Saturday, May 24, 2008

The New Indiana Jones Flick

I took my daughters and mother to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull today. Bottom line is that it was good, but disappointing. I did not let my expectations get too high, but I still left the theater thinking it could have been a lot better than it was. Spoilers will follow below, so read no further if you have not seen the movie and do not want any details revealed...

Spoilers coming! You have been warned.

There were a few things that really bugged me.

  • Yeah, Indy is supposed to be one tough mother, but did they really need to have him surviving a freakin' nuclear blast by climbing into a fridge?
  • Indy's son as Tarzan. Ugh, that was bad.
  • The MacGuffin in this one was pretty weak, even compared to the Sankara Stones from Temple of Doom. I didn't have a problem with the aliens per se, but more with the handling of them. They revealed it too early and showed way too much of them, not to mention going into the scientific babble about "interdimensional" and such. How is that Spielberg and Lucas go from three films revolving around a mystical, unexplainable, unnatural phenomenon to pseudo-science?
  • Karen Allen reprising the role of Marion was great except for the fact that her character was weakly written and lacked much of the spunk she had in the first.
  • It just seemed to be lacking something.

It certainly was not a bad film. I'll buy it when it comes out on DVD, but I'm not going to rank it as good as Raiders or Crusade. It might not even be quite as good as Temple of Doom, although the lack of a shrieking Kate Capshaw is a huge point in its favor. It also gets points for angering the Russian Communist Party. You know a movie can't be all bad if authentic Russian Commies are up in arms about it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Circus in Texas

So, an appeals court has thrown out the state's case for removing the 400+ FLDS kids from their homes citing that the state had failed to prove that the children were in "imminent danger." This is not surprising and, I think, the right decision. It was ludicrous of Texas authorities to turn one or two allegations of abuse into an excuse for removing hundreds of children from their homes. It's hard to see the state being motivated by much other than fear of a group that isolated itself and practices a religion that is in many ways very different from mainstream Christian beliefs. I disagree with many of the FLDS practices, but I have to say I felt for the parents when I saw them on TV pleading for their kids.

If there are allegations of abuse, then Texas authorities need to investigate those specific claims and not turn it into a witch hunt. But these are the people that elected a gun to the Senate, so how much can you expect from them?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Writing Competition

So, I signed up to participate in an informal writing competition over at EN World, a site dedicated to role-playing games especially D&D. There are no prizes other than bragging rights, but it offers a chance to hone my writing skills and have some fun.

The way it works is that you are paired off against someone in each round. Each bracket is given four pictures chosen by the judges and you have 72 hours to write a story driven by the pics. There is no minimum or maximum length; the only requirement is that you must use all four pictures and they must be a meaningful part of the story, not a throw-away piece. The judges decide which story they like better and the winner advances to the next round to do it all over again. It goes like that until the final round in which the final two have six pictures to write about in the 72 hour time span.

This is the first time I have participated and it is intense. I turned my story in just minutes before the deadline and most of the second half was written in the hour previous. I wasn't completely happy with it, not that writers are ever happy with their work even when they have years to work on a piece. I got some positive feedback from the judges and I am advancing to the next round, but mostly because my opponent turned in his piece half-finished and very late. There are some good writers in the group and a few previous competitors. Still, this first round gave me some confidence, so we'll see how it goes.

If you are curious, here are the pictures I had to use. And here is the story, I wrote. Comments and criticism welcome, of course. Just remember it was written in 72 hours and I have not revised it since.

UPDATE: Fixed story link.

The College Dilemma

College is for everyone, right? If only we could find a way to make it affordable for everyone, then every American could get a four-year degree and peace and prosperity would abound. I'm sure it's that easy, but a college professor writing a piece for The Atlantic disagrees.

I work at colleges of last resort. For many of my students, college was not a goal they spent years preparing for, but a place they landed in. Those I teach don’t come up in the debates about adolescent overachievers and cutthroat college admissions. Mine are the students whose applications show indifferent grades and have blank spaces where the extracurricular activities would go. They chose their college based not on the U.S. News & World Report rankings but on MapQuest; in their ideal academic geometry, college is located at a convenient spot between work and home. I can relate, for it was exactly this line of thinking that dictated where I sent my teaching résumé.
The bursting of our collective bubble comes quickly. A few weeks into the semester, the students must start actually writing papers, and I must start grading them. Despite my enthusiasm, despite their thoughtful nods of agreement and what I have interpreted as moments of clarity, it turns out that in many cases it has all come to naught.

Remarkably few of my students can do well in these classes. Students routinely fail; some fail multiple times, and some will never pass, because they cannot write a coherent sentence.

He continues.

There seems, as is often the case in colleges, to be a huge gulf between academia and reality. No one is thinking about the larger implications, let alone the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass. The colleges and the students and I are bobbing up and down in a great wave of societal forces—social optimism on a large scale, the sense of college as both a universal right and a need, financial necessity on the part of the colleges and the students alike, the desire to maintain high academic standards while admitting marginal students—that have coalesced into a mini-tsunami of difficulty. No one has drawn up the flowchart and seen that, although more-widespread college admission is a bonanza for the colleges and nice for the students and makes the entire United States of America feel rather pleased with itself, there is one point of irreconcilable conflict in the system, and that is the moment when the adjunct instructor, who by the nature of his job teaches the worst students, must ink the F on that first writing assignment.

The whole article is fairly damning of the current system. The anonymous professor says that we need to make vo-tech degrees more valuable and move away from the notion that everyone including the "people who run the boilers" need to have a four-year college degree because some people just are not cut out for it.

It is not demeaning to anyone to say this. We often have a tendency to conflate equality with sameness. We may all be equal in that we are all humans beings and American citizens, but the notion that we are all equally capable of all tasks is absurd and illogical. Each of us is different and has different talents and aptitudes. We should all have the opportunity to pursue higher education, but the notion that one must have it to attain even a minimally paying job is absurd. A high school education or a technical degree should be sufficient for a wide variety of decent paying jobs that can support a person. That's not to say that these people should make the same as someone who does get a four-year (or more) degree, only that they shouldn't feel a need to go to college in order to get a job that really shouldn't require it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hillary Whines About Sexism

Clinton says that the media has not been reporting the rampant sexism she has had to deal with.

...Hillary Clinton said sexist attacks on her campaign have been "deeply offensive," and sharply criticized the press for not raising the issue.

"There should be equal treatment of the sexism and the racism when it raises its ugly head," Clinton told the Washington Post in an article published in the paper's Tuesday edition. "It does seem as though the press at least is not as bothered by the incredible vitriol that has been engendered by the comments by people who are nothing but misogynists."

"…I believe this campaign has been a groundbreaker in a lot of ways. But it certainly has been challenging given some of the attitudes in the press."

Stay calm, Hillary. Someone's on it...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Weekly Music Video

The Pretenders - "Brass in Pocket"

Nutrition Info

You learn all sorts of things about various foods once you get diabetes because paying attention to what you are consuming is critical for controlling the disease. So, I learned yesterday that Diet 7-Up has zero carbs. Carbohydrates are the big thing I have to be aware of because no matter what sort of carb it is, your body converts it to sugar to use. Now over the past year or two I have cut way back on the amount of carbonated beverages I consume. Now I have a can or two every few months instead of every day as it used to be.

Anyway, I do like to drink something other than water every now and then. I have to be careful of juices because most have quite a bit of sugar. At the store getting Pepsi for my mom I happened to see a 2 liter bottle of Diet 7-Up on the shelf. Curious, I checked the label and it does not have any carbs. I bought it and found that despite the "diet" on the label, it tastes all right.

I won't be drinking it all that often, but it is nice to know that I have a good alternative when I feel like it.

Weekly Secret

Two that struck me this week.