Aug 31, 2009

Movie Reviews @ The Temple

Inglorious Basterds – Woohoo!  It’s been a while since a movie I really liked!  This was great.  I have a mixed history with Tarantino movies.  I liked Reservoir Dogs when I finally saw it, I was too young to care about Pulp Fiction [edit: see below!], I hated Kill Bill, I loved From Dusk Till Dawn, and I didn’t like Death Proof.  So not everything he touches turns to gold for me, but this was everything I love about his movies.  Firstly, it’s just a whole lot of fun.  It’s very snarky sarcastic and darkly humorous.  The characters are near caricatures, especially the historical ones (hitler, goebels, etc).  Brad Pitt is fucking awesome and fucking hilarious, though.  Everyone else does a good job, every single person.  The villain is amazing.  Tarantino’s style is all over it.  It’s over the top, irreverent, with a bit of the gangster movie on-screen-text thing, it’s a spaghetti western, it’s a war movie.  It’s cathartically violent, it has no relation to history besides the setting so it’s free to make what we wish happened happen.  It is very violent, in its moments.  Though it’s not at all what you get from the trailer.  I assumed (not having seen the original) that it’s wall to wall gnat-zee killing, and it’s not.  It does at times, and plenty of gnat-zees get deaded, and those deaths are very violent.  But a lot of the movie is a parallel story that meets the Basterds in the end with a grand and satisfying conclusion.  It is at times actually very tense and suspenseful, I thought it had so much more artistic mastery than Kill Bill or something.  It’s a really great movie.  Hands down my favorite of the summer (although District 9 is tomorrow, and 9 is in a couple weeks).  Star Trek was good too, but it was fluff, a pretty shell with nothing inside.  This was fantastic.

District 9 – Wow, two really great movies in a row.  By far the best of the summer together.  Which is better? I haven’t figured that out yet.  (PS this will be a little spoilerific, there’s no big surprises in the movie, I’m not ruining the shock, but I am ruining little tidbits of the experience if you’d rather see them for yourself without my opinion in your head).  This movie comes with some meta-ness to it.  We (being nerds) are generally aware that this guy was going to do the Halo movie under the tutelage of Peter Jackson, but that got shitcanned and Jackson put him up to do this instead.  It is very much a video game inspired movie (I could have done with out the FPS and the reverse FPS shots, bee tee dubs), though it is much more Half Life than it is Halo. The main character is even set up like a Gordon Freeman rather than a Master Chief. The movie is also riding a wave of admiration for its astonishingly small budget of $30 million.  This is just unbelievable when you see the level of the effects in the movie.  For christ’s sake, fully half of the characters are 100% believable CG.  The only time I raised an eyebrow for the entire movie was the first introduction of a big mech thing, it looked too shiny, out of place.  But the whole rest of the movie is beautiful.  I told those I watched it with that The Hangover cost twice as much to make as this, I was wrong.  Funny People cost twice ($70M) as this, The Hangover was a totally reasonable $35M.  Anyway, what they do with what they got is amazing.  The story, as everyone knows, is sort of an apartheid allegory. A bit on the nose that the aliens just happen to be in South Africa, but oh well.  I think that’s the main criticism of the movie, though, that it is too heavy handed.  At first I was torn, but after reflection I am completely against this opinion.  I think it was perfectly done.  How does one tell this story without showing this story? Do you not show one sentient being mistreating a whole race of other sentient being?  Do you not show the way in which they do so?  Do you not show the evil intentions, personalities, means, and ends of such a sweeping treatment?  If they had done any different, it would have been pussified, a pale imitator of what they were really trying to show, and I would have disliked it.  The allegory is fantastic, the only overt moment is the direct mention of concentration camps, I didn’t need that.  The treatment of the dynamic between humans and aliens is certainly overt as well, but again i would say it has to be.  Some people have complained that the portrayal of aliens is racist, in that they represent black people.  I complain that these people don’t know what the fuck they are talking about and missed the boat.  They even SAY in the movie (from the human perspective, which is subtle) that the aliens do things that to them are normal but to us are socially unacceptable.  The aliens are made to be very effing alien, they skitter around, they dig through trash and make a mess and act “savage”  But maybe that’s just what they do all the time in their society and that’s ok, that doesn’t mean we think black people are monkeys.  Or maybe conditions such as these reduce sophisticated beings to savagery and that is what they are saying about treating people that way.  Either way could be the whole damn point and it’s great.  The acting is all well done, the “hero” is not one, and that is wonderful.  As I said he’s Gordon Freeman, a normal not-ass-kicking-guy thrown into this, except he doesn’t even have the internal qualities of a hero.  He’s basically Murray from Flight of the Concords, which I was not into at the 25 minute mark, but was at the end.  The mockumentary thing I was fine with.  I don’t have a problem with the style in general, it’s rarely done in a committed fashion.  A story told entirely like this (Cloverfield) can be a great thing.  In this case it’s just one of a couple story telling styles, not a distinct choice.  They use it in the beginning to set up the background, to foreshadow some events, but then it becomes a normal scifi movie.  Back to the broad view - the movie is epic, it’s about more than just a few people.  The feeling you are left with at the end concerning humans and concerning aliens, more than anything, tells me how effectively the movie conveys its message.  I hope there is never a sequel, but the sequel would be very satisfying in the way that Inglorious Basterds was.  Back to that point, which is better?  I think perhaps by how much I’ve written, I’ve got to give it to District 9.  IB was amazing, it was so much fun, masterfully made, so awesome to watch, a great party movie, to watch over and over.  But this movie was better, it meant more, it was grander, it said more, and will have more said about it.

Time Bandits – Um…. what?  I had never seen this, it’s supposed to be such a cult classic, but it never appealed to me.  Aaaand, I was right.  It’s just a weird over the top fantasy time travelling midget-infused mess.  I guess if you are young and you see it, maybe it’s like Labyrinth or Never Ending Story where it’s this fantastic weirdo journey.  But for me, it’s just weirdness with no reason.  Meh.

Towelhead – Yikes, what an uncomfortable movie to watch.  It’s about a 13 year old half lebanese girl doing what she does.  I assumed based on the title it was mostly about racism and such (it is set during the first iraq war), and it does have that component.  But the real point of the movie is this girl’s sexual awakening.  Voluntary, involuntary, accidental, experimental, she goes through a lot in this, I don’t know, 3 month period?  The first instinct watching this movie is a bit of horror watching this 13 year old (the actress was an adult, I found out after) do all these sexual things.  It was kind of creepy, just uncomfortable.  Assuming the movie is legit, I have to take the weirdness as an adult, so how is the movie?  It’s reasonably well done, the actors are good, the young girl is pretty good.  The story is kind of jam packed with all these sexual adventures, and it doesn’t feel genuine.  Too much happens in too short a time.  If this was a true story it would have more legitimacy, but it’s just some crazy shit some lady came up with.  With that in mind and with the excess of activity, it feels almost exploitive.  If a man made this movie it would be extremely suspect, virtually an enacted fantasy.  It could still be that with a woman as well.  It’s a weird outside way to view this movie.  If you give it credence, it seems a fairly well done movie.  But there is something off, and I don’t quite trust it.

Valkerie – Huh, this wasn’t bad.  I just assumed it would be horrible.  It looked so horrible, it had tom cruise post-crazy.  I guess I was just hearing what I wanted to hear when I heard a couple people say he was horrendous in it.  It was actually decent.  Everyone knows the story, there’s a plot to overthrow hitler, by the “good” germans.  I never knew the details, so it’s cool to see.  It’s cool to see it dramatized and you really hope it’s going to work out even though it’s obviously not going to.  But it’s still pretty astounding what they tried and how close they were.  Everyone does a pretty good job, including good ole couch jumper.  Color me impressed, I guess.

Revolutionary Road – I’ve been pretty unexcited about this movie for some time.  A story about the suburban plight? uuuuugh.  Only because it got oscar attention did I even bother to see it.  It’s a fine movie, I suppose.  Dicaprio and Winslett certain serve up passioned performances.  Though I tend to think a screamy roll is a lot easier than a quiet roll, they are pretty convincingly screamy.  The existential drama of a suburbanite doesn’t do much for me.  Blah blah, you are so bored with you white picket fence, okay okay.  I don’t know that a movie is really informing me on that kind of life.  The tumultuous relationship is interesting.  With some experience with that kind of relationship (though not quite that much!) that had its own striking chord for me.  But if you are going to ask me to bring something personal to the movie, you have to also deal with me thinking that that relationship was stupid and these people should break up too, end of movie.  So it’s a movie that I say is technically good, but not actually that great for me.

Blindness – Well, I’m not sure what I think about this movie.  The idea is some disease starts spreading where everyone goes blind.  The movie is really about human nature, though, as people get trapped in a quarantine and then shit goes down.  It’s a pretty bleak, if not inaccurate, idea of what we’d resort to.  Sort of a lord of the flies in a hospital situation.  The movie is well done, people act pretty well, it’s all put together well.  But I can’t help but feel annoyed at the movie, as it is very emotionally manipulative.  You watch and you think you’d do this or that and you get mad when the people do stupid things.  I’m not sure why I feel that way, I don’t get to control anyone in any other movie.  But somehow this one presents you with an awful situation and you can’t do anything but watch it be awful, and I don’t like it.  It’s like it’s all too contrived and it’s feels almost unfair.  I’m not sure I can officially say that’s a bad thing, but for me it was.  Julianne Moore’s character especially is a moron (does she always play morons??) and you want to scream at her to do different.  Things don’t have to happen the way they do, but they happen that way so you as a viewer feel despairing, I don’t like it.  But then i think the movie is made well, so I don’t know.

Taxi Driver – Yikes, that’s quite a character.  So this movie has a certain meta-ness to it, though I got that part mixed up.  I was thinking the movie was about the guy who tried to kill reagan, but it’s actually that the guy saw this movie and then decided to be crazy.  Anyway, the movie.  Robert DeNiro is a frightening crazy guy, that’s for damn sure.  It’s a weird insight into this mind, the ritual and the code of ethics and the intensity of it all.  And then the ending is a gigantic whatthefuck.  You kind of figure he’ll go out in a blaze of glory, and kind of he does, but then it’s completely turned around, I assume everyone besides me has seen this before, but I’ll avoid the details anyway.  It’s just such a crazy end.  The movie has some faults, it draws on in a weird way, but maybe that’s just to make you feel uncomfortable with him.  It’s also stuck in its era, the smooth jazz sax soundtrack is pretty god awful.  But, on the weight of deniro’s embodiment of this psycho, it’s pretty great.

Coraline – This movie is pretty cute.  I love the animation style.  I love stop motion, as is well-documented on this blog, and they did this stop motion style animation.  It’s all animated, but there is a stuttery quality to the motion, especially the motion of inanimate objects that had me questioning if it was animated at all.  So I was enchanted for a good 30 minutes purely by the style.  Unfortunately the rest of the movie isn’t quite as enchanting.  It’s a fine movie, there are cool parts, some humor.  The story is very generic in broad strokes, with pretty unique particulars.  But its the broad strokes that make it feel a little forgettable.  It’s not objectionable at all, and it’s worth seeing for the animation style, but a year from now I’m not going to be talking about the really cool plot.

Chalk – Er, this was not very good.  It’s a mockumentary about high school teachers.  Basically the office plus high school.  Isn’t it awesome that I can describe every third tv show or movie as “the office plus ______” nowadays?  Awesome.  So the movie is dumb, it’s forced, it’s not very funny.  It’s very very hard to do both ridiculous characters and a touching story.  Even the office fails as often as it succeeds at this (I’m looking at you dwight always and sometimes michael).  This movie fails entirely to succeed at appealing to a wider audience.  I think perhaps it has a special place for teachers just like office space had a place for office workers.  I watched it with a soon-to-be-teacher and after I commented on how ridiculously stereotypical the cast of teachers was, she said yeah but each of those stereotypes is in my department.  She thought it was much better than I did, presumably because of that kind of connection.  So, teacher: watch, everyone else: don’t.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2009) – Completely harmless family movie.  Nothing great, average acting, average story, pretty dismal CG (making the whole screen purple doesn’t hide your crappy dinosaur or that that actor is clearly on a spectacularly empty sound stage.  But it’s not bad, it’s not offensive.  If I had an 8 year old and if I had cable and if it was saturday night at 10 and if I was bored, I’d watch it.  maybe.  Well not if I had something on dvr or a good dvd near by.  or a book.  or a game.  okay if I had an 8 year old and i was on a plane and it was on I’d watch it.  unless I had an mp3 player.  or a laptop.  or that book I just mentioned.  okay, listen, you get my point, if I was in a doctor’s office with my non existent 8 year old and it was on the tv I’d watch it.  you know, unless they had some magazines.

Bing + ajax APIs = kinda awesome

Nuff said.

Aug 26, 2009

Goth Poem Redux

I know I used to wear all black, but I wasn’t goth.  I wore all black before I knew what a goth was, or before it was really even a thing for my age group.  As such, i was quite annoyed when it became a thing and everyone assumed I was a goth.  Not excusing the horrible all-black motif for the following 10 years, just sayin: hilarity.

Aug 17, 2009

Movie Reviews @ The Temple

Baraka – Wow.  Beautiful movie.  It’s kind of a video photo journal.  It is completely without a single english word.  Just sights and sounds from around the world, and music.  It is extraordinarily beautiful and powerful, both the nature and the people.  Critiques: The first is only half a critique, that this movie is largely without context.  You see places and people and you have no idea where, who, or why.  You know only what you bring to it – i.e. I understand that dudes reading Hebrew in front of a wall are jews at the wailing wall.  I do not, however, know what is going on with a bunch of tribesman performing a ritual, or a burka’d woman kissing a large silver lock.  I recognize the pyramids, I do not recognize the Arches National park.  But, from an artistic standpoint, it is the filmmaker’s intention that you specifically look at the what and NOT the who, where, or why.  His intention, and I find it to be a pure one, is that you simply watch these amazing scenes for what they are, not for what they represent.  Nonetheless, for naturally curious people, you can’t help but wonder what is going on.  Secondly,  any moving that involves filming ritual or people calls into question what is real and what is set up.  Obviously a person staring into the camera is set up, I must assume that their dress, make-up, and surroundings are real.  I hope that when I see a ritual it is how it really happens, not something extraordinary that is staged for the film.  This all involves a bit of trust that I have no reason to deny the filmmaker, but you can’t help but wonder these days.  But really, this movie is amazing.  I’ve never seen most of these things, and there were sights that just blew me away.  It’s reinvigorated my desire to finally travel which has strangely waned in recent years.  It has some sadness to it, too, situated right in the middle.  It starts with a comment environmentally motivated scenes.  It moves to some disturbing factory farming things (no death, just sad conditions).  Then it hits you with some heart wrenching poverty.  And ending with a concentration camp and (I read later) a camp in cambodia.  Then its back to rituals and beauty.  He has a lot of cool filming techniques, he uses tilt-shift, lots of time-lapse, cool tricks of perspective and distance, it’s all fantastically well done.  I really wish I had seen it in blu-ray (stupid netflix surcharge), maybe I will someday.  It’s a pretty amazing movie.

Reclaiming the Blade – So this is a documentary about the history of the sword.  It’s clearly an independent low budget sort of thing.  The CG is pretty lame, the over all structure is a little meandering.  But it’s not bad, it’s pretty cool.  They managed to get John Rhys Davies (gimli) to narrate, and interviews with uhh… you know, aragorn, him and the prince of the horse people in LOTR.  So that was pretty cool.  It goes over the history in cinema, the history of western and eastern martial arts, it’s all pretty neat.  It didn’t blow me away or anything, it was sort of the quality of a museum video, but it was neat.

The Last Emperor – I wanted to like this movie more than I did.  Not that I disliked it at all.  It’s about the last emperor of china before the people’s republic takes over.  I’ve always been a fan of ancient  chinese history, and very much bored (not to mention politically opposed, obviously) to recent chinese history, and this is exactly where that transition took place.  It’s very interesting, what it was like for him trapped in the forbidden city (the extent of his “empire” at that point), and then seeing his life afterward.  It’s an epic kind of movie, but not epic in a historical way, just the life of this man.  It’s a good movie, it’s still very grand and has great costumes and set pieces, it just didn’t light a fire for me.

Waltz with Bashir – This is a pretty amazing movie.  I’m not really saying anything new, as it was nominated for an oscar and won a golden globe (both for foreign).  The idea is an Israeli man (it’s a documentary, the main character is the film maker) who was in the 1982 Lebanon War, he hears a related nightmare from a war friend, and realizes he doesn’t remember the massacre at Sabra and Shatila which is a famous event that I had never heard of because I suck.  So he embarks to find his memories by talking to other people in the war.  So then there’s the interesting art style.  The movie is animated, it’s drawn in a way that looks like rotoscoping, but it’s not.  It is based on real people (interviews, and reenactments of war-time events). but I guess it’s based on flash animations of certain elements and traditional animation.  I find this out after, and it’s funny because I knew it looked like a video game.  In fact it looks very much like a cell shaded video game.  Moreover the backgrounds tend to be static with simple motion, like a kid walking back and forth, or a tree moving up and down.  It all seemed so familiar and now I realized it’s like a flash video.  This is, sadly, a bit of a negative for me.  It makes it such that the animation is not at all unique.  It is unique for a movie, sure, I’ve never seen a movie made like this.  But I have definitely seen the style before, it doesn’t blow me away like it might someone who isn’t as familiar with games.  I’ve also heard it described as graphic novel like, which is cool, and represents memory (with its focus on imagery) very well.  But it really felt more flash than comic to me, which is sad.  If the movie was just that I’d probably be disappointed.  But the story is pretty amazing, because I don’t know about this massacre (it’s kind of the art style in reverse, it’s amazing because of my lack of knowledge).  But it is also done extremely well.  The dream that sets him off on his quest is beautiful and haunting, it’s extremely dramatic and powerful.  Very very interestingly, the movie keeps you in animation almost the whole time.  Animation shields you from reality, it’s cartoony, the bodies are fake, the blood is just a dark spot.  It’s sad, it’s heart wrenching, but it is not visceral.  But as you are fully use to having this shield, the movie at its very end hits you with something else.  The filmmaking takes a strong turn and the hit is abrupt and shakes you, or at least me, very hard.  It’s an extremely powerful film, and it’s extremely well done.

Dirty Harry – Huh.  What a crappy movie.  No really!  I know it’s a classic and it’s so bad ass and all that, but it’s not actually any good.  Maybe in 1932 when no one had seen a tough as nails cop who breaks the rules to get the job done, it was novel.  But now?  It’s kinda lame.  The story can only be seen as generic (whilst inflicted by the 70s) to someone who is seeing it for the first time nowadays.  Clint Eastwood isn’t cool, I’ve seen him be cool, put him in any western and he’s a badass, in this he’s just corny.  I didn’t really expect to love this, but I thought it might be at least kinda good, jeez.

Reservation Road – This movie is alright.  It has a kind of trite seeming premise – a kid is killed in a hit and run, we follow the story of the father obsessed with solving it and the guilt of the man who did it.  It’s actually better than it sounds there, joe-ack-quinn phoenix and that other dude are pretty convincing.  It’s not a bad movie, I wasn’t super into it, but it’s not bad.  Seems to stretch on a bit long, but it’s not bad.

I Love You, Man – So I had heard this movie was good from a couple places, I don’t really agree.  It’s not a bad movie, it has a kind of fun premise, it’s a romantic comedy for a bromance.  But a premise does not a film make.  It’s kind of like a lame SNL sketch where you say to yourself “I see how that should be funny” but it the end it’s just kind of blah and goes on forever.  It’s not bad, I chuckled a couple times, but I didn’t really laugh.  It’s really just a lame romantic comedy, except with the wacky dude-on-dude premise.  I get how taking romantic comedy tropes and applying them to friends is theoretically funny.  It’s just not that funny in real life is all.

Baby Mama – Man, I guess I have my haterpants on lately.  This movie was pretty much crap.  There were a couple funny bits, but not much.  All us nerds love tina fey, she’s hot and smart, win win, but she’s playing liz lemon in this movie, and I’m already over that on 30 rock, I don’t need 2 hours of it here.  And I never really liked amy poehler that much, least of all her white trashy obnoxious characters.  Not good, whatchagonnado.

Blade Runner – So I finally saw blade runner!  It’s pretty good.  It’s mostly the atmosphere that wins me over.  Given that this is the basis for so much that came after, you can’t help but look at it that way (said the guy who thought dirty harry was crap).  But it has so many touches of different genres that are present but not overbearing, it ends up feeling very subtle.  You have a sort of cyberpunk feel, dystopian framework, film noir environment, nature of humanity themes, but none of it is particularly heavy handed, to the film’s credit.  It is an old movie, it looks pretty 80s, even remastered, and some of the moments are corny.  But they are mostly weird enough that you accept it as part of the weird future.  Daryl Hannah, after all, is a total weird hair band freak, but it totally works.  Actually, I watched the “final cut” ridley scott version of this movie.  In retrospect I wish I had watched the original because I would have really liked the film noir narration (interesting how it felt film noir anyway).  I think I’ll watch it again that way.  It’s not a particularly amazing movie, really, it didn’t blow me away, maybe because it’s not 1982.  But battlestar blew me away (until it got dumb anyway) partially because of this, some of my favorite movies exist partially because of this, when the parallels are so clear it’s hard to ignore it’s effect.  So in the end I really liked it.  Maybe if I loved cop movies, instead of them being corny, I’d have felt that way about dirty harry?

Religulous – This is interesting to come soon after I read that dawkins book.  Bill Maher, as much as I love his show and agree with most of what he says, is also kind of a dick.  It’s the same question: why do all the people who bring up these things I agree with tend to be dicks?  Dawkins, Maher, Michael Moore, probably more I can’t think of.  Are they the only ones with the personality to force these issues?  Are they the only ones we pay attention to?  But this is about the movie.  The movie is pretty good, it, like the dawkins book, doesn’t have much that I haven’t heard.  But in this case he’s confronting people.  That is both douchey and great.  There are times when he simply asks questions and it seems almost an honest discussion, and that’s great.  But he is sometimes just making fun of a person, not always great.  Someone I would make fun of in private, I’m sure, just not make a movie about.  The editing is also good and bad.  Sometimes he’s just inserting stupid sounds or clips to mock his interview subject, that’s not fair or reasonable.  Sometimes it’s intelligent and has a good point.  Sometimes it mocks bill maher!  The edits are quick too, which makes the thing seem chopped together, which is not in the movie’s favor.  An interview segment that was probably a solid uninterrupted 3 minutes looks like nine 20 second segments added together.  And that looks like it was edited unfairly, so I just think it’s a bad choice.  It’s also a little deconstructionist.  It likes to show the interview prep, people checking mikes.  Mostly this is to make fun of people as if you can’t use a mike to talk about religion, which I find unfair.  It’s an interesting movie, but like all documentaries it is biased and it’s clear that it is.  Like dawkins, I agree with him, but I don’t really like him.

Book Reviews @ The Temple

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely - Super cool book.  Kind of just explores the ways in which we consistently do things that are dumb and make no sense.  I heard about the book by his discussion of social contracts vs. business contracts and how it affects your workplace dynamic, certainly of interest to me in a small business and I'm sure some day in a larger one.  His discussions about price are probably the most fascinating, how our brain works for establishing the worth of something, relativism, happiness, it's all really cool.  There's stuff about education, and honesty, and the workplace stuff, I really liked it.  My main criticism is he has really interesting insights with really small data sets.  That’s not a scientific defense at all - there's numbers, but only over the span of a couple class sizes worth of people.  Maybe he and others have done them with a bunch of classes over a bunch of semesters in a bunch of schools, but he doesn't say that.  As a result it seems like he's drawing pretty sweeping conclusions about humanity from 30 or 60 people.  His conclusions make sense, I believe a lot of what he said, it's just hard to treat it as evidence.  Nonetheless, I really loved the book, it "proved" things we all kind of know are true, and gave some insights to how we (including I) act that were somewhat mind blowing.  Really liked it!

The Bloodless Revolution by Tristram Stuart – Good Lawd it took me a long time to get through this book.  It’s the history of vegetarianism (in europe), and I thought it was going to be so cool.  But it was really monumentally boring.  It’s a 450 page book with maybe 50 pages of interesting things to say.  Honestly, more like 25 pages.  It would be an awesome pamphlet, but it is a excessively tedious book.  It reads like a textbook, with dry story after dry story of this guy or that who contributed to the path of vegetarianism in the west.  There are some really cool and interesting things.  Those 25 pages would be great.  The interaction/influence of india is cool, the religious response and the whole prelapsarian (returning to a garden of eden like state, i.e. before the lapse) is really interesting, and there are a couple interesting characters in history.  But mostly they are really boring.  If somehow all these people tied together in some fascinating way that justified me hearing all the details of their lives, it might be cool.  But it really doesn’t, you could spend 2 pages on each person instead of a chapter and get the point.  There are non fiction books out there that can be as riveting as fiction.  There surely could have been a way to follow vegetarianism that made it captivating.  But this definitely didn’t do it, it was boring and i would suggest it to no one, sorry.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins – So I’ve never read Richard Dawkins (actually listened to this).  I’ve always had this impression of him as a bit of a hard-charger for me.  Too aggressive, too relentless.  He addresses that perception in the book, but that doesn’t excuse it.  Just cuz a jerk knows people think he’s a jerk, doesn’t mean he’s not a jerk.  I’m not saying he’s a jerk, I’m just saying acknowledging that perception doesn’t dispel it.  As for the book, there are interesting facts to be found.  Like that only 1 out of 12 people don’t follow their parents religion (or something like this, it’s so hard to go back to find a passage in an audiobook).  Things like that reinforce the silliness of religion.  Mostly, however, I know most things he has to say, and I’m familiar with the arguments, so it feels both boring and aggressive.  I don’t know all the arguments, he does bring up things I haven’t thought of.  But it’s not a revelation, he isn’t solidifying concepts I was never able to express.  Mostly I’ve already gotten there.  So maybe the book isn’t for me, I’m already on hsi side.  The goal of the book is to convert, obviously, and I’m not sure how it could really work.  I’m annoyed by him and I agree! I can’t imagine any believer would be able to listen.  The idea that religion is overall worse for humanity than better I generally agree with.  I imagine that in the before time, people needed religion to coerce them into behaving properly.  It’s sad, but I guess that’s how it works, god threatens you, and you keep it in your pants.  I rather think my parents taught me that and other nice morals without the threat of eternal damnation, and I’m not so special, so everyone ought to be able to learn as well.  We ought to be capable of community without religion (though practically, that is not often the case, I understand).  For me science fulfills that eternal question stuff to the extent that it can, and to the extent that it can’t, my day isn’t ever held up because of it.  So, I’m on board, I don’t need religion, I don’t really see how modern people do.  I don’t go as far as Dawkins, though, in two ways.  The first is I am officially technically agnostic and strongly believe that.  He argues that it’s a wussy excuse and pandering to the possibility of faith and you don’t have to prove a negative (i.e. don’t have to prove the lack of existence of god, which is true scientifically).  But I am what bill maher called a 99 percenter.  I will never ever claim I know something 100%.  I’m pretty damn sure the sun will rise tomorrow, but I can’t say 100%.  Pretty damn sure I’m a dude, the sky is blue, rocks are hard, and there is no god, but I can’t say 100%.  It’s surely more like 99.9999%, but it fundamentally, philosophically cannot be 100.  He criticizes people of this view, and I suppose that’s just an honest disagreement.  He sarcastically says that there might be an invisible pink elephant guiding our actions, and bothering to consider that possibility is just as valid as god.  I agree.  I cannot say there isn’t an elephant, but there is not one second in my day consumed with that possibility, and the same is true of god.  I am a functional atheist, a practical atheist, my day of decisions are not impacted by the existence or the consideration of existence of magical beings.  But I am technically agnostic.  My other problem with Dawkins is the aggression. He argues that because religion is a truly negative influence on humanity, it is morally requisite that he does everything in his power to convince people to drop it.  Being a jerk or being mean or going out of his way to “convert” is justified because religion is bad.  I think we’ll all be better without it, but I have a priority over the long term idea that we are better without it.  My own non-god-influenced morals require treating people a certain way.  I could be a horrendous douche to my grandmother who believes in god because I think it’s better for her.  But at the end of the day I was just a horrendous douche to my grandmother, probably didn’t convert her, and just ruined an important relationship.  I can’t prioritize the good of a secular humanity over the day-to-day decency of treating people how you should, which has to include not aggressively forcing my own beliefs on them.  Politically and officially I want atheism to grow and be accepted (atheists are very much the subject of prejudice) and improve humanity, just can’t do it by being an asshole to someone who happened to be raised to believe something.  It’s a tough call, I believe in most of what he says, and I wish people would agree.  It really does have radically bad effects on the world, it can’t be left to a libertarian ideal of do what you want by yourself.  But I can’t convince myself this is the way.  Maybe it’s part of the way, maybe in 50 years I’ll be glad he and others were bad people, but we’re better off for it.

The Art of Intrusion by Kevin Mitnick – I read the Art of Deception a few years ago by Mitnick (the most famous hacker, if you aren’t familiar).  It was pretty good, all about social engineering.  This book focuses mostly on the more technical side of technology security.  As such, I don’t find it as interesting.  Each chapter is a story of a hack, discussion of how it worked, and advice (he’s nominally a computer security guy now, as many hackers are) for how to stop attacks like it.  It’s interesting, to be sure, some of the stories are really cool.  But technical hacks because people didn’t patch their system, change their password, train their employees, or have depth in their security, just doesn’t have the same hook as a social hack.  The latter is so much harder to defend against, and so much cooler to hear about.  But, the book still has very cool stories, and some social engineering stuff as well.  It’s not really written well, it could have done with one more edit (meaning typos, believe it or not), and in general the story telling just isn’t that strong.  But that’s not why you pick it up, you read it to hear cool hacks and if you are worried about that kind of thing, what you might do to prevent it.  Though honestly if you are in charge of IT somewhere and this is your only advice for defending your system, you are in trouble.  Still, fun read.

Aug 11, 2009

Ballad of GI Joe

Not hilarious, but pretty funny.  The destro/baroness musical break is pretty awesome though.

Aug 6, 2009

Upgrade Path

Bill Gates: Steve, we have a problem, people are starting to not hate Microsoft.

Steve Ballmer: I know!  First xbox takes over, then zune is halfway decent, and now people are legitimately excited about Windows 7!  It’s like we’re trying!!

Bill Gates: And with Apple making douchey move after douchey move, people are going to forget who’s the real evil empire!

Steve Ballmer: The real gigantic company crumbling under its own bean counting weight!

Bill Gates: But what do we do?!

Steve Ballmer: I KNOW!

Goatse Cookies

Holy christ, that is wrong.