Thursday, March 31, 2011

Read This Post, Win a Prize!

I finally discovered the "Stats" feature Blogger has. I learned a few surprising things, including, but not limited to:

1. People actually read the nonsense I post here.

2. The third most popular search term that leads to this site is "human babies are gross."

3. Someone once reached this site by Googling "black person nose."

I also learned that I have a lone visitor from Greece, so I thought I'd give a shout out to my no doubt olive-skinned reader.

Hello! (Or should I say "Γεια σας!") I hope you're having a wonderful day among the olive trees, sacrificing goats and eating grape leaves and such. I've never visited Greece myself, but I have read Homer and seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, so I think I have a pretty accurate idea of what it's like there. Specifically, I believe that all conversations are supposed to begin and end with the shouting of the word "opa," similar to the use of "aloha" in Hawaii. So a double dose of "opa" to you, my friend.

Oh, and the prize I mentioned: since we all benefit from interacting with different cultures, if my Greek reader would kindly make him or herself known in the comments section of this post, he or she will win a prize*! It's that simple.

While we're at it, let's offer prizes to anyone who becomes a follower of this blog before the end of the month**. Prizes all around, yay! Everybody loves a prize.

Love to you all,

S. Misanthrope

*Prize TBD
**This prize also TBD

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Movie Review: SuckerPunch

When I saw the posters for SuckerPunch, my first thought was “Lesbians!” My second thought was “Oh boy, now I get to go to the movies ‘cause there’s finally another one-word, starts-with-an-S film coming out!” But I was cruelly deceived. Ambiguous spacing on advertisements notwithstanding, SuckerPunch is actually supposed to be two separate words, at least according to my ticket, IMDB, and everyone who isn’t the spatially-challenged designer of those posters. But since the only thing I hate more than violating my overly-specific and totally arbitrary movie-watching rules is wasting money, I decided to watch anyway.

One could say many things about SuckerPunch (which I will spell this way until the day I die or until I have no fingers like this girl, but without the stalwart determination needed to teach myself how to type with a stump). One could say that it is Zack Snyder’s best film, or that it starred the greatest actresses of our generation, or that it was about a colony of pacifist ant farmers in New Zealand. One could say any of these things, but that wouldn’t make any of them true.*

With a budget of $82 million, we would expect to see something technologically innovative come out of this movie. Maybe not a cure for cancer, but at least a way to annoy cancer somewhat. While poking cancer with a stick remains our best option in that arena, SuckerPunch did put a substantial chunk of its budget toward advancing technology to make our lives better.

Co-writer and director Zack Snyder decided early on to put approximately $51 million of the film’s budget toward research and development of false eyelash technology. He recognized the importance of impossibly-large-looking eyes not only as the director of a film whose stated purpose was to cause the entire nation of Japan to climax simultaneously (that plan backfired, didn’t it?**), but also as a man who knows that just about every part of a woman’s body should be made artificially bigger, longer, or otherwise different than it currently is. Listen up, ladies: just because we’ve been harping on breasts and butts for the last 20 years, doesn’t mean no one’s noticed your woefully inadequate eyelid fringe. No, mascara won’t cut it, sweetheart. You really should just rip them out and start over. Luckily, Zack Snyder is here to help.

Anywho, so SuckerPunch tells the story of a lovely, young pair of eyelashes cursed with the mother of all evil stepfathers (metaphorically, not biologically). He kills her mother and her sister and conspires with a corrupt orderly to drug and ultimately lobotomize the pure, innocent lashes. In the asylum, the pair of lashes makes friends with other pairs of lashes that aren’t as big, but still much, much bigger than any eyelashes you’ve seen before. It turns out the heroine pair of lashes is so big and awesome, she actually has super powers that don’t really make any sense when you think about them, but that are pretty entertaining if you don’t. She sets about planning a dramatic escape that surprisingly doesn’t involve them batting their eyelashes until they fly away, over the asylum walls to freedom.

Snyder originally planned to work with Industrial Light and Magic to develop the cutting-edge false lashes required to make the SuckerPunch dream a reality, but after repeated awkward run-ins with Michael Bay in the men’s room, Snyder decided to start his own independent eyelash research lab. With his $51 million budget, he was able to attract talent that had previously been engaged with stem cell research and Alzheimer’s treatment development. He also engaged a nanobot swarm that he trained to attach the lashes in the most secure and realistic way possible (essentially using spider thread to stitch the false lashes one at a time into your actual eyelid).

The lab experimented with every possible material, from tungsten to sea cucumber hair to ergot of rye to streptococci husks (Snyder refuses to reveal what material was ultimately used for the film, but I hear the Libyans are looking for him). Snyder said he deliberately did not get involved in any efforts to enhance women’s natural lashes. “I had a girlfriend a while ago who tried that Latisse stuff,” he told the New York Times. “It turned her eyelid all brown, so I had to break up with her. You really shouldn’t mess with nature, you know, especially when you can just replace it.”

Although Snyder claims there are no plans to make a SuckerPunch sequel, he did say that he feels there are endless possibilities for false lashes to take on more and more prominent roles in films. “What I have done will change cinema forever,” he told reporters. His influence may extend much further than that as it has been rumored that Snyder’s lab, the Center for Artificial Female Eyelash Enhancement or "CAFEE", will soon begin producing commercially available false eyelashes for any women who want to look like they have giant bat wings growing out of their eyes.

*It was still better than Inception.
**Too soon?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Yes, Virginia: Children Left Alone on an Island Will Eat Each Other

Before I got the hang of book burning, I had only ever destroyed one piece of literature in my life: William Golding's Lord of the Flies. This wasn't because it was tedious (though it was), or pretentious (which is definitely was). It wasn't because I had no idea what "sucks to your asth-mar" meant. When I finished that book, I ripped its cover off, threw it across the room, and hid in a corner so I wouldn't have to look at it because it rang so true.

About a year and a half ago, we find out that William Golding was practically a child-rapist, and some people aren't surprised because who else would have such a malevolent view of children?

Um...anyone who actually remembers what being a child is like, maybe?

Playgrounds are every bit as brutal as Golding's island. Children love to dominate and terrorize others. They hate for anyone to be better than they are, and they are eager to exploit weakness in others. And they're good at it. Very, very good at it.

Were you "the smart kid" in class? Do you remember the reaction when you made a mistake that someone noticed? Any other kid's spelling error would be met with indifference, but yours ignites the entire classroom to frenzied shouts about your wrongness.

Were you "the athlete?" Do you remember the sly looks when you broke your arm and got your comeuppance for all those times you ran effortless circles around everyone else?

Were you "the goody two shoes?" Do you remember the visceral mockery directed at you by your peers the one time you forgot your homework, an error that would have gotten no attention at all had any other student committed it?

If you think you don't, I suggest you think harder. This is standard fare in schools, public or private, in cities or in the country, in rich areas or poor ones. It's your standard, run of the mill "hatred of the good for being good," only magnified about a billion times through the high-intensity emotions of childhood.

But wait, S. Misanthrope! Don't you subscribe to the benevolent universe premise? Aren't children fluffy kittens because one time Ayn Rand described them as fluffy kittens?

Yes, I am all about the BUP in my own cynical, jaded way, and yes, children raised in an idyllic valley that's basically one giant Montessori school probably would turn out to be fluffy kittens, but that's not what Golding was writing about. He was writing about children raised in our world. The world of involuntary socialization, sharing, punishment and reward. The world where right and wrong are handed down by adults and when the adults can't see you, anything goes.

And then you take away the adults, leaving you with cannibalism and a fat kid's brains scrambled on a rock.

I'm not here to defend Golding's book, and certainly not his deplorable actions during his life. As accurately as he identified and recorded the brutality children are capable of, he mistook its source. He believed we humans possess a violent and destructive nature by default, and children eating each other is the natural way of things. This is false generally, but true in the particular case of our culture and child-rearing practices.

Why does this happen?

From the time we enter school (age 3 for me), we are essentially thrown into combat. Not in a cool, Spartan way, but in a slimy, miserable way that produces not the best warrior, but the best thief. At an age where we are intent on exploring our environment and figuring out the world, other children are not sources of potential value but competitors for scarce resources.

Blocks. Finger paints. Tinker Toys. Animal Crackers. The only means to securing any of these delights is through force or fraud, and the better method is fraud. Force is too visible and makes it too easy for your victim to prove your wrongdoing to the authority figure. Fraud, on the other hand, is subtle, almost silent, and there's nothing the other kids can do about it.

Say you're in preschool, and you see another child start to play with an action figure. A moment ago, you had no interest in playing with that action figure, but now your little three-year-old brain realizes there's competition for this action figure. If you just wait around until you actually want to play with it, it will be too late. It's time to corner the market on action figures.

You casually make your way toward your classmate. He notices you. There's fear in his eyes, and misery. Almost immediately he goes on the defensive. It's a fatal mistake.

"Mine," he says. You simply stare in response.

"Mine!" he says, more loudly. You start to reach for the toy.

"MIIIINE!" he sobs, causing the teacher to appear.

"What's going on here?" she says. Your classmate is crying.

"Mine," he says, with just the faintest touch of hope in his voice.

"Now, now," Teacher says, "we have to share." The glimmer of hope disappears. Teacher turns to you now and says:

"Why don't you take a turn for a little while?"

Just like that, you've won. Your classmate, who by any rational standard had every right to undisturbed play with his toy, can cry and kick and scream all day, but it will only solidify the teacher's belief that what she dealt out was justice. You've won, and you can go on winning this way forever. Not just with communal property either; the same trick will allow you to gained control of other children's personal property, too. Anyone raised in a traditional American school remembers the dreaded phrase:

"Did you bring enough for everyone?"

 That one sentence alone doomed generations of children, myself included, to the Lord of the Flies existence Golding so vividly illustrates.

Luckily most of us do not end up in plane crashes on deserted islands. We grow up and join our capitalist-ish society and discover that other people can be downright pleasant when traded with under mutually agreeable terms to mutual benefit. Force and fraud no longer get you what you want, but hard work and honesty do. Unless, of course, we're talking about eminent domain, or government contracts, or government permission to provide cell phone service or internet or cable, or welfare, or "free" health care, or breadlines, or emissions standards, or any other mandated form of "equality" that really just means we're back on the god-damned playground again, where the best manipulator wins.

Now that I think on it, Lord of the Flies might be worth another look despite everything, but this time as a how-to guide for surviving in Golding's world. It's likely to be our world from cradle to grave before too long.

Passing the conch now,

S. Misanthrope

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Flavor Yellow

I was lucky enough to have a pretty decent dining hall in college. Though it was several times shut down for health code violations rumored to have involved rat feces, the food was still mostly edible and varied, much more so than one can generally expect from cafeterias in the Midwest. I enjoyed serving myself tilapia with polenta in time with Prince's "Raspberry Beret" while gossiping with the lively and generally friendly staff.

But things were far from perfect. The O.J. was made from a mix and always came out either syrupy or tasting like water that an orange had sneezed in; the pizza was always wrong, but I could never tell you why; and somehow, in three years, the pasta never once came out "al dente."

Then there was the pie.

Every day at lunch and dinner, the table next to the cereal presented a variety of dessert options. The exact mix varied from day to day, but there were five or so possibilities for pie. There was apple and cherry and strawberry-rhubarb. There was chocolate and banana cream. And there was yellow.

The "yellow" flavor of pie had no obvious counterpart in the natural world. It was clearly not meant to be banana flavor as there was a banana flavor that tasted like banana.

When banana and yellow sat next to each other, they were easy to tell apart. Yellow was significantly more yellow than banana, in color and, I can only assume, in taste as well.

Next to banana, yellow looked cartoonishly bad, like a child's hyperbole of a yellow pie. You knew better than to touch it. Unfortunately, however, banana was not always there to illustrate the contrast. When only one yellow-colored pie sat on the table, it was difficult to determine by sight whether it was yellow-yellow or yellow-banana.

In this situation, most of us chose to play it safe. Sure, the upside of choosing correctly was banana pie, but the downside was ingesting a cloying mouthful of indeterminate yellow substance before realizing your mistake. It was the classic red wire/green wire dilemma, only if you were color blind.

I say "most of us" because some of us really love banana cream pie. Some of us were having a hard time during the long, banana-less winter months, which lead some of us to think it might be worth the risk. As it turns out, some of us were wrong.

I remember staggering into the dining hall one bleak February afternoon. Suicide Prevention Day having come and gone, and I was faced with an endless stream of classes, problem sets, papers, and labs for 7 more weeks, culminating in finals week a.k.a. long, drawn out death. I really needed something, anything to brighten my day.

And there it was. A lone yellow-colored piece of possibly banana-flavored pie, waiting for me.

 The beaming rays coming off it in the illustration are not hyperbole: it actually had a phosphorescent aura emanating from it. I probably should have taken that as a clue, perhaps that the mysterious yellow flavor was actually yellow uranium flavor, but I was too worn down by the Chicago winter to think clearly. I grabbed myself that piece of pie and dug in.

The sensation I experienced halfway through my first and last bite of this pie is probably most analogous to being raped in the mouth by Mickey Mouse.
So sugary! So cloying! So...yellow!

Although I spat it out as quickly as humanly possible and begged my taste buds' forgiveness, I had been violated and would never fully recover. To this day, I cannot see yellow food without experiencing a paralyzing jolt of fear at the memory of that yellow pie.

Happy belated "Pie Day",

S. Misanthrope

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I Just Realized...

...that Saint Patrick's Day occurs in the middle of Lent. So is it still fasting if you drink your bread instead of eating it?


a) Yes.
b) No.
c) Doesn't matter, just go to confession.
d) Doesn't matter, religion is stupid.
e) Dude, I am so wasted right now.

Happy Green Day,

S. Misanthrope

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Beggars Can't Be Choosers

I'm begging everyone to stop begging, or more specifically, to stop *saying* you're begging when you're not.

People love to sound pretentious, and there's really no better way to puff up your side of the debate than by cracking open the textbook from the Introduction to Logic course you took pass/fail as an elective in college and choosing fallacies to accuse the other side of at random. Formal logic is not something the average person is familiar with, so using it can make you sound all smart and confident when conversing with lesser mortals.

Unless of course you are using logic incorrectly in front of people who actually understand it. Then you just look stupid.

This brings us to my second greatest pet peeve (worse than the Alot, but not as bad as "disinterested"): false accusations of question begging.

The logical fallacy of "begging the question," or "petitio principii," as Aristotle would not have said because he did not speak Latin, occurs when a proposition that requires proof is assumed without proof. Basically you're making an argument that X is true, and your argument is that X is true. They often read like the punchline of a racist joke. "Why do Muslims have smelly feet? Because they stink!"

Abusing logic is just so offensive.

The worst question beggars I've come across are the fucking morons who make nature programs. Seriously, just turn on Animal Planet, count to ten, and I guarantee you, by 5-and-a-half you will have seen a question thoroughly begged. I once saw a special on animals with crazy mutations. It was the least informative hour of my life, and that's coming from a proud member of the "I went to a public school, BITCH!" Facebook group. The whole episode basically went like this:

[While showing an awesome video of a two headed snake that I'm too lazy to look up for you guys]

Narrator: Here you see the common garden Snakey Snake. But this specimen has a rare mutation: two completely distinct heads.

Me: Holy shit!

Narrator: Why does this snake have two heads?

Me: I don't know, why? Please tell me!

Narrator: Because it has a condition called Headus Duplicatus, which is Latin for "oh my god this fucker's got two heads!"

Me: FML.

That is definitely in the running for "Most Contentless Statement I Have Ever Heard." You're telling me that this snake has two heads has a condition that gives it two heads? Really? The author of that logical merry-go-round deserves to be sent to the circle of hell where you're eternally eaten by two headed snakes while screaming "Why? Why do they have two heads?!" and then Lucifer says "BECAUSE THEY DO!"

Oh yeah, you begged that question so good.

Anyway, so question begging is really fucking annoying, but not nearly as annoying as when people say "Well, that begs the question blah blah blah." No, people, no it doesn't. What you mean is "That raises the question blah blah blah." When your girlfriend says she wants to go out tonight, that doesn't beg the question "how are we going to get there in this weather?" She's committed no logical fallacy by stating her preference for getting your ass off the goddamn couch, for once. Sure, there are more things to discuss and logistics to figure out before her dream of a glamorous evening at Olive Garden can be made a reality, but that has nothing to do with any begging of questions.

In conclusion, ladies and gents, if a statement has unaddressed implications, by all means address them, but don't go accusing the speaker of a kind of fallacious argumentation so basic, even my chromosomally-challenged cousin would be embarrassed to make it.

Now, if I learned one thing from my German parents, it's that shame is the best motivator for behavioral change. I am therefore introducing the Anti-Question Begging Wall of Shame, to be maintained here and updated whenever I feel like it. It's a bit short right now because I only recently started tracking these errors instead of psychologically repressing them, but I'm sure it will grow and flourish in no time. Without further ado:

The Anti-Question Begging Wall of Shame
The following individuals have issued false accusations of question begging. Whether from ignorance or sloth, we cannot say. Either way, the management encourages them to pick up a bloody dictionary (and hit themselves over the head with it.)

My boss, July 29, 2011 for the gazillionth time.
I'm just going to stop counting now.

Gladston, for his July 6, 2011 article for titled
"3 Reasons There Are So Many Jews In Comedy"
Though it's comforting to know that you also find the rules of capitalization in titles a challenge.

Simon Bower and Eddie Rodriguez, for their May 19, 2011 article for titled
"The 7 Most Ridiculous Cases of Misplaced Priorities"
Perhaps next time you could write an article called
"The 7 Phrases Most Misused in an Effort to Sound Smarter than You Actually Are."

Tad Quill, for Scrubs, Season 5, Episode 13 "My Five Stages"
Out of fairness, I acknowledge that much of this show is ad lib.
I know better than to expect actors to know their fallacies.

Jon Robin Baitz and Jennifer Cecil, for Brothers & Sisters, Season 2, Episode 3 "History Repeating"
Correct me if I'm wrong, but command of the English language is, like, your job, right?, for their 2011 "Power to the Parent" Hulu commercial
Next time you spend $40 million on a commercial, at least spend some of it
on a writer who understands and properly applies the concepts he's using.

Meredith G., for her October 11, 2010 Yelp! review for ABC Cleaners
I'm much more sorry for your poor command of the English language than for your missing belt.

Ed Cline, for his February 3, 2011 article "A Qualified Victory for the Framers"
Dude, I had to call you on it. Your use of language usually boasts a precision
comparable to the best of the best, but this was not up to par.

My Boss, for her March 11, 2011 double-whammy of back-to-back verbal misuse of the term
The good news is, I'm pretty sure our clients don't know what it means either. 

 My Boss again, for her March 16, 2011 email
I'm starting to think you and I need to have a chat about this.

 Have you caught someone misusing this concept? Submit your evidence and win a prize!

Step one toward global peace and harmony is consistent and accurate use of language. Don't stand in the way of progress. Just take a little time out of your life to learn what you're actually saying, and make the effort to say what you mean. Else I will mock you relentlessly, yo. 

Peace out,

S. Misanthrope 

Friday, March 11, 2011

If I Picked the Categories

My indifference to the Academy Awards should be obvious since I am only just now getting around to writing about them. My indifference to the world should be obvious since I am only just now getting around to writing about anything all, but I digress.

The Academy Awards or "Oscars," as they are sometimes called in honor of some chick's pedo uncle, are total crap. I feel no need whatsoever to justify this statement as it is immediately obvious on the perceptual level, but I will anyway because it's fun.

For starters, the Oscars have absolutely no effect on anything. All the films have already come out. We've already seen them and decided whether or not we like them. Winning recognition from the mysterious, ineffable Academy won't change that. True, it will matter for DVD sales and for directors, writers and actors who can now be referred to as "Academy Award-winning" in advertisements for future films, but for the millions of people tuning in all over the world, they simply do not matter.

Only two things have ever mattered in the Oscars: speeches and clothes. The clothes took a nose-dive long ago. It's just too cliche to look pretty. Anyone can be pretty, but it takes a person with real skill and courage to go around looking like this:

 If you want style and grace, watch the Emmys, or heck, even the awards for day time television. Acting talent has an inverse relationship to personal style in this world.

Then there are the speeches. These still have the potential to be amusing, but the humor has worn thin. I used to watch to see which stars were idiots. Then I started watching to see which stars were not idiots. Now the best I can do is watch to rank them in increasing order of idiocy. At this point, the actors' speeches are almost as predictable as the films they star in. Zing.

All this is not even touching on the fact that the whole system is ridiculously political. Anyone -and I mean any random semi-literate person off the street- can write a Best Picture. All you need is a beautiful, beloved actor or actress that you can make ugly; a hero who is seemingly wealthy, successful and powerful, but who actually has feet of clay; a hero who is somehow difficult or painful to look at due to a debilitating condition of some kind, with extra points if the condition is the result of childhood trauma (extra extra points if the trauma is sexual); a ridiculous budget to spend on a star-studded cast and abominably detailed sets and period costumes to distract you from the shallowness of the story; and people with accents.

Put it all together and what've you got? The King's Fucking Retarded Speech. QED.

One easy way to dramatically improve the Academy Awards would be to create better categories. With that in mind, here are five categories I would like to nominate, along with this year's winners for each.

1. Most Obvious Attempt to Win an Academy Award

This category I believe is essential. By adding this award alone, the Oscars would go from completely useless to the best thing that's ever happened to cinema. Anyone who has ever taught a 4th grade class knows that you can't just reward good behavior: you must shame bad as well. By adding an award that is an embarrassment rather than an honor to receive, the Academy Awards would serve as a check on the film industry.

Of course, for this to work, the Academy will have to stop being complete whores, but I can dream.

And the Oscar goes to...

Th-th-the K-k-king's Sp-speech

Ok, Colin Firth: you've played a funny gay, a depressing gay, and straight bottom with a disability. You've proven you're a "serious" actor. Now can you please skip playing a drug addict and go back to being every woman's fantasy?

2. Most Unintelligible Screenplay (that everyone claims to love because they are afraid to admit they don't understand it)

This award is similar to the one above, only instead of being a check on filmmakers, it is a check on film audiences. No longer can gaggles of wannabe sophisticates fawn over obtuse films as though they and their fart-smelling friends alone appreciate the hidden genius behind screenplays that read like a bad acid trip, lest their pretense be called out on national television. It's basically one big "shenanigans" check on our entire culture, and boy do we need it.

Again, this assumes the Academy one day stops smelling their own farts as well. Oh, sweet fantasy.

And the Oscar goes to...

Black Swan

I don't care if you tell me you liked it, but don't you dare claim you understood it.

3. Best Disregard for ______

This category should vary from year to year. We could have an award for Best Disregard for History, awarded to The King's Speech (under my system, this film would win different awards, but just as many) for an inexplicable fear of war with Germany in 1925 or the presence of Winston Churchill throughout the 1930s. Or a Best Disregard for Science award could be given to the classic monster film Splice. Or perhaps a Best Disregard for Geography for Salt. The possibilities are both limitless and entertaining.

Best to avoid Best Disregard for Psychology though, as this would lead to far too many nominations.

And the Oscar goes to...

The Social Network

Best Disregard for Facts in the Biography of a Person Who Is Still Alive

4. Person We Most Want to Give an Oscar Speech

Let's face it: half the time you're rooting for the person you think will give the most obnoxious, most pretentious, or just the weirdest speech. So let's cut the nonsense and just make speech-giving a category. In fact, we shouldn't even limit ourselves to people who were involved in a film in the past year. This category is open to anyone and everyone, purely based on their capacity for crazy.

And the Oscar goes to...

It's gotta be Charlie "Tiger Blood" Sheen. In fact, he pretty much invented this award last week. He really does win all over the place.

5. Best Portrayal of an Inanimate Object
This award goes to the Saul Bellow of acting: the man or woman who delivers the most lifeless, flat, tedious performance of the year. Because actors can never be shamed too much.

And the Oscar goes to...

The horse in Secretariat.

I'm just not buying it, guy. You didn't even run very fast, and I couldn't understand a word you were saying.
Assorted other award possibilities include Best Shark Attack (won by Jaws every year), Most Accurate Representation of a Tree (we have yet to have a winner in this category as Hollywood still refuses to produce my screenplay The Truth about Trees), Best Use of Public Transportation (Speed wins most years), and Least Believable "No Animals Were Harmed" Disclaimer (2010 winner: True Grit).
Thanks to the Academy,

S. Misanthrope