Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Posting

Probably won't be any more until next Tuesday; my parents are visiting until about then. Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and stay safe on New Year's Eve.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Innocent Ghosts

Watched the second Ghost in the Shell movie, Innocence, today. It was okay, I suppose. It was a bit better than the first one, but the ending was still disappointing. The main character in this one was Batou, who is pretty cool, and the major supporting character was Togusa, also not bad. This movie, like the first, is a lot more driven by philosophising about the nature of humanity and what separates humans from machines than it is by the story or the characters themselves. The television series is much more interesting to me and a lot more watchable because all the philosophising it does (which is a lot less) comes out of the stories and the characters. Still, this movie was a bit better than the first, I'd say, simply because having seen the first movie and watched the first season of shows, I know the characters better and can understand a bit more about them and their motivations, which makes their constant musing on the meaning of life a bit more tolerable. I suppose I'd recommend this to a fan of the series, but otherwise I think most people would just be bored. The TV shows are the way to go with this anime.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A felicitous phrase.

It is painful to me to think, that while I was carrying on this Work, several of those to whom it would have been most interesting have died. Such melancholy disappointments we know to be incident to humanity; but we do not feel them the less.

~James Boswell, Life of Johnson (Advertisement to the First Edition)

Fun With Words

An interesting site called The Phrontistery which I ran across in my search of Scrabble dominance. My primary interest was in this page, which lists all the valid two- and three-letter Scrabble words, but I branched out and there is much else to interest. There is a collection of 400 of the rarest words on the internet and other obscure word lists. I haven't looked at the whole site, but I'd say it deserves a look-see for those fond of English.

Batman Returns to Mediocrity

HERE BE SPOILERS!

It was a decent movie, as comic book movies go. I don't generally have high expectations for them. Daredevil was awful. The preceding Batman movie was awful. X-Men was okay (only saw the first film). And I didn't really think any of the Superman movies were much to write home about. I like Batman, but the only time Batman has been taken off the page and worked well is in Batman: The Animated Series. So okay, I can handle some silliness and a few plot holes in my comic book movie. Which is good, because the former abounded and the latter was not in short supply.

All in all, the movie was pretty good. Batman had great toys, relied on his will, intellect, determination and a body trained to the utmost in order to defeat his enemies. He's not some pretty-boy from another planet who was lucky enough to be indestructible and able to fly. He's not some genetic freak-of-nature which endowed him with special powers. He's rich, yes, but that's as far as it goes. For an excellent summation of why Batman is the greatest superhero of all, go read what Steve wrote. The movie showed Batman having some struggles as he gets started, he makes some mistakes and he's not as savvy and self-confident as the Batman we all know and love. But that was okay. It is called "Batman Begins" for a reason.

But the downers. Lucius Fox, Bruce Wayne's girlfriend and Alfred all know Batman's secret identity? That's just stupid. Katie Holmes apparently couldn't act her way out of a paper bag and Michael Caine's accent is too lower class to be Alfred. Ra's al-Ghul is in the movie: good. But he goes out like a punk: bad. (In fact, he shouldn't go out at all. He is Batman's nemesis, on a par with the Joker.) Jim Gordon is in the movie: good. But he's flat and one-dimensional: bad.

And the plot hole. Remember the microwave weapon? What does it do? Turns water into water vapor, aka: steam. Okay, fine. Makes sense, microwave ovens heat things up, sure. But wait! Aren't humans mostly water? Especially our blood? So how is it that while this thing can vaporize the water in pipes underground for miles around within seconds, humans can walk all around it without their blood boiling and exploding out of their bodies?

On the whole, the movie was mediocre. I won't buy it, and unless it was the consensus pick when I was with friends, I wouldn't watch it again.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Crybaby Italians

Lance Armstrong has been ordered to stand trial in Italy for defamation of Filippo Simeoni because Armstrong said Simeoni was a "liar". I'm not a huge Armstrong fan, nor am I completely uncritical of him. But this is ridiculous.

Apparently Simeoni is so thin-skinned and weak that reading about what Armstrong said has caused him to curl up in a little ball and cry for his mommy. Okay, I admit I made up that part. Actually it's Italians everywhere who are hiding under their beds and whining about the big, bad American being too successful. And that's a metaphor, and not literally true.

Even though Armstrong's comments were published in a French newspaper, an Italian judge has decided that Armstrong needs to stand trial in Simeoni's hometown and if he's convicted could be sentenced to up to six years in jail.

So what's this really about? Upset that Armstrong couldn't be beaten on the road, his detractors have taken to trying to beat him in court. Armstrong was even investigated for "private violence" when he chased down a Simeoni breakaway in the Tour de France. What a bunch of pathetic losers.

Béisbol and Politics

Turns out that the inaugural World Baseball Classic will not feature a team from Cuba. The US Treasury Department has decided that since there is an embargo against Cuba the permit necessary for a Cuban baseball team to come and play cannot be issued. Which is the right decision. Even if you think the embargo against Cuba is ill-advised, the necessary change is to remove the embargo, not to try to persuade the government to ignore the law because you don't like this particular effect.

And Rep. Jose Serrano (D. New York) is a moron if he thinks that it is possible to "leave the politics out of this". Does he really think that Castro wouldn't try to make political hay out of the Cuban team's performance should they beat the US? And it isn't about the US having a "grudge" against Cuba, but an "embargo". It's depressing to think that such a man is responsible for helping craft our nation's laws when he thinks it's acceptable to ignore laws when they interfere with his desire to watch a baseball game.

Don't be a blockhead.

An interesting article about the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Apparently a bunch of the people who worked on it thought it would bomb because it didn't use a laugh track, ended with Linus quoting Scripture, used real kids for the voices and other unconventional things. Wrong. It's still a great Christmas show.

Have at thee!

Jonah Goldberg notes in the Corner the latest development in home security. Er, or at least he notes that home security is returning to its roots.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Wildebeest on the Left

The analogy isn't a perfect one, but it is a striking one, however. Mark Helprin writes about the differences in collectivist and individualist thinking and attitudes to the War on Terrorism here. From this month's favourite site, The Claremont Review of Books.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Movies

I watched part of a movie this weekend. I don't normally write about the parts of movies I see. Why should I note that I watched a little bit of Ocean's Eleven for the twentieth time? I don't think anyone will find that particularly edifying or interesting.

But I think that rule should only apply to movies I haven't seen before. So I'll note that I watched part of Meet the Parents last night. It started out fairly well, but it lost its funniness fairly quickly. It just built up to be too much after a while, and the movie couldn't seem to choose between outright farce and realism with a comedic touch. It ended up in that muddled middle ground and I couldn't finish it.

New Books! (Sorta.)

I didn't get any new books, but I realised the other day that I hadn't actually read all of my PG Wodehouse books. I had two that had been sitting on my shelf for I-don't-know-how-long that I had not read. It wasn't that I looked at the titles and thought, "Oh, yeah. I've read that book." But rather that I just looked past them when I looked at that shelf. And then, a few days ago, I was looking at my shelf in greater detail for some reason and it dawned on me that I hadn't actually read Laughing Gas or Spring Fever. So I did.

Laughing Gas pretty funny, but it had a ridiculous and outlandish premise. That is to say, far more ridiculous and outlandish than even most Wodehouse books. In it, an English Earl and child actor switch bodies while under the influence of anaesthetic at the dentist's office. Madcap adventures ensue. Funny, but it doesn't stand out among the Wodehouse canon.

Spring Fever receives the same verdict. It was funny, one laughed a bit, smiled a lot and generally had a good time, but once it was over there weren't any parts that were especially memorable. The book suffered a bit, I think from not having a real protagonist. Was it Stan Cobbold? Or was it perhaps Mike Cardinal? Or Lord Shortlands? Or Teresa Cobbold? I have no difficulty in recommending both books to anyone who has enjoyed Wodehouse, but not as an introduction to his work.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Ladies and gentlemen, your Olympic host country!

The AP is reporting that the reaction of the Chinese government to a demonstration a southern Chinese town was to shoot the demonstrators, seal the town, search for the organizers of the demonstration and deny to the rest of the world that anything was going on.

And these folks are the ones who get to host the Olympics in 2008. Even if you don't like the Olympics yourself (I'm not real keen on them myself) I think we can agree that it is viewed as an honour by most people in the world. And the Chinese governement is one that is of the least deserving.

Anyway, enough of my talking. A picture is worth a thousand words. (Credit for the image is to "Andre from Forumosa.com"."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Some Sunday reading

An appropriate article for a Sunday, I do think. Lots of good stuff over at the Claremont Review of Books in general, too. Do note, that though the current issue only has a few articles available online (at least, for non-subscribers) the previous issues seem to be available in their entirety.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Books

Read a couple books in the last couple weeks; both books were mysteries. The first was A Murder is Announced, a Miss Marple mystery by Agatha Christie. It wasn't too bad, though Miss Marple is not one of Christie's more engaging detectives I find. The book played fair, the clues were there for all to see, and while I didn't catch them all, enough were obvious that I picked the murderer out before I'd gotten halfway through. I think Dame Christie made a mistake by spending so much time writing murder mysteries. In order to keep them fresh and new she had to make some of them ridiculously outlandish. This wasn't as bad as some, but it was rather odd. If she had written more mysteries of other kinds, she may not have had to resort to the realm of the barely possible for her plots.

The other mystery was Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. I'd seen people rave about how good Hammett was, and while I enjoyed the book, I don't know that I'd say it was one of the best mysteries I've ever read. This may be skewed, however, by the fact that I've seen the movie several times and was already pretty well familiar with the plot. Surprisingly, it turns out that Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade is extremely faithful to the book. That whole movie, in fact, was faithful to the point of lifting large sections of the book to use as dialogue and it is close to identical in other respects. It's not a very long book, so little had to be left out for pacing and length and a few things probably had to be cut to get the film past the censors, but all in all the movie seemed to be almost using the book as a script. If you aren't familiar with the tale, do yourself a favour and either read the book or watch the movie. Or both.