I saw the movie Julie & Julia last week & liked it very much. It interweaves the story of how Julia Child, the wife of a USian diplomat stationed in Paris, came to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking with the story of how Julie Powell, a twenty-nine year old woman who worked on a telephone hotline for people affected by the World Trade Center attack, came to prepare all 524 dishes in Child’s book over the course of a year and blog about doing it.

Over coffee the morning after seeing the film I noodled around the internets reading reviews and was surprised by a theme that cropped up in many of them–that the parts of the film featuring Meryl Streep as Julia Child were engaging, as was their subject, while the parts featuring Amy Adams as Julie Powell were a bore, and their subject (Powell) was at best negligible, and at worst, a narcissistic leech. Many of these reviews (some of them written by “professionals” on major sites, others by bloggers on less well-traveled sites) were distinctly snotty in tone. Roger Ebert, for example, started his review

“Did you ever want to take a three-day bus trip sitting next to Julia Child?”

and the guy at Cinema de Merde entitled his review “Get your own life” and summarized Julie and Julia thus:

[It compares] a modest woman of inner resources who accomplishes something monumental through hard work, and another who feels a lack in herself because she’s not as accomplished as she thinks she should be, and ends up accomplishing something entirely trivial that is made possible by our culture of paying attention to meaningless personal drama.

Robert Wilonsky’s review in the Village Voice is called “In praise of the Julia half of Julie and Julia”; in it he praises Streep & Child and deposits mild scorn on Powell (while tossing a crumb or two to Adams). In SFGate, Mick LaSalle goes gaga over Streep/Child and says things about Powell that I consider too churlish to repeat here.

Unlike many reviewers, I liked both the Julia story and the Julie story; I liked the entire movie, and indeed I liked both women.

Below, a few observations on the Julie/Julia story (but not a movie review proper) intermixed with some grand philosophical musings on The Meaning of Life, Snotty Reviews, Reactions to War, George Plimpton, My Own Delusions & Narcissistic Compulsions & What They Have Cost Me and Others, Roger Banister, and Writing.

UPDATE: Since originally posting this I’ve made a minor edits for clarity and emphasis. I may make a few more.

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The Pains: A Book For Our Times

My teenage daughter knows a bit about life and art and intellectual pursuits. But only a bit. She rated John’s “Acts of the Apostles” as “not bad”, which is to say she liked it a lot. It’s a good read, and she can relate to its view of uncool dudes in the world. But having grown up living the technology instead of studying it, she takes too much for granted to appreciate the detailed references or the jokes.

I’m not yet recommending John’s latest book to her. She does not yet have the intellectual background for “The Pains.” Thank God.

Everyone over 20 should read it. It is an easy, funny and entertaining novella to read, with terrific pictures, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But it has a challenging subject that forms a litmus test of whether you’ve been out in the world and paying attention and asking questions: What is the scope of science, religion, and politics?

“The Pains” is no wishy-washy thematic rambling — it has an opinion. (My favorite line is when the heroine meets the obviously dying hero for the first time in an ’80’s dance bar and declares, “I hate the fucking Eagles.”) I had first thought that opinion was centered on the general theme of “neo-con totalitarianism is bad, starting with Reagan.” As such, maybe the story was a bookend capturing a dead era?.

But the deeper theme of personal vs messianic science, religion, and politics are certainly not resolved this January, 2009. Indeed, a soul’s freedom requires perpetual awareness, and I think I hope that it always will.

Some painful things & a request

When I announced The Pains on April 18th of this year I said that I was going to try to do an update every two weeks or so. There has not been an update since.

I apologize. Sometimes the real world just gets in the way. I also promised to ship copies of the printed book “this summer”, and I still intend to hold to that promise, by which I mean that the books will ship before September 23nd or so. Yes, I’ll be cutting it close, but I’ll do it somehow.

See, the story is written, but it’s written longhand in my notebooks. I just have to find time to type it up, proofread, format, etc. Getting it online is the hardest part, just typing it up. From there to formatting for printing is not such big deal. When I did “Cheap Complex Devices” it only took nine days from when I gave my files to the printer to when the books were in the mail to paying customers. So I’m not too worried about the endgame.

I won’t make all kinds of excuses for the delay (not many of you have been paying attention) but I gots to tell you, it has been one hell of a spring around my house. One hell of a spring.

So my request is twofold: (1) If you’re waiting for the next installment of The Pains, especially if you have already pre-ordered a copy, please continue to be patient. An update is coming soon; hopefully I’ll get three or four chapters up over the 4th of July holiday break and (2) if you have ever had any inclination to pre-order the pains, or to buy a copy of my other books “Acts of the Apostles” and “Cheap Complex Devices”, or just to throw a few dollars towards the general support of Wetmachine, now might be a good time to do some clicking. A few dollars would come in handy right about now. And besides, every copy I sell of Acts or CCD is that much more closet space in my not-overly-large house!

Customers totally ignore security issues

So, security has been hyped in the press and especially in ads over the past few years… various IT ads talk about security, keeping out hackers, etc. But is Joe Sixpack actually paying attention?

Recently, Paris Hilton (one of those people it seems is simply famous for being famous… oh and for having her knookie tape broadcast all over the Internet) recently had her T-Mobile smartphone hacked, with its phone list of celebrities (and even pictures of her breasts taken with the camera phone) posted all over the web. T-Mobile’s security (or lack thereof) was at fault. This is just one of several breeches of security that has hit T-Mobile.

So, of course, the free market being what it is, people are now leaving T-Mobile in droves, especially eschewing the products that have been so famously hacked, right? Apparently not, as T-Mobile is selling out of Sidekicks, the unit Hilton owned that was hacked.

So, I guess what we have is the confluence of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” and “there’s a sucker born every minute.”