Friday, June 20, 2008

Preview of Movie Review: "The Incredible Hulk"

The Cine-Sib and I went to see the new Marvel film a couple nights ago.  First comment: It was SO MUCH BETTER than the 2003 Ang Lee attempt!

I'll post a  full review later, but now I'll just say that it's a good film and well worth your time -- especially for the cameos and in-jokes.

Besides, Edward Norton can do something that Eric Bana can't: Norton can act!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Taiwan: Interesting New Survey of Public Opinion

Here's an interesting little survey.

Here are two of the questions:

Q3. If you can choose, would you prefer Taiwan to become an independent country, or unify with mainland China, or become a state in the United States of America?
58%: Independent country
17%: Unified with mainland China
8%: Become a state in the United States of America
17%: No opinion

Q4. If you can choose, would you prefer Taiwan to become an independent country, or unify with mainland China?
65%: Independent country
19%: Unified with mainland China
16%: No opinion

(I thought Question 3 was just hilarious -- and a bit bemusing.)

Media Morass Over China-Taiwan Talks

Didn't I just say this?

The China-Taiwan talks have just yielded an agreement for some direct flights (weekend charter flights). The media's all yapping about it, and the coverage has been . . . erratic. But I simply must point out this goofy New York Times piece. I also point to a Taiwan blogger who disassembles it in the most glorious fashion.

Euro Notes: Ireland Votes No to Lisbon Treaty

Ireland throws a wrench into the works.

Well, the critics are beginning to yowl. I fail to see how it's bad that the Irish electorate had a chance to express itself. Isn't that kind of . . . well . . . democratic? Besides, isn't Ireland the only country to hold a referendum on this business?

The BBC News story seems rather testy about it all. Look at this final line (my emphasis in boldface): "In 2001, Irish voters almost wrecked EU plans to expand eastwards when they rejected the Nice treaty."

Heaven forbid that the Irish do anything that the mandarins of the Continent don't like! Well, well, well, let's just blame the Irish and characterize the lot of them as persistent, ignorant, and irremediable troublemakers, why don't we, BBC? Pfffft.

Nerd Notes: Geek Girls!

Well, it's about time that technophile ladies got some recognition too. Hooray!

I have one small comment, though: the article talks a bit about some of the girls being "hot" and "sexing up" both themselves and the sciences that they love. Maybe they really ARE hot, and that's fine. Hotness in itself is a neutral thing, I guess. But I hope this doesn't send out a secondary message that you have to be some kind of physical bombshell. Brains are beautiful, and I think smart is sexy, in itself, without having to add a lot of frills. (I'm saying this for everybody, not just the ladies.)

Nerd Journal: Out of Town

FYI, I'll be out of town for the next few days, so I'll mostly be offline.

Have a great weekend ahead!

An Englishman's Treehouse Is His Castle. Or Not.

Doesn't government have better things to do than persecute a boy and his treehouse?

France: Turning History into Pulp. Literally.

What a horrible report.

This is probably the one occasion where you will find me demanding that we save trees.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Cinema-Mad Sibling Recommends: Previews for "Tropic Thunder"

Now usually, I'm not much persuaded by marketing campaigns. I'd rather just go see the film. In fact, usually I don't pay attention to marketing on purpose, so I can walk into that cinema without too many preconceived notions. But I simply have to make an exception this time. The pre-release antics are just too entertaining and, really, too effective. I can't help but notice. Gentle readers and fellow film fans, the Cine-Sib and I give you the following previews for the upcoming action-comedy movie "Tropic Thunder."

In a nutshell, the film stars comedians Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr. (Don't think Downey's a comedian? Just you wait) as three spoiled actors filming a war movie. In a mishap, the three of them, while filming, find themselves lost in an actual war zone. Hilarity (we all hope) ensues. I can tell you right now that this film is not for the squeamish or the easily offended.

Here is the official preview trailer. It's pretty good, but it's nowhere near as entertaining as three other videos that are also promoting the movie. I link to them for your amusement. As usual, all due credit goes to the Cine-Sib:

~The red band trailer. Yep, this trailer itself is rated R for violent images and bad language. Maybe I'm just evil, but I laughed like a loon. I'll have high hopes for the movie if even the trailer has memorable lines like: "This scene is about emotionality!" and "I'm sorry your dingo ate your baby!"

~The surprise appearance by Black, Downey, and Stiller at the finale of "American Idol." The trio shows up with Gladys Knight in a Forrest Gump-ish mix of archival footage and current actors. The dancing is killing me even more than the outfits are! Black is his typically manic, silly self; Downey is an absolute smooth lounge lizard.

~The three guys' parodic setpiece video for the recent MTV Movie Awards. It's supposed to be the making of an amateur "viral video," and it's 4 minutes of completely demented humor. Jack Black ends up playing the hapless victim, Stiller the amoral mastermind, and Downey -- well, he's having the most fun of all as the scene-stealing trickster. Just listen for the evil, gleeful laughter.

A little silly, a little sophomoric, yet weirdly amusing in a slapstick kind of way, it's . . . I'll give you only the comment made by another film website: "I'm not going to give too much away, but any video which has the Iron Man hitting the Kung Fu Panda . . . with a hammer is worth your time."

Oh, and the video assumes that you, the savvy film fan, are well familiar with all sorts of details in the movie world, especially both "Iron Man" and "Kung Fu Panda."

These last two film clips are almost too funny to believe, though I suppose you have to be in the right mood. I have to say, too -- as a marketing campaign, the creative videos are a lot more effective than the usual push with movie posters/ads/commercials.

"Tropic Thunder" is rated R for violence and language, and it opens in theaters on August 15. I'll be there -- the last summer movie hurrah before classes start again!

Satire Alert: Fight Greenie Alarmism with Carbon Belch Day!

This is glorious!

The best way to combat cheerless sanctimonous Greenies (or cheerless sanctimonious anybody, really) is with a good dose of humor, spoof, parody, and satire. This latest parody hits back at the apocalyptic predictions of global doom and its wicked handmaids, carbon caps/taxes, Kyoto, and various other forms of government-induced, guilt-driven, green-tinged overreach and foolishness.

Smoke cigars, do a partial load of laundry, drink bottled water and feel no shame. That's what a campaign against a carbon trading bill is urging.

The latest parody of the proliferation of "green" social-networking sites and eco-friendly events comes via "Carbon Belch Day," a campaign from the conservative alliance that encourages people to pollute as much as possible on June 12.

So far, more than 140,000 people have signed a petition against "climate alarmism," according to Ron De Jong, spokesman for
Here is the official website for Carbon Belch Day.

(Its equally humorous cousins include World Jump Day, CheatNeutral, and this Daily Mash satire of Live Earth concerts.)

Oh, and according to the Carbon Belch Calculator, I'll dump 64 pounds of CO2 on Gaia today. I'm sure that's wrong. I'm sure I'm actually dumping much, much more. Hee hee!

China's Unofficial New Olympic Sport: Hacking Computers

OK, so I'm being facetious. Well, sort of. Here's the news blurb:
National security agencies are warning businesses and federal officials that laptops and e-mail devices taken to the Beijing Olympics are likely to be penetrated by Chinese agents aiming to steal secrets or plant bugs to infiltrate U.S. computer networks. Chinese government and industry use electronic espionage to "easily access official and personal computers," says one recent report by the Overseas Security Advisory Council, a federally chartered panel comprising security experts from corporations and the State, Commerce and Treasury departments.

Equipment left unsupervised for just minutes in a hotel or even during a security screening can be hacked, mined and bugged, adds Larry Wortzel, who chairs the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a federal panel that monitors China-related security issues for Congress. China's government also controls Internet service providers and wireless networks, he says, so computers and PDAs can be monitored and planted with bugs remotely, too.

"There is a high likelihood -- virtually 100% -- that if an individual is of security, political, or business interest to Chinese ? security services or high technology industries, their electronics can and will be tampered with or penetrated," Wortzel says.

China's embassy did not respond to requests for comment but usually dismisses espionage charges.

"The so-called accusation of the Chinese military espionage against the U.S. is groundless and fabrication with ulterior motives," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a press conference last month.

Yet China's pursuit of American government and business secrets has been noted repeatedly in federal threat assessments.

Let's Cut Back Freedom of Speech Because All the Cool Kids Are Doing It! (A Rant)

Look at this headline in the New York Times: "Unlike Others, U.S. Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech."

What does this headline immediately imply? Ohhhh, those nasty Americans, unilaterally engaging in speech acts that nobody else thinks are OK! Ohhhh, those nasty Americans, how much better off they'd be if they'd conform to everybody else and criminalize offensive speech!

And when I moved to email the article, the Times blurb for it reads: "As more countries move to ban or restrict hate speech, some legal scholars say the U.S. should reconsider the broad scope of First Amendment protection."

Wow, folks. You talk about American freedom of speech as though it were a bad thing. Ditto for the broad scope of First Amendment protection. I don't know about you, but I want my First Amendment scope of protection to be as wide as possible, and I'm deeply skeptical of any attempts to cut slices from it -- for whatever reason. Oh, and if the scope of protection in America is bigger than it is in other places, that's even better. So why then does the opinion piece seem to say that we ought to reduce that scope?

Here's a blurb from the piece:
“It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken,” Jeremy Waldron, a legal philosopher, wrote in The New York Review of Books last month, “when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack.”
(OK, here's a warning: I am now about to launch a certain form of vicious attack on this entire idea.)

Yes, let's curtail freedom of speech because all the cool kids are doing it! Because it's the latest trend! And the cool kids think that the fuzzy idea of "mutual respect" is more important than centuries of hard-fought freedom of speech. And of course the enlightened European elites are surely more evolved than we Neanderthals over here in the New World, we who still believe in the right to do things like . . . bear arms.

In fact, this entire line of reasoning is deeply misguided because it's based on the fundamental idea of Big Government. Yes, Big Nanny Babysitter Government who has to hover over our shoulders and make sure the little people play nicely with each other. I don't want to be monitored. I'm reminded of George Will's pithy statement that the government's job is to deliver the mail, defend the shores, and get out of the way.

Do I really have to say it again? In a world where you have actual civil liberties and actual freedom of expression, you have no guarantee that somebody somewhere along the line is not going to be offended. And if any nanny government attempts to guarantee that nobody will be offended, then you can kiss goodbye to actual freedom of expression -- because what you'll end up with is policed speech. In a truly free society, the mere idea of using government force to shut up people, even (and especially) people you don't like, should be absolutely anathema.

And this Times piece is supposed to be some kind of enlightened response to the recent Canadian "show trial" of Mark Steyn and MacLean's magazine in front of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. ("Tribunal"? That sounds kind of . . . ominous.)

You know, I'm about willing to argue that hate speech restrictions in themselves are offensive. Putting in speech restrictions in the name of human rights is an even blurrier enterprise, as "human rights" becomes the club with which to beat people you don't like. Besides, hasn't someone once said that it's impossible to speak so that you won't be misunderstood? I add that nowadays there's really no way to speak so that you won't offend somebody who wants to be offended.

I'm not saying that you should go out and intentionally offend as many people as possible just because it's legal. There is such a thing as common sense decency and notions of good behavior. But there is a difference between (a) being rude and incurring the social criticism of your peers, and (b) being rude and incurring government response like fines, citations, and human right tribunals. And by being "rude" I mean either by intent or accident.

Anyway, I end by noting the slick, slimy smoothness of the "let's cut back freedom of expression" advocates. They make it sound so civilized, so reasonable, so desirable . . . and instead of celebrating the unique robustness of American speech freedoms, they seem to say that this achievement (won by blood and effort by people with more guts and conviction than the critics can aspire to) is bad and should be jettisoned in favor of the amorphous morass of quasi-policed speech because All the Cool Kids Are Doing It. Oh, and if all the cool kids decide to jump off a cliff, would . . . ? Because frankly I think that's where the road is leading. Right off the cliff and into oblivion. The pernicious cult of political correctness has yielded the most politically repugnant possibility: the crushing of actual freedom in the name of faux enlightenment.

Oh, and here is some Harvard-flavored nerd reportage on the First Amendment and American exceptionalism.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Movie Review Re-Direct: "Kung Fu Panda"

I goofed up and forgot to post my movie review under today's date. Instead it's dated on the day I saw it. Oops.

My review of "Kung Fu Panda" is now online.

Taiwanese Envoys Arrive in China

Guess who's coming to dinner.

The delegation from Taiwan will sit down with mainland officials for the first formal talks in almost 10 years. This is a pretty big deal.

It's time for a little careful observation -- and also time to see how badly the media screws up the analysis.

Quirky Asia Files and Geek Fun: The Emoticon Mask from Korea

Click here. Just do it!

I absolutely need one of these! When I'm in academic meetings and such, I'll set it to the blank default position so I can sit there, Sphinx-like and mysterious, while really I'm sleeping inside my mask.

Nerd News: 7 People Arrested at Graduation Ceremony -- for Cheering

This is even more ludicrously stupid than the "no throwing of mortarboards" incident. Here's the short version:
ROCK HILL, S.C. - Authorities say seven people attending high school graduations in Rock Hill, South Carolina, are facing charges after police say they cheered while students' names were being called.

. . . Police say those arrested yelled after students' names were called while diplomas were handed out.

. . . A police spokesman says school officials request police patrols to prevent graduation disruptions that include standing, hollering and clapping. He says those attending the commencements are told their behaviour can be prosecuted.

I don't know what these people are thinking, but they sound like killjoys who think commencement exercises are only solemn parades to the gravitas-laden strains of "Pomp and Circumstance."

Frankly, if happy parents, friends, and relatives (and, oh, especially happy parents) want to cheer when their loved one's name is called at graduation, then let them cheer. The students -- have only this one tiny moment to shine in public. They'll never be in that spot again. Let them have it. Let them celebrate! A moment of high spirits isn't a CRIME -- or it shouldn't be.

Idiots. *snort of derision and contempt* Oh, and I don't at all buy the argument that somehow a little joyful, spontaneous applause and cheering is lethally disruptive or dangerous. Graduations are supposed to be happy occasions, remember?

Look, cheering isn't disorderly conduct in my book. Of course, some types of behavior are inappropriate for graduation -- such as this (it's also inappropriate for acceptable public behavior in any setting at all, though arresting the guy might not be the best response either).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Great Moments in Higher Education: Australian Educator Says English Is Too Hard For Students

Oh, this blurb from Sydney is just beyond parody:
The head of one of the nation's elite private schools has questioned whether English should be compulsory for the senior years, saying the courses being taught are beyond the intellectual ability of most students.
The idiotification of the academy proceeds apace?

South Korea: Government Crisis Over US Beef Imports

Oh, dear. As tens of thousands of South Koreans protest a proposal to resume imports of US beef, the cabinet may resign. President Lee Myung Bak look besieged.

Nerd News: New Report on Asian-American Student Stereotypes

Interesting. Blurb:

The image of Asian-Americans as a homogeneous group of high achievers taking over the campuses of the nation’s most selective colleges came under assault in a report issued Monday.

The report, by New York University, the College Board and a commission of mostly Asian-American educators and community leaders, largely avoids the debates over both affirmative action and the heavy representation of Asian-Americans at the most selective colleges.

But it pokes holes in stereotypes about Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, including the perception that they cluster in science, technology, engineering and math. And it points out that the term “Asian-American” is extraordinarily broad, embracing members of many ethnic groups.

Here is also an amusing little aside:
But the idea that Asian-American “model minority” students are edging out all others is so ubiquitous that quips like “U.C.L.A. really stands for United Caucasians Lost Among Asians” or “M.I.T. means Made in Taiwan” have become common, the report said.

Asian-Americans make up about 5 percent of the nation’s population but 10 percent or more — considerably more in California — of the undergraduates at many of the most selective colleges, according to data reported by colleges. But the new report suggested that some such statistics combined campus populations of Asian-Americans with those of international students from Asian countries.

Oh, and don't forget that U.C.I. isn't "University of California at Irvine," but really "University of Chinese Immigrants."

OK, can I say something offensive? Let's consider the many reasons why there is a trend of high-performing Asian-American students. Could be it . . . a work ethic grounded in the culture? a work ethic partly born from that traditional reverence for education and hard work? Meanwhile, I find it bitterly amusing that in some circles, high-achieving Asian students are perceived as some sort of threat -- yes, we're taking over all the campuses, a plague of brainy nerds and geeks! How dare we excel! How dare we not moan and wail and make excuses for failure? Well, sweet, sweet success is the best revenge -- including the best revenge for stupid identity politics.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Taiwan: the Island's Security Is "On Hold"

Take a look at this recent op-ed piece by Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council. The focus is on Taiwanese security issues. Link xie-xie to View From Taiwan.

I give you a few relevant pieces. Do read the whole thing.

At a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) asked Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte for a status report on arms sales to Taiwan. Mr. Negroponte responded that since Taiwan’s legislature approved substantial defense funding in 2007, the U.S. has not taken steps to advance Taiwan arms sales. He added that prior to moving forward, the U.S. will first “await developments there.”

But when Mr. Negroponte suggested that U.S. arms sales were stalled due to the political transition underway in Taiwan, he neglected to mention that his department is currently sitting on an unprecedented seven Taiwan arms sales notifications (valued at $11 billion) ready for informal review by Congress.

In April 2001, President Bush released a significant package of weapons to Taiwan to aid it in its military modernization efforts. This show of support for Taiwan’s security, consistent with U.S. obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), was welcomed on both sides of the Pacific.

But Taiwan’s then-President Chen Shui-bian miscalculated in his attempts to secure funding for the package, and the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) concluded that opposing U.S. weapons purchases would aid its domestic political fortunes. Thus, the long-held security consensus in Taiwan broke down, and the U.S. offer sat dormant for four years. In June and December of 2007, however, the domestic political impasse broke and Taiwan passed funding for all of the items released in 2001.

It is difficult to gauge why the Bush administration is delaying congressional notification on these sales. Perhaps they feel that cross-Strait relations are at a sensitive time and the U.S. should avoid provoking China, or that Taiwan needs to undergo a period of responsible behavior to reestablish trust.

Good grief. The dangerous limbo is both the child of the self-centered KMT (that I well knew) . . . and now currently of the US? This needs some looking into.

Meanwhile, the increasingly farcical President Ma of Taiwan wants China to roll back the 1000 missiles it has pointed at the island nation. Good luck with that, pal. China's been increasing the number of missiles and also increasing its military spending. Ma and the KMT can go "pretty please" and hat in hand, but I doubt Beijing will remove a single missile any time soon, no matter what people might say. Besides, reducing the total number of missiles isn't the same as getting rid of all of them.

UPDATE: Defense News reports that the US has frozen $12 billion in arms sales to Taiwan. Read the whole depressing, maddening thing. Blurb here:
As China and Taiwan prepare for their first official talks in more than a decade, sources in both Taipei and Washington say the U.S. State Department has decided to freeze all congressional notifications for $12 billion worth of arms sales to Taiwan. Sources are mixed on whether the freeze will extend through the remainder of the Bush administration or only until after the August Beijing Olympics. Fears in Taipei are the freeze could become permanent with a new U.S. president in January.

The freeze is part of an effort not to derail Beijing-Taipei negotiations, scheduled to begin June 11, or disturb plans by U.S. President George W. Bush to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

The freeze covers about $12 billion worth of weapon sales now being processed under the Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program and items still awaiting approval, including 30 Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters, 60 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, eight diesel electric submarines, four Raytheon Patriot PAC-3 air defense missile batteries and 66 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters. The freeze does not include 12 Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, which have already been approved.
I doubt that I really need to tell you what I think about this. You know me well enough by now. In one of the real ironies of this entire debacle, I find my personal convictions echoed by someone from the Ma camp, who is quoted in the article as saying this:

A source close to Ma stated his administration will continue to push for the release of F-16s, arguing Taiwan must be able to negotiate with China from a position of strength.

"Otherwise, the Chinese will only dictate terms to Taiwan," he said.


View From Taiwan also links to this and names his post "Appeasement of China Reaches Unprecedented Heights as Bush Capitulates on Arms."

UPDATE: Radio Australia reports that Taiwan is urging the US to approve sales of F-16 fighter jets ASAP.

The Cinema-Mad Sibling Recommends: New Hulk Trailer Features Tony Stark

The Cine-Sib just appeared in a state of delight and pulled this up on the computer. What was it? There is only one word for this where the fans are concerned. Here it is, and it's PG-13. "Nerdgasm."

You've heard by now that the character of Tony Stark will make a cameo appearance in the new Incredible Hulk movie opening next week. Well . . . Get ready for comic book nirvana as the Marvel cinema universe takes shape across films.


Archbishop of York Skydives for Charity

I don't need yet another reason to like John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, but here's another one anyway!

The jump was fund-raising for a charity for British armed services. Blurb:
Asked why he did the jump, Dr Sentamu said: "My first thing is that when servicemen come back they find that their families are not in a better position than they were before. It's important for citizens of this country to value those who risk their lives for the sake of this country so I'm doing my part."

Sir, you DA MAN.

EU-China Relations: Some Thoughts

Here are a few thoughts on the EU and China. I really like the cartoon illustration too.

Euro Notes: The EU and the Great Hamster of Alsace

Gee whiz, is this for real?
The European Commission has ordered France to save the European hamster, one of Europe's most threatened and protected species. If France fails to respond with "rapid and substantial action" in the next two months, it will face fines of millions of pounds for not preventing its extinction. France had already received a warning, in December last year, saying that they faced up to €17m (£13.5m) in fines if it did not do address the issue.

Save the hamster at once -- or else, mon ami!

Really, France and Sarko have far greater problems than the Great Hamster of Alsace, but the whole story seems like a little snapshot of the problems of EU overlordship combined with the eco-movement. Doesn't the whole thing sound kind of . . . er . . . coercive? And if Minerva hates anything, it's government coercion.

Nerd News: J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard

The Harry Potter author was giving a commencement address.

Quirky Asia Files: Sushi Art in Japan

You really have to see these photos of artistic sushi! Amazing. (Still -- what, no Hello Kitty sushi?)

Link given to me by the Cinema-Mad Sibling.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Nerd Journal: There's No Place Like Home

I'm BACK HOME! (Cue the ticker tape parade.)

I've successfully fled from campus, gotten on a plane, and sped home to my warm native climes while unrepentantly leaving a trail of enough pollution and carbon in my wake to make the polar bears weep. I landed at the airport, where the wails of Gaia were drowned out by my shriek of delight at the gigantic Sonic Route 44 Cherry Limeade (easy ice) that the Cinema-Mad Sibling had for me. Yes!

I had one small snafu, though, with getting my luggage. My bags weren't on the luggage carousel, so I had to hunt down an airline representative. Eventually she found my bags, and she commented as she picked one up, "Wow, this is really heavy! What do you have in here? Bricks?"

"Books," I grinned. It's a sad fact that I can't go anywhere without having to bring research along. Well, I'll be away from Nerdworld for a good long while, so I guess lugging a few tomes around is a small price to pay for fleeing campus.

I don't have any ruby slippers, a yellow brick road, or a little dog like Toto, but if Nerdworld is "over the rainbow," then I'm glad to be home. There's no place like home!

And there's no friend like an old friend. It's been a huge, rousing welcome home, starting with a big late-night round of friends at Satan Coffee to the sounds of the Ramones ("I Wanna Be Sedated" -- all too appropriate, since I'm utterly excited to be back. I probably do need to be sedated!).

Then yesterday was kick-started by La Parisienne and me having an indulgent pampering with spa pedicures (we both chose sassy red nail polish -- the summer sandal season is HERE!). Add a little shopping (there's that big sale at Bath and Body Works) , followed by a lunch of salad -- oh, weren't we being health-conscious and VIRTUOUS, having salad! Well, that didn't last long. By mid-afternoon, we had totally fallen off the wagon -- La Parisienne went for cheese fries and I had a chili cheese hot dog and tater tots. Mmmmmm, yeah. Bad dietary choices never tasted so good.

Then it was off to the movies (with Il Barista/Coffee Pot Dictator and the Cine-Sibling, naturally). I won't bother you with details of popcorn fun, but I might amuse you with this delightfully two-edged line from our post-movie discussion: "I want Tony Stark's equipment." (La Parisienne and I looked at each other and laughed.)

Then last night, I had a chance to hang out with some of my nearest and dearest as we embraced gluttony and each other at our favorite Olive Garden. Who was there? Well, of course, the Sibling, sitting next to me as we kept stealing from each other's plates. The Coffee Pot Dictator and the lovely La Parisienne were there. I've finally decided to be cruel and saddle some other buddies with blog names: The lovely Ladybird was there with her husband, and Foxtrot had driven in the farthest for the occasion. The only one missing was Alessandra d'Ambrosio, but she'll be around later. You know, we're all grownups and professionals now, but somehow when we're all together, the years simply melt away. It could have been us at Olive Garden last night -- or it could as easily have been all of us in college, hanging out over cheesecake and coffee at 2 AM, talking about classes and life while wondering what the future held and 30 seemed untold centuries away.

So here I am this morning, tired but happy, listening to AC/DC's "Back in Black" (that's in your honor, La Parisienne) and the Ramones' "I Don't Want to Grow Up" while drowning myself in coffee -- and fending off my mother, who keeps trying to feed me. Nerdworld, campus, research, and books all seem very, very far away. Come tomorrow I'll be back reading articles, but at least I'll be doing that while I'm not on campus and in constant fear of being set upon by other nerds and superiors.

Oh, it's good to escape from campus. Watch out, world, Minerva's off the leash!

UPDATE: You may be amused to know that the Coffee Pot Dictator and La Parisienne said they knew I was back in town because they had "sensed a great disturbance in the Force." Meanwhile, the Opera Diva told me plainly, "You are a spirit of chaos. Wherever you go, carnival follows." Hey, I'll take that as a grand compliment!

Movie Review: "Kung Fu Panda"

"Kung Fu Panda" raked in $60 million on its opening weekend, and somewhere in there were some pennies from not only me, but also the Cinema-Mad Sibling and the entire Mad Minerva clan. Yes, as an act of cinematically-tinged filial piety, the Cine-Sib and I took our parents to see the filmas a family outing . This movie is indeed a family-friendly film, so that's how I found myself not only with my little tribe, but with apparently everybody else's tribe too -- including about a million xiao haizi (little kids) who were surprisingly well-behaved once the show started.

The opening sequence of the film really is eye-catching: a visual confection of images that made me forget that I was watching a DreamWorks animated project. And then the whole thing ended with a bump, and the audience -- like Po the Panda, our protagonist -- wakes up from the stylized dream to find himself in his utterly different world.

Po (voiced by frenetic comedian Jack Black) is a fanboy. He loves the world of martial arts and hero-worships the Furious Five, a group of legendary kung fu warriors training with their master, Shifu. His fantasies of kung fu glory are just fantasies, though; Po is a fat, lazy, roly-poly panda who works as a waiter in his father's noodle restaurant. (By the way, in an inspired bit of casting, James Hong is the voice of the father.) Po might dream about being the panda version of Bruce Lee, but his father wants him to take over the noodle shop, and besides, the bumbling, slovenly Po is, literally, in no shape for anything more strenuous than slinging noodles.

But in a twist of fate, Po has a chance to live out his fantasy. When the villain Tai Lung threatens the village, the venerable and ancient kung ku master Oogway (a turtle), emerges to find a champion, the Dragon Warrior of myth and prophecy. Everyone assumes that Oogway will choose one of the Furious Five, but Po ends up being the one. The Furious Five are flummoxed, especially Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie), and Master Shifu (a red panda excellently voiced by Dustin Hoffman) is horrified at he prospect that he will now have to deal with Po. But Po is admitted to the Jade Palace for kung fu training, and after a long series of mishaps and pratfalls and attempts at poignant issues of fitting in, he finally becomes the unlikely hero.

So much for plot summary. Now for the critiques.

The plot seemed familiar. As in, really, really familiar. As in, too familiar. As in, I've seen this movie already in a million previous incarnations. And so have you. There are no spoilers I can give for this plot, because you can recite the entire narrative to me in your sleep. Look at the outlines of the story: the unlikeliest person imaginable ends up becoming a hero. Add ingredients like a magical object (here, the Dragon Scroll), a grouchy old mentor with mystical tendencies (here, Mr. Miyagi -- I mean, Yoda -- I mean Shifu), and a quest or prophecy (someone's destined to be the Dragon Warrior, dang it), and voila! Instant story. Moral of the story: never stop believing -- or dreaming -- or trying. Roll the end credits, and everybody goes home with a case of warm fuzzies.

The up side of "Kung Fu Panda" is that DreamWorks has taken this basic storyline and given it a twist with the character of the hapless, humorous Po. He's the archetypal Everyman Hero rendered as a comic doofus prone to embarrassing himself. Now whether you actually like the movie has a lot to do with whether you like Po -- which has more or less everything to do with whether you like Jack Black. His characters seem to be, at their core, extensions of himself, and they all seem to have certain features in common (see my last encounter with Black, "Nacho Libre" of 2006, or every indication of his upcoming character in "Tropic Thunder").

Black's Po does have a certain goofball charm and knack for physical humor, though, and he's fun to watch. Besides, I can't criticize too much a panda with delusions of grandeur who gets some of his training by chasing dumplings and almond cookies.

I will also note another quibble that the Cine-Sib also had. The film in our circles got quite a bit of buzz for having Jackie Chan as the voice of Monkey, one member of the Furious Five. But Chan has scarcely any lines at all. Out of the Five, the only one who has any attempt at depth is Tigress (Jolie), which basically wastes the talents and presence of the others: Chan (Monkey), David Cross (Crane), Lucy Liu (Viper), and Seth Rogen (Mantis).

The visual aspect of the film is very good, and though DreamWorks isn't Pixar, in this film, they come their closest yet to those legendary CGI artists. The colors are bright, the scenery eye-catching without being burdensome, and the detail in Po and his companions is remarkable. It's an easy film to watch, both in terms of style and substance, and you just might -- as Po boasts at one point -- be blinded by the awesomeness of it all . . . or at least amused for an hour and a half.

"Kung Fu Panda" runs for 88 minutes and is rated PG for animated violence (martial arts).

Mad Minerva gives this film a rating of B for entertainment that was predictable but fun.

Rotten Tomatoes gives "Kung Fu Panda" a solid rating of 86%.

This is the official website for the film.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

US Versus UK on Airline Taxes

Call in the lawyers? Interesting.

Take a look: the proposed UK increase in airline taxes on UK-to-US flights seems rather excessive to me.
Ministers are planning to sharply increase the amount of money raised from airline taxes in a move that will net an extra £520 million annually. Airlines - already struggling to deal with record fuel prices - calculate that the tax per person on a flight to America or other long-haul destinations will rise from £40 to about £100 from next year. The levy will be passed on to passengers.
That's a LOT. And I'm not liking the endless stream of enviro-pious news and measures coming out of the UK. What's going on over there?

Oh, I'm just LOVING this bit from the 6-page letter of complaint sent by the US Embassy to the British government:
"The Treasury's proposal, although cast as an environmental measure, appears in reality to constitute nothing more than a device for generating additional revenue from the airline community."
Another instance of possible green-tinged overreach? Quelle surprise.

Movie News: Keira Knightley as Eliza Doolittle?




Friday, June 06, 2008

Nerd Notes, Nerd Analysis: A History Professor Looks at the State of Academia

The academic in question is Alan Charles Kors, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania (yes, an Ivy). His assessment, while absolutely no surprise to any of us, is still unhappy reading.

Academics, in their own minds, face an almost insoluble problem of time. How, in only four years, can they disabuse students of the notion that the capital, risk, productivity and military sacrifice of others have contributed to human dignity and to the prospects of a decent society? How can they make them understand, with only four years to do so, that capitalism and individual- ism have created cultures that are cruel, inefficient, racist, sexist and homophobic, with oppressive caste systems, mental and behavioral? How, in such a brief period, can they enlighten "minorities," including women (the majority of students), about the "internalization" of their oppression (today's equivalent of false consciousness)? How, in only eight semesters, might they use the classroom, curriculum and university in loco parentis to create a radical leadership among what they see as the victim groups of our society, and to make the heirs of successful families uneasy in the moral right of their possessions and opportunities? Given those constraints, why in the world should they complicate their awesome task by hiring anyone who disagrees with them?
Link via Tigerhawk, who says this of his late father, who was a professor:
He told me once that the highest compliment he had ever received from a student came from a smart radical activist in the seventies who told him at the end of the semester that he had no idea what my father's political opinions were.
You know, I aspire to being that way too. The classroom lectern is not a bully pulpit for profs and instructors to spout their own personal political opinions/neuroses/activist positions. Frankly, I don't think my students should know what my politics are, because that'll squash any pretense at open, honest discussion of all relevant perspectives and evidence in a given issue or topic.

Nerd Notes: A Super-Nerd Grad Student has 11 Degrees

Well, that's pretty impressive . . . but why on earth would anybody need or want 11 different degrees?

It's nerd overload. Or sheer masochism. Or both?

Here they are, by the way:
  • University of Oxford (1997, M.Sc., sociology)
  • University of Cambridge (1998, M.Phil., sociology and politics of modern society)
  • Stanford University (2000, A.M., education)
  • Columbia University (2001, M.A., politics and education)
  • Columbia University (2002, M.S., real-estate development)
  • Harvard University (2002, M.Des.S., real estate)
  • Brown University (2004, M.A., development studies)
  • Dartmouth College (2004, M.A., liberal studies)
  • Brandeis University (2007, M.A., coexistence and conflict)
  • Skidmore College (2007, M.A., liberal studies)
  • Harvard University (2008, D.Des., design)
Would you like fries with that? (Sorry, sorry!)

China: Official Olympic Cheers -- and Choreography

China now has issued some official cheers you can use during the upcoming Olympics. A little official sporting propaganda?

I found this little bit really amusing:
A cartoon issued to provide extra guidance on top of the "Olympic cheering practice" sessions that have been held for workers around Beijing for the last year shows a young girl in the approved postures.

In the first frame she is beginning to clap; in the second, doing a thumbs-up gesture; in the third, clapping again; and in the fourth, holding both arms up in the air.

In time, she also chants: "Aoyun! Jia You! Zhongguo! Jia You!" - meaning "Olympics! Add petrol! China! Add petrol!"

"Add petrol!", the nation’s favourite sporting chant, is more usually translated as "Go, Go!"

The cartoon is the joint product of the Communist Party’s spiritual civilisation bureau, the ministry of education, the Beijing Olympics organising committee, and state television, which has begun showing clips of schoolchildren showing how it is done.

Goodness, practice your cheering. Why does this sound so much like standard Communist look-at-me lockstep performance? Hmmmm. Still, no matter how silly the choreography, I'm sure it's still better than the Macarena.

The "add petrol" line is a funny little expression that just doesn't translate very well. We have that too in Taiwanese. Heck, I've heard my parents tell me that during exam-time at school!

I am feeling mischievous. Gentle reader, feel free to suggest your own Olympic cheers in Comments.

This Day in History: June 6, 1944

That's right: it's the anniversary of D-Day.

The importance can hardly be overstressed -- which explains why so many people (and students) haven't the foggiest clue.

You might start with Eisenhower's message to the troops on that day.

Since I have movies on my mind seemingly non-stop right now, perhaps you've seen this.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Quirky Asia Files: Japan's "Poetry Boxing"

Wow, this puts a whole new spin to the term "poetry slam."

Gentle reader, I invite you to post your original trash-talking haikus in Comments.

Taiwan: President Ma Praises China ... On Tiananmen Anniversary

I'm not even going to start. Dignified Rant has the post and the link. Of course, the news "story" is by the AP, aka "Asinine Publication."

Here is a blurb:
Taiwan's new leader used the 19th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown to praise rival China on Wednesday, breaking with his previous policy of marking the date with condemnations of Beijing's human rights record.

"China has made certain progress since it started to open up and reform 30 years ago," President Ma Ying-jeou said in a statement.

. . . In the past, Ma has been scathing on the Tiananmen issue, saying China's failure to offer a full accounting of why hundreds, if not thousands, of pro-democracy protesters were killed by Chinese troops on June 3-4, 1989, is a major impediment to improved relations between Taiwan and the mainland.

The crackdown followed weeks of demonstrations that involved tens of thousands of students and other democracy proponents. The protests started in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and spread to several major cities.

Last year on the Tiananmen anniversary, Ma criticized China for putting off democratization and continuing to suppress press freedom and human rights.

Still, Ma said Wednesday he remained concerned about the implications of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown on the ability of "mainland compatriots (to) enjoy a life of freedom and democracy.

You want to talk about China's "progress"? Fine. China has changed in various ways, though frankly I don't buy the hoopla and shiny propaganda about how it's not an autocratic one-party state. But anyway -- you want to talk about changes, fine, fine. But let's talk about context and timing. Using the anniversary of a brutal massacre to praise Beijing? You've got to be kidding me. I wonder how all the friends and relatives of the Tiananmen victims felt, listening to Ma's little statement.

View From Taiwan is likewise critical, saying this is "Ma toadying up to Beijing." I'm beginning to think that Ma is a total disaster.

Perhaps you will spare a thought for Tiananmen, a subject that is taboo in mainland China while around the world it's a symbol of Beijing's brutality.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Satire Alert: Senate Global Warming Bill Advocates Burning Money Instead of Fossil Fuels

Scrappleface has a glorious new satire that takes aim at the (can I be honest?) ridiculous global-warming bill now in the US Senate.

Here's a piece of the satire. enjoy -- and go read the whole thing.
The global warming bill, up for debate in the Senate this week, includes a little-known provision to reduce the nation’s collective carbon footprint, and to make the U.S. energy-independent by replacing the burning of petroleum products with the burning of paper currency.

Under the terms of the legislation, Congress would require that businesses and individuals burn money to run factories, heat homes and propel motor vehicles.

“Money is a relatively clean-burning, renewable resource,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA. “If we need more, we don’t have to go crawling to the Saudis, we simply mandate that our own people send it to us.

Nerd News and Fun: Student Plagiarizes Valedictorian Speech

Even better? The kid cribbed his high school graduation speech from . . . wait for it . . . The Onion!

*MM collapses in helpless giggles.*

Good grief, when I gave my high school speech, I actually wrote the stupid thing. Think about how much funnier it would have been if I had Onionized it!

Nerd Notes: "Anti-Intellectual" Isn't the Same as "Anti-Intellect"

Here is a fascinating post at the PrawfsBlawg. Blurb:
My confession of being an anti-intellectual requires a bit of explanation. Being anti-intellectual is not the same as being anti-intellect. My beef is with a particular social class -- the "intelligentsia" -- and not with the practice of using one's intellect to reflect on experience. In my experience, intellectuals (as a class) are ideologically intolerant, easily offended by ordinary humor, and pretentious in their prejudices, which they disguise as universal truths.

. . . So, yes, I confess to disliking intellectuals and the practice of intellectualism, which, I believe, impedes everyone’s intellect with pretense and ostentation.
Do take a look. I am absolutely sympathetic to the complaint of people who deliberately engage in obscurantism as a form of snobbery.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Airlines May Treat Passengers as "Freight"

Bloomberg has the report.

Wait, though: airlines treating their customers like dumb, mute, non-human objects to be thrown around?

Heck, this happens already every time I fly US Airways, Delta, British Airways . . . I get that too with Ryanair, but I kind of expected that since it's basically a bus company with wings, and the fares are pretty low. But the other airlines . . . Is the last bastion of good service is EVA Air?

Did you know -- once I actually got a "FRAGILE" marker for luggage and attached it to my person? Believe it.

Geek Fun and Amusing Video of the Day: Roomba = Pac-Man

From the folks at Gizmodo, here's a link to the most amusing video of the day (it's from Japan, of course -- where else?). Enjoy:

Geek News: DVD Deathwatch in the Age of Digital Media Downloads

Is the DVD doomed? The physical discs may go the way of the dinosaur (and the VHS videotapes) as digital media downloads look to be the wave of the future.

Hey, this would mean less clutter . . . and I did not mourn the death of the physical music CD at all.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Movie Review: the Cinema-Mad Sibling's Guest Review

It's been added here at the end. Great blurb/movie quote from it: "Iron Man throws a bit of hot rod red into this summer movie season."

The Sibling's been trying to dust off his review-writing skills. It's been a while since he's done a movie review; he's been too busy in his technophiliac pursuits!

Nerd Humor: the 5th Annual Horrible College-Student Poetry Competition


(Link from Samizdata, which labels the link something really amusing too.)

Nerd Notes: Obama's Commencement Address

I've been too busy to comment, but it was definitely on my to-do list, because even in the admittedly goofy world of university commencement addresses, the Obama address at Wesleyan made me stop and do a double-take. Say WHAT?

As luck would have it, someone else has done my job for me and furiously disassembled the speech. Take a look.

I'll just quote these pricelessly ludicrous lines from the Obama speech:
"Our collective service can shape the destiny of this generation . . . Individual salvation depends on collective salvation."

"Fulfilling your immediate wants and needs betrays a poverty of ambition."


What kind of rehashed collectivist nonsense is THIS? What kind of total lack of faith in individual potential? If I weren't in a hurry this afternoon, I would launch into a full-scale rant. AND ISN'T THE PURSUIT OF INDIVIDUAL NEEDS OTHERWISE KNOWN AS PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY? Well, thanks a lot, Senator Obama, for basically telling me that I have "poverty of ambition" because I want to be successful and self-sufficient! Oh, oh, and if I ever do become rich and prosperous, I suppose you want to tax away all my money so you can give it to other people. There's no generosity like government generosity with Other People's Money. *snort of derision*

I'm of half a mind to write my own "Mad Minerva's Commencement Address" -- what I would say to a campus of graduating seniors if I had the chance. I guarantee you that it'd be the kind of speech that would never make it past the PC sensors/censors.

But for now, I give you P.J. O'Rourke's hypothetical speech. Now that's a graduation oration I can applaud with sincerity.

UPDATE 1: William Kristol piles on Obama's speech also.

UPDATE 2: The Investors' Business Daily editorial page is likewise hostile.

Nerd Journal: Fleeing the Campus

Today is a miserable Monday, but for once I'm happy on a Monday. WHAT?

Here's why: the countdown has started. In less than a week, I'll be fleeing from my exile in Nerdworld to go back home to my native climes and see friends and family! Woooo-HOOOOO! Nerdworld is great and all, but it's not home, and it probably never will be home. Anyway, it's been a very long spring term, and I can't tell you how gloriously, deliriously happy I am that it's all over.

I'm now cheerfully daydreaming, among other things, about massive planned bouts of Wii games (the Sibling and I will challenge all comers to Mario Kart Wii), hanging out with friends at Satan Coffee (mocha frappuccinos for all), going out to indulge in that delightful vice of communal gluttony, and committing in great quantities the mortal nerd-sin of sloth (i.e., not doing a lick of research -- and LOVIN' IT). I can't WAIT.

In fact, I was on the phone last night hatching plots with the buddies I'll soon be seeing. I'm talking about all the usual suspects, of course: the Cinema-Mad Sibling, La Parisienne, Il Barista (aka CPD, Coffeepot Dictator), Alessandra d'Ambrosio, and a few lovelies whom I haven't burdened with silly blog-names (yet). But you know who you are.

The Sibling's supposed to pick me up at the airport. I told him that if he really wanted to be a great guy, he'll be there with a nice big Sonic Route 44-sized cherry limeade waiting for me. Aw, yeah. I am so not kidding.

Summer is here, finally! I do write this, though, in the library, with a big bag of books at my feet. I might be able to leave soon, but there's a pile of "nerdage" that needs to happen before then. But there's now at last a light at the end of the tunnel, and for once it's not an oncoming train.

OK, I'm off. Ice cream time. The East Coast has its various and plentiful disadvantages, but the ubiquity of Ben and Jerry's shops is not one of them! Then back to the ol' apartment to read articles.

So, gentle reader! Any fun summertime thoughts for you? Any holiday plans?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Nerd Notes: UK taxi driver penalized for his bad grammar

He was denied his license because when he took his English exam, he had . . . incorrect use of apostrophes.

The cabbie is now taking a college course (funded by that font of monetary compassion, the UK taxpayer) so he can take his English exam again.

This is an extreme case of grammar enforcement, but correct grammar is a beautiful thing.

Obama Throws Trinity Church Under the Bus

Obama's left his church. Well, I guess it's like cutting off a gangrenous limb -- get rid of the limb before it infects and kills the entire person (or, in this case, candidacy).

I'm curious, though. If Obamessiah finds the church THAT objectionable, why is he leaving now, after 20 years, only after the media's raised a loud and sustained furor about the (frankly, disturbing and distressing) things being shouted from the pulpit? I mean, COME On, I'm naive, but I'm not that naive.

Listen up -- and the Il Barista and La Parisienne will probably agree -- if you have a real and deep, irreconcilable problem with a church, the sanest thing to do is leave, not hang around.

Euro Notes: France Regulates Line Dancing

No, really! French officials feel the need to regulate American country-western line dancing, a current dance craze over there. Huh?

Any word about the can-can?

Universal Studios is Red-Hot -- Literally.

Oh, dear. A large fire broke out at the venerable Universal Studios and did quite a bit of damage. Reportedly 200 firefighters were called to the scene.