Friday, January 21, 2011

two dumb to play with themselves, part 3

1. The Present: Farhad Manjoo Is a Humorless Nincompoop

Farhad Manjoo has been on my radar for kind of a while, ever since I heard him come on the radio and make the following argument.

  1. People are buying Apple products.
  2. Those people notice that Flash is kind of, well, fucking ubiquitous on the web.
  3. Those people notice that Apple products don't support Flash.
  4. Those people are upset with the lack of support.
  5. Those people are stupid and wrong, because Steve Jobs says Flash is Teh Gay and Steve Jobs is smart--remember the time he shipped those funny-colored computers with the mice that didn't fucking work like at all because they were round but those funny-colored computers didn't have floppy drives and everybody thought he was nuts but here it is 10 years later and no computers have floppy drives anymore, so Steve Jobs is smart and Flash is probably doomed.
  6. Also there is HTML 5, so who needs Flash.

(Farhad Manjoo at work)

1 through 4 there I think are pretty inarguably true. 6 is debatable, but I'm willing to have the debate. 5, though, I found a truly annoying illustration of at least two logical fallacies: post hoc ergo propter hoc and wildly overreaching analogy. (Might not have the Aristotelian terminology down on that second one there.)

And then I kind of kept on living my life without paying all that much attention to Manjoo, somehow. Pity me. But then he dropped this impassioned screed on the topic of Two Spaces After a Period Is Fucked Up and Wrong and Important.

I've received press releases and correspondence from the biggest companies in the world that are riddled with extra spaces.
Yes, these truly are the issues that exercise the journalists of my generation: I feel excellent about the future. So I weighed in. Since I am a complete prick bastard, I clued him into my in-weighing.

Apparently nobody needed a stooge to mindlessly mouth their talking points for them yesterday, and all the local paint chips had already been munched, b/c Manjoo got all het up and decided to spend the bulk of the day angrily claiming levels of integrity and involvement his career has never at any point displayed.

(Farhad Manjoo interacting on Twitter)

Collision: Pretty heavy-handed for a guy who breathlessly reads Apple press releases for a living. @fmanjoo
@fmanjoo: This was the best Apple PR note ever, by the way:
Collision: Yeah, I liked better the time you forecasted the death of Flash b/c we don't use floppy disks anymore.
@fmanjoo: That wasn't the reasoning. But I just disproved your baseless claim, and I'll do it again, free:
Collision: Yes, two spine-filled articles DO make baseless my claim that on the radio you gush so thoroughly that I reach for the dial.
Collision: And your reasoning went: Apple doesn't like Flash; Apple didn't like floppies; Apple will win vs Flash. Piffle.
@fmanjoo: On the radio? What are you talking about? Here's a third. I could go on all day.
Collision: Apparently you can go on all day.
@fmanjoo: You asserted that I'm never critical of Apple (reading press releases). How many articles would it take to prove you wrong?1
Collision: Actually, I accused you of "breathless gushing". I see now you have other modes, including humorless pedantry.
@fmanjoo: So you'll concede I'm not exclusively positive about Apple?
Collision: I'll "concede" that you take timeouts from breathless gushing to act like a jilted lover. Having not devoted myself to yr work?
Collision: (2/2) Somehow I had missed those frantic screeds. My mistake.
@fmanjoo: Ah, in other words you're inconvincable. You've got your opinion and by golly nothing's going to change it, not even facts.
Collision: Right: like you on Apple. ;) Are you a fanboy? No. Did I say you were? Also no. Have you breathlessly gushed? YES.
@fmanjoo: You accused me of reading press releases. If that's not an accusation of bias nothing is.
Collision: No, no, sorry: was my mistake to single out the Apple press releases (the ones that stuck in my head).
@fmanjoo: So you're objecting to my offering praise for any company, ever.4
Collision: It's not just iPad YAY on your resume: I was wrong. On Slate you've also cosigned PowerPoint, Firefox, Chrome, Google, & Office PR.
@fmanjoo: Let's get this straight: You're not a accusing me of never being negative, because I've already shown you examples of that.
@fmanjoo: You're also not accusing me of being hopelessly biased toward one company, because you've already seen that's not true.
Collision: Hey, man, if that's what you think your job consists of? Carry on, my wayward son. But I do prefer your challenging of lies, yes.
@fmanjoo: So you're asking me to never praise anything, but I'm the humorless pedant.
Collision: RT @cfCollision So you're asking me to never praise anything, but I'm the humorless pedant.
Collision: Ooo! That one was a good one! That's the spirit--now try it on a claim made by a tech CEO! It'll feel *great*!
Collision: (I would say 'never praise anything' is a poor reading of my position, but I'm enjoying yr last tweet way too much to quibble.)
Collision: Oh, I don't think you're biased. I think you're a 'journalist' like Nintendo Power's staff members are.2 You're an industry flack.
@fmanjoo: Yes, an assertion you're making while holding your hands in your ears and ignoring evidence to the contrary.5
Collision: I read your 2 counterexamples.3 You wrote my 5 examples.
Collision: You know what? Fuck it. You're super. You're wonderful. Hard-hitting work, thy name is Farhad Manjoo, scourge of the second space.

2. The Past: Farhad Manjoo Is a Dangerous Lunatic

The universe might be finite, so I cannot take on the project of arguing with every preposterous piece of nonsense Manjoo has signed off on. As a synecdoche, however, I would like to interact with the following excerpt.

Every Office app satisfies two important demands for Microsoft's large and diverse customer base: It's simple for novices to grasp but offers enough deep features for people to develop undying bonds of affection and expertise.

Let's...let's stop and think about this, just for a second. Because I'm not a tech journalist--one step straight sideways from the automotive section liars and scumbags, apparently--it's okay for me to think about claims other people make.

Imagine someone, a novice, firing up Excel or Outlook for the first time.

Does this imaginary cat--let's call her Ferdinande--say

Ferdinande: "wow! user friendly! as a novice, I feel comfortable with and welcomed by this program! I'm grasping it simply and, golly, I surely do hope I can continue to build expertise with this program!

Imagine a long-time user of Excel or Outlook. Or, fuck, Word.

Has any long-time user of Outlook, Excel or Word--let's call her Gottlobe--ever said

Gottlobe: "man, my expertise with this program sure feels good--I particularly enjoy how the program isn't bloated, sluggish and crash-prone! Microsoft, you've really made a product for which I feel undying bonds of affection!"

In Manjoo's universe, novices and power users alike apparently think and say things like that. In the cube farms I've worked in? Outlook is inescapable, spreadsheets are pressed into service in dozens of bizarre ways, and I have never at any time heard a single human express any pleasure whatsoever in their relationship with these products. I will go farther: short of deeply problematic levels of masochism, or maybe an advanced case of Stockholm Syndrome, it is in fact not possible to enjoy interacting with any aspect of Office. And anybody telling you otherwise is either barking fucking mad or lying right to your fucking face.

3. The Future: Please Anticipate the Following Asinine Farhad Manjoo Advertorials!

My main man Canada and I riffed on this for a while, and we expect the following kick-ass compensated pieces in the next couple months. (Note that Canada regards all of this as a waste of my powers, on account of Manjoo "ain't worth it".)

  • 11 Reasons to Fall in Love with Bing
    It's suave, supple, robust, and surprisingly fun to use!
  • Don't sleep on Corel Draw, folks: the old pony's still got a few tricks in her!
  • Do You Know Juno?
    The world's first free email service is arguably still the best!
  • Nintendo: Profit on every hardware sale + massive penetration of new market(s) = a colossal failure in strategy--a conversation with David Sony
  • New physical formats for media: essential and useful upgrades or completely necessary innovations you can't live without?
  • Xbox 360: 360 guaranteed days of pre-failure fun!*
    *Not guaranteed
  • Product Set Itself on Fire, Killing Three: 7/10
  • Early Zune Adopters Clear Winners in Long Run
  • Closed Formats, Open Arms: How--and Why!--Microsoft Is Saving the Net
  • Criticism Is Like Unto Raping to Murder: A Tech Journalist's Manifesto
  • Hotmail, wow! The Innovations!
  • PSP2 & PS3: Sony Finally Hits Their Stride!
  • America's Most Delightful processors: Why you should certainly settle for second (-ish) in the processor space
    Because note--AMD gives you good value...and...uhm...less heat

4. In Conclusion: Farhad Manjoo Is Decadent and Depraved

This is America, so it's not like being incredibly inept and uninterested in doing your job is a crime. In fact, a guy like Manjoo, with three entire examples of effort, is probably better than most, at least in the stunningly offensive field of tech journalism.

However, my five examples--which, even in J-school, is a number bigger than three--were taken from the first 25 hits returned on a search of Slate. His three counterexamples were not to be found there--maybe he's been phoning it in of late? Braces for the kids?

Furthermore, those five-of-25 were the only five that actually expressed a viewpoint of any kind. The other 20 were just bog-standard effulgences of tech...uh..."news".

And if we were to examine Manjoo's self-selected pieces purporting to exercise the journalistic impulse, applying a strong intellect and unparalleled access to information to reveal unexpected truths improving the knowledge base and lives of the reading public? What do we find?

  • One instance of piling on a well-established fuck-up.
    Which is to say, you know what you don't get credit for? Opinion pieces that express the opinion of literally everyone with an opinion.
    Agreeing stridently and trenchantly with everyone on the planet that the iPhone needed to make phone calls better than it did doesn't exactly set you up to displace Woodward and Bernstein.
  • One impassioned and somewhat baffling howl about not suing people for patent infringement.
    Which, for the record, contains damn-the-torpedoes criticism like
    [Apple] rightly claims ownership over the ... specific way in which the iPhone marries software and hardware to do what it does so well.
  • One lengthy whine about ads, which demonstrates his keen understanding of capitalism, as he says "wait, what? companies are gonna inconvenience me, the end user, by advertising at me? and they're doing it just to make money?" (The man has apparently never watched broadcast television.)
    The issue is that advertisements apparently are annoying on Apple device applications.6
    Other highlight: "I don't begrudge Apple any of this" written after 994 words of him begrudging Apple all of this.
    The main problem, of course, is that, as a bought-and-paid-for industry shill, Manjoo desperately wants tech advertising dollars to continue to flow to his domain, what in reputable fields gets called "editorial"; as he sees dollars go to things that are explicitly ads, rather than financing junkets for him to go on be impressed by MS Office's rich aroma and tender fillings, he realizes that he's got to up his shameful game and assault the new competition.

Is he a bad person? Probably not. But I think he's terrible at his job and I will go out of my way to avoid reading anything he writes in the future, bolstering my semi-long-standing campaign of avoiding listening to him fawn over consumer goods on the radio.

So let me admit it: Farhad Manjoo, you did make me change my mind. I admit: at the beginning, I thought you were just a silly Apple enthusiast. I was wrong. Then I thought you were a craven toady, as terrified of writing an interesting sentence as you are of finding and presenting a novel fact. I was right.

And before you unleash another instance of your interesting argument--that I must read everything you've ever written to have an opinion about your work--let me give you some basic truths, drawn from the realm of Moral Mathematics. You keep asking "how many [awful] columns and articles will it take to convince you of [the opposite of whatever point you're misascribing to me]?". Well, none. Because having read 10 of your pieces, I may have your stance wrong? but I'm certainly entitled to the opinion that you're a world-historically shoddy excuse for a journalist and that my life will be richer and better informed for your absence. Your position seems to be that I can't judge the meal of Shit Cake and Piss Tea you're feeding me until I've chewed every chunk and swallowed every drop: but I don't like the Shit Cake, I don't like the Piss Tea, and I'm not going to consume any more of your mush-headed corporate boosterism.

Am I trying to get him fired? Fuck no. Jobs for everybody, I say. Do I have a potent, throbbing desire for him to get a job he's actually good at, preferably in some arena I'd never under any circumstances enter?

Fuck Yes I Do


1Note that this is literally false. Nowhere did I say he was "never critical". How many articles would it take to disprove my actual claim--the claim that he does, at least sometimes, give uncritical lip service to preposterous PR claims? Well, it would take a review of all his articles to disprove that claim. Alas but that a cursory review of his articles demonstrates that the claim I actually made is inarguably true.

The illusory claim he tries to weasel out of? Sure, okay: Farhad Manjoo can certainly argue that literally several times in his career he has done something approximating his job.

To be so clear that even Farhad Manjoo in full-on defensive weasel mode can't misinterpret:

My claim is that Farhad Manjoo frequently abdicates both the potential and the responsibilities for analysis and criticism that are inherent in his position and chooses instead to function as a cheerleader for the industry, thoughtlessly reiterating the talking points of Information Officers and lending whatever weight his position possesses to the misleading and disingenuous horseshit spewed by liars attempting to mislead consumers and improve their standing in the marketplace.

2This was a cheap shot and I regret it. The staff members of Nintendo Power are intelligent and enthusiastic practitioners of their craft. I've been reading their work for years with enjoyment and increased understanding of the topics they cover. I regret associating them with Farhad Manjoo.

3It was three counterexamples. I regret the error.
To be fair to myself--which is easily my favorite kind of being fair--I found not five examples of him sucking, but in fact six. Which is more than five examples. Also more than two counterexamples. Or three.

4Note the move here is "you claim to be a journalist but default to reading press releases" becoming "I am not allowed to give praise ever". Ahem. No, it is not that you are never allowed to give praise; it is that you are always required to deploy intelligence and the insight your position grants you.

To put it a different way: you are required to not praise everything all the time.

To put it in his formulation: I object to Farhad Manjoo praising essentially every company essentially all of the time.

5I literally have no idea what this is supposed to mean. I have small hands and big ears, this is true, but I truly cannot hold anything with my ears, certainly not my hands. Maybe he means I was maintaining a position with my hands such that my hands were in my ears? But that's silly: not only do my hands not fit in my ears, the idiom is "plugging your ears with your fingers". Surely he couldn't make such a mistake.

6Sorry: reading this shit is deathly dull, and I've had to resort to typography to keep myself interested.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"River's too low to get my boat through the narrows."

Among the late silent period of Frank Borzage's films at the Fox Film Corporation, The River (1929) stands out as bearing an anomalously erotic charge to the point of a hot and heavy fever--of the sort which Alan John Spender (Charles Farrell) happens to fall victim to in the final act.Plot summary: A tall young riverboat driver docks his barge at a dam that has closed for repairs when he meets and becomes enamoured with a dark sultry seductress (Mary Duncan), alone waiting for her possessive boyfriend to serve his prison term--for murdering a man she was getting too personal with.

This film marks the final collaboration that Borzage worked with cinematographer Ernest Palmer and production designer Harry Oliver (or as I like to refer to them, PalmOlive, excuse the quip). The locale is bucolic this time and there aren't as many crane and dolly acrobatics performed by the camera. But the exotic settings again are magnificent: a river with a fatal whirlpool, a dam, rows of cabins to house dam workers (that look too real to tell how small they actually are, if in fact they were constructed for perspective), and an integral perspective train that runs along a bridge above the camp. Perspective sets are one of the treats I enjoy from the PalmOlive collaborations, and as a staple of German Expressionism and likewise influenced Hollywood studio productions, I feel I should add a brief definition: in this context it means building something small so that it appears to represent something much larger in the background (or executing the contrary effect). Perspective set design from this era is just really neat to me.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm also getting a huge kick out of the animals Borzage uses. In The River, Rosalee, the woman left alone for the winter, has a pet crow given to her by her murderous boyfriend to keep an eye on her while he's locked up. The trained crow is quite a performer.

The first of the two main points I'll call attention to is the psychoanalytic subtext. I realize I am watching this more than eighty years after it was made, but I can't help but point to a few items that seem appropriately viewed through a Freudian context. As I was saying this thing is smoldering with sex. Allen John has apparently never seen a woman, until swimming nude he encounters Rosalee. He then explains how he is on his way to the city, only to keep finding reasons to linger. During his unbearable pull to the attractive woman she first asks him "Get me some wood." Throughout the film wood is a symbol of his virility, as evinced by: his initial ignorance as to where to put the wood (she is frustrated she has to point to the "wood box"), and Rosalee's subsequent frustrated accusation "I don't believe you could chop enough wood to keep anybody warm." From a modern standpoint obviously the "wood" could be analyzed with an even more overtly sexual connotation. Another occurrence of symbolism happens after Rosalee first seduces Allen John physically (after suggesting they compare heights, she stands with her back pressed against the front of his body). He then leaves frustrated. But she gives him a lantern and says "You may need it to find your way back." There is a gorgeous shot of Allen John waiting for the train to the city completely surrounded by darkness, hovering over his lantern.

All I can say about the second main point I have is that Rosalee possesses a typically ambiguous set of motivations for a Borzage character. Whereas Allen John just wants one thing: her body, she vacillates between being repelled by all men, to having a fancy for Allen John, then back to deflecting his advances. She seems to object to being possessed by men, but wants a man who will treat her right; maybe that's the key to understanding her?

To close with I'll briefly describe what has to be the most flagrantly erotic scene in the film (without spoiling more than the advert above gives away, there's also an instance where Rosalee has to come up with a way to save Allen John from freezing using her own...). The lengthty scene where Allen John gets into Rosalee's cabin for the night results first in an attempt on his behalf to play checkers. Rosalee flings the board away violently, then cups her breast, sprawled out on her bed in a negligee. After she pleads for him to feel her heart, he can't resist, and it takes off from there!

There is also a "deaf mute" named Sam who rounds out the cast. This campy Love Story has marvelous production values, but I find its narrative a bit flat and hokey. But it also proves Borzage has talents that eliminate any criticisms about his Love Stories being chaste.


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

"Love makes people unhappy. Why should I seek trouble?"

In 1927 Frank Borzage directed 7th Heaven, the technically impressive Love Story about two destitute wayward souls bonding amid a tragic WWI backdrop, and in 1928 he returned to the stuff that made that Fox Film Corporationi release so successful with Street Angel. Borzage also brings back his romantic leads from the prior year, Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell for a second time along with key members of his production team, cinematographer Ernest Palmer and set designer Harry Oliver--Borzage only worked together with both Palmer and Oliver twice, with the exception of The River from 1930, prints of which do not survive in its complete form.

The exotic opening shot shows two uniformed Italian cops conversing in the foreground of a terrace with the foggy Naples evening entrenching them in the far off distance as the camera slowly dollies backward up a steeply inclined pathway.

As the dark tone is set it builds quickly to unbearably grim. Angela (Janet Gaynor) must devise a way to come up with 20 lire to fill a prescription or her mother dies. Her only options are prostitution or robbery.

Plot summary: A travelling circus star specializing in high-rise acrobatics meets a vagabond painter. The two fall in love until secrets from her past threaten the happiness they have found with each other.

As the story begins in Naples the ominous tone of tragedy is complemented by elaborately staged sets photographed using various crane and dolly shots, augmented by deep expressionist shadows. This familiar Borzage territory of poverty and famine is only temporary however. The narrative soon reveals a bright segue into the countryside where the Circo Napolitano has stopped to perform.

When the painter Gino Roberti (Charles Farrell) meets Angela, he is working on a portrait of a young woman posing with a goat. Around this part of the film one is able to appreciate how well the comedy works. (Earlier there is a trained monkey who makes a vulgar gesture at a cop.) When Angela confronts Gino for drawing away her crowd, she provokes the onslaught of the violent goat (the attack from the trained goat kills me every time) and is left on the ground with a torn dress.

But the animals are not only empolyed as gags. (Well, the bear cub is.) Elsewhere throughout the film one notices numerous occurences of wildlife: the doves outside Gino's flat in Naples, and later a cat there for instance. This may not be worth bringing up, but it is a subtle touch that I strongly appreciate towards kindness and the pleasant qualities these moments evoke.

Toward the end of the film, Gino and Angela are both in Naples and the ominous mood returns. The film presents a dichotomy of women as either saints or sluts. And Gino will eventually be driven to the brink of madness trying to figure this dilemma out.

The Bohemian lifestyle shared by Gino and Angela before they meet is a refreshing variant in Borzage's late silent period and allows the film to breath during the open aired circus interlude--the perspective background sets are a feat to behold. "O sole mio" becomes the refrain that haunts each of the fleeting moments when one senses that life can never be that easy and complications are imminent for the two lovers.

There's a sequence late in the film that occurs at the wharves where the music cue that underscores the boiled clam/soup line montage is so wrenching; and I think it is the only place in the film where the piece is used. So Borzage again won me over with his majestic sympathy toward bums (and I can't think of any other instances where Borzage's used montage either?).

Are these films overly sentimental? Of course! A point I've been struggling to articulate for a while now has been how I am biased toward a certain type of film that meets my highest standards of enjoyment and rewatchability. Here with the late Borzage silents I must admit I have become smitten with their artifice and over the top melodramatic shmaltz because of the eye candy and decor of lighting and the way that I am so moved emotionally by all of it; and the themes just happen to coincide with my own worldview: life is tough at times but there's always the fluttering moment when you realize it's all worth it; the fun of creation in Street Angel is hard to pin down, but it delights where many other movies fail--it doesn't take itself too seriously, but there are serious feelings at stake.

Angela's cynicism is quickly abandoned. From the beginning she claims that lovers disgust her. But her saintliness is on the line for Gino, which brings me to a curious point: the more I think about it the more I realize Angela practically ruins this dude's life and lies to him, then leaves him in the lurch; but in the end she proves her virtue how exactly? Well I'll also add that Angela's life is going well until she falls in love with Gino. So I guess my point is that these two pay a price for their love, and Borzage's again developed a maudlin Love Story which is nuanced and complicated in ways that are interesting and ring true for me.

If you think too much about details like these they don't hold up necessarily--the point is not whether they hold any veracity for real people, but that they can move us with real emotions while we watch a movie with constructed characters viewed as works of art created through the artifice of projected light and nothing more.