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So, the Supreme Court might knock down Obama’s health plan which basically mandates the people buy health insurance. The only thing I’ll regret if it happens is that he tried for so little. In fact nobody has the right to health insurance in this country. Health insurance is just a product that a bunch of middlemen make money on. What people have a right to is health care. How else are you going to pursue happiness?

Written by Alan

June 20th, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Posted in New Media Studies


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These are a few thoughts on the 2008 Liam Neeson vehicle Taken:

1. What a piece of crap.
2. How much did they have to pay Tony Gilroy for borrowing all his ideas?

In this film, Liam Neeson is some sort of super-spy who quits his shadowy agency to go live near his estranged daughter in California–I guess shadowy agencies do not allow their agents to live more than 20 miles from Langley, VA while still on active duty.  And if they’re that stuck in the Mad Men era, they also don’t allow flextime or a 4-day workweek.  Anyway, Liam is sort of like an older, more careworn, Jason Bourne.  He walks around with a worried look on his face, like he can’t remember the last 4 digits of his secret Swiss account.  When his daughter recklessly insists on traveling with only a single friend to one of the most dangerous cities known to man — Paris, France — she, of course, is kidnapped by human traffickers, just like he knew she would be.   Then Neeson has to hunt down all the traffickers and kill them.

And that’s not really a spoiler, because even the IMDB tagline says, “They took his daughter. He’ll take their lives” Yeah, I know: it’s subtle.  That’s because the writer and director are both French.

But for anyone who’s interested in seeing this film, the rest of this post is nothing but spoilers. In fact, I’m going to give away the entire plot, so if you haven’t seen it and you care enough about it, you shouldn’t read on. But the spoilers are also here to save you from seeing it, so my advice to you is: read it, ruin it, and go see The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo instead.

You’d think this would have been a great little thriller, but it was actually pretty awful. Probably not “Clash of the Titans” awful, but pretty bad nonetheless. The kidnapping scene itself was decent, pretty tense, difficult-but-exciting-to-follow. But everything else was ham-handed and predictable and, worse, copied directly from the Jason Bourne movies.

In fact I think the title Taken is shorthand for Taken Directly From Jason Bourne. For example, Matt Damon walked around the edge of a building on a too-narrow ledge at a great height? Well then, Liam Neeson has to walk around the edge of a building on a too-narrow ledge at a great height. Matt Damon appears in his enemy’s house and has already secretly taken the bullets from the guy’s “secret” pistol? Liam does the same. Damon has medical knowledge enough to take out his own bullets and give himself anti-infection boosters? Liam has enough medical knowledge to counteract some unspecified drug in a prostitute’s system and bring her back to consciousness. I lost count of all the moments where I came out of the story because of the nagging knowledge that the spooks at Langley had trained Liam’s character by watching Bourne’s films.

Of course in our enlightened age, nobody would make one of those films where all the good guys are paranoid white Americans and all the bad guys have foreign accents (strong accents indicating greater bad-guy-ness).

Oh yes they would. In Taken, the French are white-collar evil (the film is written and directed by French guys, so they know), the Albanians are street-level evil, and the Saudis are viciously, deeply, richly evil. Oh, and rich, non-paranoid Americans are just insipidly and passively evil. And blonde girls are stupid.

Then there’s the dialog. The tin of the proverbial tin ear, is a finely tunable, instrument-grade rare-earth metal compared to the unrefined iron-ore these guys’ ears of are made of. And there’s a clunky framing device where the loving but lunky dad (Neeson) gives his daughter a dime-store karaoke machine while the insipid but wildly wealthy step-dad gives her a horse that will probably be the lead item in next year’s Kentucky Derby. And then there’s the second clunky framing device where the lunky but paranoid and always-right dad (Neeson, still) saves Britney Spears from a knifing so that at the end he can give his daughter the gift of voice lessons with Britney’s voice teacher at Britney’s house; much nicer than that smelly old horse, you betcha.

What felt interesting (in an analytical sort of way) was how it seemed like they knew they were missing the boat on originality and plot, so they thought, well, at least we can raise the stakes — we’ll make this about human trafficking and show how ordinary young girls can be kidnapped and quickly ruined and conditioned into a life of prostitution. Pretty freaking evil, by any standards. And they got that part right — I felt like I was seeing the whole chain of criminal activity that it takes to make human trafficking work.

But you can only shorthand so many plot elements before a film starts to feel more like dictation than drama, and this one felt like it came right off the steno-pad.

Written by Alan

April 26th, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Film

Project for a Trip to Australia

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Moving DayWe leave for Australia on Saturday so, like Susan Sontag creating a project to ready herself for a trip to China, I am trying to locate my inner cobber and get myself into a place where I can be one with the Australian Mind.  With luck, the first few days in Sydney should be a good buffer — Sydney is the most New-York-Like city in the southern hemisphere (though, in fact, it’s more like San Francisco when it comes to it).  I want it to be as much like it was 20 years ago as possible, but with decent coffee.  We’ll just have to see.

Our house being watched over by our excellent friends James and Pia, whose house is being shipped up-hill for them (the attached photo is from yesterday’s move)

Anyway, off we go.  I’ll try to post some pictures or videos along the way.

Written by Alan

October 22nd, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Posted in Personal,Travel

An Inquiry Into The Nature of Mavericks

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Where’s the DJ? He was supposed to cue “Sesame Street”‘s, “Three of These Things Belong Together”.

Three of these things belong together,
Three of these things are sort of the same,
One of these things does not belong here,
Now it’s time to play our game.

And then we guess which item doesn’t belong with the others.

Okay, so we have to do it without the music… let’s see… we have Tom Cruise, as the character Maverick in “Top Gun”, James Garner as Maverick in the 1950s television show “Maverick”, John McCain as, well, this year’s presumptive political Maverick, and a 1972 Ford Maverick.

Tom Cruise: well, he’s called “Maverick”, but he’s a pilot in the most conformist organization in the world, the US Military. Just to get in you have to be good at keeping your shoes clean and your dress uniform pressed. You have to know the dress code and stick to it. You have to salute in the right way under the right circumstances and you’d better learn all that protocol so that it’s not just second nature, but first nature. And he’s a pilot, so he’s got to understand and follow endless checklists and procedures and he has to practice his flying so that he can do the regular stuff with ease and the emergency procedures without panicking. I have a lot of respect for the military and especially for good military pilots. But to function well you have to be the most perfectly machined cog in a very very complex machine. Maverick? I don’t know that the military really has room for mavericks. Let’s see what else we have.

James Garner. I like James Garner and I have a vague memory of him in the television show “Maverick”. He brought something new to the role of the gunfighter/cowboy, a complete reluctance to commit acts of violence, even in a violent and untamed land. He laughed in the face of death, even though they were just Hollywood prop guns, and he always came up with a clever way to outwit the bad guys, usually with his brains rather than the speed of his draw. But the whole premise of his character and the program was that he wandered from place to place, so the story took place in a new location every week. Way to take a stand, muchacho. It’s pretty easy to be flippant and cool when you don’t have to stand your ground for more than 30 minutes (less commercial breaks), so I gotta take off a few Maverick points just for that.

John McCain. Got his start in the navy from his grandfather and his father, both of whom were navy Admirals. His career seems characterized by nepotism, entitlement, self-promotion and recklessness, until he was shot down over Vietnam, captured and held prisoner for 5 years. Once back in the states he dumped his wife who had gained weight and lost her looks in an auto accident, married a rich blonde and returned to a life of nepotism, entitlement, self-promotion and a conservativism. Sorry, I don’t see anything Mavericky here.

Now, the Ford Maverick. What a car. With this design, the Ford Motor Company managed merge the reduced luggage and leg room of a compact automobile with the handling characteristics of a light-duty backhoe. The Ford Maverick stood out in every imaginable way, from a complete lack of crash-worthiness to bad mileage to an array of ill-conceived color options. Like all American cars from the mid-70s, the frame and body were in a race to see which one could rust out fastest. But the Maverick stood out from the crowd with a set of unique cost-cutting measures, like being initially released without a glove-compartment or rear windows that could roll down. This is a car whose sales numbers were finally ruined by the introduction of the Ford Grenada for God’s sake. The 70s and 80s saw some of the worst automotive ideas of the short history of automobiles, but even in this crowd, a truly horrible ideas stand out. Like the AMC Pacer, the Chervrolet Vega and the Ford Maverick.

So, looking at our list of items that may or may not belong together, I guess I have to go with the car as the real Maverick in the crowd. Bad automotive design ideas come and go, but few make it through the aesthetic gatekeepers with so many poor initial decisions intact.

Written by Alan

October 11th, 2008 at 11:01 am

Musical Interlude: Paper Moon

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A little musical interlude. The artist was 10 when it was recorded. The Garageband echo effects were added at the artist’s request (lest you think some fussy, interfering producer went in and messed with it).


Written by Alan

October 9th, 2008 at 5:47 pm

Posted in Personal

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Good Deeds

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I’ve been helping the Good Deed Foundation with their website. What a great bunch of people. They’re really sincere in trying to build conduits between people who can help and the people who need their help, and they’re really good at finding ways to do it.

Have a look and see if you can help out.

Written by Alan

October 9th, 2008 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Personal

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Irrational Exuberance

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A few years ago, during the dot-com boom I bought a house. It was a beautiful, quirky place with two-foot-thick walls made of river stone, perched on a mountainside in the Catskills, just west of Woodstock.

Country homes, it turns out, do not come with an owner’s manual. Worse, nobody near you will own a house like yours. In fact, because country houses — especially old country houses — are often constructed to the Hey! Look What I Found! building specification, it’s generally true that there will be nobody in the entire world with a house like yours. So when something goes wrong you have nothing to which you can compare your house and no one who’s ever seen a house quite like the one you’ve got, or wiring from the days of 8 watt lightbulbs, or a plumbing arrangement quite as baroque as what you have under your floorboards, at least not one that isn’t part of an art installation.

If you live in the suburbs, your house and the house next to yours was built by the same builder, with the same materials. You and most of your neighbors have the same brand of furnace, the same shingles, the same aluminum downspouts, the same water heater, the same porchlight, the same Thermopanes. The concrete for your front walk came off the same truck as the concrete for your neighbor’s driveway. When you take apart your water heater and can’t remember how the filter bracket goes back together, you can knock on your neighbor’s door and ask to look at his water heater to see how to reassemble yours. There’s a sort of neighborliness to all those little boxes on the hillside. There’s a red one, and a green one and a pink one and a yellow one… the only thing you can’t borrow from your neighbor is a spare brick, ’cause his might be a different color.

Not in the country.

In the country every man is an island, and advice about your water heater arrives from your neighboring islanders via semaphore, if it arrives at all. There’s a sort of “well, you could try this…” aspect to home repair in the country. A lot of anecdote, but little instruction.

The other thing I learned about country homes is that any repair that you can’t do yourself will cost $2000. And most repairs you won’t be able to do yourself. So it’s not surprising that, from 1996 until 1999, while everybody else in America was becoming a dot-com billionaire, I was pulling my money out of the stock market in $2000 chunks to do home repair. My Apple stock, bought at $11.50 a share, was sold at $12.30 to reshingle the house. My EMC investment was sold at a loss to repave the driveway, making me the only person prior to the year 2000 meltdown who lost money investing in EMC. Silicon Graphics (hey, don’t laugh, it was once a good company) transformed itself, under my financial stewardship, into a water filtration system, a rebuilt septic tank and some tree work.

In the final face-off, with the score standing at House 9 / Portfolio 2, I was left with $12,000 in the market and a pending bill for furnace and ductwork repairs for $6000 (Remember the $2000 increment rule? This was a three increment job). The $12,000 still in the market was split evenly between two stocks: Sun Microsystems and Manhattan Bagel Company. The question was: which one to keep?

I could drag this out and try to rationalize what I did next, but the clever reader, noticing that Sun Microsystems is still a fairly robust presence in the tech marketplace whereas there doesn’t seem to be any stock trading on any known exchange under the name of Manhattan Bagel Company, has already guessed where my money went. That’s right: Sun Microsystems was just another computer company amongst many (okay, I am going to rationalize it). It could be destroyed at any time by IBM, DEC, Wang or any of the other tech giants (went the logic) but, BUT, people will always need to eat. More than that, who doesn’t like bagels? So I sold Sun and dumped the $6000 into the house. Manhattan Bagel Company motored along for a few more months and then, returning from vacation, where I had cleverly neglected to monitor my stock account, I logged onto National Discount Brokers to find that trading on Manhattan Bagels was discontinued, and the overall value of my stock account had fallen like a V22 Osprey from $6000 at $27, with $26 of that in cash and $1 as a courtsey placeholder for my bankrupt former holdings in Manhattan Bagel.

Looking on the bright side of things, this makes me a sort of cultural leader. Everyone else lost their shirt in March and April of 2000. I lost my shirt — it was more of a singlet, really — in 1998, years before it was the thing everyone was doing.

It was the sort of event that turns men into philosophers and, having a philosophical bent already, I’ve tried to leverage this into the sort of priceless lesson that keeps on giving.

The NASDAQpeaked on March 10, 2000 at 5132. As tech stocks melted down over the following weeks and months, savings were wiped out, retirement accounts disappeared, and a massive number of Aeron chairs were suddenly left to collect dust

, along with uncounted pinball machines and foosball tables. I watched Sun Microsystem’s stock after I sold it, and it went up 10-fold before the crash, meaning that my $6000 would have grown to $60,000 and, had I sold it at its peak I’ve have made a massive profit. But I wouldn’t have sold it. It’s easy to look back and say that I would have spotted the market peak and gotten out while the getting was good. But nobody else did, and I had already shown an eerie ability to make stumpingly bad stock decisions, so I’m sure I’d have ridden Sun into the ground like Slim Pickens riding the atomic bomb in Dr. Strangelove. Yee-Hah!

During the market crash and just afterward, everyone was looking around for where to stick their money. Real estate seemed like a pretty safe bet. What could go wrong there? Mortgages were backed by Fannie Mae, which was solid as a rock, wasn’t it? And then, the very next year a group of Muslim extremists took down the World Trade Center towers, and real estate near, but well outside, the New York City area became very attractive. I sold the country house and land for three times what I’d paid for it, and suddenly all those $2000 home improvement bills started to look like the smartest investment anyone could have made, and I began to feel like a genius again. We bought a bigger country house as we’d now given up our NYC apartment and needed a house with office space. In the new house — and now in the new century — every home improvement exercise is a $4000 bill. But of course every penny you put into a house is going to triple in value, as I’ve already proven. What could go wrong? I’m beginning to feel pretty confident again, and can see that, while a lot of my financial dealings have the appearance of the random and desperate acts of a financial novice, maybe I’m being guided by a deeper sense of what’s real in the market. In other realms of life I’ve always managed to seperate the wheat from the chaff, often intuitively, so why should I regard my financial gains in the real estate market, and my precient ability to avoid most of the problems of the dot-com crash by wisely being out of the market ahead of time?

In fact, I’m thinking it might be time to get back into the market. Most of the losses have happened already. It’s September 2008, and we must be near market bottom now. I’ve got a friend putting new cedar shakes on the house ($4000), so that’s money well invested. Maybe I’ll put a little money into stocks again. I’m thinking Whole Foods. I shop there, and I like the company. They’re stable and growing, expanding into new markets. Besides, people will always need to eat.

Written by Alan

September 17th, 2008 at 12:41 pm

Friday Haiku

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Sensitive artist
Encumbers each word with soul
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck

Written by Alan

September 12th, 2008 at 10:03 am

Posted in Personal

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