Saturday, February 24, 2007
I worked last night. We were patching our application to prepare for the change in Daylight Savings Time that takes effect in March. GODS is that shit dull! At least I was able to sit on the couch while working, now that I finally got my wireless card installed on my laptop. What a hassle that was. My company locks everything down on our machines. It's almost as if they don't want us having fun with them.
While working I half-heartedly watched a half-assed movie called Hollywoodland starring half-wit Ben Affleck. I've got half a mind to return that DVD and ask for a full refund. The nerve of them, making a movie that didn't match my mood and taste at that moment in time!
I came across this video this morning while reading the Onion. It made me chuckle.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I moved to my current position in November specifically because I wanted to choose who I worked for, not be placed under some arbitrary person based upon some detached third person's assessment of my strategic value. I want someone to say to me, "I want you on my team," and for me to say to that person, "yes, I want to be on your team," and I want that to stick for more than four months! Is that expecting too much?
Apparently. So I guess I have to disabuse myself of the notion that I have any control over my career in that sense. As long as I'm in the corporate world, I'll be playing by their rules. I think it's time for a special cup...
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Wrong. It seems that at least twenty states are considering making the vaccine mandatory. WTF? Already? Gardasil just came out! I haven't even finished discussing with my wife whether our daughter should get the vaccine. It turns out that Merck, the drug's manufacturer, is among those behind the push for mandatory immunization for pre-teen and teenage girls. This creepy synergy between corporate interests and paternalistic legislators makes me uneasy.
Generally speaking, I am strongly in favor of fighting diseases and protecting public health through immunizations and other measures. But it's hard to know whether the public is served by mandatory HPV vaccinations. Let's face it: HPV is not like chicken pox or measles. It is spread by bumpin' uglies. So though many people are eventually exposed to the virus, it's not as if one can catch it by sharing a coke in the lunchroom.
Forcing a brand new medicine of unknown long-term efficacy for a disease not easily spread among pre-teens strikes me as overzealous. And GlaxoSmithKline, Merck's competitor, is scrambling to bring their own HPV vaccine to market. So maybe there is more going on to this push for compulsory immunization than just good preventative health care and good public policy.
The pressure to legislate HPV immunization has given common cause to strange bedfellows. Advocates for civil liberties and conservative Christians find themselves working side-by-side: one group is concerned about corporate power in medicine and intrusion of privacy, the other with stamping out promiscuity and premarital sex. Sheesh, get a room you two!
Lost in the controversy is that although HPV affects both women and men, the call is to vaccinate only girls. Why is that? Is that cashing in on fear? Is it sexism for the 21st century? I mean, a dick gets the genital warts just as much as a puss. But gunk on your junk that could kill your female sex partner apparently doesn't warrant consideration: since only girl parts actually get the cancer, only the girls gotta deal with it. Limp.
So here we are: the profit-driven pharmaceutical industry that has a drug that could really help women on the one hand, and the anti-sex zealots who have a very good argument about freedom of choice on the other. It's left me wondering: what is good science, what is good medicine, what is good for the public, what is good for my daughter?
I need a drink.
Update 2/21/2007: The New York Times reported yesterday that Merck is dropping their support of legislation to mandate this immunization. Apparently they fear some kind of backlash. While discussing the topic this morning, a friend said bluntly that drug companies and the medical industry have got us by the balls. Too true. To which I would add, the public doesn't like to be shown that fact. I think Merck realized that.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Anyway, this morning's show was beyond belief. In one whirlwind sequence, I was treated to a dad who picked up and threw his son's wrestling opponent, the sordid struggle for Anna Nicole's corpse, a girl who's had the hiccups for three weeks, and an interview with a family who was stuck in winter traffic.
What was that about Nero fiddling while Rome burns?
Thursday, February 15, 2007
The list of movies on my to-review list hasn't gotten much shorter since I lamented that I was behind by six films. I wrote about two movies this week, but dammat if I don't still have four more to go. So here's two capsules to to cut it down to size.
Flyboys sucked. I mean it was really. really. dumb. I rented it for the bi-plane dogfights, which looked pretty nifty in the trailers, but they could not redeem this film. It was one gigantic cliché, floating over history like a bloated zeppelin. Here's the dashing James Franco, crash landing in the remote French countryside. And oh look, he's rescued by brothel girls - lots of demand for high-class French courtesans out among the villagers. But wait, the cutest, most innocent girl in this den-of-sin is no harlot; she's just visiting the whore-house. Do you think romance will ensue? Meanwhile, the grizzled wing commander broods in the officer's club. You know how I know he's a badass? He's got a pet lion.
Good thing the stern flight instructor can keep the peace between the world-weary veteran and the plucky recruits. They are one motley bunch. I mean, do you think the black pilot will teach the aristocratic dandy a lesson about the dangers of prejudice? I hope he can do it in time for the climactic confrontation with the sneering German pilot who impolitely shoots at people on the ground. The nerve! What does he think this is, a war?
Mike Judge's Idiocracy is a goofy satire with a high concept: after five hundred years in suspended animation, an average Joe wakes up to find that he is the smartest man alive. The silk-zubaz-wearing populace has grown so agonizingly dull-witted that they are unable to solve the most basic of humanity's problems. Like how to water the grass, or where to put that anal probe.
The single funniest moment in the film comes during the introduction of the President, easily the funniest character in the movie. Terry Crews immersed himself in the role with balls-out glee, delivering the best lines with frenetic zest.
The movie probably could have used another rewrite to streamline some of the sagging areas and sharpen its satirical edge. The jokes in this film have the subtlety of a jackhammer, but therein lies the real zinger: you laugh twice. Once because the humor appeals to one's more primitive self, and a second time because America has already come eerily close to realizing some of the stupitopian horrors.
Next up - "serious films." I'd better do a separate post for those. This post is suckomatic!
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism blasts Fox News for its calculated distribution of misinformation. I suppose the film should be filed under "P" for "preaching to the choir": the kind of person who sees it isn't likely to be a Fox News viewer, and from the title and the opening sequence of the film, it makes no apology for its portrayal of the network as a wrongheaded, polemical institution. But I think that's a shame. If the filmmakers had tempered their own approach with more analysis and dropped the alarmist commentators and cartoonish transitions, Outfoxed might have reached a wider audience and had a greater impact.
Despite its shortcomings, this film has a must-see sequence. It depicts the Jerry Springer-like way in which an interview spirals out of hand, and the fallout from that interview. I must confess that in my first draft about this sequence, I fell into hyperbole: I wanted to cite the interview and its aftermath as one of the worst examples of journalism ever. But that goes too far. Labeling a shouting match as political discourse overflows with stupidity, but to do so is hardly new. So what is this Case Study? The O'Reilly Factor, circa March 2003.
Now I know Bill O'Reilly's shtick: make up "facts" to support his point of view and shout down anyone who dares to defy him, all in order to dominate the opinions expressed on his program. Some might question his overweening desire for total control. But it's political theater for the sake of ratings: a tawdry morality play in which he casts himself as the angry voice of the people, supposedly arguing on behalf of the common man.
This guest was different, however. He was a young man, not a politician or a professional pundit. Jeremy Glick is a victim of September 11th; his father worked for the Port Authority, and was killed in the attacks. Jeremy had signed a statement against going to war in Iraq, and Bill O'Reilly could not accept that. So he invited him to be on his show; clearly he wanted to make an example out of this kid. How dare Glick have a political opinion that did not match O'Reilly's own conception of what a 9/11 victim should think and believe?
O'Reilly got more than he bargained for. Glick short-circuited the interview by rehearsing the points he wanted to make and then sticking to his message. As they spoke, O'Reilly repeatedly put words into Glick's mouth, trying to paint him as a fringe lunatic. While this tactic muddled Glick's argument, O'Reilly himself became unglued, unable to cope with a guest prepared for his usual vitriol.
Glick recounted the event and added some colorful details, such as that the producers ushered him out of the building after the interview for fear that O'Reilly would be arrested for assaulting him. In the days, weeks, and even months after the interview, O'Reilly began a campaign of wildly misrepresenting Glick's positions to his viewers. In fact, Glick wondered whether he could sue O'Reilly for slander. His lawyer acknowledged the falsehoods, but told him that it was very difficult to prove that someone is intentionally lying. O'Reilly had convinced himself to believe his own lies.
In this part of the film, Fox News's philosophy is laid bare. Their news is not just infotainment crafted in a cynical grab for television ratings. Dissent must be destroyed, political difference must be silenced. Facts have no place in an argument, because facts cannot be disputed rationally. One must cut off the discussion in order to hide from the offending information. But make no mistake: In the eyes of Fox, an angry bombast bullying a fatherless son is great entertainment.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
The original English-language epic is here rendered a rather melancholy tale of decline and loss. Beowulf, played by Gerard Butler, is no glorious hero. He is wary of the hero's mantle, and pursues his quest with a fatalistic sense of duty. Still more, the monster Grendel is no fiend. He is primitive, animal-like; a fearsome yet simple brute who hates the Danes for their cruel murder of his father. He is a force of nature, as capable of gentle humor as of stone-crushing fury. In this incarnation of the beast, I could finally understand and believe the passages from the original story in which Grendel crept silently through the King's hall without raising the alarm.
King Hrothgar of the Danes is a shattered, drunken figure, the hunt for the creature has left him hollow. He is haunted by his own sins against Grendel. Ignorant of this history between Grendel and the Danes, Beowulf and his company puzzle over the monster's unwillingness to confront them. They begin to inflict cruelties upon Grendel, provoking him into a rage.
Beowulf learns more of Grendel and the Danes from the village shaman, a wise woman living on the fringe of tribal society. She understands the delicate balance that has been upset and that may be irreparable. Beowulf faces a sobering reality: the injustice to Grendel cannot be ignored, but neither can Grendel's insatiable, bloody-minded desire for vengeance.
Friday, February 9, 2007
I also used to walk a mile by myself to Woodcraft Hobby Store to gaze longingly at all of the plastic model kits I couldn't afford. I'd spend what seemed like hours studying the packages and looking at the dioramas. The Tamiya models were the best. God, they were well-made. So detailed, so perfectly sculpted. On the rare occasions that I could get one of those kits, I build them with great care and pleasure, though I never felt that I did them justice. Assembled and painted by professionals, I was absolutely entranced by their beauty. They were fucking sublime. I'm tearing up just thinking about them. Forget that "Big is the New Small" bullshit. Mini is magnificent!
Which brings me to my other early passion: Japan. Tamiya is of course a Japanese brand. Japan held a curious place in the minds of Americans in the 1970s. The war generation looked upon Japan with racism and disdain. The baby boom generation looked at Japan as a source of cheap products. I think my generation was the first American generation to start actually appreciating Japanese things. Japan held a fascination for me that lasted throughout my childhood - I loved Godzilla, I loved anime, loved the samurai knights, loved the...
But I digress. Where was I? Miniatures. All this talk about miniatures and Japan helps me to justify to myself why I have gotten so geeked up about this really cool car. I've been obsessed with this snazzy little baby for weeks. I even bought a lottery ticket hoping I would win, so I could buy one. Dammat, Powerball! That was my $240 million! I NEEDED that money for my new ride! Hook me up!
Now, I've never considered myself someone who nurtured a passion for automobiles. As a boy I thought formula one cars were cool and I thought James Bond had a sweet ride. Also, I loved the gull-wing doors on the DeLoreans. My brother and I had the orange matchbox tracks, and we were mad about the Tyco racing sets. But as a teen and young man, vehicles and motor sports were lost on me. They still are, really. I couldn't care less about NASCAR, and I don't really need a hot car to get around in. Being a practical cat, I am content with my Subaru wagon (incidentally, Subie turned 130 thousand today, bless her!).
But this Honda Civic is so rad! I love all of the fine details and the precise sculpting. I love the curves, the cute yet punchy attitude of the body. The exterior has a smart, sleek look that says visually, "fun, cool, zippy, tough." And the interior is a gadget lover's dream. Lights and knobs and toggles galore. The seats look incredibly comfortable and inviting, and I love the mixed-material upholstery.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
- Pan's Labyrinth
- Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism
- Beowulf and Grendel
- Y Tu Mama También
Six reviews behind. How do real movie critics do it?
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Monday, February 5, 2007
I suppose I shouldn't complain, because this is basically a really cool web tool, and it's free! But c'mon, an essay counter that can't count? That's Microsoft-esque.
Sunday, February 4, 2007
I've watched a total of five movies this weekend: two excellent, two good, and one hardly worth mentioning. I've managed just one review so far, a rather clumsy, rambling affair. But I do recommend that film; I count it among the excellent. Anway, that leaves my backlog of film reviews in this space at five. I'd better get on the stick. But not tonight. Tonight I find comfort in the bottle. At least I hope so.
Saturday, February 3, 2007
"I have two sons, and I will allow none of my children to serve in the United States military. If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of America. You are helping certain policy-makers pursue an imperial agenda." So says not some fringy, leftist malcontent, but retired Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, toward the end of the documentary Why We Fight. She would know better than most: she served in the Pentagon in the first years of the Bush Administration under Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. On the eve of the Iraq war, she left the Pentagon and the military in disgust.
The film takes its name from the series of famous WWII propaganda films by Frank Capra, and traces a straight line from President Dwight D. Eisenhower's prescient warning against the military-industrial complex to the present day. Now that was a remarkable speech, one that deserves a fresh look. The film seeks to do just that, and using archival footage, new interviews, and a wide-angle view of the American presidency, paints an ugly portrait of the defense industry's entrenchment into American domestic and foreign policy.
A friend of mine wryly pointed out to me a few weeks ago something that we chuckled about, but is profoundly true: one thousand years from now, no one but egg-headed scholars will remember George Bush's or Saddam Hussein's name, or what was the reason for going to war, if ever there was one. Perhaps these historians will speak of the declining power of the United States and its insatiable need for natural resources.
The masses and the schoolchildren, however, will remember the more benign fruits of our times, the inventions and the innovations: that in the late 20th and early 21st century, the microchip came into being, that we traveled to the moon, that we plumbed the human genome, that we landed robots on Mars. These contributions to humanity will endure. War is just a tired backdrop to the entire tapestry of human civilization.
Maybe that is the question we should be asking of ourselves and our leaders: do we want to make the history that truly lasts, or do we want to confine ourselves to the trivial, forgettable policies that serve merely a narrow interest now, and serve no interest whatsoever to our legacy as a species?
Thursday, February 1, 2007
"Customer often makes cash deposits into two accounts for $4,500 each. I asked the customer, 'you always make deposits for $4,500, right?' Customer's response was, 'yes, because you'll report everything else.' He added, 'you have no idea how much I make.'"
"Customer has constant inquiries about how to avoid a CTR (currency transaction report)."
"Customer's average account balance is 96 dollars. Made a $27,000 wire transfer to Honduras."
"Customer and her husband make $9,000 cash withdrawals almost everyday."
"Customer regularly comes in with a duffel bag. Bag contains a large number of small bills totaling four to five thousand dollars, customer exchanges them for hundred-dollar bills. Money tends to smell like marijuana."