Sunday, December 28, 2014

I'll Fly Away: Jetliner Cross-Section

Since we're all traveling a lot for the holidays, here's something cool and relevant.  Ain't technology grand!  

*tries to hang onto sense of wonder about human flight even as babies howl in crowded cabins and people drop bags on one's head from overhead compartments*

Mamma Mia! 30 Best Fictional Parents

Atticus Finch et al!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Movies of 2014

How many have you seen?  I reviewed a selection, and you can find all my raves and rants under the movie reviews tag!

MM in the Kitchen: History via Recipes!

Specifically, recipes from 1600-1800.  Edible research!

Nerd News: Diversity Initiatives vs. Asian Americans

Yet again.  One could do an entire case study on Stuyvesant in NYC:
These challenges have a bearing on K-12 schools, too, suggesting that the the bamboo ceiling may be even lower than once thought. Stuyvesant, one of New York City’s nine specialized public high schools, doesn't consider race in its admissions process; students only need take a standardized test to apply. Still, the policy has come under fire because of the student demographics that result: 73 percent of 'Stuy's' current students are Asian, while 22 percent are white. Just 2 percent of the school's population are Hispanic, and 1 percent is black.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Movie Review: "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"

"Will you follow me one last time?"

Thorin Oakenshield asks the other dwarves this question, and it might as well be director Peter Jackson asking his now-exhausted audience to finish his seemingly interminable Hobbit trilogy. By the time my friends and I went to the theatre on opening weekend, I was mentally prepared to slog through the final installment not because I was actually excited to see it, but because I wanted to finish it and get it over with already. I felt pretty much like I did when I went to go see the last Star Wars prequel. Thank goodness the Hobbit finale is better than that, though prequel fatigue set in with a vengeance, and it was not helped by the news that Jackson had included a battle sequence that lasts 45 minutes. There is one point in the movie when something ludicrous happens, prompting a character to burst out with mingled disbelief and annoyance, "Come ON!" and the audience can't help but agree wholeheartedly.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Quote of the Day: Sony Hack Debacle and Its Discontents

Shot: A wee bit of appropriate profanity from George Clooney regarding The Interview:
"Stick it online. Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I'm not going to be told we can't see the movie.  
That's the most important part. We cannot be told we can't see something by Kim Jong-un, of all f*cking people."
Of all f*cking people!

Chaser: Things took a turn for the ludicrous with Paramount canceling several sassy theaters' attempt to screen 2004's Team America: World Police instead:
"Terrorist threats are no laughing matter, of course, but the Department of Homeland Security has found no credible threat and evidence that the Guardians of Peace have any sort of manpower that could do anything within the boundaries of the United States (much less at thousands of locations simultaneously) is practically non-existent. This sort of panicked cowardice would be laughably absurd if it wasn’t so damn sad."
What I find even more disturbing still are all the self-righteous people who are blaming the victim and saying that it's the moviemakers' fault for making a flick that offended the wrong people.  I'm sorry, but THAT IS EXACTLY WRONG.  Tyrants are precisely the sort of people who should be mocked by free peoples.  Comedy as a genre should be a free space, while we're at it: everything is game.

By the way, I wasn't even interested in The Interview at first because I really don't care much for the oeuvre of Rogen and Franco, but now I bloody well want to see that flick.  Meanwhile, amuse yourselves with this:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Movie Review: "Exodus: Gods and Kings"

Schlock like an Egyptian.

It should tell you something that after I saw Exodus: Gods and Kings on opening weekend, I went home and watched 1998's DreamWorks animated The Prince of Egypt on Netflix ... and had a much better time.  I would have watched Cecil B. DeMille's monumental 1956 production of The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Ramses, but - alas - it wasn't streaming.  Then when I sat down to write a movie review, I seriously contemplated framing it all as a "I'm sorry, please take me back, I love you!" letter to Chuck Heston.

Come on, babe.  You know it's always been about you.

OK, OK, let's get to Exodus: Gods and Kings (and why in the world do we need that colon and its little subtitle?  Isn't Exodus enough?)   All cards on the table: I wanted to like this movie.  I wanted to like it a LOT.  There's no disappointment quite like dashed hope.  I almost entitled this review Exodus: All Washed Up.  In fact, it would probably take the entire Red Sea to wash all the guyliner off Bale and Edgerton ... though I suppose I must give some kind of grudging acknowledgment of an entire movie in which the men wear more makeup than the women.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Bamboo Ceiling: Asian Students Sue Harvard and Chapel Hill Over Affirmative Action Policies

It's not the first lawsuit in educational circles, and it won't be the last.  Remember, higher ed is the place that told me to my face, "You don't count as a minority."  In all honesty, I don't want different standards; I want to compete on level ground with everybody else - I will go toe to toe with any white guy you please in this field (and I have).  Nevertheless, it is neither fair nor right when the gatekeepers pick and choose the "minorities" that they want (and exclude the ones that they don't).

LOL: SNL vs. Obama's Immigration Executive Order

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Movie Review: "Interstellar"

Close encounters of the deferred kind.

First things first: You must go see Interstellar on the biggest screen available, on IMAX if possible.  The special effects are incredible, from depictions of a luminous black hole lashed with gleaming ribbons of light to starkly beautiful alien planetscapes filled with sea and icy desert.  In fact, the epic visuals are by themselves worth the price of admission.  This is certainly a plus, for the rest of the movie proceeds as if it were brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan's answer to hypothetical questions that nobody asks: "What would happen if Shyamalan and Spielberg made a movie together?" or "What kind of movie would you get if you crossed Signs, Gravity, Inception, and 2001: A Space Odyssey?"

Well, the answer is an overstuffed, rather too indulgently ambitious 3-hour-long excursion to the stars that somehow manages to entrance the eyes without truly engaging the emotions or the intellect.  Don't get me wrong: Interstellar does have its moments of orchestrally bombastic heartstring-pulling (at one point or another just about every notable character bursts into tears with varying degrees of credibility).  Some of the performances are quite good, even moving.  Still, I could not shake the feeling that Nolan was more interested in giving us a puzzle to solve (or see solved) than a coherent, emotionally honest journey.  It is a grand puzzle, to be sure, but giving the audience the OCD-ish pleasure of seeing it come together is not same thing as giving it actual profundity.

Interstellar does emphasize the loving but strained relationship between test pilot-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaghey) and his precocious, temperamental daughter Murphy (played in childhood by Mackenzie Foy and in adulthood by Jessica Chastain).  Still, the film's overall treatment of emotional ties struck me as problematic, especially with a scientist arguing at one point that a subjective personal love is as valid as any other rationale for choosing a planet to explore.  (I'm sorry, but that simply isn't so, having an otherwise stolid scientist arguing about the transcendence of personal romantic love over time and space seemed cheesy in the moment and I feel stupid even writing that clause now, and the Nolans' insistence on inserting an almost hokey sentimentality into their space epic is a questionable choice at best.)

The basic premise is this: sometime in the future, Earth is quickly becoming uninhabitable as crops fail and dust bowls blow over the plains.  In fact, the only crops that will grow at all are corn and okra (so I guess the entire world is eating this).  Anyway, NASA mounts a desperate effort to find another livable planet.  As the plot would have it, a wormhole fit for just such a search has opened up next to Saturn, and Cooper is the pilot that the mission needs.  Here time becomes an issue, specifically the passing of it.  From theories of relativity and time dilation to the device of cryo-sleep in space travel to the fear that the mission will not find a new planet before everyone on Earth is dead, time stalks the movie.  Cooper is obsessed with returning to Earth and his children, and the endless frustrating deferrals and setbacks push McConaghey's acting to the limit (he acquits himself well).

As for major complaints, I don't want to go into details lest I completely spoil the movie.  (I honestly thought the ending was preposterous.)  I will say, though, on a nitpicky level that the dialogue is often stilted to the point of inanity; naming a black hole "Gargantua" makes it sound like a busty Spandex-clad villainess from a cheap comic book; everyone misconstrues a Dylan Thomas poem and then refuses to stop quoting it ad nauseam until it turns into schlock; and I absolutely could not take Anne Hathaway seriously in her role as a prickly scientist.  I am also going to reiterate my long-running complaint that Nolan doesn't really know how to write complex, psychologically textured (and believable) women.

For all Interstellar's flaws, though, I do fully expect Oscar nominations for special effects (TARS the robot is quite remarkable too aside from the spacescapes), and I do have to give props to the Nolans for even attempting this movie.  They dared boldly to create a new sci-fi epic on a grand scale, and if their reach ultimately exceeded their grasp, what else is ambitious, daring, Hans Zimmer-scored filmmaking for?

Mad Minerva gives Interstellar a grade of B.  If it helps, just ignore the plot details and feast your eyes on the astounding tableaux like the ship Endurance spinning like a tiny pinwheel in the vastness of space or the looming beauty of Saturn's rings as Cooper and company speed toward the wormhole.  Still, it's not the sort of movie that I can see myself rewatching often (unlike, say Apollo 13).

RottenTomatoes gives the movie the bona fide Fresh rating of 75%.

Interstellar runs 169 minutes and is rated PG-13 for some violence and intense action.

Here is the trailer:

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Midterm Elections 2014

I'm back! 

Well, even though I was exhausted at the end of the day, I dragged myself to the polling place yesterday because of principle.  Not lofty idealistic principles of democracy and the exercise of civic duty, per se, though I suppose they were floating in my subconscious somewhere.  No, I'm talking about a much more practical principle: If you don't vote, then you don't get to b*tch about the process or the people who get elected.  

OK, a colleague of mine complained that all the candidates suck and that he wasn't going to vote at all because of it.  Fine, but by not participating, you are more or less ensuring that the very worst candidates go by ... because they're the ones whipping up their bases to actually show up and cast ballots.  Besides, if you wait until you get a good candidate, you'll probably never vote at all.  Politics is an absolute cesspool (which is exactly why we should give politicians as little power as possible), but as Churchill said, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

(Or maybe this guy?)

Frankly, I am more amused by the post-election left-wing howling (a friend of mine called it "a poo-flinging temper tantrum") than I have been by any amount of politicking leading up to yesterday.  For weeks leading up to the midterms I've had to put up with the tedious combination of arrogance, condescension, sense of entitlement, mudslinging, fearmongering, and campaign BS everywhere; social media has been absolutely flooded with increasingly shrill (and, in retrospect, increasingly desperate) personal political screeds.  (Oh, and protip: "I've completely changed my mind on an important issue because you yelled and screamed on social media and said people who disagree with you are troglodytes," said nobody ever.)

So we get a blowout and today I had to go around trying to keep a completely bland expression amid the weeping, gnashing of teeth, wearing of sackcloth and ashes, cursing, doomsaying, and total emotional incontinence on the part of people who really ought to know better than to act like a toddler deprived of a toy.

I am unsympathetic.  I remember the sort of behavior they indulged in when they were on top, and the loudest of them were as immature in victory then as they are in defeat now.  So this is basically my response to all the moaning and wailing now:

I am, though, pretty pleased with the slate of GOP women who were elected and re-elected, including minority women.  Let the leftists try to run on the noisy demagoguery of the nakedly fearmongering "War on Women" meme.  Their mascot Wendy Davis (way past her 15 minutes of pink-sneakered fame) got trounced in Texas, even by the female demographic there.  Meanwhile watch the party that's supposedly composed only of old rich white sexist racist dudes elect and re-elect a ton of women to office including Hispanic, Asian, and African-American women like Susana Martinez, Nikki Haley, and Mia Love.  Don't forget Joni Ernst of Iowa, the first female combat veteran in the Senate, and Elise Stefanik of New York, who at 30 is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress (and an 18-year-old named Saira Blair who ran her campaign from her college dorm room is now West Virginia's youngest state lawmaker).

I also don't want to hear any BS from leftists about how GOP women in office somehow "don't count," that the only time women in office matter is when they're Democratic women.  That's BS, and everybody knows it.  (I also really want to add libertarian women into this conversation, though technically we're not winning office as Libertarian Party candidates, which is just as well because the official capital-L Libertarian Party is a mess and hopelessly associated with that old crackpot Ron Paul.)

While I'm at it banging my drum about visible inclusivity, note that Tim Scott of South Carolina is the first African-American senator to be elected from the South since Reconstruction.  Scott's win also makes him the first African-American to be elected to both houses of Congress.

Oh, and even in victory: GOP, DON'T GET COCKY.  You still need to work - and work hard - on outreach to ....well, everybody, but especially women and minorities and libertarian-minded independents.  You should not tolerate nut case candidates that make the entire party look stupid.  You seriously need better messaging.  I am also not on board with some of your loopy social-con fixations, and the fact that I don't want the Dems telling me how to run my life doesn't mean that I want you or anybody else telling me how to run it either!

One more completely obvious thing.  That brand is getting toxic.  I am, though, bemused at some lefty spin doctors insisting that the crushing midterm GOP victories don't mean a mandate or anything at all.  That's right, man.  Millions of people voted out/against your favored candidates because we like them, their policies, and what they stand for.  Riiiiiiiight.

Watch out, Cleo.  Someone else wants to be Queen of Denial.

So to close: Congratulations and good luck, midterm winners.  We will be watching, and we will be holding your feet to fire and calling you out if and when you screw up ... because that's a civic duty and responsibility every bit as important as voting.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Movie Review: "Gone Girl"

I am aliiiiiiiiiiiiive, but desperately busy.  Still, I promised La Parisienne a review of Gone Girl, so here it is, very late and several weeks after I saw it, but finally posted!

The female of the species.

Director David Fincher's Gone Girl, the psychological thriller/crime drama, is based on the best-selling novel of the same name (a book that I have not read), and author Gillian Flynn also wrote the screenplay.  The result is a film that did something that no other film has managed to do for a while: keep me guessing about what was going on and what was going to happen next.  Gone Girl has its flaws (some of which are significant), but Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck (yes, La Parisienne, behold my actual, sincere praise for Affleck's acting!) will keep you riveted by their performances as Amy Dunne and her husband Nick, the two halves of a decaying marriage.  When on their fifth wedding anniversary Amy disappears from their home, suspicions of foul play soon swirl around Nick.

I can't give you much more detail of the plot because I would ruin the movie viewing.  As the storyline begins to unspool, you have to pay attention.  This is because of unreliable narrators, or at least biased accounts: both Amy and Nick soon emerge as deeply flawed people, their marriage a tale of the slow rot setting in after a passionate (almost too passionate) start.  We see Amy's perspective as a series of voiceovers: we soon realize she is reading aloud from her diary, the entries handwritten in curlicue letters with a feathery pink pen.  After a while, the swooping swirls of that almost too-girly pen start getting to you, or at least it did to me.  Hearing Pike's disembodied voice, slow, calm and sometimes verging on the creepily melodic, is like hearing the voice of a phantom.  

We see Nick's point of view from watching him in the aftermath of Amy's disappearance, and this is where casting Ben Affleck was a stroke of genius for this character.  Affleck somehow always seems a little shifty, a little (or a lot) insincere, a little untrustworthy no matter what character he's playing.  There's something off about that squint and that handsome, lopsided grin, and the movie plays this to utter advantage.  The rumple-haired, clearly nervous Nick Dunne soon begins to rub you the wrong way ... but (and this is crucial) is he actually capable of cold-blooded murder?

The movie then dives headlong into satire with its depiction of the ever-increasing, ever more insane media circus, right down to Missi Pyle as bleached blonde cable demagogue Ellen Abbott, an obvious caricature of shrill pseudo-news harpy Nancy Grace (wait, is it even possible to caricature someone who is already a caricature?).  She's counterbalanced by agelessly elegant Sela Ward as a more respected but still emotional string-pulling Barbara Walteresque interviewer. The media angle is even further abetted by the publicity efforts of Amy's overbearing parents.  The message is pointed about the role of the sensationalist media in both reporting a news story and then, with its obsessively ravening desire to dig up the dirt, transmogrifying an initial incident into the nearly unrecognizable howl of a mob.  

The entire apparatus comes across as being addicted to every sordid, disgusting detail it can find ... or insinuate without proof or simply make up.  The media becomes almost a living creature, a monstrous screeching vulture with an ever-widening gullet for gleefully gulping down indiscriminate filth and vomiting it back out over a larger and larger radius.  You can't help but feel that somewhere in all this Nick's actual story and any pretense at objective reporting are lost as Abbott and her ilk push their chosen narrative of sweet innocent vanished Amy and wicked dirtbag husband Nick.  The thing turns into a witch hunt.  There is a fascinating scene of celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry in an incredible turn) coaching Nick before an interview.  When a slimeball attorney who (famously!) specializes in getting guilty people off is the only sensible one in the room, you're pretty much screwed whether you're actually guilty or not.

Pay attention also to fine performances by Carrie Coon as Nick's harried twin sister Margo and Kim Dickens (recently of Sons of Anarchy) as the detective on the case.  Neil Patrick Harris also appears, though somehow that particular casting choice did not sit too well with me, however much I like Harris. Part of the action with him almost descended into camp, but that is not a complaint confined only to him but to the third act as a whole.  Still, with Fincher in the director's chair, it's very stylish, evocative camp that looks and feels better than its substance might actually deserve.

In fact, Fincher's direction and the art direction elevate the movie to what will probably be award-winning levels, even if - if you get right down to it - the premise of vanished pretty wife and shifty husband-suspect in a whited sepulcher of a marriage is really a genre trope and a melodramatic one at that.  Still, Flynn and Fincher push the genre to the limits and - one could well argue - break it in the end.

Mad Minerva gives Gone Girl a grade of B+ . Points off for a messy, often excessive third act and for the fact that this is the kind of movie you watch once.  You can't ever recapture the thrill and suspense of wondering what will happen next. 

RottenTomatoes gives the movie the bona fide Fresh rating of 88%.

Gone Girl runs 149 minutes and is rated R for violence (there is one particularly graphic scene), pervasive language, nudity, and some sexual situations.

Here is the trailer:

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Quote of the Day: The Strategic Value of Threat Deflation

From a lengthy essay by a professor of national security comes this thought:
... the rhetoric about ISIL has given the group prestige it does not deserve. Washington may inadvertently help ISIL’s recruiting efforts by hyping its capacity for mayhem.   
... The group has already proven adept at propaganda; it does not need our help and we should not give it.  
What say you?

Holy Movie Review Pretending To Be Asinine Commentary, Batman!

Apparently Thomas Friedman is now quoting from The Dark Knight in an attempt to explain ISIS and Boko Haram.  An entire quarter of  his "analysis" is just lines from the movie. Dude, seriously?

Still, here's a retort worth repeating:

Just Another Day's Work For the US Coast Guard

Check out the photo!

Quirky Asia Files: Eating Autumn Leaves in Japan

Yeah, it's a thing.  Those fried leaves look good, though!  I wouldn't mind trying them.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Couch Potato Chronicles: "Walking Dead" Season 5 Premiere Oct.12

So of course I'm busy marathoning the show on Netflix as a way to get ready.  If you've never seen it and don't mind some occasionally gory (but not too gory) zombie action horror thrills, you might give it a try yourself. Maybe one has to be in the mood.  Some days I want Pride and Prejudice, some days I want Parks and Recreation, some days I want Star Trek, some days I want Justified, some days I want Copper, some days I want Doctor Who (but less and less these days because the current season's plotlines kind of suck), and some days I want The Walking Dead.  (Look, I have to have something to watch now that Breaking Bad is over.)

Oh, sure, I would probably last about 3 seconds in an actual zombie apocalypse, and I hate the undead (though Shaun of the Dead is a hilarious movie and World War Z a far better book than flick).  Still, there's a lot to love in a show that has a Korean American pizza delivery guy turned action hero (Steven Yeun), a taciturn African American woman (Danai Gurira) who wields a mean katana (!), and a crossbow-toting, squirrel-hunting redneck who manages to steal the show even though he doesn't get all that much screen time (fan favorite Norman Reedus as Daryl).  The ostensible lead, small-town cop Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), sometimes seems almost beside the point.

The Walking Dead also refreshingly set in a place other than New York and Los Angeles: the show starts off in Atlanta and takes off into other spots in Georgia where it's filmed on location.  So check it out if you're in the mood for a zombie apocalypse, and remember: you have to stab/shoot/bash the zombies IN THE HEAD or else they'll just keep coming.  Also remember: you can never have too much ammo during a zombie invasion, so stock up!

MM in the Kitchen: Apple Tart

It's apple-picking time, so here's one thing you can do when you get home: make a honeycrisp apple and browned-butter tart.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On the NFL's Behavioral Issues

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Obama, ISIS, and the Bush Doctrine

What say you?

Totally Worth It

Never pass up a chance to hug your grandma, even if you get a yellow card for it.

Photographing the Flight From ISIS

Photojournalist John Stanmeyer brings images of some 66,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing from ISIS and flooding into Turkey yesterday.

Quote of the Day: Campus Speech Codes

Here's a piece of it:
The increased calls for sensitivity-based censorship represent the dark side of what are otherwise several positive developments for human civilization. ... I believe that we are not passing through some temporary phase in which an out-of-touch and hypersensitive elite attempts — and often fails — to impose its speech-restrictive norms on society. It’s worse than that: people all over the globe are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right. This is precisely what you would expect when you train a generation to believe that they have a right not to be offended. Eventually, they stop demanding freedom of speech and start demanding freedom from speech.
Campus speech codes are unconstitutional.  You don't give up your First Amendment rights once you step onto a campus, and you have no right to never be offended.

Oh, related link here.  Apparently it's just as bad  on the other side of the pond.

Nerd News: School Lunches From Around the World

Lunch time!  OK, not to cater to national stereotypes, but I gotta call it as I see it: that British lunch looks completely disgusting.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Quote of the Day: Returning Ghosts

Via Samizdata:
But when we look around in Europe today, we see that not only is Europe not whole and free, we see the ghosts from the painful 20th century returning to our midst. Ghosts that we thought we’d never see again, that we had buried deep in history’s trashbin.

Today, when we look around us, we see it all again. The annexation of territory, the violation of borders, religious conservativism pairing with political authoritarianism and imperialist bravado. 80% of Russians support annexation through military aggression in Crimea, where the Anschluss – and I use that term most seriously here – the Anschluss of territory was justified by the presence of co-ethnics. Moreover, there is widespread support for an anti-liberal attack against decadent Western “permissiveness,” be it in freedom of speech or choice of life-partners. Indeed, we see that liberal democracy has not only failed to win the battle of ideas against authoritarianism, it has failed even to prevent the resurrection of that once vanquished demon, fascism. The nationalist fervor east of us is expressed in arts in a way that makes Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will look like a liberal programme – I suggest you look at the video of the so-called “biker show” staged on August 8 this year in Sevastopol. It is on You Tube. It is a genuine Gesamtkunstwerk. Everything is there – music, art, ballet, motorcycle gangs, it’s all there.

- Estonian President Toomas Hendrik (link to speech transcript)

LOL: Remy vs. ISIS (and NFL)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

LOL: Tweets of the Scottish Independence Vote

By the way, the polls have closed in the Scottish referendum, and you can follow the vote-counting live here

"Should I stay or should I go?" - Scotland

UPDATE: Not going anywhere (which is the smart pragmatic move, frankly).

LOL: P.J. O'Rourke and Iowahawk vs. Scottish Independence Vote

The vote on Scottish independence is today, and P.J. O'Rourke casts a characteristically sardonic and hilarious look at the prospect. This is how it starts:
We Irish don’t hate the Scots per se. They’re too much like us Irish, who all hate each other. So we’re just looking for a fine entertainment from across the Irish Sea as Highland Scots have a donnybrook with Lowland Scots, Glaswegians dust up with Edinburghians, and Clan Dewers unsheathes its claymores for battle with Clan Johnny Walker.
Iowahawk, on the hand, doesn't need to bother with writing an actual piece when he can just tweet stuff like this:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nerd News: Militarizing Campus Cops

We need mortarboards, not mortars.

Food Fight!

Edible things as racial metaphor. 

Nerd News: A Brit-Bashing Portuguese Professor

Dude's got a position at Imperial College, London, so I personally think it's just a little rich that he's turned right round and published a Brit-bashing book back in Portugal.  For extra entertainment, check out this take by a Frenchwoman:
Brit-bashing is a French pursuit, thank you very much – a national sport that we enjoy safe in the knowledge that whatever we throw at Les Rosbifs, they are more than capable of lobbing back at us Frogs. From Joan of Arc to Waterloo and Mers-el-Kébir, we have long known where our most beloved enemy stands: 20 miles and a world away from Calais (never to be surrendered again), in lockstep with us in a love-hate dance . Not for nothing is Wellington’s bust at the British Embassy in Paris displayed next to that of Napoleon . Not for nothing is the inscription on your coat of arms in French; or the fact that we celebrate 1066 (and all that) at Bayeux with the finest and oldest of all tapestries.

So who’s this upstart, insinuating himself right at the heart of our family quarrels?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Couch Potato Chronicles: "Sons of Anarchy"

The long-running TV saga of a California biker gang - I mean, motorcycle club - has been, despite a few flaws and occasional missteps, surprisingly compelling ... and not just because Charlie Hunnam is easy on the eyes or because the soundtrack is so darn good (the music choices are as great as Supernatural's).  The regular cast (anchored by Ron "Hellboy" Perlman and Katey "Peg Bundy" Sagal) is excellent, and the show boasts such guest stars as Peter Weller, David Hasselhoff, Jimmy Smits, Walter Goggins, and Robert Patrick.  I didn't think I would like it, but I gave it a chance, and, well, here I am six seasons later.  The season premiere of the final season is tonight.  Catch up on previous seasons on Netflix! 

Yale Chaplain Resigns After Comments On Anti-Semitism

Turns out that telling Jews that the best antidote to anti-Semitism is pressuring Israel didn't go over too well.  The responses are also worth a look; I'll give you an example (by William Russell Mead of Bard College):
"No, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be a realization among cretins that 'the Jews' are a group of people with very different opinions and desires, that they do not act in concert, and that individual Yale students, for example, of Jewish descent who are American citizens have zero responsibility for any policies of the government of Israel. Anti-Semitism is like racism: most racists don’t think of themselves as racists and most anti-Semites similarly don’t recognize their own twisted prejudice. Perhaps the chaplain at Yale should reflect on the passage in which a well known first century Jewish rabbi urged his followers to take the log out of their own eye before trying to take the splinter out of someone else’s."

Free Music From U2? YES, PLEASE

Rejoice, music lovers!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Hype, Heresy, and the Osteens

For La Parisienne and Dr. Doolittle, as we have long been saying exactly this.  Oh, sure, I'm a mean, nasty person for calling out such an inoffensive, smiling nice guy as Joel Osteen, right?  Whatever.  He and his Prosperity Gospel bandwagon are factually wrong in terms of orthodox doctrine, and no number of toothy grins and amazing hairdos is going to turn his pulpit-based motivational speaking into the actual gospel.  

It's marketing genius that tells a bunch of people exactly what they want to hear, but its popularity doesn't mean that it's not a pile of unbiblical hooey. You don't have to be a Christian to see that.  You don't have to adhere to any religion at all. You only have to be a person with neurons and a basic ability to compare one set of statements with another and see that the two don't match.

On a related note: It doesn't matter if Osteen's shallow, happy-slappy, brain-dead, self-centered, "God is my cheerleader" pablum makes you feel good.  "Feeling good about yourself" and "getting stuff" and refusing to talk honestly about sin and human failing are not the point of Christianity.  There, I said it.  

3 Notes on Asia

One:  "Big Yellow Duck Creator Brings Giant White Rabbit to Taiwan"

Two: Starting a Letter with "Dear Kung Fu Panda ..." 

Three: Mooncake industry eclipsed by Chinese corruption crackdown 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Women Warriors of the Kurdish Peshmerga

They are as eager to fight ISIS as their male counterparts. I did not know this:
The Kurdish Peshmerga’s battle against Islamic extremists is drawing hundreds of female volunteers and persecuted minorities, many of whom are being trained by a unit in Dohuk. 
“It’s my duty to defend my country,” said Sashida Sadiq, a police commander from Dohuk. The 27-year old was one of 20 women selected for military service among the 2,800 people who tried to enlist in Dohuk.  
Although Sadiq’s role is primarily administrative and logistic, she is prepared to fight the Islamic State (IS/formerly ISIS) and many are proud of her service. Sadiq is single but maintained that even if she had a husband and children “I would fight. The situation is too bad.” 
“I’m not afraid of fighting IS,” she said. “My being a women makes no difference. The Peshmerga will be stronger than IS once we get better weapons. I am eager to use those against them.”  
In Sulaimania, the Peshmerga has five female reservist battalions, and many of the soldiers are married with children. They have been called to serve since the battle against IS began in June.  
In addition, female fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) have joined the war effort and make up 30 to 40 percent of the militias’ fighters.

"No Longer Even 'Leading From Behind'"

The ongoing mess in Libya.

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: WHAT?

Sanrio just made a bombshell of an announcement.  So ... basically I've been living under a delusion for my entire life.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Fun Video: Foo Fighters and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The rather whimsical effort to raise awareness of and research funding for ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) has produced some very watchable videos on its way to raising some $15 million so far, but I think the Foo Fighters' spoof of a classic horror flick is my favorite.  Well done, people.

Carrie On.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nerd Journal: Doppelgänger Alert

Quite by accident I stumbled across another Mad Minerva here.  Now according to the lore of the doppelgänger, she and I must never, ever meet in person!

The Great Chinese Exodus

"Should I stay or should I go?"

Quote of the Day: "Unprecedented Disarray"

Hope and change. Well, change, anyway:
If anything, the international situation Obama faced when he assumed the presidency was, in many respects, relatively auspicious. Despite the financial crisis and the recession that followed, never since John F. Kennedy has an American president assumed high office with so much global goodwill. The war in Iraq, which had done so much to bedevil Bush’s presidency, had been won thanks to a military strategy Obama had, as a senator, flatly opposed. For the war in Afghanistan, there was broad bipartisan support for large troop increases. Not even six months into his presidency, Obama was handed a potential strategic game changer when a stolen election in Iran led to a massive popular uprising that, had it succeeded, could have simultaneously ended the Islamic Republic and resolved the nuclear crisis. He was handed another would-be game changer in early 2011, when the initially peaceful uprising in Syria offered an opportunity, at relatively little cost to the U.S., to depose an anti-American dictator and sever the main link between Iran and its terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza.

Incredibly, Obama squandered every single one of these opportunities. 
Squandered or, in some cases, "threw away with both hands."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Movie Reviews: 3 More Grades

This flick based on Steve Moore's comic book treatment of the ancient myth stars none other than the Rock himself, the amazingly buff Dwayne Johnson, as the titular hero.  The flick really should have had more humor and campy fun, especially since the Rock has so much personal charisma.  If you want to humanize Herc, then humanize Herc: sometimes humor does a better job than only rehashing a tragic past. The movie does have a few other things going for it, including the always watchable Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell as two of Herc's comrades in arms (these two, by the way, deserve far more attention than they've gotten lately in their careers).  The storyline doesn't involve Herc's canonical Twelve Labors per se, but I found the departure rather refreshing, along with its take on the power of storytelling.  Yes, it's a bit revisionist, but here's still plenty of action, though we soon find that we don't need monsters to fight when certain men are just as bad.  Overall: Is the flick just a little ridiculous?  Wouldn't you kind of be disappointed if it weren't?  It's also more entertaining than it has the right to be.  (Oh, and it runs absolute circles around The Legend of Hercules from earlier this year, a laughably awful flick that was an object lesson in how not to do a Hercules movie ... or any movie.)  Grade: B.

The Hundred-Foot Journey
British national treasure Helen Mirren is back as Madame Mallory, the frosty owner of a Michelin-starred classical French haute cuisine restaurant who does not take kindly to an Indian eatery opening up across the street.  In all honesty, I liked Jon Favreau's wonderful Chef better as a story about food and humanity (besides, I'm more a food truck girl than a Michelin foodie, and anyway - sorry - I don't much like Indian food), but The Hundred-Foot Journey is still an engagingly good time at the theatre that will make you hungry.  The culture clash plot is a little familiar and cliched, but there's a redeeming amount of heart, humor, and actual character development (not to mention tons of scrumptious-looking slo-mo food porn).  Mirren is charming, Manash Dayal is emphathetic as Hassan, the young aspiring cook across the way, and established character actor Om Puri is his occasionally frustrating father.   Charlotte Le Bon is Marguerite, a sous-chef in Mallory's restaurant who is the obligatory love interest for Hassan, but the relationship only got interesting for me when they become rivals in the kitchen.  In the end, though, Mirren and Puri basically own the movie; there were moments when I forgot about Hassan and Marguerite entirely.  Grade: B.

A Most Wanted Man
For being a movie about terrorism, surveillance, and intelligence gathering based on a John Le Carre novel, this thing moves more slowly than molasses on a winter day.  When the credits finally rolled, I said, "Is that it?!"  Other complaints: I absolutely could not take Rachel McAdams seriously in her role as a lawyer, and the movie wastes Daniel Brühl. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman is always worth watching, but he looked terrible, and I couldn't tell if it was the character or the actor.  At least Willem Dafoe brings some spark and energy to this boring exercise as an impeccably dressed but corrupt German banker.  I honestly don't know why this flick is being as well reviewed as it is.  Maybe the whole thing was just too subtle and ambiguous for a yahoo like me, because I went home and watched Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit on DVD to get the international action thriller I hadn't gotten in the theatre.  As for A Most Wanted Man?  I appreciate the points it was trying to make about the gray areas of counterterrorism, but this dreary, soggy, tedious slog of a movie did not engage me personally; it didn't make me care about what happened next to anybody, and in movie narrative terms, that's unforgivable.  Grade: D.

Alas, Not A Real Show

Monday, August 11, 2014

Emus 1, Australian Army 0

Educate yourself about the Great Emu War of 1932.

Monday Therapy: Commuting In Finland

Mondays are awful, but at least your drive to work (probably) wasn't like this:

The purported translation of the ranting is here.  Lots of hilarious swearing as the frustrated folks in the car start losing their cool.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

MM in the Kitchen: Grilled Peaches

OK, technically I'm not in the kitchen per se ... but you really need to try grilling peaches.  You don't even need to follow this recipe.  At the end of your next cookout, just throw some (halved and pitted) peaches on the grill (use that residual heat) until they get those lovely grill marks, serve them with vanilla ice cream, and be hailed as a hero by your kith and kin.  Peaches not your thing?  Try grilling pineapple.  Aw yeah.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Nerd News: Student Athletes, Profit, and the NCAA

New ruling: the NCAA can't forbid student athletes from profiting.  Well, college sports have become a HUGE bazillion-dollar business ... a business that basically doesn't pay its talent on the field.

3 Definitions of the Obama Doctrine

Admittedly, this is a rather difficult endeavour because it's trying to do a definition by default given that the administration seems to have no coherent pro-active strategic vision.  "Leading from behind" does NOT count.  Anyway, what do you think of:

(1) Definition the First
The Obama Doctrine is to ignore problems until they metastasize into vast international crises, then react with an ineffective spasm of concern. In this, the President has been consistent, be it Libya, Egypt, Boko Haram or Ukraine. The truly serious situations get a Twitter hashtag.

(2) Definition the Second
Asked seven years ago if the need to stave off potential genocide might convince him to change his mind about a total and precipitous withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, then-candidate Obama replied that it would not. “Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done,” Obama said. 
This cynical avowal, I wrote at the time, was an indication of what might become the “Obama doctrine,” which I described thusly: “The United States will remain passive in the face of genocide.” Seven years later, I regret to say, my prediction stands up pretty well.

(3) Definition the Third (OK, not so much definition as observation)

Crazy For Kimchi: The Rise of Korean Food in the US

What's not to love?  One of my favorite dishes is bulgogi.  So good!

New Front-Runner For Stupidest Utterance of the Year

I had thought the "libertarians are power-hungry Communists" piece was pretty unassailable as the dumbest, most ludicrous piece of the year, but I think we have a new front-runner. Via Twitchy, I point you to this: "What ISIS gets wrong about the Caliphate."  Seriously?  A bunch of Western libs messing around on the Internet is going to "explain" to ISIS how they're doing it wrong?
As for the "article" itself, it's so badly written in terms of style (let's not even touch substance) that I laughed. Here's an example:
The present-day Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in declaring himself a caliph and his terrorist mini-state a caliphate, is communicating that he believes he is fighting on behalf of all Muslims worldwide (he does not count Shia Muslims in this, only Sunnis) and that he is the representative of God on earth. He is also sort of suggesting a desire to continue ISIS's advance until he has conquered all Muslim-majority lands, which is an aspiration that's hinted at frequently in jihadist maps of a unified Islamic empire ...
This is freshman-level writing.  At best.  

Blood Is Thicker Than Politics

A timely reminder that humanity should > politics.

Humans of Iraq: Popular Photo Blog Turns War Report

Humans of New York is now in Iraq.  If you're not reading it, you're missing out.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Retracing a Route from the Days of Genghis KHAAAAAAAAN

It's like an insane combination of the Pony Express, the rodeo, and the Iditarod.  Well, you only have 10 days to cover 600 miles of punishing Mongolian plain on horseback, so you better steppe on it!

Meet Viet Xuan Luong, the Army's First Vietnamese American General

He was promoted yesterday at Fort Hood.  Luong came to the States as a refugee with his family when he was 10.  Here's a bit of what he had to say:
"We are not American by birth but by choice; however, when it comes to defending our great nation and the constitution we won't take a backseat to anybody."

Headline of the Day: UK Law Enforcement Imitates Monty Python

"Village pub raided by police in hunt for Holy Grail."

2100-Year-Old Royal Tomb Discovered in China

Liu Fei must have looked snazzy in his jade burial suit.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Movie Review: "Guardians of the Galaxy"

Everything is Awesome!

It's only fair to quote Chris Pratt's first triumphant movie of 2014 to describe his second.  Besides being a bit of meta-review, it has the benefit of being absolutely true.  I have run out of superlatives to describe Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel's thrilling confection of a comic book space opera that seems completely improbable on paper but blooms into a giddy display of unmistakable movie magic on screen (plus $94 million on opening weekend ain't bad!).  

Guardians is not just two hours of action-comedy with a ragtag band of lovable misfits, an engaging retro-pop soundtrack, stunningly beautiful special effect spacescapes, and two of the best scene-stealing CGI characters ever created.  It's also a movie that recaptures the childlike, heart-pounding delight of seeing flicks like Star Wars or the even-numbered Star Treks or Raiders of the Lost Ark - movies that set your imagination on fire, filled your head with landscapes you'd never dreamed of before, and had you strutting out of the theatre thinking you were no longer plain old you, but Han Solo or Captain Kirk or Indiana Jones himself.  Guardians of the Galaxy is exactly that kind of movie.  I spent the entire time in the theatre sitting with a big silly grin on my face and feeling about 10 years old, and I can't wait to see this flick again ... and again ... and again.