Saturday, March 31, 2007

International Investing: Bond Funds

I have posted previously on this subject, but I was focused on equities. A recent thought has corssed my mind with my tax sheltered retirement accounts to open up a foreign moderate allocation fund or a foreign bond fund. I have little faith in the US Dollar rising in strength anytime in the near future due to our nation's obsession with spending (Consumerism and Materialism replaced Christianity and Patriotism a while back), which leads to current account deficits as well as our government's deficits.

A few reasons why I am looking to foreign bond funds as a place for my cash for retirement is that that sheltered money grows tax free and the non-dollar denominated investments will be worth more to me as an American as the dollar loses value. Bond funds generate a lot of income, which in taxable funds is craptacular. In IRAs, bond funds grow tax free, and in Roth IRAs, bond funds grow tax free and you will not be taxed on your withdrawals. Bond funds denominated in foreign currencies get a double bonus as the currencies appreciate versus the dollar. I am making a long term bet against the US dollar, which is not treason, but makes me feel a bit ill.

I would love for my country to change its attitudes towards saving, spending, and their culture, but I am afraid I alone cannot do enough. Because of my lack of faith in my fellow Americans, I am going to place my money in holdings that support that view. Now with these bond funds, the total yield should not just be the number you look for when evaluating where to put your money. That is a common problem with new bond fund investors, as I know several 20-somethings who have high yield (junk) bond fund investments because of that tantalizing 7% yield. I am all for high yield bonds being a portion of your portfolio; I just do not think they should make up 50% or more of your bond portfolio. You need to be aware of what it is you are parking your cash in for the long haul. A great website, www.morningstar.com, which has lame articles but awesome information available for normal Joe investors. I like to use their mutual fund screener to get a list of funds that fit my requirements, and then go into a fund's "Top 25 Holdings". In a world bond fund, you want to feel secure about the bonds that the fund holds. Any countries in that top 25 that I linked to that scared you?

Expense ratios for world bond funds are usually higher on world bond funds than with regular bond funds or some of those Vanguard international equity index funds. You do have to consider how those expenses will eat into your returns over time, especially if you will not touch this money for 25-40 years. I try to look for no load funds, and funds that have expense ratios under 1.0. It is tough with foreign bond funds, but it will be worth it in 20 years when a British pound will buy you 2 and a half dollars.

The Minnesota Vikings should sign David Carr

When David Carr was drafted by the Texans, I felt a very Aikman in '88 vibe. With his physical skills and resume at Fresno St., Carr had the look of a franchise QB that might take a couple of years to develop, but could carry an offense. The Texans drafted Tony Boselli in the expansion draft on the hopes that his Anthony Muñoz type frame and skills could be the anchor for Carr on the O-line. Boselli's body could not hold up, which is a shame since he could have been a Hall of Famer, and the Texans line never gave Carr enough protection. It's 5 years later now, and Carr is looking for another home. The Minnesota Vikings, as well as a few other teams, need a QB. The Vikings run a west coast style offense, and have a coach who has developed other QBs. Carr has shown glimpses of potential, but never truly had a chance to shine.

The Vikings have two things that can make this marriage work: a nice left side of the line and a glaring need at QB. With Hutchinson & McKinnie on the left side and Matt Birk running the show as the center through 2008, the Vikings could provide Carr with protection that he has never experienced. Brad Johnson had plenty of time back there in '06, and his arm is shot. With Carr, the Vikings would get a QB who can hit all of the throws, he just never had time with the Texans for a 7 step drop. Carr would have a productive running back behind him, which never existed in Houston. Childress can make this work. Kubiak did some work with Carr, but I think time had caught up with Carr in Houston. Houston is in the process of an overhaul, and his contract was getting ridiculous. Carr needs a fresh start, and the Vikings need a QB.

A problem for this marriage of QB and team is the receivers. This is not the Vikings team of the late 90s, when you plug in a QB and get a 3500 yard season without trying. The Vikings have a weak receiver corps, which needs work and in Williamson's case time to work on his FRICKIN hands. Can't you see Childress saying "Grasp the ball when it makes contact with your fingers and palms, don't just let it bounce off". Carr might be gun shy after years of 50+ sack seasons. He could be at that point where he is peeking at the rush instead of looking at the coverage. What is truly sad about that is that he is 27+/-. He's not a mid-30s gunslinger who has taken over a decade of punshiment (Drew Bledsoe comes to mind).

At this point, the Vikings have to ask themselves "What have we got to lose"? They could sign him to a 3 year deal with a minimal signing bonus, tons of performance incentives, and structure it to inflict minimal cap damage if they cut him after 1 year. That rookie, Jackson, is not the answer, and even if he is, he needs another year to develop. I saw his only start, and it was absolutely horrible. The Vikings are playing in the weak NFC North, and if they can grab some wins in their AFC & non-divisional NFC match ups, they could be in the playoffs. I forsee a 4-2 divisional record, maybe 5-1 if Grossman is the Bears QB. They have the run defense to shut down teams that rely on the run or have a weak QB (Bears come to mind), and they have a decent rushing attack. If they get any production out of their passing game, they could be a 9 win team and be looking at the playoffs. Sign Carr, take a chance. Do it Minnesota!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Final Four Thoughts

Florida-UCLA
Both teams have a nice story this year, as they stayed together for a run at the title, and in Florida's case a chance to repeat. Florida has had the slightly easier path to take through the tourney, while UCLA has had to flex its muscles against tougher opponents. I'm going to go with UCLA because I think they are too quick for Florida. Florida's big men are going to have an advantage, but if UCLA can keep the tempo of the game high, they can tire out the big men from Florida.

Ohio St.-Georgetown
Georgetown can thank the idiots at UNC who kept chucking up 3s in the last 10 mins of the regional finals. They had no business putting that game into overtime, and I salute them for clawing back. They are running into a team that plays a similar style of tough D and working the ball inside. Of course, if Ohio St. REMEMBERED that they had Greg Oden, they would work it inside on every trip down the floor. Bill Raftery said it during one of the Ohio St. games, no matter what is going on, he [Oden] should touch it every trip down the court. I think Georgetown has the horses to throw at Oden, but if he plays like he has stepped it up this tourney, it's Ohio St.'s game to lose. I'm going with Ohio St.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ohio State could win the Final Four if only....

......they passed Greg Oden the ball when he rolled off those high screens. It is incredibly frustrating watching Oden run up to the key, set a screen, roll, waive his hand to show he is open and then watch as a guard dribbles around a bit and launches a 15 foot jumpshot. Oden could average 30 a game if they just fed him the ball off of these high screens. He has a point guard that played ball with him in high school, yet the guy still doesn't feed him the ball regularly. I'd love to see him with Jason Kidd, Steve Nash or any point guard who looks to pass first. Even Mark Price or Mark Jackson would have used him better than how Ohio St. is using him right now.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I just never dug Michael Jordan

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, one sports figure stood above all others. Michael Jordan received unheard of attention in pop culture for an athelete, promoted more products than any other sprots figure had, and won championships seemingly at will. Michael Jordan opened a door for black athletes that made it possible for them to promote any product, breaking down doors that previous black athletes had been unable to knock on. Jordan was an amazing combination of grace and power, but I never was a Jordan guy. I appreciated his skill but never became a big Jordan fan.

Growing up, I was a Sixers fan with Doctor J and Charles Barkley being my favorite players. I managed to grow up in the great decade for competitive, professional basketball, the 80s, and had an apprciation for the sport. This was a little different than the average white kid from the sticks. I already had exposure to the game by watching it regularly on NESN with my grandparents, and by going to Celtics games once a year with my dad. A lot of rural/suburban, white kids were not NBA fans until Michael burst onto the scene.

Mihael Jordan did what every kid wanted to do: fly through the air. The NBA marketed him, along with Nike, as the cool thing, the next thing, and eventually, the only thing. When he retired in '98, the NBA had spent so much time showcasing him that they had no heir to the throne. Kids across America were slammed with the Jordan hero-myth non-stop by David Stern and company. I never quite understood the kids who wholeheartedly latched onto the Bulls bandwagon and Jordan himself. One would think that watching Jordan would be the gateway to following a local team, but it didn't work out that way for the NBA. When he left, so did a lot of fans.

In opposition to other NBA fans, I did not slobber all over Jordan. In opposition to Jordan detractors, I did not make idiotic statements like "Jordan is the best athlete to play in the NBA, Larry Bird is the greatest NBA player of all time". That was a line Celtics fans liked to use and some still use it today. Honestly, that reeks of thinly veiled racism, which I come to expect from degenerate New England sports fans. I always appreciated his skill, and reading a book like this one further developed my appreciation for his hard work as well as natural gifts. I think part of my reluctance to dive headfirst into hero worship of Jordan was my already established loyalty to the Sixers organization. I was a huge Barkley fan, so naturally in 1993, I was rooting for the Suns to knock off the Bulls. I never understood why kids in my school would support Jordan 100% in every single NBA Finals. The idol creation of Stern and Co. had worked to perfection. Had Stern and the NBA done a bit better of a job with a succession plan, the league might not have dipped as far as it did after Jordan's '98 retirement.

A major turn off for me regarding Jordan, which colors how I look at him from here on out was the shameless shilling he did for any product and the bungled Wizards management & comeback. I enjoyed most of Jodan's commercials during his playing career, but when he ventured into the realm of battery endorsements, I really got sick of it. I wondered what product he would turn down. The overexposure was sickening, and in my eyes, he lost some credibility the more he endorsed things. His attempt at a comeback with the Wizards was awful, and I kept giving him a chance. I kept saying "he's going to trade himself for draft picks to a contender, and then slide back to basketball exec with the picks, so smart". Little did I know that the comeback was just a self absorbed man trying to stay on stage for one more bow, one more curtain call, stealing time and attention from emerging players and setting a franchise back a few years. It as such a waste of effort compared to the gutsy win over the Jazz in '98. My friends and I pondered how this would taint his legacy. While the media would probably never let it truly change how they portrayed him, in the minds of fans, that failed experiment would have to leave some mark.

Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever lace up a pair of shoes and step on the court. He had the rare combination of amazing physical gifts and relentless determination. He worked harder than everyone else, yet was already ahead of the pack in ability. Lebron James supposedly coasted the first half of this year to gear up for the playoffs. Jordan never would have done that, and we all know from evidence, he never did. Jordan had things going for him that the average NBA player might not have: a 2 parent home, a middle class childhood, an apprenticeship at a great college program. With the NBA rule change on minimum age limits, it will help with refining and polishing new players. I think this is an overlooked aspect to Jordan's career. He played 3 years under Dean Smith, became a better defender, and learned how to be a team player even if he was a superstar. So much coddling of young prodigies goes on today that you wonder if someone will ever have the proper make up and environment to become the next Jordan or even greater. Jordan was a once in a generation athlete for his sport, and I would like to remember him that way. While he is the greatest to have ever played, he still was just one player.... and no player is greater than the game.

Friday, March 16, 2007

How Virginia Tech beat Illinois?

1. Illinois had no offense. - McBride went down, which hurt their perimeter scoring. They failed to work the ball inside to the big men who had an advantage over Va Tech's frontcourt. They failed to drive the ball because Va Tech's guards were quicker. Their offense involved letting the shot clock run down to 10 and then hoisting up jump shots.
2. Va Tech pressed - The press caught Illinois off guard. Illinois looked like a bunch of retards. Va Tech put the pressure on forcing Illinois to make cross court passes, which were half-assed as well. Va Tech looked like the more experienced team.
3. Illinois did not hit their foul shots - Randle missed both technical foul shots which were HUGE, and he missed the front end of a one and one to tie the game.

I was not impressed with the Fightin' Illini's poise. The lack of urgency when they faced the press was weak. They wilted when Va Tech went on their run. The upset was possible with a 10 point lead and 4 to go. Weak.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Give me a Girl with Curves

Several nights ago, I was watching a movie which starred Kathleen Robertson and thought "damn, that's the hot chick from Scary Movie 2". The actress has never really been in good movies, and she has done a bunch of indie films. She was on 90210 for a while as a wicked vixen. She followed in the footsteps fo Tiffani Amber thiessen on 90210 as a buxom lady with a skill at seducing retards with sideburns in Beverly Hills. What is striking about her is that she has wonderful red hair, a pretty face and a bomb-ass body. Twenty-five years ago, she would have been getting juicy roles in those Arnold-Stallone-Swayze action films. It struck me that a naturally thin woman with a great set of curves would be considered a bit bigger compared to Hollywood-Media norm.

What happened and how did we get here? This article discusses this problem. America has an obesity problem, yet the media is always projecting sickly thin images of women. The horrible thing is that women are nasty to one another about the slightest of weight gains. Combine that with the idiotic "white guy view" of what a women's weight should be or how a woman should look that is held by a minority of guys but somehow gets projected as what most men find desirable. Polls have been done about body image and this issue, which I think tell a pretty clear picture. Who would have thought men have a better take on their bodies than women? The eating disorder problem is one with many causes, and one that, while you'd think is concentrated more in white women, is actually evenly spread amongst the races. I think an important note in that article is that there are no differences for black/white women over 22. Oh yeah, that's just a footnote USA Today, because under age 22 is not a demographic with tons of eating disorders. Eating disorders were so common at my high school, they brought in speakers on it who did damage to their bodies beyond repair, and it had no effect.

It just does not make sense to continue. There's going to be a high profile death due to this again (Karen Carpenter was 25 years ago), which might cause people and tastemakers to wake up. While I hold out hope for this, fugly, stick monsters like Sarah Jessica Parker, Brittany Murphy and most of the cast of Desperate Housewives show up in women's magazines non-stop. They get celebrated by these modes of media, and women are dumb enough to think that men want to have sex with the bag of bones known as Felicity Huffman or the closet hanger known as Keira Knightly. It's annoying. What guy wants to get down with a lady and have to check his lap for bruises from the girl's bones poking him?



This is why I celebrate women with curves. Personal favorites of mine are Salma Hayek and Monica Bellucci. I like to post pics of fitness models because they have some shape to them. These women are still thin. By no means do I think they look "average" as far as size. It's just that compared to most media darlings, they are definitely curvier and just a bit bigger. It's mindboggling that a smidge closer to average weight is considered big for the media. I wish more young women accepted their bodies for what they were. Still, they should eat healthy and exercise for cardiovascular health as heart disease is a huge killer of women. Believe me, it's all good. Take a look at the overweight piece of crap that you have a relationship with; it's not like most men are in super shape. Don't damage your body for a guy who doesn't put int he effort either, and even if he puts in the effort don't value yourself by the image in the mirror or number on the scale.

In conclusion, thank you Kathleen Robertson for being smoking hot!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The NCAA Tourney

March Madness is upon once us more. There are a tremendous number of things that are wonderful about the tournament. Here's a quick top 10....
10. Bill Rafferty - When he says that someone made the shot "with a kiss" off the backboard, it isan instant classic. The basketball version of Keith Jackson.
9. Brackets - This is an annual reminder of why bookies make money on the common gambler. How many people do you know that can correctly have 2 teams make it to the Final Four?
8. Small school cheerleaders - Mascots are usually on the level with High School, and the cheerleaders look very much like the "girl next door".
7. Friends jumping around a room or bar as a low seed team starts raining 3s, moves up to number 2 if you or your friend went to that school.
6. The names of the automatic bid qualifiers from small conferences: Valparaiso, Wright St., Coppin St., UTEP, IUPUI, etc.

5. 5 seed-12 seed games - For some reason, the teams might be separated by 7 seeds which might be worth 28 places of stature, but there seems to be one 12 seed victory every year.
4. Low Seed Upsets - People who do not play the game get frustrated by players who seem to have all the talent in the world but do not do the little things. It always seems like low seeds dot he little things, so it warms the hearts of Americans not blessed with the athletic prowess of the pros and large college program players.
3. A Breakout - Carmelo Anthony had the most recent breakout performance, but there have been others before him who made their NBA fortunes with a great run in the NCAA Tournament.

2. The Cinderella - How can you not root for a mid-major or minor to knock off a big guy? It's the American way.
1. That chance, that you just might see a game, a play, that still gives you goosebumps 15 years later, making you can recall everything about seeing it in vivid memory.

Mr. Peanut

America is a nation of immigrants, misfits, cast-offs and the refuse of the world. The American Dream is that belief that anybody can work hard and "make it". At the end of the First World War, one European immigrant made a splash onto American culture and has lived a long life in the hearst and minds of Americans. I am talking about Field Marshal Klaus von Peanuftk, better known to the American consumer as Mr. Peanut.

Field Marshal Klaus von Peanuftk was the son of a Prussian Army officer. Raised in a strict Protestant home, he was a scholarly young boy who excelled at athletics. One of his favorite activities was lifting triangular weights that read 100 lbs in big block letters one arm at a time. Becoming an officer at the age of 21, he rose among the ranks extremely fast, and on the eve of the First World War, was named a Field Marshal. Prior to WWI, von Peanuftk was a strict defender of the Schlieffen Plan, which called for a decisive blow to France before turning to face Russia. Von Peanuftk was at odds with Helmuth von Moltke, who called for removal of units from the attack on France to cover the Eastern Front. If von Peanuftk had been listened to, the Schlieffen Plan might have succeeded, sparing millions of lives on both sides.

After Germany's defeat in WWI, von Peanuftk feared for his family's safety. Selling his family's holdings in Krupp Industries, von Peanuftk fled for the United States. Knowing that he could be tried for war crimes, von Peanuftk changed his last name to Peanut. Despite being a family man, his playboy image caught the eye of the Saturday Evening Post, and Planters quickly snapped him up as a spokesman. Due to German violence in the late 1930s and the outbreak of WWII, Planters suppressed Mr. Peanut's past. If you look him up today, many folks insist that he was the creation of an Italian-American family. Mr. Peanut does have a Euro-look, but he does not inspire images of Italian masculinity. First off, he is missing a mustache and long hair. Mr. Peanut goes much better with beer than he does with wine, and as stated above, he is a Protestant. Mr. Peanut has an obvious European style to his dress with the white gloves, and his monocle is reminiscent of the Junkers of Prussia. Mr. Peanut wears a top hat and carries a cane as if he were strolling the streets of pre-War Berlin.

As the American consumer has grown more conscious of his health, Mr. Peanut has changed with the times as well, informing American shoppers that his products are full of 'good' fats and can help you lose weight. If ever in doubt of his European roots, just look at his wheels.....



CASE CLOSED!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Red Hot Chilli Peppers Suck Now

Non-stop mellow crap played over the radio. That is a way to describe a block of RHCP music on your local FM radio station. How far from their roots have these guys gone? How much longer have they stuck around than even they would have wanted to 15 years ago? It all went downhill once they had a hit with "Under the Birdge" and then reinforced by "Soul to Squeeze". Go back in time and put bullets in their heads right after "Give it Away Now". Please save us all of this extra mellow crap.

It's 2007, and Anthony Kiedis thinks he can sing. The dude sounds like he always has a ton of boogers in his nose when he talks; he shouldn't be singing. Stick to the quasi-rap stuff you guys built your foundation of fans on in the late 80s early 90s. Sadly, this delusion of singing ability has lead tot he band creating songs with great instrumentation ("Scar Tissue") or a great idea/theme ("Californication") that fall flat because his voice is awful. The nation has been tortured by songs like "the Zephyr Son" and "Snow (Hey oh)". "Snow" might be their most annoying song. When it comes on the radio, my ears bleed and the radio automatically changes channels.

Here's my other beef with their act. They have betrayed any claim they can have on being punk. After you show up in movies, sell your songs out for advertisers or appear in teen magazines, you just can't claim to be an outsider. Metallica turned a lot of people off between the Napster lawsuit and the 'clean up' they did. I found fault with it because a hard rocker doesn't have to wear acid wash jeans and have huge hair (Metallica's 80s look), but hard rockers do not clean up, wear glam clothes, and go after their fans. The Chilli Peppers have done something far worse. They still pretend to have an edge and be punk while doing mainstream activities. Show up to an awards show in crazy clothes. Wooooo, really alternative. Punk move would have been to not go or to go and defecate on the red carpet, not pose for Teen People Magazine.

A last little bit is that the group has managed to steal music from other artists: the great Tom Petty. A link to the song stealing in question. Maybe the group could reinvest soem income into getting Kiedis singing lessons? I'd like them to fade into oblivion. Somehow in the music industry, talents like Kurt Cobain kill themself while these clowns still make music.

In defense of these guys, they do work hard to put stuff together, and they once had an edge. I do have a list of favorite songs by them, so I will list those. I will also list the 3 songs that would have been better if done by other artists.

Faves
1. Give it Away Now
2. Suck my Kiss

Songs for Another Band to Do
1. Scar Tissue - Just insert any singer
2. Californication - Redo all of the back up vocals as well as insert new singer
3. Can't Stop - Have a real rapper do the song, and remove the soft, lame-o chorus crap

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Thomas Jones and McGahee trades

Thomas Jones was traded to the Jets for a second round swap of picks. Note: they didn't lose a pick int he second round, just positioning (phucking amazing). Glad they didn't do this last offseason when Jones was a year younger. They would have really challenged the Pats for the division crown with a decent RB. I think this is a good trade for the Jets. Jones comes in with not a lot of mileage on his wheels despite his age (28). The Jets can sign him to a 4 year deal, use him like a horse for 3 seasons, and then cut him (or "restructure" his deal). For Jets fans, they don't have to worry about Chad 'broken wings' Pennington being stuck in 3rd and longs. With the improving offensive line and Jones, the team can be a lot more balanced and much more unpredictable. Jones will not solve the lack of arm strength for Pennington, but it is entirely possible that he can take some of the burden of making plays off of Chad and remove pressure for that young o-line in pass protection. "Jeez, we get to run block now???? great!"

The Bears received ok value for Jones, but he could have yielded a better package had they traded him last offseason. It is too bad the Bears did not have more trust in Benson last year, as they could have parted with Jones earlier for more in return. Last year, I told some Jets fans they should make this trade. The problem was that Jones had a higher price tag, and the Jets really needed to beef up their offensive and defensive lines. The Bears have a good 1-2 punch at RB still with Benson and the other, weaker Adrian Peterson. I can't wait for someone to draft the wrong Adrian Peterson in my fantasy football league. The Bears can use the early 2nd rounder to add some depth to their D-line or replace Lance Briggs (which makes me sad).

So the Ravens found a new horse to ride into the ground? Sweet. I can't wait for the McGahee era to start with the Ravens. Finally, a reason to watch the Ravens offense. While McGahee does have the potential to be the best back in the NFL, and look at the bounty of picks he brought to the Bills for being 3 years younger than Jones: 3 picks, no position swaps. McGahee has been saddled with a weak air attack. One thing I have noticed about Bills games is that McGahee would have a monster first half, and then teams would stack the line and he'd have squat in the second half. Losman and the Bills would not make teams pay for this behavior. McNair needs to produce or the Ravens will not return a lot on this investment. McGahee is a significant upgrade for the Ravens; I just hope they have a QB who can take advantage of this weapon. Also.... how the hell did they let Adalius Thomas go to NE for such a small contract????? Ozzie Newsome is a brilliant GM, so there has to be something he knows that NE does not.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Excellent Terminator Dream

I have mentioned previously my crazy dreams, and the idea of Terminator dreams. Arnold or T-1000 shows up, and chases me or battles me. It is usually a dream that forces me to wake up violently. I wake up tired. They are pretty intense. I thought I'd share the details of this one as it was different in an entirely strange way.

So I am in a future setting surrounded by lame people. Everyone is pretty vapid except for a small minority of the population. One person decides to "act out", as they are not satisfied with simple amusements. Suddenly, a person transforms from human form to the Terminator and takes her away. The person comes back "reformed", and no one really raises a voice of objection of the surroundings. Time passes, and I say "Enough of this crap" and raise a ruckus. Oh course, one of the humans transform into a Terminator and the race is on. As I try to evade the Terminator I transform from matter to energy and travel along this path of circuitry. The Terminator does as well. It reminded me of the later part of 2001: A Space Odyssey.The part that looks like an acid trip put to film (Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite). The imagery was constantly flying by me, and I could barely make out my surroundings as I moved as an energy beam. I resign my energy beam status, as does the Terminator, and I decide to fight the Terminator. The Terminator and I do battle for a while, and then when I am fatigued I wake myself up.

I have always considered 2001 one of the best and most imaginative space movies of all time. Kubrick was concerned with making everything look and feel as real as possible. The ships and space stations have gravity due to spinning of the object (centrifugal force at work), and there is no sound during the space scenes. I also liked the small touches of having corporate logos everywhere in the orbiting space station. I think we can all agree that if someone makes space travel and/or living possible, it will be a corporate effort. Kubrick uses a lot of small touches in the film. Combining those touches with a grand vision, Kubrick makes an enjoyable and thought provoking film.

The character that viewers of the film can name the quickest is Hal. The supercomputer that travels with the humans on the way to Jupiter. Kubrick tackled the idea of artificial intelligence in an interesting fashion. He gave Hal a little bit of style, a touch of human emotions, and best of all: a flaw. Hal makes a mistake, and that sets the action in motion during the trip to Jupiter. Is Hal deliberately trying to sabotage the mission? Has he cracked as a human might under pressure? Hal is the richest character in the movie, and he is a computer. Kubrick makes Hal seem more human than the zombie like astronauts on the ship.

Most people discuss the ending of the movie and what it all means. I have seen the movie a few times and never come to a conclusion. The movie has no dialogue after Hal is terminated, and relies on visual effects and good camera work to finish the story. I doubt a movie could be made today in this manner. I think Hollywood has devolved to the point where they cannot make a movie without a love interest in it and devoid of dialogue for whole minutes at a time. The ending itself is too ambiguous for today. Dave's birth as a star child could symbolize the journey from nothing to consciousness as all humans undergo with natural birth. We all are enlightened beings.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Concept of Mystery

There is something fun about reading mystery novels. It is why they can spawn whole series of novels with a central detective who always seems to connect the dots. Part of the fun with mystery stories is that the information that is available to the detective in the book is available to the reader. The race is on for who can figure it out first. A mystery presents a series of facts, and it just takes a good filter, an ability to piece parts together, and creative thinking to solve it.

What about the unsolved mystery? Sometimes those can be the most fun of all. An unsolved mystery invites theories. It encourages creative thinking. An unsolved mystery comes with the problem of time. The longer it goes unsolved, the colder traces go. New evidence or leads rarely pop up, and cases go cold. People lap this up as a whole slew of tv series have been created, appealing to this thirst for mystery. Some of my favorite conversations at Cornell were listening to one another's theories on who killed JFK, who really committed the "Boston Strangler" murders, and why did Barry Sanders retire.

In the past year, two movies have been produced about unsolved crimes: The Black Dahlia and Zodiac. While both were about unsolved murders in California, they went entirely different routes to tell the story. The Black Dahlia was about the atmosphere of L.A. at the time of the murder, while Zodiac was about the serial killer. I enjoyed Zodiac more than Black Dahlia despite the lack of eye candy. It had a stronger cast, and was paced a bit better (even if it was 160 minutes long). The Zodiac was also a serial killer, and there is an added attraction to a story about a serial killer who taunts the authorities and evades capture forever. Recently, a horrible movie was made about Jack the Ripper, and I wonder why no one has made a decent movie about that. It has three things Hollywood loves: murder, a historical time setting, and hookers.

Watching these movies also made me sad that where at a point with forensics and detective work that a serial killer will find it impossible to get away forever. The Green River Killer was caught with DNA he had provided in samples years before the technology. Even one of the unknown soldiers from Arlington National Cemetery was identified. Due to advances in technology, many mysteries thought forever shrouded in a cloak of invincibility are being tapped at with digital or DNA fingers. An audio specialist took a crack at the Nixon "18 1/2 minute gap" tapes. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, he could not recover what was erased. Who knows what was so special that it had to be erased?

As I watch the crap that passes as news flash across my tv screen, I cannot help but think about the idea of a modern day serial killer who would taunt the police. The Unabomber did this to an extent that he asked major newspapers to print his manifesto..... and he was caught because his brother identified things in the manifesto's writing as wording in letters from his brother. In today's media, a serial killer like the Zodiac would be blown up bigger than the O.J. trial. He or she would probably be caught in a month or two tops, but it would make the current media circus known as the Anna Nicole Smith coverage look small in comparison. The media will never get a chance to rush this to page 1. Here is the problem: it will not happen again.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Back Workout

While taking a short break at work,I was asking a coworker about his workout that night. He said he was doing arms. I remarked that it always seemed he was doing arms, chest or, a recently added workout thanks to your truly, shoulders. He said that was all he knew how to lift for, and he had no clue what to do for legs or back. I was dumbfounded as it just seemed normal to me that people worked out everything. I told him that I would design a workout for him to target his back. It really is not that hard. (enjoy the pic to the right)

To warn everyone who might glance at this for some unknown reason, I work out my back and then my biceps on the same day. I pair those two together because of the "push-pull principle"; they both pull. Warm yourself up with some light pull downs to get your mind focused on using the arms as little as possible, and squeezing with your back. Try to use the arms as little as possible, as if they were not there. This is the most important part. If you use your arms more than your back, you're not going to get results. As Mr. Miyagi would say "focusssss".

Pull downs - 3 sets of 8 - I normally do pull ups (see at the end), but I know those are a bitch for most people. Pull downs are a fair substitute. You can do them to the top of your chest or to teh back of your neck. Looking out for safety, I do them to the top of my chest. One thing to keep in mind is the angle of your back while doing this. Try to stay as perpendicular to the ground as possible. People who lean back are cheating, and they are only cheating themselves (tsk tsk).

Deadlifts - 3 sets of 8 - Keep strict form and really squeeze at the top. If you have trouble with balance as I do, use a smith machine for assistance. If you want to go heavier and drop the number of reps, it is fine by me. Do what feels right for your body and growth.

Bent over Barbell Rows - 3 sets of 8
OR One Arm Rows - 3 sets of 8
Everyone needs a rowing motion exercise to develop back thickness. I always view pull ups/downs as the way to get your back wide, but deadlifts and rows as the way to get your back thick. A key to rows is to bring the dumbbell, handle, bar, whatever you use to grip, in towards your lower abdomen. If you pull it into your chest, you are not targeting the back in the proper manner. Pull it in low, which will be tougher, but the reward will be greater.

I tend to add a set or maybe push these to sets of 10, if I am feeling stronger on a certain day. You must do what feesl right. As I noted above, I usually do pull ups (grip has my palms facing away or overhand grip as some call it). On days I do pull ups, I do sets to failure up to a grand total of 50 pull ups or until I am down to doing sets of 1. I start with my grip wide, but with each set, I slowly make my grip narrower. By changing the space between my arms, I change the targeting of muscle fiber recruitment. Routinely, I can crank out 10 the first set, 7-8 the next, 5 the third and then slug my way to 30-35 reps before I can only do 1 pull up. If on your first set you can do 12 or more, add weight with a weight belt. Pull ups wreck my back, and no machine or pull down cable workout equals it. Hammer Strength has a behind the neck pull down machine that comes close, but for my money, pull ups are the best bet to a wider back.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Awesimitude on TV: To Catch a Predator

Most of reality TV and most of the investigative exposes on TV are horribly boring. When 48 hours investigates or 20/20 does get something right, it can be enthralling and sometimes bone chilling as the camera brings a hidden truth in society to light. Even as a child, I enjoyed a good John Stossel report on 20/20 or the occasional murder mystery on 48 hours investigates that showed how many people involved could be the killer. One show that attempts to be a serious investigative report but is more entertaining than anything else is NBC Dateline's To Catch a Predator.

Considering the subject matter, busting pedophiles, it is amazing just how comical the show is at times. Chris Hansen hosts the show, and is a prick at times to these perverted criminals. The natural hate towards child predators seems to be focused to a condescending and sharp point in Hansen. He is pretty quick on his feet to come up with something as a comeback to a predator's excuse or phrase. Despite his lines or questions being very sarcastic and funny, Hansen manages to keep a straight face through the entire question and answer period. My all time favorite comment might be when he asked the school teacher if the perverted man-boy love the teacher sought was described anywhere int he Bible and asked if it was in the old or new testament. He delivered this all with a straight face. A conversation between him and Stephen Colbert could break the dead pan delivery scale.

Besides Chris Hansen and the never-ending parade of losers who seek sex with a minor, the show has a totally creepy vibe to it. It is rather shocking the number of men that this show can bust in 2-3 day spans in one city in our great nation. How many of these guys are lurking in neighborhoods, apartment buildings and in the cubicle next to you? Some of these guys seem genuinely conflicted with their feelings, and others get right to the point. Having read Nabokov's Lolita, yuo can see how some of these guys would know they are sick and try to get help. You could also see how others would throw away all hang ups and run wild with their impulses in true pervert fashion.

On the flip side, how many arrests do you recall of perverts busted for online activities? I recall 2 in my home state in while I was in college. Two. Discussing it at work, nobody has sympathy for these asshole perverts, but there is a common concern over entrapment. Some of the guys have vague conversations, while others are very blunt with what they want the teen to do. The DA in Texas who killed himself was pretending to be a 19 year old talking to a volunteer adult pretending to be a 13 year old. Something seems a bit odd about it all when one person ends up dead. I am disgusted by these perverts, and enjoy watching them caught on tape. I only wish that the bastards didn't get probation or protective custody when they do finally go to jail. "Prison Justice", while grotesque, does appeal to that dark side of human nature that wants to see bastards like these perverts get what they deserve.