Archive for November, 2009

Politics – Huckabee’s Cop Killer Problem

November 30, 2009

You may have heard that four police officers were murdered in a coffee shop in Washington state over the weekend. It turns out that the “person of interest” in those killings has a pretty extensive record in Arkansas, and that potential candidate Mike Huckabee, who I’m decidedly not a fan of, commuted his sentence. But it’s worth noting why, and as much as one might like to, why Huckabee doesn’t deserve the lion’s share of the blame.

At the time, the man in question, Maurice Clemmons, had been in jail for eleven years at that point, and had been in jail since he was seventeen. Clemmons was the victim of a truly horrible sentence: sixty years for armed robbery. If you do the math, Clemmons would literally have spent his entire life behind bars, and he might as well have been sentenced to life for a non-capital crime.

Of course Huckabee commuted his sentence. Faced with the idea of a man having his entire life taken away basically because the judge was feeling unpleasant that day, wouldn’t you? Especially in light of Huckabee’s religious convictions (as I said, I don’t like the man’s politics, but his religious convictions do seem sincere), it’s not hard to see why he took pity. And, even if Clemmons is a monster, good for him. Compassion has to be a central part of governance, and we should respect anyone who shows it while in office.

Of course, Clemmons violated parole and was back in jail in fairly short order, but apparently got out long enough to go to Washington State, where he continued to break the law, but with increasing severity.

Here is, to me, the really outrageous part: Clemmons was facing five other felony charges in Washington state, including child rape. And the state, for some inexplicable reason, let him out on bond. That’s especially horrifying because pedophiles tend to be repeat offenders; let them out and they WILL do it again. In other words, there was no way this wasn’t going to end badly.

True, Arkansas probably should have had Clemmons committed for mental illness well before he got to Washington state: that’s Arkansas’ failure. But five felonies? Including child rape? Jesus Christ.

Let’s put the blame where it’s due: the system clearly failed to spot a serious problem. Clemmons is clearly mentally unbalanced and should have been put away. But Huckabee was just one part of a much longer chain. It makes more sense to call out the people who released a child rapist on bond.

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Movies – “Nine”. NEIN!

November 24, 2009

I should preface this somewhat-dignified rant with a very clear and cogent explanation of where I stand re: one Federico Fellini.

Fellini, great eye aside, was never that good of a filmmaker. He had one classic in him, “La Strada”, which you insult on pain of an ass-kicking, and a couple of pretty-good movies; “The White Sheik” is a cute little farce, “Nights of Cabiria” has its moments, “Il Bidone” is OK. But after he became successful, he disappeared so far up his own ass he could tongue his prostate (when Pasolini wasn’t doing it for him, HEY-YOOOOH!) and completely forgot that the pains of a closeted rich Italian guy aren’t very interesting to anybody who isn’t a closeted rich Italian guy. Fellini’s later career, especially alleged classics like “8 1/2” and “La Dolce Vita”, are interesting as historical curios instead of actual movies that you care about, and subjecting anybody to them is among the worst forms of cinematic cruelty.

So, yes, you could say I have a minor distaste for the man’s overall body of work, “La Strada” decidedly excepted (I am not kidding about the fistfight thing).

And even I find what I’ve seen of “Nine” so far to be grating and tone-deaf, so that should REALLY tell you something.

The very idea of the stage show honestly stuck in my craw. I have a theater degree, so I know more and have had to think about stage musicals more than anybody who kind of dislikes 95% of them really should, and one thing that annoys me is Broadway’s desperate attempt to stay relevant by sponging off of the movies. What’s even worse is when the sponging yields a hit, so we’re subjected to the movie of the show of the movie. OK, “Hairspray” worked, partially because the source material was a musical itself, and who knew Adam Shankman actually had it in him to manage not to suck? That said, there is little joy and happiness to be found in “The Producers”, and I suspect the inevitable movie of “Spamalot”, as funny as that show is, is gonna hurt.

And to be fair, I dislike Rob Marshall, not because of any lack of talent but because he’s a goddamn boring director, just like Sam Mendes and all the other directors of “handsome” pictures. He doesn’t make movies that he loves, or movies he is compelled to do. He makes movies that are designed to get major nominations and draw the herd of viewers I’ve taken to calling the Oscar Death March, the people who go to see every movie nominated in the major categories. Marshall does what he’s told, gets handed a great cinematographer, and turns out product. Don’t even pretend to me anybody will give a shit about “Chicago” or “Memoirs of a Geisha” in ten years: they barely give a shit about them NOW.

But, anyway, “Nine”. It’s one thing to hear about the man’s, hell, let’s just be done with it and call them “fetishes” and quite another to actually put that into practice. The trailer to “Nine” feels like a desultory class assignment: “Make a movie in the style of Fellini. It must be just long enough to make the audience feel they are watching art. It must feature a cast of actors who are noted for being talented and will take a paycheck (cast Judi Dench for extra credit).

I’m not going to link the trailer; the pain is easy to find. Suffice to say that this will get nominated no matter how middling and bourgeoisie it is because this year, Oscar’s got ten slots to fill. And they’ll fill those slots with something interesting when they’re dead, and not a second before.

Politics – Take the RNC’s Facebook Quiz!

November 24, 2009

(1) Smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill

(Ed. note: IT’S A TARP!!!)

(2) Market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare

(Ed. note: I thought it was socialist. At least be consistent, guys. )

(3) Market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation

(Ed. note: So…what you’re saying is no reforms, really.

(4) Workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check

(Ed. note: I notice there’s nothing about anti-intimidation laws in there.)

(5) Legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants

(Ed. note: Yeah, sending their non-criminal relatives back to their homes and separating families. That’ll work wonders for the Latino vote.)

(6) Victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges

(Ed. note: Step 1: Troop Surges! Step 2: ??? Step 3: Victory!)

(7) Containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat

(Ed. note: This line does not scan to “Barbara Ann”. Rewrite.)

(8) Retention of the Defense of Marriage Act

(Ed. note: You know what supporting DOMA really says about you, right?)

(9) Protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion

(Ed. note: Funny, I thought I was already on health care rationing, you know, the kind where you pay a lot of money and get jack shit for it.)

(10) The right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership

(Ed. note: Wait, has Obama even bothered with guns so far?)

What, you ask, is this comical list of statements? Why, it’s (allegedly) a test that the far right of the RNC wants all the candidates to take, the “Resolution on Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates” (of course they dragged out the corpse of Reagan), although it could also be a very, very cruel joke. Supposedly this was introduced by a committeeman on the RNC in response to the, ah, contentious NY-23 race, where Sarah Palin and the party’s far-right wing campaigned hard for their man…and ate big heapin’ helpin’s of pavement, which the moderates told them, repeatedly, would happen and they didn’t listen.

The idea would be that if a candidate DIDN’T pass this test, they would be denied support and funding. In other words, it should really be called the “Fuck You Olympia Snowe” amendment. Because that’s what the GOP needs, now more than ever: to alienate everybody who ISN’T on the far right, especially when Obama’s still got decent approval ratings.

The main problem is that even if this thing doesn’t get implemented (and I kind of doubt it will), it’ll probably become a meme. Rabid far-right clowns will start demanding all their senators and Congressmen answer what amounts to a Facebook quiz instead of actually doing things.

As for my impressions of the list…what’s the best way to put this?

To be honest, what this reminds me of more than anything is those ads for the Droid trying to trash the iPhone. It’s focused on Obama to a degree that’s actually kind of weird for a party that fulminated at length about how he was some big fat celebrity instead of a politician. And, honestly, if your opening salvo is, “Well, he’s so big and popular and all but WE’RE BETTER!”, you’ve already lost regardless of how true that is (protip: You’re substantially worse).

But what gets me most about it is how you can’t just politely disagree with Obama, or want to work with Obama but or agree with his goals but disagree with his methods of achieving them. You have to be resolutely AGAINST. It’s continuing a policy of sulking and doing nothing, basically hoping against hope Obama will derail himself and they can ride to victory.

Let’s review: they just lost a Congressional seat, making gaining any sort of foothold in Congress one seat harder. Five Senators are retiring. Arlen Specter has already quit the party. Olympia Snowe probably won’t bail on the GOP, but I just do not see Maine accepting somebody else and she has an incredibly strong local base. And, most importantly, all the people who want this kind of thing are not actually elected officials but rather committeemen, talk radio loudmouths, and clueless quitters with books to sell and TV appearances to grub for.

If this passes, which I doubt, it’ll make 2010…highly interesting, that’s for sure.

Software – Microsoft Gets It Right (For Free, No Less)

November 24, 2009

It’s fun to lampoon Microsoft as bloated, out of touch and a crumbling giant. And they are. But even crumbling giants can break off a good piece, and that would be Microsoft Security Essentials.

As anybody who spends more than ten seconds around computer geeks knows, anti-virus software is pissing away good money. It won’t stop a new virus if it’s not in the definitions, and the software is easily outpaced and outwitted by hackers. It’s not insensible to have virus protection: it’s just insensible to pay for it.

This is where Security Essentials comes in. It’s basically a virus scanner and minor firewall…but it’s pretty damn good at its job. Better, in fact, than almost any anti-virus software I’ve dealt with and far better than any pay virus software.

So, if you’ve got Windows, consider this a recommendation from somebody who hates Microsoft: it’s well worth getting.

Politics – Global Warming, Emails, and Scientific Fraud

November 23, 2009

Apparently global warming “skeptics” got a little boost today as a hacker posted a bunch of emails from a major climate research center that show scientists may have fudged the data a bit. We’ll have to see how accurate these emails actually are; let’s not forget these are illicitly obtained communications posted by somebody with an agenda, and forging emails is child’s play. But even if this is true, it still doesn’t change a few vital facts: namely, that skepticism of global warming is centered on wishes and dreams (and lies) instead of hard scientific fact.

Let’s leave aside the fact that global warming skeptics have been busted, and repeatedly, for misrepresenting everything from serious, peer-reviewed scientific research to support from the scientific community. Remember that list of 500 names, and how some of them were fake and a good chunk of the rest called and immediately demanded their name be removed? It’s worth bringing up, but let’s set that aside. Let’s look instead at what they claim.

Namely, that we are dumping billions of tons of chemicals, some of which are incredibly nasty, into the air, every year, and it has little to no effect whatsoever. So therefore we should just keep doing it.

This is really the key reason I just don’t give global warming skepticism the time of day. Maybe the science has some flaws, and I’ll cheerfully agree I’m not a climatologist. If a global warming skeptic with climatological training wants to take me on in an argument, he’ll probably win.

But I do have some basic common sense. Billions of tons of crap don’t just disappear. Sure, trees may consume carbon dioxide, but they don’t consume nitrous oxide or methane. Halon and CFCs don’t exactly pop in nature in high quantities. Who takes care of that shit? Leprechauns?

It would be one thing if the skeptics were arguing that it isn’t global warming, but rather something else. That’s not, as a rule, the argument, because these are people well-paid by groups who don’t want to reduce emissions because it would cost them money and give their stock price a temporary knock. No, instead we’re supposed to accept that nature can just absorb all this crap they’re releasing into the air because they’re too fucking lazy and cheap to do anything about it.

Sure, the worst case scenario boils down to a complete shift in literally everything, but that’s not worth losing a couple of billion in paper wealth, amirite?

Gaming – Why Movie Tie-In Games Are Going to Suck Even More Than They Already Do

November 20, 2009

There’s nothing Hollywood loves more than a movie tie-in game. Gets the kids into it, don’t you know, and they pay $60 for the privilege. Well, not usually, but these games really exist to cater to the dottering old grandmas and clueless parents. Little Johnny likes this movie, and this game console, which means he’ll be getting this crappy game for Christmas.

It’s a problem, especially in terms of marketing because a crappy game can genuinely dilute the brand. And, in fact, it’s going to get worse. Much worse.

Generally, the kind of movie that gets a game usually takes about two years to make. There’s a very distinct target date that the studios want this movie out on, which is why release dates for sequels are announced before scripts are written. So basically, once they know the movie’s a go, they start working on the game.

This was fine in the NES era, because, really, there was a limit to the technical complexity of the enterprise. The problems were more a lack of interest in making a good game combined with not much time to code it.

This isn’t to say there haven’t been good, even classic, games based off of movies: they’ve just tended to either have nothing to do with the movie or not actually released day-and-date. “Goldeneye” didn’t hit stores the same day the movie hit theaters, for example. And I have a soft spot in my heart for “The Lawnmower Man” for the SNES, a great game with a wide variety of gameplay that remains sadly largely unremembered.

But now, things have gotten substantially worse, solely due to technical complexity. Now you’ve got to do a lot more than code some sprites and a hitbox. You’ve got to create an entire world out of a stack of production art and get it out day-and-date. Have fun in QA!

And it’s just going to get worse as gamers get more demanding and consoles improve. Now it’s not just creating a world. Now it’s creating a finely detailed world. Then it’ll be creating a finely detailed world with multiple gameplay types. And so on.

I bring this up because, like it or not, movie-based games are most people’s first, and probably only, experience with modern console gaming. People go for the properties they’re familiar with. That’s why we’ve got licensed games in the first place.

What does it say for gaming that their first experience with a beloved character is a miserable pit of suck?

Politics – All This Over a Rotting Men’s Room?

November 19, 2009

For those not up on Boston politics, a Boston politician, Michael P. Ross, for some reason has an enormous erection for the idea of renovating a crumbling old men’s room on Boston Common into some kind of tacky food-selling nightmare. He doesn’t particularly care what KIND of tacky food-selling nightmare, as long as it’s tacky and completely out of place in one of the nation’s oldest green spaces. It is vitally important that this be a worse idea than Boston’s City Hall.

Anyway, some burger chain called Shake Shack apparently would like to move into this superannuated piss-trough, and to the New York Times this is a big deal because the Yankees won the Series and Boston hates New York (which isn’t quite true: Boston hates the Yankees, and a good chunk of Boston residents are actually FROM New York in the first place) and why can’t Boston just accept that New York is better and have a Shake Shack. And now it’s a big pissing match.

While I’m always one to give New Yorkers a pounding for their self-important horseshit, and Shake Shack really is just another burger joint, the truth is, this kind of fast-food provincialism is all over the country. Midwesterners swear Steak ‘N Shake is the greatest burger joint ever, Californians sing the praises of In N’ Out Burger, Southerners will never shut the fuck up about Sonic, etc. Everybody loves the hometown burger joint the best, even though the differences between them are usually subtle at best. I confess to a small soft spot for Steak ‘N Shake, myself, although why, when a Sonic opened in Massachusetts, first day traffic blocked major roads I have no idea.

I will say I’m baffled that the Times is under the impression Boston eats entirely seafood. It’s true the seafood and roast beef joint is a distinctly (and extremely odd) New England phenomenon, but this is a city with no lack of burgers. I personally recommend Flat Patties and Leo’s Diner, both of Harvard Square. Does Shake Shake have almost any soda you can think of in a glass bottle, like Leo’s? No? Then, frankly, Shake Shack can suck it.

Personally, I just don’t see the economic value in Ross’ plan, unless he’s somehow going to magically clean up all the homeless loitering around waiting for their bed at the shelters, or the drug dealers trying to sell them crack. I’ve been on the Common at least once a week for the last five years; remodelling a decrepit bathroom into a fried clam shack isn’t going to begin to address the problems. The only thing I can see it doing is boosting the fatality rate of Boylston and Tremont streets as Emerson students charge across the street to get at mediocre food.

Hey, here’s an idea. Maybe we can turn that destitute sewage depository into an actual homeless shelter! We could solve a problem! Wouldn’t that be amazing?

And probably asking too much of a Boston politician. But there you go.

Gadgets – Android Can’t Beat Apple

November 19, 2009

If there is just one thing I could make every Unix/Linux/Finux/Debian/whatever random distro users realize at once, it would be this: most people do not enjoy and do not want to fuck around with OSes. This is especially true as more people get computers and just as importantly, as more people deal with things going horribly wrong on their computers. This is why Windows is still around years after a more powerful OS, cheap as air, sits everywhere on the Internet.

Now we have Android, which combines two things geeks love: open-source and Google. Everybody dreams of having an open-source platform to build cell phones off of, since Apple proved the cell phone can become both status symbol and actually useful as a computer. Most people, in fact, think Android will replace the iPhone.

These people are wrong.

This isn’t to say Android won’t be successful as a cell phone OS. Quite the opposite. Three years from now, Android will probably have forced everybody else except Apple off the market (goodbye WinMo; you will be missed by no one). Or, rather, the thousands of different versions of Android that are on the market, each just subtly different from the other to make coding apps for Android utterly pointless.

Google seems to have forgotten cell-phone manufacturers sell products that last about two years max and then are tossed in a recycling bin. This suits handset-makers just fine. A constantly refreshing customer? Yes please!

But it’s shit news for app developers because the handset makers don’t care about their apps. So they’ll change the source code around any old way they please if they think it somehow makes the phone more appealing to their target segment, and it’s tough noogies for the developers. They can just recode their app to suit the handset maker’s platforms.

By the way, know how many handsets Nokia makes? No? Neither do I, but it’s a long-ass list. Ditto Motorola. And Sony. And Samsung. Imagine hundreds of smartphones on the market, each with an OS that’s Android-in-name-only, and you get an idea of how screwed most developers are.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be apps: Google has plenty of them. It does mean that each phone will be its own ecosystem and won’t have the variety of Apple’s app store. Which, in turn, means the creativity and usefulness of Android phones will only be tapped by homebrew.

In short, it’s like any open-source product: only nerds care and will use it to its full potential. Everybody else will buy it because either they don’t want or can’t get an iPhone.

Gadgets – Apple? Evil? NAAAAAH!

November 17, 2009

It recently came to light that Apple’s patented a new technology for personal media players, cell-phones, and so on that not only rams ads down your throat, but actually makes you take a test to prove you’re watching the ad. The device completely locks up and makes the ad unavoidable. There are two things about this technology, or rather the coverage of it, that get me:

1) That anybody was surprised digital advertising wasn’t headed this way.

2) That anybody was surprised Apple would create such a technology, as if Apple had the pretense of being “good”, like Google, instead of a closed-architecture evil empire, which I say affectionately, being a long-time user and fan of Apple products. But it’s still true.

To deal with the first one: of course advertising is going to become more obnoxious and intrusive. It’s always done so within the limits of the law, and sometimes outside of those limits, so adding a required questionnaire, which isn’t illegal, is a natural next step. Of course, doing this on a website is suicide, although that’s not going to stop a wide variety of content providers, nor will it stop relentlessly creative Firefox add-ons to kill said code. And no, Linux fans, nobody will want to run your operating system even after this tech becomes widespread.

Apple’s patent is unique because this tech is at the core of the device. The idea is that people buy, say, an iPod for ten bucks but it interrupts the music every so often with ads. You answer the stupid question and the music picks up where it left off.

It isn’t surprising Apple would come up with this. Apple’s far from an ethical company. Just ask all the clone manufacturers they put out of business, or anybody running a Hackintosh, or anybody awake around Steve Jobs. Hell, just Google “iPod City”. Seriously, go ahead, I’ll wait.

…See what I mean? Is it outside of Apple’s mission? Does it make money? Then the answer is no.

That said, I seriously doubt all iPods will come free with adware in the future. This tech is largely designed with the cell-phone market in mind, and also because Apple knows it can kill two birds with one stone: they can license this tech to unethical electronics manufacturers…and keep it out of their own products.

See what I mean? Brilliant, but utterly evil. Expect this tech in Droid phones by the end of the year.

Politics – Sarah Impalin’

November 16, 2009

Can I just say, now that the election is well over and Barack Obama is President of the United States, that I really don’t give a shit about Sarah Palin and wish she’d go the fuck away already?

I’m sure she has a great career ahead of her as a faux voice of the masses for the GOP. But that’s all she’s got ahead of her. The idea of this woman as any sort of political force is a joke. Granted, this isn’t going to stop the GOP from clinging to her in desperation because she’s about as popular as the 2012 field gets right at the moment, but the elections are about three very long years away, plenty of time for someone else to snatch away the spotlight. Of course, for the GOP, there might not be anybody else…and that’s very bad news.

The truth is, Palin pretty much destroyed her hopes of any sort of national seat during the 2008 elections. I remember being surprised and interested, and then promptly deflated once I discovered she was basically such a setback she’d reverse suffrage. Although honestly I have a different perspective on Troopergate than most people (considering the trooper in question threatened her sister and her father, I don’t respect her actions but I can respect her reasons), the rest of it, especially the complete hash she made of her governorship and her mayoralty are appalling. Her antics on the campaign trail didn’t help much, as she came off as basically every angry talk radio dimwit ever to have graced the airwaves. There is a reason Rush Limbaugh, for all his alleged popularity, has never run for public office (well, before the drug addiction came along), and Palin learned why the hard way. She was a millstone around John McCain’s neck, and that along with the McCain campaign’s general incompetence took him out more effectively than Obama’s campaign could have dreamed.

The problem with Palin was she was peddling the same tired “Real America is in the small towns instead of those sinful cities” horseshit, and nobody, not even a good chunk of the small towns, was buying. Part of the reason her book tour is going to locations like Rochester instead of major cities (no offense to the charming town of Rochester, NY, of course, but it’s not exactly jumpin’ in the publishing world) is because her publisher knows Palin would be driven out of any major city on a rail.

Of course, shit that doesn’t sell politically can sell like gangbusters on the page: selling a million books isn’t nearly as difficult as getting the voting public to vote for you. So the GOP will misinterpret her sales as interest, because, basically, they’re desperate.

Right now the 2012 field, even if Obama stays at about 50% popularity, does not look good. Tim Pawlenty? Sure, let’s put a doughy, not-terribly-distinguished white guy up against the black guy. That’ll end well. Mitt Romney? 2012 might be Mitt’s candidacy year, but the GOP somehow has to ignore the fact that a quarter of their base won’t vote for him because he’s a Mormon, and Mitt is not exactly masterful with the press, or voters who don’t like him, or anybody who asks him about anything off script. He’s not called an android behind his back for nothing. Newt Gingrich? Who wants him? And, of course, Palin. Although part of me wants to see a John Boehner run. Why? Because his name is boner (he insists it’s pronounced “boy-ner”, which somehow sounds even more like a gay porn alias), and it would be the biggest landslide in history for Obama.

It would be one thing if the GOP had any moderates it weren’t currently shitting on. Olympia Snowe is no doubt enjoying her free rock salt sent to Maine (this is why I love RedState; it’s run by idiots), but if the RNC wasn’t ready to murder her politically before, after her support of the health care bill, it’ll be trying hard to do so. Arlen Specter was never interested and he’s ill and a Democrat now anyway. Chaffee was thrown out of office and had no love of the RNC even before they hung him out to dry. But there’s just nobody left. They’ve either been voted out of office, they’ve switched parties, or they’ve quit.

Like I said: it’s a long three years. Maybe the GOP will find a worthy challenger within its ranks after the 2010 elections…but I doubt it. No, instead, I’m fairly sure that come 2012, we’ll have Sarah Palin to kick around again. Better the devil you know, I suppose.