21 January 2012

The real free market

About a week ago, I was listening to The Stephanie Miller show. A caller phoned in with the typical conservative talking point about how social-welfare programs enabled poverty and kept African-Americans and other minorities down. As I expected, the host and her mooks parroted the usual Democratic and ineffectual counter arguments but it occurred to me as I listened that a better response might have been along these lines:

"Dear caller, the reason we need anti-poverty programs is because of the economic system we've locked ourselves into. There is a 'free market.' It's called the 'labor market,' and it's where individual workers are pitted against each other in a ruthless race to the bottom of the wage scale. Meanwhile, oligopolistic corporations use their bought-and-paid-for politicians to rig the system so they can confiscate as much wealth as they can get away with, starving the commonwealth.

"If you want to reduce people's dependence on social welfare, at the very least you're going to have to radically redistribute wealth in a fairer way, and give workers the right to flex their muscle in the work place (i.e., "unions")."

Star Wars in 3D (sigh)

There's a bill board opposite the building where I work that's advertising the upcoming release of The Phantom Menace in 3D:

Two things struck me as I walked toward the office the first day I saw it. One, reissuing it in 3D, 4D or in every hidden dimension string theory predicts will not make The Phantom Menace a good movie, or even an acceptably bad B-movie.

It's an atrocious movie (I'll direct you to this site for a devastating critique).

I taped it years ago when Fox ran it (and when I had a TV), and every so often I rewatch it to make sure I haven't made a mistake regarding its quality. I haven't.

It bears repeating: It's. An. Atrocious. Movie.

The second thing that struck me is the composition of the poster. Ostensibly, the prequels are about the fall of Anakin Skywalker from grace and his transformation into Darth Vader yet nowhere is there an image of either Anakin or Vader (I don't even think any of the pod-racers depicted are Anakin's).

Instead, the most prominent image is Darth Maul. Darth Maul? Really. One of the most insipid and unthreatening villains in SF villain history.* In the background are Obi-wan and Yoda, and backing them, the "phantom menace," Darth Sidious.

I think the advert points up the saddest legacy of the prequels - Lucas focused on all the wrong elements, wasting the talents of several good actors and spoiling the viewing pleasure of millions of people who fell in love with the idea of Star Wars and were hoping to see the creation of a 21st century myth.

* One of the reviewer's more salient points in the review I link to above is that the saber duels between Maul and Qui-gon/Obi-wan and (in Revenge of the Sith) between Obi-wan and Anakin are emotionally unsatisfying and can't compare in power to the awkwardly staged but incomparably better duel between Vader and Guinness' Obi-wan in the original movie.

15 January 2012

Calvin - RIP

Calvin, 1995-2012
 The new year has not gotten off to the best start: My little buddy Calvin passed away last Monday morning (Jan. 9).

It was all very sudden. The week before Christmas I had taken Calvin to the vet's for his 3-month check up and everything looked pretty good for a 16-year-old cat with hyperthyroidism, a heart arrhythmia and early stage kidney disease. Right after New Year's, however, things went rapidly downhill. That Monday (Jan. 2), I discovered that he had had a messy bowel movement and had noticed that he wasn't eating so I made an appointment for the next day and took him in. Dr. Kelban (my #2 vet; #1 being Dr. Dais) ran the blood tests; the kidney and all his other organs looked good but his red-blood-cell count was deep in the basement, almost at the point where vets begin blood transfusions. She put him on an appetite booster and steroids (and off the thyroid meds for a few days), and I kept a close watch on him. The rest of the week I was on tenterhooks, watching him continue not eating and getting weaker and weaker. On Saturday, he began making what I call "distress meows" so I got him an appointment that day with Dr. Dais. She put him on IV fluids, and we were going to see if I couldn't get some food down him via syringe.

The latter worked fairly well but I wasn't able to get near enough food down him to make it worthwhile before he refused to open his mouth any longer. Through Saturday and into Sunday, he was getting visibly weaker but he was still occasionally mobile and - in all honesty - I was thinking that these would be the last days we would be together; there was no recovery on the other side of this crisis.

Beginning last month, I started working Sunday-Thursday; same shift but my weekends begin on Thursday nights nowadays. I was loathe to leave my little guy alone but that weekend was the Consumer Electronics Show and I knew my colleague would be swamped if I didn't come in. Fortunately, one of the Graveyard editors was coming in at 8 pm, so I planned and did come home early, anticipating the worst.

When I got home Sunday night, Calvin had moved from the spot I left him in to the closet in the bedroom. I took a look - he was resting quietly so I left him alone. Before we all went to bed, Calvin had moved from there to what had become one of his favored resting spots - the rug beneath the bathroom sink. Extraordinarily inconvenient if you wanted to use the bathroom but I wasn't about to move him elsewhere if that was a place he was comfortable in. We settled in for bed around 11 that evening but a couple of hours later I was awakened by Calvin's "distress meow" and I went in to the bathroom. For the last few days, whenever I settled down with him, he would usually quiet down and I would spend the time rubbing his back and belly. And so it went this time. I settled onto the bathroom floor with him, smoothed out his fur and spent the next hour or so being with him. After about an hour, he got up crawled over my legs and staggered out into the hallway, where he collapsed - too tired to go much further. I picked him up and we went into the living room where we settled down in front of the TV and watched videos for the rest of the night. Around 5:15 am Monday morning, Calvin began meowing, he staggered up from my side and collapsed over to his other side, breathing stertorously. He did that for a few minutes (no more than 1 or 2, I would think, though it seemed longer) and then he ... stopped.

Calvin was never a lap cat but he had one of the sweetest natures I've ever encountered - cat or human - and he was never adverse to accepting a back or belly rub, and he is missed.

In the aftermath, both of The Boys (Puck & Oberon) and Miss Grey are spending more time with me (a decidedly mixed blessing when I want to use the computer). And I don't know how Irene's taking things. Calvin was her "boyfriend," and some days the only time I would see her was when Calvin came around to hang out with me - she was forced to accompany him.