‘Tis the season for terrible Christmas movies

Kill it. Kill it with fire.

Sometimes I wonder if I just have bad taste, or if everyone else in the world does. My wife and I were beguiled by the advertising and reviews for this new movie on Netflix, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, “An instant classic!”, one review crowed, so we watched it the other day.

It jingle-jangled my brain.

OH MY GOD IT WAS SO BAD. This is a movie that tries desperately hard to be cheerful holiday fare that it crosses right over the line into creepy, and I was appalled in the first five minutes. All the characters have these intense nonstop grins splitting their faces and are so enthusiastic about everything that I was confident that the entire stage had been doses with smilex gas, and the show was a race to reach a conclusion before everyone collapsed in cackling death. There was no acting. There was only grimacing.

The plot: it’s about a toymaker who is famous for his inventions, although we’re not really shown any talent, or even any comprehension of what a child would want. In the opening, he builds a tiny and hyperkinetic matador doll that talks…and proves to be so egotistical that he ought to run for president, but has no personality other than an overwhelming narcissism. This creation is supposed to be the great new toy that will make him even more famous, but really, it’s a toy so lacking in charm that you just want to smash it. It might be a fine example of the worst evils of AI you can imagine, but nothing more.

The toymaker’s apprentice steals the matador and the notebooks with all his designs. Then we skip forward in time to learn that the toymaker became a babbling failure, is estranged from his own daughter, and the apprentice has become a success with an empire of toys. Enter the toymaker’s granddaughter, Journey, with a manic smile pasted on and a disturbingly optimistic can-do attitude. The rest of the movie consists of Journey using her ability to visualize mathematics as a kind of magic spell to animate stuff, including an ugly and pointless robot called Buddy 3000 that can fly and somehow enable people around him to fly. He’s activated by — I knew this was coming — belief. You just have to believe, and you can do anything.

Then there are sewer tunnels and explosions. Eventually the apprentice is defeated, and the toymaker vindicated, and he can return to making bad toys like the stupid matador and the big-headed Buddy 3000, all of which will go flying off the shelves, I guess. The only good moment is when the annoying matador is caught, and the toymaker flips off his power switch and announces that he will be reprogramming it, which is also rather disquieting. The matador was stupidly obnoxious and irrelevant to the story, but he did have a personality, icky as it was, and desires and feelings, and the master could just erase and reprogram it all. I guess that’s our Christmas message: if you’re loud and annoying and overly-excited about Christmas, we can shut you down and silence you.

It was apparently intended to be a stage production translated to Netflix, and it shows. Those smiles are designed so that even the kids in the nosebleed seats at Jingle Jangle on Ice would be able to seem them, and everything was so broadly done that there was no need for nuance or subtlety in plot or character or atmosphere. It was just LOUD and JANGLY and RELENTLESS. It also looked EXPENSIVE, with lots of elaborate sets and intense CGI animation. I’m wondering how much money they had to spend to get all those good reviews, too.

Oh, I almost forgot. It’s also a musical. I guess it was understandable that I forgot, because I can’t remember a single tune from the thing.

Resentment in the monkey brain

This monkey monkey got his banana, why should he share it with anyone else? It’s that selfish libertarian impulse, I’ve got mine, bugger the rest of you.

Damon Linker has a monkey brain.

We’ve seen the same phenomenon in our elections for a few hundred years. They’re all about keeping the privileged in their state of privilege. The chief isn’t going to share his banana with us peons, so all we can do is make sure those other monkeys over there are even less likely to get a scrap of banana than we are.

We’ve got to get out of that mindset. I worked off my college debt (which was tiny compared to what students face now), but I consider the deprivation of so many people to be a crime that needs correcting, and I want my students to succeed — I am overjoyed if the next generation surpasses mine. Please do grant them debt relief.

(Mr Linker has been featured on this blog a few times. I’ve never been impressed.)

Then there’s this guy:

Yes, please. Make college free. Why should you be unhappy if your fellow monkeys improve themselves and are able to make greater contributions to your society? Why should you be unhappy at seeing other people allowed to improve their situation?

Why is the cruise ship industry?

Just why. The first cruise ship tour resumed sailing the Caribbean, and guess what happened? Coronavirus, of course. The passengers are concerned and complaining, but I just want to know why you thought cramming yourself into a confined space with 119 other people would be a fun outing.

Sloan, who is a senior reporter for cruise and travel at The Points Guy, reported that the Covid scare started when the captain informed passengers of the preliminary positive test over the ship’s intercom system shortly before lunchtime on Wednesday.
Passengers were instructed to return to their cabins and remain isolated there, he said.

Great. You signed up for a cruise of the beautiful Caribbean, and now you get to sit in a cramped stateroom and maybe, if you’re lucky, stare out a porthole. Even in times without a pandemic, I fail to see the appeal.

At least they aren’t spewing out both ends as the usual outbreak on a cruise ship goes. Instead, they might end up struggling for breath and dying. The industry is constantly trying to upgrade the experience, you know.

Grrrr, Cancel Culture: now men are getting fired for masturbating on Zoom, where will this end?

If you hadn’t heard, Jeffrey Toobin is unemployed.

He tastefully avoids talking about why he was fired. It was for masturbating while on a zoom call with professional associates. Strangely, people are trying to defend him now, suggesting that he deserved a slap on the wrist rather than a firing. I disagree.

I am an authority on these matters, you know. As a cishet male, with white privilege and the credibility of someone with a respectable position (mostly) in society, and with a healthy interest in sex and a strong sex life, I can confidently say that I am entirely capable of participating in Zoom meetings while maintaining my full focus on the topic of the discussion. This goes for other events in my life, too: I can go for a walk, eat a meal, see a movie, all of these common mundane things, without masturbating.

Restraint is not a super-power.

Toobin engaged in unprofessional conduct that made the people he must work with extremely uncomfortable, and that compromised his credibility and status as a serious journalist. Of course he should have been fired!

Now the HR contingent and the moral outrage brigade are probably shouting in chorus: “Even if the camera was off, that level of, ummm, self-aggrandizement has no place at work.” I agree wholeheartedly. Except Toobin wasn’t at work. He was working, but he was at home. And if one if going to engage in such activity, I can’t think of a more appropriate place than in the privacy of one’s home. I might even go so far as to say it’s the only appropriate place for such individualistic indulgences, but then teenagers might never visit their local libraries.
This is where 2020 has blurred some vital lines. With so many of us now working out of our homes, should office norms apply to our private domiciles during work hours?

The lines aren’t that blurred. I’m also now working mainly out of my office at home, but I am quite capable of recognizing that when I’m teaching a class, advising a student, or attending a committee meeting, I am engaged in the professional activity for which I am paid, and which carries expectations of a certain level of appropriate conduct. I’m not so stupid that I think being in my house means I can turn into a wild and crazy guy and dance around naked during office hours.

Wait until office hours are over to open up the whisky and put a lampshade on your head. It’s really not that difficult. Draw the lines yourself and recognize the boundaries that will allow you to do what is needed.

If you can’t, well, maybe Jeffrey Toobin needs to get himself an OnlyFans account.

Hit the brakes hard right now!

Yesterday, Minnesota had 4900 new COVID-19 cases and 56 deaths. Our governor has announced a tepid response.

Starting Friday, there will be a 10-person limit on indoor and outdoor private social gatherings that include a maximum of three households, Walz said. Receptions for events like funerals and weddings will be limited to 50 people as of November 27 and 25 as of December 11 and will be prohibited from occurring between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Bars and restaurants will now be limited to 50% capacity both indoors and outdoors, with a maximum of 150 people. Dine-in service will end at 10 p.m., although delivery after that time can continue.

Oooh. No more than 50 people congregating all at once in a confined space. Yeah, that’ll stop an infectious disease right in its tracks. Then 150 people in a bar? Drunk people are well known for their restraint and consideration of others.

The chancellor of my university has told all of us to stay home as much as possible through at least 30 June.

Consistent with many other large employers and the State of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota is now asking staff and faculty who can work from home to continue to do so through at least June 30, 2021. The University wants to empower you all to make plans that support your families while maintaining a smaller number of people on campus.

Can I work from home? Ha ha, no. I’m teaching a genetics course with a lab this spring, as I was last year. Last year we basically had to shut down the lab mid-semester as the infection numbers were climbing. This year we’re seeing an even greater surge, but this time we’re just going ahead with the lab. Jaded, we are. The quarantine facilities on campus are at 33% capacity now, are we to expect that number will go down after the students go off traveling for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s, and come back after milling about in a viral stewpot for two months?

I’m planning for the spring as best I can. To maintain social distancing and reduce contact, my plan is to cut the length of the labs and triple the number of sections, informally, which means merely increasing my lab workload three-fold. No problem! I’ve been “empowered”!

I’ve also got a contingency plan for shutting the labs down cold, and having students use data from previous years to do the analysis part of the work, at least. I guess that plan only kicks in when we’ve got a dead faculty member or student. What we ought to do is freeze everything in the country right now to bring it under control, but I guess we’re going with a half-assed dribble along scheme, crossing our fingers and hoping it’s all over at the end of June, coupled to an increasingly cavalier attitude about sickness and death.

The worst case scenario so far: more than doubling the number of deaths by February.

The United States on Friday was approaching a record for the number of new daily coronavirus cases, as a new study warned that the pandemic is set to cause half a million American deaths by February.

Covid-19 is on course to ravage states across the nation throughout the coming winter and more than 511,000 lives could be lost by 28 February next year, modeling led by scientists from the University of Washington found.

Don’t you worry, though. I’ll still be pushing fruit flies while 300,000 people die in the next four months. Unless I’m one of them, that is.

Good news! Someone’s dead, someone’s alive!

Celebrate! Tom Metzger is dead and rotting.

Tom Metzger, a racist ideologue who became one of the most influential figures in the nation’s White supremacist movement and mentored a violent generation of neo-Nazis from his Fallbrook home, has died.

He’s one of those people you can just feel gleeful at hearing that he’s dead, without feeling the slightest twinge of guilt.

But perhaps that news, while satisfying, is a little grim for your taste. Here’s something lighter: I learned today that Wunda Wunda has turned 100, and is still alive!

Most of you are scratching your heads and saying “Who?”. She was a local children’s TV host who people of a certain age who grew up near Seattle will remember fondly, a kind of Mr Rogers predecessor, who read children’s stories to her puppets. I’m curious how many of my readers will know who I’m talking about.

Anyway, one vicious, nasty racist dies, one kind gentle woman lives on. The balance of the universe has improved.

Now can we get back to doing something about the pandemic?

One distraction, as important as it may have been, is over, so now can we take the pandemic seriously? Please?

New cases are soaring here in Minnesota, and our state government seems reluctant to act.

COVID-19 is sweeping across Minnesota at an unprecedented pace, breaking records for new cases and daily deaths and raising concerns over the ability of hospitals to keep up.

The Star Tribune reports Saturday’s tally of 4,647 new cases — a figure that would have easily set a record during the first eight months of the pandemic — wasn’t even close to the biggest single-day count of the past week. For the seven-day period ending Saturday, Minnesota reported more than 25,000 new COVID-19 cases, or more than 10% of the state’s cases since March.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported another 34 deaths on Saturday, bringing the week’s total to 168, the second highest one-week count since the start of the pandemic. Hospitals, meanwhile, are scrambling to treat more COVID-19 patients even as the virus threatens to sideline more health care workers.

We really need to clamp down: shelter in place, mandatory masking, active test and trace. We are getting free testing today and tomorrow here in Morris, but there doesn’t seem to be much urgency, and people are still fairly casual. I’m on my last week of in-person labs, and then I’m locking myself down and staying home and doing everything over the internet.

I’m not shy about saying this: I’m afraid. The question is, why aren’t you?