Dear film critics: kill yourselves

Film Salon –

So apparently I found out via Salon that James Cameron won some kind of “Molten Glob” or some shit for Avatar. Over The Hurt Locker, which is apparently directed by his ex-wife Katherine Bigelow. Ok, sure. I haven’t seen The Hurt Locker, which I am told is very good. I have however seen Avatar, and I have this to say to anyone who voted for that movie over… well, anything else:

Please, just off yourselves right now. Are you even trying here? Are there two functional neurons firing within your skull? Avatar is an overblown, ridiculously pretty movie with a plot and direction that could have been conceived by a 10-year old, and probably better executed. It’s not a movie so much as it is a tech demo. If you voted for Cameron to win a best director award for this nonsense, just drink some bleach, put the gun in your mouth and pull the trigger, and make sure you do this on top of a diving board positioned off the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Or alternately, put your fucking thinking hats on for just a goddamn second and stop being so goddamn stupid. Avatar? You’ve got to be shitting me.

When I’m King Shit of Hollywood Mountain, I’m going to disband all the award shows. Few things are more annoying than watching a gaggle of morons pretend that shitty movies are masterpieces. This is why we can’t have nice things, America.

Brief thoughts on SOTU

At Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte says everything I’d wanted to say about the SOTU address last night. By far the most infuriating thing to me about it was the fact that Obama seems to either buy into or pretend to buy into various Republican memes about the economy, energy (offshore drilling, are you shitting me?), bailouts, taxes, and so on. Sure, there were some nice proposals last night (ending DADT is perhaps the bravest one) but entirely too much of it was a rehash of lukewarm policy, and not nearly enough of it was spent ripping the Senate and Republicans a new asshole.

Republicans only understand one language, and that’s the language of threats. You can’t speak to people who think that welfare recipients are stray animals in normal human terms, because they don’t understand that. Anything you say to them has to be 95% stick and 5% carrot, and the only reason you need that 5% is so you can pretend to be magnanimous. With Obama, it’s like a 50/50 split, which is far, far too generous to these imbeciles.

Is there anything stupider than lifestyle articles?

When Chocolate and Chakras Collide –

I’m sure you can guess that the answer is “no.”

Look at this dumb fucking bullshit. Every time someone gets paid a full reporter’s wage to write about this inconsequential crap, another important story on science, or policy, or international news goes uncovered. At a time when newspapers, including the Times, are already cutting their reporting staff, to maintain a division that writes about this nonsense is not just a bad idea; I would allege that it’s downright unethical. Who gives a flying fuck about the dominant humor of yogis and how that affects their eating habits? First, it affects a tiny fraction of people even in New York City, mostly the kind of upper-class woo-devotee with expendable income to spend on pursuits of faux-Eastern “teachings” commercialized for the American market. Second, it’s, like, not true! I mean, consider this:

“A pure yogic diet is one that is only calming: no garlic, onions or chili peppers, nothing heavy or oily,” said Ms. Grubler. “Steamed vegetables, salads and fresh juices are really the ideal.” Yogic food choices can also influenced by ayurveda, a traditional Indian way of eating to keep the body healthy and in balance. Some yogis determine their dosha, or dominant humor, vata (wind/air), pitta (bile) or kapha (phlegm), and eat accordingly. Foods are invested with properties like warming or cooling, heavy or light, moist or dry.

Mr. Romanelli says that such ideas about food are aspects of yoga that most Americans find forbidding, unrealistic and generally, as he puts it, “woo-woo.”

One man’s woo-woo, of course, is another’s deeply held belief system.

Gosh, if only we had some kind of system that would allow us to verify whether or not things like “humors” were, you know, real and stuff. Some kind of methodology that would perhaps try and check these ideas against the real world. That’s so fucking crazy and Western though! How could we, simple reporters that we are, possibly know if anything is true? It would be so judgmental of us! Better just report that as “one man’s X is another man’s Y,” which must be, like, the laziest cliche ever.

Also: are you kidding me with this anti-onion, anti-garlic bullshit? These are things that are pretty much unambiguously good for you, and you’re telling me not to eat them? Garlic is fucking delicious, and if it were socially acceptable I would eat cloves of it every day. Anyone who desires a diet bereft of garlic and onions doesn’t want food, they want sustenance. These are people who demand mortification of the flesh in the service of a nonsensical and false doctrine, even when that food is actually healthy to consume. A life lived without garlic is almost not a life worth living.

In conclusion: fuck hippies, especially rich hippies who can afford to indulge their stupid tastes and thereby make those stupid tastes somehow attractive to report on. And fuck the Times for devoting even an iota of its finite resources to this worthless task instead of doing actual reporting.

It’s “Hear! Hear!” dumbasses

Not “here, here!” Does that even fucking make sense? No! “Here, here!” is what you would say if you found the treasure and wanted to let the other pirates know where it was. Or if you’re a forward in the Primera Liga and you’re making a run into space, and you’re yelling, “aqui, aqui!” to your holding midfielder to make the pass. But if you are trying to voice agreement with a particular statement, as though you might be encouraging people to listen to it, then it’s “hear, hear!”

In relevant film news

I am pretty surprised, actually, that the number of critical essays on The Big Lebowski to be found in a cursory JSTOR search appears to be “one,” and maybe not all that surprised that the number of worthwhile critical essays on the same is “zero.” Here’s the link to the one essay I did find that discusses the film directly (it’s on JSTOR, so you need institutional access to view it). It’s laughably badly written academese that says almost nothing interesting about the film itself but does feature lovely footnotes citing Derrida and Heidegger. My favorite part:

I read The Big Lebowski in order to think through the problem of narratival [1], or mythic violence, and how, ultimately, to interrupt myth in the exterior world of Bush, Hussein, and the Persian Gulf.

Man, there sure are some lovely trees around here, but where the heck did that forest go?!

In other news, by the end of the weekend I plan to have an essay up about A Serious Man, in which I will try to place it in the broader context of the Coens’ canon and also try to persuade people that it’s a good movie worth watching.

[1] Goddamn it, we already have a fine word for this kind of thing. That word is “narrative” which can be used as either a noun or an adjective. You don’t need to tack on an awkward ending to show everyone how smart you are.

Addendum: if you want to see what an actually insightful review sounds like, you can read the very next thing I found on JSTOR, which is a review of O Brother Where Art Thou? by none other than (in cooperation with two others) the inestimable Tim Kreider, he of “The Pain” comics. Kreider, by the way, is a terrific film reviewer in general, and his writeup of Eyes Wide Shut is fantastic.

Obligatory “gay for Steve Nash” post

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Phoenix Suns – Box Score – January 11, 2010 – ESPN

30 points, 7 rebounds, and 11 assists on 12-18 shooting, including 2-4 from 3. But his +/- is still inexplicably lower than Channing Frye’s, who was 0-5 from the field and had 5 rebounds.

Ok, granted, it was against the Bucks, but still. Here’s a 35-year old dude who is leading the league in assists per game (11.3) despite playing almost 4 minutes fewer than the second place guy (Chris Paul) and several minutes fewer than most of the other top 10 assist leaders. He’s averaging 18.9 PPG, which makes him the 3rd highest scoring point guard in the league, behind Arenas at 22 and Deron Williams at 19.5; again, this while playing several fewer minutes per game than either. In terms of offensive efficiency, he has the highest field-goal percentage of any guard in the league (everyone above him is either a forward or a center). He is second only to Randy Foye in free throw percentage and is one of 3(!) Phoenix players in the top 10 in 3-point shooting (he isn’t even the best 3-point shooter on his own team; that honor belongs to Jared Dudley (!!)).

As much as it pains me to admit it, the odds are excellent that Nash will never win an NBA title. The Suns of this year are not a team built for playoff domination; when the threes are falling, they’re unstoppable, but they also can’t stop anyone and have no inside game beyond the Nash-Stoudemire pick’n’roll. But there’s no way you can look at those numbers and make the case that this is an overrated player. These are MVP numbers by almost any standard, and had he not already won the award twice, there’s no question that he’d be in contention. And this isn’t even a contract year, since he’s already accepted a two-year extension on his contract this summer. If Nash hadn’t, would he not have had his pick of places to go after this season?

I don’t know what the point of all this is except to say that obviously Nash is a terrific player. He’s going to be remembered as one of the greatest players of the decade, title or no.

Addendum: Nash is actually the 4th-highest scoring point guard. Chris Paul is averaging 19.5, but for some weird reason he doesn’t show up on the leader board of either basketball-reference or the NBA stats section on ESPN. I have no idea why this is, but that’s why I missed it the first time. I knew something had to be wrong so I looked up Paul’s individual stats.

Addendum 2: The only people Nash trails in adjusted field-goal percentage are Kendrick Perkins and Dwight Howard.

Don’t go to grad school, assbutts

Recession Pushes Up Law School Applications and Interest in Graduate Studies –

A bunch of poor dumb bastards have no idea what they’re getting themselves into. Hey dudes and dudettes, take it from someone who’s been there: if you don’t know why you’re going to grad school, don’t do it. You’re going to hate your life, and even if you get funding, living on $20k a year, especially when you have family responsibilities (I’m looking at you, Prebble Q. Ramswell) sucks donkey nuts.

By the way, I noted with infinite relish that someone ACTUALLY NAMED Prebble Q. Ramswell not only exists but is female. I mean, no offense to Mrs. Ramswell is intended (I’m sure she was a terrific CIA analyst) but that just sounds like some kind of joke name that Pynchon would make up to give to someone who barges through doors a lot. Truth: maybe not always stranger than fiction but pretty damn weird sometimes.

On Bankers and Bailouts

What’s a Bailed-Out Banker Really Worth? –

A dude named Steven Brill (more on him later) wrote a long article for the New York Times Magazine about the actual worth of the various companies that received bailout money (mostly it’s about AIG), and about Kenneth Feinberg’s role in negotiating the various bonus compensations that are going to be doled out to executives at AIG, BofA, and various other institutions.

Now, so much ink, digital and otherwise, has been spilled about these compensations that nothing I could possibly say would shed any interesting light on this. But what’s interesting to me is that in an essay that’s ostensibly devoted to a journalistic explanation of what went down, we find this paragraph:

While it’s understandable that the A.I.G. bonuses fueled that firestorm, there’s an argument that they were not as outrageous as they seemed, and that they were not even bonuses. I’m going to let a friend — a longtime A.I.G. employee who received one of the multimillion dollar payouts — make the case. It’s worth considering if only to understand the distance between Wall Street and Main Street.

My friend (who did not want his name used because, he says, “being associated with A.I.G. is not safe for my family”) is a mild-mannered math whiz who worked at a unit of A.I.G. Financial Products that, he says, had nothing to do with the small London-based credit-default-swaps group that sank the company. Over the last half-decade, he made millions every year from a bonus pool composed of the profits supposedly made by Financial Products. But he had to leave roughly half of his bonuses in the pool for five years so that the payouts could be adjusted for any subsequent gains or losses from Financial Products’ trades. (That’s an extreme version of what’s called a “claw back,” another reform that Feinberg’s guidelines would require.) When the credit-default-swaps unit went bust, he personally lost tens of millions in that pool. (Which would also mean that he took home tens of millions over those five years.)

In early 2008, he and his colleagues were offered “retention contracts,” he says, because it was becoming clear that “one business within our firm had issues that could kill the entire bonus pool. . . . They needed us to stay, because we were still making them lots of money, and we had the kind of business we could take to any competitor or, if they wanted, that we could wind down profitably.” Thus, the retention agreement, which was actually a contract, not literally a bonus payment, guaranteed that in 2008 and 2009 he would make 75 percent of what he had made in 2007 regardless of the amount of the bonus pool for those years, and that he would be paid those bonuses in March 2009 and 2010 (for work done in 2008 and 2009).

“Why should I simply walk away from a contract?” he now argues. “I earned that money, and I had nothing to do with all of the bad things that happened at A.I.G.”

“The people who make these companies go work really hard,” adds one of my friend’s former colleagues. “They think: I’m making lots of money to support my family, but I’m not with my family. I can’t go to the soccer games or the dance recitals. Stop paying them well, and they’ll leave.”

Now, in fairness, Brill does immediately follow the preceding paragraphs with a quote from Chris Dodd expressing some pretty justified outrage (“What do I tell a guy who worked in an auto dealership in Bridgeport — who can now go to all of his kid’s soccer games, because he’s lost his job and his health insurance and his 401(k)?”). I mean, the sheer lack of any kind of social awareness required to even make the above statements in light of the massive shit your company (if not your department) took on the economy is bad enough as it is (and this from a dude that actually grossed millions from the system before the bottom fell out of it). But what is that nonsense doing in a supposed piece of journalism?! Why is Steven Brill’s friend getting massive column inches, much more than any rebuttal to his sociopathic sentiments is allowed? And why did the Times allow it?

It’s one of these little vignettes that perfectly illustrates the extent to which journalism is in bed with moneyed interests and how inoccuous the process begins. It’s not that Brill wants to shill for AIG execs, it’s just that he’s got this friend, you see, and the friend is a really nice guy who works so hard and just wants to go to his kids’ soccer games.

And who is Brill anyway, with his high-powered executive friends? The blurb at the end of the article is unhelpful:

Steven Brill, the author of “After: The Rebuilding and Defending of America in the September 12 Era,” is the co-founder of Journalism Online.

Fortunately the magic of Wikipedia tells that Steven Brill is a Yale-educated lawyer and an entrepreneur, the founder of CourtTV and various other journalistic-type ventures, some of which have succeeded and many of which have not. None of this disqualifies Brill from writing for the Times, but it’s pretty clear he’s not just some random journalist who’s written about security issues or what have you, he’s a well-connected operator at the higher levels of finance. He’s got friends in the industry that he’s reporting on and he’s letting those friends have non-negligible space in his article to defend their position.

You’d think the conflict of interest would be pretty clear here. You’d think that articles about sensitive topics such as these might be commissioned from actual working financial journalists who don’t have friends in the industry they want to protect. You’d think.