Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron review

No spoilers

The new Avengers movie is a typical Marvel movie, solidly entertaining but not a ton of depth. I felt a bit weird after it because I love Joss Whedon. I expect to love everything he does. But while Age of Ultron is a good, fun movie, I didn't love it.

There are no glaring problems with it. No "what about these potholes" bullshit. It feels a bit too big at times. But it's paced well and there's never really a dull moment. It's got a lot of the Whedon-style banter. And each character gets their due, which is probably enough to consider the movie a success in and of itself. But I just didn't have that gut emotional reaction to it. Maybe it's just me and my Batman blinders when it comes to superhero movies.

Though speaking of Batman, I think that gets at the problem I have with Marvel movies. Batman has great villains; the Joker, Bane, Ra's al Ghul, etc. Along with Batman's status as a vulnerable non-god, the villains really help pull up his movies because they're interesting in their own right. Marvel doesn't really have that level of villains. Loki is entertaining but there's not a lot of depth to him. He just wants power. Ultron is snarky just like Tony Stark but he's just a robot who wants to destroy everything. Captain America: Winter Soldier found a way around the lack of an interesting individual villain by making a secret, evil organization (Hydra) the big bad. No one else really stands out from the Marvel movie universe.

I guess what I'm saying is that a superhero, and thus a superhero movie, is only as good as its villain. That or you need conflict within the hero or heroes themselves. Internal tension with the group helped make the end of the first Avengers pretty satisfying (same with Guardians of the Galaxy). While it's nice to see them (mostly) bonded as a team in Age of Ultron, it kind of removes some of the tension with the plot. The movie tries to ignite some of that tension with two new characters. But I guess it either wasn't fully effective or it was resolved too quickly for me.

Another issue is that while there's a fairly complete arc to this movie, it's just like every other Marvel movie in that it's really a set up for another movie. The reason this is a problem for me is that I feel like it hampers Whedon and the directors of the other stand alone movies. I can't say too much without getting into spoilers. But when you have to worry about putting these characters into another movie in a few years, that limits what you can do with the story.

In the end this is a good movie that I think most people will enjoy. I'll probably see it again. And I'm pretty consistent in needing time and maybe another viewing to come to a full conclusion about a movie. I don't think I'll learn to love it. But I'm confident that it will be entertaining even with a second viewing and beyond.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

NFL draft: the Dolphins and things that annoy me

Something I found annoying:

ESPN’s Bill Polian, on ESPN2's mock draft show: “The Dolphins need to run the ball. That offense is an off-shoot of Chip Kelly’s and is a running offense. So if Todd Gurley passed their physical, take Todd Gurley and don’t look back. He changes their whole team.”

Polian seemed like at least a halfway competent GM. And I get that he has to be able to talk about 32 teams. But damn, they do pay you to be able to know something about all of those teams. So it would help to know that the Dolphins were 12th in total rushing yards last season while being only 22nd in rushing attempts. That's because they were 2nd in yards per rush attempt. Most of that was due to Lamar Miller gaining 5.1 yards per attempt. (Note: I looked that up in about 5 minutes. What excuse do Polian and other pundits have for not knowing that information?)

Miller had an excellent season as the Dolphins' primary running back. Ryan Tannehill even had a good year running the ball, gaining 5.6 yards per attempt on his own. So what about the Dolphins' production running the ball last year suggested that they couldn't do so effectively? And what makes him think they won't be able to repeat that again without Todd Gurley?

Even if we grant that Todd Gurley is an Adrian Peterson type talent, how does that change the whole team? I'll grant that Peterson probably changes the way defenses play his offense. But is Gurley going to do that in his rookie year? After the year Lamar Miller had, how can we be sure he won't change the way defenses play?

Did you know that only twice in Adrian Peterson's entire career he has averaged more yards per carry than Lamar Miller did last season? Sure, it's possible that with more careers Miller's efficiency would decline. But it's also possible that the Dolphins' offensive line was not very good and he could replicate his efficiency with a better line.

All of this is to say that I hear a lot of people saying that the Dolphins should take a running back with their 1st round pick while completely ignoring what the team did last season with a player who is still playing on his rookie deal and who wasn't drafted in the 1st round. If you're going to buck the trend of not taking running backs high in the draft you're basically expecting them to be Adrian Peterson. But even if you are and they turn out to be him, it's not at all clear to me that those resources shouldn't be spent making sure your QB doesn't get sacked 50 times or that your defense doesn't collapse again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Batman v. Superman teaser trailer

There's a lot of speculation out there about the movie based on the teaser trailer. That's fair up to a certain extent. But I want to point out that there seems to be a lot of preconceived notions about what the movie and characters should be. Snyder invites that to some extent by saying he's drawing from The Dark Knight Returns. But drawing is not adapting. And I don't think we should expect the same things we've seen from these characters and their stories.

The cinematic universe Batman and Superman share doesn't have decades of friendship to build upon like Miller did in The Dark Knight Returns. So, along with the fact that we don't know how it will play out, it's not completely fair to hold Snyder to that expectation. I also don't think it's fair to hold Snyder to the expectations of what Superman is/should be while also expecting him not to just remake the original Donner Superman movie.

I'm as adamant as anyone that Batman shouldn't kill. But we all overlooked the fact that he killed Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight. We overlooked it because Nolan laid the groundwork for the character and set up a scene in which Batman had no other choice. But Snyder sets up a similar scene where Superman has the choice to either kill Zod or let innocent people die and he doesn't get Superman because he chooses to save innocent people.

Sorry, but I find that to be a more compelling look at Superman than a movie where, failing to save the girl he has a crush on he reverses the orbital rotation of the earth, thus reversing time, and then deciding to save the innocent people he couldn't get to before. And while I probably enjoyed The Avengers more than Man of Steel, once again that movie gets a pass for destroying a city while Snyder doesn't.

I guess what I'm saying is that maybe if people check their expectations they might have a different perspective of what this movie and these characters can be. Plus, regardless of the plot, Affleck as Batman looks badass. Dude is huge.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Indiana's religious freedom law

Peter Steinfels asks if there's any liberals left that will protect religious freedom. Sure, to a certain extent. I'm all for allowing some of these things:

They may include refusing to fight in defense of the nation, rejecting certain foodstuffs or medical treatments, discouraging young people from secondary or higher education, honoring celibacy or condemning a variety of sexual practices, sacrificing animals, drinking alcohol, or ingesting hallucinogens for ritual purposes, prescribing certain head coverings or hairstyles despite school or occupational rules, insisting on distinct roles for men and women, withdrawing from friends and family for lives of silence and seclusion, marching in prayer through neighborhoods on holy days, preaching on street corners or otherwise trying to convert others to these persuasions.

I'd be many liberals would be open to allowing them as well. Then he specifically he asks that liberals:

let the question be debated and the legislation framed with as much sensitivity to acknowledging, harmonizing, and balancing the rights on both sides rather than dismissing one set of concerns out of hand.

I'll grant that many liberals have been too quick to condemn Indiana's law and have basically rejected it without giving much of a in depth response. But I think what Peter is asking for has already happened in regard to most if not any discrimination against gay people. The debate is over for liberals. We see no reason to discriminate against gay people.

I'm not sure how much sensitivity we've given to the balance of preventing discrimination and protecting religious freedom. I do take the principle of religious freedom seriously. But you have to have a reasonable argument behind it. And frankly, I don't think any religious reason I've heard for being able to discriminate against gay people makes any sense whatsoever.

If you're talking about the religious freedom to take an hallucinogen, I don't think the argument needs to be very strong. You're probably not hurting others and you might not even be hurting yourself. You certainly aren't discriminating against anyone. So go ahead and practice your religion. But while it may be minor, refusing a gay couple service from your business is a harm. And the reason for it is.....what, exactly?

It seems like the problem is less that liberals aren't sufficiently respectful of religious freedom. It's that the arguments offered up in defense of religious freedom don't merit much respect. And at some point we have to start drawing lines as to what arguments merit respect because we can't allow people cart blanche to do whatever they want in the name of religious freedom.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The sick health care market

Here's a great reminder that the health care market is not very comparable to traditional markets:

The charge for a lipid panel ranged from $10 to $10,169. Hospital prices for a basic metabolic panel (which doctors use to measure the body's metabolism) were $35 at one facility — and $7,303 at another ... Hsia's previous research looked at the cost of an appendectomy in California and found similarly gigantic variation. For an appendectomy with no complications, she found that hospitals in the state would charge anywhere between $1,529 and $186,955.

Different grocery stores tend to charge different prices for my favorite Haagen Dazs ice cream (chocolate chocolate chip). But the price varies from about $4 a pint to $5 a pint, not $4 to $4000. And if there was such a difference, I would be able to easily tell because the price would be indicated on the product before I bought it. And unlike an appendectomy, I could choose not to purchase it and still go about my day not dying, despite what my stomach is telling me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Nashville's traffic problem

If there's a hell it will probably feature me sitting in traffic for eternity. It's personally soul-crushing, economically annoying, and environmentally unhealthy. Nashville isn't the worst city for traffic, but it's bad. And expecting population growth to continue, the problem seems to be destined to get worse in the coming years. The city's mayoral candidates at least acknowledge there's a problem, but offer few potential solutions. Here's a few could help a bit:

Mayoral candidate Linda Eskind Rebrovick, a former business executive, has discussed practical measures like the installation of real-time adaptive sensors on traffic lights that respond to sensors on roadways to trigger them to green or red. She suggested the city could also offer new cell phone apps to direct drivers to available parking downtown and elsewhere.

You might have noticed that app idea from somewhere:

Knew I should have trademarked that. the traffic light sensors aren't already a thing is beyond me. Sitting at a light while there is no one coming the other way is a waste. So that could help a bit with congestion. The parking meters should help with that too, though I'm not sure there's enough supply to meet demand. Either that or it's just price gouging.

The rest of that article is light on actual proposals. Here's David Fox:

"Just think how awesome it would be to have a light-rail system where you could come in from Williamson County or Rutherford County and go to downtown on existing right-of-ways that are already there?" Fox said. "You don't have to fight these legal battles to get the property."

Sounds nice, but expensive. And good luck with getting the funds and the political support need to do it (see Amp's failure). Even if you could fund something like that I'm not sure how far it would go in solving the problem. There would still be the massive number of people who live in Davidson who drive on the ridiculous interstates, which seem inherently inefficient. Everything merges into everything else with very few lanes devoted to the merges. It's not like you can just add lanes or tear it up and start over again, at least not on the cheap. Assuming light-rail isn't very realistic, the main arteries flowing into the heart seem mostly clogged without relief.

So without a clear way to relieve congestion with the current number of cars on the road, it seems the only way to make improvements is to cut down on the number of cars on the road. Increasing the routes and efficiency of the existing public transit seem like very minor improvements. Busses can only hold so many people. And I doubt they could reach the suburbs cost efficiently, even if people wanted to abandon the cars they're paying loans on.

Where bus improvements could matter is in the downtown area and it's immediate surroundings. Being more densely populated, it's easier to get around without a car and more efficient for busses to have to travel over shorter distances. The problem is that it's really expensive to live in these areas. The difference in expense could be mitigated by not having a car note and the gas bills that go with it. But renting/purchasing an apartment or house in this area imposes huge up front costs that many people can't afford. So while in the long run it might be a wash or cheaper to pay $1200 a month to live downtown without a car compared to $800 a month in the suburbs, it the short run it's more expensive to pay first and last month's rent and a security deposit. It's just really difficult to save up enough to afford those up front costs (That's why people opt for the iPhone plans that are more expensive in the long run but have less up front cost).

As with many cities, the rent is too damn high. Building bigger complexes instead of these smaller luxury ones that only trust funders can afford would help keep prices down and encourage more people to move out of the suburbs and use their cars less. If there's a better way to solve the traffic problem than getting more people to live closer to the city I'd love to hear it. In fact, it's one of the main issues I'll be considering when it comes time to vote for Nashville mayor.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Greatest QBs of all time

Inspired by this post at Football Perspective: Wanted to post it here because for some reason I can't submit a comment on the site. I'll probably go into more detail on each one in a bit. But I posted some of my overall thought process below.

1. Dan Marino
2. Peyton Manning
3. Brett Favre
4. Fran Tarkenton
5. Johnny Unitas
6. Steve Young
7. Joe Montana
8. Tom Brady
9. Dan Fouts
10. Ken Anderson
11. Roger Staubach
12. Sid Luckman
13. Sammy Baugh
14. Len Dawson
15. Aaron Rodgers
16. Sonny Jurgensen
17. Norm Van Brocklin
18. Otto Graham
19. YA Tittle
20. John Elway
21. Drew Brees
22. Joe Namath
23. Boomer Esiason
24. Kurt Warner
25. Terry Bradshaw

My baseline was Chase's posts ranking QBs. Quantifiable production is very important (though not something like wins or rings, obviously). And since I'm not terribly old I have to trust era adjustments for the QBs I never got to see. From there I moved guys up and down based on my knowledge of who they played with and what system they played in. For instance, I dock Montana and Young a bit for getting to play in an innovative offense and a lot of talent around them. In relation to that, as kind of a way to split hairs, I like to do a thought experiment where I take X QB and place him on an average or even a bad offense (system and talent). How would X QB play? Marino is #1 because along with his production, I think you could put him in any offense and he'd produce. He's just slightly above Manning because I think he's physically more able to produce in any offense, and he played with what I think is less talent than Manning. My big outlier is Aaron Rodgers. He doesn't have the overall production yet. But with his overall skill set I think he could play anywhere at anytime.