Caveat: Venter

Think about all of the things that make your brain itch. These are mine.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Episode VII

In 1977, George Lucas brought an expansive story to the big screen. Tatooine was huge, with places such as Mos Eisley far from the moisture farm Owen and Beru Lars operated with the help of their young nephew, Luke Skywalker. Jawas roamed the distant reaches, and Tusken Raiders patrolled the Jundland Wastes. It took time to get from point A to point B, and a lot could happen in that time.

The two sequels took us places just as vast, just as open. Each gave us new characters whose names we came to know: Lando Calrisian, Yoda, Boba Fett, Wedge Antilles, Jabba the Hutt, Wicket. They all had motivations we understood, lives we could comprehend. Even in Episode IV, Jek Porkins’ heroic-but-doomed fight to maintain control of his X-Wing let us care about him. And then came the prequels.

In Episode I we wanted the little brat to go away (and in later movies more deeply regretted his failure to get killed, though not because he would grow up to become Darth Vader). We felt how terrible was the racial stereotype that was Jar Jar Binks. By the end of Episode III, the maudlin romance, if we could ever call it a romance, was over, and the interminable chatter of politicians and trade representatives had finally died down. Each entry into that trilogy continued the slide into drudgery, but we had been told that there would be no more. This time that was good news.

But now we have Episode VII, the purported savior of the franchise. Many have called it a reboot, but that is a misnomer. It is a continuation, and as such it is starting nothing over. Especially plot. There is no shortage of words out there about how this latest installment is a rehash of Epsiodes IV and V (and, let’s be honest, VI). Too many lines—and not even the better ones—were recycled, yet this time came up feeling even less interesting than before. But all is not lost.

Episode VII gives some wonderful action sequences, as far as that goes. There are explosions, space battles, chases, and even a little touch of lens flare (Abrams couldn’t help himself, it seems). There are familiar faces peppered in with the new, and a too-short appearance by Max von Sydow, who captures better than anyone that sense of the original that somehow escapes the grasp of even Ford and Fisher.

What we have here, then, is a series of action scenes, interspersed with introductions and a passing of the torch to a new generation of characters. Does it work? In a word, no. As with the prequels, it tries too hard to be a movie for the fans, but never succeeds in being a movie for itself. It is Star Wars fanfic writ large and in (optional) 3D, but it cannot stand on its own, nor does it take up the mantle of the movies that came before. To be sure, it exceeds the last two prequels, and perhaps equals Episode I, but in every way that matters it really isn’t s Star Wars movie.

By contrast to every other movie in the series, Episode VII is claustrophobic, putting us in tight spaces and compressing distances. The galaxy feels like little more than a solar system, where 30 minutes is enough to hop between systems, and five minutes is enough time to blow things up, run away, and hop into a ship perched high above on a cliff top.

Worse, while the filmmakers have thankfully spared us any continuation of the discussion of midichlorians, now one need have no training in the use of the Force. It just, as the title suggests, awakens. Need to get out of a tough spot and have no knowledge of the force? Give it a shot. Need to read the emotions of the most powerful adherent of the Dark Side? Just do it. Duh. Not sure how to use a lightsaber? Just take a moment to breathe, and all will be revealed.

Ultimately, this entry in the series comes off as little more than a skeleton, and an incomplete one at that. It is a pile of bones arranged into some semblance of order, but lacking any connective tissue. Characters populate the screen, but not one lives on it. A sudden attack of conscience, apparently unheard of in the stormtrooper ranks, kicks things off. Scavengers starve, yet somehow remain fit enough to keep up with the toughest of allies and opponents. Resistance pilots shoot and die with nary a name between them, except Poe Dameron (because he is the greatest among them). But even if this story had a real plot and engaged in meaningful character development it would still lack that one piece of anatomy that the original trilogy possessed: heart.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Coulter Fail

Once more Ann Coulter has jumped the shark. Actually, I think she has jumped the majority of the world's shark population by this point, but that's for another time. As many know by now, Ann Coulter has claimed that the United States is Jesus' favorite country. In fact, according to Coulter, Jesus cares less about people elsewhere in the world than here. There can be no other explanation for her claims that a small town in Texas is more deserving of an infectious disease specialist's skills than, say, people in a region beset by an infectious disease. It is interesting, too, to note that as Coulter criticizes this doctor for risking his own life to save others—something she no doubt equally despises about members of our armed forces, because she is fair and evan-handed in her thinking—since he is a Christian doctor not converting Hollywood power brokers, she is neither saving people from the ravages of disease nor converting said Hollywood power broker. Indeed, I have yet to learn what Coulter does contribute to the world, outside of contributions she makes in her own mind. I hope Zavala County can survive its outbreaks of Ebola, meningitis, and conservative stupidity, all of which have been shown to be lethal, without the good doctor. Indeed, here I feel I must borrow a turn of phrase from the Coulter herself: "There may be no reason for panic about the Ebola doctor, but there is reason for annoyance at Coulter's narcissism." After all, once more she claims she can read minds, but unless she is a successful product of the CIA's or KGB's remote viewing programs, I must say I rather doubt her claim. She doesn't know the unspoken motivations of others, no matter how she might try to convince others she does.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ann Coulter Declares Most Sports Invalid

Here is a list of current Olympic sports that are, per Ann Coulter, not really sports: Archery Athletics Badminton Curling Fencing Football (Soccer) Golf (who added THAT to the Olympics?) Judo Rowing Sailing Shooting Synchronized Swimming (she may have a point here) Water Polo Others may also be disqualified, but as far as I can tell, assuming she is using Soccer as her foundation, these all fail to have "[t]he prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury [that] is required to count as a sport." One can say that others belong on here too, as the opportunity for personal humiliation can be pretty low in some sports. We should note that Soccer is safe. Clint Dempsey, for instance, only pretended to have a broken nose, and that Kim Shinwook is such a pansy for not objecting when Steven Defour stomped his leg like that. Hey, Ann, go tell all your friends and admirers that golf isn't a sport. Maybe they hit one into a water hazard from time to time, but no bogey ever turned Tiger Woods into Andrés Escobar. You want personal humiliation? Go find a sport that is that extreme. Go find it and play it badly. Please.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Straw Poll

So once more Ron Paul has won the CPAC Presidential Straw Poll (and before anyone jumps on me for the selection of source, I took the first hit on Google). The most amusing part of this is the quote from David Keene, organizer of the host group, in referring to Congressman Paul (R-TX): "Ron Paul energized kids, and I want those kids."

We've seen that a solid youth vote can move a presidential election (1960 and 2008 are key examples). We have also seen how little such a group did in 1972. The problem here is the dismissive choice of language. Kids? Seriously? You're looking for kids? You don't want educated youth? Young voters eager to make a passionate and reasoned case for your eventual candidate? Wait. Nope. Reasoned arguments have not been winning you any elections lately. Go for the kids.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


So now that there are 58 Democratic Senators and two Independents who caucus with the Dems, thanks to today's Minnesota Supreme Court ruling (5-0, for those who care), how long do folks think it will take before one of those 60, in a bid to gain power, crosses the aisle?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Best Show You're Not Watching (and Sue)

I DVR Breaking Bad on Sundays (the DVR catches the rebroadcast, too) and watch it later in the week, usually on Mondays. This week was different, and I just caught it today. For those unfamiliar with the show, high school chemistry teacher Walter White, working a second job in a car wash, gets diagnosed with cancer and, through happenstance (his brother-in-law is a DEA agent) meets a former student who is cooking meth. Walter decides this is the way to make the money to pay for his treatment and care for his family after he dies, and so he becomes a drug manufacturer, with Jesse, his former student, as the dealer.

In season 2, things have gotten crazier, and among other things, his teenage son decides to help out by making a web site named to raise funds to pay for his father's treatment. This is bad for a man who does not want to keep a high profile. On a lark, I went to the site, and, sure enough, there was exactly what I had seen on the show, including a link to the National Cancer Coalition, where real donations can help fight cancer.

My wife, just over a year ago, lost her aunt Mari to pancreatic cancer, so cancer has had a presence in our household for a couple of years now. I was 53 minutes into the DVRed episode when my phone rang, number blocked, which means my mother is calling. I knew what that meant, though I tried to convince myself it was just another internet connection problem for me to solve.

My neighbor, Sue Smith, a woman who had helped raise me, after a fashion, and whose children I had helped raise (much less significantly) as a babysitter and as a neighbor, had succumbed to lung cancer, a scant six weeks after her initial diagnosis. It hit me hard, and it will continue to have its impact for quite some time. Sue is an irreplaceable light, a woman I never knew to express anger except over conservative politics, and an amazing human being with an inimitable laugh.

I know everyone says things like this about people who have recently died, but I assure you I have thought these things for years. Even now, because is my homepage, I noticed that a key story today is about cancer. It's funny how things come together, though perhaps it's like the way half the people on the road seem to be driving the same kind of car you just bought.

Anyway, I have been struggling, making headway, and then stumbling—badly—in my fight to quit smoking. I even bought a pack today. I will finish the pack, but when it is done, I am done. Sue, this smoke-free life is dedicated to you. There is no better way I can think to honor you in my life than this. I hope I can succeed now where I have failed before.

Requiescat in pace, Sue. You are missed, but never forgotten.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Two-Part Irony

Banks have been complaining about the government's decision to alter the terms attached to TARP funds, requiring, after the initial round, that executives accept salary caps and other such outrageous things. This, of course, has much support from the pro-business folks one finds on CNBC and other media outlets (Larry Kudlow is a fine example). Yes, it is a bit sneaky on the government's part, but hardly something to worry multi-millionaires whose own clients are, in too many cases, trying desperately to avoid personal bankruptcy.

Enter today's discussion between President Obama and credit card companies. Kudlow and many of his fellow commentators are crying foul that the government might try limiting the ability of companies issuing consumer credit to change the terms of that credit after it has been granted, even penalizing people who pay on time every time.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that dead companies provide no credit and that increasing those companies' exposure to risk means that fewer consumers will qualify for credit. This last point means that recovery due to consumer spending will be longer in coming. Fewer plasma screen TVs and iPods mean fewer dollars circulating through the economy (I love the way that the same money gets counted every time it is spent, but such are the joys of economics). Still, financial institutions, whether they be banks or other credit-issuing organizations, must expect to play by rules that at least resemble those we consumers deal with, right?

Finally, is it really such a bad thing if we ask that fewer people have free access to easy credit? Isn't loose credit precisely what precipitated this entire mess in the first place? Go back twenty-two years and look at how many high school seniors had credit cards (I was a senior in 1987, so this is easy for me to think about), and for those who did, how many cards they had. Compare that to two years ago. Was the change really that bright? President Obama has declared that he wants have his administration usher in a "new era of responsibility," and both sides of this—consumers and lending institutions—could use a little more of that.

Now if only we could get government on board with this concept.