Thursday, July 30, 2009

How Stupid Are We?

I love my Google mail "targeted" ads. I've mentioned them before with regard to spam/Spam. I love it when I subscribe to a comment thread on Troop's and I get ads for dresses.

I've also gotten ads for kissing (women and men), ads for specialized kinds of computer hardware, travel options to India, volunteer organizations, and so on. I'm always intrigued by the non-obvious connections, and sometimes I click through out of sheer curiosity.

Of course, I get tons of Obama ads. Curiously, in the past month, they've gone from all positive, to about 1/2 being ads for things like "Obamunism" and anti-Obama program material. I suspect that reflects a sea change.

Anyway, back to us being stupid: Recently I got an ad for Health Care For American Now. And I clicked through because, honestly, I hear very, very little support for the...uh...Obamanation currently under consideration.

And I was greeted with this question (here's the link, if you like, I'll probably start clicking through out of spite, every chance I get): WHICH WILL IT BE? AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE, OR MORE MONEY FOR MILLIONAIRES?

We can ignore the stupidity of that dichotomy for now. We can ignore the notion that somehow Bush's tax cuts are all that stand between us and cheap health care. We can ignore the immorality of the basic premise: That it's okay to take money from people who have more simply because someone can think of a better use for it. We can ignore the economic thickness that presupposes that taking money from millionaires has no other impact other than to "spread the wealth around".

What requires monumental stupidity to ignore, however, is the notion that this will ONLY cost the rich a few of their ill-gotten shekels. This is exactly how the income tax started. A mere half-percent, and only on the most wealthy. They could spare half-a-percent, surely?

The Democrats so successfully beat the Republicans up with the income tax issue, that the Republicans finally caved--much to the shock of many Democrats of the time who were absolutely appalled at the notion of there actually being an income tax.

But it's okay, because this tax would never affect average Americans. And, no, we don't need to include a 10% cap on it because the American people would never stand for 10% of their income being taken from them!

And, hey, look at all those rich people not paying their "fair share" again! Wicked rich people, following the laws to minimize their tax burden! We need an Alternative Minimum Tax.

You know? At some point, you really have to be stupid if you think "it's only gonna affect those guys". It never just affects "those guys". Even the poorest of us end up paying, and not just indirectly through increased costs of everything, but through the inevitable VAT they'll pass to pay for this mess once it gets unwieldy. That is, almost immediately.

So, that's the question: How stupid are we?

The arguments never change. The results are always the same: incremental slavery.

How stupid are we?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Amendment That Would Never Be Passed Today

The pursuit of health being a necessary part of the pursuit of happiness, Congress shall pass no law abridging the rights of the individual to pursue it, nor respecting an establishment thereof.

Orphan: Orphanarium, Part Deux

One of the first movies I blogged about was the Spanish horror film The Orphanage. So it's only fitting to make my last movie blog about the new horror movie The Orphan. Except, of course that this has no connection with that Spanish film, and I'm not going to stop blogging as far as I know.

Other than that, there's a real poetry here.

Let me just say up front that this is a really, really solid horror flick. I mean, great. Up there with Drag Me To Hell but completely the opposite in tone: Deadly serious.

There was one problem, however: It's mid-summer, it's a horror film, which means it's hard to see it without there being a large percentage of assholes in the audience. And our showing had more than the usual amount. It's always male teens, of course, whose concept of masculinity is so poor, they feel compelled to prove it by "acting tough" during a horror movie. Half the audience was texting, too.

Really, I should have known better. And I do, but I forget because I'm not all that tied into "summer" and I usually go to the local art house where the big peril is the old folks.

Anyway, back to the movie. This is part of the "Bad Seed" genre, where a young couple (the annoyingly familiar-but-not-quite-identifiable-to-me Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiger) go to adopt a child to compensate for a recent stillborn.

There they meet the delightful Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) who makes rather good oil paintings and sings old show tunes, while not really blending in with the other kids. John and Kate (yes, that is the parents' names) decide to adopt this quirky kid and bring her home.

Where she immediately sets about killing all who stand in her way. OK, not really. In fact, the initial treatment she receives from her peers (and older brother) is pretty awful. Still, you're not quite sympathetic because she really does come across as malevolent.

The movie escalates bit-by-bit as Esther reveals more of her true nature and is required to take more and more drastic means to cover up her crimes. She's also clearly driving a wedge between John and Kate.

You know, I dislike this genre almost as much as I dislike "House of Usher"-type movies (i.e., movies where it's apparent from the start that the characters are doomed); I think it's kind of a cheap shot to jeopardize children and put them in the position of evildoers. (Roger Ebert, who gave this movie 3.5 stars said something similar about the late Gene Siskel. I think it's kind of sweet of him to bring his old partner up.)

Yet, this is a genuinely great horror flick; It manages to present many of the common genre tropes (murderous children, weird sexual overtones, etc) but without falling into the merely unpleasant or icky--the usual fate of such films.

Yes, there is a twist to this film. It occurred to me almost immediately but the movie rather adroitly made me forget about it until about the third act, by which time there were only a few ways the story could go and still make sense. Often after the big reveal, horror movies kind of peter out and coast along, but this one kept going right up to the very last moment.

A huge amount of credit has to go to the young actress playing Esther. (Sure, her Russian accent comes and goes, but it would in real-life, too.) Alternately beautiful and charming, and cold and psychopathic, she bears the brunt of conveying the horror. Kate must be believably menaced by Esther, and this comes off nicely, though the script gets a lot of credit there for not relying too heavily on any particular trope.

That is, when you have a menacing child, there are only a few ways to go to string the movie out, and this one hits them all, but none of them ridiculously hard. Farmiga is not entirely credible due to past history, but the movie doesn't rest solely on that. And she realizes Esther is off in a serious way, but not one that would justify drastic measures until the end. And then there's the whole social issue of "troubled children".

Again, that very delicate balancing act of "well, that's creepy" versus "well, that's just downright unpleasant".

Also true of Sarsgaard, who must be the bland, committed father who is unaware that he's being manipulated by his new daughter. (All fathers are manipulated, of course, it's just the unaware part that's bad. Heh.) Margo Martindale ("Dexter"'s woman in search of the perfect key-lime pie) plays the dull, easily manipulated psychiatrist--sort of a mandatory part for this kind of movie--infuriatingly convcingly.

The siblings (Jimmy Bennet, Aryana Engineer) do an excellent job as well. Interactions with other children are another way that these movies can go off the rails, but the dynamics are handled excellently and rather lightly, in the sense that the movies stays especially focused on Kate and Esther, rather than Esther and her siblings.

A lot of care and thought went into lighting, shooting, music, editing--nothing looks "phoned in". All-in-all, a very watchable horror flick. Not super-violent, but nonetheless very "adult themed"--not for kids. Two hours long, too, without feeling as long as some 90 minute horrors I've seen.

The Boy commented that he wasn't into it--I think he was especially distracted by the jackasses in the audience--but that it kept drawing him back in. That's about right. The movie really did overcome the bad audience.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra and writers David Johnson and Alex Mace don't have much in the way of credits, and at this point in my life I'm inclined to regard this film as kind of a fluke where everything comes together just so. Nonetheless, I'll be watching to see what they do next to see if they can duplicate their success here.

This joins the ranks of our "Best of 2009": The Brothers Bloom, Up and Drag Me To Hell--and it lacks the last's lame horror ending. So, you know: Check it out.

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 21: What, me, contrary?

Me: How about we watch Lilo and Stitch?
The Barbarienne: I hate that movie!
Me: You've never seen it!
The Barbarienne: I hate it!
[I cue it up anyway. The Barb watches entranced.]
[Half-way through.]
Me: So, do you like this movie?
[She shakes her head "No."]
[Movie ends.]
Me: Do you still hate this movie?
[She nods.]
Me: Should we watch it again?
[She nods.]

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Kevin Smith and The Haters of Twilight

I follow Kevin Smith on Twitter because, well, why the hell not? I like his movies (warts and all, I almost feel obligated to say) and his live talks are simply awesome. (Wait, what are we saying now, Darcy? Superhot awesome sauce?)

Anyway, he's at ComiCon right now and partaking in all the nerdiness therein. (I did go to the L.A. Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror convention as a kid and realized I was not as big a nerd as I thought. And it wasn't fashionable back then.) Anyway, he reports on Twilight fans being booed and points out the stupidity of that on a number of levels. Perhaps the most telling of which is: why the hell do a largely male population want to chase a bunch of teen girls away?

But nerd pride is severe. One simply can't be seen liking the wrong Star* franchise. There's probably some peer pressure but more than that, there's a need to feel better than others. Not just nerds, of course; you see the same thing among sport fans, whether they hate baseball and love football or the other way around.

Smith's certainly not afraid to rip things he doesn't like, so his message of peace across nerd factions struck me as kind of nice. (Especially given that he did take heat for it, and surely knew he would.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

And Away We Go!

I was sort of leaning toward seeing the dark S&M Nazi dissection movie Death In Love, but it seemed really inappropriate for The Boy and the more I looked at it, the more I suspected the few IMDB ratings that put its score in the 8s were from the cast, crew and family members of the cast and crew.

So, instead I took The Boy to see Away We Go, which opens with Burt performing oral sex on Verona.

Oh, well.

In fairness, it's a plot-crucial moment, and more funny than anything else. We learn a lot about the two characters both individually and their relationship with each other. So, it's one of your rare, non-gratuitous oral sex scenes.

It's also cute, as is the whole movie.

I was somewhat reluctant to see this movie, because it was directed by Sam "Taking Out The Trash Is An Existential Crisis" Mendes. And it does scrutinize the whole family thing, as Mendes is wont to do.

But let's scroll back a tick: This is the story of Burt and Verona, a 30-something couple that has just discovered that they're gong to have a baby. Verona's parents are deceased, and Burt's parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) have chosen this moment to take a two year trip to Antwerp.

Lacking any local support, Burt and Verona are now free to travel about the country in search of some kind of family role model.

That's right people: It's a road picture.

And it works! What's nice is that it doesn't work just because Mendes is a fine director and the actors (Maya Rudolph of Idiocracy and John Kasinski of "The Office") are very believable, but because the characters they're playing are very likable. Flawed, certainly, but very likable.

They doubtless represent a big chunk of the post-Boomer generations, too. With no real imperative to do much of anything, no real parental guidance to speak of, and an unprecedented amount of freedom, Burt and Verona are not the first to realize that they've got a kid coming and they'd better get their act together before it shows up.

Part of what makes them likable, though, is that they begin this long journey in an effort to figure out the best life for their child. And not in a everything-has-to-be-perfect way, but in a what-is-a-family way.

Their journey takes them to a family that just sort of hangs together because, well, that's what families do. They're sort of an unlikable group, but you do feel a kind of empathy for them.

Then we meet Verona's younger sister, who's a bit more adrift than she is. After that, it's Burt's cousin, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (who reminds us that she's a lot more believable as an insufferable New Age-y shrew than a Assistant D.A.) who nurses her kids well past the usual age, and shares a family bed (and more!) with the kids.

And so it goes. There isn't really a "normal" family here, but that's to be expected. And as awkward and uncomfortable as many of the scenes are, we always have Burt and Verona's ambition to do right by their kid.

This really was a pleasant surprise: lightly humorous, sweet and hopeful. I found myself slightly annoyed by the acoustic guitar folk music that's mandatory in these films, but that was probably more due to the previews leading up to this movie that looked and sounded just like the preview for this movie.

The Boy really liked it, too, way better than Revolutionary Road, and he brings a new understanding to his viewing since he had his movie class. We both agreed that the comedic and other light-hearted aspects made this a more watchable movie. And I thought it actually made the serious parts more profound than the relentless despair of the DiCaprio/Winslet vehicle.

It won't get the plaudits, though, so you'll have to be a little more aggressive if you want to actually catch this one.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Economic Mayhem in America

Years ago I was in a writing group, which was fun and educational. What I learned, primarily, is that there's a good reason most people are unpublished and/or unknown. That reason is usually that they're not very good (and I class myself in that category). But there were other reasons, too.

There were, for example, some excellent poets. But, you know, poetry. Some good writers wrote really unmarketable stuff. One guy wrote a very good episode of "The Golden Girls". (Hard market to break into.) Then there was Paul, who wrote plays.

Paul's play--the one that I read and later he actually managed to put up a few years later--was an interesting look at racial tensions in upstate New York, in which he used a clever device of showing two stories at the same time, where alternating scenes were in the different time frame. (And he cued it in a very plain way, making it easy to follow, which is the real trick.)

He's been doing short films since at least the early '90s, making me look like a schlub, and it looks like now he's taking on the financial situation with his series Economic Mayhem In America. (He's got collaborators, mind you; I don't mean to say it's all him. He's just the guy I know who's involved.)

If you have seven-and-a-half minutes, check it out:

Part 1. (About four minutes)

Part 2. (About three-and-a-half minutes.)

I'm particularly impressed by the technical aspects. There were elements of Public Enemies which were harder to look at. Not bad for $500. (I wonder if that scales: Could he make a feature for $6,000?)

As I said, check it out and forward it, blog it, retweet it, whatever.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 20: Lord of the Flies

[the Barbarienne has something cupped in her hand]
...
"This is my pet fly!"
[I lean in. She does indeed have a fly in her hand.]
"You do!"
"His name is Jeremy."
...
"Jeremy loves me. Jeremy hates you."
...
"No, Jeremy loves you."
"Good?"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Theory: Obama Is Stupid And Lazy

Now, don't get your knickers in a twist. I don't mean to suggest that the President does not have an average intellect. Possibly even an above-average, though seldom exercised, intellect. I'm not speaking of low IQs here, but of stupidity. (The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, who work with brain-injured kids are fond of pointing out that there's no cure for stupidity.)

He might even be a genius, though I've really seen nothing from the man to suggest that he's anything more than a competent parroter of other people's words. I don't believe for a second that he actually wrote those books; writers write pretty much all the time. But lack of achievement is no disqualifier of genius. This is neither here nor there.

Because even geniuses can be stupid about things.

Let me see if I can support this potentially controversial theory. See if you can follow my byzantine logic here.

First, I'm going to assume the position that Obama is, more or less, exactly what he seems. A sincere fellow traveler who is not feigning surprise when someone suggests that FDR's wild spending and experimentation didn't actually end the Great Depression.

Therefore, Obama genuinely believes that what he's done and what he's trying to do isn't going to harm the economy, or at least isn't going to harm the economy so badly that it won't rebound against his party in 2010, and himself in 2012. (I don't subscribe to the notion that he's deliberately trying to harm the economy to force us into socialism, as Althouse describes Rush Limbaugh as saying, although I think Teddy Kennedy has expressed such sentiments.)

Let's look at some predictions versus actuality, courtesy of Michael at Innocent Bystanders:
As any smart politician knows, when pitching a plan with such short-term predictions, you predict the worst-case scenario for if your plan doesn't pass, and predict what you think will actually happen with or without your plan.

Get it? That way, if your plan does nothing but line your cronies' pockets and feed the political machine, you'll get credit for the better-than-worst case scenario. And, you know, we're lucky when politicians only line their own pockets versus when they actually try to do something (like push sub-prime mortgage loans, help out banks or provide universal education and health care).

There's no way that he expected to be standing here, mid-summer, with egg on his face.

But, okay, he's a true believer. He thinks government spending--even just the unfocused, delayed throwing of money about--solves problems. That's just ignorance.

But now he's thrown money around. He's "bailed out" various industries. He's seen the effect. He's continuing to push for economy-damaging plans, though, and arguing that they'll actually improve the economy. (Some have argued, because things should be this way, liberals believe they must be this way.)

Now, there's plenty of history to look at here. You can look at the effects of government spending, at the effects of tax cuts, at protectionism, at unions, and you can see what these things do. You can also see these things at work all over the world today.

This is where the stupid comes in. Because in order to take in all this information and use it, you have to be honest. Now, you almost never hear about honesty as a factor in intelligence, but it is. You hear the phrase "intellectual honesty" like there's a difference, but honesty is honesty.

The left loved to attack W as stupid on these same grounds. But rather than talk about him, I think it's more useful to look at Clinton. Clinton followed a similar trajectory, on a longer curve, but he was smart enough to take credit for conservative policies pushed through by his Republican Congress when they worked. He was smart enough to pronounce the era of big government being over.

Now, his motivations may have been entirely selfish. There's no doubt that some modern Presidents seem to look at things in terms of lookin' good for history versus doing what's right. But I doubt very much that he was unaffected by the policies he saw working. (And, gosh, aren't both Clintons awfully quiet on the health care issue?)

Perhaps Obama is just slow: It's hard to give up cherished beliefs no matter how badly they fail in practice, and he'll eventually be forced to confront reality--say, if the nation takes away his majority in 2010.

But my theory is that he'll continue doing what he's doing. No matter how much evidence piles up against his beliefs, he'll stay the course.

That's stupid.

The other half of my perhaps controversial theory is that he's lazy. His idea of work appears to be going on TV to read a speech that someone else wrote. Charges of inexperience abounded in the last election, but even his defenders were at best able to defend him with descriptions of impressive sounding positions he had achieved, rather than things he had actually done.

Not that I don't admire this. I work very hard at being lazy. But apparently being President is a lot of work. You have to study constantly. Protocols, histories, and all manner of things from massive industries to peculiar local customs. Any time you take off gets scrutinized--even if you're not taking time off, but working remotely. (Well, okay, Obama's not a Republican so he doesn't have to worry about that.)

But I haven't seen any indication that he's done any of this homework. In fact, a great many of the gaffes we've seen--like running out and getting the British PM a bunch of DVDs he wouldn't like and couldn't use--just seem to come from not having bothered to study.

The more serious problems, like the business of pushing through laws no one has read, seem to come from relying on lawmakers' competence and general good-hearted, fellow traveler status.

I mean, in order to ram through a bill like the unwritten health care laws, you have to have a whopping faith in some unnamed lawmaker to write a clear and cogent description of a hugely complex and detailed area of society. Or you have to just not care.

And that's just stupid. And lazy.

But we should be grateful. A truly smart, hard-working socialist (or communist, why split hairs?) would have cut the payroll tax, slashed regulation, changed the mark-t0-market rules and "saved" the economy. (The government, of course, is the biggest suppressor of the economy, so it can "save" it by backing off.)

When the economy rebounded, our smart, hard-working politico would have pretty much free rein to set up whatever he wanted. Who would have the mojo to challenge him?

Kind of a chilling thought. But maybe it's not always a bad thing that politics seeks destructive, short-term solutions.

UPDATE #1: Evidence in support of my theory provided on July 22nd, 2009. Obama has a press conference to bolster his health care plan in which he takes the opportunity to call the Cambridge Police stupid--after saying he didn't know all the facts in the case. He had to have believed that this was going to boost his popularity. What's more, since he arranged all the questions in advance, he had to have specifically picked this topic and worked out his answer in advance on the basis of believing that America shares the far left's contempt for police and wanted to hear that from the President.

I mean, look, I have mixed feelings about the police. On the whole, I thnk they do a good job. But I also think they're often more protective of each other than the job. But I don't want to hear the President weigh in on this! It's almost up there with the President going around to foreign countries to apologize for America's actions. The President is supposed to be an America booster; it's minimum spec for the job!

Misadventures In Homeschooling

"Long ago people were so poor..."
"...they could not afford legs for their pants."

Harry Potter And The Sixth Movie In The Franchise

Well, we're in the homestretch as far as Harry Potter movies go, though the bastards have decided to milk the franchise by splitting the last book into two movies. As if you couldn't possibly do the story justice in 2 1/2 hours, you need a full five to tell it.

But that's a problem for next year. Or the year after that, depending on whether they decide to drag it out even further.

Now, about this latest movie, The Half-Blood Prince. Well, wait, before we get to the latest, I have to assume that you're aware of the whole "Harry Potter" world and its inconsistencies. 'cause the world ain't getting any more consistent. (Like, how, in the fourth movie, all three forbidden curses were performed in a classroom; in this movie, a non-forbidden spell nearly as fatal as the death curse in the fourth one turns up. And an incredibly fatal potion is brewed as a casual class exercise.)

But, really, you should be expecting stuff like that by now.

You should also be expecting this movie to follow the increasingly dark trend the previous four sequels have followed, and it does, big time. The Flower and I have a running gag that started with the biting candy from the fourth movie: "Harry just can't get a break!"

And Harry doesn't get much of a break in this one. It's literally darker, too, with very few bright days, so that even the lighter moments--and there are actually quite a few light-hearted moments, probably more so than in the previous film--still feel like darkness is weighting them down. John Williams' Teddy-Bears-Picnic-esque theme is completely gone, except for some echoes in Nicholas Hoopers' gripping score.

I was somewhat reluctant to take The Flower to see it, in fact, but she brushed off my concerns and really seemed completely unphased throughout the movie. (There's even a bird that dies--or appears to--and she was disappointed by that, but not upset. Maybe she's growing up?)

You should know that there is a major character death in this film. The Flower, apparently wise to the ways of the sci-fi/fantasy/horror story, was fairly confident the character would come back in the next movie. But even when I assured her that the character wasn't coming back--I think that's true--she was okay with it.

Your eight-year-old's mileage may vary. (Of course, if your eight-year-old is frightened, that might offer a respite

Anyway, this darkness is kind of interesting in contrast with the rampant sexuality in the movie. Don't get me wrong: There's nothing graphic about it. The movie is just rife with teenagers and love potions (as if those were necessary), and some light snogging ensues. This also did not trouble the eight-year-old, though she found much of it silly.

Meanwhile, there's a whole lot about this film that is truly excellent. The camerawork is the best of the series. The establishing shots are breathtaking, a few scenes look like they're from Romantic era paintings, and director Yates (on his third Potter film) is increasingly confident. (Or perhaps he's just being given more freedom with his successes in the previous films.)

There's also a lot of richness in this movie. Most of the tedious exposition has been gotten out of the way in the previous five films, and the characters are well-established. The kids are better actors, too, and while the story needs to focus more on the main ones, it's a shame that so many of the peripheral kids are barely in the film. (Never mind the adults, who can now add the great Jim Broadbent to their rolls.)

I'd give a special shout out to Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Bonny Wright (Ginny Weasley) who get some meaty, if not huge, parts they acquit themselves well with. I missed Katie Leung (Cho, from the previous two films) both as an actress and as a character. Did their relationship really end because she was forced to tell about the secret room in the previous movie? Seems unfair.

The action is brisk, too. The movie really flies by, despite the nearly two-and-a-half hour running time (not counting credits). The plot is...well, the plot. It works because the director stays focused on the simplicities as much as possible: Threats large and small abound, and survival is a tenuous thing.

The big reveal is very nearly stupid, however. If you're super-sensitive to spoilers, you may want to skip this paragraph, but what I'm going to "spoil" is the entire basis for all the movies prior to this, at least as I have understood them. Ready?

The big secret Harry uncovers is that Voldemort used some magic to preserve his life even after shuffling off his mortal coil in the battle with Harry's parents.
Stunning, eh? Didn't see that coming. If you were Dumbledore. OK, it's a little more detailed than this, but really, given that Voldemort spent the first four movies re-incarnating, you'd think a trivial stroll through the library's Restricted Spell section--a stroll that apparently any kid can take, would've revealed this mystery sometime during the previous 15 years of Harry's life. Or at least the last five years.

As I said, you kind of have to be used to this stuff by now. None of the movies make a lick of sense (and I understand the books aren't much better in that regard). But this movie does leave things in a very precarious spot indeed. Along with a path for resolving those things.

The Flower did not rate it with her favorite, The Prisoner of Azkaban. (She likes it when Harry makes the Aunt blow up like a balloon.) But she wasn't displeased. The Boy liked it, too, though it doesn't comport with his economic sensibilities.

And I liked it, too. I sure wish they weren't splitting the last book in two movies, though.

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 19: If You Don't Know Me By Now

"Of course I will. I'm your Dad. It's my thing. It's what I do."
"I thought not wearing pants was your thing."
...
...
"That, too."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sugar, Sweat and The Vanishing T-Zone

Our experiments in snake-oil continue apace. The Boy slipped a bit in his adherence to the program, so we've kind of been hanging fire for a couple of weeks. Even so, he's using half the per-meal insulin he was a couple of months ago, and starting to lower his daily insulin.

The interesting thing to me is how exact the predictions have been. Just as predicted, his blood sugar dropped low, and he had to lower his insulin. Then it came back up, so he had to raise it again. Just as predicted, he started spilling sugar in his urine; when it stopped we were to lower his insulin till it started again. And the cycle of stopping and starting was supposed to speed up, which it has done.

He's still not quite in the zone where things are really kicking in, which is a sort of frightening thought. Although diabetics are controlling for high blood sugar, the short-term danger is from low blood sugar, which can happen if his pancreas suddenly starts creating insulin while he's injecting insulin. (We've had a few rather low readings since starting this, but mostly The Boy has been very aware, very cautious and very diligent.)

Meanwhile, I've had a few interesting phenomena arise. My weight's held steady after dropping those 20 pounds (and the doctor looks concerned about me dropping more) though even though my weight hasn't changed in a month, people seem to be noticing more. So, I think something is happening. (I haven't gotten to my mom's gym for a fat test yet.)

On anther front, my "T-Zone" vanished, sort of. This is kind of amusing, because I can't seem to find anyone who remembers the "T-Zone" commercials. If you have oily skin (which I always have) but you have dry skin over your eyes, and down your nose, you have a "T-Zone". I forget what they were advertising, exactly, but it was probably some sort of moisturizer. (No, I didn't do anything about it. Why would a guy care if he had a "T-Zone"?)

Well, mine started getting extreme (as had happened occasionally before) with all kinds of dry, flaky skin, and then, over the course of a week, it started shrinking, until it was sort of an "i-Zone". Now it's just sort of the dot (the tittle, technically speaking) over the lower-case i.

The doc says, "Oh, that's just vitamin A deficiency."

Also, I'm sweating. I've never been a sweater. Em. I've never been one who sweats. I mean, sure, when working out in 100 degree heat in our tiny dojo back before it got A/C, I did some sweating. But not as much as other people by a long shot.

The theory being batted around at the time had to do with playing a lot of sports as a kid and developing your sweat glands at a young age. It's not a crazy thought, really: The body does a lot of things in reaction to activity. (You're not born with hip sockets, for example. They're created by the action of crawling.)

The theory might even be true. But my doctor offered another theory, since she has lots of guys who are suddenly sweating a lot: The body doesn't sweat because it's dehydrated.

Well, duh.

That's one of those things that's so obvious when you think about it, you feel stupid for never having thought of it yourself.

Weirdly, I've written a fair amount of (unpublished) fiction. At one point, when I took stock of what I had written, I became aware of how much I wrote focused on water. People being thirsty or dehydrated. (I even thought at one point of collecting all my water-themed stories together to make a movie.)

Wild, huh?

Even more interesting, according to this program, once you're up to snuff, your body actually makes most of what you need. You only take a couple of calciums (which are not in our foods, unfortunately).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

You vs. MacDonald's

One of the homeschoolers I follow on Twitter linked to this analysis of home cooked versus McDonald's burgers on a cost basis, coming to the conclusion that you could make McDonald's burgers more cheaply at home.

In fairness, the guy breaks it down correctly enough to say that you could make 16 burgers more cheaply than you can buy 16 burgers from McDonald's. But then you have to eat 16 burgers. Granted, at that size, you probably could, or a family of six could, anyway--but would you want to?

There's a dual edge to this, too, that makes it kind of a pointless effort. On the one hand, if you're making burgers, why are you making them MacDonald's style? Could you, really? Wouldn't you be tempted to get a slightly better cut of meat and use a little more of it? Put on a crisp slice of lettuce and beefsteak tomato (instead of just catsup)?

What's more, if you really are going for Micky D's style, you won't make it. Your children will tell you all the ways your burger is inferior to one of those enriched-flour encased quarter-sized patties. Or, at least, that's what kids did back in my day. (They'd also trash your ravioli if it weren't Ravioli-Os.)

You'll eat (at least figuratively, maybe literally) any mistakes you make, too. And the amount of time you spend prepping, cooking and cleaning up is going to well exceed the cost in time of going to the nearest franchise.

These days, you're unlikely to be able to beat a fast food franchise for overall cost. The exception might be El Pollo Loco, because they're rather expensive. (Their chicken is a lot closer to real food, which doubtless factors into it.) There is something to economy of scale in this case. Even if you can achieve the economy of scale that allows you to make 16 burgers at once, you're probably not going to achieve it on the same scale as the billions of burgers.

On the flip side, you can't hardly miss beating them in terms of quality. And you can be very selective about where you economize.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Everybody Must Get Stoned

Ah, women. Can't live with 'em. Can't beat 'em to death with rocks.

Oh. Wait a tick.

It's Iran! And the movie is The Stoning of Soraya M., based on the 1986 true story of an Iranian man who uses Sharia law to handle his marital issues in a creative manner. That is to say, he conspires to have her convicted of committing adultery.

I sort of have to be a little flip here because this is a grim story of an unfortunately common experience in Iran and other Muslim strongholds, and you know from the get-go pretty much how it's going to come out.

The build-up felt slow to The Boy but this is a story I think is done well, and reflects one of my favorite narrative flourishes: Even with the outcome being known in advance, a good storyteller creates suspense and a desire to see a different outcome in the audience. (I'm not a Stephen King fan, but he does a good job of this in Carrie. And, of course, that Shakespeare guy.)

There isn't really a lot to talk about, movie-wise. The acting is quite good. You'll probably recognize Shoreh Aghdashloo who is (in essence) the narrator, and Soraya's Aunt. You might recognize Mozhan Marnò from her work in Traitor or from the refugee camp scenes in Charlie Wilson's War. And so on. (American movies about foreign cultures tend to have the same A-List actors from that culture, so it's practically shocking that I didn't recognize anything from Kite Runner.)

There are a few directorial flourishes, and a little music, but mostly this is a spare tale, plainly told.

And, frankly, it pissed me off. I mean, when the opening scene has Aghdashloo running to the river in a black burka, it reminded me so much of The Life of Brian, I had to smile. The Life of Brian also has the greatest stoning scene ever.

And it made me think of what I was saying in my last MMA post. There is a fate worse than death, and the Irianians opted for it 30 years ago. I mean, come on! The stunning similarity between life in Iran in 1986 to (an admittedly faked) portrayal of life in the year 1 reminds one that, in the year 1, the Persians were probably ahead of where they were in 1986.

I was actually sort of jarred by the presence of an automobile. Occasionally there are shots of men in modern-ish clothes. And a radio. Otherwise, this story could've taken place centuries ago.

I mentioned it pissed me off? It did. Big time. The men in this movie are evil, weak, cowardly and stupid. There are bookends with Jim Caviezel (of Jesus fame) who is the only male in the movie approaching heroic. It would make me ashamed to be Persian.

The women are more varied. Some are happy enough to be tools of a genuine patriarchy (not like the one we allegedly have here), and most are convinced of their own helplessness. Zahra (Agdashloo), though more acclimated than the other women to freedom, also seems to know Sharia better than they do, and how and when to push against the order.

The visceral reaction I felt at times was rather unusual for me. Soraya's husband was a good example of a guy who "just needed killin'", as they say in Texas. And I kept thinking that women should be champions of the second amendment. Also, I kept hoping someone would stick a knife into that guy.

When a bus rolls in at the climactic scene, I wanted it to plow through these worthless men.

It's not that kind of movie, obviously, but it would make a great primer for a Persian Death Wish or Rambo. A more transparent and gross miscarriage of justice would scarcely be possible.

In my more phlegmatic moments I reminded myself that there are similar stories in the Western world. I don't know of any wholesale "get out of marriage free"-type situations like those set-up by Sharia but Ancient Greek culture had some interesting oddities in that regard. Still, that's a long time and a lot of apocalypses ago.

But this goes on today! Needless to say, there's an awful stoning in this picture. A true, horrible depiction. Where Kite Runner gave us a scene of wide-scale social insanity, an impersonal lynching by a huge mob in a massive modern arena, Stoning gives us an intimate, awful, close-up look at an innocent woman being killed by her family and friends.

The framing story actually pissed me off more for reasons I can't say without a spoiler. Nonetheless, a good movie about an awful story.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Out of Touch?

Amazon has a sale on "kids and family" DVDs. I'm busily digitizing the massive collection I already have (minus a huge stack of my favorites that was stolen) so I'm not in the market for any more at the moment.

But I browse.

Victor/Victoria? OK, I guess so. It's sort of harmless in its decadence. Grumpier Older Men? Didn't they reprise the whole "driving the pigskin bus to tuna town" bit from the first one in that? I really wouldn't want to have to explain that to The Flower. Pleasantville? I love that movie! But there's a whole lot about sex in that movie. I mean, Joan Allen masturbates in the tub, very conspicuously.

It's not like there wasn't sex in movies when I was a kid. In fact, there was pretty much sex in all of them (unless they were G-rated, and even Ken Berry and Karen Valentine were mackin' in those Disney flicks). But they were sort of extensions of the usual "mushy parts". People kissed, then they got nakedish, then they rubbed up against each other aaaand--cut to the next scene that actually advanced the story.

I've often said that people who claim there's more sex in PG movies now just don't remember the '70s (and early '80s, since the sex scene requirement seems to have stopped with Top Gun). But there is a difference today. There's a lot of detail in the sex scenes, even when they're not shown.

I wouldn't argue that this is a bad thing, by itself. The '70s and '80s approach to sex scenes was sort of juvenille. Fleeting emotion, no communication, no protection and no consequences (except for the early '80s spate of abortion movies). Everyone was supposed to know about sex but nobody was ever supposed to talk about it.

But the sex scenes of the era (at least in retrospect) seem sort of innocent, easier to see as that extension of the kissing then the messy (if more realistic) approach of today. Less appropriate for children, I would say.

But maybe I'm out of touch. Maybe parents would show their k--

Wait.

Caddyshack? Really?

OK, it's Amazon, not me.

That Kind Of Year?

The Transformers sequel has just broken the top 100 of all-time Box Office receipts holders (for adjusted dollars). I'm not sure what that says about this year. Nothing good, I expect.

Last year, the only movie to crack the list was The Dark Knight, which made it all the way to #27. The year before that, Spiderman 3. The year before that Pirates 2. You have to go back to 2004 and Mel Gibson's curiously uninfluential (in terms of Hollywood productions) Passion of the Christ to find a non-sequel.

If you ever wondered why studios make so many sequels, that'd be why. I'm sort of impressed that there are movies in the top 100 that don't have sequels. But I guess that's problematic in some cases.

I mean, what're you gonna do? The Eleventh Commandment? Titanic 2: The Lusitania?

I should shut up. I'm probably giving somebody ideas.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: The Fate Worse Than Death

Another "serious" MMA, no fun movie or comic book or game to talk about. This topic comes courtesy of Darcysport, with whom I had a heated exchange about the fate of GM. She, as a Michigan resident who knows lots of good people who will personally suffer from GM's failure, wants it to succeed.

I, an asshole, want it to fail. (My words, not hers. We were civil. Mostly.)

My logic is simple, ruthless and uncompromising: The actions involved in the "saving" of GM were illegal, unConstituional, and represent a serious step on the road to fascism. I'm not saying we're fascists now, or Obama is a fascist; I'm saying that (yet another) barrier to fascism has been removed.

Therefore, whatever ill happens to GM workers pales in comparison to the ills that will follow any "success" GM has. (Any real success is unlikely. A redefinition of the word "success" is most likely.) This was my feeling about the initial, massive financial system bailout--a feeling I think has been vindicated (in a very short time) by the subsequent actions and failures.

But it's easy to say this about people you don't know. "Let them suffer, so that the Republic may live." It's all so abstract. (Principles are like that.)

But I've said it before: It is better that my children die than the government should get more involved in health care. The government is involved, and is largely responsible for the mess they're now proposing to save us from. ("Savings" is another word commonly redefined in this discussion.) The solution never, ever involves more freedom.

There's a concrete angle to this: My employers sent out a missive encouraging us all to vote for the massive tax propositions on the latest ballot. But I still voted against it, even though it might cost me my job. (Or I would've voted against it had I bothered to vote this time; my perfect voting record is somewhat sullied, I'm afraid.)

And this is where we get to the whole apocalypse tie-in: Though it's more fun to pretend the world ends with a bang, it of course ends with a whimper. In practical terms, the whimper is the slow enslavement of a once free population. With each step, we're supposed to quietly accede, precisely because good people will be hurt, our families will suffer and the good times we have enjoyed will come to an end. Or, maybe only the sorta-okay times will get less okay. (You can see that prominently in communist countries: Life sucks, but it sucks a little less for a few, and they'll do any horrible thing imaginable to hold on to that slightly less sucky existence.)

There is a fate worse than death, and that's slavery. We were founded (somewhat ironically) by men who refused to be slaves. Death was preferable to them. And yet we are nowhere near as free as they were under Britain's rule. Maybe that's why it always sort of feels like the End is Nigh.

And rather intriguingly, every post-apocalyptic scenario I can think of pits a few freedom-loving rebels against a dysfunctional society.

The left has come at us anew with Orwellian tactics of redefining words like "taxes" as "revenue" and "big, ugly programs that benefit only entrenched political power" as "investment". What I suggest now is for freedom-loving folk to call political programs what they are: An attack on freedom.

If being against nationalized health care means you want people to die, it's fair--and more accurate--to say that being for it means you're against freedom. Financial bailouts? Anti-freedom. Auto bailouts? Anti-freedom.

Freedom by definition includes the freedom to fail. Just as freedom of speech includes the freedom to say stupid and offensive things, freedom of action includes the freedom to do stupid and offensive things.

I also took it up with Amba over healthcare: Yes, We The People have the freedom to die because we've made poor choices. We The People also have the freedom to set up charities to help people who've made bad choices (or who were just unlucky).

If the car companies have to fail, so be it: Clear the barriers to making new car companies, or maybe companies dedicated to a brand new paradigm of travel.

Freedom, in the form of liberalism, grew Western Civilization. Ossification, in the form of "liberalism", will cause it to crumble.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Weirder Science

"But you don't understand!" they cry. "Global warming is different! It's science!" Hector at Kiaran Lunch does a lot of global warming denialism, deftly deaf to the rigorous logic of those who promote it.

I still think Hector's a good guy, though, and a smart one, even though he doesn't see the obvious peril. Environmentalists constantly must fight such people--educate them, silence them if need be, and restrict their freedom--in order to save them.

For example, Obama's Science Czar John Holdren was on the forefront of overpopulation. Had he, and fellow eco-warrior Paul Ehrlich, not forcibly sterilized undesirables, and controlled how and where they lived, people would be dying off by the trillions today.

The modest NASA genius James Hansen downplays his role in fighting off the Ice Age that nearly destroyed us in the '70s, so it's perfectly understandable that he would suggest sending people who disagree with him to jail.

And let's not forget the eco-warriors victory in forcing us to all buy new, more expensive, less durable refrigerators to save the ozone. Morons like you wouldn't have done that on your own!

So. You're welcome.

Today Is Not That Day, Part 3

Some day, I say, some day will be the day when I say "I wish I sent my kids to school."

Today is not that day. That link is to the Big List of female teachers who had sex with their students. They're probably not all guilty, but there are at least ten times as many who are that are not on the list.

It was very common when I was a teen, particularly in the private school. There were plenty of 20-something teachers and lots of privileged kids and neither really risked much. I heard lots of rumors about the corpulent principal as well, which may have been true. Some of these women have molested children who are 8-years-old, however, which I put in an entirely different category than 18-, 17-, even 16-year-olds. There's a line between bad judgment and mental derangement. I don't know where it is between 18 and 8, but it's there--and way closer to 18.

This link from Kiaran Lunch, where Hector notes that men have been demonized as dangers to children, almost to the point where they simply don't work with them any longer, and yet the sexual predation continues.

Yesterday's Perils, Todays Amusing Anecdote About The Quaintness of the Past

The famously hard-hitting news magazine program "60 Minutes" back in 1985 ran this hard-hitting exposé exposing the hard-hitting dangers of the pen and paper role-playing game "Dungeons and Dragons".

Marvel at the logic, science and reason used to give people who clearly have researched their position, and the journalism that strives to give equal weight to every argument. Because of course, every argument deserves equal weight. If some people think reading is good and others think it's deadly, well, the latter should be given just as much time as the former. More if they know someone who's been clubbed to death with a book.

So, enjoy this shining example of American journalism from one of journalism's most respected journalists.



Because, you know, why would you question a grieving mother who assures you her son was perfectly sane before shooting himself in the chest over a game.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Moon, Inc.

I asked for tickets to Moon, Inc. at the theater the other night, which was a conflation of the new low budget sci-fi movie Moon and the documentary (exposé) on food corporatism Food, Inc. but in fairness that may have been because it was pretty obvious from the summary that an evil corporation was central to the Moon plot.

More on that in a second.

First, because you probably haven't heard of it, Moon is a new movie by director Duncan Jones which stars Sam Rockwell as astronaut Sam Bell, approaching the end of his three year contract for Lunar Industries when things start to go awry. His computer companion, Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) seems to be helpful, but is he?

OK, yeah, clichéd as all get out. What works, though, is Sam Rockwell, a fine actor who has incredible range: There are times in this movie where he doesn't quite look like himself. And this movie gives him a chance to show range, which he manages to do without really recalling other characters, like Crewman Guy from Galaxy Quest or Wild Bill from Green Mile.

Kevin Spacey, whose voice is the sort of pleasantly bland, banally modulated sound we've come to expect in movie computers, and whose character's emotions are otherwise represented by a series of emoticons, very AIM-like smileys, still manages to convey some kind of subdued humanity, thanks to one of the least clichéd aspects of the story.

This part, Spacey and Rockwell--who are basically it, as far as presences in the movie--really does work, and makes the movie more engaging to me than, say, the more opulent Public Enemies.

Now, from an economic standpoint? The movie makes not a lick of sense. I'm sure I'm it will come as no surprise to you (or anyone else who's ever been to a movie) that, in this movie about a corporation, greed is the primary lens through which the corporation is viewed.

But we have, as with the execrable The Constant Gardener, a poor sense of scale. Lunar Industries is supposed to be providing the earth--the entire freaking planet--with 70% of its "clean energy needs". The problem that the corporation is presented as solving in a creative money-saving way is nowhere in the order of magnitude of the amount of money they'd have at their disposal.

And the solution is positively absurd. It really raises more questions than it solves. An undertaking of the magnitude implied would be far more expensive and challenging than the supposed solution.

Also, a significant percentage of the earth's energy being dependent on one man?

Yeah. No. No chance.

But that's okay, it's not really the various "reveals" or "plot twists" that make this movie. The story lays things out pretty quickly, and where the movie excels is with Sam struggling with being away from earth for so long, missing his young daughter, working through his personal anger issues, and so on.

So, a good little movie. Entertaining, dramatic, nicely done cheap effects--looked like models instead of CGI, which I like. Spare without being austere. Nice use of a limited budget.

Check it out.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ouch!

I've continued to do the Wii and, like any other video game, it trains you to play it very well. I've actually gotten to the point where it doesn't insult me most of the time. ("You performed exceptionally poorly on the Don't Stick Your Thumb In Your Eye challenge. Is it because you are a big, clumsy American or are you especially uncoordinated?")

The Wii takes an exceptionally sensitive weight reading, then uses your keyed in height to calculate your BMI. And then helpfully displays your Wii as underweight, normal, fat or obese, based thereon. I honestly can't imagine a large American corporation coming up with an exercise system that called its users obese and clumsy.

This, however, has to be the unkindest cut (from F-- My Life):

Today, I finally got Wii Fit to lose some weight. Came home and set it all up only to be told that I weigh too much to use the board. FML

So, yeah, I bet it caps out at 300 pounds. Fair warning. (Note: 330# according to various web sources.)

Look, treat as a fun way to get off your ass and you can have a good time. Also, if you use it daily, just to do a "body test": it'll keep track of your weight. It is, of course, a bad idea to focus on weight if you're trying to get in shape and, as I noted, the Wii Fit is very sensitive.

But while the Fit software tends to overreact to weight fluctuations, you know if you're looking at a normal weight shift or a third helping of mashed potatoes. It's programmed to not react to a minor weight shift, and notes that you can swing a couple of pounds in a day, but it's not unusual for me to swing five pounds in a single day. (Something I observed years ago, back in the karate days.)

But it's a lot harder to ignore a general trend. And regardless of how you view the Wii's general approach to fitness, you can do the weight thing every day.

Meanwhile, my personal trainer mother wants to give me a real body fat test at her gym.

Anyway, the only real weakness with the Fit is that there isn't enough content. The Wii Fit Plus should resolve that, for a while.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Food Porn: DeFranko's Subs

I'm no Trooper York (who is?) but even in my current ascetic state, I do occasionally indulge. And, of course, when I do, we're not talking a Big Mac or a footlong from the Subway. No.

No, no.

I prefer to patronize local establishments. While some are quite bad, the good ones are gems: Not much more expensive (if at all) than a fast food place and in the category of real food that doesn't make you feel bad after you eat it.

The sub sandwich and I have a long history, it being one of the food we'd go out to eat for when I was a kid. (We almost never went out to eat; remember those days?) They were, of course, way too strong for my palette--capicola, or even just a regular Italian salami--but I'd power through.

Finding a good, big sandwich isn't that hard, but finding a good Italian is very difficult. And what's more, even if the insides of the sandwich are Boar's Head, a lot of sandwich shops will stuff them into a crappy roll.

Enough talk, let me show you a picture:
This is from DeFranko's in Van Nuys. It's a little shack a block south of the Flyaway. Piles o' meat topped with diced pickles, tomatoes and onions, stuffed into a roll baked that morning at the owner's bakery. They default to a hard, chewy roll, but you can get a soft one, too, and whole wheat until they run out.

A lot of my pals love the pastrami, and I do, too, but it's a lot (even for me). Plus, I can get a good pastrami a lot of places. The meatball subs are great and I've been known to just have a cheese sub (when I'm off meat) which is almost as good as one of the more traditional offerings.

Right now they're selling fresh basil plants on the counter, but you never know what you'll find there, except you know it'll be fresh (like a fresh baked brownie or cookie).

The people are friendly, fast and hyper-competent. It's actually a marvel to watch one of these things put together--but don't blink. Even so, they can get behind during the lunch hour when the line often goes out the door. I've waited 20 minutes or more for a sandwich. It is so worth it. You might get it fast, but it ain't fast food. (So if you're in a hurry call ahead.)

My mom's been buying subs there since the '70s. I hope my kids are buying subs there in the 2030s.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Old Movie Review: Are You In The House Alone?

I pulled this one out of the ether because of its provocative title, mirroring the "house" movies of the day, which somehow managed to capitalize on the slasher genre while being rated three stars and staying within the very, very narrow confines of what constituted "acceptable" in '70s TV terms. (Which, I assure you, were regarded as pretty appalling at the time and yet come nowhere near what's acceptable during "the family hour".)

It's about half tormented babysitter and then turns into half rape-prosecution advocacy story. I'm not really spoiling anything by telling you that: The movie opens with Kathleen Beller (playing "Gail") being wheeled out of the house claiming she's been raped and that no one will believe her.

That's what you call "a hook".

We then see the events leading up to the opening event, which are photographer Gail and her new sensitive boyfriend "Steve" (Scott Colomby, who would go on to limited fame in the Porky's series) working out their teen-age angst about sex and relationships. Gail has just broken up with jerky "E.K." (Randy Stumpf) because she wouldn't go all the way with him. ("Sleep with" being the operative, acceptable phrase of the day.)

Since the mystery is "who's going to rape Gail?", we are treated to E.K.'s jerkiness, inappropriate comments from her photography teacher, leering from her best friend's boyfriend, the incredibly rich and good looking Lance--Harvey--Phil! (Whatever, it's Dennis Quaid). If they'd made it five years later it would've included inappropriate touching from her father.

Meanwhile, someone with access to her locker and full knowledge of her schedule has been leaving her threatening notes and making creepy phone calls saying, that's right, "Are you in the house alone?" Keeping things from getting too tense are a lot of discussions about sex. And ultra-casual atmosphere about threats fostered by school counselor Ellen Travolta. (John's eldest sister, yes. It's the '70s. Get used to it.)

Ultra-casual? Well, where now we have zero tolerance, back then it was 100% tolerance.

Gail's mom, Anne, is played by 35-year-old Blythe Danner. Because 30-something actresses used to play moms to girls in their late teens back in the '70s, and we'll just ignore that Kathllen Beller--and Quaid, and Colomby--was, like, 22 and only about 13 years younger at the time. Beller does a good job acting young, though.

The acting is good all around, actually, snark aside. Anne is going through her own difficulties with husband Neil (Oscar-winner Tony Bill, who was a producer on The Sting and still acts, directs and produces.) The direction deftly defuses most of the tension, however.

There are some interesting (for the time) directorial techniques, like a little less reliance on establishing shots than was the norm. (Today, establishing shots are short and sweet, if used at all; we're expected to understand that the character who was at home in scene A and at the police station in scene B used some means of conveyance--say, an automobile--to get from home to the police station, found a place to park it, walked into the building, and made the customary greetings, without actually being shown all that.) But the whole thing feels like an "ABC Afterschool Movie".

Except for the sex. No, they don't show anything, but after refusing to sleep with E.K. (despite going out for, like, six months) she ends up sleeping with Steve after a few days. It's love, you see. (This is foreshadowed, even: Their first date is to see Three Days of the Condor which features Faye Dunaway (I think?) sleeping with Robert Redford after knowing him for two days.

Then, when she's raped, we get all the angles on how hard it is to prosecute a rape case. (With Blythe Danner saying "It's because she's not a virgin!" though I must've missed how she found out.) The weirdest casting was Lois Hamilton as the police woman. I mean, she's all right, but she looks like a fashion model. You know, Farrah (PBUH) hair, worn down, obvious makeup, etc.

And it gets weirder at this point, and very Nancy Drew. Gail, devastated by the attack (of course), goes from hiding out to going back to school and concocting a scheme to catch her rapist. She's not even particularly depressed, apparently.

Resilience, people. Look into it.

The movie you can take or leave, but it is a kind of time capsule: fashions, hairstyles, a complete absence of digital technology. This is what we used to do before cable, kiddies.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cons of Homeschooling?

No, this isn't about homeschoolers who have gone to jail, but about the negatives to homeschooling, as put forth in this article.

Some of these are kind of dubious as negatives, IMO. Like the first two: having to accept your kids the way they are and them having to accept you, and having to accept full responsibility for your life and actions. I mean, you can avoid those things a little if your kids go to school, but mostly you're just fooling yourself if you think that you can get away with doing them for long, no matter who you farm your kids out to during the day.

And I'm sure the writer of this knows that perfectly well.

A lot of these are matters of courage. And a fairly mild sort of courage at that (but not one to be disqualified). Having to answer a lot of questions, angst, paving your own way and standing up alone are all matters of courage. There is a chance that some petty bureaucrat will decide to destroy your life, of course, which is not insignificant. But we all face that threat, increasingly, and it's not going to get any better if we all keep our heads down and do what our masters want.

So that just leaves a few other issues.

Do you have to be more resourceful than ever? Maybe. But it's never been easier. You don't have to go to libraries, museums, parks, or anything else, because you have more at your fingertips than the wealthiest, most powerful people in the world had 30 years ago. And that information can make it that much easier and cheaper to go to libraries and museums and parks as you wish.

Do homeschoolers have to struggle with balance more? No, not really. They perhaps have to struggle with balance differently from other parents. It's funny, though: Even back when The Boy was at a regular school, and I signed him up for scouts, I was sort of dismayed that scouts was an excuse for father-and-son time.

I already spent tons of time with him, even back then. (His younger sisters had not yet been born, I was making great cash part time, and even working at home some days.) I was trying to expose him to things I had no experience in! I've never needed an excuse to spend time with my kids, or a structured occasion (like scouts), but the issue of spending time is an interesting one I'll come back to at the end.

Working parents have to juggle their work and other schedules with their kids' school and extracurricular activity schedules, homework! (And most parents seem to be spending more time actually educating their kids through homework than the schools are doing) That's a serious balancing act!

But then, Takahashi is talking about becoming so consumed with homeschooling that you forget your own interests, which I think isn't such a big problem once you find your homeschooling groove. Part of becoming consumed by your child's education stems from the structure of traditional schooling. There's a competitiveness, a race condition in every class, in every year, and with the entire track from nursery school on.

You're missing out in part of the fun if you just map traditional school on to homeschooling. The Flower loves her Egyptology, and her butterflies, and her engineering projects, and while she works consistently on her basics, it's really the extra time pursuing the things she loves that will fuel the passion for learning we're all born with.

Remember, a homeschooling parent has 365 days a year to draw on. That's more than double the number of days for some public school years. Private school years are traditionally shorter, in fact, because a public school gets paid to run while a private school costs money to run. And most of the days they do attend school are wasted.

So, you know, you're not exactly competing against the Jesuits, if your goal is just to give your kid a better education. (And you can beat the Jesuits, too, pretty easily, if that's what you want to do.)

Which actually brings me around to the point I wanted to touch on back with my scouts story. Homeschooling requires self-discipline.

The home/school/work segregation enforces a certain structure. This structure is a good substitute for actual self-discipline. I've seen my mother in and out of work over the years, and when she has a job, she's a machine--not only does she do her job, she produces in the other fields she's interested: Quilts get made, bread gets baked, races get run, clothing sewn, whatever. This is quite apart from excelling in her work, which she does.

When she's out of work, she seems to have no time for anything. And it's impossible to find out what she's done with her time. It took me a long time to figure it out, but without the structure of a job, she tended to fritter and fuss. (I'm much the same way.)

Homeschooling requires you to create the discipline for your children--something most would agree many parents go light on these days, but you also have to create, you know, prarie style discipline. You need to make sure the work gets done at the times it can best be done. (Doing intellectual work in the mid-afternoon, e.g., is usually a bad idea.)

Academics, chores, extra-curricular responsibilities all have to be managed by you well enough so that you can teach the kid how to handle them, and ultimately let them take over those responsibilities so you can go back to slacking.

In the meantime, you have to get plenty of rest, eat right, exercise--you know, be an adult. That has to be, by far, the biggest insurmountable "con" of homeschooling. We're at a bread-and-circuses point in our culture, where nobody has to grow up or do anything they find unpleasant.

If you're homeschooling, you're going against that, doing work you don't need to to produce kids who are also going to tend to embrace work habits that are archaic. You're an ant in a world of grasshoppers, basically.

But, well, somebody has to keep the world going.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Separation of Medicine and State

The latest encroachment of state upon medicine is, I think most of us realize, nothing novel. We have socialized medicine elsewhere in the world, and no matter how badly it fails and how reductive of liberty it is, the drumbeat to implement it here has been constant throughout my lifetime. But the slope didn't start slipping with Medicare or any of the other government programs; in my opinion, the journey predates modern collectivism by centuries.

I've written before about
how my great-grandmother was threatened with arrest for curing TB patients. This would've been in the early decades of the 20th century. But she was hardly alone: Medical guilds have been attacking outsiders since the days they were respectable barbers with a shady side-business.

Basically, when the various medical associations managed to get a monopoly on treating the sick, and got the force of the state on their side, they not only diminished prospects for health (in the name of protecting people, of course, it's always in the name of protecting people), they signed their own death warrant.

Someone else at Ace's or Althouse mentioned Microsoft, which is a propos because one of Microsoft's tactics for conquering a niche has always been to "partner" with their future competitors, usually offering some tempting deal. At that point they'd steal code (for example), and integrate it into the OS. Cut off their oxygen, as I think MS CEO Steve Ballmer put it. At that point, you can either outlawyer them, buy them off cheap (if you need to buy them off at all), and voila, you own the market.

I actually consulted for a company that partnered with MS. I was astonished that they partnered with them, seemed to be proud of that fact, and watched as MS created a competitor that is now included with every version of Windows. But at least they're still in business.

That's, of course, similar to how the government works, as well. The government "partners" with doctors--and look how tight the AMA and government are--offering them the sweet deal of a monopoly, and wiping out their competition. (Remember, the government just spent $2.5 billion to prove that none of these other things work. Meanwhile tens of billions go into curing cancer with no appreciable progress made.)

And while the government forbade compensation increases during WWII (to stem inflation), they exempted medical insurance, thus leading to the current weird situation where one is beholding to an employer for tax-deductable coverage or else stuck buying their own, giving us the current market distortions in the insurance market. (Well, that and all the other "help" the government gives.)

And now it's time to pay the piper: The price for the monopoly--for convincing the country that there is only way to treat medical problems, and that there is only one source for that treatment--is to become public servants, under the thumb of the government. In the words of Darth Vader, "I have altered the deal. Pray that I don't alter it again."

The thing that got me thinking about this was stumbling across this somewhat overblown video on poor Willhelm Reich. I referred to him as a "probable quack" in my previous post, which was just a flip statement (plus, like "snake oil", I use "quack" affectionately).

I don't know if Reich was really a quack or not. I do know that he was destroyed, just like my old pal Ignaz Semmelweis, and his writings actually banned by the government! (Or so they say; I haven't seen the order.) I'm not sure how the First Amendment allows celebrities to be attacked with known lies, but also allows controversial philosophical and medical ideas to be banned.

But I do think it's kind of interesting that I keep seeing "the ether" pop up in scientific articles. And I'm pretty sure that it's within my rights as an American--or it was supposed to be--to explore such ideas, however wacky, stupid or even personally harmful, they might be. I think the Founding Fathers would have wanted me to be able to buy an orgone box if I felt like.

Hell, Franklin would've gone halfsies with me.

Pointy Breasts From Beyond The Outer Limits!

It's been a long time since I had a genuine pointy-breast post--something I think we can all agree this blog is the lesser for--and I found a pair where I least expected them. I never watched the original "Outer Limits" series, but with the new digital signals, we get the THIStv channel which shows an assortment of old movies and TV shows--including "The Outer Limits".

So I set the ol' MythTV to record them and finally got around to watching an episode called "ZZZZZ", which is the story of a queen bee who takes human form. This, naturally being a draining transformation, causes her to swoon on the lawn of a bee scientist.

And behold:
And behold again. Rebehold? Er, behold twice?

It was a strange episode. Or, I don't know, maybe it was completely characteristic of the show. Having only seen one episode, I cannot say. (I did watch the '90s series, though, on Showtime, and liked it.)

It was also kind of cool that the actress, Joanna Frank, was someone I had seen before, in the much later series "L.A. Law". As it turns out, she's TV mogul Steven Bochco's sister, and was actually married to Alan Rachins, whose wife (then, ex-wife, I believe) she played on that show!

She did a good job as the weird bug-person, and also had a slightly unusual beauty that suited the role.

Here's a picture of her about to enjoy some pollen. (I'm not good at screen-caps yet, but these turned out pretty well!)

I shall view more "Outer Limits" in the hopes of finding more specimens of mammaris conniculus. Note that the above are from '64 or '65, and so are the latest of that era we've yet found!

Friday, July 3, 2009

She Ain't Comin' Either

Hearken back a few days to where Freeman Hunt visited us for a discussion on her post called "He Isn't Coming", where she discussed how our culture wasn't producing the sort of great men needed to rescue us from the disaster currently being visited upon us.

My argument is that you don't need very many great men like that, and that societies never do create very many in that mold. Though we're not producing the sort of people who appreciate greatness, either, and that's a more severe problem.

However, the treatment of Sarah Palin from September to her current resignation shows something else: should someone relatively honest, authentic and reform-minded appear, she will be destroyed.

I don't believe there's any scandal, as some are salivating at the prospect of. The entire brunt of the mainstream media was brought to bear in trying to bring her down after she resuscitated the moribund McCain campaign--and then insisting, despite all evidence, that she had somehow hurt McCain--and nothing was found. Then there were trumped up ethics charge after trumped up ethics charge was brought against her, all of them defeated, but costing her over $400,000 in legal fees.

Palin doesn't even qualify, in terms of what Freeman was specifying: She didn't know Latin or Greek, for example. And I suspected she might have a bit of a populist streak. ("Populism" always seems to be another way of saying "big government", perversely.) But before the media tore her apart, it was fairly uncontroversial that she had rejected the business-as-usual politics, and actually done some housecleaning.

She seems to have the essential character, in other words, that puts Freem's education and moral ideas to proper use. Note that I reject strongly the media projections of her as stupid. This is just SOP for the handling of Republican Presidential material: They're either stupid (GW Bush, Reagan, Ford, Eisenhower, Palin) or evil madmen (Cheney, GHW Bush, Nixon, Agnew, Goldwater). Oh, and "out of touch" (McCain, GHW Bush, Reagan, Eisenhower, and, well, pretty much all of them). Actually, I give the media some credit for spicing it up last election by allowing that McCain might simply be a well-meaning madman as opposed to an evil one. (Though there were plenty of implications that he was evil, too.)

But even that modicum of ability is not to be tolerated.

What's more, I suspect a person of greater ability would be even more excoriated. So, if you're keeping score at home, not only does "our hero" have to be a great intellect, charismatic, come from all the "right places", perfect in behvaior, have no family members who have ever fallen short of any ideals, have a ton of money to fight up the frivolous lawsuits--and then give a damn about the country--and the people in it--that allows this to happen.

I'm less sanguine than I was yesterday.

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 18: Intolerant Cultures"

"Now, we're having some Muslims come over..."
"...so you'll have to wear pants."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Public What? Oh, Enemies?

People do seem to love them some Michael Mann. I'm not one of those people, so you should keep that in mind as I review his latest opus, Public Enemies.

I don't hate the guy or nothin'. Well, okay, I used to. During the late days of 1980 and early 1981, it seemed like every movie thata was released wallowed in mediocrity. To some degree that may have been pure happenstance, as there were many, many fewer movie options back then and if you were dedicated, it was hard to avoid seeing bad ones.

One of those movies was the very disappointing James Caan vehicle Thief, Mann's first big-league feature. He followed that up with the even more disappointing The Keep, a nazi-monster horror flick with a great cast. Then he got famous for "Miami Vice," which was fun and quintessentially '80s, and with that fame, he was the first to put Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter onscreen with the remarkably noisy-yet-forgettable Manhunter. That same year he put his name on the downright icky Band of the Hand.

But he got better in the '90s. (That's consensus, not just my opinion.)

I personally find myself not engaged by his movies, generally. They don't resonate with me. Even if I enjoy one of his movies, like Collateral and to a lesser extent the (overrated) Last of the Mohicans, I almost immediately forget them after seeing them. (If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that I like Michael Mann the director more than Michael Mann the screenwriter.)

And now, forearmed with an inkling of my tastes, to Mann's Public Enemies, the story (primarily) of special agent Melvin Purvis' pursuit of notorious Public Enemy #1 John Dillinger in 1933 Chicago. Summary: I found it more or less like Mann's other works; I wasn't engaged, mostly, and I'll forget most of it pretty soon.

But there are some really fine moments in this film. And while it's an ensemble piece, a lot of what works has to do with Johnny Depp's performance as Dillinger. I wonder if it gets tiring hearing how awesome you are, but Depp is ridiculously empathetic as the man whose early incarceration turned him into an effective (yet gentle!) bank robber. Violent, but principled, dangerous but with high standards.

Yeah, it's romanticized, big time. It's kind of weird, even. There are good guys and bad guys among both the FBI, the police and the gangsters, in no particular distribution.

The story arc basically follows Dillinger's breaking into a jail, then returning to Chicago where he embarrasses the G-men, who then resort to increasingly brutal tactics to cover up their general incompetence. Christian Bale is the hard-edged but largely moral special agent who has to carry out J. Edgar Hoover's demands.

Complicating matters for Dillinger is his fledgling yet instantly permanent romance with Billie Flechette (Marion Cotillard of La Vie an Rose and 9/11 and moon landing conspiracy theories), for whom he tries to take responsibility, and who (of course) becomes his weakness. (Actually, upon reflection, this aspect of the story is almost Harlequin-esque, which may make it popular with the ladies.)

She's not as big a weakness as The Syndicate, which is becoming mighty unfriendly to these bank robbing celebrities who attract unwanted attention to illegal activities.

You get the idea.

I was distracted. There were about 20 interesting stories here, and I felt like we got the most banal one. Which could've made for a great movie, mind you, but it was also unfocused. Give us the love affair and the noble bank robber, if that's the story you want to tell.

The Boy liked it, I should point out, so I may just be making excuses for why this film didn't ignite my toes like it is for Mann fans. He did express disappointment that it wasn't about the economic underpinnings of organized crime; I don't have the heart to tell him that they don't really make movies about the economic underpinnings of organized crime. (Though last year's Rock 'n' Rolla came pretty close!)

But, damn, there was an interesting story right there: How The Mob was in bed, then out of bed, with the bank robbers.

There's another scene with J. Edgar Hoover trying (and failing) to get money from Congress for the FBI, and being thwarted by a principled man who saw the danger in a national police force and the threat particularly posed by Hoover. Interesting.

There's Dillinger himself: Rough upbringing, stupid life choice early on, forged into a criminal by the system, but still drawn to this low class girl with integrity, and fiercely protective of her. But why? What really happened? Where did he get his principles from? Interesting.

And, wow, what about a society (America during the Great Depression) that venerates bank robbers? That has so little faith in the system that it roots for criminals, but at the same time elects the same man President over and over again. (The former is a big part of the story, the latter not so much. )

Anyway, I just kept thinking of all these interesting things that would never be developed.

Really fine acting, of course. Though I have trouble with these period pieces, 'cause they all kind of dress alike and have similar hair cuts, but I did manage to distinguish, generally. The lighting doesn't help, however: A lot of the interior shots look "naturally" lit, i.e., details of faces hard to make out. (Fincher does that, too, but you always know who you're looking at even if you can't make out their face.)

The use of the shaky-cam--well, it wasn't gratuitous. It indicated a certain kind of shift in the action. But it distracted me. As did Mann's trademark use of music. The score was good, but it irritated me the way it was worked into the action. The songs were hit-and-miss.

So, there you have it. If you like Mann's work, you'll probably love this. If you like Depp, you won't hate it.