Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"Ohhhh, myyyyy!"

Saw this Twitter screen grab on Gab. George Takei apparently put up an informal poll, but he didn't like the results, so he took the poll down:

While the image is good for a chuckle, it does make one wonder just how overrun with leftism Twitter really is. Above, we have seeming evidence that righties do indeed have a voice in what is increasingly considered a liberal stronghold. Takei's poll was the perfect opportunity for ballot-box-stuffing, but liberal voters didn't take advantage of it.

I have moments when I regret leaving Twitter, given how vitriolic Gab can be. Like it or not, racism and bigotry (and wild-eyed conspiracy theories) are indeed front and center on Gab, whereas on Twitter, such attitudes tend to get buried under a wave of white noise just because Twitter is such a big tent. I followed a diverse range of people on Twitter, and I had a diverse range of followers from all over the ideological spectrum. Gab, by contrast, still feels univocal. Far from being a happy cacophony, it's a place where terms like "nigger" and "faggot" get thrown around with abandon, and while I appreciate and respect Gab's basic premise—that it refuses to repress free expression—it's disappointing to see what comes crawling out of the shadows when so much freedom is given. A liberal can look at Gab and see a confirmation of leftie stereotypes about righties. I personally don't like hearing the knee-jerk-reflexive association between conservatism and bigotry, but heedless folks on Gab obviously don't care about what I like or dislike, and they just as obviously don't care about whether their behavior tarnishes their cause.

This isn't to say that Gab is nothing but a haven of bigotry, paranoia, and other noxious attitudes, but none of the corrosion is hidden. I wasn't exaggerating when I said the bad stuff was "front and center": all you have to do is click on Gab's "Popular" tab to see—as I'm seeing right now—the term "Kikes," a pic of a white woman holding up a red bottle that has a swastika on it, and a "Happy James Earl Ray Appreciation Day!" post (he's the guy who killed MLK). I suppose you could shrug and say, "That's the price you pay when you support free speech," and I'd have to agree. I wouldn't want to repress any of this. If anything, I think it's fine to let the garbage people out themselves to the world. But let me exercise my own right to free speech to pronounce myself disappointed that such garbage people, at least on Gab, seem to be much more than a tiny-but-vocal minority.

That said, George Takei has his head up his own ass.

ultimate gas

I have found my own personal Yoda. I will go to this master, learn the ways of the Force, and spend the rest of my life using this skill to fight for peace and justice.

Monday, January 15, 2018

15,000 words and counting

I apologize for not putting up my "Last Jedi" meditation yet, but I just finished the second part, and the blog post currently stands at almost 15,000 words. When I finish the third section, this monster is going to be well over 20,000 words (at 250 words per typed, double-spaced page, that's around 80 pages), and I seriously doubt I'll have the energy to hack it down to something more manageable over the coming week. Upshot: you're in for a lot of reading, and the prose is going to be rough-draft-ish in quality. Mea culpa in advance.

ADDENDUM: if you want the TL;DR version of the piece, it goes something like this:

1. Movie was good, but not great.
2. I agree with some complaints, but not others.
3. The new Force metaphysics builds upon what's come before; the movie deals with themes of failure, renewal/rebirth, and putting aside the past.

You're welcome.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

you don't need terrorists to sow terror

News from out of Hawaii: an employee pushes the wrong button (despite there being an "are you sure?" failsafe), sending out a statewide message that a missile is on its way to Hawaii. For 38 minutes, the citizens of Hawaii labor under the false impression that their lives might soon end. They panic; they scramble for cover; they huddle with friends and loved ones; one of them decides that, if his life is about to end, he'll end it by playing golf, a game he loves.

Before I end this post, I suppose I should note, for completeness's sake, that there are already conspiracy theories floating around, one of which suggests that the missile alert was about a real missile, but that the missile had been shot down before it was close enough to be a danger to Hawaii. People can't help manufacturing drama and conflict, which makes me skeptical of all such theories. If, however, it turns out that a missile had indeed been on its way, then I imagine the news of said missile will appear to us soon. Am not holding my breath.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

the bear doth hibernate for now

I started coming down with something on Thursday; it feels like a repeat of the sickness I'd had a couple months ago, back in the fall. Right now, it's coughing, fever, stuffy/runny nose, joint aches (to add to my continuing pinched-nerve problems), and general blahs, so it's probably good ol' mōmsal again. What this means for you, Dear Reader, is that I'll be doing little more than resting up in my apartment. If I'm not in bed, I'll be at my keyboard, pounding out the rest of my "Last Jedi" review. Stay tuned.

"shithole countries"

Everyone's in a tizzy about something Donald Trump allegedly said, to wit: that Haiti and certain areas in Africa are "shithole countries." Trump has denied using that term, but some Democrats claim to have directly witnessed Trump using that (and other) pejorative language, and they've leaped upon this apparent gaffe as a way to further the narrative that Trump is a racist who can't help himself. It hasn't even been confirmed that Trump actually used such language, but the media don't care, and they're running with the story which, per Stephen Colbert's old, snide term (used against Dubya), has a ring of "truthiness" about it.

Here are some alt-media reactions to "Shithole-gate," as some snarky commentators are calling it. Phil DeFranco offers a nuanced commentary:

Styx, meanwhile, is having none of it:

Neither is our favorite highlighter of hypocrisy, Paul Joseph Watson:

Over at PJ Media, there's an article titled "Top 10 Shitholes Nobody Wants to Visit," which also includes a spot or two in the United States. Within that article is an embedded video by comedian/commentator Steven Crowder, which deserves to be embedded here:

My take: calling countries afflicted by poverty, crime, and corruption "shitholes" does feel like kicking those countries while they're down and plays into a perception of American arrogance. At the same time, the alt-media's point is clear: in all honesty, would you want to go on holiday in any of these places, or perhaps move to any of these places? If you're unable to give a straight answer to that question, then you need to give your moral compass a few whacks.

Two of Trump's tweets on the subject are these:

1. "The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA!"

2. "Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said 'take them out.' Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings - unfortunately, no trust!"

I have no idea whether President Trump actually has "a wonderful relationship with Haitians," but his denial, at least, is now on record. If it turns out he's lying, and that someone has audio of the DACA meeting in question, I expect to hear that audio fairly soon. Otherwise, this is a non-issue, and as two commentators (a Fox News talking head and Phil DeFranco, both seen above in the PJW and DeFranco vids) said, "This doesn't move the needle at all."

Friday, January 12, 2018

dog vids

I'm up at 5AM because I had to rewrite the 4000-some words I had already written after having accidentally deleted the original "Last Jedi" review post.

So here, for your entertainment, are two dog videos that I'm uploading right before I hit the hay. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

First: two huskies "talk"—with subtitles!

Second: one dog rats the other one out:

The second video has almost 8.9 million views. I found it funny, but there were moments when I thought the lady was going on and on for too long. At the same time, it was hilarious to see the dogs just sitting there, more or less attentively, while the lady spoke to them. And then, when it came time for the dogs to reveal the awful truth, it really did seem as if they had understood and internalized everything the lady had said. Just watch.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

about that "Last Jedi" review

My meditation on "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" is coming along. It's already quite bloated, at over 4000 words, and I'm only a third of the way through it. I'm thinking that it'll be done and published sometime over the weekend. By the time I'm done, I suspect the essay will be about as long as a short research paper, so if/when you do start reading, pack a lunch, grab a snack, and bring along your favorite drink: this'll take a while. You've been warned.

all in the hot seat

Latest on the list of accused sexual harassers: James Franco (very vaguely and obliquely accused by Ally Sheedy on Twitter right after his Golden Globes win), Michael Douglas (who vehemently denies any wrongdoing), Corey Feldman (who was waging his own campaign against sexual harassers), and—horrors—95-year-old Stan Lee (accused of being grabby and verbally salacious with caregivers, as well as walking around naked in front of them). It's that last one that shocks me: ol' Uncle Stan seemed like the nicest, most harmless guy in the world. Here's hoping the accusations aren't true; I've read that Lee is fighting back and refusing to knuckle under. It'd be a shame to see him airbrushed out of all those Marvel movies (now that Orwellian airbrushing seems to be a thing).

One thing to keep in mind is that it's possible to separate the artist from the art, the performer from the performance. An absolutely evil individual can, in theory, create an absolutely stellar, moving painting. Separating the agent from the action is important so as not to commit a form of the genetic fallacy (much discussed on this blog—here, for example). You don't have to stop watching Miramax movies because you hate Harvey Weinstein.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

a quiz of your financial acumen

Click here for the quiz's answers. (Quiz slightly edited for clarity.)

1. Which of the following statements describes the main function of the stock market?
a) The stock market brings people who want to buy stocks together with people who want to sell stocks.
b) The stock market helps predict stock earnings.
c) The stock market results in an increase in the price of stocks.
d) none of the above
e) not sure

2. If you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2 percent per year, then after 5 years, how much do you think you would have in the account if you left the money to grow?
a) exactly $102
b) less than $102
c) more than $102
d) not sure

3. If the interest rate on your savings account was 1 percent per year, and inflation was 2 percent per year, how much would you be able to buy, after 1 year, with the money in this account?
a) more than today
b) exactly the same as today
c) less than today
d) not sure

4. Which provides a safer return: buying a single company’s stock or a mutual fund?
a) single company’s stock
b) mutual fund
c) not sure

According to the article from which I stole the above quiz, 44% of Boomers and 39% of Millennials got Question 1 right. 82% of Boomers and 73% of Millennials got Question 2 right. 73% of Boomers and 40% of Millennials(!!) got Question 3 right. Finally, 67% of Boomers and 51% of Millennials got Question 4 correct.

These quiz questions are so commonsensical that it boggles my mind that anyone might score less than 100%. I would, however, reword Question 4 by adding the word "generally" in front of "provides." As one commenter noted regarding that question: "There are exceptions."

he haz teh krayzee:
Styx and PJW on Trump's sanity

Styx trashes "quack" doctors engaged in distance-diagnosis of Trump:

Paul Joseph Watson points out the hypocrisy of crazy people calling someone crazy:

And then there's Twitter:

Monday, January 08, 2018


I used to follow this guy on Twitter:

"This double standard is something that I wish President Trump would Tweet [sic] about."

Why the double standard when it comes to the Olympics?

Good question. More here.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

"Wind River": review

[NB: some spoilers.]

"Wind River" is a 2017 crime drama starring Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen (yes: Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch from "The Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Gil Birmingham (the ill-fated Alberto Parker in "Hell or High Water"), and Graham Greene (Kicking Bird from "Dances with Wolves"). The film is written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote the screenplays for "Sicario" and "Hell or High Water." Some critics have called "Wind River" a mystery-thriller, but I disagree, mainly because of how the movie "solves" the mystery for the audience through a flashback sequence that spells everything out.

The story begins with a young woman's voiceover as she recites a poem. As we hear this voiceover, we see a bloodied young woman (presumably the same person) running desperately, barefoot, through the nighttime snow of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. She trips and falls; she gets up and runs again, but eventually she collapses and can run no more. The following day, US Fish and Wildlife tracker Cory Lambert (Renner), fresh from shooting a coyote that had been killing local farm animals, finds the girl's body in the snow and calls the incident in. The local sheriff, Ben (Greene), shows up, and eventually an FBI agent named Jane Banner (Olsen) is sent from Nevada. The coroner says the immediate cause of death is pulmonary hemorrhage: breathing fast in subzero weather can cause ice crystals to form in the lungs, puncturing the alveoli and causing the victim to cough up, and eventually drown in, her own blood. The girl, a Native American named Natalie Hanson, had been beaten and raped before she took off running, and she had gone six miles before her final collapse—an impressive feat for a barefoot eighteen-year-old. Agent Banner, who is young and decidedly not a tracker, recruits Lambert to help her. We find out that Lambert is still grieving over the loss of his own teenaged daughter in spookily similar circumstances, and that this is what motivates him to find out who had attacked Natalie. Lambert is also separated from his Arapaho wife, but he shares custody of their son Casey (Teo Briones).

Agent Banner is confused as to why Natalie's parents would be so neglectful as to allow her to roam around so freely. Along with Cory, she visits the home of Martin Hanson (Birmingham), Natalie's Native American father. Martin is stony toward Banner, but he's best friends with Lambert, and he breaks down and cries over the loss of his daughter, fully aware of Lambert's own loss. Martin despairs of his family's situation: his wife has resorted to cutting herself out of depression, and his twenty-something son is selling drugs and living a criminal lifestyle with some other local gangbangers. Life on the reservation is also a crushing reality: the Arapaho were originally nomads who moved away from the area whenever winter struck, but now, they are unable to do so. Life is one long song of bitterness for Martin and his people. Martin does want one thing, though: revenge against whoever killed Natalie.

Everyone—from the local police to the coroner to Cory—knows that Natalie Hanson had essentially been murdered, but the coroner is unable to enter "homicide" as the cause of death because, technically, the most proximate cause of death was the aforementioned pulmonary hemorrhage. This vexes Agent Banner, who is unable to call in more FBI agents as long as this incident is not classified as a murder.

That's the setup for the rest of the story, and it's a good one. Despite its mostly quiet tone and pacing, "Wind River" is emotionally engaging—more of a character study than a plot-driven movie. There is a plot, and it does involve the mystery of who exactly beat and raped the girl, but as I mentioned above, the movie solves the mystery for the audience through a flashback in which we see the events that led to Natalie's desperate run into the snow. That is, perhaps, the only truly disappointing aspect of this film, which could easily have played out like Murder on the Orient Express (if you remember how Agatha Christie's novel ends, then you have a clue as to who assaulted Natalie Hanson) had the flashback been left out.

I assume, therefore, that the point of "Wind River" isn't the solving of a mystery, given how the movie freely gives the mystery away. No, the point of this movie—which is supposedly based on true stories from the American Indian population—is to illustrate the plight of a people, especially that of the young women who go missing every year. Disturbingly, a title card at the end of the film tells us that, while statistics for missing women are kept elsewhere in US records, there are no such statistics for Native American women.

This is a soulful movie. The actors all do a fine job of projecting the pain their characters feel. Jeremy Renner is excellent portraying a professional tracker and father who, despite having lost one child, must still be a dad to another. Gil Birmingham gives an award-winning performance as Martin Hanson, a man caught in the mire of depression, bereavement, and vengefulness. Elizabeth Olsen is believable as an FBI agent out of her element, but imbued with enough toughness and common sense to navigate her way through trouble. All told, "Wind River" is a surprisingly good film that is very much worth your while. There's a sadness to it that cuts deep, but by the end there are also hints of something uplifting, especially for anyone has has suffered his or her own bereavement.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

"Logan Lucky": two-paragraph review

Steven Soderbergh, the brainy director of such hits as "Ocean's Eleven," "Traffic," and "Erin Brockovich," returns from semi-retirement (after having directed "Behind the Candelabra") to helm 2017's "Ocean's Eleven" retread, "Logan Lucky." This comedy about a NASCAR heist is basically "Ocean's Eleven" meets "Raising Arizona," and the movie is self-aware enough about its derivative origins that a newscast during the film refers to the robbers as "Ocean's Seven Eleven." The principal cast speaks in various twangy West Virginia accents (including Daniel Craig in a hilarious turn as safe-cracker and explosives expert Joe Bang), and everyone's got a weird quirk à la a Coen Brothers film. Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is a recently fired construction worker with a limp that's from an old football injury; his bartender brother Clyde is a prosthesis-wearing veteran of the Iraq War who lost part of his arm right before the end of a tour. Clyde likes to go on about the supposed "Logan family curse," given how unlucky most of the family members have been—with the exception of hot little sister Mellie, who seems to be doing fine. Jimmy, now jobless, wants a better life for his adorable and adoring daughter Sadie (Farrah McKenzie); he reveals to Clyde his plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, where the businesses on site use pneumatic tubes to move their cash to a secure vault. Jimmy used to be part of the construction crew renovating several areas of the speedway that had developed dangerous sinkholes, so he knows all about those tubes, and he has a plan. But to execute the plan, Jimmy and Clyde need the help of the Bang Brothers. Eldest brother Joe (Daniel Craig sporting bleached hair and a hilarious Southern accent) is in prison; he's a safe-cracker, but he'll need to be broken out for part of the day, then returned to prison in the evening as if nothing has happened. Joe's two younger brothers, Sam and Fish (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid—sons of Brendan and Dennis, respectively), will help with the operation, but because they've found Jesus, they'll need a moral reason to rob the speedway. Along the way, Jimmy will flirt with Sylvia (winsome Katherine Waterston of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" fame), a former schoolmate; he'll also have run-ins with twatty Brit Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane), billionaire owner of a racing team. Hot on the trail of the robbers is all-business FBI agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank), putting the pieces together.

The script for this movie was written by a certain Rebecca Blunt, but movie-trivia hounds are pretty sure that that name is an alias for an industry veteran. Blunt has no previous credits to her name, but the screenplay itself is obviously the work of someone with experience. The screenplay is a bit of a paradox: on the one hand, we've got an engaging, funny story unrolling before us; on the other hand, the plot is so obviously a ripoff of "Ocean's Eleven" that the story's derivative nature sometimes gets in the way of the viewer's enjoyment. The acting by all the principals is fine (and it's a bit disconcerting to see Channing Tatum looking bloated and flabby for this role; I never thought of him as a Method actor); the movie's tone and pacing are decent if not extraordinary. Humor is sprinkled throughout the two hours (I like the idea of a British actor—Craig—doing an exaggerated Southern twang while a Yank actor—MacFarlane—affects an obnoxious British accent), but this isn't a wacky, absurdist comedy like "Raising Arizona," nor is the story as saturated with cleverness as "Ocean's Eleven," the film it's trying hardest to emulate. Come to think of it, there is one major difference between "Logan Lucky" and "Ocean's Eleven": the 2001 film had a fearsome antagonist in the form of Andy Garcia's sinister Terry Benedict. "Logan Lucky" gives us no such adversary (the guys are only robbing the speedway), and it doesn't try very hard to build up tension with, say, a ticking clock. When Agent Grayson appears, the tension ratchets up slightly, but she's not in the film until the final third, which in my opinion is far too late: there's wasted cat-and-mouse potential here. We get an amusing twist or two at the very end of the film, along with a possible setup for a sequel, but even that setup is reminiscent of the ending of "Ocean's Eleven," with the gang not quite out of the woods yet. Upshot: "Logan Lucky" is good, entertaining, hillbilly fun, but it's far too reliant on the "Ocean's Eleven" template.

gi-il (忌日, 기일)

[NB: This is an updated repost originally from here.]

My mother died of brain cancer at 8:03AM on January 6, 2010, eight years ago today. Eight years is a long time, but sometimes, it still feels like yesterday.

Alas, I don't believe in ghosts, and I'm not inclined to believe in souls or in other remnants of personhood after someone dies. You're gone; you scatter; your echoes are the only things that remain, rippling forward in time ever more weakly, affecting the history of the cosmos in increasingly subtle, occult ways. At what point do you fade completely? Or do you ever fade completely? If there's no true boundary between you and the rest of the universe, the answers to such questions may be inarticulable.

I chronicled much of Mom's cancer ordeal at my blog, Kevin's Walk. Today is Saturday, and I thought I'd pass along, as I do every year, a famous story about the Chinese Taoist philosopher Chuang-tzu, who is said to have acted strangely when his wife died:

When Chuang Tzu’s wife died, his friend Hui Tzu came to offer his condolences and found Chuang Tzu hunkered down, drumming on a potter pan and singing.

Hui Tzu said, “You lived with her, raised children with her, and grew old together. Even weeping is not enough, but now you are drumming and singing. Is it a bit too much?”

Chuang Tzu said, “That is not how it is. When she just died, how could I not feel grief? But I looked deeply into it and saw that she was lifeless before she was born. She was also formless and there was not any energy. Somewhere in the vast imperceptible universe there was a change, an infusion of energy, and then she was born into form, and into life. Now the form has changed again, and she is dead. Such death and life are like the natural cycle of the four seasons. My dead wife is now resting between heaven and earth. If I wail at the top of my voice to express my grief, it would certainly show a failure to understand what is fated. Therefore I stopped.” (Chapter 18)

This version of the story is taken from here.

Different cultures develop different ways of dealing with death and mourning. In Korea, which carries on the old Chinese tradition of venerating one's ancestors, people typically have a jaesa (제사), a ceremony for previous generations. While it may sound morbid, I suppose this day could be described as a "death day," the closed-parenthesis counterpart of a birthday. But is it really all that morbid to celebrate the transition from life to death? Far from being morbid, the day could be seen as a kind of ritualized symmetry.

Today, then, I and my family commemorate my mother's death. While it pains me that I can no longer hug her or hold her hand, I'm grateful for the care and wisdom she imparted.

I love you and miss you, Mom.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Jesus Christ, is this even a thing?

Oregonians are apparently freaking out about a new law, passed at the beginning of January, that now allows people in rural regions to—wait for it!—pump their own gas. The horror!

Having driven quite often through New Jersey, which is mostly a full-service state, I know there are a few other states in which there's no self-service gas, but let's face facts: most of the country pumps its own gas, and it's not hard to do. Man up, already, Oregon!

famille française: mise à jour

A much-treasured yearly photo of my French family (click to enlarge):

It's been almost eleven years since I last visited the Ducoulombiers. So strange to see that Augustin (the son, lower-left corner) is old enough to sport a beard (or beardling, in this case). I'm happy to see Dom's mom and dad in the pic. Papa is 82 this year.

Top row, L to R: Véronique (Dom's wife), Dominique (my French "brother" since 1986), Joséphine (eldest daughter), Papa (Pierre).

Seated, L to R: Augustin (son, second eldest), Héloïse (second daughter, third eldest), Timothé (youngest son), Maman (Jeannette).

This post, from 2007, serves as a good comparison. In it, you can see almost everyone back when they were so much younger. How time flies, eh?

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Ave, Gord!

Gord's interesting tale of woe is here. He's written up a visit to the doctor (on behalf of his infant son) as if it were a screenplay.

"Kong: Skull Island": three-paragraph review

"Kong: Skull Island" is a 2017 monster-adventure film directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (utterly unknown to me) and starring a big-name ensemble cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and Wreck-it Ralph himself, John C. Reilly. The movie begins with a flashback to World War II: two enemy pilots, Japanese and American, crash-land on an uncharted island. They begin a hand-to-hand fight to the death... which is interrupted when a gargantuan ape appears. Flash-forward to 1973: it's now the end of the Vietnam War, and US troops are soon to leave the badlands. Colonel Packard (Jackson) is tasked with one final mission: the surveying of an island in the South Pacific that is of interest to Monarch, a secretive US-government organization that is tracking, shall we say, anomalies that have appeared across the earth. Monarch's representative, Bill Randa (Goodman), is along for the ride; the rest of the mission includes ex-SAS Captain James Conrad (Hiddleston), peacenik journalist Mason Weaver (Larson), and a whole detachment of the Sky Devils, a sort of air-cav squadron tasked with flying the company through a storm and to the mysterious island. Upon reaching the island, the mission drops seismic charges to begin surveying the terrain, but this enrages the huge ape we met at the beginning of the movie, and he downs the entire mission in a near-repeat of the classic Empire State Building scene from the 1933 film. Now grounded, the mission must trudge across dangerous terrain filled with behemoth fauna (including one very nasty giant spider) to the exfil point many kilometers away. Colonel Packard, enraged by the loss of so many of his men, swears vengeance against Kong; Conrad and Weaver, meanwhile, figure out that Kong is actually a self-appointed protector of the island who was angered when the seismic charges awoke creatures called skull-crawlers. Along the way, we meet the Iwi people and their lone white guest: Hank Marlow (Reilly), the now-older American soldier from the beginning of the movie.

In movies like this, the main question is who is going to survive to the end. Because American monster and horror movies generally espouse a fairly conservative morality, you can bet that most or all of the assholes in the movie will be dead by the end while the more compassionate, Christ-like characters will survive. Just once, I'd like to see this formula overturned.* The movie starts off with several chopper-loads of characters, but the roster gets whittled down pretty quickly, which makes it easier to remember who's who. Samuel Jackson is his usual pissed-off self, and he dominates as the flinty-eyed Packard. The movie, in fact, does a great job of establishing the Packard-Kong conflict which, much later in the movie, comes to a rather abrupt resolution. Brie Larson is this film's incarnation of Fay Wray, but she brings a fairly convincing 70s-style feminism to the table. Several other characters occupy screen time but are little more than window dressing: the Chinese researcher San Lin (winsome Jing Tian) comes to mind as cute but fairly useless. The movie's CGI effects are top-notch; there's a titanic Kong/skull-crawler fight toward the end that is lavishly detailed and entertaining in an old-school, monster-movie kind of way. The plot, of course, is ridiculous garbage, a fact made obvious by the stupidity of the Sky Devil chopper pilots who allow their squadron to be so easily decimated by Kong. Can no one gauge Kong's reach and fly beyond that radius? Ah, well... then again, you don't watch a monster movie for the ironclad plot-logic; you watch it because you want to see giants pummel the shit out of each other. The movie includes a post-credits scene hinting that other islands with other monsters exist: we see cave paintings alluding to Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, et al.

Did I enjoy the film? Yeah, I guess. It was good, stupid fun—emphasis on stupid. On the other hand, the film never pretended to take itself seriously, so there's that. In the end, though, I think Peter Jackson's 2005 "King Kong" brought us a more soulful version of the great beast, not to mention a more engaging film.

*A few good characters bite it, and one decent fellow suffers an utterly useless death that I thought was a welcome change because it played against formula, but for the most part, the main good guys—the ones we're supposed to like—all survive.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

I think it's time to write that review, ja?

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" has been out for a couple weeks, now, and it's generated plenty of fanboy controversy. Sometime over the next few days, I'll be writing a massive review of the movie, so expect some major verbiage soon. Just a heads-up: this likely won't be a regular review; it'll be more along the lines of a meditation on the movie, the controversy surrounding it, and the concepts the story explores—especially as relates to the expansion of the theology of the Force, an issue that is catnip for a former religious-studies student like me who is also, to some small degree, a Star Wars fanboy himself.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Oxford and vocative commas: redux

An Oxford comma is used in lists of three or more items. It comes right before the "and" that signals the final item of the list. This comma isn't considered de rigueur: most grammar experts and references will say that omitting the comma doesn't normally make much difference. While this is largely true, there are indeed cases where the presence of an Oxford comma will clarify matters that its absence would leave ambiguous. To steal (and alter) an example from The Moosebody:

I'd like to thank my parents, God and Satan.

This sounds as if you're saying that God and Satan are your parents. The initial comma serves the same function as would a colon in that instance:

I'd like to thank my parents: God and Satan.

But if you are, in truth, thanking three factions,* not two, then the Oxford comma will make this abundantly clear:

I'd like to thank my parents, God, and Satan.

That comma before "and" and after "God"? That's the Oxford comma. Here's The Moosebody's slightly raunchy version of this example:

Note, too, the following ambiguity:

(1) Yeah, I'll take Scott, Dave and Sue.
(2) Yeah, I'll take Scott, Dave, and Sue.

Above, in case (1), a man is talking to Dave and Sue. He's telling them that he'll take Scott. With no Oxford comma to make clear that "I" will take three people (perhaps he's picking folks to be on his kickball team)—as per case (2)—the remaining comma turns into a vocative comma, i.e., the comma you use when addressing people.

So let's talk vocative commas. The "voca" in vocative comes from the Latin vocare, to call. We use this comma when addressing people.

NOE: Sir you're next.
YUH: Sir, you're next.

NOE: Hello Dave.
YUH: Hello, Dave.

NOE: Come inside children! (gross...or maybe not, depending on sexual proclivity)
YUH: Come inside, children!

NOE: I don't know John. (unless you really do mean that John is unknown to you)
YUH: I don't know, John. (you're telling John you don't know)

NOE: Thanks Matilda.
YUH: Thanks, Matilda.

NOE: What do we do now genius?
YUH: What do we do now, genius?

NOE: Frank I meant what I said.
YUH: Frank, I meant what I said.

And of course, the classic:

NOE: Eat Grandpa! (we likes 'em leathery)
YUH: Eat, Grandpa.

I hope this little post helps to clear up some issues I keep on seeing regarding the misuse of these two types of comma. Happy thinking, writing, and sharing, people.

*You can see why I said "factions" and not "people" or "parties," yes? Because "parents" can be taken to mean two people or two parties, but we can consider the pair a single faction, i.e., a group within the context of a larger collective (in this case, the larger collective is the totality of the list). Is a pair the same as a group? I can hear some nitpickers asking that sort of question just to trip me up. Well, in French, when the teacher says, "Pair up," she says, "Mettez-vous en groupes de deux." Place yourselves in groups of two. Those're pairs. So, yuh.

for the dim ones among us, this doesn't read as sarcasm

I do chafe at the lack of an Oxford comma, though. Learn the back story here.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Happy New Year!

A shot of the Lotte World Tower's fireworks from my window, plus a pic of yours truly.

Happy New Year to you all. Here's to peace, joy, prosperity, and new beginnings.