This blog is still alive, just in semi-hibernation.
When I want to write something longer than a tweet about something other than math or sci-fi, here is where I'll write it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Time for inclusive action.


Most of my readers will be surprised to see this logo on my blog. No, I'm not a member.

I just think that reaching out to this organization is the best way to start the conversation.

The NRA is proud of their record of education when it comes to gun safety. Time to put that pride to good use.

The numbers are very clear that it's far too easy for emotionally and mentally disturbed people to get access to firearms. For me, the statistic that makes this crystal clear are the suicide rates.

The murder rate across the country is about 4 out of 100,000. That's also about the suicide rate for women. In comparison, about 10 in 100,000 people each year die in auto accidents.

The suicide rate for men is 19 in 100,000. To make matters worse, women actually attempt suicide about three times more often than men do. Men actually kill themselves more often in these attempts because they are massively more likely to use a gun.

Guns aren't a bulwark against tyranny. In modern society, they are a hobby, not unlike riding horses is a hobby. In the 18th Century, both of these things were important parts of everyday life. Now, not so much.

I don't want to stop the gun hobbyist any more than I want to stop the horse hobbyist.

I want to see less massacres and I want to see less people who have a suicidal urge having access to a weapon that is nearly 100% effective if used in a certain manner. That manner takes a split second to execute and is irreversible.

We should call the bluff of the NRA on their pride in gun safety education. It starts with making it illegal to buy a gun by mail or Internet. The next step is effective background tests. After that, a gun license should have to renewed like a driver's license. If you can't use a gun safely and effectively anymore, you shouldn't be able to use it legally.

It saddens me so deeply how split our culture is, how the right wing has been sold the idea that anything they hear that does not come from a right wing source is a lie. I know the conspiracy theorists will never believe any change in the gun laws isn't the first step towards the U.N. troops coming to disarm all Americans.

Screw them.

Mike Huckabee, time to shut up. Even when there was school prayer there was the dichotomy between male and female suicide rates. Ted Nugent, time to shut up. The tool does make a difference, as we can see from the school attacks today in Connecticut with 27 dead and a madman in China attacking a school in China armed with a knife, none dead.

We aren't trying to take away your stupid little hobby. We want people to own guns to be responsible. That's something the mentally unstable can't do by definition. We want to take away their guns, not yours.

Time to man up and show us you're sane. If you aren't up to it, you don't deserve a gun.

Here endeth the lesson.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What is this blog coming to anyway?


Like many of my blog buddies from back in the day, I'm doing more on Facebook and Twitter than I am doing in day to day blogging.

That will change in January. I have ideas for two new blogs with very different focuses.

Being a mathematician, I should say very different foci.

One will be a daily math blog. I have no question that I can say something new about math every day for a year, possibly longer if I allow repetition in the second year.

The other one is something completely different. I think it will be fun.

For the most part, this blog will be links to the new blogs as will my Twitter account and my Facebook page.

New stuff coming soon!  Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wine gets better, cheese goes bad:
The Most Dangerous Game 1932


I picked up four DVDs from the Oakland Public Library last week and every one disappointed.

I tried Evil Under the Sun with David Suchet as Poirot. He is physically much more like the Belgian than Peter Ustinov, but the rest of the cast isn't up to the task. No Maggie Smith, no Diana Rigg, no Roddy McDowell, no James Mason!

No sale.

I tried a remake of Mister Roberts. Robert Hays instead of Henry Fonda. Howard Hesseman instead of William Powell. Kevin Bacon instead of Jack Lemmon.

Need I go on?

I rented a Miss Marple film with Margaret Rutherford from the 1960's Murder Most Foul.  A little out of date.

But all of these are towering classics compared to the 1932 version of The Most Dangerous Game. The four score years between this film and now have not been kind. The camera is clumsy, but the technology forced it to be. The real problem is the acting, the dialog and the plot. As I said in the title, wine can get better with age but cheese just goes bad.  This is serious cheese.

Writing from a former era doesn't have to be this bad. No work of art has to have a shelf life, even though styles may change. Thinking about music from this era, I inevitably come to my hero Fats Waller. The recording technology of his day worked against him in every way, but through the static and poor fidelity it's obvious to anyone he was a genius, and more obvious still if you have ever played piano. He's a fat guy with thick fingers, but his touch can be as light as a souffle, the speed of his right hand and the strength of his left are beyond belief. He's not just brilliant, he's having fun being brilliant and being brilliant at having fun. He put Art Tatum on a pedestal, much faster than he was and a stunning virtuoso, but listening to Tatum, I am constantly gobsmacked, I can't believe that's just one guy. Listening to Waller, I'm smiling even before I realize it.

The Most Dangerous Game comes out a year before King Kong, also from RKO with several people in the cast and crew in common. The plot is pretty well known, so I don't think it's that much a spoiler that the most dangerous game is man. A hunter stuck on a remote island has put up two buoys to lure ships to crash, and those that survive the shark-invested waters to get to his island are then hunted by him at night after he has taken them in and nursed them to something close to health. Joel McCrea stars as a famous hunter who is shipwrecked and Count Zaroff is honored to finally have an equal to hunt, a game he calls "outdoor chess". The problem with the writing is that McCrea isn't clever enough to play "outdoor rock-scissors-paper".

Every trap he sets doesn't take into account how familiar Zaroff is with the terrain. McCrea takes the girl with him, played by the always over-acting Fay Wray, a very bad idea but central to the plot. After setting the first clumsy trap, they get to the top of a hard climb thinking they will have room to find a place to hide, but then they see how small the crest of the hill is and despair.

Idiots!  You have the high ground. Check for all the possible ways up and set up rockslides.

Game over.

The End.

Roll credits.

Oh, no. That makes too much sense.

It really is remarkable to see how much film acting improves from the early thirties to the early forties.  The facial acting of the late silent films is way over the top, but by the time Bogart hits his stride, things become much more subtle. Think about him sitting alone in his room drinking in Casablanca, waiting for Ingrid Bergman to arrive.

No subtlety in The Most Dangerous Game, no concept that McCrea is the smartest guy in the room. He sets two stupid traps, Zaroff easily escapes both, McCrea escapes only because Zaroff shoots the dog instead of him and McCrea lives through a very long fall.

Compare this to Wesley and Buttercup running for their lives in The Princess Bride and you will see this deserves to be a classic the way Bulldog Drummond deserves to be counted among the great detectives.

Criterion Collection has preserved this film and loads it down with film school commentary. Bite me. I've seen better films on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I won't say it's as bad as "Manos": The Hands of Fate, but it don't think it compares well shot for shot with the best of the Gamera films.

Because...

Gamera is really neat,
He is made of turtle meat,
We'll be eating Gamera!

Seriously, avoid The Most Dangerous Game. Anyone who tells you it is a classic should be kidnapped and forced to watch it.

And now that there is some blood on The Big Ugly Stick, I will clean it carefully and put it back under its velvet cover, waiting for the moment it must come out again.