So 5 minutes ago
Rants and media criticism from Eric Deamer (a guy in New York)

Sunday, July 13, 2003  

I'm one of the lucky, cool kids, who gets to be a beta tester for ben and Mena Trott's Typepad. I'm not allowed to say anything about it, as per the terms of my begin a beta tester. But, I think I can tell you that I'm really excited to be a part of this. The spiffy new Typepad blog is here, and its where I'll be doing all my posting for as long as this beta test lasts.

posted by Eric | 10:27 PM

Tuesday, June 24, 2003  

There's a great round-up of today's Iranian news by who else but Jeff Jarvis. He links to this at, an encouraging essay by Shahla Azia from Tehran. Its a wonderful piece which describes a real breadth and depth of support for the protests, and the anti-anti-Americanism of the protesters themselves. The most beautiful moment of the piece is this quote, which Jarivs rightly highlights as well:

Accusations of American backing actually have given courage to the demonstrators. Unlike the streets of Paris, Berlin or Berkeley, anti-Americanism is not fashionable in Tehran. The regime, having adopted it for the past twenty-five years since the Islamic Revolution, has beaten the life out of it.

There's no helping a little gloat that even writers in Iran know that some American college towns are hotbeds of Anti-Americanism. The piece also firmly makes the point that American encouragement and the words of support from president Bush have emboldened and sustained the protestors, contrary to those who say we should keep our mouths shut, because America only can only make a mess of things anywhere else in the world.

posted by Eric | 8:40 AM

Monday, June 23, 2003  

Everybody is linking to this piece by Mark Steyn on Iran today, and for good reason. Its a clear, succinct statement of principle as only he can write.

This is what I believe real journalists call the "money graf":

It was Ayatollah Khomeini who successfully grafted a mid-20th century European-style fascist movement onto Islam and made the religion an explicitly political vehicle for anti-Westernism. It was the ayatollah who first bestowed on the United States the title of ''Great Satan.'' And it was the ayatollah who insisted that this Islamic revolution had to be taken directly to the infidels--to the embassy hostages, to Salman Rushdie and, ultimately, to America itself. Twenty years ago, there was a minor British pop hit called ''Ayatollah, Don't Khomeini Closer.'' He came too close. And the end of a regime built on his psychosis is good news for Iranians and Westerners alike.

Its important that he bring this up, because this points to a reason why ending the regime of the Iranian clerics is so key which is seldom discussed: the centrality of the Iranian Islamic Republic to the Islamo-Fascist worldview. The Islamic revolution is the biggest success in the history of the Islamist movement, the moment at which the concepts of a few radical intellectuals and terrorists languishing in Egyptian prisons were brought to fruition in the real world.

The continued existence of the Islamic Republic of Iran provided sustenance, inspiration, and material support to the followers of Sayyid Qutb. As well as being the boldest and most effective state sponsor of terrorism, Iran is also a supposed example of the rightness of Islamist terrorists' ideology. If the Islamic Republic falls from within, it will announce conclusively the failure of Islamo-fascism just as the fall of the Soviet Union announced the failure of Marxism, Leninism, and Stalinism.

posted by Eric | 7:56 PM

The best source for all news of Iran (and Iraq for that matter) is of course Jeff Jarvis's Buzzmachine where he posts daily on Iranian topics. He has a way of sending along the best links to Iranians all over the world who write in English and then quietly stepping out of the way and letting them do the talking which is quite nice.

A really good source which he's often linking to is of course Editor, Myself, Hossein Derakshan's English website, which Andrew Sullivan also hyped in this post. This post by "Hoder" is an attempt at making a comprehensive list of all Iranian bloggers who write in English. I have checked out almost all of the links. Some of them are not current but its a good start.

This one is interesting because its a response to a specific request to write a website about the protests in English. This is the blog that has the translation into English of the song
that is used at all student protests. Read down to find it. I'm having trouble getting the permanent link to work. Anyway, its a really charming blog, written by a 15 year old in Canada.

Blogs of War is another great American site for following this story. Check out the links, and what I find to be the most attractive proposal for a "Free Iran" button for your blog that anyone has come up with.

Many have pointed to this as a good "roadmap" of factions in Iranian politics. Its a good place to start.

What becomes clear from reading anything like this is to universal revulsion that all seem to feel for the MKO, the group which France just cracked down on. It kind imagine that this was a good faith effort in the war on terror on France's part though. Given their recent behavior, it seems most likely that it was an attempt to appease the Mullahs.

posted by Eric | 1:53 PM

I'm preparing to go into full "flood-the-zone" mode on Iran, but in the meantime I can't resist expressing an idle thought I had. Would "Won't Get Fooled Again" be a good theme song for the Iranian democracy movement? I know, I know. Its really a song of (very) cautious optimism at the ascendancy of a brand new regime, and it would have been a lot better, and a lot more timely, in 1979. But still, its just such a sweeping, symphonic, driving, martial, rocking song, and at the outro part when Daltrey's singing "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss" I think its dead on for the current situation. The other problem of course is that the students already have some great anthems in Farsi, and the attempt to graft a Western, English language rock song onto their indigenous movement perhaps smacks of Ugly Americanism. On the other hand, as I'm of the same school of thought as Comrade Hitchens, Dennis Miller, Paul Berman, et al, in seeing Western Liberalism as being the most revolutionary force on earth, I think that hearing a great rock song blaring over a noisy student protest, would be the mullah's worst nightmare in the best possible sense. And, its by an English band. Whether this idea is picked up anywhere else, this song by the Who, made in a completely different context, will always be my personal soundtrack for the Iranian Student movement. Its what I hear as I go around the web, trying to sign petitions, and to gather as much information as I can. I'll certainly be hearing it on July 9th. I hope the mullahs will too.

posted by Eric | 10:18 AM

Tuesday, June 03, 2003  

I'm posting more because I'm thrilled to see that Nick Denton actually linked to my Salam Pax post below! His post, which I just linked, was really thoughtful and was respectful of my argument. In fact, he agreed with me that Salam Pax is such a hit in the West because of his Tariq Aziz like, Condé Nast publication reading ways. He just sees this as a more benign phenomenon than I do. He made a good point that non-Westerners who like our culture ultimately show the superiority of Western, liberal values and can help to spread them, which, indeed, is a good, heartening thing.

Anyway, getting this link and seeing something I wrote written about like this is definitely the highlight of my young blogging life. In reality, I'm a huge fan of Nick Denton's New York media clique , an obsessive Gawker reader etc. Part of the reason I wrote the post below was, in what I thought of as the tiny chance that any member of the clique actually read it and reacted to it, I wanted to see if they would react in a way that confirmed my worst fears of what they might possibly be like, given the tone of Maass's article, or react in a way that would confirm the fact that they were cool and reasonable people (as I thought they most likely were). The fact that a guy who (I think) has a Soho club membership, would make a thoughtful, complimentary post to something that I posted on my site is a testament to the democratizing power of new media and the egalitarianism and general coolness of the new media clique. Cheers to Nick Denton.

Now, in case Nick Denton looks in his referrer logs and happens to see this or even if he doesn't, I have a response to his post. My fear is that Western liberals, in their admiration for those around the world who understand their culture and speak their language, are often blinded to the very anti-liberal things that have to be done in order to afford a very small minority these luxuries. The example he gives of Tariq Aziz's affinity for Vanity Fair and the France's friendliness with African dictators who have read Voltaire in the original are both straight to the point. The elite in virtually every country is somewhat Westernized because Western culture is, frankly, the elite culture on the planet, but that doesn't mean they're good people or bad people. They're just the elite, and because of that may be resistant to the changes that real democracy would bring. Saudi Arabia is the best example. We've kowtowed to the Saudi royal family for oil, definitely, but also because they were charming squash buddies for the Bush's and for Colin Powell. Meanwhile, the charming, Westernized Saudi royals were sending money to terrorist groups so they could direct their attacks at us instead of them, because they enjoyed their position at the top of a medieval monarchy, the most anti-liberal system imaginable.The result, of course, was 9/11. Part of international relations is, indeed, who makes a good dinner companion, but there's a danger that their charm will overshadow the line they're peddling after they step away from the table.

And, I'm still very curious as to why Ahmed Chalabi, who I'm sure has read Vanity Fair and The New Yorker in his time has such a bad profile with the liberal media. Is it because he has a good relationship with the W administration and is, therefore, automatically suspect? It happened so fast. Tom Friedman wrote this extraordinary column where he admitted that, despite having seemingly unlimited access to everyone and a seemingly unlimiated travel budget, he had never interviewed Chalabi, but had made up his mind already that he shouldn't be given much power or say-so in Iraq. Since then I've seen very little in the way of quotes, interviews, columns or anything concerning Chalabi, and very little of that positive.

I've also been having a thought about the journalistic ethics of Salam Pax's column for The Guardian that I haven't seen expressed anywhere else, yet. Is it acceptable for a major newspaper to have a regular columnist write under a pseudonym? I mean, I know for blogs its fine because they're taken with a bigger grain of salt, but this seems different. I don't know if I've ever seen an anonymous or pseudonymous Op-Ed in a big newspaper and I've certainly never seen a regular contributor to the Op-Ed page of a big newspaper not give a real name. I realize he may have legitimate reasons for not giving his real name but then that means he shouldn't get to do the column. Now he can say whatever he wants to a much wider audience, through a big media outlet which is respected by English speaking liberals everywhere, and then hide behind his pseudonym. It removes accountability. One possible response to this argument is that he's getting a gig as an Op-Ed columnist not a reporter, but if his pieces are going to be anything like his blog, there will be a mixture of reporting and commentary.

posted by Eric | 4:03 PM

Everyone is linking to Peter Maass's "revelation" today that he knows that Salam Pax is real and is in Baghdad, because Salam was his interpreter, interior decorator, and DJ there, but not his driver. Of course, the debate has long since moved from arguing these points, and I mean well before Peter Maass went to Baghdad where he says he wasn't able to look at the internet, to arguing what sort of person Slam Pax is and what value and meaning we an ascribe to his blogging. Maass works at the Times so you can forgive him for being a bit slow in catching on to things.

The reaction is predictable. The New York media clique that Maass is part of, which seems to include Nick Denton, among others, have fawned over the piece, in which their buddy gets to brag about his time in the presence of their hip, gay, pop reference dropping Iraqi idol. Anyone who tries to look at Salam's writing critically is dismissed as a "hawk". The piece itself is almost a parody of the typical condescension with which New York liberals treat elite foreigners or members of minority groups. Salam, as an Iraqi Muslim homosexusual, is both, so its time for a cliché bonanza. Maass writes about him like he's the non-threatening, asexual homosexual best friend in a bad sitcom:

His cultural inclinations are impeccable. As we were spending a lot of time in my car, we stopped at several music stores to find acceptable road music; the offerings were meager, but he unearthed an excellent Cranberries cassette at one shop and brought an Oasis CD from his own collection, as well as the soundtrack from Pulp Fiction—the best music imaginable for driving around anarchic Baghdad. And when, in my final days, I wanted to buy a Persian rug or two, his advice was crucial. My living room now owes much to his fabulous taste.

So charming! There are actually Iraqis who know about Western music, read The New Yorker and, because they're gay, are good interior decorators too! Of course, other Iraqis who might also know about Western culture, like Ahmed Chalabi, and Kanan Makiya, are dismissed as opportunistic interlopers because they chose to leave Iraq and work tirelessly to end the brutal Ba'athist regime, as opposed to sticking around and lamenting the liberation of Ba'athist and Mukbahrat buildings like Salam. I can't blame Peter Maass. The hipster Iraqi (now outted as being, shockingly, chubby, which may hurt his ability to be accepted by New York media types who clearly want to make him one of their own) would certainly make better company than a scythe-wielding Shia fundamentalist. But, just because he's someone that they can imagine hanging out with at WD-50 doesn't make him, as Nick Denton ludicrously suggested the "the Anne Frank of this conflict". Anne Frank was trying to escape genocide. Salam "do you know who my father is?" Pax is merely turning a blind eye to the ones his government has perpetrated, and using his Tariq Aziz like qualties to try to become a media sensation.

posted by Eric | 10:08 AM
THE WIRE, Watch it and screw the rest of Sunday night

Friday, May 30, 2003  

Imaginary readers, I've been wanting to write about The Wire for a while, and since the new season starts Sunday, now seems the perfect time for me to deign to throw the full weight of my opinion-making power behind it, perhaps giving the show the "Tipping Point" it so richly deserves. Seriously though, I think The Wire may actually be the Tipping Point for the "Its not TV its HBO" concept. Now, this slogan has in fact been true for some time now in a variety of different ways. When HBO shows you G-String Divas or Taxicab Confession or Real Sex they're showing you something that isn't TV as you understood it before in that it has more nudity, sex, and general outrageousness than you can see on network or basic cable. When they air their top-notch feature films such as The Last Seduction or the recent, deeply moving Normal they're showing you a TV movie better than any previous idea of what a TV movie was (including Playhouse 90) better, in fact that the vast majority of feature films released in theaters. Most importantly, with their best shows HBO showcased episodic television with richer, deeper characters, smarter writing, and better acting than had ever been seen in a weekly television show. (As a side note, with Arlli$$ HBO delved into a series so awful it seemed beneath any previous level of TV).

The Wire takes elevating a television show above any known standards of what constitutes "TV" one step further. While Curb Your Enthusiasm is possibly better than any previous sit-com, and The Sopranos and Six Feet Under at their best resonate and provoke like a great film, The Wire operates on a level of depth and complexity more like that of a great novel. While The Sopranos and Six Feet Under delve increasingly into non-sequiturs, absurdity, and dream sequences, the first season of The Wire was gritty, naturalistic, social realism on a level ambition more like Tom Wolfe or Theodore Dreiser. It was an attempt to show in full detail a complex, corrupt city, from above, below, from sideways, from every conceivable angle. It was almost Great American Novel territory, and it succeeded. If not compared to literary masterpieces, the only other thing it reminds me of Fritz Lang's M and its fully rendered portrayal of Berlin. In recent pop culture its most like LA Confidential but without the easy cynicism that sometimes marred that great film.

More on this later . . .

posted by Eric | 3:47 PM

Thursday, May 29, 2003  

Various types of remakes, homages, pastiches, and parodies are now ubiquitous in filmmaking, from Gus Van Sant Psycho to Far from Heaven. The point of all these movies about movies is often to make the contemporary, post-modern sophisticate feel superior to the movies or the culture of the earlier era being plundered for the cause of meta-filmmaking. Down with Love director Peyton Reed does not quite succumb to the new snideness in sending up, or celebrating, or adapting or something or other the late 50's/early 60's Rock Hudson/Doris Day comedies for his meta-film. (It should be noted that there were only actually 3 such films, which rightfully should be called Rock Hudson/Doris Day/Tony Randall comedies, as it was the chemistry of all three that gave these films their distinctive stamp. And, of these 3, only 2, Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back actually follow the template that people are talking about when they refer to these type of films, not the regrettable Send me no Flowers in which none of the three played their traditional role, to detrimental effect. Contemporary reviewers are giving the impression that its this huge genre of films we're talking about here-ed.) I didn't really think he would. His guilty-pleasure, bikini-clad-cheerleaders holding a carwash film Bring it On was warm-hearted, fun fluff. The problem is, he's not really sure if he's doing a loving homage, or a respectful parody, or what exactly, either. This confusion leads to a film that is deeply flawed but surprisingly ambitious.

I found myself drawn to writing this review because I confess to being a huge fan of the Rock Hudson/Doris Day/Tony Randall comedies, particularly of Pillow Talk which seems to have little critical respect, and not for some sort of belabored, cultural studies class, look at the gay subtext type of reason either. I like them because they are, well, warm-hearted, fun, fluff. They are more than this too. They are chance to see three leads with a greater chemistry than you can see displayed between the actors in almost any other film. They're perfectly paced, witty, smart charming, and a reminder of a glamorous, lost New York. They do a great job integrating Doris Day's great singing into the action without being a full-blown musical. Comparing them to a mainstream comedy of today is (exactly) like comparing Doris Day to J-Lo.

When I heard that someone was going to use these materials as the basis of a new film I was surprised and excited. The final product when viewed as an attempt at an accurate remake or loving, exact tribute, falls woefully short, but still contains enough pleasure and interesting commentary on 1962 vs. 2003 to recommend it. In fact, the ideal viewer is probably someone not familiar with the original films, who therefore doesn't have the iconic presences of Doris Day and Rock Hudson seared into their minds. The first place where Down With Love deviates from the template, of course, is in the casting. Renée Zelwegger is too skinny and too manic for the Doris Day part. Ewan MacGregor has the detritus of too many incongruous roles on him, and he's simply not conventionally handsome enough for the Rock Hudson part. The guy who is dead on, as a contemporary incarnation of a young Tony Randall, is David Hyde Pierce. Then there's a major character who is interesting and well-played, but has no analogue in the original films, the proto-feminist aspiring publishing mogul played by Sarah Paulson. Tony Randall himself shows up in a nice, small role, and its welcome just hearing his smooth, instantly recognizable voice tones.

Down With Love begins nicely, with an establishing shot that uses today's special effect to create a breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline in 1962. Then it has an offscreen narrator, sounding exactly like one from a film of that era, intoning on the 6 million people there, all following their dream, and how its about to be 6 million and one. (A device used, I believe, in the opening of Lover Come Back the raunchier, zanier, more diffuse film that Down With Love resembles far more than Pillow Talk. It also reminded me of other sex comedies of the era, such as Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?-ed) It is soon after this that we learn that everything about the Rock Hudson/Doris Day film template is being turned on its head.

Doris Day was, of course, famous for being, virginal. She was a successful, New York career girl, who was single and lived alone. Though it was implied that she went out on dates with men it was also implied that she didn't have sex with them, because sex would mean love, marriage, and giving up her career. Therefore, she repressed thoughts of all such things, and this repression is what lead to the simultaneous attraction/repulsion she felt for the sexually profligate Rock Hudson character. In order to win her Rock would have to pose as another, more sensitive, caring sort of man, the sort who in that era would be thought to be a homosexual. After finding out the ruse, Doris Day would initially be livid but would eventually come around to being with Rock, who was reformed only in so far as he now wants monogamy. In the last scene of Pillow Talk she is pregnant. Presumably, she's quit her successful career as an interior designer. Through all this, the word "sex," and certainly the word "homosexual" is never uttered. That's one of the first things that makes Down With Love so different than its inspiration. These two words probably appear more in the script than almost any other. The subtext has become the text, as it often drearily does in contemporary movies about movies.

Renée Zelwegger in Down With Love is the very opposite of virginal, or is at least trying to be. She's written a Sex and the Single Girl type manifesto called Down With Love in which she argues that women should learn to have sex recreationally and unemotionally, like men, so that they can advance in the work force unencumbered by child-bearing and marriage. Essentially, she's arguing that the Doris Day characters should be able to have their cake and eat it too. The book is a runaway best-seller that sets off a minor social revolution, but ironically, it makes her unable to follow her own advice. Because of the way that she's changed their women's behavior, to their detriment, no man will have her. She's unwittingly put herself in the position of a Doris Day heroine, with a successful career, but no love or sex.

Enter space-age bachelor cad Ewan MacGregor. He's a star reporter for Know magazine, a parody of Esquire or Playboy at the time. After blowing her off for an interview repeatedly, he seeks to make her fall in love with him, both to get back at her for having a successful book without his shilling, to get a beg scoop, and seemingly, simply to disprove her thesis. This last, makes the war of the sexes theme far to overt, a problem throughout the film.

His Catcher Block isn't merely a Rock Hudson derivative but an amalgam of James Bond, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Austin Powers, and whatever sort of other "Swinger" icon you can think of. He plays the character without doing an American accent, a fact which is never explained, and is involved in all sorts of cold war skullduggery, at the beginning. He seems to bed only stewardesses who work for the same airline, a gag a bit too cartoonish. This, and other deviations from the supposed template, or font the film is working with, would take a book to recount. They are so many, even someone with the most casual knowledge of Kennedy era mainstream movies would notice them. So, if the film is not to be taken as an exact remake of a movie from 1962, what is it exactly? Is it a movie about 1962? Clearly, this isn't the case either. Its filled with stereotypes and inaccuracies (beatniks, the UN across the Street from Grand Central), and take place in an unreal, cartoonish, technicolor world.

I think its actually a fairly ambitious and inventive film, a film about our shared memory of the past and its pop culture and how this is reflected in the present and viewed through the prism of the present. When Renée Zelwegger and Sarah Paulson turned the publishing world on its head by creating their feminist magazine, we see the forebears of Tina Brown, of Anna Wintour, of Bonnie Fuller, as they self-confidently sashay through their new office digs. We also root for them, because we've seen the sexism of the time they came from, and how it effected even the tropes of the silliest of movies. We've also enjoyed watching those tropes reused just the same. Its a bizarre, slightly disconcerting mixture of homage, parody, and pastiche, that doesn't always work. But, when it does, it actually manages to say some important things about what romantic comedies mean for us now and meant for us then.

posted by Eric | 11:26 AM

Thursday, May 22, 2003  

While the rest of the world is caught up in inconsequential conflicts like Kerry vs. Dean, Hitchens vs. Blumenthal, and stockbroker Ashley vs. hotel manager Cyndi for the title of "sexiest after being mauled by bears" on Fox's new reality show Who Will Look Sexiest After Being Mauled by Bears? we here at So 5 Minutes Ago (Note that this phrasing serves a variety of purposes: It brands the website. It makes it seem like its a "publication" as opposed to merely a blog. And, it makes it seem, even if just on a subliminal level, like more than one person works on it -ed. This purpose is also served by the now ubiquitous "editor's notes" which are of course written by the blogger herself -ed.) are attuned to what really matters. That is, of course, the Tuesday ritual of reading whatever bizarre farrago of personal anecdotes of European debauchery and unpopular opinions about magazines Jeff Koyen will cram into the week's New York Press by way of his "Intro" column, this week the "Outro," then reading Elizabeth Spiers' instantaneous evisceration of his aging hipsterism on Gawker.

This week the poste and riposte were particularly entertaining to watch. First, Koyen had the nerve to publish this Irvine Welsh for kindergartner's piece. The Gawker response was swift, elegant, and brutal:

Identify the Text

"At her place, we showered, rolled a joint and fumbling attempted to fuck. Frustration, like love and hate, like acceptance of banality and obsession over the trivial, becomes amplified on drugs. Then I remembered the liquor, weed and muscle relaxants, and I forgave myself for being impotent. Twas neither a sexual nor structural problem, but instead a drug-fueled corporal protest."

The above passage is (A) a first draft of something I wrote in a sophomore year creative writing class that ended up in the trash (B) a first draft of something I wrote in a sophomore year creative writing class that ended up in the trash (C) a first draft of something I wrote in a sophomore year creative writing class that ended up in the trash (D) Jeff Koyen's editor's letter.

Now, I know that before I said that I was one of a handful of people who actually enjoyed reading the Koyen editor's letters. I want to make clear that was very specifically for two reasons: 1) He was willing to admit that The Onion was going downhill, and 2) He was willing to admit that he wasn't cool, whether he realized he was doing so or not. This week's column very much annoyed me, and I can trace the cause exactly, his use of the term "rails" instead of something more mainstream like "lines" or "bumps." Using whatever the de rigeur drug argot happens to be in your circle so the squares won't get it is simply juvenile. Its a forced attempt to sound cool.

posted by Eric | 8:24 AM

I was wondering if I had somehow been the only person to make the joke below, but it turned out that James Taranto gave the same headline to the same story.

posted by Eric | 7:25 AM
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