Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rage Against The Dying Of The Light

Have you ever noticed that the English seem to have an unending supply of wide-eyed pre- or just-pubescent boys who can act well and who all look vaguely similar? Just off the top of my head, there was (in recent years): Paul Terry (James and the Giant Peach), Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), Freddy Highmore (Finding Neverland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and now we have Bill Milner in the new coming-of-age/dying-of-age story Is Anybody There?

There seems to be an endless supply of parts for this age (say, like, 9 to 13 or 14) but, of course, it's not something an actor can build a long career on. It's got an even shorter lifespan that "starlet" as far as career paths go. And much like our starlets, the English never seem to run out of them. But finding beautiful young women is a numbers game made easy by the fact that they sort of just happen, and they tend to congregate in highly visible areas.

It's a lot more impressive to see someone like Milner or Highmore, who somehow have managed to acquire some serious talent in their short times. Why, back in the day, (particularly American) child actors were both hard to work with and not very good. You had lower standards, and you weren't surprised when they didn't have adult careers. A Jodie Foster or Jackie Earle Haley was a rare thing.

I'm starting to wonder if they have some sort of cloning device/Treadstone program for actors o'er there.

But, I digress. Milner, who was in the previously reviewed Son of Rambow, plays a pubescent boy whose parents have turned their house into a rest home to save themselves from bankruptcy. Young Edward (Milner) responds to this by becoming sullen and obsessed with life after death.

Into this picture comes The Amazing Clarence in his painted mini-camper, a travelling magician whose wife is convincing him to stay "for just a while", something which doesn't appeal to him, especially given the sorry cast of despondent old folks populating the house. Clarence's wife, one can't help but notice, is at least young enough to be his daughter. Hell, biologically, he's probably old enough to be her grandfather (which is to say, he's probably 30 years older).

And one thinks, if one is me, that the old fella is doing pretty damn good if he can live in that tiny camper van with his pretty young wife and still be agile enough to put on magic shows. But then, Clarence is played Michael Caine, so it seems completely plausible.

Edward and Clarence have a rough start, to say the least. Clarence is harboring huge regrets while Edward is filled with hostility. And throughout the course of an hour-and-a-half, we get to see all kinds of takes on mortality. Edward's father, about to hit 40, is acutely aware of his own mortality, we learn, as he sees his service to the older people as leeching his life away.

The other old people themselves are all handling their twilights with different degrees of aplomb. And because it's an English movie, they've all got their chops, and you recognize them at least a little (and in the case of Rosemary Harris, a lot), and never a moment is wasted.

The Boy commented that (once again) this wasn't the wacky comedy the trailers made it out to be, but neither should you get the idea that it's grim. It's funny, sometimes very darkly funny and poignant at the same time, entertaining and restrained. It doesn't wallow. The big emotional scenes are Caine's, and they have not to do with getting older, but with unforgiven sin.

Which, when you get down to it, is what really makes a tragedy. Everybody dies. It's the thought of sinning and being unforgiven that tortures us.

Since we've been talking about dramatic structure lately, I have to say that the 2nd act climax is huge, and probably Oscar-worthy for Caine. I saw the resolution coming well in advance, but it was still very satisfying.

Ultimately, then, this is an optimistic movie about life. Keep in mind, though, that Caine reported crying on reading the script and his (pretty, younger) wife was shaken up by seeing his (pretend) deterioration.

Actually, it kind of disturbed me, since Caine was one of the first actors I could identify, and he (as Dennis Miller put it) was contractually obligated to appear in every single movie made in the '80s. He's always seemed to age without getting old. It's a little hard to see him and a lot of other actors that seemed sort-of fatherly (Albert Finny, Alan Arkin, Peter O'Toole, Christopher Plummer) play these roles where you're about 80% sure their death is a critical plot point.

The title Is Anybody There? comes from a seance scene that Caine performs to give Edward some hope. But, of course, it also works as a question for those whose minds are going, or who have just given up with age. And it works as the great spiritual question, as well: Is anybody there? Or are we just bodies ultimately consigned to nothingness.

Expect to see this mentioned in the Oscars race for next year.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

We Can't Have Nice Things

A new commenter came by and commented on an old post I had about the weirdness of IMDB movie ratings, which is a topic I've mentioned not too long ago. When I first logged on to IMDB, the top-rated movie was The Godfather, and it had a 7.8.

I had always thought the main distortion on IMDB was simple inflation. "Oh, Godfather is a 7.8, eh? Well, then, Glitter must be at least an 8! And Godfather should be a 1!" And this leads to a vicious cycle, where people aren't ranking movies according to their own preferences, but against others'.

And it made me think of Susan Boyle, who got a record breaking number of views on YouTube, and the article I was reading talked about how "Evolution of Dance" was suspected of being the most viewed video, but that fans of various musical groups set up tricks to increase the view count for their favorite acts.

Then I thought over Wikipedia, which has limited utility from all the bias. Then Althouse comment threads--and Althouse has among the best commenters--which people go in with the sole purpose to create noise. Twitter has a pretty good system for reducing noise, but you can still get lots of spam.

And I think to myself: This is why we can't have nice things.

Seriously, all the social web things are cool. The open-ness of them, the facilitating of mashups and unexpected uses. But the difficult balance to strike is allowing contributions and also disallowing them.

Twitter works because following is easy but not automatic. Unfollowing is only slightly harder, which is to say, not hard at all. But Twitter lacks continuity and intimacy. (That may be an artifact of Twitter versus a necessary result of the following process.) It's also a chaotic stream that is only manageable because you can limit it.

I was struck by that old meme of the mom pulling out hair because the kids knocked over her expensive vase by playing ball in the house where she laments, "We can't have nice things." The social web often reminds me of that. That and the sort of nouveaux "tragedy of the commons", which isn't about consuming resources, but controlling the ones that command attention.

I think something like Twitter could be evolved with multiple streams and nesting, possibly around little nodes, which could be links to blogs, or could be long "tweets". But these would exist in the common space, perhaps with separate streams for different responders, even. Something less monolithic than Twitter.

I don't know. I suspect we're not done with the whole social web thing. But the real trick is trying to figure out how to have nice things.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I Just Know That Someday...

...I'll think to myself "Gee, I wish I sent my kids to regular school."

Today is not that day.

I guess they have a zero-tolerance poop policy. Note that the teacher called the parent to ask why the teacher's room was stinky. As if the parent would know, in a class of 15, 20 or 30 kids all the possible sources of odor.

Dead Men Throw No Switches

So I started doing the nutritional program in earnest, along with The Boy, and got a bit of a scare. It's probably nothing, and may be related to the antibiotics I'm taking (for the ear infection from hell), but I'll be having a thorough medical examination as a result. 

It's not really something I look forward to. 

But it got me thinking about my mortality and taking care of business. Death isn't something I fear, generally. When younger, I had some brushes with mortality to which my reaction was "Well, I guess if it's my time..." 

I know that we get a sense of invulnerability, immortality, that nothing bad can happen to us, but there's also the "who cares?" aspect of it. When you're young you consider yourself sovereign over your life, and if you're going to do something reckless well, what's that to anyone else? You can see young death glamorized in a way that mortality otherwise is not.

And then you have kids. 

Well, crap. Now it matters if you live or die. (And if you're thinking, you realize it mattered before--back when you were SuperTeen--to your own parents. A feeling of embarrasment is normal at this point.) I mean, the finances are easy enough to handle. In fact, the traditional male role is easy to fill: I think a widow with children can probably much more easily plug in a new male into her life than a widower is likely to find a woman willing to take care of another woman's home and children. And how much more traumatic is that, that the primary caretaker be replaced by a relative stranger?

Of course, it happened a lot in the Old West (for example), with mortality in child birth being so common. And certainly it's happened that a step-father has a callous and indifferent (or worse) attitude toward another man's children.

Anyway, having a kid changes the game, if you were indifferent to your survival before. If you're cancerous and would rather just let it take you than endure the medieval treatments we have for handling it, you really don't have much of a choice. You have to fight. Congratulations: You've become more important than yourself.

It should also mean that you're not exposing yourself to a lot of unnecessary risk, like extreme sports, daredevil ballon rides, base jumping, etc. But that doesn't always happen.

Given the rather severe separation of my online life versus my real one, I've often thought about setting up a "dead man's switch" that would notify people should I not throw it. I figured the most likely result of that, though, would be a false "Blake's dead!" message. Heh. That might be funny once or twice, but sort of defeats the purpose should it happen a lot.

There's now at least one service that will do this for you, I think. It's been in the news a lot lately. But I suspect a lot of us don't give enough thought on how online folks would be affected by our sudden disappearance. (I've had it happen numerous times, and I don't know to this day whether the person just dropped out or something had happened to them.)

So, it's something worth thinking about.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Great Buck Howard

Remember Almost Famous? The semi-autobiographical tale of Cameron Crowe's experiences following around The Allman Brothers? OK, imagine if, instead of following around a rock band, the lead had followed around The Amazing Kreskin.

If you can imagine that, you're probably better at imaginin' stuff than I am. If you can't, you can always go see The Great Buck Howard.

TGBH is the dramatized story of writer/director Sean McGinley--and big props to this guy, who came up through the ranks writing for Fred Olen Ray and other B-movie luminaries, to finally get this big break--as a young man, who has freshly dropped out of law school in order to find something he actually likes doing. (An amusing note, he says through his character that he never found anyone in law school who loved it.)

Having no direction and no money, he signs up for this interesting job of "Road Manager for Big Celebrity". The celebrity is The Great Buck Howard, a talented mentalist whose best days were 20-30 years ago. A regular on The Tonight Show--the one with Johnny Carson--he travels from town to town, proclaiming that He Loves This Town and giving handshakes like a man trying to start a model T.

His act is cheesy and corny, with his none-too-shabby "mentalist effects" alternating with some less than stellar standup and positively Shatneresque singing. Howard himself is by turns charming, irascible, wise, rude and ill-tempered.

The plot sort of hangs off a trick that is Howard's signature: He leaves the stage, the audience hides his pay for the performance among them, and he has to find that money or not get paid. I'd say it was a heavy-handed metaphor, except that the Amazing Kreskin actually performed a similar trick repeatedly--not always succeeding. So the fact that it works as a metaphor is coincidental, apparently.

The whole movie breezes along in under 90 minutes, and with John Malkovich in the title role, you almost couldn't get bored. This is a movie in the vein of My Favorite Year or any of the other "young man follows his heart while observing a wacky elder" flicks, from which you can probably figure out if it's your cup of tea.

The lead role is played by Colin Hanks, whose father is played by his father, Mr. Tom Hanks. Emily Blunt, late of Sunshine Cleaning, gets to play a non-neurotic love interest/PR person, and the cast is filled with celebrities playing themselves (Tom Arnold, George Takei, Regis and Kelly), and a lot of people who look familiar but might take a moment to place, if you can place them at all (e.g. "Happy Days" Don Most).

The Boy enjoyed it, and was curious about the mentalist tricks. He didn't know there wasn't a Buck Howard. Understandable. Even I really couldn't be sure. I didn't know, and there were so many celebrities running around in the '70s, most of which I still don't know what they were famous for. (I pity the future trying to keep track of today's celebrities.) Anyway, it might be more interesting--or a different kind of interesting, anyway--to know where this movie hews to truth and where it wanders.

It probably won't get a big release, but you could do a lot worse this weekend.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

You Don't Understand: I Need The Attention

The late unlamented USSR had a practice of locking people up in labor camps for what we in the West called political reasons. The USSR didn't, of course, refer to it that way. They locked up people who were mentally unsound. I don't know whether they learned this from the Nazis--who labeled the Jews as mentally unhygenic--but there are always members of the mental health community willing to label bothersome people "mentally unsound".

It has happened here before, too. And still happens. Shock treatment and lobotomies have also been used regularly for managing political problems. Really, governments should never, ever have any association with mental institutions, just because the temptation for abuse will always be irresistable--at least until some truly scientific criteria for insanity exists.

I was thinking about this because, well, I used to like Janeane Garofalo. I'm not proud of it. But back in the '90s, she was mildly funny and sort of cute in an angsty college chick way, and she had a pleasing acting persona. She delivered one of the great lines in TV history on "Law and Order", where it turns out she betrayed her celebrity employer for something like $10K:

You don't understand: I needed the money.

That phrase takes on special meaning now that Garofalo took a paying gig on "24".

Anyway, Garofalo has taken to promoting the notion that conservatives, right-wingers (i.e., people who disagree with her) suffer from an actual brain problem. Oversized limbic regions or somesuch scientific-sounding thing.

Most people, of course, won't take the suggestion seriously. But a big enough percentage of the population agrees with it, at least to the extent that they keep giving her avenues to say this. And it's not just her. There were a spate of "scientific studies" last year purporting to show conservatism as a mental disorder.

But, really, it's not an approach to tolerate, because it amounts to "socialists lobbying for the right to institutionalize dissenters". That hasn't worked out well in the past. Well, except for the State, I suppose.

Given the fact that the insane basically have no rights, someone seriously advocating that an entire demographic is insane is not someone who should be broadcast.

Flower Power

It's spring and The Flower has begun her cyclical "sign me up for everything" phase. She starts out by signing up for everything at the local rec center that sounds interesting--which is just about everything--and then she gets overwhelmed and when classes are over, she just wants to sit and watch TV.

On Saturdays she has a baseball game--where she hits better than the boys--followed by tennis lessons and winding up with her dance troupe rehearsals.

She's also preparing for her birthday party. Traditionally we've spent a lot of money on it. It started as a joint party for her and The Boy, but The Boy's sort of outgrown the big party, or at least one that he's comfortable sharing with a bunch of 8-year-old girls. This leaves The Flower to pick a theme.

But for various reasons we're trying to cut down on the discretionary spending this year, so The Flower has opted for a "science party". (Two years ago was pirates, then it was princesses, and last year it was fairies.) In this party, everyone will wear a lab coat and goggles and get to perform experiments. Baking soda and vinegar, Mentos and diet coke, and so on. She's been testing all the experiments beforehand to make sure they work.

This is cute beyond belief.

She also beat The Boy at chess.

Moral of the story: Never underestimate the seven-year-old girl.

The lesson here?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

They Saved Hitler's Brain!

Well, no, they saved his skull. Or just a picture of it. And it's up for sale on Ebay!

But as always, how do you know if what you're buying (on the Internet from a complete stranger who may, in fact, be a dog) when buying a prized historical artifact?

Well (as always) you should check the seller's rating and comments. And, if possible, you should compare the item against known authentic items (or at least pictures thereof).

So, for your edification, I have here an authentic X-ray of Hitler's skull for you to compare against.

Good luck, and I hope you win!

TV Tropes

"He's bluffing! No creature would willingly make an idiot out of itself!"
"You've obviously never been in love!"
--"Futurama", "Parasites Lost"

This post is from the "notebook".

This is one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows. Fry becomes infected with parasites after recklessly eating a truck stop egg sandwich. He discovers they're there when a pipe goes through his stomach and the worms immediately patch the enormous hole. They then start to work toning his muscles, improving his neurological function (Fry's a moron), and generally cleaning up the place.

This makes him palatable to the object of his affections, Leela, who attempts to keep him from getting rid of the worms, finally ending with his own efforts to rid himself of the worms and undo what they've done, in order to find out whether Leela loves him for himself or for his, um, worms. That leads to the priceless bit of dialog above. (Being a sci-fi show allows Futurama to pose some interesting and unlikely questions.)

End Notebook Section

I can't remember why I started this post, except that I was probably watching this Futurama episode and it made me think of this great site called "TV Tropes". That link actually goes to an entry called "Love Makes You Dumb", and it's part of a bunch of "Love" entries, like "Love Makes You Crazy" and "Love Makes You Evil".

TV Tropes is a great site because it lists all these common themes used in television shows--but many can be scene throughout movies and literature as well. Things like "Actually I Am Him" and "Someday This Will Come In Handy" make you realize how often you've seen something.

The site's a little animé heavy with the examples, I guess because those are the people who contribute most. So it's geekier than geeky. (I mean, it makes me feel like a square sometimes, so you know it's gotta be extreme.) Still, a whole lot of fun to dig around and go, "Yeah! I know exactly what you're talking about!" (There's probably a trope for that, too, but I don't know what it is.)

Enjoy digging around.

Monday, April 20, 2009

It Was 30(ish) Years Ago Today!

Back in 1978, producer Robert Stigwood unleashed upon the world the horror that is Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Not the album, obviously, but the movie. If you've heard of the historical (and perhaps hysterical) hatred of disco, this is probably exhibit A in understanding why.

Stigwood was hot off of Saturday Night Fever and Grease--both of which are sleazefests in their own way, really--and with the massive success of both the movie and soundtrack to Fever, the USA was subjected to a kind of musical homogeneity that we can scarcely imagine today.

The problem with disco wasn't that it was bad, in other words, but that it was mandated. Everything had to be disco. Every producer was trying for that mega-blockbuster-Bee Gee deal. I didn't listen to much radio, but I still heard a lot of disco, where before I'd been hearing Led Zeppelin and heavy metal, and more importantly a lot of different styles.

For a while, though, total disco immersion. It was inescapable. Hence the massive backlash that would end up with a lot of vinyl deposited in landfills.

So, here we had the callow flavor-of-the-day, in the form of Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees, discofying the music of the grand pop masters. And it's kind of funny: Frampton's voice is not unlike McCartneys, and the Bee Gees were certainly capable of carrying the Beatles' trademark harmonies, even if with a little added nasality.

There are some genuinely high points, as well: Aerosmith's cover of "Come Together"; Earth, Wind and Fire doing "Got To Get You Into My Life"; and Billy Preston--a guy with Beatles bona fides--saving the day with his version of "Get Back". Oh, and the lovely and fresh-faced Sandy Farina who gave uncluttered renditions of a few tunes that work really well with a woman's voice.

The lows are horribly low. It wasn't felt necessary to actually sing a number of the songs. Frankie Howerd (who?) talks his way through "Mean Mr. Mustard" and the incredibly white-hot super-mega-talent Steve Martin does a version of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" that rivals anything William Shatner ever did. (There's a universe between his performance here and his later one in Little Shop of Horrors.) George Burns--enjoying one of five or six career revivals--talks and smokes his way through "For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite".

"She's Leaving Home" is performed largely by robots. Voice synthesizers were sooo cool in '78.

The little town of Heartland is the Warner Bros. lot. You've seen it a zillion times. (I used to drive through it sometimes on my way to work.) Gazebo in the middle of a small grass park. Lots of storefronts but no parking. It's been Gotham, Central City, Chicago (for "ER"), but usually they only show parts of it. Even at the time, I recognized it.

Anyway.

The discofication of most of the songs that are actually performed--I mean, someone thought it'd be good to put in a refrain of "Talkin' 'bout Lucy!" at the end of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"--robs most of the music of its listenability.

The over-produced sound would ultimately give way to a much cleaner, simpler sound in the '80s, and a kind of Damnatio Memoria where instead of building on the previous big sound, bands would go back to the '50s for inspiration. It would be just two years later that Airplane! would knock a tower off a station that promised "disco would live forever", to huge audience applause and laughter.

The other aspect of this movie is, well, while Stigwood may not himself be sleazy, he's made some really, really sleazy films. Beside the aforementioned Grease and SNF, there was Tommy and--hell, I thought Bugsy Malone had a kind of sleazy feel. So the camp and corniness in this film is overwhelmed by the sleaze.

It achieves a pornographic sensibility while being positively PG. There is, for example, a drug-fueled orgy, even though no clothing is removed. In the Potterization (Mustardization, actually, in this case) of Heartland, a clean storefront is turned into a (scandal!) video game arcade with lots of dancers writhing around the games.

Right. Because video games are like magnets for sexual activity.

No opportunity for sleaze goes unexplored, giving this film the only "fresh" thing it brings to a pretty shopworn plot. (Smalltown boys make it big and forget their values.) Sex, drugs, and no rock-and-roll.

At this point, I should probably offer a comparison to the recent Across The Universe, but I find that movie so offensive I can't sit through it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Free Marketing

There's a bit of back and forth about free trade here, which seems to be centered around externalities. (Centered around externalities? Nu?) Guy A argues, well, sure Barbies are $2 cheaper, but a thousand guys are out of work and doomed to alcoholism and divorce (ok, not all). He doesn't follow through with the thought, though. Are those the only implications?

I immediately wondered how many fewer Barbies were sold at 20% higher cost. And what happens, on a larger scale when, say, 20% fewer toys are sold. Do you get 20% fewer toyshops? Do you spread the formerly localized misery around throughout the supply chain, down to 20% fewer little girls getting what they want for Christmas?

Guy B argues, but what about the Chinese, now saved from alcoholism and divorce? Also, he goes to the root issue about using force and the implications of allowing the government to, essentially, make business decisions for people.

But when you start with protectionism, you have to assume the people you're arguing with are taking the position that, yeah, it is okay for the "greater good".

You know, the heartless businessman is such an accepted trope, I bet nobody has ever even tried to tackle the reality. It's just taken for granted that businessmen will save that $2 and lay off their workers, which doesn't really match what I've seen. Most of the businessmen I've known really loathe laying off people, especially good people.

Anyway, as someone whose field went from esoteric to hot to increasingly downgraded and outsourced--all without ever being really understood--I'm inclined to wonder if the damaging thing is the idea that a Man Can Only Do One Job In His Life and a Company Must Take Care Of Him.

Protectionism is, at its best, an attempt to preserve that notion. We're still serfs serving feudal lords, in that view, though at least we have some mobility. At its worst, protectionism is a tax on the populous to ensure the wealth of the entitled. Someone decides some occuptation is entitled--say, corn farmer--and so we all pay more for sugar and can't get a decent soda any more.

Of course, the educational system was set up to provide exactly this kind of worker: Someone who'd take orders and sit still and do things by rote all day. As it turns out, this 19th century "ideal" isn't the best approach for survival in the 21st century, though our schools don't reflect that.

But it's easy for me to take this tack, as a guy whose resumé qualifies as ridiculous in terms of the various things I've worked with, and who picks up new things pretty aggressively. (I sort of have to do that, because the more logical and robust approach--building a business and customer network--is not something I'm good at.) It's more interesting to look at whether it's ever neccessary for industry to be protected.

Consider, in a truly free trade system, that a foreign supplier can flood a zone with cheap goods at a loss and drive local suppliers out of business. And having established a monopoly, they can raise prices again. This is a gag pulled by big companies, not just foreign ones, and it does raise some thorny issues.

But I do note that these thorny issues can be resolved with flexibility, agility and mobility, given the right technology. If local suppliers can't compete with larger ones when they cheat, then you bring in more of the larger suppliers to keep each other honest. And if the local suppliers still can't compete in that arena, you move them to a different one. If you've got 1,000 people making Barbies, maybe you split them up into 10 groups of 100, all able to act indepedently and fill demands at a level a foreign supplier can't.

With heavy-duty industrial stuff, that's not possible--yet. But perhaps it will be. I'm biased, due to being heavily involved in computers over the years, but I see high-tech electronics not being all that different from 19th century tech, only much, much faster. And it seems like that high-tech stuff infringes more and more on clunky ol' steam-era tech.

But regardless where technology takes us, businesses and their employees are always going to be served by being able to shift gears and change directions.

(Original article tweeted by Freeman Hunt, who has some cool 60-year-old pix up on her blog now.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Missing You, or Where The Girls Aren't

Well, Knox was apparently moving (will she still be "Knox" if not in Knoxville?), Freem had a baby (and a tea party) and Darcy chose this inopportune moment to selfishly go on a cruise. To, like, New Zealand or something. She'll probably come back with a kiwi for a boyfriend and an Austrian accident.

Without Ruth Anne dropping the occasional pun grenade, it'd be a tomb in here. (And I should note that Knox has stopped by and Freem is still tweeting a bit at odd hours.) Troop just finished (what he hopes is his last) tax season. And otherwise I've probably just not been very interesting.

But I got to thinking about the Loudon Wainwright, easily one of my favorite singer-songwriters, who wrote this song back when he was on M*A*S*H for the absent nurses:

And I wonder if they miss us,
Now wouldn't that be funny?
Now that we're without them
We can hardly stand ourselves.

But my fondness for the ol' Loudo has always struck me as odd, in that the guy's life has been almost at the opposite end of the circle from me. He's always been a ladies man, incredibly devoted to his mother but unable to keep a relationship together, whose kids have, shall we say, mixed feelings about him.

The trajectory of his life (as the listener can ascertain it, which is--one hopes--dramatized) has followed a sort of predictably sad path from cocky, angry, snarky young man to doubting middle-aged divorcee, to old man contemplating his fate.

And perhaps the appeal is in that trajectory. Despite writing very specific songs that no one else can sing (and reducing his commercial viability as a songwriter thereby), they do speak to certain universal truths.

And I see now that Althouse is talking about sad songs, which fits in with this message, sitting on my laptop for the past 6 hours. Loudon has written some of the most profoundly touching music about his parents since their deaths, and I was thinking about this song, "Missing You", which I believe is actually about his mother:

He don't stay out any more
No more staying out past four
Most nights he turns in 'round ten
He's way too tired to pretend

Sure you might find him up at three
But if he is, it's just to pee
Some nights he's awake till two
That's just because he's missing you
Just lying there and missing you

He don't sleep late any more
Up like a farmer half-past four
When that sleepy sun comes up
He's halfway through his second cup

And his day's work is done 'round two
That's when he starts in missing you
Quarter-to-three it's time to nap
He always says "No nap, I'm crap."
His motto is: No nap, I'm crap.

Guess he's just set in his ways
He does the same damn things most days
Seven twenty-fours a week
With lots of down-time so to speak

He hardly glances at a clock
Since his routine is carved in rock
Man's a machine what can he do?
Just keep on going missing you
Keep right on going missing you

His teeth fall out, so does his hair
But in his dreams you're always there
A jewel in his unconscious mind
A miracle, a precious find

But in the end he's all alone
He wakes up and his jewel is gone
There's a heaven and he knows it's true
He's stuck on earth just missing you
And it's hell on just missing you
Back where he started missing you

And here's a wan waif singing it a capella.

Phrases That Should Never Begin Movie Synopses, Part III

A man (Ray Liotta) injects memory-ladened brain fluid...

--Unforgettable

I guess I'm nit-picking here, but when space is at a premium--as it always is with these descriptive capsules--why would you go to "ladened"? It doesn't even sound like English! Well, maybe Olde English, as a rhyme for "maidenhead".

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tea For Two Million

We're feeling inadequate down here at the 'strom because we didn't attend a tea party today. (The ear infection is still kicking my ass--through my ear canal, which tells you something.) I'm of course wild-ass guessing on the above number, 500 protests with 4,000 average people per. The number of protests is probably higher, but the average is probably a lot lower. But that messes with the whole tea-for-two riff.

So, we'll enjoy vicariously through everyone else, and figure there are about 100 people like us who couldn't make it for every person who actually did make it. 200 million, then, objecting to the current amazing expansion of government and debt. Which, even with the exaggerated numbers is still 100 million short of what I'd want to see.

Anyway, here's Freeman Hunt with a video from Reason. Freem puts me to shame, since she's got a newborn and she's making the trek, and what do I have? A lousy ear infection.

Ann Althouse expounds a bit on why she hasn't talked about the tea parties. I pretty much feel the same way as AA, in that I don't really like politics, and I'm really not a joiner. I'm begining to feel like I don't have a choice, though. As John Adams famously said:

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

I hope the "war" part is just metaphorical.

That said, the reaction from the statists is tragic. I thought about fisking a guy who I saw tweeting "rebuttals" last night. Basically, anyone who goes to one of these tea parties is a tool of rich, greedy Republicans (Democrats who are rich of course have their hearts in the right place) and they're all phony anyway and besides, FOX NEWS! LIMBAUGH! HANNITY! BECK! O'REILLY! (Are these guys even that close politically?)

(UPDATE: Patterico responds to one of the essays I thought about fisking.)

Ultimately, I decided life was too short to try to engage people who have no intention of actually communicating. Back when Alpha Liberal first showed up at Althouse I followed all of his links, trying to talk to him. But the links seldom related to what he was saying, or they were assertions being made by other statists, or if there was some real data, it didn't really describe what he said it did.

But he never really addressed anything I wrote. You've seen this, I'm sure. They say, "A!" and you say, "Well, not quite A, more like A1." Then rather than try to figure out where between "A" and "A1" the truth is, they say, "Well, B!" And they have an inexhaustible source of these assertions because, quite frankly, they're made up.

It isn't just the left that does this, of course, but it seems to be primarily the left that considers it legitimate. If you have two points, "A" and "B", and "A" is completely, obviously not comparable to "B" in terms of scope or relevance, and may even be made up, while "B" is true, this crowd seems to consider the very availability of "A" to be sufficient rebuttal to "B". In fact, if you see them on TV, the game seems to be getting as many of these in as possible.

The relevance of this to the tea parties is that the media is largely pretending these protests didn't happen. The reality is "A", they're saying "B". It will be interesting to see if they have to upgrade that to "Well, they happened, but they weren't very big." Or "Well, they happened, but they're just haters and not important."

Like NBC featuring Chuck Todd, who has dismissed these gatherings. (Though in fairness to Todd, it's not really a Republican thing, so he's probably right that it hasn't "galvanized the party".) Ace of Spades didn't care for the CNN reporter who actually aggressively takes the opposing viewpoint. Another helpful CNN article uses Nazis to illustrate right-wing agitation.

Anyway, I saw pix of the various gatherings on Twitter. Tabitha Hale had some nice ones. InfidelsAreCool had pics from Santa Ana, complete with one of Andrew Breitbart. (God love 'em, but every time he comes on "Red Eye" it seems like he's getting less and less coherent. Preoccupied?) StillStacy linked a nice pic from Denver.

Michelle Malkin has a ton of pics up, and a huge post at her blog. On the other blogs, Ace has a protest babe up. Previous massive pic thread here. Lots of heh over at Instapundit. (UPDATE: Protein Wisdom has a link roundup.)

Here's a graphic that illustrates my main beef with taxes. It isn't just that the gov't takes half of your money directly, it's that they also double the cost of everything we buy. But those costs are usually hidden. So how are they not, in fact, taking most of the money there is? This is why I'm for a per capita tax as the only tax allowed.

I mean, think about it: If your income was doubled, and everything cost half as much? Tell me you wouldn't be willing to give up everything the government "gives you"! You could find some money in that for defense. Probably a few social programs, too.

And that's now. Wait till the bill comes due on the latest spending spree.

Which brings me to another reason I've been somewhat reticent about going to a protest. OK, let's say that there were two million people out there. And they're fed up. What does that translate into? When you're there, what are you doing? What do you hope to accomplish?

I mean, when the left does it, it's for PR. This way the papers can run stories about how people hate the war du jour or Israel or whatever it is they're hating. And I suppose there's that value, because even if the newspapers insist on saying "B!", there is the reality of "A" just sitting out there.

Ideally, these protests would translate into a repeal of all the legislation passed to date, from the Bear-Stearns bailout, insofar as that's possible. And a confirmation that such legislation was never to be passed again, or at least not quickly. At least, that's what I think. But what do the other two million think?

And wouldn't it have been better if the government just hadn't gotten itself involved in all this stuff 100 years ago?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Phrases That Should Never Begin Movie Synopses, Part II

An Egyptian princess (Cameron Mitchell) rises from the dead...

--The Tomb (the actual Egyptian princess is B-queen cutie Michelle Bauer)

Talents, Gifts and Skills

I've been a fan of Darleen Click over at Protein Wisdom for some time--local gal, I think--and was rather taken by this YouTube clip she posted of a woman singing on "Britain's Got Talent".

I wasn't really surprised. But then, I don't equate pop-star beauty with musical talent. (No musician does.) I found myself wondering if she needed more work in her lower register or if it was just that the sound mix was bad.

Anyway, lovely, even if not the sort of music I tend to listen to. One of the reasons I don't watch "American Idol" is that I know the winner has to be the kind of pop-package that places musical quality behind a bunch of other non-musical considerations. Also, the chance of something actually interesting winning seems remote.

Meanwhile, S. Weasel has put up a sample of her artwork, the quality of which makes me fiercely covetous and got me thinking of "talent" versus "gifts" and "skills".

I've been accused of being "gifted" or "talented" over the years, and I try not to be insulted by it. People are simply expressing a degree of admiration for something I can do. But there are few things that I consider myself gifted at. Reading, for example. That was a gift. My intelligence (such as it is) and a certain degree of math ability.

But just about everything else I consider a skill. And in most cases something that I've worked hard very at. I have a limited set of writing skills evolved over millions of words, so that I'm a pretty good tech writer, even if good fiction skills continue to elude me. I've got thousands of hours in music, which took me to the point where people kind of liked to listen to me play. (I probably could've crossed into the truly professional level but it seemed like a lot of effort to put into something that everyone claims to like but nobody actually listens to.)

Taking martial arts, as a teen, was a particularly eye-opening experience. Unless they were substantially older than I, virtually everyone who came in was more "talented". They were more agile, lighter on their feet, and it seemed to be easier for them to acquire certain skills.

But I worked like a dog. And loved it. And I leveraged the gifts I did have--intelligence, youth and time--to get to where I could be a real threat. Then people started talking about my talent again. Sigh.

I don't think that life is actually so clearly delineated, of course. A lot has to do with how I focused, just as the people who came in to karate with "natural ability" were people who had focused on incidentally tangential skills.

But some things have eluded me, over the years. I often say that, were I independently wealthy, there's not all that much in my life that would change, and that's true. But I would take time to see if I could actually get to drawing like the Wease, or singing like Susan Boyle. I've never put in quite enough hours to know for sure, but when I hear or see something expressed with such skill, I become covetous.

Photographs and Memories. (Or at least memories.)

Instapundit linked this interesting site called Lost Films, which is based on the brilliant premise of going around and developing the film found in old cameras.

I like cameras but I don't take a lot of pictures. My dad, who took photography rather seriously, once noted that if you're taking pictures you're not really at the event. I've found that to be true, almost tautological. (In order to take a picture of a scene, you generally have to step back from that scene.)

And so, what often happens around here is this momentary realization that an event is coming up for which pictures are usually taken. Then a check of the camera, which is most likely out of batteries. Then there's a long discussion and much pondering over where the charger is. And, while we're thinking of it, does this camera even have a charger?

Well, the last one did, but this one doesn't, so it's a matter of going to the store--of course it's inevitably late, so...

The upshot is no pix from this Easter. And the general upshot is that we end up with pictures in a flurry. After all, once the camera is set up and charged and you've remembered what all the little buttons--okay, you never really know what all the buttons do, but you can figure out the big three--it's easy to start taking pictures again.

Until the baby picks it up and starts running around with it and you have to hide it to keep her from dropping it in the toilet.

Then you forget about it.

Then comes another day when you realize, you're going to want pictures....

Monday, April 13, 2009

Observed and Reported

Observe and Report is the third movie in about as many weeks where the trailer is somewhat misleading about the kind of film being advertised. (The two previous were Adventureland and Duplicity.) I'll take the position that this is due to the entirely laudable reason that these were different movies and hard for the marketing folks to pigeonhole. (None of these flicks have been blockbusters, either.)

In fact, while the trailer up until about last week had made the movie seem like a Will Ferrell-esque clown movie, the last trailer played a whole bunch more, making the movie seem more awkward and painful. I was on the fence before and leaning against it, but The Boy was rather enthused, so off we went.

It probably says too much about me that I really enjoyed this. It ping-pongs between a somewhat exaggerated broad comedy, and a black humor that borders on the tragic, much like the main character's manic depression. It also surprised me on three or four occasions, which is not something I'm accustomed to.

The story is that Seth Rogan plays Ronnie Barnhardt, a mall cop with a bloated sense of self-importance. Hilarious, right? We had one of those movies this year already! This is really no coincidence, by the way: Studios get wind that one of their competitiors is coming out with a movie about meteors, volcanos, mall cops or whatever, and they'll try to get their own product in there.

Anyway, the mall is being terrorized by a flasher. Which, I confess, struck me as quaint. (Can women today be terrorized by a flasher? I'd rather hope not.) Ronnie, of course, has only the sort of police skills one picks up from watching David Caruso dramatically take off his sunglasses. And when the beautiful cosmetics counter girl (Anna Farris) is traumatized, the cops are called in.

I love Anna Farris: She has the looks to go full bimbo, but somewhere about Scary Movie 3 she seems to have given her all to comedy. She actually plays a bimbo here, and a simply horrible person besides.

Meanwhile, the cop is played by the cruelly handsome Ray Liotta, who must endure Ronnie's endless boasting and posturing, even as the mall cop ends up eating up his day with stupid dead-ends.

So, typical wacky comedy right?

But then we see Ronnie's home life, and alcoholic mom (played by Celia Weston, who strongly recalls a younger Louis Lasser), and the laughs are of a completely different character. We see that he cares about something other than himself and also that his clownishness has a lot to do with his dreams and ambitions.

There are a lot of alternating scenes like this. Ronnie is an insufferable jerk, but then it turns out that his megalomania is the result of actual manic-depression. He invites the world to treat him badly, but sometimes when it does, he becomes surprisingly effective. We see him neglect the sweet and charming Toast-A-Bun girl most of the times, but also come surprisingly to her aid, even if in a terribly inappropriate way.

I can't believe that this sort of movie has a broad appeal. It sets itself up in a very generic fashion--I knew instantly that Nell would be the true love interest instead of Brandi, for example--but then it refuses to overplay or oversell the comedy, and instead sells a strange violent twist.

Funny, if you can laugh at that sort of thing. Which I can. And The Boy can as well.

But if you find that sort of thing disturbing, this isn't your movie.

20,000 Visitors Under The Sea!

Well, once again I missed a blogging milestone: The Bit Maelstrom passed 20,000 visitors over a week ago. As I suspected last fall, I wasn't able to clear 15,000 by the end of the year, but then, in the last three months--with a big boost from the, um, romantically agitated Ann Althouse (and Meade knows exactly what I'm talkin' 'bout, hush yo' mouth)--I jumped into the 20K mark.

Cooler to me is that more folks are coming by more often, about double what came by a year ago. Yeah, plenty are still linking in to the pointy breasts, but a few people come by daily for movie reviews, or something else a little more substantial. (Janet Leigh's been good to me. I'm not knocking the--naw, I can't say it.)

Special thanks to Ann Althouse, of course, and Freeman Hunt, who has linked me on Twitter generously. And thanks again to all y'all commenting.

Whoa

Somebody should write this on the side of a van.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pookahs and other Supernatural Creatures

The Flower has found herself so abuzz with the happenings tomorrow that she has agitated herself into a couple of very late nights (midnight). Apparently, she loves Easter. Her favorite holiday, even, perhaps.

It's the finding treasure aspect of it.

Also, the magical creature aspect. The Flower has an ongoing correspondence with the tooth faerie. I'm not even supposed to know about this top secret relationship.

Which, of course, leaves me free to act completely innocent when the time comes for sightings and otherworldly shenanigans. At the same time, I'm the usual resource when someone wants to know the nuts-and-bolts of any fantastic creatures.

I was probably worse with The Boy. Probably a lot worse. With him, it was monsters. No, monsters were his friends, so it was a good thing they were everywhere. And I was always seeing one run by, which would prompt 20 minutes of questions about what it looked like, what it was doing, where it was going.

When I went under the house to run the network cable, the voices of the monsters that lived there were quite audible, I was told when I came back up.

My expertise came in handy at one point, when The Boy developed a sudden (and completely inexplicable) fear of vampires. It was then I revealed my history as a vampire slayer to him.

I'm less good with the Pookahs, I admit. They are masters of time-and-space, after all.

Fortunately, I still have some connections with the monsters, and can deliver the occasional bit of news or wisdom.

Why It's Great To Be A Toddler

"I like myself naked!"

The Barbarienne is a font of amusement when she's not a font of terror. (Actually, sometimes the two overlap, like an Evil Dead movie.)

In particular, she likes being naked. As did all her siblings. I never thought it was a good idea to shame a kid out of being naked, and was sort of curious if that meant I'd be raising a bunch of nudists. Naturalists? Whatever they call themselves these days.

I'm not anti-nudist, exactly, but I do think clothes are an essential matter of politeness. I think it's good that there has to be a context for nudity.

All bets are off if you're three, though.

I'm not sure what the cut-off point is, exactly, but there's nothing quite like the exuberance of a naked toddler. They've all gone through periods where running around naked was about the greatest thing they could imagine.

As it turns out, none of the kids have adopted nudism as a philosophy. Around six or seven, they all start to develop a sense of privacy about their bodies. Which I think is a good thing. (Though the rapidity with which they develop a sense of sovereignty over their bodies makes me not worried about "bad touches": My kids all started at about 18 months with doling out the hugs and kisses on their own terms; you don't want to be nearby when someone gives them an unsolicited pat on the head.)

I remember it being a problem for Calvin's parents (Calvin & Hobbes) but, then, he was perpetually six-years-old.

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 12: Sometimes I'm so good, I scare myself

[watching Cars]
Me: That car is "Monk".
Flower: Which one?
Me: The yellow one!
Flower: Oh, he's in a lot of things.
Me: Yeah.
Flower: Like that finger movie.
Me: ...
Me: "You mean, Spy Kids?"
Flower: Yeah!

Ears and Links

About two years ago, the Barbarienne jammed her finger in my ear. Because of her age, her finger was just the right size to get into my ear canal; because of her strength, she jammed it in far enough to scratch my eardrum.

The resultant infection was so painful and persistent that I thought I might actually lose some hearing. It took weeks to clear up fully, but I was back hearing noises in that annoying 16-20K frequency range again in no time.

Which is a propos of nothing except that I recognized the problem sooner this time and didn't let the infection go too far before going to the local "urgent care". (Less than $100 and 30 minutes, with almost no paperwork.)

That, and I've been accumulating links from around the web but have been unable to cobble together much in the way of coherent posts. So here's a round-up.

A reprint of a massive 1981 article on Love Canal, and a 2004 follow-up, both at Reason. Massive government screw up plus hysteria equals bad law.

Co-D&D creator Dave Arneson died. It doesn't surprise me that there's some rancor and controversy over who did what. Even if TSR hadn't been dominated by a fairly shady couple, that might've arose. I'm glad the two did what they did. Of course, Gygax died at 69 and Arneson at 61, which might suggest the peril of too much gaming.

Vodkapundit tweeted this cute ad for--hell, I don't even know. Sabre? Saber! Still don't know what that is. One of these new "body products" they're pumping out for men. I'm bad at this stuff. I have no products. (I kind of thought "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was not awful, but I can't imagine personally being more uncomfortable than had I been in that situation myself.)

These body product commercials amaze me, because there seems to be a common thread. In particular, there's some severe exaggeration of the (formerly subtle) trope that women will pursue you if you spray this crap on you. (Pheremones! Science! 60% of the time, it works 100% of the time!) Like the Axe one where hundreds of women chase one guy on a desert island.

So, here they're saying, well, you know this isn't going to happen. What with the shortage of midichlorians on this planet and whatnot. You're too smart to believe this stuff, right? But, you know, maybe it works a little. Can you afford to take that chance?

Reverse-double-secret psychology? If I thought they were aimin' it at me, I'd probably be insulted. But, as noted, I don't buy "product".

Speaking of sexism, a bunch of people were tweeting this Naomi Wolf article on porn and pubic hair, blunting men's appetites for sex. First of all, I swear I read this years ago. Turns out, Althouse was blogging how old it was two years ago. And its was just as dumb then. The only thing that can turn a man off "the real thing" is a woman. And she has to work hard at it. (Womens' studies classes can give a gal all the ammo she needs, tho'.) And then the man is mostly not going to want sex with her in particular. That is, a man has to experience a lot of women like that to really be turned off sex. (I can only assume Naomi Wolf doesn't know very many men.)

Well, okay, in fairness, entire cultures can probably gear down their people's sex drives, by interjecting politics between Man and Woman. That might be what's going on in the developed world. Then again, it might be some other physiological factor.

In any case--with all due apologize to FARK--it ain't guys going, "She's got pointy knees," which is all Wolf's argument boils down to. Guys put Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth up on their lockers 60 years ago, but they still got busy with Betty and Rita next door.

Twitter doesn't allow you to tweet that much, so I just linked this delightful commercial. I almost expected a flame or two, but I'm not really on the radar of the perpetually outraged. (Advanced social studies study group question: Compare & contrast this commercial to the previous one, with special emphasis on how "personal products" are marketed to men versus women.)

Frank J asks the critical question of our day: Who is the more perfect leader? Obama or Kim Jong Il? The answer may surprise you. Then again, it may not.

Somebody I follow on Twitter, probably @thecardioexpert, linked this article on cholesterol. I like these kinds of things because the way our media presents things, it's all "OMG! THIS IS DEADLY! AVOID IT OR DIE!" And it doesn't matter if it's salt or asbestos or alar or what. You don't get a sense of the mechanics. And then you die because they didn't warn you against eating broken glass.

I haven't played with this site yet, but it's about musical instruction and resources. What I really want is to be able to score a piece on the computer--full orchestra--and have it come out with those instruments. I've seen a few things that do this, but the output embarrasses me, it's so bad. Obviously, there's a limit to how good it can be, but there should be moments when it sounds like something other than a fleet of DX7s.

Then there's the freaky bird here. Giant eyes--I mean, really giant eyes--are freaky. Reminds me of this guy who has remade Homer Simpson and Super Mario into their human selves. Also Jessica Rabbit, who doesn't look that freaky. At first I thought, "Huh, typical guy." Then I realized she's not nearly as humanized as the other two, plus her eyes are mostly closed reducing the freak out factor.

Lastly, there's this kinda-SIMS-y, kinda-The Movies-y, kinda-Playskool-y site where you can make your own 3D movies very easily. I haven't tried it. But I've seen worse animation and voice-acting on TV.

Enjoy!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dinosaurs: They live!

Amba, who's taking a blogging break, tweeted this marvelous video of eagles being used to hunt wolves.





Tell me this doesn't change your perspective on Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

Bill Whittle on Charity

I'm always impressed by people who admit to their own foolishness in the kind of gory detail Bill Whittle does here. You can argue that it's self-serving, since he's talking how he recovered from his youthful foolishness, but he doesn't really talk about how wonderful he is. He just stops being a jackass (at least in this regard).

But there's an underlying truth: Charity is the quickest way to get someone to hate you. Nobody hates the gol-durned government like people on welfare. If you ever helped someone a lot and then had them turn on you, you know what I'm talking about. (Or if you've ever been that person.)

No good deed goes unpunished, as they say.

Whether it's because private charities have understood that in some fashion, or because they simply can't afford to give out endless streams of cash, it's been traditional for charities to require something back from those they help.

Parents run into this, too: Because kids want to help before they're capable, the parents get used to refusing that help, and by the time they're teens, the kids are so pissed they wouldn't help put the house out if it's on fire.

Not that this is going to change anything. But it would be nice to reverse this persistent equation that if you don't want to pour endless money into a problem, you don't care about that problem

Thursday, April 9, 2009

If Not Happily Ever After, Then Reasonably So

Chuck Jones' Oscar-winning cartoon "The Dot and the Line" is on TCM On Demand. The author is Norton Juster, of The Phantom Tollbooth, and as you might imagine, is rife with math-based puns.

I'm lookin' at you Ruth Anne.

It's also quite literally about the transformative power of love. Heh.

Robert Morely narrates.

Not to be missed.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sonnets and Hosannas

As I grow old(er), I tend to be more convinced of the correctness of core traditional values, but equally so of the correctness of limited government. Hector and I have wrestled over religion before but for right now, I believe that the current Church is too enervated to roll back the tide of libertine-ism.

And, I should note, I'm not really anti-libertine-ism. I think there are probably some people who do the least damage they're likely to do if left to pursue their own self-gratification.

It just seems to be lacking as a social survival strategy.

I was taken by the use of this sonnet in Adventureland. (Shakespeare's sonnets are like the "Twilight Zone"s of poetry, they always have a twist ending.) You may recall that the main character sites this sonnet as the reason for his virginity; to wit, that he decided he'd rather forgo sex than have it with someone he didn't want to be slave to her desires. (My favorite, by the way, has always been sonnet #130, which I take as a 16th century "FACE" to other poets.)

Now, it's probably not a good idea to encourage kids to pattern their romantic lives after the poetry of 16th century courtiers, much less said courtiers' actual lives. But it occurred to me that a possible secular solution to licentiousness might be self-esteem.

But wait, you cry! Schools focus on self-esteem! If this were to be true, wouldn't our children already be experiencing the benefits?

At which suggestion, I point and laugh. And then feel a little bad for you that you don't know what self-esteem really is, or that it can't be given through trophies or awards, but must come from actual accomplishment.

Anyway, lacking a connection to their history, lacking any real knowledge or skills, young adults end up not valuing themselves. What's more, without getting puritanical or priggish, they don't seem to know from junk.

Now, again, I'm not particularly anti-junk. But I think a steady diet of junk food, junk art, junk accomplishments is naturally going to lead to junk sex, junk jobs and a complete bafflement as to what the hell happened--how one ended up with a junk life.

In Adventureland, the lead has a sense of not wanting his life to be junk. And it's telling (and accurate, I think) that those around him particularly mock him for those things that he values. (You know, you can't really be mocked for something you don't care about, which if you think about it, puts a different spin on a lot of "comedy" today.)

Adventureland is cast in the mold of an '80s teen sex farce, which only gave a fleeting nod (at best) to anything not junk. (They were junk, after all.) But that atmosphere pervaded the '70s, and into the mid-'80s, when AIDS put a damper on things.

Not just sex, either. If I were to try to capture that atmosphere, it would be a kind of nihilistic, materialistic, hedonistic world where good acts of individuals were overpowered by evil organizations. "If only," the zeitgeist seemed to say, "there were no religions or corporations, we could all live in harmony and do what we wanted until we died, because that's all there is or ever will be."

It's a seductive philosophy--I mean that in the way that a Twinkie is seductive or a $10 whore: That is, if you're trained to simply take the quickest, easiest, fastest way to satisfy an urge--or worse, you don't even have an inkling that there is another way, then the conclusion seems logical. Inevitable.

So, the extraordinary thing is how people immersed in this do end up valuing things that the pervasive social message says they should not. It wouldn't surprise me to survey kids like that and find real accomplishments compared to their peers. (I don't, by the way, mean to draw any kind of absolute there.) How does someone like James end up the way he does? And how is he able to stick to his guns? (I actually think the current system puts women at a serious disadvantage sexually, but that's another topic for another day.)

It also wouldn't surprise me to find that a strong education with an emphasis on historical traditions and an increasing emphasis on skills would reduce the amount of junk sex, and certainly the number of junk lives.

Which makes this one of those things that I write that seems stupidly obvious by the time I finish.

Timely Material

The delightful Anna David tweeted this bit of Men's Health fluff on inter-office dating. Wait, intra-office dating? Well, whatever. Doin' it witcher co-worker.

Couldn't help but wonder how it applies to blogs and commenters. Though I guess that's more of a royalty/commoner thing.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Quote of the Day

IMDB does a daily quote, and usually it's not very good. Or at least, I don't like them. But today is a winner, from what might be my favorite musical, The Music Man:
It's a well-known principle that if you keep the flint in one drawer and the steel in the other, you'll never strike much of a fire.
I guess the Internet changes that, though, doesn't it? The flint and steel are always in the same virtual drawer.

Awesome Explained

Via Hector at Rain In The Doorway, the periodical table of awesomeness!

Be sure to check Hector out; he's been blogging up a storm lately.

Taking Chance

It took me a while to watch this one. It's taken me longer to review it.

Taking Chance is the story of Lt. Col. Mike Strobl, who escorts the body of Chance Phelps to his final resting place in Dubois, Wyoming.

It's about 1:15 long. It's devoid of big emotions, high drama, or even a plot, really. And yet, I can barely imagine the soul that would be unmoved by it.

If you're ignorant of these sort of things, you have no idea how much care goes into this detail. The rules are specific and the protocol meticulous. And it's impossible not to feel a measure of pride in the respect given, even if you never knew about it before.

It seems right. It seems the only proper recognition, really. And what's beautiful about this movie is that Strobl encounters a stream of Americans who are overwhelmed by Chance's sacrifice.

And you get, in one small moment, a sense of why the whole mission means so much to Strobl (Kevin Bacon), and a look into the soul of the brothers-in-arms who serve us, often at the ultimate price.

You should see it.

Poetry Corner

Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save, where you are how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love that in your will,
Though you do any thing, he thinks no ill.
--William Shakespeare, Sonnet 57

As featured in Adventureland.

So sue me.

It's spring.

Adventureland

Another case of terribly deceiving trailers, like Duplicity, Adventureland comes across as a wacky summer teen-sex comedy, in the mold of the '80s (when the story takes place). In the trailers, they show lots of Bill Hader (Superbad) and Kristen Wiig (misidentified in an earlier review as Katharine Wiig), who have a great and funny chemistry as the couple that manages the amusement part. They reference Superbad which was not entirely froth, but which had a very light feel overall.

The trailers even set it up to look like a mishap with the corn dogs causes hallucinations. Zany!

OK, so, Hader and Wiig are great. And very funny. But they're really just a sideshow in what is essentially a romance. Not even a romantic-comedy, but a fairly heavy clash of two people trying to love each other.

In the lead is Jesse Eisenberg (Squid and the Whale) as James, looking a lot like the wispy Michael Cera, but with a fierce undercurrent of strong passion, and the waifish Kristen Stewart (hot off Twilight).

As our story open, Jesse's dad has been "reassigned", meaning they now don't have the money to send him to Europe. They don't even have the money to help him out at Columbia, where he's been accepted into the Masters program for Journalism. So he gets a job at Adventureland, being not qualified for anything else. (That strikes me as a stretch; were there no temp office jobs for college grads in Pittsburgh in the '80s? But, rolling with it....)

There at the park, he meets Joel (Martin Starr of Superbad), a morose but highly intelligent college graduate who majored in Russian and Eastern European Literature, and ultra-cool musician/maintenance older guy Connell (Ryan Reynolds in the role Paul Rudd would have done ten years ago). He also meets the sharp, broody Em (Stewart) and the shallow, curvy Lisa P (Margaraita Levieva, looking more '80s than any of them).

I'd like to give a shout out to all the smart, curvy women who are tired of this stereotype, by the way. It's necessary for the plot, here, though.

Basically, James is the romantic type. He's at least 22, and still a virgin. It's not that the opportunity hasn't arisen, it's that he wants for it to be worthy of a Shakespeare sonnet:

Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?

He decides to break up with his steady girlfriend on the night she was going to bed him because he didn't want to be a slave to the hours and times of her desire.

This is not your '80s-guy-tries-to-get-laid-with-wacky-consequences movie. James' virginity is not played for laughs, awkward and embarrassing as it is, when he sits down with Em face-to-face to compare sexual histories. And they are both embarrassed for different reasons.

James falls for Em very quickly, but Em, who has suffered her own family traumas, is currently having an affair with the married Connell. Connell uses his cachet as a musician (though we never, ever hear him play, and the band we do hear is awful) to attract the young girls into his mother's basement (no joke!).

So while James is falling harder and harder for Em, she's feeling worse and worse about herself and trying to slow him down. His quirky charm attracts Lisa P who, against his better instincts and with Connell's encouragement, takes her on a date. He's wracked with guilt, unaware of Em's relationship.

You can see how rough this is going to get, can't you?

And it does.

There are many things that amused this old moviegoing warhorse, too: This movie is way less creepy and raunchy than the '80s teen sex farces it reminds of. There's no nudity. No glamorization of drunken makeout sessions. Apart from the kissing, everything else is off screen. Marijuana figures big with no particular judgment made about it, and there's a lot of drunk driving--none of it funny. There's a big going to New York City scene, which ends in the rain on a graffiti-and-trash covered street.

There's anti-semitism! And the parents and adults, always fodder for humor in the teen sex farce, are portrayed fairly sensitively (if not in any great detail). For example, Em's stepmother hates her, but when Em pulls at her wig during a cocktail party, you feel bad for the stepmother, too.

It's not, not, not the wacky Superbad. That movie, upon reflection, suffered from the fact that Jonah Hill doesn't really have Seth Rogan's charisma, which is kind of critical for understanding why the girl is interested in him. The whole cast here does a great job even when there's little screen time. I particularly thought that the two actors who played the fathers (Josh Pais and Jack Gilpin) did a good job looking like men who had somehow lost control of their lives.

We liked it--The Boy included--but I think they've played the PR wrong. A lot of people are going to think the movie is boring and slow because they were promised a comedy. So, as with Duplicity, beware. Unlike Duplicity, however, Em and James are hugely sympathetic characters--just kids trying to figure out how to reconcile their feelings with the fear that comes from not knowing how the other feels.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 11: Drawing The Line

"So, you're saying I can't sneeze any more."
"No, I'm saying I'm not going to further subsidize your sneezes with gesundheits."
"But what if I--"
"Did you learn nothing from this book?"

Thidwick and The Darker Side of Seuss

Dr. Seuss was great for a lot of reasons, obviously foremost of those being his marvelous abilities with rhyme and meter--seriously, if you don't believe that, read aloud just about any parody of him and compare with one of his actual books, and you'll see that people grossly underestimate how hard what he did was to do well--but, in a strange way, also because he wasn't a Mister Rogers-type character with sweetness and gentleness oozing from every pore.

That's not a knock against Fred Rogers, who I think was the gentle spirit he portrayed, but I admit I had a taste (even as a child) for the darker side as well. I loved Roald Dahl, for example, especially for things like in James and the Giant Peach, where James' aunts are squashed dead by the peach.

Dr. Seuss wrote about a lot of the dumber, darker side of humanity with Horton, and of course, his late-in-life Butter Battle Book. But I had not heard of Thidwick, and received it as a gift on my last birthday. (It was on my Amazon wish list.)

The Flower resisted me reading it aloud (as I do) because she thought the ending had Thidwick being killed, but I finally overruled her. And I was surprised; this should be a classic alongside of the Grinch, the Cat and Horton.

Thidwick is a moose who lets a bug sit on his antlers. The bug then invites more and larger creatures to join him, until finally his antlers are burdened with a multitude of pests, including (absurdly) a bear. Obviously, this impact his ability to survive, as he's no longer able to forage or run from hunters. But he's too polite--too nice--to tell them get lost.

So, we have here a marvelous allegory for so many things: the tragedy of the commons--and check out the Wikipedia article for a communist spin on why "tragedy of the commons" is misapplied, the dangers of modern liberalism, and just how one can start with a good principle ("a host must be good to his guests") and take it to the point of self-destruction.

I don't know if Seuss meant any of that, but it works, and it has a good ending. (The Flower didn't like the ending actually; she's not a big fan of comeuppance.) But I say check it out.

Real Life Internal Dialog of a Hopeless Movie Geek

"Hmmm. Along Came A Spider? That's one of those Morgan Freeman-Ashley Judd things where he's the serial killer chaser and she's the chasee/victim or something right?"
"Yeah. Except Ashley Judd isn't in it."
"..."
"Monica Potter."
"Oh! Yeah! And they made her up to look like Julia Roberts!"
"..."
"What was with her nose?"
"I think that's just her nose. Nothing for it."
"..."
"Well, maybe she's less moonbatty than Judd."
"Hard to miss there."

Perverse Optimism

As things get crazier and crazier in Washington D.C., I find myself more and more compelled toward the libertarian optimism I discussed here. Admittedly, yes, it's partly because the alternative is grim.

But the level of debt our President has just thrust upon us is unsustainable. We can't pay it off. Can't. Without confiscatory tax rates. (I give the Founding Fathers a lot of credit for what they knew could happen; I somehow wonder if it occurred to them that our leaders would simply destroy the economy to get what they wanted.) I think--I hope--it's too big a bite. I think we will rebel.

So, in that sense, the election of BHO is a good thing: We were complacently sliding into socialism, with just a few hiccups here and there. If this forces us to look it in the face and strike it down for real, our progeny benefit. If we this means the ship is upset for a few decades or more, it will be worth it.

That's also why things like this "Abortion is a blessing!" thing makes me optimistic. The Anchoress writes eloquently on this topic, and is always worth reading. I'm less concerned about abortion's legality than its social acceptability. I would like the laws (here, as everywhere) to be largely irrelevant.

But I'm convinced that abortion's acceptability has a lot to do with obfuscation. While most of the support for pro-choice comes, I believe, from a basically libertarian impulse, more than anyone wants to admit comes from a anti-human impulse.

I often say the impulse to be liberal can come from a genuine belief that government is the best solution, or the belief that people are too stupid to take care of themselves. Just as being a conservative can come from a faith in the individual, or a self lack of concern for others. The media determine which narrative is revealed, so they try not to show the ugly stuff of whatever's on their side.

And the thing about abortion is that it is really, really ugly. If you believe it's necessary sometimes or not, there's still no way it isn't a tragedy. And, actually, I think that's how most people view it. I think a small majority of people are uncomfortably pro-choice.

Information about abortion makes them more uncomfortable. Until recently, for example, I did not know that an abortion involved cutting up the fetus and then reassembling it ex utero to make sure you got all the parts.

I mean, look: Every day we see colonscopies, and hernia surgeries and whatever other medical procedures on the various educational channels. Why not abortions? Is it because--and I pause to chuckle here--right wing fundamentalists would protest?

Now, I am pro-choice to this degree: If a fertilized embryo is entitled to full legal protection, every woman's womb is a potential crime scene. That's the one extreme, of course. The other extreme is that fully viable babies are delivered and then murdered. And--let's get really uncomfortable now--that's where we are.

I'm perfectly fine that the abortion debate isn't settled; it shouldn't be. It's much like torture, in the sense that we have to balance two unethical situations (inflicting pain perhaps for no reason vs. allowing innocent lives to be lost). In this case, we have to balance what might colloquially be called murder against the power of the state to intrude into every person's most private life. (And I trust at this point in time, even the staunchest of pro-lifers can see that the government ultimately respects no limits to its power.)

I respect democracy in these areas, if only for lack of a better authority. Democracy can say, with stupid arbitariness that 20 weeks is a baby, where 19 weeks and 6 days is not. Injustices will occur.

What I object to, however, is the one-sidedness of the speech currently given exposure. It's important to realize that all these poor, non-white people having abortions was pretty much what the eugenicists wanted. (And what a sleight-of-hand to get their cooperation!) It's important to know what an abortion actually is. (I forced myself to look at a few pictures while writing this, something I'd always previously avoided.)

I object to those who wish to keep information away from women considering an abortion, if that information might tilt them away from having one.

So I applaud those who come out and say that it's a blessing. Or, for the more secularly inclined, that it's no big deal. Women should have more of them. And so on.

It wasn't long ago that we were inundated with stories about the crazies bombing abortion clinics--the anti-choice crowd you might call them; now let's get some stories about those who feel they should be allowed to completely shield a woman from any possible negative consequences of an abortion.

We can call them the anti-life crowd.

Friday, April 3, 2009

So, how was your week?

Despite the cash outlays, it was still a very good week. The birth of Ethan is a marvelous thing, not just because babies are wonderful, but because the Freefamily is, well, Chicken Little called Freeman "the strength of America", and that's not just poetic imagery.

I think one of the things feminism robbed from women--though not with complete success--was their specialness. The prevailing philosophy got it completely backwards: "Women's work" was always the important stuff. The world exists for the future. Men do important things, of course, but they do them--if they're good men--to make the world a better place.

None of which matters without a new generation to carry on. "Women's work" is senior, fundamental, primary.

So let us put you on a pedestal and worship you, while we have the luxury. We're clear-eyed about the work that needs to be done, and how you do a lot of the hardest and least glamorous of it. Treasuring you is both a great joy and fulfillment of our masculinity.

We know you can take care of yourselves. We know you're not weak. But you are precious to us. Letting us express that is a gift.

Shop Locally. Think Whatever.

The telephone stopped ringing on Sunday. The refrigerator stopped refrigerating on Monday. The pilot light on the water heater went out Tuesday. They were going to charge $100 to relight but knocked it down to $50. (Thanks, guys! I suppose I should've just relit the damn thing myself, but I hate messing with gas lines if I'm not sure what's going on. Too many times seeing that Friz Freling Bugs Bunny cartoon where he throws the match into the powder room and Yosemite Sam has to run in and fetch it out.) Turns out the pilot was symptomatic of a larger problem, to boot.

So. Yeah. $1,000 for a new refrigerator from these guys. And then $1,200 more for the water heater with installation from these guys. (Checking my bank account see my federal tax refund of $2,155 just came in. Sigh.)

I actually strongly recommend both Waadt and Frankel's. Before discovering Frankel, we tried a bunch of different plumbers who would "guarantee their work for life". But what they'd do is shut down after a couple of years and re-open under a new name. We had the same scam artists come in 2-3 times under different names before we realized what was going on.

Frankel's backs their work and have been in business for a long time. Plus, they're straight up about what you need. (The previous plumbers installed a commercial quality garbage disposal in the kitchen, which our pipes couldn't possibly support if we actually needed it.)

The best thing you can say about Waadt is that they care. If you've ever bought something from one of the big chains--Circuit City, Best Buy, wherever--you know they don't really care about you beyond the sale. Why should they, right?

I mean, don't get me wrong: I'm sure the corporate level cares to some degree, though they're always balancing things like pissing you off versus how much it costs to make you happy, and you're not a "you" but part of a large demographic. The people who run Waadt are right there on the floor; there's no minimum wage employee buffer. That alone would make anyone care more.

But more than that, they've always been good about selling floor models if you're pinching pennies, and they have a great repair guy who once located us a free dishwasher.

Some of the best advice ever is to "shop local". Not because corporations are all evil and corporation-y but because there's a good chance of longer term happiness. Local appliance stores can often give better deals than the big box chains. And they have way more invested in your happiness.

Brick and Martyr: TMI

The telephone broke this week. (So did the refrigerator and the water heater, but more on that later on.) Well, it had been breaking for a while. It had been submerged in water more than once, and was slowly losing features. The LCD panel was the first to go, of course, so all the caller ID features were gone. And last weekend it stopped ringing.

Fine with me.

But ultimately, no, the flashing light on the phone is not enough to alert me that it's ringing. And tragically, it sometimes matters. So I went to get a new phone. It was kind of funny. I was walking around Fry's and first saw a book on Tenzing Norgay. The only reason I know of Tenzing Norgay is because I'm a fan of the Coen Brothers, and the following exchange is from Intolerable Cruelty.


Wrigley: Who are you looking for?
Miles Massey: Tenzing Norgay.
Wrigley: Tenzing Norgay? That's someone she slept with?
Miles Massey: I doubt it. Tenzing Norgay was the Sherpa that helped Edmund Hillary climb Mt. Everest.
Wrigley: And Marilyn knows him?
Miles Massey: No, you idiot. Not the Tenzing Norgay. Her Tenzing Norgay.
Wrigley: I'm not sure that I actually follow that.
Miles Massey: Few great accomplishments are achieved single-handedly, Wrigley. Most have their Norgays. Marilyn Rexroth is even now climbing her Everest. I wanna find her Norgay.
Wrigley: But how do you determine which of the people on here are...
Miles Massey: How do you spot a Norgay?
Wrigley: Yeah.
Miles Massey: You start with the people with the funny names.

I swear: maybe 20% of the knowledge I have comes from a dogged pursuit of a particular topic while the other 80% comes from random mentions in pop culture. I saw this cool physics book
as well. (I'm looking for something for The Boy that is not too math heavy but also not juvenile. My own texts from school are pretty dry, as well, and this looked like a good mixture.)

Fry's is interesting. The branches communicate to the main office through a text-based system on (I think) a private network, and none of the hundreds of computers anywhere in the store are hooked to the Internet. But I had my Blackberry with me and began to wonder:

Is this really a good price for the Tenzing book? (It was $8; I can get it used for half that--including shipping--from Amazon.) Is it a good Tenzing book? (So-so. The minimal reviews on Amazon are all over the map.)

What about the Head Start book? I can get a new one cheaper or save a few bucks on a used copy, but I also get the reviews that say it's a practical book. About the mechanics rather than the more difficult-to-grasp optics, audio, etc. areas. So, actually, it's perfect.

I put those two books back.

I also wanted to pick up a scanner. (I have a scheme to put some things on t-shirts.) But the scanners just sit there in boxes with numbers on them. Very unhelpful. I realized I didn't know what I needed. I thought to myself, "What am I doing here?"

Fry's is the sort of place you go when you know exactly what you want. The best deals you get there are on discontinued things. (A lot of people think they're getting an incredible price on cutting edge stuff and end up disappointed. A lot of people get angry at Fry's. A lot of people are dumb.)

But then, a funny thing happened: I still needed a phone. I generally shop at Amazon because of the free shipping, so I went there. And you know what? It was too much information. Too much dubious information, actually.

I need a phone that's nigh indestructible. The only feature I can't live without is the speakerphone. (I hate holding the phone up to my ear.) The caller ID is good, too, because I don't have an answering machine or even a phone book, really, so if you want a call back, you better be IDed.

The reviews on Amazon were things like "Oh, these are great. We only had to take one of the three we bought back." Also, Amazon's inabiality to do a secondary sort sucks. In other words, yeah, I want the most relevant items first, but after that, I want the cheapest.

I went to Radio Shack instead. But, of course, there was no one in the Radio Shack, so I went to target. This was actually strangely reassuring. I had gone to Radio Shack for an antenna coupler last weekend and actually got one there for $2.70 and it actually worked! Almost everything at Radio Shack is ridiculously overpriced and then doesn't do what I want, so I was actually disturbed when I got in and out in five minutes with just what I needed.

Going in this week and finding a bunch of overpriced phones that no one was around to sell me was comforting.

Anyway, I went to Target and picked up a phone for about $25. I have no idea how good a phone it is, but it has a handset speaker and caller ID. It's probably good enough. Which is good enough. And I guess the brick-and-mortar stores still have their uses.

Of course, it hasn't been submerged yet. I give the Barbarienne 3-4 weeks to feed it to the toilet.

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