Dizzying Logic

In Taco Bell.

Mother: What do you want?
Daughter: A number three combo and a burrito.
Mother: Nooo. That’s way too much food.
Daughter: No it’s not! It’s just a number three! And a burrito!
Mother: Well, okay. I guess you’re right.

Regal Cinemas = Bad

[Lost Cause of the Week]: Here’s an email I just sent to Regal Cinemas.

My wife and I went to an evening showing of "The Bourne Identity" at the Crossroads cinema in Bellevue, WA. The sheer amount of advertising we were subjected to has convinced us to avoid Regal Cinemas for the foreseeable future.

We were frankly astonished at the quantity of ads shown before the picture: 10 minutes of standard commercials (for Coca-Cola, AT&T, etc.) followed by another 10 minutes of trailers. Others in the audience were equally disgruntled: after 15 minutes people were loudly groaning as each new preview began, and several people announced that it was "about time" when the film finally started.

I understand that it makes economic sense for you to pack more and more advertising into your showings, and that you will continue to do so until you begin to alienate your patrons. On the other hand, I also think you should know when that alienation has begun. Regal Cinemas is currently last on our list of theater chains we will patronize in the Seattle area.

Next up: long, rambling letters to The Seattle Times warning that use of the Gregorian calendar will lead to communism!

Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I was moved to write a complaint letter, but this was what we in the business refer to as “really, really, really, really bad”. And apparently I am not alone, because a quick Google Groups search for “regal cinemas” gets you a bevy of ticked off movie fans.

And here’s a tip for the seven of you who have read this far: you can find out what theaters in your area are owned by Regal Cinemas by entering your zip code here and hitting ‘Submit’:

More fun.

  • Captive Audience dislikes Regal Cinemas as much as I do. Far out.
  • Here’s an ambitious but sparse site: Stop Pre-Movie Ads!.
  • Badads.com hates ads regardless of venue: in theaters, by phone, in schools, etc. That makes them cool.
  • Hey look, even Ralph Nader got all worked up about movie theater ads. I’m sure he’ll crack down on them when he’s finally in the Oval Office.

Okay, I’m done.

Bill of Rights, Explained

Happy Fourth.

Cameron Marlow makes one of those funny in a “not-really-all-that-funny way” type observations over on Overstated: Ask nearly any American to name all 50 States in 15 minutes and they won’t be able to do it. (I wasn’t … stupid Delaware …) Here’s another fun one to spring on your dinner companions and make them feel like cretins: how many of the amendments in the Bill of Rights can you name?

These are the four you undoubtedly know off the top of your head.

I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

II: A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

V: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. This one is has been pretty well-known ever since Ashley Judd made it a household term with her runaway blockbuster smash hit Double Jeopardy, and since ever single employee of Enron opted to “plead the fifth”

Here’s a primer on the rest.

III: No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law. Pretty self-explanatory, actually, but most folks are surprised to hear that this issue was deemed so vital that it got spot #3 in the big Bill O’ Rights Countdown.

VI: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. I got your right to a jury trial right here, buddy. Lots of other good stuff in here as well: right to an attorneys, right to tell jokes about attorneys, right to know what crime you are accused of, right to see the evidence against you and right to face your accusers. Also, note that you have the right to “enjoy” your speedy and public trial, so if you’re not having a blast you should demand a Nintendo Gamecube.

VII: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law. The VI Amendment applies to criminal case; the VII is your one-stop civil (a.k.a. “common”) law rights warehouse. But yo, what’s up with that twenty bucks? They should adjust this thing for inflation.

VIII: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. Oh hey, there’s that “cruel and unusual punishment” bit, which is why convicts aren’t forced to watch “Divine Secrets of Ya-Ya Sisterhood” while in the hoosegow.

IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. and X: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. So you’re playing Monopoly and it’s your turn, so you pick up one of the dice and roll it and then you pick up the other die and roll it. And your moron opponent says you’re cheating. As proof, he pulls out the rules and shows you where is specifically says that the player “rolls the dice” — that’s dice, plural, and nowhere does it say you can roll one die after another. The authors of the Bill of Rights feared such moron opponents, who would argue that listing some rights would be the same as saying that the population has no other rights than those listed. Hence the Ninth and Tenth: just because we haven’t listed a right doesn’t mean you ain’t got it. On the flip side, the government can only do what the constitution allows them to, and not a whit more.

If this knowledge doesn’t make members of the opposite sex flock to you like idiots to a Survivor audition, I don’t know what will.

Read more at the tee-riffic findlaw.com.

Into Orbit

Great leapin’ cats, what’s this world coming to? On Monday American West Airlines grounded a plane because the pilots were drunk; today NASA finds crack in 3rd space shuttle!

The first two times NASA blamed it on “bad seed” astronauts, but finding crack a third time should be cause for concern.

Lemony Fresh Pledge of Allegiance

US To Sell Naming Rights For Pledge of Allegiance

Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill announced today that the US would sell "naming rights" to fill The Gap in the Pledge of Allegiance left when a federal court ruled that the words "under God" were unconstitutional. "This is some prime advertising real estate," said O'Neill, pointing out that the Pledge is spoken daily by schoolchildren throughout the nation. "If you've got a two-word slogan and several hundred million dollars, we want to talk to you." Among the alternatives proposed so far to fill The Gap: "one nation, Ram Tough," "one nation, Thinking Different" "one nation, Drivers Wanted," and "one nation, Mm-mm Good." Until a slogan has been chosen the US government will refer to the vacant space as the "The Gap" as part of an agreement with a nationwide clothing store.

Movies: Minority Report

This has been, like, The Summer of Redemption. First George Lucus atoned for Star Wars: Albatross I by cranking out the pretty good summer movie Attack of the Clones. Now Spielberg gives us Minority Report, a movie that, while not perfect, is good enough to serve as an apology for the abysmal A.I.

And although I have, at various times, sworn never again to speak of A.I., let’s review why that movie was so darned bad. Problems #1-10: the lack of a consistent tone. The movie was a much ballyhooed “collaboration” between Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg — which, if you think about it, ought to be a match made in cinematic heaven: Kubrick is often accused of making frigid, sterile movies, Spielberg is prone to making over-sentimental touchie-feelies, so staking out the middle ground would have been a great idea. But instead of blending the two styles, it seemed like they just took a glue stick and gummed ’em together: the first hour of A.I. was emotional codswallop, the second hour was vintage Kubrick cynicism, and the third terrible hour was pure Spielberg syrup. (I dunno if the movie was actually three hours long, but it certainly felt like it.) Furthermore, Spielberg obviously hadn’t decided ahead of time if he was going to make a science-fiction movie with philosophical undertones or a philosophical movie set in a science-fiction universe, and the flick switches from one to the other about every seven minutes.

Not so with Minority Report. Here Spielberg has made a full-on science-fiction opus, and although he just can’t seem to help himself from sermonizing now and again (and, alas, again), the atmosphere is at least consistent: dark without being gritty, exciting without being mindless, intriguing without being overly complicated. It certainly helped that the author of the screenplay, Scott Frank, is an old hand at writing tight thrillers. (He penned the fabulous Out of Sight, as well as the enjoyable Get Shorty). Minority Report also boasts a great cinematographer by the name of Janusz Kaminski — the same guy who did the cinematography for A.I., true, but then the cinematography in A.I. was its one redeeming feature.

Tom Cruise does what he always does with considerable aplomb: he runs around and jumps over things and climbs up walls like Spider-man in khakis. He plays a fairly intelligent police officer and, to his credit, Tommy a good job of furrowing his brow at various points to give the illusion that there’s something rattling around upstairs. Although there are lots of supporting characters, this is pretty much a one-man show (think Mission Impossible — of the future!), and Cruise carries the 120+ minutes admirably.

As far as Phillip K. Dick adaptations go, Minority Report is closer to Blade Runner than to Total Recall. It helps that the screenwriter didn’t confine himself to the short story, and threw in lots of extra stuff cribbed from William Gibson (e.g., “The Sprawl”) to keep things on an even, cyberpunk keel. Yes, the last thirty minutes falter, but (sadly) I’ve come to expect that of a Spielberg movie. But despite my mild disappointment with the ending, Minority Report gets a hearty recommendation.

** Spoilers (for both the movie and the short story) Below **

Although I’m glad Minority Report didn’t stick to the original story (which, frankly, had a pretty muddled plot), it’s a shame that it didn’t at least incorporate all of the interesting ideas therein. In the movie, it turns out that there is no “Minority Report” for Anderton because he has been framed. In the story, however, two of the precogs agree that he will murder someone, while the third says that he won’t. Seeing his name come up, Anderton realizes that all he has to do is evade the police until the time of the murder has come and gone, and then he will be scot free — after all, they won’t arrest him for a precrime that never occurred. But then, at the last minute, he decides to go ahead a murder the guy anyhow. Why? If he declines to commit the crime he is accused of, he reasons, detractors of the Precrime system will seize upon it and question how many of the other “criminals” in detention would have opted not to commit the crimes they were accused of. So rather than undermine the entire Department of Precrime — a Department he has worked his entire life to build — Anderton chooses to fulfill the precogs’ prophecy. At the end of the story it is revealed that there was no majority report after all — there were, in fact, three separate minority reports. The first precog saw Anderton kill his victim; the second precog saw the future where Anderton went on the lam and never killed anyone; the third precog saw the last future, where Anderton decided to kill the guy anyhow to preserve the system. In other words, the “majority report” was an illusion: two of the precogs agreed that Anderton would kill this man, but they saw this in completely different time-lines.

What a great twist! Unfortunately, Spielberg couldn’t use it, because he wanted The Department of Precrime discredited to further the “anti-Big Brother” message of the film. Yes, that message is relevant in this time of Bush & Ashcroft denouncing folks as “potential terrorists,” but what a waste of a perfectly good ending. Phillip K. Dick wasn’t the greatest of writers, but people love his work because he used science-fiction to fully explore the philosophical ramifications of technology. Spielberg, on the other hand, is too busy advocating his ideals to fully utilize Dick’s ideas. And that, my friend, is a shame.

Outragous. Yet Awesome

The other day I parked in a lot adjacent to Seattle’s new football stadium, and as I got out of my car I was astonished to hear what sounded like a rock concert coming from the arena. This was odd for three reasons. First, the stadium is unfinished as-of-yet, and it seemed unlikely that they would allow a concert to take place in an unfinished edifice. Second, it’s an open-air stadium, and I could clearly see that no one was in the stands. And third — who holds a rock concert at 8:30 in the morning?

So I walked over to see what was going on. As I got closer, I realized that the music was not live, but an “Eagles” song being broadcast by a local radio station. In fact, it appeared as if the dozen or so construction guys were, as they worked, listening to classic rock over the multi-million dollar sound system at volumes that could be heard throughout the southern end of the city.

I contemplated the sheer amounts of money and electricity being squandered, and tried my hardest to be outraged. But, in the end, I couldn’t help but think it was pretty awesome.