Purpose one: writing a travelogue to describe my various trips.

Purpose two: muse.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Horror Movies Get Right

Horror Movies are generally known to be so bad it almost constitute its own separate B-category.  It is true the acting is sub-standard, the lighting is purposefully disturbing, story lines follow a predictable template and the dialog is cheesy.  Yet, there are some things they get almost consistently right, at least as entertainment vehicles.  These are things I often find lacking in artsy films and even mainstream ones.

(Caution: Youtube-links below are all viewer discretion advised...)

The most important is the pacing.  Horror movies always move along at a good clip and keep the tension throughout.  They are also generally short, where many of the more serious kind drag on way too long, the producer too fond of his own work to cut unneeded scenes. 

Horror movies establish the conflict up front, often with an introductory scene where we see the first victim getting it.  Not even in the worst C horror movies have you any doubt who is going to be after the protagonist.  (The protagonist is often established later, because in horror, the monster is really the main character, even though POV typically follows someone else). 

To stay with the conflict theme, in horror, the fight is not only between the monster and the people, but always between the people themselves.  In the best horror movies, a group is trapped somewhere, whether on a spaceship, on an antarctic ice-shelf, or an old house.  This is a terrific concept for drama.

Unlike many pretentious 'films' made by pretentious movie-makers, horror flicks do not take themselves seriously, even making fun of themselves.  I usually get at least one good laugh out of them, something I do not always get from comedies. 

American movies are fraught with invincible heroes and happy endings.  This is true even for the more serious ones.  Horror movies have no such delusions.  Anyone can get it and endings are never happy. Nothing and nobody is perfect, just like the real world.  Irony squared. 

So if you get tired of the longish, boring, inflated, stale, or muddled fare, check out some gore!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

He Could Not Even Cut Taxes Right

When Elizabeth Warren's video went viral, it produced some furore.  It surprised me a little, partly because it did not sound like she said much we have not heard before, and partly because I mostly agree with the first part of her speech.  I was strongly against the Iraq war and the Medicare Prescription Drug benefit that Bush pushed through.  I was initially on the fence about Afghanistan, but do think the US should have left long ago.  I also was not a big fan of the tax cuts, and in response to the debate following her video and some recent comments from friends, I started thinking about why.

I think taxes should be low, simple and even.  The Bush cuts realized the first of these with lower rates, but at the expense of the other two.  In particular, by lowering the rates so much for dividends, we now have a skewed tax system where investors pay a lot less than wage earners. 

There is a fairness issue here, but I want to focus on the economics of this.  Many free-market economists are against the mortgage-deduction (as am I), because there is nothing that tells us, a priori, that home ownership is better than renting.  By giving a big tax break to home owners, the ownership part of the equation gets a lot heavier, instead of letting people decide on more natural factors. 

The same is true of the Bush cuts.  By taxing dividends at lower rates, the government is moving the incentives around to favor investors -- but there is nothing that tells us income earned through dividends is somehow better than income earned through wages.  From an economics perspective, I cannot see how this makes sense.  We should not assume one is better than the other, and therefore, we should tax the two at the same rate.  (Which rate that should be is a different discussion).

As an added defect, the sunset provision is bizarre.  It was almost as if he tried to saddle his successor with a political hot potato, as he must have known it would not go quietly.  Sunset provisions on almost any other Bush-era initiatives would have made more sense: Sarbanes-Oxley, the wars, the Patriot act (actually part of the Patriot act does expire, and some portion got renewed quietly by congress). 

I have not even gotten into the whole issue of cutting taxes while increasing spending.  It's dreadful when they cannot even cut taxes in a way that benefit the economy -- or us, which is the same thing.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Food, Good and Bad

"If it tastes good, it is bad for you."  I have heard and read this many times.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  Plenty of things taste awesome and is good for you.  I love raspberries, and they are full of fiber and B-vitamins and phytochemicals.  I love pistachios and walnuts, and   "Nuts are a powerhouse of good nutrition, packed with protein, fiber, monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, copper, and antioxidants. Although they are high in fat, it's unsaturated heart-healthy fats."  I love eggs and I believe they are one of the most healthy sources of protein -- the double beauty of eggs is that they fill you up fast, so that you are less likely to eat too many of them. 

Of course, you should not eat too much of what you like.  That is true of anything, though.  You should also not eat too much of what you dislike, it is just easier.  Seriously, you should enjoy a varied diet.  Eating (or drinking) too much of any one thing, especially something you enjoy on a daily basis, can get your body in trouble. 

Epicurus advocated a simple diet designed for health, rather than an extravagant one designed for pleasure.  I think it is possible to have both.  Here is a recipe for a little desert or snack that is easy to make, delicious, and contains only ingredients that are good for you.  The portion below should serve 3-4 people. 

  1. 1/2 cup strawberries
  2. 1/2 cup blackberries
  3. a lemon or a lime
  4. 1/4 cup walnuts
  5. 1/4 cup raisins (golden if you like them)
  6. 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
Mix the berries.  Squeeze some citrus on it, to taste.  Sprinkle the raisins in.  Stir the coconut milk and add it.  Then stir the whole thing together.  Top with the walnuts.  You can also grate some of the citrus zest into the mix, after adding the coconut milk. 

If you are used to using lemon or lime with dairy, be careful with the citrus here, though.  The dairy takes the bitterness out of the citrus and leaves the sweet fruit-taste for you to enjoy.  Coconut milk is not dairy, so does not have quite the same effect. 

Another of my favorite things is yoghurt mixed with some fresh fruit and lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Here I wanted to go for a vegan dish, but you could use yoghurt instead of coconut milk.