Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bagger's Bane

This week's Smile Politely column is up, called The Bagger's Bane. It's about how grocery baggers always seem confused about my cloth grocery bags, and how my decision to be slighty more environmental creates more work for other people.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cheese on Chinese Food

The Daily Show, revealing an uncomfortable truth, and demonstrating why they will continue to be relevant for the next four years:

It's true: Bush and Obama can use essentially the same phrases in their speeches, and one makes me want to cheer, while the other makes me want to throw shoes. Cheese does taste good on Italian food, and it is disgusting on Chinese food.

Jason Jones makes the crack that he doesn't think Obama really means it, and that gives him hope.

For me, it's the opposite. When Obama talks about Freedom, I hear the voices of 400 years of oppressed African Americans. When Bush talks about it, I think of invading other countries for oil and the freedom to consume everything we want.

When Obama talks about ushering in a new era of peace, I think of mutual respect among nations. When Bush talks about it, I think of the peace of domination and hegemony.

I'm not saying this is right. I'm just saying that's what I hear. It's not the words that matter as much as the actions that back them.

Friday, January 23, 2009

King is the Prophet, Obama is the King

My Smile Politely column went up yesterday: Prophet vs. Kings. I argue that Obama, as a king, is designed to disappoint us, because he can't be a prophet, like Rev. King.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day

So, confession time. As into politics as I've been over the years, I’ve never actually watched an inauguration. I guess it's because my choices as an adult have been either Republicans or Clintons. Seeing the crowd at this one, though, I’m actually glad I watched it on TV. Yes, it would have been nice to tell my grandchildren that I was there. But if I were there, I would not have experienced the actual inauguration.

[Update: Adam reports that I could not be more wrong about this. That's a good thing, actually.]

Nonetheless, those pictures of the inauguration crowd are inspiring. Having been to the national mall many times, the pictures don’t do justice as to how big it is, and how many people are actually needed to fill it.

Rick Warren actually did OK. He said that God loves everybody (apparently even those Rick would deny basic civil liberties to), and he personalized his references to Jesus, which is the only appropriate way to do it in this setting. However, Rev. Lowery smoked him, and should have done the Invocation rather than the Benediction. He even slipped in my favorite verse at the end: "Let all those who do justice and love mercy, say Amen." Amen!

Aretha looks like a Church Mom now. Now that's a proper way to age. Good for her.

Malia and Sasha are just so dang cute. It would be easy to get cynical about their cuteness, but they remind my too much of my daughters, so they now have lifetime protection from my cynicism.

Quick Triva quiz: What is the only text in the Constitution in quotes? Answer: Here

So what does it mean that Chief Justice Roberts and Obama both flubbed the oath? Easy: Conservatives will now claim he’s not really president. Plus, it clears the way for the institution of Sharia law in about 2 weeks.

Actually, Obama did say it correctly, just not in one sentence. Here are the actual words he uttered:

"I Barack…I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear…that I will execute…the Office of President of United States faithfully…and will to the best of my ability…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States…so help me God."

They got the faithfully out of order, but it’s in there. And Roberts was the one who put it out of order. Geez. Chief Justices… What are you gonna do? I suppose it doesn't matter if he says the words. After all, Bush said them. Twice. (Man, kicking this Bush bashing is going to harder than I thought).

Obama already looks much older than he did on election night. He must be feeling the weight of our problems already.

But, boy did he slap Bush around in the foreign policy section of the speech.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

My favorite line was this:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear.

Amen, America.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ode to the Chicks

So, I've been double posting my weekly Smile Politely column to my Open Salon blog. This week's entry is: The Pop Icons of the Bush II Era, where I give some love to the Dixie Chicks.

And, it made "Editor's Pick" over at Salon. Woo hoo! I'm now batting .500, which means it might be time to retire.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bad Timing for the Squirrels

I was listening to NPR this morning and heard a report on this year’s big auto show, which contained this weird comment:

“In an unfortunate bit of bad timing for automakers, this year's show will feature a number of fuel-efficient vehicles -- at a time when gas prices are less than half what they were just six months ago.”

Say what?

Let’s hear that again, but with squirrels:

“In an unfortunate bit of bad timing for squirrels, they just began to gather nuts for the winter today on December 15th, at a time when the temperature is twice what it was just two weeks ago!”

Friday, January 09, 2009

More Troubling Robot Evidence

My friend Perry is the handiest guy I know. He’s a carpenter who completely rebuilt our kitchen and one of our bathrooms, installed our new driveway, and built a new porch on the side of our house.

Yesterday we were helping a friend move and in between moving boxes and furniture, Perry completely disassembled a wobbly desk and put it all back together again, solid enough to be used as a foundation block, should the need ever arise.

He’s also apparently pretty smart. He once beat a poet, a playwright, a librarian, and my wife (the eventual owner of 3 graduate degrees) at a word game called Anagram. This prompted my wife to say “Gee, you are the last person I would have thought would win this game.” Thus, in just one comment, Perry received a lifetime of ammunition with which to embarrass my wife, which he does with glee every time we decide on a game to play. He's also the one with the brains not to let me use a backhoe.

Despite Perry’s obvious mechanical skill, comic wit, and raw brain power, we discovered something Perry can’t do: Get out of a van with a mechanical door handle.

Most vans these days come with that automatic door handle thingy, where you press a button and it automatically opens or closes the door. My ancient 2003 Dodge Caravan does not have one of these, prompting small children and old people to look helplessly around for where to open the door. In their defense, it is a big press-button thing, rather than a proper door handle, and is hard to press in. It’s not quite like turning the crank under the hood to get the car started, but it’s the modern day equivalent.

Anyway, Perry was unable to figure it out by himself. We had to show him the button, which he pressed as if it would open automatically. When it didn’t, he seemed at a loss for how to get out of the van. We had to tell him it was manual rather than automatic but he was still unable to press it in far enough to open the door. I was reminded of Scotty in Star Trek IV, who was told to use the mouse to tell the computer what to do, so he spoke into it.

The purpose of this is not to embarrass Perry because he was unable to exit my van without assistance (or at least it is not primarily about that). No, my purpose here is to sound the alarm bells once again: Robots are conditioning us to become helpless. It will be easy to wrest control from us when the time comes if even Perry can’t use a mechanical device without automation support. That, or Perry has already joined their side, which would be very bad news for us all.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Tharl Be No Butter in Hell

My all time favorite sermon:

If you don't quite catch all the words, see the IMDB quotes page for Cold Comfort Farm here (scroll down a bit). I'm not pasting it, because you have to actually hear Ian McKellen to get the full effect.

Also, the sermon is only about two minutes of the ten or so in the clip.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Flying Fools

A man was just awarded $240K for being harassed by JetBlue. His transgression? He wore a shirt with Arabic on it:

Jarrar, a US resident, was apprehended as he waited to board a JetBlue flight from New York to Oakland, California, and told to remove his shirt, which had written on it in Arabic: "We will not be silent."

He was told other passengers felt uncomfortable because an Arabic-inscribed T-shirt in an airport was like "wearing a T-shirt at a bank stating, I am a robber,'" the ACLU said.

Are people really this dumb? The shirt could have said anything -- "I love America" or "I'm With Stupid," but since it was written in Arabic, it means the same thing as "I am a terrorist!" Really? That it actually said "We will not be silent" is deliciously ironic. I guess we can chalk this up to one more reason Arabs hate us so much.

This of course comes on the heels of 8 American Muslims being kicked off an AirTran flight over the holidays because one of them wondered aloud where he would be sitting in the plane. Concerned citizens reported them as threats and they were not allowed to fly, even after the FBI cleared them.

I have an idea how to solve these problems. Anyone who is uncomfortable sitting next to a Muslim or someone with Arabic on their shirt should immediately rebook themselves on a different flight. Airlines should not be in the business of making bigots feel comfortable.

Monday, January 05, 2009

2008 Movie List

Inspired by various friends who have been doing this for years, I am starting out the new blog year by listing all the movies I watched last year. Or most of them. I don't always remember to write them down.

After looking them over, I am a little ashamed of all the crap that I apparently watch. However, my time-honored defense is this: It is the fault of other people. Starting with my lovely wife.

She's in grad school, and by the end of a long, hard day studying academic papers on child abuse and women in prison, she's not terribly in the mood to watch a documentary about how George Bush has screwed us all, or some fictionalized recounting of some atrocity or genocide. All she wants to do is watch romantic comedies.

The problem, of course, is that there are only about two good romantic comedies a year, so we end up watching a lot of bad movies, even though we both know ahead of time that they are likely going to suck. She doesn't even like period pieces, which at least provide some window dressing and (often) a glimpse into history.

Not content to merely blame my wife, I'll also add my kids to the heap. We do family movie nights pretty regularly, and by the time we settle on one that everyone will actually sit through, the quality of the movie is secondary. I actually don't mind this as much, since it's something the whole family can do together, even if the movie is not objectively good.

The good news is that my son has become a major Will Smith fan. I like Will Smith, so sitting through every PG-13 movie he has ever made is not too bad.

Alright, I know, too many words already. Here they are:

Ratatouille (merely OK)
28 Days Later (Very good)
Amazing Grace (Disappointed - wanted it to be great)
Fog of War (fascinating)
National Treasure Book of Secrets (retread)
28 Weeks Later (both better and worse than original)
Waitress (Nice movie about adultery)
Tristram Shandy: A cock and bull story (Certainly original)
We don’t live here anymore (more adultery, not as nice)
Pan’s Labyrinth (good for a fairy tale)
Atonement (good, but not great)
SuperBad (saved by McLovin)
Vanity Fair (good, but not the Victorian romance I was expecting)
Juno (Excellent)
Gone Baby Gone (Superb)
Michael Clayton (Excellent)
3:10 To Yuma (Excellent – Haven’t seen a good western in a long time)
The Simpsons (Lived just up to expectations)
Fever Pitch (British version – better than American one)
The Band’s Visit (fun characters. Kind of boring)
Horton Hears a Who (OK)
Dan in Real Life (fun, but dumb message to tell teenagers)
I am Legend (Best zombie movie I’ve seen)
Pursuit of Happyness (slow, ok)
Coupling, Seasons 2-4 (Excellent)
The Darjeeling Limited (very Wes Anderson-y)
The Yes Men (Hurray for WTO impersonators)
The Bee Movie (terrible plot, funny in parts)
The Bourne Ultimatum (go, Jason, go)
Death at a Funeral (funny, but probably overrated)
Hamlet (long)
Delirious (good)
Canvas (good)
Shotgun Stories (My favorite small movie of the year)
The Real Dirt on Farmer John (second favorite)
Hulk (as boring as the first time around)
Housekeeping (fine)
The Cell (Rube Goldberg machine of a movie)
Romance and Cigarettes (very good)
Alvin and the Chipmunks (bad even by kid movie standards)
Rendition (Excellent)
Across the Universe (Great if you were ever a Beatles fan)
Arrested Development, Seasons 1-4 (Best sitcom of my year)
The Savages (overrated)
The Lives of Others (Excellent)
In the Valley of Elah (Excellent – man, why didn’t these good Iraq war movies do better?)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (fun & dumb)
Good Luck Chuck (Icky, Soulless)
27 Dresses (succeeded in washing the stink of Good Luck Chuck away)
Memento (exactly as good on 2nd viewing, but I thought it would be better)
IronMan (Best comic book movie I had seen)
La Vie En Rose (gave up after 45 minutes)
Independence Day (Much worse the 2nd time through, which is saying something)
Brewster’s Millions (the kid’s liked it)
In the Heat of Night (pretty good, but reminded me of too many 70's TV dramas)
The Graduate (still excellent)
Raising Arizona (still a great movie)
Get Smart (Terrible, very bad movie)
Bonnie and Clyde (not as good as I was expecting)
The Happening (someone needs to take the car keys away from M. Night Shyamalan).
Vacation (nostalgic value only – don’t watch with children)
The Nanny Diaries (crapola)
Batman – The Dark Knight (New best comic book movie ever)
Tully (best EbertFest movie I’ve seen outside Ebertfest)
Harold and Kumar escape from Gitmo (OK, disappointed)
The Office, seasons 1-3 (excellent)
Various episodes of The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (better than I thought, and excellent family viewing choices)
Reel Paradise (Somewhat ugly Americans in Fiji)
My Best Friend (A good version of one of these kinds of movies)
History of the World Part 1 (does not hold up well)
Cashback (OK – probably should have stayed a short)
No Reservations (decent as family movie)
Lars and the Real Girl (Excellent. Nice themes about community and mental illness)
Raiders of the Last Ark (Still fun, but I now think National Treasure is better)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (too clever by half)
Leatherheads (disappointing)
Run Fatboy Run (disappointing)
Religulous (funny but one-sided)
Millions (still my favorite small movie)
W (OK, but too sympathetic)
Dial M for Murder (excellent)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (forget this movie)
Harry Potter The Goblet of Fire (still fun)
The Chocolate War (still very good, but dated)
Ms.Pettigrew Lives for a Day (fine)
God Grew Tired of Us (very good, and not as depressing as you’d think).
Forgiving the Franklins (terrible - only made it 20 minutes in)
Flight of the Conchords season 1 (I wanted it to be better)
Sunshine (very good Sci-Fi)
Monster House (quite good for a family movie)
The Spiderwick Chronicles (OK)
30 Rock, Seasons 1-2 (Alec Baldwin’s acting is a treasure)
Annie Hall (Holds up very well – many iconic lines still resonate)
Christmas with the Kranks (decent by family Christmas movie standards)
The Holiday (blech)
Jumper (would have been good if it had made sense)
Hancock (enjoyed it)
Wall-E (Both excellent and important, for both adults and kids)
Little Women (a good way to end the year)