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Watchmen

March 30, 2009 Leave a comment

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes.”–Juvenal, Satires

I didn’t research that, it’s actually in the back of the graphic novel. I’m not going to pretend that I was a big fan of the comic when I was younger or that I read it many years ago. I had flipped through it when I worked at Media Play, thought it was interesting but never bought it. I finally perused the whole thing in November and felt that the book lived up to the hype. It was one of the first comics to deal with the darker side of superheroes, portraying them as flawed.

We’re talking morally flawed, psychologically broken in some instances whereas comics like Batman dealt with personality issues, Ironman with Tony Stark’s alcoholism, Watchmen was unique in that Rorschach is a sociopath and the Comedian…well it’s hard to say just what his deal was. I thought that the story in the comic was incredible, rarely did comics go into such deep psychological character studies while not sacrificing on the mystery. It is an extremely dynamic story.

The movie adaptation falls well short of the bar the book sets. I suppose that this is to be expected and it’s not the fault of the writing, it seems to be a fault of the production. The best part of the movie, the opening credits sequence which is absolutely incredible, really gives you the impression that this movie is going to blow you away. Then bad editting and worse direction turn the movie into something else.

The problem lies in the difference between adaptation and translation. I briefly mentioned this back in 2005 when I reviewed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. When something is adapted for a different medium, the adaptor should be willing to make changes. Things that work in a comic don’t exactly work in a movie. For instance, one of my favorite segments in the comic is the backstory of Dr. Manhattan which is shown in different time periods with his narration. It not only gives us the back story but also shows us that he perceives time simultaneously just like how St. Augustine said God does. In the movie this doesn’t work and it completely slows down the story. It should have been cut, or better yet, not filmed. Or possibly shown in still photos in the opening sequence.

There doesn’t seem any justification for these types of decisions other than filming it because it was in the comic book. The story of the book centers around the death of the Comedian and Rorschach’s theory that someone is killing off former super heroes. That’s the story which is set against the threat of nuclear war and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Everything else not related to that story doesn’t need to be in the movie. Showing Dr. Manhattan abandoning Earth is integral to the plot, the fifteen minute sequence of his backstory isn’t.

The problem we have in this adaptation is that it presents a parallel world that can work in a large scale comic story. The movie has to pick a story and run with that, not the whole thing unless it wants to release the movie in a series, which probably would have worked better.

I don’t want anyone to get the impression that the movie was terrible, it wasn’t. It wasn’t even that bad, it just wasn’t good. It was, in the terms of the internet, “meh.”

Categories: movie review, movies, reviews

The Alchemist

March 26, 2009 2 comments

This was another book that I was encouraged to read but never got around to it. The hardest thing about trying to catch up on these books now is that I can never remember which ones they were, although a tentative list exists in my various pocket notebooks.

First off, I was a bit concerned when I saw that the library’s search database came up with the book in the YA/JV section. This stands for “Young Adult/Juvenile” but I quickly reasoned this out when viewing other books in the same section. Apparently libraries stock some of their books in the sections in which they are most likely to be read and not in the sections that they may actually belong.

For instance “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “The Octopus” are both in the YA/JV section, but aren’t exactly something a twelve year old is going to read of his own volition. Instead, it’s a book that same child is going to be assigned to read. Finding the book I handed it to Gwen, who proceeded to jam into her mouth, and checked it out.

I must say that “The Alchemist” isn’t like the two books I just mentioned: one a gripping story of a German Infantry soldier in WWI and the other an exposee (I don’t know how to make the accent appear) of the monopoly the railroad industry once held in the late 19th and early 20th century. No, the Alchemist belongs in the young adult category. This isn’t to take anything away from the book, I still find Dr. Seuss amusing, I just want to be clear that the audience for this work is of the younger persuasion.

The book follows the story of a Spanish boy with no name, although the book’s jacket tells us that it is Santiago though I have no recollection of it appearing anywhere in the story, who follows his dream of seeing the world. We aren’t given an age, but various characters refer to him as “boy” yet we know that he is old enough to have gone to Seminary school: “But ever since he had been a child, he had wanted to know the world, and this was much more important to him than knowing God and learning about man’s sins.”

We meet him as a shepherd on his way to town to sell some of the wool from his flock and meet a girl that he first met the previous year. In town he encounters a man who calls himself the King of Salem and encourages Santiago to sell his flock and pursue his dream of finding a treasure buried near the Pyramids in Egypt. This results in him travelling from Spain to North Africa by boat, working for a shop, traveling across the desert by caravan, and into an Oasis kingdom.

The largest question in my mind while reading the book was when the book took place. The largest clue comes from this passage, “First he had studied Esperanto, then the world’s religions…” Esperanto is a constructed (made up) language from the late 19th century. This gives us one clue, but then the Muslims in North Africa refer to the invasion and conquest by the Arabic forces of Spain as happening recently.

That thought aside, the book’s central theme is about following dreams. What they call a “personal legend.” As Santiago goes through the various stages of his journey he is constantly reminded to seek for Omens that would point him in the right direction. These Omens, it is said, are reflections of the spirit of the world, that unites and drives us all. It’s hard for me to read this and not think of various Philosophers from before the Athenian period; Pythagoras, Parmenides, Heraclitus, who believed that all emanated from one source which they called the arke.

However, this book’s one source is a bit more ambiguous, if something can be more ambiguous than Heraclitus’s “logos.” It’s either a monotheistic God (which might just be a cultural thing as Santiago adopts Muslim practices [though not converting]) or some sort of adaptation of Gaia theory. In either case it seems to have an influence over the omens.

The book was obviously thought provoking as we can see by this review, but it wasn’t suspenseful or that entertaining. Coehlo does a good job getting you to want the character to succeed, but fails in convincing you that there is any real doubt that it is going to happen. Early on it is established that the reader should operate under a high suspension of disbelief, so when the character is challenged to turn himself into the wind, you pretty much just take for granted that somehow it is going to happen.

I wouldn’t say that I didn’t like the book, but I wouldn’t carry it from apartment to apartment either. It was fun reading but like a sequel to a non-summer Marvel Comics movie I didn’t take much away from it either.

Categories: book reviews, reviews

“Outrage”

March 24, 2009 Leave a comment

I guess the alleged fawning over the president was set aside for the 24 News Channels’ thirst for stories. Or maybe it was the desire to print/air something, anything, bad about the president that wasn’t of actual importance.

In case you missed it, on Thursday, President Obama was on The Tonight Show and made a deprecating joke about his ability to bowl. He made mention that his skills were on par with the Special Olympics, which prompted the White House Press Secretary to issue an apology before the show even aired.

The press, in their infinite wisdom, decided to choose this comment to focus on, because as we all know making quips that some may find offensive is more news worthy than all the New Deal-ish legislation he is trying to pass, the possible border war with Mexico that is making the wall seem like a good idea, or the giant volcano on the verge of eruption in Alaska.

What really bothered me about the “story” was that Rochester Channel 9 News trotted out a mentally retarded bowler who was claiming to be outraged at the comment and then challenged the president to a match. The president already said he sucked, so what would the match actually prove? Nothing we and the president don’t already know.

It’s like listening to the assholes on XBOX live telling me I suck and wanting to play one on one.* Am I really supposed to believe that this mentally handicapped individual was really offended? Sorry but I am too cynical to believe this.

Furthermore, it’s not as if anyone listened to the nutjobs that yelled at Bush when he commented that both him and the Governator were powerful men that didn’t have a great command of the English language so why do I have to listen to this alleged outrage?

In my opinion, and a theory that I am slowly developing, it seems as though news sources are beginning to tell us what we should care about rather than reporting the things that we care about. We should ignore the continuing decline of the economy and all the strife, instead focusing on a trite and inane story that only a PC thug thinks matters.

*Which pretty much tells you the level of intelligence for most of the denizens of XBOX Live.

Pre-Cana

March 22, 2009 Leave a comment

In order to have a Catholic Wedding there are some hoopse that you have to jump through. Having been raised Catholic most of those hoops were expected and almost everyone single one of them is tedious. The most tedious of these is the Pre-Cana class.

I’m no longer Catholic, I don’t even consider myself religious or even spiritual* but the Catholic wedding is important to the families and since it isn’t too hard to accomplish this we are going through the hoops. Today was the pre-cana.

Unlike most of the hoops, this isn’t just bureaucratic, it is something that you have to go to and suffer through. I know of no person that has enjoyed this, devout or otherwise.

Essentially the pre-cana is a class concerning marriage and how one behaves while in a marriage. The obvious objection first: it isn’t led by a priest. A priest supervises the whole thing but for the most part the whole deal is done by volunteer couples from the Parish/Diocese. There is a deeper problem with this thing.

My fiancee, Laura, said awhile ago that the class seemed like it is past it’s time. That it belonged to an age when marriages were arranged between families and the couple hadn’t met before. This seems to be the most relevant criticism since the subjects coverred seemed to be the most basic relationship stuff that anyone could think of.

If Laura was my first girlfriend, and we hand’t been dating, and we also hadn’t known each other for going on ten years it might have seemed the least bit relevant. However, this time period isn’t the time, nor is this the culture in which you have to tell people that two way communication is one of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship.

The most uncomfortable part was when we divided into little groups and were asked what part god played in our relationship. This was the question I knew was coming (since they telegraphed everything with a little worksheet before the groups) and was gearing up for a conversation. I answered that since I was a secular humanist (i.e. fancy atheist) god didn’t play any role in my life. I further continued by explaining that I wasn’t anti-religious and that if the baby was going to church I wasn’t the type to stop them (unless they were going to either Scientologist or Raelien services). Immediately you could see the group leader’s face deflate.

He had geared up for a fight when he heard the word “atheist” but upon the second half of my answer I took all the wind out of his sails. He couldn’t argue with me because I wasn’t going to stop anyone’s religion. Instead he took out his frustration on the person sitting next to me who was having a slight disagreement about their wedding and a deacon that she really wanted to perform the service.

Other than bit of fun, the day went by excrutiatingly slowly. It was boring, almost offensive in it’s simplicity but if you are Catholic or are planning on marrying one you have no choice.

*My opinion of agnosticism is that it is a cop out. I’ll explain in a possible later post if someone reminds me.

Categories: personal update, religion

Witch Hunt

March 20, 2009 Leave a comment

With the economy in shambles and the government moving to socialize (er…Nationalize) good portions of the banking industry with multi-billion dollar buy outs and stimulus packages the general public is in an uproar regarding executive bonuses promised to executives of AIG. 165 million dollars has been promised to over 400 workers as part of their employment and work at the failing insurance company.

While I am not going to defend this practice I understand what it looks like versus what it actually is. It’s tricky but the way it works is that the executives that are supposed to receive this money expect it on a yearly basis. It’s kind of like a Christmas bonus, every year a worker counts on it as money they will have no matter how well the company does. AIG occupies an important part of the world’s economy, they insured loans agains the impossible happening: i.e. the failing of Bear Sterns and other investment houses that were not supposed to fail evere. They took a sucker’s bet.

Metaphorically they took the bet that the Harlem Globetrotters would never lose and for many many years that bet held true. In fact, it was such an easy bet they took it from anyone who decided that they would also make it. Now since the Globetrotters have lost they have had to pay more people than they can afford. Those people who are owed money from AIG counted on it and since they can’t pay it, well the economy has shown what happens.

In my opinion AIG should be allowed to fall. However, I’m not an economist, and my argument from metaphor is basically something I scribbled together after watching a PBS special on the whole mess (although I am rather satisfied with it). These executive payments are not exactly related to this current mess. AIG doesn’t just insure against failure, they are an insurance group, so some of the executives will have had nothing to do with the whole mess. Does that mean that they still deserve the money?

Not since it is our money. If it was AIG’s money then yes they do, but it isn’t anymore. But this is quickly becoming an overblown witchhunt*. The last thing that needs to happen is to make the whole thing public. New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has sued and won the right to name the executives of Merril Lynch who received bonuses as that company folded being bought out by the Bank of Manhattan with government money.

What good does this accomplish? All this does is serve the public’s need for hypothetical revenge. Let’s say that Jim Smith is one of these executives, and Jim Smith who is not a public employee and is not subject to public scrutiny has his name published in the New York Times and is now receiving death threats (as is already happening). All that does is make Jim worried. The goal is that the overwhelming disapproval and anger will force Jim to return the money or not accept it.

However, from Jim’s standpoint it doesn’t matter if he does either of these two things since the public has already learned his name he just becomes a face for the crisis. Remember the people that we are supposed to be angry at are the ones that caused the company to fail thus endangering the economy, there are specific individuals that are responsible not just some nameless executive in charge of human resources.

This move not only takes away from the general happiness (I am a Utilitarian after all) but it also invites vigilante justice. The company should not be in the position to pay bonuses but on the other hand this is the government’s fault for not stipulating terms of the package. Remember them in November.

*Itself an overblown proposition as a whole 20 people died in the Salem Witch Trials. Burning times indeed.

Categories: current events, politics

Thoughts on St. Patrick’s Day

March 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Every year Guinness has an online petition seeking to make March 17th a national holiday. It makes sense, since almost every city in the country seems to celebrate the day. Let’s be honest though they aren’t celebrating the accomplishments of the Irish nor their heritage, just their ability and proclivity to drink alcohol.

The virtue of online petitions aside, I am against this petition. Even though I am of Irish heritage I’m realistic about the goal. It shouldn’t be March 17th that should be the national holiday rather it should be March 18th, and it should be named “national hangover day.”

Last year I had class on this day. I didn’t have a single problem other than an usually low attendance. No, what mattered the most was the morning after where I had a class at 9:30am. I think that my experience is shared. Anyone can show up to work on a holiday and if they are planning on celebrating it they will do so afterward. So why not petition that they be allowed to sleep it off the day afterward?

Last Saturday was the “Old Neighborhood Parade” in the city of Buffalo. The Old First Ward, the traditional Irish neighborhood, does a parade that competes with the official parade of the city every year for longer than I can remember. This year was the first year that I actually marched in it, and it was weird.

It was weird because as much as I do consider myself to be of Irish descent, about once a year and whenever it comes up in arguments, it was hard not to feel a certain ethnic pride in being a member of a specific group. This I think is something unique to white Americans: the idea of celebrating an ethnicity of which you don’t speak the language, neither do your parents, nor have you ever visited or have any actual relics from the distant homeland.

The Atlantic Monthly, a few months ago, had an article about the death of white America. One aspect that they focused on was the tendency for young Americans to latch on to relationships that weren’t “white.” Instead, tending to focus on ethnic groups that had been oppressed in the past: such as Italian or Irish. This had to do with the need to be unique whereas being white just meant that the person was descended from those that have been in charge for over 200 years. It made me consider whether or not this was the case with me.

On parade day, that thought was completely exiled from my mind. As I walked behind entries that included the Police Emerald Society, remnants of the various Irish Union Groups, and some of the old prominent families from the neighborhood I felt a sense of pride that had nothing to do with wanting to be different. I suppose sometimes that being a member of a group is essentially a “reward,” even though most members of that group couldn’t name a single solid contribution that the group had made. We’ve already had our president and that’s as far as most people can make it.

St. Patrick’s Day is a fun day and when it’s over the green is usually tucked away for the rest of the year. Some of us, try and bring it out once in awhile, but for the rest of you every time you hoist a Guiness or a shot of whiskey or root for Notre Dame (even though the Cathedral is in France) that group is as part of this country as any other. Maybe we deserve the national holiday, maybe not, but every Callahan, O’whatever, and Mc whoever will probably scream that we do. Cead Mille Falte.

Categories: daily observations

News and Pundits

March 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Rush Limbaugh said a few weeks ago that he was the de facto leader of the Republican party much to the chagrin of Michael Steele who is the actual leader of the Republican party. There was the usual back and forth between pundit and party leader which has since subsided as other, more interesting things have moved to the news’ frontpage.

This leads us to the debate as to how much a pundit/radio/television personality is supposed to play with regard to their political affiliation. Rush, whom I am not a fan of but do occasionally listen to, is a radio personality. He’s not supposed to be the leader of anything but rather a mouthpiece who became better known during the Clinton years. I am trying to be neutral, and am only picking on the Rush/Steele example because Rush is the first one I have heard to actually proclaim himself to be the leader of a party.

News personalities, if I understand their role correctly, are supposed to report the news interpreting it to the side that they are on. It was rare during the last eight years to hear Jon Stewart say something positive about President Bush, but to who his credit he didn’t try and make the news. Just the same with Ann Coulter, sure both people are respectively to the far left and right seeming to set forth the doctrince of the liberals and conservatives, but they merely spoke through that doctrine.

The other thing is that they should not be relied upon as news sources. “The Daily Show” isn’t news, it’s a humor show with a liberal slant that also covers the news. It’s not objective. Although it can be said that no news source is objective. Everytime that the president gives a speech you can pretty much guess that pundits on Fox are going to hate it while pundits on MSNBC are going to love it.

The “De Facto” claim shows a lot of moxy on the part of Rush. What he is saying is that he sets the policy of the Republican party, meaning that the party’s leadership in answerable to guy who runs a radio show. Should we be getting our political direction from people that amount to nothing more than entertainers? In an ideal world, no of course not.

However this world, although the best of all possible worlds (according to some Existentialists), is not an ideal world. The sad fact is that most people do. They vote the way their favorite pundit tells them to and feel the same way on issues that their favorite pundits feel. Watching Real Time with Bill Maher, you hear this happening at the almost pavlovian method by which the audience erupts into applause as a liberal talking point is said aloud. It’s as if the audience isn’t listening to the content but more to the spoken words waiting for key phrases in which to slap their hands together (to Maher’s credit he has done episodes where his panel is all conservative, it’s a token gesture but you don’t even see that anymore re: removing Colmes from the Hannity and Colmes show).

On one hand it’s nice to have news stories and speeches boiled down to summaries and interpretations, but on the other hand what is this doing to the mind of the listener (or viewer) when all they do is hear it through an interpretation or slant?

What you get isn’t news or even facts. It’s opinion that is wearing the mask of fact, which is as detrimental to the public discourse as anything can be.