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April 2003 Archives

Movie: The Core

[ IMDb Entry ] [ Rating Key ]

Toast Toast Toast and a half

The Core knows exactly what it is, and it's not ashamed. It's the kind of movie where someone says it's impossible to drill down to the center of the Earth and someone else says, "But what if we can!" and proceeds to show everyone how. Major world cities meet horrible devastation, and the Joint Chiefs convene emergency meetings, while our intrepid heroes go from place to place in helicopters. The entire plot is pure cliché.. but it's just so fun!

It knows how silly it is; the burrowing "ship" withstands huge pressures with a material called "unobtanium". The Core doesn't make the mistake of getting bogged down in too much exposition. I appreciated how the three month construction of the ship is squashed into a one-minute montage sequence. I wanted action and adventure without too much filler, and that's what I got.

One important thing is that the dialogue is quite pleasant and makes you like the characters. It's not just a bunch of dull banter with a few one-liners tossed in. It feels like someone actually spent some time writing the screenplay. The death scenes are each quite good in their own way, too. I particularly liked the last one, which succeeds in being funny in a sort of poignant way.

The action is well-paced and pretty interesting, partly because the journey to the center of the earth thing hasn't been done to death as much as space flight. The movie takes a lot of liberties with science, of course, but it does show us some pretty inventive new things that might be be described as "inpired by" science. :) I enjoyed all the apocalyptic city destruction. The Earth loses its magnetic field in the movie, and this gimmick allows for a variety of disasters, which is nice. I also thought the first problem they encounter underground (the static, for those who've seen it) was pretty clever.

(One thing I noticed in both this and in Shanghai Knights is that I enjoy scenes set in London more now that I've lived there, since I can get the satisfaction of recognizing the Houses of Parliament and such.)

Hm.. I was just thinking it's kind of interesting that I didn't feel as much of a need to complain about the bad science in The Core as I did when I watched Armageddon. I think it's because when a movie is boring, I amuse myself by thinking about all the scientific errors, but when a movie is actually fun to watch, I can just lose myself in it, and that's what happened when I watched The Core.

Movie: Shanghai Knights

[ IMDb Entry ] [ Rating Key ]

Toast Toast

It's hard not to like a movie with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. They just exude so much cheerfulness and good will. They made me smile. The only problem is that I was smiling as I cringed. I won't complain about the plot in a Jackie Chan movie, but so many of the jokes were really obvious and unimaginative. It's like they just assumed that putting Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson in late 19th Century London would be funny itself on its own without bothering to write good jokes. I mean, the setting was funny, but I was left feeling that an opportunity was wasted for a much funnier movie.

I still think Jackie Chan is funniest when he does physical comedy, and his action scenes here, particularly one involving a revolving door and one involving a London market, were very well-choreographed.

Altogether, there have been better Jackie Chan movies, but it did still make me want to see the next in the series. An eternal optimist, I just hope that the next one will be funnier.

Big Sugar

It's the World Health Organization vs. the World Sugar Organization. Doesn't sound too hard to pick a side, does it? The WHO has filed a report recommending that sugar be no more than 10% of your diet. The US sugar industry says 25% is perfectly fine, and they're lobbying the Bush administration to cut WHO's funding unless they pull the report. (Link from Paul.)

Honda Ad

Honda made the coolest car commercial ever. [Link removed.] Apparently, they used no computer graphics, but it took them 606 takes to get it right. Wow.

Update (Jun-02): I've taken the movie down because it was chewing up too much bandwidth. Sorry. Please look for it in some other Google hit. I've written more about this in this new post.

Update (Jun-30): If you live in the UK, you can get a free DVD with hi-res QuickTime versions on the DVD-ROM portion from this Honda UK page.

Burger King Basra

Most aid agencies still think Iraq isn't safe enough to enter, but Burger King and Pizza Hut have set up shop in Basra. They're just trailers on a British military base, actually, but still. Capitalism, onward ho.

Kurds are now kicking Arabs out of their homes. Ethnic backlash, onward ho.

Secondary effects of suicide bombers

So I just read this NY Times article about what things were like on the front line. One thing that really caught my attention was how the US Marines were very wary of suicide car bombers, who had taken several Marine lives. So when cars approached, their snipers would fire warning shots or try to hit the tires or engine. When that failed, they just riddled the car with bullets.

In many cases, they ended up killing civilians who were just trying to flee the fighting and who didn't understand warning shots.

When this sort of thing first happened a few weeks ago, there was a big uproar and the military promised an "investigation". Obviously, the Marines should do all they can do minimize civilian casualties, and any negligence should be punished, but accidents are bound to happen. Question is: who's to blame when they do?

  • You could blame the instigators of the war in general, since without the war, the whole situation would never have happened... but that becomes a larger debate of course.
  • You could blame the Marines and say they should not fire because they should value civilian lives above their own. I'm not sure how to think about this one in this case. It depends on the likelihood of an incoming civilian vehicle being a suicide bomber. Given that they were in a war, and there was even a case where a seemingly pregnant woman rushed out of a car to lure soldiers toward it before the driver detonated it, I'd say it's hard to blame the Marines here.
  • You could blame suicide bombers for creating this threat and making Marines afraid of civilian vehicles. Related to this is the issue of people fighting out of uniform. This also leads to the wider questions of the legitimacy of terrorism and guerrilla warfare in general. (i.e., It's easy for the side with more firepower to ask for a fair fight, etc.)

So I guess the answer is, as it always is with war, "It's complicated." Maybe this sort of thing just can't really be avoided. War is always tragic, and I guess that's just how things work.

All Around Britain

So I took a trip around Great Britain, and here are some tidbits.

[Peacock Wooing Peahen]

I loved how these peacocks (at Warwick Castle) kept trying to woo the peahens, and the peahens would have none of it. This one time, as a peahen walked over, a peacock started rattling its plummage at her. She ignored it and kept on walking. Another peahen walked over, and the peacock quickly turned and started rattling its plummage at the new one. Not very picky, was he? (Isn't anthropomorphizing fun?)

[Royal Mineral Water Hospital]

Bath, England has a natural hot spring that the Romans used for a public bath. The water was said to have healing properties, and I'm guessing that's where this place comes in.

[Fire Exit Room]

A fire exit at a hotel. Nothing remarkable... except that this was my room! There was a fire escape out my window, so anyone could just take that little hammer, break the glass, and get the key to my room. A tad bit disconcerting, it was.

POP QUIZ: What's wrong with the following picture?

[Photography shop with only furniture on display]

Hint: See the signs, then see the windows.

Below are some signs. The one on the left was posted at the entrance to a spiral staircase.

[Some signs]

Look look! Welsh TV!

[Welsh TV]

Welsh is such a bizarre language. So many consonants! (I mean, seriously, does "brwydr" look like a real word to you? :P ) In Swansea, Wales, one of the five channels was in Welsh. They had some talk show and also a cartoon about Vikings. This here was a program listing.

And finally...

[Lamb]

Some ridiculously cute lambs with their mothers! (Photos are a bit blurry because I took them from a moving vehicle, and my camera doesn't have a high-speed option.) There are so many sheep in Britain. Everywhere we drove, there were tons of sheep. There just aren't many sheep in the States, are there?

I saw an interview on TV with city dwellers who moved to the country. One couple hated it, and one guy loved it. That guy was holding a really cute lamb. He said he actually feels better about eating his own animals because he knows they've had a good life (before he slaughters them). He also doesn't name his sheep unless they're breeders or other types who don't get slaughtered.

Lambs are sooooo cute. At the same time, I've eaten more lamb here than I ever have in the States. It's so very tasty! Yum! *Turns off empathy.* :P

Backing up a threat

In other news, as I had hoped, the war that started as I went on vacation is now over before the end of my vacationing. Rumsfeld's strategy of using minimal force turned out okay after all. He's now proved to the world that the US can take over a decently-sized country at relatively little cost, and without overwhelming force. Now everyone will take our threats more seriously, and it's probably a good thing to have the ability to back up our threats when we do make them... But they'll also be more scared of us, and that could be dangerous in and of itself, since people get dangerous when they see us as aggressive.

Australians and Vacations

Back from my tour of Great Britain. Most of the people on the tour were Australian (plus a couple of New Zealanders, aka "Kiwis"). Most of them didn't have your stereotypical "CRIKEY!" / "G'day, mate!" / "THIS is a knife!" accents... At least, the real Australian accents (and there was a range) seem to be a cross between the stereotypical one and an American accent. (Their actual standard greeting, btw, seems to be, "How ya goin'?" [sic])

Having been in London for a while, it was also interesting to how Australians sometimes use the British word for something and sometimes use the American word. In Australia, "pants" are trousers and not underwear, but "lemonade" is Sprite and not water with lemon juice and sugar.

Another thing I hadn't realized was how sparsely populated Australia is. They've got under 20 million people! (And Sydney and Melbourne each have some 5 million, accounting for half the population of the country!)

Here's my theory: Australia has much closer ties to the UK than to the US. They still have the Queen as their chief of state, and just look at how many Australians were on this trip to the Britain. Australian soap and pop stars are also enormously popular in the UK. However, Australians are probably much more easily influenced by American pop culture than the British because they don't have as much history and tradition of their own.... And so Australian culture is sort of a cross between the two.

The close ties are one reason there were so many Australians on this trip, but there are others. This was a 12-day trip, and Americans only get 2 weeks standard vacation a year. Australians (and most Europeans) get at least 4 weeks vacation a year! Poor us! Yet another reason that came to me is that Americans don't tend to travel on their own much. It's very European to go traveling on your own, backpacking around and all that, but Americans are more used to going out with a bunch of friends (and driving, usually).

I feel like I got two tours for the price of one. I visited the rest of Britain, and Australia visited me. :)

Aztec Baby Names

Judevac pointed this out: Aztec Baby Names.

Update Sept-13-2006: My server logs show that most of my hits find my hello kitty toaster post, that Dubai hotel tennis game in the sky post, and this post, about Aztec baby names. Sadly, that link was dead not long after I posted this over 3 years ago, so here's some help:

As of right now, searching Google for aztec baby names gives you this page of Aztec baby names. So try that! And if that page is dead some time in the future, just try Googling for aztec baby names. :P

SARS mask fashion

People in Asia are wearing breathing masks to protect themselves from the Mystery Virus. What do you do when you have to wear a big ugly mask all day? You make turn it into a new area of fashion!

Some Photos from Jesse's Visit

To the left is a sign from the men's room at a London Underground station. To the right is a traffic light from Graz, Austria telling stunt bikers that they can cross now.

[Loo of the Year]     [BMX Crossing]

Also from Graz is this funky double spiral staircase where the two spirals join once per revolution.

[double spiral staircase]

Again from Graz is this tunnel with a funky modern art exhibit called the "Cave of Memories". There are neon signs with modern artsy slogans, one of which is illuminating Jesse here. (This shot reminds me of a scene from Return of the Jedi where the lighting was symbolic of Luke trying to choose a side of the Force.)

[Cave of Memories]

Speaking of Return of the Jedi, I saw this at a toy store in Salzburg. Official Princess Leia slave-girl outfit lego figure!

[Jabba the Hutt Lego]

Krimml Falls in western Austria.

[Krimml Falls]

(Jesse took that last photo. That's me looking up.)

Blogging from the Alps!

I am hiking in the Alps as we speak. (5pm) I'm at Krimml, Austria, having just seen the gorgeous Krimml Falls. The snow-covered peaks here are just all OVER the place! Everywhere you look is another awesome peak!

I'm writing this via Jesse's nifty cell/PDA. Why? Because I CAN!

Hope you're all jealous now :)

(D'oh. I can type it and save it, but I can't seem to publish it. I guess Movable Type requires javascript for that. how lame. I'm gonna have to cheat a little and ask Eva to click publish for me. :P)

Update (from London): Of course, being able to IM Eva to ask for help from the Alps is pretty cool in and of itself. :)

What Iraqis really think

It's hard to tell what Iraqis really think. They chant their "my life for Saddam" slogans, but we know they're under pressure from Saddam. Still, we also have some doubts. For instance, we get stories about thousands of Iraqi expatriots moving back to Iraqi to fight against the invasion. Arab News, the English-language Saudi newspapers, often reports such stories. The Arab News can hardly be considered un-biased, though.

So it was with some relief that I read a series of articles by an Arab News journalist who spent a few days in southern Iraq. [1st] [2nd] [3rd] It seems that the locals really are mainly just terrified of Saddam Hussein. One interviewee summed it up:

"There are people from Baath here reporting everything that goes on. There are cameras here recording our faces. If the Americans were to withdraw and everything were to return to the way it was before, we want to make sure that we survive the massacre that would follow as Baath go house to house killing anyone who voiced opposition to Saddam. In public, we always pledge our allegiance to Saddam, but in our hearts we feel something else."

So my guess is that, given what happened in '91 and the current state of the war, the Iraqi people simply don't yet have confidence that the US will be successful in deposing Saddam. Let's hope that it'll change when (if? :P) victory becomes more imminent.

Rumsfeld's handiwork

We went into Iraq with an "efficiently" small ground force. After charging in, and a massive bombing campaign, Iraqi resistance was supposed to just fall apart. Well, that didn't happen. We have a supply line that's way too long, and the Iraqi military is using guerilla tactics to make hit-and-run attacks on it. As for the cities, I read that it takes 6 soldiers to clear a single building, which is one reason why it's taking so long to secure the southern cities.

Anyone who's played a game like Starcraft or even Risk knows that the more troops you attack with at once, the fewer casualties you suffer. As Paul said to me the other day:

"One thing i've learned from playing thousands of wargames is that it's always really tempting to try to achieve an objective with the minimal force you think is necessary, since it seems so quick and efficient. But if the defense turns out to be stronger than expected, you're hosed. Thus, it's always better to attack with the maximal force possible, even if that means waiting a little longer at the beginning."

This isn't just Paul playing arm-chair general; listen to the Pentagon. As revealed in this New Yorker article, top brass at the Pentagon have been complaining that Rumsfeld kept insisting on attacking with fewer troops, kept insisting that Iraqi resistance would just fall apart, kept insisting on micromanaging the war against Pentagon advice. Rumsfeld also seems to have a personal grudge against many of the generals promoted during the Clinton administration. Here's a short summary of that article.

We have all these forces that are sitting at home because Rumsfeld insisted on minimal ground troops, and our soldiers who are in Iraq are now paying the price.

Here's a rebuttal of that previous article which says the people we should really blame are France and Turkey, and that if Turkey had let us base troops there, the "fast and light" approach would have been more successful. I agree that international support would have helped, but shouldn't we approach the war given the situation at hand, not the situation we'd like to have?

About April 2003

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in April 2003. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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