Archive for January, 2010

Chilling

Monday, January 18th, 2010

A chilling report on the men who supposedly committed suicide in Gitmo, which the Right Wing continues to describe, despite all evidence the contrary, as the equivalent of a luxury spa.

Denial runs deep.

Rush Limbaugh

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Definitely has a screw loose. It’s just sad.

Sleepy Huey

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

My daughter is really into the Disney Princesses right now. Princess shoes, Princess play castle, Princess diapers, Princess dolls. When we got the play castle, she ran upstairs, grabbed a diaper and gleefully found which princess matched it. I — nerd that I am — was very proud that she could do image matching. But was when the Princess thing really began.

She’s also starting to get into TV now, which is a little scary. I know she likes it but I’m trying hard to limit it. This is difficult on weekends when neither of us has the energy to play with her all day and the temptation to use the Electronic Babysitter is strong. But we’ve mostly limited it to stuff like Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer (which she was exposed to through friends, not us). Lately, she’s also gotten into Bugs Bunny. So the natural extension is the Disney movies.

Unfortunately, Disney’s oddball DVD policy prevents us from buying Cinderella, Abby’s favorite. But we did pick up Sleeping Beauty, her second favorite. Thanks to the Stomach Flu from Hell, we’ve watched it a dozen times in the last few days.

The movie is actually very good. In fact, I worry it’s a little intense for a 2.5 year old. It has decent characters, especially the delightfully evil villainess. The scene in which Sleeping Beauty is drawn to the spindle is also very well done (it always provokes Abby, who has watched it raptly every time, to say, ‘No, Sleepy Huey! Stop!’)

But I watching a scene of Maleficent’s demons. It is very similar to the “Night on Bald Mountain” scene from Fantasia — probably one of the most incredible pieces of animation in film history. That remind me of this video, which accuses Disney of ripping itself off.

A multi-billion dollar corporation that gets zillions from kids and is brutal in defending its copyrights needs no defense from me. But artistically, I will defend:

1) No one imagined that future generations would break these movies down from home videos.

2) This sort of thing is overlooked when it’s not a company that evokes hatred in certain quarters. George Lucas, in particular, loves to homage other movies, including his own. The Star Trek films and series have repeatedly reused F/X footage — notably the Klingon Bird-of-Prey explosion from ST6.

3) The original animations were based on filming live actors, an expensive process to recreate for a medium that was not terribly profitable. If you got it right the first time, why screw it up the second time?

Anyway, I’m looking forward to recovering more of my childhood through Abby. Although I think I might hold off on Watership Down until she’s old enough to handle it. 38 should be good.

Update: In other weird Disney criticism, I just remember this paragraph from Roger Ebert’s review of Snow White (which is the first movie I remember seeing in a theater):

Richard Schickel’s 1968 book The Disney Version points out Disney’s inspiration in providing his heroes and supporting characters with different centers of gravity. A heroine like Snow White will stand upright and tall. But all of the comic characters will make movements centered on and emanating from their posteriors. Rump-butting is commonplace in Disney films, and characters often fall on their behinds and spin around. Schickel; attributed this to some kind of Disney anal fixation, but I think Disney did it because it works: It makes the comic characters rounder, lower, softer, bouncier and funnier, and the personalities of all seven Dwarfs are built from the seat up.

Ebert has kids so I’m sure he can also appreciate that kids find butts and butt-related actions to be really really funny.

Dr. Strangegov or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Government

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Reason has a great article explaining that libertarians and conservatives need to abandon their reflexive hatred of government if they want to make any progress.

I happen to work in a government-supported industry, so you can imagine that I’m receptive to this point of view. I have a much longer post about how I, as a libertarian-conservative, can still work in this industry. The gist, however, is that basic science is one of the few things that government does really really well. It’s one of the few endeavors, like roads and law enforcement, that benefits everyone but doesn’t have specific enough benefits to make it worth the private sector’s while.

Moreover, the reason science works well in the government paradigm is because government science is run very very differently from government everything else. Budgets tend to be strict and have to be justified in advance. Progress is closely monitored. Funding is dependent on past performance. And merit is decided by fellow scientists (mostly), not politicians.

The GOP tried to reform other government functions along these lines in 1995 but were fiercely resisted by federal employee unions and their subservient Democratic party. Attempts to reform, say, the school lunch program were denounced as drastic cuts in the program and leaving kids to starve.

A pity, really.

Panic Watch

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Jesus, what the hell is wrong with us?

Defending the Indefensible

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

There’s a video out there — a long annoying video — that is a full bore attack on the Star Wars prequels. Even having slogged through most of it, I stand by what I previously said (and Robert’s insightful comment). I think the movies are decent to almost great. That they are not as good as the original trilogy doesn’t bother me; I didn’t expect them to be. A lot more works than doesn’t. And much of the anger is generational — i.e., most intense among those who grew up on the first trilogy.

I was actually mulling over making my own video response to the critique. But I can’t imagine where I’d get the time.

I will add one thing to my previous post: the prequel trilogy was a losing proposition from the start. Prequels, in general, do not do well. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single on that really worked except for the prequel half of The Godfather. Reboots sometimes work, but prequels rarely do.

The reason is not because prequel makers are idiots but because they are faced with not one but two impossible tacks. First, they have to match the quality of a film that was so good it merited a prequel. Even a small regression to the mean is inevitable. It’s just not easy to make two magnum opi.

Second, prequels are, by definition, narratively confined. We know where it’s going to end, so drama and surprise are out. More importantly, the plot ceases to flow from the characters. The characters become slaves to the plot. This is one of the biggest problems with the Star Wars prequels — characters like Padme have to serve more as walking plot devices than actual characters.

As a writer myself, I have often envisioned the end of the story only to find the characters marching it off in a different direction. With prequels, that freedom is lost.

Still, I enjoy Episode I-III for what they are. They do a reasonable job, although not as a good a job as they could. And I’ve never really understood how someone could be so enraged by them as to do things like make an annoying and deliberately obtuse 70-minute video.

Wednesday Linkorama

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

So much to talk about:

  • More wisdom from Zakaria on the panty bomber. I am continually depressed with how easily terrorists reduce the Right Wing to complete pants-shitting terror — or at least the pretense thereof for political gain.
  • Five worst lawsuits of 2009. The Holocaust one is my favorite.
  • Coolness from Betelgeuse.
  • The myth that tax cuts massively increase federal revenues persists. It’s the Laffer Curve, guys, not the Laffer Line.
  • It seems really stupid to close racial disparities in education by … canceling extra lab sessions.
  • Yes, Ms. Franklin. It’s the label that’s holding those kids back — not your party’s complete sellout to every lobbying group with a bill and a sack of money.
  • The more I find out about the likely new senator from Mass, the less I like her. As I have said — what’s the point in electing Democrats if they are even worse than Republicans on mindless law and order garbage?
  • Obama was savaged for setting a soft deadline for leaving Afghanistan. But it looks like it may have had at least one positive impact.
  • I’m with Massie. This “study” that says booze costs the average Scot 900 pounds a year smacks of a cost-without-benefit analysis designed to justify a tax hike.
  • The Iron Man

    Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

    Man, I hope I live this long and this well.

    Code Switching

    Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

    A good article on Obama’s “code switching” during speaking. This is hardly unusual in politics or in life. I always used a far more formal speaking manner when I would teach (i.e., sounding a lot less like Jeffrey Lebowski).

    Tuesday Linkorama

    Tuesday, January 12th, 2010
  • Alabama. Doomed.
  • Yep. Sarah Palin was and is a disaster.
  • This is for the Dudette, assuming she still reads my blog.
  • Is the G-spot a myth? Not so fast. The study did cross me as rather anecdotal. One problem with our puritanical attitudes in this nation is that sex research is woefully underfunded. One of the most fundamental aspects of our existence — we literally wouldn’t be here without it — and we understand it only slightly better than our great-great-grandparents.
  • I have mentioned by love of time lapse video, haven’t I?
  • Interestingly, the research does not necessarily support the idea that salt is uniformly dangerous. Of course, a little science never stood in the way of America’s Favorite Tyrannical Mayor.
  • Godspeed. Both of you.
  • Rationality is awesome. You can do anything with triangles these days.
  • Mac

    Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

    The news that Mark McGwire used steroids is not surprising.

    What is also not surprising, but incredibly disappointing, is the titanic and hypocritical self-righteousness which still accompanies the issue. McGwire is a Hall-of-Famer who is being denied because he used steroids. This represents the apex of blaming the player — and only the players — for the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs throughout the game. The completely ignores that:

  • The owners certainly knew who was using and who wasn’t. As the Mitchell Report made clear, teams do not make $100 million investments without knowing what players are putting into their bodies.
  • Either the media knew or their much-ballyhooed “inside access” is a load of crap. The Sports Media Twerps are constantly telling us how their access to players and their inside knowledge makes them so much smarter than the rest of us. How could the SMTs have such insider information and not know what was going on? How could they turn on the reporter who found that McGwire was using Andro? I think that’s why the press is so vicious and judgmental on the steroid issue. They are compensating for their own complicity. Shame on them.
  • The fans knew or suspected what was going on. I mean, we knew Mac was taking Andro. We at least suspected that Canseco was using. But we didn’t care as long as homers flew out of parks. We looked the other way and cheered the juicers, which just encouraged more use. Then, suddenly, we got religion when someone we didn’t like — Barry Bonds — broke the home run record. We’re content, of course, to ignore the obvious drug abuse in football.
  • The players did steroids, in part, because they were allowed to. They did them because the owners, the press and the fans knew what was going on and were happy to ignore it. When we suddenly decided PEDs were bad, we refused to take any responsibility. Instead, we have heaped scorn only on the players. They are, after all, rich and popular, so we have to tear them down, right?

    Screw that. I’m all in favor of a clean game. But I’m not in favor of white-washing the past and blaming the most convenient party. It’s time to admit what we allowed to happen.

    Update: Incidentally, the commish knew about steroids in 1993.

    Trouble Ahead; Trouble Behind: Predicting 2010

    Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

    Every year, I like to run an article looking ahead and behind, making fearless predictions for the year to come. I’ve written a long piece for the other site on the last year in politics called a Year in Fantasyland. 2009 was the year everyone in politics was delusional — from Democrats who though the nation turned liberal to Republicans who think they’ll ride the tea parties back into power.

    I didn’t comment on it there, but my predictions from last year held up pretty well:

  • I was right that Obama’s popularity would fade as the economy continued to stagnate. And I was right that his foreign policy would be a competent version of Bush’s. I was also right that the economy would be slow to recover.
  • I was right about the Gators, the Steelers and the Yankees, which kind of scares me.
  • I was wrong on the international picture. Pakistan has stayed stable while Iran has reeled from protests. However, at least I was right on Iraq — last month saw zero combat deaths for the US, a stunning achievement that got no press at all.
  • I was wrong on entertainment. There were a solid number of good movies this year and four science fictions films — Star Trek, Avatar, Moon and District 9 — did well critically and financially. That’s the best year in Sci-Fi that I can recall, ever. I still am not watching TV, so I assume it hasn’t improved since it drove me away.
  • Anyway, 2010 is already two weeks old, so I’d better make my predictions so I can be as wrong as ever.

  • The economy will show signs of life, but unemployment will remain stubborn. By the end of the year, debt will be the single issue dominating the discussion. This will lead to…
  • The Republicans, as as result of the above, will gain seats in the Senate and House but fell short of taking back the majority.
  • This, along with the general mood of the nation, will shift Obama’s agenda slightly to the Right. My hope is that this will mean fiscal conservatism. My fear is that it will mean tougher stances on the War on Terror and crime.
  • Sarah Palin peaked in 2009 and 2010 will see her slowly revealed as an ignorant and somewhat deluded ideologue. She’s now got a commenting bit on Fox News, which is the first step in exposing who she really is. By the end of the year, the idea of her running for President will be laughable.
  • Colts over Vikings. Cardinals over Rangers. And parity continues to be the case in the College Football, with Boise State coming very close to cracking the championship game.
  • The Iranian regime will continue to totter, but will come just short of falling. Reform may be the only way the mullahs stay in power. Iraq will continue to wind down and Afghanistan will improve. Our attention will slowly turn toward Yemen and the disaster that is Africa.
  • Television will continue its spell in the doldrums, but late night shows will improve as the comedians get better and more comfortable with mocking Obama. The year at the movies does not look terribly impressive to me. Looking at the most anticipated films does not exactly fill me with enthusiasm. Clash of the Titans, in particular, looks sure to disappoint.
  • It will be a banner year for science. Again.
  • As much as 2009 was the year of fantasy, 2010 will be, I think and hope, the year of reality. And about time too.

    Antikythera

    Monday, January 11th, 2010

    New insight into the most fascinating artifact of Greek civilization we have found (so far). As time goes on, we find out our ancestors were far smarter and more sophisticated than we give them credit for.

    Weekend Linkorama

    Friday, January 8th, 2010
  • Big Surprise. Smacking kids is not so obviously bad. When are we going to get over this idea that we can decree parenting techniques from on high?
  • Science Fiction is the next big thing for the religious nuts.
  • I heart Hitchens.
  • When Ta-Nehisi Coates is on, he’s on.
  • Aw, Jeez.
  • Somehow, the media fails to tell us when there are no combat casualties in Iraq. But Obama is still blowing the war, right?
  • Dear God: why? Why do you punish us so?
  • Could cellphones protect against Alzheimer’s? Further work will determine. It would be hilarious and wonderful if it did.