Why I’m Voting the Way I’m Voting – 2016

Posted on October 12th, 2016 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Politics by EngineerBoy

I’m With Her

First, a disclaimer: I am not a ‘true believer’ of any political party. No US political party fully represents my worldview, and I have significant objections to the philosophies and actions of them all. Over the years I have voted for Republican, Independent, and Democratic candidates, and I am willing to vote for any candidate that I feel is best for the job.

All that being said, in recent years I have primarily voted Democrat. My basic political underpinnings are as follows:

The entire US election and campaign system needs to be completely overhauled to insure modern, free, and fair elections at every level (local, state, federal). This includes getting the current obscene amounts of money out of the system and eliminating gerrymandering. This, to me, is the single most important issue of our time, because solving all the other issues depends on first solving this one.
The level of destructive animosity and hate in politics needs to be dialed way down, and the level of constructive, civil discourse needs to be dialed way up.
We need to return our focus to a fact-based, science-based government.
Governmental fraud, waste, and cronyism needs to be ruthlessly ferreted out and punished to the point where it is no longer a profitable risk to undertake.
While every person is entitled to their own spiritual beliefs, no one is entitled to impose those beliefs on others.
Our tax system needs to be simplified and rationalized, and the overall tax burden reduced.
Peace and diplomacy are better alternatives to war, except in the most dire circumstances, which in my opinion we have not experienced since World War II.
The US is a wealthy nation, to the point where none of our citizens should be homeless, hungry, or lack basic health care.
Institutions that are necessary, but whose goals are to reduce or eliminate their need to exist (health care, prisons, national defense, police and fire departments, etc), should not be for-profit.
Capitalism is a great system, unregulated capitalism is a disaster, and over-regulated capitalism stifles progress. There needs to be a balance, and there needs to be non-partisan system created to achieve and maintain this balance.

To make a long story short, in the 2016 election there has been only one candidate that I have seen as viable, and that is Hillary Clinton. Do I love her? No, she’s done some questionable things, but so has every single other POTUS candidate in my lifetime, and my take is that her mistakes have been amplified by a multi-decade witch hunt by her enemies. Would she be my first choice? No, and I’m not sure who would be, at this point, because virtually every single candidate at the national federal level is tainted enough, in my opinion, to be unworthy of office.

The one exception to that is Bernie Sanders, and while I think Bernie is the cleanest and most honest national politician of my lifetime, I also think that he would have been unable to get anything

30,000 Emails, That’s a Lot! Or Is It?

Posted on October 10th, 2016 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Politics by EngineerBoy

How About 600,000+ Emails?

My wife and I have a private email server at home that we don’t use for our primary jobs. We use it to run our lives, hobbies, and side projects. Over the years, between us, we’ve managed to accumulate 600,000+ emails in our two email boxes.  Note that we’re both in the technology business, and we run fairly sophisticated cloud-based commercial spam filtering, so it’s not like our inboxes are filled up with V1agra ads and phony IRS/Apple gift card scams, or something.

So, my wife and I, a couple of the normalest normals who ever normalled normally, have managed to accumulated 600,000+ personal emails on our home servers.  Yet we hear Trump repeat the mantra of “30,000 emails” over and over again, as if it’s some kind of travesty of a mockery of a sham, when what it actually is is a MacGuffin with no context and no concrete meaning to many who hear it. He repeats it as if it were the most salacious thing imaginable…”30,000 emails”…”THIRTY THOUSAND EMAILS!”

The Clintons have much higher profile lives than we do, to say the least. They’ve been Governor, Senator, Secretary of State, and President of the United States. If it’s accurate that 30,000 personal emails were scrubbed from Hillary’s private email server, the only thing that surprises me is that it was so few. Maybe that’s Trump’s point and we’re all missing it? Maybe he’s calling Hillary out for being a Luddite who only has 30,000 personal emails when she should have millions?

Sadly, Trump’s focus on this will play strongly with those whose lives aren’t wrapped up in technology, because it’s difficult to have a frame of reference for something like this. The younger generations tend to have skipped over email and focus on texting and other forms of messaging. Older folks tend to be minimal adopters of technology – using Facebook to keep up with the family, texting to have some form of communications with the grandkids, etc. There are exceptions, of course, but most people don’t have the exposure to technology to put the “30,000 emails!” accusation in a realistic context.

So that’s what I’m trying to do here – show that a couple of normal, if technologically-enabled, folks can generate far more personal email than what is being bandied about by Trump. And just to put this in perspective, JFK was still alive when I was born and I watched the first moon landing on TV, so it’s not like I’m some kind of outlier child of the technology age.

CleverDonkey’s 2016 Rio Olympic Power Rankings

Posted on August 22nd, 2016 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Politics,Sports,Television by EngineerBoy
2016 Rio Olympics

2016 Rio Olympics

2016-08-21 Final Standings – Congratulations New Zealand!

The 2016 Olympics are history, and congratulations to New Zealand, who squeezed out a one point win to take the Olympic Power title this year! Hungary was a close second, with the Netherlands taking third, and with Azerbaijan, Great Britain, Jamaica, Denmark, Australia, Croatia, and Sweden rounding out the top ten.

The standard sortable chart is below, and I’ve added a graph of power ranking by total population below that here.

The purpose of these charts is to look beyond raw medal count – who cares if countries with hundreds of millions (or even billions) of people win a lot of medals?  They should win a lot of medals, right?  The big question is, which country is kicking ass, pound-for-pound?  The answer is in the table below.

The 2012 London and 2008 Beijing final rankings are also available, and are included as right-hand columns in the table below.

For reference: This table creates a weighted medal score by giving every country three points for each gold medal, two points for each silver, and one point for each bronze.  The country’s Power Rating is calculated by determining how many weighted medal points each country wins per 10,000,000 in population.  And to factor in economics, the population only includes those living above the poverty level (according to CIA poverty estimates).  Also, to eliminate the impact of outliers, countries with excessively large populations are capped at 300,000,000 and countries with exceedingly small populations have a floor of 10,000,000 for the purposes of calculation.

Come back here in four years when we’ll (probably) be doing this again!

CleverDonkey’s 2016 Rio FINAL Olympic Power Rankings
click column headers to sort up/down

2016 Rank IOC Code Country 2016 Power Ranking Gold Medals Silver Medals Bronze Medals Total Medals Weighted Medals Population (above poverty) 2012 Final Power Ranking 2008 Final Power Ranking
1 NZL New Zealand 35.0 4 9 5 18 35 4,709,044 26.0 16.0
2 HUN Hungary 34.0 8 3 4 15 34 8,359,373 37.0 21.0
3 NED Netherlands 27.1 8 7 4 19 42 15,475,907 25.4 23.8
4 AZE Azerbaijan 27.0 1 7 10 18 27 9,146,670 16.0 11.0
5 GBR Great Britain 26.0 27 23 17 67 144 55,343,500 26.2 18.8
6 JAM Jamaica 26.0 6 3 2 11 26 2,273,910 24.0 26.0
7 DEN Denmark 25.0 2 6 7 15 25 4,950,934 17.0 13.0
8 AUS Australia 23.2 8 11 10 29 56 24,141,810 28.7 41.6
9 CRO Croatia 23.0 5 3 2 10 23 3,373,489 13.0 7.0
10 SWE Sweden 21.0 2 6 3 11 21 8,509,604 14.0 9.0
11 CUB Cuba 20.5 5 2 4 11 23 11,239,004 24.0 34.6
12 KAZ Kazakhstan 16.7 3 5 9 17 28 16,812,280 18.2 15.8
13 SRB Serbia 16.0 2 4 2 8 16 6,425,346 6.0 4.0
14 BLR Belarus 15.0 1 4 4 9 15 8,900,282 24.0 32.0
14 SUI Switzerland 15.0 3 2 2 7 15 7,707,638 10.0 10.0
16 CZE Czech Republic 14.0 1 2 7 10 14 9,650,491 21.0 14.4
17 ITA Italy 13.2 8 12 8 28 56 42,526,551 8.7 9.1
18 FRA France 13.0 10 18 14 42 80 61,330,384 10.9 11.6
19 GRE Greece 13.0 3 1 2 6 13 6,949,132 2.0 5.4
20 GER Germany 12.4 17 10 15 42 86 69,096,411 12.3 11.3
21 BEL Belgium 12.0 2 2 2 6 12 9,612,950 4.0 5.0
21 GEO Georgia 12.0 2 1 4 7 12 3,378,123 12.0 12.0
23 KEN Kenya 11.6 6 6 1 13 31 26,744,066 8.9 15.4
24 CAN Canada 10.1 4 3 15 22 33 32,756,871 7.9 11.1
25 SVK Slovakia 10.0 2 2 0 4 10 4,742,544 5.0 14.0
26 KOR South Korea 9.7 9 3 9 21 42 43,226,956 15.0 16.3
27 ESP Spain 9.6 7 4 6 17 35 36,639,915 8.9 10.3
28 USA United States 9.1 46 37 38 121 250 275,233,065 22.5 8.2
29 ARM Armenia 9.0 1 3 0 4 9 2,036,668 4.0 6.0
30 UZB Uzbekistan 8.7 4 2 7 13 23 26,399,810 2.8 5.5
31 RUS Russia 8.6 19 18 19 56 112 130,180,075 15.5 11.6
32 SLO Slovenia 8.0 1 2 1 4 8 1,784,816 7.0 9.0
33 JPN Japan 6.9 12 8 21 41 73 106,544,610 7.0 3.8
34 UKR Ukraine 6.2 2 5 4 11 20 32,389,498 12.5 16.0
35 POL Poland 5.7 2 3 6 11 18 31,787,597 5.0 7.0
36 RSA South Africa 5.6 2 6 2 10 20 35,673,992 5.5 0.8
37 PRK North Korea 5.5 2 3 2 7 14 25,281,000 5.7 4.6
38 ROU Romania 5.2 1 1 3 5 8 15,412,136 12.0 10.6
39 BRN Bahrain 5.0 1 1 0 2 5 1,404,900 1.0 3.0
39 LTU Lithuania 5.0 0 1 3 4 5 2,754,902 10.0 7.0
41 CHN China 4.7 26 18 26 70 140 1,293,840,725 19.0 7.4
42 COL Colombia 4.5 3 2 3 8 16 35,236,270 5.0 1.3
43 BAH Bahamas, The 4.0 1 0 1 2 4 342,882 3.0 3.0
43 BUL Bulgaria 4.0 0 1 2 3 4 5,594,259 3.0 8.0
43 IRL Ireland 4.0 0 2 0 2 4 4,496,287 8.0 4.0
43 NOR Norway 4.0 0 0 4 4 4 5,223,256 9.0 21.0
47 ARG Argentina 3.6 3 1 0 4 11 30,513,280 2.5 3.2
48 CIV Ivory Coast 3.0 1 0 1 2 4 13,149,372 0.0 0.0
49 FIJ Fiji 3.0 1 0 0 1 3 598,230 0.0 0.0
49 JOR Jordan 3.0 1 0 0 1 3 8,178,209 0.0 0.0
49 KOS Kosovo 3.0 1 0 0 1 3 1,285,885 0.0 0.0
49 MGL Mongolia 3.0 0 1 1 2 3 2,429,106 7.0 10.0
49 PUR Puerto Rico 3.0 1 0 0 1 3 3,474,182 2.8 0.0
49 SIN Singapore 3.0 1 0 0 1 3 5,535,000 2.0 2.0
49 TJK Tajikistan 3.0 1 0 0 1 3 5,534,278 0.8 3.0
49 TUN Tunisia 3.0 0 0 3 3 3 9,425,468 5.8 3.0
57 MAS Malaysia 3.0 0 4 1 5 9 30,243,294 1.1 0.8
58 BRA Brazil 2.4 7 6 6 19 39 162,129,063 3.0 2.0
59 IRI Iran 2.3 3 1 4 8 15 64,587,566 4.1 0.7
60 TPE Chinese Taipei 2.2 1 0 2 3 5 23,155,737 0.0 1.8
61 THA Thailand 2.1 2 2 2 6 12 57,112,047 1.0 1.8
62 BDI Burundi 2.0 0 1 0 1 2 3,236,642 0.0 0.0
62 GRN Grenada 2.0 0 1 0 1 2 64,063 3.0 0.0
62 ISR Israel 2.0 0 0 2 2 2 6,661,980 0.0 1.0
62 NIG Niger 2.0 0 1 0 1 2 7,664,550 0.0 0.0
62 QAT Qatar 2.0 0 1 0 1 2 2,477,113 2.0 0.0
67 TUR Turkey 2.0 1 3 4 8 13 65,433,815 1.8 2.5
68 VEN Venezuela 1.9 0 1 2 3 4 21,068,487 1.5 0.6
69 ETH Ethiopia 1.8 1 2 5 8 12 64,913,028 2.4 3.3
70 MEX Mexico 1.4 0 3 2 5 8 58,324,447 1.3 0.8
71 ALG Algeria 1.3 0 2 0 2 4 31,108,000 1.1 1.2
72 AUT Austria 1.0 0 0 1 1 1 8,376,894 0.0 4.0
72 DOM Dominican Republic 1.0 0 0 1 1 1 5,934,202 4.4 5.0
72 EST Estonia 1.0 0 0 1 1 1 1,031,700 3.0 5.0
72 FIN Finland 1.0 0 0 1 1 1 5,491,817 4.0 7.0
72 MDA Moldova 1.0 0 0 1 1 1 2,814,055 2.0 1.0
72 POR Portugal 1.0 0 0 1 1 1 8,407,501 2.0 4.7
72 TTO Trinidad and Tobago 1.0 0 0 1 1 1 1,120,224 0.0 0.0
72 UAE United Arab Emirates 1.0 0 0 1 1 1 7,934,080 0.0 0.0
80 VIE Vietnam 0.6 1 1 0 2 5 82,224,900 0.0 0.3
81 EGY Egypt 0.4 0 0 3 3 3 68,344,077 0.6 0.2
82 MAR Morocco 0.3 0 0 1 1 1 28,904,250 0.4 1.1
83 INA Indonesia 0.3 1 2 0 3 7 229,471,335 0.3 0.4
84 PHI Philippines 0.3 0 1 0 1 2 77,356,514 0.0 0.0
85 NGR Nigeria 0.2 0 0 1 1 1 56,096,400 0.0 1.1
86 IND India 0.1 0 1 1 2 3 907,680,100 0.8 0.2

Note: I got curious as to whether the Power Ranking distribution was skewed by population, meaning, for example, did smaller countries tend to have higher rankings, or vice versa. So for my own curiosity I ginned up a chart that shows all countries that medalled from smallest to largest population (orange line), with their corresponding Power Rankings (blue bars). It appears to my half-trained eye that the distribution does not seem to trend along population lines, and confirms that the Power Ranking algorithm, while crude, appears to remove the advantage of population, which is one of the primary goals of this excercise:

Olympic Power Ranking by Population

Olympic Power Ranking by Population

Garlic and Onion Clarified Butter Recipe

Posted on August 16th, 2016 in Commentary by EngineerBoy
Savory Nectar of the God

Savory Nectar of the Gods

My wife follows the FODMAP diet, and two of the big no-nos are garlic and onion, specifically the solid parts of both – she’s okay to have the oils and juices. The other day I was making an omelette and in order to give it some flavor without adding physical bits of onion and garlic, I first sauteed some garlic and onion in butter, then strained out the solids and cooked the eggs in the now-flavored liquid butter.

It then occurred to me that I could create this garlic onion butter in advance, and even have it be clarified for easier cooking. It may be TMI, but the entire family did NOT suffer from the usual digestive secondary effects of garlic and onion eggs, but we still got the nice savory flavor. Your mileage may vary, but if you have digestive issues with garlic and/or onions but you like cooking with them, this might be an alternative worth trying (I am NOT a doctor!)

This post details the recipe and shows the process, as follows:

2 lbs salted butter
3 tbsp chopped garlic
1/2 smallish sweet onion

Slice the onion into thin slices, but no need to chop finely
Add the butter, garlic, and sliced onion to a sauce pan and place on low heat, for reference on my stove it would be Low-and-a-Half
Do not cover the pot
Let it simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring gently every 45 minutes or so
Note that the golden butter you see here is after 2 hours, if you let it cook for 3 hours it will be a bit darker with a stronger flavor
Set up a strainer over a bowl, with a (preferably white, not dyed) paper towel lining the inside of the strainer
Pour the cooked mixture into the strainer, including all the onions and garlic from the bottom, and allow it to drip/drain for a few minutes to get all the good stuff into the bowl
Remove and discard the onion and garlic in the paper towel (although I’ve been thinking there might be some secondary use for them at some point)
Allow the clarified butter to cool down a bit, 15-20 minutes, then pour into a mason jar – the cool down period is to prevent cracking the jar (which I have done in the past when in a rush)

That’s it! This stuff doesn’t go bad in any short-term period of time, and I leave it out on my counter or in a nearby cabinet (not refrigerated) for use when cooking. NOTE: I am not a food scientist nor a health inspector, so use your own judgment as to whether you’re comfortable not refrigerating this stuff! 

This stuff is great for cooking – clarified butter is more like cooking oil, it’s much more heat tolerant than regular butter, and with the garlic/onion infusion it adds a great savory taste to foods cooked in it. It’s also FANTASTIC warmed up

Possible Trump Candidacy Outcomes

Posted on August 3rd, 2016 in Commentary,Politics by EngineerBoy
Trump Outcomes

Trump Outcomes

Disclaimer: the article below represents the noodlings of a dumbass who is talking about things way over his head, but which he nonetheless finds interesting as a mental exercise.

At this point, I think it’s clear that the results of the 2016 US presidential race will be extraordinarily strange, and that strangeness primarily comes from Donald Trump’s candidacy. His campaign has been unlike any in my lifetime, and he’s certainly been a unique major party candidate.

As November approaches, I can’t help but consider the possible outcomes, as follows (from most to least likely, in my opinion):

Trump Drops Out: I think the most likely scenario is that Trump will realize he can’t win and so drops out of the race because that prevents “losing”.  Also, he’d never come right out and say that he’s dropping out, he would wrap it in some kind of faux drama, like:

Has a business deal going that is too big to pass up, but it would be a conflict of interest to continue his candidacy
The fix is in and he’s not going to play along in a corrupt system
Some kind of family drama (wife having issues, kid sick, etc)
Assassination attempt (real or contrived) and he quits for the good of his family
A mysterious walking away and steadfast refusal to explain, with hints of a nefarious cause

Trump Stays In, Loses: It’s possible that even if he sees he won’t win he’ll stay in to the bitter end, most likely culminating with lawsuits and the launching of TrumpTV.

Trump Concocts a Legal Challenge, Delays the Election: He’s got floors full of lawyers who make their living off of Trumpian litigation, he could spin up some kind of legal challenge that causes a friendly court to stay the election until resolution (and/or virtually certain reversal by SCOTUS).

The Republican Party Disavows Trump: In order to try to preserve and rebuild their brand, the Republican party could choose to disavow Trump as their candidate, and possibly even run an alternate candidate. This move would virtually guarantee a win by Hillary, but the Republicans might see it as necessary for cutting their losses and reducing the damage to their party in the long term.

Trump Runs Third-Party: If the Republicans disavow Trump, or he senses it is imminent, he could spin up a third-party candidacy in order to try to remain in the race.

Trump Stays In, Wins: I think at this point this is an unlikely, but not impossible, scenario. It would, in my opinion, require a Clinton scandal of incredible proportions to swing the momentum at this point. If he does win, I’d expect him to either resign before the first term was done, or be impeached and removed from office.

As per the disclaimer at the top of this post, I’m just another dumbass with a blog spouting nonsense. However, this election is going to be different from any in my lifetime, and however it ends it’s going to be with a bang.

How I Beat Insomnia (Updated)

Posted on September 29th, 2015 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

Don’t watch this to go to sleep…

Update 2015-09-29: This post is now over four years old, so I wanted to come back and update it. Happily, I still have no problems with sleeping (knock on wood). Second, the technology originally described below has been updated. I now use a small tablet (an old Microsoft Surface RT) that I set on top of the open middle drawer of my nightstand, and still use the Sleepphones plugged into the Surface. I then use our NetFlix, Hulu Plus (now commercial free tier!), and Amazon Instant/Prime Video for my viewing selections.

I have all of the video players configured to only play a single episode, then stop, which prevents video from playing all night. The position on top of the middle drawer means the screen is lower than my body line in bed, so there is no direct light shining over to Marie’s side. And I still keep the brightness at the lowest setting, to reduce flicker.

Over the years I have gone through a number of different series as my sleep-shows. The rotation has included Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Larry Sanders Show, Community, and 30 Rock. Suffice it to say that I have seen every episode of those sitcoms several times, so watch out if we ever play trivia games about any of them. To reiterate, the selection of viewing choice, for me, is based on the following criteria:

Something I already know, so it’s not engaging in the sense of keeping me awake to find out what happens next. I already know all the details of all the episodes for these shows, so I’m never kept awake waiting for a narrative surprise.
Something that’s funny. There are certainly dramatic/scary shows that I enjoy, but they don’t relax me and, for me, don’t hold up on repeat viewing in the way that a well-done sitcom can. Plus, I’d much rather go to sleep smiling and laughing as opposed to grimacing.
Something I like and that holds up to repeat viewings. This narrows it down to the shows that are, to me, reasonably timeless with their sense of humor.
No current events. If they are fresh they stir up my righteous outrage, and if they are old they irritate the heck out of me.
Nothing violent or scary, even if it’s funny. I’m a regular consumer of shows and movies that contain violence, horror, and scares, but not as a sleep aid, thank you very much.
No movies. This is a more recent guideline. Back in the day I used to watch movies to fall asleep all the time, but that was when I was just learning this technique and my sleep routine was still subject to regular disruption. The comfort of a two hour movie gave a nice runway to insure that I had enough distraction to get to the sleep part, even if it took a couple of hours. Now, however, I go to sleep within

Life on Mars (!)|(?)

Posted on September 28th, 2015 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Science by EngineerBoy
What's up with water on Mars, Doc?

What’s up with water on Mars, Doc?

Back when I was in college, I had a professor who had worked peripherally on the Viking Mars lander project in the 70’s. He said that before the probe was launched, the teams had decided that if the chemical and biological tests came out a certain way, that would be declared a positive test for ‘life’ on Mars. Lo and behold, the tests came back with the positive result. They all rocked back on their heels, told the White House, and were told in no uncertain terms to not release a statement saying there was life on Mars until there was absolute certainty – a prudent response.

The team went back over their protocols and said, hey, look, the test was positive, what do you want us to do? The powers-that-be then asked for some details, and it turns out that there were three separate and distinct experiments to test for ‘life’ using different methods, and the scientists had agreed that if any one (or more) of them came back positive, that was ‘life’. Well, what had happened is that only one had come back positive, so the powers-that-be said, nope, you only got one positive result out of three so that’s not enough to make such a momentous call.

Over the intervening decades, further analysis of the ‘failed’ tests resulted in a hypothesis that they had failed because at that time we didn’t know that the Martian surface contained a certain substance…my feeble memory wants to say some kind of chlorate? In any case, when the two failed tests were re-modeled taking into account the now-verified existence of this substance in the Martian soil, the two tests also came back positive.

So, for me, my original early 1980’s college class sowed the seeds of doubt for me, and I felt that there was a pretty good chance there was at least some kind of microbial life there. The intervening re-analysis of the two previously-failed experiments solidified this belief, for me, but again who was I to think I knew better given the lack of any unambiguous confirmation from the powers-that-be. However, from the late-80’s on, I have been pretty sure that a) there was life on Mars and b) the powers-that-be knew it but didn’t want to unleash the sociological impact that such an announcement could potentially engender, and so figured they would gradually work up to the announcement, and hopefully keep the info ambiguous enough to delay things long enough for it to become someone else’s problem.

Which brings us to today, when NASA announced the confirmation of flowing liquid salt water on the surface of Mars. The scientist releasing the findings (Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta) had this to say:

“If the water is completely saturated with perchlorates, then life as we know it on Earth wouldn’t be able to survive in that

Goodbye, Jon

Posted on August 10th, 2015 in Commentary by EngineerBoy
Benefits for First Responders

Benefits for First Responders

Where to begin with Jon Stewart and The Daily Show? From a personal perspective, I remember the time before his tenure as host of The Daily Show, and it was a very different time. Yes, there was political satire, but it fell primarily into one of two varieties:

Toothless: Johnny Carson, Saturday Night Live, etc.

Cancelled: The Smothers Brothers, Dick Cavett, etc.

The one semi-exception was David Letterman, who over the years became more outspoken when calling out BS simply because his stature combined with his I-don’t-really-need-this-job-anymore attitude gave him latitude that few others had. But his was a variety show, and the political commentary was intermittent and brief.

For you youngsters who have always had The Daily Show around, it might be hard to imagine, but back in those days politicians were essentially untouchable, and were allowed to spout their BS without much of a challenge, except by their opponents who, by virtue of also being politicians, knew better than to lift the curtain and show the backstage tomfoolery involved in staging political theater.

If someone or something got too far out of hand, the ‘serious’ journalists would jump in (e.g. Woodward and Bernstein, 60 Minutes, etc.) and break the story, but the day-to-day flow of baloney went relatively unexamined by the average American.

But then along came Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. When Stewart took over as host he transformed the show into something that had never quite existed previously – a show dedicated to politics and humor, with a primary focus on clearly pointing out the enormous truckloads of BS that are the main ingredient in US (and global) politics.

Not only did the show x-ray politics, but it was also activist when it needed to be, such as when Stewart lobbied heavily for benefits for the 9/11 first-responders on the eve of a critical Congressional vote, and very likely changed the outcome of that vote through his actions. Stewart also acted to improve, every so slightly, the level of political discourse, such as when he went on CNN’s Crossfire, eviscerated the hosts over their ridiculous political-jousting theater, and then kept the heat on until the show faded into cancellation a few months later, with the head of CNN directly called out Jon’s criticisms as a factor.

But he was always self-deprecating, and quick to mock grandiose claims about the impact of his show. I think this was partly due to natural modesty, but also partly due to the fact that The Daily Show could only do what it did if it was ever the underdog. If he and the show had become full of their own power and began wielding it un-ironically they would have lost their edge.

Personally, I was familiar with Jon prior to The Daily Show primarily from his recurring appearances on The Larry Sanders Show, where he played a slightly fictionalized version of himself who was

Goodbye, Dave

Posted on May 18th, 2015 in Commentary,Entertainment,Television by EngineerBoy
Goodbye, Dave

Goodbye, Dave

Dear Dave,

In my youth I was a big fan of the Tonight Show, and watched Carson most nights. Then one day something strange happened – a new show appeared after Carson, with a new guy doing a new kind of show. The show was raw and unpolished compared to Johnny’s show, as was the host, a laconic smart-ass from Indiana called David Letterman.

But the show was funny. Laugh-out-loud funny, back in the day before LOL was a tingling on anyone’s typing fingertips. So my routine changed – whereas I used to stay up to at least see Johnny’s monologue, I started making sure I stayed up to see yours, which in many (if not most) cases led to me watching a good portion of the rest of your show.

And your show struck a chord with me. I mean, hit the nail right on the head. I love absurd humor. I don’t hold celebrities in reverence, and prefer to see jerks and idiots treated as such, as long as they are willing participants. Your show became the double-edged sword of entertainment – anybody who was anybody needed to go on your show, because it was good business. But, they got no guarantees that they would be treated to softball questions or fawning segments, but instead got pulled off-script and into who knows what.

And it was great television. One segment that was particularly memorable for me, and which I think illustrates the kind of thing I loved most about your show, is your visit to the GE headquarters with a fruit basket to say ‘hello’ after they purchased your employer, NBC:

It was kind of a dick move on your part to show up in the GE lobby unannounced with cameras and a fruit basket, but it was also genius. And the message it sent to everyone (stars, agents, guests, executives) was that the show was first and foremost about being entertaining, and that everyone involved with or participating in the show needed to understand that the guy in the host chair had no hesitation to publicly piss off his new bosses, who sign his paycheck, so imagine how little he’s going to care about fluffing your ego when you’re in the guest chair.

Interestingly, over the years I derived a certain set of manners that you exhibited on the show, that belied your reputation:

You were unfailingly nice to children and did your best to make them feel successful and comfortable
You were unfailingly acerbic to jerks and idiots and did your best to make them feel ill at ease and unsuccessful
A guest’s reputation as a human being, not as a ‘star’, dictated your treatment of the guest
You treated your audience as if they were intelligent beings, and did not pander to a least-common-denominator that might improve ratings at the cost of toning down the show
Sometimes…well, sometimes you were just a jerk, but aren’t we all, sometimes?

In short, the ethos embodied

Kingsman: The Secret Service (***½)

Posted on April 7th, 2015 in Commentary by EngineerBoy
A Gentleman's Closet

A Gentleman’s Closet

3.5/4 stars

We went into Kingsman with moderate expectations – I had heard some interesting buzz, but the thought of Colin Firth as an action star left me a bit incredulous.

However, I stand corrected. Kingsman is one of the more surprising and entertaining films we have seen in a *long* time. It is a funny, charming, exciting, and at times hyper-violent homage to the spy films of the 60’s and 70’s, updated with the effects and production values of the biggest of Hollywood blockbusters. On top of all of that, the acting has that impeccable British air to it, where you can tell that the cast members were actors first and celebrities second, unlike the all-too-common reverse of that in the US.

Leading the acting gravitas is Sir Michael Caine, playing Arthur, the mysterious head of a mysterious organization called Kingsman, composed of mysterious latter-day knights who mysteriously protect the world from mysterious mysteries.  And let me tell you, nobody plays a Michael Caine-like character better than Michael Caine.

Then we come to Colin Firth, usually known (to me) as the cuddly and befuddly love interest in some offbeat rom-com. Well, he is completely different here as the archly mannered and highly lethal (and highly believable) Kingsman known as Galahad. His nemesis is Valentine, played by Samuel L. Jackson with a deprecating lisp that hides the enormity of his mysterious plan.

Throw in some gratuitous Mark Hamill and a great supporting cast of newcomers and unknowns (at least by me) and you’ve got a terrific ensemble. The story is fairly original, and turns in directions that I did not see coming, which was quite refreshing.

It’s difficult for me to talk about the film without giving away key plot elements, but I’ll try to minimize the spoilers. The core of the movie is an evil plan that has worldwide implications, and also has the complicity of much of the world’s leadership, making it that much more difficult to stop.

The team of Kingsman fighting the evil plot are sort of a Non-Governmental Organization of Righteousness and Justice, dispensed by well-tailored members/knights with equal doses of wit and whoop-ass. Speaking of, this movie has one of the more intensely violent sequences I have seen in a mainstream film, so watch out. It’s actually well-done and integral to the plot, but that doesn’t make it any less surprising or disturbing, so be prepared.

Put it all together and this is one entertaining film. Marie and I have now seen it twice, and I’ve actually seen it solo as well. Given that we have a 4 year old and parental-movie-nights are a precious rarity, it says something that we chose to expend multiple of them on this film.

So, if you’re in the mood for a big action movie that’s also a well-crafted film, this could be the ticket. Highly recommended.

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