Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Riddle Re-Post

What do these guys have in common?

Philosopher Rene Descartes, "golden age" porn starlet Vanessa Del Rio, Presidential candidate Al Gore, author Nikolai Gogol, schlock producer Robert Lippert, Japanese avant-garde director Nagisa Oshima and actor Christopher Walken.
Adding to the list: Jedi Ewan McGregor, agitator Cesar Chavez and scientist Robert "My Biscuits Are Burnin'" Bunsen.

Things That Make You Slam The Phone Down And Rush To The Bathroom

Barbarienne: "The toilet was thirsty so I gave it a drink!"

Monday, March 30, 2009

Manic Monday Apocalypso: If One Atom Bomb Can Ruin Your Whole Day, Two Would Probably Do You In For A Week

Today's MMA recognizes Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a man who survived the blast at Hiroshima, then went home to Nagasaki just in time to catch then next A-bomb!

It's interesting to me that a victim meme has sprung up in Japan about this. I guess it all fits in with anti-American sentiments--oh, we're so horrible because we're the only ones to have used an atomic bomb in war--but it doesn't seem exactly Bushido to bitch about being slapped by the guy you picked a fight with.

But then, Japan wasn't acting very "Bushido" during that time period, anyway. I've heard that they don't really study WWII that way. That is they don't study their attack on China, and the atrocities there, or their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. As if WWII "just happened".

I don't know if that's true. But it is kind of weird that the whole giant rubber-suited monster genre of movie--Godzilla (Gojira)--begins with an atomic blast, just from a symbolic level. If you've never seen the original Godzilla, I recommend it, too: The obvious parallels to Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a little surreal. Just that mix: Now you're watching footage that looks like a documentary of a true horror, now there's that goofy looking rubber suit.

Japan had its Apocalypse back in 1945 (though its roots go way farther back, obviously) and emerged a peaceful powerhouse, something I think few would have predicted.

As always, a reminder that while civilization is fragile, dedicated work can bring it back stronger than ever.

Little Miss Sunshine Cleaning Company

We have a lot of slacker comedies these days, but they're not usually centered around women. This may be because slacker women aren't funny. For instance, in the new dramedy (can I still use that word?) from the makers of Little Miss Sunshine, Sunshine Cleaning we have slacker sisters Rose and Norah, working as cleaner and waitress respectively, our girls aren't really slackers because they just never grew up (as is the usual case with boys), but because of a tragedy in their early lives.

This swaps out some comedic potential for drama, which is ookkaaaay, I guess, but maybe a little, I dunno, cheap? (Drama is way easier to pull off than comedy, especially when you've got Amy Adams and Emily Blunt in a tragic situation.)

Anyway, in this case, we have the lovely and versatile Amy Adams in the title role, playing a normal person (as opposed to a nun, a wild '30s actress or a fairy princess) and there's just no doubt that this girl can act. She's a single mom having an affair with a married man (instead of getting her real estate license) and hard up for money because her son, Oscar, decided to lick things at school, and they don't want him there any more unless they can drug him. (I didn't know that the state could force you to "medicate" your child but, hey, way to go Big Pharm, if that's the case. Nothing like hooking 'em young. I guess the tobacco guys knew what they were doing, eh?)

Her cop boyfriend hooks her up with a crime scene cleanup job, not entirely on the up-and-up, and Rose takes to it, dragging her recently fired sister along with her. The money is good and they begin to feel good about it, making some investments and getting the necessary training and certification.

There are about half-a-dozen subplots: Grampa (Alan Arkin) car-schools Oscar while buying things off the back of a truck and trying to sell them for profit; a romantic thread with the one-armed proprietor of the store (acting chameleon Clifton Collins, Jr.) where they buy their supplies; the affair with the cop; Rose's high school quasi-reunion; Norah's pursuit of a person connected to one of their cases; I think that's all of them.

This keeps things moving, and everything builds nicely to a second act catastrophe. In a traditional three-act screen play, the second act ends with a disaster--the big disaster that knocks the hero down and gives him something to overcome in the climax in act three.

And that's where this movie kind of peters out: The second act catastrophe is awesome. Just when it looks like Rose has finally got her act act together, Norah ruins everything. You just can't see a good way out of this mess.

And then there's some resolving of personal conflicts and--I won't call it a deus ex machina, because it's not, exactly, but for a movie that doesn't bother to tie up half its loose ends (which is fine, things can be too neat), this main one is not tied up way too neatly and unconvincingly. (I can't go into it without spoiling things.)

Overall, it's an entertaining movie with good acting (including the aforementioned Emily Blunt of Charlie Wilson's War, Steve Zahn as the cop boyfriend and Jason Spevak as Oscar) a few laughs from a broad spectrum of humor (that is some standard comedy fare, some darker), and quite a bit of drama.

We actually felt it could've been a little bit longer. It runs only 90 minutes, with about ten minutes cut from the European release. (That might've been another subplot, who knows?)

This movie isn't all that much, in nature, like the contrived, sit-com-y Little Miss Sunshine, either. (I liked Little Miss Sunshine but it was terribly clichéd.) It shares a couple of producers with this movie, and you can feel their influence--like I suspect the filming location is part of that--and Alan Arkin is in both movies, but the earlier movie is a lot shallower and, yes, funnier.

And it was almost like the director and writer wanted to avoid the tidy wrapping up of loose ends enjoyed by the LMS crew and so left us with a lot more questions, and a little unsatisfied.

See, I'm having trouble ending this. The short form is: We liked it but wouldn't recommend it unreservedly.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Duplicity: Nobody Trusts Anybody

The trailers for Duplicity initially positioned it as a super-serious spy movie. Then they had a run suggesting it was a romantic comedy. This dichotomy may have something to do with its tepid reception, because even while there's an overlap in the audiences, there's not much overlap in the urge.

That is, people don't think "Oh, I want to see Sleepless In Seattle--but I guess The Osterman Weekend is just as good." I mean, you might be in the mood for either, or both, but a strong urge to view one genre just isn't going to be satisfied by a movie in the other genre.

This is, however, a romantic-comedy/spy movie. Though a little light on the comedy and more a caper flick.

The premise is that Clive "And Just When Everything Was Going So Well" Owen and Julia "They're Called Boobs, Ed" Roberts are corporate spies who are managing a convoluted caper while trying to build a relationship.

Well, look, I've been bitching about how Romantic Comedies have gone from the struggle of two independent, strong-willed people to find a way to cohabitate, to being about neurotic women pursued by persistent and apparently not very bright men. So, I guess we have a compromise: Duplicity is about two, independent, strong-willed and neurotic people trying to find a way to cohabitate.

It works, sort of. The plot centers around a mysterious product that one company has and another company wants, and the revelation of that MacGuffin was pretty funny. The corporate spy angle makes it possible for the movie to be lighter than a traditional spy-game movie would be.

The narrative ping-pongs between current day and progressive flashbacks, and somehow I missed the first flashback cue, so I got a bit confused at first. But the plot's actually pretty straightforward despite the other plot (the one the two are hatching) being ridiculously complex.

Naturally, The Boy and I were more intrigued by the business aspect of corporate spying, and with the two CEOs being played by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, the Owen-Roberts relationship seemed a little...less so. (Giamatti is at his scene-chewing best while Wilkinson's role is unfortunately tiny; you could see a really fun movie being made out of their relationship.)

I don't think this is entirely a testosterone issue. These two characters are not very sympathetic. They constantly test and mess with each other, which they simultaneously seem to enjoy and revile. It's a difficult task and writer/director Tony Gilroy (screenwriter for the Bourne series) doesn't quite pull it off.

Normally, in a caper movie, you want the guys pulling the caper to succeed. (It's a bit perverse, but we don't expect movies to teach a moral lesson, do we?) And normally, in a RomCom, you want the two protagnoists to get together. This was not especially the case here. (And I give Gilroy credit for not making the ending too pat.) The whole thing ends up feeling a bit overly intellectual (Bourne has this in parts, too, I think) and unfocused.

I'm not a Julia Roberts fan, particularly--I find her looks distracting rather than engaging--but I thought she brought some warmth to the role, even though there wasn't much room for it. I am sort of a Clive Own fan, but there was no room at all to gauge whether his charm had any genuine affection to it.

You can see why this undermines the romantic-comedy part; it also really undermines the caper part. And the whole thing ends up feeling overlong.

A shame, really.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Free Baby!

No, I'm not giving away babies, Freeman Hunt had herself a Freebaby yesterday evening while you were watching "Supernanny"! I mean, really, if you watched less TV and concentrated your efforst, you could probably come up with something pretty cool, too.

Probably not as cool as a Freebaby, but still.

I'm hoping the pix turn up on her blog.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Random Thought

As I (and the rest of the world) eagerly await the arrival of its newest champion of Freedom, I noticed this list tweeted by Mary Katherine Ham.

And I wondered, is Man the only mammal that enjoys bathing?

But then I remembered the elephants. They always seem to have a good time with it. Hippos, too.

It's the hairy mammals that don't like to bathe (you know, like Trooper York).

Keep watching the skies for Freeman Hunt's announcement!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Treadmill Desk, Week 12

It would actually make more sense, in a sort of OCD way, to rest on the 13th week. That way there'd be four rest periods in a year.

I don't even know if I'm going to repeat this. But my mind immediately went there. Don't even know if I'm going to make it through a whole week without the treadmill. We'll see. So far, zero.
--- --- --- --- --- --- ---
I did an hour on Sunday while finishing my taxes and an hour-and-a-half on Tuesday while working. I'm walking better, though, in general, which makes me wonder if I have to strike some sort of balance-thingy.

I'm more an extremist. Well, so far, so good, anyway. We'll see how it plays out.
--- --- --- --- --- --- ---
Well, that was interesting. I moved a lot better this week without the treadmill.

I may have to resort to some sort of moderation.

The Only Thing Worse Than...

I can't remember if it's a lawyer that's worse than a journalist or a journalist that's worse than a lawyer, in Troop's book, but I find, for a long time, that I blame journalists not so much for the job they do, but for the job they don't do.

Just for example, education has been in a crisis since I was born. We see the effects of this crisis every day. Why do people put up with it? If only there were a group dedicated to, you know, reporting on these problems and putting them in the proper perspective (versus, say, focusing on random crimes)!

I mean, think about it for a second: What problem do we have that persists simply because those whose job would be to shine a light on it, and to beat the drum about it are too busy with trivialities--partisan politics aside? (The press certainly did this--continues to do it--in its more "conservative" forms, even though liberals dominate.)

I wanted to write a lot more about it, but for now, I just want to reference this, courtesy Protein Wisdom. I disagree with the notion that the turning of the press into a party apparatus is "organic", but the why is secondary to undoing the damage.

Check it out!

Check Mate

The Flower and The Boy take a weekly chess lesson. (They're actually the bulk of the class, which I think is down to one other kid.)

Anyway, The Flower beat the teacher yesterday.

Although the teacher said he didn't let her win, I suspect what happened was that he underestimated her at first. Then she launched a very aggressive strategy that put him on the defensive.

Still, not bad for a seven-year-old.

Channeling My Inner 11-Year-Old

The Beatles had a resurgence when I was a kid--as they seem to every few years since they broke up--and they were the first, em, "serious" pop band I listened to. I never listened to the radio--the cacophonous incidental sounds of radio (from AM/FM noise artifacts to commercials to DJs breaking in) made (and makes) it something I cannot tolerate for very long. I picked up some "Donny and Marie" and "Captain and Tenille", but that didn't really ignite any interest. (Can't imagine why.)

Most of the music I listened to was classical or noodling--whatever I could play. (I never have "gotten" piano, though, sadly.) I had a kind of culture shock when I went from piano to guitar because piano teachers generally tell you what to play and guitar teachers ask you what you want to play. So guitar lessons were not successful at that point. (What were they going to do? Teach me Bach and Beethoven? Not likely.)

Flash forward a few months or a year, and one of my classmates takes on a tour of Capitol Records (where her father worked) and they handed out promotional copies of the latest Beatles compilation album, Love Songs. (One of the advantages of going to school in L.A. Another student's father worked at ABC studios, so we toured there as well.)

Flash forward again, and I've got a few more albums and I teach myself a few chords and score a copy--I'm still not sure how--of the "Beatles Complete", a fairly comprehensive book of typographically convenient piano arrangements of all the Beatles' tunes. With some help from Peter, Paul and Mary for basic fingerings, I taught myself to play "Polythene Pam".

Why that song? Five chords, but four of them aren't bar chords, and when you play it actually sounds like the song on the album. (Because the book had been set up as a sort of fake book for piano--what else?--the music was often transposed into good piano keys, where the Beatles naturally played in good guitar keys. There was a later two-volume work that preserved the scores far better.)

And so I learned to play guitar. Ultimately, I learned fifty or sixty of their tunes, possibly more, though I had more success (as a guy alone with his guitar) emulating Simon & Garfunkel (hold the Garfunkel), ultimately learning all the songs of that duo with the exact or nearly exact fingerings (and quite a few post-breakup songs, too). Then, in the early MTV years, I'd play whatever came on which, to this day, gives me an odd selection of music to recall from that period. (It could've been huge on the radio, but if it wasn't on TV, I didn't hear it. Sounds strange, but MTV let the songs play all the way through without interrupting back then.)

During my Beatles period, I studied the music and learned about the phenomenon and hung out with other Beatles fans (there were about 50 kids altogether in my middle school, divided between Beatles fans and KISS fans, and ne'er the twain shall meet, except in my house where my sister was, predictably, a KISS fan).

This period ended for me when John Lennon was shot; I found it hard to listen to The Beatles after that for some time, and started listening to their solo albums. (Listening to "the latest" music has never been my thing, as you can see.) I cast about for other things to listen to, but I wouldn't get close to anything like my Beatles obsession (at least in "pop" music) for ten years (when I rediscovered Loudon Wainwright III).

My transition from the banging chords of the Beatles to Paul Simon-style fingerpickin' started with this blues song (which before this very moment I had never heard anyone else play 'cept for me and the guy who taught it to me), and ultimately led me back home to Bach and other Baroque and Renaissance music. (There is truly "Classical" music for the guitar but most of it is terribly boring. The late 18th century and the 19th century isn't a font of great guitar music. 20th century music and the guitar go gloriously well together, however.)

Anyway a couple years ago when I splurged and got myself a new classical guitar--and the best one I found was actually pretty old--the shopkeeper (sensing an easy mark, no doubt) also showed me a vintage 12-string Framus which I promptly bought, rationalizing that both old guitars together were cheaper and better sounding than the new ones I had sampled. (Random youtube of this kind of guitar in action, but you can hear it on a ton of the Beatles middle period stuff.)

Plucking out a few Beatles tunes on that thing does send me back--to a time before I was born, even. Heh. The sound is evocative.

But evocative in an entirely different way from this.

Although I've never quite understood the Guitar Hero attraction, I have to admit, this variant awakened my inner 11-year-old.

Filling The Notebook

I've got to stop writing long posts that I don't actually put up.

Well, I've got to stop writing them faster than I clean them out of the drafts folder, anyway.


Planned Irrelevance

Somebody tweeted about this today: It's called the "Congressional Effect Fund". It's a mutual fund premised on the idea that Congress destroys wealth. That's putting your money where your mouth is, eh? Or rather, where their mouths ain't.

I don't know enough about how this stuff works to know if they can actually minimize their exposure on non-Congress days, and I do sort of wonder whether, if something like this took off, it wouldn't end up creating distorting effects.

But it is interesting from the standpoint of "libertarian optimism" we were talking about before.

Also interesting are the various cities and states (AP snark warning on that state link) resisting the current power grab.

Could we build a society around the Federal government? In-between? In the unregulated and unregulate-able nooks and crannies?

To an extent, the "black market" or "underground economy" (WSJ.com) has always flourished in supressive times--and regulations are suppressive, however necessary they may be--and, in a totalitarian environment, the black market is often the only market there is.

By the way, another word for "underground economy" is "free market".

I'm not an OUTLAW like some people, but it doesn't take much to realize that people will seek to survive and to improve their conditions, and if the environment works against them they will push back against the environment, escape the environment or operate under the table (which is a form of escape after all).

Technology can play a big hand here: Even while it gets harder to start a business due to regulation, technology can make it cheaper than ever.

The real question is whether you can work in your current physical space well enough to fight the creeping, smothering embrace of government--or whether you need to move to a new, less paternalistic locale.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Don't Want The President To Fail

I just want all of his policies to fail. Don't you see the difference?

I want the President to succeed, you know, as long as that success doesn't include any of those policies I disagree with. (Which actually isn't all of them. It would probably be a good idea to get rid of the homeowner deduction, as much as it would hurt.)

The battle rages. Fred Thompson wants the President's policies to fail. Patterico approves of the wording while ignoring that, in context, that's exactly what Rush said. Goldstein schools him. (The early comments are really funny, too.)

What I don't get is how Patterico--who I have mentioned before does a great job calling out the Los Angeles Times for its many duplicities--can't grasp this. I mean, I swear that in recent years, he's found the Times just making crap up to support their narrative: How on earth does he think careful word choices and non-inflammatory phrasings are going to help?

If you let someone else control your meaning, you've lost the game. It's that simple.

UPDATE: I wanted to point out here that I wanted George W. Bush to fail, too, in almost every case. In fact, it's generally a good thing for the people if the Presidents do fail, unless they're making government smaller--which they almost never are.

Inappropriate But Funny, Vol 1

I don't actually approve of abusing the poor user--think of me as the Strunk & White of developers--but I do find the following site's suggested responses to IE6 users funny.

Content Warning: Adult Language and Adult Themes


It's not really fair to blame the users; MS saw a market that threatened it and did whatever it could to undermine it.

I try not to see the parallels in other facets of life.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Have I Mentioned Lately...

...that homeschooling rocks?

Have you been following this story? The girl's gonna be in college by the time the issue gets settled. Wait, no, she'd be 19 now and already in college.

It's not just the thought of adult authority figures demanding your child debase herself, it's the fact that they she was an honor student who gave no reason for them to mistrust her--and that's precisely why they mistrusted her!

Lack of evidence of guilt = evidence of a criminal mastermind!

Should anyone this stupid be in charge of any sort of education?

Drink Too Much (b)

I've been drinking too much water, according to the latest tests. (The doctor has advised and tested me on the basis of me needing to be alive to pay for The Boy. Smart!) I haven't had any negative symptoms (e.g., headaches) but I'm reducing the amount of water I drink, and adding some fruit juice in.

The Boy, unfortunately, backslid a bit in the past two weeks. He's been having trouble keeping track of his water bottle and I think his guesses were on the low side. He's also got to start getting more aggressive as far as changing his diet. He's been good about trying new things, but if he finds something he likes, he'll eat it to the exclusion of all else. Variety is key.

Some of you asked about this program; I finally got the guy's name right: Carey Reams. This is just the first thing that came up on Google, so I don't know how accurate a representation it is, nor should it be considered a validation of other things on that site. (Or an invalidation, for that matter.)

Years ago I knew a woman with a mess of inoperable brain tumors who did this program and got rid of all of them. It took her a couple of years to go from "terminal" to a clean bill of health, but in the next ten years or so, she didn't have a relapse.

I just remembered that; interestingly, there's no connection between her and my doctor.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sweet Coraline

One important rule of making it in Hollywood is to always be working on your next picture by the time your last one opens, and to have the one after that all nailed down. That way, if the one at the box office flops, you have two more chances before your career is finished.

This is probably impossible if you're doing stop-motion animation. And so it came to pass that the director of Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach went eight years between movie releases: the disastrous Monkeybone and the reasonably successful Coraline.

I had held off going to see this movie, as it The Boy wasn't really in the target audience--too old--and neither was The Flower--if not too young, exactly, then not particularly inclined to the creepy. But it has hung on and made an unexpected appearance at our local art house this week, when all the Oscar dross finally got pushed out. (Yay!)

The Flower seemed pretty confident that, as this was a fairy tale (my description), that they would all live happily ever after, and therefore it would be okay for her to see. But why o why, she lamented, didn't they just tell you the ending beforehand? Then you'd know if you wanted to go see it!

This led to a less surreal discussion than the one I posted here (which occurred after the movie) between her and the boy about whether the ending was more important than how you get there.

So, about the movie: This is, indeed, a fairy tale about a young girl who moves from the big city into a sub-divided house out in the boondocks with her preoccupied parents. In the house, she discovers a tiny door with only a brick wall behind it. But if her parents aren't around (asleep, away), the wall becomes a passage. And on the other side of the passage is a mirror image of her world, only this world fulfills her dreams of the perfect life.

Her other parents are doting and entertaining, her neighbors aren't crazy old coots but magically talented, the garden is a living world of lights, and even her room is fantastically enchanted.

The only apparent thing that's "off" is that all the people in this mirror world have buttons for eyes. (This, of course, is just a warning sign of how off the whole thing is.)

Creepy, eh? Now, fairy tales are creepy and horrific, in general. This isn't much different, thematically, than Hansel and Gretel and the gingerbread house, or Celtic stories of "little people", who were always doing horrible things. But if you're going to take a kid to see this, make sure they're not freaked out by eye stuff. (The other really disturbing part of the movie, that of the fat old women running around in skimpy clothing, was in the "well, there's something you don't see every day" category. The Flower recognized the reference to Boticelli immediately.)

The Flower is primarily disturbed by unhappy endings, so no issue with the eyes for her, though when the illusion of the other world started to come apart, my arm was grabbed and stayed grabbed for quite some time.

And come apart it does as the mystery of the "other mother" unfolds.

Wonderful voice work by Teri Hatcher (who shall forever be Lois Lane to me) and Keith David (as a savvy cat nemesis to the "other mother"), as well as Dakota Fanning as Coraline, John Hodgman as Father, and the comedy team of French and Saunders as the crazy old ladies next door. Ian McShane, late of Kung Fu Panda, plays an old Russian guy training mice in his apartment.

Ultimately, this is a satisfying movie, with solid Fairy Tale logic. Everything hangs together. I would swear I've read the tale before in another form; certainly the concept of a fairy world where illusions make very mundane or even nasty things seem marvelous is not new. But I can't remember any particular fairy tale that goes that way. (Fritz Leiber wrote a Fafhrd/Grey Mouser story called Bazaar of the Bizarre in that vein, and the theme of great-illusion-masking-horrible-truth was used in the 2000 version of Bedazzled.)

And Selick's work is good here. He demonstrates (again) that much of the visual artistry of Nightmare Before Christmas was his, if you didn't pick that up from James and the Giant Peach and Monkeybone. (His pallette is less ruthlessly grey/white/red than Burton's.) Since it was meant to exploit 3D--my brain doesn't do 3D so we saw it regular-flat-style--it has more than a few moments that are conspiculously sticky-out-of-the-screen-y, but it's not horrible in that regard.

And the stop-motion is very fine, indeed. It's even more impressive to think that, in this day-and-age when computers can simulate this style of animation (or even more, that computers fulfill the needs stop-motion animation was originally meant to address), that there are teams of people out there moving little dolls around a millimeter at a time. And you get to marvel at the broken mirrors, the running water, and all the other little things that seem impossible with just stop-motion. (There are some parts that were surely computer animated, but not that many!)

The only caveat I have is that the movie is probably over-rated. It's very good, but not a mind-blowing revelation. I think a lot of the hype comes from the fact that Neil Gaiman--a comic book luminary along the lines of Alan Moore or Frank Miller--wrote the story on which this was based.

It's a fine story. And a fine movie. Part of the reason for both, though, is that it doesn't have grand pretensions. It's a nice, moral fairy tale. Enjoy it for being that.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

From "Poly" meaning "many"...

If you haven't been following this debate between Jeff Goldstein and Patterico, and you care about language, truth, education and how all those play into politics, you should.

In one corner, we have the guy who has dedicated himself to pantsing the Los Angeles Times, one of the worst papers that ever was or will be.

In the other corner, we have a stalwart defender of language and meaning, and a bad ass catch-wrestler who could probably beat you up. He's got footnotes and links back to some pretty hefty essays on this whole argument, which is his blogging raison d'etre.

The recent flare-up was the Rush Limbaugh brouhaha staged by the White House.

A lot of the conservative response was, "Well, Rush is inflammatory and he should take care to not be so provocative." This is Patterico's side.

Goldstein's response is basically that when the speaker's intention to communicate is subordinate to the listener's intention to impute meaning, the game is already lost.

The fact that the whole thing was staged by the White House as a distraction, and that the entire context of Rush's talk proves his intention was exactly the non-controversial sentiment that the "be more cautious" crowd would have preferred him to express, demonstrates that Goldstein is correct.

If you don't believe that, cast your mind back to the election, when Sarah Palin was ridiculed for saying she could see Russia from her house. Which, of course, she never even said. Or look at Jindal, who was ridiculed for walking up to a podium. Now cast your mind forward to all the apologists of Obama's recent "Special Olympics" comment: How many of those people defending him attacked others for similar behavior?

Patterico's reasonable-ness is his downfall. He sounds a bit like the abused wife who's just sure that if she just minds her Ps and Qs, she won't get hit again. And in the case of conservatives trying to gain some kind of fair hearing in the current environment, it's a seductive argument: We can tailor our messages in a way that they won't distort them. (Or at least that there is as "reasonable segment" of them who won't.)

But the truth is a lot harder: If we're ever to have honest debate in the world again, we have to break the stranglehold on the media. We have to insist on being taken on what we mean, not grovel when bad actors impute villanous motives to us. We have to change the educational system so that people learn to respect communication and are able to destroy the rhetorical sleights-of-hand engaged in by would-be totlitarians.

In other words, I think Patterico doesn't really see how bad things are, or how big the problem really is. But I can understand: It really is bad, and the problem is huge. It'd be nice if we could actually make ground just by being reasonable.

But the unfortunate reality is that "reasonable" people never make ground. Because there's always a "good reason" why they can't.

"You are a smelly pirate hooker!"

The little business with the Irish PM has particularly provoked a comparison in my mind with the dopey, funny, revisionist history that is Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. I maintained throughout the election that Obama was no great orator. It's one thing that his speeches were vacuous and contradictory, however mellifluously delivered, it's more that he needed a TelePrompTer, which is the mark of a lazy speaker.

Forget about his debating skills (please!). He was (and is) at a huge disadvantage as far as any interactive discussion goes, because he has to lie. He had to sell a 95% tax cut (in a country where only 95% of the population doesn't pay taxes. He had to sell a "net spending cut"--one of the baldest lies since Clinton campaigned on taxing the rich, while constantly lowering the threshhold for "rich". He had to sell not being a socialist, though that at least is easier because, frankly, most Americans are socialists now, even if they don't use the word.

(That's the big lie the left has been successfully pushing for years: Refusing to label socialism for what it is.)

I'm not the only one who has made this Obama-Burgundy connection. VodkaPundit has ripped a page from the script to come up with this plan.

Anyway, a lot of the recent shenanigans and goin's on made me think of this debate.

Ron Burgundy: I'm not a baby, I am a man. I am an anchorman.
Veronica Corningstone: You are not a man. You are a big fat joke.
Ron Burgundy: I'm a man who discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn. That's what kind of man I am. You're just a woman with a small brain. With a brain a third the size of us. It's science.
Veronica Corningstone: I will have you know that I have more talent and more intelligence in my little finger than you do in your entire body, sir.
Ron Burgundy: You are a smelly pirate hooker.
Veronica Corningstone: You look like a blueberry.
Ron Burgundy: Why don't you go back to your home on Whore Island?
Veronica Corningstone: Well, you have bad hair.
Ron Burgundy: [insulted] What did you say?
Veronica Corningstone: I said... your hair... looks stupid.

Hey, Mr. Fancy Pants

Chances are your pants are not as fancy as the pair
Of very fancy pants that Mr. Fancy Pants will wear
When everyone is marching in the Fancy Pants Parade
He's gonna pass the test
He's gonna be the best
The best in terms of pants

Say a little prayer for Mr. Fancy Pants
The whole world knows
It's only clothes
And deep inside he's sad

--Jonathan Coulton

This was The Barb's first favorite song. Here's a cute video of it set to World of Warcraft graphics. (It's not the only one, either. JoCo has a lot of fans with graphic editing tools.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Guns and Roses

The roses are for you guys who have been taking the time to make such good comments in the posts these past few weeks. Much appreciated. Feels a lot less like I'm talking to myself.

The guns are in reference to this post, "Not Until You're 12, Son", which details a recent trip to the shooting range. That line, by the way, is from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (Mike Teevee complains that his dad won't let him have a gun.)

ChickenLittle--who, for the record, I have never once heard claim the sky is falling--mentioned that shooting is a family tradition (though he didn't get the gun obsession gene) and mentioned how firing a BB gun is illegal in his town, which put a stop to a fun hobby his boy was enjoying.

So, for the record, we go to a place called The Firing Line. Lane rental costs $20, gun rental costs about $10, a bag of about 50 bullets runs about $15. (A year family membership costs $250, less if you're a cop or soldier, and covers the cost of the lane and the gun rental, so the trip price goes down to $30. So it takes nine trips to come out ahead, not six like I posted there.)

I've heard some vague criticisms about the place, particularly in the store where we purchase our non-firearm firearms (i.e., BB guns, knives, swords, etc.) but we've never had any troubles, and the people there are very polite, and reasonably indulgent of tyros like ourselves. (We took our basic training/safety class there.) The Boy has noted that the people who deal in weapons--both guns and knives--tend to be very polite.

One thing I want to make clear, though, is that this whole gun thing is not my idea. You have to go back to my great-grandmother to find a marksman--she used to shoot prairie chickens for dinner, and win county competitions--and I never even had a toy gun until I started to hang with a friend who had a bunch of them. (I had a lot of toy cars and slot cars, which indicated absolutely nothing about my adult interests.)

We used to have these spring-loaded guns that shot out quarter-sized plastic disks that would curve if you knew how to shoot them. These were great toys and fun for playing tag with, though they would hurt if you took one point-blank--something we did pretty regularly because, hey, at the time, we were teenage boys. (Also, at least early on, the toy guns did not have those orange "I'm a toy!" safety tips.)

My parents never expressed an opinion one way or another on the subject of guns. But growing up when I did, there was an atmosphere of "guns are bad". If you had to use one--no matter how righteous the cause--you could expect to feel horrible about it and need lots of unhelpful counseling. (Remember "Hill Street Blues"?)

I never so much as held a gun until I was past 30. As weird as it may sound, I'd feel far more comfortable defending myself in hand-to-hand combat than using a gun. My dad just suggested going to a shooting range out of the blue. I agreed mostly for two reasons: My father kept saying that most people couldn't hit anything past 15 feet with a handgun when they needed to; it seemed like an experience I should have.

Well, I found myself able to hit a human-sized target at 60 feet pretty easily first time out (no instruction), so that resolved that. Also, I had the experience. (On the subject of experience, it's interesting to note that when firing a rifle later on, I began to see that the notion that Lee Harvey Oswald could've fired the three shots during the assassination was really not far-fetched at all. There's no substitute for going out and experiencing something for yourself.) But, frankly, I had mixed feelings about the "gun thing:.

But that didn't matter much, because there was The Boy. And The Boy, though quite young, was (and remains) fascinated with all things weapons. And when The Boy learned there were guns and shooting, the next thing he wanted to learn was when he could engage in shooting said guns.

Well, life goes on, and we actually didn't get around to it until he was ten or eleven, or maybe just barely twelve. I've come, in the space of that time, to regard shooting as an important skill. That is, one should be comfortable and familiar with guns, so as not to fall prey to any ideas of their mystical power. (Turns out, e.g., they actually don't kill people.) So, when we're in the groove, we go about twice a month to the range.

I've told The Boy that if he adheres to this new program well, we'll go to one of these Appleseed Rifle Camps. There's one within driving range, and they're not terribly expensive. Though we'll have to actually bring some rifles. Buying guns with a Dem in the White House seems fiscally imprudent, but with luck, they won't have passed any really price-hiking legislation by the time I get around to it.

As a parent, you often think you're going to pass things down to your kid. (I've so far been unable to get one kid really interested in music.) But this is one of those things that the kid has really passed back up to me.

Things You Don't Hear Often

"You can't sink German U-Boats with dancing battleships!"
. . .
"I think it would be funny if Hitler stepped on a rake."

"Not Until You're Twelve, Son"

We went shooting last night, for the first time in a while. We have a membership but sort of ironically, we haven't been since they printed our card. It was still sitting there in the box.

Just got busy, I guess. Plus, the last couple of times I had felt really tired and I was having trouble focusing on the target. That's something that's definitely changed. And it's okay, since you only have to visit about 69 times in toto to make the membership cheaper than doing a pay-as-you-go. We'll probably get in a few more than that.

As we were leaving, I asked one of the guys working at the front if business had picked up lately, and he gave me an earful. You know, you hear about the uptick in gun sales and the like, but you don't really know if it's true.

He was having trouble buying certain types of guns, and all kinds of ammo. Since he shoots thousands of rounds a month, he makes his own and was having trouble getting the supplies for that. A lot of his biggest suppliers simply closed their websites, no backordering--nothing.

We also were there late at night in the middle of the week, and there were plenty of people.

They had a shotgun there, and they do actually allow you to shoot one but you have to buy their ammo ($20/25 shells, so pretty expensive). It also turned out that it was a customer's shotgun and you had to bring your own. I checked on Google for prices and the first three places that turned up were sold out.

He said it had started with the economy and then gone ever crazier after the election and inauguration.

So, there's your man-on-the-street reporting for the day.

Oh, and I sucked. I mean, I hit the target 95% of the time, but with my aim, I have to hope any attacker is a wimp, deterred by a series of flesh wounds.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Treadmill Desk, Week 11

Friday: 140 minutes.

I was lucky to get this much in, given the time at work.

Monday: 404 minutes

Tuesday: 431 minutes

I didn't think I was going to do well this week time-wise but it's looking pretty good now. I might crack 30 hours.

Wednesday: 300 minutes

Well, maybe not....

Thursday: 455 minutes

I did most of my taxes on the treadmill today. That way, at least something productive was going on.

Not quite 29 hours. I may take week 12 off. Maybe every 12th week.... Not sure why. Maybe just to break things up a bit. I might not be able to do it, actually. I do get a little antsy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Feel It In My Fingers, I Feel It In My Toes

It must be spring, because we're talking about sex again.

Althouse had a thread about prostitution in New Zealand and, predictably, like clockwork, the "all women are whores" meme surfaced. Though this was "all women trade sex for material goods" which is the complement to "all men pay for sex," I guess. (You don't hear "all men are johns", much, though, do you?)

I stayed out and let Freeman tangle with it for a while, and then Darcy added her two cents, and finally--I swear, it's like a mouse to cheese, putting up these dubious philosophical propositions--I caved and wrote a very lengthy response. Which I'm going to repost here and add a few things because, believe it or not, I had even more to say.

First off, the emphasis is wrong. And men are likely to make this mistake because they're so strongly sex driven, but relationships aren't "about" sex. Sex is part of a relationship. If it's the reason for your relationship, you probably are better off with a prostitute or--if you're more monogamously inclined--a mistress.

But it's such an impoverished view of the whole man-woman dynamic. Anyway, here's what I wrote, with some additional notes:

Actually, the theme of the "cheapskate girlfriend" is not at all uncommon in a relationship where the woman has or controls the money. That particular phrase isn't common, I'd grant. ("Stingy bitch", maybe.) This reflects more the fact that men don't complain much about their women not giving them money because society associates masculinity with economic prowess.

Women talking about cheapskate men was used as evidence of their material natures. But women also complain of stingy lovers and, truthfully, stinginess in all areas of life. Sometimes people just complain. Other times, well, it's easier to say "He's tight with money" than "he doesn't love me."

And, certainly, women make this association, too, to a degree. Women who use this as their primary criterion are known as "gold diggers", a phrase which most wouldn't appreciate as a descriptor much more than "whore".

Saying that "most women trade sex for material goods at one time or another" but then trying to defend it as "well, it's not professional, so they're not whores" seems a bit specious to me. Isn't "trading sex for material goods" the very definition of prostitution? How is it not "professional" if they're getting paid for it? Are they pro-am?

I also don't buy Sofa King's addition of "a close personal relationship", either. The phrase was "material goods". There's a qualitative difference between "close personal relationship" and "jewelry".

There was a little sleight-of-hand here. Revenant used the word "material" and Sofa King added relationships as something men give women for sex. This is one of the creepier notions. Young people get into relationships because of sex--and, certainly, women were traditionally the gatekeeper ("no sex until we're married") because they were risking more.

I'll get into this more later, but sex <> sex. In other words, if a man and a woman have sex, it's not necessarily an equal exchange. In fact, it's probably almost never an equal exchange. The woman's risk is greater, partners' sexual apettites are almost always going to be different or out of sync, and just the raw value of time and attention is unequal from person-to-person.

Men and women in relationships do things that lead to sex. You could cynically attach a monetary value to all those things, and say they were both trading things for sex.

This is belied by the fact that the exchanges continue even when sex isn't in the picture. And sex continues even when there's no material trade.

One might: have sex to strengthen a unit that better survives in the word; have sex to get pregnant; have sex because it has a physiological and psychological benefit for your partner; have sex just for sex--because it's fun.

None of this is prostitution or "trading for material goods". Most of it falls into the category of "moral".

Sofa King actually said "What is the moral basis for saying that any one of these forms of compensation is superior to any other?" Which is just kind of silly. Morality has all kinds of things to say about when sex is okay and when it's not. Sex is one of the driving forces of morality.

But the part that made Darcy sad and which I thought was--well, demonstrably false as well as cynical--was when Rev said "A guy who tries building a relationship on kind words and deeds and going dutch on everything isn't going to get any. The relationship is probably going to die early on, too."

If I were to make an observation about women, it might be that they're shallow. I'd say the same thing about men, too, though, and I'd add a caveat: They're superficially shallow. Heh. That is to say, we all judge based on outward appearances at first. Guys go for the pretty girl, women go for the rich guy--and, frankly, I've never seen good looks work against a man, or money work against a girl.

But ultimately, most of us look a little deeper, and a guy can go a long way on kindness--even if he doesn't mean it.

As clichéd as all this stuff about women + gifts is, isn't there also a cliché about the poor young couple starting out with nothing but love? (True story: A friend of mine is celebrating his wife's birthday by taking her to the park and picking flowers from their garden, etc. Guaranteed he's "getting some" tonight.)

There are a lot of other clichés that don't fit neatly into the women-as-whore paradigm. Lots of men are supported by women. Medical students hook up with nurses (and then when they're established drop them for showgirls). Starving artists hook up with waitresses. Starving artists mutually work menial jobs, supporting each other as best they can.

No, in practice, there are only a few situations where this idea works out at all.

Do women sometimes receive an expensive gift that they respond to with sex? Sure. Some relationships degenerate to the point where the only worthy expression of affection is money from him and sex from her.

But in a healthy relationship--one that isn't going to end when her beauty or his money runs out--when an expensive gift moves a woman to sex, it's because it represents something else: The attention of the male and his demonstration that he values her, that he's willing to work or sacrifice for her, and so on.

In other words, there is an exchange going on. It's just not a material one.

Rev and I have locked horns many times over materialism. He's a materialist; he believes in nothing but matter. I think that's pretty silly because, you know, why would I bother with a piece of meat? Heh.

But a materialist is sort of stuck here: If there is no spiritual component to life then there has to be a material exchange of some sort, if you are kind to someone, that has to trigger something in their brain that releases a chemical that makes them feel good, or some damn thing.

In the stereotypical situation, where the man wants sex more than the woman, his sexual attention is at less of a premium. It can be self-centered. If she's not in the mood, sex can be her gift to him. (Wise women know this and wise men appreciate it.)

But how does he reciprocate? However good and considerate a lover he may be, where's the exchange in terms of doing something for your partner that you wouldn't necessarily be inclined to?

You think women respond to expensive gifts? Try doing the dishes. Paint a room. Fix something around the house. Rub her feet. Give her a back rub (that doesn't end up as a breast massage). Try easing her burden a little bit. Do something you wouldn't do except that it makes her feel good.

Try writing a poem or a song or doing something that demonstrates her place in your heart. Yeah, you stink at it, and it's embarrassing, but she loves it. Perform it in front of an audience.

Hell, just show her affection during day-to-day life. Maybe you both have jobs and kids and things are crazy, but you give out the same sort of "we're on our honeymoon" types of signals as you pass in the hallway, and see if that that diamond ring doesn't turn brass.

The "sex for stuff" paradigm only works with particular sorts of relationships with particular sorts of women.

Most women won't put up with it.

Boy, is that last line true. My favorite female commenters: knox, Darcy, Freeman, Ruth Anne, Amba--I can see them kicking a guy in the nuts who gave them a shiny bauble and expected sex in exchange for it. Women with any sense of self-esteem have a sharp sense of when you're calling them a whore, no matter how masked.

Women are funny that way: They'll give freely and generously something you couldn't ever buy from them.

On Eating Less and Exercising More

Last year I decided to lose ten pounds. I'm not sure how I did it, specifically. I just...decided, and in the space of a couple of months lost the weight. This is something I've done in the past, as well. Yes, I probably just exercised a little more and ate a little less, but I didn't follow a plan or anything.

I mention this only because, since last summer, I've been exercising a lot more. And for the past couple of months, my diet has been rather dramatically changed. I'm drinking a lot more water and eating a lot more vegetables.

And I haven't lost a pound.

This is sort of amusing. The point, of course, wasn't to lose weight but to improve my health in other ways, so I'm not complaining. I just think it's funny. To some degree, the weight gain may be from water and muscle growth--some of my clothes seem to be fitting differently--but still, I must be eating to compensate for both the increase and activity and replacement of my #1 vice--carbonated sugary beverages--with water.

On a lark, I may actually try losing weight again, to see if I can drop another ten.

Bodies are interesting things.

Weather and Climate

You guys still having the cold? Today marks the second day in a row that The Flower and The Barbarienne have gone swimming. Granted, shivering, blue-lipped swimming followed by a hot bath, but they're out there in the pool nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Instapundit linked to this gem about how man is causing "global dimming". So, we're responsible for both warming and cooling.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Big Love vs. The Latter Day Saints

The Mormon Church got a bit miffed by the HBO Series "Big Love" showing one of their private rituals as part of the show this season. I thought the church handled it correctly: They expressed their displeasure and distaste, but didn't get all outrage-y. I also agree with their position: The ritual really shouldn't have been used in this fashion. It's profane (in the original sense of the word) and probably fundamentally misrepresented in some important way.

Now, having seen it, I think they treated it fairly reverently, given the profane starting point. Troop points out that Catholic ritual has been rigorously mocked, and that made him uncomfortable that this Mormon ritual was used. Did it draw laughs from viewers? I wonder.

I didn't find it weird or risible, myself. And Barb's crisis of faith touches on a lot of what Hector and I have been hashing through over the past few months, as far as the purpose of religions and the conditions that create binding pacts.

In this episode, Barb comes right up against the debate of religion versus spirituality. It is, of course, popular these days to say, "I'm spiritual but not religious." That's a fairly natural outcome of our self-centered existence: It allows a person to profess to an interest higher than the material without most of the mockery that all religions endure.

The net benefit to society, however, is close to nil. Yet this is inverted in this episode of "Big Love". The Henrickson family pursues a spirituality that isn't Mormonism but isn't one of the polygamous splinter cults either. Barb realizes her pursuit of spirituality gives her all the pitfalls of religion--she's persecuted, mocked, she lives in fear, she's blessed with a belief in eternity but cursed with fears about how it will play out--and none of the benefits, as she's estranged from the group itself.

Still, I think it's important to remember not to take your ideas about a religion from a TV show. I'd be uncomfortable with a bunch of non-Mormons using my faith as a vehicle for soap opera if I were a church official.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I mentioned over at Althouse that my stay in the hospital (I was seven or eight weeks premature) cost $25/day versus the $2,500/day last time I checked. That's the baseline. It doesn't cover any extras, just a warm crib in a room full of other cribs and nurse/nuns. (Now ) And a doctor checking in once or twice a day.

I mis-spoke. The cost of NICU back in my infancy was ONE dollar/day. My entire stay cost, adjusting for inflation, about $160.

My poor parents (with no insurance, or at least none that covered this) had to pay that out of pocket.

I wonder if they wrote a check.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: Cannibal Women In The Avocado Jungle Of Death

This little known camp gem is the story of a--well, I'm not exactly sure, really, that it's post-apocalyptic. All I know is that somehow, the Avocado Jungle has sprung up between San Bernardino and the Arizona border, it's the only source of the apparently vital avocado crop in the US, and a hyper-feminist group of cannibals known as the Piranha Women are refusing to let the precious fruit (vegetable?) be harvested.

This is a profoundly ridiculous movie, part Apocalypse Now, part Indiana Jones, and a kind of kissing cousin to the Richard Chamberlain/Sharon Stone camp spoof Alan Quartermain and The Lost City of Gold.

Adrienne Barbeau (hi, Troop!) is Dr. Kurtz, leader of the feminists, while Shannon Tweed heads a crew consisting of Karen Mistal Waldron and--I'm not making this up--Bill Maher. There's some very good chemistry between Barbeau and Tweed, and Karen Waldron is surprisingly good as the dumb blonde. (I mean that seriously, she looks like a bimbo, but she has good comic timing.)

Obviously, this isn't Citizen Kane, but I laughed like an idiot. ("Like" he says.)

Actually, Bill Maher is the weak link in this, which surprised me at the time I saw it because I was a big fan of his. But the reason the movie works to the extent it does is because everyone is playing it straight, like a ZAZ movie, and Maher can't stop smirking. That aspect of it is painful to watch.

You definitely have to have a taste for this style of camp, which was really huge in the low-budget direct-to-video '80s, but if you do, it's one of the better ones. (And if you are, you should also check out Nice Girls Don't Explode from the same era.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

More Fun With Superheroes and Politics

My post on the ultimate underlying message in Watchmen spurred some fun comments, including from Ron, who asks the eternal question:

hmmm...Is Superman a liberal?

Others have tackled this question, including those in charge of the heroes at the moment. However, there is an inherent simplicity that people often miss, which is touched on by Joe M:

I do suppose that that action is the logical extreme of super-heroism: hero is special and is therefore allowed to act outside the rules for normal people for the benefit of those normal people ; once you've placed hero outside the rule of law for the greater good, this kind of utilitarianism would be the end result, yes?

Almost. While superheroes do act outside "the rules" for normal people--for example, wearing their underwear outside their tights--they don't act outside the law, or at least not much. The Batman, for example, will do some B&E, but not much beyond what any TV PI might do. It's not against the law (yet) to stop a crime.

Traditionally, heroes and superheroes capture the criminal--but leave them to the law to prosecute.

So, what is the political framework of the masked hero genre? One might be tempted to suggest Objectivism, since John Galt is a sort of superhero.

But you have people who worked for--or were blessed with--abilities beyond that of normal people. They use those powers on a local, individual level to make others lives better. They don't work for the state, but they do work with law enforcement agencies. They sacrifice personal lives for the good of the community, but not because they're compelled to by an external authority. Rather they feel their ability to help translates to a responsibility to help. (This is a conservative value that has a perverse expression in the statist's "you must do everything you can for the government, and accept whatever the government says you deserve in return".)

Ultimately, then, what you have is a full-on conservative paradigm--classical liberalism, really. Until the '70s and '80s, the masked vigilante operated on the principle that society was okay, except for a few criminal types and some organized crime rings. Even Spiderman, hounded as he was, had his most pernicious opponent in a corrupt tabloid journalist, not society per se.

Of course, comic book writers come in all political stripes, and like the rest of the arts have been seriously corrupted by statist ideologies, but even so, the very concept of the powerful individual using his power in a way to benefit society while not being under control of a ruling body is inherently conservative.

It's no coincidence that when heroes are driven underground (Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, The Incredibles), it's the state that drives them underground. The state says, "No, you can't be special."

I don't believe the USSR had superheroes. First of all, crime is not a problem in the worker's paradise. Second of all, the glorious grand-poobah doesn't need any help. Third of all, those gaudy outfits are a sign of western decadence. (Set me straight if I'm wrong on this.)

Even the "soft" fascism of modern "liberals" is anathema to the superhero paradigm. After all, why are some blessed with powers and abilities that others don't have? Doesn't that indicate unfairness in society? Why does Batman go every year to "Crime Alley" to beat up poor people? Why doesn't Superman use his super-powers to spread the wealth around a little bit? He can make diamonds, why not diamonds for everybody?

The masked vigilante works by correcting aberrations in society. Society is okay, basically, but it can perverted by the dishonest. But once corrected, people are free to go about their business.

One of classical liberalism's strengths, as well as its ultimate undoing, is that it creates a framework in which ideas can be freely expressed. Freedom of speech includes speech that undermines freedom of speech (the very concept of "hate speech", to say nothing of gay activist and feminist groups agitating for repressive Islamic societies). So, with the genre firmly established in freer times, comic books are now free to speculate in ways that undermine their future.

And naturally, some do.

The difference between Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns is that the former says, "Man needs a super-powered guardians or he'll destroy himself" (a truly statist message) where the latter says, "The more things go off the rails, the more heroic everyone has to act."

But is Superman a liberal? Some people say so, because he fits the trappings of a liberal. Yet, he could easily achieve liberal goals and never does. A theme echoed by the Donner movies and found in the comic books I've read is that Superman has a respect for individual freedom. Individual freedom is supreme: In that sense, he's positively libertarian; he won't use his powers to take freedom from others. That's a line for him, just like not killing is a line for Batman. (Superman is really an analogue for God, isn't he? His power is "nigh" limitless, but he only grants a few miracles.)

What this all boils down to, unfortunately, is the misuse of the labels "liberal" and "conservative". The only political struggle that matters is whether you're for freedom or for coercion. Are you a statist? Are you convinced that the government could make everything right if only it had more power? As I've written, nothing in a free society keeps all the laudable goals of socialists from being achieved.

When Superman starts collecting taxes and throwing people in jail for economically oppressing the masses, I'll believe he's a "liberal". If a masked vigilante agitates for statist government, he's just a clown (I'm talking to you Green Arrow) or a mouthpiece for an artist who's swallowed some propaganda.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Watchmen, the underlying truth

While my full review of Watchmen is up here, it seems to me there is an underlying truth to it. But expressing it might be a spoiler, so I'm letting you know up front. Somehow, this aspect of the film wasn't particularly surprising to me, it was more of a "sigh"-and-a-"it figures". But others may have been, so here's your warning.

I'm not going to reveal any action that occurs, but if you think backwards from what I'm saying, you'll probably be able to figure out where the movie is going.

Enough warning?

Last chance!

OK, the underlying truth to Watchmen is this:

If you give a leftist super-powers, he'll act like a super-villain and still consider himself a hero.

Think about it, won't you?

12 Angry Russian Men

I was in the mood to sit in a dark room and eat popcorn Thursday evening so I scanned for a movie of interest, and failing that--I just can't muster any interest in The Class but maybe this will be the week!--settled on a little film called Phoebe In Wonderland, which is yet another teacher drama, but of the single student variety I think, rather than the teacher goes and teaches underprivileged kids variety.

But when we got to the theater, it wasn't playing! I'm still not sure how I made the mistake, but when we got there the Russian movie 12 was playing. Well, excellent, I actually wanted to see that.

12 is a Russian take on 12 Angry Men. It lost out at last year's Oscars to The Counterfeiters. Yay for finally getting 2007's best foreign films in 2009. Just for the record, the other three films nominated were Mongol (reviewed here), Beaufort (which we skipped) and Katyn (which I still don't think has come around).

Of course the original is a dramatic masterpiece, tight as a drum and gorgeously staged and composed, so remakers must beware. (William Friedkin's mid-'90s is a respectable update.) And, of course, it's a distinctly American story.

Just to top it off, the original is The Boy's favorite movie. (It was on-demand last summer and we watched it one night, and then he asked to see it again the next night.)

So, lots could go wrong here.

However, this isn't really a remake. The framework is the same: 12 men are locked in a room in order to decide the fate of a boy who allegedly killed his father. The evidence is overwhelmingly against him, and a lone holdout keeps the argument from being settled quickly. In the end, he sways the other jurors, and a murderer goes free.

Wait, that might not be how it goes. (Interestingly, Greg Gutfeld mentioned on "Red Eye" a few weeks back that he thought 12 Angry Men was the turning point in the culture wars. He didn't elaborate, but given that the authorities are wrong, and a bunch of people are about to send an innocent boy off to die, it makes an interesting thought.)

But where the American version is a tale of forensics against which the personalities of the jurors emerge and reveal bias and irrationality, this sprawling Russian version mostly skips the forensics. The jurors, in turn, reveal some personal story or aspect of their lives, and this sways voters to the other side. (Some of the deductive reasoning of the original surfaces, but at one point--when the twist is revealed--a character runs through the forensic points that were overlooked, a nice homage to the original.)

The pressure to convict quickly also comes from the authorities: The baliff is a comical figure who can't believe they're taking as long as they do, even as he makes long distance phone calls on the cell phones he's appropriated from them. But the implication is that most deliberations are over in a couple of hours.

Russian culture and society is on trial here, too. In this setup, the boy is a Chechen, the adopetd son of a retired Russian soldier. The sequestration is broken up by flashbacks showing how the soldier came to adopt the boy, and also by shots of the boy (now grown) in his cell. (One of the jurors is Jewish, and anti-semitism comes into play, too!)

The whole movie is both heavily laden with symbolism and bogged down in the reality of the effects of a society that's lived under the oppressive thumbs of dictators for as long as anyone can remember.

I kept thinking, "Wow, so that's what a jury deliberation in a dead society looks like." Not that this should be taken as a documentary, but the Soviets' impact is still being felt, with absurd testaments to their waste and corruption everywhere. "Everyone's in on it" a character says at one point. The despair is palpable.

And yet, this is a hopeful movie. It's by turns moving, absurd, tragic, funny and grim. Very Russian, as one character says.

And, it has a twist ending. Right about the time the original ends, there's another character who starts arguing back the other way! And he makes an excellent point! Actually, there are about four points where it seems like the movie is going to end, and the last two endings seem rather gratuitous.

All-in-all, a fairly captivating 2 1/2 hour flick. The Boy was pleased. And I got to practice my Russian ears. So, win-win.

Friday, March 13, 2009


A couple of things caught my eye this week.

First, an "instant on" internet-based OS. I think it's this one, but I can't really recall. The premise is, you start your machine and within ten seconds you have 'net access.

The concept here is that your "real" OS boots in the background. But very often, why bother? And, what if you just want 'net access to get to the second item?

An Internet-based operating system! Now, whether it's really an OS or not is a matter of some debate amongst the geeks, but the larger picture is "who cares?" Have access to all your stuff in ten seconds? Who's going to need much personal power, except for the specialty niches, like gaming?

Now, take this keyboard emitter and wrap it in an OLED, stuff the whole thing in a cute little white quiver with a picture of a blue apple on it, and you have yourself the device of the future.

I first postulated the hardware end of this in the '90s and, eventually, you'll be able to pack that keyboard emitter and/or OLED with enough power that you don't need to run an internet OS on it. But I could see some combination like this being the netbooks of the future.

Outliving Your Usefulness, Idiots

While many of Althouse's commenters are threatening to leave or, more humorously, to strike, she did attract a useful idiot recently who goes by the name of Rob Prideaux. (If it's this guy, and I think it is, he's a photographer of no small talent.) The funny thing, of course, is that the useful idiots outlived their usefulness, by outliving the empire they served (knowingly or not).

Mr. Prideaux appeared in this thread about Condi Rice being objected to by one of Stanford's finest, in defense of the academic system and liberals in general. Of course, many fine commenters at Althouse are liberal and not a few work in the university system, so there's not much there there as far as defending the system from evil conservatives goes.

Prideaux's argument began thus: "...how did all the neocons make it through university free of the indoctrination? How did the free market capitalists make it out with their free market theories intact?" In other words, to this fellow, if anyone escapes the system without an anti-free market mindset, that exonerates the system; it proves that the indoctrination doesn't exist, or if it does exist, isn't very effective and therefore not important.

He continues on this same vein, "What I think I'm saying is this: hyperbolic statements about all-powerful, unavoidable left wing indoctrination throughout the educational system are also dishonest." Of course, no one actually argues that there is "all-powerful, unavoidable left wing indoctrination throughout the educational system", only that there is left wing indoctrination and that the left is heavily overrepresented in the system, and given a freedom to indoctrinate that is one-sided.

To support his argument, he points to election results and says (my encapsulation of his argument), "See! If this indoctrination were going on, the Democrats would win by wider and wider margins! Since they don't, QED, no indoctrination." And he means this sincerely, which is the sad thing.

McCain--the allegedly not liberal candidate--was talking about the government buying up bad mortgages in his final gasps. And, of course, Obama went on to replace George W. Bush, who spent eight years expanding government worse than Clinton did. (But not worse than Clinton wanted to, which tells you something about any given party getting control of the legislative and executive branches.)

GHW Bush wasn't much better, if at all, and even Reagan could only hold "the beast" level. His big idea, and the one that launched the Republicans in to power in '94, was the radical notion that government could and must be shrunk. "The era of big government is over," lamented Clinton, with a fired-up Republican Congress at his back.

But even then, in what now we might refer to as the "salad days", the minds of people have been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that, e.g., the government not handing out checks to poor people is a bad thing. It's unthinkable that the government not manage retirement of old people. It's monstrous to suggest that health and medicine be beyond the government's scope of activities.

The liberal indoctrination is so thorough that it's political suicide to suggest reforming social security, even while everyone agrees the plan is doomed (except for the short period when W was trying to reform it and the Democrats decided suddenly that it was just hunky dory).

More tragically, a smart--and I think honest, though you can never tell--guy like this is so thoroughly indoctrinated with leftist ideas that he can't tell the difference between education and indoctrination. He thinks there isn't any.

I'm pretty sure that would give Goldstein conniptions. In this view, education is basically indoctrination by whomever holds the power. There is no neutrality or objectivity. This viewpoint has, of course, destroyed the humanities, but we've seen it infiltrate Math, as well. The very concept that education is a matter of transferring data and establishing logical processes is alien to such people: All that matters is the outcome being the one we want and how it is arrived as is unimportant!

Of course, progressives believe their own viewpoints to have been soundly reasoned and beyond reproach. It is not they who are shackled by false ideas that they refuse to evaluate, but everyone else. And so, when Prideaux tried to get me to compromise the definition of education, and to back up the idea that left-wing indoctrination began as a deliberate action by enemies of classical liberalism, I wrote:

Actually, no, I don't allow that there's any overlap between education and indoctrination; in fact, I hold the two to be diametrically opposed. It is the difference between observation and evaluation. It does not even matter if the evaluation is correct!

I don't really have time to go into detail about how this happened but you can see this at Hector's place to get a sense of what was going on. This is the tail end of the effort (which has no survived the empire itself by over 15 years).

It's not a small subject and universities are only part of it, but they're an important part.

If you haven't checked out Hector's link, you should: The Soviet Union's plot to destroy America through subversion was focused on education, media and government. It's probably the biggest under-reported "open secret" around, and it'll stay buried because, as Mr. Prideaux said in response:

@Blake -

I understand now.


I mean, seriously, you don't suggest to someone that they are, in fact, the tool of Stalin's ghost and expect them to go "Wow! Yeah, that makes sense now!" You don't expect them to admit that, yeah, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg really were spies, that whatever his personal flaws were, McCarthy wasn't as paranoid as he's made out to be, or even something simple, like their hero JFK hated Communists and would've found the stances of the modern left to be appalling.

It's amazing, really, that anyone does.

Although he's older than I am, this Lilek's piece about Reagan is representative of how I felt through many of those years. It takes a decade or more for most of us just to shake off the indoctrination and group-think that came from the media air being saturated with a consistently leftist point-of-view.

Leftist indoctrination in education wasn't nearly as bad back then but leftism saturated the media--there was no talk radio, there would be no right-wing movies until Reagan had been in office a couple of years (and we were also saturated with nuclear war fantasies, like Watchmen), and even hokey conservative TV values were more or less gone (with the notable exception of Mr. Carson). You could say that Reagan created the mind space (via Goldwater) that allowed non-progressive ideas to flourish (and in some cases, i.e., his repeal of the "fairness" doctrine created the real space for it).

If progressivism, leftism, communism, socialism, collectivism, and all these other failed -isms do finally die, I think it will not be with a big revelation. It will be a gradual (and sheepish) movement away from once fiercely held ideas, to the point where, well, you won't be able to find anyone willing to admit they voted for Obama.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cleaning Out The Notebook

Back when Bill Maher was funny--no seriously, stop rolling your eyes like that! He was funny back in the mid-'90s when "Politically Incorrect" was on Comedy Central and he did this bit at the end of some shows with another comedy writer (whose name I can't remember) called "cleaning out your notebook".

Basically, these were little jokes, sometimes not quite fully developed, that were humorous thoughts of the day. It was often the best part of the show, and the other guy was really funny and had a style that was a refreshing change from the rest of the show.

This actually has nothing to do with what I'm doing over the next few days, which is "cleaning out the blog draft pages". The new version of blogspot shows drafts together and so I can look at all the stuff I started but never posted over the past year or so. If it passes muster, I'll be posting and offering a little note where applicable about what spurred the message and why I didn't post it when it was timely.

Of course most of the posts are empty or false starts to things I did post, and often the ones that are fleshed out can only be explained with "I forgot" or "I don't know", but the OCD in me says to do this anyway. And we're all victims of my disease.

Man's Laughter

I posted on the Althouse about humor being equal to rejection, which raised some eyebrows. I then launched into a rambling explanation of what I meant, but I'm not sure I was very clear, or even that I expressed it properly.

Here are some points I was using to highlight the idea:

When children single another child out to laugh at, they're rejecting him. We instinctively know that and that's the whole basis of the "at" and "with" consolation. (I'm actually not sure that this is humor, but I think it's related to the concept of laughter and rejection.)

Q: How can you tell an elephant's been in your refrigerator?
A: From the footprints in the butter.

Humor there comes from the rejection of the notion that, of all the ways you might be able to detect an elephant, sleuthing out butter cubes is at the top. We reject that notion.

Or non-joke jokes:

Q: Why do firemen wear red suspenders?
A: To keep their pants up.

Very meta. We laugh because there's nothing there to reject. It's a perfectly sensible answer to the question. In this case, we're rejecting the joke itself, or our expectation of something clever.

Times change of course. 1940 movie house audiences were in stitches when Bugs Bunny first said, "What's up, doc?"

They rejected the notion that a rabbit would react that way to a hunter.

Nowadays, the out-of-place reaction to danger by a woodland creature is so common as to be tired. We no longer laugh uproariously at wisecracking rodentslagomorphs.

OK, let's flip to some other kinds of comedy.

Charlie Chaplin, eating his shoe: Audiences doubtless related to the hunger, but they rejected the notion (as we do, though far less profoundly) of eating one's shoe as though it were a gourmet meal.

Buster Keaton, running The General. He's fleeing for his life in the steam train. His girl is throwing wood into the engine and as she picks up the wood, she evaluates it for suitableness, in one case throwing out a large piece because it has a small hole in it. We reject that rejection. Heh.

The Marx Brothers were steeped in odd behavior that was totally inappropriate for the situation, and surrounded by people whose reactions were impossibly indulgent.

A lot of modern comic writers, especially Woody Allen, give us neurotic characters. Always, of course, a little too neurotic. We reject their exaggerated responses, and at some level probably reject the idea that neuroses are just wacky fun.

How about puns? A pun--should it make us laugh or groan--is a rejection of the use of a word.

A lot of physical comedy is based on social propriety, which may be one of the reasons that physical comedy is much harder to do effectively these days. Pie in the face? Seltzer down your pants? Hell, it's a rare day one of my co-workers doesn't come in with pie on their face and seltzer down their pants.

In fact, life in general may be less humorous because it's not polite to reject people any more.

Not all laughter is humorous, of course. One can laugh out of joy or exhilaration. Or out of meanness.

Similarly, not all rejection is humorous.

I've often thought that black humor (like, Network) is relatively unpopular because it gives very faint signals that it is to be rejected. Black humor, ultimately, is a rejection of mortality, or at least the significance of mortality, as well as other Very Serious Things.

But again, times change. One of the great Richard Brooks' last movies was the muddled Wrong Is Right. I was sort of amused and sort of befuddled right up until some people started blowing themselves up--that was my cue that this was all meant as over-the-top satire. Audiences today might interpret that signal completely differently.

But I've rambled on enough for now. I hope that clarifies.

(NOTE: I originally typed this up last June and never posted--at least I can't seem to find it on the blog anywhere. I'm not sure why I didn't post it, but here it is now.)

Treadmill Desk, Week 10

Friday: 390 minutes

Good start. I'm finding my walking shoes inadequate to the task, however. I walked yesterday and today in some stiff soled sandals.

Saturday: 130 minutes

Sunday: 75 minutes

Monday: 300 minutes so far....360 in toto.

Tomorrow is a day at the doctor's so there won't be as much time to tread, but if I can get another six hours on Wednesday and Thursday, that'll be pretty good for the week.

Tuesday: 130 minutes

Wednesday: 240 minutes

It was hard to get these four hours in today. Too many things pulling me away from my desk....

Thursday: 430 minutes.

Hey, that's 27 and 3/4 an hour. Not too shabby. Tomorrow's an in-the-office day, so light on the treadmill. But that's okay; my feet are recuperating very quickly these days.

Bit Maelstrom: The "Spring Is Sprung" All Sex Issue

Over at Trooper York's House of Ill Repute, he often posts pictures of saucy wenches in various stages of partial dress and posed provocatively, which in one particular instance prompted this from Freeman Hunt:

All the crawling or arching around in these "aren't I sexy?" poses, knowing that the pictures are being taken for the explicit purpose of allowing strangers to better have mental fantasies about them...well, like I said, it cracks me up.

Well, yeah. Let's be honest: Sex is a pretty absurd thing. Around this mechanical, repetitive act which lasts (according to some) 3-5 minutes on average, we build a huge mythology, several industries, and ruin our lives for!

Pogo commented

I have never seen a woman do that pose anywhere in my whole life. Just photos and music videos. Where does it come from?

And I was reminded of a bit Dennis Miller did about sex with his wife, where she (at least in her act) licks her own breast--and then gave him a look that said if you ever tell anyone...so, of course he puts it in his act.

But sex is sort of like dancing, in that you can't be too worried about how you might appear to others. Your concern is your partner (or partners, if that's the way you swing, baby!) and sometimes that means doing things that, out of context would look silly.

As Freeman is fond of pointing out, the women of (e.g.) Playboy are not fat, even if they're on the larger side of normal compared to fashion models--because that's what guys like. Same could be said for the various poses used. And while men are more visually oriented (the experts are fond of pointing out), women too have their own aesthetics as far as how men should be and act.

I've always thought of sex as a sort of closed circuit/feedback loop: While sex is a very simple thing, eroticism is entirely the agreement of the people involved--and that can be as elaborate as anything. Everyone has to feel comfortable expressing one way or another that notion of "Aren't I sexy?" I mean, really: How good is sex going to be if the parties involved are diffident or concerned about looking cool?

I note, of course, that Freeman specifically mentions strangers, and Pogo said he'd never seen them--but not that he'd never done them. Heh.

Well, it's an odd assortment of posts with the tag "blake says he knows that pose", but I suppose it's no worse than the chop-busting I get under the category of "blake says he knows her". That one prompted me to write the massive list of famous people I've encountered--none of whom I know well, or who could pick me out of a lineup consisting of me and the corpse of Herve Villechaize--but I never posted it (and since then, I remembered a half-dozen more people I'd forgotten to put in there).

And, of course, it's all a big distraction from the fact that Troop's sex life is a far-ranging and storied one that would put Wilt Chamberlain (or at least John Holmes) to shame.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Remember John Sununu?

I seem to recall he got into some sort of kerfuffle over misuse of jets. It was a hilarious indictment of Republican corruption. My guy Loudon Wainwright III even wrote a song about it.

Somehow I think the Pelosi thing is going to be somehow less funny. Just like it's less funny when Obama bumps his head on Marine One.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Time Sink for Classic Movie Fans

Sent via Ron of...what is it? Fluffy Stuffin'? I don't want to know who "Fluffy" is and with what he/she/it is being stuffed, much less why. I just go about my Internet business without looking too hard to one side or the other. Especially when Ron tweets that this "Fluffy" entity is running around like Dr. Manhattan. (I hesitate to enquire which aspects of Dr. Manhattans behavior or lack-of-dress "Fluffy" is imitating.)

Anyway, Ron--or perhaps "Fluffy"--sends this blog called Greenbriar Picture Shows, which is a treasure trove of old movie--not all classics--minutiae.

It's an engrossing read for fans of the cinema.