Monday, November 01, 2010

Bad behavior on goodreads

Recently experimented with a social network site that seemed designed just for someone like me: goodreads (yes, all lowercase). You review books, indicate what you've read, are reading, will read, and "friend" people who are either real friends, or strangers who have similar tastes, presumably to garner ideas on what to read next.

Since my post on my distrust of social network sites (which seems to be justified regularly), I've felt like I've needed to keep my eye open for some that don't proffer the usual offenses.

Alas, last night after I logged-in, goodreads did the very thing I don't like - it hit me with a login-like screen whose general message and intent was: "hey, you probably have email accounts and other social networking accounts like twitter - let's knit them all together!"

Uh, f@ck no. I just wanna piddle around with fellow avid readers, not present my web presence to the marketing behemoths at large.

Now I realize that by being online at all and creating accounts - particularly with the same moniker: "yahmdallah" - I have in a de facto sense made my online doings very trackable. Without much work, you can even find my real name. But, to me, that's not the same thing as just granting some corporate site permission to extend its tentacles into all of my online activity and grouping the websites I use. Maybe I'm kidding myself about my level of non-involvement in the corporate drive to glean all they can about me (thinking about cookies, here, which I don't nuke as regularly as I should). I'm not technically knowledgeable enough to be able to make a determination with any confidence, but if I don't let them associate all my accounts for them, I'm hoping they can only guess what's mine and what isn't.

Anyway, I deleted my account on the spot.

I was toying with that idea anyway because keeping the site up-to-date on my reading felt a LOT like homework. It did point out to me what a voracious and varied reader I really am. I've always known this, but I recorded only half of the books I actually picked up and perused when my account was live. I hit the library several times a week, and almost always walk out with a couple new ones. For the couple weeks my account was active, I'd be in the middle of a book and think "oh, I should put this on my 'currently reading' shelf on goodreads," but almost always choose to just keep reading, and I'd forget to do it later.

When I would pull up the site, I would glance over at my pile of books and think I should input the titles, but there, too, I preferred to keep on doing what I was already doing (surfing), and blew it off.

Oddly, I began to feel a tinge of guilt about this. Which is absurd as I owed no obligation to anyone in that regard.

Once I realized that, I realized that I had enjoyed putting together the list of books I'd read, but the fun had ended there. I crested at over 400 books, and that's just what I could remember the night I signed up. That was fun, and reminded me of when I worked in a bookstore, where a couple times when I was bored out of my gourd and had finished the unbelievable amount of busywork that the chain foisted upon its just above minimum wage slaves, so I went around the store and pulled out about an inch every book I'd read, just to see (this was something I was taught to do when we had to do book counts for inventory and such, as the customer doesn't know why the book is pulled forward about an inch, they usually leave it alone, and you can still see what's on the shelf). Even with a Lit degree, I hadn't expected to be as well-read or current as I was at the time. It felt good.

And it felt good to see over 400 books I had read in one place.

But there I was in the end, feeling like I had not done my homework, and it wanted to amass marketing material on my ass, at my expense. (I could already imagine the new waves of spam and "Hey, since you're interested in this, why don't you buy that?" kind of shite.)

Thus, I discovered the only other pleasant thing about goodreads: it allows you to delete your account with two clicks.


(Apologies to anyone I "friended" for leaving so abruptly.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

3 Songs for the Season

While trusty Whisky has been kickin' out the jams with several album recomendations lately, I've only got three single songs for ya.

But, they're pretty damned awesome, imho.

First of all is Cee-Lo Green's "Fuck You." Cee-Lo is one half of Gnarls Barkley.

Catchy and profane as hell, it makes me grin every time I hear it (alone in the car or privately on the MP3 player, this ain't one for the kids).

Shoo the kids out of the room and give it a listen. Now listen again, and near the end of the song listen to the whiny part where his mom says "This is one for your dad." I laugh hardest then.

As a companion disc to the other K-tel compilation I dreamed up, Love Songs for One, I've got start at a set of expurgated obscene songs, to be entitled later:

- "FU" by Cee Lo Green
- "F**k You" by Lily Allen
- "Crazy B*tch" by Buckcherry
- "I Bet You They Won't Play This Song On The Radio" by Monty Python

My favorite song of the moment is John Mellencamp's "Save Some Time to Dream."

The song itself is just a good tune, as evidenced here by one of the many live performances you can find on the web, but this particular version from the album No Better Than This is a haunting rendition that must be heard.

The concept of the album was to record in mono on the original equipment with a live band in the various places that Elvis, Robert Johnson, and other great artists recorded some of their seminal tracks. While it's worth one good listen, I don't imagine this is one I'm going to slap into the player that often.

However, I've already played the hell out of "Save Some Time to Dream." I'm still not tired of it, and I think it's one of those I'll always come back to.

I continue to be amazed at the great songs Mellencamp is capable of writing. I look forward to everything he does now.

Finally, we have one of those songs I should be deeply deeply ashamed of for even liking (but I've never cowered from proudly declaring I like what I like, even to the extent that I "won" one of Micheal Blowhard's (aka Ray Sawhill) "I'm So Gay" competitions).

If you have daughters around the house, there is no escaping the cultural impact of the TV show "Glee." While I can't watch more than 10 minutes without feeling like I have to guzzle a beer, scratch my ass, and belch loudly enough to alarm the dogs (we have two now - a story for another day), when my daughter queued up their cover of Van Halen's "Jump," I have to admit I was charmed. (Second link here in case the first one is yoinked; however the producers of the show seem to realize the value of viral video on Youtube.)

Having the chorus sing the rhythm guitar part is inspired, but having the voices spread out in harmonization in the latter part of the "bah bah dah dum," so it sounds like the harmonicis of Eddie's guitar, is beyond brilliant.

I'm gonna have to remember when I have the windows rolled down when that one cycles up on the player in the car.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Entertainments while facing the void

Hey there, few readers I have left after not posting for a month!

[Three paragraphs of bitching and moaning excised. No one needs to read that shite.]

So, amongst all this, one still attempts to stave off the demons and the boredom with entertainments.

Stumbled through Lucy by Laurence Gonzales, which was festooned with some of the clumsiest writing I've come across since I've re-read some of my less-inspired posts. It also made the mistake of filling (filler) pages of description of verdant forests and vistas of unimaginable beauty, etc. Since Gonzales is such a clumsy writer, it was easy to skip most of that crap.

Which was too bad, really. The premise - a misguided scientist of the Jane Goodall stripe manages to create a human/bonobo chimp hybrid that looks mostly human - is a promising one. Alas, it pretty much apes (heh heh) the plot of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, makes the chimp-girl noble via sheer dint of her birth (why would she be better than a human just because she has bonobo genes?), and even stoops to the now-obligatory swipes at Christianity (though it was fundie Christianity being swiped at; the author had the grace to include a "good" Christian in the plot).

I wish someone would try again with this idea, and do a better job.

Tried to read Room by Emma Donoghue, and was immediately charmed by the dead-on first person narration by a five-year-old, with the funky word constructions and primitive, though logical, grammar.

Mysteriously they spend all of their time in a small room. However, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER it turns out that they are being held captive by a kidnapper who is the (unwanted, rapist) father of the child, and in order to escape the child has to play dead in a rolled-up carpet and then jump from a moving truck. I have a child that age, and the thought of my little sweetie having to dive out of a moving car and bounce along the pavement is just too much to bear, even in print.END SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

NOT REALLY A SPOILER (as it's indicated on the cover summary): What's worse, once they escape the room, the mother's character immediately changes in a way that isn't consistent with what went before, and it's heart-rending. The child still pines for the close environment of the room and his mother's undivided attention, but once she's free, she appears to not care about the child's adjustment to the new world, and that struck me as wrong.

At that point, I skipped to the end to see how it turned out, and was glad I abandoned it when I did. I'll leave it at that.

If child-in-peril plots don't bother you, you might like the uniqueness of Room and the artistic chance Donoghue takes, but I think anyone with small kids will be put off.

TLD: This goes against Ebert's dictum that you should review the thing you saw (or read) not what you wanted to see (or read), but since a few folks in the Amazon reviews mentioned it, I thought I would too, because I had the very same thought while reading Room: this would have been excellent as a short-form fiction - a novelette or short story. (Especially if the "escape" portion of the story would've been less harrowing.)

Works that have a strong, highly-stylized first person narrative that conveys specific character or mental traits are usually better in short form. For example both Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes and Born of Man and Woman are wonderful short stories with a great sucker-punch. (Those are links to the actual stories, and if you haven't read either, you've got a treat or two in store for you.) Flowers for Algernon is unique in that the author expanded the short story into novel form later. I've read both, and while I consider the novel a success, I prefer the short story as it delivers most of the same material in a tighter package, which makes the ending more visceral, in my opinion.

Thus, it'd be interesting to see Donoghue pare Room down to a short story. If you read this, Ms. Donoghue, and aren't too pissed at me for not completely enjoying your book, consider giving it a try.

On the heels of that unhappy fictional experience, I watched Shutter Island, which also eventually turned out to be another child-in-peril story. A very gruesome one at that. (Remember the moms who drowned their children? This is that on steroids.)

Even The Runaways, the bio flick about Joan Jett's first band (plus Lita Ford who I don't recall being mentioned by name in the flick which was weird, as she's the only other one who "made it") was mostly about how these young teen girls were exploited. I'd read the bio it was based on and thankfully they didn't use some of the more prurient stuff. Though I gotta admit the opening scene is audacious: menstrual blood landing on the gravel between one of the character's feet, the first line being something about what a time to get her period.

After all of this, oddly, I really liked Machete, Robert Rodriguez's latest. It's about as hyper-violent as it comes, full of everything that makes a move a hard "R", but it was damn good adult escapist entertainment. There's a scene where a nude woman removes a blackberry from the only place she could store it, replete with the sound effect of retrieving the same. I had a big chuckle with the boys afterwards about the sound tech who was instructed to come up with that sound.

So, here I sit, admitting I enjoyed a movie where the hero swings through a window a floor down - Die Hard-style - using a man's intestines more than these "serious" entertainments.

I guess I prefer bad guys getting hurt rather than babies.

And I guess I like that about myself.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Year the Music Died

In Whisky's post "Album Of The Year," the comments veered into a discussion of when popular music - the charts, radio, etc. - lost their appeal for them. (I began to craft a simple answer for the comments, but my researching for it morphed it into a post.)

I've always known I'd had "that moment of egress from the larger gestalt," but until now, I didn't really try to pin-point it. Now I have: 1989 was the year the music died for me. The last year the charts and radio were truly relevant to me was 1988.

Reviewing the charts, there were a handful of songs I liked in 1988, which speaks to my probably still buying albums regularly and such, but it was a pretty weak year, nonetheless. Here's a sample of songs I liked at the time:

INXS - Need You Tonight
George Harrison - Got My Mind Set on You
Rick Astley - Never Gonna Give You Up - interesting that the famous internet meme song came out this year
Guns N' Roses - Sweet Child O' Mine
Steve Winwood - Roll With It
Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry, Be Happy
Beach Boys - Kokomo
Tracy Chapman - Fast Car
Van Halen - When It's Love
Sting - We'll Be Together
Joan Jett - I Hate Myself for Loving You
John Cougar Mellencamp - Cherry Bomb

(I also realized that when I came across Whitney Houston's "So Emotional" in the 1988 hits list that it was the year I got my wisdom teeth removed. Irony? Fate? Synchronicity?)

The few songs I did like from 1989 all seem to be named appropriately, given it was my year of abandonment:

Boy Meets Girl - Waiting For a Star to Fall
Mike + the Mechanics - The Living Years
38 Special - Second Chance
Don Henley - The End of the Innocence

1989 marked the beginning of the invasion of the metal hair bands, "Dance/Hip Hop" (which was really just disco remonikered), Bon Jovi, and other abominations, which was main reason I stopped listening. Public taste had changed from mine.

That was also the year I relented and stopped buying vinyl and moved to CD exclusively. The trigger was Tom Petty's "Full Moon Fever." It was the last vinyl I bought because MCA had always had shitty prints (they usually came with a side of bacon), but that particular print sounded like it was already two decades old. I took it back to the store and they let me exchange it for the CD.

After that, the rare awesome album came along. Here's the mostly complete list:

U2 - Achtung Baby - 1991
Nirvana - Nevermind - 1991
Spin Doctors - Pocket Full of Kryptonite - 1991
Faith No More - Angel Dust - 1992
Dave Matthews Band - Under the Table and Dreaming - 1994
Live - Throwing Copper - 1994
Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill - 1995
The Refreshments - Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy - 1996
No Doubt - Tragic Kingdom - 1996

There was a blip in 1996 when a rash of good songs were released (Collective Soul, Oasis, and the Gin Blossoms were gaining prominence then), but other than that, I tend to buy the artists I already like: Prince, The Cure, Collective Soul, U2, DMB, The Foo Fighters, and Dwight Yoakam.

The only memorable new artist added to my cannon was The Flaming Lips when they bombed the world with "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" in 2002.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Ebert Continues His Transformation into a National Treasure

As I await his new book on the apparent miracle appliance that is the rice cooker (and expanding my cooking repertoire), I love how he articulates those important things that need saying: Put Up or Shut Up.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The 4-hour work week

Recently read The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated by Timothy Ferriss.

It's much like Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki and Sharon L. Lechter (ghost writer) in that if you follow the exact advice (provided you even can), you will most likely get the results quasi-promised.

But I doubt that most people can or would want to do what these guys do, particularly if you have kids. Plus, both of these guys seem to have made most of their money in self-promotion and just a bit by actually doing what they advise.

Ferriss even admits in his book that his sports nutrition company was failing until he freaked out and ran to Europe to hide, all the time expecting a call that it had gone under. Lo and behold, while HE wasn't running it, it turned into a profitable business, which means someone working for him fixed things while he was having his hissy fit. (Please note this is my interpretation of the events he relays in his book, though he also admits in the book he's good at starting a company, but bad at running one.)

No surprise, one of his bits of advise to achieve a 4-hour work week is: have someone else do the work. So, to pound it to China, his central advise is to start up a company that has little overhead or inventory, then stand back and let your lackeys run it. Wow, huh? (And, of course, write a book about it and hope it sells a lot.)

Speaking of China, he won a National Chinese Kickboxing Championship by exploiting a rule where pushing your opponent out of bounds equates to a technical knockout. Do that three times in a match and you win, which he did. Also consider that Ferriss is a pretty big guy (tall and muscular), so pushing a Chinese guy a few feet isn't that much of an accomplishment, even if you take into consideration he's trying to kick your teeth down your throat.

While doing a bit of web research on Ferriss to get some objective info on him, I found this hilarious post: 5 Time management tricks I learned from years of hating Tim Ferriss, with this great quote:
The week that Tim actually works a four-hour work week will be a cold week in hell. Tim got to where he is by being an insanely hard worker. I don't know anyone who worked harder at promoting a book than he did. But the thing is, he didn't call it work. Somehow, sliming me into having coffee with him to talk about his book is not work.

Fine. But then his four-hour work week is merely semantic. Because everything Tim does he turns into what the rest of us would call work, and he calls it not-work. For example, tango. If you want to be world-record holder, it's work. It's your job to be special at dancing the tango. That's your big goal that you're working toward. How you earn money is probably just a day job. So most weeks Tim probably has a 100-hour workweek. It's just that he's doing things he likes, so he lies to you and says he only works four hours. He defines work only as doing what you don't like.

Ferriss' other advice is to be difficult during interpersonal interactions if you aren't getting what you want. One of his examples is from college: if a professor gave him anything less than an A on the first paper or non-multiple-choice test, he'd show up at their office and winnow them down over three-hour sessions where he'd pepper them with questions and challenges so he could play to their biases, but also with the implied threat that if they didn't give him an A next time, he'd be back for another grueling session.

However, he says one of the ways you can gain efficiencies in business is to "fire" your difficult customers. He realized he was spending the majority of his time on the minority of his customers, so he told them take it or leave it but don't bug him anymore. All but one left, and the one who left more or less behaved himself after that.

Note the paradox, though, that Ferriss would "fire" himself as a customer.

Verdict: Most of Ferriss' advice is largely unworkable unless you want to work constantly and be somewhat of a hypocritical jerk (and hopefully have somewhat of a talent for self-promotion).

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I love this picture

The cast of Star Wars.

Whisky pointed out that Anthony Daniels / C3P0 isn't in this shot, so here's what he looked like back then:

Here's a fun article with more shots from back in the day.

Just to be that way, here's my post / review on the book these shots came from. I've requested the book from the library again to get a scan of that pic I talk about, which I'll post here when I get it. Stay tuned.

And here it is, the photo of Mary Lind, film control coordinator:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Little Guides to Life

I'd seen the book at the library and didn't give it a second thought beyond grinning at the title.

Since blogs arose in prominence, I've inadvertantly picked up a couple books that were compiled from blogs, and while they were entertaining, there's something about something crafted for a blog that just doesn't work as well when it's rendered as symbols smeared on flattened and bleached tree guts. Whatever the reason, I now scour a book to see if it was originally a blog, and if it is, I set the book down and make a note to find the blog online.

As for this book, apparently there's kerfuffle over the profanity in the title, so last time I was at the library, I picked up a copy to peruse it at my leisure later and ended up reading it in one sitting.

Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern transcends genre - or at least straddles a bunch of them - the most pleasant surprise being that there's some sage advice here among all the belly laughs.

Frinstance, here're a couple from the twitter page, where it all started:
"Don’t focus on the one guy who hates you. You don’t go to the park and set your picnic down next to the only pile of dog shit."

"Stop trying so hard. He doesn't like you. Jesus, don't kiss an ass if it's in the process of shitting on you."

The book alternates between naked quotes like these, where you don't know the situation that prompted "Dad" to say it, and short vignettes with context and a lot more hilarious quotes. I chose these because they weren't in the book, and I don't want to spoil a single one for ya.

By the way, the utterer of these gems is Samuel Halpern, the eponymous dad of the tome.

It's now on the same (virtual) shelf as my other favorite life-advice book (which are very very different and, in my opinion, way better than most self-help books): Rules for Aging: A Wry and Witty Guide to Life by Roger Rosenblatt

Take those two books, toss in some of these classics like "Desiderata," "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young," "All I ever really needed to know I learned in kindergarten," (which never ceases to amuse me on how true it is), these miscellaneous quotes I've gathered; and you've got yourself some good guides for living.

As for the controversy over the title, I guess after having to deal with recommending the wonderful book The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton around work, I found most grown-ups don't really have an issue with naughty words, if you will, as long as it's not gratuitous. My process of discovery of this was as follows: at first I came up with euphemisms to replace the offensive word ("posterior sphincter" was an early version), I moved to whispering it (which I did with much comedic emphasis to show I wasn't being a church lady about it), and finally I just said it out loud followed by an apology and statement of fact that it was really the name of the book, after all. The latter got the best responses.

Still, have some fun. Wander into your local book store or library and ask for a book about shit and a book about assholes and see what happens. Put it in the comments if it's really good.

Apparently this is one of the most re-blogged (a new term for me) gifs of all time now. How could I not join in? Fwiw, clicking the image will take you to the source which will than take you to where you can buy the whole book.

Got the book from the library, and while it's cute, the best stuff is in this little GIF you see above.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Music - 08-19-2010

Welder by Elizabeth Cook

Whisky recommended Elizabeth Cook's Welder, and thus far our musical tastes align perhaps more than with anyone I've ever known, so on the list it went.

When it arrived, in the player it went.

Out of the speakers came the twangiest country pickin' I've ever heard, which was quickly joined by the thickest, backwater (American) southern accent I've encountered (outside of Paula Deen's cooking show) howling and yodeling away.

"[String of obscenities]," I thought to myself, half-reaching for the 'stop for the love of God' button, "What in the hell was Whisky thinking? Or drinking?"

But, I endured for a couple moments just to see. A minute in I decided I'd heard enough of that first song for the rest of my life.

To give it an honest try, I moved on the second song, and thank God I did. And then the next. I laughed all the way through a couple of them.

It's everything Whisky said it was and more. I have a new high-rotation selection for the collection.

Let me caveat the hell out of that statement though. If you don't like country, you won't like this. You'll hate hate hate it. You'll curse me or Whisky for suggesting that your precious eardrums be assaulted in such a manner. You have to have a taste for less-than-pretty vocal stylings, like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Mick Jagger, Lena Lovitch, and Marianne Faithfull. Now, Ms. Cook does have a pretty voice, but she wields it like a weapon, and the vocals suit the song rather than try to showcase the voice. Think the anti-Mariah Carey.

If none of that puts you off, or conversely intrigues you, give the woman a listen. Even that first song.

Something for Everybody by Devo

I was a luke-warm Devo fan back in the 80s when they were one of THE bands. They struck me as novelty group, kinda like Dave Seville and the Chipmunks or Weird Al Yankovic (both of whom I like), but I had no desire to put them on regular rotation. The waters grew more tepid after a long party weekend where the only two tapes anyone brought were Devo's Are We Not Men? and AC/DC's Back in Black, which were played back to back for 36 hours. I wasn't able to listen to either for a decade.

But, since then, the guys have been involved in a lot of projects, scoring movies and TV, and I've been impressed with their diversity and sheer talent.

I picked up the disc out of mild curiosity to see if that fecund period infused this new album. It did, and even more interesting and surprising to me, this sounds exactly like a Devo album. That may seem like a strange thing to say, but most artists who come back after that long a break don't always sound like they used to. Sometimes they're better, sometimes worse, but almost never could you put a new album next to one decades old and not hear any huge difference.

And it appears that Devo is more to my taste than they ever were. I like the album all the way through. It's only the fourth album this year that I made a complete copy for my car (original discs DON'T LEAVE THE HOUSE - you can ask any member of my family), that vast majority of those made for the car are mix CDs.

My favorite song is "Mind Games." I combed the credits to see if they credited "The Jetsons" theme for the opening midi sequence, but they didn't.

Given that Mothersbaugh is known for a meme regarding the Jetsons meets the Flintstones (a one-ah and a two-ah), it can't have been an oversight. Let's chalk it up to unconscious borrowing. Hope I don't cause a lawsuit.
Cat People

A long-standing and mountainously silly human debate about "cat people" versus "dog people" is not a concern of my household because we love and have both. (Plus a revolving supporting cast of rats, fish, tadpoles and then frogs, a hermit crab, and assorted bugs; the notables being a praying mantis and a female desert beetle named "Alice" that both lived for a year. In case you have the need to know, a praying mantis eats any other bug that moves, regardless of size - and they bite! Hard! Desert beetles eat that moist layer of detritus that resides at the roots of grass.)

Nonetheless, I have new evidence regarding cats that I'd like to offer to those who do debate the issue.

Dog people sometimes claim that cats don't really love you; they love what you do for them, like feed them.

In dog people's defense, dogs do really demonstrate affection, and it's obvious to anyone with a functioning limbic system that it's honest and true love they're expressing; it is not anthropomorphism on our part.

I've known the same about cats since my wife rescued (over time) 3 beautiful ones. The one we call "Fuzz" in particular goes out of his way to express his feelings, feelings of love. (Whooooaaaah feeeeeelings....)

Years ago he began the habit of holding out his paw for a high-five if I passed him while he was perched on the banister. However, most dog people would write that off a reflex, an affectation.

Recently, though, if you walk past the place where the cat's food is - we have it on a waist-level small counter so the dog can't decide to switch diets when we're not looking - he will meow, and if you walk up to him, he'll put his paws on your chest, paw (sweetly) his way up until they're around your neck, put his head against your chest and give you a squeeze with his arms.

Yes, he hugs you. And this is unrelated to whether there's food in the bowl or not, or whether he's eaten or not. He's done this more than once to both my wife and I.

I have a cat that hugs, people.

So there! you dog people (who are just dog people).
Completely Spoiler-Laden Quasi-rant About the Movies Chloe and Kick-Ass

Chloe is precisely the kind of movie I hate. (Though, I suspect it's the very kind of movie Ray Sawhill would like, and I mean that in a nice way. Seriously.)

The premise is a woman (Julianne Moore) thinks her college prof hubby (Liam Neeson) is cheating on her with college nubiles, so hires a hooker (Amanda Seyfried) to pose as a student and seduce him, just to make sure. The wrinkle is this hooker has mommy issues all wrapped around a gooey Oedipus/Electra complex center. Unknown to the woman, the hooker has had her eye on her for a while now, since they both "work" on the same street. This same proximity fosters the "meet cute" between the two when the woman plays "spot the prostitute" with one of her friends when they're at lunch, because guess who she spots.

In the middle of all this contrivance, prior to being spotted at lunch with a client, the hooker flirts with the woman by approaching her with a haircomb, asking if she dropped it. When the woman says no, the hooker tries to give it to her anyway. Much later in the movie, when they are in the midst of their scheme to trap the husband, the woman accepts the gift of the comb, and when she does, the hooker tells her it was her mother's. (This matters later, of course.)

The hooker tells the woman of her trysts with the husband, which inexplicably get the woman so turned on she eventually sleeps with the hooker (which was the hooker's plan all along you see). And, as "gay theory" tries to tell us, all of us are really this ---><--- close to sleeping with someone of the same gender, if only the situation were to present itself, so of course they boff.

I'll spare you the rest in case you might want to watch the flick anyway, but most of all to just simply spare you. Let's just say hilarity ensues, and the hooker dives out of a window when she realizes the woman won't join her forever as her mother-slash-lover. (Again, ick.)

But I need to tell you this: the final sequence shows the woman having one of her grand parties, during which a dramatic closeup reveals that she's wearing the hooker's mother's comb. This is supposed to be a SIGNIFICANT MOMENT.

I was torn between screaming like Sam Kinison (may he rest in peace) or rolling my eyes to heaven with such force that they would stick that way. I've trained myself to set down the remote during a movie I don't like (unless I'm fast-forwarding) so I reactively don't throw it at the end.

I did dig the soundtrack, though. I've noted I don't really associate the music with the movie, so I now have another disc of ambient / background music for writing and such. Yay.

Ebert had warned me about Kick-Ass, but sometimes he and I don't agree, and it is a super-hero movie - in theory. Peter Travers, my other go-to critic, liked it for the same reasons Ebert didn't.

I didn't like it. I really didn't like it.

Sorry, but seeing an 11-year-old girl, no matter the context, beaten bloody by an adult who then attempts to execute her (she's saved at the last moment) falls wuh-haaay outside of my comfort zone, and crashes my suspension of disbelief like Islamic truck bomber. Most "Child in peril" doesn't float with me, but when it's purposeful violence doled out by an adult, I just can't....

I didn't like the otherwise spellbinding Pan's Labyrinth for much the same reason.

That said, it may have worked as a cartoon. After all, the Powerpuff Girls was essentially that very thing. Hell, the devil was even one of the villains.

The premise of the movie is that this is the real world where no one really has super powers, so that might have been behind the artistic decision to go live-action. (Apologies for the tortured grammar; no time to fixy fixy today.) Yet the source material was a comic, so I still think it would've been better that way.

If you're an older teen (it's rated R, for the record) who won't be bothered by this plot element, you might like the thing, but anyone past 25 and anyone with kids will want to find better things to do with their time. Like go see Inception.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In Your Face

Warning: rant ho.

Even the Google guys think there's a problem.

I've never been a fan of social-networking sites. I dislike them more as time goes by.

For starters, I don't like their policies, which can be usually summed up like this: we own everything you post on our site(s) and will use it for marketing purposes, many of which you wouldn't like if you knew. Even when they claim you own your information or content, they also claim they can do anything with the data that they want to.* (FWIW, Blogger, the current host of this blog, only grants itself publishing rights, and I still own the copyright: you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, publish and distribute such Content on Google services.)

My main beef is that social-networking sites seem to be primarily a conduit for voyeurism, where a lot of energy seems to go toward looking up old girlfriends/boyfriends (almost never a good idea) and/or enemies (the assumption is that you've already kept up with the friends you've wanted to keep and don't need to hunt them down on Facebook), or just simple sneaky-peeking into other's lives without them knowing about it.

TLD: When Facebook was becoming the rage, I used my daughter's account to look up an old flame just to see her picture (you have to be logged in to see any "personal" content). She's still pretty, but, like, so what? I don't think it would have mattered to me if she'd somehow gotten ugly. Then it occurred to me I didn't really care in general, usually you're not with someone anymore for several good reasons, it was just simple morbid curiosity. I also felt vaguely ashamed that I had nearly immediately done the very thing that Facebook is really about: secretly poking into stranger's (or now-stranger's) lives. Ick. Haven't done it since.

Way back when the internet first started up, I really dug chatting with total strangers over IRC. The concept that I was talking to someone in Scotland in real-time just blew me away. The community was so relatively small you could even contact most anyone. I had regular correspondence with the great James Lileks before his popularity made it impossible for him to respond to all of his emails. In full acknowledgement of the voyeuristic aspect of the web, Jennifer Ringley put up a cam that showed what she was doing 24/7 for a few years, including sex with her boyfriends. I don't remember how I found it (I do remember I wasn't actively looking for it), but I logged on to the main chat room she hung out in, and it was like bumping into celebrity who was out and about with her entourage. I typed in a question to Jenny, and about 5 people immediately typed back, "who are you and why are you even talking to her." Wow. I lurked for about a week, seeing what the interchange was like, and it stayed true to that initial impression. Occasionally Jenny would want to chat, but her sycophants did everything they could to keep her contained and fawned over every little thing she typed. It was a microcosmic example of celebrity. I did manage to join a conversation once, as it was a topic I knew stuff about, but it really did feel like sucking up to a celebrity, and not like a usual exchange with whomever was on the other end of the pipe in IRC.

What I came away with was that, on my side, I had this false feeling of "knowing" these people, even though we'd only passed ASCII back and forth on a network. I realized that this is a dangerous illusion, it was way too easy to fall into this false sense of connection, and how vulnerable it made you.

I got my wife a computer to chat because we agreed she was going to stay home to raise the kids ("kid" at the time), and she was lonely for adult contact. I stressed that she needed to remain anonymous, and that she should NEVER give out personal information. Well, after chatting with a couple people for a stretch of months, she felt she could trust them, and gave them her real name and such. Suddenly, one of them announced he was going on a road trip to visit his chat buddies, and a couple days later, the fucker knocks on our door. We put him up for a couple days, but it was clear all he wanted to do was screw my wife, so we sent him packing. It was a lesson we will never forget. It was proof positive how dangerous the web could be.

Both of us pretty much stopped chatting, and certainly were very careful about giving out our actual information to anyone. To this day, I've only trusted 3 people enough to do so. And in those cases, I've known the individuals over years, and from several message boards, blogs, and other web sites. I got a pretty clear view about who they were beforehand.

I submit that most blogs differ from this in that your interest isn't based on who you "know" or "knew" (or would secretly like to see naked), but is based on your enjoyment of their stories and thoughts. I've noticed all my favorite blogs are by people who are blogging under a pseudonym. I still like and, but not as much as I do the blogs you see listed on the right. (I hope to re-grow that list someday, but blogs are going through a dip in popularity, and I eventually concluded it was redundant to link to monsters like I predict they'll come back into their own and always be a presence, because they often do offer some of the best content on the web.)

Anyway, back to my point. My daughter recently learned one of the ultimate Facebook lessons the hard way.

(I know, I know. I really really really did try to keep her from joining facebook, but - as the argument always goes - all of her friends were on there, and it was true. Remembering what social freaks the kids who couldn't watch TV or listen to music were back in my day, I felt that it was more important to take the chance then it was to forbid.)

She was in a school play, and after the initial costume fitting, she groused on her page: "I don't like my costume." Just so happens one of her "friends" was a teacher, and one of the little queen bee bitches in her class alerted the teacher to the complaint - it's sad that bullies now have yet one more way to get atcha. Sure enough, my wife and I were emailed by the teacher, with a CC to the school principal, about how that's very inappropriate, and measures will be taken.... yadda yadda yadda.

So, we have new family facebook policies: 1) No comments or pictures that can be even remotely used against you (we already had strict rules about pictures in place), 2) no adults whatsoever as "friends" (along with the existing rule of no "friending" someone you don't know personally in real life, first).

We wrote the obligatory apologetic emails, rolling our eyes the whole time, so things appear to be smoothed over for now.

But really? All this over "I don't like my costume."? Crikey. I doubt had this same teacher overheard her say that in the hallway that s/he would've done the same thing, if anything.

Slashdot reports that Facebook finally is allowing people to delete their accounts (though I doubt they really delete your info), which is at least a step in the right direction, given the problems they've had in the past keeping their data secure.

I know that when I go to look for a job in the future, they're going to ask me if they can find my information on LinkedIn. I will say "no" and then have to present my reason why. Perhaps I'll just bring a printout of this article. But I know it's going to probably cost me a job offer or two, because the person doing the hiring will be very proud of his/her LinkedIn pages, and will consider it an affront that I distrust LinkedIn. Btw, I've looked at the descriptions of some colleagues, and just like half of the resumes out there, there's some stuff that borders on fiction.

Buddies who use the site frequently report what I'd call "negative" use, in that they rule out companies and people based on their "connection" information and other ephemera. Which is why I think these sites do more harm than good, imho. They actually work to limit your chances more than they help them.

And worse, last night I created a pseudonym identity on LinkedIn just to see what they put you through, and to my horror they even tie directly into your email and grab all of your contacts (since I didn't know what I was getting into, I used an email account I created for the sole purpose of having an email to use when I know those I'm going to provide it to will spam the hell out of it). So even if I never add my real information to the site, I know several folks who had me in their contacts when they joined, thus I'm on there without my consent. That explains why I've gotten pre-fab emails that say "_______ has invited you to join LinkedIn and wants to add you as a contact" or whatever the hell it said. I think I actually curled my lip and grumbled as I deleted those.

The point being the mere existence of a social-networking sites essentially create one more headache for me, even when I decide I want nothing to do with them.

Above I predicted that blogs will always be with us. I'm guessing that in about a decade or less, social-networking will exist primarily as anonymous places. I bet people will not want anyone and everyone to have so much access to the details of their lives. The lawsuits that result will be interesting, for sure.

*From LinkedIn's agreement: "You own the information you provide LinkedIn under this Agreement, and may request its deletion at any time, unless you have shared information or content with others and they have not deleted it, or it was copied or stored by other users. Additionally, you grant LinkedIn a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, sublicenseable, fully paid up and royalty-free right to us to copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn, including but not limited to any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties. Any information you submit to us is at your own risk of loss as noted in Sections 2 and 3 of this Agreement."

Friday, July 23, 2010


Inception is the new high-water mark in movies. For reference, that last one that gob-smacked audiences like this was The Matrix (1999).*

Inception has some similarities to The Matrix and What Dreams May Come, but that's like saying Star Wars has similarities to The Hidden Fortress and the Buck Rogers serials. Yeah, seeds of ideas and some of the film vocabulary are borrowed from these predecessors. Which would you rather see, though?

I've read reviews (at least Ebert and Travers) that mention how hard the plot is to follow. Myself, I found it was delineated very clearly, to the extent that I could actually devote some thought to whether or not Christopher Nolan (author and director) ever "cheated," meaning used the plot device to confuse and trick us so he could move forward with the story when he'd painted himself into a corner, or purposely fool us into thinking something was a dream state when it wasn't and vice versa.

The whole movie would fall down like a sandcastle hit by the tide if he ever cheated, so I'm thrilled to report he never does. (Another movie that never cheats on its premise, and is the better for it, is 50 First Dates.)

The plot device? Well, the military invented a means to invade people's dreams and extract information from them, which is now used for corporate espionage. Experienced dream spies can even create dreams within dreams, which has the benefit of allowing another level of subterfuge where the spy can spin the target so completely that they can't tell whom to trust. Also, time moves much faster the further down you go, meaning 5 minutes of real time equates to an hour of dream time, but dream-within-a-dream time equates to one week for every hour of dream time. Believe it or not, the movie does a great job of making this crystal clear so you don't have to risk an embolism to keep track of it all.

Like all great sci-fi (or other genre) flicks, the core of the story is a love story. Several, actually.

Oh, and it provides the answer to the question, "What the hell ever happened to Tom Berenger?"

I've all but stopped buying DVDs, having long ago collected the ones I'm likely to watch again, and this movie is one of the few I can't wait to own so I can watch it over and over again to pick up things that slipped by in previous viewings.

Inception is not to be missed. It's worth the cost and bother of a babysitter. Fandango probably has your local showtimes.

Go now.


Really really.

*I almost pulled an "I'm Listing" post as a result of researching a few "best films" lists to confirm my claim, but decided to spare you. My sources were Ebert,, and the AFI lists (requires setting up an account). Here are the other arguable high-water marks since The Matrix, in chronological order, most recent first:

- Avatar (2009)
- Gran Torino (2008)
- A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
- The Lord of the Rings (2001 - 2003)
- Fight Club (1999)
- The Sixth Sense (1999)
- American Beauty (1999)

Yeah, there are probably other films that you would put on this list, and by following the links to my sources, you'll find some to quibble about. That's what the comments are for! I'd love to hear from ya.

I purposely left animated films off, which is ironic for me as they have always been my favorite, the most near and dear to my heart. I feel they really are a league of their own and should be considered separately. Had I not been born at the right time, I would most certainly have moved to California and tried to break into the industry as an animator. Throughout my childhood I poured over any and all animation stuff I could get my hands on (alongside watching any I could find, save for the sucky Saturday morning TV animation). I would even bike to the library which had 16mm prints of animation; I still marvel that the librarians were so patient and sweet with this little kid who would show up and watch these in the viewing room all by himself. I took and deeply enjoyed what was essentially a graduate-level class on all things animation in college. For all practical purposes, I am an amateur animation historian.

Here's a glimpse into what was going on in the animation world around the time I was in college (early 80s), and thereafter:

- Wizards (1977)
- The Rescuers (1977)
- Watership Down (1978)
- The Fox and the Hound (1981)
- The Secret of NIMH (1982)
- The Black Cauldron (1985)
- The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
- Oliver & Company (1988)
- Akira (1988)
- The Little Mermaid (1989)

Note this is when the animation universe simply tanked, a near total wasteland from '77 to '88 (with the possible exception of "NIMH"). It wasn't until the 90s that animation came back into its own with The Little Mermaid, released at the end of 1989. Nearly a whole decade and a half without a good animation industry. It still saddens me.

TV was worse. This was when Ronny Raygun deregulated things so that all TV cartoons immediately slithered into the slums of glorified commercials for toys. "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" was the leading show of the time. Even the classics were being re-edited and slaughtered because someone thought that seeing Wile E. Coyote smashing into the canyon floor and kicking up a mushroom cloud of dust was somehow traumatizing rather than freakin' hilarious. This idiocy was wonderfully parodied by "The Simpsons."

But, I'm a big believer in "Unanswered Prayers," as the Garth Brooks song goes. While I might have had the joy of being involved in the creation a few of the greats in animation, I think the path I did take has ended up where I should be. I think my soul would have died had I been part of the movie industry.

And as Jesus said: "What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?" - Mark 8:36-37

Monday, July 19, 2010

More than a little scary

Not that paranoids like myself weren't aware that something was going on, but to come across proof that our own military is paying companies to make propaganda aimed at Americans is chilling.

From: "The Real U.S. Government" By Glenn Greenwald:

This superb article by Mark Prendergast, the Ombudsman for Stars & Stripes, details the billions of dollars secretly (and probably illegally) spent by the Pentagon -- much of it on private contractors -- to subject not only foreign nationals but also American citizens to pure propaganda campaigns. The Pentagon propaganda program exposed by David Barstow is but a representative sliver of the weapons used by the National Security State and its private partners to control media behavior and shape public opinion. Billions upon billions of dollars are spent for this propagandistic purpose at exactly the time that real journalistic outlets are failing.

Follow the links for a delineation of the problem.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What a take-down

If you're not a follower of and haven't already read the vicious scathing that Pat Metheny visited on Kenny G, go read it now.

Man, what a take-down! Kind of the verbal equivalent of that scene in Monty Python's Meaning of Life where a phalanx of topless, but inexplicably helmeted, women chase a man off the edge of a cliff into his literal grave.

For me, though, after the very enjoyable main-line dose of Schadenfreude, I had free-floating feelings of hypocrisy on my part.

Here's why:
For years I've tried to articulate a particular thought and have thus far failed, in my opinion, to state it well. So, here's try # 457 ½. Essentially, when someone like Kurt Cobian would rail about integrity (or someone like Neil Young who still does) it would just piss me off. "Integrity" for a lot of the punk generation was not "selling out" - meaning that if you became too successful, you'd done something wrong that was worthy of shame. That strikes me as patently ludicrous. Your level of success is not the determinant of whether or not you have integrity. How you react to or use that success may have something to do with it, but then that just goes back to the basic questions of integrity that all of us face, whether we're rocks stars or just humble members of a family somewhere.

Others, like Neil, feel that if you sell a song to a company who uses it for a commercial, that's selling out. I almost agree with Neil's viewpoint. Personally, I've hated some of my favorite songs becoming the soundtrack to a product, particularly one I hate. In the end, though, it's really up to me whether I allow that to supplant my better memories and associations with a favorite tune. But back to Neil, he's had a long successful career through which he's made a lot of money from a very young age. Many other successful and talented musicians only have a hit or two in their lives, and maybe even then can't really live off of the money they did make. How can I begrudge them selling their one hit to a company for a million bucks? How is that much different than famous paintings or other works of are appearing in the background of a movie? Or featured, like many were in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Now, most of Metheny's rant is about Kenny G's level of talent and abilities.

On one hand, yeah, a really good technician in any field can tell when another isn't as good a technician. And that matters in some cases.

On the other hand, technical proficiency is only part of the game. After a certain point of proficiency, the differences are apparent only to those in that stratosphere, and I'd argue there are often diminishing returns. So one guy can run scales just a bit faster and cleaner than another. How often is that going to matter? Just as important is feel for the audience or customer, expression, and intuition. In my experience, it's a rare Bird who has both the gift of top proficiency and beautiful expression.

For example, Joni Mitchell had polio as a child, so she uses a lot of custom tunings on her guitar to be able to hit the proper tones and notes. She makes up for lack of proficiency in dexterity with proficiency in bending the instrument to make the sound she wants. But can she play like Prince or Steve Miller? Hell to the no. They would blow circles around her on the guitar as a pure technician. But aren't her songs amazing? I know probably everyone reading this likes or loves at least one of her songs. (And, of course, Prince and Miller are amazing songsmiths, too.)

How many reading this would be able to claim the same about Metheny's songs? Can you name one? Do you even know the primary instrument he plays?

Here are the relevant quotes from the article:
"My impression was that he was someone who had spent a fair amount of time listening to the more pop oriented sax players of that time, like Grover Washington or David Sanborn, but was not really an advanced player, even in that style. He had major rhythmic problems and his harmonic and melodic vocabulary was extremely limited, mostly to pentatonic based and blues-lick derived patterns, and he basically exhibited only a rudimentary understanding of how to function as a professional soloist in an ensemble."

"But he did show a knack for connecting to the basest impulses of the large crowd by deploying his two or three most effective licks (holding long notes and playing fast runs - never mind that there were lots of harmonic clams in them) at the key moments to elicit a powerful crowd reaction (over and over again)."

In sum, here's what this smells like to me: an amazing technologist who has no real feel for what makes people respond. It's basically Spock complaining about Bones.

This also pushes some other buttons of mine. Buttons I've added in recent years.

When I was younger, I was a lot more willing to accept someone else's judgement of another's ability. I figured they really knew or they wouldn't be bringing it up. As I've aged, I increasingly feel that anyone snarking about someone else's competence or abilities (when there isn't clear-cut, non-disputable evidence that true incompetence is the case, such as Bush's jury-rigged FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina), is almost always a blustery show of insecurity that manifests as an attempt to distract you from their possible incompetence by calling someone else's into question. In short, if someone claims someone else is incompetent, most of the time the accuser is the one with the problem.

Some of you more clued-in to motivations behind bad behavior might be thinking "well, duh." I, too, am a bit disappointed in myself for taking so long to put this together. But then only in the past few years have I been in a environment where a few bad eggs do this regularly. I hadn't had cause to really think about it before.

So, if I may indulge in a little dime-store psychology, I think Metheny feels inferior to Kenny G because Kenny can reach a huge audience, and he can't. And he feels it's unfair because he thinks he's a better musician than Kenny. He more or less articulates this in the article.

But even if that's true, apparently Kenny is the better artist.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Picky Eaters

Syaffolee has a post about picky eaters.

As a veteran picky eater, brother of one, husband of one, and father of two, I have some random thoughts to share on the issue. (Btw, I agree with Sya's basic assertions.)

As as kid, I was probably the worst kind of picky eater to be. I hated hated hated hot dogs and pizza. Guess what moms serve every single freakin time little boys ever congregate?

Even weirder, I loved things like spinach, chow mien, all forms of meat, and only one vegetable was and is on my "no fly" list.

My mom was (is) a hell of a cook, and I suspect the way she made things spoiled me to the way other moms made them. I recall being served white (potato) pancakes with boysenberry syrup at a friend's house, and having been told by my buddy we were getting pancakes, when they hit the table, I looked up at his mom and asked in all sincerity: "What are these?" She was one of the most accepting and kind moms of our group, but I still recall her being pissed off at me for about a week.

Around late adolescence I suddenly got over most of my pickyness, which I think is common for most of us. I think it was the reality of the school cafeteria that made me have to adapt or starve, plus the voracious appetite of that age. My teenage daughter has gone from eating tiny portions at dinner to going back for a big helping of seconds.

I still can't stand brussels sprouts. To me, they are like little bitter little cabbages whose center has rotted to a mushy yellow. How in the world can anyone think they're good?

My wife still won't eat most vegetables and fruit. You wouldn't have to involve your toes if you were to use your available digits to count the few veggies and fruits she'll eat. She claims to have never been a big veggie fan, but apparently a disastrous attempt to lose weight once using a fruit diet ruined her already tenuous acceptance of that food group.

To make life additionally difficult for my parents, my brother was a picky eater whose list of things he liked were nearly a completely separate yin to my yang. He hated meat and veggies, mostly liking pasta, potatoes, and bread - things I tolerated, but wasn't a fan of.

My father once forced my brother to eat something he'd refused to, and my brother promptly barfed at the table. That was the last time either of us were forced to eat anything. We were still cajoled, but never forced again.

At one of my brother's birthday parties when he was about 10 years old, mom had used a marshmallow frosting on the cake. My brother's best friend couldn't stand marshmallow, but was raised to never refuse food given to him at someone else's house. He forced it down, tried to play, but finally had to step around the corner of the house and puke, where mom found him in a miserable little pile. He was so nauseous from the frosting that he couldn't stop puking, and his mom had to come get him.

My own kids both started out eating about everything we gave them. The only early exceptions were some forms of baby food. Eventually both my wife and I tried the concoction that made the baby gag, and agreed it was pretty heinous. There must be a group of jarred baby food cooks who don't think babies have tastebuds. Nearly every concoction that's a combination of meat and veggie tastes like a little spoonful of distilled hell. Gerber even proudly announces the very reason this is true on a little blinking banner as you try to surf their horrifically designed website: "Did you know? GERBER purees contain no added refined sugar, salt, or starch." We started to add sugar and salt to the ones that could be rescued with the addition thereof, and never bought again those that couldn't, like the meat and veggie abominations.

We even noted that after the baby (we only did it to the first one) had suffered through a meat/veg jar, she wouldn't eat well for a couple days, as though it had triggered the taste aversion that occurs after you've puked up a particular food. Only once we clued in and gave her things that tasted good to us did that weirdness go away.

...Until about the age of four. Both kids at that age started forming preferences that were/are seemingly random. The eldest hates potato soup, though the youngest gorges on it. The youngest has decided that sub sandwhiches are little slices of pure evil, while the eldest constantly asks to go to Subway.

Neither really likes breakfast cereal, which was my staple as a kid. I probably consumed enough Cap'n Crunch to create a barge out of the boxes. I even have JFK-assassination-like sense memory of the first time I ate the stuff. I was so excited to taste it, my mom let me have a bowl after dinner. I still remember where I sat in the kitchen when I ate it, what it looked like (70s brownish tile), and so on. I even remember that odd thing it does to your mouth, leaving the roof of your mouth feeling slightly shredded.

I've noted that as my eldest stays over at friends houses, and goes on daytrips with them and their families, that her palate is expanding. As a parent, it's a bit annoying that they won't try new things when you suggest it, but when forced to try something to be a polite guest, they suddenly announce (though as casually as possible hoping it won't cause parental feather-ruffling) that, oh, yeah, they like peas now. But you takes your gains where you can gets them.

On the flip-side, some of my eldest's friends do the same thing, and - even more gratifying - will only eat my version of a dish that they won't touch at home. That makes up for my own kid's culinary betrayals.

As the article Sya references points out, the one apparently universal food that everyone likes is fried chicken. Go fig.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Recent Viewings, July 2010

Ok, let's see... Gad, been awhile again... Where does the time...? Ah, screw it. Been busy and lazy; I have no real excuse.

Saw some flicks; here's what I thought.

In The Theatre (a more common occurrence since MPC 2 is 5 and MPC 1 can babysit):

An OK popcorn movie, but to me it was just another retread of the Aliens/Predator franchises: get a group of badasses in an inescapable situation, mix in alien that's somehow a superior killing machine, hilarity ensues.

The one unintentionally entertaining aspect of the movie for we was the main badass was played by Adrien Brody. He's that very skinny guy from The Pianist and the latest King Kong. Not the first guy you'd think of as the alpha monkey.

Here he adopts the gravelly Clint Eastwood-esque measured monotone, which made me grin every time he did it. And I just waited for the scene where his shirt is torn off (ala the cliche articulated in Galaxy Quest) where we would see how much gym time he'd put in for the role. I'm guessing a solid year. But you can get only so much muscle on a toothpick of a guy, and he just looks extremely toned, not buff and mean like the action hero needs to have.

Oh, and while technically the first death doesn't continue the very real tradition of BADF (Brothers Always Die First), the brother does die second (if you think this is a spoiler, then you've never seen one of these movies, and apologies); and the way the first guy dies does make it feel like it was yet another instance of BADF. And they really really could've nuked one of the others first. Shame shame.

If you like the franchises, catch this on DVD; if not, read about She's Out of My League, below for something you might like.

Toy Story 3
While MPC 1 and the Spousal Unit hit the latest Mormon vampire installment, MPC 2 and I visited Woody, Buzz, and the gang.

As you've probably read en masse elsewhere, this is one of the few worthy second sequels ever floated; a beautiful end-cap to the trilogy.

This ain't a spoiler, but the final shot is a pan up to the same field of clouds that you see in the first shot of the first flick, creating a perfect circle. Nice touch.

The plot extends from the most poignant moment of the 2nd flick when the cowgirl from Woody's original toy set joins the gang thanks to a toy collector, and her backstory includes the heartbreaking "When She Loved Me" sequence where she tells of her original owner outgrowing her. Andy is now college age, and the few toys left (we hear of garage sales and Goodwill donations) know their fate is at hand.

I'll leave the rest of the surprises intact for ya, but I will say that at one moment near the ending, the situation is pretty harrowing and I bet it gives some of the little ones nightmares. If you've got lil' kids that are sensitive to such things, take them yourself rather than let them go as a group with a friend's parents or a babysitter. They will need you to hold their hand. You'll need theirs through some parts, too.


It's All About Steve
Yes, all the reviews said this was pretty bad, but I like Sandra Bullock, and so wanted to see how she played a psycho-betty, to see if she could pull it off.

In my opinion, she almost does, but the character requires such a large suspension of disbelief, only a more homely actress who wasn't afraid to really bring the tragic side of this character out could come close to selling it properly. Sandra's comic chops are well-used, but she's just too pretty and charismatic for us to believe she's this mess of clueless neurosis.

SPOILER: And the child-down-the-well subplot is waaaaaaay too heavy for the material.

I didn't listen, but maybe you will: skip this one.

The Man from Earth
The hyperbole in various places on the web and the obscurity of the movie (I don't know if it even played in theatres, and don't care enough to research it) made me dubious about the flick, but I made sure I didn't have the plot bombshell spoiled for me because I figured that would be the only thing that made it worth watching. I was right, so I won't give it away here, either.

The premise is these college prof buddies get together for a going-away party for one of them who's moving on, and during the festivities he reveals to them (after they bring it up in a joking manner noting the age of some of his knick-knacks) that he's lived forever.

The dialogue is often too precious and the acting is just a hair away from regional theatre, which makes it kind of a slough.

Then the bombshell is released and, in my opinion, it gets sillier.

Still, if you're looking for a biggish plot twist, and don't waste any money to see it, it's just entertaining enough that it's worth the time it takes to watch it. I'm sure the author thought it would provoke debate and conversation afterward, but the treatment of the topics are simplistic and probably only young teens would be intrigued by any points anyone in the flick makes.

Oh, and as usual, the supposed Christian of the group is portrayed as a cipher - a hand-puppet that betrays the author's lack of understanding of Christianity rather than a fully-realized character with a legitimate understanding of the same. The author would have been well-served by having a Christian fan vet that character's lines.

Thrill Seekers
This was a made-for-TV flick that had an interesting premise: in the future when time-travel machines exist, a company sells trips back in time to visit the biggest tragedies. A reporter detects one of the tourists in enough historical photos that he is able to track the guy down and verify that's what's going on.

It's been a few weeks since I've seen this, and I remember coming out the end of the movie with the same thought I had going in: interesting premise. It didn't deliver on the promise of it, according to my dim memory of it, so it'd be cool to see a good writer make something of the idea and try again. Save your time for that, if it ever happens.

She's Out of My League
Of all the flicks called out in this post, this was my favorite. I greatly enjoyed myself throughout. The title pretty much gives you the plot.

"She" is played by the truly hot Alice Eve, who's British according to the info in the interwebs, which was a surprise to me as her American accent is perfect. Take a look, though:

Wow, huh? (Note she has one blue eye and one green eye.)

What I liked about her character is that she's aware she's pretty, and aware that some of the reactions she gets are about that, but she still seems like a real person. It would have been too easy to have her be arrogant, or clueless, or untouchably goddess-like; but props to the writers, she has enough of a distinctive personality that you come to know and appreciate the person wrapped in this amazing visage.

And that pretty much makes the movie.

But, even better, the geeky guy she supposedly falls for is fugly enough, but charming and funny enough, that you believe she'd actually give him a chance. It's as realistic as a comedy like this can get. It even sneaks in a good message about how we can sabotage things through our own unrealistic fears.

The group of buddies are recognizable and real enough, too, even if they do come close to a now-cliche collection of guy buds:
1) The fat guy who's childlike and clueless. 2) The "regular" guy who's the primary goofball of the bunch, but the one with heart who does something big to move the plot forward. 3) The hot guy/ladies man who gets all chicks and sometimes instructs the other guys on how be less hopeless in that regard (when he either takes pity on them or is annoyed enough that his wingmen can't maintain altitude at least until he scores). 4) The victim of the plot, and for our purposes here the aforementioned "geeky guy".

This was the same group of character types found in the recent hit The Hangover, you'll note. However, it doesn't knee-cap this movie. And, to be honest, a lot guy bud groups in real life are comprised of these guys, which is probably why they're used with some frequency.

The only fault I found was a set-piece that should've been left on the cutting-room floor, which I'll try to reference in a non-spoiler way: it involves a hair-clipper.

Outside of that, the two leads do such an excellent job, you enjoy every moment they're on the screen. And that Alice Eve is the nicest piece of eye-candy I've seen in a while.

Put the kids to bed, grab the spouse, and fire it up. Or if you're single, have the boys and girls over for a movie party night.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Dead Peasants

Saw Micheal Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story.

Even though I find the obligatory maudlin portions of his movies hard to endure - where he speaks in defeated, sorrowful tones as he's outlining an injustice - I do like the information he brings to light. And he's usually got his facts right. Most debunkers of his movies argue on ideological terms, not factual.

I started this movie with dread, fearing he'd actually conclude that socialism is the way to go. He doesn't; he says democracy is the way (thank God). Essentially, according to what he presents, American is a plutocracy right now. I tend to believe that. (Clearly most of the folks who've posted negative reviews on Amazon did not watch the whole movie, as they claim Moore is championing socialism.)

For me, the gobsmacking moment comes when he reports that coroporations since the 80s have been taking out what they call "Dead Peasant" insurance (aka Dead Janitor insurance), which is a life insurance policy on a "rank and file" worker formed without their knowledge. If that worker dies while under their employ, they get the death benefit. It was originally meant to cover high-level and highly-paid executives whose demise would constitute a hardship for the organization, but then someone realized that they could now take out a policy on anyone in the company, and it became this morbid investment practice.

Moore mentions the law that prevents you from taking out a fire insurance policy on your neighbor's house because you then have a vested interest in their house burning down. Why should employers pay for expensive health care when they actually gain from your death?

How is this not the same thing?

Here's a clip put together by Moore to advertise the movie, which covers this Dead Peasant stuff:

Here's the full sequence from the movie:

Here's news report on the same:

Yeah, you wanna see Capitalism: A Love Story.

Btw, I think parts of a society are best done is a socialistic manner: police (and by extension the armed forces), schools, medical care, retirement benefits, and highway/transportation/infrastructure; but it is pretty much a bad thing when it's placed as the primary construct of the economy.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Astro Boy Astro Sucks

Again the currents of life have kept me away from the playtime keyboard, thus the dearth of posts. I'll try harder.

Even though I still really should be applying any time I have to more pressing issues, I just gotta put this one out there, even if it keeps just one parent from letting their young child watch Astro Boy. FWIW, it's a re-make of a '60s Japanese Anime (sorta redundant, I know) TV series of the same name, and roughly the same story, according to wiki.


I've not seen (nor will I see) the original TV show, but I would hope that it handled the plot point of a child being rejected by his parent a bit more abstractly, or with more finesse, or just somehow better.

Basically, the government's lead scientist's son is killed when he's shut in a containment room with a rogue robot (also the scientist's creation). Said scientist then loses it, and in a three-day sleepless binge, creates a robot that looks like his dead son and loads all his son's memories into it (how he has those ready for download is left a mystery), so when it wakes up, it thinks it's really his son, and thinks it's human.

After a very short time, the scientist realizes this robot is not a replacement for his son, and amazingly cruelly rejects him/it.

As the rejected robot child flies away crying, I glance over at my 5-year-old daughter and to my horror see the wheels turning and the frown on her face. Like this guy mentions in his review, I immediately stopped the show and explained that this was just a movie, like all those Disney cartoons where the parents are snuffed or already dead by the time the show starts (though I express this concept in a much simpler and benign way as it's one of our family in-jokes*), and that real parents would never, ever, ever reject their child like that. I could tell it headed off the worry for the most part, but regretted I hadn't previewed the movie or at least read some Amazon reviews first.

She went off to play, and I wanted to see if the movie continued down it's bizarre little path. I'm sorry to report it's about the most emotionally depraved entertainment I've seen intended for children.

I think the guy in this review nails it when he applies the concept of the uncanny valley to the character's emotional landscape. No one outside of sociopaths act like this. I could imagine Ted Bundy seeing this as a child and going, "wow, cool movie." But about everyone else, and about every child, will react with muddled dismay to the way this child - even though it's a robot - is treated by nearly everyone in the flick.

One of the reviews I've linked to mentions how this is also very much like Kubrick's/Speilberg's AI, which it is. But AI is intended for adults. (Btw, Kubrick clearly borrowed this idea from Astro Boy's creator, Osamu Tezuka. See the 4th paragraph down in "Works" here.) And the boy in AI has a rather sweet redemption, where Astro Boy only is re-accepted by his father in kind of a throwaway scene.

Interestingly, this "child as robot" concept is best done in the now-defunct Nickelodeon series "My Life as a Teenage Robot". If you're gonna let your kid watch something, please let it be that.

*I think I may have already related this story, but once, when my daughter was watching some cartoon, the music started to swell and the characters all got concerned looks on their faces, and my eldest child who was about 5 at the time said, "Don't worry, Daddy. This isn't a Disney cartoon, so no parents are going to die." This was completely hers; neither my wife or I had pointed out that most Disney features lack parents or kill them off. We reference that and chuckle about it to this day.
Independents? Really?
Or, continued adventures in Tea Bagging

Salon reprinted a blog post called "Rethinking the origins of the Tea Party" which does a fine, fun job of "debunking" (as if it were needed) the BS supposition - that the three network news organizations pretend to believe - that the Tea (Bagging) Party is composed of "independents" who are simply tired of taxation and big government. You'll be shocked to find that it's mostly wingnuts who are currently too embarrassed to be called Republicans, and who think the 'Publicans aren't right-wing enough.

It links to this hilarious little snit fit, entitled "ARGH ARGH ARGH ARGH ARGH" which links to the calmer, more reasoned examination of what independents really are and aren't: Three Myths about Political Independents.

The punchline: About 10% of Americans are true independents.

Not one of those is a Tea (Bagging) Party member.

So, Brian, Katie, and Diane, quit pretending. You look silly.

Monday, May 24, 2010

So it ends in Unitarian heaven?

I totally didn't see THAT coming.

Update: This refers to the series finale of "Lost".

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

but of course...

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Marry Him by Lori Gottlieb

I don't recall the article that spurred me to put Marry Him on reserve at the library, and thus was a bit puzzled when it arrived. Took it home anyway, trusting my former self's selection of reading material.

I'm glad I did because Marry Him is a joyous waltz with Schadenfreude (for a guy, at least).

The primary topic is how a certain amount of women end up alone and/or dateless because they're just too freakin' picky and/or have too many criteria that allow for easy disqualification of a potential mate (much like any given Seinfeld conversation on relationships or dating; "man hands" comes to mind). A corollary is how many of these women have such an elevated view of themselves - how hot they are, how wonderful, such a catch, etc. - that no one is really worthy of them.

The author offers herself as the poster child of these issues and delusions, bless her heart. It's a very brave book in that sense. I don't know if I could hoist myself on my own javelin like that, then grasp the shaft and keep pulling earthward.

Ms. Gottlieb made matters even worse for herself; when she approached 40 still single, she decided to go ahead and have a baby to get past the biological clock thing, fully expecting she would be "away for a year" and then could resume the hunt for Mr. Right right afterward. Again, she does a good job of scoffing at her own stupidity, but how can someone get to a place where it doesn't immediately occur to them how stupid something like that is? Is it too much fiction? Is it too many things going right in their lives, giving a false sense of imperviousness? Believing too much in "you can have it all"?

Ok, so once we get past the author's real-life voyage through the needle machine that scralls your sins on your flesh ala Kafka's "In the Penal Colony", and embrace sniggling Schadenfreude, the book is fun. A lot of fun.

Reading about all these fussy lonely-hearts who've ended up hugging their couch pillows rather than Prince Charming is akin to watching stuff blow up real good in an action movie. Especially that trope where we are shown the same explosion three times in a row for emphasis. And a bit of vindication, if you will.

Most guys I know have been dismissed or dumped for reasons we suspect were pretty trivial or overly harsh. Sometimes we merely suspect that, sometimes we get pretty good evidence that that was the case. (I was dumped once because I had chapped lips when I kissed her goodnight after a long, mid-winder outdoor group date (how many guys do you know that carry chapstick?); she told me this herself about a year later.)

When various mentors, gurus, and yentas figuratively slap Ms. Gottlieb upside the head and tell her she's not getting the point, you shake your head in wonder as you see someone live out that definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. (It's also a testament to her honesty, and her ability to convey a story. As stated, I don't recall reading anything non-fiction where the author was so able to viciously critique themselves and yet still evoke empathy and sympathy.)

Btw, guys do this too. Heck, I did it apparently. One of the things my grandma told my brother and myself on her deathbed was that we should be less picky about the women we dated. We both were a bit picky at the time because we both hadn't been picky enough and had wasted too much time on someone we shouldn't have. Still, we both took her advice, and, in spite of it, I landed someone awesome - though not without dating a few frogs along the way.

Let me state that in a fair world there would be a book like this directed at men but that women enjoy for all the same ugly reasons. Alas, the women tend to get things like He's Just Not That Into You. The few that exist are more "get over yourself and take a shower and get a haircut" rather than "get over yourself, princess, you ain't all that", which aren't nearly as fun a read for women as Marry Him is for men.

So, gentlemen, pick this baby up. You're in for a blast.

Ladies, I'd avoid it unless you discover this book is about you. However, if it is, a dose of the tonic my grandma gave me might be your love potion number 9.

For your enjoyment, here's the original "Atlantic" article: Marry Him!: and some related articles: un, dos, tres.
Naked Lunch Does Suck

Most of my friends are avid readers, and to my puzzlement, many of them have loved the odious Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. Especially back in the mid-80s when we were immersed in the Minneapolis music scene, where quite a few artists and musicians were adherents to the turgid tome.

I was never able to get beyond a few chapters (or pages, don't recall which), and at the time just wrote it off as one of those books that were beyond ME - meaning I was the problem, not the book. I have since reversed that opinion, particularly after seeing the movie with my wife (her review: "I never want to see anything like that again. Ever.").

So, I read this article in Salon with relish. (My but some of the comments are nasty. You'd think this was a discussion on religion - which I guess for some it is.)

Here's my favorite quote:
Still, "Naked Lunch" serves a very valuable and reliable purpose. Get to it early enough, somewhere between the Hardy Boys and Holden Caulfield, and the fatigue and tedium will inoculate you against all sorts of intellectual malfeasance. You'll never swallow the line that obscenity is a hallmark of genius, or that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom (usually it leads to the palace of excess, except when it leads to the hovel of incomprehensibility). Dismiss Burroughs as a pull-my-finger bore and you're ready to dismiss Matthew Barney, Damien Hirst, the Chapman Brothers, Jonathan Littell and a host of others too dull to mention.

Oh snap!