December 31, 2010, 5:07 am
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Finally saw I’m Still Here, and it was pretty good, but more obviously fake than I had expected it to be, given the confusion and ‘controversy’ and ‘is it or isn’t it’ that seemed to surround it at the time. So many scenes just didn’t make sense if you thought them through logically and took them at face value. I didn’t buy the most notorious scene for one second. (But it was funny)

Why did I like it then? I guess I’m just a fan of the fake-documentary in general. So I’m an easy pushover. But it should be said that Joaquin Phoenix did a brilliant job. Although for my money, Mail Order Wife is the all-time masterpiece of the genre. You can watch it on Hulu I believe. And, you should, because it is hilarious.

The fake documentary did make me curious about the real Joaquin Phoenix and got me to thinking about the Phoenixes in general. I know so little about them. What is Rain doing? Etc. The film opens and closes with Joaquin in Panama, at what one gathers is his father’s house. Why does Joaquin Phoenix’s father live in Panama? And why does he dress like a Sandinista nowadays?

The obvious conjecture that suggests itself is that this is an ex-hippy we’re dealing with, and a few clicks on Wiki later, sure enough, Joaquin & River’s parents were members of the Children of God / Family International cult, which is known primarily for its innovative technique of ‘Flirty Fishing’ – having its female members offer sex to try to get recruits/donations. Or, as some courts have charged, running a prostitution ring.

By the way why do so many commune/cult members seem to have turned out actors as their progeny? The Phoenixes, Winona Ryder, Beck the musician is a Scientologist, etc. It almost seems as if actors are the main, if not only, lasting cultural legacy of cults. What is it that cults do exactly that produces good actors? Is it just the child sexual abuse or is there more to it? Were historical actors in e.g. ancient Greece, etc. also generally produced by their equivalent of cults? One wonders.

Then there is the odd fact of Joaquin’s friend and ‘assistant’ Antony, who it appears is his real friend and assistant in real life, but who is also the guitar player for Spacehog. Spacehog were pretty good! What the hell is their guitar player doing being Joaquin Phoenix’s personal assistant? Is that really the way things work in rock/Hollywood? For some reason I find that incredibly depressing. If I dug into things would I find that Blur’s bass player fetches espressos for Jude Law, that the Stone Roses’s drummer shaves between Matt Damon’s eyebrows for him weekly, that the lead singer for Cast orders the escorts for Shia LaBoeuf?

I’m Still Here raised all these questions and more for me. Oh, I guess Casey Affleck & Joaquin wanted to say something about celebrity (or something) too. I’m not sure they did. But did you know that Beck is married to Giovanni Ribisi’s sister? And that they’re Scientologists too? Actually, sort of Scientology royalty (second-generation)? She had a small acting career too – she was the redhead in Dazed And Confused. I thought of all these things and more while watching I’m Still Here. It gave me that sort of time/space. Come to think of it, maybe the film itself wasn’t that great. But Joaquin’s rapping wasn’t that bad either. Kind of a wash really. Maybe the main point of the film is that rap is kinda easy. But at the same time, you walk away with a real respect for P. Diddy and the professionalism he brings to what he does. And so on.

Okay, let’s just say the movie was ‘thought-provoking’ in the literal sense of the term and call it a day. I have no real point here. And in the end, wasn’t that the point?

The Problem of Mutt
December 26, 2010, 9:45 pm
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Had a chance to look at most of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a second time, and got to wondering what exactly made it miss the mark. When I wrote about it before my main complaint was the CGI, and that criticism does hold up. But if I can forgive CGI in fully green-screen film like Sky Captain, I can deal with it in Indy.

I’ve decided the real problem is just Shia LaBeouf. Everything else, on paper, is fine:

The most iffy part is the ‘ancient aliens’ storyline. But this basically worked fine and is pretty consistent with the other Indy movies, all of which featured the cheesy supernatural.

Having the bad guys be the Soviets? Refreshingly fine.

It’s totally fine and, in fact, makes total sense to set the story far later than the others and give Indy a grown kid. Harrison Ford is pushing 70 after all.

The story (therefore) takes place in the late ’50s, so the kid is kind of a rebel, with a leather jacket and switchblade, etc. Ok sure. Totally makes sense.

It’s totally cool that the kid is with Marion Ravenwood, but adventuring Indy didn’t know about him, and I’m totally on board with bringing Karen Black Allen (heh – thanks George!) back.

Even some of the details about the kid: dropped/kicked out of several schools, but highly intelligent, hangs around with the academic set, and also trained in stuff like fencing, but with a disrespect for authority. Yes, yes. That’s Indy’s kid.

And the general notion of grooming Indy’s kid to be the next Indy is totally fine. Indy’s got to pass the torch at some point.

All of that is fine. If you had described all of that, and nothing more, to me I’d have said you had the ingredients of a perfectly workable Indiana Jones movie. Some of the set pieces are pretty good, while others are irritating (and the movie at times is just a string of set pieces), but even that is well within the Indy tradition.

The only real problem I can see is that as Indy’s kid Mutt, the next Indy, the rebel misunderstood greaser to which Indy needs to pass that torch, they cast Shia LaBeouf. Indiana Jones is a swashbuckling adventurer played by the man’s-man actor of our time. Harrison Ford may be a shorty (and, I think, a bit of a weirdo) but he is almost universally beloved as a strong, rugged ugly-handsome hero type, a cowboy with a bit of Bogart in him. And whatever else you may think of him, you just don’t look at Shia LaBeouf and think, “chip off the Indy block” or “the next Harrison Ford”. You think, “Disney Channel superstar”. And that’s a problem.

Why exactly did they do this?

I’m not even anti-Shia, as such. I think he’s fine for the role he plays in those Transformer movies, for example, because he’s supposed to be a dweeby, overlooked everykid. But for Indy, Jr.? Seriously, what were they thinking?

Does Steven Spielberg like Shia LaBeouf because he sees in him a younger, cooler version of himself, or something? Because that’s the only explanation I can think of.

December 26, 2010, 3:49 pm
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Another bah-humbug thought that won’t ever win me any popularity contests is that the existence and continued production/popularity of “jewelry”, which just offends my intelligence. Imagine: vast amounts of capital is utterly wasted digging up/honing little rocks, and shaping melted metals, to put on women’s, like, fingers and ears. These things by definition and construction serve no actual purpose whatsoever, and cost vast amounts of money at least when compared to their size and usefulness. Yet women – in what, as far as I’m concerned is the most challenging and serious paradox for anyone who believes in the equality of the sexes – actually demand these completely-useless things. All the time, and throughout their lives.

The standard explanation is that they believe (or at least act as if they believe) that “jewelry” – i.e., shiny rocks – can make them more beautiful. Which is to say, I guess, that an ugly woman with jewelry on can be no longer ugly, or that a beautiful woman with jewelry on somehow gets beautifuler. Now, as far as I can tell this is not a conclusion that has been drawn by actually asking men what they thought. It seems to have been decided amongst women themselves. But men do pretend to believe it too (indeed some may do so in the comments) – usually because they have to, or think they have to, in order to get women.

No one has an interest in admitting the truth (which is that jewelry is essentially a signalling/superiority strategy directed at other women – “look at what I got this dumb-ass man to waste his money on, just by me being me; it’s shiny so you can’t avoid looking at it; now I am superior to you”). Women of course will never admit that this is why they want to have jewelry even though there is no other rational reason for it (and even they can’t be so dumb as to believe that the difference between them being beautiful and not, them getting a man and not, is having some shiny rocks on their bodies). Meanwhile, men have no interest in admitting they are so dumb (and desperate to get into her pants) that they fall for the whole thing – so they fall right into line and play-act the way the de Beers commercials teach them to. So you end up with a stable, neverending arms race of jewelry buying. The result is, of course, by definition a complete deadweight loss to society.

Women are supposed to be the kinder, more caring and sensitive sex. They support social programs up the wazoo. They care! Yet at the same time, in reality they demand that vast, vast expenditures be spent in Third World countries on gathering and making shiny objects. Without this STUPID preference on this USELESS expenditure, society would be significantly wealthier. Literally: less people would go cold, or hungry, or starve. Maybe that’s why I always appreciated this Sarah Silverman sketch so much – it basically says it all:

Ho Ho Ho
December 25, 2010, 6:11 pm
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Merry Christmas to all.

But this still seems relevant.

I mean it: if I could sign bilateral mutual disgiftament pacts with the various adults around me without causing social ostracism, I would do it in a heartbeat. I was thinking how it could actually be done logistically: someone sets up a centralized website where you create an account, with basically just your name and location, and you list the various adults with whom you’d be interested and prepared to sign disgiftament treaties. Now, they don’t know they’re on your no-gift list unless/until they list you too (or already had) – so, no ostracism, no shame. But if they DO list you too, you are both notified, and both should be happy about this, thus the disgiftament treaty is immediately and permanently triggered, to be enforced by The Honor System. From there on all that remains is to publicize the website, to make sure everyone’s aware of it. Once it catches on I think it could go viral. The boost to our economy (from removing a sizable chunk of the deadweight loss that gifts represent) would be not insignificant.

Because everything I say/write tends to be glazed over with sarcasm (even when not intentional), let me just make this as clear as possible: I actually, sincerely think this is a decent idea for a website. In fact, it may be the best idea I have ever had in terms of how it would help humanity. Again: not being sarcastic!

As an alternative, perhaps a Standard Alternative Gift Tax – a yearly flat fee that one could commit to paying other adults in lieu of the various asinine birthday/holiday gift obligations we now have. If it were reasonable, say $100-300 range, I’d switch over to the SAGT track for many people. Of course, if two adults are on the SAGT with each other, you just cancel them and it becomes de facto mutual disgiftament. Beautiful.

Either way, whether we go with the Disgiftmanet or the SAGT, Merry Christmas! Ho ho ho!

My Bias For Inaction
December 24, 2010, 3:57 pm
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Some folks have a bee in their bonnet about the filibuster & have been agitating to get rid of it for a while now. (Except, of course, when it was used by Senate Democrats to block George W. Bush’s judicial appointments – in which case it was a key cornerstone of the Republic.)

I guess I can understand the intellectual arguments on both sides, but (as often happens) what I can’t understand is the passion. What drives a person to feel so strongly about the supposed need to get rid of the filibuster that they blog about it endlessly? I mean, even if my position (which, I’m not even sure I have one) were to get rid of the filibuster, I still wouldn’t care.

At face value, one can only interpret such caring to indicate that the carers passionately want the Senate to be constantly doing stuff. If the Senate isn’t doing stuff, or is thwarted from doing as much stuff as a majority of it seemingly would like to, that’s something akin to a tragedy and certain people just can’t abide it. Why, the Senate could be doing more stuff – writing more laws and regulations, handing out more pork and earmarks – and it’s not! Ipso facto, reform is needed – say some people.

It’s similar to the left’s approach to treaties. ‘It’s a treaty! I haven’t looked into it too deeply but we should probably sign it! Why are you against it? What are you, just against all treaties?’

Theirs is a bias for action, or (at minimum) for a stance according to which ‘action’ and ‘non-action’ start out on an equal footing, and in each opportunity for an ‘action’ you need the argument for non-action to outweigh the argument for action. Otherwise, they’re for action!

It’s difficult to convey just how alien a point of view this all is from mine. I guess it’s fair to say I have a bias for inaction. All other things being equal, and lacking other information or highly compelling reasons to the contrary, my default answer to ‘should we do it?’ is No. I certainly don’t feel any strong compulsion to try to make the Senate able to do more stuff daily nor does its current (supposedly too low) rate of doing stuff make me feel sad, incomplete, or unsettled. In the most fundamental way possible, this is all just a statement of the fact that I am conservative.

So maybe I am extreme. But the opposite point of view seems extreme as well. Whatever you think about this or that Senate, or this or that issue, the notion that the United States needs the Senate to be constantly doing stuff strikes me as pathologically bizarre and disconnected from reality. As if our lives couldn’t continue if the Senate stopped doing stuff! This bespeaks a mindset that seems a little too steeped in bureaucratic thinking. Like a middle manager who thinks their PowerPoints are so important, there’s a class of politically-agitated folk which sees our DC masters as something akin to the engine or heartbeat of our country – if they are ‘paralyzed’, if they stop, we all stop. That’s why filibuster reform is so important!

My inclination is to assert that no one with (simultaneously) a real life, a real job, a real background, a real family, real responsibilities, and real experiences could possibly think this way. But I guess, by the same token, I do understand why DC elites, various classes of self-anointed intelligentsia, and the wunderkind bloggy commentariat think this way.

The Rorschach Logo
December 23, 2010, 9:31 pm
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Most of you will recognize this logo, the beloved eagle of the U.S. Postal Service:

Now, I’ve just spent several hours using my deft computer-artistry skills to highlight how, I gather, we’re supposed to visually parse this image. I have colored the eyes blue, the beak yellow, the wings brown, and the talons orangeish. Et voila le result:

Hopefully, if you’re sane, this is how you already saw it. But me? I never saw an eagle at all. Instead – well into my tweens – I always saw a strange, little, badly-drawn mailman with a hat, striking an odd pose & doing a sort of kick with his obscured right leg, holding what I now think must be a napkin draped over one arm, and ceremoniously presenting a letter to the viewer (is he a mailman or a waiter?) with the other. Something a little bit like this:

I always wondered why the U.S. Postal Service saw this as a good logo, thought mailmen would ever stand this way (and I could never quite parse how he was meant to be standing), and why they didn’t know what their own hats looked like.

But, I just understood it to be a highly-stylized impression of a mailman, something like an example of (what I might have later learned to call) cubism or futurism or somesuch, and just figured I had a lot to learn about the basis for and background of the U.S. Postal Service logo. Great mysteries awaited me, and that was ok.

This Isn’t A Real Blog Post
December 23, 2010, 12:28 am
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And these aren’t real thoughts….

Kids in a certain age-range seem to crave sugars & starches (and absolutely nothing else) so much that maybe we should just listen to them. Maybe 4-12 year old kids just need a crapload of sugar and starch, biologically (and not only that but if there’s any ‘green stuff’ on or mixed in with or even near the rice, or noodles – or any kind of non-cheese-based sauce near it at all – this destroys the starchy nutritional value their young bodies need). And maybe by resisting all this and trying to heartlessly force e.g. vegetables, etc. on them we’re inadvertently causing a national epidemic of sugar-starvation. Why aren’t we listening to the evolutionary signals our kids are trying to send us? I’m actually kinda starting to talk myself into feeling bad about it.

You know how you can either buy like brand-name cereals, or generic knock-off versions that cost half or 1/3rd or 1/4th as much? I noticed that the knock-offs don’t have cool stuff (cartoons, games, etc.) splashed all over the box (if they even have a box – often they’re in bags). And I miss all that stuff. There’s nothing to read/play while you eat! You think they have like expert comic-book authors and game-creators on staff, to create those things? Maybe that’s what you’re actually paying for when you buy the brand-name cereals. And, indeed, maybe they’re actually a good value – and the knockoffs are a ripoff – when you factor that in. Have we all been duped by Big Generic?

The politics of marijuana legalization are strange to ponder, because often the same people who want to demonize, regulate, propagandize against cigarettes – but of course, tax them and use those taxes as crucial funding! – are the ones who want to legalize marijuana. But it’s not like marijuana cigarettes (“doobies” or “joints” in the vernacular, I hear tell) are somehow wholesomey-good for your lungs, or that the arguments used against tobacco cigarettes somehow magically don’t apply to marijuana cigarettes. So what’s going to happen when the latter are legalized? Is the idea to legalize-and-then-demonize? Maybe there’s just a dual morality at play in peoples’ minds: cigarettes are evil precisely because they’re legal, whereas marijuana gets a pass cuz it’s not? But then what happens when it is? Or will (in a legalized scenario) Big Marijuana get a pass because (we all assume) its kingpins won’t generally be easily-despisable fat bald white men from North Carolina, but rather, Birkenstock-wearing balding-up-top-yet-gray-ponytail-sporting sensitive NPR-listening hippy types from Reading, California, and we don’t mind them getting rich? (At least, I think we don’t. That’s what it seems like.)

By now everyone has noticed that their supermarket chain wants to track all the food purchases you make. You either have a card or use your phone number and get little pseudo-discounts for letting them do it, and this helps them do data-mining. Fair enough, I suppose, but I wonder if/when the supermarkets (or whatever consulting firms they outsource the analysis to) will start to realize that the data they get just might be polluted by a load of crap? It’s not like a huge amount of security or quality control is applied to this ID tracking involved. You can just borrow someone’s card, or give them any old phone number (your wife’s, friend’s, etc); actually I often get the impression that the cashier would be perfectly willing to just let you use their phone number if it’ll get you the discounts and make you happy. I even think I’ve had it happen. So suddenly a purchase history full of maxipads, pre-made sushi and organic-everything is buying up cheese puffs, beef jerky and a 12-pack of Cup O’Noodles. Ha! Let’s see your algorithms deal with that, oh so clever ‘data miners’! Don’t like it?, well maybe you should never have left the cushy confines of that Operations Research graduate-school program! This is the real world!

So yeah, seriously, you shouldn’t have read any of that. You just lost a few minutes of your life you’ll never get back,


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