The Dim-Post

December 27, 2009


Filed under: movies — danylmc @ 9:26 am

Scattered thoughts.

  • It was pretty good; solid action sequences and the production design is very impressive. He spent around $300 million and it shows, although the script is awesomly banal. I don’t understand why you’d go to all the trouble of inventing a new language and 500 different species for the planet and not spend a couple extra days polishing up the screenplay.
  • That said, I hardly ever watch Hollywood movies, so if you’re comparing it to other blockbusters like 2012 or Transformers I imagine it’s a masterpiece of storytelling.
  • Some critics have accused it of being derivative of Aliens. I think that misses the point. It’s obviously a revisionist commentary on Aliens in which we’re booing the marines and cheering for the Alien. Casting Weaver as a scientist who studies and protects the Alien and mirroring the final fight scenes from the two films makes that pretty clear, although I’m not sure why Cameron felt he had to throw that in there along with all the Iraq/Vietnam/Native American/Environmentalism themes.
  • Cheering the alien/booing the marine makes this one of the most subversive Hollywood movies I’ve seen.
  • The big difference between Avatar and Cameron’s previous films is that there’s no strong central performance to find the characters through Cameron’s godawful writing and hold the film together.
  • The real technological breakthough – for me – was the performance capture technology. It can’t be long until they’re using it to shoot movies starring dead celebrities and historic figures.
  • I thought the 3D experience was interesting but not amazing (this was my first 3D movie). It doesn’t show us anything we can’t see or experience in 2D  and Cameron hasn’t figured out a way to compose his shots to take advantage of the new technology the way, say, Greg Toland and Orson Welles did with deep focus. It is pretty cool to see things floating in the air just in front of your face, but to me 3D still seems like a gimmick to get people to watch movies in the theatre instead of at home on DVD.
  • Speaking of which, watching a movie at Reading in Courtney Place is a pretty shitty experience. The tickets were almost $20 each; we had to queue for ages to get them because the cinema only had one person at the box office on one of the busiest days of the year. Then they made us queue for fifteen minutes to get into the theatre, then they showed us twenty minutes of ads. I guess I’ll pay all that money and endure all that shittiness a couple times a decade when a ‘cultural phenomenon’ like Avatar rolls around but in general I’ll keep watching movies in the comfort of my home for less than 1/10th of the price of going to the theatre.
  • I’m not sure Avatar will work that well on DVD (unless you have a massive plasma tv). I liked it but can’t see myself watching it again (I’ve seen Titanic a few times now, on a plane or on tv. It stands the test of time pretty well; I predict Avatar will look pretty clunky in five years. Pandora already looks a bit kitschy and dated).
  • I suspect the story seems clunky because Cameron turned in a 3.5+ hour movie and they had to trim a lot; I wouldn’t be that surprised to see a ~200 minute directors cut show up in a couple years.
  • Hollywood film-makers really need to get over their Joseph Campbell obsession.

December 25, 2009

Inspirational Christmas Poem

Filed under: art — danylmc @ 4:56 am

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and
And running away, and wanting their
liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the
lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns
And the villages dirty and charging high
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears,
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a
temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of
With a running stream and a water-mill
beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped in
away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with
vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for
pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no imformation, and so
we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment
too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say)

All this was a long time ago, I
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This:  were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?  There was a Birth,
We had evidence and no doubt.  I had
seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different;
this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like
Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these
But no longer at ease here, in the old
With an alien people clutching their
I should be glad of another death.

T.S. Eliot. Journey of the Magi

December 23, 2009

Christmas Card

Filed under: art — danylmc @ 9:29 am

The DimPost and its parent company (The Lanthanide, Nitrogen Tetrafloride & Heavy Metals corporation of North Korea) wishes its readers a very Merry Christmas.

December 22, 2009

It’s a festivus miracle!

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 6:34 am

There’s a tradition/marketing gimmick in the UK about the honor of having the chart-topping single at Christmas time. (I never heard of this tradition when I lived in London, possibly because most of my friends were too incapacitated by drugs to tune their radios.)

Apparently for the past few years this contest has been won by Simon Callow and the winner of the latest season of ‘The X Factor’ with some loathsome ballad and this year was doomed to the same, with X Factor winner, Joe McElderry churning out a cover of a Myley Cyrus song. Until the internet kicked in and a grass-roots campaign on Facebook sent Killing in the Name of by Rage Against the Machine to number one, selling over half a million copies on iTunes.

RATM are donating the windfall to a charity for the homeless. They were interviewed on BBC radio and performed their song, which the BBC (rather foolishly) assumed they would self-censor. (Sample lyrics ‘Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me, Motherfucker!’.)

The coup-de-grace is this interview from the runner-up, Simon Callow’s creature Joe McEdlerry (pictured above) and his reaction to the song:

“They can’t be serious!” he said. “I had no idea what it sounded like. It’s dreadful and I hate it. How could anyone enjoy this? Can you imagine the grandmas hearing this over Christmas lunch?

“I wouldn’t buy it. It’s a nought out of ten from me. Simon Cowell wouldn’t like it. They wouldn’t get through to boot camp on The X Factor – they’re just shouting.”

They sure are. Not really safe for work, but Hey! It’s Christmas!

December 19, 2009


Filed under: science — danylmc @ 6:27 pm

The Herald has an op-ed written by physicist Jeff Tallon on atheism and the existence of God. Tallon makes the case for God based on the fine-tuning argument:

Is there in all probability no God? Can we account for the physical universe, the biological world and the nature of humankind without any recourse to a Creator? What is the likelihood that we are here merely by chance?

For the first time in our history we can start to quantify parts of this question in probabilistic terms. The result is surprising.

Let’s start with the physical universe. The field of cosmology tells us that the universe is exquisitely finely balanced.

Its density, back at the first moments of the “big bang”, was critically balanced to better than one part in one billion billion billion billion.

A fraction more dense and it all would have collapsed again. A fraction less dense and it all would have evaporated – no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no mother Earth.

A little this way and protons do not form. A little that way and neutrons don’t form. Tweak another way and no particles at all. Tweak another way and everything is hydrogen only.

Now if the universe were truly random this would not happen. It would be chaos with no structure.

If the existence of a God were the only solution to this problem then it would be a pretty compelling argument. But off the top of my head I can posit several alternatives, wiser minds than mine could no doubt offer more:

  • Only one kind of universe is logically possible so a universe with, say, a different weak nuclear force or less spatial dimensions simply could not exist.
  • All possible universes exist.
  • Some as-yet-unknown property of the universe requires an observer, so the possibility of life is a pre-condition for the universe.
  • The universe is infinite and it’s properties vary from region to region so there will be an infinite number of areas where the criteria for intelligent life to exist are met.

I’m not a fancy big city physicist but my understanding is that inflation theory favors the last option; that our universe is surrounded by inflationary vacuum expanding at many times the speed of light, containing a very large and possibly infinite number of varied universes.

Tallon moves onto the argument against evolutionary complexity with the very familiar reasoning known as Hoyle’s fallacy:

The biological world is constructed around amazingly complex molecules like proteins, DNA, RNA.

Each of these is like a sentence constructed of letters and words. It has been said that 1000 monkeys pecking randomly at 1000 typewriters will eventually type out all of Shakespeare’s works and The Encyclopaedia Britannica. The comparison is clear: wait long enough and the precursor to a protein, albeit complex, would naturally self-assemble.

Well, look at the odds for just the three words “The Encyclopedia Britannica”. It is easy to show that not even a billion monkeys typing on a billion typewriters for the lifetime of the universe will have a chance of coming up with just those three words.

Yet this problem is totally dwarfed by that of constructing a protein like nitrogenase. This is the catalyst that splits the bonds in a nitrogen gas molecule to make soluble nitrates.

Richard Dawkins demolished this argument in The Blind Watchmaker. He pointed out that evolution doesn’t work like that. Nitrogenase didn’t just spring into being, it evolved from simpler precursors via natural selection. To use the typing monkey analogy, line up 25 (or so) monkeys each of whom can only type a single randomly determined letter. If they type a letter that correctly corresponds to their corresponding letter in ‘The Encyclopedia Britannica’ (if the second monkey types the letter ‘h’, say) then it stays in the typing pool, incorrect monkeys are replaced with a new monkey that types another random letter. If you do this a couple times a minute then you get your row of monkeys correctly typing ‘The Encyclopedia Britannica’ in about an hour, depending on the breaks.

Of course evolution doesn’t work like this – organic molucules in the primordial ocean weren’t trying to arrange themselves into nitrogenase – but it does illustrate the enormous power of natural selection when applied to a random process.

Tallon concludes:

I could be wrong, but the bus slogan “There’s probably no God” is probably, nay, almost certainly, incorrect. It is a purely dogmatic statement that is not informed by science. And we haven’t even considered the nature of mind, mathematics, morals and mankind.

I don’t know how or why the universe exists, or how life on our planet began, so I have to admit that God might turn out to be the answer. But all throughout history people have used ‘God’ as an answer to difficult problems like the origin of thunder, or the cause of sickness, or why crops grow in spring, and they’ve always turned out to be wrong. So I really think you want to use God as an explanation of absolute last resort. It took thousands of years to understand the pathology of disease, we might want to wait more than a couple of years before we declare that the fine-tuning problem is unsolvable without appealing to divine intervention.

Edgeler bait

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:19 am

What would happen if Hide resigned from Parliament and National won the subsequent Epsom by-election? Would all the ACT MPs vanish or would they remain until the general election in 2011?

Awesome plan!

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:13 am

Audrey Young at the Herald has an exclusive (I guess it was leaked to her by the PMs office) about an abortive leadership coup in the ACT party:

Rodney Hide survived moves to oust him as Act Party leader last month after Prime Minister John Key privately indicated National’s deal with Act would be off if the minister were dumped.

And it is believed that at the height of controversies in the two support parties – the Act leadership and the Maori Party’s turmoil over MP Hone Harawira – Mr Key briefly considered a snap election to gain National an outright majority.

Act founder Sir Roger Douglas, with deputy leader and Consumer Affairs Minister Heather Roy, is understood to have led moves in the party against Mr Hide during the controversy over the international travel costs of his partner.

Sir Roger hasn’t lost his political acumen. ACT exists because Hide has the Epsom electorate seat. What the fuck happens to the party if you roll the guy as leader and he resigns from parliament?

Truth to power and all that

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 7:09 am

Possibly the quintessential John Armstrong column.

(Tracy Watkins has a really good year-ender in the Dom-Post, frustratingly not online.)

December 18, 2009

National announces plans to lower and not lower taxes in 2010

Filed under: Politics,satire — danylmc @ 12:57 pm

In the wake of Treasury’s HYEFU statement predicting a gradual economic recovery, recommendations from government task forces and business uncertainty around the future of New Zealand’s tax structure The National Government has announced plans to both lower and not lower taxes in the upcoming budget.

‘For purposes of revenue estimates, forecasts and government spending there will be no personal or corporate tax cuts next year,’ Finance Minister Bill English told reporters at a press conference. ‘Let us be very clear on that point. But having said that, there will be massive cuts to personal and corporate tax.’

Although the announcement was made by English, insiders point to Prime Minister John Key for the break through. ‘As Prime Minister I have taken a strong super-position on this issue,’ Key announced in a press release.

Senior National sources suggest that a similar solution to the Foreshore and Seabed issue will be introduced late next year, with ownership and customary rights both awarded and not awarded to iwi.

Labour has responded forcefully with two press releases; one from David Cunliffe supporting the proposal, the other from Shane Jones attacking it. A spokesperson for Phil Goff explained that the Labour leader simultaneously supports and opposes the new scheme.

It is understood that when Mr Goff is directly asked for his opinion he will collapse into a definite state.

The new policy is known within National Party circles as ‘the Copenhagen Interpretation’, so named because the Prime Minister was eating a Copenhagen ice-cream when he conceived of it early this morning while attending the COP15 talks in Denmark.

December 17, 2009

Something for the ladies

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 7:28 am

Order your Sarah Palin tee-shirt early for Christmas. I think New Zealand equivalents would sell briskly in Wellington: I’d opt for a Peter Dunne, although a Sharples or vintage Michael Cullen long-sleeve would also be pretty cool.

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