Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's no Pixar

I went to see Monsters vs. Aliens today, and while I was entertained I couldn't help but think about how much better Pixar's movies are than the ones coming from the other animation studios. At least, that's what I always suspect, as Pixar's are the only ones that I bother to see in the theater, and the others simply never looked interesting enough for me to check out (with the exception of the first Ice Age and the first Shrek). After seeing this one, which was from Dreamworks, my feelings have only been confirmed.

I wrote some time ago about how I enjoy kids movies just as much as I enjoy movies that are for adults. I just tend to like them in different ways. Also, I hate the rationale that a movie can be a piece of crap so long as it's for kids. Why should the expectations go down for kids' movies? Sure, their standards are lower, but why should movies cater to that? Kids will like a smart movie just as much, and what's better, they'll still like them when they get older (as the classic Disney movies have proven).

Now, I wouldn't call Monsters vs. Aliens a piece of crap. After all, it's getting generally good reviews, which is one of the deciding factors behind me going to see it. (The first, and more important, factor is that I simply love the premise. It's so goofy that I just couldn't resist it.) There's also a lot about the story that's pretty good, as it has a pretty positive message. Not only that, but it really looks amazing. While I don't have any interest in buying it when it comes to Blu-Ray, I'm glad that I saw this one on the big screen and in 3-D.

There were just a few things that kinda bothered me about it. First of all, the 3-D, while amazing at times, was often just plain gimmicky. Characters did things for no reason other than to show off the 3-D technology. For me, that was pretty distracting and took me right out of the movie every time it happened. When it was just part of the story, then it was great, but some producer or something probably saw the completed product and told them to shoe-horn in some more images that fly off the screen.

Secondly, while I like most of the actors who lent voices to the movie, I felt like it was more like stunt casting to impress the adults more than anything. Reese Witherspoon really worked in the lead role, but Seth Rogen was distracting, as I was constantly aware that it was him. Worst of all was Stephen Colbert as the President. While I'm definitely a fan of Colbert, I was taken out of the movie every time the President spoke.

Thirdly, there are a lot of really cheap gags in it - some of them didn't even make any sense. The most glaring one that comes to mind was (dont' read ahead if you don't want to know) when the President went up to the alien spaceship in order to make contact. The first thing he did was play the Close Encounters theme on a keyboard. Okay, that's funny. Next up, he makes the Star Trek Vulcan greeting with his hand. Still, pretty amusing, as obviously all he knows about aliens is from the movies. Then he starts to play "Axl F." on the keyboard while doing a silly little dance. "Axl F"? What the F? You know, it's the theme song from Beverly Hills Cop. Yeah, the one that every jerkoff with a keyboard could play shortly after the movie came out. Of course, the kids were laughing as they watched the President do his silly little dance, but I was wondering what exactly the adults were laughing at. What exactly is the joke there? Why would he even do that? Yeah, yeah, it's a cartoon, I know. I can handle plot inconsistencies, but I take my humor seriously. What annoys me the most is that I know that there could have been a much funnier in-context joke that would have worked much better.

This is the sort of thing that made me avoid so many other animated movies. I guess it all started with Shrek, as it had all sorts of pop-culture references, but then a wave of movies hit afterwards where that seemed to be all they had going for them. This one wasn't nearly as bad as that, but I still felt like they were trying too hard to impress the adults, when adults will be more impressed with a good story. (Some of them will, at least.)

So, if you have some kids that you have to take to see a movie, then you'll enjoy it enough to not feel like you wasted your time. I suppose that technology geeks will get a kick out of the 3-D. Other than that, you can pretty much skip this one.

Me? I'm going to watch Wall-E again tonight to cleanse my palate a little.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spiritually devoid of balls

I'm not religious. I'm just spiritual.

Doesn't that crap just make you wanna puke? Ever hear somebody say that before? What the heck does it even mean?

I started thinking about this shortly after writing my last post where Montel Williams claimed on Oprah's show that people need to be "spiritual". It's getting further removed from my memory, but I recall that he was sure to make some sort of equivocation about how "it doesn't matter what you call it" just so long as you have some sort of spiritual side. So, apparently Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Falun Gong, and the cult of Dionysus all pretty much do the same job. Is it just me, or is this about as close to admitting that it's all bullcrap that a person can possibly get without actually flat-out stating that it's all bullcrap?

The way I see it, people who claim to not be religious, and just "spiritual" are basically people who just don't have any balls. They're not willing to go along with the precepts of a particular religion because that would involve some sort of genuine dedication, and they're not willing to admit to atheism or even agnosticism because apparently that's closed-minded or whatever.

I read the book Religious Literacy some time ago, and it not only went over the basic religious literacy that people should have, but it also went over a whole history of religious literacy in this country. One of the big ironies is that we're essentially one of the most religious countries, but we're the least-informed when it comes to religion. The author, Stephen Prothero, was also sure to point out that one of the misconceptions that people (like Montel Williams, obviously) have about the various religions is that they're all essentially the same. While it may be true that you'll find a few similarities, it's a mistake to think that they're all on the same path. They all emphasize different things. While I'm not an expert, I know that Buddhism is a totally different thought-process than Christianity. It doesn't concern itself with sin and an afterlife so much as it concerns itself with achieving happiness in this life.

Maybe it's all just a product of this politically-correct climate in which we live. People don't want to offend anybody, but at the same time, they're losing the courage of their convictions. Shoot, it's actually more like they don't even HAVE any convictions.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Drunks are happier too

Kirsti was watching Oprah just now, and the guest was Montel Williams. I was reading comics, but I did overhear much of it. For the most part, it was pretty interesting, as he was talking about dealing with M.S.

One thing struck me though was his comments on how this has changed him spiritually. He pointed out how psychology has proven that generally speaking, people with a spiritual side tend to be happier than those who don't have one, and a spiritual side is essential when dealing with this sort of a thing.

Well, he is basically right. However, this isn't to say that there aren't any faithless people who are also happy. Also, there are plenty of miserable people who are believers. Still, his point is the same.

These kinds of things make me think though. First of all, even if this is true, it still doesn't have any bearing on the veracity of spiritual and religious claims. Second of all, what exactly should a person like me do if I ever find myself with a debilitating illness? How do I just make myself believe? How do I believe in something that I don't actually believe? Is it possible to engage in cognitive dissonance when you know what cognitive dissonance is? Especially when you already learned to conquer it?

Oh well, if it works for some people, then more power to them, I guess. I just wish that humanity could work on happiness without the delusions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let's make this clear

I will stay the night in any "haunted house". My asking price is $100 and that you pay for any and all expenses involved in me getting there.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cloning Fred Flintsone

I heard about this some time ago, and the thought has been bubbling over in the back of my mind ever since, as I figured that I'd eventually write about it.

Ever see Jurassic Park? You know, the one where they clone and breed dinosaurs, only to have everything go nuts as a T-Rex and a couple of velociraptors break loose? Of course, as of right now (and even more true - back then) it is impossible to clone dinosaurs. However, the technology that they use in the movie was based on some real science, although it extrapolated into what's definitely the realm of science fiction.

Turns out though that there are some pre-historic animals that are much more likely to be cloned. One of them is a woolly mammoth. While I'm not the most well-versed in the technical mumbo jumbo of how all this works, it's obvious that we would have fewer difficulties than we would with dinosaurs. For one, the DNA that we have is probably much more intact. Also, they were clearly mammals, and from what I remember, we could theoretically impregnate an elephant with a mammoth.

Again, this isn't a science journal, people. Look this stuff up, as I'm going off of what I remember from months ago. Anyway, I find this idea fascinating. Personally, I think that we should go for it. Just imagine - bringing back a prehistoric beast! I'd pay just to see a video of it.

Another hypothetical is the prospect of cloning a Neanderthal. For those of you who don't know, the Neanderthal are a long-since extinct (by about 30,000 years) species of humans. They disappeared in Europe around the same time that modern humans started to appear there. From what I understand, it's still unclear exactly what happened to them. Did they breed with modern humans or did they simply go extinct (possibly by being driven out by the modern humans)?

Oh, I should probably mention that according to creationists, the Neanderthal Man was simply a man with arthritis. Look it up for yourself - I kid you not. This isn't some strawman argument that I'm making; that's really the kind of crap they believe. For some reason, they're under the impression that 1) only one Neanderthal has ever been found, and 2) having arthritis gives you ape-like features. Morons.

Anyway, when it comes to this one, I definitely think that we shouldn't "play God" on this one. I mean, is a different species of human still a...well, HUMAN? Would a Neanderthal have the same rights? What if they are just as capable of learning as we are? What if they're even moreso? What would give us the right to experiment and/or study one the same way we would study some other animal? (And let's not forget that there's some moral dilemma about THAT as well.)

The whole thing just raises too many questions. While part of me thinks that it would be fascinating, it just doesn't seem right. Don't get me wrong; I realize the possibility that doing such a thing could lead to all sorts of radical breakthroughs in science. However, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum's character in Jurassic Park, before we start thinking about whether we CAN clone one, we really need to take a good, hard look at whether we SHOULD clone one.

So, until then - I'm against it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Punisher War Zone - not the worst movie ever

While my curiosity didn't overwhelm me to the point where I had to check out Punisher: War Zone in the theaters, I made sure to put it on the top of my Netflix queue as soon as it came out. After all, I have a soft spot for the character. While I'm not nearly as enamored with him as I was in high school (back when I was more of a capital punishment kind of a guy) I still follow up on his comic adventures now and then. So, it was inevitable that I would see this one.

My verdict is this: It's the best Punisher movie ever made. However, this is kind of like saying that my last bout of inflamed herpes was the best one ever. (I don't actually have herpes, but it's the best metaphor I've got.) The problem with the first one was mainly that it was cheaply made with a talentless actor and was clearly made by people who had never read the comics. The second one had a better cast, but it was really confused as to what it wanted to be. There are definitely some scenes in that film that I like, but it really doesn't add up to a cohesive whole. What's worse, the plot was just so darned meandering. Why exactly is he just hanging around so he can be attacked again instead of just going out there and taking out the bad guys himself? Also, it tried to have moments of dark comedy, but if you're going to go dark comedy, you have to go all the way. (And this approach has worked in some of the better Punisher comics. Basically, he works best when the writer understands that the man is not a hero at all - he's a murderer, even though he murders people who pretty much have it coming.)

So, why is this one the best one? Well, before I go on, let me make it clear that I am in NO WAY saying that this is actually a good movie. In fact, it's definitely a bad film. It has plot holes. It has some bad acting. However, I was definitely entertained, and the whole thing went by rather fast. So, the good things include the following:

1. The lead. Ray Stevenson looks more like Frank Castle than anybody who's played him so far. Thomas Jane is actually a better actor, but in a movie like this, I'm not exactly looking for an amazing performance. Stevenson did what I'd call a serviceable job. He didn't bring to The Punisher what Robert Downey, Jr., Tobey Maguire, Hugh Jackman and Christopher Reeve brought to Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Superman (respectively), but he does the job well enough for me not to complain. (And we know he can act from Rome, where his character, Titus Pullo, was easily my favorite.)

2. The look. Yeah, it has that dark look that we've seen a million times before, but it fits the character better than the look of the last one.

3. The villains. Jigsaw! Totally cheesy, totally over-the-top, but I have to admit that I was entertained every time he was on screen. Let's face it, after Ledger as The Joker, it's going to be hard to be a super villain in a comic book movie. This brought nothing new to the table, but it was fun. His cannibal brother was kinda lame though, and the rooftop jumping thugs were totally dorky (but their fates more than made up for that little problem).

4. The story. No, it wasn't good, and as I stated before, there were definitely some plot holes. However, my biggest problem with the last one was that it had absolutely no momentum to it. One thing happened, and then another thing happened, only to be followed by something else. This one though, seemed to be going somewhere. Perhaps the word that I'm looking for would really be pacing rather than story, but as I stated before, it went along well enough to make me not think too much of the problems until afterwards.

My grade would be D+ for this movie. Hardly a glowing recommendation, I know. I probably enjoyed it more than that, but that's because of my aforementioned soft spot for the character and comic book movies in general. I probably enjoyed it at a C+/B- level, but if I were to be objective about it, I'd stick with the D+. The others? D- and D.

I'll probably wind up buying this one when it's really cheap. I have a feeling that I probably won't have to wait too long for that.

Are lagers worth it?

It's much too early for me to be asking that particular question, but I can't help but think it considering that my first attempt at a lager was an absolute failure. The main problem is that my Munich Helles, which is supposed to be lightly malty and refreshing wound up having a buttered popcorn aftertaste. Trust me, that's not a good thing. Apparently, this is the result of something called diacetyl. I tried to do something called a "diacetyl rest" at the end of fermentation, where you raise the temperature to 65 degrees at the end of fermentation, and that's supposed to get rid of those flavors. Unfortunately, the weather was so cold that I didn't quite make it, and I probably started the process much to late.

Diacetyl is present in a lot of beers, and when you have that with more complex ales, then it's desirable (to a certain degree). Of course, now that I can precisely identify it, I can't help but notice it in my American Red Ale, but I should probably try another one of those after my brain forgets the taste a little. (Even though I noticed it in my American Red, I was able to finish it just fine, and I didn't have a nasty taste in my mouth afterward. I think that I may just be hyper sensitive to it right now.)

That wasn't the only problem with my Helles. They also would start gushing out when I opened up the bottles, and that's never a good sign. So, it basically looks like lagers are a wee bit more difficult to make than ales. Right now, I have an Oktoberfest in the fermenter, and I'm hoping that I won't repeat the mistake. What really stinks about it is that I have to wait even longer than I would with an ale to find out if it got messed up or not. I won't be able to do a proper taste for at least another two months now. That's a long time to wait in suspense.

Have I had problems with my ales? Sure, but I had made several batches before I ever had a problem. With my first lager going bad, I'm wondering if all this was worth the trouble. I'll let you know in a couple of months.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Well, that stinks...

Few things are more frustrating than when you're about to write an angry rant about something that somebody said, only to find out that he was somewhat misquoted, and what he actually said wasn't nearly offensive for your planned rant.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Work harder, make more money!

When the wealthy are asked to pay their fair share of taxes in this country, conservatives often like to complain with an argument that goes someting along the lines of "Why should the people who work the hardest be punished by paying more taxes?"

Is there anybody out there who really believes that this is a good argument? While there are certainly some hard-working rich people (like James Brown, when he was alive) doesn't it seem a bit crazy to imply that rich people are rich because they've worked harder? Some of them are rich because they were born into money. Some are rich because of some sound investments. Some are rich because they were hired into the family business. Some are rich because of dumb luck. I mean, does Paris Hilton work harder than your garbageman? I would have to guess that no, she does not. Why does he have less money then?

I can speak from my own experience that the amount in which I've been paid has not always been proportionate to how hard I've worked. If I look at my last job, my dot com gig at, I certainly didn't work anywhere near as hard as I often do as a teacher. And even though this is my eighth year of teaching, I'm still not making nearly as much as I did when I was first hired there.

Sometimes, the pay meets the amount of work. I hardly did a thing at the cybercafe, but I also barely made any money. I did more work at LookSmart, and I got paid a lot more. I worked about the same at as I did at LookSmart, and I got paid about twice as much. Go figure, huh?

What really gets me is that most of the conservatives I hear aren't even rich enough to be affected by this sort of a thing. Even if this is "redistributing the wealth", I think that many of these folks who parrot Limbaugh, O'Reilly, etcetera would only stand to gain from it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Look who wants to be all nuanced all of a sudden

While this is old news, there's still a bit of back and forth on the Internet and in the news regarding Rush Limbaugh's comments about how he wants President Obama to fail. Of course, conservatives are lightning-quick to defend their ditto-purveyor, explaining that what Limbaugh meant was that Obama's plans were socialist, and they didn't want socialism to succeed in this country. 'Cause, ya know, socialism is bad. Why is it bad? Because of Stalin or something, I guess.

I find this hilarious that the conservatives are crying foul on this one, as nobody can quote mine like a conservative. I remember listening to Hannity's radio show one time where he kept repeating that Obama had stated that he would "bomb our allies and negotiate with our enemies". (That might not be the exact quote, but trust me, I'm not far off.) Of course, this was a stupid over-simplification of what Obama had actually said. Regarding the "bomb our allies" part, he said that he would be willing to act on intelligence regarding Bin Laden's whereabouts even if that meant that Bin Laden was in Pakistan. (I, for one, wonder why conservatives, of all people, should have such a problem with that.) As for our enemies, this was covered in the debates, as Obama expressed willingness to talk to Iran. Of course, conservatives would practically have you believe that this means that he was willing to allow Iran to set up a military base in our country or something like that.

The thing is with Limbaugh's statement is that even in context, it's still a screwed up thing to say. Imagine if somebody said that they wished that we'd lose in Iraq because they thought that it was an unjust war. (Of course, I heard a lot of conservatives accuse people of saying this, but I had never actually heard anybody say it. That's not to say that I can't imagine anybody at all saying it, but that certainly wasn't the argument being put forward by the majority of war critics.) Basically, Limbaugh would prefer the country to face an economic disaster than have himself be proved wrong.

I don't know why he worries though, it's not like conservative pundits to acknowledge facts. Even if things do turn around and the country emerges better than ever, he'll still say that he was right about everything. And there will be plenty of "ditto-heads" to back him up.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's not necessary, really

In May, my wife and I will have been married for seven years. We've been together for several years before that, bringing the grand total up to well over ten years. (I'm bad with numbers - I want to say twelve, but never trust me when it comes to math.) In all that time, we haven't really had a whole lot of fights. I mean, we've had disagreements. We've had arguments. We've been mad, and we've even shouted at one another. The last thing happens once in a blue moon though, and it tends to not last for very long when it does happen. The bottom line is: we just don't fight very much.

Of course, this isn't and shouldn't be a big deal. After all, we love each other, and if you want a relationship that really lasts, fighting doesn't really help it all that much (although many marriages are able to survive that). Basically, neither one of us likes to fight. I won't speak for Kirsti, but I know for myself that I saw too much fighting between my parents. I really don't want to relive that sort of a thing for my life.

Basically, our fights tend to end pretty quickly because we both hate to fight, and we also hate to stay mad at each other. This means that both of us are willing to apologize and talk to the other so we can smooth out whatever the problem is. So far, it seems to be working out just fine.

What prompted this whole post though was that I've heard a couple times (never really to my face, but always indirectly) that some people think that there's something wrong with a couple that doesn't fight a lot. You know, as though fighting was some sort of prerequisite for a good relationship. Of course, these comments always seem to come from somebody who's in a relationship that involves a lot of fighting, and I suppose that they need to feel better about that somehow.

Still...what a thing to say, huh? Now, I can understand how a couple might not necessarily be happy simply because they don't fight a lot. After all, the reason for it may simply be because the two don't really communicate at all, and they tend to shut each other out. That would certainly be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. Still, Kirsti and I talk to one another. We sit and have dinner together (with the TV off) almost every night and talk. We also like to spend time together. When I say that I don't want to be around anybody on the weekend, I'm obviously not including my wife. We've also have always had a good time traveling together, as we tend to not get on one another's nerves.

The thing is, I've been around plenty of bickering couples in my day. They can have it. If not fighting several times a week means that there's something wrong with our relationship, I guess I'm just going to have to (gladly) live with that.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Holy crap! Hitler wasn't Jewish! Goddammit!

I've been teaching Animal Farm to my freshmen over the past couple of weeks, and we're going to be wrapping it all up pretty soon. Now obviously, this is a book that's simply about animals, and there's absolutely no subtext to it whatsoever. After all, who wants things with a bunch of meaning and crap? Life's too difficult when you burden people with layers of understanding.

With that said, I tend to find myself mentioning things like Marxism (you know, like what our President follows), the Russian Revolution, and the rise of Joseph Stalin. And for some crazy reason, when we talk about the cruel farmer known as Mr. Frederick, I find myself mentioning Adolf Hitler. And you know something? The next person who tells me that Hitler was Jewish, as though it was a matter of absolute undisputed fact, gets punched in the face.

Okay, let's just settle this here and now. Hitler was not Jewish. Why are people saying that he is then? Well, there's a rumor that his grandfather maybe might have possibly maybe could have been Jewish. However, there's absolutely nothing concrete to verify this, so it's more logical to simply assume that he wasn't. After all, it's maybe possible that I'm in line for the throne of the United Kingdom, seeing as how I do have some English ancestry, but nobody's inviting me to Buckingham Palace anytime soon.

It's annoying enough to hear several of my students say this - and each one who says it does so very matter-of-factly. What's even worse is that when I attempt to correct them, they insist that he was. Why is this? Is it because they have some refutable evidence that he was? Of course not. It's what they heard, so it must be true - just like the guy with dreadlocks who had a black widow spider lay a nest of eggs in his hair. Of course, we could dismiss this as the foolishness of youth, but last week I had an adult tell me the exact same thing, and when I tried to correct her on this, she was very insistent that he was.

Look, the lesson to take away from this isn't simply that Hitler wasn't Jewish, but everybody needs to realize that just because everybody says something, that hardly makes it true. Also, if you're going to say something that controversial, that loaded, you're going to want to make sure that you have your facts straight before you go around repeating it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Are conservatives dumb?

I was accused recently of thinking that all conservatives were a bunch of ignorant rubes. It's probably because I said, "Conservatives are all a bunch of ignorant rubes". No, just kidding. I didn't say that. After all, I don't actually think that. Or do I?

First of all, terms like "liberal" and "conservative" are becoming more and more meaningless every day. They're just convenient little labels that people like to slap on themselves. I wrote some time ago about how even though I tend to fall more on the liberal side of things, I hesitate to describe myself as one. After all, what if the liberal side of some future issue (like the cloning of robot/alien hybrids) isn't the one with which I agree? And to be fair, I think that my stance on gun control is further on the conservative side than the liberal one (even though I have no intention of ever owning one).

Also, I have known plenty of people who lean more conservative who I thought were as smart or smarter than me. (But to be fair, they tended to be more of the libertarian type of conservative.) I've also seen interviews on The Daily Show with certain conservatives where I thought that they came off as being pretty thoughtful and intelligent. (Mike Huckabee, believe it or not, is one of these guys, even though some of the things he's said has been jaw-droppingly ignorant.)

Still, there seems to be this culture of willfull ignorance that tends to dominate the popular conservative movement. This accusation was thrown at me when I constantly referred to a conservative's position on global warming as being ignorant. Basically, the argument consisted of "It's really cold this winter; therefore, global warming isn't happening." I pointed out that a statement like that shows that the person has little knowledge of what the issue actually is, and it was consequently an ignorant statement.

And see, here's the thing, the nuance that I don't see in a lot of argument from the side of conservatives: I wasn't saying that you're ignorant if you don't accept global warming. I was saying that you're ignorant if your reason is that we just had a cold winter. There may very well be arguments out there that debunk the whole issue, BUT THAT'S NOT ONE OF THEM.

Still, my point continued to fall on deaf ears (or blind eyes, as this was an online debate). And then it got turned into how I was saying that all conservatives are a bunch of ignorant rubes. Well, crap, what am I supposed to say to that? "Hey, that's a good point! It was really cold this winter! Man, I've got a lot of thinking to do!" What all this gets to is this backward notion of how every opinion deserves respect, as though they're all of equal merit. Well guess what? Some things are just wrong.

Whatever, I could argue this until I was blue in the face (or crippled from carpal tunnel), and this all turns out with me somehow being the asshole in this equation. Even though the same old stupid, tired, thoroughly debunked arguments keep getting used and reused, I need to somehow act like they're somehow saying something that isn't stupid at a death-defying level.

Okay though, that's just one argument. What about everything else. Well, I'm starting to realize that this could be turned into several blog posts, but let's just say that I have a hard time believing that any intelligent person could take people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, and Michelle Malkin seriously. These people make ignorant statements for a living, and even when they're shown for being the carnies that they are, a lot of conservatives will still defend them with their dying breath. And yeah, I know, a lot of people think that they're all actually pretty smart, and they laugh all the way to the bank. That might be true, but I'm referring to the personas that they broadcast. Whether Michelle Malkin really believes that Rachel Ray is a terrorist sympathizer or not is beside the point - it's a stupid comment. And anybody who devotes an entire chapter of a book on debunking evolution (like Coulter did) using a bunch of tired-old bullcrap creationist claims, needs to be jailed by the intellectual honesty police.

So, what's to conclude? I suppose that before I do, I should point out the fact that there are a lot of smart people out there who believe some pretty stupid things. After all, somebody like Dan Barker used to preach young-Earth creationism, and now he's one of the most articulate proponents of the scientific method. Was he dumb and then suddenly turned smart? And I'll mention Mike Huckabee again. I think that he's actually a pretty smart guy, but I think that in many ways he simply hasn't exposed himself to a lot of things that are outside his conservative Christian bubble.

If anything, there seems to be an almost willfull ignorance on the part of many of this country's conservatives. Perhaps that exists amongst the liberals as well, and I just never notice it because I tend to not argue with them as much. However, I have never seen anybody deny simple facts and reality the way that I have seen many conservatives do it.

I think that there's a reason why Stephen Colbert's show is so popular. It's because he's completely nailed the popular conservative idealogy better than even the conservatives can. "I'm not a fan of facts. You see, the facts can change, but my opinion will never change, no matter what the facts are."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I just drove the bus

This is my eighth year of teaching, and you know what that means? It means that it's been quite some time since somebody's asked me how to fix their computer, and it's not very likely that I'll be asked that anytime soon. After all, why would one assume that an English teacher knows anything about computers? Shoot, the title itself implies that I'm some sort of luddite, completely unfamiliar with new technologies. So, why even bring this up then?

Because once upon a time, people would ask me all sorts of computer questions, and even when I told them that I really wasn't very technical when it came to computers, they'd continue to ask me questions. Mainly, this is due to the fact that my past three jobs involved computers in some shape or form. The first one was a cybercafe called Internet Alfredo (which is totally nonexistent now). Dang, but that was a surreal job now that I look back on it. I barely got paid anything, but then again, I basically just played video games all day and sometimes served coffee. Also, it helped to set me up for my next job.

At Internet Alfredo, I used the computers and I sometimes would have to troubleshoot various problems. For the most part though, I was just guessing. Some of the customers expected me to be some kind of computer whiz, not realizing that if I knew as much as they thought I did, I sure as hell wouldn't be doing that stupid job. I remember some of them reading off all the numbers and code on the error messages to me, thinking that I had any idea what it meant. Needless to say, many of them were not satisfied with me not knowing all the answers, and some of them would get downright hostile if I dared to imply that the problem was that they messed something up.

Anyway, so that was about as technical as it got. I then went to work for LookSmart, where I surfed the web all day and wrote little two-sentence descriptions of various websites after sorting and organizing them. I can proudly boast that for about a year, the comic book section on LookSmart was easily the most comprehensive and well-organized listing of comic book related sites on the web. It all went to crap after I quit though. (Would you believe some moron put a Wolverine site under "Golden Age Comics"? Idiot!) What did I do when my computer wasn't working? I called the tech support guys.

My next job, and the one that ultimately would lay me off (and they're actually still around), was at I did a bit more technical stuff there, as I would use programs like Photoshop and Flash to create some content. Still, if a computer broke down, I'd just call the tech support people.

So, all that time, I'd have people always asking me what was going on with their computers. One lady, who's my sister's former mother-in-law, gave me some lengthy description as to what was happening with her computer and asked me what was going on. I gave her as good of an answer as I could, explaining that it could be any number of things, but that I really didn't know much about fixing computers. She looked at me like I was being an asshole.

Kirsti's now-departed uncle would keep asking me to teach him about computers. I'd try to explain to him that I really wasn't the right person for that. (And even if I was, I still wouldn't want to teach him anything!) He also once told me that a friend of his reminded him of me, as we were both "into" computers. Turns out this guy was some kind of scientist who worked with electron microscopes (or something equally remote from anything that I know even squat about).

Speaking of Kirsti's relatives, her cousin once referred to me as a "computer programmer". I wouldn't even know how to START programming a computer! In a way, I know where all this came from, but much of it was a symptom of the fact that people basically just don't listen. It wasn't so bad when they'd make that mistake once, but I had explained myself several times, and yet they'd still persist. After all, it wasn't like I went around telling people that I was some kind of computer expert. When I described what I did, I endeavored to make it sound as non-technical as possible. But then, those were the early days of the web. All they had to hear was "Internet" and they figured I could build computers.

For the first couple of years after leaving the dot com world, I'd still get it a bit. Some of my fellow teachers would ask me technical questions about their printers or whatever. I also got "volunteered" to do the department website. (Which I did, but I'm not even sure if it's up there anymore.) The metaphor that I always had to employ was, "Look, I just know how to drive the bus. I don't know how to fix it." That seemed to work with the smarter ones, as they'd stop bugging me about that.

It's funny, because my dot com life didn't completely end when I started teaching. I still did a freelance job on a website for a "hotel alternative" where I once worked (in accounting, of all things). Eventually, I stopped hearing from them, and then when I checked out their website, I saw that they had a newer and better design. No hard feelings though - I probably made a couple of grand off of them when everything was said and done, and I barely knew what the hell I was doing. Back then, people were impressed with pretty much anything if you could do it and they couldn't.

Look at what the Web Archive has brought out of the past: The website for Executive Suites that I did.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Movie commentaries

Over the last few weeks, I've been listening to Francis Ford Coppola's commentaries on the Godfather films, and it's made me do some thinking. For me, I usually listen to commentary tracks while I have to do other things like cook, bottle my beer, rearrange my comics, sacrifice a heifer to Poseidon, etcetera. This is because, generally speaking, when I have time to sit down for a movie, then I just want to watch the movie and not listen to somebody talking over it. With that said though, there are a lot of movies where I look forward to listening to the commentaries when I buy the movie, just as there are movies where I wish that there were some commentaries, as I'd imagine they'd be interesting (Nolan's Batman movies, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and many of Spielberg's movies, to name a few).

So, I started to wonder about this particular feature, and the first thing that I wonder is who exactly even listens to them in the first place? I think that the group with the highest percentage would no doubt be film students, as they often give a lot of key insights as to how the films were made. Next up would probably be directors, actors, etcetera, and after that you'd have your film buffs. While I'm not knowledgeable enough about movies to call myself a flim buff, I probably fall a couple of rungs below that, so that's why I do sometimes listen to them.

What else then? I can see some of my friends listening to them, but I have other friends where I can't even see that occuring to them. I don't see anybody in my immediate family doing it, as some of my family members have almost proudly claimed that they're only interested in watching a movie once. (I've blogged about this before - that's like saying you only want to look at the Sistine Chapel once, as though you'll get all that you can out of it on the first viewing.)

I also started thinking about which commentaries I thought were the best. After all, there have been a few where I simply didn't bother listening to all of it, as it got pretty tedious. For some movies, I couldn't get into it because it was all too technical (300, for instance), but I imagine that might really interest some people. Other ones I couldn't stand because it was just the director pointing out what was on the screen. (Shumacher's Batman movies spring to mind, which were also bad because they were just full of all sorts of crap about how wonderful so and so was and all sorts of other Hollywood B.S. At least with those though, it was nice to hear him apologize for Batman and Robin.)

My favorites are generally the ones where the director and/or actors go into the process of making the film - not so much from a technical standpoint, but from a creative angle. For instance, I like to hear about how the story was shaped and why certain decisions were made. (This made me appreciate Burton's Batman films more, as I still disagreed with some of his choices, at least he had a pretty good reason for why he did them.) I also like to hear from the actors when they talk about what they had to go through to prepare for a role.

Off the top of my head, the commentaries that I've enjoyed the most have included all of George Lucas' Star Wars ones, the few that I've heard from Martin Scorsese (I'd love to just talk movies with that guy - I'd learn so much, no doubt), the Donner's track on Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, and every commentary by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Blade II). Oh, and of course you can't leave out Roger Ebert's great commentaries on Citizen Kane and Casablanca.

I also have to say that a lot of comedies have some great commentary tracks - not so much because they're informative, but because they're amusing on their own. Basically, any Kevin Smith movie's commentary is usually fun. Also, the one on Forgetting Sarah Marshall was amusing and fact-filled. I imagine that all of the Judd Apatow films are the same, and I'm going to have to check out those commentaries, as I own pretty much all of them. And lastly, one of my favorite tracks is the one on This is Spinal Tap, as the three principal actors do the entire thing completely in-character. (Speaking of which, Robert Downey Jr. does a great one for Tropic Thunder where he does it in the character of his character, and then he simply reverts to his character, and then he finally goes to himself. So, the majority of the film is him as an African American, and then from there he's an Australian, but then he finally just plays himself.)

And all of THIS makes me wonder if cheesy romantic comedies like 27 Dresses, Bride Wars, and stuff even have commentaries. I can't imagine that the people who'd buy those films really get into how films are made. A friend of mine once wondered about the guys who direct those films. Is that really the kind of stuff that they dreamed of directing when they were young? Were they inspired by the insipid romantic comedies of their youth? I mean, I definitely believe that there are kids who are inspired by the crap that hacks like Michael Bay makes (does he do commentaries? Does he ever explain why he's such a douche?) but for some reason, I just don't see those kinds of things as being what young directors are just dying to make. I could very well be wrong.

Who knows, maybe those directors do commentaries so they can discuss why their movie is such a piece of drivel. After all, that's what you get when you listen to Superman IV's track, which is almost worth the rental.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Are you Ragnarok Ready?

Would you believe that there's some doofus out there who has a website called Rapture Ready? Basically, it's a resource for learning all about how the Christian endtimes are fast approaching, as there are all sorts of signs out there that have been prophesized in The Bible. Check it out for yourself (and no, it's not a joke).

Of course, the whole concept is ludicrous. All sorts of current events can be shoehorned into these prophecies, as Christians have been doing this for nearly 2,000 years now. So, settle down and relax - Armageddon isn't going to happen. Ragnarok, (which is the final battle between the Norse Gods and the Frost Giants which will usher in the end of the world and eventually a glorious new age) however, is pretty much on the verge of taking place.

Don't believe me? Look at the signs and see for yourself:

1. Great wars in the world. - The U.S. is currently involved in two wars. And have a look at Global Security's list of current wars. There's conflict going on from Algeria to Uzbekistan.

2. A time of strife and hatred between men. Check that list again. Is there any doubt that's what we're experiencing right now? And furthermore, did you see how close this last election was? Ever watch Fox News? Americans have never been so divided!

3. The bonds of kinship will hold us no longer. Ever check the divorce rates? The family unit is disintregrating, and not just in this country!

4. We will commit appalling deeds of murder and incest. As for murder, while it was on the decline, it has seen a gradual uptick in recent years. Incest isn't a major problem yet, but it's obvious that's where we're heading. (You know, with all that gay marriage stuff going on - incestual marriage is the clear, logical next step.)

5. There will be a period of bitter cold, when a terrible pursuing wolf catches the sun and devours her; the moon is to be swallowed up, and the stars will fall from the sky. Now here you may be thinking that global warming disproves this one. However, if you really knew something about global warming, you'd know that the correct term is "global climate change" which would involve hotter summers and colder winters! And I don't know about you, but it's been pretty damned cold lately! As for the wolf, that's obviously China with its unceasing prouction of coal, and the pollution will obviously block out both the sun and the moon. And what does burning coal look like in the dark? It looks like little stars if you look at it from a distance.

Convinced yet? How about the following:

6. The mountains will crash into fragments as the whole earth shakes and trembles, and the World Tree quivers in tumult. Is it just me, or are we due for a major earthquake? It's been so long, that you just know that a big one is coming, and scientists can't figure out for certain when the next one is coming!

7. The wolf Fenrir's jaws close the gap between Earth and sky; the serpent blows poison from out of the sea. Again, the wolf is obviously China, and the serpent is probably Japan or something.

8. The sea rises. Melting polar ice caps, anyone?

9. A ship full of giants comes with Loki as the steersman. Obviously, the giants represent the major countries of the world, and Loki (the trickster) is the head of the United Nations.

10. The rainbow bridge is shattered. This represents total economic collapse. Gee, it's not like that sort of thing is about to happen or anything.

Pretty scary, isn't it? I think I hear Heimdall blowing his horn...