Monday, January 31, 2011

My New Corporate Whistle-Blower Law

Originally, I had intended this to just apply to employing illegal immigrants, but I found I like the idea so much that I want to apply it to every corporate crime. My idea is that if a company violates the law (such as by polluting, employing illegal immigrants, OSHA violations, et cetera) then the company is fined, on a yearly basis, an amount equal to 100% of the salary of the person or persons responsible for the violation as long as they stay on the payroll.

...AND...this is the important bit...they are also fined, on a yearly basis, an amount equal to 100% of the salary of any persons on the payroll who are accused of complicity by the person or persons responsible. (And once those people are accused, they count as "persons responsible", so if they in turn accuse someone, those people become responsible too.) Note the phrase, "accused", not "proven". The corporation is proven guilty in a court of law like normal, but their fine is determined solely by how many people point fingers.

The logic being that too often in corporate malfeasance, there's a sort of passive "things were done" atmosphere to the whole event. The blame is shared in such a way that everyone has just enough of their fingerprints on it that nobody can really say no, and nobody really does say no because nobody wants to be the one to step in front of the slow, ponderous juggernaut that is corporate decision-making and put their career on the line when everyone else is going along to get along. This way, the momentum is reversed: Everyone has a very good incentive to speak out to stop a corporate crime, because if you don't say anything and someone gets caught, the dominos can topple all the way up to the CEO and bankrupt the company (or get plenty of upper management fired.)

Is it fair? Probably not. There's a strong, deliberate incentive for witch-hunts and backstabbing. Disgruntled former employees can always choose to simply shaft their bosses just because they're mad about being fired. But you know what? That means that maybe those bosses have one hell of an incentive to keep a close eye on the corporate practices of their subordinates, instead of turning a blind eye to them because hey, profits are up and expenses are down. It would change the culture of large corporations, something badly needed in a climate where corporations have all the rights of people, but none of the responsibilities.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Review: Doctor Who - The Forgotten Army

As wonderful as it's been to see the return of Doctor Who to our television screens, it's difficult to argue that TV's gain hasn't been print's loss. Whereas we used to get classic novels like 'Transit', 'Human Nature', and 'Set Piece' (to name just a few of the many, many classic novels released during the fifteen years that the series was off the air), now we get empty wastes of space like 'The Forgotten Army'. Although honestly, it's an insult to the other empty wastes of space that are the current book line to lump 'The Forgotten Army' in with them.

For one thing, it's pretty clear that Brian Minchin didn't have a chance to see an episode of the new season, and is working entirely from the writers' bible in his portrayal of the Eleventh Doctor and Amy. This is a bigger problem than it sounds like, because an actor's portrayal changes the way the character actually behaves, not just in the subtle ways (Karen Gillan's portrayal softens Amy's rough edges and makes her more charming and likeable) but in overt ways, as the writers see the way the actor plays the character and adjust the scripts accordingly. So an Amy Pond that's written just from the initial concept of the character comes across as startlingly unlikeable, while an Eleventh Doctor written just from a quick glimpse of the writers' bible comes across as a spastic idiot obsessed with bow ties. (Yes, yes, I hear you in the back. Shush. Matt Smith is sodding brilliant.)

But even if you account for that, this still is a pretty terrible book, because it never feels like Minchin is trying. The idea of little teeny aliens invading Earth by hiding in a woolly mammoth (that they think is perfect camouflage) should be the start of a hilarious romp, but Minchin never gives the aliens any personality and the whole thing winds up feeling terribly generic. It's as if he feels like he's "just" writing for kids, so why should he bother working hard? (And the actual children in the novel feel as though they're shoehorned in so that the kids reading can say, "Ooh, kids like us!")

When I described this novel to my wife, she said, "But it's still not as bad as 'The Pit', right?" I replied that I wasn't so sure. 'The Pit' might have been bloody awful, but I felt like Neil Penswick went out and wrote the best novel he was capable of. On reading 'The Forgotten Army', I felt like Brian Minchin went out and wrote the worst novel he thought he could get away with.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pet Peeve of the Day, Shockingly Mundane Edition


You know what I hate? It's when you go to a store, and instead of giving you the best possible price, they give you a slightly less good price and offer to make up the difference if you join their "free customer loyalty program". Call me crazy, but I don't think that I should have to jump through extra hoops and essentially sell you my demographic information in order to get the same price I can get just by going to your competitor that doesn't have a "loyalty program". Perhaps there's a certain irony at work there--I'm more loyal to stores that don't demand my loyalty.


Friday, January 21, 2011

A Plea For Honesty

You know what I'd really like? I would really, honestly like evangelical Christians to just sack up for once in their lives and admit they don't like gay people.

Now, I'm clearly not talking about all evangelical Christians. I know plenty of Christians who have no problems with gay people, and whose faith is deep and abiding. Which is kind of the point, actually; there's all these Christians out there who have no difficulty at all treating gay people as equals, and yet don't seem confused or insincere in their faith...and then there's those other people.

The ones who can't remember which are the Beatitudes and which are the Ten Commandments, yet have all the relevant verses of Leviticus memorized (and in some particular cases, tattooed on their flesh. Which is tremendously ironic, given that elsewhere in Leviticus, there are rules against tattooing.)

The ones who insist that they don't hate gay people, but God says they're an abomination in the eyes of the Lord and really, they can't go against the word of God. (Except for the eating pork thing, because God really didn't mean all that stuff to still apply now that we know about trichinosis.)

The people who insist that they "love the sinner, and hate the sin"...but continue to vote for people who hate the sinner, too.

The people who, in short, try to pretend that they're not bigoted at all, just devoted to the Lord. In this one, specific, particular instance. What I would really like to see is for those people to stop hiding behind the Bible, quit pretending that they don't feel deeply uncomfortable around homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals, and quit wasting time pretending that this is a religious stance so that we wouldn't have to stop arguing about it. Sure, part of why we'd have nothing left to talk about is that I'd find such a stance morally abhorrent, but at least I could stop wasting my time poking holes in all their Scriptural arguments and get on with the business of confronting their prejudice. As it is, they combine all the worst aspects of being bigoted and cowardly at the same time.

So please, if you are one of those Christians (and you know who you are.) Have the courage of your convictions, and stop blaming your attitudes on God. At this point, it's just embarrassing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

An Open Letter to Zombie Story Writers

(inspired by Joe McKinney's "Dead City" and "Apocalypse of the Dead", but generally applicable...I'm looking at you, "28 Days Later" in the back, there):

Dear Zombie Story Authors,

As much as I, your reader, appreciate a commitment to verisimilitude, and as much as pseudo-scientific explanations of how a zombie apocalypse could be "real" are fun, please stop trying to explain it away as a brain disease that affects living human beings, giving them superhuman pain tolerances and a mindless, ravenous appetite for human flesh. Because you then proceed to treat your "infected" just like they were zombies straight out of a Romero movie, which drastically undercuts the very sense of realism you were trying to create.

Look, we all understand that willpower is an amazing thing, and that people can do incredible stuff when they're sufficiently determined. But I have news for you. When your femoral artery is severed in the course of a zombie attack, it does not matter how determined you are to get up and eat the flesh of the living. You're going to bleed out in a matter of minutes, your circulatory system is going to collapse from hydrostatic shock, your brain is going to be completely deprived of oxygen, and you are going to die. Likewise, mindless determination to keep moving, hunting, and killing is not going to protect you from the rigors of exposure in the midst of a North Dakota winter. Starvation, dehydration, and blood loss are absolutes, even if determination can temporarily overcome them.

In essence, the human body is a machine, like an automobile. You are trying to describe the ways this machine can malfunction to produce a specific effect, and that's good, but please stop explaining to me how it keeps going without wheels, gasoline, or a functioning engine.

Thanks in advance,

John Seavey

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Question About the Clone Saga

I recently read an old 'But I Digress' column on Peter David's website, where he talked about the Clone Saga back when it was just a crazy rumor that Marvel would never, ever do...right? And it reminded me of the Clone Saga (yes, I know, they have medication for that now...) and the big question I've had about the Clone Saga for a few years now.

Namely, who was Ben Reilly, really?

Because I remember reading the Clone Saga at the time, and Ben Reilly was the clone of Peter Parker who died in Amazing Spider-Man #149, and who Peter threw into an incinerator in #150. As we were told, he was merely unconscious, not dead, and he survived the fall and woke up at the bottom of the shaft and escaped the flames and went on to make a new life for himself as beloved Nephew Ben.

Except that a while back, thanks to the magic of Marvel's Essentials collections, I actually read Amazing Spider-Man #150. And Peter doesn't just throw his clone down the chimney shaft. He first keeps him in a walk-in freezer for a few days so that Curt Connors can autopsy the body and definitively determine whether it's a clone or not. (Peter doesn't read the results, a conclusion that Gerry Conway probably would have never written if he'd known what he was setting up.)

The clone wasn't just "a little banged up". He was dead. Even before taking a header down a smokestack, his body was frozen and cut open to see how it died. I'm aware that Curt Connors and Peter Parker have both made their mistakes when it comes to biology, but never the kind that involved storing a dead body for more than 24 hours without noticing that it was still alive.

So with that said, who was Ben Reilly? Was he just a recent clone, created with fake memories of years on the run (and, presumably, supported with an elaborate cast of back-up clones who could corroborate his story?) Or did the Jackal just create dozens of Spider-Man clones, sending them off into the heartland of America while his "best model" perished at Spidey's hands? Given how toxic the Clone Saga is to fans, I doubt we'll ever find out.

At the very least, it explains that stupid skeleton in the smokestack, though.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Five Best MST3K End Credits

Not the actual end credits to the episodes, although they did sometimes do some fun things with those, too. ("JEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDDD!!") I mean the movies where the credits run extra long, forcing Mike/Joel and the bots to hang out in the theater and try to find something funny to talk about while the movie is doing not a whole lot. They frequently wound up doing comedy sketches that didn't riff on what was happening onscreen, but were nonetheless hilarious. (Which is why the otherwise-perfect ending to MST3K: The Movie, where they riff on their own names, is disqualified for purposes of this list. They're actually riffing on the credits.)

So without further ado, we're off!

5. Alien From LA. Actually not one of my favorites, but it's such a crowd-pleaser that I feel like I have to include it or the MiSTies will rise up en masse to lynch me. Crow and Mike get into a long, bitter, eventually-refereed-by-Tom argument about who is into the "femmier" movies. I kind of feel it works better as a concept than a sketch, but I know people who consider this to be the perfect gag sequence. (For myself, I prefer the argument from 'Space Mutiny'. "You and your precious 80s. It would have continued to be the 70s if not for you!")

4. Laserblast. Taking off from Leonard Maltin's rating of 2 1/2 stars, the trio go through his video guide to list all the other movies that Leonard Maltin considers to be on a par with 'Laserblast'. The list is as much terrifying as it is funny.

3. The Final Sacrifice. Mike and Crow play a studio executive and a nervous screenwriter (respectively) discussing plans for "The Final Sacrifice: The Series", as Tom sings along to the theme in the background. Not sure which is funnier, Tom singing, "This part sounds like Danny Elfman, Danny Elfman, Danny Elfman..." or Mike explaining how they should have Zap Rowsdower do nude scenes once a season.

2. Werewolf. A full musical extravaganza, as the cast uses the generic beat of the end-credit music as the backdrop of a fantastic medley that spans everything from The Verve Pipe's 'Freshmen' to 'Easter Parade'. It's not just just funny, it's catchy as hell.

1. Soultaker. Sometimes, MST3K is at its best when they go dark and twisted, and this is one of the best examples. The bots do a long, bizarre extrapolation of what must have happened after the end of the movie, which involves the romantic leads breaking up, DUIs, and straining wood alcohol through burnt toast. Mike tries to posit an alternative, only to be derided as hopelessly naive. "So that's it. It's either drinking wood alcohol in back alleys, or animals in feetie pajamas?" "Yes, Mike. Why is that so hard to accept?" Sheer perfection.

Do you have an MST3K end credits sketch you liked? Share some, won't you?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Things I Learned From a Tour Of Mythbusters Forums

1) The reason the Mythbusters couldn't replicate the feats of a true ninja is because only a true ninja can do them. The reason that the ninja they brought in couldn't do it either is because he's not a true ninja, because true ninjas don't exist anymore, and even if they did, they wouldn't deign to appear on television because they're too busy walking on water and deflecting bullets with their mind.

2) The same is true of cowboys, only they don't deflect bullets with their mind. They fire them.

3) Despite direct evidence that a particular urban myth is impossible, it totally happened to one of the commenters and the Mythbusters just didn't properly replicate the exact conditions under which it happened. Crucial elements they left out involved the exact make/model of device, the precise angle/trajectory/velocity of its travel, and the fact that it happened on a full moon in Transylvania. Unless they retest the myth under a full moon in Transylvania, they can't call it busted.

4) The commenters always know more about guns, cars, and explosives than the Mythbusters. Every single one of them.

5) The reason that Jack Burton could shoot a lock off a door and the Mythbusters couldn't is because Jack Burton's guns gain additional speed from surfing on the sheer current of awesome that Kurt Russell radiates at all times. (Okay, that's just my explanation.)

6) The moon landing totally didn't happen. Wake up, sheeple!

7) For a show that demonstrates the basic scientific principle of submitting a hypothesis to empirical testing, Mythbusters sure attracts its share of pseudoscientists.

Monday, January 03, 2011

And the Discussion Continued...

As it turns out, John Scalzi did read my post about his post about Star Wars, and he responded with a post here. I think it's worth reading, especially the comments section, and I feel like I understand what he was getting at a lot better now. I'd like to thank Mr. Scalzi for taking the time to discuss the idea with me...and hordes of Internet readers, of course, but it's not exactly like I sent him a private email, either. But that's just part of what makes the Internet so much fun!