End Time Zones Now!

This one minute video sums up my feelings on the use of time zones very nicely.  They may have made sense at one point, but they make sense no longer.  They just add to global confusion.  Stand up against the time zone patriarchy!

The Right-Wing Schrödinger’s Cat

Benjamin Netanyahu gave his controversial speech to Congress today and it was as banal as expected.  Iran is evil, Iran must not get nuclear weapons, Iran plans on destroying Israel, Iran supports terrorism, Iran plans on taking over the Middle East.  He presented nothing that hasn’t been heard by every single Congresscritter and every single individual on earth that pays attention to events in Israel haven’t heard a million times.  In other words, the speech was useless propaganda with Congress playing patsy to a foreign leader.

What gets me is how much of what Netanyahu says seems to contradict each other.  Take for instance the contradicting beliefs that Iran both plans on being a major power in the Middle East and that it is a suicidal power that only wants a nuclear weapon to use it against Israel.  The former is almost certainly true.  Iran uses proxies in many of the Middle Eastern countries to exert some sort of control over those countries in the underwear gnomes hope that they will somehow profit.  The latter is absolutely ridiculous.  Any use of a nuclear weapon by Iran or by a proxy of Iran will immediately result in Iran becoming a desert of glass.  Iran knows this.  Israel knows this.  The U.S. knows this.  End of story.

So Iran is both suicidally against the existence of Israel and wants to project soft power all across the Middle East.  Netanyahu needs Iran to be this geopolitical equivalent to Schrödinger’s cat in order to play to his base who would re-elect him at home and to play to his base who will lend him political cover here in the U.S.  And our right-wingers are more than eager to lap up this drivel like it was the richest of cream.

I don’t know enough about the U.S. negotiations with Iran to say whether the deal is good or not, but all the arguments I hear against it are disingenuous at best and flat-out lies at worst.  At it’s heart, once again, is that Obama hates America and is a secret Muslim.  And the Otherness campaign against Obama runs apace.

Movie Review: Focus

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A slow-paced caper thriller that keeps you guessing.  It is light, enjoyable, and smart.

What just happened?  You may find yourself asking yourself that question at the end of “Focus”.  It can take a while for your brain to wrap around all the lies and misdirections that the movie throws at you near the end.  That the movie succeeds in walking that fine line of believability while doing so is much to its credit.  The movie is put together like a jigsaw puzzle and throws pieces at you that you’re not even entirely sure are part of the same puzzle that you’re trying to put together.

The biggest problem with “Focus” is that it is mostly setup.  We spend over half the movie just introducing the characters and getting to know the business when it suddenly switches gears and throws the characters around only to incongruously throw them back together three years later.  What saves the movie is that the setup is fun.  There is one scene early in the film when Nicky (Will Smith) is teaching his protegé Jess (Magot Robbie) the art of misdirection by stealthily sliding items off her person.  It’s straight out of a sleight-of-hand magician’s playbook and fun to watch even if it was most likely just play acting instead of the real thing.  The entire setup is like that; showing the various tricks of the trade of the con man.

When the main con does start, it feels kind of empty.  That isn’t to say that it’s not fun, it’s just that the movie spent all this time introducing you to this cast of characters and then it whittles it down to just the two main ones and a bit-player.  The movie slows here some as Nicky and Jess work through their attraction to each other and their trust issues.  The con is interesting if unlikely and fairly straight forward but just when you think Nicky is going to get away with it all, it throws a right hook at you and you’re left wondering where everyone’s allegiance lies.

The light fun makes this movie worth watching and the reveal may blow your mind a little, but there’s not really much there there.  So what we have in “Focus” is a good distraction.  Just be sure to check you still have all of your belongings afterwards.

P.S.  I am mildly amused that Will Smith plays the role of a con man given his penchant for a certain cultish religion that shall remain nameless but nevertheless quite resembles one of the largest cons since Bernie Madoff.

Bad Joke Of The Day

Would a person who had a piece of their colon removed then have a semicolon?

I Want To Start My Own Professional Basketball League

This idea has been rolling around in my mind for a while now and I figured I better write it down before it disappears into the chasms of my mind.  The American mind spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about sports much to the detriment of much more important topics that are far more pertinent to our lives.  That said, professional sports have also been a positive impetus for social change.  Jackie Robinson is a great example of this.  Michael Sam, though he’s not on an NFL team yet, has also brought the echoes of change that will likely lead to the avalanche of openly gay men playing professional football.

I have many issues with professional sports, but the one that has always made no sense to me was that they were divided by gender.  I have no issues with the fact that there is a men’s league and a women’s league, but I do have issue with the fact that that is all we have.  The States are abound with coed recreational leagues so why not professional?  But to me, that doesn’t go far enough because it perpetuates the belief that gender is binary.  What I would like to see is the GNBA: the Gender Neutral Basketball Association.

The rules of the GNBA will follow most of the rules of any professional basketball association with one main difference: everybody is eligible.  Of course, that’s not enough as it would likely just turn into another men’s league so there will be two other rules.  First, the team that is on the court has to be gender neutral + 1.  Second, no individual player can be responsible for over 25% of the scored points.

Gender neutral + 1 probably needs a bit of an explanation.  There are five people on the basketball court at any given time.  Having one self-identifying male and one self-identifying female on the court makes the team gender neutral.  The +1 gives some wiggle room since it is a five person team.  So you can have 3 women and 2 men on the court or 2 trans women and 3 trans men or 1 man and 1 woman and 1 trans man and 1 trans woman and 1 bigender individual, etc.  Importantly, each individual would be self-identifying with no questions asked.  Also, this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of identities or combinations.  Gender identity is vast and complicated and I only have an 8th grade education in it.

No individual player being responsible for more than 25% of the points is an effort to curb the superstar effect that basketball seems to have.  It is there to emphasize team play over individual ego.  If an individual has over 25% of the points at the end of the game, points will be deducted from that individual’s total until they have 25% or fewer points.  This is a rule that I wish the NBA currently had.

Why did I choose basketball?  Practicality, mostly.  Both soccer and baseball would be well suited to a league of this nature too and I like both sports better, but they both require much larger spaces and more players.  Basketball courts are ubiquitous, scale well to attendance levels, and require less person-power.

The biggest obstacle to gender awareness right now is visibility.  We are brought up with a binary view of gender since birth.  This can cause huge emotional damage in those who do not fit that socially enforced binary.  Creating an all-inclusive basketball league will certainly not solve all our gender problems, but it’s a way to bring positive visibility to a portion of the population that remains too invisible to society.

Book Review: Fall Of Giants by Ken Follett

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

“Fall of Giants” is book one of the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett.  You may know Ken Follett from such books as “Eye of the Needle” and “Pillars of the Earth”.  Both books were excellent.  Pieces of “Fall of Giants” live up to the glory of his former books, but pieces also fall dead flat.

The Good: This is an historical fiction novel and much of the history is fascinating.  For you “Downton Abbey” fans, this book takes place in roughly the same time period as portrayed in the series so far.  It starts a little before World War I and continues through to Hitler’s arrest in 1941.  The beginning of “Fall of Giants” is actually so “Downton Abbey”-ish that I wondered if one maybe copied off of the other, but each was released in 2010 so it looks like any similarities are purely coincidental.

Reading on how the world was inevitably dragged into World War I by a series of unfortunate events where at any point any party could have taken a step back and said “Whoah, what are we doing here?” and avoided the war makes for some great reading.  Follett accomplishes this feat by following various characters from the major players around.  The main characters are from England, Germany, Russia, and the United States.  The characters all have their own independent lives but have the fortunate habit of finding themselves crossing paths in the unlikeliest of scenarios.  Follett accomplishes this fairly seamlessly which is no small task.  This seemless, if statistically unlikely crossing of paths, unfortunately, is also the key to the books greatest downfall which leads us to…

The Bad: Ken Follett can not for the life of him make romance interesting.  You know that with such a vast array of characters, some of them are bound to pair off, but I wish Follett didn’t spend so much time on the couples getting together.  There was so much of it that I considered, for a brief period, not reading the next two books.  The sex scenes, of which there are many, are eye-gougingly bad.  What’s funny is that once the various couples get married, many of their stories got really interesting.

If you have a shaky grasp of the history surrounding World War I and the Russian Revolution, there is a lot this book has to offer you.  The story, romantic interludes aside, weaves a beautiful web of character development and intrigue with history as its backdrop.  This isn’t a great book and it certainly has its flaws, but on balance it is worth reading.

The Streak Continues!

So, I did end up voting yesterday.  I had just enough time to run home after work (and boy are my legs tired!), vote, then run all the way back downtown to do my volunteering gig.

Who I vote for:

Mayor – Bob Fioretti – I’ve know of Fioretti for a while now as he used to be the alderman of my mom and aunt and my mom always had good things to say about him.  I also really liked the answers he gave for the Chicago Tribune questionnaire.  I am not at all upset that Chuy Garcia was able to force a run-off against Emmanuel and will gladly vote for him in the run-off.

Alderman – Ameya Pawar – This was a pretty easy call even though I didn’t know I was in the 47th ward until yesterday.  They just changed the boundaries for this election.  The guy who was running against Pawar seemed like a one issue candidate, that issue being fighting against density increases, which I am against.  Also, Pawar has a very impressive background and as an added bonus is the first person of both Indian and Asian descent to serve on the City Council.

All the rest of the races were uncontested.

For the referendums, I voted ‘yes’ for all of them.  The only one that I was kind of waffly about was the domestic violence treatment requirement for city employees.  I am all for people who need help getting help, but I have some issues with employers demanding changes from employees for things that occur outside of work.  Domestic violence is a serious enough topic, though, to let me see past my issues.  Paid leave for workers was a no-brainer.  The campaign finance reform offered is not my first choice of reform, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.  Electing school board members I’m kind of neutral on.  On one side, it seems like it may turn out to be yet another low information ballot item like judges, but on the other side, I like the idea of some sort of community control for our schools.

I Forgot To Vote This Morning

For the first time in my adult life, I will not be voting in an election.  I was supposed to do so before I left for work this morning, but it didn’t even cross my mind until I was well on my way to downtown already and I’m not going to be home again until late.  I completely zombied my way to work today.  Or maybe I “Time to make the donuts”-ed to work.  The former is more hip while the latter shows my age.  And yours too if you get the reference.

I have what I’d consider a decent excuse, though.  It was a very long night of getting paged for work and I’ve been up since 3:00 AM.  It was so cold in the house that by the time I finished working and tried going back to sleep, my feet were so freezing that I couldn’t get at all comfortable.  So everything was crawl out of bed, shamble to the shower, go through the motions of getting ready.  I almost left without putting on a belt.  I remembered it as I was putting on my coat.  That was the moment when I would have remembered to vote, but my brain decided to waste its processing power on putting on the belt instead.  Stupid brain!

It’s probably best I didn’t vote as I might have accidentally voted for Rahm *gasp*.  I also didn’t even realize that I was redistricted into another Ward for 2015 so I was all set to vote for an Alderman who doesn’t even represent me anymore.  Stupid low information voters!

So if any of you were going to vote for Rahm today, I’d like you to just leave it blank so my counter vote would be effective.  Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal said it best, “It’d be more efficient to have every person find someone who votes the other way, then mutually agree not to vote.  Then only people who can’t find a pair will actually go to the voting booth.”  I’m not sure that logic applies in a 5-way race.

Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine 2

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Another of those “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” comedies.  Only a few good laughs.  The cynicism is strong with this one.

The first “Hot Tub Time Machine” was a surprisingly good movie.  It had laughs and a plot that worked despite the absolutely ridiculously premise.  Much of the reason behind that is you cared about the characters.  Number 2 is not that movie.  Gone are the raucous group of friends who, while troubled, were still likable.  They have been replaced with their douchy twins.  This is a premise that can still succeed for a comedy, but that would require a group of writers who take the movie seriously instead of just trying to cash in on the magic of the first movie.  Instead what we have are a series of lame jokes that get repeated over and over again to the point that it becomes its own lame joke that they keep repeating the same lame jokes.  That’s not to say there are no laughs in the movie.  Some hit their mark well, but even they are likely made better because only because you feel the need to laugh at something since you’ve already put your money down on a movie that is supposed to make you laugh.

I think the biggest problem with Number 2 was it expressed a high level of cynicism, but it was all directed inward at itself.  There were a few “break the fourth wall” moments that were just oozing with “yes, we know this sucks”.  None of the actors really seemed to have their heart in the movie.  Of course, none of them are stellar actors, but they’re all decent comics and can really put on a show if the material is present.

I am pleased to report that there is one highlight in the movie.  In the year 2025, Jessica Williams will be the host of “The Daily Show”.  Yes, somehow they managed to release this movie the week after Jon Stewart’s retirement announcement and the call for Jessica Williams to be his replacement.  That would have been a great commercial tie-in that would likely have led to more bodies in seats since this movie bombed hard at the box office.  There were four people, including myself, in the theater when I watched it.

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Man, the Eurozone is a complete mess.  Yep, it’s still trying to hash things out with Greece.  Twice this week, there have almost been deals to basically kick the can down the road and proceed with the same completely not sufficient solution of bleeding Greece dry.  Today, Germany quashed that agreement because…something something.

The actions of Germany during this whole fiasco both make some sense and make no sense at all.  They make sense because concessions to Greece will likely mildly hurt Germany’s economy.  Germany likes being on top.  That’s understandable.  But what they’re trying to force Greece to do is barbaric.  Greece has already had its economy shrink by 25% because of the austerity forced upon them by the European Central Bank and its people are suffering horribly as a result.  This is Weimar republic post World War I levels of shrinking that was forced upon Germany by the Allies.  Germany and many other countries want to squeeze more blood out of that rock.

The sad thing is all of this could easily go away with just a little debt forgiveness.  Greece is already making enough money cover its day to day costs.  They just need to borrow money to service the interest on their debts.  Keep the status quo and offer up some debt forgiveness and Greece would be in ok shape to grow back to a nominally functioning economy.  But debt forgiveness is verboten in any discussion because how will they learn their lesson if they don’t suffer.

There’s also some weird politics going on here as well.  Greece recently elected a solidly left government whereas the rest of the Eurozone is fairly center-right.  Gotta keep the right happy or your government collapses and you lose power.  And much like here in the U.S., staying in power is the first rule of business.  So the right wants to stick it to the only left leaning government to show that a left government can’t function and the center goes along with it because they are somewhat of a same mind and want to keep control.  And damn the consequences.

What are the consequences?  Well, Greece would be stupid to accept more austerity.  That doesn’t mean they won’t, but I don’t get the feeling the current government wants to go down that path both because they campaigned on less austerity and because it’s fairly obvious from the performance of other nations that austerity doesn’t work.  It looks as if the Eurozone is not willing to budge either which means Greece leaves the Euro and defaults on its loans.

And now we come to completely uncharted territory.  Greece leaving the Euro is likely to be devastating to Greece, but also pretty harmful to the rest of the Eurozone as well, leading to another European recession.  Greece, its economy in shambles, will be unable to repay its debts by itself at a time when the Eurozone will demand it.  This means a third party has an opportunity to step in and lend Greece assistance.  Who can do this?  Well, certainly not the Eurozone.  The U.S. could and should do it, but I doubt we have the political will to do so.  So that leaves China, which hasn’t shown much interest in meddling with European political affairs and Russia.  Russia is currently fighting a proxy war in eastern Ukraine, has control of the Crimean Peninsula, and shows all outwards indicators of wanting to expand that influence.  In exchange for money, Greece allows Russia to build naval bases thus giving Russia a base of operations in the Mediterranean Sea and locking its dominance of the Black Sea.  If a far-right ultra-nationalist party comes to power in Greece as a result of these maneuvers, we have all the makings of a recipe for disaster.  Greece could then decide to solve its border disputes with Turkey and Albania with a healthy backing of arms from Russia and the world has a second proxy war.  Things can only escalate from there.

All because no one will agree to a little debt forgiveness.