TV Land

I’m sure somebody, probably more than one person, has done this before, but I felt it was my duty to contribute my sarcastic observations about the world constructed by television producers. What would this world be like? Well, here are some things I’ve observed:

In TV Land…

  • …a car bomb never, never renders the car unrecognizable.
  • …a gunshot wound to the head is always fatal.
  • …pretty much everybody is dating all the time.
  • …all teenagers are either disturbed and angsty or completely well-adjusted.
  • …the crime scene investigators always figure out exactly what happened in some crime.
  • …any illness can be treated, as long as you figure out what it is before the patient dies.
  • …a dead body is always a crime victim; nobody ever just dies of natural causes in the street.
  • …somebody enjoying a relaxing day of recreation is guaranteed to either be killed, fall ill, witness a crime, or get some really bad news.
  • …if someone appears to be ill, it’s the person sitting next to them who actually is.
  • …there’s always a miracle drug that just came onto the market for any illness.
  • …all awkward, intelligent people have great looks.
  • …explosions do very little damage to their surroundings.
  • …if someone has an accent, they’re probably the villain.
  • …the homeless can always be bribed.
  • …the mentally ill are always very mentally ill.
  • …large sums of money are always transferred in impressive silver suitcases.
  • …nuclear weapons will always be disarmed.
  • …if a disaster is about to take place, then some heroic soul will attempt to stop it, even if it’s a volcano or an earthquake.
  • …the criminal is never slick enough not to run the second somebody gets suspicious of them.
  • …if it’s a crime show, the person first interviewed usually ends up being the villain.
  • …the human body contains about ten gallons of blood.
  • …dying people always have some very poignant last words.
  • …dying people always close their eyes slowly just before they die.
  • …there will be somebody in the cast, guaranteed, with hand-to-hand combat skills.
  • …the above person will usually be a nerdy sort.
  • …the news is accurate and unbiased.

I’ll add to this as soon as I can think of some others. Also, look forward to “In Movie Land”…

Don’t Rely on Electronic Translation

After running across some fairly amusing examples of what one man has termed “Chinglish” (that is, signs or labels that have been translated into English, usually poorly), I decided to see whether translation software may have been at fault. So, I popped into Google, found their free translator, and translated some English phrases likely to be found on signs.

First, I translated “Wet paint. Please do not sit on the bench” into Chinese. I then switched the mode to “Chinese to English,” and re-translated it. What did I get? “Wet paint Please do not have to become judge.” Hmm…I think I may have located the culprit.

I decided to try one more, the relatively common phrase “Keep out of reach of children.” When translated back into English, the result was “Stays out of a matter to achieve the child.”

What is the moral of this brief story? Don’t rely on electronic translation…

Political Sum-Over-Histories (and a solemn note on the Virginia Tech shootings)

Note: Being a reasonably decent human being, I feel I would be terribly remiss if I did not give my heartfelt condolences to the faculty and staff of Virginia Tech, following yesterday’s terrifying shooting. As a member of the college-going population, I myself was absolutely horrified that such a thing is even possible. As for the killer, who may have fancied that he would render the authorities powerless by killing himself before they could, I say they drag his rotten corpse behind a dump truck for a while. Now, please don’t fault me on this, dear readers, but I feel that the best course of action for me would be to simply go on as normal, as nothing I can do will change the facts.

Read the rest of this entry »

Insurance: The Silent Evil

Often in this humble blog, I complain about the manipulative evils of various industries: the pharmaceutical industry, the petroleum industry, and a number of others. An industry I hadn’t considered — until recently, that is — is the insurance industry. And in terms of the amount of human suffering they cause, insurers may be the worst industry I’ve ever ranted about. Insurance is not an inherently bad idea. Among the various methods of paying for healthcare, it’s one of the better ones. The problem is greed and corruption. Of late, the insurance companies have been hiking their premiums excessively, making insurance very difficult for many people to afford. So, straight away, insurers cut out anybody who can’t afford their prices. These people, however, happen to be those who would probably most benefit from health insurance: African Americans (who, it is believed, are more prone to heart disease and diabetes), the poor, and the homeless.

There is another slice of the population that the insurance companies toss in the garbage (metaphorically speaking): the chronically ill. The aim of insurance is to help people pay for the ridiculously expensive medical treatments they require, right? Not if you’re chronically sick. If you have cancer or diabetes or heart disease, good luck trying to find any kind of health insurance. Insurance companies simply don’t want to take on the “risk” of people who are in need of frequent, and often expensive, healthcare. So, once again, they cut out another segment of the population who could most benefit from their services.

Do you notice a pattern emerging? It would seem that insurance companies only want to insure those that would cost them the least: middle- and upper-class citizens with little prior history of health problems and little genetic predisposition to them, so that they can take as much of their premiums as possible for themselves. Almost makes the oil companies look tame in comparison.

But wait, there’s more! With the advent of the Human Genome Project, and the ability to predict genetic disease, the Insurers will at last be able to cut out the remaining group that steals their income away from them: the people who even have a chance of getting sick. Imagine: the year is around 2015, and genetic testing is becoming more and more accurate. Suppose you’re a twenty-something woman from a middle-class background who wants to buy some health insurance. Well, you’d better hope that you don’t have any genetic predisposition to disease! And you’d really better hope that the insurance company doesn’t have the legal clout to force you to get tested for genetic diseases! “I’m afraid you’re un-insurable, Ms. Doe, as you have a ten percent risk of developing ovarian cancer within the next thirty years.”

You can probably see why this would be a problem: the insurance companies appear to be moving in the direction of insuring people who rarely or never get sick. Wait a minute! These are the people who need insurance the least! You can see where problems would arise, and how your friendly Insurer might seem just a bit immoral, or at the least, shortsighted.

Think about that the next time you’re feeling under the weather: how sick can you really afford to get?

“Send me Something I Can Agree With”

Okay, I normally do my best to avoid railing against America’s current president, because, frankly, that’s been done to death. But he has forced me to break my own rule, through a spasm of what appears to be either complete foolishness or complete totalitarianism.

Here’s the problem: America is currently engaging in a war. Democrats don’t want America to be in that war any longer. Republicans want America to stay in the war for a while. But, since the Democrats are now in control of the American congress, they have promoted a bill which they hoped would continue keeping the military well-funded enough so that they don’t have to go to war shirtless, but that also demands that the war be ended by a 2008 deadline. No dice. President Bush decided that he didn’t like this idea.

Now that’s nothing especially new. He often decides that he doesn’t like other peoples’ ideas. But what truly baffled me was the way in which he chose to express this dislike. He said, and I quote, “I hope that the Congress can send me something I can sign.” What? I thought the purpose of the congress was to make laws that were best for the people, not laws that were best for the president. In my mind, the whole affair goes something like this:

Congress: We don’t like the war any longer. We think you should stop.

Mister President: No.

Congress: We’ll pass a bill to make you stop.

Mister President: I’ll veto it.

Congress: What about a compromise?

Mister President: As long as the compromise is the same as my plan.

And please don’t think that I’m attacking the President here. Well, I am, but not exclusively. I’m also trying to figure out how the new Democratic majority managed to make itself so completely ineffective. I guess I’d just never seen a divided congress before…

The Downfall of Great Cinema

I’ve noticed a very disturbing trend: movies are getting more and more cliché, with less and less substance, all the time. I know that this isn’t a particularly original observation, and that people have probably been saying the same thing since the 1940’s. But unlike many of the aforementioned whiners, I am prepared to do something about it. So, I present to the world my Big List of Suggestions:

  1. People usually die with their eyes open, and are usually too busy dying to deliver some heartbreaking final line, or some witty quip.
  2. If your movie contains something that is so overused that even the parodies of it are cliché, you need to rethink it (I’m talking especially to those movies that emulated The Matrix‘s slow-motion effects. That was only good once.)
  3. The rugged, downtrodden, emotionless female character who doesn’t care about anybody became a stupid idea the second time it was done (such a character who’s heart immediately melts when she meets the right guy was never a good idea).
  4. The rugged downtrodden emotionless hero has the same problem.
  5. If you have two characters start making out suddenly in the middle of, say, a battlefield, tear up your screenplay and set the bits on fire.
  6. Extraterrestrials are not likely to be shaped like us, and I very much doubt that they’d have the equipment to learn or understand our language.
  7. Sometimes, despite their best efforts, the hero gets killed anyway.
  8. A muscle-bound, oily man in nothing but a loincloth does not mix with large swords or heavy weaponry.
  9. If a villain manages to lose grip on the hero because he was busy delivering some pithy, “I’m-about-to-kill-you” remark, throw your screenplay in the garbage.
  10. Unless sex is some part of the plot, there’s no need for a sex scene.
  11. If you have more than one needless sex scene, you are a pornographer.
  12. To the directors who think they can get away with gratuitous sexualization: just because a woman character is supposedly intelligent doesn’t mean she can still wear an “almost-nude” tanktop, and nobody will think it’s cheap. This tactic is not fooling the feminists (who probably have a right to be pissed in this case), it’s only fooling you.
  13. In reference to #12: if you actually knew any scientific types, you’d know that few of them are willing to jump into bed with the hunky hero at the slightest provocation.
  14. If two people are having sex and they knock all the junk off a table, crumple up your screenplay and eat it.
  15. Very few people can actually walk after being shot in the leg/chest/stomach/neck.
  16. This is a long one: If you have a character who was wronged by some villain, who delivered a “witty” line as they wronged the character, it is not cool to have that character say the exact same line as they wrong the villain back. Even if people existed that could remember such things with such great ease, they aren’t usually in a position to get wronged by villains very often.
  17. If you throw in a lot of science jargon, you must remember: some in the audience (I humbly point to myself as an example) actually know a bit about science, and will realize that the “science” in your movie is a load of crap. From my own experience, I can tell you that this will dramatically lower their opinion of the film (I’m talking especially to the makers of 28 Days Later: great plot and great characters, but there is no infectious agent that starts causing symptoms after thirty seconds of exposure).
  18. Most explosions are more dirt than fire. Those rare ones that are as fiery as the movie blasts generally don’t allow people to walk away after being caught in them (which invariably happens in movies).
  19. Getting shot in the head is not always fatal. Just because you don’t know how to deal with a subject as deep as a mentally disabled character doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
  20. The time of superhero movies has gone. Please try to live with this.
  21. The villain who is “pure evil” was a cliché even back in the fifties, when it became popular.
  22. It is possible for Artificial Intelligences to experience emotions. Their brains are designed after ours, and the goal of most AI research is to make them as human as possible. H.A.L. (2001) was as good as I’ve seen thus far.
  23. Since I mentioned HAL: it is not, I repeat with great vehemence NOT necessary for every single acronym in your movie to spell something. Look at DARPA, AWACS, and HTML.
  24. And while I’m still going on about robots: if you’re going to have human-level intelligence robots, then why not make one of them a character (and I’m not talking in the butler-like, vaguely amusing manner of C-3PO here)? To my knowledge, that’s still a fairly fresh idea. After all, an entity with human intelligence would probably damn sure want to be treated like a human being.
  25. When something gets cut, it falls apart immediately. Whoever imported the concept of the “ooh-cool-delayed-slash-effect” thing from Japanese anime was a fool, and should stop doing that. (and by the way, if I were going to rant about anime, I think I’d need to split it into two posts; talk about cliché (well, most of it that I’ve seen)).
  26. A plot twist doesn’t work it it is any of these things: stupid/unbelievable/unrealistic/crappy/pithy/saccharine/clichéd/impossible/done for the sake of doing it.
  27. Some plot elements do not need to be explained; I’m talking especially to the directors of the Saw series here: the one thing that made John really creepy is that he didn’t move until the end of the first movie. You didn’t actually need to tell us how he did it.
  28. If you make a sequel just for the hell of it, we will know. Some movies are standalones. (I’m talking to the Saw guys again).
  29. Human bodies generally only contain about six liters of blood. Use a damned measuring cup next time!
  30. In reference to the above: most people die after losing the first four or so of those liters.
  31. Gratuitous gore was only the “edgy” thing to do the first couple of times it was done. Now it just looks stupid and unnecessary.
  32. ATTENTION TO ALL MAKERS OF SPACE MOVIES: SOUND DOES NOT, I REPEAT DOES NOT CARRY IN SPACE!!!
  33. Gasoline tankers only rarely explode.
  34. Gasoline pumps only rarely explode.
  35. Cars almost never explode. If your screenplay contains an exploding car, tear it up and flush it down the toilet.
  36. Unless they have some sort of congenital insensitivity to pain, very few people could actually make their own tourniquet and tie it up after losing their leg.
  37. Limbs do not slice off nearly as neatly as you seem to think.
  38. I don’t know what kind of fire you’re experienced with, but very few fires spread as fast as you seem to think.

All right, I seem to have reached the legal maximum number of rants in one post. To any film directors who read this: think about these things, they might do you good. And if you want an example of a really good, emotional, goosebump-making movie, look at Children of Men. Or go to Mexico. Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro know what they’re doing.

iNsoMniA

Sleep certainly is an important part of our lives. Yet, we do it so easily that we rarely think about it. That’s a good thing, and I know, because I’ve seen what happens when you think about it.

I’ve been experimenting for about a week now with so-called “lucid dreaming” (if you don’t know what it is, this article‘s not bad). If you don’t want to read through that whole article, in a nutshell, lucid dreaming is when you realize you’re in a dream while the dream’s in progress. I’ve done it twice, and I must say it’s pretty damn cool. Unfortunately, my lucid dreams have been fuzzy, brief, and rather uncontrolled. So I decided to get some practice.

Now, the normal way to induce a lucid dream is to wake up about five hours after you go to sleep, wake your mind up just enough to control your mind, then go back to bed, and maintain your conscious awareness while you slip back to sleep. But, just like any good American teenager, I decided I didn’t have the patience to wait for five hours (my idea makes less and less sense the more I think about it), and supposedly, you can induce a lucid dream the first time you go to bed at night.

Long story short: it didn’t work. I tried and tried to go to sleep, which is a formula for dire, dire failure. Eventually, I conked out, around 4 A.M. Oh, if only I hadn’t had my early class this morning, a class which mandates that I get up at 6 A.M. Result? Two hours’ sleep.

Since I left high school, I’d almost allowed myself to forget just how much sleep deprivation sucks. The entire morning, I could scarcely pry my eyes open, and my handwriting degenerated even worse than usual. I’m still not sure whether or not my class notes will be legible when it comes time to study them.

Around 9 A.M., the interminable class finally ended, and I hurried to the soda machine before the machine-refiller-guy blocked it. I downed an energy drink called “Adrenaline Rush.” Within a few minutes, in addition to having a very hyperactive bladder, I was finally (mostly) among the living again. It was around this point that I made the amusing observation that sparked this blog entry: I had become like the main character from the movie Crank, staying alive only by keeping myself constantly pumped with artificial stimulants (caffeine, B vitamins, taurine, ginesing, et cetera. Who knew it was possible to put all that crap in one twelve-ounce can?).

So my advice to other people who think they can manually make themselves fall asleep: you’re wrong. Don’t even try it. And for the potential lucid dreamers who read this: in my experience, you can NOT do it at the beginning of the night. Either take a nap and do it then, or wake up in the wee hours of the morning and do it then.