28 December 2014

Gift sets still available

For those of you who still have some shopping to do, the perfect gift.

27 December 2014

Thumbs up for HER, thumbs down for SAINTS AND SOLDIERS: THE VOID

I recently watched Her and found it to be an excellent and daring movie. Daring, for several reasons. First, the movie, like the wonderful film My Dinner with Andre, spends nearly the entire time with highly static scenes involving dialogue. The plot is also fresh. I'd assumed that it would follow the natural trajectory of human vs. artificial intelligence clash or tragedy but it instead enters uncharted waters.
I actually found the ending quite plausible. The voice of the artificial intelligence also diverges from standard sci-fi tropes. In nearly every case, the artificial intelligence is given either a very artificial voice (as in 2001: A Space Odyssey) or is given a very emotionless voice (like that of Data, in Star Trek). In Her, the voice is, if anything, more sensitive and emotional than we'd expect. Anyway, I fully recommend this if you missed it in theaters.
     I also recently watched Saints and Soldiers: The Void. This is apparently the final movie in a trilogy. (I never saw the first two.)
The film covers a small battle between a group of soldiers who are outnumbered by some German Panzers in a heavily wooded area. Most of the movie is about race relations and a black soldier earning the begrudging respect of several racist soldiers. The plot isn't innovative, although I suppose there's enough there for a passably interesting film. Unfortunately, the acting is, across the board, awful. The few convincing actors have bit parts that last for less than a minute. Give this film a miss.

23 December 2014

Festivus greetings

Another Festivus has passed, many grievances have been aired, and now there's just some major cleaning up to do as I enjoy the remaining break. Happy Festivus to you all!

17 December 2014

Life is easy

16 December 2014

English Vinglish

I recently watched English Vinglish, a feel-good comedy about an Indian woman who wants to learn English so as to win recognition from her children and to gain a sense of empowerment as a woman. The film has some charm but doesn't really go very far past various ethnic stereotypes and woman-tearing-off-the-apron sort of tropes. I must confess that I find Sridevi Kapoor, around age 50 in this film, to be still quite stunning. (I'm afraid I have a penchant for doe-eyed Indian women in their saris.)

13 December 2014

Retrograde amnesia spreads across the U.S.: The disastrous House vote on No. 563

The House just passed a massive $1.1 trillion spending plan that contained a provision, which pretty much follows, word per word, that penned by Citigroup, repealing a key part of the Dodd-Frank Act. The provision enables the big banks to return to using insured deposits and other taxpayer subsidies to gamble in the derivatives markets. People must have a very short memory: this is the very type of business that drove the 2008 financial crisis and destroyed household savings throughout the country. The bill's expected to pass in the Senate. Wall Street has finally found the perfect moment to reshape financial regulation. Obama was telling Democrats to go along with the legislation as the least of potential evils. I don't see why anyone would vote for it. The other accomplishments of the bill? Massive funding to the military and making it easy for people to lose their pensions. Unbelievable! The Republicans against the bill can probably be described as Tea Party types who wanted to bring  the government down to punish Obama and get more concessions. A map of the votes throughout the U.S. is given below:

The Republicans and Democrats who supported the bill are listed below: Republicans voting yes:

Aderholt, R. (R-AL-4) Amodei, M. (R-NV-2) Bachus, S. (R-AL-6) Barletta, L. (R-PA-11) Barr, A. (R-KY-6) Benishek, D. (R-MI-1) Bilirakis, G. (R-FL-12) Bishop, R. (R-UT-1) Black, D. (R-TN-6) Boehner, J. (R-OH-8) Boustany, C. (R-LA-3) Brady, K. (R-TX-8) Brooks, S. (R-IN-5) Buchanan, V. (R-FL-16) Bucshon, L. (R-IN-8) Byrne, B. (R-AL-1) Calvert, K. (R-CA-42) Camp, D. (R-MI-4) Capito, S. (R-WV-2) Carter, J. (R-TX-31) Cassidy, B. (R-LA-6) Chabot, S. (R-OH-1) Chaffetz, J. (R-UT-3) Coble, H. (R-NC-6) Coffman, M. (R-CO-6) Cole, T. (R-OK-4) Collins, C. (R-NY-27) Collins, D. (R-GA-9) Cook, P. (R-CA-8) Cramer, K. (R-ND-1) Crenshaw, A. (R-FL-4) Culberson, J. (R-TX-7) Daines, S. (R-MT-1) Davis, R. (R-IL-13) Denham, J. (R-CA-10) Dent, C. (R-PA-15) Diaz-Balart, M. (R-FL-25) Duffy, S. (R-WI-7) Ellmers, R. (R-NC-2) Fincher, S. (R-TN-8) Fitzpatrick, M. (R-PA-8) Fleischmann, C. (R-TN-3) Forbes, J. (R-VA-4) Fortenberry, J. (R-NE-1) Foxx, V. (R-NC-5) Frelinghuysen, R. (R-NJ-11) Gardner, C. (R-CO-4) Gerlach, J. (R-PA-6) Gibbs, B. (R-OH-7) Gibson, C. (R-NY-19) Gingrey, P. (R-GA-11) Goodlatte, B. (R-VA-6) Granger, K. (R-TX-12) Graves, S. (R-MO-6) Graves, T. (R-GA-14) Griffin, T. (R-AR-2) Grimm, M. (R-NY-11) Guthrie, B. (R-KY-2) Hanna, R. (R-NY-22) Harper, G. (R-MS-3) Harris, A. (R-MD-1) Hartzler, V. (R-MO-4) Hastings, D. (R-WA-4) Heck, J. (R-NV-3) Herrera Beutler, J. (R-WA-3) Holding, G. (R-NC-13) Hudson, R. (R-NC-8) Huizenga, B. (R-MI-2) Hultgren, R. (R-IL-14) Hunter, D. (R-CA-50) Issa, D. (R-CA-49) Jenkins, L. (R-KS-2) Johnson, B. (R-OH-6) Jolly, D. (R-FL-13) Joyce, D. (R-OH-14) Kelly, M. (R-PA-3) King, P. (R-NY-2) Kingston, J. (R-GA-1) Kinzinger, A. (R-IL-16) Kline, J. (R-MN-2) Lance, L. (R-NJ-7) Latham, T. (R-IA-3) Latta, R. (R-OH-5) LoBiondo, F. (R-NJ-2) Long, B. (R-MO-7) Lucas, F. (R-OK-3) Luetkemeyer, B. (R-MO-3) Marino, T. (R-PA-10) McCarthy, K. (R-CA-23) McCaul, M. (R-TX-10) McHenry, P. (R-NC-10) McKeon, B. (R-CA-25) McMorris Rodgers, C. (R-WA-5) Meehan, P. (R-PA-7) Messer, L. (R-IN-6) Mica, J. (R-FL-7) Miller, C. (R-MI-10) Mullin, M. (R-OK-2) Murphy, T. (R-PA-18) Noem, K. (R-SD-1) Nugent, R. (R-FL-11) Nunes, D. (R-CA-22) Nunnelee, A. (R-MS-1) Palazzo, S. (R-MS-4) Paulsen, E. (R-MN-3) Pearce, S. (R-NM-2) Petri, T. (R-WI-6) Pittenger, R. (R-NC-9) Pitts, J. (R-PA-16) Price, T. (R-GA-6) Reed, T. (R-NY-23) Reichert, D. (R-WA-8) Renacci, J. (R-OH-16) Ribble, R. (R-WI-8) Rigell, S. (R-VA-2) Roby, M. (R-AL-2) Roe, P. (R-TN-1) Rogers, H. (R-KY-5) Rogers, M. (R-MI-8) Rokita, T. (R-IN-4) Rooney, T. (R-FL-17) Roskam, P. (R-IL-6) Ros-Lehtinen, I. (R-FL-27) Ross, D. (R-FL-15) Rothfus, K. (R-PA-12) Royce, E. (R-CA-39) Runyan, J. (R-NJ-3) Ryan, P. (R-WI-1) Scalise, S. (R-LA-1) Schock, A. (R-IL-18) Sessions, P. (R-TX-32) Shimkus, J. (R-IL-15) Shuster, B. (R-PA-9) Simpson, M. (R-ID-2) Smith, A. (R-NE-3) Smith, J. (R-MO-8) Southerland, S. (R-FL-2) Stewart, C. (R-UT-2) Stivers, S. (R-OH-15) Terry, L. (R-NE-2) Thompson, G. (R-PA-5) Thornberry, M. (R-TX-13) Tiberi, P. (R-OH-12) Tipton, S. (R-CO-3) Turner, M. (R-OH-10) Upton, F. (R-MI-6) Valadao, D. (R-CA-21) Wagner, A. (R-MO-2) Walberg, T. (R-MI-7) Walden, G. (R-OR-2) Walorski, J. (R-IN-2) Wenstrup, B. (R-OH-2) Westmoreland, L. (R-GA-3) Whitfield, E. (R-KY-1) Wilson, J. (R-SC-2) Wolf, F. (R-VA-10) Womack, S. (R-AR-3) Woodall, R. (R-GA-7) Yoder, K. (R-KS-3) Yoho, T. (R-FL-3) Young, D. (R-AK-1) Young, T. (R-IN-9)

 The following Democrats voted yes:

 Barber, R. (D-AZ-2) Barrow, J. (D-GA-12) Bera, A. (D-CA-7) Bishop, S. (D-GA-2) Bishop, T. (D-NY-1) Brady, R. (D-PA-1) Brownley, J. (D-CA-26) Bustos, C. (D-IL-17) Carney, J. (D-DE-1) Clay, W. (D-MO-1) Clyburn, J. (D-SC-6) Connolly, G. (D-VA-11) Costa, J. (D-CA-16) Crowley, J. (D-NY-14) Cuellar, H. (D-TX-28) Davis, S. (D-CA-53) Delaney, J. (D-MD-6) Dingell, J. (D-MI-12) Farr, S. (D-CA-20) Fattah, C. (D-PA-2) Foster, B. (D-IL-11) Gallego, P. (D-TX-23) Garamendi, J. (D-CA-3) Himes, J. (D-CT-4) Horsford, S. (D-NV-4) Hoyer, S. (D-MD-5) Kaptur, M. (D-OH-9) Kind, R. (D-WI-3) Kuster, A. (D-NH-2) Lipinski, D. (D-IL-3) Lowey, N. (D-NY-17) Maffei, D. (D-NY-24) Maloney, S. (D-NY-18) Matheson, J. (D-UT-4) McCarthy, C. (D-NY-4) Meeks, G. (D-NY-5) Miller, G. (D-CA-11) Moran, J. (D-VA-8) Murphy, P. (D-FL-18) Norcross, D. (D-NJ-1) Owens, W. (D-NY-21) Pastor, E. (D-AZ-7) Perlmutter, E. (D-CO-7) Peters, G. (D-MI-14) Peters, S. (D-CA-52) Price, D. (D-NC-4) Quigley, M. (D-IL-5) Richmond, C. (D-LA-2) Ruiz, R. (D-CA-36) Ruppersberger, C. (D-MD-2) Schneider, B. (D-IL-10) Schwartz, A. (D-PA-13) Scott, D. (D-GA-13) Sewell, T. (D-AL-7) Sherman, B. (D-CA-30) Sinema, K. (D-AZ-9) Wasserman Schultz, D. (D-FL-23)

9 December 2014

Jibbers Crabst

I'm switching religions. I think this guy's got it right.

6 December 2014

100 years of beauty

This is an interesting clip showing (in very rapid succession) how fashion has changed during the last 100 years.

December humor

3 December 2014

Police killed in the U.S. by the numbers

Some interesting numbers on police killed in the line of duty appeared on the Hipcrime website, apparently taken wholly or partly from The Economist or perhaps from this FBI report.

Number of U.S. law enforcement officers killed as a result of criminal acts:

2004: 57
2009: 48
2012: 49
2013: 27

There are 885 thousand law enforcement officers in America, as of 2008 (120 thousand Federal, 765 thousand State/local). That’s a death rate from criminals of 3 per hundred thousand per year. While any death of a policeman in the line of duty is tragic, we need to put this in perspective. For example, 97 firemen died in 2013 in the U.S. Of course this is only part of the story. As would be expected, there was a high number of assaults of police, some of which caused injury.

Number of civilians shot and killed by police:

USA: 409 (in 2012, per FBI, plus one death by “other weapon”)
Japan + Britain + Germany = 8

The U.S. population is 17% larger, but the U.S.police killed 51 times more civilians.

British police fired their guns 3 times in 2012.

(For other data on police killings, check out this Sept. 3, 2014, newspaper article and this August 15th article in the Economist.).

As is always the case when reading numbers like this, one can't help but wonder what it is that makes the U.S. so prone to violence. My guess is that it's strongly linked to the TV shows people watch. In Korea, for example, the TV is filled with sappy (albeit well-written) romances. In Japan, amidst the endless silly quiz-shows full of hyper-feminine giggling women, there are plenty of feel-good shows (the Japanese equivalents of The Waltons). In these countries, violence tends to be portrayed as shocking and highly abnormal. In the U.S. media, Americans get this message that life is violent and that they must therefore also be hype-vigilant and ready to respond violently in any situation.