Monday, December 30, 2013

Texas, Dec 2013 pt 2: Airborne Entertainment Review

The plane for the London to Dallas leg of the trip was a super-modern Boeing 777. Even in coach class they have power outlets, high-quality screens and a large selection of movies, TV shows and games. There’s even wifi if you want to pay for it.

I slept for a bit (to supplement the 1 hour I got the night before) and then watched some stuff. And because everything I do is just to have an excuse to blog, here’s tiny reviews of all of it.

I got to finally see Despicable Me (2010), which is an enjoyable take on the supervillain theme with the most adorable henchmen ever. Definitely aimed at pleasing kids but also at entertaining adults. It pleased and entertained me enough to forgive the schmaltziness. Kids love schmaltziness, I guess.

I also started and unexpectedly finished This Is The End (2013) which is like an updated version of those Hollywood Party movies they used to make in the 30s and 40s. In it a bunch of actors, all playing grotesque (probably) versions of themselves get caught up in the end of the world and have to redeem themselves to be able to get to Heaven (which is just a bland extension of the original party) . It’s a tongue-in-cheek light-hearted horror, and is pretty well done nonsense which goes on a little too long, but has some nice moments . I’d probably enjoy it a lot more if I really knew much about the actors in it. I’m so old fashioned I’m better off watching Hollywood Party At The End (1933).

I also watched some of the TV show The Mindy Project as I’ve been curious for a while, enjoying the eponymous creator very much. However I was disappointed, finding was trying a bit too hard and ending up a very standard sitcom. But one episode of a sitcom is not normally enough to form a proper judgement. But who has time for more these days?

Then I caught an episode of Big Bang Theory. I’ve not seen it for a while, and so wondered how it was faring. Sitcoms, if allowed to go on too long, have a tendency to become soap operas (or tragic parodies of themselves as with Happy Days, although Happy Days actually started out as a tragic parody of itself, so that’s a bad example). Friends definitely became a soap opera, and Big Bang Theory has already started that transformation. I guess it’s only natural. In human life, the 20s for many people is a sitcom, but by the 30s the sitcom has usually become a comedy drama, soap opera or outright drama.

The 20s for other people can be Intense Drama, Action Adventure or Monty Python Fan Sketch Recreation Show. I’m sure this isn’t the complete list.

Dr Who toys in Austin toy show.
Good to also see Dress-up Jesus making an appearance.
I also managed to catch up with a show I’ve managed to avoid (not deliberately) for a number of years, Dr Who. Dr Who is an eccentric, time-travelling problem solver. The problem is almost always alien-induced. The genre I would put as campy kids science fiction comedy drama (or sci fi pantomime). At least the comedy episodes are like that. As a kid it was the show that scared me the most. I think it would still be as the often ridiculous monsters are accompanied by genuinely scary music.

The innovation that Dr Who brought to TV shows that allows it to be one of the longest running shows ever, is that every now and again, when ratings, contract issues or simply the need for change require(s) it, the Doctor undergoes a regeneration (or recasting) where he transforms from one quirky Englishman to another. Dr Who is a Time Lord, which is somewhat below a Time Earl but above a Time Baronet. He travels all over the galaxy, but mostly England and planets that resemble the English countryside. I’m very gladdened that it has an increasing following in the US now - I saw plenty of toys in the toy stores, met a few fans and even found a poster for an improvised Dr Who show. I look forward to the remake with any of the cast of This Is The End with total nonchalance.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ten amazing things you won’t believe because they aren’t true. And not really that believable. Please read this…

1. Cars are really trains that don’t run on tracks.
2. 4 pencils tied together are stronger than a diamond.
3. France wasn’t discovered until 1904.
4. What we think is paint is really an invocation to the god of that colour.
5. The Vatican is built on a giant Native American burial ground.
6. Humans can fly but the fact has been covered up by Boeing since 1956.
7. Monkeys know the Chilean national anthem by heart.
8. The first Moon landing was in 1968 but they forgot to bring the camera.
9. Long Tall Sally was only 4 foot 6.
10. Spiders have 2 legs and 6 arms but are too lazy to stand up.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Texas, Dec 2013 pt 1: Trains, Planes, Buses and Automobiles

Getting to the airport for 6:30 sure is a rigmarole, but in some ways it’s worth it for how uncrowded and unrushed it is there. And getting there was only a rigmarole because we eschewed the convenience and expense of taking a taxi for risking life and limb on the night bus and train.

Night busses in Amsterdam are pretty similar to those in other cities around the world. They are infrequent, filled with people who are either drunk or who to or from arduous jobs or both, and they are driven by people who are desperately trying to get away from somewhere.

Quiet day at Amsterdam Schiphol airport by Maurice on Flickr

Most transportation systems require you to be in one of two states prior to embarkation - rushing all-out to catch it or waiting for it. Any trip that requires you to take a train, two buses, two planes and the world’s smallest Chevrolet (still bigger than most Fiats) certainly gives you the chance to experience both of these.

All flights begin with the Safety Rigmarole. It’s always been fascinating to me since the first time I heard it. In recent years, airlines have taken pains to make it more entertaining. BA’s has the usual dryish voice over, but instead of the normal shots of concerned extras, this features a plane full of cute, happy, multinational travellers animated in a briezy style. It even begins with a Save The Cat[™] moment, when the central stewardess character picks up a floppy piglet dropped by a kid.

American Airlines’ uses the style where every line is said by a different member of staff much beloved by appeal ads and has the added benefit of showing that American Airlines is an equal opportunity employer and their employees are very happy.

My seat on the BA flights had a mechanical fault so that it slowly reclined imperceptibly. I only noticed when the steward, who looked more like an old-school club comedian than a steward, told me to put my seat back up prior to take off. It might have been the reason the urchin behind me kept kicking my seat right in the small of the back. Had he a little bit of rhythm and pacing, it could have been quite theraputic, but the kid had no talent in that direction. And the kicking is not so hard that there is any chance the kid might grow up to become a footballer or nightclub bouncer. No, the kid just had persistence but no discernable talent. [Insert your own jobbist or celebrity-specific punchline here.]

The BA flight had only stewards. I’d never been on an all-male crewed flight before. It felt unexpectedly weird like an insight into an alternate universe. It’s nearly always mixed these days.

“Breakfast,” as the stewards called it, was a croissant shaped bun indecently forced apart by slices of cheese and ham, and one of those tubs of orange juice you only ever see on planes. On a flight this short, they barely have time to throw the food at you and then wrench the remnants from your bony grasp.

Heathrow at 9 am is the total opposite of Schiphol at 7 am. It’s so full of people that if you swung a cat, you’d hit a dozen people at least. We didn’t have a cat, so it was only a thought experiment, like Schrodinger’s Swinging Cat. Which states that you don’t know how many people a swung cat would hit until you swing the cat. Schrodinger’s many thought experiments are all tough on cats. He’s my favourite scientist.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Old Jokes, Old Battles

"Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I
said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me."
I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian, Jew or
Muslim?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too!
Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I
said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said,
"Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or
Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I
said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said,
"Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great
Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist
Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative
Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"

Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region
Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist
Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said,
"Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region
Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over."

This is an old joke but it sums up something about inter-religious intolerance. In that it's often directed to those who are more like you than those who are very unlike you. But in fact this phenomenon goes far beyond religion. You see it in politics, somewhat. And you definitely see it in regional prejudices. The people that are hated in one country are not usually the people from the other side of the world, but usually the people in the country next door. And the reason for that hatred can often be traced back to an historical point of disagreement. It's quite common for people that once were united as one country to now hate each other's guts. Or at least be the butt of each other's jokes.

I would go so far as to say that most major supposed religious conflicts are not about the differences in religion at all but are territorial disputes. They may have become magnified because of the religious differences and because the religious differences aew used to define each side, but often the original dispute is about a pice of land. It 's usually made worse, of course, by something holy being on that piece of land.

The other key source of religious disputesis the one the joke reather nicely exposes. Some age-old decision about the interpretation of some vague or ill-translated statement. Again this is echoed in politics, as can be enjoyed any time Americans 'debate' whether they should arm themselves to the teeth or not.

I've always felt that politics and religion are not so very far from each other. They deal with very different parts of our lives, but they are both attract a similar range of fanaticism and a similar range of (un)willingness to listen to the other side.

It's the sort of thing that can be a bit despairing were there not jokes like these to help put things in perspective and realise you are not alone in thinking about despairing because someone must have written that joke.