Charlie Don't Surf

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Use of white phosphorus in the Gaza attack and elsewhere

Above: Fallujah, Iraq, 2004.

Left: Lebanon, 2006

Above: Burn victim in Tyre, Lebanon, 2006

Above photo: from the Vietnam War. Note the airburst pattern

Above: Gaza

Above: Phosphorus burn victim at Gaza's Nasser Hospital

Below: Gaza

Above: Gaza. Note the distinctive airburst

(undated photo)


above photo: Gaza. You can tell this is a real "pinpoint" weapon.

Left: Shelling of the UN school in Beit Lahiya, Gaza

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Story out of Afghanistan

from the White House Bulletin:

= Afghan Officials Score Record Hash Bust. Afghan anti-drug officials said today that they uncovered 260 tons of hashish hidden in southern Afghanistan, a trove worth more than $400 million. The drugs were burned at the site. A spokesman for the DEA called the bust "pretty huge" and added, "`I can't think of any other time I've ever heard of that large of an amount in one hit."

Nasrullah: Look at the big pile go up in flames. Truly we have stricken a great blow to the traffickers. Allah be praised.

Hafez: Yes, indeed. God is great. Never have I seen so much hashish burning at one time.

Nasrullah: It is like a great volcano, the flames lick the sky like a hellish inferno.

Hafez: Yes, there is much smoke. Wait, the wind is shifting.

Nasrullah: The smoke is billowing over here. [cough] We must get out of the way. Very smoky.

Yes, I will move away, very soon. [cough] We should not be here, with the smoke all around us. Do not breathe it.

Nasrullah: I am not breathing it. It is very evil Taliban smoke. We must go in the hut and close the window. [cough]

Hafez: Yes. We must run away from this bad smoke.

[long pause]

Nasrullah: Maybe it is not actually so bad.

Hafez: It has a sort of sweet aroma.

Nasrullah: Perhaps we will move away in one or two minutes, into the hut, and close the window, and read the Koran.

Hafez: Yes. There is certainly a great deal of smoke everywhere.

Nasrullah: I am not breathing it in.

Hafez: Nor am I. Well, I am perhaps breathing in just a little, because it is all around and it is unavoidable.

Nasrullah: And I as well, but only temporarily.

Hafez: Yes.

Nasrullah: Did you have lunch? I am hungry.

Hafez: Strangely, I am as well.

[ long pause ]

Nasrullah: I have been wondering, these past few minutes, does that cloud not look like a giant foot? Like a huge foot, in a sandal, but instead of a big toe there is the head of a laughing pig.

Hafez: You are foolish.

Nasrullah: No! Look at this cloud, you will see it, a pig head on a big foot. I swear it.

Hafez: I cannot see the clouds because of all this smoke. [cough]

Nasrullah: I could eat an entire plate of Baklava right now.

Hafez: I am a little dizzy.

Nasrullah: I have to find Baklava.

Hafez: Yes, I will help you. In a minute.

Nasrullah: Hafez, do you think God can make a rock so big that even he cannot lift it?

Hafez: Come again?

Nasrullah: It occurs to me, if God can make a rock so big that even he cannot lift it, that means he is not all-powerful, because he cannot lift the rock. But if he can lift the rock, that also means he is not all-powerful, because he cannot make a... very heavy rock... [gazes at his foot]

Hafez: [ laughing uncontrollably]

Nasrullah: Stop it! I speak the truth. [takes a deep breath] We must stop breathing this.

Hafez: [Long, deep breath] The fire will probably go out soon. Someone has to make sure this fire does not... burn out of control.

Nasrullah: Safety is important.

Hafez: Everyone else has gone into the hut. They are waving at us.

Nasrullah: I think we should lie down.

Hafez: Yes. I shall make a little fort out of the sand, with sticks, and this rock.

Nasrullah: Good idea.

Hafez: Wait... maybe it is too complicated.

Nasrullah: What is?

Hafez: If I curl my tongue into a tube like this, I can make the sound of a tiny bird. Listen: fffzzzzz---ffffzzzzz

Nasrullah: There are no birds that sound like that.

Hafez: Ffffzzzzz- ffffzzzzzzz

Nasrullah: You have spittle on your chin! [laughs uncontrollably]

Hafez: Now I see the clouds, where is the one that is like a foot and a pig?

Nasrullah: Like a what?

Hafez: The cloud that looks like foot, as you said. [laughing]

Nasrullah: I do not remember saying it. You are making fun.

Hafez: You said there was a giant foot!

Nasrullah: YOU are a giant foot!

~ three hours later ~

Hafez: [ in hole ] I tell you, I do not see it!

Nasrullah: What?

Hafez: China.

Nasrullah: Oh yes.

Hafez: You said to keep digging in the sand. But it is very dark, and I have only my hands to dig.

Nasrullah: Keep trying. I am sure of it. [stifling laughter]

Hafez: Please throw me down a sandwich.

~ the end ~

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

from the time capsule: Reflections after Kerry's defeat in '04

To Frank Ahrens, November 2004

I offer this blast from the past for no good reason other than that I just found it on a computer and thought it might be worth saving before I deleted it forever. It's an email I wrote in response to a message from Frank the day after Kerry conceded the election to Bush in November '04. He was trying to make me feel better about the results, I think, but his reward was a point-by-point rebuttal from a very bitter and disenchanted man. It was a tough election. And we have seen that, in fact, Bush's post-election pledge to govern from the center was utterly hollow. I continue to believe that the GOP strategy to "define" Kerry in 2004 produced the most loathsome, repulsive political campaign I have ever seen.

> however, for your own well-being, i would counsel calm.

Thankfully I can report that I’m in no danger of harming myself or otherwise veering into delirium. Actually a fair bit of post-election work for clients to do here, which is good.

> it was a great election in that it was two terrific campaigns
> In which each candidate expressed their visions and no voter
> should have been left in the dark as to the issues or the
> candidates's positions on them.

Well, good to have a positive and optimistic view, I guess. Were they two terrific campaigns? “Terrific” in that they were both hard fought and tactically clever about things, I guess – if I’m Mark McKinnon, and I believe that the GOP has a good opportunity to define the opponent -- a war hero -- as first a coward and then a traitor and then as someone who would prompt a massive terrorist attack, I guess I’ve done a terrific job if people end up believing that. I think it was a truly repulsive campaign, actually, just despicable and sad on so many levels – the naked fearmongering, the sickening, repeated exploitation of a national tragedy, shameless lying, the methodical attempt to destroy Kerry’s character and reputation (because there was “an opportunity” to do so before he got his own message out). I’m not sure the Shrum/Devine/Kerry campaign was terrific, though certainly aggressive and better than Gore’s, but the scary-draft stuff, the pandering to Israelis to counter Rove, the failure to quickly put down the Swift Boat stuff, bothered me. Not as utterly shot through with lies and distortion and character assassination as the other side, but certainly scummy in places. Now, if we’re proceeding from the premise that politics ain’t beanbag and any sort of tactic at all is fair, and stop your whinin’ about right and wrong in this sphere -- then great, they ran two tactically “terrific” campaigns. I don’t believe that, and I think the BC re-election campaign will go down as one of the most repulsive national campaigns ever mounted.

> the process worked without glitch or scandal

The reliably conspiracy–minded Greg Palast reported for the BBC this morning that 76,000 ballots in Ohio were discarded across the state, and that together with the 150,000 provisionals… this is the legal challenge that some Kerry-Edwards lawyers were arguing for in their meeting yesterday morning. Kerry declined to do it, especially since Blackwell had threatened not even to begin counting them until after 11 days of limbo and bitterness. The Ohio state GOP, even before the Tuesday returns were in, had already filed a lawsuit to block the possible counting of provisional ballots until a “uniform standard” for doing so had been established, even though Ohio hasn’t had one since they started using provisional ballots 10 years ago. I only mention that to show who was first to the courthouse. I think Kerry probably did the right thing. He is a better man than Bush.

> we had an actual winner
> who got, for the first time since 1988, an actual majority.

Yeah, 51%. Good for him. The results show that Bush would not have won the election but for one state, Ohio. The presence of a majority has been talked about a lot, with good reason, but it’s mostly attributable to the absence of a viable 3rd-party candidate on the ballot such as Perot or Nader. Perot kept Clinton to pluralities twice; I don’t have a hard time believing that half of them would have gone to Clinton to produce majorities if Perot had not been on the ballot.

> Kerry was gracious in his concession and Bush was magnanimous in his.

Just tell me truthfully, do you accept that Bush was actually sincere when he said he wanted to govern in a way that attracts Democratic support and otherwise helps to heal the divisions in the country? Because that is the part of the speech that could be called magnanimous, and I believe it was said in a sort of emptily ceremonial way. I haven’t been able to find a single Republican at my firm – and there are several – who believes that Bush will actually try to proceed this way. And they don’t want to, frankly, given the stronger majorities in Congress. So, it was a speech, and I think events will quickly bear out that this gesture was completely empty and insincere. But I’d be curious to hear why you wrote that. If by “magnanimous” you meant that Bush said some nice things about Kerry, I guess that seems pretty traditional boilerplate-victory-speech and ordinary to me.

> the truth is, Bush is more like america than Kerry.
> faith/religion is very important for most of america
> and the majority of those voters do not believe that the
> Democratic national party shares those values.

Quite possibly true. There’s a debate now about what exactly these voters meant when they told exit pollsters that “moral values” were their top concern – more so than jobs, health care, war, terror. I found that an odd reason, certainly odd to be ranked #1. If you believe the exit polls (though some Rs in my office think they're a bogus read on the election because of the obvious failure of the morning data), the social/moral/cultural stuff helped drive the God-fearin', flag-wavin' GOP base out much more than in 2000... enough to win. That appears to vindicate the Karl Rove thesis that 1) many of those folks stayed home in 2000 and had to be drawn out, and 2) the best route to winning was by firing up the base and not worrying about attracting the middle. To me, it looks like it worked. Just enough. As to faith generally, I know a lot of very deeply spiritual, faithful people – Welton Gaddy also said this yesterday -- whose faith is offended by the GOP’s lack of interest in alleviating child poverty, its launching of a war of choice that has killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians, on and on. It’s a strange and intolerant sort of faith that is inflamed by the prospect of a lesbian getting health insurance for her partner, but not by the need to comfort the poor. So, you’re talking about a particular strain of rural, conservative evangelical faithfulness, and I won’t dispute that they were more motivated to vote on Tuesday – perhaps by the presence of gay-marriage initiatives on the ballot all over the place – than most people thought.

> i believe the future of the party are Schwarzenegger
> republicans, who are more like Goldwater republicans—
> strong on defense and fiscal restraint but libertarian/liberal socially.

Well, maybe, but the Republicans who wield power in this country between the presidential election cycles certainly aren’t the moderates like McCain and Giuliani etc., who are only trotted out when the party wants to portray itself as less bitterly conservative than it actually is (i.e. at conventions). I don’t see that changing; moderate Republicans have become almost completely marginalized in Congress – McCain chairs a committee only by virtue of his seniority, and you can bet they won’t let that happen again. I challenge you to name a single moderate GOP committee chairman in the entire House -- they aren’t there, and they will not be. Jim Leach, a moderate, is the most senior member of the House Financial Services Committee and is not even allowed to chair a piddling subcommittee. He has been prevented from holding any power in the House whatsoever. Now, if you mean they might nominate someone like Giuliani for president – sure, but he’d face some stiff primary competition. That, to me, doesn’t mean that pro-choice Republicans like him or Schwarzenegger represent “the future of the party” anytime soon. I think you need to take another look at the party as it stands today.

> Look at it this way: a likely GOP candidate
> for 2008 is Jeb Bush who is more moderate than George.
> also look at people like Racicot and Colin Powell and Giuliani.

Well, I hope so. I don’t find Racicot all that moderate, and he brings no base in Montana. I don’t think Powell has the desire to run.

> when i used to strongly believe in things other
> than the personal well-being of immediate family
> members, i experienced such dejection/elation when
> my proxies lost/won.

It’s definitely hard to believe in the necessity of something and to feel the sudden finality of the door slamming. (But that doesn’t make me want to work for an alternative any less.) For me, it’s also the sense of total estrangement from the values of 51% of the electorate – they might as well be space aliens, they are so burrowed away from facts that are obvious to the rest of the planet, and so ready to swallow the blarney that guys like McKinnon spoon into their mouths. It isn’t my country, and the prospect of the two nations being joined somehow seems remote. Maybe under a future GOP president who isn’t as guided by the worst factional instincts of the party, as you optimistically predict. Seems unlikely the Dems can come up with a Southern guy who can attract votes from Red America. I guess we’ll see. Until then, enjoy gazing upon George Bush’s smirking, insufferable face for four years.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Chuck McCutcheon's SXSW

My reporter friend Chuck McCutcheon attends Austin's frenetic South by Southwest music festival every year, and then sends around a recap of the best shows he saw (that he can remember through the haze of tequila). Here's this year's edition.

It was another great year in the fabulous capital of Texas. The weather was in the upper 70s all week, even cracking the 90s one day. I opted to go without a wristband this year, not wanting to pay the ridiculous $180 (more than a hundred dollars over what they were when we started going a decade ago).

This meant that while I did not get to see Van Morrison or R.E.M., I didn't feel like I had to rush around frantically all week trying to get my money's worth. I enjoyed leisurely meals (Artz Rib House and Ruby's BBQ in particular) got lots more sleep. And I still saw plenty of music at the day parties, evening showcases and elsewhere.

The big highlights:

X at the Austin Convention Center. This show was part of a week-long series of tapings for DirecTV inside two movie-set-like clubs. One was made up to look like a honky tonk; the other was the "Bat Bar,'' with stroby high-tech lights. My friend Steve scored press passes to the Bat Bar, which meant that we stood eight feet in front of John, Exene, DJ and Billy as they happily blasted through more than an hour's worth of their classics. Yes, it was really, really amazing. Because of a technical glitch we even got to see them do "Your Phone's Off The Hook, But You're Not" twice.

Spoon at Town Lake. They were the headliners of a free show that drew a huge crowd at sunset. I didn't know much about these guys, except that they're critically adored, and now I can see why. They did get a great job of blending loud and soft, fast and slow.

Waco Brothers at the Yard Dog. For me this remains the single best reason to come to SXSW. Nothing quite beats seeing Jon Langford and the gang whipping up a supercharged fury on that tiny plank of a stage while trading insults and collectively swilling from a tequila bottle. They had a new drummer this year, plus a bassist they recruited from a local oldies band (who saw fit to drunkenly shout "OLDIES!" to anyone within earshot). As an added bonus we got to see them do it all over again the next day at Jovita's. They have a new live CD out, which captures some of the madness of their shows and which all of you should buy immediately.

Others I really liked:

Chuck Prophet at Jovita's: I was very impressed with his ability to make his stuff sound so moody, atmospheric and personal inside a crowded Mexican restaurant crammed full of loud and drunk people. I'm definitely buying more of his music.

The Drams at Mother Egan's: This is Brent Best of Slobberbone’s new band. I miss Slobberbone but these guys did a wonderful job on the first night, even playing a few of the old songs.

The Breeders at Waterloo Park: Truth be told, they weren't that great. They had an amplifier problem that made "Divine Hammer" and a couple of other songs sound muddled, and their version of "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" started out great but then fell apart. But ``Cannonball’’ still sounds cool after all these years, and I did have the same flight out of Austin with the Deal sisters, telling Kim as we were boarding that I enjoyed the show.

Grupo Fantasma at Town Lake: Prince is apparently a big fan of these Austin guys, and they play the kind of music he would if he were Mexican and had a large horn section.

Alejandro Escovedo, the Old 97s, Kevin Gordon and the North Mississippi All Stars: All are old SXSW favorites that I saw at one place or another during the week. None gave the best performance I've ever seen, but all still sound good, Alejandro in particular. Apparently he and Chuck Prophet are now collaborating, which is exciting news. I got to say hello to Jimmy Gray of Last Train Home, who was playing bass for Kevin.

Some other shows:

My buddy Ed Pettersen, Thurston Moore, the Silos (with Jon Dee Graham on guitar), Patty Hurst Shifter, the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, And You Will Know Us By Our Trail of Dead, the Redwalls, Augustana, Black Angels, Golden Dogs.

Friday, March 14, 2008

I condemn these awful, reprehensible comments, which I will repeat in case you didn't hear them.

A riff that burbled up when my friend Bill Shein sent me this news link with the aside, "We’ll see this headline, what, 2.4 million times if it’s McCain vs. Obama?"
"McCain Campaign Condemns Backer's Obama Remarks"

JOHN McCAIN: "Let me say again: I completely condemn Rev. Hagee's use of Mr. Obama's middle name, which is Hussein," McCain said. "I condemn it. It has no place in my campaign. I also condemn the insidious suggestion that Mr. Obama may or not be a Muslim and attended a Madrassah, perhaps with future members of Hezbollah. These reprehensible suggestions have no place in my or any campaign. I also condemn the fact that an unidentified person chose to distribute this photograph of Mr. Obama wearing an Islamic head wrap. Can we show it? There. That one. I specifically condemn this photograph, of which my staff is distributing four-color reproductions. No, Dave, not the one of him not putting his hand over his heart during the national anthem. Different stack. I also condemn those. No, the head-wrap. Yes. This tactic is loathsome and shocks the conscience! Let me add that I condemn and revile without reservation the notion that somehow Mr. Obama is to be held in low regard because in that book he admitted to smoking marijuana and perhaps ingested other drugs, such as crack or heroin, or huffed gasoline out of a bucket, I'm not saying he did, but to suggest that he did, or still does, is scandalous and I abhor it. I abhor it! I also condemn.. what else have I got here.. [shuffles papers] Antichrist -- that one is awful, totally out of bounds, call someone Devilspawn, it has no place in the.. what else.. Hussein.. said it.. the flag pin thing -- awful -- unconscionable to even mention it... anyway, I will be condemning these vile acts again for the 6:30 pm live network feed."

Friday, February 08, 2008

On Dan Snyder and the Redskins

To Matt Clark and Pete Walby, Feb. 8, 2008

I'm no Danny-defender. I think Dan Snyder has often been a harmful meddler, not on the order of Jerry Jones, but bad. However I think in fairness to him, he laid off the team while Gibbs was coach -- and by all accounts Gibbs and Snyder had a good working relationship.

Snyder mistreated Norv Turner -- Norv should never have been fired midseason. That one's on Danny. That looked ridiculous, coming on top of the postgame keelhauling that Snyder put Turner through earlier in the year -- never embarrass your coach like that, idiot. Norv deserved better; the previous year he had won the NFC East and won a playoff game. I will note that a whole chorus of Post columnists cheered the midseason firing when it happened. Then the team lost their last three games under Terry Robiskie.

Marty Schottenheimer -- should never have been hired. Bad decision. The waiving of Larry Centers, the way Marty treated Darrell Green, the utter boredom of his offense.. Regardless of their late-season defensive heroics that year, Schottenheimer was a horrible fit with the Redskins, a crapass, unimaginative coach in my view, and I was pleased he was fired. If it takes a meddling boy-owner to understand that and to reverse the mistake, hurray for meddling boy owners. My $.02.

Steve Spurrier -- was an interesting idea that did not work. He was completely out of his depth. The Redskins did not go 5-11 twice under Steve Spurrier because they had a meddling boy owner. They went 5-11 because Spurrier did not belong in the NFL. For the record, Spurrier was not fired, and the entire Redskins front office reportedly was stunned the day he quit. Like everybody, I was rooting for the Spurrier project to work -- he seemed like another creative pass-happy offensive genius -- but his teams got their asses kicked, he started guys like Danny Wuerffel at QB, and his rookie O/D coordinators Hue Jackson and George Edwards were inexperienced and clearly overwhelmed. Poor decision-making by a college coach lacking big-league seasoning.

Would Spurrier tell you that he left because of Snyder? Snyder certainly gave Spurrier every free agent he asked for. Some owners are tightwads, like Bill Bidwill, and their rosters wither on the vine -- say what you want about Danny, he ain't a tightwad with the team payroll.

Snyder then pursued Joe Gibbs single-mindedly, which a lot of Redskins fans were pleased to see, including me. It was not a foregone conclusion by any means that Gibbs would return to the team, but Snyder made it happen through force of will. Snyder then allowed Gibbs to hire every 70+ year-old assistant coach he wanted, certainly did not meddle there, and opened his wallet for Saunders and Gregg Williams at Gibbs' request, and made his plane available for every free-agent signing Gibbs asked for, often flying out with Joe to meet with players. I think history will look upon Snyder's performance with Gibbs kindly.

So, there's the record with coaches. Now, of course, after Gibbs left the place began to look chaotic, and people are piling on Snyder again. My surmisal about the episode with Williams is that he must have had a poor relationship with Snyder -- who knows why. If we lost the chance to have Gregg Williams because Snyder and Cerrato had awful judgment, or because Williams did not kiss Snyder's butt enough, then I will look upon them with the same disdain as you both...

The fact that Vinnie Cerrato rose to such heights with the team, and that the Redskins have nothing that resembles a proper GM, does not speak well for Snyder. I have never understood Snyder's fascination with Vinnie, I wish their front office looked more like a traditional NFL club -- though not all NFL teams have a traditional GM, and some have prospered without them. I will note that Cerrato came to the Skins from -- that's right --

...the 49ers.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

On 'Atonement' and 'There Will Be Blood'

To Brandon Griggs and Joan Kennan, January 8, 2008

I've seen "Atonement" and was ready to like it, but I guess it left me a little disappointed. I'm sure it's very faithful to the book but that may actually be a problem. This book leaves a director with a great deal of ground to cover, so the movie has to leap from chapter to chapter. As Hyla said, we don't really get much sense for why these two people had such an epic love for each other -- they just do at the outset, and we're asked to accept it. A great deal of time must be devoted (properly) to the opening incidents at the country house, and then it becomes a sweeping war picture, with a Cold Mountain-style massive scene at the Dunkirk evacuation, which I agree is done well. (Macavoy is excellent throughout I thought, effortless and real.) Then it pretty much becomes the younger sister's story, just as it was her story in the beginning, and frankly it is more interesting than the romance. And fortunately the actresses who play the young and older Briony are excellent, the best parts of the movie, I thought.

But then you get hoodwinked with the Vanessa Redgrave stuff and instead of being an actual romantic war epic, it becomes a writerly meta-meditation on the uses of fiction, the uses of the novel, the role of art in people's lives and in the lives of the people who make art -- so we step away from the story itself until the story becomes an artifact that we are examining. In the movies, we mostly just want the straightforward romance or the straightforward war story, not a turn in which the story becomes a device for us to think about how stories are manipulated by writers to make them feel better about their own lives. I found the Redgrave jump to present-day just odd, and it is difficult to then re-immerse in a false story -- it becomes cerebral, not immediate. And of course, it's because the film is faithful to the novel, and that's great -- it's great that Joe Wright wanted to be faithful to what is, by all accounts, an excellent and clever book. But the fact that "Atonement" was an excellent book doesn't necessarily mean that it would be a great film, or even that it could have been a great film, since it is a meta-literary piece that could be best suited for readers. I think it is a mistake to think that movies, a medium that's more sensory than cerebral, can achieve the same brainy effects that a Chinese-puzzle novel can.

Keira Knightley was better in "Pride & Prejudice" and doesn't really have much to do in this film; she is overtaken by her sister's more interesting story, and at this point in her career I think her acting chops are limited anyway. But there were things I liked in the movie -- James MacAvoy, Saoirse Ronan as the young Briony, and generally the way they handled the early scenes at the country house. Wright sets up Briony (and us) for a stunning image -- her sister splayed against the library wall, the shock of sex to a young person's eyes -- that was well done, and the scene played to the visual strengths of film as a medium that can capture the force of a moment like that. But film can't really handle the rest of what Wright asked it to do later on, so in all I thought the movie didn't really work.

About the others you mentioned --

"No Country For Old Men" -- great chase movie. It's not much more than a chase, with some funny character bits and suspense and violence, but it doesn't try to be much more so an unqualified win for the Coens (and yet another chapter in their obsession with vengeful hayseeds).

"Juno" -- saw it with Hyla and her parents -- very funny, great performance by Ellen Page, who should win something or other, at the very least some more work.

"There Will Be Blood" -- saw it at the fabulous Arclight Theatre in LA last week. Like "Atonement," I think this another epic project that is worth seeing but in the end, fundamentally does not work. The story is so obsessively focused on the Daniel Plainview character for 2 1/2 hours, to the exclusion of anyone else, it almost becomes claustrophobic. As Hyla said, "There's no one to root for in the entire movie." I mean, have one or two other worthwhile characters, maybe. With an actor as strong as Daniel Day-Lewis, it's maybe not a bad gambit to focus exclusively on his guy for the movie, and I take Anderson's point that America and (American capitalism and industry generally) was shaped by driven men like this, so their mania and obsessiveness is worth looking at. But his back-and-forth feud with Paul Dano's fire-and-brimstone boy preacher ultimately seems petty -- a lifelong struggle between two nut jobs; why is this important again? Even Dano drops out of the film for hours at a time. Throughout the movie it sounded like Day-Lewis was trying to approximate the speech inflections of somebody I knew, but I couldn't figure it out, until the end I realized who it was: John Huston. Watch him in "Chinatown" or something else and tell me if you agree; the slow, lilting roll of Huston's sentences is unmistakable. The movie does have some awesome scenes and set pieces, especially in the beginning when Plainview begins to find oil -- Anderson captures the darkness and sudden violence of the business, and the sparse dialogue keeps you off guard as he mixes it with silence and eerie background music from the Radiohead guy. Those scenes seemed very experimental, good stuff.

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" -- I've heard it's incredible from everyone who's seen it.

"I'm Not There" -- haven't seen it and I've heard it can be tough going, unless you have a cheat sheet to distinguish between all the Dylan versions and what parts of his career they represent. But I've liked all of Todd Haynes' movies.

"The Kite Runner" -- haven't seen it and was not allowed to see it since Hyla started to cry even at the trailer for it before "Juno." Sheez.

"Margot at the Wedding" -- Haven't seen it but especially after "Squid and the Whale," I'll see anything Noah Baumbach does...