Monthly Archives: July 2013

Oh, Fox News, You’re So Easy To Make Fun Of

Other cable news networks can be cringingly awful at covering the news, i.e. CNN and it’s Boston bomber coverage.  Fox News, takes awful to a whole new level, though.  Recently, we had the laughably bad interview between author Reza Aslan and the Fox News religion correspondent:


Salon was kind enough to wade through the muck and pick out ten of the worst Fox News interviews of all times.  Trigger warning for Bill O’Reilly.  My favorite is the Jon Stewart takedown of Bill.  It’s classic.

There are lots of ways to consume news.  Cable news networks are like the last bites of a burrito where all of the grease and goo have sunk to the bottom and that you should just throw away even if there is some nutritional value to it.  Fox News, however, is the grease and goo that leaks out of the burrito all over your hand while you’re eating.

But The City Is So Unsafe

If you know people who live in the burbs or the more rural areas of our fine country, chances are you’ve had a discussion about if it’s safe to go to the city.  There is this widely held belief that large cities are areas of barely controlled anarchy, that you’re taking your life in your hands just by going there.  Actually, it’s likely more dangerous where you live than in the big city.

I know someone who lives way out in the boonies and has worked in downtown Chicago every day for years.  The amount of crime that has occurred to his person while in Chicago can be counted on zero hands.  And yet, we had a conversation where he had to ask me if it was safe for his teenage daughter to come to Chicago with her friends.  I answered his inquiry the way I always answer it, “Are they coming to buy drugs?  No?  Then they’re as safe here as they are in their home town.”

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the problem is the news, or more to the point, what makes the news.  News organizations tend to be in big cities and big city stories tend to get covered more as a result.  Gang shootings on the South or West Side and “black thug flash mobs” get much more play than the meth lab bust in Kankakee.

The other problem is what we subconsciously choose to remember from the news we ingest.  There is a tinge of soft racism to this with most people.  It is amazing to me the amount of people who think that there are roving bands of black youth prowling the city of Chicago.  All because there are a couple of high profile instances of it a year.  But out of a million plus people that visit downtown Chicago every day, there are very few instances of actual violence.

And that brings us to the biggest factor in people thinking cities are more dangerous than the burbs: statistics.  Or, more accurately, a gross lack of understanding of basic statistics.  “But we’ve only had one murder in 10 years!”  Yeah, but you live in a city of 1000 people.  Guess what, your murder rate is the same as Chicago’s.

None of this is to say that Chicago is safe.  It’s just likely safer than wherever you’re from.  It doesn’t exactly make a great motto.  Chicago, you’re less likely to get killed here than whatever backwater you came from.

Video Of The Day

Ok, this is pretty awesome.  It’s a commercial for a company that mails feminine hygiene products to women at the right time every month.  It’s both positive and funny.  Not something that’s easy to pull of when talking about menstruation.  Watch:

Movie Review: The Wolverine

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Another perfectly acceptable action movie.  That’s really all that can be said about “The Wolverine”.  The summer of 2013 has been chock full of them.  You spend two hours of your life watching them and soon afterwards, you forget that they even existed.  One tries not to think about how many other languages one could have learned or how many instruments on could learn to play in the time one spends watching mediocre action movies.

That said, there is one thing that does make “The Wolverine” somewhat memorable.  Fighting on top of a bullet train travelling at 300 miles per hour.  It’s a new take on an old classic and it’s done really well.  Imagine the effects of a 300 mile per hour wind on the human body and add knives and adamantium claws.  You get the idea.

I am told by people that are dorkier than I that “The Wolverine” follows reasonably closely to the comic of the same name.  Logan has left humanity to be as alone as possible in the great Alaskan north after being forced to kill his lover, Jean Grey, in a prior movie.  He is tracked down and summoned to Japan by a man whose life he once saved in Nagasaki during World War II.  The man is dying and he wants to give Logan the gift of mortality by transplanting his immortality into the old man’s body.

So far, so good.  But this is a movie based off of a comic so we have to convolute things a bit now, don’t we?  So let’s say that the old man decides that his granddaughter should be the one to inherit his business empire for absolutely no good reason whatsoever and have a bunch of people that want to kill her as a result.  Or maybe just kidnap her.  Or kidnap her and then kill her.  Possibly kill her and then kidnap her.  Now we’re talking!  Now let’s add a ninja clan whose purpose doesn’t make sense led by a former love interest of the granddaughter, a scientist who can spit poison and can only die when it’s convenient, and a fifteen foot tall robot samurai.  Oh, we also need Logan to fall in love with the granddaughter he conveniently swore to protect for some reason.

Confused yet?  Don’t worry, there’s more!  I’ll leave you to discover it all for yourself, though.  Comics are basically soap operas for geeks.

Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

Jean-Paul’s Rating 5/5 stars

Open letter to Brad Pitt:  Dear Mr. Pitt, what were you thinking?  Your movie version of “World War Z” was, to put it kindly, not very good.  If I had read the book prior to watching the movie I would have likely given the movie version only one star.  The similarities between the book and the movie were this: they both had zombies.  Partially, this is not your fault.  A book the breadth of “World War Z” is by no means a good fit for the silver screen and that’s what you know.  If you still own the rights to “World War Z”, you can salvage this disaster.  I humbly recommend staying true to spirit of the book and producing a series of vignettes as seen through the eyes of a reporter collecting post-war stories from around the globe.  A web service like Netflix would be superb for this.  With Netflix, you can feel free to tell the stories in a series of episodes without having to worry about how long each episode is.  Each season would be a specific time period in the War.  Stories could be taken straight from the book or new ones could be created for the show.  This needs to happen.  Make it so.  Thank you.

I was not surprised to learn that Max Brooks has basically created a “World War Z” empire around this book.  It is a compelling look at not just a world at war with a remorseless enemy, but also believable tales of humanity as told by individuals who were lucky enough to survive the war.  It is the believability that makes the book so excellent.  You believe that people would prey off fear to become rich.  You believe that the army could be that stupid.  You believe that a limited nuclear war could break out.  You believe that Israel could be that paranoid.  You believe Russia could descend into an autocratic theocracy.  The zombies are ever present in the text, but they are in many ways secondary.  At it’s soul, “World War Z” is not a book about zombies.  It’s a book about how humanity reacts to dire situations.  In this case, the dire situation just happens to be the zombie apocalypse.

Like J.K. Rowling, Max Brooks has successfully created a world that will quickly spin out of his immediate control.  The way the book is put together almost guarantees it.  There are likely already thousands of fan fiction pieces set in the “World War Z” world.  This is because Brooks succeeds in doing the one thing that is most difficult to accomplish; the book ends but he leaves you wanting more.  Bravo, Mr. Brooks.  Bravo.

What Am I Wasting My Time With Now?

That would be Civilization V.  It was on sale for crazy cheap on Steam.  I basically don’t buy any games anymore unless they’re below $10 on Steam.  As I don’t feel as much like gaming as I did when I was younger, there are usually good games to be had from a few years ago cheap.

I just finished my first game; Romans, chieftain, huge map, continents, max opponents, normal speed.  Needless to say, I whooped some civilized ass and ended up with a science victory.  It took 16 hours.  The victory conditions seem pretty balanced.  I was only a few turns away from a culture victory and I had the UN already built even though I was too busy steamrolling over everyone to get the diplomacy victory.  My only regret is I didn’t get to attack with my giant death robot before the victory.

As with other Civilization games, this one is a giant time suck.  You will start playing only to realize that it is suddenly six hours later and past midnight and you still just want to do one more turn.  Ok, maybe another.  This is the last one, I swear.  Somebody take this computer away from me!

It’s been so long since I’ve played a Civ game that I don’t know what’s new and what’s not.  There are no stacking of military units anymore.  That seemed new to me.  There is also the ability to befriend a bunch of City-States which are computer players that don’t grow beyond the original city but can give you some cool bonuses if you’re nice to them.  There are no transport units anymore nor are there traders or diplomats.  Everything is done through diplomacy which seems a little too simplistic.  Cities now have built in defenses.  It actually takes some planning to conquer a city if you’re evenly matched scientifically.  The research tree seems more slimmed down than I remember it with far fewer dead end techs.

All in all, it’s a very entertaining game.  I’m sure I will waste days of my time playing it.  Not bad for $10.

Interns Of The World Unite!

I have never understood how companies could get away with hiring unpaid interns.  It’s a system that should have gone out the door with child labor and the lack of fire codes.  It continues to this day, though.  But maybe not for long!  Unpaid internships may soon be coming to an end.

The very first case filed in court against the producers of the movie “Black Swan” was just decided by a judge who ruled that the unpaid interns should have at least received minimum wage.  No one really thought it would get this far, but the first verdict is in.  Many more could potentially follow.  There are currently at least fifteen similar suits in the court system right now.

I wish them luck.  It’ll be what’s become an all too rare victory for labor.

Teach For America Is Evil

Teach For America sounds like a good idea.  Train young people to teach and send them to places where they are most needed.  Places like rural areas or low income areas where nobody is willing to teach.  Places like Chicago.

Wait, what?  Chicago?  The place that recently laid off over one thousand teachers?  The place that closed a whole bunch of schools because of low attendance?  Yep.  Chicago signed a contract with TFA to add 325 new teachers this year while firing 1,000.  Where is the sense in that?

Union busting, plain and simple.  It’s brilliantly Machiavellian.  Get a bunch of mostly idealistic highly privileged youth and sign them up with promises of changing the world for our most underserved citizens while bringing them in to localities that have a strong union presence and don’t need new teachers.  This combination makes TFA almost immune to criticism.  You can almost smell the righteous indignation in the air.  “How dare you criticize me!  I’m doing it for the children!  We do a lot of good!  Look at how well the kids are doing!  Why do you hate the children?”

Look, this isn’t difficult.  You can be performing a very visible societal good while at the same time performing an invisible societal evil with equally dire consequences.  It’s easy to ignore the evil that you can’t see for the good that is right in front of your face day after day.  What’s happening in Chicago is the best example of that generally hidden evil.

Teaching is one of those few jobs where two (or even one) years of experience makes a huge difference.  No amount of schooling in the world can adequately prepare you for putting yourself in front of 30 kids for the first time.  What’s happening in Chicago is the removal of one thousand union teachers who have that couple of years’ experience and replacing them with a couple hundred non-union rookies who have none.  This is not in the best interests of the children.

One of the major counter-arguments you will hear is that TFA is building for the future.  Sure, these are new teachers, but they’re people who WANT to teach as opposed to teachers who are just doing it for a job.  These TFA teachers often stay on after their two year contracts.  That may be true, but they don’t want to stay in teaching in any greater frequency than their unionized counterparts.  Plus, who’s to say that Chicago will decide to keep you?  There’s already a precedence for firing experienced teachers and hiring TFA teachers.  Why should that change?

There are many things wrong with how we educate our teachers.  A teaching degree is filled with mindlessly wasteful courses only to be followed by a year of slave labor (aka, internships).  Those things need to be fixed, but TFA is not the solution to the problem.  The solution will likely look like this: Allow anyone with an advanced degree to be hired as a teacher at locally comparable cost of living wages and pair them with a rotation of experienced teachers to show them the ropes for a year.  At the end of the year, the teachers vote on if you have what it takes to teach.

TFA does nothing to solve the various crises our school systems are suffering from.  They only exacerbate the problem by allowing places like Chicago to bust unions and drive down already low teacher’s salaries.  I can only hope that TFA gets morphed into something like I describe above because there is a lot to be gained by broadening the pool of available teachers but TFA is only succeeding at replacing the pool.

Movie Review: RED 2

Ratings for reviews will appear above the fold, while the review itself will appear below the fold to avoid spoilers for anyone that wants to go into it with a blank slate.

Jean-Paul’s rating: 3/5

Watching old people fight is mindlessly entertaining.

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And Since I’m Being A Shill For Dorkdom…

You should also buy All The Nomz!  It’s a cookbook with recipes from celebrity geeks, dorks, and dweebs.  Best of all, ALL of the proceeds go to charity.  Specifically, Child’s Play, an organization that provides toys and games to children in the hospital.  So not only do you get a cookbook, but you also get to help spawn a new generation of gamers.  Win, win!