Saturday, January 31, 2004

Movieblogging: Airheads
I'm in a weird mood, and thus I'm watching a weird movie: Airheads (1994). Had it been made in 1987, it would have likely been a cult classic. It has a lot of fantastic actors in it, but in 1994, all of them had been in much better movies and really didn't fit into this well (Steve Buscemi, Michael McKean, Joe Mantegna and Brendan Fraser, to name a few). Even actors like Ernie Hudson deserved better than this. It serve as an important early movie for Adam Sandler, Chris Farley and David Arquette, but all of them tend to only work well when they're the center of attention or in a buddy flick. This movie would have been more at home as the subplot of a Police Academy sequel. Band takes radio station hostage to get its album played. Some of the station sympathizes. The band members are really just good guys, heck, they even use toy guns! Loads of fans show up outside the station to support the band. Hilarity ensues.

Something that probably hurt the movieat the time was that the band is pretty heavily based off of hair metal groups of the late 80s, but this movie came out three years after the grunge/alternative revolution unwittingly sparked by Nirvana. And there's nothing wrong with such music--I still have a soft spot for a lot of it. But I think that the movie Rock Star with Mark Wahlberg was a much better look at the scene. I think that ten years of separation allowed for a better treatment of the subject. Airheads came out a few years too late to be trendy and a few years too early to be nostalgic. While there are a few allusions to Seattle music, this could have been pretty funny if it were made today and it showed a hair metal band desperately trying to resurrect the genre. Or maybe that would have just been pathetic.

Despite my complaining, it does fall into the category of good "bad movies". Anything that can be played three our four times a week on Comedy Central is generally a movie that can be watched in the background without too much thinking involved.

Some good things: nice small role by Michael Richards. Even though he was big on Seinfeld at the time, he's never really been a major movie star. Still, he always brings something special to his roles. The director of this, Michael Lehmann, later directed The Truth About Cats & Dogs and the recently blogged 40 Days and 40 Nights, both of which are great movies. Before Airheads he directed Heathers, which made him famous, and Hudson Hawk, which explains the intervening years. I loved both of those as well, but I understand why everyone hated it.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Dragon in a Jar
Here's an interesting story from England... An old hoax has been discovered, a fake fetal dragon preserved in a jar, probably from around the end of the 19th century. Lovely picture to boot. I've seen some horrid things in jars, including a few preserved stillborn human babies with extreme deformations (up to the 1930s or so such preservations were common, and many went on tour with circuses, known as "pickled punks"). I've also seen just about every kind of animal that can fit into a jar, and while I can't tell exactly from the image posted, the absence of visible blood vessels (especially in the membranes of the wings) would appear to be a dead giveaway. And you don't exactly have to be a genius in comparative embryology to know that reptiles don't have umbilical cords. Neither do birds, amphibians, fish, or anything else that's born in a soft or hard egg. Obviously there's nothing for the cord to connect to.

There's little point in debunking this, as it's a clear fake, but I'm just surprised at the amount of work that was put into this, presumably by one group of scientists to trick a competing group of scientists. Just leaving off the umbilical cord would make it far more convincing, and would be less work. It could also be passed off as a juvenile dragon, which it otherwise appears to be. Nothing in its pose or shape suggests that it was just inside an egg or a womb. Things like baby alligators look a lot like their adult counterparts when born, but are still of a shape and configuration to allow for being tightly rolled up inside an egg. Plus, I can't think of any flying vertebrates that have wings anywhere near that developed at birth...

Who am I kidding... this is the age that sewed a monkey to a fish and passed it off as a mermaid.
Lileks on the Radio
Here's one of those amazing moments in the internet: James Lileks is guest-hosting the Hugh Hewitt radio show, and so far, two bloggers have called in (that I've heard, there may have been more earlier): one of the guys from Infinite Monkeys and Scott Ott of Scrappleface.

Lileks and Hewitt are on my daily reading list--I started reading the Bleat back around 9/11 when I really got into reading blogs. I started reading Hewitt during the California recall, but stuck around after the election.

Lileks has hinted that he might be returning to radio in the near future, and after hearing him tonight, I'd listen daily.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Movieblogging: About Schmidt
Based on the recommendation of The Ring Bearer (as well as The Roommate, who watched it last night), I'm screening About Schmidt (2002) tonight. Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates got Oscar nominations for this last year, but neither won.

The Oscar nominees for 2004 have been announced, but I couldn't care less. I used to get pretty excited over the Oscars, but after Titanic swept the Oscars in 1998, I could never look at the award the same way again. I hated Titanic, and I even saw it on a quasi-date when I would have been in a better position to believe the romantic bullshit flung over the screen. (For the record, she hated it too. The elderly woman with her 11-year old grandson behind us was confused, and during the nude scenes the poor boy barely breathed.) And I'll fully admit that, at the time, I was a huge Kate Winslet fan and was indifferent towards Leonardo DiCaprio. It's only recently that I've been able to tolerate either of them in movies. So despite the fact that I write a lot about movies, I don't get all tingly in my nether regions over the Oscars, Golden Globes, or whatever other meaningless circle jerks organized by Hollywood these days.

That rant over, let's get back to the movie. Perhaps the greatest thing about this movie is that finally, Jack Nicholson acts his age. He looked old and grumpy in As Good As It Gets, but his love interest with Helen Hunt and the young people filling out the cast tended to reflect Nicholson's true persona of a man who refuses to grow up. But in this one, he is married to a woman his own damned age, and later gets involved with another woman his own damned age. Not Lara Flynn Boyle, his recent girlfriend who was 33 years his junior.

The plot device with Nicholson writing to his adopted African orphan was quite clever. There's great acting and screenwriting all around--I particularly appreciate the fact that it shows the sometimes boring life of the Midwest without being unnecessarily cruel. Though I'm a Southerner born and bred, much of my Dad's side of the family is from the Midwest (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri), and I understand that life moves at a different pace there. I've traveled extensively through the region, and while I don't have a problem with the pace of life, I can't take the flatness with nothing on the horizon. I love the mountains--I find myself drawn to the Rockies (New Mexico, Wyoming, the Canadian Rockies, anywhere but overpopulated Colorado)--and at least here in flat Memphis we have trees to break up the view. At least in the desert you generally have mountains, mesas, or canyons to break up the scenery. But the prospect of barren horizons in all directions would just depress me.

Update: Now at the end of this film, I can safely say that I've seen Kathy Bates stark naked. She's a native of Memphis, my home town and current residence. I could say more about her, but I won't. It's just too strange right now. I'm also realizing that I can never have a daughter. The son-in-law in this movie is just revolting, and I can't imagine any daughter of mine marrying such a slimebag. Granted, there's nothing in my personal life that suggests that I might be fathering a child any time in the near future, but I thought I'd go on record with the fact that I'm terrified of having a daughter. Surprisingly, based on recent experiences, I'm inclined to make my next dog adoption be that of a female. But if I ever get married and/or have kids, I don't think my blood pressure could stand anything but sons. They'll do everything in their power to kill themselves and each other, but I don't have to think of them being defiled by some greasy bastard with nothing but lust on his mind.
Here's one of those weird moments that makes me glad I'm not a Republican. I read the Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal's "Best of the Web" feature every day. Sometimes amusing, sometimes useful, sometimes...

In today's installment, BOTW leads with a piece stating that:
Because the two political parties have become polarized on abortion, it seems reasonable to assume that more potential Democrats than potential Republicans have been aborted. After all, their would-have-been mothers show through their actions that they agree with the Democratic position on the issue. Result: fewer younger voters in Democratic primaries, as we saw last night, and probably a boost for Republican candidates in the general election.
I've seen this idea floated on the NRO Corner before, and in a few other outlets. And it's total crap that can be easily debunked without statistics or getting into the abortion debate!

Logic dictates that not all Democrats support abortion. In fact, Catholics tend to be vehemently opposed to it, but still tend to vote Democratic as a group. Plus, they traditionally have large families. Minorities tend to vote heavily Democratic, yet tend to be opposed to abortion or indifferent to the practice. Regardless of their feelings or the number of abortions they may be getting, minority populations are rising all over the nation, not just from immigration but from larger families. Same thing with union members, who tend to be socially conservative (including on issues like abortion), yet mostly vote Democratic. Take away all of these groups, and you're left with the liberal elite of the Party, which is a small percentage of the total voting base.

(Pulling figures out of my ass, let's assume that the number of true abortion-supporting and practicing Democrats are equal to the number of wealthy voters in the Republican Party. Both hold a lot of power within their parties and influence direction, but neither are highly represented in the general population.)

As for the declining population figures that he states, that's easily summed up by the fact that people are moving out of the Northeast and into the Midwest, West, and to a great degree, the South. They're going in search of more room, more jobs, a change of pace, family reasons, etc., but it tends to show up in population figures as a decline in the Northeast and gains elsewhere. (This has been reflected in Congressional redistricting that has given more Representatives and thus more Electoral College votes to the South and West.)

The demographic that the author is most likely thinking of in terms of upper class/middle class, college educated liberal Democrats, with both wife and husband working, your general stereotype of a New England Democrat. And guess what? They, like Republicans or just about anyone in their economic level, aren't having as many kids as similar people a generation ago. They might be more inclined to have an abortion in case of an unwanted pregnancy, but are more likely to be using effective birth control in the first place. Which is perhaps the most important factor that BOTW is ignoring: the massive upswing in the use of contraception in the past 20 years as well as the decline of the social stigma against it. It's not just freewheeling twenty-somethings that use contraception, just about everyone does it to some degree these days. And let's also not forget that even if a woman has an abortion, it doesn't mean she'll never have kids again, something that BOTW seems to imply.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Election 2004: New Hampshire Primary
A follow-up to last night's post... With 75% of precincts reporting, here's the breakdown:

Kerry - 38%
Dean - 26%
Clark - 13%
Edwards - 12%
Lieberman - 9%

Clark did better than I expected, but I think he might fall behind Edwards before the night is over. My prediction was wrong, but not completely off. It is interesting that Clark and Edwards may have killed each other--a candidate has to get at least 15% of the votes in order to get delegates.

Rumor has it that Lieberman is going to drop out tomorrow; no word from Sharpton or Kucinich. If Clark ends up in fourth place, he might be out for good, but he might as well stick around for "Mini Tuesday" on February 3, which will see primaries in the following states:

New Mexico
North Dakota
South Carolina

After that, I think we'll be down to two candidates--Kerry and Dean--or three if Edwards performs well and manages to pick up some delegates along the way. Then we have a month of campaigning and some insignificant primaries before "Super Tuesday" on March 2, with the following states:

New York
Rhode Island

Both Mini and Super Tuesdays are going to be really exciting; expect the race to get nastier as those dates approach, and we'll be following poll data from all over the country, not just a single state in New England.

I still find it hard to have any interest or enthusiasm for Kerry, even as a worthy opponent.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Election 2004: New Hampshire Primary
Tomorrow's Democratic Primary in New Hampshire should be quite interesting to watch. It will be going on all day, unlike the Iowa Caucuses that started late in the evening. And it will be run like a regular election, with ballots rather than the fluid insanity of a caucus.

My completely uneducated guess: Dean takes a narrow lead over Kerry, Edwards has a respectable third place finish with about half the votes of Kerry. Clark and Lieberman finish about the same at a distant fourth and fifth, and Sharpton and Kucinich get their customary 1% or so. (I think Kucinich and Lieberman could conceivably drop out of the race after tomorrow, though Sharpton will stick around as long as the money holds up. He doesn't have anything else to do, and it's good free publicity.)

I don't really know much about New Hampshire Democrats; the state votes pretty reliably Republican, the lone "red state" in a sea of Northeastern blue. The state has a decent libertarian bent to it. How can you not love a state whose motto is "Live Free or Die"? However, I'm inclined to guess that Dean should get a good boost from transplanted Vermonters, college students, etc.

If Dean comes in a distant third, it's going to look really bad for him. And if he allows himself to be filmed doing something angry/embarrassing/stupid, expect him to become the media's whipping boy for another week or two.
Surfing Tip
Before I read the political/news blogs, I always stop by two other websites first: Snopes Updates and Spinsanity. Both are non-partisan; the first debunks urban legends--often very quickly after they pop up--and the second tears apart lies or distortions in the media or from political figures. Armed with a good sense of the misinformation floating around, you can skim a lot more easily as well as alert bloggers who have posted obviously false information. (Both Snopes and Spinsanity have a lot of credibily online in general and among blogs specifically.)
Though it really doesn't fit with the rest of my blog, I should point out that I attended a performance of Les Mis�rables tonight at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis. Though a prior life spent as a lighting tech for high school theatre has essentially killed my interest in musicals, this one was pretty impressive. The rotating stage presented all sorts of logistical problems, yet I was surprised to see no accidents.

I'll admit here that I'm one of the last people in the Western Hemisphere who hasn't seen or read this work in any form. The story was OK, nothing to get too excited about, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Election 2004: Tennessee Democratic Primary
The Tennessee Democratic Primary will be held February 10, though early voting started back on the 21st. I just considered registering as a Democrat just to vote in the primary and see what it was like, but it appears as though I would have had to register 30 days ago. Last year the state's Democratic Party decided to move the primary from March 9 to February 10 (there was some consideration of February 3) in order to get more attention for Tennessee on the national stage.

(For anyone interested, here is the schedule of the all of the primaries across the nation.)

I don't know who Tennessee will pick but I don't think it really matters. Most of our state's Democrats are union members and minorities with a handful of elderly "Yellow Dog Democrats" and college kids. Thus far there's little or no enthusiasm for the primary process here, though I'm sure that the groups above will support whomever the nominee is. I saw a couple of "Clark 04" signs on the way to work this morning, but I haven't seen any other local ads.

Gore might come out and and stump for Dean, and our Democratic governor Phil Bredesen will surely play some role, but I really don't see the event being that exciting or important in the grand scheme of things. Remember, our state voted against native son and incumbent Vice President Al Gore in 2000; if he'd won Tennessee Florida wouldn't have been an issue. And the gods do not smile on presidential candidates who lose their home states.

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