Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The new Batman movie, “Dark Knight”

This is less a movie review than a discussion based on Chalicechick's excellent analysis Oh, how I hated the Batman movie


I agree with her on some points, disagree on others (big shock, there)- I'll start with the disagreements. The Joker. She liked Ledger's performance, (agree!) but not the character. She complains about his almost magical abilities- "He can do anything, and the movie wants us to believe this so badly it doesn’t bother to explain how he does some of his more amazing feats. (E.g. Joker can sneak lots of bombs and arguably surgical equipment into jail with him.)" I bet Cris Angel could do it; and anyway, it was established not much later in the film that he had city and police officials working for him- the people Dent, by then Two-face, killed. You can do a lot with insider assistance. She thinks he should have had a hard time recruiting: "Said mooks have to have heard that everybody who helps Joker do anything dies, but they play along anyway and are all dead by the end of the movie." This is a hallmark of evil dictators- Stalin's purges were legendary, and Sadam Hussein tortured and mutilated his own officials... and yet, they never seemed to have trouble finding replacements.

But those arguments are really beside the point; a larger than life hero requires a larger than life villain. To borrow a line from "Inherit the Wind", if St. George had killed a dragonfly rather than a dragon, who would remember him? I liked the fact that this Joker had no origin story; he was simply evil. Indeed, he mocks the concept of an "origin" by making up different origin stories for different people. He doesn't kill for profit or sexual gratification- he does it to make the world a worse place... truly the Anti-Batman. Or rather, the Anti-Ideal-Batman, which this one wasn't.

I totally agree that much of the plot was contrived- a perfect example of why I have grown to not only dislike situational ethics, but also the discussion of situational ethics. One of the ethical lapses this leads to is even worse, in my opinion, than CC paints it- the cell phone eavesdropping. CC says, "One of Batman’s most impressive toys is a pretty clear stand-in for domestic wiretapping (I guess thanks to Obama and McCain's agreement on the issue, Wayne Enterprises won't even get fined)..." As I understand it, the two provisions Obama and McCain agree on are for calls that originate and are received in foreign countries but pass through our routers, and for calls that originate in foreign countries and are received in the U.S.- but Batman is listening to not only purely domestic calls, but also every sound the cell phones can pick up as he remotely activates them! I can only hope there were plenty of cell phones present at a burrito eating contest. Batman supposedly proves his honesty by not holding the power himself, but giving it to Lucius. To my mind, that's worse, not better... he didn't have the courage to face his decision, and instead tempted another!

But even that’s not the worst of Batman’s ethical lapses. In the end, he proves his nobility by taking the rap for the murders Harvey Dent committed, so the people could have a hero and not lose faith in the system. Huh? Just minutes before he had been supremely confident of the decency of the Gothamites trapped aboard the bomb-laden ferries, certain that they wouldn’t kill innocents to save their own skins- and had been proven right! Now, suddenly, he can’t trust their judgment? And what if the truth had come out- that after being forced to listen to his fiancĂ© getting the Col. Sanders treatment, then getting half his own face melted off, Dent- still in shock- loses his temper and kills some of the perpetrators? Who would have judged him harshly for that- harshly enough to lose faith in the system? (after all, this Dent didn’t live long enough to become the super-villain of the comic books) No, Batman becomes just another government bureaucrat, lying to the public for their own good.

This new Batman series is more down to Earth than the Tim Burton franchise, has a better (in George Carlin’s words) “Hey, this could happen!” feel, but Burton’s has more heart, more humanity. The heck with it. Go see “Iron Man” or “Spiderman” again instead.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sympathy for Ms. Kitty

When Kit first posted about her cat "Maxie The Magnificent" becoming a killer, I didn't have the words to comfort her- I'm glad Ogre was able to say what I couldn't. But I knew that post was coming back when she wrote about not being able to keep Maxie on the porch.

Ginj and I have always had cats; our current clowder of four is the smallest we've had. The eldest, Laurie, I've written about before. The youngest, Monica, is another rescue. The two in between are brothers we got from a local pet store. I had gone in for a bag of cat food, and stopped to admire a pair of pure black kittens. The manager told me that they were, at six months, too old to sell because they were no longer cute- if I'd buy a 25 lb bag of food for each, he'd throw them in for free! Appalled at his attitude, we made the deal.

One of the brothers was small and sleek; the other tall and frizzy haired- naturally, we named them Simon and Garfunkle. Poor kids- after spending the first six months of their lives in a cage, they were afraid to come out from under the desk for two days. Then, realizing it was OK to come out, they started racing around the house at top speed, spinning out and hitting the wall like NASCAR, then racing off in another direction. They were (and are) inseparable... cleaning each other's faces, then engaging in Greco-Roman wrestling, then falling asleep in each other's arms, only to pick up the match where they had left off when they awake. And, like Topsy, they just kept growing.

Here, facing the camera, and weighing in at 11 lbs., is "little" brother Simon.

And the Behemoth filling the overstuffed leather chair is Garfunkle.

Despite being fixed, they- like Maxie- could not be kept inside or on the porch once they reached adulthood. They, like Maxie, soon proved to be killers. If you're a human, they're the sweetest things you can imagine. Garfunkle will leap into my lap, pull on the cuff of my shirtsleeve until my arm is bent, then climb into the crook of my arm and fall asleep, his purrs making my chest resonate like a guitar body. But if you're any life form of five lbs. or less, you're dead. I've seen Garfunkle run, leap, and pluck a flying bird right out of the air.

The lesson is to learn to love things as they are, not as we would like them to be. Cats are not small dogs, nor fuzzy children, nor animated stuffed toys- they are the most ferocious killing machines Mother Nature has ever unleashed into the underbrush, their ecological niche. We must remember that their affection for us, while genuine, is a perversion of their pack (pride?) instincts- we haven't tamed nor civilized them, we have merely stepped into one or more roles that would otherwise have been filled by elder cats in a pride.

But if it's any consolation, Ms. Kitty, there is a side benefit. I don't know if there is some kind of vermin grapevine, or if the smell of real killers is subtly different or what, but there hasn't been a rat, mouse, bat, cockroach, or any other form of vermin inside the house in years. (unless one of Les Freres Noir brought it in, already broken) You watch- I bet within a few months, the aura of Maxie around your house will make it a vermin-free zone.

After a two year visit to the United States, Michelangelo's David is returning to Italy ...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Going through a box of inherited antiques, I ran across a small book entitled "Unicode". No, it has nothing to do with early computer languages- it's a set of codes used in telegraph messages,published in 1922. These codes were used to avoid running up large fees, as telegraph messages were charged by the word- hence "Unicode", a series of words that represented entire sentences. For example, the word "Abrasi" meant "Met with an accident, boat upset, all safe". I found this fascinating, and flipped through the book to see what all kinds of situations were covered by this code, and was amused to find this one: "The improvement is not sustained" is replaced with the single word "Dogma".

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Please take a few minutes

to watch this video . You might cry, but you won't regret it.

Sympathy for Jesse Jackson

I've agreed with very little of what Jesse Jackson has said or done the last twenty years. Like the generals of the old bromide, he was fighting the last war- his language and tactics, I thought, being wrong, even counterproductive for this day and age. Like a still-touring 60s rock band, he had become a parody of himself.

Then came the flap over the live-mike, unguarded comments about Barack Obama. I don't need to repeat what he said; everyone has heard it. Heck, there are undiscovered Neolithic peoples in the rain forests of Indonesia who could quote it. It was a Nine Day Wonder, endlessly deconstructed on both TV and radio talk shows. Then came Gaffe Part II, when it was revealed that he had used the "N" word during the diatribe, setting off another round of clucking.

I feel genuine sympathy for Rev. Jackson for the first time in decades. What must he feel when he looks at Obama? Here is proof that he could have been a candidate- perhaps President- if the Democratic Party had ever truly been behind him. He now knows that he had been nothing but a token, a bit of affirmative action to the party, a means to an end- not respected for what he was, but merely for the votes he could deliver. He sees an interloper in his chair, a kid who hasn't been there, hasn't done that; someone who was in diapers while Jesse was putting his life on the line. Someone with great potential replacing someone with great accomplishments.

Isaac Newton said "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." Never before have I wondered what it must have felt like to be one of those giants.

For all STAR WARS fans

The Imperial AT-AT Walker lives, courtesy of DARPA .

Friday, July 18, 2008

More updates to "An Inconvenient Truth"

Al Gore has appeared before Congress and more importantly (judging by popularity ratings) Oprah Winfrey saying that man-made Global Warming is now "settled science", comparing dissenters to "Flat-Earthers". Some Global Warming activists have gone farther than that- Scott Pelley has been quoted on the CBS News PublicEye blog saying: "There is virtually no disagreement in the scientific community any longer about ‘global warming.’ … The science that has been done in the last three to five years has been conclusive.” Pelley also posted this quote to the same blog: “If I do an interview with [Holocaust survivor] Elie Wiesel, am I required as a journalist to find a Holocaust denier?”

Is that the case? Are those who deny that the Global Warming that occurred between 1970 and 2000 (there has been no change the last eight years) no better than holocaust deniers? Let's look at them. There are a few deniers associated with the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine ... 31,000 of them! "On May 19th 2008, OISM announced that over 31,000 scientists, including more than 9,000 with Ph.D.s, signed a petition that states, "... There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing, or will cause in the future, catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate..." Signatories include such luminaries as theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson, MIT's atmospheric physicist Richard Lindzen and first National Academy of Sciences president Frederick Seitz. More than 40 signatories are members of the prestigious national Academy of Sciences."

Then there's the American Physical Society , which has reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming. "In a
posting to the APS forum, editor Jeffrey Marque explains,"There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution." This Article shows one of the things they are discussing:
"WASHINGTON (7-15-08) - Mathematical proof that there is no “climate crisis” appears today in a major, peer-reviewed paper in Physics and Society, a learned journal of the 10,000-strong American Physical Society, SPPI reports. Christopher Monckton, who once advised Margaret Thatcher, demonstrates via 30 equations that computer models used by the UN’s climate panel (IPCC) were pre-programmed with overstated values for the three variables whose product is “climate sensitivity” (temperature increase in response to greenhouse-gas increase), resulting in a 500-2000% overstatement of CO2’s effect on temperature in the IPCC’s latest climate assessment report, published in 2007."

Let's not leave Europe out- in a paper from the Danish National Space Center entitled "Reply to Lockwood and Fröhlich –
The persistent role of the Sun in climate forcing", they authors say, "As for the upward linear trend removed from Fig. 2 (lower), it is customary to attribute to greenhouse gases any increase in global temperatures not due to solar changes. While that is reasonable, one cannot distinguish between the effects of anthropogenic gases such as carbon dioxide and of natural greenhouse gases. For example, increased evaporation means that infrared radiation from water vapor, by far the most important greenhouse gas, will tend to provide positive feedback for any global warming, whether driven by anthropogenic or solar forcing. In any case, the most recent global temperature trend is close to zero."

It's starting to sound to me that there's some wiggle room here, that anthropogenic Global Warming is "settled science" only to Al Gore. What is the truth? I don't know; I'm not competent to say. Neither is Al Gore. In fact, neither are many of the scientists on both sides of the debate; a scientist, when speaking outside his specialty, is merely an educated layman. Even Nobel Prize winners. You doubt me? I offer in evidence William Shockley
, 1956 Noble Prize winner for physics, co-inventor of the transistor, one of the founders of silicon valley... who believed that it could be mathematically proven that Blacks are inferior to Whites. His math was correct, but his presumptions were wrong- which is what Global Warming debaters are saying about each other.
This being the case, it bothers me that both Presidential candidates are big believers, and want us to spend a fortune on programs that will further damage our economy before it is even determined what can be done, and what should be. I'm hoping that the new Congress will consider any such measures closely.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A pet peeve I have about our denomination

is demonstrated by this video from the excellent DiscoverUU :

The Unitarian Universalist Association was created in 1961- only four people in that list lived beyond that date. The others may have been Unitarians, (although technically, some of them must have been Congregationalists, as the AUA wasn't formed until 1825), or they may have been Universalists, but they weren't Unitarian Universalists. Actually, I suspect that many of them, were they alive today, would be UCC rather than UUA.

What is this tendency we have to claim any celebrity in all of history who doesn't have a formal declaration of belief in the Nicean Creed on record as one of ours? Are we insecure about the comparative youth of our denomination, like a fuzzy bunny Wiccan who claims unbroken descent from Lilith? Whatever it is, I wish we'd stop; there's plenty to be proud of in the UUA's short history, and we should be touting that- we don't need to borrow glory from predecessors who may or may not even agree with what we are today.

Here's one I haven't heard before

Man goes to church. Man says he was asking God to have "a real experience" while praying at church. Man says he was so consumed by the spirit of God that he fell and hit his head. Man sues church!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

An example of why P.C. "experts" are ignored

This headline from the Telegraph: "Toddlers who dislike spicy food 'racist'"

"Toddlers who turn their noses up at spicy food from overseas could be branded racists by a Government-sponsored agency.

The National Children's Bureau, which receives £12 million a year, mainly from Government funded organisations, has issued guidance to play leaders and nursery teachers advising them to be alert for racist incidents among youngsters in their care.
This could include a child of as young as three who says "yuk" in response to being served unfamiliar foreign food."

Of course, everyone on the planet- expect for race relations experts- knows that toddlers are notorious for their food issues; every book on childrearing ever written contains a chapter on it. Sometimes they are finicky, sometimes they develop irrational hatreds of or attractions to certain foods at random- and then change their minds with a rapidity that leaves flip-flopping politicians in the dust. It is a natural stage of human development.

But that means nothing to such "experts", who can stretch farther than Reed Richards in the pursuit of offense. We are frequently chastised for using "code words" that are so well coded that neither the speaker nor the audience understood the "code". Indeed, sometimes the codes are not merely obscure, but fictitious; for example, "picnic" has nothing to do with lynching, "rule of thumb" is not derived from wife beating, and people went on "outings" long before gay activism. You'd think "experts" would use Google or Snopes before going out on a limb, but then as a rule they don't have to worry about anyone calling them on it.

I just pray that the spicy food hadn't been packed in a brown bag .

UPDATE: I've just learned that "Black Hole" does not mean a collapsed star with near infinite gravity, as I've believed all my adult life; it is a racial epithet. So is "Devil's food cake", according to this Dallas County Commissioner

Monday, July 07, 2008

Apparently, in Provincetown

"sex on the beach" is not a drink. I've seen this story a number of times over the past week, but could never come up with a satisfactory comment. Then I realized that the perfect comment had been made forty years ago.

Parents, are you raising children or adults?

This is the question asked by sociologist and youth minister Jim Hancock in his book "Raising Adults: A Humane Guide to Parenting in the New World". What he means by that is explained in this Indianapolis Star article : "Our task has often been defined as raising children," Hancock said, "and ultimately that's what we've ended up with -- adult-aged children who don't feel very well prepared for life in the real world. I think if we were to shift our emphasis to raising adults, everybody is happier."

Jim describes a method of parenting that teaches children how to become independent. "One thing we should never ask our kids is, 'Do you have your jacket, homework, gym bag, backpack, keys,' listing everything I can think of that you might possibly need in order to survive your day. I think effective parents learn to ask their children, 'Do you believe you have everything that you need for today,' and teach their children to figure out what is on that list." He demonstrates classic errors: "Hancock tells the story of a woman who skipped a business meeting to take her adolescent son's homework to him at school. "I thought, 'how long has she been doing that?' Probably since he was 6 years old, and he's learned to depend upon her for those kinds of details. He will be very angry with her one day when she takes a vacation or dies and he's left without his homework. Not to mention when he's 32 and the boss needs the memo, and his mother is not there to bring the document to him."

He also offers a free online book , "Ten Things We Should Never Say to Kids".

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Women earn only 87% of what men earn

if they work for Barack Obama, according to this story from the Cybercast News Service. The 26 men working for Obama's Senate staff office average $55,962.00 per year; the 31 women average $48,729.

What about McCain? After all, "Mr. McCain is an honorable man, we respect his service. But when you look at our records and our plans on issues that matter to working women, the choice could not be clearer," Obama said in Albuquerque, N.M. last week. Of McCain's non-intern employees, 30 were women and 16 were men. After excluding interns, the average pay for the 30 women on McCain's staff was $59,104.51. The 16 non-intern males in McCain's office, by comparison, were paid an average of $56,628.83.

Hmm. That is a clear difference.