Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Update on Zero Tolerance

Remember this?

The kid in question was forced to transfer to a new school.

I don't get the logic: If they've transferred him because he's a danger, they've just put the danger off on to a different school.

If they've transferred him for any other reason, they're idiots.

I wonder which it is.

More on the Sexualization of Children and Miley Cyrus

There's one other element of the Miley Cyrus/Hanna Montana picture "scandal" that perhaps colors my commentary about the impact on society, "think of the children"-type stuff.

No matter how much kids idolize her, that picture of her back isn't going to nudge anyone into doing something very naughty.

But even if your kid has enough common sense to keep her clothes on, it's guaranteed that one or more of her peers don't. At least in a school setting where she might have hundreds of peers that you don't know at all.

That's obviously not a concern of mine. Someone recently asked me the old warhorse about "socialization".
"Aren't your kids going to miss out on social school things?"
And I asked, "Well, what did you learn at school, socially speaking?"
"Cheating, vandalism, sex, drinking... I see your point."
As they say at the Institutes, the only thing that a five-year-old can teach another five-year-old is how to be a five-year-old--and he already knows that. You can imagine (though you probably don't have to) what 10- and 15-year-olds have to teach each other.

The peculiar zoo/prison-type environment of the current school systems are particularly bad. Kids go from a tightly controlled situation (the classroom) where normal kid behavior is absolutely prohibited to the free-for-all Lord-of-the-Flies of the playground where bullies reign and teachers have a "let them sort it out for themselves" attitude.

I've only found a few schools where ethics mattered. Mostly it's "zero tolerance" and "zero brainpower". So the kids establish a system much like prison. (I have to say about that last link that I did not experience what Paul Graham did, but that's a topic for another time.) Popularity and survival are closely linked--something that the adults who put their children into this situation routinely deride. (Let the unfairness of that sink in for a moment: Parents put their kids into school to "socialize" them--education being a lost cause--and then mock them for thinking their social status is important.)

And for some, the peer pressure is obviously overwhelming. They're the ones who are influenced by trashy pop queens, and they're the ones who bring pressure to bear on your children.

Of course, the other side of the coin is--well, let's say you were going to send your child to a Catholic seminary. Can you imagine the reaction? Why, everyone knows what pedophiles priests are! Don't you watch the news?

Well, I'm not suggesting there's bias or anything, but the rates of pedophile teachers is probably higher than it is for priests, but we only hear the occasional sensational story, rather than the real numbers. At least priests don't have a freakin' union and require tax-dollar bribes.

What I'm gettin' at is this: If you send your kid to a school, you're subjecting him to far greater pressures than a Miley Cyrus picture. Hannah Montana is at the end of a long list of things undermining whatever sense of ethics or morality you're trying to inculcate. (Actually, I don't think you have to do much with kids, who have an innate sense of justice and more dignity than most adults, but they can also be undermined with the 35 hours a week the school gets.) Your job has to be build up what the schools work so hard to tear down. For some kids, this will be easy as they tend to reject authority anyway. Others will need approval so badly it'll be nigh impossible.

Having said that, society can be judged on its kindness to outliers. It would be great if our society didn't encourage situations that are dangerous for kids who don't have the best parental supervision or who just are easily influenced. But more on that when I review the Traci Lords bio.

(I Can't Get No) Stimulation

Just sittin' here waitin' to be stimulated.

All the newsies are talkin' 'bout how it's s'posed to come early.

I figger with my 42 children, glass eye and peg leg, I should be stimulated to the tune of one million dollars.

Ever'body wants my stimulation, too. They keep on sendin' me e-mails 'bout how I should spread it 'round. Big ol' TVs and Canadian pharmaceuticals and what-not.

I figger it'll feel so good, I'll just roll around on it for a while.

To the guy looking for "maelstrom" statistics, and other searchers.....

Search of the day:
HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN PICKED UP IN A MAELSTROM IN THE LAST 5 YEARS?
In caps, too. Dude, "maelstrom" isn't really a technical term. It's like how asking how many people have been injured in a kerfuffle.

Also, to the guy looking for the "profit reference" in Monty Python, there is no such reference. The 'net meme is:

1. Do something.
2. Do something else
3. ???? <--missing step 3 4. Profit! And I'm pretty sure it's from "South Park". The Underpants Gnomes had a business plan that involved stealing underpants, and it was only lack of knowledge about step 3 that kept them from profiting. It's commonly used to suggest a plan lacks grounding in reality. I'm not 100% sure, but I believe this to be a parody of a classic WB cartoon called "Yankee Dood It", which explains the basic principles behind free-market capitalism. You can actually watch the original here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Coincidence?

As you probably know, Annie Leibovitz's pix of Miley Cyrus' have created a bit of a stir.

I think it's more bimbo fatigue than anything. Hilton, Spears, Lohan and, uh, Spears have worn us out. The Miley pix aren't, as she says, "skanky".

But I wasn't aware that Disney had hired Leibovitz, and she has been recreating famous Disney movie moments for the past couple of years, including one released just a few days ago.

Huh.

Ugly Eyes

At the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential (a school/clinic for handling brain-injuries) they have a phrase: "ugly eyes". Many of their kids are savants (what used to be called "idiot savants") but because they have other problems, some people refuse to see their brilliance. They see only the injury and impose their ideas about what that means over the person. The opposite of rose-colored glasses, if you like.

It should be evident that this phrase could apply to racists. They don't see the person, or even if they do, what they see is occluded by what they believe. What should probably be just as obvious is that it applies to those who adopt a "politically correct" mindset.

There's a minor kerfuffle in the feminist blogosphere that Althouse has commented on. The money quote is "It's not that I didn't see it. It's that I didn't see it." This could be rephrased as, "I only saw what was there, not the pre-formed political paradigm that I'm required to filter not only my communication but my actual perception with."

I was working with a friend of mine whose skin melanin content is higher than the local average, and he had hired his buddy's girlfriend to work with us. She would say things about my friend (to his face) about "being one of the good ones" and other phrases which are commonly associated today with racists (or at least racist caricatures).

We laughed, because these are the kinds of things we would say to each other in ironic jesting, but something about the way she said them struck us both as odd. Ultimately it came out that she was dead serious. (The extra added bonus weirdness that she was, herself, a person of color--she just didn't see herself that way.)

My friend is the sort of person who doesn't have ugly eyes. Now, one is always served better by seeing what is actually there, as this woman did cause trouble for him. But he's still light years better off than those who see racism everywhere.

It's worth observing at this point that we are all beneficiaries of those who suffered and laid down their lives so that we could, today, have the luxury of seeing each other as individuals and not just representatives of some group. But it seems to me that those who do frame everything in the context of identity groups are spitting in these brave peoples' faces. They're saying what was fought for can never truly be achieved.

And that's ugly.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Food Doom

A friend of mine (who taught at the Creative Wealth seminar The Boy and I went to) sends along this video trailer. (I've been meaning to review the seminar but have been letting it digest for a while.)

This is aimed squarely between the eyes for me as I am a Western-medicine-deriding pill-hatin' pharmaceutical-mistrustin' organic-lovin' GMO-sketpicizin' snake-oil takin' left coast fruitbat. My peeps deride "Whole Foods" as "too mainstream".

And yet. I'm not really impressed by this trailer. I guess because I've seen it before so many times. The only thing lacking--and it may well be in the movie--is that Diet For A Small Planet-we're-doomed-because-three-companies-own-all-the-food motif.

I'm afraid I tend to class that stuff alongside of The Population Bomb and Future Shock.

And when people start dissin' pesticides--which I think are overused--I can't help but also think of the million children who die of malaria every year because of Rachel Carson persuaded enough people that DDT was worse than death.

And I get a little deja vu feeling when people start talking about genetically modified stuff. Once again, people are starving in Africa because persuasive people have convinced leaders there that dying is better than eating GMOs.

A cynic might say that environmentalist victories seem to equate to black people dying.

So I have this interesting dichotomy: Western medicine has personally saved people I care about, but it has also consigned people I care about to death. The elimination of whole foods (the concept, not the store) has definitely reduced the health of many people and caused many troubles, but ultimately modern food technologies have essentially saved the world.

It actually doesn't bug me much: I try to use what's appropriate for the situation. My kids don't get a lot of refined sugar, but I don't sweat the occasional cookie or birthday cake. I take them to the doctor when I think that will help, and take them to the witch doctor when I think that will help.

So perhaps this really is a modest post, after all.

A Trivial Mind

I get e-mails from Tiger Direct, as I imagine many of you do.

This week's ad features an LG 42" 1080p high-definition flat screen TV for only $1199 with free shipping!

Why do I care? I don't, really. I was just noticing that the image they used to showcase the TV's screen was the French comedy The Valet (La Doublure). It gets a mere 6.6 on IMDB, but I liked it: It was light and cute, and not sleazy (which is a real problem for French romantic comedies/sex farces).

Immediately to the left of that is a laptop (the HP 530) for sale which has another movie (or maybe TV show) on it--but I don't recognize it. Do you? It's the guy and the blond kissing while another blond watches in horror.

WC Martell reviews Street Kings

Check out Bill's "Sex in a Submarine" blog for a review of Street Kings.

I think of Bill as an old friend, even though our ships barely passe in the night over 10 years ago on Compuserve, in the short-lived B-movie forum. (Now he hangs out at Retromedia, though, so check him out there, too.)

Anyway, Bill is a professional screen writer, and gives lots of good advice on his blog. As part of the topic of pacing, he gives a sort-of insider's review of the new movie Street Kings. Shorter Bill might be: "Too much plot getting in the way of the story" (as Joe Bob Briggs would say).

It's true: Too much "excitement" in a movie can make it boring. I had that problem with Planet Terror.

Lactose Intolerant Weasel

S. Weasel has a battle of wills with her sour cream.

And loses!

That earns her a spot on the coveted blog roll.

Sumer Is Icumen In

Lhude sing cuccu!

Actually, this is one of those pre-summer weekends where Summer comes up, grabs you by the lapels, slaps you across the sweat glands and reminds you that you're his bitch.

Mid-to-high 90s both days, and still over 70 degrees, even though it's 1AM here. (The only thing that saves you in the So Cal summer is the nights getting cold.) During last summer's heat wave, I used to watch the temperature slowly drop from 100 to 90 overnight.

Global coldening can't come soon enough. (Sorry, Canada!)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Blog Rush

I put the Blog Rush widget in (it's on the right, scroll down) at the urging of Kelly. So far it's gotten me about one hit. She said it just kicked in for her, so maybe in a day or two I'll see something from it.

It's the pointy breasts, though. Apparently, that's what life is all about.

Actually, more seriously, it's the peculiar combination of words that gets hits. I also get hits off of "oil milkshake", for example. From my recent mention of MST3K, I get hits off of "Normal view".

I also get a lot of hits on "male full frontal nudity", but don't expect me to start putting penises on this page.

The weirdest one I get is "canine spinal tap malpractice" someone with a page that mentioned "canine malpractice" linked to a post of mine referencing "Spinal Tap".

It's not likely I'll be putting dog surgery pix up any time soon.

More like than penises, still.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Perils of Lampooning the Successful

I don't show it much here but there are some people in Hollywood who strike me as complete hacks. I don't know how they made it and their continued success confounds me.

Here's a good example of why I don't write about it much.

You end up looking like a whiny little bitch suckin' on sour grapes.

I don't know if his appraisal of how Apatow and his crew makes movies is accurate--i.e., I don't know if they're largely improvised--but most of his gripes seem to concern the sort of details that you would care about if you were a student at a film school, and especially if you were unsuccessful in real life. (Not saying that's true, just saying that's what it sounds like.)

Well, that and that Apatow uses the same people in his movies, probably people he's friendly with.

Duh.

You know, like Kevin Smith, Orson Welles, Frank Capra...

That's the thing, you could deconstruct just about any filmmaker--any artist this way. I could do it with Frank Capra. Vivaldi was accused of writing the same concerto 500 times. Etc.

Kelly takes on John Adams

My pal Kelly has a nice entry on John Adams up, comparing the book and the movie, looking at historical accuracy, etc.

Check it out! I'm going over there now to comment myself.

Loaded Questions is what you call an "up and coming" blog. She's got a nice niche interviewing authors, and she'll turn it into a major hot spot in no time.

The Maelstrom, on the other hand, is more of a swamp blog. The only thing buoying it are the occasional pairs of pointy breasts.

Trooper York Brilliance

In this Althouse thread you'll find Trooper York riffing on the election as only he can. It's that blend of The E! True Hollywood Story, politics and Saturday morning cartoons that somehow captures things perfectly:

Now the time has finally arrived for Tigger to run for king of the jungle. His only competition was Penelope who was a very ordinary pussycat who was only popular because of her husband Pepe Le Pew. And he wasn’t even a cat, he was a skunk. His sexual misadventures were infamous, but he still was very popular in the jungle. Tigger had a lot of energy and he knew if he just offered change he could get a lot of votes especially from the young people. I mean why would they vote for his two rivals. An ordinary pussycat who never did anything in her life but cling to her husbands skunktail or the other party’s nominee, the octogenarian Old Deuteronomy who was only famous for being tortured by Marlon Perkins during the fourth season of Wild Kingdom. The election was his to lose.
(The Tigger of the Narcissus, Joe Conrad Klein)

You'll probably want to skip all the political nonsense and, uh, fecal obsession of one poster.

This Island Faith

The old MST3K movie, based on This Island Earth has been on cable lately. It stars the lovely Faith Domergue at her pointiest:


(What can I say? The pointy breasts, they drive my traffic! And Faith was not well-endowed, but that didn't stop them from trying to mold them into flesh torpedoes.)

Anyway, the movie was made after MST3K had passed its prime, with Joel having left at the beginning of the previous season, and TV's Frank leaving before the movie was shot. And the show had just been canceled off Comedy Central, and not yet picked up on Sci-Fi.

It doesn't use the wonderfully concise expository theme song and Dr. Forrester looks horribly lonely all by himself without a minion to abuse. (Trace Beaulieu would leave at the end of the following season, I believe.) Tom Servo swears a few times and answers the vital question: Would the show be funnier if it didn't have to adhere to TV language and content rules? (Answer: No.)

At the time, it seemed like a moderately good episode. Not great.

It holds up very well, however. The only really severely dated stuff is a reference to John Sununu. It features some classic lines, which will probably make you smile if you've ever seen it, and scratch your head if you haven't:

Crow: Somebody sneezed on the credits!

Crow: The earth is exactly as we left it: With the USA in charge!

All: Normal view! Normal VIEW! NORMAL VIEW! NORMAL VIEEEEEWWW!!

Crow: Industry, Science and Technology!
Tom Servo: Big men sticking screw drivers into things, turning them and adjusting them.
Crow T. Robot: Build your very own Atom Storage Box!
Mike: Bringing you state-of-the-art in soft-serve technology!
Crow T. Robot: Removes lids off bottles and jars of all sizes - and it really, really works.

It's also got solid sketches, with Crow trying to tunnel to earth, Mike crashing the satellite into the Hubble ("I'm fully rated for Microsoft Flight Simulator") and the Interositer service call ("Are you in Europe? Do you need an adapter?").

This sort of humor is often very dated, with a shelf life akin to buttermilk. But this one seems better over time.

That may be because the latest Cinematic Titanic shows were delayed by the writer's strike. Nah, it's still gold. I gotta be honest: When I first saw MST3K, I liked the riffs and thought the whole puppet show was sorta stupid. As time passed, though, I realized that, besides being funny, the sketches gave a greater sense of character to the proceedings.

I hope they can manage something like that with CT.

What A Windbag!

I've been horribly long-winded this week.

You're not required to read, though. It won't be on the test.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Terrorism and Indoctrination vs. Education

Althouse touched off a vortex with her post on Obama and his association with terrorist Bill Ayers, about which she is rather blasé. I suppose I am, too, though Ayers is appalling, and even worse is the idea that he has a job that's normally associated with some prestige. He escaped persecution on a technicality and continues to operate while being completely unrepentant. It'd be like ESPN hiring O.J. Simpson, even as Simpson confirms periodically on the air that not only did he kill his wife, she deserved it and he wishes he could've finished off her family.

But it's a fact of life that such people run around the far left and far right extremes of society, and a fact that leftists are not punished for their associations with such people the way rightists would be (and are for much less). One effect of that fact is that left-leaning politicians are going to have connections with them without thinking much about it.

But it brings up an interesting point that comes up a lot, and which is illustrated by a clip that Hector posted on his site a while back (and references in the comments at Althouse): We are still fighting the USSR. Joe McCarthy may have been a paranoid freak, but he was right about a lot of stuff. In particular, the Soviets ran an anti-America campaign that poisons thought against the US even as we approach 20th anniversary of their fall.

The areas that the KGB infiltrated most successfully were education, politics and entertainment. This is why you see so much anti-American stuff in these corners. The last two issues are interesting in and of themselves, but the education issue came up a lot in this thread. In particular, education versus indoctrination.

There can be no doubt that US schools indoctrinate. And that they indoctrinate in environmentalism is no more coincidental than Earth Day being on Lenin's birthday.

But does education have to be indoctrination?

I had a fight once with a friend over this. (I thought I had blogged about it here but I can't find the previous entry.) My argument was that you give kids the facts and let them come to their own conclusions. She was outraged because, well, What if they come to the wrong conclusions?

Yes. What if? I love this argument because it presupposes that you know what the wrong conclusions are. But we're never aware of our own blind spots.

It's been a blast teaching the boy history because, well, I don't really teach him history. I tell him to research certain topics and write about them. This pays off pretty well, and has the advantage that I can ask him what he thinks about the topic, and he's willing to defend his point-of-view because it's his point-of-view and not mine!

Do I find it a little disturbing that he's a gun-totin', hippie-hatin', America-lovin' right winger? Sure, sometimes.

I'll be more disturbed if The Flower stays with her flower-lovin', earth-saving left wing ways--which are pretty normal for a 6-7 year-old girl--if she keeps them into her teens and they continue to be based on what the Disney channel tells her. (It's fine with me if she turns out to be The Boy's polar opposite, but I want that to be a result of her own reason.)

Now, what about manners, morals and other social matters? Don't they need to be indoctrinated into children? Not at all. It's very much like any other form of education. Let me elaborate:

The boy studies US History, math, literature and grammar, penmanship, various sciences, music and computer programming. That's apart from more hobby-ish subjects like chess and karate.

Why these subjects? Well, he wants to program games, so that's why he does that. Science holds some interest him, so that's his motivation here. And he's begun to find history compelling. But the rest? Well, for one thing he doesn't want to look like a moron.

Educational pressure is totally inverted in school. To be cool is to not care about learning things. The student is ostracized for doing well in many cases. The Boy looks around and sees his peers and is somewhat embarrassed. I think this is probably a healthy reaction: Most of us have a combination of naive energy and ignorance as teens, and we're not smart enough to be embarrassed about it until we're older.
But part and parcel of not looking like a moron is simply recognizing what our culture considers important. And the same thing goes for manners, morals, ethics, traditions, etc.

That's why, when you eat, you don't make a pig of yourself, why you don't fart in polite company, why you're polite, and so on. It's a mistake to put this in as indoctrination: As education it becomes a tool for success, something you can adapt if your circumstances change without being offended.

Oddly enough, while we never much dwelled on it, the children are startlingly polite in public. It's startling because in the relaxed atmosphere of home, flouting manners or even rational conversation is a game they occasionally play. But out in the world, they're all "please" and "thank you" and "you're welcome", and have been since they first learned to speak.

Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

If the guys on "Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader" really believed their premise, the player would get a bye if all the 5th graders missed the question.

(I knew James Buchanan was the only never-married Presdient, too. Stupid 5th graders.)

An Author Reads A Review

Hey, this is kind of cool.

Debra Hamel stumbled across my review of her book and blogged about it. (Ego-surfing, Ms. Hamel, are we? Actually, it's sort of embarrassing, since she found my review the day after I did it and I'm just now finding her link back.)

Makes me wish I hadn't made hash of that review.

It's funny. I've written, literally, millions of words. And I'm not talking about online, either. I wrote a thousand words a day, every day for probably 15 years. Mostly fiction. In the past fifteen years, I've written a ton of non-fiction, including three published books and countless articles.

Yet when I write for the blog, I feel like I'm trying to find my voice anew. Something casual but not completely scatterbrained. Yet it comes out like the ADHD special. Well, I'm new to this form, I guess. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Forbidden Kingdom

Jackie Chan has been trying to crack the US market for almost three decades, now. The funny-man made the best decision of his life when he threw off the shackles of "The New Bruce Lee" and took his cue from Chaplin and Keaton, and yet his multiple runs at America have met with limited success.

His latest run, starting with the watchable Rush Hour and cute Shanghai Noon--followed by the less watchable Tuxedo, Around the World in 80 Days and The Medallion--have mostly not lived up to the combination of physical comedy and light-hearted action that made his '80s and '90s films so much fun.

Meanwhile, Jet Li, since his break-through performance as the frightening assassin in Lethal Weapon 4--his death at the hands of Martin and Riggs being the least believable part of an increasingly silly series--has had grim role after grim role.

Nonetheless, both have legions of fans, and hope springs eternal for each new outing. To have both in the same film is bound to produce a massive geekasm amongst the kung-fu-philes.

And dropped in the middle of this is poor Michael Angarano. The White Guy. I'm guessing the Italian guy from Brooklyn. In between praying they weren't going to remake Karate Kid and wondering why they didn't use an Asian kid, I did notice that he did pretty darn well. But more on that in a moment.

I particularly revile The Karate Kid, with its inaccurate portrayal of everything having to do with the martial arts scene of the '80s and the absurdist notion that you could learn to be a good fighter by doing janitorial work for a few days. So hints of that film send off warning flags big time. (Bit maelstrom fun fact: Ralph Macchio would go from being the world's greatest karate guy with a minimal amount of effort to the world's greatest guitarist with a minimum of effort. We hate that guy around here.)
The Forbidden Kingdom is a mishmash of Chinese mythology done up in a sort of Indiana Jones style. There's a lot of bloodless death, and the big baddie dies (whoops! spoiler! as if you didn't know) a particularly gruesome way, in the manner of Temple of Doom or the closing scene of Lost Ark. At the same time, it could have been PG, because it's all comic book level action and violence.

There were some serious overtones, such as the lead betraying his friend who looks to get killed as a result, and Golden Sparrow's family being killed, but these are pretty common tropes in Chinese cinema, and about the level of Batman's parents being killed. I admit to initially being surprised by some of this, hearing how family friendly it was all supposed to be, but it is. It's just somewhat different from the modern western approach.

Heck, even The Flower, who worries about such things, didn't get too worried. She would occasionally hug my arm but she's the kind of girl who likes a little scare in the theater. (She's absolutely fearless at Knott's Scary Farm, however. Go figger.)

This is basically a road movie, a buddy movie, a revenge movie, in which a modern kid is thrown back into a mythical Chinese time and given a quest to fulfill a prophecy. Along the way, there's fighting. Lots and lots of fighting. But the rules are pretty straightforward: Minions are dispatched quickly; heroes (and super villains) are almost never seriously hurt.

Rounding out the cast are Collin Chou (of the Matrix trilogy) as the evil Jade Emperor, the wicked beauty Bingbing Li as the witch with white hair, and the breathtaknig Yifei Liu. Really, the best thing you can say about them, is that they hold their own when working with Li and Chan. (Likewise, Li and Chan integrate well with them as a team; despite the hammy roles they play, they don't chew up the scenery.)

On this journey, Angarano has to go from being completely ignorant of real kung-fu to being able to fight amongst the immortal masters.

How does that work? Well, the way every huge plot hole in this movie works: By not bothering to explain it, really. (Star Wars doesn't really explain Luke Skywalker's flying abilities, either, though some retconning in future movies does. The first one doesn't seem to have suffered from that plot hole, though.)

The Boy nailed it really: He enjoyed it more than he thought he would because they set us up early on as to what kind of movie this is going to be exactly. And then by keeping the execution fun and lively.

Special kudos to Jet Li, here, portraying the Monkey King. He does a nice job and its good to see him smile--he has a nice smile! And while he doesn't have Chan's highly honed clowning ability, the two have a good dynamic.

Another nice thing about this movie is that mixed in with the CGI and the wire-fighting, we're treated to real images of China, which has a marvelous and under-utilized (in American movies) variety of landscapes.

Finally, add to the whole mix a pitch-perfect score by Harry Gregson-Williams, and you have yourself--if not a great movie, a good time for the whole family.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Construction

I once worked with a construction crew that was trying to build software.

They were about as successful as a bunch of software engineers trying to build a house.

Homeschool Polarities

There are two main homeschooling streams from what I've seen.

The first one, which you hear a lot about, is the right wing Christian homeschooling crowd. Whether it's because they don't want their kids learning about evolution , or they disapprove of the trends in modern couture, or think sex ed is best left at home (or in God's hands), these are the guys you hear about in the news. Especially if one of the kids does something bad.

The other one, which most people are surprise to discover, is the left-wing, Gaia-lovin', granola crunchin', Earth-day celebratin', Inconvenient Truthin' crowd. "But wait," you cry, "leftists dominate the educational system anyway, why would they opt out?" Well, in some cases, the school system is just not far enough left. In others--well, recall that the point of the educational system, as set up in the USA, was to create factory workers. Children who would grow up to be cogs in a big corporate machine. Or something.

Anyway, they both agree that institutional education is a threat to the human soul. And that they'd rather not deal with each other.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Fever Dreams of a Madman

Forgive that last post.

I lost my head.

A fair tax system.

Everyone's opining so I might as well, too.

There is one fair tax system: A per capita tax. A head tax. A poll tax.

Here's my plan:

Step 1: Eliminate all forms of taxations other than the direct tax.

Step 2: Tax each person a fraction of the total amount of monies desired. The fraction is 1/nth of the total budget, with n being the number of taxable persons in the country.

First, why eliminate all forms of taxation? Because this is how they getcha: by hiding taxation at every turn. You know that they take X dollars off your paycheck, probably. You see that every payday. But you don't see the Y dollars that your employer pays. And while you see the Z dollars that you pay in sales tax, you don't see the A, B & C that constitutes all the taxation on all the parts of everything you buy.

It's the hidden parts that lead to corruption. And it's all a big fat lie, anyway: Whenever the government says it's going to tax corporations, imports, etc., that money is always and irrevocably going to come from thee and me.

Even if thee doesn't think thou art paying any taxes.

That's what leads me to believe the per capita tax is the best. No deductions, no reductions, no cost-of-living--nothing. Everyone pays.

Children might be an exception. The problem with taxing children directly is that it discourages reproduction, and we seem to need more of that in first world countries. So children might not be liable, and they might even be exempt between 18-21. This could be acceptable because it wouldn't cause the shenanigans that come with the loopholes the current system creates. Yes, children would be exempt, but there would be no benefit to transferring funds to them, or engaging in any of the shenanigans the current system encourages.

Where would that put us? Well, each adult would have a tax burden of $10-$15K. Let's say $12K, with no deficit spending. (It could be dropped to under $10K just by eliminating Social Security. Remember, under this plan, we're not collecting social security which is, after all, just a tax masquerading as an investment.)

Because I'm ornery, I'd encourage this amount to be levied on tourists, as well, divided by the length of stay. Tourists burden the infrastructure as much as anyone else. They'd be charged about $30/day tax for being here. That's probably a wash.

Now, I'm sure you're thinking, "But, Blake, what about the poor? Some people don't even make $12K/year." My response? "Jeez, people, get a real job!" Or, more seriously, "That doesn't keep the current governments from taking out SSI, sales tax, and otherwise jacking up the price on everything they buy." In other words, there are obvious problems with this system, but they're less than those of other systems.

What's more, with this system, they're beholding to no one. They contribute exactly the same as every other citizen. Even on welfare, they're putting back into the system. (This makes a lot more sense if the welfare comes from private organizations, but the government already does dopey things like giving people money that ends up back in their coffers.)

Remember, everything made beyond the tax is pure profit. And each dollar will buy more, with no sales tax and no production tax--which is what the effect of income tax on items manufactured in the USA ultimately is.

Everyone would be strongly stimulated to produce more. The fruits of that production would all go to the citizens. And when the government wanted more money, it would be instantly apparent what the bottom line would be. Need a new war? Well, that's gonna be a $1,000 each. Feel like previous, gray-haired generations should get a stipend for setting up a bad, mandatory Ponzi scheme? That'll be $2000, please.

Stimulus package for the economy? Ha. They'd have to send it to everyone--and then they'd have to collect it right back, which is sorta what they do now.

Pork? That pork-laden bill is going to personally cost you $10.

The craziest part of this idea? People are appalled at the notion that every citizen should shoulder the same financial burden for the government. We're so conditioned to believe in "fairness", that we'll cheat ourselves to death to try to achieve it.

I sat in a seminar this weekend where the speaker explained concepts of generating--and keeping--wealth. Probably half the discussion was how to avoid taxation. The very wealthy--families like the Kennedeys, the Carnegies, the Rockefellers--set up trusts to avoid all the taxation. That's not something poor or middle-class people do very often. (Some upper middle class people do it, though.)

I couldn't help but think that this was all a huge waste of productivity.

Now, Great American Experiment-wise, the Federal Government shouldn't be collecting taxes from anyone, and we'd have to pass an amendment to make this possible, presumably one that repealed the previous taxation amendment.

Or the Federal government could apportion taxes to the states based on their population, and leave it to the states to collect from the citizens. But then, very few would have the wisdom to actually impose a head tax. And we need more states anyway.... (I think Arnold Kling suggests 250, but I think 300 would be better....)

Finally: Full Frontal Male Nudity

The English have long known of the comedic powers of the human penis. Indeed, who can forget the scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian wherein Brian, fresh from a night of coitus, opens his window in the morning in full glory to be greeted by a crowd of worshippers.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall brings this bold comedic genitalia in the form of Jason Segel's whangdoodle. Full monty, as 'twere. It's a bold thematic gesture that really ties the movie together. Seriously. You'll see. (Will you ever!)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gutfeld On Games

I watch "Red Eye".

There, I feel better with that off my conscience.

I find it amusing most times. I'm a big Dr. Baden fan, and I love him on that show. I love that host Greg Gutfeld manages to get the hottest women imaginable--who are almost, to a one, able to demonstrate a high degree of wit, humor and quick thinking. And then there are the women like Michelle Collins, Kerry Howley and Amy Schumer who manage to do the whole smart, sexy and first-class funny.

While it's usually on the level of a blunt instrument, I also like Gutfeld's Swift-meets-Bozo-style rants as it teeters on the border of seriousness and absurdity. But last week he aired (and Sunday repeated) a rant against Guitar Hero. I think it was Thursday's show, but the "gregalog" for the day was on Bridget Bardot according to the site, so maybe it was just a news item and not a rant.

Gutfeld objects to "Guitar Hero" and a similar upcoming game where you conduct an orchestra, apparently on the basis of inflating people's self-esteem. You learn no real skill, but the game leaves you with the impression you have, I guess, accomplished something.

This is a surprisingly puritanical argument from the former bodybuilder, whose schtick as a hedonistic perv (with a taste for young, easily dispatched houseboys) belies his generally conservative message. But perhaps it's just his inner jock coming to the fore.

I'm a gamer (though sadly out of play in recent months) and a game designer, as well as an educator. These things have taught me that a game-any game--teaches you nothing except how to play the game. Sometimes--rarely--games overlap with real skills. (In the larger sense, of course, all human activity is a game, but I'm speaking here of formally designed games.)

Even games designed to teach, while they can hone certain skills, the mechanics of playing the game will be the skills most honed. The more abstract the skill, the closer a game can mimic that skill, and the better it can teach. But even then, in almost every case, the game mechanics will burden the player to the extent that it will be those that are mastered.

Chess, for example, teaches virtually nothing about war or courtly intrigue (whichever it was initially abstracted from). To the extent that playing or studying chess teaches anything about anything else, it's only in the concepts of patience and vision (the great chess players being sort-of pattern matchers, from what I can tell, more than strategic geniuses).

And what's more, you can become the greatest chess player in the world without ever learning how to apply those skills to real life.

Or, let's take football. A representation of a military skirmish, right? Maybe. If you had a military goal of "if even one guy gets all the way over here, his side wins, no matter how cut off from supply lines or communication."

I studied martial arts for years. When I started, my school trained in the "point fighting" that was common in the day. (It superficially resembles the sort of fighting seen in The Karate Kid, which communicated the conceit that one could learn martial arts by performing janitorial tasks.) In point fighting, you never hit the other guy hard. That's grounds for disqualification. Especially if you struck to the head. You were responsible for not hurting the other guy. You'd strike, and if a judge thought you hit, he'd raise a flag. Then you'd stop, everything would reset and you go on.

This makes sense from a game standpoint, i.e., a game you want to be able to play over and over again without getting sued. But it's actually contra the skill of learning to defend yourself. Scoring a point isn't going to stop someone who wants to kill you. In fact, point fighting encouraged the sort of goofy maneuver that puts your hand or foot in the vicinity of someone else's body, regardless of whether you could've actually hurt that person.

We later moved into a full kickboxing mode, where body armor was used. You could hit a lot harder but, of course, the really effective techniques--breaking knees, gouging eyes, throws--were off limits. It was more realistic and trained skills that were parallel with self-defense, like endurance and pain tolerance, but it was by no means real. And you could suffer from learning to fight that way. The hope would be that you'd be able to flip a switch and fight for real if you needed to.

Hand-to-hand combat is an ugly, sweaty and barbaric thing, by the way, and most people don't really want to learn it. They'd rather have the false sense of confidence, or less harmfully, they'd just rather play around for fun.

Which brings us back to Guitar Hero. Guitar Hero is played by more than a few rock stars who, by Gutfeld's criteria, shouldn't need to play it. They can play the real thing. So are they being given a false sense of accomplishment?

No, because they know they're not actually playing guitar. Hell, that's one of the reasons they're playing it. It's a break. And that's why most people play it--because it's fun. It's completely unconnected to whatever musical desires they have, being a slightly more aggressive form of listening to the radio.

Are there a few people out there who probably believe that playing GH is indicative of a real or potentially great musical talent? Sure, but they'll all be destroyed when my zergling army conquers the earth.

Advice to HBO

As long as you have the powdered wigs and the eastern European locations and sets, why not do a miniseries based on the excellent J. Ellis book Founding Brothers?

Oil: The Ultimate Renewable Resource

Since I've come out as pro-gasoline, I've weathered the controversy, a firestorm of mail and phone calls all challenging my reckless support of a non-renewable resource.

So, check it. I've seen this theory before and, while it's not proven by any means, neither is fossil fuel theory. If the russkies are digging up oil at deeper than dinosaur levels, that's a point in the abiogenesis theory.

Drink up. We can always make more milkshakes.

There might be something better than oil, but I haven't seen it yet.

Feelings

Due to heavy traffic, I veered off the 405 yesterday and went home via Pacific Coast Highway.

When the ocean came into view, I felt a twinge in my chest. Ruling out acid reflux and cardiac arrest, I realized I was having a...whatchamacallit...emotion.

A few years ago we contemplated moving away, some place like Oklahoma or Kentucky or something, but I actually felt reticent to move away from the ocean. I did go to the beach a lot as a kid but very rarely as an adult. For practical purposes, the ocean might be 1,000 miles away.

And yet.

The Pacific (in this area) isn't even very nice. It doesn't have the warmth of the Atlantic, or the blue of the Mediterranean, and there's not a lot of sea life. (Whales and dolphins pass by seasonally on their way to some place else.)

But moving away from it would be hard for me. And moving to a different body of water would seem alien.

Fun With Analog Technology

I bought a pair of rabbit ears to check out the digital programming we're all supposed to switch to next year and for a "larf" I plugged it into the cable input (analog) of the TV. The Flower has spent the last 10 minutes playing with the antenna to try to get a good picture, and then trying to make the picture look 3D (ghost images) and to mess with the color.

She calls out to the boy, "Look! We're getting cable over the air!"

"Hey, Daddy, look, there's a zebra." (Black and white diagonal striation.)

"A black and white movie! She looks like a ladybug. Where does it live?" (The last asking about where the TV signals are coming from. The middle, I have no idea.)

"This is fun!"

Huh. And all we wanted to do was watch TV. We never knew what we were missing.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Judd Apatow has a knack for producing films with familiar themes that nonetheless take new angles. Knocked Up is basically a romantic comedy with the added complication of a baby (Miracle of Morgan's Creek anybody?) while Superbad is both a parody and paragon of the teen sex movie.

It's rewarding, then, if not surprising that Forgetting Sarah Marshall takes the break-up flick to a new level. This movie's average shmoe lead (played by screenwriter Jason Segel) is an unambitious composer whose girlfriend is hot actress Sarah Marshall (played by Kristen Bell).

Early on, of course, Sarah dumps Peter and the inconsolable chap tries having sex with all manner of creatures to take his mind off her. This is a pretty funny, if unusual, montage. Next, he decides to get away from it all, and through a not entirely improbable set of circumstances, ends up at the same hotel as the ex- herself.

Now, the formula for a break-up movie requires: a) the couple to get back together; b) the lead to find happiness with a new love. And according to Hollywood rules, the new love has to be hotter than the old one--no easy feat when starting from the flawless Ms. Bell.

Enter Mila Kunis. She of the blue & green eye. You know instantly that Peter is going to hook up with Rachel.
I saw Mila live with the "Family Guy" crew when they went around before the hit-and-miss revival of the series. It was very funny and, not surprisingly, Mila (who seemed shy) was overshadowed by the two Seths, the writers and even Alex Borstein (who also seemed shy, but would occasionally break into an uncanny and startling monkey impression).

Since I'm not familiar with "That '70s Show", I didn't otherwise know her work. (OK, except for the odd American Psycho 2.) It was interesting to note that, yes, she's actually doing a voice for Meg on "Family Guy" and also that she effortlessly portrayed the role of at-least-as-hot-but-way-lower-maintenance girl.
The fourth major character in the movie is vacuous rock star Aldous Snow, played by Russell Brand (who, while English, seems to be aping Johnny Depp's pirate accent).

Now, it would be easy--and most break-up films go this way--to portray Sarah as a bitch and Aldous as an asshole, and have Peter's relationship with Rachel be his vengeance against them. But there are a lot of wrinkles here: When we think Sarah's totally unjustified, we're given a look into her POV that indicates otherwise; when we think Aldous is completely useless he turns out to be kind of cool, and helpful to a newlywed basket-case; and when we think Rachel and Peter are going to hook up, he and she have issues.

In other words, instead of the usual "you're the cause of all my problems" movie, we get a movie where everyone's situation is more-or-less of their own making.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast is typically awesome, the surrounding stories making even minor characters feel fleshed out. Apatow regulars Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd, for example, and the two plus-sized Taylor Wiley and Davon McDonald are consistently funny.

The icing on the cake is excerpts from a rock opera based on Dracula, and featuring puppets, a CSI-like crime show (only barely parodic) and some marvelously awful rock lyrics.

Despite having a different writer and cast than previous Apatow films, it's still in the same vein, so if you didn't like the previous flicks, you're not gonna like this one either. If you did, though, this is a strong entry in the canon, even for him.

Quote of the Hour

"Does anyone here believe in reincarnation?"
"No, sir. But I did in my last life."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Quote of the Weekend

By Trooper York:

You know what I was thinking about today. What if the white part of Barack Obama was scared of the black part. And when he was walking down the street, would the white part keep turning around to see what if the black part was sneaking up on him. Then he would just keep turning around in a circle. He would never get anywhere and would just get very dizzy.

Mulberry Street

The pizzeria Rachel Ray mentioned is called Mulberry Street Pizzeria.

I'm not sure I could eat there.

Credibility

Can you have any credibility as an afficianado of fine food if you're pimpin' for TGIF's?

I'm just sayin'. Guy Fieri might want to weigh his Food Network hosting responsibilities against the quick cash of endorsing a joint where cooking seems to entail reheating in a microwave frozen dinners that were prepared at some corporate office.

Or do I misjudge TGIFs? I've only been there once, a few years ago, and it was exactly that.

For some unknown reason I went to the Olive Garden this week, and ordered the Shrimp Caprese, which struck me as a weird blend of reasonably fresh pasta, an uninspired sauce, and over-grilled shrimp.

This is why I stay away from chains.

Rachel Ray in L.A.

An episode of "Tasty Travels"--where Rachel Ray goes around to various cities and eats all kinds of awesome looking food, while you nurse the tater tots on your TV Dinner--is airing tonight on Los Angeles.

The segment on Krav Maga is interesting. The instructor is actually suggesting you should strike with your rear hand way back, to get velocity and, uh, distance. Holy crap, they'll let anyone teach self-defense.

Anyway, the only place we've eaten on her list is the Paradise Cove Café, which we found "snooty".

A couple of places are not too far from here. I'll have to check 'em out. Mostly the show is wallowing in clichés (of course, c'mon, what else are they going to do?) but I still wish I had her job. Heh.

'course, she ain't gonna come out to the west end of the valley. (Or north. Or the South Bay. Or downtown. Basically, L.A. is everything west of Fairfax.)

I like Rachel Ray, though. I never quite understand the intensity of hatred these domestic TV personalities generate.

I Scoff!

...at your puny earthquakes.

During my high school years, I once was woken up by an earthquake. It was about 8:30AM and I had been up late, but reflexively I leapt from bed and positioned myself under the door frame for a second, when I said out loud, to no one in particular, "Aw, man, it's not even a 4.0." At which point I stagged back into bed, ground still shaking, and went back to sleep.

Later, I learned it was a 3.8.

True story.

EDIT: I should say that CA earthquakes are not equivalent to those elsewhere for a number of reasons. We're well set up to absorb them, and we have mild ones frequently. Quakes elsewhere, for geological and architectural reasons, are nothing to scoff at.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Flypaper Movies

A good bloggable topic over at Ace's: The movie you can't stop watching once you start.

It's more interesting when you consider films that, perhaps, are not very good. Or are downright bad, even.

Plan 9 From Outer Space, for example, compels me. I know a lot of the dialog. Each line, each actor's gesture, each fragile set, each seemingly random change of camera angle, lighting, wardrobe is like a tiny present to the viewer.

When the wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, a lot of low budget B-flick guys went off to eastern Europe to avail themselves of communist-funded movie sets and unmodernized architecture--to say nothing of un-unionized crews--creating absurdly cheap films with ridiculously rich backdrops.

I find these oddly compelling. Movies like Dark Angel: The Ascent and Subspecies, however "B" the rest of the movie, are surrounded by gorgeous backdrops. And Angel is odd on so many levels, it defies categorization (love story? horror movie? slasher flick?).

Jim Wynorksi, Fred Ray and Dave DeCoteau (all of whom hang out at Fred's Retromedia site, and are three of coolest pro film directors evah) were prolific in th--what am I saying, they're always prolific, but their late '80s and early '90s films are still among my favorite in their catalogue. Action, horror, comedy, family--even a western.

Maybe it's just a sort of nostalgia, but I love the direct-to-video or nearly DTV films of the era. Not all of them are flypaper (probably not even a significant portion) but probably a high percentage than of any other era short of the late '30s/early '40s.

Democracy, Whisky, Screwy...

Even though by now it should apparent that global warming is a hoax, the religious fanatics are determined to push this narrative through, presumably until they, I dunno, they destroy the earth, or whatever their real agenda is.

In the meantime, they serve as an excellent example of the limits of democracy.

Wikipedia was founded on democratic principles. The idea was that everyone would contribute what they knew, and--well, I admit to being fuzzy on this part, but I think the idea is that a democratically-enforced meritocracy would arise. In other words, the group would agree on who the experts were and viewpoints that were sufficiently controversial would be addressed from various sides.

Anarchy reared its ugly head, of course. Some people are incompetent, for example, and they're probably a minor part of the problem. Others are vandals. They're a more serious problem since they look to cause harm and not get caught. The most dangerous--the reason democracy (and anarchy) doesn't work--is the zealot.

This zealot believes he is justified in whatever he does to forward his cause. Lying to achieve a goal means nothing compared to the grandeur of the goal. Indeed, the zealot himself is there because he's believed a sufficient number of lies.

Environmental causes generate these in numbers the 11th century Catholic Church could only dream about.

Look at the great Carl Sagan, a man who explained science in a way that made it accessible to the average joe. Yet he sold his soul for nuclear winter.

Hell, Al Gore used to be sane, and probably was one of the few politicians the US has had to date with an understanding of technology.

I could mention some other groups here but I don't want to, you know, stir up any controversy.

The Republic exists not really to serve us. When we look to it to do so, we invite trouble. The Republic exists to prevent some other, worse form of government from taking hold. And to date, they're all worse.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Interview with Ty Stoller at Loaded Questions

My interview with Ty Stoller (creator of The Monkey Jungle) is up at Loaded Questions.

Check it out!

Ty is a cool dude, and the whole thing is self created, produced and published, which is an awfully cool use of the 'net.

Adventures In Public Schooling

A friend of The Boy's absentmindedly took a camping knife to school. Another kid saw the knife and reported him to the principal. His mother had to come down to the school to get him, and all had to wait for the police.

He's 12, and one of the most mild-mannered kids I've ever met.

He'll be either suspended or expelled.

Mmmm. You can feel the education.

In which I defend the past and future.

I am not, generally, the sort of person who reviews the past looking to catalogue glories, either on a personal or cultural level. I just tend to forget, until somebody brings it up. Now, you want to talk broad historical swaths, I'm there. The trends that led to the American Republic, for example. Or, one cultural trend in my lifetime, the reduction in black ghettos (which was something I got to watch in progress, through demographic data work).

But this thread over at Althouse--on the (one hopes) exhausted topic of Presidential candidate Barack Obama's momentary honesty--had me defending the past 25 years of progress from Freder Frederson (who takes his name from the socialist fantasy classic Metropolis) who insists that the standard of living is worse now than it was 25 years ago.

This caused me to call up all the things that have improved over the past 25 years. And there have been a lot. Computers and the Internet are the area of the most obvious improvement, but it's important to remember that those two features enhance every other facet of life: education, work, social, love, spiritual, health, etc.

Frederson pointed to weakened purchasing power (unsupportable, I think), uncertain employment (probably true, but job security can be the foe of progress), and the state of health insurance.

Now, if we set aside the advances in medicine, and cheap alternatives that have emerged over the years, he has a point. The monster that is the medical-legal bureaucracy has only grown over the past 25 years, because that's what bureaucracies do. The eat and grow at the expense of actual productive industries.

Of course, Freder's solution is to ... establish a giant new bureaucracy.

However, what's really important about this is not interfering with what seems to be natural growth and technological progress so that 25 years from now we can look back and laugh at our bygone primitiveness.

Ever-widening bureaucracies are probably the only thing that can stop us, apart from a giant asteroid.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Power Of The Internet

As has occurred over the years (due primarily to the presence of children, who love locks as they love all widgets), last night we found ourselves locked out of two rooms of the house. The doors had been locked from the inside and then closed on the outside. And by sheer happenstance, the house is actually fairly well secured.

Traditionally this means smashing the doorknob off. (Replacing it costs $20-$30 which is far cheaper than calling a locksmith.) I have never once managed to successfully pick a lock in this circumstance, nor have I ever seen anyone else pick a lock in one of these situations.

But, I thought, the locks aren't very tough and we have the power of the Internet!

I found a page that instructed me to insert a very small screwdriver (or some sort of pin, but I actually had a screwdriver that would fit in this tiny hole) and then essentially reverse the motion that was used to lock the door, i.e., push it straight in. It was tricky to find the mechanism--and prior to reading, the temptations was to sort-of swirl the screwdriver around the center mechanism looking for a catch of some sort--but it was right in the center, very close to the hole on the side I was poking at. With just the right poke, it popped out.

Then, for giggles, I did it again.

Keen!

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Ruins

So, out of desperation, we picked the movie that seemed the least likely to suck, and that movie was the Mayan-based horror flick The Ruins. Written by the same guy who wrote A Simple Plan, Scott Smith (who also wrote the screenplay, but with the initial "E" in his name), I figured, well, even if it wasn't going to be to my liking it probably at least wouldn't be totally run-of-the-mill.

The first 20-30 minutes? About as totally run-of-the-mill as it could possibly be. We're introduced to our college-age (natch) characters, off on a last fling in Mexico, somewhere in the vicinity of the old Mayan empire, who are funnin' and sunnin' by the pool, on the beach, wherever good times are had.

Then they get the wacky idea to visit a ruin--off the maps! unknown to civilized man! what could possibly go wrong!--and head off into an area where (natch) cell phone signals won't reach.

You know, back in the '90s, there was all this competition focused on providing cellular service, with many companies planning to launch satellites, until they figured out that repeating towers was lots cheaper and, if not nearly as good, as good as they cared to be since they'd probably already decided service wasn't going to be a primary concern. But just think: If they'd gone satellite, they could have saved a whole bunch of people a lot of trouble.

But I digress. Anyhoo.

(What do you think about using the quote style for digressions? I'm quoting my own rambling consciousness.)

We even get some gratuitous (but not entirely unwelcome) nudity from Laura Ramsey, ensuring her death, and guaranteeing that top biller Jena Malone would be the sole survivor. (That's a joke, not a spoiler. Or is it?)

As you can imagine, hijinks ensue up on the old Mayan pyramid, and some old Mayans get pissed, and some flesh is rent, and some chick starts screaming...somebody loses an eye...or a leg...maybe both.

I'm not going to give it away, because there was an "oh" moment for me early on when I realized what the "boogen" in this flick is going to be. Let me say I've seen a few movies with similar premises and most of them suck in part because of the limitations of the boogen in question.

Yet, surprisingly, the movie actually takes off when it gets to the horror parts. There's some decent suspense, a few creepy moments, some--well, I don't scare much in movies, but if I did, I know which couple of scenes would have done it.

The Boy was even pleased, and he is an increasingly tough customer. He's revising his opinion down a bit over time, but that could just be because he likes being a tough customer. But he's still defending it as "not stupid", and that's high praise indeed.

So, you could do a lot worse, unless you really don't like horror flicks.

This week is going to be rough; I don't see a thing playing within 30 miles from my house that a) doesn't seem steeped in mediocrity; b) I've not already seen.

But things should pick up shortly. Forgetting Sarah Marshall looks pretty good, the Chan/Li movie will be disappointing--how could it not be?--but maybe not crushingly so, and I have high (heh) hopes for Harold and Kumar Escape Guantanamo Bay. It's stupid humor, yes, but it's welcome stupid humor, so long as they don't get political.

And that's just the majors. Eventually all of last year's cruft will clean out of the art houses and we'll start getting some good, fresh stuff again.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pee-Wee Sports

The only legitimate purpose served by pee-wee sports is to allow parents to take pictures. So GET OUT OF MY WAY, FATASS!!

Sorry. I've never thought so many evil thoughts in the general direction of fat people as I did today. And some of them weren't even that fat.

But, look. I don't begrudge it when you block my view because your miniature troglodyte manages to knock the tee over in the right general direction. Could you pull back a bit when my perfect, sweet angel knocks one out of the park?

That'd be super.

I'm only partly kidding here, especially re the purpose of pee-wee sports. I was spectator at a number of "special" little league (I think they were even Little League(TM)) games and it reminded me how distasteful it is when grownups get involved--well, in pretty much anything.

Brain-injured children come in such hugely disparate levels of ability, it is pointless to try to get a group together for a particular athletic event, at least on a small scale. The Special Olympics probably has a good scheme, but in this local team, you had Down's Syndrome kids alongside others who were barely able to hold a bat. Also, you had ages ranging from 7 or 8 to 20.

I'm trying to think of a word to describe what I saw and the best I can come up with is "degenerate". Parents and coaches would actually try to win these games. There were a couple of 20-year-old Down kids who were minimally brain injured, and huge, and could literally hit the balls out of the park. These kids were used as pinch hitters.

Try to absorb that for a moment.

I actually saw less of it today, but I did see the coach put her own daughter on first base inning after inning, when all the kids were supposed to rotate. Yes, her daughter is very good, relative to the other kids (and she's a head taller). But that's not supposed to be the point.

Opening Day At the Rec Center

The Flower has an active social schedule. Occasionally, this leads to conflicts.

This morning, she had to be at the rec center to have her picture taken for her baseball team at 9:00AM. By 915:AM she had to change out of her baseball clothes in to her clothes for a dance troupe that was performing as part of the opening day ceremonies. (She then had to change back to actually play ball, but that was much later.)

The staff was less than organized, however, which made a tight schedule essentially impossible, and she missed the photo.

I suppose the funny thing is that her "game face" is the same whether she's dancing or playing sports. Funny and, of course, oh-so-cute.

More On Energy, Etc.

Hector at Rain in the Doorway has weighed in on the energy thing. I love the cartoon; it's a good reminder that we didn't exactly evolve down from a perfect primordial state. (I need that reminder; I am suspicious of the many chemicals in our environment. Though, besides my pro-gasoline post, I need to put up a "pro-freon" post....)

Anyway, I should have a new interview going up at Loaded Questions this weekend, depending on when Kelly gets around to it.

Also, I did see The Ruins and was pleasantly surprised. More on that, too.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Movies To Walk Out On

I wondered if Althouse was going to make an entire blog post out of this and she did. My response, cross-posted:

Y'all are a bunch of lightweights. Lightweights, I tells ya.

I've seen so many movies I've enjoyed listed here that people walked out on. But I'm not gonna fall for it like Rev and try to convince you they were good or anything.

So, let's see. I walked out of Man Who Fell To Earth. I was a little too young and there with parents and/or guardians. (The opening scene with...uh...Candy Clark and--is it Buck Henry?--taking photos of themselves while having sex...) They've been showing it like crazy on cable and I've been meaning to sit down and watch. Though, now that I think about it, it was following A Boy and His Dog, which itself is pretty chock full of sex, cynicism and violence. So go figger. (You can watch "A Boy and His Dog" online at bmovies.com, too! Ain't the 'net grand!)

I dragged same parents and/or guardians out of East of Eden. Also might've been a good movie but we had just seen Rebel without a Cause and I didn't have any inclination to sit through the exact same movie set a few years earlier on a farm, or whatever.

Like others, I try to see movies I know I'll enjoy, or am able to find some merit in. So I haven't walked out of a movie in decades.

I did make a very, very long bathroom/popcorn run during Troy. I can watch bad movies all night long, but Troy struck me as a sort of vandalism (kind of like East of Eden) of one my most beloved stories.

(I didn't have the same problem with A Knight's Tale, perhaps because the use of "We Will Rock You" up front tells you exactly what they have in mind. Although, had I been looking for something a little truer to life, I would've been pissed.)

Otherwise, let's see, I endured Hilary and Jackie and most recently The Constant Gardener. Oh, wait, no: Atonement. Crushingly disappointing.

I almost stroked out during The Grudge. I don't know if the movie was--well, okay, I'm pretty sure it wasn't a masterpiece--but it was mostly due to going on the opening night of a Sarah Michelle Gellar movie. The kids in front of me would not shut up, would not stop using their cell phones, would not... By contrast, a premiere night showing of Nightmare on Elm Street 3? The audience supercharged that movie. And not entirely because you never knew if someone was just gonna up and shoot someone else.

Mostly I go to movies when there's few or no other people around. Mostly.

For me, the kiss of death is boring. I can take a lot of bad if it's not boring, and boring takes the shine offa whole lotta good--like many of last year's award winners.

Gasoline Fan Cub

You know, I'm getting sick of all this gasoline bashing.

Gasoline replaced millions of beasts of burden. Unimaginable tons of crap do not lie festering in our streets. Gasoline even smells better than the combination of horse sweat, manure, etc., that it replaced.

It's got a great energy-return-to-energy-expended. I think you have to go to fissile material to get better.

I love gasoline. I'll go all Chris Crocker on you. "LEAVE GASOLINE ALONE!"

Thursday, April 10, 2008

All Souls

I've just wasted (again) a whole bunch of time arguing with a materialist the consequences of materialism.

(Materialism, in this sense, isn't the primacy of goods over other things, but the idea that material things are all there is. There is no spiritual component to anything.)

I've really got to stop doing that. The results are always the same. Much better to wait until they're dead and take the discussion up with them then.

Edit: OK, it wasn't really that much. But it was more than zero.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Statement from an "uncredentialed teacher".

"I have a one-to-one teacher/student ratio.

I can require the student to work seven days a week.

I can spend exactly the amount of time on a subject that the student needs, and no longer.

I can work the student over the summer without the parents complaining.

I can allow the student to focus exclusively on a particular subject for days, weeks, even months, if that would be best.

I can skip over subjects or areas of subjects that are of no interest and are not vital.

I can spontaneously reference his education to something in the immediate environment, like a television program, a movie, a book, a song, a painting or a current event.

If the student is sick or otherwise unable to school, he misses nothing: School stops until he's ready to come back.

I can similarly accommodate any condition that might impair learning, whether it be fatigue from a late night or poor nutrition from a party or holiday.

Not only that, I can control the above situations without the parents complaining.

I can engage the student's enthusiasm for a subject by going in depth into material that interests him, or subjects that particularly intrigue him.

I can set the student to work on his own and yet always be there if he needs help.

I can arrange an impromptu field trip within minutes without clearing it with someone else and without having to file paperwork.

I can actually put the student to work without any kind of legal issues, if I feel that (say) the modern prohibition against children working is destructive to children and society.

I can disregard completely political considerations. I do not have to worry that what I say will offend some random third party. My student does not have to worry that what he says will offend some random third party. Education necessarily involving mistakes, I do not need to humiliate or publicly excoriate the student for making a mistake that happens to fall along some politically charged line.

I do not have to worry that the student will adopt the opposing attitude that education is somehow unworthy, "uncool" or otherwise contrary to his survival.

My student will never be strip-searched, sexually abused or shot by his teacher or classmates.

I will be blamed for the student's failures, academically or in life, long after any other teacher would be forgotten.

My survival is directly tied to the student's.

Given these facts, I would have to be criminally negligent or incompetent to fare worse than a credentialed teacher with 30 students, a tight schedule, arbitrary standards and curricula, political considerations, and no real stake in the outcome, even assuming all teachers were required to get said credential and the credential actually improved the ability to teach.

So, no, I think I'll pass."


--Homeschooling parent on whether or not he should be credentialed by the state

Nothin' but crud....

Although January and February are supposed to be the crud months, it's actually the after-Oscars lull that kills the dedicated moviegoer.

The art houses are showing the movies that won or were nominated for awards, even though you've seen them all already, probably when they were first released. The mainstream multiplexes are showing all the crud that Hollywood figured wouldn't fare well in the summer.

I may go out and see The Ruins. Otherwise, there's not much very interesting, and even that's only interesting because Scott Smith wrote the book.

Defacing The Classics

I know what you're thinkng: Godfather 3. Or maybe Lucas & Spielberg tinkering with Star Wars and E.T., respectively. Or maybe the remake of Sabrina. Or the "Casablanca" television series.

But actually, I'm talking about games. Classic games are defaced at a rate that would put Hollywood to shame. There probably isn't a single successful game over five years old that hasn't been trashed. (OK, that's an exaggeration, but not by much.)

I've never been much of a multiplayer game guy. Computer games have always been my way of getting away from other people. The math intrigues me; I like to figure the underlying numbers. Plus it tends to take an inordinate amount of time to arrange times, setup options, work out kinks, and so on, and I have little time.

'course, The Boy and I have played a fair amount of the years. We've gone from me being able to read a book while playing to him kicking my ass on first person shooters and non-business real time strategies. (I can still beat him in Capitalism and Civilization!)

But I did venture online briefly to play the Seven Kingdoms game. Seven Kingdoms was a rare combination of economic and military strategy that was more a cult classic. As a result I hooked up with some very smart people from all over the world (with handles like WindyCloud, Reno and Amarok) and actually got in on the beta for Seven Kingdoms II. (7K2 was not a great success and may be a great example of user feedback ruining the design, but that's another discussion.)

Both products were the brain-child of Trevor Chan (also the creator of Capitalism), and both were hampered by distribution issues. Chan resolved his issues by turning his game company, Enlight, into a game publisher.

But while Chan was an exemplary game designer, his efforts at publishing seem to have resulted in less than optimal results, perhaps not as a publisher--as you can certainly find their games on the shelves--but as a developer, as they have released some real dogs. And former flagship products (Capitalism and Seven Kingdoms) have been basically neglected.

One difference between games and movies is that gamers look forward to new versions of their games, since the technology improves so quickly, and there are always ideas that couldn't make it into the original.

But in this case, I'd just as soon they'd left Seven Kingdoms for dead. No, I haven't played it. But it was supposedly in a "late alpha" three years ago--meaning it should have been out 2 1/2 years ago. The last ship-date I saw for it was a year ago. And in gaming, a little slip is often good. A big slip is almost always disastrous.

So now we have Seven Kingdoms: Conquest. And because Enlight is a good publisher, it'll sit there on shelves for the next ten years, mocking those of us who used to love it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Blogging Distilled To It's [sic] Essence

Here.

I especially like the pie charts. I like pie.

Energy = Civilization

I wrote this over at Althouse and realized I'd never written it here.

Civilization is energy.

More precisely, it's the ability to concentrate energy at particular points in time to accomplish work that would be impossible for an individual.

In Keith Chandler's book, Beyond Civilization he posits that slavery is a necessary component for civilization. He's also forced to argue that we're entering something that isn't civilization now, but all that's really necessary for civilization is this ability to corral and focus energy. In fact, you could measure the degree of civilization by the extent of that ability.

Visions of the future (when not apocalyptic) feature what? Spaceships, flying cars, teleportation, lasers--and all manner of power hungry devices. And behind it all there's some talk of a fusion device or similar power generator that provides all the juice anyone could need.

So energy "conservation", in the sense of actually using less energy? It's like telling civilization to go backwards.

Now, efficiencies that come about as a result of technology are another matter. It's not impossible to power tiny devices off the body's heat and kinetic energy that before would've taken massive power generators. A computer in the '50s was a massive device with lots of energy needs, and yet less computation power than your cell phone.

Or a paradigm shift: Now, instead of carting a physical piece of paper half-way across the world, we need only send a few electron patterns. And despite passing through dozens of machines, the amount of energy used is minuscule.

But when we have energy conservation, what do we do? We immediately find some other way to expend the energy. Because that's the only way anything ever gets done.

We will continue to create more efficient ways of doing things just as we will continue to expend more energy.

Stump for cleaner power, for cheaper power, for more power, by all means. To fight for less is to fight to undo civilization.

Monday, April 7, 2008

I Wake Up Screaming

Yeah, don't we all?

I had this movie on the brain since last Thursday, when we had finished watching One Million B.C. so when it turned up on cable, I watched it. Surprisingly good. Victor Mature, who constantly (and honestly) deprecated his own acting ability did a splendid job.

Carole Landis plays second fiddle to Betty Grable in this flick, which would be one of Landis' biggest. Then after a burst of activity in the next year of six flicks that never caught fire, Landis would start her slow descent into oblivion.

Looking at this movie, though, I don't see why audiences would prefer Grable to Landis. Grable wasn't a better actress, from what I could tell, nor did she even have better legs (if One Million B.C. is to be trusted), and on top of that she was packing a pair of DDs (admittedly kept under wraps in a vain hope to be taken seriously).

She toured like crazy during WWII, too. It seems like she could have been just one pin-up pose away from superstardom.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

On Charleton Heston and the Scenery Chewers

So, ol' Chuck Heston crossed the metaphorical Red Sea into the promised land the other day, which prompts a lot of discussion about what he'll be remembered for and what his qualities and weaknesses were.

Over at Althouse there's a strong faction who thinks his religious movies will carry him forward through time. But for the post-Boomer pre-X generation (and probably part of X as well), he'll probably be remembered for his post-Apocalyptic trilogy: Planet of the Apes, Omega Man and Soylent Green. (Less the last, since it didn't air on TV as incessantly as the first two.)

Those films are pretty dated, however, so perhaps the Biblical ones will win out. The most watchable, for my money, is Touch of Evil, which film Heston was instrumental in Welles being able to make at all.

I wasn't a big fan (see my Man For All Seasons story), and agree with some of the suggestions that it was a style, like that of Kirk Douglas, that's never really appealed to me. But I wouldn't lump in Burt Lancaster in that crowd and I wouldn't really call it scenery chewing.

The style of acting that has predominated in my lifetime has been a so-called "natural" style, where everything is sort of muted and "realistic". I put those terms in quotes because everything about drama is so artificial, arguing over one thing being more realistic than the other becomes a little silly.

Like Hitchcock not putting music in Lifeboat because "where would it come from?" (David Raksin told us his response to that was something like "Presumably from the same place the cameras come from.")

Or like English gardeners who argue over a manicured look and a "natural" look. The natural look is no less manicured, it's just a different--equally artificial--aesthetic.

And after enjoying years of William Shatner impressions, I realized that his "over"-acting is the only thing that makes the original "Star Trek" watchable for me. You have to admit, the fist-biting, pregnant-pausing, arm-sweeping scenery chewing distracts you from the fact that the scenery being chewed is largely cardboard.

Looking back, a lot of--let's call it "broad"--acting is the most entertaining part of a lot of shows, and while you might, for instance, laugh at the transparent gestures and facial expressions of silent movies, you do at least know what's going on.

So, you know, support your local ham.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Thought of the Day

"Freedom from religion cannot coexist with freedom of speech."

Something that just occurred to me while talking with a guy who believes he should be allowed to live a life free of ever having to encounter Christian iconography.

New Blogroll Entry + A View Into Socialized Medicine

The company that handles the benefits for the company I work for is not particularly efficient. I heard (second hand, after personally asking a couple of times) that the benefits meeting was going on on a day that I was not at work, within a few minutes of it actually happening.

Then I heard that we had until all of the next day to fill out the paper work, though eventually that was (silently) extended to a week. (Actually, I apparently caused some agitation by pushing the deadline but, hey, if you want things in on time, you might consider some advance notice of when that time is.)

Anyway, last year I had family dental coverage (which was free) and personal medical coverage (also free). Although it didn't actually work out that way, since the dentist was on the insurance company site one moment, then not the next, then went to the trouble of being part of the dental plan (which apparently he hadn't been before), and now, this year, they've switched plans and he's (of course) not on the new plan.

So.

Medical coverage is $0 for me for some sort of limited plan. To include a spouse and any number f children it goes to $1734 per month. More than my mortgage (with RE taxes). More than I spend on food. More than any individual taxes (though perhaps not more than all of the taxes put together).

On top of that, there were seven pages of forms to fill out, to get the "free" coverage. I don't believe I've mentioned this, but I opted to not pursue a scholarship for a Masters degree (musicology) because it would've meant paperwork. (I hate paperwork. The primary value to me of using TaxCut or TurboTax is that I don't have to fill out any paperwork.)

And, you know, I hadn't used the coverage last year. One could argue (fairly reasonably) that I don't treat my body that well. But it is mine, and I tend to treat it that way, which is to say, I don't just pass it around to whatever Hippocratic sheepskin-wielding maniac some pill-pushing-bureaucracy has decreed.

Even last year, when I had the free coverage, and I had my first medical incident that required a doctor's attention since 1985, I went to the local Urgent Care clinic rather than try to wrestle with the "free" care I theoretically should have gotten. The Urgent Care guy has given us the occasional antibiotic and set a few bones, all at prices which seem mostly fair.

This was rolling around in my head when I read Sippican Cottage's tale of woe and Lyme disease. (I didn't know people actually got that! I thought it was just dogs! That lived in the Rockies!) It's a good reminder that a bureaucracy will kill you, and completely without remorse or consideration, because nobody personalizes the organization's responsibilities.

Sip is an old-tyme Althouse commenter who, for reasons unknown to me, stopped commenting and even went so far as to erase his old comments. But his site is one of the gentler spots on the Internet, peppered with old black-and-white photos and remember-whens, without any of the sort of technophobia or misanthropy that is common to such things.

Also, he makes replica antique furniture. Hmmm. He might be able to make an interesting HTPC case, eh, what?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Passing Lives

In the great big city, or the burbs nearby at least, you get ideas and impressions of people you never actually see just by driving by their houses. You speculate on who people are based on how they do (or don't do) their lawn, holiday decorations, and so on.

For years we passed a little house on the corner of Lurline and Saticoy, both small streets, though Saticoy has over the years become a lot heavier trafficked. (There are really no streets any more that are unbroken over any distance that haven't become wall-to-wall cars at some point during the day.) Though a modest house (as most are around here, with the glaring exception of a few McMansions put up during the height of the craze), it was very well cared for, with a white picket fence, and a white lattice work archway over the gate, always adorned with roses.

You know that the owners of the house were the original buyers, a young post-war couple who had settled in the land of milk & honey & aerospace during the '50s. And when the house went up for sale, you knew that there was no chance the next owner was going to love it like the original owner had over four decades, and that the those roses would go away (they did) and maybe even the lattice work would be deemed too hard to keep up (it wasn't).

On the other hand, there's a fellow we affectionately refer to as The Machine. This fellow puts up decorations for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas--short-break--Valentine's Day, Saint Patrick's Day and Easter--then things slow down a bit until Memorial Day and Independence Day are upon us. Then the guy takes a breather for a few months until October starts the cycle up again.

And not just a few decorations. His lawn, his windows, his roof--all plastered with seasonal trappings. His neighbor gives him a run for his money around Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, but there's no contest otherwise.

Except last year, he missed the 4th. There were a lot of cars and somber looking folk milling about.

It was natural to assume that he had died. Right?

Halloween rolled around and nothing.

But then...bam! Pumpkins, ghosts, inflatable Frankenstein monsters...

So was there some other serious occasion that deflected him? Or maybe not serious; people can look pretty grim around weddings and baby showers, too. Maybe he did die and someone is carrying on the tradition.

These are things you don't know when you're driving by someone's life at 35 mph.

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