Friday, June 30, 2006

who do i have to kill to find some news?

So ... it's been cheap movie week and I've doused myself in a potent mixture of Dragnet, Under Siege, True Lies, and Robocop 1 & 2 and then lit the match. The things I've learnt:

  1. In the 80s it was compulsory for every cop movie to have at least one scene in a strip club. This may say something about the Reagan/Thatcher psychosocial infection (thank you Dr Bartholomew Wolper) ... or it could just be that 80s directors realised that men get painfully confused unless they see breasts are regular intervals (no, no, it's true. Would I lie to you?). Tom Hanks should go back to making fluffy comedies.
  2. Steven Seagal unfortunately has all the acting skill and emotional range of Stephen Hawking's voice box, but by heck it's a fun film anyway. There's oodles of fighting, AND breasts. Well, just two breasts, but I never was very good at counting my oodles. And for a movie that looks like it was bought and paid for by a Republican black ops team, it has a surprisingly subversive conversation at the end ... when I get a chance I'll transcribe - no bugger seems to have put the script on the net.
  3. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the creepiest goddamn husband I've ever seen. The man diverts covert intelligence resources from hunting for a terrorist who is smuggling ex-soviet MIRV nuclear warheads into the USA hidden inside 3000-year old Persian statues for some fiendish terroristic reason, and instead he devotes those resources to following his wife, whom he suspects of having an affair with a used car salesman (Bill Paxton, channelling Hudson). Said terrorists end up nuking an island in Florida. Arnie blackmails his wife into dirty dancing for what she thinks is a voyeristic spy (instead it's voyeristic Arnold, face hidden by an incredibly dark and convenient shadow, even though the rest of his body is perfectly recognisible). No wonder his daughter is a budding thief ... And, in a cruel twist of fate, we never get to see Tia Carrere's breasts. Still, the scene when the Harrier Jumpjets blow up the Florida causeway is pretty nifty.
  4. Robocop is a comedy. A violent, dystoptian comedy, but half a laugh riot nonetheless. C'mon, I dare you not to laugh when, after ED209 has pumped 60 high calibre rounds into a luckless executive's twitching and mutilated body, Dick Jones (my god, they called the guy Dick Jones!!) says "I'm sure it's only a glitch. A temporary setback." Classic. Heck, every scene with ED209 is played for laughs - he's a direct descendent of every drunken falling robot from the AT-ATs in Empire Strikes Back to the ... um, AT-STs in Return of the Jedi. Which just shows you where the 3 prequels went wrong - a distinct lack of drunk, falling robots. Except in the beginning of Revenge of the Sith with the ball-bearings, but man, that was just plain silly. If you can't take your comedy seriously, you shouldn't be out playing with an inflatable bobble stick.
  5. Speaking of The Empire Strikes Back, who the hell knew that Irvin Kershner, the man who made Lucas's script human, directed Robocop 2? Or that Frank Miller wrote the screenplay? Well, now you know.

You always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask:
What's the deal with stigmata?
Do copper bracelets ease pain?

Slimey Lawyer: Attempted murder? It's not like he killed someone ...

- Robocop, 1987

NB: Title of this post shamelessly stolen from Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan. When I steal, I steal from the best. AND the least likely to sue me!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

the frogs of war

Puppets Who Kill

Yep, I had to go change my pants too.

Bill the bloodthirsty ventriloquist dummy, Buttons the sexually hyperactive corporate mascot, Cuddles the foul-mouthed comfort doll and Rocko the con-artist plush puppy, all being looked after in a half-way house by a (human) social worker named Dan.

I mean, c'mon, how can I lose with quotes like this?
Rocko: I'd have to say I'm a breast man, myself.
Buttons: Ohhh, c'mon, it's the ass all the way.
Bill: I've always been partial to the torso and if there's a head attached, so much the better.
Inevitably when I actually get the DVD I'll be horribly disappointed, but in the meantime I bask in the warm glow of foolish hopes.

Monday, June 19, 2006

oh the humanity!

I really should be excited about Transformers. Okay, I'm not a true believer and my transformers-loving phase as a child was relatively short, but the simple fact is: Giant Robots rock. Giant Robots that Transform into cars and trucks and planes and shoot each other with large laser cannons are even better than rock. And CGI as at the point where it is definitely feasible to have a live action Giant Robot film without it looking stupid.

So why aren't I excited?

Well, I took a look on IMDB - and warning bells started going off, followed by a four-alarm klaxxon, the one you usually hear just before Soviet paratroopers start falling out of the sky because those limp-wristed liberals kowtowed to the Satanic Russkies and took their finger off the nu-kleeer trigger.

Director: Michael Bay. Director of The Island, Bad Boys I & II, Armageddon, Pearl Harbour, The Rock ... and Lionel Richie's "Do it to me" music video. Now, I liked the Rock, and The Island was okay in bits (those bits weren't necessarily coherent mind you), and Bad Boys might be okay on a rainy day ... but Armageddon and Pearl Harbour were both shit of the highest order. In Pearl Harbour I was rooting for the Japs, and not because I'm a rabid America hater (I start feeling patriotic during the President's speech in Independence day for Christ's sake! I'm a sucker!) - they just seemed competent and smart and motivated ... compared to the good guys. But I maybe I could look past Michael Bay, it is a Giant Robot movie after all, not high art. But then we come to ...

The Writers:
John Rogers. Who wrote the screenplay for Catwoman. And The Core. And episodes of ... the Cosby Show. Sigh.
Roberto Orci - all he seems to have written is episodes of Alias. He also gets a credit for Mission Impossible III, which was a reasonable film (not as good as MI 1, ten billion times better than MI 2). But he's also down for The Island, so something can't be right ...

Ray of hope: I can't see any big names in the cast list so far, which is a good sign. The only names I recognise: Bernie Mac (??), John Turturro and Jon Voight. John Turturro, for one, is classy actor, by any measure a busy man (72 acting entries on IMDB, 95% movies, starting with Raging Bull. He was "Man at table"). Most people probably remember him from O Brother Where Art Thou, or Secret Window, or even Do the Right T
hing. But I remember him best for playing the alternately sneaky player/pathetic weasel Bernie Bernbaum in Miller's Crossing. I know I've waxed lyrical about the film before so I won't bore you again. But if you haven't seen it for sweet zombie jesus's sake tell me and I'll lend it to you.

Coitus Interruptus over: We've got a year to hope they'll get Transformers right. In the meantime, sate your Giant Robot hunger with The Iron Giant. Possibly the best work ever from each of Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr and Vin Diesel - and even I've been known to get a lump in my throat at the ending, which means the rest of you pansies will blub like fire-hoses.

EDIT: The venerable Monkey-Fluider and Brain Stabber Josh just helpfully let me know what a colossal pillock I am - John Rogers is the same John Rogers who writes Kung-Fu Monkey. So if Transformers goes completely aubergine we'll know how to blame - that's right, MICHAEL BAY! That bastard.

EDIT THE 2ND: John Rogers talks about Catwoman (briefly). Heh.

EDIT THE 3RD: John Rogers makes no apologies for The Core. Fine, you bastards, I'll withhold judgement until I've watched the whole movie through. Sheesh! Oh, and check out The Biology of B Movie Monsters. Some people will take the fun out of anything ...

EDIT THE 4TH: Okay, after starting listening to the beginning of the commentary by Michael Bay on Bad Boys, maybe, just maybe he isn't the anti-christ. I have new respect for a guy who can admit in the first 2 minutes that he did the best he could with a bad script (rather than trying to claim, in the face of the evidence, that it's a great movie and everyone loved making it so much, and it has such an important message ...), and who made a reasonable popcorn action movie for a ridiculously low amount of money ($17 million, which I'm assuming is production only - so ex promotion costs). And who reveals that the fast cuts in one scene were partly for pacing but mainly to cover up that the set was pretty much made of cardboard.

Verna: What you doing?
Tom Reagan: Walking...
Verna: Don't let on any more than you have to.
Tom Reagan: the rain.
- Miller's Crossing, 1990.

we are amateurs

From Banking on Baghdad: Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit and Conflict by Edwin Black. Excerpts from pages 41-47.
The Mongols waged organised terror as a war tactic to inspire surrender. When they approached they, they often did so in a great tumult. Sometimes they simply beat drums outside a walled city for days before an onslaught. Or they hurled incendiary missiles, or bombarded the the city walls in a perfection of siegecraft. Even as terrified inhabitants did not sleep, the Mongol warriors rested and dined on the stores they had carefully pre-positioned.

Unliked other invaders, their goal was not conquest and domination but utter destruction. Typically, an overrun city would be completely dismembered and rendered useless. Every living thing had to die - men, women, children, even cats and dogs. Death to opponents was a cruel, panful exercise - the more gruesome the murder, the greater the Mongol vindication. The Mongol custom was to report body counts by chopping off ears of their victims. Bag after bag was filled and delivered to ranking offiers as proof. This was more than warfare, more than plunder and subjugation, more than mere triumph - this was extermination.

... At Nessa, 70,000 people were ordered to bind each other's hands behind their backs. Then each one was systematically slaughtered as the masses awaited their turn ... At Merv, a major commercial hub in northeastern Persia, the population was cunningly convinced that they could safely exit the city in an orderly fashion, taking their most valued goods.It took four days for thousands of families to frantically gather their possessions and then nervously pass through the gate. They expected the promised safe passage. Instead, the 200 wealthiest men were identified and heinously tortured until they betrayed all their commercial agents and revealed their hidden troves of wealth. Then all the families were brutally torn from one another and and hideously butchered.

... At Nishapur, everything was burned, crushed, and pillaged, and all who lived were savagely murdered. The city disappeared. It was leveled to rubble, reduced to a space - except for three pyramids. To prevent any survivors from hiding among the heaps of corpses, orders went out to decapitate everyone. Those heads were towered into three ghastly monuments of extermination: one pyramid of male heads, one female, and one comprised of children. They stood as grotesque beacons and warnings.

... On February 5, 1258, after a six-day siege, the eastern fortifications [of Baghdad] were won. Entourage after entourage tried to reason with Hulagu [Khan], who would not life his siege or the invasion. Escape was impossible. The rivers were blocked. The roads were choked off. The mountain passes occupied. Finally the people of Baghdad obeyed an invitation to peaceably file out of the city gate. They were promised safe passage to Syria. But first, a census. Normally Baghdad's populations was hundreds of thousands, but with the swell of terrified refugees from the surrounding suburbs and village, it may have exceeded a million ... [they] filed out to the field, defenseless, their weapons left behind as instructed. Then, one by one, family by family, thousand by thousand, the Mongols did what they always did ... It is thought that Hulagu himself later bragged to King Louis IX of France that more than 2 million were killed. A Persian historian of the period stated the number was closer to 800,000. Others have estimated much more. The city's normal bustling population of nearly a million was swelled by multitudes of fleeing Moslems from the suburbs and surrounding villages. The higher death tolls are probably more accurate.
I would like to think that we are a more enlightened species than the Mongols were 800 years ago. At least these days have the good grace that when we lie, we lie about how few civilians we killed rather than exaggeratedly bragging about it ...

the electric frying pan of love, Part III

  • steam up a batch of sliced carrots, beans, and broccoli.
  • get one of those 3 minute macaroni cheese packets - one of the ones where you chuck the cheese-sauce powder into milk and then pour over the cooked macaroni.
  • assembled packet macaroni.
  • dice 1/3 to 1/2 half of an onion.
  • mix thoroughtly the macaoni cheese, steamed vegetables, diced onions and 1 can each of sweet chilli and lemon pepper tuna in a reasonable sized oven dish.
  • shake over a generous amount of wholemeal breadcrumbs, then follow with a generous amount of grated cheese.
  • Stick on the lid, then grill the sucker until the top is moderately crunchy without burning it.

If you like you can switch on the frying pan for continuities sake.

For those late to the party:
Part II
Part I

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

the calliope crashed to the ground

Before you read this post you might want to read The Dangers of Bread. It might put you in the right frame of mind ...

Today's NZ Herald had a story entitled Research finds more people indulging in party pills than expected. Or, as I'd like to call it, "a whole bunch of statistics that don't tell us much conclusive, but we'll sure as hell spin them for all they're worth".

Let's start with the first useless statistic: "of the one in seven who had tried them [legal party pills] in the past year, 15 per cent said the experience had a poor effect on their health". Which is very interesting. Except no attempt is made by the Herald at this point to define what "a poor effect on their health" means. Maybe they threw up? Or had the runs the next morning? Bleed from their eyes and then drew pentagrams on the bathroom floor in their own blood? Well, to find out we have to find the original report
(which is somewhat more informative and helpful than the Herald), which can be downloaded from here.

When we read deeper into the report we find that the question asked "whether their use of legal party pills had harmed eight areas of their life in the preceeding year". The eight areas were Energy and Vitality - 19.3%, Health - 14.6%, Financial position - 8.8%, Outlook on life - 6.3%, Home life - 4.7%, Friendships and social life - 4%, Work and study life - 2.9%, and Harmed children's health and well-being - 1%. Hardly stunning stuff. But we'll get back to this in a minute. Let's see what rent-a-moral-panic has to say:
The debate over party pills - legal highs that can have similar effects to amphetamine or Ecstasy - has intensified over what critics say is a growing problem.
Paul Gee, of Christchurch Hospital, said the emergency department dealt with about one BZP-influenced patient a week.
Dr Paul Gee, an emergency room doctor in Christchurch, seems to be quite the crusader against party pills. One wonders whether it is a coincidence that the other big crusader against their incidious effects, Jim Anderton, is also a native of Christchurch? But conspiracy theories aside, Dr Gee contradicts the idea the we have a "growing problem". How? Well he helped to write a paper last year that tracked admissions for party pill "adverse effects". A summary of the paper is here, and a article on it is here. Dr Gee's paper states that the emergency room at 80 incidents presenting because of party pills. The study period was 22 weeks in 2005, so we get a rate of 3.6 people a week in Christchurch with adverse effects during the study period. But now, according to the quote above, it's only 1 a week. Wow. Quite a serious problem then.

Dr Gee doesn't stop with his doom-mongering there. He goes on to say:
We have encountered people under the influence of BZP who have threatened family members with weapons and in one case set fire to their house while barricaded inside.
Dr Gee said 98 per cent of users could feel "a bit washed out for three or four days".
Good fuck. And this guy's a doctor? I hope I'm never hospitalised in Christchurch. 98% of users? Not according to the MoH survey. Loss of energy topped out at 18.4% amongst the psychological problems reported by users. Higher still was users reporting trouble sleeping, at 50.4% (frustratingly this is not further elaborated - was sleep profoundly disturbed for a lengthy period, or was it the equivalent of drinking too many cups of coffee?). Amongst physical problems, the biggest problem was poor appetite at 41.1%, followed by hot/cold flushes and excessive sweating, weighing in at 30.6% and 23.4% respectively. Well, that is a lot of users. But go back to those stats I quoted earlier. Despite users reporting all these symptoms, only one in five thought their energy and vitality had been affected, and one in six thought their health had been harmed. When you actually look at the number of people going to hospital things fall a little further into perspective: 1.2% thought they were in trouble enough to call an ambulance, 1% visited an emergency room, and only 0.4% were actually admitted (it would be helpful to know whether these actually all the same people but the study doesn't elaborate, sadly).

Dr Gee's 98% of users is utter bullshit, but that's not surprising because he is seeing his sample population in fucking emergency rooms; by definition he is only seeing the people with problems with party pill use. And this survey proves that the people he sees are overwhelmingly the unusual cases. As for his people under the influence of BZP who threatened people with weapons and burned down houses ... well, golly, were they under the influence of anything else? Did they have a previous history of violence maybe? Or possibly psychological problems? Had they eaten any bread lately? Dangerous shit, bread. Murder! Insanity! Death! You get the picture ...

At the end of the day this was a phone survey, not a clinical study, and the respondents were self-reporting. This is definitely a useful tool, but you get into difficulty when trying to extrapolate harms from such a survey - how does a user distinguish feeling dizzy caused by BZP, feeling dizzy because you downed too many RTDs on an empty stomach, and feeling dizzy from spinning around in a circle on a dance floor in a crazy fashion? Are you tired and washed out because of BZP use or because you didn't get home from partying until 5am in the morning?

But the most telling statistic was the number who had given up - 60.8% of the survey population. A third gave up because they didn't like the hangover, another third stopped because they didn't party as much, and the rest cited a range from health to expense. But the important thing is that a significant proportion of adults tried party pills, decided they didn't like them and so stopped using them. And another group of adults have tried it, liked it, and - despite the downsides to use metioned above - have made a reasoned and rational to keep taking the pills. And why the hell should they be stopped?

The smartest quote I've found on all this is from Ross Bell, from the NZ Drug Foundation. Last year, when commenting upon calls form Dr Gee for party pills to be banned, he remarked:
Of course, it would be interesting to know how many people are presenting to Dr Gee's emergency department with alcohol-related problems and whether he thinks alcohol should be banned accordingly ...
Oh, and funniest statistic goes to the methods used by respondents to "recover" from party pills: 50.2% used Recover Pills (whatever they are), 10.7% used alcohol ... and 1.3% used crack cocaine. Are these the same guys who used hammers to cure headaches?

A Snopes a Day; or, Shit You Should Stop Believing:
Six outrageous-but-real lawsuits showcase the need for tort reform Once you've read that, you should pop over to The McDonalds Coffee Case.

You always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask:
In "Blinded by the Light," what exactly is the lyric following the title phrase?
Best. Damn. Song. Ever.

Why do one's loins ache after a session of nonclimactic arousal?
Or, how not going all the way could give you cancer.

Alrighty, now before you go take a good look at this photo of Mohammed Abdul Kahar and Abul Koyair, the two gentlemen recently convicted of the crime of being recklessly and persistantly being Muslim while in possession of large beards. Have you had a good look? Then tell me this: screw being Muslim, with beards like that shouldn't they be forming the very first hill-billy death metal band in East London? Seriously.

... and finally, Monkey Fluids proves, once and for all, there ain't no thing funnier than sex with horses.

I'm gonna go build my own theme park! With blackjack and hookers! In fact, forget the park ...

From The Iron Triangle: Inside the Secret World of the Carlyle Group, by Dan Briody, page 10:

... in July 1971, operating under instructions from President Nixon, [Frederic] Malek had compiled figures on the number of Jews working within the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). Nixon, than at the height of his paranoia, believed that a "Jewish cabal" within the Bureau was undermining him, releasing unfavorable and inaccuate data to the public to damage his approval ratings. Malek, in a memo dated July 27, 1971, reported that 13 of the top 35 BLS officials were indeed Jewish, and provided their names to Nixon. In the months following, Chief Economist Peter Henle and Director of Current Emploee Analysis Harold Goldstein were reassigned to lower level postions within the BLS. At the time these events occurred, nothing was known of Nixon's anti-Semitic sentiments. It wasn't until 17 years later that the incident that the incident came back to haunt Malek, when Washington Post reporters uncovered the fateful memo while digging through old files from the Nixon administration.
Three points:
  1. This is why you should never trust your goverment further than you can throw it, because it is made up of people and most people are bastards. Just ask Apathy Jack, he's teaching their bastard children.
  2. You have to be especially worried about people so unselfconsciously evil that they write memos asking other people to do evil shit on their behalf.
  3. Never forget that everywhere in the world there is an otherwise good person willing to do the bidding of an evil person without question. See point one.
  4. From now on all the bad things in my life - you know, kidney stones, car accidents, a suspicious lack of rich, attractive women insisting that I become their toyboy - will be blamed on "a Jewish Cabal".
In retrospect, evil is probably the wrong word. But I'm having trouble coming up with a single word that encompasses "nasty", "stupid", and "ever so slightly insane".