Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Science and the Fossilized Thinker

Over at the Nun's Oath Ale pub, there's a debate over dinosaurs. Last night a resurgent troll came into a thread about the bailout and started informing everyone that Sarah Palin believes dinosaurs walked with men, and did we want our country in the hands of such a nut? Or did we all believe the same thing?

Repeatedly. When no one bothered to engage him, he proclaimed that we ALL believed dinosaurs walked with men.

Of course, this is just typical 'net trolling, and weak tea compared to the fire giants that walked Usenet lo those many eons ago.

But I got to thinking about science, as I often do.

Science, as practiced by people today, or rather as believed in by people today, fulfills most of the functions of religion. It isn't really that you and I believe in science and thus society progresses, it's that a few very rigorous thinkers apply science brutally in their specific areas and the resultant data can be used for engineering purposes.

I mean, the Greeks had a lot prettier science than we do. The music of the spheres, the four elements (and the fifth) and whatnot. It's just tough to build an iPod with that.

Science and art actually have a lot in common in this way: Neither matters until someone does something as a result. (Sorry, "pure" scientists and "pure" artists.) Well, neither matters much: An artist can be considered a success for transferring a sort of experience to the viewer--and you could even look at pure science the same way, but with a much, much smaller audience.

But ultimately, the big changes come because science show us that we can create a moving vehicle by applying a force in the direction opposite to the one we want to go, or that communism is A-OK, because art shows us worked out so well for Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton.

However, science requires integrity and, as I mentioned earlier, a sort of brutal application. The aforementioned troll has turned a common belief into dogmatic law, and dogmatic law is the foe of science.

In other words, if tomorrow we discovered human bones alongside of velociraptor bones, with a saddle, and book called "How To Ride Your Velociprator For Dummies", containing photographs of people riding velociraptors and dated 200 AD, well, science would demand we account for that in some fashion.

Now, you tell me, what archaeologist wants to be the one who says, "Oh, well, huh. It turns out dinosaurs and man may have lived together"? Who wants to be the who says, "Oh, yeah, there's a city on the floor of the Mediterranean its inhabitants referred to as Atlantis." The latter would just be a big deal, apparently, because Atlantis has been the subject of much wild speculation and so is now classed with Bigfoot.

You know, who wants to be the guy who says, "Yeah, Troy was a real place"? Or "washing your hands before surgery reduces the chance of post-op infection"?

Whoops.

There is such a thing as having a mind so open your brains fall out. But it's no less a sin, from the standpoint of science, than having a mind so closed, you reject any conflicting data.

They destroyed Semmelweiss, who from here looks to have been right. They also destroyed Reich, who from here looks to have been wrong. Nowhere in the scientific method will you find a part that says, "Destroy those who disagree with us."

It doesn't always turn out this way, particularly as you move toward the harder sciences. A few prominent geologists, for example, rejected the plate theory well into the '80s and '90s. As far as I can tell, they weren't completely ostracized.

But as you move away from the hard sciences and more into pop culture, "science" becomes "not religion" and "statism", i.e., a way for a new collective to enforce its will on others.

This, of course, has nothing to do with science.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Stupid Sayings, Vol 2

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

This is another saying I hate. Power doesn't corrupt. It can reveal corruption, of course.

Here's the thing: If you have power--real, true, genuine power--you don't need to cheat. I've seen the saying amended to "the fear of losing power corrupts", and I think there's a lot more truth to that.

The poor are not especially uncorrupted. A poor person--obviously, as a sheer matter of survival--is more likely to do something against his ethics system. A rich person has all his flaws, and he has the additional weakness of being subject to loss that a destitute person doesn't, but the immediate, actual survival of his body is probably not a fruitful avenue for the universe to attack him.

How does this fit in with my previous post on honesty and the financial mess? Wasn't it power that corrupted those people? No, not at all. They were corrupted long before they ever got into power. And a willingness to be corrupted was most likely how they got into power.

Honesty

Oh, honesty
Honesty
Ooh, it's such a waste of energy
No, you don't have to lie to me
Just give me some tenderness
Beneath your honesty
--Paul Simon, "Tenderness"

Lovely singer at that link, though I think the arrangement is not quite canonical.

I didn't expect my post-apocalyptic stuff to be prophetic, but as we sit here on what some say is the brink of ruin THE LIKES OF WHICH HAVE NEVER BEEN SEEN, a little honesty might be in order.

The short form is this: Two things got us into this current financial predicament. Stupidity and evil. You can say "greed", but greed is one or the other and usually both.

There was nothing unpredictable about it. I called it years ago, when my little hovel here doubled, then tripled, then quadrupled in value. (I "underbought" at the time. I was making in a year what my house went for! Underbuying has served me well.) Salaries stayed flat over most of that time period, so it seemed impossible to me that this state of affairs could continue.

As long as we concentrate all our power into the hands of a few people, we are subject to their failings.

Honesty in the current crisis--and by the way, this goes for 9/11, the '29 crash, and the New Deal--would be this, "We don't know what we're doing. We screwed this up without meaning to. At least most of us didn't mean to. If we're lucky, we're smart enough to fix this. But in any event, we shouldn't be trusted with this incredible amount of power in the future."

You'll see that there are many whose response to this highly regulated market failing is, "No! The problem is that not enough power is concnetrated in the hands of the people who screwed things up in the first place!" They won't phrase it like that, of course. They'll blame The Other Guys(TM) and insist that their own team was on the right side all along.

"As long as we get rid of The Other Guys--O! if only we'd gotten rid of The Other Guys sooner!--it's not only okay for Our Guys to run everything, it's the best way to go."

Personally, I don't know what the answer is for the immediate problem, nor even if there is an immediate problem that should be addressed. But I do know, with complete confidence, that going forward it would be best if we resisted the urge to allow any Guys ("Ours" or "Theirs") to have that much power.

I don't expect to be heard on this, mind you. But as our friend Paul Simon once wrote, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and blogway halls."

Manic Monday Apocalypso: Woops!

I can't recall whether it was "Network" or some other later satire on TV Networks that had some dimwitted character suggest a sitcom based on the aftermath of a nuclear war, but I do recall laughing hysterically--in that slightly maniacal way I have--when the fledgling Fox network put out "Woops!" which was, essentially, "Gilligan's Island" post-Apocalyptic style.

Or so I'm told. I didn't watch it at the time; I had some idea that that would be encouraging poor taste, if only in the abstract. (Not that the world has ever needed my encouragement.)

The lead in that short-lived series, Evan Handler, has gone on to have quite a career, as the narcissistic co-star in the almost equally short-lived "It's Like, You Know", appearances on "Law & Order" (he did it!), "The West Wing", and as the gross slob who wins over the overly-prim Charlotte in "Sex and the City". He's currently a regular on David Duchovny's Showtime series, "Californication".

This show should not be confused with the just-has-to-be-better Brit series and movie, "Whoops Apocalypse".

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dexter's Crime Laboratory

Dexter is back for Season 3! (Showtime.)

This charming little series is about a serial killer working in a Miami police department, passing himself off as normal and getting by with the help of his adoptive father's ethical code. That's the twist: His father, recognizing him for what he is, inculcates a sense of who should and shouldn't be killed both as a way of keeping him safe and keeping him controlled.

They cheat more than a little bit: Dexter is way too likable. They tend to take him to the brink of discovery and pull back at the last second. Very exciting but (I would think) limited in terms of how long they can drag it out. I thought both the first and second seasons could've been the last.

We'll see. Jimmy Smits is making an appearance this season.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Sex! Sex! Sex! Is that all you ever think about?"

Brian: Have I got a big nose, Mum?
Brian's mother: Stop thinking about sex!
Brian: I wasn't!
Brian's mother: You're always on about it. "Will the girls like this? Will the girls like that? Is it too big? Is it too small? "

Just wanted you guys to pat yourself on the back: "barbarian sex" and "cowboy sex" are becoming increasingly popular search terms for this blog.

Knott Political: The Hanging.

So, Thursday was the first day of the Halloween Haunt. And as always, it's the best day to go. Although, I guess if you could know the traffic beforehand, a later day might be better, especially if you were willing to spring the extra $200/person for the VIP access to the mazes. You skip right to the front of the line. And if there's anything better than no lines, it's taking cuts in front of everyone else. Heh.

I'll put up more of a review later, but I wanted to get this down: Every year, the Halloween Haunt turns its stunt show in to "The Hanging". Basically, it's the regular stunt show without the western motif, and with lots more fake blood. Also, instead of cowboys, the prime players are dressed up as cultural icons. It's usually tasteless, borderline amateurish--fake punches really look fake--and it's more than a little crude. And I don't mean that, necessarily, in a good way.

The idea is that they hang the most offensive person in society. Since it's meant to be funny, this is usually a pop-culture icon. I consider myself lucky if I'm aware of who the person is. I do get the movie references, or most of them (it took me a while to process the "Zohan" reference, so quickly had I forgotten that movie even came out--was it Sacha Cohen or Adam Sandler?).

I don't really get the music references. I'm sort of, like, "Is that Amy Winehouse?", "No, wait, that's Amy Winehouse!", "Well, who was that person five minutes ago?" Since I seldom go with anyone who's more up on pop-stuff than I am, I can't ask. The Boy seems to shun that sort of thing and The Flower is still too young. I did recognize Hannah Montana, I think. (The other thing is that it's the same dozen stunt-folk changing in-and-out of costumes, and some of the impressions are very weak. Has anyone else noticed that there's this recycling of Clinton wigs for McCain? What hell? McCain's hair is a wispy combover!)

The whole thing is like a gross-out comedy movie, where some of the jokes land and some don't, but the next one's along pretty soon so you aren't bored.

This year, expectedly, was political themed. And, actually, given the recent market meltdown, it was almost quaint. They had Javier Bardem fighting alongside of Santa Ana Smith (Indy), which felt odd because No Country For Old Men feels like it was a lifetime ago. (And I just re-watched it on cable a couple of times.)

But they hung...oil company executives. These were represented by people wearing the logos of Chevron, Texaco, etc. This was accompanied by the (admittedly funny) line "You really wanted to go to Universal Studios, but you couldn't afford to fill up the gas tank!" (Of course, we drove past Universal Studios to get to Knott's.)

Meh. I'm usually underwhelmed by the ultimate victim. And I guess people really believe that it's all those mean old oil company guys are to blame for it all. The ultimate oil guy, by the way, was represented during the actual hanging part by Daniel Plainview. That was both odd and old. (But I kept wondering if that's what I missed about the movie: Maybe you have to assume from the get-go that Plainview is pure evil, and that his actions are evil, and the very process of drilling for oil is evil.)

The political figure who got the most stage time was none other than John McCain. He did a lot of fighting, mostly with Hillary Clinton (who was the butt of most of the jokes in the first 5-10 minutes of the 30 minutes show). At one point, they had McCain and Clinton fighting, with Iron Man taking McCain's side. (Hillary kept turning Iron Man off, though.)

Sarah Palin got a walk on. This actually underscores one of the weaknesses of the hanging. Right next to "clap humor" at the bottom of the humor scale is "referential humor". Where they cross is right at the bottom when some late-night hack refers to a partisan talking point. Referential can be funny, of course, either through scale (think Tom Cruise being Austin Powers, or Orson Welles in The Muppet Movie), through accuracy (this involes the joker saying just exactly what you're thinking, which can overlap into "clap humor"), or through sheer randomity. (During an episode of MST3K, Catalina Caper, a typical '60s beach dance scene ends with the camera panning up into a starless night sky, and Crow says, "Meanwhile, deep in the impenetrable void, John Paul Sartre is a-movin' and a-groovin'.")

Bush and Cheney also got a walk-on. No sign of Biden.

Anyway, McCain couldn't kill Hillary; Obama showed up to finally do her in. Then McCain and Obama duked it out for a while. Neither was shown as a clear winner, and neither was killed.

Which I suppose is a sort of cruel neutrality.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 35

0 minutes, again, today. Only without the eight hours at Knott's to balance it out.

We did not get a lot of sleep the night before. The Boy had some stomach problems after the park (at least it was after) and didn't get much sleep. He felt pretty crummy all day and I had a lot of non-computer stuff to do.

Physically, though, I was totally up to doing a bunch of hours. That's cool. I have a few occasional foot issues left, but otherwise, I'd say I've successfully integrated the treadmill into my workday.

This ends week 5 since I got the new treadmill. I'll probably start changing to a weekly post that I update daily, starting on Saturday.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 34

0 Minutes. I did, however, walk eight hours at Knott's Halloween Haunt.

I was actually less sore afterwards than an average day on the treadmill.

So, in that sense, mission accomplished. The Boy, who has been swimming more than walking, had a little more trouble with the legs. And The Flower's shins bothered her a bit the next morning.

Heh. The old man's still got a little life in him, I guess.

I am stiffer than John McCain at a debate, though, so I'm going to add some stretching to the daily routine.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 33

Did over 200 minutes today, but consciously scaled back due to the trip to Knott's tomorrow.

Make Blake Write A Book III: The Reckoning

The story continues to ferment. Thematic elements to be included:

1. Barbarians
2. Sex
3. Western-type setting
4. Yogurt
5. Unicorns
6. Spaceships

Looking at my calendar, it seems that November 1st falls on a Saturday. Now, the NaNoWriMo rules state that the length of the novel is at least 50,000 words, which some would call a novella (though wiki lists the upper end of a novella as 40,000). But it seems to be that 50K words is between 200-250 printed pages, so while my initial thought was to make it longer, that range is just about perfect for what I have in mind. Though, honestly, the way I'm thinking about it, it could turn out to be quite a sprawl.

Anyway, my target will be about 10 pages a day (2-2.5K words) which works out to anywhere from 60-75K through November 30th. That's pretty fast.

What I'm having the most trouble with at the moment is deciding on a character name. Everything I've come up with sounds either lame or parodic.

And I am going to try to be earnest, here. I'd rather go out Ed Wood than Joe Esterhaz.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 32

319 minutes. OK, I'm getting bored with posting every day. I may do a weekly roundup or something....

Frozen River: Slurpees Half Price

Melissa Leo is in a big budget picture out now alongisde mega-uber-super-duper-screen legends Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. But you could probably skip that film that can only generate lukewarm reviews and box office, and see her in Frozen River, filmed for less than 1% of the cost and is something you aren't likely to see much in movies.

Leo plays Ray Eddy, a poor woman with two boys (T.J., 15 and Ricky, 5), who lives at the northern edge of New York state, near the Canadian border. When we meet her, her gambling-addicted husband has vanished with money they need to purchase their double-wide. She's not a very likable character, and T.J. blames her for his father running off, though, in fairness, she's in the difficult situation of keeping her family together while not letting the missing dad destroy it.

She crosses paths with Lila, a Mohawk Indian whose husband was killed and whose son was taken away from her when she was caught smuggling.

This leads the two to end up smuggling immigrants across the Canadian border through Mohawk reservation, which is half on the USA border and half on the Canadian border. Ray's initial reluctance is plausibly denied by Lila's insistance that what they're doing isn't illegal, because the reservation can admit whomever it wants and, uh, I guess, let whomever it wants off the reservation?

It's a dubious justification, but one that serves well enough to convince the desperate for money Ray that she's not really a criminal as she, you know, commits all these crimes. As it usually does, her life of crime has some negative consequences, as does her sense of right and wrong.

I won't spoil anything here, but let's just say her desperation leads her to venture into the dark, mean streets of Canada. So, you know.

This is a good low-budget flick that tells its story crisply, without relying too heavily on dialogue--Lila barely talks at all--and playing nicely on the cold, desolate poverty of Plattsburgh, New York. There's a little too much shakey-cam in the opening scene (though I think I understand why) but things settle down and draw a picture which is sort of the opposite of the pristine snowscapes of the Coen Brothers' Fargo and Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan. The snow always looks questionable, dirty and even sinister.

The acting is good. While Melissa Leo allows the camera and lighting to show all the age and poverty she's supposed have endured, Misty Upham packs on 40 pounds to play her laconic Indian sidekick. They look and act their parts--very naturally, as if director Courteney Hunt pulled them out of the trailer parks in Plattsburgh. The boys (Charlie McDermott, James Reilly) do solid work, and Michael O'Keefe, normally seen as a white-collar type, if I'm not mistaken, makes a credible state trooper whom it's really not clear if he's racist or just (rightly) suspicious of Lila.

The ending of a movie like this is tricky. Very, very tricky. Our heroines are criminals, after all. But as we get to know them, the movie--almost grudgingly--gives us a chance to like them. I won't say how it ends, but I will say it avoids the common pitfalls this sort of movie often falls prey to.

Solid flick, worth checking out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 31

100 minutes. Had to go in to the office today. We had a meeting, which was rather hard to sit through. (I mean, physically hard.)

Manic Monday Apocalypso: The Last Woman On Earth

One of Roger Corman's favorite budget-saving tricks was to film two movies while on location instead of one. The second film was done on a shoestring-budget--an even stringer-shoestring budget than the first, shot quickly and sometimes without a full script. And sometimes, they were better than the higher-budgeted flick.

Such is the case with Creature from the Haunted Sea, and its twin The Last Woman on Earth. TLWOE is a perfect example of what makes a post-apocalyptic movie attractive to the Z-movie director: It has a cast of three and one of the three is the screenwriter.

Said screenwriter is no less than Robert Towne, best known for having written Chinatown and Bonny and Clyde. And while this isn't his finest work--and as you might imagine this is a pretty talky flick for a post-apocalyptic thriller--it acquits itself fairly well.

Two men. One woman. The woman is the last woman on earth. Gosh, it practically writes itself.

The worst--and best--part of this movie is the fetching image of Betsy Jones-Moreland on the poster. As lovely as she is, she never quite finds herself in this state of dishabille.

Another cool thing about the movie is that it's Public Domain. Watch it for free or download it from the Internet Archive.

Until next Monday, mutants, stay radiated!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 30

216 minutes today. The nice thing was that it was completely organic. I've gotten to where I just turn on the treadmill whenever I'm at my desk.

And I'm back to barefoot, with some flip-flops nearby if needed.

The Philosophy of Political Parties

Jonathan Haidt has an interesting article here called "What Makes People Vote Republican?"

It's interesting because Haidt clearly identifies with the Left, but he makes a game, good-faith attempt to comprehend the Right. This is rare supply on the Internet, though even more in the meida. In the media, Republicans (and Scientologists!) are either evil or stupid. It's safe to say that members of either group don't recognize themselves from the descriptions of them by their antagonists.

Ace talked about this a bit a while ago: It may be that we all understand the logic of Left, because we're presented it on a daily basis in newspapers, television shows, movies, music--the arts in genera--and schools. Goldstein might say the Left deals in identity politics, but it's ultimately its own identity.

If you're one of them, you get to also claim authenticity on your other demographics: woman, minority, or even working man or intellectual. If you're not--if you reject the Left's embrace--there are many, many categories for you to be in, but one of the little used ones is "Guy who's okay even if he disagrees with me about something".

Haidt correctly identifies at least part of the problem with seeing the world in that manner: One becomes self-righteous and ultimately lazy. In the current election, many of the attacks on Sarah Palin are aimed at the parodic strawman the Left thinks the Right is, hence the howling about the pregnant teen. (I have no doubt that the Right would use this against a Left candidate if the situation were reversed, at least in the past. From what I've seen, though, the Right is quick to censure it's own for bad behavior.)

Of course, the whole point of traditional morality, in the larger sense, is to prevent such lapses in behavior from occurring, and jeopardizing the group. So Bristol and Levi are committed to the socially prescribed remedy of getting married. The Left spits gouts of flame about hypocrisy when, of course, the point of morality is not that you never make a mistake, but that you take the correct action when you do, inevitably, fail.

Haidt, quite to his credit, gets that, at least well enough to write a serviceable explanation.

One could reduce all social arguments down to that balance between the individual, his family, and society in all its facets. It would be sensible to do so as far as the government was concerned, of course: The first question the government should ask when facing any social issue from drug use to teen pregnancy is whether or not the government should get involved with trying to fix said issue.

He completely misses the statist/non-statist view of things, but it has to be admitted, the socially conservative Right is an entirely different beast from the fiscally conservative Right. He also misses, I think, the point that the Left has its own group morality that is far harsher than the morality on the Right--and also completely self-destructive.

Think about that for a moment: Much like the USSR couldn't exist without the USA to feed it, the Left would rapidly dwindle if it didn't constantly recruit from the right. (This is why the Soviets infiltrated our government, media and education in the first place. Believe it or not, the USA used to be a place where advocating its violent overthrow would've been considered in poor taste.)

In truth, it's not the social axis that's important, it's the financial one. And social cons and libs alike can embrace Big Government, as the current President--and crisis--shows.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 28

320 minutes. This is the end of week four. My, how time flies.

I'm back to doing some barefoot time, which is nice.

Waitress, On Reflection

Adrienne Shelley's Waitress has been on cable quite a bit, and I've had a chance to re-view it.

When it first came out, Althouse hated it. I think I even put off seeing it for weeks on that basis.

I realize now, Althouse and I do not have anything like comparable movie tastes. (For example, I've given a cursory view to Across The Universe, and found it vaguely offensive, despite the music.)

Anyway, I liked the movie when I first saw it, and I like it more on re-view. It's stylized: deliberately placed out of time and a fairy tale situation, in the sense that the characters are all placed in their situations without much concern for how they got there.

What I find weird was Althouse--and others--assertion that this was a man-loathing movie. Yet, in the end, all the characters are flawed, and the only really bad man is Jeremy Sisto's creepily played Earl. Indeed, one of the most despicable characters in movie history.

In fact, the lead character--whose view colors everything in the movie--goes from seeing men as bullies and ogres, and comes to see them as human as her girlfriends.

Now, I'm not unsympathetic to the view that movies--particularly female-centered ones--portray men badly, as villains, etc. But that just doesn't apply here. About the only characters who don't show off severe flaws are Dawn and Ogie, with Dawn being rather insecure and Ogie being...a little intense.

IMDB has this at 7.4 which is maybe a hair low for the current curve (maybe a 7.6). I'm a bit surprised by the number of comments I've read that are so severely judgmental. I sort of come away from this film thinking, "Well, we all make mistakes, and the idea is that we should correct them and move on, and also not be too severe about others mistakes." It's such a non-controversial concept ("Lord's Prayer" anyone?), I'm surprised at how many people approach this from the viewpoint that the main character should be pilloried.

Anyway, Adrienne Shelly was just cute as a bug's ear, to boot. And her tragic death should not go unobserved. Fortunately, it hasn't.

It's not a tax...it's redemption!

I went out and bought some soda and some water.

The purchase price was $8.48.
The sales tax was $0.42.
The "California Redemption Value" was $1.80.

So, I paid 25% over the price of what I bought in taxes. This is the problem with "use-based taxes". They look good on the surface, but they just turn into another source of revenue for the state, and even make the tax look righteous.

Even when it's all...hokum.

What's worse is that--according to what I've heard--the blue bins that the state collects the recycling in were basically formulated to stop the homeless from collecting and doing the recycling themselves. In other words, we took something that gave the least fortunate members of society a way to make money through honest labor and cost the taxpayers nothing--and turned it into something that the government does (and loses money at, at the city level).

All I'm really wondering, though, is what happens to that 0.42? Why isn't that enough to do what needs to be done, rather than tripling it?

Why is it these clowns always have money for mansions, and never for roads?

The Halloween Season Is About To Begin

Not for retailers. They started a month ago, around the time of back-to-school specials.

But for us! Since The Boy was two (and a few years before that), we've gone to Knott's "Scary" Farm for Halloween. The Flower has gone since she was five. I'd probably take The Barbarienne this year but I'm afraid she'd hurt the monsters.

The Knott's Halloween Haunt is kind of a Southern California tradition, being the oldest transformation of a park for Halloween in the area. (Disneyland just started theirs recently, on the scale of things.)

There are ten walk-through mazes, and two rides typically get turned into mazes (the mine ride and the log ride, which are relatively slow). Sometimes they also turn the dinosaur ride. On top of that, they have hundreds of monsters trolling the park terrorizing guests.

I knew The Boy would like it early on, though it's not for most toddlers. He's always identified with monsters. The Haunt typically hires some 6 1/2 foot guy to be a yeti. On The Boy's first year, he sees this giant yeti approach him, looked up, and gave him a big hug.

The Flower is less sanguine but, oh, the monsters love her. Last year, a werewolf grilled her for about fifteen minutes about going to grandmother's house and an evil clown tried to take her own. Sometimes she decides she's going to run--which the monsters love--but since she knows not to run away from me, she ends up running in circles with the monster chasing her around and around.

It's actually not tricky taking the kids to an event like this. You just have to watch carefully and not push them past their comfort zone. And, of course, you have to not take the kid who won't enjoy it under any circumstances. If not for The Boy, I doubt The Flower would be so brave. But she knows both that it's made-up and that we'll protect her. Also, she worships him, so she wants to do whatever he does.

Last year, I made the mistake of taking her on the log flume, which is very, very mild but for some reason disturbs The Flower (and did The Boy, too, when he was younger, even as he'd ride a super-violent roller coaster). This year she thought about not coming, but it turned out it was just about getting my assurance she wouldn't have to ride it.

The big trick to doing this, though, is to avoid the crowds. "But, Blake," you say, "amusement parks are always crowded, especially Halloween events."

To which I reply, "That's why you go on the first day. It's September, nobody's thinking about going to a Halloween event. It's also a Thursday, and nobody's thinking about going to a park on a Thursday night."

We do every maze, some of them more than once, and still have time to eat, play a few games, do some shopping--whatever the kids want. Then we crash at the hotel and go home the next morning after breakfast.

And when it's all over, we come home and plan the decorations for the house and the Halloween party.

It's very Norman Rockwell, only with lots of latex and blood.

Treadmill Desk, Day 27

240 minutes today. Ended up doing a lot of running around away from the desk today.

Knott's Halloween Haunt is next week. I'm not even concerned.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Site Reorientation!

Lately, people have been coming here for the treadmill desk posts, so I feel like I should play to that audience.

Problem is, I've never been able to form a cohesive "lifestyle". You ever notice that? Everybody who hawks a book on exercise or diet, talks about "lifestyle". (As Carlin used to say, "Genghis Khan had an active outdoor lifestyle.")

I'm just a guy walkin' on a treadmill. I don't go to meetings to talk about the treadmill-desk lifestyle. I don't know anybody else who does this, and don't really care to. I mean, I wouldn't object if someone I knew did it. ("The treadmill-desk is my bit! We're through!") But I don't seek an overarching theme or purpose or motif in my life.

So I'm going to probably let you treadmill-desk enthusiasts down, just as I do the pointy-breast seekers.

But I will field any treadmill-desk questions you might have. (I'll field any breast questions you have, too, but I'm unlikely to have any significant insight on that subject.)

And someday maybe we can all get together and not walk somewhere.

On The Importance of Being Earnest

Not the Oscar Wilde play but the actual importance of being earnest.

I was thinking about why I find Ed Wood watchable. And then about how I find the blaxploitation flicks of the '70s so entertaining.

And I think it sums up as: earnestness.

Earnestness is the opposite of camp, snark, irony, hipness. It's meaning what you say, without regard for triteness or unintentional humor. It takes a kind of courage to be earnest, and a particularly in this post-modern era of deconstruction and over analysis.

One could, were one so inclined, analyze the national election in terms of earnestness versus camp. You might say the Reps tend to favor earnest candidates suspiciously, while the Dems earnestly favor hip candidates. But I won't say that here.

Earnestness, of course, is no guarantee of quality, as Mr. Wood, Jr., clearly illustrated, along with the dialogue of the '70s flicks about "the Man" and white and black prejudice. But it's almost always entertaining, if not in the way the creators intended.

The original Evil Dead, for example, has many moments of unintended comedy mixed in with some truly scary moments, reflecting Sam Raimi's youth and intensity. By contrast, Spider-Man 2 has a few scary moments that Raimi cribbed directly from his earlier film, and which are almost intense enough to push the movie into R territory.

We see from these two films, that it is possible to maintain earnestness even while raising quality. The second Spiderman movie is probably Raimi's masterpiece, completely committed while technically brilliant.

But very often, earnestness is lost in the perfection of craft. I like Spielberg, and am not inclined to bashing him, but I think since about Saving Private Ryan, he's lost a lot of the earnestness he used to have making popcorn movies. (He even mentions it in reference to Jurassic Park 2. His heart just wasn't in it.)

Earnestness can become strident proselytizing, too. When I consider Plan 9 From Outer Space, with its message of non-nuclear proliferation (or...non-solarinite proliferation), I see a movie that's a movie first, where the message of peril is meant to give some underlying resonance to the story, rather than a story dedicated to pushing that message. And I'd still rather watch it than The Constant Gardener or any of the anti-Iraq movies that have emerged in the past five years, regardless of "quality".

Religious movies can fall into the same trap, of course. But you don't get many religious mainstream movies these days.

I'm not a big Peter Jackson fan, but he kept the snark out of Lord of the Rings. You can't do "epic" without earnestness: Things have to matter, while the whole of being hip, cool and camp is that nothing matters--and very often that nothing is really very good. Or, rather ironically, that "very good" = "very easy". (That's a kind of modern art conceit: You can't write a song in C or make a representational painting like the old masters. That would be too easy.)

Earnestness, like being plainspoken, reveals how we actually feel and think, of course.

This requires a degree of vulnerability.

Which, in turn, is what makes art dangerous to create and even, in a way, to enjoy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 26

230 minutes so far today. (UPDATE: 270 minutes by the end of the day.) I'm posting at 7PM so I might get some more time in before the night is up. But since Althouse posted on the treadmill desk, I thought I'd summarize my experience to date. (For those of you just joining in, this is day 26 since I "got serious". I actually did over three weeks of a trial, and then reset the counter when my new treadmill arrived. So I've been doing this for 2 months now.)

I've been detailing my trek on my blog under keyword [sic] "treadmill desk". But rather than make you go through that, I'll spell out my strategy:

1. Buy a cheap treadmill--I mean, really cheap (<$100 or free, if you can find one), off of Craig's list--and a plank of wood. The treadmill should have long, straight arms for you to put the plank of wood on.

2. Fiddle with the height of the board by stacking books underneath. (Some people carve wood rests or what have you, but I have no talent in that area, plus I kind of like the "change on a whim" feel. What seems good today may not tomorrow.)

3. Give it a try for several weeks. Try to run through all your daily tasks, including the ones tht require the greatest concentration and steadiest hands. If you can only do 90% of your work while walking, make sure you have a way to do that other 10% without disrupting things too much.

4. While you're doing this, note the issues you're having so that when the time comes for a better treadmill, you'll know exactly what you want.

In my case, my cheap ($50) treadmill overheated, which forced my hand to buying a new one sooner than I would've liked. I had a hard time running it for more than an hour. It was also really loud and really hot. I finally went with a new Sole machine that gets put into hotels, with a two year warranty. Very quiet, doesn't seem to radiate heat.

My big mistakes were: pushing myself to hit the eight hour mark as soon as possible, which resulted in a lot of stiffness that wouldn't have occurred had I built up more slowly; also, I didn't wear shoes at all at first, though I'm not sure if that would have been such a big deal had I not forced myself to the eight hour mark.

The benefits have been that a stiffness in my ankles and feet that had been building for years has almost completely gone away in the past two months. I don't find myself imbued with lots of energy that others seem to have--at least not yet--but one doesn't fall asleep at a treadmill desk, either.

I haven't been tracking my weight, particularly, so I can't speak to that. It has improved my appetite, however.

Dwaaaaaaaaaaa!

Finally, at long last, Duckman is available on DVD!

I've mentioned the show before--I thought including the fact that there was no legal way to buy the series, you had to give money to bootleggers, but if I did, I can't find that post.

Jason Alexander plays Duckman, a widowed, incompetent, skirt-chasing detective in a world that is a mixture of humans and anthropomorphized animals, sort-of trying to raise his family (a big dumb kid named Ajax, voiced by Dweezil Zappa and his conjoined genius twin sons voiced, originally, by the late Dana Hill and the always marvellous E.G. Daly).

It's kind of a super-dysfunctional, depressing extension of "The Simpson's". In fact, Klasky-Csupo, the original Simpsons animators, created "Duckman". Imagine Marge dying on Homer, and Patty and Selma moving in, and you've got a start. Also, imagine Springfield as a more realistic, gritty, big city where almost everyone is selfish, greedy, short-sighted and cruel.

Sounds awful, doesn't it?

And yet, for me, this series truly worked. If you look at Homer Simpson, the engine that drives that groundbreaking television show, you see a person who's really rather despicable. He's stupid, mean, greedy, lazy, violent and on and on and on. He's not only dangerous when he means well, he often just plain doesn't mean well. Yet beyond the brilliant writing of the early years, it must be confessed that the show succeeds because we identify with homer.

We identify with his flaws and appreciate his redemption through his approximately once-per-episode acts of love. And we're hopeful that others can see the good in us, despite our flaws, and find something like the love Homer gets from Marge or Lisa and Maggie, or even Bart. (One of the reasons the show has gotten stale is that it's harder to believe in redemption when nothing changes, and the show has played out its own staticness both as humor and meta-humor.)

"Duckman" goes further. Duckman is driven by selfish short-sighted lust and avarice, much like Homer, and his redemption is much smaller and more fleeting. Duckman's world is darker: Unlike the sort of patchwork, plot-convenient history of "The Simpsons", Duckman's history is part of his makeup. He was started down the road to debauchery by his flighty, cruel mother.

By the time he's in high school, he's become enough of a tormenter himself to create an arch-rival: King Chicken (voiced by Tim Curry!).

As an adult, he's locked in a depraved downward spiral until he meets his wife Beatrice, one of the few truly pure characters of the show.

When she dies (before the series starts), he continues his descent into boozing, floozing, and generally being a jerk.

And yet.

The world is the much bigger jerk. While Duckman brings his problems on himself, it has to be said that the world is gamed against him. Parking laws so convoluted no one can read them. Taxes. Obsessive neighbors. Vacuous celebrities.

Any reform he tries is met with a big smackdown by the universe. Whereas Homer is just lazy, Duckman has the character to fight against the machine. He just doesn't have the wherewithal, physically, financially or psychically to win, nor even to survive a brush with life's many irrational obstacles in tact.

At a time when it was actually pretty edgy, Duckman was relentlessly politically incorrect, and the show never missed an opportunity to have a ridiculously over-endowed sex kitten giggling over some lurid double-entendre.

Jason Alexander's broad voice work does the trick here. Whether happy or raving or depressed or afraid (Duckman's signature yell is "Dwaaaaaaaaa!") Alexander makes this the performance of his career. (Duckman is far more lovable than George Costanza.)

I was pleased to see that he's listed on the special features, since back 10+ years ago or so, when there was supposed to be a Duckman game, he stopped it because the voice was so wearing. (Which may be code for "give me more money", but either way the game was killed.)

The series ended on a damned cliffhanger, too, but perhaps the series DVDs might spur some interest in a movie that could provide some closure.

Others in the standout cast include Greg Berger as the incredibly deep-voiced Cornfed Pig, the Watson to Duckman's Holmes, except that he's super-smart, competent in a wide-range of fields, and a virgin. Nancy Travis plays Duckman's sweet wife Beatrice in a couple of episodes, but primarily is the voice of the ultimate harridan Bernice, her sister. Ben Stein is the insufferable PhD neighbor who can't help but constantly remind everyone he's a PhD.

Guest stars included John Astin and Bobcat Goldthwait as recurring characters, and an assortment of oddities from Courtney Thorne-Smith playing herself to Maureen McGovern as the singing voice of Ajax.

I couldn't, in good conscience, recommend this to everyone. It's just too sleazy, too cynical, too dark. (Of course, I couldn't recommend a non-sleazy, uncynical, light movie for everyone either.)

But I recommend it for me. And can't wait to pick it up!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 25

0 minutes. Had to work on site today.

It was actually kinda weird.

We were being picketed.

By Jews!

On Frozen Yogurt and Other Endangered Foods

In this post on the novel I'm writing in November, 1jpb links to ZPS's blog entry on Penguin's Frozen Yogurt.

Penguin's used to be everywhere. Now they're not. ZPS wonders why.

I discussed this phenomenon with a savvy investor person not as related to Penguin's, but as it related to Boston Market. He pointed out that there are very good financial reasons to hyperinflate a company until it bursts--provided you know how to get out before it actually does so.

This happens a lot. Not just with trendy foods, because yogurt was pretty trendy and it's reasonable to think that any given food trend will pass, as it did with cajun and with--well, does anyone remember the chocolate chip cookie boutique days? That predated yogurt a bit.

So, there perhaps aren't as many Mrs. Fields as there used to be because of some financial shenanigans--but there are still some cookie boutiques. Same with Penguin's and frozen yogurt. I don't know of an equivalent to Boston Market, at least around here, but we seem to have trouble supporting "American food" here. No more Roger's Roasters, but plenty of chicken places. Salad bars seem to have mostly vanished, to be replaced by buffets, which I suppose are mostly "American food". (Though the salad bar places used to be pretty high quality, more upscale for a place that made you get your own food, and the buffets seem to be decidedly low rent.) The Sizzler adapted itself a couple of times, including into and out of the "salad bar" phase, though I think it's finally gone for good.

Bob's Big Boy--and going back a ways, The Copper Penny (I think that was just local) and Sambo's, and more recently, Baker's Square and Coco's: All American diner's that used to be everywhere and now aren't.

The upshot is that there are foods that you used to be able to get and now can't, or can't easily. This is a sign of impending old age.

Most of the foods that I like that no longer exist were not from big chains but from little mom & pop shops that went away. Spaghetti from Mike's Pizza (in Encino or Panorama City), a Pageburger Club from Page's (Encino), A Poor Boy Pizza from Jo Mama's (Burbank) or a carob shake from a little shack outside an arcade in Westwood.

The carob shake was insidious. You'd drink a little bit and not like it. But then you'd drink a little more. And by the time you got to the bottom, you were hooked. It was sweet, but a little bitter as well.

Anyway, whaat do you think about remembering lost foods, lost loves, lost places? I tend to think one should severely restrict it, lest one end up sitting on a rocker on the porch, awash in the past, and telling the kids about the orange groves stretching out "as far as the eye can see".

Education and Religion

I've maintained all along--and no one agrees with me--that education is an inherently religious and moral matter, and therefore the government really shouldn't be involved at all.

The citizens of the country have strong motivation to educate their young, and to do so better than any bureaucracy ever could, so there's no need being filled unless one accepts some arbitrary definition of what a good education is. (Which, of course, people do.)

But just for starters, in order to educate, you have to take a position about what it is you're doing. And if you believe that children are animals that need to be trained, or automatons to be programmed, or spiritual beings to be communicated with, that choice is going to be reflected in your approach.

Does your local school look like a temple, a data center--or a zoo?

Make Blake Write A Book: Update

OK, I think I've worked out the setting for this book.

Contrary to my previous post, I'm not going to be discussing the setting here. There will be an element of mystery that I think will be more enjoyable if I don't put all my cards on the table.

But so far, we know there will be three elements:

1. Barbarians
2. Sex
3. Western-type setting

Feel free to add more ideas in the comments. Even if they're offbeat. I'll consider it a challenge to work them into the story. (However, I reserve the right to adjust the amount and manner in which any idea or story element is incorporated, besides just rejecting outright. But I'll try not to reject outright.)

Update:

4. Yogurt
5. Unicorns
6. Spaceships

Heh. Thanks to 1jpb and AJ Lynch for the new suggestions.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 24

270 to 280 minutes. The acclimation process is ending, I can tell. 2-3 hours is about as long as I can without a break, not because I'm tired but because of the feet. I'll try going barefoot again later. Then, if that doesn't work, I may go to a real shoe. I hope I don't have to, though. My feet are happiest outside of shoes.

I'm getting fewer issues elsewhere in the body as well, which is a good sign that I've acclimated. Initially, I'd have a lot of lower back stiffness after a couple of hours. And then a whole lot at the end of the day after sitting down for a while.

Next up will be some sort of stretching. I've always been stiff, even in martial arts. I mean, I got to the point where I could kick someone in the head, but it never came easy. (On the other hand, it's lots more reliable to kick low.)

Manic Monday Apocalypso: Hard Day On The Planet

Today's Manic Monday Apocalypso--Yeah, I forgot last week's, sue me--is a song. A post-apocalyptic song? Well, no, it's really more apocalyptic, and it's, oh, about 15 years old now, having been written about the time Bush The Elder vomited on the Japanese Prime Minister. ("The President's sick.")

What's nice--I guess--is that it still applies today. The last lines envision an apocalypse, and it's just a good Monday song.

The dollar went down
And the President's sick
Who's in charge, now?
I don't know, take your pick.
A new disease every day
And the old ones are coming back
Things are looking kind of gray
Like they're going to black

Don't turn on the TV
Don't show me the paper
Don't want to know he got kidnapped
Or why they all raped her
I want to go on vacation
'till the pressure lets up
But they keep hijacking airplanes
And blowing them up

It's been a hard day on the planet
How much is it all worth?
It's getting harder to understand it
Things are tough all over on earth

It's hot in December
Cold in July
When it rains it pours
Out of a poisonous sky
In California the body counts
Keep getting higher
It's evil out there
Man, that state's always on fire

Everyone has a system
But they can't seem to win
Even Bob Geldof
Looks alarmingly thin
Got to get on that shuttle
Get me out of this place
But there's gonna be warfare
Up there in outer space

I got clothes on my back
And shoes on my feet
A roof over my head
And something to eat
My kids are all healthy
And my folks are alive (alt: my mom's still alive/Bob Hope's still alive)
You know, it's amazing
But sometimes I think I'll survive

I've got all of my fingers
All of my toes
I'm pretty well off
I guess, I suppose
So how come I feel bad
So much of the time?
A man ain't an island
John Donne wasn't lying

It's business as usual
Some things never change
It's unfair, and unkind and unjust
And it's strange
We don't seem to learn
We can't seem to stop
Maybe some explosions
Might close up the shop

And you know, maybe
That would be fine
'cause we would be
Off the hook, man
We resolved all our problems,
never mind what it took, yeah
And it all would be over,
Finito, the end
Until the survivors
Started up all over again

It'll be a...



Until next Monday, stay radiated, mutants!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 23

140 minutes. Easily could've done more. But one of the things I'm using the treadmill desk for is to get away from the computer.

Burn After Reading. Then Eat The Ashes.

You could divide the movies of Joel and Ethan Coen into two categories: Tragedies and comedies. You could almost adhere to the classic definition of these as well: In tragedies the hero dies; in comedies he lives.

The tragedies are usually pretty apparent up-front: Miller's Crossing and No Country For Old Men, for example. The movie tips you off pretty quickly as to what kind of movie you're going to see.

The comedies also come in two different flavors: dark, and extra-dark. The ones that are merely dark would include Raising Arizona (probably the lightest), Hudsucker Proxy and O Brother! Where Art Thou. The extra-dark would include movies like Barton Fink and possibly The Ladykillers. The difference between the dark and the extra-dark is that, probably nobody's going to die in the former, whereas anyone might die in the latter.

Fargo, for example, would be one of those extra-dark comedy: Marge survives, but anyone else is up for grabs.

The potential "problem" is that you think you're watching one kind of movie until someone ends up in the woodchipper. Still, if you're familir with the Coen Bros' work, you shouldn't be surprised by any particular surprise. As it were.

Still. I was surprised.

Anyway, Burn After Reading is the story of a personal trainer (Frances McDormand, who proves that just because a director puts his wife in the film doesn't mean she has to suck) and her dimwitted pal (Brad Pitt, in his best role since Fight Club) who stumble across a CD full of an embittered ex-intelligence agent's memoirs and personal financial information. Said agent (John Malkovich) is having trouble with his wife (Tilda Swinton) and so she was collecting the financials in preparation for a divorce.

The agent's wife, you see, is having an affair with a federal marshall (George Clooney) who's a narcissitc exercise freak given to trolling the internet for women while lying to his successful children's author wife (Elizabeth Marvel of "The District") and having an affair with...France McDormand!

Anyway, Linda and Chad (McDormand and Pitt) figure they can get some money for the CD, which Linda desperately needs to pay for the plastic surgeries she desires. This leads them to blackmail Osborne (Malkovich) and even go to the Russian embassy when he refuses.

The various plot twists and turns remind me a lot of Lebowski and a bit of Blood Simple. Though it's not as dark (literally) as the latter and it lacks the loveable characters of the former. It is funny--though obviously you have to be appreciative of the Coen sense of humor.

What makes it particularly funny, oddly enough, is agent David Rasche explaining what's happening to department head J.K. Simmons. You actually feel sorry for these guys trying to figure out what's going on, especially as they're trying to work it out from the standpoint of whether this rises to the level of actul espionge.

"What did we learn here?" as Simmons says at the end of the movie.

Good question. Good question indeed.

One thing that cannot be denied is the quality of performance of the cast. McDormand's shallow self-absorption, Pitt's energetic idiocy, Clooney's paranoid sex-addict--actully Clooney could never work for anyone but the Coens again and it'd be okay by me.

Richard Jenkins--probably the only really sympthetic character in the film--is having a good year, with this and The Visitor, and I'm sure Tilda Swinton must be the sweetest woman in the world. (She's always portrayed as cold and mean to children, sometimes very literally as in Narnia.)

This movie speeds along--actual running time about an hour and a half--and ends almost abruptly, but exactly where it should, and keeps you paying attention and laughing. A nice change from No Country for Old Men.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 21

4.5 hours.

Pleasantville with Zombies

Even here in La-La Land, not every movie gets a shot in the theaters, and sometimes the ones that do get a shot get just a few days. And yet, I'm surprised when a good one slips through the cracks.

I'd never even heard of Fido until we watched it last night on cable, and that's a shame. It's a sort of alternate-history movie (which we don't get much of) where a Night of the Living Dead scenario occurs in the '20s, leading to the Zombie War. The Zombie Wars are ended when a scientist discovers their weakness (i.e., destroying the brain kills them) and also how to curb their fleshlust through a collar, allowing for their domestication.

The movie itself takes place in a recognizable version of the '50s, where housewife Helen Robinson (Carrie-Anne Moss, in a role far scarier than The Matrix) lives on the edge of hysterical concern about appearing strange and keeping up with the Joneses. Frazzled husband Bill (Dylan Baker) is having trouble keeping up, what with the costs of funerals these days.

Seems that if you don't want to come back as a zombie, you have to have a separate head casket from your body. With the various economic incentives, most people opt for coming back as a zombie, but Bill--having had to kill his own father who tried to eat him--is adamant on spending the family's money on funerals. He hates zombies.

Helen, on the other hand, can barely conceal her shame, as they're the only one on the block without a zombie! The Bottomses, who've just moved in, have six! And so, Helen runs out and buys a family zombie (Billy Connolly, barely recognizable without his goatee and brogue).

And this is just the set-up.

The Robinsons have a son, Timmy. (Of course, he'd have to be named Timmy.) Timmy (played by the unlikely-named K'Sun Ray) is a bit of an oddball, picked on by bullies, but friendly with the new Bottoms girl (Alexia Fast), who finds in the family zombie the father Bill isn't. And also sort of the family dog.

Thus, the zombie is christened is "Fido".

Ultimately, this movie works out to be both dark and cute, as it veers away from the borderline camp at the beginning of the movie, veers through a Lassie movie (if Lassie, you know, were a zombie and not a collie), and ends up in a strange Pleasantville-ish location where humans and zombies reach new levels of understanding.

There are some Cold War undertones, if you want to look for them. The father's obsession with funerals neatly parallels the money spent on bomb shelters. And whether zombies are actually dead comes up a lot, with the Helen and Timmy deciding they'd rather be zombies than dead which reminded me of the old "Better Dead Than Red" saying.

But ultimately, this is just a fun, dark little movie--good for Halloween--and worth a watch.

A few bonus points: Henry Czerny as the ZomCon security chief; Tim Blake Nelson as a the necrophiliac neighbor; and tons of gorgeous classic cars, all polished to a shine.

Check it out!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Treadmill Desk Day 20

I ended up doing 5 hours today, fairly comfortably.

Bought some more shoes at the summer clearance from Wal-Mart. They have some really cheap pairs going for 50 cents, so I picked up a couple of those to see if they'd do the trick.

Why so many shoes?

  1. Dogs
  2. The Boy (his feet are the same size as mine, so he's been known to commandeer shoes)
  3. They're cheap; they'll break for sure.
  4. It'll be a year before I can buy them again at this price.
  5. I can keep spares in the car. One thing about being a parent is that you have more situations where you suddenly need an extra set of clothes or shoes than you might expect.

I think we're very close to the time where the treadmill-desk just becomes a fact of life, not something extraordinary.

Update On The Women On Women

I blogged earlier about the remake of Cukor's classic The Women. And I hate to dismiss a film sight unseen. But I've gotten the impression that there was a girl-girl kiss that was cut. This inclines me to dismiss it sight unseen.

It's not that I'm anti-lesbian, goodness knows. And particularly not anti- the male-driven fantasy of lesbianism as portrayed in cinema.

But as any regular indie filmgoer will tell you, the homosexual angle is a tired way of trying to seem edgy or arty which really stopped being arty or edgy at some point between American Beauty and Brokeback Mountain.

Plus: How do you cut something like that out? Either you've set up the characters to have this attraction to each other, or you threw the scene in for gratuitous titillation. In the former case, you've probably got a hole in your movie. In the latter, you probably have doubts about its watchability.

On the other hand we have the Coen Brothers Burn After Reading coming out as well. So we got that going for us.

Spore: First Looks

Education, at least in the formal sense, ground to a halt today as our copy of SPORE arrived from Amazon.

Amusingly, Spore was first teased when The Boy was nine. He's been waiting for this game approximately a quarter of his life. He definitely had the last-minute jitters about it. Would it be fun? Would it be that fun? I've made him aware--he was shocked that new triple-A title games cost $50--that we only do this rarely, and he was conspicuously grateful.

He's played through two and a portion of games so far, and he's liking what he sees. Of the various levels, he's said the "civilization" level is the least interesting to him. He's compared it to Populous: The Beginning, but not favorably.

The bloom may come off the rose quickly; we'll see. His judgment at the end of the day was that we could've waited till it was a bit cheaper, but he was glad to have his curiosity satisfied. He's found it entertaining, but he wants more meat--that is, he's expecting expansions or sequels.

This is, of course, a serious problem with computer gaming. A designer will come up with some good mechanics but not quite polish the game enough to make it a masterpiece. And then the sequel either never comes or screws up the mechanics rather than improving them.

More to come....

Denn alles fleisch es ist wie gras

Behold! all flesh is as the grass
And all the goodliness of Man
Is as the flow'r of grass
For, lo! the grass with'reth
And the flow'r thereof decayeth


--Brahms, Requiem

Inadequate

After 9/11, I dropped off the 'net for several weeks. This is pretty rare for me. I started pretty early (ca. 1991), and the Internet has been an integral part of my life for quite some time.

But I know my propensity for getting into stupid arguments, and that's what I saw of participating in online dialogues about what had happened. In some ways, my reaction was the opposite to Ace's. Not the unreality part: I certainly experienced the sense that what I was watching wasn't real. But the wanting to share banalities with other people. I wanted to be alone.

I've been told I'm a pretty smart guy, and not always sarcastically. To the extent that that's true, I think it comes into play, primarily, by knowing where the limitations of that intelligence are. And there's nothing like a demonstration of pure evil to highlight those limitations.

One of the big talking heads sort of laid it out for me. I think it was Dan Rather, but it might've been Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings. Whoever it was was talking. He wasn't saying anything meaningful. He was just talking.

I'm not criticizing this. He was doing what Ace was talking about: sharing banalities. But for me to contribute to that just struck me as adding to the noise. Worse, I could have tried to be clever, or insightful, or profound. At the bottom of the possible experiences, and perhaps the most likely for me, would be an argument that at some level would trivialize what had happened.

It was a time for action, but action was just not possible for most of us. Most of us just had words.

And words were inadequate.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 19

3 hours today. Playing it cautious. Maybe even a little wussy.

Strange Move Dialog Excerpts 1: The Negotiator

A high stress situation between Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson) and the three guys who helped frame him for murder in a stand-off.

Danny exposits the frame-up as the three guys try to get a bead on him, sweating, terrified, and one rebuts:

"Danny, that's absurd."

Yes. Absurd.

It is, of course, supposed to sound fake, since Danny is dead on. They just may have gone a bit too far.

The Chick Flick: Causes and Cures

I was going to write about "chick flicks" when I realized I already had, on New Years Eve Day, no less.

But the remake of The Women brought up an interesting point: Does the original movie The Women qualify as a "chick flick", and if so, how can it be so good?

The answers would be: Sort of. And that's how.

The Women may be a prototype of sorts. It meets half my definition of chick flick needing to have women treat each other badly. But I would suggest that the ill treatment in The Women is different; they're not, for the most part, pretending to be friends. There is a rivalry, and a moral ending--i.e., the guilty are punished and the good rewarded (sort of).

The other thing is that there's no disease. What makes the modern "chick flick" execrable is the underlying theme that one only needs to be civil, decent and generous when someone's life is on the line. (God, that's almost masculine.) So, the disease is vital to the ending, wherein the characters who abuse each other can show how much they truly care.

It's an appalling Hollywood trope that one heroic emotional gesture can make up for a life poorly lived, but life is, of course, much more about day-to-day choices. You don't break a real relationship, nurtured daily for years, by missing one event--and you don't repair a real relationship with one heroic gesture.

Ultimately, in the chick flick, one character is martyred and the other is made heroic by becoming a victim herself.

Confused? Consider Hilary and Jackie, my favorite whipping boy: Jackie treats Hilary horribly but when Jackie is shown to be a martyr (due to impending MS), Hilary takes the heroic action of forcing her husband to sleep with Jackie (?), and thereby martyrs herself--saving the relationship (with her sister; she gets pissed at her husband).

A lot of times, it should be noted, the whole thing makes no freakin' sense at all. Hell, maybe never. (Beaches? Wind beneath my wings? Really?)

The Women poses the question to the main character: How much is your marriage worth? As catty as the characters are, the entire thing boils down to what one woman is willing to sacrifice for that relationship. This isn't really about the heroine wallowing in her unfortunate circumstances.

The victimization part is key. That's what turns the story of a modern "chick flick". And it infects some modern romantic-comedies as well, which has turned the normally crowd-pleasing genre in to one more tilted to (certain kinds of) women. It's particularly pernicious there; you essentially turn a staple of American cinema into a romance novel.

If the remake of The Women keeps the strength of the original characters, it will have done fairly well just on that.

Turn On Your BlogLight

BlogLight being light blogging, naturally. Movies are weak this week, though I may see I Served The King. Next week should bring a new Coen Bros. movie, Burn After Reading as well as the likely train wreck remake of The Women.

It's not that the cast is bad--though I may have developed an allergy to Meg Ryan--but it's such a story of its time. I mean, it's hard to meaningfully compare Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford with Meg Ryan and Eva Mendes. Sexual mores have changed drastically, obviously, in the past 70 years. A comedy of manners is virtually impossible today.

There's an interesting question: Do we have any "comedy of manners" today? The only thing I can think of that compares is "Curb Your Enthusiasm", where Larry David falls afoul of various forms of political correctness and human decency.

But The Women was one of George Cukor's greatest films, with a pedigree that includes The Philadelphia Story, Adam's Rib, Gaslight and My Fair Lady. Dude was a giant for over 30 years.

Diane English is best known for "Murphy Brown".

Now, this doesn't mean that the new version will be bad. It's likely that this is a real labor of love for English, and the sitcom touch (or similr) might be just so. It's unlikely to be a cinematic classic, but it could be a fun romp.

The only tragedy will be if it goes into full-blown chick flick mode. Which, heh, gives me an idea for a post.

Barbarian Cowboy Sex Novel

So, so far, I've gotten two suggestions: One for barbarian sex novel in the Gor vein (from Trooper York, who's on fire with the Flintstones parody, and also--though he hasn't posted it to his own blog--as a great take on Bullwinkle's reaction to Sarah Palin's nomination). 1jpb wants a Western.

So I'm considering doing both. If I do a traditional Western, that makes the Gore-style sex part problematic, if realism is a consideration. Though I wouldn't rule out different world.

When I think Barbarian, I tend to think Sword & Sorcery, like Conan, or High Fantasy, like a D&D game. (I love Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, but those stories are a little more than S&S, if not quite High Fantasy.) Westerns are done at the same scale as S&S.

So, if we go six-guns and swords, do we throw in sorcery as well? Magic is always tricky to do well but one of the things about having a gaming background is that one gets quite good at developing systems of magic that are "fair". Not fair to the characters, but fair to the reader.

Another option is a post-apocalyptic scenario (which, actually, doesn't rule out magic).

Once I nail this down, I'll start writing up some posts about the universe in which the story takes place. This won't appear in the novel, and it won't be necessary for understanding the novel. It'll be like my Silmarillion. My main point in posting it will be to let my prospective readers (both of them, at this point) put in their feedback about what they'd like to see or just can't stand.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 18

Four hours today. I did two and started get the numb feeling in the feet. But I actually found it hard to sit on my butt to work after a (rather short) while.

So I ended up doing two hours more. That was probably a shade too much.

Oh, I bought several sets of cheap thongs--wait, that could cause some confusion. I mean some cheap flip-flops for a $1.25 at the Wal-Greens. The summer stuff is marked down 75%. I may even pick up a few more pairs, since I don't expect them to last. (It's actually not the bottom that wears out, but the thong part itself comes detached, from what I've seen.)

Footwear seems to help. I don't like shoes much, but I'll need to wear them for a while. (Meade recommended them two weeks ago.)

What I think happens is that while my thighs are strong enough to do the walking, the other supporting muscles are not, maybe not even the calves. When they get fatigued, my body weight ends up shifting around, stressing parts of my foot, ankle, lower back, etc., that shouldn't be. I think that translates to foot pain and numbness.

As long as I can still play piano with my feet, I think it's not too serious.

In general, my mobility is way up, so even if I do have to build-up for a while before being able to do a full day, I'm still getting the primary benefit.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 17

Basically 0 minutes again. Not really zero. I did a little yesterday and today but mostly just to see where I had gone wrong and how to fix.

This site recommends shoes and also, interestingly, a recumbent bike desk. They have a link to a site that used to sell a Geek-a-Cycle for what would seem to be a good price ($400 for bike & desk). 

I think I would find the recumbence awkward--I did think about a stationary bike setup before doing the treadmill desk--and I'm not sure that the motion would be conducive to either working or to stretch out my achilles tendons. Also, the body position would be pretty much completely static with just the legs moving, which I think would be fatiguing. (When I walk I tend to change pace and stride, walk sideways or backwards, and use breaks in work to mix things up a abit.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 16

0 minutes again today. It just seemed smart, since the feeling is coming back to my feet.

I haven't lost any weight, for what that matters. I'm eating more, though. I'm hungry quite a bit.

That's not my primary interest: Mobility is definitely improving. Before I started, I could actually move pretty well after I warmed up, but I'm starting faster and getting stiff slower. That's progress.

Spore Launched

Wil Wright's Spore came out today.

The Amazon reviews list it as 2-stars but that seems to be because of the "draconian" DRM. (I'm sympathetic to that but not considering it in this post.)

GameRankings reports an 86%, which is good (but not great) and which is probably not from the most clear-eyed reviewers.

While I have, literally, hundreds of games, I have little time to play. Since it has been ever thus, I'm at least smart enough to wait till the game drops into the $10-$20 range (or less, if I can buy a collection of several games for $20).

Althouse had a post up about regretting netflix rentals. I have tons of books I haven't read, a few movies I hadn't watched (before my collection "walked off"), some music CDs I haven't played, and tons of games I haven't played.

I don't regret it, I think of it as a sort of defense against boredom.

Anyway, every now and again, I'll buy a game first day, and Spore is one of them. (Heroes of Might and Magic 3, Heroes of Might and Magic IV, Doom 3, Civilization 3, Civilization 4 and Black & White are the others.) Spore was announced 3 1/2 years ago, which, for perspective, was probably about the last time I held The Boy's hand.

I confess that I have been dubious about the degree to which putting five games into one package can work, and I hear some complaints about that already. The thing about those games I do buy is that I'm not always looking for compelling gameplay, so I'm not necessarily disappointed in the way other hard-core gamers are when the final products don't measure up.

Sometimes I am: Heroes of Might and Magic IV was a disaster that the series never recovered from. Doom 3 on the other hand was a mixture of "good enough" and nostalgia. Civ 3 was my favorite of the series, and Civ 4 is very sold as well.

But the biggest comparison point for Spore is Black & White. B&W was meant to be a revolutionary game. "Be a god," the claims went, "and watch the world change according to your goodness or evilness." (At one point, a $5 price premium--to be donated to charity--was considered for the white box version of B&W, but saner heads prevailed.)

It could've been revolutionary but for a few fatal flaws. The first flaw is that they made it into a game. Entertainment software is usually in the form of games, but some, like SimCity or The Sims, are more correctly called "toys". B&W had the mechanics of a toy with a game superimposed over it. (Developers talked about the game aspect constantly, even nervously.)

But the instant you make something into a game, you end up engaging the hardcore gamers who consider games as things to be beaten. (This personality is quite fascinating: Games are to be beaten, not necessarily enjoyed, even.) And so B&W was beaten quickly as the cracks in the painstakingly developed universe were found and exploited.

The second, more fatal flaw was that the measure of good and evil was--well, practically French. (No comment on the fact that developer Peter Molyneux's studio "Lionhead" is based in France.) In other words, killing, regardless of the purpose it served, tipped the scales to evil. You had to--as a deity--wait on your worshippers hand and foot to be good. (This also made your worshippers worthless.)

It was a virtual embodiment of the welfare state.

I enjoyed it, though, because I enjoyed the polish that went into making it. The interface was fun. The exploration aspects were fun. The sussing out of good and evil would've been more fun had it been done better, but it was still interesting.

Interesting is a good word. (Kevin Smith said that "interesting" is what they say in Hollywood when they don't like something.) But where I liked it, I was careful not to recommend based on that.

Spore, I expect, will also be interesting. Unlike B&W which was very geared toward hardcore gamers, I expect Spore to have broader appeal--so hardcore gamers will dismiss it as simplisticc. (A lot of hardcore gamers don't get the Wii, for example.)

At the same time, I'm not sure how compelling all of the games can be.

The Creature Creator--wherein you create the species that is going to evolve from microorganism to galactic conquerer--seems to be a brilliant and engaging toy, however. And I expect to see that used as a launch pad for more games and further evolutions of the Spore concepts.

I'll post The Boy's opinons once he's had a chance to delve into it.

The Dark Knight Returned

I saw The Dark Knight again.

My original review, from six weeks ago is here. Some observations upon reflection:

  • It holds up rather well.
  • It's at #3 on IMDB (under Shawshank and Godfather) which is still too high.
  • My initial appraisal of Maggie Gyllenhall was off. She really isn't convincing as the tough-as-nails DA. What's surprising is that, in retrospect, Katie Holmes was. But Gyllenhall is far more convincing as a hippie/folksinger/drifter than an authority figure, and sort of slouches and shrinks her way through this film.
  • Mostly unchanged on my view of Heath Ledger: He did good. But he's actually not even in the film that much.
  • I was contrasting with Superman 3 and noticing that Bale does a good job acting even while wearing the cowl. I know people didn't like the "Batman growl" he does, but it still works for me.
  • Aaron Eckhart has the toughest role: He's a good guy in a way that'd perfectly comfortable in a movie from the '40s. For a guy who played a cigarette PR guy (Thank You For Smoking), he does sincerity really well.
  • Gary Oldman is too old to be Commissioner Gordon but it works.
  • Caine and Freeman and Bale should make a non-Batman movie together.
  • Joker's claim to not be a "schemer" is not credible.
  • Watching Spiderman 3--with celebrations for Spidey--twigged a vague recollection of something. In the DC world, with Superman and Batman, the heroes are generally publicly praised. I think it was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby who introduced the idea of public opprobrium to comic books. I never once read an anti-superhero comic as a kid, unless it was due to a temporary misunderstanding.
  • The theater was about 2/3rds full. (!)
  • UPDATE: Also, Batman's head was HUGE. That was one problem with showing him in full light. What's up with his head being almost a perfect sphere with bat ears?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 15

Day off, baby! I did, like, eight minutes. But I was out most of the day and it seemed like a good idea to give the tootsies a rest.

They're not hurting, but they are numb in spots. That's probably not good. I may end up taking tomorrow off as well. And Monday I'm in the office so I'll be going light then.

"Well, it's a well run campaign, with midget and broom and what-not."

Although the Coen brothers movies are a bit of an acquired taste for some, and a taste some wouldn't want to acquire, O Brother, Where Art Thou? remains one of the great films of the last fifty years, with its mix of music, classical literature and southern-fried goodness.

What is amusing, however, is how little campaigning has changed since the antics of the '30s.

Make Blake Write A Book

National Novel Writing Month is coming.

In order to write a book of that length, you must write six pages a day, something I haven't done in some time.

Because I have so much free time (<--irony) I thought I'd take a shot at it this month, by writing the six pages to a blog.

Feel free to suggest a topic or genre.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 15

I thought, after yesterday, I might have to take it easy today, but I did 420 minutes and it wasn't bad at all. I could've done more but I decided to back off a bit. By switching from shoes to bare feet and back, I eliminated most of the discomfort I had, and at seven hours switching wasn't helping.

I was actually really busy, and kept the treadmill at 0.5 the whole time. I didn't have time to mess with it, and I'm in no rush. I do have a small problem of sometimes wanting to work at the desk while my feet still hurt, so the key is to get to where 8 hours is no big deal, in case I need to put in a few more.

Last night The Boy used the treadmill at 3mph for about an hour--while playing Flash games!

Don't Be Eeeeeeeevil!

From the fevered dreams of a madman department (via Instawhatsis): Michael S. Malone posits that Google's new browser "Chrome" is stealth bomb (stealth bomb? Let it go, I'm on a roll) in their silent war to CONTROL THE WORLD's data.

There's actually a rebuttal from a guy AT Google that of the "stealthy" point. I heard about it third hand, from someone who was annoyed by all the other people telling him about it. I downloaded it and--it's interesting. I think it's probably a look at the next evolution in browser design. It's seriously uncluttered.

But of course I realized, in doing so, that this was going to be an entrée into gathering more data on us. Duh. That's where Google makes its money. They are looking to control a lot and they make no secret of it. They're counting on the organization/mining abilities they give you will compensate for lack of privacy.

There were similar issues with Gmail. "Oh, no! Google is going to give you all the space in the world but they're going to pay for it by reading your e-mail!" Well, yeah. But they're not judging you when they do it.

Of course, no one is actually reading your private e-mail. Don't flatter yourself. Nobody cares. There's just an algorithm, like the one that checks for spam, only this one checks for advertising keywords. Besides, don't you know the rule of not sending anything over e-mail you don't want the whole world to read?

Should we watch out for Google? Sure, it's smart to be aware of any company that has such a huge influence on the world, 'net or otherwise. And--most people don't realize this--their company rule is not "Don't Be Evil" it's "Don't Be Eeeeeeeeevil."

So, there's some slack there.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Treadmill Desk, Day 14

A whopping 460 minutes today. Just shy of eight hours.

I had the treadmill down slow, at around .5 and .6 miles. This greatly reduced the discomfort, though the last 20-30 minutes were still a bit tough.

My feet hurt, so I tried wearing shoes. That worked for a while, then my feet started hurting again. So I took the shoes off. That worked...for a while.

So I think what's going on is just the sheer repetitiveness of it. By changing up, I can keep the feet pretty pain-free. By the end, after stopping for an hour or so, they hurt like a mofo. That seems to be a common issue: Inactivity makes the feet hurt when you start up again.

Sort of like plantar fasciitis.

Before I started doing this, I had stiffness in my achilles tendons. This also abated somewhat over time, but never fully. Now I have the foot pain--so I'm still walking like an 80-year-old man--but the ankle and tendons seem pretty loose. And at least the foot pain is a temporary problem, so I actually get to moving at a good clip very quickly.

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