Autonomous Source

Main

November 01, 2007

All I know about childcare...

...I learned from South Park. This episode (complete) is pretty perceptive on how to manage kids. And funny too, of course. I learned a few very valuable pointers.

WARNING: It's South Park for %$#*'s sake.

October 22, 2007

Quote of the day

Hollywood’s goal is the same as the terrorists: to dishearten the American people so we pull out of Iraq. Al-Qaeda uses bombs. Thus far Hollywood’s used A Mighty Heart, In The Valley Of Elah, and Rendition. Which, as it turns out, are also bombs.
Dirty Harry at Libertas

August 06, 2007

Bourne Supremacy: what a mess...

A couple of years ago, I raved about the second part of the Bourne Trilogy. I've been eagerly waiting for the third and final act to come out, and last night I finally got to see it. 'Disappointed' is too weak a word to describe how I felt. There may be a few spoilers below.

Gone was the sense of reality. According to this movie, the CIA is listening in to all -- yes all! -- cell phone conversations in the whole world using voice-recognition software. They can take control of any CCTV camera in the world, and operate with such impunity that they can burst onto a bus in London, flashing guns, to stick a needle in the back of someone's neck and drag him away. And, oh yes, they have brainwashed super assassins lounging around hotel rooms all over the world, five minutes from any location, awaiting a text message on their phone telling them to kill someone. And if by some chance they fail, well, there's a back up assassin on his way soon. The agents in The Matrix would be in awe of the incredible reach and power of the CIA.

Gone were the coherent action scenes. The interminable chase scene in Tangiers -- yes, there are CIA super assassins waiting around in Tangiers, too -- made no sense. I had no clue in what was going on in the (quite short) car chase in New York.

Gone was any kind of logic in the story. Characters' actions were frequently baffling. The main CIA bad guy brings a known Bourne sympathizer into his team and tells her about all the terrible and top secret things they do. A CIA agent throws away her career and betrays her superiors for Bourne before knowing anything of what's going on. One of the brainwashed assassins has Bourne in his sights and Bourne says to him, "Do you really know why you're supposed to kill me?" This convinces the assassin to reconsider his career options and he lets Bourne get away. There's some madly dumb stuff in this flick.

I could go on and on about the plot holes and general stupidity, but what really bothered me about this movie was its attitude. It's a film made for truthers. The CIA bad guys operate from their command room in Manhattan. Dozens and dozens of people work there, not looking too stressed as they obey their boss's orders to send assassins to kill reporters or former colleagues. It's just another day on the job for them. And the movie makes it clear that this is all sanctioned by the American government. They control absolutely everything, you see.

But the most offensive part was at the end. In a flashback sequence, Bourne is volunteering to join this new special ops unit that is being formed. Square jaw jutting forward, he is shown to be doing it because he is a patriot and believes he will be saving American lives. Cut to the program's evil mastermind leering almost sexually at him. The message wouldn't be any less subtle if they flashed the word "SUCKER!" over Matt Damon's face.

And yet the critics rave! It's Sky Captain all over again.

July 24, 2007

Bad Influences

While I'm on a grumpy neo-so-con trip, I should link to this article from City Journal. It's a thorough examination of the destruction Gangsta Rap has done to a generation of inner-city blacks. It's not pretty.

The great accomplishment of civilization has been to replace the reign of force with the rule of law, and to humanize the animal realities in which our lives are embedded by means of manners and rituals that give those realities a human meaning. And if the rule of law fares poorly in rap, civilization’s great effort to transform the animal facts of reproduction into love and marriage doesn’t do so well in gangsta-land, either. This is what so much of our culture is about—our manners and morals, poetry and song and film, from the Song of Solomon and the medieval French romances to “The Way You Look Tonight”: yes, I have these feelings, but not just for anyone; it’s you personally I love, so much that I want you always. And many of the popular songs of the 1940s and 1950s, making the promise of permanence explicit, end with talk of marriage. Human beings undergo an education of the feelings, and popular culture’s love songs were once great instructors in this school.

It’s a long drop to the dogghouse and Doggystyle. And since it’s culture that molds feelings and behavior, when the “Why don’t we do it in the road” spirit of sexual liberation of the 1960s declined in the ghetto into “Do you want it over here? Do you want it over there?,” feelings and behavior were bound to follow. Rap is a school that hardens and coarsens rather than cultivates the feelings and, presenting women as disposable and interchangeable objects for use, dehumanizes rather than humanizes the relations between the sexes.

Art Attack

An essay in the New Criterion -- Why the art world is a disaster -- sums up what I hate about the modern art world far better and more eruditely than I ever could. Choice quote:

No, the thing to appreciate about “Wrestle,” about the Hessel Museum and the collection of Marieluise Hessel, and about the visual arts at Bard generally is not how innovative, challenging, or unusual they are, but how pedestrian and, sad to say, conventional they are. True, there is a lot of ickiness on view at the Hessel Museum. But it is entirely predictable ickiness. It’s outrage by-the-yard, avant-garde in bulk, smugness for the masses. And this brings me to what I believe is the real significance of institutions like the art museum at Bard, the Hessel collection that fills it, and the surrounding atmosphere of pseudo-avant-garde self-satisfaction. The “arts” at Bard are notable not because they are unusual but because they are so grindingly ordinary.

RTWT.

(via The Fog)

July 23, 2007

Cruel and unusual

Forget Guantanamo Bay, in the Philippines they really know how to torture their inmates: they make them participate in reenactments of Michael Jackson videos. Do not watch this if you're faint of heart...

UPDATE: Additional warning: you may not be able to get that wretched song out of your head. Always proceed with caution when dealing with Michael Jackson songs.

July 20, 2007

Shocker! Transformers is a good movie!

I had the opportunity to see Transformers the other day. After a particularly difficult day with Captain Destructo and the Mistress of Chaos, I decided to flee the house after my backup arrived. Not knowing where to go, I found myself at a theatre watching a movie I wasn't that interested in. I'm glad I did.

Considering the source material was a line of children's toys featuring robots that can be changed into cars and planes, the writers did an excellent job of putting together a solid story. It didn't insult my intelligence; and in a movie of this type, that's a remarkable achievement. The most implausible thing in the movie (so long as you accept the central premise) was the existence of a huge abandoned neo-classical building in downtown Los Angeles. Rather than focus the movie on the robots -- which would have been stupid -- they chose to follow a number of different characters who have been sucked into the Transformers' interstellar war. You've got a bunch of soldiers heading home from Iraq, a horny teenage boy and his lust object, an Australian signal analysis babe and her befuddled hacker friend, and Donald Rumsfeld.

The action is unrelenting as you might guess. Things blow up. Frequently. People are chased by crazed giant robots. But they get away! Robots throw other robots through buildings. Many, many times. It sounds tedious, but I found it to be pure visual poetry.

I was especially impressed with the comedy though. This movie is funny. And it's not the 'that's so stupid, it's funny' kind either, but real laughs. Here's a selection of clips from the movie. The scene with the soldier in a firefight trying to get past an Indian call center guy so he can call in an air strike is typical of the light tone that made this flick so enjoyable.

Here's a great trailer, if you need more encouragement.

The marketing campaign for Transformers is the first that has penetrated my son's mind. I don't know where he heard about it, but he knows about this movie and wants to see it. I promise you Max, when you're old enough to read this, I'll go rent it and watch it with you.

UPDATE: One of the things I enjoyed about the movie was that it was devoid of the sneering political point of view I find in so many movies of late. The military, right up to the Secretary of Defence, were the good guys. It was refreshing. But is there a deeper message in the film? The blogosphere is a-buzz. First, conservative film site Libertas weighs in:

The films politics are decidedly pro-American, pro-military, and even *gasp* pro-freedom. Bay’s affection for the American military is obvious in every scene they’re in. They are uniformly portrayed as heroic, extremely competent, selfless, and even kind to Arab children. The theme of the film is spoken out loud more than once: No sacrifice, no victory. And the Autobots have come to liberate us from the terrorist Decepticons because the Autobots believe freedom is the right of everyone. Yes, there is a gentle, somewhat affectionate jab at Bush, but Jon Voight’s Secretary of Defense makes it clear at every turn that the President is running the show.

[...]And after all the relativist junk we’ve been suffering through, it does mean something to watch the fight for freedom portrayed with valor, good and evil distinguished, and the dreaded-until-needed military industrial complex save the day.

John Rogers, one of the writers of the movie and someone who evidently considers himself 'progressive', fires back -- maybe a bit too aggressively:
Second, hopefully this may slooooowly spin you around to the idea that being "pro-American, pro-military and even *gasp* pro-freedom" are not just conservative values. Progressives are also pro-American, pro-military -- in my first draft, the Army guys actually have bigger role, although they're a little grungier and working-class than all shiny and model-y -- and *gasp* pro-freedom. We just believe you serve these values in different ways. Demonizing each other is a way the Bastards in Suits try to keep the game going, and keep their little scams in place, so we don't suddenly notice that we're all on the same side, we all support the troops. We all rather like each other, and despite our many disagreements maybe we'd like all the professional hate-mongers to bugger off now, please.
Hmm. What I took from the Libertas review was that he was grateful that the movie didn't need to remind you that everything was controlled by 'Bastards in Suits' running 'scams'.

The last word should go to Ezra Klein:

We can go back-and-forth doing a sort of tendentious reading of key scenes (The president is a ding-dong eating dunce, the military folk are hair-trigger types who nearly invade the wrong nation, Optimus Prime is colored sort of like an American flag, Megatron is kept frozen and the All-Spark hidden via a giant public works project, etc), but we're missing the point. The point is GIANT GODDAMN ROBOTS. They're REALLY BIG.
But it doesn't. The Atlantic's Matthew Yglesias has this to say:
Indeed, it's the very shallow nature of Transformer's plotting that makes it so pregnant. The standard format for a not-very-original action movie pits a Hero against, of course, a Villain. But beyond the Villain, the Hero must also do battle with the Faceless Institution whose inability to grasp the true nature of the situation imperils the entire situation. This Institution comes in, roughly speaking, two guises. In some films, like Bad Boys, the Institution is portrayed as comprised of feckless bureaucrats who don't understand the Hero's need to Get Things Done. In other films, like Transformers, the Institution is portrayed as comprised of power-mad authoritarians who can't tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Now, of course, better, more sophisticated stories can have more nuanced ideological content (the Terminator films, for example, provide both a critique of the military industrial complex and a statement of the security dilemma), or else possibly none at all, or, perhaps, an ambiguous message (First Blood) that'll be read according to pre-existing prejudices. The key in all cases, though, is not to look for specific commentary on the passing tide of events (i.e., the SecDef in Transformers kinda looks like Don Rumsfeld) but for what broad values the film appeals to and endorses.

If anyone knows what he means, let me know.

July 03, 2007

Ratatouille

Imagine pitching this idea to studio executives: A rat is guided by the spirit of a dead French chef to become the best chef in Paris. He does this by sitting on the head of a klutzy garbageboy and controlling his movements by tugging on his hair. The garbageboy goes on to win the girl and run his own restaurant.

Ok, maybe it's not that crazy an idea. If you've seen Ratatouille, you'll know it all makes perfect sense.

There are piles of reviews up at IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes raving about the movie, so I'm not going to add much more. I will say that it's one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. It's beautiful to look at, incredibly inventive, hysterically funny at times, but also tells a compelling story with characters you can care about. It's also very respectful of the audience -- there was no dumbing down of the material or reliance on stereotypical misconceptions. Here's a long clip from the film so you can get a feel for just how great this flick is:

I should mention though, that it's not a great movie for kids. It's pretty long, and is packed with jokes that go miles above the heads of youngsters. Max and Talia claimed they enjoyed it, but they were pretty squirmy. I suggest going at night so you don't have to listen to four-year-olds loudly asking their parents, "What's so funny, Papa?"

June 13, 2007

Hitchens on Hilton

It's impossible not to be up to date on the great non-story of the past week. I happened to be listening to Lowell Green on CFRA when one of the legal twists in the story occured, and the station switched over to CNN coverage. Lowell did this as a joke, but it was clear CNN took it very seriously. It was reported with as much gravity as an assassination of a world leader or a major earthquake striking the West coast. I haven't watched TV news for a long time, but even I was surprised that it had gotten that bad.

Christopher Hitchens looks at what's driving that wall-to-wall coverage, and doesn't like what he sees:

The supposedly "broad-minded" culture turns out to be as prurient and salacious as the elders in The Scarlet Letter. Hilton is legally an adult but the treatment she is receiving stinks—indeed it reeks—of whatever horrible, buried, vicarious impulse underlies kiddie porn and child abuse.

I cannot imagine what it might be like, while awaiting a prison sentence for a tiny infraction, to see dumb-ass TV-addicted crowds howling with easy, complicit laughter as Sarah Silverman (a culpably unfunny person) describes your cell bars being painted to look like penises and jokes heavily about your teeth being at risk because you might gnaw on them. And this on prime time, and unrebuked. Lynching parties used to be fiestas, as we have no right to forget, and the ugly coincidence of sexual nastiness—obscenity is the right name for it—and vengefulness is what seems to lend the savor to the Saturnalia.

June 10, 2007

The Wire

The Sopranos wraps up tonight, and everywhere critics are writing erudite exegeses on the meaning and importance of the show. Check out Peggy Noonan for a preview of the types of pieces to be found in every newpaper in the world tomorrow. Personally, I lost interest in the show around season five. The stories were interesting in showing how organized crime worked in the modern world, but it was such a nihilistic show. Most of the characters left me cold.

The Wire, another HBO show, is a different story. My wife and I just finished watching the first three seasons, and I have to say that it's one of the best shows ever made. Like the Sopranos, it takes the viewers to places they're lucky enough not to know anything about -- in this case, the 'war on drugs' in Baltimore. It weaves a complex story that stretches from the street dealers to the kingpins, and from the frontline cops to the politicians. It explores the cultures of these groups, but also tells a suspenseful story filled with unique characters.

Pick up these DVDs. You won't regret it.

It also has better opening credits than the Sopranos. This is season three:

See also season one, season two, and season four.

June 09, 2007

Why I hate art

Actually, I don't hate it. I recognize that the creativity, ambition, and determination of people that can only be called 'artists' give me great pleasure and happiness. The people that write the stories, make the movies, play the music, and yes, design the computer games are those that create the vast, complex culture we live in. But they aren't whom most people think of as 'artists'.

'Artists', of course, are those that the CBC fawns over, a self-perpetuating oligarchy of pretentious hacks moving in a crowd, with very little to say. A huge government bureaucracy sustains them, and most of their energy is spent making sure the spigot stays on -- and congratulating themselves for it.

Robert Fulford visited the latest gathering of this crowd in Toronto, for the opening of a very expensive new museum. The situation is worse than I thought:

The performances filling most of the evening were also worked into the religious theme: In between acts, Paul Gross, our host, conducted an argument with a booming voice (Gordon Pinsent's) that claimed to belong to Time. We all realized that Time represented God, who would have come Himself if He hadn't been made illegal.

Time turned out to be just as pushy as the God of Genesis, though less interesting. He said all civilizations die and our time had come. He was "pulling the plug" this very night because we were growing less creative and polluting the earth.

In our defence, Gross offered the show we were watching (rap singers, Celtic dancers, an opera star, native drummers, whatever) as proof of our creativity. Time seemed unimpressed (and nobody would blame him). Besides, that still left Earth-despoiling. What could we say about that?

At this point the producers wheeled out David Suzuki, that national menace, to declare that the world is reforming itself by going green. As an example he cited some young girls who saved some old horses. He mentioned "my friend Al Gore."

Eventually some of us began pawing through the program to learn who conceived this twaddle. It said "Writer: Bernard Rothman." He's a TV guy from Montreal who has spent the last 35 years in Los Angeles, accumulating a modest list of credits (wrote for My Three Sons, produced a George Burns special, etc.).

September 05, 2006

I'll be there, man...

Well, probably not..

But how can I miss it? Liam will be there!

March 02, 2006

A schizophrenic reviews the movies

I was cruising through Imdb, looking into whether I should take my kids to that new monkey movie (I will) when I came across a strange review. It started out normal, but then lurched into some very strange territory:

After I previously talked about a message from my artificial intelligence computer on a real Moon in the Creators Moonfleet involving Foreigners on a moon ramp there was a staged meeting involving me on a highway on ramp with a possible pretend foreigner. When my television shows the words for the show Star Daily the words Star David are heard. This is after three different cable guy/internet visits to the wiring in my backyard. The Canadian dirty tricks guys were used when the Liberals were in power and they are still being used now that the Conservatives are in power. Let me sum up. I really am the American Shadow Vice President. The American Shadow President Jack Kennedy is my boss. I really am the full nephew of Queen Elizabeth 2 Windsor that is why I am not in jail for allegedly making false statements. In 1945 President Franklin Roosevelt sent the following message to Earths moon. "A pal Moon? Know You Boone? Whos your Friend? Back again?" I am the Daniel Boone relative made the American Shadow Vice President due to contact with the Creators of Humans. President Jack Kennedy is the American Shadow President because he was always having trouble with his back after football and the sinking of PT 109. I am the 8th Highest ranking Human in the Universe representing Love (through offspring reproduction) to the Creator Ki Aliens while my Daughter Julia is the 19th highest ranking Human in the Universe representing Peace (through conquest of the Universe) to the Creator Ki Aliens. God will notice and probably be displeased if there are continued assassination attempts on His/Her Love and Peace namely Julia and me Brad.
I thought this was pretty funny, but assumed it would be deleted pretty quickly. I'm sure Imdb doesn't want people adding to their reviews with completely off-topic jibberish.

But I was wrong. Checking his user history, I see there are 98 other reviews by him on the site, most of them trailing off into stories from a bizarre alternate reality. Many of the reviews are for obscure war films that have specific meaning for himself, but others are on mainstream flicks. Some of them even seem almost normal. But others reach heights of strangeness I haven't seen outside William S. Burroughs or Philip K. Dick. My wife and I have been trying to figure out if he's a real looney or just doing a pretty good impression. We're leaning towards real.

Oh, and he claims to have once been in the Canadian Military and lives in St Catharines, Ontario. Watch out for him at the theatre if you live nearby.

January 07, 2006

Candy store

I've been a music junky all my life. And I like to possess the music; just listening to it isn't enough. I've moved from buying 45's as a 10-year-old, to amassing a huge LP collection, through a brief period buying tapes, until today when I have a sprawling collection of CDs and MP3s. And throughout all this collecting, I've always been irritated by high costs, poor selection, and lack of information on music I might like.

But those problems never stopped me. I would buy music based on a two-paragraph review in some 'alternative' weekly or even just a cool cover. I would search P2P networks for some obscure band I heard once on an internet radio station. I ordered discs from Amazon based on positive reader reviews. I would pay too much money or spend too much time to get music that often wasn't worth it. But I kept doing it.

iTunes held out the promise of being something better. A service that suggests music you might like, lets you listen to clips of it, and can deliver it to you instantly for less that you'd pay at the store sounded perfect to me. But it isn't iTunes sucks for three reasons:

First, the selection is crap. Over the past few months there've been countless albums I've wanted to buy that I couldn't find on their service. I could find them at my local independent record store, which had to order them, keep physical copies on hand to match an unpredictable demand, and make enough money on the sales to pay rent and salaries. But iTunes, part of a big multinational corporation, couldn't be bother to keep a few files on a database.

Second, the format is crap. Buying from iTunes locks you into their data format for the music. Sure you can burn a CD, but for the most part you have to go through Apple software or hardware to listen to it. I don't like investing a large stack of money in something that will require me to be at the mercy of a company.

Third, it's still too expensive. $9.99 an album sounds good, but when you consider all the middle-men cut from the producer to consumer path, you realize the price should be much lower. I can get a aesthetically preferable CD for only 50% more money.

But my music junky dreams have just been met. Via Samizdata, I've learned of AllofMP3.com, an online service that solves these three problems. The selection is quite impressive; in the past 24 hours I've bought 5 albums, none of which was offered on iTunes. The format is open-source MP3. And the price? The price is ridiculously low.

You pay by the pound. Prices for the music are based on the size of the file you download. An average hour-long CD at high quality will cost you about US$1.50. Yes, US$1.50! For me, this is the service I've waited my whole life for. I've spent quite a bit of time during the past day browsing and buying.

How do they do it? Quasi-legality. AllofMP3 is based in Russia and copyright laws are a little more flexable there. There are some payments made to the legal owners of the music, but I assume it's done on a take it or leave it basis rather than formal contracts.

I am curiously untroubled by guilt. The pushers at the record companies have had me wrapped around their fingers my whole life. Now I feel free of them, and it's such a relief. They're going to really have to examine their business models and find a way to respond to this. It will be fun to watch.

October 02, 2005

Aiming to misbehave

Best line in the movie:

The Operative: Are you willing to die for your beliefs?
Captain Mal: Yes... (he blasts away at the Operative from point blank range) 'Course, that ain't plan A.
My wife and I saw Serenity today and we both agreed it was one of the best movies we've seen in a long time. We're both big fans of Buffy, of course, but we hadn't seen anything of Firefly before. But we had no problem falling into the new 'verse Joss Whedon had created.

I liked the movie because it told an interesting story and told it well, didn't insult the audience's intelligence, and had interesting characters that were sympathetic enough to make you care about them and different enough to make them real. Much has been written about why there's been such a drop off in movie attendence during the past year. My theory is that most movie-makers think their audiences consist of nothing but drooling morons. They have no respect for any of us. They seem to think we're incapable of empathizing with the main characters unless we're led by the nose through the most trite and clichéd background setups, and will be absolutely bewildered by the supporting characters unless they're one of the same cardboard cutouts we've seen a hundred times before. As well, movies now all come with 'themes' or 'messages'; but they're all the most banal, greeting card mush -- and told to you as if you've never had a thought cross your brain before.

So Serenity was refreshing. It deserves to be seen, if only to remind people what the movies are about. There's adventure, action, wit, drama, and humour -- and it seems so effortless.

I'm sure many reviewers are comparing this flick to the horrible, horrible abomination George Lucas unleased in the theatres this summer, because it feels so right. I have to do the same:

George's movie cost US$120m. Joss' movie cost US$40m. George's movie had the lamest dialog since... well, his last movie. Joss' dialog shone. George's movie had a spaceship crash-landing sequence that had me groaning because it was so dumb. Joss' movie had a spaceship crash-landing sequence that had me on the edge of my seat. The sets on George's movie were as sterile as Star Trek. The sets in Joss' movie looked lived in. George's movie had no characters you could care about. Joss' movie gives you a new family to love. George's movie used 'dramatic foreshadowing' to tell you everthing that was going to happen before the movie was half over. Joss' movie had you guessing 'til the end. George's movie stunk. Joss' movie rocked. George's movie made a pazillion dollars. Joss' movie will do 'OK' (I hope).

Go see it. Now.

September 07, 2005

A Holiday in Azeroth

The Editor isn't the only thing that's been menacing the future viability of this miserable, limping blog; there's also been a terrible and destructive new interest in my life. I've been sucked into the World of Warcraft. I hadn't intended to -- as I wrote last year, I knew it would be a mistake. But I found a two week free trial in a computer magazine and thought I would be able control the urge to continue beyond that. I wasn't, and now my minimal free time that used to be spent complaining about Paul Martin's choices for the senate or trolling better sites than mine for content I could loot, is now spent grinding furbogs and weaving shirts to sell (long story).

My character is named Boneybruce and he looks uncomfortably like the Editor. He's an undead warlock trying to make a living in a difficult world. Considering he's a walking corpse with no soul that summons demons to kill for him, I've grown quite fond of him. Here he and his imp, Zepfip, encounter the Orc metropolis of Orgrimmar for the first time:

WoW, for those that don't know is a MMORPG -- a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game -- in which you join hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of thirteen-year-olds in a seemless (and huge) virtual world. Multiple parallel worlds -- or realms -- allow more players to play, and play in their own language. There must be hundreds of realms by now. WoW is the most popular MMORPG of all time, with over a million customers in the US and millions more in Europe and Korea (they're nuts about it over there). They've just set up in China as well. Read this article for a humourous (but possibly accurate) look at how these games will change the world.

So for as long as this new interest of mine continues, I'll write some posts on the game. I'd like to talk about the phenomena of Chinese loot farmers gathering gold to sell (for real dollars) to richer players, the psychological hooks the games uses to pull in hopeless dweebs like myself, and the culture that developed between players of the game. Or maybe I'll just write about the cool stuff I've found and how awesome my character is. I haven't decided yet.

July 28, 2005

A dish served cold

After multiplying exponentially and splitting everything, these jerkfaces decided that a $3.00 tip was perfectly acceptable. When they asked if there was enough for a tip I replied with "Well, you left me 3 on 500, so I actually paid to serve you. Thanks a lot! They were insulted but I didn't give a rat's ass! They complained to my manager about my not splitting their bills, and he replied, "Well, you shared everything, what do you expect? She's not Rainman!"...

-- An anonymous waitress at a restaurant in Alberta

Bitter Waitress is a site where those in the food service industry bite back. The Shitty Tipper Database contains a wealth of stories on tight-fisted eaters. There are some celebrity names to be found, but they may have to be taken with a grain of salt. There's no verification of the stories, allowing some that may seem a little unlikely. What's more interesting are the regular horror stories, like this one:
The manager's wife comes in to eat every so often with 5-6 of her friends. The time I had to wait on her, there were 7 of them total. They were all drinking and being obnoxious. I took great care of them, as her manager husband was on duty that night, and told me to make sure she was happy. They were one of those tables where only 1-2 of them would order a drink at a time, but by the time you got back to the table with the drinks, another 1-2 of them needed another drink. They had appetizers, salads, entrees and shared a couple desserts as well as booze booze booze, and pretty much ran me ragged. At one point, when the manager told them I was going to school for music, they even asked me to sing for them, which of course I did. I am supposed to keep them happy, right? So they're finally ready to leave after taking up one of my tables for almost 3 hours, and the manager gives the whole table his 50% discount on their original $256 tab, which brought it down to a very affordable $128 for 7 people. They all threw in some cash, and then left, giving me a glowing recommendation to the manager. When I picked up the cash, they'd only left $145!!! The manager came up to me later and said, "So how did they treat you?" I told him what they'd left, and he just shook his head and said, "They could have treated you better" and walked away. The next time she came in, I got very busy with my other tables. I refuse to wait on her again.
It's always important to remember there's a person serving you, and that you're not living in 17th century France.

(via small dead animals)

June 20, 2005

At least they weren't spawn camping...

May 25, 2005

Hey, he's cheating!

Fans of Dance Dance Revolution might want to check out this video...

(via Beautiful Atrocities)

May 20, 2005

Very Sithapointed*

The short review

Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. With a bigger budget. And worse dialog.

The longer review

My wife and I didn't want to hate this movie. We saw both of the other first trilogy movies in the theatres and -- unlike most people -- actually enjoyed them. Sure, they were a little hokey. And had bad acting. And had Jar-Jar Binks. But... okay okay, we didn't like them that much either...

But we didn't hate them. And the buzz for this latest chapter is that it's pretty good. And it could have been pretty good. The overall plot is great; if I were to describe what happens you would find it hard to imagine that anyone could mess it up. It's got intrigue, action, drama, suspense, and characters wrestling with the moral choices. With the piles of money they had to invest in this thing, it's inconceiveable that they'd mess it up.

But they did. Or he did actually -- I get the feeling that George Lucas smothered this movie with his massive ego. The movie has a feeling of being just stuffed with self-importance. Everything has the tone of being so weighty and deep -- when really it's just fluff. Maybe some others were able to get into the spirit of the thing, but whenever some deeply over-important statement was made over the sweeping over-important music... we just had to laugh.

We probably weren't the best people to sit next to during the movie because we did a fair amount of jeering and sniggering. The terrible, terrible lines. The terrible, terrible acting. The overblown and incomprehensionable special effects. They were funny, but not funny enough. And the final showdowns at the end were just ridiculous. Yoda bouncing around like a green ping-pong ball and some of the oldest one-on-one fighting clichés you've ever seen -- except with lava.

This movie had too much fake Orff-like choral music, too many bad lines that made you wince, way too many light sabre duels, and not enough fun. And it dragged! If I was watching it at home, I probably would have turned it off out of boredom. Oh well, maybe they'll learn some lessons from this one and fix the series for Episode VII...

Oh, and the political metaphor some people have been talking about? It was there, but not in any way that was distracting. Sure, the way Palpatine turned a democracy into a dictatorship by luring a one of his enemies into his fold seemed familiar, but Belinda Stronach is not really a powerful force like Anakin, just a convenient one. And Paul Martin probably can't blast those cool blue lighting bolts from his fingers either.

*Official Episode III Bad Pun number 89. Collect all 231!

April 22, 2005

Happy Earth Day

It important to appreciate Mother Earth and remember all the gifts she gives us each day.

February 02, 2005

The internet is smaller than I thought

Looking through my referrers log, it's always surprising which Google searches lead people to my page. (I am the number one hit for the word "Shatnerizing", for example.) But today was the first time I was searching for something completely unrelated to me and came across my own page. I was doing an image search for "technical difficulties", hoping to find one of those 'Please Stand By' TV images. (Really, don't ask why.) But I found a picture of my daughter instead.

January 30, 2005

The marketer's art

Back when I was a youth, Carling Black Label was the brand associated with skinny ties and spikey hair. Its marketers attempted to differentiate it from the jock beers and the old timer's beers -- as the urban hipster beer. The ads featured fashionably dressed party people grooving to 'New Wave' beats. But New Wave got old, and eventually the beer was discontinued across most of Canada.

But in Quebec the brand continues on, discovering new customers in those that want to get drunk, and don't want to waste any time doing it. The marketing strategy has changed from seducing you with the image of an exciting life to selling you one inexpensive and convenient 40oz bottle you can hold on to until you fall over. They also present you with six different strengths of beer so you can accurately choose your desired level of intoxication:

Regular -- 5%
"I'm driving!"
Forte -- 6.1%
Drunk
X-Forte -- 6.6%
Really drunk
Extrême -- 7%
Wasted
Suprême -- 8%
Shitfaced
Big 10 -- 10%!
Completely shitfaced

Choice is a wonderful thing.

(Thanks to the 40 oz Malt Liquor Database for the photos!)

UPDATE: You know, I'm not really sure what I meant to say with this post. I saw these different beers in the store and thought it was amusing, but the fun has since worn off. I apologize for my lameness and will not let it happen again. I only had one beer last night; I can't imagine what happened to my judgement...

January 19, 2005

God is a libertarian?

P. J. O'Rourke pens an alternative Inaugeral Address by President Bush that makes an interesting theological observation. "Bush" is discussing the Ten Commandments...

And then there is the Tenth Commandment. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's." The Ten Commandments are God's basic rules about how we should live--a brief list of sacred obligations and solemn moral precepts. The first nine Commandments concern theological principles and social law. But then, right at the end, is "Don't envy your buddy's cow." How did that make the top ten? What's it doing there? Why would God, with just ten things to tell Moses, choose as one of those things jealousy about the starter mansion with in-ground pool next door?

Yet think how important the Tenth Commandment is to a community, to a nation, indeed to a presidential election. If you want a mule, if you want a pot roast, if you want a cleaning lady, don't be a jerk and whine about what the people across the street have--go get your own.

The Tenth Commandment sends a message to all the jerks who want redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, more government programs, more government regulation, more government, less free enterprise, and less freedom. And the message is clear and concise: Go to hell.

(via Canadian Comment by way of Spin killer)

January 11, 2005

Christmas regrets

I would have traded my gifts from the second, third, fifth, sixth, and ninth days of Christmas for this extremely cool and impractical gift. Even if I had really received them..

January 02, 2005

Prediction for 2005

A new year is the ideal time to look to the future. I foresee the return of the great tradition of string art to it's rightful dominant position in the visual arts.

December 25, 2004

On the twelveth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

An inexpensive Linux laptop for blogging!

If only it were true...
VIA C3 processor 1.0 GHz 14.1" LCD panel Lindows/Linspire version 4.5 128 MB memory 30 GB hard drive CD-ROM drive 4 cell battery 4 USB 2.0 ports Complete Microsoft Office file-compatible office software suite to create and share Word (.doc), Excel (.xls) and PowerPoint (.ppt) documents
Hey. With this I'll lose one of my favourite pastimes: whining about how much I hate Windows. Well, it's nice anyways. Thanks.

December 24, 2004

On the eleventh day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

The Last Exile Complete Series!

Japan's top anime creators bring a richly romantic action/adventure fantasy in an imaginary planet where retro-futuristic sky vehicles permeate the skies. Against this lavish background are the lives of young and heroic van ship sky porters Claus and Lavie who are forced to take on the mission to deliver a mysterious girl, Alvis, to the battle ship Silvana. Before they know it, they become entangled in an aerial adventure between two countries griped in an eternal war of magnificent air battleships.
Oh wow! This is great. I saw a few episodes of these on Internet TV (from desync) and they were extremely cool. My inner-nerd is being re-awakened. Thanks so much!

December 23, 2004

On the tenth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

A talking Shrek cookie jar!

The fairytale continues! Each time the cookie jar's lid is lifted, the lovable green Shrek and his best friend Donkey engage in one of 4 interactive conversations in the actor's voices from the original movie.
Huh! What were you thinking? Well, I guess you had a busy day. No really, it's okay. You should maybe get some rest. I hope you kept the receipt?

December 22, 2004

On the ninth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

Giant Microbes!

The Common Cold!The Flu!
Ebola!The Black Death!
Giantmicrobes are plush dolls that look like common microbes. The product line was introduced in July 2002 and has been enthusiastically received at a retail level. The combination of humor, education, and sympathy resonates with parents, children, educators, pediatricians, science buffs and many others.
These are adorable. Thanks.

December 21, 2004

On the eighth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

A pair of Stacy Adams Navy Blue Madison Croco shoes!

Stacy Adams and Men who know style have been a perfect fit for over 100 years. Founded in 1875 in Brockton, MA. by William H. Stacy and Henry L. Adams, the Stacy Adams Shoe Company has long been a part of American Culture. From the roaring 20's and the post war boom, to prohibition and the jazz era, Stacy Adams has been there.

Stacy Adams is more than shoes. From head to toe: we cover your style from Hip-hop to silky Soul.

Oh, these are beautiful! These will look great with my powder blue tuxedo at that big wedding we're going to this summer. Thank you so much.

December 20, 2004

On the seventh day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

A Winnipeg Jets jersey!

Ahh! A nostalgia gift. This reminds me of the days when I actually cared about hockey. Thank you so much.

December 19, 2004

On the sixth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

Blue Wizard Is About to Die: Prose, Poems, and Emoto-Versatronic Expressionist Pieces About Video Games 1980-2003

MARIO:

King Of Plumbers; cartoon hands
white gloves, a psychotic
jumping thing made of big
slabs of solid color punctuated
by black lines, giving him features;
old hand... old hand... the savior
of the princess, hero of the mushroom kingdom,
commander of the psychotic and useless power of Yoshi,
a creature so dumb and pointless that,
only you, my little mustachioed Italian freak,
would dare punch it in the back of the head,
as if to say
"ready the tongue!
prepare to fire!"

mounted like a monkey on a dog at a rodeo;
you bastard, sent him - after jumping - to his death,
using his doomed back for leverage.

Jump those pits, flee into the safety
of the green pipes, spit those shells,
send up the flag at every castle in the kingdom,
for, I, the liberator, the conquering Italian hero,
have returned, again and again and again;
were going to make millions doing this!
you and me, kid, millions.

Shopping at the remaindered bookstore again, eh Sweety? Well, that's okay. It's perfect.

December 18, 2004

On the fifth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

A Stinkblaster Gun!

Blast your Friends with a ball of harmless but stinky air from up to twenty feet away. Just pull back the plunger, squeeze the pod release, aim and fire. The Stink Blaster Blaster coils the air as it races towards your target for a concentrated blast of air and smell. The power of the air ruffles shirts and blows hair, while the smell will wrinkle noses and annoy your friends. Blast them from a distance, they'll never see you coming. The ultimate in stink prank play, the stink toy is smelly wind blowing fun. The toy comes complete with blaster and two stink pods.
Thank you. I will never forget this.

December 17, 2004

On the fourth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

William Shatner's Has Been!

Folds' easygoing way with thematic contradiction-- smug sincerity, for one example; nerd chic for another-- makes him the ideal musical foil for Shatner's full-frontal Shatnerizing (it's a word, google it). Whether you know him from his early work, his hammy Priceline TV spots, or his recent tour de force as legal eagle Denny Crane on "The Practice" and its spinoff "Boston Legal", you know what I'm talking about. William Shatner's histrionic. Verbal. Cadence is the stuff of. Legend and. Many. A comedy routine. And fortunately, he never deigns himself to sing. But it's the fact that he's in on the joke these days that elevates him to some kind of groundbreaking standard-bearer of self-aware irony and innate honesty.

Can those two elements co-exist? Remarkably, they do on Has Been-- even after multiple listens. For an album I approached ready to shrug off as sheer novelty, its humor and candor give it a fair amount of staying power. Turn up the burlesque swing of "Ideal Woman" or the title track's goofy spaghetti western rant at a party and watch the room go silent. Shatner's voice is naturally magnetic, lending alternating gravitas and levity; his delivery is that of an accomplished actor, so with only a slight deviation of emphasis he can shift from bombastic to sullen.

Hey, this is great, darling. I've always thought William Shatner is one of the 20th century's most misunderstood artists. Now I'll get a chance to confirm it. Thank you.

December 16, 2004

On the third day of Christmas

...My truelove gave to me:

NRA Varmint Hunter!

Both western "dog" hunting and eastern "hog" hunting are presented in stunning realistic terrain locations, determined by combing the country for the best locations to represent the sport. The animal behavior has been modeled in the most realistic way utilizing the expertise of serious hunters. With the help and close cooperation of the Varmint Hunters Association the game is as realistic as possible and offers a great introduction into this fast growing sport. If you like pulling the trigger often, you will find NRA Varmint Hunting a great introduction to the sport and a terrific training aid to help you in the field.

The game will teach the player how to approach a "dog town" and work that town to achieve stimulating shooting. It will also teach the player stalking techniques needed when the target is a wary groundhog.

For anyone that likes to shoot a lot at both short and long range, pit their shooting skills against one of the most elusive targets in the shooting sports, with a wide assortment of guns and ammo combinations, the NRA Varmint Hunting game is a must have.

Wow. I've never played one of those hunting games before. I've always wondered what they're like. And it'll be a great stress reliever, I'm sure. Thanks, Sweety.

December 15, 2004

On the second day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

Kiss-opoly!

It's Monopoly. With Kiss. It's Kiss-opoly! Part of the tradition that brought you such unique games as Cat in the Hat-opoly, Motown-opoly, Dog-opoly, Dawg-opoly, Cat-opoly, Bible-opoly, Ocean-opoly, Wild Animal-opoly, Canada-opoly, Whoville-opoly, Cocktail-opoly, and many more.

Well... thank you dear. It's very... thoughtful. I, uh, was quite a Kiss fan when I was 12 years old. You will play it with me?

December 14, 2004

On the first day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

The Hummer Holiday Gift Pack.

"The Hummer adventure begins with a fresh and exhilarating burst of freshness comprised of green foliage, cardamom, thyme, and peppercorns that capture the essence of the outdoors. These lively notes are then melded with a warm, rugged, masculine, adrenaline rush of leather, patchouli, amber, and sandalwood. The smooth richness of tonka bean act as the 'axle' that links and balances the fresh and warm notes, creating an olfactory sensation that can only be Hummer."
Well, that sounds nice -- who wouldn't want to smell like patchouli? -- but the truth is Hummer Eau de Toilette consists of one part remaindered Hai Karate and two parts Brut. But it's the thought that counts.

December 13, 2004

Guilt sells

David Carr at Samizdata cuts into the hypocrisy of the new Do They Know It's Christmas? single:

Less pure and less simple, I wager, are the motives of the organisers. Two of the prominent names are Bob Geldof and Bono, both ageing rockers who have managed to sustain lucrative careers long past their sell-by dates by successfully reinventing themselves as saviours of the planet. Hey, it's all about getting down the with kidz, man. Or something. To me, they have more in common with American TV evangelists. They also promise salvation provided you send them your money.

Lining up alongside them are a rabble of pasty-faced no-talents, has-beens, wannabes and never-wases: a million mediocrity march. But together they can make a big noise and that matters a lot in an industry where the noisiest wins. In fact, if they owe anything to Africans at all then it is not spurious Christmas wishes but a royalty cheque and a big thank you for being the best marketing tool in the world.

The bad thing about this type of charity is that it's long on visuals and short on effectiveness. The money winds up going mostly to middlemen with the balance turning up in some corrupt autocrat's Swiss bank account. Poor Africans will see none of this money, unless they happen to live in the rustic, picturesque village where the celebrities come for the photo shoot. To help the poor in Africa it would be far better to support (by force, if necessary) the removal of the corrupt governments that keep their people poor, and to stand up to to the special interests in the rich countries that prevent Africa from selling us their agricultural products. But that would take away the crucial element of self-loathing from the problem. Which is really what this kind of charity is about, isn't it?

December 10, 2004

Live the dream

I remember those dreamy, fluorescent days of living in a small felt-enclosed cube inside a big glass one. Thoughts occasionally arose which were never acted on. The exciting Whack Your Boss game brought those days back and allowed me to live my dream.

(Note: This site sometimes wants to install junk on your computer. Do what Nancy Reagan said to do about drugs.)

Profound thought for the day

Inner Strength

If you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills,
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food everyday and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,
If you can overlook when people take things out on you when, through no fault of yours, something goes wrong,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can do all these things,
Then you are probably the family dog.

Doesn't she look cheerful?

(via the internet)

November 30, 2004

The children of M*A*S*H

The big news in Canada today is the state visit of George W. Bush. The way the media will play it is to focus on protesters and their clever signs and chants. War is bad, Bush started a war, therefore Bush is bad -- and Canadians are speaking out. It's a simple narrative, and one they won't find too many people disagreeing with.

The idea that war is always horrible and always wrong is now unquestioned in Canada. It's very difficult to find from our leaders or in our institutions any consideration that there are some things worth fighting for, and sometimes when you must stick to your guns, even if lives are at risk. Even our new War Museum has decided to overlook why men fought to instead concentrate on imparting these four thoughts to its visitors:

  • War has affected Canada and all Canadians.
  • War has affected my life in Canada today.
  • War is a devastating human experience for people like me.
  • I must remember.
The ideals and motivations that our soldiers fought for are being taken from them, and they've been turned from heroes into victims.

This represents the triumph of the M*A*S*H interpretation of warfare. In the show, there was absolutely no mention of why there was fighting in Korea, only that it was horrific and meaningless. The only person supporting the war was the cretinous Frank Burns, a crude characature the show used to skewer those 'squares' that believed in what the military told them. There were also young innocent soldiers brought in to weep over, and unfeeling generals to feel contempt for. The point-of-view with regards to war was cleverly made out to be self-evident. The show was as manipulative as TV gets.

Years of daily reruns of M*A*S*H has had an effect on our collective conciousness. Canadians are now too 'sophisticated' to support military intervention -- even if the alternative is much worse (as it would have been in Korea). What will it take to shake us out of this trance?

November 25, 2004

Unleashed: Nerd Crack

So far, the effects haven't been seen. But soon the various computer systems that make our modern life possible will start to fail; and things we once took for granted will become just a memory. Using a banking machine, booking an airline ticket, paying your phone bill -- it will no longer be possible. But the internet will still work. Because otherwise the geeks that let all the other stuff fall apart wouldn't be able to play the game that now occupies all their time.

World of Warcraft was released by Blizzard Entertainment a couple of days ago and has already sold out -- over a quarter of a million copies. More on on the way, but I imagine they're staggering the release so the servers the game runs on can adjust. WoW is a MMORPG, a Massively Multiplayer On-line Role Playing Game, the first created by Blizzard. Most of the games of this type have flopped (with the exception on Everquest) but Blizzard will undoubtably make it work. In over fifteen years as a company, they've released only a handful of games -- and all of them have been hits. Their success is due to the intense play-testing they do. WoW has been in production for more than three years -- most of it to polish and balance the game in ways that most players wouldn't even notice. They're not in the business of cranking out derivative crap. They create games that are simple to get into, but which have tremendous depth that continues to offer rewards to the more obsessive types of players. And after playing their games for a while, most people become obsessive types of players.

I'm going to try to avoid getting sucked into this game. I know it's futile, but I have to try. I'll fail of course, and will wind up with the rest of the nerds chasing after virtual adventure and treasure. I haven't got a chance.

Alexander's a stinker

Oliver Stone has clearly declared himself to be an idiotarian. Read this interview with him and listen to how he rationalizes the brutality of the Castro regime if you have any doubts. So I feel no guilt for the pleasure I get by reading the savage reviews of his disasterous new movie. Apparently, it's so bad it's almost good -- but not quite. Here's some selected excerpts from IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes:

An act of hubris so huge that, in Alexander's time, it would draw lightning bolts from contemptuous gods. Today it will get sniggers from stunned critics and a collective yawn from a public unlikely to share Stone's egomania.

Filled with cringe-inducing, laughter-provoking moments, including more deliciously overripe performances than any single movie can possibly contain.

There are films which you don't like because the film isn't to your taste; then there are movies which are just bad movies. This is a bad movie: a truly awful script, a complete waste of some talented actors, and direction so awful that the audience was laughing during the (very, very few) moments of supposed high drama and tension. The CGI portions of the battle scenes were amateurish, and other CGI effects were garish and distractingly inconsistent.

Oliver Stone doesn't just create trainwrecks. He knocks the train off the rails, sets it on fire, then kills every person onboard. (And takes three hours to do it.)

So misconceived, so shrill, so fetishy is Oliver Stone's epic, so unintentionally hilarious a stew of paganism and Freudianism, that it makes Conan the Barbarian look like Gladiator.

Oliver Stone has done what I never thought possible: He has made me feel pity for him. The movie is a sprawling mess, a lox, a three-hour non-starter.

This movie was awful. It was long, boring, and focused on the side-show of Alexander's life instead of his adventures. The acting was unconvincing and soupy. The story was tedious and long on speculation and details about Alexander's sexual proclivities, yet mentions almost nothing about his philosophy or strategising other than some vague desire for a multi-cultural empire.

A flop of massive proportions, Alexander is a diffuse and incoherent historical epic that fails to engage intellectually or emotionally.

File "Transvestite-Looking Men Belly Dancing For an Extended Period of Time" under "Scenes I Hope to Never See Again in Life." Then to make it worse, Farrell kissed the guy afterwards. Sigh. Three hours, folks. Three hours I'll *never* get back. I'm WARNING you.

A horrendously bad movie, a genuine 40-car pile-up of literally epic proportions, a three-way head-on collision of bad writing, bad acting, and bad direction.

What an overlong, overblown, overbearing piece of odoriferous offal that was! The editing was apparently done at random, the pacing ponderous, the characters completely unsympathetic, the storytelling weak. Anthony Hopkins' droning narrative served only to remind us -- for three friggin' hours! -- that film is *supposed to be* a visual medium. Show us, don't tell us! The battle scenes, which should have been a strength here (Platoon was brilliant in this area), were a jumbled mess of quick cuts and shaky-cam shots of blood spurting.

Theres nothing that quite compares to the pain of passing a kidney stone... except perhaps Oliver Stones Alexander.

It is such a majestic disaster, that I have a bizarre sort of affection for it, like for a weirdly deformed child, maybe.

October 11, 2004

My name is Xenon...

Most arcade rats from the 80s have heard about MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) already. It allows you to replay all those stupid games that gobbled up your allowance back when you were a teenager -- and for free! But I just learned about VPMAME -- Visual Pinball MAME. Some very clever people have combined a program that emulates the original ROMs from old pinball machines with a pinball CAD program and simulator. The result allows you to play many of those old machines on your computer -- and once again for free!

Actual screen shot!

You can go here to figure out how to do it. It takes a bit of playing around to get it to work, but it's worth it.

October 03, 2004

The Hitchhiker's Guide, cont'd

The BBC has created two new six episode series of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio show. I missed the first episode, but each week they're going to enable listening of the most recent show from the website. The second episode was quite good: most of the original cast is there, and the story is based on the later books in the HHGTTG series. Now I've just got to remember it each week...

(indirectly via Dave Munger -- and yes, I am a nerd.)

September 28, 2004

Lost weekend

I haven't been able to find time to blog recently, but just wait 'til you hear the reasons...

It was at a reception at the Czech embassy on Friday evening that my wife and I met the Lithuanian basketball player and the CEO that started everything. I was wearing my silk mustard-coloured leisure suit with a crisp blue cufflinked shirt opened to mid-chest that implied I didn't care that the disco retro fad had died a few years ago. My wife was decked out in a sharp, short lime-green number trimmed with black lace. She was gorgeous.

The CEO was on his third scotch and explaining to me how his board of directors was taking away his private jet. It seems the corporate world had rediscovered restraint a few years ago and the new rules now applied even to him -- especially after his last disasterous quarter. In a month, he would once again be forced to fly with his inferiors in business class. I suggested that he should use this last month with his Gulfstream to take advantage of the freedom he had now and enjoy himself. In the the modern, hyper-connected world we live in, he should be able to conduct his business remotely from anywhere in the world. Life is for living!

I was just making conversation, of course, because it would not really be proper to use a plane owned by his company's shareholders to indulge in private adventure, but -- perhaps due to some invisible personal identity crisis -- he thought what I had suggested was a grand idea. He got the pilot on the phone and told him to warm up the jet. But where to go?

This is where the basketball player joined our conversation. He was sitting on a armchair facing away from us with a diminutive and beautiful asian woman sitting in his lap. He turned around and said that his girlfriend's brother's agent had told him about a fabulous fundraiser being held in a mansion on Long Island tonight. We would miss the dinner, but he could get us in for the late-evening drinks and schmoozing.

"What's the fundraiser for?", asked the CEO to the asian woman.

"She's not my girlfriend!", said the basketball player. "It's something to do with orphans. Hmmm, yeah, it was definitely orphans somewhere..."

For proposing the idea I was invited along. It sounded like fun -- it wasn't me that would be hauled before the SEC. I went to tell my wife, who was deeply involved in a wide-ranging discussion on the topic of the crisis in modern cinema with a world-famous ballerina. The ballerina was tall and beautiful and displayed a huge mouth full of perfect teeth when she laughed -- which she did frequently. With absolutely no permission to do so, I invited her along for the ride (and my wife too). We were to meet at the airport at 10:00. We didn't have time to get anything; the three of us jumped in a cab and were off.

The CEO was late. So late that we were starting to fear that he'd lost his nerve. In the meantime, we got to know the basketball player and his (not) girlfriend. She was a fashion designer from Hong Kong who had fled the steadily encroaching oppression of Communist China for the less steadily encroaching oppression of Canada. Her english was perfect.

Finally the CEO showed up. His wife had caused the delay by insisting that she needed a new outfit. We had seen this woman at the reception and had tittered a bit privately at her -- but now we would be crammed together for two hours on a flight to the States. She was at least six feet tall (six and a half with her heels), thin save for the large safety devices grafted to her chest, and had her skin toasted to a deep, rich brown. Her makeup was tastefully done, but still looked wrong because of her artificially enlarged lips.

On the plane (which was a little more cramped than I'd expected) we were forced to lift the armrest between two chairs to fit three people in. I spent the flight squeezed tightly between my wife and the ballerina, whose hips were larger than you might have expected. The CEO's wife was a splendid hostess, warm, funny, and down-to-earth. The seven of us had a wonderful time on the flight, and drank some excellent wine.

We landed at a small airport on Long Island. We were forced to cab it to the party, and the CEO's wife worried how it would look. It turned out that no one cared. No one but the basketball player's girlfriend's brother and his agent saw us arrive. The basketball player endured puzzled frowns from his sponsors at the number they would have to sneak in, but his sheepish look and repeated shrugs seemed eventually to satisfy them. We went in. It had been a long grueling cab ride. I went straight to the bar.

The house was quite magnificent. Spacious, but with furniture laid out in a such a way that small clusters could get a sense of intimacy for their discussions, but without disturbing the flow and movement of people. The only fault I could find was with the decor. Some people are frightened by intense colour but I think this is what would make this house more exciting. As it was, it was beige, black, and (ugh) powder blue that dominated. I assumed it was an older person that was the host of this party.

I could tell this was quite the high-power event. If the style of vehicles hadn't already tipped me off to this, a glance around the room would have. There were famous people here! Good thing the wife and I looked so incredible cool. At the bar, I stood beside a famous character actor as he described the complicated drink he wanted the bartender to make. When he was done, I asked for the bartender to make me one too.

"You can't have one", the character actor said, "this is my personal signature drink!"

I asked him what he called it. "It's a Monte Carlo Black." And he said to the bartender, "Don't make him one."

I said, "If you don't let me have one, the recipe and name of this drink will be featured in next Sunday's New York Times Style section." And to the bartender, "You can put it in a different style glass for me."

That seemed to satisfy the character actor, and we started to talk. (The drink was pretty good.) I made up an extraordinarily preposterous story of who I was and what I do. He bought it. And he knew just the person I should talk to -- and that's when things got really interesting...

...


Wait. Wait. That's not what really happened. I don't have a silk mustard-coloured leisure suit. I stayed home all weekend and successfully prevented my kids from killing themselves. That was fun too, I guess...

September 24, 2004

Holy Truck!

Japanese truckers worship their rigs.

September 23, 2004

From the What were they thinking? dept

By popular demand (well, probably not), MGM has re-released the Showgirls DVD in a Special Limited Edition, Run-Right-Out-And-Get-This-Now, V.I.P. Boxset. It includes not only the odious movie (which I only know is odious by reading the reviews, honest!), but Showgirls shot glasses, Showgirls playing cards, a Showgirls blindfold, and a pair of tassled Showgirls pasties.

How will you go on living without this?

Don't think that the pasties are intended to be attached to a real, you know, person of the female gender. The creators of this abomination have done some market research and have concluded that their potential buyers are almost certainly single. So they've included a life-size airbrushed poster of Showgirls actress Elizabeth Berkley and included instructions for the no-doubt hilarious drinking game called Pin the Pasties on the Showgirl. You see, that's what the shot glasses and blindfold are for! Invite some friends over for a game, I'm sure they'll never forgive you.

September 22, 2004

Time goes Goatse

Maybe you've never seen the 'Goatse'. You're lucky. I won't tell you about it, but you can go here (safe link -- really) to find out more if you're interested. The original image has had such an effect on the internet, there's even a site dedicated to homages to it.

The reason I mention this is that some graphic designers have created another homage to it, and put it on the cover of the latest Time Magazine. Bad news for Goatse fans, because it's common knowledge that as soon as a fad gets on the cover of Time Magazine, it's played out.

We probably won't hear about it, but somebody's gonna get, well -- reamed over this...

UPDATE: Google's fifth hit for 'goatse' is the Time cover.

Post cereal wants to know your kid's turn-ons

I'm having one of those short-attention span days. In a fog, I've actually just read the back of a box of cereal.

HONEYCOMB wants you to gEt whAt You wAnt!
We want to hear from you! Tell us about yourself. How do you like to spend your spare time? What sorts of things are cool with you and your friends (ie. tv shows, sports, movies, games, etc.)? Who do you admire? What do you like about HONEYCOMB cereal? We want to know!
And now you've just read the back of a box of cereal too. Don't you have anything better to do?

Seriously though, is this supposed to be market research? It seems pretty creepy. If you looked over your 13 year-old's shoulder and saw those questions addressed to him as he chatted on the internet, what would you think?

September 19, 2004

Crash and burn

Before going to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, I checked out the posters at IMDb, as I usually do. Most were loudly praising it, calling it a unique and beautiful Indiana Jones style adventure flick. That sounded good to me, but I couldn't help noticing there were a few reviewers who seemed to have a real intense loathing for the movie. One even said it was the worst movie he'd ever seen. I usually chuckle when I read stuff like that -- I mean, how could it be the worst movie he ever saw? But it turns out this guy might have been on to something. I doubt it's the worst movie I've ever seen -- but I haven't been able to think of a worse one since I got out of the theatre. It stunk pretty bad.

Maybe I'm being too rough on it. It looked great -- though the look got a little dull after the first half-hour. And the acting wasn't too bad -- given the lines the actors had to work with. But the story -- what a train wreck! I've never seen a more poorly written movie.

Some people have said that, yeah, the story is weak, but the strength of the movie is in the action and effects. But a weak story is 'we gotta get them before they get us' or 'unlikely competitor comes from behind and through perseverance overcomes obstacles to win the championship'. Nothing wrong with a poor story; some of the best movies of all time have them. But Sky Captain's story isn't weak -- it just doesn't make any sense. Really, it makes absolutely no sense at all.

Sure, lots of movies have parts of the plot that don't make any sense. But never has a movie been made has such a density of stupidity. The characters motivations are continually baffling. The 'bad guys' strategy makes no sense. Things just happen for no reason.

The movie reminds me of one of those bad computer adventure games from the early nineties. You'd have things in your 'inventory' that you would try to 'use' by clicking on everything in the few areas you had access to. And eventually you'd hit on the extremely unlikely combination the programmer chose, and you'd move on to the next part of the game. At least in Sky Captain you don't have to go through all the frustrating bits. The characters walk into a room they're exploring and find the files they need, open a cupboard and find the geiger counter they need, or right away find the scrap of the map with an 'X' on Nepal in the destroyed air base to tell them where they should fly off to next.

This movie was supposed to come out earlier this year. I'm guessing it was pulled back for emergency surgery by the studio to try to salvage something. There are little hints that the story had an 'Island of Dr. Moreau' plotline. But it looks like the patient died on the operating table.

For some reason though, this movie is getting generally good reviews. It just goes to show that you can't trust the lying, no-good media these days.

UPDATE: There's a thread on the movie at Vodkapundit. Some of the other detractors of the movie are starting to speak out. Thank goodness I'm not the only person to see this movie for what it is.

August 18, 2004

It's all a matter of 'tude, dude

Now that I'm a parent, I find myself at the toy store every now and then. Since my toddlers can derive equal amounts of fun from a used yogurt tub as they would from a hand-carved clockwork wooden pull-toy, the toy store I go to is not the all-educational, all-organic, expensive boutique in the trendy part of town. I go to the place with a giant parking lot outside and where everything is made in China. Once I've picked out my $12.99 surprise for my sweeties, I often go take a look around at the stuff for the older kids, so I can see what pointy plastic things I can look forward to stepping on in my bare feet. I'm not really all that happy with what I see.

Toys seem to have a tone these days that I don't remember as a child. A sour and somewhat even nasty tone. This doesn't really bother me (much) in toys designed for kids around eleven or twelve, but in toys for seven-year-olds it troubles me.

Take lego. The old lego minifigs had cheery smiles on their faces, no matter what horrible things you were doing to them. They looked a little blank and empty, but that allowed you to project yourself into them. In Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, he talks about how faces drawn in a simpler style allow the reader to more closely identify and empathize with the characters. This principle is the same in toys. The peacefully smiling minifig could be anything you wanted him to be. But I don't think you could say the same about the modern minifigs. They just look like some bad dudes, and no doubt affect how the child plays with them.

Barbie hasn't changed in the way lego has, but she's been largely replaced for seven-year-old girls by Bratz. Barbie was always pretty saccharine and goody-goody, but for kids under ten, there's nothing wrong with that. She often had a family and a career and -- despite her sexy outfits and excessive materialism -- seemed like a respectable part of the community. Not so the Bratz. The dolls are pouty, sour-faced girls and boys, and the accessories are nightclub gear and limosines. The seem to exist only to consume, and they don't even take any pleasure in it. It preaches the culture of nihilism to adolescents.

Video games, of course, are filled with characters with this same 'tude. Most are for older kids, so this is expected. But even the games for the little ones are given this irritating attitude adjustment. Kirby for example, an extremely inoffensive Japanese character who stars in many Nintendo games, has gone from a goofy, cheery pink blob to a goofy pink blob... with attitude. I expect the next Mario game to feature him dressed as a gangsta rapper with a permanent scowl.

Innocence is a beautiful thing, but it seems there's a pressure felt by kids today to lose it as soon as possible. Even if parents manage to shield their kids from the slouchy sourness of adolescent culture, they'll encounter it in school. There's no avoiding it. But I'm going to try.

August 10, 2004

Nice day for a protest

Well, no. We've had thunderstorms all morning. But it's starting to clear; maybe we'll even get a spot of sun. The protest is the rally for CHOI on Parliament this afternoon. Jay Jardine has the Hill-cam on his site, so you can check out how many people turn up, even if you're not located near Sucking Central.

I'll be there. Not only do I get an opportunity to oppose the evil culture tyrants, I can be toddler-free for a few hours, get a haircut, eat some sort of beef-cheese-bread food combo, and try to resist buying Doom III (which is apparently pretty good, who'd have thought?). A hurricane couldn't keep me away.

August 07, 2004

Poetry minute

I was listening to Stereolab as I did the dishes this evening and it got me thinking about the 70s. The 70s were a grim time for the most part, and I spent my formative years in it wearing shirts with huge collars and watching bad TV while sitting on olive green and orange polyester furniture. One of my hippy teachers during this time read a poem in class one day that really stuck with me, but which I'd never been able to find again. But now, with the miracle of Google, I have unearthed it and brought it to the surface, disoriented and blinking in the harsh light of the 21st century. It hasn't aged very well, but that's what makes it so interesting:

Little Boxes
by Malvina Reynolds

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All go to the university,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
And there's doctors and there's lawyers
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf-course,
And drink their Martini dry,
And they all have pretty children,
And the children go to school.
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
And they all get put in boxes
And they all come out the same.

And the boys go into business,
And marry, and raise a family,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

Huh. Not quite as good as I remembered it. Just a little bit too snobbish for my taste. And a bit simplistic. I think after she read it my teacher said, "Doesn't that just make you... THINK? Y'know? I mean... WOW..."

August 06, 2004

Whole lotta smackin' goin' on...

A bit more on Sheila. She used the phrase 'smacks of McCartyism' when referring to the allegations against poor selfless André (roll eyes). I don't think there's one tired phrase that annoys me more than 'smacks of'. Just for fun, I went to Google to find out what things were smacking of these days:

compromise, selective prosecution, intimidation, desperation, intolerance, commissar politics, 1984 and Big Brother, Orwell's 1984, cyber-McCarthyism, dishonesty, hypocrisy, impropriety, controversy, the nanny state, being disingenuous, stupidity and ignorance, censorship, unfair policies, CBC bias, ANC Electioneering, the bad old days, dj vu, double standards, false morals, xenophobia, emotional lip gloss, elegance, style, Chicago-style political cronyism, a Roman power game, Reagan's Grenada stunt, Clintonian mendacity, 'Pax Americana', Fianna Fil interference, favoritism, racism, sexism, colonialism, fascism, communism, abuse, piata politics, a new imperialism, a whitewash, a witch hunt, a shady deal, politics, wrongness, out-dated logic, alchemy, class, success, revenge, Andrew Jackson all over again, some weird California woo-woo thing, and the worst excesses of the Scandinavian eugenics movement.
Well. Now you know.

August 03, 2004

The Great Can Con

The Canadian Cultural establishment works like the mafia -- a closely knit hierarchy of groups that collectively determine what type of entertainment and edification the citizens of this country can safely be exposed to. They work mostly in the background, visible only in half-glimpsed logos seen at the end of TV programs, or in the fine print in the program to a play. But they're there, and are very influential. Just like the mafia, they use money to get power -- by corrupting the creative community with grants and paid positions -- and use their power to get more money. And occasionally they're forced to whack some troublemakers -- like CHOI-FM in Québec City -- to make an example of them.

The Federal government funds groups, which fund other groups, which fund still other groups, creating an almost unbelievably vast network of dependents. Dependents like the Conseil Culturel Fransaskois which 'helps create in Saskatchewan a vibrant cultural and artistic Fransaskois community and favorable circumstances for Francophone artists' or Studio XX, 'Montreal's Web Art and Media Resource Centre for Women'. Or how about Collective Echoes, which was given $20,000 to put up this oh-so-amusing billboard in Vancouver. (I'm glad the caption explained the word-play. I never would have figured it out!) I could go on and on with this (the government websites are so proud of all these clients that I could mine them for days and never run out of material) but that's not my point. I've got nothing against Francophone artists in Saskatchewan or women web designers in Montreal, and if the government is handing out cash-money to people who want to indulge themselves and do what they love, they'd be foolish to turn it down.

The waste of money is an issue. Canadian taxpayers don't deserve to have their money spent on someone else's particular passion. Some may say these projects benefit all Canadians, but forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical about that. But even that isn't the worst part. What I worry about is what having only one significant patron of the Arts does to the creative energy of this country.

I like to think of artistic expression as a fundamental component of human nature. We want to express ourselves; we want to attract attention and be thought of as profound, witty and talented. We also want to get rich. Art flourishes in a competitive environment. The boring, the derivative and the pretentious are washed away by ambitious newcomers in a continual cycle of renewal. Any media that has feedback from its consumers will see this process. Fashions, styles, and themes will be brought to the forefront, twisted, changed, and discarded, only to be rediscovered again by a new generation. It's good, this change -- and it's vital to art.

But Canada has moved away from this. Slowly, government money and government promotion has stepped between the artists and their customers (because that's what the public really are) and altered the incentives to create art. Gatekeepers have taken up positions of power and imposed warped constraints on creativity. Instead of working to please a fickle and unpredictable public, artists start thinking about how they can please some functionary in a bureaucracy -- how they can achieve some quota or meet some qualification in order to get a grant or funding and promotion for a project. It's poisoning our country's creative resources.

Art isn't going to go away if the government stops funding it. But some people will have a hard time making a living as artists. Like everyone else, they'll have to temper their dreams with reality, and the public will be better off for it.

August 02, 2004

As I was saying...

What was I saying? That Hollywood can't address terrorism? I guess I was wrong -- take a look at this: Team America. Apparently, the White House is not amused. But it kinda looks like fun. The trailer made me laugh...

The bad guy is ... (yawn) ... a corporation

For the latest in my continuing series of providing movie spoilers (two is a series, right?) I look at the Manchurian Candidate, which also opened this weekend. No hidden text this time, because I don't think there's really any secret here -- the evil force trying to gain control of the White House is a corporation, Manchurian Global, instead of the Reds.

It's very strange that in these days when the Western world is threatened by Islamic terrorism, Hollywood is unable to make a movie that implicates Islamic terrorists as the villains. The idea probably came up as the screenwriters worked on updating the plot of the old Manchurian Candidate to modern times, but they rejected it. To un-PC, I guess. Too dangerous a subject. Better to keep their heads buried in the sand.

But a corporation! Really, could there be any more of a clichéd enemy in movies? White guys in suits, smoking cigars and holding meetings in wood-paneled offices. But that's Hollywood shorthand for evil these days. Not a scarred face and bad teeth, but a cell phone and shiny black shoes. As part of the promo for the movie, they created a website for Manchurian Global. It's pretty well done -- at first I thought it was a real company that had the same name. But when you look a bit, you find the standard friendly business-babble twisted in with the paranoid fantasies of the wackier fringes of the left:

"Imagine a world beyond borders, where global commerce is free to flourish, where resources are available to those who are willing to work hardest. Imagine the future of Manchurian Global. Be part of it."
-- Jonathan Bai, Senior Advisor

"Skill, intellect, and a keen eye for the unexplored will propel Manchurian Global beyond all others in the quest for the world's finite economic resources."
-- Marcus Bollen, Senior Counselor

Clever.

Mistrust of corporations has always been around, but it seems more widespead and acceptable nowadays. Significant portions of the population believe the war in Iraq was cooked up by a secret cabal of oil companies and defence contractors. All you have to do is say the name, 'Haliburton' to some people to set them off ranting about their latest conspiracy theory. I really wonder what it'll take to wake people up to who the real enemy is.

July 31, 2004

The secret of The Village

I think everyone must have seen the trailer to The Village, the latest movie from the self-regarding director M. Night Shyamalan. 1897. Remote, isolated village. Uneasy truce with some monsters in the forest. But now something's gone wrong...

Shyamalan is known for his twist endings, and this one is no different. Everything you read about this movie is careful not to give away any 'spoilers'. But who cares about spoilers if the movie is so terrible? Most of the reviews I've seen have been critical. IMDb poster CWessonSpeaks lays it down:

Perhaps the most laughable, implausible, asinine film to grace screens this summer. This shamefully trashy and reactionary yarn about red cape wearing monsters threatening an idyllic Amish-like village is truly preposterous, interminably dull and its narrative `twists' can be seen a mile away. Imagine the silliest episode of Scooby Doo mixed with a `very special' Halloween episode of Little House on the Prairie. The outrageous promotion of this world class turkey from this country's most self promoting, arrogant hack M. Night Shyamalan (who inexplicably and egocentrically seems to fancy himself a modern day Hitchcock) is really unforgivable.

The hype for this thing is a surefire way to make it the big box office winner this weekend and I'm sure there will be plenty of groaning, bored and angry audience members tonight like in my screen who booed and hissed throughout the film's lengthy, incredibly dull duration. I feel embarrassed for all the actors in the film having to speak the ludicrous dialogue and keep a straight face. This is one of those incredible all star train wrecks that people will laugh about for years. I'm still in shock that some of the actors in this film didn't laugh out loud at the screenplay.

Sounds bad right? Not going to go see it? But you want to know what the twist ending is?

You're in luck. I've braved numerous bulletin boards on various obsessive movie sites, separated the red herrings from the facts and come up with this. I even found a wacky left-wing interpretation of the movie that reveals deep important insights into the danger of -- wait for it -- George W. Bush! Select the hidden text below to read it:

Guess what! It's not really 'the olden days' but modern times! One of the town elders was a billionaire and gathered some of his isolationalist buddies to create a primitive utopian community! He even prevented planes from flying over! The younger people don't know anything about the outside world! The monsters are fake and run by a villager to keep everyone frightened!

And how does Bush fit in? Well, I'll let you read it for yourself:

My theory is that the film is against Americas war against terror.Notice the end.The security guard is reading the newspaper that says of a number of soldiers killed in action and the radio reports of more being killed.Plus there is a community in which nobody-with the exception of a small elite-know what is happening out of its borders.They have blind faith in the elders and in order for the villagers to be obedient,they are given a pshycological fear through suggestion about these dangerous and bloodthursty creatures that lurk in the forest waiting to harm them.Ofcourse no one,exept the elders have ever seen these creatures.If you watch the news and have been to America,you know what im talking about.
It's like a ... a metaphor or something. I get it!

July 26, 2004

The Bourne Supremacy

I had no intention of seeing this movie. I saw the trailer and said, 'pass'. It implied the movie was like one of those Arnold movies from the 80's like 'Raw Deal' or 'Commando', except without Arnold. You know, the one man army doing the raging revenge thing (a theme I've had enough of this year). The tagline to the movie didn't dissuade me from this impression: They should have left him alone. Add in a pan from the only review I read (in the Post) and I was pretty sure they wouldn't be getting any of my money.

But my movie buddy wanted to see it and offered me an escape from the house for a few hours, so I found myself watching it anyway. And I'm glad I did, because it's probably the best movie I've seen this year.

It had a great plot (much more than the trailer implied) that was complicated enough to keep you interested but not overwhelming you with details. Three forces, each with their own agendas and own view of what was happening circled each other looking for advantage. It was expertly paced, never boring you too much action or too much plot. It ends with what has to be one of the best car chases in movie history.

What I particularly liked about the movie was how it didn't insult your intelligence and pulled you into the action. The cinematography had a gritty, jerky feel -- that some found annoying -- but I really enjoyed. During the car chase, I was completely on the edge of my seat and I literally fell back after one spectacular and unexpected collision. And the scenes in various cities captured what (I imagine) the cities feel like. The movie conveyed the taste of a place you get when you're wandering the streets on the first days after arriving. I've never been to Berlin but the movie made me feel like I was there.

Anyways -- great movie, I really want to see it again. I can't wait for the third part in the trilogy.

July 23, 2004

Magical Trevor

There's a new Weebls Stuff animation available. Be warned that if you listen to it more than three times you might possibly never get the song out of your head. Thankfully this happened to me -- the song that was there before, Like a Rhinestone Cowboy (da-da-DUM!), was really starting to get to me. What I can't figure out was how it got there in the first place.

July 20, 2004

It's a jungle out there

Below are the results of a painstaking 15-minute survey of the condition of my lawn. I knew things were bad, but I never knew they were this bad. Something will obviously have to be done. Mouse-over the photos for more information about each particular problem. Note that I know absolutely nothing about lawns (as if the photos don't already make that perfectly clear) so the names of some of the plants are not accurate...

(To speed loading times for the home page, the photos have been moved to the archive. But take a look! Pictures of my lawn! Wow! Rarely seen before!)

Continue reading "It's a jungle out there" »

July 17, 2004

I, Robot

I try to avoid reading reviews before I see a movie. If they say it's great, I nitpick while I watch because my tastes are a little different from most people; and if they say it sucks, I also nitpick when I watch because I know they're probably right. I like having no preconceptions before I see a movie. I can enjoy it or shake my head at its stupidity and not have to compare what I'm seeing to what I expect.

But I caught a couple of reviews of I, Robot before I went today. They were generally negative, so me and my movie-fanatic buddy weren't expecting too much. The effects would be cool though, and I always like checking out how filmmakers imagine the future. Bring it on!

(No real spoilers follow, but read on at your own risk.)

Continue reading "I, Robot" »

July 12, 2004

An analysis of media bias

Orson Scott Card writes a detailed analysis of media bias in the Wall Street Journal. It's quite revealing of the low-level propaganda we're all subjected to day after day.

July 08, 2004

How to make (and not make) a correction

Mistakes happen. That's why they put the backspace key on computers. The NY Post shows a lot of class and respect for its readers with its correction of the blooper it made the day before. It made me smile:

Before...After...

Contrast this with the Los Angeles Times, which wrote last Sunday that:

L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian administrator for Iraq, left without even giving a final speech to the country almost as if he were afraid to look in the eye the people he had ruled for more than a year.
Of course he did give a speech, which at least some Iraqi's found very moving:
Suddenly Mr. Bremer appeared on TV reading his last speech before he left Iraq. I approached the TV to listen carefully to the speech, as I expected it to be difficult in the midst of all that noise. To my surprise everyone stopped what they were doing and started watching as attentively as I was.

The speech was impressive and you could hear the sound of a needle if one had dropped it at that time. The most sensational moment was the end of the speech when Mr. Bremer used a famous Arab emotional poem. The poem was for a famous Arab poet who said it while leaving Baghdad. Al-Jazeera had put an interpreter who tried to translate even the Arabic poem which Mr. Bremer was telling in a fair Arabic! Let this damned interpreter shut up. We want to hear what the man is saying One of my colloquies shouted. The scene was very touching that the guy sitting next to me (who used to sympathize with Muqtada) said Hes going to make me cry!

Then he finished his speech by saying in Arabic,Aash Al-Iraq, Aash Al-Iraq, Aash Al-Iraq! (Long live Iraq, Long live Iraq, long live Iraq).

I was deeply moved by this great mans words but I couldnt prevent myself from watching the effect of his words on my friends who some of them were anti-Americans and some were skeptic, although some of them have always shared my optimism. I found that they were touched even more deeply than I was. I turned to one friend who was a committed Sheat and who distrusted America all the way. He looked as if he was bewitched, and I asked him, So, what do you think of this man? Do you still consider him an invader? My friend smiled, still touched and said, Absolutely not! He brought tears to my eyes. God bless him.

So a mistake was made, and today the Times finally corrected themselves:
Iraqi handover A news analysis about the new Iraqi government in Sunday's Section A stated that outgoing administrator L. Paul Bremer III did not give a farewell speech to the country. His spokesman has since said that Bremer taped an address that was given to Iraqi broadcast media. The spokesman said the address was not publicized to the Western news media.
So, a legalistic correction, late, and with the lame excuse, "no one told us". (What? Is transcribe press releases all you do?) No apologies for the insulting tone of the original piece, and no information given as to what the speech was about. No class at all, those guys.

June 11, 2004

Runaway Train

There's a thrill that comes from taking a few days off from the blog that comes from the inflated sense of importance it gives me. After a day and a half, I start receiving emails wondering if anything is wrong. And when I don't answer them, the internet is soon a-buzz with theories as to what's happened. But when the police came to my door to check up on me, the necessity of my posts to my readers was really driven home. Thanks to both of you for your concern.

An excuse I thought I would use for my absence is that my TV service has been resumed. I tried to shut it off back in December, but the clever person in the call-center convinced me to just switch it off for awhile. And now it's back. Possibly I could have been spending the past few days getting reaquainted with an old friend -- but this is an excuse no one would believe. If anything, TV has gotten even worse in six months. Vacuous, repetitive, unimaginative crap -- and the non-news shows are pretty bad too.

The American stations were shocked -- Shocked! -- that dogs had been used to intimidate prisoners in Iraqi jail. This was implied to be some sort of scandal, though they didn't really explain why. Newsworld -- or al-Gorezeera as some internet wit named it -- was covering their coverage of their obsession with the non-issue of abortion in the Conservative campaign with immense dedication. I got to see one clip of an earnest young woman, newly emerged from the bubble she's been trapped in for the past twenty years, ask yet another abortion question at a campaign stop. The sound from the crowd was a groan and a soft clunk as their eyes collectively rolled back in their heads. Her indignation sensor was obviously calibrated far too sensitively, so she started throwing out accusations that she was being heckled. To the person she was asking the question to. It's a wonder how Harper kept a straight face. Can this really be the state of the professional media today?

I'm going to keep the TV going until the end of the election, then off it goes. My children will grow up deprived. Too bad. Let them whine to their therapists about it.

The campaign here in Pontiac is going better than expected. I can't say I've been a big help -- I've done a few updates to the website, and helped with a couple of technical issues -- but mostly I've been on the sideline. But I've been to the meetings and am enjoying watching how a campaign is run. The big thing I've learned is that politics really is local. You can't just put up signs and go around shaking hands in the town center to get elected. You need to know people who know people. You have to earn the trust of those people. Communities are complex networks of people that take cues from others. Winning support of influential citizens goes a long way to winning the votes of the majority. We're doing quite well here as our candidate has deep roots in this area. As well, many of the former organizers for the Liberals here have lost their faith in the party and are angry at the way the incumbent was treated. They're working for us now. Can we win? Well, I'm feeling pretty good about it.

Hey! It's Mama's and my tenth wedding anniversary today! That's a really long time -- just imagine, double digits. And we've been together much longer, almost eighteen years. It's one of those milestones that makes you reassess your vision of yourself -- no, you're not a young man who's life is just beginning, you're a middle-aged guy for whom anything is no longer possible. I hope to delay my mid-life crisis until the kids are in nursery school.

And how about those kids! Three weeks ago Max was still crawling and Talia was much slower. Now .... well, it's crazy around here. Max tries to get into everything. Doors, latches, drawers, windows -- they all fascinate him. His standard response to the word 'no' is an evil smile and a chuckle. Talia is not quite such a terror to objects, but she's a fast mover has has very many strong desires. She's also absolutely incapable of sharing, and one of her strong desires is of whatever it is that Max is holding at any moment. And she's also learned how to scream, did I mention that? Just for fun, she'll let out a blood-curdling, ear-splitting scream for no reason at all. If you live within 50 miles of here, you're probably already aware of it.

But they're fun little guys. I spent the other day inflating a small pool for them to frolic in on hot days. I had lots of time to relect as I did it, and thought about all the other fathers, in the past, present and future, that spent their time assembling some mass-manufactured outdoor playstructure for their kids. This is one of the father's special roles -- mothers don't set up the swingsets or fill the sandboxes -- and I felt a strange bond of solidarity with those other men. And yet I've always felt somewhat isolated from the main currents of human experience. I've always been an outsider, or so I thought, living in a different world.

But I'm not. Fatherhood is the most normal thing in the world. Who would have thought it would feel so wonderful?

June 05, 2004

Propaganda? Look who's talking!

I like comic books and computer games. Most of what's produced in both mediums is absolute crap, of course, but there's some great stuff that comes out every now and then that I'd like to be made aware of. The National Post, to it's credit, has reviewers covering new games and comics, just as they do for movies and books. It's too bad the comics reviewer, Jeet Heer, is such an idiot.

Here's how he begins his review (not available on the web) of a collection of anti-American comics:

Propaganda works: That is the distressing lesson we can draw from recent history. Over the last two years, a large majority of Americans (and a significant numbers [sic] of Canadians) have accepted as fact patently untrue things, notably that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, that the Iraqi government had significant ties to al-Qaeda, and that Iraq itself was awash in weapons of mass destruction. These factitious notions were spread either by the U.S. Bush administration or its Neanderthal allies in the right-wing press.
Well. After two years of reading the Neanderthal right-wing press I have not once read any claims that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. But maybe I'm not reading the right crackpots. Certainly the Bush administration never claimed he was -- could you imagine the 'Bush Lied!' crew's hysterics if they had? And I detect some qualifiers to the 'propaganda' Heer's exposing. Does he mean it's 'patently untrue' that the Iraqi government had ties to al-Qaeda, or just that they were 'significant' ties? And while he's certainly right that it's 'patently untrue' that Iraq was 'awash in weapons of mass destruction', no one actually claimed it was. (The sarin gas used recently in a terrorist attack in Iraq and the 20 tons of chemical weapons found in the hands of al-Qaeda in Jordan would hardly have made Iraq 'awash' in the horrible stuff.)

Well, never mind. I'd be able to forgive that (very stupid) opening paragraph if he went on to discuss to book he was reviewing as a work of propaganda as well, just on the other side. After all, pictures with words have been used as propaganda with great success in the past -- and pictures with words is all comics are. They have a tremendous ability to simplify issues and promote a certain viewpoint, which I'm sure this book does.

But no, Heer is unable to even consider this possibly balanced point of view. In the rest of the review, Heer follows the same extreme leftist line, calling Fox News viewers 'simple rubes', praising propagandists Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky, and dropping the names of some obscure left-wing intellectuals (in case you missed how clever he is). The article would fit right in in a typical campus rag. How on earth did it get in the supposed 'right-wing' Canadian national newspaper?

May 08, 2004

Van Helsing is here!

Well I said I'd be there when Van Helsing opened, and so I was. At the first show on the first day, my movie fanatic buddy and I were front and center ready to suck up $160 million dollars worth of Hollywood nonsense. So? Any good?

It's not that bad. But it's not very good either. It's a silly movie that's at least partially aware that it's silly. But sometimes it tries to reach for that dark, gothic, serious, thing and is completely incapable of making the jump. All the characters are capable of very impressive jumps however, leaping across chasms, swinging on ropes and climbing walls.

Van Helsing is some kind of supernatural James Bond, working for a mysterious intelligence agency working in the basement of the Vatican. He gets briefed by 'M' on his next job, then gets nifty retro gadgets for his mission from 'Q', who is conscripted to come along to play the important role of comic relief. Another important role is 'the babe', played by some starlet with a nice rack. She also gets to wear tight pants and high-heeled boots which demonstrate that she's an actress with range. Completing the action movie standard quartet is the villain, Dracula, who looks identical to Gary Oldman -- though curiously, not to Gary Oldman's Dracula.

The plot is indecipherable. You've probably seen it before. They must get the sacred staff from the keeper of the temple before the second full moon, while preventing the villain from connecting the force matrix to the keymaster's only child who carries the magic ring who has vanished leaving only a clue tattooed on the underside of the hero's foot. Or something. I can't remember. But there's plenty of swooping shots over expensive sets, and people in elaborate costumes jumping and swinging. (Lots and lots of swinging! If you like swinging, this is the movie you've been waiting for.) It's not at all scary, not at all suspenseful, and didn't have any action sequences that were at all memorable. But still I sort of enjoyed it. But I'd never want to watch it again. Never.

February 27, 2004

Ed Anger is dead.

In my hipper, younger days, I would keep a couple of copies of the Weekly World News lying around my dingy bachelor apartment. It was a cool tabloid; it avoided celebrity journalism and focused on poorly researched stories (well, not researched at all, evidently) about the bizarre and paranormal. It also had two strange columnists: Dear Dotti, an advice column that insulted its petitioners, and Ed Anger, a hyperbolicly non-PC red-blooded American. The paper was a tremendous bargain at only sixty cents an issue.

I was saddened to learn the other day that Eddie Clontz, the editor and visionary behind the paper has died at the age of 56. The obituary for him in the Economist reveals that Clontz wrote the Ed Anger columns. What will the world be like without Ed Anger? We'll just have to find a way to go on living.

February 24, 2004

A snooty, over-privileged hack fights back!

In today's Globe, Order of Canada member John Fraser fires back at Margaret Wente's demolition of the Governor-General's Scandinavian junket that I mentioned a few days ago. It's pretty inept though; unable to adequately address the central charge that the trip was a navel-gazing ego-trip for a bunch of cultural elitists, he instead constructs a straw Margaret he can smack around.

For example, one line in Wente's column mentioned laying a wreath at a war memorial: "There were wreaths to lay at tombs of unknown soldiers and reindeer farms to inspect." Fraser's response is to accuse her of mocking the laying of wreaths and even hints she disrespects fallen soldiers:

Along with her distaste for what she sees as vice-regal hauteur and fiscal profligacy, the derisive contempt Ms. Wente summoned up for those silly little symbolic things a governor-general is expected to do -- such as laying a wreath at a war memorial -- was particularly telling. I mean soldiers who are so negligent as to die unidentified hardly deserve the inflated prose Adrienne Clarkson wrote and then spoke in Ottawa at the burial of an Unknown Soldier:
Here he cuts and pastes a speech of the GG's that displays how deep and sensitive she is -- 464 words of it! (It looks like blogging is having an effect on big media.) So what's he trying to say with this? That it's okay to blow $5 million of other people's money if along the way you lay a wreath in a foreign country? Would my wife let me off the hook if I charged a trip to France on our Visa, but solemnly visited a military gravesite while I was there?

In the small amount of space he has left Fraser rewrites the points of Wente's column in a childish tone, sprinkling the word stupid around liberally:

And why doesn't the Governor-General's husband just shut up? Who on earth wants to hear his ruminations on citizenship or Canada's ridiculous place in the world? In Ms. Wente's worldview, we are almost as stupid a little country as those other stupid little countries, with our very own stupid little vice-regal couple going on and on about our stupid vast and empty acres of northland, buzzing as it does with all those irritating and stupid little mosquitoes and stupid little writers like Jane Urquhart.
Yes, this is what the thoughtful defense of Canada's cultural elite by another member of the cultural elite looks like. And I love this line:
What on earth do we have to learn from a speck on the map like Finland, stuck by the whims of history and geography right next door to a behemoth of a country that is constantly on the verge of overwhelming its economy and culture?
Gotta weave some reflexive anti-Americanism in there, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic. Fraser concludes with the classic salve of schoolyard hurt feelings, "You're just jealous!"
It was always in the works that when their term in office was winding down, no matter what they had accomplished, no matter how hard they tried and succeeded in transcending the traditional Canadian penchant for self-loathing and nit-picking, no matter how well they had revived and strengthened the office of Governor-General, no matter how eloquently she evoked national self-esteem, Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul would have to face the wrath of those who always wanted to see them falter and fall. They both have strong personalities and strong views. They both are passionate about the country they were appointed to represent. How dare they! Who the hell do they think they are?
This is such a bad piece, it's a wonder any editor could be desperate enough for content that they would print it. It jumps randomly between the writer's voice and the supposed voice of the writer's subject (as in the above paragraph), uses a long, long quote for the flimsiest of reasons, and is, well ... childish. And it's from the Master of Massey College and a former Globe and Mail journalist. The cultural elites ain't what they used to be.

February 15, 2004

Roger Ebert is on the take.

I rent videos at a local depanneur. The selection is better than you'd expect, but a couple of days ago all the films I wanted to see were out. So I was forced to do a nerve-wracking thing: pick a movie judging mainly by the blurbs on the box. After about ten minutes, I had narrowed my choice down to either Seabiscuit and Hollywood Homicide. I like a well-made historical movie so I started to lean towards Seabiscuit. But then I picked up a vibe of preachiness coming from the box. I hate preachiness. I could just see it: the depression, an underdog horse -- there had to be an evil Mr. Potter-type character who would use underhanded methods to try to kill or take possession of the amazing horse. But the pluck of the regular people standing together would win the day. (That's what I imagined at that moment anyway. It's probably completely different and I'll probably wind up seeing it.)

So that left Hollywood Homicide. Something light, that's the ticket. Ebert & Roeper gave it two thumbs up -- how bad could it be?

Well, pretty bad actually. The acting was awful. Harrison Ford sleepwalked through the whole thing and Josh Hartnett did a convincing Keanu Reeves impersonation. The action scenes were nothing you couldn't see in an episode of T.J. Hooker. But it was the story that took this movie to the farthest reaches of bad. It consisted entirely of a bunch of very tired cliches strung together with a couple of extremely contrived coincidences. Nothing any of the characters did made any sense except as a method to move them towards the next moronic set piece. Michelle and I watched to the end because we were fascinated at just how amazingly bad a movie could be.

So I had to check out Ebert's review to see how he could justify giving this movie a "thumbs up". He gave the movie three stars (!!!) and said while much of the movie was standard cop movie stuff, the chase scene was "well done" and "the dialogue is the reason to see the movie". I am dumbfounded.

Naturally I suspected he must be getting some cash to help promote this film. Is he doing it for other films? With my encyclopaedic mind, I thought back to a crappy movie that I'd seen to which he'd given a good review -- Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle! He only gives it two and a half stars, probably more than it's worth, but within the margin of error. (CA:FT was not very good, but it was The Big Lebowski compared to HH.) But what's this tacked to the bottom of the review?

So. I give the movie 2.5 stars, partly in expiation for the 0.5 stars I gave the first one. So if you want to see a movie where big stars trade witty one-liners with one another in the midst of high-tech chase scenes and all sorts of explosive special effects, the movie for you is "Hollywood Homicide."
The smoking gun. Have you no shame, Mr. Ebert? You've plugged a very, very bad film within the review of different movie!

February 07, 2004

Ok, I'm a little late.

Peggy Noonan had an interesting column the other day that used the boobie imbroglio as a launching point to ask what's happened to our culture. I'm not sure an attention-seeking celebrity's desperate stunt means the world's coming to an end, but it's a good article nonetheless and gives a lot to think about. It's sad that an idea that used to be confined only to the art world -- that anything that "pissed off the squares" was "real" -- has now lodged itself in the mainstream. But that's the general vector of art, I suppose. An idea or style is first introduced and appreciated by "visionaries", but then over time becomes part of everyday life. The coarseness we have today may be around until our artistic community begins a "New Traditionalist" movement. As a parent with two little sponges that will be taking many cues from this crap, all I can say is I hope they hurry.

February 06, 2004

Worlds within worlds.

In doing some research for a longer article I'm writing, I came across a site called The Brickshelf, which appears to be the main hangout of Lego fetishists. Strange stuff is to be found here, such as this minifig suicide-bomber. This is just one piece in a series called Conflict Zone - Global Crisis, possibly one day to be a feature-length stop-motion movie. And hey, look! It's Saddam being captured by US troops!

And in case all that isn't enough, here's the Old Testament, lego style.

You're welcome.

UPDATE: I've been flipping through the lego Old Testament and I must say I'm astonished. First, because it's so artistically done. Second, because it's so incredibly strange. You'd think someone telling bible stories with lego would stick to the parts that are safe and that most people are familiar with. Things like the Flood, Exodus, Abraham and Isaac, etc. But they've gone and also illustrated the really creepy parts of the Old Testament. The stuff we all know is in there but doesn't get too much attention. Check out The Law -- and no, I don't think it's work-safe.

January 31, 2004

Outsourcing goes too far.

Outsourcing is shaping up to be a big issue. I'm generally in favour -- cheaper goods and services for consumers, growth in the economies of poorer nations. But when one of my favorite comics starts being produced in China... well, things have gone too far.

Start from here and read on.