Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rollin' on

I've been buying into the teeth of this market decline, and I think I'm about to be richly rewarded for it.

The market action the last three days has been technically very positive. We bounced off the August lows, confirming support at that level, and we managed to sustain that bounce today. Also encouraging is the trend reversal of late-day selling...for a few months now the trend has been for the market to sell off after 2pm, but the last three days have been different...we've actually seen the market pick up steam and rally into the close.

In additional to the technical confirmation, Cramer today made a macro call - the kind he rarely makes - that supports my position. He said to get out of cash and get into stocks ahead of the Dec 11 Fed meeting. He sees lower rates and a rallying market through next year.

If you haven't been buying this decline, I think you still have a golden opportunity to get in ahead of the coming rise. Financial stocks like Wachovia and Bank of America will pay you a 6% dividend while you wait for their stock to go up. You know I love Goldman as well, but I hate to pump something I already own.

As I write this post, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is starting to speak. If he says something like "We're definitely not lowering rates" the market will tank tomorrow and I'll look like an idiot. A smarter man would wait until the speech is over before putting his neck on the line, but what fun would that be?

In other news, my hockey regular season concluded yesterday with a 6-6 tie for my good team. I (heroically) scored the first two goals for my team as we locked up third place in the standings. Playoffs start Monday. Of course my 'other' team didn't fare quite so well...we finished 2-6-4. That's nothing to be proud of, but it's a marked improvement over the ignominious 0-11-1 season I suffered through not long ago.

And finally, I officially gave up on PC gaming and bought an XBox 360. Currently playing Tiger Woods Golf and Bioshock, both excellent games. I just got tired of the endless upgrade-your-video-card-and-download-new-drivers-and-reconfigure-your-software cycle of playing games on the PC. I'm old and lazy, so I want to buy and play. So far, I love the change.

Confessor: Book Review

I can hardly envision a more disappointing conclusion to an 11-book fantasy epic than Confessor.

I thought the previous installment in the series was too preachy, but Goodkind apparently didn't share my judgement. He stumbles anxiously and awkwardly along this downhill path, encouraging the reader to swallow the same canned lines he's been feeding you for the last seven books or so. At first, the philosophy was a complement to the was a really good story on its own, and the philosophical ramblings of certain characters worked into the background. It wasn't seamless, but it was at least a palatable mix. By this last book, however, the action itself has now become obviously contrived to match the philosophy. The story itself has been usurped and relegated to a barely mentionable supporting position.

While I certainly hold this against him, I can to a certain measure forgive and even accept this decision. The work of trying to reach the masses with objectivist philosophy disguised as a fantasy epic cannot be easy. In fact, I'm sure that's quite an understatement. The fact that he'd even attempt such a formidable task earns him a measure of respect in my eyes.

But one thing I will not forgive is the terrible ending.

Once again, the author falls well short of the bar he set for himself, with an ending so disappointing that it ruins the entire series, and ruins any chance that I'll read another Terry Goodkind book.

The world is relentlessly being destroyed by the armies of the Imperial Order. They number in the millions, roughly ten times the size of the army defending against them, they are utterly ruthless, and they possess a fanatical belief in self-sacrifice. Every pocket of resistence in their way is mercilessly crushed.

At the head of this army is the utterly depraved Emperor Jagang. The author has gone to tremendous lengths for about eight books to describe in vicious detail the depths of Jagang's cruelty. As a reader, we are treated to every vile act that Terry Goodkind can imagine, including the torture of small children in front of their parents, repeated rapes, senseless mutilations, and savage murders. Even a graduate of bloodthirsty videogames and the Faces of Death series of movies, like myself, can find this disturbing. But I read on, knowing that in the end, Jagang the Just was going to get what he deserved. I was making a contract with the author...I'll wade through your graphic and endless descriptions of suffering, because I know that you're setting me up for a great finish. When Jagang finally gets the justice coming to him, the steaming pyramids of evil I climbed over will make this final payoff even sweeter.

Jagang is not just a savage brute, however. He's a solid military mind who has turned the tables on several gambits that might have undone lesser generals. He's clever enough to form alliances and value the power of knowledge. He has survived multiple assassination attemptes and magical assaults. He is no mean enemy.

In the final stronghold against the Imperial Order is arrayed the last hope of mankind, a fearsomely powerful cadre of heroes. Richard Rahl, a War Wizard, wielder of the Sword of Truth. Kahlan, the last of the Confessors, women who command terrible and unique magical powers. Nicci, once known as Death's Mistress, the most powerful sorceress of several generations. Zedd, the ancient First Wizard.

Eleven books of build-up, of carefully crafted suspense, leading to this moment. This final confrontation (notice a theme?) that will shake the stones of the earth itself. A battle to be sung for ages, to live in the collective consciousness of a civilization for thousands of years, like Thermopylae and Troy.

So what happens instead?

Jagang, uncharacteristically, falls for a simple and desperate ruse. He is killed quickly and unceremoniously. Richard casts a spell that no one has ever heard of before, which somehow transports the entire army to another world. They all live happily ever after.

Think I'm full of shit? Imagine how I felt after eleven books of investment. I started reading this series before I got married, ten years ago. No final battle, no massive confrontation between good and evil, no emphatic justice for those who so richly deserved it. Just a convenient deus ex machina and a whole lot of philosophical rationalization against violence.

Awful, unbelievably awful.

No Country for Old Men: Movie Review

This movie is two hours long.

For two hours, I believed I was watching the best Coen brothers film yet. They expertly build suspense, leaving the viewer in a constant state of simultaneous discomfort and excitement. The characters are what really separates this film, however, with a tremendous performance by Tommy Lee Jones putting a human face on all the wreckage left in the wake of the Psycho Bad Guy.

For two hours, I was nearly on the edge of my seat with anticipation. I couldn't wait to see what was going to happen next, to learn just how this dramatic conflict was going to be resolved.

And then the credits rolled.

The first words out of my mouth were, predictably, "What the fuck?"

The first two characters to appear in the film are the Psycho Bad Guy and the Normal Country Boy Who Finds a Bag of Money. You've seen these characters before, though admittedly with less flair, but there are no surprises here. The Country Boy is a southern ex-military/hunter good ol' boy who knows how to handle a weapon. The Bad Guy kills just about everyone he meets, while inexplicably allowing a few lucky ones to live.

They move relentlessly toward a violent confrontation, all the while pursued by the sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) who hopes to stave off further bloodshed. As the movie draws to a close, all three characters approach the same motel in El Paso, and the pent-up suspense is like a painful gas bubble in your stomach just aching to be relieved in one direction or another.

The sheriff arrives at said motel to find the body of one of the main characters. He missed the confrontation, and apparently, so did I. And just when you've become convinced that there simply must be a devious plot twist about to be revealed, the screen goes black and the credits roll and you're left wondering where the fuck your $8.50 went.

I'm sure the Coen brothers were deliberately making a statement by avoiding a final confrontation. But whatever that statement is, I'd like to turn it sideways and shove it up their asses. I don't appreciate sitting through two hours of deftly crafted suspense for absolutely no payoff. If you want to pat yourselves on the back for defying convention, if you want to yank the chains of the pretentious dickwads at the Cannes Film Festival, go for it...but don't expect me to ever again fork over money to watch some empty, unresolved string of violence leading to nothing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


As a young Canaanite girl named Salome, skinny legs and all, performs the Dance of the Seven Veils, the spectators experience more than a burlesque show. As each veil drops, they experience realizations, perhaps even revelations. In this way, Robbins sums up his philosophy (of course, if you've paid any attention while reading, this isn't necessary. Still, it's nice because I don't have to dig through the whole book for quotes.)

Earth is a sexual globe. He reminds us that the basic purpose of all life is reproduction, and the complex systems of religion and morality that we've created to suppress sexual instinct go counter to our very nature. He further extrapolates that since sexual drama is largely controlled by the female, a patriarchal society also runs counter to our nature. I don't feel strongly about this point one way or another - I'm not hung up on sex, and I agree that it's harmful to repress sexual energy - but it just doesn't seem that important. Religion perpetrates many dangerous myths, and represses both scientific research and artistic expression...all of which are more damaging than sexual repression.

Human beings do not have dominion over plants and animals. "Every daisy in the field, every anchovy in the bay had an identity just as strong as her own, and a station in life as valuable as hers." Wow, I'm not feeling you here, Tommy-boy. Nature is just a big game of King of the Hill, and right now we're on top. Until fish and flowers develop really big guns and the fingers to fire them, they're fucked, and I'm not losing any sleep over their plight. Sure, we need to act responsibly enough to ensure our own continued survival, but this PETA equal-rights bullshit doesn't hold up to the faintest intellectual scrutiny.

It is futile to work for political solutions to humanity's problems because humanity's problems are not political. "Political problems do exist, all right, but they are entirely secondary. The primary problems are philosophical, and until the philosophical problems are solved, the political problems will have to be solved over and over and over again." I agree with the premise - that mankind has some core philosophical issues which override everything else - but Robbins takes this idea too far when drawing conclusions from it. He argues that politics are more than useless, that they in fact stunt the development of humanity. This is plain wrong, and demonstrates a terrible ignorance of both human nature and the nature of political struggle. Yeah, there's a lot of nonsensical battle between 'conservatives' and 'liberals', but that does not invalidate the science of governing. Governments must exist to protect personal rights, and getting rid of the Rush Limbaughs of the world, while desirable, is not enough of a payoff for abolishing government. These first three points reveal Robbins to be an anarchic hippie, which is the default state of the hopefully ignorant. It is difficult to respect anyone with such an immature thought process.

Since religion bears false witness to the Divine, religion is blasphemy. And once it entered into its unholy alliance with politics, it became the most dangerous and repressive force that the world has ever known. Finally, something I can almost agree with. Religion is absolutely a destructive and repressive force. It has no place anywhere, and certainly shouldn't be mixed with politics (shaken or stirred.) Robbins gets a pat on the back for driving this home - this point is easily the most emphasized in the book - but I have never understood the sense of godless spirituality that he espouses.

Money is an illusion. Welcome to the Gold Standard Club. This isn't profound, and is not worth a comment.

The dead are laughing at us. "People sacrificed the present for a future that never really came, and those who tied all of their dreams to an afterlife had no life for there to be an "after" of..." Right. Live for the present and enjoy this life, because there's nothing after it but a long cold snooze in the dirt. Again, not real profound.

Everyone's got to figure it out for themselves. I'm going to distill this a little bit, and perhaps tweak the meaning to line it up with my own beliefs: intellectual laziness is the enemy of truth. If you allow other people - the government, the Pope, the media, the IPCC - tell you what truth is, instead of seeking it for yourself, then you'll never see the world for what it is. You're nothing more than a pawn in someone else's game, and pawns get sacrificed.

It was definitely refreshing to read something that treats religion harshly - he exposes it as a scourge, a curse, an excuse for every kind of evil and violence against fellow men - but overall I can't buy into Robbinsism. He seems to have this idea that if you just showed everyone the truth, and removed the veils of religion and society, that we'd all learn to get along in a big peacenik love-fest of feminine spirituality. That's a wonderful hippie idea that seems brilliant after your third joint, but it doesn't stand up to scrutiny when you're sober.

Perhaps he's refined his beliefs with age - Skinny Legs was written 17 years ago - but the philosophy presented in this book is nothing more than hopeful nonsense. To use his own words, it is an elaborated version of pitching coins into a wishing well or spitting off a bridge.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Book review: Skinny Legs and All

This was my first foray into the philosophical stylings of one Tom Robbins.

I'll say this: the man displays true genius in his writing. His command of the language and ability to draw uncoventional yet compelling comparisons make me jealous. The comparisons can be over-the-top, often crude, and yet strangely musical. Descriptions of the mundane run for paragraphs, granting a magical quality to everyday sights and sounds that we regularly look past without a moment's reflection. In this, Robbins has a real gift. A gift that has no doubt been expanded and refined through long practice and hard work, but a rare talent nonetheless. Take this paragraph as an example:

Spring lies on New York like an odalisque on a harem sofa. Like an AIDS baby on a Harlem sofa. A big moon is rising. Like the odalisque, the moon seems filled to overflowing with sweetmeats and sperm, but the haze through which it rises is emaciated, phlegm-choked, and dappled with sores that almost certainly are malignant. Everywhere, softness snuggles up to hardness. Hardness says, "So what?" -- rakes in a scum of dollars, jams foot-long needles into its vein. Tender green leaves are unfurling on thousands of soot-encrusted limbs. The acrid, Mephistophelian odor of vehicular exhaust stands out sharply against the chlorophyll. When a person breathes, one nostril sucks in a witchy waft of poisons, the other the syrup-scented push of plant life. In the mingle of moonlight and headlamps, neon and leaf-glow, the skyscrapers are as beautiful as a procession of Hindu saints. Bubbling, winking, and crawling with light, they seem as full of sap as the maples in the park.

He goes on like that for two pages.

At other times, he slips into a loose form of poetry, which has no relationship to the characters or story whatsoever:

This is the room of the wolfmother wallpaper, the room where the black virgin fell down the chimney and burned a hole in the linoleum. Countless are the antelope hooves that have pounded this floor. No wonder the linoleum is worn.
In this room, the salamander was squashed between the pages of the rhyming dictionary, thereby changing poetry forever. Here, Salome walked around with a big red fish held high up over her head. Old Father spanked her with a ballet slipper, sending her to bed without milk or honey. Dance was changed in this room, too.

I'm sure those sentences are rife with symbolism and meaning, but it's way too much work to unearth all the associations. I appreciate the author's effort without expending the energy to figure out what the hell he's saying.

And finally, Robbins doesn't just have people as characters, but several inanimate objects as well. Painted Stick, Spoon, Dirty Sock, Conch Shell, and Can O'Beans are on a journey of their own, concurrent with the one starring Ellen Cherry, Boomer Petway, and Reverend Buddy Winkler. And while this sounds like possibly the strangest facet of the book, I can assure you it's not. I actually took comfort in their presence, because it was at least a recognizable writer's tactic: revealing the oddities of our beliefs, as viewed through the eyes of an outsider.

As you can imagine, this style of writing is simultaneously fascinating and tedious. The book contains very little of what might pass for 'plot' or 'character development' or any of the conventional devices employed by fiction writers to tempt readers into turning the next page. So in spite of Robbins' amazing ability with words, I can't say that I enjoyed reading this book or that I could recommend it to others.

However...there is something to be said for the over-the-top unconventional. I didn't realize just how much of rut my brain had fallen into, until I was halfway through this book and I started to think in different ways. Maybe I'm imagining it, but I actually felt like my mind was expanding. Being forced to draw relationships between disparate objects which I normally would not, to challenge the limits of my vocabulary and knowledge...this exercise for my mind seemed to wake up long-dormant avenues of thought. A couple spin classes (with a hot instructor) and some time on the weight bench, and those atrophied athletes of my imagination were up and running again. Not a full marathon of course, but they could jog along at a decent clip for a couple of miles without a stop at McDonald's. So for that reason alone, assuming you have the stomach to turn 400 pages without the benefit of a plot, I could recommend this book. Certainly, if one were an aspiring writer (...), it's probably worth the effort.

The book itself is a vehicle to pump Robbins' philosophy, which he does us the favor of summing up tidily at the end of the book. I'll delve into that tomorrow.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Movie Review: Gone Baby Gone

Not exactly entertaining, Gone Baby Gone is still an excellent movie.

Overall, it evokes (invokes? I never know) feelings of disgust and sadness - disgust at not just the child-kidnapping pedophiles of the world but at the much more common self-absorbed, neglectful parents who 'protect' children from such monsters. The sadness, of course, is for the kids who have to put up with them.

It's also a morality play. And I don't mean that in a demeaning way, for once. While I would not have made the same choices the protagonist did, the movie portrays an array of choices that are all hurtful, which is more realistic than the usual black-and-white decisions faced by big-screen heroes.

I also appreciated the casting, as the main character is a baby-faced pretty-boy in a world of very rough characters, and between his legs swing a pair of brass balls that would make Charles Bronson proud.

The biggest fault is the lack of character development. I didn't really care what happened to anyone. Of course I felt sympathy for the children and a desire to see justice done to the bad guys, but the movies focuses mainly on the investigators, about whom I had no feelings at all. As a result, it seems to drag in spots when drama and suspense should have been building, and it falls far short of the strong emotional finish that it promises.

Gone Baby Gone is a well-made movie, but not one that I'd be anxious to watch again. If I want to feel disgust, sadness, and see a bunch of people I don't care about, I can just drive to Walmart.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Silver Linings

Made the trip to Philly and back yesterday. Amount of gas consumed by the new car: 7 gallons. Amount consumed by the old '93 Accord: 9 gallons. That means my investment of $16,000 has returned a phat $6 so far. It'll take quite a while to recover $16k, $6 at a time, but at least that's moving the right direction. Goldman Sachs is down an amazing 30 points since my self-congratulatory post, and figures to go down again today.

The new car doesn't have Sirius yet. Somehow, both Circuit City and Best Buy don't have the parts in stock to help me. I guess Honda Accords aren't common enough to keep a couple harnesses for that car in the back room. It's a brutal communte anyway, but it's been even tougher without my Money Honey to keep me company.

Tried playing Bioshock on my PC with the SM2 fix, but no love. It's painfully slow and the graphics are all screwed up anyway. Luckily, I'm getting a new ThinkPad for work in a couple weeks, and that will have a better video card than my home PC.

Monday, November 05, 2007


You must think I'm talking about the Eagles last night, but I'm not - I gave up on them weeks ago.

I'm speaking of that magical, sickening feeling you get when you're driving away from the car dealership $16,000 poorer, with nothing to show for it except a car. You know, a lot like the car you drove to the dealership in. Except it's shinier. And it doesn't have Mountain Dew soaked into the carpet (yet) and ice cream sprinkles crushed into the crevices of the seats (yet). Wooo.

Oh, and the new car doesn't have my garage door opener in it, because I was too stupid to take it out of the old car before I traded it in. Weeee!

In 30 years, at 8% interest, that $16k would have been worth approximately $128k (of course, if I'd been doing the investment, it might be more like $14k.) That $128k would be worth significantly less than it is today because of inflation (too lazy to do the math), but it still would be enough for a couple years' membership at a country club. Instead, I have nothing more than a basic entry pass into American society.

I know, that's a lot of whining for someone who's lucky enough to be living here instead of Iraq or Nigeria or some other gods-forsaken place where the unfortunate populace can only dream of having "problems" like mine. But oh well, they're my problems, and you're reading my blog, so get over it.

As a responsible blogger, I should probably post a picture of my new car, but it's nothing to look at. It's a silver Honda fucking Accord, which is about as ubiquitous as expanding waistlines, e-mail viruses, and "My Kid Is An Honor Student" bumper stickers. Just look out your window, or turn on your tv, or use your imagination. It's a car, and it's silver. Yipee.

I remember growing up, when some adult in my family would buy a new car, they would be excited. There would be some minimal amount of pride, contentment, and maybe even a level of celebration. But I don't feel like that at all. I feel like I just blew a guy for money, but instead of paying me when he was done, he kicked me in the stomach and took my wallet. (Editor's note: The author has no firsthand experience in blowing guys for money, he's drawing a hypothetcial comparison.)

At least I don't have to do this again for another ten years.