Friday, July 26, 2013

The Expat Condition

I'm not sure if I'd sign off on this whole article, but I think she's correct enough in her general assertions.
It is a well documented part of the culture shock cycle that expatriates tend to develop negative impressions of the locals of whatever host country they're in.  Dissecting exactly why this occurs would be a long separate post, so I'm not going to get into all of that right now, but occur it does.  When I was in Japan, all of us expats complained about how the Japanese people were always doing everything wrong.  When I was in Australia, all of us foreign students complained about how loud and obnoxious the Australians were.  Now that I'm in Cambodia, many of the expat community spend a fair amount of time complaining about the local Cambodians.
For better or for worse, it's simply a part of human nature and the culture shock cycle.  It's hard to completely purge yourself of your biases, but the best thing you can do is try and recognize when it's occurring in yourself and try and keep it in check a little bit. But I'm as guilty of it as anyone else, and unfortunately sometimes it even creeps its way onto this blog.  So as always, take with a grain of salt everything I say or have said on this blog about Japanese, Australians, or Cambodians.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

More interesting stuff from (No political point to these, just interesting).
For #3 on this list, I also recommend Flags of our Fathers for a good movie about the Iwo Jima photo.

This article reminds me of my grandfather's World War II stories.  He never left the airforce training base in Kansas, but he used to say that you would never believe how many young soldiers died without ever leaving the training base, just by doing stupid show-off hot-doggy stuff in the airplanes.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Most Begun "Read but Unfinished" book ever (and Me)

This list from Goodreads about the most abandoned books ever [LINK HERE] has been making the rounds on the Internet lately.  (I imagine you've probably seen it already).  But just for fun I thought I'd compare it with my own reading experience.
The original list has 100 books in it, but I'm only commenting on books here that I have had experience reading.  All the other books I've left of the list.

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller [My Review Here]
On the whole I found this a very enjoyable book to read, and am slightly surprised to see it top the list of most abandoned books.  However, as I wrote in my review: There was usually something funny on each page, but because of the books fractured nature I found it hard to absorb myself for long periods, and initially had to read this book in small doses.

2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Oh, I can totally identify with this one.  For my experience trying, but failing, to read Tolkien see here.

4. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
I picked this book up when I was about 12, and tried to read it, got a few chapters in, and then abandoned it.  But I don't know if that counts because I tried this book before I was probably developmentally ready for it.  I'll have to give it another try someday.

5. Holy Bible: King James Version
I actually did read the whole Bible cover to cover over a 3 and a half year period from 7th grade to 10th grade.  I was on a reading devotional plan of one chapter a day.  But this was the NIV version, not the King James Version, so I guess that doesn't count.
I find the historical/mythological sections of the Bible fascinating. I've always been interested in history and mythology, and one of the reasons I continue to find the Bible fascinating even though I'm now no longer a believer.  But once you get outside of the historical narratives, the more poetical stuff like the book of Psalms and Lamentations though--Wow were those hard for me to work through.  Because I was doing this as devotional reading, I felt it was my spiritual duty to push on through everything, but I don't know if I could muster the self-discipline to do it now.  Let alone struggle through the archaic language of the King James Version.  Attempting to read the KJV is just setting yourself up for frustration.  Why would anyone do that?
(Especially since we know that the KJV is actually less accurate than more modern translations of the Bible.)

7.War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy [My Review Here]
I actually really enjoyed this book, but you've got to get into the right mindset first.  Just let yourself get absorbed by all the characters and their world, and resign yourself to the fact that it's going to be a long slow read, and just be patient and enjoy being absorbed in everything.
Yes, it is a long book, but you know that already going into it.

9. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy [My Review Here]
Another book I finished, but this one I did as an audio book, which some people might say is cheating.  And granted it's much easier to listen to a book than have to read it yourself.  (Not sure why that is...for some reason reading seems to be harder on my attention span than listening.  Plus you can listen to a book while walking or cleaning or driving, so it takes up less time.)
Actually a number of the books on this list I did as audio books.  I'll note those along the way, and if you want to say this counts as cheating, fair enough.  Probably a lot of the books I did on audio I would never have had the patience to read through.
On the other hand, even audio books can't get me through everything.  I tried to get through Lord of the Rings on Audio Book, and still couldn't do it.

13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Attempted to do this one as an audio book, but even as an audio book it was really really boring.
I was still trying to slog through it though, until my stupid ipod erased all my audio books.  Since I didn't have a back-up copy, this book counts as abandoned.  Can't say I plan to go back to it anytime soon.

14. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky [My Review Here]
I did this as an audio book.  Would probably not have had the patience to read it for real.

17. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
I read this book and for the most part enjoyed it, although Victor Hugo does go off on these long tangents that have nothing to do with the plot, and I just skimmed over those for the most part.  

18. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Read this when I was 19.  Enjoyed it.  But it's probably the kind of book you have to read before you're 25, or there's no point really.

19. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke [My Review Here]
I actually did make it all the way to the end of this book, but as you can see in my review, I totally sympathize with people who don't have the patience for it.

20. Dracula by Bram Stoker
Did this as an audio book back in college.  Although the Dracula mythos has definitely captured the public imagination, the actually book is a bit dry and slow moving and boring.  Probably wouldn't have stuck with it if it wasn't an audio book.

25. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
One of my most favorite books ever, but at the same time I can sympathize with people who can't finish it.   There is some pointless filler mixed in with the story here.

28. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Finished it in the end, but see the above Tolkien link for my struggles with this book.

32. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Finished this because it was assigned reading for one of my college history classes, so there was some level of external motivation going on here.  I may not have finished it if left just to myself.  I was really interested in the themes and ideas of this book, but I found Conrad's prose just really hard to get through.

33.  The Iliad by Homer
One of my favorite books of all time, but I cheated a little by reading a prose translation that read more like a novel than the original poetry.

35.  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Again, a school assignment (high school) so external motivation a factor, but on the whole I really enjoyed Steinbeck and found him highly readable.  A bit surprised to see this book here.

38.  The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
In my youth I was given as a gift a bound copy of all of Hitchhiker books.  I never made it all the way through (I'm going to have to go back one day and finish it).  The first book was delightful, but as with a lot of humor writers it's probably best in small doses.  Otherwise once you get used to Douglas Adams' humor style it has diminishing returns with each joke.
So that's why I never made it through the whole series.  I don't understand why some people can't even get past the first book though.  That's easy.

40.  The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
Again, I'm surprised to see this book on here.  It's short enough and very readable.

41. A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.
Again, school assignment (college literature class), external motivation a factor.  Probably wouldn't have finished it on my own, and yet for all the book's faults it is very short, so it should be possible to just tough it out.

43. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand [My Review Here]
Did this as an audio book.  I can totally sympathize with people who can't get through this book.

44.  The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner [My Review Here]
As I wrote in my review, this is a very tough read.  It does seem to be doing everything it can to push you away.   On the plus side, it's short, so it is possible to just tough this one out.

46. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I loved this book.  Surprised to see it on this list.

47. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Attempted this book several times, never got past the first 100 pages.

58.  1984 by George Orwell
One of my favorite book of all time.  And I generally think Orwell has very readable prose, this book being no exception, so I'm surprised to see it on this list.

66. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
Not a great book when judged from a literary point of view, but for a quick fun trashy read it's great.  I don't understand why anyone couldn't finish this book.

67. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Boy, Tolkien is getting hit on this list a lot.
I never made it through the whole Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but I did at least get through this book.  It was the second book where I finally lost my patience.

76. The Odyssey by Homer
Read it and enjoyed it.

77. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
This one on the list I can identify with.  I really enjoyed The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but for whatever reason could never really seem to get into the companion book Huckleberry Finn (even though all the literary critics say this book is far superior).  Picked it up a couple times, never finished it.

82. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Assigned reading for college literature class, some external motivation.  But still enjoyed this book on the whole.  Although it does definitely have sections that lag.

88.  For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway [My review here]
Admittedly I did this as an audio book, but I really loved this book.  Although I'm certainly guilty of abandoning a lot of other Hemingway books.

90. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Of all the books on the list, this one surprises me the most.  Not only is it really interesting, highly readable, but it's so short.  How could you not finish this book?
I first read it in elementary school (around 4th grade I think).  I had no idea it was supposed to be an allegory of the Soviet Union at the time, but just enjoyed the story.

94. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
It took me a few years before I finally got around to reading this book in my mid-20s, but once I picked it up I enjoyed it well enough.

96. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Again, external motivation was a factor on this one, it was for a college English course.  But I really enjoyed it nonetheless.  Very readable, and also very short.

(Admittedly this list is not a scientific survey, so I probably shouldn't waste too much time puzzling over it.
And it looks like it's still evolving as it's being voted on, so in a couple weeks it might be completely different anyway.  The list goes on into the 100s and 200s, etcetera, but I'll stop here.)

Link of the Day
Rare Speech of Noam Chomsky at a draft resistance meeting (against the Vietnam War) in NY, 1968.
and from
FBI admits to using drones over U.S. soil

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

(Movie Review)

            I suppose I should follow Internet convention and announce the following: ****SPOILERS ALERT****

Why I Watched This Movie
          I was a huge Trekkie in my youth. 
            Admittedly, these days I’m somewhat of a lapsed Trekkie.  (I stopped watching the TV shows in 1996.) But I still show up for the big events like a new movie.  And I still have nostalgia for the old show.
            To check up on my Trekkie credentials, you can see my review of the 2009 Star Trek here.  And you can see my fourth grade report on Star Trek here.

            Because I’m going to be reviewing this movie from the perspective of a Trekkie, I suppose I should start out with what seems to be the big question:
Is It Sacrilege to Reboot Star Trek as an Action Franchise?
          I’m in agreement with Ron Moore [LINK HERE] who makes a distinction between the Star Trek movies and the Star Trek TV shows.
            The original Star Trek functioned, as Gene Rodenberry famously described it, as a Wagon Train to the Stars.  (Or a mobile Twilight Zone if you like.)
            Every week the Enterprise crew would explore a new planet.  Something strange would be going on.  The mystery would slowly boil for about a half hour, and then the strange twist would be revealed at the end.
            This works fine as a TV show because your expectations and your level of investment are different for TV.  You don’t have to leave your house.  You’re not expecting anything special because you know it’s a weekly TV show and whatever happens the same characters will all be back next week.
            And if the episode is slightly disappointing, it doesn’t really matter because you’ll get another episode next week. (And let’s face it, these “strange planet of the week” episodes could be quite hit or miss.  It’s not always easy to write an intelligent storyline, and a number of the old Star Trek episodes were underwhelming.)

            Now imagine the movie.  You get yourself all hyped up months in advance.  The Hollywood marketing machine is doing everything it can to milk the excitement.  You call your friends, put on pants, drive to the cinema, buy your big size popcorn and soda…..Imagine if after all that you got another slow boiler “mystery planet of the week” type Star Trek.
            It just doesn’t work as a cinema release.  You need something more exciting. Hollywood understands this 100%, and I don’t disagree with them.
            Of course the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies have taken the adrenaline up a notch from even the old Star Trek movies, but things have changed since the 1980s and each generation demands more intense cinematic thrills than the last one.  And if you’re going to make an action movie, you might as well try and make it a good one.

            Someday Star Trek will probably be back on the small screen, and then we can do more intellectual stories. 
            But as far as the movies go, I’m totally okay with this being all action.
            The question is: as an action film, is it any good?

The Review
          I have a number of friends and co-workers who absolutely hated this movie. 
            I actually liked it.  I thought overall it was an entertaining action film— albeit one with some very serious flaws.  There were a couple of very poor decisions in the script, but I’ve decided they didn’t spoil the whole movie for me.  
            The action sequences in this film were solid.  It didn’t break any new ground, but there was enough chasing, jumping, running and shooting to keep me happy.

            The characters also worked well for me. 
            At some point in the future, this rebooted Trek may run into awkwardness because the actors can’t play organic characters, and are locked into imitating caricatures previously established by other actors.  (That is, assuming this new crew gets a lot more future outings, which—given how long it took them to make just one sequel—they might not.)
            However for the moment, the writers are showing skill at keeping these characters interesting.  The new writers expertly milk the classic conflict of Spock’s cold considered logic and obsession for following the rules versus Kirk’s rash impulsiveness and fondness for rule breaking.  This is not new of course—it’s part of what gave the original series its charm.  But if we’re going to reboot the original characters than we are also rebooting the old personality conflicts, and I thought the new movie writers handled this well.  They also adopted it to the structure of the movie by having the characters develop over the course of the story.  At the beginning of the movie Kirk and Spock are at loggerheads, and by the end of the movie they both come to appreciate the benefits of the other’s position.
            I was entertained, and I thought the movie was respectful to the series, and that’s enough for me to give it a cautious thumbs up.  (Other Trekkies will disagree of course.  Passionate arguing about Star Trek is what being a Trekkie is all about.)

Things I Didn’t Like
          And now I get to my complaints.
          This FAQ article [LINK HERE] does a good job of pointing out all the plot holes in the movie.  I agree with almost all of it with some minor exceptions.  (I’m not sure if it was Khan’s plan all along to put the 72 torpedoes on the Enterprise, or if this was what Admiral Marcus did, and Khan was just reacting to the situation.  The movie got a little bit confusing on what exactly Khan’s master plan had been.  Also I didn’t mind that the movie stuck with Trek canon about the Eugenics wars in the 1990s.  I just accept that Star Trek is taking place in a different timeline than our own universe.  And I actually liked Leonard Nimoy’s cameo.  But all the rest of their criticisms I agree with.)

            Fortunately for this movie, the pacing is fast enough that you don’t get time to think about most of these plot holes as you get rushed from one action sequence to another.
             The other point is that if you wanted to get nit-picky, you could do this kind of FAQ with just about every movie and TV episode from the Star Trek canon.  Most of Star Trek won’t hold up to this kind of close scrutiny, and the further back in time you go, the worse it gets. 
            (If, hypothetically, you could somehow wipe the memory of all the original episodes from the minds of Trekkies, and then re-introduce these 1960s episodes as New Trek, how much do you want to bet they would be complaining that these new episodes were ruining the franchise?  I can think of more than a few original Star Trek episodes that just don’t make a lot of logical sense.)

            Star Trek fandom is an interesting phenomenon.  The fans are often more intelligent than the show. And although the original series was very cheesy, the fans have expected the show to move on and mature as they have. And neither of these are bad things.  (As much as the writers hate being nit-picked by the fans, it helps to keep the standards high.) 
            But at a certain point you either have to give up and just wash your hands of the entire franchise, or accept that from time to time there will be stupid plot points, and I’m choosing the latter.

           The one thing that I am really upset about, and it’s the same thing that every other reviewer is upset about, is the decision to replay the ending of the Wrath of Khan by killing off Kirk and then bringing him back to life.
            The idea is so terrible, it’s difficult to see how it ever got into the movie.  Who could have possibly thought that this was a good idea?  And how did this get passed the whole studio process?

            The lesson really should have been learned from the Star Wars prequels.  George Lucas thought it would be a good idea to have scenes in the Star Wars prequels that paralleled scenes in the original Star Wars trilogy.  It was an interesting idea, but it fell completely flat and everyone hated it, and I naively assumed the lesson had been learned.
            I can kind of understand what was in George Lucas’s mind, because it seems like the kind of literary theme that your high school English teacher really loved—one scene foreshadowing a future scene, another scene calling back to a previous scene.
            But the thing is there’s an art to this kind of stuff, and it doesn’t work if you do it clumsily.  There needs to be a certain amount of subtlety.  And ideally the way to do it would be to have things subtlety foreshadowed in one movie which pay off in another movie.  (Which is impossible to do in a franchise that spans 30 years, so it probably just shouldn’t even be attempted.)
            Also you should probably have a larger thematic point and not just repeat scenes just for the sake of repeating them.
            And, like a lot of ambitious literary techniques, they have to be pulled off exactly right or they end up looking really stupid.  And that’s what happened to George Lucas, and what happened to J.J. Abrams.
            (Lucas I can forgive, because he didn’t know any better.  Abrams really should have taken a lesson from the failed Star Wars prequels.  I agree with the avclub’s reviewer [LINK HERE] that this kind of thing makes me really nervous about how Abrams plans to do the new Star Wars movies now.)
            And I have more complaints.  It’s one thing to replay an action scene, but J.J. Abrams attempts to replay a tragic scene.  This was never going to work.  Tragedy simply cannot be replayed.  You can’t use the same emotional punches twice and expect the impact to be the same.  I may have gotten teary-eyed at the original Spock’s death, but I’m not going to cry over the same scene twice. 
            And even worse, by reversing the roles of Kirk and Spock, and then even re-using and reversing the original dialogue, J.J. Abrams decides to try and milk pathos while simultaneously wink at how cute he’s being.  You can play this scene for tragedy, or you can play it for cuteness but you can’t do both.
            The whole thing culminates in the worst decision of all—to have Spock yell out “KHAAAAAN!”  This was Kirk’s most memorable line from the original Wrath of Khan, but it’s memorable in part because people love to make fun of it.  The line is a parody of itself.  Attempting to force this line into a tragic scene is a terrible idea.
            Once again I have to ask the question—how did a scene this bad manage to make it into the movie?  Aren’t whole teams of people involved in making a big-budget studio film like this?  Did they all sign off on this scene?  Wasn’t there one voice of sanity in the room?

            The best defense that can be given of Kirk’s death is that it is quick.  Once I realized what J.J. Abrams was doing, I was scared this was going to be a long drawn out death scene like in the original, but Abrams doesn’t allow the scene to linger or slow the movie down.  We’re given a quick death scene, and then immediately treated to more explosions, running, jumping, and fist fighting.  The scene is quickly forgotten, and it’s almost forgivable.
            Almost.  Except that killing off a main character and then bringing him back to life is such a desperate story-telling technique that it should only be used with extreme caution.  In life, death means something, and death is supposed to mean something in fiction as well. The possibility of death is what gives any fictional story its stakes.  If death can be reversed, the story loses all sense of stakes.
            (After decades of abusing this narrative technique, this is precisely the problem American comic books have written themselves into.  They kill off a major character now, and absolutely no one cares anymore.)
            I know it’s part of classic Trek now, but it was a questionable move the first time they killed off a main character only to immediately bring him back in the next movie.  But at least they had the sense to make the death seem meaningful, and wait a couple years before bringing the character back to life.  Here they kill a character off for no apparent reason, and then just immediately bring him back to life.
            And at least in the original, the writers put in the effort to give us a good reason why Spock’s body could be brought to back to life.  In this movie, Kirk is just brought back to death by magic blood, a very lazy solution if there ever was one.

Things I Liked About the Movie
          Alright, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, here are a few more positives about the movie.

            Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job as Khan.  (Once you get passed the fact that it’s a little strange to re-cast a British man as Khan, and I’ve already decided I’m going to cut the new re-booted Trek a little slack when it comes to visual representations of old characters.)
            And I know it didn’t really add much to the plots, but I really liked the fact that they brought Leonard Nimoy in for a quick cameo.  It helps to remind us that this new Star Trek universe is still connected tangentially to the old Star Trek continuity. 
            (Many people have already pointed out that old Spock completely contradicts himself, saying essentially “I know I said I was never going to tell you anything about the timeline, but in this case I’m going to make an exception.” It works if you accept that people can be inconsistent in real life, and can make exceptions as circumstances warrant.)

            Given the huge antagonism between Kirk and Khan in the original series, I thought it was kind of cool that Kirk and Khan teamed up for a while in this movie against a common enemy.  And I thought the script made it believable, giving them each ample motivation to attempt to use the other.

            Also, once I got passed how stupid Kirk’s death scene was, I liked the switch-up at the end of the movie where it was Spock who fought the final battle against Khan instead of Kirk.
            Although Kirk and Khan traditionally had the grudge match against each other, it does almost make more sense for Spock to take down Khan in the end.  Khan is genetically engineered to have super-human strength, and in the original series Vulcans are also portrayed as having super-human strength.  So when it comes to hand to hand combat, Spock is really the one who should be fighting Khan.

            (Although actually, if you watch the original Star Trek closely, the super Vulcan strength is something they’re very inconsistent on.  Sometimes Vulcans are portrayed as much stronger than humans, sometimes they’re not.  Also, since Romulans share the same genetic make-up as Vulcans, they should also in theory have the same super strength, but the show is also very inconsistent about this.
            For that matter, I’m not sure Khan’s powers are consistent with his portrayal in the original series.  I’m going to have to re-watch Space Seed to be definite on this, but I think originally he was just a slightly stronger than average human in the original incarnation, not superman.)

            And while I’m nitpicking on these little details, what would a Star Trek review be without continuity nitpicks?  (As I said above, I’m not going to let these ruin the movie for me, but I’m still going to point out what I caught.)

Continuity Nitpicks
          Since J.J. Abrams created a new tangent universe, he’s bought himself a fair amount of flexibility as far as established continuity goes, but everything that happened before Nero created the new universe is still in continuity, which means Khan’s origins are still in continuity, and Star Trek: Enterprise is still in continuity in this new universe.
            In their fourth season, Star Trek: Enterprise actually went through the trouble of doing a 2 part storyline explaining once and for all why Klingons in the original series don’t have the ridges on their foreheads as a result of genetic engineering gone wrong..  
            Since the J.J. Abrams movies take place in the time period of what would have been the original series, the Klingons should look like they do in the original series with no forehead ridges.
            (Remember now, this is not me being more geeky than the show.  The show itself went out if its way to establish this continuity point.  I would have been content to just allow the show a certain artistic license when it comes to visual representations of characters, but now it’s an established part of Star Trek continuity that Klingons during the time frame of the original series are suffering from the results of genetic experiments and therefore do not have forehead ridges. 
            Although admittedly I think you could find an easy way out of this by just positing that in the alternate universe the Klingons somehow found a cure quicker.)

* In his review, Locke Peterseim points out [LINK] that when Khan was originally defrosted from suspended animation, he wasn’t so angry.  It was being marooned on the planet for 20 years that drove him insane. 
            This movie did attempt to give Khan another reason for vengeance—anger that he was being used by Admiral Marcus.  It’s a judgment call whether you think that this was enough to drive him to extremes or not.

* And back to the thing about Khan’s blood: Nowhere in the original Star Trek were we given any hint that Khan’s blood could bring people back to life from the dead.  And since Khan was created by genetic engineering, it doesn’t even really make sense.  (A genetically engineered human being would have the best of whatever DNA was available in the gene pool, but there’s no regenerative blood gene.)  Plus, in the original Wrath of Khan, Khan is driven to vengeance because in part because his wife died.  Why didn’t he just bring her back to life with his magic blood?

* Technology, what it can and can’t do, is always very inconsistent in Star Trek.  So it’s almost pointless to mention this stuff, but in past episodes it was difficult for them to use communicators across long distances.  Here Kirk calls Scotty all the way back on earth
            The fact that Khan is able to transport himself all the way to Klingon space also seems inconsistent with the Star Trek universe, but at least the movie addressed this head on by reminding us that Scotty had created a new transport technology in the 2009 Star Trek.

Other Notes
* Put me in the group of people who think the title for this movie is really awful.

* Whether you love this latest Star Trek movie, or hate it, it’s worth remembering that at this point the franchise has already seen much, much worse.  (Nemesis, for example.)  So although some reviewers are complaining about how the franchise is being ruined (this review, for example), it’s important to keep things in perspective.  In 30 years’ time, this movie will just be another footnote in the franchise’s history, and in the years to come I’m sure we can expect more good Trek and more bad Trek as well.

* Before I saw this movie, I heard people were mocking J.J. Abrams for his overuse of lens flares.  I thought people were just being hyper-critical but, wow, he really does use lens flares a lot in this movie. 
            I don’t mind lens flares per se.  They can kind of produce a cool dramatic effect when used sparingly at the right time.  But you don’t need them in every shot.

* Whisky’s review is here with further thoughts here.  Many of the links above are stolen from Whisky.

* And one last Star Trek related link before I close out this review.  I’m a big fan of the Star Trek reviews at
            They’re not perfect—the humor is corny and often forced—but he does a good job of editing each Star Trek episode down to 10 minutes and, once you get passed the bad jokes, often has some intelligent commentary as well.  It’s perfect for the Trekkie with short attention span.
            To see why Khan made such a great villain in the original Star Trek universe, see SF Debris’s review of Space Seed [HERE] and The Wrath of Khan [HERE].

Link of the Day
“Future of the Euro Zone Looks Pretty Dim”

Friday, July 12, 2013

After years of listening to US government officials complaining about Chinese hackers, there's more than a little hypocrisy going on here.

On a completely different note, from the Phnom Penh Post:
US lawmakers yesterday called for direct aid to Cambodia to be cut if the July 28 election is not judged “free and fair”, signalling growing frustration that US aid dollars have not led to increased democratisation in the Kingdom.
Arguably this is long overdue given the tremendous human rights abuses and corruption that the Cambodian government has been able to get away with--with usually little to no international reprocussions.
On the other hand, I wonder if a carrot and stick approach might work better here.  Rather than ask the Cambodian government to completely transform itself overnight (everyone knows that the July 28 elections will not be free and fair), why not target more specific behavior, set reasonable goals, and then make funding dependent on that?  For example, threaten to cut funding if the Cambodian government continues stealing land from peasants, and see if we can get them to clean up they're act on a couple of issues rather then just cut off funding completely.

US Representative Eni Faleomavaega, a Democrat, also slammed proposals to cut aid, advocating instead that debt accrued during the US-supported Lon Nol regime – now totalling with interest close to $460 million – to be forgiven.
This is also not a bad idea.  I didn't even know the US was still continuing to collect debt from the Lon Nol regime, but since we created, funded, and directed that regime, we should probably forgive the debt from it now.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Obama’s unparalleled spy state
Another blockbuster: New revelations expose the NSA and FBI's vast online surveillance powers
Now we know for sure: The Obama administration has presided over the most thorough expansion of the domestic surveillance state of any U.S. presidency 

On a different note completely:
“Ex-gay” Christian group shuts down following bombshell apology
Exodus International is closing its doors after apologizing for decades of promoting discredited "ex-gay" therapies 

We actually had one of these guys speak to us at CHIC (Covenant High Congress) in 1994.
At least I think he was from Exodus.  Or if not, then he was from a similar group.
He claimed to be a former homosexual, who had learned how to conquer his sinful desires through Christianity and was now a fully practicing heterosexual.  The message was that, contrary to what the liberal media might tell us, homosexuality was a choice and could be controlled and changed.

...I just searched the Internet now to see if I could find anything on him, but very little information is coming up for CHIC 1994.
The only thing I could even find that referenced CHIC 1994 was this article here:
Sixteen-year-old Tim Shanahan doesn't curse as much as he used to. He changed his habit after attending an eye-opening national youth convention a few weeks ago.
The Manchester High School senior was one of 14 teenagers from Trinity Covenant Church's youth group who attended the weeklong convention at Colorado State University in Colorado Springs July 16to 22.
Shanahan said that he never drank or used drugs, practices he ascribed to ``typical teens,'' but that he did swear frequently. The convention has made him self-conscious about uttering language he now considers bad.
 and then later: The cost for each student was $800. Trinity youths earned $11,000 in the past two years, raising money with an auction, dinners, food sales, yard work and babysitting.

A lot of money.  But I suppose if it gets some 16 year old kid to feel guilty about meaningless phonetic utterances that someone else has arbitrarily decided are in bad taste, then it's time and money well spent.

....One other thing popped up while doing a google search on CHIC: this memoir from a former CHIC counselor gone rogue.  An interesting piece. I think I agree with him ideologically, although he comes off sounding a little bit too self-satisfied with himself.  Nonetheless, worth a quick look perhaps.

Friday, July 05, 2013

From Phil:
True story: My older sis went to a fundamentalist school for 5-9th grade. They spent CLASS TIME playing Zep/Floyd records backward.
+ So they'd know how subtle Satan is, of course. (Because LED ZEPPELIN IV is an INCREDIBLY subtle album.)

....Yep, that was my middle school experience as well.  In 7th grade we spent a whole unit in music class learning how Satan had inserted messages backwards into most of the popular music of the 1970s.   
 On a different note: Sensible Thinkers Think About Leaks

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Ten Years

On a completely different note:
I never thought I'd say this, but I'm really beginning to like Justin Amash.
Rep. Justin Amash calls on National Intelligence Director James Clapper to resign
“Members of Congress can’t make informed decisions on intelligence issues when the head of the intelligence community willfully makes false statements,” Mr. Amash said on his Facebook page. “Perjury is a serious crime. Mr. Clapper should resign immediately.”
NSA surveillance: Rep. Justin Amash says he might join lawsuit against feds
Justin Amash 'concerned' by feds' Verizon probe, wants explanation
In familiar move, Amash takes aim at drone strikes, indefinite detention

Not to mention Amash's twitter account:
Any congressman claiming that ppl don't have reasonable expectation of privacy in personal phone records should make his publicly available.
and Gov't's collecting records of millions of Americans, w/o reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, is unconstitutional, unconscionable & immoral.
and The real criminals & traitors are those in government who knowingly assault the civil liberties secured by our Constitution.

 I disagree with libertarians on a lot of economic issues, but I'm with them on social issues.
  Although it probably goes without saying that I'd prefer a representative who reflected my personal views 100% of the time, Amash seems to be taking such a strong line against government abuse that he might well be better than whatever middle of the road Democrat the party would throw up for his seat.  And he's definitely better than his Republican predecessors in the Kent County district.
Dare I say it, vote Amash in 2014?
(But of course I'd be interested in the thoughts of my favorite Michigan political analyst.)

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Thanking the Lord for deliverance just doesn’t make any sense. Any God powerful and attentive enough to save survivors’ lives should also be powerful and attentive enough to stop the catastrophe in the first place. It’s insulting, futile, and distracting from the reality of natural disasters to inject your god into a calamity like Oklahoma's.

And the always brilliant Tom Tomorrow on the same topic.
Wolf, theologian

On a different note, here are some more Oita prefecture links:
Kamioita has a number of good pictures that are worth checking out.
Kamioita's take on Hita here (my take here)
Kamioita's take on Saiki here (and my take here)
And Kamioita on Usuki here and here (me here)

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

What's The Monsanto Protection Act And Why Is It All Over Facebook?

And on a completely different note entirely:
Continuing my theme of searching for other blogs on Oita Prefecture (see previous post), here is someone else's take on Himeshima
Via his website, I found (to my surprise) that the economic policies of Himeshima Island were profiled in a New York Times article in 2009.
If Marxism had ever produced a functional, prosperous society, it might have looked something like this tiny southern Japanese island. 
Needless to say, I was completely oblivious to the economic policies of the Island during my visit.  But for what it's worth, my take is here.

Monday, July 01, 2013

From Reuters:
Facebook and the outer limits of free speech

And on a completely different note entirely--
Every now and again I like to search the Internet to see who else is blogging about their travels through Oita prefecture, and compare it to my own project.

Zooming Japan has an interesting post on Nakatsu City.
I lived in Nakatsu city for 3 years (and nearby it for another 3 years) and it always struck me as sort of the armpit of Oita prefecture--an ugly mass of urban sprawl.  The countryside surrounding Nakatsu is quite beautiful, but the central town not so much
Interesting, therefore, to see how Zooming Japan's take on it, because she has a knack for taking photographs that actually make the place look quite picture-esque.
And almost funny to me to see in her comments section like: Waaah Nakatsu seems like such a beautiful place  I should probably visit this place as well someday!

For my own take on Nataksu see here and here.

(See also zooming Japan's take on Yufuin, and my own takes here and here.)