July 2005
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Day July 3, 2005

War of the Worlds

Steven Spielberg ought to be ashamed of himself.  I want my $9.50 back.

No, wait, that doesn’t quite cover it.  Spielberg ought to be stripped of his movie-making abilities and forced to wander the streets of Hollywood dressed in rags, pursued by packs of street urchins who pelt him with overpriced drink cups and empty popcorn containers. 

Actually, the first third of the movie was pretty good — the first view of the alien tripods in New York was visually amazing, with great detail, and the flight from the city was good.  Basically, he had me engaged up through Cruise and family being pulled from the car.  After that, the pattern of run-run-run, die-die-die, run more got pretty old after awhile.  And jeez, who in the audience didn’t know that Tim Robbins was going to turn out to be loony? 

And given their amazing super powered tripods with shields and disintegration rays, what the *heck* were the aliens doing hunting down humans in rural basements, one by one?   

While we’re asking, whose idea was it to make the aliens look cheap Alien knockoffs?  Did the studio get a bulk deal on H.R. Giger designs?   

But the ending, oh my God the ending.  I won’t spoil it for those that are still planning to see the movie, but it does end…sort of abruptly.  It seems like Spielberg kind of forgot to write a second half to the story, and then forgot about it until the end of shooting, so it was easier to just have Morgan Freeman say some stuff before the credits rolled.  Like I said, if I’d watched just the first third, it would have been a great War of the Worlds.  The first half…a pretty good WoW.  But man, once you watch the whole thing, it just sucked. 

Wow. Prison wine-making recipes really work!

I sort of hesitate to categorize this under "wine," given the normally serious tone with which we treat wine here at Extended Phenotype, but what the heck.  Steve, at The Sneeze, actually tried out the wine recipe from Hogshire’s book "You Are Going to Prison" and documented the whole process.  Apparently, Scruffy on Futurama is right — you can make sangria in the terlet! 

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming…

Books #34 – 36: Carroll, Durrell, and Hofstadter

While in Mexico, I finished a few books. Not as many as I’d have liked, because for the first half of our trip we were busy snorkeling and for the second half, busy shedding pounds the hard way. But still, some reading was accomplished.

I finally finished Book #34, Sean Carroll’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful, a terrific popular book on “evolutionary developmental biology,” or “evo-devo.” Essentially, Carroll gives the non-geneticist a tour through current research on regulatory genes, genetic switches, and how these elements combine to form the actual patterns of metazoan development. While I knew a bit of this stuff going in, Carroll’s explanations were lucid and the writing a lot of fun. I recommend this book highly, and even specialists in the field will find it an interesting possibility to use in their courses.

Book #35 was a “vacation book,” Lawrence Durrell’s Reflections of a Marine Venus. To be fair, I’ve read this book a couple of times, mostly on sunny coasts, but it had been awhile. I love this book best of all Durrell’s non-fiction, and return to it whenever I wish to evoke the lazily “at home” feeling Durrell manages to communicate about rustic coastal landscapes. The beginning and end are poignant and always make me sad.

Richard Hofstadter’s early book The American Political Tradition was book #36. APT is a series of vignettes of major political figures, ranging from the “founders” collectively through John Calhoun, Wendell Phillips, Teddy Roosevelt, and culminating in FDR. The book, published in 1948, is obviously the product of a youthful progressive, with a pessimistic view of the motivations of political figures. Virtually none of the portraits in the book are laudatory, but instead attempt to situate each figure within the incentives and pressures to which Hofstadter viewed them as subject in their times. The result, even today, is a “fresh” look at key political figures in our history as well-rounded men, rather than one-dimensional icons. A terrific book.

Coming soon, notes on Banville (a couple more chapters!) and then probably a bit of time before #38. I started Jeffrey Stout’s Democracy and Tradition, which although a terrific book, is pretty dense.