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.