Random Thoughts LCIX

October 14th, 2009

1) I may be the only person in the world who still types out "http://" before entering a URL in a web browser.

2) In any building with multiple elevator banks, only one of the elevators should stop at the second (or "first", if you're a European) floor, and only two should stop at the third. I fail to see why everyone in a crowded elevator should be forced to wait for some asshole who is too lazy to walk up one flight of stairs to get off a single story above where they started. Fuck you, you lazy fucks. We're going to be stopping on the fourth, fifth, *and* seventh floors before we get to my floor and I don't see why your lazy ass should be allowed to delay everyone else.

Obviously, there are people who suffer impaired mobility, and thus one of the elevators should feature the ability to stop at every floor. But just one God Damn It.

Alternately, anyone without a wheelchair or a walking stick who gets off the elevator at the second floor should be attacked by wasps. Just train them to viciously attack anyone over a certain height leaving the elevator at a speed greater than "very slow". I'd chip in to pay for that.

Reviews: District 9, Ponyo, Outlander, Zombieland

October 7th, 2009

District 9 - 7.5/10

I enjoyed District 9, and I feel a little guilty giving it only a seven and a half because I suspect that my impression is colored by the very high expectations I had going in. It was a little gorier than I would have liked, and a fair amount of the plot/premise was far-fetched. Not the aliens showing up in the first place - sure, why not? - but the ultimate resolution of the story was highly questionable, as was the rather blase ghettoization of the aliens. Space aliens are simply far too interesting to have them plunked into a shantytown and largely forgotten. Moreover, the base level of evil in the human characters in the movie - I am thinking particularly in terms of the corporate "medical" staff - was unrealistic without further explanation.

That said, the look of the film was fantastic and exceptionally believable, without resorting to nausea-cam as is so popular these days. The story was interesting and held my attention, and I really enjoyed the alien weapons.

Ponyo - 7/10

We took the 3.5 year old to see Ponyo. He enjoyed it, although ultimately the theater experience was too much and he took to wandering up and down the stairs. (Fortunately, we were literally alone in the theater.) We also enjoyed it. I'm a Miyazaki aficionado, which meant both that I enjoyed the film but ultimately recognized it as a trifle, an enjoyable diversion not on the level of Nausicaa or Howl's Moving Castle.

One of the many reasons I enjoy anime is that, occasionally, something is represented in a way that Western animation simply has not done and yet is a perfect representation; in Ponyo that thing was an overhead view of Sosuke swimming, where the splashes from his kicking were disconnected explosions of water, no feet in sight. It's nothing I would have ever pictured before and yet, seeing it, it was totally right. It looked just the way that it ought.

Outlander - 4/10

After seeing this film (on DVD), my wife and I were both dumber.

I'm okay with mixing Vikings and Space Aliens. Could be the basis for a fine movie. I like Jim Caviezel. There were some fun things in this film, such as a race atop a ring of uplifted shields during a viking mead bash.

But good God, was it ever dumb. And it got worse, and worse... the protagonists climb down a well after the monster to discover a cavern lit by molten lava. In Norway. Down a well. Whale oil explodes like C-4. A spacefaring civilization find a nice planet and prepares it for colonization by carpet bombing the whole god-damned thing. And the kicker, the final capstone of idiocy: the protagonist stands by his homing device as, above him, the landing lights of a spaceship come to rescue him draw closer. He agonizes a moment (lower and lower come the lights) and then he destroys the homing device! He will stay!

And the rescue ship flies away.

The fuck was that? "Well, the beacon cut off, let's bail." "Isn't that him down there, standing next to it?" "I said let's go!"


Zombieland - 8/10

I really enjoyed Zombieland, and more tellingly, my wife also enjoyed it. It was gory, which in my book is not a plus but then one would expect it in a zombie movie, but it was also funny, uproariously so in parts. She spent the first quarter of the film with her hands in front of her eyes, and the last third laughing continuously.

Zombieland doesn't aim to be more than a zombie-riffic dark comedy, and it succeeds admirably. Lots of zombies, lots of wit, interesting characters and a solid story. What more can one ask?

Pulled Away

October 2nd, 2009

Writing is hard. And the hardest part, by far, is getting started. Not writing a beginning - that's easy - but simply sitting down at any point and writing when you could be doing something else, something easier, something requiring less commitment.

I appear to be getting back into it after a long dry spell. (I say "appear" because my hand is only one of several on the tiller of my fate, many of them invisible. Hopefully I will return to regular exercise soon, too.) One thing I will observe about writing, the observation that spurred this post: when it's good, it's totally captivating.

In almost three years I have only missed my BART stop twice - and in both cases, it was because I was writing. Most days on BART (particularly in recent months) I am reading, sometimes quite good books, but I've never actually missed my stop because of one. Good books have resulted in my being startled at how quickly time has passed - but the physical sensation of stopping at a station has always been sufficient to engage enough awareness to get me off the train.

This morning I looked up and the station the train was arriving at was the one after mine. Hadn't even been aware that we'd stopped earlier.

Things I Learned at the Fair This Weekend

September 29th, 2009

We went to the Alameda County Fairgrounds this weekend to take the boy (well, the boys, but the 4 month old didn't really get much out of it) to "Kid's Fair". It was a scorcher, somewhere near 100 degrees, but we got there before 11 and left before 3 and the boy had a fine time on the myriad bounce houses and powered swings.

I hadn't been to a fair in a while, and although this wasn't the actual county fair (no 4-H, etc), it was pretty close. I made some interesting observations:

1) Tats have become damn near ubiquitous, at least amongst fair-goers. Good lord, was the clientele ever tattooed. One in two? One in three? had major ink. We're not talking ankle butterflies, we're talking half of the Bhagavad Gita and a werewolf on a Harley on their upper back. It was like being on a South Seas trading ship.

2) Monster corn dogs, although monstrous, are not a culinary improvement on regular corn dogs.

3) Fairs are still an enterprise in sucking money from your pocket. Parking fee $8, entrance fee $10, rides $3 each, monster corn dogs $7, small bottle of water $2...

Still, a fun excursion.

Facts Are Just A Little Harder To Shape Than Lies

September 29th, 2009

As regular readers of this column - both of them - may have deduced, I'm in favor of government-run health insurance. Markets are awesome, powerful tools, but in the case of health insurance they are absolutely the wrong tool. The incentives are completely inappropriate.

That said, I try to be open minded. One of the primary "factual" drivers for health care reform in the United States is that it's ridiculously expensive, i.e. Americans as a whole pay a lot more than any other industrialized nation (to the tune of 17.6% of GDP in 2009, whereas the next highest nations hover around 10%), yet we get poorer results; the most common example being our life expectancy, which far from being the top, is firmly in the middle-bottom of the pack of industrialized nations.

Several people of conservative/libertarian bent whom I respect recently informed me that that second part is misleading; that, in fact, were one to remove automobile accidents, homicide, and suicide from the life expectancy number, the United States is actually number one! Seems reasonable - neither homicide nor auto accidents have much to do with preventative medicine, and I am well aware of the adage "lies, damned lies, and statistics".

Sure enough, a pair of economists named Ohsfeldt and Schneider published a report in 2006 that comes to this exact conclusion. Take out the car crashes and violent crime and the United States jumps to the front of life expectancy! Ha! So much for the conventional wisdom. Maybe all that cash is buying something after all!

Except, of course, it turns out that Ohsfeldt and Schneider are working for the dogma mill known as the American Enterprise Institute. And to get their numbers, they didn't just take out accidents and violent crime - they also added in GDP. If you perform exactly the same exercise but don't put GDP into the mix, you discover that the U.S. life expectancy goes from 19th place out of 29 countries... to 17th place out of 29 countries.

Lies, damned lies, and anything coming out of the American Enterprise Institute. There's more on Ohsfeldt and Schneider's book here.

There is an argument for a smaller government. There is an argument for lower taxes (although at this point on the Laffer curve, not a good one). But the underlying data provided by - and given to - conservatives is so heavily cooked it's limp. Of course, a lie will travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on, and I guess that's the point.

Anyways, nuking the Cato Institute, the AEI, and all of the "think tanks" founded with a mission to bend facts to fit ideology, would be a good first step. Nuke them until they glow. I think it's an appropriate use for a technology brought to us by Big Government.