Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (***½)

Posted on February 2nd, 2003 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Where to begin with this one. First of all, I was a faithful viewer of The Gong Show, created by Chuck Barris. I thought it was hilarious. For those of you who don’t know the show, the shtick was that rather ordinary people of (usually) limited talent would come onstage and perform their act, which could be anything from eating a popsicle in a lascivious manner to performing some (quite good) jug band music, and anything in between (and beyond) that you can think of. Picture Letterman’s Stupid Human Tricks extended to a half-hour show (coincidentally Letterman was a Gong Show judge at one point). Chuck Barris (Chuckie Baby) was the emcee, and there was a panel of three minor celebrities who would either a) “gong” the contestant, which indicated that their act was no longer bearable or b) give the act a score. At the end of the show the contestant with the most points won a few bucks.

There are those who felt that The Gong Show mocked or humiliated the contestants, but unless you lived under a rock you knew that it was quid pro quo…you did your stupid/embarrassing/pathetic “act” and Chuckie Baby would put you on the air for your 37 seconds of fame. It was win-win and was done with such enthusiasm and self-awareness that it reached surreal comedic proportions. I’ll stop talking about The Gong Show after you read this quote which sums up everything I loved about the show and Chuck Barris…this is Chuckie Baby introducing some random act:

“And our next act says he’s only semi-professional…which is great…because we’re only quasi-interested.”

Now to the movie — Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is George Clooney’s directorial debut. Yes, *that* George Clooney. The George Clooney. My respect for his talent and intelligence keeps growing. Selecting this movie for his first shot at directing was dangerous and brilliant. This concept is NOT a guaranteed winner. Chuck Barris and The Gong Show are, at best, a distant memory to today’s movie viewers, remembered with fondness by some and disdain by others, if even remembered. The script is adapted from Barris’ autobiography, in which…

********** SPOILERS AHEAD **********

…he claims that, along with being the inventor/producer of The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show, he was also a hitman for the CIA, and killed 33 people, using his trips around the world as ‘chaperone’ to show winners as cover. Well, that’s just bizarre. Whether or not it’s true, it’s just weird and bizarre and absurd. And unbelievable. Sort of. But, why did they send their contestants to places like West Berlin and Helsinki as prizes? Why would Barris, the high-powered producer of multiple TV shows, take time out of his schedule to chaperone these schlubs on their trips? I do not know the answers to these questions but I do find them interesting.

And so, apparently, did Clooney. His first great move as a director was insisting that Sam Rockwell play Chuck Barris. I first saw Rockwell as Guy Fleegman,

Mankind’s Destiny

Posted on February 1st, 2003 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

I am currently watching CNN and seeing video of the disintegration of the Space Shuttle Columbia, replayed over and over again. There are many eyewitness accounts, speculation, and denial that it was sabotage or terrorism. I’m also hearing that, upon take-off, debris had struck the left wing of Columbia and small pieces of insulation had broken loose. I am beginning to wonder if this ultimate fate was known to be more probable because of the damage. I wonder if the ground and flight crews had gnawing trepidation during the mission, worried that there might be problems on re-entry. I wonder if they explored options, such as docking with the space station, or launching another shuttle for rescue, but found those options to be unrealistic. I wonder if NASA made sure the crewmembers spoke with their families one last time with the knowledge of the upcoming risks during landing. I don’t know which fate is more tragic – to have known all through the mission about this risk, and have the opportunity to prepare yourself, or to have it be a total surprise.

So NASA has suffered another tragedy. So has the US. So has the world. But, these events notwithstanding, human spaceflight represents man’s ultimate achievement. The complexity, danger, and risk involved in sending humans into space and bring them safely home boggles the mind. After space-related accidents, there is typically a hue-and-cry about the money wasted on spaceflight, and the continuing problems with NASA, and the need to focus the resources used in these lofty pursuits on more earthbound matters, such as hunger, disease, poverty, war. Those issues need addressing, but it is not a zero-sum game, where we either address them or continue the human exploration of space. The world has the resources for both, even though sometimes these resources are not used efficiently.

For those who do not understand the necessity of human spaceflight, please put yourself in the position of early humans, huddled together in a small tribe somewhere, staring out at the wide world in awe and wonder. Everything outside of your territory is unknown and unknowable. The only way to learn about those things over the next hill is to go there. Go there. Go. Man’s third most driving impulse, after procreation and survival, is to go and learn. What’s over that hill? What’s on the other side of that river? What happens if I just sail west into the heretofore endless ocean? What does the bottom of the ocean look like? Go, see, learn.

That drive has a less-apparent secondary effect, which is that it promotes the ongoing survival of humanity. If all of humankind lived in one valley then it could easily be wiped out by disease, flood, fire, or other catastrophe. But once a few intrepid explorers leave the safety of the known world (the valley) and establish a permanent, sustainable presence somewhere else, then it is now exponentially more difficult to wipe out humanity. And if a

Sweet Vindication for Supertasters (but not too sweet)

Posted on February 1st, 2003 in Engineerboy by EngineerBoy

Taste Like Dirt!

I am not a freak.  I am not picky.  I am not hard to please, inflexible, or timid.  I am…a supertaster.  The scientific validation of what I have always known has set me free.  Foods like coffee and mustard literally make me gag.  Raw tomato tastes like acidic dirt (or what I imagine acidic dirt would taste like) to me.  Almost all beans, with the exception of green beans, are un-choke-down-able.  Peanuts are disgusting.

I am not a timid or picky eater.  I am always willing to try new foods, and I eat all sorts of strange things (snails, calamari, oysters, pop tarts, kipper snacks).  I love different ethnic foods (Chinese, Italian, Lebanese, Greece-y) and am not a restaurant snob.  However, there have always been certain foods that I cannot eat.  Not ‘will not’ eat…cannot eat, at least not without having to control the gag reflex.  And all my life I have been referred to as picky and/or inflexible with regards to food, when I knew that I wasn’t.  I didn’t know what I was, but I knew that I wasn’t picky.  I didn’t have a choice.  I was born this way.

I was born a supertaster.  Supertasters (25% of the population) have a higher concentration of taste buds on their tongue, and experience tastes at three to five times the level of normal tasters.  The scientists involved say that supertasters live in a neon taste world, while normal tasters (50% of the population) live in a pastel world.  The remaining 25% are the non-tasters, who are nearly impervious to bitter and spicy foods.  The non-tasters are the folks who eat any and everything, regardless of taste, texture, bitterness, or spiciness.  Supertasters, on the other hand, are particularly sensitive to bitter tastes, which are prevalent in things like coffee and vegetables.

When I first read about the concept of supertasters, I immediately knew they were describing me.  As a kid my mother adapted our household meals so that there was always stuff I could eat.  I know that it was probably difficult for her, and troublesome, and she did always try to get me to eat my vegetables and to try new things.  As a kid I was horrified at the thought of new foods, because I knew that a) it was impolite to not eat the food on one’s plate and b) everyone figured that a child who resisted a certain food was ‘just being picky’, and they pressured the child to ‘just try it without thinking you’ll hate it’ and it would be okay.  So I avoided, to the extent a child can, any circumstances where I would be forced (FORCED) to choke down food that was making me gag.  Not by evil people, but by people who just did not understand.

As I got older I got much more open to new foods, because everyone respects the food choices made by adults, and if I didn’t

Torture and Murder Sell Sandwiches and Mints

Posted on February 1st, 2003 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

Over the last couple of weeks I have seen two television commercials which startled me with their inhumanity.  The first was from Quizno’s Subs, and featured their chef who was so focused on his job that he was shown walking by the cage of his pet bird, and the bird was apparently dead on the floor of the cage.  The message I got from this commercial is that he was so dedicated to his job that he ignored and neglected his pet to the point that it starved, dehydrated, and died while trapped in its cage.

The second commercial was for Altoids, the Curiously Inhumane Peppermint ©, which depicted a young student in science class feeding one of the new, strong Altoid products to the class guinea pig.  The mint is so strong that the guinea pig literally explodes on the screen.  I almost couldn’t believe what I saw.

I have been a consumer of both Altoids and Quiznos for a long time, and have enjoyed products from both.  Also, I’m no PETA-belonging animal rights activist.  But the above commercials were such incontrovertible depictions of animal cruelty that I have sworn off products from both companies.  I have contacted both companies with my concerns and have received canned platitudes in response.

Now, I eat meat and wear leather, and I am comfortable with the food chain.  However I don’t think it hypocritical also to be against unnecessary and/or gratuitous animal cruelty.  Although I hunted and fished as a boy, as I got older I lost my taste for it, finding it cruel and barbarous, since it was not a matter of survival for me, only sport.

There is also a strong correlation between cruelty to animals and psychopathic behavior.  Notorious serial killers Ted Bundy, Albert DiSalvo, and Jeffrey Dahmer (among many others) all got their start by torturing and killing animals.  Unless Quiznos is starting to open up snack bars in prisons and mental wards, and they sell Altoids at the counter, I think both companies should rethink this particularly distasteful marketing strategy.