September 30, 2004
Review: ABC's "Lost"
Lately I've been watching one of ABC's new shows, "Lost," on Wednesday nights. There have only been two episodes so far, which was actually the pilot episode split into two 1-hour pieces. I figured I would write down some of my thoughts into a mini-review. I won't give any spoilers.
The premise of the series is simple: A airliner inexplicably breaks apart mid-air and crashes on a desolate tropical island. There are numerous survivors who struggle to get their bearings and cope with their environment until they can be rescued. That's basically the entire plot, except for the added drama of some sort of beast that inhabits the island -- seen by the characters but only heard by the audience. It's clear that the show would never take off based on its simplistic plot elements alone. "Lost" instead focuses distinctly on character development. Its case is also helped by the high-budget production values: The picture is simply gorgeous in high definition and the sound is well-produced in 5.1 surround, a rare treat on network television. The $5 million pilot episode has the feel a Hollywood film. I suppose all the money they spent on special effects in this episode will be recovered by the fact that future episodes won't require many sets to be built.
Back to the character development. "Lost" spends nearly all 2 hours of its pilot episode partially introducing the characters while still holding enough back to make room for new surprises in the future. The characters are indeed compelling, but the time spent introducing them leads to a very slow pace of the pilot. It also doesn't help that seemingly 40 minutes of those 2 hours are spent in commercials. Hopefully once we know the characters better in future episodes, the plot can take a slightly faster pace. However, despite these flaws I'm still left with a positive impression of the show due to the depth being hashed out in the characters. An exciting plot with vacuous characters would be far worse.
One thing that bothers me is the behavior of the characters after the crash. Their primary concerns seem to be food and finding a radio transponder. No mention is ever made of obtaining fresh water, and although they clearly aren't acting thirsty, no source of fresh water is ever visible on-screen, except for a few leftover water bottles from the airplane and a brief rainfall. There also does not seem to be much interest in finding shelter. Instead the characters spend their days and nights lying on the beach. Although it's plausable that in a real life situation, people might be too stupid to realize the proper priorities at first -- after one full day anyone would feel the need for water and shelter.
It's too early to tell whether the show will be good or not. The first episode was engrossing albeit lackadaisical in pace. If it does turn out well, the cause will surely be the depth of the characters and their interactions. The only question remaining is if there is enough plot material available to make a full season or more out of the premise.
September 20, 2004
Unidentified Body Found in Charles River
Looking outside from our Cambridge, MA apartment on Sunday, Helen and I noticed a flurry of police and fire department activity on Memorial Drive near the Longfellow Bridge. We walked over to get a closer look and found a crew in hazmat suits carefully inspecting the shoreline of the Charles River right next to the road. They eventually recovered what looked like a body and loaded it into a truck to be taken to the coroner's office. Today, a report appeared on the Channel 5 News website:
Update 4:20pm: Again from a report on Channel 5:
A body pulled out of the Charles River has been identified as a missing woman from Malden, police confirmed Monday. Julaine Jules, 26, was reported missing in late August. Her car was found torched in Revere, Mass., shortly after she disappeared. Her body wrapped in plastic was recovered from the river Sunday.
September 18, 2004
CBS Memo Followup
Sunday's Washington Post finally puts the nails into the coffin over the legitimacy of CBS's memos concerning Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. They hired their own certified document experts who concluded that the typography of the memos, specificially the kerning, was definitely impossible on typewriters of the early 1970s. The story also chronicles how CBS researched the memos and eventually came to the decision to air the report without an exhaustive analysis of the memos' authenticity. The Post also has a thorough graphic that points out numerous other problems with the memos.
September 15, 2004
Debunking the CBS Memos
One key difference between the blogging community and mainstream journalists is that your average blogger is a lot more technology savvy than your average print or TV journalist. Never has this been more clear than in the past week since CBS first released memos from the early 70s suggesting that then Lt. George W. Bush defied a direct order from the Texas Air National Guard to take his physical exam. Numerous bloggers were quick to perform their own document analysis and eventually came to the consensus that the memos could not have been generated by any typewriter available at the time. The most striking evidence of this seems to be that the default settings in Microsoft Word seem to produce documents basically identical to the CBS memos -- a fact distinctly underreported in traditional media outlets.
The supposed document experts retained by CBS correctly pointed out that some typewriters at the time were able to produce the proportional text and superscripts seen in the memos. Although true, other more subtle difference basically rule out such typewriters. Here is a thorough analysis of why the IBM Selectric Composer could not have done it and here is an analysis of why the IBM Executive could not have done it. Nonetheless, CBS seems to be sticking to its guns on the legitimacy of the memos. They continue to point out that the signatures appear to confirm the authenticity of the documents despite the ease with which a genuine signature can be composited onto a fake document. Then, today, CBS has taken the slightly baffling position of continuing to defend the authenticity of the memos, yet simultaneously interviewing Marian Knox on 60 Minutes II, who claims it would have been her responsibility to type the memos at the time, and she is sure these memos did not come from her. So is CBS saying they believe her or not? My respect for CBS has gone down dramatically in the last few days, and my opinion was further cemented today as they continue to take such nonsensical positions. The interview with Knox was particularly frustrating to watch, as Dan Rather allowed her to ramble on about how much she dislikes Bush, but he refused to probe deeper into her assertion that she knows Bush refused an order to take a physical. How does she know this? Did she ever put it in writing? Did anyone ever put it in writing? Would it be so hard for Rather to ask any of these questions?
Several blogs have pointed out in more detail than I the ridiculousness of CBS's reporting.
September 09, 2004
Last weekend, Helen and I visited New York City for the Labor Day holiday. We toured the city whirlwind style, cramming as many things into our 3 and a half day trip as possible. Naturally, one of the items on the top of my list was to see the World Trade Center site. Being as young as I am, tragedies such as September 11, 2001 have less personal effect on me than on the average person who has spent a lifetime without seeing any comparable event. Nonetheless, finally seeing the site in person makes a larger impression on me than the detached viewings on TV ever could. I was personally affected by this serendipitous photo I took of Alexander Hamilton's grave from the grounds of Trinity church. I had remembered having taken a similar photo in the past, but I had forgotten the significance, which struck me as soon as I dug up the old photo from my archives at home:
After taking that original photo on July 16, 2000, never in my wildest imagination would I have guessed that such a gaping wound in the skyline would be possible. I am also struck by how little the rest of the scene changed: Even the small pine tree to the right has all the same branches in all the same places, yet one of mankind's greatest structures is gone forever. The modest monument of Alexander Hamilton persists, yet the grand monument to commercial enterprise does not.
I'll be sure to return in a decade to take the same photo with the new skyline that appears.
September 08, 2004
Bush's Biggest Mistake
You may recall many months ago when President Bush held one of his rare press conferences where reporters are given an open floor to ask questions. One reporter asked him what he thought his biggest mistake of his term has been. Bush waffled and in an uncharacteristic moment, was unable to sidestep or redirect the question, instead looking like a deer in the headlights. Now, months later, a reporter for Time followed up on that question in the September 6th issue. This time, Bush has a response, however, it's both subtle and slightly mysterious. See for yourself.
Time: One of us asked you at a press conference last April what you thought your biggest mistake was. You didn't have an answer then. Do you now?
Bush: When you asked that question, I was convinced you were trying to force me to say it was a mistake to go into Iraq, which I wasn't going to do. As sure as I'm sitting here, the right decision was to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The tactics going into Iraq were based upon a certain set of assumptions, like refugee flows, hunger, oil destruction. Had we had to do it again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success -- being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day. I couldn't have sat down and said to you, By the way, we're going to be so victorious so quickly that we'll end up having to fight another third of the Baathists over the next year in order to bring liberty to the country. There's an idea that you can chew on.
September 01, 2004
Getting into the RNC
Tomorrow afternoon I'm going to leave Cambridge with my wife to spend a few days in New York City to celebrate Labor Day weekend. Although our main purpose in going is to do the normal touristy things, we'll also probably drop by Madison Square Garden to see if there's any excitement outside the Republican National Convention. Apparently, it must not be too hard to get valid credentials for the floor, because according to CNN, eleven protesters managed to do it:
Eleven protesters were arrested Wednesday on the floor of Madison Square Garden, site of the Republican National Convention, law enforcement officials said.
The protesters were members of the AIDS activist group ACT UP and will face trespassing charges. They shouted and carried signs on the convention floor during a speech by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.
All the hecklers had valid floor passes. The U.S. Secret Service said the screening process is working and no one who has demonstrated inside the convention has had a weapon or posed a threat to anyone.
So if some credentials happen come my way, maybe I'll stop in to take in the scene. It worked at the DNC for Keith Winstein of MIT's student newspaper, The Tech.