and I never let the mic magnetize me no more

First: c/o IMDb:

Jackie Chan and Jet Li team up together for the first time ever in The Forbidden Kingdom, filmed on location in China and featuring the martial arts choreography of Woo-Ping Yuen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). While hunting down bootleg kung-fu DVDs in a Chinatown pawnshop, Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) makes a discovery that sends him back in time to ancient China, where he’s charged with finding the Monkey King, a fabled warrior imprisoned by the powerful Jade War Lord. With the help of kung fu master Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) and a band of misfit warriors including Silent Monk (Jet Li), Jason embarks on his journey, hoping to succeed in his quest and find a way to get back home. [emphasis mine]

Why couldn’t this have been the best movie of all time, instead of the worst? God damn it.

Also: I’m considering buying a video camera. I spotted a Panasonic PV-GS320 in Best Buy the other day for about $350 and I’m leaning toward that one. The price is right for a 3-CCD camera. The obvious downside is that it lacks a mic input.

I can also get a Canon ZR800 for about half that price, which does come with a mic input. However, it’s only got about 0.68 megapixels of image quality.

I’d like some advice from you pros before I drop the money. My criteria are:

REQUIRED: Firewire input, Mini-DV, does not contain the word “Sony”
PREFERRED: 3-CCD, mic input
BONUS: Good low-light, good battery life

And then: I’m going to buy both part of a tailgate parking spot and some BC football season tickets this year. Let’s go Eagles.

I still had two strong legs and even wings to fly

In lieu of actual content, here are some entertaining links:

#: I pick on the kid a lot, but really, Ezra Klein does not strike me as very bright. In talking about using carbon taxes to fund government programs, he says the following (emphasis mine):

This is the problem when people talk about replacing, say, payroll taxes with a carbon tax. If you want that carbon tax to fund Medicare and Social Security, as payroll taxes do, then you have to tax carbon at a rate that ensures stable, large returns. Alternately, if you want to tax carbon at a rate high enough that we stop emitting so much carbon, then your tax base is, by design, going to rapidly dry up, and Medicare and Social Security will no longer have funding.

In general, there are two types of taxes: taxes that fund things, and taxes that stop people from doing things. Taxes that fund things cannot be taxes that stop people from doing things, as if people stop doing the thing, there will be nothing to tax.

Really, Ezra? Two types of taxes? Oh man! Quick – somebody tell me which kind I’m paying, so I don’t inadvertently bankrupt public schools or defund the U.S. adventure in Iraq or build shoddy bridges. Am I being taxed to finance the latest project or as penance for my sins? Am I supposed to do less of what I’m doing or do more of it? No one told me! I live in a world of terror and mystery! AAAH!

#: Adobe launched a beta test of their new Photoshop Express product yesterday, a user-friendly entry into the image editing software so popular it’s become a verb. You can sign up for free and use it online. Seriously. You don’t download anything to your desktop; you just manipulate images in your browser. In other news, expect nothing productive of me for the remainder of this month.

#: As a fan of fantasy literature and Bayesian rationality, I was surprised to find peanut butter in my chocolate in one of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s latest posts:

In one of the standard fantasy plots, a protagonist from our Earth, a sympathetic character with lousy grades or a crushing mortgage but still a good heart, suddenly finds themselves in a world where magic operates in place of science. The protagonist often goes on to practice magic, and become in due course a (superpowerful) sorcerer.

Now here’s the question – and yes, it is a little unkind, but I think it needs to be asked: Presumably most readers of these novels see themselves in the protagonist’s shoes, fantasizing about their own acquisition of sorcery. Wishing for magic. And, barring improbable demographics, most readers of these novels are not scientists.

Born into a world of science, they did not become scientists. What makes them think that, in a world of magic, they would act any differently?

If they don’t have the scientific attitude, that nothing is “mere” – the capacity to be interested in merely real things – how will magic help them? If they actually had magic, it would be merely real, and lose the charm of unattainability. They might be excited at first, but (like the lottery winners who, six months later, aren’t nearly as happy as they expected to be), the excitement would soon wear off. Probably as soon as they had to actually study spells.

#: Finally, the Onion once again highlights the path to truth: Study: 93% Of People Talked About Once They Leave Room. I won’t even bother quoting the article, since headline writing has always been the Onion’s strongest suit. But seeing it satirized by America’s paper of record helped me see that yes, it is silly to worry about this sort of thing – which is something I frequently do.

I worry about a lot of stuff. I worry about being talked about behind my back. I also worry about saying something stupid, looking foolish in public, getting in trouble for something I didn’t do, losing my job, wrecking my car, breaking my spine, suffering hideous facial scarring, being arrested, getting rejected by girls, hooking up with girls and then having things be awkward, entering relationships with girls and then coming on too strong, never seeing a girl again, running out of money, having too much money, looking immature, growing old, wasting time, being too serious, being too silly, and skin cancer. Among other things.

I used to spend a lot of time brooding over these unlikely scenarios – high walls in my mind that I could never imagine myself getting over. “I don’t know how I could possibly survive something like that happening,” I’d think.

But you know what? There’s only one thing in my life that I’m not going to survive – and I have no way of guessing what that is. Everything else should be cake.

I’ll take on any man here that says that’s not the way it should be

The clauses in this media blow expire in twenty-four hours; take it or leave it.

Michael Clayton: What separates this film from others in the legal thriller genre – and a crowded little genre it’s become – is the focus on characters. You have to be broken in some fundamental way to devote sixty hours a week for five years at a time to a single court case. Tilda Swinton plays a tightly wound corporate attorney who rehearses not only her statements but her pauses and nervous laughter before she speaks to anyone. Tom Wilkinson plays a manic-depressive attorney who flips out during a videotaped deposition. And George Clooney plays the compulsive gambler, the firm’s in-house “fixer,” who’s sent to bring Wilkinson in.

Clooney doesn’t play a lot of low status characters – this one, and maybe his put-upon role in Syriana, are the only two I can think of. He doesn’t break into full-on alpha male mode until the very last scene, and then it’s like a breath of fresh air. Until that time he’s a beleaguered, confused man in his late 40s, swallowing his pride and dealing with petty insults and business swindles from everyone around him. It’s one of his best roles.

The plot itself is nothing to write home about, but the editing and the acting carry this one home.

The Color of Magic: Cute, I guess. I don’t feel compelled to go out and pick up any of the other books in the series, though I don’t suppose I’d pass them up if they tumbled into my lap. Aside from a few original ideas (the color octarine, the notion of dragons as solid figments, etc), there’s nothing here you couldn’t pick up by playing Dungeons and Dragons with some particularly silly people for a few years.

dollars and cents and no accidents, not in the name of democracy

Time to rant about economics again.

First, some stupid journalism about housing:

After falling for six straight months, sales of existing homes posted an unexpected increase in February. But the median home price tumbled by the largest amount on record.

How did journalists meet deadlines before they could just hit CTRL-A, CTRL-C, CTRL-V on a press release? The above comes from a helpful e-mail from the National Association of Realtors, who I’m sure don’t have a pony in this race.

Rant #1: Why is there a “but” in that sentence? What do you expect sales to do when prices drop?

Rant #2: Patri Friedman pointed this one out: January is always the low point of the year for home sales. So a month-to-month increase between January and February should shock no one. Year-to-year, sales are still way down (here, have some graphs).

Second, Paul Krugman says something dumb again. If you’ve known me for a while, you’ll know I have no love for the man, possibly the dumbest popular writer on the subject of economics after Thomas “Being Wrong’s No Reason To Withdraw” Friedman. And that’s still a hotly contested spot! The rankings could switch any day now!

Krugman weighs in on the three candidates’ stances on the economy. He’s hurt and saddened by what the Democrats are spouting:

On the Democratic side, it’s somewhat disappointing that Barack Obama, whose campaign has understandably made a point of contrasting his early opposition to the Iraq war with Hillary Clinton’s initial support, has tried to score a twofer by suggesting that the war, in addition to all its other costs, is responsible for our economic troubles.

The war is indeed a grotesque waste of resources, which will place huge long-run burdens on the American public. But it’s just wrong to blame the war for our current economic mess: in the short run, wartime spending actually stimulates the economy. Remember, the lowest unemployment rate America has experienced over the last half-century came at the height of the Vietnam War.

(1) “In the short run, wartime spending actually stimulates the economy.” Thank the devil he qualified that one with “in the short run” or I’d be checking the signature on his diploma. Not that this is a more defensible statement.

As I’ve said before, the economy is not a thermostat – it’s a thermometer. What we call “the economy” is just a collection of statistics that experts believe measures the wealth of a set of people. A nice bloody war can increase capital spending (by defense contractors), for instance. But paying for that war inevitably means higher taxes or massive inflation. You can’t crank up one statistic without making the others fluctuate wildly.

The fact that Krugman defends this as a short-run gain means he’s at least anticipating the “but in the long run” objection. The fact that he offers nothing to that means he’s either a coward or a moron. Take your pick, America!

(2) “the lowest unemployment rate America has experienced over the last half-century came at the height of the Vietnam War.” First off, who’s complaining about unemployment right now? Sure, there’s griping over jobs moving overseas, but is anyone suggesting that unemployment’s a problem on the national scale? Unemployment’s at its lowest monthly average since 2003. How long did it take Krugman to cherry pick this statistic?

Second, if we go back 40 years, the numbers back him up: unemployment was at its lowest during the height of the Vietnam War. Once the war ended, however, and the U.S. had to actually start paying for its misadventure, unemployment shot back up. Between 1973 and 1983, unemployment hovered between 5 and 10%, typically on the higher end. We didn’t see “Vietnam levels of prosperity,” to use a term Krugman’s itching to get into the lexicon, until the dot-com bubble of the late 90s.

Third: I’m just reasoning from my armchair, here, but wouldn’t the forced conscription of a lot of able-bodied young men be a huge drain on the workforce? Wouldn’t reducing the supply of available laborers reduce the unemployment rate, in the same way that smashing every third camera on their shelves would reduce Best Buy’s inventory? Is this the sort of economic miracle Krugman’s looking for? Wouldn’t a great solution to the (nonexistent) unemployment problem be to shoot one out of every five Americans between the ages of 18 and 34? Or did Krugman simply not think about the consequences of his reasoning, as is standard?

America came out of the Great Depression with a pretty effective financial safety net, based on a fundamental quid pro quo: the government stood ready to rescue banks if they got in trouble, but only on the condition that those banks accept regulation of the risks they were allowed to take.

Over time, however, many of the roles traditionally filled by regulated banks were taken over by unregulated institutions — the “shadow banking system,” which relied on complex financial arrangements to bypass those safety regulations.

I pick on the “managerial liberalism” mindset a lot, to the point that I worry sometimes I’m attacking a strawman. But Krugman spells out exactly what’s wrong with it here and then blithely stumbles onward.

Here’s the history of central banking in this country, exactly as Krugman laid it out:

(1) Banks went wild.
(2) Regulations were created to restrain them.
(3) Pseudo-banks (e.g., savings and loan institutions) emerged to evade regulations.
(4) Pseudo-banks went wild.

Even if you don’t buy every step in his reasoning, can you see where it breaks down? #3 is a direct and inevitable result of #2. Investors saw regulations and looked for loopholes to exploit. Krugman’s solution is to revisit #2 – create more regulations. And apparently he doesn’t have the imagination to see that new institutions would arise to exploit those new loopholes. So either regulation doesn’t make humans better people, or …

I’m not an apologist for the healing power of free markets, any more than I am for the healing power of gravity. Gravity makes a lot of machines work. Gravity can also knock you on your ass if you’re not careful. But regardless of whether you like it or not, gravity’s a fact you can’t escape. You can’t pass a law to make it slower than 9.8 meters per second squared. So it is with supply and demand, inelastic commodities and incentives. Markets evolve; legislation does not.

Given the risks to the economy if the financial system melts down, this rescue mission [Bush’s and the Fed’s bailout] is justified.

Do I even need to address this?

It’s one thing for someone completely ignorant of the science to make these kind of mistakes – if you’re still subscribing to zero-sum economics or conspiracy theory economics or one of the many common stand-ins. But Krugman’s nominally an economist himself. He supposedly has a degree. But he’s so clearly surrendered the logic of economic thinking in the name of his own agenda – which is a weird agenda in its own right, by the way – that I wonder what he calls himself. How does he introduce himself at parties? What does he put on his resume? And so forth

why you at the bar if you ain’t popping the bottles?

So what did this past weekend hold?

I finished up some revisions for a Neutrino video project on Friday. Then, at the last minute, I drove to Central Square to catch an IB Show. Serpico, Michelle McN., Manny R., Paul K. and others did a series of Boston-related sketches. They hit all the important notes for some good Boston satire – drunken college girls, rowdy Red Sox fans, the mumblings of Mayor Menino – and kept me laughing.

I ran into Jacey and grabbed dinner with her at Tavern on the Square. For some reason the bar hosted a live DJ mixing some generic top 40 pop at too loud of a volume to allow for easy conversation. Dance music’s apparently a regular fixture at the Tavern but not a popular one – we were there until 11:00 and nobody started moving.

Saturday, Dennis Hurley asked me to play an extra in a sketch video he was shooting at IB. I showed up, held a notebook, and chatted with Matt McG. and Aaron C. about Obama during downtime.

Immediately after, I met up with Shannon and Brian P. for that aforementioned Neutrino project. Watching Dennis’s pals mess around with shot placement and multiple takes infected me with the video bug once more, leading me to volunteer to direct a project I had just helped write. I have been infected. I expect a two month convalescence.

I hung out with Lisa C. at B-Side Lounge on Saturday night. The nice server at B-Side introduced me to the wonders of the Manhattan – all the taste and power of whiskey, but without the indelible stigma of ordering a shot of Canadian Club. It is now my favorite drink. We compared notes on the Cambridge dating scene and agreed that it’s fraught with traps.

Sunday I stayed in my bathrobe all day. Every now and then I need a day where I don’t speak to another human being. It scours the palate, like one of those water diets that drops you two dress sizes in a weekend at a slight cost to kidney health. It leaves me eager for human contact by sundown. My introversion rules me but doesn’t rule me, if you value the distinction.

Also of note: Star Wars Battlefront has some of the highest replay value of any video game I’ve ever bought. If I’m in the mood for violence, I don’t need to load up a game and start some highbrow, ivory-tower “mission.” I don’t need to begin a quest and speak to the city fathers. I just say, “Put me in the gas refineries on Bespin and let me shoot stormtroopers” and forty seconds later I’m doing it. It has a beautiful purity I almost fear to touch.

Those last two paragraphs are probably the most interesting. Once again I have buried the lede.

everybody told her it was sweet and good

Some stuff about writing:

#: I’m maybe ten to fifteen thousand words shy of the first section (of three) of The Levittown Barbecue Club. Already I’m much more excited about this novel than I am my last one. So much so, in fact, that I think I might pass around this first draft to readers before I let anyone see a page of Three Born In Eden.

Why? Levittown feels more polished, already, than Three Born in Eden. Part of it has to do with the genre, no doubt – this one’s a thriller set in the modern day; the first one was a surreal horror novel set, well, somewhere weird. Further, Three Born in Eden was inspired by a dream I had, which gave it miles and miles of creative juice but not much in the way of coherence. But above all else, the very fact that I wrote Three Born in Eden first means that I have 110,000 words of experience going into this novel. I’m at least 5th level already.

I don’t think that Three Born in Eden will prove to have been a waste, even if Levittown becomes the first novel that I feel comfortable showing other human beings. The experience alone made it worthwhile. So I guess if there’s an object lesson in all this, it’s that no writing is ever wasted if it makes you a better writer*.

#: A conversation I had with Victoria the other day reminded me of why I want to write:

Victoria: I was talking about mcsweeney’s and open letters with a coworker who was unfamiliar.
Victoria: and I went to find one that has been my favorite for a long time.
Victoria: so I was rereading it and got to the end.
Victoria: and started to laugh.
Professor Coldheart: that’s how you and I hit it off so quickly – you’ve known my name for years
Victoria: must be the case. my coworker is still laughing at me right now.
Victoria: well played, Professor. well played.
Professor Coldheart: I set that one up years in advance just to sting ya

I enjoy talking about writing with friends and peers. But that’s not why I write. I write because I hope someone’s going to find my writing, before they ever meet or know me, and say, “Damn – that hit the spot.” I don’t want to be a cool guy who also happens to be a writer; I want to be a writer who happens to be cool.

I know that my lifelong dream – to see my name on the cover of a hardback novel on a stranger’s house or in a bookstore in a foreign city – won’t be the End-All of everything. There are thousands of people who hit that step and fade into obscurity. But humans aren’t built to achieve One Perfect Moment and then die quietly. We’re constantly seeking new goals. We’re always moving.

So I don’t consider Getting Published my lifetime dream. It’s my dream for now. And I’m making slow progress.

Postscript: That ended a lot more after-school special than I thought it would. Short version: positive feedback on my writing makes me happy; accidentally discovering that I wrote something you love makes me happier still. I suggest randomly searching the forums on RPG.net and then IMing me when you find something funny: “did you write this?” Odds are I didn’t.

_________________________
* Except Head of the Class fan-fiction. C’mon, Kev. I mean: seriously.

insane in the membrane; insane in the brain

“Hey Professor,” you asked, “what are the four craziest things John McCain has said in the last month? Not just goofy or indicative of a radical political bent, but out and out deranged?”

And here I am to tell you:

#4: “Al-Qaeda Would Be Taking A Country.” Responding to a statement by Obama on February 27th, McCain said:

“And my friends, if we left, they (al-Qaida) wouldn’t be establishing a base. […] They’d be taking a country, and I’m not going to allow that to happen, my friends. I will not surrender. I will not surrender to al-Qaida.”

Right. The predominantly Shi’ite Iraq is going to be conquered by fringe Sunni guerillas. I mean sure, it’s happened before, but they had the U.S.’s help that time.

Joe Klein from Time calls McCain out on his error in the link above, but makes the mistake of saying “McCain knows better. He knows the complexities of the world, and the region.” Joey, presuming that McCain knows the day of the week is wishful thinking.

#3: “There’s Strong Evidence Linking Thimerosal to Autism.” At a town hall meeting in Texas on February 29th, John McCain told a crowd of supposedly literate adults that “there’s strong evidence” that thimerosal (which used to be a common ingredient in childhood vaccines) is responsible for the rise in autism.

This is not true. There is no evidence to support such a conjecture. Anyone who says this or thinks this disagrees with the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the FDA, the Institute of Medicine and pretty much every doctor with a credible license.

#2: “You’ve Stumped Me.” I’m cheating a little, because this is a quote from an interview with McCain in 2007. But it came up in a 2008 op-ed, so I’m shoehorning it in. And if you’d like to argue that McCain has grown less senile and not more in twelve months’ time, I’ll entertain the argument.

Now, if McCain’s position were that abstinence education was the most effective way to reduce teen pregnancy and teen STDs, that’d be one thing. I happen to think that position is silly, puritanical and unsupported by anything empirical, but at least it’s a recognizable Republican talking point. At least McCain would be a voice of the establishment at that point, instead of a decrepit lunatic who shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

But! When asked what exactly he thought about sex education, on the spur of the moment, he had the following to say:

Q: “What about grants for sex education in the United States? Should they include instructions about using contraceptives? Or should it be Bush’s policy, which is just abstinence?”

McCain: (Long pause) “Ahhh. I think I support the president’s policy.”

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

Not a “No, they make people more promiscuous.” Not a “Yes, but they encourage loose morals.” He just simply doesn’t get the connection. Do prophylactics reduce the spread of STDs? Hmm, that’s a puzzler! You might as well ask McCain what’s the difference between rhubarb and a pigeon in the attic? You’re just talking gibberish!

#1: “Al-Qaeda is Going Into Iran and Receiving Training …” For this one, I’m just going to quote the Times entirely:

Mr. McCain said several times in his visit to Jordan — in a news conference and in a radio interview — that he was concerned that Iran was training Al Qaeda in Iraq. The United States believes that Iran, a Shiite country, has been training and financing Shiite extremists in Iraq, but not Al Qaeda, which is a Sunni insurgent group.

Mr. McCain said at a news conference in Amman that he continued to be concerned about Iranians “taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.” Asked about that statement, Mr. McCain said: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.”

It was not until he got a quiet word of correction in his ear from Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who was traveling with Mr. McCain as part of a Congressional delegation on a nearly weeklong trip, that Mr. McCain corrected himself.

“I’m sorry,” Mr. McCain said, “the Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda.”

Even if you believe that the war in Iraq is still worth conducting – and as insane as I find that, I know some people believe it, so I’ll take it for argument – how can you support a man so blithely ignorant of the basic facts of the matter? So willing to let fantasy and delusion rule his words? What would it take to prove to you that John McCain is delusional?