Monthly Archives: October 2010

Oddity of the Week

My Wikipedia history: it’s eclectic.  Can you guess which two I looked up for related reasons?

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October at the Humane Society

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Oddity of the Week

If you haven’t been following the New York gubernatorial race, you’ve missed Jimmy McMillan of the “Rent Is Too Damn High” party and his performance at the debate on October 8.  I don’t know whether this tinfoil-hat-looking website is his, but I hope so.

Is it going viral?  Of course it is.

Oh, and did I mention that the madam of Eliot Spitzer’s favorite escort service was in the same debate, running on a platform of legalizing pot and gambling?  It gets good at 3:10.

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Picture from the NY Daily News.

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College Elitism

Another day, another $115 spent on college applications.  No, that is not the price of the application.  That’s the price of having my GRE scores sent to schools.

My scores, in case you were wondering, were (I think) 720/98% verbal, 790/92% analytical*, 5.0/81% writing.  I would like to suggest that these scores are good.  Recall that the GREs are only taken by people applying to graduate school; according to the census, only about 1/4 of the population of the US even gets a bachelor’s degree.  I’m not sure how many of those apply to graduate schools, but 10% of the population has a graduate degree.  I mention this because I sometimes feel like I live in an alternate reality where these scores are not really anything to write home about.

Of course it’s tautological to say that grad schools are elitist based on ability.  I, however, am more and more astounded at how elitist they are based on income.  Undergraduate institutions are usually pretty doable on scholarships unless you have $50,000 worth of furniture; grad school should be even easier because it’s supposed to be fully funded regardless of student income.  But that’s only true once you get there, and getting there is a pricey endeavor.

For instance, I’m getting a vibe that ETS, administrator of the GREs, is avariciously motivated.  Yes, there’s a fee-reduction program…offered on a first-come, first-served basis.  And that’s fee reduction, not fee elimination; they generously charge you just half as much.

Oh, and parking at the test location costs $12.  They don’t validate.

Grad application fees vary, but I’d say average out at about $80.  Virtually every school will offer to waive the fee…if you meet the ETS-approved qualifications.

Some undergraduate institutions, like mine, send free transcripts; others may charge as much as $5 each.

And then there’s what I just paid for:  $23 each to send my GRE scores to schools.

Tally it all up: A US student could pay $160 + $12 + $80 + $5+ $23 = $303 to apply to a single graduate school.  If you happen to be underprivileged in the correct ways to get all the possible financial assistance, you’ll pay $80 + $12 + $5 + $23 = $120.  Notice that you’re still coughing up $40 in small fees that can’t be waived or refunded.  That’s what owns you if you actually are on a tight budget: You may not have $20 or $10 or $5 to spend on an unexpected fee, and so you find yourself nickel and dimed out of an education.  And this is the cost of a single application.  It’s much wiser to apply to several schools.  And above and beyond all that, these expenses don’t guarantee you admission.  Particularly if your number of applications was limited by finances, you may end up having spent money you didn’t have for nothing more than a pile of rejections.  It’s easy to understand why poor applicants might just give up on getting an advanced degree.

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*You may have deduced that the analytical section has an absurdly high average and low standard deviation.  It does because math problems are so objective that, if you’re applying to a graduate program in science or engineering, you’re basically expected to get all the answers right (the mean is around 700).  It’s harder to hold the same standard for the verbal section, because the questions are a little more subjective and often it’s more a matter of one answer being better than another, rather than one being right and another being wrong, and of course all bets are off with the writing section.

Fun fact: ETS is moving towards having the analytical writing section graded entirely by computer.  I’m sure that will end well.

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Those Future Cities

After watching the final cut of Blade Runner*, a friend of mine was pointing out how blatantly the Star Wars prequels ripped off Ridley Scott’s futuristic cityscapes.  Does he have a point?

All right, he has a point.  But while the influence is unmistakable, Blade Runner didn’t invent the look of its urban dystopia.  There’s an earlier film to which it owes at least as much as Coruscant owes to it.  If you need to ask whether I’m referring to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, you haven’t been reading this blog for very long.  I’ll be exploring the parallels and, just for fun, weighing in on which film I think delivered better on each element.

Giant, city-dominating buildings (Stadtkrone Tower and Tyrell Building):

Judgment: Tyrell Building.  We get shots of Stadtkrone Tower in the background, but Scott really indulges us in the scenery porn and takes us all over this one.

Small, personal flying transports:

Judgment:  While Metropolis may well have invented the flying car in concept, if not in design, those Blade Runner spinners are just so great-looking that I’m giving it to them.

Stoic businessmen with views that demonstrate their total control over the city:

These two films may be unique in portraying the dictator as a businessman, rather than a politician or military leader.  Joh Fredersen wins handily; Tyrell certainly has the more impressive view, but Fredersen is a powerful leader effective at getting what he wants, and you can bet he wouldn’t have gotten his face smashed by a rogue robot.  Speaking of which…

Sexy but dangerous robot hookers (robot Maria and Pris):

Judgment:  Maria.  Pris has a sweet woobie quality to her, but Maria takes depravity and runs with it.  And she’s actually more dangerous: Pris may be a physically capable fighter, but Maria makes an entire city destroy itself in revolt.  Okay, so neither Tyrell nor Fredersen is capable of making a robot do what he wants.

Use of multiculturalism, and especially Asian culture, to give the city an unfamiliar feel:

I’m giving this one to Blade Runner, which carried it out to beautiful perfection, but it was a reasonable prediction by the 80’s and would explode along with cyberpunk in a few years.  But why would a 1920s German director have named the city’s red-light district Yoshiwara?  Cue wild speculation.

And of course their vastly different, yet thematically related, portrayals of dystopian industry:

Judgment:  Blade Runner.  The Hades landscape is just pure post-industrial gorgeous.  Lang’s dystopia is much more personal, bringing us up close with the workers and their plight, but Scott doesn’t have to–his landscape is so self-evidently craptastic that the misery of its inhabitants goes without saying.  Besides, it’s a testament to the marvels of miniature work and forced perspective; here’s a video about the making of the scene.  (In fairness, Metropolis had groundbreaking miniature work as well; here’s a picture of them moving the cars in the city shots–individually, one frame at a time).

So which of these movies really deserves credit for the future cityscape?  Both.  Metropolis pioneered it; Blade Runner codified it.  Each gave it a different spin and feel, each filled it with a different story, and on top of it all, each is an excellent film in its own right.  You should see both of them to see how they have shaped our collective vision of the urban future.

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*Essentially a cleaned-up version the director’s cut.  The theatrical release has a substantial cult following, but I’ve never seen a release so rightfully buried from the memory of man.  Even Harrison Ford hated his voiceovers.

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A Brief History of Downfall Parodies

My dad just discovered Downfall parodies.  I think they are an excellent meme, and furthermore my internet is currently working and it would be a pity to waste it, so in the spirit of public education, I’m presenting their history.

The movie Downfall features a clip of Hitler ranting about losing the war. It is, truly, meme bait too good to resist: I mean, it’s Hitler.  Yelling.  And it’s in German, so all you have to do is add your own subtitles and voila!  Hitler ranting about whatever obscure topic you please.  The original, I am told, was Hitler getting banned from Xbox Live.

The most famous, and probably the best written and executed, Downfall parody was Grammar Nazis, wherein Hitler rants about linguistic pedantry.  “Grammar Nazi” was already popular nerd slang for someone who is constantly correcting your grammar; College Humor (the makers of The Matrix XP and Minesweeper: The Movie, among others) did another great Grammar Nazi video.

Stalin briefly wanted in on the parodies, but Hitler was quick to defend his position.

The, um, downfall of the parodies came when Constantin Films, Downfall‘s copyright holder, pressured YouTube to remove the clips in April 2010 and YouTube agreed to comply.  Of course policing YouTube is a losing battle; soon parodies were popping up where Hitler rants about his videos being removed (such as this one, cannily uploaded to Funny Or Die instead of YouTube).  Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel actually approves of the parodies, saying “You couldn’t get a better compliment as a director,” but he doesn’t hold the copyright.

As the number of links in this post may have indicated, the takedown didn’t last.  Since April, most of the famous parodies have found their way back onto YouTube, including the one my dad found: Hitler’s reaction to vuvuzelas at the World Cup, uploaded in June at the height of the vuvuzela memes, just a few days before the other memetic vuvuzela video, The Fellowship of the Vuvuzela (which features the remixed soundtrack from They’re Taking the Hobbits to Isengard).  Yelling Hitler has become a part of the fabric of the Internet now, and no amount of policing will ever extract it completely.

If you’re wondering how on Earth I’ve found the time to watch all these, bear in mind that they’re four minutes long, so you could watch 25 of them back-to-back in the length of a short movie, although I’d question your sanity if you did.  You may also be asking: Who makes all these?  Who on Earth has that much time?  The answer is simple: the Hitler vuvuzela video has two million views.  Among them are dozens or hundreds of people who watched it and then thought of something else they could do with it.  Many hands makes the internet a wild, woolly, and wonderful place.

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Picture from Wikimedia Commons, amusingly enough.

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Civil Disobedience

My post about Pulpit Freedom Sunday may have given the impression that I was against all civil disobedience and, for instance, did not support the civil rights movement.  Of course this is not true.  Jordan and I brainstormed a few reasons why the leaders of the civil rights movement are rightly regarded as heroes while the participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday (hereafter abbreviated PFS, because I’m tired of writing it) should be rightly regarded as whiners.

First, the civil rights movement was about the rights of a large group of people (indeed, all people) while PFS is only about the rights of the participants.  There is little to laud about aggressively defending your own rights.

Second, minorities in the ’60s were actually suffering because of their second-class status, whereas American Evangelical pastors are about as privileged as they come.  PFS making a beeline for the one thing that they are (sort of) not allowed to do, even though they have no good reason to even want to do it, is vaguely reminiscent of “You may eat of any tree of the garden…”

Third, the civil rights movement had consequences, sometimes severe ones, for the participants, and they were willing to accept them.  Martin Luther King Jr. famously spent time in the Birmingham Jail.  Jordan notes that there’s an element of obedience in that he and his followers did not resist arrest, but willingly went to jail (Rancid knows how it goes, too).  The PFS pastors know perfectly well that they, personally, aren’t going to suffer any consequences for their actions: In all likelihood, they won’t attract any attention at all, and if they do, the worst thing that could possibly happen is the loss of their church’s tax-deductible status, which is not that dire of a consequence.

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