Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Bash me baby one more time

* Sinbad changes topic to '15000 atheists in London rioted after a blank sheet of paper was found on a cartoonist's desk'

<anial8r> you know what? KFC is ONE letter yes ONE letter away from fuck.
<anial8r> i have just thought of their next motto
<anial8r> KFC! the only thing missing is U!
Hmmm, that's news to me

Yahoo!Mail bans Allah and Dirty Harry handles

I've had yahmdallah at the ole yahoo dot com for years now, and it still works.

Well, you'll know what's happened if I should suddenly disap

Thursday, February 16, 2006


It made me laugh, so, from one of the oldest ongoing web sites EVER, The Keepers Of Lists, from the the List of February 7, 2006, "Top 28 Cool Things About Living In Middle-Earth (Lord Of The Rings)"

Item number 1:

Getting together with friends to role-play "Cubicles & Accountants"

I can just imagine it: "Dude, my 7th level middle manager with the magic coffee cup is like so going to take your swingline!"

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him on a car ride, he sticks his head out the window?

In a spasm of synchronicity, I received one of those emails chock-full with pithy bon mots that contained the above truism whilst I'm reading Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, which pries open the attic door on a lot of animal behavior.

I had expected to skim-read this thing to find parts that interested me and be done with it in a couple hours, but I got sucked in by all the amazing information, and its unique perspective since Temple Grandin is autistic.

Outside of the meat packing industry, Grandin became well-known through Oliver Sacks' fantastic An Anthropologist On Mars. She invented a cow-hugging device that calms cows for injections and as they're led to slaughter. (Which I can't decide whether it's kinda sweet, since the cows get a big hug before they're dispatched into the void, or whether it's kinda cruel because there's this tender claming moment and then WHAM they're shot between the eyes).

Temple Grandin gradually discovered that through her autism she had a lot in common with animals and the way they think. She's often hired to examine meatpacking plants when the animals are continually balking at the gate and such, because she can spot the things that are disturbing the animals with complete accuracy. She sees it how the cows see it, in other words.

I was dubious that this book would have many insights due to her condition, and thought it would just be more interesting as a study in her personality. Well, I was completely wrong. Animals in Translation is as insightful and fun as Oliver Sacks' stuff. I've been bowled over by the sheer amount of great info I'm picking up.

For instance, a few things I've learned so far:
- Autistics think in pictures only, no words; the author posits that animals think exclusively in pictures, too
- Birds see in four basic colors: Red, blue, green (like us), and ultraviolet; animals like dogs and cows see two: blue and green
- Pigs are sexual freaks, though I wasn't all too surprised by this
- The more aroused a female pig is during impregnation, the larger her litter and the piglets themselves are bigger
- Dogs behave the way they do because they're essentially emotionally stunted in the puppy stage through selective breeding, and thus never hit an "adult" state as wolves (their ancestors) do (the estimate is they're equivalent in maturity to a one-month old wolf pup)
- Like dogs, cows don't like wind blowing in their faces and they will put their butts into the wind
- All later generation albino animals are messed up genetic freaks who are prone to disease, are high-strung, and often brain damaged enough where their behavior is detrimental to themselves and their fellow animals (for the record, white/Caucasian people are not albinos, and all ethnic groups occasionally have albino offspring - and we don't force them to produce offspring together as we do with albino animals, so we don't see the same result in humans)

So, now I have all these fun facts that I can now bore folks to death with at parties.

One section particularly caught my interest. Rather than introduce it, why don't I just let you get to it. ("[...]" indicates that I've snipped some text to get to the point. I have not altered the context of the meaning, though. Any bold text is emphasis I've added that was not in the original text.)

The problem with normal [non-autistic] people is that they're too cerebral. I call it being abstractified.

I have to fight abstractification constantly when I'm working with the government and the meatpacking industry. [...] It's harder today because today government regulatory agencies are all run by people who've been to college, but who in some cases have never even been inside a meatpacking plant, let alone worked in one. [...]

Things were different in the 1960s when I was visiting my aunt's ranch in Arizona. [...] At that time livestock were being attacked by screwworms all over the West, Southwest, and Mexico. Screwworms are the larvae of a fly that lays its eggs in open wounds. [...] When the eggs hatch the maggots come out and eat the animal alive. [...]

Up until the USDA got involved, by aunt had been digging the maggots out of wounds on her horses by hand. [...] If you didn't do this, the horse would die. A screwworm infestation was a hideous, horrible thing.

The USDA fieldworkers figured out how to get rid of the screwworms by taking advantage of a quirk in their reproductive system. [...] The USDA bred a bunch of screwworms and irradiated the males when they reached the pupa stage, making them sterile. Then they put the pupae in little paper boxes, like a Chinese takeout box, and dropped the boxes out of airplanes. The flies would come out of the boxes and mate with lots of females, and the females they'd mated laid eggs that wouldn't hatch.

The program was a huge success. [...] Today there are no screwworms anywhere in the United States or Mexico. I remember those years well. You'd find the little boxes all over the ranch, seven or eight of them each summer. The box would say "USDA" and there would be a little story printed on the side explaining what it was and that it wasn't going to hurt you.

This was the original biotechnology and it worked. The government saved thousands and thousands of animals, maybe millions. They just did it; they didn't get everyone's permission.

Today the government could never get a program like that off the ground. Some environmental activist would say, "We have to protect these flies," and you'd have people who'd never seen a screwworm in their lives advocating to save them from extinction. The whole thing would be about ideology, not reality. [...]

Even worse, the government might not even get to the point of having advocates to block their efforts. To put this type of project together you need a really good field staff that is in charge of things. But today the abstract thinkers are in charge, and abstract thinkers get locked into abstract debates and arguments that aren't based in reality. I think this is one of the reasons there is so much partisan fighting inside the government. In my experience, people become more radical when they're thinking abstractly. They bog down in permanent bickering where they've lost touch with what's actually happening in the real world. [...]


One thing I've noticed about animal welfare regulators who have never worked in the industry is the way they always go for some kind of zero-tolerance approach. If the plant violates one or two agency rules, it has to be shut down.

If you don't know anything about the meatpacking business, that sounds like a good idea. Make sure no animal ever gets hurt, under any circumstances.

But in real life that's never the way it works out. In real life what happens is that a plant makes one or two mistakes, so the agency shuts it down. Well, shutting down a plant creates a huge uproar, because you've closed a whole big huge company that employs a lot of people. Management immediately protests the decision, and lots of pressure gets put on the inspector who reported the violations to clean up his report so the plant can go back to work.

And that's what happens. The plant goes back to work and doesn't get inspected so closely anymore. The violations keep piling up.

It doesn't have to be that way. I constantly argue that what we really need to do to protect animals is set high standards. People can live up to high standards, but they can't live up to perfection. When you give a plant a good standard -- like 95 percent of all cattle have to be stunned (killed) correctly on the first shot every single day -- they always do better than they do under zero-tolerance regulation. A lot of times they beat the standard, too.

But regulators today are too abstract in their thinking to see that. They're focused on their thoughts about the animals, not on the real animals in the real plants, so more animals end up suffering. It's not right.

I read that thinking HELL YEAH! I see that kind of thing - abstractification as she calls it - causing problems everywhere:
- Politics, like she points out.
- Almost all discussions in the public forum about religion - especially religion vs. science - anymore. Hell, this book says that religion is dangerous, when actual evidence leans towards religion being a mostly positive thing.
- Anything/anyone that takes postmodernism seriously is a study this very mistake - being in thrall to the thoughts about a thing rather than a reasoned examination of the actual thing itself.
- I've experienced this first hand at where I work now. I've seen requests from some for others to do things that would be a ridiculous amount of effort for very little actual result, only because the requestor is convinced that simply having the thing outweighs the massive efforts to produce it. They are in love with idea, their thoughts about the thing, rather than evaluating the actual need or goal. I've not encountered this kind of denial and self-delusion in such copious amounts before, so it's been a chore to combat it. I often feel like Alice in Wonderland talking to creatures who openly admit they are mad.

I'm sure any of you could think of examples where you've encountered this.

Since I was raised in the Midwest, I'm very pragmatic about things. I don't know why pragmatism comes with the territory out here, but it does. So when I encounter overeducated people who have left solid ground to build castles in the air, I get snarky pretty quickly.

That's why most zero-tolerance policies, three strikes and yer out laws, and the drug war drive me crazy as most of the advocates of those movements are classic abstractificators, to borrow and coin a term all at the same time. They almost never weigh the actual outcomes and results, because if they did, they would redirect their efforts immediately.

Btw, here are some of the other pearls of wisdom in the email from which I borrowed the title:

- I used to eat a lot of natural foods until I learned that most people die of natural causes.
- There are two kinds of pedestrians: the quick and the dead.
- Life is sexually transmitted.
- The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.
- Some people are like Slinkies. Not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you see one tumble down the stairs.
- Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.
- Have you noticed since everyone has a camcorder these days no one talks about seeing UFOs like they used to?
- How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?
- Do illiterate people get the full effect of Alphabet Soup?

And finally, here's one that illustrates the point above:
- In the 60's, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.
Bashed and Owned

<eminem_fan> they changed google!
<eminem_fan> i hate it, it's like new coke
<Blacgrass> wtf, you're like eleven, how do you know about new coke?
<eminem_fan> stfu blac, how u know I'm 11?
<Blacgrass> do a google search for "eminem fans"...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Bashing Around Again

<RobbiePaul> i really wish the redneck neighbors that moved in next door would feed their children anti-freeze
<Nichole> slip it into some popcicles and serve
<RobbiePaul> "anti" freeze...
Cell by Stephen King

Stephen King has made a point of re-imagining most of the big-ticket monsters in the horror genre, and sometimes he surpasses all previous efforts, as with the ghost story in The Shining, and sometimes others lap him, such as Anne Rice and her vampires. I think that King wins the Zombie sweepstakes with Cell, Shawn of the Dead notwithstanding.

Cell starts where Dean Koontz says good stories should: At the latest possible point in the story. Our hero is walking down the street, suddenly everyone who is talking on a cell phone goes batshit. Hilarity ensues.

For those who like a teaser, in one of the early episodes our hero bumps into an evangelical Christian who's raving about the end times. I greatly enjoyed King's finally addressing that scenario, since he didn't really the last time he destroyed the world in The Stand (his best, so far, btw, for those of you who've never read him).

No spoilers here, but I just want to say that the ending is one of the more heartbreaking ones he's come up with. Not to say that it's a bummer, or even a happy ending. That's one of the reasons it's so poignant. Maybe true hope always echoes the fear that births it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Confessions of an Usher

I was a movie theatre usher from the time I was 14 until about a year after college. It was the perfect job to fit in around school, and being a movieholic, it got me my fix whether I wanted it or not. (Say like during the Flashdance craze, when I most definitely did NOT want the movie fix - it's one of the few movies I declared a flop during the previews (an usher sport) and was wrong. I was so good the manager of the theatre I worked at in college would ask me what I thought would be a hit and not, and plan accordingly. He did challenge me on Flashdance, saying I wasn't thinking of the chick flick angle, and he was right that time.)

The first theatre I worked in still had the old school rules about patron behavior, and we were to ask people to take their feet off the seats in front of them and to please be quiet if they talked too much. Now imagine that if you will. At 14 I probably looked 12, I was 5' 9", weighed 110 pounds, if that. Suddenly, there I am at your shoulder saying, "Pardon me, but would you please refrain from conversation." Yes, I've probably seen every variation of the facial expression WTF?

Once, a guy followed me out of the theatre after I'd warned him (I thought he was just going to pee). He tapped me on the shoulder, and when I turned around, he picked my up by lapels (we had to wear suits), hoisted me a solid foot off the ground, put my face an inch from his and hissed very spottily, "You ever tell me to keep my feet off the seats, you little punk, and I'll break you in half." Then he dropped me and went and sat back down. So the manager went in, got the guy, and kicked his ass out. The look the guy gave me as he left made it quite clear that if I were to ever encounter him outside of the theatre...you get the drift. I certainly did, as did my manager; I got an escort to my car that evening.

But amazingly that was the only nasty encounter I had during my decade in the theatres.

Horror movies were fun, because the looks on people's faces as we walked the aisles (looking for misbehavior, to check that the film was in focus and stuff) were as comical as you might imagine. 2/3 rapt, 1/3 in that hard-to-describe mid-eyeroll state.

The Omen was perhaps the highlight of scary films I worked. It just got people worked up. I think we eventually left the houselights up just a scootch because people were so freaked. (Now the movie seems tame, but in the day, it was one notch below The Exorcist in terms of audience terror.)

Since the folks were so freaked, a lot of them did the reflexive thing and pulled their feet up in front of them, necessitating placement on the seat in front of them - a no-no, of course.

Once, I had to walk all the way to the center seat near the front (and this theatre was HUGE, so I probably had to go past about 20 seats) to tell the young lady to take her feet of the seats. She turned and just SCREAMED into my face, abject terror. Which so shocked the hell out of me, I fell completely over. I reeled back and just went down, arms flying, over an open seat behind me. It was the biggest laugh I've gotten to date.

At another showing, this couple was off to the side, directly under a light so they kinda glowed in the dark. He was just beside himself, feet up, nails between his teeth, eyes so wide that if he'd had a glass eye he'd've lost it. His wife/girlfriend could barely contain her contempt for the movie. Heck, as I scootched up behind them, she even rolled here eyes at the screen and sighed. I leaned over, since we were supposed to whisper our warnings out of courtesy, and quietly started, "Sir, would you..." He shot straight out of his seat and bellowed, "Jesus Christ!" (In my mind, probably the most appropriate interjection when freighted by Satanic mischief.) His wife laughed so hard she had to leave to go pee.

During Jaws, one frightened soul threw her large coke at the screen when the head floated out of the shark bite hole in the sunken ship at Richard Dreyfuss. That wasn't much itself, but of course the 23 people in front of her got hit in the back of the head with what was essentially a wave, causing a near stampede for the exits. The folks on the outside of the rows nearly all fell down in their flight, blocking egress, giving the rest that half-second to consider the fact that they were pretty safe from sharks where they were. They certainly gave the poor girl a piece of their minds until I arrived with my usherly "hush."

I myself was a victim of the horror heebie jeebies once. We also had a drive-in, and when you first started there, you got the shite job, which was standing out at the exit with a flashlight to direct out and light the way for those leaving early. (To a car, it was either because all the kids had fallen asleep, or they just couldn't get uninhibited enough to screw in the car). Well, there I stood, watching the scary flick, literally on the edge of a dark country field in the middle of nowhere. Out of the gloom behind me, I kept hearing (I thought) footfalls, but couldn't see anything when I turned to look. And I should've seen something behind me from the light of the screen. Well, that went on four about 15 minutes, when right beside me there was this huge "PBPBPBPBPB!" When I returned to my post after spastically dashing away with all the grace and beauty of a million Jerry Lewis routines, I discovered a friendly horse over the fence that had just come over to me, probably looking for a handful of popcorn. I was just glad I hadn't screamed when I ran, or I'd never, ever heard the end of it from the guys.

Way back in the day, the way movie distribution deals worked is a theatre would contract to receive the big blockbusters of the day, but the deal would include two to three other small or "B" films they had to show as well, in order to "earn the right" so to speak to show the big film. On the surface, this might seem unfair, or like extortion of a sort, but this was how little films got distributed (and how my little home town saw the likes of Taxi Driver that wasn't what you would call a hit at the time). If the theatre had certain characteristics (like being stand-alone, single screen, with no windows on the theatre doors, etc.), you sometimes had to take X-rated films that the major studios made. Yes, for a while, Hollywood mainstream studios made pornos. Granted, they were nothing like those today. You often didn't see much, or any, "penetration," but they were certainly blue. Well, my boss hadn't told me I wasn't supposed to walk the aisles, but apparently he'd assumed since I was underage I would've just known that, but I thought since I was working that it was OK. I remember thinking, "Wow, they can film that kinda stuff?" thanks to my innocent, small-town upbringing. It was beyond my comprehension that people would let others film them whilst they boffed. Really. So I emerged from the theatre after an aisle walk where I not once had to give any warnings (no one said a thing since all the men sat by themselves, and no one certainly put their feet up on the seats for obvious reasons), and the theatre manager was standing there, jaw hanging lower than Wile E. Coyote's on his worst day. 'Twas comical, to say the least. Poor guy. He nearly keeled over in embarrassment when I wondered aloud why I wasn't supposed to do my job. He got through the explanation though, bless his heart.

Probably because I have a vomit phobia, two other notable events center around that lovely human function.

Once this bunch of clowns came to an afternoon showing of Porkey's or the like (notice there aren't many gratuitous titty-flicks anymore since mainstream films nearly all do that now and porn itself is more mainstream). Halfway through, these guys dragged their unconscious compadre out of the balcony door, hurf dripping from his mouth. "Quick!" They yelled, "Get a candy bar! He's diabetic!" So I did, and they crammed half of it into his mouth as they dragged him along, which caused him to gag even more. He broke free, leapt through the exit doors and sprayed the pavement with half of the snickers and whatever he had remaining. All his buddies just broke out laughing and took off. He gagged, "Hey! Wait up!" staggering after them. Well, that made me wonder. Sure enough, the lake of hurl reeked of booze and turned the pink puke sawdust a funky color I'd not seem before. Diabetic my ass. He's just had the balcony spins from shooters. His buddies were some clever motherforkers, I have to admit.

Another night, someone had yacked in the sink in the men's bathroom. Someone came and told me, and I went to investigate to see how bad it was. It was a shallow puddle neatly shimmering in the sink, not yer typical badly aimed Jackson Pollock all over the place. We had other stuff to take care of first as one show was ending, so we put it on the list for later. Big mistake. By the time we got back around to it, it had claimed quite a few victims, and the floor had at least two new Pollocks on it, and one guy was actively chundering into one of the toilets. We changed our hurl eradication policy that very night.

The only other memory worth relating is the first theatre I worked at had exactly ONE 8-track tape that provided our muzak for the lobby: Scott Joplin and Marvin Hamlisch's soundtrack for The Sting, which I loathed more than black Juju Fruits stuck to the sole of my usher shoe. To this day, if I hear even two or three notes from it, I black out only to come to amidst a destroyed sound system. You've been warned.


Two more for the road. I didn't include these originally, because I was not a first-hand witness to them, but they're just too good to leave out.

Once a year the drive-in had what they called a "dusk to dawn" showing of four films, which usually did last from sundown to sunup. Usually half the folks left after the second show, and the partiers would stay to the bitter end. After the last show let out, there were usually a few cars left because the occupants had fallen asleep, so the final task at the dusk to dawn was going around and awaking them. One couple was discovered in an interesting position. Her hand was down his jeans, holding on to the package, and his hands were up her t-shirt, holding on to the bazooms. They had fallen asleep like that. Of course, since we (who worked at the drive-in) were all teenagers, it was unfathomable that you could or would fall asleep in the midst of the very thing that haunted our thoughts incessantly. In retrospect, I guess it either speaks volumes about their love life or the level of their fatigue. Still, what a picture, eh?

One of the duties of working at the drive-in was asking people to take their foot off the brake pedal. A lot of folks would just forget, blaring their break lights into the people's faces behind them, or would be reacting to the movie, etc. One time the telltale glow of red appeared up a few rows, so the guys went up to intervene. (Two always went because once in a while an inebriated customer would try to get pushy, and having two guys standing there helped control that.) As they approached, they could see that the brake lights were pulsing on and off, signaling indeed that love was in the air. Truth be told, it was never fun to interrupt a couple mid-rapture as it was embarrassing for all, often resulting in a dangerous, too fast exit from the ramps, gravel flying as the unhappy couple tried to outrun mortification and to get somewhere else and finish. So the guys stopped for a moment, talking over what to do, if anything. Usually the people behind start honking, but in this case they either didn't notice being busy themselves or were amused enough not to care. Finally, the guys decided to go over and put a stop to it when the brake lights came on solid for a good 10 seconds, then went out and stayed out. Mission complete, apparently. And they swear they heard a slight smattering of applause from the vehicles behind the strobe light of love.

My primary concern when we fired up Flightplan, Jodie Foster's new thriller, was that it would be a half-assed adaptation of Crichton's best novel, imvho, Airframe. (Go. Read. Enjoy.)

But, thankfully, it's just a nice thriller that uses Agatha Christie's "Strangers on a Train" closed-environment device, in that: "How can a child disappear from a flight while it's still in the air?" Indeed, how. Fire up that popcorn and find out.

Is there a more perfect movie star than Jodie Foster? I mean, you just can't look away when she's on the screen. Mesmerizing is the word. She could be telling me personally that my ass was on fire, and it'd take a moment for it to dawn on me that I needed to pull my attention away and douse my tush. (Perhaps that explains a bit about Ronnie's close call.)

Heck, she even almost sold Nell. ("Tay ina win!") Unless you had some ingénue spend half the film naked (don't get your hopes up for a remake, Michael), no one would've bothered to watch. I think that speaks for itself.

Many critics and pundits have dissed Flightplan because there's a supposed implausibility to the story, which even I - Mr. Can Suspend Disbelief Better Than Anyone - figured out as the credits rolled. Well, the more I've thought about it, the more I can see it's just a matter of accepting that it could happen, and it really could. We've all seen stranger things happen. (If you're curious, I'll spell it out in the first comment, so don't look if you don't wanna know.)

I thought it was great fun.
Hope you guessed my name

Real Live Preacher has a great post on the devil. Yeah, Satan hisownevilself.

One of the topics Christians have to face and decide is the concept and possible reality of evil dude. Is he/it real? Or just a concept meant to keep you honest when it's just you and the cookie jar?

In my embryonic Christian years, I had relegated him and his 'hood to a non-reality used as an empty threat (like, "I'll turn this car around right now if you don't stop that!" when you're 300 miles into the trip). But I met a guy who convinced me of the reality of Stan - as we usta call him on a Christian irc chatroom - and h-e-double-hockey-sticks.

I won't belabor it here, since it's covered better in the post I've linked to, but the fact that Jesus treats him as real - even has a conversation with him - is one of the things that did it for me.

(Btw, in reference to the title of this post: One of the better Rolling Stones songs in recent years was "Saint of Me," which I choose to view as kind of an answer to "Sympathy for the Devil." It doth rock. And, yea verily, it rolls.)
Black is Beautiful

Man, this is gonna tork a lot of people off (like this, for example). (via 2Blowhards).

But I say - as one of those very middle-aged white guys she describes, belly and all - that if that's what flips her skirt, I'm glad she knows it and goes after what she wants. The flip side is just hurting and angering those who don't understand what's wrong with them (not that anything is wrong with them of course, they're just the wrong guy).

I've said it before, but when it comes to sex, ya likes what ya likes, and ya don't what ya don't.

But, please Ms. Bakos*, turn up your stereo so I don't have to explain to the kids that no that lady's not being hurt, she's actually having fun.

(*I can't help myself -- perhaps a lot can be explained by the fact that her name conjures up the image of artificially flavored salad seasoning bits based on smoked pork products, and the related theme of having her "salad tossed" have greatly influenced her career as a sex writer.)

((Oh, and has she possibly torpedoed her sex advice career and books since her advice can be summed up by: "Go black and don't look back, sweetheart"?))

Friday, February 03, 2006

Now this is cool

Via Kottke.org: A compilation of critic's ten best films of 2005 lists.

Go down to the Summary near the bottom. There's a great breakout of how each movie fared on the lists.

By the way, I had a theory that until this year had proven to be true. Every year a Star Wars movie was released proved to be a seminal year for films in that many other classics were released in the same year. This is the one year where that has not been the case.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Our littlest one turned one last week. "Poppet" is our endearment for her.

She now crawls everywhere. She says "Mama", "Daddo", "No", "Meow" (the sound kitties make, but it works for all aminals), and wonderful nonsense words like "Dodley-oh" and "Way-go way-go." She waves "hi." She can get up from a lying position. She can pound all the plastic balls into the maze on one of her favorite toys. And she can play catch (the one-year-old version, rolling the ball back and forth), and has quite the arm.

She got to dig into her birthday cake herself (a family ritual).

While big sister patiently looked on.

Happy Birthday sweetheart!

(She's saying "Dodley-oh" here, hence the Popeye mouth.)
Has Elvis has left the building?

I remember when the Grammies finally tanked. I think the exact moment was when Jethro Tull won for the best heavy metal/hard rock album in the year when Metallica had released their eponymous "black album" that still sells like sliced bread to this very day. Hip hop/rap was on the rise, and there were grumbles that it needed to get the respect its fans and artists felt it should have, so it started its slow takeover of the airwaves.

In the music biz, boy bands and other ersatz artists began to clog the airwaves that were left over from hip hop. Radio itself had conglomeratized into monoliths that controlled most of the market, pumped commercials up to over 23 minutes per hour. Meanwhile, software came out that allowed folks to convert CDs into files that took only 3 megabytes per song, making it possible to store most or all of one's collection on a PC. People rediscovered their collections, and since the airwaves were only catering to kids and gangstas, people stopped buying music regularly.

Queue "The Day the Music Died" and you can have my MP3 player when you wrench it from my cold dead hands in prison.

I say that to say this: Are movies going the same way?

The Oscars have always had their inadequacies since they never give good comedies their due, and seem to have missed the memo that fantasy and sci-fi have been the primary forces that drive people the movies anymore since Jaws and Star Wars.

But for the films they did honor, they seemed to do a decent job of matching nominations with popular tastes, art, and the well-known strokefests for folks who'd been passed over or ripped off earlier.

But, is this the year the Oscars leave the rails?

Let's have a look at the past, first. Here's a list of the nominations and winners for best picture from 2000 forward. An Asterisk (*) denotes the winner, a smiley emoticon marks those I judge as commercial and popular successes based on box-office and word of mouth (whether I personally liked them or not).

* Gladiator =)
o Chocolat
o Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon =)
o Erin Brockovich =)
o Traffic

* A Beautiful Mind =)
o Gosford Park
o In the Bedroom
o The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring =)
o Moulin Rouge! =)

* Chicago =)
o Gangs of New York
o The Hours
o The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers =)
o The Pianist

* The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King =)
o Lost in Translation =)
o Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
o Mystic River =)
o Seabiscuit

* Million Dollar Baby =)
o The Aviator
o Finding Neverland
o Ray =)
o Sideways =)

And here we are at this year's nominations.

o Brokeback Mountain
o Capote
o Crash
o Good Night, and Good Luck
o Munich

Reviewing the movies that were in wide release, this appears to be somewhat of a dry year, but there seems to be quite a few that could and should be on this list that aren't. Why are these the ones nominated?

Capote looks like it's good, but it didn't pack'em in.

Crash is popular on video because of the controversy it's stirred up, but it was ignored in the theatres, too. I would say popular opinion is that it's a turkey.

Good Night and Good Luck looks absorbing and classy, but it also looks complex and dank, perfect for a late-night DVD viewing with the SO, but not a day out at the flicks with a $10 bucket of popcorn. The producers didn't expect big box-office, and they were right.

Munich is probably an official flop. Especially for a Spielberg.

Brokeback Mountain is the only one in this list that continues to appear in the box-office top ten, and so is the only one that could claim to be a hit. Though, I still don't know anyone who's seen it - and it is playing locally - and while a box-office of 50 million is nothing to sneeze at, most moderate hits outsell that easy. It'll be interesting to see the business this one does in DVD.

Short version: None of these were really a full-blown hit, save maybe "Brokeback." And with the possible exception of Capote, they're all cut from political cloth - they are about supposed debates of the day. That's not entertainment. That's "we know what's best for you."

Have we hit the year where the Oscars have become yet another political tool and/or deviate so far from popular tastes as to become irrelevant?

I hope not.
Millions (the movie)

It was OK, but kinda complex for a kid's movie.

It also had a pacing problem. None of us could keep our attention on it.

To top all of that off, their accents are so thick that I missed a good portion of the lines, and just didn't have the energy to put on subtitles (which would have annoyed my nine-year-old because she would try to read them, but probably isn't fast enough just yet).

It's about two boys who discover a bag full of pounds a week before Britain goes to the Euro. (Cute huh? - they can't just sit on the money because it will be worthless in a week). The younger child is given to hallucinations involving dead saints since his mother died (why do so many children's films have the ONE SITUATION that kids fear most?), and those are clever if you know some of the history, but say if you're 9 and don't, it's just a lot of confusing fluff. (Nearly every time one of those came up, my daughter asked, "What are they talking about, dad?")

And it has unmarried people waking up in bed naked together. The younger son wanders into his dad's bedroom looking for the money that the bad guy is coming to take upon threat harming everyone if he doesn't get it, and there his dad and his new girlfriend are. OK, maybe my wife and I are hopelessly anachronistic, but we don't like children's films that contain such images - especially when they are as gratuitous as this one was.

The filmmaking itself and the special effects were good, but that's kinda like saying the candy coating on carob is as shiny and attractive as that on M&Ms; in the end you're still biting into carob and not chocolate.

I doubt the kids will really like this one (unless of course they have a good history of the saints).

A regular reader has taken issue with my reviews of You and Me and Everyone We Know and other films, and rather than snark at me in the comments emailed me, which I think is just fine. Please feel free to contact me through email if you would prefer. I post my email just for that reason.

While composing my response, it dawned on me I might have made some of my points better here than I have in earlier posts, so I thought I'd post it.

To put some of what follows in context, the reader said that most guys at 14 would welcome - to say the least - being the focus of a blowjob competition, and on that I would agree. But, as you'll see, I still think that constitutes molestation anyway. I know folks who got into sex at way too early of an age, and it has had an effect on their life I think they would've rather avoided, even if the sex was fun at the time.

So, here's my response. Also, SPOILERS ENSUE.

Well, it looks like we disagree again.

You state: "molesting includes an act being done against one's will." I disagree. I think molestation is coercing kids to engage in sexual activity, regardless of their consent. Before a certain age, they don't have the ability to give consent.

Yes, in real life, most 14-year-old boys would love to find themselves in that situation. But it is still too young to be engaging in any sex (other than jerking off, perhaps). And having girls who are seniors in High School do that to him is simply wrong.

Now, actually putting actors that age through the motions for the sake of a film constitutes abuse to me. Go read the Amazon.com reviews, filter down to the lowest rating ones, and you'll see others stating that same thing.

It wouldn't have mattered if it (the blowjob) were a plot point, as long as we didn't have to witness it. But the fact that we do makes the difference. And we're even shown the girl with the hope chest watching it.

Let me ask you this, would you want any of your children at the age of 14 starring in a movie where they had to lay down while a 17-year-old boy (or girl) pretended to give them oral sex for the camera? I think your answer to that is the answer to how you feel about the film.

If you're OK with that, then you simply disagree with my take on the movie. If you're not OK with that, then we probably agree in principle even you take issue with what I wrote.

Same with your 6-year-old being on chat and having someone/anyone on the other side responding to their request to pass poop back and forth between their butts with "I'm touching myself." I would flip out and get the cops involved, myself. (Though I wouldn't let my kids on chat in the first place.) Again, had an adult in the movie read the chat logs, or if some other means of revealing that information rather than a little boy actually say the lines, it would have made the difference.

I feel people should have the freedom to produce and consume movies like this. But then I have the freedom to grouse when I feel something's gone too far, is broadcast in an inappropriate market or time, or that I don't like it because it contains elements I find objectionable. I want children to have an environment of innocence when it comes to sex, violence, and other things that belong in the adult world. We had it, and I think it was healthy.

Another issue these days is that folks who express opinions like mine are attacked for being close-minded or bigots. Take, for instance, my posts on Brokeback Mountain. I don't object to the fact that the movie is about gay cowboys. I could care less, really. Rock on with yo gay self, I say. But, I do dislike the current atmosphere where if you say, "I don't wanna see it because I don't care to see men fuck," some folks feel that gives them license to call you a homophobe. It's silly.

My grandmother didn't like Richard Pryor's standup because he said "motherfucker" every two sentences. She just didn't care to hear that language that much. Let's say she had a blog and said so publicly, the equivalent response would be that she must be a racist because she won't watch Richard Pryor's standup. How small-minded of her!

That's how I feel about some of the debates over "Brokeback."

Hey, I'm not the audience for that, and I resent your (the universal "you," not YOU) implying or directly stating something must be wrong with me, or that I'm a bigot or homophobe, because I don't care for the subject matter. The culture police are trying to equate disinterest, or plain old dislike, with bigotry. And the media manipulators tried to square off Brokeback against Narnia as though it was gays vs. Christians, which was just as specious. (No one bit, thank God.)

There's a big difference between stating that "I" don't want to see a movie and stating that I don't want ANYONE to see it. (For those of you in the cheap seats, my view is the prior, not the latter.)

It's a very hard point to make because it's subtle, and when folks are more interested in browbeating me for supposed sins against other's rights, it's difficult to maintain that I'm not oppressing anyone, nor do I want to. I merely want the room (or the right) to say that gay movies, dwarf-tossing movies, f-bomb movies, violent movies, pedophile movies, hunting movies, animal rights movies, animated movies, Tom Cruise movies, slasher movies, sci-fi movies, and whatever the hell don't float my boat movies, are not for me. More for you! Enjoy!

I guess if I'm labeled a homophobe (unfairly) or close-minded (unfairly) moralist (probably fairly), I'll just have to put up with it, because what can I do other than state my case and hope for a reasonable reaction? Of course people should feel free to disagree with me, but I would prefer they don't try to connect the dots when those connections really don't exist. To be precise, I'm not a vegan hater if I don't want to eat brussel sprouts.

As usual, Lileks manages to say this with much more panache.