Saturday, November 7, 2009

My H1N1 Chronicle

I finally have direct personal experience with the swine flu! Given my ongoing criticism of the irrational hysteria surrounding this virus, particularly the nationwide obsession with getting vaccinated regardless of one's risk of complications (or risk of catching the flu in the first place), I thought I would share an account of my own experience.

According to the CDC,
"as of September 2009, more than 99% of circulating influenza viruses in the United States are 2009 H1N1."
So this specific strain is, in all likelihood, the one I was infected with and experiencing over the past 48 hours. I can't even remember the last time I had a flu, but here is my account of this one:

Thursday 9PM: Onset of mild cough, fatigue, sore throat, pounding head/sinus/body aches. (I never get headaches, and that part was particularly rough). Begin 4g/day of Vitamin C and extra zinc. Alternate chills/sweats through night.

Friday 9AM: Participate in conference call. Nap for two hours. Work productively for seven hours. Relax on couch for night, soothing aches with tortellini soup, loyal cat, and Netflix.

2AM: Fever breaks. Head stops throbbing.

10AM: Wake up energetic. Nearly all symptoms subsided. Chase cat around apartment. Vacuum. Make breakfast. Watch Star Trek.

2PM: In SoHo drooling over Ducatis with friend.

End Question: If this virus constitutes a national emergency and societal panic, WTF are people going to do if they (gasp) get a head cold? Seriously people!

Oh wait! Our healthcare system doesn't yet have a vested interest in convincing Americans that the common cold will tranform them into human time bombs. Until we can sell prescription drugs and/or vaccines for the common cold -- or better yet, convince folks that it has mutated into some freakish strain that makes even polio seem wimpy, and under which we would fall utterly helpless despite four billion years of immunological evolution -- we can't yet profit from such hysteria. My bad.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Best Answer Yet: Which Came First - the Chicken or the Egg?"

I love this. This is exactly why I love reading evolutionary biology...

Author Nick Lane, in his spectacular book Oxygen: The Molecule That Made The World, punctuates a discussion about the evolutionary history of aging with a brief segway, in which he answers the question "Which came first - the chicken or the egg?"

"The first chicken, of course, did not appear suddenly: there was a gradual transition from non-chickens (actually, the red jungle fowl Gallus gallus) to domestic chickens. The eggs of earlier birds therefore evolved before chickens. Eggs with hard shells were in fact invented by the reptiles, around 250 million years ago. After the Carboniferous, the climate grew cooler and drier, and the great coal swamps dried up. The first reptiles developed scales and shelled eggs to escape the constraints suffered by amphibians, which depend on water. Eggs with shells could be laid on land and did not dry out. This was the beginning of the 'age of reptiles', which lasted until the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. As a related historical accident, the hard shell made copulation necessary. The shell forms before the egg is laid, so fertilization has to take place internally. Thus, all reptiles copulate, and passed on this trait to their descendents -- the birds and mammals. A little understanding of the history of life, then, tells us that both copulation and eggs came before chickens -- and the historical narrative makes the idea of infinte regression seem absurd."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Late Night Musical Ravings

I think a late-night search for new music is good for the soul.

It's been a successful evening. Nothing raises the hair on the back of my neck like a weepingly happy trance love song, and FTLOG, this is an awesome tune -- epic in scale, and with lyrics that border on religious.

Hot off musical prodigy Krzysztof Pretkiewicz (aka Nitrous Oxide)'s remix deck... An artist who has had zero formal musical training, and yet never ceases to amaze me.

Systembot vs. 33 feat. Costa - Never Be Alone (Nitrous Oxide Remix)

Into these arms of mine
I know I've found the one
The secret friend that guides me
Your light that shines
Inside of me
Inside of me
Inside of me

Cause I'm never far from home
I'm never far from you
You'll never stand alone

I'm never far from home
I'm never far from you
You'll never stand alone

Into these arms of mine
I know I've found the one
Until the end
The secret friend that guides me
Your light that shines
Inside of me
Inside of me
Inside of me

I walk with you
I'll talk with you
I'll be with you
I'll see you through,
Not leaving you

Cause I'm never far from home
I'm never far from you
You'll never stand alone

Monday, May 18, 2009

And One More For The Road...

A third Star Trek review, which I posted to a few other review sites. Rather than post the same review in multiple places, I've attempted to vary them. So, if anyone missed the fact that I hated this movie, now you have a chance to fully come up to speed...

I am starting to believe that J.J. Abrams's relentless camera shaking technique actually does work. "Lost" continues to enjoy strong ratings despite the pathological inability of its writers to actually complete a single coherent storyline. "Cloverfield" made money despite being little more than a hysterical clamor of vapid characters and blurry explosions, and now we get this sad, derivative fabrication. Somehow, a blithering array of critics and moviegoers alike has emerged from theaters raving about this film as if it were the second coming. Meanwhile, I'm left with the strong feeling that either I am immune to this man's hypnotic powers, or I was subjected to a different film entirely.

Even if I could put aside all of the purely subjective gripes I have with this film - cinematography that features shaky cameras in EVERY scene, lens flares aggressive enough that Obama would have banned them from interrogations in Gitmo, and special effects that conceal animation flaws by employing ludicrously frequent cuts and constant blur - I would still have one issue after another with the premises and plot devices used:

  • What kind of civilization sends a geriatric diplomat (Spock), however venerable, by himself on a mission to rescue an entire planet (Romulus) from a supernova, in a ship with enough power to create multiple black holes?
  • If that mission failed, how by any stretch of physics did both Spock's ship and Nero's survive passing through a black hole - even if we forget for a moment that both also then proceeded to travel backward in time?
  • If both Nero and Spock's ships are capable of surviving trips through a black hole, why does the black hole at the climax of the film represent such a danger? At one point in the movie, a black hole is a convenient time travel device - and 30 minutes later, it is a force that easily destroys Nero's ship?
  • If this film's magical "Red Matter" can create black holes simply by "igniting," why, then, must the villain bother with elaborate (and highly vulnerable) giant orbital drills - other than to provide a contrived stage for a sword fight?
  • If a transporter can theoretically operate while a ship is in orbit (which requires a velocity of - what - 20-30,000 mph?) why is the device unable to lock onto a person who is merely falling through the air or off a cliff - which would represent a tiny fraction of that relative speed?
  • This film contains fleets of ships capable of traveling faster than light, which presumably requires incredibly advanced technology. So how, then, is 17 year old Chekov able to operate the Enterprise's transporter faster than the ship's computer? I heard no references to his use of "the force."
  • In what universe would a group of egotistical, untested rookies - no matter how intelligent they supposedly are - land seniority on any advanced military vessel, before even proving themselves in a single real-world situation? Were there no senior officers at all assigned to the Enterprise?
  • Why does every single character, in every single scene, speak at such an unnaturally fast pace? Barring a handful of contrived one-liners, this film regards dialog as a nuisance that distracts from far more interesting scenes featuring the destruction of personal property, fights, attacks, explosions, implosions, and virtually any other form of over-the-top, gratuitous violence that J.J. could ram into its two-plus-hour confines.

I could go on for weeks. But in the end it makes no difference how many elements of this film are ludicrous, even by today's science fiction standards. It makes no difference how many were shamelessly stolen from other sci-fi franchises (what do they say about the sincerest form of flattery?), or whether this film represents Star Trek "canon" (it does not, and in fact, retains nothing at all of Gene Roddenberry's intelligent, optimistic vision). It makes no difference that the main characters are approximately as believable as a microwave oven capable of cold fusion.

In the end, the sum of all the shaking cameras and relentless, blurry explosions has succeeding in duping millions of viewers and countless critics into believing that this 127-minute ordeal in a dentist's chair is an enjoyable film. Perhaps my gray matter hasn't yet been turned into red matter. Or maybe I just need to ask for more nitrous oxide. It seems that J.J. Abrams and his disciples may have plenty to spare.

A Triumph of Dramamine Over Drama

Since I have now composed at least three diatribes over Star Trek movie, I figured I might as well collect them here. This one was from my review on

I approached this film with modest expectations. It did not need to be great to satisfy me, and indeed I was pleasantly entertained by Wolverine, with which the new Star Trek has been compared.

But where Wolverine succeeds (satisfactorily, if not brilliantly) in filling in the back-story of its universe, Star Trek simply shirks the matter altogether. Rather than trouble themselves by displaying actual creativity, the writers immediately escape into an "alternate timeline", then flagrantly usurp aspects of several previous sci-fi movies (including Trek and Star Wars -- hey, they say it's the most sincere form of flattery), before finally pasting them together with something called "Red Matter" -- a mysterious substance which seemingly consists of the gray matter extracted from this film's inexplicably enthusiastic audience.

There are countless instances where the derivative script contradicts itself. Perhaps more than in any film I've seen in the last 20 years. A handful that would have otherwise been noticed by toddlers are patched by some haphazardly added sections of dialog, uttered by a cast perpetually drunk on Red Bull (which curiously, unlike other products, did not enjoy a shameless promo inside the film). Several scenes and devices are so evocative of Star Wars that one wonders if George Lucas' lawyers are not already drawing up papers to prevent further confusion of the two franchises - and if not, they should be. The differences between the two are a primary reason they've been able to coexist for so long.

Little, if anything, of this film's plot is ever reasonably explained: not the magical "Red Matter" that behaves one way at one moment, and another entirely just 20 minutes later; not what the villain and his crew have done for the two and a half decades during which the writers do not need them; and certainly not the reasons why a group of belligerent, untested rookies with particularly juvenile behavioral tendencies immediately lands seniority on what we're told is one of the most advanced vessels ever made. Gimme a frigging break!

Rather than address the film's issues, the producers simply distract viewers with frenetic pacing, applied to a disorienting cacophony of shaky cameras, gratuitous fight scenes, and explosions. These shallow gimmicks failed to hypnotize me. This is a film to make "Aladdin" feel deep and "Terminator" dull.

It seems that thought, experience, hard work, and personal sacrifice mean nothing in a new Star Trek universe masterfully crafted for today's audience. Roddenberry's constant undertones regarding duty, morality, and a vision for a better future are jettisoned faster than the warp core of a doomed Enterprise. The result is simply an insult to our intelligence.

SUMMARY: Nothing more than Cloverfield in space -- with an identical monster and a lot more explosions. J.J. Abrams urinates on Gene Roddenberry's grave and thanks him for the opportunity, to roaring applause.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Movie Review: Star Trek (2009)

I simply cannot comprehend the positive press and reactions that this movie has generated. As both a long term fan of Star Trek (particularly in its more recent, less campy iterations) and more generally an enthusiast of most science fiction (including Wolverine, which I saw last week and enjoyed more than expected), I believed Star Trek would provide at least a modicum of basic entertainment. Instead, I left the theater feeling like one of the few remaining moviegoers who do not mindlessly worship J.J. Abrams or routinely freebase cocaine.

Has the collective intelligence of the viewing public so devolved that we are now unable to discern the difference between a shaking camera and a situation offering genuine excitement? Mr. Abrams seems to think so -- and I have yet to discover a single review where his incoherent, nervous style gets called out for the outrageous distraction that it is. Every single scene in the entire film is relentlessly and mercilessly shaky - even the ones we're expected to find "emotional" - with astoundingly frequent cuts from shot to shot, as if the entirety of the footage was recorded on Nokia camera phones (perhaps the one shamelessly flaunted in the film) by children suffering from peculiar, acute seizure disorders.

Pop Cinematography

Welcome to the new standard in popular cinematography: Star Trek, ala Blair Witch. And this visual assault never once pauses - not even for 30 seconds to allow us to contemplate the total annihilation of a planet. There is a difference between breathtaking and breathless, or cool and cruel. Apparently Mr. Abrams believes we are too stupid to know the difference.

The situation is not improved by this film's disconcertingly thin plot. Even in the world of sci-fi television, there have been limits to the inane technological shortcuts cooked up solely for the purpose of camouflaging a weak script. "Transwarp beaming"? Huh? How is it that the ship's transporters are unable to work when a person falls through the sky, or off a cliff, but they operate flawlessly when the plot needs them to transport people across light years of space and onto a moving starship? Red Matter? And how, in any sci-fi universe, could a hysterical, last-minute ejection of an engine core help a ship escape from the edge of a black hole? This would be akin to switching off the ignition in one's car in an effort to avoid a collision with an oncoming freight train.

I read Roger Ebert's criticism of this movie prior to viewing it, but dismissed his remarks as the ramblings of a jaded old man. Jaded he may well be, but also accurate, and perhaps even excessively gentle. The film features one moment after another of this sort of astonishing feeble-mindedness; even as it bases its entire premise on a flimsy time travel mechanism involving the creation of an "alternate universe." A new low is established here for dumbed down sci-fi. The plot devices in this film are so ridiculous that they make Flash Gordon, let alone the previous history of Star Trek, seem like actual science. It's been suggested that the concept of saving whales was previously evidence of a weak script. How, exactly, is "transwarp beaming" an improvement?

Looking for Wires

Upon this train wreck of discordant and violently stretched premises, Mr. Abrams applies a heavy coating of special effects that at times borders on comically cheesy. I must have seen an entirely different movie than many of the other viewers, because I found the CGI and visual style appalling - well below the standards of virtually any contemporary action movie, and yet simultaneously not cheesy enough to function as effective satire. After the first half of the movie, I began challenging myself to look for wires. Seriously.

The acting was relatively inoffensive, but hardly up to the stellar magnitude suggested by this movie's wild torrent of hype. I found the leads weak, but perhaps that was all one could expect, given the insipid material they had to work with, and the fact that not a single line - in any scene, in the two-plus-hour entirety of the film - is uttered at a normal speaking pace. Mr. Abrams instead seemingly forces the entire cast methamphetamines - perhaps appropriate, given the dysfunctional yet lucrative, Ritalin snorting demographic to which this film clearly panders. To my great surprise, the best performance - and the solitary moment of warmth in what otherwise constitutes more than two agonizing hours of brutal, emotionally desolate pounding - was delivered by our old friend Winona Ryder.

Visions and Insults

At its core, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek has always represented a vision for a better future, challenging viewers to think about central, important issues like racism, cold wars, social injustice, conservation. Against this rich history, the new film is downright condescending - it seems, in fact, deliberately intent on discouraging all thought. A breathlessly shallow, disjointed conglomeration of poorly filmed explosions with no nuance, no depth, no artistry, and indeed no redeeming traits whatsoever, as a whole it amounts to nothing less than a thinly concealed insult to intelligence itself.

It is difficult to believe I would ever suggest this, but the Star Trek franchise would have been better off dying a graceful death than having been so deeply bastardized by J.J. Abrams with this abomination. Overwhelmed with disappointment in both the movie and a general public either unwilling or, perhaps even scarier, unable to perceive what it actually represents, I left the theater despondent.

[Post-review afterthought: A Star Trek in name only, this film retains only the most superficial aspects of the franchise, while discarding its mind, heart, and soul. What formerly was geek domain has been sacrificed to the mass market gods of profit. Those with even half a brain are no longer welcome. The apparent runaway popularity of this film shows exactly why American youngsters lag behind their foreign peers in mathematics and science. The fault lies not with our hard working teachers, but with ourselves, as individuals and a culture, for embracing this sort of anti-intellectual garbage.]