A friend recommended the other day that I watch SUCKER PUNCH. I’d mentioned how a certain violent nature in fictional women could make them more attractive (though even the violence in KILL BILL couldn’t do it for Uma Thurman) and he thought I might like it.

I only watched about the first fifteen minutes or so; just enough to see where the movie was going and decide that I didn’t like it. It was enough to make me curious how other people reacted to it, though, so I checked out quite a few reviews. The reactions to SUCKER PUNCH are actually more interesting to me than the movie itself.

My initial take on the movie, with its supposed overlapping layers of fantasy and reality, is that the last ‘real’ thing shown in the movie is when ‘Babydoll’ sits down in the lobotomist’s chair for her transorbital lobotomy. Everything shown after we see the orbitoclast (the pointy thing that looks like an ice pick) approaching her eye socket is her desperate fantasies in the few seconds before her higher brain functions are destroyed. It’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” with CGI and barely-legal barely-dressed girls.

Other interpretations are that the bordello/burlesque hall scenes and fight sequences are just metaphors for the real actions that the girls are taking for their escape. It’s not Babydoll’s story, it’s Sweet Pea’s. Some people even seem to think that the bordello scenes are ‘real’ and that the mental institution is just a front for high-class prostitution.

On reflection, all the various interpretations make an equal amount of sense, which is to say none. Even my own interpretation doesn’t make any sense. I found myself nitpicking the lobotomy scene, (The technique shown is wildly wrong; the orbitoclast was worked carefully between the eyeball and socket then given a gentle tap with a hammer to break through the thin bone at the back of the socket, not held inches from the eye and smacked like a railroad spike.) as well as its rationale, and just about everything else shown in the opening music videos. (There was no need for a massive bribe to get the girl lobotomized; in the 1950’s lobotomies were handed out like aspirin, if the girl is 20 and an adult, how come her stepfather can have her committed? Etc.) The bordello and fight scenes have been criticized as fantasies that few, if any, young women would have, but it’s even worse than that. The fight scenes are ones that no one in the 1950’s would have; they rely too much on 21st century memes.

The movie, in short, doesn’t many any sense at all, on any level. It really, truly, is a more-or-less random sequence of music videos and fight scenes. There’s no there there. It’s a 110 minute Rorschach test, a movie that’s so absolutely shallow, so utterly lacking in meaning, that nearly everyone is unconsciously compelled to create a structure for it, and fill that structure from their own imagination.

The people who don’t try to find any meaning in it, who just enjoy watching an hour and a half of hot girls fighting giant robot samurai and such, have the right idea. Alas, I found the fight scenes too emotionless, heavily processed, and CGI-dependent to even enjoy on that level, but it’s still a fascinating study in how our desire for story is so great that we will create one out of any raw material presented to us, no matter how nonsensical it may be.

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No Place For Young Readers

Schools say they want kids to read, but they really don’t.

I experienced this myself. Teachers hated seeing me read in school.

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Public Uneducation

Teaching to the test.

If, as a teacher, you want your students to do their best, you have to have them practice what is effectively bad writing— no introduction, no conclusion, just hit the points of the rubric and provide the necessary factual support.
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Keep Your Eye On The Goal

Some hundreds of years ago, back when I was a lad in the ninteen-hundred and seventies, I was playing a wargame with a friend of mine, as I often did. In this particular game, though, I made a very bad mistake; I beat the crap out of his army, thrashing it all over the map.

Unfortunately, the victory conditions–what you had to do to win–in that particular game didn’t involved beating up the other fellow’s army so much as taking and holding cities. I was having so much fun thrashing his army that I forgot to do this. I won almost all the battles, but lost the war because I didn’t pay enough attention to what ‘winning’ meant.

Keep your eye on your goals. A success that doesn’t move you closer to those goals is not a success; it’s a distraction.

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Gift Ideas For The Suicidal

It would seem that, for some mysterious reason (probably starting with “Affiliate links”) Business Insider has published a list of gifts that men can buy for their wives or girlfriends. (Particularly, I suppose, if the lady in question works at Business Insider.)

They polled the ladies around the office for ideas, then expanded on them. (More affiliate links that way.) My wife and I got a good laugh out of them. Some of the ideas are okay, but some, well, let’s just say that if you follow BI’s advice, you may need a good proctologist to dispose of the Christmas tree this year.

  1. “We could go out to eat at a nice restaurant — the memory matters more than something material”

All right; that could work. But this:

A nice dinner is a sweet thought, but you can amp up that evening out by signing up for a cooking lesson or wine tasting class.

Is asking for trouble. Guys, do not, I say again, do NOT buy the woman in your life cooking lessons for Christmas. You might as well say, “You’re not a very good cook, but I expect a lot of good meals out of you, so here’s some lessons.” Buy her an exercise DVD while you’re at it. And a big stick, so she can beat your dumb ass.

  1. An overpriced expresso machine. How romantic. Okay, sure, if she likes expresso.

  2. Cute Shoes.”

Do not do this. You don’t know her shoe size, you don’t really know what style of shoes she likes, (No you don’t. No, don’t argue; women’s shoes are a mystery beyond male comprehension.) or what she needs or wants. This is very hazardous territory, like buying a gadget for a gadget-geek. You’re out of your depth and the recipient either already has it, or doesn’t want it.

  1. Some fun jewelry, but nothing too fancy. Solid suggestion. Go for something classy, not flashy.

  2. I’d love for him to plan a weekend away, since I’d never actually do that myself

My first thought was that this meant for the guy to go away and leave her alone for a weekend. That’s a better idea than the hideous bag they suggest you buy her (affiliate link!) to go with the trip.

  1. A classic Chanel purse that I can use until I’m in my 80s

Like the shoes, this is very hazardous territory. Do NOT use your own judgement in picking out a purse for your lady. Wait for her to subtly hint at which one she would like. (For example, if she shoves a purse in your face and says, “You should buy me this purse for Christmas,” takes a picture of it and emails it to you, you might want to consider adding it to your list.)

  1. Tickets to Broadway

Okay, sure, if you actually live somewhere vaguely near Broadway. If you’re in, say, California, not so much.

  1. A new wallet

Yeah, right. My wife laughed and rolled her eyes at this one. Not only that, but the wallet they suggest is a checkbook wallet. So, yeah, I guess if your wife or girlfriend is an AARP member and still writes checks at the grocery store, knock yourself out.

  1. Cozy Ugg slippers

Hard to go wrong with slippers. Solid, conservative suggestion.

  1. I’d like him to cook a romantic meal

Well, it beats a checkbook holder. If you want to really score points, though, cook the romantic dinner for no good reason at all. Just surprise her with one some night.

  1. Spa treatments

Make sure it’s a classy place and you’re golden.

  1. An iPad

No woman will turn up her nose at a nice, purse-sized, iPad Mini. Best idea yet.

So, out of twelve suggestions, what are we left with? A kitchen appliance, jewelry, slippers, a spa visit, or an iPad. Nothing terribly original, but I can say, speaking from the experience of my many thousands of years of marriage (give or take a few; it’s hard to keep track), that they work.

Just don’t be the guy who got his wife cooking lessons.

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Backwards Compatibility

What’s so great about Microsoft?

The Windows team invests a mind-boggling amount of time, hardware, and people into maintaining compatibility. There are bugs in Windows that could have been fixed years ago, but can’t be, because that would break applications that (deliberately or accidentally) depend on those bugs. Bug-for-bug compatibility is a problem, but breaking backward compatibility would be a much bigger problem, so even as the lowest layers of the operating system are revised and rewritten, the layers that applications talk to (the application programming interface, or API) are carefully tested to ensure that no changes are visible to the application.

At Microsoft, bugs aren’t to be stamped out; they’re carefully preserved. It sounds like a joke, but they really see that as a positive feature.

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The Old-Fashioned Way

A fascinating piece on how writing is, and isn’t taught today.

In a world of blogs, email, Twitter, and Facebook, the ability to clearly express your thoughts with the written word is more important than ever.

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Modern Expressionism

So, an artist goes into an Apple store. . . .

No, it’s not a joke, and I don’t really care about the minor legal trouble this guy got into. What interests me about this article is that he seems to think he’s discovered something significant in the way people interact with computers. We’re all staring zombie-like at these screens and it’s turning us into zombies. Oh-noes!

Of course we have a blank expression most of the time we’re staring at a computer screen. What expression should you have? You also stare blankly at the TV, out the windshield of your car when driving, at the tile wall when showering. . . . Just about any time you’re not looking at another person, your expression is pretty blank. That’s because facial expressions are for other people, not for inanimate objects.

Don’t believe me? Open up a video chat with another person. You’ll smile, laugh, and frown, because you’re interacting with a person, not a screen, and that’s what facial expressions are wired for.

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Putnnam’s Law: Conform or Else

Puttnam’s Law.

In the tech field we used to say, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” (Now it’s Microsoft.)

No matter if it works out or not; if you follow the herd, you didn’t make a mistake and can’t be blamed. It’s only if you try something different that you can get in trouble.

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No Excuses, Dad

Dan Benjamin is probably a great dad. Let me get that out of the way first. I have no reason to think he’s anything but a great dad, with a happy, well-adjusted, son.

Something he said the other day got me thinking, though. I was listening to one of his Back To Work podcasts and he was talking with Merlin Mann about passive-aggressiveness and parenting and how we say weird things to our kids. The example he used was telling his son, “I’m sorry you don’t want to go, now get out of the car.” (The anecdote starts 74 minutes in.)

His son, four-years-old, didn’t want to go to camp. He’d been with mom and dad all the time up till now, but now mom and dad had a little baby and not as much time for the older kid, so he had to go. He enjoyed the first few days of camp, but then one day he ‘inexplicably’ doesn’t want to go. He doesn’t want to do the talent show they’re doing at camp, he doesn’t like the other kids, he doesn’t want to go. Dan is certain the kid is making up excuses and forces him to get out of the car and go to camp.

Now, the kid ended up having a good time (or so he told Dan), so I guess it worked out, but that is so totally not how I would have handled it. Maybe I’m the bad parent, but there it is.

I make my son, Nathaniel, do things he doesn’t want to do. That’s part of the job. He has to pick up his toys and eat his supper and not torture the cat. But I don’t try to force fun on him against his will. If we want him to do something that we think he’ll enjoy, we try to talk him into it, we talk out any objections he may have, and quite often we can persuade him to try it. But we never issue a Parental Decree that he shall go, and he shall have fun.

We made him take swimming lessons when he was three. He didn’t want to. He hated it. He hated is so much that three years later his hatred of the very idea of swimming lessons burns with the fury of a thousand suns. He’ll probably never take another swimming lesson in his life.

Yesterday, I noticed that he was setting up a new account in Monkey Quest. I thought that was a little unusual because he had a high level monkey in his old account, with cool items. Why didn’t he want to play that monkey anymore? I could have just said, “You’re not setting up a new account. You already have an account; keep playing in that one.” I didn’t.

I asked him about it, but he said he didn’t want to talk about it. I said, “Okay, if you really don’t want to talk about it that’s fine. I was just curious why you want to stop playing Numi, with all the cool stuff he has, that you spent Nick Cash on.”

He just did, he said. Just wanted to start over. I could buy more Nick Cash for him.

“Well, we’re not buying more Nick Cash for that. Now, you’re not in any trouble or anything, I was just wondering; did someone in the game maybe say something that bothered you?”

Ding! Some other kids had told him that he had to change his monkey’s name. The only way to do that was to create a new account. We had a little talk about it and as I type this he’s happily playing as his old monkey, with all his cool stuff.

Sometimes kids make up excuses to try and get out of things they don’t feel like doing. Every parent knows that. That’s usually not-fun things, though, right? Kids don’t usually try to get out of fun. Nathaniel makes up all kinds of excuses to not eat a supper he doesn’t like the look of, but he’ll never say, “No, I don’t feel like going to the water park today.” Not without a good reason. (Like he’s afraid the water will hurt the scrape on his knee. Good reason. I remember not wanting to get in the water when I was a kid because I was afraid it would hurt the cut on my lip.)

When a kid doesn’t want to do something that they usually enjoy, shouldn’t we as parents wonder why? Sometimes, sure, it’s just whimsy. But sometimes kids really do have a reason for not wanting to do something, though they may be reluctant to tell you what that reason is. You’ll never know which it is if you just say, “I don’t care, you’re going anyway.”

Maybe Dan’s kid really just didn’t feel like going that day and was making up excuses. Most likely that’s all there was to it. But maybe he didn’t want to go because some of the other kids were picking on him, or bullying him. I don’t know. Here’s the thing, though: Neither does Dan Benjamin. He doesn’t know what was really going on, and probably never will. Because instead of trying to find out why his kid didn’t want to go to camp, why the boy was screaming and crying about it, he just made the boy get out of the car.

I remember as a kid not wanting to go do things and my mother making me go.

“You’re going to go do this thing today.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I don’t care. You’re going. It’ll be fun.”

It wasn’t fun. Ever. Whether it was being dumped at some stock show or summer camp or a movie I didn’t want to see, I hated it. More, I knew perfectly well that my mother didn’t care if I enjoyed it or not, if I was going to have fun or not. She was just dumping me somewhere, getting rid of me, so she could go do her own thing and have her fun.

Listening to Dan Benjamin talk about making his kid go to camp when he didn’t want to, what he pretty obviously feels is, “The boy didn’t want to go, for some silly reason, but I made him and he had a great time. I win!” What I hear is, “We paid a lot of money for this camp, we have other plans for today that don’t include you, so get out of the car.”

I’m probably being unfair to Dan, but there it is. Different backgrounds, different world-views.

Sometimes as parents we have to make our kids do things they don’t want to do, and it really is for their own good. Sometimes we make our kids do things they don’t want to do and it’s for us, but we sell it like it’s for them. It’s up to us, as the adults in the relationship, to know the difference. Is what you’re making your kid do really for his or her benefit, or is it for your benefit and they just have to endure it?

Because they may know the difference even if you don’t.

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