Saturday, May 31, 2014

Movie Review: Blackfish

Documentaries usually mean snore-fest to me, so I tend to ignore them on the whole, preferring to read the information rather than hear some super boring people drone on about something for the better part of two hours, if you’re lucky.  Sometime last year, I started to hear a lot about Blackfish and how Sea World was getting fileted in the media because of their treatment of killer whales.  Instead of trying to find the movie in question, I went online and found the article.  The article did not do the documentary or the story justice.

There aren’t really any spoilers to be revealed, especially if you read the above referenced article. In the documentary Blackfish, the story of a young whale, Tilikum is told.  Unfortunately for this whale, it involved three deaths and many attacks, all of which could have been potentially avoided had Sea World shared any information with their trainers or anyone else, for that matter. 

The movie begins with how Sea World and other such places acquired the killer whales and this was a less than tasteful act, made worse as you watched the men who told how it was done were horrified when they realised what it was they were doing, though they continued on.  Whales have families and the process by acquiring a whale, or any animal one would presume, was to isolate the babies and steal them from the parents.  Whatever semblance of life the whales had before was gone and they would then be integrated into a ‘new’ family.  Unsurprisingly, this didn’t create good relationships and the whales became aggressive with each other and the trainers.  This should have been enough for someone to step in, but even in the 1970’s, there was no oversight that could protect either the humans or the whales.

The focus of the movie, Tilikum, is attacked by his fellow whales and his frustration starts to boil over and he attacks people, though these attacks are highly minimised so that business can go on as usual without interruption.  Things never improve and Tilikum is seen on camera maiming and killing a trainer, receiving isolation for the rest of his life for it.

What is startling about this documentary are the number of trainers and experts that come out en mass, seeming disgusted and duped by everything that had happened.  All of them paint a picture as if they didn’t know what was going on or suspected it but didn’t want to leave their whale friends without assistance.  One could argue that their presence, ultimately, didn’t benefit anyone, but it is hard to say.

The documentary was unsettling and disturbing.  It often amazes me when something can go on in the world with no oversight, more so considering how inundated we all are with media.  Yet Sea World conducted their unscrupulous business practices until very recently, without any repercussions.  The hype is well deserved for this movie and well worth seeing, though you may need some Kleenexes or a time-out halfway through just to process what you’re seeing.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Existentialism is a Humanism

I don’t know why I picked this bookup.  I blame it on the bargain discounts at Borders (anyone remember that place?).  I miss Borders.  I could buy everything there.  Amazon squashed them out of the market.  Regardless, I was meandering through the aisles and all the philosophy books were on major discounts.  I could venture a guess as to why, but that would be a little on the nose.

If you aren’t familiar with existentialism, the best I could get out of it was that you are responsible for defining your own meaning to life.  This is best summed up, I thought, by their famous phrase that “God is dead.”  When I first read this I thought, that’s awfully inflammatory, but after reading through the essay by Sartre, I see that the phrase is meant to catch your attention, not to offend you, exactly.

To say that God is dead is more to focus on our actions, as humans.  Do you perform acts of good or bad in fear of God?  In fear of the repercussions of Him?  What I took from the text, and you can correct me if you feel the need, was that regardless of there being a higher power or not, you should still, for your own sake, do good, or do bad and know you’re doing it.  The whole focus of existentialism is to live an authentic life, to be who you are, without any regrets.  If you are good, be good, but don’t do it because you want points with God.

After reading that, the rest of the essay was a breeze.  The idea seemed somehow refreshing and after the main essay, there was a sort of question and answer and then discussion of Camus’ The Stranger.  The discussion tried to further the same things I’d already learned, but it was interesting to read different phrasing.  I can’t say I’d highly recommend this book because of the density of the text, but read over the course of a couple weeks, the information is easily digested and worth reading.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In Osama We Trust?

I wouldn’t normally stop to talk about my weekend nonsense, but this past weekend I got to spend some time with my cousins from FL and one of their friends, Osama.  Sorry, no, the other Osama wasn’t available for lunch at PF Changs, but my brother-in-law’s BF Osama was.  My family is pretty liberal in our political views.  I find that most Muslims, like any group, run the gamut from one end to the other.  Osama is from Saudi and tends to the more conservative side of things.  We were discussing my sister’s ban on Chik-fil-a and how we don’t shop there because of their using money to preach hate (we can argue about this, but this isn’t the issue in the discussion at all).  Being that most of my family is liberal, I was very surprised to hear Osama tell us that corporations are free of fault in these scenarios.

Bear with me as I try to summarise his views.  Basically, he said that corporations were created by their consumers, that whatever ills they commit, it is not their responsibility to act a certain way.  If they do act in a way you don’t like, then stop shopping there and be done with it.  There is no need to make your voice known because corporations don’t care.

While I wanted to vehemently argue with him, and I did for a bit, I did soon realise we wouldn’t ever see eye-to-eye on this.  He works in a corporation, he knows what he is talking about with respect to his corporate culture.  In some ways it was quite the evolutionary discussion because I stopped pushing my point, knowing that we could both see things our own way and both still be right.  Perception is subjective, after all.

To his point, do we honestly think that corporations care what we, the consumer think?  I am reading a book on existentialism (yeah, I am, want to fight about it?) and a famous line with that group is that “God is dead.”  Now that I’ve read through the Sartre essay, I realise that what he is saying isn’t so much that God is dead, but that our actions should not be hinged upon what we think God thinks about it.  I mean, whether there is or isn’t a God should not affect whether or not you are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  Not to mention our definition of good and bad might be vastly different.

Osama isn’t wrong, even though I hate to admit it.  I don’t think Chik-fil-a cares that I don’t shop there.  I am positive Abercrombie and Fitch could care less that I don’t shop there.  Ultimately, it is my buying power and not my voice that makes the difference.  At the same time, as Osama pointed out, will one consumer make any difference at all?  Again, I’d sadly argue no, but at least I can sleep maybe a little better at night knowing that I’m doing something, however small or insignificant to support or protest massive corporations. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla

Monster movies of this ilk are plentiful.  Good ones are much harder to find.  In this latest iteration of Godzilla, we follow the lives of a nuclear reactor worker and his family and tragedy ensues.  The movie jumps in time from the past to fifteen years later and the father and son are left after the mother dies.  The father is convinced there wasn’t just an accident, but that something more sinister occurred and the government is hiding something, as is often the case in these sorts of movies.

There isn’t too much to give away on the plot of this movie.  The focus should be on the monsters and not on the humans.  Some of the ‘stars’ of the movie die within the first half hour and the rest of the cast is not compelling at all.  In a way, I joked with my cousin that if the movie had been silent with just a score, it would have been simple to follow.  The visuals are impressive, the story is interesting enough to keep you engaged, but it won’t change your life or remake the way you look at Godzilla movies.  The movie also gave me a very ‘Jurassic Park’ vibe to it throughout, which was one of the redeeming qualities of the movie.  I do wonder if it would have been better seen in 3D.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Tech Thriller that might be Too Technical for Most Readers

I don’t usually take a lot of stock in book recommendations, but in this case the source, my company Help Desk, I thought twice about it.  Daemon is based on a lot of technical jargon and it took me a good 100 pages to really get into it before I was curious as to what the deuce was going on.  In most cases, I will force myself to finish a book, but this one wasn’t as time-consuming as it could have been.

There are quite a few characters and stories that are interjected throughout the novel.  The story begins with a double-murder and the suspect of the murder has been dead for some time.  It almost plays out like an episode of Monk, but the plethora of characters makes the story chaotic and confusing at times.  There are many areas where less would or could have been more.  The culmination of the story as it progresses keeps the reader engaged and interested, despite some confusing areas.

What slowed my progress the most was the highly technical nature of the novel.  As an IT person by day, I’d like to think I’m pretty knowledgeable, but Mr. Suarez went into such detail that it felt weighed down.  I am sure those details were important, but as many of you may know, when I get overloaded, I tend to start skimming, and once the skimming starts, it is hard to stop.  I think I may have missed entire sections of the novel because of it.  What struck me more was if I, an IT-type person, could get dissuaded by this, then the common non-IT reader would probably not be able to follow it.  And this is not to mention that the technology has changed in the years that the book has been published.

Overall, suspending a good bit of reality, this book is well worth reading and a lot of fun.  It may not ever get turned into a trashy Hollywood movie, but it is fun and makes you think just a little about how reliant we all are on technology.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Is It My Fault the Wizards Lost?

I try not to blog too much about sports on this blog, but it dawned on me, as I trundled through 5 miles this morning on the treadmill while it was pouring rain, who the hell cares if anyone reads it?  Am I right?  I mean, I have thoughts, however disjointed they sometimes may be, and today, while you might think I’d be devastated after the Wizards got bounced from the playoffs, I’m not.  I’m actually excited.  I mean, when was the last time we had anything to cheer about in DC, sports-wise?

The Washington Post had a great article yesterday about DC teams in elimination games at home, and in short, it wasn’t good.  In my own addled mind, I can’t remember the last time a DC team got very far in the playoffs, save the Mark Rypien-led ‘skins when I was still in elementary school.  I mean, wow…how old am I, but also, how bad has this city been?  I don’t profess to know a lot about Fancy Stats, but you don’t need to be a mathematician to know that over 20 years and no team has broken through the semifinals in the playoffs does play credence to a curse, perhaps.

The question I keep having this morning is, is it my fault?  Is it my fault the Wizards didn’t win?  It might sound stupid or self-involved, but each sports fan knows that superstitions give us a belief that we can affect the outcome of a game we aren’t playing.  I should have gone to yoga last night.  Sure it was raining (schools are actually closed in some areas because of flooding, no joke).  But seriously, I sold my tickets because my home record for this season with the Wiz was 2-3.  I figured my being there wouldn’t help, but maybe it would have, maybe that one additional ill-conceived cheer might have made the difference.

One thing the Wizards don’t have to be ashamed of is how they did.  Beyond all expectations and odds as the year went on, they advanced to the second round of the playoffs, beating a supposedly veteran Chicago Bulls team.  The days after that win had all the fair-weather DC fans out in force.  My Facebook news feed became a mockery of die-hard ‘skins fans having the audacity to pretend like they’d ever watched a Wizards game in their entire life, let alone during the John Wall era.  It was disgusting.  I did my best not to say anything on those posts.  I may not have been a fan much longer, but sinking money into a losing team for two years for season tickets gives me a right to call out people who are just faking it.  Next season, as the basketball season starts during the NFL season, I can predict those same people won’t say word one about the Wizards as they follow their destined for failure ‘skins.  Of all the DC sports, I should note, the ‘skins are the only team I don’t root for.  Dan Synder is not someone I can willingly give money to and I find RG3 obnoxious, much like Mr. Manziel of the Browns.

If I’m talking about sports, I have to take a sidestep to hockey.  If you know me, you know I’m a bit of a hockey fan.  Every year, I mentally prepare for the Capitals to break my heart, and as if on cue, not only did they break my heart, they did it earlier than expected.  In a way, I was thankful.  Don’t put the fans through a tortuous time of playoff failure if you know how it’s going to end as it always does.  What is making this postseason bearable for me is that Gabby is leading his Ducks to a Game 7 with the perennial favourite, Kings.  The LA/ANA series is just amazing to watch.  The Western Conference always seems more contentious than the Eastern Conference.

What is more of note is the Bruins and Penguins getting ousted in Game 7s at home.  As a fan of a team that loses on a regular basis in the playoffs, I’ve evilly enjoyed watching the Penguins get roasted in the media, as our beloved Alex Ovechkin and his pals do.  Not just that, but the media has turned on the oft-favoured Sid the Kid (Crosby) and his silent partner (Malkin).  The two were almost non-existent for stretches of the Columbus and New York series.  And while I will never root for the Rangers, openly, I did smile as King Henrik gave Sid the Kid fits and how the D didn’t let him get into a rhythm.  If only NBC sports knew how to provide fair feedback and filet him like they do Ovechkin.  Since the 2009 Stanley Cup win, the Pens have been ousted by the lower seeded team every single year.  Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Pittsburgh!

To add to that, if you can, Milan Lucic, bully and tough guy for the Bruins did the unthinkable and made threats to Canadians players while walking through the handshake line.  Yes, some say the handshake line after a game might be one tradition that the NHL should let pass, but I actually think that there is a real sense of class and decorum and it makes the sport that much better than the other major sports.  Just like Crosby, Lucic must now stew for the rest of the postseason.  In both cases I believe the karma train has come around.  I’ve never been a fan of either team or their players, for the most part (Zdeno Chara is a rare specimen and actually seems like a nice guy, plus a guy with char in his name, come on now) and the fans have always been overly annoying, especially at games in Verizon.  Nice to see the hockey Gods are evening things out for the rest of us.

I’m going to the Nats game tonight with dad, hoping to go 2-for-2 on bobble-heads and continue that as the season goes on.  I’ve never met a bobble-head I didn’t like.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Being Wrong Isn’t so Bad

I usually have to be in the right mood to get into a self-help book like Being Wrong and this book borders on being self-help as well as informative, almost philosophical at times.  The premise of this book is about our perception of being wrong and how it is ingrained in us at a very early age.  I stumbled upon this author as she was a speaker for a TED talk, which is well worth watching.

I don’t know that I could do this book justice in any sort of summary, but I can tell you how it made me feel.  The book was long, the writing something you’d expect in an educational textbook.  There were times the prose was over-the-top, as if Schulz didn’t intend this to reach a wide audience, just a well-educated one.  And in that approach, she misses out on a good amount of the population because the ideas aren’t for everyone, or accessible for everyone.

The idea that being wrong isn’t a bad thing is one that is so deeply ingrained that one book won’t sway you from doing your best to avoid it or recognising that when you make a mistake, you learn something from it.  Throughout the book, Schulz depicts various situations where one sticks to their belief that he/she can’t possibly be wrong, but in the end, the desire to be right is greater than whether or not the person is truly right.  In that vein, the book reveals that being right and sticking to long-held beliefs doesn’t make you right, but in many ways making one narrow-minded.

I’m not sure I’m explaining this well, or even if I’m saying too much, but the idea is one that I haven’t quite been able to shake and that lasting effect is the one I look forward to in all books.  It is rare to get it from a self-help style book and this one is worth a shot.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Movie Review: The Quiet Ones

Horror movies have a certain cadence, a certain way about them that makes them predictable in a way that is unpredictable.  The last horror movie I saw had a twist to it that was unrelated to the scares, this movie did not, and while I did feel myself jump at regular intervals, I’ve already forgotten how scared I might have been.

The movie is a ‘found footage’ movie, which sets the tone and question what happened to everyone on the tape.  The story revolves around a professor who is convinced that there is no such thing as the paranormal, but individuals who are using their minds to manifest bad things.  The experiment involves a young woman who was orphaned again and again, who believes the professor can help her overcome this mental block.  The story is told from the point of view of the cameraman, who isn’t a believer, but isn’t a sceptic either.  The cameraman becomes intrigued by the idea and sees things that can’t be explained, delving further into the mystery.  Things go from bad to worse, as they often do in horror movies and as the beginning implies, no one survives as the tapes are found with one survivor who destroys those recording him.

The movie had a lot of merit, the idea a tried and true one.  There is some question how paranormal phenomena occur and why not make the hypothesis that it is caused by humans and nothing evil at all?  The idea is interesting, but the execution is rife with errors, but those are made by the characters, not the story.  There are a few twists and turns as you watch the movie, none really surprising, just, interesting.  I can’t say I was blown away by either the acting or the story, but for an hour and a half, I was pretty scared.