As should be obvious if you've ever been here before today, I've finally found the time to make most of the changes to the site that have been preventing me from updating for the past few weeks/months. I'm not entirely sure about the changes, but they will do, for now. I may even be posting some new content in the coming days.
The list of "other rants" doesn't mesh perfectly with the new site design - clicking on a previous rant will open the rant (until/unless I change each of them) in the previous site style. Clicking on a response in the "responses" list will now take you to the response page.
Update: Tuesday August 2, 2005
Badbartopia has moved (this transition began about three weeks ago) from ICDSoft to Godaddy for more web space, more transfer bandwidth, ASP support (which I opted not to use), and a surprising lack of other features that were standard with the ICDSoft hosting. There remain a great number of unresolved issues with the site due to database and other URL pathing problems and setup issues. The response page is currently non-functional (as are all image links). I hope to have everything functional in the near future (I just returned from a vacation to Idaho/Utah, so I haven't had a chance to do anything much before today).
Thursday June 23, 2005
The Black Hole of Warcraft
Happy Father's Day to me!
I received a very surprising gift for Father's Day - World of Warcraft. I say "surprising" because a few weeks ago, I had used a free 10 day trial and it had sucked up most of my free waking moments (as well as a good many that shouldn't have been "waking"). Yet, knowing what a black hole for my time this game would become, Julie still bought it for me. I had considered buying it, but had always balked because I knew how difficult it would be to stop playing, once I started. And it is difficult. I haven't quite figured out how to limit my time in the "World of Warcraft" just yet, but I'm working on it. Avoid this game at all costs--it is way too much fun. And if you are sucked into it, watch for a Gnome Mage named Gnomdalf. That's me.
As usual, I have added a few more bad sketches, but little, if anything, else has changed.
My site renovation schemes remain unfulfilled. The stack of clipped comic strips remains unscanned. I seem to be losing any ambition I may have once had for Badbartopia.
I have seen a few movies/DVDs and have even finished reading a book....so let's move on to those.
The Years of Rice and Salt
This book took me many weeks to read...and I would like to blame the author's writing style or maybe even the content for this, but there is only one source of blame. Me. I haven't been reading as much as I used to. Between watching TV and surfing the Internet, I spend no more than 20-30 minutes a day (on average) reading. Shameful.
To give you a little background, here's a brief summary of the story: The setting is somewhere in eastern Europe between 1200 and 1300 AD. Mongol hordes are wreaking havoc, but a new variable is introduced to the events as they transpired in history: the black plague (or some variant thereof) is wiping out the pale-skinned people of the globe. The plague seems to have less effect on Asians, Middle Easterners and even Africans, but does also spread to them if they are incautious. Little of this is explained in the book until much later, leaving many questions in the beginning. There are several primary characters who are reincarnated throughout different periods of this alternate Earth's time--sometimes as men, other times women, and at least once as animal. They don't always meet, and the identities of their "souls" are not always revealed, but the understanding that they are alive together is there (after a few reincarnations). The Chinese discover America (though it is never referred to as "America"), industrial revolution sweeps the globe, massive war erupts, the atom, and the potential locked within, is discovered, etc. The Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic religions all figure heavily in the story (the afterlife seems to be, from my scant knowledge of any of these religions, a combination of the beliefs of each).
A passage regarding human history, inequality and the role of the major eastern religions:
So. To a very great extent human history has been the story of the unequal accumulation of harvested wealth, shifting from one center of power to another, while always expanding the four great inequalitites. This is history. Nowhere, as far as I know, has there ever been a civilization or moment when the wealth of the harvests created by all has been equitably distributed. Power has been exerted wherever it can be, and each successful coercion has done its part to add to the general inequality, which has risen in direct proportion to the wealth gathered; for wealth and power are much the same. The possessors of the wealth in effect buy the armed power they need to enforce the growing inequality. And so the cycle continues.
All the world's various religions have attempted to explain or mitigate these inequalities, including Islam, which originated in the effort to create a realm in which all are equal; they have tried to justify the inequalities in this world. They have all failed; even Islam has failed; the Dar al-Islam is as damaged by inequality as anywhere else. Indeed I now think that the Indian and the Chinese description of the afterlife, the systems of the six lokas or realms of reality--the devas, asuras, humans, beasts, pretas and inhabitants of hell--is in fact a metaphorical but precise description of this world and the inequalities that exist in it, with the devas sitting in luxury and judgement on the rest, the asuras fighting to keep the devas in their high position, the humans getting by as humans do, the beasts laboring as beasts do, the homeless preta suffering in fear at the edge of hell, and the inhabitants of hell enslaved to pure immiseration.
I will admit that there were things about this book that I didn't particularly like. I had expected something much different (based on the publisher's summary), so I was initially disappointed by the content. The transitions from life to afterlife were confusing and never really amounted to anything, as far as I could tell. And the ending, though happy, didn't really wrap up all the "loose ends" of the story. Nothing was explained (at least not in a way that a simple guy like me could understand). I found the insights into the eastern religions to be educational (I'm assuming they were factual representations) and the alternate advancement of society to be very interesting, but the book (almost 700 pages) was slow and difficult, at times, to read. Kim Stanley Robinson is no Grisham when it comes to creating fiction that draws the reader in, but he does have a good many thought-provoking insights that I could appreciate.
Here was one such passage concerning the evolution of religion:
So you see systems of thought and religion coming out of the kinds of societies that invented them. The means by which people feed themselves determine how they think and what they believe. Agricultural societies believe in rain gods and seed gods for every manner of thing that might affect the harvest (China). People who herd animals believe in a single shepherd God (Islam). In both these kinds of cultures you see a primitive notion of gods as helpers, as big people watching from above, like parents who nevertheless act like bad children, deciding capriciously whom to reward and whom not to, on the basis of craven sacrifices made to them by the humans dependent on their whim. The religions that say you should sacrifice or even pray to a god like that, to ask them to do something material for you, are the religions of desperate and ignorant people. It is only when you get to the more advanced and secure societies that you get a religion ready to face the universe honestly, to announce there is no clear sign of divinity, except for the existence of the cosmos in and of itself, which means that everything is holy, whether or not there be a god looking down on it.
There were many other passages that I found equally or more thought-provoking, but I didn't have the foresight to mark those other passages, so unless I get ambitious and decide to dig through the 650 pages of text, you will have to find them yourself.
Here is one last passage I will share, regarding the makings of great men:
"...what has mattered are the moments of exposure in every life, when habit is no longer enough, and choices have to be made. That's when everyone becomes the great man, for a moment; and the choices made in these moments, which come all too frequently, then combine to make history. In that sense I suppose I come down on the side of the masses, in that it has been a collective process, whatever else it is.
"Also, this formulation 'the great man' of course should also bring up the question of women; are they included in this description? Or should we describe history as being the story of women wresting back the political power that they lost with the introduction of agriculture and the creation of surplus wealth? Would the gradual and unfinished defeat of patriarchy be the larger story of history? Along with, perhaps, the gradual and uncertain defeat of infectious disease? So that we have been battling microparasites and macroparasites, eh? The bugs and the patriarchs?
If you are a fan of historical fiction, eastern religion/cultures, or even alternate histories, read this book. It will be worth your while. It does feel a little bit "preachy" at times, but it is interesting.
After the Sunset
I have to admit that I had never heard of this film before stumbling upon it on DVD. It has a moderately impressive cast: Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson (okay, so maybe that's not very impressive), and Don Cheadle. The premise sounded suspiciously like Brosnan's other film, The Thomas Crown Affair, so I didn't expect much. And the film lived up to those expectations.
The film in a nutshell: Pierce Brosnan's character and Salma Hayek's character are renowned jewel thieves being sought by the FBI. After a particularly humilating theft (for the FBI agent played by Woody), they retire to a Carribean island to live out their days in paradise. Somehow Woody's FBI agent tracks them and entices Brosnan's character to steal another priceless diamond. He does and Salma leaves Brosnan for not really "retiring" as Woody proceeds to steal the diamond from Brosnan. In the end, Brosnan gets revenge on Woody, get Salma back and lives happily ever after. There's more to it than that (I haven't even mentioned Cheadle's caracter), but you'll have to watch it to get the details.
The deleted scenes on the DVD actually helped explain some of the more confusing moments. It was never really explained that Salm aand Brosnan were engaged. The final scene with the wedding vows felt out of place without viewing the deleted scenes. There was something else that was explained, but I forget what it was now.
The best thing about this film was the lovely Salma Hayek. The film itself was a bust; the premise was uninteresting and there were no real "unexpected" plot twists, comic moments or even action sequences to keep the viewer's attention.
I really didn't have any desire to see this CGI cartoon. But my kids were dying to see it, so I broke down and took them.
Here is the basic plot of the film: A lion, Alex, and a zebra, Marty, are best friends in a New York Zoo. Marty dreams f life in the wild while Alex is satisfied with his life in the zoo's
The duo escape, with their hippo and giraffe friends, but are captured and returned to the zoo. Public outcry mandates that they be sent to their African homeland and they are loaded in crates on a ship bound for Africa. Before it can reach its destination, the ship is hijacked by a band of bond-like
and an unfortunate turn send the four friends overboard, where they drift to
in their crates (more or less). The island turns out to be Madagascar. The four learn about their "wild" sides that were subdued by life in the zoo and lots of stuff happens. I won't ruin it for those of you who may have the desire to someday see this film.
It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't a movie for adults. My youngest daughter was laughing hysterically at parts of the film that I found only mildly amusing.
Mr and Mrs Smith
I was surprised by how funny Mr. And Mrs. Smith was. I was expecting an action movie from the 007 school of film making, but was surprised to find that this was an action-comedy with an emphasis on the "comedy."
The basic plot: A male and female assassin get married (without revealing their true vocations to one another) and several years later are suffering from marital discord from the obvious strains their jobs put on the marriage. As the film progresses, each learns that the other is employed by a competing organization and sets out to kill the other. Neither is successful and when their respective agencies turn on them, they team up for survival.
The ending was disappointing and goofy, but wasn't bad enough to ruin the film (for me, anyway). Angelina Jolie looked amazing. She looked better in this film than in any of her prior roles that I have seen her in, except maybe that classic, Hackers (I keed, I keed). Brad Pitt did a good job as the sterotypical average guy. And Vince Vaughn played his usual goofball/slacker role. He's always good for a laugh.
There were a couple of really funny parts. My favorite was a running gag about Brad Pitt's character saying they had been married for "five years," only to be corrected every time by Angelina's character, "six years." After which, he would respond..."five, or six years." And during another scene, Angelina's character discovered Pitt's character had been married and asked "What's her name and Social Security Number?" to which Pitt responded, "No, honey....you're not going to kill her!" Funny stuff.
This wasn't the worst ex-SNL actor-centric movie I have ever seen, but it wasn't anywhere near the best. It had its funny moment (the funniest part is in the DVD extras), but this isn't a DVD that I'm going to rush out and buy.
The movie in a nutshell: Jimmy Fallon's character is a police detective who is a horrendous driver. After one vehicle-mishap too many, he is put on foot patrol. While hoofing it around town, he hears news of a bank robbery. He tries to commandeer a taxi cab driven by Queen Latifah's character, but ends up being driven to the scene of the crime and pursuing the robbers in the cab. In the end, the bad girl bank robbers (one of whom is Gisel Bundchen) are caught by the dynamic duo and everybody lives happily ever after...predictable cheesy happy ending.
The DVD had deleted scenes (not especially funny), a gag reel (yawn) and a few other goodies. One of the other goodies was a Comedy Central "behind the scenes" show with a couple of the "cop" actors from Reno 9-1-1 going on a ride along with Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah. The two of them are are horrible and obnoxious and it's the funniest thing on the DVD.
Do you agree with my ranting? Disagree? Just want to say hi? You can do it here.