Wednesday, August 30, 2006

All That Glitters

It appears that the NFL has banned Gary Glitter's stadium anthem "Rock and Roll Part 2" from their stadiums this season. Loyal readers of Data Janitor will remember that Glitter was arrested in Vietnam last year for having sex with underage girls. Now that he's serving an 11 year sentence in a Vietnamese jail, the NFL appears to be in full damage control mode. After all, they wouldn't want to risk losing any revenue if one of those professional outrage manufacturing interest groups were to catch wind of this and organize some sort of a completely ineffective boycott. I wish the NFL didn't take such a reactionary approach to anything that could possibly offend a fan in the "heartland". I'm not going to be picketing in front of NFL stadiums demanding that they play "Rock and Roll Part 2" or anything, but I stand by my original statements. If a song is good, it's good regardless of whether or not the person who wrote it or performed it is a criminal sex offender and enjoying the song is in no way an endorsement of the singer's crimes.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fighting the System

Zippy the Pinhead has never really tried to be a very accessible comic strip. I suppose it's lost some of its subversive underground comic edginess after being in syndication all these years, but it's certainly no Hi and Lois. The Comics Curmudgeon may have hit the nail on the head when he called Zippy "the Cathy of the surrealist/postmodern set". So while I'm sure that everyone who has ever read Zippy as scratched their heads at least once or twice trying to figure out what was going on, today's strip makes what I would consider a very obscure pop culture reference even by Zippy's already low standards.

I'm not entirely sure, but the sign pictured in the first and fourth panels looks an awful lot like the sign for a New York System in Providence that I've driven past a couple times. What is a New York System, you might ask? It's what a restaurant that serves New York style hot dogs is called in Rhode Island. Extra points to Zippy for calling them wieners instead of hot dogs, as is the custom in the Ocean State. Writing nationally syndicated comic strips that are only understood by people from Rhode Island is probably not the surest way to stardom, but at this point, I think Zippy can pretty much get away with anything.

Zippy's pandering to my new homestate notwithstanding, I've been a fan of the strip for a while. I enjoy the wordplay and if nothing else, it will make future historians even more baffled when they try and analyze old newspaper comics.

Friday, August 25, 2006

If It Looks Like a Duck...

I don't really expect Mallard Fillmore to be funny or insightful, but I do expect it to get its right-wing talking points correct. Sadly, today's strip doesn't even clear that admittedly low bar.

I think what he meant to say was: Don't suggest that an "intelligent designer" may have guided, not created evolution. This alternate statement is more in line with standard ID boilerplate, but it probably still would have offended Mallard's hard-core creationist fans, of which I'm sure there are plenty. By saying "created" instead of "guided", Mallard appears to be expressing the belief held by many religious people who have decided to reconcile their faith and modern science by looking at evolution as God's program for the development of life on earth. While Mallard has never been a complete wingnut, the idea of him appealing to religious liberals and moderates is risible, so I have to assume that this was a mistake.

Of course, even if you overlook the mistake, the strip still doesn't make any sense. No school district, to my knowledge, has taken any sort of action against a student who expressed a belief in intelligent design or creationism. There have been numerous cases where people have taken action against teachers and school officials who have made intelligent design and creationism part of their science curriculum, however.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ultimate Fighting Championship

Ultimate frisbee seems to get its fair share of criticism. I must admit that I was quite skeptical of the game before I started playing it. Even though I will openly admit to enjoying the game, I do understand why it is so reviled. For one, most of the people who play the game are (or were at one time) nerds and/or hippies. No one is surprised when marching bands, chess clubs, and tree huggers get ripped on. In fact, it would be surprising if these people were not ridiculed. Ultimate players are even worse than the aforementioned misfits in some ways, since they are working against the stereotype that nerds and hippies are neither interested in nor capable of strenuous physical activity.

In addition to the oddball reputation of its players, the game of ultimate is a bit strange as well. For one, it's played with a frisbee, which is considered by most of the world to be little more than a child's toy. I also don't think that ultimate is much of a spectator sport. It's just not that much fun to watch, even if you understand what's going on and you're watching people competing at a high level. At least, that's my take on it. I seem to be developing a case of sports-related ADD that is preventing me from being able to pay attention to any sporting event for more than 30 seconds at a time, so it could be me.

Ultimate also has this idea called "spirit of the game". It's really just good sportsmanship, which is theoretically part of every sport, but in ultimate, it's really part of the mythology of the game. There is no other sport (that I know of) where you can seriously tell someone that they are dishonoring the game they are playing with their poor sportsmanship. If, for example, the NFL were to adopt a "spirit of the game" bylaw, I would probably stop being a football fan. People don't shell out hundreds of dollars to watch good sportsmanship. Sportsmanship is great, however, when you want to play a pick-up game after work for fun. Because of ultimate's insistence on sportsmanship and it's attractiveness to misfits, you don't run into a lot of jerks on playing field. Most of the athletes who enjoy turning a meaningless game into a street fight wouldn't even consider playing ultimate.

The key to the success of ultimate frisbee is its outsider status. Were it to become a more mainstream sport, the laid-back atmosphere and spirit of the game would probably disappear. At that point, most of the nerds and hippies would split and ultimate would have to compete with every other sport for athletes. In the end, all sports are made-up arbitrary games, but I don't see how chasing after a plastic disc could ever be considered as respectable as kicking a soccer ball, hitting a baseball, or catching a football.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Snakes on Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

If you're having trouble getting tickets for Snakes on a Plane at your local cineplex, you may have more luck grabbing a copy of Snakes on a Train, it's direct-to-video rip-off, at your local video store.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Get on the Bus

Today's Providence Sunday Journal had a fairly interesting and in-depth article about regional transportation. Specifically, the way that the transit needs of businesses and employees are changing as more companies move away from dense urban areas and into less developed suburban and rural communities. A lot of articles about transit tend to take the position that the solution to every problem is for everyone to turn in their cars and move back into city centers. Thankfully, this article refrains from that dogma and takes a real look into the current state of suburban life and business and examines how RIPTA is trying to meet the needs of a more decentralized population. If public transit is ever going to become useful for people who have other options, it's going to have to start serving their needs better. I think that's going to mean more reliance on flexibility and technology. Unfortunately, since public transit is generally more concerned with political grandstanding and urban planning mythology than actually serving the transit needs of the public, I have my doubts about whether or not this transformation can occur. The article also doesn't fall back on the notion that if gas prices continue to rise, people will decide to turn in their cars and depopulate suburbia. The end of relatively cheap gas is going to bring changes, of course, but I'm far from convinced that it's going to lead to a mass extinction of suburban car culture.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ultimate Warrior

Saturday marked the end of the summer ultimate frisbee season in these parts. Our team didn't do all that well, I think we either tied for dead last or came in second-to-last in the eleven team league. It seems like whenever I participate in team sports, the team I'm on doesn't do all that well. I've even been accused of being an inverse Michael Jordan, i.e. someone so bad that he makes the people who play with him even worse. I don't think that's he case, but I haven't ruled it out either.

Some people would argue that ultimate frisbee really isn't a sport. I don't enjoy getting into these kinds of debates, but I will say that I think a lot of people confuse "not a sport" with "a sport that I don't like". When I started playing ultimate a couple of years ago, I did it mainly as a way to get some exercise. It delivered plenty of exercise, but I didn't really enjoy it that much. I stopped playing for a while, then came back to it last fall with a different attitude. Instead of just looking at it was a way to get my heart pumping, I decided to make more of an effort to learn the game. I have enjoyed it a lot more ever since I started caring more about the game.

Here's a picture of me from last Saturday's tournament. Lest anyone think my hairline has receded drastically in the past year, I'm the nose, arms, and knee on the right side of the photo. Note that I am severely out of position on defense in this photo. I was getting burned by this guy all game long.

Circus Clown

Making fun of the Family Circus comic strip is certainly not new. I'm pretty sure that I was appreciating the Family Circus on a purely ironic level by the time I was 12 or 13. Pearls Before Swine, a comic strip that I'm admittedly not too familiar with, is mocking the Family Circus this week, with fairly hilarious results. The premise is that comic strip writers are no longer allowed to keep their characters in a state of suspended animation where they never age, so the kids in the Family Circus are now all grown up. Only instead of growing up into fine and upstanding members of the community like their parents, they are a bunch of lowlifes, as evidenced by today's strip.

I feel like this is probably a fairly accurate depiction of how the lives of Family Circus kids would turn out if they were allowed to grow up. After living such an idyllic childhood, I'm pretty sure that once they got out into the real world, they'd have trouble coping and wind up running a meth lab out of their Dad's tool shed or something like that. If desire a significantly more profane send-up of the Family Circus, be sure to check out the Dysfunctional Family Circus.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Victory Day

Today is Victory Day or V-J Day, the day that Japan officially surrendered to the allies in World War II. The only state that still observes this holiday is Rhode Island. My commute was noticeably faster today, which is probably due to the fact that the only "difficult" part of my relatively painless commute is the interchange in front of the Rhode Island state house. As far as I know, state employees are the only people in Rhode Island who don't have to come to work on Victory Day.

Apparently, Victory Day is somewhat controversial due to the events leading up to Japan's surrender. Why Rhode Island is the lone holdout amongst the states is somewhat confusing. According to the Wikipedia entry, one of the men purported to be the jubilant sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square in the iconic Life Magazine photograph was from Newport, but that doesn't seem like a good enough reason to keep observing the holiday. For the record, I don't really have an opinion about the holiday. Not observing the holiday because of the atomic bomb smacks of historical revisionism to me. At the same time, we don't commemorate the end of any of our other wars with a holiday. Armistice (Veterans) Day once commemorated the end of World War I, but it's scope has been expanded to honor veterans of all wars since then.

I wouldn't be surprised if Victory Day eventually gets dropped from Rhode Island's state holiday roster after all of the people who fought and lived through World War II are gone. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if people are still taking it off 100 years from now, completely unaware of the historical significance of the day.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Land of the Blind

We checked out the Rhode Island International Film Festival last night. I try to attend film festivals whenever I have a chance, more out of a sense of obligation than out of a love of cinema. I feel like I should take advantage of the chance to see some interesting films when I have the chance, but I find the whole thing somewhat tedious. Even a small-time festival screens at least a couple dozen films. Deciding which film(s) to attend is not exactly a logistical nightmare, but it's a lot more demanding than deciding between the 6:30 and 9:30 showing of Talladega Nights. Selecting films from this year's festival was a bit easier than the past couple of years at the Syracuse International Film and Video Festival. The RIIFF is a much bigger festival so a number of films featured actors and directors I had actually heard of before. I discovered last night that the thing I really like about film festivals are the short films. The movie we checked out last night was feature length, which was fine, but at that point, it's basically no different than going to the movies. The only difference is that there are no previews. Unlike most of the feature length movies in the festival, the one we saw last night didn't start out with a short film appetizer. The bulk of the shorts are being screened during the day, so I don't think I'm going to get a chance to see any of them. The other downside of seeing big name movies at a small festival is there is very little chance that the director or the actors will be on hand for a Q&A session after the screening.

The movie we checked out last night was called Land of the Blind. It was a political satire starring Ralph Fiennes as an idealistic and patriotic army officer and Donald Sutherland as an imprisoned revolutionary playwright. The movie took a cynical yet honest look at how revolutions that topple an oppressive government often wind up being as bad or worse than the previous regime once they take power. The president (for life) is a fairly amusing composite of tyrants throughout the ages. His preoccupation with film and exaggerated basketball skills are an homage to Kim Jong Il, I assume. He's got some Franco in him as well as some 18th century aristocracy, as evidenced by the powdered wigs. There are several none to subtle similarities between him and George W. Bush as well, in case you were wondering. The movie starts off a lot better than it ends. I tend to have trouble with the endings of a lot of art house films, and this was no exception. The story was told in a somewhat non-linear fashion, and unless I was totally missing something, the final scene chronologically occurred about two-thirds of the way through the movie. So I left the theater without a lot of closure, but I got the point. As Roger Daultry once said: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The movie had a very sparse score, but the music that was there was excellent. Another thing that I liked was how they mixed American and British-accented English. Most of the actors were British and it appeared to be filmed in Britain (the cars were all right-hand drive, for example), but the American actors didn't change their accents. I thought that this made the film more universal. By mixing accents from the US and Britain and symbolism from around the world, the place that they created was completely fictional but entirely realistic.

The film was screened at the Cable Car Cinema, a small art house theater in Providence. It was our first visit to the theater and we found it quite nice. It was the first time I ever watched a movie at a theater seated on a love seat. One side of the theater has regular fold-down movie seats while the other has rows of love seats. It's a nice touch and fortunately, they seem to keep the couches pretty clean, which is a welcome change from some art house cinemas.