MarkKawakami.com

“A casual relationship with reality”

My New Year's Resolution

Well, 2004 is over.

Personally speaking, not a bad year, but I'm basically exactly where I was when 2004 started, except that now I have a blog and I've become irritatingly political (although notice I haven't posted anything political in a while. That's an oversight on my part). But aside from an expanded social consciousness and creating an outlet for narcissism, I'm the same fella I was 365 days ago, just a year closer to dyin', and less than two weeks away from turning 30.

In the same 365 days, my brother got married, two friends moved, another friend has made big strides in his acting career and G&N have conceived and given birth to human life.

So, undertandably, I'm getting the feeling that life is passing me by a bit more than I like. So, I've decided to go Goth, get piercings and take up heroin.

Obviously I'm kidding, Goth is so high school. My real resolution is to write more. Or at all.

By write more, I'm not talking about my writing here. I mean, I'd like to post on a more consistent basis, but I'm not gonna resolve to do it. Instead, I mean that I want to take up writing for real again. After all, I went to film school for a reason, and it wasn't just to look cool. I've wanted my career to be in film, and there was a time I expected it to be the same way I expect to wake up each morning: unquestioningly. But day by day, that optimistic certainty is fading, and if I let it go much longer while doing literally nothing about it, it will one day become just one of those things I never got around to. Did I mention I'm about to turn 30?

So, I figure writing is the right place to start, since my plan was always to write my way into Hollywood. And even if nothing ever comes of it, I think I'm going to enjoy it more than not writing.

Plus, writing my blog has reminded me that I'm "good with words", but also that I used to be better.

Anyhow, to be totally honest, I'm actually quite insecure about telling people about this resolution. Mainly because my capacity for failure is actually quite high, and telling people about it really just sets the stage for letting my friends see that failure in action. So, somewhat counter intuitively, I'm posting it here, for the whole world to see, friends and strangers alike, on the record, indexed by Google. Hopefully that means I'm serious about it.

Whatever, with that admission comes a favor I'd like to ask. If you know me, please don't ask me "how's that writing thing going?". The way I figure it, either I'm writing, in which case I'll let you know if I want to share it, or I'm not, in which case your question will depress me. Well, you can ask, just wait a few months. Let's say June or something.

So, there it is. I guess I actually have to do it now.

Focus, CNN.com, focus!

Taken from CNN.com's homepage (and the "above-the-fold" section at that), which of these stories sticks out like a sore thumb for it's massive irrelevance?

MORE NEWS

  • U.S. ups tsunami aid to $350 million
  • U.S. tracks Americans in tsunami-hit regions
  • Sisters see spouses die; hard choice for mom
  • Ukraine's prime minister resigns
  • Sensors, choppers keep eye on Times Square
  • Storms rock California, Nevada, North Dakota
  • Paris Hilton misses own club opening

... Although I suppose I can't blame them. According to their "Most Popular" story tracker, the Paris Hilton piece is second.

Screw you, Miss Rand

I don't know why I like picking on Objectivists. I guess it's cuz I sorta used to be one, which gives me a feeling of moral superiority over them. Maybe because they're just so damn easy to pick on. Maybe it's because I'm mortified that people who knew me back in high school might wander across some new retarded Objectivist bitchery and think "wow, does Mark really believe this crap?". Whatever the case, I don't pass up an opportunity to point out how lame the whole damn movement is.

For those of you just catching up, Objectivism is the philosophical movement started by Ayn Rand with the novels "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged". And when you're a geeky logic-loving 16 year-old, it holds a great deal of sway, turning you into a philosophical ass-clown for years to come. Some people make the mistake of carrying it into adulthood and come up with shit like this. As noted by Josh Marshall, in the wake of the most devastating natural disaster in the lifetimes of myself and everyone I've ever known and everyone they've ever known, with a death toll so severe my brain can't even process it, the Ayn Rand Institute has made a startling pronouncement:

As the death toll mounts in the areas hit by Sunday's tsunami in southern Asia, private organizations and individuals are scrambling to send out money and goods to help the victims. Such help may be entirely proper, especially considering that most of those affected by this tragedy are suffering through no fault of their own.

The United States government, however, should not give any money to help the tsunami victims. Why? Because the money is not the government's to give.

Seriously, WTF? The government of the United States shouldn't give aid to the victims of this horrifying tragedy? What kind of dickhead do you have to be that your response to a disaster of biblical proportions is "Hey! That's our money!"?

And what the hell do they mean by "such help may be entirely proper"? May? That leaves open the possibility that there is reasonable point of view where even private help is improper. And then they suggest that "most of those affected by this tragedy are suffering through no fault of their own." Apparently a certain percentage of those affected had it coming.

I take heart in the fact that, even in my deepest infatuation with Objectivism, I never once would have thought it wrong for the government to not do everything in their power, financially and otherwise, to help the tsunami victims. But Objectivism, as shown by this article (and read the whole thing for a good laugh), deems it not only wrong in the practical sense to give aid in even the most extreme circumstances, but wrong in the moral sense as well. Let me restate that. They consider it immoral for the government to help these innocent victims.

Ayn Rand believed that she was the first philosopher since Aristotle to offer anything worthwhile to the world. That sort of hubris leads to crap like this.

Best Review Ever

While ripping on the recent film version of "Phantom of the Opera", Hollywood gossip site Defamer also directs our attention to a brilliant review of the film "Sphere". This is the film with Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson and Sharon Stone, based on the Michael Chrichton book.

I liked the book a lot, but it's possible that in actuality it sucked horribly. I can't tell, I was thirteen when I read it and lacked most of the judgmental cynicism that gives me such excellent taste today.* Whatever the case, the movie sucked something awful. This review is, by far, the best thing to come out of it.

*By "excellent taste", I mean that I think "Dawson's Creek" is crap, yet I like "Everwood", so I'll concede that the assertion of excellence is debatable.

Quick thoughts on stuff

Well, I'll be going up north to visit my parents in a couple of days so I don't know if I'll get a chance to post until well after the Christmas. So here's a few random things I've been meaning to get to:

If you haven't been watching "Lost", you're missing a great show. They're in reruns right now for the next couple of weeks, so this is a great time to get acquainted with the show. Last week they showed the pilot, and tonight they'll be showing the the episodes "Walkabout" (1.4) and "White Rabbit" (1.5), although the promos from last week indicated they would be showing "Tabula Rasa" (1.3) which would be better for viewers catching up.

Regardless, one of tonight's episodes will definitely be "Walkabout" which is so far the best episode yet. I highly recommend it as it goes into the backstory of the intriguing John Locke (the character, not the philosopher, although apparently the naming is not coincidental). Definitely check it out if you can. "Lost" airs at 8:00pm on ABC.

Also, the radio station KROQ is sponsoring "Roxanne's Home for the Holidays". Roxanne Delgado is a 21-year-old with three younger siblings. Both of her parents died in the last three years, leaving her and her sibs with a house right in the middle of a huge renovation, with plastic sheeting in place of walls in many places. Morning DJs Kevin & Bean stepped in to publicize her cause, and right now many people are generously donating time, work and money to complete the house for her family in time for Christmas. If you're looking to get into the spirit of giving, I think this is a very good cause. Even if you don't have time (or money) before Christmas, I'm sure that there's still going to be some needs after Christmas as well, even if the house is completed on time.

Incidentally, the band Incubus, which covered the Police song "Roxanne" at the KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas have generously agreed to put the song up on the iTunes music store for downloading, with all proceeds going to Roxanne. As of yet, I haven't seen it online, but it's a good cover and 99 cents will go to help her out so there's that as well.

And finally, J.K. Rowling has announced that the next Harry Potter book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is completed and will be in stores on July 16. I've been reading the Harry Potter books, and they're actually really, really good, so I'm pretty excited about this sixth volume coming out. And the good news is that it's apparently "a bit shorter than Order of the Phoenix". Not that OotP was too long, mind you, but each book has added about 20% or so to its page count, so if that pattern held up, the final seventh book would be, well, really really long.

Retard Weekly Magazine Retread

It's the end of the year, which means time to recycle for weekly magazines with their annual "Year in Review" issues. Phoning in this issue is also usually their last opportunity to get in lazy snark in their judgmental little "shallow opinions" section. For TV Guide, it's the "Cheers and Jeers" section, while in Newsweek, it's the "Conventional Wisdom". Entertainment Weekly has "The Shaw Report by Jessica Shaw" which is the most completely ridiculous waste of space, but I don't have the latest EW so I won't comment on any end o' year Shaw-slacking-off they might have done yet (plus I can get a whole post out of how much I absolutely hate The Shaw Report. Man does it suck, even for EW's Journalism-lite standards).

TV Guide has their "Year of Cheers and Jeers" or some other rhyming title. I read it in line at the grocery store so I didn't bother to catch the title. Anyhow, two particular Jeers seemed especially lame. The first is that they jeered CBS for creating a special "viewer's choice" million-dollar prize on the reunion show of "Survivor: All-Stars". They contend (and this is almost definitely true) that it was created just so immensely popular Rupert Boneham would win it. Well Screw you, TV Guide, jeering this means jeering Rupert winning a cool million, and frankly, we're all extremely happy he has it. If not having some fake-ass alternative reality prize means that the nicest, most interesting Survivor has to keep his family in some rundown shack rather than the nice house he now has, then, frankly, why not? I mean, they just gave a million to some bonehead like Chris, and not too long ago dished a mill out to a softcore-porn chauvinist sleazebag (sleazy for the chauvinism, not the porn, although the thought of him in porn makes my skin crawl). And besides, "Survivor: All-Stars" is for the fans anyway, why shouldn't they have a hand in rewarding a player?

The second lame-ass Jeer was for the Oscars. They had two points here, the first that they were predictable, although didn't elaborate on which portion, but the implication was about which film won all the awards. Specifically, they're talking about "Return of the King". Well so what? It deserved it. Their second little bitchy point was something along the lines of "And couldn't Peter Jackson have combed his hair for the Oscars?".

No. Don't be stupid.

See, Peter Jackson's crazy unruly hair is as much iconic of who he is as his Hobbit-ish stature. He's spent the last four years with the same f'ed up hair-cut in hundreds of television and press appearances. Showing up with a Beverly Hills styled coiff would have been as much a visual indication of selling out as a D-Cup trophy wife and a coke spoon necklace. Cut Jackson some slack, wise-asses, very few people on earth could have managed a project the size and scope of "Lord of the Rings" and have it come off as well. He can wear his hair however he damn well wants.

Somewhat less bitchy but no less shallow is Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" which, while conventional, is rarely wise. It's basically "Cheers and Jeers" only with journalistic pretension. If you're not familiar with the segment, they take an in the news topic, give it an arrow pointing up if things are going well for that person/subject (or people are thinking better of it or some other sort of undefined positivity), a downward pointing arrow if things are going worse (or people think worse or some other sort of undefined negativity), or an arrow point left and right if things are leveling out (or they're too confused/scared/lazy to pass even the most rudimentary judgement). They think shallowly so you don't have to. They also have a sentence or two that provides some justification, because technically it's not journalism unless there are words. Anyhow, like I said, it's "Cheers and Jeers" with the addition of ambivalence.

So, they give a down arrow to Osama bin Laden. And they gave an up arrow to Jesus Christ.

Why even have them in there? What possible circumstance could ever occur that would cause OBL's arrow to point up? And would they ever, and I mean, ever, point Jesus' arrow down? What a waste of space.

Slightly less egregious but no less ridiculous are the arrows they gave to the American Soldier and Steroids. American Soldier up, Steroids down.... Well, let's see, Newsweek thinks the American Soldier is good, Steroids bad! That's some limb they're going out on, isn't it? Basically reread the last paragraph and replace OBL with steroids and Jesus with Marines to get my opinion on this brave stance.*

Oh, and while we're at it, mad propz to Newsweek for thinking that Kerri Walsh might somehow be named "Kelli". (They up-arrowed the Olympics, which I agree with, the Olympics were great this year. Part of their rationale was that the Walsh and Misty May were "smokin'"... which I also agree with.**)

See what bothers me about these things is not that they have them. It's how shallowly they treat whatever subject they're snarking on. TV Guide is actually a little better about this, because they devote a little more space to each subject, which means hopefully a little more depth, and besides, as much as I love TV, even I admit 95% of it can be dealt with in three sentences or less. Newsweek, on the other hand... well, this is just lazy. Having a quick summary of events and a little score-card is one thing, but so often the depth of thinking behind the score is equally shallow. They spend like five minutes putting it together every week, and it shows. It's usually knee-jerk reactions, and frankly if I wanted that, I'd watch O'Reilly.

* Just to avoid any confusion here, I'm not suggesting that they should down-arrow the American Soldier. Obviously, I in no way support this war, but if they dissed the people fighting for this country, regardless of circumstance, I'd cancel my subscription... And probably post something about it to. So take that!

** Although I think it's worth mentioning that they're also exceptionally talented, they didn't lose a single game, let alone a match.

Nolan Steven Aldoroty

Just got back from the hospital where my very good friends Geneva and Noka Aldoroty just gave birth to Nolan Steven Aldoroty. Weighing in at a whopping 9.5 pounds, Nolan came complete with 10 fingers, 10 toes, two ears and a whole lot of head. I don't have any pictures because I forgot my camera and besides they don't let you take pictures of the nursery anyway. So, he's been lojacked, he's probably just finished having his first bath, and Geneva is recovering from a marathon delivery that proved what a little trooper she is.

So, congratulations G, your baby is perfect and I couldn't be happier for the three of you. I know that you and Noka are going to make great parents. Merry Christmas, and I promise to never combine presents (unless it's something really cool). I love you both (whoops, I mean you three) and wish your new family every possible blessing.

I'm sorry you were eaten, but...

My friend Geneva tipped me off to this story. Apparently in Australia, a surfer was eaten by a Great White shark. Not just bitten but pretty fully eaten. The original reports of the incident claimed that there were two Great Whites, but authorities later recanted that, since it wasn't true (it's also essentially totally, and I mean totally, unheard of). Australia may be experiencing a slight rise in shark attacks, although probably not. I'll get to that in a minute.

Anyhow, CNN is reporting that the Australian government has pledged to hunt down and kill the shark responsible. Now, look, I understand everyone's fear. Great Whites are scary beasts. Big ass razor sharp teeth, yeah, they're intimidating. But trying to get revenge on a shark is completely ridiculous. And don't make any mistake about this, this isn't about preventing future attacks, this isn't about population control, killing this shark is cold blooded revenge. Statistically speaking, this one attack is it for not only this Great White but for every other Great White it will ever come in contact with. This shark will almost definitely never, ever attack another human again. The math just isn't there: Great White attacks are so incredibly, unbelievably rare that it's completely inconceivable that this shark will ever again attack another human being.

Now, if there were an assload of Great Whites cruising our shores, killing this one shark wouldn't be such a big deal. But Great Whites are endangered. They're apex predators and in natures infinite wisdom, have built-in population controls that prevent them from overrunning their eco-system, but also make them highly sensitive to human predation. For instance, they take years to reach sexual maturity. This ensures a pretty significant period of time between generations. They also give birth to live young (as do most sharks), which prevents the mass egg laying that other fish use to ensure large numbers of offspring. They mate through intercourse (sort of essential to the live young when you think about it) so reproduction depends on complex interactions between the sexes. And they give birth to limited offspring (one or two, I believe) which further reduces their generational capacity. Add all this up, and even limited hunting of them (or large-scale hunting of the seals and sea lions that they feed on) can have absolutely devastating effects on the Great White population.

And this devastation has already occurred. The biggest hit to the Great White population came after the film Jaws was released. That film worked people into such a frenzy that shark-hunting became this ridiculous macho fad which still exists to this day. Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws has said that had he known the effect his novel and the subsequent film would have, he never would have written it. I contend that the novel and movie have had some positive effects as well. I saw Jaws in second grade and became fascinated with sharks. For years I wanted to be a marine biologist. I'm sure I'm not the only one who the film led to a real appreciation and respect for these magnificent animals. However whatever positives, the film has inarguably led to the perception that they way you deal with shark attacks is by hunting down and killing the poor thing.

This sport fishing has led to most countries enacting bans on Great White hunting. Australia has such a ban but apparently feels that this wouldn't violate the ban because it's a matter of public safety. Sharkshit. As I've said, killing this shark will do absolutely nothing to prevent future attacks. The theory posited in Jaws of territoriality, wherein a Great White will return again and again to the site of previous attacks has been proven completely false. It's just not true. Great Whites roam over incredible distances, often thousands of miles.

And more importantly, they really don't even like humans. They like high-fat, high-protein, heavily muscled marine mammals like seals and sea lions. Humans are empty calories to a White shark. But then, why the attacks? Well, most "attacks" are not attacks at all, just a single bite. Sharks don't have hands or feet with which to explore, so their only method of investigating things it finds curious and potentially edible is with its mouth. So, yeah, that's not good for the bitee, but it's not an expression of getting medieval on anyones ass.

And I'm bothered by this notion of "public safety". Look, if Great Whites sprouted legs and lungs and started climbing onto shore and attacking people sipping their mojitos, then yeah, that's a real threat. But the ocean isn't man's realm. We are there at the mercy of the sea. Neptune's world isn't ours and we have no dominion and no rights over it. So every person that dips a toe into the sea does so at their own risk. No one can guarantee anyones safety in the ocean and it's simply not our role to do so. A couple people get bitten? That's the risks you take, chump. Don't want to get eaten? Don't go swimmming. Or go swimming since you're not going to get attacked anyway. Your chances of being attacked by a shark are lower than your chances of being struck by lightning. Or killed by honey bees. And you're more likely to get trampled to death by a rhino than killed by a shark. You're more likely to win the lottery than get killed by a shark. So relax, Aussies!

Ah, don't the Australians have reason to be skittish? Apparently there have been a few attacks in recent months. I mean, like three. Hardly an epidemic, but maybe more than usual. Or maybe not. I don't recall if you remember a few summers ago when we had "summer of the shark". A kid had his arm bitten off, and his uncle courageously braved the sharks mouth to retrieve the arm so it could be reattached. That was a genuinely heroic act, I'm not being snarky. Anyway, the story got lots of press, and after that, every single damn shark attack led the news that summer. The perception was that we had this massive increase in shark attacks. Sharkshit again. Attacks were actually down that summer! So this rise in Australian attacks is probably nothing of the sort. Attacks happen, probably one for every couple of million people in the ocean. But media attention can make it seem like an epidemic when it's nothing more than coincidence and hype.

I have a lot more to say on this issue, but I think I'll make it like a weekly feature so as not to completely bore the crap out of you. At any rate I just needed to get this off my chest because hunting down this one shark pisses me off something huge.

Mispelings are fun!

So, a few weeks ago I wrote a post about sharks and dolphins, and in it, mentioned the scientific name of the Great White Shark, carcharodon carcharias. However, I had misspelled it as "charcharadon charcharias". So, if you search Google for charcharadon charcharias guess who ends up with the first entry? That's right, me! Cool. The funny thing is, of all the things people type into Google that eventually lead to my site, this is by far the most common search. This misspelling has led to more traffic from Google than "Mark Kawakami", which I'm quite dismayed to see I'm still not first on, despite having my name mentioned several times on each page. Apparently the Mark Kawakami that is both smarter than me and can kick my ass still comes up first.

Even funnier, second place for search terms that lead to this site seem to be people looking for advice on how to handle their "casual relationship" (although usually with different search engines than Google, usually Ask Jeeves), because of the subtitle of my blog. So, people in relationship crises and biology students that can't spell are the primary readers of my blog when you exclude people that already know me. I'm in the big leagues now!

"Ocean's 12"

So, I saw "Ocean's 12" over the weekend. And I was a little disappointed. I really liked the first one, as did most people. The humor was great and I'm a sucker for heist movies. But this sequel didn't live up to what heist movies should be, and in the process, lost a lot of opportunities for humor and character because of it.

Incidentally, spoiler heavy, so stop reading if you don't want to know.

It didn't completely suck, which really keeps me from dissing it too much (although I'm about to). The first half especially was very inventive. For instance, the crew's general annoyance at being called "Ocean's 11". And throughout there were some clever jokes. But the heist itself, especially the fact that there actually wasn't one, was so damn messy that it actually detracted from the characters. The first film worked because the clean, clever heist allowed them to integrate the characters into the action. Here, because the heist is so damn convoluted, they have to go away from the characters, and don't get much of a payoff in trade. In other words, they sacrificed character so that they could sacrifice clever heisting. This is a heist-movie no-no.

The other problem they have is the opposite of most sequels. Most sequels suffer because the first film is a sort of spiritual journey cloaked in whatever the actual plot is. The sequel is often just an opportunity for greed for the characters. Ocean's 11 and 12 is completely the opposite. The first film was about greed, pure and simple. I mean, sure, Danny Ocean was trying to revive his (very weakly written) relationship with Julia Roberts, but really it was about the assload of money they were going to steal. This one is about survival (and for no reason at all, it's hard to believe Andy Garcia wouldn't just snuff them all out immediately). It's no fun realizing that even if they pull of their heist, they'll still end up broke. Where's the fun in that?

And then they take a few characters out of the action for most of the movie. I think this was mostly to fit in their schedules, so they make a token appearance. This really disappointed me because one of the people to get the screwing is Carl Reiner, whom I'm a big fan of (he created "The Dick van Dyke Show" you know). So he's in it for like 10 minutes. And yet, as much as I wanted him and Bernie Mac to be in it more, the movie suffers from character overload as it is. The title implies 12 characters, but, there's actually like fourteen. So the mess just gets messier.

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