Friday, March 31, 2006

Probably the best definition ever of pornography

"Pornography is the lurid and detached exploitation of something that is essentially good, even necessary, in order to make money, while simultaneously shaming and disgracing all of those who are involved."
- Alec Baldwin (Yes, the actor!)

(Found via Redwood Dragon)

Now, as with all attempts to define pornography, this one is flawed in that it can also be applied to most of the children's programming on PBS where people dress in life-sized costumes to depict purple dinosaurs, mutants with TVs implanted in their bellies, and so on.

But it's damn close.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Blogging Cramps

Doncha hate it when you've been working on posts, but they just don't get off the ground? Words fall like lead diver's weights into your lap - treacherous if you're working in your jammies, lemme tell ya.

Frinstance, I attempted a post on those Scientology goofballs taking on South Park, but it was like making fun of the cross-eyed kid with a limp - who just happens to be a sociopath who's currently only snuffing hamsters but will most likely move on to bigger game as an adult. Besides, this exhaustive Rolling Stone piece is kinda the final word anyway. At least I learned something I didn't know previously: Scientology is yet another red-headed step child (plus cross-eyed with a limp) of Aleister Crowley. Man, if there were ever someone who was destined to join Hitler, Pol Pot, and the asshole who decided to make TV commercials twice as loud as the programming, in hell, it's Crowley. I even had a cute title: What would Xenu do?

Oh well.

I should have something hammered together soon. Thanks for checking back.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I hadn't thought of it that way...

The other day Simon and Garfunkel's song "Scarborough Fair" came on the radio.

"I love this song," said I, turning it up.

"Me too," piped up MPC1 from the back.

"Eh," offered the wife. "Everyone thinks it's a romantic song. Most guys I know like it. But, I'm not sure they've listed to what it's about."

Being a smartass, I said, "Then I'd venture to guess it's not about spices."

"No, it's not."

It's kind of hard to get pick out the lyrics since they sing over each other throughout (thus I've provided them below), but basically he tasks a buddy who's going to Scarborough Fair to look up an old girlfriend and tell her to make a complicated shirt without using seams, buy some land, plant a crop, harvest it, bale it, and then he'll consider her his true love again.

Kinda funny when you take it literally. A great companion song would be "Don't Shoot the Messenger" for his buddy. And of course her answering song would be worth a listen, but you'd have to download it because they'd never play "Fuck You, You Lazy Bastard" on the radio.

Scarborough Fair

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
   On the side of a hill in the deep forest green
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
   Tracing a sparrow on snow-crested ground
Without no seam nor needlework
   Blankets and bedclothes a child of the mountain
Then she'll be a true love of mine
   Sleeps unaware of the clarion call

Tell her to find me an acre of land
   On the side of a hill, a sprinkling of leaves
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
   Washes the ground with silvery tears
Between the salt water and the sea strand
   A soldier cleans and polishes a gun
Then she'll be a true love of mine

Tell her to reap it in a sickle of leather
   War bellows, blazing in scarlet battalions
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
   Generals order their soldiers to kill
And to gather it all in a bunch of heather
   And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten
Then she'll be a true love of mine

Are you going to Scarborough Fair
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine


I checked the lyrics on the Simon and Garfunkel box set I have and home, and the original ones I posted were wrong. The ones here now are correct.

In trying to track down a good source for the lyrics, I came upon the Wikipedia article about it, worth reading. Also, the first two comments to this post are worth a look-see.
With Apologies to Pope

I'm breaking Alexander Pope's rule on criticism by not experiencing an entire work before I opine.

Though I take solace in the fact that my buddy who thinks I'm silly to watch something I don't enjoy would be proud of me.

I took in the first 20 minutes of The Squid and the Whale. The only pleasant thing about it for me was that Jeff Daniels played the logical extension of his character "Flap" from Terms of Endearment, where this character sorta gets the life that the "Flap" character deserves from abandoning his wife and children to boff undergrads.

Other than that, it was sure shaping up to be another feel-bad movie about nasty people. I skipped ahead and watched the start of the next few chapters, and was glad I did because it looked like yet again we were going to delve into the sex lives of children, and that's officially a topic that I will never warm to. So I hopped to the ending and watched it. <sarcasm> Wow. Deep. </sarcasm>

So I said all that to say this:
Even the nastiest of people and the most mundane people have moments of glory, compassion, and transcendence. So many of these stories labeled and excused as "observations of the little moments in life" completely miss or purposely leave out the moments of wonder that do occur for everyone. No, to them, it's all shite and moldy scones, baby.

Stephen King points out that bad guys in fiction don't think they're the bad guy, so don't write them with that incorrect self-awareness.

That rule can be extended to apply to these flawed people that inhabit these dull indie films; they don't know they're flawed, and they have moments of triumph, too, so show them. Balance out the pain and humiliation with victories so we, the audience, can attempt to remain interested.

Of course, if you're a dedicated fan of Kafka and think he's what fiction should aspire to (interestingly enough, that's the opinion of the Jeff Daniel's character), then you'd disagree with me. (One of the reviews on by Wesley Mullins proclaims this movie is "Not for the Philistines.")

But consider this: Even Hitler had a girlfriend.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


(I can't resist it: Two movies where man fights bear; one win, one loss.)

Saw Cinderella Man and within a half hour, it became apparent why it flopped out loud. It's as dismal and bleak as the great depression itself, where it's set. Up till now, Ron Howard has avoided that filtered, muted-color palette that the other big deal directors have fallen for (I think it's because they really want to do black and white, and bringing everything to one basic tone, like blue or yellow, lets them cheat). But, alas, Cinderella Man is depression era yellow-gray. Meh.

Now, it's a good movie, like all the critics said. The ending is uplifting, and of course that's not a spoiler. As I told my daughter when the bleakness was getting to her ("dad, is this ever going to get happy?"), it's called Cinderella Man for a reason.

But, until the big fight at the end with Jethro's dad, Max Baer, it's a hard slog.

Though in happier times I think this movie would have done fine. Movies kind of have to run counter to the mood of the times. When we're secure, we tend to go to sad movies, paranoid movies, and scary movies. When things are scary in real life - at war, incompetent and corrupt boobs in the white house, looming world-wide flu epidemic (and for some, global warming) - we like shiny, happy movies to reassure us.

Since we've had an actual depression while the Shrub has been in office, with gas prices hovering around $2.50 per, Cinderella Man is just a little too close to what everyone's concerned about (except perhaps for the blinkered ditto-heads). It's a drag to watch deprivation when you might be living that next year.

That's why it flopped.

Grizzly Man is a tragedy, but it's strangely uplifting. Maybe perversely uplifting.

My overarching emotion was pity for the grizzly man, Timothy Treadwell. Hence "perversely uplifting." A "there but for the grace of God go I" kind of thing (though I wouldn't even begin to consider the possibility of going out into the wilds alone, let alone in the very midst of dangerous animals who view EVERYTHING as part of the food chain). Treadwell was running from his life, and he thought he would find solace in the strong arms of a bear, not its stomach.

My underarching emotion was occasional grudging respect that someone as damaged as Treadwell was able to function that well at all. And managed to survive in the wilds of Alaska surrounded by eating machines who even eat their own young in order to get laid (no kidding).

One particularly puzzling eruption of Treadwell's - he often recorded the most personal of thoughts as though the camera was a confessional - is that his life would have been much easier where he gay. He waxes rhapsodic about how gay men can just screw around and have meaningless encounters without complications. Women, he says, are more complex and you have to work on the relationship, etc. You get the sense that he really really tried hard at the gay thing (an observation of my wife's) and it just didn't pan out. Funny how many permutations "the grass is always greener" can take. I think his feeling that a different sexual orientation would somehow "fix" things shows how conflicted he was. Not to mention his stunted view of women.

Another oddity was his sheer paranoia. A couple times someone visited his camp when he wasn't there and left a message like "Hi" carved into a stick and a happy face engraved on a stone, which he declares "creepy." It must've never occurred to him that he had fans.

Another observation of my wife's was how everyone in the film speaks to the camera (thus presumably to "us") with a hint of condescension, as if the listener were stupid. We are undecided if it's because Werner Herzog, the director and the person they were speaking to, gave them that direction, or if because of his thick accent they tried to dumb it down for him.

Highlights are an amazing bear fight, foxes that follow Treadwell around like puppies, and of course the various eruptions and rants of Treadwell. His "fuck you" laden take-down of people he's worked with is especially entertaining, particularly because Herzog mutes the audio stating the Treadwell crosses lines with personal putdowns which Herzog will not do, and the fact that Treadwell just can't stop. He stalks off camera only to come back and scorch the earth some more.

A phrase that Treadwell used often was "I'd die for these bears," the common subtext being "I want to die for these bears," so in a sense he got his wish. Even his friends chime in thusly, only to qualify that with a regret that he took someone with him.

Documentaries have always been a favorite form of mine, and they have to be pretty bad for me to dislike them, but even with that slight disqualification, this has been one of the more enjoyable docs I've seen, right up there with The Thin Blue Line and the 7 Up series (which is not about soda pop, btw).

Friday, March 17, 2006

It's the Story, Stupid

Slashdot has a link to a post-mortem on the 80s computer movie, Tron.

The reason floated was people didn't get it, ala: "The concepts Tron dealt with were not in the public consciousness."

Uh-huh. Sure.

Not one mention that THE STORY SUCKED.

Yeah, it blew donkey ... but I digress.

It was still a decent little entertainment in its own right; the graphics were way cool and the look was amazing. But you had to squirm through the bad acting - only Jeff Bridges and David Warner had the chops to pull of their characters - the clunky story telling, and the Disney-esque touches like "Bit," the cute side-kick who could only say yes and no, or the biggest laugh producer: People in transistor and diode foam rubber costumes wandering around in the background.

It was just goofy, no pun intended.

And that seems to be a lesson that Hollywood just can't seem to get.

Think about it. Can you think of ONE movie that endures for you personally that didn't have a great story at its core? (Assuming it attempts a story in the first place, because, for instance, Koyaanisqatsi is more stoner metaphor than story.) Feel free to argue with me about that in the comments. I'd love to hear of a movie where the story lacked, but it still somehow has joined the pantheon of great films.

I think that's the frustration many feel with Brokeback Mountain. It has been presented as an agenda film, a social commentary, a lesson in how oppressive people can be, and so on, but try to treat is as just a movie and point out that the story itself was dull, and some act like you farted loudly and at great length in an elevator. The short story had nothing to it. No plot. Even the two guys don't really have discernable personalities. There's no real twist to it (no pun intended) other than the guys are gay. And that's all there is. Big deal. (Btw, I'll admit I am being a bit unfair in using the short story to critique the film, but with the exception of Philip K. Dick fiction, I've not seen ANY movie that was better than the source material.)

Tron has a less vacuous story, and it doth suck too, for sure.

It's the story.

The typically unspoken reason that The Da Vinci Code is a hit is: The plot's a gas. (Even if the writing itself isn't so much.) Yeah, it got legs from claiming that the underlying mystery is true (which is utter bullshit, but that's beside the point), but it wouldn't have gotten where it is without the fun chewy story at the center. Give Dan Brown his props, he can construct a breathless tale.

If Brokeback had one element that made it unique, some sort of unexpected development, then I predict it would have been that much better, and all the mewling about bigotry wouldn't exist, because it would have been a legitimate hit rather than a guilty hit.

Same thing goes for Tron (except the guilty hit part). In that article, it's mentioned that Disney expected it to top Star Wars. Well, that's unlikely in any scenario, but I tell you what, had Tron had a better story, it would've nipped at its heels for sure. As it is, it's a fun footnote to show people for its relative technical sophistication for the times. Nothing more. Alas.


Both The Opinionated Homeschooler and S. Y. Affolee have chimed in on books vs. movies. Good reads.
Bashing Optimism

kaytodaizzik: that's like my outlook on life
kaytodaizzik: "cautious optimism"
kaytodaizzik: It's like, I'm pretty sure the Sun will rise tomorrow.
kaytodaizzik: But chances are someone's gonna try and fuck me
kaytodaizzik: So I wear sunglasses and a buttplug.

Bashing Hal

tohayer: My windows machine crashes scarily
tohayer: Whatever audio is playing, slows down
tohayer: Like when Dave is disconnecting Hal's memory
tohayer: "Ted... Ted... why are you opening the task manager. You're scaring me, Ted"

Boink and Bash

<mcsuede> so i was half way through drinking a dr pepper
<mcsuede> and my wife sexed me so i fell asleep
<mcsuede> and when i woke up she had drank my dr pepper
<mcsuede> it was the last one
<mcsuede> i fear it was a plot

Bored with Bash

Frencheneesz: what if there was a super hero who had the power to transfer his own boredom to his enemies?
SombrousKnight: how'd he get these powers? gamma radiation while waiting in line at the DMV?

Closing Bash

<Handy> There are 2 kinds of people in the world.
<Handy> 1. Those who need closure.
<Marko> And?
<DavyP> AND?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Just Like Heaven

So, we movie buffs find ourselves now past the non-event that the Oscars were this year ("The TV audience for Sunday's Oscars was 38.8 million people, down 8 percent compared with last year, making it the third-lowest-rated Oscars in 20 years." Salon, "The Fix," Mar. 07, 2006). Though I did like all the best acting awards.

Saturday before the Oscars, we sat down for a family movie night and fired up Just Like Heaven. It was one of the more enjoyable movies I've seen in a long time, which reminded me of what it was like to simply enjoy the hell out of a movie.

It brought into relief just how few really fun films I could remember from the past year, which made me wonder if my memory was accurate. Always a good question to pose to oneself at my age - not that my memory is fading, but I think after a certain age your memory is not so much a recording of every event as it is when you're young, but it's a more efficient recording of just the things you haven't seen before, sort of a compression and optimization scheme. And that brought to mind a recent thang Michael Blowhard said about movie watching in middle age and beyond:

I think it's natural for movie-watching rates to decline with passing years. Energy flags, for one thing. Plus, many people find that they lose some of their appetite for fiction experiences as time passes. My theory about this: To some extent, fiction is play -- it's both fun and rehearsal for life. The love of fiction is also, to some extent, a function of self-exploration. With age and experience, "fun" per se becomes less important, the rehearsal period comes to an end, and the self recedes in importance. Real life becomes more pressing, as well as more fascinating. Result: a lot of older people reading history and watching nature documentaries on the Discovery Channel.

I agree with this, but I still wondered whether if I was experiencing what's described, or if 2005 was just a bad year for movies, as I'd remembered. Last time I looked over the year, I had a different agenda and used a list that wasn't easy to peruse. This time, I found a much better list, and I'm throwing the net wider, looking for just good ole entertaining movies, and not limiting it to what the Oscars typically reward.

Here are the movies I pulled from the list that were good, meaning I finished them with that magical "I enjoyed that" uplift, in alphabetical order:

40 year old virgin
Batman Begins
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Chronicles of Narnia
Corpse Bride, The
Fantastic Four
(Yes, really. It was very much in the spirit of the original comics, one of my childhood faves.)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
March of the Penguins
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
Upside of Anger, The
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Wedding Crashers, The

Of those, the ones I really really enjoyed were:

40 year old virgin
Batman Begins
Upside of Anger, The

And let's add Just Like Heaven to that short list.

So, it was a sucky year for movies.

Which breaks my theory about the Star Wars proximity effect. Until 2005, every year a Star Wars was released was a banner year in movies all around. Just look at the other movies that had legs in each of the years:

Oh well, it was a nice theory until it wasn't.

Anyway, Just Like Heaven, which takes its title from one of the best songs of all time, freakin' period, did well internationally, and will probably do well on DVD through word of mouth, did not do all that well in domestic box office. This is a movie that should've killed (mwha ha), so I Googled and Yahooed and found some good stuff.

*** Spoilers kinda sorta ***

The best theory I scared up had to do with its release date (Sept. 2005), which coincided with the Schiavo fiasco. We come to find out that Reese's character, who has been haunting Ruffalo's character who has sub-let her old apartment, is actually in a coma and not dead, as a haunting, wandering spirit would imply. This discovery is made days before the plug is to be yoinked, of course, so perhaps the collective fatigue over the Schiavo case kept away anyone who knew of the plot point. I makes sense to me.

*** END Spoilers kinda sorta ***

However, that may not be the case. It may have just been marketing gaffes. (Though, I disagree with this article's premise that romantic comedies don't do well. It makes the mistake of only quoting recent romance movie flops, and never discusses why they flopped.)

The trailer certainly represented the movie accurately. It sets it up as a date movie and not an all-out chick-flick.

The upshot is most of us missed a great movie. Rent Just Like Heaven next time you want to have a great time at the movies.
Oh the wailing. Oh the gnashing of teeth.

Speaking of the Oscars... Jeez, the whining over Brokeback's not winning best picture hasn't subsided yet.

Read Ebert's rehash of the Crash backlash, for instance.

How about this letter from a reader he also published.

Dear God. Let's just all have a nice long look at the white elephant in the room. Just because Brokeback didn't win the Oscar for best picture (and in spite of the fact that it picked up that honor from practically every other group that gives such awards) that doesn't mean it's a disapproval of or an indictment against gays. If you feel that a movie that's "about you" must win the top award for your life to be validated, let me assure you that you have bigger stuff to talk to your therapist about.

Look at it this way, Napoleon Dynamite didn't even get nominated for best hair or anything. Does this mean socially awkward geeks everywhere should despair and submit to being stamped into little green squares of soylent green?

Finally, Annie Proulx kvetches about the loss as well. Sour grapes indeed, my dear.

So, as a public service, I offer the following (currently making the email rounds) for all of you who find the loss of Brokeback disheartening for any other reason than you actually liked the movie. Once you can chuckle at this, then maybe you're closer to realizing it was JUST A MOVIE.

Subject: Rejected Titles for Brokeback Mountain

High Nooner
The Magnificent Seven Inches
Jeremiah's Johnson
Butch Assidy and the Bundance Kid
The Man Who Shot All Over Liberty Valance
How the West Was Hung
The Legend of the Long Ranger
Doc's Holiday with Billy the Kid
Very Raw Hide
You Can Leave Your Hat On
Lonesome Doug
A Fistful of Ned
The Pirates of Ennis' Ass
The Very Good Shepherd
Hi, Plains Drifter!

- Directed by Sam Peckerpaw, of course.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Until I Find You by John Irving

Regular readers know that John Irving is in my pantheon of the best modern writers ever (rest of the complete list: Stephen King, David Foster Wallace, and Dean Koontz - yes there are others, but these are the ones I never pass up).

I took my time with his latest, Until I Find You, because it demands nothing less. I usually plow through books - even complex ones - in a week or two, but this one ended up taking 3/4 of a year.

I think that helped my appreciation for it, because to be honest it is a bit dull. On top of that, sometimes Irving's fantastic writing style would lapse for pages on end, leaving you adrift in story detail without the engine of wordsmithery to pull you through. Often it was uphill both ways in the snow.

What went wrong you suppose? Well, my guess is that Irving can't do autobiographical when it's too close to the bone. I mean, "Garp" surely had a lot of autobiography, but had enough other stuff to create the needed distance. Irving admits through the many interviews he gave that Jack is essentially him.

Perhaps it's also due to the fact that many many writers are good at one thing but not another. Frinstance, as much as I love Cintra Wilson's snarky reporting, her first novel was abysmal. To that end, maybe Irving just can't do autobiography.

I still enjoyed the novel more often than I didn't, but I think that can be chalked up to the fact that I'm a fan. So, that's my take: For fans only.

And even fans might find it a bit much, so let me give you a cheat. After you read the first chapter, you can skip ahead and pick up the novel in section 3 (whose title escapes me), where Jack enters school. The only thing you really need to know that's not covered yet again later in the book is that "sleeping in the needles" means that the tattooist has to sleep in their tattoo parlor for whatever reason. The only thing that's covered in the first two sections are Jack's memories of searching for his father with his mother, which you cover again near the end. The only fun in having read the first two parts is how Jack's childhood memories differ from the truth. However, those differences are spelled out in the later chapters, so you don't miss anything but some interesting deja vu by skipping the beginning.
Maybe You Heard It Here First

Well, it looks like the second Bush II depression is looming on the horizon. Perhaps it will strike about the same time as the bird flu.

I know a few canaries in the coalmine that are good indication for when the economy is tanking, and little orange feet are sticking up everywhere.

Get your savings pumped up. Put your investments in safer places if they're in risky markets. Stock up on things that are hard to shell out for during these times. Renew your library card if it's lapsed.

Brace for impact, in other words.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Y'know, this sums up every angle of the stupid Intelligent-Design-being-taught-in-public-schools debacle in four short panels. Gotta love the comics.

The comic is called Non Sequitur. It's good.

Friday, March 03, 2006


Here's the second of two posts with fun stuff I gleaned from reading Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. (The first post is here.)

I have another excerpt that hits home for me, but before we go there, I wanted to relay some interesting things I've learned about dogs, and some vindication I got on my attitudes about dogs that bite (thinking specifically of children who are killed and maimed).

Here's the fact: Once a dog bites - a by that I mean really bites hard, breaking the skin, intending to hurt - that dog will always be a danger. In fact, it will bite again, it's just a matter of when. So, this leads to the hard ugly fact that if you have children and a dog that bites, someone needs a new home. And the shelter needs to know he bites.

What's interesting about the causes of that is it's based typically on breed type and how the dog is socialized with people during the window in their puppyhood when they're figuring out the pack politics. Dogs simply have the pack mentality politics built in and the owner has to know this and raise the dog accordingly. It's of utmost importance with dog breeds that are naturally aggressive (through the effects of breeding), and those are (no surprise): German Shepherds, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers (the worst actually, worse than Pit Bulls) and any wolf mix. The way dogs group things is that each family member (pack member, to them) has a status, and then people outside of the pack all have different statuses, too. The upshot of this is even if your dog is socialized to the fact that your children are above them in the hierarchy (and that should be made very very clear to them), they have to be socialized to children outside of the family, too, for them to be as safe as possible. This goes for men and women, too - particularly with the aggressive dogs. When they're puppies, you must get neighbors and friends to handle them and dominate them, or else they may just assume that strange men and women are below them, and might attack.

I was the victim of just such an attack once, and didn't understand why until I read this book. I knew the family had acclimated the dog to realize they were beneath everyone in the family, but it didn't dawn on me at the time (after my attack) that the dogs were otherwise isolated outside in a dogrun, and didn't get used to strangers. When we went camping with these folks, one day, seemingly literally out of the blue, the dog lunged for my throat, and if I weren't such a spaz with a highly developed flight complex (I jump so hard when you startle me, some people use it a form of personal entertainment, such as my daughter), I'd've had my throat bitten or pulled out.

Another interesting thing is that dog appearance does mean something. Any dog that looks wolf-like means that in fact the breeding hasn't removed a lot of those dangerous wolf-like tendencies. Recently an experiment was done to domesticate foxes by selecting the most docile animals and allowing only them to breed. What occurred over generations is the foxes lost their distinctive fox coloring, and they became mottled with black and white fur, much like an Border Collie. In addition, their tails got a curl to them, just like many other domestic breeds.

So, to an extent, if a dog looks dangerous, it probably is. Let's be careful out there.

Alright, to the excerpt. I loved this, because I realized this very same thing quite a few years ago in my career, and have since always striven for the most concise and simple way to state things. I've gotten resistance because when it's in plain English, some folks think it doesn't sound educated enough, or it doesn't feel like "real work" went into it. Whipheads, all.

Anyway, here's Ms. Grandin's rant on simplicity:

Working in animal welfare, I constantly have to reason with normal humans who are too smart for their own good. [...]

For my animal welfare audit, I came up with five key measurements inspectors need to take to ensure animals receive humane treatment at a meatpacking plant:

- Percentage of animals stunned, or killed, correctly on first attempt (this as to be at least 95 percent of the animals.).
- Percentage of animals who remain unconscious after stunning (this must be 100 percent).
- Percentage of animals who vocalize (squeal, bellow, or moo, meaning "ouch!" or "you're scaring me!") during handling and stunning. Handling includes walking through the alleys and being held in the restraining device for stunning (no more than 3 cattle out of 100).
- Percentage of animals who fall down (animals are terrified of falling down, and this should be no more than 1 out of 100, which is still more than would fall down under good conditions, since animals never fall down if the floor is sound and dry).
- Electric prod usage (no more than 25 percent of the animals).

I also have a list of five acts of abuse that are an automatic failure:

- Dragging a live animal with a chain.
- Running cattle on top of each other on purpose.
- Sticking prods and other objects into sensitive parts of animals.
- Slamming gates on animals on purpose.
- Losing control and beating an animal.

This is all you need to rate animal welfare at a meatpacking plant. Just these ten details. You don't need to know if the floor is slippery, something regulators always want to measure. [...] If cattle are falling down, there's a problem with the floor, and the plant fails the audit. It's that simple.

The plants love it, because they can do it. The audit is totally based on things an auditor can directly observe that have objective outcomes. [...]

But I find that most people in academia and often government just don't get it. Most language-based thinkers find it difficult to believe that such a simple audit really works. [...]

When highly verbal people get control of the audit process, they tem to make five critical mistakes:

- They write verbal auditing standards that are too subjective and vague, with requirements like "minimal use of electric prod" and "non-slip flooring." Individual inspectors have to figure out for themselves what "minimal use" means. [...]
- For some reason, highly verbal people have a tendency to measure inputs, such as maintenance schedules, employee training records, and equipment design problems, instead of outputs, which is how the animals are actually doing. [...]
- Highly verbal people want to make the audit way too complicated. A 100-item checklist doesn't work nearly as well as a 10-item checklist, and I can prove it.
- Verbal people drive into paper audits, in which they audit a plant's records instead of its animals. [...]
- Verbal people tend to lose sight of what's important and end up treating small problems the same way they treat big problems.

If you give an auditor a 100-item checklist, he'll tend to treat 50 of the items as if they're major, whereas only 10 items are so critical that if the plant fails any of those 10 it should fail the audit, period. [...]

Even worse, an auditor working with a long, overly complicated checklist can miss the huge problems completely, even though they're on the list. [...]

Unfortunately, to an abstract verbal thinker, a list with 100 different animal welfare items sounds more caring than a list with only 5. But I can prove beyond question that animals in plants undergoing 10-question audits are handled much more humanely than animals in plants undergoing 100-question audits. And it's not just that plants using my checklist do well on the big details. They also do better on the smaller details, because the smaller details are part of the big ones.

Even though TG goes kinda hard on "verbal people," and I certainly consider myself verbal person (guess I can add that near-pejorative to my already packed list of "breeder, cracker, redneck, fatass, and old fart"), I completely agree with her.

Though I wonder why, even though I am a verbal person, I came personally came to a lot of the same conclusions she did. Hmmm....

If I ever figure that out, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Best Film of 2005, according to Hollywood insiders

In Entertainment Weekly, Issue #866, March 3, 2006, ("The pre-Oscars Issue"), the cover the gamut of Oscar predictions, including the regular movie reviewer's and anonymous members of the Hollywood machine itself, the latter being the most interesting.

To wit, "The Actor" had a great quote:

"These are insular movies," he says, "the kind people in Hollywood like to see, with the kind of statements they like to make. But the public is screaming, 'We don't want to see it!'"

Well, amen to that.

Even Roger Ebert asks this interesting question (on his site): "The Oscar nominees represent filmmaking at a high level, but who do you know who has gone to see more than two or three of them?"

Anyway, back to the EW article, "The Producer" says:

"These movies are all trying very hard to say something, but I don't know that moviegoers will be talking about them 10 years from now," she says. "Then again, don't listen to me because 40 Year-Old Virgin would be my vote for best picture."

Which sums up their common opinion: The 40 Year-Old Virgin was the best film of last year. And it was.

And I can't let this one pass: the lead-in picture for the main prediction article shows the boys from "Brokeback" like this:

Guess they just help from jabbing that particular scab. I scoured the picture for subliminal words like "neener neener" or "in your face xians," but so far have detected none. But then maybe the halos were considered enough.