Thursday, December 18, 2008

What the Hell?

Is it just me, or does this article summary from the front page of CNN.com sound more like an Onion story?

No good way to tell kids they have cancer
When her mom and dad called her into the den, 9-year-old Gigi Pasley thought they were going to tell her a big surprise, "a good surprise" she said. Instead, they told Gigi she had cancer. "She burst out with this awful sound, a moan, a scream of complete and utter agony," said her mother, Jessica Pasley. The Pasleys learned that day there's no good way to tell your child she has cancer. full story

Monday, November 24, 2008

Review

Juno - Not bad. Mostly, it works. It does try too hard to be hip &mdash seriously, you actually wrote a character saying the line, "Honest to blog?" And isn't that song Juno and Bleeker play together at the end awfully contempo-indie-folk for someone who spends the rest of the film talking about Iggy and the Stooges and the 1977 punk explosion? But, on the trying-too-hard-to-be-hip, aggressively-quirky score, it's nowhere near as bad as Napoleon Dynamite, so there's that. The always-watchable J. K. Simmons does good work as Juno's dad. Overall, worth seeing once, anyway.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Well, That Didn't Take Long

Her name, we think, is Binky:


I say "we think", because when we got her at the Milwaukee Humane Society, they said her name was "Monty", but since rabbits tend to be difficult to sex when they're young, we suspect someone probably told her original owners she was male. So she needs a new name, and she's been shy about letting us know what it should be, but "Binky" seems to be the one that's sticking most.

She and Buster seemed to hit it off pretty well when we took him to the Humane Society to meet her, but there have been some altercations since we got her home. They're currently in separate (but adjacent) cages, and we're taking it slow with supervised play dates.

Oh, and this guy was there, too. His name is Babyface Joe, apparently:


Well, we had been watching Verminators, and it kept making me want another pet rat to keep in my computer room, so he can sit on my shoulder while I'm up here. Yeah, I'm a little strange.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Movie Review

Across the Universe - Easily the best [fictional movie musical focused on other people performing Beatles' music] ever made. Of course, since the only other entry in that particular genre is Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the bar is set kind of low. Across the Universe makes it over that bar merely by not being an atrocity against man and nature.

It's... not great. The part where an Uncle Sam recruiting poster sings "I Want You", followed by American troops carrying the Statue of Liberty through plastic Vietnam jungles singing "She's So Heavy"... yeah, that's taking the symbolism a bit too far. The scenes in the bowling alley, with shots pretty much cribbed directly from The Big Lebowski were bad enough, but then to later call back those scenes with ten Vietnamese women painted white, falling over... I had to pause the TiVo long enough to exclaim: "Did I really just watch a metaphorical representation of a Vietnam war atrocity as bowling?" Um, wow.

On the other hand, Eddie Izzard was predictably entertaining as Mr. Kite. The actor playing Jude was good, and performed his songs quite well. And I was glad to see they were able to fit Joe Cocker in.

But the story never really coheres. As a film, for the most part, it's basically just a strange hybrid of Moulin Rouge!, Hair, and, for some reason, Dreamgirls. With, yes, just a pinch of the aforementioned Sgt. Pepper. It's really obviously not a depiction of the real 1960s, but rather of some kind of mythic-'60s, where Jimi and Janis were in a band together until they were split up by an evil record producer, only to later get back together for a rooftop concert. Where Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters tripped on a bus to Timothy Leary's home. Where people got high by miming smoking a joint, and where the negative consequences of heavy drinking and drug use are only obliquely hinted at. Where all the young men were drafted, sent to Vietnam to witness horrors, and returned home broken. All of which may have been mythically true, but reality was never that simple.

Oh, and during all the Liverpool scenes, I kept wanting the extras to start singing "Every Sperm is Sacred".

As an aside: Why is it that no movie made since about 1980 seems to be able to get '60s hair right? I'm not even sure exactly what it is, but all of the hair in this film, from Evan Rachel Wood's long-straight-hippy-chick 'do, to her brother's "what is Kurt Cobain doing in 1972" look, is just somehow obviously modern. I don't even know exactly what it is they're doing wrong, but if you look at Woodstock, or other movies actually made at the time, it's just not right somehow.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Financial Reporters as Faith Healers

In Penn & Teller's book How To Play With Your Food, they have a great bit about "alternative (i.e., quack) medicine (homeopathy, acupuncture, etc.):
Every malady does one of three things if left untreated:

1. It gets better.
2. It stays the same.
3. It gets worse.

After trying any bogus treatment, one of three things will happen.

1. It'll get better.
2. It'll stay the same.
3. It'll get worse.

As long as you have a spiel for each of these three eventualities, you can be a healer that some people will believe in:

1. "See I told you."
2. "We arrested it."
3. "I guess we need more of it."

Because everyone wants hope and it's easy to explain any course an affliction may take, there are many many cures that people believe in.


The financial reporting around the recent $700 billion bailout reminds me of this. Back before the first vote, the stock market went up a bit, and CNN.com reported that this was because of anticipation of a bailout being passed. Then the House rejected it, the stock market went down, and CNN.com said it was because the bailout didn't pass. Then the market went back up again, so CNN.com said it was because in anticipation of the Senate passing the bill. Then the Senate passed the bailout, and the stock market went back down, so CNN.com said it was because of fears the bailout wouldn't pass the House again. Then the House passed the bailout, but the stock market still went down, so Friday and today CNN.com says it went down despite the bailout.

No matter what the market does, they are apparently incapable of interpreting it in any way that fails to support Bailout = Good.

Over the next few weeks/months/years, I expect to see any/all of the following reported, depending on what the market actually does:

1. "See, the bailout worked!"
2. "See, the bailout stopped the market's downward plunge!"
3. "Alas, the bailout didn't go far enough."

And also:

Things I Learned From Watching Turistas

  • Having drugged eight people in order to kill them and harvest their organs, the best way to transport them to your "operating room" is to tie two of them up and carry them, but leave the other six alone to awaken on the beach, and blindly hope that they will then wander randomly into your lone accomplice in a village some miles away, who will trick them into following him to his "uncle's house" in the middle of the jungle.

  • When you are killing someone in order to harvest their organs, it is still necessary to swab down the surgical site with iodine beforehand, to prevent infection. Surgical mask and gloves, however, are optional.

  • Brazil's medical system, though short on transplantable organs, has access to the most powerful local anesthetic known to science, which allows a person to remain conscious, semi-lucid, yet in no apparent pain while their abdomen is opened up and their liver and kidneys removed.

  • Traveling from somewhere along the coast of Rio de Janeiro to a city with organ transplant facilities takes more than six hours by helicopter.

  • Tiny pockets of air trapped in underwater caves are perfectly breathable and have plenty of oxygen for up to five people at a time.

  • Sunday, September 14, 2008

    Audiosurf

    Audiosurf - Very cool little game for $10. I heard of it when it was highlighted as one of the PAX 10 indie games this year. Basically, it's cross between Tetris and a racing game: You're piloting a vehicle along a roller-coaster-like track, and hitting blocks to form color-matching sets. There are a bunch of different modes, in three rough groupings of difficulty, including one popular one where you simply try to hit colored blocks, while avoiding gray ones.

    But the cool thing about the game is that the shape of the track, and the color and density of blocks, are calculated from some kind of waveform analysis of your own CDs or MP3s, which then play while you run that track. For example:



    It should be obvious that one of the joys of this game is plugging obscure, weird, eclectic songs into it to see what it does with them. Each song has its own individual online leaderboard, so you can compare your performance with others. For example, here's an obscure song (from the A Mighty Wind soundtrack album), but not so obscure that I'm the only one ever to play it, where I currently hold the top spot in Pro mode.

    Saturday, September 13, 2008

    Sunday, July 27, 2008

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008

    Movie Review

    The Dark Knight - Oh, Hell yes. I'm not even going to try to write anything coherent, here, I'm just going to list off a few of the things that make this worth seeing, and I'm mostly going to try and highlight things that haven't been mentioned in very many published reviews. Incidentally: Yes, we went to an IMAX screen.
  • The elaborate bank heist that opens the film.
  • That car chase. The one that includes both a helicopter crash and a semi flipping end-over-end.
  • The cross-dressing Joker.
  • The Joker coming out of a hospital and getting annoyed when all of his bombs don't go off.
  • "You complete me" is now no longer a cliched, cheesy punchline.
  • "I'll do what you shoulda done ten minutes ago."
  • The Two-Face makeup.
  • The way they used what I see (in the comics) sometimes as the Joker's masochism: He keeps getting into fistfights with Batman, someone he has no chance of beating in a straight-up fight. One of the most chilling things in the film is Batman beating up the Joker, trying to extract information from him, and the Joker just laughing the whole time and saying, "You have nothing to threaten me with." He doesn't care if Batman beats the crap out of him, because he knows it doesn't change anything: After he gets tired of punching, Batsy is still going to have to play his game.
  • The Joker as ultimate nihilist: What he most wants to do seems to be to demonstrate that deep down, there's no such thing as morality, or fairness, or justice. That all the things that motivate Batman are illusions. I will leave it to the reader to decide whether he is successful in this.

    I wonder where they're going to go for a villain in the third film. There had been some talk of using the Joker in some way, and speculation about whether they would cast another actor, or just revise the Joker out of the planned story. Personally, I would be perfectly happy to see another actor in the role. The character is by definition mercurial, so it wouldn't bother me at all to see even a radically different interpretation by another actor.

    Whether that happens or not, though, what villains are left in Batman's rogue's gallery that could work in the "realistic" vein these two Nolan films have portrayed? Possibly the Penguin, though not in the mutant-raised-by-zoo-penguins version from Batman Returns, obviously. The Riddler might work as a serial killer, of the type who writes taunting letters to the police; the riddles would be his way of expressing his superiority.

    Beyond that, I'm afraid you start veering into Clayface and Killer Croc territory, which would be difficult to pull off in any "realistic" way. Unless, of course, they just decided to go all-out weird and have him face Bat-Mite.
  • Wednesday, July 16, 2008

    The Cycle of Creation

    We seem to have come all the way back around to...
    Before the beginning, there was this turtle. And the turtle was alone. And he looked around, and he saw his neighbor, which was his mother. And he lay down on top of his neighbor, and behold! she bore him in tears an oak tree, which grew all day and then fell over -- like a bridge. And lo! under the bridge there came a catfish. And he was very big. And he was walking. Yes! And he was the biggest he had seen. And so were the fiery balls of this fish -- one of which is the sun, the other they called the moon.

    Tuesday, July 08, 2008

    Guitar Heroes

    This is nothing new - it made the rounds on the internet last year - but just in case anyone reading hasn't seen them, I highly recommend the St Sanders "Shreds" videos. Hy-larious.

    For the unaware, these are by a Finnish video artist named Santeri Ojala. What he's done is take video performance clips of various guitar heroes (Van Halen, Clapton, etc.) and dub new guitar solos over the videos. Bad guitar solos. Rather like the "experimental free-form jazz odyssey" Spinal Tap is forced to perform after Nigel quits.

    Think of it as sort of like an instrumental music version of a What's Up, Tiger Lily?/J-Men Forever kind of thing. The thing is, he does such a good job simultaneously matching what the video shows them playing (well enough to actually fool some people), but at the same time being so completely out of character... well, really, it's indescribable. Just watch. I particularly recommend the one featuring Ozzy Osbourne on hand-claps.

    Steve Vai apparently has a sense of humor*, and loved them. Yngwie Malmsteen, not so much: Rumor has it that he's the one who complained to YouTube about copyright violation**, resulting in the creator having his account banned. Oh well, the videos are still there, so I consider it my civic duty to ensure as many people see them as possible...

    Also: The non-music related one is fun, too.

    *Probably a necessary survival trait in Frank Zappa's band, where you run the risk of having your groupie exploits immortalized in a song like "Stevie's Spanking".

    **Despite this obviously being parody, and therefore falling under the Fair Use exception.

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Movie Reviews

    Hairspray (2007) - An OK movie, in spite of John Travolta. Every other actor in this film did a great job (particularly the lead girl playing Tracy), but Travolta was so atrociously bad that I actually found myself getting through his scenes by developing a mental block around him, erasing him from the film and fantasizing someone better in his place. Just off the top of my head: Harvey Fierstein, Tim Curry, Nathan Lane, John Goodman; hell, Robert DeNiro could probably have done a better job. I've seen Monty Python sketches with more convincing female characters (as played by men in drag).

    I'd love to know what kind of accent Travolta thought he was speaking in, but mostly he suffered from something I know I've seen before, though I'm not sure where (possibly Wesley Snipes in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar): He doesn't play the character as a woman, or even as a drag queen. He plays the character as a straight man in drag, with a bit of a "wink" to let the audience know that "I'm just playing around here, you know - I'm not gay". As a result, he holds back just enough to make the whole performance seem uncomfortable and unconvincing.

    Beyond illustrating the dangers of stunt casting, it was a competently-filmed version of a Broadway-musical-ized movie, but the original film was still better. For one thing, in the original film, the whole theme of racial integration sort of snuck in. It paradoxically gained power by not being the main focus. In the Broadway version, it's there pretty much from Scene One: The very first Corny Collins song talks about the "white kids" on his dance show. It's obvious right from the start that racial integration is what Hairspray is "about", in this incarnation. That may also be what the original was "about", in some sense, but it made its points with more subtlety. And there's a word I'll bet you never expected to apply to a John Waters film, eh?

    And, another in a continuing series:

    Things I Learned from Saw III
  • Serial killers have the magical ability to track down a person who witnessed a drunk-driving hit-and-run, even though they explicitly did not testify in the trial.

  • Her failure to testify in the trial meant she was morally deserving of punishment, even though the injustice in the case wasn't that the driver went free from lack of evidence, but rather that he was given a short sentence. Somehow, testimony from an eyewitness would have prevented that, apparently.

  • Someone who is alive and presumably generating some amount of body heat through metabolic processes, albeit hanging naked in a freezer, can not only freeze to death, but actually be coated with a layer of solid ice in a matter of minutes just by spraying them with (liquid) water.

  • Bare shotgun shells with no gun barrel surrounding them at all nevertheless still fire directionally.

  • You have a ring of said shotgun shells around your neck, rigged to go off and blow up your head if the Rube Goldberg Killer's heart stops. Your husband comes by with a gun. Instead of shouting something unmistakable and unambiguous like "If you kill him, I'll die", stick to less direct exclamations like "Wait", "Don't", that sort of thing. If he really loves you, he'll stop and ask for clarification before attacking the guy holding you both hostage, and who just forced him to crawl through six kinds of hell.
  • Friday, May 30, 2008

    Bunch Of Commies

    For work, I'm reading the study materials for INS 21 - Property and Liability Insurance Principles. Here is an actual question from the study guide:
    Social Security is a federal government program that (among other benefits) provides a base-level income to beneficiaries who reach the age at which they can collect benefits. Justify the need for this program to be administered by the federal government.

    Obviously, my personal, honest answer would be, "I cannot justify it, because I do not believe that such a need actually exists," but I don't think that's the answer they're looking for.

    This is just one example of a trend I have noticed in the study materials: Wherever there is any discussion of federal or state regulations or insurance programs, the authors automatically and silently assume that such things are (A) desirable and/or necessary, and (B) cannot possibly exist except through government action.

    Geeky Cool

    This guy has some really cool customized action figures. In particular, because I'm a sucker for both Star Wars and alternate-universe type things, the Steampunk Star Wars and Star Wars 1942 collections caught my eye.

    Monday, May 26, 2008

    Saturday, May 24, 2008

    Those Young Whippersnappers With Their Weird Hair and Loud Music

    International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge says "You will never achieve in a video game. It is not really success."

    Leaving aside questions of the nature of "achievement" and "success" in different pursuits, my favorite quote from Mr. Rogge is "We need to hire more young people. If they have baggy pants and pink hair, that's OK."

    Mr. Rogge added, "Hey! Get off my lawn, you hooligans!"

    Friday, May 16, 2008

    Reviews

    First: This is difficult, but... OK, I'm just going to say it: The recent/current series of Doctor Who are actually better than even the Tom Baker years. Yes, I know, Tom Baker was the Doctor during my personal golden age, so I am naturally supposed to look on those episodes with such nostalgia that nothing could possibly measure up, but there it is: The new ones are better.

    In the old classic Who, good as it was, you'd never have seen them do something as daring as the episode "Blink", where the Doctor and his companion are barely even present in the story. In "Utopia", when the twist involving Derek Jacobi became clear (which I won't spoil here, in case anyone reading hasn't seen that episode), I sat bolt upright in my chair and yelled, "Holy shit!" The voiceover from the alien fiend at the end of "Family of Blood", where he talks about the "wrath of a Time Lord" in downright mythic tones, was brilliant. If I had a criticism, it would be that I wish they could find a way to resurrect the rest of the Time Lords, because frankly, the "I am the last of my kind" whinging is beginning to get a little tedious, and I did like the concept a little better when he was a renegade/outlaw, anyway. But that's nitpicking. Solid, solid show these days.

    And the spin-off, Torchwood, by the way, is just as good, kind of like a cross between The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But with more sex: I have a theory that one of the as-yet-unstated effects of the Cardiff Rift Energy is to turn everyone near it into an insatiable (and bisexual) sex maniac.

    Next: No Country for Old Men - Amazing, as you should already know. All I really have to say about it is that it makes a very interesting companion piece to Fargo. They share some similarities, but where Fargo ends on a note of hope, No Country is much bleaker, more nihilistic.

    Finally: Hard Candy - Good, not great. Ellen Page gives a very good performance. A better movie on a somewhat similar theme was Under Suspicion.

    As always, beware of spoilers below. Plus, some of my comments about the ending may not make sense unless you've seen the movie anyway.

    The basic idea of the movie is the same as the basic idea behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer: What if the innocent waif you think is the prey turns out to actually be the predator? In this case, Page plays Hayley, a teenage girl who allows herself to be lured back to the home of Jeff, a "fashion photographer" she met on the internet. But just as it looks like he's going to get her drunk and molest her, she drugs him, ties him up, and proceeds to punish him for his sins.

    There are some definite plot problems: Much of what happens only makes sense if Hayley is uncertain about whether Jeff really is a pedophile or not, and is searching for either evidence or an admission, but the ending makes it clear that she actually already knows the answer to that question. Also, he periodically does things that seem to foil her plan, only to turn out to be part of her intricately plotted scenario. For example, part of the girl's plan requires that Jeff escape from where she has tied him up, at a certain time, but not earlier. His getting loose cannot have been unintended, because her real goal, her planned ending to everything, requires that he chase her up onto the roof, which he couldn't do while tied to a table. On the other hand, if he had extricated himself earlier, she wouldn't have gotten to try out her castration skills.

    I thought Hard Candy could have used a better ending. As it was, it was ultimately a kind of one-dimensional child-molester vigilante-revenge fantasy. We, the audience, are pretty clearly meant to cheer the girl on, especially when she delivers lines like "Who am I? I'm every girl you ever took pictures of/molested/fantasized about/etc." I kept wanting the guy to respond with something like, "No, you're not. You're you, doing this to me, for your own reasons, because it makes you feel good. No. You don't get to be an avenging angel, the personification of all my sins; you're not a personification, you're just a person."

    So, following are my suggestions for better endings:

    1) Leave the ex-girlfriend out (because having her show up just unnecessarily complicates the scene I'm about to describe). After driving Jeff to confess and hang himself, Hayley goes downstairs and packs up her things. A TV on in the background shows a breaking news story: They've found the missing girl, Donna Mauer, alive, and the man who kidnapped her is in custody. Jeff actually was innocent, as he had originally claimed. With this ending, you've made an interesting point about revenge, and about the reliability of confessions obtained under torture.

    2) Similar to the last one, but insert the news report shortly after the scene in which Jeff stabs one of his pictures repeatedly while saying, "This is what I am. Thank you for helping me see that." Have him go on to say, as he stalks Hayley with the knife, that he really has always been attracted to young girls, but that he never had the balls (heh) to act on those urges before. But she's helped him, and now he's going to start with her. That can play out any number of ways - she could shoot him, for example - but now you've made another interesting point about revenge, and about violence breeding violence.

    3) For a real shock: After Jeff gets loose from the table, reaches down and discovers the castration was faked, he goes into the bathroom and finds Hayley in the shower, where he joins her, and she embraces him. They're actually lovers*, and this whole thing was acting out his castration fantasy (yes, there are men who are into that sort of thing). Perhaps he might compliment her on adding the videotape, to imply that this is not even the first time they've done this. This ending wouldn't make any interesting points about revenge, but it would blow the audience's minds.



    *If that's the right word for a relationship between a grown man and a teenage girl. Although, you could also put something in here to suggest that Hayley is actually older than she appears to be - perhaps she just dresses to look younger as part of the fantasy scenario.

    Wednesday, April 09, 2008

    Saturday, March 08, 2008

    Best Webquiz Ever

    The COMBINED GENDER IDENTITY AND TRANSSEXUALITY INVENTORY (COGIATI)

    Your COGIATI result value is: 30 Which means that you fall within the following category:
    COGIATI classification THREE, ANDROGYNE
    What this means is that the Combined Gender Identity And Transsexuality Inventory has classified your internal gender identity to be essentially androgynous, both male and female at the same time, or possibly neither. In some cultures in history, you would be considered to be a third sex, independent of the polarities of masculine or feminine. Your gender issues are intrinsic to your construction, and you will most likely find your happiness playing with expressing both genders as you feel like it.

    And yeah, the author of this test clearly intends it to be a serious attempt at helping people who are confused about their sexuality and gender identity. I'd feel a lot worse about belittling it by calling it a "webquiz" if I hadn't read this.

    Friday, March 07, 2008

    Where Were You in 2000?

    From a CNN.com story about the possibility of allowing Democratic primary "revotes" in Florida and Michigan:

    Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean says Florida and Michigan cannot be given passes for violating rules that were clear to them, and the DNC would not pay the bill for their errors.

    "The rules were set a year and a half ago. Florida and Michigan voted for them and then decided that they didn't need to abide by the rules. When you're in a contest, you do need to abide by the rules," he said.

    "You cannot violate the rules of the process and then expect to get forgiven for it," he said.

    Dean said he has to run a process that yields an honest result, and, "The only way to do that is to stick to the rules that were agreed to by everybody at the beginning."
    (emph. added)

    I could swear these arguments sound familiar...

    Wednesday, February 06, 2008

    Awwwww...

    Yes, I did it - I broke down and submitted a picture to icanhascheezburger.com:

    funny pictures
    moar funny pictures
    That's Suzi, my very own bunny.

    And then I saw this, and couldn't resist captioning it. No, that's not my very own llama:
    funny pictures
    moar funny pictures

    Friday, February 01, 2008

    Start Hoarding Cookies Now!

    Once upon a time, obnoxious busybodies started passing laws banning smoking in public places. When this happened, some of us warned, "next they'll be outlawing fattening foods". The obnoxious busybodies scoffed, "That'll never happen".

    Well, apparently while scoffing aloud, deep down inside they were thinking, "That's actually not a bad idea..."

    To quote from a proposed Mississippi law: "Any food establishment to which this section applies shall not be allowed to serve food to any person who is obese".

    I feel like there should be a long string of exclamation marks after that sentence.

    !!!!!

    Tuesday, January 08, 2008

    Early Results

    On my way in to work this morning, the radio reported that the polls had opened in New Hampshire, and that Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain were currently in the lead(s). All I could think was, "It's EIGHT-THIRTY IN THE GODDAMN MORNING" in New Hampshire! The polls have been open, what, half an hour? Obama and McCain are the favorites among people who get up really early?

    Of course, I decided last night that I really wished the Republicans would nominate Duncan Hunter for President, with Fred Thompson on the ticket for VP, just so that the bumper stickers would read "Hunter/Thompson '08". But then, I've given up on hoping for anything but entertainment value from politicians, anymore...