Category Archives: Rants

I Guess I Won’t Watch the Olympics, Then

I fenced in college. I enjoyed it a great deal, and still like to think that I would know my way around a foil if one were placed into my hand. When I got home from work this evening, I wanted to watch some Olympic fencing, and revel in the amazing, stabby athleticism of people who are probably embarrassingly superior to me. I went to the NBC website, thinking that that would be my go-to place for Olympic videos. I found a little tab that said “Select Sport” went to “Fencing” and then this abomination popped up:

NBC, I’m trying to watch this on my computer. You know about computers, right? The dominant information-sharing machine of our time? Those? I want to use mine to consume your product. Not a TV. I don’t have a cable provider. I have an ISP. Asking someone to say who their TV provider is before watching something on the Internet is kind of like requiring someone to show proof of horse and buggy ownership before getting into a car. It is utter idiocy. I’d be fine watching ads with my fencing. I would even pay five or ten bucks so I could watch Olympic videos from the NBC site. However, this? This is backward luddite nonsense.

Not that this is a new thing, mind you. I guess I won’t be watching any magnificent dancy/stabby people after all.

Why I Did Not Love The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games movie comes out tomorrow, and so far, it seems to have a pretty good critical reception. I feel kind of left out of the whole Hunger Games mania/excitement. I’m sure I’ll see the movie at some point, but I just can’t get myself worked up into a froth about it, as I was not hugely amazed by the book.

I liked the book. It was diverting and page turn-y. I thought that Katniss kicked way more ass than a certain boy wizard protagonist. I liked the world it was set in. But, I did not love it. It did not rock my world, change my life, or otherwise blow my mind. It was fine and I did not hate it, but I had a few fairly major problems with it. Such as:

It’s not nearly brutal or scary enough. The Hunger Games is ostensibly a book about kids killing other kids. However, the violence in the book was sanitized to a degree that I was never scared of or disgusted by it. There were no instances where I felt pity or horror or sickness at what I was reading, there was no time in which I felt any kind of terror about spurting blood or deadly fights. The vast majority of the action happens away from Katniss and therefore away from the reader, since the book is in first person. If you want the reader to find something horrible (and I’m assuming that that’s Suzanne Collins’ goal) then have to take a page from Upton Sinclair and show them something horrible.

The tributes from the wealthy districts are too clearly the bad guys. It was kind of a cop-out for Collins to make the tributes from the wealthy districts obvious villains. Whether or not they’re favored to win, or whether or not they have training and resources, they are still children who are being savagely manipulated by adults. Collins gives us characters whose deaths we actively hope for, and that undercuts the moral authority of her story.

Despite trying to tell a story about why deathmatches are bad, we still root for Katniss. Collins is trying to illustrate how the Games are a horrible display of power on behalf of the Capital. However, we as readers still hope that Katniss kills people and wins the whole thing, so even though we’re supposed to be deploring the whole system we’re still rooting for a specific outcome within it. That’s a highly uncomfortable position to be in.

Katniss is conveniently absolved of killing anyone other than a “bad” tribute. Throughout the book, Katniss manages to coast by and, despite being surrounded by death, very rarely has to actually get her hands dirty. She kills very few people in close quarters, and Collins lets the “bad” tributes do the dirty work of killing off the more innocent participants. I kept wondering if Rue was going to try to kill Katniss, or vice versa. That would have been interesting, but it never happened. Which reminds me…

Peeta is a loser. Seriously. Katniss should have arrow-ed him in the face. Kind of can’t stand that guy.

And finally…

It’s not as good as Battle Royale. But then, few things are.

In Which I Admit That I Care Somewhat About the Oscars, and Subsequently Rant About My Least Favorite “Best Picture.”

The Oscars are stupid, and we should hate them. Everyone knows that. And yet, everyone keeps paying attention to the damn things, talking about them, and sticking their eyeballs to the television when the whole bloated thing comes on. As much as I like to say “the Oscars don’t matter,” I do have some bit of emotional investment in them in that I enjoy seeing my opinions validated by an external entity, and get sort of miffed when I see awards (or even nominations) going to things I think are crap. This is in stark contrast to, say, the Grammys. I don’t even think about the Grammys. They are utterly external to my experience of music. The Oscars, though- they get in there. As much as we like to pretend otherwise, the Oscars elicit an emotional reaction from a good many movie viewers.

This happens the extent that certain choices by the Academy have filled me with a certain weird rage, making me hate the Oscars all the more and, paradoxically, making me think about and care about them more. This is, of course, highly stupid. Annie Hall, for example beat Star Wars. One of those movies changed movies, culture, and media forever*, and the other one has plummeted into utter irrelevance. Forrest Gump beat out Pulp Fiction. No one watches, talks about, or even acknowledges the existence of the insipidly shallow Gump anymore, but Pulp Fiction is held up as a classic.

So, the Oscars don’t really matter. What gets remembered, what gets talked about, what gets watched- that’s all independent of which movies get little golden men. And yet, I still get worked up into a frothy rage whenever Oscar rewards the “wrong” movie. I rolled my eyes last year when they gave it to The King’s Speech and was very disappointed to see an award go to A Beautiful Mind, which totally sanitized John Nash’s life story. Having Titanic beat out L.A. Confidential was disappointing, but inevitable, and I will concede that Titanic is a Very Important Movie in the History of Cinema.

Absolutely none of those, though, angered me as much as what happened in 2005, when they gave the Best Picture statuette to Crash, and passed up Brokeback Mountain. I hated Crash. Hated it. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated it. Crash was a contrived, simplistic, emotionally manipulative piece of offal. The film, such as it is, is basically Racism is Bad: The Movie and attempts to tell the audience, through a series of interconnected stories in modern L.A., about how racism is bad.

I did not resent Crash for its politics. I utterly agree with its politics. However, the movie expects the politics and the message to do all of the heavy lifting. Crash seems to think, because it’s about an important issue, that it deserves to be a good movie. The characters, though, are contrived, the plot relies on a series of improbable coincidences, and it never really ears the reaction that it expects from the audience. Movies about Big Issues do well when they put a human face on the issues and show us the personal side of why a given controversy is important. Crash, though, seems to think that because it’s about an emotionally charged issue, we’ll automatically empathize with the characters.

When the award went to what is essentially an after school special, I was perplexed and annoyed. Crash, more than anything else, drove me to realize that movies get Oscars less because they are good, and more because they meet certain criteria. I of course knew that before Crash, but seeing that movie win allowed me to grok that truth on a level heretofore unrealized.

All that said, I might watch the Oscars on Sunday, if I’m not doing anything. More likely, I’ll just check Twitter while they’re going on. I don’t really care who wins this year but I do know that if they give it to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I’ll want to break something.

*One of my earliest memories is watching The Return of the Jedi in the back of my parents’ car at a drive in while wearing Superman pajamas. I would also posit that Star Wars mind-warped an entire generation of people like me. Woody Allen, on the other hand, fucked his stepdaughter.

An Open Letter to Joggers Who Jog on Surfaces That Are Not Sidewalks

Dear Joggers Who Jog on Surfaces That Are Not Sidewalks,

Let me first say, that I admire your commitment to fitness and healthiness. I really do. I was a distance runner in high school, and I can say with no uncertainty that getting out there and forcing your body to ambulate forward at an accelerated rate is no easy task. On a regular basis, you must drag yourself from the comfort of sedentary life and out into the hurty world of actually moving about. That choice of activity over sloth is doubtlessly a Good Thing, and you are to be commended for your commitment. What’s more, I understand the runner’s high, and the delight that comes from mortifying the flesh in a healthy manner on a regular basis. Being able to subject yourself to the rigors of Clean Living is both a duty and joy, and for that, you have my respect. So, I get it. I can see where you’re coming from. I’m on your side. That said…

Stay out of my damn bike lane, you huffing-puffing jerkwads.

Really. Stay out of it. Also, stay out of the street. On an aggravatingly regular basis I encounter any number of joggers bobbing along in a bike lane or a street, obstructing the paths of drivers and bicyclists.

Look, jogger-peoples, I can kind of see where you’re coming from. When you’re out there, you like to imagine yourself as a Fast Thing. No mere walker are you. No. You are more like a mighty gazelle or springing hare. Your legs are not mere muscle, but taut cords of purest forward motion. You do not belong in the same realm as those who walk, saunter, stroll or mosey. You belong in the street, with the other Fast Things.

Joggers, there is something you must admit- you go, like, 6mph or something. You are, no matter how zoomy might conceive of yourself, pedestrians. You’re fast pedestrians in tight pants, yes, but you are still pedestrians.

So get out of my damn way, and make room for people like me, bicyclists. Get back on the sidewalk so I have more room to annoy motorists.

Thoughts on End Notes Vs Foot Notes

Right now I’m reading a book that I quite enjoy. It has end notes. The end notes contain citations, so you can see where the author got his information. I’m fine with that. In fact, that’s something I want in pretty much any nonfiction book.

However, the end notes also contain asides and parenthetical remarks on the part of the author. This drives me utterly mad. When I see a very small number in the text, there is no way for me to tell whether or not following it to the back of the book will lead to additional thoughts from the author, or just a citation. Nine times out of ten it’s just a citation that I can ignore for the moment, but every so often it’s additional authorial remarks that I actually want to read. Looking at the main text, though, I have no idea what I’ll find at the back of the book. I just have to look.

I really, really, really, really hate this. It’s annoying, it’s lazy, and (worst of all) it’s an inconvenience to the reader that can be very easily remedied. Citations should be at the back of the book, and marked with end notes. They should be there for the reader, but shoved away into a different clump of pages on not intruding into the main body of text. Authorial asides, however, should be marked with an asterisk or dagger and on the same page as the main text. That way, the reader can easily glance down at them, and not have to futz around in the citation section for other stuff the author might have to say.

It boggles my mind that any book would intermingle authorial asides in with citations. It’s stupid, it’s aggravating, it has an easy solution, and any editor that sends the reader scampering back to the end of the book every half page is an awful human, and should be slapped in the face with a frozen tuna until they recant their various sins against reading.

A special exception can be made for Infinite Jest, though. Infinite Jest is cool.

Against Leaf Blowers: An Invective

Leaf blowers are horrible machines, and I hate them.

Earlier today I exited my apartment and stepped out onto the sunny pavement of Portland’s normally mostly-pleasant North Mississippi. I was on a mission of coffee acquisition. I quite like living on Mississippi- today, like many days, there were many nicely-dressed people ambulating about and enjoying themselves. Cool sunlight illuminated everything, and all was well except for one hideous piece of aural pollution that cut through the daylight like some mixture of a coughing walrus and an unskilled oboist. The sound was coming directly in front of me- there, dominating the avenue with a stream of sound, was a man with a leaf blower. He was wearing protective ear-wear, so presumably the sound was less horrid to him, and before his machine a pile of leaves retreated from the sidewalk and into the street.

Let’s add up the costs and benefits, shall we?

On one side of the equation, leaf blowers make leaves go away. Okay, fine, but we also have rakes and brooms that can do that, so it’s not like they are the only anti-leaf technology that we have. The real benefit of a leaf blower is time. You can make more leaves go away quicker than you can with a broom or rake. So, let’s concede them that benefit.

They also have drawbacks- they are much more expensive than brooms or rakes, so there’s a much higher initial investment. They use gas, and that costs money, and presumably there’s repair and upkeep costs for the owner. They emit exhaust, which harms the environment and presumably the health of whoever is using them. Leaf blowers also have a negative impact on the environment around them, which is something of real value. Commercial and residential real estate’s price is effected by its proximity to noise. A store right next to a loud highway will have much different value than a store next to a nice street like Mississippi.

So, they’re machines that are more expensive that similar technology (brooms) they consume an expensive, finite resource (gas) and they have external negative consequences for the environment around them when it comes to health, environmental impact, and noise. I am willing to bet that the vast majority of leaf blowers do not operate on a scale where the benefits that they confer (time) outweighs their various costs. They are irrational. ugly things, and I want them to go away. When I see someone using one I can’t help but think “why?” and I want to tell them to stop getting their stupid externalies all over me. In other words, leaf blowers not only blow- but they also really, really suck.

PSA: Guy Fawkes Was Kind of a Jerkface

I’ll have a much longer (and more positive) essay/post about Occupy Portland soon, but first I want to allow myself a little mini-rant about something that’s been bothering me.

My fellow disaffected Americans: Can we please stop it with the Guy Fawkes masks? You know the ones I mean. These:

(Also, the whole black bandanna thing is also kind of silly.)

I have a number of gripes with these. They are thus:

1: Guy Fawkes wasn’t a liberal crusader for the rights of the people. He was a Catholic radical who wanted to blow up the English Parliament as part of an elaborate plot to increase the power of the Catholic Church in England. Parliaments (English and otherwise) are places where deliberation and democracy happen. Representatives of the people debate, argue, and generally hash things out in the messy process of legislation and then make laws. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than what the Catholic Church does. That’s an organization where all the rules are made by old celibate guys in robes- hardly a paragon of democracy. Guy Fawkes would have gladly exploded the former to help the latter.

2: He wanted to blow up a goddamn building. That’s not cool. People who want to make London go “BOOM” should not be role models.

3: If we really want protests and popular movements like Occupy Wall Street and its various offshoots to be successful, they have to be persuasive to middle-class Americans. If Mr. and Mrs. Middle class are watching the news at night and they see the protests are populated by a bunch of masked (or bandanna-ed) freaks, they are much more likely to go “pish-posh!” and dismiss the substance of the movement out of hand. However, if they see a bunch of people with whom they identify, they are more likely pay attention the substance of what’s going on.

If you show up looking like a costumed freak with a sign, then lots of people will just see you as a costumed freak. If you show up in normal clothes and a sign, though, then you’re an American with something to say. That’s hardly fair, but it is how things are.

4: V For Vendetta is not Alan Moore’s best work, and the movie isn’t that great. Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Swamp Thing, and even The Killing Joke are all way better. Vendetta’s good (it is Alan Moore, after all) but if we’re going to drag comic book imagery into politics, can it at least be stuff from a better graphic novel?

That is all. I’ll have a more positive post soon.

 

Alyssa Bereznak Doesn’t Know How Dating Works

Some time ago I was interviewing people at Seattle’s Emerald City ComiCon, and talked to a man dressed up as an Imperial officer from Star Wars. I asked him how long it took to reveal his sort of eccentric hobby to a girl he was dating. He said, very quickly “third date.” He’d very clearly thought about it quite a lot, and had a clear strategy for gradually revealing his geeky hobby to prospective romantic partners. Given that the third date seems to now be the customary time at which doin’ it commences, I thought that his strategy seemed pretty sound.

Which leads me to Jon Finkel and Alyssa Bereznak.

Earlier this week Bereznak wrote a deliberately incendiary and hugely unprofessional post on Gizmodo about the “harsh lesson” that she learned from using OKCupid. The “lesson” in question was that her date happened to be a champion Magic: the Gathering player. Bereznak’s problem seemed to boil down to “Jon Finkel is a big nerd, and he should have put that on his profile.”

This whole thing was, I suspect, deliberately designed to provoke nerd rage. The internet has been flooded with angry commentary and opinions about the incident, all of which has directed more eyeball’s to Gizmodo’s page (which I’m not going to bother to link to). This, I’m sure, was their plan all along. The question remains, though: should Finkel have talked about his affinity for Magic: the Gathering on his OKCupid profile?

No- he had no obligation to do so.

When you go out with someone for the first time, you do not necessarily project the totality of yourself. You try to come across as attractive, interesting, and fun, and are projecting a version of yourself that you imagine other people will find likable. This is not necessarily deceptive. Most people with a reasonable amount of emotional maturity know what constitutes appropriate first date conversation/behavior.

First date conversations tend to be things about jobs, friends, hobbies, favorite movies, and other such low-impact topics. You would not, for example, pour out your heart to your first date about deep emotional problems or difficult issues. That would be weird and off-putting. Another thing is that first dates are not depositions. If you don’t really know a person yet, you’re not necessarily under any obligation to tell them every little detail about yourself. You are allowed to keep some things private. This is not deception- this is something that emotionally mature adults should be cognizant of.

This is doubly true for online profiles. Your online self is not you. It is not the sum total of your hopes and dreams and fears. Instead, it’s the version of yourself that you project to the world. Like this:

(Image via the Inquisitr)

When crafting an online profile, cover letter, resume, or even dressing up for a job interview or first date, you try to make yourself look awesome. That is allowed. Part of making yourself look awesome can include not talking about weird hobbies like poodle grooming or competitive macrame. It’s not that these things are necessarily shameful, and after two or three dates it is a good idea to start talking about stuff like this. But, an individual is not defined by their hobbies or pop culture affinities.

Bereznak’s supposed “harsh lesson” is that she learned that Finkel was doing what everyone else on OKCupid is also doing- he made himself look appealing and attractive, and he did not lead with the sort of eccentric fact that he’s a champion Magic player. Instead, during the date he tried to make a first impression with other aspects of his personality.

Online dating can be kind of hit or miss (I’ve been on some bad dates myself) but this is hardly “harsh,” and Bereznak displayed a galling lack of professionalism when she called out Finkel by name. He is not a public figure, so making fun of him in a public forum is not okay.

I hope that Finkel gets lots of good dates out of this, and ends up meeting a sexy nerd lady who smooches his pants off. As for Bereznak, I hope she spends the rest of the year forlornly watching romantic comedies whilst attempting to drown her solitary sorrows in inexpensive boxed wine. Finding out that your date is a nerd or that maybe you don’t mesh with them is not a “harsh lesson” at all. It’s part of being an adult.

Your Scooter is Stupid: An Invective

During the past week, I’ve had a few non-good traffic experiences with scooters. Not terrible, mind you, but small instances that drove home what a colossally stupid machine the scooter is.

Recently my girlfriend’s car was stuck behind one on a sizable road with no passing lane. We had no choice but to follow the puttering thing at a slow and inefficient 30 mph., as it was squarely in the center of the lane and we had no means of going around it.

A few days ago when I was riding my bike to work, I was attempting to merge from a bike lane into a proper lane so I could merge. With cars, this isn’t a problem. However, an obnoxious scooter was right beside me and would neither accelerate nor decelerate in order to let me in. I made a forceful effort of it, passed, him, and got in fine, but there was the brief temptation to go all Ben-Hur and his puny vehicle so I could get myself a spot in the lane.

Lastly, I saw a scooter while waiting for the bus the other day, and it simply looked and sounded dumb, as if a grown man were riding Baby’s First Motorcycle.

The scooter seems to operate in a weird netherworld between bikes and motorcycles, embodying the virtues of neither.

With a bicycle, you get exercise. You can use bike lanes, don’t consume any gas, and produce absolutely no annoying “put-put-put” or “whirrrrrr” sound as you ambulate about the metropolis. Bikes are virtuous, green, and allow their riders a totally deserved measure of smug satisfaction as to why they are Part Of The Solution. Scooters, however, go about as fast as bikes and offer none of the benefits related to the environment or personal fitness.

Motorcycles are awesome. Even though they’re somewhat dumb vehicles, I have a soft spot for motorcycles, and the chrome-plated two wheeled machines would probably be my preferred method of dealing with a hypothetical midlife crisis. I implicitly assume that all motorcyclists are killer badasses, and probably know some weird, messed up way to kill a man using only one’s own left pinkie. Scooters, however, are about as intimidating as a basket of doe-eyed baby otters.

If you’re riding a scooter, the message I get is “I’m too lazy to ride a bike, and too much of a poncy Little Lord Fauntleroy to ride a real motorcycle. I don’t like making physical exertions when I move, and neither do I wish to wear full length man-trousers.”

I know The Who rode them. I know that they were chic and mod and all that back in the sixties. Whatever. They hold none of the virtues of other forms of assisted movement, and for that, they will get nothing but my sneering derision as I pedal past them on my bike.

A Plea For Coat Checks At Portland Music Venues

Dear Every Portland Venue Ever,

Please have a coat check.

We have a fantastic music scene in this city. On any given night of the week, you can rock out for not very much money. The clubs, pubs, bars and venues here are absolutely wonderful, and I’m proud to call the local music scene mine.

Except for the lack of coat checks.

Why? Please, for the love of all that is decent and holy, why doesn’t every single venue in this town have a coat check? I don’t want to dance, gyrate, headbang, and otherwise get crazy in my jacket. I want to do all of that sans-jacket. What’s more, I don’t want to have to worry about my jacket being rifled through while it sits on a bench somewhere. And, even if it isn’t rifled through (I admit this is a remote possibility, actually), there is the potential that some drunken jackhole (and I use the term “drunken jackhole” in the most affectionate way possible) will spill beer on it during the festivities. Just the other I was at the Crystal Ballroom (a magical place) and my girlfriend and I left our jackets on a bench. When we got back to them, after the show, her jacket was somewhat moist. This did not spoil the evening, but it was unpleasant.

So, have a coat check. Please.

It rains here. It is often wet and dark and cold. Crowds of people file into concerts and then have to shed various layers of waterproof gear before venturing out onto the floor of a concert. Oftentimes, piles of discarded jackets litter the sides of concert venues. This is messy, undesirable, and could easily be solved. Each venue could make a tidy bit of money chekcing coats. It is mystifying why you don’t offer this service.

Every Portland venue ever, I implore you: Give me a place to check my jacket. A place where I can stow it safely and not have to think about it’s security, structural integrity, or moisture level while revelries transpire. This is a simple problem with an easy solution.

I love you, Portland Music Scene. A lot. Gobs and bunches, in fact.

However, the lack of coat checks is utterly moronic. Fix it. I will give you all big, appreciative hugs if you do.

Love,

Me