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Movie Review: X-men 3

Tuesday, May 30, 2006
We saw X-men 3: The Last Stand this weekend at the cinemas. X-men 3 is the latest in the quite successful series of X-men movies that's been released over the past 6 years.

The movie centers around a "cure" for mutants that turns them, effectively, into normal people. This sparks and outrage and the heroic, sympathetic bad-guy character Magneto (played marvelously by Sir Ian McKellan) leads a militaristic campaign to destroy this. The opposing forces, led by the understated pacifist Professor Xavier (played by professionally bald Patrick Stewart) of course want to stop him.

While certainly a fun film and thought provoking in many ways (the film outlines the battle for minority rights) it lacks (in my mind) some of the clarity of the previous films. It also takes a lot of liberties and (plot spoiler!) starts killing off main characters with reckless abandon. But all in all I enjoyed the film immensely and have few actual complaints.

Final word on X-men 3: If you enjoyed the first two, see this one.

A Proportionate Response

Saturday, May 27, 2006
On my mind lately has been the concept of proportional responses and their value. Here's how I view the topic and my take on the idea:

First, let us examine the disproportionately low response (or the "turn-the-other-cheek" response.) Imagine if someone steps on your foot. You, hurt, demand an apology. If they did so accidentally they apologize and life is good. If they did it purposefully and don't apologize, then further action is justified. The act of demanding (and accepting) an apology defuses a situation.

Then, there's the proportionate response (or "eye-for-an-eye" response.) Someone steps on your foot. Accidental or not, you decide to step on their foot in response, since they did it to you first you're more than justified. This action doesn't defuse the situation, but since they did it first you're even.

Finally, we have the disproportionately high response (or the "you-have-insulted-me-now-you-must-die" response.) Imagine someone were to step on your foot. Accidental (or not), you decide to punch them in the nose and insult their mother. They either did it on purpose and any retribution is justified or they were careless and need to be taught a lesson. In either case, this is an escalating response which provokes further action in the other person.

My personal philosophy is, for the most part, to engage is disproportionately low responses. It's just my way, really. I feel (again, for the most part) that if everyone were to engage in "defusing actions" there would be less conflict in the world. But that's just my opinion.

Thinking outside the box

Friday, May 26, 2006
So I was reading this article the other day (linked to from Fark.com) about the growing debt the working Americans have to pay to fund the benefits for the upcoming retirement of the baby boomers. This, of course, distresses me 'cause I'm not sure that any money *I* put in will be left for me when my time comes.

Then I remember reading these articles about the bird flu and our nation's panic response to an upcoming pandemic.

Now, an ordinary person would just sit and simmer in panic and desperation. But not this out-of-the-box thinker, dear readers. Where some see fear, I see a problem and a solution, all wrapped up in one. You see, from a purely financial standpoint, it actually makes the most sense to immunize and protect the young and taxpaying. The (strictly financial) solution to an impending retirement crisis is, in short, to reduce the number of retirees needing benefits. For a short term emotional loss, we regain long term financial stability.

Now some readers (like I have more than 3), horrified at my proposal to "off the old folks", must remember that my proposal is only financially motivated and I'm not a) honestly suggesting this or, b) proposing legislation. Keep calm, folks. Don't panic.

The English Language

Wednesday, May 24, 2006
I've been trying, rather unsuccessfully, to sell my vehicles for the past month or so. I put an ad up on Cragislist and have been getting a few nibbles, but haven't sold anything yet. However, I got this priceless response to my car ad, wherein I describe my vehicle as a "sporty sedan":
Helll na my that cars slowww my gsr civic hb eats em up all day
including wrxs
--mgodfrey
That was the entire text of the message. Right there. I count eight actual words that are in the English language, out of a total fifteen (not counting his name.) I'm not counting "civic", as it should be capitalized because it's the name of the vehicle. That's a 53.3% success rate on written English, which is not, in my opinion, very good. Then there's the grammar question, where we realize that nothing actually makes sense. "my that cars"? Huh? I don't understand what you're saying, sir.

Aside from the actual content of the message (which gets a big "whatever" in my book), the fact that someone read my ad and chose to respond in this way almost made my day. It's hilarious. Obviously this person is old enough to drive (16+ years of age) but must have been left behind in terms of education.

Thank you, sir, for making my day.

Server Outages

Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Now I know I only have two or three readers, but it still bugs me whenever the server I've set up isn't working properly. And, over the last weekend, it's been failing on me constantly but without any seeming input or strange thing happening; it'll just be turned off. I think the problem MIGHT have been the power strip that has the power cord in it being very easy to step on (and therefore turn off the power) but I'm not sure yet... it's bugging me.

Katrina Levee-Failure Report

Sunday, May 21, 2006
For both my readers I thought I'd link to a report on NPR that I heard about the failure of the 17th Street Levees in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. The report, by David Kestenbaum, can be found here. I personally found the report to be fascinating; it both blames and exonerates the Army Corps of Engineers at the same time. For anyone interested, please, PLEASE listen to the report and see how good journalism is really done.

Movie Review: The Producers

We rented The Producers the other night. The Producers is Mel Brooks's re-adaptation of his movie-turned-broadway show.

To start with, the movie is absolutely hysterical. It's rated PG-13 for "sexual humor and references", and that's pretty much where the humor comes from... that and the sheer ridiculousness of the plot. Here's how it goes: a failed Broadway producer and his accountant figure out a scheme wherein they can make more money with a flop than with an actual hit. So they set out to find the worst play, the worst director, and the worst actors - all while raising as much money as they can.

My personal biggest laugh comes from the play they choose to produce: "Springtime for Hitler". Some of the jokes seem a little forced, some of them aren't that funny, but the fact that they keep coming is really how the movie succeeds. The movie never takes itself seriously, which is also a blessing. I find little to complain about with the film and plenty to praise.

Final word on The Producers: Rent it, laugh, have fun.

Movie Review: Shopgirl

Tuesday, May 16, 2006
We watched the movie Shopgirl the other night, a fantastic movie based on the novella written by Steve Martin. The plot centers around a gal named Mirabelle (played by Claire Danes) and her relationships with the wealthy but disconnected Ray (Steve Martin) and the inept but very real Jeremy (Jason Schwartzmann").

Steve Martin gives a fantastic performance in this wry drama, and both his character and the character of Mirabelle feel very real. Claire Danes's performance is deep and real and we see a lot of the feelings she goes through as she gets close to Ray and he holds her at arms length, showering her with financial affection while he stays emotionally removed; we also see Steve Martin's strong performance as he loves Mirabelle but doesn't admit it to her or himself.

In addition to the strong performances, the direction and camerawork in the movie are both very diliberate and very excellent. The pacing of the movie starts out slow and the first 15 minutes seem aimless, but the movie focuses very early on as the story unfolds. There's very little to dislike about this film and much to praise!

Final word on Shopgirl: Very worth the rental.

Statistics of a successful trip

Monday, May 15, 2006
Time departing San Francisco: 8:30 AM
Time arriving West Linn: 10:30 PM
Number of gas stops: 9
Gas stationg locations: I-80 Auto Mall, Arbuckle, Red Bluff, Castle Crags State Park, Yreka, Medford, Canyonville, Springfield, Salem
Number of unexplained motorcycle stalls: ~13
Number of speed traps passed through at the speed limit: 2
Number of times pushing the motorcycle into the gas station: 1
Number of times whistling the M*A*S*H theme: 72
Number of times passed by a semi going uphill: 2
Miles spent drafting a friendly McKinney driver: 65
Method used to avoid sneezing in the helmet: Amazing facial contortions
Miles spent pretending motorcycle was an Apache attack helicopter armed with hellfire missiles, blowing stuff up in my way: 125
Hours spent pretending motorcycle was a WWI biplane (complete with engine sound effects) making strafing runs over traffic: 2.2
Maximum speed, headwind: 65 mph (indicated)
Maximum speed, tailwind: 75 mph (indicated)
Percent of time traveled spent at or below the speed limit: 90%
Number of times reserve fuel tank used on trip: 2
Number of free inches, in front and behind, for rider to move due to luggage: 2
Number of dirty looks given to passing drivers: 217
Miles traveled, according to Google: 630
Northbound point at which trip became "not fun anymore": somewhere south of Redding, CA
Number of times re-attaching headlight frame while moving: 2
Number of offers to buy motorcycle: 1
Number of "juicy" bug hits on visor: 3
Number of total bug hits on visor: >200
Number of hours spent wishing for a windshield: 14

Eve of Danger

Saturday, May 13, 2006
Today, my friend and I spent about 10 hours working on his Ascot, attempting to get it running. Let me catalog what we found out about the bike, which absolutely failed to start when we arrived to pick it up:
  1. The battery is kaput.
  2. The starter solenoid is busted.
  3. Half the clutch lever broke off.
  4. The left-hand mirror doesn't stay in place
  5. The tachometer doesn't work.
  6. Both front blinker stalks are broken, one dangling precarioiusly.
  7. The engine has a slight "flutter" at a certain RPM.
This is, of course, the bad news. After many, many hours of work and some mechanical fearlessness on the part of my friend, here's what we did:
  1. Replaced the battery and charged it a little.
  2. Wired a bypass to the starter solenoid with a household heavy-duty light switch
  3. Got the thing started, running, and put air in the tires.
That is the good news - especially the tires, which are in fantastic condition. This bike would make a great bike if it were new, though let me not give the impression that I'd ever take it over my Sprint ST.

My friend has put an incredible amount of work in today; we're both tired. We're about to meet up with another friend of mine for dinner and then probably go to sleep; tomorrow's going to be a long, long day. Hopefully it'll just be an exciting day.

Adventure

Friday, May 12, 2006
This is my plan for this weekend:
  1. Board a plane and fly to the Bay area.
  2. See friends.
  3. Pick up 23-year old motorcycle.
  4. Examine aforementioned motorcycle.
  5. Ride around San Francisco.
  6. Attempt to ride motorcycle from San Fransico to Portland, 100 miles at a time.
  7. Arrive home safely?
The motorcycle in question is a 1983 Honda VT500 Ascot, a motorcycle that I've actually owned the twin of. I know little about this particular bike, though, except that it's been beat up a lot.

There are many, many things that can go wrong on a motorcycle trip. There are many, many bad choices that can be made. Some of those include:
  1. Ride a long trip on a motorcycle you don't know.
  2. Riding on a motorcycle with a questionable maintenance history.
  3. Riding alone.
  4. Riding on a long trip after a period of not riding.
Yes, dear readers, all of the above are true. This is a trip I'm anxious about; it has the potential to be a lot of fun, but it includes a pretty high risk-factor as well. The possible consequences of a problem on the road include:
  1. Death.
  2. Death.
  3. Death.
  4. Paralysis.
  5. Brain damage.
  6. Scuffs and scrapes.
  7. Severe inconvenience.
Keep your fingers crossed, dear readers... I want to make it home in one piece.

Political Outrage

Thursday, May 11, 2006
In the news today are the following articles:

This article reveals that the NSA has denied security clearance to Justice Department investigators and lawyers who were seeking information on the “Domestic Spying Program” (or “Terrorist Surveillance Program”) - which was run by the NSA – thereby killing an inquiry into the program.

This article details the revelation that the NSA has been collecting a huge database of phone calls made by American citizens to American citizen.

Then there's this article on CNN, where the President - working on his credibility - is quoted with the following gem:
"Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates.... [t]he privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities."
I'll spare y'all my commentary at this point, but feel free to write your write your Senator if any of this bothers you...

Movie Review: Gosford Park

Tuesday, May 09, 2006
My mother and I watched Robert Altman's 2001 film Gosford Park tonight. It was quite the enjoyable murder mystery, with a long cast of actors and a dazzling show of piecing together an intricate and tangled plot. In brief, in the 1930s a wide array of guests (people of old money, new money, and no money) show up at a country house with their servants for a hunting weekend. In the middle of a wretched weekend of friendly family back-stabbing, one person at the party is murdered - but no one as exactly a clean past. Who did it, and (almost more importantly) why?

My mother actually saw this movie in the theaters and realized on her second viewing that she'd missed a lot of what happened because the film moves very quickly and the actors (with the exception of Maggie Smith (apparently she was nominated for an academy award can be very difficult to understand. Most of the movie actually comes across as background chatter, which can be difficult to make out and even more difficult to place in context.

The film brilliantly shows the class divides between 1930s English aristocracy a their servants, as well as the struggles for perceived power and prestige among those ranks. Also well shown is the despicableness of the human nature, so selfish at times and unable to see beyond one's immediate wants (or needs). But, to spoil the ending JUST A LITTLE, the movie also shows how much a mother can love her child. 'Nuff said.

Final word on Gosford Park: Definitely worth a rental, but make sure you have subtitles and someone who's seen it before with you.

My Fellow Americans...

I am not a cook.

Time was that I could actually bake a half-way decent dessert - from scratch, no less. Now, years later, it appears I cannot even put together a mix and have it come out properly.

My latest adventure, a pineapple upside-down cake, was a complete disaster. I had too much pineapple juice and it stopped the cake from rising. The end product, while delicious, was not in the least bit pleasant to look at. Thankfully, the intended audience didn't complain.

So I think I'll keep working with computers. I've got that down, at least.

Movie Review: Akeelah and the Bee

Monday, May 08, 2006
We went to the theater yesterday and saw the movie Akeelah and the Bee, brought to us by Starbucks Entertainment (praise be to the gods of merchandising!)

The story focuses on a talented young girl from the shady side of Los Angeles who's bright, talented, and unchallenged. She finds comfort in spelling (and Scrabble) and is persuaded (through a series of events) to enter her school's spelling bee, where she is led on a path to the national spelling bee while being coached by Laurence Fishburne.

All in all I enjoyed the movie, despite the fact that the supporting characters weren't written very well and the movie was a ham-fisted conglomeration of cliches. Nonetheless, being significantly older than the target audience I can overlook these flaws. The messages were wholesome and more or less appropriate for the whole family: anyone can achieve; achievement is a good thing; always do your best, etc. Young Keke Palmer, who played Akeelah, did a fantastic job and brought some livelyness to the film.

As I said, there were flaws in the film. Laurence Fishburne, who I tend to think is a pretty good actor, wasn't given much to work with and his best scene was actually one he narrated. Many of the smaller roles were heavily stereotyped as well. Finally, the director seemed to go out of his way (as previously mentioned) to included as many cliches as possible in the films. Still, younger viewers won't catch on and the happy-feel-good ending makes even adults forgive and forget.

Final word on Akeelah and the Bee: Worth a rental, especially for kids at or under 12 years of age.

Why I hate IT

Friday, May 05, 2006
You know what I particularly dislike about IT? The fact that we get no goddamn appreciation. None. Not even a courtesy pat on the back.

What I'd like to hear on a daily basis:
  • Hey, Burton... thanks for making our internet access work!
  • Hey, Burton... great job on the firewall. Glad you're keeping the baddies out!
  • Hey, Burton... I really appreciate the way I can check my email on a daily basis!
  • Hey, Burton... I love the way our branches can connect over the WAN!
  • Hey, Burton... keep up the good work! I'm glad we didn't have any problems today.
Instead, this is what I do hear:
  • Nothing
  • Nothing
  • Nothing
  • Nothing
  • OH MY GOD IT'S BROKEN! When will you fix it? I don't care what you do, just let me know when it's working.
  • Nothing
Sigh...

The MFF vs. The Evil Dead

Wednesday, May 03, 2006
So I've known these guys for a long, long time. And now they've done just about the awesomest thing ever. Check out The MFF vs. The Evil Dead music video. Please do us all a favor and watch this on a computer with good sound.

So cool it's painful to the touch. Remember the name "Monkey Farm Frankenstein", kids... they're going to be big. Mark my words.

On the topic of ice cream

Tonight a friend and I went to a local place where they served Tillamook ice cream. In a diet-destroying move, I ordered a scoop of "Root Beer Float" and a scoop of "Cinnamon".

Before I continue with this story, let it be known to both my readers that I'm not a terribly adverturesome fellow, especially not when it comes to food. My favorite flavor of all time is "French Vanilla", because there's a rich subtlety to the taste that I love. However, they didn't have any "French Vanilla", so I decided to step out of the comfortable and order two new flavors.

I loved them!

"Root Beer Float" tastes just like one, and "Cinnamon" has a delightfully thick texture and a mellow flavor that I enjoyed. Of course, I figure I now have to run 2342.2 miles to burn off all the calories. I mean, I've got the "live fast" and "die young" down, I'm still working on the "good looking corpse". Well, except for the corpse part. And I guess the dying young isn't for me, either.

Movie Review: Jarhead

Monday, May 01, 2006
I watched Jarhead last night. I enjoyed it thorougly, though it did seem to borrow liberally from other films on the genre. One of the most interesting things about the movie (and something critics noticed) was the lack of any actual war in the film. Part of the whole point of the film is watching the characters go crazy as they train and train and yet don't (in the end) do much of anything.

The movie follows the exploits of Anthony Swofford (who wrote the book) through Marine boot camp, training, and his deployment in the first Gulf War (aka Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.) We watch as he suffers not from combat, but from the lack of it and the desire of him and his team to actually do anything (or kill people.) Jamie Foxx plays the staff seargent in charge of his squad of snipers and he plays the part very well. All the performances are believeable and so are the situations, as terrible as some are.

I enjoy war movies, especially those that take pains to point out how terrible, crazy, and pointless war can be and also employ a variety of perspectives. Some of my favorites (in ascending time period) are Paths of Glory, Bridge on the River Kwai, Stalag 17, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, We Were Soldiers, Three Kings, and Black Hawk Down. I can safely add Jarhead to the list of movies in this category that are definitely thought-provoking.

Final word on Jarhead: It's definitely worth a rental if you're into the genre.

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