Saturday, 19 November 2011

09:04 – Barbara and I are about halfway through the seven seasons of Despicable Housewives on Netflix streaming. In what I think is a first for me, I like most of the male characters, but with the exception of Andrea Bowen in a supporting role as Julie Mayer I can’t stand any of the women characters. They’re stupid, greedy, whining, phony, lying, weasely, cheating, stealing, murdering scum. Literally. I don’t understand why the male characters don’t just strangle all of them.

Last night, we watched a couple episodes about a tornado hitting the fictional Wisteria Lane and the aftermath. Those were pretty powerful episodes, particularly since just a couple days earlier a real tornado devastated an area in a county that adjoins ours. As Barbara said, the devastation on the TV show looked exactly like the newspaper photos of that town just down the road from us. She also said that from now on when we’re under a tornado warning, we’re going to head for the basement.


11:30 – For all I complain about public schools and NCLB, there are occasional success stories. For example, the Dallas News reports on the stunningly good math and reading test scores achieved by third-grade pupils at Field Elementary school. There was a minor downside, though. They achieved those high math and reading test scores by devoting essentially all of their effort to teaching these kids math and reading, which of course meant they had to skip science and other subjects almost entirely. Not to worry, though. The kids still got grades in those other subjects. Of course, those grades were faked, sometimes assigned by teachers who’d never even taught the subjects in question. If I had school-age children, I’d do whatever it took to either homeschool them or get them into private schools. I don’t believe public schools–any public schools–can any longer be trusted to educate kids.

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28 Responses to Saturday, 19 November 2011

  1. BGrigg says:

    09:04 – Barbara and I are about halfway through the seven seasons of Despicable Housewives on Netflix streaming. In what I think is a first for me, I like most of the male characters, but with the exception of Andrea Bowen in a supporting role as Julie Mayer I can’t stand any of the women characters. They’re stupid, greedy, whining, phony, lying, weasely, cheating, stealing, murdering scum. Literally. I don’t understand why the male characters don’t just strangle all of them.

    I think it’s because they get laid.

  2. SteveF says:

    Strangling and getting laid need not be mutually exclusive. Maybe not on prime time, though.

    FWIW, my wife enjoyed the first season of DH, but didn’t much care for the second season (at least by the end of the season) and watched only a few episodes of the third season because the main characters were dumb and unlikeable. Considering how she chewed through videos while pregnant, it must have been really bad for her to stop watching.

  3. Chuck Waggoner says:

    When I first went to work for the 2 guys from Chicago who reviewed movies on TV, they had just embarked on a campaign to stop the portrayal of violence against women in movies. That included — in part — writing women characters as despicable people who deserved to have violence done against them. They were quite successful, as within 2 years, movies portraying violence against women had all but disappeared.

    Thirty years pass, and everything has come full circle, with all that violence against women back — maybe not physical violence in the series you mention, but certainly portraying them as unlikable. And violence against women in TV series has once again become commonplace. I am not so sure writers in the industry these days are not people with severely unbalanced mental hang-ups in the first place.

    I am really baffled by why so many of you spend so much time watching this worthless stuff. I know from my own perspective, the most talented writers working around me, left television during the ‘80’s. No one as talented as they, replaced them. By the time I had stopped working fulltime in the industry by the late ‘90’s, writers could not even spell, let alone construct compelling dialogue or monologue. I ended up myself writing more and more of the content of the shows I had charge of.

    Occasionally, a movie based on a book that is decent comes along, but the last movie I saw worth watching was “Almost Famous” and before that “The English Patient”. Many years separated those. If AO Scott says a movie is not to be missed, I find he is right. But these days, that amounts to about 1 or 2 movies every couple of years. There is nothing mentally challenging coming out these days — only portrayals of depravity and the worst of human emotions. There is enough of that in real life; I don’t need to go watch a TV show or movie, written from somebody’s demented mind. There are a lot more productive things to do with time than that.

  4. OFD says:

    I mainly agree with Chuck on this, but will stipulate that we sometimes watch relatively mindless shite. We both have our brains on full-tilt-boogie during the week and sometimes weekends, too, and just need to take a break once in a while if the weather sucks for canoeing or x-c skiing or target shooting. And if we are either relatively caught up on house and grounds chores and errands or just too beat to do anything else.

    We have found older flicks and documentaries a better use of our viewing time. And by older I mean before the Glorious Sixties.

  5. Jim Cooley says:

    OFD, hope you’re already aware of Ealing Studios for pre-60’s comedy.
    My complaint with modern (post-70’s) documentaries and science/nature programs is the pace.

    “The — great — horn — billed — alligator — is — a — menace”

    They talk at about 50 words per minute. Richard Attenburough shoud be — shot — dead — through — and — through.

    Presumably the audience desires education, but at 50 WPM, that ain’t likely to happen.
    That’s why I’ve quit watching them alltogether.

    {all together}
    “That’s why I’ve quit watching them”

  6. OFD says:

    a la Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob, etc.? I generally prefer British and Irish humor to our own. Same with their fiction and poetry.

    And that would be “altogether.”

  7. OFD says:

    Not to be a dick or anything, just helpful.

  8. Chuck Waggoner says:

    My favorite critic, AO Scott actually discusses the topic in this week’s NYTimes

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/20/movies/film-technology-advances-inspiring-a-sense-of-loss.html?_&pagewanted=all

    I do not agree with his conclusion that films today are no better or worse than at any time in the past. They are immeasurably worse in both writing — which is increasingly done by people with less and less sophistication and lower and lower IQ’s — and shooting, which is so stupidly fast-paced that no one can take notice of anything (a product of disco’s, mirror balls, the mindlessness of MTV, and probably more than a couple different drugs).

    When Stanley Kubrick shot scenes in “Barry Lyndon” with pre-flashed fast film using only candlelight, it challenged others to do equally creative things. Not anymore. What I want to see is somebody shoot a movie with one camera, no stopping, and no cuts. That will not happen, however, because the kind of talent capable of doing that is clearly not working in Hollywood.

    However, I love the fact Scott focuses on — that film has succumbed to video. Before the Hunt brothers forced television to 100% video, abandoning shooting film altogether because of skyrocketing silver costs, we once did all field shooting with film. For serious projects, I insisted on what they call a video tap, so I could see immediately whether we actually got what we wanted. How dumb to have to wait a day or two for ‘rushes’, then go back and try to duplicate exactly absolutely everything we did several days ago, because some thing in the product was not acceptable. Actually, Hollywood started copying me when Ron Howard began his directing career. He was a product of TV, and had no problem using video to increase shooting productivity — and overall project costs — dramatically. Ebert may lament that film is dead, but I rejoice. Maybe the fact that anybody can shoot and edit a movie at home these days, will bring us more talent than Hollywood is capable of.

    Btw, Ebert revered Pauline Kael. She was one of the most articulate critics around. How she got knocked off with no one else to pick her up, is another movie industry shame.

  9. Chuck Waggoner says:

    And here is The Atlantic’s take on the soon-to-be-released John leCarré’s new George Smiley incarnation

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/12/the-anti-james-bond/8708/

    Article points out that it was leCarré who contributed the spy words “mole” and “honey-trap” to the English language.

  10. OFD says:

    That is fascinating stuff, Chuck, and thanks for posting it here. This explains a LOT of what has transpired in movies over the last forty years. BTW, Barry Lyndon has been one of my top five since it came out; I’ve even got a small poster from it on my office wall at work, along with The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Man Who Would Be King, and A Clockwork Orange.

    I have read not a whit of the late Pauline Kael or A.O. Scott but will now make it my business to do so. Used to watch Siskel and Ebert and also Medved years ago. Any other film writers you’d recommend?

  11. BGrigg says:

    Maybe the fact that anybody can shoot and edit a movie at home these days, will bring us more talent than Hollywood is capable of.

    I suspect that because anyone can shoot and edit a movie at home is exactly why we have a dearth of talent in Hollywood. Just “anyone” is doing it, instead of talented people.

    Good movies are still being made, even in Hollywood, but they are not the mainstream movies that set records. I watched 127 Hours the other day, which was a surprisingly excellent movie. Franco, who I always considered a smug punk, surprised and delighted me with his performance. Boyle, channeling Frankenheimer, crafted a Oscar worthy movie that could easily have been a TV movie of the week. How Franco lost to Firth baffles me.

  12. Chuck Waggoner says:

    The best left Hollywood, just as they did television. My favorite economist, the late Jude Wanniski, claimed that it is tax policy that drove the most intelligent and talented people from the movie industry. I have never really understood that; by the fifth grade, I knew what I wanted to do in life. How much I, or my industry, is taxed will drive me from my chosen field? Only if I really do not care what I do in life. Although I did watch as the most talented people I worked with, left the industry. To do what, instead?–I don’t really know. I lost contact with most.

    So, unfortunately, the timing of my own career placed me on the back end of the wave, as both TV and movies began a state of — thus far — unending decline. Not much interesting or intelligently useful has surfaced since John Hughes and Spike Lee rose to movie-making prominence.

    The British always manage to make intelligent movies, but their whole system is repertory-based, so they have a strong pool of well-trained talent to draw upon, unlike the American star system, which picks essentially untrained, untalented, and unknown people at random off the street. Rarely, it chooses someone who has the ability to learn, and becomes both versatile and competent, but more often, they just play themselves over and over in unimaginative scripts with noticeably contrived dialogue.

    Maybe the problem is that there is less intelligence available in all walks of life. I know the people I argue with at AT&T do not even possess enough intelligence to lie to me credibly. And Bill does have a point — if somebody intelligent and talented is out there learning movie-making at home, there is going to have to be a route for them outside Hollywood, because Hollywood could not identify intelligence and talent if it splattered them in the face.

    Which leads to the point for another discussion — there is mounting evidence that corporations are now so large that the gulf between the very top executives and the line workers is now so vast, that those making decisions cannot possibly know what is going on at the line level. A recent study of BP has confirmed that it learned and implemented absolutely nothing from a series of accidents prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion that could have prevented it. In fact, in a dozen or more BP accidents around the world during the last decade, there is a surprising similarity between many of them. Yet NOTHING was done to prevent a repeat occurrence somewhere else.

    Furthermore, the top executives go to great lengths to isolate themselves from ordinary workers. There is the story of Dick Fulds, CEO of Lehman Brothers, who had a precisely timed trip from home via limo to nearby heliport, then to Manhattan helipad and another limo, which arrived at garage doors timed precisely to admit the limo, which took him to a private elevator to his office — all of the trip designed so he would encounter no other Lehman employee on his way from home to his office desk.

  13. OFD says:

    Many of those self-isolated CEO types and financial wizards will one day come to know folks from the bottom tiers of the social strata, intimately, and more than they would have wanted. If they are lucky, they will run into people who are not vindictive, who have short memories, and/or who are not usually inclined to violence.

    At one of my recent IT gigs, as a low-level drone who was nevertheless on the front lines with their major customers across the country, the corporate head honcho was 23 levels above me, and later went on to serve the Prophet as one of his Cabinet-level appointments. Said corporation paid zero taxes on many billions of profit, completely legally, using the wonderful talents of a thousand or so former IRS agents and officials. In my current position there are about 7 or 8 levels between me and the CEO and their email and phone number are listed right there in the internal web site. Two companies, huge, and both have been around a very long time, but what a difference in management styles and culture and what it means on the bottom tiers.

  14. BGrigg says:

    Last time I flew (and yes, I subject myself to flying) it was with a company called WestJet. WestJet has a policy where each employee is given one share, and encourage to purchase more. This makes each employee a “share holder” and gives them a stake in how the company succeeds. I think it must work, as it is the ONLY non-unionized air carrier in Canada, and the employees seem very happy.

    An even better policy is that executives MUST fly on WestJet routes, and MUST announce to everyone on board that they are available for comments, and can be found located at seat such and such. Invariably these seats are often the worst in the aircraft. They are not allowed to travel first or business class. I spoke to the President of Sales and Marketing on the way back from Newark one flight, and suggested that they were brave for this policy. “On the contrary” he advised me “I’ve mostly received compliments rather than complaints”.

    I actually found myself in a situation where they attempted to charge me twice for some additional baggage, on the return flight. I pointed out their error, and they not only reversed the charge, but wiped out the additional cost for baggage for both trips! I told them I only wanted to be reimbursed for the one charge, but their policy was clear. One complaint and the whole enchilada is dealt with. Very impressive! And a huge difference from my experience with any other carrier.

  15. BGrigg says:

    There is an avenue for the budding filmmakers. It’s called YouTube Partners. If you can consistently provide entertaining shorts, you can earn substantial rewards. I know of one person who is making well into six figures from that source, and that’s for stop-action animation, which is one of the less popular genres.

  16. OFD says:

    Making note to self: Increased Kanada travel potential soon. WestJet.

    Another note to self: Investigate YouTube Partners. Revisit ideas list kicking around on this machine for a year now.

  17. BGrigg says:

    Can you read the notes? I never can. I find cryptic scrawls on paper and don’t know if I need to pick someone up at the airport or if I need milk.

  18. OFD says:

    Sir, I write them in the King’s English when I write them, and otherwise they are in backup mode in what remains of my upstairs until such time as I need to do a restore operation (IT-speak). And while my penmanship is not the best, I find it sufficient unto the day, usually, for my mundane purposes. If I actually type it in some kind of word processor and save it on one of my machines, why then, Bob’s my uncle! (provenance of said phrase explained some years ago to one Dr. Jerry Pournelle via his web site email).

    Now why don’t you pick up the milk on your way back from the airport. THAT’s what that note said!

  19. Miles_Teg says:

    Bill wrote:

    “I actually found myself in a situation where they attempted to charge me twice for some additional baggage, on the return flight. I pointed out their error, and they not only reversed the charge, but wiped out the additional cost for baggage for both trips! I told them I only wanted to be reimbursed for the one charge, but their policy was clear. One complaint and the whole enchilada is dealt with. Very impressive! And a huge difference from my experience with any other carrier.”

    Here you’ve got the choice of flying with Qantas (staid, conservative, strike prone) or Virgin (much better and usually cheaper). Virgin used to have comparatively flippant announcements (“No smoking in the toilets please, and cameras have been fitted”, “Virgin has some of the best crews in the skies, but they’re on other flights today, so you’re stuck with us”, announcements starting with “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…”) but now they’ve gone all staid and conservative, like Qantas. I guess some nark complained.

    The main places I complain nowadays are at the supermarkets. For slow service, forced use of automatic scanner lanes (which I really hate), incorrect scanned prices…

    It can be pretty hard to find the “How can we serve you better” forms, but I can be *really* persistent when I’m annoyed.

    When they introduced scanning at Australian supermarkets any items that were overcharged *and* detected were free. Now only the first item is free, the rest just have their priced corrected. And our prices are too high. 2 litres of Pepsi max is AU$1.99, 1.25 litres is normally priced at $1.89, which is about double what it should be. I try to stock up when they’re on special ($1 or so for 1.25 litres) but that doesn’t happen much nowadays. They’ve opened a Costco on the other side of the city, and the woman at the checkout of the liquor department mentioned that the Bailies Irish Cream I was buying was much cheaper at Costco. I’m not driving 40 km to save a few bucks on my grog. If only there was one nearer home.

  20. Chuck Waggoner says:

    We have had this discussion before, but it happened again for me in real life. A friend was given a year’s Costco membership as a wedding present. He and new wife were grateful, but he professed that there is only one product there that they cannot easily buy elsewhere, and the yearly fee would easily cancel out any possible savings on that product. Further, as they are empty-nesters, the large to extra-giant size food sizes there, would spoil long before it was eaten.

    It has been over a year since I was in a Costco, but I was thoroughly unimpressed with their electronics selection. We have a Fry’s here, and Costco is hardly a competitor to them.

    There were several of us engaged in that conversation, and nobody could justify the yearly expense, when Aldi and Walmart are quite competitive with Costco on normal-sized packaging.

    Also, I think it was here where somebody said Costco would not actually kick out anyone lacking a membership, but I have since run across someone who said she, too, had heard that, but was kicked out, just a few weeks ago when she tried it.

  21. Miles_Teg says:

    I made a trip to a nearby Aldi to get one specific item that was in their catalogue. “Next Thursday” I was told. I’ve never liked the look of Aldi, the inside looks like a mess, there’s not much range compared to the 800 pound gorillas of the Australian supermarket scene: Woolworths, and Coles. So I don’t usually bother with Aldi.

  22. Chuck Waggoner says:

    I am a great fan of Aldi — probably one of their best salesmen. They have just gotten quite a bit of real German Xmas products into my local store.

    Never have I seen an Aldi look “a mess”, but they do not remove stock from boxes — the boxes are designed to be the display dispenser to reduce stocking costs. Everything on sale at Aldi is produced on contract for Aldi by high quality manufacturers whose products you normally buy in other stores. It is not at all a “seconds” store. But there are a few people (including some of my relatives) who just cannot believe that, as the prices on many items are often nearly half of the Walmart price. It took Aldi a good 15 years to build their reputation in Germany, but no one there now doubts that they stand for high quality, and consumer studies show that.

    Having experienced Aldi in their homeland, I don’t have the hang-up of having to be convinced. I just do what every ordinary German does: take the grocery list first to Aldi, and whatever I cannot get there, I then go somewhere else to buy.

  23. BGrigg says:

    Virgin used to have comparatively flippant announcements (“No smoking in the toilets please, and cameras have been fitted”, “Virgin has some of the best crews in the skies, but they’re on other flights today, so you’re stuck with us”, announcements starting with “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…”) but now they’ve gone all staid and conservative, like Qantas.

    Sounds like Air Canada and WestJet. Air Canada benefits from massive tax payer funded bailouts, while WestJet has to earn their keep. WestJet has the funny announcements, but I’ve heard them on Alaska/Horizon too. Last Horizon flight was delayed for about 5 minutes on the taxi to the runway, and the pilot announced the delay as “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is we are fifth in line for take off. The good news is I saved a ton of money with Geico”.

  24. Roy Harvey says:

    I like having some self-checkout lanes when I have a small order, as long as I don’t have anything like produce that has to be weighed. I can almost always just walk up to one and check out without any waiting, but that isn’t often the case when checked out by a cashier.

    Checking out is the worst part of visiting Aldi around here. When they aren’t busy – which is most of the time – there is never more than one register open, so my small order requires a long wait. When they are busy they may have more lines but they aren’t any shorter. More than once I’ve put things back and walked out rather than wait, when a do-it-yourself line would have made them a sale.

  25. BGrigg says:

    I LIKE the self checkout lanes, even with produce that needs to be weighed, as long as I’m only buying a hand basket worth. Most produce in Canada is marked with a product code, so you can just key in the code, put the produce on the scale and bag it when it says to, just like the cashiers do.

  26. Chuck Waggoner says:

    I don’t think Aldi will ever institute self-checkout lines. In Germany, they make a grand effort of standing up and looking into your carriage to make sure nothing is escaping the scanner, before they even begin scanning that first item (many groceries in Berlin have large overhead mirrors, so they do not have to stand up — in Europe, all the checkout clerks sit down while checking out, unlike the US, which makes them stand). The peculiar ways Aldi does things just tells me they will not be changing soon. Heck, it was only about 2007 or 8 when they instituted scanners in Germany. Prior to that, the clerks punched in the code numbers for every item at checkout. And those girls were so fast, that scanners actually made no difference in speed when scanners were finally instituted.

    As far as long lines at Aldi; the Aldi’s here in the Midwest are no worse than lines anywhere else. It takes equally as long, no matter where you shop — which, for us is either Walmart, Kroger, Meijer, or Marsh.

  27. Miles_Teg says:

    I hate the self checkout lines because they’re so crampt. If I have a trolley full of groceries there’s no where to put the scanned groceries except back in the trolley, so there’s a danger of either not paying or paying twice. And we have the misfortune to have a minority Labor Party government here, being backed by the Greenmailers. One of the prices the ALP had to pay for their support was a ban on disposable plastic bags. So now we have to buy our own heavy duty bags, or (cheaper) “recyclable” bags. It’s just more cost and inconvenience. I’ve come to really hate the Greens. And a few months ago a couple of Green extremists broke into a scientific establishment nearby and vandalised a GM food crop that was being tested.

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