Monday, January 25, 2010

The Very Lucky Executive

There was this man named Hova. Jeremy. He was a remarkably lucky guy.

First, he was lucky enough to get a job in awful times. Second, despite lacking any ability, he was lucky enough to be promoted quickly, eventually becoming president of the company. That’s not unusual. It’s even fairly common. Some people just seem to make a good impression. But Jerry wasn’t particularly intelligent or good looking. He lacked charisma and, truth be told, was often unpleasant to be around. He was just lucky.

But all of that’s nothing compared to the run of luck Jerry had next.

Jerry chose a seaside location for his company’s new factory and the adjacent giant apartment complex housing the workers. He was warned that the site was on an active earthquake fault and next to an active volcano, but he brushed that aside. A year later, the factory was up and running and the apartment complex was filled with the workers and their families. Pats on the back from the Board of Directors for Jerry, plus a bonus. Then a massive earthquake struck. And a huge volcanic eruption. Followed by a tsunami. The factory was eliminated. Coincidentally, so were the workers and their families.

The Board met in emergency session to praise Jerry and beg him to save the company. Utterly irrational of them, of course, but I told you he was a lucky guy. The Board was convinced that what had happened was part of some large, brilliant plan of Jerry’s, and they were sure that they simply weren’t intelligent enough to understand what he was doing. It was best to let him press on and not interfere with him.

Jerry decided to shift the company’s emphasis to agribusiness. He had his eye on vast tracts of land in a third-world country that would be perfect. Unfortunately, the land was already occupied by some peasants who refused to move. So Jerry used corporate funds to set up and arm a fake rebel movement that drove the peasants away. Well, the few who survived were driven away. The others became involuntary fertilizer for the company’s new agricultural products. The Board applauded Jerry for his innovative thinking and awarded him another bonus. Crops were bountiful, and soon company-branded edibles were flooding markets in the developed world. Unfortunately, previously unknown deadly viruses and bacteria and parasites flooded in with them. Soon bodies filled the streets and highrises of London, Paris, New York, etc.

Once again, the Board met in emergency session to praise Jerry and beg him to save them. If anything, they admired the opacity of his brilliance all the more.

And so it went, year after year, decade after decade. Board members came and went, but Jerry stayed on, constantly making dreadful mistakes that cost huge numbers of lives, constantly being praised and rewarded for his work. It was a wonder that the company survived, and yet in fact it thrived. It became the largest, richest, most powerful corporation on Earth, possibly the most powerful entity of any kind. Jerry’s judgment and wisdom and foresight became the stuff of legends. Sometimes, one person or one small piece of equipment managed to survive one of these Jerry-induced disasters. This was seen as all the proof anyone needed of Jerry’s careful planning and deep compassion.

The next step was obvious: President of the World. Jerry’s making plans for that right now.

What a lucky guy! Wouldn’t you like to be as lucky as J. Hova?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

David’s Definitions for March 2010


When used to refer to an event, it means contrary to what's expected, in a striking or poignant or tragic way. It derives from a Greek word meaning "to lie" or "to be insincere." Here's an example of irony: "The speaker, who was famous for his command of the English language, clearly didn't know the difference between ironically and coincidentally." People do often confuse those two words. Here's an example of coincidence, with nothing ironic about it: "The speaker had a third cousin named Hepzibah. So did the man who introduced him." There's nothing about this coincidence that is strikingly contrary to what you expect, so it's not ironic.

(Will be published in the March 2010 issue of Denver's Community News.)

I'm collecting all of these (but I’m way behind) at:

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Avatar made me blue

Because I wasted time and money watching it.

Mind you, it’s not because of the movie’s pinko, liberal, anti-imperialist, fuzzy-minded, bleeding-heart, liberal, tree-hugger message. I’m a pinko, liberal, anti-imperialist, etc. myself. I’m part of this movie’s natural audience. And yet I hated it.

Basic story: Alien world has mineral Earth badly wants and needs. Human beings set about strip mining the place. World’s inhabitants, ten-foot tall blue aliens with tails, are upset. Humans create their own ten-foot tall blue aliens with tails, telepathically controlled by humans and called avatars, to deal with the aliens. Our hero, one of those telepathic controllers, ends up preferring being an alien, switches sides, and leads a successful alien revolt.

Not wanting to wear the special glasses, we decided to skip the 3-D version and watch it in 2-D. I accepted that it wouldn’t be as visually interesting in 2-D, but I didn’t expect all of the characters to be two-dimensional. I don’t think the special glasses would have helped with that. I don’t mind good guys vs. bad guys, and I always prefer it when the good guys end up winning. But it helps when both good and bad guys are also real people, with believable motivations and human characteristics.

Speaking of which, the Simpsons are more human and believable than Avatar’s CGI aliens and their world. Hell, the actors in rubber suits and the papier-mâché rocks on the original Star Trek TV show (the only real Star Trek TV show!) were more believable than Avatar’s aliens and their world. For all the high tech and big bucks, the blue aliens and their lush world are a cartoon from beginning to end. I never believed any of it.

Details bothered me. For instance, the aliens we see the most of live in a giant tree. But their feet are flat and inflexible, with short toes, just like ours. The movie makers didn’t think about what the aliens’ feet should have looked like. They just copied human feet. Big budget for CGI, but small budget for thinking.

Don’t assume that I’m an elitist snob who normally prefers serious movies that delve into the human condition and were made in France. I avoid such movies like the plague. I insist on escape. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, comedy, and preferably a few good explosions and shootouts – that’s what draws me to the theater. I was looking forward to escaping into the alien world of Avatar. I tried hard for the movie’s full 18 hours but never succeeded.

The plot is clichéd and predictable from one scene to the next. The action scenes are devoid of tension. Not only are they cartoonish, they’re dull cartoonish. Think of the absurdity of the truck-freeway-jet-fighter segment in the last Die Hard movie, and replace Bruce Willis and the truck and the freeway and the jet fighter with cartoon blue aliens and flying lizards and humans in armed flying machines. Character deaths are predictable and devoid of emotion, and character escapes from peril violate both physics and physiology.

The relationships are passionless. We are expected to believe in them, but the actors, whether human or CGId into aliens, give us no reason to do so.

The alien society is an awkward mix of generic tribal American Indian and generic tribal African. This is symbolism of shameless nakedness. It punches us in the mouth and orders us to feel guilty for the sins of European and American expansion.

The aliens’ embarrassingly silly Earth-mother religion is glossed over with a pretense of science that is as unconvincing as the aliens themselves. They are deeply in tune with their world (take that, you urbanized, industrialized EuroAmericans!), but that doesn’t stop them from murdering peaceful herbivores for food, even though they’re surrounded by a bountiful forest with plentiful and delicious fruit. Okay, so they say mystical garbage to the herbivores before they finish them off. Big deal. The herbivore, gasping in agony from the arrow our hero has shot into him in one scene, might be wondering why the blue chap is now sticking a humongous knife into him. “In the name of the earth mother,” the herbivore might be thinking, “why aren’t you a vegetarian?”

In the end, the good guys win and the bad guys lose. But the bad guys are the empire, with its vast resources and advanced technology, especially ways of blowing things up real good, whereas the good guys are just primitive blue aliens. In real history, empires often lose such first skirmishes due to underestimating the primitives and the terrain and the logistics. Empires learn from these failures and return with overwhelming force. That’s why I’m writing this in a Western language, using Western technology, while living in what used to be land occupied by non-Westerners.

So in reality, the blue aliens would lose in the long run. If they were lucky, they’d end up on reservations. If not, they’d be eliminated. Either way, the end result would be the strip mining of the planet.

Or perhaps the aliens will accept the inevitable and make a deal with the mining company. They’ll grant mining concessions to the humans, and in return they’ll be given human weapons, which they will use to conquer and enslave the other clans of aliens whom we glimpse at the end of the movie. We’ve already seen that these simple, gentle, loving, living-in-harmony-with-nature aliens have a warrior caste and a warrior ethos. Hmm. Where did those guys come from?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Mirror malfunctions

We’ve lived in this house for just over 38 years, and in general it’s held up fairly well. However, I’ve become increasingly aware that the mirrors are deteriorating. It’s not just the few remaining original mirrors either. There’s something in the house that seems to have damaged the newer ones, as well.

When we moved in, the mirrors showed me the man I expected to see. But increasingly, the degraded surfaces have distorted my image, giving me sagging jowls and wrinkled skin, and they seem unable to reflect my full head of hair.

I’m also becoming disenchanted with digital cameras. When we first switched to them, I thought they were a huge improvement over the old kind, with the bother of loading film and getting it developed and printed. But when I look at the pictures we took of me with those old gadgets and compare them to the pictures taken of me with our digital cameras, the difference is shocking. It’s a lot like the problem with the mirrors.

On the bright side, CGI keeps improving. Maybe that will provide the solution to both of these technological problems.