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Why I am the Way I am

We can be cool.

Folks just disagree.

Some people look out at America and see (mostly) unfortunate people who were never given a fair chance. If that is legitimately what you believe I guess I can’t fault you. I just don’t understand it.

When I look out at America I see (mostly) oceans of public licentiousness, selfishness, and, most of all, just horribly stupid, short-sighted, self-destructive personal choices. So I think the idea of divorcing politics and morality is naive. Politics is informed by your moral worldview.

I desperately wish I could have stayed a liberal. I would prefer it. To be able to live every day simply telling everyone, “It’s not your fault. It’s the evil… corporation/white man/rich man/pick your villain du jour… that caused all your trouble” sounds so glorious and freeing. But I can’t say that because I see no proof of it. The world I see and the facts that I am privy to simply do not support it.

I am not a conservative because I don’t care about people, I am a conservative simply because the way you help a person is completely dependent on why they are in trouble to begin with.

Succinct. Correct.

I read this response to a NYT article on burgeoning out-of-wedlock births. It’s so succinct and utterly right that I simply present it whole with no editorial comment.

“The successful, wealthy, comfortable people live one life – married, employed, fit, and the poor, uneducated, live another – illegitimate kids by a bunch of random guys, overweight, on benefits of some sort (school lunch, welfare, disability, medical benefits, subsidized housing, etc.) And everyone is supposed to be PC. So the people who are living well don’t influence the others, that’s considered rude.

 
You’re supposed to live and let live. So, the Ivy-league grads marry each other, move to some Ivy neighborhood, buy property, have kids, exercise, invest, and live the American dream. And instead of telling everyone else that that’s really the way to do things – go to college, get a job, keep fit, get into a committed relationship, have a couple of kids, etc. those people don’t say a thing. “Nothing is shameful, its just not the way I chose to live.”

 
So, other people can be fat losers with a pile of accidental kids, I’m not judging.

 
That’s the problem of de-stigmatizing welfare, criminal records, drug addiction, illegitimate children, fatness, laziness, unemployment. It’s all perfectly fine, nothing wrong with that these days. But watch who’s successful – not the fat, not the uneducated, and not the people with a pile of illegitimate kids. Who’s happy? People who are too fat to move at 45? People who scrimp by on benefits?

 
And of course they’re confused – why aren’t they living the American dream if their lifestyle is acceptable and unshameful? They don’t understand. It used to be obvious what is a right way to do things and what isn’t. Now everything is neither right nor wrong.

 
Not everyone is smart enough to realize that there’s still the same old formula for success – education, children at a time when there’s money and a spouse, investment, saving, health and fitness.

 
Saying all of these people are reinventing the family is fine, but its not like they’re evolving it into a better and more successful model. They’re resurrecting the old war-time model of family: a bunch of broke women with a pile of ragamuffin kids, shifty men coming and going, and the government subsidizing the whole thing.”

All The Ways of Suck

There will be “spoilers” in the sense that much of the plot of the movie will be revealed. There will not be spoilers in the sense that anything will actually be spoiled for you. It was rotten already.

There are so many ways that the movie Prometheus disappoints, it’s nearly impossible to enumerate them. However, my heart is so full of hate that I must try. I will categorize.

1. Plot. Have one.

So this rich old man wants to meet God. No, wait, he wants immortality. No, wait, he wants a bioweapon that he doesn’t know exists. No, wait, the android surrogate son wants the bioweapon. No, wait, he wants to impregnate a woman with an alien to transport it back. No, wait, he doesn’t care about the woman with the alien baby and just leaves her to roam about. He’s loyal to the old man and just wants to help him. No, wait, he hates him and wants him to die. No, wait, he has no desires because he’s a robot.

Also the rich old man has a daughter who loves him. Hates him. Loves him, hates the android. Wants the old man’s job. Wants to protect the old man.

There are these giant aliens who leave maps on ancient Earth to point humanity to them. Also, they hate humanity and want to murder them. But only recently. Also, they created humanity by drinking black goo. Their bioweapons got out of control and killed everyone on a remote planet. Except for one. Also, there were a lot of ships there. But no other engineers on them to help out I guess. Also, the *exact* same thing happened on an entirely different planet (sometime prior to the events in Alien) with the whole bioweapons run amok deal. Tough luck.

Lastly, the final scene of Prometheus heavily suggests that we have just witnessed the creation of the xenomorphs and yet…there is a painting (Also…what the John Diddly? Paintings?!) of one in the derelict space craft. So? Who knows.

2. Characters. Make at least one not turrible.

There’s Holloway, Lead Man Scientist. He walks around acting, and talking like a petulant teen that would be hard-pressed to make a C in Algebra, much less inspire a interplanetary search for Man’s origins.

His girlfriend/ co-discoverer is passionately sure the Gods have “invited” them. Until she isn’t. then she wants to blow them up because she figured out everything there was to know about their motivations in a day and a half.

There is a character named Vickers who is really hot and selfish and bad because she is a corporate suit. She burns some dude to death because he is carrying a contagion that would cause him to kill everyone on board. No, that makes her a hero. No, a bad guy. She does push-ups when she’s wet and stares all mean and stuff.

There are a biologist and geologist who get left behind in a derelict spaceship. They are petrified and run around in fear. Until they see an alien tentacle. Then they go pet it.

There is Captain Janek. He is Tough As Nails and Just Runs The Ship. He has one of the saddest attempts at a southern accent ever put to film. He does it with Vickers. He heroically kills himself to save humanity all of a sudden because a nice lady says so.

There is are two other dudes. One might be Italian. One seems to be vaguely Asian. They don’t say or do anything until they triumphantly stay on the ship with Janek because, apparently, it takes three dudes to run one ship into another one. No one cares when they die because you don’t even remember they are there until they blow up.

3. Ideas. Relate them in some manner.

Here are some ideas in Prometheus: Some advanced Alien race is God. This God race created humanity. This God race later decided it hated humanity. This God race later wanted to eradicate all humans but had an accident on the way and decided to never try again. This God race skipped all around the planet seeding different cultures with star maps. The Space Jockey was a God race alien in a suit and not a species with a long snout. Scientists are optimistic idiots. Religious believers are idiots and yet they are right about the human race being designed by an all-powerful intelligence.

A lot of apologists are claiming that Prometheus explores bold, new ideas. Watch 2001. Or, Ridley Scott’s own Blade Runner. Bold new ideas are interesting in the context of a well-executed story, not as a replacement for one. Otherwise you could just film a guy reading notes from a legal pad.

4. Prequel. Decide if you are one.

We’ll never know what really happened but I have a theory. After a few screenings, the makers of prometheus decided (rightly) that this movie was going to be harmed by comparisons to Alien. So, in an attempt to minimize the damage, they flipped the rocker switch on the “It’s not really a prequel” autopilot.

But lets look at the facts:

-There is an Alien IN IT.
-There is a Space Jockey IN IT (or rather what we thought was the Space Jockey… Oh, God).
-There is a spacecraft identical to the one in Alien.
-The events occur on a moon of a ringed planet (freakin’ seriously?!) called LV 223 just as the events in Alien occur on a moon of a ringed planet called LV 426. Guess those Engineers just have a thing for moons of ringed planets ( pretty sure I just rolled my eyes with such hate-filled intensity that a blood vessel ruptured).

Of course it’s a prequel. Of course it is.

In point of fact it’s a *direct* prequel to Alien occurring on the same planet designed to lead directly into the events of Alien right down to idea a *single* Engineer (or space jockey) out of an entire crew left alive and piloting the ship. So why pretend otherwise? Again, it’s my firm belief that someone, late in the game, had the good sense to say, “Holy crap! This makes no sense whatsoever! We’re going to have to sell the idea that this movie is actually *meant* to be abysmally convoluted!”

So they edited and shot a few scenes differently and re-wrote some of the marketing copy.

5. Damon Lindelof. Make him not write words.

Ridley Scott has directed two other legitimate science fiction classics.

Blade Runner (the story) was written by the guy who wrote The Man in the High Castle and several other foundational science fiction classics: Hugo Award winner Phillip K. Dick. Alien was written by Dan O’Bannon (who went on to write Total Recall, a sequence from Heavy Metal, and Blue Thunder) and Walter Hill who wrote 48 Hours and The Warriors among many other solid, gritty scripts.

Prior to Lost, Damon Lindelof’s claims to fame were the TV shows Nash Bridges and Crossing Jordan. He co-wrote Prometheus based on a initial treatment by Jon Spaihts whose sole previous credit was The Darkest Hour. Have a look at it sometime.

6. Conclusion

Prometheus is a boorish desecration of a classic piece of filmmaking.

I’m not sure why they did it. I’m not sure why Ridley Scott, of all people, thought this was necessary. Did he feel a need to prove that Alien’s success was just as much his as it was Dan O’Bannon’s or HR Giger’s? We’ll never know.

All we have to study, to claw at desperately for answers, is Prometheus.

And how sad is that?

Rondolicious

So my Dodge Ram truck died and that pretty much sucked.

I made transportation ends meet with a 1993 Ford Festiva that I bought from my brother-in-law. Old and tiny but well-preserved. My B-I-L is a top-notch gearhead and he turned it over to me in outstanding shape. Turns out that a Ford Festiva is really a rebadged Kia Pride. More on that later.

As I began to research replacements, I considered my needs. They were as follows:

-Room for four

-Room for hauling

-Safety

-Fuel efficiency

Pretty much in that order.

I started my search with four-door pickups. I came to the conclusion that this must be the single worst value, by category, in the entire auto market. You can’t get a truck with four doors, even used with fairly high mileage, for much less than 20K. You can accept really high mileage and get down to 16-17K but it’s nearly impossible to do better than that. The fuel efficiency in this category, even with 4 and 5 cylinder models is atrocious. The Ford Ranger is the best and tops out at 19/24 in a four cylinder model.

Trucks eliminated.

Next I turned to SUVs. Horrible. I do not now, nor have I ever, understood how this category became, and remains, so popular. They have all the problems of small trucks…poor fuel efficiency, the rougher ride of a truck-based platform, limited and inaccessible seating, and cost, without any of the benefits…namely storage and machismo. All but the most massive SUV models have less cargo room than a station wagon, much less a small pickup. Many affordable models have only two doors which necessitates climbing up and then over a front bucket seat to access. The higher platform base means limited head room and overall roominess once you do get seated.

SUVs eliminated.

I looked briefly at minivans. They have nice, sedan-based rides but they have evolved to gargantuan sizes. They are “mini” in name only. Also, fuel efficiency is usually not super since they almost all come with 6 and 8 cylinder models. They are even more expensive, generally, than small pickups. The truth, though, is that, overall, this segment was closest in features to what I was looking for: roomy comfort for five, easy access for kids, and ample, configurable storage space.

Minivans done.

Finally I explored the amorphous, ill-defined “crossover” category. This segment is difficult even for auto experts to categorize. I watched a Kia executive attempt it and it was rather amusing. Basically, a “crossover” seems to be a vehicle that has melds elements of minivan, SUV, station wagon, and sedan, without actually being one of those types. Generally, this category is based on sedan platforms. The three models I finally settled on were: Kia Rondo, Toyota Matrix, and Mazda5. These cars are called MPVs, multi-purpose vehicles, in most countries.

The Mazda5 is also often called a micro-minivan as it seats seven standard and has minivan-style sliding doors. I owned one briefly before deciding we didn’t need a third car at the time. I was also slightly disappointed with fuel efficiency as the Mazda tops out at 26 MPG even with a rather underpowered 4 cylinder engine. However, I found the experience good enough to include the model in my final three.

Eliminations.

I really liked the Matrix. Ample room for five on a sedan-based platform and Toyota quality made it an appealing choice. However this car needed to function as a truck replacement and this is where the Matrix fails. While providing ample cargo room and fold-flat rear seats, the Matrix fails with a relatively tiny rear hatch, rendering the cargo space far less useful. You could probably fit a love seat in the back of a Matrix but you’d have a pain trying to wedge it through the tiny hatchback opening.

The Mazda5 was crosssed off the list mainly thanks to the underpowered 4 cylinder engine. It strains under heavy loads and doesn’t like to maintain highway cruising speeds with much grace. That said, if the 5 had offered 30+ MPG like most four cylinder engines, I would have been willing to make that trade off. However the combination of poor power and mediocre fuel efficiency gave the tiny van the boot.

The Rondo stands alone.

I had not considered a Kia in the past but my experiences with the rock-solid Festiva (badged as a Ford but manufactured by Kia you’ll recall) changed my mind. The Rondo succeeded where the other two crossovers failed. Massive cargo space and many storage compartments make it a massive, rolling backpack. All entry points are large and comfortable. The hatchback opening is huge, as large as a full-size minivan. The hip points are sedan-like, providing for comfortable ingress. The fuel efficiency, while not as good as I had hoped (I was shooting for 30 MPG or better), was made acceptable by the fact that you can get the same MPG in a more powerful six cylinder model as you can with a barely-adequate 4 cylinder in the Mazda5.

The Rondo is a good replacement for a minivan, station wagon, small pickup, or sedan, and is, in most ways, superior to those vehicles. It has the cargo space of the pickup, the passenger seating and roominess of a minivan, and the refinement of a mid-size sedan. It is priced, for used models, much lower than most of the the vehicles in those categories as well. A sedan will be priced similarly and probably have better fuel efficiency but you will have to sacrifice almost all roominess and cargo space. A minivan will generally seat more passengers comfortably but unless your headcount is routinely more than five, this should be a non-factor (there is a 7 seat Rondo but you have to sacrifice a lot of cargo space so I don’t suggest it). You lose cargo with a wagon as well, and the small truck category loses to the Rondo in every way imaginable.

So why don’t they make it anymore?

They do. Just not in America. The Kia Rondo lives on around the globe as the Kia Carens. I can’t tell you exactly what market forces are in play in America that kept the Rondo from being successful. My best guess is that it comes down to culture. Most Americans seem to make car choices with a 90 percent/10 percent split . 90 percent styling and personal preference and 10 percent practical consideration. The Rondo isn’t going to come out on top in that sort of thinking. It’s styling falls into the plain-to-odd continuum with practicality and utility at a premium.

However, if your thinking leans toward balanced value first, you can’t do much better than the Rondo.

Only the Good Die Young

The Wii is certainly dying.

No question about that. The PS3 and XBox 360 routinely move more hardware units. The latest incarnation of The Legend of Zelda series will almost certainly be the last major A-list title released for the system.

So, sure, the Wii’s best days are long past. This means something, and yet it means nothing. The history of the Wii was set long before this year.

First of all, Nintendo won this generation. Make no mistake about that.

2011 will end with Sony selling around 10-11 million PS3 units, MS will have moved 9-10 million, and Nintendo will have sold 8-9 million Wii’s. The Wii has another big price drop coming at some point, which will goose sales for several months. Given that the Wii has more than a 30 million unit lead over the two competing systems, and that unit sales are going to continue to plummet as this generation winds down (Nintendo’s next-gen hardware offering, the Wii U, is due in the second half of 2012), history will record that Nintendo reclaimed the video game crown with the Wii.

The Wii was a rather large hit. It could have been more.

The Wii could have sold twice as many as the 100 million units it will probably end up selling. Sadly, a combination of fanboy and third party recalcitrance made that impossible.

For hundreds of thousands of angry, sexually frustrated nerds, the Wii was a betrayal and they never forgave Nintendo.

Years were spent learning arcane, complex control schemes. Encrusted layers of insular game knowledge had turned video gaming into the exclusive domain of basement-dwelling obsessives. First person shooters, like the swollen protagonists in them, violently relegated all other gaming convention to intellectual ghettoes. The only innovation in the industry was in frame rates and geometry.

In short, the entire industry was, and in many circles still is, about  making ever-angrier, ever more realistic sex-and-violence simulators. Bigger virtual guns to soothe the flaccid patriarchal aspirations of a societally neutered generation of males.

The Wii, and then to and even greater degree the emergence of iOS gaming, changed all that. Control schemes changed. Themes broadened. Titles became more diverse in both style and design. 20 years of obsessive button-mashing does not give you an advantage playing Angry Birds.

Most old-school software houses were also not amused. Their entire business model was constructed and optimized for developing and refining a single game engine and then milking it to the tune of 70 dollars per unit. The Wii and iOS meant the end of all that. You have to release new ideas, new games, and for less.

There is no going back.

Even if the Wii U is not a major success, even if Nintendo itself does not survive as a hardware manufacturer, the game has been recast. There will never again be another generation of systems that caters exclusively, or even mostly, to the so-called hardcore gamer. Even Sony and MS, standard bearers for the old way, had to scramble to change their strategy, desperately integrating motion-control in response to the success of the Wii.

So the Wii will pass into memory as underpowered? A gimmick?

If so, then, at least, an underpowered gimmick that changed everything.

Not too bad.

You’re Welcome

“Uprisings for democracy in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria. You know what? I think I’m finally beginning to buy the Domino Theory.”

So now that President’ Bush’s agenda for the middle east is clearly coming to pass will he get credit for knocking over the first two dominoes that made it happen?

I won’t hold my breath.

 

The Politics of Hating America

A lot of people in the world seem to hate America.

There are some reasons to hate America, but far fewer than with virtually any other major world power of the past or present. The recent WikiLeaks/Julian Assange  dustup is another good example of this kind of virulent anti-Americanism.

Assange says he has no particular disdain for America, but the things he chooses to leak says otherwise. Many of his former co-workers at WikiLeaks say otherwise as well, going so far as to label Assange’s anti-American worldview an “obsession” and starting their own competing “leaks” organization.

But why then? Why so many America haters?

A lot of folks ask that question and the answer never comes back with a satisfactory or empirical response. I think the the correct course of action is actually to answer the question: Who? The ‘why’ becomes apparent more readily in the immediate philosophical wake.

Islamic Culture

The easy thing is to say that only radical Muslims hate America, but that isn’t the whole truth. Radical Muslims are the ones who board planes and commit suicide bombings, but Muslims, in general, don’t care much for America either. Have a look at the Gallup data regarding American leadership. These are disapproval ratings.

Algeria 68%

Iraq 61%

Lebanon 64%

Palestine 77%

Morocco 69%

Lest you attribute these numbers to post-Iraq/Afghanistan disgust with American foreign policy, I encourage you to check the trend line on those numbers. They weren’t much different prior to 9/11 and the subsequent wars. In fact, they weren’t even much different when American forces were protecting Muslims in the Balkans by taking down Milosevic.

I could go on, but you get the idea. America is the muscular support structure of all of Western Civilization. To the degree that Islamic culture is at odds with western decadence, immorality, etc., their disdain is necessarily focused at what most recognize that the center (or nadir, depending on your point of view) of Western strength and wealth: the United States of America. So why don’t Muslims heap scorn on other Western nations? Oh they do. They most certainly do. However, they don’t spend as much time with it because it’s like spending all of your time screaming at the opposing team’s ball boy. Not going to happen. When you’re at the game you are going to spend all your anger on the opposing team’s star player.

America is the West’s star player. Which brings us to the next group.

Old Europe

I like calling Western Europe ‘Old Europe” because it just seems to really get under their skin.

When you look at the reasons that Islamic Radicals hate America….homosexuality, independent women, sexual openness, religious tolerance, support for Israel…you’d think they would hate Western Europe even more than they hate America since Europe, too,  has those things in abundance and, arguably, even more. Certainly the environment and attitude toward homosexuals and sexuality is far more liberal in Western Europe than in America. Further, Western Europe is all but an atheist enclave now which, theoretically, Islamic radicals detest even more than those who practice different faiths.

The truth is that Islamic radicals do hate Western Europe. They know it just doesn’t matter much. America, as the primary bulwark of Christendom and Western Civilization is a much more appealing target. Radicals know that in a world without America, or with a weakened America, Western Europe would collapse like a house of cards.

This notion isn’t new in American/European relations, it has simply take on new trappings. Western Europe has been in various states of denial/guilt/envy/resentment regarding American influence and power since the turn of the century. All the truth of this is found in the way America is compared to Europe in almost every modern analysis: Europe vs. America. There was a time when the individual nations of Europe considered themselves rivals, and even superiors, to America. Now that notion seems quaint bordering on idiotic, and the comparisons have transformed into a phony construct (America versus Europe the continent instead of any single nation).

The Europeans, while sharing a history with America, often give in to a petty tendency to resent us. The failure of America, and the West in total, is apparently preferable to their current, and likely future, little sister status.

Western Media

If there is one place that may be the most perplexing hive of Anti-Americanism, it’s the media.

One might think that given that American freedoms and capitalist economic systems are the very roots from which the modern media has grown and thrived, that Western media sources would fall over themselves swooning over the good ol’ US of A.

One would be wrong.

Western media hates America because it is simply not yet learned any other way. The vilification of America and The West in Western media is a strange Captain-Kirk-with-a-goatee parallel to American triumphalism. The media, in equal measures enflamed and hobbled by it’s imagination, fights two phony battles. The first battle is America vs. Utopia. America, as would any real, human construct, comes off poorly when pitted against the Marxist daydreams of a New York Times first-year intern. America is not this. America is not that. America does this wrong. America does that wrong.

Yes, when set against the fevered intellect of a Harvard-trained liberal, I imagine America comes off as shoddy at best. Against the reality of any current or past human civilizaton? She does just fine, thanks.

You Kinda Suck at Being Right

Some of you are in massive denial/Apple hatred.

The author’s general point, that Apple didn’t really “lose” in any realistic definition of that word, is completely valid.

Yes, MS still makes money, but they make almost all of it on Windows and Office. Just like they have for the past 20 years. Almost all of their other attempts at growing themselves have been abject failures. Yes, the XBox 360 too (will end up second, at best, out of three systems even with a full year head start and is barely, and only recently, profitable). Will they die anytime soon? No. Are they dying? Absolutely.

No, Apple doesn’t dominate the desktop and never will by market share but *WHO CARES*?

They are much, much more powerful and valuable than even the world’s biggest PC OEMs…Dell, HP, etc. They have almost twice as much money *in the bank* than the entire market value of Dell! Apple’s market value is nearly *three times* that of HP and 50 billion more than MS.

Apple consistently, for going on a decade now, produces devices that get far superior reviews from JD Powers, Consumer Reports, and, most importantly from customers themselves.

So, to sum up, Apple is winning the desktop wars in every way except market share. AKA every way that actually matters anymore.

By the thinking of some of you, the fact that GM, Ford, and Chrysler sell more cars by volume than Lexus, BMW, or Mercedes Benz somehow makes them winners? Or that BMW et al they have “lost” somehow? Watch the news, man. Which of those companies needed giant bailouts to continue to exist?

I won’t even go into iPods, iPhones, and iPads. The degree to which they dominated the competition in those categories should be apparent to even the most ardent Apple hater.

But you go right ahead and rock that Chevy Malibu, son. If it means that much to you.

Still Funny?

Hmm…so few snarky gags about Apple’s “magical device” these days…wonder why?

“With an estimated 8.5 million units sold to date, Apple’s iPad is now the best-selling tech gadget in history, according to a financial analyst who tracks sales of the device.

Apple was never *just* aiming for the anemic tablet market with the iPad. It was aiming for the *entire* low-to-mid level superstrata of the entire PC market. A target encompassing nearly 200 million units annually. And guess what? They done hit it, kids.

Same Old

Lordy. Time for my annual the-NFL-is-a-joke bloggy whine fest.

Maybe someone will see. Maybe it’s just therapeutic. Maybe when the league starts to crumble I want to be able to point to these posts and gloat that saw it before everyone else. Regardless of why I do it, I do it. And here it is again: the NFL is terrible.

It seems as if nine out of every ten games are decided by blind luck. Sure, my two favorite teams both suck so maybe it’s sour grapes? Sorry, no. I have other data.

A whopping five weeks in and guess how many undefeated teams we have left? Zero, comrade. Zilch. Nada. And last year’s super bowl champs? A 3-2 record with the three wins coming on a nine point margin in total. The highlight? A come-from-behind two point win against the 0-4 Carolina Panthers.

At some point, and that time is coming soon, the NFL is going to lose viewership. The fans of the major franchises in the major cities are going to eventually realize that these games are little more than colorful, over-produced gambling sessions.

After all, everyone wants to win the lottery, but no one really cares about watching it live.

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