Avatar Review, and stuff about science fiction

My friend Tony commented that not seeing Avatar in 3D was a waste of time, and I'm inclined to agree with him.  Unfortunately, a) 3D makes my brain tingle (seriously) and b) I feel like any movie that's dependent upon special effects to be good, really isn't.  And that was certainly the case with Avatar.

The movie was 162 minutes long, which was roughly 142 minutes longer than it really needed to be.  Twenty minutes of an adventure in the alien forest would have been enough.

I won't talk about the story, as that's been beaten to death since the movie was originally released.  No, what Avatar made me think about was science fiction in general, and our efforts to tell science fiction stories in visual mediums.

Basically, the odds of an alien race looking anything like us (as in humans) are really, really small.  The sheer number of evolutionary coincidences that would have to happen to create a humanoid race would be astronomical.  In other words, the little green men wouldn't really be men at all.

Of course, visual storytelling has been hampered by its tools.  Star Trek had face paint and limited prosthetics to work with, so the fact that every alien race they encountered had two legs, two arms, two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth wasn't their fault.  They did the best they could with what they had.

I won't fault Avatar for this, either, even though it was, in theory, the first science fiction movie that could actually move away from this rather ridiculous trope.  From a storytelling standpoint, making your characters humanoid means the audience will be able to connect with them, at least better than they'd connect with, say, a shapeless cloud of energy.

Avatar does lose points for the rest of Pandora's residents.  Every single life form on that planet was an analogue for something on Earth.  You saw the alien creature and you knew it was a bird, or a cat, or a horse.  Each creature matched up with something familiar when, again, the odds of such a thing happening are infinitesimal.  Even the fact that the planet had plant life just like Earth is ridiculous.

And, again, Avatar, with all of its vaunted special effects, is the first movie to come along that truly could have acknowledged all of this.  It could make special effects look real and, in turn, made the unnatural comprehensible.  But it didn't.

No, I didn't see Avatar in 3D, but I think creators actually dropped the ball on this great new technology, which is unfortunate.

Political Rant: The Tax Compromise

I'm a liberal because I'm a realist.

I know that probably sounds strange.  I would imagine most people would consider those who lean left to generally have their head in the clouds, as opposed to conservatives who are firmly rooted on the ground.  Liberals, after all, are responsible for things like hippies and political correctness.  Liberals think everyone should have food and everyone should have health care and everyone should have civil rights even though none of those things actually exists in the real world.

And all of that is true and I agree with it all and for the theoretical liberal, that's pretty much the water's edge.  But I consider myself a practical liberal.

I would love it if we lived in a world where there was never an unwanted pregnancy, never a terminal birth defect, never rape, and never incest.  But we don't.  I would love to live in a world where a corrupt, inefficient system like welfare is unnecessary, but I don't, and even if only 1% of those on it are being helped, it's better than none.  I would love to live in a world where the government didn't have to pay to do things for children that their parents should do, but letting the children suffer because the parents are bad only hurts the children.  I would love to live in a world where the super rich invested their money in this country, but I don't.

As I once said to my wife, I would love to be a Republican, but I live in the real world.

Of course, my anger over the compromise yesterday is directed at Republicans since they are the ones that decided to put politics over progress, but that's their nature; they're conservatives and conservatives want to keep doing the same thing over and over, regardless of evidence that it doesn't work.  Just consider how many of them suddenly think global warming is a myth again.

I've seen a lot of outrage from liberals over the compromise.  And that annoys me almost as much as the Republicans annoy me.

I've seen liberals decry the compromise by belittling the amount of money unemployed Americans will now get.  I've seen them scoff at hundreds of dollars a month, apparently forgetting that not everyone lives on a coast and pays four figures for rent, and that hundreds of dollars a month is a big deal for those who are poor or even those who are lower middle class.

The complete disregard for how important the extension of unemployment benefits is to thousands of people in this country reeks of elitism and theoretical liberalism and it actually makes me sad.  Go ask someone who can't find a job and is struggling to stay afloat how they feel about the compromise.

There's a great article here that goes through the plan in more detail than I've seen any liberal pundit bother to address.

But the sense of elitism I get coming from some liberal commentators is a visceral response, which is appropriate given that's how most on the left have responded to the compromise.  An intellectual response also undercuts the outrage.

It's a simple question: What was the alternative?

I've seen many, many people claim that President Obama should have held out and not compromised with the Republicans.  That would really seem to be the only other option besides making a compromise.  So let's breakdown that path.

If the president didn't do anything, the tax cuts would have expired for everyone at the end of the year.  The Democrats would try to blame the Republicans, since the Dems introduced a bill to extend the tax cuts for the middle class.  The Republicans would blame the Democrats, saying that they were willing to compromise for the good of the country.  The problem for the Democrats is this: the Republicans take control of the House in January.  The Republicans can say "we'll make this our first priority when we take power."  And then they will.  And they will send a bill to the Senate that reinstates the Bush tax cuts.

So what do the Democrats do then?  If they reject it, they are rejecting tax cuts during a down economy.  Not only that, but it's an open ended rejection; the Republicans can keep sending some form of it to them for two years if they really wanted.  The Republicans just had to reject the Democrat's bill one time, during a lame duck session.  The Democrats lose that battle and they take the president down with them.

Oh, and the entire time this plays out, there are no extended benefits for the unemployed.

At some point the Democrats would have to cave, and it would likely come without any major compromises and without extended unemployment benefits or any of the other things Obama got in the compromise (see the linked article above).  And, again, during all this unemployed Americans would suffer.

So the question is there: What was Obama supposed to do?  Let the jobless and the middle class suffer?  Let the Republicans make the Democrats look even worse next year?

Obama made the best out of a bad situation.  It's too bad that so many on the left are too blinded by ideology to see that.