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.