Milestone: 5,000 visits

Last Wednesday, apparently, I passed the 5,000 mark for visitors on this blog.

There’s been a slow build over time that’s less influenced by the spikes that come from references on other blogs, so while this 5,000 took six months, the next five may only take four.

So, thanks for reading. Even if you do just come here looking for pointy breasts.

Also, careful with those, they’ll take an eye out.

Yon Sighting of Yon

A couple of old guys (vets?) were out on the corner of Victory and Topanga Cyn (probably the most trafficked corner in the area, except maybe Ventura and Topanga Cyn) with some signs about Iraq, and how we shouldn’t abandon it.

Also I saw this:

GOOGLE MICHAEL YON

I don’t talk much about politics here because it’s boring. (For instance, Althouse has a creative and whimsical approach to her blog, and the politics drag it all into a tired series of ad hominems and tu quoques–and hers is one of the better sites.)

But one thing I think is evident is that our military is our equivalent of the Spartan 300. They have stayed the course and done a professional job even when our hearts grew faint.

Yon, to borrow from a different conflict, is more like an Ernie Pyle–but at a time when most of his would-be peers are more comfortable in the Walter Duranty or Tokyo Rose roles.

So if you haven’t yet, or if it’s been a while, check him out.

On Male Friendship In Film

I read once that the mainstreaming of (male) homosexuality had a negative impact on male friendship. That is, because of the acceptance and prevalence of gay culture, straight males could not express friendship in the same ways as they once might have without fear of having their own sexuality undermined. For example, men crying and hugging and kissing is pretty commonly described in the literature of previous eras and cultures without any apparent suggestion of teh gay. (Similar thoughts were expressed about other sorts of sexual practices, such as incest. And Lord knows, I was quickly disabused of what it meant to be a “dog lover” five minutes after I entered a chat room.)

Interesting if true, as they say.

I was thinking about it because someone in this house absolutely lurves Hot Fuzz, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s follow up to the classic Shaun of the Dead. It’s easy to see Fuzz and think, “Wow, that Simon Pegg can really act up a storm! He’s nothing like he was in Shaun!” And there’s a lot of truth to that. But it’s actually Nick Frost who hits it out of the park in the police spoof.

The thing is, Frost is fat and dopey looking, and the sort of guy who’d easily be typecast. He’s an underachiever in both movies. But his characters are, in fact, completely different, and both times, his friendship with Pegg’s character is the lynchpin of the movie.

In Shaun, he’s just a repulsive slacker, who nonetheless, when you get past his stupidity and clumsiness, will stick with his friend to the end.

Ah, but in Fuzz, he’s Danny, a big, innocent, naive sort-of kid, who’s been kept down by various forces I won’t spoil here. His character changes by becoming more serious, by chasing the dream he has heretofore lived vicariously through action flicks.

The relevant aspect, however, is that Hot Fuzz originally featured a love interest. But Pegg and Wright removed that character and left much of the dialog to Danny’s character without changing a word. I remember thinking at the time that some of what he was saying was a little…odd…and some of his emotional reactions were somewhat large, but overall, the scheme works brilliantly.

And it works brilliantly precisely because there’s no sex (or chance of sex) involved. As much as we’d like for Pegg’s character (Nick) to find love and happiness–he’s spurned by Cate Blanchett’s eyes, in one of the odder cameos in cinema history–his relationship with Danny is pure. Any romantic relationship can be spun cynically as a purely self-serving play for sex, but Nick has been kicked out of London by self-serving jerks, and is now serving in Sandford with even more jerks.

Danny’s adoration of Nick is returned with genuine respect, with Danny recognizing Nick for his (really) superhuman talent, and Nick seeing the good and potentially competent in Danny. Nick never condescends and Danny becomes his chance to forge a real bond with another human being.

It’s really one of the great male relationships on film in recent memory. The sweetness transforms into a more typical, macho, action relationship in the last half-hour of the film, which itself is pure action movie. (I’m looking forward to the third entry in Pegg and Wright’s “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy.)

I’m reminded of another great male cinematic relationship: Gods and Monsters. But that one’s a lot more complicated.

Commentary on 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons

I played D&D as a kid, and my kid and I have played a little 3ed, though obviously, I don’t have the time to pore over the volumes of rules like I did decades ago. So, I was really looking forward to 4ed. The idea that you can just pick-up and play without having to decipher lots of fine print and sub-rules and supplements and so on, this seemed like a good idea. (Although, frankly, the mastery of D&D minutiae is most certainly the appeal for some geeks.)

Surprisingly, I’ve had to literally force my way through the Player’s Handbook. It’s all so … boring. Part of the fun of D&D (for me, as a DM) was reading through all the possibilities. 3ed had this in spades: You could do just about anything, and it gave a lot of room to go in interesting and unique directions.

4ed, meanwhile, maps everything out. Everything is classified in terms of how often you can use it, and you add this power or that feat at each level according to a unified formula. It reminds me more of Diablo than anything.

I’m not being dismissive, either. Really, 4ed is an impressive piece of work, streamlining and cleaning up a very messy game. I give it three (of five) stars because it’s so easy to read and has big type with every detail clerly spelled out. (I don’t like the artwork but that’s my own taste.) It will surely be easier for people to casually pick up and play. What I can’t figure out is why they–or really, why I would want to play it.

I gather that a lot of issues with 3ed came about because of pickup and competition games. There are such things as “powergamers” and “rules lawyers” and they found ways to drag the game down. And, of course, not all classes in previous editions were equally powerful, if you crunched the numbers. (It never occurred to me that this was a problem, but then I do everything I can to keep my players from focusing on the numbers.)

So, I guess 4ed is good in that regard. Every character boils down to one of four combat roles, and all the features they can acquire are centered around those roles, one of which they’ll likely specialize in. (It’s probably not as boring as I just made it sound there.)

Now, I run a very DM-centered game, and 4ed diminishes that greatly. The races have a back story which implies a pre-made, common world; Clerics pick from a variety of bland, pre-made deities; The magic items are listed in the PHB and a player can acquire them easily based on level, which implies a world where magic becomes banal at some level.

This is great for a pick-up game, I’m sure. And of course, the DM who doesn’t care for all this can do as he pleases. But as you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, I can ignore the two gratuitous elf races, drop the half-demon and half-dragon races, bring back the full nine alignments, assume that stuff that I miss, like gnomes, druids and illusionists will be back with the PHB II, bring back real multiclassing and prestige classes…” But at some point, one wonders, “Why 4ed at all?”

Here’s a fun fact: In AD&D (what’s now referred to as 1ed), you rolled a d20 to attack and checked against a table to see if you hit. Then the monster rolled a d20, etc. Magic-users would use a spell, thieves would try to sneak attack, etc. But that was combat in the original. It was said to represent one minute of fighting, including all the feints, dodges, parries, tumbling, etc. It was detail free, basically, except as the DM described the action. There were no critical hits, there were very tight minimum and maximum ACs. There was no distinction between “touching” and “causing damage” when you hit; it was really very loose aand vague.

Of course, the whole thing was a deliberate simplification. And since D&D’s roots were in wargaming, with measures and calculations, you can safely assume the creators weren’t afraid of complexity. (I run 3ed like this, despite the absurdly extensive combat rules.)

4ed, on the other hand, is basically a tactical board game. The rules–I mean, all the rules–are pretty much set up to facilitate putting figurines on a grid and having them combat in turn, taking equal amounts of time, doing roughly similarly powered things, and measuring everything in terms of causing damage.

Hell, you could easily put the character’s actions into a computer program and let the players use hotkeys to select which power they want–and I’m sure they’re working on it.

A lot of people seem to love the new rules, and it’s not that I looked at the changes and couldn’t see exactly why they changed them and why that was a good thing (except for the elimination of half the alignments). I get it. I really do get it.

It just leaves me cold.

A Parade Of Fools

There’s a long thread over at Dr. Helen’s column asking whether men can be raped by women.

In between the typical parsing of Internet arguments (the definition or rape, legally versus how real people use it), there’s a (to me) fascinating array of sentiment that can be summed up as “No, and he deserved it anyway.” That’s on one particular case.

And by “fascinating”, I mean “repulsive”.

I’m willing to accept the notion that guys are indiscriminate. Or marginally discriminating. Personally, I’m not. Interestingly, at least one poster would consider that pathological.

A digression: I don’t spank my children. I do physically control them as needed (somewhat at two, rarely by the time they reach five). I also don’t take an authoritarian approach to education or discipline, give or take the occasional need to put the foot down about something.

I do this for the reason that I think it’s primary that a child understands he is sovereign over his own body. Children are born knowing this, I think, or at least learn it as soon as they can move away from Mother. I think this is the best way to protect the child. (My children all know martial arts, to the degree they’re able.) In the early years, your concern is perhaps pedophiles, bullies and assorted other creeps. In later years, it’s the many tinpot dictators for whom bossing others around is the best part of their day, and assorted other creeps. (Creeps are there at every age.)

I mention this only because when I say I am sovereign over my body, I include in that whatever baser instincts my body may have. I don’t kill someone just because I might get stuff from it, or even if I’d enjoy it a whole lot. I don’t have sex with someone just because they’re willing and I’m a guy. I don’t confuse my body’s reactions with my own. (And I don’t see how any sane guy could, if we all go through that period of near constant arousal.)

But there’s just no point in having sovereignty over something that nobody values, including yourself.

This probably makes me on the “uptight” side as far as modern mores are concerned.

Another downside is that it makes it possible to rape me, unlike a few robust fellows who apparently view their own consent to the use of their body as mere formality. Er, as long as it’s a chick at the other end, I guess. I don’t actually see the difference. We’re not talking about procreation, after all, nor even consciousness. If you don’t care who’s using your body, you don’t care, right?

And I can see a particular stickiness to a trauma like that, wherein the guy is wondering “Was I supposed to like that? Was that okay?” when obviously it wasn’t, at least for him.

Back in the ‘70s, ABC ran an “edgy” (I suppose) movie about a man being raped by a woman. It was played as comedy, though, at least from the bits I saw, with the man running around in trying to cover his nudity with traffic cones or something. Can you imagine that being reversed? I mean, playing off a woman’s rape as comedy like that?

Then there was “Hill Street Blues”. There was an episode where a rookie killed himself. He was a socially awkward guy whose “buddies” had hazed him by tying him up and having a prostitute rape him. They thought they were doing him a favor, at some level.

Russ Meyer was no stranger to coerced sex (in his movies, I mean) but whatever happened was played for laughs, or occasionally avenged with bloody retribution.

When she gets old enough, I’m thinking I’ll have The Flower watch a parade of teen sex movies, from the ’80s to the current Judd Apatow stuff. Vulgar though it is, I can think of few better ways to say, “Hey, this is what guys are like. At least some guys. You might want to play it safe.”

But what do I show The Boy to demonstrate the perfidy that women are capable of? Fatal Attraction?

The funny thing is, I wouldn’t have even considered the topic interesting. Women have their own unique ways of abusing men that are typically less violent (though I’ve only ever known women to engage in domestic violence) but no less foul, and whether or not the coercion they use to get what they want constitutes “rape” would seem to be splitting hairs.

But that’s what we do on this her intartube.

Star Spangled

Here’s an Independence Day ramble, in honor of the day. First, what’s up with this anti-“Fourth of July” phrasing from the wingnuts? C’mon, people, there’s nothing wrong with saying “Fourth of July”. We’re saying we own this day. (It is interesting that we don’t say “the 25th of December” for Christmas, but then, Christmas hasn’t always fallen on the 25th, eh, what?)

Growing up when I did, in the shadow of Chomsky and other “useful idiots”, steered by the press, movies and television, my teachers, books and music, my sense of patriotism and love of country is precisely the reverse of many in the preceding generation.

I grew up mistrusting it and having no sense of what made the USA great, only that we had killed the Indians and enslaved the blacks. We weren’t “all that”. European countries were so much better. (Well, I went Europe as a kid and loved it, but it sure seemed primitive, so I wasn’t so sure about that.) Patriotism was the same as jingoism. Even at eight, I resisted saying the Pledge of Allegiance and regarded as suspect those who waved the flag or were in the military. I laughed at the thought of voting Republican and regarded Reagan as scarier than the Soviet Union.

Then, I started studying history independently. I never cared for history in school, it seeming to be a long litany of people treating each other badly. Reading Durant is probably what got me thinking, that and reading the L.A. Times. The Times, with its relentless lying–and I think that’s a fair assessment of when bias takes priority over data and allows omissions and “errors” all in the same direction–is probably what made me question The Narrative.

In essence, The Narrative is what informed me, and I was actually more critical than most. I knew, for example, that the rate of draft dodging in Vietnam was comparable to that of WWII. Even so, my parents were not particularly political, and the various shenanigans of national agencies were becoming public at the time, so it was easy to look at that and believe The Narrative, with its “mistrust Authority” theme, even if the underlying theme of “don’t mistrust our Authority” should’ve been obvious.

But the more I studied–and continue to study–world history, the more I see what some refer to as American Exceptionalism. It’s not that we don’t have our sins, really, it’s that our sins are typical.

  • Genocide of the Native American? Sounds (and is) horrible. It was a forgone conclusion long before we were a nation. From what I can tell, it’s a foregone conclusion whenever an agricultural society meets up with a nomadic society.
  • Slavery? Every single civilization in the history of the world has a history of slavery. In fact, Keith Chandler theorizes in Beyond Civilization that it’s a requirement for civilization.
  • Imperialism? By God, we are the most faint-hearted imperialists in the history of the world’s superpowers.
  • Militaristic? That’s a laugh. We’re merchants. We have to be roused to attack. Granted, we can be rused to attack (the Spanish-American War and WWI come to mind, and perhaps Vietnam as well). As Iraq shows, we’re the kindest invaders in history as well, with an unprecedented concern for those we’re invading.

Any empire you care to name, is guilty of all the same sins to a far worse degree, and probably never felt guilty about any of it.

Meanwhile, the U.S.A. created a vision of freedom like no other. And in its shining moments the realization of that vision is available to everyone who is willing to work for it. (In some moments, perhaps not so shining, it’s available to those who are willing to do something outrageous for the press as well, or those with ambulance-chasers on speed dial.) And our greatness doesn’t stop at our own borders: The infectious ideas of freedom push back, however sporadically, tyranny all over the world.

I’ve noted many times that the Founding Fathers would be considered as radical today as they were in the 18th century. And sometimes that depresses me. People are so willing to give up their freedoms to a new royalty, to give up on that most basic of premises:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As it shouldn’t need to be said, “all men are created equal” did not mean that all men were the same, but only that all were equal under the law. That there was no divine right of one man to rule over another. The law should treat all equally.

What a concept. Like “the right of the people to keep to bear arms shall not be infringed”, it’s some plain English that that don’t people believe any more.

If they ever did. Just like I won’t dwell on my country’s sins on this date, I won’t fault the Founders for failing to change a world population that believed in royalty for the past 5,000 years to suddenly respecting the inherent equality of citizens.

Self-evident. Self-evident! What an audacious phrase to put there.

I like to think that that most people probably do accept the right to life. (Oops. For born people, anyway.)

Liberty? Oh, no. We don’t really believe in that. As Jefferson lamented, the State acquires power and loathes to give it up. But in our day, if not in his, it does so by creating hostility and suspicion of our fellow citizens. “Trust us,” it says, “because you can’t trust them.”

And despite its miserable failures, many corruptions, and clearly stated counter-intentions, they succeed in convincing us (as a whole). There’s an interesting thread over at Althouse about how children don’t play outside any more and how this is the fault (at least in no small part) to the exaggerated tales of kidnapping and violence that permeate the media. How many of those people would admit that their views of the second amendment (and the other nine amendments!) were similarly colored?

No, liberty is too dangerous a thing for the common man to have.

And that most tread upon of the three–the one that really should have been “property”, and God help that poor, deceased right–the pursuit of happiness. I remember the good ol’ days when it was right wing Christians who were taking away your right to, uh, miscegenate (ok, I don’t remember that, but it happened) and liberals were the good guys, protecting your right to, you know, do whatever with whomever.

Now of course, they’re the clucking hens of “pursuit of happiness so long as it doesn’t leave any trace whatsoever on the planet”. Cars, lightbulbs, food, reproduction–not sex, they’re still pro-sex, as long as you don’t actually use it for its biological purposes of perpetuating the human race–where you live, how you travel, how much you fart, it’s all subject to governmental scrutiny.

And free speech? I grew up on tales of the ACLU (a bunch of liberal Jews, as Cedarford would have to note) protecting Nazis’ right to have a parade. Now they spend all their time on “freedom from” instead of “freedom to”.

But here’s the great thing about this country and this day: We have those rights to lose, and we can fight to keep them. And all it’s going to take is eternal vigilance and proper education.

God bless America. Let freedom ring.

Happy Birthday, America!

Well, you know we have our heroes,
I mean, Washington and Lincoln,
Including Audie Murphy,
Including Ol’ Jack Ruby,
Wasn’t Jack wonderful?
Oh, he certainly was!

–Loudon Wainwright III, “Bicentennial”

America, America,
Step out into the light
Your the best dream Man has ever dreamed
And may all your Christmases be white

–Randy Newman, “Sigmund Freud’s Impersonation of Albert Einstein in America”

That’s the problem with listening to snarky music all the time; you don’t have any where to go when you want to be sincere about patriotism.

America, America
God shed His grace on thee
And crown they good
With brotherhood
From sea to shining sea

Patriotism swells in the heart of the American bear!

–Fozzie Bear, singing “America The Beautiful” in The Muppet Movie

“Room for one more, honey” weirdness

I just flipped to the marathon of The Twilight Zone that Sci-Fi is running and they’re showing “Twenty Two”, which should probably be called “Room for one more, honey” since that’s the line that makes you go “Ohhhhh! That episode!”

But it looks wrong. The camera is shaky and the film quality–instead of the familiar graininess of cheap B&W late ‘50s shows, it looks like it was a soap shot on cheap-ass video.

If that’s remastering, give me unremastered stuff any day. Also, don’t touch “Maverick”.

There are all kinds of weird video artifacts as well, like the tracking is off. Ick.

If Trooper York comes by, though, we have to ask if people in Brooklyn actually talk like that.

This episode (and another one I can’t recall right now) was ripped of to spawn the Final Destination series.

The Ol’ John Hancock…Er Will Hancock…

I haven’t seen Hancock. It was kind of off my list for the bad buzz it got. And while I’m not entirely immune to Will Smith’s charms, I’m immune enough.

But I just noticed it was directed by Peter Berg (who played Dr. Kronk on “Chicago Hope” when that show didn’t suck). He has yet to make a movie I didn’t like.

The Kingdom was the latest, prior to that Friday Night Lights. Neither of those is necessarily the sort of movie I would like, and yet I did. The Rundown was prior to that, and that was way better than it had any right to be.

His first film is the much reviled Very Bad Things, and it may still be my favorite of his. People hate this movie. Ebert walked out on it, allegedly. But it takes the tired old “guys at bachelor party kill stripper” plot and injects Christian Slater as a new-agey self-actualized SOB who takes an accident and turns it into a series of gruesome murders and conspiracies.

All the while uttering lines like “I’m proud of us” over the grave of two murder victims. Or “Never go dark!”

Despite the weaseling (and murdering) the men do, Cameron Diaz comes off as the worst of them all, a monster bridezilla before the term “bridezilla” had even been coined.

This is funny but, you know, not for everyone. Still, it makes me smile every time they hack Kobe Tai and Russ McKenzie into little pieces, then argue about which pieces should go into which bags.

Still, probably nobody gets chopped up in “Hancock”.