Wednesday, December 30, 2009


After eight years of denigrating human rights and weakening our country's principles when we ought to have been strong, Dick Cheney doesn't know when to leave well enough alone:
"He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won't be at war," Cheney said in the statement. "He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of 9/11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won't be at war. He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won't be at war."
None of this would be relevant - Cheney is plainly a despicable human being committed to atrocities and empire-building in the name of false freedom - were it not for White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer's comments on the matter, which solidify something that many of us have been thinking for some time:

"Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country," Pfeiffer said. "And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the president."

Pfeiffer also took issue with Cheney's contention that Obama was pretending no U.S. war with terrorists existed, saying the president and members of his administration have referred to being at war with al Qaeda several times.

"The difference is this: President Obama doesn't need to beat his chest to prove it, and -- unlike the last Administration -- we are not at war with a tactic ("terrorism"), we at war with something that is tangible: al Qaeda and its violent extremist allies," Pfeiffer wrote.

Cheney's comments represent nothing more than the last snarl of a dog fleeing a property with its tail between its legs, the final whimpering relics of an international philosophy of justified brutality that ought to have taken its last breath by now. Let's see that it stays that way, desperate justifications notwithstanding.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Without racism, soldiers would realize that they have more in common with the Iraqi people, than they do with the billionaries who sent us to war."

Two videos in a row, though this one consists of so much unfiltered truth and poetic appeals to brotherhood that it cut through the malaise of my currently flu-addled brain:

Monday, December 28, 2009

Drivers who cannot handle snow

Speaking as somebody who lives in a fairly icy neighborhood, it does amuse me how people in less snowy areas totally lose their cool the moment the ice comes down. Schools and businesses close and everybody stays home, more to protect them from themselves than anything.

Take the drivers in the following video. You can hear the first one actually hitting the gas after the first collision.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A note on the ads

For some time, I've used Adsense ("Google Ads" in some vernacular) primarily as a simple way of keeping track of the number of visitors to my page. My earnings for the last couple of years sparked sharply over a period of a few months, and then stayed shockingly even. This blog has had 44,932 visitors and made me $28.62, which I will never receive because Google doesn't pay you until you reach $100 in earnings.

Anyway, I've never cared to monetize this blog, and the labor/payoff ratio is low enough that I've decided to just remove the two ads on the side, leaving only the one at the bottom which should stay nicely out of the way while still fulfilling my tracking needs. My previous philosophy was that a couple of unobtrusive ads might make me a few bucks and wouldn't bother anybody else. Now that the first part of that seems like it's never going to happen I might as well bother nobody.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Avatar Impressions

is not the shallow sludge of a movie that some negative reviews would lead you to believe. Nor is it the hyped "future of film" that, I'm convinced, nobody really fell for anyway. What it is is a mildly formulaic redemption story with more than its share of character, which uses its technology well and puts together some very coherent, enjoyable action that's as stylized as it is realistic.

What Avatar does well, most importantly, hasn't ever really been done before. This is the point, what people are saying when they call Cameron's latest epic the future of film. This movie's character comes primarily from its use of detail - the vast attention (and dinero) that went into the film is clearly apparent. For the first time, CGI creatures have quite literally the same personality and even charisma as human actors. I don't mean this lightly - in the massive scenes of congregated indigenous "aliens", you feel the same sense of organization and unity that you'd get from a crowd scene of dedicated extras, and the alien doppelgangers that the humans jack into Matrix-style mimic their facial expressions and demeanor with uncanny, blissful accuracy (the blue, CGI Sigourney Weaver in particular is incredible to watch).

It would be easy to dismiss Avatar as Pocahontas in space with a few technological gimmicks, but this would neglect the fact that all of the technology is being used in the service of the story. A somewhat predictable story in the hands of gifted cinematographers, animators who know what they're doing and some committed actors becomes as moving and involving an epic as any in recent memory. Even the actors playing sci-fi archetypes (the "bomb-'em-to-hell!" bulletheaded merc and the nerdy, ethical scientist) treat their roles with enough commitment that the movie is never shallow. This strong use of technology makes the film what it is, and the fact that none of this would have been possible even five years ago puts it firmly into the category of "modern" cinema. I fully understand why Roger Ebert cited the same feelings he felt watching the first Star Wars film in 1977 - this is an inventive, visually engrossing and, occasionally, moving film. The story is a couple of steps above mediocrity and the characterization more than a few.

The 3D effect, finally, is well-done, and never distracts from the story with flashy gimmicks (the kind that my oaf of a roommate insists upon). The main problems with cinema 3D, however, remain - a slightly blurry effect that makes focusing on quick motion or fine detail a little difficult - and your eyes may get tired for the first few minutes of the movie before you get used to using your muscles in that way.

In conclusion, I think that the film is well worth seeing, and since I'm not sure how well it will hold up on the small screen or second-run theater, I recommend seeing it now. It's nice to see a technological monstrosity employed for good rather than evil, and while the "plot" may be a little weak, the journey itself is handled very well, with action scenes that are not only fun to watch but actually matter.

[Note: Despite citing Ebert's review, I had not yet finished reading it when putting this together. Ebert makes his point regarding the film's action in a very similar way. The unintentional mirroring in my impressions review on that point is just that.]

On Bureaucracy (Exciting title, I know)

From a Redditor's comments on why corporations are considered people when it's convenient, but people aren't eligible for the same tax breaks: "The corporate structure exists primarily to arrange for the transfer of wealth from most people to a few people. It is a cleverly arranged ruse. A sinister, but mundane plot."

Quite an interesting perspective, though it's really only the tip of the iceberg. It's pretty clear that the corporate structure (really, any bureaucratic, insulatory structure) "exists primarily" to aggregate prestige, power, respect and wealth to only a few people, while moving responsibility, accountability and vulnerability downward. Anybody who's seen the plainly contradictory and self-serving behavior of management can confirm this.

The emperor has no clothes, of course, though we've gotten so used to it that it's really nothing we think about. Managers often don't know how to measure their employees' performance, either because they're so insulated from the work being done that they have little knowledge of what it takes to do it well, or because they're so far from the work being done that they're left to form small bits of information into their confident minds and act, above all things act. Whatever they happen to view and the way they interpret it becomes their reality. The alternative - that their information is incomplete or that they're simply bad managers - is unthinkable. That's why lunatics and numbskulls get promoted, why managers can behave arbitrarily, ignoring rules or creating new ones when convenient. The responsibility for failure simply doesn't exist at that level, and the rewards (both social and monetary) are great.

Now, most of us would achieve this mindset easily given this level of power - the delusion is simply so convincing that it's really impossible not to subscribe to it. The problem is the structure itself, the way that we think of a corporation as an entity - important in and of itself - while neglecting those who make it run. And I mean really make it run, independent of the mostly manufactured power structure. I remember being amazed when I first learned that CEOs and directors can move from company to company without any real knowledge of the field they're moving to - when did we ever get used to that? Why do we tolerate VPs when they suggest courses of action in meetings that have already been tried and failed, but who couldn't bother to check the facts in their continuous quest for self-aggrandizement? Insulation, charisma and self-confidence, moreso than competence, often seems to be the order of the day. And we allow it.

It takes a lot of character to manage well. I'm now working at the first place in my life which seems blessedly free of most of this nonsense. It's a good feeling.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bachmann Bailouts

The most rabidly anti-gay representatives invariably turn out to be gay, and certain talk show hosts railing against drug use in the inner cities have proven themselves to be quite the pill-poppers themselves, so this is hardly a surprise - Michele Bachmann, long a raging critic of government bailout programs (and who famously insinuated that President Obama may have anti-American views and that Congress should be investigated for the same) received, over ten years, a quarter million dollars in federal subsidies to her family farm. As always, socialism is only socialism when it helps the poor.

It's well known that red states receive more federal funding, though read the article to find further that (ding ding ding ding!) "the top four districts receiving the largest ag[ricultural] payments are represented by conservative Republicans."

Further proving that, sigh, this recent outrage has more to do with making sure that the nation's wealth trickles upward than that Uncle Sam keeps his hands out of the private sector.


P.S. By the way, read up on Michele Bachmann - it's quite entertaining. She seems completely committed to saying the most shortsighted thing possible in any given situation.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Puppets really do improve everything

Even the health care debate.

Epic 70-minute video explains why The Phantom Menace was flawed

This guy does an excellent job of explaining the flaws in the Star Wars prequels. The highlight of Part One? "Describe the following Star Wars character without describing the way they look, or their profession in the films." Interesting characters abound in the original trilogy - Han Solo, for example. Now try it with Qui-Gon Jin or Amidala. Nope, "monotone" is not a character attribute.

Embedded above is part one. Follow this link for all seven parts. Oh, and yes, after part 2 in particular these videos get pretty hilarious. If you're not comfortable with serial killer jokes you may wish to move on, however.

EDIT: Language warning etc.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Incredible Calvin and Hobbes wallpaper

Hoy So has put together an awe-inspiring collection of high-res Calvin and Hobbes wallpapers for your pleasure. Just click to scope the quality on this stuff:


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chomsky on understanding the Right

Noted anarchist/socialist Noam Chomsky puts together a surprisingly good case for dealing with the Right in ways other than ridicule:
So take right now, for example, there is a right-wing populist uprising. It's very common, even on the left, to just ridicule them, but that's not the right reaction. If you look at those people and listen to them on talk radio, these are people with real grievances. I listen to talk radio a lot and it's kind of interesting. If you can sort of suspend your knowledge of the world and just enter into the world of the people who are calling in, you can understand them. I've never seen a study, but my sense is that these are people who feel really aggrieved. These people think, "I've done everything right all my life, I'm a god-fearing Christian, I'm white, I'm male, I've worked hard, and I carry a gun. I do everything I'm supposed to do. And I'm getting shafted." And in fact they are getting shafted. For 30 years their wages have stagnated or declined, the social conditions have worsened, the children are going crazy, there are no schools, there's nothing, so somebody must be doing something to them, and they want to know who it is. Well Rush Limbaugh has answered - it's the rich liberals who own the banks and run the government, and of course run the media, and they don't care about you—they just want to give everything away to illegal immigrants and gays and communists and so on.

Well, you know, the reaction we should be having to them is not ridicule, but rather self-criticism. Why aren't we organizing them? I mean, we are the ones that ought to be organizing them, not Rush Limbaugh. There are historical analogs, which are not exact, of course, but are close enough to be worrisome. This is a whiff of early Nazi Germany. Hitler was appealing to groups with similar grievances, and giving them crazy answers, but at least they were answers; these groups weren't getting them anywhere else. It was the Jews and the Bolsheviks [that were the problem].

I mean, the liberal democrats aren't going to tell the average American, "Yeah, you're being shafted because of the policies that we've established over the years that we're maintaining now." That's not going to be an answer. And they're not getting answers from the left. So, there's an internal coherence and logic to what they get from Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the rest of these guys. And they sound very convincing, they're very self-confident, and they have an answer to everything—a crazy answer, but it's an answer. And it's our fault if that goes on. So one thing to be done is don't ridicule these people, join them, and talk about their real grievances and give them a sensible answer, like, "Take over your factories."
I find this an interesting, immediately appealing perspective. There was a time that I felt a very real sense of comfort in the simplistic worldview of neoconservatism - the idea that outsiders (both geographical outsiders and people proposing foreign ideas and points of view) were to blame for most of our problems, that authority figures need not be bound by petty codes of law in keeping us "safe," and that appeals to ambiguity and open-mindedness were left-wing tricks designed to cloud the truths I already believed in - truths that were immediately appealing, self-justifying, and, most importantly, simple.

All of this changed once I began to appreciate subtlety, ambiguity, and the sort of relativism that comes from understanding others. It seems appropriate that the intellectual Left, long a proponent of this sort of thinking, ought to consider Right-wingers on their own terms and work to understand and benefit them rather than dismissing them as a caricature of selfish ignorance. Obviously I've been guilty of this behavior in the past (and the powerful who manipulate the unenlightened masses really do deserve condemnation), though it seems beneficial to strive for an ideal of mutual understanding rather than thoughtless denunciation.


Thoughts on Fantastic Mr. Fox

The film is charmingly ragged, both in design and writing, to the point that neither I nor my date could figure out if the consistently uneven picture focus was intentional or a projector error. The deadpan dialogue is subtle, humorous and breezy, with witty lines that don't spell out the jokes behind them. Scenes play out in unexpectedly creative ways due to the confident production, full of manic details and wonderful surrealism.

The movie almost seems symbolic, the specifics of the plot being mostly unimportant, at times like a sustained short film in its retro creativity. The aforementioned surreal elements add much to the film's effect (incendiary pinecones, wunderkind Kristofferson immediately grasping the rules of the incoherent game whackbat and the odd concentric eye circles gag). I've never seen a Wes Anderson before but this film makes a compelling case - it's subtle, full of thought and art, and comes straight out of left-field in intentionally awkward stop-motion glory. I really can't recommend this enough for anybody tired of cookie-cutter CGI romps and formulaic animated buddy films. It isn't Dahl's book in essence, but uses the book as a playground for something else entirely, something wonderful.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Tetris God

College humor has gotten less and less awkward - they've aged nicely. Here's the best clip I've seen so far - The Tetris God.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A thought on "playing God"

Whether you believe in it or not, deciding whether or not to keep somebody on life support, perform stem cell research, wage war or use birth control is not "playing God." These things fall squarely within our limited abilities as human beings. Just because God may be able to do something doesn't mean we're encroaching on any divine territory by doing it too. "Playing God" would have to involve moving beyond our natural abilities. It's inherently impossible.

That is all.