Saturday, January 31, 2004

CBS has an odd advertising policy.
Movies I've seen recently: Lost in Translation, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country.

Star Trek 6 was... meh. I didn't hate it. But it was completely and totally for the Trekkies, and I'm not one. I liked its humor ("There is an old Vulcan proverb: only Nixon could go to China," and "Those weren't his knees.") And it fits in that class of movies that's not necessarily good or bad, but fun. But the plot was predictable, and the political subtext was just another joke to me. Is that because the Cold War ended before I was old enough to care, or is it because (as I understand it, I could be wrong) the Federation is an authoritarian state with a centralized and planned economy, so which side are we supposed to be rooting for? Oh yeah - and there were a ton of plot holes or logical inconsistencies. Heckling a movie can be fun, but it makes it much harder for the movie to be good.

And finally, special effects can't make a movie good, as we've found out with so many SF movies recently, but they can make a mediocre movie so much worse. See, if the technology doesn't exist to create something convincingly, then a competent director would have it happen offscreen or in the shadows or something. When Obi-Wan Kenobi vanished into thin air in Star Wars, he was wearing a heavy cloak which was left behind. But when something gets vaporized on Star Trek, there's a bright glowy thing that looks like it instantly got covered with Christmas lights, which is probably how the effect was done in the original series.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico was weird. If you take the exact balance of action, humor, and drama all wrapped up in a fairy-tale feel as found in The Princess Bride, set it in Mexico, and direct it by Quentin Tarantino channeling John Woo, you'd have a very good idea of what this movie is like. I liked it. It was politically incorrect (a drunk, a gigolo, and a vengeful fugitive, all of them musicians, team up to save Mexico's incompetent president from a coup!), but that only added to the humor. And it had Johnny Depp in it. He was amazing. You know, the reason he's so great in movies like this is that any idiot can be a tough guy, especially with the writer and director on your side. But the really dangerous type of man is a lunatic because someone who's not controlled by self-preservation is really not controlled by anything at all. And it takes a truly unique actor to convey that recklessness completely and convincingly at the same time. An actor like Depp. And Antonio Banderas was in it too. Depp was more fun, but still, Banderas's dramatic performance as a mourning, vengeful widower single-handedly prevented the movie from being campy. Eva Mendes, Willem Dafoe, and Selma Hayek all had roles too, and they did very well, but I barely noticed their great acting talents, I was so caught up in everything else. (Okay, maybe I noticed Selma Hayek a little bit.) This movie would be too violent for many people and the violence would be too unrealistic for many more, but... Damn, it was cool!

As for Lost in Translation: it had good comedy, good acting, good writing, good directing, and good casting. It had a great performance by Bill Murray - he's really capable of serious acting when he wants to, and he did an unprecedented job here. But what the movie didn't have was one single microsecond that could be called even remotely exciting. They clearly were trying for something different, which is good because they didn't succeed at doing it traditionally. I would recommend it, personally. Just not when you're sleepy. And when I say "not even remotely exciting", I mean it. Go for a half-dozen laughs, two characters, and one heartwarming moment. If you go for anything else, you'll be disappointed.
Wednesday night was another hard deadline night at the CT. It probably would have been a lot easier if we hadn't found out about an important, page-one story at 7 that night. That, and the printer was completely fucked up. It seemed to be working well enough at the beginning of the night, but by the time we were done, only one computer could print and even that took like 5 minutes between when you hit "Print" and when the ink hit the paper. Not good.

Despite that stuff, I'm liking it. Most of the stories I've work on in the past year and a half have been stuff no one but the people mentioned in it would care about, or stuff which is exciting in the same way as a car accident, but not really important. And if you think about it, that's no surprise at all, because a whole lot of news is like that. But still, every once in a while, I've been lucky enough to working on important stories that seem interesting and meaningful. Everything's relative, of course - when I say "important", I mean "important to the campus community," which is obviously pretty small. But it's a question of type, not degree.

If I were more eloquent or outgoing, maybe I'd want to be a politician. I don't know, that's a hard "What If?" to figure out. As it is, I'm enjoying journalism.

Thursday, however, I wasn't thinking like that. If I had followed my plan of taking naps before and after my Creative Writing class, and then going to fencing, that day would have been much different. As it is, there was a writing assignment I had put off until the last minute, so I couldn't nap before it. And I decided to eat dinner and watch a little TV, so I didn't sleep after it. So when a friend reminded me of an unpleasant truth while talking, it... well, I think it would have been pretty painful anyway, just because of the kind of person I am. Everyone has their sensitive points, and loneliness is my big one. But when you take that sensitive point, add the fact that I haven't had an actual date in almost a year, and then pour thirty-six hours without sleep on top of it, the result is not unlike those papier mâché volcanoes you made back in school. You know, the ones with vinegar and baking soda.

Thanks for having been there, Gretchen.

Heh... cool. You know the word "papier mâché"? This is more or less the first time I've used it since I was a kid, and I noticed what it means: "chewed paper", literally. If nothing else, being multilingual teaches you all kinds of puns. Hmmm... someday, when I'm a published author, I'll have to work a mountain made out of chewed and eaten paper into a story...
My dad asked me about how I said a few days ago that Bush went AWOL from the Texas. Here's my best attempt to clear it up: Was Bush Really AWOL? The answer seems to come down to a "he said/she said" thing, the word of one side against the word of another.

Here's how it looks to me: Bush graduated from Yale in 1968 and started grad school in 1972. He spent most of that time in the Texas National Guard, but not all of it. One side says he vanished for a year and got away with it just because of who he is, the other side says that he fulfilled his duties to the letter, and rules were bent or attendance was irregular but only so that he could work for a political campaign at the same time.

Maybe "pathetic" was an exagerration - that depends on which side of the "he said/she said" is correct. But on the other hand, Bush is a very hawkish president who spent his time in Texas (or maybe another part of the South) during a foreign war. I'm prejudiced against him to begin with, and this does not improve my opinion.

This fact-checking mission of mine had a serendipitious benefit: It seems useful. And non-partisan.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Kerry Boosts Momentum With Huge N.H. Win

On the one hand, I, as a Dean fan, wish it were him instead of Kerry. And consider the amount he lost by, and the fact that it is in New Hampshire which is right next door to us in Vermont. Short of a miracle, I think this is the end of it for him. If he couldn't make it in Iowa where he was the front-runner, and he couldn't make it in New Hampshire which is a slightly more right-leaning version of Vermont, I don't think he's going to make it. I wish it weren't so, but that's how I see it. Besides the fact that I agreed with him pretty much across the board on the issues, he seemed like the most principled one of all the serious candidates. I mean sure, maybe he went too far at times or it was partially an act just like every other politician, but still.

But on the other hand, I think a Democratic front-runner emerging quickly is a good thing. All that negative campaigning and infighting a month ago wasn't helping anyone. All the Democratic candidates agreed that they would have preferred any of each other over Bush, so why were they going for so many low blows? That whole "Dean's sealed records as Governor" thing was pointlessly negative, as well as simply stupid. Just for one example. And Kerry would have to be my second choice, after Dean. If Bush presses the foreign policy issue - and what else can he press, considering that the economy still isn't doing great and the nation is perfectly split on gay marriage? - Kerry is one of the candidates with military experience. While Bush was going AWOL from the Texas National Guard (no personal offense meant to any Bush supporters, but that's just pathetic), Kerry was in Vietnam. Since he can't reasonably use the war, we'll soon see if Bush has anything going for him at all, other than dirty tricks.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

This semester was supposed to be a sink-or-swim last-ditch effort to learn some good study habits. And I have to say, the water's looking pretty choppy right now. Sure, it's early in the semester and I have a bad habit of jumping to conclusions, but still. I have four short papers (newspaper articles, writing exercise, short story critiques) to do between now and Thursday, plus two Arabic worksheets and a whole lot of CT editing, plus an assignment due today that I didn't get done. This isn't because I'm taking that much work and it's not because everything just happens to be coming due at once, it's because I put everything off this long.

Monday, January 26, 2004

For a hundred years or more, we've been looking for something Other... up there. Between the stars. In another dimension or on another planet. We envisioned insectoid predators and disembodied brains and solemn supermen.

But predicted encounters failed to produce results at the same time as some strange things we were doing here on Earth began to look more serious. So instead of looking for Other up there, we began trying to make it ourselves. Genetic engineering and AIs and computer hardware growing more and more powerful. We dreamed of immaterial Agents and warm-hearted steel and men partly-metal, partly-real.

We should have listened to the people who were telling us all along that it was right here with us the whole time! I mean, this parrot is so cool!

Saturday, January 24, 2004

I thought this was just plain funny.

*sigh* some people can learn from other people's mistakes or take advice. A select few can even think logically and critically and prevent mistakes before they happen. The other %99 of us will inevitably put a just-opened beer bottle down hard at least once.

You might notice several new links on my sidebar. Some of those links will look pretty weird - "Diary of a London Call Girl", maybe? One or two of them is slightly pornographic. And several of them talk about sex a great deal. But hey, I thought they'd be entertaining and stuff. If you don't know by now that I have a somewhat dirty mind, you don't know me that well.

Of course, there are several blogs there that are completely innocent. Some are political and some are those of friends of mine.
George W Bush and the real state of the union. Very educational.
Well, fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

I was writing a long and intelligent post contrasting varying types and degrees of bias and spin in news, when a different browser window froze and I closed it - and doing so closed all my browser windows. Let this be a lesson: don't dawdle.

I'm not going to bother recreating all that I had written. I'll leave the subtle philosophical commentary out of it and just skip to the political commentary. Here's a story I found earlier today on the Le Monde website, the leading French newspaper: La recherche de l'arsenal de Saddam Hussein tourne au fiasco. The link to that on the Le Monde website is even more explicitly anti-Bush. It says "L'Irak n'avait pas d'armes de destruction massive."

For those who don't speak French (or who want a less biased version), here's the Reuters interview with David Kay, the guy who until yesterday was in charge of the search for WMDs. Text of interview with David Kay. The most interesting part is when he says, "I don't think they [stockpiles of WMDs] existed." But see how CNN treated that issue: by practially ignoring it. This is the only story they have about the fact that the leader of the Americans searching for WMDs said that there weren't any. You might think that I posted the wrong link, but no, look again; five paragraphs from the bottom, they finally get around to Kay's opinions.

All talk about the fairy tale WMDs under the bed aside, (and of course that's a spin too), I just thought the competing biases were very interesting. because there's the Le Monde piece, and then there's CNN's piece. I guess maybe I could have found an even bigger example of bias if I had gone to Fox News instead of CNN, but I think this is big enough, especially considering that you don't get much more mainstream than CNN.
Laura's birthday party last night was fun. There were two RAs there, which makes me wonder: if RAs are at a party with drinking and stuff, does that mean the RAs are cool, or that everyone else there is lame? Of course, just asking that question sounds stupid to me. "Cool"? "Lame"? What am I, still in high school? By this point I think everyone, especially me, should be aware of just how judgemental and stupid and simplistic and subjective that sounds. But... well, it's very rare that someone changes how they think. And anyways, since there were seven people playing some Yahoo! text scrambling game on Crystal's computer while the party was going on behind their backs, I suspect it's the second choice, not the first.

Also, I'm curious about something: why is beer so popular? Or I guess I should say, how in the world does bad beer stay profitable? Being drunk feels good, but my god, why would anyone choose to do it on something like Rolling Rock or Genny Lite? After having a few Coors Lite last night, I'll cheerfully laugh in the face of anyone who gives me a hard time about my Smirnoff Ice.
I had a dream last night about Nantes. I think. I remember dreaming that I was happy to be back there. And I think I might have seen Marie, a hot girl and one of my host sisters. But then again, I also remember being in a house I don't exactly recognize but is pretty similar to my Grandma's house, trying to rush my mom along. We were going to be late for something.

Dammit, I wish I could remember my dreams better.

I also wish I could go back to Nantes for a semester on exchange next fall. I've been thinking of it ever since I took French 200, which was fun and got me all nostalgic. But the meter (almost a pendulum, really) is swinging back towards "not going to happen." See, at this point I only need to take 3 more classes to graduate with a major and two minors. If I go, it might be hard fitting those in (I need ENG 375 or at least 376, what if they're only offered in the fall?), but if I don't go, then I'll have a ton of free time I could do practically anything with. I'd love to learn another language, and a whole year of Spanish (or German or, hell, even Japanese) could really get me far. Or I could take a couple more programming classes - that's always a useful skill.

On the other hand, you know, maybe I'm just being too pessimistic about this. It'll be hard work - so what? I might not be able to fit in that last class I need - but what if I can?

... No. That's not the problem.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Pop culture about pop culture is a funny thing. For one thing, I always think it's odd when Hollywood superstars play characters just like themselves. The best example of this I can think of is Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky. In that movie, set in the present or at least the near future, he played a world-famous millionaire playboy. Does Cruise's character look just like an equally famous actor and somehow no one around him notices? Do Top Gun, Rain Man, A Few Good Men, and a whole bunch of other great movies not exist in the world of Vanilla Sky? Is there some other actor who starred in all of them who doesn't exist in our world? Did they each feature some different random actor, Val Kilmer in one and Kevin Bacon in another and so on?

Notting Hill is like this too, but not so much. Why was Julia Robert's character named Anna Scott? Why not just call her Julia Roberts? Did William Thacker (Hugh Grant's character, Anna's love interest) ever take her on a date to see a heartwarming 80's romance about a high-flying businessman who falls in love with a prostitute with a heart of gold? For that matter, has Anna Scott ever worked with a foppish British actor who does a lot of romantic comedies and got arrested for soliciting?

Somehow I was going to tie all this into Smallville. Sometimes it's just another one of those teen dramas with twentysomething actors playing 15-year-olds, full of angst and love triangles and stuff, but the thing about Smallville is that it's about a young Clark Kent, and how and why he becomes Superman. I don't remember at the moment how it ties into pop culture about pop culture. Maybe just because there are so many references to the comic book Superman, in-jokes and minor plots and a whole lot of foreshadowing, that Smallville is self-referential at times. Where was I going with that?

Oh well. I'm overdue for sleep.
You know something? I am a fucking genius, a workaholic, an overachiever. When I compare myself to mothers of newborns or old men with a professional career behind them, yeah, I sort of look like a bit of a slacker. But by any more reasonable standard, I work my ass off. And I should be damn proud of it, instead of taking shit for not working my ass off enough.

So what if I do put my work off until the last minute? Hey, I work best under pressure. You should have seen me around 11 tonight, running around, doing three jobs at once, doing my best - which was pretty damn good, considering the results - to learn a whole new set of skills ASAP. I'm less chipper now. But then it is 7:30 in the morning. So I think that's understandable. But the thing is, I'm not still up because I put very hard piece of work off for a week, I'm still up because someone else put a somewhat hard piece of work off for a month. Bitter? Oh, why do you ask? Dammit, this should not have happened.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Well, I got my comments fixed. Apparently the guy who ran the service I used to use couldn't afford to do it any more. Now I wish I had donated money - it was free, supported only by himself and donations. A real grass-roots/community type thing. Luckily, no comments were lost, since they were just (bought out by?) transferred to another service. But I sort of wonder if this new Haloscan thing has any better business plan than Blogspot, the old one.

My work at the Campus Times has begun. (I'm one of the three news editors.) (Well, I've been writing for the CT since the fall of my sophomore year. But a lowly writer has no authority, little responsibility, and isn't worth much on a résumé, so my job is just now getting interesting, useful, and challenging.) As a result of tonight's meeting, I'm working on a story about Martin Luther King Jr. Day events on campus. That should be fun. And I asked Greg, the opinions editor (an opinions editor? I don't know if he's the only one, but I guess he probably is) if I could write an editorial about some recent trouble at Sigma Alpha Mu.

I didn't go to Randy's birthday party tonight because I planned on getting some work done around now. I have, I suppose, but it's not the work. Of course, I didn't do the work yesterday because I was busy playing computer games. I suck.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Well, I finally got my printer working. It hasn't been working since about a year ago when I had to reinstall Windows. I've tried a couple times, but until today I hadn't managed to get it to admit it was connected to my computer. I also had to change the ink cartridges - I guess they must have dried out or something after spending months in storage in bad conditions, I don't know - but I'm almost sure there was a problem with how I was installing the software. Actually, it's embarrassing how easy it was once I finally read the instructions carefully and all that stuff. So what this means is that I will no longer have to walk to CLARC in the winter nights or pay for printing - yay! (Though those ink cartridges sure set me back...)

I know my comments are down. I don't know why. I'll be sure to look into it eventually. I hope the ones people have posted in the past can be recovered.

So far there's been no homework, obviously, but Thursdays in general won't be easy. I might even have to drop a class. I have class from 11 am to 4:30 pm, which doesn't sound too bad until you realize that, since Wednesday night is Campus Times deadline night, I'll be lucky to get four hours. I don't know. I'll see how it goes. Maybe I can get by on less four hours as long as it's only one night a week. Maybe I'll drink massive amounts of caffeine. Maybe - shock of shocks - I'll get as much work as possible done ahead of time and pull through fine.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Well, here I am back at school. (Where I've been since Sunday night, actually.) Classes don't start until tomorrow, so I'm still just relaxing and catching up with friends and stuff.

My fridge was disgusting when I got back, but it's usable now. And I haven't been sleeping well for some reason. Was I really gone so long that my bed here at college is now unfamiliar? But other than that, it's back to the same old routine, more or less.

For the last few days of vacation, back home in Vermont it was actually too cold to snow. From Wednesday or Thursday until when I left on Sunday, I don't think it got above 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, that sounds bad, right? But Sunday I had to drag a packed suitcase from CLARC, where my taxi dropped me off, to Burton. Through the heavy snowfall. "Too cold to snow" isn't all bad.

I've begun my New Year's resolutions in earnest, and I have the blisters to show for it. Trying 30 minutes on a treadmill showed me that my sneakers are in terrible shape. I didn't get in the habit of regular gym-type exercise until just a week before vacation, and while I was back home I just used my dad's shoes since I'd left mine here.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

I truly fucking hate fucking personality tests. Don't ask me why. For my sister it's spiders, for my mom it's small enclosed spaces, for Gretchen it's smoking (I think.) For me it's personality tests. I think maybe it's because of the usual perfectly normal test-taking anxiety, but multiplied by ten because you aren't being tested on what you know, you're being tested on what the fuck you are. Also, because it seems vaguely dehumanizing. I mean, I'm not a religious man in the sense of "subscribe to a certain dogma", but I have my spiritual moments, and the very idea that all the important facts about a person's mind, the very nature of their soul, can be calculated and derived and deduced from 30 or so questions seems pretty fucking offensive.

Also, looking at that last paragraph I wrote, I wish American English had different curses. I mean, French has a nice range and variety, and I have very little experience with it but it seems to me that English does as well, but American English... A tough situation or an unpleasant person is a "bastard" (or "bitch"), a very unpleasant woman is a "cunt", a bad thing is "shit", and everything else is "fuck". How boring. How vague and undescriptive. But if I started swearing like how British people swear in the movies, then people would just look at me funny.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

My New Year's Resolutions:

1) I will exercise every day. (Even if it's just my physical therapy knee exercises and stretches.)

2) I will write every day. The idea here is to keep me on track with my class papers and newspaper stuff, and also, hopefully, fiction.

However, I'm not even going to try to hold myself to these until I get back to school, where the computer is all my own and going to the gym two minutes' walk from my room is included in tuition.

How's that for a good excuse for putting off self-improvement? :)

Saturday, January 03, 2004

It's funny how panicky and alarmist people can be. I mean, really, they can get worked up over what, even just from the perspective of an old human, is really pretty small. By a perspective bigger than that, it is completely and totally pointless. For example: me. My initial impression of Bush the Younger was "Stupid", and over the past year it's worked its way down to a solid "Evil conniving bastard." I don't actually believe yet that he's one of those evil sadistic maniacs that are so common in movies and almost non-existent in real life. But over the past few months, I've stopped arguing with anyone who says he is. Rereading Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them", as well as a cyberpunk novel, has got me as cynical as I've ever been about the state of the world: "Our society is going to hell. This is worse than"1984" because the bastards in charge realize that censorship is self-defeating: why make martyrs of people who try to speak up for the little guy when you can just drown out their voices? One side is correct, or at least is trying to be, but how can you hear their message when the other side is filling the air with persuasive lies? We're doomed, I tell you - doomed!"

And so on. But earlier I was reading a Usenet discussion about some "scientific" predictions made back in the Seventies. And coincidentally enough, the cyberpunk novel I read fits in here as well. What were things like in the Seventies? Here's what I can figure out: people thought America was in imminent danger of being reduced to a satellite state of Japan. That's right, an island smaller than California, with a population a little more than a third of ours, was a credible threat to what was even then the top world power. Oh, and don't forget the Communists. A bomb shelter was considered a smart investment in those days, I understand. And apparently there is a Dr. Paul Ehrlich, a respected biologist, who published a book in 1970 stating with absolute certainty that America would need water rationing by 1974 and food rationing by 1980.

All that stuff seemed like the most important thing in the world at the time, but now it's either forgotten or people are embarrassed to remember it. And it's not medieval peasants or New Guinea tribesmen we're talking about, with worldviews so different from our that they could almost be considered alien - it's our parents. So worrying is inevitable, but... well, twenty years from now, a friend of mine who compared Bush to Hitler will look as dumb as Paul Ehrlich or a guy in the 50's who bought a bomb shelter.

Of course, I still don't like Bush. All I'm saying is that perspective is good.