Category Archives: ‘Culture’


I recently found out that a relative of mine enjoys Soduku puzzles. I have to admit I am a recent addict. I started doing them because I was bored and my powerbook has a widget. But I spent most of my recent flight to Atlanta working on the in-flight magazine ones and i now use them to fill in spare time that would be occupied by reading or writing or wondering what passing women look like naked.

I’ve always loved logic puzzles. When I was a kid in the gifted program, we used to get a weekly work packet that had logic puzzles like quotefalls and some box thing whose named I can’t remember. I ate them up.

Passover Blogging

I’m back home for the Holiday. A few thoughts before I hit the hay:

  • I am getting very close to putting an ax through the TV when i see more coverage of this Anna Nichole Smith business. Enough!
  • I’m still convinced Iran is trying to provoke an attack to rally their people. The demonstration in Iran are, like those of thirty years ago, likely staged.
  • I thought Boortz and Limbaugh could be bad. Then oday I was “treated” while driving to listening to Hannity and Savage. Hannity was debating Charlie Rangle on Iraq and kept focusing on “Hillary thought there were weapons of mass destruction!”. He doesn’t seem to have any time to address the mission creep that is getting our boys killed.
  • Savage is annoying as hell but he made a decent point on Pelosi going to Syria, saying the President should have goaded her to repeat the party line — i.e, “Hey Syria! Behave yourself!”. I can’t say he’s right but it was a decent idea. Who the hell does Pelosi think she is anyway? Much as I have railed against the massive expansion of executive power under this President, there is one aspect of our government where he is supposed to have untrammelled power — diplomacy.
  • Baseball season is back. Sweet. And I told you it would be a conservative Final Four. Boy, Buckeyes must really hate Florida now. This is twice they’ve toppled mighty Ohio State from a consensus #1 ranking.
  • It’s funny how you notice things. For 3.5 years, whenever I’ve had to use . . . dial-up . . . on my powerbook, I thought that little flashing dot on the modem icon was a heart. Now I see it’s a modem plug. What a goober.
  • Pregnant women can’t run.
  • Two Stories

    It’s not enought that we’re putting non-violent drug users into prison to be beaten and raped. Now we’re doing it with minors. Wonderful.

    On another note, the poor have more free time than the rich. Slate asks why? Um, isn’t it obvious? It’s the public choice theory. People are willing to trade income for leisure time (I myself being a prime example). If you work harder and have less free time, you’ll be less poor!

    Get That Off My Silver Screen!

    My favorite movie critic, James Berardinelli has a fascinating post on the recent apperance of explicit sex scenes in mainstream movies. He doesn’t think this is the beginning of a trend. To wit:

    Then there’s the question of how a graphic sex scene impacts a movie. People generally watch porn for stimulation. People watch legitimate films for less primal reasons. Confusing the two can lead to frustration. The conflict is evident. There’s also an issue of pacing. No movie can afford to take a several-minute “timeout” to show a sex scene, unless the movie is all about sex in the first place (in which case it’s almost certainly straight porn rather than art-porn). There’s another issue that Roger Ebert once raised. Graphic sex is documentary in nature. As he wrote in Roger Ebert’s Book of Film, speaking about Norman Mailer: “Mailer, like so many before and since, awaits the cinematic marriage of Sex and Art. I am not convinced such a thing is possible. In traditional fiction films, art involves the filmmakers in creating a fiction about characters whose lives we care about. Sex, to the degree that it involves nudity and explicit detail, brings the whole story crashing down to the level of documentary. The actors lose not only their clothes but their characters, and stand (or recline) revealed only as themselves.”

    Here’s the response I e-mailed to him:

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with you and with Ebert. It seems to me that you are still stuck in thinking of any explicit sex as porn and not as what we’re seeing — a more explicit extension of the sex scenes that have been in mainstream films since the fall of the Hays Code. A number of the films in your top 100 include scenes that are fairly explicit — albeit mostly in a disturbing context (War Zone or Requiem for a Dream, for example). These would have been considered pornographic — hell, they would have been banned — just a few decades ago even though they don’t “show everything”.

    I think our perception of art-porn has been heavily tainted by the disastrous Showgirls foray into this. But just as there is a difference between the soft-porn that shows up on Cinemax and the erotica that shows up in, say, Secretary, I think there can be a similar difference between pure pornography and art-porn. An example that you didn’t mention and doesn’t show up in your archive is Sex and Lucia, a movie which is fairly graphic, although not pornographic, but compelling, interesting and romantic. I don’t see that the movie would have come to a screeching halt had it been slightly more explicit.

    I think the word we’re both scrounging around for is “tasteful”. There is a way to make porn tasteful, but the political situation in our country has branded all explicit erotica — and most non-explicit — as evil. But films like Secretary and Lucia show that it can be done.

    Of course, there’s always Sturgeon’s Law. Most movies that blur the line between art and porn will be crap, because most movies are crap anyway. And the best talent will shy away from “art-porn” because of the stigma — which is why we’re seeing the new wave emerging in countries like France and Spain, which aren’t as hysterically puritanical as we are.

    Back to blog-Mike:

    Sex and Lucia is a movie I have a lot of arguments about. Some people think it’s just a skin flick. I enjoyed it. Not that those two things are mutually exclusive, of course. But I do think any trend that breaks us out of “sex bad, sex evil, violence OK” mentality that has gripped his nation for the last three centuries is a good thing.


    I have not seen it yet, but am intrigued by Hanson’s review. I have, however, read Herodotus, who is immensely entertaining if you can get past the formal style. I was at La Silla when a massive snowstorm hit. There I was, trapped in a small room with nothing but The Histories to entertain me. I was alternating planning out a survey of a dwarf galaxy with reading about Greek city states. And then my altitude-affected dreams were about doing surveys of Greek city states.

    Herodotus isn’t, of course, for everyone. But I have also read Gates of Fire, which is more approachable, historically accurate, a quick read and very very good. I heartily recommend it.

    Sob Sisters

    Read this article which seems to blame the eeeevill mortgage companies for the current round of foreclosures. Of course, without these experimental loans, these people wouldn’t have been able to buy a house at all. And a significant percentage are weathering the storm and becoming home-owners. By my math, that’s good. But we must have a sob-story about the 20% who are being fore-closed on not the 80% who got a home they’d never have been able to purchase just five years ago.

    Notice also the irresponsibility of the home-owner they talk to:

    He cannot afford his mortgage payment, which jumped to $1,300 a month from about $1,000 after his loan reset to a higher interest rate last summer. A divorce and the loss of his county government clerical job, which paid $14.80 an hour, have also hurt.

    In 2004, Mr. Shields took out a popular hybrid mortgage that carried a fixed interest rate for two years before becoming an adjustable-rate loan for the remaining 28 years. In August, his loan’s interest rate rose from 6.6 percent to 8.1 percent, and to 9.6 percent now. “I love the house,” said Mr. Shields, 47, who now works in a custodial job with the Chicago school district that pays $10.40 an hour. “I put a lot of money in the house — a deck and a new garage — and they are just going to take the house.”

    Bought a house too big for his income; got a divorce; invested money he didn’t have in improving the house; lost his job. How is this the fault of an “over-extended loan market”?

    And I would point out that these two-year adjustable rate mortgages are designed to allow someone with bad credit to get their, um, financial house in order and refinance. Most people who buy the 1 or 2 year ARM’s do precisely this. But we have to hear about the ones who don’t.

    But what got me was the NYT just can’t, just can’t write this article without getting into some good old liberal wealth hatred:

    The mortgage interest deduction, the biggest single subsidy to homeowners, will cost the federal budget about $80 billion this year, according to the administration’s projections. Deductions for state and local property taxes will cost $15.5 billion. Allowing homeowners to pocket tax-free much of the profit from selling their homes is expected to cost $37 billion more. Altogether, this amounts to almost 5 percent of the federal government’s total tax revenue, and almost three times HUD’s entire $42 billion budget. Now even some in Washington are questioning the soundness of pushing homeownership so broadly.

    I can’t even begin with the stupidity here. Deductions do not cost the government shit — they return money to the owner. It’s only right to deduct property taxes (which are smaller than pork spending) as we shouldn’t be taxed twice — we deduct income taxes, don’t we? And deducting the profit from selling a home (only after two years of residency, BTW)? Well, how else do you expect people in a mobile society to not get jobbed when they sell? If I have to sell my home in the near future because Sue and I change jobs, a full tax plus agent commission would wipe out any profits. I might even lose money on the deal.

    But the NYT apparently believes only irresponsible people should get tax breaks.

    And the government’s efforts to promote homeownership are far from an unqualified success. From 2000 to 2005, homeownership rates increased significantly only among households in the top two-fifths of the income distribution, those earning more than $46,883, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

    Gee, it’s almost like the responsible choices that give you wealth also make you buy a house.

    Homeownership declined for families in the bottom two-fifths of the income scale. In the lowest fifth — where families make less than $20,180 — homeownership was only 42.4 percent in 2005, which was 3 percentage points less than it was 25 years earlier and 26 percentage points below the national average.

    Whoa! Irresponsible choices can both make you poor and prevent you from owning a home? Say it ain’t so! And, of course, this has nothing to do with excessive property taxes, the disaster or urban renewal, property forfeiture, imminent domain abuses or Chapter 8 subsidies.

    No, nothing at all.

    I actually do agree with one point here. It’s not the government’s business to encourage people to buy homes. And we are seeing the Law of Unintended Consequences rear its ugly head once more. George Bush has been a big driver behind this ownership society business because he is, at heart, a leftist who believes government can make people better.

    And I would glady trade in my home mortgage interest and tax deductions for a Fair Tax. But I don’t think that’s what the NYT intends.

    Leave Well Enough Alone

    OK, what the hell is wrong with web designers these days? I realized they have to earn their keep, but in the last month or two CNNSI, IMDB and Yahoo! Sports have all undergone significant changes that have made their pages far less accessible and legible. Seriously, CNNSI has take a huge step backward. It looks like a web page you might have seen ten years ago.

    Academy Awards

    So far, I’ve seen Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed. The latter was the better film, although Sunshine was enjoyable. I’m eager to see Babel especially. Despite the dreck we’ve seen on silver screens the last two months, I still think 2007 will be a good year.

    On the political side, everytime I see AlGore, I’m glad we didn’t elect that hamster President. Of course, I’m not terribly pleased with the shmuck we did end up with, but we would have done a lot worse if we’d put that pseudo-intellectual elitist in there.

    And am I the only person who wonders how the hell the Oscars “went green”? Does this mean they drove up in hybrid limos? Has Leo DeCaprio given up his SUV? Is AlGore flying business class instead of on private jets?

    Bunch of assholes patting themselves on the back. It’s easy to say you’re green and get lots of cheers. It’s much harder to give up on the priveleges of the rich and famous. It’s always the rest of America that has to sacrifice.

    I was a little disappointed with Ellen Degeneres or whoever that was occupying her body. Ellen normally kills me – her standup is hilarious and never wallows in the worn-out trough of female comics – insecurity. Tonight the edge was off. They were looking for a kindler gentler host. That’s what they got. Snooze.

    Oh, one last thing. The Oscar are much more tolerable on DVR.