Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another In A Series Of Immodest Proposals Entitled "A Modest Proposal" For Satirical Value

California passed a vindictive little bill designed to limit elected representatives' salaries. I'd say it was fiscally prudent, but it really won't make a difference in the long run. Still, I suppose I should give us credit, since for my entire voting history we've done nothing but vote for bond after bond to pay for program after program.

I think the bill requires that the budget be in place or something--we have a hard time actually getting budgets out, because we have so many massively powerful special interest groups to feed: teachers, other government employees, illegal immigrants, etc. (And I have no idea how illegal immigrants get to be a powerful special interest group but, here we are.)

A better idea, however, would be for the politicians to only be able to collect their salaries from what was leftover in the budget. Run a deficit? No money that year. Hell, we should have them give money back at that point. Sell your homes and cars, people. Send your kids to public school. You're on a budget this year.

They'd find a way to screw it up, of course.

They always do.

Weird Science

We were back at the dietitian's last Friday after a couple of weeks away, and both I and The Boy were dehydrated. Not a huge surprise, really: We'd been walking around the college, in the heat, I'd been working out a bit more, etc.

As a coda to this post about my weird dream, the dietitian was giving us signs of dehydration to watch for, so that we would know when to drink extra water. First one she mentions? Weird dreams. General sleep disturbances (I hadn't been sleeping well, or at least not long enough.)

So far, though, everything that she said would happen has happened. We had some blood sugar crashes early on (as The Boy's body released the artificial insulin it stored up) and then, in line with his graph being in the right place, he's started to have sugar in his urine.

Generally, you don't want sugar in your urine, but in this case it's supposed to be indicative of the healing process. Intriguingly, The Boy's sugars are very well in control, if a little wild. (They'll get suddenly high, then drop down just as suddenly, though never into a dangerous zone.) He's also on half the per-meal insulin he was a few months ago.

The theory is that artificial insulin is like a cast for the pancreas, so once the body starts healing, you need to take the cast off, letting your sugars get a bit high so that the pancreas will be stimulated to start producing.

I'm sure this could cause a panic attack in a lot of medical professionals. I'm sure it's dangerous. But you know what? So is diabetes-for-the-rest-of-your-life. They kind of feed you a cock-and-bull story about how you can be in the NBA and live a normal life, but the long term consequences for a diabetic, even one with well-controlled blood sugar, are really pretty horrible.

I love mainstream medicine, don't get me wrong, but really only for emergencies. Bad infections, broken bones, heart attacks, and so on. But if I have high blood pressure, I don't want to take a pill forever. I want my blood pressure back to normal. Same with high cholesterol.

But even if you're an all-mainstream-medicine-all-the-time-guy, the FDA sits on drugs that might help people in the name of protecting them, essentially protecting them to death. "Excuse me, Mr. Government, sir, but I'd like to try that cancer medicine, even if it might kill me. Because I'm going to die anyway."

I think Man has an inalienable right to his snake oil, as I've said here many times. I'm sure, in my case, that it's part of the pursuit of happiness. And in everyone's case, it's a matter of sovereignty over his body.

If the government would leave my body and my property alone, I'd be happy to have the social liberals and conservative battle out whatever they wanted.

Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

I don't generally dream. (See footnotes.) Last week, though, I had a strange dream where I went to buy a package of Hostess cupcakes from a vending machine in one of those big banks of machines. After having some difficulty putting in my money, I realized there was already credit on the machine, so I got myself some free ones.

Then I noticed that all the machines were just giving out their wares and I methodically started emptying the machines out, carrying so much junk food that I was dropping it.

And, as is always the case with my transgressive dreams, I felt guilty.
  • I don't like most junk food, including Hostess cupcakes.
  • I can't eat stuff like that right now anyway.
  • I was stealing.
  • And I was stealing cheap things.
I mean, like my Pappy always used to say, it's one thing to be bought, it's another thing to be bought cheaply. (He always talked about that in terms of people stealing office supplies.) And finally, perhaps worst of all:
  • I knew I was dreaming.
When I was about five or six, I had a nightmare, and I went--as children do--into my parents' bedroom. They were still awake and my father was rather annoyed. When I told him it scared me, he scowled and told me it was my dream, so I was in charge, and stop wasting his time with such nonsense.

This, perhaps surprisingly, was effective. (At least with me. I've never been able to sell my kids on it.) And the upshot is that when I do dream, I'm always aware that I'm dreaming. I've never had any kind of extended nightmare since, because I'm aware that I'm in charge of what happens. This eliminates any sense of fear. (I did have a night terror once, though. That was amazing.)

The opposite side, though, is that I also always carry whatever moral baggage I have into my dreams: So I can't engage in any of the wanton behaviors that we're generally prohibited from engaging in in day-to-day life. So, not only could I not steal in my dream, I couldn't even bring myself to eat any of the junk food. Which is a shame, because I could've enjoyed dreaming of eating it, even if the reality would've been disappointing. I even had a pretty good mental justification worked out, since I've been robbed by so many vending machines over the years, I figured this was the cosmic karmic scales finally balancing.

But I shut the whole thing down when I found myself trying to figure out how much money I should leave to compensate the vendors.

Sad, really.

This is part of the reason I don't dream: no percentage in it for me.

Footnote: And for those of you pimping the idea that everyone dreams, I say prove it. I don't deny that I go into REM sleep, of course, but I am unconvinced that that necessitates having a dream. The whole "you dream, but you don't remember it" strikes me as unfalsifiable.

Free To Be?

Darleen Click at Protein Wisdom links to a story on a couple raising a child as an "it". I had some relatives--conservative Christians, no less--who were enamored of the "Free to Be...You and Me" thing back in the '70s. I was pretty young when I first heard, and I found it sort of creepy for some reason.

Which isn't to say that I didn't believe that gender stereotypes might not have been instituted or unduly enforced by social norms. Or don't, even. Obviously society is an influence. And as I've said, a sane society would encourage norms while tolerating outliers.

I mean, logically, one can loosen certain social restrictions when the mere basics of survival are not at risk, right? Maybe not, but the most easily recalled situations always seem to involve chucking morals out the window. And society follows.

But the '70s did a number on kids. A lot of girls grew up believing that the traditional female role--mother, wife, caretaker--was an unworthy pursuit. In other words, the "liberation" of women worked out to recasting them into yet another rigid mold which didn't even have any of the biological imperatives as an advantage.

This can be seen in lots of other areas as well, of course. Ending racism didn't actually mean ending racism, it meant changing who it was okay to be racist against. Sexual liberation didn't mean freedom to not be promiscuous. Indeed, few things (if any) sold as "freedom" in recent years have actually amount to more freedom.

I was sitting around the table with my mother and stepfather and sister this weekend, and all of us had, at some point or another, believed to some degree or another in an undue influence of society on gender. But as we watched The Flower and my nieces play--they had set up a dress shop, cobbled together with two decades of toys from various grandchildren--expressions of both femininity and entrepreneurism were as natural as breathing.

And this is with two completely different styles of parenting. My nieces were actually raised in some kind of limited tech Quaker-type community until recently. I've always encouraged the more masculine aspects of my daughters because, well, I'm a guy and that's what I know, but also because I think it's good for them.

So far as I can tell, all these girls are as girly as they started out.

And I daresay, we, all of us, felt a little cheated by this unsupported bit of dogma (society is the sole arbiter of gender roles) masquerading as enlightenment, expressed and regurgitated in so many different ways over so many years.

But I think this next generation is going to be themselves, no matter how uncomfortable their transgressive insistence on being very definitely male or female makes the old folks.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Manic Monday Apocalypso: Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe!

My parents were of the Saturday matinee generation, where a nickel (or was it a dime?) would get you into the movies at the crack of dawn and entertain you till dusk. (And, oh, where to begin with the analysis of cultural shifts in that slice of Americana?)

My mom was a big fan of Buster Crabbe, though she surely must have seen the reruns of the serials since she was too young (or not born) for the originals. And when I was young, we had a UHF channel that would show a variety of old, old, really old or unpopular stuff like the late '50s black and white "Felix the Cat" cartoons (compared to the bigger stations' WB and MGM 'toons), the "Life of Riley" (versus "I Love Lucy"), silent movies (I watched Nosferatu and Metropolis this way) and serials like "Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe".

I loved this show. Even as part of the Star Wars generation--or perhaps especially because--I loved the rockets on strings, with sparklers in the back, the cheesy composed shots with giant geckos sorta-kinda chasing tiny humans, the guys with the vampire fangs or gorilla suits.

I have this box set of the serial, though if you dig around at Archive.org, I'm sure you can find it. (And feel free to notice that the #1 staff pick is an anti-Bush film by MoveOn.Org. There's no escaping this crap, is there.) I should say that I'm referring here to the original Flash Gordon serial, not really "Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe".

In the original serial, the planet Mongo is flying through the universe and headed on a collision course with the earth, which it will apparently destroy at no significant harm to itself. Burning meteors are dropping from the sky (at alarmingly slow speeds) and this causes the plane that champion polo player and Yale man (really!) Flash is on with Dale Arden to, uh, be in danger somehow.

Fortunately, they all have parachutes except Flash who hangs on to Dale on the way down. (Pleasure to meet you, ma'am!)

They happen to land on the lawn of crazed scientist Zarkov who has built a spaceship that he's going to use to land on the renegade planet and try to talk some sense into the driver.

At the helm of said planet is Fu Manchu's twin brother, Ming the Merciless, who very practically decides to put Zarkov to work in his labs (and in a space-onesie!), give Dale the "fate worse than death" and kill Flash. (Can't use you, man! Got enough dumb thugs in security as it is.) The princess, Aura, has other ideas and rescues the hunk of man from various fates worse than--no, that actually are death.

From there on, Flash meets the other colorful members of Ming's empire. And, I don't want to give anything away, but he does get out of a lot of tight spots.

I think what entertains me the most about the serial is probably the Art Deco influence. Just like the original "Star Trek", where everything is all hippied out in post-modern (?) style, and the '80s series features oodles of big hair and, well, very '80s-looking design. I don't know if it's just the lapsed time between Art Deco and now, or if it's that Art Deco is just that much cooler than all the intervening styles.

I mean, seriously, the '40s, '50s and '60s styles have their moments, but there's a lot of ugly in them, at least to my eyes. And my opnion hasn't changed much over the decades. '70s style, of course, was both uniquely ugly at the time and still ugly today. I am painting with broad strokes, of course, as there are always good things around, but to my eye the Art Deco style of the serial--the curved ships, the rays coming off Ming's throne, etc.--give it a flair that outshines the cheapness of the sets. (And is completely missing from the '50s version, to its detriment.)

I actually liked the 1980 remake, which was surprisingly faithful to the original. It's campy, of course, but intermittently so. Sometimes it is genuine in its earnestness. It also captures the strangely small feeling of space in the series, and eschews realism for a more colorful, interesting "space".

Of course, these days, most people remember Freddy Mercury's song more than anything, and probably with good reason. Mercury could sell it.

Well, until next time, mutants, stay radiated!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Brunat

Last week at the movies, there was an ad for Michael Moore's latest thing. I used to be a fan of Moore's, actually. Roger and Me is a brilliant bit of propaganda as, I suppose, most of Moore's work is.

What turned me against Moore wasn't really politics. It was his show "TV Nation". On an episode of that show, he did a story about a hospital where uninsured people who had received services were allowed to pay off their debt by working for the hospital. The people involved were happy with the program, patients, doctors, administrators alike.

Moore ingratiated himself to these people to get his interviews, and then turned around and opened up a slave trade across the street. You see, paying a debt you've incurred is morally equivalent to slavery.

I didn't get the logic. But I'll never forget the looks on these people's faces as Moore hounded them for their thoughts about his little circus. Utter betrayal. Confusion. Hurt. He had no concept of his betrayal or empathy for those who had suffered it; people who had after all neither meant (nor committed) any evil--other than, of course, to possibly hold a different point-of-view from Moore. (That really wasn't clear. The hospital solution was just one possible way to handle the situation. That people were happy with it doesn't mean they might not have preferred a different route.)

This guy claims that Moore is a narcissist. And builds a good case. I don't know. I do know he treats people poorly in pursuit of getting what he wants.

As the preview rolled, I realized that this is why I avoid Sacha Baron Cohen. I saw his "Ali G" show for a couple of episodes, but then avoided the rest and his movies. And not because he lacked talent. But because I feel a similar sort of deception going on.

But then Candid Camera used to strike me as kind of creepy, too.

Link For All Out There In TV Land

Via James Urbaniak, the voice of Dr. Venture, on Twitter: TV Legends' Archive of American Television, with interviews of some greats (and not just of TV).

Scrolling down I see makeup artist Rick Baker, SFX wiz Dick Smith, iconic announcer Don Pardo, composer Alexander Courage, Stiller & Meara, writer Richard Matheson, producers James Brooks, James Burrows, Dick Wolf, and tons of TV stars like Barabara Eden, Don Knotts, Ron Howard, Angela Lansbury, etc. etc. etc.

A treasure trove!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 17: Come To Think Of It, They Are Pretty Close

"Prosecution? What's prosecution?"
"That's when the district attorney--the head lawyer for the government--takes you to court and tries to prove that you're guilty of something."
"..."
"You've seen enough of these TV shows to know what prosecution is!"
"I thought it was when you got your head cut off."
"..."
"..."
"No, that's decapitation."
"Oh."

Oh, Noes! They're reading our mailz!

Do you remember the Gmail kerfuffle back when Google started that service? Gmail pays for itself (ostensibly) through targeted ads. The ads are targeted, of course, by what's in your in-box.

Oh, no! Google's gonna read your mail!

This did not alarm me. First, my e-mail is pretty boring most of the time. I don't even want to read it. (I also don't worry about the government spying on my e-mail, except at the conceptual level.) Second, of course, was that no human was going to be going through everyone's mail. A computer was going to "read" it and take some wild guess about what you'd be interested in buying.

Lastly, of course, I knew the algorithm wasn't going to be very good. Getting a computer to "understand" simple, basic English is marginally possible. Getting a computer to understand complex English, with allusions and context and humor? Probably not in our lifetimes. (Sorry, singularity guys.)

But I didn't know how bad--how sloppy, even--the algorithm was going to be. How bad is it? Well, when you go to your spam folder?

You get recipes for Spam™. Spam™ Imperial Tortilla Sandwiches, Spam™ Swiss Pie, Spam™ Quiche, Spam™ Breakfast Burritos (serve with salsa!) and on and on. I might think it was a clever ad campaign by Hormel or an ironic statement by Google--but it's always a Spam™ recipe, every single time I click on it.

So, not only is the advertising not targeted based on content, Google would seem to be serving ads based on the text they put on the page--not even distinguishing between your mail (or spam) and their own designation of items as spam.

As I said, the singularity may be less than imminent.

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 16: Don't Wanna Forget

[The Barbarienne is chasing the dog around with a pencil.]

"Are you going to draw on the dog?"
"I'm just taking some notes!"

Thinner

Darcy has a post up featuring Daniela Hantuchova, a Slovakian tennis player that she alludes to as having gotten "too thin", perhaps due to pressure to appear glamorous. This struck me as interesting because an athlete's first responsibility is to be functional in her sport.

You can't put the shot and be worried about fitting into a size 0.

In fact, those two goals (emulating a super-model and excelling in your sport) might be contrary. The post stirred a memories of a couple of movies (as most things do) which illustrate--something or other.

First of all: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Captain Kirk is climbing up El Capitan. The close shots, of course, are 57-year-old William Shatner. The reverse angles--the ass-up shots, if you will--are of some guy with a much, much skinnier ass. These shots--presumably masterminded by director Shatner--set the tone of meta-silliness that pervades that movie.

Second of all: Her Alibi. Back when it still seemed like a good idea to make TV icon Tom Selleck into a movie star. Real-life Czech supermodel Paulina Porizkova plays a Romanian acrobat, though completely lacking the body of an acrobat--or indeed, a body that was probably much good for anything, except looking at. Well, and snagging a rockstar husband. (All credit to her, though, since they're still married 20 years later.)

But whatever a body that thin can do, it can't do one thing her character could (and needed) to do: Climb a rope. And so we got the reverse of the Captain Kirk situation above. From one angle, skinny Paulina. From the other, a heftier stuntwoman.

I was struck by the fact that--much like Shatner--they couldn't find anyone even close to the body-type of the actor chosen to play the part.

A propos of nothing, I guess. Just flotsam bubbling up in the ol' Bit's mind.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ed and Farrah and Michael and...Jeff?

Lots of people died this week, as they do every week. But this week, the deaths were especially significant to a lot of people, occurring as they did to people fighting for their freedom, and to people an inordinate number of us are familiar with at some level.

For the Iranians, I cheer and hope and pray. I've never met a Persian (which they always style themselves as here in the US) who wasn't good-looking, good-natured and quick-witted. You wonder how their country could get so far gone.

Then there was a little buzz because Ed McMahon died. I was always surprised he didn't die before Johnny Carson. He always seemed so much older to me. I loved him as the sidekick icon but always thought the Publishers Clearing House thing was sleazy. I hope he didn't suffer much.

Then there was Farrah. I never had the poster, never would've had a pinup in my bedroom. (Even now, my breasts posts here are way gaucher than I'd ever be in real life.) But my proud and enormous mind was definitely mesmerized by "Charlie's Angels". I thought Jaclyn Smith was the prettiest at first (and a few years later, Kate Jackson), but Farrah had the smile--and I've always been a sucker for a big smile.

I saw the mediocre Sunburn (with Charles Grodin) and Saturn 3 (with Kirk Douglas), and then I didn't see her much any more. I lostr track roundabout the time of The Burning Bed--which I think pioneered the modern tradition of sex symbols frumping it up to be taken seriously as actresses--a role that she earned praised for but which didn't seem to lead to anything else.

Then it all seemed to be about the dysfunctional private life. Not a lot to smile about there.

Shortly thereafter, of course, Michael Jackson caused entire TV schedules to be upended with his heart attack. My dad said back around '83, when he hit it mega-big, that he thought Jackson would be dead by 40. Only off by a decade, there, pop.

I never bought an album and had completely lost track of Jackson by the time of Thriller. (Too busy playing my own music, I guess.) Catchy stuff, for sure, but not my kind of stuff. Not exactly the Paul Simon level of poetry or the Randy Newman level of irony or the John Lennon level of imagery. But the kids seemed to like it and you could dance to it....

Then Bad seemed to be the begining of the end. (I guess, again, not following closely.) Then all the child molestation accusations.

I make no claims to knowing the truth about that; it's very easy for me to imagine that he was both remarkably inappropriate and yet not sexual. Find someone without an ulterior motive, you know?

Lastly there was Jeff Goldblum, who didn't die but instead had the honor of being the fake death on the day when Farrah and Michael died. (Have you ever noticed that? Celebrity deaths are often followed by a fake celebrity death. I thought that immediately when I heard the rumor.)

Weird as it might sound, I'd probably take his death the hardest. I've always felt a kind of kinship with Goldblum whether he was turning into a fly, running away from dinosaurs or chasing lectroids across the eighth dimension.

So, glad you're still with us Jeff. I'm afraid Walter is probably next in the queue.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Freeblogging!

The inimitable Freeman Hunt has had a blog for quite some time, but I never linked to it because she didn't blog much. But since the new baby came around she's stepped it up a bit, so I added her to the roll. She has a couple of posts I wanted to call out, too.

Item the first: He Is Not Coming. This is a rather depressing and scathing indictment on modern society, not entirely undeserved. But I'm not sure I agree with the conclusion. How many people 235 years ago fit the mold that Freeman outlines? A small percentage, to be sure. We have a much smaller percentage today, to be sure, but we also have one-hundred times as many people (in this country). The percentage can afford to be smaller--with the only rub being that there has to be an appreciative audience.

I believe a segment of the audience is getting more receptive with each passing day.

Also, while The Boy and I are looking at learning Latin (on Victor Davis Hanson's advice), I would note that the Founders did not know the language of relativity, of computing, of information science and so on. The game has changed and education needs to reflect that. Today, the primary skill may be knowing how to sip from the firehose.

The past had its festering effete as well, even if today universal education and socialism has allowed them to spread their disease as a philosophy.

Finally, I'm not sure we need a "he". I think we need--and may have--a "we". That's where the "he"s and "she"s will come from. We don't need a revolution: We need a hundred revolutions. The rot came from the top down; the cure will come from the bottom up. Economics may work better supply-side; liberty must needs be demanded.

Item the second: Freem also linked to a blog called "Life is Not a Cereal" with an entry on what to do if your homeschooling kids get "school envy".

Homeschoolers are not immune to "grass is greener"-itis. This is almost entirely resolved by acquainting them with the realities of industrialized schooling? Yes, those kids get to have recess. But, yes, they must take it, whether they want it or not, it is always an exact amount of time, and hell, you never know when you're going to be stripsearched.

As the entry also points out a little bit of consumerism can take the edge off: Let the kids buy "back to school" supplies or lunchboxes, for example.

Finally, it's not unheard of for homeschoolers to let their kids take the senior year of high school. Certainly there's nothing wrong with that, though it's preferable that they have their college degrees first.

Anyway, check out Freem's blog. Oh, especially these pictures from her grandfather from 1952. She claims they're military but they look an awful lot like The Thing From Another World to me....

Well, If You Won't Come...

...then you're uninvited!!

Seriously, I'm just keeping my head down on specific political events, but this cracks me up. It was kind of a weenie move to begin with and the rescinding looks particularly foolish and week--and sooooo junior high.

You know, maybe comedians aren't joking about it now, but the time is going to come when it's recognized that this is the funniest administration ever.

The Taking of Pellham 1, 2, Profit!

There's a 1995 movie directed by a guy by the name of Mike Sedan (who I want to blog about some time) called Lap Dancing that I think of a lot. As the title suggests, Lap Dancing involves strippers, and the movie is about half angst-ridden sleazefest, and about half stripping routines which are largely not related to the other half of the movie. And the thing that struck me when watching this movie (on "Joe Bob Brigg's Drive In Theater", I think) was, "Wow, Sedan must really think strippers are boring!"

You see, any real stripping routine--any stage routine--is designed to be seen from a relatively static viewpoint: That of the crowd. (I've never been in a strip club, but I've seen the pseudo-documentary Stripper, so I'm an expert, okay?) Instead, the camera was jumping all over the place. If there was anything exciting about the routine, it was completely lost in the camerawork.

That thought has recurred over the years: "Wow, this guy must really think what he's filming is boring."

I think it a lot during Tony Scott movies like The Taking of Pellham 1 2 3. Scott using so many frenetic camera tricks in one of his films, I wonder if he has no faith in his stories. The buzz on this movie has been pretty mixed, too.

It was Father's Day, though. What was going to take him to see? The Proposal?

On top of that, my dad held little fond memories of the original, but free popcorn is free popcorn.

And it was actually pretty darn good.

The premise is preposterous, of course: A group of ne'er-do-wells (led by John Travolta) capture a subway train, with the intention of ransoming off the passengers.

Kinda kooky, innit? A subway's not exactly like a plane. You can't take it anywhere. The exit strategy, as it were, is problematic, to say the least. But Scott is no stranger to dubious plots, and he handles this pretty well.

Managing the crisis is everyman Denzel Washington--who's maybe too good looking to be an Everyman but surely gives Tom Hanks a run of his money in that area--as the guy who "takes the call" and rises to the occasion.

For all his flashy camera work, Scott knows where the drama is--between Travolta and Washington, and lets them do their thing. And they do their thing very well indeed, reminding me of another movie where two top-notch actors played off each other in what was generally considered a flawed movie: The Negotiator.

But I can watch that one over and over again--the little nuances of Samuel L. Jackson as he interacts with Kevin Spacey being very compelling. I can't say for sure this is in that category but it did keep me entertained.

Of course, this is an action flick, which is kind of tough when the two principal characters are: 1) holed up in a subway car, and; 2) sitting at a desk at the transit authority's office. Scott remedies this by having a cross-city car chase which is over-the-top and gratuitous but, hey, keeps you awake, right?

Supporting actors include John Turturro and James Gandolfini, who are also always compelling.

The only real problem I had with it is I could see three or four logical things the bad guys could've done to make their lives easier. Just painfully obvious stuff. A little trickier was the fact that Travolta tends to be very likable, but he's a cold-blooded murderer. (This isn't a light caper movie.) He was believable, but that particular aspect didn't quite sit right with me.

But, overall, a good, fun movie. All three of us liked it, including The Boy, who isn't really inclined to like these sorts of things, and my dad, who was carrying around baggage from not liking the original.

So, not really sure what the bitching is about.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

You Were Saying?

Quoth commenter Knox in the "Core Muscles" post:

Eventually there will be a "look" and then a "procedure" for every square inch of the body.

Reconstructive taint surgery can't be far behind, can it?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Five Dollar Baby

No, not a million dollar baby in a five-and-ten-cent store. A five dollar baby. The five dollar baby. Follow:

I mentioned here that The Boy and The Flower are both lawyers.

It's not hard to figure out: They both learned quickly that they couldn't get what they wanted through tantrums. An appeal to an authority called "The Parent Rules" dictated that, if a child had a tantrum, no matter how much a parent wanted to, there was just no way a child could get what he wanted.

This is an effective, if initially confusing, strategy. Because you say, "Oh no! Now I can't give you the toy because you had a tantrum! I'm so sorry!" And the child becomes confused because he was sure you were the one keeping the toy from him, and yet here you are expressing regret that you can't give him the toy.

But, you know, that's really the truth. You want to give your kids what they want. It's just good parenting that prevents you from doing it.

Anyway, this doesn't work with The Barbarienne. The slightest refusal--and there are many in a three-year-old's life--sends her into paroxysms of grief and/or anger. I haven't quite figured it out. She doesn't get what she wants from it. But there's obviously some "reason" she does it anyway.

But it wasn't always this way. Babies are funny things. There are things you can see on Day 1 that are there on Day 10,000. Essential characteristics. My sister started screaming the day she was born, and she's still screaming. I was quiet; I'm still quiet.

Some babies cry a lot, some sleep easily, some fuss, some like to be held more than others, and so on. The Barbarienne seldom cried, and slept like a log. Nothing bothered her.

One summer weekend, when she was six months old, we went up to some friends who lived across from Magic Mountain. We barbecued, swam in the pool, and watched the fireworks go up from the park. In five hours, the Barbarienne didn't cry, until the very end of the night when she was exhausted and needed to be changed. And as soon as she was changed, she went right to sleep.

My friends, who were debating whether or not to have children of their own, got into an argument. (Not a bad one; they're the sort of couple that has cute arguments all the time.)

The wife said, "You see, babies aren't that hard. They're not much trouble."
The husband replied, "This is perfect-baby. She never cries. Regular babies are difficult!"
And the wife responded, "Lots of babies are just like this!"
Finally, the husband said, "Five dollars! I'll give you five dollars if you can find another baby like this!"

Hence, the Barbarienne became The Five Dollar Baby.

She was definitely rare, in my experience. I'd like to think it was the culmination of nearly 20 years of experience with the whole gestation/delivery/infant management process that made it possible, but it could just have been luck.

Anyway, at eighteen months, she completely changed and became The Barbarienne. "So, she's going through terrible twos early," I thought. My kids do that, so no big deal.

Er. Yeah. It'll be two years of terrible twos pretty soon here. Why do I feel like this is going to be my life ten years from now?

You See, Bob, It's A Problem Of Motivation

One of the advantages of home-schooling is that you can motivate your child idiosyncratically. In fact, education should be idiosyncratic: Just logically, you want to maximize what your child learns, so you should really direct it as gingerly as possible.

A simple example is reading material. The most successful English classes I had gave broad parameters for reading material. Meanwhile, the books that everyone has to read, are often loathed for the rest of the student's life. And very often (kaffcatcherintherye) they're more about what the teacher thinks will be important and long-lasting versus what actually is.

And, of course, what is important? There are a lot of gray areas.

But I think it's generally safe to agree that the reading and writing material handed out to early grade-schoolers is pretty worthless. (Same with music handed out to people learning the piano, too! It's almost like they want reading or playing to be boring.)

So, how to motivate a first- or second-grade reader? Reading's not so much an issue for The Flower. She likes to read in bed at night.

But writing is more of a problem. First of all, it's an obsolete skill! (No, really, The Boy's notes all have to be typed!) But setting aside the issue of writing-by-hand, there's a matter of what to write.

What motivates The Flower? What makes her want to write and re-write and write some more?

Contracts.

She's drawing up contracts delineating her rights and responsibilities, what services will be rendered against what the rumener-- renumer-- what she's gonna get paid.

Another lawyer.

Well, The Boy went through that phase, and it's passed. So, there's always hope.

Adolescence

Previously I linked to Knox's comment where she linked to the Glenn and Helen show where they interview Robert Epstein on adolescence, and a test designed to measure how adult one is. As you can see here, I just got carried away snarking on the test, which is actually pretty interesting.

More importantly, I agree with the basic topic: Adolescence is a bad idea. I'll never forget sitting down to my first college course and thinking, "WTF? We could have done this five years ago!"

Even allowing for my high level of comfort with school--I'm a chronic test taker, read for fun, quite good at sitting still for long periods, basically made for school--college is way too late for just about everyone. The Boy, while fine in school, is nowhere near as comfortable and casual about it as I was, and he's doing just fine in his class. (And he got a strict teacher, he has to turn in his notes, etc. This will work out excellently for him in terms of giving him real world experience for taking more classes.)

Anyway, I love the way the guy, Epstein, attacks the "teen brain" thing. That kind of stuff--the sort of vague assertions made by some segment of brain scientists--always smacks of phrenology to me. Teenagers used to be plenty responsible. Inexperienced, but not stupid.

In fact, the most plausible suggestion I've heard about adolescence is that it was created by trade guilds (unions) as a way to eliminate competition.

Well, let's be honest: It's hard on the ego. If we let teens work, they'd end up being better at what we do than we are. I mean, sure, we have experience, but they have energy, alertness, enthusiasm--and putting them to work early is the best way to blunt that. Wait, no, that's not what I meant to say.

Seriously, though: Teens will work hard, for little money, and they're eager to assume more responsibility. Adults should be afraid of them entering the workplace sooner--they would threaten our ability to slack!

Of course, if we were shrewd and up to the challenge, we could harness their energy in useful ways, and create a brand new, powerful, responsible demographic, and use our experience to direct them in ways ushered in a new era of wealth for everyone.

As always, the kids are all right. It's the adults that are the problem.

All The Awful Things That Ever Were

In response to the previous post on The Boy's college career, Knox linked to the Glenn and Helen show where they interview Robert Epstein on adolescence, and a test designed to measure how adult one is.

I got an ""Adultness" Comepetency Score" of 90%. Double-scare quotes! The quotes around "Adultness" are theirs, mine are around the whole phrase. I'm pretty sure you have to be quite mature to use double-scare quotes.

The results page then lists your scores by subject matter. Of course, I'm an old time test-taker. I could get whatever score I wanted. I answered some of the questions "incorrectly" because I they were phrased badly.

For example, "You can earn a high school diploma by completing high school or passing an equivalency test. Do you agree?" Well, no, I don't, because it's not true. You can take the GED--though the current California system bars you from taking it pretty much until you're 18, take that! you overachievers!--but even if you take the GED, you don't have a high school diploma, and you won't be treated like you do. (This is along the same lines of The Boy getting his MBA: Getting the sheepskin is about him having options should he need to get a job, even if his current plan is to be an employer rather than an employee.)

I thought it was amusing that I scored 100% on the "managing high-risk behaviors" section. This (for me) has nothing to do with being mature. I just don't find most high-risk behaviors entertaining. I guess driving counts. But guns? Very few people are accidentally hurt by guns. Guns are meant to be deadly; power tools probably claim more casualties. Cars do by an order of magnitude.

I scored quite badly on the "physical abilities" section (56%). I see what they're getting at: An adult realizes that he has to take care of his body. But even at my peak fitness, I never regarded myself as "strong" or "flexible". Those things are relative. And I tend to look at those things--not just physical fitness, but also intelligence--in terms of where they fail (almost always sooner than where I'd like).

Kinda sucks that poor health makes you less adult than a teenage football player.

The more legit one is "Personal Care". Legit in the sense of being less a relative use of words, versus actually being accurate. My score there was 78%, but I know it's because I sacrifice elements of personal care (sleep, in particular) for my children. And I suppose most people don't really have to do that regularly, but the questions are completely context free, and any adult knows that there are plenty of circumstances where you do sacrifice optimum personal behaviors for your children.

But then, as an adult, I know better than to put much stock in an Internet quiz.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Boy Goes To College

We had planned to send The Boy off for the winter session, but it's a really, really big deal around here to get a 13-year-old in. The Dean has to give personal permission, papers must be signed, oaths sworn, etc. This all magically vanishes at 14.

Bureaucracy is a wondrous thing.

Not complaining, mind you: There's still plenty 'round here to teach him.

Anyway, The Boy is at his first class today. Summer session is a dicey time to start. Classes are relatively intense (two hours a day, every day) and, of course, you have the "teacher factor" magnified. An easy teacher is probably going to be extra easy in the summer, while a harder teacher is going to concentrate all the work he'd normally give into half the time.

He wanted to take a business or economics class--he's got his eye on an MBA before 20--but they were full. I suggested the cinema class. I figure that it will be interesting, and I hope not to grueling--but it will get him used to being on campus. (And get him some legit university credits.)

Update to come shortly.

Bein' A Dad

Bein' a dad isn't so bad
Except that you've gotta feed 'em!
You gotta shoe 'em and clothe 'em
And try not to loathe 'em
Bug 'em and hug 'em and heed 'em

Bein' a dad can sure make you mad
Man it even can drive you crazy
Yeah, it's as hard as it looks
You gotta read 'em dumb books
And you end up despising Walt Disney

Bein' a dad starts to get radical
When they turn into teenagers
You gotta tighten the screws
Enforce the curfews
Confiscate weapons and pagers

But a daughter or son
Can be sort of fun
Just as long as they don't defy you
They'll treat you like a king
They'll believe anything
They're easy to frighten and lie to

Bein' a dad
Bein' a dad

Bein' a dad can make you feel glad
When you get paperweights and aftershave lotions
Yeah, it feels pretty great
When they graduate
That's when you're choked with emotions

But bein' a dad takes more than a tad
Of good luck and divine intervention
You need airtight alibis
Fullproof disguises
Desperation is the father of invention

So sometimes you take off
For a few rounds of golf
And you stay away for half of their lifetimes
The result of it all is
Is you're captured
And hauled up
Before a tribunal for "dad crimes"

Bein' a dad
Bein' a dad

Bein' a dad can make you feel sad
Like you're the insignificant other
Yeah, right from the start,
They break your heart
In the end, every kid wants his mother

Bein' a dad

--Loudon Wainwright III
(Link to song with goofy video.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Core Muscles

I forgot to mention in the Wii post that the Wii Fit talks a lot about core muscles.

I had not heard of "core muscles" prior to the Fit, though I did intuit what they were. Especially when they became "those things that hurt" after doing the Fit's balance games--which are, in essence, all about leaning slightly one way or the other.

Althouse has a post about this, though with not much commentary, referencing a New York Times article on how people are wrecking their backs in the quest for washboard abs. I had a couple of thoughts.

Like, first, if they meant "abs", they would call them "abs", not "core muscles". There was no stigma attached to "abs", such that they, like stewardesses, had to seek a new name. If the secret to great abs was just "exercise your abs a lot", well, that wouldn't be much of a bloody secret now, would it?

Second, I used to be really skinny. This was a time when I could crank out a hundred sit ups, and was required to, actually, as part of my martial arts training. Never had six-pack abs. I never thought of it as something to strive for. In fact, I thought--and still think--it's a little effete to focus on that sort of thing.

Third, when did washboard abs get to be the thing everyone had to have? What's wrong with a nice, flat stomach? Or even a slightly rounded one? And if they're so gosh-darned important to have, why can't people face just doing what needs to be done to get them without wrecking their bodies?

OK, I've gone into full Andy Rooney mode, which means it's time for this post to end.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wii-dux

We recently passed the One Year mark on the Wii Fit board--we had one pre-ordered, actually. Sort of amusingly, I'm the primary user of the board, though I'm sporadic. The Boy used it for 8 hours one day, got all the high scores, took his blood sugar down to alarmingly low levels--interesting that--but then never cared to use it again.

The obvious distinction there is that The Boy is definitely a hardcore gamer. (I've been one in the past, but it got difficult to keep up 'round about kid #3.) The Wii isn't really about hardcore games. We have a few, but they don't get much play.

Of course, what the Wii is about--the reason it comes close to outselling the XBox 360 and the PS3 combined--is a simple physicality that makes it both accessible and interesting in a way that thumb twitching is not.

What's less obvious, of course, is that--particularly with the Wii Fit--the physicality isn't all that interesting to The Boy, at least in part because it's just way too easy for him. And this is before he started doing his current program, which he says has really improved his reflexes. (The other part, I think, is that hardcore gamers tend to want to minimize any exertion between their intention and action.) But it's not that easy for me, which I take to be a sign of "aging".

And, when I say "aging", I of course mean "any deterioration I can attribute to forces outside of my control, regardless of actual causes, particularly causes that I might not want to address."

Anyway, one of the tests on the Wii is to stand still--well, really to balance. If a kid can hold himself still, it's just a matter of standing very still and with weight distributed equally on both legs. I'm pretty sure this was never a problem for me before. I mean, I do okay on the test. Very close to perfect. But this and a lot of the other tests (shifting weight, standing on one leg) seem challenging in a way I don't think they would've been a "few" years ago.

I used to do all kinds of karate maneuvers on one leg (which is of dubious practicality, but that's a discussion for a different time). But not having had the technology at the time, it's hard to say how much (or even whether, he suggested optimistically) of a deterioration there's been over the years.

Meanwhile, I've wrested quite a few of The Boy's high scores away.

It's just a temporary respite, of course. The Flower and I played a couple hours of Wii Sports over the past few days, and she can give me a run for my money--beat me, even--on tennis and baseball, and her bowling skills are coming up. She doesn't quite have the light touch needed for golfing, and nobody can really touch me on boxing. Well, yet. Give her time.

All's not perfect in the Wii world, of course. As much as I love the Wii, it's more a tantalizing taste of the future than a great implementation. The wiimote suggests a time when true motion capture will be used to interact with games--and perhaps other software, though I think contra Minority Report, big gestures aren't going to ever be the norm--and the new MotionPlus is supposedly dynamite, but the games do show the limits of the motion control. (Of course, at the other end, you have complaints that the MotionPlus is too sensitive. There's a lot of frontier to be crossed, technologically speaking.)

Worse, despite the killer console sales I'm not seeing a lot of games that really embrace the motion, and the whole gaming support industry is really not set up to distinguish between traditional hardcore games and games that use the motion system effectively.

Then, there are minor issues. I think the Wii Fit board is too narrow. (I'm used to a wider stance from my karate days, and one size fits all doesn't seem optimum.) Also, there's a lot of nagging. I understand why it's in there, but it does seem condescending at first, and--after two years--irritating. It's all designed to be gentle, but needs to be a lot more easily dismissed after the 200th viewing.

Still, we've enjoyed the console, and I foresee it having another three years life, easily, on our shelf. I don't see replacing it with a button masher ever though.

Sadder Than A Really Sad Thing

It was sad that I went to eat a veggie dog. (It doesn't matter that much: Put a bun around it, slather in catsup, mustard, relish, pickles, sauerkraut and sawdust, and it doesn't matter what the hot dog is made of. A fact hot dog vendors have relied on for years.)

It was sad that I dropped the dog.

It was really sad that The Big White Dog picked up the dog whole.

I had a moment of hope when The Big White Dog spit it out without having bitten into it.

But then, there was this dog on the floor. So I called the Little Black Dog over.

Sadder than a really sad thing? The Big White Dog snatched the veggie dog up and swallowed it whole.

Worse than kids.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Things That Have Ruined The Internet, Part I: "Free"ware

So, I went to make a recording. (I'm not much into recording. I prefer to let any given performance, warts and all, be ephemera. I find myself more easily convinced by the praise of others when there are no records to disabuse me.)

I fired up SndRec32, the multimedia extravaganza application built-in to Windows (my only mic is on my Windows laptop, though thinking about it now, I could've booted it to Ubuntu, hmmm) and recorded for about 3 minutes.

'course, SndRec32 stops recording after a minute. You can force it to go in minute increments with some trickery but I thought, shoot, I could put together a simple recorder in 5 minutes. (Might, even.) Surely, there would be a plethora of simple sound recorders.

Which brings me to something that's ruined the Internet: A proliferation of pages offering "free" software that tops any search you do, where the software isn't free at all--or the download link for the free software is almost completely occluded by a bunch of links to paid software.

I ended up downloading a program called AVS Audio Editor, a "full featured audio editor", which was so not what I wanted. (I just wanted a slightly less dumb SndRec32, fercryingoutloud.) But what the hell, I figured I'd try it and see. If it were a genuine limited-use software I might stick with it. (For what I need, I don't really want to pay $40. And even more than the $40, I don't want the overhead of keeping track of some registration key and upgrading, etc. etc. etc.)

So I hunt around on this massive panel for a "record" button, set up the microphone (oh, yes, it required setup, because this is a Serious Audio Application) and got to recording. Recorded my three minutes again and used the special effects panel to boost the rather soft results. Went to save and discovered that the "trial" version inserted a blank second for every 5 seconds or so of recording. In other words, you couldn't save.

Well, fine. I guess. I looked for a free app, instead I got a non-free one by mistake, and it was so crippled and annoying that there's no chance, ever, that I would buy or even use this application. Of course, I uninstalled, but nothing ever really uninstalls in Windows.

And it's all due to these jerky pages serving these "free" apps and, besides plastering 10 ads on the page, hide the legit app to full you into downloading a fake one.

I miss BBSes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Etsba Elohim: Out Of The Blue

"I have an idea. Let's have coffee." So suggests Shabtai to his cousin Herzel, but falls asleep before the coffee is ready. He has a dream of a beautiful woman speaking intimately to him and, on waking, discovers that the woman is real--in fact a national celebrity, model, singer, businesswoman named Lili Dekel. He then constructs a fantasy story of his relationship with Lili while Herzel listens, entranced.

So begins Yigal Bursztyn's delightful little movie Etsba Elohim, featured in the 24th Israeli Film Festival in America as Out of the Blue.

Shabtai and Herzel are junkmen, buying and selling old furniture on the streets of Tel Aviv. Shabtai is married and lives in a small apartment with his wife, Rachel, and his daughter Batya, while Herzel, an orphan, lives alone in Shabtai's warehouse.

Shabtai is lazy, surly and unfulfilled, while Herzel is his simple, cheerful sidekick who does most of the work, and becomes increasingly enamored of Shabtai's fabrication. He hatches a plan for them to meet Lili Dekel which ends up taking some very funny turns.

Herzel is spurred on by his infatuation with Shabtai's daughter, a young (high school?) girl who likes getting gifts from him, but seems a little dense as far as understanding his intentions. (Which are honorable, but pretty inappropriate.)

The twist of this movie is that Lily finds herself attracted to Herzel, while he's doing everything he can to direct her to an increasingly hostile Shabtai. In fact, Shabtai seems to have a penchant for freezing up in a clinch. And we begin to wonder why Herzel is so loyal--and he is, even when Shabtai treats him very badly indeed.

Anyway, good fun. You probably won't have a chance to see it, without going out of your way. Israel seems to turn out a bunch of good little movies that don't get much airing over here. (See the 2004 charmer Ha Ushpizin for example.)

We actually saw it "by accident". There's another movie called Out of the Blue, a 2006 crime drama with Karl Urban which IMDB linked to instead of this one. I kind of figured it wasn't the one showing--I knew the Israeli film festival was at the theater. I like to know a little bit more about things going in, but at 90 minutes, it wasn't a huge risk.

Though it was $12 a ticket. Yow! Painful. But always easier to swallow when the money's going to some struggling film auteur.

Anyway, no regrets. Lots of fun. Actually enjoyed it more than The Hangover.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"I Believe In The Principle of Free Speech But...

...shut up already!" Or so says Althouse in this post. I assume it's the "but" she objects to, so apparently if you believe in anything less than absolute freedom of speech all the time, she doesn't want to hear it.

I feel for her. Her blog's been inundated with trolls at a time when she probably couldn't be much less interested in maintenance issues. But I've never seen an online community with an absolute freedom of speech rule that wasn't ultimately destroyed by that devotion.

The logical paradox I see is that she's not rebuking the trolls, who are acting in bad faith, but she is rebuking people who bitch about the trolls, even though they're acting in good faith. So why is free speech an absolute for trolls--but not for troll haters?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Very Badly Hungover Stag Things

I always warn people when they ask for movie advice: "Keep in mind, I loved the movie Very Bad Things." The fact that I love that movie, a dark comedy written and directed by actor Peter Berg as his debut feature, symbolizes all that is wrong with my sense of humor.

You should keep this in mind as we review another movie in the "Bachelor Party" genre. And, yeah, that hoary Tom Hanks flick is probably the progenitor of the modern form (there seems little connection with Paddy Chayefsky's '57 movie). Except that, in the '90s, the form went rogue and started involving dead strippers.

This brings us to The Hangover which, depending on whom you ask, is either the funniest movie ever or the most offensive movie ever. Truthfully, it's neither. Not even close. But it is funny.

And, no, there isn't a dead stripper in it. Or, at least I don't think there is. The twist in this stag film is that the main characters have no idea what happened the night before. (Attentive film students may remember this same device used relatively recently in Dude, Where's My Car?)

Is it offensive? You know, life on this planet has basically broken the needle off my offensensitvity gauge. I didn't regard is as such, particularly, except for a photo shown at the end of the film of one of the characters receiving fellatio from a transvestite. And this, primarily, because they needlessly used a prosthetic to make it look real.

There's a masturbation joke involving a baby that apparently offended some people. I can only assume they don't have, have never been around, and don't remember being young children, since the discovery of the genitals well proceeds any kind of respect for social standards about not playing with them all the time. Actually, I appreciated that there weren't a lot of fart/vomit/urine/feces/sodomy jokes. (I guess I'm more offended by banal repetition than actual content.)

This is really a silly movie, with the characters doing--and having done things while completely out of their gourds--that strain credulity. It never goes into fantasy (like Dude, Where's My Car?), never gets heavy (like Stag), avoids any sort of social commentary (like Very Bad Things), and veers away from the heavily slapstick. It really is more like Bachelor Party: Sort of sweet and good-natured, with a lot of jokes and amusing scene set-ups that are coarser without being mean, and which give the film a kind of shallow feel--sort of like someone exaggerating their "true life" Vegas story.

I was at a low chuckle throughout most, with a few LOL moments. I never fully engaged with the hilarity somehow. It felt like the story was actually written backwards, with writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) starting with a zany set of circumstances ("a tiger...a baby...one friend missing...") and trying to make sense out of how it all happened.

And perhaps it's just me, but this didn't have the ensemble chemistry of a really great comedy. I can't say I didn't like any individual actor--in fact I did like them all--but I'm being a crusty old dude by saying I felt like the timing and chemistry of Bill Murray's old comedies (with John Candy, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, et al) was a lot better.

That said, I give the movie props for avoiding the most clich├ęd outcomes. Much like Wedding Crashers (apparently script-doctored by Lucas and Moore), this movie ends up being relatively optimistic about marriage, about what makes a good relationship and a bad one, and relatively sweet about friendship--and in the long run, very positive about human nature.

In that sense, the reverse of both Stag and Very Bad Things.

Heather Graham--once white-hot, remember?--plays the escort with the heart of gold, to Ed Helms whipped dentist, Bradley Cooper is the glib high school English teacher, and Zach Galliafianikis is the weird brother-in-law, cause of and solution to most of the plot's problems. Justin Bartha, the groom, ends up being the missing one, and it was great to see Jeffrey Tambor as the future, overly-understanding-about-Vegas father-in-law.

Mike Tyson's in the movie. I thought the whole sequence with him was rather weak. It felt more like "Bwhahahahaha! We got Mike Tyson in our movie!" than actual cleverness.

I probably got the biggest kick out of Ken Jeong, who was also very funny in the previews of an upcoming movie called The Goods. He played the world's second worst obstetrician in Knocked Up and an ubergeek in Role Models. He's perfect here because you never know what he is. He seems both menacing and goofy.

And hey, he gives the movie it's full-frontal male nudity. (Something the 'strom predicted would be a trend back with Forgetting Sarah Marshall.)

Go in with your offense meters off and not too high expectations and you can have a fun time.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Stupid Graph Tricks

My pal Esther, who I hope hires me again someday soon, tweeted about Indeed.com, a site that tracks job listings over multiple sites and allows you to graph trends in relative and absolute terms. (She was lamenting the rise of squooshy terms like "social media" over terms like "editor" and "writer"--though anyone who's been involved with "social media" knows there is a desperate paucity of writers and editors out there.)

So, I did my own research--and after determining that nobody anywhere ever needs the skills I have--I went further afield, as encapsulated in the graph below:

As you can see, job opportunities for "sex", "drugs" and "rock and roll" have been on the rise over the past four years. What's fascinating--and by fascinating, I mean utterly meaningless--is how despite the way drug demands rise and fall, and sex demands spike then plateau, and rock and roll rises steadily, they all pretty much go up at the same speed.

So, I guess this means putting "sex, drugs and rock and roll" could only improve your job prospects.

Or maybe I'm not the sort of person who should be using these tools.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

White Devils

I detailed my eight month treadmill desk experiment here and also my water drinking, and noted that neither of them caused any net weight loss. I'm sure I must have swapped some muscle for fat in those eight months, but as the water drinking was accompanied with a reduction in my soda drinking habits, I was expecting some sort of net weight loss. But no dice.

Of course, I started doing the Reams program in solidarity with The Boy and, much to my dismay, it worked. So, now I'm eating a largely vegetable diet, with meat two, three (okay, sometimes four) times a week. And there are things I am not eating.

No white flour. No white sugar. No white potatoes. Also, no corn syrup, and really, I'm not supposed to be eating corn (unless it's white corn on the cob). I do have popcorn and soda at the movies.

Well, I guess it's not mystery where my extra pounds were coming from. I've lost 20 pounds in two months. Without any exercise at all. I'm not supposed to exercise too much yet though I am finally back on that a little bit.

My interpretation of the various food prohibitions fall into two categories: Some foods are bad because they are actually harmful while others are bad because they take up the space you'd normally have for nutritious food. Shellfish, pork, protein bars are examples of food in the actually harmful category--something about the high protein content. (Again, this is my casual impression. I'm not claiming to understand this.)

Sure has made weight loss simple, though. If you call this living....

Friday, June 12, 2009

When Numbers Get Serious

A week ago, The Boy and I took one of our not infrequent road trips to visit the dietitian. I've been a little suspect of his devotion to the whole regime of vegetables, and I thought he'd been a bit lax with some of his supplements (vitamins and minerals).

But the numbers came back great. Mine came back pretty good, too, which sort of surprised me, since they'd been so bad before. I'm allowed to exercise a little and eat a little meat. (This diet discourages heavy meat eating. Three times a week, maximum.)

I spent a year and a half as a mostly-vegetarian. That is, I didn't eat any meat during the week, but since I went home for weekends and mom considers vegetarianism a personal affront, I did eat fish then. It was actually very difficult for me to start eating meat again. I mean, just contemplating it was sort of appalling.

Weird, eh? Well, I just spent six weeks as an actual vegetarian and I assure you my celebratory hot turkey sandwich was quite welcome. (I'm not even a turkey fan but--well, I'm not going to food blog just yet, but the sandwich will be back.)

I could observe that I continue to benefit from this program, and The Boy continues to reduce his insulin, but I see the government has already established that alternative forms of treatment are pretty much universally bunk.

Well, not really: They've apparently spent $2.5B paying other people to test them, in God knows what fashion. I've linked to this guy, Phil Plait, instead of to the direct article because he captures so well the attitude I've seen of some: It's vitally important to them that nobody ever believe anything that can't be proven in a double-blind study.

Frankly, I don't think most of these things work, but since placebos (called "dummy pills" now, apparently) have something like a 20% success rate, I tend to think the placebo is under-prescribed. I mean, I doubt those "male enhancement" pills have any effect whatsoever, but if a guy believes that they do and benefits from that belief, how cruel to take that away from him!

Most of the programs I've seen that seemed very effective were not really pharmaceutical replacements, they were regimens. Lifestyle changes. You could argue (successfully, I think) that the gains were from a variety of banal things, rather than, say, distilled water or walnut tincture.

And I wouldn't really care if you did, so long as I'm free to do whatever crazy thing I want.

My concern, of course, is that the government will get both wrong: Prescribing things that don't work while proscribing things that do. In fact, I can guarantee you that already happens, routinely.

I'm In The Money?

At least, potentially, according to this New Scientist article.

It was actually never my plan to be a Data Scientist. And I don't really know anything about statistics, so I'm not quite there. I think it's probably right, though. We're at the point where we have tons of data, but nobody understand it.

I miss the '90s.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Phrases That Should Begin MORE Movie Synopses, Part I

A bikinied sky diver (Raquel Welch)...

--Fathom (1967)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How To Freak Out A Conservative

Fast forward the following video past where it shows that it's from The Onion.

Then call them over and play it.

Hilarity shall ensue.

Nursery University, or WTF is wrong with New Yorkers

Well, I say "New Yorkers" like they were all the same, but that's my prerogative as a guy from L.A. Really, of course, I'm referring to Manhattanites, who are like our West Siders: Wealthy, mostly white, socially conscious, status seeking, etc.

Not sure they're competing for spots in nursery school for their kids, though, which is what Nursery University is about. This documentary follows around some of these people as they navigate the overcrowded pre-school system in the hopes of pawning their spawn off on somebody.

Sorry. That was needlessly snarky. But I couldn't help but feel that some of these kids would be better off at home. Mostly, though, I found myself marveling at how old everyone was. This is not just prejudice, although I'd be surprised if any of the white folk were under 40. And one woman had twins at 57!

Isn't that nice? She's single, 57 and has twins, one of whom (the boy) pretty clearly has a brain injury. That's gonna be fun when she's 70 and he starts going through puberty.

The big question I had was whether these particular schools actually offer, you know, better education, or if it was just a matter of prestige in getting in and paying for them? It's not addressed clearly in the documentary but it's hard to believe that there aren't some reasonably good $15,000/semester schools that might be nearly as good. Or even $12,000. Laws of supply and demand being what they are, I couldn't figure out what the supply was so small given the degree of the demand. (According to one admittance person, the demand has been going on for five years. Certainly enough time for more schools to open up.)

The pre-school people themselves are quick to point out that the value of the nursery school education, while not insignificant (in some impossible to quantify way) is certainly exaggerated. This doesn't seem to encourage them to expand, but curiously, it also doesn't seem to encourage them to raise prices.

I suppose this is very indicative of my mindset. Normal economics just didn't seem to be in play. Making things more confusing was the fact that most schools used a lottery for admission! So, how prestigious could it be to get into a place that selects (at least in part) through sheer randomity?

And then I had a stylistic question, documentary-wise. When the kids that get into their schools do get in, was triumphant music really in order? I mean, what is it we've witnessed here, exactly? People who have chosen to live in this strange place, by these strange rules, have achieved some sort of victory.

So. Yay for them.

The minority couple from Harlem got into a school, too, along with some financial aid. But I just wasn't clear on what this was buying them.

This is probably because I'm not from Manhattan. And don't think much of status-based education. But I know this can end up being big money and opportunities, so I really had a hard time loathing the parents. Even the guy who seemed really gay and his South American wife were ultimately endearing. Though one can't help but hope that they wouldn't end up warping their poor children--particularly the family that relocated because their child wasn't accepted into nursery school.

It's a strange, distorted world. But, hey, it supplies "Law & Order" with plenty of plots.

Nice documentary. Not great. Left a lot of unanswered questions. But an interesting peek into that particular, peculiar world.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Gun Play

Guns are popular around Casa 'strom which is largely due to The Boy. I've done some gun blogging before--click here or on the "weapons" tag--but if I've written about The Boy as a driving force here, I can't find it.

Basically, I never had a toy gun until I started hanging out a lot with my friend who had a lot of toy guns, and I never held a real gun till I was about 30. And then only once. The Boy, however, loves weapons of all kinds, not least of all guns, so now we go shooting.

I've gotten worse over the years. I'm getting a little better over time, but I'm more subject to the whims of the day. (We go at night, so sometimes I'm tired when we get there.) The Boy, naturally, gets better and better. (With the occasional odd day where he's way off, though not so much since he's gotten his sugar under control.)

Last night, he selected a .22 pistol, which misfired like crazy--and it was the only .22 pistol around, so we swapped it for a .22 rifle. Rifles, of course, are easier to aim than pistols. Submitted for you scorn is my target:
The grouped ones, near-ish the center were done with the rifle. The wilder ones were the pistol.

And now, The Boy's:
The green and yellow shots around the heart were from the pistol. The pinkish holes were from the pistol. And his paper was curling in while he was shooting. Despite this, he put his last few shots through Bambi's head. The big holes in the heart come from shooting in the same place over and over again. The long streaky hole in the comes from the bullet's trajectory matching the curl of the paper.

This is probably the best he's ever done, which made me scratch my head a bit since we really haven't gone much this year. But The Boy has himself some BB and air guns that he loves and shoots around the backyard, so I wonder if that's part of the improvement.

Now I just have to figure out how to set him up a lane where he can practice with his throwing knives and such.

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 14: Teachable Moments

The Boy is playing "Left 4 Dead", blasting away at zombies while I watch.
"Oh, it's fast zombies."
"Yeah."
"I prefer the shambling types."
"Me, too. These are just ugly people who can't use guns."
"So, they're liberals?"
"Exactly."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Drag Me To Hell (but try not to scratch the floors)

Thirty years ago a bunch of kids went out to the woods and a young director made a balls-out horror movie by hanging from the rafters, attaching to cameras to 2x4s and running with them, and (according to some rumors) attaching cameras to motorbikes and nearly running down actors.

The uneven mess that resulted (Evil Dead) made an impact. It created a genre. Inspired a generation. Accidental camp and genuinely effective moments created a uniquely harrowing experience. I'd say it launched a career, but it was 10 years before Sam Raimi got a shot at a real movie (Darkman).

He remade Evil Dead as the much better Evil Dead II, which substituted the accidental camp and amateurishness of the first with an almost bizarrely acute awareness of how horror and humor overlap, and how you could make an audience laugh, squirm and scream at the same time.

This distinguishes it from the grimly serious style of horror and the wisecracking style. This is the William Castle-style, the James Whale-style, and it's remarkably refreshing. Raimi may try to gross us out, but there's no sadism in his film. At the same time, he's never letting his characters out of the vice: they don't get to laugh along with us, no matter how absurd the situations. And there are are a lot of absurd situations here.

The funny thing is, Sam Raimi claims to not even like horror movies. (Hence the near complete transformation of the Evil Dead series to action/comedy in Evil Dead 3, Bruce Campbell vs the Army of Darkness.) But there were occasions to think he missed the genre: The stark presentation of A Simple Plan and the horror overtones of The Gift certainly suggested it, but nothing moreso than the use of his Evil Dead camera tricks and stylistic approaches for the surgery scene in the excellent Spiderman 2.

Well, most (but not all) of those tricks are present in Drag Me To Hell. In fact, there's a seance scene that could have been right out of the original movies, complete with a floating body, and vocal distortions saying a line very close to "I'll swallow your soul." (The only thing conspicuously missing is Raimi's trademark zoom-stop, where the camera zooms in and stops when something makes a big noise.) Which isn't to say he doesn't have a few new tricks in his repertoire.

Still one thing hasn't changed in three decades: Nothing is scarier than an old woman with cataracts who vomits goo.

So, what do we have here?

Christine Brown is a girl from down on the farm who's trying to make her way in the big city, and has made it to bank loan officer. She's landed rich guy psych professor Clay Dalton and she has a nice home in the Hollywood Hills. (A little too nice, I think, to be realistic. It's not big, but those places are expensive.) Her big problem is that her boss is considering new-guy suck-up for the position of Assistant Manager, because she's maybe a little too sweet.

Enter the old gypsy woman. Yeah, you heard me. Next to ancient Indian burial grounds, there's probably nothing more hack. But it's okay. This is a carinval ride: The point is not breaking new thematic ground but to scare you with the familiar. (A harder trick if you think about it.)

Anyway, the gypsy is behind on her payments and already has had two extensions. But Christine's manager leaves it to her: extend again or foreclose. I won't say what she decides to do here, but I will say she ends up with a curse on her. 'cause, you know, that's what the movie is about.

This is a tightly compressed movie where Christine ends up terrorized by an evil spirit (called the Lamia) and she's got three days to get rid of the curse or end up being dragged to Hell (do not pass go, do not collect $200). Along the way, she gets beaten up, terrorized, betrayed and rebuffed in attempt after attempt to make things right.

She looks for help among the gypsies, with a spiritual reader, and finally with the Lamia's old nemesis. The climax of the film has the previously mild-mannered Christine pushing herself to the limit to rid herself of this curse.

And then there's the "twist" ending. The Boy and I were of two minds about it. We both saw it coming. I saw the device they used to set it up, but got distracted by the expertise of the execution. He thought, "Well, this is how they all end," and so was just disappointed by it when it finally came.

So, we both agreed: Excellent movie, disappointing ending. Again, the execution here is top notch. It's just the way Raimi chose to end it was just very typical.

Still, hard to complain: Genuinely good horror movies are few and far between. This one was, in turn, scary, funny, clever, involving, suspenseful, squicky and just plain fun.

I've heard that Raimi was disappointed with the third Spiderman movie, and has said that he wasn't given the creative freedom he was given with the first two. And also that that would be his criteria for moving forward. I tend to believe that, and would rather have him make fewer and lower-budget films he has control over rather than lots of big budget films he doesn't.

Don't drag me to hell for saying so.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

"Are you crying?"

"No."
...
"Maybe my eyes are tearing up a little."
"Did someone kick you in the nuts?"

(Discussion between me and my daughter during the first few minutes of Up. Her older brother is going to get a talking to.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

In For A Penny, In For A Pounding

I might as well go full NSFW here--well, not me, but this site which details WWII sexual psyops. The various countries embroiled in WWII used (or tried to use) sexual suggestions to demoralize enemy troops.

This site details the perversion, the anti-semitism, and the psychology used on your (great?)grand-parents to get them to surrender or turn back. In this day of "2 girls 1 cup" (never seen it, thanks) these pictures seem positively quaint, but they're not all blurred out so beVARE (as Bela Lugosi would say).

Interestingly, the author's thesis is that these psychological attacks had the reverse effect. The men would use the naked girl pictures as pin-ups. This tells you something very basic and true about beauty, if true. The picture--the promise of beauty, love and sex--completely overrides any text.

In the soldier's mind, it's the girl he's fighting for. And since she's in his mind, he's not likely to believe any of your libelous statements about her. She's Rita Hayworth in The Strawberry Blonde or Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not or maybe even Judy Garland in Love Finds Andy Hardy.

You're likely to just make him mad by suggesting anything else.

Palette Cleanser: A Totally Sexist and Inappropriate Objectification of a Woman Who, Through Sheer Genetic Chance

...or perhaps surgery, is rather more well-endowed than most.

Yes, that's what my doctor looked like, except she had a way better butt. (Also, she was middle-eastern.)

Again, though, it's her medical advice I'm following. So, maybe Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist isn't conpletely absurd. Well, someone who looks like her, anyway.

More On More: Beauty and Sexuality (Update at bottom)

Although the point of my tennis post was obviously to take a poke at Darcysport (who was my 25,000th visitor, by the way, thanks, Dar!), my return to the local clinic for the ear infection from hell, prompted me with one of those "let's take a closer look at those breasts" moments so common for the Althouse commentariat. (Weirdly, Althouse doesn't come up first for that phrase on Google, but someone linking to her iconic post does.)

The thing is, the doctor was stackedd with a double-D. I guess it was casual dress day, because she was wearing a form fitting sweater and tight jeans (which she also filled out spectacularly). There was nothing especially provocative about the outfit; it was simply her figure. What's more, it was the sort of outfit that wouldn't even have registered a blip on a less curvy woman.

Now, obviously, I didn't pull a Tex Avery Wolf thing. She's the junior in this medical partnership, I think, but she's been pushing a different approach from the head doc. And one that my other nutrionist-nee-MD agrees with, so I respect that.

But there's an interesting mix of life's unfairness all in this one little encounter. It's not fair that a woman, by virtue of her figure, risks being reduced to that figure, despite being an MD. It's also not fair that women get to be the sole arbiters of whether a glance is welcome flattery or perverted lust. Life is a lot less pleasant for everyone as a result, I think.

Large Breasts confer certain benefits on their possessors--er, when they're women--but also bring with them a lot of liabilities which can be particularly difficult for girls who develop early, since they also bring an appearance of maturity. (We'll just assume for the sake of a pleasant illusion that the pigs who leer and catcall after a girl would refrain if they knew she was eleven.)

And other girls (or even fully grown women) seem eager to impute to large breasts sexual promiscuity. Males, as well, but while they do it out of wishful thinking, females do it (apparently) out of jealousy. And not just promiscuity, but shallowness and stupidity.

I remember a friend of mine who worked as a bank teller telling me that a female bank robber had been very successful robbing banks in low-cut blouses, because the male tellers she would select couldn't describe her face. (She was allegedly caught when she selected a gay male teller.) This is probably apocryphal, and certainly more reflective upon men than women.

Then there's stuff like this from F My Life:

Today, I was buying an expensive pillow for my mother from a store clerk who wouldn't stop staring at my boobs. After paying, I saw an elderly lady who had dropped a bag, so I walked to help. I walked back to the clerk, who refused to believe I paid. The reason? He didn't recognize my face. FML

So, what does one do with the yin-and-yang here? Men are going to desire; women are going to envy. Desire and envy make a mess of a lot of things. (The solution is probably some combination of manners and logic, but if those two things ever took hold, breast ogling would be near the bottom of the list of important bad behaviors curbed.)

And it's not just breast size, but beauty. Media Lizzy writes on the perils of being beautiful, in particular as it relates to the Miss California case, and links to Melissa Clouthier on the same topic. I don't necessarily agree with either of them, but I do know that all beautiful women are plagued to some degree with assumptions of limitations in other ways.

Hell, I know women who dowdify themselves (in the sense of "make dowdy", having nothing to do with Maureen Dowd) in order to be taken seriously. (Then there is the Buddhist tale of the beautiful woman who scarred her face in order to be accepted into study, having previously been denied for being a potential distraction.)

I've been struggling with this post for a while, I think because I have no particularly profound insight--or even anything that rises above the banal. I like beauty; I particularly like feminine beauty. Prejudice, whether pro- or anti-beauty disturbs me.

But it doesn't surprise me that certain political elements seek to destroy what is beautiful. A devotion to beauty, like love, sex, family, religion and God, are things that the state cannot control. And what the state cannot control, it seeks to destroy.

Update: And how fitting that while I pondered this list, Playboy.com published a list of 10 women whose ideas (being right of center) were so appallingly hateful, it diminished their true value as sexual objects. Way to go Playboy!

And let's just round (heh) this out with a study that purports to tell what a woman is like (including how she feels about sex) based on her breast shape. Enough of the shapes are women who don't like sex to make me think it's based on the researcher's personal exprience.

Contributors