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Monday, August 22, 2011

Movie characters yearn for death


You have a gun and you are facing a guy with a knife. Assuming you know one of you must die and one of you must live, and further assuming you are willing to hurt someone in order to survive, what do you do?
Logically, the smart move is to start shooting and keep your distance. You’ve got a range advantage on the other guy, so if you want to win, you use it. Certainly this is not a new tactic in military circles. So why can’t Hollywood pretend, just for one second, that some of their villains have an ounce of brains and can think of this revolutionary strategy themselves?
I watched X-Men 3 the other day, which is what brought this thought process on. Wolverine (stupid Wolverine, it’s always about Wolverine) has claws. A “bad-guy” sentry has the ability to create throwing knives at will. Wolverine charges the sentry, which is a smart move. The sentry can use his weapons up close, but he’s also good with chucking them, so his smart move is to stay out of reach of Wolverine’s pointy bits. Instead he also charges. The end (of him) is inevitable and easily predicted.
Watching movies can be a lot of fun but it can also be pretty painful. I can accept a ridiculous premise (super-heroes are real) so long as the movie is consistent within its premise. But when someone acts with suicidal stupidity, it takes me right out of the scene. Suspension of disbelief is shattered. This motif of “ranged fighters rushing to get within punching distance of a scrapper” is a pretty consistent one.
Captain America. I loved Captain America comics as a kid. Even then I always saw him as more of a closet Canadian. By the time I was reading him, he was a good bit more liberal than the usual American stereotype. So I wanted to love the movie. I still haven’t seen it, and I’m not likely to because Hollywood doomed it with the previews. They have a ten second shot of the Captain fighting gun-wielding soldiers, and they are all rushing helpfully forward to be clocked in the brainpans by his shield. You have guns! Take a step back, unload a clip. It really just spoils the whole idea. (Which is already a stretch. A shield-wielding soldier? Really?)
Sin City. Another great movie, with one of its best characters played my Mickey Rourke. The disreputable, cruel, blunt, and yet oddly lovable Marv is pretty cool. He is also a basher-type, using fists whenever possible. Yet when a group of baddies want him dead, they just rush right at him so he can chop them to bits with a hatchet. These baddies all have guns. All Marv has to do is set his feet and just whack away as they come hustling up to him, lemming-like, to die. Sigh.
Villains aren’t the only ones who do this. Lord of the Rings. Legolas uses arrows. So why does he leap into melee at least three times in the course of the trilogy? You are an elf. You use a bow. So use it! For example, they are riding down from Helm’s Deep in their final charge, expecting to die (maybe). Legolas leaps on a horse and goes with them instead of going to the summit with Gimli the Horn-Blower where he could safely shoot arrows. Long-life does not apparently teach wisdom, you pointy-eared dummy.
Those are just the ones I can come up with off the top of my head. Maybe no one else is bothered. Maybe no one else notices. Certainly Hollywood execs haven’t clued in yet.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Suits


When are we going to give up on suits?
The other day I saw a worker in a car rental agency wearing a suit. I have some experience with this particular company. Corporate policy states that all of their representatives will wear suits AT ALL TIMES. Because most of their rental outlets are small (one or two staff), their representatives are also required to clean the cars when they come back from being rented. Some of these vehicles, in this town at least, come back with a layer of mud and pig shit (literally) that you cannot believe. So these poor fools are supposed to deal with your rental needs then spend an hour scraping sludge off someone’s interior. All while wearing a suit. The car cleaning scene from Pulp Fiction comes to mind. Do you think Samuel Jackson and John Travolta walked away from that bloody mess with clean suits? I think not. So what is the car agency trying to prove? How high class they are? Because I know what they pay their employees, and it isn’t enough to have a closet full of suits that can be burned through like coveralls. Can we finally admit that suits are, frankly, a little silly?
I’m not suggesting that suits should stop being made. What I am wondering, though, is if we are ever going to get over the ridiculous idea that a suit is some sort of default uniform that bestows credibility and trust. Bankers wear suits. Lawyers wear suits. Businessmen. Politicians. Investment brokers. Insurance salesmen. How is it that we are still stupid enough to equate “suit” with “someone we should believe”? The guy slouching around the block wearing the faded Metallica T-shirt might look disreputable, but at least there’s an outside chance he wouldn’t lie to you in order to further his own career (since, really, how much further can he go in the industry of car detailing).
If you take some time to examine the cross section of society that uses the suit as its standard dress code, you would be hard pressed to find groups with a less trustworthy reputation. “Blood-sucking lawyer” is not a term of endearment. I’m not claiming that their reputation is always deserved. I know many fine lawyers, bankers, businessmen, etc. But hasn’t their influence - deserved or not - besmirched the once-proud virtue of the suit forever? I mean, we use “suit” as a derogatory term for corporate stooges or government minions. Why are they still around? (Suits, not government minions. Government minions are eternal.)
Yes, there is a market for suits, but it is primarily a rental one. Grads, weddings, even funerals. That last in particular. Do you really want to keep the grim, black thing you wore to Grandma’s funeral hanging around in your closet? There are no happy memories attached to a funeral suit. (Unlike, perhaps, a grad suit, where you got too drunk and threw up on your date. Good times.) The last time I owned a suit was so long ago that it was “hip” to wear something double-breasted. How many others have a single suit in their closet that can’t be relied upon anyway, since your waist size has drifted dangerously high in the ten years since you last dusted the thing off?
The ultimate symbol of the suit is the crowning piece of stupidity of the whole thing. The tie. A noose to symbolize the slow death by asphyxiation usually caused by a job is an obvious parallel to draw, but not necessarily an inaccurate one. Your brain requires a lot of oxygen in a day, so why restrict the flow of vital blood to your cranium? Plus nothing is quite as gross as the way male neck flab flows over the top of a firmly knotted tie. It’s like a snapshot of a fleshy lava flow. Plus you can always count on your tie to take a dip into your tomato soup at lunch or get caught in a drawer. Do you have any idea how many fatalities each year are caused by someone’s tie getting caught in a paper-shredder? (Probably none, but I bet you thought I had some unbelievable statistic coming, didn’t you.)
Sure, maybe work places are getting grubbier every year. If that’s a real fear, then institute an honest uniform rather than a vague dress code. Doctors wear white coats. Teachers can have green ones. Lawyers black (you have to give them black because it’s the coolest colour and if they aren’t given it, they’ll just take you to court and win it anyway). Bankers blue. It’s even alliterative. Whatever system we decide on, does it have to involve the suit and its ugly cousin, the necktie?
(Plus, they make the dumb things out of wool. Wool. Really? It gets over 35 Celsius in this country and you want me to dress in a shirt, tie, waistcoat, and jacket, all made of wool? Grooms faint every year during outdoor wedding because of black wool tuxedos. When will we learn? When will the suffering end?)
So, in conclusion, suits are stupid.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Life of Crime, Unpunished


Comic books were a big part of my childhood, and Cyclops was always one of my favourites. He had the ability to shoot crimson beams out of his eyes. They weren’t lasers; they sort of packed a heavy kinetic punch, like ramming a semi into whatever they hit. Pretty cool. Cyclops was just one of a gang of superpowered dudes and dudettes, so everyone accepted his abilities, and no one was blown away by flying, mind-reading, changing shape, or teleporting.
But in our world, no one can do any of that stuff. (Or so scientists would have us believe.) So just what could a superhero get away with if they were the only one?
Take my old pal Cyclops, or someone with similar abilities. Assume a person walks into a bank. They open their eyes and blow the bank vault door a hundred metres through the wall, then help themselves to all the money they could carry. The whole process would take about thirty seconds, so he’d be long gone before the police could arrive, and I don’t know about your bank, but I don’t think the local security is really up to dealing with “Eyebeam Guy.” There are a dozen witnesses. Even the cameras have detailed footage.
Eyebeam Guy will almost certainly get arrested. Let’s assume he’s clever enough to realize that being caught with a bag emblazoned with a giant dollar sign (do banks still use those?) will be a dead giveaway so he’s stashed his loot somewhere safe. In a hole he’s dug in the woods, let’s say. Somewhere the police won’t find it.
So they drag Eyebeam Guy in to jail and his arraignment. Let’s say the judge decides there is enough evidence to go to trial. We’ve got witnesses, video, it’s an open and shut case.
Then they go to trial. Ah, here’s where Eyebeam Guy will shine. His lawyer will point out that a jury of his peers (in this case other normal people, since there aren’t any other superheroes about) must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Eyebeam Guy committed the crime of which he’s accused. Reasonable doubt. That phrase is going to let Eyebeam Guy go free.
You can’t force him to shoot something with his power so that the jury can see the mess he can make of an innocent Buick. So what is the case left with? “This guy came into the bank, blew the vault up with his eyebeams, then stole money.” They’re going to get stuck on the “eyebeam” part. The rest might be entirely plausible, but the eyebeams are a pivotal part of the case.
If you were on that jury, would you convict? Eye-witnesses are notoriously unreliable and videotape can be faked - and wouldn’t you assume it had been if you saw the prosecution play something as ridiculous as a fellow blasting his way through steel with red lights from his eyeballs? Isn’t is “reasonably doubtful” that someone could rob a bank that way?
So Eyebeam Guy gets set free. He can now retrieve his ill-gotten gains and cackle his way to a life of wealth and leisure.
The real question I have is: How many times can our fictional villain get away with committing a crime before Joe Average jurist finally believes? It would be an interesting experiment, and I fully encourage any hidden Eyebeam Guy out there to start it up. Please email me the results. Just don’t come to my house.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Hero


For most of my life I never had the comfort of having a personal hero. Someone to look up to, someone to idealize, someone who could provide an example of morality and behaviour that would guide me through a troubled life. This morning, that changed.
Say hello to the Nyerges couple of Naples, Florida. Yes, my new hero is an American couple. On the surface they may seem like average, everyday people, but inside they are possessed of mythical courage and Herculean strength. For fans of the Daily Show, what they have accomplished will be old news. For the rest, read on, and shudder in awe.
Warren and Maureen Nyerges bought their house in 2009 from Bank of America. They paid cash. Earlier this year they received a notice of foreclosure from good ol’ Bank of America, which is a little baffling, as a home paid for in cash generally, gee, I don’t know, HAS NO MORTGAGE. Warren started placing phone calls to the bank, confused at first, then slowly becoming outraged. He sent a certified letter explaining the situation. After two months, the bank had not backed down from their position, so they hired a lawyer, Todd Allen. This guy was not some high priced killer; he was a rookie, and the only one they could find to take their case (it was very “Philadelphia,” really, only no one was gay, so far as I know).
Since Todd was pretty new to the whole “lawyer” business, he might have been forgiven for having the chutzpah to take on the largest bank in the States. Two months later, the foreclosure was quietly dropped.
Here’s where the story gets awesome. The Nyerges wanted their expenses (ie, lawyer fees) covered by Bank of A. Would can blame them? I mean, honestly, in the States, they should have sued for “emotional trauma” and they’d have probably gotten ten million. Instead they just asked for, and received, a judgment compelling B of A to repay 2500 bucks in lawyer fees.

Which the bank promptly refused to do. Just to put this into perspective, B of A made more than $3 BILLION in 2010. That means the Nyerges were asking for 0.00000083% of what the bank had made last year. That’s the same as earning $100 grand a year and then refusing to pay a bill that totaled one penny. “Jerks,” I think, is a mild version of what that would make them.
So what can be done? Most would say “nothing.” Maybe sue them again? Instead, these people obtained a court order of foreclosure and two sheriffs, brought along a moving van and repo men, and presented the local branch of Bank of America with an ultimatum: give us the money, or we’re taking your stuff.
And the bank finally gave up what it legally owed, handing over a cheque right there. (I would have held out for cash in a snazzy briefcase, myself.) Score one for the little guy. When was the last time you gave one back to your bank? This victory must be even more sweet for an American after the umpteen homes that banks have snatched back in the last years. A nice, clear-cut hero wins out over a greedy villain.
After my natural high at hearing this tale faded, I got to thinking. What was it they said at the very start? The couple had paid cash for their home, buying it outright from Bank of America. That meant the house must have been foreclosed on at some point in the past. Which meant that the Nyerges had only been able to buy their house at all because of someone else’s misfortune. That they lurked around, vulture-like, until their Dream Home was lost by some poor fool so they could swoop in and claim it. And they paid cash. Cash! A lot of families can’t pay for groceries cash, much less a house. So this isn’t a tale of “poor guy beats rich guy.” Instead, it’s “rich guy beats richer corporation.” Sure, Todd Allen showed some serious stones by trying to foreclose on a bank branch, but the fact that all the parties in this story have fat bank accounts taints the whole thing.

Damn. So much for heroes. I guess I’m still on the look-out. (Still a pretty cool story though.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Schadenfreude

The Germans have a word for everything. Yes, this post is about pleasure enjoyed at the misfortunes of others. It is not an enlightened emotion, nor evolved. Nevertheless, I can't deny that I am experiencing it at the moment. My feeble justification for it is that this is a misfortune that could have been easily avoided and is being experienced by the smugly arrogant.


To my delight, the United States of America has had their credit rating reduced. For a long time they have enjoyed a triple-A rating. S&P has dropped them by a single step for "AA+" and warns that if they don't get their collective financial heads out of their arses, they're likely in for another drop within the next two years. (I'm paraphrasing: S&P never said "head out of arse" but it has a better ring to it than "eliminate Bush-era tax cuts and reduce entitlements.") Basically the "greatest country in the world" has been lumped in with such minor entities as Belgium, New Zealand and Spain. One more step down, and the good ol' US of A will be tied with Slovenia! Ah, such a giggle that would give me.


(I have nothing against Slovenia, Belgium, or any of the other fine nations currently enjoying a credit rating of AA or AA+, but just as the US hates to be beaten in sports by anyone else, surely it must burn that they are no longer in the top percentile of the credit rating game.)


Not only has the US been downgraded, but their projected outlook is listed as "Negative." Canada, on the other hand, is still swimming Scrooge McDuck style in its pool of "Stable Triple-A." Good times. So who else is currently ahead of the US in the "faith of money" standing? Quite a few, actually, including Australia, the UK (go Commonwealth!), Luxembourg and France. That last one must really sting, since the US has had many decades to develop its contempt for France (basically since the French helped the US win their independence).


France is at least a nation with a large, diverse economy. Not so Luxembourg. The whole place is only 2500 square kilometres! They are now considered to be more likely to repay their debts than the most powerful nation in the world.


Of course, Luxembourg doesn't start wars halfway across the world in a vain attempt to root out terrorists that they themselves helped to create. You can save quite a few bucks every year by avoiding that. I know my household budget has been a lot more stable since I've called back all the minions I had occupying my neighbour's place (they had a pool, and who wouldn't want a pool?).


No other country in the world has been granted such a wealth of land, natural resources, and diverse population. With all the gifts the US has been given, it should have been the simplest thing in the world to become not only the most powerful, but the best in truth rather than just in their tired imaginations. Really, way to throw it all away, guys. Well done.


Will this credit rating hit compel them to mend their ways? Almost certainly not. After all, the US has never been worried about what other people think of them, or they wouldn't have done half the things they've done. No, they'll carry on, blithely unaware that they might be living in the last days of Rome. The "barbarians" are at the gate, just waiting to knock #1 down.


Oh, wait. Not Number One anymore. Now you're tied for second, America.


**EDIT** Not two hours after I posted this, the US Secretary of the Treasury went public with comments indicating that European governments need to get their "fiscal house" in order to provide a financial backstop for economies under pressure. In other words, he's blaming Europe for not being prepared to deal with American screw-ups. Clearly my prediction that they will learn nothing has been proven accurate. So sad.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Manitoba Museum

Took the family (or they took me, depending on how you look at it) to the Manitoba Museum and Science Gallery this weekend. What a great place. First of all, it is a terrific idea to be open Sundays and holidays. Thank you! There were hardly any people in the Science Gallery, compared to the last time we were there, when you had to wait as part of a mob to use certain exhibits. Maybe it was because it was a holiday long weekend and every “good Manitoban” was out at the lake. Or maybe it’s because we parents lack the ambition to drag our kids somewhere they might accidentally learn something while having fun. I don’t have statistics to back either stance up.
However, the Manitoba Museum is still relatively new to me. Not the facility or the exhibits, some of which haven’t changed drastically in thirty years at least, considering I remember them from when I was dragged through there as a kid. No, it’s the name that’s new.
I’m not sure what year they changed it, but when I was growing up (and for a good while after), it was the Museum of Man & Nature. At some point well after feminism got good and rolling, it became vogue to eliminate any reference to “man” and replace it with something more gender-neutral. So the “Museum of Man & Nature” became the “Manitoba Museum.”
(As an aside, how many nerds out there remember when the classic Star Trek quote was changed? “Where no man has gone before” became “where no one has gone before,” and nerds either wept in gender-equality-fueled joy or howled in outrage at the destruction of a classic.)
I fully support equal rights. Not just for women, but for basically every single person out there who gets crapped on because they aren’t the kind of “same” that society currently accepts. Discrimination is stupid, short-sighted, and narrow-minded in the extreme. I just fail to see why we can’t accept that one of the meanings of the word “man” is “the human race.” It’s even in the dictionary; look it up. Using “man” as a descriptor to indicate all of humankind isn’t automatically sexist. Will we go through Shakespeare and find/replace “man” with “human?” Do the same with basically anything written before 1950?
As a male, it is difficult to comment on issues of feminism without immediately being asked “What the hell do you know about a woman’s suffering?” However, from a strictly descriptive viewpoint, “Museum of Man & Nature” is a lot better than “Manitoba Museum.” The latter would be acceptable if there were only one kind of museum, but there isn’t. Manitoba Museum is vague, and therefore unsatisfactory. The place could easily be about Manitoba’s history only.
Then there is the aesthetics of it. I remember when this issue first came up, one of the options being tossed around was “Man and Mother Nature.” I am glad they avoided that misguided attempt to achieve equality. It makes it sound like we’re about to go on a tour of Gaia rather than a learning expedition of science and history. Maybe it’s because my ears are also male (pesky Y chromosome), but “Museum of Man & Nature” sounds better than “Manitoba Museum.” And isn’t the latter name just as bad? MANitoba? How did they miss that one? We may as well be calling our province “Phallica” and Winnipeg “Penisville.” Well, no more!
In honour of the family’s rediscovered solidarity towards the plight of logical absurdity, we pledge to refer to our home province only by its new, gender-neutral name, and encourage you to do the same. From this day forward, we no longer live in “Manitoba.”
We are citizens of “Humanitoba.” Say it with pride.