Monday, June 13, 2005

What have you been reading, watching, listening to?

It has come up in the comments, so here are a few links. Jack FM is a DJ-less radio format that seems to shuffle through the near endless stream of songs that were at some time in the past popular. I happen to agree with Darrel Goodin, radio station manager in San Diego, who says:
"It assumes that someone will set their dial to one radio station, leave it there all day and be thrilled with the randomness," said Darrel Goodin, general manager of several Jefferson-Pilot stations in San Diego. "It runs extremely counter to the way the radio has been successful over the years. Maybe someone has found a way to defy gravity, but the odds are against it."
I'm sorry to say to my Canadian brothers that this radio development began in your homeland.

Article 19 Film Review: Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room
**************** (16 out of 19)
Excellent film. Enraging and well-told. It took me a full 24 hours to remember that in fact George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are the most reprehensible characters in America today, and not Kenneth Lay and Jeff Skilling. This film makes a strong case to the contrary.

The Beastie Boys paid for the right to sample a recording on "Pass the mic." But they were sued by the composer, who said they should also pay for the composition at the heart of the 3-note recorded excerpt they used. Thankfully -- though I hate to see any composer receive fewer rewards than the recording their piece enabled -- the Supreme court refused to hear the case, vindicating the Beasties' position that what they were using was a sound and not a composition. They are right.

Franzen re-thinking?
Remember Jonathan Franzen, who wrote The Corrections, an acclaimed book that Oprah selected as one of her book list titles? Then he complained that he really wanted to reach a male audience and implied that the Oprah crowd was a bit beneath him, so he got taken off the list? Seeing as how she just named 3 William Faulkner classics as this summer's reading list, do you think Jonathan--who had already publicly regretted the incident--is feeling that much more like a total dumbass right about now?

Article 19 Book Review: The Great Influenza
************ (12 out of 19)
A chronicle of the so-called "Spanish Influenza" of 1918, by John Barry. This is one of the most frightening books I've ever read. During a 6-month period near the end of the first World War (perhaps precipitating its end in some ways), 5% of the planet's human population was wiped out by a vicious, violent flu. This book tells the story of its spread, among civilians and the military, from many perspectives. If it has a flaw, in fact, it may just be too ambitious. In a 500-page book that seemed like it should have been 1000 pages, he tries to tell the story of:
1. The recent history and state of medicinal science at the time, and the efforts of many key researchers (perhaps too many. I couldn't keep them all straight sometimes) and institutions to combat the disease and interact with military and political leaders.

2. The nature of viruses and the human immune system, and what makes the flu virus different than the rest.

3. Woodrow Wilson's efforts to build a climate of war that demanded active assistance and support from all levels of society (you think wearing an anti-war badge gets you in trouble these days....), and his stubborn refusal to even acknowledge, much less focus attention on, the fact that his country was being ravaged by disease.

4. The military and its decisions to shun protocol in housing/shipping soldiers, and its denial of recommendations by commanders and medical personnel that would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, at least.

5. Today's remaining vulnerabilities, which are nearly just as bad as they were then.

Primarily, this is a book about the scientists and the state of medicine at the time. The transition from a non-trained, unscientific medical culture of bleeding toward a highly trained/licensed field that embraced finally a germ theory of disease had just been taking place. Medical science was proud, confident, striding forward by leaps, and was then completely overwhelmed and humbled by the terrors of the conditions of this flu: a country and a virus both bent on war.

In the middle third of the book, Barry does flit abit recklessly from thread to thread, but the overall power here is clear and effective: we're doomed, and at the mercy of a rapidly mutating virus whose direction we can hardly predict (though we try - it's called the flu shot). Politically, this is a cautionary tale in public health administration. In 1918, all sides of that responsibility failed. Today, we may have already been saved a pandemic or 2 by quick action in, sadly, the slaughter of millions of animals thought to be carrying a flu virus that could become adaptable to humans. But, the bird flu looms. And the thing about the flu is: prepare all you want, but you're contagious well before you have a clue you're sick. Put some of those people on some long international flights, say, to or from a jam-packed India or China--where they won't even want to admit they have legions of sick people until it can't be denied--and we've got a pandemic.

HIV/AIDS has, according to this book, killed half a million people worldwide in 25 years. The flu killed anywhere from 50 to more likely 100 million people in 25 weeks in 1918, when the population was about 1/3 what it is today.

So think about that the next time you're on a plane, or an elevator.

Weekend Box Office
1. Mr. and Mrs. Smith
2. Madagascar
3. Star Wars 3
4. The Longest Yard
5. The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl

To me, Mr. and Mrs. Smith looks especially stupid (except for Vince Vaughn who always makes me laugh). Doesn't Hollywood know we'd rather see Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston beating the crap out of each other?

Nice performance, crappy movie
Saw the Life and Death of Peter Sellers (I won't tell you how it ends). Geoffrey Rush was fabulous, but the story was just kind of dreadful. Or maybe Peter Sellers' life was.

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