Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Who Am I?

I'm a Chevrolet Corvette!

You're a classic - powerful, athletic, and competitive. You're all about winning the race and getting the job done. While you have a practical everyday side, you get wild when anyone pushes your pedal. You hate to lose, but you hardly ever do.

Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Global Warming in the Balmy British Isles

To demonstrate how hysterical the Europeans have become about global warming, consider this Guardian article on global warming.

The first couple of paragraphs say it all:

Sun worshippers took to Brighton beach in their hundreds yesterday, where the temperature hit 18.1C. In Kinlochewe on the far north-west coast of Scotland, it was a balmy 22.4C.

Just four days before Hallowe'en, Britain was enjoying the warmest 27 October since records began in 1880.

As the UK basked in the freakish heat, it seemed almost churlish to seek an explanation. But these days, in the shadow of global warming, extreme weather patterns come with a health warning attached. Why was it so warm?

The weather experts explained that the mini-heatwave was the result of a large area of high pressure over southeastern Europe and low pressure well to the west of Ireland.

Sandwiched in between these two weather systems was Britain, which happily found itself right in the way of a warm southerly breeze blowing directly from the hot sands of north Africa. The dryness of the air was explained by it coming from the continent rather than from the Atlantic. The Scottish glens enjoyed the added benefit of a meteorological phenomenon known as the Fone effect, when air warms even further after descending from higher ground.

For those of you who think in Fahrenheit, those sun worshippers on Brighton beach were enjoying temperatures around 65 degrees, while the balmy coast of Scotland was a blistering 72 degrees.

I have a recommendation for the balmy Brits: don’t come to Phoenix in the summer where the temperatures consistently run over 45 degrees C and sometimes push 50.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Serenity Blogger Preview Review

A few words to the people who arranged for bloggers to see the movie at a preview showing. Thank you for the opportunity, the free showing of the movie, and the freebie hat.

Now, get your head out of where the sun doesn't shine.

First, as I said in my first post, the whole point of blogging is us out here with our words, commenting on other people's words, deeds, actions... or just relating our life experiences. If you want people to take note of something you think is important, ask us to link those words, don't tell us that we have to post them for you. And, it helps if you proof-read those words first.

Second, use some common sense. The email you sent was a little on the heavy-headed side, plus a little vague, which was why I brought along money in case it wasn't free. Second, it does you no good when your "studio representative" says that we can't sit in the reserved section because that section is reserved for "the real press." As stupid as that makes you look, when the theater collapses the ropes later and lets anyone sit in those seats to fill up the theater, you look beyond stupid. There were perhaps a dozen bloggers present in a theater that sat 400... exercise some judgment!

True, I didn't see Glenn Reynolds there, but then I didn't see any local TV anchors either. Trust me on this, there are bloggers out here in the blogosphere with audiences that dwarf all but very few audiences in the main stream media. You would get some very bad PR if you treated someone with a large audience badly... and with bloggers unless you know a whole lot more than you seem to, best to treat everyone well. Of course, that's what everyone should do all the time...

Pay attention to what blogs are and what they aren't. If you want to create a good "buzz" among bloggers you don't want anything to make you look bad. It was good that you had my name spelled right, although you messed up my blog's name (I can understand that, though). It's nothing that PR people haven't been doing since forever, but as since forever, you have to care enough to send your very best not your very much mediocre with a propensity of putting a foot in their mouth.

Serenity Movie Review

Serenity - Directed by Josh Whedon, screenplay by Josh Whedon -- an extension of the TV series “Firefly.”

Nathan Fillion plays Captain Malcolm Reynolds, the commander of the spaceship Serenity set some time in the future. Mal as he is called, commands an eclectic crew that carries cargo, passengers, or engages in outright thievery to scratch a living. His crew, consisting of pilot Wash, played by Alan Tudyk; two fighters, one named Zoe, played by Gina Torres and the other, Jayne, played by Adam Baldwin; an engineer named Kaylee played by Jewel Staite; a fugitive doctor, Simon Tam, played by Sean Maher and his messed up sister River, played by Summer Glau; plus two who were on the crew in the TV series, but who don't start the movie on the ship with the others -- Inara, the “registered Companion” played by Morena Baccarin and Shepherd Book played by Ron Glass. There is also a notable, although chilling performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor playing The Operative and David Krumholtz plays Mr. Universe.

To say that I was looking forward to this movie more than all of the others of this year is a pale expression of what I felt. I enjoyed the TV series... it was quintessential Josh Whedon, with quirky story lines and witty, clever dialog. True, the theme of Star Trek meets Wagon Train isn’t original, but Whedon did a good job. I could go into the long list of fan complaints about what the network did to torpedo the series, but if you don’t know and are curious google “Firefly.” There are ten thousand people who’ve retold the story, and every last one of them upset about it.

In the past, every year or two there would be a TV show that everyone watched. It was a staple at the office water cooler and all the “cool” kids in school talked about it. The same was true with movies. Everyone went to see Cleopatra, or Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, the Sound of Music, the latest James Bond movie or John Wayne bonanza.

Hollywood was given over to the bean counters, slowly but surely, and the result was that as the market changed and aged, instead of nurturing new TV series or letting a movie director take some risks, they allowed less and less. The quality of the fare suffered and instead of going back to what had worked in the past, they grew more frantic, giving shorter leashes and fewer chances... The resultant decline in quality drove more people away and still the suits in the studios turned the screws, ignoring history, ignoring the results, and ignoring the changing market.

What has this got to do with the movie Serenity? Because the fans and the success of Josh Whedon’s marketing campaign (not to garner viewers of the movie, but to gather support to get it made) something that has never happened before -- a TV show cancelled in mid-season, with un-shown episodes still in the can -- was brought back to life.

The movie is a pastiche of clichés. Worse if you’ve seen more than two trailers for the movie, you’ve heard them or seen them before you sit down to watch the show.

But it’s not the simplistic nature of the elements that make something like Serenity unique; after all there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet. Shakespeare, Dickens and thousands of other authors over the years have done a notably successful job of arranging them into interesting patterns. Whedon does as well.

The Alliance wants River Tam back and if they can’t have that, they would just as soon see her dead. River Tam is a lot like ammonium iodide... it doesn’t take much to set her off. She goes berserk in a bar, mowing down the patrons by the handful, including her fellow crewmembers. She has a great deal of antipathy for Jayne (who puts the word 'mercenary' in mercenary), who feels an equal amount towards her. Sparks fly whenever the two are close.

Mal learns that the Alliance is once again chasing them in earnest and...

Er, stop. No... I don’t want to tell you what happens in the movie. Go and see it. Take your friends. Take people who aren’t your friends, but you wish were: this will help you meet a lot of nice new people. Talk about the movie next week at work, or tell your pastor as you shake his hand and tell him how much you liked his sermon -- because it reminded you a lot about Serenity the movie.

The movie is about core values. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. What makes us human, what makes us monsters. Friends, family, duty and debts of honor. It’s all there.

As I told a friend before we sat down to watch the movie, it’s true when you watch Serenity that you have to suspend disbelief, just as you do in all movies and books. Then you have to lock it down double hard, put your foot firmly in place and don’t let disbelief rear it’s ugly head until afterwards. Afterwards, you won’t care.

I’ve seen some reviews that say that the story is a Rorschach test for pop culture. Look, I’m sixty. I don’t do pop culture very much (during Clinton’s Monica days I famously needed to have the use Altoids as sex toys explained to me).

Whedon spends the first few minutes of the movie drawing the characters. Ensemble casts are hard to do in a TV series, nearly impossible in a movie, yet Josh Whedon pulls it off better than most. The sound is a little overblown in places, there are a few characterization missteps, and some of the CGI looks rushed. The nice thing about having your foot firmly holding down disbelief is that you can ignore all of that and just enjoy the movie.

One last word. The movie is rated PG-13, but it’s definitely at the higher end of the PG-13 spectrum rather than the lower end. People (including children) are cut, shot(bullets and needles), stabbed, hacked, chopped, desiccated, flambeau and skewered as well as the more plebian punched and kicked. One needs to exercise some judgment about taking the tender-hearted to see the movie without at least warning them first.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Serenity is more than a state of mind

Premiering later this week is the movie Serenity, written and directed by Josh Whedon, he of Buffy, Angel and Firefly fame. Firefly is the heart of the matter, as it was an offbeat, whacky, half-western, half-science fiction TV series from 2002. A series the network did it's level best to obstruct from before the first day. It is a rarity in TV and movies: a TV series cancelled in it's first season before all of the episodes aired -- and which was resurrected by it's fans when it was issued on DVD. Now Whedon brings it to the silver screen.

I could go on and on about the show... but it's best described by watching it. You don't need to have watched the TV series, but some day when you have nothing better to do, rent or buy the DVD set and enjoy...

I saw a blurb on Instapundit about bloggers being invited to early showings of the movie if they would review it. I went over to and promptly applied. A few days later I received an emailed invite -- but with some caveats. I will link to their site and I will put in the summary that they requested. I also freely admit that the day after I watch the movie, the piss poor excuse for ad copy that they have for us to post is going to get cut. I did better in the first paragraph of this post, and it was a rough draft with zero thought. You'd think an ad agency could do better.

So here is the link to the Serenity web site (be advised it's a flash site and a not terribly well done site at that): Serenity the Movie.

Here is the required summary:
Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family – squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

I did correct one typo in it, but left in several factual errors. But hey, it's not my ad copy.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Abu Ghraib on the Thames

I understand that I’m just a benighted heathen American cowboy and that I really just don’t understand how things work. Insufficient comprehension of nuances, I suppose. Still, after seeing Lyndie Englund’s name and “combat” pictures for so long and so often, I wonder just how this is possible: Abu Ghraib on the Thames

I mean, if it’s wicked for Americans to parade around their prisoners bare-ass, buck naked, why does it not raise any comment from the liberal mainstream media when the British do it?

Stealth -- Movie Review

Stealth - Directed by Rob Cohen, screenplay by W. D. Richter and Rob Cohen with no relationship to any previous movie or book.

** Spoiler Alert **

Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx play slightly futuristic ‘Top Gun’ navy pilots, flying some state of the art hypersonic stealth aircraft. They do fancy flying (at least it looks fancy on the screen) and blow things up. Which pretty much sums up the movie.

I cheerfully admit going to movies sometimes for the sheer joy of wondering just how the movie is going to crash and burn... like NASCAR fans, a little fire and bits and pieces flying into the air certainly does add a little spice to what you’re doing. Besides, that's about all a movie like this has to offer, right?

Thus it was that a third of the way into this movie, when we’re still getting to know the characters, that I was pleasantly surprised the movie was taut, well written with plausible characters and an interesting plot.

Alas, then the screenwriters decided to show us their knowledge of geography... and like most Americans, they don’t have any. Plausible plots are for plodding wimps! Characterization? Why bother, everyone is going to be watching Jessica Biel in her bathing bikini, and no one is going to wonder why three American pilots are sitting with an unknown Thai woman at a restaurant in Thailand discussing top secret mission details in front of her. And it gets worse and worse, and then when you can’t believe it could possibly get worse, it just shows you how little you know! Oh, and to make life interesting, there’s now a fourth “wingman”, named “Eddie” who is a quantum computer Artificial Intelligence.

If you thought I was mildly anal about the geography in the movie “Sahara”, well, this time I just go berserk!

They are off flying in the Philippine Sea on a training mission with their cybernetic sidekick when “new tasking” is received. Terrorists have been spotted in Rangoon, Myanmar by human intelligence sources, and they are ordered to divert and bomb them flat. I could ignore the idea of humint sources in Myanmar (about as likely as humint sources on pre-invasion Mars), but really. Fly to Rangoon from the Philippine Sea?

For those who are geographically challenged but not afraid to admit it, the Philippine Sea is to the northeast of the Philippines, up towards Japan and Guam. To get to Myanmar from there you’d either have to fly a *very* long way around, or fly over such staunch American friends as Malaysia, Viet Nam, Laos or Cambodia. And of course, those planes have plenty of fuel for the flight! And everyone takes off on a training mission with a full load of live ordinance!

Sure enough, the Josh Lucas character risks his life to deliver the bomb, using a hypersonic attack straight down on the target, to reduce collateral damage. Leaving out, of course, what the effect the hypersonic shock wave would have, when it hit the ground.

And of course, the A/I aircraft gets hit by lightning as they are landing back aboard their carrier, and instead of destroying the A/I it just gives it something to think about.

Later, they are tasked to fly to Tajikistan, and there bomb some long-range ballistic missiles that terrorists have acquired. Enroute, they learn that the terrorists have some nuclear warheads for the missiles, so forget the missiles and bomb the warheads.

The Jessica Biel character takes out her calculator and announces that the collateral damage risk is too great. Oh yeah, we see that the terrorists are moving the warheads on ox-carts. Anyway, let’s not forget that if Rangoon was a hard target to reach from the Philippine Sea, Tajikistan is that cubed. Did I mention we’d have to over fly a bunch of countries to get there?

The A/I goes nuts, bombs the missiles and the radioactive cloud engulfs the poor villagers and they all choke and die. Leaving out, of course, that while there would be a radioactive cloud, it wouldn’t be visible and while they would probably die, it wouldn’t be for weeks or months.

Our heroes start chasing the A/I, and their boss refuses to order its destruction. The A/I is now enroute to Russia to bomb something else... I believe I heard the target was in Siberia. Jamie Foxx augurs in (I mean that literally) and Jessica’s aircraft gets hit with bits and pieces. Her boss tells her to “fly due south” to return to the carrier.

Okay boys, and girls, how far south do you have to fly from Tajikistan to get to the Philippine Sea? Trick question, because you’d have to fly east to get there. But, not to worry, Jessica’s high tech compass, GPS and other navigation equipment have somehow gone south (without her knowing about it) and her plane comes apart over North Korea.

The movie implausibly has Josh Lucas return to base -- in Alaska. I mean, how many pilots get an order to fly to a base, not on the charts, but trust me, it’ll be there by the time you get there?

Implausible is the name the movie should have had. The first part of the movie is well worth watching, but after Jessica gets dressed after her bikini scene, get up and walk out.

The CGI is good, that’s about it. Instantly Forgettable music.

Attention Hollywood: I know this is kind of passe, but did you know that people actually watch a movie to see the characters interact? They enjoy seeing interesting people doing interesting things. Here's a thought: why not make a movie with characters like that, and just show them flying around, having all those psychological moments, but without actually blowing things up?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Supreme Court Brass

George W. Bush tonight put it all on the line tonight as he stood up to the podium and nominated John Roberts to the US Supreme Court. In a truly bold move, showing the true stuff the President is made of, he hung it all out there, taking a huge risk. Yep, you can tell a man has big brass cojones when he stands up in front of the world -- and one of the first half dozen words out of his mouth is “consequential.”

Monday, July 18, 2005

More Lunacy in the Schools

Just when you think education can sink no lower in this country we have this

The San Bernardino Board of Education has decided to “Incorporate Ebonics into a new school policy that targets black students...”

Some of the other gems from the same article are:
The goal of the district's policy is to improve black students' academic performance by keeping them interested in school. Compared with other racial groups in the district, black students go to college the least and have the most dropouts and suspensions.

Mary Texeira, a sociology professor at Cal State San Bernardino, commended the San Bernardino Board of Education for approving the policy in June.

Texeira suggested that including Ebonics in the program would be beneficial for students. Ebonics, a dialect of American English that is spoken by many blacks throughout the country, was recognized as a separate language in 1996 by the Oakland school board.

"Ebonics is a different language, it's not slang as many believe,' Texeira said. "For many of these students Ebonics is their language, and it should be considered a foreign language. These students should be taught like other students who speak a foreign language.'

Texeira said research has shown that students learn better when they fully comprehend the language they are being taught in.

"Because Ebonics can have a negative stigma, we're not focusing on that,' Cooper said. "We are affirming and recognizing Ebonics through supplemental reading books (for students).'

Texeira urged people not be quick to judge the new program as socially exclusive. She said people need to be open to the program.

"Everybody has prejudices, but we must all learn to control that behavior,' Texeira said. She said a child's self confidence is tied to his or her cultural identity.

She compared the low performance of black students to starvation. "How can you be angry when you feed a family of starving children?'

There is so much to attack here that it’s difficult to know when to stop, er, where to start.

Take for instance, the idea that you can improve a student’s academic performance by having them study ebonics. Could we have the citation from one peer-reviewed article saying that the knowledge of ebonics is helpful for anything? What is a school district doing taking advice from a sociologist? For heaven’s sakes, professional educators are clueless enough, but to reach outside that profession to one even softer is lunacy.

When a young person stops being a student and goes out into the world to get a job, just what is an employer to make of an Ebonics speaking black? It’s the same thing as wearing a sign (ala the flower girl in My Fair Lady) with your life’s history written on it. “Hi, I was f****n’ born in this country, f****n’ raised in this country and I still don’t f****n’ speak your language. You f****n’ hire me and I can f****n’ guarantee you I’ll f****n’ apply my energy and drive to your job the same as I f****n’ did learning to speak f****n’ English.” Yep, a prospective employee like that is going to have employers salivating!

Yes, I know, that’s a terrible way to stereotype an ebonics speaker’s language -- but I’m sorry, if I quoted how Ebonics speakers actually talk I’d get in serious trouble.

How is ebonics going to help someone prepare for college? As near as I can tell from the article, it’s about self-esteem. Me, I’d think preparing black students better for college by teaching them English, math, science, history and the like would have been more useful. Why I’m sure there are one, maybe two colleges that have a class on ebonics. Maybe one of them even lets it count towards your degree in African-American studies.

Another great comment is: “(Ebonics) should be taught like any other foreign language.” Yeah, that would be a good idea. We call that “mainstreaming.” You remember that proposition that passed a few years ago, ending bilingual education? Do you remember all the educators a year or two later saying (much more quietly than they’d opposed the measure) that in retrospect, they’d been wrong and immersion works better than “bilingual education.”

Another quote is the one about how ebonics has a negative stigma, so they aren’t going to focus on that. Do you get it? They don’t want to admit to the students, “Hey, we’re teaching you junk here, wasting your time.” Instead, they take the stealth route. I don’t know how many of you have raised or taught teenagers, but let me remind you just how badly trying to lie to a teenager works, as a basis for establishing a dialog.

And of course such tried and true comments as “Everybody has prejudices, but we must all learn to control that behavior.”

Yeah, sure. If you can’t stand brussel sprouts, that’s just prejudice and we’re going to help “control that behavior.” Gosh, it’s a free country! Prejudices serve us every day, in every way. It helps us select what clothes we’re going to wear, right after we got out of the shower we take because people don’t like us much if we go for a week or two without one. There’s a serious prejudice against driving on the wrong side of the street as you go to work, too. And employers! What bigots! You don’t get to choose what you work on -- you do what they tell you to! How unfair is that? Take off early for lunch or to go home early? Take long lunches? Gosh, employers are really prejudiced against people who do that! We need to work on controlling that behavior!

And that guy in the next cube who’s playing Mozart all day on his boom box! He has no right to inflict those prejudices on me! Give me my Eminem and Snoop Dogg!

And of course, there’s that finest line there at the end. Withholding ebonics from these poor children is the moral equivalent of starving them! Probably like Nazis putting them in Pol Pot's gulag or something...

Boy, I’m glad no one’s controlling my prejudices today!