Saturday, February 21, 2004

Movieblogging: Sapphire Girls
While working on various unrelated things in my room, I flipped through the channels and eventually settled on Sapphire Girls (2003). If possible, this had a worse plot and much worse dialogue than the earlier Sinbad movie, yet with none of the special effects. Lots of gratuitous nudity, but presented in an annoying fashion.

I stopped and watched this for two reasons. The first being that it appeared to be some sort of Charlie's Angels ripoff, and I was curious as to how truly terrible it could be. The second being that it starred Mary Carey, recent gubernatorial candidate for the state of California. Despite being blonde, artificially endowed, and tanned to a leathery crisp, she had a single campaign promise that I found worthwhile: that as soon as a person begins to receive unemployment benefits, he/she would be sent to the top of the list for jury duty. While I liked the general idea, on retrospect I don't think it would be a good idea for every court case to be judged by the recently or chronically unemployed.

This movie is some sort of stupid soft-core porn flick starring hard-core porn actresses, the kind of thing that fills late night Cinemax programming. (The target audience being 14 year old boys and stoners of all ages.) I'm not a prude or a snob, but I really can't stand this crap. In a previous life, I did quite a bit of work in video, and thus I can't stand bad video work regardless of the content. Likewise, my renewed interest in photography has made me pay attention to camera angles and lighting situations, and I see consistently bad work whenever I'm flipping through the channels and encounter something like this. Ack. Again, I'm not trying to be elitist, but let's face it--you don't have a plot,, decent script, or believable story, so you'd better make it up with decent cinematography. Yet that skill is almost totally nonexistent.

Bah. Who gives a fuck? If you're watching this movie you're either too young to be watching it, bored, stupid, high, or some combination thereof. If you haven't seen it, and are torn between this and N (where N = any movie including Manos, Hands of Fate), watch N instead.
Movieblogging: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
With the guys tonight, I saw The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). It's been years, but it made for a fun viewing. Any movie from the 50s is ripe for MST3K-style commentary, and this was no exception. I'm still irritated that, to my knowledge, there hasn't been a movie made about Sinbad featuring actual Arabs. Not only was this movie's lead star a generic white American guy, but his ship was a vaguely Western Age of Exploration Spanish-style vessel, rather than the various dhows sailed by Arabs from India to Africa and all points between.

There's only one real reason to see this, and that's Ray Harryhausen, master of old-school stop-motion special effects. To the philistines, his effects may look clumsy and awkward, but to anyone with a real appreciation of the art of early special effects, his work is amazing. I recently watched part of Clash of the Titans. While the story was pretty bad, many of the effects were spectacular. Likewise with this movie. Harryhausen worked alone for most of his career, and you can see the loving care and attention to detail present in his work. OK, so the cyclops is the but of many jokes since he's often referred to as the "one-eyed monster". Yet how many people pay attention to the fact that you can see muscles moving underneath the skin in a few shots? Or that you can barely see any finger smudges in the down on the two-headed rukh* chick? Look at the loving attention put into the skin textures and the fact that the figures appear to have underlying skeletons and muscles--except for the skeletons, which are masterfully animated in their own right!

I can't really recommend this for the story, but for a fan of the effects, it's a classic.

*Here I defer to the scholars of Arabic and Persian who prefer the transliteration rukh to roc. Alas, in the Semitic-Central Asian languages, the vowels o and u present many difficulties. (Osama vs. Usama? Muhammad vs. Mohammad?) It should be noted that in English, u is essentially the variable vowel that can stand for anything. As a brief example I present the following words: buck, astute, velour, revue, question, yum, understand, continuum (2 sounds in one word!), virt´┐Ż, etc... It can even be silent as in guard...

Thursday, February 19, 2004

The Wil Wheaton Family RPG Night
Wil Wheaton, of Stand by Me fame, is going to run a role-playing session for his stepsons tonight. The story is either utterly heartwarming or bizarre depending on your point of view. I go for a good bit of the former (can't deny the good intentions), but end up settling on the latter.

I've seen a lot of essays on the subject of gaming with your kids, and I think it's a great idea--the kids can learn a lot from it (critical thinking, math, creative writing), but it's not going to be the savior of the industry that many hope it will be. First off, you've got to have the parents as current or former gamers, or one gamer and one exceptionally understanding spouse. That already narrows down the customer base quite a bit. Then you've got to confront the idea that once these kids hit high school, they're going to lose all interest in "Family RPG Night", either through general boredom or the inevitable rebellion against all family activities. You can drag a kid to church or force him to do yard work with you, but you can't exactly force him to role play. "ROLL FOR A SAVING THROW, GOD-DAMNIT! ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?"

I didn't game a lot, but I always enjoyed it as an escape from the rest of the world--and in middle/high school, a big part of that is getting away from your parents. Industry-wise, it's probably better to continue targeting the high school/college geek demographic. Solitary and obsessive, no girlfriend on which to spend money...

That's not to say that I don't agree with the more general idea at work with the family gaming night. I have fond memories of playing cards (mainly spades), Scrabble, Monopoly, and a few others with my parents and brother. Though it's not so much the case now, at the time it was still expected that you know how to play games like checkers and chess in order to operate in society. Knowing the above games plus a handful of different card games would allow you to get by at parties, sleepovers, church youth gatherings, boring rainy afternoons, etc. Checkers played against someone your own age or an old geezer at the bait shop is equally enjoyable. Though I think gambling is a waste of time and money, teaching your kids cards will open more doors for them socially than roleplaying will. Even though people don't get together and play board or card games like they used to, I still think it's a useful skill to have, and it's much easier (and cheaper) to pick up a pack of cards from the grocery store during a power outage than to track down RPG equipment.

As for kids, I think it would be far better to let them "accidentally" find your old RPG stuff when they're around 12 or so. Answer any questions they have, but stand back and let them discover the magic on their own. (Should I ever be cursed with children or blessed with nieces and nephews, I intend to keep certain comic strip anthologies and works of science fiction within easy reach, yet never forced upon them. I think Andy Ihnatko does this with his sister's kids.)
Socialized Medicine
Reason carries an article about the Kerry and Edwards approaches to expanding universal government health insurance, and that we may be reaching a tipping point of public opinion on the issue.

The article points out that nearly 43 percent of every dollar spent on health care in the US comes from the government (i.e. taxpayers).

Despite my libertarian leanings, this is one battle I don't feel like fighting. The whole system is massively inefficient at the present time, and tends to hit the working middle class the hardest. The upper class isn't really impacted much, as they're likely to seek out private facilities for convenience or personal preference despite the higher costs*. The unemployed and others at the bottom rungs get "free" coverage from the government that, while less-than-stellar, doesn't impact the recipients financially. It's the rest of us in the middle that are propping up the system for everyone else. The "free" coverage results in higher taxes as well as higher costs at the hospitals and doctors' offices. And since someone in the middle class pretty much has to rely on some form of health insurance, that costs quite a bit. The burden of health insurance coverage has been dumped on employers for the past several decades, resulting in higher prices for customers and lower wages for the employees.

The problem, of course, is that every time costs get pushed around (through insurance or through taxes or administrative costs or whatever), the prices go up. Part of me would be thrilled to death for universal health care to cut off the insurance companies at the knees. It's a necessary evil for now, but they've got a captive revenue source that they can squeeze as much as they want. I'm being selfish here; I pay taxes and pay extra for health insurance, yet never go to the doctor. I stay healthy, but in doing so, am punished by the system. At least with a single-payer system, I'm only getting beaten from one direction. And for the love of God, I think 90% of the paperwork would disappear overnight.

Opponents of government-funded healthcare tend to warn of people going to the doctor for anything and everything as well as making healthcare an experience akin to public transit or public restrooms. To the former you need do no more than look at the rapidly growing elderly population that pretty much live at the doctor's office, and for the latter, have you been in a hospital or doctor's office recently? Having taken friends and family to various health facilities--respectable places--I've found the experience to be worse than the DMV.

There are legitimate arguments against socialized medicine, and I agree with most of them. But there's no reason to believe that the figure of 43% is going to go down anytime soon, and all signs point to it going up. Since the government's not going to cut off the poor, young, and old anytime soon, it would be nice if those of us that keep the whole system going could actually take advantage of it without the threat of things like "medical bankruptcy" hanging over our heads.

*It should also be noted that the Medicare tax rate is 2.9% (split 50-50 between the employee and the employer). There's no cap on that, unlike social security--you stop paying social security taxes (6.2%) after the first $76,000 has been taxed. However, because of that cap, the overall payroll tax impact hits the middle class harder (as a percentage of income--for instance, if you earn $100K a year your SS tax is 4.7%, $200K goes down to 2.4%, etc.). I'd personally like to flatten the tax rates--payroll included--above $20,000 per year. We've got a progressive income tax and a regressive payroll tax that don't quite balance out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Election 2004: Dean Post-Mortem
Alas, it's official... Dean has left the race, though technically he'll still be on the ballot up to and including the convention. A lot of the die-hards are probably going to continue to vote for him as a protest measure, but otherwise things are a mess in the world of Dean supporters.

I'm reminded vaguely of when Jerry Garcia died and my Deadhead friends were just shocked. They'd built their lives around being able to follow the band, and suddenly they didn't have that sense of direction or purpose anymore. Some flocked to Phish or Dave Matthews, but others just got haircuts and left it all behind. I'm seeing a lot of the same stunned confusion amongst the Dean folks--"What do we do now?"

Some are threatening to vote Nader or write-in Dean, though I doubt that will happen. (Those people are more likely to sit at home and sulk on Election Day.) Others want to organize a Political Action Committee that will fight for Progressive causes and candidates within the Democratic Party. Others think the best idea is to disperse and preach the gospel to as many people as possible, to keep the Dean fires alive. A lot of them are severely upset with the prospect of voting for Kerry, particularly given the dirty tricks waged against Dean from the Kerry camp. Others have already flocked to the Edwards campaign just because he's the anti-Kerry at the moment.

Despite the outcome, Dean's race is going to be studied for years in political science and campaign management circles. There was a lot that was done right, particularly the genuine use of blogging and microdonations. Expect to see more of that in the next campaign cycle--I think it's a little late for Bush & Kerry to do that without the appearance of astroturfing.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Movieblogging: Police Academy 3: Back in Training
I think I've seen all of the Police Academy Movies except for the last one set in Russia, but I'm not entirely certain. They all tend to run together in the memory of a bad movie fan. Tonight, after a craptastic day at work, I feel like kicking back with some Cuba Libres and watching Police Academy 3: Back in Training (1986). I was surprised to see that this was from 1986--I had to look up all of the movies, and realized that from 1984 to 1989, the Police Academy franchise produced movies at the rate of one per year. The seventh (that I haven't seen, Police Academy: Mission to Moscow) came out in 1994. I have vague memories of the animated series (1993) and the short-lived TV series (1997). Which is odd, because I'm not exactly a fan, but I've ended up seeing them anyway.

This one is OK... I still don't remember it specifically, but it is one of the Guttenberg movies, so I guess it rises above the general dreck. I think this one is the first appearance of the "Blue Oyster Bar", and also features the famous Michael Winslow Kung-Fu routine. (Stupid trivia: Winslow is the only one to appear in every single Police Academy iteration.)

At this point, I don't give a damn about the plot. It's almost over, but these movies are more about scenes than plot. Good bit performances from all of the actors, even though many of them are brazen stereotypes or caricatures.
Election 2004: Historical Perspective
Via a BBC article, I learned something interesting about the election of 1828:
John Quincy Adams was nicknamed "The Pimp" by the campaign of his opponent General Andrew Jackson, based on a rumour that he had once coerced a young woman into an affair with a Russian nobleman when he had been American ambassador to Russia.

Adams' supporters hit back with a pamphlet which claimed: "General Jackson's mother was a common prostitute brought to this country by British solders! She afterwards married a mulatto man with whom she had several children of which number General Jackson is one!!" Jackson won anyway.

Web Comics Addendum
I think I'm going to go back through the archives and read the entire runs of the comics I listed below. I've done that with a few, but I really need to do it with the rest of them as well. This should take a while--Nukees, for instance, has been around for seven years, though there's normally only two strips a week.

It's fun to watch the evolution of a drawing style. It's so gradual that you can't tell a difference from one strip to another, but look at two strips a year apart and you'll see lots of changes. The artist gets more comfortable with the cast, is able to write better for them, and eventually they emerge as real, three-dimensional characters.
Election 2004: Kerry Scandal Update
The mystery woman has finally spoken, and it looks like there's nothing to the rumors.
President's Day
This is one holiday that I've never really cared about, primarily because I've always had to work during it. Today is no exception. However, for those that care, Snopes carries an informative article about President's Day, along with the confusing and conflicting stories about its origin and how it is celebrated around the country. Personally I think they ought to ditch President's Day as a holiday and make the first Tuesday in November (Election Day) as a federal holiday, one in which private businesses were strongly encouraged to give their employees the day off (as with Thanksgiving and Christmas). It can even be moved to the first Monday if it makes things easier.

I think it would allow more people to vote, and would allow people to vote throughout the day with ease instead of the huge bottlenecks right before 9:00 a.m. and right after 5:00 p.m. It would also balance out elections a bit, as union members often get the day off to go vote, and senior citizens don't have anything else better to do, thus giving those groups electoral power disproportionate to their actual numbers.

Maybe I'm expecting too much from my fellow citizens, but I don't think it would hurt to set aside one day to commemorate and participate in democracy. And people that actually work for a living will find it easier to have their voices heard.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

The Long-Awaited Web Comics Post
I've just finished reading the entire run of Spacemoose (1989-1999), though there were generally only a dozen or two comics per year, appearing in a college newspaper in Canada. You can read the FAQ (co-authored by Canadian libertarian blogger Colby Cosh) or the controversies page, but I'd suggest just jumping right in. Skip the first year if you wish; the artwork was pretty primitive then.

This is some pretty sick, twisted humor. Our hero is an anthropomorphic moose wearing various Star Trek uniforms who, in addition to his surreal adventures, has a bad habit of sodomizing his male co-stars. If you can stomach this strip, you might enjoy the rest of the series. (For those of a more delicate constitution, the brutal sodomy doesn't happen that often.)

Spacemoose isn't exactly a web comic, but only exists now on the web, so I figure it counts. However, I'm taking this opportunity to make a long post on some of my favorite comics.

First off, if you need your daily fill of regular newspaper comics, check out The Houston Chronicle's build your own comics page. (Go here to preview the comics.) Some of my favorite printed comics:There are many other newspaper comics that I read online, but they're all fairly well-known and I'm trying to give some attention to those that deserve it.

The next category would be comprised of web comics that are updated on a daily (mostly weekdays) basis:Again, I read more of these, but the ones listed are those that I felt were worth giving publicity. Now for the web comics updated weekly or intermittently:As I find more good web comics, I'll post them. Don't let the syndicates keep you down! There are great comics that will never see the printed page, but are deserving of an audience!

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