Thursday, May 16, 2013
We just got back from seeing Star Trek. There are some minor spoilers ahead, but nothing major.
I thought that was fabulous. The action was well-filmed and exciting, the plot had lots of twists and turns, including a couple that really caught me by surprise, and some great performances. J.J. Abrams best decision in his first Trek movie was the incredible cast and they continue to impress here. Really, there is no weak link in the cast. Plus, the addition of Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain with ambiguous motives gave the film the proper antagonist the first film lacked.
Since the events of the film's alternate universe are happening at the time of The Original Series' first season, I was hoping that they would make references to some of the events that happened to the Original Series' crew and I was very happy that they did. I also liked some very cool and unexpected easter eggs from the later Trek series, most notably DS9. This movie was reverent and smart about Trek history.
There are a couple of scenes in direct homage to events in the original timeline that I thought were a little too on the nose (Carol called one of them really corny) but they were done with respect. I also think J.J. Abrams needs to take some lessons on the scale of outer space. Earth isn't thirty seconds from Klingon space.
But other than a few nitpicks, I loved this. It surprised me, delighted me, and has a great ending, right where I want the next movie to start.
What did you think?
Hooray for my state!
Governor Martin O'Malley signed the sweeping gun control measure Thursday. Under the new legislation, which the governor helped push through the General Assembly, anyone buying a handgun will have to submit fingerprints to obtain a license. The bill also bans 45 types of assault weapons, but those who own the weapons before the law goes into effect will be allowed to keep them.
Gun magazines will be limited to 10 bullets, gun ownership by people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility will be banned, and Maryland State Police will be able to suspend the licenses of gun dealers who fail to comply with recordkeeping obligations. LinkCommon sense measures that will impinge on no one’s freedom. Of course, without reciprocal measures in other states, this probably won’t amount to much. But it’s a start.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
It’s been a month of stunningly fast developments as three additional states, Delaware, Rhode Island and Minnesota have all passed marriage equality statues, making the total eleven states and the District of Columbia now offering full civil rights. Hooray! Plus, there are a few more states working towards it even now. We in Maryland have had same-sex marriage for months and (big shocker) there have been no negative effects, just as there haven’t in any state that’s extended rights.
Since, it’s pretty clear that the battle has been won and it’s just a matter of time, it would be fantastic if the Supreme Court next month declared the discrimination illegal under the equal protection clause and made same-sex marriage the reality in the entire country. Sure, lots of conservative heads would explode, but they’d get over it pretty quickly and we could move on to the next thing. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Monday, May 13, 2013
SPOILERS ahead for Iron Man 3!
We saw Iron Man 3 a week ago and I am somewhat lukewarm in my appreciation. I thought the style was quite different from Iron Man and Iron Man 2, both directed by Jon Favreau, who gives them a very consistent feel in the dialogue, cinematography and the settings. The difference is presumably due to Shane Black's direction and I can't say I liked the change in tone. This was definitely a "low tech" Iron Man movie.
The villains were the Mandarin and a bunch of guys with a genetic alteration that allows them to regrow lost limbs and radiate intense heat. While I really liked the twist with the Mandarin (which I won't spoil here), I thought the mutated guys were too ill-defined to be interesting. Their abilities actually seemed to grow more powerful as needed during the movie, to the point that they seem to be a match for Iron Man's suits, which seems really silly.
Speaking of which, it seems like a huge waste to have Tony Stark create dozens of new Iron Man suits with special abilities, only to fail to highlight any of the special abilities. The suits all play a part in the final battle, but none of them stand out as having anything unique about them. And none of them seemed to have any real firepower, seemingly limited to punching the bad guys more than anything. I also thought it was an odd choice to have a couple of dozen autonomous Iron Man suits flying around. Who needs Tony Stark anymore? (Although the suits didn't seem to be useful enough to actually help him during the final confrontation with the bad guy. A couple of dozen are just flying around while Tony gets attacked.)
There's also a very long stretch where Tony has no armor, leading to a ridiculous sequence where he infiltrates the bad guy's secret headquarters by himself with a pistol and a few home made gadgets. Huh?
This was my least favorite of the three Iron Man movies (yes, I don't find the second one as bad as some). I liked parts of it, but the shift in tone and the complete neutering of the Iron Man suit made me feel it was less Iron Man and more like an episode of 24.
Thursday, May 09, 2013
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
You are so blindly partisan that you’d willingly vote into office a former disgraced governor who lied to his family, his staff and the public, stole state funds to abandon his post, cheated on his wife, left the United States to visit his mistress in Argentina, paid huge fines for ethical violations, and within the last few weeks broke into his ex-wife’s home. You voted this man back into power because he throws around Christian-speak and has an (R) next to his name rather than a (D).
I’m sure that like almost every Republican in Congress, he’ll work against the economic and social interests of the very people who voted him into office by trying to repeal their healthcare, slash social services, and lavish new tax breaks on the rich.
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
And just like that, Rachel is done with her first year of college. She drove home yesterday, having performed very well as a Freshman at James Madison University.
Man, that went fast. But I’m glad to have her home. Now I won’t have to watch the rest of this season of Doctor Who and catch up on Downton Abbey alone.
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Ted Nugent is a HUGE asshole.
TED NUGENT: I'm going to hit you with something even more ugly, and just heartbreaking, and anti-American than anything else -- I bet you've covered this, Alex.
We have an epidemic, an unprecedented increase in heroes of the U.S. military committing suicide, and I'm going to tell you why. And I'm sure the leftist blogs are going to attack me, misquote me, but I'll tell you why more and more warrior heroes of the military are killing themselves: Because they are in absolute frustration and heartbreak that their boss, their Commander-In-Chief violates the Constitution that he has made an oath to while their hero warrior blood brothers are being blown to smithereens and blown up while executing their oath to the same Constitution that the president, the vice president, and the attorney general violate.
There is a heartbreak in the warrior community. LinkYes, it’s not that they’re suffering from PTSD from watching their “hero warrior blood brothers … being blown to smithereens and blown up” in Iraq and Afghanistan or the problems they’ve had since coming home finding work and a sense of normalcy. It’s because President Obama is a secret Muslim who hates the Constitution.
There’s just no other way to say it. HUGE asshole.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
I just watched a CNN segment on the White House Correspondent's Dinner which is tonight, hosted by Conan O'Brien. The CNN folk said that the comedy guest hosts of the dinner have often been edgy and then showed some clips of hosts from past dinners, including Cedric the Entertainer, a Bush impersonator, Wanda Sykes, and Seth Meyers.
Know who they didn't show? Stephen Colbert, who gave the most edgy speech ever at the dinner in 2006 where, in his guise as a Conservative pundit, he tore Bush a new one. It was completely awesome.
Last weekend, Rachel came home to see her old high school theater group perform Grease. I've never actually seen the show, though Carol and Rachel have seen it a couple of times, but I am very familiar with the movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. My brother was a big fan and used to watch it all the time so I caught some Grease shrapnel.
The huge company of kids did a great job. While I don't think the singing or acting was quite as strong as some previous shows, the dancing was probably the best of the many shows I've seen at the school and the staging, tech, costumes, and scene changes were very well done. It was a fun show and the audience loved it.
What really struck me, though, is that the show itself isn't fantastic. It's more of an ensemble piece to highlight aspects of fifties pop culture. As such, the central romance is not the focus of the show and there are way too many songs that exist merely to showcase a particular type of fifties music, rather than advance the plot or characters.
The movie, in contrast, took that raw material and fixed it, focusing on Danny and Sandy and making their relationship more believable and interesting. They cut out the superfluous songs and added a couple that work much better. In particular, "Sandy", sung by Danny at the drive-in, is a much better song than "Alone at a Drive-in Movie". They also rearranged the plot a bit and the story works much better in the movie.
The other fun thing is that the show has a TERRIBLE message. Basically, Sandy has all kinds of problems with Danny and the other kids because she's a "good" girl who doesn't smoke, drink, or sleep around. Only by embracing her slutitude (TM Ipecac 2013) and giving up her good girl persona does she find acceptance. Danny has a similar, reverse, story arc when he joins the track team to become respectable and actually earns a letter, but he abandons that as soon as Sandy shows up in her skin tight outfit. (And in the play, he actually quits the track team, rather than finish the season). So, terrible message. Way to go, Grease.
Jon Stewart nails conservatives on their selective love of the Constitution. Second Amendment? Love it. The rest? Eh, not so much.
It's the utter hypocrisy that really bothers me.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Appearing in an interview Thursday on NBC's "Today" show, Mrs. [Barbara] Bush was asked how she felt about Jeb, the former governor of Florida, seeking the presidency in 2016.
Mrs. Bush replied, quote, "We've had enough Bushes." LinkAMEN to that!
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
You are a COMPLETE asshat for saying this about the Boston bombing suspect:
"Here's what we're suggesting, that the surviving suspect -- due to the ties that these two have to radical Islamic thought and the ties to Chechnya, one of most radical countries in the world -- that the president declare preliminarily that the evidence suggests that this man should be treated as an enemy combatant. . . We could hold him for a period of time, we could question him without a lawyer, and none of the evidence could be used against him in the criminal proceeding . . . But that's the best way to gather intelligence." Link
I don't know what country you think you live in, Senator Graham, but this is America. The suspect is an American citizen and entitled to every protection the Constitution affords. That's why we have a Constitution, dipshit, to prevent fascist assholes from torturing people and depriving them of their inalienable human rights. The Constitution protects all of us and when you start depriving people of those protections, you start depriving all of us.
I don't boycott a lot of major retailers, mostly because if I start I'll have to boycott nearly all of them. I have been boycotting Chick Fil'A for the last year because of their funding of anti-gay, hate groups (which hasn't changed, despite their "contrition" last summer) but that's it.
We have a Regal Cinema within a mile and a half of our house and it's the place we go most of the time we see a movie. It's a nice, comfortable theater, very conveniently located. Unfortunately, they're being douchebags about having to provide basic healthcare to their employees under Obamacare and cutting back on staff hours to avoid the mandate. Not only is it a cruel thing to do to people not making a lot of money in the first place, it's just bad business practice to screw your employees like this. Even if all you care about is making money, taking care of your employees is the right business decision as happy employees are more loyal and productive. Take a look at Price Club.
And before you get all "Hey, the chain has to make good business decisions don't they? Maybe they can't afford to pay for Obamacare," know that Regal's stock value is way up and they gave all their executives huge pay raises last year. Clearly they're making a lot of money, they'd just rather pay it to their rich executives than help out their regular employees.
And just like they have that choice, I have the choice not to patronize their theaters until they start acting like compassionate human beings who live in a community.
Monday, April 22, 2013
On Friday the Boy Scouts announced that they have reevaluated their position against gays in scouting and that they’re considering lifting the ban on gay scouts, but not on gay scout leaders. Because the ban on scout leaders is important for “protecting scouts”.
Sorry, BSA, but this half-measure means you’re still all-bigoted.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Today (or perhaps tomorrow?), the New Zealand Parliament passed a marriage equality law, giving full marital equality to same-sex couples. The first of the two videos below shows the moments when the law passed. The reaction is awesome, inspiring and touching. Check out the first three minutes.
The second video is a devastating response to the anti-equality folk using humor, compassion and plain-spoken moral truths.
Now THAT'S a government! Well done, New Zealand, well done.
What happened in Boston this week was terrible and a tragedy. But as bad as it is, we’ve been very lucky that this doesn’t happen more often. Consider this:
On April 15, 2013, in Boston, Massachusetts, three people were killed when two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon. Over 144 were wounded. Doctors performed at least ten amputations on those injured.
The same day, in the cities of Baghdad, Fallujah and Kirkuk in Iraq, there were “serial blasts.” Fourteen car bombs and three roadside bombs went off. Thirty-three people were killed and over 160 were wounded. Link
Too many Americans, fed by the irresponsible media, immediately react in fear, demonizing immigrants, blaming government, the President or others before the facts even come out. Consider how much worse the reaction would be if we faced this kind of horror every day.
It should also be noted that most Americans, when faced with these barbarous events, act out of courage, selflessness, kindness and compassion. We need to let those reactions guide us, not the demons in our nature. And it wouldn’t hurt us if we recognized that other people in the world are hurting the same way and try to help.
Monday, April 15, 2013
Gov. Nathan Deal won’t take sides in the controversy over some Wilcox County teens’ efforts to integrate their prom.Yes, ending segregation is a “silly little publicity stunt”. The quality of American politicians on the Right, continues to impress.
By email, his spokesman, Brian Robinson, said Deal would have no response to a liberal group’s call for state officials, including the governor to speak out.
He wrote, “This is a leftist front group for the state Democratic party and we’re not going to lend a hand to their silly publicity stunt.”
Better Georgia asked Deal and others “to publicly support the students of Wilcox County who are fighting to end a ‘separate-but-equal’ high school prom.” Link
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Anna Kareninininina by Tolstoy, considered one of the greatest novels of all time. I started in late December and it took me nearly three months, reading before sleep every night. The writing style is very clean and I appreciated Tolstoy’s sense of humor; for a 900+ page story about mid-19th century Russia, the characters are reasonably modern and relatable. The story itself is epic, taking place over a couple of years and encompassing dozens of characters, which actually hurt my enjoyment. Characters come into the story with their own chapters, only to disappear for hundreds of pages before they reappear. Some characters never return, which I found odd. I did find it really interesting that one of the main male characters clearly demonstrates many of the characteristics of someone with autism, but is never identified as such, of course. For the longest time I wasn’t sure why the book is even named after Anna until near the end when it became clear.
My family gave me a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas but I haven’t had much chance to use it as I’ve been finishing Anna and then, in a neck-snapping change of tone, immediately started mad genius Stephen Colbert’s latest book, which I also received for Christmas. But this week I turned to the Kindle for Stephen King’s The Shining. I’m not a big fan of Stephen King but I’m having a hard time putting the Kindle down. And I’m finding my enjoyment of the book enhanced by my familiarity with Kubrick’s movie as it’s fascinating to see the differences.
As I told Carol, my only regret about reading The Shining on my Kindle is that when I hit the scary parts, I’m reluctant to put the device into the freezer.
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Monday, April 1, was the one year anniversary of my diet. On that day in 2012, I weighed in at 174.5 pounds. My goal was to break 160, which I hadn't done in years, and get down to 158 pounds. I did that two months later, on the day Rachel graduated from high school, June 1. My lowest weight was on October 5, when I hit 151 pounds, but I couldn't sustain it and have gained some of the weight back.
As I approached the one year anniversary, I wanted to get down below 155 pounds so I could claim a 20 pound weight loss. On the morning of Saturday, March 30, I was 155 pounds. Unfortunately, that was the day of a friend's daughter's Bat Mitzvah (thanks a LOT 13 year old girl) and the next morning I weighed 157.5. On April 1, I weighed in at 157, 17.5 pounds down from a year before.
I am still watching what I eat and hope to soon be back down in the low 150's. I plan to start jogging again this summer, something I haven't done at since I've lost the weight, and I am sure that will supercharge further weight loss.
I feel healthier and look better. Here's to the next year.
Sunday, April 07, 2013
Roger Ebert died this week and I will miss his voice.
I started watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's original TV movie review show, Sneak Previews, on PBS in the 1970s when I was in junior high school. It was a joy to see their obvious love of movies and even though they had a sophisticated understanding of film their discussions were very accessible, even to a teen. I followed them to whatever show they were hosting over the years and then, after Siskel's death, continued to read Ebert's reviews on-line over the past fifteen or so years. After I had seen a movie, Ebert's was the first review I read.
Roger Ebert was a really good guy, obviously an influential critic, and someone whose writings and opinions I always enjoyed and respected. The world has lost a unique and important voice.
Next up was one of our favorite games in the series, Hera and Zeus by Richard Borg, depicting an epic struggle within Greek mythology.
In H&Z, one player (me) plays the father of the Greek gods, Zeus, while the other (Carol) plays Zeus' wife, Hera. Zeus has kidnapped Hera's favorite human, Artus, while Hera has kidnapped Zeus' lover, Io. The players battle it out to rescue their hostage by playing various mythical figures.
While the beautiful artwork varies between the player's decks, each is identically strong, consisting of numbered cards which represent the card's strength in battle (0 to 7), to cards with no combat value but some mythological power, and some cards with both. The game starts with each player drawing nine cards and playing three face down in front of him to make three columns across from the other player's. Throughout the game you will play cards down into these columns.
Hera goes first. On your turn, you have as many actions as you have columns. Actions include playing a card down into the playing field, drawing a card into your hand, attacking an opposing card in your opponent's front row, or playing a mythological action card from your hand. When you play down onto the playing field, you can put the card anywhere, even in front of other cards, with a maximum of four cards in any one column. The cards in your front line may fight the cards in the same column from the other player.
Combat is simple. If I want to use one of my front cards to attack its opposite number, I flip mine face up, declare the attack, and my opponent flips their card up. If they have a number card, we compare numbers and the smaller number is defeated and discarded. (Yes, it's somewhat like Stratego.) Cards behind it in the column move up one space. If the defender's cards have a mythological action, that action is activated and resolved.
The mythological cards have a variety of powers. The Medusa, for example, turns anyone who attacks her into stone but is defeated by the Hero or Amazon. Pythia (strength of 0) has several powers including being played from your hand to look at your opponent's hand or turn up all the cards face up in one column, or played on the playing field to beat the most powerful cards, Poseidon and Nemesis. Pegasus (strength of 1) can be played into the playing field as a numbered card or can be played from your hand to attack a card in your opponent's hand or on the playing field. There is a Hera card and a Zeus card and while they're played, you get four actions a turn, regardless of the number of columns. Sirens let you draw a card from your opponent's discard pile, while Hades lets you put a card from your own discards back into your hand.
What is really interesting about H&Z is that there are numerous ways for each player to win. You win if your opponent is forced to discard their hostage (Io or Artus) through combat or various mythological cards, if your opponent can't use all his allocated actions, if a player starts their turn with no cards in their playing area, or when Pandora is activated in the same column or hand as the hostage. Strategically, while you want to expand quickly to get your powerful cards into play, you have to be careful not to draw your hostage from your deck too early because the only time it's absolutely safe is when it's in your draw deck.
|Ipecac's paltry forces|
I started out badly, challenging one of Carol's front cards before I had built up my playing field and so was reduced to two actions for a couple of turns. I recovered and was lucky that Io stayed safely in my draw deck for a long time. There was a lot of back and forth with Carol having the upper hand most of the game and me struggling to keep up.
Unfortunately for her, Carol drew Argus and had to either get him down to the playing field or keep him in her hand where I might find him with Pegasus attacks. She put him down into her biggest column which was opposite an empty column on my side. I played Pandora opposite of this column and Carol attacked. Attacking Pandora is bad as it destroys all cards in the entire column for both players. In this case, that included Argus, giving me the game.
Ipecac extends his lead.
Saturday, April 06, 2013
“I would put me down in the undecided category,” the moderate Democrat told KFSM 5 News. “I did talk with some friends of mine in the gay and lesbian community over the last week or so. We talked about this issue. We also talked about a question I received in the office not too long ago where they asked whether being gay was a choice or whether you were born that way. I told them, I said, ‘Honestly I’ve never really thought a lot about that.” Maybe a lot of people think about that. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about that. But one of the things I hear from them is they feel very strongly that it’s not a choice for them, and I respect that. I’m not going to dispute that. I appreciate that, and I appreciate their honesty. For a lot of these people they just really open their heart to me and talked about some of the struggles they’ve had over the years with their sexual orientation. I respect that and appreciate their patience, and I appreciate their honesty.” Link