Sunday, January 29, 2006

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

It’s too bad we lost Aristotle’s work on comedy, because it may have helped Al Brooks find what makes Muslim people laugh.

Two elements are often present in good comedy: the unexpected or out of place, and the kernel of tragedy amidst the humor. Brooks succeeds with the unexpected, but the only tragic element in this movie is that he fails to answer (or even explore fully) the issue presented in the film’s title.

Al Brooks’ premise—that the United States government has sent him on a mission to India and Pakistan to find out what makes the Muslims laugh—is funny. It’s funny because it is unexpected, novel, and sets up the potential for a lot of chuckles.

Halfway through the movie, however, the plot takes a turn away from the film’s premise down a road well-traveled (hence, not funny): his exploits are misinterpreted by the Indian and Pakistani governments, thereby causing the two countries to blunder their way to a military build-up at the border. (Wasn’t this in a John Candy movie about Canada?)

Instead, Brooks should have explored a topic he merely touched on, which could have answered the whole question of the film. When Aljazeera invites him to an interview, Brooks is disappointed to find out they aren’t interested in his project, but wanted to offer him a role on a sitcom (for Aljazeera’s new entertainment network). The premise of the sitcom would be a Jew living in an apartment house full of Muslims. Title: “That Darn Jew.” Funny. It’s funny in its ridiculousness.

When All in the Family aired on American television in the 1970’s, it was the first time America openly laughed at racism (therefore laughing at ourselves). We laughed at it because Archie Bunker was preposterously out of touch with the changing moral tide. We also pitied him at times, because we saw the kernel of tragedy beneath the jokes.

Shakespeare’s Fallstaff is a similar character: when he pretends to be dead on the field of battle so he doesn’t have to fight, we laugh at his preposterousness. We laugh, but we also pity him because we see that his lack of values will cause Harry to abandon his friendship in order to become king.

Brooks missed an opportunity to highlight the absurdity of anti-Semitism. Despite some early chuckles, he fails to answer the question he puts forth in the beginning of the film: what makes Muslims laugh? He fails to really explore the differences in senses of humor between the western and Muslim worlds. Perhaps he didn’t see the potential; perhaps he was afraid to offend anyone. Although Americans may be ready to laugh at anti-Semitism (think of dancing Nazis singing “Springtime for Hitler” in the Producers), is the Muslim world ready to laugh at itself? The differences in our senses of humor stem from differences in our fundamental values. It would be funny, if it weren’t so tragic.

A Library Funded by Donations

This is a good example of a community service funded directly by the community it serves:

PlaneTree Health Library - Our Partners: "PlaneTree San Jos�receives support from individuals, organizations, and businesses through direct tax-deductible contributions, grants, and contracts. Our core funding comes from Good Samaritan Hospital. PlaneTree operates under the 501(c)3 umbrella of the Auxiliary of Good Samaritan Hospital, a not-for-profit organization created in 1963."

This library specializes in making information available to people who want (or need) to research their own helath. Often these are people suffering a health crisis.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Sharing Screen Space with Thomas Sowell!

How cool is this! I had an article published in The Atlasphere today, with my pic right above Thomas Sowell's!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Are Orange Aprons Next?

Public service employees are finally taking customer service seriously. Next they will be taking my advice and donning orange aprons.

HeraldNet: Librarians on the move: "A private-sector sales concept is improving service at public libraries in Lynnwood and Mukilteo.

On busy afternoons, a librarian walks around and is available to anyone who needs help, as opposed to having staff stationed at reference desks."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

More Problems with the "Public" Side of Libraries

AP Wire | 01/07/2006 | Library bars kids who show up without an adult: "WICKLIFFE, Ohio - Libraries have tried monitors, security guards and even Bach and Beethoven to control crowds of rowdy kids. Now one northeast Ohio library is insisting that children be accompanied by an adult during after-school hours."

Parents' reaction:
"I don't see how you can restrict a public library," said Kim Moulton, who has two young children. "It is our library, not theirs. We pay for it. I understand there is a limit, but I think they may have overreacted. Kids are kids. I grew up here and went to the library after school because it was a safe place."

Precisely. If you pay for it, how can you justify your children being restricted from it? If the library is owned by everyone, how can it operate without restricting the rights of some of the public?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Public Libraries and the Homeless

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Local News: "A revised code of conduct being adopted at the Dallas Public Library and the city's recreation centers prohibits visitors from 'emitting odors (including bodily odors or perfumes), which interfere with use of services by other users or the work staff.'

The code also prohibits sleeping, bathing, eating and drinking at the facilities."

Of course, this policy is controversial for homeless advocates: "Who is to decide what odor is wrong or inappropriate?" Dallas homeless advocate James Waghorne asked.

The Santa Cruz Public Library doesn't address these issues in their online version of their policies. Surprising, considering the number of homeless in downtown.

The underlying problem here is precisely the "publicness" of the library itself. When something is owned by everyone, these disputes are unavoidable.

Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey: Enough? My utility curve is flattening out

Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey: Enough? My utility curve is flattening out

This set me to thinking: where am I on my utility curve? I am definitely lower than Jacqueline, but much higher than I used to be. Working for someone wealthy makes me compare my standard of living to theirs, so perhaps I can imagine more improvements than she can.

It also helps explain why those on the top of the utility curve often say "money isn't important." It's very important when you don't have any.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Slashdot | Ambient Findability

Slashdot | Ambient Findability

Slashdot has a review of Moreville's book.