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Friday, December 30, 2011

Star Wars Commentary, Part 3: Storm Troopers versus Battle Droids


Let’s contrast these two Star Wars concepts using the following criteria:
  1. Appearance
  2. Competence
  3. Dramatic usefulness
First of all, the Storm Troopers look cool. People still buy mock-ups of S.T. armour for costumes or collections. The white color with dark highlights is a stark contrast to the black of Darth Vader and the dark purpose to which S.T.’s are typically put. White also stands out very well on most Star Wars sets (with the exclusion of Hoth, of course). Then compare this to a battle droid. I think they are coloured taupe or some similarly institutional colour. Dull. They have an elongated face, almost beak-like, and stick-thin limbs. All in all, they utterly lack in intimidation value. This is only accentuated by their comically high, modulated voices and ridiculous dialogue. We never heard a Storm Trooper say “Roger, roger” for very good reason: something that says “roger, roger” might kill you, but it can’t stop you from laughing at it. A battle droid doesn’t look like you need to be a Jedi in order to cut your way through a swath of them; a stiff breeze would knock them down. (The upgraded battle droids seen later in the trilogy start to look deadlier, but first impressions count for a lot: it’s the battle droids in Phantom Menace that stick with a guy.)
Which is more useful? If we were watching an episode of Deadliest Warrior, which would win in a fight? Certainly S.T.’s get their butts kicked a lot; one could even argue that’s their purpose. Battle droids fare no better, however. They are woefully fragile, falling apart when pushed by someone as useless as Jar Jar. Then again, the S.T.’s get beaten up by Ewoks, so neither side comes out with a great resumé. The question is, I suppose, would you rather tell people you’d been beaten up by a brain-damaged amphibian or an overgrown teddy bear? My instinct is to call this category a tie. Yes, both sides lose (they are the villains), but both get some victories, too. The Troopers crushed Hoth and Leia’s ship, but the battle droids did manage to beat Jar Jar’s extended family.
That leaves dramatic usefulness. By this I mean which is better in terms of plot and writing. The Troopers are humans, so the Jedi get to show off their cool mind tricks with them. “These are not the droids you’re looking for” is a classic Star Wars line that wouldn’t have been possible if the first trilogy was shot with battle droids. Yet in spite of their humanity, they are implacable and incorruptible foes. You can’t just slip one a ten-credit coin and weasel through Imperial blockades. The same could be said of the droids, too. Either side can be tricked, but not cozened, absolutely perfect for displaying the monolithic nature of evil. Villains that can be circumvented with a wink and a nod make for uninspiring enemies. The critical difference, though, lies in the vulnerability Troopers have to Jedi mind tricks. Villains need to have flaws, and what better way to display the funky mystical powers of Jedi than to have them control strong but weak-minded minions? Battle droids have a flaw, too, but it appears to be the uselessness of them as individuals or in small units. The Storm Trooper flaw (human minds) gives us an excellent writing hook. The battle droid flaw (individual weakness) only makes them less scary, since beating up a weak guy sort of makes the heroes seem like bullies. Edge: Storm Troopers.
Our score stands at Storm Trooper 2, battle droids 0, with one tie. This was particularly disappointing for me, too, because I clearly remember being totally jazzed at the concept of battle droids all those years ago. Wow, did they fall short of expectations. “Roger, roger.” Really? That’s the best dialogue you could come up with?
Nothing stings worse than having your high hopes dashed. At least I’ve learned my lesson. Next time (if there is a next time) I’ll go in with Anaconda 2 level expectations. As Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory says, “I prefer to let George Lucas disappoint me in the order he intended.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Star Wars Commentary, Part 2: Yoda


Yoda was my favourite Star Wars character. Who cared if he was wrinkled, green, and bald? The dude was seriously cool. Wizened and wise, he didn’t need height or muscles or brawn to display his worth. What nerd wouldn’t admire someone like that? You may note, however, that I said Yoda WAS my favourite character.  He still is in regards to the first three movies. In the “new three,” though, he’s one of my least favourites, and that’s saying something.
Old Yoda was a puppet. Puppets are cool. Anyone who’s seen Labyrinth had to have been impressed with the fantastic stuff they did with puppets. Yoda was definitely in that league. As a puppet, he had a slow, careful way of moving entirely in keeping with his 900+ year age. When his movements sped up, like when he whacked that idiot R2D2 with his walking stick, he looked exactly like an old man venting impotent anger. The way he pottered around his little hovel, grumpily denying Luke access to his Jedi birthright, was absolute beautiful.
New Yoda (or fake Yoda, as I like to think of him) is a collection of pixels. CGI. They can do some wonderful stuff with CGI, but Yoda was a failure. He had a slick, too-smooth manner of movement entirely at odds with his supposed doddering abilities. The new Yoda moved slowly, yes, but there was no sense that he was actually infirm in any way. Just slow. There was too much grace and poise when he walked around for me to believe that he was truly elderly or needed that cane of his.

Which, of course, turns out to be the case. When Yoda whipped out a light saber to fight Dooku, I wept. Seriously? Do we really need to do this? Ok. Bad enough that Yoda’s going to engage in a duel, but I anticipated his fighting style to be sort of Tai Chi. Careful, slow, deliberate, yet still manages to be in the right place at the right time. But nope, disappointed again. Watching fake Yoda bounce around the walls like a super-ball was one of the worst movie-watching moments of my adult life.
So we go through that agony only to have Yoda fail to beat up Dooku. Why’d he even show up? Then as the Jedi twins wake up, Yoda goes back to his crippled hobble. So basically, he’s a liar. He’s faking a disability for… what? Does he get a private bathroom back at Jedi HQ? A special parking spot right next to the door for his space-ship? Does he get a shorter work week, extra pay, promotions, what? Is Yoda only ON the Jedi Council because he’s filling their Senate-mandated “crippled” spot? Gah! That inexplicable fake-hobble is one of the dumbest things in the new three movies. It basically turns a wise mentor into a deceitful creep.
Ah, you say, but Yoda was a liar in the first three movies, too! In a way, that’s true. He concealed his identity from Luke (for maybe an hour), but that had a purpose; namely to probe Luke’s mettle and nature. Ah, but what about Yoda knowing that Vader was actually Luke’s father? Well, in spite of the prequels, there’s no indication in the first three that Yoda actually DID know about Vader being Luke’s dad. Obi Wan took it upon himself to train Anakin, according to his own words, and his failure could have easily been a secret he’d kept to himself. Remember that Luke knows about the lie when he goes back to Yoda in the third movie. We get no death-bed Yoda confrontation about the issue, but the instant Yoda’s gone, Luke wants to know from Obi Wan why he’d kept this a secret.
I mean, the prequels throw all the characters into everything, but to judge from the first three movies, everyone has only a piece of the backstory. Obi Wan doesn’t seem to know about Leia, yet Yoda does. (“No. There is another.”) My point is, if you take the first three at their word, Yoda is great. His only failure, really, is failing to instill in Obi Wan a proper humility, because if he had, Obi Wan would never have gone off and trained Anakin. No training, no Vader, no destruction of the Jedi.
But, then again, Yoda trained Obi Wan in the past, back when he was pixelated, and therefore utterly useless. And a liar, to boot.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Star Wars Commentary, Part I


I’ll admit it. When Phantom Menace came out, I stood in line and paid my money like millions of other suckers. I was thrilled to have another chapter in the Star Wars franchise to ogle, adore, and cherish. The first three (they will always be the first three to me, I don’t care if Lucas wants to call them IV, V, VI, they are the first three) were so good they spawned a nerd culture that has lasted to this day. The whole movie rental business didn’t last as long. Of course I was psyched to have more stuff to add to the Star Wars lexicon.
The first few minutes of Menace sucked me in. It was just so good to be watching light sabers again. Then, later, the light saber battle between the Jedi and Darth Maul was stunning eye-candy. It was only much later that it dawned on me how badly the movie sucked, sort of a weird type of “buyer’s remorse.” You mean I paid for this? This? This no-plot-bad-characters-dull-dialogue piece of garbage? Unfortunately, there is no way to demand your money back from a movie theatre the day after. I have studiously avoided paying to watch it ever since, at least.
Every few weeks the thing does show up on TV, though. If there’s been enough of a gap between watchings, I’ll even sit down. “Maybe I’ll like it this time,” I’ll think. Quickly I will be disabused of that notion. The speed with which I come to my senses depends entirely on what part of the movie I happen to start watching. Opening scene with Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor? I’ll tune in until they are crouched in the docking bay, then stop, because I know inside of two minutes they’ll be encountering Jar Jar. Darth Maul fights keep me going until they end. Any other part, with talking, I usually manage less than three minutes before the weak plot and mind-numbing conversation cripple me. If the stupid kid actor playing Anakin is on-screen, I just keep channel surfing. Even for free, watching The Phantom Menace comes with too high a price.
So why did I walk in to the cinema such a wide-eyed innocent? Why was I thinking it would in any way be comparable to the first three? There’s no way a movie would fool me like that today. Was I really that much of a sucker? How could I be so deluded?
The answer, of course, is ignorance. I had no idea what I was going to see. All I knew was “new Star Wars.” That’s all I needed to know. Not that I was purposely blinding myself. Far from it. I watched the trailers, I read the sneak-peak info, I… well, that was about it.
Movie-goers today have many tools at their disposal that my younger self lacked. Between Google, Rotten Tomatoes, and YouTube, today’s discerning cinema patron is armed with the full gambit of movie information. There is scarcely a scene they haven’t been able to examine at leisure long before they decide to queue up and hand over their dollars.
It’s strange to think how much the internet culture has changed since Phantom. The Star Wars fiasco came out in 1999, the same year that Rotten Tomatoes debuted (and long before it actually caught on). Wikipedia drew its first breath in 2001. Google wasn’t around until 2004, with YouTube showing up a full year later. Oh, if only I’d had access to such powerful weapons in Days of Yore.
I certainly use them now. They allowed me to dodge Avatar, which may have been pretty but was otherwise a train wreck. It was like dating a beautiful dullard—fun for an hour, but agony beyond that. Sherlock Holmes, with its emphasis on action scenes instead of sleuthing, was nimbly avoided as well. The list goes on and on.
Would that it included The Phantom Menace and its evil cousins, Episodes II and III.
Next time… new Yoda versus old Yoda. (Guess which I prefer?)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Good roommates


I have had good roommates and bad roommates. Often, my roommate has been both at the same time. The kind of guy, for instance, who eats your last jellybeans while you’re gone for the weekend is also the kind of guy who will freely share his extensive music and VHS collection. Or a girl who plays The Barenaked Ladies’ “If I Had a Million Dollars” over and over again until you want to move to the States just so you can easily buy a gun that will allow you to mow down the entire apartment building is also the girl who does the dishes when it’s supposed to be your turn. But these days, my roommates are the absolute best.
Today’s breakfast conversation was highly entertaining. Breakfast conversations are rare things: everyone in the house has slightly different schedules, which means we don’t often all gather around the table until supper. We got lucky today, and managed to have almost ten minutes in the same place at the same time. It gave us a chance to discuss our zombie apocalypse preparations.
You see, I have the delight to live with two people who are just a touch phobic about zombies. They don’t believe zombies exist… sort of. Maybe they do, a little. Certainly they are concerned with our preparedness should the eventual outbreak occur. Depending on their moods, they might considerable that outbreak inevitable rather than eventual. The whole thing does make for some interesting chats, though. Food stores, access to water, weapons for protection, that sort of thing. Today was home defensibility.
We have a two-story house. It’s been decided that the temptation and convenience of having access to the first floor can’t be allowed to sway our resolve. Zombies can’t climb. Zombies can, however, break through windows (even boarded up ones) and eat you while you try desperately to claw your way out of your blankets. So the current plan has us sacrificing the ground floor in exchange for security.
That leaves a single staircase as access, designed thusly:

You can see how the zombies can just make a clean run down that hallway up to our bedrooms. Obviously, it needs to be blocked off. Several ideas have been thrown around. A simple sheet of plywood would serve to lock the thing down, but my fellow house-dwellers aren’t satisfied with that. They have suggested we get a steel trap door. It would be designed to be out of the way, attached to the wall over the stairs, and then be lowered into place on a hinge. The thing would lie horizontally over the top of the stairs. Lock it down, and done. That way we are secure, but also have the ability to sneak out if the coast is clear.
This morning, however, the trap door idea was revisited. A steel gate that would slide down to close off the stairs at their bottom would mean the gate itself would be held in place by the lower stair. Further, a steel bar (or even a simple wooden 2x4) could be wedged between the top step and the gate to make it even harder for the zombies to push through it. It couldn’t be the kind of thing that mall stores use, because we need something opaque. Maybe the sort of things liquor store owners use in the movies. Zombies hunt by smell, but also sight, and a glimpse of one of us upstairs would send them into a noisy rage. That’s another point in favour of the liquor-store gate rather than the mall-store gate: it would block more noise. Who wants to sleep to the sounds of constant groaning? (Maybe porn directors, I don’t know.)
So it looks like the liquor-store gate installation crews will be coming over any day now. The decision has been made. The zombies don’t stand a chance.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Insane or stupid or both?


Being stupid is not a crime. I’ve heard that quoted several times, in movies or books, and I’ve even used it myself on occasion. Being stupid is not a crime, but maybe it should be.
My line of thinking in this regard was prompted by the results in the Norway case. Everyone remembers the nutbar Anders Breivik who went to an island youth camp and started shooting. His motive had something to do with teaching liberals a lesson, and maybe immigrants, too. Ultimately, his motives are irrelevant, because he butchered 77 people and wounded 151 more. I say his motives are irrelevant, because nothing can justify what he did. Is it any surprise at all that the psychiatrists involved are saying he was psychotic at the time of the assault? Really, psychotic? You don’t say. How many years of med school does it take to draw that conclusion? Because I figured that out the second I heard about the horrific attack. So did everyone else.
Nobody thought, “Hey, that Anders guy… he’s got a point. That’s a helluva argument he presents there.” At least, nobody rational would think that. And that’s the key word here: rational.
Criminals aren’t rational. They have a grossly distorted sense of cost/benefit assessment. They have the kind of brain that says, “The two hundred bucks and three cartons of smokes I’ll get from this gas station robbery is absolutely worth the chance of 2 years in jail. Time to play Cops and Robbers for realsies!” Or it’s a crime of passion, where they catch their old lady in bed with some other biker, and they just “gots’ta teach ‘em a lesson!” By definition, a crime of passion is one without reason, where your ability (no matter how stunted) to think rationally is overwhelmed by your emotional parts. Whether they can’t think deeply enough, or whether they consciously decide prison is worth the risk of the crime is irrelevant. The bottom line is, criminals aren’t in their right minds.
I wouldn't risk prison and a criminal record for a lifetime supply of money, and I don't know anyone more reasonable than me (others may argue). Criminals risk that much or more for a lot less. They aren’t, to use the legal term, “reasonable” people. So why do we have this division between criminals and insane who commit criminal acts?

“Oh, well, the insane aren’t themselves when they do these things. They can’t stop themselves.” Neither could the ordinary criminals, or they WOULD HAVE stopped themselves. Deliberating doing something stupid, knowing that it’s stupid, is even MORE insane than doing something stupid because you don’t know any better. Stamp the whole bunch of them with the INSANE label and move on.
Move on to where? To curing them, of course. Isn’t that what you do with insane people? You try to make them better. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t, but with the proper application of therapy and/or medications, you can get a helluva lot further than you can with the alternative (namely, nothing). Teach them to think clearly, think skeptically, think rationally (and while you're at it, teach everyone else, too).
Some of the hard-liners on the right side of the political fence have a problem with a soft-handed approach. I get it. You want wrong-doers punished and kept away from you. Making them productive members of society isn’t your priority. These are the kind of people that say things like “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” They cheer the death penalty as a “Final Solution.” Certainly killing everyone who breaks the law does solve the problem of overcrowded jails. No one would accuse you of being soft on crime.
But what kind of person wants to kill someone just because they’re insane? You’d call someone like that a murderer. Probably you could even say they aren’t entirely rational. If they’re not rational, they’re nuts, and that means they get lined up to get those lethal injections they love to promote so strongly. I’m not sure who’s going to be left, but I hope I’m one of the lucky ones.
I have, after all, been practicing my Vulcan-esque logic since I was a boy.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Would you let a vampire date your daughter?


I like vampires. I think they make a rich background for a whole variety of stories about human strengths and weaknesses. They can serve as a foil to display our savagery, kindness, ability to transcend personal tragedy, or capacity to wallow in selfish lusts. Like anything inhuman, the thematic merits of the vampire result from casting them in a role traditionally occupied by ourselves or something we struggle against. The vampire striving to be human (really, “humane”) is a constant motif in vamp TV, movies, and books. There are dozens of other versions as well, both protagonist and antagonist. Whatever the case, I think the vampire concept has a lot of potential, and like any potential, much of it is wasted.
Today we’re going to touch on the idea of vampire pedophiles. To most people, “pedophile” is an emotionally-charged word. It should be. The idea of an adult abusing a child is repugnant, and the sexual overlay of the term make it even worse. If there were a hierarchy of sins in society, “pedophile” is going to rank Top 5, if not number one.
So of course a vampire pedophile would be cast as a villain. Ah, not so! Most vampire pedophiles are the protagonists of their particular tales. If not the hero, they are at the very least often interpreted as a sympathetic character. When their evil nature is derided, the fact that they are pedophiles is rarely brought up. Why? Because they aren’t written as pedophiles. Oh, no. They are “in love.” They see the purity in the soul of the person they’re lusting after, somehow looking beyond the years between them to form some true, deep, spiritual connection. Horse apples, I say!
Can you truly fall in love with someone a tenth your age? Not ten years younger, mind you, but a TENTH. Anyone in their 40s who has had an extended conversation with someone in their teen  years is quickly bored, and that’s only a gulf of a couple decades. There’s just too vast a generational gap. The things you remember aren’t the things they know. In a way, they’re almost like alien species to each other.
Yet we’re supposed to believe that Twilight’s Eddy thinks Bella is all that? He’s over a hundred, born with all the baggage of an early 20th century upbringing, but she’s 17. Other than moony-eyes, what do they have in common? The same goes for Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only worse. He’s from the mid-18th century, and she’s fifteen or sixteen when they start canoodling. Yeah, a vampire can adapt to the present era, in theory. But very few humans are capable of staying with current trends over an 80 year lifespan. You think we can manage it for 200?
We all know the classic dating range formula, where you divide your age in half and add 7 for your minimum. For your maximum, you go (your age-7) x 2. If we apply the classic “acceptable dating range formula” to Eddy we find that he can date woman who are anywhere between 57 (the youngest) and 186 (the oldest), based on his age being 100. Bella’s a little below his target group. Like 40 years below.
By any standards, these vampires are generations older than their love interests. There’s no way there isn’t a gross imbalance of power, which is pretty much the case with pedophiles. Like pedophiles, these vampires claim something about their victims “calls to them.” They “can’t resist.” Sounds like a sickness to me.
Boycott Twilight (if you weren’t already). It’s nothing more than a sad tale of a creepy pedophile vampire. Go ahead and watch Buffy, though. At least there’s something to it beyond “vampire/child relations.”
Ick, Eddy. Ick.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Toll roads


I have to say, I love the trend towards targeted taxation. No one (except for crazy people) LIKES taxes, of course, since everyone would prefer to hoard their hard-earned (or stolen) dollars for their own nefarious purposes. It’s a common belief that governments waste 9 out of ever 10 dollars they grab, and spend the last buck on something you don’t like. Nevertheless, a targeted tax serves a higher purpose. Even if the money gained were stacked in a huge pile and burned, something else would be gained.
By targeted taxes, I’m referring to the host of sneaky little (and not so little) charges that we all pay whenever we use something of which the government doesn’t approve. Gas for your car, cigarettes for your kids, booze so you can get out of bed in the morning: all heavily taxed. Maybe that money does nothing useful, but the theory is that taxing something is a deterrent to its use. In theory, we have fewer smokers, drinkers, and drivers because we tax the berries out of those items.
It’s a clever way for a government to allow freedom while still punishing those who choose unwisely. Obviously smoking is bad for you. Alcohol is a toxin. Yes, we can tolerate it in small and even moderate doses, but it can kill you. Driving helps contribute to planetary pollution, which is bad, since this is currently our only house. (To quote the Tick: “That’s where I keep all my stuff!”) The government operates VLTs and casinos, snatching huge profits while at the same time running ads to say “Hey, ease up, idiots—you’re gambling too much!” (Not that anyone appears to listen.) If it’s bad for you, the government supplies it, but makes you pay through the nose for the privilege. It’s a commentary on our own stubbornness or stupidity that we haven’t stopped doing all this stuff yet.
This morning I saw an article on road tolls, which is what prompted this post. “Canada lags in use of road tolls,” was the headline. My first thought was “Yeah, that’s a shame. It’s like saying we need to catch up on gun-related crime. Some of the other G8 countries are way ahead of us.” After reading it, though, it made sense. Road tolls are a deliberate tool used to reduce the use of said road. This helps to control the flow of traffic, eases smog in certain areas, and reduce the need to constantly repair and expand existing roadways. They have been used with great effect in other countries. For instance, during peak hours, you have to pay 10 pounds to drive through London’s core. That’s reduced through-traffic by about 70 000 cars. Maybe those same cars are just dispersing to other roadways, but it has to create a more pleasant downtown London than experienced previously.
Why stop at roads, though? Why not a “cholesterol tax” on french fries? Or a “stink tax” on body sprays? (I’d be a huge fan of that one. You don’t need to bath in the stuff, people.) A “John tax” for those who dally with sex workers. “Flatulence tax” on cans of beans. My role-playing games would probably be subject to some sort of “nerd tax.” I’m sure a committee dedicated to finding vices and charging taxes on them could have a kilometre-long list in days. Drugs are almost certain to be on it, both legal and illegal.
We would be able to finally embrace the logical end to the targeted tax process. Let’s get drugs legalized. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, all that crap. It isn’t as though they aren’t available on the street as it is. This way we could regulate it to make the products safer (did you know most drug overdoses are due to the toxic effects of the substances used to CUT the actual drug?). We’d generate revenue in the form of taxes and ease the burden on overworked narcotics cops. It would also probably spell an end to a large segment of organized crime, what with their most profitable products available next to packs of DuMaurier. The tax money we get would easily pay for the treatment facilities, whereas right now the drug users aren’t shouldering their share of the burden.
It would be a country where any vice is allowed, so long as you’re willing to pax the tax-man. A brave new world and, forgive the pun, but tolls are just the first stop on the road to reach it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ode to lawyers


Lawyers are geniuses, every one of them. Even the worst of the bunch is smarter than the average citizen. Not because they score high on IQ tests. Not because they have more or better firing neurons in their brains. Not because they can throw around Latin phrases. No, they are smart because they bothered to learn the rules of the game we’re playing.
Think about it. Society has rules, written and unwritten, but the only ones that can land you in jail are the written ones. Laws. They can punish you. They can also reward you, via a little something called a “civil judgment.” This is a process by which you can sue someone (even if they don’t deserve it) and get awarded a ton of money (even if you don’t deserve it), so long as your lawyer is better than the other guy’s. Laws are important things, not because they are inherently valuable, but because they are valuable to our well-being. Break one, your life is ruined. Catch someone else breaking one, you might strike it rich.
Lawyers understand this. It’s like we’re all playing Monopoly, but they're the only ones that have bothered to read the rulebook. If we’re not sure whether we can buy Park Place or not, we have to check with one of them, and pay them for the privilege of their answer. Under a system like that, they don’t even have to be playing to eventually win, or at least make out very, very well.
None of this is to say that lawyers are evil. In spite of their dire reputation, they are as good or bad as any other batch of humans. But the good lawyers, the ones with an “LG” beside their alignment, know that the best way to make radical change is to know the system you’re trying to change. And the evil ones, the ol’ “LE” set, know that the man who profits the most is the one who understands the fine print.
The problem is that the old maxim about power corrupting is absolutely true. Given enough power and enough time, everyone cracks. Mother Teresa herself would have been a villain if she’d lived to be a thousand. It’s inevitable. Lawyers have the power, because they understand. They get it. They know the rules. In a society that styles itself civilized, its our rules that define, empower, and limit us. A lawyer is a magician, and the laws are mana. Without them, he’s powerless, but with them... oh, the world is his oyster. So how do any of them resist corruption?
It depends on how pure their motives at the start, I suppose. That’s why Momma Teresa lasted for 87 years: she started out pretty pure. If you’re more morally flexible, maybe you’ll only last a handful of months before you’re rubbing your hands, cackling in glee at the thought of all the lives you can control. The end is inevitable, it just remains to be seen if you die before evil takes you over.
Money doesn’t help matters. If a billionaire came up to you and said “I’ll pay you 400 dollars an hour to build me a house,” you’d be an idiot not to leap at the chance. If the offer came with no further provisions—timelines, size of house, location—wouldn’t you build the biggest freaking house you could? A mansion that makes the Vatican look like the Unibomber’s shack? Why not, right? They have the money. Who cares if it takes you the rest of your life to finish the thing? You’re getting 400 bucks an hour to saw wood and hammer nails! Talk about a living.
Contrast that with the same offer being made—you decide the sort of house to build—but the pay scale changes to 100 grand for the entire job. Now suddenly that shack idea sounds pretty good. You could bang that out in a weekend and be $100 000 richer. Woohoo!
In both cases, you may have to prove some sort of “good intentions” issue. You can’t make the $400/hour wage if you’re just sitting about thinking about the house, and you can’t collect the hundred grand pay-off if you build something with four walls and no roof. Either way, the temptation is to do the least you can to make the most. Even if you’re a saint and do a great job with no intention of screwing your employer, get offered that deal enough times, and you’ll cave.
Whether paid by the case or paid by the hour, a lawyer has to face that temptation all the time. A lot of professions do, granted, but lawyers are pre-set to bend to temptation. They know the rules. They are trained to know the rules. A lot of times their careers depend on their ability to massage those rules. So they’ll know how far they can push it while still maintaining their reputation and not getting into any trouble. They know how to make a case run long or how to cut it short.
They have the power. Believe it. If you're not scared, you should be.
(Insert evil laugh here.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Correlation is not causality


The Occupy movement had a death in Vancouver this week. Obviously this is not a good thing. Preliminary reports point towards the woman dying as a result of a drug overdose. Whenever someone dies, or is hurt, or is even mildly put out, of course others rush forward to use the tragedy to further their own agendas. In this case, the woman’s death also rings the bell on the tent city that the Occupiers have built in Vancouver. A directive has been issued to clear the whole thing away under the guise of “public safety.” One hopes it can be managed peacefully, but I doubt it.
Living in a tent is not ideal, clearly, or we would never have bothered invented the house, much less the mansion. But where is causal relationship between “sleep in tent” and “drug overdose?” If the cause of death is “exposure” or “too much fresh air,” maybe they’ve got a case, but drugs? Vancouver has a well-documented drug issue. For the last few years they have had between 26 and 37 confirmed drug overdose deaths per year, or about 1 every 11 days on average. Occupy Vancouver has been going on for three weeks and this is the first death (from any cause) that has been attributed to the protestors. So, really, they’re doing pretty good. If, as many right-wingers believe, the movement is composed of nothing but drug-addled hippies, they should have had 2 drug-related deaths by now.
Correlation isn’t the same as causality. Intelligent, rational people know that, but all too many forget (or don’t understand) that crucial fact. Finding a dead bird on your front lawn doesn’t mean that it was killed by your grass. Dying of a drug overdose in a protestor’s tent does not imply the movement itself is the problem. But panicky people can easily be convinced that it does, and so ends Tent City.
It reminds me a little of the D&D controversy from back in the 80s. A teenager committed suicide and among his possessions was found the rulebooks for D&D. Instantly the group that feared and hated D&D for its own (usually religious) reasons jumped on it. “Aha! Finally, proof that D&D is evil!” they cackled. “We have a statistic!” Right away the public believed the conclusion that D&D caused teens to off themselves.
Obviously this is wrong. When you look at the numbers, you actually discover that the instances of suicide among D&D players are WAY below the national average. D&D saves lives. Logic, however, rarely convinces a horde of gibbering goobers.
Gibbering goober. That would make an awesome D&D monster.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sack up, Herman


That’s right. Grow a pair. Just come clean and admit that settlements were made on your behalf to silence accusations of sexual harassment. Admitting a matter was settled out of court is not the same as an admission of guilt. It can’t be, otherwise the second you signed the paper the bailiff and judge would show up and yell “Gotcha!” before dragging you off to jail. “Ah, you sucker. You fell for the oldest trick in the book. A settlement? Oh, that’s rich.” And then the judicial system would chortle to itself, smug and happy. But it doesn’t work that way because there are plenty of instances where it is easier and cheaper to pay an accuser some hush-money and then just go on living your life.
For those who don’t follow American politics or the Daily Show (and you really should, both are entertaining as anything else on TV), one of the Republican presidential nominees Herman Cain is being dodgy about former potential issues with sexual harassment. Maybe he did it (probably) and maybe he didn’t (doubtful) but the point I’m trying to make is this: When something is FACTUALLY TRUE, don’t try and skirt around it. Among many other examples, Clinton tried it with Lewinsky, and it just ends up making you look guiltier when you’re finally forced to capitulate.
What compels a public figure to delude themselves into thinking for one second that anything they have ever done, imagined, written about, or whispered down a deep well won’t get uncovered by some reporter? The media has a pretty good track record on this stuff. Sure, they don’t always find out in a timely fashion, but if you have dirt on you, they’ll sniff it out eventually. The 24-hour news cycle demands it. Those all-day channels need more grist for the mill. Their attention is only going to be magnified when you’re running for the most powerful job (sort of) in the most powerful country in the world (unfortunately).
So sack up, Herman Cain. The same goes for all the rest of you wannabes. You don’t have to offer up your darkest secrets, but when some newshound discovers photos of you in Victoria’s Secret underwear, just own up to it. Sadly we’re living in an era of blame and victim. Nothing you do is ever your fault, and somehow every situation can be spun so that you are actually the victim. My dad was a jerk, so I never learned how to love. The media is out to get me. The woman was out for attention. I didn’t get into the school I wanted (that’s a Hitler special, there, probably the historical figure who most changed the world as a result of a university rejection letter). Blah, blah, blah. Basically, it’s all garbage.
They are cowards, and stupid ones at that. Every kindergarten kid knows you get in way less trouble if you admit that YOU were the one that did it. This is basic stuff, guys. Really. If you can't grow a spine, at least grow a brain.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sorry, kids


The school my oldest kid goes to has two entrances. The younger students use one, the older another. Last year we were at the high end of the young, basically our last year among the wee ones. Now we’re the smallest at the older end, and there are some stark differences. One thing I noticed right away is the difference in appearance of these children.
Last year, the kids were cute. Dimples, baby fat, big eyes, infectious laughter, carefree attitudes evident as they tore around the playground participating in games that had no rules any adult could understand. This year, though... Wow.
The kids got ugly.
Sorry, but it’s true. Those of you who have children drifting into and through adolescence know what I’m talking about. Oh, you probably think your own kid is still awesome, but surely you’ve noticed his friends are looking a little weird. The other odd thing is that it’s only the boys.
They barely look human anymore. Their facial features are distorted. Lips, nose, and ears have all grown and the rest of the face hasn’t caught up yet. Hair is shaggy. Some of them are sprouting that upper lip hair that looks more like a dirt smear than a moustache. Limbs are gangly. Movements are jerky and uneven. Even though their voices haven’t deepened yet, their laughter is harsh and troll-like. The girls, on the other hand, appear to be having a smoother transition into their adult forms. There are some exceptions, but for the most part the really weird mutations aren’t affecting them.
(I have been informed by reliable sources that all the horrible girl changes take place where you can’t see them. I’m in no position to argue. However, I will submit that boys undergo some significant hidden transformations as well. Menstruation versus nocturnal emissions and NRBs. I won’t say it’s a draw, but boys are at least in the race.)
Maybe those grotesque adolescent years are a downpayment of suffering against the later decades when men (allegedly) get more handsome while gravity wreaks havoc on our female counterparts.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Driving


I love driving. Not the act itself, mind you. While there’s no doubt everyone else on the road is an idiot (and they are all thinking the same about me), I never forget that I’m driving a couple tons of metal death to anything that chances across my path. Squirrels. Smart cars. Old ladies with walkers. Kids chasing their soccer balls into the street (although that one doesn’t really happen much anymore, kids being far more likely to be using digital soccer balls on their Playstations). A few things are immune, like big rig trucks, buses, and trains, but pretty much anything else that I drive over is going to either a) die, or b) be very late for work. Cars are dangerous, deadly weapons, and everyone sixteen or over is entitled to try and use one. Best of all, you only have to display skill with this terrifying device ONCE in order to be cleared for decades of use. Isn’t that crazy? You have to get retested every couple of years for your first aid certificate, or to handle anhydrous ammonia, and your body count using either of those skills improperly is NEVER going to be able to match a single afternoon joyriding through the local mall.
My point is, I don’t find driving relaxing. I don’t believe it should be relaxing, the same way you shouldn’t be casual about lighting someone’s cigarette with a flamethrower. Discretion is advised. No, the reason I love driving so much is sloth.
That’s always been my favourite among the classic “Seven Deadly Sins.” All of them have their merits, but ‘sloth’ is the only one that I can do all day. I suppose I can envy all day, too, but how is that fun? The same goes for greed or pride. There’s only so much mileage you can get out of strutting around snatching candy from children and proclaiming “That’s right, I’m the best.” Being wrathful or lusty is tiring, so after a few (seconds? minutes?) hours I’m right back to sloth. As for gluttony, forget it. What’s the first thing you want to do after a huge meal? Take a nap, right? Boom, sloth wins again.
Primarily, then, I drive because I am lazy. The number of times I have driven two blocks to 7-11 to buy something unhealthy are legion. We have a grocery store four minutes away by foot. Four minutes! I’ve timed it. That’s close, particularly when you consider turtles can lap me in a footrace. Yet I often drive. I would probably hop in the car and drive to the fridge if my house was paved.
Laziness is not limited to overuse of motorized transportation. Like many nerds, I often play the “what superpower would you have game.” Sometimes I have grand dreams, where I save the world from itself or become a Dr. Evil-style villain, complete with ridiculous cackle and desire to crush all free will. More times than not, however, I end up imagining how those world-changing, awe-inspiring super-powers would make my daily life easier.
Teleportation? No more waiting in traffic on my way to the school. Flight? Changing lightbulbs in a 10-foot ceiling would be so easy, not to mention getting leaves out of the gutters. Mind control? Think of how many people there are who could fetch me things! Super-strength? That would be an end to the days of struggling with the pickle jar. The list is endless. You give me a super-power, I’ll find a way to use it in a prosaic and mundane fashion. Really, a car is just a super-power that you can buy, giving you the ability to travel at a speed our ancestors wouldn't even believe.
The “super-power” game is something I’ve played forever, and I have to admit the uses to which the powers are put changes as I age. As a kid, it was all about defeating fictional bad guys or defending me and my friends from bullies. As a teenager, pretty much any power was used to get girls to like me (“Hey, baby, want to see me juggle cars?”). Now it’s all about sloth. In a few decades, my powers will almost certainly be bent towards the destruction of those pesky kids that walk on my lawn and make all the racket with their new-fangled music.
I will be the bad-guy that they will use THEIR fake powers to beat. Life will come full circle.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street


Occupy Wall Street. I applaud the sentiments behind the movement. When you hear stats like “in the last ten years, one-third of all income earned in Canada has gone to the richest 1%” it is hard to believe that capitalism is a good idea. Is that really the best system we can come up with? A system that allows the rich to become richer on the backs of the poor? I get it. Without the carrot of reward, it’s hard to get anyone to do much. If you have to give most of your reward away, why push yourself? Star Trek may be filled with selfless humans eager to slave all day for something vague like “personal growth” but that’s science fiction. (Awesome, awesome science fiction.)
Sharing doesn’t come instinctively to human: ask any parent how many times they had to hassle their toddler to get them to give up a toy. The idea of taking a little less than everything just so that someone else can have some, too, just isn’t the way we’re built. There is a benefit to accomplishing tasks cooperatively, but it only takes one guy to realize “I don’t have to be in the FRONT in order for us to kill that mammoth” to spoil the whole thing. One selfish person breeds another, and so on. Very few people are capable of doing their absolute best, working to capacity day in and day out when they are surrounded by slackers playing Farmville and still getting the same paycheck. In the old fable of The Grasshopper and the Ant, the ant works all summer and the grasshopper lazes about. When winter comes, the grasshopper nearly dies until the ant takes him in. The lesson we are supposed to learn, in theory, is that hard work pays off in the end. The lesson it ACTUALLY teaches is that someone else will save us if we goof off. That’s what proponents of capitalism try and promote in our minds, anyway. Hand-outs are evil. Only the indigent are unemployed. Get a job, slacker. Pull up your boots.
On a level playing field, that might be the case. But capitalism doesn’t create a level field. All humans are NOT created equal. In nerd-speak, you roll your 3d6 for each attribute, and you take what you get, no exceptions. Some get inborn gifts that allow them to thrive in their environment, whether that’s intelligence, cunning, greed, amorality, or just plain luck. Others get gifts because they were born to wealthy parents. Are we really supposed to believe that a kid born to a single mom working three jobs to pay the bills has the same chance to make something of himself that Richie Rich does? Sure there are examples of “poor kid makes good” and “rich kid blows it all away.” But for every rich-guy-that-started-poor there are a million poor-guy-that-started-poor. And I’m not sure we’d find even a single homeless person who could truthfully answer “Yes” to the question “Did you start your adult life with a billion dollars to your name?” Capitalism best helps those who already have.
So you go, Occupy people. You march wherever you want and hopefully you’ll make a positive change. In the novel 1984 there is a suggestion made that all revolutions, at best, only serve to elevate the Middle to replace the High, at which point the oppression carries on, albeit with new masters. Hopefully this won’t have the same result. Even if it does, I don’t think it’ll pain any of the have-nots one bit to see a few of the haves booted out of their mansions for a while.
The problem that exists now is one of organization and leadership. Because this movement began organically, there is not hierarchy or even concrete goals. They’re doing very well without a leader, but there is a problem looming that a prudent leader might perhaps have been able to foresee. Much of the territory that they are trying to “Occupy” is located in places that experience winter. This movement only began in September. It is a bad idea to embark on any attempt to occupy a wintery country in autumn. Bad. Just ask Napoleon or Hitler how it went when they tried to occupy Russia in the winter. It didn’t end well for them.
With October upon us, and the Occupiers only now moving into Canada, I have to say that you have already given the victory away. The late-year start means that the wealthy just need to play a waiting game and eventually you’ll crumble. Just try living in a shanty town during December in this country. You’ll be begging for an ant to take pity on you.
Too bad, though. I love the idea of socialism. Share and share alike, I say. Of course, if we expand that to a global scale, everyone is North America is going to be catapulted below the poverty line, because there are billions of people out there for whom a refrigerator is a myth.