Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Flower and the Allen Wrench

Showing my herculean capacity for procrastination, I finally got around to fixing my Sole treadmill. You may recall my saga with the first shipment being messed up, and the second shipment was of a (very lightly) used machine which hadn't been refurbished, and so had some odd screws and the like missing.

Sole has been great about it and sent me all the missing parts (except lube which they're supposed to have sent me last week) but the machine was good enough to use, especially with the mild use I put on it. (Yes, it's in use for long stretches, but at very low speeds. That might be harder on the motor, come to think of it, but it's doesn't stress the frame much.)

Anyway, the stars were right today for tightening all the parts up (and fixing the plastic arm pieces) and adding the missing screws and what-not, so once again The Flower helped me out.

At this age (seven), it's usually a wash when they help, if it's something they're good at. They can do a pretty good job, but it's a bit slow and you spend extra time checking out their work and fixing a few things.

There was a little bit of that, but for the most part, she was a huge help. What she lacks in strength, she also lacks in size, allowing her to get into the corners to put in screws and tighten them without having to roll the treadmill out of its usual resting place.

I explained to her that it was customary after the screws were in place to go and tighten them further. I figured there was no way she'd be able to get them very tight. But after the first one--once she knew I was going to go in and tighten further--she managed to get it so that I could barely get another quarter turn.

Her head is also at eye level with the screw holes in the arms, so she could see how the pieces lined up--or in the case of the right arm fittings, how they didn't line up. That was our only shortfall in our project. (The plastic coverings fit okay but once they go on the arm, the holes don't line up.)

She has such a facility for this sort of thing, I'd love to figure out some way to encourage it but can't figure out what. Any ideas?


Can you freakin' believe that we have to go back to the polls on Tuesday?

My ass still hurts from the last time I voted. As pointless as the general election is for me (I've never elected a President, a Senator, a Congressman, a city council member, and 99% of the propositions go against me as well), the municipal elections are even worse.

Minorities--ideological minorities, I mean--are simply not well represented in our current system. I sometimes think that's a real advantage of the parliamentary system: Votes are apportioned according to party instead of being winner take all.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Libertarian Optimism

"Expecting Washington to cut back its main instrument of power after a capitalism-bashing political campaign is like expecting Michael Moore to share his Egg McMuffin with a homeless man."

The above from a piece by Gillespie and Welch which is remarkably optimistic given the massive spending. Bankruptcy could lead to--must inevitably lead to?--greater responsibility and less spending and control? Maybe? Dunno.

John Stossel is less sanguine.

It's true that technology--far from the oppressor imagined by Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury--has mostly had a salubrious effect on liberty. Which is not to say that there aren't victims.

Gillespie and Welch's premise seems to be that, in many ways, people are becoming accustomed to tremendous freedom, especially through the 'net. (We are all anarchists now, after a fashion.) This, in turn, will lead to draining of political power.

That might could be. (Yes, "might could". Gotta problem with that?)

It's certainly a nice thought. I think I'll adopt it. See how it grows.

Darcy asked me the other day if I was optimistic, with regard to people and events. Not exactly. With people, I prefer to dwell on their better aspects. Their worst aspects are likely to be banal, but the ways in which they excel or thrive are more likely to be interesting and useful. (Unless, I suppose, one is an extortionist.)

There's an optimism one adopts when taking on a project. The idea is that it should succeed. That's why one generally bothers at all. (And I do the occasional project that I know will "fail" because its success is separate from what I'm trying to get out of it.)

But for large events--society-wide events--history is a bit of a buzzkill. Here we are, in this Golden Age--for surely it is a Golden Age, warts and all--when history demonstrates that all such ages pass, and sooner rather than later. And it's so easy to see--or at least think we see--the reasons why.

But what else can one do but try to stop that, at least until things get so bad the ship must be abandoned?

That doesn't sound very optimistic, though, does it?

Thursday, February 26, 2009


I wrote about fairness not long ago on these virtual pages and I wanted to point out that there is one area in which I'm particularly unreasonable on the topic: My children.

In an early experiment with one of the Boy Scout groups, The Boy entered a Pinewood Derby. Apart from shaping the wood with the power tools, which no one in his age group could do, I required him to do everything on his own. I was there to offer advice--not that I had much to give--but I wasn't going to be sanding, oiling, talcing or whatever tricks they do for those things.

Which, on the day of the race was evident, were extensive and well researched by all the fathers involved. The disinterest from the actual boys was obvious but the guys my age? They were into it. Not even the vaguest premise of having the troopers do their own work.

This is a minor unfairness, and it had its own value in showing The Boy the way of the world.

A more serious unfairness is that The Boy has been sick for the past three days from drinking water and the vegetable juice. His blood sugars have been great, fortunately, and this is precisely what the doctor said would happen, but I feel bad.

I'm an old man (at least relatively) and somehow this stuff isn't affecting me negatively at all. It's just unfair that a 13-year-old should have to put up with it. His whole life's been a lot harder than it should be. We do this on the hope that he'll come out the other side better.

Which brings me to the subject of de-toxification.

Detoxification is a hot topic because every quack pedlling snake oil talks about "detox". Like those foot guys on the television selling wasabi or kinoki or shinobi or whatever it is that, if I'm not mistaken, takes the dirty outer layer of skin off your feet and tells you you're being purified.

The drinking of distilled water at regular intervals is done to provide the body with a basic, necessary resource to let it do its thing. (The vegetable juice is for minerals; these guys are crazy about the minerals! Later we add calcium.) The symptoms of this detoxification process are runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, lots of phlegm in the lungs (with coughing), and even things like fever or some nausea. Even if you don't understand how it happens, you sort of have to respect the predictability of it, given that there's no conventional medical reason that slightly greater hydration should lead to it.

One of my main issues regarding "snake oil"--a term I use affectionately about a time period before the government locked up medicine--is that the theories behind them may be completely whack. That doesn't mean the medicine's no good.

My canonical reference is Ignaz Semmelweiss, who didn't know why washing your hands before surgery helped, he just knew that it did. Likewise, ancient astrologers (sorry, guys, they were astrologers at the time, not astronomers!) could map the motion of the planets in the sky, even though their understanding of said bodies was fanciful at best.

And so I take that approach with medicine. (Alternative or otherwise. You don't get a free pass from me just 'cause you can prescribe drugs.) I'm utterly unconvinced by the theories behind mood-altering drugs, and in every case I've seen them used, they've failed.

And then there are the enema guys.

You know the enema guys, right? They have a long, storied history going back to the Kellogg brothers of Battle Creek, Michigan. And, oh, my, they have pictures! Pictures of twisted intestines, all gnarled up by residual fecal matter and, heavens, it's quite awful.

But the enema guys have a problem, I think: We now have footage of the insides of people's colons, and they don't appear to be the messes that the enema guys predict. I haven't thoroughly researched this, mind you: I'm just going by the shots that I've seen which show the walls of the intestines to be pretty clear. (And by their own literature, the enema is necessary to clean said intestines out, the drink you get before a colonoscopy shouldn't be sufficient.)

I've not seen any benefits from enemas that couldn't be explained by the rapid infusion of caffeine into the blood stream. (Enemas are often done with coffee, and the lower intestines are way more absorptive than the digestive system from top-to-bottom.) And this absorption factor makes enemas potentially dangerous, too.

But now watch this sleight-of-hand: I'm totally willing to let the enema guys be, because, hey, I could be wrong. And people need to have the right to explore these things on their own. That's just how I roll. As it stands, right now conventional medicine is being hampered by government regulation. And, predictably, politics--more than science--seems to be the big factor in what gets made available.

An effort to make things fair always seems to make things even more unfair than ever.

But The Book Was Better

The unlikely-ly named Willing Davis has penned a screed for Slate which boils down to "the book is better". In fairness, the author notes the triteness of the very premise, but he endeavors to explain the reasons in terms of plot versus story.

Well, hell, Joe Bob Briggs has been saying that for years: "Too much plot gettin' in the way of the story!"

It's usually true that the book is "better" than the movie, for some definition of "better", but I like to point out the mystery that is Silence of the Lambs. The book is almost identical to the movie, yet it's one of the greatest movies of all time, where the book is ... not. (Not that it's a bad book or anything of the sort.)

But you can smell the sentiment coming. You may know which one I'm talking about if you're a regular reader:

It was released in 1985, and the great run of 1970s American film culture was just coming to an end.

You just knew it had to be one of those guys who loved nihilism and avocado green, didn't you? (I did!) It makes me completely suspicious of his recommendation of Schrader's Mishima, the virtues of which he is extolling. (Though one should always be wary of Schrader films.)

David follows up with:

Ironically, it was partly Lucas' Star Wars franchise that proved how lucrative giving the people what they want, repeatedly, could be.

That's not ironic: Spielberg and Lucas are movie lovers. That means they don't just love arty flicks or popcorn flicks. It means they love movies. How could it be otherwise?

If not for L&S's popcorn fare--or something similar in its place--moviemaking would be a complete niche that few cared about.

(H/T Instapundit, the Himbo.)

Treadmill Desk, Week 8

Friday: 190 minutes

I suspect we'll have a big week. The water is helping.

Monday: 300 minutes

Got a warning to lubricate the belt. Apparently, you're supposed to do that every 180 hours. But I'm already up to 540 and this is the first time the warning came up. Called Sole and they said if it wasn't making any noise (it's not) there should be no problem. Probably the fact that I've used it at very low speeds helps. They've sent out the lube that should've been in the original packaging.

Tuesday: 210 minutes

Another trip to the doc for The Boy, but she seemed pleased with his progress. We're not scheduled again for two weeks.

Wednesday: 150 minutes

Well, maybe not such a big week after all.

Thursday: 390 minutes

Not quite 21 hours. I was a bit derailed by The Boy's illness. Fortunately, he's mostly through it now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dead Cowboys

One of the wonders of the K-TEL years was that I heard about two lines from every song ever made, the entirety of which would be delivered to me in 2, 3, or 4 record collection filled with other songs I also knew two lines of (from the same commercial), sung by musical groups I often hadn't heard of.

One of those albums was a Statler Bros. collection, and they were singing about the movies and how neurotic and sexualized they had become. Not knowing anything else, it seemed sort of quaint a notion. Heck, I used to walk or drive by a porn theater daily as a youngster--itself a quaint notion these days.

Anyway, someone put that song "Whatever Happened To Randolph Scott?" along with a Sons of the Pioneers (?) song "Cool Water" to a bunch of photos of dead actor-cowboys. (At this point, long dead, many before I was born.)

Maybe some of y'all will enjoy that.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

OK, Back To The Serious Fun....

Well, with all the attention on Alex Lotorto and his band of merry Mac-wielding, terrorist-lovin' protestors, we've gotten away from what's really important on this blog: movies and pointy breasts.

Nah, unfortunately, we still got the Oscars clog. We might go see The Class (which lost for Best Foreign Language Picture) or the Joaquin Phoenix flick Two Lovers. I can't quite gin up the mojo to spend any bucks on a Friday the 13th flick. I do see that they remade(ish) the second film rather than the first, which was smart. It opened big and then dropped a whopping 80% in the next weekend.

I do need to move on to reviewing the rest of the series, tho'. After that, I'll probably fisk Wall-E. And maybe the Harry Potter series.

Also the fourth (and possibly final) Futurama "movie" arrived and that needs a looking at.

Minimum Standards

Politics notwithstanding, wouldn't you think that writing an article about something that hasn't happened at would violate minimum standards of professionalism? And yet, every few months, we get one of these. In fact, I might be wrong, but this doesn't seem like the first time we've gotten one of these "time machine missives" from Ms. Loven her own self.

I read many years ago that journalists make up the story first, then go out to collect the facts to support it, and I thought to myself, "Self, that's a colorful exaggeration. I'm sure it's bad, but surely it's not that bad. Surely!"

How naive I was. Sometimes, they don't even bother to collect supporting facts.

Up Till Now, Everything Was Okay

It is a characteristic of men that they are stoic. Not to say that all men are stoic, and certainly I know some who play up minor illnesses and injuries in a bid to win sympathy from their significant others. But stoicism is a manly feature. To the point of stupidity, even: Men will let health conditions go too long, until they're untreatable.

Up till recently, I'd not thought of myself as particularly stoic. I'd noticed a few things and I attributed them to getting older. Unlike, say, Instapundit, I'm not particularly concerned about death, but I've always--especially when younger--wondered which features normally attributed to senescence were not due to some other factors.

In my case, apparently, a lot. But until I started drinking the water, I didn't know how many.

I mentioned stiffness and morning vision blurriness, but in a week I've noticed that the occasional tinnitus, digestive issues, farsightedness, fatigue and a few other things I just assumed were me "getting older" have rolled back.

As I said, stoic to a fault: It's one thing to endure and another to be so accepting you never try to improve things.

We've started to add in some juiced leafy greens, which isn't as bad as it sounds.

The Boy's blood sugar has been coming down but it's still not quite under control. He's had to undergo some dietary changes, and I think he's somewhat depressed about that, though he is being a good sport. A big change is that he's waking up faster: Most of my kids have a "need that first cup of coffee" kind of wake-up cycle, The Boy especially so. The doc attributed that to low morning blood sugars. The water's made a big difference there.

I'll keep posting on it, as the story progresses.

The Joys of being Seven

"Can I pour the water?"
"Sure...Can you...okay, I'll get it, you hold the bottle."
[Water comes out. Laughter. Bottle fills."
"That was awesome!"

We have the 2.5 gallons of water with the spigot at the bottom. Gravity--always a reliable source of entertainment--does the rest.

The Flower had another basketball game today and was her usual presence on the court, though I did notice that the other team was particularly huge today. She's at the bottom edge of the age for the league and there are guys who must weigh half-again or more what she weighs.

Doesn't stop her from snatching the ball, mind you. This may have something to do with playing with The Boy who is a foot or two bigger and more than twice as heavy. He does not treat her gently, either. (Oh, he holds back, but he's at that stage where he doesn't know his own strength.)

On The Flower's team is a kid who is playing up a league. He's younger than The Flower--and shorter and lighter, and not a super-gifted natural athlete, but he plays up a league by his own choice. He's also completely unintimidated by the much bigger players and relentlessly enthusiastic.

Sometimes you can see at an early age who is most likely to succeed and why.

Well, I Guess TCM's "Days of Oscar" Is Over

...because right now they're showing House on Skull Mountain, which is a blaxploitation version of "The Old Dark House".

Victor French, a fixture on westerns (and "Get Smart") throughout the '60s and '70s stars as the white relative, with a bunch of other cast members who went on to "Good Times" and "The Jeffersons".

Monday, February 23, 2009

"You can't use force!"

Red Eye's TV's Andy Levy tweeted about this footage of the final minutes of occupation of New York University's Kimmel building, wherein some delusional "useful idiots" come up against cruel reality.

These guys were agitating for scholarships for Palestinian terroristsstudents--and oh, by the way, "tuition stabilization". You know, that perfect mix of social activism combined with a healthy dollop of self-interest which gave us the draft riots of the '60s. (You can read the full list of demands here.)

The funny thing, though, is expressed by the notion that, somehow, the authorities are not allowed to use force, and the indignation of some of the protesters when they do. But of course that is what authority is, in this sense of the word: The right to use force to create conformity with social rules.

And a fair amount of force was used in the '60s demonstrations that all subsequent protests seem to be modeled after. The whole concept of civil disobedience, in fact, is based on the premise that you can embarrass authority by forcing them to apply their power in the service of the blatantly unethical.

Hence the brilliance of an act like Rosa Parks sitting at the front of the bus. The awesome power of the state was used to punish a middle-aged working woman for sitting in an empty seat.

Rocket scientist/protest ringleader Alex Lotorto says (in the comment thread with the footage):

And by the way, my camera was a mechanism that probably prevented brutality like happened at New School in December where they weren’t on top of that as much…the black trench coat guy threw me an elbow and I was trying to keep a level head as people were panicking…the rest of the negotiations absolve me…I’m going to post those soon for you to poo poo.

Two things, Alex: First, your camera would have been confiscated and wiped if this were the fascist police state you imagine; second, the whole point--the raison d'etre, if you will--of civil resistance is to show up the authority's reliance on violence.

If no one had bothered Rosa Parks, it would not have been the catalytic event for Civil Rights.

But, see, it's morally abhorrent to segregate the races. And most people could particularly see that in a situation where a 40-plus working woman is required to stand. The absurdity is marked, and it makes a civilized person feel shame.

There's a scene in David Lean's Gandhi where Mahatma has Indians lining up to be beaten by the British. It's so awful, you actually feel sorry for the British having to do this. That's the point, really: The State is faceless and hungry for power, but it's made up of humans with a sense of right and wrong. It's those humans you address, even while being chewed up by the machine that is The State.

From the outside, you all look like a bunch of spoiled brats agitating about things you have no understanding of, with murky goals in mind, and some idea that The Man is going to roll over because you, what, exactly? Illegally occupied a building under the delusion that force couldn't (and wouldn't) be used to restore the building to its owners?

From a purely practical standpoint, you have a PR problem.

Also, it's a bad idea to mix themes: You want to have some sort of financial input, apparently, okay. Most people would argue you're not competent to have it, but maybe you can find a base there.

But throw in the terrorist love, and you're going to lose some part of your base that agrees with your financial demands. Vice-versa, too, although I suspect that those who support Gaza don't really care whether your financial demands would run the school into the ground.

The real problem is that you fail completely to demonstrate what moral wrong is being committed that validates your approach. I mean, you broke the law, and for what? Is it really and truly the case that all legitimate approaches for change were exhausted?

For a little while now, and for a little while longer, we've had a free-ish economy that allows you to purchase services from people you approve of, and not from those you don't. This, in turn, allows you to protest in the most devastating way possible: By not giving money to people you don't like.

We've also had (for a little while now, and for a little while longer) free-ish speech, which means you can encourage others to join your boycott.

If this doesn't work, consider that maybe your hobby horse isn't as important as you think it is.

But if your conscience tells you to take that extra step, committing what is, in essence, criminal acts, don't be surprised if force is used--and people approve.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: But, Hey, It's Not Boring

Loudon Wainwright, whom I frequently quote here, has a song called "Talkin' Big Apple '75" where he talks about New York City in a Dylan-esque sing-speak w/harmonica. At the end of the song, he lists all these terrible things about New York--and it's a long list--but then ends with "But, hey! It's not boring!"

Which brings us to this week's MMA: The End Of The World As We Know It. Instapundit linked two apocalyptic scenarios last week (the Global Weimar and yet more about America losing its superpower status, which I can't find, dangit), and of course, a lot of us are a tad agitated about the biggest spending bill in history at a time when we can hardly afford it.

And yet.

The Weimar guy demolishes his own credibility by suggesting "green" companies are going to come out on top. Companies that use resources wisely and not wastefully may come out on top, of course, but I think history favors the rapacious. All out "green"? Unlikely: If you start from an arbitrary and illogical premise, your chances of advancing very far are remote.

The Russian-American guy who write about the end of the USA as a superpower looks at the macro-similarities between the USA and the USSR. And maybe he's right, but a few things bugged me about this essay.

One being, why would we care? The USA has a strong isolationist streak. We, the People, never really wanted to be a superpower in the first place. That's why it's so difficult for us to wage war: We have to get riled up. For most of its history the US has not been a superpower, and has really not cared to be a superpower. (A lot of people think our serious troubles began when we started down that path after WWII.)

But the more important one is a micro-level issue, and it's one that makes me generally optimistic for the future, and not overly concerned with India or China or Russia. It's a matter of freedom.

Not to get all William Wallace here, but America is still the freest country in the world. If you look at regulation and taxation, you might find that we're not, on the books, as free as some other places, depending on the metric used. But as a people, freedom is part of our character.

That is, we expect to not be inhibited from social and economic movement. Can the Indians say that? We expect to not be geographically or politically constrained. Can the Russians and Chinese say that?

Not the governments: They'll happily lie about how free the people are. But can the people--do the people say that? And do they believe it? Is it part of their makeup?

One thing I believe is radically different between today and the Great Depression of 80 years ago: American entrepreneurship is vastly higher than it used to be. It doesn't matter nearly as much as it used to if a big company goes under.

I know that some are constantly fretting about the divide between rich and poor, but the real issue is: Who thinks they can create wealth? Alongside of our saturation of sexual imagery, and food options, and diet options, there's an undercurrent of "Anyone willing to work smart and put some effort into it can make some money, maybe even big money."

The ennui in Europe is characterized by workers striking because the government isn't expansive enough. Here in America, we get upset when the government expands too much. Europe's democracies belie its monarchial history. They want the king to take care of them.

Of course we have that here, as something we've imported and something we inculcate through the schools--how can any government be expected to not do so?--but at our core, we're insulted by the notion. (I'll bet this is something big-state progressives never consider: One reason some conservatives oppose welfare is that it implies that we can take care of our own, or that the government can do it better.)

In my Best of 2008 post, I talk about Defiance, and in the comments you can see that it's basically about a historical apocalypse for the Jews. But their culture survives, and they survive, which is something fairly unique to Judaism.

Whatever happens, I think the culture of freedom can survive as well.

And, hey, whatever happens: it won't be boring.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Now, Who's Going To Win?

UPDATE: Wow, that was as bad as I thought it was going to be. Not the show, which I didn't watch--I was too busy drawing with The Flower--but my guesses. I didn't really see the Slumdog sweep; I thought there'd be more Milk. I'm almost totally indifferent, but I'm glad that Danny Boyle got an award. I think he's good and has been overlooked.

So, I hit: Picture, Actor, Actress and Supporting Actor. I missed Supporting Actress and Director. I got both original and adapted screenplay, and best animated feature, but missed both documentary and animated short. I totally botched the tech awards, missing Cinematography, Art Direction, Costumes--and Costumes should've been a gimme, with the historical epic Duchess up there. But honestly, who saw that? Anyone at all?

I hit editing and missed makeup, because I put Button's makeup in the SFX category, though it won both. So...11 out of 21. I'm going to give myself extra props for hitting some of the obscure ones.

Of course, the instant Slumdog won for sound, I knew it was going to grab the big awards (Picture and Director). The way the voting works is that the tech guys pick the nominees, but everyone votes for the winner, and a lot of the Academy doesn't understand the distinction between "sound" and "sound editing", or "sound" and "gee, I liked this movie and it sounded pretty good."

But congrats to the winner. Condolences to the losers. I hope Jenkins and Langella and the other really great ones who missed get another shot at it. I'm sure Penn, Winslet and Cruz will have plenty of opportunities in the future. (Penn has five noms and two wins, Winslet has six noms and one win: Do you ever get the idea the Academy just keeps nominating the same people until they win?)

(Original guesses below.)
Usually, I'm pretty good at picking Oscar winners. But I have no good sense of who's going to do what this year. So here are my WAGs:

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire. Socially relevant, but not overly so.

Actor: Sean Penn. He'd be my penultimate choice, behind Langella, Jenkins and Rourke. Normally I'd say Rourke, but I kind of think this Oscars is going to be a battle between wanting to reward Milk and more sensibly promoting movies that have a chance to make money. (There's a real basis for this, by the way: A lot of voters are businessfolk voting their pocketbooks.

Actress: Kate Winslet. Is anyone else running? Nah, it's a good field, as always. I'd probably pick Hathaway myself: She's the Jenkins of this class, who did a fine, subtle job in a little movie. But she has lots of chances in her future.

Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger. If he were alive, they'd give it to Downey, Jr.--they owe him for Chaplin--or Brolin.

Supporting Actress: Viola Davis. With Henson, the only black person on the roster. I'm not saying that's why she's going to win, I'm just observing. But seriously, Tomei's not getting another one after My Cousin Vinnie, Adams and Cruz are in Oscar-bait movies every year, and Davis' part speaks to how horrible life was for black people.

Gus Van Sant: Best Director. Yeah. I'm guessing they'll split the picture/director award this year, though I suppose they could give best picture to Milk and best director to Boyle. But I don't think so.

Original Screenplay: Milk or Wall-E. I'm guessing Milk.

Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire.

Cinematography: Dark Knight. Another WAG: They're going to honor the biggest movie since The Phantom Menace with technical awards. Maybe not this one, but....

Editing: Slumdog Millionaire. Eh. The editing in this movie was truly excellent and important to the film. Ha! Just another WAG.

Art Direction: Benjamin Button. Their sop to the movie that would otherwise be shut out.

Costumes: Benjamin Button. Their other sop.

Makeup: Dark Knight.

Music: Thomas Newman for WALL-E. No, wait, Danny Elfman for Milk. I think Newman probably should win, and he has the most noms, but Elfman defined the movie score of the '90s and never got so much as a nomination for Batman (1989) or Edward Scissorhands! They owe him some recognition.

Song: WALL-E. Well, yeah, the English Language pop song sung by Peter Gabriel, or some Hindi something or other?

Sound: Dark Knight

Sound Edit: Dark Knight

Visual FX: Benjamin Button. For make Cate Blanchett look 20 years younger, and like a different woman.

Animated: WALL-E.

Documentary: Betrayal. I'm guessing. This is all about how America acted badly so...

Animated Short: Presto. Maybe not, but it should be: It's one of the greatest cartoons made in the past 50 years.

Well, my usual live co-blogger/chat partner (Kelly) is absent tonight, so I probably won't even watch the show. Enjoy!

Skin and Bones

I don't want to get in the middle of the fat-battle between Trooper York and Freeman Hunt, but my attention was directed to this Sports Illustrated "models taking their own pictures" post.

Some of these women strike me as too thin, where "too thin" is a purely aesthetic consideration. My friend (mentioned in the Stacked Decks post linked above) was very thin, too, and used to fret putting on five pounds here and there. But, in person, she didn't look too skinny in person, usually. Meanwhile she had some other friends from back in the day who were the opposite type (shorter and curvier), who were clearly on the higher end of the BMI scale. They also looked fine in person.

I know "the camera adds ten pounds" but it also can subtract ten at certain angles. (There are angles on Chris Reeves in the Superman movies where he looks positively skinny, e.g.)

I've been thinking about weight lately because I haven't lost any. (I lost about ten pounds last year just due to changes in lifestyle, but none since I started doing the treadmill.) I suspect if I keep drinking water I'll lose weight, though. It seems to change your sense of taste and fullness.

Should be interesting.

Rock of Ages

Schoolhouse Rock was a defining cultural moment for a generation: Thousands of kids that schools had failed to reach were suddenly aware of nouns, times tables and American history.

So it's not surprising to see it used to describe modern situations, as in "I'm Just A (Stimulus) Bill". Ruth Anne at The Maternal Optimist links to one of the second revival's songs, Tyrannosaurus Debt. (The first and best run was from '73-'79, and the series was revived in the '80s, briefly, to get some computer stuff in there, and then again in the '90s for a money series. None caught fire like the original.)

On a related note, Blossom Dearie, who sang "Figure Eight" and "Adjectives" died last week at the age of 82.

Lileks reminisces on Reagan, whom the left is trying to blame all our current ills on, so they can--well, you know, take all the money and run the show. That's the goal, right?

Reagan was worse than stupid – he was conspicuously indifferent to our futures. It was generally accepted that he either wanted a nuclear war or was too dim to understand the consequences. It went without saying that he didn’t read Schell’s “Fate of the Earth.” It went without saying that he didn’t read anything at all.

Remember kids, Republicans are either stupid or evil: Ike (Stupid), Nixon (Evil), Ford (Stupid), Reagan (Stupid), GHW Bush (Evil), GW Bush (Stupid). This narrative hasn't changed in my father's lifetime, much less my own. And it probably goes back to the 19th century, though not so one-sidedly as it has in the past 80 years.

Finally, Clarendon at the New Pamplheteers (h/t Instapundit) writes a little bit about the history of the Boston Tea Party and what those who would co-opt those historical giants should know about how that event came about.

We live in intersting times.

Best of 2008

It's hard for me to pick a "best" film of 2008 because, the truth is, the term has very little meaning beyond a certain level. As Woody Allen supposedly said, "On what basis are you going to compare my film with Star Wars?"

Well, you could compare acting. Half of the acting in Star Wars is laughably bad, and 2/3rds of the dialogue. But in the lighting and sound editing departments, there's no contest, right? But, of course, we're not talking production values per se when we talk about "best".

You could compare subject matter: A love story about trivial, neurotic people, no matter how good, maybe isn't worthy of the same consideration as an epic story of good versus evil. Or perhaps a childish fantasy isn't worth comparing to a realistic look at modern life. Take your pick.

You could factor in popularity, and Star Wars would finish only behind Gone With The Wind--and if you factored popularity over time, Star Wars would almost certainly end up the winner. The fun-factor seldom seems to get considered at the Oscars, either. Or you could look at the difficulty factor: Star Wars was a harder movie to make, and it attempted (successfully!) things that had never been done.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences generally factor in all these things to come up with uniquely wrong answers. In '77, it's hard to say what good movies might've been passed over, except perhaps Soldier of Orange. (And I probably would've picked Close Encounters of the Third Kind as my favorite movie that year.)

With that in mind, let me make my uniquely wrong choice. First, my top nine, which met my criteria mixing subject matter, entertainment value, and the various other factors.
  1. Changeling
  2. Let The Right One In
  3. Rachel Getting Married
  4. Slumdog Millionaire
  5. Tropic Thunder
  6. Wall-E
  7. Defiance
  8. Frost/Nixon
  9. Gran Torino
By subject matter, I can eliminate Let The Right One In, Rachel Getting Married and Tropic Thunder. These topics (adolescence, addiction and stoopid Hollywood) border on the trivial, however well done. I can eliminate Slumdog Millionaire and Gran Torino for being formulaic. Frost/Nixon can go, because it's so imbalanced: Frost needed to be a lot stronger a character to compete with Nixon. Wall-E is a tour-de-force, particularly as the greatest silent/slapstick movie in 70 years, but doesn't end as strong as it starts. The Changeling, while a very strong movie, and an emotionally resonant one, doesn't exactly challenge the viewer with its muckraking of a long dead Los Angeles.

(The above paragraph, by the way, is basically nonsense. I'm not really figuring anything out; I've decided well in advance and am making silly arguments to justify it.)

My pic, then, is Defiance, which I hinted at in my previous post. It's been growing on me since I saw it, at least in part because I think director Edward Zwick is increasingly able to avoid the sort of facile treatments he's given earlier films (he has an Oscar for Shakespeare In Love!) to present a more complex subject in a clear fashion.

Maybe timeliness is a factor, too. Defiance is, essentially, about the breakdown of society and how survival requires a brutal adherence to a system of ethics, but also how we have (many of us) the necessary toughness to endure the worst and survive even when the forces against us seem insurmountable.

It resonates.

Even though it takes place 65 years ago, it's not a fantasy or ancient history. It still resonates--which is part of the reason a lot of the critics downgraded it, I think. Though to be fair, when I read the critics' reviews, I keep asking myself if they saw the same movie. Maybe history will prove me wrong, but I think it's the under-rated gem of the year.

More seriously, for whatever reason Changeling didn't quite hit home for me. And while I love Wall-E and have seen it many times by this point, it's basically just another great Pixar film. The Pixar film in any year is worth considering for "best picture", but I think WALL-E gets an (incidental) boost because it's so politically correct. Even so, I think it's a safe bet to say that this (and all Pixar films) are going to be the most viewed films in future generations: classic children's tales always have the longest life.

I asked one other moviegoing guy his best and he said Frost/Nixon, a choice I would be hard-pressed to deny. Interestingly, he said he probably favored it because of the overlap with his own life, where to me, I like it precisely because of the (call it) "fantasy" element.

So, as always: Your mileage may vary.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Does It Smell A Little World-War-Two-ey In Here?

Or is it just me?

I'm not claiming to have made any close examination of the parallels, mind you. I just look at the worsening financial situation, the increasing concentration of government power (in the US, in Turkey, in Europe) and--let's see, all we need is a dangerous, radical philosophy that has the extermination of the Jews as its goal.

Anyone? Anyone?

Nah, I guess not.

The Oscars Clog

We're at that dreaded time of the year: Most of the good movies out are Oscar-nominated films that we've already seen or aren't on our list. The only one we haven't seen is The Class, which I've resisted because it sounds like Stand By Me And Deliver Our Dangerous Minds To Dead Poets. Only in French.

Joaquin Phoenix's latest (last?) movie is out, too, Two Lovers but I don't have a good read on that.

Of course, there's always the Friday The 13th remake, but I hate to encourage that sort of thing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Treadmill Desk, Week 7

Friday: 210 minutes

Gonna be a light week, I suspect. Three-day weekend, more diabetic stuff on Tuesday, but I'll see if I can't do eight hours on Wednesday and Thursday.

Tuesday: 200 minutes

Wednesday: 310 minutes

Gonna take 8 hours on Thursday to get to 20 hours this week....

Thursday: 370 minutes

Not quite. 1090 minutes which is...18 hours? Not too bad for the 3-day weekend. Been a productive work week, too.

Good Sports

Confession time: I have amblyopia (the funny brain defect with a goofy name). You know, that condition Linus Van Pelt had where he had to wear an eye-patch. It's not an eye thing, though; structurally, the eye is fine.

It's the brain that's wonky.

You'd never know to look at me that my vision was not perfect. (And, in fact, my vision is excellent, except for lacking certain data about distances.) So my father could be forgiven for considering me clumsy, since I used to walk into walls all the time. And certainly, when childhood games moved out of the wrestling/grappling territory and into things with fast-moving small objects, it's understandable that I wouldn't be favored for teams, nor would I for the most part tend to enjoy it much.

And it's understandable that I might have an idea that, maybe, I'm not that athletic, though I did fairly well in archery and the sport seemed to improve my vision somewhat.

Once I had vehicular freedom--critical for here in the "Southland", since nothing is near anything else--I followed a girl into a martial arts studio. And with a great deal of work (martial arts is not something I was a natural at) and applying my strengths (the ability and willingness to apply tactics even if not comfortable or natural for me, since nothing was comfortable or natural at first), I managed to become a fair competitor and ultimately get my blackbelt. Somewhat ironically, I also picked up my sense of team dynamic (something "team sports" in school was supposed to achieve, somehow, and never did).

So, was I (am I) athletic? The martial arts worked for me because they aren't, in the final analysis, visual. They're tactile. With a fair assessment of distance, you're only concerned with angle and level of attack. Once you close in, your eyes are useless; you have to go by feel.

But if I wanted to go play basketball, I'd have a hard time. Even with a lot of practice, I'd be a drag even in a relatively casual situation. (I mention this because there are local "mom's leagues" which are relatively low-entry, but not really "dad's leagues".) Baseball would be even worse. Tackle football would be okay--I could be a lineman once I trained myself not to kick people who were charging at me--but that's not very common.

I mention this because The Boy is in a similar situation. His vision is just fine, but during the years when most kids were learning to play ball, he had no energy. Now that he feels much better, the fact that he's strong and fast and agile doesn't change the fact that he's not very adept at team sports. (I'm pretty sure he wouldn't even try now.) At his age, the die is cast: The boys who play those sorts of sports are very good at them, and dreaming of scholarships and lucrative contracts.

So he swims and lifts weights and shoots which only require him to improve himself and he'll have plenty of outlets for his athleticism (oh, he fences, too), but the window for those big-time sports is fairly closed. (And he won't be interested in them for some time, if ever.)

Of course, the importance of this is questionable. It's not like I was expecting him to be a baseball/football/basketball star and to support me in a lavish lifestyle. (No, I expect him to be a financial/business genius and support me in a lavish lifestyle from that.) I found a niche, and he will, too, probably in the martial arts (he likes boxing).

As a parent, though, I hate to see a door closed for what seems to be an arbitrary reason: He could certainly play any of those sports, except for the intense demands that require those sports to be performed at a particular level beyond a certain age.

It's one reason I'm happy to see the the Flower engaging in those sports (well, not football, which I think they discourage boys from playing, these days) and encouraging her to work outside of her comfort zone. It's a light touch: She's suspicious of parental praise and resistant to practicing.

But with luck, she'll be able to comfortably play these games for the rest of her life.

Water, Water Everywhere.

Day two of drinking copious amounts of distilled water and feeling really, really good. Almost suspiciously good.

Assorted fleeting aches and pains but oddly alert and energetic.

While I seldom get sick these days, and feel myself to be in pretty good health, there are little things here and there which I sort of associated with getting old. Like a certain degree of stiffness and my vision being a little bit blurry in the morning.

I imagine it can't last forever, but so far so good.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Way Or The Highway

Well, I went to order Jerry West's Basketball My Way on Troop's say-so the other day and ended up with Basketball My Way by Nancy Lieberman. Somehow I got mixed up on the order.

Oh, well. She's from Brooklyn so she's probably okay, right, Troop?

Great Expectations

Does Not Appear To Be Working To Full Potential was the named of my hypothetical autobiography, according to a little internet meme I ran with last year, because that's what I was most likely to be given as a "comment" on my report cards in school.

'deed, I used one notebook for most of my years in college, and the notebook is mostly filled with doodles and...other things that I scribble.

For my first semester in (community) college, I took classes back-to-back with no gaps, exceeding the number of credits allowed--had to get a permit--and scored a 4.0. My attendance was good and I was interested, and I've generally found that taking notes comes between me and the lecturer. I think I read the texts, but don't really recall. They were not very good. They gave me $50 and put me on the honor roll, both things which struck me as odd.

For my second semester (at the local U), my sister was there, too. I did the same tactic: Took classes in a solid block, every day, exceeded the allowed limit, got the permit, and came away with a 3.75-ish. This devastated my sister who had a screaming fit: "It's not fair! He doesn't even study!" she yelled. My sister has always been obsessed with fairness.

(Some time in high school I had taken to putting my report cards on the refrigerator just so my mom, who was otherwise occupied, could see them. It had never provoked any sort of reaction before.)

But there was a funny thing about this second semester, which was grueling in a lot of ways, because I was working two days a week after school, trying to keep up the martial arts training (several hours five days a week) and trying to build a relationship (seven days a week). I got mono and--oh, what's that really awful liver disease?--hepatitis.

Yes, I had some ridiculously easy classes (logic, nutrition) and once again, I didn't take much in the way of notes, but just relied on being present and aware. But I had one class, sight singing, which was a one-unit class--and I spent more time on that class than on any other, and still I got a B.

Like all my music classes, there was a requirement to perform. That is, you had to actually do something to get out of a class with a good grade. (The community college I went to had a very sane practice: There were four levels, and you had to get As in all of them, but it could take you as much or as little time as you needed, as long as you got them all in the two years. There was a drummer who got through all four levels of rhythmic dictation in a month, but was stuck on the first level of melodic dictation when I last saw him.) Usually, this was not terribly challenging for me.

In sight singing, you look at a sheet of music and sing it. This also wasn't too big a deal at first, even though I'd never done it before. (A lot of the other musical stuff I had was easy because it was similar to things I'd been doing for years.) We started out with rather plain Classical music, then moved to the more chromatic stylings of the Baroque and early Romantic eras. We ended with some complex Renaissance polychromatic counterpoint--which I loved--and with 20th century music, which I didn't love so much and which was very challenging.

And so it was, I spent hours trying to master this skill for this one unit course. And ultimately I had to decide that it wasn't worth the amount of time it was going to take to get an "A". That is, I couldn't sacrifice all that needed to be sacrificed in order to do it.

So I got a "B"--but that "B" meant more to me than most of my other grades. It never occurred to me to be upset that someone else had it easier--had perfect pitch or a long history of training. I just put it on the list of "things to master at a later date when I have more time."

My sister has numerous talents that I don't possess. She's a natural performer--as comfortable on the stage as I am uncomfortable--and an extrovert, charismatic and popular, fearless and athletic. And while it's true that academics have seldom been challenging for me, I've had to work hard in a lot of areas to achieve anything of note, and way harder in some just to appear vaguely normal.

It's common--and fine--to be a bit envious of those for whom success seems to come easily in areas that you have to struggle. I said a few choice words to kids who could come into the dojo and deliver a kick to the head on the first day. But always keep in mind a lot of what seems like easy success wasn't easily attained at all: It just looks easy because it was successful.

I can write a program in lightning time while others are still trying to figure out what to do because I started thirty years ago. As a kid, I put in lots of hours. I put in hours and hours playing and writing music, too, and studying martial arts, and writing millions of words (and reading tens of millions).

So if that stuff looks effortless now, it's because there was lots of effort expended in the past.

The impetus for this little essay was this article tweeted to my attention suggesting that my sister's viewpoint has won out. Students believe that working hard should positively impact their grades.

This is the very essence of a cargo cult and misunderstanding. "I was always told that if I study hard I should get better grades!" Well, yes, but...but...but....the point is, if you study hard, you learn the material better and better grades come as a result.

The work is not the point: The product is the point. Get better results and you'll, you know, get better results. What sort of debilitating philosophy is this? How hard I try is more important than the results I produce? Is this what kids are taught?

What about the whole "growing up" part where we learn we can't always achieve our goals? Or for a more "Darwinian" view: When do kids learn that certain tactics are ineffective and they need to adopt new ones? How do they learn what "bad" is?

There's a sense that effort should equal reward directly. These are the "expectations" talked about in the linked article. I'm no Dickens' expert, but I always thought "Great Expectations" referred to the expectations others had for you--the level you were supposed to rise to, not rewards you expect from society.

This is not one of those things that makes me think, "Gee, I should send my kids to school."

(Snake) Oil and Water Mix

The Boy has been easing into a nutritional program to help with his diabetes and I have a rule that I don't do unto my children what I wouldn't myself endure, so I've been easing into the same program myself.

The first part of the program involves drinking distilled water at regular intervals. This is somewhat controversial, as you might discover if you were to Google it. But I have reason to trust the doctor I'm dealing with, who's very knowledgeable about body chemistry.

Actually, water is an interesting sticking point for a lot of programs. You hear a lot about people being dehydrated, for example, but Adele Davis eschewed the eight-glasses-a-day meme saying she'd never met anyone who did that who wasn't seriously deficient in some vitamins. (The water flushing water-soluble vitamins out of the system.) The IAHP warns against too much fluid on the basis of over-hydration leading to seizures. (One of the effects of a seizure is to push fluid out of the body with saliva and urination.)

Conventional medicine seems largley unconcerned with the quality of fluids--water, Gatorade, whatever, it's all fluid, though most draw the line at soda--but alternative medicine hyperventilates over the water's mineral quality, fluoridation, source, etc.

For myself, if I have a glass of water at my desk that I can easily refill, I'll end up drinking a gallon in a day. But I have no dog in the what-sort-of-water-and-how-much race; I have no idea.

So, yesterday, I drank the prescribed amounts at the prescribed intervals for about 3/4s of the amount prescribed me. (I started late and ran out of time.)

Those of you who are regular readers know that part of my treadmill desk environment is to reduce some stiffness in my achilles' tendons that I acquired during a particularly sedentary job. I had made great progress. The only stiffness I'd feel any more was after sitting for a while or sleeping; I'd take about a minute to loosen up. You also might recall that I was experiencing a bit of numbness from the early days from when I had overdone.

This morning I was walking around for several minutes and realized there was no stiffness at all in my tendons. Just a very slight ache. As I was writing this, I had to stop, get off the treadmill, take off my shoes and double-check my foot--numbness all gone.

Wild, eh?

Then, of course, I've reported on the stiffness in my back. (As I've mentioned, I've always been tight: Even during my martial arts years, with tons of stretching, I was never much of a kicker.) The downside of doing all the walking seemed to be that I had to make sure I did some periodic back stretches or I'd feel sort of locked at the waist. (And I'd forget to do those stretches; it's been weeks since the last time.)

As of this morning--without a single stretch--I can now comfortably grab my legs just above my ankles.

That's a hell of a placebo. I love a good placebo.

On the flipside, I was warned that this water regiment would likely lead to a cold due, allegedly, to the body using this water to flush out things it hasn't been able to before. No cold yet, but a remarkable amount of goop in the throat.


The green autumnal parks conducting
All the city streets a wondrous chorus singing
All these poses oh how can you blame me
Life is a game and true love is a trophy

And you said
Watch my head about it
Baby you said watch my head about it
My head about it
Oh no oh no oh no
Oh no oh no no kidding

--Rufus Wainwright

Revolutionary Road Warrior

Easily the best part of this movie is when Humongous sends his S&M punk troops in to crash the suburban home in an attempt to steal their gasoline.

Ha! I wish!

No, no, this is Revolutionary Road, starring Kate & Leo, together again for the first time since Titanic. And director Sam Mendes is here to tell us they were better off when Leo drowned. For all the crap I've heaped on this movie, it's better than the trailer makes it out to be.

But isn't Ms. Winslet a charmer? She stars as the most horrible, narcissistic, self-absorbed characters in film, wreaking a swath of destruction wherever she goes--and not even the usual femme fatale type swath, but the inconstant lover swath--and yet we keep going back to see her do it again (and again and again)!

The story here is trite enough: Boy meets girl, boy and girl have a lot of pillow talk about grand adventures, girl gets knocked up, boy gets job and buys girl house, boy knocks up girl again, and both are really depressed.

It's a little better than that, fortunately, because the two characters are so unlikeable at first, you sort of wish they would do one of those murder-suicide things. April (Winslet) is a wannabe actress, but she's really horrible. She's also moody and uncommunicative and none-too-bright Frank (Di Caprio) hasn't figured that out.

Frank, not feeling special, has a fling with the new girl in the steno pool--gets her drunk first, too, classy!--but then comes home to find new passion in his wife who has concocted the following plan: Move to Paris; they live on savings and money from the house; April will get a government job; Frank can use the time to "find himself".

This reinvigorates their marriage so much, they have spontaneous, unprotected sex, apparently unaware that that activity can have long-term effects. Meanwhile, Frank, in a moment of ebullience, did something noteworthy and is offered a big promotion--a once in a lifetime thing.

So while Frank is starting to feel good about things, April is getting increasingly depressed. Things go downhill from here.

This is when I began to realize what a truly horrible person April is. She's so focused on being "special" that she can't see the esteem in which others see her and Frank. (Or she can, but lacking any respect for those who admire her, she doesn't care.) I thought we were seeing another side of her when she came up with the Paris plan, but then I realized it meant: 1) getting out of their neighborhood; 2) getting away from their kids; 3) attaching herself to Frank's future achievements.

This becomes painfully apparent when Frank's newfound satisfaction results in less happiness for her, and her subsequent actions get more and more selfish. (Though I wonder if Winslet sees any of this. She's the one who failed to see her Nazi character as a sexual predator.)

Anyway, while I enjoyed American Beauty because I saw it as upbeat--no, really--this movie doesn't give you any positive thoughts to close on.

For sheer moviegoing pleasure, I thought the movie dragged a lot until April comes up with the Paris plan, then it starts to drag again at the ends of both act 2 and act 3. And as much as I love Michael Shannon (who drives the little horror flick Bug), his character has to be one of the laziest and ham-handed literary devices I've ever seen in a movie.

Not to say he doesn't do the part well, 'cause he does, but the whole "Aaaand here's the crazy guy who perceives the situation between Frank and April perfectly and explains it thoroughly to that part of the audience that hasn't figured it out yet" is completely unnecessary.

The Boy basically liked it. He disagreed with the premise, though, finding suburbia far from hellish. Of course, now, when he's taking out the trash, he looks pensively up-and-down the street--'cause that's just what a smartass he is.

And on that last point, the house Frank & April have is gorgeous, and they just have to walk across the street to find themselves in the woods! They're tramping through the woods explaining how they have to get away from it all at one point.

But, you know, okay, the point is (in part) that it's not for everyone. However nice your situation is, if you don't want it, it's unpleasant. And at least the movie doesn't force that point on you; I was sort of surprised by that. I perceived it that Frank found a way to be happy there, and that April's exceeding selfishness stopped her from being happy.

Whether they meant it that way or not is another issue.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Girls Are Different

Not just from boys, either, but from each other.

You should be aware of this already, of course. Take, for example, The Flower who saw Finding Nemo and worried about eating fish for months afterward. Versus The Barbarienne who watches it over and over while eating a tuna fish sandwich.

Also, trying to explain going to see Revolutionary Road to the flower is a challenge.

"It's about a scary trash can."
"No, just about someone who doesn't like taking out the trash."
"He's scared of it?"
"She is. Look, it's complicated."

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 10: The Hamilton/Palin/Brosnan/Brolin Connection

[Dante's Peak is on]
"Hey, she reminds of Sarah Palin."
"Who? Linda Hamilton?"
"Yeah! Only with fewer kids and volcanoes."
"Well, they have been having some activity up there."
"True but..Pierce Brosnan! Though Todd is pretty..."
"Well, he's less of a Brosnan and more of a Josh Brolin."

American Tune

Many is the time I've been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes and I've often felt forsaken
And certainly misused

Oh but I'm all right, I'm all right
I'm just weary to my bones
Still you don't expect to be bright and bon vivant
So far away from home
So far away from home

And I don't know a soul who's not been battered
I don't have a friend who feels at ease
And I don't know a dream that's not been shattered
Or driven to its knees

Oh but it's all right, it's all right
For we've lived so well so long
Still when I think of the road we're traveling on
I wonder what's gone wrong
I can't help it, I wonder what's gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly

And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea

And I dreamed I was flying

Gonna come on the ship they call "The Mayflower"
Gonna come on the ship that sailed the moon
And we come in the age's most uncertain hour
And sing an American Tune

Oh but it's all right
It's all right, it's all right
You can't be forever blessed
Still tomorrow's gonna be another working day
And I'm trying to get some rest
That's all I'm trying: To get some rest
--Paul Simon

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Big Top(s)

I was looking at clown pictures this weekend as decorations for The Barbarienne's party. She loves clowns, apparently. But there is such a thing as "coulrophobia", which is an abnormal fear of clowns, and if you search for clown images on the web, you might come away thinking coulrophobia is common.

But it's not. Most fear of clowns is perfectly natural and understandable.

Pictures of Pennywise, Killer Klowns, and so on, are not, however, appropriate for a three-year-old's party. Anyway, as I sought pix of clowns, I came across a convergence of degenerate clown-ness combined with pointy breasts.

What's a blogger to do?

So for you, dear readers, I've placed this picture "below the fold", as they say, so that you needn't be offended (or fired, if you're at work) for visiting here.

UPDATE: I've now removed the "below the fold" link. It's not really a very scandalous picture, and the change I made caused ALL my links to have a "continue reading" item instead of just the ones I wanted. So. Deal.

By the way, ten people subscribe to The Bit Maelstrom through Google Reader! How cool is that?


OK, I admit, this is really anti-climactic, but it seemed so much more scandalous when I was making decorations for the Barb's party.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: The Star-Spangled Bunker

A crazed squad of mujaheddin infiltrate nuclear silos over the world and start a nuclear holocaust. The shattered remnants of the world's societies struggle for survival, still fending off squadrons of fanatical muslims trying to bring about the End Times and the 12th Imam, and look like they're going down for good.

America has a secret weapon, though: Operation Cheops. Hidden in an underground bunker and using ancient Egyptian technology, the Presidents of the United States have been preserved, only to be awoken in the event of America's collapse.

Thrill! As Generals Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower gather the greatest army of survivors, pure-blooded and mutant under the command of George Washingon!

Swoon! To the impassioned cries for liberty and unity from Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt!

Gasp! At the secret ops conducted under the aegis of Richard M. Nixon and William Howard Taft!

You'll be on the edge of your seat when John Adams resolves to put these Barbary Pirates down once and for all!

Or you would be if this were a real movie and I weren't just making it up as I typed.

You Love The '80s, Apparently!

Although pointy breasts remain a strong influence on my traffic--and how sad is that, given that I haven't pointed to a breast in months?--there's a lot of love for the Friday The 13th Part 2 review and my "Betsy Russell Gets A Cramp" post.

Apparently, a lot of people can't figure out what the hell happened to Paul at the end of F13-2. Sorry, guys: Nothing. He just vanishes. They only wanted one survivor, I guess, and, I dunno, ran out of film or something.

As for the latter reference, well, I'd guess a lot of guys from the '80s know that movie and remember that scene. (Even if it would make Freeman Hunt laugh derisively.)

I actually do have a pointy breast picture worth posting, but I think I want to put it "below the fold" as they say, lest anyone be offended. (I can't imagine who would be, it's so silly, but I think it's rude to pop up with a questionable image. Most people seem to read this blog at work.)

Triter Than Fiction

If I wrote a story...

...about a callow, charismatic President...

...with no record of achievement...

...worshiped by millions...

...whose graven image appeared on items across the land...

...and it turned out that the coins bearing his image...

...were merely stickers on existing coins...

...a facade, if you will, a shallow appearance with nothing behind it...

...I'd be considered a hack!

Overheard at the Basketball Game

"Don't let that little girl stop you!"
--Opposing Coach confronted with The Wall of Flowers

Eventually, they're gonna learn to pass. Until then, nothing gets by The Wall!

Not to gush or anything, but she's a head shorter and thin as a rail, but when the other team sees her waiting for them to get to the other side of the court (they don't do full court presses in her league), they run the ball out of bounds or fumble. It's really cute.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Loaded Questions' Movies Based On Books roundup!

Kelly at Loaded Questions has a summary of Oscar-nominated movies that are based on previously printed material. Check it out!

Featured (click for reviews):

Benjamin Button

The Reader (Extra Snark Warning)

Slumdog Millionaire

Revolutionary Road. (No review yet, sorry.)



Waltz With Bashir

The Class. (No review here, either. It's...just so cliché I don't think being French is going to help.)

Anyway, check Kelly out: She's the least bloggy blogger in the blogosphere.

Ron's on my List!

That is, he's on my short list of "guys I'm jealous of!"

He got to have brunch with the lovely Ms. Darcy, whose brother has a stipend quite in excess of 5,000 pounds, if his estate at Pemberley is any indication.

Apparently, no emergency services were required during the confrontation, so good work guys!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Teflon Mouth

It is a tradition going back to The Boy's second birthday that, on each child's birthday, I take them out to do whatever they want. The Barbarienne turned three, and so was allowed to pick a restaurant to have lunch at.

But, of course, she's three. What does she know? I tried to interest her in some local places she had been and liked, but The Flower was hard at work, lobbying for her favorite restaurant.

What I may not have mentioned about The Flower is all the ways in which she is like an old woman. From her quote here ("I've got nothing to do today but smoke and boss people around.") to her disturbing practice of collecting nickels for her grandchildren, The Flower has many characteristics that one normally associates with senior citizens.

Which brings us to Denny's.

Denny's usually results in heartburn for me, starting somewhere about the time when someone says, "Let's go to De--", and before they can utter "knees" my heart starts to whine. I'm not sure what it is about that place versus all the places I might eat (Tommy's Burgers, for example, or "that place under the freeway where the day laborers hang out") but my heart objects.

I've had a theory, though: I think they cook everything in some kind of non-stick Pam-like spray. Probably a cheap knock-off. So, on top of the heartburn, the inside of its mouth feels like it's coated with teflon.

You know that list that floats around about uses for Coke? It's also about the only thing that will take the teflon off.

Anyway, I don't have to go back there until The Flower's birthday when, unless I do some fancy footwork, she'll want to eat there for lunch and dinner.

Fun fact: One item on the current Denny's menu is $16.70. Inflation's a bitch.

Waltz With Bashir

You don't see a lot of animated documentaries these days and truth be told, Waltz With Bashir's style reminded me a lot of Ralph Bakshi. Computerized rotoscoping, perhaps?

This is an odd, almost feckless movie, about a man who was involved in the Lebanon War of 1982 and the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. But he doesn't remember it at all. He just has this dream of being chased by 26 angry dogs. He goes to find other people who were there, and learn their stories--none of them remember being at the massacre either.

The opening scenes feature two different instances of soldiers shooting (a lot, for a long period) with no idea what they're shooting at. There seems to be no commander anywhere. We saw this in Apocalypse Now, of course, but in that case, we were deep in enemy territory. In this case, it's like they walked down the street. But I guess these wars do take place in small spaces.

I didn't think the IDF was that disorganized. But, as I said, this is supposed to be semi-autobiographical.

It's sort of indicative of the random stories being told. From what I can tell, the Israelis invaded Lebanon allied with the Christian Phalangists after the assassination of Lebanese President-Elect Bashir Gemayel. The massacre occurred as Israeli forces invaded and the Phalangists used them as cover to go into certain areas and slaughter civilians.

In stereotypical Jewish fashion, the Israelis--who from the looks of things couldn't have stopped this if they tried--feel really, really guilty about this. I mean, I'm guessing we won't see any parallel film come out of Palestine. (Though in fairness to the Palestinians, their cameras are all tied up staging inflammatory news stories.) And it's pretty clear from the story that the terrorists they were trying to kill loved to hang out with the civilians. (I have to investigate the historical precedent for the common Israeli tactic of "OK, we're going to attack you, so if you're not the enemy, you'll want to be running away now." I wonder if any other nation has done that routinely?)

But war is heck and leads to a lot of morally and ethically ambiguous situations that can be traumatic and haunt you for decades after--kind of the same theme as Gran Torino, actually, though Torino turns that on its head--and this movie shows us the various hecks that the various Israeli soldiers endure.

It's pretty effective, I suppose. The Boy was fascinated and unsure, but he seems to be trending more favorable toward as time goes on.

I didn't check the parental stuff beforehand, so I was a bit surprised when there was a scene of an Israeli commander issuing orders while watching hard-core porn. You probably want to keep that in mind before showing it to the kids. I mean, if the graphic violence wasn't sufficient. There are also some surreal nude scenes.

It wasn't boring. It's probably worth re-watching, even. But I think I was put off a bit by the introspectiveness of it.

This is the only one of the foreign language films up for the Oscar I've seen this year. I might also go see Class--but damned if it doesn't sound like that movie that gets made every 2-3 years here, about the teacher in the inner city? I think the last one of those I saw had Edward James Olmos in it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Treadmill Desk, Week 6

Friday: 260 minutes

I've ended up taking the weekends off lately due to various paternal responsibilities. This, and the fact that I have more such responsibilities this week likely to cut into treadmill time will probably lead to a lower overall hour count, unless I can get in some eight-hour days.

Monday: 315 minutes

Tuesday: 18 minutes

Wednesday: 195 minutes so far....

Thursday: 180 minutes

968 minutes. Only about 16 hours this week, due to Tuesday. And probably the less next week, with the three-day weekend and more diabetes stuff on Tuesday.

Possible Upload Area for Next Nanowrimo

One of the problems I had with Nanowrimo (apart from sucking, which can't be blamed on anyone, not even the Romans) was where to put the text that I had written. I used Google docs to compose, but then trying to move the Google Docs documents into Google Blogger was a mess.

Ponder among yourselves whether that's ironic, coincidental or just lame.

So I was looking at this Google Docs competitor called TextFlow, which looked pretty good--I'm always looking for ways to give businesses better alternatives to buying a lot of expensive hardware and software--and found Scribd.

I think I've stumbled across it before, but I also think it's somewhat more interesting than it used to be. Worth a browse, anyway, and my crap would feel right at home with all the other crap that's up there.

Conscience of the Kings?

I've seen a couple of these frantic got to pass now type bills in my life. The idea being that if the momentum is stopped and people are actually given a chance to voice an opinion on the topic, the bill will end up dead. For example, the Amnesty bill proposed in--what was it, 2007?

They call it "the thwarting the forces of evil" bill, agree to some vague terms that serve some apparent political focus, but probably are just about shunting money from whoever to a favored group, and they don't necessarily even write the bill before voting on it.

They surely don't read the bills.

In other words, there's an intense flurry of activity by our elected representatives to make absolutely sure that they're not, in fact, representing us.

I mean, let us set aside, for a moment, the political bullshit about "we must act now before it's too late!" They don't believe this (and you shouldn't either). The government screws things up when it takes its time and tries very hard to get things right. When it acts "quickly", it's always too late, and the net real effect is usually overstuffed prisons or long waits at the airport.

Look at the mess that is the PATRIOT Act. You may have even been against it. But if you were against it because it was bad law, too late and an ineffective boondoggle, you should similarly be against the stimulus act. I think, at least, the PATRIOT act had popular support. (I'm not saying it should have, mind you.)

Anyway, I wonder what it must be like in the heads of our elected representatives as they scramble to not represent us. I mean, they can't really be fooling themselves. The whole point of the various procedural tricks--like, say, voting on cloture, then writing the bill--is to circumvent democracy, debate, and (everybody's favorite whipping boy) logic. How noisy and occluded and chaotic it must be between the ears of most of these guys.

Whatever the fallout is from this sort of thing, it's good to remember that if you maintain your own ethics, you are in a far better place than any of these guys will ever be.

Signs of the Times, Part II

Seen on the neighborhood Wal-Green's flashing LED sign:


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Bit Maelstrom's Top 10 Movies of 2008

OK, The Boy decided, after much deliberation, that The Dark Knight was his favorite for 2008. He finally made up his mind based on the movie's characters which were, undoubtedly, among the best drawn this year.

I had a harder time because I felt this year had a lot of very good movies but not a lot of truly great movies. Let's try to narrow my "very good" list down a bit.

  • Among the movies I saw this year that were really good, but weren't from this year: The Fall (2006), Live And Become (2005), A Man Named Pearl (2006) and Young @ Heart (2007).
  • Appaloosa was the best (and possibly only) western I saw this year. I think it will weather well but it doesn't stand right now as a great movie.
  • Cloverfield was the best English language horror I saw this year, though I also really enjoyed The Ruins and Quarantine. Truly great horror is very rare, though, and I'm just pleased there were solid entries this year.
  • Hellboy 2 was probably my favorite summer movie. I loved Iron Man and enjoyed Incredible Hulk, and I'm not sure Dark Knight was all that summery a movie. Hulk doesn't quite realize its potential and Iron Man peters out at the end; Hellboy is so near excellence it's hard for me to leave it out, but there's some real weaknesses in the story.
  • Kung Fu Panda was an unexpected delight that holds up excellently under multiple viewings.
  • In Bruges was my favorite dark comedy and Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day my favorite light comedy.
  • I'll mention The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader because they're critic's darlings and nominated for Oscars. Both have extraordinary features but I wouldn't put either in my "best of". I can say this, sight unseen of Revolutionary Road and Milk, too.
That leaves me with the following ten films.

  1. Changeling
  2. Let The Right One In
  3. Rachel Getting Married
  4. Slumdog Millionaire
  5. Tropic Thunder
  6. Wall-E
  7. Defiance
  8. Doubt
  9. Frost/Nixon
  10. Gran Torino
So, there's my top 10. Eh, Doubt probably shouldn't be on there.

You know, weird as it sounds I might be leaning toward Defiance as my best of 2008.

The Reset Button

Freeman Hunt talks about slavery and the stimulus here, prompting me to continue puzzling over the concept of "test-driven" government.

One of the great regrets Thomas Jefferson had--and consequently we've all had, whether we know it or not--was that he could never figure out how to make a reset button. He didn't phrase it in those terms, obviously, but he was quite concerned about the tyranny of older generations upon the younger.

Rather prescient, if you ask me.

Seventy-years ago, the so-called "greatest" generation voted in an alleged pension plan which allocated the wealth of the young to the old. This Ponzi scheme continues to be sold on the notion of "we'll steal from our children, then you can steal from yours"--a plan which probably looked a lot better while the nation was undergoing a baby boom.

Of course, a lot of things happened 70 years ago that essentially ended the American Experiment and put us all on the hook for things like the impending "stimulus" bill. People had been made desperate enough by the consequences of bad governance that they were willing to accept more and more governance.

With the schools safely in the government's hands, a fondness--a romanticization, even--of state-driven solutions necessarily grew and flourished.

All of them require enslavement of future generations.

Yes, that sounds more dramatic than it actually is. The truth is a banal slouch toward socialism, which itself is a half-hearted communism. Somewhere along the path, war will intervene--which Freeman posits will be against one of our creditors, but I wouldn't rule out revolution. After all, the old and infirm members of our society are essentially robbing the young and healthy. Talk about a slam dunk!

It doesn't have to happen this way, of course, and it may not in our lifetimes or even in our children's. We could elect, theoretically, a super-Reagan type: Someone who was absolutely dedicated to tearing down the various enslavements; someone who was more dedicated to that proposal than having a second term; someone who wasn't afraid of being assassinated.

It seems like a long-shot.

We could get a series of Reagan-lites, though. One might have thought that the success of welfare reform--which Democrats are quick to attribute to Clinton, but quicker to try to undo--would have taught the ruling class something, but there seems to be no point--no fire in the belly--for candidates who would make themselves and their peers less powerful.

So, this also seems like a longshot. Especially when the only party that considers it even a valid approach only considers it valid when they're out of power.

A lot of people fault Bush for not vetoing more when the Reps were in power, but in fact, the Rep Congress should've been busy tearing things down and stopping the President. That's really why they were elected. That whole Contract With America thing--the very line of thinking that gave the Reps their first majority in my lifetime--if they'd stuck to it, they'd still be in charge, and we wouldn't be looking at the current crisis in the same way.

W was barely elected in the first place, and mostly as the anti-Gore. It was Congress that had the mandate and Congress that screwed it up.

And all for the want of a reset button. If only we could establish that laws passed only applied to those who passed them! "Every generation needs a revolution," Jefferson said. What would be nice is to figure out how to completely clean house and start from scratch, maybe every ten years. Erase all Federal law. Maybe relocate the capital in a random spot.

It wouldn't work, of course. Plenty of laws have timeouts and they're just re-upped without a single debate. Maybe if our representatives were chosen at random?

It's the same problem I have with the whole test-driven concept: in code, we have very simple tests and objective answers about what right answers to particular inputs are to be. In politics, I see people looking at "3 + 4 = 6" and yelling that six is the right answer, and that seven is an oppressive neocon Jewish-controlled conspiracy.

I don't know. I've never been able to crack this nut, even with the benefit of 200 years of hindsight Jefferson didn't have. Though sometimes I wonder if the American Confederacy didn't have the right idea.

Drug Tests Are Bad, mm-kay?

One of those "things that make you go 'hmm'" from Perri Nelson's dad here.

In all my years, the only time I was asked to take a drug test was when I worked at Beckman Labs. I was consulting there, and it was a short job so I put it off until the job was over.

'cause, you know, I've got so many horse tranquilizers in my blood, it's amazing I don't whinny.

No, seriously, I'm offended by drug tests. Why? Because I've never taken drugs; I'm offended at the insinuation. Why should I have to pee into a cup because everyone else "experimented" in their youth and some of them continue conducting advanced studies?

Childish, I know. But I'm anti-drug. (Even stupidly so, arguably.) I've had some novocaine--though for a long time I had a dentist who would fill cavities without it, if she thought it could be done quickly. I've taken ibuprofen twice, in order to fulfill a parental obligation.

I do get some caffeine because I drink soda. But it doesn't take much to turn me jumpy and paranoid. Er, it doesn't take much caffeine. A "large" soda will do it, so I've cut down on those.

Anyway, a requirement like this--visited upon the working every day--would never, ever be visited upon the non-working. Interesting, no?