Sunday, February 22, 2009

Post Oscar Wrap-up

So tonight I got validation for that smug sense of superiority I feel, knowing that I’m at least smarter than the plurality of members of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and the rest of the group-thinking lovers of Slumcrapfest Millionaire. (Did you see what I did there? Slumcrapfest! Genius!)

Surprisingly, though, there are limits to my arrogance. See, I’m not suggesting that I know better than the Academy generally. I'd guess that 98% of the time they do a better job than I could possibly do on my own -- watching those obscure documentaries, weighing sound editing quality, and writing that hilarious banter before the award is given. It's just I trust collective decisions to be right more often than individual ones. My belief in the superiority of collective decisions comes from America's history and traditions, and the cultural, economic, and military dominance we’ve accrued over the years while the nations that employ more authoritarian decision making methods retard their potential, making it easier for us to invade them and secure their natural resources while pretending we're there to protect our security from a hypothetical possibility that they could give weapons they don't have to a terrorist group they don't associate with. But one of the great strengths we Americans have is the ability to recognize that the collective decision making process falters from time to time. And to help gain some perspective, to help demonstrate how terrible the collective deliberations can be, I've compiled a list of some of the worst collective decisions ever made:

1. The July 1932 Reichstag election
2. When the Crowd Freed Barrabus Instead of the Other Guy
3. Bush v. Gore
4. Awarding Slumdog Millionaire Eight Oscars, Including Best Picture
5. This one's a tie between The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and The Iraq War Resolution
7. The First O.J. Verdict
8. The High School Varsity Baseball Coaching Staff That Benched This Guy Midway Through the 1998 Season Even Though He's Obviously Clutch-City
9. Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act
10. The Alien and Sedition Act

I mean, if this list didn't do it for you, if you still think that Slumresteasyyour$11haspaidforyoutoseegoodtriumphoverevilandhappilyeverafterbecausebeautifulwomengoforstreetratseveryday Dog was clearly the best of 2008, perhaps it might help to think of films from the past that were clearly better than SDM, movies that didn't win eight Oscars. Once you see just a partial sampling, you'll realize how shitty 2008 must have been for movies and/or the people judging them to award such an average one eight Academy Awards. (The number of Oscars these films won is in parenthesis.)

The Godfather (3)
The Godfather II (6)
The Shawshank Redemption (0)
Pulp Fiction (1)
Forrest Gump (6)
Schindler’s List (7)
There Will Be Blood (2)
Goodfellas (1)
My Cousin Vinny (1)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (0?)
Cast Away (0)
The Karate Kid (0)
Kickboxer (0)
Faceoff (0)
Any one of those movies from the 80s where people switched brains and had some else’s body, you know, like the ones with Kirk Cameron and Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage (0?)
The 10 second video I accidentally made with my exgirlfirend's camera after she asked me to take a picture and I say, “It’s not blinking…wait, I think I’m videotaping this.” And she says, “What? Just hit the button again.” Even though it's hard to make out what we say because the wind is muffling the words. (0)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Oscar Preview -- Best Picture Edition

So let me begin by pointing out that the Oscars are a silly affair because judging art is like appreciating class action law suits on a personal and subjective basis, but since the Oscars do provide us with an opportunity to focus on something other than the vapidity and purposelessness of life, it's not like they're evil or anything. And well, since I have an opinion and too much time on my hands I'd thought I'd give you, the American people, my much sought after take on the best picture nominees.

Slumdog Millionaire -- I could write pages of righteous indignation about this movie, so I got to be careful to be as brief as possible, and not come off as too hateful and repulsive of a person. My first point is that nominating this movie reminds me of the worst decision the Academy ever made, when it chose Crash for best picture, since the only rationale I can figure that make either of these movies appealing to the limousine liberals I imagine constitute the Academy is that the Academy members can say, "Oh, I love poor people and hate racism so if a movie depicts these issues using broad stereotypes I'll eat it up since the only personal interactions I've ever had with either of these groups was that one time my driver made a wrong turn in downtown L.A. and I threw some change at 'em out the sun roof." I just could not have been more disappointed when I saw this shiite. This is really just a formulaic movie but since its topical – “My God, when I call customer service I get an Indian person! This movie has its finger on the pulse!” – the immature love story and complete lack of character development are ignored. Like, really, the asshole older brother just totally changes tack without any inclination as to why and then he wants to die in some transparent symbolic method that your high school English teacher would give you a C for by inexplicably bathing in a tub of cash and then the lead boss decides to be the first one through the locked bathroom door so he gets shot providing us with that cathartic knowledge that evil is always punished, and all of this after Daisy Buchanan left security and money to go for love, but wait Daisy doesn’t have to worry about money since her lover answered all the questions on a game show, a game show that all of India wants to be a contestant on but our protagonist just happens to have a secret for calling at the exact right moment, and oh yea, he just happens to know the right answer to every question? Get a job Slumdog. Like really, get a job, because this movie wasn't all bad. Like when we saw how hard that kid had to scam to get by in life, that was touching, and when 99.99% of people in his circumstances would not bag the really hot girl or have any meaningful chance of social mobility and have to stay in the menial but dignified work-a-day world then well...I mean...I don't get why we Americans like it. I could see how this movie is some sort of escapism for poor Indians who dream of winning the lottery but that's not what a best picture makes. But probably the worst part of this movie has got to be those corny ass flashbacks at the end. Are audiences really that sappy that they get nostalgic for scenes that they just saw? Hey, there she is at the train station being whisked away by the bad guys for the 7th time in the last 15 minutes!! All I’m saying is maybe this movie is better than Fool’s Gold, but best picture? C’mon!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
-- So yes this movie is like Forrest Gump but I say so what? Forrest Gump rocked. I can see that movie anytime and anywhere (provided there's an outlet) so what do I care if the sequel starts Brad Pitt? At least this love story felt somewhat believable since it wasn’t some fairy tale garbage about how Jay Gatsby gets Daisy Buchanan after she banged his brother. (All I'm saying is that if Daisy Buchanan leaves Tom for Jay then we move away from high art into Fool's Gold territory, and when we start celebrating story lines that do that then I understand why F. Scott Fitzgerald drank himself to death.) And Benjamin Button is in another league than Fool’s Gold and Slumdog, and it's probably even better than the English Patient. But I haven’t seen the English Patient so I can’t be sure.

– Now we’re getting into the perilous territory of nominated movies I didn't exactly "see" or "watch" or "pay to see" or "sit all the way through" because they weren't that "interesting" or "playing near enough to my home" and because I don't own a "car" I have to see movies within biking distance. Anyways, this one is the didn't "sit all the way through" category, as I was in the theater for 25 minutes before leaving because the major dramatic tension wasn't enough to keep me from returning to my dark, empty and lonely apartment with the internet as my only friend. I mean, really, the major tension is whether this goofy-not-really-a-journalist guy is going to win in this head-to-head confrontation with Nixon? And then, during the first 11 of these two-hour interviews Nixon just creams this guy’s clock because the interview subjects are substantial policy issues that this would be journalist never seriously considered? But then, oh man, when we get to Watergate, then the protagonist studies really hard and shoves it in Nixon's face! Win for the good guys! But I mean, umm, yea? Wouldn't any monkey without a speech impediment been able to accomplish that? You have Richard Nixon spending two hours where he can't run away from the camera explaining stuff like why he directed $500,000 cash dead drops for Watergate burglars and like why did he decided to lie to the FBI, since he's on tape talking about lying to the FBI. I guess you had to live it, but if this wins best picture I’m going to be annoyed.

Milk – I didn’t see this one, but I did see a documentary on Milk’s life in college, and every scene I saw in the trailer for this Gus Van Sant version looked to be ripping off a scene from that documentary, and I know that documentary made me cry and hate people who don’t like gays, or kill gays and then serve like 5 year prison sentences. I hope that documentary wins best picture because it told an incredible story of a man who changed the world for the better and a world that wasn’t ready for him. But if Milk wins, I'm going to be annoyed that you can just rip off a 20 year old documentary and get an Oscar.

The Reader – I didn’t see this one either, but I have a feeling this one is the best of the bunch. That shouldn't matter, though, since we all know that the Academy loves them a Holocaust movie, and so the cynic in me worries the people who make these movies are doing so imagining all the awards and the income those awards will generate once the movie is done. And that irritates me, since you have to try really hard to tell a Holocaust story that won't touch and move the audience in a profound way. I mean, a 13 year-old girl’s diary is considered one of the finest books of the 20th century. So in the question of judging art and saying what’s better than the rest, these Holocaust movies just have an unfair advantage. They should be a special category, where Holocaust movies are only compared with each other and there’s one Oscar for all of them and the question is whether this particular Holocaust movie is better than the last one. So the real question, then, is the Reader better than Schindler’s List? And I can't answer that because I haven't seen Schindler's List since I was 14 and like I said I haven't seen the Reader at all but now that I think about it why is the Academy passing the buck and asking me to compare Holocaust movies anyways? Do your job Academy and I'll do mine thank you very much.

Oh yea, and I got a good Holocaust knock knock joke I learned from my friend:

Knock knock
Who’s there?
The Holocaust
(The other person here either refuses to continue the joke, or does so haltingly, expecting something repulsive to come back at them.) The…Holo-caust…who?
(Shake head disapprovingly) So you’re one of those?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Shane Battier Seems Pretty Cool or How I Backtracked on a Previous Promise and Made Another Kobe Post

The NY Times Magazine has a 9 page article on Battier that I bet this blog's extensive readership won't read because of work, family, or relationship obligations that I don't have the fortune to worry about. So let me just give you the highlights.

1. Shane Battier is a selfless player with an absurdly high basketball I.Q.

2. Battier has been an undervalued player for his career because most NBA teams focus on the individual stats that don't indicate a player's worth to the team.

3. When Shane Battier guards you then you will have an off shooting night, like Kobe's 13-32 performance against the Rockets from early January 2009.

4. Kobe hit a deep 3 with under 30 seconds left to win that game against the Rockets. It had been the one bright spot for the Lakers in a game filled with Kobe over shooting. But that's the shot the Rockets wanted Kobe to take. As their stats indicated: "Bryant had taken 51 3-pointers at the very end of close games from farther than 26.75 feet from the basket. He had missed 86.3 percent of them. A little over a year ago the Lakers lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers after Bryant missed a 3 from 28.4 feet. Three nights from now the Lakers would lose to the Orlando Magic after Bryant missed a shot from 27.5 feet that would have tied the game."

And really all of this is just a big "This is what I'm talking about" to my dad. I watched the Lakers lose against Utah with Pops on Wednesday, and I want to use the bully pulpit to say that the Rockets provide the stats that I assumed were out there. During that Utah game Kobe hit a contested 3 with under 2 minutes left. I was screaming "No" at the poor shot selection just as the shot went in. Pops laughed but on the next possession Kobe missed another contested 3 that he took early in the shot clock even though the Lakers were only down 2 and there was still a few more offensive possessions to be had.

So as I've been saying about Kobe, for some reason people just remember the tough shots that go in and forget all the missed ones. Kobe is good, obviously. And he's amazing when he's shooting in the lane or curling around the screen and shooting an open 15 footer. But we've seen how he plays against Battier or the Celtics D. As Lakes' fans there should be more indignation when Kobe's forcing contested jump shots all game because the statistics show that he's actually a detriment to the Lakers' offense when he does that.

So in conclusion, who else thinks that he probably sexually assaulted that girl? I mean, the guy is always forcing the action and doesn't seem to notice when the lane isn't open. Anyone?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Paul Krugman Tries To Set the Record Straight

So Talking-Points Memo already posted this clip but it's a good one, as Krugman explains how silly the tax cut as panacea philosophy is. He also does a good job of reminding ideologues like Pat Buchanan of how tax raises under Clinton coincided with the largest peacetime expansion of the economy in history. Anyways, I should let the clip speak for itself. The good back and forth starts at the 4 minute mark.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Changing the World One Blog Post At a Time

So I realized how this blog is becoming my virtual soapbox, and I was going write about how I should change the name to reflect that but I first wanted to check to see if I was the creator of this ingenious idea and it turns out I’m not. That’s what I get for starting a blog in 2008. I’m a man behind the times. That’s just what I do. I didn’t get a cell phone until mid 2003, and didn’t set up my IPod until 2007. But enough about my retarded technological savvy, this post isn’t about my tribulations in this interconnected and scary world, even though in future posts I will be constantly discuss ‘me’ related topics in other contexts since apparently my generation is narcissistically self-involved.

As for changing the world and standing on the soapbox, though, I just wanted to talk about a few issues in the news and make points I’m sure other people have made in many other places but since I’ve been too busy living in my ‘me’ bubble I haven’t bothered to notice.

1) I just don’t understand how people can argue for a continuation of the economic policies that have caused the erosion of the federal surplus and have coincided with the economic collapse we’re currently experiencing. I’m referring here, of course, to people who champion tax cuts as a cure-all economic solution. I mean, I do get why people hold on to simplistic catch all phrases. I understand that lay people like me, people who don’t have an informed grasp of macroeconomics, that we want to grip onto simple theories that will allow us to feel informed and engaged in public policy debates. But even with this perfectly understandable human need to feel more powerful inside of and less uncertain about this hugely complex world, I would at least hope for some semblance of reason, some sign that the scientific revolution hasn’t gone to waste. I mean, all I’m asking for is to throw out mantras that don’t match up with the observable data. So could people please stop suggesting tax cuts are a panacea and maybe acknowledge that the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which coincided with the loss of the budget surplus and largest deficits (dollar wise, not as a % of GDP) in the history of the country, and which were unable to prevent this economic collapse in the first place, maybe could you acknowledge that simply offering tax cuts as a plan to stimulate the economy isn’t sufficient because if it was then we wouldn’t be here in the first place?

2) I also don’t understand people who are upset that Obama is capping salaries of the companies that take significant government funds by claiming that the best people wouldn’t be attracted to work for these companies. I mean, I could obviously make the simple point that “Really, best people? Like the people who got us into this mess in the first place?” And I should make that point, and I guess I just did, but it’s more. We also need a fundamental rethinking over what qualifies someone to be the “best” manager of a large corporation. Obviously when these managers are obsessed with their economic self-interest and are offered eight figure salaries and nine figure compensation packages, this doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to get the best people. So maybe we need the government to ensure that the compensation arrangements for managers of these behemoth corporations take stock of the long term economic health of a corporation. I’m not sure if Obama’s plan already does this or if it simply limits the managers to a six figure base salary, but maybe they should just adopt the idea I suggested above, or if they have already adopted that then please excuse me for not reading complex policy proposals, but I can be a simple minded and lazy fellow at times.

2a) Anyways, I think the trouble most people have with Obama’s move is that it comes down to philosophic principles that one has adopted in their lifetime. And for those who want an unrestricted free market, they have trouble swallowing the idea of a president setting the compensation of those in the private sector, even if that private sector has come hat-in-hand to the government for a bailout and thus doesn’t quite qualify as the private sector any longer. However, the role of the government is and should be to step in when the free market is unable to regulate itself. Just as we don’t allow the free market to dictate the rules of the road or which airplane takes off first on a runway, I think the current crisis clearly demonstrates there is a role for government to play in ensuring that managers of corporations aren’t motivated solely by their economic self-interest, especially since that interest can so easily diverge from the corporation’s and country’s economic interests. (A corollary point: it’s a simplistic view of human nature to think that the best people are only those who would work for more than $500,000 a year, since many of our brightest minds don’t appear to be motivated only by compensation, as is evinced by the quality of many people who enter public service. Perhaps managers will start to see the public service aspect in working for a corporation that the taxpayers have financed in the hope that another Great Depression is avoided.)

Anyways, the point of all of this is a) I do understand why people adopt simplistic philosophic principles for understanding complex issues of public policy but b) I don’t understand how people can repeat these simplistic philosophies when economic realities demonstrate them to be inadequate methods for understanding this world.

Also, I like to end on a joke, and I don't have one right now so I'll just have to steal a line from Mitch Hedberg until I come up with my own: "I walked by a dry-cleaners at 3:00 in the morning and there was a sign on the door that said, 'Sorry, We Are Closed.' I was like, 'Don't be sorry, it's 3:00 in the morning, you're a dry-cleaners...there is no need to apologize.'"