Friday, June 21, 2013

#90: "Goodfellas" (1990)

Martin Scorcese's "Goodfellas" is the next film on the list of movies I'm watching this year to broaden my horizons.  Obviously, this film is iconic.  Shortlisted in gangster films with the likes of The Godfather, it is the kind of movie that people stare at you when they find out you've never seen it.

At an expansive 2 1/2 hours, it's a surprisingly quick story.  Taking place over the course of thirty or so years, we follow the lead character (who is certainly not a protagonist), Henry Hill.  Portrayed marvelously by Ray Liotta, he is a witty, short-tempered and overly-confident child in a man's body.

The funny thing about this movie is how it paces the first half in this throwback style, then breaks the mold in the third act, making the arguments and the violence unsettling and unpredictable.

It's a terrible kids movie.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Me Conspiracy

Alex Jones: The King of the Selfish Idiots
I HAVE AN ADMISSION.  I despise the concept of conspiracy theories.

Now, I'm not saying I despise rigorous, intellectual, critical thought.  Quite on the contrary, I believe that critical thinking skills are exactly what is missing in the minds of most conspiracy theorists. An article featured on Salon goes into some detail about this very issue.

I recently got into a hell-born deathmatch spicy debate with my father (whose views can be readily consumed at his blog: "From the Outhouse," natch), who is a fairly-moderate conspiracy theorist himself.  Meaning, he doesn't buy into the faked moon landing mumbo-jumbo or the more heart-on-sleeve rhetoric about the Boston bombings being an inside job, but he does call into question the unseen who are harnessing powers across the globe.  I think he's a 9/11 Truther, too.

It's mystifying to me.  Not specifically my dad, of course.  I think he's a very smart guy.  I think he demonstrates empathy and critical thinking.  What I'm mystified by is the ability of people to create a narrative for every event.  As though to assign meaning to it.

If you can assign meaning to something as horrific as the Boston bombings when it happens, it allots governance over the feelings involved. It assigns pattern -- predictability.  In what is, obviously, an unpredictable world.  This would have a pretty substantial appeal to a person who feels as though they are "out of control" in their life.

What the Salon article discusses is the overwhelming correlation that science is finding between those who believe multiple conspiracy theories and mental disease.  I don't bring this point up in a sense of "told you so."  I am using it to illustrate what seems to be the problem.  The lack of agency, or the lack of self-perceived control, is a hallmark of the caricature of your right-wing, gun nut, conspiracy theorist.

The conspiracist finds (and believes) the story that best fits their narrative.  I need my guns to protect myself from a more-and-more radical government that has its sights set on my rights, land, family, life, etc.  The paranoid delusion isn't difficult to discern for most people; the simple undertaking of contriving something like the Boston bombings, let alone something on the scale of 9/11 would be an unbelievably difficult task for the government to undertake.

But, it fits the narrative.  A malevolent government.  A harsh reality which YOU have the ability to see.  Your mind is open and you don't have your head in the sand like the rest of the sheep.

The tragedy lies in the mundane details.  The tragedy is that people are willing to take the focus from what the important discussion is (understanding what drives people to terrorism and preventing it) and issuing a diverting narrative (how to change the context of a situation unrelated to you, and make it your own).

That's the part that I hate.  I hate the selfish aspect of conspiracy theories.  I hate the denial of the victimization of the actual victims, in place of victimization of the people who think/say they're being lied to.  It's self-centered at its core, and its a plague that an ever-more self-focused world is going to continually face.  That's the conspiracy.

The Odd Designs Of American Currency

AN ARTICLE ON caught my eye today.  It features some of the more interesting designs of American currency in the late-nineteenth century through early-twentieth century.

Some of my favorites are:

This amazing five-dollar bill from 1896.  I love this one because the text is just gorgeous and they were still hanging on to the Roman numerals (which, I still think would look nice).

This one's a bit more strange.  This bizarre art-deco thing they were going for doesn't quite work.  It certainly doesn't fit into the style that had been evolving for some time.  It's like a b-side to the currency of the day.

Anyway, there's a whole bunch more on that article I liked.  I recommend checking it out!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Zack Pruitt Is This Year's Kony 2012

Gilbert, Axe, Taco Bell
WHAT VEHICLE WOULD KILL YOU THE FASTEST? is the topic of the latest blog post by the writing staff over at Zackipedia, using the pseudonym Zack Pruitt.

I'd like to illustrate just how short-sighted this "blog post" really is, and how the political machinations behind Zackipedia, as well as being in the pocket of 'Big Grape Nuts' and taking their blood money, have tainted its ethical standards.

Let's start at the beginning... here is a direct quote from the article in question:

On the popular website @edsbs poses the following question: "...what vehicle, with no prior experience, would you kill yourself fastest attempting to pilot?" There is only one answer, and I will tell you what it is. But I will first list the other answers that were suggested, and explain why they are wrong.
First off, this wild accusation that there is a user on Twitter going by the handle "[at sign]edsbs" is preposterous. A thorough, yet misspelled Google search brought up no trace of such a person even existing. Grassy knoll, much?

Again, to the article:

Helicopter: A helicopter, like any other flying vehicle, is ludicrous to even consider as an answer. While you would almost assuredly kill yourself trying to pilot a helicopter, it is not the one that would kill you the fastest. It would take you time to figure out how to a) get it off the ground and b) get it high enough off the ground to kill you in a crash, assuming you're strapped in properly.
An elk.
Now, I'm not one to speculate on your abilities, dear reader.  I imagine you're a smart, savvy and capable person -- perhaps even the type of person who's able to pick up on the mechanics required to pilot a little ol' helicopter.

I mean, the toppy things spin around and you have a stick.  C'mon.  It can't be that hard.  I reckon one of my readers could get a chopper off the ground and back down to it faster than one of "Zack Pruitt's" readers any day of the week.

Dragon: Nice try, but a dragon would be disqualified. The question is "what vehicle would you kill yourself fastest attempting to pilot?" A dragon would kill you before you attempt to pilot it. It would kill you without thinking, and it would enjoy it.
Uh, yeah right.  Let's see why you're wrong.  Uh, one: dragon's not disqualified because it wouldn't kill you if you have the proper flame-retardant clothing.  Derrr, two: dragons are incapable of reachin' round to their back and shooing you off.  So, uh, yeah.  Fact check, much!?

Funny Car: Again, nice try. Funny car and those fast motorcycles are out. Even thugh [NIce typo, looser] it's really fat and phallic, it's still a car. You can drive a car. Unless you were trying to kill yourself, this would not be it. And, if you were trying to kill yourself, a regular car or motorcycle would do just as well. But look for help first. Life's worth living.
Uh, newsflash wise guy: some people can't drive!  Durrrr

Blimp: It's a balloon. Come on.

The State Flag of Michigan
Guess someone's in the pocket of "Big Blimp," too?  A quick check to The U.S. Balloon Flight Society's donor list names a Z. A. Pruitt.  Coincidence? Magic Bullet?  I'll take a smoothie, Jackie O.

Submarine: I don't think people understand how vehicles work. They are designed with the idea that the passengers survive. You would not be able to figure out how to use a submarine, and it would be really hard to kill yourself with a submarine.
Unless you're planning on choking on the sandwich, I'm pretty dang sure you're not going to be able to DRIVE ONE AROUND, you dimwit!

Tardis: I can't believe these people who are suggesting these things. A) You could not pilot a TARDIS. B) A TARDIS would actually try to keep you alive. It has a brain and a heart and everything.
What does that stand for? Time for Zack to read up on his science books?  LOL. #powned #tcot

Jetpack: Finally, a reasonable answer. Let me tell you why the jet pack is the only answer. A) It is easy to operate. B) It would take roughly 4 seconds, depending on the jet pack, to get you high enough to kill you. C) It shoots out fire, and contains fuel. It's basically a poorly made bomb attached to your back. It's a miracle when it doesn't kill you. D) There's no safety system. Can't emphasize this one enough.

This is sound logic.  I agree.


So, there you have it folks.  Just another clear example of the corruption that infects casual rhetorical questions so prevalent on today's social media.  I think this kind of irresponsible, uneven discussion needs to be show the door.  This garbage is for the birds.

A McDonald's Burger After 14 Years

I'M NOT A BIG FAST FOOD FAN, so this doesn't come as much of a surprise, or a repulsion as it might for others.  Over at The Daily Mail, they've run a story detailing a man's archive of a single McDonald's hamburger.

He bought the sandwich to show his friends how, after a month, it would be preserved.  Then, he forgot about it.  Two years later, he found it in a coat pocket and decided to keep it around.

Delightful, eh?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Senator Robert La Follette

Senator Robert La Follette
A survey in 1987 asked Americans to name the best U.S. senators, based on their accomplishments.  Senator Robert La Follette took first place (tying with Henry Clay).  This is striking, given the vast unpopularity he faced when, in 1917, he was one of six members of the Senate to vote against President Wilson’s call for a declaration of war against Germany.  This of course, being the same Woodrow Wilson who, just the previous year, ran on the slogan, “He Kept Us Out Of War.”  So strong was the reaction to La Follette’s anti-war stance that President Roosevelt, a fellow liberal, called for his expulsion from the Senate and a Texas judge said that he was a traitor who ought to be shot.  Though, to be fair, Texas.
In the run-up to the war,  organizations throughout the world were pre-emptively standing against the possibility of war.  Many of these groups were socialist organizations or labor unions, among others, desperate to prevent a war that would only be a vehicle for bosses killing workers.  Throughout France, Germany, Canada, Russia and Britains, groups were organizing protests, demonstrating and making every effort to prevent what they viewed as another stretch of power from the overbearing elite class, using the workers of the world against each other. 

The United States, in its grip of fear brought on by the terror of potential communist uprisings cracked down on this dissent unilaterally.  With outspoken critics of the war being rounded up and sent to Alcatraz, deported or just plain killed.

La Follette’s observations are, in my opinion, mild.  He is attempting to persuade sympathy by relating the stories of his fellow Senators, in addition to neighbors and citizens who, in his mind, are blameless of everything but being patriotic.  He even goes so far as to intimate that American’s should, in fact, expect to lose  some rights.  He says in his speech: “I think all men recognize that in time of war the citizen must surrender some rights ... which he is entitled to enjoy in time of peace [emphasis mine].” The question this raises for me, is: just which rights must a person surrender?

Senator La Follette expands on this: “In the time of war, the citizen must be more alert to the preservation of his right to control his government [emphasis mine].”  That’s more like it.  The basic understanding is here that the liberals had been fighting for, for years.  It’s not about what the government expects from the common man.  In fact, it’s the other way around.  It’s your responsibility as a citizen to be alert that the government is representing you. 

Protesters of World War I
For so many in the country, this couldn’t be further from the truth, and if we’re going to stand by one of the building blocks of our country, we should be compelled to speak out when action is taken that we disagree with.  Further, not only is this acceptable in a time of war -- it’s essential.

The opposing view has one solitary thing going for it:  the off-chance that you think that, in this case, America can do no wrong.  The belief that American war is somehow immune to questioning and that, by even questioning its motives, you are literally a traitor.  Frankly, this weak argument not only doesn’t work, it is flatly insulting to any intelligent thinker.  Relying primarily on a sickening, jingoistic mantra of “us and them,” we are left with a sense of the country being invaded from the inside.

It's not that vague how is it reminiscent of the language used in the current battle over gun rights.  The parties have switched sides now, with the government representing the fundamental shift in ethics that is ‘threatening’ culture.  The enemy is the same, though: a communist dictatorship.  This time it’s hell-bent on taking your rifle so they can steal your land and the black president can force you into slavery.  

Obviously, I’m exaggerating.  Right?

The simple truth of this matter is that if someone attempts to attack the freedom of speech, they are attacking something bigger.  They are attacking the ability of the people to control the government.  They are literally attacking freedom, in no small way.  This extends into political discourse outside of war, of course.  If we are bullied into stifling our questions on the motives of war; if we are pushed to silence on issues of the heavy-handed governmental incarceration and assassination of dissenting voices, how can we expect any amount of reasonable discourse when we are electing officials to office?

It’s a shame that, when La Follette was speaking to the Senate, he didn’t have the oft-quoted statement that Larry Flynt made, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like; it protects speech you don’t like.”

Eat the rich.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Could Blind People Drive Within Five Years?

A Toyota Prius, outfitted to drive itself
LAST YEAR Google unveiled its driver-less car.  In 2011, Nevada became the first state to legalize cars which ostensibly steer themselves.  Florida followed suit in 2012.

As we careen into the future, problems like blindness (or many other illnesses that prevent someone from driving, such as limb loss or tetriplegia) will have less and less bearing on the mobility, and thus, the independence of these people.  The advances being made in the auto industry, by Google in particular, have a certain meaning to a part of society that may not seem as drastic as it is.

When I was thirteen years old I found out that I would never be able to drive.  It didn't affect me then, and I'm happy I knew at that age, rather than when I went to apply for a driver's license, say.  But, growing up was different because of this.  I never took a girl on a date in high school.  Now, can I blame this one problem exclusively, over the fact that I was an insufferable teenage monster?  No, certainly not.  But, I can assess that my freedom as a sixteen-year-old was vastly impacted by it, and if I'd had the ability to leave the house whenever I wanted (which still may not have been granted), things might have been different for me.

That's not to complain.  I love where my life has taken me.  I'm happy with where I am and what I have, and frankly, the poor soul I would've dated in high school would have been so scarred by terrible jokes and annoying complaints that she would've held that against me and I might've just had an assassin on my tail to this day.

No, my days growing up were definitely hampered by the inability to move.  I was relegated to relying on friends to drive me here or there.  Any concerts I ever went to, I had to go with a friend because the buses stop running by the time any concert is over.

My future car
In my adult life, it's easier.  Not just because my delightful girlfriend is willing to drive my (practically) anywhere, but because I have learned the ins and outs of the public transit system and, frankly, I enjoy walking.  Not out of spite, or out of some obligation.  I have just grown to genuinely enjoying walking five or six miles.

So, the excitement of a car which can drive itself is a pretty amazing prospect to me.  I see the generations ahead of mine being able to adjust a little bit more easily to the awkward life of not being able to see very well.  The dream of getting in your car and driving to the beach on a whim.  To sing as loud as you want driving down the freeway, blasting your stereo.  It's a weird facet of the American dream, but it's a real one.  It's one I think all young people (and old people) should be able to enjoy.

Also, I want a Mustang.

For further reading, I recommend this article on the benefits and potential risks, on BBC's website.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Man Spends 27 Years Living In The Woods, Alone

THIS GUY, Christopher Knight, has spent the last 27 years living as a hermit in Maine.  He was caught stealing food and supplies from a local camp, and that's why he's not a hermit anymore.  This story is pretty strange, but I can relate in a weird way.  I wouldn't want to not talk to anyone for 27 years, but the appeal of just existing out in the woods somewhere and reading and meditating all day is pretty cool.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How to Beat "Snake."

This is astounding.  It makes me feel something weird inside.  I can't explain it.  I'm happy that I've seen it -- and I want you to see it, too -- but, god.  What a torture device Snake is.

Well, here's how ya beat it.

Arm Movement as a Secret Weapon in Running

This article talks about something that doesn't affect my running style yet, as I only run about four miles at the most.  However, it's something I'm going to take into consideration as I expand my range and start moving more toward distance-running.

The motion of the arms as you run is vital to your ability to keep going without getting fatigued.  I'm going to experiment with it and see if it improves my running.

Below is the video featured in the article.  I recommend at least watching this.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Exercise Plan

For my class, I had to come up with what my weekly routine is going to look like for the next few months.  Here's what I've got:

M - W - F
  • Running (4 miles)
  • Lunges (2 sets of 10)
  • One Leg Calf Raise (2 sets of 10)
  • Crunches (2 sets of 30)
  • Cross Crunches (2 sets of 30)
  • Chest Stretch (2 @ 30s)
  • Triceps Stretch (1 @ 30s)
  • Upper Back Stretch (1 @ 30s)
  • Partial Cobra (4 @ 30s)

T - Th - Su
  • Push-ups (1 set of 15)
  • Lateral Fly (3 sets of 15)
  • Narrow Push-ups (1 set of 15)
  • Bicep Curl (3x15)
  • Corner Row (2x15)
  • Crunches (2 sets of 30)
  • Cross Crunches (2 sets of 30)
  • Chest Stretch (2 @ 30s)
  • Triceps Stretch (1 @ 30s)
  • Upper Back Stretch (1 @ 30s)
  • Partial Cobra (4 @ 30s)
And Saturday is when I plan my funeral.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Three Awesome Stories

Happy Friday, everyone!  Here are a few stories you might find enjoyable on this lovely, rain-soaked end of the week.

 Six Weird Theories on the Evolution of Human Intelligence is an article on MentalFloss discussing the theories on how we got antidumb.

Why Do Old-Timey Announcers Talk Like That? Well, this article from gives a satisfying answer on exactly that, in two forms.  Technology dictated it and culture dictated it.  And, yes, they were quite aware of how they sounded.

600 hours, 200,000 LEGO bricks and one man.  Mike Doyle's conceptual brick city is breathtaking and beautiful.  It's five feet by six feet and HUGE. I can only imagine how pissed he'd be if someone bumped into the table.  This story came from The Atlantic.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

This Week in Abandoned Cruise Ships

WITH ALL of the news about cruise ships being stranded in the middle of the ocean, I've found the topic to be somewhat interesting, but this story takes the cake. The MV Lyubov Orlovaw is a boat, built in 1976, in Yugoslavia.  It was built to conduct expeditions through the ice-laden waters of the North Atlantic.  It has an interesting history. Here's its Wikipedia page.

In 1999, it was refurbished and outfitted with amenities to become an Arctic expedition cruise ship.  In 2002, she was chartered by another company to continue her exploring cruise ship job.

The funny part starts in 2010, when docked in Newfoundland, the boat was seized, due to the owner's owing $251,000 and kind of not having paid the crew for five months.  Here's an article detailing some of the transaction.

So, an American company was hired to two the old boat down to the Dominican Republic, where it was going to be scrapped.  It must have been essentially worthless, or at least the only valuable part was the metal.

While they were towing the boat down, wouldn't you know it?  The line from the tugboat snapped.  Oh, crap.  And apparently they tried to fix it.  They tried until it got out of Canada's water and into international waters.  Then, uh, it's not our problem anymore.

And that's how it went down.  The rope snapped, it started drifting and every person involved basically said, "that never happened, there's nothing we can do."  So the boat was (and maybe still is) just drifting across the Atlantic Ocean.  Now I say "was" because there's a beacon that starting alerting inside the boat recently that is only triggered by water.  So, some presume that she's sunk, some 700 miles out to sea.

Oh, and apparently it was filled with rats.  Awesome.

Just how far do professional athletes run in-game?

I JUST FINISHED reading this article on Gizmodo concerning the distance that sports stars run.  No big surprises here.  They break it down as such:
Per game, an average player runs:
  1. Baseball: at MOST half a mile
  2. American Football: 1.25 miles
  3. Basketball: the highest is 2.72 miles
  4. Tennis: ~3 miles in a five-set match
  5. Soccer: As much as 9.5 miles!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My Running Mission Statement

IT'S BEEN ABOUT two years since I picked up the habit of running.  In which time, I have done the following:
  • Lost 62 lbs
  • Improved my heart health significantly
  • Crashed into the ground and mangled by money-makin' face
  • Gained 40 lbs back
  • Loved myself
  • Hated myself
  • Gave up
  • Tried again
  • Gave up again
  • Tried, yet again
I'm on the upswing again.  Winter's over and I'm more able (and inclined) to run because of the warmth, as well as the ability to see where I'm going.  Plus, I recently bought a pair of Brooks Adrenaline shoes, which have turned out to be a god-send for my poor, achin' feet. One of the biggest helps in my previous running attempts was the fact that my home at the time was conveniently located so I had a five-mile circuit I could enjoy running.

My current home is downtown.  While I certainly have more options as far as where I can run, there's definitely a different aesthetic to an urban run.  No longer can I breathe the fresh air of the parkway trail that made up 1/3 of my previous route.

That's alright.  I have to mix it up.  I have to be able to push myself when it's not very easy and, while that was a great way to start, being forced to run this new environment will only help (with the exception of my lungs).

I started this year with a goal of running a thousand miles.  A few factors were unknown to me at the time, such as free time in working, and I didn't quite realize how little sun I'd get for so long. That may have been a tad bit lofty.  I think I'm going to renegotiate that number down a little, as I've only run about 200 miles and it's already April.

No, in fact, I'm going to remove the number from it entirely.  Instead, I'm choosing to list my goal as a 13.1 mile run in two hours.  Hopefully I can manage this a bit more easily.

Five Modern Abandoned Cities

This article I plucked from HowStuffWorks examines five major cities, which are now ghost towns.  These kind of abandoned dwellings are very interesting to me.  I'm not sure what their charm is; perhaps it's the solitude of it all, or the simplicity of knowing that nobody is there, but seeing man-made structures left to the ages just gives me a weird, good feeling.

Goals for the Spring & Summer of 2013

I like making lists of goals.  Here are a few things I'd like to tackle by the end of this Summer:
  • Go on a camping trip (or a few)
  • Take some epic hike -- maybe not the big Wonderland Trail, but something.
  • Create a large-scale painting