Movie Review: Appaloosa

November 11th, 2008

5.5/10. Mildly interesting, no real punch to it or in fact a point at all. I liked Viggo Mortensen.

I Didn't Miss It, Honest

November 11th, 2008

The most historic election in, well, decades (or by some measures, centuries) and Oso was on blogging hiatus. I have served you poorly, my public. Both of you. Thanks to my co-bloggers for actually being here.

I was involved, of course, and semi-conscientiously watched the results coming in. I saw the Ohio moment, which was pretty much the stake in the coffin, though I had to watch Obama's speech on the Internet as I missed it live.

As I was watching some wrap-up coverage at about midnight, I heard a car idling outside. I went out front to see what was up and got to watch the truck driving off with the Obama sign they had stolen from my (and many of my neighbors') yard. Had I a shotgun loaded with rock salt that truck would now be sans rear window.

Emotionally, I was surprised to find myself joyful but not elated. (Not about the sign, the election.) When Kerry was defeated I was really crushed, and I think my faith in the American public was permanently lowered. But this victory... I don't know. Perhaps it comes after too many years of too many people aggressively supporting terrible, terrible government. I'm not disappointed in the Bush administration, I'm disappointed in the people who supported them, their lying liars in the press and the stupid 50% of the American public who let us all be bilked along for the ride.

Having competence back in government doesn't change the fundamental problem: that a large, often majority share, of the American public are half-wits. Some of them virulently so. I am already depressed and tired of the constant blare of lies and hate from Fox News and their ilk towards the new administration. I worry that even among reasonable people, expectations are too high, that the problems we have amassed are too great.

I worry that some asshole is going to shoot the president-elect.

So I am happy, yes. Joyful even. The forces of good - and make no mistake, this is clearly a battle between good and evil, truth and lies, charity and greed - won a victory. But I am not sanguine about the future.

What would really please me would be for the Republicans to tack to the center again, to become more the party of Dewey and Eisenhower and less that of hateful, small-minded liars. So that the Republic could, for a little while at least, have reasonable discourse between people who disagree, rather than combat between two parties, one of which relies purely on slander and machination and the sheep-like qualities of their followers.

That, I would truly be thankful to see.

Structured by Cows

October 23rd, 2008

There are lots of reasons for the current economic woes. However, if one were to want to pin blame on a single entity, one culprit without whom the current credit crisis and its waves of high-profile bankruptcies and government bailouts would not have happened, there is just such an entity to blame.

Actually, two.

Moody's and Standard & Poors.

These bond rating agencies rated billions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities as 'AAA', when clearly they were not. They did so because they are paid by the issuers of the securities. It is the unmasking of these securities as being worth nothing, rather than being 'AAA' solid gold, that is the root of the current global credit crisis. Had these two ratings agencies - private companies motivated only by profit - actually rated these securities with their actual risk rather than the risk their issuers were pushing for, none of this would have happened. They told investors that what were actually risky investments were rock solid. Simply put, they lied.

And, apparently, the folks working at the ratings agencies knew it.

S&P analysts, 2007:

Rahul Dilip Shah: btw: that deal is ridiculous

Shannon Mooney: I know right ... model def does not capture half of the risk

Rahul Dilip Shah: we should not be rating it

Shannon Mooney: we rate every deal

Shannon Mooney: it could be structured by cows and we would rate it

Review: Neal Stephenson's Anathem

October 21st, 2008

My son loves to go to the bookstore. Not for the books, although he is a fan of books (or at least having them read to him), but for the Thomas the Tank Engine playset that our local Barnes & Noble has set up in their childrens' section. So at least once a week we zip over to B&N to let the boy play on the train set. One of us will sit and watch him while the other peruses the books, and then we'll tag out.

I noticed the most recent time there that apparently the fall books all came out at once, for suddenly the shelves held numerous new books by my favorite authors. I immediately seized upon Anathem, for Neal Stephenson is probably my favorite living author. It's a weighty tome at 960 pages, but that's the direction Stephenson has been going in. Most authors do.

I've enjoyed all his work, including the early Stephen Bury stuff, The Big U, all the way up through the Baroque cycle. Snow Crash is still my favorite Stephenson book, which would probably frustrate him a little if he knew, but each new work is nonetheless excellent and contains obvious growth. The Baroque cycle was superb.

Anathem... well. My feelings about Anathem are complicated. On the one hand, I will direct your attention to this graph, which describes Anathem in spades. On the other hand...

I'm going to read it again.

I don't think I've ever read a book twice in a row. Anathem has flaws, numerous ones: it has Stephenson's usual weak touch with emotions - light bordering facile - it has long stretches of pure explication of philosophical points, it has characters seemingly entirely immune to surprise. It's swimming in "new" words (see XKCD, above). At times it's boring. Other times the action is so continuous the reader feels unmoored.

And yet, it's also awesome. It presents a parallel world with startlingly fascinating elements. It has compelling characters, an interesting story, and is for all the shortcomings very well told. I want to immerse myself in that world again, and pick up on the parts I glossed over the first time.

Is it for you? I don't know. I enjoy Stephenson; more importantly, I love history, and the parallels in Anathem with our world were interesting and obvious. Other reviewers have dubbed it a cross between The Name of the Rose and Goedel, Escher, Bach, and I must agree with that analysis. The Name of the Rose - along with A World Lit Only by Fire and A Distant Mirror - is one of my favorite books.

In the final analysis, Anathem is going on the top shelf, along with John Julius Norwich's Byzantine trilogy and C.V. Wedgwood's The Thirty Years' War. Anathem is a great book. It has its flaws, but it was at the same time a thoroughly enjoyable read and a compelling headspace to be in. I give it 9/10.

First-Place Loser

October 21st, 2008

So get this; the woman with the fastest time at the recent (10/19/08) San Francisco Nike Women's Marathon didn't win, place, or show. She wasn't eligible to, you see, since she wasn't part of the preselected "elite" group.

Here's the story. Apparently, the organizers of a marathon select the people who are actually eligible to win ahead of time; the hoi polloi who aren't part of the chosen are entirely ineligible to win, regardless of their actual results.

On the one hand, I can see the justification for this. On the other hand - no, fuck that. That's wrong. She ran the course the fastest. The fact that she wasn't running actually ahead of those chosen to start together twenty minutes earlier means nothing. She ran as fast as she could, if they did not do the same they don't deserve to win.

Arien O'Connell, you are the gold medalist. Race producer Dan Hirsch, and any other race officials behind this ruling, you are dead wrong. Competitive sports are about actual performance, not about you choosing who may win and who may not. Go take a long walk off a short pier, or, better, resign.