Wednesday, January 30, 2008

There Will Be Blood

There Will be Blood is a brilliant title that effectively ties together the themes of a fantastic movie by Paul Thomas Anderson - the blood of family, oil as blood, and literal blood.

Daniel Day Lewis, as oilman Daniel Plainview, is absolutely brilliant. So over-the-top, it may not be true to life but says more in it's excess than a more subtle performance would. I can't remember the reviewer or even the movie he was talking about, but I recall the review of a movie in which the reviewer stated it wasn't the job of a movie necessarily to be hyperrealistic. The use of color, camera angles, music, acting - they all there to evoke a certain emotion or feeling. And that evocation often does a better job of putting you in a certain time period or situation than a movie that tried to emulate reality.

There Will Be Blood, loosely based on Upton Sinclair's "Oil!" , follows Plainview's ascension to pinnacle of California oil discovery. To get there, he will sacrifice anything - friendships, happiness, even his family. To gain the trust of a town, he will feign religiousity. Dishonest, for sure, but in this action he also reveals the dishonesty of the supposedly pious man of God, Eli Sunday, played by Paul Dano.

Some of the film is darkly funny - uncomfortably so. And that's probably the point. Just such one of the ocassions is Lewis' "milkshake" outburst, cleverly mashed with Kelis here:


The music is dissonant and uncomfortable. A lot has been made about the soundttrack by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. It's neither as bad as some make it out to be or as brilliant as others do. The way in which it contrasts with the action on screen is intentional and ocassionally effective. But at other times, I really felt it was drawing too much attention to itself and detracting from the film.

The cinematography and pacing are great. It's a long movie but doesn't seem so.

It's not as topical as some of the films of this year. It's made that much more universal and timeless because of it. If there is any movie of this year that it is similar in tone and theme to, I would say No Country for Old Men. It shares with No Country the themes of greed and fate and also a sparseness in look.

Though, the subject matter is the early days of oil exploration in our country, there are no attempts to tie it in to any contemporary oil issues. Oil is merely the conduit for the character's greed and ambition. I highly recommend this movie. Grade: A

Friday, January 25, 2008

Stimulate this

Dumb, dumb, dumb. In typical Republican fashion, the President thinks the best way to get out of a problem is to spend your way out of it. The proposed economic stimulus plan suggests just that. That was his response to 9/11 and it's his response to an economic downturn. To be fair, it appears to also be the answer of our leading Democrats.

The people that will get the most are the ones that need it the least and that are likely to just save it. So, you've rewarded the rich, done nothing to help the economy and have effectively handed off a larger deficit to the incoming administration. Brilliant.

I'd gladly give every bit of refund that we would get if it would help move us closer to universal healthcare or to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Instead of attacking the real causes of why people can't make ends meet, they've done a blatant attention-grabbing stunt to mollify the electorate and make the Republican candidates look better.

When are these idiots going to get it through their thick fucking heads that trickle-down doesn't work? We need a trickle-up policy. Until you lift people out of poverty, you are going to have an increasingly two-class society.

Now, someone I like a lot, Paul Krugman, has said all this better than me:

Published on Friday, January 25, 2008 by The New York Times
Stimulus Gone Bad
by Paul Krugman

House Democrats and the White House have reached an agreement on an economic stimulus plan. Unfortunately, the plan - which essentially consists of nothing but tax cuts and gives most of those tax cuts to people in fairly good financial shape - looks like a lemon.

Specifically, the Democrats appear to have buckled in the face of the Bush administration’s ideological rigidity, dropping demands for provisions that would have helped those most in need. And those happen to be the same provisions that might actually have made the stimulus plan effective.

Those are harsh words, so let me explain what’s going on.

Aside from business tax breaks - which are an unhappy story for another column - the plan gives each worker making less than $75,000 a $300 check, plus additional amounts to people who make enough to pay substantial sums in income tax. This ensures that the bulk of the money would go to people who are doing O.K. financially - which misses the whole point.

The goal of a stimulus plan should be to support overall spending, so as to avert or limit the depth of a recession. If the money the government lays out doesn’t get spent - if it just gets added to people’s bank accounts or used to pay off debts - the plan will have failed.

And sending checks to people in good financial shape does little or nothing to increase overall spending. People who have good incomes, good credit and secure employment make spending decisions based on their long-term earning power rather than the size of their latest paycheck. Give such people a few hundred extra dollars, and they’ll just put it in the bank.

In fact, that appears to be what mainly happened to the tax rebates affluent Americans received during the last recession in 2001.

On the other hand, money delivered to people who aren’t in good financial shape - who are short on cash and living check to check - does double duty: it alleviates hardship and also pumps up consumer spending.

That’s why many of the stimulus proposals we were hearing just a few days ago focused in the first place on expanding programs that specifically help people who have fallen on hard times, especially unemployment insurance and food stamps. And these were the stimulus ideas that received the highest grades in a recent analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

There was also some talk among Democrats about providing temporary aid to state and local governments, whose finances are being pummeled by the weakening economy. Like help for the unemployed, this would have done double duty, averting hardship and heading off spending cuts that could worsen the downturn.

But the Bush administration has apparently succeeded in killing all of these ideas, in favor of a plan that mainly gives money to those least likely to spend it.

Why would the administration want to do this? It has nothing to do with economic efficacy: no economic theory or evidence I know of says that upper-middle-class families are more likely to spend rebate checks than the poor and unemployed. Instead, what seems to be happening is that the Bush administration refuses to sign on to anything that it can’t call a “tax cut.”

Behind that refusal, in turn, lies the administration’s commitment to slashing tax rates on the affluent while blocking aid for families in trouble - a commitment that requires maintaining the pretense that government spending is always bad. And the result is a plan that not only fails to deliver help where it’s most needed, but is likely to fail as an economic measure.

The words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt come to mind: “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

And the worst of it is that the Democrats, who should have been in a strong position - does this administration have any credibility left on economic policy? - appear to have caved in almost completely.

Yes, they extracted some concessions, increasing rebates for people with low income while reducing giveaways to the affluent. But basically they allowed themselves to be bullied into doing things the Bush administration’s way.

And that could turn out to be a very bad thing.

We don’t know for sure how deep the coming slump will be, or even whether it will meet the technical definition of a recession. But there’s a real chance not just that it will be a major downturn, but that the usual response to recession - interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve - won’t be sufficient to turn the economy around. (For more on this, see my blog at

And if that happens, we’ll deeply regret the fact that the Bush administration insisted on, and Democrats accepted, a so-called stimulus plan that just won’t do the job.

Paul Krugman is Professor of Economics at Princeton University and a regular New York Times columnist. His most recent book is The Conscience of a Liberal.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Pride (In the name of love) by U2

One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One man come, he to justify
One man to overthrow

In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love

One man caught on a barbed wire fence
One man he resist
One man washed on an empty beach.
One man betrayed with a kiss

In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love

(nobody like you...)

Early morning, april 4
Shot rings out in the memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love...

Happy Birthday, Dr. King.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tinfoil Hat

"Why are you so paranoid, Mulder?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe it's because I find it hard to trust anybody."
- Scully & Mulder, The X-Files, "Ascension"

I seem to have a habit of using either my clients or my wife's friend as anecdotes on my blog. It's a potentially dangerous habit if either were to read my blog. But, I don't use names and I don't know of any of my clients who are actually aware that I have a blog. And at this point in my life, and with me having my own business, even if a client somehow did figure out they were being ridiculed and took offense, losing their patronage would not bother me that much.

Usually, I use them to illustrate some right-wing or religious nuttiness. Well, I'm going to draw from the well once again, but this time it's on the other end of the spectrum. I used to frequent Democratic Underground, especially in the days around the last couple of elections ('04 an '06). There are discussion groups on the site for different areas of the country and I would occassionally lurk in the Arizona group. Sometimes I would join in. On one occassion, a poster asked for a computer consultant and I ever so humbly offered my services. It worked out well for that client and they have referred me to other friends on and off the Dem Underground site.

Now, I consider myself very liberal, but I'm friggin' Ronald Reagan compared to the few that I've met. They mean well, are very kind and active in their communities, but they all seem to have an unhealthy paranoia. I have a general mistrust of our current administration and do feel that our civil rights are being infringed upon. But my leftist friends are X-Files/black-helicopter/conspiracy-theory kooky. We're talking break-out-the-tinfoil-hat kooky.

One called me today to set up an appointment for this week. She believed that her internet connection wasn't working because her boyfriend had started a petition seeking to recall Sheriff Joe Arpaio and this was the Sheriff department infiltrating their computers. I calmly explained that in my 15 years and thousands of computers that I've worked on, I've never seen such a thing. I'm not saying that the technology doesn't exist to facilitate it, but rather that if Sheriff Joe took the time to chase down and hassle everyone that has said anything negative about him, he'd never get a minute of sleep and would spend billions of dollars making it happen. One of my best friends used to work in the Maricopa County Sheriff's IT department and knew Joe well (she even got me this swell autographed poster). He was much more concerned with getting his mug on national talk shows than with anything important.

The lesson here is - it's good to have a healthy mistrust of your leaders. Don't take them at face value. Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you. The last few years have certainly shown that to be true. But don't let that paranoia cripple you and temper it with some common sense.

"I was walking home one night and a guy hammering on a roof called me a paranoid little weirdo. In morse code." -- Emo Phillips

Monday, January 14, 2008

I am Legend

Will Smith, Sci-fi, apocalyptic - that's all I needed to hear. I was sold on going to this movie. So, why did I come away a little disappointed? I think it's because I just felt I'd been there before. For example:

  • It's got that Cast Away parlor trick feel to it. Like a one man play. Just substitute Wilson with mannequins.

  • The ending (which I won't ruin for those who haven't seen it) reminded me way too much of Children of Men.

  • The CGI of some of the animals and of the zombies is not as good as it could have been.

What DID I like about it?

I thought the scenes of a New York overran by nature looked good. It's a valid topic right now and has been posited in a more scientific sense just this year by Alan Weisman in The World Without Us. The movie, and Weisman's book, show how quickly nature would take back what humans have claimed over a very small part of the Earth's history. It does a good job of giving one a sense of humility. We're barely a hiccup in the grand scheme of things and the planet couldn't give a shit whether we're here or not. It's really a misnomer to say that we are "saving the planet". We're trying to save ourselves. The planet will be here regardless.

The movie also brings up some valid philosophical points. What are our ethical responsibilities as scientists? Do we really know the consequences of our actions when we re-engineer nature? Will we be the instruments of our own demise?

Favorite scene:

It's gut-wrenching, especially for those who have pets, but the scene in which he has to take his pet's life choked me up a bit. Smith is very effective at showing the anguish of a pet owner that is making a decision for the better of the pet but that is made no less difficult by that fact.

Overall, I think it's a very good movie and despite its shortfalls, I recommend it. Grade: B

Laura liked I am Legend quite a bit and did a great review here about a month ago. Check it out.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Magic Pony

courtesy Bill Watterson, UPI

From the latest Sierra Club magazine:

Magic Ponies
Everyone wants an easy solution

A useful import from the blogosphere is the concept of the magic pony. Originating in an old Calvin and Hobbes strip (Suzie wishes Calvin were nicer and for a pony too), the magic pony is a miraculous but not-yet-extant solution to a problem--a solution so awesome that it would be foolish to waste one's time with partial, more immediate fixes. Such steeds run wild in the fields of environmentalism. In their recent book Break Through, for example, critics Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger argue that doom-and-gloom environmentalists are wasting their time trying to regulate carbon dioxide and that our only hope is to pour money into clean-energy technology in hopes of finding a complete replacement for coal and oil. A pony! When affecting concern for the environment, President George W. Bush finds magic ponies irresistible. Rather than promote higher fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks, for instance, Bush decided to pursue still-elusive hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles. A pony! Fueling these cells, in Bush's plan, would be largely as-yet-unproven "clean coal." Another pony! And how would that clean coal be burned? In plants using not-ready-for-prime-time carbon sequestration. His plan, in effect, is the Triple Crown of magic ponies. The profusion of magic-pony plans prompted Grist's David Roberts to lay down a challenge: "Unless you also describe practical steps for how we can achieve your Magical Pony Plan . . . then you are not, in fact, arguing on behalf of the Magical Pony Plan. You are arguing that we should reject the incremental advance in favor of doing nothing." ... Lacking a magic pony, we're left with the advice a veteran Alaska bush pilot gave to a visitor worried about what to do if approached by a grizzly: "Son, do the best you can." —Paul Rauberr

I hadn't heard the term "magic pony" before and in this instance it's applied to the environmental issue ... quite aptly. Bush will always bring out hydrogen powered cars as the solution because he knows he doesn't really have to deliver. Hydrogen cars are so far removed from being production cars that Bush will be long out of office before they provide any kind of help. So, they serve the purpose of making him look like he cares about the environment without actually having to do anything.

It's not just Bush. It's a whole segment of naysayers that will argue against any incremental advancement that moves us in the right direction. And it's not just with the environment. Let's "fight terrorism" and "spread democracy" they say. They're spreading something, alright. It's all talk. They don't really want to do the hard work that will make those things happen. Long term fostering of relationships, working to lessen our dependence on oil, helping to lift people out of poverty, giving people an actual homeland, debt-forgiveness, curing disease, etc. -- those aren't as sexy as saying, we're "fighting terrorism".

The sad thing is, our society has shown over and over the last few years that they'll buy that "magic pony".

Saturday, January 12, 2008


"The car has become a secular sanctuary for the individual, his shrine to the self, his mobile Walden Pond." -- Edward McDonagh

I think I've found my new car:

From Good News Network

India's Tata Motors has unveiled what is being called the world's cheapest car — the $2,500 Nano. The four-person sedan, also called the People's Car meets all safety and environmental requirements, said the company's founder, even getting 50 mpg with lower emission levels than modern scooters of India.

I'm serious. If I could buy this car in the states, I would.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we haven't quite decided what our ultimate transportation plan is. We've successfully navigated through the last few weeks sharing one car. And there have been no major logistical problems so far. But I do think we'll have to get something here fairly soon. We're trying to weigh the options of buy or lease, hybrid or not, etc.

Sharing a car has certainly made us think more about the trips that we make and how we can most efficiently make those trips that are necessary. Considering how annoyingly liberal and environmental we already were, that's an accomplishment.

"It wasn't the Exxon Valdez captain's driving that caused the Alaskan oil spill. It was yours." -- Greenpeace ad

Friday, January 11, 2008

... No Sacred Truths

Two takes on religion that I've seen this week, basically saying the same thing, but from disparate sources and with distinctly different tones. The first, from the book I'm reading right now, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, one of my favorite people:

"Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? There isn't a religion on the planet that doesn't long for a comparable ability - precise, and repeatedly demonstrated before committed sceptics - to foretell future events. No other human institution comes close. Is this worshipping at the altar of science? Is this replacing one faith by another, equally arbitrary? In my view, not at all. The directly observed success of science is the reason I advocate its use. If something else worked better, I would advocate the something else. Does science insulate itself from philosophical criticism? Does it define itself as having a monopoly on the `truth'? Think again of that eclipse a thousand years in the future. Compare as many doctrines as you can think of, note what predictions they make of the future, which ones are vague,which ones are precise, and which doctrines - every one of them subject to human fallibility - have error-correcting mechanisms built in. Take account of the fact that not one of them is perfect. Then simply pick the one that in a fair comparison works best (as opposed to feels) best. If different doctrines are superior in quite separate and independent fields, we are of course free to choose several - but not if they contradictone another. Far from being idolatry, this is the means by which we can distinguish the false idols from the real thing.

Again, the reason science works so well is partly that built-in error-correcting machinery. There are no forbidden questions in science, no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths ..."

And the second by Bill Maher on Conan O'Brien:

Wow ... pretty gutsy to say on network television. I'm not disagreeing with anything he said, but most people don't have the cojones to lay it out like he did. You could sense Conan's and the audience's discomfort. But, why shouldn't he be able to criticize religion publicly? Truly, there should be "no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths". The generally accepted leader of Christianity, the Pope, recently seemed to have no problem laying all the problems of the world at the door of atheism:

Pope Benedict states atheism is responsible for some of the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" in history ...

Well, if that's isn't the pot calling the kettle black. Hypocrisy, thy name is Pope Benedict.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Accidental Blogger

Nine days between posts? What the hell? Sometimes, you just don't know what to blog about. I've been slammed by work lately and haven't had a lot of extra time to do anything but eat and sleep. I can pay attention to all your blogs, but mine gets neglected.

In what spare time I've had, I've ducked out to catch a few hockey games (go 'Yotes ... on a 5 game winning streak) and I took in a rock and mineral show with the family. Alex is as much of a rock hound as I am and enjoys these type of things. My wife ... not so much. My personal faves are fossils of various kinds:

The coolest thing about them is that God took the time to put them inside of rocks 6,000 years ago, just so some random prospector could find them, cut and polish them and sell them to me at a rock show. Yeah. If your belief system relies on you ignoring every bit of fact, logic and practical experience, then maybe you should get a new belief system.

Between Christmas and New Year's, we made a trip up to the folks near Kingman, stayed in Laughlin for a day and took the scenic route back to Phoenix, traveling through Lake Havasu City - home of conservative retirees, crazy spring breakers who show their hoo-hoo's, and the London Bridge.

Here, Alex tries to escape the vicious tourist trap by using the TARDIS

I didn't have the heart to tell him it wasn't real. If it was real, I might have tried to use it to escape the innane, incessant and often incorrect news coverage of the political primary season.

I've watched very little of it on TV, though I do follow everything online. This is not my favorite time in the political schedule. Pretty much everybody irritates me in one manner or another right now, but topping my annoying list would the disingenuous aw-shucks populism of John McCain and Ron Paul. McCain will profess to be a man of the people and a 'maverick' when it suits him but will then toe the party line when it doesn't. Ron Paul rightly attracts widespread support through his anti-war views. But, I wonder if those same people would be so likely to support him knowing of the racist and violently anti-government rhetoric published under his name?

TV obviously blows in general with the writer's strike, but I'm reading a lot. Just finished U2 by U2. It's a narrative of their career culled from 150 hours of interviews with everyone in the band. There are a lot of insights into the songwriting that I did not know. They are much more Christian than I ever gathered. Definitely not in an annoying fashion. But rather their faith informs their songwriting choices quite a bit.

So, that's what's been happening in my boring life. I'm going to try and blog every day for a least a week just to get myself back in the swing of things. Lucky you. I'll probably be talking about what I ate for breakfast.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Top 10 Movies/Performances of 2007

These are the top 10 (OK ... 11) movies that I saw in 2007. It was a very good year for American cinema.

(1) Into the Wild -- By far, my favorite movie of the year. Breathtaking scenery, heartbreaking true story, great acting and a sublime soundtrack by Eddie Vedder (my favorite album of the year, BTW). As good as an actor Sean Penn is, he may be an even better director.

(2) 3:10 to Yuma -- A dream pairing of two actors who take their roles pretty seriously (some may say too seriously). I believe it's the best western since Unforgiven.

(3) Michael Clayton -- Yet another in the outstanding string of political dramas that Clooney has made. A great performance by Clooney perhaps only surpassed by co-star Tom Wilkinson.

(4) Children of Men -- Very early in the year but still in '07. I said then that it would be in my To 10 ... and here it is. Modern science fiction that's scary because we're not that far off from the ideas presented here. Science fiction works because you can put contemporary problems in a fantasy setting and they are more palatable to people than if you just had a dry condescending polemic.

(5) No Country for Old Men -- Typically (for them) great grasp of setting and dialogue by the Coens. A worthy addition to their body of work and in the same conversation as Fargo. It would have rated even higher for me if I had been smart enough to understand the ending.

(6) Bourne Ultimatum -- Action movies don't get much better than this. Plus, actors Matt Damon, David Straithairn, and Joan Allen and director Paul Greengrass give it an intelligence absent in most action movies.

(7) Breach -- A surprisingly credible acting performance by Ryan Phillipe in a taut spy thriller. Who knew? More cerebral than Bourne, but no less thrilling. Laura Linney and Chris Cooper are solid.

(8) 300 -- Glossy, loud, unapologetic pulp entertainment. Not much for subtlety but perhaps the most visually unique movie of '07.

(9) Sicko -- Michael Moore tones down his bombast a bit and thus attracts a bigger audience. He makes a well-made, well-received documentary on our pathetic health-care system

(10) Pan's Labyrinth/I am Legend - tie -- One very early '07, one very late. Ditto my appraisal of Children of Men. Both of these movies have flaws. I didn't like either as much as I went expecting to. But, still, two well-made science fiction films with things to say about current society. I'll give a more extensive review of I am Legend in a day or so.

Honorable mention:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Ocean's 13

and the following two that are from '06 but I saw in '07

Pursuit of Happyness (released in December '06 but didn't see till '07)
Jesus Camp (opened end of '06 but never had a wide theatrical release - saw on video in '07)

I haven't seen Atonement or There Will Be Blood, both of which I've heard great things about. Charlie Wilson's War, Sweeney Todd and Juno are all highly praised also, but I haven't had the chance to see.

My Top 10 movie performances of '07 - no special order, no differentiation between lead or supporting, male or female:

Hal Holbrook and Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild
Javier Bardem, Kelly MacDonald and Josh Brolin in No Country for Old Men
George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton
Russell Crowe and Ben Foster in 3:10 to Yuma
Amy Adams in Enchanted

It's a mystery to me
we have a greed
with which we have agreed

You think you have to want
more than you need
until you have it all you won't be free

... there's those thinking more less
less is more
but if less is more
how you keeping score?

Means for every point you make
your level drops
kinda like its starting from the top
you can't do that...

Society -- performed by Eddie Vedder