Thursday, January 29, 2015

Random Thoughts

So, for one reason or another I haven't blogged much lately. In order to maintain the illusion that I actually have a blog, here are a few semi-random thoughts (I keep a word document open and jot them down as they come):

-Is it really necessary for companies to reiterate that they don’t discriminate based on sex, race, etc? I mean, it’s illegal to discriminate that way, right? Doesn’t self-identifying as an equal opportunity employer just amount to “We do not openly flaunt a law that’s been in place for half-a-century”? I suppose you could also say “we do not engage in insider stock-trading, money laundering, fraud, or slave-trading.”   

-We sometimes hear from our intellectual betters that such and such a crime is the fault of 'society.' Well, in the first place, "Society" only means "Other People," so saying that a given crime is 'society's fault' is only a more sophisticated way of saying that it's someone else's fault. In some cases that may even be true, but it's hardly nuanced.

-In the second place, for a crime to be society's fault, in the sense that the criminal himself carries no blame for it, that would require that we have no free will, but be completely guided by social influences. But, if that's true, than none of our actions have any moral character at all, and hence there is no such thing as 'fault' to begin with. So, either crime is the fault of the criminal who commits it, or there is no such thing as 'fault' at all. In any case, blaming 'society' is disingenuous.  

-People like to say that taxation is theft. It's not, though; Taxation means paying for the goods and services which the government provides, such as a common currency, law-enforcement, the military, infrastructure, and so on. The problem comes when taxes are charged for things that fall outside the scope of a government's duties, or when the government overcharges for the services provided. If you hire a plumber to fix your sink, you don't want him to try to tune the piano while he's there, especially not if it's going to double your bill and certainly not if he's completely tone-deaf.

-Modern Liberalism is basically the act of blowing out a candle and then cursing the darkness. When someone suggests that they shouldn’t have blown out the damn candle, the liberals answer that candles are evil, since each person can create their own light. Point out that no, they can’t, and they’ll say they would be able to if only people like you weren’t holding them back.

-There are always alternatives to violence. The difficult part is getting both sides to agree on which alternative to use, especially when the options include things like “stand still and let me kill you” or “shut up and do as I say.”

-The phrase “I find that offensive” has almost no meaning whatsoever in a world where some people find The Chicago Manual of Style to be personally offensive.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Oscar Ramblings

Academy Award Nominations are out! And they look even lamer than last year’s.
Not that I expected any better, of course. Hollywood these days seems, by and large, to resent the fact that it has to cater to us unwashed, small-minded Neanderthals in Middle America. Which, oddly enough, are the exact words we like to use to describe them. Funny how that works out.

Here are the Best Picture Nominees:
"American Sniper"
"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"The Imitation Game"
"The Theory of Everything"

Hands up: who has seen any one of those?

I admit, most of the nominees are films I’ve either never heard of or only have vague notions of. For instance, I seem to remember hearing positive things about Birdman, but I have no idea why it seems to have captured the hearts of the Academy, though that makes me suspicious. And thus I realize that we’ve reached the point where an Academy Award nomination actually makes me doubt a film’s quality. That’s a new low.
The rule seems to be that any film that deals with racial issues or homosexuality (in completely standard, approved, and unquestioning ways, of course) are automatic nominees. Then there has to be at least one strange, off-beat picture (two this time: Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, if I understand them correctly), and preferably a piece about the War on Terror. Feminist tales and anti-Christian pieces are also popular.
Note that these films and the runners-up can also be used to provide the acting and directing categories. If there’s a really notable performance that year, you can throw it in, preferably under ‘Supporting Actor,’ but you should try not to.
If it is at all possible, be sure to keep any movie that was in any way popular with audiences off the list. The peons need to know their place and can’t be allowed to get the idea that the entertainment industry exists to serve them. No, no; your purpose is to instruct, and so the Awards should go to whatever film has the best lesson for the little swine.

Back in the day, the Film Industry knew that it was entertainment; minstrels, basically, or jesters or, at best, the court artisan serving the public. It hadn’t yet learned to resent the fact that it was expected to make movies that audiences enjoyed. Before any of you snobs or wannabes jump in, that doesn’t mean ‘light and frothy popcorn pictures.’ It means what it means: movies are entertainment first, art if they’re very good entertainment. Back then, a romantic comedy filled with witty, yet slightly rambling dialogue like It Happened One Night could sweep all four top categories. Or you could have a zany comedy like You Can’t Take It With You walk away with Best Picture, or a gigantic spectacular production like Ben Hur, or an intimate religious drama like A Man for All Seasons. The Academy rewarded films that were good as films, not because they were the ‘right kind’ of ilms
There’s still some of that left; the Academy can only give the one-fingered salute to its audience so many years in a row before people stop watching. So, occasionally, a worthy film like The Lord of the Rings or The King’s Speech will walk away with Best Picture. Or a truly mesmerizing performance will force their hand, and Heath Ledger will earn a posthumous nod, even though he was in a retched comic-book movie which audiences actually liked (honestly, and this may sound kind of mean, but I think that if it hadn’t been for his sudden death he probably wouldn’t have won. It would have been another Sigourney Weaver in Aliens situation: “Well, we can’t ignore him, but…” To be clear, that’s an indictment of the Academy, not Ledger’s performance). 
Anyway, moving down this year's list, I was disappointed that Godzilla didn’t get any nominations: I would have pegged it for  special effects, cinematography, and, especially, sound (as far as I’m concerned, there is no way that it shouldn’t have been nominated for Sound Design, just for the updated roar alone. Honestly, I think the technical awards are just distributed by Academy members quickly scanning a list of big-budget films that came out the past year and drawing their names out of a hat).
                More importantly, the fact that The Lego Movie wasn’t nominated for Best Animated Film is nothing short of a crime. Especially since they had to then fill in the gaps with Song of the Sea (huh?) and The Tale of Princess Kaguya (…you made that one up!), not to mention the from-what-I-can-tell mediocre How to Train Your Dragon 2 and the lame The Boxtrolls. My only guess is that the live-action sections disqualified it, in which case…oh, screw you, Academy! Anyway, Big Hero Six had better win or else…well, since you have no credibility left, you’ll sink even further into Minus Land and sooner or later the Gnoolies will get you. So there.
Update: “Fury over the fact that all Oscar nominees are white.” Some people are apparently getting upset over the fact that all the acting nominees this year are white.  
My response: That’s your takeaway!? Not “who even saw these movies, and does anyone give a damn about any of them?”
Okay, first of all, grow the hell up, people! Most of us got over throwing tantrums when we weren’t always included in everything by the time we graduated from kindergarten.
Second, the Oscars are, ostensibly at least, awards for ‘outstanding achievement in different categories of filmmaking.’ Personally (and leaving aside the question of the merits of this year’s nominees), I think giving any award or even a nomination for any consideration other than what you judge to be someone’s actual merit is dishonest, despicable, and grounds for your immediate dismissal from position of judge. Please note that when you throw a fit because the Academy apparently didn’t take anyone’s ethnicity into account in forming their list of nominees, you are in fact getting upset because they did the right thing.
Third, considering that the first Black nominee to win was Hattie McDaniel in 1939, I think we can safely say the period of racial discrimination in the Academy is past.
Fourth, if having an all-white slate of nominees is so rare that you’re making an issue of it (apparently, the last time it happened was two decades ago), it’s probably a sign you shouldn’t be making an issue of it.
And fifth, this is perhaps the lamest line up the Academy has had in years, which is saying a lot. Do you really want to be part of that?

Real Update: The above rant has been diminished by the fact that, since writing it, American Sniper received a wide release, became a big hit, and received a lot of posivitive acclaim from honestly-reasonable sounding sources (the fact that the premier opened with a prayer is also a good sign). So, it looks like we might actually have a decent and popular film up for Best Picture this year. Woo hoo.