Against the Grain

Slightly more than just jibba jabba

Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

My Foolish Review of “Fool” by Christopher Moore

Posted by Patrick on 24 Feb 2009

I picked up Chris’ new book the day it came out – I hesitated to read it right away because I knew I was going to attend the book signing stop in Denver, and I’d hoped to be able to hold out that long. However, I couldn’t actually resist for more than a few days, and I dove in anyway. What I found is that, like so many of Chris’ other stories, it starts strong and maintains momentum throughout.

Surely, you can’t take Shakespeare and make the bard’s plays better. Surely you can’t twist fate from some of the most widely-read scripts in the history of the world and make them better. Well, of course not. Chris doesn’t try to do that, either. He is recognized as one of the great satirists of our time, and with good reason. Fool doesn’t offend the purist, and doesn’t disappoint those seeking heavy doses of the elixir Chris provides.

I know that many have not yet read the story, so I shan’t spoil it for you, but it is a glorious mashup retelling of King Lear, with convenient borrows from other Shakespearean works, and from the perspective of Lear’s fool. In the play, the fool has no name – I found it great to have Chris name him Pocket (after his diminutive stature). We learn about his upbringing, about how he came to be the fool in Lear’s court, and about some serious misadventures in medieval Europe which spin the tale.

If you are familiar with King Lear proper, or even if you are not, you will love the tenacity that Chris brings to that world. I wouldn’t recommend reading “King Lear” before investing in Fool – there is certainly enough information in the story to carry it without foreknowledge of the plot.

But, the story is not for everyone. Even Chris says, as he is known to do, that it’s a bawdy tale packed with action and “action”. If you’re a reader easily offended by bad words and debauchery, you probably wouldn’t like the story at all – and let me recommend Pride and Prejudice as an alternative read.

Overall rating: 9.8/A+

Posted in culture, opinion, random, reading | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Movie Review: The Golden Compass

Posted by Patrick on 7 Dec 2007

I went to see the long-awaited “The Golden Compass” today, based on the first story of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman.  Before I try somewhat feebly to comment on how this movie played out socially and theologically for the uber-religious freaks that think all movies that mention God are evil in echelons of ways, I want to talk about the movie itself and how it relates to the book.

***SPOILER ALERT:  Below this line, I am giving away the movie in bits and pieces.  If you don’t want to read a spoiler for any reason whatsoever, you should stop reading this post here.  Thanks for visiting and have a splendid day.***

I knew from the outset of this movie that we’re looking at an episodic event, since the movie’s opening sequence features a cut in the world made by the subtle knife (from book 2).  It turned out that I was right, and that gave me a bit of a “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” shudder before 5 minutes had even passed.  I was disappointed, but I think it was tastefully done, and it helps to set the stage for the movie for people who’ve not read the story.  Dakota Blue Richards’ opening voiceover about the existence of other worlds as that sequence is playing does well to set the story, but if you’ve read the story you know that she doesn’t understand the “other worlds” concept and traveling between them until the second book; it gives her narration a bit of a retrospect — are we going to see something present-day at the end of the trilogy’s movies?  More on that later.

Despite the 1h54m runtime, I thought the anachronism in the movie (scenes extracted out of order from the book) made sense to me, though I felt penalized because I knew the story when events didn’t fire in my pre-set sequence.  An example of this is the first sequence with Lyra – they are playing and talking about the gobblers, and then she finds herself stuck in the retiring room coat closet.  This is the other way around in the book if I remember properly.  There are several other occurrences like this that are subtle, but they still play well with the story.

What I would have liked was to leave the witches’ liaison intact where Lyra uses the alethiometer to identify Serafina’s cloud-pine branch outside.  It made sense later, because the witches were flying without it in the big battle scene.  In the story, I thought this was a critical point.  It was unclear how Serafina and her clan were able to come to aid at Bolvangar – and overall I felt the roles of the witches were downplayed, probably on purpose to appease the anti-magical-people-in-fictitious-movies sect of organized western religions.

I want to say now that I detested the ending of the movie, but I understand why it is this way.  The second story is pretty short in movie terms, as it’s the shortest of the three stories in the trilogy.  But it certainly does lead us to believe that “The Subtle Knife” will be even more episodic than this movie was.  We are going to see the opening sequence of the second movie leading Lyra and Roger up to watch Roger die and everyone will step into another world for the first time.

Now, let’s discuss briefly the religious impact of this movie and why religious “experts” are crying out against it.

First, I have to say that I am not devoutly dedicated to any religion, but I am a Zen Buddhist of the Rinzai sect; my primary temple is in Kyoto as is the master to whom I pledged.  For you Protestants, think of it as the church where you first began to accept/practice your current denomination.

Now that the table’s set, let’s chat.  There is a lot of public outcry over this movie.  People say that this movie defies God (each word is a separate link).  People generally complain that this movie is written by an atheist, that they google the book and the results are controversial topics like “female castration”, that the movie is about kids who set out to kill God.

First of all, these people are idiots.  Maybe I shouldn’t say that — these people are f’ing idiots.  Yes, that’s better.  Ill-informed religious propaganda based on search results from Google, of all places, and based on the author’s personal religious views. People who say that this book movie is about kids who want to kill God, well, they are not only wrong, they are f’ing wrong.  If you want an accurate plot summary of the movie, go look at IMDb — not Google, not your church’s bulletin board, not your archdiocese email distribution list, and certainly not what your church-friend’s-friend’s-pastor’s-uncle is saying about it.

Secondly, Phillip Pullman didn’t write the screenplay, it was Chris Weitz.  Chris Weitz adapted the screenplay from the novel by Phillip Pullman.  Quick you freaks, go Google Chris Weitz and see if he’s an atheist that wants to kill God or write an anti-religion manifesto.  Go stand outside New Line Cinemas and see if you get drag Chris Weitz into the parking lot and throw holy water on him and flash aluminum foil crosses in his eyes so he might go blind.  Let me know how that works out.

Thirdly, Pullman’s book isn’t based on his own ideas (gasp! oh noes!1!!1), whether he may support the ideas or not is irrelevant.  For anyone who has actually read some literature in their lifetime and who has an average level of intelligence, it is more than obvious that Pullman’s stories are based on John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost.  His Dark Materials is based on it, and the actual term “His Dark Materials” is taken directly from it, as in the verse cut below:

Into this wild Abyss,
The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th’ Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds—
Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.
John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II

Next time you want to bash a movie because it doesn’t bode well from google, but the trailer looks good, and it’s rated PG-13, here’s a news flash – it’s probably a pretty good movie.  People are saying that it’s trying to promote atheism within children, which is of course a lie, but those people are the same ones who were on the “ban HP books in school libraries” bandwagon because it was about wizards and witches and wanted it replaced with C.S.Lewis’ books about wizards and witches.  I don’t buy your uninformed arguments; I choose to act of my own free will, I choose to let my opinions be formed by myself and not by those who seek to propagandize their discontent, I choose to believe what I feel is best rather than blindly obey out of sheer ignorance.  If you think that’s wrong, fine, but I don’t want to hear about it.

Summary

I thought the movie was slightly above mediocre; I’d give it 3 of 4 stars if I had to rate it.  The acting was ok, the locations were beautifully framed and the chosen scenery was great. The CG and other effects were very good.  The theme sung by Kate Bush at the end I thought was awful – it sounded more like a balladic jam session with a choir.

Dakota Blue Richards stole the show in this movie, but I really wanted to see her be afraid and act like she was actually overcoming something. Maybe we’ll see that in the next book.

Nicole Kidman was about as hot as she has ever been; I thought she played the role of Mrs. Coulter fairly well. But I really wanted to see some emotion out of her, and we didn’t get much except for the deceitful undertones we got from Mrs. Coulter in the story.

Posted in culture, idiocy, movies, omfg, opinion, reading, sociology | Leave a Comment »

Gamer Husbands Top Most Loyal Spouses List

Posted by Patrick on 19 Oct 2007

Ladies, we know what the statistics say.  Most studies and exit poll type surveys on married couples attribute that 60% of men and 40% of women that are married are or have been involved in an extramarital affair of some sort.  Moreover, in the US it is approaching the 80% likeliness rate for at least one partner in a marriage to have had such an affair.  Like so many other researchers and sociologists, I aim to find out what some of the triggers are; but beyond that, I’m looking for classes of men and women who don’t have the propensity to be unfaithful.

Please don’t scoff at the title, though I’m sure some will.  From January to October 2007, I conducted a sociological study of married people to assess where their tendencies towards infidelity are most prevalent.  Oddly enough, I ended up collecting more data than I had intended, and some of it is extrapolated for this purpose.  This research is my own and the results I choose to share are my own; I have submitted to several relevant publications for inclusion and hope to gain some spotlight from at least one of them.

A little bit of demographic information:

Total surveyed 16583
Men 9726
Women 6857
Average age (all) 31y 172d
Age (men) 32y 31d
Age (women) 30y 219d

I’m not going to go into racial/ethnic balance and geographic dispersion, but I will say that the demographics are close to the overall American population averages, and that I have at least 50 respondents from all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

So, first let’s talk about what I found were the categories of men and women that are most likely to be unfaithful.  In my population, 916 respondents (5.52%) reported an annual income of over $200k per year – the majority of these were also in large metropolises.  Of those 916 (552 men, 364 women), 788 (86%) admitted to either a current or previous extramarital affair in their current marriage.  From that 788, only 207 averaging an age of 29y 106d were in their first marriage which simply tells us that 581 (73.7%) of those who are cheating in the high tax bracket have been married at least twice. Lesson to be learned:  if you are divorced and looking for a big fish to pay the bills, be prepared for her/him to step out for free samples, because nearly all of them are doing it once they’ve gotten back on the boat at least once.

Among other income brackets, those earning under $25k per year were the second most likely to cheat at 52.6%.  I found that, on basis of income alone, those married people earning between $40k and $60k per year (5147 respondents) were the least likely to cheat, but this number was still at 31.911% and was higher for women than men.

Where propensity to be unfaithful gets interesting is when it’s broken down by common hobbies.  I think it is largely untouched to approach the hobbies of married people as a basis for comparison.  While it can be said with some value that individual personalities drive their hobbies and ultimately their mental framework of fidelity, we can certainly learn a lot about a person by what they value in their spare time.

You may be surprised (and you may not) by these stats.  The hobby which garnered the most unfaithful responses in the survey was weightlifting/working out.  Maybe this isn’t a surprise; people who are attempting to take care of their body and shape themselves as they wish are usually more confident and able to carry conversation better than those who do not value personal appearance.  But an alarming 75.22% of those who marked their primary hobby as weightlifting/working out also noted that they either have or currently are having extramarital relations.

Looking at the faithful end of the spectrum now, I was absolutely shocked at my own results.  There are 4844 (29.2%) respondents who marked “video games” as one of their top two hobbies, which was surprising, but not so much over the average age of 31y.  This is comprised of mostly men, of course, but more than 1000 women are in this category.  Overall, only 372 (7.68%) people in this group responded that they are/have been unfaithful in their current marriage.  2941 in this group have been married more than once, and 1502 of these 2941 said that a previous marriage ended because of their spouse’s unfaithfulness but not their own.

Breaking down this gamer category for men and women, there were 3683 men and 1161 women.  Of the 372 marking themselves as unfaithful, 244 were women and 128 were men.  This gives us a yield of 3.48% of gamer men having fidelity issues and 21.02% of women.  Despite the relative disparity, these numbers are still well below other demographic rankings and certainly below the national statistic estimates.

A brief list, by primary hobby, of fidelity rankings:

Best – Men
1.  Video games
2.  Reading
3.  Religious study

Worst – Men
1.  Weightlifting/working out
2.  Financial investing
3.  Golf

Best – Women
1.  Knitting/Sewing
2.  Religious study
3.  Video games

Worst – Women
1.  Weightlifting/working out
2.  Club hopping/bar hopping
3.  Volunteering/Community outreach (!)

I will repost or update this post if my full research is published in any accredited publication.

Posted in educational, infidelity, marriage, men, reading, research, sociology, women | 9 Comments »

When do gamers grow up?

Posted by Patrick on 20 Sep 2007

The community of adults, especially adult males, in the US that hold onto habits traditionally attributed to children is an ever-growing one.  Why do you think that is?  Are we socially more immature, or are we men devolving mentally into lengthened adolescent periods whereby we don’t realize our true potential until well after we reach adulthood?  Or, is there some other force at work?

I’m 31, which puts me square in the prime demographic of adults these days who are absolutely hooked on video games — not just adults who enjoy playing freecell on the computer or who like to occasionally drop a quarter into Ms. Pac-Man, I’m talking about adults in this country who are absolutely addicted to video games.  We are the first in line when a new console hits the market, we are the demographic of people who keep companies like AlienWare in business — we think of computing first as a method of gaming, and secondly as a method of being productive with work. What’s more, the “hardcore gamer” community is looking at a growing population of women, to boot.  Whereas we medium-aged gamer adults pioneered most of the gaming consoles and usually have hours of stories about the time we pwned mob X in game Y with friends A B and C.  It’s not a hobby — no, it’s an entire existence.

Does an addition to video games make us less mature as adults?  Sociological studies disagree on this topic, but I must say that I think so.  From the perspective of one study, the constant interaction present in many online multi-player games (MMORPGs) promotes social awareness and tact.  Another study, published more recently, indicates that young men and young women who have a strong affinity towards video games (who play games more than 20 hours a week) grow as adults to be more socially eccentric and are generally less comfortable in human-to-human interactions than the same demographic of non-gamers.

So, what are the criteria for someone to have “grown up”?  If you ask me, it’s when a person begins to accept responsibility for themselves, but more than that, it’s when a person makes conscious decisions to better themselves and follows through with them.  To me, that is the mark of someone who has grown up.  When I think of that, I always have questions:

  • Can a hardcore gamer be “grown up”?  Absolutely. 
  • Are the majority of adult gamers also “grown up”?  No, they aren’t. 
  • Do I mean to imply that kicking the video game habit can help someone grow up?  Yes, I do.
  • Do I have an addiction?  I used to, but have outgrown it.
  • Am I a gamer myself? Yes, I am, but casually.
  • Are time-sink video games hurting American society?  Yes, they are.
  • Do I think I have “grown up”? Yes, but only after my first child was born.

Are video games the only source of the social devolution?  Of course not; just look at network TV these days.  It plays on the most basic of human instincts to try attracting viewers.  There’s literally nothing on network TV in prime time these days which is suitable for children.  Compare that to a socially fluid country like Japan — take a look at what comes on TV in the prime hours in Tokyo; you’d be amazed.  It’s full of variety shows, educational shows about Japan itself (like places to go to do X kinds of things), and lots and lots of comedy and drama.  This is a different post, but drama in Japan is not medically, criminally or sexually driven like every drama in this country.  No, they actually maintain some sort of socially responsible standard.

Posted in educational, Japan, men, opinion, reading, TV, women | 3 Comments »

HP:DH Audiobook for your iPod

Posted by Patrick on 31 Jul 2007

Let’s face it, sooner or later the gestapo of Apple will be offering Jim Dale’s recorded version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for purchase and download via iTunes (an anagram of nutsie, btw).  But, even if that’s all well and good for convenience sake, why would you buy it from them?  Why would I download a set of DRM-encrusted m4b iPod-specific files when I can get the actual discs from any major retailer either online or in-store for 1)cheaper, probably and 2)more flexible? 

It’s certainly not rocket science to take the MP3 or AAC discs and convert them to nutsie’s format, thanks to freeware and shareware programs out there on web sites like freeipodsoftware.  I personally use the MP3 to iPod Audiobook Converter, and haven’t had any problems with the newest iTunes and current iPod firmware.  The only note worth mention is that the files need to be kept under about 4-5 hours runtime each, or you may have trouble getting your iPod into sleep mode.

Technical capability aside, nutsie doesn’t offer US customers the option to purchase the Stephen Fry reading of the UK book editions.  Jim Dale does a good job, but the UK readings are actually my preference, and they’re widely available – if you can’t find it at Target or a retailer, Britain’s Amazon has it.  I doubt nutsie, who thrives so heavily on targeted marketing, will ever come to grips with that.  Hell, I can’t even buy Japanese music from Japan via nutsie, but I can certainly get it from other outlets.  I went as far as to set up a proxy in Tokyo to get to the actual Japanese nutsie store online and just check it out. off topic, sorry.

So, who out there is planning to or has already dumped HP:DH audiobooks onto their iPod, even before the nutsie store has it for sale?

Posted in apple, harry potter, international, Japan, music, random, reading, technology | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

What are YOU reading next?

Posted by Patrick on 24 Jul 2007

I’ve heard it called the AH (after Harry) era, the post-HP era, the “end of the tunnel”, the second age of children’s literature, and a few other things.  I’m talking about the going-forward nature of all the millions of Harry Potter fans that, after having consumed HP:DH to their heart’s content, now find themselves in sheer lack of anticipation for another book in the series.

So, the question is out there:

What are you reading next?

For me, the answer is that I’m reading ハリー・ポッターと謎のプリンス which would be the Japanese translation of HP:HBP.  I do it for language study – the Japanese language is so much more consise than English.  HP:DH in Japanese evidently doesn’t even have a release date yet, but it is usually around 1 year behind the main language translations.

After that, I don’t really have a plan.  Open for suggestions!

HP:HBP Japanese translation. Can you tell what scene this is?

Posted in culture, harry potter, japanese, reading | 6 Comments »