Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mamma Mia! Is a Warmed-Over, Sanitized Retread of Priscilla

On advice from a friend, I watched Mamma Mia. Ugh. It was a tired, warmed-over, sanitized retread of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Not only did I not enjoy it, I now ridicule this particular friend's taste in movies. As a result, I rented Priscilla, one of my favorite movies and one that has stayed enjoyable and relevant even 18 years after it was released.

I think nearly everyone secretly loves ABBA. They created cheery pop-disco that never challenged anyone. The music is danceable, and the high camp of their image is celebrated by anyone who loves this sort of thing, and that includes people whose artistic sensibility would normally be deterred by the fact that ABBA did nothing of particular interest to advance music.On their EP Abba-esque, the band Erasure celebrated ABBA's music but also gave it some depth; the heartfelt "SOS" is amazing. (Funnily, the ABBA cover band Bjorn Again released a response record called Erasure-ish, which covered Erasure songs in ABBA style.)

If you haven't see Priscilla, you're missing out on a cinematic gem. The movie revolves around a man and his two best friends who venture out into the Australian Outback on a pretense, but really for a reunion between a boy and his father. Mamma Mia switches genders for characters (it's a woman and her three best friends, and a daughter rather than a son) and seems to follow the traditional MO of comedy films which goes back to Shakespeare and beyond, with a bit of mystery that's not really that interesting becoming of great importance as white lies become blown out of proportion; everything is revealed and resolved in the end, probably with couples old and new getting together. Hurray. Yawn.

I have to say "seems" because I turned Mamma Mia off after about thirty minutes. Other than showing that Meryl Streep in her late fifties is (frankly) just as hot as Amanda Seigfried, I just couldn't be brought to care. The characters were wooden, and the covers of ABBA songs were tired.

OK, so back to Priscilla (I'm not going to hold back on "spoilers" because this isn't some M. Night Shyamalan one-trick pony). Tick (Hugo Weaving) is a professional drag queen living in Sidney who gets a call out of the blue from his wife, whom he hasn't seen in six years; she asks him to come to her resort in Alice Spring to perform for a few weeks. Tick invites his two closest friends, fellow drag queen Adam (Guy Pearce, whose stage name is Felicia Jollygoodfellow) and Bernadette (Terence Stamp), an m-to-f transexualformer and drag queen who has just lost her young husband.

The "girls" have costumes and scenery to bring for their show, and Adam buys a used tour bus for the trip, naming it Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. (Alice Springs is a tourist town near the center of Australia, much smaller and a bit more adventurous than, say, Las Vegas.) The trip involves several days of travel, which get extended by a breakdown (the timeline is clearly exaggerated, as you could get to Alice in about a day and a half or two days, depending on whether you stopped).

The film is split between the explorations of small-town outback Australia and three men discussing their lives. There are several homophobic incidents, but the film isn't preachy; most of the time in the towns is played for laughs. The talks on and off the bus are much more intense, mixing drama and the general complexity of life. The men reveal secrets about their past as they forge stronger friendships in an unfamiliar world.

The music adds a dimension of fun, and the songs are originals, since the "girls" all lip-sync. Add in ridiculous costumes, lurid makeup, and a bizarre giant shoe, and the music bits are hilarious and definite sing-alongs (especially in theaters; if you ever get a chance to see this in the theater, expect to see a Rocky-Horror-esque show). Don't expect too much ABBA.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sports and Sexual Assault of Young Players

In this CNN opinion piece, ESPN Magazine's Roxanne Jones says something that needs to be said, but she says it all wrong. We have to draw back the curtain on youth sports and sexual assault and molestation of children, but her approach will just place this common occurrence further in the shadows.

Jones suggests that we educated middle-school children about "inappropriate behavior and how predators operate." I'm not sure where Jones went to school, but I had this message far younger than middle school, and that's a good thing.

The problem is not the predatory culture of sports, but a weird variation on machismo and a complete misunderstanding of pedophilia and homosexuality. Sports are a playground for pedophiles, it's true, but it's because the very existence of these pedophiles is denied. Everything in the following paragraph is wrong, and everything in the following paragraph is believed.

Sports are for macho, strong boys who will grow up to be macho, strong men. Machismo helps keep these boys from turning into teh gay. Gay and sports don't mix, so obviously coaches can't be pedophiles.

Let's consider this point-by-point:

  1. Sports are for macho, strong boys - sports are for everyone. More people would be involved in sports if we dumped the stupid notions. I'm not saying that sports shouldn't be about excelling and winning; they should be about that (at least in part). However, if we only have winners in sports, we're excluding a lot of people who will then not learn sport's lessons about healthy lifestyles, activity, competitiveness, striving, and teamwork. That's a sad thought. Seeing a strong man take the field at a sporting event is not particularly compelling, but when the Bad News Bears come out, we should be cheering. 
  2. Machismo helps keep these boys from turning into teh gay - machismo has nothing to do with sexuality. Kids in sports are just as likely to be gay; sometimes they are quieter about their sexuality for fear of being denied access to their sport. Jeff Sheng did an amazing project photographing young LGBT athletes.
  3. obviously coaches can't be pedophiles - this old saw has long ago disintegrated to rust. Gay does not equal pedophile, and pedophile doesn't mean gay, even if the pedophile is attracted to children of the same sex. Pedophiles are not interested in the sexuality of their prey; they are interested in the lack of sexuality.
I'll be honest, I stopped being interested in sports when I was a scrawny kid. I'm sure I was taunted as being gay, but I don't think that bugged me so much as the general indication that, since I wasn't tall and strong, I shouldn't be on the field. Now, I'm a less-than-gifted athlete, so it's not a loss for the world, but it was a loss for me. As an adult I've gotten into physical fitness, but sports are still haunted with bad memories.

Anytime you have a group of young children supervised by an individual (or small number of individuals), the possibility of pedophilia and molestation rears its ugly head. It can be school, after-school programs, camps, church groups, or yes, even sports. Sports often add some common ways in which kids can be confused; was that horseplay in the locker room or shower, or was it inappropriate touching? Since of course complaining about or refusing to participate in these kinds of activities will cause a player to lose status and be taunted, it's accepted. I'm not sure that it shouldn't be accepted, and while it can create confusion, it's not the source or cause of the problems. Had Sandusky not showered with the boys he molested, he still would have molested them.

When we finally get over this bizarre fear of homosexuality in sports (as we have or are doing in every other area of life) and accept that homosexuality is in no way linked to pedophilia, we can start to have honest discussions about how pedophiles manipulate situations and children. Until that point, sending a child into a sport is putting that child at risk. If I had kids, I would rather have them coached by someone openly part of the LGBT community; someone who has faced his sexuality head-on in a world of bigotry and fear is someone to be admired and trusted.

To sum up, the complex myth of sports being "free from teh gay" and therefore "free from pedophiles" is based entirely on lies connecting homosexuality and pedophilia, as well as bigotry against LGBT. It's this very sequence of lies that is creating risk for kids by hiding and protecting those who would harm them.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

First Take on MacBook Pro w/ Retina

A short review of my new MacBook Pro.

I bought the MBP on Monday, June 11, with priority shipping, and I received in Monday, June 18. I've had a few days to get used to it and I'm impressed. I'm moving from a first-gen MacBook (not pro, the white plastic one), which had 2GB of RAM and a Core Duo (not Core 2 Duo), so I was stuck on Snow Leopard. It was a great computer for most of that time, but at six years it was getting long in the tooth (slow and prone to crash).

My first impression was not the screen, but the SSD. Unfortunately, I couldn't upgrade from 256 to 512 (I would have had to spend on extra $600 on the next model up). I unwrapped it, plugged it into power and my backup drive, and was off and running within five minutes. I had about 150GB backed up, and that restored to the new MBP in less time than it took to watch an episode of Game of Thrones (I'm waaaay behind).

Out-of-box experience (OOBE) was interesting; the box is gift-style, with a lift-off lid rather than a swing-up lid. Inside were the MBP, a small document packet with a screen cloth, my optional USB-ethernet adapter, and the power cord. The new magsafe is actually not that great; my current on snaps on without looking, but this one takes a small amount of effort (yeah, I know, having to look when you plug in the computer, how awful). No CDs, of course, since the new model has no optical drive.

OK, the Retina display. I have a third-gen iPad, but this screen is enormous and extraordinarily bright, and it was the brightness, the sheer density of light, that hit me first. Lots of little things look wonky or pixellated because they have been designed for current density screens, so fonts in Firefox look bad (not awful), but images and video are more crisp and clear than I've ever seen them. While other computer and monitor manufacturers are going to have to play a painful game of catch-up, I think this display is going to do more damage to the TV industry than anything else. Just when we got comfortable with 1080p, Apple has upped their standards. It's stunningly obvious why they skipped BluRay; they can do much, much better. The minor visual issues are being addressed with new builds, but anticipate that you will have to upgrade to new software across the board.

As I've aged, my eyesight has slowly worsened (welcome to getting older), and I have problems with eye strain after a day of computing. Between the brightness and sharpness of the new screen, those issues have been lessened. It wasn't obvious to me that more pixels would mean less eye strain, but it makes sense on reflection; my eyes and brain no longer have to try to make sense of incomplete information.

Speed is a huge improvement over anything I've worked with, a combination of the CPU, memory, and blazing video architecture. I haven't done anything computationally intensive yet, but I can explain the performance this way: the only prior time I felt I truly "had enough computer" was when I had a Sun desktop workstation and 21" monitor (back in the 90's, 'afore the turn of the millenium; you young'uns won't remember). My work has migrated slowly to the web (along with everyone else's), but the JavaScript lag is no longer present. I'll be honest, I was worried that the 4X number of pixels would lead to new lag, but Apple put serious thought into the video hardware and software backing up this dense new display.

The case is so whole that there isn't even a power button on the metal anymore; it's now back on the top row of the keyboard. Apple has improved the membrane keypad, and the trackpad is smooth and adjustable. I'm having a bit of a problem with accidental left-right scrolling, but I suspect that's just a behavior issue on my part; my old MB did not have horizontal scrolling. The new soft, gray, disappearing scroll bars are a little disconcerting because I'm no longer sure if I'm looking at a whole page or not. All minor stuff.

If you have the money, go for it. The Retina display isn't going to change your life or make you happy and whole, but you'll enjoy the the full saturation of your retinas. If you do video or photo, you may find the pixel density helpful in additional ways, but that's not what it's about. Apple has once again proven themselves to make the best and most innovative product in the market. It won't take long before others catch up, but I have to admit that seeing Apple release this after Steve's death shows that they have NOT lost their innovation edge.

In the near future I'll be adding Parallels or VMWare Fusion and linux and Windows, and I may be doing some data crunching (I need to figure out if my SPSS license extends this far), so I'll have more thoughts, but for now I'm very, very pleased.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

My Candidacy

Fellow Nabooans,

In the last few years, we have seen the image of a strong Naboo undermined by repeated mistakes on the part of the global government. A severe lack of leadership has led to chaos, invasion, and stalled growth, and this has affected all of us. We need new leadership focused on progress, removing government intervention in growth, and a strong military to defend us in a republic that constantly grows more complacent. It is for this reason that I feel compelled to offer myself as a candidate for the Queen of Naboo.

The tragic events of the Trade Federation Invasion shocked and saddened us all. As the robotic TF Army swarmed our beautiful planet, murdered our citizens, and destroyed our economy, we could do little but sit and watch. Why was that?

First, Queen Amidala and her predecessors made repeated cuts to our military. Using the argument that we are a peaceful planet (and we are), they shrank the size of our military until we could no longer protect ourselves. When the TF invaded, the Queen fled for Coruscant, leaving the planet without any leadership resistance; the dozen or so fighter craft used not to defend us, but to allow the Queen to traipse across the galaxy. There are reports that before arriving at Coruscant, the queen enjoyed a multi-day holiday (at taxpayer expense) to watch podracing on Tatooine, and even bet her (or rather, our) royal spacecraft on a race, and purchased a slave boy. The Queen has refused to comment on these reports, citing planetary security, but I feel that the public deserves to know the truth about these so-called "lost days".

On Coruscant, the Queen spent days bickering in the Senate of the Republic about the legality of the TF blockade and invasion. While they may not have been legal, the blockade and invasion were facts. Wishing them away with legal maneuvers could not change reality, and even if the Republic had declared them illegal, what military force could they possibly offer?

The only workable solution, the Queen found, was right under her nose. She organized the Gungans to fight off the invaders, it's true, but why couldn't she have done that when the TF invaded? What incentive did she offer the Gungans? She claimed that she inspired them with respect and planetary spirit, but those fish-grubbing folk do not understand and cannot appreciate our way of life.

After this tragedy unfolded, I worked hard to prevent it from happening again. I believed (apparently foolishly) that the reality of the invasion would show our government the need for a strong planetary defense and other changes to our world, but I saw no such change, and from my position in private industry, I could not make the government appreciate their error. As such, I feel that to make these changes I must be elected Queen of Naboo.

I pledge that when elected, I will bring about the following platform:

Containing the Gungan Threat
The Gungans did not help defeat the TF Army out of the goodness of their hearts, they simply used the opportunity to insinuate themselves into the lives of true Nabooans. Their culture is a wastel's culture, splashing about underwater while the planet was invaded. Now they are the only trained military force on the planet, and as soon as we stop appeasing their every request, they will surely take over. We must roust the Gungans from our cities, from our waterways, and especially from Gunga City. I promise to build containment facilities that will allow the Gungans the ability to live out their lives with dignity (which they do not deserve, but which we true Nabooans could not deny living creatures).

Establish a Nabooan-Led, Gungan-Staffed Army
The invasion showed us that the need for a standing army is not in the past. However, as evolved people, we true Nabooans are not suitable for common military duty, while the typical Gungan is. He is strong, tall, and eminently leadable. As a return for the generosity of our containment facilities, young male Gungans will be required to serve in our military, and their continued obeisance will be ensured by our continued commitment to care for their friends and family. Of course, the Gungans cannot serve as officers, as that requires intellect and maturity they do not possess. Some Nabooans will need to take leadership roles in the army to serve as leaders for the Gungans.

A New Naboo Air Force
The paltry number of fighter craft we were able to field during the TF invasion had no ability to repel, and during the final revolt, most of our brave pilots were lost. Part of this was due to inadequate training, again promoted by our Queen. I have evidence that one pilot was not even ten years old! We clearly need a new Air Force, and with that Air Force we need new fighters with the latest in stealth technology, weapons, and hyperdrive. Yes, costs of the proposed new fighter have gone up, but the cost of not being prepared for invasion will always be higher.

Mine Here, Mine Now
Even had they not invaded, the TF blockade would have brought our planet to its knees very quickly. Why? We are dependent on foreign planet imports of dilithium crystals for our power needs. Dilithium power made Naboo strong, but now our government has nearly stopped all domestic dilithium mining in the name of unproven, so-called "environmental" issues. We need not be dependent; there are vast deposits of dilithium in the Lake District and under Gunga City, and we need to mine both of these areas. This activity will spur our lagging economy and make Naboo great once more.

Our Queen has failed us. Our former Senator and now Chancellor, Palpatine, has said we should turn to a Republic military, but he has not even proposed where this military will come from, and even if he could produce that military, it would be in the hands of the Republic, not of Naboo. We could only hope that our priorities are their priorities. With me as Queen, Naboo will once again take charge of its destiny.

A Vote for Queen Joshua is a Vote for a Strong, Prosperous Naboo!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Star Wars Episode 1: Phantom Menace in 3D

Last night I decided to finally go see The Phantom Menace in 3D. I've seen the movie more times than I have seen the other two prequels combined, and despite Jar-Jar and other flaws, I think it's the best of the prequels. I'm going to rewatch Revenge of the Sith on DVD as soon as I've finished this review for a better comparison.

Some thoughts:
1. The movie is loooooooooooooooong. Too long. The entire underwater sequence could have been cut; it's not very interesting. I'm reminded of The Phantom Edit, which was apparently done by USC film students (I remember at the time that there was a rumor that Kevin Smith did it). That version cuts out a fair bit of Jar-Jar, but I never saw it. There were copies on ebay at the time for about $50, which was a little spendy for a VHS of questionable copy quality, but now I wish I had. There are no copies available on ebay. I suppose that my belief in not violating IP rights should mean I shouldn't get it, anyway; I know I could probably torrent it, but I don't do that. Buying a copy from ebay would also be no better than torrenting it...

2. The 3D effect doesn't do much for me. It looks good, but I don't really notice it after a little while. It might be that my strabismus makes it difficult for me to appreciate, but I don't think it's that. I remember seeing the podrace for the first time and being amazed, and that was a mix of novelty and the size of the screen (much bigger when I first saw it). Part of the problem, I think, is that there isn't much camera motion.

3. There was almost no one there, so if you are reading this and thinking about going, go now. Don't wait. It won't be around for long. If there were ten other people (for a Saturday showing at 6:30pm), I would be surprised.

4. The movie is decent. I always enjoy seeing Star Wars on the big screen, even if it is a prequel.

Nothing shocking; it's the same movie (with a few added bits) that's been around for almost thirteen years. It seems odd that pretty soon we'll be as far past the prequels as we were the originals when the prequels were released.

Friday, November 12, 2010

iPhone, AT&T, and Ending Calls

I have an issue that no one will take responsibility for. I have an iPhone 3GS, current iOS (4.2), and it seems to work fine, except for the minor detail of the phone bit.

Sometimes (maybe 30-50% of the time) when calls end, and the other party disconnects, my phone doesn't. Not automatically, and sometimes not even clearly when I disconnect. Then, the phone app doesn't return to its main screen; it just stays at the call-ended screen. I can exit and return to the phone app, so there's a workaround.

Is it AT&T's fault? Apple's fault? My fault? I don't know, but it's an annoyance that is also eating up minutes, and for a variety of reasons I'm wahahaaaaaaay past my minutes this month (hooray for rollover minutes!).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Verizon and iPad

A short note. You can now buy a Verizon version of the iPad; it works with Verizon's MiFi mobile data service. However, if you look at the Apple Store, they are only advertising the AT&T version. Not an accident...