Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Movie Review: Jack Reacher

Merry Christmas to both of my loyal readers and for your Christmas present I'm giving you, YES, a POSITIVE movie review! Personally, I think negative movie reviews are a drag so I don't know why I always end up writing them that way, especially since I actually enjoy most of the movies I see. I guess it's just that I don't write reviews of most of the movies I see and I'm usually prompted to write one when the movie annoys me or is surprisingly bad. I probably need therapy.

But now onto Jack Reacher. I didn't really expect much from this movie, probably because I view the star, Tom Cruise, as something of a flake. But that's silly. Since when has being a flake prevented someone from being a good actor? And Tom Cruise, however much I hate to admit is, is a pretty darn good actor. He raises the level of just about everything he is in, and Jack Reacher is no exception.

Jack Reacher the character is the hero of a series of books that I haven't read but they sound interesting. From the Wikipedia description, he sounds sort of like Dirty Harry, Military Police. Tom Cruise does an outstanding job of portraying the character (although I think Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson would have done better) and the other acting is good as well.

The plot is a canned action-movie plot. You've got your superhuman action hero, your sexy female co-star, your rugged and humorous sidekick, your powerful and scary-evil villain and his superhuman action henchman. You've got your mystery appearance of the hero out of nowhere, your side plot involving family struggles, your expected unexpected betrayal, your easily solved mystery (so us non-mystery experts can feel smart for figuring it out before the hero does), your sexy too-young girl coming on to the hero in a bar, your bar fight with 5 to 1 odds against the hero (spoiler alert! the hero wins), your plot twist where the cops are after the hero, your evil villain showing how evil he is by killing his own guy, your car chase, your damsel in distress, your hero to the rescue, your climactic mano-a-mano with superhuman hero vs. superhuman evil henchman. You've got everything you want and need in a classic action movie. There is just one element missing but I won't say what that is because it would be a spoiler.

Now, if you aren't an action movie fan, that list of plot elements probably has you thinking that the movie wasn't good because it was so predictable. But if you think so, then you just do not understand the art form of the action movie. The action movie is a stylized art form. It is supposed to have certain character roles and certain plot elements. The art in action movies is not in coming up with unusual plots; the art is in the engaging or frightening character quirks, the interesting back stories and locations, the funny or memorable dialog, and the acting that makes you identify with the good guys and despise the bad guys so you really care about the outcome.

Jack Reacher is an excellent example of the art of action movies in the sense that I just described. The hero is dramatic, the other good guys are quirky good, the bad guys are quirky despicable, and the climax is grandly satisfying. All in all, a fun movie. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

i guess I think too much like an engineer

The Republicans in the House are trying to pass an extension of the Bush tax cuts that would only apply to incomes of $1,000,000 or less. I have two comments about this. First, anyone who says that the Republicans are voting for a tax increase is being unfair. A tax increase is coming and there is nothing the Republicans can do to stop it. The law was passed years ago. All the Republicans can do is try to limit the damage and this bill a reasonable attempt.

Second, why don't they first try the bill they actually want? I mean, I know the Senate would probably never pass it, but if I were in the House, I'd say: look, what we think is the best thing to do is to make all of the Bush tax cuts permanent. Let's send the Senate that bill. When the Senate rejects it, then we send our compromise bill. If they reject that, then they can take responsibility for raising taxes on all Americans.

I'd do the same thing with the spending cuts that are scheduled to happen. Pass a bill that undoes the spending cuts for military spending and leaves the rest alone. The Senate will reject it, but then when the military has to drastically cut back, there would be no question whose fault it was.

Why don't the Republicans just send their preferred policies to the Senate as bills and let the Senate reject them? Make it crystal clear what the Republicans wanted and what the Democrats rejected. None of this behind-the-scenes negotiations and the he-said-she-said accounts of what happened. Let Americans know what the Republican proposals are in their bills, out there for all the world to see, and let the Democrats reject those proposals, out there for all the world to see.

Monday, December 17, 2012

movie review: the unexpected CGI journey

When I saw The Hobbit --An Unexpected Journey I was surprised at how empty the theater was on a Sunday afternoon at a move based on a children's story. After the show, I was no longer so surprised.

Martin Freeman is very good as Bilbo Baggins and Ian McKellen is tremendous as Gandalf. The rest of the acting is good, although I don't think much of the casting and/or makeup. Richard Armitage who plays Thorin Oakenshield just doesn't look dwarfish and neither do several other of the dwarvish company. And then there were the elves, who have a short scene or two. I never thought Peter Jackson did a good job casting the elves in the Middle Earth movies. Regardless of acting ability --and some of them were very good actors-- to my eye, they all look more like they belong on a sheep farm than in an eldritch forest.

The story is a bit schizophrenic because it tries to be about two heroes: Bilbo and Thorin, each with their own nemesis and their own plot arc. That seldom works out well for a drama. It certainly doesn't work well in this movie but we don't yet know how Jackson will pull off a 2-hero climax in a single story because The Unexpected Journey doesn't really have a climax; it's just the first part of a 3-movie story. Maybe Jackson can make it work, but given how he did in the first movie, I have my doubts.

This movie really is just the first part of a longer story. It doesn't make a complete story on its own and the ending, was abrupt and, er, unexpected. Although to be honest, I had been ready for the move to end for about 45 minutes by that time. 

And I have to say that there were too many CGI fight sequences and they were too long. Peter Jackson just doesn't have a good sense for balancing the story with the action. He showed this weakness both in King Kong and in The Return of the King, both of which were actually made boring at points with too much CGI action.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a big fan of CGI action sequences. When you have a movie with a ridiculously over-done hack story like The Avatar or a pathetically bad story and worse acting like Dragon Wars, then long drawn-out CGI sequences can make the movie better. But when you have a great story and great acting like Peter Jackson did in the Bilbo half of An Unexpected Journey, then the action sequences seem like an interruption of the story. You want to get back to Bilbo and Gollum, not waste time with a ridiculous scene of dwarves running through a goblin cave trying to escape a giant goblin with a goiter the size of a large shoulder bag.

To force in all of that CGI, Jackson had to cut down on scene-setting. The journey all seemed to happen within a couple of days. They would jump from one action scene directly to another with no intervening work to mark the passage of time. It was quite exhausting, and not in a good way.

All in all, a pretty disappointing effort.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

the looming fiscal cliff

Can someone explain to me why Republicans and fiscally conservative pundits are going along with the Democrats and press, agreeing that letting the sequestration happen is a huge disaster? It's a significant lowering of government spending, and the only one possible for the next 4 years at least. Why in the world are Republicans trying to stop it?

Yes, yes, I know that it also involves a dangerous reduction in military spending but seriously, how hard is it to ever increase spending? If the US needs more military spending to handle some emergency in the future, Congress will vote for it and the president will sign it. I'd love to see the Democrats trying to tie needed military spending to their favorite social programs during a national emergency.

Here's to the fiscal cliff. Let's jump off it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

phone wars

Donald Crankshaw is complaining because he can't find an Android phone in the size he wants with the latest processor. I can relate. When I was looking for a waterproof Android phone I had the same problem. If you want some specific feature different from what the mass audience wants, you often have to settle for lower specs in other areas. Most likely this is because they always design smaller-market phones with last year's technology because they can produce a smaller batch cheaper that way.

On the other hand, though I sympathize with Donald emotionally, rationally, it doesn't make much sense to demand the latest fastest processors and the most memory unless you have been having performance problems. When I think about it, I haven't really noticed much performance trouble with my two year old phone, so a phone with one year old technology should work fine (Yes, I do buy a new cell phone every two years or more. I know it's kind of ridiculous, but I'm a Silicon-Valley developer. If I let my cell phone get too out of date, the other kids will make fun of me and not let me sit with them at lunch).

So I'd say go with the RAZR M, Donald. It looks like a nice phone. The pain of inferior technology will only hurt for a week or two and then it will just be your phone and you won't think about it any more. Well, except at those times when someone at the office reaches into the pocket on his sagging pants and pulls out his new 2 pound new MEGADROID 7 with the 16-core Intel Core i9  and a terabyte of RAM and a built-in corkscrew. Then you just have to humbly bow before his tech fu and mumble something about how your phone is adequate for ... WHAT, YOUR PHONE CAN DO THAT!?!?! ... but, really, why would you need that on a phone, ... NO WAY I THOUGHT THAT FEATURE WASN'T READY TO SHIP YET... but sure, if you want the beta version ... NO! SERIOUSLY? ... Look I have to get back to work, want to have lunch later? No? Oh, yeah, that's OK, I understand.

On the third hand, I decided not to bother with the water proof phone because it's unlikely to get splashed and if it goes overboard it's gone anyway. Instead I'm thinking about going the opposite direction from Donald and getting a Galaxy Note II which has the biggest screen you can get on a smart phone. I use my phone all the time now for browsing the web and navigation, both of which will be much easier with a bigger screen. I also think the Note II may be big enough to use as an e-book reader which would actually save pocket space at times because occasionally I actually carry an e-book reader in my pocket. It would be nice to have one with me all the time without the discomfort.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

the joy of colds

I'm a pathological procrastinator. I'm always putting things off or forgetting them altogether. This week I've had a cold and have come to appreciate the advantage: it gives me an excuse for not having done the things I probably wouldn't have gotten done anyway but now couldn't do even if I weren't procrastinating. A cold is like a week of get-out-of-jail free cards for procrastinators.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

friendly people

My neighborhood convenience store has a large staff of uniformly surly and unpleasant people. It's like there's something in the water or something. So when I walked in tonight and saw a sign on the door that said, "Now hiring friendly people" it was a real challenge not to comment to the surly cashier, "Saw the sign on the door. They're going to replace all of you with friendly people, huh?"

But I still have to go there for my oatmeal cookies and frozen burritos, so I didn't. Another regret to add to the list.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

movie review: the bond identity

Skyfall, the latest Bond film is an exercise in Bourne envy. Sure, I liked the Jason Bourne films, but I liked the old James Bond too. I don't see why they needed to dump the Bond identity to give us another Bourne clone.

And being a Bourne clone is the only reason anyone thinks Daniel Craig is an adequate James Bond. Jason Bourne is often confused, always uncertain except in a fight or chase scene, shy around women, and a man who feels emotion deeply even if he doesn't express it. Daniel Craig pulls off that personality well. What Daniel Craig can't pull off is the supremely confident, calculating genius and master of all trades that James Bond is supposed to be.

Craig looks uncomfortable in a tuxedo and he is stiff and awkward in the seduction scenes as well as in the credits sequence. He seems intellectually over-matched by the villain, and it almost makes sense that everything he does turns out to have been the villain's plan all along (that's not a spoiler since there aren't any real surprises in the plot).

Say what you will about Roger Moore, but he looked confident and natural when he seduced a beautiful model, and when Roger Moore smirked at the bad guy, it was perfectly believable that the suave superhuman agent was about to outsmart the cruel super-genius villain --with a bit of help from Q, of course.

Still, the chase scenes were good and there was a lot of action. For an action movie, Skyfall is not bad. It's predictable and there are head-scratcher gaps in the plot, but that's par for the course in mediocre action movies. As a James Bond movie it was disappointing.

Friday, November 09, 2012

do Republican leaders get blackmailed?

I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I have always suspected that there is a lot of political blackmail of Republicans by Democrats. I first started wondering about this back in the 80's when it turned out that one of the Republican senators from Arizona had been blackmailed by a gay group to support some sort of pro-gay legislation.

I wish I could remember the details better, but I don't even remember his name. What I recall is that the senator was gay and in the closet and (reasonably) feared that he would lose his seat if he was outed. He refused to give into the blackmail, outed himself, and won his next election. But I never heard about any legal penalties for the people who tried to blackmail him. I even wrote to his office to ask about it and got no reply. I always wondered ... how could someone try to blackmail a US Senator to legislate in a certain way and not be punished for it? Back then, I didn't understand how the laws are applied differently to Democrats vs. Republicans. I was naive.

As I recall, something similar has happened at least twice since with gay or philandering Republican members of Congress, and I don't recall anyone ever being charged, must less going to prison over it. With that background, why wouldn't the Democrats engage in blackmail whenever they can? Why wouldn't they use the results of their tens of millions spent on opposition research to blackmail people? What is the downside? If the Republican submits, they get a political advantage. If the Republican balks and goes public, nothing happens to them.

Is this why General Petraeus kept his mouth shut about Bengazi before the election? Was he blackmailed into keeping quiet, but then finally decided to out himself before giving Congressional testimony?

Is this why John Roberts made such a bizarre ruling on Obamacare, finding an incoherent excuse to rule that the Republicans were correct on the Constitutional issue but that Obamacare could stand anyway?

Is this one of the reasons why Republicans are so often betrayed by their elected representatives, who get elected on a conservative agenda and then go to Washington to act like Democrats?

What ever happened to the KGB infrastructure in the US when the Soviet Union fell? We know that they had many spies in place who, among other things, searched for blackmail material on American politicians and military leaders. We know that they compromised the Democratic Party and heavily influenced it. Don't forget that Watergate was inspired by the fact that Nixon knew from secret intelligence that the Democrats had been infiltrated by communist spies and he wanted to get evidence of this fact that he could use without compromising national security. (Unlike Obama, Nixon declined to reveal top-secret intelligence to advance his own political career).

When the Soviet Union fell, I don't remember any news reports about all those spies and blackmail experts going home. Instead of going home, did the spies just become paid political consultants and opposition researchers for the Democratic Party?

Of course, all of this speculation would be wild-eyed crazy if we didn't have so much open evidence of Democrat fraud and malfeasance. There are the poll watchers thrown out of polls in districts where massive voter fraud is almost certainly occurring every election. There is Obama's political decision to withdraw the conviction of Democrat allies for intimidating voters at a polling place. There is the suppression of military ballots. There is the way that the press covers up malfeasance on the part of Democrat politicians. The list goes on and on.

The more you know, the more you have to doubt the legitimacy of the US government.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

reaching out for empty victories

Since the election, I keep reading posts where Republicans say they need to "reach out" to some group or other if they ever want to win the presidency in the future. But is winning really the point? What about doing what is right? Should Republicans give up the rule of law (at least in the area of immigration law) in order to woo Hispanic voters? But if Republicans aren't for the rule of law, what good are they? Should they give up on the right of unborn children to life in order to woo single women? But if Republicans aren't for the fundamental right to life, what good are they? Should they endorse special privileges for blacks like Democrats do in order to woo black voters? But if Republicans aren't for racial equality, what good are they?

I can see the value of compromising on some principles in order to advance others. I don't have a really huge problem with the way that social conservatives have found common cause with fiscal conservatives and libertarians, for example, even though those two groups tend to favor the forces of cultural decay (not to mention the murder of innocents), but you have to draw the line somewhere. After all, what is the point of winning an election if you elect people who aren't going to do the job that you want them to do?

Monday, November 05, 2012

Enter the Dragon, it ain't

How often do you ever see big-budget Hollywood martial arts movies with A-list stars? Not too darn often. And The Man with the Iron Fists is no exception. I mean, yes, it's a big-budget Hollywood movie with A-list stars (Russel Crow and Lucy Lu), but it is, unfortunately, not a martial arts movie, regardless of how they might want to bill it.

The guy who made this movie (some dude who apparently has initials instead of a name, RZA) clearly had no idea how to make a martial arts movie. Here's the thing about the martial arts --they are arts. You know, ARTS, activities of skill and learning that require training and long practice to perfect, the sorts of disciplines that outsiders might be able to observe, but can never really understand without putting in a great deal of time and study.


Unlike your typical action movie, fight scenes in a martial arts movie are not just dramatic spectacles; they are exhibits of art. The fight scenes in The Man with the Iron Fists are to real martial arts what a kazoo band is to a symphony orchestra. This is especially sad because there there was plenty of talent in the cast to do real martial arts fight scenes if the director had only known how. Mr. initials did the equivalent of hiring a cast of concert musicians and giving them all kazoos to play the score for the movie.

This is not to say that the fight scenes in The Man with the Iron Fists are not entertaining. There were in fact some entertaining moments scattered throughout the fight scenes. There were more moments that could have been entertaining if the annoyingly abrupt camera motion had given the viewer time to appreciate them, but that would have involved more work on the part of the director and actors because to do justice to a fight sequence, the actors have to practice the motions over and over again until they can do them in real time without stopping. Then, depending on how much they move around, you may have to practice some more with the film crew, getting them to move at the right times and have the cameras in the right places. The man with the missing name (who also plays the man with the iron fists in addition to being the director) preferred to substitute special effects and jerky editing for this hard work. Or, more likely in my opinion, he just didn't know how to film a fight scene at all.

So, given that there is no art in the martial scenes, what inspires anyone to call this movie a martial arts movie? Simply that the setting, the story line, and prevalence of fight scenes was loosely patterned after certain kinds of martial arts movies. But even in this area, The Man with the Iron Fists was something of a let down.

There are no hard and fast rules about the story line of a martial arts movie, but there are certain commonalities that are usually observed. Usually, the first act creates a situation where a fight between the hero and the villain has to happen, and the fight happens in the third act as the climax of the movie. Sometimes the setup involves the hero and the villain having a fight early in the move and the hero loses, giving him a goal of practicing or finding some other way to defeat the villain in the showdown. Sometimes the setup involves the villain killing a friend or family member of the hero and the movie works on making you sympathize with the need for revenge. Sometimes it's a competition, either a blood sport, or the hero and the villain having conflicting goals and the movie makes you root for the hero. However the fight is set up, you have to have an Act II where you learn to share the hero's goals and fear what happens if he loses, otherwise the climactic fight is just another punch out.

In The Man with the Iron Fists we have no less than four climactic fight scenes but only two of them are set up with any motivation and only one of those setups occurs in the first act. The first-act setup is a typical revenge scenario, but the avenging hero is something of a bit player in the second act and never generates enough personality that you care whether he wins or not. The second fight setup happens late in the second act and there just isn't time to make you really care about the hero in that situation either. And obviously, the other two climactic fight scenes have no meaning for the audience since they were not set up at all. By the end of the movie, you don't really care much about what happens.

Of course, there are plenty of real martial arts films with bad, silly, or even incoherent story lines. They take place in various settings from ancient China to the American West to modern day locations all around the world. They can have various sorts of heroes and villains. Sometimes the villains can even win. None of that is essential to martial arts movies. What is essential to a martial arts movie is that the fight scenes display martial arts, not just kicks and karate chops and judo throws and nunchucks and throwing knives and men with invulnerable skins. If you don't have trained martial artists practicing their art in the fight scenes, or at least a plausible fake, then all you have is a fight movie with karate chops.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

why Hurricane Sandy makes me sad

I mean "why Hurricane Sandy makes me sad" besides the human and economic cost of the storm. That was bad, of course, but plenty of other people, many of them personally effected, are writing about it so there is no need for me to chime in. Another thing is making me sad: the way that conservatives are talking about the "failure" of the federal government in responding to the storm.

I understand, of course. It's a hard temptation to resist, comparing Sandy to Katrina, with all of the blatant hypocrisy from the media and entertainment industry. Katrina was George Bush's disaster which --according to the narrative-- showed that George Bush, who successfully defended us from a well-organized terrorist threat for seven years, was somehow incompetent because FEMA did not do a perfect job at stepping in and making up for all of the dismal failures of state and local government disaster response after Hurricane Katrina.

Today, FEMA is having the same problems with Hurricane Sandy. New York state and city have badly failed to deal with Hurricane Sandy and FEMA isn't ready to make up for that failure. With a presidential election less than a week away and a Democrat president, Republicans would obviously like to take advantage of that Democrat-created narrative of blaming the president for failures of state and local governments after a disaster. It has a pleasing irony in addition to being --potentially-- politically effective.

But in the process, I'm afraid that Republicans are committing themselves too much to new duties and new powers for the federal government. I'm afraid that if they are not careful, they will find it hard to argue against measures that would once again try to move power and responsibilities back to the states and local governments where it belongs.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Barack Obama doesn't care about white people

Where is Kayne West when you need him? When it took nearly 48 hours for FEMA to arrive to help the flood victims in New Orleans, Kayne West was outraged about how the system was set up to help poor and black people as slowly as possible. He also said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people".


Now that Staten Island in New York --mostly populated by blue-collar whites-- is flooded by Hurricane Sandy, with over a dozen dead bodies on Staten Island alone, and FEMA has still not shown up 4 days later, where is Kayne West to point out that Barack Obama doesn't care about white people?

At least in New Orleans they weren't planning to hold a marathon in the city with all of the police and other resources it would require while hundreds of thousands of people were still without power or safe water and bodies were still being searched for.

This is going to prove yet another blatant example of the new media's double standard in reporting when there is a Republican vs. a Democrat in the White House.  But these examples are so numerous now that it's hardly interesting to find another one.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

US military helpless against surprise attacks

News reports are now saying that there was military help available to rescue the people killed in Benghazi,  but they were told to stand down. Not only were there rapid-response forces only a couple of hours away, but there was apparently a Spectre gunship in the air overhead that was ordered not to support the people being attacked on the ground. And the administration has refused to say whether the two drones flying overhead were armed or not (meaning that they probably were). Two of those who were killed almost certainly could have been saved if US defense forces had made any effort at all to save them.

Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta tries to justify his decision:

“There’s a basic principle here, and the basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on, without having some real-time information about what’s taking place,” Panetta told a news conference.
He's an idiot, of course. The very nature of armed conflict is that one side is always trying to surprise the other side. Panetta has just announced to the enemy that as long as they surprise us, we will let them kill as many Americans as they can without opposition because we are afraid to respond to surprise attacks.

But beyond that, he is also a liar for pretending that they didn't have "real-time information about what's taking place". They had two drones and a gunship overhead monitoring the situation and people on the ground sending in reports. If this isn't enough information to support a reaction, what is?

Panetta also claims that two generals helped him make the decision. I wonder if the press will bother interviewing either of them before the election to see if Panetta is lying about that as well.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

the crapification of software

I first noticed it with Andoid apps --standard crappy software with missing features that are brain-dead-obviously needed for a decent app. If you reply to an email using the Android messaging app, you can't remove or edit the quoted text. It always quotes the entire message in your reply and give you no way to do anything about it. Android browsers are all missing dozens of features that are taken for granted in desktop browsers. The office apps give you very limited editing ability if any. Almost no Android apps give you the ability to select a number of items from a list to do a group action like delete. Only specially-designed "file access" apps let you browse the general storage as opposed to their special little storage cell.

Now I'm starting to notice the same thing in Windows apps. I'm a little worried that software companies have learned that there are now so many potential buyers, that they can create any crap piece of software and sell enough to make a profit, so they will stop bothering to compete on features. Just put something together that sort of does some basic job, hype it up, sell a few thousand copies for $20 a piece and go on to the next piece of crapware.

Of course careful buyers can avoid buying crapware until this starts becoming an industry standard. Then we are stuck with it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

the economics of the beast

Wessely J. Smith at The Corner writes about the abortion mandate that Obama has imposed as part of Obamacare:
Less attention has been paid to the impact of the Rule on faithful business owners who don’t wish to be complicit in what they consider to be sinful behavior.  Not prevent others from so engaging, not prevent access, but not having to provide it themselves–an approach perfectly consistent with America’s traditional comity about such differences.  But the Department of Justice has argued in legal briefs in the early cases–one preliminary win and one loss for religious liberty so far–that there is no religious liberty in the context of operating a business, because seeking profit is an exclusively secular endeavor.
In other words, the Obama administration has been arguing that the government has complete control of our ability to engage in commerce regardless of religious issues, suggesting that this may be Constitutional:
And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and [he provides] that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, [either] the name of the beast or the number of his name.
Rev 13:16,17
Of course, the history of religious persecutions contains many instances where economic restrictions were one of the prime weapons to use against unfavored religions. If freedom of religion doesn't include the right to survive then it isn't much good, is it?
 

Saturday, October 06, 2012

a loopy time travel story

If someone went back in time and cut your finger off when you were younger, would suddenly look at your hand and see the finger missing? Well, that wouldn't make sense, would it? If the person actually went back in time and cut your finger off, then your finger would have been cut off back then and you wouldn't have it now. You would remember missing a finger for much of your life. Nothing would change.

The idea that something would change comes from a sort of hidden model where there are two time streams, the main time stream and the time stream of the guy who goes back in time. So when the time traveler cuts your finger off in the past, you lose your finger, not in the main time stream, but in the time stream of the time traveler. But this concept is incoherent if you follow it to it's logical conclusion. It's like telling a story about a square circle. You can talk about rolling it (because it's round) and then setting something on it securely (because it's square). As long as you don't try to think about the roundness and the squareness together, you can make your story as long and detailed as you like, but it still isn't coherent. The trick of a time travel story is to just avoid the incoherence.

Looper is a movie about time travel that doesn't manage the trick. The premise of Looper is that in the future, you can't hide a body (because of chemical tracing and other technologies) so they send people back in time to be killed and buried. If you are already thinking, "Wait ... that doesn't make sense," then you are starting to get a feel for the movie.

I hate to pan a movie with such a tremendous cast: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, and Jeff Daniels. In fact the acting was tremendous, but the plot was just too ridiculous for words. And I'm not just talking about the ridiculous theory of time travel; I'm talking about character motivations and character arcs as well. The whole thing just didn't hold together. It was one long stream of confusion inducement.

Some movies, like Jumper and Inception take an idea about human powers or technology and craft a story around the idea and its logical implications in a way that is entertaining and thought provoking. What would you do if you suddenly had the power of teleportation? If you could use technology to make dreams completely realistic, how would you ever know if you got out of the dream or not?

Other movies, like Loopers, take an idea about human powers or technology and throw together a bunch of random dramatic moments in a way that makes you go, "huh?" I'll give writer/director Rian Johnson this: he has a good sense for drama, he imagines interesting characters and dialog, and he is a good director. But he doesn't seem to care about logic or consistency even in the plot and characters. I'm not just complaining about the nerdy science here; the plot has serious holes and the climactic moment of the film was just completely unmotivated and out of character.

So, yes, patient readers. This is going to be another movie review that mainly complains about all of the bad logic in the movie. Sorry, but the logic of this movie was just awful. Far worse than Battleship. So bad that I'm going to pick it apart with spoilers --something I don't usually do.

***SPOILER ALERT***


Bad Economics of Time Travel
Assuming you do want the bodies to disappear,  why not send back dead bodies and just have them buried? Why pay hired killers in the past when it would be so much cheaper to hire mere grave diggers in the past?

The amount of silver and gold they deal with is way too much. They need that much metal for one cool scene where Old Joe survives assassination by turning around, but it's just not believable. These loopers would all be near billionaires.

The mob can send silver and gold back in time to pay loopers and it seems to cause no problems, so why are they wasting time travel on just sending victims back? Why not send agents back with silver and gold to invest for them knowing exactly how the stock market is going to go? They could take over the world semi-honestly and not have to kill people.

Bad Management of Time Assassination
The premise is sending people back in time to be killed so that their bodies are not found. I can see a purpose for this occasionally, but they make an entire industry of it. Are there really that many situations where it's better for someone to disappear than to have an accident? Why?

Loopers are required one day to "close the loop" by killing their own future self. Why? This is obviously going to cause exactly the problems they show in the movie. There are many loopers in the movie so why not have looper A kill the future looper B instead? It would greatly reduce the problem of loopers letting their future selves go and would mean that you don't have to retire a looper, giving him a lot of money and losing his services.

Bad Plotting and Characterization
Old Joe has been rehabilitated by the love of a good woman but is still so evil that he kills children, yet Young Joe, a professional killer who sold out his best friend to be tortured and murdered is so selfless that he kills himself to save a child's life (or to save the future, the motivation is a bit murky).

The movie tries to build up tension by showing that if Cid, a young child with telekinetic abilities, grows up then he will end up being a great evil influence. But the evidence for this is that in the future, the Cid takes over all of the big criminal gangs and starts killing all of the loopers --the mob's hired killers. In other words, he is shutting down the mob's assassination factory. That's evil? How do we know he isn't out to destroy the mob from the inside?

As an aside, how does being a strong telekinetic let you take over the five biggest criminal mobs? As powers go, it seems like a pretty poor one for a crime boss since it doesn't really let you do anything you couldn't do with a bunch of goons and automatic weapons.


Young Joe kills himself to save Cid, and the bitter-sweet ending is that now we know that Cid will be raised by his mother who loves him and he has a chance to grow up to be good instead of evil. But presumably he grew up with his mother in the time stream where none of these events happened, and in that time stream he was evil. Nothing big has changed in Cid's life except that he killed a man who was threatening him and another man tried to kill him. If he grew up evil in the other time line, why isn't he going to grow up evil in this time line?



Bad Logic of Time Travel
Finally, there is the silliness of this plot device: you go back in time so now both Old Joe and Young Joe are there at the same time. You cut off Young Joe's finger and suddenly Old Joe is missing a finger. He looks at his hand in surprise: "Hey, my finger just disappeared!" But that makes no sense. Why would it happen at the same time, given that the effect has to go through time travel? Why didn't Old Joe arrive with a missing finger?

How does the causality work? If you cut off Joe's trigger finger, he can't be a successful hit man any more so his career path was completely different and he never went through the history that ended up with him traveling back in time. So he shouldn't just lose his finger, he should disappear and return to the future. Or say he got sent to the past anyway because that's when the mob decided to kill him, regardless of his career. Still, he would have made different choices and done different things after being sent back if he were that different person who lived 20 years without a trigger finger, so at the very least, he should disappear from where he currently is and reappear where he would have been if he had acted as that different person.

And his memories should be completely changed too. How can bodies change but memories stay the same? He should remember that he came back missing a finger and not be surprised that it is missing now.

Finally, when Old Joe gets into a time capsule a few minutes later than he was scheduled to he arrives back in the past a few minutes late. Why would that be? Why not go back to the exact same time regardless of when he leaves? If the time capsule always goes back a set amount of time, then why doesn't he wait as long as possible before going back in order to avoid having a Young Joe waiting there to shoot him?

OK. Those are the big complaints. I've seen several good movies this year (Total Recall, for example) but I guess enjoying a movie just isn't a big enough motivation to write about it --not like being annoyed by a movie. I'll try to get motivated to write a review of Dredd and/or Paranorman while they are still in theaters. Those were both good.

UPDATE: Donald Crankshaw says that Cid was killing all of the loopers as revenge for Old Joe's actions in another timeline. I didn't get that from the movie, but I might have missed it, dismissing it so quickly that I didn't remember it later, thinking it was so illogical that I must have misunderstood.

The reason it was so illogical is because, as Donald points out, there was no timeline in which it could have happened that way. There was one timeline where Joe's loop gets closed as per normal so Cid is never endangered, and one timeline where Young Joe saves Cid's life from Old Joe. There is no timeline where Old Joe kills Cid, and so no timeline where Cid has an incentive for revenge. Unless Cid is looking for revenge because Old Joe tried to kill him, ignoring that young Joe saved his life. In which case, the self-sacrifice of Young Joe would, er, wipe out that timeline. Meaning that Cid was never threatened by Old Joe, meaning that Cid had no incentive for revenge against loopers. Meaning that the whole story goes away. If that was the movie's intention, it's even worse than I thought.

And BTW, I didn't mean to leave the impression that I didn't enjoy the movie; I did. I just found parts of it irritating.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Eric Drum's projection

Apparently, in Eric Drum's world you can't defend someone's free-speech rights without making a hero of the person:
it's certainly been fascinating to watch Nakoula morph into a right-wing hero within a matter of days
He continues:
Initially, even the most zealous conservatives merely claimed that the Obama administration wasn't defending free speech strongly enough. The reasons were slightly obscure, but when pressed they usually said that a defense of free speech should have been in the first sentence of some statement or other, rather than the second. Or something. But they didn't actively defend Nakoula.
That's because Nakoula hadn't been attacked yet. He didn't need defending until the FBI exposed him and he was shuffled off by a half-dozen armed men at midnight for "voluntary" questioning. As to why the Obama administration failed to protect free speech: no it wasn't the order of his sentences; it was his giving any credence at all to the idea that the filmmaker deserved some of the blame for the riots and murders. That was an unconscionable and cowardly act.

Not only was this done to deflect blame from the administration for their failures at foreign policy and at protecting their diplomats by pretending that these 9/11 riots were spontaneous and therefore unpredictable --on 9/11-- but also, blaming someone for crimes is often the first step in persecuting them. It gives the justification for sending the FBI to expose their identity and make little suggestions to the local sheriff like "Hey, how could he put a movie trailer on YouTube without violating the parole condition that says he can't touch the Internet, hmm?"

If Obama had said something like "I don't approve of that movie, but it does not in any way excuse the violence." then no one would have been criticizing him for throwing the First Amendment under the bus. But then there would have been no excuse to go after Nakoula, no pretext for the FBI to be investigating him at all.

This isn't rocket science, and frankly if it were Bush say, blaming Michael Moore for a Tea Party riot that broke out in protest of his latest work, no one would have to explain this to Kevin Drum. He would be at the front of the criticism comparing Bush to Hitler and probably, turning Moore into a hero. Because apparently Drum can only defend free speech for heroes.

Drum also deliberately misses the point of worrying about Nakoula's treatment:
But now he's a conservative martyr. Not because the Obama administration did anything to him, but because they can weave some kind of weird conspiracy theory linking probation officers in Los Angeles County to the White House.
What difference does it make if the White House was involved? I don't need any conspiracy theory to think that when armed men descend at midnight on a home where the occupant is suddenly in grave danger of being murdered by terrorists, not to protect the person but to insist on dragging him downtown "voluntarily" through a hoard of photographers to ask him questions about a possible parole violation due to actions he took that embarrassed the President near an election, that someone is persecuting Nakoula for his speech, even if it is just the local sheriff doing so and goes no higher. And even if it is just the local sheriff, then it is still something that should not be tolerated in this country.

But is it just the local sheriff? The Obama-supporting press doesn't seem to think so. If they did, then why aren't they trying to figure out where this action originated from and clearing Obama of suspicion? Because despite Drum's predictable reference to a "weird conspiracy theory", there is a good reason to suspect White House involvement --namely the fact that it was the FBI that started this by investigating the film in the first place and by leaking Nakoula's name.

Since the press is protecting the anonymity of the leaker (unlike the anonymity of the man whose life is actually in danger), we don't know if the leaker was a political appointee or what his relationship to the White House is. Why would an apolitical civil servant have leaked that information, endangering a man's life, not to mention his family, and perhaps all Copts in Egypt? It makes no sense.

And given that the FBI started this investigation, is it really all that weird to wonder if someone in the FBI talked to local enforcement? We know that the FBI was investigating Nakoula. We know that they knew about his conviction and the time he spent in jail. Is it really all that weird to think that they may have talked to the local law enforcement officers who were involved in that?
And finally we get to the only thing in the article that could even be remotely viewed as justification for Drum's contention that the right is making a hero of Nakoula:

Within a heartbeat, Obama was Hitler and Nakoula was a "Christian filmmaker" who was being persecuted.
 See Nakoula is a Christian and a filmmaker, so when someone refers to him as a "Christian filmmaker", that is sort of like, making a, you know, hero out of him. Because everyone knows that being called a Christian filmmaker is high praise. Or something.

Still, as solid as this argument is, it would be even more solider if Drum could have come up with a quote from any significant conservative writer who actually called Nakoula a hero. Or said anything nice about him at all. Because everything I've read by conservatives either offers no judgment or calls him reckless and/or calls his film terrible. Sure would like to know who is idolizing him.

But Drum can't provide examples because there aren't any. Drum is just projecting his own partisanship onto others. If the situation were reversed and Bush were in the White House, Drum would, in fact, view anyone who cause trouble for Bush's reelection as a hero, for that reason alone. He doesn't understand that for conservatives, the bar for being a hero is a bit higher than just accidentally having a political impact that we view as favorable.

Monday, September 17, 2012

programmer's appreciation day for nook

Programmer's Appreciation Day is a fantasy of mine where they line up all of the programmers and we get to go down the line and slap those that have made stupid decisions that made our lives more difficult than they had to be.

There is some prime slapping to be done for those who made the Nook --the Barnes and Noble e-book reader. Actually, blaming the programmers isn't always entirely fair since a lot of my complaints are against content providers.

Here's some of the problems:

When you are in "Shop" mode, you can click on a title and get a summary that has a tab that takes you to other works by the same author. Nice feature --after you have already looked up the book or author by typing into that annoying search screen. It would be lot nicer if you could get to that summary from the "Library" mode where you have the books listed that you have already read --you know, the place where you actually know whether you want to see more books by that particular author. But you can't do that from there.

In some places where they show you a list of books (I think it was in "Shop" mode) there is no way to list the title as text. All they will give you is a picture of the front cover --a black-and-white 1-inch picture of a cover that was originally designed to be in color and at least five inches. Needless to say, it is often impossible to read the covers. For this one, the slap goes to the managers. Minimal product testing should have warned them that this was a stupid idea.

Then there are the book series where there is no way to figure out what books are in the series and in what order. You have to go on-line on another computer and then come back to the Nook and search for the book that you already found found on the other computer.

Finally, there are a lot of books that are huge collections of out-of-print stuff for a few dollars. That's really cool and I've bought several, but I've really lost my enthusiasm because of the very poor quality control. The people who create this stuff don't bother to break it up into sections so that you can use the index feature of the Nook to get to the book or short story you want. Even worse, they sometimes don't bother to even put series material in order so you end up reading them out of order.

Over all, e-book readers are a really great idea, but the Nook and it's content leave a lot to be desired.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

freedom of speech, Muslim violence, and media malpractice

From the Washington Times:
Federal authorities have identified a Coptic Christian in Southern California who is on probation after his conviction for financial crimes as the key figure behind the anti-Muslim film that ignited mob violence against U.S. embassies across the Middle East, a U.S. law enforcement official told the Associated Press on Thursday.
This wasn't an FBI announcement, but a leak:
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation, said Nakoula was connected to the persona of Sam Bacile, a man who initially told the AP that he was the film’s writer and director.
In giving this man's name to the media, the FBI leaker had to know that he was endangering Nakoula's life and the lives of any family and friends Nakoula has back in Egypt. And since Nakoula is a Coptic Christian, which is a persecuted minority back in Egypt, he was also taking a very high risk of sparking more atrocities against random Copts in Egypt.

This leaker needs to be  exposed and fired. If he broke the law, he should be prosecuted. This behavior is just reprehensible.

But it's not just the leaker who is at fault here. Why was the FBI investigating at all? There is no hint that the makers of the film might have committed any federal crime or had any information about any federal crime. And anyone at a high-enough level to have started this investigation had to be able to see that consequences like this would result. Why isn't the media investigating how this FBI investigation even got started?

But the media is not interested. Moni Basu of CNN parrots this laughable explanation:
But federal officials consider that man to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who was convicted in 2009 of bank fraud.
The FBI contacted the filmmaker because of the potential for threats, a federal law enforcement official told CNN Thursday. But he is not under investigation.
Oh, come Moni. You are supposed to be a reporter, not a transcriber. Did it occur to you to ask how there would have been any potential for threats if nobody knew who the guy was? Did you ask about the FBI policy on hunting down people in potential danger from violent extremists in order to .... Yeah, in order to what? Why exactly did "the potential for threats" justify finding out who he is? Are they planning to offer the guy some special sort of protection? Because if they are only planning to warn the guy that Muslims might be out to kill him, well, I think he knew that, especially after THOSE IDIOT FBI AGENTS REVEALED HIS IDENTITY.

So, Moni, why didn't you ask who initiated the investigation? Was it a political appointee? I for one would like to find out if this investigation is part of an effort by the administration to intimidate anyone who might want to exercise their Constitutional rights in criticizing Islam. Isn't that the sort of thing that reporters are supposed to, er, report on?

Here's an idea, Moni, since you sometimes report on presidential politics, maybe ask the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the United States, Barak Obama what he knows about this investigation. Is he going to do anything to find and punish the leaker who has potentially greatly exacerbated the problem that prompted the investigation in the first place? Does he think the FBI ought to be using it's enormous tax-payer funded power to hound people for exercising their Constitutional rights?

Lots and lots of good, important questions for reporters to ask here. Isn't an abuse of power by the federal government a little more important than the criminal record of someone that no one ever heard about a week ago? Do you really think it is OK for the FBI to be endangering the lives of countless people to get back at someone who may have been peripherally involved in political problems for Obama?

Because you as a world-traveling reporter familiar with the Muslim world, realize that the film wasn't really what caused those riots and the murders of the diplomatic personnel. The film was just a pretext. I don't have to tell you that the riots happened on 9/11 for a reason, do I? I mean, why weren't all of these rioters upset about the film on 9/10 or 9/9?

When American drones are killing Muslim extremists all over that part of the world, and the president of the United States has bragged about picking the targets of assassination personally and has bragged repeatedly about the assassination of one very highly respected and influential Muslim extremist named Osama, do you you really think it was a bad, completely obscure indie film created by an anonymous nobody that sparked region-wide riots and assassinations? Really?

No, I know you don't believe that anymore than I do.



But your lack of curiosity about the FBI's actions and intentions is not even the worst part of your article. I am more concerned about the fact that you are actively hiding information from your readers. Because what else would I call it when the only information you give about the relationship between Islam and Coptic Christians in Egypt is this:
There has been a long history of animosity between Muslims and the minority Copts in Egypt.
"Animosity between"? So when a group of people who have all of the political power in a nation has a centuries-long history of humiliating, robbing, raping and murdering members of another group that has no political power, is that how you you describe it? There is "animosity between" the groups? Such a ridiculously inapt description of the situation can be seen as nothing but deliberately hiding information from the public.

Copts in Egypt for centuries, and even to this very day, suffer worse persecution than black people ever did in most areas of the post-Civil-War South. Is there animosity from Copts towards Muslims? No doubt there is, just as some post-Civil-War Southern blacks no doubt felt some animosity towards white people. But this is like reporting about a black man of that period who insulted whites and saying nothing about the race relations of the time except, "There has been a long history of animosity between whites and the minority blacks in the South" Seriously? That describes the situation adequately? Only someone who sympathized with white racists would pen such a description. Only someone who sympathized with violent Muslim fanatics would have penned the description that you penned about Copts in Egypt.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

another problem with the drone war

Obama has been proud of the fact that he is taking out lots of terrorists with drones and that he personally picks the targets. He has been criticized for this on the basis that what he is doing is basically high-tech assassination.

However another problem is that when you just kill all of the terrorists you know about: you can't ask them questions about all their little terrorist friends. I wonder if George Bush's policy of capturing and questioning terrorists would have alerted the US for the embassy attacks yesterday so they could be better prepared.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Sunday school for Obama

Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) has been noting various odd fundraising initiatives by the Obama campaign that ask people to make small sacrifices to send them money. He quotes a reader who comments:
All this begging for small sums of money (skip pizza, send money to Barack) sounded familiar. It just struck me that it is a technique very common among televangelists.
That reflects a similar thought to what I had, not related to televangelists, but to missionaries.

Among many groups of Christians, the work of missionaries is considered the prime purpose of the Christian life. People are encouraged to make sacrifices for the sake of missions in order to emphasize the ultimate importance of saving others from damnation. It reminds us that what happens on this earth is temporary and insignificant compared to what happens in the next life. Our sacrifices today will someday seem as trivial to us as it does when you watch a child have a tantrum because another child picks up his toy.

What really matters to a Christian is the afterlife and what we can do to keep others from facing the ultimate tragedy of an eternity without God. That's why we think it is good to ask children in Sunday school to give up something that they really want and give the money to missions.

So that's our excuse. What is Obama's? He is using the same technique to try to get people to give to his campaign. I don't think the purpose is really just to get a few more dollars --although they really want those dollars. The real purpose is to make people sacrifice for Obama. When you sacrifice for some cause, it binds you more tightly to it. You become more dedicated and more certain of its rightness.

I think the real strategy behind these strange requests is to revive the cult of Obama that we saw in 2008. They want people to sacrifice for the sake of Obama in order to bind them tighter to him in the sort of secular worship that made half of the country comfortable with the Obamadolatry we saw back then. Obama was the ONE. Obama would stop the rise of the oceans. Obama would bring peace between the political parties and peace to the world. Obama was comparable to the Son of God. Opposition to Obama was not just politically wrong, it was shockingly immoral and deserving of hatred and contempt.

We've seen this before. It goes back at least as far as the Pharaohs. We see it in emperor worship in the Far East and in Cesar worship in the West. More recently we see worship of Communist leaders like Mao and Pol Pot and crazy drug addicts like Charles Manson. Some men want to be worshiped, and some people want to worship men. This is part of the evil of human nature because it gives a man enormous power to do harm. And not just any man, but a special kind of man, one who is so arrogant and narcissistic that he is comfortable being worshiped. Such a man cannot be trusted with great power.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Jim Carrey does subtle humor, no one gets it

Well, what do you expect. Jim Carrey is famous for butt talking and Tarzan yells and Tarzan butt yells. He's not famous for subtle humor. But this message to Emma Stone is hilarious. What is even more hilarious is that some people thought it was serious.

Here's a clue, people. When an older man makes a love message to a younger woman, he doesn't usually talk about how it takes him longer to pee than it used to.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"McCarthyism" should refer to an act of heroism

It never ceases to amaze me that people who have seen the Democrat character-assassination machine at work with their own eyes, still take Democrat-written history about people like Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon seriously. Just because it was 50 years ago doesn't mean that Democrats are going to be honest about it.

Ann Coulter's latest column rightly takes George Will and Charles Krauthammer to task for this. Now, I know that Will and Krauthammer are doing, they are using the Left's own mythology to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the Left. But in doing so, they support that mythology, which serves to strengthen the Left.

Joe McCarthy was a heroic American who fought against Communist spies in the American government. He was fighting against the Democrat Party which controlled the government and the Democrat Press which controlled the news. It was Communist spies who gave Russia nuclear weapons, which led to the MAD decades, where Mutual Assured Destruction hung over the world, an ever-present terror and ever-pending calamity. Yet the Democrats continued to tolerate Communists at sensitive positions in government.

Letting the Democrats have their mythological history of Joe McCarthy is letting them off the hook for this early betrayal of America. And that betrayal is still relevant because the party is still betraying America by cozying up to America-haters abroad. Throughout the twentieth century, there has been a strong and powerful faction within the Democrat party who are against America, who want to weaken America so that other more "enlightened" nations can take more powerful roles on the world stage.

If conservatives could somehow get past the Democrat-controlled news and entertainment machine to let Americans know about this, it would be the end of the Democrat party as a political power. And that is why Republican should not give an inch on history.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

nostalgia for Windows 95

OK, I'm working on the nefarious Windows Vista, browsing the ever-mysterious "Downloads" folder looking at some source code in a zip file that I downloaded. I want to open a javascript file to look at it, but Windows won't give me an option to just read a javascript file; the only thing it will let me do is execute it. If this were in a regular file instead of a zip file, then there would be another context menu item letting me pick what program to use to open it. Why they don't have that item when you are in a zip folder is beyond me.

Well, OK, I can get around that. So I open a text file in the folder above, intending to navigate down to the file I actually want, but when I try to open another file in Wordpad, it starts me somewhere else on the system, not in the folder of the file that I just opened. What the ... heck?

I don't know how to get to the Download folder from the desktop. Before Windows Vista, I always knew where everything was, but Vista has made such a miserable hash of the folder structure that it is a challenge to navigate independently to the folders that they start you in.

Sigh. OK, well, I can open Wordpad independently and then ... still have to figure out how to navigate to that zip file from the desktop.

I'm not looking for help here; I'm just bitching and moaning about Vista again. If I really needed to find the Downloads folder, I'm sure I would be able to. I've found it before, but I don't remember how I did it. It was easier just to extract the zip file.

Sigh.

I loved Windows 95. It was a terrific advance in useability from every window OS I had seen up to then (which were, as I recall: Windows 3.11, Apple, SunOS/Solaris, Next, and of course, Emacs). Almost every change to the user interface since Windows95 has been a step in the wrong opinion. Oh, sure, something had to be done to get the morons writing applications (like Windows Office) to stop putting user files in the applications folders next to the binaries. The windows registry --an enormous database kept in text format with no recoverability features-- was a disaster waiting to happen. And there were a few other things. But you could open just about any program written for Windows 95 and immediately figure out how to use it.

Those days of halcyon bliss are long gone. Now, many programs hide the menus and just give you these major task buttons, so if you don't fall into the 80% of use cases that they programmed for then you have to go on-line and look for help on how to do anything. I just got copy of Microsoft Outlook 2010 and couldn't even figure out how to get to the setting page to set up an email account. What a bogus monstrosity.

What, what, I ask you, compels companies with perfectly nice, convenient user interfaces --used successfully by millions of people-- to want to completely change the interface? Is it some misguided sense of "different is better" or a subversive attempt at lock-in? Is it because some inverse genius at Microsoft has decided to give the scatter-brained dimwits in Marketing control over user interfaces rather than Engineering? (Of course people who work in Marketing are people too, and you should not express prejudice or bigotry towards them just because they are overpaid prima-donna numskulls responsible for, like, 95% of the crap that computer users, Internet surfers, and television viewers have to put up with, and they all ought to be rounded up and shot).

Sometimes I am tempted to try to estimate how many billions of man hours of wasted time Microsoft has caused for its customers by forcing them to retrain on the user interfaces every few years. I'll bet if Microsoft's customers had that information, they would be as pissed-off as I am.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

I like Adam Smith (in spite of his being human)

Yes, I'm talking about that guy that is the current subject of the conservative blogosphere's two minutes hate --the guy who was rude to that wonderful Chick-Fil-A checkout girl:


Just for some background: I've never met Adam Smith. I enthusiastically support the pro-Chick-Fil-A protest that Adam Smith was opposing. Mr. Cathy should have a right to express his opinions without having mayors and city aldermen say that they are going to sabotage his business by denying licenses and such. I would have gone myself to support Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday if I could have found one in the area --and I looked.

But more than that, I actually agree with Mr. Cathy's views about traditional marriage and I consider Adam Smith a twit for claiming that Cathy's viewpoint --which is held by over half of Americans and was held by almost all Americans as little as fifteen years ago-- is an inherently hateful viewpoint.

But the conservative attacks on Smith are over the top. In comments of this Patterico post, people have been calling him a coward for not going into the restaurant (it's August in Tucson, people. If the line was stretching outside, it would take a martyr to wait for any length of time in line). They accused him of hitting on the woman at the end but when he says "I'm a nice guy", it is clear to me that he was starting to struggle with his conscience at that point (his conscience lost the wrestling match, at least for the next few hours). They have opined that he must be a habitual bully, but it was obvious from the video that Adam Smith was not cut out for the bullying role and that this was unusual behavior for him. They have even been gloating over the fact that he was fired --a father of four young children.

 Was he inexcusably rude to that nice young lady? Yes. Was he a bully to someone smaller, younger, and less powerful? Yes. Did he take unfair advantage of their differences in situation? Yes. I agree to all of the above. But even when I first watched this clip, I felt a certain kinship with Adam Smith; I thought, "Wow, that could have been me", because --and this may shock you-- I have been known to exercise poor judgment at times. I've been known to get carried away with righteous indignation. I've even been known to display fits of unjustified and improper aggression, sometimes even taking actions that I knew very well --somewhere in the back of my mind-- I was going to regret later.

I'm not talking about violence here; I'm talking about speaking, writing, and other actions that can be used for non-violent aggression. These kinds of things can seem like a great idea when I am feeling unjustly provoked and am riding the sweet, sweet adrenalin rush of righteous wrath, yet seem foolish, petulant, or even cruel a few hours later.

I could see the signs of that in Mr. Smith's first video. I thought to myself as I watched it: "I'll bet three or four hours after he posted that, he was feeling like a real jerk and wishing he could take it all back." And apparently I was right:


If you watched the rant, you have to watch this apology. It has received hostile reviews that I think are completely undeserved. William A. Jacobson sniffs that an apology without a lecture would have been better, but that is not fair. Smith does not give a lecture --only an explanation. He still thinks he is right and he wants that to be clear. I would do the same. And it's important to point out that the explanation is actually explanation and not excuses. For example he says that he viewed the young woman as "collateral damage" and then admits that this was a bad thing to do. That's not an excuse; it's an explanation, and one that I'm glad he made.

At Free Republic, and Hot Air, they just say "no sale" or mock him for being fired or accuse him of doing it out of fear or just call him names again.

It's an ugly scene and one that I am frankly rather ashamed to be associated with because the apology is very heartfelt and generous. I could see his pain, and I don't think for a minute that the pain was caused (entirely) by losing his job. I think he genuinely regrets both that he bullied the young woman and that he is now indelibly associated with  behavior that he genuinely does not approve of. We all do things that we do not approve of. No one lives up to their own moral standards, and part of realizing that is the ability to forgive others when they fail like this.

This video took me from feeling sorry for the poor son of a bitch to outright liking the poor son of a bitch. Us basically peaceful but occasionally mean-tempered passive-aggressive types have to stick together --even if he is a dick who thinks that no one could possibly have any reason other than bigotry and hatred for wanting to defend a thousands-year-old tradition designed to provide for the welfare of women and children, and protect them as well as less powerful men from abuse and exploitation of powerful men.

See what I mean? In a few hours, I'm probably going to regret calling Mr. Smith a dick. Well, OK, probably not. But I still like the guy. He's a flawed person, certainly, but who of us is not? But he is well meaning. He wants to do the right thing He wants to defend people that he feels are being ill-treated by society. He is just wrong, not evil. And I say that even though I know that he could not bring himself to say the same about me over this disagreement.

So, guys. Fellow conservatives, and you libertarian that sometimes hang out with us: can't we be better than the people we oppose and stop demonizing random, insignificant members of the opposition?

Not that I don't understand what motivates this. For decades, liberals have used their control of the mass entertainment and news media to demonize conservatives and (to a lesser extent) libertarians, forcing us to spend all of our time defending ourselves from false charges of racism, hatred, bigotry, warmongering, and a secret desire to enslave women and see people starve or die from curable medical conditions (especially the poor, the old, and little children) so that we couldn't even get a hearing on the merits of our policy and social proposals.

Adam Smith obviously reminded many of us of that history by repeating the scurrilous charge that opposition to gay marriage is based entirely on hatred and bigotry, and presented himself so neatly packages as an object of revenge for the frustration and anger that we have all felt over these tactics.

But that doesn't justify this sort of meanness. Adam Smith is just as much a victim of propaganda as we conservatives are; he's a victim because he falls for it. Don't viciously attack a decent (if misguided) human being over a political agenda the way that the Left has so maliciously attacked Carrie Prejean, or Joe the Plumber among others.

I mean, you all thought those were mean-spirited, uncalled-for vicious attacks on minor figures just for expressing their political views, didn't you? Does a mean-spirited, uncalled-for vicious attack suddenly become virtuous when it is done in the name of a cause you believe in? If you think that, how are you different from Adam Smith? Well, there's this: at least Adam Smith felt bad about it the next day.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fast and Furious is Watergate with 300 dead bodies on the ground

The title of this post is a quote from a new Afterburner by Bill Whittle. One of his best so far (link from Instapundit).

I was uncomfortable at first with people on the right who openly accused Eric Holder and Obama of sending thousands of high-power weapons to Mexican drug gains in order to create gun-control propaganda. Sure we all immediately suspected it, all of us who knew about Fast and Furious and who remembered Obama's early claims about violence in Mexico and his subsequent embarrassment over it.

Early in his administration, Obama was going around claiming that most of the guns found at crime scenes in Mexico came from the US. He was saying this in order to argue that we have to bring back Clinton's "assault weapon" ban in order to protect innocent Mexicans from drug gangs. But the claim was false and was quickly exposed as false every time he or someone in his administration repeated it.

Then over the next year or so, the lie gradually became true, or at least more true. This is because the Justice Department forced American gun dealers to sell weapons to suspected Mexican gun runners, even when the gun dealers didn't want to --even when it was against the law to do so. The Justice Department didn't do this so they could arrest the gun runners with the illegal weapons; they just let the weapons go across the border. And they didn't even tell the Mexican government that they were arming violent criminals in Mexico.

The explanation for this outrageous action was that they wanted to "track" the guns by finding them at crime scenes. Think about that for a moment. You typically find guns at a crime scene after someone has been killed. So their plan was to get Mexicans killed so that they could "track" the guns. This alone should have been enough to get everyone involved fired and possibly have criminal charges brought against them.

And track the guns how? How would they know who left the guns at the gun scene? Maybe, this information would give them some vague data about connections within drug gangs, but was that really worth the deaths of hundreds of innocent people? This is just not a believable story. However finding those guns at crimes scenes gave them something else as well, it increased the numbers of guns found at Mexican crime scenes that came from the US.

So the Obama administration makes a false claim to advance a policy that they want. The claim is proven to be false. Then gradually the claim becomes true and it turns out that it is becoming true because of direct and quasi-legal actions by the Obama administration, actions that make no sense by their own explanations. Well, when the motivations they give you don't make sense then you start to look other motivations. We well know how many millions of people were murdered in the 20th century to support Leftist ideology, so we have reason to suspect that committed Leftist ideologues like Obama and Holder might not mind breaking a few eggs.

But still, you don't openly accuse someone of accessory to mass murder on the basis of suspicion. Not until that person has spent a year and half hiding documents from investigators, lying to congress and changing their story and then hiding more documents where they discussed changing their story. But that is what has been going on, so now I'm ready to openly say that I suspect Eric Holder did exactly that: I suspect that Eric Holder arranged for the murder of hundreds of innocent people in order to promote gun control. And now that Obama has used a claim of executive privilege to stifle the investigation of Eric Holder, I'm willing to say that I suspect Obama of being involved, either from the beginning, or after the fact as part of a cover up.

It's a terrible thing to say about someone and for the sake of national unity, I really wish I didn't have to say it. I know that a lot of Democrats will view this as just a partisan attack on a Democratic president. But look: hundreds of dead people. That has to have consequences, even if you are a partisan Democrat. If you hated Bush for killing innocent people in a war then what about a president who kills innocent people to create propaganda?

I also worry that like the Clinton impeachment, this investigation will cause people to rally around Obama and make his criminal behavior the thing that saves his presidency. That would be a terrible thing for the country, to have two Democrat presidents in a row see their popularity actually increase when they were caught in corruption (although Clinton's obstruction of justice is not comparable to Obama's accessory to murder). It would make future Democrat presidents feel that they could do anything and get away with it. And that way lies despotism.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

mysterious badness

I've been scratching my head trying to figure out why I don't like Snow White and the Huntsman. The acting was tremendous. The cinematography was breathtaking. The special effects were awesome. The story was pretty good. Put all that together and I'm sitting there during much of the movie hoping it will be over soon.

A lot of it had to do with pacing. It was slo-o-o-ow. A few good long mood-setting scenes are great for a movie of this type, but you don't want half the scenes to drag on like that. You especially don't want those pacing scenes to be dragging down the pace as you build to the climax. That makes people role their eyes and think, "Is this ever going to end?"

But pacing was not the only problem. There were also the two great beauties, neither of which really carried it off. Now, I'm not the kind of guy who will pan a movie just because it didn't have enough really hot women in it ... no, wait, I am that kind of guy. But in this case the movie was all about the two most beautiful women in the world, so you expect to see someone breathtaking in those roles. In Snow White and the Huntsman, the women who played those roles, while attractive, were not breathtaking. I want Sophia Loren, or Raquel Welch from 1 Million BC, or Erin Gray from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, or Vanity from The Last Dragon, or Jessica Alba from, well, anything.

But although pacing and hot women are essential to achieve excellence in a film, there is more that was lacking. It's a little hard to pin down, but it has to do with genre and the viewer's expectations. It was as if the film couldn't decide whether it was a fairy tale or a gritty realistic film about cruelty and war. It wavered back and forth between fancy and realism. The combination just didn't work.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

pseudo-religious awe

I saw Prometheus Saturday. Once again, I'm not going to review the movie, just express some thoughts on it. The premise of the movie is a search for the alien species that created of mankind. There are various religious conversations in the film which are (for a Hollywood movie) surprisingly sympathetic to religion, although they seem to be written by someone who does not really understand religious faith.

There is a lot of play made off of the fact that one of the characters is an intelligent robot who knows his creators (the humans) while the humans do not know who their creators are. For example, here is an example scene from memory:
human: I want to ask these aliens why they created us.
robot: Why did you humans create robots?
human: Because we could.
robot: If you meet your creators, and ask them that question, how will you feel if they give the same answer?
human: I wouldn't like it. But you're a robot. You don't even know what feelings are.
 Overall it leads to some entertaining interaction. I can't say I found it very deep, but that's partly because I reject many of the premises that they start with.

My biggest complaint about all of this was that the movie tried to capitalize on religious sentiment without the religious motivations. In particular, it tried to generate a feeling of reverence for the alien race that created the human race, or at least tried to make it plausible that some of the characters would feel that sort of reverence. I found it completely implausible. The reverence that Judaism and its descendent religions express for God is not just because God created the human race; it is because God created everything. God is something prior to anything in the created universe. By contrast, if the human race were created by an alien species, why would we think that they are therefore better than us? They are just another race of creatures like we are.

When humans create machinery to do physical tasks, do we assume that because humans created it, humans could do the tasks better? Can humans run faster than cars, fly higher than airplanes or add numbers more accurately than computers? Of course not. Very often, we create things specifically because we want them to do something better than us. So if alien beings create intelligent moral agents, why ever would we assume that the alien beings are superior in intelligence or superior as moral agents? It's a completely unmotivated assumption.

Or are we supposed to feel gratitude for them creating us? Why? They didn't create the human race to do me any favors. If I'm drowning and suddenly find a life jacket in the water which saves my life, should I be grateful to the person who threw the life jacket in the water two days ago because it in his way? Of course not. You don't feel grateful to someone just because some past action of their turned out by accident to be beneficial to you. You feel grateful because they did something specifically to help you.

The whole thing about holding some sort of reverence to an alien species just because they mixed up some junk in a test tube and it grew into Adam and Eve just strikes me as ... dumb.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

the tragedy of falsetto

I spent several hours at Starbucks last Saturday reading. It was relaxing, except that Sunday I realized that the CD they were looping the whole time seems to have percolated into my brain and now I can't get those annoying Beach Boy tunes out of my head.

I've never been a fan of the Beach Boys. Their lyrics are juvenile, their music is uninspired, and falsetto voices are just irritating. "Hep me Rhonda! Hep Hep me Rhonda!" What, is he trying to get her to hike a football to him? I know, I know, it's really "Help me Rhonda", and all girls just love it when a guy says, "Hey, I'm with you babe but I just can't stop thinking about some other girl. Anything you could do to, you know, take my mind off of her? ".

Even more annoying is a song that starts "Well, I'm not bragging, babe, so don't put me down" when the entire song is nothing but him bragging about his car. It would be impressive if this were just a poetic version of the unreliable narrator, but no, I think it's just that he needed a word to rhyme with "town" and didn't want to think very hard.

And what's that bit about "I've got the pink slip, daddy?" Is he talking to a babe or a daddy? And is the daddy actually his father or is he supposed to be gay? OK, probably a different culture. But what, am I supposed to think he's spent this long, annoying song bragging about a car that belongs to someone else? I think he just had a list of all the cool dragster lingo that he had to put in the song: "four on the floor": check, "flathead mill": check, "stroked and bored": check, "pink slip": check.

C. W. McCall managed to do the cool trucker lingo list in Convoy without sounding like a dork. He did do the falsetto, though. It would have been a better song if he had sprung for a couple of chicks to sing backup like Tony Orlando did. And Tony Orlando got a variety show out of it with the two chicks. See how bad falsetto is? It can keep you from getting your own variety show.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Donald Signs with a Publisher

Donald Crankshaw, my first blogging friend, has signed up to publish his novel Fire. That novel and the related short stories have always been my favorite work of his. The book will be published under the title Heirs of Fire, which I think is an improvement. Presumably he can continue the series then with other titles like "Heirs of ...".

In honor of this historic occasion, I've even capitalized my post heading because my lower-case headings always annoyed Donald.

I would leave a congratulations on his web site, but for some reason I can't comment over there. I think it's the same problem I used to have with Foxfier's site.

the seduction of gambling

I just got back from a short vacation in Las Vegas, Sin Capitol of the United States.

I've never been much of a gambler because I believe in odds. If the odds are against you in a game of chance then that means --practically by definition-- that playing that game of chance is a poor decision. But if you play one of the games where skill counts and you play with a reasonable level of skill, then your expected rate of loss is so low that you are essentially paying only a few dollars an hour for entertainment, with a small chance of hitting it big. So when I'm in Vegas with a friend who likes to gamble, I will play a little video poker and blackjack.

I splurged this trip, and sat down at a $10 blackjack table with a hundred-dollar bill. I really was just hoping to walk away after an hour with $80 or so. Two hours later I walked away with $350.

It's hard to describe the feeling of power you get when the cards just keep falling your way and the stakes are large enough that you care. I've had good runs in video poker a couple of times, but there we are just talking about stakes of twenty-five cents. It's fun to win but it's not the same as when both the stakes and the potential wins are significant.

Gambling makes a fool of natural reason. When you try something and you succeed  then natural reason tells you --correctly in most cases-- that you have hit on a good strategy and you should do it again, expecting success again. When you use a new fish lure and catch a fish in a few minutes, natural reason leads you to think that you have found a good fish lure. When you add rosemary to your rib steak and it comes out with a hardier more enjoyable flavor then natural reasoning leads you to continue to use rosemary with beef.

So when I spent a couple of hours betting ten dollars a hand on casino blackjack and kept winning, over and over, my natural reason was very strongly informing me that I had found a successful strategy. My reason was telling me that I was good at this. It was telling me that I could just sit down here any time I like and make as much money as I wanted. As I played I had to consciously correct my natural reason. I kept reminding myself that no matter how many hands I won, the expected gain on the next hand was still negative. It was like having an argument with myself:
natural me: Wow! This is easy!

mathematical me: This isn't easy it's just random chance.

natural me: I should raise the stakes so I win faster!

mathematical me: All that will do is make me eventually lose faster.

natural me: But I'm winning right now! Shouldn't waste the opportunity when I'm winning!

mathematical me: I'm not winning right now. I've had a streak of winning, but there is no reason to expect the streak to continue.

natural me: If I had raised the stakes twenty hands ago I would have made a lot more money!

mathematical me: Which tells me nothing whatsoever about what will happen if I raise the stakes now.
In a normal pursuit, the natural me would have been right. It took a real effort of will for the mathematical me to overcome this natural reasoning process.

The experience left me sympathetic to gambling addicts. If I hadn't the mathematical background that I do, I can see spending the rest of the trip trying to recapture that experience and losing hundreds in the process, because my natural reason would be telling me that eventually I could make it all back.

Junior high school should have a couple of weeks of probability as part of the required course work. They should cover the various mistakes that people make when gambling or calculating odds to try to inoculate people against gambling.

Of course, if done effectively, this could destroy Las Vegas in a couple of generations, so it will never happen.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sarah Palin in a compromising position

My admiration for Sarah Palin has now taken a second big hit. The first was when she endorsed John McCain for his US Senate reelection bid. I was willing to let that one slide because McCain did bring her to the national stage. It was understandable that she felt some loyalty to him for that, even if the campaign staff that McCain hired ended up sabotaging her and even if McCain never came to her defense over it. Still, arguably a personal loyalty thing.

But now she has endorsed Orin Hatch. Orin Hatch is just another big-government Republican, a Senate leader during the big-spending Bush years who voted for TARP, one of the things that sparked the Tea Party in the first place. He has openly talked about how much he despises fiscal conservatives. The man running against Hatch in the Republican primary, Dan Liljenquist is a true conservative of the kind that Palin claims to support.

It's starting to look like Palin is willing to trade in her popularity with conservatives to gain popularity with Beltway Republicans. That is disappointing, because one of the things I liked most about Sarah Palin was that I thought her integrity was not for sale.