animal's mind. "Damn. They found me again," he mocked. "How do they do that?"

Simple. Wielding an antenna that resembles an oversize branding iron, Mr. Masika leads eco-tourists to Dewey every few days as surely as if the big cat carried a homing beacon - which he does, of course, on a bulky plastic collar around his neck.

But tourism is in some ways an asterisk to these visits. Dewey is one of some 70 cheetahs living on a 10,000-acre sanctuary managed by the AfriCat Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping Namibia's big carnivores survive. One purpose of Mr. Masika's drop-bys is to see if Dewey, who was rescued as a 2-month-old orphan, has picked up enough hunting skills to make it on his own.

In Namibia, a nation of arid grasslands and Wild West landscapes, there are bigger cats, like lions, and more common ones, like leopards. But cats like Dewey are the ones that grab the attention of wildlife conservationists like AfriCat, and for good reason: Namibia is home to perhaps 3,000 cheetahs, up to one-fourth of the world's population.

A threat to cheetahs here is a threat to the survival of the entire species. Cheetahs are now endangered, found only in Africa and in Iran, where about 200 remain. While adept hunters, they tend to fare poorly in wildlife reserves, where they must compete in a limited territory with lions and leopards.

Even in Namibia, where just 1.7 million people occupy land twice the size of California, wide-open spaces favorable to cheetahs are at a premium. Untamed as much of Namibia seems, its cheetahs and leopards are threatened by development and by conflict with some 7,000 farmers and ranchers who have fenced in most of the arable land and, sometimes, see the big cats as a threat.

Since the early 1990's, AfriCat and a second nonprofit, the Cheetah Conservation Fund, have rescued and relocated more than 1,600 Namibian cats, most of them cheetahs, and waged campaigns to show landowners how to live peaceably with predators they might otherwise gun down.

The result, said Laurie L. Marker, the executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, is that a precipitous drop in Namibia's cheetah population has been halted, and numbers have even begun to rise in the last few years. In the 1980's, Namibia's cheetah population shrank by half, with more than 800 killings reported annually to the government. Today that number is about 200.

When Ms. Marker began her cheetah-saving campaign in 1990, "probably 90 percent of the people looked at me and thought I was nuts," she said in a telephone interview. "At this point, a good 60 or 70 percent of people within the cheetah's range are very enlightened, and not having any problems with cheetahs."

AfriCat and the Cheetah Conservation Fund encourage farmers and ranchers to forgo guns and protect their livestock with herd dogs and by fencing in calves and lambs. Lately, they have an even more enticing proposition: cheetah-loving tourists, who are flocking to Namibia in ever greater numbers, and often staying and spending money at guest farms.

"There is definitely a change of thinking. Cattle farming is not bringing in the big bucks," Tristan Boehme, a shareholder in AfriCat, said in an interview. "Tourism is growing. With that, the value of wild animals grows, and with every animal having a greater value, farmers will say, 'I don't mind. You can come and release a cat on my property.' "

That is more or less how AfriCat began. With their own cattle farm struggling, Wayne Hanssen and his wife, Lisa, invited hunters and birdwatchers to their lodge in the mid-1980's to earn money. Then in 1987, they took pity on a cheetah cub displayed in a bird cage at a cattle auction, and took the cat home. A monitor lizard followed, then a honey badger, then a baboon named Elvis, then another cheetah, Caesar, and a hyena, Dracula. The Hanssens gradually came to see cheetahs as a perfect marriage of animal welfare and business.

They founded AfriCat in 1991 and now cover about 40 percent of its expenses with proceeds from Okonjima, the upscale lodge and bush camp they run. Donors helped them fence off 10,000 acres of their land as a sanctuary. Escorted by guides, Okonjima guests track cheetahs on foot or watch from the safety of a Land Rover as guides feed hunks of meat to crowds of the purring, chirping cats that roam fenced-off enclosures within the reserve.

The key to is release the rescued animals - usually on other farms - before they lose their fear of humans. But some must be held back, including cubs who were orphaned or kept as pets until the owners decided they were no longer so cute.

One such cub was Dewey, an orphan who arrived at Okonjima in 1997 with his brothers Huey and Louie. The three were kept for two years before being fitted with collars and released into the larger reserve to see if they had the skills to survive.

At first, they thrived. Then anthrax killed the two brothers, and Dewey, pining for companionship and roaming outside his old enclosure, had to be taken in again and paired with another male cheetah.

Early this year, Dewey and the other male were released once more into the larger reserve. The second male refused to hunt, but Dewey fared well until June, when Okonjima guides found him lying listlessly beside an oryx he had killed - but not before the oryx gored him.

Luckily, the horn had missed all his vital organs, Stitched up and treated with antibiotics, Dewey was released for the third time. "He already had his first kill that same morning," said Mr. Masika, the Okonjima guide.

Now, after eight years and three tries at AfriCat, Dewey is a prime candidate for relocation. "He looks like he has a good chance," said Mr. Boehme, the shareholder.

ENV: More Ivory-bill commentary

Check out this additional Ivory-billed Woodpecker commentary from Tom Nelson at My Thoughts . . .

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

COM: Thoughts about our direction

The Christian Paradox
How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong --

What it means to be Christian in America.
By Bill McKibben.An excerpt. Originally from August 2005. Posted on Wednesday, July 27, 2005.

Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. This failure to recall the specifics of our Christian heritage may be further evidence of our nation’s educational decline, but it probably doesn’t matter all that much in spiritual or political terms. Here is a statistic that does matter: Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin’s wisdom not biblical; it’s counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans—most American Christians—are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.

Asking Christians what Christ taught isn’t a trick. When we say we are a Christian nation—and, overwhelmingly, we do—it means something. People who go to church absorb lessons there and make real decisions based on those lessons; increasingly, these lessons inform their politics. (One poll found that 11 percent of U.S. churchgoers were urged by their clergy to vote in a particular way in the 2004 election, up from 6 percent in 2000.) When George Bush says that Jesus Christ is his favorite philosopher, he may or may not be sincere, but he is reflecting the sincere beliefs of the vast majority of Americans.

And therein is the paradox. America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. That paradox—more important, perhaps, than the much touted ability of French women to stay thin on a diet of chocolate and cheese—illuminates the hollow at the core of our boastful, careening culture.

* * *

Ours is among the most spiritually homogenous rich nations on earth. Depending on which poll you look at and how the question is asked, somewhere around 85 percent of us call ourselves Christian. Israel, by way of comparison, is 77 percent Jewish. It is true that a smaller number of Americans—about 75 percent—claim they actually pray to God on a daily basis, and only 33 percent say they manage to get to church every week. Still, even if that 85 percent overstates actual practice, it clearly represents aspiration. In fact, there is nothing else that unites more than four fifths of America. Every other statistic one can cite about American behavior is essentially also a measure of the behavior of professed Christians. That’s what America is: a place saturated in Christian identity.

But is it Christian? This is not a matter of angels dancing on the heads of pins. Christ was pretty specific about what he had in mind for his followers. What if we chose some simple criterion—say, giving aid to the poorest people—as a reasonable proxy for Christian behavior? After all, in the days before his crucifixion, when Jesus summed up his message for his disciples, he said the way you could tell the righteous from the damned was by whether they’d fed the hungry, slaked the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner. What would we find then?

In 2004, as a share of our economy, we ranked second to last, after Italy, among developed countries in government foreign aid. Per capita we each provide fifteen cents a day in official development assistance to poor countries. And it’s not because we were giving to private charities for relief work instead. Such funding increases our average daily donation by just six pennies, to twenty-one cents. It’s also not because Americans were too busy taking care of their own; nearly 18 percent of American children lived in poverty (compared with, say, 8 percent in Sweden). In fact, by pretty much any measure of caring for the least among us you want to propose—childhood nutrition, infant mortality, access to preschool—we come in nearly last among the rich nations, and often by a wide margin. The point is not just that (as everyone already knows) the American nation trails badly in all these categories; it’s that the overwhelmingly Christian American nation trails badly in all these categories, categories to which Jesus paid particular attention. And it’s not as if the numbers are getting better: the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last year that the number of households that were “food insecure with hunger” had climbed more than 26 percent between 1999 and 2003.

This Christian nation also tends to make personal, as opposed to political, choices that the Bible would seem to frown upon. Despite the Sixth Commandment, we are, of course, the most violent rich nation on earth, with a murder rate four or five times that of our European peers. We have prison populations greater by a factor of six or seven than other rich nations (which at least should give us plenty of opportunity for visiting the prisoners). Having been told to turn the other cheek, we’re the only Western democracy left that executes its citizens, mostly in those states where Christianity is theoretically strongest. Despite Jesus’ strong declarations against divorce, our marriages break up at a rate—just over half—that compares poorly with the European Union’s average of about four in ten. That average may be held down by the fact that Europeans marry less frequently, and by countries, like Italy, where divorce is difficult; still, compare our success with, say, that of the godless Dutch, whose divorce rate is just over 37 percent. Teenage pregnancy? We’re at the top of the charts. Personal self-discipline—like, say, keeping your weight under control? Buying on credit? Running government deficits? Do you need to ask?

* * *
Bill McKibben, a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, is the author of many books, including The End of Nature and Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America’s Most Hopeful Landscape.

* * *
To read the remainder of this essay, pick up a copy of the August issue of Harper's Magazine

REV: Burgers in America

From . . .

The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die
Alan Richman traveled 23,750 miles and consumed more than 150,000 calories while taking the measure of 162 burgers across the country—with one goal: to find you the best damned assemblage of ground beef and buns this country serves up

The hamburger is a symbol of everything that makes America great. Straightforward, egalitarian, substantial, and good-natured, it is also a little bloody at times.

It may come big and ungarnished, the East Coast ideal, tender and untroubled by bones or gristle, everything you look for in a filet mignon but seldom find. It may be the West Coast model, swelling with vegetation, brimming with health and well-being, piled high with all that a seed catalog can provide. A great burger, regardless of regional differences, instills a sense of optimism and fulfillment, that all is right at the table or the counter or the woodgrain, screwed-to-the-floor, fast-food booth.

At its best, it eliminates the need for conversation or the urge to glance up at the TV over the bar. If you find yourself eating silently, eyes closed, ignoring everything around you, even the unavoidable burger-joint din, you have come upon a burger that can be pronounced a success.
Here are the 20 best burgers in America

20. Hamburger Sandwich Louis' LunchNew Haven, CT
19. Our Famous Burger Sidetrack Bar and Grill Ypsilanti, MI
18. Hamburger Poag Mahone's Carvery and Ale House Chicago
17. Double Bacon Deluxe with Cheese Red Mill Burgers Seattle
16. Hamburger & Fries Burger Joint San Francisco
15. Build Your Own Burger The Counter Santa Monica
14. Hamburger J. G. Melon New York City
13. Cheeseburger White Manna Hackensack, NJ
12. Hamburger Bobcat Bite Sante Fe
11. Grilled Bistro Burger Bistro Don Giovanni Napa, CA
10. Number Five Keller's Drive-in Dallas
9. Cheeseburger Burger Joint, le Parker Meridien Hotel New York City
8. Hamburger Miller's Bar Dearborn, MI
7. Buckhorn Burger Buckhorn San Antonio, NM
6. California Burger Houston's Santa Monica
5. Kobe Sliders Barclay Prime Philadelphia
4. Rouge Burger Rouge Philadelphia
3. Not Just a Burger Spiced Pear Restaurant at the Chanler Hotel Newport, RI
2. Luger Burger Peter Luger Steak House Brooklyn
1. Sirloin Burger Le Tub Hollywood, FL

Go to and vote on your own favorite . . .