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The Clone Wars

August 30, 2008 Leave a comment

Since seeing all of the prequels I have maintained two opinions: that the only thing separating Episode III from a Sci-Fi channel original production was the size of the budget and that a person could possibly take all three of them and edit them into one decent movie. As the prequels progressed they got worse, and the good scenes became fewer both in number and duration. Yet, I had expectations for Revenge of the Sith. Not because it was the last of the prequels, nor because it was going to finally show the fall of Anakin.

It was because of a burning light of genius that existed between the II and III. The Cartoon Network ran a series of animated shorts called “The Clone Wars.” Each episode was no longer than a couple of minutes but had decent plots, real intrigue, and delved further into the Star Wars universe. It involved planets other than Kashyyk, Tattoine, Coruscant, and Naboo. The series displayed a Galactic Civil War that took place in the Galaxy involving a myriad of characters other than the principles. When the movie was announced I was less than excited and delayed seeing it.

I was surprised by it. Initially I was worried when the narration started in the beginning but that would be the only time that I rolled my eyes. This movie is what happens when you remove George Lucas from both the writing and the directing position in a movie: you get something in his universe but isn’t cheesy or wooden.

The movie centers around a plot to kidnap Jabba the Hutt’s son in order to gain access to the hyperspace routes that surround his territory. The Separatists have locked up the major routes and the Republic desperately needs them in order to supply its armies in various quadrants throughout the galaxy.

Generals Obi Won Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, in the meantime, are fighting the droid armies on a planet in need of re-supply; and are charged with recovering the kidnapped Hutt. Anakin, has recently been given a young apprentice to train, Ahsoka Tano, who provides enough of the comic relief and is the substitute for the viewers.

I should note that this movie is unabashedly a kid’s movie. Instead of trying to pander to both the die-hard Star Wars fans and the children it focuses on the youngsters. This makes the movie feel more authentic while also succeeding in entertaining the fans.

The animation style was an interesting choice as well. The space fights do not look that much different from the prequels but when we are viewing the characters they look painted. On closeups of Padme and Yoda especially I thought I could see brush strokes. It makes for an interesting look that is very aesthetically appealing.

The characters while looking good, also act well. A pronounced improvement is seen in Anakin’s character. His dialog comes off as human rather than wooden, in fact across the board this is a striking improvement. The voice acting is done extremely well, and while the voices are different it was only upon viewing the closing credits that I realized it wasn’t Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christiansen, Frank Oz, or Ian McDirmand doing the voices. The casting must have been done by people looking to find extremely similar voices. Returning to the movie though are Sam Jackson (as a cameo), Anthony Daniels, and Christopher Lee as each of their respective characters. I guess there isn’t much of a substitute for Christopher Lee who again shines as Count Dooku.

The movie reminded me of the various well written, well plotted video games that take place in the Star Wars universe. The kind that forced me to ask, “why couldn’t the movies be more like these (Republic Commando is one example that sticks out)?” Well someone has thankfully answered that question with a, “they can.”

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Intolerance

August 27, 2008 Leave a comment

As a philosophy professor part of my job was to stimulate discussions in class, this required me to be much more open to arguments than I would be on a personal level. Often times in class maintaining neutrality was extremely difficult but I did accomplish it. Which had a two-fold effect: the first was that it encouraged people taking minority opinions to speak up as I would always side with them, no matter what the opinion was. The other was that it led to certain students attempting to constantly ask me what my personal beliefs were.

I never gave them, I didn’t think it was my place to do that since I know what it was like to be in a class and disagree with a professor’s deeply held opinions (Pryor and Nietzsche for one example). However there were several things that I couldn’t help but give my opinion about and be completely intolerant regarding disagreements. Yes, I am intolerant on several subjects.

The first is “intolerance” itself. I have had students make anti-gay comments, anti-religious comments, anti-semitic comments, etc. For obvious reasons you can’t allow this.

The second thing is allowing the evolution/creation debate. I present the whole thing for a historical context, in Philosophy of Religion, but never seriously do I entertain the possibility that Scopes was wrong (although it is seriously possible that he never taught evolution as he was a substitute teacher). I know the arguments from the other side, and I also know that they are flawed. Most of the flaws come from the fact that there is nothing in evolution which pre-supposes that god does not exist. Yet the argument still continues.

In fact, I hadn’t really considered any of the arguments valid at all. I once nailed a student who tried to convince me that since there were no intermediate fossils (a fossil that shows a transition from one species to another) evolution was false. I used google to show her, and the class, a picture of one. She then shook her head in disagreement. I reminded her that she asked for proof and I showed her exactly that (archaeopteryx). Which pretty much sums up why one side of the debate is so emotional on the issue: the evidence doesn’t bear their side yet they cling to it as though they were drowning.

In fact the legal debates are still going on. Which completely puzzles me. In Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has signed Bill 733 into law. This allows “supplemental textbooks and instructional materials” to be used to teach subjects about evolution, the origins of life, and other such topics. Why would anyone be against this? Probably for the same reason that this bill was passed without a press conference and little public knowledge. It is an attempt to shoehorn religion into the science classes.

At it’s back is James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, a fundamentalist organization largely responsible for all the complaints when even a hint of nudity is shown on television. The bill implies that there is a controversy among certain subjects one of those being evolution and another being the origin of life. The problem is that there is no controversy in these subjects.

Dobson’s group gives this counter to the claims of evolution: “One of the smallest prokaryotes (H-39 strain of mycoplasma, a
bacterium) consists of 640 proteins whose average length is 400 amino
acid bondings.Under ideal conditions, the odds of this many amino acids
coming together in the right order are approximately the same as
winning the Power Ball Lotto every week for the next 640 years. How
could this have happened accidentally? The step from inanimate
organic compounds to a living organism is beyond man’s ability to
create.”

The problem with this is first that scientists have re-created this in labs. The second is that even if they have not been able to, it misleadingly implies that man did it to begin with, which is a claim that evolutionary theory never makes. Thirdly, their probability factory uses a false analogy without ever citing where the numbers come from. And finally, assuming the statistical information is correct it doesn’t rule out possibility only probability. The two terms, while often used in place of each other in the common tongue are NOT interchangeable.

It doesn’t matter in the long run anyway. The ACLU or someone else will bring a suit to the court, and the courts will strike the law down: as they have previously in Louisiana (Edwards v. Aguillard 1987). A landmark case that I frequently cite in my lectures.

I don’t understand why this debate continues in the West. It’s not science and needs to not be taught in any way in science classes. That’s apparently my job. Technorati Tags: , ,

Convention

August 26, 2008 Leave a comment

Maybe it is because in one week college is going to start without me or maybe because these things are always so boring that they are hard to watch; but I tried and failed to watch the DNC tonight. It took about a half an hour before I turned the channel to something on HBO called “The Blacklist” which was pretty interesting.

This entry is going to be about the half hour of viewing the DNC coverage on CNN. Tomorrow I’ll try on MSNBC, and if that fails I may just have to give up. Although tomorrow is Hillary’s day and I just might cut and paste an article from the winter about how Hillary is the democratic party’s psycho ex-girlfriend (I didn’t write it but it’s so true it can hardly be considered satire).

CNN brought out the usual suspects: Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, James Carville, and some random person. What it looked like to me was an exercise in self-congratulation. This is odd because instead of actually letting us watch the convention the four of them sat around talking about the convention and we were treated to watching that. I don’t know, I think the two senators that were talking at the time might have had something interesting to say but I guess that is what the transcriptions are for.

I also know that this country seems to be obsessed with the personal stories of people, the human interest element but honestly I don’t care nor do I see why anyone should. Did we really need a testimonial from friends and family of Obama about the first date between the two? I get it, they are married and they had to have a first date. We know this but seriously it does nothing to bear on how this man is going to be as president.

Sometimes I wonder if there shouldn’t be a test to determine whether or not a person can vote.

Originally it bothered me that Michelle’s brother was speaking and it was for the same reason. I suppose that this is different because perhaps we need the testimonials to her character since she is going to be the First Lady.

The biggest thing that bothered me about the whole thing is the capricious choices that CNN has made in what it regards as important enough to cover. Have 24 hour news channels sunk low enough to amount this kind of pandering? I guess the answer is rather obvious given their pacivity the last eight years. I have seen harder pitched questions at a T-Ball game, it really just makes me turn the channel and read it in the paper.

I applaud the fortitude of those people who are live-blogging the whole thing.

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Tropic Thunder

August 24, 2008 Leave a comment

A lot of people have problems with this movie. Two groups of people have been offended for different reasons, both of them have one fact in common: neither had viewed the movie before they registered their offense. The first group was vocal in early June, they felt offended that Robert Downey Jr.’s character was in black face…not “black face” black face as in the 1920s but he was playing an Australian who dyed his skin black to play a part in a movie. The actor is described as one who gets totally immersed in the part and that part was a black soldier in Vietnam.
The second group was offended at the use of the word “retard” in reference to Ben Stiller’s character in the film. Stiller’s character, is an action hero who tried to branch out into dramatic territory with a film called Simple Jack about a retarded person who can speak to animals. The group apparently wanted a boycott of the movie based on the film’s dialog referencing Stiller’s character’s movie.

I explained both of those in that exact way for a reason. The reason is that by using the complicated explanation explains why the movie did each respective action, and why those offended should wait to see a movie before they start crying.

The plot revolves around three actors making a movie about a hostage rescue mission in Vietnam. Stiller plays Tugg Speedman, the action hero who can’t act; Jack Black is Jeff Portnoy star of low brow comedy movies that look suspiciously like “The Klumps,” and Robert Downey Jr. is Kirk Lazarus who is a five time Oscar winner. The movie is having difficulty because the actors don’t get along or are too concerned with the bylines in their contracts (Stiller’s agent is extremely concerned with getting Speedman a TiVO) to make the movie. To solve this the film’s book’s author Nick Nolte, suggests to drop the actors “in the shit,” to get the realism needed for the movie, instead the group stumbles into a drug smuggling ring where Speedman is kidnapped.

The production problems in the film’s film remind me of the problems that plagued the production of Apocalypse Now, right down to the timing of a shot where jets flew by to drop explosives. Most of the movie is satire on the Hollywood system, which includes an amazing performance by Tom Cruise(!) as an extremely aggressive studio executive who tells the drug ring’s leader that he, “will need to petition the U.N. for a binding resolution to stop me from fucking your shit up.”

As to the earlier mentioned complaints: Downey is incredible as an Aussie playing a black guy. See, it’s satire regarding actor’s getting into their roles. The other actors want Lazarus to turn it off at certain points but he can’t. He reminisces about eating crawfish and kollard greens when he was a kid. As a viewer I bought it until the film’s actual black actor reminds him that he’s an Aussie. I don’t find it racist at all, it’s actually quite hilarious as Downey doesn’t portray a black person, but instead portrays one particular person’s stereotype of a black person. I guess that means it’s meta-racism if anything.

As far as the “retard” thing is concerned. Speedman played a mentally retarded man. A later conversation between him and Lazarus is about how actors can never go “full retard” and expect an Oscar. Lazarus cites Peter Weller and Dustin Hoffman, and how they weren’t retarded and won Oscars but how Sean Penn did go full and came away empty. Since everything they are saying is a fact, it can’t really be considered wrong. I suppose that is not politically correct of me, but I have never cared. It’s satire, and like the Obama cartoon in the New Yorker–if you need it explained to you than it’s just not worth it.

The movie gets a strong recommendation for Cruise and Downey alone. Technorati Tags: ,

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Running through the “also rans.”

August 21, 2008 Leave a comment

Today begins a new category, tag, whatever in my postings. Since, in an exercise of self congratulations, the Democratic and Republican national conventions are going to be held within the next few weeks and we already know who is going to be the candidates, I thought it might be nice to run down some of the so-called “third party” candidates and their positions to see whether or not they are as compelling as our pre-packaged leading party candidates.

Before we start I would like to say that one of the geniuses of our election system is that a vote for any of these people is a vote for them. They don’t steal votes from the Democrats/Republicans/whoever feels like whining about it. That would be like saying that if I give a dollar to Jen it’s just like stealing it from Alice. When the dollar was never going to her in the first place.

And unlike the press, people, I am going to focus on their stance on the ISSUES. Well the five that matter to me the most.

Today’s topic: Bob Barr, running for the Libertarian Party.

Economy: Reduce government spending by cutting every area of the federal government. Obviously Barr is an old school conservative, as well he should be being a Libertarian. The site’s motto is, “the answer is…less government.” Also he is borrowing from Ron Paul in the spending category with a reliance on the Constitution as a guide to what should be paid for and what not. He seems to believe that the only role the government should have in the economy is that of the protection of property rights. I wonder if this extends into ecological protection as well? This is an important question as the EPA is not Constitutionally mandated but an organization that I feel is important in governing business practices.

Privacy: He’s a Libertarian so I shouldn’t have to read this, but I will. So far he has knocked out the liberal talking points, Bush-administration fear mongering, compliant congress, illegal surveillance, etc. So far nothing surprising. Again a reliance on the Constitution to guide legal decision making, an application of Hobbes’ Sovereign (my theory is that the Hobbesian sovereign in this country is the Constitution). One interesting note here is that he is distancing himself from saying that it is 1984, but that it could be. “The next administration must reverse course, demonstrating that it recognizes that it is tasked to defend a free society not undermine it.” I agree completely on this issue.

Foreign Affairs: Barr claims that the US maintains 700 installations in over a 130 foreign countries. This results in us spending more money defending foreign soil than we do our own. I’m sure about his numbers, but not where he gets them. We maintain a military presence in all of our embassies, as USMC troops guard them, do those count? Also many of those military installations are not to protect foreign governments but to protect our interests in those countries. We didn’t station army divisions in West Germany just to protect West Germany. He also wants to eliminate foreign aid to countries because it is used by corrupt governments, that’s not bad–but I would say that we should do this on a case by case basis, as it would cut a lot of money going to aids infected countries in Africa. He explains that the quickest route to world peace is in the expansion of global trade (that’s going to get the socialists fired up) just ask England and France.* Status: conditionally agree.

Iraq: Begins by saying that the invasion and occupation of Iraq were two separate mistakes. I disagree syntactically, it is either one mistake or no mistake.Arguing over whether we should have ever invaded is a moot point now, we did it now we have to decide what to do with it.

He wants to add a time table to the withdrawal, something that Republicans oppose and the spineless Democrats won’t suggest. He’s making the opposition argument that we have all heard before: our presence emboldens terrorists (even though the latest reports are significantly improved from a year ago), and places too much reliance of the US military by the Iraqi government. Status: somewhat agree, I subscribe to the recommendations of the Iraqi Study Group report, making landmarks and then withdrawals. But I would also like to see an endpoint deadline that no matter what state the country is in we leave. This would give the Iraqis an idea of how hard they should work.

Healthcare: I’m more economic in my opinion of healthcare. I don’t think that I or any citizen should have to pay for it, just like most countries in the developed world. He wants to lower prices and lower government involvement, focusing healthcare on a consumer driven model. The problem that I have is that health is like water. You need water, which is why prices are fixed by the government. Healthcare is a static commodity, it’s not elastic, people will pay whatever they have to in order to stay alive. Socialized healthcare is cheaper, Barr claims that this is because those governments deny care to keep costs down. This is partly true, in England if you are terminal the government cuts your funding because there is little chance of survival. Here, we continue treating people even after the point of no return. In this country people seem to think that death is an option, it’s not. Status: disagree entirely.

We will continue. I probably won’t do McCain/Obama because there will be enough commercials and news about them…then again I should probably say commercials and “news.”

*I wish I came up with that myself, but I have to give credit to Penn and Teller for the England/France example.
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Gas Leak

August 20, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ll admit that I only smelled it once and was completely unconcerned. The stove we have in our kitchen is old, it is so old that it still uses pilot lights for the burners and the oven doesn’t even have that. We have a blow torch to light the oven. So when Laura said that she smelled gas shortly after she moved in, I didn’t concern myself too much. Instead I checked the pilots and the oven, found nothing, and thought it was just a fluke.

Weeks later, she smelled it again. Possibly a week after that I caught a whiff of it. I tried to reason it out, if it was a serious leak the Cartesian sensory doubt wouldn’t be present. I’m an empiricist and doubting my own senses isn’t something I make a habit of so I lit a match and walked it to the stove–nothing happened. While that may seem dangerous or even suicidal I was fairly confident that nothing would happen.

Over the weekend, I was in Buffalo while her parents were staying at our apartment. As it went, her parents and sister all smelled the gas. My procrastination and indifference to what I regarded as a minor problem strained to the breaking point. I was asked to call the gas company. The representative told me to shut off all appliances currently using fuel and to wait for the truck to show up. Within ten minutes (they told me it would be thirty) I heard a diesel engine.

The diesel engine turned out to be a fire truck, then a hook and ladder truck showed up. Surely, this could not be for us. But it was, two firemen came in with their detectors and explained that the stove was indeed leaking gas. They shut off the gas to the oven and said there was no immediate danger. Upon which they took their leave.

Then, right on time (twenty minutes later) the gas company showed up. The leader guy rued the fact that the firemen shut off the oven (cause firemen are good at fighting fires and not fixing ovens according to him) and began tests with the exact same device the fire department used.

The diagnosis: a leak in the thermostat manifold in the oven. Needs to fixed or replaced, until then no oven. Luckily the miracle of modern science has supplied us with a microwave and propane grill. A minor inconvenience but nothing insurmountable.

Furthermore there were three problems in the basement, where we neither smelled nor felt gas. This resulted in red tags for the furnace and two supply pipes due to an old fashioned method of adding gas outlets…a pretty common occurrence in apartment buildings. This meant that the more drastic step of shutting off the gas to the our apartment needed to be taken and the gas meter locked off. I suppose we are lucky that it is still summer.

This means, no hot water for dishes or shower. No gas for eggs and potatoes in the morning. All because of a little thing we call methane and it’s preponderance to figure its way out of little slits in piping. Technorati Tags:

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5 Reasons Shoot ‘Em Up is the greatest movie ever

August 19, 2008 Leave a comment

Plot: The plot of this movie makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. However, the movie knows that the plot is bunk and refuses to take itself seriously. In fact, the plot of this movie is a complete mystery until about half way in. Until that point all we know is that Paul Giamatti is frustrated in his attempts to kill his target by the nameless Clive Owen.

“Boy! Do we suck? Or is this guy just that good?”: This is a resolution to what I call the “Storm Trooper Effect” wherein trained mercenaries/soldiers/assassins cannot hit their target while the hero uses twelve bullets to take down twelve enemies. Giamatti’s character expresses a feeling that most villains must think after witnessing failed after failed attempt.
The Wet Nurse: I like how Clive Owen realizes that the baby is hungry and instantly proceeds to a brothel to requisition the services of a lactating prostitute…without a second thought. As if this was the most obvious solution to the problem at hand.

Harder than Hard Boiled: In the John Woo classic, Hard Boiled, we are treated to Inspector Tequila carrying a newborn in one hand and a .45 in the other. It was a pretty revolutionary gunfight when this happened. This movie takes it to the next level by making that one scene the whole movie. To top that we even have a mid-coitus gunfight as Owen kills heavily armed killers with a naked Monica Bellucci still wrapped around him.

Gunporn: It would be a mistake to think that this movie is anything but an excuse for a 90 minute gunfight. Unlike movies such as “Smokin’ Aces” these gunfights are awfully creative. Guns here are used not only for killing but also to cut umbilical cords, opening file cabinets, and unique advanced interrogation techniques. The gunfights are also so over the top that we are just entertained by the preposterousness of it. Unlike, Transporter 2, it doesn’t make us roll our eyes.

In short the movie is not art, but it is a treat.
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