Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Thoughts of the Day

I think it’s important not to take this particular situation and then try to project some sort of ‘Obama doctrine’ that we’re going to apply in a cookie-cutter fashion across the board.

President Obama

Rule 6: There is no rule 6.

Monty Python


Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Thought of the Day

The Obama doctrine: “We will intervene to prevent pictures that make me look bad.

Da TechGuy


Sunday, March 27, 2011


Friday Night Movie Review--Sucker Punch

Saw Sucker Punch with Andrew in the hardly anyone there big screen theater at the Continental (for which privilege they charge an extra $5) on Friday. I kinda liked it, or most of it, but the divide between fantasy and reality was too wide to bridge and the thing didn't hold together. In the end you think, well, that was a whole lot over nothing. I know this is heresy coming from a guy who thinks movies are primarily sound and light shows which should not necessarily depend on a narrative, much less be almost without exception the popularization of books and stories young people either can't or won't read. Nonetheless, no matter how impressive the sound and light show is--and there are superb action scenes here-- it means nothing if it means nothing, or, as here, too little for anyone much to care.

Director Zach Snyder, known for the new Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen (we'll forgive the disappointing and huge flop the owl cartoon) certainly has attained a distinctive style, like a visual comic book, sorry, graphic novel. There's something of chiaroscuro in his later films, a gradation of gray which fits his Manichean outlook but which has to be overcome to watch the film with anything approaching a willing suspension of disbelief. There certainly was more color in Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen than in 300 and, really, here, but even the brightest is muted for everything, which, I think, was a mistake. Think of the power in 1939 when Dorothy stepped out of her black and white Kansas room to technicolor Oz. He could have had the fantasy scenes here in vivid color to counterpoint the drab of the institution. Perhaps that would be too easy, not subtle enough; but subtlety is not this guy's strong point. I was going to praise him for the economy of his exposition, the story before the title appears was pretty masterful but I missed a detail until more exposition very late in the film. I was watching closely too.

The young women are pretty good--even Vanessa Hudgens can play a simple and sympathetic role. The lead is Aussie 22 year old Emily Browning, who was the survivor little girl in the dynamite opening of Ghost Ship and later one of the children in the first (and last) of the Lemony Snicket franchise. She is quite good here in what would be ordinary Japanese cartoon costume for young women (thigh highs, open midriff version of school girl uniform, very short skirt) and after the first of the four fantasies, a medieval Japan fight, I was willing to accept her as bad ass. Why not? It made no less sense for her to be deadly as it did for her to be a faux schoolgirl. Even better was Jena Malone, who is 4 years older than Ms. Browning, and was so good in The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, and, to a lesser degree, as the mindless problem child in the superb, recent Pride and Prejudice. Her brief role in Into the Wild was stunningly good. The second in command however is 26 year old Aussie Abbie Cornish, who has yet to hit her mark in a good role in a good movie, but is quite good here. Of the grownups, Carla Guigino, late of the rapidly disintegrating Californication, and Oscar Isaac propel the 'real' side of the tale as the doctor and orderly of the institution where the boring parts take place.

OK, what's good about this thing? The fight scenes are great. The solo endeavor of Ms. Browning against three giant armored samurai is extraordinary. The next ramp up has all five girls fighting zombie like Germans in a recognizable WWI setting. Then they fight in Middle Earth and against a dragon. The team's only Asian, Jamie Chung, is stuck driving the transportation, progressing from fighting 'droid to a B-25 to a Huey. In all the fantasy fights, during which the team steals the items to make their escape from the 'real' institution, Ms. Browning is supposedly dancing provocatively, so the thefts can be accomplished, which makes the fantasy fights completely superfluous to the plot, such as it is.

If you like action flicks with improbable heroines dressed Anime, this is you film. If you want just a hint of real with your action, this might not be for you.


Saturday, March 26, 2011


Friday Night Movie Review--Battle: Los Angeles

Despite a colon substituted for the word 'of' in the title, Battle: Los Angeles is a good film, a solid B+, and a modest effort at examination of human existence, soaked in testosterone. Director Jonathan Liebesman, a young South African known for horror films Darkness Falls and a Chainsaw Massacre chapter, has avoided all the problems, the vast number of flaws, in the recent Skyline and delivered a war movie like they don't make anymore.

Aaron Eckhart is the glue that holds the film together. Michelle Rodriguez reprises almost exactly her role in Avatar, and the rest of the cast is largely unknown, at least to me. The beginning is exceptionally strong--Eckhart, a 20 year vet Marine staff sergeant, is working out hard on the beach and running as fast as anyone could in sand when he's passed as if he's standing still by his 20 year old comrades in arms--"Good morning, Staff Sergeant, Good morning, Staff Sergeant, Good morning, Staff Sergeant". Eckhart logically thinks that it's time to retire and he puts in his papers only to have aliens invade for, wait for it, our water. I know it's stupid; but the reason for the invasion or the precise way the aliens wage war against us or the complete lack of effective weapons on their side is all MacGuffin for showing the interaction of the squad. Oh, and after an initial ass-kicking, we seem to be winning in the end. Yeah! Like that could happen.

I know that there is little satisfaction or even drama in a total ass-kicking, like the aliens rolling over us in War of the Worlds and Independence Day (until the twists at the end), so the film writer here has had to pretend that these technologically advanced aliens, who can navigate between stars, can't do better militarily than drones, small arms and RPG like projectiles. The filmmakers have to abandon likely reality, if that term applies to science fiction, and pretend we are at rough military parity with the aliens, if we just get organized, get some intelligence and fight. The plot is much more like Independence Day than War of the Worlds, including a strike on the local 'mother-ship,' and no viral miracle to save us.

There are sprinkled through the movie little jewels of details--Eckhart stabbing and stabbing a wounded alien to figure out where the vital organs are; one of the grunts hearing Eckhart's downing a drone praised as real John Wayne stuff asks "Who's John Wayne?"; and, a counterattack where Eckhart pulls his M9 pistol and blasts away at the alien soldiers. Ou-raw. There is a ton of schmaltz in the rescued civilian children but it's not cloying and doesn't get in the way of the combat.

Like I said, a solid B+.


Sunday, March 20, 2011


E.J. Dionne--Firearm Idiot

Rather than license people to pursue their God given right to self defense (and 2nd Amendment rights) I think we ought to look into licensing those who seek to exercise 1st Amendment rights regarding firearms. That is, you have to show a bare minimum of firearm knowledge before you can write about firearms and, here, call the NRA propagandists. [I'm just kidding--we never need a license from the government to exercise our natural and Constitutional rights, to think differently is to fail to understand the very concept of rights]

Here is Mr. Dionne, author of an anti-gun op-ed (link above) on Wednesday that discussed President Obama's vapid op-ed last Sunday and is the subject of this posting, on the subject of assault weapons:

“Assault weapons are not for hunting,” Obama said in 2004. “They are the weapons of choice for gang-bangers, drug dealers and terrorists.” Right again.

No. Wrong again. The criminal element wants concealable weapons (pistols). They use shotguns a lot less often, but more often than rifles, which they use hardly at all.

Here are some statistics:

The top 10 guns used in crimes in the U.S. in 2000, according to an unpublished study by U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and obtained exclusively by TIME:

1. Smith and Wesson .38 revolver
2. Ruger 9 mm semiautomatic
3. Lorcin Engineering .380 semiautomatic
4. Raven Arms .25 semiautomatic
5. Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun
6. Smith and Wesson 9mm semiautomatic
7. Smith and Wesson .357 revolver
8. Bryco Arms 9mm semiautomatic
9. Bryco Arms .380 semiautomatic
10. Davis Industries .380 semiautomatic

The list is derived from the center's investigations of 88,570 guns recovered from crime scenes in 46 cities in 2000...

Here are the real statistics:

Assault weapons are not the weapons of choice among drug dealers, gang members or criminals in general. Assault weapons are used in about one-fifth of one percent (.2%) of all violent crimes and about one percent in gun crimes.
So why this false insistence by the firearm ignorant that criminals, et al. actually use assault weapons more than two times per 1,000 criminal acts? The answer it seems comes from a 1994 Washington Post editorial:

No one should have any illusions about what was accomplished [by the assault weapon ban]. Assault weapons play a part in only a small percentage of crime. The provision is mainly symbolic; its virtue will be if it turns out to be, as hoped, a stepping stone to broader gun control. (Emphasis added).
Besides, the military like semi-automatic rifles called assault weapons sound and look really scary.


Saturday, March 19, 2011


Getting the Bigger Picture

John Hinderaker at Powerline has a graphic equivalent of the federal government's fiscal yer 2012 budget (spending) vis a vis the tiny spending cuts the Democrats propose--6 Billion out of a budget of 3.8 Trillion. He says the proposed cuts are 1/3rd of a french fry in a McDonald's Big Mac Meal. Pretty good.

I've got one.

Consider your thumbnail the 3.8 Trillion spending (1.5 Trillion of which will exceed revenue and will have to be borrowed or printed up).

Take an emery board and lightly make one pass at the edge of your thumbnail. What you abraded off is about 6 Billion of your 3.8 Trillion nail.

Yet the liberal press (but I repeat myself) calls the 6 Billion cut "slashing" the budget. Yeah, right.

Even lightly passing the emery board 10 times over the edge of your nail would be like cutting the budget by the Republican proposed 60 Billion. Not exactly a slash either.

Now you can see why Hugh Hewitt has been going nuts about the House leadership lately. It's not nearly enough. Not even in the same universe as enough.


Friday, March 18, 2011


Thoughts of the Day

Dear news media:

Remember back in the '50s and early '60s, when we set off something like 900 atomic bombs in Nevada? And how we just let the fallout blow wherever and it landed all over the eastern US? And how it wiped out life as we know it and all that was left from Colorado to the Atlantic were six-legged rats battling two-headed cockroaches in the glowing ruins?

Yeah. Exactly. So shut up with the panic already.

Tamara K.

(h/t Small Dead Animals)


Monday, March 14, 2011


Insomnia Theater

I'm going to talk about three movies from the mid-70s which I watched this past week. They have never been widely distributed but have built strong, deserved cult followings. They are: Peter Weir's first success, Picnic and Hanging Rock; Ridley Scott's first feature, The Duellists; and, LQ Jones' only studio film, A Boy and His Dog. The first and last are as unalike as possible, as if they were films made on different planets in the same year (1975). The middle one, released two years later, is set during Napoleon's reign in France. Two beautiful histories and a science fiction minor gem--these are good films on tiny budgets whose pleasant features have not diminished with the passage of time.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is set in Victoria, Australia, at the Appleyard College for Young Women, starting on Feb. 14, 1900. It is not a true story. It is, however, a satisfying but intractable mystery. There is no resolution, but like a mist lit from within, the whole of the picture is both in plain sight and completely shrouded. The mysticism is palpable. Even the side plots are mysteries--how does the sister appear in her brother's non- dream? Why is there a swan in the young gentleman's bedroom? Other mysteries are central: What causes the hikers to falter and swoon together? Why do the two "survivors" have identical head wounds? What was the red cloud? How could these women disappear so completely? As I've said, there are no answers given, or really even hinted at. The film is stately and beautiful and full of penetrating detail of an age long gone.

Weir, an Aussie, went on to make another, less satisfying mystical film, The Last Wave, before coming to Hollywood where his batting average was a pretty good .400, with The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness, The Dead Poet's Society and Master and Commander... None of the actors in this film had great careers, with the possible exception of headmistress, Rachel Roberts, french teacher, Helen Morse, and the young gentleman, Dominic Guard. For the rest, this was pretty much all of their film career, particularly Irma and, to a lesser degree, the Botticelli angle, Amanda. I can't imagine a movie which captures better with visuals the essence of the time it portrays. Georges Zamfir, he of the late night infomercials, is magical on the pan pipes, if you're into that sort of thing.

A Boy and His Dog,
based on a Harlan Ellison novella (and similar to it) is set in 2024, after WWIV, a five day full nuclear exchange, in the mud inundated remnants of Phoenix, AZ. Vic, the boy, played with verve by a very young Don Johnson, is a solo human with a telepathic hound, Blood (played by Tiger--the Brady Bunch dog) who is by far Vic's intellectual superior. Vic steals from the excavated houses to feed himself and Blood, who, in turn, finds females for Vic to, well, rape and murder. Ah, war is Hell, observes Blood when Vic complains that the raped and murdered women he finds in a house could have been used three more times. At one point, Blood, who constantly calls Vic Albert to piss him off, urges Vic to name the modern presidents--Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy... The fact that history after the filming ended has provided a different set of names post Ford does not diminish the joke. On the other hand, Blood's future history of the end of the cold war (WWIII) was not far off. I used to think that the 'Albert' Blood referred to was Einstein, for an ironic nickname to his rather dim master, but the novella tells us it is after Albert Payson Terhune, the author of insipid dog books. Makes sense.

The movie takes a dive after it goes underground, as the sub-plot of survivors of the war creating a repressive distopia with a smiling robot on guard is not that interesting nor as bleakly stylish as post-Armageddon life in Phoenix. The ending however, back on the mud flats, is unforgettable. The little details in between are exquisite--the movies, the screamers, the marriage pump, sentencing to the farm-- are all good, but it is Blood's cynical, erudite banter which makes this such an iconoclastic and even funny film--the smiley face on the mushroom cloud. He recites: A cautious young fellow named Lodge / Had seatbelts installed in his Dodge. / When his date was strapped in / He committed a sin / Without even leaving the garage. That indeed was clever as was most of the plot of this film, the best science fiction in the brief hiatus between 2001 and Star Wars.

Probably the greatest of the three is The Duellists, based on a Joseph Conrad story based on the "true" story of two Frenchmen (played by Americans Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel) who can't get along. When Ridley Scott made this film, he had been making beautiful commercials, shot through incense, for over a decade and many of the scenes seem like master work still life paintings. Despite the unlikely, non European lead actors, Keitel has hardly ever been more intense or believable, and even near Okie Carradine pulls off his role as a gentleman office of Napoleon's conquering army with nary a twitch or stumble. Not that the ladies in this are less than wonders. Carradine's main squeeze, his co-star in Nashville (the pinnacle of his career),Cristina Raines, is both radiant and believable as the young bride. Diana Quick, who went on to be so good in the good version of Brideshead Revisited, is so sexy and tragic, a difficult combination. Even the minor roles, the sister played by Meg Wynn Owen, and the ostensible start of the duel, Jenny Runacre, are not hard on the eyes, in their Empire fashion dresses, and delightful in their brief seconds upon the stage.

The mysticism in this movie is very subtle. Tom Conti as Carradine's doctor/officer friend suggests that Keith and Harvey had been bitter enemies before the transmigration of their souls to explain why they have become such lasting enemies instantly. Quick, seeing that she might be backing a loser, goes to the Tarot card reader who tells her that she must leave Carradine and tread the path of loneliness. And how! Yet Quick's ability to tell the future is no better than any of us. She tells Carradine he will die in the next duel and he believes her. His happiness at surviving is visually the most stunning part of the film. It is as well written as it is beautifully filmed. Quick visits Keitel to get him to relent and not kill her lover. Keitel pulls a sword defensively, saying, "I knew a fellow knifed in his bath by a woman [does he mean Marat?]. Gave him the surprise of his life." Quick instantly replies, "I knew a woman beaten to death by her lover. I don't think she was surprised at all."

I also have a thing for believable sword fights, which are really rare in movies today. All of these are pretty darn good. Quite good, indeed.

So what do these films have in common except their excellence, small budgets and temporal coordinates? They all seek a definition of our essential nature, a dualist nature it seems, in times other than the mid 1970s. All three have a bit of mystery and a strange sort of comradeship. There is in all three an irreverent treatment of our conventions, not quite mocking, but certainly not an acceptance of things as they were. And strangest of all, all have a sort of happy ending, where life goes on for some in an enduring and uplifting way.

These movies are well worth your time, if you can't sleep one evening and one of them is on. I hope my small efforts at criticism whet your appetite for them, even for another viewing.


Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Etymology of Four Words

Homicide, the act of killing a human. is an ancient word of Latin origin--Homo for 'man' or 'human', caedere for 'to kill'. We mispronounce it to fail to give the initial vowel a long 'o' sound which the Latin noun for 'man' had.

Homosexual, attraction to the same sex, is a neologism from around the end of the 19th C.--Homo is the Greek word for 'same' and sexual comes from 14th C. Latin for 'gender'. The proper pronunciation for the Greek word for 'same' is hahma, with two short 'o's, as in homophone or homologue. In other words, we pronounce the 'homo' in homosexual as if it were Latin and the 'homo' in homosexual as if it were Greek. Weird, but that's not what I'm interested in here.

Homophobia is a neologism from the late 1950s which is supposed to mean an irrational hatred of homosexuals--Homo is the Greek word for 'same' and phobia is the Greek word for 'fear' (with no sense of hatred, which was covered by the words miso or misos, as in misanthropy or misogyny). So the neologism means 'fear of sameness' not hatred of homosexuals. It's not even close. Always deny being a homophobe unless you are indeed afraid of sameness.

Then we get to the very recent neologism islamophobia which is supposed to mean an irrational hatred of Muslims. I won't go into the mixed Greek and Arabic origins but the word literally means fear of Muslims. It's a good word and describes common feelings based on a sound perception of reality. Unless you're fearless or a fool, you should never deny that you have some elements of islamophobia. All rational Non-Muslims do.


Saturday, March 05, 2011


This is What Happens...

...when you waste money allowing bird and bat chopping, intermittently working, short lived giant wind generators to be built rather than cheaper, reliable, 90 year working life coal fired power plants. I'm not 100% sure, as I haven't been to Great Britain in a while, but I don't think the people are going to stand for this. We'll see.

UPDATE: Mr. Holliday has for several years been predicting that blackouts could become a feature of power systems that replace reliable coal plants with wind turbines in order to meet greenhouse gas targets. Wind-based power systems are necessary to meet the government’s targets, he has explained, but they will require lifestyle changes.

Yeah, where before Brit citizens were warm, in a clean well lighted place, watching the telly and surfing the web, now they'll be sitting in the dark, damp cold looking at the unpowered screens mirroring their candle-lit, unbelieving, sad faces.

Well done, warmies.


Thursday, March 03, 2011


The Hockey Stick vs. Ice Core Data



Emma and Charlie at the Walnut Room

It was a while ago, but Charlie and American Idol contestant Emma Henry opened for a local band, Slopeside, at the Walnut Room and did well, very well. Here are a few photos.

Charlie did an acoustic medley of Third Rock From the Sun (Jimi); Kashmir (Led Zep); and something from SRV which I've forgotten. Kashmir was the best. He's practicing with Emma, Chadzilla and another professional, but no gig in sight. I'll update.


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