Monday, September 29, 2008

I found it!

The only thing more boring than a Terry Gross interview.

A Terry Gross retrospective of interviews done as an obit.



Filthy Rich

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Women and Violence

So, far be it from me to be misogynist (heh), I just came across this article on Vikings. Apparently, the Viking attacks began as a response to a lack of women and stress on obtaining the same. This was a result of the practice of female infanticide common to the culture. Fewer girls = fewer potential wives, so young men sally forth to obtain resources to obtain wives. And, although not mentioned in the article, if some of them die off in raids, that helps to reduce the strain on the others.

This accords with my own theory of polygamy and violent culture. As Tim Harford points out polygamous societies can actually be economically beneficial for the women involved, as it provides them with an amount of upward mobility not available in a monogamous society. This theory does not account very well for the problems this raises for other members. However, the balance can be returned if we posit that these young men, rather than being disenfranchised and run out of the community, are put to use in some way which will thin out their numbers. So it's hardly surprising that most traditionally polygamous societies also tend be a bit more . . . visceral than other cultures. I would also invert the claim that polygamy causes violence, as discussed after the riots in France. Instead, it is cultures predisposed to violence which leads to polygamy.

Just my thought.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lucky Ones Movie Review

So, I just got back from seeing The Lucky Ones.

I wanted to like this movie, I really really did. The premise seemed good, it was about soldiers without being about Iraq, and especially seemed to be about the way that soldiers are treated at home after serving in Iraq. Unfortunately, the only scenes in the film were the ones I had already seen in the trailer. That being said, there is one scene at a party which is perfect when a pro- and anti- war guest are having an argument using the three main characters as props in their argument rather than as real people. And when they finally do turn to the soldiers and ask "So what are you guys doing over there?" Tim Robbins gives the best response: "We're mostly just trying to stay alive." To which the pro-war guy snorts and says "well no wonder we're messing it up." Okay, it's a bit biased (pro-war guy has to admit it's not going well), but at least it gets to the view of the soldier.

Unfortunately, these good moments are lost in a daze of boring transitions. I don't know what it was, the dialogue was good, the sentences followed one after another, they made sense coming out of each character's mouth, but it just kept falling flat. The only thing I can think is just simple bad direction.

It's like the director was channeling Bruce Dickinson but just kept telling his post-production staff: "no, this is going too fast, we need more boring."

Finally, I think the film would have benefited immensely from some research on actual soldiers. And I think the Army would have been overjoyed to give the filmmaker access - this film presents soldiers very positively and realistically. What is 50 year old Tim Robbins doing playing a Staff Sergeant?!?! He should have been a SFC at the VERY least, but preferably a First Sergeant, which would have added to his character and allowed him to act in a more paternal role throughout the film. And what was up with Pena's mustache? Now, in the beginning, he has a goatee, which is fine, he's on leave, he doesn't have to conform to AR 670-1. But when he's back in uniform, he has a mustache that clearly extends down and around his mouth - no NCO would stand for that (and seeing as how he himself is an NCO, he would know better). They did handle USERRA well, coming up with a very plausible way for him to lose his job while deployed.

In comparison though, and despite what you might hear from other reviews, this is still a MUCH better film than Stop Loss

Plane Travel

So, to add to a previous post about plane travel, here's a new one.

First, from the blog Abu Muqawama, what is going on with the TSA?

Second, a rather poetic description of security at airports:

"Just the Turkish Bath cum I Love Lucy Assembly Line in which I just lost an hour of my life."

Monday, September 22, 2008


So, I'm on campus today, and apparently Trojan condoms are doing some kind of outreach. I didn't go in, but I just thought the tag line was utterly ridiculous:

Why is this ridiculous you might ask? Well, although I'm all for teaching safe sex, perhaps using as a tagline something for which you must have sex to do is not the best idea.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Just a short post. I hate Saturday Night Live. I have hated it since sitting through a five minute sketch consisting of Phil Hartman trying to convince Woody Harrelson to sit on his lap (any amusement you might have received from that mental image is funnier than the sketch in question.

However, I have to say that their send-up of Sarah Palin was quite funny. And got to another point which I failed to mention in my previous discussion of Franzen and Meyer's airbrushed pictures. (Sorry, Mom, I still think Franzen's cover picture was heavily airbrushed to make him look more like Guy Pearce - your depth is indicated by the fact that you find him attractive based on his literary appeal, I think).

Sarah Palin is everything feminists don't want, which has been rehashed constantly around the web. She's pretty without substance, powerful, but just subservient enough for patriarchal men to accept her - since they know that at the end of the night she goes home, makes dinner for her family, and probably gives her man a footrub (in both the literal and biblical sense). This was totally characterized when Republicans think that giving up a seat to a woman is somehow supporting women's rights rather than a stupid piece of paternalistic BS.

And this is what I think SNL got spot on with that parody - Hilary is the smart, credible, and (dare I say it?) experienced politician, but she is maligned and disliked. Palin is (dare I say it?) stupid and vacuous, but people love her because she fits our Hollywood conception of a woman. Or to be more precise, our just outside Hollywood concept of what a woman should be.

And I think SNL made up FLRG/Flurge/FLIRG/etc.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Ice Cream Conspiracy

I'm going to begin with a long, meandering anecdote that has nothing to do with ice cream.

When I first deployed to Iraq, it was 2004. I actually left for training in December of 2003, so I was essentially out of the world then. I spent nine months in Iraq, and my trailer was handily across the street (I use the term lightly) from the PX and the Burger King. So about once a week we would walk over and treat ourselves to a Whopper and a soda. Now, I'm a McDonald's guy, give me a cheeseburger or a Big Mac over a Whopper any day of the week, but BK has the AAFES contract, and you take what you can get. (Side note, there are now a wide varieties of other choices in the same complex: CinnaBun, Popeye's and Taco Bell).

I think that I would have been better served had there been no fast food, but since I had the constant reminder while eating the Whopper that it wasn't really a Big Mac, I think it was worse. Anyway, when I got back, I was really aching for some authentic McDonald's fast food, so I head to the local McD's, pull through the drive thru and order a two cheeseburger meal, supersized. I then proceed to get into an argument with the teller over the purported existence of the Supersize value meal. Unbeknownst to me, Super Size Me had been released a couple months after I left, and a couple months after that McDonald's had caved and removed the Super Size meals. Oops.

But hey, I actually do believe in the Toxic Food Environment. Food is cheap, the economy is bad, "let them eat cake." And the portions are ridiculous - more food than I can eat in one sitting, especially with the "appetizers" which have more fat and calories than a Big Mac.

Now, this is where we get to Ice Cream. I remember when I was growing up buying a half-gallon of Friendly's Double Chocolate Ice Cream with my dad. That was a standard size. Then apparently a few years ago the ice cream industry shifted from half gallon containers (2 quarts) to 1.75 quart containers. And I never noticed. I guess I might have been distracted by the other things in my life (like going to Basic in 2002 and then deploying in 2003) to notice the difference.

But then, the other day I was in the grocery store and buying my favorite ice cream (Chocolate Fudge Brownie) when I noticed that the container seemed a bit off. I couldn't quite place it, it just seemed a bit small. So I start walking up and down the ice cream aisle, looking at each brand of ice cream and comparing the sizes. Breyer's - same. Edy's - same. Ben & Jerry's - well, they've always sold by the pint, so I can't really compare. But I also remember a few months ago when all the stores were having a buy one get one (or sometimes two) free offer on ice cream. And sure enough, ice cream has shrunk yet again.

Only difference between this and McDonald's - it's about price. It's not about the interests of the consumer. The price of milk has increased, apparently, and the ice cream companies didn't feel like raising the price of ice cream above the cost of a gallon of gas. What kind of world are we living in when we can't even afford a half gallon of ice cream?

But I guess the economy is still strong

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What's with celebrity authors?

And by that, I don't mean celebrity like famous. Stephen King - famous. J.R.R. Tolkien - famous. Dan Brown - famous.

I mean when publishers are attempting to create celebrity out of their authors, which is especially funny when that celebrity buys into the Hollywood conception of fame and beauty. After all, you can't be famous unless you're beautiful.

Example #1 - Jonathan Franzen. The Corrections was, admittedly a good book. Not as good as Franzen wanted it to be (apparently it was his attempt to write the "great american novel" after being called out on his complaints that no one has written one recently...). And it does, of course, have the distinction of being the only book removed from the Oprah Winfrey book list. (I'm pretty sure that despite the controversy, Million Little Pieces is still "on" the list.) Franzen didn't want to be associated with the "pop" culture of Oprah's other books, as it would apparently demean his literary aspirations. (I would like to note at this point that included on the list before Franzen was added were Toni Morrison, Isabel Allende, and Joyce Carol Oates - maybe Franzen was just a sexist...) However, getting to my point. Here's the picture of Franzen off his book jacket:

Now, here's a more candid shot of Mr. Franzen at a reading:

Not completely damning, I must admit, but you can definitely see how the first image was tailored to strengthen the chin and heighten the cheekbones.

Now, exhibit #2 - Stephanie Meyer of Twilight fame - soon to be a Major Motion Picture. Ms. Meyer drew my attention when she declared she was too upset about a leak of her manuscript onto the internet to release her next book in a timely manner. I don't know if she's thin-skinned or whiny. And I don't really care. What I do find funny is the press photo that accompanied the story, seen below:

Very pretty woman. Almost like a grown up version of Michelle Trachtenberg. Unfortunately, if you thought Franzen's image was interesting, here's Ms. Meyer's candid shot:

Now, I'm not pointing this out to be sexist. I (hope) I'm pointing out the inherent shallowness, and even sexism of the celebrity industry. Franzen's photo got a little touched up - it's acceptable for a man to not be "sexy." Meyer's photo looks like it went through a Victoria's Secret makeover - god forbid a woman should be less than perfect in today's mass market.

Finally, my final note is that Meyer's books are being made into Hollywood films. Another vampire author, Charlaine Harris is having her books made into an HBO series. I guess HBO doesn't care too much about the touch-ups, because here is Ms. Harris' photo off her very own website (and I couldn't find a single picture that was substantially different from this one):

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Philosophers and pop culture

I'm a big fan of Gilles Deleuze, and for that matter, Michel Foucault. Apparently a lot of other people are too, even some who I wouldn't have guessed at. I find it very interesting, though, that in Europe, it's not just academics who will point at these philosophers and others like them (Derrida, *shudder*), but pop culture icons. Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure that somewhere out there is something very specific to the S&M subculture that's named the Foucault. But that's appropriate to his particular oeuvre, if you know what I mean.

Deleuze has influenced a number of different elements of European culture, including science fiction, which was unfortunately made into a horrible movie. In fairness, I haven't seen the movie, but I have read the book, and I can't even begin to imagine how they could translate the complexities of a (pretentious) Deleuzian approach to schizophrenia and a Teilhardian approach to evolution into a two hour action movie. However, much like an S&M tribute to Foucualt, the meandering overly-pretentious writing by Dantec (even including himself in one of the later scenes), fits the Deleuzian oeuvre.

Sometimes, though, this sort of stuff surprises you. Let's consider another theme of the Deleuzian approach, the Body Without Organs. Like his other stuff, it's heavy, it's pretentious, it's everything this is not. For some reason, a pop band that is more bubble-gum than Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, or even the Jonas Brothers names itself after a Continental Philosopher. Does anyone else see a problem with this picture?

And why does this only exist in Europe? Why do we not have pop bands or science fiction authors influenced by Deleuze? Or hell, let's even look at some of our American philosophers, William James, John Searle, or even Noam Chomsky. At this point, I would take something based on Borges - at least he's American in the broader sense.