2013/05/27

The Great Gatsby


My sister says that The Great Gatsby was a novel that had a real influence on her growing up, she and a buddy would observe a fancy house giving a wild, noisy party across the water and they'd feel like they were observing one of Gatsby's parties. And yes, the mix of 1920s music and modern hip-hop in the movie certainly makes the 2013 version timeless.
As to the philosophical question at the heart of the book, “Does wealth help you get the girl?” I had a serious crush, let's call her Brunhilde (She was of German descent), many years ago. She turned me down because she already had a boyfriend. He was wealthier, but that wasn't really the point. She felt that he was more mature than I was as I was still trying to get my degree whereas he was long out of college and progressing in his career. So I never saw Brunhilde or other women as gold-diggers or people who insisted on fancy dinners as the price of their company. They're looking for guys who are at least reasonably successful in material terms. Because of today's crappy economy, having a career or even just having money that's a bit beyond what I need just to get by on is a hard thing to have.
Do I pine after Brunhilde? Would I do as Gatsby did and go after her with money, however I obtained that money? Nah, her boyfriend was way ahead of me in maturity way back when and the two of them (Did they stay together? No idea) have probably only gotten more so over the years. I don't think my attraction to her was something that was irreproducible, I don't think it was a one-time thing. There aren't very many women that I'll develop a similarly strong attraction to, but they're out there. If I ever get to a comfortable level of wealth, I'll then proceed along Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to the point where I'm ready to move up to romance.

2013/05/22

TV Shows


My shows generally fall into three categories, news, historical-type fiction and outlandish fantasy. Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow are news shows that I don't tape, I watch them in an “Appointment TV” style, that is, I get to the TV when the show starts, watch the program, often channel-jumping during commercials, then at the end of the show, I turn off the TV and go on to something else.

The Good Wife and The Client List are historical-fiction type shows. Good Wife covers various aspects of the legal profession from within a fictionalized context. The individual, specific actions, the details, are pretty trustworthy. We can be sure they're based on real institutions and events. It's the overall framework , the personal details about the characters and the context that's fictionalized. In one episode, our protagonist Alicia (Julianne Margulies) is sulking because she was appointed as a partner in her firm to fulfill a financial need on the part of the firm, not so much because she was an amazing lawyer. Her senior partner Diane (Christine Baranski) tells her to get over it because Diane was appointed as a partner for similar reasons. The lesson here is to take promotions for whatever reasons they're offered. Don't get so pure that you get in the way of your own career. Client List covers massage parlors that “give their customers a little extra” and cover all sorts of issues that arise from being a sex worker. A continuing, recurring problem is “What does one do with all of that money?” Obviously, that's problem a lot of us would like to have, but the show demonstrates that it can be a real logistical problem to deal with piles and piles of cash and to still maintain a cover. Our protagonist Riley (Jennifer Love Hewitt) is speaking with some policemen about her husband's legal problems and one of them loudly notes that the clothes she wears are not exactly of the standard for those of modest means. He notes that they're a bit more expensive than one would expect from an ordinary housewife. Riley gets through the encounter, but the point is made, that someone with a lot of extra, illicit money, has to be careful how she spends it. In both cases, the show are generally successful at being both informative about their subjects and good dramas.

Grimm, Merlin, Nikita, Beauty & The Beast, Vampire Diaries, Once Upon A Time, Lost Girl and Being Human are outlandish fantasies. They all have explicitly stated rules for what their characters can and can't do, but all of those rules go well beyond what regular people can do. Being Human is a show where a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost all share a house in the city. One of the premises is that if a vampire drinks werewolf blood, it gives him what essentially amounts to an immediate and really bad case of food poisoning, so a young werewolf (Lydia Doesburg) who was staying in the house decided to temporarily disable the vampire (Sam Huntington) by putting some of her blood into the vampire's usual refrigerated supply and to then attack him when he was weakened. Our vampire prevails, of course, but it's a real challenge for him to do so.

Now, I think I can be reasonably certain that this is a problem that will never occur to me. That's the fun of it. Someone once said the whole point of watching disaster movies is to compare the problems of the characters there with those of your own life and to comfort yourself that “Well, at least I don't have to hide my magical abilities from my king (Merlin) while trying to defend my kingdom from all manner of mystical foes.” The show Two Broke Girls doesn't interest me because I'm far too often actually broke myself, so it's far too real to me to be of any interest to me as a TV show. It's more amusing to follow storylines like those of Nikita's secret organization that undertakes covert missions in the manner of a superhero team or Vampire Diaries that examines the many problems of vampires, witches and werewolves that regular people aren't even aware of (A marvelous scene occurred when the werewolf (Michael Trevino) comes to the conclusion that a young woman he's sweet on is more than human “You're a werewolf, too!” She (Candice Accola) replies that, well, uh, sort of. She's actually a vampire, but yeah, he's right, she's not human). By the way, it seems to me that Grimm, Once Upon A Time and Lost Girl all more or less take off from the idea presented in the comic-book series Fables, which also freely pulls in characters and storylines from a wide variety of fables and legends near and far. Of course, that also borrows from a lengthy tradition of freely plundering the past to get stories, as Beauty & the Beast is a direct continuation of an old legend, just as the comic-book Thor is a direct continuation of old Norse legends.

Update: Very interesting! Grimm and Vampire Diaries both improved their ratings this past season.

2013/05/20

Star Trek Into Darkness


Quite good! Lots and lots of close calls. Kirk succeeds in bringing everyone back alive time and again, but he has to cut a few corners and ignore a few orders to do so. Villain is quite formidable and takes quite a few really hard punches from 
Kirk (Played by Chris Pine) without much reaction. We immediately recognize him once he's named, of course. As with any other prequel, we know that certain things will end up a certain way, so my reaction at one point was “Oh, man, how are they gonna fix THIS one!?!?” Interestingly, Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock (Zachary Quinn) appear to have a romantic relationship, a relationship that we know doesn't survive into the series, so that's a story we know we'll see in a  sequel.
The Independent blanches at the tacky capital city of the Federation. The reviewer remarks on the London of the film: “Our capital in the 23rd century now resembles Dubai on steroids – thank God we won’t be around to see it.” I always wondered, seeing the original series, how the citizens of the Federation related to the Enterprise and its crew. The movie doesn't add much to what very little we know.

Update: The Rachel Maddow blog compares Admiral Marcus to Dick Cheney. Has some mild spoilers.

2013/05/10

The Benghazi situation




Jon Stewart's Daily Show covers the Benghazi "scandal" where no one has ever identified what was being covered up or what the Obama Administration ever hoped to achieve with it. As this piece reviews the three events, Watergate, Iran-Contra and yes, even Whitewater, all had some discernable motivation behind them. In each case, there was a good reason for the Nixon, Reagan and Clinton administrations to want to carry them out. In the case of Benghazi, the actions took place in early September of last year, here it is May and no one has yet defined exactly what the Obama Administration was attempting to achieve. Rachel Maddow covered the Benghazi hearings from the perspective of general Republican/right wing craziness (Her specific comments on Benghazi start at the 12:50 mark). She states straightforwardly that she can't "reverse-engineer" why and how Benghazi was supposedly a positive for Obama.

Daily Kos examines various questions: "Why wasn't the Special Forces unit sent to the scene of the fighting?"

...they weren't some fully outfitted Delta Force unit ready to obliterate the men who had dared attack American facilities. They were just four guys in all, no doubt brave and eager to go. But they weren't combat ready, being armed solely with 9mm sidearms.

"Why weren't jets sent?"

They couldn't have gotten there in time, something examined in full by the Accountability Review Board's independent report.

"There was a '40-man Special Operations CIF [Commander's in-Extremis Force] unit in Europe at the time of the attack,' why weren't they sent?"

     The nearest airfield where the 40-man team could have landed was 30 kilometers away from where the incident took place. Yes, they had a plane that could have carried vehicles that could have gotten them there on time, but it  takes time to load those appropriate vehicles onto a plane. By the time that could have been done, the fight would have long since been over. No, there was no realistic way that the team could have gotten to the fight in time to make a difference.

In short, there was really no conspiratorial explanation for why the personnel in the Benghazi diplomatic compound could not be saved. There simply wasn't time to do much. There were too few forces, too far away, to have made any difference.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked all three expert witnesses at the May 8th "whistleblowers" hearing if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's name at the bottom of all of the relevant cables meant anything. All three witnesses replied that it is standard protocol to credit all cables to having been written by the SecState whether she had anything to do with them or not. So no, Clinton's name at the bottom of all the cables meant nothing. Did the House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) learn anything from the hearing? His own statements indicate that the hearings were a complete waste of time and that nothing was learned. Heck, even Fox News was cutting away from their own coverage because there was so little that was new and interesting coming out of it.

So what's the point? Why are Republicans putting so much time and effort into the story? Daily Kos figures it's "The GOP's Benghazi investigation, aka the Stop Hillary 2016 campaign." After all, President Obama was mentioned 29 times whereas Clinton was mentioned 71 times.

Update: And did anybody truly think that Republicans would be embarrassed into silence? Ha. Ha. Ha.  Not Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK)!

“Of all the great cover-ups in history — the Pentagon papers, the Iran-Contra, Watergate and all the rest of them — this … is going to go down as the most serious, the most egregious cover-up in American history,” Inhofe said during an appearance on The Rusty Humphries Show.

Obviously, Inhofe just speaks for himself, but it seems pretty clear that there will be some never-say-die fanatics on this. 

2013/05/05

Iron Man 3


This is one of those stories that I wish I had read in a comics form so that I could flip back through and get a better sense of how all of the parts fit together. I finished up the story of Sif in Strange Tales and they ended up the story with a cool twist ending/revelation, so I was able to go back and read all of the issues in the story from start to finish and ended up with a much better understanding of what the authors were trying to convey.
It helped that I was able to get a detailed review of Iron Man 3, as the review went through many of the various threads and details that I wasn't fully able to recall from Saturday night. The “thinking/feeling drone” aspect is a very interesting one as that fantasy very clearly comes out of stories like this July 2002 piece on a bombing that allegedly had a ground observer in place to confirm that the plane was actually hitting a target that was really a hostile. It was a wedding party and it makes sense that it came to the attention of bombers because you had a large group of people and weddings in that region often involve shooting off guns into the air at certain points during the ceremony. 30 people in that party died. In Iron Man, James Rhodes as Iron Patriot/War Machine comes into a sweatshop where women in chadors are busy sewing garments. Had Iron Patriot not been a human in a metal suit, had he been an actual drone, the entire shop would simply have been blown to bits.
Tony Stark/Iron Man apparently suffers some PTSD from the Avengers movie, not a debilitating case of it, but it recalls his “Demon in a Bottle” storyline in his comic in the late 1970s. The studio nixed the idea of having this Iron Man battle alcoholism, but a bit of PTSD was apparently okay.