“We cannot have a society in which some dictator can start imposing censorship here in the United States”

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator can start imposing censorship here in the United States, because if someone is going to intimidate someone from releasing a satirical movie, imagine what would happen if they see a documentary they don’t like, or news they don’t like,” the President added, expressing concern for the idea that some movie producers might fall victim to “self-censorship” to avoid angering another country. . . “That’s not who we are and that’s not what America is about,” Obama continued.
Ars Technica: Obama thinks Sony “made a mistake” pulling The Interview after hack

My understanding is that it was the theater owners who initially pulled the film, not Sony, but the point still stands. I can understand them being skittish after what happened in Denver, but come on. If there was an attack being staged large enough to attack multiple theaters in multiple cities simultaneously, I’m confident the federal authorities would have picked up on it way before that would have been executed. Regardless of who actually pulled off the hack and made the threat, the theater owners completely caved to an anonymous, baseless threat, plain and simple. We’ll be feeling the implications from this for years to come.

Sony has a chance to redeem their industry by using their own, and other, channels to distribute the film, but that redemption is timed. Time heals all wounds, which means there will come a point in time when releasing the film just won’t matter, but that would be a very muted showing of our resilience. The big “fuck you” would be to at least release the film digitally through as many distribution channels before the end of the year. The wheels of big corporations tend to move slow, but I’m sure if Sony’s CEO were to pick up the phone and call the CEOs of Netflix, Apple, and Google, this movie would be out within a matter of days.

The Ampersand is Important

How many times do I have to say this? We’re the Skull & Daggers—that’s with an ampersand. So I don’t want to see anybody spelling out “and.” This was not a random decision. We chose the ampersand because it’s the cleaner, more elegant option, and it resonates with our target audience. We may be vandals, but we’re not savages.
The New Yorker: Please Adhere to Our Biker Gang’s Style Guide

Use of the ampersand must be made judiciously, but is a very wise one when done. I might be biased.

The story is, as they say, the thing.

You can’t fault Jackson for his physical world-building. The attention to detail—every set, every special effect, every prop and suit of armor and ruined town, every last smoldering candlestick and dragon scale—is unparalleled. Middle-earth feels real. But in these Hobbit movies, the more important thing to get right is situational realism: How the plot turns, what the characters do, if they move through space in a believable way. All this is thrown out the door. The sincerity of Thorin and Bilbo’s struggles is completely undermined by the story’s blanket disregard for physics, logic, and credibility. Gone into the ether is Tolkien’s gentle, thoughtful, and more plausible children’s tale.
Wired: Peter Jackson Must Be Stopped

So, let’s get this straight: a director pulls together a killer trilogy of films that strikes a cultural chord, but then later does a series prequel that is, as far as I can tell, universally maligned, mainly for its reliance on stunning special effects to make up for a crap story. That sounds familiar. I haven’t seen the Hobbit films, despite my being a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. I finished the movies before I ever read the books, but once I finished the books, I could see a place for both the original texts and the films. They pair well to me, and if I remember correctly that was the general consensus; the edits made to the original Lord of the Rings books to make them fit film were, for the most part, reasonable. Based on everything—everything—I have read about the Hobbit films, that is most certainly not the case. The story is, as they say, the thing. The Hobbit films lack a good story in spite of the quality of its source material and its special effects, and fandom pretty much hates it. This should come as a surprise to no one.

Maybe once I am finished with school I will be less guarded with my time, but for now this is good to know that I’m not missing much so that I may use my time more wisely. Maybe I’ll read The Hobbit during break.

That WordPress Update

I use WordPress for this site because it makes managing the site mostly easy. But two things about the recent update:

  • Every automated 0.1 release freezes on me. Every time. Without fail. The 0.0.1 work fine. I use the default everything on this site. I’m guessing there is a permissions issue involved, but the update routine doesn’t (can’t or won’t?) report those, and I don’t want to go resetting permissions on the server just to avoid manual upgrades.
  • The latest theme Twenty Fifteen completely disregards the hierarchy in the baked in menu systems, which makes no sense. Why support hierarchical menus and then ignore all hierarchies in the default theme? This is a waste of people’s effort, for both the designers and the site owners. I understand they want to be “blog focused” but surely there must have been some kind of compromise to be had.

Beyond that, WordPress is the ol’ reliable.

LA Weekly: Pulling The Interview Is the End of Free Speech in Hollywood

The truth is, America’s commitment to free speech is dwarfed by our commitment to capitalism. Seth Rogen can stand in his house and say anything he wants about Kim Jong-un – but Sony has the choice to fund him, and even if it agrees, AMC can still pull the plug. The corporation, not the individual, has always had the power to decide what movie is a thoughtcrime. We’re just only now visibly seeing the suits flex their clout.
LA Weekly: Pulling The Interview Is the End of Free Speech in Hollywood

I think noting that this issue is not new is just as important.

This American Life: 129 Cars

We recently had to buy a new car. I say “had to” because the one we were driving at the time was twelve years old and had 185,000 miles on it. A lot of little things weren’t working. The engine itself—block, pistons, and transmission—was fine, which I’ve had more than one mechanic say if the engine is fine then the car is maintainable; everything else can be replaced or really isn’t necessary to getting from one place to the next, but if the block, pistons, or transmission get damaged, selling it for parts or trading it in for a new one is far easier than replacing the block. Sure, you ostensibly pay more in payments than in repairs, but then at least you know that you have reliable transportation. Since all this was coming from my mechanics over the years, I’ve had a hard time even attempting to refute the logic.

But over the last couple of years a lot of little things were going wrong, and driving our old car was a death by a thousand cuts. The driver-side sunshade decided it wouldn’t stay in the roof any more; the keyless entry stopped working entirely, we had to manually manipulate all the locks; and the A/C stopped working altogether. When we saw the cost to replace the struts and repair the A/C, we decided buying a new car was the cheaper option, at least for the first year, but easier in terms of convenience over the long term. Good enough reason as any since we felt we had successfully continued our long tradition of driving our cars into the ground.

When we were coming to the realization that we were going to have to buy a new car in the next six months, I had already heard about the 129 Cars episode on This American Life, and grabbed it off of iTunes for 99¢. Since then I must have listened to it a hundred times. This quote, and you really have to hear the delivery, cracks me up every time:

A customer says they’re not ready to buy a car. Let’s go over it again. They’re at a car dealership. They got in their car, drove through hell to get here, looked for a parking spot for ten minutes, parked, got out of the car and walked into a car dealer. Not because the coffee’s good, we went over this, because the coffee here’s not good. They came here because we sell cars and they want to buy one.

There was a lot of useful information in there that, while not directly applicable, altered our approach such that we were able to have much more reasonable time purchasing the car. In talking with people each car company and each dealership all have their own ways of doing things. But that quote, I think, comprehensively framed our mindset walking into the dealership. They didn’t need to know that our current car was falling apart, but we didn’t waste their time and ours deluding ourselves or them that we were “just looking.” They know we were in the market for a new car, but they also knew—because we told them—we were weighing our options in what they knew to be a competitive market. I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say we were not hostile in any way, and ended up with a great deal without a lot of hassle.

If you are in the market to buy a new car, I highly suggest listening to that episode a few times to catch all the details. I still listen to it from time to time if only to hear that quote. I have found it immensely useful in other areas as well—washers, dryers, refrigerators, furniture, and anything else that requires a salesman to coordinate the purchase. Unless you are in the washer business, you are not “just looking.”

Death Becomes Him: Confessions of a Mortician

I tend to read a lot about morticians (for some reason that I have yet to surmise), and this one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the topic because it captures perfectly both “sides,” if you will, of morticians and non-morticians:

Of course, we like to keep our distance in this way, which is why we pay the death fairies to take care of it. Americans don’t like to talk about the inevitable: Our screens are filled with zombies, and yet speaking frankly about death is seen as “morbid” or “unhealthy.” Surely the recent Ebola panic is a product of this repression, a way of turning our own mortality into a foreign threat, an illegal immigrant landing on our shores. Death is embarrassing to us, even a bit unpatriotic. I’ve discovered this about my own fear of extinction. When I bring it up, people tend to shift in their chairs, as if holding in a fart. A look of impatience crosses their faces. Just as often, too, they can’t understand what the hell I’m talking about.
Death Becomes Him: Confessions of a Mortician

There’s so much I could quote, and I don’t want to ruin it, but this paragraph really struck a nerve:

I switched on the TV. Game of Thrones, which I’d never seen before, was on. It was some grim and pretentious business. A bunch of bearded dudes were trapped inside a castle, waiting to be slaughtered. Mostly they walked around muttering about how scared they were. Before long the bad guys, a motley crew that seemed to include giants and woolly mammoths, stormed the castle and began to bash people’s heads in like watermelons. Normally I was hardened to this sort of stuff — who could go to the movies these days without seeing the insides of someone’s head? — but now I felt like I might actually throw up. What did it mean that this was one of the most popular shows in America? Why did we need our death porn and our sealed caskets, too?

I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, and based on what I’ve heard I have no interest in it either. I’ve been involved in some kind of medical publishing my entire career. Horror and gore in TV and movies really doesn’t do anything for me anymore. If anything, I find “death porn” confusing.

Hollywood still doesn’t have any new ideas

Matt Reeves says that the plan isn’t ever to “remake” The Planet of the Apes, but to do something more reboot-ish…
io9.com: What Could Another Planet of the Apes Remake Look Like?

New rule: Anytime a Hollywood executive uses the words “another…remake” in a sentence, even speculatively, needs to be immediately stripped of their decision-making authority.

I’m “iffy” on reboots. There is bias on my part in that I really only care about those franchises I like, and I never really cared for Planet of the Apes. Then there are those rare franchises that lend themselves to “reboots,” like the James Bond series. And let’s be clear: “reboot” is just a fancier term for “remake,” like “pre-owned vehicle” is just a fancier term for “used car.”

Either way, given the current prevalence of remakes and reboots, is Hollywood really so starved for new ideas that this is the new norm?

Boston.com: Can’t Get Nothin’ Right

Extension School classes are open to everyone — “no application required,” the site says. Therein lies the major difference.

Calling yourself a Harvard student comes with a set of assumptions: you scored well on the SATs, kept up a top GPA, led some extra-curriculars, wrote a grammatically correct and interesting essay, and maybe even had a parent attend.

Extension School students don’t need any of these qualifications; they just need an interest to learn and some money to spend. “Many simply enroll in a course or two to gain the knowledge or skills they need for their current career or for personal enrichment,” a spokesperson said, and most don’t intend to graduate. That makes some difference in determining the ‘Harvard student’ definition.
Boston.com: When Is a Person Taking Classes at Harvard Not Considered a ‘Harvard Student?’

Boston.com is absolute shit. Let’s set aside, for a moment, the merits of an article based on comments—because, you know, that’s where the *real* magic happens.

After all that text, the article still fails to make the distinction between non-credit—those that take classes at Harvard—and for-credit students—those who are “Harvard students” given their privileges at the University. By privileges I mean access to libraries, events, ID cards, and the all important diploma which look exactly the same as those from the College except for the actual degree conferred. In the end, those who take courses at Extension for credit are earning an accredited degree from the school that is a part of Harvard University. Nor does Boston.com take the time to explain the entrance requirements that do exist. This is not a hard distinction to make, but one that I am not surprised Boston.com fails to get correct.

Digging deeper, there’s this guy…

I would categorize a Harvard student as someone who gets a degree from the University,” Baveja said, “so I guess in that sense I wouldn’t necessarily categorize [an Extension School attendee] as a ‘Harvard student.’ ”

No. Now pay attention. No one gets a degree from “the University.” Those of us taking courses for credit are getting degrees from our respective schools—Harvard College, Extension, Business, Law, and so on—which are all a part of the University.

As to the merits of basing on article on comments, Boston.com is absolute shit.