Monday, July 26, 2004

Fun Week

It's audit time! Our institutional audit is this week, and so last week (preparation) and this week (site visit) are basically shot. I'll try to post coherent updates, but no promises. We usually work until 9 or 10 pm each day, with little room for breaks in there. If I survive, it will be nice when it's over.

Movie reviews: This weekend was kind of strange movie weekend. I had a couple of things I'd been interested in seeing that were out there, so this weekend I saw them.

Return to Me: Okay, the whole heart beating when David Duchovny was around was corny and somewhat troubling. It seemed more Poe than romance to me. But I enjoyed the movie. Minnie Driver was great in her role, and David Duchovny was slightly above mediocre. 3 stars.

Saturday Night Fever: This was a research viewing for an upcoming event with a disco theme. What a bizarre movie. Maybe it was edgy and timely when it came out, but it was just really strange to me. I got the point, but the way it was presented was somewhat disjointed and didn't keep me interested in the story. 2 1/2 stars.

I'll hopefully be back tomorrow with politics and economics, but no guarantees.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Politics and Economics

Ah, my favorite column. Admittedly, I haven't had time to keep up on this as much as I'd like to in the last week, but a few things caught my eye.

Politics:

Kerry and Edwards roll on. I'm really looking forward to the debates this year and hope that we get some decent material to evaluate Kerry and Edwards on. I really hope somebody calls out the fact that they just keep promising programs and initiatives that cost money- lots of it- but also say they'll reduce the federal deficit. Think about this one for a moment. They want to spend trillions of dollars on healthcare, alternative energy research, and all kinds of education initiatives but also say they'll reduce the difference between the government's income and its expenses. The questions have to be as follows:

a) what spending will be reduced? Based on his record, probably support for our military. Nothing better than cutting their funding at a time when they have to train for and adapt to an entirely new kind of enemy as they battle terrorist cells around the world. The urban-style warfare that is required is more costly to support than traditional warfare. Will Kerry fund it? Somebody please ask him. If so, what will he cut?

b) whose taxes will be increased? If expenses won't go down, income must go up to reduce the deficit. I can tell you whose taxes- everybody's. Especially corporations and "the rich." The funny thing about raising tax rates for the wealthy is that they have so many tax-reducing activities that they can afford to operate and participate in that recent studies show they only pay about 16% of their annual income in taxes to the federal government. So why not raise rates for a group that will remain largely unaffected in real terms- to make it look like you're doing something- while increasing spending? Result- higher deficits. Also, more of the wealthy, who would otherwise invest in businesses to gain profits, end up having to find tax write-offs and shelters to protect their money from the government. Less money into the economy, little to no more to government, and increased government spending- you have a great recipe for killing economic expansion.

On the Republican front, continued assertions that Cheney will stay on the Republican ticket. The fact that he even needs to defend that position is funny to me. Almost as funny as him cursing at Leahy. The thing I find interesting about that whole situation is that anyone would expect a member of an administration that is under constant personal, venomous attack by many and nagging, subtle cheapshots from several others to take it all and not fire back at some point. Keep poking a dog with a stick and sooner or later, you'll get bitten. All this proved to me is that Cheney's human for what he did and a lot more patient than me for how long it took him to do it.

Economics:

Greenspan's Capitol Hill report revealed little new information but continued to support the fact that economic growth is real, appears to be sustainable, and is broadening week by week to include employment, production, and most major areas. Of course, the ignorant still cry that the sky is falling because they personally don't have twice the income they had last year. And they complain about inflation, since it's the one area that even Greenspan has acknowledged needs to be watched closely. Econ 101- with currency devaluation, prices rise. With loose monetary policy (targeting lower rates as the Fed has for past years), prices rise. Greenspan knows it and will adjust rates up if he has to. Things are well under control in both Americas.

Movie Reviews

Due to unforeseen complications, there will be two posts today- Movie Reviews and Politics and the Economy.

Two Weeks Notice: After a stretch of movies for me, I had to get another one for the wife. And oddly enough, I kind of liked it too. One reason- Hugh Grant. His one-liners throughout the movie made Sandra Bullock tolerable, which is quite a feat. So in spite of the annoying female lead, I give it three out of five stars.

Butterfly Effect: My first big Netflix letdown. The rental only disk they shipped me wasn't double-sided, so I could only watch the Director's Cut and not the theatrical version, which is usually on the top side. Big deal, some may say, but if you thought the ending for the Director's Cut was as stupid as I did, it would have been nice to have the theatrical version to at least compare it to. Overall, I really disliked this movie. It was unnecessarily sadistic and vulgar, and it seemed like they were just trying way too hard to be so thematically dark. And don't get me started on the logical inconsistencies. It was one of those movies I walked away from thinking that I just spent two hours of my life and got nothing worthwhile out of them. One star out of five. The one star is for Ashton Kutcher for at least attempting to play a serious role. Now that you've made the attempt, never do it again. Thanks.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Week in Review

The Good:

Martha sees jail time. While I feel sorry for the media circus this became, I was happy to see a reasonable penalty handed out. Lying to federal investigators needs to come with consequences. Regardless of the insider trading issue, this alone is reason to hand out time.

Ken Jennings keeps on rolling. I hope he goes for another month before he's beaten. Anybody that smart should be able to retire, and I hope he makes enough before it's done that he feels he can.

The Bad:

Rosie O'Donnell. Could she be any more annoying right now? It seems like I've seen her giant head more on TV this last week than I have in years. If she isn't spouting the same old nonsense about Bush and Iraq, she's shoving her latest gay diatribe in our faces. Shut up Rosie. You're obnoxious and irrelevant. Go live your life however you choose and stop telling everybody about it. When's the last time you heard somebody soapboxing over their heterosexual lifestyle? Talking about the fact that they're straight every chance they get? You haven't. Neither have I. If I did, I'd tell them to shut up too.

Jay London gets the boot. He was hilarious. Most people just didn't get him. Those of us who did hope to see him more from now on.

The Ugly:

Oprah Winfrey had a show this past week on baby rape, child prostitution, and other heinous sexual situations around the world. I decided to make sure I saw it when I found out it would be on. If you didn't watch it, you should. You should watch every minute and feel every bit of sick rage that these things should inspire. You should then think about Iraq and the fact that Saddam reportedly had state-funded rapists on staff to degrade women at his command. Read about his sick sons' actions while in power. Then try convincingly telling yourself it was a mistake. If you still can, go buy a soul.

That's it for this week. Back on Monday with movie reviews.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

I Hate Group Work

My posting for the past two days has fallen into a black hole I like to call group work. I'm finishing a graduate degree at the moment, and there's nothing my professors like better than group work. I get it in almost every class. Here's why group work is stupid.

1. You don't know your pool of potential partners. In a larger university, you maybe know one or two people from one class to the next. So it's an educational crap shoot as to who you end up with. Here's hoping they don't suck!

2. You can't reassign them or get them fired. Supposedly group work prepares you for the real world where you have to work with people. Well in the real world if somebody sucks, you can get them a) off the project, b) assigned to a different project, or c) fired. If only I could do that now.

3. Group work, individual grade. Hey- it's not only yours but also my GPA you're screwing over by not doing good work. So we all know what that means- I get to spend two days decrapping a project so I don't get a bad grade. Yippee!

4. Working with other people. Why don't people realize their weaknesses? I know I don't do certain things well. I'm verbose, and need to limit myself when I write. So I don't volunteer to write summaries. Why can't others do the same thing with speaking in public, presenting in class, and proofreading?

So that's it for today. I'm going to sleep for a week.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Surprise- The NAACP is Mad About Something...

As promised, today's post (and each Tuesday's from now on) will be about politics and economics: two things I follow closely, and two things that most people don't spend much time really investigating. Too many people are comfortable letting others tell them what's going on in these arenas, and that's how you get right- and left-wing parrots who just regurgitate what they hear. My goal is to present opinions based on facts, regardless of which side I'm discussing. The only problem is that I'm so opinionated- we'll see how it goes.

Republicans

Again, the myopic concentration on national security and Iraq is NOT the platform Bush needs. Social issues are what will gain him votes. The good news is that a Gallup poll showed that most people see him as decisive, which I agree with. The bad news is that they also see him as arrogant. I think his unapologetic and unwavering stance on his decisions since 9/11 have led to this dual opinion. At the same time, I don't think he owes the nation an apology. But even to hear him say that he's human and makes mistakes too would be a nice touch. A little fallibility is nothing to fear with most voters.

The big news is the NAACP's reaction to Bush declining to attend their annual convention. Come on, people- the NAACP has done nothing but attack Bush, not only on policies but personally. Would you go to a meeting of people who mock you and call for your head on a stake on a regular basis (figuratively, of course)? What's the point? This is the same group that was upset at Bill Cosby (and still is, no matter what their official statements say) for calling out the black leaders in this nation for not doing anything to advance the black community. Instead, as he stated in more general terms, they spend their time fighting for lower standards and the right to fail with impunity. Good for Bill Cosby. It's about time somebody with his voice stepped up and called a spade a spade, regardless of which side of the figurative aisle they speak from.

Democrats:

I'm so glad John Edwards carried his "Two Americas" concept to the national forum he now participates in once again. If the Republicans can get people to actually think about this concept, the sheer ridiculousness of it should sink in pretty quickly. Two Americas? Even if there were two, which there aren't, which one do you think Kerry and Edwards live in? Which one do you think they're concerned with? I love how the Kerry/Edwards campaign keeps jumping on the "Edwards' father was a millworker" bandwagon as if it will make us all ignore the fact that Edwards is one of the rich people that Democrats supposedly are there to protect the rest of us from. And how has he done it? Suing companies and driving up costs for everybody else. Wealth redistribution via lawsuit. And who walks away from these class action suits that Edwards loves so much with the most? The lawyers. Every time. But facts aren't important- Edwards' father was a millworker.

The only thing funnier than that is the Democratic platform on economics. Hey- let's raise the minimum wage to protect workers. Only problem with that is little things like the fact that higher minimum wages will price more workers out of the market, creating a labor surplus in the non-union labor market. And higher minimum wages will really go well with Kerry's goal of decreasing overseas outsourcing of jobs. And his goal of creating jobs in the US. Brilliant.

Economics:

News today that the trade deficit decreased "unexpectedly." Really? Most economists I know expected it. Economics 101- as your currency value decreases, exports become cheaper and imports become more expensive. Couple that with the slower summer retail sales (Wal-Mart is the biggest importer in the US) and why would we not expect a decrease? Second half economic forecasts received a boost based on the report, so by November Kerry and Edwards' "the economic sky is falling" cry should sound even more ridiculous than it does now.

I love election years- we who study economics roll our eyes at most of what we hear. To be fair, the eye-rolling is directed at both sides. Interesting stat though- the stock market averages higher gains in months following a Republican election win than a Democratic win, even more so when incumbent Repubs win. Why might that be? Well, people realize that a political party who doesn't demonize capitalism and call for businesses and those who run them to pay higher taxes so those who don't want to work can be paid to sit at home (or call for people to make $10/hour flipping burgers) will probably do more to stimulate growth. And when businesses have more money, guess what happens- they produce more, hire more people, give people raises, and reward stockholders. And before you jump on investors as more of the "rich folk," keep in mind that over 50% of Americans invest in the stock market. Wall Street- not just for the evil 1930's-style tycoons anymore. No matter what Dems would have you believe.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Monday, Monday...

Ah, nothing like the madness of a Monday work day to jerk you out of the serene weekend mood. I finally broke down and had one of those cold Starbucks espresso drinks, and I'm hoping that it will either energize or kill me. I'm not sure which I'd prefer at this point.

I decided that Monday will be my movie review day. Being a Netflix user, weekends are great opportunities to catch up on my viewing list. Here are the movies I saw this weekend. Not all are new movies, so bear with me. Ratings are out of five possible stars.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding: I was entertained. It was funny enough to keep me interested, and the romance wasn't too formulaic and in-your-face. The whole crazy family concept went over well enough to make the movie interesting. Plus it was short. With everybody deciding in recent years that it's not a movie if it's not over two hours, it's nice to see a short, simple movie. Three and half stars.

The General's Daughter: I've decided that John Travolta should only play military characters from now on. Look at the evidence folks- Broken Arrow (not his best, but good), Basic (one of my favorite movies), and The General's Daughter. This was an excellent movie. Somewhat twisted, but excellent overall. Travolta is just way too convincing in these types of roles, and his quirkiness keeps it from getting stale. It helps that he's a pretty convincing tough guy as well. If only Battlefield: Earth had been about the military. Nah, it still would have been horrible. Four stars.

That was it for this weekend. Tomorrow's post will be my political/economic post for the week.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Week in Review

I said I'd think about a format, and I have. Each Friday I'll do the week in review. This will be a 3-part posting that will include good things I've seen this week, bad things I've seen this week, and amusing things I've seen this week. Kind of a good, bad, and ugly approach to my last few days.

The Good:

Ken Lay is formally indicted. I know it's a small comfort to the multitudes who lost so much due to his actions, but justice is still something that just makes me smile. Now I hope they nail him on every charge possible and not just securities fraud.

The Amazing Race. Don't ask me why, but I love this show. It's one of the few shows where I find the actual competition to be more interesting than the people involved in it. Sure, you still get your Survivor moments, but at least they don't make up 80% of the program.

The Bad:

Model Fear Factor. How many models can wimp out of ridiculously easy challenges in one night? Now keep in mind that I'm usually not at home on Monday nights, so this last Monday I was scrambling to find something to watch (no cable). Fear Factor ended up being it because in the first challenge, all but one of the models just gave up. They didn't even have to eat anything disgusting at any point in the show (what does that have to do with fear anyway? I'm not afraid of dead bugs, but that doesn't mean I can eat them and keep them down). So you get one of the easiest Fear Factors I've ever seen and they still wimp out. Don't quit your day job. Ever.

Bush's current campaign strategy. Does he really think he has a chance to win if he focuses on the war in Iraq, which fewer people support every day, and the economy, which is recovering but most people don't know anything about? Come on. The truth of the matter is more people are going to vote for Kerry based on the fact that their obsolete manufacturing job was a casualty of globalization than will vote for Bush due to an economic recovery that they don't understand. He needs to start focusing on the partial-birth abortion issue and gay marriage. They may be divisive issues, but the country is so divided right now that no attempt at centrism will gain anything but a negligible amount of votes. And the majority of Americans are on the conservative side of these issues still. Make Kerry take a stance on these things and call his voting record out.

The Ugly:

The ridiculously positive response to Edwards. If I see one more person wetting themselves with excitement because Edwards is so energetic and such a great candidate, I'm going to scream. He's a lawyer who's made millions by suing companies. Nothing more, nothing less. Now I'm not anti-lawyer overall, I just get very amused when a lawyer who is personally responsible for millions of dollars in malpractice awards- and therefore higher malpractice insurance costs- and therefore higher healthcare costs, says he's going to help reduce the cost of healthcare. Yeah. You've helped so much already.

That's it for this week. Back on Monday.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Lightning and Denzel Washington

Lightning sucks. Especially when you're in the lightning capital of the Western world and you're responsible for phones and data. Between mediating for three vendors and having to replace 85% of our phone system yesterday, my patience with nature is at an all-time low. Unfortunately, hurricane season is just getting started.

So how would one cope with such stress? I decided to watch Training Day. Denzel as the crooked cop- I liked it. It was a very dark, intense movie from start to finish. Denzel managed to give a potentially 2-dimensional character type some real depth, with flashes of redemptive qualities that lasted just long enough for you to really dislike him the rest of the time. It's not for everyone, but it's good for what it is. If you like The Shield on FX, you'll probably enjoy this movie.

In closing, I'd like to thank Netflix for making movie watching so easy for me. Seriously, this is a great service. I've watched more movies since I've joined than I ever would have rented from Blockbuster. When you can get three at a time delivered to your door and all you have to do is drop them back in the mail to get a replacement, it makes traditional renting a lot less attractive. No time limits, fast delivery, and I haven't had a problem with any of the movies yet. I have at least one movie at home at any given time, so if there's a night when TV sucks, I have options. They have all the new releases and a ton of older stuff Blockbuster doesn't carry. Therefore you'll be seeing short movie reviews regularly on this page. In fact, I'll probably come up with some sort of weekly format for my posting in the next few days so that there's some structure to it all.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

And So It Begins...

After severely mocking those who blog for some time, I've finally decided to jump in. Do I think my thoughts are that interesting? No. Do I think I have something to say that is so important it can't be kept from the world any longer? Not really. My basic problem is that I read too much, watch too much, and hold way too much internal dialogue to not have some healthy outlet for my random thoughts. So I present "The View Inside." Inside what? Just my strange, overactive mind. Calm down.

So my first installment will include my thoughts on Spider-man 2. I'm sure everybody's read too many reviews already, so I'm not going that route. I'm going to talk about the movie-going experience as a whole.

I saw this movie twice. The second time was one of those "go with the friend who hasn't seen it but doesn't want to go alone" things. And I was entertained the second time. All I'll say about the movie itself is that the writing was effective for the type of movie it was intended to be and the effects were well-done and fit the overall feel and pace of the movie. Too many times movies turn into an excuse to spend money on special effects sequences and don't contribute to the overall story (of course, there often isn't one). Spider-man 2 was not one of those movies.

The overall experience was, unfortunately, frustrating. In fact, between the two viewings I've determined that I really dislike going to movies. Three reasons.

1. Cell phones. There are signs outside the theater saying turn them off. There's a comment during the commercials at the beginning (more on this in a second...) saying turn them off. And yet, in both movies, at least two people got audible calls during the film. Apparently they're exempt from common courtesy. If you won't silence your phone or set it to vibrate, you're inconsiderate. If you can't, you're too stupid to have a phone.

2. Children at adult movies. Spider-man 2 will appeal to kids. I understand that. But the screaming and crying during the Dr. Octopus hospital scene was a clear reminder that what kids want isn't always what's best for them. Parents, see a movie before you decide to bring your kids to it. Not only is it traumatic for them, it's annoying to the rest of us. Spider-man 2 wasn't my first experience with this. I've seen kindergarten-aged children at several movies in the past, including Matrix: Revolutions, Terminator 3, and The Hulk. Yes, I saw The Hulk. That movie was traumatic on several levels.

3. Commercials. Apparently my $8 ticket and $12 popcorn/soda combo isn't enough money to keep the movie industry going. Now we have to watch commercials disguised as entertainment. Regal Cinemas calls it "The Twenty." What is "The Twenty?" Twenty minutes of ads packaged as entertainment news. Gee, I've learned so much about the latest Britney Spears video. And Fanta. And some video game I don't care about. The time went by so much faster since I was being "entertained." Not really. If I want commercials, I'll watch free television. Give me my movie and stop marketing to me. I'd actually prefer a dark theater and elevator music. I'm just waiting for the first implementation of Minority Report-style advertising where the video ads speak to you directly. Then I can start hating the sound of my own name.

By the way, Minority Report was a good movie. In spite of Tom Cruise.