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Love & Sex

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How Alvy Became Harry.

“The decade that followed had been a weird one for the rom-com, which seemed to retreat from Annie Hall’s not-awful sexual politics all the way back to The Taming of the Shrew. In the 1980s, when a blonde woman and a not-blond man were onscreen together, the idea was usually that the woman needed some serious thawing out (as in TV’s Moonlighting and L.A. Law)…the genre needed a game-changer, and romantically and culturally, When Harry Met Sally… was it. If you want to know how we got from Annie Hall to Knocked Up, there’s only one route, and it’s through this movie.”

On the film’s 25th anniversary, Mark Harris revisits When Harry Met Sally… for Grantland. “It’s not Annie Hall, but a movie about people who have seen Annie Hall.”

The Passion of Gamaliel.

“The correspondence is intimate and frank — and perhaps the most sexually explicit ever by an American president. Even in the age of Anthony Weiner sexts and John Edwards revelations, it still has the power to astonish. In 106 letters, many written on official Senate stationery, Harding alternates between Victorian declarations of love and unabashedly carnal descriptions.”

The NYT publishes excerpts from the recently-unearthed love letters of Warren G. Harding, obviously a big character in my dissertation. “The president often wrote in code, in case the letters were discovered, referring to his penis as Jerry and devising nicknames, like Mrs. Pouterson, for Phillips.”

Oof. Poor guy. Politics, scandals and Teapot Dome aside, Harding was an eminently likable fellow, with a keen sense of his own limitations. It’s hard not to feel embarrassed for him, even 90 years later, that these are now out there among the public.

The silver lining for the Hardings, I suppose, is that at least Mencken never got his hands on these. Suffice to say, he was no fan of the president’s prose. “H]e writes the worst English I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it.”

When Routine Bites Hard…


And ambitions are low. And resentment rides high, but emotions won’t grow… “The game asks players to explore relationship issues like miscommunication, emotional impasse, and the sadness of separation, and players must learn to accept that not all relationships are salvageable. Each level of the game is inspired by a verse of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart.'” Meet Mario’s older, depressed cousin, Emo! Anyway, haven’t tried this yet, but it’s definitely in the queue.

Whither Happiness? (At Wal-Mart).

“The researchers coded each tweet for its happiness content, based on the appearance and frequency of words determined by Mechanical Turk workers to be happy (rainbow, love, beauty, hope, wonderful, wine) or sad (damn, boo, ugly, smoke, hate, lied). While the researchers admit their technique ignores context, they say that for large datasets, simply counting the words and averaging their happiness content produces ‘reliable’ results.”

Happiness where are you? I’ve searched so long for you. A statistical analysis of states’ relative happiness, as determined by tweets. (Red states above are happy, blue states are not.) David Simon is 2-for-2: Next to the mouth of the Mississippi, the Maryland-Delaware area is apparently the saddest in the nation. Perhaps due to proximity to Washington DC? Definitely maybe.

In probably related news, a different map of the United States shows the most popular places cited in Craigslist’s Missed Connections. “The most popular place to spot potential love in Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida? Wal-Mart.”

Of course, this begs the question: Do people actually ever meet up on Missed Connections? Every time I’ve perused them, that section is overwhelmingly the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, just damaged, lovelorn people sending out messages in a bottle to lost exes who are actively ignoring them.

What’s so funny ’bout Peanuts, Love, & Understanding?

Via Brain Pickings and since, despite the post above, I’m tryin’ really hard, Ringo, to be the shepherd, an appreciation of Charles Schulz’ 1965 Love is Walking Hand in Hand.

On Walkabout.


Hey all. I know it’s been quiet ’round these parts — sorry about that. It’s been a tough year so far. Berk has had to deal with a nasty dog bite back in February and, now, what looks to be cancer. (He’s getting his toe amputated tomorrow — Hopefully, that’ll contain the bug.) Also in February, I had an 18-month romance implode rather disastrously. I thought we’d be going the distance…but, before disappearing, the ex made sure to convey she never actually took the relationship seriously in the first place. Er…good to know. (Yes, I know this sort of thing has happened to me before. What can I say? Either I’m too sensitive, or else I’m getting soft.)

Anyway, the upshot is there’s not much joy in Mudville these days, and I’m just not feeling very inclined to post here. I can’t really talk about politics because (1) it interferes with my current employ and (2) when you get right down to it, I find it hard to take presidential politics seriously as a vehicle for (hope-and-)change these days (although I’m sure it’s a great way to get your name on a NASCAR car.) I can’t really talk about personal matters because that’s just plain unsightly, and the Internet really doesn’t need any more TMI kvetching about first world problems. Nor, quite frankly, does it need to know what I thought of 21 Jump Street and Mass Effect 3 and the new Prometheus viral campaign and the like.

I’m not saying the Ghost is dead and buried, but I don’t see it coming back online regularly anytime soon: With the exception of the occasional comment-spam clear, the old hound and I are on walkabout for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, the archives are here and here, and all the old movie reviews are here. If you’ve been swinging by the site at any time for the past 12+ years, apologies for the service outage and thanks, as always, for stopping by.

Update: Thanks for all the well-wishes in the comments. As a follow-up, Berk has lost the toe, but the offending infection has, per the lab report, been “completely excised.” Meanwhile, after several weeks in the cone, the old hound is back to moving around normally and otherwise seems in good health. Squirrels and skateboarders, beware.

After Hours.


It all seems so stupid, it makes him want to give up — but why should he give up when it all seems so stupid?” With the holiday season upon us, a lot of films to catch up on. First up in the queue is Steve McQueen’s stylish but mostly hollow addiction drama Shame. Like McQueen’s earlier Hunger (and not unlike Christian Bale’s turn in Brad Anderson’s The Machinist), Shame is a middling film anchored by a strenuous and committed performance by Michael Fassbender. He’s great here, and Shame occasionally has moments of quiet power. But the film as a whole, sadly, is overwrought and mostly silly.

Here, Fassbender is Brandon Sullivan, an Irish-American Silicon Alley midmanagement type living in Chelsea who fills his empty days watching pr0n at work and his lonely New York nights having meaningless sex with hookers and anonymous strangers. Ok, let me stop there for a second: Awwwww, poor damaged rich guy! Nymphomania is such an underappreciated and overlooked #firstworldproblem! Yes y’all, like The King’s Speech, my empathy meter clicked out early here. It doesn’t help that Sullivan is given no real redeeming qualities to speak of — He’s, quite literally, just a prick. (Plus, as someone who actually lived the “depressed in Gotham” existence, I found it less a Boschian purgatory of carnal pleasure and more like I am Legend, but of course there are millions of stories in the Naked City. YMMV.)

Anyway, Brandon’s life is upended when his needy, inconstant, and equally lacerated sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan, also giving more of herself than the project deserves) shows up at his door. Both Brandon and Sissy were clearly damaged at an early age – A childhood of abuse is intimated through nasty scars and sketchy stories. But while Brandon has an insatiable craving for angry, consequence-free sex (in fact, he can’t perform when on an actual, honest-to-goodness date with a co-worker), Sissy is desperate for emotional attachment. In other words, basically these two are like oil and water, and they’re both cooped up in the same smallish NYC apartment with their respective demons. This will not end well.

So the board is set, but, in all honesty, the pieces don’t do much moving. As in Hunger (and much like Tom Ford’s A Single Man), Steve McQueen seems more interested in creating artistic moments than achieving any kind of narrative momentum. Plot isn’t everything, of course. Character studies are fine. even ones involving mostly static characters. But we don’t learn anything about these two characters except they’re troubled and needy. We need more to hold interest here.

The best of McQueen’s artistic vignettes by far are the bookends of the film, when Brandon hunts for a hookup on the subway and gets caught in a game of eyeball with a possible partner (Lucy Walter). Without dialogue, Fassbender and Walter display a microcosm of conflicting emotions — surprise, lust, shame, guilt — through gazes and body language across a crowded train. But, otherwise, we also have to sit through a lot of filler here, like Fassbender going for a half-mile run to MSG and Mulligan crooning all of “New York, New York” in damaged-siren mode (which conjured grim memories of Georgia.) We have long, uninterrupted scenes of Fassbender and Mulligan fighting like cats and dogs. (Quite frankly, they feel like gimmicks, as did Fassbender and Liam Cunningham’s long and more impressive one-take chat in Hunger.) And we have a good bit of sex, all filmed — with one exception in a hotel room — in the seventh-circle-of-hell fashion of another addiction film, Requiem for a Dream.

In short, I just didn’t buy it. The characters did not ring true to me. I couldn’t see Fassbender (hard, angular) and Mulligan (soft, curvy) as siblings. I found it hard to believe Sullivan could be at once suave enough to pick up anyone he wanted at a club (particularly as compared to his inept boss, James Badge Dale), and yet so unbelievably terrible at small talk on a first date. And McQueen’s third-act decision to have Fassbender’s character, in the midst of an epic bender, wander into a ridiculously sinister gay dungeon in the Meat-Packing District for consummation, carried more than a whiff of homophobia about it. Shame has some powerful performances, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fassbender and Mulligan get acting nods here. But the film is all surfaces and very little depth. I left, like its wretched protagonist, unsatisfied.

It’s Not Easy Being Green.


Park officials initially exposed Lonesome George to random female tortoises, praying for a spark. But he showed little interest in the ladies that spent stints in his hilly, shrub-covered pen. He had a voracious appetite, and for years caretakers fed him generously, which possibly kept him from being more active during what should have been his sexual peak. ‘He was overweight,’ said Flanagan, the vet. ‘He had little or no interest because he was not fit.’

But has he tried OkCupid? By way of Mother Jones, the Post reports in on the so-far fruitless attempts to get Lonesome George, the last Pinta turtle of his kind, to mate. “‘He’s getting to know them,’ Llerena said. ‘Lately he seems more animated.’ The females spend most of their time on the opposite side of the pen, but Llerena said he hasn’t lost hope.

Thus Passeth the Small Talk.

An application that lets users point a smart phone at a stranger and immediately learn about them premiered last Tuesday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Developed by The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), a Swedish mobile software and design firm, the prototype software combines computer vision, cloud computing, facial recognition, social networking, and augmented reality.

Well, that should really facilitate the stalking (and now everyone will know right away I like sunsets and long walks on the beach…) The Atlantic‘s Derek Thompson reports in on Recognizr, a smartphone app soon likely to cause all kinds of consternation and unwanted advances in a town near you.

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