Tuesday, December 22, 2009

empowering the stupid

The problem with empowering the stupid, episode 234.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Best films of the decade - Collecting candidates

As we aim for the last several weeks of 2009, it seems like as good a time as any to think about the best films of the 00 decade. (It'd be nice if we could include a Bond film to the list, and I think ultimately we can put Casino Royale on the list.) I don't have a preset idea of how long the list should be, and I don't think it's terribly meaningful. For example, the 150th best film of the 70s was certainly better than the 50th best film of the 90s.

I'm more inclined to try to sort the list by genre. But to start, I'll just look through the lists of awards from each year and include or exclude the best films from that year, with a bit of commentary.

Best Picture winner: Gladiator
other nominees: Chocolat; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Erin Brockovich; Traffic
other notables: Requiem for a Dream, Shadow of the Vampire, Pollock, Almost Famous

Of the above listed, for me the only must-include film is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. While I enjoyed Gladiator, it's little more than an action film with neat CGI. I've heard great things about Requiem for a Dream, but haven't had the stomach to face it.

p.s. Best In Show deserves mention in at least a couple categories.

Best Picture Winner: A Beatiful Mind
other nominees: Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, The LotR: the Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge
other notables: Shrek, Training Day, Mullholland Drive, Amelie, Memento, The Royal Tenenbaums, Vanilla Sky, A Knight's Tale

You might expect me to automatically include the Nash biography, but I found its treatment of schizophrenia to be too magical for my tastes.
Shrek has to be included in any list of the decade's best animated films - at least the first of the three. The LotR trilogy certainly has to be included somehow. Moulin Rouge would definitely be on my list of the decade's best musicals (way ahead of Chicago). In the sci-fi category, I'd go against a lot of the sentiment at the time and exclude Memento as incoherent crap, while reserving judgment on Vanilla Sky. If only it didn't feature Tom Cruise, it'd be a lock!

Amelie is a lock, certainly. While Denzel was great in Training Day, I haven't felt that the film really has kept my interest well. OTOH, A Knight's Tale is certainly on my list of the best popcorn films of the decade.

One film from 2001 that has grown on me a lot over the past decade is The Royal Tenenbaums. This story of a dysfunctional family of geniuses initially frustrated me because it didn't seem to go anywhere, but now I think it's brilliant.

That leaves us with one more film, Gosford Park, which has been on my list since it came out. This Robert Altman-directed version of a British manor mystery is utterly delicious.

p.s. Donnie Darko.


Best Picture: Chicago
other nominees: Gangs of New York, The Hours, The LotR: the Two Towers, The Pianist
other notables: Spirited Away, Adaptation, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Far From Heaven, Bowling for Columbine

Even with a short list of musicals to choose from, I cannot include Chicago. The casting was terrible, by which I mean Renee Zellwegger. In fact, I find the entire Best Picture list to be weak.

Y Tu Mama Tambien is an amusing piece of soft porn masquerading as art. I could include it in a list of "best socially acceptable porn", I suppose.

Bowling for Columbine raises interesting questions about Michael Moore's documentaries. From a technical standpoint, they are not the best, but they cover the most important topics - topics that are conscientiously avoided by the rich and powerful studios.

The only unqualified entry from this year is Spirited Away, which not only soars to the top of the list of the decade's best animated films, but is surely on the list of best films overall.

Adaptation makes the cut. I'm a big Charlie Kaufman fan.

p.s. Bend it Like Beckham. Gonna mull over what to do with this one.

Best Picture: The LotR: the Return of the King
Other nominees: Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit
other notables: Finding Nemo, Cold Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl, Whale Rider, The Barbarian Invasions

Already commented about The LotR trilogy. At the time, I was a huge fan of Mystic River. Has it held up? I'm unsure. Master and Commander and Seabiscuit are both simple, light fare.

Lost in Translation is definitely on the list.

The first installment of Pirates of the Caribbean is certainly on my list of best action films. I have a soft spot for Whale Rider. It'll fit in somehow.


Best Picture: Million Dollar Baby
other nominees: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways
other notables: Hotel Rwanda, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, House of Flying Daggers, Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events, The Incredibles, Troy, Super Size Me

A good list for Best Picture. I'm a big fan of Million Dollar Baby, which makes the list for a number of reasons. The only nominee definitely not passing muster is The Aviator, but it's hard to say much about Finding Neverland since I've never seen it. Ray is on the list of best biopics. Amazing job by Jamie Foxx. And Sideways is also on the list, for a number of reasons.

In retrospect, it's hard to be happy with the process that left Hotel Rwanda off the Best Picture List. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has the top spot in my list of the best sci-fi films of the decade. The Incredibles has a spot on the list of the best animated films.

p.s. Der Untergang
p.p.s. I saw Land of Plenty (sort of) in France. I need to see it again because I fell asleep during the film. It was never released in the US.

Best Picture: Crash
other nominees: Brokeback Mountain; Capote; Good Night, and Good Luck; Munich
other notables: Howl's Moving Castle, Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Syriana, The Constant Gardener, Memoirs of a Geisha, King Kong, Pride and Prejudice

The obvious one here is Brokeback Mountain. At the time I liked Crash just as much, but Brokeback seems, in retrospect, to be the far greater film.

I liked Capote, but it's hurt by being in competition with Infamous, a film from 2006 covering pretty much exactly the same material.

While Howl's Moving Castle is not quite at the same level of Spirited Away, the previous film by master Hiyao Miyazaki, it definitely merits inclusion. Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit similarly deserves special acclaim. (That reminds me - I need to add Chicken Run from 2000.)

2005 was a big year for political films.
Syriana is an interesting film that may be just on the outside looking in. Good Night, and Good Luck is just a bit too preachy for my tastes, though I do appreciate its sentiments. The Constant Gardener definitely makes the cut. Does this inclusion show my weakness for Rachel Weisz? Perhaps - but I do think that inclusion of an intelligent, well-formed female character is a strong positive for any film.

There is probably some category for March of the Penguins.

p.s. The Forty-Year Old Virgin. On the list of best comedies.

p.p.s. The Proposition. And The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

Best Picture: The Departed
Other nominees: Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen
Other notables: Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland, Volver, Little Children, Notes on a Scandal, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, The Illusionist, The Black Dahlia, The Prestige, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima,

Wow. This was quite a good year!

I've already blogged about how much I enjoyed The Departed. Among the long list of those films above, the ones that I think must be included somehow are

Volver: best foreign-language (not to mention best prosthetic ass)
Little Miss Sunshine: best performance by a kid
The Last King of Scotland: for a couple reasons
Children of Men: on the list for best sci-fi
Pan's Labyrinth: on best fantasy list
Notes on a Scandal might be on the main list. I really like the acting in this film. Same goes for Little Children.

I need to see the two Eastwood films Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima at some point.

...and if I thought 2006 was good, here comes 2007, which has the film of the decade and a second film that would have been best of its year most years. The third-best
film is no slouch, either.

Best Picture: No Country For Old Men
other nominees: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood
other notables: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Ratatouille, Eastern Promises, Charlie Wilson's War, American Gangster, I'm Not There, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 3:10 to Yuma, Sicko, In the Valley of Elah

I'm not going to beat around the bush here. No Country for Old Men is my favorite film of the decade.

There Will Be Blood
features Daniel Day-Lewis in what I think is the best performance by a single actor in the decade.
Most years, Michael Clayton would be a good candidate for best picture, but it's not close for 2007.

Among films that remained below the radar, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is a great one.

I thought Sicko was better than Bowling for Columbine or Farenheit 9/11.

Juno will be on a list somehow, as will Eastern Promises. And Sunshine.


Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Other nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader,
Other notables: The Dark Knight, Doubt, Iron Man

After 2006 and 2007, a relatively weak year. Slumdog Millionaire will at best be listed in a minor category. The year is most notable for the burst of super-hero films, especially The Dark Knight, which is currently listed as the 9th best film ever at IMDB.com, and is the all-time #2 on the list of domestic sales (after Titanic).

Well, there will be other kinds of categories. The Harry Potter films will need to be accounted for somehow.

Friday, November 13, 2009


The latest Snickers ad features a couple guys banishing their hunger by having a Snickers chocolate bar. They wonder where the hunger goes, and one speculates "Germany"?

At which point we are switched to a lonely man in Germany, eating away, who says

"Warum bin ich immer Hunger?"

This translates to "Why am I always hunger?"

It's a silly mistake with the two most commonly used German verbs
haben (to have) and sein (to be). I was taught that I should say
"Ich habe Hunger" but perhaps "Ich bin hungrig" is also allowed. But no matter how you slice it, "Ich bin Hunger" is dead wrong.

So...what process led to Snickers botching such a simple translation? Worse,
why is the ad still running, weeks later, as if there is no mistake?

Language skills are frowned upon in the US.

I'll try to make more amusing blog posts in the near future.

Last Chance Harvey

One of the nice things of having cable and being essentially housebound with a cold is that you may stumble upon a film you'd never heard of featuring two of your favorite actors. So I've surfing around, having just rewatched the entirety of The Royal Tenenbaums for the first time, and I see a film featuring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson and, well, that's a Must-See.

It's called Last Chance Harvey. Dustin Hoffman is Harvey, a writer of jingles in London for his daughter's wedding. Emma Thompson works for the government taking surveys at Heathrow. The first time they meet he brushes her off because he's tired from the overnight flight.

His plan is to fly back after the wedding and before the reception because he's got a sales pitch to make. But he misses the flight back, finds out he's being fired, and that his daugher wants her stepfather to give him away, so...he hits the airport bar. And meets Emma Thompson.

I'm not sure there's all that much to this film. For me it hits a sweet spot with the images of an American in London. The dialogue is extremely intelligent. It is very difficult to show strangers overcoming the usual social barriers, but this film does it well. And watching two top actors at the top of their game, in a well-directed film with a great script - why had I not heard of this film before?

This film deals with fractured families, absent fathers, Americans in London, middle-aged people looking for a second chance - basically all sorts of themes smacking Whispers right in the face. Nicely done.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NFL 2009: NFC

Um, it's a bit late to do this, but...recalling my thinking from the beginning of the

NFC East: Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, Skins
NFC South: Falcons, Saints, Panthers, Bucs
NFC North: Vikings, Bears, Packers, Lions
NFC West: Cardinals, Seahawks, 49ers, Rams

Wildcards: Saints and Eagles.

From the current perspective I would flip the Falcons and Saints, but I won't
pretend I thought the Saints would start the season 6-0. Even though I thought
the Cutler trade was bad for the Bears, I didn't foresee their injuries on defense,
and they are now at best an also-ran, destined to finish behind the Packers and

Sunday, September 06, 2009

NFL 2009: AFC

Watching The Sports Reporters on ESPN, thinking on the upcoming season. I figure I'll make a few predictions.

AFC East

The Pats continue to reap the benefits of a weak division. When Parcells took over the Dolphins, I figured that they would eventually build an organization that might pass the Pats. But I don't see them repeating as division champions. It's a lot easier to go 11-5 against a last-place schedule than a first-place schedule. In any case, 11-5 won't be enough to win this division, unless Brady has another season-ending injury. The Pats have a soft schedule and should go 12-4 easily. The Dolphins finish second and the Bills and Jets are also-rans.

AFC North
A huge gap between the powerhouses and the also-rans here. We have no evidence from last season that would indicate that the Bengals and Browns can compete with the Ravens and Steelers. While both the Bengals and Browns have enough talent to pull off upsets, and I could even see one of the two teams going over .500, the easy pick here is to have the Ravens and Steelers both make the playoffs. I'll go with the Ravens winning the division, based on the problems the Steelers' O-Line has protecting Roethlisberger.

AFC South
Jeff Fisher continues to have problems converting his regular season behemoths into a franchise that can advance in the playoffs. I think it was clear that, by the time the playoffs rolled around last year, that the Titans had peaked too early.
The Colts are always the Colts, and I'll pick them to win the division, esp. considering that they didn't do so last year. The fates decree that they will play the Pats every season, and to do so in 2010, they'll have to win the division. The Titans will miss Albert Haynesworth, but they still have an excellent defense and running game, and that probably will be enough to get a playoff spot. The Texans are a popular pick to make the leap to contender. Andre Johnson is as good a WR as anybody, and the defense is solid. Sage Rosenfels has left town, but can Matt Schaub stay healthy? They are a team to watch. The Jaguars' vaunted running game collapsed completely last year as a rash of injuries took down their O-Line. Can they recover? Can David Garrard recover his Silky form, or are the hat and cane retired?

AFC West
Year Three of the Norv Turner Drive the Team into the Ground is with us. By all rights, the Chargers should have missed the playoffs last year, and Turner's job should already be in jeopardy, but thanks to an epic fail by Shanahan's Broncos, the Chargers weaseled their way into the playoffs. One would expect that this would be the season for the inevitable Turner collapse to kick in, but the problem is that the Broncos have effectively destroyed their own franchise in the off-season. I can understand Pat Bowden losing patience with Shanahan's weak defenses, but do we really think Josh McDaniels will do a better job? The early results are not auspicious. The Cutler trade is a disaster for the Broncos. Brandon Marshall has already quit on them. And their starting point was a defense that could be run on by anybody. And since the Chiefs are rebuilding and the Raiders continue to be awful, the Chargers should win this division by default.

It's hard to predict the playoffs this far in advance, since so much will depend on injuries. The six team I've picked include three recent Super Bowl champions (four, if you count the Ravens). Of course it's tempting to run with the Pats, but I have real questions about whether their D can handle very physical offenses. Their solution to that problem in recent years has been simply to outscore the opposition. I am not feeling good vibes about the Titans, and the Chargers are here only by default. Perhaps the Colts will show that their history of playoff failures was all Dungy's fault? Could be. But right now I'm feeling a vibe for the Ravens, if only to change things up a bit.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Priceless video from the Onion.

Is Using A Minotaur To Gore Detainees A Form Of Torture?

I especially like how the "balanced" panel has three defenders of the minotaur and only one person objecting.

Hat tip to Brad DeLong.

Monday, August 10, 2009

today's anti-health care idiocy

From the Investor's Business Daily:

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

As Jay Bookman points out,

Of course, that same Stephen Hawking who wouldn’t have a chance in the United Kingdom was in fact born in the United Kingdom, has lived his entire life in the United Kingdom and lives there still today, at the ripe old age of 67. (He was in fact hospitalized earlier this month.) Hawking is, you might say, living, breathing proof that these people are first-class fools.

He's far too kind. They are simply soulless atavistic liars.

They really are sociopaths.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

it shouldn't need to be said, but...

part of the argument against any kind of torture policy is the simple idiocy of the people who have implemented it.

Andrew Sullivan's guest blogger Chris Bodenner points us to a horrific story:

Mowj Camp reports that a deaf and mute man was tortured in Evin prison for several days before he was released. “A detainee, who was suspected of pretending to be deaf and mute, was severely tortured for several days to make him speak until finally he was released after a doctor confirmed that he was really deaf and mute.”

I think this incident perfectly exemplifies the stupidity of torture.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Was pointed to this blog by somebody on Facebook.

I love this spiral one:

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Lucy Liu films

One to see:

Watching the Detectives

One to miss:

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever

Abandoned the latter 2/3 of the way through because the plot was just stupid. The former is a delight, featuring L^2 as a "borophobic" woman who just loves playing mind games.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Da Plan

I understand that many people think I've been pursuing the Underpants Gnomes approach to job searching. And, to be fair, there is something to that criticism. Certainly the first six months of it resembled that kind of illogic and unfocused lack of goal orientation.

Anyway, here's the new plan. It's got three parts.

1) Long term
the long term plan is to find some kind of job that uses my field of applied mathematics (data mining, machine learning, analytics, whatever you want to call it) in a field among social sciences, economics, or politics.

The problem with trying to hit the long term plan immediately is, well, this plan doesn't appear to be getting much traction. I probably need to develop certain skills and/or figure out exactly where to work in this capacity. That leads us to...

2) Medium term
Medium term, based on the occasional good times I've had teaching, I think it'd be a good idea to get a teaching position for 2009-2010. At minimum, I'll substitute teach in MoCo, but I should be able to get a better position than that.

If I could get a teaching job that started tomorrow, I would do it. But that may not be as easily done as thought. (Not being Q, I cannot bend reality to my desires.)

3) short term
Contract work or temp work to pay bills through the summer.

Found a 5-week "science writer" position I applied for Thursday. There are probably other jobs like this.

A man. A plan. A canal. Pamana!

Friday, June 05, 2009

another word for nothing left to lose

OK, so the NBA finals are on, and I really want the Lakers to lose and that means, given my inability to root for a winning team after the Celtics squeaked out of the first round, that the Magic are probably doomed.

Don't have much to say right now, but I thought I'd share some photos of the Freedom, who I saw with Landru last weekend.

Sonia Bompastor, our French visitor, takes a free kick.

Here Sonia chats with Cat Whitehall before another free kick.

And here she has a collision with somebody from FC Gold Pride. Looks painful. But our Sonia is tough. And yes, that's all-World Abby Wambach on the left.

Here they are during a quieter moment.

Sonia takes a corner kick.

And after the game...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

test drive

Found this via Landru. I'm hoping at some point Ginger will revert to her feline nature.

Friday, April 24, 2009

stupidity lacking self-awareness

Watch Joe Barton, R-Texas, think he's posed a stumper to Nobel Prize Winner and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

What is shocking here is not just that Barton's question is so idiotic, but that he thinks he's stumped Dr. Chu! Indeed, Barton is the one who posted this to YouTube!

And that's the kind of ignorant arrogance that science has to deal with.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My new favorite Family Guy

In "Not All Dogs Go To Heaven", Stewie kidnaps the cast of Star Trek: TNG, Meg becomes a born-again Christian, and Brian's atheism leads him to become the town pariah.

You can see it at Hulu.com here.

That Just Happened!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Watchmen trailer!

Found it at YouTube. I have no idea where it originally came from.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Bravo, Catholic Church of Brazil!

I ordinarily don't say much about abortion issues. But my former church has gone and found the logical conclusion to their dogma. I would applaud them for their logical consistency, but their conclusion is so abhorrent that I think it would adequately serve as an example of why the church is morally bankrupt.

In any case, via PZ Myers, I bring you the story of a 9-year old rape victim in Brazil who is getting abortion because her pre-pubescent womb is the vessel for two fetuses.

If you really do feel that abortion=murder, you must think so in every single case, right? Otherwise, the implication is that you think abortion is OK as long as the woman doesn't somehow deserve a pregnancy as punishment for misbehavior.

The problem for the Catholic Church and, indeed, the problem for "Right-to-Lifers" in general is that most people who are anti-abortion do not, in fact, think that terminating a pregnacy is tantamount to murder. They do, in fact, view abortion as an occasional necessary evil, but want to see it banned anyway because women should not be promiscuous!

And that's about all I have to say about abortion.

The Catholic Church will likely not get off so lightly. It's not that I have a plan to pick on them, but I'm sure they'll find a way to get on my nerves.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Oscar time is coming

OK, so the Oscars are coming, and I've been making an effort to see some films that I think/have thought might be recognized.

First, there's Gran Torino. This latest (and perhaps last) work by Clint Eastwood (director and lead actor) features the man himself playing a veteran of the Korean war living as a widower in an urban neighborhood that has seen better days. When the movie starts, he's a complete grouch, disgusted with his grandchildren, and suspicious of the Asian family that has moved in next door. Coincidentally, this family is missing a father figure, and the younger brother, Thao, in the family is facing troubled times, including bullying by a gang including one of his cousins. To impress the gang, Thao tries to steal Clint's 1973 Gran Torino, and fails when Clint interrupts him.

Well, you know where this is going. When the gang comes back to harrass Thao, Clint comes out with a rifle (shotgun?) and tells them "Get off my lawn!" Not much more of the plot needs to be said, but it's worth saying that the manner in which Clint warms up to the Asians is convincing. Particularly endearing is Ahney Her as the older sister Sue. Also playing a major role in the film is Christopher Carley as the local priest who's been tasked by Clint's late wife to look after him.

(BTW, Clint's character is named Walter Kowalski, but who cares?)

There are some great dialogues in this film and Clint manages to pull off the gruff curmudgeon reasonably well, in spite of the fact that this character type has been beaten to death over the years. (Walter Matthau played aging curmudgeons starting at the age of 28. Not a joke!) This film succeeds in spite of the fact that it lays on the patriarchy angle a bit thickly. It is worth seeing for the banter alone.

Next up: Slumdog Millionaire! This latest flick from Danny Boyle tells the story of a young Indian man named Jamal Malik on the cusp of winning the top prize from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The movie starts with him being taken by the police, beaten and electrocuted so he'll admit to having cheated. He has, at that point, reached the final stages of the show, and nobody can believe that a slumdog like Jamal could know all of the answers.

Most of the film is told in flashback, as Jamal slowly explains how he knows the answers, and in doing so, tells the story of his life. For example, the first question asks the name of the actor who starred in a certain film in the 70s. Jamal tells the story of how he, as a very young boy, got Amitabh Bachchan's autograph in spite of being locked in a latrine by his older brother Salim. He escaped the latrine by jumping out the bottom into the pile of shit, and made his way through the crowd. Jealous Salim then sold the autographed picture while Jamal was taking a bath.

We see the life of Jamal and Salim go from there - we see their mother slain during an anti-Muslim riot, and how they are exploited by an orphanage in a truly Dickensian manner. Along the way, the two of them join forces with a girl named Latika, who becomes to focus of Jamal's adoration.

Slumdog Millionaire has a lot of the elements that make a film enjoyable. For starters, it shows what life in India is like, and that is not something American audiences know a lot about. It has the story of spunky orphans turning to petty crime, and then we see how petty crime becomes much more serious. It has a love triangle of sorts, and the strength of the family ties between Jamal and Salim are shown as they are tested time and time again.

What I felt sets Slumdog Millionaire apart from so many films is that it tells an interesting story. So many films either recycle used plots are just sit there, saying very little of interest. Every scence of Slumdog shows me a new side of life in India, or develops the characters in an interesting way. By the end of the film, as Jamal struggles with the final few questions, I found myself nearly shouting out the answers at him, even for a question about cricket where I know as little as Jamal does. My only concern as the film moved forward was concern about how Danny Boyle films often lose focus towards the end. Trainspotting, Sunshine, and 28 Days Later all thrived for the first hour + and then lost a bit of their direction towards the end.

My concerns were unfounded. Slumdog is a very enjoyable film and, given the weakness of the competition this year, it's the odds-on favorite for Best Picture.

My final review of the day is about the Kate Winslet vehicle The Reader. It's become a bit of a joke that Kate Winslet has no Oscar yet. In recent years we've seen Oscars go to Gwyneth Paltrow, Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, and Hillary Swank (twice!), none of whom is in Winslet's league as an actress. She joked about this for the Ricky Gervais show Extras, in which she played a nun fighting the Nazis.

One gets the suspicion that Winslet decided to push all the buttons with The Reader to go for the gold. Not only is she playing a former Nazi guard in a Holocaust story, she's also (minor spoiler) an illiterate hiding her lack of literacy! The film details an affair her character had during the late 50s, as a woman in her 30s with a local teenaged boy. Lots of sex ensues, but it didn't feel sexy so much as awkward and bizarre. The film really never addressed the bizarre nature of the affair directly (or adequately, IMO). And once it seems like it might be headed down that path, as the boy (played by David Kross) starts to flirt with girls his own age, and Hanna (Kate) starts getting jealous, the film up and cuts the affair off.

We fast forward nearly a decade. The boy, Michael, is now a law student, and his class attends the trial of several guards from Auschwitz. Included among the six women is, to his great suprise and astonishment, Kate! Um, Hanna. Without getting too much into the details, Michael knows that Hanna is being set up by the other guards to be more culpable than is fair, and she hides her (relative) innocence when her illiteracy would have given her a defense.

The film is somewhat maddening. The characters certainly are, as their motivations remain obscure. Winslet does a good job playing an inscrutable woman, but let's face it, "inscrutable" is pretty easy to do from an acting standpoint. I thought Kross did a very good job, and then later Ralph Fiennes shows up to play the adult Michael, by which point the film is starting to get very boring.

Somehow The Reader has gotten a Best Picture nomination. Suspicion is laid at the feet of the Weinstein brothers, who have managed to get nominations for all sorts of crap (remember Shakespeare in Love?) Winslet might even win this year. She's done better work: I'm a bigger fan of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and of Little Children. It's kind of sad that she's playing the Holocaust card and the illiteracy card here. I cannot recommend paying much money to see this film. Yes, Winslet is nude a lot, but anybody who calls this "soft-core porn" doesn't fathom porn at all. Y Tu Mama Tambien was soft-core porn. The Reader has a lot of sex, and yet it isn't terribly titillating.

Summary: of the three, Slumdog is the one to see. Gran Torino is also good, esp. for Eastwood fans. Winslet has done better.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Look at this graph I purloined from Swampland:

I wonder when it will be considered "conventional wisdom" that this generation of Republican leaders is just a bunch of self-serving idiots?

Poor Hunter S. Thompson. He saw all of this clearly over twenty years ago, but despaired at the lack of justice in the world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

media death and the importance of blogging

Was pointed by Atrios to this article by Jay Rosen about the way the mass media frames the boundaries of consensus and "legitimate debate". It's pretty good. I won't repeat what he says since you can just click through. But basically it's about the cognitive shortcomings of the press when they decide certain issues are part of the "consensus" mindset while other opinions are "extremist". This model explains how Howard Dean is portrayed as a lunatic extremist in 2004 for putting forth the same ideas about withdrawal from Iraq that are part of the national consensus (outside the corridors of power, of course) by 2008.

I also heard last night that the Christian Science Monitor is going to stop killing as many trees, and only go with a print edition once per week. My mom subscribed to this paper when I was a kid, and I always thought it did a decent job. They seemed to do a better job with foreign policy than almost every major newspaper did. While listening to the story of their demise, it occurred to me that the death of the daily newspaper is inevitable. I'm sure this is not a new idea, but it had never been made so clear to me.

Finally, I'll add a note about Mickey Edwards. I heard him on NPR last night and I was impressed. He's a Republican and former Bush supporter who, curiously, is one of the few people who is willing to talk about the constant and egregious violations of the law and Constitution that Bush has engaged in over the past 8 years. For some reason, the world of debate that the media has created simply refuses to allow for the idea that Bush has been consistently violating the law and abusing power for the past 8 years. From my standpoint, it's the most obvious thing to see, but the media don't even allow discussion along these lines to ever be aired.

And that is part of why the mainstream media are held in such contempt by so many people these days.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bill James on the BCS

More precisely, Bill James on the abomination known as the Bowl Championship Series.

James echoes the argument made by Hal S. Stern in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis of Sports against statisticians' participation in the sham known as the BCS.

Stern says:

  1. That there is a profound lack of conceptual clarity about the goals of the method;
  2. That there is no genuine interest here in using statistical analysis to figure out how the teams compare with one another. The real purpose is to create some gobbledygook math to endorse the coaches' and sportswriters' vote;
  3. That the ground rules of the calculations are irrational and prevent the statisticians from making any meaningful contribution; and
  4. That the existence of this system has the purpose of justifying a few rich conferences in hijacking the search for a national title, avoiding a postseason tournament that would be preferred by the overwhelming majority of fans.

James feels most strongly about 3), pointing out correctly that it makes no sense to involve statisticians when the purpose of their involvement is never defined. Are the rankings supposed to find the team that is most likely to win any head-to-head contest? Or the team that has been the most dominant over the course of the season?

Worse, as James points out, after 2001 any "computer rankings" used by the BCS have been prohibited from using data about the scoring margin when calculating rankings. The professed nobility of this decision was to keep teams (like Nebraska at the time) from running up the scores against weaker opponents.

From a learning theory standpoint (my field), this is breathtakingly stupid. Statisticians are instructed to ignore possibly the most interesting data from each and every contest. Information discarded can only make the resulting system weaker. Thus is, to choose a random example, Rutgers beats Va. Tech by 1 point while Maryland beats them by 55 points, the rating system is instructed to view each game only as "a win".

The decision to exclude margin of victory in any rankings reminds me of the decision of the IOC to ban site visits when deciding to choose the locations of future Olympics. Yes, there has been a lot of abuse of site visits, but the solution surely would have been to have more oversight and regulation of site visits, rather than jettisoning the practice entirely! How can a voter from Oceania decide between a site in Brazil and one in South Africa without being allowed to visit the locations? It's madness! Yes, it can be done, but it's silly to go down that path at all!

I would say that I'm participating in the "boycott" of the BCS, but it would be more honest to say simply that the way the system has been constructed has left me feeling that it's more of a PR exercise than a serious attempt to find out who the best team is. Regardless of who wins the Oklahoma-Florida game, you're going to be hard-pressed to convince me that the team in question is better than USC or Texas.

And that doesn't even bring up Utah, which has gone undefeated including an impressive bowl win over Alabama!

College football needed a playoff including all of the following teams: Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, USC, Penn State, Florida, and Alabama. If the ACC and Big East need to feel relevant, invite Cincinnati and Va. Tech. But really you shouldn't. You'd have been more justified inviting Boise State. Texas Tech is out for being blown out by Oklahoma.

If you are seriously interested in finding the "best" team, then at least the first seven teams should be invited. And yes, I know winning a tournament isn't the same as being the "best team" (see last year's NFL season, for example), but winning a tournament is surely better than winning a single game when participation in the game is based entirely on the arbitrary judgments of voters.